Tuesday, 11 March 2008

I am in danger of turning into my grandfather

I am in danger of turning into my grandfather – he used to tell tales of his childhood, of how much bread cost in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and how modestly he and his family lived, despite having had a butcher’s shop and two pubs in a small provincial town. As a result of our recent campaigns I keep catching myself wanting to share memories of my childhood with others: no one in my school was ever obese, we played outside in free time, roaming the suburbs and the little woodland near my home, I used to be sent for milk to a tiny shop in the basement of the house next door and it was poured from a large aluminium container, the bread was cut from loaves (you either had a whole, half or quarter), ham was cut of the bone, we shopped daily in small quantities, and coffee, citrus fruit, bananas and cocoa were the only items that came from afar. And if the milk went sour, then we made cheese from it by pouring it in boiling water and then hung the curdled lumps on the balcony in cheesecloth. And we had no fridge, so kept butter in an earthenware pot in the pantry on the floor. Then things started to change and there may be a bit of nostalgia attached to my memories. No, I would not want to live without a washing machine or a modern iron. But I can now see how much of what we have considered modern and better was in fact leading up to the current selfish and disastrous way of life. Those plastic bags that were so exciting in the beginning and replaced the expanding string bags have come to be one of the ugliest signs of our modern lives. WI campaigns are tackling the issues where they matter most: in our lives and I think they have united members and given us the strength to start this difficult century as a confident and positive organisation. My husband came back from a business trip last week and confessed to chatting up a fellow passenger who he noticed had a WI diary with a bit of an unusual pick up line: Excuse me, are you a member of the WI? She answered yes, I am and added, a bit cautiously, actually, I am proud to be a WI President. My husband responded by saying ‘and I am proud to be married to the General Secretary’. Once he explained that I was working in the NFWI HQ, they enjoyed a WI filled conversation and I was so happy to hear that the member felt that recent WI campaigns have been behind our success, put the organisation back in the general public’s eye, and have brought new members in. Farah Nazeer who has been heading the Public Affairs team for the past 3 years has been poached by the British Retail Consortium and so we will have to say goodbye. I want to thank Farah and the Public Affairs team for helping members become such a formidable modern campaigning force. If anyone can green up British retail, Farah can – and if not, members would know what to do.

Jana Osborne
General Secretary

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