Tuesday, 24 January 2012

How to be Free - Get out of the City

I’ve mentioned Tom Hodgkinson on here before.  He’s the editor of The Idler, and has written books “How to Be Idle”, “How to be Free” and “The Idle Parent”.  I love the principles expressed in “How to be Free” (though not all the ideas in the book), and while I don’t agree with the term Idle I think The Idle Parent is a must-read and describes well how I was brought up and how I wish to bring up my own children.

I’m writing a series of blog posts exploring these two books, and the ideas contained in them further, in the hope that this will help me to explore further the principles behind my own way of living and parenting.
How to Be Free

Chapter 5 - Get out of the city – RENT AN ALLOTMENT

Ever since cities have existed, there has existed, like an equal and opposite attraction, the dream of escaping from them and living in the countryside.  It isn’t all it’s cracked up to be though; the dream of rural communities looking out for one another and being a communal, supportive and friendly place to be is in reality few and far between and has to be made rather than hoped for.  In truth many rural “idylls” are full of empty holiday homes for much of the year.  Little local employment (farms don’t need lots of employees) mean that the residents are often retirees, meaning that local schools and services are closing down, or commuters, in which case they shop on their way home from work, and local shops are closing down.  In order to live the GOOD LIFE out there in rural back-of-beyond you really need support and society.  Otherwise, unless you possess hermit-like qualities, you’ll be hot-footing it back to the busy anonymity and easy services of the urban sprawl faster than you can say “live the dream”.

There are of course, many positives about city living.  The main one is the diversity.  You can pretty much do what you like and find somebody who likes the same thing, whether it’s Dungeons and Dragons, Bridge or dinner parties.  Whether you’re a Trekkie, a climber or a punk.  The choice is yours.  You can go out at two in the morning and find somewhere that sells bread and milk, not to mention a curry or pizza.  You can pop out to the theatre, find public transport within easy reach and at all times of day, have a choice of cinemas and restaurants, shops for anything and everything.  All these things of course require you to spend, and therefore earn money… but at least they are there if you want them.  There’s no doubt that a rural life makes it easier to spend less  money, as temptation is a considerable car or bus ride away!

Can you combine both?  Can you spend part of your time in the city and part in the countryside?  Can you live in a small city and make the best of it?  Aim for partial sustainability, or a bash at a more permaculture lifestyle.  Do what you can with what you have to bring the countryside to wherever you happen to be.  You don’t have to leave the city to escape city life.

How does this concept match up with the Ink Spots and Grass Stains life?

I think I’m already working my way along this route.  We don’t live the Good Life on a small-holding or croft.  But within the boundaries of my time and creativity I am trying to grow more of my own fruit and vegetables, make more things myself and buy less.  Yes, we use the city.  Yes, we still shop in the supermarket (for now!).  Yes, we still buy most of our clothes.  But we are working our way along the spectrum at a pace that we can manage.  Also, I’m doing my best to build that idyllic rural community here in our village (more on our community Jubilee celebrations tomorrow!).

Tom and Barbara were well ahead of their time, and definitely my heroes!


  1. Hi Mel, have been following your blog for ages (ever since I knew you had one!) you've helped to inspire me to start my own.... hope you don't mind, but i've posted about your blog and added you to me list of fav ones to follow..
    love keeping up to date with what you're up to...all the best from here in exmouth - sue burton

  2. Thank you so much! My ramblings can be a bit on the random side, and I'm afraid I don't get done, and therefore blog about, half the things that I intend to. Have just found your blog - love it! I have a friend up from Exmouth this coming weekend, and then am down with family in Teignmouth the following weekend - haven't been down since last July - terrible daughter/sister/auntie/niece/granddaughter!