Now for something COMPLETELY different. We’re all working hard to reduce our plastic, and our carbon footprint, and now and then we need a break from being virtuous. Besides, I don’t want this blog to get too preachy, so here’s a piece of SYDN I hope you never have to worry about. And I think it’s pretty fascinating.
Okay. Think of the softest pashmina you ever felt. Nice, wasn’t it? Soft, warm, and oh so caressing. Imagine if it was quite a bit softer, softer and finer. That’s not a pashmina, it’s a shahmina, made from even finer fibres than a pashmina. Gorgeous. OMG, can something so fine be THAT warm?
Now imagine it finer and softer still. As fine as the thinnest, flimsiest silk and yet warmer by far. Finer even than the softest vicuña woven for the King of the Aztecs. So fine that a huge shawl can be pulled through a pinkie ring.
That, my friends, is a Shahtoosh. The word gossamer was surely invented to describe it. Made from the finest fibres in the world, plucked from the beard and belly of Chiru – a Tibetan antelope. You have to be a master weaver to be able to handle those unbelievably delicate fibres. Naturally, rich people love ’em.
I’m rich, I want one!
Sorry, you can’t have one. It’s illegal to sell or even own one in most countries. This is because the Shahtoosh is the textile equivalent of the Elephant’s Tusk, or the Ocelot Fur Coat. Just as it takes more than one ocelot to make a coat, it takes between three and five hides to make one shawl. You see, the endangered Chiru has to be killed for its coat. No, the fur can’t be sheared or combed, the animal must be killed. Deaded. Deprived of life. Just for its underhair.
Why can’t you breed them?
The Chinese have tried, but it’s been a complete failure. The Chiru have very poor survival rates in captivity. They breed at incredibly high altitudes which humans cannot manage for long periods of time. It’s life at these high altitudes which makes them develop their super-thick coats, and they need an enormous amount of space to forage for food in such a hostile environment.
Any relaxation in the law makes it a great deal harder to enforce the prohibition on making, selling or owning a Shahtoosh. Not even the finest forensic examination could tell whether the shawl came from a wild or captive animal. Just to clarify – pashminas and shahminas are mainly made from the hair of the Changthangi, or Cashmere goat. This is perfectly acceptable because the goat sheds its coat in spring and can be combed. The Shahtoosh can only be made from the fleece of the Chiru and this animal cannot be sheared or combed. And as these animals are protected, they must of necessity be poached.
So legalisation and herding would undoubtedly lead to a rapid decline in the population of the Chiru because forensics wouldn’t be able to tell if the animals were from herds or from poaching. The bitter irony is that captive breeding stimulates poaching. Why go to all the bother of trying to raise herds and live in such an inhospitable climate, when you can just take a smart hunting rifle with telescopic sights and pick off a few animals to ake home?
Ok, it’s a niche piece of SYDN. But one day, you may come across a Shahtoosh and I guarantee that you will recognise it now you’ve read this far.
My encounter with a Shahtoosh
We had a very wealthy old lady round to supper, a friendly acquaintance of my other half. I didn’t know her well, but she’d donated heavily to a charitable project he was involved in, and supper was our way of thanking her. As she was leaving, I picked up her ‘shawl’ to hand it to her, and my jaw dropped. It almost floated into my hands. I was horrified.
“How many animals died for this?” I said, without thinking.
She had the grace to look embarrassed.
“Don’t ask!” she said. “I didn’t know when I bought it.”
There was nothing more to be said, so I handed it to her quietly. She was our guest, she was in her very late 70s, she’d been incredibly generous elsewhere, and I wasn’t going to bring five rare antelopes back to life by haranguing an old lady.
She’s now been dead for some years, and her Shahtoosh probably went to the charity shop. I hope someone got it for a tenner and it’s been keeping them warm all these years later. It would be horrible to think that five antelope died for their coats to end up in the tip.
But I shall never forget that wonderful, ravishing fabric. I felt like Edmund in The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe when he eats the White Witch’s Turkish Delight. I wanted – no, I lusted – after one of my own. But I will never own one.
Still being made…
Yes, I’m sorry to say they are still being made secretly in Kashmir because they are in high demand. Rich people love them – you know, the kind of people who instal a gold toilet in their bathroom. And it’s MUCH easier to get away with than a mink coat because (a) not many people know about Shahtooshes and (b) they just look like a beautiful fine bit of fabric.
Sometimes human beings are so disappointing.
What you will save…
Online research tells me that these tender stoles sell for about £4,000-£5,000.
As lovely as any antelope…
Picture credits. I couldn’t find any snaps of Chirus on free websites, so I snuck the pics from the https://www.tibettravel.org/ site. And no, I don’t get a kickback if you do book a holiday with them! The scarves at the top are mine, some are pashminas, some aren’t, but I needed something colourful.
I am researching something serious for next time. Keep the faith, and keep sharing.
Yes, yes, of course you have. Me too. In fact, I’ve got seventeen Bags For Life, because I keep forgetting to bring them to the supermarket so I have to buy a new one, simply proving that I’m a forgetful twazzock of epic proportions.
In fairness, plastic bags are only the teensiest, tiniest part of the problem of plastic pollution, but we have to start somewhere.
And they’re everywhere. Here’s a by-no-means comprehensive list of single use bags you can stop buying. You have to hand it to the packaging manufacturers and their marketing departments, they’ve worked REALLY hard to make us think we need different bags for every occasion!
Sandwich bags. Lordy Bill, there are so many other ways to keep your sarnies fresh – in a wax wrapper. in foil or greaseproof paper – or even a plastic box you can use again and again.
Snack bags. Yes, there are such things and they are entirely separate and distinct from sandwich bags. Big Bad Bag Corp would like us to believe that we need BOTH snack bags AND sandwich bags. OMG, imagine the confusion if you put your snack in your sandwich bag and your sarnie in your snack bag! You might eat your BLT double decker thinking it was a piece of fruit and then you’d have nothing left for lunch! Gastronomic confusion would reign supreme!
Freezer bags. These are not particularly practical. They flop in the freezer and either stick to the surface or wrap themselves round whatever they’re sitting on. Boxes stack so much better and can be reused indefinitely with care.
Ice cube bags. Yes. Ice cube bags. I ask you. ICE CUBE BAGS!!! Which you have to tear and shred to get the ice out and then throw away… Oh puh-leeeeeeeeze! Use an ice tray!!!
Slow cooker liners. Whaaat? People actually COOK their FOOD in a PLASTIC BAG, without wondering what petrochemical-type contaminants might be leaching into their food? Yikes. The packet says “Keep pots clean – seal in flavour”. Accept it, making stews means you have to wash the pot afterwards. Just soak it overnight, or leave it on simmer full of water for a while, and that should make the crusty bits come off the side.
Roasting bags. Again, another ruse to sell you something completely unnecessary in the belief that somehow it will save you time and effort. It means you miss all the gorgeous, gooey cooking juices under the meat. If you want to protect the top of the dish from burning, use a saved butter wrapper and mould that round your chicken or yer chops or whatever. And if you really want to seal in your roast and keep your oven clean, you can make a ‘bag’ from a large piece of greaseproof paper. Eezi-peezi.
Wastepaper bin liners. Are you a hotel? Probably not. And even if you are, stop it. Put a piece of newspaper at the bottom of the bin if you must. I hate the way hotels put those flimsy liners in their bins. Thousands and thousands of these get dumped every day with just a tissue or a couple of bits of cotton wool in them. If hotels equipped their chamber staff with rubber gloves and a damp cloth it would be a great deal better for the environment. (I now travel with a plastic box for my waste cottonwool etc., and instead of using the bins in hotel rooms, I take it home and dispose of it there.)
Dog poo bags made of plastic. No excuse, chaps, been here before. You can get biodegradable bags everywhere in which to pop those plops.
Customs bags. You know, the ones they make you put your costmetics in to go through the machines at the airport. Get one, and keep it for next time. And the next. And so on.
What about big bin bags?
As to big bin bags, I’m resigned to having to use them. The hazards of being a garbage collector are enormous – they never know what foul stuff they’re picking up, whether it’s diseased, or full of rodents, insects, toxic waste, hypodermic syringes, broken glass etc etc… So until such time as garbage collection is mechanised, bin bags are vital for providing at least a small level of protection for these workers.
But most plastic bags are unnecessary, and if you need to be reminded of how plastic never disappears from the planet even when you can’t see it, read my piece on cling film/Saran wrap. If that doesn’t give you the holy horrors, I don’t know what will.
Nice and short this time, eh!
All photographs taken by Yours Truly, most of them in Sainsbury’s of Bicester. I think we can all agree that I’ve done a MARVELLOUS job. Okay, they’re a bit shite, but frankly I haven’t yet got used to the embarrassment of going round shops and photographing things like a weirdo.
My current challenge
I’m on tour, which means eating microwave meals at the theatre every day. I’ve challenged myself to do this without single-use plastic and am reporting my progress on my Twitter feed. It’s quite bothersome but because I am such a geek, I’m rather enjoying the challenge. @DillieKeane if you’re interested. Also @ShitYeDontNeed.
And finally… Here’s a picture of a hound, but not Piper this time as she is fed up with me for going on tour and refused to pose. Sorry, Pips, I shall be home the whole summer and we’ll make hay (and definitely jam) together and you can play hide and seek in the dahlia forest.
Meanwhile, this is Barney, our beloved Labrador, in the Drug Chair. It’s called the Drug Chair because there are strange aromatic medicaments in the upholstery that cause whoever sits there to go to sleep during interesting television programmes which means the rest of us have to watch them again.
Or mainly, almond milk. Yes, that surprisingly pleasant milk-substitute beloved of Clean Eaters everywhere.
As more of us drift towards a meat-free life, it beckons temptingly. You’re almost elevated to dietary sainthood the moment you whisper with a shudder, “Oh! I don’t do dairy, do you have any almond milk?”
Yes, it’s hugely popular, not just with vegan converts and bearded hipsters, but those unlucky enough to be lactose or dairy intolerant. When I was young, no-one had ever heard of lactose intolerance. I suppose people just suffered in silence and wondered why a milky coffee made them fart like an ancient Morris Traveller.
However, there is nothing virtuous about almond milk. Nothing at all.
Are Californians drinking dirty water?
On average, it takes 12 litres of water to grow one almond. 12 litres! Almost as bad as avocados…
Most of the world’s almonds come from California, so there’s quite a carbon footprint too. According to the Almond Board of California, and they should know, the state “produces about 80% of the world’s almonds and 100% of the U.S. commercial supply. Almonds are California’s #1 agricultural export.”
It’s also the most extensively irrigated crop in the state, in spite of the fact that poor old California has had an appalling drought since 2010.
All trees that produce crops of any kind need a constant supply of water, so when there’s no rain, farmers irrigate their crops with water taken from wells drilled deep down into the aquifers. These are layers of permeable rock containing groundwater.
In normal times, aquifers are refilled with rain. But after 10 years of drought, the higher aquifers are empty. So farmers are drilling deeper and deeper. This means the quality suffers. Why?
Salinity increases the deeper you go. Salty water isn’t good for the soil and it’s not nice to drink.
In some built up areas, groundwater basins are contaminated by industrial chemicals.
Near the coast, salt water flowing into yet more aquifers doesn’t help crops – and again, it’s not good for drinking.
It gets scarier. In an op-ed for the LA Times, the distinguished scientist and hydrologist Jay Famiglietti, claims that California is at risk of running out of water.
What drought really does…
We think of drought this way – it dries up what we can see in front of us – brown grass, curling leaves, failed crops etc.
What we don’t realise that it affects the land in a much more frightening way.
There is huge subsidence in the vast San Joaquin Valley, where most of the almonds are grown. The aquifers are slowly collapsing deep underground, and when aquifers collapse, so does the ground we stand on. Land that sinks – no matter how slowly – is dangerous for roads, bridges, levees, buildings – infrastructure of every sort.
In turn, this makes the mountains ranges running alongside the valley higher, and this increases the likelihood of earthquakes.
Remember, this is in California, which you might call Earthquake Central. This massive subsidence been identified as the largest human alteration of the Earth’s surface. Wow.
In fairness, this is a process that has taken 150 years of sucking the water out of the ground to create farmland out of marsh. But the rush to cash in on the almond milk boom has led to almond acreage in California increasing by over 80% in the decade between 2009 and 2019. Trees need much more water than cabbages.
About 1.6 million colonies of honey bees are placed in California almond orchards at the beginning of the bloom period to pollinate the crop.
After almonds, honey bees move throughout the United States, pollinating over 90 other crops and making honey.
This is what’s known as migratory beekeeping, and it leads to bees being stressed.
Actually, the term, “migratory beekeeping” makes me cross because it’s wilfully misleading. Bees are most definitely NOT migratory, In normal circumstances, they feed on a wide variety of nectars.
What it means in reality is that hives are trundled from crop to crop as each needs to be pollinated in turn. While the bees are being driven, perhaps hundreds of miles, they’re in closed cartons, unable to fly.
In addition, transporting them from one monoculture to another deprives them of a balanced diet. Almonds are grown in great monocrops – acres and acres of nothing but almonds. Come on, you’d get sick if you ate nothing but chocolate for three weeks and then moved on to baked beans for a month, followed by a fortnight on eggs. This is basically what is required of these “migratory” bees.
Shunting them about the country also increases the risk of spreading parasites and diseases, not only amongst managed hives but also among the depleted wild bee populations they might just encounter round the edges of these monocultures.
In fact, all crops are more effectively pollinated by a mix of honey and wild bees than by honeybees alone. But there are no other foods for the bees, so the farms rely 99% on these “migratory honeybees” with virtually no extra input from other pollinators.
Slave bees, more like.
And then there’s insecticides, upon which almond growers are so dependent. A study last year which looked at the toxic combination of insecticides and fungicides on bees in almond orchards reported the following:
increased larval mortality,
increased deformed brood
a significant number of colonies completely dead.
The decline of bees around the world should make this a matter of deep concern.
While I’m at it, let’s not demonise farmers. They’re making a living, and many of them are at their wits end as to how to improve farming. The safety of bees, the absurdity of monocultures and the use of groundwater needs to be dealt with by legislation at state and national level.
But St Gwynnie of GOOP drinks it!
Yes, the fragrant Gwyneth Paltrow, the not-as-vegan-as-you-thought goddess with the noxiously idiotic lifestyle website GOOP, apparently has a smoothie made with almond milk every morning – whether or not she is detoxing! So it must be the superest of super things evah, hey?
Oh yes, the internet is awash with any number of clean eating influencers promoting the virtue of replacing dairy with almond milk.
So how nutritious is it?
Go to the Alpro website and you will find this list of the benefits of drinking “almond original”. My comments in italics.
Naturally Lactose Free
Vegetarian (er… isn’t that the same as 100% plant based?)
Naturally low in fat
Naturally low in saturated fat (Surely that’s just a subheading under “fat”?)
Low in sugars (But since you can get unsweetened almond milk, I think we can assume the these sugars are added…)
Rich in Fibre (except all the nut is taken out)
A source of calcium. Contains vitamins B2, B12 and D.
Source of calcium and vitamins D and B12. (Sorry guys, you just said that!) Vitamin B12 contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue.
Search as I might, I can’t find any evidence to say it’s any better for you than old-fashioned cow’s milk or, for that matter, any other non-animal milk.
Lactose intolerance and veganism
Some people are lactose (dairy) intolerant. Others hate the milk industry and make a moral choice not to drink it. For both groups, doing without milk is a serious nuisance. And this isn’t a perfect world and frequently we have to make quick choices that we know aren’t good for the planet.
But if you do decide to change from almond milk, and I hope you do, oat milk and coconut milk seem to be a wee bit less damaging, even though they come in Tetra Paks which are much less eco-friendly than you might think. (But that’s for another time…)
Better still, make your own almond milk. Buy almonds grown near you (they’re grown in Australia, Europe, Asia and North Africa) and get bottling. Here’s a handy recipe to start you off. Chefs don’t like the pulp, I gather, but there are any amount of recipes out there for using the by-product. Or use it to make an exfoliating scrub.
My final question…
Is it worse for me to buy cow’s milk delivered in a glass bottle which will be used again and again (yes, we still get ours like that!) or a Tetra Pak of almond milk that goes on fouling the planet long after you’ve finished with it?
Note to the rest of you. My brother Frank is an eminent surgeon, and therefore a proper Man of Science. And yes, I could have asked him before publishing, but I don’t think it hurts to show my areas of ignorance and my efforts to redress this! And besides, I’m off on tour any minute, and want to get this out there!
Meanwhiles, welcome to all of you who have joined recently, and thanks to chuttersnap on Unsplash for the photo of the almonds at the top. Honestly, without the wondrous Unsplash’s free photos, this blog would be very dull to look at.
But of course, the best picture of all is the one of the… yes… wait for it… the One And Only beloved Mutt who has a starring role in this blog.
Quite rightly. She is a very eco-minded Person-Dog as she loves to lick the plates in the dishwasher before the cycle starts, thus extending the life of the machine. She firmly believes that hygiene is less important than waste.
My last post garnered a few useful recommendations from my excellent readers, so rather than sit on them for a few months I thought I would pass them on. Strike while the iron is hot. Thanks to you all, it’s bloody brilliant to know that there’s a host of other eco-worriers out there doing their bit.
As my dog is a person-owner (I wouldn’t dream of saying it the other way round, I am Piper’s slave!) I have been using bio-degradable poo-bags for some years. You can get scented ones but that is er, gilding the, er, lily, surely? I never have trouble getting them from pet shops – but Shirley Jordorson recommends the ones you can get on ecovibeuk. Just make sure that they are entirely plant-based.
However, even the best and most bio bags don’t necessarily degrade within a year if they’re buried beneath vast piles of other garbage at the dump. You need light and oxygen to compost stuff, so disposing of the bag correctly is important. Do try and use those dedicated dog poo bins. The contents are taken to commercial composting facilities where high temperatures ensure both the bags and Rover’s whoopsies are properly composted.
Better still, if the Mutt poops in your back garden, have a shovel handy and tip it down the loo without a bag. Yes, really.
Catherine Read recommends her pal’s website, Sea Green Soap which looks delightful. At the moment, you have to go through her Facebook page to purchase, but it’s worth having a peek especially as she has some doggy soap on offer!
Last year, I went with my two NSDs (Non-Step-Daughters) on a morning’s soap-making course. I have to say it’s not rocket science. It was good fun, but the main thing I remember was that our teacher wouldn’t let us use the rose oil as it was too expensive. Never mind, we’re still using the soap and it’s lovely.
My old pal Kristin got in touch to sing the praise of coconut fibre scourers. “They’re fantastic. Biodegradable, non-scratch etc. Highly recommend them.” Thanks Kristin! I am ordering some from Ecovibe – plus a number of other interesting, non-plastic cleaning products I’ve discovered on their COMPLETELY BRILLIANT website. And they plant a tree in Australia with every order over £30.
And just in case you’re wondering, yes, those sponge scourers are made from polymers. In other words, plastic. Get with the coconut scrub pads, folks!
Gas gas gas…
Finally, Shirley recommends switching for your power to Good Energy. They don’t supply you with 100% renewable, they actually have rather a complex system of trading energy, but the thrust of what they’re trying to do is to significantly increase the amount of energy we use from renewable sources. And they own a number of wind and solar sites.
Shirley says, “The supply costs a bit more , but they are a lovely friendly company, who take the time to give you a personal service.”
Frankly, the energy companies we’ve used in recent years have been so appalling I would be happy to pay a bit more. I’ll see what the old man thinks.
Time also to give praise to some companies that are doing wonderful things. Shirley reminded me of 4Oceans (I’m wearing the bracelet right now, thank you so much, I was incredibly touched to get it!) They’re taking plastic from the oceans and making bracelets from them – mind you, they have taken so much plastic from the oceans it’s hard to imagine that there are enough wrists in the world to wear the squazillion bracelets they could make. Still, it’s a heroic and laudable enterprise, so hurrah for 4Oceans.
Shirley’s second valediction goes to Revive Eco, a little Scottish company run by two young Scots lads who are turning waste coffee grounds into a substitute for palm oil. I’d never heard of them but will be keeping an eye out for them in future. Have a gander at their blog – they’re pretty amazing and I wish them huge success.
I’ve had lots of recommendations on the Facebook page and also in comments here, but this is long enough already and I want to get this out to everyone before I head to Memphis… yes, ratcheting up that carbon footprint. But it’s not for a holiday, it’s for the funeral of my other half’s brother, and sometimes you must put family before good intentions and worthy behaviour. So this comes from a very sad version of me, because he was a lovely man and we were enormously fond of one another.
I thought I would start 2020 on a positive note, so I asked my colleagues for their eco-recommendations. (For those of you who don’t know me in my other life as a cabaret performer, I work with a group called Fascinating Aïda and as we’re all working together right now, it seemed like a good idea to sound them out.
Me – Who gives a crap!
I never believed I could get excited about loo roll, but 2019 saw a deep and profound change in me and all I can say is this bamboo marvel is the dog’s bollocks. It’s quite expensive – however, it is so densely rolled that each roll lasts MUCH longer than yer usual gubbins. We ordered 10 boxes back in March for all the family (3 households, 9 people) and we still haven’t had to order any replacements. Order 10 boxes and you get a a hefty discount.
Apart from anything else, this exemplary company donates 50% of its profits towards building toilets for people who don’t have them. Bravo!
If you’re wondering why you should stop using conventional loo roll, here is the gen in brief. It destroys forests. Ancient forests. Here‘s the longer piece which was my first blog. I’m sure you’ll be just as horrified as I was after doing the research.
Of course the downside of the discovery that bamboo can replace so much could lead to more deforestation for endless bamboo plantations, much like the palm oil plantations despoiling much of Indonesia etc. But we’re not there yet and so here’s my hurrah for Who Gives A Crap.
It takes a few days to get used to this – it’s a bit odd and claggy. Colgate and their rivals have, after all, worked very hard to make their products deliciously irreplaceable. But their plastic tubes are the work of the devil and Georganics toothpaste comes in recyclable glass jars with metal lids! Better still, for peppermint haters (Adèle) there is an orange flavour for your oral delectation.
Top tip – if you’re ordering online, order in pairs. I ordered three, thinking I was being clever. The third arrived all lonely in a box perfectly sized for two…
Our Company Manager, Fiona McCulloch, recommends these, I can’t speak for them myself as I’ve gone over to bamboo toothbrushes, but they’re worth exploring. Yes, they are plastic, but the idea is that they last you three months and then you send them back to LiveCoco where they are properly recycled.
She also recommends the search engine, ECOSIA, which I use instead of Google. Ecosia is a remarkable German company that donates 80% of its profits to tree planting schemes, and to date it has planted very nearly 80 million trees worldwide. It’s also keen on privacy and doesn’t store your searches. Just click on the blue link and follow instructions – the search engine will be planted on your browser and every link buys a leaf or two.
Note for my sister Anne who is pretty much fossilogue when it comes to computers, clicking on the link means when you see a word highlighted in blue, move the cursor (the little flashing black line) onto that word and click. It should open a window which brings you to the desired website.
Miss Liza Pulman recommends…
Produce bags are a great idea, so long as you remember to bring them to the supermarket, and so long as the supermarket sells loose veg, not in plastic bags. Where I live (an eco-wasteland) you wouldn’t find much use for them – mushrooms, tomatoes, broccoli etc., all come with packaging of some kind but baby steps are better than no steps. You can put these bags straight into the fridge too.
Jaimondo (our Tour Manager) and I are very keen on these silicone sponges which last for ever and you can chuck into the dishwasher for regular cleaning. Silicone is not quite the miracle eco-product that some people claim, and we shouldn’t all be hurtling to use it in every situation but used judiciously, it’s pretty amazing. For more information on silicone, read this excellent and very thorough article from Life Without Plastic.
We have both gone over to bar shampoo – no plastic waste – and we’re both happy with it. Mine is from Lush. Jaimondo purchased his at the Health Food Store and when he got it home he was horrified to see it was from New Zealand, so he’ll be buying a bit more local next time. Ain’t that a great example of how easy it is to do the wrong thing when trying to do the right thing!
Just one more…
The world is finally beginning to wake up to the horrors of fast fashion. My pal Margaret Allen has written a fascinating piece about it on Medium which is worth a read. But life without the occasional new item of clothing is a bit dull and I am not entirely immune to the charms of shopping.
Enter Turtle Doves, an amazing company which makes new lamps for old, or rather, new garments from old. It takes secondhand cashmeres and makes new jumpers, throws, cardies, wraps, mitts, wrist-warmers etc. Absolutely beautiful and fun too.
Dame Adèle says she has no special recommendations but we can attest that she has, in many ways, been living Secondhand September all year round for decades. I don’t believe she has purchased any new clothes since 1602, being an obsessive haunter of charity and thrift shops, and all her Christmas presents came from the Oxfam bookshop this year. All hail our very own Secondhand Rose!
So that’s enough to set you on your way, if you weren’t there already. I said I would include a picture of my Christmas tree (tinsel free) so here it is.
I wish you all a very peaceful and fruitful New Year. May 2020 bring harmony and hope. Please continue to follow this blog, and to share it with friends and foes alike. Thanks to Katya Austin on Unsplash for the photo of the thumb in foliage up top. And here is Miss Maris Piper Desirée Boulangère Keane O’Neill seeing in the new year with a bath.
Jeez, I am such a spoilsport. What kind of killjoy would say that lovely, sparkly, Christmassy tinsel was shityoudontneed? Oh my, what a downer!
Before I go on, I’d like to welcome all the new folk who’ve joined in the last couple of weeks – thanks SO MUCH for following this blog and please do share and spread the message if you think I have anything useful to say!
And apologies for such a long gap since my last blog. It’s been a bit busy chez moi – for those of you who don’t know, I am currently doing a show in London and it seems to take all my energy!
Back to tinsel…
Ok. I propose a tinsel amnesty. You have tinsel. It’s almost Christmas, your tree is already up, lovingly be-tinselled. Just don’t throw it out when Christmas is over, for heaven’s sake. Use it again and again, and don’t buy any more. Make sure you take it ALL off the tree before you dump it.
Oh, but if you have pets, do make sure it’s out of reach. Cats in particular love tinsel, they adore playing with the stuff. YouTube is chocablock with adorable videos of puddy tats playing with tinsel.
Cute, except that sometimes they eat it, and it causes a blockage in their stomachs. Or it can cause something called “a severe linear foreign body“. The tinsel string can either loop around the base of the tongue so it never gets properly swallowed. Either that, or it can get strung from the stomach down through the intestines. As their insides move and attempt to pass the wretched stuff down their inner tubing, it gradually abrades the tissue and can end up slicing right through it. Result – rupture, pain, terrible injury, surgery, death. Etc. And all for a tatty bit of sparkle.
But the worst thing about tinsel is what it’s made of.
Plastic & mylar
Yep, it’s our old friends, plastic and mylar foil, the same stuff that some helium balloons are made of. According to the American Chemical Society, it was originally made of shredded silver so one has to assume po’ folks wouldn’t have been draping it over their trees. Since when it has been made of copper laminated with silver, then aluminium (which was flammable – whoops!), and more recently lead foil with a shiny tin surface. Apparently lead was the best, because it hung wonderfully, unlike our modern floaty stuff, but the risks of lead poisoning were too high so now it’s made of plastic. PVC, actually.
I’ve written enough about plastics on this blog to bore you all, so here’s just a quick reminder. Plastic never stops being plastic – it just shreds smaller and smaller and smaller, so small that a billion nanoparticles can fit on the head of a pin. We have yet no idea how appalling and dangerous to health this may turn out to be. Just because you can’t see nanoplastics doesn’t mean they’re not there and they’re not threatening our world. (You can read about it in more depressing detail on my recent blog about cling film.)
Tinsel isn’t biodegradable We’ve all seen those sad Christmas trees left in the street for the garbage trucks, sometimes with whole strands of tinsel still adorning the branches. Well, when you throw out your tree, it will go to the dump where the tree will eventually turn into compost, but the tinsel won’t.
When you think about it, Christmas itself is pretty ghastly for the environment… trees chopped down for decoration, posh nosh racking up huge food miles, packaging and wrapping and delivery costs, Christmas jumpers made from God-Knows-What, useless gifts, single use wrapping paper, glitter (just as bad as tinsel), and tons and tons of wasted grub…
And don’t talk to me about Melania Trump’s Christmas on steroids… how many trees in the White House? 58 in the public areas alone. Sheesh!
But it’s tough to completely buck the trend and I really am not a grinch. I still send cards. I wrap my presents. I have a Christmas tree and every year I get the same pleasure as my pretty decorations come out of the box, added to one by one and saved from year to year. I’ll post a picture next time but as I’m not home right now, it’ll have to wait.
So I’m only anti-tinsel. And lametta. And as I said at the beginning, if you have it, you might as well use it. Just don’t feel the need to add more.
Oh, and please make sure it all comes off the tree when the decorations come down.
And have a merry Christmas.
And to end my piece this time, before the obligatory dog picture, here’s a picture of a festive tomato that I grew this year. Well, I’m not sure how festive it is, but I consider it to be an immensely cheery fruit.
And here is the Girl Of My Heart herself in a particularly Christmassy picture taken in 2017.
This hideous invention goes by a number of names – plastic wrap, shrink wrap, food wrap, and yes, I do have a roll of it in the kitchen. It’s our very last roll. It’s been there since before Christmas 2016, because I hardly ever use the stuff these days. I clearly remember purchasing it because I also bought a cling film dispenser (also plastic) that meant you could cut a nice clean edge on it.
“How handy!” I thought. I now think, “What a twat I was!”
So if you have a roll of this stuff, please, let it be your last too.
But my food will go off!
Indeed. When exposed to air, moisture, light, and warmth, food will go off. Microorganisms – fungi, bacteria, mould, yeast etc., break food down for their own benefit. The presence of oxygen will simply accelerate the work of these busy little bees, which is why we need to cover food.
So why say no cling film?
The usual problem…
Yes, it’s plastic. Single use plastic. You use it once. Then you chuck it away. (Yes, I’ve tried washing it but that’s not the answer.)
According to a case study done at the Department of Earth Sciences, Montana State University, “the average person produces half a pound of plastic waste every day.” Phew.
A lot of that plastic gets washed into the ocean. Scientists from the Sea Education Society estimate that there are 580,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometre of the Atlantic, which is a depressing thought.
After it has bobbed about in the sea for a while, plastic starts to absorb the smell of food, with the result that seabirds, fish and sea mammals think it’s food.
Take seabirds, for instance. They have evolved over millennia the ability to sniff out krill, the shrimplike crustacean that lives in the oceans in the Southern hemisphere in such millions. Krill emit a strong, sulphurous smell of dimethyl sulfide (DMS). This smell comes from the algae that krill eat, which also smells of DMS.
Well, wouldn’t ya just know that our plastic waste is a perfect place for that algae to thrive. So sea birds, whales and other marine life gobble up these pieces of plastic, mistaking them for krill. Scientists have described this as an “olfactory trap” which is causing marine death on a massive, unimaginable scale.
And then we eat the fish which are full of microplastics.
Danger to humans
Plastic is made to last for ever.
Yes, that’s for ever. As it breaks down into ever smaller and smaller pieces, it becomes invisible to the naked eye. But it is still there. We are eating it and taking it in in our drinking water. Americans, for instance, gobble down between 39000 to 52000 microscopic particles of plastic per year. Yikes.
And it’s not just in the sea. In the Pyrenees, a scientific study discovered that there were 365 microplastic particles per square metre falling out of the sky every day. And yet the Pyrenees is supposed to be a relatively pristine area, lightly populated, with no industry to speak of. It’s at least 100k from any obvious source of microplastics. So we’re breathing them in as well as eating them. Yikes, yikes, and thrice yikes…
It gets worse
There’s something even more scary than microplastics, and that’s nanoplastics. As plastic goes on degrading and shredding, the particles get tinier and tinier. It’s reckoned that a billion nanoplastics can fit on the head of a pin. Science is only just catching up with these babies.
Studies have shown that when aquatic organisms ingest nanoplastics made of polystyrene, these can be passed through cell walls. What will happen when those nanoplastics accumulate in our lungs, in our blood vessels, in our brains?
In a recent TED talk by Australian mega-businessman, philanthropist and marine ecologist, Andrew Forrest PhD, he described plastic as “an incredible substance designed for the economy… the worst substance possible for the environment… it never stops being plastic.”
He goes further, and it’s worth quoting him at some length because he’s done the science and can explain it better than I can. (And his sister’s a very old pal of mine and I know he won’t mind.)
“The breaking science on this… which we’ve known in marine ecology for a few years now… Nanoplastics… the very, very small particles of plastic, carrying their negative charge, can go straight through the pores of your skin. That’s not the bad news. The bad news is that it goes straight through the blood-brain barrier, that protective coating which is there to protect your brain.”
“Your brain’s a little, amorphous, wet mass full of little electrical charges. You put a negative particle into that, particularly a negative particle which can carry pathogens – so you have a negative charge, it attracts positive-charge elements, like pathogens, toxins, mercury, lead. That’s the breaking science we’re going to see in the next 12 months.”
So do you still fancy using one-off plastics?
Sorry, but that just doesn’t happen with shrink wrap. Firstly, it clogs the machines. Secondly, you can’t recycle it with plastic bags at the supermarket because removing the phthalates, the various complex chemicals that render the cling film stretchy, is impossible.
Anyhow, recycling plastic merely delays the eventual moment when the stuff hits landfill, because plastic can only be recycled so many times. Aluminium, on the other hand, can be recycled an infinite number of times.
Hurrah for tinfoil!
There is SO much more I could say about plastic, but I’ve depressed myself enough for one day. I’ll save it for another piece. Let me leave you with a question, however. If turmeric and paprika can leave ineradicable stains, and other foods leave their smells in plastic containers, it suggests that plastics aren’t as impermeable as you might assume.
So if plastic can absorb colour and smell, can the chemical transfer can also go the other way? How certain can we be that the chemicals used to make the plastics aren’t leaching into our food? After all, manufacturers of plastics are not required to declare what additives are contained in any plastic, and there are literally thousands of those possible additives.
Wouldn’t it be better to wrap leftovers in greaseproof paper or foil? Or in a bowl covered with a plate? Or even in a lidded plastic box you can use time and again?
Meanwhile, the celebrated primatologist and general good-eco-egg, Jane Goodall, said, “Every single person makes some impact on the planet every day.”
Could you let today’s impact be a resolve never to buy cling film again?
Once more, apologies for the intermittent nature of this blog. I’d set myself the task of publishing one every two weeks, but lately I have been chained to the piano, trying to write new material for my next theatre show. And to be honest, it’s tough work, reading and distilling all the research needed to back up my case. Much of the time, I feel I’m whistling in the wind and it’s just pointless, but then I think, perhaps if enough of us whistle in the wind, we might just be heard and start to make a difference.
So please do share this with friends and family. If you enter your email address and click on the blue follow button, you’ll get an email every time I publish a new piece, which is not more than once every two weeks. I promise you won’t get smothered in unwanted emails!
Unnecessary dog picture
Meanwhile, since we all need cheering after that diatribe about plastics, here is the mutt looking particularly feral after rolling in the hay.
I promise, this is a short one. But you need to read it. And yes, there is a picture of my dog at the end.
Okay, here goes!
Why you should never never NEVER buy a plastic bottle containing water.
It takes beween TWICE and THREE TIMES the amount of water contained in the bottle to make the bottle in the first place.
Most of us in the Western world have potable – i.e. drinkable – tapwater. What in God’s name might possess you to buy more?
See those bottles of “vitamin enriched” water? You want extra vitamins? Eat more fruit and vegetables. Protein water? Eat some walnuts. Fruity waters? Mmm mm mm, love those chemicals!
Comparisons are odious
If you live near a discount supermarket, you can unfortunately bulk buy the evil stuff pretty cheaply. On mysupermarket.co, a bottle of Evian Natural Still Water (500ml) will set you back 60p. So it costs £1.20 per litre for a single bottle. Compare that with the average price of petrol (and I’m taking the low average here) which is about £1.20 per litre. Really? You’re willing to pay the same for water as you do for petrol?
If you buy your water from a kiosk or a fast food shop, you’re paying even MORE than that.
Yes, you pay twice. You get water in your taps because you pay for it through council tax or rates, and then you pay again because you buy it in plastic bottles.
Profit before people
The bottling companies take water from springs and aquifers, or underground layers of permeable rock saturated with fresh, or slightly salinated water. Water extraction on a grand scale is storing up all sorts of problems around the world. Just google “Nestlé water scandal” and you will find pages and pages of information. But just for a couple of examples, they’ve been taking the water from the land belonging to a First Nation community near Toronto, so much so that some homes have no water at all and must buy water in for cooking, washing and the toilet. Nestlé also continued to take water from the San Bernardino National Forest in California all through the seven-year drought. So the big question is – how good do you feel about dehydrating the land so you can sip water during meetings and lectures?
We drink many English waters, French, Italian, American… think of the travel miles and the consequent pollution!
“But I recycle my bottles!”
Just because you carefully dispose of your empty bottle in the right bin doesn’t mean it isn’t going straight to landfill. Actually, it’s highly unlikely to be recyled. 91% of plastic isn’t recycled, according to the National Geographic.
Even if your plastic bottle does get recycled, it can only be recycled a limited number of times as the polymer degrades a little every time. Bottle caps can be recycled just the once before they’re recycled again into fabric. Then when you’ve finished with that piece of fabric, it goes to landfill. For ever.
“I’m dangerously thirsty!”
Dehydration? Oh, give me strength. You’re only likely to be dehydrated if (a) you’ve been drinking Mezcal slammers since last Tuesday, (b) you’re engaged in vigorous sporting activities. (c) it’s very hot or (d) you just floated in on the Raft of the Medusa. You do NOT need to rehydrate on the bus or halfway through a movie. You will live without constant slurpings of water. There’s an awful lot of nonsense talked about hydration, indeed there’s a total absence of scientific studies proving you need eight glasses of water a day. In rare cases, too much water can be extremely bad for you causing hyponatremia, or water intoxication which is very dangerous.
Enriching the bastards…
Every time you buy a bottle of water which you could get free out of your tap, you are spending unnecessary money making Nestlé and other companies like them even richer and more capable of raping the planet.
You know what? Give up bottled water and after a week, you won’t miss it. It’s not nicotine, you know.
And if I haven’t convinced you yet, how about this…
Or this… spot the bottletops in the gullet of this dead albatross.
If you’ve enjoyed this post, scroll on down as there are quite a few more. And do please share with your friends and foes alike. Even better, follow – just click the follow button and enter your email address. You only get an email when I publish a new piece which is not very frequent at the moment as I am busy writing a new show for (and with) Fascinating Aïda. And I don’t share my mailing list with anyone.
So please do try and get this information out there. It’s so important that we start taking responsibility for what we do. It’s simply not good enough to wait for bloody Government to take action.
TRIGGER WARNING: this piece contains the word “moist”. Steel yourself, chin up, best foot forward, and read on.
Quick digression 1
I’ve been on holiday. And I’ve been massively down in the dumps for reasons too complicated to write here. The state of the world hasn’t helped. So I took a break from doing this because it’s a lot of work. But I am back at the helm now, trying to persuade you to save the world one product / idea at a time. (For the record – I’ve found St. John’s Wort very effective.)
Back to wipes!
A wipe, in short, is a moist towelette that has been impregnated with chemicals and cleansing agents. And lordy lordy, there are moist towelettes for every occasion. Here’s a list of available which I do not claim to be anything like comprehensive.
Whiteboard wipes for the office/school. So no-one gets to be blackboard monitor and experience the joy of bashing the cleaner thingy with a ruler and seeing clouds of chalk fill the air. Shame.
Wipes for electronic cleaning. I just use a slightly damp duster.
“Washlets” for people with a neurosis about their botty hygiene and too lazy to wash themselves with soap and a flannel.
Sterile moist wound-cleansing wipes that meet current HSE regulations. Actually, I’ll concede that these are necessary.
Antibacterial wipes for the food industry. Vinegar and a very hot clean cloth would do just as well – the moment after you wipe a surface, bacteria in the air will settle back down on it.
Wipes for removal of adhesives, sealants, oils, paints & grease. Remember Grandad’s oily rag? Same thing but it comes in a plastic packet and you throw it it away immediately.
Facial cleanser wipes. FFS, what’s wrong with make-up remover and cotton wool? *** see note at end… cotton wool ain’t so good after all, apparently…
Intimate wipes for feminine cleansing. Grrrrrrr – yet another way to make women feel insecure about their femaleness.
Baby wipes. Water and a soft cloth infinitely preferable, but we’ll get to that.
Toddler wipes. Yes, different from baby wipes. So a mum with a toddler and a newborn is suckered into buying two different types of wipes.
Pet care grooming wipes. My terrier, Piper, wouldn’t thank you, a good rub in horse manure is on her Christmas Wish List.
Washlets, and other moist toilet tissue. In other words, botty wipes for using in tandem with dry toilet tissue – or perhaps instead of?
Cage cleaning wipes for pets’ cages. Never heard of a hose?
Individually wrapped restaurant wipes. Bring back the finger bowl!
Jumbo ear wipes for cats and dogs. Yes, honestly!
Glass and window wipes. Newspaper and vinegar is so much better!
And there are more, but you get my drift. You are paying for a small wet flannel with chemicals. A small wet flannel which you will then throw away.
Every single one of these (except the sterile ones for wounds) is replaceable by a small WASHABLE flannel (or towel, cut up t-shirt, piece of ancient sheeting etc) WITHOUT chemicals. A small wet flannel which you can pop into your washing machine and use again. And again. Etcetera.
Quick digression 2
Yes, I know it’s hard to concentrate on anything other than the crazy political situation here in the UK. My friends in other countries are just as glued to the horror as we are. However, my opinion is that environmental destruction is by far the most important issue the world has to face, so do tear yourself away from Brexit for a moment and bend your mind to wipes!
What is a wipe?
In the past, cloth was always woven or knitted with yarn that interlocked or interwove. Not so with wipes. They are not flannels, nor are they tissues for that matter. They are made by pressing a mass of separate fibres together to make a single sheet of material. A huge range of different fibres are used, but as far as I understand it, natural fibres are necessary for the absorbency and non-biodegradable plastic derivatives are added for strength.
Yes, plastic. Almost all wipes contain plastics, which then degrade down to microplastics. And those don’t go anywhere. They will linger in the sea and the soil long after we are all dead. Recent reasearch shows that earthworms don’t prosper in soil containing high proportions of plastic contaminants.
“Scientists found that worms placed in soil loaded with high density polyethylene (HDPE) – a common plastic used for bags and bottles – for 30 days lost about 3% of their body weight, compared with a control sample of similar worms placed in similar soil without HDPE, which put on 5% in body weight over the same period.”
If you don’t care about that (you should, because healthy soil is vital for growing the crops that feed us), then you should care about the fact that YOU are now almost definitely host to microplastics. It’s almost definitely in your poop, for instance. The threat to human health is only now beginning to be understood.
The life of a wipe…
… is a great deal longer than the few seconds of its use, as fatbergs have conclusively proved. The plastic based fibres will take HUNDREDS of years to decompose. Photographs of fatbergs don’t really show the scale of the horror, so here’s another image of waste to haunt your dreams.
Just in case you’ve emerged from 10 years with a contemplative order of Visitandine nuns (a rare breed), a fatberg is an agglomeration of gubbins and goo that gathers in sewers and constipates our waste disposal systems.
Wipes are estimated to make up 93% of the contents of these fatbergs. The rest is mostly other debris, like tissues and poop stuck between wipes. And fat. Tons of fat glueing it all together. That’s the fat you pour down the sink instead of letting it cool and disposing of it with your food waste… grr!!!
Should you assume this is a big city problem, on 8th January this year (2019) a vast fatberg the size of 6 London buses was found under a children’s playground in dear old Sidmouth.
Sidmouth, if you’ve never been there, is a charming, sleepy, seaside town in Devon on the South Coast of the UK. The population is about 13,000. It has never done anything more contentious than hold a yearly folk festival when a few thousand crusties descend on the town for a week of music, cider, decent ale and country dancing. In other words, the least likely people on the planet to be hornswoggled into using pesky things like wipes.
So if little old Sidmouth can produce a gigantic fatberg, WTF is lurking under us all right now?
The taxpayer. You and me, baby. You are paying for the wipes, and then you’re paying a specialist company to get rid of it, lump by festering lump. They are massive health hazards. Do you want waste water full of poo flooding into your gardens. Can you imagine the health hazard to EVERYTHING in the area? You, your family, your pets, your neighbours, the wildlife…
About 300,000 fatbergs have to be removed in the UK every year. This costs the country about £100m. I think you will agree that this money could be put to much better use elsewhere, don’t you?
Add this thought – because people can’t be bothered to wash their cleaning cloths – it’s so much easier to chuck ’em! – some poor devils have to clean all this hellish detritus away.
Ho hum. Compostable claims are deeply debatable. Even the company Natracare, which aims to provide personal hygiene products without any damaging ingredients, admits on its website that you shouldn’t flush compostable wipes down the lavvy. This is because the wipe isn’t going to decompose quickly enough to avoid attracting all that fat and poop and thus help create another fatberg and start the whole revolting cycle all over again.
And search as I might, I cannot find any evidence of genuinely compostable wipes, because the packaging always seems to be made of plastic. If they weren’t kept inside some sort of plastic packaging, they would dry out which would entirely negate the point of the ruddy wipes in the first place.
So it’s all very well making the wipes biodegradable, but if the packaging is plastic another problem is created. Because you CANNOT divorce the contents from the packaging.
Moist wipes are impregnated with all sorts of chemicals which I’m not going to go into now because each brand of wipes is different and it would take me till the end of eternity to research them all. And you would hate me for boring you.
But these are chemicals over which you have no control. And you are wiping your baby’s bum/your face/your hands/your arse with these chemicals. All extremely sensitive areas. There are strong links between baby wipes in part contributing to food allergies in children, and allergic skin reactions and dermatitis caused by other sorts of wipes. I myself broke out in a horrible rash when I foolishly used some cleansing wipes some years ago.
And if you’re still not convinced, even the well-meaning company, Water Wipes, which prides itself on making the purest baby wipes going and aims to make a 100% biodegradable wipe by 2023 (!!!), advises that you should NOT use wipes on newborns and young infants… So why do they make them then, if they think it’s wrong to use them?
You could purchase a pile of cheap towelling flannels, and then use the creams, unguents or solvents you actually need – not all the other chemicals they need to keep the little rags stable and moist. Then you can throw them in the wash after use. And then use them again.
What you will save
Quite a lot of money, depending on the number and type of wipes you are in the habit of purchasing.
Your sensitive skin
And finally, a Piper story…
I might as well fess up. I once used three small packets of wipes in one hit.
It was in Sheffield, where I was gigging at the Lyceum. Piper, my Patterdale terrier, was on tour with me and I took her for a walk in the nearest open space I could find, which was the other side of the railway. The dear little minx rewarded me by rolling in some freshly plopped fox poo.
The whiff you get off fox poo is unspeakably mephitic. Think dead rat mixed with asparagus wee with some notes of rancid ham and cheese. It was the smelliest smell I’d ever smelt.
Walking back throught the station was mortifying. People jumped in alarm as their schnozzles were suddenly assaulted by the sudden stench. They checked the soles of their shoes. They clasped their hands to their mouths in wide-eyed horror, they staggered back and reeled hither and yon. Unfortunately, light brown fox poo shows up beautifully on a long, black, curly coat so it was pretty easy to identify the culprit. Normally, Miss Pips elicits coos and clucks as she’s a pretty little thing, but folk recoiled as if they’d seen Beelzebub by the news stand.
I did the only thing I could think of. I purchased three packets of wipes and sat by the Sheaf Square fountains and wiped her down as best as I could. Then I took her to the theatre and we both had a shower.
So I do understand that there are times when only a wipe will do. I hadn’t set out to disgust Sheffield, after all.
Follower Rowena Card sent me this brilliant and impassioned message.
“I would take issue with one point and that would be your suggestion that instead of makeup wipes you advise simple cleanser and “cotton wool balls”, however these too can also made from synthetic fibres/nylon/plastics, depending where you source them from.
May I respectfully recommend to reusable cotton/bamboo makeup pads. There are thousands available online and you can even make them yourself. I have many which I use, reuse and reuse again and again, for several years now and these work out much better for the environment and your purse too….!“
I said to the teller when I collected my new bank card: “If you see it used for tap ‘n’ go payments, consider that my card has been stolen and cancel it immediately. I will only use it with my pin.”
She clearly thought I was a geriatric technophobe. “Don’t worry,” she said, brightly. “You can use it easily. Just tap where you see the sign and it’ll register payment.”
“You misunderstand me,” I replied. “I don’t want to use it that way. I know I have to have one of these cards, but I will not use it without identification. You can easily register suspicious change of use – so if it’s used for tap and go, please assume it has been nicked.”
She nodded in a vague, humouring sort of way, and I now realise I should have written to the bank to reinforce my instructions because they took no bloody notice. When an over-enthusiastic waitress at Côte Brasserie took my card and tapped it for me (naughty) before I could shout, “STOP!”, the card was not only accepted but the bank failed to cancel it. Grr.
I find the prospect of a cashless society deeply sinister. Yes, I use my Visa card and my bank card, both regularly. But I am still wedded to cash. And I hate the idea of a future without it.
Without cash, you will never, ever make an un-tracked purchase again. Every store, every coffee bar, every train operator, every website you use will know who you are, what branch you shopped at last and what your preferences and regular habits are.
Without cash, you’ll never have a jar on the dressing table where you throw your loose change of an evening. Mine mounts up surprisingly quickly and softens the financial hammering that Christmas brings.
Without cash, some joys will be forever lost. You will never be able to slip a twenty pound note into your goddaughter’s birthday card, or see a child empty out his piggy bank and have all that fun piling coins and counting his loot – learning basic numeracy and the point of saving at the same time. Heck, even the tooth fairy will die for lack of employment.
Without cash, you will never again be able to make sure the wait staff get their tips because you’ll be forced to put the gratuity on the card. We allknow that there are publicans and restaurant owners who don’t pass the tips on to the people who earned them, God rot their hornswoggling arses.
Without cash, you will always have to pay VAT where applicable, and the tax man will know every transaction you ever make. You’ll never be able to bung fifteen quid to Jobless Dave Down-The-Road for mowing your lawn, or buy a shirt off a friend in a quick easy exchange – here’s your shirt, here’s my tenner. Neighbour Molly won’t be able to supplement her paltry pension by giving friends occasional lifts to the airport.
Without cash, the Government will know ALL your spending habits. Do you trust the Government?
Without cash, we are sleepwalking into financial enslavement.
Sure, the tap ‘n’ go system is quick and convenient. Who hasn’t fumed and chafed behind one of those infuriating old biddies whose arthritic fingers struggle to retrieve 5p coins from her purse?
But how convenient is it really? If you know you have a certain amount of spending money per week, it’s much easier to go over the limit when you’re not handling the actual moolah because it doesn’t feel like spending!
Skinny vanilla spice latte grande plus a ham and cheddar croissant? That’s £6.54. Purchase that 5 days a week, 49 weeks a year, and you’ve lashed out £1,602.30. Did you really mean to spend all that? Did you know it’ll get you two weeks all inclusive in a pretty 4* hotel in Turkey with nearly £300 spending money left over?
Business loves contactless payment, because you are so much more likely to make those kind of small, unnecessary, spontaneous purchases you never did when you had to use your last tenner. Those spontaneous purchases nibble away at your income while businesses thrive on them.
“You could have your wallet stolen!” cry the devotees of a No Cash Life. Of course. And you can have your card or phone stolen too. Tap ‘n’ Go means you don’t have to sign or provide a thumbprint. No ID required.
Come on, how safe is that when you can spend up to £30 a go? Yes, you might have all your cash stolen, but the most that any of us can usually take out in one go is £250. A pickpocket could spend £250 on St Pancras Station concourse in twenty minutes. A nonchalant reliance on the card’s reliability is woefully misplaced – research has shown conclusively that not all cards refuse payments larger than £30 – a payment over £100 was accepted in one case. Now do you feel secure?
A criminal can take payment from your card when you’re distracted by something else – an accomplice who drops their bag, perhaps. All they need is their own mobile payments machine. Yes, they would have to use a different terminal to avoid the bank’s fraud detection, but clever fraudsters will know how to get round that. Now do you feel secure?
Or perhaps they might use a mobile phone to take a payment reading from a credit card. They can send the data to another phone and make a payment on that second device. All that’s needed is proximity – the fraudster needs to be near the victim. Now do you feel secure?
Or the criminal might nick your card, load it onto their iPhone and use Apple Pay to spend spend spend and in much larger amounts than the £30 per transaction limit. How much do you really trust your bank to check verification and monitor the possibilities of fraud at every level? It transpires that Apple Pay is by no means as safe as you thought, and an efficient crook can do terrible damage to your finances.
Now do you feel secure?
Business, government and hygiene fanatics.
The advantages for government are obvious.
Minting coins and notes is expensive
Money can be forged
Money can’t be tracked
Your every transaction – in or out – can’t be tracked
Similarly, the pluses for business are clear. Sales increase when consumers pay with a card. People are less likely to make small purchases if they don’t have much actual dosh in their pocket.
Businesses love going cash free because the accounting is infinitely simpler when the software does all the hard work. Yea, I say unto thee, go cashless, ye businesses, sack thy bookkeeper and minimise on staff costs! Tough if you’re the bookkeeper, of course…
You can’t blame them. Who wants to trek to the bank with bags of money and cheques every day? But that’s their problem. I’m concerned about the rights of the individual.
We are only at the beginning of the technological revolution. Yet already giant companies know far too much about us. Have you watched “The Great Hack” on Netflix? You should. It describes how a political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, harvested deeply personal data through Facebook and manipulated enough of the population to change their mind about their vote through targeted “advertising”. Targeted lies, more like.
If companies such as Facebook already know so much about us that they can focus advertising on an entirely personal level, just wait until governments have the same information.
Governments know too much about us already. We are a watched society. Already, there is approximately one surveillance camera for every eleven people in this country.
In the Uighur autonomous region of Xinjiang, China, a new form of Big Brother is being trialled with chilling success. The Uighurs are Muslim, you see, and apparently some governments think that all Muslims are potential terrorists who need constant monitoring. Facial recognition technique, biometric information, patterns of behaviour – all these are used to build up profiles to identify potentially restive citizens.
It’s estimated that there may be as many as a million Uighur people in detention camps. For what? Not turning up for flag-waving ceremonies, or being a little too fervent at Friday prayers, perhaps. Even having a relative abroad brings suspicion.
So think of the Uighur region as being the first really enormous laboratory for complete population control, This is achieved by means of behavioural prediction and algorithmically-assisted surveillance.
Remember this: we are only at the beginning of the technological revolution.
But I only bought a book…!
Ah, but what kind of book? Or books? History books covering the rise of the labour movement? The purchases are registered in your history. Dangerous.
Never mind that, we’re not quite there yet. Where we have already arrived at is what has been described as “surveillance capitalism” by Shoshana Zuboff, the Harvard scholar and writer.
Basically, every time we do anything online, whether we’re buying towels from John Lewis or playing “What Your Colour Choice Says About You” on Facebook, those companies log everything they can glean:
political leanings or lack thereof
Everything that constitutes our lives, in other words. How? Because we handed over the information free of charge.
Think of those Amazon emails you get… “Based on your last purchase of orthotic insoles, you might be interested in these bunion correctors.” Amazon aren’t interested in your wellbeing, your flat feet or your painful hammer toe, they just want to sell you stuff. They remind you when you didn’t buy something, and they remind you of what you looked at last. It’s not to help you, it’s to train you into buying from them without you realising what they are doing.
Shoshana Zuboff sums it up. “It is no longer enough to automate information flows about us; the goal now is to automate us. These processes are meticulously designed to produce ignorance by circumventing individual awareness and thus eliminate any possibility of self-determination.”
In other words, commerce wishes to control and direct your desires and your spending. Commerce doesn’t care if you get horribly into debt. Commerce yearns for you to buy that extra pair of shoes, or that miraculous sticky tape that makes power tools adhere to walls, or that set of cheerily coloured storage boxes that mean you can stash yet more unnecessary purchases away in your overcrowded home.
And commerce uses third party trackers
It is scary stuff. And when Governments get their act together, as in the Uighur province of China, we will be little more than completely controlled cogs in a rapaciously capitalist society.
Cash is freedom
We have to go on using cash. All of us.
Mind you, there is no guarantee that the demand for cash will ensure its preservation. Governments around the world are beginning to move against cash in a big way.
The moment we become entirely cashless is the moment governments have as much, perhaps even more, access to our life profile than Facebook, Google and Amazon. Government will monitor everything its citizens do, and by abandoning cash we are sleepwalking towards totalitarianism. God help us.
80% of all Sweden’s financial transactions are now cashless.
Hong Kong’s Octopus card, once merely an RFID (Radio Frequency ID) transport payment card like the London Oyster card, can be used to pay for:
The MTR (Hong Kong’s subway system)
7-Eleven (and its competitor, Circle K)
Fast food outlets
It is predicted that Australia will be entirely cash free by 2022. (Ironic, really, when you consider that Australia produced Pat Cash.)
The cashless society is coming and we must resist it.
Cash is our last freedom. Let’s not give it up without a fight.
And if you are stuck behind me in a queue in a few years time and you cluck in annoyance because my arthritic fingers can’t fish out that tiny coin, don’t curse. Thank me for sticking with the inconvenience.
Cash is freedom. I cannot emphasise it enough.
What you will save…
The last scraps of your privacy from predatory commercialism.
A noggin of freedom from government surveillance.
Your ability to earn a buck on the side.
These pieces are of necessity a great deal shorter than they could be, because I’m trying to distil a ton of information into a fairly brief piece. So I sometimes skim over certain subjects and try to avoid tangents wherever possible. I can address these in the comments section afterwards if they’re raised by readers.
But I thought it worth mentioning that I’m obviously in favour of some degree of underground economy and when I was preparing this piece, I wrote a long defence of it. In the end, I cut it, for your sake as much as mine. So I will say just this; I know that the underground economy diminishes the Revenue’s tax intake. However, I believe it is a necessary freedom from control, and this has to be balanced against the social obligation of the tax system.
In addition, I don’t think cashlessness will stop racketeers, extortioners, pimps, drug peddlers or any other kind of felons from going about their vile business. They’ll extort your property instead of your money, and they’ll store their ill-gotten gains in gold and other valuables, like crypto currencies. Viz; Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s astonishing act of state overreach when he recalled India’s two top banknotes, giving that mammoth population just 50 days to cash in their notes. He was convinced that a vast proportion (33%) of the notes would never be returned because they were being hoarded by criminals and cartels. In fact, 99.3% of the notes were returned, proving that criminals are smarter than he thought.
The irony is that I am now going to ask you to follow me (!!!) if you’re enjoying these pieces. All you have to do is enter your email in the box at the top of the page and click the follow button. You will then receive an email every time I publish a new piece (every two weeks). Nothing more. No targeted advertising. I won’t try to sell you anything. And I don’t make any money from this at all.
But without Piper…
… life would be a good deal drearier. She sits in my office all day, my little pal. What would I do without her?