Good Energy

The guys at Good Energy have been really supportive and excited about the expedition, so much so that they have made a contribution which allows me to keep the blog regularly updated during the expedition, so they and everyone else can follow the journey. Good Energy supplies 100% renewable electricity sourced from wind, water, sun and sustainable biomass. CO2 from coal-fired electricity generation is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Switch your electricity supply to Good Energy using this link and not only will you be supporting the pioneering community of independent green generators, but for every sign up they get they’ll make another donation to help get the bus around the world. It helps you cut your personal CO2 emissions, helps them grow a great business, and helps me get round the world.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

The Beauty of Functionality

In the bus we use a bucket for showering. It’s a tatty old bucket which is starting to split, and although it’s clean, the outside is mired in embedded black grime that stains it. It used to hold 10 litres of engine oil and the mechanics that helped me rebuild the engine in Delhi gave it to me when I was stranded in the engineless truck there.

Christina points out that it’s ugly and unsightly and when we are showing the bus off to visitors it makes the place look dirty. She’s right of course, and a new bucket would create a much better impression. It’s one of a number of improvements to the interior of the bus that would doubtless engender a more positive response from people we meet. For people interested in the journey it presents a distraction which suffixes the thought “but I couldn’t live like that” to the verbalised encouragement of “This truck is great”. The worst of it is that it creates the association that “eco” means dirty.

But there are a few sentimental reasons why I like this bucket. It reminds me of the hard work under the oppressive heat of a Delhi summer I had to put into it to scrub it clean of the engine oil that was in it, of the satisfaction of seeing it filled for the first time with clear oil-free water, it reminds me of the people that gave it to me, of the work we did together on the engine, of the insight into their lives they shared with me, of the showers I took after replacing the engine pistons and the dirt that flowed out of my hair into the shower tray.

I like that it’s waste too, that it’s living out a second life after the oil it originally carried is circulating around an engine somewhere. This sentimentality would be almost reason enough to keep the bucket forever, even build a plinth for it, but the fact that it's waste is the real reason I don't want to throw it out for a pretty new one. And far from being ugly I find that it is beautiful, because of the way it does what I need.

Firstly it coincidentally fits perfectly in the corner where we store it and it has a comfortable metal handle that doesn’t cut into your hand when fully laden. It’s made with a softer thermosetting plastic than most buckets making it less brittle and more resilient to cracking when crushed or knocked by the heavy jerrycan that lives next to it, and it’s the perfect size for one shower’s-worth of water. All of this leads me to see it as beautiful. It works so well, is so harmonised with its purpose that it is benignly beautiful.

So it is with much of the bus interior; devoid of aesthetic, the hideous curtains stitched by my sister with material offcuts work brilliantly at maintaining privacy, keeping out the heat but maintaining a bright interior, the grotesque seat pillows are cut to shape that folds into a spare bed, the atrocious carpet that lines the ceiling was fished out of skips and bins, and provides unprecedented thermal and acoustic insulation. It’s no beauty to look at, but it’s beautiful to see it at work.

Aesthetic and functional beauties aren’t mutually exclusive argues Chris, and suggests that I wouldn’t welcome her shaving off her beautiful long blond hair to be more functionally beautiful needing less water to wash it. I risk a scowl replying that her function is to be attractive to me so I see her hair’s aesthetic as being a functional feature and consequently beautiful on both levels. Perhaps it's the double compliment that saves me from getting so much as a frown. Aesthetic can serve a purpose, just like any other aspect of design; the choice of material, scale and dimensions.

To my mind’s eye, the ugliest thing in the bus is not the bucket or unpainted wood panels, the fraying seat covers, the stained shower tray or double glazed window at the back. It's the fridge that doesn’t’ work efficiently enough so that it can be left on permanently. Intermittent refrigeration is worse than none at all. To me it sticks out like an irritating needle in my functional fung shui of the drab cupboards and shelves that surround it. To everyone else it looks like a charming wood effect panelled fridge set against some rickety draws.

So with an upcoming round of presentations to give in Bangkok I was tempted to invest in new bucket. I've been faced with this compromise before. Should I do something against the principles of using waste to promote the benefits of using waste. Is there a greatergood? Or should I remember I am not an eco-disciple, responsible for teaching the world how to live, just someone who's overdue a shower.


  1. Thanks for the talk at NIST today. I found it thoroughly inspiring and thought-provoking. I've been reading through this blog and thoroughly enjoy you and Christina's insights into life (as well as your delightful writing styles).

    Biotruck has a long-term fan in Bangkok!

  2. Keep the bucket... and if you have to, give it another purpose... then get a new shower bucket...


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