Bum notes from a small island

So, Bill Bryson at the Hay Festival today:

“One thing that is different, and has changed here, is the self-absorption, not just greed. Everybody is in a hurry now and there is a ‘the rules don’t apply to me’ sort of thing. When I first came to Britain it really was all about fair play and queuing”

Is he right? Possibly.

Of course, mention ‘fair play and queuing’ in relation to the British, and the Times Roman Font almost starts to crack under the weight of it’s cultural baggage.

As quickly as a meerkat on fire you’re instantly in a scene from Dad’s Army with Mr Jones and his bayonet fighting off ol’ Jerry. Street after street of Victorian back to back houses with neighbours leaning over the wall to exchange their curiously shaped vegetables for a bit of shoe polish. Bankers going to work in Bowler hats, and cricket being interrupted for sandwiches.

Today, it’s the 13 year olds with the bayonets. The Victorian back to back houses all have Vauxhalls with bodykits on out the front, and the neighbours wouldn’t talk to each other to let them know their house was on fire. The government keeps telling us on the telly each evening that they don’t eat enough vegetables, curiously shaped or otherwise, and shoe polish doesn’t work on Nike and Adidas pumps. The bankers go to work in Porsches, paid for by the misfortune of others and bankrolled on the debt of an Eastern European country. The cricket still stops for sandwiches mind, so it’s not all changed.

I’m not sure I mind that everyone’s in a hurry. It’s the not looking where your going that saddens me. Afterall, there are people you want to hurry; paramedics, Olympic athletes, emergency plumbers, waiters in noodle bars. But when was the last time you did something that deliberately was time-consuming and thorough? I’ve been decorating a new house, and woodwork is something you have to do slowly and do you know something? My God it’s satisfying to have to work slowly, carefully and intricately to achieve something.

But as we all rush around in our go-faster cars, or our bikes with 15 squillion gears, or in our cushioned-soled Hush Puppies with traction-assist mouldings, we forget to look around us. Walking around Bristol yesterday, down a road I’ve been down hundreds of times, I noticed a historical plaque I’d never noticed before. I had no idea who the chap was who’d lived there, but it felt good that someone had taken the time to tell us about him.

I think he’s on the money with ‘the rules don’t apply to me’ thing though. ‘Please queue here’ means nothing to middle-aged women in shops. Motorists can park on top of little old ladies if they put on their hazards, let alone double yellows. No one has returned an item to a shop with a receipt since 1973, or thanked a Doctor for their time rather than assuming they’ve personally paid to put him through college to make him their personal physician for life. Authority isn’t there to be respected, we made them so we can break them. An Englishman’s home is his castle, but blimey has it got a big moat around it. And that’s not just the MPs.

Our consumerism has become all-consuming. It’s eating away at our communities and lifestyle like a snake eating it’s own tail. Keep on consuming and eventually, with a little pop, we’ll eat ourselves whole.

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