Dot writes: it did rain an awful lot in Wanganui, and it must be said that Wanganui is not a place bursting with indoor attractions. There was a plus-side to this, however: not just convivial time with the family (an extended gathering including Ken’s aunty Sue, who is a lovely person and great fun), but an opportunity to ignore said family and raid Ken’s mum’s bookshelf. I read A Change of Climate by Hilary Mantel and then, because the book is set partly in my own county of Norfolk and partly in South Africa and Botswana, I moved on to Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. It is hard to think of a bad word to say about Nelson Mandela and I won’t: his astonishing intelligence, his ability to preserve himself and his beliefs and even his compassion for his oppressors over many years of persecution and prison – all these were humbling, and as always when reading this kind of thing I wondered if I could ever have that kind of moral courage. It also led me to reflect on all the white people of South Africa who were mostly not bad people by their own lights, but simply content to accept the bounty that fell to them from being on the fortunate side of an unjust society, or, if not content, unable to go further towards righting those wrongs than dinner-table talk among the sympathetic, and maybe being as nice as they could to the black people they knew.
It strikes me that westerners like us are in a similar situation to those white South Africans, and even more able to ignore it, with respect to our over-consumption of resources and the global injustices of both trade and climate change. The lifestyle I enjoy is not just one I’m unwilling to give up but one I don’t know how to give up. I don’t have the skills to look after myself without hot running water, imported grain, cheap manufactured clothing etc etc. I’ve made resolutions before about trying to live a more environmentally-friendly life, but they have tended to fizzle out (though I think we are pretty careful of water and we do recycle as much as we can). In recent years as our income has contracted things like ecover washing-up liquid or organic vegetables have seemed just too expensive. I’m not a very crafty person and don’t spend my evenings knitting; with small children to help us, we make a frightening amount of rubbish including a lot of wasted food. But I think this year my resolution is going to be to try to become just a little bit more self-reliant. Now we have a garden we have the opportunity to grow some of our food, but this is going to be Ken’s sphere rather than mine. I need to pick something to learn, something that will make us that little bit less reliant on industrial processes and fossil fuels and so on and so forth. Right now the thing that occurs to me is bread. Home-made bread is delicious, and it’s not especially difficult: it just takes a little planning because of the time taken for the process. For me, however, finding the time and being organised are quite a challenge, given the demands of work and of the children. So that’s my resolution: when we get home from New Zealand, I’m going to start making bread, in the interests of global justice. Laugh if you like.