If they aren’t careful, farmers start thinking that their farm is the world. On autumn evenings, walking across newly drilled fields that look as brown as Texas, I fall into that metaphor. This farm is a divided country. There’s the boulder clay, known in these parts as Man’s Land: heavy, unyielding, able to defeat the blades of a plough in dry spells, rutted as swampland in wet winters.
Then there is Boy’s Land, light, sandy, an ecological world apart. In hot summers, everything we plant on these light fields bakes and dies. In this small country of 1,000 acres, the soils are as territorial as Israelis and Palestinians. Nowhere do they merge to form a neutral patch of earth, but remain as emphatic and sharply divided as old enemies.
A country habit: I reach down and stick my fingers into the earth, checking the moisture beneath the dry crumbled surface, all the time thinking about the divided country that lies beyond this farm. I don’t dwell on household divisions-half hooked on Downton Abbey, half hooked on Radio Four’s Life and Fate. I think about the red-eyed ones, the folks (largely urban) who believe that the culture of
the travellers at Dale Farm is a human right, and (largely country) folks who believe that the law is the law.
The ones who believe that the 50% tax rate on the rich is a humane distribution of wealth and those who think that it sucks the entrepreneurial heart out of the country. The true-believers who believe that global warming is a hoax and the just-as-true-believers who watch whole continents turning into The Grapes of Wrath.
It’s more than a class divide. It’s intellectual quicksand, pulling down those who believe the summer riots were caused by the middle classes sealing off the economy’s losers into a wasteland that nurtures a permanent criminal class, and pulling down those who believe the evil is a welfare state that is self-perpetuating.
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On one side of the ideological canyon are those who believe that the EU has enabled a half-century of peace in Europe, on the other those who think that it has enriched an army of bureaucrats who make inane laws and spread (our) money like confetti over the corrupt and bankrupt. One side believes that this island’s housing shortage is caused by a tsunami of immigration, immigrants who have eight or nine children because the more they have, the more benefit money they receive-yet the opposing side maintains that it’s the immigrants who are doing the jobs that the English are too feckless and idle to do.
In the early days of the Coalition government, when Dave and Nick were horsing around like fraternity brothers and staying up late trying to assemble the new baby’s cot from Ikea, there was a brief shining moment when it felt as if the shotguns were safely locked in the gun safe. Folks around here agreed that the Coalition was a ‘good thing’. But, like the couple pushed by angry parents into a shotgun wedding, the good humour was gone before the cake was finished, and the feeling of renewal that we all yearned for became as dusty as the soil that blows off hedgeless fields.
The schooldays of my childhood began with my hand over my heart pledging ‘Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all’.
For years I thought the word was invisible and referred to God, and I never wondered what the black children in schools on the other side of town felt each morning as they said ‘liberty and justice for all’. Those were dark days in a divided land. It’s only in this autumn twilight that I’ve begun to understand what indivisible means. It’s the middle ground where we make room for each other. It’s also the only land where the crops of justice and hope can grow.
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