They say it’s the most wonderful time of the year. The snow is being sprayed on, the plastic reindeer have come down from the loft, and a jolly man in red is staggering towards the door with a pile of boxes from your favourite online sweatshop. As soon as we’ve dug out some pudding (marked down to 10p in January 2014) and turned on the electric log we’ll be all set to celebrate the holiday that best sums up where we are as a society. Ho ho ho, we’re drowning in waste and cooking the planet like a turkey!
I’ve already been warned that my invite to family Christmas is skating on thin ice, so I’m at pains to show my loved ones that even though I’m a seasonal doom-sayer I haven’t skimped on the gifts. With a little help from my Elf on the Shelf, Greta, I’ve picked out presents that won’t end up in the landfill next Christmas, or the Christmas after that, or possibly ever. For who knows what the future may hold? That’s a rhetorical question, kids, because I do. Joy to the world.
Dashing Through the Snow:
A lovely pair of boots
For years I collected trainers, buying up unnecessary shoes like a housewife from a black & white sitcom. Now I worry about how disposable fashion drives awful environmental practices in the developing world, so no Yeezys this year. Instead of spending £150 on the Air Max the kids were begging for it was more ethical, and certainly better value, to spend £250 on a solid pair of leather boots. The extra money buys something hand-made, in a factory I can trace, but also a shoe that can be repaired whenever it wears down. I favour brands like Red Wing Heritage or Cheaney, or any shoes that are Goodyear welted – meaning they can be resoled by a skilled cobbler. Providing you take good care of the leather they will probably last you a lifetime (however long that may be). A good black boot is versatile for casual or work wear, at home in the woods or on the streets, and won’t let you down on foraging missions where you might walk ten miles to scavenge through an abandoned supermarket for a rusty tin of beans.
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus:
A shiny pair of binoculars
Camera equipment used to have a long shelf-life, but these days the kids don’t care about Canon or Nikon because they’re busy snapping away with a smartphone that will be ready for landfill by the time the guarantee runs out. A good pair of binoculars are different – they might not be any good for catching Pokémon but they’re a wonderfully old-fashioned mechanism of glass and gears that will last for decades as long as you look after the fragile bits. Nothing digital can match the experience of raising that eyepiece and manually dialling in a close-up view of an edible bird, juicy clump of nettles or filthy raiding party approaching from the Trinity badlands. You can also use them to magnify the sun’s rays and start a fire to cook beans or “long pig.” If the sun happens to be hidden by a cloud of toxic ash, I recommend banging together a couple of rocks or going raw food until you find some smouldering tyres.
Baby, It’s Cold Outside:
a warm waterproof coat
Once upon a time a coat would have been the key item in your wardrobe. If you weren’t wealthy enough to follow fashion you’d invest your wages in a solid, sturdy and frequently-repaired item to defend you from the unpredictable elements. The low cost of textile manufacture now means that coats are as disposable as the rest of our wardrobes but again if you are prepared to spend a little more you can get something which will last through years of foul weather without needing an upgrade. Outerwear designed for sailors or labourers may not be flashy, but it will take a beating and live to see another day – as long as you learn a few tricks with needle and thread. The only downside is that it’s often brightly coloured, which is useful for safety reasons but inconvenient if for some reason you need to melt into the darkness without a trace. This is why I recommend clothing aimed at hunters; a specialist shop will be able to help you work out which size will keep you dry without interfering with either your ability to climb or any heavy metal objects you might have clipped to your belt. You can also enhance water-resistance with beeswax, assuming that the bees haven’t gone extinct or mutated into a more aggressive form.
Peace On Earth:
A nice practical knife
Ask a chef and they will tell you that a proper knife is one of the best investments you can make in life. The difference between a cheap knife and a high-quality length of steel will be felt after years of service in your home, or wherever you end up when it’s too dangerous to stay in one place. A kitchen might be in your house, but it might be a flat rock in front of a fire burning against an old car – it’s the memories that matter, the memories of civilisation and the warm hands that first sharpened this knife for you. It’s also true that even the finest kitchen knife still has practical limitations, so my advice is to search out a knife that remains at its sharpest in a range of situations. The right steel will cut potatoes, but also bark, and wire, and any nets that have been thrown over you whilst you were digging through a trash pile searching for rags. Quick as a flash you’ll be free, and they won’t expect to see that strong silver blade of yours until it’s gleaming in the cold light of dawn. Come closer and I’ll cut you, and you know full well the nearest medicine man sleeps in the citadel at Gorey. You’ll bleed out by then, raider scum. Give me back my beans and let me be on my way.
A waterproof backpack with various items
Amidst the piles of luxurious gifts that accumulate throughout December there’s still an old-world charm about the Christmas stocking, that delightful grab bag of odds and ends that somehow manages to be more personal than the most expensive item beneath your tree. I love to see the children’s faces when they pull out a toy soldier, a bag of chocolate coins or a knuckleduster I welded from a rusty horseshoe. This year instead of a stocking there’s a rugged nylon backpack, but it’s as full of treats as any child could want. There’s a compass, a length of wire to make traps, a pickaxe, a grappling hook, iodine pills, some shuriken, skeleton keys, a gas mask, and a bag of chocolate coins. I even packed in a field surgery kit; there’s no anaesthetic because you’ll appreciate the pain when it reminds you you’re alive. There’s also entertainment – Greta’s book and a copy of Corman McCarthy’s The Road. Hold your horses Gran, there’s no need to call me a taxi – I got you the Only Fools and Horses Christmal Special on DVD and a box of Quality Street. Don’t eat the purple ones now – they’re in case you get taken prisoner. Happy holidays!