I have to admit, I get more than a little peeved with the modern rose tinted take on ‘Make Do and Mend’. Don’t get me wrong, I am not wasteful, and I try to get as much life out of every item as I possibly can.
What I particularly dislike is the rebranding of previous generations of Make Do and Menders as happy, rosy cheeked, chirpy, patriotic types who sewed for victory and never complained. This image suits modern marketers who want us to spend our modern disposable incomes on trying to recreate the frugality of 1940’s by buying mountains of retro fabric, buttons, crochet hooks and new sewing machines.
I grew up in a family who through necessity made do and mended, and I can honestly say that it was pretty shitty.
The memories of my childhood are not of Mum merrily whistling as she craftily fashioned my 70’s flares into an A line skirt. The lack of money was a constant source of tension, and discord between my Mum and Dad. My memories are of my Mum’s angry tears as she discovered Dad had stored engine parts in the oven (to warm them up for some reason) or had spilled battery acid on the work surfaces. I remember that the twin tub leaked every wash day, and the spin cycle was a bit erratic. We would subsequently have to endure a long walk to the launderette with sacs of wet washing. I remember that our house was pretty much held together with pollyfiller and duct-tape and was very very cold. Apart from the time the airing cupboard set on fire due to some faulty wiring. It was warm then.
Cars were usually the main source of tension, as we could not afford to take them to a garage to be mended. Every morning we would have to push the car down the hill and jump start it, then drive round the estate like boy racers to get the battery charged. At traffic lights and junctions one had to keep the revs very high in case of stalling. Nearby pedestrians would flee, thinking you were about to mow them down. I even had to to do this during my driving test.
When one car finally gave up the ghost, Dad, convinced he would have to pay someone to take it away, made our drive his own personal breakers yard. Armed with a hammer and a saw, he reduced the car to tiny pieces, lovingly saving parts that he could use for spares. All of which caused my Mum to have an actual breakdown, flee to a hostel, and refuse to come back until he removed all traces of the wreckage.
So, as I grew up, not surprisingly, I began to think of being able to pay an ‘expert’ some ‘money’ to do things for me, as desirable. Car not working?- take it to a garage and someone will fix it. No tears. Washing machine broken? Buy a new one! No hassle. Decorating needs doing? Fine – I’ll see if any friends can recommend someone good. Dog looking a bit scruffy? Book him in at the groomers.
I see that this habit has cost me a lot of money over the years, and actually I have more skills than I think I do.
So, whilst I am not whistling a merry tune and hanging out the bunting – I have done a few things for myself recently that have saved me a few pennies.
1 I groomed my own dog! With scissors and clippers, and he didn’t look too bad.
2 I put up a curtain pole. With a drill. Go me!
3 I have replaced the seal on the washing machine.
4 I mended a wobbly toilet seat. With a screwdriver (yes, really I would have asked someone to do that for me)
Little steps I know. But important ones none the less. And as the months go by, I am sure there will be more things that I will learn to do for myself.
Better go – I must dig for victory. I’d love to hear of things you now do that you used to pay someone else to do….