Monthly Archives: September 2011

As if there were…

Ghandi and Oxfam agree that we should, “be the change you wish to see in the world.” The idealist-cum-philosopher-cum-psychoanalyst with a bid towards theologian, Zizek, also agrees. My son has been reading a lot of Zizek recently and conversations around the breakfast table are oddly reminiscent of the ones I remember growing up in 1960s Middlesbrough with a grandfather who made Marx look a bit right wing. Happily, though, the latter day conversations are rather wider ranging and altogether less macho and reductionist.

It struck me during one such conversation that there is an analogous attitude between Zizek and Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer talks about the Christian needing to live “as if there were no God”. For him, this was the epitome of living as Jesus did, namely by taking responsibility for every action within our power, and living as though every one of our actions was crucial. Zizek argues that we should live as though the worst has happened. To live ethically and with freedom we have to assume that freedom is not part of the future and then intervene in the present in order to change this. Once again our actions are crucial, living “as if there were no future freedom” in order to take responsibility, in order “to be the change you wish to see in the world”.

The resulting ethics is not so much Augustine’s “love and do what you will” as, “think carefully and do what you will”. Quite rightly, Zizek is not in the business of itemising the content of what it might mean to live as if there were no future freedom, but our conversation at brunch set me thinking about what ‘intervention’ I might make in the present for the sake of the future

In my recent past I looked at the present from a future with no trust in parents; with increasingly statist views of parenting and education designed to produce increasingly biddable and infantalised adults. The intervention I made was not only to home educate my four (then) children, but also to live with them as autonomous people who deserved to be negotiated with so that we could constantly find mutually satisfying solutions to life together. Of course we fell short of the ideal and in retrospect it could have been more radical, but it was nonetheless a real and worthwhile attempt to be the change we wished for. It is one that remains urgent, but as my youngest comes towards the end of his home education, it’s an intervention that another generation will take forward.

Perhaps my current ‘intervention’ is simply living this small and independent life.


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O! for a muse of fire…

It’s only just September and already my mind is turning towards the subject of fire. Our main source of heating comes from two multifuel stoves and, until last year, we always burnt coal. It burns well and it’s easy to source, but it’s filthy, leaving a tarry dust on every surface every day, and it’s ecologically more than a little suspect. Becoming single has brought many changes to my life and one of them has been a huge lowering of our environmental footprint. Burning wood is part of this, but which type of wood and how to source it is the on-going question.

I have read a massive amount of literature on the calorific values of things that burn and similar amounts on ways to dry wood and the relative moisture content of the resulting products. On paper briquettes seem to be the way to go, but not all briquettes are equal – hard woods are better than softwoods, oak and ash briquettes have not been transported across the globe so will be ecologically superior to their exotic wood cousins, bark briquettes burn fast and are poor value for money…

Then there are the issues of transport and storage. The company I used last year brought briquettes by the pallet load with a lovely driver who didn’t make any fuss about driving his large lorry down the cramped (and usually partially blocked) road that leads to the house. I know from experience of book deliveries that not all lorry drivers are so easy-going. On the other hand I’m not sure that last year’s briquettes were the best. They seemed to burn rather faster than advertised. Was that simply the bitter cold and hungry winds howling down the chimney or should I switch to another make?

Logs come stacked on pallets and would be a devil to find a home for and keep dry, so again briquettes win – they come in plastic bags which can be stacked in our ‘tunnel’ – a cave like area behind the kitchen that goes underneath the road at one side of the house – too damp for a log stack, but works for briquettes under wraps.

So yes, briquettes it is. But which ones? Last year’s model with the friendly driver, but not the best price or burning time? Or one of three or four other companies I’ve found who all claim that their briquettes should not be confused with those inferior ones? I can’t find anyone who says they sell the inferior ones.

Some kind person recently told me about a very good supplier of very good wood – I’m sure I kept the email, but I just can’t remember who it was… And while I’m moithering about fuel for the fires I need to get the chimney sweep to come and work his magic (he doesn’t normally come so far as the wilds of Blaenau, but I persuaded him last year) and I need to find the part for the door of the main stove that needs refitting – oh, and buy some of that wonderful powder that stops the lignum in the wood from gunking up the insides of the stoves…

Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing in this odd old house that reminds me of days huddled round an open fire as a small child in a Victorian terraced house in Middlesbrough. But there is something deeply satisfying about a house that keeps me in touch with the most elemental parts of life. And where else could I afford to live but this quirky, rambling house that makes its demands, but provides a home for an equally quirky and independent press? We are soul mates; Meirion House and I, so I’d better get on with that research and find the best wood for the fire.



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