Since being in London, to sort out the flat, to rent, I have
tried to take the opportunity to try go ‘cold turkey’ on modernity, in some
short ways. Regular trips to the library
to check my emails and take out a cd or dvd to kill evening time have reduced
down to a few books as I slowly move towards simulating a simpler
lifestyle. What I have learnt, as in the
past, as it is the failing of man that he forgets, is that one always finds
something to fill a gap. Life is much
calmer without instant stimulants of moving pictures or music.
Much in the same way as when sailing, if one has no access
to a motor then you get used to the gentle lap of the waves, the slow sailing
days, the fast wind days and you soon find the sound of another sailing past
with a motor sounds very noisy, very strange, too fast, too noisy.
Thus it is the same as when one becomes used to just books
that visiting someone who watches an average amount of television seems
strange, the further you distance yourself from the crowd, the more isolated
I like parts of modernity but find they can become
addictive, as one becomes restless for ‘something to do’ so enjoy breaking away
from it, for periods that are long enough to ‘detox’. Walking in the park or browsing a bookshop
becomes an adventure, and one realises what you’re missing when you’re just
plugged into some single source of amusement.
Part of me yearns to take it to another level, to some kind
of retreat, a simple cottage with a wood burning stove, a river and a tin bath
for a nightly bath, for I love a nice bath and can easily imagine myself
considering all sorts of justifications for the time spent boiling water for
To simply notice, and focus, on watching a bird flying, in
the evening sky or the sound of water against a shore is a simple pleasure that
is easily lost by modern distractions.
Of course, I always think back to Thoreau when I have these
thoughts but we know he left his cabin in the woods, and friends tell me he
used to pop home to mum on a Sunday for pies and peach cobbler, but then his
book is partly fiction, as are all books and reality can spoil a good story.
The city is rarely completely silent, background noises
usually find a way to intrude somehow and make you notice them more, as you
notice the lack of caffeine if you skip coffee / tea for a few days or leave
the mobile phone at home, you notice people on the bus, train text and chat
into phones they carry around with them in a new and slightly sinister way as
it seems so different, suddenly, when your not ‘part of the crowd’.
It takes me all back to reading the journal of Dorothy
Wordsworth and her time at Dove cottage but the problem is that while I can try
simulate a step back in time the world has moved on, so I am left, not
travelling back to an earlier age but being in the modern age with the
environment and services geared to that age, for Dorothy would have trouble
attempting to see a blanket of stars in a night sky which is now competing with
street lighting and walking along a road busy with cars or even organising a
delivery of coal.
So far, camping and long country walks have proved good and
easy to organise short breaks but one soon finds that you really need a period
of ‘adjustment’ and to ‘come through’ that stage before you truly appreciate a
simpler life, fortunately, via my interest in poetry I seem to have found
someone who has ‘off-grid’ friends in Ireland so perhaps I can organise
visiting them, for a break, sometime as joining an established community, even
for a short time, seems much easier than trying to establish one yourself as a
retreat from modernity.
Even if I had the cash, renting a holiday cottage tends to
come with installed modern devices for ‘how could someone live without a TV, cd
player and radio!’ for say ‘a whole week’.
Trapped as I am in modernity, finding a cheap way to visit a
simpler time, a time with what I believe to be clearer vision and a slower,
more natural pace of life seems a good goal for now.