United Kingdom

JOHN HUMPHRYS: What the TV show that's captured our hearts can teach us about life today

We had been walking for some time when we saw the church. It was awe-inspiring. Not because it had beautiful stained glass or a great spire reaching to the heavens. Quite the opposite.

The tower was squat, the windows modest, the render on the stonework flaking away in places. But still as solid as the day it was built 900 years ago. I pictured the first worshippers, mostly dirt-poor peasants, praying the harvest would see them through the coming winter but knowing the weakest of them would probably die from starvation.

The church stands in what is now a prosperous little village on the edge of the Chiltern Hills. The pub where we'd planned lunch was closed. So were others in nearby villages. All victims of Covid. We made do with windfall apples. Very good they were, too.

But, no, this is not a rather desperate attempt to draw glib comparisons between the stoicism of our medieval ancestors who lived lives of unimaginable hardship and our own fears in the face of a crisis which history will barely recall. Except in one sense.

In 1986 an Italian campaigner went into battle against the opening of a McDonald's restaurant in one of the loveliest squares in Rome. That protest against fast food drew attention around the world and gave birth to the Slow Movement.

We are not boosting growth when we tune in to 'slow' television as we did in such huge numbers to All Creatures Great And Small (pictured). We loved it 40 years ago because we yearned for that gentler, slower time and the sense of community kinship that existed before the war

Where slow had been invariably used in a derisive way — 'he's a slow learner' — its meaning was changed to something that a growing number of us find increasingly appealing. In his book, In Praise Of Slow, Carl Honoré wrote of 'savouring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them'.

And Covid may be helping drive that change.

In poverty-stricken post-war Britain, my parents and neighbours had no time to worry about the pace of life. They had to earn money to pay the rent and put enough food on the table and coal on the fire. The welfare state had yet to be created.

I was a teenager before the grinding austerity of those post-war years began to give way to something else — something which would change society for ever. Or so it seemed.

Britain's first television commercial was aired in 1955. Within a decade credit had become available to the poor. The consumer revolution was born. Consumption was king. It reigned until March 23rd this year when we were told we had to stay at home and, in effect, lead slower lives.

Endless theories have been constructed around the economic effect working from home has had on society, some of them pretty scary, but there is something else that's received much less attention. For millions of us the rhythm of life has changed.

No football or theatre or cinema or jetting off to foreign parts. No last-minute dinners with friends or families at that nice Italian restaurant in the High Street. No boozy reunions at the local.

No jumping in the car for a 500-mile round trip to your parents with a local beauty spot thrown in — unless, of course, your first name is Dominic.

All this, we are endlessly told, is disastrous for the economy. It's hard to argue with that. But might it be good for us as individual human beings? An economy built on consumer spending relies on us working as hard as we can to earn as much as we can to spend as much as we can and get into as much credit card debt as we are allowed. Which means we have to work even harder to pay it off.

It's called a treadmill. The brutal economic reality is that our form of capitalism requires endless growth.

We are not boosting that growth when we tune in to 'slow' television as we did in such huge numbers to All Creatures Great And Small (pictured). We loved it 40 years ago because we yearned for that gentler, slower time and the sense of community kinship that existed before the war.

Perhaps that yearning never went away. Another huge hit has been The Repair Shop, reminding us that it's possible to mend things rather than buy new stuff.

It's interesting that the mighty Ikea has announced it will buy back purchases we've made and no longer want, then fix them up and sell them on.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Should we really be living our lives in order to keep the economy going?

Note, too, the booming market in rural homes and those with decent gardens rather than shiny modern kitchens.

My own daughter, whose tiny but thriving one-woman business was wrecked by the restrictions imposed in Wales, tried finding out what her contemporaries make of all this. Most had not heard of the Slow Movement but two-thirds thought the effect of Covid would result in them buying less stuff and travelling less.

More than a third said work 'dominates their whole life'.

Should we really be living our lives in order to keep the economy going? Shouldn't it be the other way around? A life lived permanently pursuing material aspirations makes us envious of what we fail to acquire.

But is there really an alternative that offers us a future in which we might be happier than we are now? This is where the Slow Movement may be onto something.

There was a striking piece of research completed a couple of years ago which asked when, in living memory, we were at our most happy. It was 1957. Those were the days when holidays for most meant a week at the seaside in a boarding house and only the rich had cars.

Most bought new clothes only when they needed them. Nothing was wasted. The phrase 'cash rich: time poor' had yet to be invented.

How ludicrous even to imagine that we might contemplate returning to those dreary times. And, anyway, where would the money come from to meet the vast bills run up by a modern state such as ours? Someone has to pay for our schools and hospitals and police and defence and so on ad infinitum.

True. But how much of our money is wasted by incompetent politicians and civil servants? Boris Johnson admits the £12 billion spent on the Covid test-and-trace system 'needs to improve'. He should have said it's a shambles.

More billions have been squandered on Government contracts with companies you wouldn't trust to run your toddler's birthday party — not that he or she would be allowed to have one. Those figures are dwarfed by the losses of thousands of small companies destroyed by idiotic Covid restrictions. And that's just the Covid crisis.

The fact is governments get away with murder. Do we really want to spend £100 billion (and counting) on a railway line that will cut a few minutes off an executive's trip from London to Birmingham and destroy vast swathes of glorious woodland in the process?

Given a choice, I'd prefer to spend those billions on planting more trees and saving our countryside from vandals who see only some mythical bottom line on a balance sheet. I might be a soppy romantic, but in the end Government spending is about hard-nosed priorities and it should be we, the voters, who set those priorities.

My mother pinned to the wall of our kitchen a sampler embroidered with the words of the great Welsh poet W.H. Davies: 'What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?' It was the closest she ever got to complaining.

She had no choices. We do.

There's nothing as 'woke' as a PC PC...

Congratulations once again to our entirely rational and sensible constabulary. Derbyshire Police, you may remember, protected their patch in the early days of Covid from an elderly couple who'd been walking their dog on an isolated hillside. They filmed them secretly from a drone and published the pictures for all to see. 

It is now the turn of the 'champions' at Leicestershire Police to bask in the public's approval. To coincide with World Menopause Day on Tuesday they released a message of support for 'all people approaching, currently going through and beyond the menopause'. An unusual use, you might think, of police time.

And note the use of 'people'. It would, of course, have been outrageously sexist to say 'women' and thus exclude all those men who might be going through the menopause. Or approaching it. Or beyond it. And lest you accuse me of cheap sarcasm, the use of the word 'champions' to describe the police 'wellbeing' team is theirs, not mine.

It may ring a little hollow with those whose wellbeing has been compromised by violence in Leicestershire.

The force's website shows there were 3,214 incidents for August, the last month recorded. Five years ago it was 920.

Football news:

Sunderland will be owned by the 22-year-old son of Russia's richest woman. In 2016, the family got rid of Marcel
Liverpool and London clubs will be able to let spectators into the stadiums next week, Manchester United and Manchester City-not yet
Henderson about the incident with Suarez and evra I'm Not sure that Liverpool did the right thing. We didn't think about Patrice at all
Shilton on the Hand of God: the Unpleasant aftertaste is over. Maradona - one of the best in history
Inter will fine Vidal for sending off against Real Madrid. The player received two yellow cards in 7 seconds
Conor: Rest in peace, Diego
Some love Ronaldo, some love Messi, but they can't even dream of the adoration that Maradona received. Ardiles about Diego