Tom Hodgkinson's Brave Old World of self-sufficiency
Wigtown Book Fair event by founder of The Idler
There is something very likeable about the journalist and publisher Tom Hodgkinson, founder of The Idler magazine who was appearing at the Wigtown Book Festival. He likes to look at life with a fresh eye and question whether we are all going about it in the best way. One of his preoccupations is the need for his generation to find a sort of happiness through tending the land and growing things. This is mainly because it gives those who do, a certain independence in a society where many people feel trapped in work with no sense of power; they and their lifestyle are part of the capitalist commercial machine. This sense of independence is even more important as the incomes of many remain static as the cost of living rises; we seem to be heading into economic and ecological storms. He was talking about these ideas in his new book ‘Brave Old World’, an ironic allusion to the ‘ brave new world ‘that failed to materialise in Shakespeare’s Tempest.
Hodgkinson is actively seeking a life that satisfies the body and the soul. He spends his time not only reading up about the how the ancients thought this could be done, but he also tries to find out if they were right by practising what he preaches; taking to a cottage in North Devon with his family for seven years and trying to combine writing and gardening and living a life of frugality. The thrift is necessary as the life of a scribbler is not well paid, but Hodgkinson echoes G K Chesterton who maintains that thrift is creative and waste is un-poetic. He not only takes his inspiration from a variety of Roman writers who also were concerned with the quality of soil and climate change as we are today, but also from Thomas Tusser (1524-1580) who wrote the instructional poem ‘Five hundred points of Good husbandry’, John Evelyn(1620-1706 ) who mounted a tree planting campaign in the 17th century and the 19th Century autodidact William Cobbett. More recent inspirations have been John Seymour in the 1970s and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
To someone who has never learned any ancient language, it is rather mystifying when Hodgkinson sprinkles Latin adages throughout his talk, though it had the Latin speakers in the audience on their mettle. It transpired that Hodgkinson is a firm believer in the honing power of Latin and that his children are learning it via Skpe and other modern media. Hodgkinson is not urging us to go back to a life of toil on the land but to try and practise good husbandry even in a small city garden or window box because of the independence and therapeutic nature of cultivating food and flowers for ourselves. All this links in with ways of thinking which make us live more sustainably and perhaps more co-operatively. It helps create a sense of community such as is being sought by the Transitional Movement that promotes fruit and vegetable networks locally and provides small businesses with a market place.
Tom Hodgkinson is happy to acknowledge that he often finds that he falls short of his own precepts, but is a fine advocate of living on a small holding and increasing your own freedom.