Recycler Avec Ma Famille

Do your family recycle?

Does your family recycle? I don’t mean do you diligently separate your paper from your plastics from your metals, rinse them all and leave them kerbside in neat caddies every week, thought this is a VERY good thing to do. I mean, does your family recycle things between its members? Perhaps does your family cycle, as in rotate, things between its members is a more accurate question. This family does, in a big way, and I conclude that my little cottage, in the far South East corner of Surrey, acts as some form of homing beacon for all the family detritus in circulation. Eventually, it all ends up here. Usually, after a few months of contemplation, we upcycle, and find a new purpose for the item. Thank goodness the cottage has surprisingly generous attic space and a couple of sheds for storage. Permit me to share some examples.

Terracotta Tuscan Ovens

Terracotta Tuscan ovens. This particular sequence is one of our longest running. At 17 years old, I got engaged to my childhood sweetheart (no, of course it didn’t last, but we are still in touch and he is definitely one of this world’s good guys). We had a party to celebrate and though I don’t recall asking for presents, my very generous family and friends bought us various gifts for our “bottom drawer”. Nana Mary bought us a Tuscan oven which sat in its box for the next seven years as I finished Sixth Form, went off to uni, and came back, then headed to London and a succession of rented flats. I recall using it a few times to roast a chicken for Steve and Lily decades ago, but that’s about it. This Tuscan oven is still around, having an extended rest at the back of a kitchen cupboard. It might not have been in use very often, but on one of the occasions it was doing its thing it evidently caught my Mum’s eye because she hotfooted it to Lakeland Limited (probably still called Lakeland Plastics in those days) and bought herself her very own Tuscan oven. Earlier this week, Lily and I planned a pre-Lockdown 2 walk, exploring her new neighbourhood. Naturally, before our walk I had my second guided tour of her new house to see how she and Vince are settling in, during the course of which I had the opportunity to make many very helpful Mum-suggestions about what I would do if I was her (she loves that, as all daughter do). Opening one of the drawers in her kitchen to show me how Kondo-like she has been utilising her storage space, Lily spies the Lakeland Tuscan oven as asks if I want it because Nan gave it to her, she never uses it, and it’s just taking up space. I hesitate, I actually hesitate and for a moment thinking I’ll tell her to bin it, and then I just can’t. So I return home with a second (and never-used, by the way, not even once; it is in pristine condition) Tuscan oven. Thirty-six years, almost to the day, after acquiring the first one, I now have two Tuscan ovens. I’ve just done a quick calculation: between me, Mum and Lily, those two Tuscan ovens have done 15 house moves and have been used less then ten times. But fear not, I woke up with a start at 5:15 this morning with the genius idea of how to upcycle them: I will use the lids as seed trays and the deeper bases as planters next summer. Give me a bit of thinking time and I invariably come up with an upcycling idea.

Golden Creeping Jenny tumbling out of the recycled chiminea

Exhibit two is a cast iron chiminea purchased by Mum and Dad in, I would estimate, the mid 1990s. It stood proudly, and infrequently used, in the garden of my childhood family home. A year or so after Dad died, Mum understandably wanted to downsize and enjoyed a Goldilocks series of moves, first a couple of flats, which were too small, then a countryside bungalow, which was too big, before settling on her now-home, which is just right. During the “too small” stage, the chiminea headed my way, along the M4 and round the M25, in the back of someone’s car that was pulling a brilliant wheelie the whole way cos, let me tell you, that cast iron baby is heavy. In my garden for the past decade, the chiminea has been lit precisely twice. On the first occasion by Will (my son), on the afternoon he finished his GCSEs, when he used it to burn all his school notebooks (thank God he didn’t have to do any resits. The supreme confidence of youth, eh?) The second time was three years ago, on Bonfire Night, when we had visitors over for nibbles and sparklers and thought it would add to the ambience if we lit it. What a mistake. The thing belched like it was trying to turn us into Arbroath smokies. The garden stank of smoke for weeks. Never again. The chiminea has been upcycled to a distinctive planter for a golden Creeping Jenny, which tumbles from the main cavity like the contents of Ladybird’s/Vera Southgate’s Magic Porridge Pot. And Mum has since bought a new, just-right size chiminea for her garden; but it’s only for looking at, not for lighting.

Other notable examples include a dismantled pine-slatted wardrobe which seems to have journeyed from “our I”, my Mum’s cousin Irene, to our cottage, where, after 18-months seasoning in a shed, it has been upcycled to smart softwood edging for my new flower borders; Lily’s post-Japan bicycle, which lived for a while in the porch of her flat in Hither Green, and found its way to the cottage several summers ago, and has been literally cycled, very slowly, by me this summer, in an attempt to get healthier. My favourite item on rotation at the moment is a battered Fiat Punto. Bought by me and Steve eight years ago when we needed to replace our second “run around” car, Lily used it for work; Will learnt to drive in it and ownership transferred to him for a while; Vince (Lily’s boyfriend) then bought it off us to use for work; eventually Vince upgraded to a snazzier car and back it came to the cottage; then it went off to Bristol for Will to use while he’s studying there. No wonder the insurance company groans when I call to advise of a change of registered keeper and main driver. It’ll be back at the cottage when Will comes home for Christmas, and it’ll be lovely to see it, dents, scratches, “funny smells” and all.

We de-la-Haye Girls quite often end up sharing and swapping bags, shoes and clothes too!

You know what, I’m going to have to cook something in one of these Tuscan ovens before they are relegated, or maybe that should be promoted, to the greenhouse. Let the search for vegan recipes for Tuscan ovens begin.

Please do assure me that your family engages in similar rotation of chattels. ~ E

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