Friday, 10 August 2012

The Big Society? Do It yourself

The three of us (see previous blog) are all sociable, but in the winter we sometimes feel a bit isolated from the wider world. At this time of year it all changes, with visits from family, friends and ex-students, seeking some Devon sunshine and relaxation. We are looking forward to a month of entertaining and sharing our home-grown produce (some of which has survived the monsoon rains and unseasonal frosts) and several glasses of wine.

We are a kind of micro-community with our friends and neighbours, Chris, Pauline and their daughter Tamsin (17) and son Damian (16). They live in the renovated barn which is a part of the complex of seventeenth century farm buildings here, and they keep animals and poultry (sheep, goats, geese, chickens and ducks) in the orchard where we grow fruit and vegetables (some of the browsing animals, especially the goats, have to be confined in electric prisons, because they would destroy the trees). It is just coming up to the season for picking up the apples and transporting them to the cider factory (in Chris's land rover and trailer). Anna and Jean are very effective apple-gatherers.

Anna and Jean also like singing, and this prompted the idea of a concert, in which they performed Slovak folk songs, accompanied by Tamsin and Damian on violins, as would be the tradition in Slovakia. It went very well, despite deteriorating into vulgarity when Pauline, her mother (who was visiting from South Africa) and myself ended the evening with renditions of well-known Afrikaans and Xosa anthems.

So enjoyable was this that we all decided to be more ambitious, and put on a series of summer concerts for our friends in the barn, which has one very large room that is ideal for the purpose. Tamsin and Damian both play piano, and Damian is an excellent classical guitarist also; we brought in Jamie (13), a harpist, and Kiko (11) who plays clarinet and piano. My role is roadie for Jamie, whose harp has to be transported each time she comes to rehearse or perform.

Last night was our first public concert, and several friends came. Rachel and Jonathan rode the 10 miles from Exeter on a tandem. The programme was much more ambitious, with pieces by Beethoven and Mozart as well as traditional folk music and Anna and Jean's Slovak songs. Everyone is looking forward to the next one in two weeks' time, when we hope for a larger audience.

It all reminds me of the success of the Olympic Games, where volunteer effort and the friendly and humorous welcome of the police and armed forces made visitors from abroad so welcome, and a real community spirit was created - despite the G4S fiasco and government's attempts to free ride on the goodwill that has been generated.

There is such a thing as the Big Society, just don't look to our current rulers to enable or promote it. They are too busy with cuts and privatisations.

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