Improvise, adapt and (hopefully) overcome

As the COVID-19 lockdown in the UK continues, it’s starting to look like our shared efforts are helping to mitigate the impact of the virus. But still the disease has taken, and will continue to take, its heavy toll. I’m heartened, though, by our ability to come together at this time of crisis. By our ability to improvise, to adapt and (hopefully) to overcome. Continue reading

A day of thanksgiving

I’ve always been a big fan of Thanksgiving, which is celebrated today by our friends and neighbours ‘across the pond’. And while I’ve failed again this year to get my act together sufficiently to prepare a proper ‘Thanksgiving’ meal – or even just some pumpkin pie – I feel a deep kinship with the festival itself. With this celebration of the bonds between us. Of our deep ties to each other and to the planet that we call home. Continue reading

Taking refuge in nature

We all need to get away from things from time to time. To recharge our batteries and to regain perspective on our often chaotic lives. And there is no better place to do this, science is now telling us, than in the outdoors. Where we can leave our troubles behind us and embrace the deeper rhythm of the natural world. Where we can take time to heal. Continue reading

The cost of things

I’m a big fan of the ‘slow’ movement. For those not familiar with the concept, ‘slow’ is about doing things mindfully, taking the time to focus on what we are doing and making a conscious effort to do it well. ‘Slow food’, for example, encourages people to choose fresh, high quality ingredients, to cook them with care and to take the time to enjoy eating them, preferably with family or friends.

This approach has spread – slowly – to other disciplines, so that we are now starting to see things such as ‘slow cities’, ‘slow working’ and, indeed, ‘slow living’. Often dismissed as a new-age, lefty indulgence, it is, rather, a welcome rally against the cult of speed that threatens to take over so many aspects of our lives. For adherents of slow, life is something to be savoured and enjoyed. The journey is as important as the destination.

One of my favourite slow concepts is that of ‘eigenzeit’. It comes from the German ‘eigen’, meaning one’s own, and ‘zeit’, meaning time. The idea that everything, if we are to do it well, requires a certain amount of time. Now, the particular amount of time required clearly depends on the specific task in hand, but if you try to do it any quicker than its ‘eigenzeit’, then you will inevitably do it badly or not at all.

Take my garden, for example. I know that it’s going to take me an hour to cut the grass, if I include trimming the edges and tidying up the clippings afterwards. I’ve done it quite a few times now and it has never taken me less than an hour. It sometimes takes me more time, particularly if I’m having an off day or stop to chat with my neighbour, but never less. Now, I could save time by only cutting the more visible parts of the lawn, by leaving the edges to fend for themselves or by not bothering to tidy up afterwards. But that’s not ‘cutting the grass’ as I’ve defined it. My task has an eigenzeit of sixty minutes. It’s a fact.

In a similar vein, I would like to propose the concept of ‘eigenkosten’. We already know what ‘eigen’ means, and ‘kosten’ is German for – and you may be able to guess this – costs. If we are to produce a good or a service to a certain standard of quality, there is – in my view – a minimum amount that it must cost. We might be able to shave a few pounds off here and there by being more efficient or whatever, but we will eventually reach a point where we can’t cut costs any more. That’s the ‘eigenkosten’.

If we try to drive down the cost of something below its eigenkosten, bad things happen. Some producers will just stop what they are doing and go off and try something else. We’re seeing this at the moment in the dairy industry, where farmers are selling off their herds due to the unrealistically low price that they are able to get for each pint of milk that they – or, rather, their cows – produce.

Alternatively, producers might simply struggle on, making a loss on what they do, in the hope that something will turn up or that circumstances will change. Or they might change the goods or services that they provide, sticking to the ones that they can afford to deliver or reducing the quality of what they produce. This is the situation, for example, in local government across the UK, where funding cuts are having a direct impact on the nature, scope and quality of public services.

Sometimes, however, producers will opt to respond to cost pressures by trying to hoodwink us. They will cheat. They will reduce the cost of their goods or services below the eigenkosten by using sub-standard raw materials, by cutting corners in production or by claiming to have done things that they have not. It is looking increasingly likely that this is what is happening across Europe with the substitution of horse-meat in beef products, for example, but this is hardly the only instance where producers have responded in this way.

The slow movement tells us that we need to think carefully about how much things cost to produce and how much we are willing to pay for them. We need to be prepared to pay a fair price for the things we need and to challenge those who seek to do otherwise. We need to recognise that everything  has a minimum cost – its eigenkosten – and that to seek to drive prices below this is to pay disrespect to the goods and services that we consume, as well as to those who work hard to produce them.

Competitive, moi?

I’m not exactly what you could call a prolific blogger. I mean, I read quite a few people’s blogs, click some ‘likes’ and leave a comment here and there. I like messing around with my own blog, too, and try – and sometimes even succeed – to post a couple of times a week. But recently, things have got a bit more serious.

I set up my blog in October 2010 and then proceeded to do very little with it. I sort of liked the idea of having a blog, but things were fairly hectic and I just didn’t get around to writing anything. This was, unsurprisingly, reflected in a complete lack of readers, visits and page views – as you can probably see from the diagram below.

I started to make a bit more of an effort in August last year, when I decided to try a little harder to be a decent, well-rounded human being. (Read my very first post.) This is when people actually started to read my blog, which was all extremely exciting. And when I got my first ‘like’ (thanks http://princesayasmine.wordpress.com/, by the way), I was almost beside myself. My first comment, a couple of months later, provoked similar jubilations.

Wordpress Stats

You’ll notice, though, that I experienced a further bump in views (if going from 50 views a month to about 150 can really be called a ‘bump’ in the big scheme of things) in January this year. So what’s that all about? Well, it shames me to admit this, but this is when my wife started her blog, and I was darned if she was going to have a more popular blog than me. You know all that drivel you read about the male of the species being insecure, egotistical, shallow and pitifully competitive? Yup, it’s true.

So I tried hard to up my blogging game. I read more of other people’s blogs. I wrote more posts of my own. I wrote about what I was doing, thinking, reading, eating, growing and shouting at. I used tags properly so that people could find my blog. And it was great. I’m not saying that I have millions of readers or anything like that, because that’s clearly not true, but I have started to build up a little community of people like me across the world.

So at least a couple of evenings a week, Natalie and I come home from work, walk the dog, have tea and then settle down on the sofa for a couple of hours of blogging*. We catch up with the blogs we follow, we share things that have caught our eye and we write some posts of our own. Far from being a solitary pursuit, like so many people would seem to have us believe, blogging for my lovely wife and me has become a bit of a communal activity. And, thank goodness, I still have more views, ‘likes’ and subscribers than she does.

* This is not a euphemism. I really do mean blogging. Please don’t write in.