Numbers Rackets And The Secrets Of Social Harmony.

Just to update last month’s blog: English Nature has been granted a further £15 million for this financial year. Of this £4 million comes from the Government’s biodiversity fund to improve the monitoring of SSSI’s, fewer than 40% of which remain in favourable condition. Against this consider that their budget for 2008-09 was £265 million and this year stands at £95 million meaning that the organisation cannot possibly hope to do the job it was meant to. Thank God we can still afford £2 billion to be spent on cycling on prescription, I absolutely love cyclists of course but I thought we were broke. Can anyone play the fiddle? I hear Rome’s just caught fire!

Despite my past criticism’s and dubious regard for warmists, and by God its warm as I write this, I respect their sentiment, if not their methods or hold on reality, and have always tried to live as green a life as possible myself. I don’t travel abroad and even in normal times my car mileage is usually below 4k pa. My weakness, however, lies mainly in keeping warm in winter as I am restricted to burning solid fuels at present. Clear alternatives are limited to oil, container gas or going all electric which in my location is about as reliable as a chocolate kettle. I was, therefore, interested to see an article in my daily paper outlining alternative costs should I consider a change. Costs quoted were for a three bedroomed semi like mine. Apparently those on a low income would be able to get a grant for the full cost, up to £10k while the rest of us would pay only a third of costs but capped at £5k.

Cavity wall insulation is a nonstarter as I have solid walls, like most older properties. Being built on three floors, neither do I have a loft for which costs are quoted at £300, or £100 with a grant, saving apx £160 pa. My only realistic alternative heating method would be the ground source heat pump system which would cost £9000 – £11000 or £3000 – £3700 with a grant and save around £690 pa. This would of course also be dependent on an electric supply that didn’t reliably fail virtually every month regardless of season. Also impossible here as we have no mains gas, a new style gas boiler (soon to be banned) would cost £2300 or £760 with a grant and saves £110 pa over an old style one. Double glazing would cost £4250 or £1417 with a grant and saves approximately £85 pa while installing hideous solar panels would cost £4800 to save £100 to £240 pa dependent on area but might even be an earner overall!

From this I take it that double glazing is my only realistic option and would at best leave me in profit after only about seventeen years (heat I should remind you goes up not sideways, therefore, only about 4% of heat exits through single glazed windows and we already have curtains) if I should live that long and the vacuum sealed panels units didn’t, as in all probability they will, need replacement after about ten years. There is, however another catch in that the scheme is divided into Primary Measures i.e. various insulation measures, heat pumps, solar panels etc. and Secondary Measures i.e. double glazing, draught proofing, energy efficient doors etc. and you can’t get funding for a Secondary Measure unless you also install a Primary Measure which for me could only realistically mean a heat pump system which requires a reliable electricity supply, never mind the implications for my garden during installation. There are also exclusions, notably new build homes and commercial property do not qualify. The only other option of course is to devise a system that can efficiently exploit the heat coming off all the government bullshit.

While other reports have previously predicted continuous population rise throughout the century, I derive a little cheer from a report that world population currently standing at apx7.6 billion is likely to rise to 9.7 billion by 2064 but then decline to 8.8 billion by 2100 due to declining birth rates. Falling fertility rates (possibly bought about by imbibing our own pollutants) and improved contraception, together with improving female education, are factors. The Lancet predicts that UK population will grow from its current 67 million to around 75million in 2063 before gradually falling to 72 million by 2100.

The above figures are at best an educated prediction. Fact: At the time of my birth in 1951 the population of the UK stood at just 50 million.

Meanwhile the government is proposing a huge shake up in planning law to enable 300,000 new homes to be built every year going forward. Even if we can afford to build them will anyone be able to afford to buy them by the time they are finished if everybody’s job has effectively died of Covid 19?

Already I feel claustrophobic at my current address and am looking to put my property on the market but first need to take a good look at the proposed new system and where development is likely before setting wheels in motion to relocate. With somewhere between 700 and 8,000 new dwellings to be built around me shortly any scant remaining sense of rurality here will soon be gone forever. However, even if the maximum local estimation comes to fruition this will only represent one fortieth of the annual build for one year nationally. My self confessed appalling mathematics tell me that in the unlikely scenario of every brownfield site being exploited first, it won’t be many years before that applies to every part of our once beautiful country, leaving it as a screwed up complex of parks divided by a massive system of roads and housing estates before, ultimately, the parks too are concreted over.

A report from Germany indicates that numbers of flying insects have reduced by 75% in just 25 years. I don’t need anyone to tell me that the corpse splattered windscreens of my youth are long gone, despite my own garden still buzzing with life on a sunny day, but that scientific study now confirms that the most resilient order of insects has been so decimated over such a short timescale is absolutely terrifying. Doubtless our fault but we would do well to remember that where they go we shall inevitably follow, within 5 years according to Mr A. Einstein.

By the way has anyone noticed a huge reduction in plastic packaging since all the hoo-ha a few months back? No? Me neither.

Welcome to the end of days, by numbers!

Were I to stay in my current location my wish to be allowed to end my days in peace seems unlikely to come to fruition; In my actual location there are just 16 cottages/houses with six more dwellings, including farmer Jan’s place, about a quarter of a mile away at the other end of the lane and, allegedly, three or four among the industrial units within what used to be a plantation wood a little further down.

I only really know Jan and the couple in the house second nearest to my own at that end. A lovely pair of proper old locals, always available for a friendly chat and a mine of information about times gone by. They are among the few to have lived here longer than me and always seem to be up to speed with local events and, like myself, memories of the way things used to be.

Now I’ve previously confessed to being only marginally more sociable than a fart in a lift but I do get on extremely well with most of the folk in my little enclave and socialize with a goodly proportion on a regular basis. Of the remainder, some prefer to keep themselves to themselves and that’s absolutely fine.

After last month’s traumas I was hoping for a quieter time in this. That went well until, on the evening of 3rd, a shower of sparks from the power lines opposite my house ignited the tinder dry verge and I had to rush out and move my car before it too went up in flames. While I did that my wife and our direct neighbour extinguished the blaze in under two minutes flat. This was the second time this year. The power company were informed, told us not to tackle the blaze ourselves (too late, the fire brigade would have taken at least half an hour to get here) and rushed out, to be with us in just over five and a half hours. We were told it was probably a bird landing on the wire, apparently it happens all the time, nothing could be done other than turning off our power, and everything was safe.

Ultimately it took a rather stern letter concerning my doubts about safe wildfires but as a result we’ve now had some spacers fitted to stop the cables touching and shorting out so, hopefully we can sleep safe in our beds again. A better month than last you’ll agree, but then things took a downturn.

On the following Friday a kid appeared on the scene, interminably skateboarding up and down outside our open window, getting ever nearer to the cars parked opposite, twice he nudged a wing mirror before my wife cheerfully bellowed “Oi, bugger off”! He duly disappeared down the lane toward its confluence with the larger road at the end. Peace restored. End of story we thought.

Mid morning Saturday a lady from that end came strolling up the drive and politely asked to speak to my wife. This in itself was genuine progress as she has rarely ever spoken to us, other than to accuse me, on one occasion, of spreading rumours about her having run over a cat. Not me actually, the truth lies six doors further down. She went on to ask my wife if she had told her visiting nephew to ‘bugger off’. My wife replied affirmatively, if he had a skateboard, and agreed not to do it again unless our vehicles were similarly imperiled. All happily resolved in a civilized manner.

Naturally I concurred that the child should not have been sworn at, while reflecting that when I were a lad such behaviour would routinely have been dealt with by just such a comment plus a clump alongside the earhole to emphasize the point. Had I complained to my parents, I would likely have got another!

Undoubtedly time to heal old wounds and move on. I, therefore, apologize unreservedly for my wife’s outrageous behaviour in preventing damage to our unworthy property. But perhaps, if there is a next time, he could play outside his aunt’s own house a short way down the lane, spare us the racket, avoid any risk to our vehicles and all of these other complex issues? Nevertheless a happy resolution. Less so the following Friday.

At about one O’clock we noticed a small car trying to park opposite and immediately recognized it as the same vehicle which had run into the front fence the previous week. It then proceeded to gouge right down the whole side of our direct neighbour’s vehicle. The lady owner has had her car, only just back from the body shop, damaged in this or a similar situation on several previous occasions while stationary.

Being hot we once more had the front window open. “Oh God, not again” my wife exclaimed loudly. That, I must attest here, is all that was said. I was sitting next to her and she said nothing else, ‘Scout’s Honour’. I should add here that in cooler weather our front window would have been closed and neither of my wife’s little outbursts would have been heard beyond the privacy of our own living room. In any case are we no longer permitted to say anything when either our own, or our neighbour’s personal property is being wrecked before our very eyes?

Moments later and we were sitting down to lunch when someone started to try and batter our front door in. Oh the joy of country living, so civilized. On opening it there stood another lady, the picture of incandescent rage. This one was, in actual fact, the vendor of the previously damaged cat, who has barely acknowledged our existence in around fourteen years of residency, she had at last found her voice, big time, and was volubly accusing my wife of using foul language and much more besides while shouting at the errant driver, who was apparently her niece and it seems had just passed her driving test. This she absolutely did not do——————-yet!

From my perspective her behaviour fell barely short of physical violence, ask our front door, as she accused my wife and I of all manner of utter nonsense. At this point I must confess my beloved wife did, wrongly in my personal view, descend into a virtuoso demonstration of the correct assignation of Anglo Saxon and Middle English expletives in directing the lady as to how best to leave our property by the shortest possible route before anything nasty became irretrievably embedded in one of her bodily orifices. Unfortunately I fear she may have lost the high moral ground in the process. No doubt or argument about the quality of language at this point, but I was at least successful in grabbing the wife and getting her back indoors before any eyeballs were forcibly removed from their sockets. Very unedifying and wholly avoidable, especially as neither I nor my wife had, in my opinion, done anything to warrant such disgraceful behaviour.

Being a firm believer in the old adage of ‘least said, soonest mended’ I have refrained from further debate. Instead, in view of these events, I have since erected a large red and white sign on our front fence stating ‘Caution! These animals may bite!’, to gently disabuse badly intentioned neighbours of any future misguided perception that we are likely to role over and play dead if similarly disrespected in future. I did consider running a recording, 24/7, of the old Millwall chant, “No-one likes us, we don’t care!”, on a continuous loop but thought it might upset the wildlife. Maybe next time.

Doubtless the lovely lady will quickly realize the error of her ways and should be along any day now to offer her apologies for this ill conceived outburst of unbridled temper which we shall of course graciously accept, thus reaching another happy conclusion and moving ever closer to a serene sense of tranquil harmony.

She had cursed us both, called us gossips and busy bodies and told us that everyone hates us and wishes we would leave the area as soon as possible. Well so do we my dear, so do we! Everyone? 100%? Shows they’re all paying attention I suppose. No one kicks a dead dog, according to the late industrialist and author, Andrew Carnegie, so I’ll take that as a complement. As for gossip; this has formed the foundation of communities for centuries. Not necessarily a malicious thing. It can be of course but in general that we talk incessantly to and about each other and all know each other’s business is what binds a community together, maintains standards, and, in fact, keeps us all safe. Anyone a bit dodgy or a stranger in the parish stands out like a sore thumb and everyone will know to be on their guard in no time flat.

I can’t actually remember anyone actually saying anything derogatory about this particular lady but she may like to reflect that were my wife and our direct neighbour not so nosey her and her husbands cars would have gone up in flames when those power cables shorted out.

I take from these experiences that neither lady will, in future, expect us to intervene if we see anyone damaging their vehicles or other property, spot anything suspicious, or check things out if their burglar alarm should be triggered when we know they are out at work, which in one instance is an all too regular occurrence. We interfering scum (new name for friendly neighbours apparently) do at least have one quality, we hate double standards! Unlike, it seems, the rest of our neighbours who, although we’re told they hate our guts, spend hours chatting to us in the lane or over the garden gate, invite us round for drinks and barbeques and even ask us to go on holiday with them, no doubt just to try and prevent us spreading evil rumours about them while they’re away. Two faced bastards!

Seriously though dear critics far and wide, we are suitably chastened. Fling wide your ‘F–k Off’ gates, overcome your obvious paranoia and, once your anger management therapy is completed, just try talking to your neighbours as if they were equals. Join in our community rather than alienating yourselves from it with your patronizing attitude and I promise that if we can only sort ourselves out we will be only too happy to sod off ASAP.

Ok, so that’s my view of the situation. I’ve never said I’m perfect and there are always two sides to every story. So ladies, if you read this blog please let me have your versions of events if you honestly believe them to be at odds to mine, identify yourselves, and I will gladly publish them, unedited, next time out so that the world can come to know what a despicable human being I really am.

Recent events do at least present the opportunity to consider a few points of law. One of which in my view represented a text book example of verbal assault under section 4A of The Public Order Act of 1986. There is no requirement for physical contact in order for a guilty verdict to be returned in this case. Not to worry I’m not at all litigious.

I well remember a friend from the world of nature conservation calling my dear, recently departed, mate Roy by the rudest name in the English language. This was all part of good natured banter but Roy protested that he could sue him for libel. The chap, who was a High Court Judge by profession, and we may therefore assume understood the law, explained that libel must be written. What Roy meant was the spoken version ‘slander’ and he explained that this too would fail as what he had said was demonstrably correct and there had been no defamation of character, insults alone are not actionable. Had he called Roy a thief or whatever and Roy was able to prove it to be untrue, he would have had a valid case under existing law.

So, with my status within the lane’s pecking order at last elevated to marginally above dung I was feeling as chuffed as a dog with two cocks. Then, though I’m loath to believe it, another neighbour told me that our new friend, the first lady down the lane, has, allegedly, been putting it about that my wife had ‘attacked’ her nephew just for skateboarding past our house. That is an absolute lie. That is deformation of character. That, if true, is exactly what defines actionable slander. I shan’t sue of course but be careful my darling or our new found love affair may be short lived!

Hopefully that’s the end of matters for this month. Events have at least convinced my wife too that its time to move on. In the past few weeks we’ve had one accusation of something that I have not the first idea of what it was all about, two incidents of youths looking for someone who doesn’t live here, on one occasion quite intimidating, and two complaints about us verbally defending our own, or neighbours, vehicles, one of which in my opinion crossed the boundaries of reasonable behaviour. The previous thirty seven years? nothing. This on top of everything else going on about us, at a time when we need to be more united than ever. I hate to feel driven out but its long past time. This is nothing like the rural idyll that we enjoyed for so long and pastures new beckon if only we can be sure that we’ve found the right pastures.

Paradise Lost.

With all the coverage of world issues, climate change, Extinction Rebellion etc. over the past year you might imagine that all was at least ticking along pretty well on the home front. After all charity begins at home does it not?

Natural England was established in 2006 as a devolved branch of DEFRA, ostensibly to take over the duties, staff etc. of English Nature, and incorporated the Countryside Agency and Rural Development Service as part of a cost cutting exercise. Our own wildlife and its respective habitats should be thriving, basking in the warm glow of the publicity generated by the international furor, yet, according to a recent article by Peter Marren in British Wildlife Magazine, nothing could be further from the truth.

A year before Parliament committed to zero greenhouse emissions, within just a few decades, a House of Lords Select Committee stated that it had concerns as to Natural England’s ongoing ability to perform regulatory functions and warned this had had a ‘profound, negative impact on England’s biodiversity’ i.e. with all focus on emissions and zero carbon, protection of our own wildlife and its habitats has evaporated.

Over the past five years Natural England’s budget has been halved, Ending up in 2018/19 with just 96million (Scotland and Wales authorities are apparently in a similar state). Staff have been made redundant or have become demoralised and left. One result is that SSSI’s are no longer being properly monitored, with half not having been checked in the last six years, and enforcement now virtually non existent. Another reason for this of course is the structure and expense of our legal system. In one notable case legal formalities took two years and eventually resulted in a farmer being fined just £300, while Natural England’s legal fees amounted to £60,000. What price justice? What hope our own natural environment?

I don’t usually use my blog for obituaries and this is no exception, but rules are made to be broken and I know of no one better at breaking them than my old mate Roy. Royston Keith Coles BEM, ISM to give him his correct title. I’ve already said quite a lot about him on my website so I’ll stick to basics.

Roy was a small man physically but huge in every other respect. Head Warden of Bough Beech Nature Reserve since the inception of the reservoir in 1968 he was also a founder member of Kent Trust For Nature Conservation, latterly Kent Wildlife Trust. He it was, together with an army of volunteers who transformed a devastated mess into a fabulous resource, with his ideas, innovation and unbelievable energy.

I was my privilege to serve as Roy’s assistant for over fifteen years before becoming Head Warden at Cowden Pound Pastures as well as continuing with the odd period of hard labour back at Bough Beech.

This was a different time when, with no thought of financial gain, all involved worked long and hard, most with ‘day jobs’ as well, the only reward being the satisfaction of being involved in something truly worthwhile, recreating endangered habits in order to attract a broad spectrum of wildlife and hopefully leaving the world a better place than we found it for generations to come.

Sadly we were robbed of the Roy we knew and loved in his final years by the cruelest of illnesses when he developed vascular dementia in 2002. He eventually passed away on 11th June this year and with the current situation limiting numbers at funerals to just fifteen at the time I was hugely honored to be among those invited to attend. Any sadness was tempered with a brilliant video tribute and the celebration of a massively varied life, filled with far reaching achievements and lived up to the absolute hilt. After the ceremony we met with a number of other dedicated old supporters at Bough Beech. The intention being to meet with old friends and exchange memories while surrounded by Roy’s masterpiece.

Due to family commitments and the lockdown I had not visited the place for a while and had expected that things may have got a little scruffy, given the restrictions on volunteers etc. that currently apply. Nothing, however, could have prepared me for the dreadful sight that greeted us. I can only describe what was always described as KWT’s premier reserve as an overgrown mess.

It appears that KWT have declined to renew their lease on the reserve, apparently as this, together with maintaining the site, was costing them around £10,000 per annum. Fair do’s perhaps, but as far as I can ascertain, their rent for the site was a peppercorn £10pa and all the volunteers worked for free. Also then consider that the same organisation are at present advertising on-line for architects to submit plans, within a budget of £2,000,000, to construct a ‘Wildlife and Wellbeing Center’ at their Sevenoak’s Wildfowl Reserve.

At barely more than five feet tall the word that came up more than any other at Roy’s funeral was ‘giant’. Many words came to mind when thoughts turned to the current KWT management team, all, sadly, far too profane to reproduce here.

Roy was always opposed to huge visitors centers, replete with shop and tearooms, arguing that those who visited nature reserves, in themselves a sadly necessary sign of the times in which we live, wanted to experience a feeling of wilderness not a trip to the local health spa! The very reason why so many, these days, suffer from mental health issues is that they have become divorced from nature and feel the need to reconnect, rather than wanting a cup of tea in a theme park.

Neither do we need the kind of narrowly confined wisdom conferred by a three year degree course in preference to a lifetime’s experience. Little of the British landscape is actually natural, it is the incidental consequence of generations trying to improve their own circumstances by working with, rather than against, the natural world and it is their ways and philosophy that we need to understand and emulate rather than pandering to precocious self seeking egos founded on the inexperience of youth.

In truth Bough Beech was never wilderness. What it initially provided was a blank canvas, where experimentation could be conducted without risk to existing habitats, until methods were perfected to produce the finely tuned environment that ultimately attracted over 230 species of birds and uncountable myriads of other fauna and flora.

Needles to say, those friends who laboured long and hard to construct and maintain this center of conservation and educational excellence feel utterly betrayed, especially on behalf of Roy himself, and are quietly seeking ways to mount a rescue plan. Nothing is likely to happen before October, however. I’ll let you know how we get on.

Meanwhile, although I’m not unduly superstitious and don’t believe that comet Neowise, which has been visible throughout the month about fifteen degrees above our eastern skyline in the hours before dawn, is a portent of doom, a few other little rustic snippets might seem to indicate otherwise:

First we had a pair of youths arrive on our doorstep the other evening and try to intimidate my wife. They were looking for a recently arrived neighbour’s son and would not believe that he didn’t live at our address until my wife, rather forcefully, informed them otherwise. My advice when introducing her to anyone new is usually, “Its best if you can try not to show any fear!” you get the picture?

Then there was the sad discovery of a dead body on the footpath to Hever Common. Apparently it was some poor chap from London who regularly came to Hever Station and walked to The Queen’s Arms (AKA Annie’s/Elsie’s) for a quiet pint. Unfortunately, one less of the kind of appreciative folk we like to welcome as visitors to the area.

The following Thursday dawned quietly, before all hell broke loose at the cottages across the field from me, about 100 yards away, as police cars, including an armed response unit, ambulances, the fire brigade, and a bomb disposal unit plus forensic team arrived on the scene, all overflown by a police helicopter. I do know what was going on, which would make the hairs on the back of your necks stand on end. I will say no more, however, as I am not aware of the ongoing legal situation but take a look at Kent Online for the latest updates.

What a sad old world we live in!!! One ray of sunshine is that a treasured short-term neighbour (sarcasm is the lowest form of wit remember), has taken a profit and moved on. Perhaps their replacement may have time to chat to the locals as equals rather than inferior idiots, enjoy the English countryside as it is, without any attempts at urbanisation, won’t submit endless inappropriate planning applications for pure profit or immediately erect f— off gates. They may actually be friendly and grow their own veg. Its a long time since that sort of thing went on around here!

Will the tide ever turn? Will the day come when someone applies to turn an industrial/housing estate back into a peaceful wood? Enters into negotiations to close down their noisy annual festival or endurance event because of the impact on our historical tranquility, in deference to the folk who just want to live out their lives in peace and quiet. Of course not, sod ’em! The new all powerful god of the countryside, Mammon, still rules all.

Time to Break Out? Or Time We ‘Woke’ Up To The Body Of Opinion?

As the lockdown slowly relaxes, the property market has reopened. Despite theoretical doom and a predicted collapse, Rightmove reported a record six million hits, their best day ever. This by all accounts was fired by hordes of disenfranchised city dwellers now desperate to flee their virus raddled urban horrors and ruin the surrounding countryside.

Perhaps not their primary objective but the inevitable outcome of rose-tinted glasses generating ill considered urgency in the face of national hysteria, resulting in a lack of any sense of reality as they desperately try to recreate their ‘Paradise Lost’ in greener climes, by erecting f’ off gates and fencing. Then tarmacking front gardens to provide extra parking for the numerous vehicles they forgot to account for when moving, and installing exterior lights while campaigning for street lighting in the ‘oh so dangerous’ lanes beyond, all the while, awaiting permission to be granted for their endless planning applications.

Habitat sorted, and by now serving on every influential committee for miles around, they will undoubtedly then turn their attention to ways of cheering up the area with innumerable noisy, in your face, 24/7 events which it so clearly needs to promote the kind of mental wellbeing which, until their arrival, had been quite obviously lacking in the incumbent locals.

Now I’m genuinely concerned, as I realise that I am badly off trend in that I have no mental issues to speak of other than extreme anger at those intent on destroying the place where I have lived happily in peace and quiet for most of my life. I am neither agrophobic (Nervous about busting someone in the mouth) nor agoraphobic, yet I am fast becoming a virtual hermit, unable to venture onto our once tranquil lanes for fear of being run down by the endless pelotons of pedal pushing shits who now apparently own every last inch of them.

If that’s not sufficient, virtually every program on the telly now appears to be seeking to brainwash me into thinking in line with the moronic ‘woke’ minority now intent on dictating every facet of modern life, and what great news that aunty Beeb is to spend a further hundred million towards the extra mind manipulation so clearly needed to correct the thought processes of the masses. God knows if I end up going raving nuts and play my cards right I may yet get a knighthood, for services to gibbering idiots.

All of our problems stem of course from the stresses that come with overpopulation. Nevertheless, the all pervading insanity of our leaders continues to ensure that we pretend otherwise. One point of cheer lays in a report stating that reduced immigration has meant that the population of this tiny group of islands has risen at its lowest rate for fifteen years, with an increase of only 360,000 extra souls net, over the past year. Oh joy! That’s only equivalent to a requirement to build another city the size of Coventry every twelve months, year on year, forever, so long as we keep things at that level. We’ll hardly notice them!

Meanwhile my local friends and neighbours are still slowly processing the fact that come what may several large new conurbations are shortly going to arrive on out very doorstep. The new Sevenoaks District Council Local Plan has failed to pass muster with The Planning Inspectorate and is yet to be adopted. I am no fan of this plan either, which basically seeks to distinguish those areas to be ruined immediately from those to enjoy the pretence of protection while they wait to be ruined in a few years time. However, with no new Local Plan currently in place the whole of our locality is open to speculative development across its entirety right now. Very much a case of better the devil you know rather than any cause for optimism once a new plan is finally adopted, unfortunately.

I’ve received a great deal of correspondence on this issue and our MP Tom Tugenhat tells me that he and his neighbouring MP’s have asked the Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick MP, to use his powers under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act of 2004 to intervene and ensure that the Local Plan can be adopted ASAP. There is currently much about Mr Jenrick in the press of course, none of which cheers me greatly.

Historically, during any past recession those generous speculative builders and persistent philanthropists seeking to ‘selflessly’ improve our lot in the countryside have generally tended to disappear into the ether at the least whiff of potential loss. Strange, but let’s hope there is some truth in history repeating itself, if only in this particular instance.

On a purely selfish note, If rural property prices are about to explode and I can time It right, now could be just the moment to get my house on the market, if only I can find some oasis devoid of the wail of self righteous planning applications and the distant rumble of bulldozers. I’m desperately seeking nirvana but have become slightly unnerved as any search of property sites relevant to the areas we favour now seem to display only newbuilds. I’ve only just read that 1.6 million new homes will be needed over the next eight years to house the elderly. Why? Are plans afoot to evict us from the ones we live in at present?

Statistically it seems that I’m twice as likely to die of this accursed virus as my female equivalent although I’m not sure how it may impact on the other 439 genders currently available, which probably renders me some sort of bigoted sexual pariah. I am a further 27 times as likely as a forty year old to snuff it because of my age. The sex thing is a little unfathomable, but the age thing? Don’t we all realise that the most lethal factor out there has always been the weight of years piling up behind us? I always have, and have lived my life accordingly. When asked if he was worried about dying Mark Twain replied, “I was dead for billions of years before I was born and it caused me no inconvenience whatsoever”. So then, am I bothered to leave this filthy, corrupted, bloody loopy world? “When a man has tired of London, he is tired of life”, wrote Samuel Johnson. He also implied that anyone with any intellect whatsoever would never dream of leaving the capital. Guilty on all counts and dozens more besides. So roll on death, lets get the hell on outah here!

I’ve just (29/6) seen one of the instructors from Sevenoaks Boxing Club being interviewed on the BBC’s lunchtime news, regarding reopening after the lockdown, prior to which there was a bad fire on the small industrial estate where it is sited.

My young friend down the lane has been beside himself with grief since it closed and will undoubtedly be ecstatic at the prospect of a second coming. For my more elderly part I have, to the best of my ability, maintained my fitness at a level where I fancy I could still make an arthritic return when the opportunity presents itself. In fact with nowhere to go and little else to do, maintaining my ageing body has become pretty much my only hobby. Over time my naked image, in the bathroom mirror, has transformed from that of an ageing tortoise, minus its shell, to one of a well used chesterfield in need of a good dose of hide food. However, I continue to do my best.

As a young man I worked out like a maniac almost every day of the week. Now in deference to Anno Domini I restrict myself to three sessions a week, usually Monday, Wednesday and Friday to allow time to recover. I rise at 7am and partake of a single coffee before starting with a fifteen minute warm up period. Nothing to eat, as I fast every day between 8pm at night and 1pm in the afternoon which focuses everything on burning my ‘in house’ body fat and pretty much allows me to eat what I like for the rest of the time. I follow the warm up with half an hour of HIT stuff, mainly weights and abs board. This is followed with stretching, static weight bearing, squat thrusts etc followed by a short jog, involving my still slightly gammy, but much better than was, left leg. More stretching, some balancing, two minutes rapid skipping then fifteen minutes of muscle stuff on my trusty, if ancient, old ‘Bullworker’. More skipping, then fifteen minutes of shadow boxing/hand speed and other aerobics, followed by neck rolls and some more balancing before going indoors for half an hours wind down with plank positions stretching and breathing exercises. In all I manage around two hours, three times a week. Silly old sod! I hear you chorus.

There’s no machismo left, just a desire to keep everything working for so long as I must endure the conscious state, and this regime seems to do it for me. My biggest difficulty lies in resisting the urge to do continually more. That way lies obsession, I’ve been there before, and besides I need to keep the afternoons vacant in order to maintain other areas of fitness.

As I write, the carcass is only fifteen months off its three score and ten but still feels pretty good and I’m reluctant to relinquish the lease I took out with Harry (‘Our father which art in heaven, Harold be thy name’) while it remains serviceable.

Now, speaking of trading in your body at the end of its useful life, and that time must come to us all, I wonder how many of you are aware that the law governing donor organs changed last month (20th May). We are now all opted in, unless we state otherwise, instead of being opted out unless we carry a donor card or express a desire to the contrary. This means that when you die the medical profession now has first dibs on all your bits.

Logically it would be churlish in the extreme to deny some poor soul the chance of life, or at least an improved quality thereof. After all if your car conked out beyond repair you would surely not object to someone taking a part to keep theirs running? Neither are reservations of squeamishness valid as one in three of us will be subjected to a post mortem after death anyway. For me its just a feeling of bloody mindedness (no puns intended here by the way) that having tried to control every facet of our existence, including our thought processes, from cradle to grave, the authorities are no longer content with having skinned us of our worldly possessions at every possible twist and turn for as long as we suck in air. They now want to get at the deeper meat once we’re dead.

On this happy note, have you ever considered how unlikely you are to end up as a fossil? Some may say I’m there already, but when you think about it its a many millions to one shot that you or indeed anything else is likely to be overlaid with alluvial silt of just the right pH shortly after your demise and lay, undisturbed, for long enough to turn to rock. Hardly surprising that there are gaps in the fossil record and even more so that we find any at all.

At least jackdaws aren’t rare. With only a short gap between the last pair monopolising our defunct chimney stack and the current pair we’ve had them every breeding season throughout our thirty seven year residency. Their latest brood fledged early on the morning of 9/6, the chirring of the young and clucking of the adults awakening us to the event as usual. From our bedroom under the eaves it sounds like someone tipping so many sacks of coal down the roof.

On emerging early on 17/6 a red kite took off from the bottom of our garden. Very much less common than buzzards around here still and instantly recognisable by their larger size and distinctive V shaped tail they are slowly becoming better established in our locality.

What does seem to have disappeared are earwigs. Once the bane of dahlia growers everywhere, and we have a keen exponent next-door, I’ve not seen one for years. As a youngster I remember my grandfather’s garden being punctuated with upturned flower pots stuffed with hay, which attracted them and would invariably fill with the blighters overnight, although I’m unsure as to what terrible damage they caused anyway?

With typical black humour, as things slowly start to re-open, I see that The Chelsea Pensioners have opened a pop up pub which they have called ‘The Covid Arms’. In the way that some pubs changed their names, following the death of Princess Diana, from The Prince of Wales to The Princess of Wales I wonder if any of our local pubs might change their names to commemorate this current tragic period in our history? Probably not, although some seem more appropriate candidates than others.

Why I’ve No Longer Got The Clap, And Other Niceties.

So we’re starting to open up again. Back to normal? Pandemic over, or biding its time? Have we learned anything from our past mistakes? I doubt it.

Ahead of the rest of society I stopped going out to clap for the NHS and our other essential workers at 8pm every Thursday Night a few weeks back. Its not that I do not have every respect and admiration for all that they do, and my wife and I will continue to support them in any practical way that we can. Done once in a while this public demonstration sends a powerful, moral boosting, message to those we rely on most but, in my view, as a weekly routine it does little more than confirm us as a nation gripped by hysteria like a stampeding herd of cattle. I might feel differently were we living opposite a hospital, or had any number of these much undervalued workers in the vicinity. I would then probably continue with robust enthusiasm, but where we live they cannot possibly hear us and the whole ritual has become no more than a way of signaling to our neighbours what unthinking, compliant, citizens we have become. These things I ain’t!!!

So then restrictions are slowly relaxing. Put in place to supposedly protect us from this most gentle of reminders, visited upon us by the notional Earth God, Gaia, that we should mend our ways before she gives us a more painful slap. The time when we could comfortably have managed our greed and fecundity is, however, now long passed. That of unmitigated suffering will soon be with us as, one way or the other, Mother Earth will shortly take matters into her own hands and remove around two thirds of us from this mortal coil. This cull may take the form of disease, starvation, genetic failings or something totally beyond our control, such as a meteor strike, solar flare or super volcano. It may even mean the end of the line for our sadly failed species, what is for sure is that this will not be the end of life on Earth.

Our ultimate demise has been assured by our brief techno addiction. Like any other addiction we have become reliant upon it to the exclusion of anything else, including reality. Unable to coexist with the other life forms with which we share this planet we now find nature toxic and can, unlike any other species, no longer survive naked in its presence. We have become aliens in our own world and, unlike any species before us, have worked tirelessly to engineer our own richly deserved extinction. It is just unfortunate that we will in all probability take many of our better adjusted contemporary life forms with us before the end.

Having quit our natural habitat in Africa to forage further afield for richer pickings, faster than evolution could encompass, our restless ambition necessitated the invention of clothing and ever more sophisticated shelter, to cope with environments to which we are wholly unsuited. This we call ‘Civilization’. We embarked on this course toward suicide by luxury around ten thousand years ago with the discovery and development of agriculture. This seemed like a good idea at the time, it enabled us to literally ‘put down roots’ and ultimately facilitated the development of our great cities and present culture. With ever more ‘oh so smart’ brains gathered together in close proximity, and the free time to use them, we came up with ever more advanced technology to further improve our quality of life, but not until we harnessed power beyond that of our own muscle, and a few stronger beasts, could we be more than an annoying irritant to the planet.

We had long known fire, wind and water as sources of power but now, coupled with the invention of steam powered devices, we could become a real nuisance. The arrival of the internal combustion engine, electricity and nuclear fission sealed our fate. We were hooked, our inherent greed liberated on a boundless orgy of destruction. In barely two hundred years we have wrecked our own planet. Where to now?

The current piffling has all too clearly revealed our vulnerability. With supermarket shelves denuded by no more than panic buying we were immediatly in trouble. Imagine a solar flare, meteor strike or similar natural catastrophy, never mind our capacity to destroy our own environment. Our whole food supply is based today on the ‘just in time’ system, which relies on restocking our food sources on a sophisticated three day cycle, keeping nothing in reserve. Break that cycle and, inside a week, we all begin to starve. How many modern folk are capable of hunting or fishing, let alone foraging safely among our native plants? Even were we all expert at living off the land, given our massive overpopulation, everything would be completely denuded within days.

We are doomed, our demise guaranteed by that of which we are most proud, our own precious intelligence. Nobody likes a smart arse, especially God, and thus we are set to trigger the sixth great extinction, of which we are aware, since life began. Left solely to our own devices this may take another thousand years or so, brief enough in geological terms, but should a natural disaster hit us in the meantime, which it could at any given moment, the majority of us will be gone inside a few months. At least then, however, there may be another iridium strip, or similar, as evidence for the next dominant species to discover, should they care or be unfortunate enough to have enquiring minds and want to find out why the last lot left.

It is perhaps a sobering thought, that while Ava Kronenbourg and her warmists concern themselves solely with issues of global warming three of the previous five great extinction events appear to have resulted from cooling from whatever cause. Time for a change perhaps? Never mind, cheer yourselves up with a look at the night sky, if you can see it for the neighbour’s patio lights. We can’t ruin anything up there and on that scale our whole solar system, even the entire galaxy, is a complete irrelevance.

Short term, I have seldom seen our countryside looking more lush and beautiful as our wildlife seizes the opportunity handed to it by our enforced absence. Only the other day our friends from a few doors down phoned to see if we were OK and Emma mentioned that she and her husband had just had a cock chafer in the bedroom. Somewhat taken aback by her frank and rather unnecessary revelation I sympathetically replied that while I’ve had my share of carpet burns in the living room I’ve never actually suffered that particular discomfort, but not to worry its just a function of the passing years and, with several very adequate non prescription solutions available from any decent chemist’s, everything should be revving like a Ferrari again in no time.

“May-bug?” she ventured with a slightly quizzical intonation. Of course! I knew that! Cockchafer, all one word, Melolontha melolontha, one of the Scarabaeidae. It was to avoid just this kind of confusion that the Swede, Carl Linne, invented the modern system of binomial nomenclature in 1735 with the publication of his great work ‘Systema Naturae’, initially just fourteen pages long but by the twelfth edition it had grown to three volumes and 2,300 pages. He even changed his name to the Latin version Carolus Linnaeus by which he is known today.

This is a beetle that, like so much else, used to be seen everywhere, another casualty of modern farming methods and pesticides they were a familiar herald of summer throughout my youth as they insistently battered against window panes in a vain bid to regain their lost freedom.

Living at the time in South London stag beetles were a more localised speciality as this area was, and I believe remains, perhaps unexpectedly, their main sphere of operation. I used to jog around the excellent Carshalton Park in the evenings in those days and on one occasion nearly had a heart attack when a three inch long male specimen landed with a plop on my bare neck and clung on with its set of twelve claws. These too are far scarcer these days as aside of pesticides they suffer from our tidy minds and, of course, the all pervasive ‘Elf and Safety’ which insists on clearing away any fallen or standing dead wood, on which they rely for their life cycle.

Its quite alarming, even out here, just how dramatically insects in general have reduced in only a very few years. Rabbits too are notably absent of late. They always appeared to be a rarity in any mammal survey as they were so common that no one bothered to record them. Now, however, they are apparently suffering from some new disease as well as myxy’ and numbers have truly crashed. There are winners too in all this, a red kite passed through on 14th and our friends down the lane tell me they had one in the back garden recently. Milvus milvus that is, hopefully.

Buzzards were unseen here until the new millennium but now seem more common than sparrows, with the record being ten at one time soaring high over my garden. If the rabbit population reduces for a protracted period, however, both buzzards and red kite will be sure to follow, although short term, being predominately scavengers, they may have been boosted by the availability of fresh corpses.

Now, I outlined my trials and tribulations with poetry and the written word last month. What few who know me can possibly realise is that, at one time, before comprehensively failing as a scientist, I did genuinely see a future for myself in the arts and, unlikely as it may seem, I attended Wimbledon Art College for a period in the latter half of the sixties.

Sadly this too was to end in misery. The entrance lobby, in those days bore a huge copy of Pablo Picasso’s ‘Guernica’, which inspired myself and two of my contemporaries to suggest we produce a modern, peacetime, sequel on a similar scale, to provide balance on the opposite wall and reflect the modern era of peace at the end of ‘The Summer Of Love’. This we titled ‘The Birth Of Creation’ and, with the blessing of those in authority, duly embarked on our noble project.

We worked mainly on Saturday mornings with massive enthusiasm, and at a pace which mirrored the energy of the time, to produce an enormous collage of embedded genitalia and emergent foetuses, all resplendent in the most brilliant colours available to us. Surely a masterpiece that would endure for centuries.

Now it may be that the worthies in charge misinterpreted our intention but I prefer to believe we were simply ahead of our time and the world was not yet prepared for the magnitude of our collective genius. After all Picasso had his Blue Period too, or was it us that misinterpreted that?

It was not to be. Recognition must surely come eventually, perhaps many years after my death, but the world can never be adequately compensated for the agony of losing this great work.

We saw ourselves as founding a new epoch, like The Pre-Raphaelites, The Impressionists or, as Picasso himself, The Cubist Movement. Instead ‘The Birth Of Creation’ was destroyed and we were effectively asked to leave that erstwhile institution. Demoralised at being unable to form our own dynasty, we drifted off to the pub where we were quick to bond with all the other artists.

My artistic bent soon took another turn and myself and my associates threw ourselves into the music industry with renewed enthusiasm. As the sixties faded into a new decade we must have formed at least half a dozen potential super groups. Who now, for instance, can forget the legendary ‘Target’. OK then, that’ll be everyone.

Likeminded friends succeeded and I could do a fair bit of name dropping at this point, however despite such connections, in a cruel world, we failed again impeded by the minor fact that we had no instruments, couldn’t play any anyway, and none of us could sing. Again, our incredible innovation was ahead its time. Ten years later we could have been huge, in the punk era. Our ability to nut people and gob over an audience was never in question. The strange thing is that throughout life, from then on, I have occasionally been recognised and asked for my autograph, the last time by a nun in the middle of a nature reserve, no, really. I have absolutely no idea why! Does this happen to anyone else? Assuming you’re not Paul McCartney.

Bat To The Future.

The Rime Of The Asian Marinader.

There was a young man from Wuhan

who should have ate meat from a can

but, not liking spam, he fried bats in a pan

and that’s how this new virus began.


Called Covid – 19, it’s too small to be seen,

is particularly mean and makes you breath by machine.

There’s no sign where its been

so just keep your hands clean.


How I wish he’d ate pie,

not bats from the sky.

Now we’re all going to die,

or lose our entire life’s savings due to a huge global slump.


One of The Lakes Trio? Wordsworth? Southey? “No, Coleridge!”, I hear you say, but in fact it wasn’t written by him either, although aside of the substitution of a bat for an albatross, in this particular epic, the parallels in style are patently stunning, yet something so topical could hardly have been written so long ago.

OK, I confess, uncanny as the similarities may seem, it was me all the time wot actually just wrote it. Absolutely astounding! Quite clearly me and old Sam are virtually inseparable as regards poetic style and literary status, despite my massive gift being unjustly curtailed long ago.

The truth is that apart from my Dad thinking anyone rhyming more than two words together was clearly some sort of sexual deviant, when at primary school, in a time ruled by Philistines, I was thrown out of an English lesson and caned for my creativity in writing some iconic verse about my teacher, a rather fierce yet matronly old spinster. Thus the world was deprived forever of my awesome talent.

I know I shouldn’t make light of our awful situation, but without a sense of humour, however dark, we may as well give up right now. For those affected this is a terrible disease, and I may yet become just another statistic myself, it is, however, worth reflecting that even should the projected worst case scenario come to fruition, leaving 40,000,000 of us dead across the planet, that tragic figure will be made up by global population growth in just six months. I don’t know which prospect I find the more terrifying.

We must also retain a sense of perspective; According to information gleaned from newspaper reports and other available sources, while 20,000 continue to starve to death every day, since the outbreak began last December there have, across all age groups at time of writing, from a global population approaching 8,000,000,000, been apx 230,000 deaths, worldwide, attributable to Covid – 19, Winter Flu 160,000, Tuberculosis 450,000, HIV/AIDS 500,000 and Malaria 300,000. In that same period Diabetes (predominately type 2) will have seen off over 500,000 of those under 60 years of age alone and another 2.3 million will have succumbed to drink and tobacco related causes.

The clear inference from these and all the other upper end death stats’ available is that no fags, less booze, fewer pies and more exercise remain better life choices than washing your hands and social distancing, even in these trying times. That’s not to say that we should not all continue to take this terrible situation seriously and abide by the rules currently in place. Every premature death is a tragedy.

In Britain the total number of first quarter deaths (ending this year on March 27th) from all respiratory diseases over the previous four years are, according to newspaper reports, as follows; 2020 – 22,887, 2019 – 23,336, 2018 – 29,898, 2017 – 25,800. On the face of it these are almost ‘cheery’ figures, if death can ever be so, showing a year on year reduction if they are to be trusted. Until the end of this three month period the death rate (ultimately of course always 100%) had risen from the normal background of 11,200 per week by 1000 per week, however figures released by the end of Easter weekend suggested it had risen by 6,000 per week and by time of writing the background rate was said to have doubled, indicating an exponential upward trend from the earlier date going forward.

Definitive truth, these days, is I’m afraid almost impossible to find. The best advice on staying sane and safe in these circumstances remains, if you possibly can, ‘Stay at home and just keep calm and carry on’.

The pandemic, a word itself scarcely used previously, has also spawned a new, must use; ‘Furlough’ which appears to mean that you keep your job for the time-being, even if unable to do sod all, and earn at least a percentage of your previous wage. Previous, must use, words which spring to mind include ‘Diatribe’, which arrived and departed with equal rapidity in the nineties, used by smart arsed Yuppies everywhere, to replace words which simple folk understood, such as chat, talk, conversation etc and the awful ‘Gobsmacked’, for those same simple folk, to replace any sense of shock or surprise. Mercifully, this is also on the wane.

In truth all I’m doing is counting my blessings. The garden has been my salvation now that the weather has finally improved to allow us to get on and spend time in it. We are immensely lucky here, and not only in possessing a garden. With the lockdown in place Hever has shed thirty odd years and returned to the haven of peace and tranquility that prevailed when I first arrived. It appears that ‘the invaders have been undone by the tiniest creatures that god in his wisdom has placed upon The Earth’ (with a nod of acknowledgement to H. G. Wells ‘War Of The Worlds’ and Mr Morgan Freeman for speaking the line in the film of the same name). Even the phone scammers seem to have departed, I’ve not had one of them after me in weeks. Hopefully they’re all dead and not just self isolating!

A strange effect of the current situation has been that some locals who have shunned me for years have started greeting me like their long lost best friend. I have no idea why. Has some false tale been circulating previously and they’ve only just realised the truth? That I’m just a peaceful old soul who wants to be left alone to enjoy the tranquility and simple pleasures of an unspoilt countryside and will do anything I can to preserve that state of affairs while helping and assisting all similarly likeminded spirits.

One newly arrived asset to our lane did, however, take the trouble of wandering down the other day with a couple of written notes for myself and my neighbour, accusing us not only of spreading rumours about her allegedly flouting the current ‘Lockdown’ laws, but of actually filming her son’s comings and goings. A few years back her direct neighbour similarly accused me of spreading rumours about her having run over a cat.

Now naturally I would prefer to be liked by one and all and do my level best not to offend anyone, but quite evidently I’m not such a shrinking violet that I will not front someone up with any gripe I may have face to face. In both of these instances their accusations have been utterly without foundation and I do now know who the actual perpetrators were.

Neither accuser has since offered any apology for their wholly unjustified behaviour. Yet this is no time for resentment, it is a time for forgiveness and acceptance, a time to build bridges. I bear them no ill will for their petty, mistaken, neurosis and, in these uniquely difficult times, after so many years have passed, I’ve even found it in my heart to forgive the lack of appreciation I once received from my one time English mistress, dear old Miss Bunt. I don’t wish to sound too obsequious but I hope that all of my critics may feel reassured to hear that I continue to have every bit as much concern for their negative feelings toward me as I do for the ongoing welfare of last weeks turds.

No need, perhaps then, for a geographical move after all, just a reverse time shift. Most noticeable in our present circumstance is the return of birdsong. With no road or air traffic to either dissuade or drown it, it is the only background sound left. How privileged we are with all that surrounds us. Even the thought of being shut in an inner-city flat, either in total solitude or with a couple of kids for hours on end, is almost too much to bear, but lets just spare a thought for all those poor buggers also affected by the recent flooding, who now seem, in every sense, to have been swept aside and forgotten by the press in pursuit of a new even more dramatic story.

One downside to the fine weather is that it has bought a return of the cycling fraternity to our area. Shoulder to shoulder in their cosy pelotons, liberally ornamenting our hedgerows with their discarded energy drink cans and cartons, they appear to be not only oblivious to any rules governing the public highway but also those more recently introduced regarding social distancing. In all fairness they must, however, be superbly fit, as they appear capable of journeying out from places as distant as Croydon and Swanley, thundering down every lane in the district, and returning home, all within their allotted one hour of daily exercise. Awesome!

Returning swallows were spotted by my neighbour on 7th April (me on10th). The Cuckoo called once on 24th and I’ve heard it several times since, the best for years, or can we just hear them better in the overall prevailing silence?

The local wildlife is already rejoicing in our misfortune and is quickly reasserting itself in our enforced absence wherever I chance to look. However, with even voluntary work on nature reserves in shutdown, the necessary management work on these has mostly been suspended. Well meaning friends, aware of my interests, have often said, “If I came into money I’d buy a large tract of land and just leave it to nature”. Given our current situation there may be no alternative, the problem with that is that once mankind has intervened the natural balance of an ecosystem is destroyed and, without our continued intervention to maintain an artificial equilibrium, we enter extremely unpredictable territory.

Despite that, the watchword of the last decade or so has been ‘Rewilding’, the cautious, ‘managed’ abandonment of large areas of land assisted by the minimum of human adjustment to establish a self-sustaining habitat.

One of the first advocates / prime movers of this way of ‘unmanaging’ land for nature was Frans Vera, who created the famous Oostvaardersplassen reserve on an area of reclaimed land (polder) once designated for industrial usage in the Netherlands. Long heralded as the way forward, his vision and methods were soon being promoted as the future by wildlife trusts and organisations across the globe. Now I hear there is trouble in paradise. Many of the red deer population have had to be slaughtered to prevent starvation and members of the public have been distressed to see, not only their abandoned, rotting, carcasses but many violent fights among the Konik ponies, introduced to control insurgent scrub.

Left for a thousand years or so I’m sure all would be well. The problem is that complex natural ecosystems, such as rain forest etc, take a huge amount of time to establish and strike that essential balance. Once the hand of man has intervened to tip the scales he must continue to do so constantly or there will be many disasters along the way to reestablishing natural equilibrium. This is why setting land aside in mitigation of habitat lost to development can never be more than a futile short term gesture and why planting new trees to replace the 108 ancient woodlands that will be destroyed or damaged by HS2 is such a nonsense. Replacing trees and other features is easy, it is the ‘ancient’ and all that comes with it that takes so long!

And Now For Something Completely Different.

It has always been my contention that we are defined, not by the good times in our lives but by how we bear ourselves when times are tough. My generation has, until now, been a particularly lucky one; well fed, no major wars to fight, fairly affluent and good health care. If we are now to perish we’ve had the best part of our lives anyway. So no gripes from me for once————well———— perhaps just a tiny one————-that all of the havoc which now surrounds us, as millions face death and the whole world grinds to a halt, could have been avoided if some prat, five and a half thousand miles away, had just found the strength of character to resist the temptation to lick a bat’s arse!

I take no satisfaction in pointing out that I’ve predicted such a catastrophe many times over the years. The underlying cause remains the same, chomping on strange animals was just the trigger on this occasion. Bad as things are, certainly beyond the experience of even this old git, the current nightmare is but an hors d’oeuvre for the feast to come, just a taster of that to follow if we continue to breed like flies and abuse the planet on so many levels. In that respect little Griselda Toerag may indeed have a point.

As ever our glorious media is well astride the situation, blasting us with hell and damnation from every conceivable angle, both fact and fiction, to ramp an already dire situation to fever pitch (OK, unfortunate choice of phrase). To some degree I’ve come to believe ignorance is indeed bliss and now avoid, or at least ration my exposure to both news and social contact. After all you can have too much of a good virus.

Other than impending death, it’s no real problem for us retired old folk, still fit enough for a knuckle over bog rolls down at the local supermarket. I do, however, feel desperately sorry for those who live alone, those with underlying problems and the young folk struggling to pay the rent or mortgage, now unable to earn a living and unexpectedly stuck with the kids at home until they’re forty odd. It must be both demoralising and absolutely terrifying.

Above all, this has brought home just how fragile our society really is beneath the thin veneer of civilisation which is now evaporating before our eyes. It has polarised humanity, on one hand into the greed crazed element, selfishly stripping our supermarkets of everything, save for ‘Corona Lager’ (Sales tip: relabel it ‘Vaccine Ale’ and the thick bastards will buy it by the crate) and broccoli, as well as buying up every fridge and freezer in the land to facilitate an even greater capacity to hoard. Against this we have our NHS staff and emergency services, working beyond exhaustion, together with our social services and an army of carers and frontline workers, all of course exposed to the virus to a hugely greater extent than the rest of us.

I’ve heard it said that the whole situation has been exaggerated out of all proportion and that the nation is suffering from a kind of ‘wake hysteria’ which will lead to our being locked into a police state forever. There may be elements of truth in this, yet even I cannot be that cynical and even if I was, surely we must all applaud the efforts of our sadly underrated essential workers who, in this upside-down society of ours also represent the lowest paid among us. Who could fail to be moved the other evening to see everyone, even out here, clapping and banging saucepans in order to show their appreciation for everything they do?

In truth I feel a bit of a fraud in writing this blog as so far I’ve done nothing to help with the situation aside of staying out of the way and trying to keep myself fit and healthy. With over 700,000 responding to a request for 250,000 volunteers, however, I feel a bit surplus to requirements at present. On the other hand, of course, in my younger days I worked for many years in a virology lab. Hence I am fully conversant with sterile technique, tissue culture, and viral analysis, although probably rustier and more out of date than Titanic, with a bit of revision and updating I’m sure I could be of use in a lab somewhere at this time if somebody out there can use me?

Despite everything there are still those flouting the good advice available to us. Put simply, you should be as unsociable as me, just stay put, keep your distance, and wash your hands more often. We here are fairly isolated at the best of times yet my son, his girlfriend, and neighbours only two doors away have already had this virus. Mildly fortunately, as they’re all quite young and fit and have now recovered. Like creating a firebreak to prevent a fire from spreading we really must keep our distance to have any hope of limiting infection, however harsh that may feel.

Niels Bohr’s 1913 paper ‘ On The Constitutions Of Atoms And Molecules’ sought to explain how electrons were able to keep from falling into the nucleus by occupying only certain well-defined orbitals. He postulated the idea that an electron was able to disappear from one orbital and simultaneously appear in another without visiting the space in between. He called this ‘The Quantum Leap’ and in doing so introduced the concept of probability rather than certainty in physics.

Given our current predicament perhaps there are parallels with his radicle ideas. No longer can there be any certainty in life, only probability. Like Niels’s electrons our comfortable, familiar, behaviour patterns must now take a similar leap into a scary new world, as alien to the old as Quantum Theory to Einsteinian Relativity. For the moment our cosy macrocosm has been reduced to an uncertain personal microcosm.

On the upside my own little world around Hever has suddenly and unexpectedly returned to the peaceful retreat that I moved to thirty seven years ago. Barely any people about, but those that are take the time to talk again, albeit from a distance. No traffic, and very few cyclists. Come summer there will be no bloody music festivals, triathlons or weddings at the myriad dedicated venues which now surround us and hence no blaring music or explosive firework displays to disturb our tranquility every weekend. What’s not to like? Would that it could, once the virus is defeated, continue thus for ever.

One oddity is that with negligible air traffic, in the way that we have come to tune it out when at its busiest, now that its gone I am not factoring in its absence. I have, it seems, become immune to this at least.

The overall atmosphere is in fact eerily reminiscent of the early sixties about which I so recently wrote. From choice I have always lived a pretty frugal, fairly spartan existence, therefore, in reality little has changed in my day to day lifestyle. I am not, so far, hungry, neither am I bored, we even managed a takeaway curry the other evening, delivered by what appeared to be a spaceman, but what rankles ever so slightly is that we no longer have any choice in all this and it is that which I find a little disconcerting.

Shall we then emerge from this as kinder, less greedy beings? Hopefully, perhaps even probably, there does seem to be a feeling of unity once more after the divisions caused by Brexit, but the only future certainty is that nothing can, indeed must not, ever be the same again. Yet even as I write, the so called ‘wet markets’ of old China are reopening, fully stocked, not only with cats and dogs but snakes, pangolin, all manner of other strange beasts, and of course bats!

Pre – Virus, Ditches And Nightlights Edition.

In some places such as Southend and Weston Supermare the tide goes out for a huge distance. In this age of precast modular building systems why are we not able to slam in a housing estate or two in these situations before the sea comes back in to swamp the residents? Stupid idea? No more so than continuing to build thousands of properties on the flood plains of rivers and being surprised to find the water rising in the living room every winter.

There was a time when we when we had a more sensible attitude to the inevitable and even managed it to our advantage yet who today has even heard of Lammas land, water meadows, drownwers, brooksmen or lengthsmen? These were all systems and their attendant expert managers now long gone from our landscape. At least that is to say those with the knowledge to maintain them are gone, the systems will reassert themselves come hell or high water, usually the latter, with every period of protracted rainfall.

One of our more recently arrived unworldies was amazed, only the other day, to see the fields around Penshurst (a name eluding to swans – now there’s a clue) covered in floodwater. Yet even back to my earliest memories over sixty years ago these fields have flooded in every winter of heavy rainfall.

These and those like them across the country were once held in high esteem. The drowners who attended them were incredibly skilled in managing the water levels, using sluices, ditches and bunds. With little more than a few pegs and a spade they were able to handle the winter floods to within half an inch, no laser levels then, and ensure an even shallow flood to fertilise the fields with the alluvial silt it deposited and warm the whole to provide the perfect environment for early cropping once it subsided in the spring.

Flooding has been a fact of life in Britain since time immemorial. Not always welcome but understood and generally accepted. Much of the county of Somerset was once managed on that basis and derives its name from the fact that it flooded in winter and was in the main only habitable in the summer, hence ‘summer settlement’.

For me one of the main insanities in our current situation is the way in which the nationwide ditch system has been allowed to fall into disrepair, has been put into pipes , or actively filled in. These extensive systems were once considered essential and held a vast head of water in times of heavy rainfall which slowed its release into our well dredged rivers to ultimately be harmlessly released back to the sea. Not only this but they were a haven for wildlife.

Until recent years our local system supported not only frogs, newts, dragonflies and water beetles etc. but a plethora of water loving plants such as water plantain, celery – leafed buttercup and purple loosestrife. In the main these are sadly becoming little more than a distant memory. Even back in the land of my origins, around Mitcham in South London, a ditch system surrounded the common and ran parallel to the old railway. These, likewise, supported a huge variety of flora and fauna. All sadly lost now.

Few remain locally, they have been filled in to provide car parking or have become blocked with neglect. Some have been replaced with pipes but this is a hugely inferior system. In days of yore the lengthsman would roam his parish, armed only with billhook, crome (a type of long tyned rake), and shovel. Any blockage would be obvious and could instantly be cleared in seconds. Not so with a pipe. First they block more easily and this must then be located, then it must be cleared with rods or other means. If this fails major excavation is the only answer.

The fields beyond my back fence were originally criss-crossed with ditches, until a tidy minded new owner replaced them with a piped solution at considerable expense. Another owner later built a small bower and unbeknown to myself and neighbours drove a corner post through our rainwater drainage system which took a long while and a considerable amount of money to identify before being rectified with a five foot length of land drain. Why, Oh why, are newcomers so reluctant to look to the history of the place or talk to us old lags? It could save a great deal of grief for all concerned and, more than likely, an awful lot of dosh!

The current owner, who has permission for an additional dwelling beyond my fence, and lets not forget that every new road, drive, or building in our countryside is an area of lost drainage, was last seen pumping flood water down a drain in my lane. We have had harsh words in the past but I believe he reads this blog and if he wishes to knock on my door I feel it is time to bury the hatchet. I have aerial photos and drainage diagrams of the site and am happy to help try and solve his dilemma if invited.

The first of March came in, uncharacteristically like a lamb, with a lovely sunny, if chilly, day to cheer us up after a succession of storms had swept across The Atlantic to give us a battering that seemed like it might never end. The downside was that, like a hatch of mayflies, the least flash of sunlight brought forth thousands of accursed cyclists to once more blight our lanes like a plague of fetid locusts. One in particular was shouting something at the top of his voice, and then started flapping one arm at a passing car, as if trying to take off. I can only assume that his razor sharp saddle had become embedded up his arse and was pressing on his brain, causing some form of premature dementia or mad cow disease. Very sad.

It puzzles me that throughout the trials and tribulations of this winter, aside of trampling a Bristol park into a replica of a far eastern paddy-field, Gertrude Bumbag and her warmist cronies have remained relatively silent. Why? With their case made for them, don’t Extinction Rebellion market their cause to us unconvinced doubters by wearing suitably emblazoned hi-viz waistcoats while picking up litter or helping those poor souls afflicted by the rising waters instead of disrupting commuters. Abandoning some twenty tons of trash in Trafalgar Square is not the answer.

Indeed it is truly amazing just how quickly our climate can change (A virus can shut down the world even faster), sliding into another ice age in the seventies, now we’re dying of heat, which according to the new Environment Secretary George Eustice is causing increased flooding. Only eight years ago his predecessor Caroline Spelman was warning The National Union of Farmers to prepare for drought becoming the norm and we were advised to plant our gardens with cacti, succulents and other desert adapted plants. Strange world.

Climate aside I’ve never seen our lanes in such a state. It seems that drivers are no longer able to keep to the confines of the metalled surface while flinging litter in all directions as they hurtle by at ludicrous speed. Our verges have been obliterated this winter and may never recover. I’ve taken to carrying a litter picker when out walking and currently average around half a bin-sack for every mile, week in week out, much of which is made up of energy drinks tins, such as our ‘oh so green’ friends the cycling fraternity are keen on, although I’m sure they can’t be to blame!

I was out in the back garden at the end of February, taking part in the CPRE Campaign For Dark Skies annual survey. We used to enjoy superb inky black skies but recent results indicate we now suffer severe light pollution. In the main this is caused here by every nervous newcomer erecting exterior lighting to deter the thousands of burglars, rapists, and other felons who emerge as soon as the sun sets. You can always spot a townie, they’re the ones who take a torch when walking up the pub at night, much fearful of the bogeyman hiding in the hedge on the way home. What no one seems to appreciate is that in a pitch black environment burglars are unable to see what they are doing either, unless they carry a torch, in which case they stick out like a sore thumb, whereas, in a well lit environment they can go about their business unhindered.

The star count focusses on those visible within the Orion rectangle defined by the four prominent corner stars. The top left of these is Betelgeuse, which is about to become a supernova (anytime in the next 1,000,000 years). That’s like tomorrow in astronomical terms, however, this star has become suddenly, and noticeably, dimmer in the last few weeks which may mean it is collapsing in on itself and is indeed about to blow. Actually by the time we see anything it will have happened millions of years ago but the light has only just reached us. We will not be affected but the result should be spectacular.

Were it not for supernovas we and much else could not exist, as the heavier elements of which we are composed can only form within them. That we have arrived can be in little doubt. Neither can there be any doubt that we are the dominant species, leaving little habitat for anything else. It is quite sobering to note that while there are now over 7,700,000,000 of us on this planet our closest relative, the chimpanzee, numbers less than 300,000. The other great apes are even more scarce. Never fear, Coronavirus AKA Covid 19 is continuing to spread with alarming speed and may well cull a good few of us. Indeed, in the parlance of our inarticulate youth, it appears to have gone viral. No you dumb shits it actually is viral!

If any good can come out of this it may be an instant awakening to just how fragile our whole way of life really is. I think perhaps it is the sudden global impact that has caught us unawares rather than any campaign to postpone some prophetic disaster a hundred years down the road. This is now and you may be dead by the end of the week. Whether its felling the rain forest in Brazil or chomping on bats in Wuhan we must mend our ways right now or perish.

I wrote a few years back about the lack of earthworms in my veggie plot. Now far greater minds than mine have caught on an tell us that these humble critters have reduced in number by a third due to artificial fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides and all the other unnatural filth that we are so keen to use to boost production and hence profit.

The current outbreak of a fairly mild virus has exposed just how fragile modern society has become and likewise humanity’s tenure of this, our one and only home planet. Without earthworms there will be no more fertile soil. Its decay will release untold amounts of CO2 and methane into our atmosphere and food production will plummet close to zero. This will make any pathogen seem insignificant and no amount of brawling in the local supermarket over bog rolls will save us.

Finally, on a celestial theme, as we are encouraged toward ever more reliance on electricity, has anyone considered the implications of a massive solar flare. Not only could this damage the magnetosphere, which defends our atmosphere from the solar wind that would otherwise blast it into outer space, but it would also wipe out all of our electronic systems. Everything, power, communications, the lot!

Can’t happen? On March 12th 1989 Quebec, Canada was struck by a modest solar flare and was effectively shut down for 12 hours. It would take a truly massive one to close down the entire planet but there is no doubt that it could happen at any time and has happened before, in a split second, making Coronavirus look like a leisurely walk in the park.

Cesspits, Marriage and Other Diseases.

Due to ludicrously high levels of over population I’ve long predicted that some great pandemic will arise to knock us back down. So is Coronavirus it? I think not, unless it mutates into something more deadly. This is just a warning of what must follow. We should take it very seriously indeed though, on that basis.

The Chinese have certainly taken the hint. From field to 10,000 bed isolation hospital in eight days flat, wow! Locally, Lingfield Road is closed for repairs to a minor bridge. It should hopefully reopen sometime next year. The British template it seems; Five years in the planning and another five to dither about building it while costs spiral out of control. Anyway we already have a huge isolation hospital in this very parish but I bet very few locals reading this have a clue where it is?

I was a bit critical of young Chris Packham a few months back. In general I remain a fan and no such criticism of his excellent, if frightening, program about our burgeoning 7.7 billion world population. At last someone has had the guts to tell it like it is. Way too late of course.

The truth remains that we have become enslaved by the capitalist system which trades on 10% present reality and 90% future optimism, reliant on continuous unremitting growth. This can only be driven by perpetual population growth and the power of the media to persuade us to buy endless stuff that we don’t need, known as consumerism. This is why no government on Earth will ever be prepared to grasp this particularly inconvenient nettle. Even so, if coronavirus is not about to wipe us all out the world’s largest economies will certainly get very severely stung by the knock-on effects.

Just a timely reminder that the great Earth god Gaia has the problem in hand. Disease, famine and war are waiting in the wings to rectify the situation and, inevitably, we must soon be set to become the only species in history to face extinction facilitated by our own most pretentious boast, technology, entirely because we continue to place greed above even our own survival. Truly bizarre!

As we rush headlong into what must surely be the end of days I am finding it harder and harder to come to terms with the collective insanity of the mass of humanity which surrounds me. I am becoming even less tolerant of my unworldly contemporaries. There are fewer and fewer with whom I can even bother to communicate, let alone argue with. Arrogant and insular? Not me, its the others.

Valentine’s Day again. I’ve been with my dear wife for over forty eight years now, since 1971, despite rather than because of marriage. The sole photograph of our wedding day, in which I appear, shows me glowering like a freshly neutered Rottweiler at the perpetrator, in a turmoil of hatred and self loathing for this, my moment of weakness, as I steamed out of Tunbridge Wells Registry Office. He did take another, a few hours later, after his camera had been surgically extracted from his rectum, which lent it the illusion of a sepia tint, I, however, had lost it completely by then and refused any further involvement.

As may be deduced from my tone I am not a great fan of this hideous nonsense, effectively a state approved ritual for those who no longer trust each other enough to live together, hence I will never, on pain of death, attend another such event, ever! I was, therefore, greatly cheered to see that we, the modern minority, who identify as heterosexual men and women, content to retain the genitalia we were born with, have recently been afforded the same rights and equality as the other 99+ different genders and sexual preferences now recognised in law. That is, we can now enter into a Civil Partnership.

No longer must conformist morons feel obliged to spend a fortune on receptions (hostile or otherwise), honeymoons, rings and other attendant garbage. A simple witnessed form, signed by both parties, to the effect: ‘I no longer trust this other bastard, therefore, I want it understood and enshrined in law that if either partner gets caught shagging someone else, buggers off or simply dies, the other gets a minimum half, and preferably all, that they possess without argument or delay’.

I can live with that. It removes any hypocritical associations and cuts straight to the chase of who gets what once it all goes tits up! The welfare of any children under 18 could easily be covered within the caveat: ‘In the event of any breakdown in the relationship, one party, usually the bloke or equivalent, gets skinned of all they have worked for their entire life and assumed they had a share in, while the other, usually the woman or equivalent, takes everything so long as they agree to get stuck with looking after any spawn of Satan produced or adopted within the period of their union’.

I’m good at this romantic stuff. I may write a fluffy novel or apply for a position as a councillor with Relate. A dating agency perhaps?

Looking back last month to the sixties it does all sound a little primitive with hindsight. In the past couple of years, locally, we’ve seen the last house in the district without power finally modernised and connected to the national grid. No mains drainage of course but as it is situated adjacent to Bough Beech Reservoir it does enjoy free emptying of its cesspit every few weeks thanks to East Surrey Water Company, to avoid any potential overspill, and hence pollution of our drinking water.

I don’t doubt that as part of the building works it has had a septic tank system installed. At home we are still reliant on a cesspit which we must pay through the nose to have emptied every few months. Many have mocked and advised me to go down the septic tank route as it seems have any newcomers moving in over the last few years who seem to make this their first priority. So indeed do those looking to build or develop properties in the near future, including some with permission already extant on this basis. Yet these systems are not themselves perfect. They too must be emptied a couple of times a year, despite having an overflow into the rainwater drainage system for their treated fluids. They also attract maintenance fees to pumps etc. of around five hundred pounds annually.

No matter, all history now! I wonder, how many among my smug nascent countryfolk neighbours and property developers are aware of the recent change in environmental law. Since 1st January this year these systems may no longer discharge into the rainwater drainage system i.e. ditches like that in Uckfield Lane, as their overflowing effluent is deemed below the standard now required by The Environment Agency. They must, henceforth, either connect to a full sewage treatment plant, or a purpose built designated holding field/cesspit. Therefore virtually all of those already extant are now illegal, which calls into question the validity of several local permissions to develop that have already been granted but not yet executed. Big Brother and Old Buzzard are watching!

Not to worry, I shan’t dob anybody in as other proposed changes in the law will soon make me a felon too, but I’m sticking with my antiquated old cesspit for the moment as it is still compliant with all modern requirements.

Our electric supply has improved a little during my thirty seven year residency. Initially we experienced a power cut almost every week. This has reduced over time to approximately one cut of several hours duration every three or four months.

During the aftermath of the 87 hurricane we were off for between two and six weeks depending on exact location. Our solid fuel heating system was our salvation, had we relied on gas or oil we would have had no warmth at all. True we could not circulate hot water to our radiators but we did at least have hot water to wash with and could toast stuff on the open fire. So not for us the push button convenience of the majority.

Heating in our cottage still means coal and logs, yet time roles on even for these simple requirements and we are now informed that this, our only truly reliable source of winter warmth, is to be made illegal from February next year (For the moment we do comply with the changes in that we burn only smokeless fuel, but what exactly qualifies as a dry log?). I would switch to oil or bottled gas but that is soon to go also which leaves geothermal or solar, both of which rely on electricity, and still no mention of who is expected to pay for this wonderful brave new world, extinction Rebellion perhaps?

Until recently ordering logs meant a walk round to the edge of the woods and wedging a note in the doorjamb of Tim the woodman’s shack, not for him even the luxury of a letterbox. Now, however, Chris the tree surgeon has joined forces with him and he has email. Oh the luxury! No more doubts as to whether the message had been received on a windy day. Who’d have thought I would welcome such modernity?

Now although I have no history as far as being a cynical old git goes a thought has recently occurred to me: For as long as I can remember, at least sixty years, we have been told that the world’s oil reserves can last no more than another twenty years. Could it be that this is indeed becoming scarce, or more to the point ever more expensive to extract. Perish the thought but could the major oil companies be paving the way and seeking to preserve their huge profits by making us wholly reliant on another form of energy monopoly, ‘green’ electricity, which they of course will switch to producing, assisted, naturally, by massive government funding payed for of course from our taxes?

I see that HS2 is to come to fruition (given 20 years or so of delay, balls ups and soaring costs). Clearly a far better use of funds than looking after our elderly, sorting out the NHS, restoring our cart-track roads or indeed upgrading existing rail links, particularly in the north or reinstating our rural ditch system and dredging our rivers. Strangely there are many influential fingers thrust deep into the HS2 pie. Huge profits are to be made from white elephants which destroy our countryside and cause misery to thousands, while committing to salving our existing woes may benefit us all but will make no one rich. The choice was never in doubt.

Heathrow’s third runway has, however, been ruled illegal on the basis of green issues. Don’t tell me that common sense has prevailed. Could similar arguments be used against HS2 and crazy road building plans now the precedent has been set? At least I need have no further concerns over funding my own care once I can no longer fend for myself. Better by far to exit this awful crazy world in good time by chucking myself in front of a bulldozer, wrapped in an ‘Up yours’ banner while linking arms with little Betty Thumbturd.

If anyone ever says anything sensible again I might well listen, in the meantime consider this: The British Isles sits on over 400 years of remaining accessible coal resources yet we have long since sacked nearly all of our miners and frown hugely on this foul source of energy, now deemed to be filthy stuff, which as I’ve said is to be banned from our grates in less than twelve months time.

With such noble new green aspirations and our committment to CO2 neutrality by 2050 who then would imagine that in the first two months of 2019 alone we would have imported 1.2 million tons of the black stuff thousands of miles, all the way from Russia, Nth America and Columbia mostly courtesy of opencast mining? Well we did! We bloody well did, amazing!

Finally: The old isolation or fever hospital covers many acres to the left of the railway bridge in How Green Lane heading towards Four Elms. It was much used back in the days of diphtheria, scarlet fever, smallpox etc. It has long been converted to housing of course but the layout and style of the buildings still make its previous use obvious.

Past Perfect?

I’ve banged on a bit here, so no time to get into coronavirus. I’ll cover that and Chris Packham’s 7.7 Billion next month if any of us are still alive.

No one can deny that the bush fires that have devastated vast tracts of Australia are a huge catastrophe but as far as scientific records go this entire continent is only ten years older than the clock in my hall and as I understand things it has been just as hot down there before, even according to records that only date back to 1889, with 1938-9 being particularly bad.

A Royal Commission in Victoria previously recommended a return to the ancient Aboriginal method of ‘prescribed burning’ to prevent forests accumulating excessive fuel loads by regular, controlled, burning of the brush. I am no expert but I imagine there may, like our flooding and the abandonment of ancient drainage methods, be another truth here that needs to be investigated before blaming man-made global warming as the sole villain of the piece.

By the way did anyone notice that the year began with Delhi having its coldest day for 119 years? It was hardly reported anywhere and I have to ask myself If the warmists who now dominate our media are only interested in hot records these days? Surely there can be no bias here?

2018 we are confidently told was the hottest year since 1850. Alternatively, doesn’t that mean that 2018 was cooler than 1850? So what caused all the heat in 1850 then? There are lies, damn lies and statistics is all I’m saying, without pointing a finger anywhere.

With the Profumo affair being brought back to prominence by The Trial of Christine Keeler showing on our TV screens it reminded me just what an eventful period that was. In the space of a single year, from autumn 62 to autumn 63, not only was Mr Profumo in all sorts of trouble, I arrived at snotty Rutlish Grammar School in Merton for five years of endless thrashings, the Cuban Missile Crisis took us to the very brink of nuclear annihilation, we personally endured, and survived, one of the hardest winters in history with only a single paraffin heater for warmth, The Beatles first hit the pop scene and an unknown fighter called Cassius Marcellus Clay arrived on our shores to do battle with ‘our Henry’. Then this mini era was nicely rounded off with The Great Train robbery and an assassination that shook the world.

Immigration was low in those days and our population was around a third less than now. We had one Asian kid in a school of 730 when I started. By the time I left we had two, a Nigerian, an Australian and a Canadian. Go back today and you will struggle to find anyone not of Asian origin. Takeaway meant fish and chips (Jewish/French combination origins, arrived the same year as my house, 1860) or in London, perhaps, pie and mash, all wrapped in newspaper of course, the print of which would transfer perfectly onto hot mashed potato. Exotic meant jellied eels (Brought over by the Dutch to feed the population of London after The Great Fire) or whelks. Curry, Chinese, Italian etc. was a rarity of more central London. Wimpey’s were around, arriving in Preston in 54, Kentucky Fried Chicken got here in 65 and MacDonald’s? not until 76.

School taught me nothing. I hated the place from start to finish. We were bullied by older kids and did our fair share with the younger ones. It was just accepted, almost compulsory, back then. There was no dyslexia, Asperger’s or autism. Barely any ‘ism’s’ at all in-fact, if a kid was ‘thick’ you just hit it until it got clever or died. Many of our teachers were ex servicemen, some liberally sprinkled with a penchant for sadism, and military discipline. After all, the birch was still in use in the wider world in 62 and was last used in the Isle of Man as late as 76. Thrashing kids was not only normal, it was expected.

In adult life, aside of flogging for assault on a prison officer, hanging was still the penalty for murder, treason and arson in HM’s dockyards. Last used I believe in 64, there were undoubtedly a few miscarriages of justice but no reoffenders and not nearly so much costly maintenance of lifers.

The last to serve in what had become the family business, Mr Albert Pierrepoint, who’s biography I read in the seventies, was the acknowledged master of this method of dispatch, his father Henry and uncle Thomas having also been hangmen. Critical of his rivals in the craft, he would always get things right, cell door to dead in under ten seconds (many F1 pit-teams would struggle with that), no pulling the heads off or puppet shows when Albert was in charge. He boasted that he could judge the drop to within half an inch to ensure that not only would the neck break cleanly but the spine would also be ripped into five sections, to prevent any irritating nervous twitching which might delay his traditional ‘post drop’ fag and a cuppa.

Happy times! We were taught that oil supplies would run out within twenty years but, with the advent of nuclear power, electric cars would become the norm and, with this magical source, energy would become so cheap and freely available that it would probably become uneconomic to even send out bills for its supply. It would undoubtedly be provided to every household free of charge within a few years.

With free power and the advances being made in technology it was forecast that the major problem for the future would lie in keeping ourselves entertained during our long and luxurious retirement. In order to give the young up and comers who would follow us into this brave new world a chance to prove themselves most of us would probably retire before we were 35. After all we were constantly being told, between beatings, that we were the top 10%, society’s elite. As a result I’m afraid that many of this glorious institution’s pupils remained firmly up themselves for several decades after liberation.

At the time we were being told all this my family had no phone, no fridge, no washing machine and felt lucky to have a plumbed in bath (many did not) which we used every Sunday night whether we needed to or not. Those without either resorted to a zinc bath, filled by means of a kettle as hot water on tap was another luxury not to be taken for granted, or resorted to a trip to the local slipper baths where a good soak was available for sixpence a bash.

Socks were darned, holed sheets re-sown sides to middle, soap scraps saved in a jam-jar and remoulded into one new bar, rendered meat fat was saved in a basin and used for glorious dripping sandwiches with lashings of salt, worn shirt collars were turned inside out and old car tyres were not only remoulded but often simply recut, which was even cheaper. This meant that the bald surface simply had a new tread cut into it, often down to the canvas liner. I could go on but, take it from me, very little was wasted.

If you needed a doctor and were particularly unwell you got someone to phone from a call box for 4d in the slot and one would call at your home within an hour or so. If you needed to go to A&E you were seen immediately. If you were able to get along to your doctors surgery you would simply turn up, take a seat, and wait to be called (jumping the queue could be fatal), usually within ten minutes or so. The downside to this wonderful service was that if diagnosed with cancer you usually just died horribly and likewise if you needed a transplant of some kind, as for the most part they did not yet exist.

Polio was the nightmare for kids back then although immunisation was starting to eradicate it by 62-63. It was one of my earliest memories of senior school, queuing up for a jab with my classmates, after which we were allowed to keep the hypodermic syringes. Why? that would never happen these days or you’d have the entirety of the remove shooting up before lunchtime!

Until this time children wearing leg irons as a legacy of this viral infection were a common sight. One outbreak I seem to recall was traced back to the kiddies paddling pools at the bottom of Streatham Common. It affected the muscles and could cripple, or worse leave the victim unable to breath unaided resulting in a life sentence of confinement within an iron lung, a contraption the size of a large fridge, which did the work for you. My cousin Marion had it mildly but fortunately made a full recovery.

As I recall, anaesthetic was a luxury not to be wasted on children back then. No dentist in their right mind seemed to imagine the young could feel pain, although a few used an ether pad to render them unconscious in order to stop them shrieking and wriggling unduly. At the age of four (1955. God those T.rex were a pest!) I tripped over a soft toy and split my forehead wide open on the fire grate. The doctor said that I really needed a dozen stitches to close the three inch gash but he would make do with four to spare my pain. Humane or what? Two burly nurses duly arrived to hold me down while I was repaired, screaming the place down all the while, only to return a fortnight later to have the reverse treatment as the catgut stitches were gouged out. Anaesthetic was never an option throughout the whole process and I still bear the scar, which remains as tender to the touch as it was 64 years ago.

I have been ridiculed in the past for saying that it started to snow on Boxing Day 1962 and thereafter snowed, at least intermittently, on every consecutive day for 72 days. I’ll say it again because its absolutely true. In one of our hardest ever winters temperatures went down to -20c at times. In certain places the sea froze for up to a mile offshore and our poor dog ‘Yogi’, reluctant to even go outdoors, was unable to cock his leg in 3ft of snow. We had to tread down great patches so the poor bugger could pee. Then as now yellow snow should always be avoided.

We only had a single ‘Viceroy’ paraffin heater for the whole of our council house back then and our bedroom windows were permanently thick with ice——–on the inside. Throughout all of this my primary school remained open, apart from three days when the boiler broke down, and I like everyone else would walk the mile or so to and fro through the drifts. Me in my grey winceyette shorts, as come hell or high water boys back then did not wear long trousers until the second year of senior school. Chapping was an ever present hazard in any winter, in this one frost bite was a real possibility. Finally a thaw set in in March only for snow to return a week later. Not until April did things finally warm up. The World was rapidly cooling down and we were obviously slipping back into an ice age.

I don’t remember vegetarianism featuring large back then. We didn’t eat meat every day, either because we couldn’t afford to or because, without a refrigerator (We had a meat safe consisting of a cloth mesh supported on a wire frame to keep the bluebottles off and a bucket of water to keep our milk cool. Both systems often failed), or it had become flyblown. Mild infestations were simply brushed off prior to cooking.

Factory farming was not yet widely established which meant that chicken was a hugely expensive luxury eaten only at Christmas or on special occasions. Knackered old laying hens were available more cheaply but these were as tough as old boots and needed hours of boiling to make them even remotely edible. Capons served as stand ins for turkey for many at Christmas, a kind of giant chicken produced by the cruelest of castrations.

Only the very posh drank wine or went on foreign holidays but it seemed that nearly everybody smoked. After all it was good for you and fostered a manly image or gave ladies extra allure. Many top sportsmen of the day endorsed various brands, and rumours were only just beginning to circulate suggesting that it may not, after all, be as healthy as all that! Much of what we owned, which was precious little, included chronic hacking coughs and came via the exchange of vast quantities of Kensitas coupons for ‘gifts’ from their catalogue.

Following The Clean Air Act of 1956, smog was becoming less frequent. Prior to that we had regular peasoupers. We stress today about our inner city’s air quality but I remember my father arriving home during one such episode with this thick yellow haze clinging to him like some sinister mystic aura. Even once the front door was closed it oozed in around the cracks and through the letterbox. You could smell it everywhere.

Blind people were employed to act as guides for the sighted during these episodes, as at times it was so dense that you could quite literally not see your own hand held in front of your face. At every corner or bollard burned a paraffin fog lamp, its naked wavy flame dispersing the cloying gloom for a small distance around it, yet still not enough to stop a double decker bus driving across a twenty foot wide pavement and into the fish shop window at The Swan, Mitcham on one occasion.

I fancy there was less envy or status seeking, as we all had sod all back then and much of what we either lust after today or take for granted simply did not exist for anyone as it had not yet been invented. The average house cost £3,160 in 63 and if you could afford one at all it was regarded as an item of utility, not a badge of status. Warm and dry, yes, comfortable even, but not a pampered palace for display or posing in.

Since the sales boom, prompted by the coronation in 53, telly was just taking off and becoming more common as a household fixture but programs were not broadcast all day and certainly not through the night. Nine inch black and white screen, two channels (initially just one) BBC or ITV and no means of recording anything, spoilt for choice or what? Intrusive, ever present media bombardment was decades down the road.

We took our pleasures without any sense of guilt, after all smoking was good for us and a pint or two did us no harm, pregnant ladies included. Obesity was not an issue even with our fatty diet. We couldn’t afford excess and most worked long hours in hard physical jobs, including housework without the sophisticated appliances of today.

Motorways were in their infancy, starting with The Preston bypass (now incorporated into the M6) in 58, followed by the M1 in 59. With no speed restrictions high speed joy riding, anything over 40mph, was affordable in easily maintained cars, with petrol at five bob a gallon (apx 4.5 litres). That’s 5.5p a litre, in toy money for you children under fifty. You could even park for free when you arrived, and why not?

Just enjoy the moment. The planet was cooling, no one had heard of particulates or problems with CO2 and what the hell, if we didn’t freeze to death in the coming ice-age we’d be vaporised in a nuclear strike shortly anyway. Air raid sirens from WWII were still in situ and were tested regularly. If the note should ever vary from the continuous all clear tone to an alternating wail it meant you had just three minutes to frying time.

Much of our countryside was still unspoilt back then, managed in less intensive ways, certainly far less was covered in housing and tarmac. Insects in particular were hugely more abundant, despite us chucking DDT all over the place, and every puddle, ditch, and pond seemed to hold frogs and newts in season. Common lizards lived up to their name and could be seen on garden walls, even in town if you were stealthy enough. Sparrows were everywhere as were starlings and no open packet of crisps was safe, both somewhat hard to find these days. Otters, avocets and bitterns on the other hand were great rarities. Sparrowhawks in Kent were down to a single breeding pair (certainly not for any lack of prey) and raptors in general were struggling, due to the same DDT concentrating in them at the top of the food chain. This didn’t cause sterility but rather caused them to produce thin shelled eggs that broke before they were viable.

Most of us had our milk delivered to our doorsteps back then, in glass reusable bottles, capped in aluminium foil. Unless you used a pottery cover or similar protective device you would be robbed on a daily basis by the local tit population who would unfailingly peck through the cap and relieve you of the top inch or so of cream. Tits are still abundant and although fewer have deliveries and the trend is towards low-fat, even the gold tops are ignored. Have the tits become less felonious or is something wrong with our milk?

On 22nd November 63 the doors suddenly slammed shut on this mini era as two doses of lead passed in rapid succession through the throat and brain of one JFK as he enjoyed a drive through downtown Dallas. Whether Lee Harvey Oswald was the true culprit or if Grassy Noel was involved I guess we’ll never really know. What is for sure is that those alive at the time will always remember where they were and what they were doing when the news broke on that fateful afternoon. Round my mate Martin’s house as I recall, playing with his Labrador, Honey, in the front room.

Better times? Perhaps not, youth and nostalgia put a rosy spin on most things but I genuinely believe we were happier and more content with our lot in those distant days. Undeniably these were exciting times, with a live for the moment philosophy. We were at the start of the sixties after all. They say that if you can remember them you weren’t there. The summer of love was coming. Was it all sex, drugs and rock n roll? I really can’t remember.

Another Year Backwards.

Don’t even ask about Christmas. The year ended with endless awakenings in the early hours to the tune of my phone telling me my 97 year old mother had been carted off into the night and admitted to The Conquest Hospital in Hastings once more, only to be followed by another call next morning to say there is nothing wrong with her and she was being discharged yet again.

Trust me, extreme old age is no bundle of joy. I’ve not quite arrived there yet myself and I don’t think I’m a callous person but I’ve had over twenty two years of this now, ever since my father passed away, and you do become kind of numbed to it all. A defensive mechanism I fancy to preserve your own sanity. I can never become numbed, however to her delightfully cheering book of death. Rolled out every Christmas morn to log up the mortal toll of yet another year. As can be imagined, at 97, this has grown into an enormous tome (tomb?) of joy, guaranteed to set the mood for the whole of the festive season.

I often think that we are no more humane in our treatment of the elderly these days than the old nomadic tribes who simply left those who could no longer keep up behind for nature to take its course. I just hope that when the time comes I will have the courage to book my ticket to The Great Spirit in good time, before I end up in some piss and stewed cabbage scented refuge, balanced on a pile of incontinence pads, jabbering on about the demise of rurality and slagging the neighbours off. Oh bugger, too bloody late!

Hopefully after three and a half years of anti democratic political stalemate we can finally look forward to some form of resolution of what was a seemingly insoluble situation. Whatever our personal views, even those as senile as me must be thinking enough is enough, lets just get on with it.

I’m not making any resolutions this year. In common with most of the population I never keep them. As for efforts to update my technological skills to at least the latter years of the last century, that can go and $+*! itself!

We recently went to Tunbridge Wells in order to pay Ma’s electric bill; First problem was that you pretty much can’t park without a smart phone anymore, Luddites like me have to pay extra for using old fashioned cash and the machines will only accept certain coinage, invariably the ones you don’t have with you.

Car parked and off to the bank. We went to my wife’s branch as she knows how to do everything there. We had to queue for the single teller as she required change or something. The queue was enormous, as apparently many other Luddites had arrived and the fine array of sophisticated electronic wizardry lining the walls stood silent and unused. Apparently the teller didn’t understand what to do with real flesh and blood people and we remained stationary for over twenty minutes. That the chap in front of us was dressed entirely in red will become relevant presently but for the moment just bear with me.

We decided to temporarily abandon our mission and decamp to Wetherspoons for breakfast before regrouping at my mothers bank to try our luck there. It was great, I highly recommend them both for value and standard of service. You can order and pay by many different means. Oddly I chose the antiquated system of speaking to someone and paying with cash. The meal arrived hot and prompt, together with a large cup of coffee, and we enjoyed a leisurely, meal before departing to continue on our difficult mission.

Breakfast had taken us a very pleasant forty five minutes or so, so imagine my surprise when, as we emerged, I saw the easily recognised chap in red only just coming out of the bank opposite. Wonderful, modernity is bloody efficient I thought.

We rounded the corner to try our luck at my mother’s branch. Spirits soared as we found only two people in front of us. The work of moments. Wrong! The lady at the front must have been enquiring as to how the universe worked, the meaning of life or something, certainly not a simple banking issue as we stood there for another twenty minute session before some confidently besuited chap arrived to rescue us and assure us that one of their smart-arsed flashing gismos could happily cope with all of our desires, i.e. process one transaction.

He stuck our cheque in this way, that way, in fact every which way except where I was thinking of sticking it. In response the gismo spewed forth reams of beautifully printed receipts into what I have long understood had become our paper free world. Of course, although they would have graced the walls of any of the great art galleries across the world, they were all entirely wrong.

Our guiding techno genius finally admitted defeat. We would have to rejoin the queue and avail ourselves of the services of that most obsolete of devices, a human being.

Another ten minutes and the near impossible job was finally done. It had only taken us half a day to pay one bill. So much better than back in the terrible, dark days of inefficiency before computers arrived to enrich our lives, when I could have walked into any bank in the seventies, shoved a cheque over the counter staffed by warm blooded sentient beings, to be rubber stamped, and been on my way in less than ten seconds. Progress eh! However did we manage before?

Speaking of such issues; at time of writing our local roads are running in torrents. Yes, we’ve had a lot of rain but no more than we’ve had many times before. Once we had a complete system of drains and ditches linking to gullies and ghylls which ultimately flowed into The Medway via The Eden, perhaps lingering for a while to warm and fertilise the flood plains with alluvial silt, before continuing seaward to complete the water cycle. The difference today is that we’ve built on the flood plains, around 70% of our ditches are grown over or have been filled in to provide parking for cars and most of our drains are blocked solid.

Before such trendy disregard of practical necessity arrived on the scene we had had, for many centuries, a ‘lengths-man’, the last of whom was called Mr Pocock who lived in a shack opposite The Greyhound, down Uckfield Lane. His job was to roam the parish armed with spade and billhook, clearing ditches and maintaining our hedgerows. Of course when he passed on an opportunity arose to economise on the parish precept and it was not deemed necessary to replace him. His old shack was sold, doubtless for a considerable sum, and redeveloped into a fancy new MFI Tudor palace, replete with impervious hardstanding to replace the front garden. This morning they had a new river flowing past their door, eroding the verge and driveway, but no functional ditches or drainage.

Progress, as I’ve said before, is change for the better. Change for its own sake is pointless, while regression is change for the worse, usually associated with profit and greed. We would be wise to learn one from the other before it is too late.

Do leaf blowers count as progress? Probably not, as I can understand them. They have been in the news recently, being blamed for not only, of course, climate change (What isn’t? Did you know that a single sly fart in London can melt an entire iceberg thousands of miles away in The Southern Ocean?) but the demise of insects across the planet.

I would take issue with this. Obviously they use fossil fuel so there is some input into the warmists CO2 obsession but I used to use them on a commercial scale, clearing the autumn leaves from up to 28 estates of flats. This used about a gallon of 2 stroke, over a fortnight, at peak times and so speeded me up that it probably saved two journeys by van, totalling around a hundred miles of driving.

Back in the day I drove a diesel vehicle because they were supposedly far less polluting. With hindsight, I was the lowest form of social pariah as usual. The government of the day later did a 180 degree U-turn and told us we were poisoning the planet with particulates. Truth be told, I may not have been so bad after all as only a few years prior to that we were confidently informed that we were rapidly sliding into another ice-age which my actions appear to have warded off. A long life gives you a somewhat broader perspective on the bullshit we are fed on a daily basis.

Insects would be unlikely to be killed by being blown, it is if used in suck mode that there may be a problem as they could then be drawn through the impeller blade and minced. However, bear in mind that these machines are used primarily in autumn when very few insects are still active. My contention is that pesticides, loss of habitat, etc are immeasurably more damaging and there is a positive side too. These machines are excellent for gathering wildflower seeds. Used on suck they are great for sweeping whole meadows of seed heads and collecting everything for redistribution. Even then any smaller insects drawn in appear to be alive and well when the bag is emptied.

With my garden being on the small side there is little point in my owning such a device these days, or indeed trying to manage it with a view to attracting vast herds of wildebeest, let alone attempting to preserve the northern race of white rhino with an in-house breeding programme (There are actually only two females left, so fat chance anyway). Instead I concentrate on attracting rather smaller mammals, reptiles, amphibians and of course insects. In this I pride myself that I have been very successful, I was going to include a species list but find that this extends to many hundreds and would probably warrant a book to itself.

Of our herpes (reptiles and amphibians) I boast a regular list a list of five (four of which breed there) out of a potential of twelve native species. As for the minibeasts, insects, arachnids, molluscs, crustacea etc there are too many to count. Not too shabby I feel for a plot measuring around only 80 x 40 feet.

The secret, if there is one, is to leave a few scruffy areas, don’t clear up to much before winter is over, plenty of niches to hide in and loads of flowers, especially native species. Compost heaps, piles of rotten logs and as few chemicals as possible also help but the real must have is a pond. It need not be big, although the bigger the better, or deep, in fact too deep is a bad feature. Mine is no more than about six feet by five and eighteen inches deep in the middle with a shallow shelf around the edge and a boggy area to the rear.

I think this last year is the first in which, hand on heart, I can say I have truly not used any chemical pest controls aside of soapy water (excellent for dissuading aphids from feeding on roses) and one puff of something more noxious, early on, to stop the sawflies once again stripping my gooseberry bushes. Excessive attempts at control can in fact be counter productive on all fronts especially slug killer which can be devastating for hedgehog and song bird populations and further exacerbate the situation by killing off the natural predators of the very pests you intend to control.

I spend most of my time in the garden in summer. In part working on it but largely just looking at aspects thereof. I always puzzle as to why anyone agonises over searching for miracles when they are so obviously surrounded by them. I find a dozen new ones every time I leave the house, you just need to look. I once spent a whole afternoon watching crickets in a patch of bramble down the lane. Its amazing how many species we have but if you don’t look you’ll never know!

If moving about or actual gardening sounds like too much hard work just sit yourself down with a drink and watch. If nothings doing on the ground try looking up, its quite amazing what goes on up there. Don’t flog yourself to death working for money you don’t need. No amount of cash will buy better than this and we’ll all be dead soon anyway. All we need is a decent summer, but at the moment that seems an awful long way off.

Sadly as I was writing about the glory of the garden and our natural world I heard that David Bellamy had passed away. He was once a lab technician at Ewell Technical College where, back in the sixties, the final futile attempts were made to educate me. Unlike me, despite his first love being, perhaps surprisingly, ballet and the odd unblended malt whisky, he went on to gain his BSc, and later became a well known TV presenter and professor at Durham University.

He didn’t get that nose for nothing, like me he would sometimes get into trouble for telling the truth as he saw it, regardless of the consequences. So it was with his contrary views on climate change, which he described as “Poppycock”. He didn’t agree with the establishment stance and voiced his opinions loud and clear. In our glorious nation of free speech, that proved fatal to his public career and he disappeared from our screens overnight. At the time he was president of The Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts, for whom he had worked for over fifty years. They dropped him like a hot potato without even bothering to tell him. He found out when he read about it in the press. Loyal bastards!

Grapple me grape nuts, we desperately need a few more like him now, freethinkers who cannot be bought, in our bland, brainwashed world of new-speaking politically correct pigmies.

Happy New Year.