Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Everyday Things You Don't Really Need At All #1: Washing Up Liquid

I've always had a soft spot for those statistics you hear about how much of your life is occupied with the utterly mundane.  You spend one year of your life sitting on the toilet.  Six months in queues (not including the five months spent 'on hold').  Eleven years watching television.  Five years doing housework.  There's any number of listicles out there to scare and/or inspire you into spending more time doing things you love, always wished you had the time to do, or just doing the things that don't make you long for the sweet release of death.

If you're anything like me, you'll find all this rather amusing.  So I thought it might be interesting (and maybe even practical) to start reporting back on some of my experiments in anti-consumption, by taking a look at everyday things you don't actually need at all.  The things that cost money, rather than time, but which are so often sold to as if they're somehow, miraculously, going to save you both.

First on the list is about as everyday as you can get: washing up liquid.  Washing up liquid is one of those products that illustrates perfectly late-stage capitalism's most enduring fetish: choice.  Let's consider what washing up liquid is for.  Well, it's for washing up.  It's a liquid detergent that makes scrubbing your eating and drinking utensils slightly easier than just hot water alone.  That's it.  That is its entire raison d'ĂȘtre.  Of all the trillions of bottles of washing up liquid even manufactured, not a single one has ever experienced the long dark night of the soul.  It does what it is here to do.  Then it is discarded - perhaps recycled, but quite probably not - or perhaps it finds its way into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, plastic's best hope for any kind of afterlife.

Revelation 21:1
But I digress.  Don't worry about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  It's completely harmless and anyway it'll probably just go away on its own.  As plastic tends to do.  Let's think instead about the varieties of washing up liquid.  By way of research for this post, I nipped over the road to my nearest supermarket, a small Co-op, providing four or five aisles worth of everyday essentials.  (It's been rather low on lettuce the last few weeks though, but don't worry about that either - the changing climate almost certainly doesn't have anything to do with, um, climate change).

Four varieties of Fairy liquid are available, along with a cheaper 'own brand' version that could very easily be totally identical for all you're ever going to know (or care).  Fairy is available for £1.69 per 520ml, in "apple orchard", "original lemon" and "platinum", um, flavours...? as well as "original", which comes in bottles 20ml smaller (making it 13p per litre more expensive than the alternative, smellier varieties), and which boasts the scientific breakthrough of now lasting "up to 50% longer", a statistic that has certainly been independently verified by the various washing up liquid watchdogs.  "Original lemon" has a similarly attractive selling point, having "50% more grease cutting power", a fact which again I have no doubt must have passed the scrupulous process of peer review and definitely makes sense.  Fairy's only competitor on this shelf is 'Clean n Fresh', which costs 35p for 500ml and, because it's fucking washing up liquid, is EXACTLY THE FUCKING SAME.  I left without buying any.  The choice was just too much for me.  So ends what I like to imagine was the funniest paragraph about washing up liquid that you have ever read.

Of course you'll have had thoughts like this before, as anyone who's ever spent time gawping at the pointless variety available on supermarket shelves has done.  It's just one of those things, isn't it?  Maddening, stupefying, something we've just come to accept as kind of insane, but there it is anyway.  Another blight on our psycho-social landscape, the price we pay for convenience, high employment, and economic growth.  There's room.  There's always room.

I have decided that it's the little battles against this kind of madness that are exactly the ones we should be fighting.  Which brings me to my point.  I've been washing my dishes without washing up liquid now for about four months, and they are as clean as they always were.  There have been no negative consequences.  I haven't died of salmonella, for example, and that's even without the 50% spike in Fairy liquid's already astonishing grease cutting power.  Here's all you need to do:
  1. Soak your dishcloths in warm water with a splash of bleach overnight.  You only need to do this about once or twice a week.  If you don't already have some bleach, don't buy some specially, just do without.
  2. Leave your dishes in the sink to soak in hot water for a while.  Sometimes I add a little a 'vegetable soap' just to ease things along.
  3. Wipe clean with the dishcloth.  You might need to use some steel wool to scrub off anything burnt but again, if you don't already have any, make do.  Leave to dry.
  4. Your dishes are now clean, using items you probably already have anyway, and without spending a penny.
As an added bonus, you now have yourself a sink full of 'grey water', free from any weird chemical soapy scum that you can use for watering plants, a subject on which I'll have more to say another time.

Perhaps this all seems facetious to you.  If so, look at it this way.  How much do you spend on washing up liquid a month?  A year?  Over the course of your life?  Is there really any point?  How many hours of your working life are spent just earning the money to buy washing up liquid, something you objectively, demonstrably do not need?  What else could you do with that money?  These questions matter.  They matter because the immediate moment matters, the simple and the mundane matters, and how much you allow the economic and philosophical systems that are destroying our world to make you a part of their ridiculous game matters.  So stop using washing up liquid.  You've got to start somewhere.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

"I have everything I need"

Say these words to yourself, right now: "I have everything I need".  I'm confident that if you're reading them (maybe on your smartphone?) it's probably true.  You have everything you need.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Deep Breaths and How to Take Them

I'm thinking a lot about breathing this week. What prompted this was my annual asthma review on Monday with a very enthusiastic practice nurse, far more enthusiastically anti-asthma than I've encountered in some years. I've suffered from asthma all my life, so these reviews have become routine, if not an irritation - yeah, I have asthma, it's a chronic condition, treatable but incurable, shit happens, take your inhalers and move on. As such when the nurse asked me if I thought my asthma was "well controlled", I said yes. According to the working medical definition, she told me, no it isn't.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Putting the worms to work

This morning I had the satisfaction of plunging my hands deep into my wormery for the first time to extract my first handfuls of worm compost.  The contents of my worm bin look like this:

Not pictured: actual worms.  Worms are shy.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Monday is writing day

Here's some good advice: if you want to accomplish something, you need to actually set aside time in which to do it. Blatantly obvious though this is, it's frustratingly hard to put into practice.

This is my take on the subject: don't give yourself a choice. Treat as something you just have to do. In this spirit, I have now set aside Monday as "writing day". Every Monday, no matter what, I will sit down on work on my book. No messing about, no distractions, just do it.

Yesterday was Monday. My first writing day. It went well. I spent probably 3-4 hours just writing and researching, and though I'm still on the ever-expanding introduction (or maybe it's chapter one, it's too soon to tell) I probably got a good three pages written. That feels like a good day to me.

I'm wondering if it might also help if I released the book a chapter at a time, perhaps to interested friends or regular readers of this blog (I know there's at least a few of you). That might stop me endlessly re-writing it, a trap I've fallen into in the past. It would also be a good way to get feedback from kind and intelligent people (oh how I flatter you) before unleashing the eventual monstrosity on the wider world. What do you think? Please comment below. It's about veganism, transhumanism, evolution and that sort of thing. Working title: 'The Vegan Imperative'. Working subtitle: 'Animals, humans and the future of life'. Grand.

Friday, 6 January 2017

A Week Without Facebook

It's easy to overthink Facebook.  If you're a user (and there's a 1 in 4 chance you are, there's over 1.7 billion of us) you've probably wondered more than once whether your relationship with Facebook is altogether healthy.  Are you using it too much?  How many of your "friends" are really friends?  How many times a day do you check it?  Why didn't s/he like my selfie?  Who cares?  Why am I always posting selfies?  Should I post this meme?  Is checking your phone the first thing you do when you wake up?  (Remember when we all first got phones?  We used to turn them off at night.  Imagine that).  Is there a difference between like and "like"?  Why does it feel sometimes that everyone I know on Facebook is living a more fulfilling life than me?  Who am I?  Am I real?  And so on, slippery sloping down into some void or other.  (Pick one, there's enough for all of us). 

Monday, 2 January 2017

Sexy Soil Testing, and Other Brief Motivational Musings

I thought I might make my first post of 2017 'new year' themed, but then I thought actually, no, I wouldn't.  No day is any more (or less) special than any other; and as everyone knows, new year's resolutions almost never last past January.  Why?  For just that reason.  You aren't any more motivated to improve yourself or the world on New Year's Day than you were on New Year's Eve.  It's just a date on a calender.  The world is still spinning.  2016 was awful - another thing everyone knows - but 2017 is no more likely to be wonderful because of that.  There is only now.