From 1966 to 1969 I used to take the bus to school. It looked a bit like this, except it was in grey and it still worked. Just about. It would take us an hour to cover three miles or so.
The rest of the time, I walked to school. Before I turned 12, we’d moved to within fifteen minutes walk of the school, so that isn’t saying much.
But walk we did, and walking was considered normal. It helped that we lived in what I considered the centre of town, even though technically it was “south Calcutta”. I felt I could walk anywhere I wanted within an hour and a half, and most places in less than an hour. If it was too hot (which it sometimes was) or if it was too wet (which happened like clockwork during the monsoon), there were other options available, trams and buses aplenty. Most of the time, Shank’s Pony was the easy option, so I walked. So much so that I never learnt to drive. I still don’t know how to drive. And, not surprisingly, my favourite cities are walking cities, albeit occasionally augmented by public transport.
In those days, electricity used to be a luxury in Calcutta. Regular power cuts were common and referred to as load-shedding.
It wasn’t much fun. The PC hadn’t been invented; the TV hadn’t made it over to India as yet; the battery cell was just about noticeable in devices like torches. Portable “transistor” radios weren’t around either. So the principal impact of loadshedding was that the room lights and ceiling fans went out. Air conditioners were for the very rich or the criminal, althogh occasionally you couldn’t distinguish between those two classes of human.
Labour saving devices had yet to make their mark on Indian society. The urban middle-class had refrigerators, but they were really glorified larders given how often we had power cuts. Anything cold was a luxury. [I used to go to the local Ice Rink and just sit in the shadows for a while just to cool off; I didn't know how to skate, and couldn't afford it anyway]. Ice was usually transported in large chunks on hand-carts called thelas, and kept cool by prudent and careful use of coverings made of hessian, with sawdust additionally on the exposed bits.
There were no washing machines or dishwashers to be seen anywhere. Some modicum of laundry service was available, though for the most part people would wash their clothes at home and perhaps hire the services of itinerant ironers.
No fridges and no freezers, so no frozen food. No supermarkets, no pre-washed or cleaned or chopped or mashed anything. Everything was done by hand, fresh, on the day. By 7am you would hear the rumble of gigantic stone mortar/pestle devices as the herbs and spices of the day were prepared; the vegetable cleaning and chopping would go on in parallel. We didn’t have to worry about meat going off in the heat: we were vegetarians.
For the first 23 years of my life, I was blissfully ignorant of at least one type of LSD. Labour Saving Devices.
And then I moved to the UK. To western civilisation. And wave after wave of opportunity to save my labour.
We live in interesting times. [Incidentally, whenever I use the phrase Western Civilisation I am reminded of Mahatma Gandhi. Apparently he was asked what he thought of Western Civilisation. And he replied "I think it would be a good idea"].
Pretty much since the day I was born, we’ve all been growing fatter. As we moved from agriculture through manual labour in factories to more sedentary occupations, this was to be expected. We delayed some of the effects by using nicotine and caffeine in prodigious amounts, until they were both sent to the Naughty corner. More recently, sitting has become the new smoking and taken its place in Naughty Corner as well. And now, it looks like the fat-is-bad-sugar-is-good train of thought has crashed, with sugar banished to be with sitting and smoking.
But we’re still getting heavier. You just have to look around. And compare the society of today with society fifty, seventy, a hundred years ago. No rocket science.
Like most other people I know, I need to get fitter and more flexible and lose a chunk of weight. Occasional dieting has helped but the weight rarely stays off. And fitness and flexibility continue to be important. And I’m growing older.
So I’ve decided to get hooked on a new form of LSD.
Labour spending devices. Tools that make me work, rather than save me from work.
Having spent a decade and a half with the Jesuits, I recognise a corpore sano is not enough; I need a mens sana as well.
Which is why I am keen on making sure that what I do for my body I do for my mind as well. In both cases, I need to be sure that I am using tools wisely, to do things that keep my body and mind fit. Which is why I loved A Second Machine Age; which is why I loved Crap Detection; and which is why I’m installing a carpentry workbench in my den and learning more about gardening.
The new LSD. Spending labour. Wisely.