Friday, 28 February 2014

The return of the Night Wasteman – Sustainable Tysoe?

By Mike Sanderson

Tew sat on the ridge and furrow outside the manor. This site was now the infamous site of the first battle of the second English Civil War, or War of Localism. Ironic, really, as you could see the first battle site in the first civil war from here. Tew couldn’t decide whether he was a goody or baddy. Hence his contemplative mood.

Like everyone else he had been suffering the fallout from the banking crash of 08. Things were changing though. The bankers had placed a jet stream or flying island over the Vale of the Red Horse and blocked out the sun. They’d done this because they didn’t think the inhabitants had made enough PPI claims, which was the only way bankers could lend money after the government got on their case. Like many other government inspired initiatives this produced unintended consequences. The deployment of the flying island meant it had started raining heavily in 2012. Flooding was rife in the vale. Ridge and furrow (aka SuDS) had been ploughed out and what were SuDS? Anyway some investment bankers who weren’t in the PPI scam had turned their hands to speculative development (SD), as allowed under another government initiative (the bumPF). These bankers were known as Flashmen (hence the term, FSD). Flooding was bad for FSDs.

The field he was sat in was the site of an FSD. FSDs would lead to increased flooding in the vale. Now Tew knew about these things. His original role had been to recycle night waste. But now the speculators needed to dispose of the bumpf a different way because there weren’t enough SUDs. He could be back in business and move over to the dark side. All he needed was for black bins to be designated as night waste bins and the disposal of such waste to become a section 106 reserved matter.

– Originally published in the Tysoe & District Record (February 2014: no.741)

Monday, 24 February 2014

The good strife…

The modern artist must live by craft and violence. His gods are violent gods. Those artists, so called, whose work does not show this strife, are uninteresting.
– Ezra Pound

I was talking to a good friend of mine, recently – Duke Senior to my Jaques; or Corin to my Touchstone…? – about the conflict or strife that we both believe is at the heart of artistry. Having written, drawn, composed, and designed things for most of my life, I have always been interested in what motivates or fuels the process of creating. [Interestingly, ‘motivated art’ is defined as that “produced under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs” – but I think imagination, or whatever spurs one to produce something (hopefully, original and interesting), is medication (and motivation) enough: often pushing you in directions you would never have dreamed of, if not under its influence. (Although I am still convinced that I play the piano much, much better after two pints of Guinness, of course.)]

A lot of creative people I know, or have met, talk about “striving” for their art – but modern-day usage seems to have disunited the word ‘strive’ and its sister ‘strife’ (implying that one is good, one bad): even though both appear to have joint thirteenth-century origins in the Old French ‘estriver’. Strife itself, as a noun, is usually defined as “angry or violent struggle; conflict”; whilst striving, the verb, is about making “a great and tenacious effort”. Yin and yang?

Going back even further, Hesiod – who lived towards the end of the eighth century BC; and who I suppose you could call a ‘farmer-philosopher’ (whose natural successor, therefore, is Tysoe’s legendary character, Tew…) – discusses these two types of strife in his seminal Works and Days: classifying them as good competition and bad conflict.

So, after all, there was not one kind of Strife [Eris] alone, but all over the earth there are two. As for the one, a man would praise her when he came to understand her; but the other is blameworthy: and they are wholly different in nature. For one fosters evil war and battle, being cruel: her no man loves; but perforce, through the will of the deathless gods, men pay harsh Strife her honour due.

But the other is the elder daughter of dark Night [Nyx], and the son of Cronos who sits above and dwells in the aether, set her in the roots of the earth: and she is far kinder to men. She stirs up even the shiftless to toil; for a man grows eager to work when he considers his neighbour, a rich man who hastens to plough and plant and put his house in good order; and neighbour vies with neighbour as he hurries after wealth. This Strife is wholesome for men. And potter is angry with potter, and craftsman with craftsman, and beggar is jealous of beggar, and minstrel of minstrel.
– translated by Hugh G Evelyn-White

This isn’t to say that great works of art haven’t been inspired (if that’s the right word…) by great conflict – such as Pablo Picasso’s overwhelming Guernica; Benjamin Britten’s intense and moving War Requiem; and most of Wilfred Owen’s published œuvre (never to be surpassed…) – plus, of course, there have been official ‘war artists’: such as John Nash, Stanley Spencer, and Eric Ravilious. It could also be posited that this blog would not have existed were it not for the local war against unsuitable and unsustainable development….

I did write, though, in an earlier post, that my work “stems from antithesis, from conflict: whether flippancy and earnestness; art and science; good and bad; happiness and sadness”; and it is this inner friction, I suppose (combined with a wish always to improve, to learn) – rather than the external competition Hesiod describes – that often initiates inspiration, and then translates it into prolonged perspiration (usually interspersed with huge chunks of doubt…). As Blake put it: “Without contraries is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence.”

If I lost this urge, I would – having experienced it all my life – feel its loss as keenly as the removal of one of my senses. (And being hard of hearing – and currently completely anosmic: due to the ravages of some awful virus… – this isn’t just mere whimsy.) But do those who never (or infrequently) have such an impulse miss it too? I often hear people wish that they could play a musical instrument: but this is usually in comparison with someone who already does; and usually is mere whimsy.

The prompt for my discussion with ‘Duke Senior’ was the (apparent) lack of creativity of modern Denmark: apparently the happiest nation on earth – followed closely by Norway and Switzerland – and thus lacking “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower”. [I must admit that – as with the old challenge to list famous Belgians – I struggle to name any creative Dane since Carl Nielsen (whose Det Uudslukkelige symphony echoes the First World War…): apart from Arne Jacobsen – and he died in 1971!]

As Harry Lime says in The Third Man (an impromptu line, added during filming, by Orson Welles himself…):

You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

Although historically inaccurate, it does have a convenient ring of truth to it!

Does creativity really, therefore, require strife or conflict – internal or external – to exist; or even to succeed?

I believe it at least matters. And I believe it is visible; made manifest. It seems that in many of the arts – if not all – the artist has grown to be more important than the actual art, though; the idea more important than its implementation. There is no strife (and it could be said that the only god is Mammon); and I believe its absence in many glib, calculated, knowing – mostly modern – supposed works of art is also, therefore, visible: which is why I believe it “will undoubtedly be seen as crass and talentless; and will fall into the Room 101 of already-discarded, faded-from-memory, trash.”

It may be crafty; but it lacks craftsmanship. It may be artful; but it ain’t art.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Church Farm caught in the middle…

I started writing this piece solely (and, all being well, concisely) about the revised plan to build a lesser number of homes on the land next to Church Farm Court. Although the original proposal for twenty homes is currently at appeal, a new application for planning permission, for nine houses, has very recently also been submitted.

I’m not so sure how cutting the number of “units” like this goes much – if any – of the way to meeting the original objections: and therefore I (who normally chooses each word carefully, when writing…) dashed off the following annoyance at the presumption that a compromise could be reached (or forced) in this way – dredging up from the back of my mind the reasons I remembered that both made sense to me and others, the first time around. Substitute the church for the manor, in fact, and many of the same reasons of non-sustainability for refusing this development can be taken from the village’s rejection of the Gladman development on Oxhill Road.

This will be the first development that most visitors to Tysoe will see: and it does not represent the current vernacular (it is actually extremely unimaginative); nor does it take into account – as it says it does – the way it will affect the first views of the church. It is also the first step in joining Middle Tysoe to Lower Tysoe; and whilst the original application for 20 houses is still in appeal, I do not understand how this new application can even be considered – apart from scale, surely most of the original reasons for refusal still exist?

Its effect on already-congested traffic in this area of Tysoe – especially as it is very close to the primary school – must surely be a major sticking-point? And yet another public footpath in Tysoe will be surrounded by houses, rather than countryside, as a result of this development….

I know that Tysoe must accept development: but surely, as a village, it deserves something more suitable, more imaginative – and more sustainable – than this?

I’m generally not one for compromise. As the thesaurus will tell you, you can “compromise your principles”; and compromise – as a verb – can be synonymous with “dishonour, discredit, shame”: you can be compromised. I am more of a binary, intransigent northerner.

Which brings me on to how this particular essay suddenly morphed a little, and expanded its remit – bringing in a new, improvised, middle-eight, almost… – whilst I was watching television, last night: specifically The Man who Fought the Planners: The Story of Ian Nairn.

Ian Nairn is one of those people whose name I vaguely knew; whose attitude to modern planning I thought I sort of understood. He certainly influenced many of my favourite architectural critics – Jonathan Glancey, Jonathan Meades, Owen Hatherley – and, therefore, many of his views have percolated through: helping me form my own attitudes to the built environment. Although born a southerner, he had always wanted to be northern (good man!); and, somehow, from beyond the grave, managed to get Newcastle (which he always pronounced correctly) listed as his place of birth on his death certificate. He certainly had the right sort of bluff attitude we’re supposed to be famous for.

I talked in my last post about what we would want to sit on the outskirts of Tysoe, if such developments were permitted; and how ordinariness would not do – which I strongly hint at, as well, in my above submission to Stratford-on-Avon District Council (SDC).

As English Heritage have pointed out: as you enter Tysoe – Middle Tysoe, to be particular – from the A422, the first built thing you see is “farmstead”. We therefore need something that will complement this, if we are to develop there (which I hope we do not…). But, again, all that is proposed stems from the unimaginative short-cuts afforded by technology: which produce quick and easy-to-build results that take no account of context or aesthetics. (And coating everything we build in ironstone simply isn’t the way forward… – unless you think Ronan Point, clad in ferruginous Hornton stone, would look just right in a field between Middle and Lower Tysoe.) As Nairn so pithily put it: “A view is a two-way responsibility.”

Do we need, therefore, to train special ‘rural’ architects? Most of those plonking plans on our village seem to have no clue how to design, other than for urban settings; and just about all of that is repetitive, tedious and unwelcoming – or pastiche. Nairn had a word for this sort of urban-grain sameness that is rapidly becoming the standard fare of the English parish: ‘Subtopia’.

Subtopia, in a nutshell, means making the same sort of mess of the whole of the countryside we’ve already made of the edges of our towns.

He also wrote that “The outstanding and appalling fact about modern British architecture is that it is just not good enough.” And, sadly, I don’t think this has improved much in the almost fifty years since he put pen to paper. Indeed, it may have gotten worse….

Yes – as I said in my statement on SDC’s planning portal – we need to evolve, and grow, as a village: but surely not so we compromise the beauty of the place; our principles on suitability and sustainability; or our heritage?

For Nairn, the essential quality of buildings really lay in how they shaped people’s lives, rather than in any innate, commonly-defined architectural value. He was interested in not just the beauty of buildings, but the beauty of the communities that lived in those buildings.

Tysoe is, to me, as a relative newcomer – which maybe affords me a slightly fresher, more objective view of the place – such a ‘beautiful’ community. However, as the gaps get filled in, we seem to be losing the distinction between the three populations – and identities – of Upper, Middle and Lower Tysoe; as well as our overall, unified sense of (the) place: blurring together as one Local Service Village, before compromises in planning then make us appear just like every other. Jonathan Glancey, in The Guardian, wrote that Nairn “so wanted everywhere to be different when everywhere was threatening to be the same”. So do I. So should we all.

I notice that SDC’s planning portal simply says “Tysoe”. (And you’ll notice that, in dashing off my angry response, I – sadly and stupidly – fell into the same Newspeak trap.) How important, though, is it to residents to maintain these separate identities? Is it sad that Upper and Middle Tysoe have merged – albeit for the provision of badly-needed (then) affordable housing – or that Upper and Lower Eatington are now simply now known as ‘Ettington’…?

Do you think that the architects who drew (a word that no longer connotes manual labour and craftsmanship; pencil shavings and drawing boards…) the plans for the land adjoining Church Farm Court even considered such questions, or the ideas behind them? They probably would have dismissed them as irrelevant to their brief – which, I would guess, has more to do with economics. Jonathan Glancey again: “Nairn truly detested the way we were selling (as we continue to) our landscape, our townscapes, for a mess of nothing worth looking at, much less living in or handing down to our children.”

It doesn’t matter to the architects – or the developer – that their proposed designs are not fit for purpose; are not suited to the local beauty; are the foundation stones of a bridge that will soon span two locales: finally, after centuries, uniting (but not in a positive way) our three villages of Over, Church and Temple Tysoe. It does not matter that they will blight our community, its identity and history. As long as a compromise can be reached, and economic gains made, the project will be deemed a success – by them, at least. As the old joke goes: it’s a question of mind over matter. They don’t mind. And we don’t matter.

The Outrage is that the whole land surface is becoming covered by the creeping mildew that already circumscribes all of our towns…. Subtopia is the annihilation of the site, the steamrollering of all individuality of place to one uniform and mediocre pattern.

Monday, 17 February 2014

What do we want? When do we want it? Never…

Playing devil’s advocate, if – and I stress (again), if… – Gladman were to be successful, what sort of development would we want (or need) to appear on Mr White’s field: given that we would have no choice in whether building took place; but we might have one when it comes to what building took place, courtesy of our nascent Neighbourhood Plan?

Watching the first half of Jonathan Meades’ Bunkers, Brutalism and Bloodymindedness: Concrete Poetry, last night, on BBC Four, it struck me that we could use the opportunity (should it arise – and I, for one, sincerely hope it does not) to build something out of the ordinary.

What do I mean by that? Well, firstly, I have to concur with Mr Meades, and admit to being a lifelong fan of what was misnamed ‘New Brutalism’ (a misunderstanding of ‘béton brut’: meaning, simply, raw concrete – which would make the Pantheon ‘brutal’…): my personal favourite being the Barbican, in London (which I know at least as well as Arthur Scargill…). Secondly, I am not proposing that we build a mini Unité d’Habitation – however stunning – on the outskirts of Tysoe. (That would be stretching the elastic band of suitability beyond breaking-point.) Thirdly, nor am I in favour of a Poundbury-pastiche-style of housing estate (again, a place I know well – and hate – principally because of its Legoist ‘New Urbanism’ so-called architecture; but also because of the ruined views from, and contexts of, Poundbury Hill and Maiden Castle).

There is, of course, a final proviso – which was also pointed out by Meades – that whatever art is now popular (and, believe me, architecture is art), it was frequently misunderstood, derided, even hated, by the majority, at the time of its creation. This goes for music – e.g. Beethoven’s fifth symphony – and literature – Ulysses – as well as the obvious examples of Picasso or my beloved Henry Moore. It takes a long time for people to move beyond inherited opinion; for progress in any of the arts to reveal the splendour that was there all along; for it to be understood and appreciated. (This is not to say, of course, that all of what passes for modern art – e.g. chainsawed sharks; coloured dots; jingly-jangly, non-tonal ‘music’ – will be seen as classical, or works of genius, in the future. Some of it will undoubtedly be seen as crass and talentless; and will fall into the Room 101 of already-discarded, faded-from-memory, trash.)

Parallel with this is the fact that we don’t expect art, film, literature, or music (just) to be beautiful (depending on your definition of beauty…). Emotional: yes. Engaging: I would hope so. Effective and expressive: of course. Elegant (or pretty): why…?

So we come back to the subjective subject of suitability. Tysoe is surrounded by beautiful countryside; rolling hills; the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB); the fertile flood plain of the Stour – and is therefore not deserving either of little urban boxes “all made out of ticky tacky”, and which “all look just the same” (think Trinity Mead: a cloned nightmare of thoughtless, lack-of-designed, front-garden-less, enclosed misery); nor of a “concrete monstrosity” (as some would have it…).

According to Meades: “something that is universally tolerated is likely to be pretty boring. Anything that’s any good, and original, is going to incite hatred as much as it does adoration – because of the very fact that it’s so unfamiliar.” And, as you’ll have guessed by now, I agree.

It would be easy – and obvious – to just copy the style of some imagined Olde Tysoe; learn it by rote; and then reproduce eighty examples of it all mindlessly over the field (not that we are a village of uniform styles: having evolved over centuries). But should we be so led down the path of least resistance by “universal toleration” and sameness? Our victory at the planning hearing was led by a full-frontal charge of sustainability – and this could be our sole chance (until, perhaps, legislation catches up), as a group, to develop something with this as its lead objective. Couple this with a power-generating wind-turbine, or two, on Tysoe Hill, and Tysoe would become a shining, green beacon: generating profit for its residents, as well as power; and publicity (of the good kind) for a community that actually practises what it preaches.

There are many such examples already out there… – not that we should repeat them by rote, either. We should be leaders; not followers.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

One rule for one; another rule for many…

The Countryside Code is a set of recommendations (or rules) for all visitors to rural – and especially agricultural – regions of England and Wales. It has its roots in the 1930s: although was only really formulated, as the Country Code, in the 1950s; and was last updated in 2012 (the version quoted below, and linked to above).

A strong case can be made that Gladman Developments are only visitors to Tysoe. Once – or, should I say, if – they obtain the planning permission necessary to destroy a centuries-old field of ridge-and-furrow, they will then sell the land on to the company who will actually build the estate. Then their brief, virtual sojourn will be over: replaced by those who will only stop – albeit for three years (akin to Dante’s vision of all three divisions of hell) – to desecrate that field with concrete, bricks, and tarmac; and reap further profit in the process. They then too will leave… – and, in the process, leave a massive urban scar as memento.

Imagine, for a moment then, that the code covered not just individuals, but also such corporate leviathans. How would its rules apply? How would they be broken…?

The first part of the code is entitled Respect other people – and asks visitors to “Please respect the local community and other people using the outdoors. Remember your actions can affect people’s lives and livelihoods.”

It’s hard not to laugh with weary resignation when it comes to this request. Gladman have shown us, as a community, absolutely no respect whatsoever; have ignored the huge amount of registered objections we posted; and were, consequently, quite condescending (and ramshackle) in their representation at the planning hearing. Their actions will, in one fell swoop, wipe out not only a field soaked in history (and, quite frequently, deep, semi-permanent puddles), but the picturesque and popular pair of footpaths that run through it – one of the best places within the parish to observe the sun setting over Oxhill (sometimes perfectly in alignment with Oxhill Road).

The second section – Protect the natural environment – is, to my mind, a reference to sustainability: stressing that “We all have a responsibility to protect the countryside now and for future generations”; and asking that visitors make sure they “don’t harm animals, birds, plants or trees and try to leave no trace of [their] visit.”

Considering the damage that will be done to the local ecology – not just the birds that feed there, and the hedges they live in; but the badgers whose setts border the plot, and whose domains will therefore be blighted not just by excavating and building, but the continuing activity of its new residents – this is insult and injury combined. The development will also, of course, remove a large and productive grazing field from the local agricultural supply.

Finally, Enjoy the outdoors

Even when going out locally, it’s best to get the latest information about where and when you can go. For example, your rights to go onto some areas of open access land and coastal land may be restricted in particular places at particular times. Find out as much as you can about where you are going, plan ahead and follow advice and local signs.

The only “advice and local signs” I can think of, that are pertinent here, will either be villagers’ placards, or more basic ones involving the holding up of one or two fingers. In a way, this goes back to the developer’s lack of respect, their arrogance… – but the development would also ignore the large number of objective reasons outlined in the briefing paper prepared by the Tysoe Residents (Neighbourhood Planning) Group: of heritage, sustainability, access, and suitability.

The only “enjoyment” of course, is one I keep coming back to: that of profit, of counting the readies made from “pure speculative development”. (I must admit that I really struggle with the use of the word “pure”, here; and would like to suggest that a few antonyms would be more appropriate….)

By turning that “outdoors” into eighty boxes of indoors, though, “enjoyment” will be removed from those who walk regularly through the field (and I count myself amongst those people) – and for future generations… – our open-air routes now fenced in; forced to plod along the tarmacked cul-de-sacs and pavements; views narrowed, framed, or even removed, by unsustainable, unsuitable, modernity.

Sadly, though, the recommendations of the Countryside Code do not apply to money-grabbing corporate entities: those who have no feeling, sympathy – or empathy – for the nature and community (far removed from their doorsteps…) that they would destroy; replacing it instead with yet more contributions to the climate change currently flooding our fields, roads and houses.

The Countryside Code, of course, is a set of moral and ethical principles – but there are too few moral and ethical (or principled) companies (or governments) in existence to deliver the transformations we should all be working towards.

“Respect. Protect. Enjoy.” Three words that, in an ideal world, would be at the heart of the way we all lead our lives. Three words, though, that are complete anathemas to a government and capitalist system that would tell us how we should live.

Friday, 14 February 2014

One thousand and one sights…

Just a quick thank you to everyone who has viewed this blog, so far; and helped me reach 1,001 views in just 86 days. If my maths is any good, then that means that someone – whoever you are…! – is looking at (if not reading…) what I originally intended solely for my own edification, every couple of hours or so.

Also, a quick reminder: if you’d rather not have to keep coming back, to check for new posts, simply enter your email address in the Follow the Bard by email box, at the top right-hand corner of each page, and anything I’ve added will be automagically delivered to you, just before midnight, on the day of posting.

For Martyr Valentinus (or even Lupercalia…)


I knew she wasn’t home
When the cat came to greet me
Cuddled up on the window’s ledge
And hungry for his love
He knows my returning tones
No-one had been there to keep him warm
And he pounces to the door
To welcome and to beg me

I knew her for some short time
Before I presented her
With a parcel of myself
Gilt-wrapped and silk-tied
Many hours had been used in preparation
Of that second skin
And with a lightness of touch
And tenderness of intuition
She undid my heart
And unveiled the reality of self
I know not what mysteries she uses
In her companionship of me
But I know the missingness of her
Is impossible to bear

I knew she wasn’t home
The curtains too were parted
And the milk lay idle on the step
Where the cat cries for love
So I lifted the bottles
Closed the door and gave him warmth
And switched the television on
For false comradeship

We knew each other longer
The intricacies perhaps now too easy
Our parcels so emptied
That we cannot further rip the paper
Of our selves
But still the missingness
Is perhaps the thing that excites us
With no missingness
Will those selves find stagnant love?

I knew she wasn’t home
The dishes still need washing
And the home still lacks the willingness
I knew she wasn’t home
because I’ve waited there for too long
And she didn’t come down
And the bed was cool

PS: I told the cat

I told the cat it was called loving
This warming stroking snuggling thing
He nuzzled my hand and padded my lap
And fell curling asleep

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Public Open Space: the greatest insult…?

“It’s their place, Mac. They have a right to make of it what they can. Besides, you can’t eat scenery!”
– Local Hero

In the public reports pack that was issued before the Planning Committee (East) meeting that rejected the Gladman proposal, exactly five weeks ago, one of the (many, many) things that riled me – and still does (obviously) – was the “Provision of Public Open Space”.

The development, according to Stratford-on-Avon District Council (SDC) – as if it already existed… – “comprises an agricultural field measuring 5.4Ha (approximately)” – which is just over thirteen acres, in old money. The “Potential developable area [is] 3.9Ha (approx)”: which therefore leaves “1.5Ha (approx) of public open space, SUDs [sic] and ecology management zone…”. (This is less than four acres, in total.)

The scheme is large (up to 80 dwellings) and would put additional pressures upon existing public open space…

This means that the village would be compensated for losing a large tract of historically important, beautiful, already publicly-accessible land – as well as the irrevocable damage done to two established rights of way – by being given back a small fraction of it: but dressed up to look like Tellytubbyland – “a play area, which… officers envisage… would be a natural play area (lumps and bumps)”.

The NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework], at paragraphs 58 and 73, encourages access to high quality open spaces and opportunities for sport and recreation. Saved policies… also seek to secure appropriate standards of open space provision and therefore remain broadly consistent with the provisions of the NPPF…. Having regard to the above, where there is a deficiency in public open space, new development proposals should seek to make new provision available. The [latest] audit… indicates there is some deficiency in public open space for Tysoe.

Eh-oh! Sorry…? As one of the most rural villages in Warwickshire, I’m struggling to understand what all that green and brown (and occasionally bright yellow) – and exceeding pleasant – stuff is that Tysoe is surrounded by, as far as the eye can see; and why we have a plethora of footpath signs leading from the village – including some for the Centenary Way. Is this not extant “public open space”?

Of course it is. And it is some of the most photogenic and accessible in the country. The “deficiency” undeniably lies elsewhere.

According to the Government’s own definition, Public Open Space is an “Urban space, designated by a council, where public access may or may not be formally established, but which fulfils or can fulfil a recreational or non-recreational role (for example, amenity, ecological, educational, social or cultural usages).”

It’s hard to ignore the word “urban”, and its inherent insult – however sonorously it chimes with Gladman’s description of their proposal for Tysoe as “urban grain”: so well-suited to the bucolic Vale of the Red Horse, of course… – and I’m not entirely sure why a council has to designate the bleeding obvious… – but it is obvious to me that the current field of ridge-and-furrow meets this interpretation head-on; gives it a swift Kirkby Kiss; utters a confident shout of victory; and then proclaims its suitability for all those listed usages (and more) with a very broad and knowing grin.

Any public open space manufactured by the developers, however, would severely damage all but the amenity, of course (diluting that property from desirable to simply useful…) – cornering (if not totally dissuading) any ecological remnants; flattening the perfect and resonant history lesson that currently exists; and utterly destroying its social and cultural importance to the area and its residents.

Were we simple peasants meant to be happy at this transparent failure of an unmistakable attempt to bribe us with something that, in effect, already belongs to us – socially (or spiritually, even); if not materially?

The insult comes not with its flimsiness, I feel, but from the arrogant and patronizing attitude that pervades the whole project. Unlike the residents of Ferness, in the film Local Hero, we are not (knowingly) there for the taking. However, we are as canny about the place where we live; and still “have a right to make of it what we can”. (We also know how many g’s there are in “bugger off”.)

The past is a foreign county…

Cottage hot-line

Computer centres will soon be linking villages in Lancashire

Lancashire country folk could get better jobs and hi-tech skills when a new scheme called “Telecottage” gets off the ground.

In a bid to promote enterprise in country areas, public and private sponsors will open five village computer centres in the county backed by British Telecom.

The idea is being promoted by the Lancashire Forum for Rural Initiatives. Richard Davy, Director of the Community Council of Lancashire, says: “We’re putting together a scheme for five centres linked to the Agricultural College at Myerscough. Telecottages started in Sweden as a focal point for villages. We think they’ll give people living in rural areas of the county a centre for equipment, instead of having to buy their own.

“People who currently stay at home will be able to work from there eventually. By giving them computer skills, telecottages will be fulfilling an important training role.”

Ian Goldman of the National Rural Enterprise Centre is also a member of the Forum. He adds: “We’re planning centres which have links with the world by telephone, fax, or online computer connections.

“Living in the country people have difficulties getting services, jobs, information and training. But, they’ve got advantages like attractive scenery, space and quality of life. With this scheme we can keep the natural advantages of rural areas but create chances to earn a living.”

Telecottages can be set up in a village room with a phone line, a computer, a fax and a photocopier. On-site management will help train and supervise the operation. Centres are likely to run as commercial businesses supplying training, clerical and information services to local firms. The organisers expect the result will be quality jobs created by new sorts of country businesses. With office services provided, they say, a business can start up without having to worry about buying equipment.

The Forum includes Lancashire College of Agriculture, the county council, ADAS, the Rural Development Commission, RASE Rural Enterprise Unit, Lancashire Enterprises plc, the Community Council for Lancashire and the Ribble Valley Enterprise Agency.

Teleworking and Telecottages, papers presented at a conference at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, has been published by Acre (Action with Communities in Rural England), Stroud Road, Cirencester, Gloucestershire GL7 6JR.

The Guardian (2 August 1990, p.31)

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Putting David in Goliath’s shoes…

Yesterday, I found myself discussing – with one of its active, campaigning residents – the insidious threat of nearly ninety new houses being built in a field on the outskirts of another South Warwickshire village. Unlike Tysoe, this one is only classed, in the Stratford-on-Avon District Council (SDC) draft Core Strategy, as a Category 3 Local Service Village (LSV): and therefore is only required to absorb between twenty-six and fifty additional houses between now and 2031. (Tysoe – that is, Upper and Middle Tysoe combined – is a Category 2 LSV: allocated fifty-one to seventy-five new houses.)

Unlike Tysoe, they appear to have no heritage-derived arguments to defend what is, basically, just an ordinary field – which the owner is trying to sell as one big block. Unlike Tysoe, they have pretty good transport links with Stratford-upon-Avon: being on a main road (although, like Tysoe, heavy school traffic creates twice-daily, dangerous logjams). Unlike Tysoe – because of what appear to me to be misguided loyalties to the longstanding family which owns much of the surrounding countryside, and were once true Lords of the Manor – not everyone in the village is against the development.

However, like Tysoe, there are very strong arguments to be made around sustainability and disproportionateness; as well as the removal of yet more agricultural land. The current owner seems to care little for his family’s strong and historically-intertwined links with the village; and appears to be interested solely in the large amount of cash he would realize, were planning permission – still to be officially applied for – granted.

Like Tysoe, the residents are quite happy for sensible development to promote the evolution of their historical village (probably originating as a Roman encampment) – as long as such development is suitable in size, scale, and appearance. As they prepare to apply for Neighbourhood Planning status, they have already earmarked enough sites to meet their current Core Strategy allocation – without the need for an estate that would result in an immediate growth of over 30%.

The case they must make – when it comes to the planning committee meeting that is the first (and possibly only) stage in deciding their fate, with regards to this “insidious threat” – will only, therefore, be slightly different to that we put forward for Tysoe. And so – although each town, village or hamlet inevitably has different needs and wants, different histories, different functions – it is such shared commonalities that need to be given greater prominence in the planning process, and that can be used in defence against what Nadhim Zahawi has aptly dubbed “rapacious developers”.

We were lucky, in Tysoe, when we launched our campaign, our fight, that one of the first pieces of information we were shown were the ‘material planning considerations’ that are considered valid reasons for objecting to any proposed development. Rather than being hidden in training slides for parish and district councillors, or in other obscure documents, why aren’t these distributed automatically (along with other vital information and documents) to those who would be affected by any formally submitted proposals? Instead, it feels to me, we are simply expected to plunge headlong (and headless?) into desperate NIMBYism: which will first be sneered at, and then summarily dismissed.

At the moment – despite the undoubted value and encouragement provided by the Localism Act, and the “golden thread” of sustainable development running through the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) – the advantage lies firmly in the court of the developers. They are instructed in detail by the local planning authority as to what needs providing, and in what format; what surveys they must carry out; and are actually supported in their application – in fact, having their hands held tenderly, but firmly, throughout the application process.

Those objecting, though, must ascend a very steep learning curve – having to become ready experts in planning law; grasping the tight timescales they must work to; as well as establishing local support (in action, expertise – if available – and morally) – from a very low-altitude base camp; and in isolation. Most of those getting involved in opposition are unlikely to have done such a thing before. But where is the support; where is the hand-holding? Yes – as our tiny, but resourceful and strong, community showed – an initially ill-informed David can take on a well-practised and experienced, corporate Goliath, supported (ironically) by a council department that is surely supposed to represent those who are objecting (its constituents)? – and win (if only the first battle of what may yet be a protracted war). But, surely, the fight would be more equal; the battlefield more level; the outcome more balanced, if both sides received similar support, both administratively and legally?

A first step to such equality would be not only the more prominent positioning of those “material considerations”, for example, but checklists and delineated processes running in parallel for both applicant and (any) objector(s). As well as a case officer being allocated to help the applicant, there should be another aiding those who would challenge the application.

No partisanship need occur – these things can be done purely and objectively. And, yes, I know that council planning departments are overburdened; but I believe this – in formalizing a process that is, currently, rather slipshod and haphazard (at least for those against) – would quickly ease their workload: avoiding time-consuming confusion and repetition; and pulling together, collating, all the commonalities and themes (e.g. those described above) that, currently, such objections have to re-invent anew every single time.

And, yes, I know that organizations such as the CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England) already do some of these things. But they are external to official channels; mostly voluntary; underfunded; and also overburdened by the huge amount of local, regional and national planning applications currently attempting what can easily be perceived as a mass rape of the shires they seek to safeguard.

Isn’t it time that the law provided equally for both sides; that the presumption wasn’t so obviously in favour of the developer (with lip-service being paid, snidely, to both localism and sustainability)? Rather than those wishing for a safe and secure future for generations to come being immediately presumed guilty (of NIMBYism), shouldn’t they be seen for what they really are? True defenders of an almost indefinable and recondite faith – in humanity and equality; a faith with deep roots in time, society and nature… – that invisibly holds this country together; that is the constancy never perturbed or sullied by the ceaseless change it is surrounded and threatened by…?

This is not a plea for conservatism, nor a rejection of evolution. Change must always come: but it should be driven by the needs of those affected by it – not imposed from on high by those whose only wish is profit; whose only motivator is greed. This is a plea for fairness.

Even though large tracts of England and many old and famous Shires have fallen or may fall into the grip of Gladman and all the odious apparatus of Tory rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in puddles, we shall fight on the ridges and furrows, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the law, we shall defend our village, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight in the sewers, we shall fight on the building grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this parish or a large part of it were subjugated and flooding, then our allies beyond the village boundary, armed and guarded by the stubborn and fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.
– with apologies to Sir Winston Churchill

Thursday, 6 February 2014

What “compensation culture”…?

I have been at the receiving end of three rather nasty road traffic accidents (RTAs) – to which my body pays eternal witness. However, as each case was settled, I had to accept roughly 50% of the previous amount of compensation: as I was “already injured”.

There are, as I see it, two immediate and obvious problems with this:
  1. If you are already disabled, as a result of being hit by a car, your ‘new’ disability means that the second driver to hit you is, somehow, 50% less culpable than the first. Or, of course, you are worth 50% less than someone in full health. This is the implication, anyway; and it feels extremely discriminatory – although it is always couched in medical terms: i.e. you’re already damaged, so can’t be damaged as much as someone who isn’t (or it can’t be proven which accident is responsible for that damage). This is obviously a load of complete cullions.
  2. If your injuries continue to worsen (as have mine – and as do many people’s… – and, in my case, for perpetuity…), once you have accepted the compensation, you have no right for further aid from the same source: as part of the condition of accepting the money – almost as some sort of twisted bribery, or maybe blackmail…? – is that you simultaneously sign away your rights to any such supplementary claims: even if, as in my case, it is extremely obvious that my current, continually deteriorating, condition stems from those accidents. That is, any debate on the matter – as well as any concern for your wellbeing; or, conversely, for the amount of damage done to you (and, therefore, damages paid to you) – is shut down completely, the moment you sign your acceptance (and your life away).
I don’t know what happens if you never accept the payment eventually agreed (out of what would almost certainly be seen as misguided morals…) – there is always an insult of a first, low offer, followed by uncomfortable, pride-demeaning haggling… – as I was never in a comfortable enough financial position to refuse even the pittance I accepted the third time. Also, in all of my cases, my own legal team stressed – although I am not so sure why – that I only really had the one chance to receive the money, anyway….

In other countries, life – after injury – appears more fair. For instance, in the States, I would have probably received (at least) ten to twenty times what I obtained here in the UK, in compensation – or as damages for – my first accident: with costs awarded aiming to cover my ongoing loss of earnings, and my medical costs; as well as acting as true compensation. There are also countries for which there is not one single, limited payment.

In Germany, for example, after the initial three-year statutory limitation period has expired, if subsequent injuries emerge that were not originally apparent – but that can be proved to result from the accident – this time limit (which can also be suspended for other legal reasons) can be extended to thirty years. It can also be so extended by agreement between the liable party – or their insurer – and the ‘victim’, if it becomes clear that the injuries sustained are liable to worsen, or lead to a long-term incapacity.

In Sweden – where I worked for a short time; and where the law appears to be much more humane – ‘periods of disability’ are split, firstly, into a short-term, temporary ‘period of medical emergency’ – i.e. from the time of the accident until the point when the medical situation of the victim has stabilized – after which a new medical assessment has to be carried out. Residual incapacities are then allocated a degree of disability (from 1 to 99% – 100% being death). If this is more than 10%, and it is of essential importance as a means of support to the claimant, the ensuing ‘period of disability’ is compensated, usually, with an annuity.

When I therefore read of the “compensation culture” that supposedly drives up our motor insurance premiums; or of the supposedly false claims for “whiplash” – a most derogatory term, when you consider the lifelong injuries that can result from a high-speed impact – my resulting anger, I feel, is therefore justified.

I accept – as with benefits fraud – that there are a tiny minority who do play the system; but this should not mean – as both the current Government and certain factions of the press would have you believe – that we should be all tarred with the same brush. Certainly, when it comes to compensation in this country – either through insurance or through benefits – those who suffer from their incapacities, and from not having sufficient income to help them cope – never mind survive – with their pain and suffering, far, far outweigh those who have played the system and won anything from it.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

My first published poem…


The rain washes his eyes
(I rose before the stars wanted to dim)
They suppose that he cries
With sadness that his love is not with him

But she is always there
Who rose before the suns and earths were made
(You whom I think most fair)
With echoed smiles of joy that will not fade

And he is always here
Who rose before the stars had walked above
Two eyes and one small tear
(Why? I would say my spilling fuel is love)

An edited extract from the original accompanying notes

The ideal audience the poet imagines consists of the beautiful who go to bed with him, the powerful who invite him to dinner and tell him secrets of state, and his fellow-poets. The actual audience he gets consists of myopic schoolteachers, pimply young men who eat in cafeterias, and his fellow-poets. This means, in fact, he writes for his fellow-poets.
– WH Auden: Poets at Work

My poetry has always been private – born of emotion-of-the-moment into a world where I’m afraid to let my offspring wander, in case it is harmed, rejected, or simply scorned. But we all crave praise for our creations, I suppose, as well as wanting to coddle them – qualities, which, after years of being a father, I realize are instinctive in us all. We have to trust not only in our child’s ability and right; but in the world, to offer its acceptance.

Prior to this semi-reluctant untethering of my poems (to a pride of my “fellow-poets”), then, my audience consisted usually, only, of one: of “the beautiful who go to bed with [me]”; plus an occasional close friend or two; and it has usually also been the case that my poems were written to, about, for – or occasioned by – such companions.

I described myself in my submission as:

A chemical engineer by degree(s) – a modern romantic by nature – most of my working life has been spent sitting in front of various computers: marketing IT (information technology); writing about IT; editing newsletters about IT; and designing annual reports about IT. I only write poetry when I’m sad. (My personal life is happy; but my working life is sad – which is not to say I only write at work.) And I’d like to be as good a poet as Robert Graves. (One day…)

…which was supposed to make the point that much of my emotion – and thus my poetry – stems from antithesis, from conflict: whether flippancy and earnestness; art and science; good and bad; happiness and sadness. (Isn’t this the same for all artists?) But, also, to ‘warn’ that my particular brand of ‘lyric poetry’ may not be to modern taste.

I started writing poetry, as many do, I suppose, in an adolescent blur of angst: sometimes for “myopic schoolteachers” and the school literary magazine; but, more often than not, to burgeoning blondes and brunettes who I worshipped, unrequited, and from afar.

Perhaps at fourteen every boy should be in love with some ideal woman to put on a pedestal and worship. As he grows up, of course, he will put her on a pedestal the better to view her legs.
– Barry Norman

But real love came much later. And it was only with the pain that comes with the realization that one’s love is not always perfect that my poetry also ‘matured’. (I hope.)

This poem was written in a telephone box in the rain at six o’clock, one rainy Saturday morning, a few years ago – in a micro-depression caused by having to ’phone for an ambulance for an elderly neighbour suffering an obvious, life-threatening, cardiac arrest; as well as an aching absence. Unusually for me, the poem originated completely in my head, waiting for the medics, watching the rain; and I only scribbled it down later, as one of many “pimply young men who eat in cafeterias”, eyeing the early-morning buses going by.