‘When the village was built’, Simon said, ‘it wouldn’t have mattered so much that it got flooded. People would have been used to it.  They would have moved upstairs and carried on.  Everything they needed; food, water, fuel, had to be brought in by hand anyway.  Sewage and waste would just wash away.  People would have pulled together, helped each other out and carried on.  The community was resilient.’  Houses were independent units; built on principles of sustainability and resilience.

Salthouses, so I understand, is situated behind the shingle spit on the north Norfolk coast,  not far from Cley-next-the-sea.  The sea is gradually eroding the shingle.  For years now, the council have employed a mechanical digger, 52 weeks a year, to pile the shingle up.  Every day, it’s get taken down a little more.  A thousand years ago, King Canute demonstrated that man could not control the sea.  We have been slow in learning.  Now it seems, the decision has been made to let Salthouses flood.  It will become uninhabitable with the first inundation.

Modern communities are no longer self sufficient.  Gas, electricity, water, sewage disposal are piped in.  And with energy supplies on tap, comes heat, light, entertainment, information and communication.  And those services that cannot be piped in, food, and materials for home repair and improvement, for example, are brought to the door by road.  It’s a physiological system.  Every house is like a cell, the towns like organs, the country the whole body.  Supplies flow in along arteries, energy in nerves, waste is conveyed away in veins, spill over is mopped up by lymphatics.  Our society is maintained by a life support system, available 24 hours a day.  It is totally unable to manage without it.  And we are like astronauts, unable to survive outside our space suit or without the umbilical connection to the space craft and the complex cognitive resources of mission control.  Have you thought of how much an astronaut on a space walk resembles a foetus floating in its amniotic sea.    

A flood would be devastating.  It would short out the electrical supplies, stop gas flow, the sewage would back up, the water would become contaminated, supplies of food would not get in.  We would be devastated, unable to survive.  Come the melting of ice caps, rising sea levels, villages, towns, even whole countries may have to be abandoned.  As communities have became ever larger, so society is ever more vulnerable to attack or natural disaster.   

Now, it seems all aspects of life are supplied and organised centrally; health care, education, farming (viz: cash crops versus subsistence farming), entertainment.  And it all has to be paid for via a centralised financial system. 

So not only wars, famine, flood and pestilence devastate society, but also collapse of the financial system.  But the physiological metaphor can be extended into a psychological realm when we consider how our recent world wide banking crisis has not been instigated by a real depletion of financial resources, but a virtual depletion induced by fear. Collective  emotion can have as great an impact on society as anxiety and depression on the human constitution.   

Every advance induces a loss of self sufficiency, an erosion of community and an overweaning dependence on a faceless centralised system of control.  These are the conditions for loneliness and with loss of community comes loss of identity and the ever greater risk of collapse of human society.  But in Derbyshire, something is stirring.  There is a movement to grow one’s own food, the institution of local farmers market, film clubs, local theatre. The church is hanging in there but needs, as His grace, The Bishop of Repton declared to me over a glass of champagne, to be ‘less Godly and more a centre of the community.’       

Simon lives on a big boat.  He generates his own electricity, collects his own water and fuel wherever he moors, gives the left overs to the gulls and lets the sewage look after itself. Come the flood, he will draw up the gangplank and sail away like Noah to higher ground.  His is a salutary perspective.

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