Friday, 7 July 2017

The followers of Noah

Before we get onto questions of social anthropology, a word about the traffic, or to be more accurate, a rant. The distance between Orford and Marlborough is about 165 miles, 61 miles of the journey is along the M25 which on a Fridays is one long jam which moves, if it moves at all, at the speed of slowly solidifying sludge. It took from 10.30am to 4.30pm to travel from Suffolk to Wiltshire, that's an average speed of 27mph. I have nothing against London as such, it's simply too big and, like France, Yorkshire or José Murinho's ego, easily could be shrunk to half its size without losing any of the more positive qualities it purports to possess.

The thing about being stuck in a traffic jam is it gives an unhealthy amount of time to observe and grumble about your fellow travellers. Today's particular beef concerned the drivers on the opposite carriageway. How come those of us orbiting London in an anti-clockwise direction were reduced to the speed of an arthritic tortoise while the clockwise people swept by unimpeded? Equally mysterious, why did this spate of vehicles going the opposite way include many large white trucks with the gnomic slogan "Championing Great British Quality" emblazoned across the side framed by a furled Union Jack. We speculated which particular British qualities were being exported - two dozen pallets of tinned Reticence​, a major shipment of Social Embarrassement or a couple of thousand family size two litre bottles of Irony Brew?

There is no doubt about it, since Brexit our national flag and the adjective 'British' have been embraced by ever more products as the guys in the marketing department strive to capitalise on the 'Let's Make Britain Great Again' zietgiest. When you think about it the whole Brexit debacle is a gift to marketing. What do you need as a marketeer? A constituency who is easily persuadable, a group that responds and embraces a well honed message and the myths and symbols associated with it. Last June 52% of us self identified ourselves as such a segment, gullible to assertions​ that lacked any substance and susceptible to persuasion by messages framed by patriotic rhetoric. So inexorably the Union Jack and the word 'British' has popped up next to all kinds of products on our supermarket shelves, most probably sourced here habitually, a question of repackaging I suspect, not a change to more local supplier​s.

Right now I am reading my breakfast cereal package - Jordan's Raisin and Almond Granola - I might even take its photo - Morning Granola! Click! Are you an avid cereal packet reader? Surely I cannot be the only one to studiously peruses my breakfast cereal packet right down to the 'nutrition panel' and the customer helpline number. Does anyone ring it, I wonder? Or is there some lone soul in an empty room waiting for the first call, slowly going insane like the unfortunate junior clerk assigned to John Major's 'cones helpline' still on duty long after the policy faded into obscurity waiting to be rescued like one of those Japanese soldiers discovered in the Malaysian jungle decades after VJ day. ,

The basic design includes the familiar cute hand-drawn picture of the family firm's Victorian Mill in Biggleswade complete with waterwheel. Apparently they have been hand crafting their traditional breakfast cereal for generations and delivering it personally to every supermarket in the land by horse drawn cart pulled by a dappled grey horse called Dobbin. Well, that's the image, the reality - Jordans Ryvita is a subsidiary of Associated British Foods, a big multi-national that owns many of our familiar brands - Twinings, Ovaltine - as well as non-food concerns like Primark and pharmaceutical and food technology industries across the globe. The cute farmer Giles bit, eco friendly messages and assertion of Britishness is simply their sales pitch.

This new Neo-patriotism is everywhere, the Union Jack on a Tesco's milk carton, In the store today - a sign with St. George's flag flogging 'English' strawberries packed in Kirkbrightshire (that's going to irk Nicola). So when we arrived at Postern Hill 'camping in the forest site' to discover the caravan next to us sporting two 15 foot fibreglass poles strapped to its side, the flag of St George fluttering from one, the Union Jack from the other, I began to anticipate two days of slump surrounded by Daily Mail reading little Englanders.

Happily, I was proven wrong , our neighbours turned out to be the site's only overt Faragistes, the rest of our fellow campers were a normal but varied bunch, a random mix of people brought together by a love of being outdoors and the simplicities that a weekend camping can bring to people usually juggling busy lives.

Postern Hill is definitely a campsite, not a caravan park with a camping field. Tents outnumber caravans and motorhomes; the place is refreshingly informal, no numbered pitches, just find your spot among the trees. This suits us fine. We have used campsites for more than forty years and for the first 37 of them only ever owned a tent. Admittedly​, once we got into our late 40s we camped less, but that was more to do with resistance to life under canvas coming from our teenage children, rather than any waning enthusiasm on our part.

It was late Friday afternoon by the time we arrived and though the place was quite busy we found a level pitch easily enough. As the evening unfolded the site filled still further as more and more weekend escapees arrived. Soon we were surrounded by a clutch of teepees as Postern Hill's crustier devotees gathered around us

The young woman from the teepee next door had the most amazing tattoos. It was difficult not to be slightly fascinated by them. However it seemed rude to stare, especially as she had a babe in arms - but the amazing contrast between the pearl white skin of the infant and her mother's arms, decorated with blue serpents and closely entwined foliage was startling.

Not all our neighbours were eco-warriors, there were all sorts of people here, lots of families and scores of kids. Some youngsters were corralled into playing organised games but most were whizzing about on bikes or scooters or simply running around in the nearby woods. It was great to see children on the loose. Compared to my childhood kids are allowed much less opportunity to roam free today.

Noah, however, was running free range when I first made his acquaintance. I was washing-up when a small boy bounded up and acrobatically​ leapt onto the draining board next to me and stared down at what I was doing wearing a somewhat triumphant expression

"Hello, you are taller than me now," I observed.

"I am Noah," my new friend informed me, as if this information explained everything.

Eventually his Dad approached, "Please get off the draining board, Noah, or you will have to go back to mummy." Noah complied somewhat reluctantly. Mrs Noah must be terrifying I decided. From that moment on, from time to time the site was disturbed by various people shouting "Noah! Noah! Sometimes it was his younger sister as she struggled to match his speed on a scooter. More often it was one of his parents on a hopeless mission the rein in Noah's boundless energy, insatiable curiosity and his burning desire to be first. I think Noah is a born leader. Perhaps we are all destined to be followers of Noah at sometime in the future. Even now, given the choice, it would probably make more sense to vote Noah than for Boris or Gove.

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