A place in the sun.

A place in the sun.

Day time television has always looked like a punishment for the unemployed. It is as if this diet of crude pap is put on during the day because it might push those out of work back into the labour market just to avoid the constant reruns of failed programmes. Or perhaps this dross is ladled out because the channel heads don’t care about this audience, thinking they are old or disabled, and knowing they don’t have enough disposable income to warrant expensive advertising. Hence the cheapest programmes are gather together and broadcast to fill airspace.

Unfortunately when I break my working day I stop for a cup of tea and a biscuit and to relax sometimes make the mistake of turning on the TV. I tend to avoid the news channels during the day, as they steal to much of my time, and hence make the mistake of watching the mainstream channels. This has lead me to see the interminable repeats of house renovation programmes, countless Judges remonstrating about the morals the modern world, and far too many tales of neighbours or landlords from hell. But the worst of these, by far, are the repeats of “A Place in the Sun” and related second home shows.

I feel these are the worst because they tend to draw me in. They show wonderful locations and interesting houses which capture my attention, before I know it I have spent half an hour watching a couple buying a second home. But why is this so terrible ?

If you have been fortunate to have avoided these programmes I will explain the format. An elderly, often just retired, couple with a large amount of money decide that they would like a holiday home. They try and appear nonchalant and unassuming while the presenters show them a number of properties which will really suit “you guys“. Usually they see four houses in their chosen location and the presenter try and whip up enthusiasm to purchase within the couples’ usual budget of £250,000.

This is the issue. I am watching a programme in which a rich person is thinking how they will spend a quarter of a million pounds. If the programme followed a man trying to decide between the Lamborghini, Aston Martin or Ferrari we would know instinctively this is the rich buying toys but we tend not to notice it when it is a second home. However, this is buying a home to occasionally live in for fun, perhaps 2 to 4 weeks of the year – this is a toy, not a house.

Had they been buying expensive cars the situation might not have been quite so bad. If you spend £330,000 pounds on a Ferrari Dino GT it does say a lot about you. It says you have more money than sense, little awareness about the plight of the poor, an ignorance of the inequality in our society, and probably also a small set of genitals.

When people buy there holiday home they are also going to have to double a lot of running costs. In days when we are meant to worry about climate change buying something that requires either a long-haul flight or long-distance drive to use seem very unwise. These houses are normally bought in areas much poorer than the area the purchaser comes from, thus they parade their wealth amongst people much less well off than them. This is extreme conspicuous consumption; consumption made all the more conspicuous by being broadcast on television.

Despite the buyers wish to immerse themselves in the culture of the new area they will never be anything other than wealthy tourists. If they want to experience the culture then they could learn the language and take a job working as a cleaner in the town. In many of these areas the second home market is the very thing that is destroying the local culture and turning what were fishing towns, or farming villages, into ghost towns. This market prices houses out of reach for the locals, there is no real need for schools or factories when the population is largely elderly, and off-season these towns are deserted with a large section of the houses empty and shuttered.

Now I am aware that this is ‘their money’ and the people on this show have the right to do with it as they wish. But all of us, as members of our communities, have a responsibility to think of how others may see our actions. If I was to spend a large sum (on the show often 10 times the median family disposable income) purely for my own pleasure I think I would be rather shamefaced. I think the reason the couples on the show look so unassuming and diffident is because they know this. They know it is unbecoming to display your wealth and that there are many ways to gain pleasure from your position of privilege that are not as self-centred or ecologically damaging. I feel a little sorry for them, but I feel angrier at myself for having watched this drivel.

However, this and similar programmes do show the degree to which our society is unjust and unequal and it is a sense of moral injustice that underpins many revolutionary changes. The French were horrified when it was suggested that Marie-Antoinette said “ let them eat cake” on hearing of the peasants starving, the excesses of the Russian royal family helped prompt the Soviet revolution and, more recently, the decadence of the Shah in Iran lit the fuse that exploded the Islamic Revolution lead by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. So, looking on the bright side, perhaps these shows with their bouncy presenters and wealthy participants revealing their wealth and ignorance to the populace might help build the sense of moral injustice we need to force a change. Hopefully.

Mynd am dro

Mynd am dro

Yesterday, in a fit of madness, we decided to take the afternoon off. The continuing heat and flies have made work outside feel like purgatory. All the vital tasks had been done and were up to date, all the animals were fed and watered and we felt we needed a short break. We spoke with our neighbour, who farms the smallholding next to ours, and found he was of a similar opinion. A plan to go for a walk was hatched.

We decided to go to see the meadow flowers before it was too late. We are fortunate locally that a number of the local farmers are strongly opposed to industrial farming and employ much more traditional methods. This avoidance of overgrazing and monoculture seeding means that the hay meadows can look wonderful at this time of year. They remind me of the meadows of my youth with their wide varieties of flowers. This is a view of the countryside which is unfortunately being steadily lost.

We decided on a simple local circular walk through the old meadows. This took us along the bottom edge of Cader Idris which is a fine backdrop for any walk.

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The hay meadows are irregularly shaped. The shape is determined by the contours of the hills and mountains and the channels that the streams and rivers follow. Paths and roads also follow the natural courses, there are few straight lines here.

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These fields are full of colour and smells. The early purple and butterfly orchids are perhaps the stars of the field, but it is the ox eye daisies, buttercups, cotton grass, clover and raggedy robin which supply most of the colour. Even the yellow rattle and eyebright play their part.wp-1528907987390..jpg

However, it is not only the flora which make this local walk so enjoyable it is the fauna as well. Unfortunately, I was not quick enough with my camera to catch the birds we saw. The Hawfinches were everywhere but on this occasion I also saw a Linnet, for the first time,  and two barn owls which was a pleasant surprise.  The Canadian geese were the only birds I managed to capture with the camera, but we did see squirrels, farm animals, slow worms, signs of badgers and foxes and myriads of dragon and damsel flies.

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Even when on the roads there is much to see in the hedgerows and very little traffic to break the peace. Indeed, during a two hour walk we passed nobody  on the route except when we stopped in at a neighbour’s house for tea and cake. I could walk these back roads naked if I wished, with little risk of startling anybody other than the sheep and cattle (But the horseflies would then become a bigger problem.)

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On the return half of the walk again  we had mountains in our view. This time we were looking northward to Snowdonia. Looking at the many small valleys and plains between the mountains I was struck by how hospitable this area is. These valleys, like the one I live within, are natural boundaries to communities. They suit small farms and small group living. The large farms have not yet established much of a foothold in this area and hopefully they never will. We need to rediscover smaller more traditional farms and villages.

It is certainly true that these ways are less effective in generating profit but in a post-scarcity age we need to consider whether accumulation of even more wealth is our most pressing aim. Perhaps many of us would forgo some of this affluence if in return we had better lives. Perhaps we’d give up social media and on-line entertainments if we had stronger and more engaging local communities.  Perhaps we’d use less pre-prepared meals (with consequent obesity and diabetes),  if creating food and meals was an integral part of our lifestyle. Perhaps it is time we focussed more on making than consuming, being creative usually brings more joy and pleasure than simply feeding our appetites. Previously I used to travel the world with work and for holidays. I did enjoy seeing different places and experiencing different cultures but it is very surprising that a simple walk, at your back door, can supply just as much pleasure as the most luxurious tourist excess.

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