John hauled the ladder out of his garage. The only garage on his street. How things had changed. Surely November was not meant to be THIS warm? John is about to paint his house white. The last house in his road to be painted. John liked to be the last. He prided himself on being the stick-in-the-mud. After-all, at age 87 what other pleasures in life were there? He was born in 2012 where they didn’t have such nonsense.
He was very proud to be the last home to have solar panels. It wasn’t until the new building regs mandated them for people in his age group that he finally accepted the grant and had the b£$%^&-things put up. He stopped briefly from his labours to wave at Jack and Jill – his neighbour’s kids – as they walked by on the way to school. Sweet kids. Smart too. But he felt sorry for them. Things were different in his day. They always seemed so happy. What had they to be happy about? The world today was not one John understood… But these youngsters seemed perfectly OK with it. .
John pushed the ladder up against his house and went back for his brushes and paint. In his day he would have popped to the DIY store to pick these things up. These days he had to have them delivered. Pah! Seems nobody drives anywhere anymore. John went up the ladder to examine his brickwork. As he looked down he noted how brown his lawn was. He glanced over at his neighbour’s homes. Those who had patches of lawn seemed to be enjoying much lusher greenery. Most didn’t have much lawn as many neighbours now had a vegetable patch. Pah! John didn’t have long to wait before his question was answered. Jack & Jill’s Mum popped out and started to water things. She plugged her hosepipe into the rainwater tank system buried under the house and began to sprinkle her carrots.
John didn’t have a rainwater tank system. He didn’t believe in them. He paid good money for clean drinking water so why couldn’t he pour it on his garden? Then he winced at the memory of the stinging fine he had to pay to the High Wycombe Magistrate after his last attempt. Pah! He should be free to do what he likes! “It is MY garden!” he thought. Darn busybodies.
Time to make busy… John started to add the first coat of white-wash to his home’s exterior. This should keep it cooler in summer by reflecting the sun. He might have preferred a good old-fashioned air-conditioning unit but the cost of running it was quite beyond his means.
As the day wore on John slowly worked his way around his home. He broke into a sweat. His wife Janet had passed on a few years before. She would have laughed at him. She had always been more forward-looking than John. She was the one who persuaded him to switch the home-heating to biogas. It seemed sensible and was a lot cheaper than mineral gas. However he prided himself in being the last home-owner on his street to stop using fossil fuels. But that was in 2081. There hadn’t been a drop of petrol for the car since 2059 when the last petrol station was closed – but still the old hybrid sat in the garage. Yup, John was the last man around here with an internal combustion engine. Janet had told him to get rid of it. But he told her it was a “classic”. Women? They never understand these things.
After-all, where can you see a classic like that anymore? He thought about going to the chemists for a pack of petrol just to get the old girl going again. But it would only be that cheap petrol-substitute stuff. You know – the stuff made of seaweed or algae or something. Not the same thing at all. Yeah, so you can run the military jets on it but it just wasn’t the same. It just didn’t smell right. Of course Jack and Jill’s Dad had partial share of one of those new hydrogen cars. Huh. Boy were they expensive! No wonder he couldn’t afford to own it. Just a share, just a partial lease. They take it out at weekends when a slot comes available. But they don’t go far, maybe up to Didcot to a picnic under the wind turbines, or maybe over to Stokenchurch for a walk in the woods. Most of the time it they got around by foot, scooter or bio-bus.
How could these kids image the delight of tearing a strip off the M40 Motorway in his beloved hybrid? THAT was living. Life in the fast lane. 80 miles an hour! You could really feel the wind in your hair. And what happened to the M40? He had heard it had been reduced to a dual-carriageway. Janet would not have believed it! They had got used to the endless line of wind turbines along its length but who would have thought that a Motorway might be obsolete? Unimaginable.
John finished the last lick of paint just as Jack & Jill’s Dad returned from work on his electric scooter. Pah! Thought John. He only works two miles away at the new EWallet-phone factory. In John’s day stuff like that was made where it should be. In China. What the heck were we doing making things like that? John’s career had been spent in Banking – a proper job. All day with your beloved tablet shifting money around and creating reports. THAT made sense. None of this manufacturing-makarky. You could create real wealth with a deft move in the right electronic ledger. Of course his business was forced into dealing with the Swan currency pretty much from the point the John joined the Bank after university. He was used to that.
But making EWallet-phones!? Pah! It wasn’t even as if these EWallet-phones were cheap either. And if they went wrong you couldn’t just chuck them in the bin. NO! They had to go to the repair centre in Loudwater. Pah! These days it’s all “recycle” this and “recycle” that. John seriously doubted if Jack and Jill had ever had real toilet paper….
John took his ladder down and gently balanced it back on his car roof. The last car on the street. The last car - in the last garage – on the last non-white house. But now it was white too. But John knew the real meaning of progress. This wasn’t the retirement he was planning for all those years. No foreign holidays. No strawberries in December, no Sterling in the savings account. Kids today – they don’t know they’re born. Surely there must have been a better way than this? Now the entire street looked like it belonged in the Mediterranean.
John slowly pulled down the garage door only to find Jack and Jill at the end of his driveway staring at him. “Finally painted your house then John?” asked Jill. He nodded and said “You going to Totnes then Jill?”. She giggled in the affirmative before inviting him for dinner (again). He wished her good luck, declined the offer and went indoors. Nice kids. So happy. So happy they don’t know how poor they are. John closed the door then stood pondering. The neighbours had always invited him over for supper. Today was no different. They had some good looking vegetables growing and he could smell the home-cooking already. John never grew his own food. Growing stuff was for poor farmers. Mind you, did you ever see a poor farmer these days? Maybe there was something to that.
So, after the longest pause, he reached for his jacket, picked up his keys and closed the door behind him. It was just a short walk to his neighbour’s home. As he pressed the doorbell he knew the smiles that would greet him. Nice people. Salt of the earth. Why had he waited so long? Maybe life in this community wasn’t so bad afterall. Now all the homes were white. He could ask them about that rainwater system. He smiled. He had forgotten those simple pleasures since Janet had gone. So, maybe, just maybe. Things could be better.