By which I mainly mean our habitats. This is on my mind for a number of reasons; one being that it has been on my mind for more than a while. The thing that has brought it to a head recently is the fact of the central heating being broken. Now, when I type that the central heating is broken I could assume that you know what that means… you can imagine, if you cared to and I am not sure you do, that there is no heat. And you would be right, to an extent; there certainly is less heat in this house than I am used to or indeed would prefer. On the other hand, you may not know what it means to say that the heating in this house is broken, that is to say in a technical sense. And I would expect that if you cared at all about my heating not working, caring about why it is not working would be stretching the bounds of the common human feeling for another man.
Someone may imagine, in a passing sense, that it is the boiler that is kaput. Others may be more technically imaginative and wonder if it is the pump, or a stuck valve. Most will not be interested and I do not blame them. Reserve the concern for when you are cold in your home. Maybe that won’t be until you are an older person, living in a larger house than may be strictly necessary, and you cannot afford to heat the whole space. Or maybe it won’t. I wish everyone as warm as they need to be for the rest of their lives. Like food, warmth and shelter are fairly basic human needs, in theory, easy enough to meet. Until your house is too big, or your money is insufficient, or some small electrical part in the system of tanks, and boilers, and pumps, and diverter switches goes and you are a bit chilly.
It should be so simple. Warmth can be eternally generated by the use of sticks to make fire. Why have we over-complicated it with radiators and gravity pumps and pipes and thermostats and so on and so on? Why have we made ourselves helpless in the machinery of our lives? How many of us, when something goes can fix it ourselves. And how many of us, willing to at least try to fix it ourselves are ultimately defeated by some piece of sealed gadgetry that cannot be mended, only slung out and replaced, thus driving the wheels of commerce once more?
I am quite frustrated that I cannot simply meet my own basic needs. This led me to wonder about the whole living in a house thing; the two-up, two-down house that needs to be centrally heated in the first place. Why do we live in houses and why do we have stairs? I mean, what is the purpose of stairs? Dead space that elevate your living area by the power of two (or more). Of course we have stairs because you get more bang for your buck. You can live on less land by building upwards. You and I have stairs to walk up and down and clean because of commerce. And when we get old and live in our family homes those stairs can become obstacles. It is a fact that few animals build themselves dwellings with stairs. Someone pointed out that stairs are good because when you sleep you are vulnerable. Stairs give you a chance to hear someone breaking in downstairs. So I added that to my theory: we have stairs because we live in capitalist culture and because we are scared of our fellow man. It made me like stairs even less than I already do.
Why do we even live in houses like we do, on streets? Why would we string out our living along polluted, noisy and dangerous roads? Thoroughfares that exist for the wheels of commerce trundle along? Is this the most peaceful, harmonious environment for humans to live in? People in boxes, with stairs, lacking the means to make their own heat and grow their own food, closely packed together without connections to each other and strung out along smelly highways? It is, to paraphrase what Thoreau wrote in Walden, simply that rather than us having the house, the house has us.
To simplify our lives then must be the answer, but we have so over-complicated everything that it is doubtful if it is possible for the majority except over the generations. Take wealth. We were raised to believe that the way to live is to own your own home, not to best serve your needs in your living, but to have wealth to pass on when you are dead. Those days are gone. Our parents are spending the wealth accumulated in bricks and mortar on their enjoyment now and their care later because we don’t or can’t always care for our own in communities any more. Your house, the one that takes so much work and money now, will turn against you in the end and betray your basic needs. I don’t know about you, but I have come to the conclusion that, actually, I don’t need a lot of indoor space, but what I do need is access to outdoor space. I don’t need stairs and if I live in a smaller space, I don’t need central heating. People think that perhaps I mean to be a regressive sort, living in a muddy field with woodsmoke in my hair and no broadband. Or perhaps a militant eco warrior with an agenda for you, me, mankind! I don’t really – there is no need to have a war about it. I have not read some life changing tract or had conversations with like-minded souls. I have simply come to the conclusion, through observation adn experience that we can live differently to how we do. And I hope that within the difference there is greater connection with self and others. Even now, we have the technology to generate what we need in terms of energy but we are in the grip of our houses and their demands and consequently the energy corporations. Do you not feel robbed? If we become more modest in our living arrangements we can quietly harness wind, earth and sun and rain to meet our needs. If that means becoming more aware about what our real energy consumption needs are, is that a bad thing? Why not just use what is, rather than try to extract what is not. This is my modest dream for the future. At the moment the house has me, but if I can learn the skills I need, one day I hope to live harmoniously with a shelter I have not just created, but that I understand. A shelter that can adapt itself to how I live, instead of the current situation which is, sadly, the reverse.
This is the scene that I came home to yesterday. Our *neighbour (who runs a carpet cleaning company) was just leaving. He was giving me some aftercare instructions which I can’t remember and then said to me something about wearing slippers as the carpet was a bit damp. He then looked at me hard, and stopped.
But of course you don’t wear slippers he said
I half-started a mumble about the boots I had on being my notional slippers, but as I had just returned from a dog walk in them and they were sopping wet I shut up.
In my mind, I was throroughly damned.
*Our street is stuffed full of lovely and useful people: a chippy, a hairdresser, a butcher, a publican, an imam, a youth worker, artists, a GP, a childminder and of course yer man who has done a great job on what was probably a very filthy carpet.