I’ve read a few articles recently about the perils of the modern world that we live in. People permanently leaving London because of the prices and the pressure; people being rejected from jobs for not having an email address; disabled people struggling to make ends meet on ever-diminishing social security benefits – and the list goes on.
There is a kind of flatness, a staleness, a disconcerting cynicism, that seems to be doing the rounds at the moment. It’s almost as if joy and the hope and the beauty have been covered with a brown/grey lens filter, designed to make everything feel drab. Or perhaps people feel as if such a lens filter is being applied, and feel that they have to act accordingly. Whatever the reason, the result is the same – a lowness not borne of a medical diagnosis of depression but stemming from an apparent cultural necessity.
And yet… there is beauty, joy and hope abounding, if you know where to look for it. There is no denying that London is pricing many people out of its bounds forever, or that the vast majority of us panic if the wifi goes down, or that there are many thousands of people out there who are unable to work and even more unable to support themselves on the money they are awarded in benefits. But despite these things there is so much more in this beautiful country of ours to do, to see, to be, and to rely on.
I’m not saying that everyone can leave the city, turn the computer off, get themselves a patch of garden and grow enough spuds and peas and apples to become totally self-sufficient. Such a claim would be insulting to the many whose avenues of escape and avenues of support have already been blocked. But it is possible to make small changes, and with those changes come hope, and hope is the one thing I think people lack more than anything else.
What changes do I mean? Well, if you are lucky enough to own or rent somewhere with some outside space – even a balcony – then use it to it’s full potential. A rhubarb crown in a bucket of manurey compost will provide you with fruit for years, without having to do anything other than water it. And buying parsley seeds and sowing them in compost in several old boots that are long past wearing will be far cheaper and will last far longer than purchasing the herb in pots in the supermarket every time you want parsley sauce for your fish Friday.
And what else? Turn the router off occasionally. I know this is a weird suggestion in an online blog, but if you turn your router off, turn the computer(s) off, and disconnect phones and tablets from the net, you not only start to save electricity, you also have the opportunity to actually sit around as a family and talk to each other. It sounds odd but eating together, laughing together, playing a board game or doing a jigsaw together, lift your spirits in the way that most online support just can’t manage. It’s impossible to do this all the time, especially if you rely on online advice, or if you use a computer for work, but perhaps once a week – say, Saturdays – have an internet-free 24 hours.
And what else? Do you have to have to send that text message? Or would actually using a landline and phoning and having a conversation using your voice, be better? Not only do you hear the tone and emotions in the voice voice rather than just getting cold words on a screen, you also have to stop and sit in order to do it – enabling you to focus on the person you are communicating with, rather than trying to do a dozen things at once. Communication is important – humans are social animals after all – so afford it the concentration and time that it is due.
And what else? In the majority of the UK (heavily congested inner cities may be an exception), if you get up early enough, and are able to get outside just as dawn breaks, you will be able to hear our wonderful dawn chorus. Wherever there are trees and a bit of green space, you will hear birdsong and little else, for that short period after the night is over but before vehicles and people and business gets moving again. Allow the beauty of the natural world to wash over you, albeit briefly. If you can hear them but not see them, close your eyes to the environment around you and immerse yourself in the sounds alone.
Anything else? Well, in the long term, if you are one of the unfortunates stuck in a birdsong-free inner city, where nothing surrounds you except a sea of concrete as bleak as your mood, then it may be time to look bravely away from the familiar and venture outwards. In a lot of the UK, monthly rents on houses are similar to a weekly London rent for a studio flat. And if you are lucky enough to be able either to do distance-working via the internet, or have a practical skill (e.g. plumbing, gardening, care work) that you can offer, then employment will be available.
A price cannot be put on having space, having time, having peace, having health, having a more carefree life than can be afforded in the city. It may be that even if you lose financially, you gain in so many other ways – for example, when I lived in a city I was allergic to dust and dust mites – now, in the country, that allergy has abated completely. And a price cannot be put on dreaming either – so dream the dreams you may have so far not dared to do – the world is a much bigger place than it may appear and hope is just around the corner.