The real world

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A washing line on a sunny day is a beautiful thing. The clothes of all the residents in the house – those clothes that have been recently worn and don’t need dry cleaning – hang in anonymous rows, forming new colour combinations that may even have something to say about the residents’ ways of being in the world. T-shirts in black, white no longer dazzling, shades of dark blue and navy, jostle for space with dark underpants male and female, socks (occasionally bright red but mostly black or navy), jeans in various stages of fading and disrepair. Men’s shirts like sails. Nothing glamorous about the clothing, but there’s a jauntiness about the washing line as a whole, physical intimacy on display to anyone looking over the fence.

The poet Aileen Kelly once wrote with feeling about ‘the sewage flow of washing’. Well, yes – but the washing line is another matter. A friend once said to me – in the days when she was raising two small girls in the English countryside and I was a young woman about London, childless and political – that hanging out the washing is one of the best things for a woman at home. It gets you outdoors, and you have to raise your hands above your head, which is lovely when you’re mostly bending over to deal with much smaller people.

Sorting the dried washing, on the other hand, is a pain – particularly now that the young bloke’s socks and underpants are almost indistinguishable from his father’s. These days, if I find that it’s down to me to sort a load of washing, I simply extract my own bits and pieces and ask the others to do theirs. Three adults in a house: no reason for any simple domestic task to be allocated to one person rather than another.

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Fairly recently, thanks to Marie Kondo and her book ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’, I learned how to fold my own clothes the way they should always have been folded. Now, after a big wash, I can see what I’ve been wearing. Look at this wobbly pile of folded T-shirts, not quite reaching the Kondo standard of folding perfection: dark grey, light grey, dark blue, off-white, black. A flash of lime green. These seem to be my winter colours. Any day now – like this coming Friday, which promises to hit 25 degrees (that’s 77 fahrenheit in old money) – they will begin to look drab, hot and inappropriate and I won’t know what to wear.

But I have a new-to-me pattern for a summer dress: Style Arc’s Toni,  which I’ve been contemplating for some time. Catherine Daze has made it twice, in the hope that it will accommodate her pregnant belly and still be wearable afterwards. It looks cool and loose and, on her, very stylish.

Stylearc toni side view

The pattern (hard copy) arrived last week, and I’ve been wondering what fabric to use. After drifting hopefully around Rathdowne Fabrics and Clegs in Brunswick and finding nothing that was exactly right, I went on line and admired the lovely selection of double gauze at Miss Matatabi. I have never sewn with double gauze, but a lot of people have written about how beautiful it is to wear: light and cool.

So, thinking about my pile of T-shirts and the various shades of blue therein, I ordered three metres of a denim blue double gauze backed with a blue and white stripe: reversible. It hasn’t arrived yet. Already however I’m thinking that it may not be right for the pattern, which would look better in something a little heavier and less flyaway, with a bit of stretch. Will I find something different? More browsing around in Rathdowne Fabrics in the hope of discovering one of their amazing bargains?

And will I go ahead and make something else with the fabric? Baggy trousers for a hot summer day? A loose shirt? A simpler, shorter dress? There’s a Marcy Tilton pattern I’ve had sitting around for a year or so: Vogue 9112.

To my eye, this looks mysteriously awful on the very beautiful model but lovely on quite a range of other people: a delicate garment by the Dashing Eccentric:

and Peg’s wild and wonderful version on Deconstruct Alter Create:

Alternatively, and perhaps more practically, there’s a newish shirt pattern at Tessuti: Helga. It’s simple and loose and would definitely be worn until it disintegrated. Yes: maybe I’ll make a Helga.

This seems to be the process I’m arriving at. I’m seduced by the sight of a garment on somebody else who makes better fabric choices than I do. Choice of fabric for a particular pattern is just about the most important part of making your own clothes, I think – or at least, it’s the stage at which I’ve made the most expensive, timewasting and irreversible mistakes. Plus, the garment that catches my eye is likely not to be something I would wear on a regular basis. There’s a little bit of fantasy for me, in the appeal of the Style Arc Toni dress: it’s for special, not for dragging on in a hurry in the morning.

So I order the pattern and the fabric, and then the reality principle begins to kick in. (1) Look at the drape on that dress. It’s supposed to drape stylishly around one’s ankles, not fly away in the slightest breeze. Double gauze? No. (2) What do you put on every day in summer? Loose shirt and pants, that’s what, in relatively neutral colours. (3) OK, don’t let’s feel bad about this. Lovely pattern, let’s make it out of something in, perhaps the stash (have you checked the stash recently?) or from one of the local fabric shops. Meanwhile, that double gauze would make a lovely shirt…

This is a good process. It means I’m learning from my mistakes.

In other fabric news: I may be the last sewing person in Melbourne to realise that Marimekko has a shop in the Emporium, several floors up from Uniqlo. They had a sale on when I walked in, but even at 50% off, their gorgeous bright cottons were still about $70 a metre. IKEA, on the other hand, has a similar aesthetic and is ridiculously cheap. If you make yourself a summer dress out of IKEA cotton, the main difference, apart from the fact that it is likely to cost under $20 in total, is that quite a few people will say, ‘Oh, that’s just like my new curtains.’ But the dress itself would be fine.

 

 

Quilt

About nineteen years ago there was an exhibition of Amish quilts at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. My friend B and I took our toddlers along. The children were just walking and about the same size; I remember my son was wearing shocking pink overalls with a big bright polka dots, a hand-me-down from a slightly older friend. The exhibition was busy but spacious. The kids loved the polished wooden floor and reverted to crawling and sliding to get around.  Several gallery visitors admired our sweet little girls and asked if they were twins. B, who is a long-time quilter, showed me how to look at a quilt, what kinds of workmanship are involved, the tensions between the immaculate, repetitive craft and the drive for colour and form.

It was a memorable day – that is, at the time it was probably just another good little excursion with small children, punctuated by accidents with drinks and the search for a child-friendly toilet, but it has stayed in my memory ever since. There is another memory, which must come from two or three years earlier, when my friend and I sat on a couch at some social gathering, sharing our grief at losing a pregnancy early on. And here we were at the gallery with our beautiful children.

Now those children are pretty much grown up: currently studying midwifery and music respectively. And there is another exhibition of quilts at the gallery – this time at the Australian wing in Federation Square. ‘Making the Australian quilt: 1800-1950’ is open until 6 November. How could we not go?

B still makes quilts. There’s one for each baby in her circle – not too precious, because baby quilts are often used to destruction. Then there are larger, more elaborate quilts for older friends or to hang on the wall. I still don’t make quilts; I’m struggling even to complete a knitted sweater, so how on earth would I cope with hundreds of little pieces of fabric, all needing to be sewn together with tiny, perfect seams? Repetitive crafts are not my thing.

I was expecting to see roughly made quilts using scraps from dressmaking or coarser materials, as part of the Australian pioneer tradition. On the contrary: most of the surviving early quilts use materials that would have been bought on purpose: flowery chintz, bright silks. There were some surprises.

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This is a tumbling block quilt, made out of tiny pieces of silk. The quiltmaker was a sailor, whose name is not known. He gave it to a young woman in Somerset, who sent it to her brother and his wife in Sydney. Why did I assume that all quiltmakers would be women? Sailors had to have sewing skills, in order to make and repair sails – but moving from sailcloth to silk would have been a considerable jump. This piece of work is immaculate. I am trying to imagine the maker sitting on deck in good weather on a long voyage, piecing his tiny diamond-shaped scraps of fabric together – but one little gust of wind and they’d all be overboard. He would have had to work below decks, in good light – or keep his materials in his pockets, and a firm grip on the piece of work in hand. The silks for his quilt would probably have been bought, or maybe acquired as scraps from a dressmaker? I imagine a sister making dresses for wealthy women, hoarding the leftovers for the next time her brother comes home.

Annie Tait (later Annie Percival), who was born in a tent in Silverton, NSW, in 1887, was the daughter of a man who became a successful publican in Broken Hill. When she was about 16, she collected enough silk ribbons from cigars to make a fabulous quilt of her own:

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She has cut up ribbons for the central square to bring together the manufacturers’ logos, and matched the outer ribbons ingeniously to form the broader pattern. Looking at it – the collage of found materials, the brilliant gold – I thought of Rosalie Gascoigne’s traffic sign assemblages, many years later. Annie lived to the astonishing age of 103, dying in 1990.

I found the pioneer quilts of my imagination later on in the exhibition. They are blankets pieced together out of a wild range of scraps – sacking, old sheets, anything that came to hand – in the hard times of the 1930s, and they were known as waggas.

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‘This is more my kind of thing,’ I said to B, approaching this striking object from a distance. Close up, it’s very rough, and the little floral border at the bottom is surreal – you could choose to read it as an ironic comment on the delicacy of the quilting tradition. But I think the thing was thrown together, because somebody was cold and the materials could be found. Maybe that floral edge would be softer under somebody’s chin than the other materials used, which are mostly wool. The maker’s name is Emily Forward.

I have to mention one other quilt.

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This one is also made out of materials that came to hand. Corporal Clifford Gatenby started sewing images onto his army blanket when he was a prisoner of war in Germany, 1941-5. He used wool and cloth from discarded garments, and made needles out of broken spectacles and old toothbrushes. He had clearly been fighting in Egypt; one of the images is of a pyramid. He is recorded as escaping from the camp in 1945 – quite possibly as the Allies advanced and the guards left their posts. He took the quilt with him, and is on record as having said, maybe in some exasperation, that it had been too much work to leave behind!

Waste materials. I have a sackful of fabric scraps from all sorts of projects over the last few years, and it’s hard to throw them away. B tells me it’s really difficult to use a mix of fabrics in a quilt, because they behave differently and won’t lie flat. As we saw in this exhibition, even in the early nineteenth century most high quality quilts used bought materials, and the rougher quilts probably haven’t survived. I love the cigar-ribbon quilt and the Depression-era waggas partly because they used what was available.

Last night we removed a ripped sheet from our bed – it’s a fitted sheet, and the fabric has worn thin over the years. I haven’t thrown it away, because my frugal self thinks there might be a use for it – as lining for some project, or in the garden in some way. My frugal self, however, is pretty close to my hoarder self, and together they are capable of creating and sustaining domestic chaos. My rational self, on the other hand, doesn’t want to have the house cluttered up with possibly useful things more than absolutely necessary. I’ve put the sheet in to wash, and will think about this later. I know that if I do throw it away, I will be needing a few strips of plain white cotton some time soon, and I’ll have to go out and buy them, and then I’ll be sorry.

Perhaps one answer is to sort and classify the scraps, so that a particular piece will come to hand when it’s needed, instead of just shoving everything into a big bag?

Meanwhile I am engaged in my most ambitious sewing project to date: a Chanel-style jacket. I’m proud to be able to say that my stash contained both a length of wool mix and a length of silk, and that they go nicely together. All I’ve bought are the trimmings: interfacing, organza, buttons… Watch this space.

Facing up to the dentist

Like a lot of people all over the world – hive mind at work – I’m reading Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk. She has been obsessed with falconry since childhood, but after the sudden death of her father she takes on a new challenge: training a goshawk. Goshawks are big, wild birds, difficult to train, and extinct in Britain by the late nineteenth century. They were quietly reintroduced by falconers from the 1960s onwards.

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It’s an extraordinary piece of work. I’ve found myself reading passages aloud in our empty house, stunned by the rhythm, power and informality of her writing. And – like many thousands of other people probably – I’ve found weird points of connection. The same reference points. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. And John Le Carre’s novels. She keeps coming back to the character Jim Prideaux of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Prideaux is the wounded ex-spy, filling in time by teaching languages at a fourth-rate boarding school in southern England: a big, wild, gentle man adored by his students, who wrings the neck of an injured owl without an apparent second thought. Le Carre’s Smiley novels are on our bookshelves, a fairly recent, guilty obsession of mine. Cold War romance. Why do I like them so much?

Helen Macdonald has thought of herself as a spy; her father used to joke about her potential. She is invited to show off her goshawk to the family of the Master of the Cambridge College at which she has a three-year fellowship. She can’t handle it. ‘My vision blurs. We carry the lives we’ve imagined as we carry the lives we have lost, and sometimes a reckoning comes of all the lives we have lost… There’s a hush in my head; it grows louder. “I am not a spy,” I’d told my father, “I am a historian.” But watching everyone around the table, their faces entranced by my hawk, it seems that I am not even that any more. I am the Fool, I think dully… I feel hollow and unhoused, an airy, empty wasps’ nest, a thing made of chewed paper after the frosts have murdered the life within.’

That was last night: reading propped up on one elbow in bed before turning off the light. This morning, glumly contemplating a fairly routine visit to the dentist, I remember her words. I don’t know what to wear. I don’t need clothes to express my individuality this morning, I need clothes to get me up Collins Street with its hordes of smartly dressed business people and into the dentist’s waiting room with its neon lights and magazines. I want to look normal, I want to look like everybody else. Clothing as camouflage. Where are the smartly tailored trousers and the good jacket? They don’t appear to have arrived in my life. I’m an ageing woman with messy hair and an increasingly home-made wardrobe. The dentist will be polite and efficient as usual, but I will see myself through his Eastern Suburbs eyes. Eccentric, unpredictable, inappropriate. Once upon a time, I might even have rushed out to spend a stupid amount of money on office clothes, just to get me through the day. And then they would have hung in the wardrobe unworn for several years and ended up at the Brotherhood, unloved.

And the indignity of the whole procedure! Lying on one’s back with a virtual stranger probing the recesses of one’s mouth with sharp instruments, while a whole cliff-face of office windows looks on across twenty metres of city air. There’s a word I keep remembering and then forgetting; Julia Kristeva writes about it in Powers of Horror. She talks about the shudder in her whole body, faced with the skim that forms on the surface of warm milk. I know what the word is and what it means, but it moves out of reach, dances around at a distance, unretrievable. A hawk in a tree, refusing to come down to its handler. Not lost, just stubborn.

Abjection. I had to go on line to find the word. To me, it’s something to do with a breakdown in the surfaces of one’s consciousness, the permeable layers that protect the workings of the mind, filtering the chaotic external world into a manageable flow of information. Helen Macdonald writes about this absence of protection – I could quote on and on, but it’s a book that needs to be read as a whole. Abjection. The moments in one’s life – moments, years – when, as Margaret Atwood once put it, you ‘live like a peeled snail’. As defenceless as W H Auden’s Miss Gee, laid out naked and dead for dissection in front of laughing medical students.

The dentist issue is trivial. It is quite possible, in the later stages of life, to confront a small existential crisis (cool-eyed dentist; city crowds) without dissolving into panic. On this occasion, Donna Karan comes to the rescue. Her designs are the opposite of armour; they are fluid, dateless, comfortable. There’s an old Vogue design, a cowled smock, Vogue 1179, which I have made, I think, four times. One dud, one not great, one too dark for daytime wear for me, and the fourth: a stretchy synthetic with a bit of body to it, in a jazzy pattern of black, turquoise, gold and grey, from Clegs in Brunswick. It cheers me up. It tells the world I’m cheerful. I’ll pass for normal.

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The pattern is most unfortunately out of print. Why can’t Vogue keep these things available? They’re classics, people are going to go on wanting to buy them. It isn’t even listed among the out of print patterns on the website. It can still be found on ebay from time to time. This morning it got me out of trouble: off to the dentist in half an hour’s time, not looking forward to this but not in a complete panic. Armoured.

 

High fashion: an interlude

This blog is not going to indulge itself in any easy cynicism about haute couture. Without the Paris shows, would we ever have heard of Issey Miyake and Junya Watanabe? Without a global awareness of that floppy, recycled aesthetic, would Vogue Patterns go out of their way to continue producing Marcy Tilton’s fabulous Japanese-inspired loose dresses and asymmetric T-shirts?

And where would we be without the encouragement of Clare Sheaffer’s Couture Sewing Techniques when it comes to buttonholes and seam finishes? Dump the machine and do it by hand: there’s no particular virtue in machine work, it’s only faster and neater if it’s piloted by a skilled operator, which takes years of practice for the ham-fisted. Once you’ve had to undo one long machine-stitched seam in an unforgiving fabric, and counted the extra three hours into the production time of that garment, hand sewing – or at least a careful process of tacking, trying on, untacking and trying on again, incorporating perhaps a line of machine stitching for the seam itself and then oversewing the edges by hand – begins to look like a time-saver.

Nevertheless, most of the fashion shows are less than irrelevant to me, now and also at other, better-looking phases of my life: mostly to me they are boring. I’m sure that there are plenty of people who see this year’s subtle innovations in colour and shape and draw their own creative conclusions. Usually I glance at a photo or two in a newspaper and move on. Nothing to see here.

Balenciaga’s latest, however, gave me a little visual shock. Look at this young woman. OK: she is extraordinarily beautiful in a pale Tilde Swinton sort of way, and presumably immensely tall and slim, and she’s wearing a small fortune’s worth of exquisite gloves,  interesting and dramatic neck ornament, and unwearably high platform boots, and she’s carrying an excellent bag a bit like a sheet music case – but apart from that…

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That shirt. OK, the designer has chosen to crop it on one side at the front, and what I thought at first was a charming untuckedness is actually an irritating little bit of self-indulgence. [Later: looking at it again, sorry, yes, I think it’s a charming untuckedness.] But it’s a classic mannish cotton shirt, oversized and perfectly crisp and ironed. It appears elsewhere in the show with all its bits intact under an oversized denim jacket, whose well-worn twin may well be lurking somewhere in Savers in Sydney Road, Brunswick.

Balenciaga denim

Both models are wearing prim below-the-knee skirts in tweed or corduroy – the kind of thing that says to me: 1970s London feminist off to her day job, trying to look respectable. At home, she has a selection of dungarees, boots from the long-gone Olof Daughters, dangly earrings from another long-lost shop, Detail in Covent Garden, and a fine collection of political badges. And another thing: those incredibly beautiful young women, like the 1970s London feminist, appear not to be wearing any make-up on their faces at all.

Things that go on forever. I have that shirt. Got it at the very down-market K-mart many years ago. It was languishing in an unloved area within Womens Fashions, and it was pure cotton, no frills, and had a useful arrangement on the sleeves that keeps them hitched up when you’re cooking. It was so cheap that for once I did the sensible thing: went back and bought two more. They’re still going strong, worn every winter in combination with singlets underneath, jumpers over the top, shirt-tails out and trailing if the jumper is short enough to show them. I suppose it’s a uniform that dates me dreadfully.

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Here they are: three K-mart shirts, newly ironed believe it or not, only very slightly marked in one case by, perhaps, simmering tomato sauce, but all still in good nick otherwise. I’m so glad that this year the loose mannish shirt is having its moment in the sun.

And, by the way, I want to acknowledge the skilled and anonymous Chinese women who sewed my three cheap shirts. Also, come to think of it, the people who picked the cotton, delivered it to the mill, and worked in the mill where it was cleaned, spun, dyed and woven. Also the workers in the factory that made the metal snaps that have lasted all these years. I hope, optimistically, that you’re all working a maximum forty-hour week for decent wages in reasonable working conditions.

 

 

Dressing up, dressing down

As cool weather arrives, so does the usual wardrobe crisis. What to wear when the temperature drops below 20˚? No idea. Good to see that the wardrobe is slightly less populated these days, thanks to a clothing swap and also thanks to a vast bag of stuff cluttering up the bedroom floor, shortly to make its way to the Brotherhood of St Laurence. However. The T-shirts of the last few months will not be enough this morning. What was I wearing in spring?

Things that go on for ever

This blog came out of a perfect little storm of life changes. A thesis got to the point at which it could be submitted for assessment, fingers crossed and no guarantees that it won’t come roaring back with curt demands for rewriting. Meanwhile, Telstra’s deadline for closing down the mobile phone network on which my ancient Nokia relied is next November. And the young bloke is now second year uni: just about grown up. What next?

My old phone has been laid to rest. This kind of phone has been known locally as the poet’s phone: owned by impoverished scribblers and used almost entirely to send and receive messages.

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The new phone is an astonishing little box of tricks, hypnotic. There are days when I stumble out of bed to the kitchen dizzy after a full hour of exploration of its small screen. Not a good way to start the morning. Apparently I can expect it to last for a couple of years before it needs to be replaced.

At around the time I bought the new phone, I saw a job ad. Now, I’m not looking for a full-time job, but this one was my kind of thing: working for a local council on streamlining their communications, internal and external. I had all the qualifications except one: familiarity with social media. And I realised that if I’m going to look for paid work, even part-time, I need to join the 21st century.

So I revived the moribund Facebook page, learned how to post photos and messages, and started this blog, with help from a friend (thanks, Barb!). Last time I tried this, a few years ago, it seemed impossible to go on Facebook or set up a blog without compromising myself somehow, in terms of privacy or self-promotion or whatever. Now it seems straightforward. I don’t know what’s changed. The last couple of weeks, I’ve been a social media tragic. Next challenge: Instagram (which, incidentally, I am told, is the platform of choice for artists these days).

Then the same friend showed me how to use Pinterest, and this week we’ve been exchanging pins. She picks the most colourful images from my monochromatic clothing collection, and I take the most austere of hers. This, for example: a top made from a Katherine Tilton pattern (Butterick 5891) by the blogger of the Destashification Project.  Bringing together a small collection of images you like is surprisingly interesting: it tells you things about yourself. With our different tastes in clothing, Barb and I both think this is lovely.

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But the poet’s phone is redundant. It’s my first ever mobile phone, and it’s been going for, let me see – over eight years? There’s nothing wrong with it apart from a chip on the case and the fact that it has no camera and almost no memory. I can’t quite bring myself to throw it away.

But that set me thinking: what have we got that goes on and on? Would it be tempting fate to start listing well-used possessions – the ones that don’t need replacing?

Here’s one. Out in the back yard this sunny, cool morning, hanging washing, I was trying to apply one of the lessons I’ve learnt through sewing: don’t rush, take your time, allow random thoughts to occupy your mind as they put in an appearance and you may find they aren’t random at all. And there, right in front of me,  is a classic long-term possession: the extendable washing line, which was here when we moved into this house about twenty-three years ago and is still going strong. It’s so old, the manufacturer’s label has fallen off the front. It has never moved from this spot, except when we put up the wooden lattice to hide the carport, many years ago.

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So, in the spirit of Marie Kondo, who thanks her socks for keeping her feet warm and the saucepan for its part in making her meals, I want to thank the washing line for quietly getting on with the important business of drying our clothes using energy direct from the sun, with no technological interface, week after week, year after year, without ever letting us down.

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You think that’s a grater? Now this is a grater

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Every time I have to throw something away, it hurts. Some manufactured object (manufactured = made by hand, and most of these things are made by machine, but there was great human ingenuity put into the production) has reached the end of its life and heads off for landfill.

Take the cheap laser printer which is essential for the university student in the house. It runs out of ink and you need to buy a new cartridge, at $69. Here’s the old cartridge.

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It’s a high-tech bundle of plastic and metal, probably including a smidgeon of the rare metals which we are all going to run out of somewhere down the track. And it’s useless, all you can do is chuck it. Would it be completely out of the question to redesign the laser printer, so that the refill, instead of being a $69 package of non-renewable resources, was just a little bottle of ink powder, which could be decanted straight into the printer? Oh no, that wouldn’t work commercially, it would destroy the manufacturer’s commercial model, wouldn’t it. How silly of me.

Of course we recycle. Three bins: rubbish, recycling and green for garden waste. The recycling bin contains a mix of newspapers, plastic containers, milk cartons, tins… and it’s picked up by a special recycling truck. I’ve always wondered how much of that stuff actually ends up in landfill. The council doesn’t publicise the end of the recycling line. And green waste goes off in a special green truck. I would love to believe that all our rose cuttings, tree prunings and noxious weeds find their way to a giant compost heap that reduces everything to lovely healthy compost in a few weeks, but I’ve heard awful rumours that our council can’t actually deal with the quantities of green waste that its residents supply. Hopefully this is just urban cynicism. There’s no way I’m going to abandon the ritual of sorting stuff for the bins. We time the pruning of fruit trees by the dates of the green rubbish collection, which happens every two weeks. About a third of the apricot tree just went off; the big apple tree is next.

A few months ago, our ancient box grater gave up the ghost. The rivets that held it together along one edge failed, and this household is not capable of riveting anything. No skills, no tools. We needed a new grater immediately, and found a similar one, a bit smaller but very cheap, at the supermarket. It’s on the left in the photo above.

Over the last few weeks, the new grater has been deteriorating. Little patches of orange rust have appeared on the main grating areas – they look exactly like the remains of grated carrot, which is why I tried to wash them off when I first saw them. I can’t think of any way of saving this thing: off to the tip it will go.

These days I buy kitchenware on line, after several debacles in the city department stores. (Myers and David Jones, I’m talking about you.) Of the various graters on offer, somehow I ended up ordering a much more expensive whizz-bang object with a solid plastic handle at the top and a removable plastic base to catch your gratings so (in theory) they don’t go all over the place. It arrived this morning, and has yet to be put into action.

I found myself justifying the expense, first to myself and then to my partner.

(1) If the last grater cost $5 and lasted three months, that’s $20 a year, which over three years is $60, which is more than I’ve spent on the new grater. The new grater is supposed to last for ever, more or less.

(2) We haven’t got a Kitchenaid mixer and we do most things by hand, so we need good equipment. And a good grater is much cheaper than a Kitchenaid mixer.

(3) We just sent a bit of useless metal to landfill after three months, which is bad for the environment and a waste of non-renewable resources. If the new grater lasts for ever, it will justify the use of the metal and plastic of which it’s made, and stay out of landfill.

(4) If we have a really good collection of graters, that will stop me coveting a Kitchenaid mixer. And we don’t really have room for a Kitchenaid mixer, and they cost a fortune, and embody and consume a lot more energy than a hand grater, or even a set of hand graters. You are allowed to have a good hand grater. (These arguments are beginning to become circular, and are clearly driven by guilt, both environmental and financial.)

Did I say ‘set of graters’ just then? Oh yes – I also ordered a fine microplane grater at the same time. After all, the postage and packing weren’t going to cost any more.

The title of a book by the British science writer Fred Pearce comes to mind. Confessions of an eco-sinner: travels to find where my stuff comes from. I haven’t even travelled to the outskirts of the City of Moreland to find the giant compost heap where I hope the prunings from the apricot tree are being turned over in a rich mix of earthworms and microbes, to end up in our local parks. Or not.

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I think I’ll get back to knitting, and to the extremely difficult business of picking up dropped stitches.