Self-sufficiency? – not sure.

IMG_4517On Christmas Eve I dropped into Christmas mode again and by sheer force of habit by early evening I started to wonder what I wanted to say to my non-existent congregation.  I’d ended up cooking all day  – sourdough bread, morning rolls, gammon, lentil soup, sherry trifle (well it is Christmas), and a game terrine – the pheasants were a gift from an old friend. Madame timed shopping to the last minute and came home with a piece of beef at less than half price with some fish at 1/3 usual price.  It’s a high risk strategy but it works as long as you’re prepared to countenance a thin time for a couple of days. I love this time of year, when everyone makes an effort. Then Afelia for supper with two of the boys home with partners. In fact it turned into a multi-cultural celebration of Christmas Eve because after eating our family favourite Cypriot dish, our son’s Polish girlfriend brought a traditional Polish Christmas dish – pork, sausage, dried mushrooms and sauerkraut. It was delicious.  On Christmas Day we all gathered at son number two’s house with grandchildren and assorted friends for lunch.

But why the pig? We saw this fine animal in the woods at the Lost Gardens of Heligan and I instantly thought of one of my heroes – William Cobbett whose book “Cottage Economy” ought to be required reading for every child. His other book – “Rural Rides” is a wonderful and scabrous portrait of a countryside on the skids.  If you read it, bells will ring in your head, I promise.

This year on the allotment has been more productive than I can remember for years, but I worry a bit when people talk about self-sufficiency because I can’t see how we can claim all of the credit for the success of the season to ourselves.

you may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” (Deuteronomy 8:17)

That’s not a plug for any particular religion, by the way, but it’s a well expressed thought by an ancient writer who sees how dangerous the absence of humility can be.  If thoughts of self-sufficiency encourage anyone to separate themselves from their neighbours or to undervalue the gifts of health, weather and good fortune then it’s a dangerous philosophy. At best, I think, we can share thankfully in the generosity of an earth that’s beyond our understanding and upon which we are completely dependent. If gardening teaches anything it’s vulnerability and dependency. All the horrors of ecological catastophe stem from human pride, and from an extractive mindset that asumes the earth is there simply to obey our will. So no, I don’t care for the kind of “self sufficiency” that encourages foraging wild mushrooms to extinction and I don’t want to separate myself from the rest of humanity.  We’re all part of what Francis Schaeffer called the “glorious ruin” of our nature. So feasting is fine – the pig at the top is having a wonderful time – but the very essence of feasting is that we never deserve it, it is a gift that, like water becomes stagnant and dangerous if we try to dam it up and keep it to ourselves.

Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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