It's been a bit quiet around here lately. I am back at the homestead, eating my mother's roast beef and apple crumble, and life seems be very slow and blogging, or almost anything connected with the outside world, seems like a great effort and not to matter anyway. It always happens.
To round off the story of the walking, last Friday we went from the beach at Plentzia to Las Arenas, where the river of Bilbao reaches the sea, and where I used to live many years ago. We swam there on another fine beach I often used to use, had a look around at some old haunts- it hadn't changed very much, only the names of the shops- and caught a plane to England.
Everything moves at a different pace here. I like my fellow-countrymen but I sometimes find them hard to understand. The way they accept pointless, repressive and cumbersome regulations is extraordinary. The council only collects rubbish once a week, insists that highly detailed and time-consuming rules are followed in the presentation of that rubbish, won't touch a large number of things at all, and won't allow you simply to bag it all up yourself and sling it on the tip. Then they wonder why there's an increase in fly-tipping. Clue- it's because you won't do the job you're paid for and people don't like having food rotting by their back door for a week.
At the airport people just accept that air travel must be uncomfortable and tedious. If you want to fly cheaply you have to sacrifice some things, certainly, but much of the inconvenience, and it can be very serious inconvenience, is manufactured by bureaucrats, not an artifact of the desire for cheapness. Having to arrive hours in advance, the security circus which is more irritating and farcical every time I travel, the endless queues, standing up, pressed against sweaty bodies and listening to screaming brats, the border controls, both entering and leaving, where three different people wanted to see my passport and three others my boarding card, meaning that you either have to grow an extra pair of arms or juggle all the way through the departure area. The passport checks on entering Britain, with far too few people making a hugely self-important show of checking every detail and ordering people about- stand behind the line, don't come forward until I call you, take your passport out its case, wait, I haven't finished yet. I imagine the border agency types are failed wouldbe policemen with chips on their shoulders, but why do we put up with it? And it isn't to stop terrorists entering the country, which might be a form of justification, because it doesn't, not even the checking itself, and certainly not the bossiness.
We need to challenge more the rules that state employees impose on us. Not just the petty ones whose sole purpose is to make them feel they are in charge of the situation, but all of them. If part or all of a publicly owned building is closed to the public that owns it, we should ask why. If some regulation is mandated in a public place we should ask why. If we are asked to provide information or told we can't do something we should ask why. In many cases there may be good reasons for such regulations but we should be ready to make certain that they are justified, and to make the specific individual who is trying to give us orders articulate and defend the reason for the imposition/regulation/demand.
The British respect the law, any law, because the law was once worthy of respect. Now, many laws aren't, yet we follow blindly an instinct that belongs to another age.
We went to a car boot sale the other day. For the uninitiated, this involves a hundred odd people in a field offering for sale all kinds of objects, from broken sixties table lamps that were naff before they even left the creator's mind, to 19th C military medals struck in silver, passing through second hand books, old cameras and candlesticks, spare wheels with burst tyres, very used dolls, and unidentifiable things that someone just pulled out of their auntie's attic. And food and drink as well.
A farmer rents a field to the organizers, they arrange to charge the sellers a fee, and a small parking fee to the buyers, they direct traffic, provide toilets and first aid, people buy and sell things that some want to have and others want to get rid of. People interact with complete freedom, in an organized, calm and quite enjoyable way, and their is not a regulation anywhere. It is quite amazing that councils have allowed these events to continue for so long without trying to tell people how they must buy and sell, what information they must provide to the buyer about the product, what data the buyer must provide to the seller on purchase- date of birth, credit card number, email, the usual thing- and without trying to recover VAT on every old postcard and grimy Age of Aquarius lampshade bought and sold.
It offers a little hope for freedom in the modern world. You cannot make a phone call without someone potentially knowing who you are and who you're talking to; you can't walk down a street without a camera tracking your every move, but you can, in these places, acquire things you want without having to justify your existence to anybody. Long may it last. I bought a 1940's cine camera in perfect condition and the original leather case for a tenner. In a junk shop,m let alone an antique shop, it would have cost five times that. There was a pervasive smell of fried onions and chocolate ice-cream. People were, for once, doing what they felt like, unselfconsciously and naturally.
A friend of mine was complaining last night that a developer has bought the rather attractive Priory in the village we both used to play cricket in and wants to build houses in the grounds. The village is up in arms and wants it stopped. I pointed out that, although planning laws are probably very much on their side, they don't own the Priory and it shouldn't be up to them what happens to it. I suggested that if they want to decide what happens to the Priory they should club together and buy it, but that isn't the way things are done these days. The correct procedure for getting other people to do what you think they should do, it seems, is bullying and legal threats. Not very British. Or perhaps. sadly, it is.
If anyone's got this far, congratulations. The sun is coming out again and Hickory is going to try to get to the beach, where I shall meditate on how our democratic freedoms will survive now that the News of the World is no longer holding our masters up to scrutiny.
Denys Johnson-Davies, RIP.
4 hours ago