1001 Water-and waste-wise ways: What to do with deckchairs on the Titanic
Pic found on the interwebz, presumably a still from the film. No photographer attributed.

Pic found on the interwebz, presumably a still from the film. No photographer attributed.

I’ve been having some fascinating conversations with friends who are environmental activists, journalists and researchers, about the great conundrum that reading up on waste has faced me with: given the multitude of ways we’ve wrecked the planet almost past repair, is there any point in reducing waste? Why are we taking cloth bags to the shops when industries hellbent on profit are pouring CO2 into the air, polluting our oceans and water supplies, denuding soil, wiping out forests, and destroying the “lowly” members of the food chain (insects, amphibians, birds, fish) on which we’re absolutely reliant if we are to go on eating? Isn’t asking people to give up plastic toothbrushes a bit like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic? In fact, polishing the brass screws on those deckchairs?

If you do the reading, there’s no getting around the fact that environmental activism is urgently needed and must involve more than just recycling our glass and cans: it needs to get political. Like growing numbers of schoolchildren around the globe, we should be marching in the streets. The mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle, repurpose” is increasingly looking quaint and ineffective in comparison with “refuse, resist, revolt, rewild”. Scientists have explained with crystal clarity that it’s not individual efforts that are going to save the planet: for that, our craven governments have to call a halt to the plunder by big corporates that they and we have allowed; and we have to replace our lethal economic (“growth is the one true good, growth at any cost”) models.

So why bother? Leonie Joubert, the brilliant science writer I often cite, has pointed out that the only alternative to literally suicidal despair is to become solution-oriented (read her NB piece — it starts getting hopeful on p. 4). This has several benefits, and not just the obvious one — that concerted efforts by many individuals can have a significant impact, as we all learned during the water crisis. (Across the board, the residents of Cape Town reduced their water usage by a THIRD almost overnight.) Doing something, no matter how small, reduces our sense of anxiety, despair, helpless rage and grief. It models decent behaviour for our children (who are going to judge the hell out of us — in fact, they’re already doing so). To go back to the Titanic example: if the ship is going down anyway, it might not do any good rearranging the deckchairs, much less wiping specks of dust off them. But hastily roping them together to create extra life-rafts? Can’t hurt, might help, and will give passengers something proactive and constructive to do in the face of impending disaster. Even better if folk pull together as a team in the process.

So, here are a few small but useful tips. I’ve realised my big waste-wise Achilles heel is the vast range of cleaning products under my sink. Not just because they’re mostly unnecessary — many are in plastic or other containers that present a disposal problem. The entire lot can be replaced with bicarb and spirit vinegar.

My big blind spot. Apart from the vinegar and bicarb, I don’t need most of this stuff.

My big blind spot. Apart from the vinegar and bicarb, I don’t need most of this stuff.

I got this great idea for addressing the pungent odour of vinegar from the writer Christine Coates: buy 5-litre bottles, decant into smaller bottles, insert lavender stalks/flowers or citrus peel (I’m trying scented pelargoniums at the moment) and stand in the sun for a few days. The vinegar turns a pretty colour and smells delicious. Use it to clean showers, tiles, kitchen surfaces, glass, mirrors. If there’s crusted or baked-on dirt, sprinkle on bicarb as well and use a little elbow grease.

Last week, I spilled a tray of gravy and fat all over the oven, spattering the sides and creating an oily charcoal puddle on the bottom. I threw a cup of bicarb at the problem, followed it with a half a cup of hot water, then left it all to stand for 24 hours. Whereupon it all lifted off as smooth as silk, as I wiped first with paper towels, then reusable cloths — no scrubbing or rubbing needed. It’s the cleanest my oven has ever been.

I found this article, claiming that all household cleansers can be replaced with these two cheap, biodegradable options plus Castile soap, hard to believe at first, but so far my experiments show that specialist cleaning fluids (including the green products on which I’ve spent a fortune in my lifetime, and which still present containers in need of recycling) are yet another enormous marketing con. We truly don’t need them.

Next, my Quaker friend Sue Mottram has come up with a wonderful idea for Lent, for those who mark this time of the Christian year. Instead of giving up chocolate or coffee, put a household item or piece of clothing in a box for each of the forty days of Lent. Come Easter, donate this box to a charity or non-profit. Another idea: if living plastic-free is new to you, try giving up plastic, or at least single-use plastic, for Lent. Or start stuffing small bits of single-use plastic into 2-litre milk containers to create ecobricks (this great article will tell you all you need to know): this has the added benefit of compacting together lots of little bits of plastic that are particularly lethal to ocean fish and birds, and very hard to clean up once in our water systems.

I spotted a mostly North American Facebook group asking its members how far they were from their nearest zero-waste store. We should ask the same, especially if we have regular farmers’ markets within reach. Calculate whether you can make a trip to this shop or market part of your regular grocery run, and keep a box or basket in the boot of your car with jars, packets, bags and containers to use for your purchases.

This is also time to think collectively and act co-operatively: find your local waste-free shop and commit to it. I’m lucky to have the Low-Impact Living Cafe in neighbouring Glencairn, with its legendary coffee and homemade bread.

Reality Brown makes the best toasted sandwiches in the Peninsula (her picture taken and posted with permission).

Reality Brown makes the best toasted sandwiches in the Peninsula (her picture taken and posted with permission).

If you live in the South Peninsula of Cape Town, this particular outfit is looking for members to sign up and pay R1000. This isn’t a loan or a donation: it’s an advance payment towards six months of groceries. The details are all here: email them on info@lowimpactliving.co.za to join. I’ve been very impressed by their range of goods in the past, and can’t wait for them to re-open the shop side of the business.

Locals, let’s get those storage jars filled. Write to info@lowimpactliving.co.za to sign up as a member. (This photo, with all other LIL pics, taken and posted with permission.)

Locals, let’s get those storage jars filled. Write to info@lowimpactliving.co.za to sign up as a member. (This photo, with all other LIL pics, taken and posted with permission.)




Helen Moffett
1001 Water- and waste-wise ways: Have yourself a green Valentine's Day
Replace the cut flowers with a living plant. Prickles are not obligatory.

Replace the cut flowers with a living plant. Prickles are not obligatory.

Does the annual commercial mugging by pink hearts aka Valentine’s Day set your teeth on edge? I believe in love, and am a sucker for a truly romantic gesture, but waste-consciousness is yet another reason, if not to abstain, then to adapt your V-day habit. It’s become a sea of red paper, tinsel, yet more pink plastic puffery and mediocre chocs rattling around in way too much packaging.

The other day, I saw a delightful set of Green Valentine’s suggestions in a local high-school letter, and hoped to get permission to reprint them. But what with loadshedding (euphemism for rolling blackouts imposed by a national power supplier so corrupt and incompetent it can’t even keep the lights on), the messages didn’t get through. But the teenage author and I definitely have the same principal idea: DON’T BUY ANYTHING FOR V-DAY. (If you must, then read on for suggestions.)

Let’s start with the traditional items on the list: red roses. Sorry, but no. If you insist on cut flowers, try for something indigenous and local — that hasn’t been whizzed around the country or the globe in a cargo plane. In fact, replace cut flowers with a plant. A colourful pot plant can be just as beautiful as a bouquet, and even nicer is an edible plant, or something cute and quirky, like a water-wise succulent. (Look out for ones in rudely suggestive shapes, if that floats your honey’s boat.)

Next, chocolates and their ilk. Far be it from me to suggest you eschew chocolate, proven to lift the spirits. But have you looked closely at the packaging involved, especially for the kinds where the confections are not only in a box apparently designed by German car manufacturers, but individually wrapped? So what’s to do?

Break out an apron, and get baking. So many possibilities: heart-shaped biscuits, delicious coconut-date-nut balls for your vegan sweetheart, home-made peanut brittle (you can even make your own Nutella — ridiculously easy AND sans palm oil), and a thousand variations on chocolate brownies and muffins. (A friend makes legendary flour-free brownies with butter beans.) What’s especially nice about this kind of V-day gesture is that you’ll be making entire batches, so there’s a lot more love to go around – you can show up at your child’s school, your sewing collective, your workshop, or your book club with cupcakes for your colleagues, kids’ teachers, friends and even your enemies. Of which you will promptly have less.

Make a card, instead of buying one. Look around for a bright postcard to repurpose, or dig around in your craft supplies. Get your children in on the act. Ask them to think of people who might need a cheering word and will appreciate a pretty homemade card.

Yes, a special meal in a restaurant is nice. And it’s completely possible to have a low-impact or even zero-waste evening out (see this reminder of how cafes and restaurants can make a green difference). But consider whipping up something special at home. You and your spice can share the work: one of you can do a starter and pud, the other the main course and salad. Time to liberate all the candles in the house: thanks to &^%$# Eskom (see above), you’ll probably need them anyway.

Spa treatments? How about administering a massage or beauty treatment in the privacy of your own home? Trust me, giving a good back rub or scalp massage is NOT difficult. The ever-reliable Google will tell you how, and once again, You Tube is your friend (if your sensibilities are delicate, don’t click on anything that looks like porn.)

There are simple tricks that leave only delicate footprints on the earth: pour some oil (almond, coconut, olive) into a small dish and then place that in a larger dish of hot water for a minute, so that the oil warms up to blood heat. Add a few drops of fragrance oil or perfume. Apply to the skin of your sweetheart and rub in slow strokes. You’ll be popular. If that sounds too complicated, with potential for spilling or scalding, here’s a foolproof version: invite your dear one to choose a body lotion or cream they like from your bathroom cupboard, then pop it in the microwave for ten seconds. (Test the temperature at this point: it may need another five seconds.) The resulting warm, fragrant lotion is a winner. Warm flannels and hot towels are also good ideas. Just don’t set the house on fire.

But, but, the economy, you say: all those businesses that rely on this kind of “special day” commercial traffic. Doesn’t this green stuff cut them off at the knees?

This is not a day for a lecture on our blindly consumptive economy, so by all means splurge on a spa, or a restaurant meal, or a showy bunch of blooms if you have the means (try to pick a supplier that seems to be doing more than going through the green motions). But take your widowed friend out to dinner, send your elderly aunt the flowers, treat someone battling with physical or mental health issues to the spa pampering. Make it up to your loved one in kisses.

Finally, and this is for all the blokes out there: the single biggest thing you can do to reduce the waste you’ll generate in your lifetime and in perpetuity: have a vasectomy. It’s also the most romantic gesture you can ever make. Giving men the snip is infinitely more sensible than sterilising women (we’re fertile three days a month for thirty years, you’re a potential bunny rabbit every single day from puberty until the grave), as well as safer, cheaper, medically less invasive, etc.

Too much? OK, then try this, the sweetest V-day suggestion to land in my inbox: the option to send your crush a romantic card mentioning a date with a dreamy vet. VET?! OK, we’re trying to be cute here: animal sterilisation charity SA MAST have the loveliest idea of sending Valentine’s cards on your behalf to whoever makes your heart beat faster in exchange for a donation towards spaying or neutering a cat or dog in Khayelitsha. This poster did make my knees a little weak: the pics are for swooning. Here’s the link with all the details you need. Do this, and a whole lot of people and animals will have a genuinely happy Valentine’s Day.

Love4.jpg
Helen Moffett
1001 Water- and waste-wise ways: another lipstick blog
Squeezing out every last drop: Kate Sidley’s bathroom shelf.

Squeezing out every last drop: Kate Sidley’s bathroom shelf.

This might be my most frivolous blog yet, but the topic of waste reduction is so huge, bleak and complex, I thought I’d tackle something bright and fluffy for a change. Plus my water-wise lipstick blog was surprisingly popular.

So let’s talk about waste and beauty routines. Now I have a complicated relationship with such matters. Since I stopped showering/bathing/washing my hair as a matter of daily routine, I have been staggered by the improvement in my overall skin, hair and scalp health. I positively glow.

But few things make me as unpopular as urging similar lifestyle changes on my friends: washing hair only every seven to ten days, showering/bathing once a week, and using the bucket/damp flannel method the rest of the time. It’s the one thing that makes people dig in their toes. “You make me feel defensive,” grumbles a friend. “But I’m appealing to your vanity!”, I cry, pointing to my blooming phiz.

Then I spotted that the internet was in a tizz about newly elected New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s skincare routine. A SIX-STEP facial routine? With “double cleansing”? What bizarre ritual had capitalism invented for (mostly) women now? “Self-care!” everyone trumpeted.

This gives me the harumphs, until I realise that it’s all very well for me. I live in one of the most beautiful natural environments in the world, in which I can choose between several beaches, mountain trails, lake boardwalks or nature reserves for my daily destressing walk. Very few middle-class urban dwellers have these options (much less the poor or rural populations), so if patting your face for twenty mins every morning or night is a viable form of self-nurturing, I’m all for it. 

Nevertheless: the truth is that the beauty industry, which has wrapped its tentacles around all genders in the last few decades, is a snake-oil business that flogs mostly utterly needless products for astoundingly presumptuous prices. “Skincare has always been about putting money on your face,” says the Guardian’s Morwenna Ferrier.

My problem right now with this industry is the excessive amount of waste it generates. Think of all those tiny pots, lipstick cases, plastic shampoo containers, earbuds, facial wipes, the fussy “pretty” packaging, and more more more.

So let’s tackle this. First, I urge you to emulate my clever and beautiful writer/journalist friend, Kate Sidley (the photo at the top is hers): go through your bathroom cupboard and make-up box and use up absolutely everything in it before buying anything new. Cut open those weeny little obscenely priced tubes and scrape out the contents. Same with the samples you get in magazines. If elegant local actress Grethe Fox does this, so can you. (She refuses to take any credit: “It’s how we were brought up.”)

Buy biodegradable cottonwool earbuds, bamboo toothbrushes, washable make-up brushes and sponges. I may go a tad too far: reluctant to throw away my remaining regular cotton buds (I bought a jumbo pack years ago and am down to my last three), I strip off the ends to burn, and chuck the remaining plastic sticks into my eco-bricks.

 For decades now, whenever I reach the end of a lipstick (I hold no truck with Forever Young Yeah Right skin goo, but I dearly love make-up), I scrape out the bit left behind into a special pot, add a drop of almond oil, mix, and apply with a lip brush. Because this gets added to regularly, the colour is always changing, and it always suits me. A friend used to create fabulous art with lipstick, so for a while I collected everyone’s lipstick stubs and posted them off to her.

Red Bull, by Sarah Britten, lipstick artist.

Red Bull, by Sarah Britten, lipstick artist.

Another option is to make your own creams to put on your face: one of my favourite green gifts was a lovely pot of moisturizer made from scratch by a friend. Quite a few people are trying this, to reduce waste, save costs, protect animals, and avoid slathering chemicals on their skin. You Tube will drown you in videos showing you how (I picked this one at random because it didn’t start with an ad). Interestingly, friends who’re doing this say the most expensive ingredients are the pure scented oils. There has to be a way around this (eyes the lavender and herbs in the garden). You can make your own cosmetics, too: simply Google. This was the first link I found (another rabbit warren to explore! Check out the links to the Paris To Go Zero Waste blog, but set aside several hours — some fascinating stuff there.)

Hotels and guesthouses are already addressing the problem of the sea of little plastic shampoo, conditioner and shower gel bottles. (I once collected every single one I got on a poetry tour halfway round the world, and practically needed a second suitcase.) Trouble is, when they replace them with big bottles to be re-used by multiple guests, they have to bolt them to the shower walls to stop folk swanning off with them. Still, that’s the way to go, and in the meantime, donate those miniature bottles and soaps to organisations like Rape Crisis, who put them in comfort packages to give to children who’ve suffered unspeakable violation.

After three weeks of modest motels in Western Canada, I had already amassed these…

After three weeks of modest motels in Western Canada, I had already amassed these…


I leave you with this final thought: Julia Roberts was recently asked for her single most NB beauty tip. Hold onto your hats, here it comes, from one of the most iconic and bankable faces in the world: LOOK AFTER YOUR TEETH. There you have it. What’s more, she doesn’t use toothpaste. She brushes with bicarb. Be like Julia.

 

 

 

 

Helen Moffett
1001 Water-and Waste-wise Ways: "Are you still doing this?"
Yes, I’m still doing this. That’s water collected from wells, springs and rain sources, not bottled water.

Yes, I’m still doing this. That’s water collected from wells, springs and rain sources, not bottled water.

The other day, my sister dropped in for a cuppa and found me pouring well water splashily into my washing machine. “Are you STILL doing this?” she asked. Likewise, a friend drove past as I was filling bottles at a local spring, and stopped to ask the same question. And then an email popped up from the Teabag Elf (remember her? Still my favourite tipster) letting me know she missed my “Green Hat” blogs. (Sorry, TE, I was ambushed by extra work over the “holidays” and then a PC crash got me behinder and behinder.)

Yes, I am still 99% off the water grid. I run the dishwasher once a month to keep everything sanitary, as I do a lot of bottling, pickling, and knitting of yoghurt. And I still brush my teeth in municipal water and go round giving the taps short bursts now and again, because I have an irrational fear of critters moving into unused pipes. But it’s hard to believe that this time last year, Capetonians were trampling each other in supermarkets to score and stockpile bottled water, or that foreign TV crews were showing up to film my garden pressure-sprayer in action as a camping shower. I went past the water shop in the mall yesterday, and all was quiet: this where folk queued for hours to buy (filtered) municipal water a year ago.

What happened? For starters, the mass hysteria evaporated [groan]. Many now seem to believe that the entire water crisis was fake news.

It was not. We dodged a catastrophe. A trawl through the back issues of this blog will explain how and why the incoming mortar shell exploded (fairly) harmlessly in the air just before touchdown. But as far as I can make out from the PR (which I distrust deeply, and with good reason) coming from the City of Cape Town, we all deserve a “rest”, to “recuperate” from the trauma of having had to cut our individual water consumption to 50 litres a day. (Pity future generations won’t get any “rest” from the environmental disasters we’ve created.)

This, I suspect, is because of the economic impact of water restrictions on tourism to our heart-stoppingly beautiful, heart-stoppingly unequal, and heart-stoppingly fragile city. The message is clear: dear visitors with hard currency, you may shower and frolic in hotel pools as much as you like, and we’ll agree to ignore impending Armageddon. With notable exceptions (well done, Vineyard Hotel), my experience of the few guesthouses I stayed in last year was of being told “Oh, the water shortage doesn’t affect us, there are no restrictions here!” Offers to bring my own towels and questions about whether there was a water-collecting bucket in the shower were met with polite incredulity. Even when the Cape’s biggest dam stood at only 13% capacity.

The CoCT learned some important lessons: that agriculture — generator of food (you know, that stuff we need to eat three times a day) and the major source of employment for rural communities — needs to be a priority in allocating water use. Legumes before lawns, spinach before swimming pools. But UCT’s Prof Lesley Green and other notables have observed that while the City’s systems work fairly well for normal conditions, there has been little or no planning for the increasingly catastrophic effects of climate change.

My waste research has rubbed my nose in the fact that even as the world starts to burn (look at the Western Cape a few short weeks ago, at California, Australia, Tasmania), we stick our fingers in our ears and sing “la-la-la” when it comes to the impact our pesky species (or rather, its staggering greed-need to consume and insane emphasis on profit before survival) is having on the planet. So devastating as I find the merry assumption that our water troubles are over, I am not surprised.

The truth is that we got decent rains last winter. Decent. Not great, but not bad either. And that saved our rapidly frying bacon — but only temporarily. As of now, we are gamblers. We’ll be fine in the short-term if there are average to good rainfalls this coming winter. And the next. And the next. But there is no longer any guarantee of this: the one thing all the climate predictions agree on is that the weather is becoming increasingly, well, unpredictable. In terms of rain falling from the skies, we now live in an era of Russian roulette.

So to revert to putting drinking water on our lawns and in our pools because the water crisis “is over” is like having a kind aunt (Mother Nature in our case) pay off our credit card bills — and responding by rushing out to shop all over again. And that is why I am bitterly opposed to the relaxation of local water-saving regulations.

I confess I am heartily sick of bucket-bathing, and the smell of grey water (although Pro-Bac and juniper oil help). But I simply can’t bring myself to pour drinking water down a toilet ever again. Plus I find I’ve changed certain habits: even in winter, I manage bathing/sponging in cold or tepid water just fine — even though I used to be the ultimate hot-water sybarite. Plus I love the sense of independence my water-harvesting gives me: cutting out the municipal middleman.

Meanwhile, there are small but heartening signs that keep me from slitting my wrists: huge rainwater tanks in a small local informal settlement; rain-tanks everywhere, in fact, especially at institutions like schools. Frogs and a resident water snake in a once-chlorinated pool (the owner of said eco-pool has mixed feelings about this, not helped by her friends congratulating her on her good fortune).

Water-lily in what was once an expensive, electricity- and chemical-consuming pool. Now a beautiful eco-pool filled with rainwater, and the family swim in it every day.

Water-lily in what was once an expensive, electricity- and chemical-consuming pool. Now a beautiful eco-pool filled with rainwater, and the family swim in it every day.

The way journo Miriam Mannak’s washing-up water keeps gifting her with tomato and chilli plants; and in spite of the sun scorching my poor veg patch, the huge feral killer butternuts generated by my compost heap.

Four different kinds of tomato and chillies. From pouring washing-up water into pot-plants.

Four different kinds of tomato and chillies. From pouring washing-up water into pot-plants.

Meanwhile, the waste research goes on, although I’m going to have to draw a line soon, or I’ll be writing One Million and One Waste-wise Ways: plus the ongoing anguish about whether reducing waste actually has a significant impact continues to split my head. Especially with data now showing that the single biggest planet-saving act by a middle-class person is to have no children (fifty per cent greater impact than anything else, including living off-grid and giving up car and plane travel). Pointing this out is not going to win popularity contests. So I give you a butternut the size of a baby instead.

And here’s one of my rogue butternuts.

And here’s one of my rogue butternuts.

Helen Moffett
1001 Water- and waste-wise ways: The Great Christmas Conundrum
Here is a nice soothing picture (some of my favourite things) before I start my annual Christmas grump.

Here is a nice soothing picture (some of my favourite things) before I start my annual Christmas grump.

This is me, after venturing out to a mall yesterday.

This is me, after venturing out to a mall yesterday.

I am notorious for being a Grinch about what I call “Excessmess”. Over 30 years ago, I did my first Black Christmas (for political reasons, boycotting everything except the four Fs: family, friends, faith and food). However, once you’ve eschewed presents, decorations, cards, frenzied shopping-malls, that hissing sense of collective insanity that translates into Russian roulette on the roads and domestic mayhem when alcohol is mixed in — it’s hard to go back.

I’ve written about this fairly often — here’s one of my “well, if you MUST do gifts…” posts from Christmases Past. Look, there is no way to say this that doesn’t sound scoldy or slappably virtuous — but the holiday season is an absolute orgy of waste. Wasted food, tons of paper, packaging, single-use trinkets into landfills — you don’t need me to spell it out. But there are alternatives that don’t necessitate ruining family rituals — from tiny things, like wrapping gifts in your children’s drawings, or making gifts (time-consuming but satisfying, especially if it’s food), to the simple, like just sommer donating the gift budget to charity. Instead of presents for distant cousins, why not grocery vouchers for the service staff who’ve made your life a bit easier this year?

I’ve been decluttering for Christmas, which has done the planet, the beneficiaries and me the world of good. I now have LESS STUFF, and NPOs I care about have goods that fit their purposes and needs. (A little old lady in the Oasis charity shop SEIZED my twelve-year-old blender, and I had to chase after her to explain it didn’t handle pestos or grind nuts anymore. All good: she wanted it for salad dressings and soups. She was SO delighted. And right there, on the spot: my festive glow.)

My idea of the perfect Christmas tree. You can EAT it. (It’s a rosemary plant, trimmed.)

My idea of the perfect Christmas tree. You can EAT it. (It’s a rosemary plant, trimmed.)

But I’ve been thinking about kindness, and how we have not been kind to our home, Planet Earth. A good place to start is by actively cultivating kindness to everyone and everything — hopefully, the ripples will spread out. Here’s something I put on my Facebook page after a rather disastrous year:

’Usually at this time of year, I advise people to rest, to give to charities instead of doling out prezzies, to squeeze the people and four-leggits they love. Also to acknowledge that the collective madness about families, impossible myths of happiness and love, can make this an agonisingly difficult time of year. Many face the place at the dinner table that will never be filled again.

‘I hope that advice hasn't been patronising or saccharine. I still want to say the same, but with the kind of resonance that comes from thrashing with one's own mortality: something to be grateful for is that we're still here. Each year presents us with loss, often grievous, sometimes crippling. But we're still breathing, and we have work to do. We have a planet to safeguard, wars to prevent or ameliorate, and a thousand small gestures of kindness to make in our immediate circle.

‘How to be kind? Do unto others. How do we do that? The trouble with the advice of the man whose birth we're celebrating is that it's too radical for most: "Go sell all that ye have and give it to the poor." Here's the gentler version: use your imagination. That person is missing her dead mother; that man is tempted to drown his demons in drink; that woman feels sad that she isn't happy just because "it's Christmas!" Tell them you know things are difficult, you're there if they want to talk. If you’re not the talky type, distraction works wonders for the unhappy. Give them something useful to do and then thank them for doing it. Praise wherever praise is due. If you like something someone says or does or creates, TELL THEM.

‘If you need to creep away from people at this time of year, do it. If you have the heart and stamina for it, invite the isolated in.

‘And so many have pressing practical needs: they're hungry, they're unemployed, they're homeless. What the poor must think of the spectacle of middle-class consumption at this time of year makes me shudder. So give as generously as you possibly can, of your time, goods and money, to charities and non-profits. You can have enormous fun fitting projects to people: donate to an animal shelter or pay for a spay for your animal-loving aunt, plant trees or give to food garden projects for the gardening enthusiast, support child literary projects like Book Dash in honour of your booky pals — the list is endless. Google and even Facebook is a great help in finding perfect projects in your own backyard.

One of my favourite projects. Pic copyright Book Dash.

One of my favourite projects. Pic copyright Book Dash.

‘A friend recently mourned, "Why can't people be kind?" and got the response: "For many, this means giving up power." That is a terrible indictment of where we are now as a species. Kindness makes us vulnerable, but it is the most potent form of agency there is. It can change lives. In the end, it might recreate a habitable planet for all the life still on it.’

I wish all readers of this blog, of whatever faith tradition (or none), a safe and tranquil time over the next week.

PS: I said I didn’t do presents. I lied. Here’s one for my friends.

Colin Firth and cats.jpg


Helen Moffett