Monday, January 7, 2008

Why we live this way...

I think most people who have life choices experience the phenomenon that, every once in a while, something comes that comes up that makes you question the life you're living. After all, if you have choices, you have to know about them, or you wouldn't have choices. And knowing about them makes you think about them.

One choice Aimee and I have is to live in Britain instead of the US. I never wanted to become an American citizen, some misplaced loyalty to my buddy Liz Windsor or some such thing, so I remain a resident alien, antennae and all. Actually, since I'm officially an EC citizen, we could choose to live in any EC country, but I doubt we'd want to live in any of them except Britain.

What brought this idea up for me recently was watching the Michael Moore movie Sicko, which we got from Netflix.

Like most American families, we have horror stories from family and friends about the American health care system. Unlike most Americans, we have a back door out of that system. If either of us had a chronic illness like cancer or Parkinson's (which my grandfather succumbed to), and the health care system here let us down the way it lets down our friends and family, we could just catch a plane.

I don't feel bad about not paying UK taxes for this benefit. After all, I was a British serviceman, an "erk," a "Tommy," a member of "the Mob," and put in seven years. I was underpaid and overworked for all of that seven years, and as an RAFMR troop, I risked my life frequently and was frequently injured too. I have two partially torn ACLs, chronic arthritis in both knees, and a frostbitten left pinky to prove it. (Sounds of extremely small violins, especially for the pinky!) Never mind the extreme efforts most ex-serviceman go through to find a life in civilian society, which for me meant four years bumming around in both the UK and the backwoods of America, before settling on a college career. Over here, in lawsuit-ridden America, I'd get VA medical care and a partial disability pension for my minor, but still service-related injuries. I'll settle for my British passport and National Insurance number. One day, that passport might save one of our lives.

Because this is of course, deadly serious at root. People die in this country for lack of health care. We have friends and relatives who cannot get the health care they need. A friend (who some readers will know) who just died of emphesema, was forced to work for very little money towards the end of her life, even though she was capable of earning much more, because to earn more would have put her outside the scope of the government Medicare system. No insurance company would have taken her on. Aimee's Dad is finally now getting the full attention and care he needs for his leukemia because he has been officially recognized as an Agent Orange casualty, and the VA now has him on their roster.

So why not go back to Britain right now? I surely get homesick enough, frequently enough. Last night being just the latest example. Last year when Mum was sick, I went home to look after Dad, and was right back in the amazing British health care system again. What astounded me most was not the dedication of the nurses, or the obviously brand new hospital, but the fact that no-one ever asked me for money, not even at the pharmacy, and that the health and social service visitors could, if mother would allow it, make up to five house calls a day to look after old folks in their own homes. For free. Moore's movie, of course, reminded me of this, which was why I was homesick last night. Something we Brits should be proud of is the NHS.

I think the main reason I stay in this country is not because of Aimee, because she likes Britain well enough and would live there, not because of my (I think) important job trying to make this country more sustainable (violins again), but because of the farm. We both have a very good idea how difficult it would be to get a homestead, or smallholding as they are known over there, in Britain.

A British smallholding is a small, very expensive plot of land surrounded by red tape. There are an extraordinary amount of rules governing what you can and can't build, and probably it's the same for farming. The prices are astronomical, of course, a million dollars couldn't buy a place like ours, because every city stockholder needs their country home for the weekends, and so the smallholder is competing with them for land and houses. And the supply of houses and land is extremely tight because the planning regulations are so strict.

The only way out of this, for most British smallholders, is to become a tenant farmer, or to take a tied house or croft, and thus subject yourself to the landlord. And not just any landlord. The aristocratic peer of the realm, whose duchy, lairdship, or other feudal estate, is the true owner of more than two thirds of British land.

Either the landlord or the government. The devilish aristocrat or the deep blue sea of regulations. The relative freedom we experience here in Jackson Maine, of being able to buy a homestead on an affordable mortgage, of being able to farm it as we want, cut a tree when we need to, build a building when we need one, remodel the house without planning permission, all this is impossible in the UK.

After reading my British history so well and realizing what centuries of oppression my ancestors must have endured; after realizing how all that history put all my grandad's and grandma's stories of WWI, the depression and WWII into context as the catastrophes they were, made far worse than they should have been by the class system, after realizing then for the first time the hardships they endured, and after growing up in the still-class ridden British system of the 1960s and 1970s, after serving in the class-ridden British RAF of the 1970s and 1980s, what would bother me most about going back to Britain would be the loss of our land.

An Englishman's home is his castle. Especially if it's in America. And even if the only safe health care scheme he has is in Britain.

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Welcome to our Farm Blog.
The purpose of this blog is for Aimee and I to communicate with friends and family, with those of our students, and other folks in general who are interested in homesteading and farming activities.

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