Things the German’s do better – Part Two



Garden Houses on the edge of Hamburg.

So what’s the point of travel if it isn’t to find out how other people in the world are doing things and bring those ideas back home? It was good enough for Sir Walter Raleigh, it’s good enough for me.

Germany is a greener country than Britain. Not just because it’s bigger and has more space but because it doesn’t appear to see green issues as the preserves of cranks and people with dreadlocks. Better transport, better options for living in the city just make more sense in the 21st Century. Embracing environmental concerns and doing something to improve things IS progress where as our own government is stuck in the past, telling us time and again that environmental concerns stand in the way of progress.


Cyclists have right of way on Hamburg Streets

Last week on my trip to Hamburg I saw a transport system that appears to work. The train links with the underground which links with the buses. The buses were not just populated by pensioners, children and those too poor to own a car, as appears to be the case in Britain, but people of all ages and backgrounds.

True my friend, Wolfgang is a master of the public transport system of Hamburg, seemingly keeping a completely updated timetable in his head, but things just seemed to work more efficiently there. The trains were double decker and, my God, they ran at weekends as efficiently as in the week. Who would have thought that was possible? The buses were regular and even had a free book swap shelf on board. I could not imagine this happening in Britain. Something so sensible and altruistic. In Britain someone would be trying to make money from such a scheme.

In contrast today, I find my local train once again not running due to engineering works which seem to never be completed and only appear to serve the interests of commuters into London not people wanting to move around their local towns without a car. I cannot buy a ticket online for the next train only one for a train which leaves two hours after I wish to travel and the replacement bus service is not stopping at all locations.

Also last week I saw many attractive forms of city living in Hamburg. City centre apartments which come with an option to own a beautiful Gartenhaus. A wooden chalet down by the river with enough room to grow your own vegetables. These apartments did not appear to be the preserve of the wealthy but were, I believe, within the means of ordinary people.


It was as if in Germany it was just accepted that being locked in an urban environment was not good for ones soul and their was a human need to get out into the sunshine and stick your fingers into the soil. Further into the city I saw beautiful houseboats along the canals. Who would not want to live on the river or have somewhere natural to escape to on a summers evening in London.


Hamburg houseboat. .


But here in Britain we are sold the line that living in London is just too expensive for ordinary people and the only solution is for these people to move out of London into new housing estates built in the countryside and commute ever further into work, loosing a big chunk of their day stuck in overcrowded and inefficient trains.

It feels at times as if the government have thrown their hands in the air and resigned to the fact that they have no control over the London property market, as if they no longer have control of the capital. They probably don’t. The capital is ruled by business and foreign investors but the solution can’t be to bleed the life out of our cities and transport people elsewhere.

Instead of supporting building on our green spaces the government should be investing in inner city housing solutions, new ways of living, better public transport. I am clearly not a politician or an economist, I am just someone who senses that things are wrong.  It seemed to me that the Germans are ahead of the game once again.



The grass is always greener

Travel broadens the mind, so they say, and having returned from a week staying with friends in Hamburg I have come back with a sense of sadness at what we in Britain have lost and continue to lose at an ever increasing pace.

I was staying in Rahlstedt, a suburb of the city and each morning of my stay I would take a walk along a stream which ran near my apartment. It was -6 and snow was on the ground by wildlife was everywhere.  Trees reverberated with drumming woodpeckers, blue and coal tits called from every garden, red squirrels chased each other through the trees. It made me realise how impoverished our own wildlife in Britain has become, how concreted over our towns.

The difference was that here wildlife was allowed to live alongside people. gardens were allowed to run wild not turned into football pitches or car parks, mature trees were not removed as potential health and safety hazards and how delightful was it to walk past a field with horses grazing or a patch of scrub and not have to feel that constant anxiety that it would soon be gone for housing.

A roe deer watched me from a field edge, bullfinches flew between the trees in line with the balconies of flats and then, in a small woodland, I watched a goshawk fall from a tree and crash land on its prey feet from me, mantling it’s feathers over the creature before flying off to a nearby branch and watching me, seemingly unconcerned by my presence.

Red squirrels, bullfinches, goshawks, when was the last time a person living in Britain saw any one of these creatures? Most people in Britain have never seen them and yet we had them once, they are not scarce because they shouldn’t be here but because we pushed them out onto the edge of things.

In the city of Hamburg wildlife is part of everyday life, it surrounds peoples lives. Why then in Britain’s suburbs is wildlife increasingly portrayed as the enemy, an annoyance which stands in the way of progress and growth, and needs to be moved somewhere more convenient.

We have much to learn from other countries, not least, how to make our cities liveable for all, people and wildlife alike.




A Good Read – Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk.

A Good Read – Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk.


We’ve all done it. Dismissed a book based on the hype without ever opening the front cover. I was all poised to read this and be a bit sneery but, within the first few pages I changed my mind.

There was something real and honest in Helen Macdonald I hadn’t expected to find. Despite the reviews I don’t think this book is a work of dark genius. It’s not The Peregrine. I did not find it a hard, difficult, painful read but a simple account of grief and the desire to withdraw from the world.

Maybe it says something about me that I found so much in this book I could relate to. That the author’s desire to hide out with a hawk, lose herself in the wild, bury herself in non human instincts was something I could sympathise with.

I like the unapologetic way she deals with many of the issues this book covers. She doesn’t get bogged down in the ethics of killing animals it is just something she does. She takes responsibility for ending an animal’s life and she eats what she kills. Maybe at times you do feel uneasy about her lack of comment on the contrast between her own sustainable hunting and the pheasant shoots whose rearing pens her hawk plunders but ultimately the ethics of hunting is not what this book sets out to explore.

I also appreciated the lack of melodrama when talking about her grief and depression and her realisation that she can’t continue to hide out in the wilderness but needs people in her life.

If you are one of the people who have become sick of hearing about this book and actively avoided it then think again. Ignore the hype and enjoy the book for what it is. A simple and well written book from a women, who you sense, never sought the limelight.

Here we go again.


Kent Down Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. See it while you can. It’s about to be concreted over.


Monday morning and what do I find in my inbox? Yet another proposal to concrete over a large area of Kent countryside in the name of progress. This time it is the Highways Agency who are proposing creating a massive lorry park off of the M20.

I, along with millions of others, was affected by Operation Stack last year. This, for those who don’t live in Kent, is when the channel tunnel is not working due to industrial action or bad weather or migrants attempting to reach England through it and lorries are parked on the M20 until it opens again. It is a pain to be sure and last summer the area did rather grind to a halt. But until last year Operation Stack really didn’t seem too much of a problem.

So it seems a bit of an overreaction to create a massive lorry park to deal with an occasional problem but, as you read further into the consultation document you begin to realise that what is actually being proposed is some permanent overnight lorry parking facility which would net the government thousands in fees.

While the powers that be wander off with the cash us in Kent are left with increased pollution and flooding issues from the run off from this facility, increased traffic problems year round on local roads, not to mention the loss of woodland, downland, a scheduled ancient monument, Westhanger Abbey, and an ugly intrusion either into the villages of Sellindge and Stanford or the Kent Down AONB.

And of course this giant headline grabbing ego project does nothing to solve the real problems. Security at the channel tunnel and the increasing amounts of freight traffic on our roads. If only the government had the ability to think long term and deal with the real issues, but, no, this is too much to hope for, so I await once again the vision of David Cameron coming over the hill in his hunter wellies with his cement mixer in tow.

If this makes you as angry as it does me then you can attempt to get your voice heard here.

The edgelanders

untitled (17)

by MLP


Yesterday I crashed around in the damp leaves, in a quarry with a women called Vanessa. It was not a time for ‘normal’ people to be out. A wet Sunday afternoon in a quarry on the edge of town. The only people here were the teenagers, smoking in a sodden pack, perched on a rotten tree stump, and the ‘wierdos.’ I was the latter. The teenagers greeted us like fellow edgelanders, people who skulk on the scrubby edges of society.

We were here to do a meditation nature walk and had dressed in a bundle of odd layers, mine, moth bitten with burn holes from bonfires, Vanessa’s, so peculiar her teenage daughter had urged her not to leave the house.

We found a quiet spot, springy with raked up piles of beech leaves, we meditated, we walked around in the leaves, feeling the earth, our muscles, smelling the loam.

The birds alarm called, travelling flocks of tits and goldcrests, but then settled down, sensing we were ok, not likely to do human things like shout or call in dogs. We quietened down too, became centred, absorbed the outdoor world into our pores and let it be. Our muscles relaxed, our faces relaxed, we became part of the earth, not balanced upon it.

The rain stopped. The ‘adults’ emerged, dog walkers. They eyed us warily, they called their dogs away from us, the wierdos. I didn’t care. I felt my otherness and liked it. This stepping off the ledge of modern, normal, acceptable, life. Not shopping, not playing with a gadget, not exercising, me or a hound, just being.

I felt a woodlander in vaguely human form, a shapeshifter. It was the same feeling I used to get when camping rough in the woods. I would walk into a village in the morning and sense that my life and the life of the people I passed were on parallel tracks. I was walking just off to one side of the present, living an older, more natural, more animal existence, letting go, not caring about fitting in.

As the dog walkers scurried away I fell backwards into the pile of leaves and, laughing, looked up at the roof of skeletal winter twigs. The eiderdown of the woodland floor sucked me in

Back to Work

Barksore marsh ditch JanToday I walked Barksore Marshes, a private area of land on the edge of the Swale in North Kent. I was there to do a survey, to look at grass length and water in preparation for the coming breeding season, when I hoped the land would be full of lapwing.

My head had been full of New Year decorating plans and the sky became a Dulux colour chart of cool greys with twee names like ‘moonshadow’ and ‘pearl dawn’.

I stopped on a bridge over a fleet for a coffee. It was silent, a marshland silence, an enveloping cotton wool cloud of hush, broken occasionally by a crow cawing or a pheasant clucking or knot wing flashing out on the bay with a sound like a wave breaking on shingle.

A snipe flew from the rush. It was silent enough to hear the drip of water from its toes, creating rings, growing and softening across the surface of the fleet.

Skylarks began singing as the sun warmed the land.

“Too early,” I told them. “Wait, wait. It feels like spring but it could still turn.”

I hoped so. I hoped that winter would still come and change the country back into one of four seasons instead of a country with a climate that seemed to remain, warm, wet and grey year round.

Talking aloud, talking to birds and insects and sheep. It was the curse of the self employed. I was so often alone on the marshes I forgot what was normal. The aloneness could drive you crazy but not today. Today other people felt the back to work gloom descend. crowded on trains or stuffed into overheated offices but not me.

Today I thanked my ex boss who had trusted me with this gig.   I thanked God for this morning of silence and light on the marshes. I thanked my lucky stars.