Aliens? The Truth Is Out There.

As I write, at the end of January, the first period of real cold and meaningful snow has arrived. Even so, according to the forecast, it should be short lived with temperatures picking up by the end of the first week in February. We shall see.

This is a time to huddle round the fire and reflect on another year gone. Time, perhaps, to reassess my life and where its heading. I have always been resistant to the whole idea of ageing and what that should involve. Of course we must all grow old and the end result will always be the same——death, but until we arrive at that fateful destiny absolutely no one can make us grow up. I remain as active and, probably, immature as ever, its just unfortunate that I find myself confined within a sixty seven year old body when my true self never progressed past twenty two.

I find it a sobering thought that when I was born, just six years after the end of The Second World War, George VI was on the throne Mr Churchill was Prime Minister, Jersey Joe Walcott was The Heavyweight Champion Of The World and the Supermarine Spitfire still ruled our skies. Rationing was still in place for God’s sake! and I still have my ration book, with a few milk vouchers un-encashed, if anyone needs some?

That all seems like a very long time ago, yet I can’t convince myself that I’m really that old. Much of the ageing process is, I fancy, in the mind. My oldest living friend (rather than relation) is now almost ninety three yet I must confess he is much younger than me in many respects. He retains a wicked sense of humour, is far more computer literate than me and his knowledge of the pop scene, both past and current, is quite amazing.

That appears to be the secret. Keep interested and keep active——————— plenty of the other does no harm either.

The minor problem with my left knee is, unfortunately, not in my mind. It becomes clear that the cartilage is well past its sell by date, but that is fixable and considering that many of my old mates of similar vintage, or younger, are already long dead or suffering debilitating illness I feel disinclined to complain too much. I do wonder, however, if I shouldn’t grow up and mellow a little? Something for me to mull over perhaps while I’m doing press ups in the snow or suffering agonies on my abdominal board in preparation for another trip to Sevenoaks Boxing Club in order to break my wrists on their heavy bags. In truth I wouldn’t bother, were it not for my young friend Nick, down the lane, imploring me to accompany him on his quest for ever greater fitness, whatever the cost.

I like writing and doing so is one of my more genteel end of life occupations. Some years back my cousin, a lifelong professional editor, suggested that I should write a book, which I did, on the subject of ‘Britain’s Wild Invaders’ a study of how our wildlife, ancient and modern, arrived on our shores since the last ice age. This took me around three years, mainly due to the difficulty in tracking down and photographing the subject matter. If anyone out there wants a copy I’ll email it over. Otherwise, continue enjoying life.

This blog in fact also owes its existence to my cousin for it was her that suggested I start one in order to get my name out there. It has long since wandered far off message, which I hope doesn’t cause her too much distress. ‘Out there’ it most certainly is but quite where even I am not entirely sure.

On the book front, I have learned much from my first effort and am now writing another, less parochial, offering with hopefully wider appeal. After all, why sell to a minority in Britain when it is just as easy to produce something with, hopefully, broader worldwide appeal. More of that once its completed. The point is that, after a lifetime’s study, I do know a bit about our countryside and what’s out there.

OK then, so just before Christmas I was out doing some final shopping with my boxing buddy when we received a phone call from his son’s school to say that he was unwell and needed to be taken home. We duly rerouted, collected him, and headed back to Hever.

It was as we were passing Stonewall Park Cricket Ground that I noticed a strange critter standing at the end of the pitch. I only caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye but it appeared to be a wallaby. Harry, nick’s son, also saw it and agreed with my impression of an erect marsupial.

Although I can’t, hand on heart, swear to what I saw with any certainty, this is not so unlikely as it might seem as there are numerous populations around The British Isles. There was in fact once a well established colony on The Ashdown Forest only around six miles to the south. Add to this that there have been recent reports of several having escaped from a collection at Hartfield and that Penshurst Vineyard, only a mile behind us at most, used to have a good few, and the likelihood of our having seen a feral red-necked/Bennett’s wallaby seem slightly more plausible.

At this point some of you reading this may be relieved to see that, despite my just having received notification of, potentially, another 400 houses and a hotel etc being built right on my doorstep (will address this next month when I know more), at this point I appear to have softened and returned to writing gently about our wonderful natural history. Others may be disappointed that I have put my fiery past behind me. Fear not, recovery is at hand!

Now, not long after the events reported above, my friend was at a local social gathering and casually alluded to the incident, whereupon one of our more recently arrived locals, blessed with the ability to express his ill informed and unwanted opinions at volumes that would shame many a town crier, apparently piped up and loudly ridiculed him for reporting what he viewed as an idiotic impossibility.

Here I must beg to inform him: That exotic beasts were at liberty in our countryside in recent history is beyond question. The Dangerous Wild Animals Act of 1976 banned, or greatly restricted, the keeping of such beasts by private individuals but it was not until the passing of the Wildlife And Countryside Act, five years later, in 1981, that it became illegal to release them into the wild, thus ensuring that in the intervening period many, including a number of big cats, were simply turned loose to avoid the cost of compliance.

Although now nearly forty years in the past it is wholly possible, indeed in certain instances proven, that some species were set free, or have since escaped, in sufficient numbers to form breeding colonies that survive to the present day.

Before the law changed it was not unusual, back at the end of the sixties, to see an Australian pair of pine furniture dealers walking their pet lion cub, which they had bought from Harrods for £250 and kept in the flat above their store, appropriately called ‘Sophisticats’, around the streets of Chelsea. Always on a lead for safety of course!

I have personal experience of this as they were regular customers at the branch of Nat West where my sister-in-law worked and would frequently pop in to keep their banking up to date, usually accompanied by Tiddles (actually it was called Christian). Strangely there was never a queue in front of them for long.

In that case Christian was eventually released, appropriately back in Africa, with a TV documentary many years later about the three’s happy reunion. Fortunately Christian remembered them and no one was eaten during filming.

One of my regular haunts, in my teens, was Palmers of Camden Town, a pet shop specialising in exotic pets such as scorpions, alligators (I had a pet Caiman, bought in fact from a dealer in Wandsworth, in my parents front room for a number of years) and suchlike. Their near neighbour, London Zoo, would frequently divest themselves of surplus stock via this outlet and thus, on one occasion, had I sufficient pocket money it would have been possible, on the face of it, for me to have purchased a fully grown baboon. The trip home on the tube would have been interesting and the look on my parents faces, priceless, not to say horrified.

In our part of the country there were many wholesalers of exotic pets centered in the countryside around Reigate. Their ‘keen to be free’ merchandise having been flown into Gatwick before distribution. Inevitably there were escapes over the years and several well documented colonies, primarily of exotic, but hardy, reptiles and amphibians, are known to survive in the area.

Of course I am not sure as to the wallaby sceptic’s background or his experience of the natural history of our area but can assure him that there is certainly far more wildlife of alien origin in the vicinity than he clearly believes to be possible.

It is not necessary to possess binoculars or other complex equipment in order to observe much of this, if he cares to take the time to investigate further, although as I found when writing my book it can take a great deal of time and patience. However, his chances of ultimate success will undoubtedly be greatly improved if he keeps an open mind and first withdraws his firmly embedded head from within the restrictive confines of his own rectum.

Mellow? Moi?


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Here Comes Another One, Just Like The Other Ones.


So here we are at the start of yet another year. We could perhaps forget the last one without any great loss. I’m no further along in catching up with modern technology but perhaps that’s for the best as modern technology, in the form of a drone, which may or may not have actually existed, succeeded in closing Gatwick Airport for a number of days over the Christmas period and causing absolute chaos. Eventually this was followed by the arrest of two entirely innocent residents of Crawley. Now we hear that if it did actually exist it may have belonged to the police.

In days gone by a marksman would have arrived. Bang! end of story, but now of course we have ‘elf and safety and ‘Hi Tech’ solutions.

After well over two years since the referendum, our glorious leaders are, it seems, no further advanced with leaving the EU and the remain minority grow louder by the day in their demand for a ‘Peoples Vote’. Clearly we, the majority, are no longer just a bunch of idiots who could not understand what leave meant, we are actually no longer even people!

I have always been a staunch supporter of our hard won right to vote. In recent years I confess that this has meant contenting myself with voting for the least bad option available rather than any in which I have any genuine faith. Apart from this one that is, but if, as appears ever more probable, we are to have another referendum on our membership, I shall vote just one last time, in the same way that I did in the first and then, should the result be reversed, no more. There would be no point.

Indications are that if this farce should come to fruition we shall be offered three choices, Remain, Accept the deal on the table or Leave with no deal. The blatantly obvious and hideously cynical intention is to split the leave vote, treat the electorate like morons, and ensure that we remain, against the clearly declared will of the majority.

There is no point in further pretense. We have forsaken democracy in favour of anarchy. GB or UK once stood for Great Britain or United Kingdom. We must now accept that, in truth, these mean Gutless Britain or Undemocratic Kingdom.

This is not another rant, it is a simple statement of verifiable facts. Nevertheless, it does seem that my attitude has become a tad sceptical, not to say downright defeatist, of late. Had I the will I could, I suppose, with the feeble competition in disarray and intent on self destruction, start my own party, but first it would be necessary to come up with a realistic manifesto. How about:

1/ Anyone wearing Lycra and strapping a silly plastic potty on their head will be shot on sight. This is not for any political gain, just pure self satisfaction.

2/ As it is clear that the terms ‘Remain’ or ‘Leave’ were far too complex for the British public to comprehend it will be necessary to hold further referendums using the terms ‘In’ or ‘Out’, after, of course, an extensive campaign by the government, costing many millions of pounds, to explain what they mean to the electorate and how the world will come to a horrific end if they mistakenly put a cross anywhere near the ‘Out’ box.

In the event of further ‘wrong thinking’ more referendums will need to be held, with the word ‘In’ printed in ever larger, heavier, type than ‘Out’ on the ballot paper each time it is necessary to repeat the exercise.

If the public cannot be adequately educated at the second attempt this process will be continued until the word ‘Out’ disappears altogether and, once an ‘In’ majority of at least one is achieved this will be hailed as a huge victory for democracy. We can then proceed, with the will of the people clearly united behind us, to abolish the right to vote completely and donate our country, in its entirety, to the EU for all eternity.

3/ With the irritation of a wrong thinking electorate behind us we can then throw open our borders (like we haven’t already) to unbridled immigration. This is vital as anyone born here or resident in the UK for more than a year, regardless of race, creed or colour, is clearly incapable of running, producing, or achieving anything whatsoever and starts asking for a living wage. This necessitates a constant influx of ‘new blood’, at a rate of around a million extra souls every three years, if we are to continue to function at all.

4/ As the entire population, established beyond one year, is obviously wholly useless these will all be encouraged to retire, on huge pensions funded by massive EU subsidies. We will of course, with such a small percentage of our population actually able to do anything, be almost totally dependent on imports for our survival. Due to trading restrictions, these will come exclusively from the EU, paid for by our giving back a portion of those same subsidies. This should boost their economy enormously, while ours will be dependent upon tourism and shipping a few sheep and a couple of potatoes back and forth across The English Channel ad infinitum.

5/ Now, as our population grows ever more enormous it will be necessary to level and concrete over any remaining countryside in order to build houses all over it. This doesn’t really matter as no one seems to like it much anyway these days.

The benefits of this will be huge. Firstly, with a substantial concrete base everywhere, foundations will become unnecessary and dwellings can then be built anywhere and everywhere, cheaply, and far more quickly than ever before. Secondly, roads will become obsolete, we will just leave a few straight gaps between some buildings and paint directional arrows on the surface of the concrete. Not that the public will either need or desire to travel anymore by this stage as everywhere will be exactly the same as everywhere else, with any annoying variety, beauty, or interest having been expunged from our nation forever. In truth we may as well expunge the word ‘nation’ while we’re at it. The term ‘expunge’ will be retained as I really like that word.

6/ Understandably a few individuals, still surviving from our ‘wrong thinking’ past, may, in their confused senility, still pine for such outdated niceties as grass, trees, picturesque landscapes, open spaces and other such unproductive nonsense. This is not a problem as those confused idiots will be pressured to leave, by much the same forces as those operating today only more so. This is, after all, what they voted for in the first place, way back when they foolishly deluded themselves that they were living in a democracy.

With most of the entire population of planet Earth living in ‘new think’ Gutless Britain this liberated minority will then be free to settle anywhere in the entire rest of the world, other than Europe of course or those nations (of which there are many) that are not so soft and dopey as us.

There, job done. Everybody’s happy! I hope that I may rely upon your vote, if we continue to pretend to be a democracy going forward. Although I do realise that there is only so far that we can hope to perpetuate such a ridiculous fantasy.

That’s better. So much calmer and more balanced than last year’s offerings. At least I managed to get through that one without offending anyone or becoming drawn into the politics of the moment in any way.

Happy New Year one and all.


A Tail Of The Lodger Who Never Was.

With feelings of warmth and Christmas bonhomie, as I gather my thoughts at the close of the year, one memory dominates, of a story not yet told in full. A story so poignant and fraught with emotion that it has taken until now, with the healing effect of time, for adequate narrative to unfold in my psyche.

It was back in the spring that my friends down the lane found themselves let down by their usual dog sitter at the last minute when off for a family holiday to Disneyland in America. Happily, Ralph and I have known each other since he was a puppy and get on extremely well together, so I saw no obstacle to having him come and stay with us for the duration, although my wife added the proviso that he should have an overnight stay first just to make sure that he would settle in without any problems. This was duly arranged and Emma delivered Ralph, replete with bed and blanket, on the following Friday morning.

We thought we might have a few teething problems as Ralph is a Vizsla, a breed noted for their quirky character and clingy nature, which gives rise to their alternative name of Velcro hound. First off Ralph took exception to his bed being in our house, where he knew it didn’t belong, and immediately flung his blanket across the room in protest. A protracted period of whimpering and restless whining followed but we felt that with time he might calm down and accept the situation.

After much jiffling and wandering around he did at last lay down, but the least movement on our part disturbed him and he would leap up and follow us wherever we went. Trips to the loo were particularly difficult as unless the door was left open at all times, so that he could fully observe what we were up to, he would fear for our safety and sit outside wailing piteously in his distress until we re-emerged, when his palpable relief was celebrated, every single time, with much leaping, joyous yelping and tail wagging. By mid morning we were reduced to sitting like statues, barely daring to breath lest the least hint of motion should trigger another massive canine celebration.

We decided to go and sit in the garden to see if he would settle better there but, although he knows us both so well, he still seemed to think that we had sinister designs and were attempting some sort of kidnapping. He spent his time continually looking for a way out and we were forced to close all gates in order to restrict him to our patio lest he attempted a breakout. This of course only made things worse and we quickly decided to return indoors.

Now some things, such as the tides, sunrise, sunset etc, are set in stone and can never be changed by mortal man. So it is with the wife’s, Mrs M, lunchtime routine. During the death throws of the one o’clock news on BBC1 she heads for the kitchen and there prepares her lunch, consisting of a handful of crisps, a chunk of mango and ginger Wenslydale cheese, and some grapes. She then returns to the living room and reclines on the settee, beneath her sacred red throw to watch ‘Doctors’, with her lunch precisely poised on her gently heaving bosom. Neither fire, flood or divine intervention can vary this routine by a single iota and God have mercy on anyone who tries.

On this occasion, while Mrs M was sorting out her lunch, Ralph found an old tennis ball and was daring me to try and take it from his powerful jaws by growling loudly and waving it in my face. As usual this was no great problem. I simply pinched his nose and, as he blinked and tried not to sneeze, snatched the ball from his mouth leaving him sitting there looking disappointed that his friend could, once more, use such a dirty trick against him for such petty gain. Clearly we needed something more challenging to keep us entertained.

Fatefully, I got on the floor and we went through our usual thing of me slapping, poking, and tickling his ribs while he did his ‘I’m very fierce’ bit, of  growling and grabbing me by the wrists like an enraged police dog, no crunching allowed. Usually its always the same old thing but this time it somehow evolved into a situation whereby we put the tops of our heads together and tried to shove each other backwards up and down the living room like a pair of demented billy-goats. At this point the title music for ‘Doctors’ came on, just as Mrs M re-entered the room and settled on her altar, like some supine goddess, replete with her carefully balanced plate of ambrosia.

Ralph normally wins our contests as he is immensely strong and possessed of lightning reflexes. With our new game, however, I had the advantage, as I weigh far more than him and, in the kneeling position, have a far larger area of contact with the ground, giving me a massive advantage in the inertia stakes.

Grinding heads together in such a determined manner is, of course, not without a degree of pain and requires much snarling and growling on the part of the canine contestant and a lot of swearing and cussing from the human if each is to give of his best. Slowly, determinedly, I was winning, shoving Ralph backwards as he booted any annoying furniture out of the way en-route. All was going well until we drew level with Mrs M when, sensing victory, I gave a huge and, as things turned out, catastrophic final shove.

At that point Ralph’s back end veered irredeemably off course, to the left, and, knowing it was too late to abort, I could only watch in abject horror as his not inconsequential balls rolled over the edge of Mrs M’s plate, like a pair of early tanks mounting a parallel attack across The Somme. They glided inexorably onward through her mango and ginger Wenslydale, his enthusiastically wagging tail wafting her hand crafted artisan’s crisps aloft and slapping her solidly about the face as his cheekily winking and blinking sightless rear eye approached, with unnerving rapidity, to within six inches, and closing, of her fast fading smile.

In the nick of time Mrs M, rather ungraciously, freed a hand from beneath her robe of office and punched poor Ralph hard in the rear. His instinctive response was to clench his tail downwards, between his legs, gathering a good portion of her lunch beneath it in the process, and spin round to see what could possibly be so wrong. As he did so his tail automatically lifted and crumbled cheese and grapes were strewn all over the carpet.

I did think to shout at my beloved to be more careful, as dogs are very allergic to grapes, especially if given as a suppository, and her careless repose might well have proved fatal to our treasured house guest under different circumstances. However, realising that such sage advice might not be well received at this particular moment and would do little to improve an already less than ideal situation, I thought better of it and managed to bite my tongue very hard.

So there we sat, huddled together and quaking in terror, Ralph with ears laid flat in supplication, as the by now ‘Dog’s Bum Flavour’ crisps fluttered down and settled on my dear lady’s increasingly purple visage.

Now they say that the loudest noise ever to fall on human ears was the eruption of Krakatoa way back in 1883, with the shock waves travelling more than three times round the globe. I have no reason to doubt the truth of this, yet I fancy it must have been as a small mouse tiptoeing across freshly fallen snow, against what came next.

At first wifey could make no sound whatsoever as total apoplexy had caused her blood pressure to rocket beyond the point where her vocal chords were clamped rigid and unable to vibrate, great veins the size of sewer pipes rising across her, now almost black, brow. Then, after what seemed like an eternity, came the inevitable eruption, followed by the ear shattering tsunami of sound: “OK then”, she exploded with a force in excess of the entire worlds, combined, nuclear arsenals detonating at once, “I’ll turn my program off and listen to your f—–g row shall I?!!!”

Good choice I thought, but, fearing that any untoward comment could result in our planet being  blown out of orbit, I bit even harder and, with the iron tainted flavour of blood filling my mouth, somehow managed to suppress the overwhelming urge to respond that this would be an exceedingly good idea and should indeed prove to be far more fulfilling at a purely intellectual level.

Against all the odds we somehow both survived to tell this tragic tale, but at that point I think all parties realised that Ralph would not be coming to stay anytime soon. Fortunately there is a happy ending as he was able to secure very satisfactory alternative lodgings at short notice and we remain very close friends to this day.

Addendum:

No animals or old gits were injured, or suffered any lasting trauma, as a result of events depicted in this blog.                                                                                                                                             Apart from a rather pronounced nervous tick, in the company of anything even remotely canine, Mrs M has since made a good recovery.                                                                                                                                        We continue to live quietly in rural Kent but are, as yet, still to acquire any pets of our own.

 

 

The One Hundredth November.

I didn’t have time to write it up but we again enjoyed our annual trip to Bardwell in Suffolk last month.

Sadly the land outside the village, advertised for sale last year, this year bore a sign proclaiming ‘91.5 acres of land now designated as mixed development for industrial and residential usage’, and so we go on, with our seemingly unstoppable suicide mission to destroy everything of worth within our fast failing nation. That aside this is still a county of open space and low population. We ventured a little further north and east this time in our quest for somewhere to resettle before the grim reaper comes calling and found much to our liking.

As we arrived at Bungay first impressions were of a small unspoiled market town. The locals are obviously possessed of enormous good taste as I was able to park my fabulous Skoda Roomster twixt two other specimens of this rare and undoubtedly fast appreciating mark, before venturing forth.

It was a great joy to find that not much appears to have changed here in over a hundred years in terms of architecture and layout, with little in the way of newbuilds or ugly modern shop fronts to be seen anywhere.

This is the land of my forefathers. My father’s family ran the village shop at Woodton, some four miles away, throughout the twenties, after my paternal grandfather retired from the sea through ill health. He would regularly travel to Bungay to load up at the coal yard with best quality Welsh coal for resale around the village at the rate of £1.00 per ton, delivered, including the eight mile round trip, all by horse and cart of course. In that respect I guess times have changed a little more dramatically.

It is my contention that each of our modern generations is a little softer and less resilient that the last. Consider this ancestor of mine from only two generations ago: Dead at fifty eight, he was born into a family of eight siblings. At age nine he was told by his father that they could no longer afford to keep him at home and he must leave the family at Pakefield to make his own way in the world. He was duly handed a shilling (5p in today’s pretend money) and told that a position as cook’s assistant/cabin boy awaited him on a drifter (type of fishing boat) in the herring basin at Lowestoft.

His learning curve was a steep one. Any errors were punished by the incumbent cook who would remind the youngster not to make the same mistake again by holding his hands in the hot fat of a frying pan until the skin floated free of his palms. Illiterate, he was taught to read and write by a less brutal member of the crew and by the age of twenty had gained his ‘Certificate Of Competency As Skipper’, which still holds a place of honour on my wall at home.

At thirty grandad bought his first herring drifter, ‘The Energy’, funded in part by the proceeds of his other job. For grandad you see had, by that time, become a bare knuckle prize fighter of some renown. His best recorded outing was against George Godfrey who, in an age of prejudice and segregation, then held the black version of The Heavyweight Championship Of The World.

In those days it was the done thing for a champion to do the world tour. Travelling the globe to publicise themselves with exhibition bouts and the like. They would visit towns and villages along the way, offering to take on all comers with a side stake for anyone able to beat them or remain on their feet for a specified number of rounds.

Family history, handed down by word of mouth, indicates that events took place at Gorlestone, near Yarmouth, but given their broad Suffolk accents and an element of Chinese whispers I believe it more probable that it was Geldeston, a few miles up the road from Bungay. There was certainly, in those days, a prize ring here where fights were held close to The Locks public house (which is still there), fronted by the river Waveney which marks the boundary between Suffolk and Norfolk. Such a location was the way of things back then for the sport was illegal and should one or other county constabulary arrive the contestants and their followers, known as ‘The Fancy’, would simply cross the county line and continue, beyond their jurisdiction, in the next county.

So it was that grandad, clearly no racist despite being known as Sully for his resemblance to John L Sullivan, the white champion who’s boast was that he would fight any man living except a negro, came to fight Mr Godfrey, somewhere around 1890, as family hearsay would have it for a side bet of one hundred pounds, to either win or remain standing over three rounds. Of course the family has it that grandad won but whatever really happened it certainly seems that he came away with what, back then, was a huge sum of money, sufficient to go a long way towards funding his dream of owning his own vessel.

I must confess that, to date, I’ve not done too well myself in returning to the boxing club, what with problems with my elderly mother and a break away but, never fear, I shall return. I’m only a boy yet a while.

Having mentioned one grandfather, who, being in a reserved occupation (fishing), did not enter the forces to fight in The Great War it would be grossly unfair, on the one hundredth anniversary of the armistice, not to mention my maternal grandfather, probably the real hero here, who, unlike the other, who I never met, as he died in1928 long before I was born, I most certainly did.

I knew this one very well in fact. He was the perfect grandfather both in appearance and nature and would give me a six-penny bit, produced by a silly magic trick, which he called my beer money. Mother and I would visit every Monday, when Nan would give me a cold roast potato, saved from Sunday lunch, and Friday when I got my beer money. On Sunday evenings they came to us in our council flat round the corner for tea. This was always seafood and grandad invariably had winkles on brown bread, liberated from their shells with a pin, while Nan had mussels, which I recall made an awful screaming noise when dunked in boiling water. It must have been the emission of air as the shells opened, as of course they have no vocal chords. Nevertheless, it gave me nightmares as a child.

Grandad seldom mentioned the war although I know he was involved in many of the great battles. One tale he did tell me was of a boy of fourteen who had lied about his age to join up. In the horrors of the shelling he and his compatriots would cover the terrified child with their greatcoats as they tried their best to comfort him.

Neither I nor any of the generations that followed can begin to imagine the horrors those poor sods on both sides endured, not only in taking turns to walk towards the machine guns of the opposition and almost certain death, or alternatively being shot by their own side for cowardice. They were bitterly cold in winter, with frostbite a real and present issue, plagued with fleas, lice, trench foot and the stench of gangrene feasting royally on infected wounds. Latrines consisted largely of a pole, to balance on, over a ditch and dysentery was rife. Privacy? Toilet paper? Use your hand and never mind there was no water to wash in.

Mud was up to twenty feet deep on these battle fields, full of rats and rotting corpses, and It was not uncommon for horses and carts to be lost completely in the stinking mire. Add to this the constant shelling, snipers, and miners setting vast amounts of explosive beneath you, for random detonation, and of course the mustard gas eating out your lungs, burning your flesh, and dissolving your eyes in their sockets. Then you may begin to form a picture but the reality was far, far worse. The Peter Jackson film ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’ does a fabulous job in taking us closer than has ever been previously possible. Not an easy watch, if you have tears you will weep, but even so nothing can adequately convey the sheer terror and discomfort that these guys went through.

We are all familiar with the living, parading past The Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday. It is a sobering thought that if those killed in the two world wars were able to march in ranks four abreast, while their first rank was passing the memorial in London the rear of the column would just be leaving Newcastle.

On one occasion my grandfather gave me a button from his old tunic. He had five grandchildren and gave one to each of us, making us promise to keep it forever in his memory. I suspect that the others have long since lost, or forgotten theirs but mine still resides in my corner cabinet. You could buy one identical to it for at most a couple of quid in any shop dealing in military memorabilia, but it could never be this one. Mine is beyond any monetary value.

For a long time we believed that, like so many, his war records had been destroyed in the bombing of The Second World War but now we have uncovered a little evidence, such as his service number, that indicates that we may be able to progress our research a little further. Hopefully much may yet emerge.

Neither grandad ever visited a dentist, if a tooth ached you removed it yourself, orthodontics lay a long way in the future. My fisherman grandfather favoured tying one end of a piece of whip chord to the banisters, the other to the offending tooth then simply hurling himself backwards to rip it from his jaw. I still have the large service penknife of the other, with one blade broken by his using it to dig out any of his errant dentition. This was not exceptional, this was the norm, even a full belly was something of a luxury back then. Could any of us from today’s pampered world survive in theirs? Not for long I would suggest.

Thankfully since The Second World War the nuclear deterrent and ‘mutually assured destruction’ has prevented further conflagration, on a global scale at least. In all probability I in fact owe my very existence to the two nuclear bombs dropped on Japan as my father was to have been part of the invasion force for the mainland, had they not capitulated. Given the horrendous casualties suffered by American forces in taking the outlying islands it is extremely likely that he would have been killed and I would never have been born. I am literally a child of the nuclear age.

Back at the beginning of October I watched a program, presented by Liz Bonnin, called Drowning in Plastic about our dreadful misuse of what should be a wonder material used in high quality applications where huge longevity and resistance to degradation are desirable. It should never have been used in short term, throw away applications.

It was horrific to learn that we currently produce 1 million plastic bottles, 1 million plastic cups and 1 million plastic bags every minute. Sadly, that’s not an error or an exaggeration but the almost impossible to believe truth. Ultimately this has to be disposed of and, while much is incinerated or buried in landfill, an entire refuse lorry load is simply dumped into the sea———every minute. Add to this the million tons or so of line, netting and buoys simply lost at sea by the fishing industry every year and the full, depressing, scale of the problem starts to become apparent.

Much of this collects in the five great systems of the Earth’s oceanic currents or gyres. The Pacific gyre alone covers an area three times the size of France. There is some limited hope. A system of floating booms has been developed which would be capable of clearing half this every five years. A species of vibrio bacteria much akin to that responsible for cholera, loves to breed on and digest plastic detritus but is unfortunately also deadly to coral, however, sea grass not only acts as a natural barrier helping to pen our filth close to shore, it also has antibiotic qualities which could potentially counter this aspect and prevent any bacteria from spreading to deeper waters.

There is also talk of developing bacterial strains capable of digesting our plastic waste, on an industrial scale, ashore. Long, long ago, when I had a proper job, I used to work in the world of microbiology, mostly water borne viruses, which are, admittedly, hugely different to bacteria, but I feel very uneasy about this. Get it even slightly wrong and we could see our modern day world literally fall apart around us.

Another promising area is the use of biodegradable plastic substitutes, which could address the problem at source by hugely reducing our dependency on polymers. Again we need to proceed with extreme caution. To replace our plastics dependency we would need to manufacture vast amounts of this substitute and need to fully understand the implications for our environment of the chemicals used in its manufacture and generated in its degradation on such a massive scale.

That we must reduce our dependency, not only on finished plastics but on all mineral oil derivatives should be obvious to any thinking individual, as once the oil runs out we will only be able to sustain substantially less than a quarter of our current population. Short term, recycling plastic waste can never be an answer as each time it is processed into a lower grade product. This only defers the inevitable necessity of disposal. The only true answer can ever be to stop producing it in the first place.

At the very start of the month Emma down the lane found a squashed great crested newt in the lane outside the farm. She had the presence of mind to take a photograph on her phone, which is not so silly or morbid as it may seem, for while it was clearly too late to salvage this individual we now have tangible evidence of their presence if the pond, from which they appear to emanate, is ever threatened.

Like many other species, thought to be rare, it is actually surprisingly common once a reasonable percentage of our population take the trouble to look for it and, in the main, you need a license from Natural England to do this effectively. It is very much a case of seek and ye shall find. That does not of course mean that we should cease to protect it. Like much else, if its common lets do our utmost to keep it that way, after all I’m pretty common myself.

Time, Tide And Cyclists Wait For No Man.

October, and our world quietens with the long sigh of autumn as we prepare for the fierce gasp of winter that must surely follow. This is a time of reflection, as Hever returns to some semblance of what used to be. Air traffic reduces, the season of events is largely over and even the vast packs of predatory cyclists reduce to small, scavenging, groups struggling to survive the inclement weather. Even so, on a trip to Edenbridge, around three miles, on the first Sunday of the month we encountered a hundred and thirty five of the little darlings strung out in packs of between five and fifteen. On the way back, after the leader of their particular group waived us to overtake into oncoming traffic, one of these highly regarded creatures thought it a good idea to punch my friend’s car as we passed, whence he was  gently chastised and encouraged to appreciate the error of his ways.

The calls of arriving fieldfares on the nineteenth (A huge flock of some 250+ individuals passed over my house on 27th) and jays everywhere, collecting acorns, once again tell me its time to put the garden to bed until spring. I don’t grow much throughout winter and mostly take the opportunity to rest and plan for next year. I clear the veggy plot, dig in the compost, and leave well alone for the duration.

Having tidied the borders and pond area I generally defer any major clear-up, here, until late winter so that it may serve as refuge for invertebrates before transferring any cuttings to the now empty compost bays. Here I keep things lightly packed, in order that they may emerge unharmed as things warm up.

Managed in this way a great deal of work can be avoided. Winter itself will do much to clear up the years debris. Worms will pull down huge amounts of leaves and other vegetable matter to enrich the soil, while the frost and rainfall will break down the rough dug sods of the vegetable plot to a fine crumb long before spring, leaving only a light tidy round before planting once more, ready for next years growing season. A little guile and knowledge can save many an aching back, in much the same way that refraining from punching passing vehicles can avoid an aching jaw.

Just as I had decided that my friends across the road were seeing brown rats, rather than water voles, so my neighbours directly opposite them, who also have a large pond to the rear of their property, have reported sightings of an odd rat with a rounded face and a short tale. This sounds exactly like the illusive beast. It seems that we may yet have a colony of these once common but increasingly rare critters right on our doorstep after all.

Another mammal that always catches me out at this time of year is the grey squirrel with its low squawking alarm calls. I always confuse these with some sort of unfamiliar bird until I remember. Also on the nineteenth the countryside was absolutely alive with the sound of rutting fallow dear as I walked back from The Kentish Horse in the evening. Punctuated with the insistent calls of tawny owls, the grunts and groans of the males were everywhere on the half mile stroll home. I have never before heard them with such intensity, it just serves to underline how rapidly their numbers are increasing. Like us there are rather too many of them for the habitat available.

I understand that the recently revealed outline local plan, drawn up by Sevenoaks District Council, has again been adjusted upward, on the insistence of central government, from a requirement for an extra 12,400 new dwellings within the Sevenoaks catchment over the next twenty years, to 14,000, while world population continues to increase by over 80,000,000 souls every year. Draw your own conclusions.

In a previous incarnation, once long ago, I monitored and analysed viruses for a living. I was, therefore, both interested and concerned to read that myxomatosis seems to have jumped the species barrier and is now starting to affect hares, which have long been thought to be immune. Populations in Suffolk seem to be the worst hit, although the national population has already declined over time by around 80% due to other factors. Ask most locals and they will probably say that we don’t get them around here but we do, in limited numbers. I’ve seen them at Bough Beech in the past and there was a dead one in the road at Marsh Green only last year.

As you may suspect, if you have read this blog on a regular basis, I’m quite possibly not the warmest or most outgoing of individuals. I was born without a lonely gene and hugely value solitude as one of life’s greatest luxuries. With the world becoming ever more insane I increasingly retreat to the relative tranquility of my back garden for long periods of time, yet even this haven it seems will soon be lost to me as there are now signs that my dear neighbours to the rear are about to initiate their building project to convert the stables/barn which forms my rear boundary into a house, with all of the attendant noise and mess that this will entail throughout the build period and which, on completion, will ruin that aspect of my property forever.

In truth I shall be glad to see this completed as at least the planning blight hanging over us will be lifted and I shall be able to get it on the market with some degree of confidence. Not that much is selling locally, mainly I fancy as the majority of vendors still seem to be living in cloud cuckoo land and are asking ridiculously inflated sums for what were after all, in the main, agricultural labourer’s cottages.

In truth I sometimes think that I should have become a monk, God knows I’m already blessed with a natural tonsure, if only the lifestyle didn’t involve endless prayer and no sex. Were this situation ever to be reversed I for one would sign up like a shot and fancy that monasteries everywhere would enjoy a hugely improved uptake.

That aside, I cannot understand why so many seem determined, these days, to waste their lives chasing rainbows, concerning themselves with self image and accruing ever more worthless nonsense without ever finding any real meaning to their lives. I thought, therefore, that I might use a bit of analogy to advance my standpoint and try and convince the world that there may be some value in taking my unfashionably scruffy, relaxed, stance after all.

That’s analogy by the way not an allergy, which is something the wife seems to increasingly suffer from and is generally the result of becoming sensitized to a food or substance over time. In the wife’s case this may be quite a rapid process. Only recently she had a bacon sandwich for breakfast but was allergic to pork by teatime! Her condition is even more complex where curry is involved. Uniquely, she has become sensitised to its absence and should a promised takeaway fail to arrive on time she experiences a range of alarming symptoms, including mood swings and debilitating bouts of breathlessness. This has only recently been diagnosed as ‘late curry syndrome’. In her case, fortunately, the victim is quickly restored to normality by administering an emergency infusion of chicken korma and a few onion bhajis.

Moving swiftly on, to analogy: If you suffer from self importance, or feel the need to worry unduly, consider this: Were the known universe to be reduced to a sphere the size of planet Earth our entire solar system from one side of its extreme outer reaches to the other would measure no more than the thickness of a piece of paper. On that scale our whole world would be virtually undetectable by any current technology available. Not only do you not matter, if push comes to shove neither does your entire planet.

Quite frankly you’re not too well off for time either. If we convert this into distance, on the scale of my back garden, a trip from the very beginning to the back wall of my house starts on the southern outskirts of York. As current scientific thinking suggests, with one enormous bang which created everything, including time itself, out of absolutely nothing and I thought the religious explanations were far fetched! If we head south our solar system begins, appropriately enough, in the bar of The Eagle public house in Cambridge where on February 28th 1953, real time, Francis Crick disturbed the startled patrons by bursting in to announce that he, together with James Watson and co, had discovered ‘the secret of life’ with their proposed structure of DNA.

On leaving Cambridge it is a surprisingly short trip to the origins of life, almost as soon as Earth becomes cool enough, somewhere around Royston, but it will be a lot, lot further down the road to the evolution of multi-cellular organisms at the top of Crockham Hill, between Oxted and Edenbridge, with the first dinosaurs arriving at Edenbridge Town station and becoming extinct between Hever Castle’s gates and The Henry VIII pub. From there we trek along footpaths, across the fields behind The Greyhound, through the rise of the mammals, towards my back fence. With around fifty five yards to go to my rear boundary Australopithecus stands up, it is one of our earliest ancestors and perhaps the first to discover bipedal locomotion. We climb over my back fence and discover something astounding. It is in itself by no means impressive unless, if you are a weirdo like me, you might measure it and, upon finding it to be precisely eighty three feet and four inches in length, are completely awestruck. By incredible coincidence, on a scale of one inch to a thousand years, my garden is precisely one million years long.

At the end of my patio the first of our own species, Homo sapiens, evolves. Less than a third of an inch from my back wall the industrial revolution begins and, aided by our newfound fossil fuel consuming technology, we start to excel as the most destructive creature of all time, capable of engineering not only our own extinction but, perhaps, even the sixth great extinction event since life first began way back at Royston.

With less than a fifth of an inch to go things take another dreadful downturn with the invention of the bicycle. In itself fairly innocuous it was not until coupled with Lycra, which first became widely available in the sixties, that all manners, consideration for others and The Highway Code were condemned to history forever.

Let’s just pause here for a moment and, remembering that I am primarily a naturalist, reflect on the fortunes of just one species other than our own, the budgerigar. I am old enough to remember these as free flying miniature parrots of Australian scrub-land and well remember how they first migrated to Britain in the fifties to a new habitat, small wire cubes, where they flourished in the front rooms of virtually every granny in our nation. At first they were available only in green but were soon to be had in many other shades, due to selective breeding. They were to be found everywhere back then, in huge numbers, but once Lycra became commonplace this versatile creature rapidly underwent a further period of evolution to become a flightless, symbiotic, inhabitant of Lycra codpieces. No longer the ubiquitous chirpy pet of yesteryear it can now only be seen as an indistinct black sausage, hovering over the crossbars of those hideous machines.

Think me wrong? When did you last see a budgie?

And so again to you. If you are fortunate to live until your hundredth birthday, on this scale of time, travelling on a train from the beginning at York to my house, you have just one tenth of an inch, maximum, to gaze out of the window, from birth, until you hit my back wall. All that you are or aspire to become must be played out in that minute fraction of time.

How much more of your minuscule share of eternity then are you prepared to waste in worrying about how others perceive you, or how much beyond your true need you can stuff in the bank or otherwise stash away by spending the rest of your life in endless toil and struggle? Personally I have long deemed myself to be massively wealthy already, in real rather than pecuniary terms, given my apparent immunity to the ‘must have dictates’ of the media that now pollute every facet of our existence. I am surrounded by a few valued family and friends and am generally content with my lot, which is ultimately all that should ever truly matter to anyone who considers themselves even remotely sane. By 1979 I was already sick of the way the world was heading and dropped out, irrevocably and forever, to become the happily contented, if highly critical, crusty old bum that I remain to this very day.

Perhaps in the final analysis we and our planet do matter after all. Statistics suggest that with around four hundred billion galaxies, each containing perhaps a trillion planets, in all probability there must be other life out there in our (just one of an infinite number according to Brane Theory) universe but as far as we actually know for sure we appear to be alone. Even if there are other sentient beings out there our universe will only be capable of supporting life, any life, for around a billionth, billionth, billionth part of its total existence. That wall’s getting awful close! How much more of your remaining thirtieth of an inch or so are you going to waste chasing those rainbows?

 

 

Christmas And Boxing Day.

The kids sad return to school and the parents ecstatic return to normality marks the end of the peak holiday period and a substantial reduction in air-traffic over my house. The world is mellowing, with the smell of autumn already hanging heavy on the misty morning air. This is September. In what passes for normality these days we usually have only the final, main, Hever Triathlon event and the follow up Commando nonsense to endure before relative peace returns and even the plague of noxious cyclists reduces from outright plague to merely severe annoyance levels. This year however things have so far been different.

We first became aware of the erection of four huge, linked, wigwams in a field round the corner one Thursday but stupidly thought little more about it, having dismissed it as some group having a camping weekend, since we had not been advised of any significant event in the area.

Wrong again. Once more on Saturday evening our peace was shattered as the walls started to vibrate and our internal organs danced to the rhythm of thumping bass beat. At first we blamed  the site of our usual tormentors but a quick recce in the car revealed that it emanated instead from the now glaring, blaring, wigwams.

We suffered it for a while but with the arrival of my mate down the lane we again took off into the night. This time we drove into the site, parked, and walked around unchallenged by any of the surprisingly few revelers. We returned home but on the way encountered two extremely suspicious, hooded, characters walking a small dog. No matter how many times we crept past they would turn their backs to us so as not to reveal their faces.

Back in my drive my wife was monitoring the racket with an app on her tablet thingy. By then it was gone midnight and registering fifty + decibels in our drive. Another neighbour arrived and said he had our two dog walkers on CCTV. At this point we phoned both the police on 999 and The Environmental Health emergency number. Environmental Health said they already had a team on route to us following other complaints. The police were rather less interested and as yet are still to express any further interest, let alone arrive.

After a firework display at 1am the row was finally turned off a little after 2am. We have since heard that this was actually a wedding reception (really?!). While not wishing to moan about everything, this type of bash is really starting to get a bit tiresome and underlines the need for vigilance in challenging such events and likewise unrealistic planning applications, since once a precedent is established it is nigh on impossible to stem the flow thereafter. For us it is already too late I’m afraid.

Has Christmas been moved? A visit to a pet shop on 16th revealed it well underway already, with festive gifts, appropriately wrapped, already on the shelves. It seems to start earlier every year and by my birthday on the twentieth of the month supermarkets are now well stacked with cards and seasonal packaging. Garden centers are, by then, bursting with tinsel and decorations and no doubt Easter Eggs are lurking in storerooms  everywhere, waiting to be put on display at the close of Boxing Day.

Jesus Christ. Yes I know its his birthday but we don’t know exactly when that was. Almost certainly not on 25th December which historically approximately marked the celebration of the mid winter feast held to cheer everyone up in time of gloom. Now, even I’m not proposing that we should ban Christmas but must it go on for four months? Can we no longer get the attendant greed, over indulgence and debauchery out of the way in six weeks or so? There should even be time to chuck in a few Carols.

I wrote recently of my disappointment at finding, despite my youthful good looks, fabulous physique and awesome fitness, I was deemed to be too old to enter a boxing ring after a brief lapse of slightly less than half a century. Worry no more. My mate Nick down the lane’s son Harry goes to Sevenoaks Boxing Club so with the discovery that they hold a ‘Fat Dads Club’ on a Sunday morning what could be more natural than to persuade him that we should give it a try?

Like lambs to the slaughter we duly attended last month, comforted by the idea that we would be surrounded by overweight, middle aged, fathers seeking to trim down a little and maybe increase their fitness to a level where they could stand throughout a session at the local rather than having to rely on a stool to maintain station at the bar.

The first obstacle, of course, was my age, but assured by my revelation that I was just fifty and some months (204 actually) and that I was happy to sign a disclaimer and a form about my medical history, which seemed to indicate that I had been dead for ten years already and was, therefore, unlikely to suffer any further damage, the trainer was happy to take a subscription and sign us up.

Excellent, the only point of concern at this point was an apparent dearth of ‘Fat Dads’ arriving at the gym. Without exception in fact everyone else appeared to be super fit hard looking bastards of around thirty, apart from a couple of girls who were definitely not ‘Fat Dads’ but doubtless also capable of knocking us stone cold sparkers should they so desire. No matter, the trainer would probably treat us separately to the rest of the group and work us gently while assessing our level of fitness before building us up to the moderate level expected from the rest of the group over several weeks.

Wrong! Utterly, horribly bloody wrong! The session began with thirty seconds of easy jogging on the spot, which even my well worn knees were capable of. This was followed by thirty seconds of jogging with knees high and flat out at the end. Ropes! Came the command and we all dutifully grabbed a skipping rope each. One minute skipping followed by another absolutely flat out. This didn’t trouble us too much as neither of us were capable of clearing the quarter inch thick leather thong once let alone several hundred times. What we did achieve was a great deal of tripping and cursing.

A one minute break followed, to mimic the rhythm of a boxing round, for this is a three minute world punctuated by single minutes of respite. We were both breathless but managed a little under statement. “Harder than I expected”, I wheezed, but there was no time for more. “Thirty seconds press ups”, said the jolly instructor, smiling at us with a knowing wink. This was followed with thirty seconds of crunches, then squat thrusts, then star jumps, then burpies and finally running flat out on the spot until told to stop. About half way through this, only the second, ’round’ it occurred to me that I couldn’t carry on and that I would die if I tried. I tried.

From here on conversation was limited to occasionally looking at each other in disbelief, through eyes burning with sweat, during the one minute breaks, and uttering a well known, four letter, Middle English sexual expletive while each hoping against hope that the other might crack and beg to go home. Foolishly, neither of us did, machismo gripped us and the torture continued.

All manner of horrors were inflicted upon us, always in thirty second sets, totaling three minutes in all. Einstein was first to realise that time is variable and here was the proof. Every three minute ’round’ lasted at least a week, while the one minute breaks passed in a split second.

Both of us were by now sweating buckets and probably foaming at the mouth. By the fifth I knew for sure that I was going to die. At this point our tormentor shouted “Glove up” and we all tottered off to put on boxing gloves. A couple of rounds belting away at the heavy bags, interspersed with press ups, crunches, and other exercises from Hell followed.

By round ten I’m convinced we had actually passed to the other side. Beyond that I no longer cared. I began to become dizzy and hallucinations took over. Images of frothy pints of ale, comfy chairs, hot relaxing baths and my warm cosy bed filled what was left of my mind.

Suddenly I was snapped back to this mortal coil by the second instructor shouting our names and beckoning us to the the ring. Surely they weren’t going to hit us as well, were they? We were almost unconscious by now so it mattered little anyway. Mercifully I noticed he had the pads on. It was, in the event, only a small relief as we were then expected to deliver every conceivable type of blow, from all angles, flat out, for three minutes before returning to the floor for a final couple of sessions before time was called.

Although no one had actually hit us we had effectively gone fifteen rounds flat out. Not bad for starters. I’d done all this before of course, when I was actually young and stupid enough to have like minded people batter me into the bargain. I had even continued with a number of broken ribs on one occasion but this felt harder. Could a break of barely forty two years make so much difference? Surely not, I’m still only a lad.

OK, so it may be a couple of months, rather than weeks, before I turn pro. At least no one was disrespectful (we could have done sod all in this company if they had been). It was a great friendly atmosphere with no attempt to humiliate us. No problem as we had at least done a spectacular job of achieving that without any assistance whatsoever.

So there we sat in pools of our own sweat and congealed fat, struggling, without any conviction, to make smart arsed remarks to each other. None would come. Exhaustion was total. At least my knees were cured, the pain in them masked by the agony in every other part of my anatomy.

“Enjoy that then?” queried our jovial instructor. “Yes. Really good” we both eventually managed to lie. “You may ache a bit tomorrow but that’s natural for a first session” he offered. “No shit” we replied in unison as we hopelessly tried to stand on rubber legs.

Eventually as I raised my creaking carcass from the wonderful haven of the cool wooden floor a seven foot wall of tattooed muscle, heading for the door, tripped over one of my wrinkles and knocked me flat again. Luckily for him he quickly apologised or I should have thrashed him where he stood.

I kid you not, it took over an hour before we stopped sweating buckets. Relief finally delivered by standing in front of a cold cabinet in Tescos for some considerable time, although a degree of paraplegia persisted until Wednesday.

Will we keep it up? Muhammad Ali once said “If you find yourself on the floor there is only one thing to do. Get up”. I would argue that it is equally possible and far easier to simply stay there. More inspiring, he also said, “A great champion is not the man who always wins, he is the man who, should you smash him to the floor a thousand times, will still, somehow, struggle to his feet”. So then, are we champions? With only another 999 sessions still to survive, not yet, but we shall be!

On the 22nd my son and I travelled to Wembley to see some of those who ‘already are’ in action as part of my 67th birthday treat. Top of the bill was Anthony Joshua’s mandatory defense against Alexander Povetkin for four of the five current versions of The Heavyweight Championship of The World. The atmosphere was absolutely electric. A terrific evening and a timely reminder that boxing remains what it always was, one tough old game, far easier to watch than to take part in.

 

 

Head Bangers And Double Clangers.

Believe it or not I wasn’t going to write about ‘The Neverworld Festival’ this year but as it turned out it was all quite interesting and worthy of a few lines.

What we were expecting, from our perspective, was music from 10pm on Thursday until 1am on Friday then from 10pm until 6am on Saturday, starting again at 10pm until 6am Sunday and from 10pm until 6pm on that day, when we could expect the hordes of revelers to depart until our next four days of torment fall due in 2019. To sum up, in simple terms that means loud music for four consecutive days, from 10pm on Thursday until 6pm on Sunday. Effectively, we get a generous nine hours respite from 1am – 10pm on the Friday morning, with just four hours respite per day, in the mornings, from then until Sunday evening.

The first twist was that, in a masterpiece of liaison and organizational skills, Kent Highways turned up and, just as everyone was arriving, despite dozens of signs marking the way to the festival, promptly closed the access route and dug the road up. In this age of media and communications, with Neverworld advertising their intent for the past twelve months and supposedly paying huge fees to traffic consultants to ensure everything runs like a well oiled clock, that alone defies belief. Traffic chaos naturally ensued with lost hippies going in all directions, including hundreds passing my house. Cars were abandoned in every available lane and passing point, further jamming the works and compounding the situation, although I must point out that the organizers insist that this was purely coincidental and nothing to do with their event, which I of course wholeheartedly believe, yet strangely this never happens at any other time of the year. I have to presume that all was ultimately resolved as the revelers eventually parked somewhere and the event got underway.

Now in truth, once everyone has arrived and things have begun, for the past two years we have heard very little from our side of the event, so long as we stay put in our sadly beleaguered homes with the windows shut. I understand that things have been very different on the Trugger’s Lane side and many of the residents there now decamp for the duration rather than endure the assault on their senses. This year it seems, from what I’ve been told, they got a battering on Thursday evening but, for them, things were better thereafter.

Not so us. Throughout Friday evening we were aware of the thump of bass from across the fields. Not hugely loud, but irritating nevertheless. Saturday dawned bright, with temperatures reaching around 32c by the afternoon. Once again we were aware of the bass thumping away like a hangover in the background but then at 6.30pm our world exploded. Conversation was drowned out and the walls shook as the volume was cranked up, and remember we live almost a kilometer (that’s five eighths of a mile in proper measurement) from the event site as the crow flies.

Our tolerance finally snapped at around 8.30pm and I phoned the event control team to let them know that we could take no more. To be fair they passed my message on to The Environmental Health Team who were monitoring the situation and they arrived at my house around fifteen minutes later.

These guys are unsung heroes and seldom get any credit for their efforts, working horrendously long hours to keep tabs on situations like this while remaining impartial and recording sound levels from points all around the event. These were supposed to reduce after 11pm and again after midnight. My understanding is that ours remained above the permissible levels throughout most of this period and one stage was forced to close completely as a result, although any reduction in noise levels was barely discernible, with every word spoken by those on the other stage/stages still clearly audible during lulls in the so called music.

With temperatures still in the high twenties sleep was impossible without the windows wide open, and equally so if they were, for the racket outside. At 1.30am, with the lounge window tight shut and the TV on, the insistent thump of the bass could still be felt through the walls and in ones own vital organs. Eventually at 2am the actual music seemed to stop but we were still treated to a further half an hour of the gimpies hooting and screaming their appreciation for what had been.

My understanding is that ‘Neverworld’ has received a great number of complaints this year. I pray it is their last. Were I to believe that it would stop at one horrendous night, even one every year, I would say little but fancy that if this is not nipped in the bud we shall enjoy two or three days of misery next year as the situation is allowed to deteriorate year on year.

Now then, anyone into Christmas cracker riddles? Like, Q: “When is a door not a door?” A: “When its ajar.” Hilarious eh? Oh my aching sides! Here’s another, Q: “When does a democratic vote, with a majority of four and a half million in favour of leaving the EU mean we’re not leaving the EU?” A: “When its called Brexit.”

I can’t believe all the never ending kerfuffle surrounding the obviously insoluble conundrum that this has raised. Now, I’ve explained this before so pay attention while I go through it again: The problem is that people do not understand the British system. The gullible believe that we live in a democracy, ruled by Parliament. What that actually means is that you are allowed to say whatever you like so long as no one listens or takes any notice. If anyone sits up and takes notice and your views are contrary to those of our true system, ‘The Establishment’, then you will be discredited and your opinions will be very efficiently crushed into the dust.

Without campaigning for it, we were in this instance, offered a vote, simply put as stay in the EU or leave it, under the assumption that a government campaign of terror and negativity (just as bad from the other camp in all honesty) would result in the masses voting overwhelmingly to stay, thus ending all argument for ever more and ensuring the continuance of the status quo.

What apparently went so horribly wrong was that the the majority of us are too thick to understand the difference between stay and leave and foolishly put an X in the leave box by mistake. The two forces at work here are vastly different in the power that they wield, at least on the home front. Government of any flavour is a fluffy sop to us plebs, occasionally moving slightly left or right to keep the masses happily believing that they can change anything more than skin deep by voting, while ‘The Establishment’ on the other hand is the immovable, unchanging, institution that underpins our society and makes sure that nothing ever really does, no matter which party pretends to be in power at any given time. It is this ‘Establishment’ with its massive vested interests that finds our stupidity so intolerable and is still frantically searching for ways to fudge the issue completely, to the point where leave really does mean stay, in order to rectify our original wrong thinking. Clear now?

Like ‘The Establishment’ I am starting to wish the government had never pretended to ask us for our views and had saved the money in order to build ever more houses all over our once lovely English countryside to ensure a continuing supply of cheap labour for the future. Well away from where they live of course.

Speaking of which. Back around the middle of last month the wife and I decided to take a jaunt around some of our old stamping grounds in Surrey. This was all fine and we found The Surrey Hills little changed and as beautiful as ever, except for one thing. For mile after mile along the A25 beyond Dorking, towards Guildford, there were yellow signs every few yards informing the subservient car driver that on 29/7 Prudential Ride London in conjunction with The London & Surrey Cycling Partnership would be closing the road completely for a cycle event and this whole route would be a tow zone i.e. leave your car here and it will be removed and impounded. Not only were the signs all along the main route but also extended off to the villages along the way. At least back home they only officially impose one way traffic restrictions upon us, leaving the swerving, cursing, gobbing, litter flinging competitors to make the other side of the road equally impassable.

It doesn’t end there. This event affects a huge area and also means road closures around my cousins place in Merton and also our friends in Hampton Court. Perhaps I shouldn’t object to the main event, inspired by the 2012 Olympics but, like The Hever Triathlon, it attracts thousands to follow the route throughout the year. Not riding solo or in pairs, but in groups or huge pelotons, by no means all well mannered or of the best humour.

Why must we continually kowtow to these uninsured, unregistered, road tax exempt, light jumping, finger gesturing Philistines? Of course I get the charity and fitness angle, over 27,000 competitors took part in this years Ride London and the two day event apparently raised more than ten million pounds for charity but it does not stop after just one or two days if it is anything like our experience at home. Once the route has been discovered it continues in perpetuity on every day of the week, being ridden by cycle clubs holding ‘sportifs’ or practicing en mass, winter and summer, causing misery for residents and visitors alike. The main reason that this blog has strayed so far from its intended original content of country issues and wildlife is that, quite frankly, it is no longer possible to walk our lanes and their environs without being confronted, and often abused, by literally hundreds of cyclists.

We had not even considered relocating to Surrey, as property prices are just prohibitive, for our pockets anyway, but it still came as something of a shock to realise that it too has fallen beneath the iron fist of these pneumatically supported chain cranking despots. Watch out Poland, you could be next!

Having pedals and a slender saddle stuck up your arse seems to indemnify you, not only against the traffic laws by which the rest of us abide, but clearly absolves one of many other laws of the land also. Should I, for instance, walk naked down the road I would undoubtedly, and quite rightly, be arrested under the public indecency laws. Yet many of our major towns and cities now permit massed, naked, cycle events. If I, likewise, take up this noble pastime will I too be deemed above the law I wonder? The rear view of a large sweaty bum, clad in Lycra, is quite bad enough. Imagine then the horror of going for a quiet drive in the country with the wife and kids, looking to spend your share of quality down time indulging in a relaxing luncheon at some idyllic country inn, only, upon rounding a bend, to come up behind some vast mass of naked riders. A veritable ocean of jiggling brown bullseyes and greasy genitalia. Enough to put you right off your chicken in the basket and give the kids nightmares for months I would suggest.

Believe it or not I don’t dislike ordinary cyclists (no, really) who come to enjoy the countryside. Stop at a country pub, relax and enjoy themselves. Likewise walkers and ramblers who we welcome with open arms. They don’t come because they need a challenging new raceway but because they love our countryside just as it is, and God knows it needs all the love it can get if any of it is to survive. The Lycra brigade are, however, a different breed. Its the attitude. With them its nothing but aggression and stress. There appears to be no joy, whatsoever, in their hobby. They all seem to imagine that they are on the final leg of The Tour De France and woe betide any who dare to get in their way as they thunder past, flinging empty drinks bottles and other litter into the hedgerow in their wake as they ooze urgency and arrogance from every pore while straining every muscle in pursuit of a new PB. I should, of course, learn to love them too. Its a big ask.

The owner of the property down the lane, who decided to build a tarmac dam across her front gate rather than clear the ditch opposite with ten minutes of digging, also owns the field behind her house. A footpath runs for a couple of hundred yards across said field, previously owned by a friend of mine. Just an open expanse for as long as I have lived here at least. Suddenly it has been deemed necessary to ‘canalize’ the footpath, by erecting ranch style fencing with additional electric fencing tacked to the top and middle rail on either side to keep out livestock and jolt errant dogs and ramblers back onto the straight and narrow by rattling their fillings with a high voltage reminder not to deviate from their route. This leaves a walkway of about four feet in width, replete with warning signs. It may be a small issue on the scale of things but it now looks about as rustic as an underpass.

The weather has broken now but for me this is a welcome change. Cool bright spring weather is my favorite but the hot humid situation of the past few weeks is simply too much for me. True its been a great year for butterflies and insects in general and in my garden at least several species of bee including the honey variety have been showing in good numbers. Conversely the weather situation has accentuated the deficiencies of our modern specialised farming systems with the dairy industry now polarised in the west and arable in the east. This means that the bulk of straw and fodder must be transported from one side of the country to the other where it is needed.

You may remember that my neighbours across across the lane thought they might have water voles in occupancy around their rather large pond. A close examination has failed to produce further evidence, such as burrows with a close cropped ‘lawn’ around the entrance or additional sightings, and they now accept that my original suspicions that the observations made by themselves and their friends were more probably of brown rat were correct. This is an easy mistake to make as brown rats are also quite aquatic and will not hesitate to take to the water if disturbed or in pursuit of food.

Better news is that the tadpoles, kidnapped from the same source, may have survived in my tiny version. My friends told me that the spawn they observed was in globular masses (frog) rather than long strands (toad), however during the recent heavy rain I noticed dozens of both juvenile common frogs and common toads hopping around my lawn. It seems the grass snakes didn’t get them after all.

 

 

 

Green, Lean And Mean

July, once quietly defined hereabouts by the arrival of soldier beetles on hog weed and the emergence of gatekeeper butterflies, now declares itself hereabouts with the blare of loud speakers announcing the first of the castle’s triathlon series ‘The Hever Festival of Endurance’. The competitors, nothing if not enthusiastic, start at 5am with a dip in the lake and later emerge, like a late hatch of mayflies, to clog our lanes with their massed cycles while over enthusiastic marshals clad in day-glow vests, without any official road closures in place, stand at every junction trying to prevent the resident population from going about their business with a clipboard in one hand and a legally impotent stop/go sign in the other. By the fifteenth of the month the blackbirds will have ceased their song to be replaced, later in the evening, by the chirrup of crickets. These are in the main; oak bush-cricket, dark bush-cricket, speckled bush-cricket, with a few Roesel’s bush-crickets thrown in and, less commonly, the odd long-winged conehead.

Saw a red kite just up at the crossroads at Marbeech on 12/7. We see far more buzzards around here and the RSPB are often criticised for promoting raptors to the detriment of our songbirds. I’m sure they have an effect but must agree with Chris Packham that domestic cats are having by far the greatest impact on both these and our small mammal population although, this year, they have been far less of a pest in my veggy plot than the near impossible situation which faced us last year. Some I fear may have passed from this veil of tears to spend eternity doing hedgehog impressions on the ever busier Uckfield Lane.

What have been anything but rare this year are horse flies. The hot dry weather seems to have favoured them hugely and they have seized the opportunity to appear in their thousands. I have been bitten loads of times already, mainly around the ankles, and spend many happy hours scratching at the septic scabs which invariably develop as a result of their sharing blood samples around the district, not only between humans but several other equally tasty species, possibly even lower life forms such as cyclists. Beyond the irritation I have a few concerns about this in that if such diseases as hepatitis and HIV can be passed from an infected hypodermic needle what chance a horsefly bite potentially having a similar effect?

Also, stung by my neighbours comment about my house being unsalable and unfit for purpose, I thought that perhaps the time was right for a degree of self examination:

I accept that my humble cottage is due a certain amount of updating and redecoration, whether or not we are able to fly the coop in the near future, despite it and its domestic systems having served to keep us in adequate comfort for over 35 years. At the core of any debate is probably the question of heating. We are one of the few dinosaurs in the area still burning coal to stay warm. Obviously this means we are thoughtless, polluting, scumbags with no thought for the planet or future generations, much like the government who, with air traffic having supposedly risen by 40% in the last five years, are vigorously promoting the need for an extra runway at Heathrow in order to facilitate another 250,000 flights annually, generating volumes of CO2 equivalent to many hundreds of thousands of coal fires every year thereafter. Surely by now we should be reducing air traffic with all of the electronic communication systems such as video conferencing that are now available to us rather than having to travel to the ends of the Earth to see each other in the flesh?

They are also crowing that our population growth is down from 538,000 in the year to the middle of 2016 to 392,000 to the middle of 2017 and only 282,000 in 2018. That’s great then, only a bit more than a million extra people on the island every three or four years rather than every two. I really doubt we’ll notice any extra pollution, traffic, or drain on already failing resources if we carry on at that rate, except that I notice that over the past five years an extra two and a half million cars have taken to our roads. Any connection?

Anyone remember last winter? Quite harsh as I recall, ‘The Beast From The East’ etc and, aside of the snow, the wettest March since 1981? Since then we’ve had a couple of warm/hot dry months, which we used to call ‘a nice summer’, and already there is talk of hosepipe and sprinkler bans and the need to use only untreated water to wash cars and water the garden in the future. Households are being urged to install water butts. I have two, holding fifty gallons each, but they are soon depleted when not recharged by rainfall. I worked in the water industry for a number of years and well understand the treatment process and the costs, but without laying a separate supply to every property in the country or setting up realistic individual collection and storage systems, which would involve some really huge tanks being installed at every property, I don’t see any realistic alternative, much as I agree that using treated water to wash cars and water the garden is an awful waste.

This has little to do with climate change and everything to do with the impact of our, here I go again, massively increasing population. According to the environment minister Dr Therese Coffey “every person uses 140 litres every day” if available statistics are to be believed. Even if we could build the dozens of extra reservoirs that this will necessitate, how, even discounting any climate change, can we make it rain sufficiently in order to fill them from our already over burdened rivers, or maintain a good level in our boreholes? One other radical suggestion remains unexplored. Could we not ask the water companies to reduce their chief exec’s massive salaries by a million or so each a year and put this towards fixing some of the leaks which allegedly continue to waste three billion litres of treated water every single day, or will restraint in watering my geraniums be sufficient to address this too?

*On 28th we had storms, torrential rain, and temperatures fell to the seasonal norm and below. By the 29th we had gale force winds and horizontal stair rods for the whole day. Headline due any day now: “Flooding Of Biblical Proportions Now Afflicting Our Nation Is Blamed On Climate Change”.

All my fault obviously. My outdated downstairs bathroom offends the neighbours sense of propriety and clearly uses too much water. If I had any sense of responsibility I would die pretty damn soon in order to stop being a burden on the society I’ve paid so much into for around half a century in order to make some space for all the bright young ‘right on’ kiddies to get on with creating their dreadful ‘brave new world’ before they too expire from thirst, hunger or some epidemic favoured by their packed hordes and sheer, mind numbing, bloody stupidity.

The heating system we inherited is, admittedly, ancient and burns a mix of coal and logs on a grate with a back boiler which serves 7 radiators and provides all of our hot water throughout the winter months. In an average winter we use around a ton of smokeless coal and a similar amount of logs. We have only one child, haven’t flown in years and I worked for 26years, for free, for a conservation body. We have no mains drainage, which we were promised when we moved here in 1983 would be installed by the millennium at the latest. They must have meant the next one then as the last passed without event. Instead we still rely on a cesspit which, be assured, acts as the most unforgiving water meter ever devised. No dial or digital readout can ever replicate the stark horror of a month old turd thrusting insistently skyward though the plughole in the bath as a reminder that the dunny man and his lavender lorry are once again overdue.

We are then vile unthinking fossil fuel burning morons. So what are our options. We have no mains gas supply, which nowadays is still of fossil origin as was the old coal derived ‘town gas’ of my youth which did at least provide a few useful, if less than green, spinoffs such as coke, tar and creosote. This leaves electricity, cylinder gas or oil, discounting renewables such as wind or solar which inevitably need alternative back ups. Both oil and gas are also fossil derivatives and the bulk of our electricity is still generated from them with a large energy loss in the transmutation process.

So who’s the hypocrite here? We now hear that electric vehicles have a larger CO2 footprint than diesel when production, materials and the means of generating the massive amounts of extra electricity to recharge them (which takes hours if you can find a point at all) are taken into account, which has always been my argument against them. Doubtless renewables are the way forward but for the present, until pretend technology catches up with reality, I would argue that we are no worse than the rest of the population after all.

Dinosaurs we may be but they dominated our planet for at least 150 times as long as we have managed to date and according to best evidence were terminated by external forces not of their making. Like them we too will soon be extinct but our demise will be born of our own greed and fecundity. We can either wake up to this unwelcome home truth PDQ or humanity is history.

Anyway, about our downstairs bog and why it would make my decrepit abode unsaleable. Accepted its a bit of a journey in the middle of the night to take a pee but I go far more in daylight hours and on grounds of total energy expended in going up and down stairs I would argue that pee for pee its better where it is than my fancy neighbours who are so confident of their superiority in peeing upstairs. In any case at night I can always go out of the bedroom window if necessary. Full of nutrients, my golden shower falls on our roses beneath, thus enhancing my credentials as a gardener, water conserving guru, and all round nice guy. Surely a selling point to any potential, conservation minded, buyer, so there.

For the past two and a half years I’ve been putting my youthful, soon to be 67 years old, body through a fairly rigorous workout regime, at least three times a week, consisting of weight training, sit ups, press ups and a modicum of yoga for suppleness. This has taken me from the thirteen and a half stone slug that I had become, in a year of retirement, back to the magnificent specimen that I always was, aside that is from my dodgy knee which still doesn’t want to come out for a run with the rest of me.

As a result of my restored vigor and as a lifelong student of the fistic arts I felt it was high time I made a return to the ring. After all my exceeding brief career as an active pugilist was concluded prematurely, only a little over forty two years ago, after I developed an allergy to intense pain which precipitated a medical condition commonly known as abject cowardice. There should, therefore, be no issues with ring rust after such a short break, and with only that little wimp Joshua standing in my way I thought it would be a simple matter to mop up the opposition and make a few bob to supplement my pension. What could possibly go wrong?

Imagine then how insulted and disappointed I was to find that even the senior’s division is closed to those over fifty five and that the maximum qualifying age for The Olympics is now just thirty four. Far less than several, still reigning, professional world champions. George Foreman regained the heavyweight title at the age of forty six, twenty years to the day after he lost it in Zaire to Ali. Archie Moore, who knocked out more opponents than anyone else, ever, before or since (131), went four rounds with an up and coming Muhammad Ali at an age somewhere between forty nine and fifty five (no one seems sure) while the great Jem Mace, first officially sanctioned heavyweight champion of the world and father of the scientific style, fought exhibitions until he was sixty eight.

I feel utterly deflated, like Brando in ‘On The Waterfront’ after he was forced, by the mob, to throw the fight with Wilson; “I could have been a contender. I could have been someone, instead of just a bum”. Oh well, bum it is then.

Anyway, despite what the neighbours think I am not entirely without funds but must confess to being a little cautious when it comes to parting with my few well preserved coppers. So, as small consolation for my thwarted return to form, I was well pleased to find that, as a result of my physical exertions, many pairs of ancient trousers (decades in storage awaiting a return to fashion) still fit me after well over thirty years. If you’ve got it flaunt it I say, and so much more satisfying if its cheap! Role on the return of the Lionels.

I’m having less luck with my house which whether we go or stay needs the ground floor decorating and a new kitchen, replete with washing machine, as the current one passed away around thirty years ago and has resolutely remained where it died, like some poorly designed tin cupboard, ever since. Throughout the intervening period my wife has travelled to the launderette in East Grinstead, around eight miles away, on a weekly basis, spending thousands of pounds more than the cost of a replacement and further de-greening our reputation in the process.

It is a sobering thought that we have shared our home with a dead washing machine for most of the time that we have lived here. Far more than half the forty seven years in total (on Sept 3rd this year) that we have been together, almost half of my entire life in fact. Throughout this virtually geological period of obsolescence we have, like a pair of rampant white goods necromancers, assiduously continued to make a beast with two backs atop its defunct carcass at midnight on every full moon since its demise, forever hopeful that The Dark Lord would look kindly upon our sacrifice and may imbue it with renewed life, to once more spew forth spotlessly clean undies across the kitchen floor. Yet even my faith is beginning to wane and I fancy that a trip to Tunbridge Wells Currys could be the more realistic answer.

Something has to give but I’ve discovered some slight damp problems lurking behind the paper in the living room which needs to be professionally sorted out. The kitchen will also cost a few quid but the hall and bathroom just need a tidy up, which I can cope with. Both are tiny so perhaps potential buyers may not even notice we have a downstairs bathroom after all, although those reluctant to piss out of the bedroom window on a regular basis, once they realise there is no upstairs version either, may, of course, use this as a bargaining chip, if indeed I can find any takers whatsoever for our pitifully outdated ruin.

Left to my own devices I could get a lot worse. I hate the way in which property has become an investable status symbol and would love to return to pure functionality. A simple log cabin (no more redecorating) with an earth closet, on a remote section of coast would suit me fine, so long as I could stay warm, dry, and had a facility to get clean. Water for drinking would not be a problem as a simple solar still, consisting of a polythene sheet stretched over a pit, with a stone weight to make a downward cone and a suitable catchment vessel beneath for the resultant condensate, would provide sufficient volumes of potable quality. Larger quantities for bathing would be more difficult, but rainwater from the roof, stored in closed tanks, could be heated by a simple back-boiler constructed from scrap copper tubing with an open log fire and delivered using a hand pump. An open invitation to Legionnaire’s Disease if ever I saw one.

Being by the coast a fish weir would easily provide a good source of protein. This consists of a substantial, sturdy, fence, at least a hundred yards long with a small mesh weave built in a large ark from high water mark down towards the low water mark and back so that it is well covered at high tide but left dry when it ebbs. Fish swim over the fence, to feed, at high water and become trapped as it subsides and drains, it is then a simple task to go and pick them up at low water. I have a pretty detailed knowledge of edible plants so foraging for these, and also cockles, winkles, razor shells etc, would be no problem and I could easily construct a few traps for rabbits, grow a few crops etc. It all sounds wonderfully simple yet I wonder, how long would it be before I ran screaming to the nearest estate agent seeking a modern bungalow (what! no upstairs loo?) with a supermarket close at hand.

With the withdrawal of two of the three festivals threatened for this summer I detect a certain softening in attitude to the original by some of those who have campaigned long and hard against it alongside me. I can only think this is due to some sort of relief, along the lines of being told you must have all of your limbs amputated and later finding you just need to have a leg off. I have christened this ‘Hever Syndrome’ a condition akin to ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ but for country folk. Similarly it afflicts weak, feeble minded, people when placed under stress.

Oh dear! My blog has wandered, or perhaps ‘evolved’, a long way from its original purpose. It was initially the brainchild of my cousin Marion, a professional editor of longstanding, intended to showcase my authorship on rural issues. I saw it as a tribute to two of my great heroes, Gilbert White (A Natural History Of Selborne) and Jack Hargreaves the long time presenter and author of TV’s ‘Out Of Town’. God knows what they might make of it now, were they still alive. Sadly I fear it has become more like a monthly trip to Royston Vasey. That it remains predominately ‘a local blog for local people’ is perhaps significant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

35 Not Out———Yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

The Beast Looks East.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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