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Dame Poverty and the Snowman

July 17th, 2008

The author and illustrator Raymond Briggs, who created the haunting ‘Snowman’ book and film lives near us, and I recently read his account of how he arrived here and why he loves it:

“Poverty drove us into Sussex and I’ve been grateful to Dame Poverty ever since.

Unable to afford the slums of South Wimbledon, we found we could not even afford the slums of Brighton either. So eventually we bought a rural slum in a quiet country lane at the foot of Ditchling Beacon.

We could not believe our luck. A three-room yellow brick hovel it may have been, but the garden ran straight onto the Downs, with cows gazing at us over our fence. At the front, the one and only window looked out over fifteen miles of the Weald to the far horizon of Ashdown Forest. To us, the quiet was unbelievable. We were awestruck.

Born and brought up in the suburbs of London, this was another world. For the first month we could not even put on music, let alone jazz, as it seemed sacrilegious.

On our first morning, I looked out of the window and there was a wren, a few inches away. The first one I had ever seen.

All around there were wonderful walks, footpaths across the fields and bridleways up the slopes of the Downs. Then, on top of the Downs, there were the one-hundred miles of the South Downs Way, with all Sussex to the north, and to the south, the sea.

Furthermore, despite living in beautiful countryside, towns like Brighton and Lewes were only twenty minutes away and London only an hour.

This is beginning to sound like an estate agent’s blurb, so I’d better stop now.

“Come October, Oi bin in this ‘ouse fer forty year.” So, three cheers for Poverty.”

From The Snake River Press Review

5 Responses to “Dame Poverty and the Snowman”

  1. Sounds like what my family felt when we escaped the slums of Edinburgh for Dunbar.

    Of course our idyllic field with the view to the far Lammermuirs is covered in Persimmon houses now 🙁 … but it’s still an improvement on where we were before 🙂

  2. A lovely environment can certainly make poverty a little easier to deal with. I come from a working class family and was brought up on a council estate: there never seemed to be enough money. Our estate was set in a largely middle class rural area; I learned at an early age that there was something different (and not in a good way) about me because of where I lived – as a child I dreaded being asked my address because I felt as soon as I said, I would be treated differently. And so for me, being poor wasn’t just about not having ‘things’, it was about feeling less worthy as a person. There seemed to be an implication that those on our estate’s relative poverty was self induced, that we were ‘lazy’ and somehow deserved comtempt. This used to confuse me terribly because my Dad worked so horribly hard. The only way a child can makes sense of these things is to internalise blame and believe that there must be something intrinsically wrong with them – it’s a hard thing to shake. The saving grace was the surrounding countryside – I truly believe it was one of the real riches of my childhood and made certain other things bearable. Having experienced poverty in an urban environment as an adult, that felt a whole lot worse as an experience. I’m with JK Rowling on this one, as she said in her speech, poverty brings with it a thousand everyday humiliations, not least the erosion of confidence and positive aspirations.

    It is only recently in my life that I have come to a relatively secure place finacially, and I feel absolutely blessed to be living where I do. My living situation is humble by many’s standards but I am surrounded by the most extraordinary beauty and I say a prayer of thanks for this everyday. Although my past experiences have taught me many valuable things – the true value of life really doesn’t lie in ‘having and getting’ – thanking poverty for anything feels uncomfortable to me. Dame Poverty can kiss my butt! :0) I think I probably prefer seeing such things as an act of Grace rather than a ‘gift’ of poverty. Well, I would never have thought Raymond Briggs and his Snowman coud have pressed so many buttons!

  3. What he is talking about here are true inner riches being reflected through nature’s presence and beauty alongside outer wealth which can be poor indeed. Sometimes it takes ‘Dame Poverty’ (St. Frances named it Sister Poverty ) to open the inner eye to what Divine Riches are really about, not to be blinded by glitter, man-made cities and too much materialism.
    Simple life…. Divine Seeing…Nature…. give us this any day to remember our true state of Being!

  4. I know what you mean Maria – we have to be careful not to glamourise poverty. I suspect the slums he refers to are not really slums in the true sense at all, but refreshingly free of shiny new things…made with plastic and bought with plastic.
    I bet his house is the sort we’d quite like to slum it in ourselves!

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