Sunday, 3 November 2013
Waste Not, Want Not
In the days leading up to moving into a brand new house, I’ve had a desire to buy brand new things. For example, now that I’ve left behind kitchen units that look not so much ‘tired’ as exhausted, I didn’t think it right to pack up a plastic toaster that cost £4.99 from Asda or twenty mismatched tumblers. I wanted a bit of boast to my toast and class to my glass. And following the glow of buying new things, it’s even nicer to extend that glow by telling your friends and family what you’ve been buying. Although, perhaps not in the case of my mother.
My mother is a bit like a female version of Uncle Albert from Fools and Horses. She begins a lot of sentences with, ‘When I was in the war.’ Let me assure I have nothing but admiration for war babies, my mother in particular, for not just surviving horrendous circumstances but also enduring the poverty and hardship that went with it. I totally understand where my mother is coming from when she berates modern society for ‘waste’. We are fortunate not to live in a war zone. We are blessed not to know famine. We are lucky to have jobs and to be able to treat ourselves to things. However, a line has to be drawn somewhere underneath the subject, especially when the joy of buying something new is soured by another lecture on ‘waste’.
Last Sunday I had my parents over for Sunday lunch – the last Sunday lunch in our old house. As I dished up the dinner I was fizzing with excitement. Why? Because I’d bought a new cutlery set. And no, it wasn’t a boxed set from John Lewis reduced from £399 to £99 in the sale – although I confess I was tempted – it was a trendy set from Next and cost twelve quid. Actually, I lie. It cost £24 because I bought two sets!
‘Enjoy eating off this cutlery for the last time,’ I trilled as everybody picked up their knives and forks, ‘because I’ve bought a new set!’
My mother’s fork, en-route to her mouth, froze mid-air. It wobbled alarmingly as her head swivelled 180 degrees towards me. Suddenly I was caught in the glare of two blue headlamps.
‘You’ve bought new cutlery?’
‘But there’s nothing wrong with this cutlery!’
There then followed a need to justify oneself. To explain, with excuses and great power of reasoning, the need to buy new cutlery.
‘I’ve had this particular set for twenty years and much of the silver has spoilt. I mean, look at this,’ I picked up a dessert spoon and showed her the underside. ‘It’s tarnished!’
‘There’s nothing wrong with this cutlery, my girl, other than the fact that it needs a damn good clean.’
‘It is clean, Mum. It gets cleaned every day.’
‘In the dishwasher,’ I said calmly. ‘Anybody want another potato?’ This last bit designed to get off the subject of cutlery and talk about something more topical. The latest Government disaster. The increase in the cost of fuel. Even the weather. Anything. Just...not...my...cutlery.
‘I’m not talking about cleaning cutlery in a dishwasher!’ My mother had downed her fork and knife and was clearly intent on making a speech. ‘I’m talking about cleaning it properly. With a bit of elbow grease.’
My father was then dispatched to the sink, dinner abandoned, holding aloft the blackened spoon, to demonstrate to us all – and more particularly me – the art of cleaning twenty year old cutlery. Five minutes later he’d scoured the dessert spoon half to death before finishing off with a full minute’s worth of polishing with a dry tea towel. He held it up proudly.
‘Look at that!’ my mother crowed triumphantly. ‘You can see your face in it.’
Marvellous. Except I haven’t the time or the inclination to spend five minutes apiece on my canteen of cutlery.
‘Well I’ve bought new cutlery now,’ I said, somewhat defiantly. ‘I shall put this old set into the charity shop and let somebody else have the pleasure of cleaning it.’
‘What a waste. When I was in the war we were lucky to have utensils. But then again we were lucky to even have enough food to sit down and eat.’ My mother turned to her grand-daughter sitting opposite. ‘Are you going to waste those carrots?’
‘Nothing will go to waste,’ I sighed, ‘because the dog will have the leftovers.’
‘What else have you bought?’ my mother asked.
I considered. Should I tell her or not? She smiled encouragingly at me. Oh, thank goodness. A truce.
‘Well,’ I beamed, ‘I’ve also bought new bedding.’
The smile instantly vanished.
‘You’ve bought new bedding?’ This, you understand, was said in the same shocked tone as if saying, ‘You’ve robbed a bank?’
‘Yes,’ I quaked. ‘New bedding.’
‘And what is wrong with the old bedding?’
‘Well, exactly that. It’s old.’
‘It’s not old!’ my mother exclaimed. ‘Your bedding isn’t as old as my bedding and we’ve had ours for years, haven’t we, Tony? Decades!’
For a moment I had a an overwhelming urge to excuse myself from the dinner table and scurry off to the local church, find a confessional box and lock myself in.
‘Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. I’ve bought new bedding.’
‘This is terrible, child. You must confess to the Lord to be forgiven. Is there anything else you’ve bought?’
‘Yes. I’ve splurged on new cutlery, table mats, scatter cushions, a state of the art toaster, a matching kettle and (sounding hysterical now) an entire range of fitted wardrobes by Sharps.’
‘This is outrageous. Do you know how wasteful you are?’
‘Yes. My mother tells me every week. Especially when I burn food, knacker saucepans and end up going to the local chippie for emergency sustenance for my family.’
‘You are sinner. You must say umpteen Hail Mary’s and buy me a piece of crispy cod for my tea this evening.’
Much as I love my mum, she has a knack of taking the joy out of things. I hope I never turn into my mother, although I fear it may be too late. Which reminds me. Once, on our way to my parents’ house, I glanced at my 16 year old daughter and said, ‘Isn’t that skirt a bit short?’ She rolled her eyes and gave me one of those Oh, Mum! looks. When we arrived at my folks’ place, my mother greeted us at the door. ‘Debbie! Don’t you think your top is awfully low cut?’ H-e-l-p...