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In a hole in the ground…

…there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats-the hobbit was fond of visitors. The tunnel wound on and on, going fairly but not quite straight into the side of the hill-The Hill, as all the people for many miles round called it-and many little round doors opened out of it, first on one side and then on another. No going upstairs for the hobbit: bedrooms, bathrooms, cellars, pantries (lots of these), wardrobes (he had whole rooms devoted to clothes), kitchens, dining-rooms, all were on the same floor, and indeed on the same passage. The best rooms were all on the left-hand side (going in), for these were the only ones to have windows, deep-set round windows looking over his garden, and meadows beyond, sloping down to the river.

- JRRT, “The Hobbit”.

Sounds OK. I mean apart from the Sky dish and broadband that’s nicer than my gaff – and I like my gaff. So… What is the Mainly Fail on about with Mrs Bilbo. She looks a sight and lives like a scumbag in a way that annoys me (because she thinks herself “righteous”). We clearly all can’t – all 62 million of us Brits can’t afford to live like that – even if we wanted to! I mean I live in a house first built c.1600 but it ain’t Hobbiton (it’s on the outskirts of Manchester which was one of the places modernity was invented). More to the point why consider that living in a mud-hut can be compared to Bilbo’s gaff? Shifty Failish churnalism – again. Yet again.

Soon enough I shall wire-up the TV (downstairs) to the router (upstairs) for internet TV. This will involve an electric drill and language that would put Viz to shame. As I said, it’s c.1600 and I’m c.1973 so God knows what you drill into. Or what ineffable Geordisms may occur. I am no longer taking monies on the frequent use of “buggerated piss-flappery”.

Bilbo lived the most comfortable life imaginable (without electricity) (I can’t imagine life before Nikola Tesla stole lightning from Al Gore* or whomever because Tesla was a nasty man and made us modern.)

Admittedly I don’t have wizards and dwarves coming round with offers of quests. The lack thereof is a bit of a downer about living in the C21st. I would give up my comfort in an instant mind and dash out of my gaff, without a handkerchief, on an adventure (it’s my “Tookish” part). But whilst part of me would love to go into Wilderland with an Elvish blade in the company of dwarves I am still in Bag End. Hell’s teeth I want to be in the first Éored storming the fields of Pelennor. But it ain’t going to happen.

I am up for offers for anything utterly outrageous even if it means missing second breakfast. Usually that means somebody has a buggered Dell which can be fun but it’s not exactly dragon-slaying is it?

It is though civilization and not some sort of (quasi-sexual/quasi-religious?) kick about daubing the walls with horse shit. Because you see I am a Geordie and that means engineering and making life easier and more pleasant. But not just Geordies. Oh, no! Lots of other folk got into engines and abandoned the cute life – look at the “Good Life” – would the Goods have survived without continual help from Margo and Jerry? It is only slags like Drew Barrymore

Barrymore: I took a poo in the woods hunched over like an animal … awesome.
Diaz: (laughing) I’m so jealous right now. I’m going to the woods tomorrow.
Barrymore: It was awesome.

And E.T. told her to be “Be Good”! That’s Cameron Diaz by the way who once plastered the inside of someone’s gaff in Nepal with cow shit – on a show for MTV – whether they asked for this or not I dunno. Do you see a common thread here? I call it “Marie Antoinette syndrome”. You only aspire to play milk-maids and such when you don’t have to. For the really poor of this World in Africa and India and such places motorbikes and mobile phones make the difference not Hollywood A-listers who probably spend more on a set of bathroom taps than it would cost to drill a well for an entire village for people who can only dream of having a bathroom let alone the palatial ones Ms Barrymore and Ms Diaz have in their mansions.

So how does the humble phone and the motorbike help? Well, imagine you are from Kerala and fish for a living. There are several ports you can land your catch at. You got a mate shore-side and he texts you which one is short on fish and he’s got his bike (so he can find out) and your fish will be delivered by him on his bike. It all works out beautifully. It minimizes waste and ultimately forces down prices so it ain’t just good for you and your biker pal but for everyone.That makes a difference. Drew Barrymore crapping in your mango plantation doesn’t. Unless of course the canny owner puts it on EBay quick-smart, as a “Genuine Hollywood Turd”! Some deranged loon would buy it. If the internet has taught us anything it is that there is always one…

Oh, it undoubtedly made her feel good for a certain value of good. But so what? If she really wanted to help she could invest her millions in a Kawasaki dealership in Angola or an Indonesian mobile phone merchant or something.

We could save so much water if we all “hunched over like an animal”. It would make dog-walking perilous mind. “Watch out Rover! Charlize Theron is taking a dump behind that bush!”. Oh, and we’d have endemic cholera. Which of course they have in the poor countries. There is nothing noble about being a savage. And there is nothing decadent about having indoor plumbing. If you want a suggestion for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square how about Joseph Bazalgette?

Or Drew Barrymore squatting. I shouldn’t have said that because that is precisely the sort of thing the Arts Council would fund. Not a distinguished white, male, be-whiskered Victorian engineer. Oh that would never do! The Bazalgette sewer system still works for an enormously larger London. He built quite a bit of slack into it. Basically he based the diameters on the maximum expected and then doubled them. His argument for this is they were only going to do it once so… And that is how we have the magnificent city we call our capital. Because of people who had vision beyond shitting in St John’s Wood and calling it “awesome”. Joseph Bazalgette lived a large chunk of his life in St John’s Wood and God alone knows what the great engineer would have thought if he’d found a Hollywood starlet “in the position” whilst out surveying. A sewer system for the (at the time) largest city ever on the planet is an awesome achievement. An arboreal defecation, less so.

And Bilbo wouldn’t approve. He liked his comfort (who doesn’t?). He liked a well-stocked larder and a mug of ale with his pipe by his front door. He was, in short (which he was), disgustingly middle-class. And fair play to the fellow. He was (is?) what half the World aspires to be and what a very vocal, though considerably less than half the World, aspires to demonize.

To put it bluntly. I suspect that a huge swathe of enivro-mental do-gooders want Africa and (other places) to remain “authentic”. They don’t want ‘em to develop because that means they can’t go over and patronise them and feel good about it. And of course development means certain people will make loads of money which is clearly evil unless you make loads of money from being one of “Charlie’s Angels”. Of course that is fine. Digging sewers in Lagos or putting Wifi into Mumbai is obviously evil. You know in much the same way the greatest philanthropist (and he does look a bit Hobbitish) of all time is an evil man. That would be Bill Gates. Of course he was never as cool as Steve Jobs who never even flicked a dime towards research into the cancer that killed him (look it up – it’s 2:32am by this Win 7 machine here). But he wore jeans and a black polo-neck so he must be cool and therefore good.

I am now going to sit down with a pipe of Longbottom and discuss roots with The Gaffer…


  1. Julie near Chicago says:

    Well I like Bilbo and I LOVE the Professor when he writes in the style of the bit Nick quoted. And the RABish/Welsh side of me (I guess that was in Samizdata) would quite like a life somewhat like Bilbo’s, in the Hobbiton area.

    And I cannot on a Family Weblog use the correct c-word to describe the likes of Mesdames Barrymore, Diaz, and Theron.

    As for the femily in question, she actually strikes me more as “eccentric” than anything else. (Some American once wrote, roughly, that “Unlike us, Britain is fond of her eccentrics.) And I thought the writeup rather suggested disapproval.

    To tell the truth, it sounds to me as if she has one or two screws a little loose. I don’t say that at all about the other three, um, persons mentions.

    Thanks for the quote, Nick. It’s a nice thought to go to bed with. :)

  2. Paul Marks says:

    The Shire is in England – or England as it once was, or should have been.

    Actually the village of Broadway in W-shire (Elgar) with the strange tower outside is a good place (and just over the border is G-shire with all the those Cotswold villages and the Seven river leading you towards Wales). And north and west be H-shire and S-Shire (including such towns as Ludlow, FOOD, and Church St… and C. Arms and then up to Shrewsbury ….).

    Anyway – the steam railway should be restored that runs from Stratford Upon Avon in Warickshire to Chelt…. in G-shire.

    By the way….

    Building an underground house is difficult (if you do not do it right it does not age well at all) – but can be done, with skill.

  3. John Galt says:

    “Building an underground house is difficult (if you do not do it right it does not age well at all) – but can be done, with skill.”

    You try getting planning permission though.

    The landscape of The Hobbit and the Hobbitry in The Lord of the Rings in general is that of England, not as it was during Tolkien’s time, but in some long lost pastoral time between the end of feudalism and the first stirrings of the industrial revolution, when the yeomen of were the backbone of England.

    The English landscapes of both Turner and Constable partly reflect this, but it is a representation that is simultaneously both realistic and idyllic, reflecting an idea of England rather than mirroring it as chocolate box reality.

    Although Tolkien’s “The Shire” and the pastoral idylls of the past are both polite fictions, they reflect something deep in the English psyche, both undefinable and indefatigable. It is probably because of this that the English fight like lions to protect their ideals and also why the last successful invasion of England was The Glorious Revolution of 1688, largely planned by English nobles to unseat the last Catholic monarch, James II.

    Dig deep enough into any true Englishman and you will find a Hobbit.

  4. NickM says:

    Seeing as Ms Barrymore was an alcoholic heroin addict before she knew puberty. I think it is safe to assume a twister hit the screw aisle in B&Q (a Brittish DIY chain). That’s how loose the screws were.

    The Shire as England… Not 100% on that idea. The Shire is small North-South but it still has a bewildering variety of produce. So the South Farthing has vineyards and grows baccy whereas the North produces mutton and such. What you have is the best of all possible worlds in a single entity. I only realised this when I saw the PJ version of “Fellowship”. and Frodo and Sam being ambushed in the maize fields. I was about to get on my high horse (a veritable Meara) then I thought,,, If the hobbits make wine and grow tobacco why shouldn’t they have maize too?

    And there is a cannonical explanation for this. It is to do with the climatic works of Morgoth. He made it unnaturally cold in the North so the interface between a Northern European climate and a Southern one happens in The Shire and is very abrupt. But whilst we can have a glorious English Summer and toast it up Norf with a fine English (or Welsh) wine then more strength to our elbow!

    It actually makes a lot of sense. An awkward Vala playing Les buggeurs Risibile dicks the climate around and one gaff that proves to be his downfall (or rather ghe downfall of his Lt) is both fitting and sweet.

    And fuck you Dark Lord.! We have Samwise Gamgee who will walk the extra mile up Mount Doom carrying the ring-bearer through the unmitigated shit of your creation to bring you down.

  5. Julie near Chicago says:

    Nick, good point of course. I think what struck me was that what’s-her-name in the article actually walks the walk and has done so for 15 years. That seems little unlike the other three, um, ladies, and most of their ilk. Also, she does seem to grasp that her ex might prefer a more modern lifestyle.

    Of course, such things are not so unheard-of over here. There are quite a few people who build their smallish Castles out of odd, recycled or at least unusual materials, and have an outdoor composting toilet, and even sometimes dispense with running water–though I think that’s relatively uncommon. Mostly they seem to be survivalist types who want to be “off the grid” and “under the radar,” although they do mostly I think have homemade electricity, at least enough to run their internet.

    Underground houses are another matter. There are companies here that specialize in building them. They tend to be a bit pricey, although if you have a bunch of construction-savvy friends that helps. One such company is located here in Illinois: Davis Caves. They do, or did, a pretty good business in the central part of the state around the University of Illinois, which really makes sense since that’s a tornado-prone area. I looked into it myself at one point, but (a) too expensive and (b) I’d HATE living underground with no windows. I can’t even bear to have a basement office or sewing room. And of course a few years ago people were snapping up unused underground missile silos for sale, as being already stressed for livability and only needing cosmetic work and, of course, the Amenities.

    But I love broad fields spotted with woods for walking in, and I fell in love with Hobbiton on the very first page. I would dearly love to visit the spots you mention in England, Paul.

  6. NickM says:

    Not that I wanna spoil it for you Julie but that England was being built over in the 1930s. Now round my neck of the woods (and elsewhere) there is a lot of England that the Prof would still enjoy. He died in the year of my birth which is an embuggertion because he was very nice at answering fan-mail and I never had the chance!

    I’d love to live in a missile silo! Especially whilst wearing a Mao suit, stroking a cat, and having really attractive bespectacled mini-skirted ladies with clip-boards shaking their booties at me whilst they bend-over to tend a computer the size of Macclesfield. Alas I live in this century and type on a vastly more powerful machine that weighs less than a box of cat-food. And the only bugger who has to bend-over is moi and I always hitch-up my pants, “So as not to create a scene”.

    Goddamn you Alan Turing! And the rest of the lot! Nvidea and the they know who they are! And ATi – they only made it possible for me to go anywhere. The buggers!

  7. Kevin B says:

    So the moral of Nick’s tale is:

    “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach him to text while riding a motorcycle and before you know it, he’ll be part of the free market and on his way to joining the vast global industrial empire.”

  8. NickM says:

    Yes, Kevin. Except you don’t have to teach do you? And apart from anything whilst riding a motorcycle and texting are both fine things to do I would not generally suggest doing the two at once. You just have to give the opportunity and most folk will seize it because most folk want a decent living and the only way we have that is through tools and stuff. Imagine life without a posidrive? They have that in “restive” Helmand province. They also have several thousand NATO deaths and God knows how many lokes in the ground. We have ultrasound scans and they have the Taliban preventing midwives going about their business. Now isn’t a motorbike or a moble phone handy for such a job?

  9. Thornavis says:


    Great post entertaining as always and largely true but I can’t really see what your gripe with the mud hut lady is. She seems to be fulfilling a libertarian dream to me, living as she wants to without interfering with anyone else, is she really being self righteous ? OK she’s a bit of a loopy hippy but she has her view of the world and is just expressing it, as do you and I and plenty of people would think we’re just as barmy. I’m glad there are people like this around still and more than a little surprised that some council jobsworth hasn’t tried to get her evicted.

  10. *innocent face* says:

    If your ever down this way, there’s a whole load of underground houses in the cliffs at Guadix. You can see them driving on the A92 Grenada – Murcia road. There’s even chimneys & sat dishes run through to the top of the cliff. Gather there’s some for rent for vacations & even a hotel.
    Great scenery. It’s where some of the spaghetti westerns were filmed & that distinctive mesa, forms the background to the Clint Eastwood dialogues(?), sits to the north. Warning though. The only nuclear weapon to explode in Europe (yep- Palomares, Wiki it) detonated down by the coast so the lead lined Y-fronts for the cautious.
    For the foolhardy, the truckstop on the A92 has Spain’s nastiest brothel. Look for the two storey shack with the coloured bulbs draped over it. Watch out for the madame though. She wields a mean baseball bat.

  11. bloke in spain says:

    Sorry. Just realised I was still using the handle went with a gag, a while ago.

  12. NickM says:

    “Spain’s nastiest brothel” – I am so not up for that…

    Well, up to a point. My issue is the righteousness of it all. We can’t all live like that. That is the point.

  13. Robert the Biker says:


    The Gaffer (Sams Dad) was the gardeners apprentice in the time of The Hobbit
    Old Holman was the gardener and the Gaffer didn’t of course become a Gaffer till he had taken over when Holman died.

    Yes, pedantic twat, I know

  14. razorbacker says:

    The difficult part about leaving a poo in the woods is not filling your pulled-down trousers with the poo that you are attempting to leave.

    I prefer a nice, raised porcelein bowl, with running water to flush said poo away. Because I’m lazy like that. And I dislike pulling up trousers filled with poo.

  15. Mr Ed says:

    @ Razorbacker: Give Algiers a miss, you aren’t by any stretch fastidious.

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