My jacket is a walking time capsule of my own history. That’s sustainability.

Reflections on the meaning of sustainability

Thrifty thoughts from our Ringmaster Paulus

I’ve said the word ‘sustainability’ increasingly in the past few years. When you perform at the Festival of Thrift and your husband works at The Eden Project, it’s hard to avoid the word, frankly!

So, I thought I’d look it up in the dictionary to be absolutely clear what I’ve been promoting.  It was not there. My dictionary is from 1992. I believe in using things for as long as possible.  I guess that’s sustainability, right?

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At this time of year, my life is normally peppered with appearances as my badge-loving Ringmaster Emcee at events like the Festival of Thrift.  Instead, overnight thousands of pounds worth of work was cancelled, and I had to find something I could do from home that might bring in an income.  Such is the life of a self-employed creative!

Building my YouTube channel and providing Zoom-based presentations was part of the solution, but how was I going to create what is essentially a TV studio in my home when my income had plummeted to zero?

The answer? Get creative!  Rummaging through the shed, I found the frame of an old pagoda: this became the framework for the backdrops I now film in front of to create online content.  Tidying the attic revealed some glitzy material, which – cut correctly and hung up with clothes pegs – would complete said backdrop so no-one could judge my bookshelves ever again. Most crucially though, this backdrop became a work station. A zone. A place where, from within my own home, I could think and behave as if I were at work.

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I have spent the past seven years merrily filling my garden with David Austin rose bushes.  Last year, just for fun, I decided to dry the petals after dead-heading, infuse them with essential oils and make potpourri.  Little did I know that this would become my first piece of official merchandise.

Followers as far afield as Canada and the USA started placing orders and soon I was trotting to the post office regularly with boxes and packaging I had kept in the shed “just in case”.  All that from rose petals that would otherwise have fallen on the ground and rotted.  Instead, they have meant I could eat during lockdown.  There’s some of each variety left, still smelling strong, so visit www.paullmartin.com/shop if you’d like to purchase some.

In April, a hole in my jeans tore badly, so I went online to order a sew-on patch.  I chose something factory-made from China with Snoopy on, and it eventually appeared swathed in three layers of pointless plastic weeks later.

However, in opening my sewing box I rediscovered a hand-made rectangle of fabric gifted to me by the artist that made it, during our interview of her work at another festival that works closely with Festival of Thrift supporters Hemingway Design.  I sewed on the original hand-made gift which I already owned, and I’ve never loved those knackered old bits of denim more, now that a story from my life and work are literally woven within them.

My Ringmaster outfit is a testament to sustainability too, I hope.  The riding boots are ancient – definitely older than me – bought second-hand and liberally stuffed with Dr Scholl pads – I walk around a lot when working a festival.  The jodhpurs, top hat and waistcoat are all ex-costume hire stock, complete with holes, frays and imperfections.

And that jacket? Well, I confess that about fifteen years ago I bought it brand new.  Within days, I had decided to brighten it up and began by adding my tap dancing medals to it, which date back to when I was thirteen. Shiny, glistening pieces of coloured metal that caught the eye but had, until then, been in a drawer for fifteen years.

Not doing any good there, were they?  Soon every badge I owned and every one of my husband’s, sister’s and nieces’ were alongside them, and then the stallholders and musicians that I introduced at events gave me their badges, patches and rosettes to add until I was a walking time capsule of my own history and that of the marvellous creatives I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside.

And it is unique. No-one in the world will ever have a jacket that tells that story or be that relevant to me.  This toastmaster jacket is shot full of holes now, but I shan’t be replacing it until the last dancing medal falls off the final thread. And that, to me, is the definition of sustainability.

So, next time you reach for your phone to buy something from eBay, take a good look in the back of your cupboards first, check the shed, tidy the loft, because chances are you already own something that will do the job just fine.

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Visit Paulus’s hugely entertaining YouTube channel at  https://www.youtube.com/PaulusPaulLMartin

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