Live like you’re on an island

When you live on an island, stuff matters. The sky seems bigger somehow; the sea horizon more intriguing; the elements more powerful. Islands bring out the poet, the artist, the philosopher, the inventor.

They are creative places inspired in no small part by the distance that everyone and everything must travel to get there. Limitations of climate and geography must be considered in almost everything from building homes to running a business to educating a small and scattered population. When you live on an island, you are always aware of it.

Self-sufficiency takes on a new importance when high shipping costs are added to every purchase. Whatever is brought in – from cars to washing machines to mail order clothes to groceries – has to have some sort of exit strategy attached for when their usefulness is spent. Better, then, to think up ways of reusing junk and cutting down on waste. Or buy less stuff.

Islanders the world over have had to become experts at upcycling, recycling, and reimagining all kinds of articles that in bigger places are often shoved in the bin or left on a street corner for collection. The old boat becomes a shed roof; the fish boxes are vegetable planters; salmon cages are turned into greenhouses; old enamel baths are water troughs; seaglass becomes jewellery.

I live in an archipelago which is quite good at recycling and self-sufficiency but not yet brilliant. The charity shops are plentiful. The art, the music, the poetry thrives. The hills support sheep and cows, the sea gives fish and many people grow a few vegetables.

Most food, though, is shipped in by supermarket chains, its journey and its packaging adding significantly to the costs.There is still an over-burdened landfill, although a waste-to-energy furnace provides some power, and one of the UK’s biggest district heating schemes pumps hot water throughout the main town.

Beaches vary between stunning shards of silvery sand and mad tangles of rope and plastic and old junk, depending on the tides. Some of the rubbish is seaborne from further afield than these islands, but too much we generate ourselves. There’s a community-wide spring clean of shores and roadsides, but a few windy days and a tide-mark of debris is left once more. Careless consumerism has a visible impact here.

Even so, when your home is on an island living lightly seems to come a little more easily, nudged as it is by need and neighbourliness as well as environmental concerns. There’s a shared sense of responsibility that can be lost in the noise of urban life.

Since moving here from a flat in Berlin, I no longer buy clothes on impulse, drink coffee from disposable cups or work in a place where I don’t know everyone by name. Instead, I grow a few veggies, plant a few trees, use the same mug all day and teach in a small, two-classroom school.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s no idyll. The weather can be harsh and the winters long and dark and there are days when I desperately miss city living. But here, everything just seems a bit closer to home; cause and effect of modern life more obvious.  If I drop a plastic bag in a ditch near my house, it will sit there for a dozen years or more unless the wind gets to it first. No-one cleans up after you on an island.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worn again weddings

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Forget spending silly money on a dress destined to be worn once – sensible Chinese couples borrow their dream outfits for the day and get that perfect wedding album to share with friends and family.

The Western-style dresses may look a little pre-loved close up, but clever lighting and a bit of digital help and not even the jeans and trainers will show up on the finished picture. Best of all, you don’t have to find room in a wardrobe for a (hopefully) never to be worn again outfit.

Wander in any fine-looking Chinese park on a sunny day and you’ll spot these new brides and grooms, posing in often odd and contorted positions, smiling against a backdrop of old stone bridges, branches of blossom and sparkling lakes.  The allure of the west has seen couples in recent years choose to include glamorous white frocks in their wedding album, often alongside the traditional red Chinese cheongsams.

The idea of dressing up and looking every bit the beautiful bride without having to invest in a new dress is fabulously green. The fabric of choice every time is silk, of course. Exciting, strong and long-lasting. Like a great marriage.

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Sharing the frills

 

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Beautifully packaged

And the perfect environmentally-friendly wedding gift? A set of Susurrus organic silk pillowcases, beautifully boxed, and made to last. A gorgeous present for those who are newly married. 

Or what better way to celebrate a 12th anniversary – traditionally marked with a silk gift. GOTS-certified organic, our pillowcases promise wedding-day glamour, night after night. Take me to the silk shop

 

In search of susurrus #1

Chinese lanterns light up a dark sky
Chinese lanterns and karst peaks

Photos rarely tell the truth. Memories are even worse. But between the two, a sensory-saturated moment in time can be recalled in startling clarity. To organise your travel snaps is to head grinning with relish into a forgotten instant. What better task, then, for a dark and quiet January on a northerly island.

This series of photos is about China, where we lived for a few years. Some are quietly observed; others are snapped in haste. Travelling with a family meant learning to notice these instants, and to enjoy  – sometimes only fleetingly -the excitement, calm or bewildered curiosity they inspired.

The first photo was taken in southern China, in a region of limestone mountains of fantastical shapes near Yangshuo. The round, red lanterns seemed to glow like planets, with the karst outlines in the distance. This countryside was like a thousand Chinese paintings; mountains inked below a rice-paper sky.

That night we were staying in the Giggling Tree hostel, a bike ride from the nearest noisy and neon-lit town. The evening was cool but we ate outside and drank beer and talked nonsense and watched the children race around the old, stone courtyard with their visiting cousins. I snapped this picture on a trip to the loo, mesmerised by the light and taking a moment to enjoy the cool, jasmine-scented peace of dusk.

We had a full moon that trip too, and watched it slide into the circular frame of an eroded rock – a detail I’ve only just remembered.

KW Sundibanks, Shetland

 

 

Confucian wisdom on social media

Elderly Beijing man in Mao suit
Beijing man in contemplation

Anyone anxious about their social media presence can take comfort in the wise words of Chinese philosopher Confucius: “Worry not that no one knows you; seek to be worth knowing.”

Of course, it was alright for Confucius. He was writing in 500 BCE at a time when blogging would have involved making ink from pine soot and ground horns before laboriously brushing inspiring ideas onto thin bamboo strips. They’d have to be worth it. The really important stuff was carved onto vast stone columns; a communication method that would seriously chip away at the number of daily mundanities currently recorded by humankind.

This compelling fascination with living out our brilliant lives in public, and adding a glossy finish to everything, must have deep roots, for Confucius also remarked: “We take greater pains to persuade others that we are happy than in endeavoring to think so ourselves.”

It’s an endlessly perplexing business, chiseling away online in the hope of being noticed. Sharing our best side; hiding our bad times. What’s too little? What’s too much? How do we avoid sounding pompous? or flippant? or worse still, desperate? How can we make sure we are, in Confucius’ words, ‘worth knowing’? And why do we need so many friends when we rarely have time to talk to the ones who stay nearby?

Having lived in the factory-belt area of southern China; seeing elderly people sitting amidst massive piles of jeans on the street, squinting as they stitched details on pockets, I knew I wanted my business to be fiercely ethical and fervently kind. But that alone doesn’t make me worth knowing. It probably makes me a bit annoying, if anything. And it certainly doesn’t tell me how to succeed at it.

Luckily, Confucius also left a bit of a hint in another of his famous tweets. In it he identified five qualities to aim for…all obvious, but often undervalued.

He said: “If you are courteous, you will not be disrespected;
If you are generous, you will gain everything.
If you are honest, people will rely on you.
If you are persistent you will get results.
If you are kind, you can employ people.”

Does this translate to the modern world? Not in the minds of any of us who’ve worked for less than kind bosses or those many who slog away to no avail. But it clearly worked for Confucius, who has, after all, ended up spawning an entire philosophical movement with followers in numbers we can only dream of.

A word of caution, however, before you rush to download the entire Confucian tome, The Analects. In what was obviously the equivalent of a tired rant after several goblets of rice wine,  the great man is also supposed to have declared:  “A man without a mustache is a man without a soul.”  Thank goodness our modern musings are no longer set in stone.

Happy New Year, on and offline.

Sundibanks, Shetland

 

 

 

 

Fight dirty against festive fatigue

Seasonal survival tips…#5 Dig it all better

A new study says time spent in nature builds better communities. What finer way to prove science right than by indulging in a little organic guerrilla gardening and digging your way to a better festive frame of mind.

Requisition a spade from a neighbour’s shed and start tilling the soil in secret for the sake of humanity. Clear away the weeds and feel the festive fog lift inside. Your efforts now could turn that local wasteland by the bus stop into a wonderland. Wear gloves though. Humanity can be unenchanting sometimes 🙂

Silk less serious. That’s the spirit!

DSCN0403Silk pillowcases flapping in the wind

(for more on the study, see  http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/content/65/12/1141.full )

Party small talk – an (un)festive guide

Seasonal survival tips…#3 Talking therapy

Pick a random topic to introduce to every party conversation between here and New Year. We respectfully suggest the following: loft insulation (unless you’re in the building trade, in which case better make it animals in clothes), stuff you’ve found in skips (unless you’re my husband, in which case it’s going to occur naturally) or rabbits. After a while you’ll become aware of strange looks, at which point you can retreat to the bed covered in coats and lie down quietly with your silk pillow until the taxi comes.

Silk less serious. That’s the spirit!

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Silk with Soul. Pure luxury

At Susurrus we love to take a little bit of luxury wherever we find it… from the warmth of woolly socks straight off the woodburner, to the unhampered view of the Aurora Borealis dancing above us in the evening sky. And, of course, slipping into bed each night with our soft, smooth and soporific organic silk pillowcases. That is most definitely a feeling of luxury.

But what exactly is this elusive concept that changes through time and place and from person to person? What seems like luxury to one can be everyday or even vulgar to another. Our notion of luxury rises and falls with changes in society. It finds roots in culture, economics and symbolism. It follows fashions and tailgates trends. Nowadays, as so many struggle to meet even the basic needs of life, Susurrus asks, why do we love luxury, and how can we justify it?

For many, luxury is synonymous with wellbeing and comfort, with a little bit of guilty pleasure thrown in; that moment when you slow down, breathe deeply, sigh contentedly and feel acutely aware of how good – how luxurious – this feels. It’s the unexpected long-lie when you have small children;  a log fire and a glass of fine red wine on a stormy night,  or the spontaneous picnic by the sea when you should be working. These are luxuries of time and opportunity.

For others, luxury is more about those rare and exclusive experiences  and possessions – the most expensive, most beautiful, biggest, fastest…the glitz and glamour of a 5 star hotel;  the excited buzz of an art opening; the glint of a diamond or the tick of a perfect timepiece.

At Susurrus we too love turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. We too love to feel pampered and special. But not at any cost. Without mindfulness, or compassion and understanding for those whose lives are less easy, our luxury moments are meaningless.

Are our silk pillowcases a luxury product? Of course they are. But they are also carefully sourced from an organic silk maker who cares about the lives of the people who work there and the land they live on. We try to run our business with thought for others. We’re not perfect, and its not much, we know, but it is something. Can we justify our luxury? We can, but only if we keep in mind how fortunate we are and make sure our joy doesn’t come at someone else’s cost.

At Susurrus we will continue to do our bit to support other people where we can, whilst also appreciating those moments in life  – from finding the time to sit and watch the waves on the shore at dawn, to sinking into our soft silk at night. We might even enjoy the odd glass of wine by the fire – toasty in our warm woolly socks, of course.

Silk with Soul. Pure luxury.

Be happy; we’re organic

Judging the success of your country using a happiness scale is already inspiring. But Bhutan, a tiny nation tucked into the Himalayas,  has taken their lofty thinking higher still and is trying to become the world’s first organic country. http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/10/11/3710618/bhutan-organic-united-states-transition/

It is a land of exquisite natural beauty and quite right they should want to protect what is there. Happy soil leads to happy farmers, food and animals, which leads to happy people… and up, hopefully, goes Gross Domestic Happiness, an index they’ve used since the 1970s. The link between the health of a country’s soil and natural ecosystems, with the happiness of the people who live there seems obvious. It represents sustainability, care and appreciation for much more than just agricultural produce. Like so much in life, it’s a classic reap-what-you-sow situation.

Bhutan hasn’t achieved this goal yet, and who knows if it can or will work, but at least it is trying. It makes Susurrus wonder what’s stopping other places where organic agricuture has been proven to work. Our silk is grown, organically, on the other side of the mountains from Bhutan. And although we are a rarity in our field, it is wonderful to know the neighbours care as much as we do.

Susurrus knows an employer who claimed, often, that the happiness of those in their employ was nothing to do with them. In a way they were right…our emotions are our own to manage.  And yet, how narrow a view of the responsibilities we have for others’ lives.  Bhutan, clearly, gets the bigger picture. And that’s enough to make a nation smile…gots-logo_rgb

We name ourselves

Susurrus organic silk pillowcases on the lineThis is the very first blog by Susurrus Organic Silk Pillowcases. So let’s start with an apology. Our name is hard to say and harder to spell. The meaning is a bit obscure too. Sorry about that.

Su-sur -rus.  Say it like this: soo – sir – riss.

It means a low murmur, or whisper, like the sound of the sea brushing across the sand or the wind rustling through the trees. Or the hushed sigh of soft silk as you lie down to sleep.

Shetland beach

Can you hear it? It is that most calming of sounds; that slowing of the heartbeat, that deep breath of relaxation. Stick a shell to your ear and that blood-rushing sea sound is susurrus. Lie down in the long grass and that humming and thrumming of insect wings is susurrus. Sit in a city cafe and let the gushing, pulsing noises of the other customers wash over you. Susurration.

No other name would  convey the totally relaxed, natural luxury of our silk. We were advised not to use it. It will put people off, we were told. But at Susurrus we are not always great at following perceived wisdom. You will find we can be a little rebellious that way. Uncompromising, if you like.

That’s why we choose to run our business slowly and sustainably; it’s why we choose to support other companies who are trying their best to be socially and environmentally responsible. We could buy cheap silk and churn out pillowcases. It would certainly be simpleHammock in Shetlandr. But we choose to use the best quality organic silk we can source, with the highest standards for protecting land and people.

And for this we make no apology.