I was born in a house with wooden floors and an open-plan kitchen. It was located in a rural area by Leeds called Little London. I have flickering memories of a white coat with bloodstains, people standing around and a little sink.
1968. Scottish Highlands
A big unheated house in the middle of nowhere. I found endless entertainment in the rhododendrons, the trees and the burn – until I was dragged, kicking and screaming, to a faraway school.
1977. Scottish Lowlands
Another big house in the middle of nowhere. By now I’d learned to survive in the hostile environment of school and recover in the flowing hills around our home. I’d also learned to smoke.
1984. The Golden Triangle. Thailand
Trekking through the jungle with my mother. We stayed in a hut made of split bamboos in a traditional village. Below the single room stood the buffalos. An old man laid us on the floor and passed the opium pipe. I had an insight: the traditional, village way of life is ideal.
One month on horseback, illegally riding through Eastern Tibet. Every evening we’d find a village and beg for hay for the horses and a shelter for ourselves. It worked. Village people and nomads are generous in spirit and will help a traveller in need.
A village in northeast Romania called “Top of the fields.” We live with a village family and renovate the orphanage (a big house on the hill). The family have a hectare or two where they grow all the food they need. They also have a pig, a cow, dogs and chickens — and grandchildren. They have it all. I come with plastic bottles and they turn them into pots and funnels. I come with newspapers, cans and other waste and it’s all used. There’s no such thing as rubbish.
2017. Scottish Lowlands
My mother is dying and I come home in a vain attempt to help. I try to work out a way of living in the British countryside but it doesn’t work. Although it’s been emptied of people there’s no room for me. I try to find a balance between doing the garden and working on my PR consultancy projects, but they cancel each other out. You must focus on one or the other. Is British rural life dead? Can it be revived?
2019. Central London
London is in revolt. The centre is blocked by tens of thousands of protesters who demand the government tell the truth about our impending extinction. We’re camping here for 10 days as the government promote their token gestures, the press mocks us and people hurry by.
I have the answer – living off the land with the help of modern technology, and making the economy strictly local – and supporting traditional lifestyles all over the world. Nature is ingenious and it’s by far the best manager of the earth. These are the trump cards, and the missing ingredient, in the discussions about how we need to re-organise ourselves and save the environment.
Thanks to my brother Magnus Wolfe Murray for the photo which is from Mozambique. It’s not exactly what I was looking for but it is rural and it does the trick — showing the beauty that can be found in most villages. My brother works on aid projects in Mozambique and you can check out his blog here. He’s quite ashamed that his blog is so out of date, but what’s there is absolutely fascinating — the first article is called “How to rebuild 100,000 houses”, which is typical of the sort of projects he does.
A version of this article was published in The National newspaper in Scotland on 13/10/19.