Short story - Unplugged from the Corporate World
Nearly two years has passed since Paul exited the commercial world, his caravan on Ivor's farm is homely, his own plot of land providing most of what he eats, with surplus salads to sell, and Ivor, being a wise old bird with no paper qualifications realises it's time for the occasional chat with Paul to help the young fellow slow down a bit.
"Your new home and garden look good," he ventured.
"Yes," said Paul. His habitual frown disappeared, and he seemed to take in all that he had achieved.
"Something on your mind?" asked Ivor.
"Oh, still dwelling on the corporate world that I ... escaped. It's all crooked and deceptive, and most customers don't seem to realise." He skipped the details of his hasty exit ...
"Yes," murmured Ivor. His eyes scanned the clouds while his inner sight replayed many experiences. "The power of TV advertising really does lead people by the nose."
"Do you have any dealings with corporations, Ivor? I mean, your family has quite a large business."
"Well, the bank is a corporation. They pay our very few standing orders, but I wouldn't dream of keeping much money there."
"What's the alternative?"
"Do you have time for a walk? I can slow you."
"Slip of the tongue! I meant to say 'show you'."
They walked around Ivor's farmhouse, replete with extensions for younger family members, conservatories and greenhouses.
"The house is 230 years old, and that renovated stone barn is nearly as old.
The huge structure that covers the animal manure was built in two profitable years. It was either that or pay tax!"
"Wise man," said Paul.
"One of my neighbours had ADVICE from the bank to buy a brand new 4-wheel drive tractor to avoid taxes."
"Not really. The loan maintained his huge debt to the bank, the beef market went belly up, profits down; the bank interest rates went up."
"How did he cope?"
"He didn't. He lost the farm - to the bank. My father PAID income tax for a few years, decades ago, and saved enough to pay off the bank loan - working capital, they call it. We never have, never will borrow money.
When regulations made dairy farming impossible for us - we'd been required to lay a concrete drive half a mile long for their lorries - we just stopped dairy farming. Down-sized the herd raise our own beef calves from a small herd of suckler cows, and I got a part-time job elsewhere. That was no great hardship.
A really well-organised farm can be very low maintenance.
Since father passed away - well, since he first became unable to do most of the work, I've always invested good years profits in the farm, in the home, the missus says, and she's right. In the future, in fact. Some people get bullish and believe the future will always be Rosy. It won't.
Anyway. A farm isn't just a business. It is a way of life, a community, a home, more than I can put into words. Especially the land."
"You love it."
Paul started to shake. It was like he could feel the generations in the soil and in the buildings. The contrast to the manic world of high incomes, high rents, astronomical mortgages that he'd recently inhabited was stark.
"Why do you have a huge shelter for the manure from your cattle?"
"In a word - rain! We have more than enough rain in this part of the world."
"I've noticed! The caravan roof surely takes a pounding."
"Rain makes the manure too wet to properly compost. It leaches out most of the plant nutrients; especially potash, into the drains - where it becomes a pollutant; it makes the manure about 3 times as heavy as the composted equivalent. It's much harder and more expensive to spread - it sticks together in great lumps. Most farms spread it like that, wear out their machinery and buy tons of potash, phosphate and nitrogen to replace what washed away."
"Organic farming for you, Ivor!"
"Sort of. We export nutrients in the food we sell, so I buy the equivalent potash and add it to composting manure. We buy about half, really, because deep rooted herbs in the permanent pasture mine minerals to some extent."
"What else do you spend on the soil - in a good year?"
"All sorts. Tons of rubble for gateways. Rock phosphate - lasts for decades. Hundreds of tons of the local beach sand - mostly pulverised seashells, a renewable source of calcium carbonate (I.e. lime). That lightens the clay soil a bit, and prevents it becoming too acid.
In a very good year I bought lorry loads of fine gravel, not good enough for the building trade, to add to our best permanent pasture - the sloping field near the house. This area has very wet soil - heavy loam containing lots of clay. The gravel has permanently made a difference to that one field. The suckler cows can stay out longer in a wet autumn, and sheep all winter without ever turning it to mud. The better drained grassland warms up quicker in the Spring, so we have the first grazing earlier than we used to."
"Thanks very much for the tour, Ivor. I feel like I've got lots the think about."
Paul lay on his bed-settee in the caravan and pondered.
He felt sure that family life had passed him by, and he certainly didn't have the prospects for starting his own farm.
Even if he did, that lifestyle is never going to be a solution for the six billion people on Earth ...
He thought of those trapped on income support and housing benefit.
Trained to become helpless, alienated from their rented 'home' and their food.
And thought back to post World War 1 years - albeit from history books - and the acres of allotments in every industrial town.
They need to be available to all, and secure for generations.
The feeling of Ivor's farm, with several generations present, had very nearly moved him to tears.
People now in towns, that had once been labourers on farms, better still small farmers themselves, were moved into newly industrialised towns. Now the secure jobs were gone and even graduates ended up working in call centres.
Debts, advertising, corporate law, tax havens - it's crazy.
Paul realised that what he was obsessing about was true, but an escape. an escape from the stark contrast to his own rootless origins.
He'd never really had time to ponder, to imagine, when he was working in the city. Well that excuse had vamoosed! He'd better start making up for lost time.
Fact - the housing association development near where Paul used to own a flat (though the bank owned it now - they always had really) was full of nearly new cars, often quite sporty models. In contrast, Ivor, who owns, with his family, 80 acres, many buildings, 30 cows, 80 ewes and their offspring, drives ... a 20 year old pick up truck.
It would probably have fallen apart from rust, but Ivor's grandson sprayed the underside, especially inside the steel chassis, with used engine oil and similar gunk as a rust inhibitor.
It looks dire, but it does the job.
So, is the advertising "industry" targeting a real sense of dis-empowerment and projecting it onto an external, concrete symbol? Consumer goods?
So what's the solution?
Home ownership, ultimately. But if that entails chasing capital to and fro as it closes one enterprise and start another ...
Think sideways, Paul. If the poor borrow money for houses and cars, and the very rich syphon off 5% to tax havens, then the poor are attempting to earn, from each other, 95 % of what they need to pay off their debts. The 5% is unavailable ... and growing bigger all the time.
Does this cause the very rich to have sleepless nights? Or are they the type that enjoyed pulling the wings off flies in their youth?
Paul went for a walk across the meadow and into the woods
He thought of his ex-boss, who slept with one hand ob his mobile phone and took his frown with him on endless foreign 'holidays'. He probably owned a wood and never saw it.
Paul realised he could visit any of maybe forty woods / copses / lakes within twenty miles whenever he wanted, and related to them in a sympathetic way that was as good as owning.
What a realisation! What a bombshell!
He looked up at the first stars emerging as the sun set.
alienation, banking, compost, corporations, debt, fiction, freedom, organic, self-sufficiency