New from Old

I grew up on a farm.  Farmers are thrifty beings – attuned to nature, for sure, hard working and innovative.  My father could turn his hand to virtually anything, and virtually anything could be useful for some job around the farm.  There weren’t piles of junk, but the shed was a treasure trove of useful things stowed away carefully for when they might be put to work again.

Late one dark stormy night somewhere between the border and Zaragoza, on a meandering ribbon of black just discernable between the dark and the darker, the car stopped.  My right foot was flat to the boards, but we were going nowhere.  I scrabbled to understand what had happened, pulling on the handbrake, hoping it would hold.  My new friend Eily, a mathematics whizz, made a strange sound as she turned to me, incomprehending.

“A snapped accelerator cable?”.  Who’d ever heard of such a thing?  The farmer’s daughter certainly hadn’t.  Head gaskets, interminable adjustments to a dodgy carburettor, blow-outs – these were the extent of my lessons from an ever patient Papa.

Outside, staring sightlessly into the mysteries of a VW engine, it was cold;  damp, windy, and cold.  Once again I sent up a silent “thank you” to Papa for insisting on buying me this ridiculous kangaroo skin coat.

“Where exactly are we?”  “How far to the nearest town, do you think?”  “Which way will be closest?’  Indecision adding to our frustration, we momentarily cursed our blithe disregard for the need of a map, while trying to visualise the last time we’d seen lights from a farmstead, or passed a car on the road.

We weren’t panicky.  We had light, from the headlights – Eily trying to calculate for how long, but stymied at every turn –  ‘x’s and ‘y’s and even ‘a’s and ‘b’s all unknown quantities for a city woman who didn’t even drive.  “Perhaps we should turn the brights down and just leave the parking lights on?”  “One of us should stay, in case.”  Eily spoke more French than I – but we were in Spain now.  We couldn’t quite believe that neither of us had thought to augment our stripped-down-to-the-essentials backpacks with anything resembling the paraphenalia our fathers carried in the boot, especially on a journey across a continent.

We weren’t hysterical, but the dark and the cold, and our foolishness were conspiring to turn our predicament into a cause for sporadic bursts of hilarity.

And it was then, under cover of our self-mocking cackling that the two men, on their lightless rotary hoe, seemed to materialise behind us.  Farmers!  They’d seen our lights pass, and wondered why they were still there, up on the road.  They’d come together, expecting trouble from strangers.

A quick examination of the problem, a quick examination of the supplies to hand, and in no time, it seemed, they’d rigged an external cable from a length of wire, attached it to the engine end of the broken part, passed it up from the engine through the rear window of our little VW station wagon and up over my shoulder, terminating in a crude loop so I could maintain a steady grip as I pulled the cable down to depress the accelerator.  A steady grip was important, they insisted – concerned the wire might detach from the ring they’d made to attach my shoulder operated accelerator to the engine.

I’d loved my time in Spain over the summer, but that cold winter night just after Christmas 1972 I fell in love with its people.  Innovative.  Practical.  Kind.  Inquisitive.  Fearless.  Turning what’s at hand to practical use.  Recyclers, just like my father.

New from OldAnd that’s a characteristic I’ve always loved about Sri Lankans too.  It used to be more noticeable than it is now, with plastic bottles and plastic bags, plastic rope, and plastic toys from China seeming to have replaced all the attractive natural alternatives of glass and wood and coconut, and the once ubiquitous recycling man now a being from a mythical past.

But poverty has meant the necessity to reuse and recycle hasn’t quite died yet.  When I was in Pettah on Christmas Day I spied two neat piles of old exam papers and business ledgers that were destined to be turned into paper bags.  Screws, hinges, bananas or freshly fried manioca chips, it matters not – almost everything can be contained in a recycled paper bag.

A Parcel from ShobiBut it was the arrival of a parcel from my friend Shobi the other day that filled me with excitement, and gives me reason for optimism.  Here’s a young woman who’s using recyclables in the most stylish way – both for product, and for packaging, and it appeares she’s not alone but is sourcing items from other recyclers.

I’ve always admired her style – she’s an exotically  beautiful young woman who can wear all the things I never could – so I’ve enjoyed patronising her online jewellery and homewares store, but even if I didn’t love to wear jewel encrusted hair sticks, I’d be hooked on recycled note paper and packaging that makes me happy just to look at it.

Take a look at this!  (Click on the first image to activate  the gallery – I’ve captioned each image so you can see the little gems up close.)

New from Old – inspired by Ailsa’s Weekly Travel Theme New and dedicated to 1948Shop and Salvage, making recycling chic and stylish here in Paradise.

24 thoughts on “New from Old

  1. you have had some wonderful adventures meredith! your feature of Shobi gives us hope for the future, what beautiful. colourful and whimsical things she makes, love to bottle cap buttons, love the roses, brings to mind dancers, champagne and handsome men!!!! I wanted to say that your last post was so moving, you know of course that we blogging friends are family, not that we can ever replace our beloved (or otherwise) birth parents, but our love and support for each other is palpable 🙂

  2. I so admire those rare individuals who share this perspective, who when given a bottle cap, for example, see a button. As the world’s population soars, we’ll need them more and more.

  3. What a wonderful post, Meredith. Shobi really has great vision, and is fabulously artistic. I love that polished coconut shell lid, and the beautiful red roses. Happy New Year to you. xx

  4. Beautiful stuff and a great post — I especially liked the story of the two farmers who came to your aid — not only how they helped, but the very fact that they took the initiative. I miss the days when people wanted to get involved.

    Happy New Year!

  5. Such beauty from the mundane! Reminds me of a storeroom in our house in Mangalore that seemed like a treasure trove, until we grew up and it turned into useless junk overnight!!
    Perfect interpretation, and the account of your Spanish adventure makes me want to read more about your exciting past 🙂

    • Sometimes, when I remember an incident from those early days of travelling I’m amazed at the situations I found myself in – i’m not sure whether I was unbelievably naive, or just plain stupid!

  6. Lovely article and I certainly agree with recycling and upcycling to create something new and beautiful from something old and apparently useless. I always look at my rubbish twice before throwing away to think of a new way to use it, make something, or craft it into embellishments for greeting cards for example.

  7. I just don’t litter, and I say no to plastic. I’m sorry, I’m guily of not recycling. But I do try as much to separate when I throw my trash.
    Nice story of helpful handymen. I just had an intense drive to a remote location. My heart was literally pounding hard when a car was behind me. I stopped to the side, and it stopped too… twice! I was scared. I thought it was on to me.

    • Don’t like weird things like that. Sadly I often travel with my doors locked these days, and the windows up.

      I’m guilty of not reusing things, but I do try hard to limit my rubbish, and use my old reed bags for shopping to avoid plastics as much as possible. The ting I loved about these people though was that they’re reusing such mundane things as bottle tops and offcuts of material, newspapers and string …

  8. Why is it that those of who did that trek back in the 70s invariably did it in a VW? Our scenario was not as drastic as yours but we did arrive back in England with an elastic band holding the stick shift in 3rd gear.

    • Those poor old vans suffered such abuse and neglect, didn’t they? As to VW vans – I guess there weren’t many other alternatives, and then, a bit later, there was The Drifters, the Mitchener book that seemed to parallel our adventures.

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