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Home truths: Granny knew how to save the planet on the home front

The big view on Ireland's property market


Ask your granny: Your grandparents knew how to run a household that helped protect the environment

Ask your granny: Your grandparents knew how to run a household that helped protect the environment

Ask your granny: Your grandparents knew how to run a household that helped protect the environment

Talking about saving the planet? I once knew a suburban Dublin couple whose diet consisted substantially of fruit and veg grown in their back garden. Much of the meat they ate was game, shot by the husband in the field (definitely not vegan). Rabbit, pheasant, wild duck, pigeon and the like. They kept chickens at the end of their suburban garden for eggs and the occasional Sunday roast. The rooster woke them (and their neighbours) in the mornings.

Their house contained almost exclusively pre-owned furniture, with very little bought new. Quality old pieces were reworked, restored and always wax polished. Over four decades, they neither bought a new kitchen nor updated the home's original bathroom. They never, ever rented a skip.

When their sofas sagged, they had them resprung and recovered, not replaced and dumped. They kept bees for honey, darned the holes that appeared in their socks (always woollen), had their shoes cobbled again and again. They meticulously saved every piece of string or wrapping paper for reuse. They ran one small engined car between them, holidayed in Ireland and took flights perhaps three times in their lives and only for religious purposes (Lourdes, Međugorje and Rome).

Rather than replace home appliances when they became dated or unfashionable, they kept theirs running until they died. Then they repaired them again. They had a TV for 20 years and a vacuum cleaner for 40. Mended was a well used word. He foraged extensively: rose hips (from which he made medicinal syrup - high in vitamin C), blackberries (from which she made preserves and cakes), dandelions for wine, hazelnuts and elderberries from woodlands and ditches, mushrooms from the fields. All food waste was composted to feed garden food plants. Never central heating - when it got cold, they wore thermals and cardigans. The alcohol consumed was almost all home-made wine, from their garden fruit.

By the modern standards of any Extinction Rebellion skirmisher, these two were storm troopers of planetary salvation.

My grandparents passed away in 1987 and 1997 respectively. They didn't live in a yurt. Based in leafy Dublin 6, they saw themselves as middle class, respectable and urbane. She wore furs and answered the phone with the toity received pronunciation "Helleww!" of Hyacinth Bucket. He wore three-piece suits and smoked cigars while digging the garden. This couple didn't know an environmentalist from a cantaloupe.

But as Irish city dwellers of that time, they weren't unusual in their lifestyles. Two generations ago, most Irish city dwellers lived like this. Consider that the same planning laws that today prevent people from living in Shomeras in their back gardens were introduced to prevent that generation from keeping pigs and regular livestock back there.

Today as we flap in a constant state of panicked environmental instability; fretting on whether a pizza box can go in the brown bin or what type of vegan cheese is best for the planet; in an age of petty eco one uppitymanship, there are two things worth considering.

First if you are an urban dweller, then your mission to save the planet likely starts and largely stops with your house, the choices you make with it and for it and how you consume for it.

Second, if you really do want to prevent polar bears from melting or whatnot, simply look back two generations to those city dwellers still living in our memories, and truly learn from them.

That generation didn't wear environmentalism on its sleeve like a Fitbit. It didn't pause gastro pub tales of Bahamian escapes and value in the Range Rover range to publicly flay a barman for the want of a pasta gin straw.

If you're a hip eco warrior whose domestic fashion led consumerism fills a skip twice a year as you update your kitchen for the second time in a decade or dump an aged but functioning Henry so you can show off the latest transparent vortex by the lad who gave birth to the ball barrow, then you are a waste of space in the eco wars.

There's a world of difference between the unwitting but effective urban environmentalist of recent yesteryear, who recycled and reused furniture, clothing and appliances out of habit; and the super conscious mealy mouthed vegan tree hugger who proclaims the virtues of a ceramic gym water bottle, while simultaneously changing their white goods as often as their underpants.

If you're an urban dweller then it is your house and how you live in it and what you put in it and how often you do that in your lifetime, that is likely to be the greatest extent of your global footprint.

Clearly some of my grandparent's habits rubbed off on me. I am a devoted charity shop forager, I cobble my shoes, grow food, compost, use appliances until they die. I don't own a car. My reclining armchair was €30 at the well-known Herman White house clearance auctions in Rathmines, my desk is antique oak for €150, the office chair from Age Action was €15, the mahogany bedroom drawer set was €20 from Oxfam and upcycled with chalk paint and panels of striped multicoloured wallpaper shop offcuts. But I do go on holiday and won't heckle someone who burbles though a plastic straw at a bar counter.

The bright side of careful household consumption is that you can have a 1920s handmade and bespoke solid oak dining table tomorrow for €90 at a household clearance auction like Whites. You can have the solid oak chairs with hand turned legs for a fiver each at Oxfam. You can change the colours with sandpaper and paint. You can paint that 10-year-old kitchen instead of replacing it. You can grow chillis on your windowsill and tomatoes on the patio.

If you're lucky enough to have her still, go and ask your granny.

Indo Property