In the middle of WWII The British Ministry of Information produced a pamphlet, Make Do and Mend. It was aimed at housewives and gave advise, suggestions and designs aimed at prolonging the life of clothing coming to what would have been considered the end of its life, worn and torn, threadbare perhaps and which previously would have been discarded but, in a time of war and wartime shortages, replacement was impossible and people had to do the best with what they had to hand so clothes had to be repaired, patched, reworked and repurposed – given a second lease of life.
It was something which was part of my childhood here in Ireland and though Ireland was not involved in the Second World War we did have an “Emergency” and suffered shortages and the repair and recycling of clothing was part and parcel of growing up. I recall jackets having leather patches sewn to the elbows and leather cuffs to the sleeves so they could be passed from an older brother to a younger. Woollen socks would have the vamps reknitted and shirts would have the collars turned, turning the inside unworn out, and the cuffs given a similar treatment. My mother was a skilled seamstress and my short pants and other articles were regularly run up on her sewing machine. My godmother was a dab hand at the socks and my sister an ardent knitter providing me with a steady supply of jumpers and balaclavas- there was a wonderful Aran sweater which I loved though I am still haunted by a two-coloured knobbly creation of a jumper that she knitted and I “had” to wear. Such was life in the Make Do and Mend years!
Those post-war years are long behind us but that way of life, those habits learned when we were young, stay with us. That habit of “wasting not” is simple a part of life, an unquestioned approach to how we do things and here I was, in the last few days, in another session of making do and mending.
It wasn’t clothing on this occasion – though the clothes I was wearing in the garden were cast-off tracksuit legs and top from my son, still perfectly good in my mind for garden wear! No, I was doing a bit of a fix-up on the compost bins. When a new road and bridge was built very close to us over ten years ago the site foreman, a Spaniard named Sergio, used allow me take the timbers used in constuction for use in the garden so I had a very solid and well-built set of compost bins for several years but time had taken its toll and the timbers had rotted and the bins were falling apart. Recent storms had broken and knocked the decorative timber-panel fencing which enclosed and screened the compost bins and the whole area needed a lot of work to bring it back to usefullness and respectability. The remains of the timber panelling had been removed and the post holes cleared out in preparation for new panels which will arrive soon.
In the meantime, the compost bins themselves had to be repaired – patched up would be a more accurate description, a perfect example of the old “made do and mend” approach to life. There’s nothing fancy about them but they are functional and cost nothing – and there’s a certain enjoyment in that!
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