Tag Archives: environmental action

How did I become a good consumer?

I have looked back into my past to try and understand how I became the person I am today – how I became a good consumer? (By ‘good’ I mean effective, good at the activity, not pure and praiseworthy). I started by scribbling these notes with a pencil whilst my computer was searched for spyware – a common feature of life with Microsoft. My brain could not hold back, so pencil in hand, I wrote:

Sirens of consumerism, seducing us with advertising.

Why do we need advertising? How much is information and how much is persuasion? Silver-tongued snake oil salesmen and the black art of emotional manipulation … politicians, traders, editors, marketers, speculators, sellers of advertising space … ordinary human beings and some of the most creative brainpower … going towards encouraging over consumption and deteriorating living conditions, in society and environment (one and the same). They have to feed the kids, roof their home somehow.

I have the image of drug addicts, chasing the dragon, of scrawny crack-cocaine addicts pushing pills to pay for that ache-relieving fix.

Where, I thought, does this process begin? What causes these bright brains and otherwise beautiful beings to a) want b) want more c) feed the addiction by selling? I need to understand how it happens so I can stop it happening and help people off the addiction. Using the power of memory, which is fading with neglect, I peer through old imagery in my head to my childhood and the origins of “me”.

Childhood dreams of motorbikes, glory and adoration. Adverts and glossy pictures, gleaming paintwork and delicious curves captured in sharp and soft images. And the semi-naked woman adorning the bike, writhing, imploring me to … what? I didn’t know but for a teenage (just) boy her body lured my brain cells like metal filings to a magnet. A magnet with a bike attached. I guess my subconscious wanted her but my consciousness wanted the bike. I started to get pictures of bikes from the local bike shop. Super glossy A4 leaflets with a picture one side, technical detail the other. I drawled over the exquisite beauty of the Yamaha, the Honda, I imagined in astounding detail the roll of the wheel and the effortless acceleration (I knew how to ride a bicycle and also knew the effort involved and craved power). My head collected numbers, horsepower, torque, suspension travel, and the most magic of them all, the 0 – 60 mph, the acceleration – that which was beyond my physical capabilities and that would thrust me forward in adrenaline intoxication. Freud fans can read between the lines, I’m sure.

This was a time in the 1970’s, pre mobile phones, satellite media, internet, designer clothes – at least in my world. Heck, Britain was not long out of rationing and was deep in debt to the USA. This was a time of pocket money, toys, paper rounds and playground friendships. I knew no magazines or tabloid papers and adverts on tv seemed to be for housewives (not my mum) with their detergents and shampoos. All stuff I didn’t buy.

Yet slowly, the general culture of my society trickled into my head. There were the motorbikes and what other boys talked of at school. There was television and what was talked of the next day. Long before I saw vast wealth and fashion, in the face, I was learning to judge my existence relative to images instead of copying real people. This set up aspirations and then expectations, a sense of being different from those around me. My town was small and uneventful. Life went on at the pace of old ladies, shopping trolley in tow. I knew of other things – giraffes, skyscrapers, sexy women and motorbikes.

Most dominant in my growing up was my family and my parents. It was their lifestyle choices I was cultured in. No dinner parties, no magazines, no razzmatazz or show business. I grew up with reading comics as they read the Guardian; toy soldiers and football whilst they grew vegetables; annoyance at the news and neighbours which I copied. We went on camping holidays, ate together (7 of us, plus a dog), walked in the countryside, did chores, watched tv and I went to school. Television was dominated by sport (Saturday afternoon was religiously filled with the football results ritual, tea and two biscuits), nature programmes, news (it was the BBC after all) and the entertainment: starsky and hutch, kojak, star trek, 6 million dollar man, tom and jerry; plus blue peter, the good life, all creatures great and small. The outside world trickled into my quiet, secluded town.

Second was school. (There is a reason I love Pink Floyd). School was the slow, steady hammering of my brain into shape, in the forge of indoctrination. Subtle, repetitive beats that bruised and damaged me: Competition, class, distinction, difference, segregation, routine, rules, conformity, slow atrophication of creativity and spirit, flattening of humour, spontaneity and cooperation. We formed cliques, we were competing on a scramble up the ladder. We all new it. There was a hierarchy and we each had a rung to occupy. Some how I began to expect / dream of a rise to the top. Hard work and compliance would be the ticket out of this trauma – this ‘end of childhood’. I was not allowed to return to my games and imagination (except during play time and after school). There was one trap door marked “Future” and it required a pass – exams and grades and escape to adulthood in the freedom of independence – university, and a rise to the clear air of choice, self determination, control.

Expectations were set by parents and school – pass exams and get a career, grow up and be a man. Success, achievement, purpose, a good life. I was led to believe, like a lamb, that “others have this, you not only can but you ‘should’ have it too. Along side this were the other messages: You will be liked more, you will be admired, you will be ‘better’.

I was lucky. Whilst I was subjected to the mass culture, I was better off (in my opinion) than the rest. I was intelligent, well adjusted, healthy (umm, and male, white and well spoken). I was also heavily exposed to nature, not just the nurture of society. My parents did an excellent job in giving me experiences that I now treasure – the garden, badminton on the lawn and shuttlecocks stuck in the ash tree – sandwiches and tea and the sound of tennis balls thwacked at Wimbledon – the open spaces of Welsh hillsides and the rocky freedom of mountain tops – holidays in France and a tricky language – new potatoes and shelling peas – gathering mint for the Sunday roast – life by candlelight and the flicker of light from a wood fire – the smells and hisses of scots pine – the cackle of fulmars on the quarry wall. The list goes on in my head, for day, weeks, a childhood. This is what would eventually save me.

The trauma of the end of childhood and the trap door to freedom led to the escape from school and on to university – from the frying pan into the fire! I was so let down, almost devastated by the disappointment of what was really a school for over 18s. It was the wrong time to give me such a sense of deprivation – my hopes were high and I was fuelled like a rocket – and my hormones were moaning. I’d had a near death experience and knew life could be snuffed out in an instant by some other’s error or a momentary lapse of judgement. Life was potentially short. Russia and USA were in an arms race to oblivion (still unfolding) and the human virus was sickening the planet. All around the end seemed just around the corner and I had two thoughts – avoid it happening and try to do something about it. That ‘end’, was not just the end of life but also the end of my hope, the hope of freedom, the life of my dreams. The aches of growing pains were in my heart as much as my limbs. I was an emotional animal, by now confused and misguided, bruised and beaten, lonely and vulnerable. It was the 1980s. I was ready for a quick fix.

So that is the process, as I see it, how ordinary people arrive at being addicted and controlled by their addiction. The purveyors of false dreams that we are told money will buy are just you and me (well, except you are just a bit-part dealer not a multi-national trader in virtual reality. I don’t believe they are going to read this blog, ever.

This reminds me of something my father once said: “If they are not trying to kill you – you are not threatening them. Yes, big brother may be watching but we are mostly safely below the radar, doped up on dreams and alcohol. You don’t have to watch the rats to know they are safely locked in the sewer. (I grew up listening to the Stranglers, on an old record player, scratching my brother’s album with a 78 needle). Think of all the assassinations.

I guess one of the problems is that many addicts are quite happy in their haze, so long as they have enough of their drug, and it is hard to get them to give up voluntarily. Even if their behaviour is destroying them, spoiling your life and collectively screwing the planet’s ecosystems. Persuading an addict to get clean is the story of my life, now and into the future.

Now, I am a ‘bad consumer’ yet still a vast processor of resources. Still the planet is crawling with diseased specimens of a species that is heading towards collapse. And we know it. The best bit is, life is remarkably resilient, there are millions of us who are aware and are fighting the disease, and life today is amazing. The future for many may be bleak and for millions of humans living today it is (I learn via mass media, the lives of others who I have never seen but feel for … fellow humans) but I am living an amazing life as I try to do good. I try my best”.

What they are saying about Five Senses in Orkney, Scotland

Following yesterday’s post about attention to detail, here are some quotes from testimonials, feedback and letters of thanks, posted to me at Five Senses, here in Orkney, Scotland. I was preparing to put them up on the website but they also seem appropriate for the current blog theme, so excuse the praise and read the detail – it is all about the detail. [Italics and bold added by me].

Malcolm of Five Senses with Stinging Nettles

Malcolm of Five Senses with Stinging Nettles

What is being said about Five Senses:

(See also The Scotsman Newspaper article)

Guests write:

“We cannot say enough about Malcolm and Rachel of Five Senses Tours. We had a great tour of the Highlands and Orkney and saw and experienced so much more than we would have on our own. Tailored to our needs and flexible, educational and fun! I can still taste the local food and drink!


“I want to thank you for the day my daughter and I spent with you. Your tour was quite remarkable.

The Five Senses Tour experience certainly engaged all our sense, as promised, but it did more. It engaged our minds. As a guide you presented us with the tactile, olfactory, aural (I shall never forget the acoustics at the Stones of Stenness), and visual feasts, along with a terrific lunch. But you also asked us to consider what we saw, not to take it on face value. Too often a tour will tell you what the experts say and leave it at that. With Five Senses, you offered us competing theories and then you asked us what we thought, what we saw. I left enriched and excited…and my brain was wonderfully full.

Would that all tours were that wonderful.”


“‘Twas the most memorable experience of my two weeks holiday in Ireland and Scotland…”


“Just spent three amazing days in the Orkney Islands with the wonderful couple from Five Senses of Scotland. Learnt firelighting with a handmade wooden bowdrill, explored ancient sites – including singing and drumming inside a stone tomb until we found a pitch that caught its natural frequency and amplified our quietest voices many fold – hiked and camped through the lush island of Hoy, drinking delicious fresh water from a rippling stream, while learning to navigate with a compass, and sharing an old stone bothy with passing hikers and a roaring fire (and much more).

If you want to immerse yourself in the land and culture of the Orkney Islands, I would highly recommend this group. Both Malcolm and Rachel are deeply friendly and caring about the people they work with and the land and work it self.”


“Thank you very much for giving us such a fantastic time, so much information, new skills and much food for thought, so, in a way it was an intellectual experience too!”


“Just want to say how fantastic the new Orkney Experience was. You are both such an inspiration.

Malcolm you are a talented person with such a special gift to see the world in all its wonder and be amazed. Thanks for sharing it.

Rachel, thanks too, for sharing your smile, warmth and sincerity.”


“Thank you again for such a memorable day!”


“I have arrived home from my wonderful vacation to Scotland and Ireland. What an amazing adventure it was! I wanted to thank you for hosting such a wonderful day in Kirkwall. It was so nice to be shown around by someone who truly loves their country and enjoys sharing this joy with others. I will be posting your contact information on the Cruise Critic web site. Perhaps a few cruise tours here and there may be helpful to you. Please stay in touch and let me know how your business plans are going. If there is anything I can do to promote All Five Senses on my end please let me know.

Again, thank you for a wonderful day.”


“Thank you for an absolutely brilliant evening yesterdayEllie hasn’t stopped talking about it since. We have tonight made fire at Birsay and even demonstrated
it to someone else.

Thanks again.”

Making fire by friction - using your senses

Making fire by friction - using your senses

“What an outstanding, thoughtful, insightful and unusual introduction to Orkney. Including tea on your fabulous sun porch was an added bonus!!

Thanks so much for a wonderful day.”


“We cannot thank Five Senses enough for our trip to Orkney and beyond, we saw and learned far more than we thought we would and ten times what we would have it we had done it on our own. Our only regret is not having more time. What probably sums it up the best is what happened at the Inverness airport, as we were leaving and they asked how many of us where flying we answered “six”, to which the seven year-old replied “yeah, six, we’re short one now”.”


“Well, I’m home now and looking back, the day spent with you in Orkney was the highlight of my trip. Thank you so much for sharing your stories, the fire-making and the special magic of Orkney.

It was such a blessing to meet you and to feel welcomed by your spirit to these ancient sacred places. I will always look back on that day with gratitude.”

Burnside cottage, Rackwick, Island of Hoy, Orkney

Burnside cottage, Rackwick, Island of Hoy, Orkney

And there is more …

“It’s an amazing place; however, this can only really be appreciated if you do it with Five Senses. Out of all of the experiences that we had on our trip to the UK, meeting Malcolm and his wife Rachel and going to all of these ancient places and learning so much was the highlight of the trip. Not to mention actually being able to touch a part of the past.”


“We had a picnic with Malcolm on the last day in this field of heather. I still to this day remember what the food tasted like. It was incredible — we can definitely say that we experienced Orkney with all five senses. Not to mention we now know a lot of survival techniques that we learned from Malcolm while visiting Orkney.”


“Touring the island with Malcolm was truly a five sense experience. He not only introduced us to the topographical, geological and spiritual aspects of the environment, he and his lovely wife, Rachel, made us feel like family – one well worth a return trip.”


“Having used Five Senses I have to say that the quality of interaction with the children, the content of the experience, and the high motivation factor were all really impressive.

So much was this the case that I have booked a half day for my own school to launch our Fuel and Power Topic with a spark! Several other of the commonly used cross-curricular, science- or history-based Topics in Primary would be greatly augmented by such an experience as we had, especially several involving past civilisations or prehistory, or those considering materials and their properties.

The level was right, the risk assessment and health and safety issues were addressed, the personnel were SO enthusiastic and engaged the children without exception and for the whole duration of the afternoon. The children worked as a team eagerly, each having hands-on experience and all gaining so much knowledge, in theory and in practice, about materials, past times, the creation and maintenance of fire, its significance to various times, cultures and peoples, its dangers and safe management.

I have no hesitation in recommending colleagues to take a look at what these people have to offer.”

Limpets are survival food

Limpets are survival food


“Planting a naked foot on a board, Malcolm used a bow and hazel ‘drill’ to create flame. Even in these hi-tech days fire still has a magical power to thrill.

These are experiences the children will never forget. Science is all about seeing, enjoying, discovering, trying things out – and, sometimes, being so enthralled by a moment that it changes the way someone thinks for ever.”

Fire Making Class with Malcolm

Fire Making Class with Malcolm


“Five Senses showed our family of 4 plus my sister and her husband around for a week. It was incredible. The highlight of 3 weeks in the UK – and we plan to return. We could not have seen 1/3 of what we saw without Malcolm. It was not a “okay so look at this for 20 seconds” type event. Malcolm asked us all kinds of questions for weeks before we arrived. Once there, he learned more about us — and surprised us with a stop off at a rare breed sheep farm, as well as a combination wool shop / bookstore, to satisfy all 6 of us. I would highly recommend Malcolm and Five Senses to anyone. It is not costly when you realize how much you end up doing, seeing and experiencing.

We shall be back”.


“The rest of our trip was nice but we really feel the highlight was the week we spent with you and can’t stop talking about it. Kudos to you Malcolm”.

Environmental action at home – the challenge and the fun!

A couple of good blog posts to watch, for everyone trying to take action in their own lives, for planet, people and pocket:

If you find these interesting, and have not seen my posts, you might like to read a few where I have family games and challenges to try out similar ideas – and how to make it fun, not a sacrifice. Many of us are working on these issues – it is good to be aware of some of you. Orkney has it’s own Zero Waste project – for the whole population (19,000) of the Orkney Islands, in Scotland.

What, no pictures? 🙂

Oil hits £1.40 a litre in my part of the world (that’s $14)

Saturday afternoon, drove the 15 miles into town, for the library, groceries and delivering paperwork.

Stopped at the garage to put some diesel in the car, and get this, I was relieved to find the price of diesel at the pump had not risen above £1.40 a litre but for how long? It can only continue rising as this finite resource is in ever more demand, with a growing global appetite for it. We could soon be up shit creak without a means to propel ourselves.

For anyone actually reading this blog (thanks) let me explain. There are 5 litres in a gallon, and approx two dollars ($) to each pound, so multiply the 1.40 by 10 and you get an equivalent price per gallon in the USA.

So, in the USA, yu’d be paying $14 a gallon! And rising. The food you buy will be transported by trucks, paying this, so food goes up in price. The plastics food is wrapped in is made of oil, as is the fertilizers that push the goody foods out of the soil, and so it goes on.

Imagine being addicted to heroin and the supply drying up as a big wave of new users come on tap in China, India and so on. The price goes up. The oil barons and corporations rub their hands with glee, delighting in the fact that they claim to own the land above the oil reserves. Valuable stuff! Almost worth fighting over. Oh yeah, done that.

So, with us all addicted to our cars, if not our house heating and plastic bags and fertilizers, I guess we can kiss goodbye to the last protected places on the planet. Bye bye Alaska, Antarctica and all you beautiful ecosystems, we need oil. We’ll do any shit to get it.

Just what is going to happen when we find the water supplies dry up, I cannot imagine but I’ll find out, if I live a few more years, which I very much intend to do.

Survive – that is all we can do. How? What to do? It all starts with the first step. So, read on …