Darn it

One of the nicest things about going on holiday abroad and being mortally afraid of roaming charges is that the world beyond the family recedes to a dull and distant hum. It makes me feel guilty, of course, that there is now an August-shaped hole in the Important Things To Be Angry And Upset About, although I have to admit that I doubt the fretting deficit has made much global impact.

Forgetting my Twitter password (good work, that woman) has meant I haven’t been able to plug straight back into my usual source of outrage. Again, possibly no bad thing.

Amid all the grim and desperate stories on the news, one hornets nest of indignation made its way even to my usually placid Facebook pages. Actually, I knew it would, having seen the offending trailer itself the night before.

I’m not, if I’m honest, a big Jamie Oliver fan. Back when his party business was first starting, I went along loyally to one to support a friend and had to watch an excruciating video in which he seemed to suggest that eating as a family was a Mediterranean revelation which should be exported immediately to Britain (and, naturally, best facilitated by his charming range of faux peasant table ware). I seethed, silently, at the implication that eating en famille was an entirely unknown concept to us. Just as then, though (and certainly via his work on school dinners) I’m willing to believe that an excess of zeal for a worthy aim excuses some rather clumsy comments made along the way.

His comments about shopping in markets did provoke me to a certain degree of head-on-table-ness. The thing about markets is, that everyone likes them. Everyone, given half a chance, would walk drooling around the beautiful displays in France or Spain or Italy, albeit crying inside at the fact that they wouldn’t know how to cook any of the fish, and wondering uneasily about the hygiene on the meat counter.

Even local markets here are great. Only yesterday, I picked up two large carrier bags of tomatoes for a pound (to go with the four-day chicken for dinner. Do I get a free Jamie?). I was only near a market, though, because I’d had to drive my seven year old twenty miles for a hospital appointment, and I only was able to browse the stalls because I’m lucky enough to have the cash for the petrol and the parking and a very flexible (and frankly, very light) self-employed work pattern which means I can bunk off at 3pm if I so wish. I had the car to carry the bags home, and I have the time and resources to turn them all into things which can be frozen. If I didn’t have all or any of those things, the market may as well have been back in France for all the good it would do me.

In these times of austerity, and the official push to get everyone into paid employment, it’s interesting that there is a counter current back towards what, in bygone days, would have been known as domestic economy. Housekeeping, if you prefer. The uncomfortable truth, though, is that a person needs to be able to devote a considerable chunk of time to making these things work. When I still had a proper job, it was a lot harder to buy cannily and plan thriftily, both with food and clothes, though I tried. One of the calculations we made when I gave up work was that we would actually save some money by freeing up my time to do just that, and largely it has worked apart from the times I get carried away in online sales. It is boring, and it sounds preachy and sanctimonious, but it is sadly true (in our case, at least).

Putting all the onus on people (and let’s be honest, mainly women) to manage their homes as their grandmothers would have done is unfair and unkind. Our society is geared around convenience now, to accommodate a very different pattern of working. We live, many of us, in rather soulless little places where nothing is accessible without a car. We are steered to ever-bigger supermarkets (and didn’t Mr O promote a certain one of them rather heavily?) for all our needs; able to stock up with the wherewithal to feed and clothe ourselves at 3am on the way home from shift work, if necessary. Meanwhile food prices, particularly fresh fruit and vegetables have rocketed here.

None of this is to say that I think this is a good thing. I do think that educating people about shopping and eating well is worthwhile, but it’s disingenuous to do it against a backdrop where actually doing it is nigh on impossible for many, for whatever reason.

My own granny, God love her, has always shopped in her local market (although I suspect that she would think that a mangetout was an occasion of sin). She buys a single potato for her dinner, a solitary slice of ham to make a sandwich, unmentionable bits from the butcher to make broth. But she also keeps old bits of string, and waters the garden from the washing up bowl, and darns her tights. Yes, darns. There’s a good old habit which is ripe for a renaissance. All those six pairs of socks for three pounds which we pick up from Tesco: oughtn’t we, in these days of belt-tightening, learn to mend the holes which burst out at heel and toe? After all, the girls in my beloved post-war children’s books were always taught to mend clothes (though their brothers, bless their (holey) cotton socks, were untroubled by such things, presumably secure in the knowledge that their women folk would always take care of them). Perhaps there’s a BBC2 series in production as I write.

I suppose this is a bit of an aimless ramble, and it’s certainly not meant to be a potshot at anyone in particular. It’s not even a lament, really; I may make broth from bones, but I am uncomfortably and hypocritically aware that I really don’t want to spend my evenings mending clothes. Perhaps that’s just my very own brand of having it all. Or perhaps, just like the TV programmes, having the choice speaks for itself.

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