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Household Self Sufficiency $16.95 Australian
(1994 Aird Books)

This is a book for those who are sick of acrid commercial synthetics; who are broke or canny with their cash; who dream of self sufficiency or at least self reliance, without unending dependence on chemist shops and hardware stores; who have medieval type fantasies of still rooms and brewing their own lotions and potions.

Most of all though it's a book for people who like doing things: who will get pleasure from pounding up rose petals, mixing their own paints, making their own mattresses, who don't want to throw away a shirt because it's stained or use yet another chemical to get rid of the flies in the kitchen. It's a book for people who enjoy the process as well as the end result: for people who want to enjoy and be part of every aspect of their lives.

If civilisation collapsed tomorrow (which I profoundly hope it won't) our household could putter on in much the same way that it does now without the hassles of deadlines, banking, and phone offers of attractive metal cladding for our house at dinner time.

We'd make our own sponges, shampoos, pots and perfumes, still collect eggs from the chooks and oil from the walnuts... and probably I'd tell stories or sing them, the way my ancestors did, instead of bruising my knuckles on the computer.

(Yes I know we'd also be faced with side effects of what actually destroyed civilisation - fiery winds or radiation, nuclear winters or at least gangs of dispossessed and, to be honest, I no longer WANT to make my own toothbrushes et al - though it was fun to do it for a while - but let me enjoy my fantasy)

When I was a kid our school motto was 'Knowledge is power'. I spent five years ignoring it on my hat, blazer and book labels... it was only much later that I recognised its worth.

Knowledge IS power. I will probably never make soap again, or build my own house (I certainly hope I won't anyway... I'm at the laze-among-the-daffodils-and-look-forward-to-grandchildren stage of my life now, not the heft-up-another-rock-and-bag-of-cement-darling stage). But I've done it once; I know how to do it and, if necessary, I can do it again.

Knowledge does give you power - and confidence. Knowledge can't be taken away from you, no matter what else goes wrong in the world. Meteors may fall, gangs of the alienated take to the streets or sabotage centralised power systems; strikes and natural or man-made disasters strike food supply systems - but if you KNOW what to do, you may survive.

And not just in major world crises either - in domestic crises like job losses or just when you're purse is stretched too tight, when you feel helpless in the face of family illness or a friend's depression, at any time when you don't want to, or aren't able to, rely on other people or impersonal medical, social or financial services... the more you know how to do for yourself the better prepared you'll be.

(There's a corollory to this - once you've built your own house, made your own paper, brewed up a remedy for haemarrhoids and boiled up your own ink from wattle galls - you start getting the suspicion that maybe you can cope with anything, whatever new fiendish scheme fate throws up at you - you just smile and reach for the chamomile tea and mutter 'I can cope with that'. And mostly you can.

When I was much younger I took pride in being almost self sufficient, in growing and making as much as I could myself. Now I don't. It's too much work (and I'd rather buy stuff my friends and neighbours have made instead... but that's enother story.)

Many things, though, we still make for ourselves, firstly for the sheer pleasure of it. I love mooching down to the garden and picking chamomile flowers and rose hips and hop flowers, elderberry blooms and echinacea root for lotions and potions. Secondly because we need much less money to live on, but thirdly - and probably most importantly - because after years of using homemade lotions, cleansers et al I can't stand commercial synthetic products - their smell, their feel and their side effects.

It really isn't any more work to make your own cleaners than it is to buy them: the whole process takes minutes, if not seconds once you know what you're doing. It only takes a few minutes to whip up flea powder, moisturising lotion, perfumes (Bryan gave me Arpège for my birthday a few years ago, but it's mostly untouched... instead I use home made perfumes that suit my skin and my mood... and Bryan's nostrils too).

It takes a bit longer to produce lipstick, deodorant, soap, home made turpentine and paint - but it can be infinitely rewarding.

To some extent this book is my lazy way out. In the past year alone I've answered over a thousand letters asking for recipes I’ve given on radio or TV, or in past issues of magazines. Now this book is out I can just say 'Go to the library and look up the index' (but of course the letters will probably ask a whole new lot of questions . . . and anyway I LIKE getting letters . . . mostly . . .)

Even if you don't try all the recipes in this book (roughly twenty years worth, so be warned), have a go with some of them - not just because you'll save money or avoid the consequences of many commercial products. But also because 'home made' really does make life richer. When you use a home made cleanser or perfume or soap you'll immerse yourself in dozens of memories - the scent of the petals you've used for fragrance, the feel of the spoon as you stirred them.