Hansel and Gretel found themselves deep in the forest, where they had been abandoned by their father at the urging of their wicked stepmother. Stepmothers, incidentally, are always wicked. Trust me, I know this. I am a stepmother myself.
They (Hansel and Gretel, not the stepmothers) entertained suspicions of their unscrupulous parents’ plans – did they overhear a conversation? I can’t remember; it’s years since I read this story – Grimm in every sense. But they twigged. Hansel rose to the occasion and dropped a series of small white pebbles as their father led them deeper and deeper into the forest. The reflection of the moon on the surface of these stones enabled them to retrace their footsteps once their heartless relative had scarpered and left them to their fate. So, much to their parents’ irritation, Handsel and Gretel were back on the doorstep before bedtime.
The very next day, on some flimsy pretext, out they were led once more with their indefatigable father determined to see them off. Hansel tackled the problem yet again, this time trickling a trail of breadcrumbs to show the way home. No explanation is given as to why they wanted to go home. I guess the brothers Grimm assumed we all agree anything is better than nothing when faced with our human vulnerability. Unfortunately, resourceful as he was, Hansel had nonetheless overlooked the likelihood of the breadcrumbs being eaten by birds: which they were.
So they were stuffed. Left high and dry in the middle of a large forest where every path looked the same, they had no clear discernment of how they got there and not the first idea how to get back.
They found a most attractive destination composed entirely of sweets and cake, and made the serious mistake of trying to take refuge in confectionery; they were discouraged to discover this was a trap.
By this point in the story, I feel a considerable sense of identity with Hansel and Gretel.
I had too had a happy childhood. I too fall for the error of taking refuge in confectionery. And I too have got more than a little lost in the forest.
Perhaps I should unpack this a little.
My upbringing, in English country towns and villages, was peaceful, simple and plain. We had little disposable income but comfortable homes (we moved incessantly). Our mother was immensely resourceful and set herself the task of inching up the property ladder by the tightwad route. Outings and treats were rare indeed, but we enjoyed home-grown vegetables and, in due course after several house moves, home-grown eggs and lamb and fruit too.
School, I loathed with a passion beyond my powers to describe; and so for the purpose of this post I delete that entire aspect of my childhood. Let me remember the grass blowing back from green to silver in the summer breezes on the hill; the sheep chewing contently, resting in the noonday under great shady trees; the walk to church through green lanes and wooded slopes; quietness and solitude, mist in the ditches and fieldflowers banking up the sides of the winding lanes; hedgehogs in the night garden and the crooning of contented hens in the afternoon sunshine.
This was decades ago.
I have asked myself recently, what has gone wrong? What has stolen my life? Why am I always tired and pressured, dogged by failure – why is everyone such a darned nuisance?
Where are the breadcrumbs, the pebbles? Is there a ball of string lying unwound, so I might feel for the fraying ends and find my way back to so much that is lost?
By what means has the grip of Mammon made these inroads?
I am perceiving – you may think this sounds a little unbalanced – it is achieved electronically.
The out-of-control banking that has re-defined money as interest-bearing debt and created at a stroke a treadmill of scarcity and associated growth that must destroy every human community and suck the life out of the earth until it is a dead planet. The living-by-numbers tyranny of PINs and security passwords, automated gates at stations and public toilets, automated self-service checkouts in grocery stores, bar codes and product data that defy the human right to use initiative and common sense.
In the world of publishing, onto which I have a grandstand view by virtue of being a writer married to a publisher, I have seen the tigers whirling faster and faster round the tree chasing each other’s tails until you couldn’t tell who was chasing and who being chased until they all melted down into tiger butter. To understand this reference you do need to have read a certain now politically incorrect children’s story about a child whose brand new outfit was appropriated by tigers – but even if you are losing me I hope you still have a grip on the principle I am attempting to put across. Faster and faster the publishers work, achieving more with fewer staff in a shorter space of time while struggling manfully to hang onto the tail of the runaway world of e-books. Ha! Did I say “books”? I think it is more “products” now. Somewhere in there, a desire for excellence and worthwhile content lingers on – but presentation, image and platform are greater gods and sit in the higher niches.
And the writers? All on Facebook, dreaming up ever more ingenious ways to pretend to be asking an innocent question or pass on an artless nugget of homespun daily life, while contriving to drop into the conversation (smiling, always smiling) the giveaway, the launch, the blog tour, the new novel, the shortlist, the review, the Amazon statistic, the trophy, the accolade, the promotion, the Amazon video, the new contract, the signing session . . . “I’m so excited . . .” Really? Yawn . . .
Never in any century have so many people been so excited so much of the time about so little.
I got lost in this forest and found myself starving and lost in a heartless landscape under a glittering faraway moon, with nothing but the enticements of iced gingerbread to cheer me up.
This was my wake-up call: I had started to see everyone I knew as nothing more than yet another tiresome call on my time.
So I’ve started to retrace my footsteps. I’m going to find the way back.
My chief suspects are everything to do with electricity and everything to do with money.
I’m going to simplify, simplify, simplify, cutting back on every electronic gizmo, every electronic communication, every electronic method of interaction with the world. I’ve deleted my eBay and Etsy accounts. I’ve deleted my Facebook account and scrapped my Facebook author page. I have taken down the requirements of my life so that I need almost no electrical gadgets – only the ones that the household think they need remain in my life.
The Kindle is given to Buzz, the electric toothbrush to the Wretched Wretch and the Bose to Hebe. The bedside lamp is Freecycled and the electric fire given to a chilly mortal in a caravan. The car is sold.
Firelight, candlelight, starlight, sunlight. The woods, the lanes, the hills, the garden, the ocean.
No more promoting, no more trying to “create a platform”, no more cutting off my heel to try to force my foot into a high-heeled glass slipper in the vain hope of snaring a prince. No more panting along saying “Yes, I can, of course I can,” after the dangling carrot of money.
I’m going to find my way back.
Last week as I went out on the bus to see Pearl, this week when I walked through the park to see Carole – for the first time in – oh, years, not months! – I was looking forward to seeing them.
In every life there is suffering and sorrow. All of us have to earn a living, of course we do. But I think I was born to be happy.
Blogging. Isn’t blogging electronic – part of the glowing web that has its tentacles everywhere? Yep. That’s right. So it is. I will see out this 365 year, see how we go with just this one bridge across to the world gone mad. And maybe that will have to go too. Meanwhile I'm going to reduce time online right down.
And the other thing that has to go is spending money – because that is the snare, the delusion. I see and respect the realistic place that should be accorded to money – for food, for repairs, for sensible necessary equipment and provision. But not this endless consumer carousel that has made “shopping” into “retail therapy” – an addiction and a pastime. No more of that. I am going to take as my frame of reference – my yardstick, my uh-oh meter – the memory of my teenage years. In the early 1970s – what did I have? What was enough to content me? What were my pastimes, my wardrobe, my expectations?
What a long, winding path that led out here to this lonely and complicated forest. What a frightening world it is here, sitting surrounding by fierce eyes and hungry mouths, rapacious demands for more. Never a day passes without communications from charities and church begging for more money, from advertisers of products of every kind imaginable that I might need to make myself glamorous, enviable, safe, comfortable, blissful, adventurous or fulfilled. Opportunities held out enticingly, bags for the charity shops dropped through the door.
Well, I’m sick of it now. I’m going home. String or no string, pebbles or no pebbles, even if the consumers have had every morsel of bread along the way – by some means or other, I’m getting out of here. I’m going home.
I acquired this sweet bonnet in an attempt to be something I am not. What a stupid waste of money.