I ONCE read a book about painting seascapes. Goodness knows why I picked it out of the bookshelves — it must have been a very rainy Saturday in the days before internet and entertainment on tap 24 hours a day.
But it turned out to be a winner. It opened my eyes to just how many colours, such as red and yellow, artists use besides blue to paint the sea. And ever since, I have looked at sea pictures with different eyes.
I was back to the bookshelves this week, this time in search of a bedtime read.
I came across the book for last year’s BBC series on a Tudor monastery farm.
I had ignored the series after the first episode but the book was different because it went into detail about the different crafts and skills needed to survive in pre-industrial England.
The complexity of village life 500 years ago was so much more than in today’s villages, which are being stripped of their schools, their stores, their weekly church services and their local pubs.
Tudor villages had the essential blacksmith — who could create far more than horseshoes — the woodcarver and carpenter for virtually every household item from beds and tables to plates, the fuller for preparing wool to make clothes, the weaver, the glassmaker, the potter and so on.
Villages were self-sufficient because they had to be in a world where anywhere more than a day’s walk away was a foreign land and there was no nipping down to the local superstore if the crops failed or you needed an extra plate.
Now compare that to the 21st-century villages of North Yorkshire.
So many of them are reduced to a group of houses often occupied by people who work far away in cities or, in some cases, only appear at the weekend.
Then a bit of land is bought by a builder and a small housing estate is plonked on the edge of the village to house more commuters seeking a rural retreat but who are still so much part of the city that they may play little part in village life.
I grew up in a commuter town just outside London and saw the thriving variety of shops turn into banks, building societies and fashion stores while the young went elsewhere. The town lost its heart. Hardly anyone from my school year now lives there — we have all fled in search of more cohesive communities.
Can our villages survive in these times of standardisation where small is so often deemed uneconomic and therefore bad?
First of all, we have to provide an incentive for people to stay.
The upland valleys have many an abandoned hamlet where yesterday’s subsistence farmers used to live.
We need to provide an income, either through tourism or through modern internet services, so residents can work from home. Fast, reliable broadband is essential.
We need to provide energy at a reasonable cost, rather than the super-high cost of petrol, gas and coal in rural areas.
So we need a big investment in natural energy such as wind, water and solar power which does not incur transport charges getting it to rural homes.
Remember that few country-dwellers can afford all of the start-up charges.
We need to support and revive more of the tried and tested crafts of yesteryear.
Not only will they help the tourism industry on which so much of North Yorkshire relies, but they also use the natural resources available in and around the villages and thereby make those settlements more resilient to the vagaries of the national economy.
Just as the sea needs red and yellow as well as blue to show its true beauty, we need as much variety as possible in the countryside.