I was back recently in my old stomping ground of Bicester in Oxfordshire – it was not a happy visit.
Once a pleasant Cotswold market town, Bicester has become an exemplar of modern consumerism and economic growth – the retail mall called Bicester Village attracts eager shoppers from around the world and now has its own railway station.
Bicester says something to me about how modern life has unfolded. It tells me we need to re-examine some of the contemporary cultural articles of faith and devotion that help to build and sustain it. Bicester is almost a shrine now to things like consumerism, neoliberalism and the isolated nuclear family unit – it’s a tacky soulless shrine full of ugly chain stores and cheerless cramped housing estates – but that was to be expected.
Bicester is one of the fastest growing towns in the UK. Each time I return there is another housing estate, another shopping development, more cars, more fast food outlets, more of all of the things we are told represent progress and happiness.
I went into town – very little of the Bicester I recall as a child remains – swamped by the big predators that invade every high street – Costa Coffee, Sports Direct, Sainsburys…
What strikes me most are the faces. Hardly anyone smiles. The main car park in town is stuffed full of shiny cars and everybody looks like they are in a grim competition for somewhere to park their rolling metallic extensions of themselves. I see in a guy in a Mercedes – smart-suited, thin and with the look of a sharp financial predator – he swings the car around as though he is going to stab someone with it – perhaps he wants to.
The car park in Bicester is multi-storey now and could easily have been lifted out of Las Vegas – twinkling LEDs indicate the distant possibility of a parking space and I beat two other cars to a space – I now have the opportunity to shop and neither of the other two drivers looks very happy about the delay in their shopping opportunities.
I feel lost and miserable in this Bicester. I am dragged to Sports Direct to replace my scruffy trainers. A deeply miserable shop assistant, about 45 years old and humiliatingly dressed in shorts hunts down our selected pair and avoids eye contact. I make an effort to be warm and appreciative of his efforts and he looks startled – I wonder when that last happened for him? This is no way to treat a human being – as an accessory to plastic running shoes.
It should be said that I have escaped all this in part – when the Tories won the last election I decided it was time to leave the UK. These days I hide away from the ever-reaching tentacles of neoliberalism on a remote part of the west coast of Ireland. In the winter there are less than a thousand people in the area and one can easily forget that Costa Coffee ever happened. I think this relocation has allowed the hard calluses around my soul to soften and drop away – so when I return to the furious heat of the south-east of England I can experience it so much more vividly.
On my way to Bicester I had the full modern travel experience, the anonymity of the airport, choked motorways, tired service stations with even more tired cashiers.
Earlier I had seen an exhausted looking guy in a tatty DHL tabard riding a bike with a cargo box – then I saw a guy dressed up as some weird kind of pizza man, his job to wave at passers-by on behalf of a pizza chain – I am not sure whether to wave back or not. Its great to have the dignity of work I think sadly.
and then it happened…sandwiched in an alleyway between Sainsburys and Sports Direct my soul spoke to me loud and clear. I had been in the town for less than an hour and already I felt like crying, I had had enough of the pinched faces and the humiliated employees and the gaudy indicators of neoliberal Britain…
…with the force of a revelation and with deep emotion I realised something:
THIS MUST ALL END
I recalled the scene in the second Godfather movie where Kay Corleone tells Michael Corleone why she aborted their unborn son…
“Oh, Michael. Michael, you are blind. It wasn’t a miscarriage. It was an abortion. An abortion, Michael. Just like our marriage is an abortion. Something that’s unholy and evil. I didn’t want your son, Michael! I wouldn’t bring another one of you sons into this world! It was an abortion, Michael! It was a son Michael! A son! And I had it killed because this must all end!“
and that is exactly how I feel about modern life in this moment in this town. Taken all in all I feel deeply that is not an abortion but an abominable birth, something evil and unholy. I don’t blame a single person that I meet for it because I sense we are all trapped in it together.
By any contemporary standard this is a successful town – with well-fed, busy and materially-loaded citizens. All I can say with conviction is that it isn’t right – this isn’t how its meant to be; its a mistake.
This isn’t a conviction that has arrived suddenly – it’s been a feeling I have been following for decades, a gnawing sense that we are collectively on the wrong track and that the consequences of our misdirected efforts are building towards a horrifying and perhaps terminal denouement for mankind.
Over the next weeks and months I will be detailing some of my efforts at figuring all this out. I shall be sharing with you the thoughts and evidence of some of the most courageous authors and visionaries on the planet today – people who are questioning the twisted progressivist narrative that insists that all we do now is better than how we were in the past.
I will be examining inter-locking issues around relationships, sexuality, money, family, economics, war and death.
When I am done – I hope that at the very least you will have an awareness that a growing body of people in modern society are not at all convinced that our global community is heading in a sane, sustainable or progressive direction and that clues to a much better future, lie in wisdoms and cultures long discarded as backwards and unfashionable.
Thanks for listening…watch this space.
Re-blogged from the wonderful Sodium Haze.
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
1Andrew Rollinson February 9th, 2017
Nicely written, and all sadly very true of many places in the UK now. I left for the same reasons as you.
Is that picture of the crowded street, Bicester? Or is it Islamabad/Shanghai?
2John Harrison February 9th, 2017
I haven’t been to Bicester for 40 years – I don’t think I’ll bother going back! I’m thinking of standing for election as King of Gwynedd – We’re gonna build a wall, it’ll be great, really great. Seriously though, well written article even if depressing.
3Daniel Scharf February 9th, 2017
The Cherwell District Council planners would be scratching their heads reading a review of Bicester that does not mention that it is a designated ‘Garden Town’ and referred to as ‘Eco Bicester’ (the new suburb to the north west is meant to infect the whole town with ecological ideas). The factory outlet called ‘Bicester Village’ attracts 6 million shoppers with 30% from the far east, including Shanghai. The (ab)use of language is astounding. An interesting side note is that the Local Enterprise Partnership for Oxfordshire recommend that the Bicester shoppers head off to Crocodile World about 25 miles to the west rather than call in to the best preserved Cold War remains in the country just 5 miles away at Upper Heyford, to learn something about our history.
4Dave Darby February 9th, 2017
Must be the only village in the world responsible for 2 million long-haul flights per year. But eco? How could they call it eco unless they were joking. Have they no shame?
5Elizabeth Fletcher February 17th, 2017
I see it everywhere. But i think there is feeling of powerlessness. Those who try to walk away from the consumerism are frowned upon and assumed dievient in some way. As a society we have been conditioned to think that “stuff” makes us happy- and any small pockets that have a decent community are all to quickly swollowed up by an influx of people wanting that connection and the a location inevitably becomes yet another borg-assimilated consumerist ‘utopia.’ ?
For all its promises of becoming more ‘sustainable’ and ‘eco friendly’ the UK is taking far more steps backward than forward. I feel your pain, truly.