Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Waste not Want not

Sitting in Wetherspoons this afternoon watching my step-daughter toying with and finally discarding a huge pastry crust from her chicken pie, and her soldier son photographing (not eating) the truly massive plate of mixed grill he had chosen, I suddenly found my initial amusement turning, first to anger, then to distress.

Carefull to show neither reaction I was nevertheless at a loss as to where it had come from.

At a few hours' distance it is suddenly much clearer.  This is undoubtedly a throw-back to the post 2nd World War attrition which was the back-drop to my childhood.  We were, even by those days standards a poor family and the everywhere visible injunctions to waste nothing were totally unnecessary since there was absolutely nothing to waste.

My three brothers and I were never hungry, never lacked for companionship, never went unwashed to bed but there were no frills, no luxuries and no paid-for entertainment ever.  My mother made my father's tiny wage stretch to unbelievable lengths and worked from morning to night to keep the house clean and as warm as possible while drying all laundry (hand-washed ) on bannisters chairs airers - no washing machine, tumble dryer, central heating or other luxuries.

We ate what we were given without question and usually without complaint and did our share of household chores with only occasional rebellions and if we were not outside playing with friends because of bad weather or because it was too dark we had our own made-up games, quizzes devised by one or other parent, or now and then a radio programme to occupy us.  We all joined the local library as soon as we could read and I lived out my fantasies based on characters in whatever I was reading at the time.

When our local school was bombed we had to move to another, further away.  Long walks to and from school and indeed everywhere else were just part of life and we never gave any other means of travel a seconds thought.

As I was the only girl, my clothes were usually new - though made by my mother and very basic - my brothers were not so lucky and garments were passed down the line, altered, repaired until beyond all further use when they went to the rag and bone man for a few pennies.

My father grew all our vegetables and we wasted nothing. What was not fit to eat went to the pig farmers via a waste-food collection scheme, and other bits went on the compost heap which in turn fed his roses (my father that is not the pig farmer).

All my life the habits ingrained in me in childhood have influenced the way I discard (or fail to discard) things which are no longer of use, and it is only in very recent times that it has become possible to deliberately give away something I no longer want , simply because it has lost its appeal.

Even now, I never throw food away, if it can't be eaten by the neighbours' cats, it goes out for the birds.  My step-daughter and grandson grew up in a different world.  Different, not better!


  1. Your childhood sounds rather like mine,although I was born post war. We spent most of our time outdoors ,just appearing for meals. We built "camps" ,made mud pies,and walked miles in the lanes to friends farms.We had fresh veg. from Grandads garden,had set meal times,which on a "hard" week could be boiled eggs in cheese sauce... I hated that!
    Things we did would have Health and Safety people apopletic!
    I wonder what my children and grandchildren will say about their childhood memories... how they stayed indoors with the latest electronic device and ate pizza?

  2. Thanks for that!
    I do so agree about the Health & Safety aspect - a bombed farm was one of our favourite playgrounds: yet we survived, you and I and many thousands like us Thank the Lord!

  3. I was born in 1966 in Singapore on a military base. That was a rather privileged setting, we had servants and a lifestyle based on entertaining and good living, but when I was four my father decided to become a priest. We came back to the UK where my father trained in Wales. We lived in a student house and my mum went out to work to support us all. Our first parish was a culture shock. We were in a draughty curate's house with no central heating and an outside toilet. There was a mangle in the outhouse that my mum actually did use to wring the clothes and on a curate's stipend money was very tight indeed. I never remember going out for pizza or to the cinema until we were much older. I do remember fish and chips as a great treat! My dad had an allotment and it was to stretch out food a bit further. We've never really been very well off, or maybe my family were just frugal. My main present for my eighteenth birthday was the complete works of Shakespeare, a treasured gift, I still have it with the inscription "with love to Sue on your eighteenth, Mum and Dad. My children think it is hilarious, they are used to any "educational" books being bought in the hope that they might deign to read them - I have explained I read it for pleasure!!!
    Anyhow, that's my old git rant!!!!

  4. Phew! No wonder your posts seem so well balanced. I've been reading you for quite a while but had no idea you had such a 'both sides of the coin' background. It has clearly given you a sound base.
    As to the old git I have 30 years on you, so your 'great age' fails to impress!
    Welcome to the blog of the "Ancient Mariner".

  5. Coming to this very late, having just dicovered your blog, and what you wrote chimes with my own experience. Born just after the war and one of 5 sisters, there were no spare pennies and food never went to waste. The house was small and the first time I had a bedroom to myself was when I went to college. Waste still appalls me, especially in a world where so many are hungry.

  6. Trawling through my back posts (as you do), I suddenly discovered this comment, not previously read.
    I really do think this 'over the top' reaction is peculiar to those of us who came from the less well-heeled backgrounds.
    This has produced in me the ability to cherish even quite inexpensive goods and make them last virtually for ever.