We’ve just returned from a holiday in an ancient and beautiful Somerset cottage. Dating from the early 16th century, it hadn’t been adapted for modern technology, so no Wi-Fi. It stood next to an old church in a small village where the mobile signal wasn’t great. Our holiday echoes the decision Amy makes in my book Summer Showers at Elder Fell Farm to take her son camping at a site with no mobile signal. At first I was worried that I was going to miss something important, but it didn’t take long for those worries to subside.
I missed keeping in touch with Cath, who was looking after the cats, but that was about it. Everything else faded away. Like Amy and Harry in my novel I read books – several books; the cottage had a well-stocked bookshelf as well as the books I bought. I played cards with the rest of the family and they tried to teach me Poker, but I just didn’t get it. I drank lots of cups of tea and several bottles of local cider. We measured our days by the chiming of the church clock. I went for walks beside the brook, through the apple orchards hung with mistletoe and watched the fish flit in and out of the reeds. I spent a lot of time just gazing up at the beautiful roof and thinking about how long it had been there and how much care had gone into making it.
Life was peaceful.
When the week came to an end, as well as being sad to leave behind our beautiful holiday cottage, I found I was dreading the return to NEWS, and to being expected to have an opinion on it. Loud notifications from the BBC about the Bank of England’s latest statement on inflation and its effect on the cost of crisps (admittedly, very important in the Taylorson household!) Tweets about what Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak said about head-lice on a radio interview yesterday. Pronoun debates. Endless pronoun debates. Local ‘noticeboard’ uproar about the drains on the new housing estate. What Aunty Dorothy’s sister has said to her friend Madge about Uncle Brian’s boyfriend’s dog, and why I should never speak to Uncle Brian again because of it. So, for another week, I put my phone to one side and tried to avoid it.
It was bliss.
I can’t stay away from social media forever, and there is plenty that I value about it (staying in touch with friends, for one thing) but I’m going to spend the rest of the summer reviewing how I use it. I’m going to try and work out how to steer myself away from the negative side of social media and how to conquer the fear of missing something or causing offence because I haven’t noticed someone’s Facebook post. I’ve already left lots of Facebook groups that weren’t adding anything to my life except screens of posts that I didn’t read and I’ve turned off all those loud notifications from the BBC. I want technology to be my servant, not my boss.
The next step is trying not to read the comments on any posts about local issues, which always end up in blame or recrimination. “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a new bench in the park?” quite quickly turns into “Well, under the previous councillors there was a bench, but this lot took it away” or “We never get to have nice benches because the people from the next village get all the money for benches,” or “We can’t put a bench there because all the kids will hang around and drop litter. I blame the parents/the school/the government/the previous government/Uncle Brian’s boyfriend’s dog …”
Whenever I feel myself tempted, I shall close my eyes, take a deep breath and think about the roof at the Parish House.
Should you wish to stay in the Parish House near Glastonbury it belongs to the Landmark Trust and it has an amazing and ancient roof. I can recommend it for a break away from modern life and a digital detox.