Although a small town in terms of population, and renowned for its pretty colleges, Oxford is a surprisingly gritty, urban town once you get under its skin. We were living right on the Cowley Road, with its kebab houses, music venues, sex shops and student pub crawls, so it felt pretty much identical to, say Ladbroke Grove or Brick Lane at street level.
I loved the cosmopolitain edginess of East Oxford and am sorry to say I even liked it when it went all hipster and gentrified. I was, after all, a city girl. Cities were fundamentally places where people could be themselves. They were exciting, vibrant and culturally rich spaces where people from all around the world could come together and enjoy the pure excitement of living.
Having grown up in a rural environment and indeed having fled this said environment aged 18, I never thought I’d return to the countryside. I remember as a teenager longing for escape from small towns and small town people with their tiny horizons and inconsequential lives. My urban travels included living and working in Edinburgh, London, Calais, Berlin and Oxford.
But then, on a whim, my husband and I decided to move to the countryside. There was not really any grand plan. At all. We just kind of got bored of the Cowley Road and wanted to maybe get a bigger house and maybe have kids someday and maybe Bristol was cooler than London these days, anyway, so why not look at Somerset?
Six months later and here we are: Deepest Mid Devon. In a beautiful old house with an enormous garden. We’re on the edge of a little village with one shop, one pub and two buses a day to Exeter. But I can’t say we have regretted it for one second.
It’s like a weird mental cleansing to be here. Literally everything and everyone I care(d) about is gone. It’s like a dream, but in reverse. It’s like waking up and seeing reality as it for the first time. Being here has peeled away the layers of mental sediment which have accrued over time. Old cultures, beliefs, education, habits, prejudices, expectations, hopes, fears, certainties, familiarities and routines are gone. There is only the vast, untamed wilderness of Dartmoor, the activities of foxes, squirrels, herons and pheasants (all passing through my back garden) and the everyday, basic needs of keeping warm and gathering food.
I watched a film about Permaculture the other day. In it, a man said that you can never feel depressed in nature. Nature is eternally optimistic. Mushrooms send out billions of spores, flowers and trees pollinate, creepers creep, trees stretch and salmon leap. They have limitless hope.
He said that you can never feel depressed in nature because you have reached rock bottom. The earth – mother nature – is the ground, the solid foundation, there can be no let downs or disappointments here. The only way is up. And the only way to live is to simply be.
I used to write blogs about politics and cultural theory and digital society when I lived in the city. Now, I’m afraid this blog is going to turn into a combination of country lifestyle tips and folksy new age ramblings. Sorry about that.
A new ice-cream parlour has opened opposite my house and it’s a bit grim. It’s a chain, apparently: Basingstoke, Plymouth, Oxford… There’s nothing wrong with the place, really. It’s just the branding: The name, the signage, the pink and black and red and white interior.
The owners are clearly ignorant of the rules of the game. The rules are: A bit hipster, Scandinavia-meets-Pacific-North-West, wooden tables, exposed brick, white tiles, beards, tattoos… It’s not that difficult. Even fucking KFC has started doing it now. It’s in the marquee in British Bake Off, for fuck’s sake.
Now I’m all for originality and I have as big an aversion to that nebulous group we call hipsters as anyone, but let’s be realistic. We are living in an age with a new, weird kind of fascism: The homogeneity of global, urban consumer taste is all-pervading and to open a shop with a pink and black interior is to advertise your “otherness”, or at least your cluelessness, to the urban customers you wish to entice.
I’m not sure exactly when it set in, but somewhere in this millennium, everybody started thinking alike. The subcultures which had previously defined young people and kept them apart from their elders subsided. Vintage clothing further blurred the generational gaps. Here’s a disturbing fact: A 16-year-old’s record collection now contains 40% of the same tracks as a 60-year-old’s.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the scale, the last of the proper grannies died: Those ladies who wore nylon dresses, ate salad cream and disapproved of ‘living in sin’ and ‘the gays’ were no more. In a recent EU survey, 99% of Britons said they wouldn’t mind if a gay couple moved in next door. Europe-wide, this figure is well over 90%.
In urban areas in the Global South, western liberal values like gay rights, marriage for love and women’s rights are in the ascendency, thus breaking down the cultural peculiarities which made the world a much more diverse place twenty or even ten years ago. Meanwhile, global super-brands from Apple to Beyonce stalk the earth for new markets, sucking more and more consumers inexorably into their crowd-pleasing thrall.
In the age of big data, governments and corporations are increasingly able to design according to the wishes or predispositions of the crowd. “Crowdshaping” involves using personal data drawn from the people inside a defined physical area to shape and reshape their experience. For example, town planners make traffic lights which change according to real time traffic data, or DJs play songs taken from the audience’s home computer playlists.
Which is to say that the present and future of our society is a tyranny of the majority. It is a society where we are closely monitored, and everybody thinks and acts alike. Meanwhile, Germany dominates Europe economically and Scandinavian aesthetics rules culturally. Sounds rather like the Third Reich. But with hipsters.
Which kind of makes me want to hang out in the ice-cream shop just on principle. But I bet they don’t even have fucking WIFI.
I have no idea what went on in the minds of the advertising creatives who, in 1973, decided that the best way to market tea was to invent a group of quasi-gnomes from Keithley. And why have Tetley kept doggedly re-booting these whippet-bothering bores over a forty year timespan? “The Tetley Tea Folks are back”… “Collect all seven tea folks” … “That’s better, that’s Tetley” … Superhero Teafolks … Medieval Teafolks …
Let’s compare the competitors:
The PG Tips monkey is awesome.
The Churchill dog is funny and reminiscent of a popular historical figure who won a war.
That Russian meerkat is cute and has an even cuter baby meerkat. Nailed it.
As for the sexy Cadbury’s Caramel bunny…
So, now the tea folk are back (again) with a completely superfluous superhero rebooting:
What with tea being one of the biggest growth areas in the food and drink industry at the moment, Tetley are keen to cash in. But the growth in tea is all about diversification and choice. Which might be what is so jarring about the Tea Folk.
The food and beverage industry encourages us to decide between decaf monkey-picked single-plantation white tea and detoxing vanilla-scented chai, while the Tetley Tea Folk come from a world where the only choice is “mug or cup, love?”.
Is it because I am so bourgeoise that I cannot abide the Tea Folk? Perhaps their real-ness and Northern-ness throws my own inauthenticity into relief. Do I subconsciously long for the girl I used to be: Northern, authentic, working class?
Do these dwarf-like harbingers of sentimentality remind me that I have betrayed my Yorkshire roots for the glamour of the cosmopolitain elite?
I never delete people on Facebook for holding opinions that are different from mine. As an advocate of free speech, I welcome comments from lunatics, ‘KIPpers and even Tories (Of course, the first two are far from mutually exclusive).
In spite of all that, my Facebook feed around election time reminds me how much I have surrounded myself with woolly, liberal do-gooding pinko space cadets like myself.
To take an arbitrary example, no fewer than 33 of my FB friends “like” the Green Party. Conversely, not a single one of my friends “likes” the Conservative Party.
So, it should have come as no surprise today that my Facebook news feed reads like a Euripidean tragedy. Between gnashing of teeth, pulling of hair and crying into gluten-free yofu muesli, we had:
“I’m so, so sad”
“FUCK YOU ENGLAND”
“I can’t believe it. Devastated.”
Then I realised: We need to stop being unhappy. In every country of the world, including even formerly socialist places like Sweden, corporate control has made politics redundant. What you do or don’t do at the ballot box pales into insignificance compared with what you buy, where you bank and how you spend your time. We still have the power as consumers and (non-)workers to change the world should we wish to.
I voted Green and then went to Tescos on the way home and bought bacon and used their free plastic bags. That makes me as deluded and confused as the working class people who vote for ultra-capitalist UKIP.
Similarly, those people who are moaning about the election results, yet continuing to work for global companies whilst taking out credit cards and loans to buy shit they don’t need that’s been made in sweatshops from conflict minerals by third world slaves are just as hypocritical as me.
On a global scale, we are the 1%. We blame the Tories, but don’t realise that it is us, yes you and me who are the enemy….
The reason “they” have it all is that we all want what they have. It’s called false consciousness. The only way out of this mess is to create a system with values other than “their” values.
Those who are too chicken shit to consider a sustainable, anti-growth economic model may as well just quit moaning and get out there and make some money.
Liked this? Now read: Whatever happened to the leisure society?
So, the latest figures show that Oxford has again received the dubious accolade of being the most expensive city in the UK to buy a house.
Anna White’s daily Telegraph article here more or less sums it up.
It has occurred to me that one of the primary reason of this statistic is that wages in academia are in free fall, with so much work being done by junior academics and Post-Grads.
The article I wrote on the subject gives a pretty decent overview/explanation for those interested: