Swifts & Wolves

I reckon swifts set aside part of their day for fun and games.

I am currently at our base camp in the Alps. In the eaves of the building we have several families of swifts nesting – lying in bed you can hear the young ones chirrupping, and there is much flapping of wings as the parents arrive with food.

During the day the adults are flying randomly around gathering insects, yet in the late afternoon it feels like playtime as we are treated to a display of formation flying, with the swifts flying in twos, and sometimes threes or fours, often only a few inches apart. It’s like a high speed version of tag and from their shrill screams it certainly sounds as if they are enjoying themselves. As base camp is perched on the edge of a cliff, the swifts are flying at eye-line level which gives a 3D feel to the experience of watching them.

Wolves are re-establishing themselves in the Valais.

Over the last few years there have been frequent reports in the newspapers of attacks on sheep and occasionally on cattle. Farmers have been compensated, and the occasional wolf has been shot. But until now it was assumed to be one or two lone wolves coming over from Italy.

Now it’s all got a bit more serious as it has been confirmed that two valleys across from us a wolf pack has established itself. Now the authorities have to take a different approach – it’s about managing the pack so that it lives in harmony with humans and farming. This is a problem in the summer months only – there are clearly enough deer for the wolves to catch to keep them alive in the winter, when farm animals are on the lower pastures.

I spent a bit of time plotting the reported wolf attacks (on farm animals) on the map and was surprised to see that the wolves are traveling large distances and are clearly in the forests all around us as we sit in our base camp in the Valais.

It’s really exciting that this large predator is now part of nature here. It’s quite common to see roe deer and chamois in the forests during my frequent hikes – now I need to be on the lookout for wolves.

2009: A Year of Buying Nowt

I decided that I would go through the whole of 2009 and not buy anything.  Its not a new idea – a google search will find a whole movement called The Compact in California that invented the concept and describes their trials and tribulations.

Continuing my blog to describe how I got on seemed such a good idea at the time. However at a meal with M&N in December 2008 where we announced our new year resolutions,  N said not buying anything wasn’t really blogable. So it turned out.
There are many examples of blogs that set off to document what happens – but actually few carry on. Its hard to write something interesting about once again not buying anything. But for the record here is just one blog about it (several people have asked).

The rules are variable, and I guess you set them yourself. The basic notion is that you buy nothing except for food, essental consumables and underwear. I have read blogs where people however decide not to buy beer (having stocked up with 12 bottles to last the year) or to not pay for haircuts. I decided that I would stick to just buying food and consumables. My opt outs were a small present for S and C, both of whom had significant and truly celebratory birthdays, and a holidays for C & I to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. C also got a small Christmas present. There was no need for them to suffer for my experiment, though they understood.

In other words this was a journey about understanding the psychology of consumerism, and to see if I could gain some insights that would be applicable in the day job. Particularly in terms of what is easily doable.

I did it, and it wasn’t that hard. Largely as I realise because I have an extraordinary large amount of “stuff” already, sometimes with duplicate versions ready to be pressed into action.

It was hard to get into the routine at first – Saturday morning food shops can easily lead one to admiring new clothes in shop displays. Also what was I to do about the ski boots that are worn down at the back (they are 10 years old) and are potentially not providing a safe contact with the bindings. Nevertheless, early 2009 was a sober time – 2008 had seen the global financial crisis and there were concerns about jobs as well as investments (my self invested pension was worth less than I had invested in it). Saving was in any case a sensible strategy.

In reality the year only provided a tricky issues:

1. Plants. I used to have a small tree on my desk. It got too big and had to be repotted elsewhere, but I was not able to replace it. My office lost something. Perhaps I was too harsh.

2. Books. Now thats a tough one. It is one of (my) life’s pleasures to go to a good bookstore (and Amazon does not count), browse the books and buy those that spark an interest. I ended up reading several from our bookshelves and borrowing from friends. I also reduced my purchase of newspapers and magazines though these probably fall into the consumables category as they go into the recycling bin.

3. Pens. Ah yes. The cartridge on my favourite pen ran out. I did not buy a refill. Also I set off on a work trip without a pen. Not a problem I thought – I have a pencil. But I had to fill in a landing card so the airhostess gave me an airline pen. Only later did I feel that I had cheated the system. I had a load of pens kicking around the house and I couldn’t possibly use all of them so I certaily did not need another. So receiving one like that had created unneccessary demand somewhere in the system. On the return flight a week later I handed the pen in. So I had it “on loan” only for the week. A close escape.

4. Watch battery. It ran out and I had to stop myself automatically buying a replacement. Luckily I had two other functioing watches to tide me through. And thats part of the point of consumerism – unless we are carefull its far too easy to end up with more than we actually need. Or is that called choice?

5. Clothes. I do have fewer clothes than this time last year, as clothes wore out or I decided I’d had enough of them. The discarded ones found a good home with the asylum seekers in town. Even now that the year has passed I have no intention of replacing those that have gone. I just had too many in the first place. having said that, there is a limit to this as I have a job that demands that I am presentable at least some of the time. And for the record I did not have a splurge of clothes buying in December 2008 or January 2010.

6. Gifts. This was me doing the “no buy” thing. The family did not take part, and I did not impose it upon them. So I did buy them presents, and I did receive some from them for birthdays and Christmas.

However, there was one side of gift giving that I tried to draw the line at. I spoke at various conferences during the year, and quite a few of them presented me with gifts as a “thank you”. I did my best to politely refuse (succeeding on one occasion) but it is rather difficult when presented “on stage” to then quietly try and hand them back. Suffice to say I found good homes for them all. I also gave back all my conference packs – so no free writing pads or pens (obviously), and the organisers got to use their folders and brochures again for someone else.

7. A map. This may be my one failure. On the holiday to celebrate C’s significant birthday we drove around Yorkshire and Scotland visting friends. We hired a car (no irony at all thank you – it was an essential consumable), and discovered that the hire car company could provide no map. We bought a £1.99 version from Morrisons. My rationale is that it saved several gallons of petrol, hours of time and made for a harmonious and happy holiday. The sharp eyed amongst you will argue that the Yorkshire Dales and rural Scotland is well populated with yokels leaning over gates and Postman Pat characters doing their rounds who we could have stopped to ask for directions from. Possibly.

8. Luck. There were no major breakdowns in the major appliances etc in the house or the car. May be I would have had to invoke C’s right to buy.

So in summary I learned that a lot of consumption is either wasteful or artificial. Wasteful is perhaps from the side of the consumer – we are bamboozled by choice at every turn. It leads me to have 3 watches, not because I can afford 3, but because I can choose to have different watches for different situations. Artificial is more driven by manufacturers and retailers. In some industries there is over capacity that needs to be sold, so there are “great offers” for us consumers to buy more than we need at lower prices than we expect. I’m not sure that this is benefitting the business models of the companies, nor the bank balances of us consumers. The other thing is that it also takes some planning and thinking ahead to eliminate wasteful consumption. I forgot not only a pen on one trip, but a travel adaptor on another. Thanks to the generosity of a colleague I survived – it would have been easy to buy a replacement, with (tongue in cheek) the benefit that I would then have had two….

Having not bought anything for a year I am certainly going to carry on “decluttering” and buying only when I need rather than when I choose. Though I am looking forward to spending time browsing and buying books. Knowledge seems like a good investment any time.

ps Nowt is “Nothing” in Yorkshire