Images: Su Leslie 2017
I love the way that morning mist renders even the most familiar landscape a little bit unknown and mysterious.
I’ve lived in the same place for 19 years, and although much has changed in that time, physical alterations have been gradual, each settling more or less gently into the neighbourhood.
In the last year or so, a large number of modest houses have been demolished to be make way for McMansions. In the latest case, there was sufficient land around the old house to be subdivided into seven lots, each priced at just over a million dollars.
That’s right. For a NZ$1,050,000 (1) you can own 600m2 of bare suburban land upon which to build your dream home. As long as your dream complies with the (usually quite restrictive) building covenants on such developments.
I hardly know where to start with my list of concerns about this trend. The increasing homogenization of an already elite neighbourhood? The massive environmental footprints of the new houses? The obscenity of building mansions when there are families only a few miles away living in their cars?
What worries me is that so much of that charm is being destroyed, and what’s left will only be accessible to the wealthy few.
(1) $1,050,000 = around US$719,000, approx £541,500, just over 1,000,000 Australian dollars, or €635,000.
The Big T and I are not extravagant people, but it is still alarming how quickly money disappears. I don’t just mean on the big things (like insurance premiums — gasp), but all the small stuff that plastic cards and years of living in relative financial comfort have rendered invisible.
So, while T is away on business for ten days, I’ve put away my bank and credit cards, banned all internet shopping and am going cash-only. I’ve picked $100 as my budget for the period, since it’s a nice easy number to deal with.
Let me emphasize: this is NOT an attempt to “experience” poverty or real hardship. All the big bills will still be paid by direct debit, I have access to money for emergencies, and I’m starting from a position of comfort and abundance. I have gas in my car, food in the pantry, a well-equipped kitchen and an (insulated) roof over my head.
I’m hoping that by only having cash, I will be more aware of how much things costs, more mindful of my actual needs, less wasteful, and perhaps more innovative in finding alternatives to throwing money at a problem.
The first couple of days proved to be easy. I had a list of projects that needed my attention and I just didn’t go out. There were plenty of ingredients for meals in the fridge and pantry and I’ve eaten well.
Today is rubbish collection day and we were out of rubbish bags. We don’t actually produce much waste for the Council collection, but what’s there stank a bit, so I went shopping.
The garlic was essential; we’d run out. The broccoli and milk probably constitute luxuries — the former will make a nice change from home-grown silverbeet and kale, while the latter enables my daily flat-white fix (unless I run out of cash AND coffee beans before T gets home). The potato and kumara are proof that I’m not immune to impulse buying though — I’ve wanted to try making rewena paraoa for a while, but I don’t HAVE to do it this week.
On one hand, this project/experiment/challenge is a bit disingenuous — I have a safety net that’s not available to people who are genuinely trying to survive on very low incomes.
But on the other hand, if I can make do with less — less money, less stuff, less waste — then that is a good thing.
Small change for big changes perhaps.
It is ironic, or perhaps just fitting, that these words should be painted on rusting industrial pipes abandoned beside London’s river Thames; they come from The Manifesto of Communist Party, written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and first published in London in 1848.
The phrase is from a section of the manifesto (1) describing the ways that capitalism fundamentally changes economic, social and even physical structures. By their nature, capitalist enterprises require constant growth and innovation to survive. With changing economic conditions, old social and cultural relationships give way (willingly or not) to new forms of engagement. That which seemed permanent is no more.
London, like many cities, is growing rapidly, with huge physical changes to the landscape. Much of this growth — in construction and infrastructure development — is taking place south of the river around Greenwich and eastward towards the Thames Estuary. The skyline is punctuated with the harsh geometry of cranes and tower blocks.
Earlier this year, we spent a week in Greenwich. Our apartment, occupying a corner position on the seventh floor of a building, had expansive views; of the Cutty Sark, of the three-hundred-year-old St Alfege church (designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor) — and of building work. From every window, the prevailing view was of cranes and half-built apartment blocks, rising above London’s history.
We are beginning to wake up to the fact that unlimited growth is not possible on the closed, finite system that is our planet. Voices of dissent are growing in strength and number and I would like to think that Marx’s words can have another meaning — that neo-liberal ideologies, which are currently made to appear as “solid fact”, will melt in the heat of public scrutiny and critical analysis.
Change is inevitable; the form it takes is up to us.
This post was written for Sally D’s Mobile Photography Challenge.
(1) The full paragraph is:
The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind (I. Bourgeois and Proletarians, Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1848).
“Reflect” is one of those words that has both physical and metaphysical dimensions. At one level, we’re talking about the action of light on a surface:
… and on the other we use it to describe a set of thought processes
At this time of year there seems to be a social expectation of reflection and renewal. From a wholly arbitrary point in the way we measure time – midnight on December 31 – we extrapolate a metaphor of change and (usually) improvement. Newspaper and magazine articles tell us how to phrase New Year’s resolutions that will last, how to make sure we stick to them, what other people resolve to do – even the top 10 resolutions. The media also tells us (as if we didn’t know) that hardly any of us keep New Year resolutions.
Insofar as I’ve ever made New Year resolutions, I’m one of the vast majority who falls off whatever wagon I’ve hitched myself to – usually within the first few days of January. Most often I forget that I’ve even resolved to lose weight, exercise more, stop snacking straight from the fridge, keep a diary, write a play, phone my mum more often. Does that mean I didn’t reflect enough on my life? Or on the processes of change? Or does it mean that reflection is not a particularly straightforward process?
When we think of reflection, I suspect our first image is that of a mirror. We stand in front of it and a single image – us – is reflected back. But I think that in the normal course of life, reflection is more indirect, accidental and obscure. It’s more like the photo above – we glance in a shop window that contains mirrors and crystals and other shiny things and what we see is a kaleidoscope of fractured and distorted images. We’re there, but only as one element of a bigger picture. What is “real”? What is reflection? Background becomes foreground and the incidental is magnified.
That’s not to say that we can’t see ourselves clearly sometimes. But I do think it helps to acknowledge that life isn’t lived before a single mirror, and that what looks like a flaw in the isolation of one lens can be utterly beautiful in the interplay of many.
I also think that if you really want to change something, do it now. Don’t wait for New Year (although yes, I do know it’s only a short wait).
This post was written in response to Sue Llewellyn’s Word a Week Photography Challenge which you can find out more about here.
Here are some other posts on the theme that I enjoyed:
Here are some other posts you may like: