JOHNNIE CRAIG GOES WITHOUT MODERN TECHNOLOGY
(From Evening Herald HQ article “Cheap Tricks”, 16th April 2009)
Day one: I wake up to my youngest daughter singing Barbie’s annoyingly catchy dirge (I Feel) Connected. Barbie is, of course, the ultimate consumer chick, but we’re having none of that this weekend.
Our challenge is to have three days connected to nature, away from mod cons and money grabbing. Back to basics, if you will. Children don’t need to understand recessions, you can’t moan that the Government’s emergency Budget was designed to screw us all into penury – it just requires a collective change of tactic. So, we’re at their grandmother’s isolated home in the [English] countryside. It’s the ideal place to experiment with frugality; no shops, no internet or mobile phone signal, and the telly and DVD player are conveniently “broken”. Daddy’s iPod is nowhere to be found either. All we have is the great outdoors and the limits of our imaginations.
Well, there’s also a store cupboard of meal essentials. We won’t starve but we’ll be eating the frugal way.
Calls for Rice Krispies fall on deaf ears; it’s porridge for breakfast all weekend. There’s a health imperative, though; porridge’s filling properties and slow-release energy are essential for all our forthcoming exertions.
Day Two: The weekend is about spending-free activity. Brochures advertise expensive zoos and fun parks within driving distance, but none are as much fun as a bumpy, giggle-filled ride around a field in a wheelbarrow – even if health and safety jobsworths would have a fit. Lengthy country walks become exciting adventure playgrounds; thick gorse bushes are assault-course tunnels, trees are gnarled climbing frames and spotting horses, lambs, rabbits and deer is like a free safari park. Later, painting and crafts inspire imagination and consume our spare energy. A local farm’s eggs are hardboiled, cooled, then brightly painted, before a grandmotherly Easter bunny hides these works of art all around the yard. The hunt is long and energetic, with a smilingly satisfactory chocolate reward at the end.
Day THREE: Groceries are required, but local shops prove less stressful than supermarkets. For a start, there’s no Bob The Builder ride outside, encouraging the kids to whinge for three expensive, pathetic to-and-fro rocks to the tune of Can We Fix It?
Instead, boxes of colourful local produce turn into a name-the-vegetable game. We choose ingredients for soup and other meals, the whole lot will last the weekend and costs a lot less than £20 (€22.39).
There’s even change to buy two little pots of bubbles costing 50p (55c) each. Guaranteed, these give the kids more concentrated pleasure than any of Barbie’s vast and wallet-emptying range of unnecessary accoutrements. And what’s more, you can refill them with diluted washing-up liquid when they’re finished. Oh, the joy!
Then, of course, there’s sleep; afternoon and evening, it’s the ultimate way of whiling away spare time and avoiding the demands and temptations of commercialism. And with all that exercise, it’s been well earned too.
Can we do this every weekend, though? In the words of Bob and Barack, “yes, we can!”