Make Do And Mend

Remember the dreaded avocado bathroom suite? A rather unattractive colour, close to that of algae bloom on a pond that runs low, then stagnant during a hot summer. It was the colour of bathroom to have in the Seventies, along with salmon pink, maybe sky blue, sometimes oatmeal, or the under-utilised mauve. Used to be you might get a bargain of a house all because it had an avocado bathroom suite. Then, in the new millennium, if not before, perfectly functional bathrooms were ripped asunder to make way for sleek shades of white and chrome with French metro-style oblong, bevelled tiles. Ah, the fickle, fluctuations of fashion! I’m not going down that road right now. I am, however, going to take you down a specific road where many of those perfectly good toilets in dubious pastel shades have ended up. I’ve found them in a street in Dunbar, East Lothian, where some brave, artistic soul has recognised their potential as plant pots and up-cycled them to stand like soldiers on parade, all planted up with rosemary, sage, bay and mint. “Fiona, away and get me a bouquet garni from the toilets,” I can hear the mother of the house cry. And why not? If you can’t make do and mend, then at least waste not want not! The sight of them reminded me of when Belfast sinks were deemed old fashioned, an affront to modernity and many were ripped out to lie disconsolately in gardens where some were eventually planted up with spring bulbs or autumn heathers. And then – as life runs in cycles – they became sought after, reclaimed from back garden wildernesses and plumbed in once more. Everything comes around again, eventually. The French have a lovely saying for it, “Plus ça change plus c’est la même chose,” – the more things change, the more things stay the same.

Driving back from Dunbar on the same day as we’d spotted the garden loos, a dreadful noise started up in my car: ker-thwap, ker-thwap, ker-thwap, ker-thwap…… I asked A. if she thought it could be a flat tyre. No way, she told me, we would feel it. S., from the back seat, said he said he thought it was coming from the boot. We pulled in at the nearest layby and A. got out into the dreich to survey the car. It was the aerial – the little antennae had broken and with the wind it was bashing about like a conductor leading an orchestra in some energetic, rhythmic piece of Mozart. She removed it, and on we went. As I drove A. examined the sorry baton and I asked her if it might be mendable; I suggested duct tape. She laughed, showing me the shredded plastic around the metal and we agreed it was a lost cause. I remember, years ago, lots of cars with lost or broken aerials had pieces of twisted coat hanger in their place, we had one in an old Ford Cortina in about 1978. I got home and took a look at the fitting – the aerial screwed into place, so there was nowhere to insert a coat hanger. It seems that items nowadays, especially cars and electronics, have built in obsolescence, or maybe we are less inclined and less able to footer about*, finding solutions for making do and mending.

I have been noticing when others mend rather than discard. Like F.’s denim shirt with that exaggerated zigzag stitching that’s used to mend tears. It had been years since I’d seen it. Back in our university days we would get it done to our favourite jeans, but now there is so much of a throwaway culture that we tend not to. A. dug out her cashmere twinset over Christmas. It’s an elegant one – a little halter-neck with a tiny shrug that exposes a shimmer of flesh at the shoulders. “Oh, that looks fabulous and never ages!” I told her. “Thanks,” she said, “I don’t know about the ‘never ageing’ bit, it’s full of moth holes, but I’ve darned them all – black is very forgiving!”

 And so, inspired by my friends’ mending and by the Dunbar toilets, I’m going to try a little more footering about to see how much making do and mending I can manage. As for those of you who still have the avocado bathroom suite, good on you! I was in H&M interiors at the weekend and – you’ve guessed it – it’s come around again, the colour of the season is avocado!

*footer about – to work, in an absent minded manner, at inconsequential tasks


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