Saturday, 26 October 2013

Permanence and trust

You don't see that many telephone boxes around now, they are becoming extinct since the advent of mobile phones, but I came across this one in a little village called Shirley in Derbyshire. It looks grand!

Can you see how the villagers have put it to good use? It is in the centre of the village, so they have put a noticeboard inside for the village events, and also use it as a 'book swap' store. You can help yourself to the books, as long as you leave the same number of books as you take. This system seems to be working very well, because all the shelves are full and the books look in very good condition, even the childrens books.

The phone box is left open, even though Shirley attracts lots of walkers and tourists. No doubt the villagers benefit from fresh books when the visitors have finished with their holiday reads :)
I commented on a blog recently, discussing Peak Oil and financial collapse. Some of the other responses felt that I was being naive, to think that my neighbours would be helpful in an emergency situation, or that I could trust anyone. They clearly have never experienced a place like Shirley, or most of the UK for that matter. I am of the opinion that Trust Breeds Trust. If you show someone trust and respect, then they will act in a trustworthy manner. It is a very simple principle that we all learn about trust from each other. It says a lot that many people in the UK don't think twice about leaving their doors unlocked in the daytime when they are at home.

Well this is beautiful Shirley, a lovely place for a country walk, and the Saracens Head pub, where you can get hot food and drink.

I had a conversation with one of the villagers, a complete stranger, whilst waiting for my friend to arrive. He was telling me the history of the village, which had records as far back as 1086, when it was owned by the de Ferrers family. Most of the hundreds of years in between the land was owned by descendants of the same family. The current Earl Ferrers now resides in Norfolk, and most of the land has been sold on.

It is fascinating how slowly things change, and how constant things are. This village has been around for a thousand years or so, with a church, pub and a few farms and houses, that may have been re-built in brick a few hundred years ago, but are essentially the same village. Invasions, wars, plagues and industrialisation have hardly changed it. It is amazing and it makes me wonder how much can really change in something as short as my lifetime?

Whilst walking, my friend Sonia asked, 'Do you really think that Peak Oil is still happening?'. Eight years ago we both firmly believed it was, but business as usual has dragged on so long now, and big stories of how fracking will save us fill the media, so I can understand why many people are questioning.

I have no doubts about Peak Oil happening, but looking at the permanence of Shirley the question on my mind is 'What would peak oil change?' Or even 'What would a financial collapse change?' The land is constant, the fields and woodlands will still stand, along with the stream flowing past the abandoned woodmill. The fields have cattle grazing, just as they would have over the last hundreds of years, and probably will for the next few hundred. We will still need to eat, there will still be farming. Maybe the village will sprout some cheap labourers cottages, the wood mill will be occupied once more and the countryside will have a growing population rather than a declining one, as more people are needed to work on the land.

I don't know how things will pan out, but talk of extinction, an epidemic of violence and people only looking out for themselves, seems completely alien in this land. I am looking at the evidence around me. I am talking to my neighbours, people I meet out walking or in shops, or just random strangers anywhere, and they are polite and helpful. Just try it in your neighbourhood as a bit of a social experiment - ask the time, pretend you are lost, or say you are looking for your cat or have lost you keys. I would love to hear how you get on.

We didn't recognise the route we were taking for our walk, so after asking 2 or 3 walkers, we accosted a gentleman on horseback to ask directions, and he was most helpful. He didn't really know where the footpath we were trying to find was, but he happily told us that the shoot was over for the day, so we were in no danger if we got lost!

Will Peak Oil or financial collapse change people's nature for the worse? Not in a place like Shirley.


  1. Love that phone box! I know our neighbours and friends would rally around in a crisis, but it's far more likely if you know them, babysit their kids, take them a meal and buy them groceries when they're sick, in short, be a good neighbour. I think that apart from mad 'doomsdayers' who clearly watch too many scary movies and maybe don't have a great grip on reality or history, everyone knows that community is better for achieving anything than self-sufficiency. What would Tom and Barbara have done without Margo and Jerry, and vice versa?!

    1. Thanks Jo. Glad to know the hilarious Good Life reached Tasmania ;-)

  2. I took one of Sharon's Adapting in Place courses a few years back and when the subject of security came up it was the north Americans who immediately thought "Guns" while I (here in Wales) thought "Good Neighbours". However, there are places where people do lock their doors, where they don't know each other and where trust is at a minimum. I bet Shirley has a core, a big core, of long term residents and that will always help. If we know our neighbours, great. In the cities where the population turnover is very high the emotional investment in getting to know constantly new neighbours often proves too high. Tom and Jerry did have the common history of working together before Tom and Barbara opted out. How do we get to know our new neighbours when they come from different areas, countries, ethnic backgrounds, religions, economic histories, food histories? I'm not saying it's not possible, just that it can be harder than we think.
    We've lived in this village for nearly 13 years. It took 5 years before I had any sense of belonging. It is hard work, not to be sneezed at.

    1. Thanks Margaret. I'm definitely with you on the Good Neighbours rather than guns front! I agree, that it takes a long while to get to know your neighbours. I don't like the design of neighbourhoods these days, because they don't encourage conversations. If you don't have a front garden and only take 3 steps to your car, there is no opportunity to even meet to say hello. You can't even ask to borrow some sugar, because the shops are open 24/7 so there is no excuse for a conversation. That's why I think initiatives like StreetBank ( have got a lot of potential. It may take a while to spread to more rural locations though.

      I read on StreetBank that your friends are like you, because they are the people you choose to be around. But your neighbours are from an amazing array of different cultures and backgrounds, and have some interesting new perspectives and cultures to experience. Some of my near neighbours are from Finland, Germany, Zambia and India, and I think they are more friendly because of it. They want to be part of a community too :-)

      I hope you have found that the hard work has been worth it, and it is good to have your neighbours?

  3. A number of villages have turned their phone boxes into storage for 'community Defibrillators' [because there is a supply of mains electricity on hand] I think ANY positive re-purposing of these little red icons is good.