Photograph by James Penlides
How well you’re perceived to be doing depends entirely on perspective. I, for example, in the full flush of middle age, have started dumpster diving. My chickens’ insatiable appetite for greens provided the gateway incentive, but once I experienced the thrill of fishing a discarded iceberg and some cauliflower leaves from the skip out back of the local greengrocers, well, it was a hop, skip and jump to “there is absolutely nothing wrong with that potato”.
I’ve brought home radishes and spinach, spring onions and apples. They were fine. Like, perfectly fine. My boyfriend and I ate them. I have begun menu planning depending on what’s in the dumpster. This wasn’t what my parents saw for me. And, to be fair, my taste runs to expensive things, and my current ambition is “write best-seller, write one-woman show that tours worldwide and ponce about at arts/book festivals drinking v.good champagne and laughing throatily at Stephen Fry’s bon mots”. Yet every time I plunge my hand into a skip and retrieve something edible my heart swells with joy. Free food! Something deep inside me responds like a struck gong: “I can’t believe they were chucking this out.”
I’m increasingly suspicious of buying new. Tech? Sure. Although my current iMac is a G5, which makes it 10 years old, or as they call it in computer years, “senescent”. It still works a treat, but even with extra RAM it can’t support the latest operating systems. Its days are numbered, which is an infuriating waste of top-notch electronic elegance and function. I can’t stand it. Increasingly I find myself on a mission; saving stuff from landfill, even if it means being arse up and head down in a bin. In daylight. In a shopping centre car park. What’s got two thumbs and no shame? Why, that’d be me.
One of the most annoying clickbait columns I read last year was from a decent source – could even have been Fairfax, as they spiral down the plughole of populism. The headline was ‘Ten things you should never do once you’ve turned 30’, or some such bilge, and one of the “things” was “own any furniture you found by the side of the road”. The writer stated that you should grow out of that nonsense, and purchase nice new gear from places such as IKEA. Well, screw you and your rapacious corporate sensibility, humiliating people who own things that are recycled or second-hand. You know, people with a functioning conscience. Or style.
The house I live in is old. 1920s old. A huge, slightly shabby place, with high ceilings, big rooms, cornices and a truckload of charm. Great bones, big garden, could definitely use a paint job and some new carpet, but our tacit deal with the landlord is that we don’t make big demands, and they don’t jack up the rent. It’s a great place, but when it’s sold, I bet my ageing uterus it will be demolished for apartments within seconds of the contract signing. Because money. Because so many see no value in age, imperfection and character.
Our most recent six-monthly inspection was done by a brand new property manager. Young. Professional. She was visibly disturbed by the house. She was wondering how we can live like that. With no dishwasher.
The house is fine. Like, perfectly fine.
I’m also active in a Facebook community who trade stuff. I’m currently off-loading books for bottles of dry white wine. It makes me happy. I could work harder, earn more, chuck out the books instead of photographing them in alluring poses, and buy wine from BWS. But then there’s the delight of negotiating to exchange, say, organic cheese for a hardly worn red corset, and making an assignation and two people happy. You don’t get that from IKEA.
I’m not on track for my age. No dishwasher. No retirement. But according to my internal gong, I’m doing fine. Perfectly fine.
» Fiona Scott Norman (@FScottNorman) is a writer and comedian who’s never down in the dumps.
This article first appeared in Ed#529 of The Big Issue.