BY JAMIE FOSTER
I must be straight with you, Dear Reader. I’ve been receiving a little behind the scenes coaching from a proper chronicler of man’s humanity, who has pointed out to me, in no uncertain terms, that my current lyricism, brought on as it has been by the Winter-flu, is at the cost of my journalism, and not a reflection of my true self.
In an attempt to show due deference, I have returned to a question that has troubled me recently. To what extent do the poor need the rich and vice versa? Or, to put it another way, has the interest in food banks been over-hyped?
In order to require banks at all, one must first have amassed a significant enough amount of any one thing in order to need a place to keep it. It is the very fortunate indeed who hear the sweet sound that breathes upon amassed and purpled foodstuffs, stealing and giving odour. The early hunter gatherers were presumably led by the nose and had little time to dilly dally as they performed the necessary task of cruel self-preservation. I understand that it isn’t until they stopped to grow a little barley to mash that people like my friend Pat had the time to sing arias on the theme of a drunken dream of civilisation.
Early man was a rogue and a vagabond. Surrounded by plenty, he was aware of the fleeting nature of bounty and chased it from pillar to post with a remarkable passion. He had no equal, as for him equality was the boom and bust of the natural cycle. His prey was fully aware of the first rule of nature. No talking. It slows one down and makes one giddy. Our rakish forefathers observed the etiquette and silently dreamed to each other of bigger and bigger hauls. The walls of their cave dwellings bore witness to their aspiration to throw off the shackles of freedom and settle down.
If man invented fire, it was at the insistence of a woman. A quick but knowing glance was all it would have taken to have shaken our lazy troglodyte from his reverie. In his desperate desire to ensure the giver of that look was untroubled by the cold, he would have found collecting twigs and branches light labour indeed. As the crackle and roar of yellow fingers reached to the sky the other animals less human would doubtless have backed away from the heresy of burning part of God’s creation, no matter how attractive the shivering Eve whose desire for baked apple might have been.
Once the fire was established it made sense to stay by it and grow a few decorations. Using only the power of topiary, our hero planted the one thing he needed to turn himself into a gentleman: the crop. Crops are a cultured alternative to nature’s bounty and, mixed with a little fire and water, can produce a passable facsimile of ale. Viticulture brought the wine and the women inspired the songs. Our gentleman farmer was staying put.
Having put so much effort into tending the land that once gave up its fruits freely, it was clearly essential for our fledgling farmer to lay claim to it. After all, the soil beneath his feet was hardly likely to retain its riches unless it signed up to the management of a proper caretaker. The land, safe in the knowledge that the rain falls on the just, was happy to oblige. It gave up its liberty and willingly accepted mastery like a drunken sailor selling his freedom to Her Majesty for a pretty penny.
Do not imagine, Dear Reader, that there wasn’t a cost to this onerous duty. To his credit our hero wasn’t stupid and fully recognised that in having acquired both title and fortune he would also require advice. His brothers kindly volunteered to keep the acquisitive away and the souls of those beneath his dignity pure and unalloyed. What he lacked were the bean counters and the referees. At this point the lawyers and the accountants were born.
The essential quality of advice is that one is able to take it or leave it. Our hero did not feel in thrall to his new found counsellors, although he did spot, out of the corner of his eye, that they were fond of a feast at the expense of his cakes and ale. However he didn’t begrudge them this. Lean and hungry men are best avoided, as they think too much and pose a danger, so Farmer Giles was content to allow his friends to grow fat and dream beside him. Had he paused to consider what ambitious dreams may come, he may have made different decisions.
As Bruce Springsteen so aptly describes, a poor man wants to be rich and a rich man wants to be King, but a King isn’t satisfied until he is King of everything. As such the Land Agents dreamed of being Estate Agents and the Doctors pondered their professorships. Clearly there is little to distinguish between high offices if everybody has one so a great deal of folk missed out. This mattered little as Giles was not just a farmer but also a gentleman. He used his wealth to ensure those in need received what they lacked in modest but life sustaining chunks. They were caught in the bonds of gratitude but no doubt welcomed the certainty of position.
So in essence Giles had built a second paradise on the foundations of the first. His conservative and managerial disposition was to the advantage of all. He dreamed it would last forever. He might have got away with it if it wasn’t for those pesky Communists.
Engels, a wealthy fox-hunter, sponsored Marx, of the grumpy and less amusing Marxes, to write Paradise’s suicide note. He assured the peasantry that far from being the beneficiaries of their lords’ generosity, they were being robbed blond by their lack of a proper share. By proper he meant the lot. The logic of the Marxist was that it was the workers who made Giles rich and it was wrong to want to be rich. They should therefore pluck that mote from his eye and beat him over the head with it.
In an instant the cult of kingship really took off. Everyman wanted both title and share. The banks found it deeply confusing. The love letters they had written to wealth stopped flowing and the people had come between themselves and the bounty that was once generously dispensed to them.
As we follow the twists and turns of current events I end this parable where it began. In the centre of Seaton, the village that dreamed of being a seaside city, a Lady built a foodbank. The locals had voted to paint it orange but the good burghers of Sidmouth proclaimed it should be blue. Trucks trundled up the side of the Axe and down from the hill bringing the much needed fish and lamb that previously local inhabitants would have had to pluck from the river or the newly birded saltmarsh. Visitors and locals alike were welcome to bring their public and private finances to spend on vitals.
Tesco is a massive food bank that charges a reasonably fair price. It is hard to see how it would be more morally bankrupt if it gave food to those who lacked the readies to pay for it. That question is for another day. In the meantime I can assure you, despite my previous scepticism, that the new and improved Jurassic Cafe does indeed make the best salt beef sandwich in the world. Till next time I have been your faithful and loyal scribe. Jamie.