Make Do and Mend

· life ·

Watching 'Number 57: The History of a House' the other day, which had reached the 1940's and 50's, made me think about the 'Make Do and Mend' attitude that people in Britain had to adopt during the years of the Second World War. The lack of almost everything meant that you never threw anything away if it could be re-used, mended or salvaged in some way. Although it must have been utterly miserable for those who had to live through it, Britons must have been at their healthiest and most ecologically-friendly in the war years.

My granny lived through the war, and evidently found that thriftiness is a hard habit to kick. When I was little (in the 1970's), she was still saving and re-using everything, despite the fact that there were no shortages, and she had enough money not to have to scrimp. She had a mysterious cupboard which contained huge bags full of carefully saved lengths of string, smoothed out paper bags, and wrapping paper with the sellotape carefully peeled off. I don't know if she ever really used any of the things she hoarded, but it was important to her to save everything, "just in case".

My parents were also squirrels — or pack rats, or whatever your geographically-correct archetypal hoarding mammal is — to some extent. They didn't hoard string, but they made sure that they chose all the expensive pieces of furniture and furnishing extremely carefully, and expected it to last. They still have the G-Plan furniture they bought after they married (coincidentally, G-plan also featured in 'Number 57'). Major purchases, like fitted carpets, would take days or weeks of careful consideration. Consequently, my brother and I would have to spend what felt like days in carpet showrooms. I can't say that I find them particularly fascinating now, but to children aged five and seven years old, a warehouse filled with nothing but rolls of carpet was a desert of crushing boredom.

But we made our own entertainment in those days (if forcibly restrained from watching television 24 hours a day), so before our skulls imploded with the tedium of waiting for our parents to make up their minds about which carpet they wanted, we invented a game. We discovered that the hollow cardboard tubes inside the rolls of carpet made excellent musical instruments. If you blew a raspberry noise at one end, the sound that emerged 10m away at the other end of the roll was like a cross between an alpenhorn and a richly fruity fart. If carpet warehouses are deserts of boredom for children, things that can make hugely noisy farting sounds are the most hysterically funny things in the world. We would run up and down the stacks of rolls of carpet, one on each side, and try to blow down the roll just as the other was passing the opposite end. Then we would fall about, paralysed with hilarity.

It's all a far cry from life today. Not only do we throw stuff away far too often (partly because most consumer goods aren't made to be repaired, and have built-in obsolescence), but we also get our entertainment pre-manufactured. So, do yourself a favour; the next time you find yourself in a carpet warehouse, blow a raspberry down the end of the roll. Trust me — it's really funny.