Our sky has shrunk, we are hemmed in by trees and houses, edgy about the multiple cars on driveways and roads, the local water is contained in a man-made channel, the air feels warm……
For now we are reduced to the ordinariness (and extra-ordinariness) of everyday life. Droitwich has the same population as Shetland but most people here live within a square mile. There are three supermarkets and more shops than Lerwick – and lots more coffee shops. The M5 skirts the town, the train station is on the Birmingham (for work, shopping, theatre, music, friends, life!) to Worcester (for history, shopping, a river cathedral …..) line – and thence to London, to Wales, to Glasgow, Aberdeen……. – to Leicester for my University course, to Loughborough, Carlisle, Cornwall, Cardiff…… to visit friends and family, to the airport to fly to – well almost anywhere!
Ironically perhaps, although we are now in the centre of things, here it seems that daily life is more inwardly focused. Being on a far flung island in a large sea means that people are always coming and going by boat and plane, the vistas are extensive, more than that, beyond vision, and everyday life is in a wider context. That said there is an awareness of interdependence and island autonomy which is rarely present within a town like Droitwich. Here we are always part of a wider network of services, of communication and people we know – our relationships with others are as customers, as service providers or users, as members of groups, neighbours are rarely close, only occasionally called on to help out. We don’t know our firemen, our shop assistants, our teachers, our GPs as neighbours or friends. It was pointed out to us in Hillswick that you have to get on with people, at times be dependent on them, even if you don’t like them, in a small community.
An island of the size of Shetland has an autonomy with regard to governance which is hard for us to understand. For us here decisions are made at a distance, we may know one or two councillors, an MP even – we or friends or relatives may work in the public services but most of us know little of the processes of decision making, the current agendas of local government or the National Health Board (or even what it is called now and the powers it has). We were surprised to read detailed accounts of all aspects of governance, social life, opinion and argument in the Shetland News each Friday – an ‘old’ style local newspaper which reflects the common interests of people who share a island, who have to depend on each other – for goods and services, for social life, for helping services, for shared enterprises (like community shops), music, drama, creative arts…….And the not so good side – drugs, alcohol, road accidents, local crime – all shared. Ultimately, for all, the limitations of island life (a full hospital service, for example, cannot be provided for such a small population with limited personnel…) are shared.