What would make a place perfect, the ideal place for me to be?
Let’s start by dealing in reality: there is no perfection. There is only progress: it can be better than where I am, but not perfect.
Given that, let me describe it, for I can see it in my mind’s eye as clear as day.
It’s a smallish place. The countryside is close to hand. There’s a forest nearby, and water, as well as fields. It’s eminently walkable. There are low rolling hills but no steep terrain.
You can leave it easily. It has train service, and bus service, operating frequently enough to be useful, to go other places. One needn’t be dependent upon owning and maintaining a car. (My father-in-law is at that age when his driver’s licence must be retested and renewed annually. He loves his cottage, but you can only get there by driving. One year he will fail the test, and that will be that. It is that sense of suddenly being “cut off” that I’m talking about here.)
It has a high street, or main street, that is filled with shops. Each serves a local need. None is a chain of any sort — not a franchise, not a corporate outlet. These are my neighbours, at work. The fruit & veg, the butcher, the fishmonger, the cheese shop in turn sell the products from the surrounding farms: town and field are unified.
There are small manufacturers, too, building useful items of good provenance here, and folks who can repair things and keep them in order. Some of what’s produced here goes elsewhere as well, to other locales, but there are no places so totally dependent upon how things are elsewhere that they’d fail if the further economy stopped.
When we look to “progress”, we look for ways to have more time, not more money.
Many of the buildings are made from durable materials. There’s a lot of stone: it looks good, in the rain and in the sun. My house is a terraced house, connected to its neighbours. There’s a small garden, nothing too big. I’m not a gardener, anyway, and with the life of the community and the land around I have lots of places to go: I don’t need acres of grass of my own.
We produce a lot of our own energy needs, both by not needing so much (the right angles, windows and all that stone means we don’t need air conditioning in the summer and good design means we don’t need a lot of heat in the winter) and by producing as much as we can locally: run-of-river hydro, some windmills and solar collectors.
It’s been here a long time, this place. The buildings are a mix of older and newer. Out in the fields — and the fields are also small, being farmed by individuals, not agri-industrial approaches, and mostly by animals working with people, and far fewer machines — fences are also often stone, and have been there a long time.
Here I am a teacher — every day I spend time at the green, and the children (and some adults) come to talk about history, philosophy, society with me. Here I am a writer. Here I spend part of every day walking, sitting and reading, taking my ease.
Here I go daily to the café — they serve a wonderful vanilla latté (yes, we do have some things that don’t come from around here) and homemade butter tarts to die for — and there’s a delightful publican on the corner with a local cream ale I’m partial to: he also has a rough but solid red wine from the local cooperative.
I don’t spend much. Most of what I have for money is local, anyway, and no good anywhere else. The money that comes in from things I send out over the Net tends to pile up and get used when I want to travel, for I do like the things bigger cities can offer.
I do volunteer to help keep things moving. I am the scorekeeper for the youth baseball — it’s a pleasant way to spend an evening and I love the game — and I am on a few committees. As with the rest of us, I do my turn on the village council, but also as with the rest of us, it’s a duty to serve, not an office to seek.
That’s my place. If it sounds like some places in England or rural France I’m not surprised.
You’ll note I didn’t specify whether this is a village or a town. I keep waffling over that.
If you find your place to be, go. Make it happen for you.
If you don’t, you’ll spend your years in regret.