Ancient Greek poetry, modern woodworking and the pub.
“…a Fox knows many things, but the Hedgehog knows one big thing…”
This is how Isaiah Berlin translated Archilochus’s famous fragment from archaic Greek.
I don’t know Greek so I have no idea how accurate it is. It’s also sometimes given as: “The Fox has many tricks. The hedgehog has just one, but that is the best one of all.”
The Hedgehog’s one, best trick? We know what that is: defensive spines, which trump the Fox’s inquisitive nose.
On the whole, I prefer Berlin’s translation, and his interpretation. The knowing of many things, or just one big thing, marks “one of the deepest differences, which divide writers and thinkers — and maybe humans in general.”
There are, he contends, two types of people.
“Those (Hedgehogs), on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision, one system … in terms of which they understand, think and feel … and, on the other side, those (Foxes) who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory…”
I. Berlin, The Hedgehog and the Fox, 1953.
This divides us, intellectually and artistically, Berlin says. The Hedgehogs have a “single, universal, organising principle”. The scattergun Foxes have not.
Dante was a Hedgehog, he says. So was Proust, Plato and Dostoevsky: moved by an all-encompassing vision — “one unchanging, all-embracing, at times fanatical, unitary inner vision” — whether about memory, utopia or retribution.
Not Shakespeare, Montaigne, Joyce. Foxes, all. They were vulpine, darting off down holes, under hedges (and Hedgehogs), only to re-emerge, a considerable tangent later, on the other side of the field.
The Foxes are the contradictarians who “lead lives that are centrifugal rather than centripetal” — expanding outwards, rather than circling a point. “Their thought is scattered or diffused, moving on many levels, seizing upon the essence of a vast variety of experiences and objects.”
All my favourite writing is like this: it’s bit-ty. I mean, composed of… bits. Lots and lots of bits that add up to more than the sum of their disparate parts.just started a new series called Crônicas he describes thus:
If you seek to blend your literary forms into a single dish, then Crônicas might appeal to your tastes. This remarkably adaptable form mixes personal narratives with short stories, the fictional with the factual, the social with the cultural, and, on some days, simply tosses out all the rules.
See? That’s what I mean.
Charles, I suspect, is a Fox too.
So: are you a Fox or are you a Hedgehog? It’s a cocktail hour game, a personality quiz. It’s Enneagrams or Meyer-Briggs, but as a simple binary.
Now, Berlin makes the point that “the dichotomy, if pressed, becomes scholastic, artificial and ultimately absurd”.
But what doesn’t become absurd, when pressed?
I know which side I fall on. I’m a Fox, through and through.
I am wary as fuck of your all-encompassing ideology.
My plate is full, of many bits and pieces. Actually, I have many plates and they’re all full. They represent a month of meals, a year of chewing. Rather: a lifetime of chewing things over, rolling things around in my mouth, spitting out what doesn’t serve and absorbing the rest. My ambition: to live as amylase and break things down, into digestible fragments.
Back to the pub, down a Foxhole…
You might recall I was despondent a few weeks ago because, despite our best efforts, we couldn’t rally enough support to buy the pub. We raised £120k, which is awesome and a testament to the strength of feeling among many — but not nearly enough to get close to the asking price.
I’ve written before about the strangeness of trying to rally support for a community pub when the people who have lived in the village the longest — those with the strongest claims to authentic “community” — are indifferent.
The people most vocal about saving a local heritage pub? The newcomers, amongst whom I count myself foremost, being both newly-arrived in the village and a foreigner to boot.
I mentioned last week that we were speaking to some new investors, didn’t I? That puts me now in a difficult position.
I rail frequently against private equity: the shadowy provision of funds by private investors accountable to no one. On the one hand, I want to save the pub from private equity.
On the other hand, I want to save the pub, full stop.
Yesterday, the pub featured in a national newspaper. The piece was written by one of the investors we’ve been speaking to, someone who is clearly not afraid to put his words where his mouth is. (Not sure where else you’d put your words, if not your mouth, but there we are.)
It mentions our very own apple-pressing, fake-fruit-pelting, village-stocks-building community group. It speaks of the value of this pub, of saving a community pub in general and the ubiquity of pub loss up and down Britain.
It is, in a word, the publicity of which dreams are made.
Some will look at this as a weak compromise, a sell-out: our pub as media darling, stripped of authentic community and made to dance for its dinner on the national stage.
But rigid cleaving to ideology never got anyone anywhere.
Publicity and attention for the pub? Great! It is the luck — and lifeline — this forlorn pub needed.
If we’ve found some private investors willing to back the notion of a proper community pub — for the great story it holds, the fun and adventure of it all, maybe even some tax benefits? — who am I to say, no, no, that’s not.. pure. No thank you, we don’t want it. If the community can’t have it all to itself, right now, on its own terms, then we don’t want it. We’d rather let our pub rot than be beholden.
We want our pub open again. We want like-minded investors who also want it open, serving pints, with a packed beer garden come summertime. Ideology must, at some point, give way to practicality.
While I am wary of spurning community for cash, so too am I wary of spurning cash — and letting our community’s pub lapse into decrepitude — in the name of high moral groundery.
A small group from the next village whose vision aligned with ours, who saw an opportunity, not to turn a quick buck but to tell a story? Yes. Sign me up. After all, I’m no stranger to trying to tell this story.
This story, you may have noticed, is complicated: it’s not all-embracing. It follows an inquisitive nose down holes: rural disenfranchisement, wealth disparity and, yes, enshittification. It’s a story to be told up and down the country: the decimation of healthcare, schools, food chains and — of course — local pubs by the slow-ravaging poison of impersonal, hyper-non-local private equity.
It raises questions about what we leave behind.
It interrogates rural and urban divides, the meaning of community, even the precious capital of celebrity…. and one hundred more anodyne things beside. Can we have a local music festival? Will we brew our own cider with the apples from the trees in the pub garden? What about the hanging baskets?
I’ve mentioned before that one of my fellow pub committee members is a carpenter (and a jolly talented one too). He can summon hessian sacks from nowhere, run an apple press and build, at a moment’s notice, working village stocks or a fundraising thermometer in the shape of a pint of beer.
He also tells a great story, over drinks in the pub, about the time his car got stolen. A policeman came round and sat in a chair recently vacated by the cat. Policeman uniform covered in white hairs, my friend was mortified and wrapped some double-sided tape round his hand to help get the hairs off the trousers.
Five minutes later, his room mates came home to find him bent over, hard at work, giving the cop’s arse an energetic rub-down.
Anyway, at our last meeting, he had a little gift for each of us: a hand-carved wooden namesake of the pub. It’s perfect, from its bunched tail, to the tip of its inquisitive nose.
The cat’s out of the bag and the Fox is out of the hole, so to speak. We’re in a national paper1 — and something tells me this is just the beginning.