Wow, it’s 2012. Time for new year’s resolutions, getting fit for the Olympics, gathering strength for the US elections and adapting to our continually changing world in which we are all locked into economic recession, the perplexing impact of technology, joblessness and increasing hopelessness among young people, and the usual nasties of war, famine, and pollution.
I spent New Year’s Eve in Norway where we dutifully sat after dinner to watch the King’s speech. Simultaneously translated into English by my friends, I found the speech moving. The King is much loved in Norway and it is easy to see why. He is human: he sounds like everyone else, he has had setbacks to his health, and concerns about his children. During his reign he has had to deal with people criticising his country for not joining the EU, the explosion of wealth and resultant social changes in his country due to North Sea Oil, a sharp rise in immigration which has put even more strain on the social structure, and, last summer, the terrible massacre by an extreme right winger who would like Norway to “stay the way it was.”
The King is an old man. It would have been understandable if he had hearkened back to the past in his speech, encouraging people to trust in traditional Norwegian values and revert to old ways. Instead, he encouraged people to invite their neighbours over for tea to get to know them – especially if those neighbours happen to be born-Norwegians and immigrant-Norwegians. It is only through this simple contact, he argued, that we can resolve difference: by understanding that we really have more in common than may appear on the surface. The human condition, after all, is just that. The human condition.
Baking bread this past year for my immediate community, as all the Bread Angels do, has been a revelation for me. I have been invited in for coffee; asked to join picnics in the garden; included in the pub quiz team; and earned extra money by doing catering jobs for the owners of The Real Cheese Shop. The tiny amounts of money, the trust, and the nurturing friendship of Jill and Vallo, coupled with the closer ties to the neighbours on my street have enriched my life far more than 15 years as a senior executive in the City ever did.
Try it. Bake bread for your neighbours. Come and learn if you need to. Become a Bread Angel and set up your own home baking business if you want to. Bread gives you a reason (if you need one) to knock on the doors of your neighbours and say “Hi, I live here, would you like to try some real bread that I baked myself?”
It may be the one of the most important questions you will ever ask.