A New Downside
I offered a plan involving support from OGs and the many friends of Downside to save it but the monks were not interested. Can we still save what they have abandoned for understandable reasons even without them, and perhaps even tempt them back? I believe we can. Perhaps too many OG’s will think as I guess the monks did, here we have a mad guy who is obsessed with climate so be nice to him, but I hope many of you won’t. Whatever your politics, it is surely crazy not to pay the most serious attention to the grave warnings of the scientists. It is a common delusion that we have till 2050 to achieve zero carbon. But the scientists are telling us have no hope of that unless we can reduce emissions by 45% by 2030. That is now almost impossible, unless we act with the utmost determination and resolve. Do we really want to bequeath a terrible and unliveable world to our children? Of course not. But are people behaving with the utmost determination and resolve? On the whole, not. I want Downside to become inspiring, a centre of determination and optimism. It’s not only that we need to reduce carbon emissions. There are so many amazing new inventions in the pipeline, if we can get on top of the climate challenge we can enter a wonderful new age. Think of all the investment opportunities there are going to be. This is a brilliant opportunity to create a new world that is happier, more loving and caring. ‘Be cheerful, sir’(The Tempest, perhaps we could add now ‘and madam’ ). Please google my website https://www.ps-humanitas.co.uk for more on this. I’d love it if you have time to do that.
My scheme was (is) that Downside should offer six month courses partly on climate to young people using the monastery buildings. They would come, I am sure, for since the at best limited success of Cop26 and what they see as the green wash offered by the politicians, many of them are in despair at the prospect of their future and would be enthralled by somebody who is saying ‘yes, if we are determined enough we can beat this and here’s how’. I think we can prepare them to go back to their own communities and spread determination, resolve and optimism. I like to think I am not entirely ignorant about climate. In 2005 I started a climate group in my locality and we had a lecture every month from a scientist for five or six years so I discovered quite a lot. We could call on some of those scientists, and these days you can do so much through zoom calls. But this would only be the half of it. Because of my own experience of first being a monk and now married, I am very keen on the importance of St Benedict’s ideas in the secular life, particularly in marriage. I envisage the ‘candidates’ living a semi-monastic life. I know it would be only six months and I had 25 years (I hated the monastery but loved the theatre and Ramsay, long story why I stayed so long but I now think what the monastery taught me was life-changing, for all its faults, which were many, Downside was so great) so I think it would be of much value in their later lives.
But how could all this be financed? How could you pay for the upkeep of the monastery which is now quite beyond the capacity of the monks? How could you pay off the huge debts the monks have been left with as a consequence of the severance from the school? My answer is we should start businesses. I am looking for a small number of OGs to run them unpaid. I think it would work because there is a considerable market (not quite Lord Sugar’s billion pound market but pretty big) of people who are sad at the demise of Downside and wish it well. My idea is it would be mainly on line and the ‘manual labour’ of the candidates would be packaging and posting the goods. The profits of course would be used to finance a new Downside. What could we sell? I’m keen on pants and socks because everybody needs them. Fresh flowers which is a burgeoning market? Honey? Audios read from books about Downside? (sadly I’ve lost my Abbot Snow’s fascinating Sketches of Old Downside but there must be one somewhere), and indeed anything people want that we could buy in wholesale and sell retail at a profit. I’m sure you will have plenty more ideas. Without the monks we would need to employ some trustworthy person as superviser and they would need to be paid. Until the businesses are in profit that and other additional expenses would be difficult to meet. The businesses need to be making profit before we can start the courses, but until we can start the courses there will be nobody to do the packaging. How can we solve this catch 22? I want to hire an industrial unit in my locality (Rossendale Lancashire) I’ll pay, and I am confident I know enough nice people who would take on these provisional duties unpaid for the sake of the earth. I am totally confident we could find a market. Also that young people will flock to be candidates. What we really need now is several generous OGs you would be willing to run the companies unpaid. Any takers? And we would of course need to get permission from the Downside Abbey Trustees, but so far as I can see nobody has any idea what to do with these wonderful buildings. I’m hugely excited by all this and I hope I can inspire you to be too. If you do think this is a goer please let me know by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook or by phone or text to 07847108474. Resolve, excitement, inspiration.
Which is really the point. The future the scientists are predicting is so terrible too many people are shutting their eyes and dumbly awaiting a fate they hope will not happen. But if you do that it will. We need to put everything aside for the next crucial ten years and see them as a great opportunity to create a new and better world. We need to see climate change as not just a terrible threat but a new age. We can save the earth for our kids! How exciting is that! I believe Downside has a great contribution to make. I think often of the St Gregory’s martyrs and their swaggering self-confidence in face of what must have seemed a hopeless situation. John Roberts threw a party the night before he was due to be hanged drawn and quartered. Maurus Scott gave the last coins in his pocket to the executioner. I like to think he ‘d have said don’t worry about it son buy something nice for the kids. They went singing to their grisly deaths. That self-confidence had still come down in the appalling arrogance of the place when I was a monk. But there was something great about it. It is that swaggering self-confidence and faith that all will be well if we make it so that we need now. Is monastic Downside finally at an end? I dearly hope not. Can it live again? Yes, if we make it so. Buy something nice for the kids.