(James writes a monthly column for The Gudgeon. Each month, the previous month’s article is archived.)
I’ve had a cold recently and I haven’t been exploring the real world as much as usual. Just hanging around the house drinking lemon and honey and cough medicine. Colds are boring and doing nothing started me thinking about hobbies.
My parents didn’t have any hobbies. They went to work, came home and watched TV. Dad whistled but I don’t think that counts even though it took up a lot of his spare time. Warble, trill, shrill, vibrato, he liked to do it all, all the time, often at the same time. It was like living with R2-D2. My friends’ parents were the same (not the whistling but the no-hobby thing). I didn’t know anybody who had a hobby. And I was the same and so were all my friends. We went to school, came home and watched TV. The whole town was a slumber zone of non-activity. And that got me thinking even more. The whole town was the same.
Hold that thought.
Have you ever noticed how few chain stores there are in Bradford on Avon? There are some but not many. Most of the shops are independent concerns: cakes, vegetables, cheese, coffee, books, dogs, art, gifts, clothes. And there are loads more. That’s a lot of entrepreneurial juice for one small town, don’t you think? And what about all the special interest clubs? If I wanted to take up knitting with fluff, I bet I’d find a local group that’s already doing it. And then there are all the alternative life-style people wearing homemade shoes and dressed in hummus, and the packs of artists and sculptors and writers who haunt the cafés drinking decaf soy lattes with a caramel drizzle. This is a very creative town.
The whole town is the same.
Where I grew up nothing happened outside of work except a localised pocket of whistling. In Bradford on Avon there is a bubbling cauldron of go-getting vim. And consider this: before I came here I sat around and ate biscuits and stared at the wall, now I’m growing vegetables – not on me, I mean in the garden. Admittedly there’s only one cucumber covered in spots and a miniscule butternut squash, but even so. And I’ve also taken up the ukulele. No-one in the history of my family all the way back to Australopithecus Lucy has ever played a musical instrument (no, whistling doesn’t count).
I’ve given this a lot of thought and I’ve come to a shocking conclusion. It’s the government. They’re putting something in the water. I know, it’s unbelievable. But this is what I think happened: at some point in the past, perhaps during the Thatcher years, it looked like we would have to evacuate the planet. I’m hazy on the details but that’s the shape of it. And what they did was create a series of arks, communities with certain specialities, so that when the time came to get going everybody would be organised in the right compartments.
Bradford on Avon is an entrepreneurial and creative ark. The town I grew up in was a TV watching ark. I’m not clear how that would help in colonising a new planet but you have to trust the authorities because they know best. Anyway, that’s what I’ve been thinking about recently. I told Sally and she said I need more fresh air and to stop drinking all the cough medicine. But I’m thinking of setting up a knitting-with-fluff club. I don’t want to but I can’t help myself. Anyone interested?