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Changing Places: Oliver Dowding on Home

View from Southdown


Today’s Changing Places post is a special one.  Special for two reasons.  First, it was written by a chap instead of a girl (about time!).  And second, Oliver’s changing place is the village in Somerset where he’s lived his entire life.


As opposed to changing places, I've ‘stayed put’! I was born in one house in this village, moved to the one next door when I was 22 and, many years later following divorce, I moved to another property less than a mile away and still in the same village!

Why so static? Well, my father was a farmer and I followed in his footsteps. When you're farming, that acts as a huge magnet!  I do wish I had travelled more when younger, to both ‘see the world’ and see other ways of farming, but my father was 70 when I left school and keen for me to return to the farm so he could have successive hip replacement operations.  So the travelling was postponed, me telling myself it would be possible later.  Both my younger bothers toured Europe/the world at various times and extensively. I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a touch of jealousy that they were able to do this and I felt the need to keep my nose firmly fixed to the grindstone.

When divorce discussions were underway there was a momentary flirt with the idea of moving to New Zealand.  However, that was partly a tax consideration and, despite the fact it would have been advantageous, it was clear it would mean cessation of friendships and everything that had been my life for 51 years; and, more critically, it would have realistically meant hardly ever seeing my children again. I don't mind what people say about social networking, the Internet, Skype etc., you can't replace physical meetings with electronic alternatives. So that idea was shelved and here I am, still where I started 55 years ago. Do I regret it, overall?  NO. I could have moved, friends would have come and gone, some places I would have lived in might have been nice while others would have been less so.  I could have managed other people's farms and thus moved around, but chose to stay put.

There was a moment when one move was mooted. My father took a fancy to a farm about 20 miles away in Wiltshire. I was 17 at the time and in the middle of A-levels. He’d done detailed calculations and, perfectly naturally for somebody who'd grown up through the depression, refused to borrow money. Therefore he needed to be sure that selling where we were in the spring would cover what he was going to have to buy the previous autumn. He couldn't be certain. He then wanted me to make the decision! Where did I want to live and where did I want to farm? Always presuming that I wanted to farm. To know that sort of thing age 17 isn't always obvious, even back in the mid 1970s when the options weren't so seemingly plentiful and varied and global as they are today. Therefore, we stayed put.

Looking back, the reality is that I live in a gorgeous part of the UK.  The war photographer, Don McCullin, lives about five miles away. He came to speak recently to a small group and I was able to have a chat with him. He says that in all his travels, when he returns home he realises he lives in the most beautiful part of the world. He is right!  Those who come to stay with me always say the same.  Added to that, hardly any traffic passes my door and I hear little of it, and yet I'm only three miles from three local towns, offering diverse and plentiful shops, and other facilities.  The food on offer may be slightly more expensive than a supermarket, but the quality and service compensate, plus I am maintaining the local society and its fabric.

With the internet speeds now improving, one can operate a business just as effectively from home as from an office in a city. The latter means much travel and eco-cost. If you don't have to, don't do it.  Enjoy where you are, cultivate where you and and who you live amongst, and see the best in everything, and the desire to move will be mitigated.  I realise only too well that for many, even for most, moving is imperative both for finding a job or career enhancement. I'm well aware of how fortunate I am that that's never been an obligation upon me, although most of those I meet who have been regular movers don't seem to regret it until later in life, when the hankering to root becomes greater.    

Some people might suggest that it must be boring to live in the same place for ever. I can tell you that I quite frequently realise how little of where I live I actually know. There are villages within five miles or so that I rarely pass through or go to. You have to make an effort to explore and to observe, and it's arguable with our attachment to screens these days, we do less of this than our predecessors; and it's arguable also that we are the poorer as a consequence. I'm no different in that regard. Being aware of this is one thing, but making the break from the screen and all it offers us requires commitment.

So, the bottom line is to ensure that you make the most of where you live, appreciate it to the max, and be absolutely certain that in moving you will be finding somewhere better.  It’s the second most stressful thing people do, unfortunately also sometimes a relationship breaker (but perhaps staying put could be too); and be sure not to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’! 

I'm going nowhere!



Oliver’s organic farm is in Shepton Montague, Somerset.  He grows cereal crops and also markets wheatgrass and broccoli sprout juices.  Find out more at Tonic Attack.

Changing Places is a guest post series about the power of place to change us.  You can find more stories in the series here.  If you’d like to share your own story, please contact me for submission details.

Reader Comments (1)

Wonderful to have a man's perspective here... and hear his story! Thank you Oliver! This makes me think about the place I grew up. When I was young I dreamed of moving away. Little did I know it would be 3,000 miles away one day! I'm not sure I could live there again, but I am so glad to be able to go back and visit my family there still. I miss that frequent physical, face-to-face contact very much... but I'm glad for Skype too! ;o)

November 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTracy

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