Did anyone see ‘How to Live a Simple Life’ on BBC2? It was the kind of series that made you actually stop and think for a minute. And how many other shows can claim that? To produce a genuine, heartfelt reaction from a hardened, cynical TV expert like myself is really something. And what did I think? Probably what many other people felt – what a fantastic idea, but you couldn’t keep it up for long. (a bit like wife swapping)
Or could you? The premise of the series is simple. The Rev Peter Owen-Jones is vicar in a sleepy Sussex parish full of famers and honest, hard working country folk. He’s an interesting chap – you might have seen him on the telly in his ‘Around the Wordl in 80 Faiths’ series last year. He is thoughtful, slightly intense yet strangely off-putting in a ‘stop looking at me like that’ kind of way. Perhaps it is his thoughtfulness that I’m not used to. A TV diet of half arsed K-list celebs desperate for approval has perhaps desensitised me to people who actually think and then speak. Anyway, Pete’s mission is to try and find a simpler course through life and he takes as his guide St Francis of Assisi who gave up his wayward, jack the lad behaviour to serve the Lord.
We’ve seen the Rev trying to live a sustainable life, growing his own food and living with no money. Not easy in our consumer-led world, even in deepest darkest Sussex. Last week’s episode saw him trek and hitch 240 miles from his parish to north Devon to meet a fellow disciple of the simple life.
It is very appealing, this approach. But how does it pay the bills and put a roof over your head? Who pays the mortgage and feeds the kids? Of course unless you properly resign yourself to a monastic life where these things are irrelevant, it is almost impossible to achieve for most of us. As Pete says one evening as the darkness and cold approaches and he searches for somewhere to sleep for the night, St Francis was living like this in sunny, Mediterranean climes, not in a dank and chilly English autumn.
But there are things we can do to try and lead a life where our environmental footprint is reduced and relationships with others grow and become more fulfilling. Hitchhiking – no-one does it anymore, but why not? Is it more dangerous than 20 years ago? Probably not. What about growing your own food and keeping chickens? Recent increases in the popularity of allotments indicate that we are going in this direction already. What about giving up ‘traditional employment’ and working for our food, drink or a bed for the night? That might work for a day or two but as Peter demonstrated there are many people who would not appreciate a knock on their door late at night asking for a bowl of soup.
Of course Pete was on his own, it would have been a whole different ball game if he’d had two children with him. How do you explain to them that they may not have any food today? Pete finally had to give up his project of living with no money when his car needed to be repaired and insured. I have to say I don’t think there are many parents out there who could give up the car and still stay sane…..