25 October 2007

Clone Towns, Drone Towns and In-the-Zone Towns

I have been spending the past couple of days undergoing the slightly unpleasant experience of unpicking a long-held prejudice. The specific item is my dislike of 'the home counties', a mythical region I imagined as extending in all directions around London about as far as Dorset, in the West, and East Anglia in the North. I had imagined it stuffed full of Tories and snobs ever since unpleasant experiences with some public school alumnae many years ago in Oxford.

The Transition Town of Lewes was, consequently a revelation. Sussex is apparently outside any conceiveable definition of 'home counties' and even I could never have included Brighton in the realm of received pronunciation, over-indulgence and inexpressibly repressed emotions personified by Celia Johnson. But Lewes turns out to be a home of anarchists and subversives with enough rebelliousness to keep me happy for a lifetime.

Tom Paine lived there for a number of years. I love Tom Paine because he not only engaged in practical revolution but also indulged in numbers, personally recalculating the national accounts of his time in a notebook to demonstrate the rip-offs at play. This subversive spirit has continued in the annual ritual of Bonfire held in the town which led to the last reading of the Riot Act in 1847. Ostensibly a local extension of the national 5th November celebrations, Bonfire in Lewes is surely in reality a revival of much older anti-authoritarian pagan rituals.

Lewes residents have expressed their anarchic spirit more recently by refusing to accept the new parking scheme imposed on the town against the wishes of the citizenry. The local council had underestimated the pyrotechnical expertise of its opponents and so many of the meters have been blown up that the scheme is generating massive losses. The latest high-tech version can apparently wail a warning that it is about to explode but this has done nothing to lessen the level of attacks.

Since this blog has found its niche by focusing on economics I should mention that Lewes, in spite of all its character, has, according to the most recent survey, moved to the borderline between home town and clone town according to NEF's definition. I am sceptical about this. The town still thrives with local shops and is nothing like the drone towns producing willing workers for the City of London suggested by my now-foresaken prejudice.

I have always prided myself on living in havens of radical thought--Wales or Stroud to name but two--where we were right-thinking and shared none of the opinions of the media Utopia. But it is beginning to dawn on me that the media literally creates a utopia--a non-place--where we are all narrow-minded and selfish to conceal the fact that the whole country is in fact heaving with dangerous radicals.

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