Monday, April 13, 2009

Old Things That Still Work, Part 1 : and no, this isn’t a cheap jibe at holidaymaker Clive, pictured above, who was staying with his wife Wendy in our gite last week. Rather it’s by way of another commentary on the economic state of the world we all live in and a telling tale, told to me by Clive. I’ve written before on the contradictions of capitalism in these current times of ecological stress: we use precious energy to mine unrenewable resources to manufacture stuff that ends up back in a hole in the ground (landfill) within an expensively short time. The exchange of goods for money is what currently (credit crunch allowing) makes our world go round. I love to repair things and it grieves me when I’m obliged to throw something away that could be repaired if I could only get hold of a minor part and I’m frustrated that things are made so fragile, even disposable nowadays. (Check out the price of a new DVD player, then ask yourself whether it’s worth repairing.) So here’s Clive’s true story of a company that built their product so well, they went out of business.

So he tells me, De Vere were a company producing solid, industry-standard photographic enlargers. They were so strong that they didn’t need repairing or replacing and so well designed that they didn’t need updating. Once you’d paid your money, you had it for life, with no further reason to give that honourable company any more money. Apparently bullet-proof, several De Vere 504s have stood up to years of abuse by students at the university where Clive teaches photography, still intact and functioning. Because nobody needed to replace or update their machine, nor buy spare parts, De Vere went out of business. At this moment, when showing new design students around, Clive says, “Welcome to Consumerism.”

While some ecological accountant, much more cleverer than me, invents a working alternative to capitalism, here’s my suggestion:
If you buy a product that is well made enough to go the distance, every year, send an anniversary card to the manufacturer, captioned, “For Your Ecological Integrity” and with a £5 note tucked inside.

Clive Egginton’s website.

Coming soon: Swales, Part 2 and how elderflower leaves keep flea beetles away.