At HemingwayDesign we have just been working on a graphic device for The London Community Recycling Network. It’s a pretty simple concept; drop the “f” from Refuse and what do you get? Re-use. For us trendy designer types, with, as my Nan would have said, “our fancy London ways”, it’s a clever play on words and an opportunity to be creative with typeface. But for my Nan’s generation refuse to re-use wasn’t cool or novel it was just common sense, everyday thrifty behaviour. I could write this whole column as a list of things that took place in the 60’s and 70’s Hemingway household that fit under the umbrella of re-creating, re-inventing, re-using, and repairing. Carrier bags became bin liners, the last bits of bars of soap were stored in a jar and then melted to create new multicoloured exotic bars, newspaper was ripped up to provide winter protection for strawberry plants, peelings were composted, most food waste made delicious “roast soup”, socks were darned, jumpers had their elbows patched. We had great fun turning last year’s Christmas cards into this year’s tree decorations and watching my mum carefully folding wrapping paper to use next year is a cherished Christmas memory. My pop’s shed was a shrine to re use, cut off bottles were filled with turpentine to ensure paint brushes stayed as good as the day they were bought, dozens of jam jars kept a dazzling array of screws, nails and bolts, the cardboard inners of loo rolls were seed propagators on the window sill, We all thought nothing of it. We weren’t hippies, that word that has become overused today, “sustainability”, wasn’t in the vocabulary, the concept of “protecting the environment” wasn’t discussed but it was still at the forefront of our DNA. The concept of passing down the good things to future generations is embedded in all species. We are survivors and for a million years or so, to survive we have learnt how to harness and protect the environment . Yet a significant sector of the population seems to have allowed over consumption to have pushed these instincts into a corner where they can’t find them. Despite the fact that buying heavily marketed labels, slavishly following looks created by magazine stylists that are being paid by the brands that advertise in their magazines, and spending on products that are obscenely overpriced is seen as uncool by the true purveyors of cool, to the majority making your own clothes, adapting items that don’t cut it style wise anymore, or buying vintage just isn’t on the radar. Sewing machine sales have doubled in the last couple of years but when you look at the figures it’s a doubling from a pretty pathetic base.
When I look at my own house, the joy that we get on a daily basis from a pair of sofas fashioned from the wreck of an old wooden fishing boat (not to mention the regular praise heaped upon it by visitors and the media… ten years after we made it). In the garden it’s the tepee made from old telegraph poles and the tree house made from flotsam and jetsam found on the beach that has held the attention of our kids.
All of these are a result of imagination and that inbuilt instinct to re create and yet governments and banks are trying every economic stimulus possible to get us back out consuming or perhaps over consuming. Should we trust them? Wasn’t another word for over consumption, “greed” that got us into this mess? We recoil at pictures of people in Africa combing refuse tips for useful stuff. I remember on my early visits to India in the 80’s thinking how daft the taxi drivers were for turning off their headlights in the city when they could see without them, thinking that it would save the car battery. They may not have had a full grasp of technology but they most certainly hadn’t lost the survival instinct. The Christmas just gone, I took my family to those same Indian cities and taxi drivers don’t turn their lights off anymore. When a continent of 1.12 billion starts to lose touch with the DNA of thrift then we really are in a mess. Anyhow I’m off to turn the old Wendy house in the garden into a chicken coop whilst singing that old Womble anthem “making good use of the things that we find, things that everyday folk leave behind”.