10 Nov 2014

The un-American dream

We've been to Centre Parcs 3 or 4 times over the last decade with an assortment of friends and family members. The last time we went, several families booked the same week and we all managed to secure chalets within the same area, so a big group of us who all knew each other ended up being neighbours from Monday - Friday too. It was ace.

After unloading all our stuff and moving all vehicles to the designated car park, the new neighbourhood quickly became a carless playground / abandoned bike area and children milled around with a bit more freedom than they would otherwise have at home. It was probably like going back in time - children had a home but were welcome elsewhere, using the scrum of bikes and scooters to locate their mates. They came home to eat, but could pick up a snack at a friend's house too. Individually, families made plans for the day, but these were quite fluid and in between unpacking, food shopping and meeting up at the pool / gym / ice rink, children re-enacted a more free range lifestyle as described in those viral news feed cloggers usually titled I survived being a child of the 50s / 60s / 70s (which curiously never seem to mention the national treasure that was Jimmy Saville or child road death statistics in an age before booster seats were available, let alone compulsory).


The layout and inventory of each of our houses was exactly the same, and although decor did vary slightly, the overall appearance was fairly generic- the developers clearly shopped with the one supplier for all their finishing touches. (What a dream job for someone that would be- shopping for a living then playing house with the results...).

Again. Anyway.

As the week wore on I noticed that people were a bit less precious about their belongings in this fake temporary environment. Granted, on holiday you generally have less things in your life to be precious about, but even so- there was an increase in trust and /or a decrease in security awareness. Bikes were stacked up in racks outside communal areas, helmets clipped into handlebars. There were dozens of buggies outside the pool, babies noticeably absent but carrier bags stuffed underneath them. And people were far less likely to close their curtains at dusk, meaning anyone walking by could easily see into their living rooms.

This last thing especially intrigued me.
Q: Why did no one care?
A: Because variations between us had been suspended and everyone was pretty much the same.

There were 2 grades of accommodation - Woodland Lodge and Executive Suite. Only fellow holiday makers were passing by and given that each had exactly the same facilities at their own disposal, there was no reason to be looking in through someone else's open curtains. Even if an Executive Suiter took an accidental detour, they were only on their way home to a slightly bigger living room containing identical (or very, very similar) soft furnishings & furniture.

I enjoyed this week for many reasons: No work or school, dossing with people I love, swimming every day, no post to open, being able to walk everywhere we needed to be, not needing to be anywhere, actually... But something else was great too and I couldn't quite figure out what. At first I thought it was spending time with our neighbours who were already friends, but it was deeper than that. There was a commonality between us that week. We were all living in a similar way. It was unfamiliar but comforting. Stuff wasn't as important. I'm all for downgrading stuff. I have too much of it yet am caught up in a way of life that requires it. Clearing out and passing things on is like therapy for me. After a bad day, most people phone a friend, go to the gym or reach for the wine. Me? I clean out a cupboard. Or a friend's cupboard. Or in the days of our lets move house every year-a-thon, pack a box of possessions and label it with a sharpie.

I can see why Communism was considered a good thing. On paper it must have seemed the perfect solution to inequality and a fractured society. Unfortunately, as a collective, people don't do restraint very well and when we tried it, the whole thing became so extreme it travelled full circle and met Capitalism coming the other way. But everything in moderation, you know? Just a little bit of Communism. Would that have been so bad?

• What if the movement had ended with the idea that stuff doesn't define you?

• What if the party members had managed to screen out the power trippers and schizoids when they elected their leaders and the movement had remained pure and uncorrupted? (NB- Russell Brand is definitely onto something but likely falls into the whackjob category. Disappointing. Avoid).

• What if the remaining legacy was not oppression, corruption, enforced atheism and the dismantling of human rights, but the overwhelming acceptance that your car is a thing that gets you from A to B? End of.

• What if some were not created more equal than others but rather we were just created equal?

I have an un-American dream. It involves less stuff. And clean cupboards. And wine (in moderation).