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.


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!



I have squandered my resistance for a pocket full of mumbles, such are promises.

I returned from my break in Suffolk on the last day of the Leefest festival, hence the musical theme of the title courtesy of Simon and Garfunkel, to be greeted by my friends and neighbour’s complaints that the first night (Thursday) had been horrendous, allegedly with traffic queues blocking lanes in all directions, which took between three and six hours to clear, depending on source, a situation not improved when a shuttle bus is said to have crashed into a taxi. Some alleged that deafening music followed which I was told lasted until 2am on Friday morning, when things finally quietened down.

Now I doubt you’ve noticed, but I can be a little feisty so I’ll stick to the facts as I see them, both concerning this and the issue of the potential development of the stables at the bottom of my garden, entirely without ire or prejudice, so as not to upset anyone.

Firstly by the time that we arrived home on Saturday there was, in truth, nothing to be heard so I cannot personally attest to the noise levels etc. I can, therefore, only report that which I have been told. From my perspective the only sign of anything unusual was a pair of vans following each other closely at very high speed, which screamed past my house at approximately two hourly intervals throughout the night, and a number of small silver, soda siphon style, cylinders littering the verge next day. I believe they once contained laughing gas. I had a good sniff but I’m still not even smiling.

Further conversation with my neighbours revealed that a fair percentage of them had, in truth, taken up the organiser’s offer of free or reduced tickets for locals, which they had either used to attend the event themselves or had passed to their children.


This of course has killed any suggestion that there is overwhelming local opposition stone dead. Those who accepted this offer had to give their address as a prerequisite and have thereby registered on Leefest’s data-base as local supporters of the event for evermore. As confirmation of this they have all since received a lovely souvenir email, incorporating a number of stills showing all the jolly revelers celebrating ‘The best and largest Leefest Neverland yet’ while also advertising next years even bigger, better, and doubtless louder offering, right on our doorstep. No point in complaining about noise or any other issues arising in future then.

By Thursday night little Lee had already been on BBC South East crowing about the potential to grow his love child to 10 – 15,000 jubilant ravers. Such fun! Too late now folks. The worm is out of his tin. You can’t accept the proceeds from a mugging and complain about the crime rate afterwards.

Anyone initially thinking ‘What a miserable old git!’ may like to reflect on the wisdom of my words when I add that only a fortnight after Leefest, over the August bank holiday weekend, we were, completely out of the blue, treated to the joys of the ‘Into The Wild Festival’ held on a Temporary Event Notice (TEN) on the same site.

Far more intrusive than Leefest, with loud music past midnight on the first and last day, cars abandoned at the side of the road and huge local traffic problems. Things could have been a whole lot worse as at about 10pm that night a neighbour’s son-in-law suffered a suspected heart attack and an ambulance was called. Fortunately by that time traffic had eased and paramedics were able to attend without impediment. Thankfully it turned out to be a false alarm but had it been the real deal, earlier in the day, the outcome could have been a whole lot different.

Supposedly restricted to an attendance of five hundred individuals, including those staffing the event, and granted without having to notify local residents etc. A TEN cannot be refused so long as the police and highways department do not raise any objections. Up to 15 such events may be held in any one year so long as they do not, in total, extend to more than 21 days with no single event lasting more than 7 consecutive days. The clause that, ‘a copy of the notice should be prominently displayed’, is somewhat ambiguous as to whether this needs to be in a public place, at the entrance to the event or anywhere within the event. I will not comment on the numbers attending in this instance but suffice it to say that a number of photographs were taken and that enquiries are ongoing as I write. Needless to say ‘Into The Wild’ has already started selling tickets for the same site next year.

Rumour has it that we are soon to be treated to another such event. We, as locals, are not privy as to quite what, when, or for how long but another TEN held in a field near Tunbridge Wells, despite substantial local resistance, for what I shall term ‘the sexually liberated’ made the national daily press a week or so ago when an unfortunate male individual was found dead in a tent and a female was rushed to hospital. A knock on of all this is that it has alerted anyone in the locality that owns a piece of land as to how easy it is for them to chance their arm and make a huge profit for very little effort rather than struggling to turn a buck as a hard working farmer.

In the case of the stable development, thirteen households likely to be affected were canvassed by Sevenoak’s District Council for their comments. Most pledged their support in opposing this yet in the end only six even bothered to respond at all. Of course I shall  support the remainder with similar vigour in future, should they be similarly affected. Apathy is extremely contagious. We still await the outcome.

In both instances I fully accept that everyone is entitled to have opinions which conflict with my own, and clearly a good percentage do. I take no offense from this, mercifully I’m not one of the smart set, who will doubtless soon be bleating about, inevitably, tumbling property prices in the parish as standards fall and the area becomes less desirable, and obviously have no mandate to impose my views on others. I am clearly at odds with the desires of the younger generation of country dwellers and, like it or not, the future belongs to them. However, on their behalf I spent most of the spring of 2016 representing what I understood to be the prevailing, nay passionate, local mood of outrage and opposed the licensing of Leefest with every fibre of my being. All of course to no avail. That’s fine. We can’t always win, but neither should we ever stop fighting for our beliefs, whatever they may be. I’d gladly do it all again tomorrow if I felt I had sufficient backing. Clearly I haven’t. What does rankle is the naive and all too apparent assumption that it is somehow possible to run with the fox and still hunt with the hounds. It ain’t!

There, I’ve obviously mellowed considerably with my break away. We did have a lovely time in what is clearly still a working landscape rather than the obsolete if rather prettier environment of home. Suffolk and the bulk of East Anglia is the functional bread basket of the nation where a more pragmatic attitude to the countryside necessarily prevails. Many hedgerows have long ago been grubbed out to form massive open fields which facilitate the use of huge modern agricultural machinery and yet even so this vast flat, open, landscape is far from unattractive. Such wild areas as remain and the nature reserves of the area are quite enormous and somehow seem to encapsulate a greater feeling of wilderness than those of Kent, Surrey and Sussex while the big skies lend an extra charm of their own and the lack of population make for dark nights and marvelous star gazing opportunities.

We ventured to the village pub on a couple of evenings and were overwhelmed by the friendliness of the locals who made it difficult for us to leave in time for tea with their addictive, accent rich, conversation. No thundering jets overhead here, save for a few military planes from the American airbases at Lakenheath and Mildenhall, known locally as ‘The War Fields’, beneath which, together with the present day Thetford Forest, lie the bulk of the previous vista of sandy heath which formed The Brecklands. The bad news is that it seems that the Americans are going to relinquish their tenure of Mildenhall over the next year or so and the site could then well lend itself to the creation of a fairly large new town as part of the planned Cambridge – Norwich Tech Corridor which is intended to incorporate 20,000 new dwellings, perhaps housing some of the myriad foreign nationals disenfranchised by the results of the defunct airbase’s previous purpose in aiding the liberation of their home nations, possessed of imaginary weapons of mass destruction, by the simple expedient of raining down our own upon them in order to displace some awful tyrant and replace him with a dozen new ones. Apparently we are entitled to do this on a more or less regular basis as they have the outrageous temerity to live in countries situated above OUR oilfields. Of course they are not expected to hate us for our actions or retaliate in some way as that plainly constitutes terrorism. The insanity of war, however, is never rationed to one side.

If this planned development comes to pass it will, inevitably, hugely increase the population of the area and require all manner of infrastructure to be put in place. Here the countryside does not enjoy the pretense of Green Belt or ANOB but what I fancy may be the ultimately greater protection of its essential utility in feeding the nation may yet dictate that reason will prevail after all in preserving at least some aspect of rurality. Of course there is also some balance out there in the Great Fen project which aims to restore massive areas of fenland in the region over the next hundred years or so by reclaiming redundant farmland, together with the expansion of Wicken Fen which is already well under way.

The last thing we saw as we left to return home was in fact a roadside sign, about two miles from where we had been staying, which read, ‘Land Acquired’. Nowhere is apparently immune from development nowadays. Suffolk was never in fact in our sights as a final refuge, our intention has always been to relocate further upcountry, somewhere close to the great coastal marshes of North Norfolk but, with our already bloated population growing at around a million souls net, every three years, from unbridled immigration alone, even this no longer looks as secure an option as once it did. A great new dual carriageway, The Northern Distributor Route, is now under construction with the intention of opening up an area north of Norwich to industry and development. This is still a long way south of our intended bolt hole but it could well be a sign of things to come and we need to be as sure as we can be that our next move is our last before committing to anything irrevocable in our unsociable desire to live as far away from the rest of humanity as possible. A few more short breaks are clearly needed, as well as close scrutiny of several local plans before making any dramatic decisions.

Given my experiences with planning applications and noxious hippies I was looking for a profoundly meaningful quote to close on in summation. Of course Nigel Farage sprang to mind as, by a quirk of fate, my next door neighbour is his longtime driver. He lives only a few miles away on higher ground, both geographically and morally and although I do not know him personally we seem to disagree on nothing save for fracking. However, I regard Nigel as more god made flesh than mortal politician and did not feel worthy to repeat his glowing morsels of divinity in this humble offering. I also thought of Churchill as of course he too lived only just up the road. Yet instead, as I loath controversy in any form, I finally settled on a short piece written by indisputably the greatest Englishman ever to grace our planet, the eternal Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell. I visited his house at Ely while away, on perhaps the wettest day since Noah went into ship building, and have settled on a short quote of his, drawn from a letter to The Church of Scotland, just prior to The War of Three Nations, concerning their support of The King, as there are certain parallels here I fancy with my own situation. He writes; “I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken”.

Such words. I fancy that my poor lines, sandwiched between the title, courtesy of a lyric from ‘The Boxer’, and that wonderful quote, could easily be dispensed with, with no loss of message and, as I haven’t included the chorus, I may yet manage to keep a few friends from among those misguided local bohemians.

Not all soldiers swear like troopers.

Soldier beetles copulating on hog weed? It must be July.

Back in the nineteen twenties my father would have undoubtedly brought an abrupt end to their brazen courtship as he gathered this prolific umbellifer to feed his rabbits. Although he ended up as a London cabby, dad was a country lad in every respect. Augmenting his pocket money (actually they were probably his sole source of pocket money) by raising our long eared friends for sale in his parents village store at Woodton in Norfolk. They were, of course, not the pampered pets that we see today. These were meat and would end their days hanging from a hook in the butchers section of the family shop. He always said that hog weed was the finest finishing feed available. It was also free and, to our less than squeamish ancestors, anything that ended up as free protein, or perhaps also turned a profit, just couldn’t be ignored.

It seems that the buzzards are back. My observations last month suggest that when our weather is set at hot, day and night, the thermals which our buzzard population relies upon to get aloft, without too much effort, are weaker than when the ambient temperature is at a cooler contrast with the sun warmed ground and do not provide sufficient lift to encourage what is after all a lazy predator, which prefers to scavenge, to get up in the mornings. It appears that under these circumstances they are content to sit in trees or on a gate post waiting for a mouse to pass or a rabbit to collapse in front of them from heat exhaustion. I may be wrong but fancy this may be why they have been less in evidence over the past few weeks.

Horseflies/clegs (the ones with the weird iridescent eyes) are very much to the fore this year, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many. With the hot weather of late we’ve had a few windows open and they arrive in droves to feast royally on our reluctantly donated blood every afternoon. Their bite feels much like a hot darning needle being plunged into the flesh and invariably results in an itchy scab which takes weeks to heal.

With the warm weather there is also an abundance of hover-flies. Sometimes confused with wasps or bees, they are good examples of mimicry. In nature, if you have no real means of defense it pays to look like something that does, so a set of black and yellow stripes can help. This is pretty much the universal warning code that says , “I can sting or bite and am venomous”. Horseflies don’t make themselves so obvious as they want to remain incognito while they feast on our vital juices.

I’ve got a fair amount of fennel in my garden and nothing works better at attracting hover-flies of all species, quite why I don’t know. I spent a pleasant hour or two the other afternoon enjoying a drop of home-brew and just watching their antics (I once spent a whole day watching crickets). It was quite noticeable how the heavily built bee hover-flies just used their weight and power to displace lighter species by simply crashing into them.

We had a lovely walk around Borde Hill Gardens at the start of the month (4th) and were treated to some altogether prettier insects on the woodland trail. Along the meadow edge were a few newly emerged gatekeepers, clouds of meadow browns, with ringlets in the shadier, damper, sections but the real stars were the silver-washed fritillaries, to be seen in the deep woodland, in every sunlit glade. Large spectacular butterflies flitting and gliding in all directions. Enjoying the summer sun to the full as were we.

Its been a good summer, until things took a turn for the worse a week or so ago, and the warm weather has bought an influx of hummingbird hawk moths over from the continent. They look exactly like a small hummingbird in flight as they hover in front of a chosen flower to feast on its nectar through their extended proboscis. I’ve seen several in my garden feeding on soapwort and also visiting next doors front plot.

It comes as no surprise to find that my dear neighbours to the rear of our property, with four acres of land and a house, together worth around £1,500,000, have reapplied to convert their old stable block, which forms the rear boundary to our gardens, into a two bedroom, single storey dwelling. Presumably they are desperate for the extra cash that its sale will bring in. I have, of course, again written at length in protest but suspect that it will get approval this time round.

Under green belt legislation, development is only allowed under ‘very special circumstances’ which these days appear to include making a huge profit for  developers! There will be no agricultural agreement to provide accommodation for an essential worker, neither will it provide affordable housing for a low waged local couple. That it will serve only to gratify the insatiable greed of already wealthy people is not, I am reliably informed, a material consideration for refusal.

Time will tell, but with the pressure on to house our already hugely inflated and ever growing population (just the richer ones here obviously) I believe I’m on a loser. I fancy I can already hear yet more nails being driven into the coffin of our rural idyll as I write.

Speaking of idyllic: On the last perfect summer’s evening before the weather broke at the back end of July I took a, nowadays rare, stroll up to my old local with a long time, locally born, mate Andy. Andy it is who sorts out my hi-tec woes and helps create the illusion that I am computer literate and in some way part of the 21st century.

As it was so hot I opted for a pint of the less strong cider (the local brew comes in at 7.5%), said hello to the few remaining locals that I knew at the bar, and we wandered out to the beer garden, which still enjoys the same stunning views across The Weald that it did when I first arrived here almost 35 years ago.

It was only a couple of days after moving in that we first wandered up here, on just such an evening as this, pausing on the way to watch a fallow stag standing in a gateway only a few yards from our new home and thinking, ” You don’t see many of those in Wallington”. We then sat outside, just like this evening, and watched as a nervous woodcock skittered over the valley and the blood red sun sank slowly below the horizon.

This evening was, however, slightly different. Sitting at a group of tables a few yards away was a collection of young couples, whom I know to have arrived in the area over the past few years, together with their respective young children.

To say their language was toe curling would hardly do it justice. Every other word was an expletive of the very strongest kind. Projected, to emphasize their self importance, at a volume such that I imagine they could be heard with perfect clarity in Edenbridge over four miles away.

“So your thinking of moving $&^*$*+ house again are you, you old !$^*?

“Yeh, maybe”.

” Well the one across the road’s for sale and they only want 900K”.

“Yeh, I know its cheap but its “&^*$*+ tiny”.

The delightfully modest and restrained conversation, concerning what is in truth a 4 bedroom detached house standing in its own half acre plot, continued in similar vein until a row broke out between what I believe was an estranged couple, out together for the night to see old friends, for the sake of the kids.

Issuing a foul torrent of abuse, duly returned by her partner, the women then grabbed a selection of now screaming brats, slung them into the inevitable, spotless, 4×4 and roared out of the car-park and off into the twilight.

The male, by now so incensed as to be incapable of finding an obscenity of sufficient intensity to do the situation justice, then leapt into a sports car and screamed off, wheel spinning and axle tramping all the way. He broadsided out of the car-park, in the opposite direction to his unnaturally demure ex, into Cow Lane and could be heard thrashing through the gears, at maximum revs, all the way into the distance. Cow Lane is so narrow that two cars cannot pass without the greatest of care, with so many blind twists that nowhere does a clear line of sight extend to more than 10 – 15 yards. Whether he was drunk or not anyone traveling in the opposite direction, be it in a car or on foot, would have undoubtedly been slaughtered.

“Not what it was round here”, muttered my mate. “You’re not wrong”, I replied as we wandered back inside to the relative tranquility of the bar.

In the main the old crowd of long term locals, who I have known for more years than I care to remember, are no longer to be seen in our local hostelries, preferring instead to keep to themselves.  Just why are these, generally quiet and retiring, countryfolk so unwelcoming to newcomers and their desire to change everything as soon as they arrive? I really can’t imagine.







Summer, some aren’t.

As I predicted, no sooner had all the profits of doom started telling us that lack of rainfall over the past few months meant an imminent hosepipe ban and the need to replant our front gardens with cacti than the first of a chain of weather fronts swept in on Tuesday 6th June to deluge the veggy plot, replete with gales, hail and the odd clap of thunder.

A week prior to this we had a glorious week and managed to sneak a barbecue with a few friends which climaxed with a spectacular view of The International Space Station, lit by the last rays from an already set sun, as it passed over our house. By 16th things were warming up again to peak on 21st with temperatures topping the 30c barrier only to head downhill thereafter to what passes for normality in a British summer.

I’m not a fan of extreme heat to be truthful, especially in this day and age, when any string of three or more sunny days in a row is clearly a harbinger of climate change and our imminent demise. Gone is the heat haze of my youth to be re-titled photo-chemical smog which will choke us to death in moments should we dare to venture forth. How did we ever come up with the term ‘flaming June’ when clearly the memory of the elderly is so obviously wrong? Yet my corrupted brain cells seem to recall 1976 when the sun burned down for months, we were plagued with great swarms of ladybirds, and even trees began to die of drought.

Not so long ago I remember being ridiculed by some spotty oik for reminiscing about the winter of ’63 when, beginning on boxing day ’62, it snowed on 72 consecutive days (said oik thought this impossible) and lay feet deep even in London, smothering my dog on his comfort walks and preventing him cocking his leg with the usual casual alacrity. A sure sign according to the experts of the day that we were slipping into another ice age and the great glaciers of the north would shortly sweep down to engulf us again.

Whatever the horrors of our climate my garden is alive with insect life at present. In particular my hypericum absolutely seethes with bumblebees. The myriad buzzings are almost deafening particularly first thing in the morning. Nationally they may be in all sorts of trouble but not in my back yard.

I have to say that the floral succession there is now almost bang on, after over 34 years of planting and selection, and attracts a huge variety of invertebrates. For the moment we appear to have achieved a happy balance between pest and predator which means that we can virtually dispense with any type of chemical control.

Oddly, I’ve not seen nearly as many buzzards this month. They seem to have suddenly disappeared, although I can’t fathom how, or why, this should be be. Perhaps they have simply been resting up throughout the heatwave. Time will tell.

Certainly kestrels have again declined locally, after something of a rally throughout the nineties, over the last decade or so despite the efforts of my mentor, Roy Coles, and myself in erecting dozens of nesting boxes in suitable/available trees across several local parishes. This of course was now long ago and it strikes me that time and squirrels have by now taken their toll of our constructions which may be having some bearing on the situation. There were only about fifty boxes round and about if some young enthusiast with a head for heights wants to get stuck in and replace them in their spare time?

I even remember making and erecting a number of jackdaw boxes at Bough Beech, but jackdaws are flourishing and seem to be everywhere this year. Bullfinches are very common here too but the usual view is only of the diagnostic white rump as they flit away. Not so this week when a pair graced my back garden for around half an hour, with stunning views of the more vivid male. Another bonus has been a single hummingbird hawk moth visiting blooms in my neighbours front garden over the last week.

With this glorious weather, in the season of fetes, one might expect attendances to be in the ascendance yet this is not so. Numbers are dwindling as is membership of our local horticultural societies. Have these traditional rural diversions had their day? Has the smart phone and the plethora of other glowing brain replacement technology taken their toll? Certainly we are no longer the nation of gardeners that we once were.



Hero in a half shell.

I wrote previously of my struggle with flab following retirement and, although the weight had mostly gone by then, this has continued with an ever more frantic fitness regime to try and regain the muscle tone lost to idleness and old age. Seven months of physical torture and partial starvation have now fully redressed the balance, with around an hour and a half of weight training, sit-ups and jogging every other morning finally winning the day. Its been painful, exhausting, and my legs are still not great but everything else is working and I’ve even got my six-pack back if you get the lighting right and use a little imagination.

I usually asses the progress made by a quick look in the mirror when I emerge from the shower and have been quite well pleased with the image that I perceived, thinking I’d shaken off the crumpled duvet look that I mentioned previously, but, being a vane old sod I thought I would put my specs on the other day for a more detailed appraisal. What a shock. 20/20 vision revealed, sadly, not the youthful Adonis which my myopia had led me to expect but a large, pinkish, tortoise that had mislaid its shell. OK so an optimist like myself might construe it as a fairly fit, well muscled, and by tortoise standards at least, young example, but nonetheless very definitely a bloody great naked tortoise. Just as well then that I’m a fully paid up member of The Kent Reptile And Amphibian Group which I might well have viewed henceforth as a legitimate, bespoke, dating agency were I not already happily married to a Komodo Dragon (Actually, picture something more like a present day T.rex with tits and you pretty much have it).

My wife has, in actual fact, also been on a health kick and she too has lost a full stone in weight. She has even started taking gentle exercise and has revamped her diet. Never a big drinker she has now almost completely given up alcohol, mainly because of its undesirable side effects such as pleasure and sociability.

Speaking of reptiles and amphibians while I still can, before the wife reads the last couple of paragraphs, I did see a yearling frog in my garden pond a few weeks back. This is encouraging as they have all but disappeared from the district to our side of the main route through Edenbridge with plenty remaining on the Lingfield side. Twenty years ago I would expect to see around ten pairs leaving spawn with hundreds using the larger pond across the road. I have always blamed their demise on the advent of several pathogens including red legs, rana virus and, of course, chytrid fungus which first reared its head only about two miles south of my house with the discovery of around 40,000 + infected American bullfrogs in a pair of isolated ponds.

I saw a couple of yearling sized individuals in my front garden last year. Perhaps the worst is over and they are starting to repopulate, or it could just be a few youngsters that have found their way to us and will later succumb. As yet I have seen no adults of breeding size although populations of smooth newt and common toad continue to thrive.

I came through the road that runs over the causeway at the north end of Bough Beech Reservoir the other day. Back when I was for so long one of the reserve wardens I passed this way many times every week but no longer. What struck me was that George Day’s ancient farm house was undergoing modernisation and refurbishment. It was clear that George had gone as his quarter acre or so of bean sticks were missing. He must have had a commercial outlet for runner beans and grew them in huge numbers every year but no more. I guess it was always going to be inevitable when George passed away. He was the farmer who during my jurisdiction kept the reserve boundary hedges cut and tidy. His house was the last that I knew in the area to still be without electricity. The other, in Trugger’s Lane near The Rock Inn, went on the mains about twenty years back. Even I must accept this to be progress but nevertheless it marks the loss of yet another link with a simpler way of life now gone forever.

In general, however, I seem to spend more time lamenting that which has recently arrived in our district, such as pop festivals, triathlons, exterior lighting, ugly pretentious houses, and thousands of self centered cyclists who think our country lanes were invented for their sole personal usage. The other evening, however, I was reminded of something which to date I believe I have forgotten to moan about, at least to any great degree. Bloody fireworks.

About nine o’clock in the evening on the eighth of May all hell broke loose as the first firework display of the season shattered our peace. Now I like fireworks, but not every week to celebrate any Tom, Dick or Harry’s birthday, wedding, hemorrhoid cure or whatever. Nov 5th or, grudgingly, New Year is fine in my book but not all the time. When I was a kid with my ten bob box of Brock’s or Paine’s we were bombarded for weeks in advance of the event by every facet of the media, such as it was back then, to remember to keep all of our pets safe indoors because of the stress they might suffer, and this in the confines of inner city London. These days, however, it seems to be deemed fine, given the flimsiest of excuses, to traumatize not only family pets but wildlife and livestock across the whole of the countryside by placing them under constant sub-nuclear attack. So what’s different now?

Another thing I don’t believe I’ve moaned about here is aircraft noise as frankly I don’t often notice it. Yet oddly this seems to be the only thing that our newcomers are concerned about. From their comments it would appear that they must generally be so distracted by the all consuming urgency of getting their hideous planning applications granted, in order to further ruin the area as soon as they move in, that they fail to notice the sodding great international airport situated just twelve miles to the west of their intended new home, where it has quietly lurked, apparently unnoticed by a huge percentage of our population, since 1958, on the site of an already existing aerodrome which had been there since 1920. However, it appears that hope is at hand for them. Although the new breed of passenger jet is an eminently quieter beast than those that thundered overhead when I first moved in some thirty five years ago I have to admit that I too would not altogether regret their passing, although in moderation they are viewed by some to add another layer of interest to the area.

Now it seems plans are afoot to reroute air traffic and disperse it along the A264 Tunbridge Wells to East Grinstead road on its final approach to Gatwick, which should greatly reduce traffic above my humble dwelling. For once everyone should be happy, apart of course from the poor souls living along the A264.

Spring is now well under way in sunny Hever and with it the annual succession of colours as the wild flowers best exploit the angle and intensity of sunlight available to them. First come the yellows followed by whites and then the blues and reds as the sun grows stronger and climbs ever higher into the summer sky.

Clever stuff nature. It has been an unusually dry winter but as usual no sooner do voices in the media start to mutter about drought and hosepipe bans than the heavens open and its next stop flooding. We shall see, but within hours of the first rumblings of doom it began to rain, around mid month. Time will tell and, after a week long deluge, we are now experiencing something of a heatwave but I well remember the appointment of Dennis Howell, at the end of the worst drought I have ever experienced, in the summer of 1976, as The Minister for Drought. He turned out to be the most successful minister of all time as it started to rain within days and did not stop for weeks.

Not only are our wildflowers in the ascendance, as spring grows into summer, but the cuckoo seems to be doing a bit better than it has over the last few years in this locality. My neighbour, Emma, heard it first on 29/4 and between us she and I have heard it on several occasions since. Another neighbour tells me that a nightingale has taken up residency at the Bough Beech Reservoir Nature Reserve, which is nice to know, and I shall be popping along ASAP to hear it. The liquid note is unmistakable and unequaled but like much else in the natural world is, sadly, growing rarer with every passing year.

Finally, in an already too long post, I’ve just received a newsletter from Hever Residents Association, who spent much time and a small fortune in the early part of last year fighting the coming of the Leefest music festival. I was utterly astounded to see that their communication included a large advert extolling the virtues of this years event, which I hear on the grapevine is already going to apply to have noise restrictions raised from last years offering. What a change of heart. I can only imagine that the committee must have had a visitation, along the lines of Mr Scrooge, from the ghost of Bernard Matthews, as they have clearly become a bunch of turkeys voting for Christmas. Bootiful, bloody bootiful!