Saturday’s i had an article featuring Monty Don, tv gardening presenter, who criticised the popular 1970s sitcom The Good Life, based on a suburban couple played by Felicity Kendal and Richard Briers who trie d to be self sufficient. Don claims:
“No one seriously waned to know how to separate curds from whey or render fat to make candles, but millions wanted the idea of self-sufficiency… Self sufficiency, I have to tell you, is a non-starter. At best it consigns you to a life of dreary repetition and terrible food, at worst your teeth fallout, your breath stink,s you erupt in boils and you sink into 13th-century malnutrition – The good Life indeed.”
Mr Don did acknowledge the benefits of growing some food, such as fruit, vegetables and herbs, which he said was one of the most life-enhancing things a person could do. Don said that he knew to speak ill of he programme was tantamount to blasphemy for some, but added: “I alway thought Tom and Barbara were creepily pathetic.”
For starters, the tv series was as much about the relationship between the above couple with their snooty neighbours played by Penelope Keith andPaul Eddington. It played on the traditional conflict between farmers and professionals, town and country, young versus the older, but it was also about the decade when Britain was in severe depression with soaring rates of unemployment and the establishment of a lot of allotments and city farms on abandoned urban sites. – the age of punk, of trying out new ways to do things.
Being self sufficient in Britain means you are seldom away from modern amenities, so modern healthcare, electricity of some source, and transport make such people a far cry from their 13th century ancestors. I doubt if they were as unhealthy as he claimed. Plus I think the weather was a lot harsher, so agriculture very hard work.
But I think Don is wrong. Tom and Barbara grew their own vegetables, and had pigs, chickens and a goat. I can’t see this as a bad diet – presumably they obtained bread from somewhere, though people have survived on potatoes instead.
I do find his opinion very strange – he makes his living promoting gardening, but only a bit. He is highly knowledgable about the history of grand estates, of seasonal planning and planting, I don’t see all these dreary side effects he describes and loads of people who are self sufficient to varying degrees would not recognise it either.
Don is not just wrong, he seems to be a hypocrite – promoting gardens for the rich but not small holders.