Why do we choose to live where we live? This begs the question of whether we can always have so much control over our lives. People may try to attribute their choices to external factors, such as economics or their family; the first because price is a significant issue; the second because that’s what families are for.
But if we examine these ideas we may see some cracks appearing. Let’s start with economics.
Renting or buying a home is clearly constrained by the amount of money available to us. I cannot afford to live in certain places no matter what I do. Yet people are endlessly creative about finding ways to live where (or near to where) they choose. Examples might include sharing with friends, or strangers; renting a spare room in a family’s house; getting a caravan in Mum and Dad’s garden; finding a job with accommodation included; defrauding the system. I’m sure there are plenty of others.My point is that when we are sufficiently motivated we find ways to get what we want.
Similarly, being near family is, deep down, a choice. Some people emigrate and others never leave home. In both scenarios, the justification can be “the family”. I don’t really believe that family circumstances are of themselves a deciding factor, more a justification – although I do recognise that if anyone knows how to manipulate you, it’s your family. So I’m sure there are a lot of miserable people who decided it wasn’t worth the fight/guilt. In the end, then, I propose that we live where we choose, even if recognising the choices we make is a major challenge.
All of the above leads me to look at why I chose to live where I do. So far in this nascent masterpiece I have presented a lifestyle choice of dodgy broadband and third world transport systems against the undeniably gorgeous but nevertheless ephemeral joy of watching baby swallows learn to fly (and even then I complained about the weather!). So why on earth would I choose to be here? And I do choose it, without a moment’s reservation, with all my heart and soul.
What is the village like? It has around 300 adults on the electoral role, a pub, a church and a chapel, a Village Hall and a theme park with zoo. The residentail site on the theme park is as big again as the entire village, and the number of tourists visiting each year block all the roads, litter the street and vandalise the daffoldils. On the plus side, I know my neighbours well, my children are safe, the air is fresh and the pace of life is human. When I sit in the garden I can hear all the birds singing, as well as livestock on the farms and the gibbons screaming in the zoo (always slightly amusing to explain to visitors). Neighbours can walk in any time. We share cups of tea, food and wine. We run quizzes and barbecues and garden competitions. It’s all terribly mundane and English, and I just love it. My house has been here since the 18th century, and I feel connected to all the previous people who were here. When we decorated we could see the straw caught in the old mortar, and the fingerprints in the hand-made bricks. The fields on the tithe map from 1703 are unchanged today. The church has Saxon foundations, and the village is in the Domesday Book.
Sometimes it has to be said, it feels like we are still living in the 18th century. We are installing central heating as I write; until now all our heating was from open fires downstairs; we used electric heaters upstairs because we are not as tough as our predecessors (or to put it another way, we don’t have to put up with being so cold).
In some ways life is harder. The local shops, businesses and school are long gone. We have a post office available twice a week and the mobile library once every 3 weeks. Tuesday night we get the fish and chips van. A hundred years ago there were shops and services (eg a tailor, a blacksmith) all here; but now we all drive everywhere or get supermarket deliveries, so no need for local services any more. In fact the Internet is a wonderful thing for us, and many people use it extensively to order groceries, books, holidays and to socilise. Possibly they even write blogs.
Ask a neighbour about this place and you will hear a different village described. We see most clearly the things that matter to us the most. In reality what I have told you about is not my village but myself; my wish to live quietly, in community and grounded in place and time.