This morning I’ve been making a birthday cake. It’s a perilous occupation. I have on my shoulders the weight of expectation of a 5 turning 6 year old and it’s heavy. A few weeks ago I heard him tell someone “my daddy knows how to make a cake shaped like a six”. Sh**, I thought. His daddy is working away in Bangladesh so it falls to me to achieve the perfection that everything must be when you are six and it is your most special day of the year.
Baby J was watching in her high chair, begging for bits of cake mixture with an open mouth like a fledgling, cheeping “me-me-me-me”. We were listening to Dame Ellen MacArthur on Desert Island Discs. Something Dame Ellen said resonated with me to the extent that I went to iPlayer and have listened again and transcribed it. (I am fortunate that the relatives of the show’s founder recently agreed to make it available on iPlayer! This interesting fact I had read in The Week and disregarded as irrelevant until today!)
Why am I spending my morning transcribing this when I should be concentrating on a cake? Because it’s easy to get bogged down in the world of motherhood. As important as that role is, I believe it helps to put things in a wider context. It’s so important to me to think and reflect and other people’s perspective can be so valuable as a prompt to evaluate your own life and priorities.
Dame Ellen said: “The winter after the Round the World I went down to the southern ocean again and I went down to an island called South Georgia and I spent two months down there, part of that was camping on an island and for the first time I actually stopped. And I realised something for the first time that really jarred inside me and that was the fact that when you sail around the world on a boat you take with you the minimum of resources and you don’t waste anything. You never leave a light on, you never leave a computer screen on, everything is looked after. You only have what you have and if it doesn’t last til the end, you won’t make it, and that could be your life or it could be the fact you simply don’t break the record.
And then whilst I was in South Georgia I realised that on land we do not do the same thing. We don’t see things as precious any more, we take what we have for granted, you’d never do that on a boat. If you need some kitchen roll you tear off a corner, not a whole square because someone somewhere thought that perforated line is what everyone needs. It jarred inside me and it started to make me think and I was looking at plans for the future and it just hit home to me that we cannot keep doing that because this world I thought as a child was the biggest most adventurous place you could imagine is actually not that big and there’s an awful lot of us on it and we’re not managing the resources that we have as you would on a boat because we don’t have the impression that these resources are limited.”
I love the comment about kitchen roll, I think it’s a great analogy for our wastefulness and arrogance about what we have – why use less when a whole piece is available – and the knock-on effect that an arbitrary decision can often have.
You can listen to the whole interview (for the next week) here.