February turned out to be the wettest on record in my part of the UK and the last days in particular, dark grey skies, no sign of changes any time soon. On Friday the 28th the downpour begins, which, on Saturday morning on the 29th, has turned the broad valleys into proper wetlands. It is my first day off in a while and I have arranged to meet a friend in Salisbury: it involves a walk and a train ride. I am prepared, I have an umbrella and proper British wellies. 

When I turn my first corner, the road has transformed into a brown muddy lake. Because the roads are lined with thick hedges, there is no way to choose an alternative route. I wade in and hope for the best. Because the movement of my legs creates waves, water soon starts to enter at the rim of my rubber boots. I am wet and decide it is best to continue, there is no alternative, but I go deeper and deeper and the water reaches my thighs. I slip and fall in even further. I can only image how inundated the fields and meadows must be here in this marshland. 

Wet to the bone, or at least the underwear, I finally reach the train station, only to find out that there are no trains running, tracks are flooded and broken at different places. Who knows when things will get better. Fortunately, I get a ride with a friendly local who also needs to travel to Salisbury, it turns out he is a retired water management engineer, and we have an interesting conversation during our trip.

march10IMG_5020 copy

March10IMG_5021 copy

Starting my ‘wade through’

I must admit, I was a bit cross with the cheese making family I work for and live with. They could have warned me I figured. Then again, they moved into this marsh land less than ten years ago and according to some other locals that I have come to know, this was the worst they’ve seen in a long time. Getting to know the local community and its dynamics is one of the things that fascinates me as I move around, as it tells me a lot about how people take care of their land. Although as humans, we like to keep it simple and categorize others in neatly defined categories, it is never as simple as that.

The family I work for moved here from London to escape the stress of the city, trying to create a more wholesome life. They are smart and their approach to setting up a cheese business greatly benefits from their business and marketing background in the city. The Somerset region has seen a large influx of like minded people in recent years, spurred in part by the settlement of the Hauser and Wirth art gallery. Definitely a different audience than the people who have lived here for a long time.

I meet David and Brian, big guys, who grew up in the countryside, have travelled the world, but definitely call this place their home. Past retirement age, they still are busy with odd jobs in the country and drive around in their landrovers taking care of their sheep and other causes. Brexit supporters and proud of it. It is interesting to talk to them, hearing their arguments why Britain was better off before they joined the EU, and how everything is too complicated now because too many immigrants are admitted in the country. Typical you think, but not so fast.

Continuing our conversation, I begin to understand that what they really resent is that local big landowners hire recent immigrants to do their work for low wages. These jobs should be better paid to begin with. It is a similar sentiment that is beginning to bother me. The exploitation of workers at the basis of our food system, by people/landowners who can and should pay higher wages for the work they need doing. 

It is easy to fuel the sentiment, to create animosity between different groups at the base who are likely both victims of the same phenomenon: the wealthy who come in and explore and exploit a new business opportunity of living off the land while hiding under the invisibility cloak.

March10IMG_5085 copy

David’s sheep