When the Chinese want to lay a curse on you they pray that you live in ‘interesting times’. Times could hardly be more interesting than they have been this year. Although astrologers have long been saying that the Age of Aquarius will be characterised by fluidity and the breakdown of rigid institutions, I never in my life expected to see Europe on a wobble, or Japan being swallowed by a wave. But while the world reshapes itself around us, here on the ground things are interesting for a different reason, for they signify new life and a change in consciousness. While thousands risk their lives across the Middle East fighting for good government, I’m knitting jackets for battery hens. It’s all related somehow.
Whatever is happening in the present, the past is always so much more interesting. Things were more colourful then, more exciting. My interest in history switches off so violently with the twentieth century that I can’t even accept that that period is history. OK, some of it is to do with the media of historical record. If we contact the past through images then we are looking at paintings right up to the invention of photography when, suddenly, the past becomes black, white and shades of grey, so our perception of the period between the invention of photography and the invention of colour photography is decidedly colourless. I think this has an effect. But it is also true to say that we were more colourless, and still are despite the invention of computer-enhanced graphics and colour saturation. When did men stop dressing like peacocks? The Civil War? Isn’t it time to get over puritanism? We had a breakout in the 60s, which I am so utterly grateful to have been part of, but it was swiftly followed by the rise of the Goth, white faces and black lips.
It seems we are depressed as a society, that cynicism has robbed us of belief in humanity, in nation, in our selves. What writer doesn’t have to start each day psyching up against the idea that we’re being self-indulgent, that it’s all hopeless anyway and can never be published in today’s conditions. We have to grope through swirling fogs of negativity to get back to where we left off the day before. This is not personal. This is the age.
In the past they believed in something: the Virgin Mary, heaven and hell, the king, the country, virtue. There’s colour for you, and an enriched life.
It’s odd but colourlessness seems to be a mark of wealth. Films about traditional India or Africa (I say ‘traditional’ advisedly, because a mark of a developing country is its loss of colour) shows you don’t have to be rich to be beautiful. All those saffrons, pinks, roses and golds of India, the baked-earth vibrancy of traditional African dress – that’s what it looks like to be natural, and it’s peculiar to neither male nor female. Everyone’s in on it, this celebration of life in colour. And everyone’s giving it up to be modern.
There are signs of change however. Perhaps because of the internet and social networks, we have better knowledge of each other and what I see and glory in is the creativity of friends and family. Is it growing or are we just noticing it more? The great baking revival in the UK is part of it, where you are no longer betraying your feminist principles if you make cupcakes. Handmade cards and crackers abounded this year. Personally I got caught up in the knitting revival and have had a wonderful time making such necessary items as a jacket for my Kindle and, now, jackets for featherless battery hens.
A great many crafts on the brink of extinction are being saved. On the allotments we are witnessing such a renaissance: old skills are being learnt just as they were about to be forgotten forever, and they are being mixed with new knowledge coming from science and experience, especially in the field of organics. When we started on the allotment, there were old codgers about as there always had been. Now we are the old codgers but the ones coming in are much, much younger than ever before. We’re not only learning to grow, we’re learning to cook and to preserve. And if we get stuck on how to do something, there’s always YouTube. Seriously, you’d be surprised how many old ladies are learning new knitting techniques sitting in front of their computers.
I got a sheep fleece for a fiver in the summer, washed it, tried carding it but didn’t like scraping my knuckles on hundreds of sharp pins. Then I discovered peg loom weaving where you don’t have to card the wool. Affordable rugs are on their way!
These are interesting times. It’s an age of transition from an unsustainable lifestyle to a sustainable one. I only hope we make it across and we aren’t tumbling to the cliff edge in one great romantic dream of self-sufficiency.
For the New Year I wish for Truth, Beauty, Goodness and Colour. For myself, I resolve to get out of the ‘flattering’ dowdies of blue, black and dark green. I would love to go swathed in a saffron sari, just love it, with a bright pink hat to match. Who knows what the year may bring?