Thank you Simon Upton for a trip down memory lane, and a reminder of where my green roots came from. Simon Upton wrote a moving article about his recently deceased father, musing whether self-professed greens had a monopoly on green values, or whether there should be a place for representatives of the older generation on the billboards he admires. “Without even having heard of sustainable development, he lived on the basis that his choices should not foreclose those of his children’s generation. Doing that required prudence, thrift and a measure of self-denial. It seems a world removed from the debt-fuelled consumerism of our times”, he writes of his 87 year old father.
I think you would find, Simon, that many many greens were influenced by such examples of good living by our older family members. This one anyway owes a huge debt to her Auntie, too singular to ever need a qualifying name – she’s “plain Auntie”, my sister famously told a visitor. She and my parents were all products of the depression, and my parents were also frugal by necessity, but it was Auntie who best expressed that passion for frugality and making a game out of making do. I remember laughing at her in my callow youth for washing and reusing the gladwrap from round the supermarket celery. We were equally amused, embarrassed and excited by the steady stream of second hand clothes that she picked up for us kids, and later, our kids, from the op shops in Newtown decades before op-shopping became chic.
When Auntie told me firmly not to buy her any more “things” for birthday presents as she did not have room for any more in her tiny flat, I was somewhat taken aback. It took me decades to come back round to her way of thinking, but I now recognize her as instinctively green, when green was still mainstream, and remaining so after, when consumption became king. Yet, like Simon Upton’s father, she was an instinctive conservative, a lifelong National voter, albeit one whose faith was sorely challenged by the trials of the nineties, which she did not outlive.
I thought of her again last night, when I was having a brief conversation with our local National candidate after a meeting, congratulating him for National’s policy emphasis on the protection of breast-feeding. (I don’t know how firm their commitment is, but any support deserves encouragement). I was talking about breast-feeding as an necessity for survival in times of natural disaster and other upheaval, and he volunteered that he was really worried that people these days did not have the basic life skills to manage in a major depression. Being a generation behind me, he didn’t have that familial link to depression-forged frugality that is part of the experience of most baby-boomers, and he didn’t seem to be too aware of the grassroots sustainability movements that so many Greens are part of, but I thought it was an interesting comment. We agreed that such skills should be taught in primary schools, and that knitting circles were a good thing. But I also thought, “everyone needs an Auntie”.
I’ve also been thinking that there are many in the older generation who probably find the Green party most in line with their own values, conservative or not, and perhaps we should be reaching out a bit more to them, including those who are feeling betrayed by Winston. A friend of mine was leafletting the other day, and an older guy said, “I don’t need one of those, I’m voting for you anyway – you’re the only lot with any integrity.”
I haven’t bought gladwrap for a few years. Perhaps you’re right about the billboard, Simon.