Thursday, 30 January 2014

Pete Seeger: a tribute…

We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome, some day
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
We shall overcome…
– Pete Seeger (3 May 1919 to 27 January 2014)

Pete Seeger’s music played the role of a mostly subconscious soundtrack to a large part of my life – from childish singalongs, to a burgeoning, teenage awareness that music could be political as well as emotional… – and it remained thus, in the background, until Bruce Springsteen released We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, in 2006. (Similarly, I had not taken much notice of ‘The Boss’, until I was given tickets for a gig at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane stadium, in 1988: which was one of the most memorable – and wonderfully, thrillingly long – concerts I’ve ever been to; and which resulted in a sudden, large influx of vinyl onto my groaning shelves!)

That album awakened an active interest in Seeger – the man, his words and music; his story, and steadfast beliefs – and, at one stage, too many repeat playings of The Byrds’ version of Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season) (notable for being an almost verbatim listing of lines from the Book of Ecclesiastes – with the addition, in the closing line, of “A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late”: preceding John Lennon, I suppose, by quite a few years…).

Seeger, along with quite a few other singers, also adapted an old gospel song to produce We Shall Overcome – and I think it would make quite a good (protest) anthem for the Tysoe Residents (Neighbourhood Planning) Group: particularly with its line “The truth shall make us free”, and its applicability to that pivotal word, ‘sustainability’. As Keith Risk proclaimed at the planning hearing, three weeks ago: “Gladman may quote the word ‘sustainable’ in their application, meaninglessly; we give that word meaning.”

Seeger once said that he wanted “to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other”. Although I understand (and concur with) the sentiment, Tysoe, I believe, is proof that this already happens; and no looking backward is needed. That doesn’t make us unique, of course; but, in my experience, it does make us rather rare (but, hopefully, not endangered: as around 90% – and rising… – of the UK’s population lives in cities).

In the States, I accept, things may be different (although I like to imagine that all small North American towns are just slightly different riffs on Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon: “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average” – not unlike our village, therefore…). Politicians would obviously like us all to believe that the almost sociopathic arrogance, selfishness and solipsism that they demonstrate, are attractive qualities, which are both prevalent and aspirational; but it is readily apparent that, in a small – and, dare I say, tight-knit? – community, such as ours, it is empathy and sympathy that bind most of us together.

Seeger also said: “Be wary of great leaders. Hope that there are many, many small leaders.” And we have many such generous “small leaders” in the village, working on our behalf – sometimes ceaselessly; sometimes silently; but often unpraised. It is easy to take them for granted (or even ignore them) – that is, until a crisis, such as the Gladman application, comes along: when we then expect those leaders to pull out all the stops, sacrifice their home lives, their work – their privacy, even – to charge in and rescue us (as did Keith Risk). We should, instead, be continually asking what we can do to support them – whether this is by similar hard work; or just acknowledging their presence even when all is well; all is quiet; and our environment is peaceful and undisturbed.

Until Gladman came along, the monthly Parish Council meetings had been ill-attended; and, already, the number observing their proceedings is rapidly and sadly waning (from the hundreds that attended October’s special planning meeting). PC chairman Mark Sewell – and his brothers David and Percy – contribute so much to the village, though: asking, it seems to me, nothing more than Tysoe’s continued wellbeing and prosperity in return. They are at the heart of this village; and their blood runs riverlike through it; and yet all three are intensely modest as to the parts they play. “Being generous of spirit is a wonderful way to live,” commented Seeger; and we should repay their generosity in kind, whenever we are able….

Thank you, Pete Seeger, for such inspiration. Your words, music, and spirit, live on; but you will be sadly missed. We shall overcome.

I feel most spiritual when I’m out in the woods. I feel part of nature. Or looking up at the stars. [I used to say] I was an atheist. Now I say, it’s all according to your definition of God. According to my definition of God, I’m not an atheist. Because I think God is everything. Whenever I open my eyes, I’m looking at God. Whenever I’m listening to something, I’m listening to God.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The holes in Government promises – a rant…

I read the news today, oh boy
Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire
And though the holes were rather small
They had to count them all
Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall
– The Beatles: A Day in the Life

Two items in the news really got to me, over the last couple of days – firstly, from the BBC:

Ministers are considering changing trespass laws to make it easier for energy companies to carry out fracking beneath people’s homes without permission.

…and, in The Guardian:

In a speech to small firms, the prime minister will claim that he is leading the first government in decades to have slashed more needless regulation than it introduced…. Among the regulations to be watered down will be protections for hedgerows and rules about how businesses dispose of waste, despite Cameron’s claims to lead the greenest government ever.

Combine this with articles in CPRE Warwickshire’s latest Outlook magazine – one detailing “The Planning System in Crisis”; and another by CPRE’s chairman, Sir Andrew Watson: “Our country is under attack” – and I was in a right foul mood….

So, what happened to “Vote blue, go green”? Well, it went the way of all the coalition’s empty promises and obviously hollow lies… – straight into the rubbish bin. They haven’t even bothered recycling it… – yet.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Invisible to the touch…

I broached the subject of my health (or lack of it) in my recent post, All the diodes down my left side…; but left the social aspects untouched.

When people meet me – I was going to say: “and when they don’t know how ill I am”; but this also applies, in reality, to many of those who see, or know about, my walking stick and my hearing aids, etc. – they (still) judge my look, my cover: as most of my physiological impairments or differences are well-hidden – after years of hard-earned practice. Parts of me are, like the curate’s egg, though, “excellent”. However, it is those bits of me that are “bad” – and that would define me under the still dominant medical model of disability – which most people Fosbury-flop to their conclusions about: especially as those “bits” are, on the whole, so invisible.

When you set up home in a new place (especially if that location is an unknown, surprising delight), it too is a thing of an undiscovered quality and quantity.

How do you therefore find out about its hidden defects; how it differs from presentation or perception; what lies beneath? Do you visualize what is long-lost; and stare lovingly at twee old pictures of (what is now) your bygone village?

Imagine you are the new resident of (let’s call it something trite, like) Manor Close (leading to Ridge Way, and Furrow Cul-de-Sac, perhaps?). Do you even know that the village (its spirit and/or community) hates where you live; and fought long and hard to stop you moving here? Or do you accept (or ignore the fact) that all new housing developments – especially in what was countryside (which, basically, means every house ever built, of course…) – are (initially) despised; and its residents tarred with the same spite? Perhaps you put it down to NIMBYism (thankfully, mostly absent from Tysoe…); and are grateful for the lovely view, past the ridge, towards Oxhill, from your conservatory?

What if you did know all this, though? Would you feel guilty? Would you still have moved there (the house, is, after all, a fait accompli; and someone has/needs/wants to live there…)? How do you pay penance (if at all…)? Do you help fight the next development that comes along? Does this make you two-faced…?

I honestly don’t know the answer to any of these questions – although, usually (again, with “years of hard-earned practice”), I am pretty good at putting myself in other people’s sneakers… – and truly hope they remain rhetorical. But, to be honest, I don’t want to assume that I could know….

It would be easy to make assumptions, though; and imagine that we have that uncanny ability to know what other people (would) think and feel. It’s an easy – but, perhaps, well-concealed – heffalump trap.

When you look at me, do you stumble, headlong, into the same deep, dark place, I wonder…?

Friday, 24 January 2014

Prolegomenon to an unfinished novel…

The conscious stone

Towards the distant coast winds a river, painted glaring, blinding bronze: brightness in the dull shades of evening grey. Widening through shapes of chalk-orange, resting on the weary land, this silvered ribbon pillars heavy, slow-moving cumuli that obscure the sun, the source of day – and, although man’s star hides, seemingly averse to viewing the twilight it has created, filtered beams silhouette reaching mountains to a greyness darker and more melancholy than evening should allow – even in its dying.
      On this landscape floats a pale drift of mist: smoothing the closing of day with a uniform, nebulous blanket. The phalanx of rising hills surrounding the river plain cuts sharp through this haze, though: casting a stark, undulating, steely blackness on the earth, which blurs into a mottled presence pervading all with an air of finality.

Time flows smoothly and strangely over life: dying always – yet always quick with the living joy of present love. Falling slowly into sleep, ever wakeful it lies, bedewed with a tender, glistening warmth.
      Sound – of birds returning to nests and night-dreams – falls with the clarity of light; and time slumbers fitfully into night’s angry void.

A lone figure meanders along the river’s rough edge, below the grass and sand seemingly hewn by some blunt, inaccurate blade away from the water and stones. His feet crack the surface of pebbles constantly: a shattering but non-destructive noise echoing in the dusk. He is trying to walk away from his past, and a future that his withered history seems to have forced upon him. He takes little account of the land – dimming and darkening under the grip of arriving night – his feet propelling him instinctively over the uneven ground, beneath the bruised clouds: ripping pink, soft flesh from his hands as he falls, suddenly stumbling, perhaps prompted by the sudden distraction of a stray flicker of silver-and-gold orange light glistening on a strangely clear pebble now immediately before his eyes.
      The fingers that groped emptily through the air as he stumbled now reach for the sudden stone.
      Walking along the pebble-dashed beach, he had only been looking for some general resolution of his tangled and mourning thoughts; and yet this imparticular search had led to this strange, clear pebble: small, wondrous and quite, quite beautiful. Still prone, he fingers the stone with his torn skin; gazes into it, not knowing its purpose, what to do with it. He knows, though, it has relevance and importance. He stands, puts it in his pocket, wipes his hands clean on his coat, and walks on.

The stone hides: both from its previous owners – the unthoughtful tides of sea, sand, salt and sun – and the new: quite unaware and forgetting man. As he walks, more frequently and more frantic in thought, the pocket lining which cocoons it also nurtures it: drying, protecting, preening and polishing; bringing out, in the darkness, secret effects and energies to be released only for him.

And, as he walks, time passes still. As the river it passes: leaping over obstruction almost with joy; then resting slowly and sometimes sadly in pools and smoothness. As the river flows even when not seen, so the stone’s warmth begins to burn into the man’s consciousness; and so he wanders.
      Many such journeys are travelled before the inevitable hand of time forces his to grasp the hidden pebble. It lays in his palm, warm as a new egg, and as precious, as fragile. What he suspected before seems now obvious: and he is proud. He knows why, he thinks, it lies there, pulling him and the thoughts deep inside. He transfers the cleaning and cherishing from accident to intention. He knows what, after time has danced so long, the attempted catharsis of his meditative rambles has finally achieved. This concrete cathexis must be his salvation.

As time continues to fulfil its wanderlust, the man hides away in his room, cleaning and polishing, night after night; but the glean and shine have reached stasis. However hard he works, the attraction cannot be refined or improved. But the suspicion of meaning he has imbued it with is now a certainty. The inkling is definite: he knows the relevance, the values, the worths. He is thus content.

A sadistic wind, cursed with a primordial sadness more ancient than the firmament’s very existence, pulls wildly at the night, whipping up an evil gale that arches clouds violently across the peering, thin moon-face. Although its greatness is veiled in a ghost-grey turbulence, a serene light lies on the land, under a bronzed orb of dark, blue sky. Whispers of primeval rites – echoes of foreboding – rise and fall in the swell of air, pulsing and breathing. Yet these murmurs are stifled by a rush of intoxicating fury so full of strength that the universal cyclorama seems to scream with the torment and anguish of Erebus: translating the sharp, cutting pain that grasps the travelling soul into sounds terrible and piercing.
      The air weeps as a young child: large, emotional, spasmodic gasps interspersed with moaning sighs and silence – sobbing for the man’s sorrows, his sins. The night breathes: in aweful grief and sufferance.
      Rain spits grey on the land – not in tears though: these writhing clouds sweat in conquering their hurt – misting the not-too-distant hills and mountains; and, as some benign drug, blunting the stabbing blade which pierces the man’s almost unconscious thoughts – as the moon can night.
      But, gradually, the storming ceases, and rapidly twinkling eyes now mirror new celestial harmonies. Silence reigns the humble kingdom of man; sleep, its chancellor. Soon the Plough and the jewelled belt of Orion glimmer above as if touched by some faint ethereal breeze born of the former chaos.

It is this glimmering that the man now holds in his hands: a new sudden stone, strange and clear; small, wondrous and quite beautiful; and yet, to his fog-bound eyes, utterly, utterly different; and, in its way, more obviously lustrous. Another pebble.
      His increasingly habitual, thoughtful meanderings, have led him to this spot, and he has lain for hours, staring at his answer.
      And he stares.

Time flows smoothly and strangely over life: striding quickly – or stopped still. Standing this night, borne by a glowing earth-shine sphere, the crescent moon beams brilliant on time; whilst a sister planet cruelly transfixes the brittle ice of Earth’s darkness. All is gagged peace: as dead time.
      As the dawn scurries, pale and white, over the wakening hours, the man’s fixation fades quietly, ebbing as the tide of blackness. Gentle birdsong glistens around him, aspiring to lighten the crying shadows of the mind; and echoing replies shimmer as sun’s painted dew. These are the morning’s crystal teardrops. These: the beautiful, incandescent, softening comforts of living.
      ​And as the light arrives with the explosion of sun over the hills, the man also rises; and runs.

A lone figure stumbles incautiously, seemingly trying to escape life; trying to run, to rush, to race away from history. His feet and hands propel him instinctively over the cropped grass, the stones and rocks: up the scree, towards the bruised clouds, ripping pink, soft flesh from his fingers. Fortune clambers with him. But such a god is more fleet of foot, more nimble than a more mortal, and soon wins easily ahead of his breathless companion. Into the haze scampers Fortune, apparently deserting his charge – disappearing.
      Without luck, alone, lonely, the man is lost. In his maddened dash his body stammers. Again, he falls: groping emptily. The sharpened teeth of the mountain’s side pound him unremittingly. A lifetime passes. He is silent. Torn physically and mentally, he lies in agony and hell at the foot of his would-be murderer: the earth he supposed his friend. Fortune watches; but sleep wrenches the broken man’s consciousness from him; and his soul, now a lone wanderer on the air, surveys the dismal scene, as if from afar.
      And he dreams.

In his mind, his feet take him home to his room, his hands clasped tightly around his new treasure. In several continuous day-nights he gives to it the many months of care and attention afforded before to the other. He struggles to find the corner of his dream wherein lies this other. The precious previous. Gathering dust.
     With his love, the stone grows and grows in richness and depth. The beauty rises every morning with the sun, but never fades. A continual growth. Eternal. Were his imagination concrete, he would be dumbfounded. He would not know how to deal with this set of packed images, were it real. The reality overwhelms the man. The stone grows in beauty; and takes him over from sleep.

The stone grows and grows in richness and depth and beauty beyond his love: beyond the love he is sure he deserves.
      Eventually, he sees the first one, lying passive, with innate knowledge of its influence upon him. The thought of this image comforts him, but somehow lacks the obvious excitement engendered in the second.
      And he cries.
      He tries to polish the original with all his remaining might; his tears falling like the original rain and night on the stone. Is there then a new, trying glimmer, a new effort of attraction – or is it just the salt in the man’s eyes?

Two pebbles side by side. Time is passing inevitably – flown to this point. The man wipes his eyes, and looks down. Side by side are two identical stones. After, through, all this time, he still cannot now differentiate between them. Such different initial qualities, such similar final attractions. Why are they now the same? Knowing that, for his secret purpose, he should only require the one.

Towards the distant coast winds a river, painted glaring, blinding bronze: brightness in the dull shades of evening grey. Widening through shapes of chalk-orange, resting on the weary land, this silvered ribbon pillars heavy, slow-moving cumuli that obscure the sun, the source of day – and, although man’s star hides, seemingly averse to viewing the twilight it has created, filtered beams silhouette reaching mountains to a greyness darker and more melancholy than evening should allow – even in its dying.
      On this landscape, though, floats no pale drift of mist: the closing of day brings a sharpness and clarity of earth; the phalanx of hills rising and surrounding the river plain stamping its giant’s feet firmly on the land, cutting only into the cloud and sky. The stark, undulating, steely tear-salt blackness cast on the ground, a presence which pervades all with an air of never-ending finality. A phoenix may rise.

Time flows fitfully; and there is utter quiet.

A lone figure meanders along the river’s rough edge: the feet cracking pebbles; the hands fingering two such that are now symbiotic. From some inner impulsion he drags one from his pocket. For the first time, the man is seen to speak:
      – Before we part for ever, this you must know: that I have loved you beyond knowledge.
      Knowing not of the future nor of the past, he throws the stone as he would have rid himself of Excalibur.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

All the diodes down my left side…

“I didn’t ask to be made: no one consulted me or considered my feelings in the matter. I don’t think it even occurred to them that I might have feelings. After I was made, I was left in a dark room for six months… and me with this terrible pain in all the diodes down my left side. I called for succour in my loneliness, but did anyone come? Did they hell. My first and only true friend was a small rat. One day it crawled into a cavity in my right ankle and died. I have a horrible feeling it’s still there….”
– Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I’m nowhere near as paranoid as Marvin – and I do have enthusiasm – but my body is (as the 1990s football cliché goes) definitely one of two halves.

Sometimes, I am actually grateful that what are euphemistically described as “neurological deficiencies” are concentrated “down my left side”, though; and that we drive on the left (thus making an automatic a sensible choice…). Most of the time, though, I wish I could shake off that side of my body; and somehow replicate my better half (as it were). However, there’s the rub. As with much of our physiology, some of my left-sided pain, of course, stems from damage to that “better half” – because of the direct, transverse neurological links.

I wonder if villages have similar (collective) thoughts…?  Or is this what Bards are for – to represent (or be) the genius loci…?

Although there is, as yet, no sign of an appeal from Gladman (although these are early days…), every time I pass, or walk through, that field on Oxhill Road, I can’t help but imagine the huge carbuncle (or dead rat) that would result – should they win – sitting there: a terrible scar being opened in the ancient earth; followed by horrendous ‘surgery’ – taking place over two or three years – polluting the village with noise, dirt, congestion, and perpetual, unsustainable, damage. (The vision that actually comes to mind is that of the Uruk-hai of Isengard, in The Lord of the Rings; or even the penultimate chapter of that book, The Scouring of the Shire – which, perhaps, is more apposite: especially as Mark Sewell, the chairman of Tysoe Parish Council opined, to the Sunday Times, that “the shires are under attack”.)

Disregarding any arguments about heritage, for a moment, though: I have a feeling that this “fourth Tysoe” would never truly integrate with the rest of the village – not because we are unwelcoming: after less than three years, I feel a true part of the community (although the new residents would soon become aware of our fight – which they would then perceive was against them…) – but because it won’t have evolved from what already exists. It would not be a true, integrated part of the village – even though directly connected – but stuck on badly, like some young child’s blindfolded attempt at pinning the tail on the donkey. It is completely without context (as well as suitability; and is, of course, without the village boundary, too…).

It would, however – whilst imposing its lack of sustainability on all of us – rely on its connection with the rest of the village (its “better half”) for its infrastructure and services, its prosperity and survival (although I do not believe it would contribute much to the local economy…) – even though it had caused us such irreparable harm.

I assume there were similar thoughts when other large developments took place in the village: and, maybe, we are therefore ‘big’ enough to welcome such new residents with open arms?

Eighty households in one go seems a bit of a stretch, though, even for us. Perhaps – as Stratford District Council’s draft Core Strategy proposes – fifty to seventy-five houses, over the next sixteen or seventeen years, will be more manageable; and will build sensibly and meaningfully on the way the village has grown, over the centuries, with just a few new houses appearing every year.

When people ask how I cope with the pain that demarcates my left side, my habitual response is that, after nearly eighteen years of practice, I have become pretty much an expert at coping with it. It is always there; and I can never ignore it. But we have reached some sort of truce – although, quite frequently, it doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain!

Coping is not ignoring. In fact, it is the opposite… [learning] to live with… pain in a realistic context… the beginning of a series of steps that give a sense of understanding and a type of control.
– Patrick Wall: Pain – the science of suffering

If the worst comes to the worst, then maybe we, as villagers, will reach a similar “understanding” with “the huge carbuncle” sitting on our left side? A large part of me actually hopes not. We may need such an example to remind us to fight the next one that comes along.

“Have you any idea how much damage that bulldozer would suffer if I just let it roll straight over you?” said Mr. Prosser. “How much?” asked Arthur. “None at all,” Mr. Prosser replied.

Friday, 17 January 2014

In memoriam Robert Graves…

Of Mirage and Echo

      “To love beyond infinity,”
My godhead said to me,
      “Not even to divinity
Is granted – nor shall be.”

      She searched through her inventory
Of mortals quick and dead;
      “None such in any century
Are listed here,” she said.

      “Except…” – and here her finger traced
The heartbreaks and the lies,
      The trusts and promises erased,
The bluffs of compromise –

      “Except there is a partnership
Outlasting words and wars,
      Exceeding clear the farthest tip
Of miracles or stars:

      “A truth of perfect unity,
A heart and soul that fly,
      That soar beyond eternity:
That is… but you and I.”

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

O may my heart’s truth/Still be sung…

I love frosty mornings (and snowy ones); and always have. Not for their slipperiness, of course – which can be ameliorated, a little, by the judicious use of my constant companion of a walking stick; or advanced driving (which can soon be demolished by a thoughtless tailgater…) – but for the extended ‘golden hour’ of photographer’s (de)light; and for the lethargy (or desperate hunger) of animals usually too wary to approach.

Today’s late, bright, crisp dawn heralded such an “hour” – although there wasn’t much joy in scrubbing and scraping the overnight frozen rain from opaque car windows (especially full of a stinking winter’s cold…!) – a ravenous squirrel rewarding my patience and determination, once in Stratford, by leaving its arboreal haven to munch and scavenge just a few feet from my muddy boots; and a huddled heron priesting the banks of the Avon, by Holy Trinity, in the winged willow above my head – almost a museum exhibit in its patient meditation (a wicked glint in its eye demonstrating its true purpose: angled, as it was, with that spear-like beak, towards the still fast-flowing river…).

As I wandered opposite, along the Rec, a while later, the sun now creeping over my shoulder, the grey heron was still there: quizzically gazing at a fellow busily chattering into his mobile phone – as if to ask why his presence wasn’t companionship enough… – the only birds caring to exercise in flight being swans, barking in time with their beating wings; and raucous gulls, fighting over the scraps of bread from rare pilgrims, like myself.

Poem in October [excerpt]
Dylan Thomas

      It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
  And the mussel pooled and the heron
  Priested shore
  The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the net webbed wall   
  Myself to set foot
  That second
  In the still sleeping town and set forth.

I could hear Thomas’s almost accentless Welsh-style lilt run, riverlike and warming, through my sunstruck mind, as I “walked abroad in a shower of all my days” – perfect music: especially for moving “Through the parables/Of sun light” on a morning I could never forget; his singing words so much more melodic than mine.

PS: I’ve always had a soft spot for badgers – and have been glad that they have played a small, but significant, part in defending our local heritage against development. However, I’d have invested in a few, if I’d known they were worth over £4,000 each…?! (Puttocks.)

Thursday, 9 January 2014

An open letter to Stratford-upon-Avon Herald…

Sir: On Wednesday night (8 January 2013), after over 360 letters of objection had been sent to the district council, hundreds of Tysoe residents then turned out, in the rain, to support their representatives at a meeting of the council’s Planning Committee (East) in a packed Kineton High School; and to hear, after a couple of hours debate, that their arguments for local heritage, suitability and sustainability had been listened to, and understood; and that the committee were voting unanimously against a proposed development of 80 urban-style houses on the edge of the village.

80 may not sound too big a number, when compared to other sites in the district; but, for Middle and Upper Tysoe, it would have represented an increase in houses of over 20%, and a population increase of around 30%.

The following morning (Thursday, 9 January 2013), Nadhim Zahawi – who, of course, has a house in Tysoe – warned of the “Coalition’s ‘legacy’ of rural harm” in the Daily Telegraph. I believe his actions could not have been better timed, nor his opinions better expressed. And, although our MP could not attend, last night, he has been supportive, throughout; and his condemnation, in these pages, of “rapacious developers” has, in large part, been driven by the quiet battle being fought here. I therefore congratulate him (and I am a member of the Labour Party) for his understanding and representation of both the issues and his constituents.

Although I agree in principle with what he has said, I believe that the current format of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is, in reality and practice, strong enough when defending against the corporate greed of those, such as Gladman Developments, who show no local understanding or sympathy. And this was clearly demonstrated, last night, on a local government level; and has been proven, without doubt, by the hard work of the members of the Tysoe Residents (Neighbourhood Planning) Group, under local resident, Keith Risk; allied with the staunch work of Tysoe Parish Council, led by Mark Sewell.

And even if Eric Pickles does finally impose – as our local councillor, Gillian Roache has stated: “urban grain more suited to Peckham” – on our tiny, rural community, against English Heritage’s objection, and the council’s views and decisions – that is only because localism, as conceived by this Government, was obviously stillborn.

What is needed is for national government to help – rather than constantly hinder and harrow – local government: who have been trapped by national policy and hollow words, when it comes to localism and David Cameron’s purported Big Society. What is needed is for Government to stop outsourcing their duties and responsibilities. Please stop blaming Stratford District Council: they are not ignoring their constituents; they totally understand the issues – as Wednesday’s planning committee proved – and are trying, as demonstrated by their recent actions, to make the best of a lose-lose situation imposed from above.

“Where are those who will stand up for Stratford?” asked one of your letters, this week. Well, some of them are on the front page, in Preston Witts’ article. Others are working quietly, but effectively, in local parishes. If all those who kept complaining to your newspaper mobilized as the residents of Tysoe have, and turned their hundreds of words into hundreds of hours of action and all-night graft, then maybe there wouldn’t be the need for such a question.

I know this will inflame many of your readers (and probably members of my own party: with its obvious echoes of right-wing work ethic). But I make no apology. Instead of moaning, Tysoe got off its collective backside; educated itself thoroughly in the relevant national planning laws; and fought – and marketed – a memorable and strategic battle. We may not yet have won the war; but I do feel we have shown the way forward; and that our actions have spoken much, much louder than those who simply resort to words.

Think different…

Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently – they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.
– Steve Jobs

“Think different” was Apple’s slogan for a long time; and, those of us fighting Gladman’s proposed development on Oxhill Road did exactly that. Because we had to. And thus won the first battle of what may yet be a protracted war. (Again, because we had to.)

Last night, the district council’s Planning Committee (East) voted unanimously against the request for outline planning permission; and, in doing so, cited reasons almost identical to those we had listed in our briefing paper to them.

As far as I know, nothing like this has ever been produced before. But, when you are limited to six minutes of speech at such a meeting (three for the Parish Council – the wonderful Mark Sewell – and three for any objectors – in this case, the magnificent Keith Risk, of the Tysoe Residents (Neighbourhood Planning) Group; flanked by resident experts Professor John Hunter, OBE, and Dr Michael Sanderson), surely common-sense would dictate that you detail your arguments in some way or other? One that is attractive, readable, and meshed deeply with the planning regulations the committee are to be reliant on? (And not just common-sense, neither. Think of this from a marketing perspective – or even from a lobbyist’s point of view – and suddenly it’s not such a difficult thing to justify. Obvious, really. Just – because it’s never been done before – bloody hard work. I’ve never seen a blank canvas quite as expansive and empty….)

There are no rules when it comes to campaigning. I think they have to be broken, and remade anew, every time – especially as each campaign is different, too. However, we did rely on some – those “planning regulations”, mentioned above – by using the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), and throwing it back in the faces of those who would use it to justify development at any cost (or profit); but without considering that, at the heart of the NPPF, is a presumption in favour, only of sustainable development: “which should be seen as a golden thread running through both plan-making and decision-taking”.

Not so crazy, then. Just a little, as our American cousins say, “left-field”.

Have we changed the world, though? Well, the jury, I’m afraid, is still out on that one….

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Water, water, every where…

With the floods trickling through Tysoe, last weekend, but overwhelming Oxhill (enough, so village rumour states, to transform the old treatment plant into a mere sieve – and causing the local water company to deploy two boxy, dark green machines, I presume in its stead: appearing, like cuboid alien spacecraft, out of the blue – and then dropped into it…), it would seem a difficult argument to make that “there is sufficient capacity” with regards to local drainage, and that dumping several hectares of concrete and tarmac on a field of ridge-and-furrow next to Oxhill Road is therefore “a low risk”.

It would also seem an odd time to cut jobs from the Environment Agency – partly responsible for building, maintaining and controlling flood defences – and then claim (as has the PM) that a reduced budget for these is actually an increase.

Villagers have long known – from experience, rather than desktop-bound “hydraulic modelling” – how devastatingly the run-off from local storms distributes itself: oozing out of well-maintained drainage ditches, to pool in local fields, threatening our farmers’ livelihoods; banishing all but the foolhardy, and those in 4x4s (not a mutually exclusive pairing), from our narrow, winding, and occasionally sinking lanes; and even the developer’s own engineers admit that the local “soils are poorly draining and therefore have a low capacity to absorb excess winter rainfall…”.

Additionally, it had already been revealed – before said developers came along – that the treatment plant was at its maximum capacity – which means that any storm discharge goes straight into Wagtail Brook, bypassing any treatment; and only a small proportion of sewage gets processed.

So where does this parallel effrontery – from both government and commerce (again, not a mutually exclusive pairing) – originate: that produces such barefaced assertions?

The easy answer, I believe, is greed. All a business, based over 100 miles away, cares for, is badly-needed profit. “Sustainability” is a mere buzzword; damage to the environment (local and global), and people’s lives, not even distant thoughts, mere wisps, or glimmers; not even a faint electric impulse weakly echoing around their little grey cells.

Ours is a society now based on self, on solipsism. The only reason to (pretend to) care for someone, to befriend them, is if they can improve your life. They can then be disposed of – as the land will be to those who think Peckham-style “urban grain” would look nice tacked on to a rural village of over 1000 years standing (rather than the integrated medieval field) – along with any mere wisps or glimmers of empathy, of altruism, or of the greater good. Of hope.

The only glimmer I can currently see is one of Tysoe’s rare street-lamps, reflecting in a pool of flood-water.