My dad used to say, ‘Buy once and buy the best, we’re too poor to buy cheap.’ It always sounded a bit contradictory, but I knew what he meant. If you buy rubbish you end up having to buy again, costing you more in the long run. Dad gave a lot of other advice that I didn’t always take, like, ‘don’t play leapfrog with a unicorn,’ I hurt more than his feelings by not taking that advice. Seriously though, his words of wisdom stayed with me when it came to buying stuff. It’s a curse, of course, every time I need to make a purchase, I find myself analyzing, comparing and thoroughly doing my homework until I invariably need to spend on the most expensive product in the range. The trouble is, I want stuff that lasts and it costs the most. The answer to that problem is in the other part of Dad’s advice, ‘If you can’t afford it, wait until you can, don’t buy for the sake of it and don’t get into debt.’
Don’t play leapfrog with a unicorn
This train of thought got me to thinking about the quality and longevity of the things we buy and the need to buy new stuff. It’s increasingly difficult to buy only once, as everything we get these days seems to have a built-in life expectancy, inbuilt obsolescence. Products are guaranteed, of course, it’s just that they’re guaranteed to fail just after the warranty has run out. Gone are the days when things could last a lifetime and you could fix them yourself if you were anywhere near handy. I fondly remember many years ago, buying myself a Haynes workshop manual for my Mini Clubman so that I could repair it without the need for a mechanic. Following the step-by-step instructions, I removed the motor completely from the car, stripped it down on the kitchen table, reground the valves, reset the tappets, rebuilt the carburettor and put it all back together with a new set of gaskets. Surprise! The car ran like a dream. Proud of myself? You bet. Now, this may sound an easy job to you car buffs who work on cars all the time, and it probably is, but to a mechanically illiterate dummy like me, this was a great accomplishment, made possible by the inherent simplicity of combustion motors at that point in time. Try looking under the hood of today’s modern motors and working from a book, I dare you!
I recently watched a documentary on Cuba, and the story of my home-style mechanics came back to me. For almost sixty years, the country has lived with an embargo imposed by the United States of America. As a result, the country is like a time capsule. A blockade has largely prevented the import of goods from the outside world, leaving the residents with no alternative but to use what they already have; this includes motorcars and just about everything else we take for granted in the modern world. Now you would think this would leave Cuba on its knees, after all, how can anyone live without new stuff, right? But low and behold, they actually do! Take a drive down the streets of Havana, and you’re likely driving a nineteen–fifties or sixties model something. Could it be that these vehicles actually get people from A to B? Yep, they sure do, and have done for over fifty years.
Rather than scrap things in Cuba, they are fixed, re-invented or recycled. Nothing goes to waste. Yet the sky hasn’t fallen and life hasn’t ground to a halt. (Maybe slowed a little, but is that a bad thing?) We in “advanced western countries,” turn over cars like we do everything else, we are brainwashed into wanting more, bigger, faster, newer, we couldn’t even contemplate a world where we spend only what’s necessary; what would we do without the latest model? I’m one of them, I’m not preaching here. But it does make you question, why? Why it is we feel the need for motor cars that travel three hundred kilometres an hour, with souped-up this and that, when our roads are so clogged with traffic, we rarely get out of second gear and speed limits restrict us to a crawl? We’ve been conditioned to want the latest of everything, and it feeds our consumption based world of excess. We are driven by want instead of need and it’s causing us to strip our world of precious resources, while we pollute the planet for generations to come.
The automobile industry is just one example of the world big business and their marketing psychologists have created for us. Politicians have been brainwashed too; they believe in perpetual growth that can only be sustained by consumerism. How about we live within our means, build what we need and save for a rainy day? Now there’s a thought!
How about we live within our means, build what we need and save for a rainy day?