The good life

AS a youngster I lived in a remote village of nearly 600 souls.

Almost all of the villagers needs were met by one small store the size of a living room; it provided for passing trade too. I don’t ever recall a sense of being deprived of anything. How well we lived without much of what we consider today to be life’s necessities. Few had a car; a bicycle did fine, the bus passed through twice a week on its way to the nearest market town ten miles distant.

We were more independent back then. Mother knitted or sewed much of our clothing; she repaired it too. Footwear and clothes lasted longer and was passed down from sibling to sibling. Much of what we ate was grown in our kitchen gardens; locally produced chickens, rabbits and other livestock filled our tables. Dad was a dab hand when it came to enticing the local river’s ducks to their destiny with fate.

What we ate was home-cooked on an open fire or gas ring. Even our village school had its own vegetable and fruit gardens. I am surprised the shop did any business at all. Nowadays we are dependent upon daily visits to vast supermarkets of which 90 percent of our ‘essentials’ were unheard of a generation ago. Most of our possessions were British made; now they’re Chinese mad.

There was no debt as such although on occasion something would be bought ‘on tick’ and settled within an hour of the breadwinner’s arrival. Father’s wage sufficed. Mothers had enough to do, managing the house and bringing up the kids. I can’t recall any of my mates mothers working other than as mums.

Heating was provided by a fire that burned locally cut logs; the bed was warmed in winter by a hot water bottle. Light was provided by paraffin lamps. A bath was a zinc bath in front of the fire; sheer luxury.

For millions of Americans the Great Depression of the 30s passed unnoticed. These were the village communities that, like my own, were self sufficient. I wonder how today’s generation will cope in the event of real economic austerity.

Entertainment was home-grown too and we had four seasons back then. The summers were long, hot and humid; they were perfect for sitting on the bridge parapets and late night playing; flirting with the girls. My first unforgettable crushes were with fresh-faced girls in simple cotton dresses. Sex was a little coy kissing; otherwise girls were different only inasmuch as they thought bird egg collecting cruel.

Autumn was for berry picking and helping the local landowner flush the pheasants at the shoot. In the winter we skated, made sleds and cavorted endlessly. When darkness closed there were board games not bored games.

There was bartering too. My stepfather, a joiner carpenter, would make things for other villagers and often return not with money but with payment in kind. Televisions were unheard of and radio offered a choice of four stations. There was great excitement when we listened to a different type of crackling; Radio Luxembourg. We had no idea where Luxembourg was.

I suppose it was different for the townies with their cinemas and regular bus service; trips to the seaside and occasional visiting circus but both had their advantages; we wanted for very little.

Will austerity turn the clocks back so that families learn how to be self sufficient, to value life as it comes as nature intended? A popular television chronicled the sense of fulfilment by Tom and Barbara who opted out of modern life to set up a self-sufficient lifestyle. Yes, the good life was an apt title.

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