By David Warr, RURAL magazine’s ‘Last Word’ Columnist
WHAT a change has overcome us! The last article I wrote for RURAL magazine had seen me just back from the coffee farms of Honduras. Air travel, shaking people’s hands, using public transport….. yes we used to do all that stuff and thought it normal.
I don’t know about you, but I now exist in this in-between world. I’m working in a business that is only able to operate on-line, so I still go to ‘work’. It’s just that all my conversations with customers are via e-mail or Messenger. Conversations rarely get even as far as a ‘phone conversation.
St Helier too has this weird emptiness to it, a ghost town similar to one of those dystopian movies where the fear of the unknown pervades. Where we stand on our designated sticker for fear of getting too close to our fellow human beings. Social distancing, a term that makes one wonder if leprosy hasn’t made some hideous return. What a futile space is an urban area without people.
Then in the evening I return home to my rural retreat, how lucky am I, noisy wildlife sanity after the mental torture of the silent town. Life has retreated into the countryside, medicine in these sick times.
Like many we’ve taken to walking most nights around the circuitous roads of our Parish, intoxicated by nature as she urgently emerges from her winter slumber and re-energised by the coming warmth. We’re re-engaging with the roadside flowers, the rhythms of farming life. Discovering ancient bridle paths, each walk a new adventure. It really is a breath of fresh air.
Mental wellbeing in these strange times is so important and whilst I wouldn’t wish Covid-19 on my worst enemy, the invisible mental strain that we who are ‘healthy’ feel is in turn truly sapping. This is where the challenge lies for our society, mind over body or body over mind – or is there a third way that allows us to balance both the ying and the yang?
I’ve written about this before but more in relation to our visitor economy (or at least what once was our visitor economy). Never has there been a more pressing need for our public spaces to be spectacular. In previous times the planting of public spaces by all Parishes was seen as a matter of huge pride. In austerity post 2008 it was seen as low hanging fruit, easy to cull without much in the way of consequence. How wrong have those decisions proved to be. For many in lock-down, our public spaces are all they have to get away from the cubicle they call home. If we are a humane society and value the mental wellbeing of our citizens as much as we value their physical health then investment in our public spaces has to be up there as a major strategy of Government policy post Covid.
As I leave the shattering silence of town and reacquaint myself with mother-nature, I hope that ‘we’ learn the lesson of these terrible events and in the years to come are more appreciative of what we have on this beautiful island we call home. I conclude with a verse of a song familiar to many of you, it goes by the title ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ and was written by Joni Mitchell…
‘Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.’