Roads To Hell, Pathways To Paradise.

A while back I wrote that only The Establishment truly rules our once great nation now and that Parliament has become little more than a sop for the gullible. Democracy is dead, if ever it was alive, in truth it was never more than an illusion and voting has now been clearly demonstrated to be a futile waste of our time and energy. Our politicians have betrayed our past heroes to ensure we are now trapped in a gutless, undemocratic country where our so called representatives, elected in good faith, for the most part ignore the will of the majority in order to further their own views. This has made us the laughing stock, not only of Europe, but the entire world. Anyone want to disagree now?

Aside of loathsome parasites I may have mentioned previously that there is much else that I dislike in the modern world, such as saying ‘like’ every other word, starting every sentence with ‘So’ or ‘OK’ and restaurants that can, seemingly, no longer afford to provide plates and insist on serving food on slates, bricks, lumps of wood etc while inflicting ‘artisan’s bread’ and a dish of rancid olive oil on their customers rather than warm rolls and butter.

Not least among these irritating boosts to my blood pressure is air kissing. Now I’ve nothing against a decent hug from a lady with whom I’m well acquainted or even a sly grope with one I hardly know, so long as the wife doesn’t catch on (Its OK she never reads this). What I don’t get is the nervous, pseudo fondle with some old duck you’ve only just met, where you sort of loosely encircle them with your arms and suck on the air three inches behind their left earhole for an unnecessarily long period of embarrassment before nervously disengaging. Tongue round the tonsils and a handful of whatever’s on offer or nothing for me, thanks all the same.

Another thing; people in audiences who whoop! What’s wrong with them? Has a spring gone in their seat? Have they just been shafted from behind, or are they retarded in some way?

By the time anyone reads this month’s offering I shall have passed my sixty eighth birthday, hence the noticeably more mellow, politically correct, tone of my presentation. In less than twelve years I shall be eighty, if society is unfortunate enough to still have me around. The worry now is whether enough time remains for me to grow up and what to do with the remains of my life, other than griping about virtually everything since The Vietnam War, before The Grim Reaper catches up with me and I am forced to return my aged carcass to the universe for recycling.

Speaking of ageing, I see that Nigel Benn is to make a comeback at the age of 55 – 23 years after his last fight. Is that wise? True the late, great ‘Old Mongoose’, Archie Moore, fought an up and coming Muhammed Ali at that age and managed to last four rounds, but really?

Its not the fitness or even physical hardness that go, although after such a long lay-off punch resistance is bound to be an issue. The real problem is reaction time and no amount of training can recover it. You may feel 100% at fifty, sixty or even seventy, judging from personal experience, but your reactions will have slowed, perhaps imperceptibly, and in this game a fraction of a second is the difference between avoiding a blow and a broken jaw. Nevertheless, ‘Good luck with that Nigel’.

Although personally still a young man, I have so far failed to return to the boxing ring since last year’s adventure, not because I am unwilling or feeling my age, but rather due to a lack of company on the way to the gym and the fact that they will not allow me to spar at my age. Now I’m not dopey enough to want to fight some stonking great, super fit, twenty five year old but to travel some ten miles and pay just to do exercises that I can replicate at home seems rather pointless. Its not violence that appeals but there is something elegant and addictive about the movements involved. A bit of gentle sparring also works wonders in focusing concentration and relieving stress, even if it may involve the odd thick ear or bloody hooter. Neither is it about machismo or vanity, its about keeping everything mobile and staying as fit as possible.

With those simple objectives in mind, I continue to workout with the same vigour as I might in the gym for around two hours a session, three times a week, focussing on as many muscle groups as I can, including sessions of aerobics and flexibility. My knees are much better, four years after retirement, and I can now run again, a little, without the sharp pains that used to afflict them. All in all I feel great and with my mother still going at ninety seven I may yet have a good few years remaining. I might equally well drop dead tomorrow so I’d better get on with it.

At the start of the month we left Hever to continue in its determination to shed its long held title of ‘rural England at its Tudor best’ in favour of the now preferred ‘anything goes entertainment theme park of the south east’, and headed in the opposite direction once more, mainly just for a break away but also to take a look for an alternative.

It may sound like a clichĂ© but its been a great year for the roses, with unusually little black spot for once. There were also a large number of brandy bottle beetles about earlier in the year, Those metallic green ones with large swellings on the male’s thighs, although I can’t imagine there is any correlation between the two.

I’ve always been a naturalist, ever since I could walk, but as a young man my birdwatching tick-list was a simple one; A lovely blackbird with a pair of great-tits, then, by the time I’d finished having a good look at the bush I would be ready for a lark, perhaps even a goose, on the way to the seashore and may well have got a woodcock by the time I arrived for some puffin and, with luck, a shag or two before teatime. Maturity, however, brings increased sophistication and a desire for some more adventurous twitching, so what could be better than a trip to one of our greatest nature reserves, Minsmere, in order to further this ambition. Thus it was that we duly arrived at The White Horse at Sibton a few miles inland to recharge our batteries ready for an avian day out and a few forays into the rest of the locality.

Imagine my horror, next morning, to pick up the newspaper over a relaxed breakfast and read an article concerning the proposed new Sizewell C. Always on the cards, it was assumed that a half mile long jetty was to be built in order to facilitate the supply of building materials by sea. OK, if it must be done, that makes sense, but now some genius has come up with a money saving idea to upgrade eight miles of railway track, by-pass several currently tranquil, picturesque villages and supply the millions of tons of material required by road. This will mean a daily movement of around a thousand lorries a day for the next ten years.

What an excellent idea! Forgive the unfortunate pun, but this means that EDF will be able to kill two birds with one stone (perhaps with every stone) and not only save money but potentially ruin Britains premier nature reserve and a large part of the entire Heritage Coast at the same time. Bargain! You can make your own views known at loveminsmere.org

That potential insanity aside, which is quite rightly attracting huge opposition from the locals, and surely cannot be allowed to come to fruition? This part of Suffolk remains, at present, every bit as attractive and remote as North Norfolk with even less in the way of random development. Such as there is seems to be confined within the region’s existing market towns and appears to have been relatively well integrated. The whole region still seems to retain the sense of peaceful rurality that we once enjoyed at home.

Living in the moment, we put worries for the future aside and headed off to Minsmere with expectations of buzzing hoards of insects and flocks of rare birds as far as the eye could see in the unseasonably warm weather. Probably not the best time of year, admittedly, but this was the deadest place I have ever visited. For the entire morning we saw absolutely nothing, aside of a myxy rabbit in the car-park, zero, although towards midday we did get to see what was my first ever wild otter in one of the scrapes.

The afternoon was marginally better, as we visited the more open heath side of the two thousand acre reserve, with some dragonflies, a pair of stonechat and a few avocets. Just a bad day? Maybe. A visit to Dunwich Heath the next day revealed a stunning blaze of purple heather as far as the eye could see, replete with plenty of dragonflies and grayling butterflies, but things ain’t what they used to be, anywhere. Song birds are disappearing at a pace of knots. Our morning chorus at home has become little more than the occasional tweet and whereas in my youth the briefest road trip would result in a windscreen obscured by the shattered corpses of a thousand insects I drove from Kent to the depths of Suffolk and back without a single observable fatality. We should be very worried.

I may have appeared a bit sceptical about some green issues of late but I’m really not, I’ve been convinced for many decades that we are a filthy, greedy species and that mother Earth would benefit hugely from our rapid demise. With all the misinformation out there and the near impossibility of knowing what passes for truth these days I’m just a bit cautious in accepting the science and motivation behind the Climate Extinction thing and whether we can do much about it anyway, although young Getta Iceberg and her cronies do have a point with the capitalist system. As I’ve been banging on about for donkey’s years, any system which relies on perpetual growth must ultimately fail. We had far less when I was young and yet people seemed far more content with their lot.

Its great that we are at last waking up to the way in which we have abused our planet and that so many young folk have finally become motivated to protest about an issue that until recently they would have readily dismissed as the province of boring adults. Even so I remain hugely sceptical of those with a vested interest in advancing their sometimes skewed solutions, if indeed they are realistic solutions at all. For my entire adult life, at least forty five years, the conservation movement, myself included, have been ignored or treated with contempt so why, suddenly, are our views, long dismissed as the raving of imbeciles, now being presented as a revelation of urgent genius when the time for effective action probably passed, despite our protestations, back in the seventies when informed scientific opinion was that the planet was cooling and we were slipping back into an ice-age.

One of the fashionable solutions is to eat less meat as best estimates are that today we share our planet with over 1.3 billion cattle. A report by The United Nations as long ago as November 2006, hopefully a reliable source, stated that 18% of greenhouse gas emissions emanated from the guts of domestic livestock, cows being by far the biggest contributors. To put that into perspective, that’s 5% more than is generated by the entire global transport network incorporating road, rail, sea and air.

I find those figures hard to believe, but have to accept that in continuing to eat meat I am confirming myself as a two-faced hypocrite, as I could no more slaughter an animal than fly to The Moon, yet I am happy for others to do my dirty work, while I munch on a juicy steak. So what is the answer?

Many partial vegetarians delude themselves that it is more humane to eat fish, as they cannot feel pain to the same degree, however, recent research by Dr Lynne Sneddon, of Liverpool University, concludes that in fact they do feel pain with similar intensity to mammals such as ourselves. The majority of those we eat are of course sea fish, gutted live and fully conscious on the conveyor belts of trawlers, without being stunned in any way. Just because they can’t scream and don’t bleed too much does not mean they feel no pain, it just helps to salve our higher feelings.

A wholly vegetarian diet does not appeal to the majority of folk I’m afraid and there are issues with vitamin deficiencies which have to be addressed by popping a pill or two. In truth you can live perfectly well on a diet consisting solely of potato, whereas eating only rabbits would very soon result in death from a phenomena known as rabbit starvation. If anyone ever proves that spuds feel pain we’re in real trouble.

The solution which would serve to reconcile most consciences would probably be met if we could perfect the growing of meat artificially from tissue culture, my old sphere of operations, but what the environmental implications of that may be I have no idea. The only unarguable yet truly inconvenient truth remains that we have massively overpopulated our planet and cannot, at current levels, help but destroy it. If there were fewer of us, chewing on dead animals, there would be nothing like so many belching, farting herbivores contributing to its demise either.

A particularly dangerous development which I have heard rumoured, but can hardly bring myself to believe, even in gutless, undemocratic Britain is that it is about to be made illegal to deny that climate change is taking place. If true this marks the end of reasoned scientific debate on the subject and the promotion of one sided propaganda in order to brainwash an entire generation. Yet another retrogressive milestone along the route which ends in the total loss of the right to free speech in our now pathetic nation.

At present I don’t imagine that I have so far breached any of the coming ‘New Speak’ laws but with a ton of coal ready stashed to survive the coming winter it can’t be too long before I get the midnight knock from the thought police and am carted off to be incarcerated in some cosy solar powered cell for my dreadful crimes against humanity. I just comfort myself that at least I may thus be spared extortionate care home fees in the incontinence of my twilight years.

The fact remains that, whether we are allowed to say so or not, long before we arrived, over the last three million years in particular, The Earth’s climate has fluctuated wildly between long periods of severe cold and shorter mild interludes. Recent evidence indicates that flips between the two can occur over very short periods in geological terms, certainly within a human lifetime, and I believe that we need to just calm down and be very sure about exactly what is going on before taking any radical actions. We’ve (Homo sapiens that is) only been around for about 160,000 years and the industrial revolution, which we hasten to blame, only began a couple of hundred years ago, while climate change has been going on for eons.

About 252 million years ago, with not a human being in sight, The Great Permian Extinction is now thought to have begun with vast quantities of methane bubbling to the surface of frozen seas where, having accumulated due to bacterial decay over millions of years, it had lain trapped beneath the ocean floor.

As the Earth’s tectonic plates ground together to form the super continent Pangea carbon dioxide may well have spewed from volcanic vents in sufficient quantities to start the thaw. The eruption of giant bubbles of methane was the worst news for life on Earth in its entire history, before or since, culminating in the demise of around 70% of all land species and up to 96% of those in the sea. Even the later event that wiped out the dinosaurs did not begin to compare.

Methane is not only about twenty times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, it also reacts with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide and water. Over around twenty thousand years this locked up huge quantities of atmospheric oxygen, reducing levels from 30% to only 12%. Among thousands of other species this spelt the end of the giant insects such as huge dragonflies (Meganeura), with wingspans well in excess of two feet across, as their simple respiratory system could no longer cope with the reduced levels. Peat forming plants suffered similarly, until evolution produced new species capable of surviving at the lower levels. The old ones effectively suffocated meaning that coal deposition ceased for around seven million years.

Now the bad news. Actually fairly old and possibly very bad news. I must credit all of this information, and much of the previous to Christopher Lloyd’s riveting ‘What On Earth Evolved’, first published in 2009. My wife knows him, so hopefully he may not sue me for blatant plagiarism: ‘While studying methane emissions from beneath the Arctic sea Dr Orjan Gustaffason and his team from the University Of Sweden have discovered a series of ‘chimneys’ on the sea floor from which, in some places, large bubbles of methane are escaping at more than a hundred times the background level.’

Is history starting to repeat itself? Could this, rather than my winter fuel eccentricity and a billion plus farting cows, be the real reason for any warming over the past couple of decades? If so its going to take rather more than a few electric cars and a couple of solar panels to fix it. Giving up your ham roll will make little difference. In fact I would make the most of it while you can as if this is true we’ve almost certainly had it!

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