Wednesday, 18 August 2010


Insulation from the natural world is unnatural.

I look round my house for a wall I can’t see daylight through. Not that it matters, since a few feet higher up there is a gap the whole way round large enough for any bird, snake or modest-sized rodent to sashay through, wherever the roof meets the walls. And anything can climb in through the roof thatch too. Our friend Edgar told us a story of dashing out of a friend’s home for a leak at midnight and being bolted out of an ité-roofed house. He was dressed only in a sheet. A little the worse for liquor, he decided to climb through the ité. Halfway through the solemn drunken care of his manoeuvrings he fell abruptly and got perfectly jammed, like Pooh plugged into Rabbit’s front door. I cannot but smile at the thought of his stout dignified personage, neatly clipped moustache, smartly tucked toga, bulging from the absorbent twiglet thatch like a candle from a cake.

Artificial insulation makes sense for warmth. We love hermetic sealing, sometimes for good reasons and sometimes for bad. But perfect insulation leaves us unable to breathe. We become like Jill Masterson in Goldfinger, one of the shortest tenures of any Bond girl. She is painted all over in gold, which suffocates her because her skin can’t breathe. Is it a coincidence that here in the land of unsealing ceilings, I’ve never seen a child with eczema?

I tape up all my food boxes to keep the cockroaches out, but that’s unnatural too. Cockroaches remind us that we are part of the food chain. Funny, how outraged people are to be eaten by lions when in the end they will be thoroughly munched by the much humbler earthworm. I guess it’s the patience of the worm that reconciles us. Tibetan sky burial is the final refusal of insulation; welcoming the humility of death by being chopped into pieces and set out for the vultures. Cremation is the other end of the spectrum, thumbing the nose at death’s ravaging worms. But perhaps insulation is one of the reasons we city-dwellers have so lost our humility in the face of nature. It has given us delusions of control.

I know when I return to Britain I will struggle with the fact that I can’t hear the weather. That when I open the shutters there is no breeze because the window frames are full of glass, not air. That I can live in t-shirts whatever the season because every building has an artificial climate. I wonder when we’ll admit that climate control in our houses and cars implicates us in climate change in our oceans and weather? Nevertheless, I still yearn for it sometimes. A solid wall with no micro-views between the bricks. Food containers that contain only dead ingredients. Insulation in all its forms to keep the encroaching predators at bay.

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