Whatever shall we do?

Saturday, 24 May 2008

So, it costs eighty pounds to fill up the four-by-four, does it? Oh diddums! Excuse me while I snigger behind my hand. No, it’s not fair to laugh, is it? But you didn’t have to buy a four-by-four, did you? I mean, maybe you do live in Wester Ross or farm in the Cheviots but, let’s face it, if you do you are one of a tiny proportion of the British population. And if you live in the kind of place where most British people live, then come on, you really don’t need an all-terain vehicle, or a minibus, do you? And unless your petrol-guzzler is a genuine antique; a war-surplus Land Rover, say, then you knew damned well when you bought it that the oil wasn’t going to last forever, but you would rush in, wouldn’t you?

I’m sorry, my dears, but the party is now over. What’s that, I hear yoiu cry? You couldn’t manage without your car? Nonsense. Whatever would you do in a real crisis if you took that attitude? All right, you aren’t going to be able to carry on with your current lifestyle but then we’re all going to have to change our lifestyles in the years to come. What? You need the car because living in that nice barn conversion in the picture-postcard rural village (the one from which all traces of agriculture-related industry were banished long ago in the interests of maintaining the thatched-and-ivy-clad cottage by the duck pond fantasy) means that you have to go to Asda to stock up the freezer every week. And the village shop has closed (because it’s not viable because you won’t use it), so the locals in the middle of the engine-room of food production don’t have it available to them either. But that’s all right, because the people who work and need to live in the county can’t afford to because house prices have been driven out of their reach by people like you buying up the housing so they can drive to town in the four-by-four.

It’s not as if you couldn’t see it coming, now, is it? Unless you’ve been burying your head in the sand over the last thirty years while this country squandered the bonanza of North Sea oil and gas on building an illusion of prosperity; one which stressed the social desirability of hedonism, of the successful never having to do anything for themselves because everything was geared to their convenience. It’s not lasted long, has it? Now the rest of the world is waking up. All those people in China, India, Brazil and elsewhere are starting to want a slice of the action, and there just ain’t enough to go round. We’re going to have to be resourceful and I can’t help wondering if we’re up to it any more. Ten years ago, when Hurricane Mitch struck Nicaragua, Bristol’s least glamorous twin town, Puerto Morazan, was a utterly devastated by the floods which left every house under water and destroyed the local shrimp fishing industry. And such was the resourcefulness of these dirt-poor people that not a single life was lost in the town. If a devastating flood came to Bristol, would the people be so resourceful? In Britain we’re lucky, we don’t have major earthquakes, major floods, major droughts, but we can’t cope with the modest crises we do have (look what happened in Hull last year.) And things are going to get a lot less easy in years to come. Are we ready to accommodate change? Or will we be destroyed by our hubris?

For what it’s worth: it’s twelve years this summer since I gave up driving my own car. In the year that followed I drove a borrowed car a couple of times but that was that. I had to change my lifestyle; no more going to Waitrose and filling the car (a modest Renault 5, not a 4×4) with groceries just because I could; no more just going off and driving round Wales for a whole bank holiday just because I could. I learned to buy according to need; to appreciate the independent shop, the farm shop, the street market. I learned to walk where feasible; not to take the car to go round the corner; to be more self-reliant. Now, I feel ready to cope with any deterioration in general circumstances. Are you?

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2 Responses to “Whatever shall we do?”

  1. Alex Says:

    So what about those of us who *do* live in Wester Ross, and use the 4×4 only when we have to? We bought it from savings years ago and will have to keep it until it can’t be economically repaired.

    Our nearest big town is 70 miles away, railway 30 miles away (two trains per day there), even the dentist is 50 miles away.

    For every journey we can, we use a frugal little hatchback, but despite our responsible use of the big ‘un, with very low mileage, we will still have to pay a punitive rate of road tax – to drive it on singularly unmaintained roads!

  2. enitharmon Says:

    Alex, I did hint that those in your position are excused. A 4×4 is a great benefit where you are (beautiful – I’m jealous) but it’s most certainly not in urban, suburban and semi-rural England where they are as common as muck. And, of course, perhaps if there hadn’t been a rush to consume all the oil we could while it was there regardless of whethere it was needed or not, there might not now be a crisis for those who really do need it.

    I feel for you, especially as fuel has never exactly been cheap where you are, but I can’t make there not be an imminent crisis of world-shattering proportions. We are all going to have to make drastic changes – and my point is that it will be far easier for people already used to hardship to adapt than it will for suburbanites who have grown used to easy prosperity.


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