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U3A Writing: Climate Change, SW16

In this environmentally-conscious age who is the greenest of the green. Is it Simon Barlow, or is it his wife Sarah.

Patrick Hopton tells a delicious contemporary tale.


‘ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR TINY MIND?’ Simon Barlow exploded. ‘A wind turbine on our roof!’

Sarah had been systematically steering the conversation to this point, the culmination of the many ‘global warming and the home’ arguments with which she had been bludgeoning her husband all evening. ‘At the back of the house it’ll hardly be visible from the road,’ she soothed him. ‘And not only will we be spurring on our neighbours to do their bit for the environment, but we’ll be cutting our heating bills too.’

‘Oh yes, and in some fifty years time those accumulated savings will just about cover the cost of the installation. As for the neighbours, far from spurring them on we’ll be making ourselves a laughing stock.’

‘That from the man who has filled our front garden with plastic gnomes,’ Sarah observed icily.

‘That’s just a bit of fun, and everyone knows it,’ Simon said peevishly. ‘A wind turbine’s something else altogether.’

It had been a difficult evening for him. While still sticking stubbornly to his personal view that this Global Warming thing was a fashionable fad – a sort of King’s New Clothes syndrome - he had grudgingly yielded, one by one, to his wife’s eco-charged urgings.

He had agreed to switch the television and video recorder on and off manually, without the aid of a handset.

He had agreed to supply energy-efficient light bulbs throughout the house.

He had agreed to turn the central heating thermostat down to a mere sixteen degrees.

He had agreed for the cavity walls of their house to be injected with environmentally friendly foam.

He had agreed to use the car only as a last resort (blissfully unaware that Sarah’s as yet undeclared intention was that they should sell it altogether).

He had agreed to cut out unnecessary journeys to business appointments by taking advantage of the video conferencing facilities offered by his personal computer. (In exchange Sarah had agreed to cycle to and from her office each day.)

He had agreed to holiday only in Europe, thus dispensing with the need for air travel.

But a wind turbine . . . !

‘That thing goes on our roof over my dead body,’ he proclaimed.


‘I told you so, the thing’s an eyesore,’ Simon grumbled, staring up at the barely rotating blades of the newly installed contraption on the roof.

‘Not at all, Darling!’ Sarah said soothingly. ‘From the road one is hardly aware of it at all: besides most people are too busy admiring your gnomes – even if they’re not illuminated this Christmas. And once the lower fuel bills start coming in you won’t care what the turbine looks like.’

‘But the thing’s hardly moving. It’s not even generating one kilowatt of electricity.’

‘Yes, dear, but we’re nearly into January. You can expect lots of winds then.’

Nightly Simon checked the dials in the meter cupboard; nightly he reported no improvement in the readings. One Friday night in the fifth week, however, he announced a glimmer of improvement in the figures. The progress was feeble enough, but he decided the event deserved recognition.

‘Let’s go down to the Conservative Club and celebrate,’ he proposed.

‘You go, Simon,’ Sarah replied. ‘You deserve a night out; but I’m tired this evening. I think I’ll have an early night instead.’

‘Now you’re talking,’ he said eagerly. ‘We’ll have an early night together.’

‘No Darling, I really mean it; I’m bushed. We’ll celebrate tomorrow evening. Tonight I’ve had it.’ The fact was - loath though she was to admit it - that the long cycle ride morning and evening was taking its toll. How she regretted prevailing on Simon to sell the Volvo. ‘You go on down to the club without me. It’ll be an opportunity to catch up with your friends.’

But a night with so-called friends who teased him mercilessly about his ‘erection’, as they put it, coupled with a long and boring walk there and back had little appeal. He had set his video recorder to tape a football match on earlier that evening, ‘I think I’ll watch the game instead,’ he announced.

But even in this modest desire he was thwarted. Sarah, constantly checking up on a husband who was wilfully careless in complying with their agreed intention of switching off electrical appliances, had disconnected the video recorder he had pre-set. Football was a non starter.

‘How about finishing instead that thriller you’ve been reading for ages?’ she prompted sympathetically.

But that was a non starter too. The light provided by their energy-efficient bulbs proved quite inadequate for reading.

Sod it! Erection taunts or no erection taunts; boring walk or no boring walk . . . ‘Right! I’m off to the Con Club,’ he declared.


Throughout the winter their dimly lit, under heated home had encouraged them to share many an early night. Even so, Sarah’s announcement of their forthcoming baby came as something of a surprise – one she turned instantly to her advantage.

‘Of course I won’t be able to cycle to the office now,’ she told Simon. ‘I’m going to need a car – one of those little Smart cars, perhaps; they’re very fuel efficient.’

‘But surely exercise is good for you – to develop your pelvic muscles and that sort of thing.’

‘Exercise may be good for me, Simon, but petrol fumes and careless drivers most definitely are not. Surely you don’t want to subject your wife and child to those dangers?’

‘No of course not but . . . ’

‘Well then, I’ll pop down to the car showroom this morning . . . just to see what bargains they’ve got on offer.’

‘But what about exercise?’

‘Oh I’ll get an exercise bike,’ Sarah said airily, ‘and cycle in the safety of my bedroom.’

Later that day Simon mused contentedly as he toiled pushing the hand lawnmower up and down the lawn. A baby! Yes, they had always intended to have a family, but that was set for some indeterminate time in the future. This was much sooner than they had planned . . . and yet, the more he thought of it the more he warmed to the idea: it was hard not to on a balmy spring day such as today. He turned to smile at Sarah, dozing in a hammock under a blossom laden cherry tree, catching up with the sleep she claimed she was missing due to the noise in the night made by the wind turbine. What a picture she was! What a lucky child was theirs!

And then a jolt. What kind of world were they bringing their child into? A planet that was in decay, that’s what. He had gone along with Sarah’s anti global warming campaign without conviction, largely because it was easier to accede to her views than to fight them. Now for the first time he stopped to consider the issues for himself. The measures they had adopted, initially irksome, he now accepted without thought. But were these modest measures enough? Even if he and Sarah could not shape the world outside, surely there was more they could do in the home.

‘I’ve been thinking,’ he told Sarah, still in the hammock, when he brought her a cup of tea later. ‘We seriously ought to consider going one step further and installing solar heating panels.’

‘But Darling they’re hugely expensive. It’ll take years to recoup our outlay in any savings.’

Tactfully Simon refrained from pointing out that she had rubbished that same argument when he had used it to object to the wind turbine. Instead he argued now as his wife had argued then, ‘But the environment, Sarah. Our contribution will be little enough, I know; but every little helps.’

Still she was unconvinced. ‘I saw an animated diagram on the web of a solar heating system, with arrows shooting everywhere depicting water being pumped around. I think the system might be rather noisy.’

‘Well I think we ought at least to look into the possibility.’ Simon said, and then played his trump card. ‘Surely we owe that much to our child.’


Sarah heaved herself from her tiny car to find her husband, paintbrush in hand, admiring his gnomes.

‘What do you think?’ he asked her.

‘Good heavens! They look like leprechauns. Why on earth have you painted them green?’

‘I’m making a statement. And look at this,’ he added excitedly. Picking up a child’s plastic windmill he held it against the stone toadstool. ‘I’m going to fix this as their wind turbine on their little house, just like on ours. And this,’ picking up the lid of a plastic soap dish, ‘They’re solar heating panel, like ours too.’ He chortled. ‘Global warming and the gnome, you might say.’

Sarah choked back a caustic reply. She wanted to retain Simon’s good graces.

‘You know, Darling,’ she said sweetly at the dinner table later, ‘Much as I adore my little Smart car, with the baby coming we’re really going to need something larger.’

‘Larger!’ Simon said in dismay. ‘You mean some sort of family saloon?’

‘Well not exactly. You see there’s so much to transport when there’s a baby around - travel cots and strollers and clothes and nappies and food and bottles - more stuff than you can ever imagine. I was thinking more of one of those people carriers.’

‘A people carrier! You mean one of those four by four things?’

‘Well, yes. We’ve got to think ahead, Darling. You know we’ve always agreed that our baby should not be an only child. Think of the space we’ll need in the car with a second.’

Sarah had said enough for now. She would let the idea ferment for a day or two before taking the matter up again. Instead she said brightly, ‘You’ve been working so hard today. Why don’t you pop down to the Conservative Club for an hour or two and relax?’

But he lacked enthusiasm. ‘I’ve nothing in common with that crowd these days. Anyway, it’s so smoky. Talk about pollution!’

Sarah shook her head in puzzlement. Her husband had certainly been behaving strangely recently. ‘In that case you might just as well make yourself useful,’ she told him. ‘I’ve bought some things for the baby. Be a dear, would you, and fetch them in from the car for me?’

Obediently Simon left the dining room to return moments later laden with bulky plastic bags. ‘I hope these bags are recyclable,’ he grumbled. ‘Anyway, what on earth is all this lot?’

‘Disposable nappies. They were on special offer at Boots.’

Simon was horrified. ‘Disposable nappies! Sarah they’re totally unbiodegradable. Have you any idea of the harm they do to the environment?’

‘So you want me to get towelling nappies do you?’ was the tart reply. ‘And boil them and hang them out to dry each time, and then iron them. Well if that’s the case you can buy and launder them yourself – either that or let me do things my own way.’

‘Well just do it discretely,’ Simon conceded grudgingly. ‘I wouldn’t want the story to get around.’

‘Why on earth not? Practically every parent in the land uses disposable nappies these days. Even David Cameron owns up to it.’

‘Yes, well he’s a Conservative.’

‘And so are you, or so I always thought.’

‘Not any more.’

Sarah could see her husband was bursting with suppressed excitement. Something was brewing and she had a sinking feeling it was nothing good.

‘I’ve agreed to stand as the Green Party candidate in the coming local elections,’ he announced proudly.

‘ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR TINY MIND?’ Sarah Barlow exploded.

* * *


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