Paradise Lost? 5 life skills we could do with remembering

2018, my third year of full-time freelance content writing work, has brought about an unexpected, but much appreciated side effect. I have started to remember some of the old skills. I’m not talking here about ancient skills or even specialist ones, the skills to which I am referring are ones I remember from my childhood. Simple things like shopping in the high street and picking apples, or more complicated ones like preserving (easier than you think). It’s hard to fathom how change can have happened so quickly but it has and this particular brand of change has not been good for us, our environment or our planet. Here is my list of lost skills that we perhaps could all do with holding onto a bit more tightly.

Making soup

There’s no shortage, it’s true, of recipes for soup but I’m not talking about the unusual ingredients and complicated methods type of soup found in these recipes. The soup to which I am referring is composed of an onion, a potato, a tin of baked beans and whatever is left over in the fridge. Wilted salad, chicken bones, stale cheese, floppy carrots and cauliflower leaves… all of these can add flavour and nutrition. The domestic stock pot provides sustenance, warmth and something on which to feed the grown-up kids when they all appear at once. Instead of thinking ‘waste food bin’, life would be cheaper and tastier if ‘stock pot’ was our first thought.

Keeping warm

It could be argued that the combination of central heating and lack of outside exercise is in danger of turning us all into heating wimps. I grew up sleeping in an attic bedroom, which, during the winter, had ice on the inside of the windows. I loved my bedroom, and hot water bottles, thick socks and wooly hats kept me warm. We have central heating now but, working from home, I worry about the cost (to myself and the environment) of turning it on too much. I have resorted to my childhood skills, alongside regular exercise stops, to warm up and have, for the most part, enjoyed it. I keep a pair of fingerless gloves on my desk and a rug on my chair… and I probably drink too many cups of tea.

Reading a map

I was bound to bring this one up as teaching navigation is one of my other freelance activities but I am firmly of the opinion that the ability to read a map brings the outdoors to the masses in the same way that the printing press brought them access to God. Satellite navigation is very clever and can be useful in its own way but it has been designed to aid destination rather than exploration. With a satnav you head straight (usually) there, with a map you can explore, find new things and, maybe most importantly, meet new people. Next time you follow the satnav, can I recommend that you take a look at the map first… who knows what you might find.

Peeling a potato

Instead of picking the low hanging fruit, wouldn’t life be better if we all reverted to choosing the ugly fruit? We appear to have lost contact with the earth so much that potatoes or other vegetables no longer arrive in the supermarkets with any more than a speck of soil on them. The need to clean or peel potatoes has been lost amongst super-clean plastic bags, frozen chips and smiley faces, and all of these are sold in supermarkets that still sell potato peelers. This year I’ve swapped to buying my veg from a local greengrocer who stocks from local farms. Down here in Devon, our Maris Pipers come in sacks with free clods of earth; they require a little bit of effort to prepare but make for stunning mash, ravishing roasties and a clearer conscience.

Mending clothes

If you find the words ‘darning’ and ‘mushroom’ tricky to combine in a sentence, might I recommend that you take a look at the picture below.

That strange wooden device isn’t for eating (not even after a day in one of my stock pots), it is to help you darn socks. In the UK we send around £140 million worth of clothes to landfill each year. I am not adverse to new clothing, although I have cut down on spending a fair amount but I do try to mend instead of replace. Sewing and mending skills are in short supply but that doesn’t need to necessarily put the kibosh on the matter, by sending your clothes to a local business to be mended, you will experience the triple-whammy of saving yourself money, using less landfill and supporting the local economy.

I am lucky, I know, to be a freelance worker and have more flexible time at my fingertips. Peeling potatoes, mending clothes and using a map instead of the satnav all require time but, for me, this has been time well-spent and lost skills safely regained (and hopefully passed on to my own children).

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