35 Not Out———Yet.

No sooner had I clicked on Publish for last months blog on 31/5 than an invitation plopped on my front door mat to attend a meeting at Markbeech village hall with the organisers of Leefest/Neverworld on 6/6 to discuss how the event might be improved. As venting one’s spleen in merciless bloody slaughter is, apparently, still illegal and I’ve already said as much as I can on the issue, albeit before determinedly deaf ears, I saw no point in further debate, especially with those who have a vested interest. I did not, therefore, bother to attend as I felt that to do so would only be seen as supplication to their dictates and would lend a degree of unwarranted validity to their cause, when any further discussion should in fact be between the local population and the licensing authority. However, some good news (speaking personally) has emerged in that Hever Residents Association has revealed that this will be the only event held at the site this year with Into The Wild and Veganfest having decided to pull out and Into The Wild relocating to a site at Chiddingly near West Hoathly in East Sussex.

3/6 most notably marked the 2nd anniversary of the passing of Muhammad Ali and, of somewhat lesser significance, the end of the 35th year since of our arrival in Hever. Longer by far than I have previously lived anywhere before.

Back when we arrived, having paid the enormous sum of £41,500 for our end of terrace cottage, there were no mobile phones or personal computers, no Hever golf club, no local music festivals, no triathlon, no floodlit urban palaces, not too many overinflated egos and very few cyclists. Fireworks were only once a year not every weekend at midnight throughout the summer with a few midweek specials for the hard of hearing. What we did have were a few larger houses, a modest number of small cottages and some old shacks, many finished in the colours of the Hever Castle Estate, under the Astors, of grey render with pale lemon gloss for the woodwork.

We had a real feeling of community, still do to some degree but this was on a far grander scale. It seemed that everyone from miles around would cram into The Kentish Horse, not then the extended, soulless, giant it has become but one tiny single bar, on Friday night and Sunday lunchtime. It was, in those days, impossible to call in to any local hostelry without being confronted with several friendly, familiar faces. In short everyone knew everyone else. This was an age when people actually wanted to live in the peace and quiet of the English countryside and were content, nay grateful, to live in humble cottages, without feeling compelled to extend them massively or tear them down completely in order to replace them with some gleaming monstrosity which might fit well enough in posh suburbia but in this environment looks about as attractive as John Merrick without his makeup after a rough night out.

In short most folk were friendly and had good taste back then and nothing much changed during the first twenty odd years of our occupancy. Yet only the other day one of my neighbours, who to be fair replaced what was only an asbestos shanty with a fairly traditional oak framed structure, took the trouble, unasked, to tell me that no one would buy a property like mine these days as it is no longer fit for purpose. They may be right. Perhaps I should crawl away and die of shame at the unworthiness of my sad dwelling, yet I fancy I still shan’t struggle to get my money back plus a few coppers when the time comes to sell, while they well might!

Speaking of money, I hear on the grapevine that my dear friends beyond my rear fence have run out of cash (would that they might run out of breath) and, at least for the minute, cannot proceed with their ambition to build a house at the bottom of our garden, although of course this still leaves us with planning blight. Conversely, a little further beyond, there seems to be no such pecuniary restraint with the old farmhouse which disappeared with such a crash a few months back. All that can be seen now is a huge crater and an army of digging equipment surrounded with security fencing. Rumour has it that this will ultimately house a subterranean swimming pool and gym. Better I suppose than flaunting your wealth above ground, although it remains to be revealed what exactly will project skywards on completion.

While all those years ago most of us were paupers, in my case burdened with an unspeakably enormous mortgage of almost 30k, some, even back then, were very rich indeed. This, however, was mainly ‘old money’ which somehow seems not to erode good taste or inflate the ego to the same degree as ‘new money’ and, despite their wealth, the rich of those days even managed to talk to the rest of us as equals without feeling any need to sneer with contempt at our very existence. Many were, and of course if they are still around remain, titled, with Sirs and OBE’s two a penny, and bear the surnames of their Norman ancestors, knights who fought at Hastings and were apportioned land in recognition. These days It is quite entertaining, on occasion, to see a self important newcomer looking down their nose at one of these clearly inferior individuals, many of whom drive battered old vehicles and can be even scruffier than the rest of us in their daily attire, only to melt like a lolly in an oven when discreetly advised that poor, dopey, old Bob, Liz or whatever might still be running around in a thirty year old Ford Escort but they could buy them, and the rest of us, many times over and should, incidentally, were they of a stuffy or officious disposition, actually be addressed as Viscount Bob or Lady Liz.

My neighbour tells me that they heard a cuckoo call the other morning, while their daughter who works in the castle gardens says they hear one regularly there. I at last heard a single call on the morning of 5/6 with nothing since. They are nowhere near as conspicuous as they once were. Indeed it seems that many common species have melted away in recent years until we suddenly notice they’ve gone. Sparrows have staged a bit of a comeback but starlings are fading fast and when did you last see an earwig? My other neighbour is a keen dahlia grower and, in days of yore, these used always to be plagued with them. I well remember my grandad making traps out of old flowerpots stuffed with hay and left inverted on a garden cane. Invariably they would be seething when checked but I can’t remember when I last saw one. Likewise my neighbour’s daughter apparently has a nightingale singing just around the corner where she lives. We once had three. One at either end of our lane and a third on the walk home from The Kentish Horse. Coppiced woodland is critical to this species, with hazel between the fourth and seventh year of its cycle being ideal. With poles of this size no longer required for hurdles, bean sticks etc their preferred habitat is simply growing out to serve the demand for fuel for wood burning stoves on a longer twenty year rotation.

No mystery any longer surrounds the frog tadpoles fostered from my neighbour across the road. I’ve not seen a single one since I released a hundred or so into my pond last month but what I did see the other day (22/6) while watering my garden was a very contented young grass snake of about a foot in length sunning itself atop the pond weeds. This may well be one of many, possibly hatched from my own compost heap last year.

Jackdaws are still very much in the ascendance, with our resident chimney-pot pair presenting this year’s four fledged offspring to the world on 10/6. Buzzards and roe deer, unseen before the millennium, are now a common sight but our little owls, once a common adornment to telegraph poles when I departed for work early in the morning are no longer around, at least not in their previous numbers. A shame, as they are one of very few introduced species that appear to have little adverse impact on their environment. One of their earliest release sites was only a mile or so from my house at Stonewall Park back in the eighteenth century. Foxes have also become a rare site locally. Oddly numbers seem to have decreased dramatically since hunting with hounds was banned a few years back. Perhaps they have left, due to the lack of excitement?

I know I’m always banging on about change but a few months back we received a survey form from the council asking about our housing needs. It was pretty obvious that this was just another ruse to see how many more houses they could stuff into the district but what threw me was the question; “Are you LGBT?”. Now I may be a bit naive and mean no disrespect to anyone but I had no idea as to what this meant and assumed it to be some kind of sandwich. Like a BLT with a dash of garlic perhaps?

I have since been enlightened and I’m fine with that. Each to his or her own, so long as it causes no harm to the planet or other sentient beings and doesn’t frighten the horses. What I do find a little odd is the current trend towards wanting to be ‘gender non specific’ and for individuals being offended by being addressed as he/him or she/her. I know that a minority of people feel unhappy in their original skin and take steps to change gender but nevertheless the vast majority end up as one sex or the other surely? Good luck to them all. I can’t, however, help but feel we are becoming a little over sensitive on this and a number of related issues. I’ve been happy to identify as male for the past 67 years, due to my whiskery chin and the undeniable evidence contained in my underpants, but please feel free to call me whatever you like in future.

My son is more modern and free thinking in his outlook. He tells me that it is our human right to be known by any identity we may choose. Good for him. He is going to inform the other workers in his office that henceforth he will be wearing a cap with a rotor blade on top, plastic machine guns under each armpit, and wishes to be addressed as gender non specific Apache Attack Helicopter in future. They can’t touch you for it. I don’t know where the boy (sorry person, oops! I meant helicopter) gets it from!

Now the last week of the month was an absolute boiler. A perfect time for everyone to enjoy the great outdoors, even cyclists, most of whom, despite my previous mild chastisements are at least polite as they block our local thoroughfares in their thousands. A few, however, are anything but and will not hesitate to offer all manner of abuse or kick your car as you try to overtake. Some even threaten violence as with my helicopter when it hovered at home and dared to try and get out, albeit well after the unwelcome curfew effectively imposed during Hever Castle Triathlon and it’s associated events had officially ended. As he (can’t keep up with the crap) tried to turn right at the T junction by the local pub he had his car thumped and was generously offered a ‘bloody good kicking’ by a group of late riders.

What an inconsiderate lot us country folk are in peacefully trying to go about our business as we always have. We really should just curl up and die. Its not as if we pay council tax (which out here, effectively, entitles us to have two sacks of very specifically defined refuse collected on a weekly basis and precious little else), road tax or car insurance is it? Just a minute, actually we do although I’m sure it can’t be as much as the invading cyclists as they clearly now own the entire district, as a recent experience demonstrates:

On the penultimate Sunday of June I went for a stroll with my mate (name withheld to protect the innocent) from down the lane and his dog. We had walked our usual circuit of around two miles and as we approached a busier section our canine friend was placed on his lead for safety. There was no traffic in any direction, save for a single cyclist coming up the hill. As he passed us the dog put out his head and sniffed the air but in no way impeded his progress. At this the cyclist felt moved, to say not ‘good morning’ but to shout ‘f— off’, for no apparent reason, in the same way that I fancy the same individual, had spoken to my friend’s wife and child under similar circumstances when we were walking only a few weeks previously. She had, with admirable restraint, only replied “That’s charming, in front of a child” so he probably thought that he might get away with it again without risk of any harsher rebuke.

Perhaps riding a bicycle somehow alters you visual perspective. Maybe he thought my friend was a chap of average build accompanied by a small child, as I was wearing a silly hat to stop my bald head from burning in the sun. In fact, I am of average build while my chum is rather larger than most peoples houses. He patently did not expect the response that the got this time to his cheery greeting.

With veins the size of water mains bulging from his purple brow and plumes of live steam issuing from both earholes my little friend, quite justifiably I felt, exploded like a bad day in 1940’s Hiroshima with several interesting ideas to assist the cyclist in improving his manners. These included internalizing his entire bicycle via the anus which, although I felt it was not a good time to mention it, seemed physically rather impractical to me, what with the spoked wheels, Lycra shorts, and all.

The chap on the bike did at first stop for further debate but as my friend accelerated towards him, offering many options for therapeutic dismemberment and a master’s course in Middle English expletives, his sense of scale seemed to return and, mercifully, as I knelt silently praying for his soon to be liberated immortal soul, he took off like a nitrous burning dragster. Doubtless in a hurry to courageously abuse women, children and frail old men elsewhere. Sorry, that should be vulnerable, gender neutral folk of varying birth years.

Back when we arrived all those years ago Hever was deservedly referred to as ‘rural England at its Tudor best’. For more than twenty years little changed and to the casual observer it all probably seems much the same today but from the perspective of a long time resident the Hever of yesteryear bears scant resemblance to that which confronts us today. It is fast becoming little more than a cycle track for foulmouthed thugs and a dumping ground for disenfranchised urbanites in need of constant entertainment and the facilities of a large city on their doorsteps. I used to love the place with passion and I accept that there are still far worse places to live, but after thirty five years I’m afraid the romance is over.

 

 

 

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The Beast Looks East.

What we saw on our recent foray to North Norfolk was too say the least ‘hugely encouraging’. The part of Norfolk that we visited has survived, thus far, pretty much as I remember it in my youth, in the main because it continues, like much of East Anglia, to function as working countryside. This is the nations bread basket. Not so pretty as our current locality perhaps as here the dominant vista is of large open fields full of barley, wheat and sugar beet interspersed with the occasional pig, turkey or chicken farm. It is a fully functional landscape, possessed of its own charm and not so easily surrendered to development, as it retains an enduring value in its own right. Prevailing economics seem to afford it a level of protection that the feeble and apparently unenforceable ‘Green Belt’ and ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’, that we pretend to enjoy at home, cannot begin to approach. Even the huge coastal marshes, now beloved of birdwatchers everywhere, owe their survival to a working past, of wild-fowling, reed cutting and grazing. The old adage ‘Money talks’ is sadly, but invariably, true and never more so than where the environment is concerned.

By contrast in my part of West Kent it is now difficult to identify any meaningful scale of specific agriculture. Here, by contrast, there are virtually no identifiable crops, save for one gigantic prairie on our side of Edenbridge and the plastic monstrosity at Penshurst. Likewise, apart from a few sheep, a little dairy farming, and the odd horse, there is no livestock to be seen. We have become a theme park where nouveau locals are no longer content with the area’s intrinsic beauty, peace, and wildlife nor are they happy to tolerate any inconvenience from our relic farming heritage. Instead they find it boring and require constant entertainment. Hence we are now plagued with so called ‘real football’, hoards of cyclists, music festivals, triathlons and numerous related events to the point where hardly a single weekend throughout this summer will remain untainted. At times we will be effectively penned in our own homes by road closures or literally hundreds of cyclists, who now afflict us throughout the year, even on weekdays if the weather permits, swearing, giving us one, or two, finger salutes and even threatening violence if we dare, for even a moment, to impede their progress by daring to walk or drive in the lanes which now clearly belong exclusively to them.

Do I wish to continue to live in Dante’s World of Adventures or some warped version of rurality from the mind of Hieronymus Bosch? First instincts if asked whether I would take a risk on moving back to real working countryside, to swap Hever for Norfolk, is if I could go tomorrow it would take too long. Yet we must, I suppose, be cautious and, at our age, even boringly sensible. As I have said, it would be foolish to come to any lasting conclusions on the basis of a four day re-acquaintanceship. The realities of living full time in a locality are vastly different from those encountered on a short-break holiday.  There are inevitably pros and cons in any situation:

Hever = Music festivals, triathlons and other endurance events impinging on daily life, greedy gits and their endless planning applications, cyclists, heavy civil air traffic, general overpopulation, excessive road traffic, shops, restaurants, medical facilities, friends and relations. In all there are many cons these days and a few conveniences rather than major pros aside from our friends and relations whom it would cause me considerable agony to leave behind. Not least is the issue of my mother, who at almost 96 relies heavily upon me for virtually everything, whom I could not abandon yet would find almost impossible to relocate, and, of course my son who lives locally at present.

Norfolk = Dry summers but cold weather in winter, space and tranquility with few people or cyclists (I say ‘or cyclists’ as I do not consider these to be people, they are a vile composite of flesh, rubber, and metal tubes concocted by Satan and wrapped in Lycra, often entrapping innocent budgies in the process, for dispatch back to the outer reaches of Hell where they surely belong), huge coastal marshes unlikely ever to be developed, very little traffic, the only air traffic is an occasional military jet, fewer pubs, restaurants or takeaways (I’m showing my towny side in these concerns), fewer medical facilities and shops (aside of a disproportionate number of pet shops) would likewise be a problem and friends and relations would be a long way away. These are obvious cons, but friends could come and stay, particularly given our potentially enhanced facilities, and even a miserable, insular, couple like us might eventually make a few new ones, or we could travel back to visit. One bonus is that there appear to be plenty of crematoria in the county so we would be well catered to for the final fry up.

Joking aside this is an enormous decision for us. We have to face the fact that we are not getting any younger and any thoughts of a return, should things not work out, would be unrealistic. In truth a large house and garden is the last thing we, sensibly, need as we don’t want to end up unable to cope with maintaining our lot. Ideally a small detached property with a garage and small garden, or even just a patio, would be quite sufficient to our needs.

My wife seems convinced that I will die within days of our move and leave her alone in the wilderness, however, as I constantly reassure her, ‘only the good die young’. Her repost is ‘you’re already bloody old’, bless her, but our eventual location, and obtaining provisions on a regular basis, without too much traveling, is another concern although I’m sure that some enterprising individual/supermarket chain will already have spotted this niche market and filled it.

Much consideration, a good look at The Norfolk Local Plan for the next twenty years, and a few more trips east are obviously essential, although an initial look at the local plan through to 2030 revealed no obvious horrors and looking at the 2000 and 2010 census results for several of the villages where we are considering settling show, surprise, surprise, a reduction in population twixt the two dates of around 15%. Could this reflect the buying up of property for second homes/holiday lets which my friends warned me of? The figures certainly match. I shall dig deeper but it does appear that the population of this part of the world is, for the moment, not growing in the same way as the south east.

Speaking of the, already full to bursting, south east; we are now simultaneously told that we must be much more careful with our water consumption and that The Office for National Statistics is predicting that England’s population is set to rise by over three million in the next decade. At a conservative estimate we are said to consume 40 gallons of water, each, every single day in drinking, bathing and flushing the loo. That means that we shall require a minimum extra 120,000,000 gallons of water on a daily basis by 2028. That’s 43,800,000,000 gallons per annum, which equates to around 20 extra reservoirs the size of that presently local to me at Bough Beech. We cannot, of course, increase rainfall accordingly to fill these and at some point the authorities will need to wake up and smell the coffee if we have sufficient water by then to brew any. I suspect it is already too late but without dramatic measures to control population growth Armageddon is now perilously close at hand.

A few days after we arrived back any remaining doubts about it being time to move on were swept away when a very personable young lady arrived at our door waving a leaflet and craving support in resisting this years wave of festivals, so far announced as;

Vegan Weekend 13-15th July, projected attendance so far unknown.

Neverworld (ex Leefest) 2-5th August, projected attendance 4999.

Into the Wild (which caused such problems last year) 24-27th August, projected attendance 4999.

Factor in the traffic associated with each event, together with the heavy stuff necessary over several weeks each side, for the build and tear down needed on every occasion, plus several lesser events to be held on the site, coupled with The Hever Triathlon and its ever multiplying associated events, their attendant road closures and the cycle traffic attracted to our area at all times, and it becomes clear that any pretense of peace no longer exists for us as residents throughout the entire summer and beyond.

Another lady was also touting support by email. Both have my contact details, yet neither has been in touch since. So then, is it worth fighting on? The blunt answer is ‘absolutely not’, I previously spent the best part of a whole year vociferously representing my views to the appropriate authorities with every fibre of my being, to continue further would be akin to reopening objections to The Norman Conquest.

Where were these noble protesters two years ago when they might have made a difference? An irrevocable precedent was set back then with the granting of permission for Leefest/Neverland and a degree of local patronage has since made its position pretty much unassailable and opened the way for many more similar events. The objections of the majority have been repeatedly ignored and in my view all further debate is now futile. As I’ve said before, both on this issue and with local development, there is no point in getting up at eleven in a boxing match and hoping to win. It is now time to leave the ring.

At least it appears that common frogs have returned to Hever. That is to say that my friend’s pond across the lane is packed with both adults and tadpoles this year. On swiping (with permission) a packed net full of tadpoles I was both surprised and pleased to have an adult frog’s head pop up to greet me as I liberated them in my own tiny pond. Until now I have seen very few in our direct neck of the woods for many years. Numbers crashed dramatically from a situation where every local pit, puddle or pond held hundreds in the breeding season and it was often impossible to mow the lawn after a summer shower left it seething with emergent froglets. This changed dramatically with the advent of chytrid fungus which arrived following the discovery of upwards of 40,000 American bullfrogs which were first found to be breeding in a couple of ponds near Cowden and were later diagnosed as carrying the fungus which is deadly to many amphibians.

This outbreak of escaped or introduced aliens (Many pet shops and garden centers used to sell the gigantic tadpoles as pets. This is now banned), less than two miles from my house, was not only the first locally but also nationally. Bullfrogs and also the clawed toad, used for many years in pregnancy testing, are less affected by the disease but act as carriers. In this case the bullfrogs were quickly slaughtered by all available means, including shooting and freezing, and the site is still monitored annually for any resurgence. Hopefully things are again on the turn. Perhaps a new generation of more resistant common frogs has emerged that will repopulate the area.

On 5/5 I noticed a leopard slug / great grey slug racing across the top of my compost heap. I say racing as these are much faster than other slugs on which, as semi-carnivores, they sometimes prey and are able to overtake at breakneck speeds of up to six inches a minute. Were this their only prey I would bid them welcome, however, as well as feeding on various plant and animal detritus they are known to consume crops at a faster rate than they can grow which means they must still be regarded as a pest overall.

Having been forced, for the previous couple of months, to remove at least twenty pages from my daily paper and place them directly in my recycle bin, together with switching off each and every topical news program, I spent the day of 20/5 sitting in my garden to avoid all coverage of the nauseating nuptials taking place at Windsor, although I did refrain from flying my glorious 3 x 5 foot replicas of Cromwell’s battle standard on this occasion. It was well worth my self imposed political and social isolation as in the process I discovered that we have a potter wasp Ancistrocerus laevipes building its nest beneath our garden table.

Still in denial of all media releases and broadcasts at half past three in the afternoon I was alerted, by my wife, to a buzzard being mobbed by crows in the field opposite my house but although quite distant one glimpse of the wristed wings and obviously forked tail told me this was no buzzard but a red kite. I would say that at half a mile distant its jiz, which used to mean the overall feel of a beast or bird from its general attitude and behaviour, gave it away. Sadly that word, like gay and many others, has been hijacked and now means something completely different to the majority of the public.

Sadder still than the corruption of the English language is the lack of calling cuckoos. They have been in decline for many years. Both my wife and I did hear what we thought was a single, very distant, truncated call on 23/5 and hopefully there may be more to follow but this iconic summer visitor is now indisputably in dramatic decline.

If anything defined the end of the month (May) it was the unprecedented number of  storms which punctuated its final week. Some days were exceptionally hot and steamy and we enjoyed glorious sunshine, which encouraged several very enjoyable barbeques in the evenings, but invariably there would also be some of the most spectacular displays of lightning that I have ever witnessed making their presence felt on the horizon, sometimes bringing proceedings to a close with absolutely torrential downpours.

Thunder was never exceptional and on occasion the rainfall failed to materialize. It was the lightning which impressed and I must confess that I have never before witnessed such intensity. It sometimes seemed to be continuous and emanated from every point of the sky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another brief history of time and a trip to timeless Norfolk.

On just about the only sunny morning at the very end of March the insistent mewing of buzzards caused us to look up and there, directly over my house, were no less than ten individuals soaring on the early thermals to equal our previous record from a couple of years back. The scene was reminiscent of a scene from an old western where circling vultures indicate a stricken cowboy in the desert. Today they are by far our most common raptor, yet prior to the millennium they were unheard of this far east and, as our recent trip to Norfolk revealed, they have now extended their range right over to the east coast.

Last month was a bad one nationally for celebrities. We lost Trevor Bayliss, Stephen Hawking and Ken Dodd. They say that no one is irreplaceable, so just find me someone who can dream up something like a clockwork radio and much else in his garden shed, overcome unimaginable disability to become the greatest physicist of his age and work out how a black hole works on a piece of paper, or keep an audience in his thrall telling family friendly jokes at a rate of 500 an hour for five hours at a time throughout a career lasting over seventy years and I might agree. It sure as hell ain’t me.

In Hever too we have our problems. Thankfully no one died but on the last day of March came closure of yet another era in our local history, with the retirement of Steve and Rosa Gower after 48 years of tirelessly delivering our papers, seven days a week, in all weathers, without any holiday that I can remember aside of the odd day attending cricket matches near and far and the luxury of Christmas day every year. I among many others will miss them terribly but cannot argue that they deserve some time of their own for rest and recreation and wish them a long and happy retirement.

I know Steve far better than Rosa as I have seen him at our front door on an almost daily basis for the past thirty five years, as well as the occasional encounter in local hostelries. Strangely Steve is the third ‘Steve Gower’ that I have known in my life. The chairman of the students union at Ewell Technical College was a Steve Gower as was a chap at Thames Water Authority when I worked there, and then I moved here and found this one.

Originally a builder, he was always a keen sportsman and gave much of his spare time playing for Stonewall Cricket Club, coaching youngsters, or otherwise serving the local community in its many and various needs. I know part of Steve’s paper round as I worked a day or two, in an honorary capacity, for him last year while he took a little time out to listen to the chock of leather on willow. Despite the five O’clock start it was a pleasure to see how one of the last of the ‘old school’ local businesses functioned, with instructions as to how to find certain customers running along the lines of “You know that house with the huge oak tree outside it in Cowden?”. “Yes”. “Well if you come to that you’ve gone too far. You need to turn round and come back to the house where the old poacher blew his dog’s head off in front of the kids waiting for the school bus that time. Then go back towards the oak tree and its the second house on the right, with the bright red front door”. Happy days, country ways, now almost all gone forever.

Speaking of Steve, he is one of the last true locals to retain the harsh edge to his R’s that define the unique accent of this part of Kent. I can think of only around another half a dozen individuals, one of whom lives next door, where it lingers, totally different to the rolling R of the West Country. Indeed, accents are disappearing nationally, thanks to the homogenization wrought by TV, which I think a great pity as an accent is something only others can ever possess. We never have one ourselves.

Reflecting on the old ‘born and bred’ residents, what stands out is that they were all content to accept employment within, and serving, the community that surrounded them, such as driving the milk lorry, woodmen, farmers, gamekeepers and groundsmen. Not forgetting the wonderful Di who, long ago, used to deliver our fresh baked bread, still warm, from the Smart’s Hill Bakery next to the Bottle House, in her old matt red Escort van. Always with time to chat and share the latest extremely filthy joke with her customers. Sadly both she and her husband died all too young, shortly after the bakery closed, many years ago. Money mattered little to the old school, their wealth lay in the way of life and the simple pleasures that came with it. The fresh air, sun on your back and time for banter, with a smile for all and sundry. Perhaps a pint in the evening with a game of cricket, stool-ball or football at weekends.

These were friendly folk. They loved the area as it was, never tried to alter it, and seldom strayed far from it. The lovely Margaret Reynolds is a prime example. She was born in a room above The Kentish Horse and still lives in a cottage barely further than the length of a tennis court from the front door. They readily embraced like minded newcomers from all walks of life and were always happy to offer help in any way possible to all and sundry.

Perhaps the first sign of a change in attitude came when the husband of a newly arrived young couple, both in high flying jobs, was made redundant. As we all know a new mortgage is usually a large and fearsome burden and so it was here. Repossession was on the cards, but the community of those days rallied round and those who could all offered any support, including employment, that they possibly could. Stellar among these was Steve, who kept the young fella under his wing and offered a living, despite not really needing any assistance, until the time when, fortunately, he got a position back in his chosen field.

Imagine then how amazed we all were when, at a party a few months later, his wife was heard whining about what a tough year it had been and how dreadful it was that her poor husband had been expected to accept demeaning work in order to keep their heads above water. Now, most of those who offered help, myself included, had livelihoods dependent on a degree of manual labour and expected our new friend to do nothing worse in return for cash than we were happy to do ourselves on a daily basis. Let’s be clear; there is nothing demeaning in honest labour, neither it seems is there any gratitude in an arsehole!

The jackdaws have returned to nest once more in the disused chimney stack where they have bred for several seasons now. They replaced a previous pair that returned for many years before time or predators presumably caught up with one or both of them. We had a green tiger beetle scuttling around our patio on 13/4 which was somewhat of a surprise as these are typically a heathland species and I was greatly cheered to have my attention drawn to a huge numbers of frog tadpoles in my friend opposite’s pond. We used to have thousands of the beasts locally but since the advent of ‘viral red legs’ and chytrid fungus numbers have dwindled to near nil. Hopefully this may signal a recovery and I shall try and do my bit by transplanting a net full to my own pond.

One unwelcome type of wildlife in this area is the American mink. Our numbers of these fierce and indiscriminate alien killers were boosted some years ago by misguided animal rights activists who ‘liberated’ a great number from a fur farm somewhere near The Ashdown Forest. Nationally their numbers have now been greatly reduced by the introduction of raft traps although their complete elimination from our list of fauna is highly unlikely. I had not seen one locally for several years until my friend Emma returned from walking Ralph the other day with pictures of some young ones that he had discovered in their nest. He had actually got his head stuck down the hole and I can only say he was very lucky that mum was out at the time or he may well have had far less head to set free.

Not strictly a wildlife issue but thus far this season I have suffered less from the lavatorial attentions of the neighborhood’s cats in my veggie plot than last year. I won’t speak too soon.

I’m sure we all do our bit these days in trying to be green and kinder to our planet. Never mind that in my view we persist in ignoring the gigantic herd of elephants in the room, our unbridled population growth, which has been swept under the carpet for many decades and will ultimately end in a huge amount of suffering for all humankind. Unless we address this, however painful, we are doomed and all other measures are a little like trying to treat decapitation with an Elastoplast. Nevertheless, recent banner headlines in the press concerning our misuse of plastics and its disposal are, despite being long overdue, very welcome. I have always been of the opinion that plastic should be used in situations requiring long term high quality applications, not as a throw away packaging solution. Only now are we waking up to the fact that it does not decay in the manner of other organic substances and much of that ever produced is still floating about in our oceans.

My contention is that the answer must be front loaded i.e. alternatives must be found by those producing the stuff. Relying on the public to recycle is a huge waste of materials and energy at every stage of the process with only a small percentage of the population ever likely to adhere to any recommendations unless draconian measures are introduced and, most importantly, enforced. Likewise it should be set in law that all newbuild properties must incorporate state of the art energy saving/producing features rather than relying on individuals to update at a later date which inevitably costs more than if they were to be included in the initial design.

I was a bit unnerved before we even left on our exploratory house hunting trip to Norfolk. I was watching the ‘Move To The Country’ program and was more than a little concerned to hear a couple from the county, who wanted to move to Wales, say they wanted to get away from the development and traffic noise around Attleborough, despite this being well south of our intended destination. Lunch with some naturalist friends just back from a trip to the north coast was also less than encouraging, with tales of fast disappearing old cottages being converted or replaced with grand, modern monstrosities and reports that around sixty percent of all properties in that part of the world are now holiday homes.

Upon arrival, which we timed to perfection as temperatures soared to 24c, I have to say that my personal experience of the thirty by fifteen mile strip where I have always intended to end my days was far more encouraging. Sure a monstrosity of an estate is under construction west of Heacham and a great wart has been constructed to the rear of Wells Next The Sea. There is also some development around Hunstanton but the overall impression of this part of Norfolk is still of space and breathtaking beauty that has changed little in the over sixty years with with which I have been acquainted with it. I estimate that at least 98% remains much as I remember it in my youth. Granted most of the old tarred inshore fisherman’s cottages have gone or have been modernised and their flint walls stripped of tar, but such newbuilds as we saw have mostly been constructed in a style compatible with the architecture of the region and should blend well with their surroundings over time.

Our eventual return to the rush and tear of the hideously bloated south east was further cheered by news that London has now overtaken New York in terms of the number of murders carried out in each capital over the past year. What a great boon to tourism that should be, and free too. While, locally, breaking news is that permission is being sought to hold an Ibizan style rave over the weekend 13th -15th of July, doubtless to assist in the much needed enlivening of our parish.

Amid the space and tranquility of Norfolk it became clear that, given the nerve, it would be possible to exchange my humble end of terrace 2-3 bedroom cottage with tiny garden, for a detached property in a lovely location, set well back from the road, with 4 bedrooms, two bathrooms, huge conservatory, large mature garden, outbuildings and a double garage and perhaps even a substantial sum left over after all moving costs have been settled. Nothing much then to encourage me to stay put, but of course it would be a great mistake to come to any conclusion on such an important thing as relocation, based on the perspective of four days tourism. However, I have known this county all my life and all indications so far are encouraging. Prior to reaching any irrevocable decision we shall, of course, make a few more detailed forays to the area before committing to this huge change in our lives.

 

 

 

Spring’s here so why is it still snowing?

First a quick update on my friend’s struggle to obtain a bus pass for their two children: Although they were refused, the council has now addressed the anomaly of those living further from the school of choice and nearer to an alternative having been granted passes. Sadly this has been achieved by rescinding their privilege also, which serves to underline the need for caution when speaking out on local issues in a community like ours lest you inadvertently upset others. This is exactly why I am always so cautious and pay so much attention to remaining even handed and restrained in my comments, particularly regarding development and events in the area. I invariably take great care to ensure that I remain sensitive to the views and feelings of others, in order to avoid giving offense, and usually wear a stab vest for a few days after publishing.

I guess the situation, in this instance, could now be said to be fairer, although there are no winners. I still view the situation as mildly ridiculous and cannot for the life of me see any sensible reason to deny a few kids free travel on an empty bus which must pass their respective doors anyway.

The last two days of February and the first two in March, with a brief return on the seventeenth, saw the worst weather for a number of years, with blizzards here but more particularly across Scotland and The West Country. You may remember I did forecast a hard winter if the numbers of fieldfare arriving in October were anything to go by. Seems they were. It was quite bad for a while but it did make me smile to hear this described as the worst conditions ever. They clearly weren’t around in 63 when the Thames at Oxford (should that be Isis?) froze so thick that a car could be driven across it and one blizzard blew for 36 hours at up to 80 miles an hour leaving drifts 20 feet deep. Even the sea froze (for a mile out from shore at Herne Bay), with temperatures down to -19.4c in northern Scotland.

In truth snow and ice was usual in those days for at least two weeks almost every winter. Youngsters laugh at me when I tell them it snowed on 72 consecutive days starting on Boxing Day 1962. They think my ageing memory is playing tricks but its true. Not all day, every day, but for at least some part of every day for 72 days with snow laying over two feet deep even in the London suburbs. It then cleared briefly only to return for most of the end of March.

This was the first time that I recall seeing gulls as far inland as Mitcham, where I then lived. Great flocks arrived on Figges Marsh, an open area of football pitches etc, and were duly fed huge quantities of stale bread by sympathetic locals. This probably wasn’t great for their digestion but they seem to have enjoyed the experience as they returned every winter thereafter.

Things were doubtless tougher out here in the countryside back then and my mate Andy, who is Hever born and bred, tells me the lane past our local, The Kentish Horse, became a tunnel when the snow walls that had built up on either side collapsed to lean against each other.

Throughout this protracted Arctic blast my primary school (Gorringe Park) remained open except for three days when the heating boiler conked out. Otherwise we walked over a mile and a half each way, as expected of us, the boys clothed in flannelette shorts supported by button on braces, shirt, tie and grey jumper, black wellies and gaberdine mack, with a change of shoes stuffed one in each pocket to restore sartorial elegance on arrival. Back then boys wore shorts until their second year at senior school, come hell or high water. As well as permanently scabby knees, from falls and scuffs, in winter boys legs suffered from terrible chaffing and chapping and were usually bright pink, scaly, and sore from November to April.

The sole source of heating for our council house at this time was a paraffin stove (no telephone, washing machine or refrigerator prior to 1975) with fuel (either blue or pink) available by the gallon for two shillings a time (ten new pence) from a free standing, coin in the slot, dispenser machine round the corner by the margarine factory (it was half a mile away, in all weathers, can you imagine that not being torched nightly in this day and age?).

These heaters, the aroma of which is instantly re-conjured for me as I write, usually lasted about two years by which time the fuel tank would have rusted through. One was alerted to this minor defect when the whole appliance would suddenly burst into flames, encouraging my father put his newspaper aside and quickly throw the appliance through a hastily opened window onto the back lawn, where he would frantically shovel earth onto the fireball until the inferno was extinguished.

Other than this inconsequential design problem the only other fire hazard was my dog Yogi, who, on cold days, would sit so close to the stove that his chest would press on the safety bars (safety?!!!) until his fur actually began to smoulder. In 62 -63 the snow lay so deep that he was unable to cock his leg and if we were to drag him, reluctantly, outside for a comfort break it was necessary to trample an area in the gutter so that the poor little sod could relieve himself.

62 – 63 was the very worst winter in my memory (some say 47 was harder but not so protracted and I wasn’t there to comment) but most back then were pretty severe, with hard frosts and periods of laying snow. I was at Ewell College near Epsom at the end of the sixties and remember in either 67 or 68 making the 8 mile journey to and from the last ditch attempt to educate me on my trusty Ariel Leader in a foot of snow, at around ten miles an hour, with both legs splayed out like a kid’s learner wheels on a bicycle, all the way. It was not unusual to take some time to remove my scarf at either end, with fingers transformed into blue claws despite wearing lined gauntlets, as it had become frozen solid to my face. I was tougher back then!

We had some pretty icy winters throughout the seventies and the scientific consensus at the time was that we were slipping into another ice age. Truth be told we are still not yet out of the last one as the defining indicator of ‘ice age’ is that we have ice at the poles. Not until these fully thaw can we, by definition, say that the last one has come to an end.

This trend continued for the eighties and I well remember one of our neighbours at the time skating on the ice covering our car-park at the flats where we were living by then. We moved out here in 83 with the winter of 86 being the hardest since we arrived. We were snowbound for a full week, the only time that I failed to fulfill my contractual obligations in thirty six years of self employment, and ultimately the army arrived to make sure we were not starving.

On that occasion fine powdery snow fell for three solid days, before gales hit and effectively filled all of the lanes to the top of the hedges. Snow ploughs were of little use as the snow simply compacted against the hedges and everything jammed solid. Not until a Scandinavian blowing machine arrived, from up north, to blow the stuff back into the fields, were we liberated. On release I remember the heads of the short lamposts bordering Biggin Hill Aerodrome barely projecting from the vertical banks of snow on either side of the road as I drove through what was a pretty good facsimile of The Cresta Run.

We had only managed to survive, in fact, by our extreme determination in walking through the snow to The Kentish Horse to avail ourselves of survival rations consisting of copious amounts of beer accompanied by 16oz T-bone steaks and all the trimmings. It was tough but we all made it, despite one girl slipping and breaking her wrist and my then next door neighbour walking the three miles into Edenbridge along the center of the rail track to seek a refill for the large, empty, Calor Gas cylinder mounted on his shoulders. He was, not surprisingly, almost killed by a train, muffled by the snow, which crept up behind him, fortunately at low speed, before blasting him with its claxon which saved him from being run down but could well have precipitated a heart attack. He finally arrived in Edenbridge only to discover that all gas supplies had sold out days before. He duly walked all the way back, still carrying the cylinder, but a lot more alert than on the outbound trip.

The hurricane that hit a year later was far harder to endure as we personally lost all power for three full weeks, with others locally so afflicted for six, and the trees filling our lanes unlikely to melt. The air was filled with the sound of chainsaws for weeks and the teams, from power companies as far away as Scotland, were, I have to say, magnificent. They worked around the clock until the tangled mess of wood and wire was restored to normality, while we could not offer them so much as a cup of tea.

Less over excited assessments of this years situation are that this has been the harshest winter for 27 years, yet even as recently as 2010 we froze solid for virtually the whole of December, the earliest in the season that I have known such conditions to persist for so long. Should I move to North Norfolk I don’t doubt that I shall see harder yet as there is no landmass to intervene between that coast and The North Pole.

It seems that everyone I know watched, and loved, the three series of ‘The Detectorists’, about a metal detecting club. Quite what the appeal has been to such a broad spectrum of friends is hard to pinpoint but I think perhaps it was its gentle simplicity in a brash cut and thrust world. It has now come to a natural and seemingly irrevocable end. Much as I too loved it I hope there is no attempt to produce another series as it would only serve as a poor continuation of what has gone before. As ever it is better to leave ’em wanting more.

Locally it has spawned an embryonic detecting club and even some local dogs are now converted to canine excavators at the sound of a positive beep, frantically scrabbling earth in all directions, like demented badgers on steroids, without the least idea of what they are looking for. As a result I have been informed by a pair of very large chaps that I am now the elected president of ‘The Hever Metal Detecting Society’. While fearing that, should I refuse the honor I may find myself interred, together with an unseen Saxon hoard, in the corner of some remote field (an iron age collection of ten gold coins was found near Chiddinstone in 2016) it has been explained to me that the conference of this undoubted honour has been laid upon my unworthy shoulders, not because I have expressed any interest in the hobby, or indeed possess any knowledge of it whatsoever, but simply because I had the misfortune to be christened, Terry (not Terence by the way).

It should be explained that the president of the club in the TV series was also called Terry and it appears that my sole function going forward will be, like him, to suffer endless corruptions of my given name, such as Pterasaurus, Pterodactyl,Terrapin and anything else they may care to dream up. Horrific as this may seem I/we have suffered worse indignity in the past as my wife Marilyn and I were once collectively known as terylene to some other local smart arses.

Speaking of our community the recent harsh weather has at least revealed that our sense of local caring is still alive, at least among those within my own lane. Those that speak to each other on a regular basis all mixed in to walk dogs, get shopping for the elderly (us included) and kept the kettle boiling. I have to say that a little snow went a long way to restoring some semblance of the old feeling of the place. More hard winters needed I fancy.

Less good news, depending on your outlook, is that some mob called Bastille, a well known group so I am told, will be appearing at Neverworld this year. Doubtless we shall soon be hearing that an application to increase both numbers attending and the decibels permitted has been submitted. This will, of course, be granted. Am I clairvoyant? I certainly saw this lot coming from day one!

I shall make another prediction. By the end of this summer those who so love to crow about the massive increases in the value of their property will be singing another song, to the tune of ‘Oh bugger, everything’s gone tits up’. Property is already sticking. Whereas even humble abodes such as mine were once snapped up within weeks they are now near impossible to shift. The property two doors down was initially put on the market for £399,950 last summer, despite an initial advisory valuation of £450,000, to achieve a quick sale. Six months on even this was reduced to offers on £375,000 and still, another three months later there is not the least interest.

Although perhaps blighted by the possibility of another property being built to the rear, this, I would suggest is a bargain and about as affordable as you will find between here and the M25. ‘Affordable’ is of course the long running mantra spewing from the government’s ‘We must build everywhere’ propaganda department. On a trip to Biggin Hill recently we came across a huge new close of newbuilds, replete with postage stamp gardens smaller than my living room. At the entrance to the close an enormous banner proudly proclaimed ‘3, 4 and 5 bedroom detached properties for sale from £524,950′. Our local paper is full of newbuilds within twenty miles of my home priced between £450,000 and £2,000,000 for houses and upwards of £225,000 for a flat.

High time we stopped promoting the myth that we have an army of charitable builders out there, happy to operate at a loss or on cut to the bone margins. I repeat; “We have a population crisis that no housing policy can hope to solve. Address it or it must end in tears”. Our ostrich led government’s answer to this? Increase house building from the current unachievable target of 250,000 units every year (that’s 685 new homes to be completed every single day, including Christmas, for the foreseeable future) to 300,000 units per annum by 2025. Undoubtedly all available to first time buyers for around fifty quid a time.

Must end there, as I’ve just noticed a flock of sheep are eating my front garden. Some rurality remains,thank God!

 

Buses, Blazes And Boxes.

How’s this for nuts? I think I understand this correctly. If your kid goes to the nearest primary school available around here you’re entitled to use the local bus free of charge, if its over three miles away by either road or footpath for a child aged over eight (two miles for under eights), on a pass provided by Kent County Council. If however you select one further away you must pay in full. Fair enough I suppose under most circumstances.

From our part of Hever there is basically a choice of two, Hever or Chiddingstone. My friends and neighbours decided to send their two earthbound angels to Chiddingstone and therefore have to pay their fare in full as Hever is marginally nearer.

Them’s the rules you may say and of course you would be right, until you consider that some children living next to the school at Hever and others that I know of, who live in my lane but a hundred yards or so nearer to Hever Primary School, all of whom attend Chiddingstone, have been granted free passes for the bus.

The often almost empty bus to Chiddingstone passes the end of our lane and provides a far more convenient means of delivery for my friends, both of whom work, rather than having to drop off and collect said bless-hearts every day in term time.

Knowing the circumstances of others, who on the face of it are less entitled to travel free than their two, my friends took the horrendously felonious step of trying to slip their two on the morning bus with the rest of the privileged pass bearers. They were soon captured and, since the death penalty has long been abolished (wrongly in my view I have to say) their only recourse was to appeal to Kent County Council and travel to Maidstone for the hearing where, needless to say, they lost.

A small matter perhaps but, nevertheless, irritating. Under the rules they are entitled to purchase a season ticket valid for two terms at a rate of £165 for each child, provided there are vacant seats, which there invariably are in abundance. They would be happy to pay a reasonable amount but not quite so much. The result is that they must continue to take their children to school and collect them again at close of play. Everyone loses. They suffer unnecessary inconvenience and the bus remains empty and earns nothing. The wisdom of Solomon? That’ll be a no then.

On a perfectly still Sunday afternoon on the 21st January we were enjoying the fine weather and chatting in the drive with our direct next door neighbours when we heard the most terrific crashing, grinding noise. Investigation quickly revealed that a huge oak tree, at the back of my mate Chris’s pond, opposite, had simply fallen over into his pond which is thankfully more of a lake and well able to absorb such a catastrophe. The problem remains of how to get it out again!

A little over a fortnight later, on Monday 5th February, at around 10.20 in the evening we were quietly watching the evening news when we heard the dull crump of a large explosion close at hand. At first we stayed put, but when a series of smaller bangs rent the air my wife rushed outside and started shouting “Stop! Who are you!

As quick as I could, dressed in slippers and dressing gown, I hurried out after her into the darkness where I could see a figure, in silhouette, running towards a great fireball a little down the lane. I gave chase, as quickly as I could given my attire, and soon caught up with what turned out to be one of my other neighbours also alerted by the ongoing commotion. In front of us was a hatch back car burning with unbelievable intensity. We tried to ascertain whether anyone was inside, not that we could have done much if there had been.

Both the police and fire brigade had been informed by then and other neighbours were emerging and coming to find out what was going on. The fire brigade arrived in about twenty minutes and in all the fire took around forty minutes to put out. Presumably it was the old story of joyriders torching some poor sods stolen vehicle to get rid of any evidence. They certainly achieved their objective and succeeded in melting a section of our lane which was closed to traffic for over two days, until repairs were made. Fortunately no one appears to have been hurt so I suppose we must thank heaven for small mercies.

A little further down the lane from the car incident a house that had been on the market for over a year has finally been sold and is now occupied. Never in the thirty five years of my residency has there been any issue with flooding or ingress of water at the property but in the brief time that the new owner has lived there it seems that there has been a problem as the new occupant at first felt the need to build a barricade of plywood across the front gate and has now had a tarmac bund built to achieve a more permanent result, which will fail as any water will simply run around the ends. All unnecessary anyway as the real problem is quite obvious. In swinging wide to turn in to the adjacent field, belonging to the house, the new owner or a visitor has pushed the side of the ditch opposite in and blocked its flow. Further; the tyre tracks have created a perfect furrow to guide any overflow straight across the lane and into the gate.

Had the new occupant had the wit to spot the true problem the solution would have been a simple bit of spade work, taking about five minutes. Better still, had they spoken to the farmer who lives almost next door, she would have been quite happy to drag a ditching bucket along the whole length of ditch and give it a good clear out.

Why don’t people talk to each other anymore or take an interest in the history pertaining to where they live? Not only does it make life more pleasant and help build a sense of community it can actually save a whole lot of grief.

I’ve banged on about hedging and ditching, or rather the lack of it, before and am convinced that it would go a long way to relieving the seemingly perennial flood problem which afflicts us nationally nowadays with every period of protracted rainfall. Precious little ditching takes place locally but at least our hedges in general get smashed back into shape in the modern manner using an all conquering tractor mounted flail. This is far from perfect as the result is split and shattered hedges and lanes covered in thorns and splinters which result in numerous punctures although I do appreciate that it is a means to an end, has to be done on some basis, and requires little labour against the old manual laying methods.

Locally, at least this has always been carried out using a fairly small tractor, resulting in little damage to the verges which quickly heal with the spring flush of new growth. This year, however, it has been performed by a true colossus, of the kind more commonly used to maintain the great prairies of East Anglia, wholly inappropriate to the small fields and close hedgerows of our part of Kent. The result has been the complete destruction of long stretches of our local verges. In some cases these have been pushed back fully six feet from the metaled surface.

Timing has also been a factor in this, having been carried out through the wettest period of the winter. Damage would have been significantly less were the ground firmer. I know that the nesting period must be avoided but this has always been achieved previously. More progress I suppose.

I have said before that our countryside has become largely obsolete but I start to believe that the younger generation actually hate its peace and tranquility and probably despise its very existence. I hear on the grapevine that our population of newcomers think it rather stuffy here and in need of livening up. Let me assure them they need have no fears. The wonderful philanthropist, and founder of Leefest has, according to a recent press release, selflessly decided to drop the Leefest title, so named after himself, and adhere henceforth to Neverland instead. He also promised that this year we shall be treated to three domains and eleven stages to enliven our otherwise dull summer’s evenings over August Bank Holiday.

If support were to be judged by the volume of vocalization it would seem that a fair proportion of our more recently arrived residents are now in favour of such events. No matter that I would be more than happy to crush the little shit (personal view) beneath my heel with less compassion than I would afford a sick cockroach, that is just my apparently outdated take on the matter with which a fair minority of our more modern inhabitants seemingly disagree and, having given him their ascent by previously either attending his joyous event or buying discounted tickets for friends and relatives, they have, however unwittingly, registered their support on his database forever.

Whatever one’s stance it is pretty much unarguable that the trend is now unstoppable and our previous tranquility is irrevocably doomed to be subsumed by the ever burgeoning influx of ‘events’ in what is now obviously perceived as ‘a soft area’ for all manner of developments. What I consider to be originally an urban cancer, of designer festivals (ask those living around Clapham Common), is quickly metastasizing into a full blown, and doubtless terminal, rural malignancy, made more than welcome by those seeking to put an end to our stuffy environment.

Thanks to this local support and the compliance of the well rewarded land owner we can look forward to at least a further two festivals this year, taking up three full weekends in high summer, plus numerous heavy vehicles clogging our lanes for a week either side of the events, for build and tear down. Together of course, with the Hever Triathlon down the road and the legions of abusive cyclists attracted to our area by it who now obviously believe that they own every last inch of the district’s highways, as they constantly remind us should we have the temerity to try and venture forth on any even remotely fine day. Finally we shall be treated to huge firework parties on most weekends and occasional weekday evenings, usually starting between 11pm and midnight, to celebrate————–well, just about anything—————even Guy Fawkes Night.

We are saved. At last this unnaturally peaceful area has been enlivened! For the period April – October we are now assured there will be no more dullness. No boringly quiet country walks. No long, peaceful, summer’s evenings in the garden enjoying a quiet drink and watching the stars above twinkling in jet black skies. Instead we can now enjoy the continuous rhythmic thump of a heavy bass beat drifting across the fields or the crash and brilliance of pyrotechnic mortars exploding overhead. We are no longer troubled by the freedom to leave and return to our homes at will, due to traffic queues or road closures, in fact very little peace remains at all. Let me promise all concerned, you have nothing to worry about, Hever is no longer the dull, stuffy, and of course idyllic, rural retreat that I moved to so long ago, progress has at last been made. God help us all!

I took a walk in the woods recently, while the calm of winter is still upon us, and there we discovered a couple of the largest logs, infested with the fungus Chlorosplenium aeruginascens (recently of course renamed Chlorociboria aeruginascens by some authoritative smart arse), that I have ever come across. The significance of this is that the fungus renders the timber a deep blue/green colour which when sliced into thin veneers was once used in the local speciality known as Tunbridge Ware, which now changes hands for considerable sums of money. This mainly takes the form of boxes inlaid with tiny marquetry squares of different colours. Those of a green hue were invariably derived from this source.

Tunbridge Wells library contains a fine collection of this local specialty, the production of which was driven by the arrival of the tourist trade. Early examples from the seventeenth century were painted, although the later marquetry form was produced for at least two hundred years. That it predates the age of rail is attested by the fact that it bares the earlier ‘U’ form of Tunbridge before it was altered to Tonbridge with an O to avoid confusion with Tunbridge Wells and prevent London visitors getting off a stop too soon in their quest for the restorative wells, once the age of rail arrived.

P1010242

The Great Exhibition of 1851 had three major producers on display but by 1903 only Boyce, Brown and Kemp remained. A similar style of product survived in the Rye area into the sixties and the example above, shown actual size, is of that origin.

I would have included some shots of the logs in the woods but by the time I returned to do the photography on 27/2 we had had around 3 inches of snow on the ground, following a bitterly cold week, and I was unable to locate it. This was a Tuesday and after a less snowy Wednesday we began March with two days of blizzards, the worst snow for several years. The old adage which says that this month comes in like a lion and goes out like a lion has often proved true in the past, lets hope it does not fail us now.

 

Start Again. 2018 Has Arrived.

Bleak, dull and cold but peaceful at this time of year. A time for reflection and planning for the future. For the moment I shall concentrate on keeping fit and decorating the living room. This will leave only a new kitchen and a tart up of the bathroom and our tiny entrance hall but I must get on with things as I want to feel that things are finished to a standard where I shall be content to stay until our planning blight is lifted and confident that we are spruced up to a point where we can sell fairly quickly once things are resolved. This of course also includes my ageing (96) mother. Not the least of my worries, by a long chalk.

First focus remains the northern half of Norfolk, with a short break planned for early April. Not only to suss out property but also to take in the bird life, including the passage migrants visiting the vast coastal reserves which extend for over twenty five miles along the North Sea from The Wash south.

For my part I would relocate anywhere and would, without hesitation, move to the most remote location that I could find, including places such as The Brecon Beacons or The Cairngorms, and call it a job. My wife, however, is a little more reserved and much concerned that I will collapse and die immediately we go, leaving her to struggle in the wilderness until starvation and hypothermia claim her too.

She probably has a point. Hever has always represented a comparatively soft, sanitized, rurality, with an international airport only an hour away to the west and central London likewise accessible, via fast rail link, in a little over forty five minutes. Probably gone too would  be any significant shops, currently only three miles distant in the case of Edenbridge with the larger centres of Tunbridge Wells or East Grinstead around eight. The days of convenient takeaways would also be gone and home delivery of curry or pizza, which are in fact only recent innovations in our present realm, doubtless out of the question.

However, also hopefully absent would be the thunder of overhead jets, now virtually continuous throughout late summer, endless armadas of cyclists with their Lycra clad arse cracks and two fingered salutes, pop festivals, triathlons, car parking wars and neighbours who no longer seem to understand what neighbour means but may condescend to speak if they judge your status to be sufficient or , of course, if they want something, when they instantly become best mates.

I’ve always been a dedicated naturalist which means I have ongoing concerns for the environment and my relationship with it. In my defense I very seldom fly as my options are limited with no passport and do less than 5,000 miles a year on the road since I retired. All much easier of course once you have no necessity to travel. Nevertheless, wherever we settle I should like to be a little greener than I am here. I am currently a coal burner, in conjunction with a predominance of logs for heating. This undoubtedly sounds horrific but living out here there are few alternatives. We have no gas supply and while we cook etc with electricity (how is that generated?) our only other alternatives are oil or bottled gas. Perhaps in a new location I may more realistically be able to institute some modern alternatives, such as wind turbines or solar panels, if I can find some that work in all weathers, but within the confines of my present environment this would be impossible without creating hugely dramatic and unwelcome visual impact.

I have always been something of a sceptic regarding man’s impact on global warming over normal rhythms, sun spot activity etc, although I have no doubt that we are working very effectively towards our own extinction due to filthy greed and hyper fecundity. One of my pet hates has always been the use of plastics for short term, throwaway, purposes such as unnecessary packaging and at last we do seem to be waking up to this as even our oceans are now becoming clogged with indestructible garbage, to the irreversible detriment of some of the most spectacular wildlife on Earth.

Finally, at the eleventh hour, we seem to be waking up to the issue, with the suggestion that paper bags and glass bottles with a returnable deposit could be used to replace our polymer pal in many of its short term roles. What a great innovation that would be, but hold on, didn’t we used to have all that when I was a kid over, sixty years ago. I seem to recall that back then every waif and street urchin, like myself, was possessed of an old pram or similar with which they would roam for miles collecting pop bottles and the old brown, stone stoppered, beer bottles to exchange for washing (not the high energy melting and re-processing favoured today) and reissue at a rate of reward around tuppence per unit (slightly less than one new pence today), big money for a youngster back then and well worth the risk involved in climbing into the rear yard of the local pub for masses of easy pickings, to be handed over the gate to my felonious accomplice and exchanged for profit at the front. Easy that is until the publican caught on to our nefarious enterprise and administered his own form of instant justice with a mighty clump alongside the earhole.

My contention has always been that plastic is great stuff in high quality, long term, situations. We simply undervalue its potential and use it for all the wrong, throwaway, purposes. Where the issue is less clear cut is in areas such as washing up detergent and the like. Trigger bottles and their ilk have come to the for over the past couple of decades for other cleaning and disinfectant products but as far as I can recall the squeezy plastic variety have been around for all of my life. Can we find a reusable alternative? I’m sure there must have been an alternative, further back in time, such as flaked household soap, as obviously washing up has been about for some considerable time. Certainly I can remember cardboard boxes for ordinary washing powders. In particular I recall that if one was engaged in an affair with a married lady (not me of course. I was always a clean living lad unversed in such smutty carry-ons) and spotted a box of OMO prominently displayed in the kitchen window, it was safe to call as this stood for ‘old man out’. Hopefully we are at last waking up to our dirty habits and can find a solution before we and our environment are finally submerged in non-degradable waste.

Its the deadest part of the year right now, when my energy and motivation always hit rock bottom. Its a dangerous time for gardening as any pretense of a fine day has the potential to lure the reluctant couch potato outside and send the unwary fool horticulturist scurrying off to the local nursery to purchase an unseasonable array of plants with which to cheer up the garden. To the consummate joy of nursery owners everywhere these will quickly succumb to the extremes of the season, paving the way for fresh sales when spring more realistically arrives in a few months time.

With all the wet, cold and gloom I have to admit I’ve hardly ventured beyond my drive either to check on my garden or to take a look at the local wildlife but I do have to say that if the number and volume of mating calls is anything to go by, we should be submerged in tawny owls by this time next year if nothing else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Year. Where’s The Beer?

Instead of the worthless resolutions proffered with genuine intent but scant stamina at this time of year I thought I would step aside and allow one of greater wisdom than myself to grace these pages with his own thoughts which, although brief, speak greater truths than most full blown religions. I am lucky to count him among my closest friends and neighbours as a great philosopher and mentor who, although unable to speak is, like Stephen Hawking, able to communicate through his eyes;

‘If  you and yours have health a full belly and warm shelter then worry is but a luxury.

Do not concern yourself with thoughts of death. All life is fleeting, rather task yourself with living fully for every second of your being.

Do not seek God. Be awed by the miracles that already surround you and your God shall surely find you.

That you have peace and give and receive love is the only true wealth, all else is worthless illusion.

Treat the world with respect and all of its sentient beings, except chickens and squirrels, with kindness, but should you meet a whippet always bite its arse.’

OK, so the author is not some contemplative Buddhist guru, he’s a dog who doesn’t like chickens or squirrels and had a bad experience with a whippet. However, his acceptance of the world as it truly is provides a lesson that many of us would do well to learn from.

Other than seeking professional psychiatric help I have made only one resolution myself for 2018; to try and embrace modern technology. Doubtless this will last only so long as my atrophied brain takes to fry in its microwave emissions, yet, while in philosophical mode, I have come to reflect on my hypocrisy in accepting the technology that surrounded me at birth while rejecting all that has come since. To remain true to my current ethos I should need to strip naked and live as other life forms that surround us, yet I know that this would not only upset the neighbours but quickly prove fatal.

We are the only species that has evolved to be so adapted that we can no longer live, unsupported by our own inventions, on our birth planet. While we imagine ourselves to be so very clever and superior this will ultimately prove to be our downfall. Nevertheless, it may be time for me to attempt to catch up just a little and as a concession to modernity and my new determination to embrace change I shall, for starters, stick a red spot on the dashboard of my car in an effort to remind myself that vehicles manufactured since the seventies now have five forward gears.

A recent newspaper article listing all of the technological advances of the last fifty years, that now surround us, and without which we can no longer apparently live in a civilized manner, revealed that I posses nothing invented since 1988 apart from this laptop. Time, perhaps, then to move forward, at least closer to the dawning of the current millennia.

I have no credit card, smart phone or sat-nav and nowadays, in this age of online banking, which I would not trust with my small change, do not even know how to access my own cash, as my bank has become a nightmare of automation. Instead I rely wholly upon my wife to supply me with a ration of vile plastic sheets and decimalised discs that I exchange for goods and chattels. Cheques are now frowned on in many circles and talk is of cash being wholly phased out down the line. At that point I shall probably slit my wrists and call it a day, it will, after all, provide a cleaner end than starvation. Alternatively, if by then I have educated myself sufficiently, I could probably find a termination app if I had a smart phone.

Friends even tell me that should I avail myself of a thing similar to a small thin book that bears my likeness within, called a Portpass, it would be possible for me to visit far off lands. I have long resisted such adventures but may now consider pursuing the possibilities of this modern wonder, as I fancy that by such means I might find the space and tranquility that I crave, since the previous occupants of these distant nations have long since moved away, to live in mine.

In order to continue to moan about our ludicrous overpopulation and many other issues it is necessary, when not using public media, for me to have a fine grasp of foul language in order to make my points with adequate vitriol. It may seem strange then that another aspect of modern life which concerns me is the overuse of some of our finest expletives.

Our most powerful swear words need to remain strong and virulent to be effective. Mostly of the four letter variety, these single syllables can be spat out with the impact of a punch, but I fear that overuse is rapidly leaving them weakened and no longer fit for purpose.

As a young man we had two magnificent examples that were guaranteed to hit home with equally stunning force and I well remember the outpouring of national disgust that ensued when Kenneth Tynan, the theatre critic, first used the so called F word on TV. Over the fifty or so intervening years this has come into regular usage on dozens of programs starting only moments after the nine o’clock watershed and can be heard  with boring regularity emitting from gatherings of school children barely old enough to consume solid food. As a consequence this splendid and ancient utterance has become devalued to the point of everyday mundanity.

Until recently the C word retained a now unique potency and ability to shock to a far greater degree. However, of late, I am sorry to report that this too is being used with ever more frequency on the TV and is in danger of becoming similarly devalued. The meaning of such words seems to have little bearing on their effect as that of the F word should logically remain far more shocking than a word for a part of the female anatomy with a dozen or more alternatives that pass, hardly noticed, without giving any offence whatsoever. It is, I believe, the brevity of these words and the harshness of their construction that shock, yet their overuse is in danger of building an immunity to this from which they can never recover.

Not because we loath them but because we love and value them we need to refrain from using our most especially foul language at every trivial opportunity and save it for use only on special occasions requiring extra intensity or it will cease to be cherished like like binge drinking vintage wine and, with familiarity, will become ordinary. Likewise I fear that modern comedians are losing their art, as they increasingly rely instead on raw coarseness in the mistaken belief that if sufficiently outrageous this, in itself, is funny. I have no objection, even to the most extreme crudeness, but it must be bolstered by a degree of wit to raise it from the purely distasteful into the realms of humour, otherwise it ceases to be amusing and simply offends by its lack of imagination.

The late, great, Jack Hargreaves never, to my knowledge, ever swore on his long running and much missed program ‘Out Of Town’, however, he once did a piece on the horrors of using a hay knife. He reviled it as the hardest work he had ever done and regretted its passing not a jot. This was the thing that looks like a giant fish knife (about three feet long with a T-bar handle) which was used to cut blocks from the old style haystacks before the advent of the square bale. These days they are only seen in agricultural museums or adorning the walls of trendy country pubs.

Never volunteer to bury a horse as this also would appear to be horrendously hard work. Although wise enough not to get personally involved, I learned this lesson when John Winfield’s chestnut gelding, Sergeant, died suddenly and was laid to rest in the beer garden of the appropriately named ‘Kentish Horse’. The hole required was massive, the labour long and arduous and the volume of beer consumed enormous.

I was less wise when the same chap, a neighbour first and later publican and owner of my local, asked me and another hardened bar leaner to move a couple of rams from a field at one end of my lane to another a few hundred yards away. How hard could it be? My wife is well skilled in lambing and I had herded a few sheep back through a gate when they had escaped once. I knew everything about sheep.

Another valuable lesson was about to be learned.  Although all sheep, rams are not to be confused with timid, fluffy, ewes. They are big mean buggers with huge horns and balls the size of coconuts which hang almost to the ground. If a ram does not want to be moved it takes a great act of faith to convince it otherwise. They are strong, stubborn, and will do everything in their powers to break both of your legs and nut you senseless where you lay rather than be persuaded. Despite being the emblem for the greatest beer ever produced, now a poor shadow of its former self, there is little else to recommend them as intimate acquaintances.

Thus it was that me and my mate fought long and hard for most of the afternoon before, bloodied and exhausted, we manged to complete our mission by carrying the eventually defeated beasts between us, upside down but still kicking and fighting, one at a time with a leg gripped firmly in each hand, to their preferred destination and then running like madmen to escape their violent revenge. Back in the pub, as we supped our reward, John asked, with a sly smirk, how we got on? “No problem, easy little number”. Lying b—–s.

Now the other name for a ram is tup and this is the tupping season. If you’re out and about in the countryside at this time of year you may well notice that many of the ewes  have colourful rumps and the rams appear to be wearing jock straps. Rams do not have enormous wedding tackle for nothing. Their sex drive is scarcely less than my own and they are similarly capable of serving their females up to forty times a night. In order to keep track of which ewes have been covered on any given day the ram is fitted, not with a jock strap, but a differently coloured harness mounted crayon every night so that the farmer can keep track of events and accurately predict exactly when the lambs will be due from each individual ewe.

The controversial blood-sport of foxhunting has never been one of my pursuits or interests, other than it unfailingly serving to liven up an otherwise quiet evening at one of our local pubs. No one it appears is neutral on the subject and any over dull country bar can quickly be stirred to near riot by its mere mention. What puzzles me is that since it was banned our local fox population seems to have crashed. You were seldom able to venture forth, certainly not late or early, without seeing one or two on your travels. Not so now. With the unspeakable no longer (legally at least) in hot pursuit of these uneatables one might expect numbers would be greatly enhanced, but no. So what’s going on?

In my time as warden of Cowden Pound Pastures I once spotted a fox asleep at the bottom of the valley. It was a warm summer’s afternoon and, using all my guile and stealth, I managed to creep down to it and approached until I was actually standing astride its prostrate form. I stood surveying the scene that surrounded me, one of open aspect grassland with no obvious cover, for a few moments. When next I looked at my feet it had vanished without trace having made no sound whatsoever in the process.

Today the old convent which long occupied the land above the reserve has been flattened to make way for an estate of very upmarket dwellings. How that might impact on this SSSI remains to be seen, while between this and my home, a farm where I have shot clays at charity events on several occasions over the years, is for sale. Hopefully this will be sold in its entirety, to continue as a farm, but I have already heard a rumour, from a reliable source, that it is to be split into numerous plots and sold with ‘hope potential’ at way above the going rate for agricultural land. To be honest this seems unlikely as as far as I know there are several strict constraints governing this land and its modern farmhouse which require it to remain in its entirety. We shall see.

Their ‘hope’ is my nightmare. Yet, even as I write, my next door but one neighbour who is trying to sell, before the horror at the end of our gardens, just 80 feet from our back windows gets underway, has been forced to drop his price, on what must be one of the cheapest properties in the area, by 25k due to a total lack of interest. In this instance I accept that our properties are, for the moment, blighted yet he is not alone in having difficulty in selling. I can think of around a dozen properties locally that have been on the market for over a year while only three have actually sold.

Is the golden goose dying, as I have long warned it would? Killed by those who purport to love it best. I fancy that it is at best unwell. Sickened, I suggest, by such developments and events as I have written of in recent times. If not, then where are the myriad buyers for whom we are constantly told that we must build so many new properties? They’re certainly not queuing up around here.

Speaking of which, the developer of the thing coming soon, within spitting distance of our back window, has so far failed to return with our invite to tea. All we know for sure is that through two applications, lasting over a year, we were constantly told by their professional advisors that the structure was 80-90% sound and capable of restoration, despite their never once having viewed any of our entire side. We argued to the contrary and wrote several times to request a site meeting and method statement, to no avail, and yet less than 7 days after permission was granted my new found friend arrived on our doorstep to tell me what I already knew. The whole building must be demolished and rebuilt, perhaps on another plot, which will require an entirely new planning process. Now there’s a surprise. Put the kettle on!

 

 

 

 

Peace On Earth And Goodwill To All Men (& Women) Except Property Developers.

Christmas is almost upon us. One early present, for me at least, is news that Tandridge District Council has withdrawn its plans for a 6,000 dwelling ‘garden village’ abutting Edenbridge on the western side. Our loss, however, is either South Godstone or Redhill’s unwelcome gain and I shall now try to support their continuing struggle against this ongoing nightmare to the best of my ability.

News on my home front is less welcome. The application for permission to convert the stables at the bottom of my garden to a dwelling has now been granted, without any indication, given its location, of how this may in reality be achieved.

Our properties are now effectively worthless, or at best hugely devalued, until all works are completed. We  have been abandoned by the planning authority, with our best remaining option to secure compensation for the inevitably massive damage that this will cause to our back gardens over a considerable amount of time, and get everything finished as soon as possible. We could seek to appeal via a Judicial Revue but this is costly should we lose the case i.e. potentially upwards of £45,000.

————————-Or so we thought, until, less than a week after permission was granted, I opened my front door to find the applicant, who had until then never so much as acknowledged our existence, bouncing with bonhomie and lets all be mates now I’ve won.

Having insisted throughout the entire process, lasting more than a year, that 90% of the original structure could, and would, be retained, despite our continual insistence to the contrary, he had come to tell me what I already knew. Refurbishment was impossible and a complete new-build was the only way forward. Perhaps this could be located a little further from our boundary as a concession to our wants and would we like to go round for tea, to discuss this, next Saturday?

At time of writing he is still to return and give us a set time. If this comes to fruition I’m sure we will be made as welcome as a fart in a lift. More next month, after tea.

No rush to move for the moment then, as we are now stuck where we are for at least another year. On the positive side we are one down and six thousand up, at least in this parish, and I can no longer be classed as a NIMBY as this makes me very much an IMBY, whether I like it or not.

Here we are then, its time, once again, to wish peace on Earth and good will to one and all, at that time of year when we search for more profound meaning in our lives and remember how, all those years ago, following a press leak on a story about virgin birth, a very astute marketing team arrived in Bethlehem headed by three wise men who quickly hit on the idea of the now familiar nativity set. Initially hand crafted by a group of local career change shepherds, this has sold in massive numbers every December since for literally millennia.

As demand grew production was later shifted to the family carpenters shop in Nazareth in order to keep pace. The merchandising committee then came up with Easter, following a trip to Jerusalem on a three day spring break, and hit on the far simpler manufacturing methods required to create crucifixes in all manner of materials. These proved to be even more successful than the nativity set, with astronomical profit margins due to minimal material outlay, inherently lower production costs and year round sales.

The spinoffs just keep on coming; trees, puddings, tinsel, Santa Claus, chocolate eggs, fluffy chicks, buns and flashing lights to name but a few, despite Easter never quite having managed to equal the original festival for devotion to over indulgence, material greed, false sentiment and chucking up in the street. The traditional drunken ‘groping the secretary ceremony’, once so popular at office parties everywhere, has admittedly fallen out of favour a little of late, since the press got a handle on it and CCTV and DNA profiling made compensation claims all too easy. Nevertheless religious devotion, as defined by our modern values, continues to go from strength to strength, fueled by our insatiable desire for ever more of everything, regardless of genuine need.

On a slightly different note, the masses response to any gripe or regret about the modern world is answered, these days, with the standard response: “I know, its going on everywhere”. Now here’s the thing. Just because something is ‘happening everywhere’ does not make it in anyway OK. It just means that we are becoming ever more complacent and resigned to our increasingly rotten world. Let’s try another response——“Its not OK and while I have breath in my body its not going to bloody well  happen here!!!”

I was saddened to see my old firm, Kent Wildlife Trust, being pilloried in the press and on social media of late, for appointing a field sports oriented chairman. An interest in huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ by no means need preclude competency in genuine conservation. Nature is, after all, ‘red in tooth and claw’. Just another example, I’m afraid, of how judgemental our ‘right on’ PC world has become, without any reference to reality or any depth of understanding. Nevertheless, a little naive perhaps as the current KWT has become very much a ‘right on’ PC organisation in its own right and should have known better.

My personal ongoing criticism is that they started out as an association of amateur naturalists, run for the membership by the membership, with a few professionals to assist them, and were in that format a society of excellence. Over time the paid staff have come to dominate, in my view to its detriment, and for that reason, after over 26 years of active service as both an assistant and head warden at two reserves, I have long since ceased to be a member, active or otherwise.

I am left with the overriding feeling that they need to consider well the words of Sir Isaac Newton who, when lauded by The Royal Academy for his achievements, famously responded that “A dwarf on giants shoulders will see the further of the two”. I say to KWT simply this; “Consider his wisdom. The members/volunteers are your giants. Without them your paid dwarfs can see bugger all!”.

A few weeks ago on the way back from a visit to my mother I rounded a corner on The Ashdown Forest to be confronted by one of my worst nightmares. There writhing about in the middle of the road was a young, injured, fallow deer; fully grown but still fluffy. Other motorists were trying to ignore the situation by pulling round it and carrying on. I don’t believe that they were uncaring or callous people but in all probability horrified, frightened and simply confused as to how to react to the situation before them. I must confess that I was little different, other than having stopped.

My wife was with me and we sat for a moment trying to decide on a course of action and hoping the animal might calm a little, which it did. I walked back and knelt beside the stricken animal and stroked its head as I struggled to assess its injuries. Another motorist eventually pulled up and we decided to lift it onto the verge. At least there it was fairly safe from further harm.

The deer did not appear to be too badly damaged apart from a slightly cut mouth but there was no way of telling what internal injuries it may have sustained. A girl in a sports car pulled up and told us that her father was licensed to despatch the unfortunate beast but with that it leapt to its feet and ran a few paces before collapsing again.

It seemed to be recovering a little. I’ve seen three legged deer that seemed to be coping well with their disability and had obviously survived quite terrible injuries, but at that point a Landrover pulled up with a couple of assistant rangers aboard. They said the head ranger was just down the road and they would fetch him. At this point, assured that the victim wouldn’t be shot out of hand but would be given reasonable time to recover, we decided that the situation was in capable hands and, as my wife was going out that night with friends, we should push off.

Its a scenario that is played out over a hundred times a year on that short stretch of road alone (that in no way makes it OK!) and I’m no stranger to wildlife tragedies, yet here I was helpless, powerless either to kill or cure. Indeed one of my only reasons for owning guns is that I’m fairly well known locally for my interests and they do give me the capability to kill humanely if there is a need, but they’re no good at home when I’m ten miles up the road and its not a good idea to leave them permanently in the boot. Other than that, I shoot only the occasional clay and I’ve yet to even taste venison.

It seems to me that the huge advances in technology over the last few decades have spawned a generation largely disconnected from the world which surrounds them. They  inhabit a cyber reality where they are constantly bombarded with worthless trivia, both materially and psychologically, which explains many of the problems which afflict them. Unrealistic expectation results in a level of stress with which we were never designed to cope and more and more are simply imploding as a result.

In particular their attitude to the rich tapestry of our countryside perceives it to be dull and boring and in need of livening up in some way, in the main because they have never experienced close contact with the natural world, blinded to its infinite wonders by the constant dazzle of their glowing gizmos. Their attitude to it in general is no better than sanctioning the ripping of one of Constable’s masterpieces from its frame to light the fire with, or giving it to the kids so that they may draw on the back, without any sense of loss or guilt for what they have done. Devoid of any sense of history or understanding due to their atrophied, electronically restricted, brains having been programmed to expect instant gratification, without remorse, from all things. Hever is often referred to as ‘rural England at its Tudor best’. Not for much longer I fear with this lot on the horizon.

They, and our countryside, might yet be saved, however, If only they could bear to read just one paper format book. I beg them to indulge me, grit their teeth, and lose themselves for a week in Meadowland, by John Lewis Stemple. My cousin Marion gave me a copy while we were away in Suffolk and its language and content will transport you to another more elegant world, a more subtle reality, where you will wish to linger in compartments small enough to savor every detail for as long as possible.

In the main it is almost poetic in the author’s choice of language with this single lapse that reflects precisely my views of that currently taking place around me and here only serves to reinforce my point. It reads; “This is a dying world. A nearby farm is diversifying into holiday accommodation. Their field of the beautiful aspect will grow tipis. Which is like a dog shitting on a white Berber carpet”.

Mushy twaddle? Just make the effort to briefly avert your eyes from your luminescent windows into Hades and you may yet find salvation. While there is still time immerse yourself for a while in a paradise that is vanishing with ever hastening rapidity, before your soul be forfeit and we are all condemned to the eternal damnation of the digitally driven hell that threatens to engulf us.

One section of Meadowland dwells on the joy of using a scythe, something I have ample experience of and with which I can fully empathise, although I do little of it these days for fear of being engulfed in autograph hunters, due to my being almost indistinguishable from Aidan Turner when stripped to the waist. Like some other forms of repetitive labour it is therapeutic in execution, with benefits akin to meditation or the more trendy mindfulness. To scythe safely and correctly all of ones psyche must be focused on the technique of the job in hand, blocking out the day to day cares and worries.

In some degree it was scything which bought me into conflict with the new paid staff, mostly imbued with the unquestionable wisdom of a three year university course, and led to my departure from Kent Wildlife Trust. The reserve at which I was head warden had a bramble problem that had previously been successfully controlled by scything in spring and painting the cleanly cut ends of the rooted canes with glyphosate. Ragwort was similarly treated at the rosette stage.

True, no one likes using chemical controls but in certain situations, such as this, needs must. When these pubescent geniuses arrived on the scene, the use of chemicals on a nature reserve was naturally abhorrent to all they had been taught in their classroom confinements so, clearly, the old idiots who’s only qualifications were forty years experience in the field must be overruled and their own regime of management imposed immediately, without further debate or recourse to the history of the site.

At their insistence the bramble was now to be cut in autumn using brushcutters, with no weedkiller to be applied under any circumstances. This resulted, not only in the original rootstock being preserved but in the canes no longer being clean cut at the base with a single stroke but smashed into a thousand short lengths by the whirring petrol driven assault. The canes were no longer to be raked into piles and left to decay for the benefit of various invertebrates but raked onto sheets and dragged to a bonfire site for burning. This resulted in masses of cut lengths being spilled onto soft mud where they were inevitably trodden in, rooted, and emerged as new plants in the spring. The reserve quickly became overgrown with huge banks of bramble and ragwort, to the detriment of many less robust species which were simply smothered out of existence.

I had hoped to spend my retirement working for free for KWT but my appeals for a return to sanity fell on young but already deaf ears and were dismissed out of hand. After over 26 years of enjoyable service I decided that the only course of action open to me was to resign, both as a member and a volunteer, never to return. Yet another example of change being confused with progress.

The names for parts of a scythe vary from region to region. In my neck of the woods the wavy handle is the sneed, the blade is the knife and the handles are the doles. In the days when every village had a lengthsman, responsible for cutting the verges in summer and hedging and ditching in winter. The last here was Mr Pocock who used to live in a small shack opposite The Greyhound, long since redeveloped into yet another sterile palace. Any unemployed of working age were, in those days, set to work, under his worthy auspices, which usually meant scything the verge. Before this could begin it would be necessary to adjust the doles to the individual and at the end of the day they would be paid a small sum of ‘dole’ money.

On our recent break in The Cotswolds we took a day trip up to Warwick and actually preferred the countryside up there. Here I was touched and surprised, as few boxers are so honored, to find a large statue, which had been funded by public donation and erected a few years ago, occupying pride of place in the market square. It proudly commemorated one of their most famous sons ‘The Leamington Licker’ AKA Randolph Adolphus Turpin. Part of the first black family to settle in Leamington Spa and largely forgotten today he burned like a supernova on a night long ago to etch his name into boxing history forever.

Had you asked Muhammad Ali who was the greatest boxer of all time he would always  answer, “Sugar Ray Robinson”. He claimed only to have been the greatest heavyweight ever, not at any weight. Ray was one time welterweight champion of the world and five times at middleweight and was the young Ali’s early inspiration.

Back in 1951 Ray had just won the middleweight title for the first time and decided to travel to Europe for an easy first defense against the up and coming Randolph who’s chances of victory were quoted by the pundits as less than zero.

On the night of the 10th July 1951, in perhaps the biggest upset of all time, Randolph Turpin fought the fight of his short life and won a points victory over fifteen rounds to do the impossible and walk away with the middleweight championship of the world.

There is no happy ending to this story. Only two months later Randolph was lured to the USA and relieved of his title by Mr Robinson. His life took a downward turn from then on and he sadly committed suicide under the most tragic of circumstances in 1966. However, his home town never forgot that one fabulous night when one of their own beat the man that even ‘The Greatest’ would always acknowledge as his superior, to bring home the championship of the whole damn world. We need our heroes. Well done Warwick.

Living only a mile from Hever Castle is a mixed blessing, with the traffic it generates and the ever more events which it now hosts. It is, even so, undeniably a very pretty little castle and the grounds are always beautifully kept. On a warm spring or summers day, or even in the autumn, it is a pleasure to stroll by the lake or sit in the sun and enjoy a pint of chilled cider from the bar. Local residents are able to buy a permit which allows us access at a reduced rate for the season and, while part of me feels this should be available free, as it was under the Astors, to compensate us for the endless stream of cyclists attracted by the triathlon, which now permanently afflict our lanes, we decided to take advantage of the offer this year.

Shock and horror, when my wife popped in, to ask for an application form, she was told that, although less than a mile from the gates, we do not live in Hever but Mark Beech and were therefore not eligible.

I have mentioned before that my dear lady is no shrinking violet and never one to allow such nonsense as facts to be used against her when phrasing an argument. Of course, unless fully garrisoned by battle hardened troops, no small country castle was ever going to stand a chance of rebuffing her enraged assault when in siege mode.

Many died instantly in the initial caustic blast of her white hot breath, while others lingered, only to succumb later to their horrific injuries and she eventually emerged victorious, appropriate document and several severed heads clutched in her bloody fist as souvenirs. It did, however, set me thinking and although few will probably thank me for mentioning it we in fact live neither in Hever nor Mark Beech but the rather chavvy sounding Hever New Town which lays in no man’s land twixt the two. This doubtless has its origins in the coming of the railway and, after all my protestations, I have finally had to confess to living in a new town myself! Whatever next?

The old, born and bred, locals shamelessly admit to the title. It is we stuck up, status conscious, newcomers that have quietly dropped the suffix ‘new town’ while fiercely adhering to the more upmarket Hever. Well one has to think of ones property value doesn’t one? Pretentious, Moi?

 

 

Politics, protests and a dash of interesting stuff too!

Is it just me or have we really lost all desire and respect for our countryside? I saw last month that there are now moves afoot to widen the A3 at Wisley and in the process wipe-out 2 acres of woodland. Many top horticulturalists, such as Alan Titchmarsh, are up in arms over this as it will remove all semblance of screening and open the RHS gardens up to a new vista of endless traffic rushing past. This will take many years to heal, surely there is another way? Or must we sacrifice every remaining semblance of nicety for the sake of profit and convenience?

We took a break in The Cotswolds at the end of last month. I of course am genetically an East Coast boy and, in truth, found it all a bit too pretty, pretty for me and very much up itself. We stayed in one of those poncy hotels (our stay was bought for my wife as a retirement gift) where, for huge sums of money, they starve you in the name of nouvelle cuisine while the ravenous guests simper about the artistic genius of the chef because they’re far too posh and intelligent to venture that The King is, in fact, stark bollock naked and they’re still bloody hungry! Of course I’m thick and unable to appreciate such cultural niceties but, nevertheless, we still couldn’t find a chippy anywhere at hand to fulfill our coarse desires for a full stomach.

I digress, once more. My main point is that while much is still unspoiled on this hallowed soil, which attracts millions in revenue from tourists every year, they’re at it even here. Shoving in supermarkets, filling stations and naff estates behind their cherished facades. Mainly still built of Cotswold stone but, nevertheless, using mind-numbingly bland, modern, architecture. Eventually the tourists will catch on to this and save themselves a fortune by fawning over more accessible new-builds closer to home.

Despite all this massively accelerated house building, as we determinedly attempt to erase everything of worth, we still pay no more than lip service to the need for a matching infrastructure and no one seems to have given any thought to our most precious yet least appreciated resource, water. Already in periods of drought we are suffering from protracted shortages, with hosepipe bans and even supplies reduced to monitored standpipes.

How can we hope to cope with another 4.25 million houses to service? OK, build loads of new reservoirs but they will still need to be filled. There are only so many options i.e. abstraction from rivers, boreholes, desalination whatever but, aside of hugely expensive desalination, these are not infinite in their capacity to provide and if over exploited must also fail, with further huge impact on our environment and, indeed, the well being of all concerned.

In the final analysis, both nationally and globally, we have no option but to control our numbers or perish in our thousands of millions. That’s no exaggeration, we are ultimately condemned to this end once our oil finally expires should we fail to find an adequate alternative not only as a source of energy but also to manufacture a myriad equally essential plastics, fertilizers and medicines for without these our planet can only support around a fifth of our current population.

We concern ourselves with terrorism, nuclear war and endless environmental horrors, yet I would argue that the overriding cause of all our woes has been creeping up on us for far longer. Even now we dare not speak its name but for me it is obviously our own unbridled fecundity, once balanced by horrifically high levels of infant mortality, which I’m sure no one would want to see return. One truism is that we are living longer and causing a ‘log jam’ and this, combined with our success at reproduction, will ultimately be our downfall. I, as an old git, am happy to bear my share of responsibility for this and will make every effort to die from my excesses as soon as is reasonably convenient.

There is, perhaps, one small glimmer of hope on the horizon, apart from my inevitable demise, in that male fertility is falling, at least in the western world, possibly due to pollution leading to reduced sperm counts. However, our birthrate is still currently exceeding the rate at which we are dying by around 1,500,000 every single week. This is seldom even mentioned let alone addressed. Instead we concentrate on alternative energy sources or more efficient food production which can only ever provide stop gap solutions. If we cannot manage our numbers humanity faces horrific suffering and possible extinction within a terrifyingly short timescale. It is long past time that we woke up to the true cause of our problems and cut the pretense!

Now it will come as no surprise that I voted to leave the EU in the referendum, along with the rest of the majority of those who bothered to vote at all, in the belief that we live in a democracy. Had the Remain lobby won I would have been disappointed but would have accepted the result and got on with life, aside of my usual grumblings of course, yet ever since we Leavers have been branded by the losing minority as fascist morons who should never have been allowed an opinion. I’ve even lost a couple of primary school friends of almost sixty years standing for daring to hold views at odds with their own. It saddens me greatly that they can so easily put politics before our friendship, as we should all be able to agree to disagree at our age, even on issues of such profound importance.

I can only comfort them by saying, “Don’t worry. The way that our system works is that you’re only allowed to say whatever you like so long as no one listens”. In this instance the establishment were so smug in their belief that the majority vote would rubber stamp their ongoing ambitions that, in a great error of judgement, they granted the masses a voice. This was a terrible mistake as no one could deny the outcome and, horror of horrors, they got an answer that they neither wanted nor expected.

Never mind, nothing is going to happen, they’ve been frantically fudging the issue for fully fifteen months since ‘Brexit’ already, and if it ever actually happens at all it will ultimately be so diluted as to make no difference whatsoever, unless of course their endless prevaricating leaves us with such a weakened negotiating position as to ensure that all the horrors predicted by those who wanted to remain will be guaranteed to actually come to fruition. Thus perversely proving their point.

Voltaire once said something along the lines of, “I think you’re talking a load of cobblers but if anyone tries to stop you saying it I’ll smack ’em in the gob”. That, dear folk, is the very essence of democracy! I’ll accept the title ‘moron’. After all we were stupid enough to believe that our vote, to either remain or leave, would be just that simple and decisive and would be honored as such whatever the consequences, since the result appeared to indicate that most of us still have the guts for a fight and never expected this to be easy from the outset. What, however, gets right up my nose is being branded a fascist by certain sections of the media for belonging to the democratic majority, which indicates to me that they have no understanding of the term whatsoever. Allow this idiot to gently enlighten them.

Forgive me dear friends if I state the bleeding obvious but, on a point of history, the fascists were in fact those people who once tried to ride roughshod over national boundaries to create one gigantic, unelected, European state, able to dictate its own laws and rule over us all. I believe my parent’s generation were involved in a minor altercation over this very issue, called The Second World War, and willingly died in their millions to preserve our so called freedom of speech and stop it ever coming to fruition. True we (not me personally, either initially or in the referendum of 1975, but that too was democracy) later agreed to a trading agreement (turning our backs on The Commonwealth in the process) between neighbours, popularly called ‘The European Common Market’ but never the all pervading bloodless coup later inflicted on us by Maastricht, The Lisbon Treaty and their ilk without further recourse to public opinion.

Steady, think of your hypertension. Calm down! At least you’ll never get wax in your ears with all that steam coming out of them. There is a little good news in Hever. A friend across the lane has discovered a population of water voles on his pond. He is one of those awful people that arrive in the parish and, instantly rip down that which they have purchased to build something far grander, however, in this case I must grudgingly admit that he has done a tolerably good job in retaining the original profile and blending back in with the surroundings.

He has incorporated some huge, yet discreetly concealed, patio windows into the living-room overlooking the pond, which at around half an acre would count as a lake in many peoples view. He and his partner are both animal lovers and are  interested in wildlife in all its forms. Hence they are able to spend hours watching moorhens, kingfishers, heron etc from the comfort of their own home and have thus spotted the water voles.

In truth I can’t imagine that this is a new population, although they could have come in via the close by ghyll and various attendant ditches. I imagine they are survivors of the explosion in mink numbers back in the eighties when they seemed to be everywhere, slaughtering chickens and wildlife, especially water voles.

Their numbers were greatly bolstered by huge releases from fur farms, as close by as the Ashdown Forest, facilitated by misguided animal rights activists. More recently the situation has been to a large degree redressed by new trapping methods but not before their bloody onslaught had reduced this familar rodent, once seen on every fishing trip, to a point where it is now considered to be our most endangered mammal————-and I’ve got them living within 20yds of my house.

Marvelous, I almost stopped moaning there for a moment. Almost, but not quite of course. With a great crashing and grinding the old farmhouse, which has stood a couple of hundred yards behind my house since around 1865, disappeared in a cloud of dust the other day as the developers attacked without mercy. Permission for this assault had been in place for some time and doubtless it will soon be replaced with a ‘footballers wives’ palace, bereft of any sense of taste or heritage but massive on visual impact and self importance.

A little down the road at Penshurst a huge, well organised, battle has been raging for months to prevent a farm getting permanent permission for 15 acres of poly tunnels and a number of mobile homes for seasonal workers, having had temporary permission for some time. I have every sympathy for farmers needing to move with the times to stay competitive but this can be seen for many miles around and is a huge eyesore in an area supposedly designated an area of outstanding natural beauty. The owners had previously owned a farm, run along similar lines, at Bidborough Ridge which they have now sold for development.

Well over 500 written objections were received by Sevenoaks District Council to these issues, mine among them, but Kent County Council recommended acceptance and at a packed hearing in Sevenoaks Council Chambers on 19th October permanent permission was granted, to jeering undoubtedly audible in Maidstone. I’ve said a lot about democracy. This isn’t it.

The locals have resolved to fight on, at huge expense, in an effort to get the decision reversed. However, another farm close by has already declared its intention to follow suit. A precedent has now been set and unless the ruling is overturned they and, potentially, a hundred others should now have no difficulty in wrapping our local countryside in plastic, perhaps the idea being to keep it fresh until it may be covered in affordable housing. Affordable that is so long as you have upwards of half a million sobs in your pocket.

Even so, as the seasonal thunder of holiday flights in and out of Gatwick Airport subsides to less noticeable levels, there is time to reflect on the wildlife and intrinsic charm of the area before the unstoppable march of mammon wipes away everything of beauty that cannot be sold for profit.

Until this began in earnest more had certainly been gained than lost on the wildlife front since my arrival. True, little owls are no longer to be seen regularly adorning our telegraph poles and starlings are now quite a rarity. Fewer mink can only be a bonus and house sparrows almost disappeared but are now enjoying a resurgence.

Since the millennium we have gained buzzards, hornets, roe deer and Roesell’s bush-cricket while ring-necked parakeets, muntjac deer, short-winged coneheads (another cricket) and red kites are now present in small numbers or as irregular visitors. Whether all this is due to climate change, less judicious keepering or other factors I cannot be sure.

In the first week of the month (October) I came across a long-winged conehead in my veggy plot, on sweetcorn. A first for my garden, although I had them at Cowden Pound Pastures by the time that I resigned as warden in 2008. On the 9th I heard a blackbird singing in the morning. This should not happen as they supposedly stop, other than the alarm call, by 17th July yet this was not the only odd news of the day.

While snipping round and putting the garden to bed for the winter on Saturday 7th I caught a glimpse of two huge black birds as they whizzed overhead. I thought I heard a loud croak but was unsure as I was otherwise engaged at the time and the obvious conclusion was too far fetched to seriously consider. However on returning from my morning constitutional on Monday the 9th there was no denying the impossible. Two great black birds, larger than buzzards, were wheeling between the trees in the field opposite my house, creating a dreadful racket of deafening croaking and displaying their diagnostic triangular tails. We had a pair of ravens in the lane.

This was a challenge to all of my wildlife knowledge and reason. They are birds of moorland and cliff and should not be anywhere near Hever. As a self confessed moron I might have attributed what I saw to delusion but several of my neighbours had by then emerged to see what all the fuss was about and they saw them too. One had recently spoken to a warden up on The Ashdown Forest who said they had had a few up there. It’s mainly lowland heath but it sits on a high mound overlooking the surrounding countryside, which at a push could, with a generous portion of poetic license, pass for moorland I suppose and lies only about five minutes flying time away. So this must be the answer, although in thirty five, plus, years they have never called on us before.

After lunch out with two friends on 10th October we had a rather less good but nevertheless very interesting experience. I was travelling in the rear of the vehicle and, as we were passing through Marsh Green I noticed a fairly large but very dead animal laying in the gutter. I didn’t get the best of views and took it to be a small deer. However, my friends, both highly qualified professional naturalists, instantly identified it as a hare, the large black backed ears being the giveaway. This is only the second one I’ve seen in the area, the other was very much alive and bounding along in front of my car, at dusk, near Bough Beech Reservoir many years ago. This I also briefly mistook for a deer. It’s the size that throws you, they are much larger than you expect on such an infrequent acquaintanceship.

The surprises kept coming and while visiting my mother at Bexhill on Thursday 12th a clouded yellow alighted on her drive right in front of me, while the ravens were still around at home on the 14th and 27th. Bexhill is also where all the starlings seem to have gone. I’ve got none at home but the trees and wires around my mothers place are alive with them.

My garden was still buzzing with insect life on 25th with a very active Painted Lady flitting all over the place in the warm afternoon sunshine. More ominous were the squadrons of arriving fieldfares, up to 200 strong which were very much in evidence from then on until the end of the month. Said to be harbingers of a hard winter they are a little early and greater in number than I can ever remember. Is there any truth in these prophetic old country sayings? Watch this space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worried about your figure? Just look at mine!

Everyone is starting to moan that its been a miserable summer. Not so, although someone did say that this August, just passed, has been the coolest for thirty years, at least in the south. I blame the kids. It was great until they broke up and improved to give us, supposedly, the hottest bank holiday on record a week before they were due to return to school. Overall though there was no Indian Summer, at least to the end of September which, although very mild, remained rather unsettled throughout.

The end of August also brought the twentieth anniversary of Princess Diana’s death and the media outlets were full of it for weeks. Did anyone spot a mention of Mother (now Saint) Theresa anywhere? She died on the same day of course and undoubtedly did far more good in the world for an awful lot longer! Moral: If you want to do good deeds and be remembered for them make sure you’re pretty. That rules me out on both counts.

I certainly mentioned Leefest last month but was a little reticent to mention the horror that followed only a fortnight later, over the bank holiday weekend, until I was a little more sure of the details. I will not dwell too much on this but basically it was crept in on what is known as a TEN (Temporary Event Notice). This is limited to 499 attendees, including staff and is granted by the council providing neither the police or highways department object, without any need to notify The Parish Council, local populace or anyone else. The ‘Flamefest’ sex festival at Tunbridge Wells which came to the attention of the national press, where a man was found dead and a woman was rushed to hospital, was held on this basis.

Our little gem ‘Into The Wild’ unexpectedly announced itself with revelers arriving from all angles on the Friday, and lanes jammed in all directions as 5-6000, including, by some estimates, 2000 children came to shatter our peace once more. Loud music followed until gone midnight. Next day the water supply failed and the toilets plugged up. Feelings ran high on site and with all the unrest a family called next door begging for water for their dehydrated and, apparently terrified, kids. Naturally my neighbours took pity on them but throughout that night voices could be heard in our lane as people foraged for water from our garden taps or standpipes serving cattle troughs in the field opposite my house. The crowd finally dissipated on the Sunday afternoon and investigations are still ongoing. Leefest is well organised by comparison but the precedent has been set, at least for legally held festivals, and we already have wind of another TEN’s event said to be even bigger (500?) heading our way, followed by the delights of the Hever Triathlon to endure before winter slams the door on the season.

All the changes and endless festivals now afflicting us bought me to reflect on a time when we were able to enjoy our countryside for what it offered without the need to be artificially entertained or the urge to destroy all remnants of peace. Free from the plethora of digital devices clamped to one or both ears, enabling their microwave technology to flush away any semblance of intellect and reprogram the vacuous skull with new-think of trivial bling and unachievable desires.

Long before this new opiate of the masses replaced the old analogue religions I remember my time in the Norfolk of my youth when I would roam vast sandy beaches, deemed crowded should another soul appear on the distant horizon even in summer. Fishing the flooding sand gullies of Holkham on an incoming tide, for a tea of flounder or plaice, to the evocative cry of distant curlew and the startled piping of low flying oystercatchers as they flashed low overhead.

Scratching the inexhaustible cockle beds at Wells-Next-The-Sea for my other prey. Left for a day to scour in a bucket of sea water and a tablespoon of white flour before boiling, these were the finest of seafood when doused in vinegar and dusted with pepper, plump and succulent.

When not filling my belly I would sun myself on Brancaster beach, which was also a great source of razor shells for tea, gazing at the rusting hulk of the SS Vina sitting atop its distant sand spit at the end of Scolt Head like some iron siren luring unwary strangers to wade across the shallow divide in order to gaze more closely upon her decaying beauty only to find their ankles gripped by the hidden vice of quicksand where all too many remained to perish in the rapidly swelling waters.

The whole coast road of those distant days was scattered with the flint built cottages of fishermen, bait-diggers and smallholders. Tarred black against the winter, salt bearing, winds sweeping straight down from the arctic, with no intervening land mass to mitigate their intensity. These produce strange bonsai trees, their sparse one sided canopies growing horizontally south in supplication.

Away from the coast I would listen, spellbound, to the tall stories of the ancient gamekeeper at the Gunton Estate near Cromer of giant pike taking whole ducks out on the lake, or of ‘man traps’ set in the woods to the detriment of careless poachers. Then gaze in awe and trepidation at his gruesome gibbet, well stocked with all manner of unwelcome predators from weasels to sparrowhawks. Very illegal now of course and undoubtedly long gone like the ‘inexhaustible’ cockle beds further north which disappeared quite suddenly about forty years ago, taking with them the whole local industry which revolved around them.

This then is where I want to end my days, yet it lays 50 years behind me and I wonder just what does remain all these years later. Much was still there only ten years ago but do I need to relocate geographically or am I just lost in time with no way back? I urgently need a few trips to find out.

Thanks to CPRE I’ve just seen the government’s projected requirement for ‘new build’ housing within various green belt designated areas which has done nothing to boost either my confidence or my already frail sense of optimism. They are: North East 12,650, North West 97,528, Notinghamshire 18,475, West Midlands 72,650, Cambridgeshire 7,385, Gloucestershire & West of England 23,330, Dorset & Hampshire 12,720, Oxfordshire 8,610, Metropolitan Green Belt 116,324. All figures are green belt only and take no account of the countryside at large where protection from development is far, far less. The overall total is up over 400% in the five years since 2012 when the number in total planned for all of the areas quoted was just 81,000. What might it be five years hence?

A recent report by the Tory peer, Lord Hodgson, suggests that if current projections are accurate we shall need to house another 9.7 million people in Britain by 2039. Given an average occupation of 2.3 per household this translates to another 4.25 million houses or a required build rate of one new house every 3 minutes for twenty years just to keep pace. According to the Office for National Statistics our population grew by 538,500 in the 12 months to the end of June last year, which equates to 1,475 extra people every day. ONS predicts that immigration will fall in the future but will still account for two thirds of our population growth.

To suggest that we need to build ever more houses is like an obese person struggling against having to diet by arguing that they just need to grow a little taller for all to be well. What we need, to ensure a decent lifestyle for everyone, is less people not a hopeless catch up system that can never conceivably accommodate expansion on the current scale. We live on a small island. Try compressing ten eggs into a box made for six. Sure as eggs are eggs it MUST end in tears and so will unbridled immigration or any other form of unsustainable population growth.

Until recently I would never have dared say that for fear of being branded a racist, which I am not. Its pure mathematics, a question of numbers, space, housing, infrastructure and quality of life. I well remember a time when the delightful Idi Amin decided to evict all of the Asians from Uganda. The majority came and settled in Britain. Many have since flourished and have proved to be a decent and industrious asset to our nation. Around 25,000 of them arrived on our doorstep back in the seventies and at that time there was horror and speculation as to how we could possibly absorb such an incredible number in a single year. As I write figures have just been released to show that in the last year 246,000 immigrants arrived here, down from around 330,000 year on year in recent times, and immediately horror has been expressed in certain areas as to how some industries can continue to flourish on such a reduced intake. How times, perceptions and of course propaganda change.

At this stage I have no doubt that stability, or preferably a reduction in our population cannot be achieved without considerable pain for all involved. It has been allowed to carry on for far to long to be easily soluble, yet the situation cannot continue forever. Not racism, logistics! The issue has ultimately to be confronted or, taken to its conclusion, we shall start to fall off the edge of our poor beleaguered island. If we do nothing there will be misery for everyone. We shall of necessity all end up stuffed into shoe boxes with no green spaces left to refresh the spirit. Does anyone, of any race, creed or religion really want that for a future?

I am a self confessed NIMBY but if this trend continues neither I nor anyone else will have so much as a back yard to defend. I’ve just heard on the grapevine that Tandridge District Council are now proposing to build a ‘garden town’ of 6,000 dwellings abutting Edenbridge on the Surrey side, extra of course to that already in the pipeline from Sevenoaks District Council for around 1,850 new builds. Now I hear that some bright spark wants to build between 34 and 46 new houses in a field close to my home. It is as they say ‘currently washed by the green belt’. How picturesque. They add that ‘this will need to change in order for the project to proceed’. Projected timescale: 1-5 years.

I am as good as gone, driven from the place that I have loved for so long by that misnamed excuse for everything modern, however vile; progress. My hopes of finding another rural backwater such as the Hever of 35 years ago are starting to fade. I begin to wonder if it isn’t time to make the trip to paradise, propelled skywards by two lead topped columns of brimstone issuing from one of my 12 bores, rather than chancing the uncertain prospects lying beyond the end of the A11. It would certainly be cheaper and require far less effort——————-but think of the mess!