Week 36: I will jam.
Updated: Apr 30
This is not a post about music, but also it is. So let's stay with it for now, and then take a clumsy segway to the subject in hand.
This week's planetwise is dedicated to anyone who can feel sudden and inexplicable tears when a song comes on the radio. Anyone who is taken somewhere else but the commute to work, anyone who can smell the dusty sleeve notes of long ago albums, or the muddy slime of long ago festivals. Anyone who hears and tune and it triggers a moment or an emotion that can't quite be explained. Anyone who is lost, hopeful, in love, out of love, happy, sad, frightened or angry, and turns to music to explain why.
The connection between emotions and music, is something that I have always found so fascinating. I don't know if I like Baby Blue because it's in the final scenes of Breaking Bad and it ended a perfect narrative, or because it's a good song. The same goes for The Shins - do I like it because of that train platform to Farhampton, or because it's a belter anyway.
If you are not a fan of these particular pop culture TV moments, these references will mean nothing specifically, but I hope remind you of your own moments. The adage that music is just what our feelings sound like is not new, especially where nostalgia is involved. But it is real and powerful. It's as if things that touch us in our life are filed away in tiny drawers in the doll's house of our mind, that can only to be opened by tiny musical-note-shaped keys. I salute those who can create this music, or who create poetry or art, for the rest of us to enjoy.
I am now a parent, and it was rewired by brain in many strange and wonderful ways, and one of those is that it strengthened this emotional link to music, and created a whole new set of tiny memory drawers.
I now feel inexplicable emotion in lyrics that express the relationship between father and son, or those that talk of all the opportunities of youth. I didn't expect this to happen, much as I didn't expect to have the strange relationship that I do with Malibu by Miley Cyrus. For a time it was Leo's favourite song, and we used to play it on endless repeat when he was very small and we would read books on the kitchen floor. I would arrive home from work, throw my bag on the floor, pick up a big pile of books, take a big sniff of his head, and then away we would go. If I hear Malibu, it takes me there in a way that I probably don't need to explain.
It also makes me passionate about having those connections, and giving him memories he will remember when he is old and grey like daddy. It can be through music, or through anything else - the important thing is the memories.
This was part of the reason for starting Project Planetwise. It began as an idea to do something fun and different, teach our little boy good environmental practices, learn them ourselves, and make memories. It also began in the hope that we can contribute to reducing the risk that we wake up one day and find that the world is not going to end in a cataclysmic or catastrophic event but gradually, and eventually, on a preventable wet Tuesday afternoon. And that Leo would not have the opportunity to be a grown man in a cleaner world, perhaps sobbing to a song from 2017 that he barely remembers but then remembers so well at the same time.
And so to this week's planetwise topic. It is perhaps one of the less radical ones. This week is jam week. I am making jam. Jammin. That beautiful, sticky, tingling stuff that we spread on toast, stir into yoghurt, or just eat with a spoon straight from the jar. That is the clumsy segway from music to the subject in hand.
But for me, jam days are a fabulous memory, jam day are music. Jam is something I remember from my own childhood, that gave me a connection with nature which stayed on the surface with me until it was not considered cool anymore, but then still simmered just below and came out in different ways, like climbing a mountain or sitting on the beach and staring moodily out to sea. Jam days started with going out and picking fruit, often from the pick-your-own farms. I can't remember if I did it a hundred or just a few times, but the moment I open a jar of blackberry or raspberry jam then I am transported back to the heavy summer air, sticky fingers, kneeling in the earth or dodging prickly branches. And the feeling of joy that comes from an overflowing punnet.
It is a joy that I have rediscovered on a different level now we are parents. It is a connection that I am passionate for us to continue in a new generation, because it is a memory and a connection that can endure even if you get a little distracted along the way by gadgets and video games.
It was also the moment that I realised that stuff grew on trees, and on bushes - and I feel this connection is one that is so important to nurture. It is a simple connection, but one that is a thread through so many things and sometimes forgotten in our hectic schedules and convenient lives. A realisation that your chips don't just come from the takeaway, or that your apples don't just come from the supermarket, unlocks a magical world a layer removed from the convenient symbols of everyday life. It unlocks a magical world of fabulous dirt, and of tractors carrying huge skeletal machinery. It unlocks discussions on food chains, and seasons, and weather and geography, and why pineapples don't grow in our garden.
Being out picking fruit, gives you a chance to spot birds, beetles, bees and butterflies. Of listening for the rustle of a mouse, of catching the glimpse of a rabbit, or discovering a few bones or an interesting looking poo.
It is also learning in a different way, even without your hands in actual dirt. It is curiosity of the world around us, edge of the seat fascination at photos of bananas growing, of understanding the dependency we all have on each other. It helps us to talk about hard work, of courage, of respect for where our food comes from and the people who grow it. There will be years of traditional maths and other subjects in front of our children, but in some ways this will not prepare them for the challenges the world and the planet has in front of us.
In the future, we will need more strong and empathetic leaders, more individuals with new ideas, and with the strength of character to change things. We will need to challenge more traditions, push against systems, reverse more of what is seen as normal. Save more, consume less. Care less about what we have but what we can give. This kind of society needs a connection and a passion for nature and a passion and connection for some of the values that put our planet above personal gain.
All of this from jam. It is a leap, but I am an optimist, and even the process of making jam can be an exciting, messy, imperfect lesson in life.
In fact, for many years jam making was also a wonderful mystery. I believed that turning fruit into something spreadable and even more delicious was a kind of complicated dark art that required a deep knowledge of chemistry. That is was easier to spend £5 on a good local jam adorned with gingham cloth lids and beautifully designed labels rather than making it ourselves. I still believe in the second point, if you would like adventurous flavours and a jam that takes full advantage of the bounty of your local produce. Local jam is easy to find if you know where to look, and you can always start by searching for a local farm shop or independent food store. Maybe we don't find it at the end of driveways anymore, but social media is as good as that.
But in terms of a straightforward jam, it couldn't be easier and is way more satisfying than buying it at the supermarket. Hand picking fruit is not always accessible, but if you are lucky enough to be able to do it, or if you have a good bramble patch nearby, then making jam is as simple as this: weigh your fruit, weigh out in the same amount of sugar, and then boiling it like crazy for a bit. Adding a few squeezes of lemon can also help, which is something to do with the pH of the fruit. If you don't believe me, then check out this recipe for raspberry jam here. In Internet can also give advice on sterilisation of jars and equipment that I cannot.
If you don't have access to fruit picking, then jam is even an option for any soft fruits going off in the fridge, or as an activity with well-sourced strawberries or other fruit that you buy just for the occasion. You can even save up the last bits of fruit from the fridge over a period of time, and store them in the freezer until you have enough for a good batch of jam. When you have enough fruit assembled, jam can be made with fruit that has been frozen in much the same way as fresh. Simply match the weight of strawberries with sugar, add a bit of lemon juice, and boil like crazy for a bit. You could call this Leftover Jam I suppose, I Googled it and it isn't a thing, and so let's all invent it together.
As we collected the fruit to make the jam, I hope that tiny fingers were making tiny drawers in Leo's mind. I hope that in years to come, he remembers where we were, and what he was listening to, when we made our first jam.
Being planetwise is about connections. Everything starts with the individual, and everything we do can make a difference. We can draw a line between ourselves and our experiences, to nature and to the planet in everything we do. The world needs children who understand these connections, and who will become the adults that create change. We cannot just do that by telling our children, we have to show them. We have to jam.