Visionary, Environmentalist or just careful?
I’m talking about my Dad. Growing up in the sixties and seventies, I didn’t really think much about it at the time, but Dad was always saving stuff. Saving it because it might come in handy one day and he couldn’t bear to throw something away he thought was useful. One of the reasons he did this was because he couldn’t afford to buy non-essential things, so it made sense to him to re-use where he could.
I now find myself doing similar things; if I see something that looks like it might be useful one day, if I’ve got the room to store it, I will. To a degree I’ve turned into my Dad.
To be fair, after I got married and had a home to improve, if I needed some wood or screws or a metal plate, the first port of call was Dad, He usually managed to help, although it sometimes took a while to find what I needed. The filing system wasn’t great. And now my kids turn to me asking if I’ve got something they need tucked away in the shed.
I remember as a kid watching Dad take that last sliver of soap in the bathroom and moulding it onto the top of a new bar by wetting it and therefore not wasting that last sliver. Seems a bit drastic but he was saving money and he was unwittingly saving waste.
On a Monday evening Dad would mince up the leftover meat from Sunday for Mum to make a meat pie with, but he would also mince up left over Yorkshire puddings in with it to fill it out.
If he had some piece of furniture that was no longer needed, he’d take it apart, saving the wood and the screws for another day. Last weekend I found myself doing the same thing and that’s what prompted this blog. It took me right back to the 70s.
Back in the day the household waste tip wasn’t the recycling centre it is today. It was a free for all and there were no attendants watching your every move, so anyone throwing stuff away would see if there was anything they could take back home. My Mum used to say “Your Dad’s going to the tip to swap some rubbish”. And he always came back with something. A very nice oak coffee table which is still in use today was the best find.
For a while, I drove a mini skip lorry and we always found something of value, whether it was monetary or just something for use one day. I picked up a dishwasher one day which was in working order, the customer was having a kitchen refit and wanted a new one, so I collected the unwanted item and took it straight to my Dad who had always wanted one. It lasted 15 years so he was happy.
When I started my first business in 1987, Dad was a maintenance man in a factory, he went to throw something in the skip there one day (yes, he actually threw something away!) and he saw a broken packing tape dispenser. Out it came, he identified what was wrong, went to the workshop and made a metal plate to fix it with and it’s still working today, 35 years later.
He once saved some old gas pipe and when we were having reception problems on our telly, he attached the gas pipe to the wall as high as he could, then attached the ariel cable to that and it actually worked. Didn’t look pretty, but it did the job. (Tellys were different in the 70s)
Not all of his ideas worked as he’d hoped. He acquired some good quality vinyl floor tiles which he used in the house, and tried to re-sole his shoes with the spares. He carefully cut them to shape, stuck them to the sole of his shoes and proudly put them on. They looked a bit odd, he’d put the pattern side down so that it could be seen, but when he tried to walk in them he slid all over the place, couldn’t keep his balance! It was hilarious but he couldn’t see the funny side.
We lived on a main road and parked our cars in the road as we didn’t have any off road parking, so all the traffic used to drive past and splash snow, rain and slush up the side of our cars in the winter. My car started to rust on the back wing because of this, so Dad suggested I pop rivet some metal over the affected area, fill up to hide the rivets and spray it to blend it in. He found me a metal paint can, which we washed, primed, fitted and painted. It took ages but lasted about 3 weeks before the rust came through. He was very disappointed.
I remember he came home from work one day, excited about the new piece of garden machinery he’d seen when delivering to a large house that day. He described it to us and then set about making his own version. It was what we know today as a strimmer. He had looked at how it worked and then thought that if he got some thin electric cable, secured into the jaws of his electric drill he would have his own strimmer. Sadly, the wire broke too easily and didn’t flail in the right direction so again, disappointed.
After he died, Mum asked me to clear some of his many pots of screws and nails away that he’d put on shelves in the conservatory- more of a covered walkway really – so I picked up the first one and found out that the plastic tub he’d used was the type of plastic that goes brittle and disintegrates when you touch it. So there I was, picking up screws, nails, washers and a million pieces of plastic fragments, thinking about how useful this wasn’t. A noble idea but different plastic would have been better.
Dad’s nickname at school was the Professor, because he was always coming up with ideas and making stuff and clearly carried this throughout his life. There are several home - made devices in the garage, none of us can figure out what they’re for but they must have made his life a bit easier. Most of his inventions were labour saving devices and most were made from something else.
So was he a visionary, ahead of his time, trying to save the planet? No.
Was he an environmentalist? Not on purpose.
Was he careful? Yes, because he had to be, because money was tight.
But I think that unwittingly, he was all three. He never stopped, even when money wasn’t so much of a problem, he still re-used where he could. And I’ve gradually realised that I’m doing the same things, re-using where I can. I’m currently dismantling pallets to use as planters and fencing in the garden, taking previously enjoyed furniture apart and saving the screws, jointing blocks and wood to save for another day – because you never know when you’ll need them.
There are many ingenious ways to re-use anything, it just takes a bit of time and thought how to do it to your own situation but the opportunity is there, to save yourself money and to help the world in general.