Last night turned into a bit of a lost cause, I’m afraid. I was angry at the unfolding election results, the people in the flat upstairs had their television turned up loud so I couldn’t get away from the mindless excitement of the commentators who seemed emotionally detached from the harm being caused, because they had framed the election as a heavyweight boxing match. So I got up and made bread – an everyday sourdough and some soft rolls for the morning.
I can’t sleep when I’m angry and one strategy is to get dressed and wander the streets – it was easy in our previous place, but much dodgier here – the burger bar at the back is open until 3.00am and has more than its share of angry confrontations. The other is to cook, which in many ways is more successful because it’s active and there’s always something positive at the end. So a sourdough loaf proving on the stove and ten morning rolls represented the positive transformation of venom into breakfast – an almost alchemical feat which left me a lot calmer.
But we were both very tired and needed some fresh air in the morning and so we drove over Dyrham Park for a walk around the boundary. The wind was roaring in from the west but it felt as if it had come straight off the Russian steppes. Within minutes we were shriven with the cold and we walked quickly to keep warm. A large flock of roe deer kept a wary eye on us as we walked the ridge in the full force of the wind but then we dropped down into the more sheltered valley and thereafter we had the wind in our backs. An occasional breach in the clouds allowed the sun to drench the bare beech trees in intense light , illuminating this year’s new wood and next year’s buds as a reddish brown halo around them. Underfoot many of the perennials were pushing out rosettes of leaves – winter is anything but static. Overhead the rooks and crows were making the most of the wind, tumbling down like black leaves and rising again in the wind, playing, like the buzzard cruising the fields below. Immediately overhead two gliders found the updraught and circled in complete silence. There were a few other walkers around but apart from a brief greeting there was no will to stand and talk. Yesterday’s rain had drenched the ground and there were deep puddles to be negotiated.
The walk did its own healing and we drove home in a reflective mood. I’d been fascinated by the fallen tree and its surprisingly shallow and small root ball. The park seems to have a policy of leaving a good deal of dead timber lying around – which must be a boon to the invertebrates. Later the boys phoned, one by one, having gone through exactly the same emotional journey as we had. Our teacher son said that these days when angry parents ask why their child is being taught by a supply teacher he replies – “didn’t you know there’s been a recruitment crisis in schools for the past ten years?” But these middle class parents often have no contact with the real world. They’re young and fit and well paid and so they never come into contact with the world of frozen benefits and deprivation and don’t yet need social care or the NHS. It’s a failure of the imagination compounded with complacency that provides ideological cover for the government. What people don’t seem to fully appreciate is that the air we breathe and the water we drink; the food and the environmental matrix of our wellbeing is not defined by wealth and social class it’s something we all depend upon and which should bind us together in concern.
What can we do? Well it’s nothing like sufficient, but paying attention to our own use of the earth is a vital first step towards changing perspectives. Just putting a sign over the taps marked “To the earth” would be a salutary reminder that the chemicals we dump down the sink will be back in our drinking water before very long. So paying attention to our own lifestyle, doing a bit of volunteering for a charity and not instinctively interpreting our neighbour’s new six litre pickup truck as a classy move would all make a contribution. When winter comes and the future looks bleak, it’s best to wrap up warm, keep busy and look for the signs of spring – because the personal really is political.