the end of a civilisation is a very extensive event by gillies macbain

i met an elderly woman in hayes hotel, who observed that there was
more room to sit down in the hotel these days. she meant that
recession had thinned the ranks of pensioners having a mid morning
breakfast ‘out’. then she said : ‘we are back to the 40s ‘

she reminisced about having to work in england in the 1940s. her mother
sent her the ‘tipperary star’ each week, and enclosed in it two smoked
rashers – obtainable in england, but only if you brought your ration book . . .

back to the forties ? the dependent and aimless blame the government,
but the government are no more to blame than the county council for
a recession that is not just in thurles, nor just ireland, nor just europe,
but worldwide.

i am a superpessimist. the celtic tiger over ? no way. there are two
sides to every tiger. the tiger is alive and well and busy chewing up those
who dared to take free a ride when he was travelling well. superpessimist ?
i think that we have come not only to the end of a boom, but the end of
the global industrial civilisation.

god gave adam and eve a garden – not a coal mine. don’t believe it ?
you should. all myths are true at their own level and in their own way.
we have lived and by mining the garden and kept warm by burning down
the house.

the end of a civilisation is a very extensive event, like the renaissance,
the industrial revolution, or the decline of the roman empire. it is too
big to get it into the frame while it is underway. you need to see it from
a great distance. ask me in 300 years ?

so it takes a great effort of the imagination. i have the required
imagination, but this can be easily dismissed as ‘only imagination.’

i see other people making their best guess about the near future, but to me
they nearly all make the same mistake. hard to pin down what it is, but it
is to do with visualising change in one thing which interests you, while
assuming that the background context remains the same. there is an r.t.e
radio ad in which a man seems to think that it is ‘cool’ to go to the bottle
bank using an ‘app’ and the ‘sat. nav.’ in his car to find a bank when his
local bottle bank is full.

i would call these behaviours ‘eddies.’ they are initiatives that superficially
appear to go against the flow, but they are in fact driven by the mainstream,
not pushing against it. likewise a lot of the calls for action, are in fact just
part of the procrastination.

now fifty years, or even five, might clarify the picture for everyone – but i
have come to the age when i do not have fifty years, and there is no way of
being sure about the five . . .

so i flipped.

i let the n.c.t. the tax and the insurance on my vehicle lapse, and i bought
with my savings two galway hookers.

now a man who buys two galway hookers is in much the same position as
a man who proposes to two women in the same week – and is accepted by
both. in deep water. the fact that they are both beautiful compounds the
folly and does not excuse it.

i also have acquired two horses, a polish pony cart, and i have two bicycles.

what if a boat went down ? was a friend’s query. what if the credit union
goes down ? was my response. i have a deep seated distrust of any wealth
that is denominated in pixels. within weeks my bank had run into a computer
‘glitch’ and people were having trouble withdrawing money. this confirmed
my views. just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean . . . etc.

even if my scenario is only a 20% possibility, it is to me more interesting to
bet on the outsider, when so many futures ride on the favourite, which can
be described as hanging on as long as you can, and believing in the second
coming of the tiger.

another friend agrees that i am insane, but comforts me that, by recognising
it, i have taken the first and most essential step towards recovery.

a lot of self sufficiency enthusiasts, self reliant people or (in america) ‘preppers’
look to the storing of food and ammunition, and vegetable gardening, as a
fallback position. i have been there, in the 1980s, so know how much a
vegetable garden can contribute to family diet. i estimated at most about
15 per cent.

i have gone the route with fuel, and burn only wood for space heating. there
is still electricity for water pumping, and bottled gas for cooking. the wood
of course requires a day of chain sawing every two or three years or so. to
use only gathered and hand sawn wood for fuel and for cooking as well, would
be yet another big step down.

it is in the nature of our consumer society to see security as commodities –
stuff to squirrel away. but much of the self reliance is to do with learning
processes. to be ‘fluent’ through practice with the axe, the saw, the wheelbarrow
through winter mud, the bicycle. also to learn again the skills of post war
childhood : what to wear to keep out the weather. how long to allow to walk
a mile to meet a local bus.

likewise with the hookers. possessing them is not enough. what is missing
is easily available local knowledge about wooden boats. what timber to use to
replace a broken bowsprit. how to know if ‘caulking’ is required. where to
buy ‘tar’ for painting. are the reference books careless – do they really mean
‘tar’ or do they mean modern sealant paints used for ‘tarring’ ?

the beauty of the galway hooker is that it is built very largely of renewable
resources, and by remoteness and accident of history, has survived within
a community where the boat builders and sailors are to a large extent one and
the same people, not one crowd making a vehicle to market to another crowd
while minimising the materials used and maximising the net profit.

who designed the galway hooker ? it was not designed, it evolved. no one
designed the hooker. the local conditions created a boat bit by bit that actually
got the owner and crew safely home. failure meant more than a breakdown at
the side of the road and a walk home . . . accumulated experience influenced the
design of the next boat, and the next. you could say that god designed the
hooker, or the sea itself. who designed the almost perfect streamlining of a fish ?

i had envisaged using local buses if i laid up my own vehicle. again, i simply took
it for granted that local buses were part of the local scene. but i soon saw on
one run that of the bus to nenagh, that there were but eight passengers, of whom
seven (pensioners and others with travel entitlements) did not pay. it does not
take an economist – common sense says that that cannot go on for ever.

the elderly woman who saw us ‘back to the forties’ is not an economist either.
it is sometimes such anecdotal scraps of evidence which enlighten us. but she too
may have underestimated how far we have come in those seventy years. the
peace and the boom have been long. there may not be a way back. a 4 x 4 jeep
with no diesel is a stalled 4 x 4. it does not morph into a pony trap. the way
that we have come does not remain open in case we need to return. the way back
to reduced usage of resources requires cultural evolution just as much as did
the long expansion.

my response may be madness – but it serves for entertainment. even in my
delusions i prefer tailor made delusions to the off-the-peg uniform and shared
delusions of the general mass of people.

perhaps only those of an age to remember an ireland with many households
without cars, electricity, running water or flush lavatories, can easily picture the
conditions of a crashed or steadily contracting civilisation.

i do not pretend to be able to survive such conditions, but i find it irksome to live
in the pretence that the present conditions can continue, as long as we all make
sure to take the bottles for recycling in the s.u.v., guided by the sat.nav.

perhaps in the coming months i will find fellow enthusiasts for life without
diesel. modern means of travel have made the world a smaller place. my last
couple of months have now made my world a far larger place.