The Sunday afternoon of the August bank holiday weekend brings the annual blackberrying afternoon for our family. “Cecil’s hedges are best,” declared my sister. It is a while since Cecil was the farmer working the land, but, for us, they will always be Cecil’s hedges.
The hedges have an abundance of blackberries, but also rose hips, sloes and autumn flowers. There is an overwhelming sense of beauty,
Unlikely as it seems, forty years ago, when England’s major cities were reeling at the impact of riots, the highest rates of unemployment were among the beauty of the rural parts of Cornwall. Poverty amongst some people in rural areas was as high as in the cities, and access to services much less, yet there were no protests, no disturbances. Perhaps the issue was not deprivation, but alienation, a belief that what was around was nothing to do with you, so what matter if it was destroyed.
Why is destruction an essentially urban phenomenon? Does the sense of alienation arise from seeing what is around as if it has nothing to do with you? If it is covered in graffiti, if it is smashed, then what does it matter? There is no sense of beauty, no sense of the place having an intrinsic worth.
Beauty was not an word that would have occurred much in my more youthful years. Beauty would have been too feminine a word for someone like me to have used. Nevertheless, there was an unconscious that the place around us was our place sense of beauty in childhood years.
Our village of High Ham, our community around the town of Langport, is not classic picture postcard stuff, but there are sights and landscapes that had a special quality. Every village in our district has at least a handful of medieval buildings. Our daily life was always lived in a direct encounter with nature. No-one I knew would have been much into music and art and literature, but they are superfluous on days such as this when nature is a riot of colour and shapes.
How important is such beauty in creating a society that is safe to live in? Crime rates were, and remain, low. It is not that rural England is especially privileged: it is more that life is lived in a different context. The brutal ugliness of many urban landscapes has no sense of timelessness, no sense that life is more than a banal existence.
To be able to pick blackberries from hedgerows along your road has much to commend it.