20 Missions 18: Being Pagan

Mission 18: Being Pagan

A ‘pagan’ is simply someone who lives in the country; a country dweller. With more than half of the people in the UK now living in cities – there is a kind of divide here that has been recognised ever since Aesop’s Fable of ‘The Town Mouse’ and ‘The Country Mouse’.

In the original tale, a proud town mouse visits his cousin in the country. The country mouse offers the city mouse a meal of simple country cuisine, at which the visitor scoffs and invites the country mouse back to the city for a taste of the ‘fine life’ and the two cousins dine like emperors.

But their rich and delicious metropolitan feast is interrupted by a couple of dogs which force the rodent cousins to abandon their meal and scurry to safety. After this, the country mouse decides to return home, preferring security to opulence or, as the 13th-century preacher Odo of Cheriton phrased it, ‘I’d rather gnaw a bean than be gnawed by continual fear’.

Today’s mission then is for you to consider the differences between living ‘in the countryside/ off the countryside’ and ‘living in the city / off the city’. And particularly how your choices as an urban dweller might effect land and people in the countryside.

I presently live in the countryside, in Cornwall UK, a place that is so rurally picturesque that people pay to come on holiday here in the summer. I have to admit it is often beautiful. But there is another side.

The dairy farm opposite starts scraping up cowshit at 5am with noisy tractors destroying the beautiful rural tranquillity throughout the day. The mournful mooing of cows fills the air this time of year as they have their babies routinely stolen. Although it is a small, rural dairy farm supplying a local cheese manufacturer, the farmer is forced to 3 milkings a day to make ends meet. The poor cows, units on a production line, whose lives might span a dozen years naturally, usually last 2 or 3 years at best before slaughter – some of them are so tired by then that they can barely stand up. They are kept permanently pregnant to keep the milk flowing. If they contract TB from the overcrowding they are routinely slaughtered and replaced at taxpayers expense. Neither myself or my partner drink milk any more.

In the town you see none of this. A quick trip to the supermarket to pick up milk is all it takes. No questions asked. You are disconnected with the source of your food supply and you don’t see it. Conveniently sourced and purchased in moments. Along with the bread, the cheese, the bacon, the sausages and so on.

I may cuss the farmers here for their lack of anything approaching land-regeneration, the trimming of hedges so thin that there is no habitat for wild birds, the tilling of fields right to the edge that gives no place for wild creatures, the flushing of farm slurry into the rivers, and I do.

But they are driven to it by your purchase choices at the supermarkets because there is no reasonable markup for them, the producers of your food. Sure there are exceptions like the amazing Guy Singh Watson of Riverford Organic Vegetable boxes who stuck two fingers up at the supermarkets 30 years ago and created his own distribution network. He now distributes over 50,000 vegetable boxes a week.

It may be a sea of mud out here (in Cornwall) in the winter but there is bracingly fresh air, the glory of the ocean, the beauty of silence (sometimes). In the city it is constant noise, filthy air and polluted water. To be fair I do miss some of the culture, the excitement of being ‘down in the tube station at midnight’. But I am most definitely a country mouse.

Here I grow my own food. I cycle everywhere in relative safety (compared with eg biking round Hammersmith Roundabout in the rush hour). I can walk in totally wild woods where nobody goes and visit desolate and empty moorland to find the peacefulness that transcends time. I love the wild hedgerows, the foraging, the feeling of being one with nature. But its your choices that determine whether nature remains. So please ‘bumpkin-up’ and think really carefully about your purchases in the towns and cities and how they affect nature out here.

I have lived in London though. Five years in a penthouse flat in Notting Hill was an experience I am most grateful for and saves me from being entirely parochial. The opportunities in London seemed endless, the culture most stimulating. But given even the wonderful parks, the connection to nature was hard for me to find. I am happy to be bumpkin.

There is a rather snobby position that many town mice like to take. The superiority of being a city dweller, away from the mud, the relative stupidity of ignorant oiks whose only culture seems to reside in the yoghurt they provide, poor things. Oh how the city mice like to feel superior to their country cousins. But just remember who is feeding you OK? The further you live from nature, the harder it will hit when our exploitative culture inevitably hits the wall.