Do you feel a zen calm wash over you as you absorb my wisdom? Good! So now let us apply our new found knowledge to the thorny subject of Black Friday. Every year we moan about it. Every year we offer money to charity instead of discounts, or support Buy Nothing Day, or something else. And still nothing changes. Still it continues.
So here's another riddle for you.
Are you happy with the way Christmas is going this year? Do you find it relaxing... stress-free... meaningful... fulfilling? Or is it just a long headache which leaves you with empty pockets and a sore head on Boxing Day?
Now. Imagine. What does Christmas look like in twenty year's time? Just think about how much it has changed in the past twenty years. 1996. No mobile phones to speak of, no internet to speak of, let alone online shopping. No Amazon, no Facebook, no eBay. What do you think will change by 2036 - and will it be better or worse?
I think you can see where I'm going with this. If we want it to change, wehave to change it. We have to stop doing what the adverts tell us, and go back to a simpler, more heartfelt experience of what Christmas time should be about.
So this Black Friday I'm not going to buy anything that isn't from a local shop here in Hay. If everyone did the same, of course, Black Friday would fade away. Whether that happens or we carry on the current course is up to all of us. In 2036 perhaps we'll be hearing those troika bells when the clocks go back... but equally, perhaps we'll have resolved to make Christmas a special time again, where we think about what we can give to others, rather than just a blizzard of buying. See you in twenty years!
We all moan about it - the "Christmas season" seems to start earlier and earlier every year. Where once it would have been mid-December before trees began to appear, now the October half-term signals an explosion of tinsel and troika bells filling the airwaves and the shop windows.
And with the tat and fairy lights comes the new scourge of modern times - the Christmas adverts. John Lewis, M&S, even Aldi and Lidl will all be trying to out-do each other for the best soundtrack, most tear-jerking moment, and greatest amount of cash through the tills.
I am normally a certified Scrooge when it comes to the ads, particularly after last year's demolition of Oasis classic "Half the World Away." This year comes a glimmer of hope, however. The John Lewis advert is actually very good! Here it is:
And I was even more impressed to read that John Lewis had worked with the Wildlife Trust as their charity partner on the advert. They advised the retail giant on how to make the ad and how it could appeal to consumers. Great stuff.
The icing on the cake would be if John Lewis went the extra mile and signed up to the Stop Funding Hate campaign, encouraging retailers to stop advertising in media outlets which encourage discrimination and hatred towards minority groups.
"I've Come to Wish You an Unhappy Birthday" sang The Smiths in '87. And now thirty years on, it's difficult not to feel a sense of foreboding as we wake this morning to celebrate four years as Eighteen Rabbit Fair Trade. It seems like only yesterday that our first lovely customers stepped over the threshold and - to our astonishment! - bought something. It feels like we've come a long way since then. And the world has changed a lot too.
2016 seems to have brough unwelcome and uncomfortable shifts in what we had come to accept as normal life. Bowie, Brexit and now Trump. At every turn there seems to be a chasm between the arguments - facts and figures, debates, even, heaven forbid, "experts" - and the actual result. We're told that Brexit will be bad for Britain - we do it anyway. We see Trump coming out with statements and conduct that would have been unthinkable in any other Presidential race - he wins anyway. "Why do people keep getting it wrong?" we ask ourselves.
I'll freely admit that I have been guilty of this. After the EU refurendum, my first reaction was that the public deserved whatever it got. If they were stupid enough to vote for something so obviously damaging, I reasoned, then good luck to them. For whatever reason, last night's election result has made me realise more sharply than ever how wrong this thinking is.
If we dismiss those who voted for Brexit, or Trump, as simpletons who need to be "educated," we are not only displaying breathtaking arrogance, we are also reinforcing the very mindset that caused the situation in the first place. We lock ourselves in echo chambers where we only hear our own views - "Why would anyone disagree with me when I'm so obviously right? All my friends say so!" It then becomes easy to dismiss those who disagree with us as a lunatic fringe - racists, bigots, gun-totin' rednecks. A small number will fit into those categories. The vast majority have simply had enough.
The truth is that people are suffering. The world is more unfair than it has ever been, even here in the UK and USA. It would be nice to think that people would rise up against the financial and corporate systems that trap them in poverty but that hasn't been an option on any ballot I remember. It is therefore natural, understandable, and perhaps even admirable that people choose to lash out at soft targets when they get the chance. People are not stupid. They can probably see that there's not much difference between Milliband and Cameron. Or - disgusting rhetoric aside - between Trump and Clinton.
So what now? How to combat what looks like an inexorable slide into lowest common denominator mob rule? Newton's Third Law of Motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. There are worse places to start. In the UK we can help to build systems of support that reinforce the truth that there is more that unites us than divides us. Volunteer in your community. Join a local campaign group. Help your church group to reach out to the people most at need. By creating an alternative vision to the hatred and the division, you can build a healthier society. No-one else is going to do it.
We started Eighteen Rabbit four years ago today to try to make the world a fairer place. Our work gives us an insight into the creativity, industriousness and ambition of people all across the globe. By bringing people together, rather than dividing them, we can make sure that the UK is an example of best practice in fairness and equality, rather than a small-minded, closed and selfish nation. Ultimately, we are greater than the sum of our parts. If we reject fear, reject hatred, reject division, then like Pandora before us we might find that all we are left with is hope. And hope is what we need right now.
I was asked an interesting question at West Midlands VegFest on Sunday. Are you a vegan? While you might think that would be a question you'd know the answer to instantly, I hesitated for a moment before saying no.
I do eat a predominantly plant-based diet. So that's vegetables, fruit, beans, rice, but no meat, fish, eggs or dairy. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, the food is delicious, and it makes me more careful about what I'm eating. So rather than transferring something from the freezer to the oven, I'm following recipes and making things from scratch - like these delicious deep fried "chicken" wings!
Secondly, eating a plant based diet has a hugely positive effect on the environment. In fact, factory agriculture accounts for roughly the same amount of carbon emissions as the whole of the global transport sector combined.
And of course there is animal welfare. With plans currently on the table for another factory chicken farm in Clyro, I couldn't in all good conscience enjoy my KFC.
But - I'm not a vegan. Every now and then I'll get a pizza from Dominos, cheese and all. When we're in Mexico I'll be enjoying some delicious chorizo. When I'm at relatives' houses I'll eat whatever my host has prepared for me. It may seem like a hopeless contradiction. But actually my "sustainable journey" which started at Seventeen Events and continues at Eighteen Rabbit, has taught me that perfection is rarely possible. What matters is doing your best, as often as you can, and not giving up altogether when you choose a less than optimal path.
So I couldn't genuinely call myself a vegan - though I may well one day. For now, I am a proud member of the Vegan Society and enjoying doing whatever I can to promote a plant based lifestyle.
There's an old joke:
Q: How do you know if someone's a vegan?
A: Don't worry, they'll tell you!
So apologies if I've fallen into that trap. But I do have a sense of humour about it! Happy World Vegan Day anyway :)
We love Mexico - as anyone who has been in the shop will testify! It's an incredibly friendly country with amazing food, jaw-dropping scenery and just slightly better weather than here in the UK. Of course, it has its problems - corruption, issues with drugs, and levels of poverty we're not used to here in the UK. But it's a place we have visited again and again and never grown tired of. November sees one of our favourite Mexican festivals - the Day of the Dead.
Day of the Dead takes place on the 1st and 2nd November, and all over Mexico families will go to clean up graveyards, tidy up memorials to their ancestors, and generally celebrate the lives of their forefathers. It's a hugely upbeat festival - without any of the morbidity or sadness we associate with death or funerals. It's also very moving to see people who feel connected to the past - not shutting off their feelings or emotions. We think it's a healthy thing!
Every year we get a selection of skulls from Mexico, and I have to say this year's batch are the best yet. Our contact Alberto runs a project called Mexican Fine Arts, and he hand-picks the items from artisans across the country. This year he was in Cuernavaca, a city we lived in for a while on 2005, and where Malcolm Lowry set his masterpiece "Under the Volcano." The skulls capture the colour, passion and humour of Mexico perfectly.
We've taken the difficult decision not to sell the skulls online this year - they are difficult to post, and to be honest sell so quickly in the shop that by the time we've done the photography they'd be gone! But if you simply must have one - drop us a line and we can discuss :)