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November 23rd, 2010:

Harking Back to Better Times

In the UK we currently have a spate of historically based TV programmes. Is it odd that in a upcoming ‘Time of Austerity’ TV producers are seemingly prepared to remind us all that a simpler life in the past was better? There is even a new version of that old staple of TV re-runs ‘The Good Life’ from the 70’s. Mind you – this new version is barely watchable – concentrating primarily on the personalities of the presenters rather than the substance of the content. In fact, I only managed to watch the first two programmes.

Another programme tries to recreate a series of high street shops from different eras in UK history. This could have been good. It’s not for two reasons. The first is that the time given for each of the ‘eras’ is only a week (must take a while to change each shop ready for the next era), and the second is the ‘Chamber of Commerce’ – a group of people who seem to be a bit like the ‘Dragon’s Den’ panel – who stroll into the High Street dispensing opinions and problems in equal measure. I watched two of these as well. I have given up now. Then – there is ‘Downton Abbey’ and ‘The Edwardian Farm’.

I think that there is a lot of looking back with rose-tinted spectacles going on here. Times were better in the old days – for a very few. For the majority life was not so good. Disease was rife, money was short and living conditions could be very harsh. Things were not better for your ‘average’ person. I am glad that I was born into this time, in this country. That last is also an important factor – because there are places in the world where it is not much fun to be alive and where disease is still rife, money is very short and living conditions remain very harsh. So if you are warm, have shelter, aren’t hungry and no one is abusing you, these are the better times.

Overuse of Plastics and Rampant Consumerism

Whilst expending time and fuel taking a load of plastic containers to the recycling point yesterday I was pondering on how many other people do the same? I make a point of collecting all plastic bottles, trays and food containers that we use. It is very surprising just how much there is – given that there are only two people in my house now. If I just threw all of that stuff in the bin it would end up in landfill – but what if I had no choice? I have the means to recycle this stuff, but I am sure that there are many people who are in situations where this is impracticable – and their plastic ends up in the bin.

It seems that there are two ways in which the situation can be eased – one is to cut down on the amount of plastics used by the supermarkets (let’s be honest – most of us shop in them), the other is for Local Authorities to collect plastics for recycling along with the other stuff which is collected. I understand that some Authorities do this – but my city, for example, doesn’t, and it’s a big city. Not all ‘biodegradable’ plastics degrade easily it seems – have a look here. This is an important consideration.

At some future time I think our descendants will be amazed at our society – and the way that we have let things slip before we tried to pull back from the edge. The push to make us all consume more and more is great – and even now we tend to be suckered into believing that we actually NEED the latest add on, gadget or thing. A lot of electronic items now come in cardboard packaging – which perhaps seems ‘greener’, but what about the energy needed to actually make the thing? That’s another issue.

Back to plastics. Could supermarkets cut back on the amount of plastic that they use? Could they change the type of plastics to really biodegradable ones? I think the answer to both of these questions is ‘yes’. Better still would be for the ‘consumer’ (hate that word) to choose to shop elsewhere. Is it really fun wandering around an aircraft hangar sized shop wheeling a trolley the size of a small car? If it is, then why do people fondly think of times when there were true high streets full of individual shops, and personal service was the thing? Things tended not to be wrapped in plastic either!