This one wild and precious life... reviewed by Katherine Roberts

You know that feeling of finding some coins down the back of the sofa? I was clearing out a drawer recently and came across an unused £10 National Book Token from ages ago... so long ago, in fact, that it had expired. "Ah well," I thought, "it was obviously a gift at the time, so easy come easy go..." and then I discovered that you can actually renew one of these tokens if it has expired. So I sent the details online to National Book Tokens, along with a photo of my expired card, and they emailed me a replacement. I could probably have spent this online too, but decided to enter into the spirit of olde-worlde book shopping and buy my gift-book from a local independent bookseller. I also decided it should be non-fiction, and so I chose the wonderful Arcturus Books in Totnes. Turned out I pretty much wanted to buy everything in the shop, but my token (being rather devalued over the 15 years or so it spent in my drawer) would only buy one book. In the end, I allowed that book choose me, and - partly drawn by the title, partly by its optimistic orange cover - picked up "this one wild and precious life" by Sarah Wilson. Lower case.

this one wild and precious life


I don't know how I haven't come across Sarah Wilson before, because it seems she is semi-famous for having set up a successful business called "I Quit Sugar", which she eventually closed and gave all the proceeds to charity before setting off around the world with a single bag of possessions lighter than easyjet's hold bag allowance. (See the orange connection here?)

Sarah, however, avoided flying on her travels... much of this book addresses climate change and consumerism, so zipping around on an aircraft is a definite no-no. Each 'chapter' addresses an important issue and is like someone trying to scratch an itch, which is what the author refers to in her introduction as the reason for writing her book. (There are no formal chapters, as such, rather sections are numbered and wide margins supplied in the paperback for your own notes, which will end up nestling between Sarah's own margin notes.) Solutions are offered, but there is much to think about and question along the way, and between issues Sarah writes about her many hikes taken in different locations around the world.

If you only have time to read one 'chapter', I'd suggest #buylesslivemore - which is presumably also a hashtag-thingy on social media, but I don't do Instagram so wouldn't know about that. Briefly, this chapter lists seven ways Sarah suggests we might escape the consumer/capitalist treadmill and live a more connected, freer and meaningful life.

1. Don't go to the shops. I totally understand this. I hate shopping (apart from book shopping, obviously!), and find the whole experience of wandering aimlessly around town highly stressful. Big tick from me.

2. Ditch the car. Hmmm. That's quite a big ask, actually, although I do sometimes consider moving somewhere it would be more possible to live without a car. Maybe one day I will. In the meantime, I have a zero road tax 10 year old Peugeot with a glorified motorbike engine (3 cylinders) that has to be in 1st gear to get up the steep hill to my house... and we have a LOT of hills here in Devon. Might go electric, I guess, although I believe there is a hidden climate-cost in the batteries and also recharging issues? Anyway, that's a pass for now.

3. Live out of one bag. I love the idea, however I currently live in a house and have a lot of house-stuff that won't fit into one bag (like the car).

4. Buy nothing for 13 months (apart from food and basic necessities). Not too difficult. See 1. 

5. Buy 2nd hand, or find it on the street. Yes! I regularly buy from charity shops, which are usually (though not always) within an author's budget. I also have some lovely solid wood tables rescued from my neighbours' skip when they moved house.

6. Don't waste food! Absolutely not, with the price of food these days. I have zero use for my 'food waste' bin. The cat eats any fish skin and bits of dodgy meat I can't, everything compost-able goes on the compost heap, and I use or eat everything else using my nose (or the cat) to judge things that are past their sell-by date. The only time I've really needed to throw out foodstuff is the carcass from a roast at Christmas - which Sarah would boil into broth. In restaurants, she suggests asking for a doggy bag if you can't eat everything on the table, as it will only get thrown out.

7. Don't chuck stuff. This includes disposable coffee cups, which is one of my pet hates too. If I want to take a drink away from a cafe, I take my own mug/cup (and often get a nice little discount on the coffee, too). Otherwise, I'll drink in and use a cup that gets washed by the cafe and used again. One of the most annoying things about the pandemic was that nobody would touch a reusable cup for ages, and vast numbers of plastic cups/test kits/etc. were used once and thrown away. In 2024, it seems we are only just getting back to thinking about disposables. Better late than never, I guess.

The chapter rounds off with one of Sarah's solo hikes, this one along part of the South West Coast Path between St Ives and Penzance, which seems appropriate enough considering where I bought her book.

Finally, a little Sarah-note in the margin invites us to visit Margaret Atwood's poem 'The Moment', which you can read here.

*

Katherine Roberts writes fantasy and historical fiction for young readers.
She has also published a book with an orange cover.
Find out more at katherineroberts.co.uk

Comments

Peter Leyland said…
Thanks for this interesting post Katherine. I was struck by the title of the book which as you may know is the last line of Mary Oliver's famous poem. I have it on my desk in front of me and it confronts many of the issues which are dealt with in the book, what are we doing here? being the main one, which has exercised my mind recently during a short illness. I like the Margaret Atwood poem. I expect she too knew of the one I mention.
Griselda Heppel said…
All good ideas and within reach, except one. I so agree with you about not wasting food. Sell by dates have a lot to answer for. I've always ignored them (with due respect for meat and fish) because you can tell yourself if something is eatable, even if a little wrinkled - carrots, for instance. Yogurt, eggs, butter, even milk last WEEKS beyond their sell by dates. The idea of religiously throwing out perfectly good food because of an arbitrary date appals me.

And the idea not within reach? The car, of course. How are people in villages with zero public transport - not even taxis ordered by telephone - to get around, especially if they are elderly/have small children/back problems etc? We can't go back to 150 years ago when people lived by necessity within a small radius of where they were born, because there was no transport. We should use cars less, where possible, definitely. But for many people it's a life line.
Ah yes, the car... I do think I could quite happily live without a car if I made a few lifestyle changes, such as moving to a small town where I can walk to essential shops that has good public transport links. But most families around here seem to have about 3 cars for each household, despite being within walking distance of shops and schools. I agree, most villages would be impossible if you want/need to leave the village for any reason. I once lived in a village seven miles from town and cycled to work/shops etc, but I was in my 20s then and the weather was better :-)

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