I was quite impressed with Gloucester service station on Thursday. I was impressed with it as a piece of unpretentious architecture. It merged into the landscape. It was another low hill in a landscape of low hills. And grass grew on the top of it. There could have been sheep up there.
And the low hill was hollow. It was very airy. By which I mean that it contained a lot of air. I was a bit surprised to see that the roof vault was built of timber.
Everything had been thought about very carefully. I was impressed that the toilets didn’t call themselves Ladies and Gents, but just Women and Men, and didn’t employ the ubiquitous skirted symbols for women. I didn’t see any No Smoking signs either.
I wondered if the whole thing had an environmentalist ideology behind it, and there might be warnings about global warming and climate change included in the menu. But actually the ideology was localist. From their statement of values (my added emphases):
ROOTED IN THIS PLACE
Whatever and wherever our businesses are, we think the most important thing about them is that they are rooted in their place. We are committed to capturing the spirit of a place in any new venture. We seek out partners who can help us create this sense of place and put down roots. From local producers and farmers to charity partners and suppliers, we know that by working closely with those close to a place, we strengthen our reason for being there.
AS FARMERS WE UNDERSTAND OUR CONNECTION WITH THE LAND
There is an old farming saying “Live as if you will die tomorrow. Farm as if you will live forever”. As farmers we understand the importance of working in partnership with the land around us and the impact we have on our landscape and communities. Because we live and work here it is important that we do it well and invest back into our communities because we, our families, our children and our grandchildren will live in this landscape and be part of those communities.
Nothing about global warming or climate change or carbon dioxide in there. It’s landscape and roots and family and community and place. If children are getting a mention it’s not as something that needs to be protected (from people like you), but as the growing and intertwining roots of families and communities.
Localist is the opposite of globalist. If you’re a globalist you’ll regard yourself as a citizen of the world rather than a native of a particular place.
I was writing about the Culture of Place a couple of years back, and suggesting that the culture of Wales grew out of the Welsh hills. It’s quite difficult to move around in Wales. It’s probably even more difficult to move around in Switzerland, where the hills are augmented with impassable mountains. In such places, it seemed to me that there would be immoveable tight-knit communities. But where people live on flat plains, across which they can range quickly and easily on horseback, human societies are more fluid and mobile and adventurous. Genghis Khan was maybe just an early globalist, with a globalist’s contempt for borders.
I continued the line of thought in Europe’s Natural Borders. Rivers and mountains and seas act to keep people in place, like the banks of a river keep the water in place. Greece and Italy and Spain all have sea surrounding them, and mountains on their northern borders, and so they form natural communities. And because Greece is a smaller country than Italy, natural human communities emerged earlier in Greece than in Italy, and earlier in Italy than in Spain. And they emerged even earlier on Mediterranean islands like Crete. And Egypt and Sumeria were river cultures, bounded on all sides by trackless deserts. And the further north any human communities formed, the harder they had to work to survive, and that’s why there are hardworking Germans and easygoing Greeks and Italians. In Norway, you must walk briskly to keep warm, while in Sicily you must amble slowly in order to keep cool.
I’m not one of England’s rooted people. I spent too much of my childhood travelling the world, and so I’m a natural globalist. But for the past 50 years I’ve been drifting around the south and west of England. I’m Gloucester Services man. I’ve moved up and down the M5, first to Bristol, next to Devon, now to Herefordshire, slowly coming to a stop.
There is a most distinct spirit of each and every place. And it’s something primarily shaped by sun and land and water and air. And these different spirits were perhaps what underlay the gods of Egypt, which were very often local plants and animals. Sekhmet was a ferocious desert lion goddess, while the bee and the papyrus plant were the symbols of Upper and Lower Egypt.
Globalism and localism are at war these days. The EU is a globalist political project that is at war with European localism. But I think that the spirit of place, as embodied in every variant of European localism, will overcome a superficial globalism, born of nothing but the mobility that comes with fast cars and trains and ships. When people come to a stop, they become localists. They become locals anchored to a local town and a local pub and a local set of values.