My friend Fran came back from South Korea where she’d been pretending to be a human slinky for an audience of hugely impressed Korean business people, and told me about a man she’d sat next to on the plane. He’d quite calmly told her that our unsustainable Western way of life was coming to an end, that it was only matter of time before revolution occurred, everything was turned upside down, and we all ended up living from the land.
We were waking up really early in a twin room of a cottage in Newbury, and from my floral duveted single beds I said quite a lot of things like, ‘well that’s not really very plausible, is it?’ and from hers Fran said quite a lot of things like ‘in the long term I really see myself as a bio-diverse farmer’. After a bit we had to get up, so Fran went off to look at the cows and breathe deeply in the morning air, which is the sort of thing she does, and I pissed about a bit on my Iphone, which is the sort of thing I do.
But I did still think about it, as I tried to get past Stage 2, Level 3 of Sonic the Hedgehog (I’m not very good), because although I generally play the cynic to her wide-eyed bio diverse farmer, underneath it all I find her optimism, compassion and faith in the essential values of community and humanity exceptionally inspiring.
Fran does Shamen dancing in Devon, goes swimming naked in the sea in the dead of winter, lives in a spiritual community in Hackney, and would love nothing better than to travel the UK in a camper van busking and singing Yiddish songs. When she was briefly an Evangelist she gave everything she owned away on the street. She’s pretty bloody wonderful.
I am Mrs Crouch End, although I try to pretend I’m not, and I get my organic vegetable box served up once a week on my doorstep. If I can’t see real, delightfully unrestricted cows, I can look at pictures of them. We live in Crouch End because we love the much vaunted ‘villagey feel’ and ‘sense of community’. We have carols in the park with other middle class parents, having a local fishmonger and expensive knitting classes in the luxury wool shop. But I can’t help sometimes wondering if we’ve created the illusion of community for ourselves. I wouldn’t dismiss those things, as I love living around them, am very happy they exist, and have just signed up for six weeks of knitting classes. It’s just that I wonder how much of that is close to what a real community can achieve, and whether or not we’d all just eat each other alive if the organic milk ran out.
In a secular society, what motivation is there to keep on being honest when things get really difficult? As our finances are generally withstanding the recession currently, we’re buying more locks for our back door as burglaries on our road happen daily, splashing out on more expensive train tickets to avoid the chronic overcrowding, and retreating more and more into consumerism as a way of protecting ourselves from the increasingly chilly old world.
A taxi driver last night told me that he watched someone steal two hundred quid’s worth of petrol from a garage when he was filling up his cab. He went up to the till and asked if they were going to call the police. ‘No,’ said the cashier. ‘What’s the point? What are you? Pump 12? That’s £35 please’. He told me he felt completely despairing about his honesty. Is there anything more depressing than that?
As things slip further and further out of control, cuts slash through the fabric of society and injustice is quite clearly utterly rife, self-protection becomes the most tempting option. Fran hasn’t set up her beautiful rural farming idyll yet, and my flat in Crouch End is pretty cosy, and we’ve just had shutters put on the back doors, and I’ve always really wanted shutters. So I mostly tell her she’s being a bit naive, and that sadly this is how the world works, and that there must be other more moderate ways to combat consumerism than to only eat what you plant yourself. But while I can usually break her down with thirty eight reasons why something is bullshit, when it comes down to it she’s the only person I know who would go to Iraq as a human shield, and not really be afraid. And you can’t knock that.