I’ve found a DIAMOND book in the library, The Countryside Ideal by Michael Bunce. It’s basically about the idealisation of rural life in Anglo-American culture. ie: why we idealise the countryside, how we idealise it and the projections and assumptions that we make about life there. It discusses how attitudes toward the countryside are as a result of urbanism and industrialisation.
If the population of Britain’s countryside continues to grow at such an alarming rate (3x the rate of urban environments) and if we continue to aspire to a ‘simple, quiet’ life in the country, it’s not going to be too long until what remains of the rural idyll captured in the national mind’s eye is nothing but a story. A myth left over to tell the grandchildren about. It’s already happening.
I watched this the other day. It featured a village whose history spanned a thousand years, and in the 1930s featured in a movie showcasing it as a rural utopia- the perfect escape for the middle classes. Years on, the programme takes a look at the same village, talking to a farmer whose old cow-shed is now a £700,000 barn conversion and a city-worker whose two-hour commute home at night crosses paths with a local builder who can trace his family back through the village six generations as he returns to town- no longer able to afford to live the picturesque ideal that is his heritage.
I know I’ve already rambled about the genius of Will Self’s The Book of Dave a few times, but I dragged it out yet again to have a look through the maps in the front. Visions of London underwater at an indeterminable point in the future. It’s full of social and cultural references to the present day. Misremembered and misinterpreted scraps of information and tradition that live on in a broken, fragmented kind of way amidst the new, future culture of Ing (England).
Why do we reflect on lost times and ways of life and elevate them as ideals? Why will yesterday always seem better than today? Countless historical sites stage historic reenactments. Kentwell Hall in Suffolk is the first that springs to mind. During the summer months, they employ around 70 full-time Tudors who work the land and run the house as they did in the 1500s. Tales of a lost time, when things were simple, folks worked hard and were happy, and wore silly costumes and spoke silly words.
I remember visiting Kentwell Hall on a school trip when I was really small. Completely overwhelmed with the place, my childhood imagination reveled in the idea that I had actually been transported back in time; that these people were actual Tudors. It was wonderful… until I spotted the strip lighting on the ceiling inside one of the cattle sheds. The boards covering it over had not been replaced properly, and the illusion of my escape into another time was shattered.
In as little as thirty years time, it’s likely what remains of the culture and traditions of the Countryside will have been warped beyond all recognition. After all, its the people that these qualities live through- not a tangible landscape or object. So, in our future attempts to uncover the lost vision of Britain’s countryside what assumptions will we make about it? Will the children of 2050 sit through an granny-style afternoon tea or a Harvest Festival with the same detatched sense of awe that I felt about the ladies churning the butter in Kentwell gardens? Will it be the same? And what form will our idealised communities now take? We’re already stumbling into a future where idealised rural-living is artificial, misplaced and misinterpreted (like this), so what will they look like by then?
God of all things good, Russell Davies had a great idea with his Lyddle End project, where he took the charming railway models of fictional picturesque Lyddle End village and asked artists and designers to remodel them as they’ll look in 2050. I love this idea that the chinese-whisper effect of history will contort the recognised into something alien. Also, read this. Oh, isn’t he so very clever?
So, more stuff to look into. I want to find out more about these funny folks who dress up and relive history in a variety of weird and wonderful ways, and just why they do it. The escapist element is obvious, as is the nostalgic one. But I’m mostly interested in the inaccuracies of what they do. The fuck-ups and faux-pas of the reenactments. Is it the accuracy that matters to them? Or just the illusion that they have- just for a short time- the undesirables of living life today.
If anyone reads this (in my optomism that anyone makes it this far through my rambling) and has any suggestions for reenactment events or venues, or better- knows anyone who likes to get dressed up and have sword-fights I’d love to hear from them. The closest I’ve come to experiencing this was my 18-month flirt with WOW. And I don’t think that quite counts…