Liberty, Fraternity, Equality



How lucky are we that, in England, our countryside is, for the most part, still open and free to all.

Today I parked my rather battered Nissan Micra next to a line of Chelsea tractors (shiny jeeps that never see any mud) in front of a multi million pound property and enjoyed a rather fine tuna sandwich and cup of choca mocha from my thermos while enjoying a beautiful view across a lake fringed with beech trees. An egret sailed overhead, ducks splashed in the lake, sheep grazed the meadow. A footpath led off round the lake and no one could stop me or make me pay for using it.

I appreciate that many people don’t have a car to get out to these spots or a job which allows them to be strolling the countryside on a weekday morning and I only have these things because I am a product of a university education which was once also free and available to all and is now, once again, only available to the wealthy, but, parked next to so much wealth and privilege I did feel quietly satisfied that no one can yet charge us for a view.

Blessed be our footpaths and our right to use them.

Beauty and the Beast

untitled (3)Visited the Shorelines Literature Festival of the Sea today at Leigh on Sea in Essex. A festival dedicated to the sea and the wonderful estuary landscape in both Essex and North Kent. I found the festival both inspiring and depressing. Inspiring because of the really interesting stories people are telling about a landscape which I love but which is so often derided as ugly and valueless by people who judge beauty by some Cotswold, middle England set of values and depressing because of the scale of destruction taking place.

The Thames super port development is currently hoovering up the Thames seabed causing fish numbers to plummet, ancient oyster and muscle beds to be destroyed, beaches to erode at alarming rates and spewing tons of sludge containing heavy metals and untold other pollutants into our water. Why? so yet more cheap goods can be shipped in from the Far East.

Also at the festival I bumped into Joan Darwell and Gill Moore, friends from my previous life with the RSPB and long term campaigners against the destruction of the Hoo Peninsula to make way for London’s Super airport. The latest scheme, beloved monster child of  London’s mayor Boris Johnson, will see the whole of the peninsula and most of the Thames destroyed to create an airport far larger than Heathrow and a 6 lane motorway joining it to London. This will be built on some of the most important habitat for wildlife in England and one of Britain’s premier literary landscapes which inspired Charles Dickens to write Great Expectations.

The trashing of Britain’s countryside, traditions and history in order to line the pockets of the super rich is just beyond belief. These people will undoubtedly go down in history but maybe not in the way their super sized egos dream about. Boris Johnson will no doubt be taught about in schools in years to come but probably as a super villain who should have been stopped.

Solvitur Ambulando

untitledTuesday proved to be a fitting end to the survey season as I trudged across miles of marshes in the driving rain. It could have been hideous but, like many things in life, being outdoors in the winter is all a state of mind.

On this occasion, the wind and rain in my face and the vast flatness of the landscape were what I needed. I needed to think and walk under sullen skies with swirling flocks of lapwing and starling overhead. Stonechats hunkering in the bramble, herons, with faces as thoughtful as my own.

The weather helped, the rain in my face and the fact that there was no one but me abroad. The world so empty that it was like walking around in your own head with a window to the outside world, a feeling enhanced by being encased in layers of waterproofs.  Solvitur ambulando, You can work it out by walking. Today it helped. I came to a decision while leaping a gate.

Unfortunately I had leapt down into a field of cows. Cows are not my favourite creatures, particularly gangs of heifers as these were. My own internalised problems took a back seat as I was faced with the more immediate difficulty of dealing with a bunch of feisty teenagers, egging each other on to take a swing at me.

“What’s that? Let’s have a look, go on Tommy, have her.” The lead cow fancied his chances and bundled over.

“Back off,” I said. “Back off, I want no trouble. I’m just here to look at that ditch and then I’m gone from your life.”

The cow looked at me with soulless eyes and at that moment I could understand why the devil is cloven hooved. The others pushed and shoved at the back, climbing on each other for a better look. I banged my stick on the ground.

“Geeeerrrrrrtttttt offfff.” I warned trying to sound farmer like and authoritarian. They only took it as a sign that I must be a provider of food and came closer. I was becoming surrounded, with my back to a barb wire fence and a railway track. My heart was pounding and stories of people crushed by cows played out it my head. If I was trampled in this spot then no one would find me for days.

I was reminded of the scene from the film Withnail and I where Withnail gives instructions from the safety of a nearby field. “Hold your bag up. Run at it shouting.”

I looked at this wall of bulk and horns and ran at it. “Ra, RA,” I shouted and slapped the nearest one with my stick. They  backed off, hooves flayling. I pounded away across the field before they could change their mind and reached the level crossing, climbing on top of the locked gate I felt victorious.

“Sucks to you.” I shouted back at the herd, jumped off the gate and almost got squished by an oncoming train.

The survey season and my own concerns almost ending in spectacular fashion.

Book Review – The Road by Cormac McCarthy

untitled (9)A man and his son walk through a post-apocalyptic world of ash strewn countryside and abandoned cities populated by desperate gangs of cannibals. They survive on a cart of scavenged food, love for each other and hope, without evidence, that things could be better down south.

Throughout the book their are references to ‘carrying the fire’ and this symbolises faith in God to heal the ravaged land, in the future represented by the boy, in the need to keep your humanity and goodness when all around you is darkness and desperate survival.

The Road is a bleak, desperate and, at times, gruesome read but don’t let this put you off. It is not a depressing book, there are moments of joy for the pair and it is a reminder of how happiness can be found in the smallest things and that love and strength of character are things of value even when there is nothing else to give.

A brilliantly crafted and bravely written book, The Road is a worthy winner of the Pulitzer Prize.