Dot writes: one of our trips while in Wales was to the Centre for Alternative Technologies just north of Machynlleth. Before we went I had this vague idea it would be all wacky inventions – hovering shopping trolleys and clockwork pet-feeding systems and whatnot. Actually it is a centre for experimentation in sustainable living. There are sections on house design (houses with extremely thick walls, houses with conservatories that function as buffer zones to prevent heat escaping, wooden eco-houses you can build yourself); transport; grey-water recycling; organic gardening; micro-generation of electricity; and making your own compost. There’s a sort of play area with huge musical instruments made out of recycled plastic pipes and bits of wood, and the compost section has a huge slide in the shape of a worm which we all tried, including my mum, and also including Ken with Hugh strapped to his chest in the Baby Bjorn. They have an exciting range of environmentally friendly toilets. And at the end of your tour you can respond to their critique of consumerism by buying things in their large and tempting shop.
I did find it all very inspiring, despite the rather hectoring and preachy tone of some of the exhibits (if you’re there at all you probably don’t need convincing that global warming is a scary thing – unless of course you thought you were going to see hovering shopping trolleys). I would love to have an eco-house one day. I loathe the combination of clutter and waste in my life and I was thrilled by this vision of a neatly interlocking system, where the waste of one activity becomes the base material of the next. But I did come away with some questions and a sense of frustration. What are you supposed to do if you live in a town and don’t have space for two feet of insulation in the walls or your own vegetable garden? What if you rent? What if you live in a development where you aren’t officially allowed even to hang your washing outside, let alone put solar panels on the roof? It seems that ecological virtue is another luxury reserved for the older generation and the financially well-off. We have resolved to use our car less, which is one measure that is made easier by living in a town, and we buy low-energy light bulbs, and we’re going to put matting round the balcony so we can hang out our wet clothes in discreet defiance of the regulations; but it all seems rather feeble. The kind of large-scale change that needs to happen cannot be left to individuals; it requires major investment from government to upgrade the existing housing stock and impose radically higher standards on builders. Sadly, I can’t see that happening in Ireland any time soon.
*warning: next paragraph is about Female Matters*
Readverting to the shop mentioned earlier, I have purchased for myself, against the time (not yet arrived) when it will again become necessary, a mooncup in size A (for women over thirty or who have given birth vaginally: I am now in both categories). The mooncup is an environmentally-friendly device that is, in my opinion, better in pretty much every way than the non-eco alternatives. It saves you money; it’s very comfortable; you don’t have to carry towels or tampons around; and once you get the knack it’s very easy to insert and remove. If you are a menstruating woman and can use tampons, I thoroughly recommend it. In the UK you can buy them in Boots, which is where I got my first one; in Ireland you can order them over the internet.