Rosemary McLeod says living a simple life isn’t actually fun – or easy

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1 January 1970

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Comfort deprivation seems to be the ultimate way to virtue signal these days, but Rosemary knows first hand that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. She busts some myths about living without car and mod cons.

I’ve lived the dream of comfort deprivation that’s become today’s virtue, and I can tell you, it’s not great fun.

It was a long time ago, where we’re heading again. It’s back when my family had no car and had to walk everywhere, or time their activities by bus timetables that were kinda punctual but couldn’t be relied on.

It rained and we got wet. It was hot and we got sunburned. Parcels were heavy. Meat wrapped in brown paper leaked over everything else. I’m sure we shopped at Wong Nam’s, the greengrocer, because his shop was nearest to our end of town.

It was what we were used to, but getting around doing errands and chores literally took hours. Today it might take an hour at most. That’s because we have the evil car, useful in all weathers, keeping you dry when it rains and sheltered when it’s hot, and lugging your shopping home from the supermarket.

My grandmother got a bicycle, which was great until – inevitably – she fell off, and her injury hastened crippling arthritis. The rest of her life was spent dealing with unexpressed depression.

A car, which she couldn’t afford, would have enhanced her pleasure in life, broadened her horizons, made it possible to visit friends and family like her sisters did.

Now she was dependent on their help, which was sometimes resented.

Now the virtuous tell us to shop local. God forbid that we’d have a choice.

I was amused by student friends in the hippy days, who thought old houses with no modern conveniences, and washing in the creek, were the way to go. They came from middle-class homes provided by their parents, where things worked.

I came from the edge of a small town where people – not just us – did their washing by hand or in a copper. My grandmother had a coal range to cook on, but no vacuum cleaner, fridge, washing machine or other labour-saving gadgets. Housework was real work. A small hot water cylinder wasn’t a lot of use, but with luck you could bathe twice a week in a few inches of warm water.

She had a vegetable garden and grew a lot of what we ate. She’d done that all her adult life. Relying on your own vegetable garden means hard work; it’s not a decorative pastime for dilettantes. You have to water it, weed it, feed it and fight off the parasites before you harvest from it. Even wearing imported Indian frocks and dyeing your hair with henna doesn’t make any of that easy.

We were luckier than some. We had a flush toilet. But I remember the long drop at other places without affection or nostalgia. It stank. It was a torment to go there. I knew hippies who made a performance of grabbing a spade and hiving off, bangles jangling, to dig a hole somewhere. Seriously. I fear they’ve now become climate-change terrorists.

I knew hippies who made a performance of grabbing a spade and hiving off, bangles jangling, to dig a hole somewhere

I’ve been to China. I’ve seen skies like snot, with visibility so poor you can barely see across the street. I haven’t been to India, but I believe parts of it are worse, so the Climate Change Commission’s draft report, which was just released by the government, startled me.

It was probably unwise to let it out and shock homeowners with the news that their gas central heating, hot water cylinders, ovens and bench hobs will be history in 30 years if the commission has its way.

No wonder the gas industry is fearful. It looks as if it hasn’t even been consulted, but orders are being cancelled in anticipation of cuts to gas consumption that make up just 0.25% of this country’s emissions. On top of that, houses like mine represent a whole 3% of total gas consumption.

Did they realise the panic they would cause or did they just get carried away with themselves? It’s a fiasco. The government and the commissioners have serious explaining to do.

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