Day 189: Real England

08.07.09:

Well, as predicted, the Micau didn’t leave. Christ, they must be running out of excuses now. Maybe a black cat crossed the path of the captain today, or the boatswain shot an albatross or maybe the chief engineer has grown an improbable pair of boobies? Christ knows!

Today, I discovered a hidden delight, courtesy of the lovely American girl Callie. Her boyfriend runs a great little café a little out from the city centre, which is FULL of English-language books (how I’ve missed them!). I WISH I had known about this place a month ago, it would have saved me hours of tedium stuck in Café Sophia. Callie’s boyfriend, Frazer, is a wonderful chap – he speaks with a deep, deep RP British accent that I would have liked to have bottled and taken with me.

Last night, before he left, Colin generously gave me his copy of the excellent, excellent book ‘Real England’ by Paul Kingsnorth. I can NOT recommend it enough. I stayed up all night reading it from cover to cover. It’s written by a bloke about my age, someone who is dead against the likes of the BNP and all that childish nonsense, but who is concerned with the state-sponsored homogenisation of everyday life creeping over our green and pleasant land like HG Wells’ red vegetation of Mars.

In short, we are more interested in preserving the culture of others that we are of preserving our own – to our eternal shame.

If you’ve been following my blogs since the start, you’ll know that one of my biggest bugbears is the triumph of the faceless, corporate blandification of our planet. I keep banging on about this horrible globalised architecture and commodities I find cropping up everywhere, not because I’m some crazed old fuddy-duddy who just likes to cock a snook at modern life, but because it matters. It matters to our collective wellbeing. We are not automatons, not Vulcans, not a bunch of joyless, emotionless Borgs, desperate to fulfil our days as the gimp of stone-faced economists.

We are losing all the stuff that makes us who we are. Our pubs are being taken over my vacuous chain gangs, our post offices are on their last legs, local councils of the 1960s conspired to destroy the historic centres of every single town and replace them with DISGUSTING concrete shopping malls, while the national government ripped out two-thirds of our railways. BT did a cracking job of removing all the Gilbert-Scott phoneboxes in the 1980s, the much-loved Routemaster bus has been replaced by the much lambasted bendy-buses, the countryside is being bought up by the rich as nothing more than a weekend getaway, leaving much of the rural way of life nothing more than a vacant set of houses clustered around an empty pub.

The triumph of Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s has been to destroy the traditional high street for the sake of convenience. They are also squeezing the few remaining farmers tighter and tighter. When a British supermarket announces a 2-for-1 offer, it is the farmers or producers that foot the bill, NOT the supermarket. Meanwhile, when the words ‘town hall’, ‘library’ or ‘church’ used to mean the grandest building in the area, although you don’t have to be a professor of art history to realise that since we started crawling through the desert of the municipal bland fifty years ago, they now refer to the mealiest, more cost-effective clumps of Vogon-delighting concrete imaginable.

I am not the only one who despairs at the viral-like spread of these ratholes they call ‘bars’ in the UK – not quite a pub and not quite a nightclub, but somewhere in between where you can be guaranteed that there is nowhere to sit, the music is too loud to chat, you have to wear uncomfortable shoes to get in and there’s no air conditioning, or windows, or dance floor, just a moronic DJ giving shout-outs to whatever teenage mongs ask for them – everything callously planned by suits in marketing meetings to ensure that you (the witless consumer) consume as much overpriced alcohol as possible – hence the standing, not talking procedure, while you while away your time (and more, importantly, your cash) in a ubiquitous, hellish, sweaty wood and chrome capsule of mediocrity. They treat us like cattle and we pay them for the privilege.

To my eternal shame, I did not realise until I read ‘Real England’ that the Paradise Project (in my home town of Liverpool) annexed an entire third of our city centre on behalf of the third richest man in the UK. Nobody said anything about it. In short, they are not our streets anymore. Paradise is now owned by a bloke – a private individual. The council have given him the freehold of the STREETS – not just the buildings – for the next 250 years. Which means, that a large chunk of our city centre is now private property patrolled by private security guards. Great! I guess that’s somebody else’s vision of paradise, because it certainly isn’t mine.

And what happens when people stand up have a go at the directionless direction we are headed? We are told that we are ‘against change’. Like change is the be-all and end-all. Like things have to be different in the future no matter what, no matter that a good idea (sewers, chess, football) is a GOOD IDEA – timeless. Pitched roofs are a good idea, they have been for thousands of years, until the modernists turned up, declared that things must be changed and introduced flat roofs to some of the wettest countries in the world. A stupid, stupid concept that has resulted in thousands of buildings all over the UK having roofs that leak. And they always will. If you want a flat roof, come live in Cape Verde. It only rains for three days a year.

Yes, there is such a thing as progress and I’m not against that, but change for the sake of change is just dumb. Why must every generation believe it is the first to invent everything – sex, drugs, rock n’ roll? We need to learn from the past and steal all the best bits, not just ignore it on the grounds that we’re the cleverest cleverclogs that ever walked the Earth. We need to wean ourselves off this utter ridiculous obsession with wealth and convenience. We should not be busting a gut to ensure that Tesco’s shareholders can buy themselves yet another holiday home in the Algarve, we should be busting a gut to ensure we are happy, our family is happy, our friends are happy and our communities (remember them?) are happy. We should be supporting our shop keepers, our local producers, our local pubs and cinemas. We should but we don’t. The only things we’re keeping happy at the moment are the vast corporations – the Nikes, De Beers, Apples and Wal-Marts of this world. They don’t need to be kept happy, they do not have a heart and they will never experience a long dark, tea-time of the soul.

Over 10,000,000 people in England take anti-depressants. We are not a bunch of Sunny Jims. Why not? We’re the fifth biggest economy in the world, aren’t we? We can buy all the DVDs, MP3s, PS3s we want, and then some. We can all watch ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ on a Saturday night, drink a cold beer and be sure that we will not catch Cholera from the water supply. There are no starving people, we are exceedingly healthy, there is no war and the crime rate is very low. It doesn’t seem to add up does it? Shouldn’t Wealth = Happiness? Isn’t that what we’re always told? Won’t all our troubles be over once we win the lottery?

The old motto of the United States (before they decided that this ‘God’ fella was trustworthy (ha!) – but that’s another story) was Life, Liberty and The Pursuit of Happiness. A brilliant motto from a more civilised time. Isn’t that what we all want? Isn’t that what really matters? To be healthy, free and content? Apparently not, our governments (left or right, it doesn’t matter) emphatically do not compete on the world stage to have the happiest country in the world, but they do compete to be the richest. That, in practical terms, means squeezing every last penny out of every last ‘consumer’ (that’s us, baby!) and keeping us buried under mountains of debt buying crap we do not actually want or need.

Life is desperately, desperately short and there is much to do. The question is this – on your deathbed, do you want to lie there remembering the things you did or the stuff you bought?

Our government wants it to be the latter, it’s better for the economy. But it’s this obsession with squeezing every last penny out of everything, of those disgusting words – cost effectiveness – that is destroying the very things that make England English – our pubs, our small businesses, our market towns, our canals, railways, our real ale, our apples and our pears. The crazy thing is – when you sit back and look at it – they’re the things that make us happy. And we’re letting them go to the dogs by supporting vast sheds of closely monitored totalitarianism like Bluewater and The Triffid Centre. This is not progress. This is NOT progress.

It’s time to take a stand. I implore you – pick up a copy of Real England. Go down the road and buy your stuff from your local shops. Support your local pubs. It’s not hard! Purchase your fruit and veg that is grown and produced nearby, not stuff that is frozen and shipped halfway across the world. Get involved in your local community. Support it.

Because if we don’t we face the future depicted in Demolition Man – a bland, corporate Disneyland version of the world in which there is no joy, nothing unique, no chance for individual excellence, no chance of escape.

A pig.

In a cage.

On antibiotics.

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.