You could - despite what the Bible says - live on bread alone for quite a long time. If you had the ingredients, you could probably make a loaf if you really had to.

But if civilisation ended tomorrow, could you also grow the wheat to make the flour, fashion a plough, a millstone, an oven and fuel to bake it? And how would you survive in the meantime?

Tricky.

Loading article content

We live in one of the most sophisticated countries of the world, yet if it all collapsed, we would be absolutely helpless. The more complicated society gets, the further out of reach it becomes for most of us.

Primitive tribes could cope as they still have the skills. We’d be hopeless. Not only would we have to grow our own food, we’d have to hunt it and kill it too, forage for edible plants, learn how to store them.

And this in a country where we go into panic when supermarkets are shut for one day a year… We’d be dead of starvation and disease before the end of the first winter. High-tech digital skills aren’t much use when there’s nothing to power them. A smartphone on its own isn’t very smart at all. Neither are we.

There aren’t many of us who could turn a sheep into a woolly jumper all by ourselves. Or a live pig into bacon. Or a cow into shoes. A vague idea of how it’s done doesn’t hack it for hands-on survival.

If the world nearly ended, we’d be a bit stuck. And until we reinvented the wheel – and could you make one?- we’d be stuck in pretty much the same place too.

Then there are the people…

We all love to moan about the government and councillors and the rules that keep society working. It might not be perfect, but with all its faults our society has grown up over centuries. It works.

The TV series Eden showed what can happen when you start from scratch. A group of people left in isolation in a wild bit of Scotland for a year were meant to be building a new society. They had basic rations and tools and a selection of skills to start them off. They were willing volunteers, intelligent and prepared. It should have worked, could have been a new Utopia.

Instead, some of them walked out. Half the people were accused to being bullies, others of being idle and subversive. There was fighting, deception and sneaky tricks. It didn’t end well.

If that had been for real, there wouldn’t be much hope for mankind.

Who knows why societies turn out the way they do? If you were building a society from scratch, where would you start?

Even in this international age, every country still has its own distinctive characteristics even when they’re close neighbours. Think of the difference between the US and Mexico, North and South Korea.

Just before the Scottish Referendum, we were in the Outer Hebrides. Part of Britain, it’s another world where Sundays are deathly quiet – no one out walking, doing their garden or washing their cars, no children playing. They don’t chain the swings on Sundays any more, but signs on playground gates say “Respect the Sabbath”, as if a child playing is an offence to God. Everyone is in church. Pubs are shut, leisure centres are shut, shops are shut. If you want your Sunday paper, you have to wait until Monday.

Even for someone like me, brought up in Wales in a family full of vicars and lay preachers, where playing cards were known, honestly, as “the Devil’s picture book”, it came as a horrible shock.

What would happen if people like that ended up running the world?

Meanwhile we think of Afghanistan now as a country where women are shrouded in burkas and pretty much denied education and freedom. Yet there are plenty of photos from the 1970s showing young women in mini skirts confidently striding through the streets of Kabul. Now they might be old women in burkas, but they will remember those earlier times when there was music and freedom. What stories do they tell their daughters?

We’re lucky that we live in a society that, by and large, gives us both freedom and security. But if we had to choose between them, it would be an impossible decision, especially if a safe society meant giving up music, books and sparkly shoes.

It’s the basis of my latest novel, set in a Britain you might not recognise, where there’s a world to re-populate as quickly as possible so girls are under pressure to have as many babies as young as possible.

Safety or music? Security or freedom? Books or babies? You might not have the choice…

  • Amity and the Angel by Sharon Griffiths, published by Damselfly Books, is available from Amazon as a paperback or e-book.
  • Don't miss Sharon's regular column – every Friday in The Northern Echo