Tuesday 12 January 2010

How to raise goats in the countryside

It seems to me, there is a strange and somewhat contradictory trend about the place. It's been around a while (well, probably since the 1960s) but has picked up the kind of momentum in the past 2 years that has shifted it from the margins of society, into mainstream culture. I'm talking about the yearning for a simple life, away from the toxins and stress of the city. Popular culture is now saturated with organic cooking, hand made crafts, sustainable building techniques and home grown vegetables. We are embracing the notion of taking our time - slow food, slow travel and slow living are broadly accepted concepts. Not that this should be surprising, nor are any of these ideas new. In fact, it's the way things always were before the industrial and agricultural revolutions steamrolled their way over the world and the resulting urbanisation mean most modern populations now live with very little day to day connection with the countryside.

So, this turn back to the rural life can be seen as a long-overdue correction. And an understandable one, as our cities become hugely crowded. Of course, I'm being biased here and am talking about us fortunate souls in the first world. In developing nations nobody longs to be a small farmer; scratching a living out of a small piece of land and hoping the next natural disaster won't ruin your crop and spell disaster for your family. In the western word however, we are free to indulge ourselves in this yearning for the simplicities of rural life, while we rush between home, work, gym, pub, club and cinema, microblogging, tagging and shuffling as we go.

This is the contradiction I'm talking about. It feels like we long for the trappings of simplicity - the food, the clothes, the books, the garden - while never considering the simplification of our mental lives. The modern 20 year old probably has more going on in their brain than a 20 year old did just 5 years ago. I don't mean they are more intelligent than a 20 year old from the past, just that they have more information in their environments. And this, of course, is all down to the internet. Now, I love the internet. If someone cut off my high speed broadband for half a day I would cope, buy only just. And I have no desire to simplify my internet use - the opposite in fact. Every day I discover something new online. I just joined Twitter, for instance - even though I have a Plurk account. I have also just signed up to a new music download service and am practically salivating at the rabbit hole of delights that awaits me next time I log on to this site. I am mentally scheduling which US series to stream over the next week or two: The Wire or Weeds? In short, I am hooked. I will happily spend an hour and a half preparing organic fish pie from scratch, as long as I have my trusty laptop streaming the music I like from Last.fm at the same time. I am the classic example of someone who wants to slow down and simplify my life, but I can't imagine having to give up the thing that keeps me in a state of constant mental flux in the first place.

This is not an internet bashing blog. I mean, how ridiculous would that be? It's pretty much all stream of consciousness. I'm examining these ideas for the first time myself and hopefully you won't find my blatherings too tedious. I definitely think the internet is a tool that has helped me simplify my life in lots of ways. There are so many things I can do online that save me time (internet banking? shopping? duh, SEARCH?) and money (music, movies, tv, shopping, skype). But I find myself guilty of greediness and competitiveness too. I want all the albums I can get for free and I want them now. I need to use five social networking sites, not just one. I need to subscribe to every RSS feed I come across, even though it only makes me feel guilty when I don't actually read the updates. I find myself logging on when I know I should be doing something offline, just to check my Facebook and *poof* an hour later and I'm still commenting on friends' photos and status updates. It makes me lose sleep and steals my time when I know I could be doing more worthwhile things, like hand feeding organic apples to pedigree pigs in the back garden. Or something.

In any case, this blog is about the broader subject of lifestyle change, simplicity and downsizing. I was inspired by the book Enough by John Naish. I'm unemployed at the moment and about a year into a period of soul searching about what to do about my future: get back in the rat race and back to the city; or bite the bullet, move to the countryside and raise a goat? A big part of me wants to do the latter, but a huge part doesn't want to give up the city life and all that goes with it. Mostly I'm scared shitless to bite the bullet.

So, I'm going to write about it instead. And about other things too, maybe.

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