[Part 1 of this essay was published yesterday, here]
Living here as I do in St. Mary in the Wold, we have our fair share of commuters. Many of my neighbours work in education, the emergency services and the various local government agencies and leave the village between 7:00 and 8:00am. I’m an early riser and a few, a very few, and mainly women and older people like me, are also out and about at that time. Usually as I’m on my daily 10,000 steps route, the kids catch the school bus at 8:15, many having been delivered by parents to the pick-up point, and by 9:30 it’s just the odd retiree and the courier vans driving around. The reverse happens between 3:00 and 6:00 and by 7pm St. Mary returns to basking in the sun or maybe just goes to sleep.
So, these ‘busy’ people who work longer hours than any other generation, are in the main back home by seven in the evening. Then what do they do? Not a lot it seems. One thing for sure, the vast majority of these busy people don’t help out in the local organisations, they don’t turn out to vote in large numbers, don’t stand for the council, don’t turn out for a litter pick or help to clear the snow from paths in the winter. The local church is never that busy these days so these busy people don’t go there, cars are parked outside of the village shops all of half a mile away, where quite a few stop off to buy a coffee on their way to work or on their way out, too busy you see to make breakfast at home.
But, to be fair, the local football teams are busy on Saturdays as the kids are driven in by their parents, and the local prospective Olympic cyclists get their practice laps in on local lanes and roads, many driving to the village car park with their cycles on the cars roof. And we also have our fair share of trainee Badminton horse riders jockeying for position with the 30 plus cyclists on the local lanes and highways along with the ‘bikers’ practicing for the Isle of Man T.T. Races. Then suddenly it’s quiet again, the busy busy people have all gone. But gone where to do what?
I spent some time delivering leaflets here in St. Mary earlier this year. Now, just like on a T.V. soap, the area is full of executive homes and prestige cars and all the rest of the essential paraphernalia that is so necessary these days to impress the other important people who live near as neighbours. What a surprise, many of the ‘homes’ were not of the manicured lawns, herbaceous borders and clipped hedges appearance which you may have thought just by driving by. On the contrary, these busy people obviously had no time at all in their hectic schedules to do basic things, such as cutting the lawn (unless they pay someone to do it!), sweep the drive or clean the windows. Just what do they do? They certainly don’t spend time, effort or money on their homes. Many can’t be bothered even to clean the car; not worth it and too busy it seems and anyway there’s that nice East European hand car wash at the supermarket. It was quite an eye opener just how down at heel and quite frankly dirty many homes were.
So, I started to take notice. Many of these people, as far as anyone can see, do absolutely nothing. Perhaps they think manual work is somehow beneath them (or more likely they don’t know how!); this would seem to be borne out by declining sales of D.I.Y. materials, and garden centres obviously full to the brim with people buying soft furniture and eating in the cafes but not actually buying garden tools, seeds and so on. Talking to the manager of such a centre recently, I remarked on how people buy tens of pounds worth of bedding plants already in flower and at the most inappropriate times. The conversation started when the person in front spent £200 on bedding plants well into their flowering period. Makes good business he said, nobody wants to actually grow things from seed or bulbs or cuttings these days; they want what we call instant gardens. They lead hectic lives you see and are far too busy to do what you might call active gardening.
The same with D.I.Y. material for minor jobs like painting and decorating. It seems the days when Dad did a major kitchen refurb or fitted and tiled the bathroom have long since gone. Work on the car or motorbike best left to the professionals would seem to be the attitude. How many homes have a tool kit in the garage these days?
I wonder then, if this not doing a lot but being very busy, has been a result of the decline or disappearance of the manufacturing industry. Many jobs were skilled or semi-skilled, but they meant that people used their hands, worked out problems and had skills that were transferable out of the workplace, skills that could be used on hobbies, D.I.Y, and so on. Could it be that people who were used to long hours doing manual work were more able physically, or perhaps they were just more motivated and didn’t have the money or credit card to pay someone else to do the work.
It’s odd then, these busy-lifestyle people, perhaps they are spending their time working out at the gym? Not so, say the health club owners, lots join in the new year, come two or three times and we don’t see them again. Too busy? “Nope,” he said, smiling, but it’s good business.
Going back to those people in the easier, apparently slower, less stressful, days of the early to mid-twentieth century, when people worked from 8:00am to 5:30 pm and 12:30pm on Saturdays, and still had time to build things at home, decorate, garden, run the scouts, the guides, play cricket, darts, socialise in the pub. How come they had the time? After all, they still had to travel to work, worry about paying the bills and all the rest of it, and my feeling is if you worked in a factory 5 1/2 days a week you would be fairly tired at the end of it.
There is something going on here that perhaps some of us have missed. Is it that many people have been told they can’t do this or say that, so much so that they have become demotivated and content to sit on their backsides and pay somebody else to do even simple jobs, or make a donation to some voluntary charity instead of actually helping with it? They are quite happy to sit around telling everyone how busy they are while in fact doing absolutely nothing but watch the grass grow and the paint dry.
Are they what a previous generation would call… well, I’ll leave that to your imagination.