Sunday, 30 November 2014

Ignorantia iuris nocet…

…or one rule for us, and six for the others…

Men’s hearts ought not to be set against one another, but set with one another, and all against evil only.
– Thomas Carlyle

When Keith Risk first stood up, in the village hall, just over a year ago, to ask for help in fighting the proposed development on Oxhill Road, one of his themes was unity: uniting the village residents in opposition; uniting with our neighbouring villages; and uniting with – and supporting – our Parish Council in their crucial and central gubernatorial rôle.

As with all councils or governments – national, regional, district, town, parish – Tysoe Parish Council only achieves its aims, its many successes, through longstanding rules and procedures: which define how it works, what its remit is, how meetings are held – i.e. due process. Surely, the only way we can win this battle is by playing by the rules?

However, it has become increasingly apparent over the last year that some people – perhaps because they live in big houses, and they feel this makes them important, and gives them an unearned (high) status: enabling them not only to flout these rules, but to render subservient people and regulations that stand in their way… – somehow believe that They Are The Law; and that What They Say Is Always Right; and that they can selectively pick and mix whatever legislation suits them; or just ride roughshod through anything that gets in their way. It seems that people who live in big houses do sometimes throw stones – but not necessarily in the right direction, or for the right reason. Did we really need to show a divided face to the Planning Inspector? Two faces do not make anyone more appealing.

So it is that, at tomorrow evening’s Parish Council meeting, a hare-brained scheme to somehow win over Eric Pickles, the current Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government – more “rapacious” even than the developers that our hard-working MP has christened – will be thrust forward: and without any warning whatsoever being given to our beleaguered Parish Councillors. There are rules for how much notice must be given for such things; and there are also the mores of common decency and politeness, of course. But none of these seem to matter to those who come across as thinking themselves above such things. In fact their actions give the impression that they envisage themselves as puppet-masters: attempting to take control and untangle the strings of what they must consider a hapless Parish Council – twisting their necks into agonized positions so that they can actually manage to look down on a peerless and humble group of people who work extremely hard in looking after this village extremely well.

“Due process” of course, also includes the fact that our Parish Council is democratically chosen, and involves the residents in its decisions. It is not self-selecting, dictatorial, or arrogant.

What has prompted this anger is the following email: which has been sent under the guise of helping the village, when, to me (and many others) it shows obvious signs of self-promotion. (I have therefore removed the name at the top to protect both the guilty and the innocent.) It went flying around certain quarters of the village early today (fuelled by bigheaded petrol?); but appears not to have been sent to Parish Councillors (certainly not the PC’s chair), or those who are known to be democratic, or even, in my case, somewhat anarchistic (in that people have to earn their respect from me – admittedly not easily won – rather than expect me to get down on one knee and tug where my forelock used to be, just because they've told me that they are important).

…the rule 6 group intends to go to the parish council meeting on Monday to ask that the Gladman planning application be recovered by the Secretary of State. This would mean that the appeal inspectors decision, due by January 20th, would become a recommendation and the Secretary of State would then decide on in due course. The appeal can be recovered in the case where the site is “greater than five acres and would significantly impact upon the governments objective to secure a better balance between housing supply and demand and create high quality, sustainable mixed and inclusive communities.” Given the state of the neighbourhood plan which shows that the Gladman site is the least popular in the village, the village is not in favour of such a large scale development and the village wants more local involvement in development [the group] would argue that the Gladman application should be recovered.

[The group] would like the parish council to ask for the application to be recovered so as to add weight to any individual requests. A recovery would also buy more time for the neighbourhood plan. The Neighbourhood planning group [sic] would welcome any support on this matter at the parish council meeting on Monday.

There will be more information and explanation at the parish council meeting.

There are many things wrong with this email – primarily that Eric Pickles (once nicknamed Jabba the Cut) is infamous for gobbling up little villages such as ours (the tragic case of our neighbour Hook Norton should be warning enough); and drawing his attention to our little corner of Warwickshire will do nothing to improve matters. In fact, with the Corporate Strategy on permanent hold – possibly until Councillor Saint or Sinner is held to account – then any attempts to delay a decision being made re Gladman’s desire to carpet-bomb us with little houses made of ticky-tacky will simply be futile. It is the modern-day equivalent of Oliver Twist asking the master for “some more”. (And eighty houses is much more than enough, thank you.)

Secondly, as stated above, as the Parish Council has not been notified of this agenda item in advance, how will there be time for “information and explanation”? If past meetings are anything to go by (and they usually are), this looks suspiciously like agenda-hijacking: with self-inflated egos launching their inflated hyperbole from their inflatable pulpits. It is high time someone took a ruddy big needle to puncture such people’s self-seeking narcissism. Living in a palace does not make you a king.

Thirdly, if you actually read the relevant legislation and recent associated guidance, it says:

A “recovered inquiry” is basically a planning appeal (against a local authority’s decision) which the Secretary of State can decide to determine himself, rather than allowing a planning inspector to take the final decision, as is the normal process. The law stems from section 79 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

But the “local authority”, Stratford-on-Avon District Council (SDC), is on our side – isn’t it? So this is not against its decision… – unless, of course, you are in favour of, or even backing, the development: which would mean that the final nail has been driven into the coffin not only of unity itself, but also the pretence that there ever was any.

It is also hectares, not acres, by the way:

…proposals for residential development of over 150 units or on sites of over 5 hectares, which would significantly impact on the Government's objective to secure a better balance between housing demand and supply and create high quality, sustainable, mixed and inclusive communities…

…and, although the application site itself comprises approximately 5.4 hectares, the “potential developable area” is only “3.9Ha (approx) for up to 80 houses” – so I do not know if this is relevant (surrounded as it is by Tory doublespeak).

Finally, the ‘note’ I am quoting from allows for the “Use of neighbourhood plans and housing”:

On 10 July 2014 the Secretary of State announced that he would like to “consider the extent to which the Government’s intentions are being achieved on the ground”, in relation to the neighbourhood planning regime introduced under the Localism Act 2011. For a period of 12 months the recovery criteria has now been amended to include: proposals for residential development of over 10 units in areas where a qualifying body has submitted a neighbourhood plan proposal to the local planning authority: or where a neighbourhood plan has been made.

But how is the email’s claim that “the village is not in favour of such a large scale development and the village wants more local involvement in development” going to sway Eric Piggles – when he has a track-record of paying lip-service to localism and treading roughshod over what villages want or need? And how is it going to “add weight to any individual requests”? And who are these individuals? And what are they requesting? More poppadoms…? You cannot appeal to a fellow dictator, and expect them to suddenly change their tune because they see their own arrogance reflected in your eyes. Do we really want to make a pact with the devil?

The reason why the world lacks unity, and lies broken and in heaps, is, because man is disunited with himself.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

This is not a decision for anyone to make but the Parish Council. And there is a good reason they have not proposed it themselves – not because they are unaware of it (their knowledge of the current planning régime is demonstrably excellent), but because they believe that it is the equivalent of tilting at windmills: pointless and self-defeating.

There is currently a great deal of apathy with regards to politics: and, sadly, it seems to have seeped to its very grassroots. This does not mean that we should just let ourselves be bossed around though, by usurpers, without questioning the motivations and knowledge of those who would claim to represent us. Instead, we should support the Parish Council: because they represent us. We should support them because they know what they are doing and are not in it for the glory. We should support them because, as a body with true power, they have the true needs of the village seared into their hearts and brains. We should therefore support them because they know what is right, and do the right thing.

There is more power in unity than division.
– Emanuel Cleaver

Thursday, 27 November 2014

On a line to nowhere…

On the day I started writing this, there had been no trains from Birmingham to Stratford-upon-Avon for four days; and the ongoing grumbling over Chiltern Railways’ revision of their London-to-Stratford service seemed to have been going on for months – although, as an astute anonymous letter writer to the Stratford-upon-Avon Herald (20 November 2014) pointed out: “The majority of tourists travel in and out of Stratford either as part of a coach party or by car, probably hence the congestion everywhere.”

But that’s about as ‘green’ as David Cameron, isn’t it – i.e. capitalism at its typical, selfish, evolved worst? And, with nearly (or “at least” – depending on your greed) 11,000 homes pencilled in to be dumped on the (wrong parts of the) district by 2031 – even though logic would dictate just over half this number – surely it’s time we had a more joined-up public transport system?

Sadly, though, such a system would require some joined-up thinking – and the only thoughts driving (ahem) such issues at the moment appear to be of self-aggrandizement and profit – although it also seems that, atypically, the public purse is being left unopened – even if that purse is logarithmically tighter, the farther you get from London. On top of this, national government investment in (sensible and appropriate) large infrastructure projects is declining. So, common sense and localism would both appear to have died a nasty, excruciating death – probably joining the mountain of both animal and human roadkill mauled by the wheels and bumpers of illegally speeding vehicles tailgating and overtaking on blind bends and summits on our many twisting country lanes.

Apologies for tub-thumping bombastically like the worst sort of tabloid columnist: but, as someone who increasingly uses public transport – because of my (currently) intermittent and (hopefully, staying that way: at least until we have a better (more frequent, more targeted) bus service) occasional inability to drive – and believes that it is the most sustainable option (especially as – rather than “even though” – the district is largely rural: with many pockets of isolating poverty) – this is (and, to be honest, always has been) of great concern to me.

Infrastructure has always mattered. The industrial revolution was not just the story of cotton mills and iron foundries. It was about canals, railways and tarmacadam roads. Big changes to the way people and goods could move around the country boosted growth and transformed the economy.
     …there needs to be a recognition that the investment that matters is not always on prestige projects. As Stephenson proved 184 years ago [with the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway], it is sometimes the local schemes that make the difference.
– Larry Elliott: The Observer

After a public survey in 2011 that supported the redevelopment of the Avon Rail Link; two years ago (in October 2012), responding to an invitation to tender, a report by Ove Arup & Partners – Stratford to Honeybourne Railway Reinstatement – Business Case Study: seeking “to establish the feasibility of reinstating this link” – was presented to the Cabinet of Stratford-on-Avon District Council. A summary leaflet was also printed around this time, compiled by the Shakespeare Line Promotion Group – “which aims to promote travel along… the railway line between the City of Birmingham and Stratford-upon-Avon.”

Here are a few excerpts from the executive summary of the Arup report:

Since the old line to Honeybourne junction was closed in 1976, the Town has suffered from the lack of a rail connection to the east-west Cotswold Line (providing rail links to Oxford and Worcester) and onward to Cheltenham, Gloucester and the South-West. A further impetus for consideration of the reinstatement of the Stratford-Honeybourne link has been the significant growth in Cotswold Line traffic…. In a climate of national rail passenger traffic growth exceeding 7% p.a. and increasing awareness of the environmental sustainability arguments for rail, this Study was commissioned to examine the outline business case….
     …the rationale for the scheme would be to improve rail links, centred on Stratford, for local and regional demand, with potential to cater for longer distance movements…. There has been a long standing aspiration to improve the service between Stratford Upon Avon and Leamington Spa. Its provision as an extension to a Worcester to Stratford service was considered to have potential….
     The majority of benefits (almost 90%) are passenger time savings arising as the new line would provide a faster means of travel for existing rail passengers and those transferring from car. Movements between Worcester-Stratford, Evesham-Stratford and Stratford-Oxford provide the main sources of these benefits… (including reduced waiting time)….
     Additionally, there would be important economic benefits arising from rail freight, additional tourist spend and improved rail network resilience… especially when sections of the regional network are undergoing periodic maintenance….
     Overall, the results of the economic appraisal indicate that the Line is a promising candidate for reinstatement.

A later, more specific section on benefits adds:

To the extent that the new rail line generates more tourists, rather than a change in the choice of travel mode, it will contribute to additional indirect jobs. It will also provide a choice in travel mode for day visitors to the town, particularly those who live close to a station.
     A reopened Stratford-Long Marston-Honeybourne line could also attract heritage steam train services and visitors to/from the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway when the planned extension northwards from Broadway reaches Honeybourne.
     The Global Gathering music festival takes place at Long Marston Airfield and via Long Marston station, many of the 40,000 attendees would be able to utilise train services to and from this summer weekend gathering. Participants in other events at the Airfield could also use the train service. This would relieve traffic congestion on local roads.
     In addition, with the new line completed, it will be possible for travellers to make a round trip following the Snow Hill-Stratford on Avon-Worcester-Snow Hill route.

I am not quite sure what has happened to this proposal – as it does not appear in the council’s latest Schedule of Infrastructure Projects appendix to the Core Strategy (which is obviously biased towards the greenfield Gaydon Lighthorne Heath “masterplan”, rather than the alternative, more appropriate, brownfield Long Marston development) – although an “enhanced business case” was produced in June last year, which details reduced capital costs for reinstating the railway line.

However, as well as the Shakespeare Line Promotion Group’s keen and organized support, there is also some brief evidence of sporadic online opposition – but this leads with a designed-to-dismay picture of a level crossing for Evesham Road suggested in a previous, outdated report (Halcrow Fox, 1996): which its 2012 successor details as unfeasible (because of delays to traffic), and therefore recommends another, more appropriate route (videos here and here). This is actually acknowledged on another page of the NoAvonLine opposition site – which then, of course, goes on to raise new arguments, whilst leaving the old, irrelevant image in pride of place. (Oh, the joys of nimbyism.)

I am sure you can tell where my support lies – particularly between the Gaydon Lighthorne Heath and Long Marston Airfield developments – especially as I have previously made no secret of it. But I also feel that, to disregard the proposed railway line reinstatement would be to ignore (I nearly said “play fast and loose with”) a key solution to many of Stratford district’s transport (and other animal) ills. But, as I wrote above, this “would require some joined-up thinking” – especially with regards to public and private transport – and I haven’t seen much evidence of that recently in government circles (local, regional or national). But then, how would I: when current politics is all about the parallel finance and power races to the top, rather than serving the (few) people who elected you…?

This post was initially prompted (as you may have guessed from the photographs) by my habitual trek across one of my favourite local landmarks, Stannals Bridge: which I seem to be watching rust into the Avon. The immense craftsmanship of brickwork, steel, bolts and rivets is hard to ignore, but easy to admire. (It is a skewed or staggered girder, truss, or ‘open web through-type’ bridge – a design so successful, it continues to be built all over the world.)

I can no better voice my concerns for it than local resident David Goodman did, way back in 2001:

Previous governments sought to reduce the rail routes and to this end sanctioned the closure of even major links. This left the old trackbeds with no rails but much of the civil engineering infrastructure in place, for example, the bridges and embankments.
     Fortunately many of these were purchased by the local authority for use as cross-country recreational trails suitable for cyclists and walkers. However this left the local authority with a major problem – how were they to find the funding to maintain those bridges and embankments? Certainly their recreational budgets were not designed to cope with this kind of expenditure.
     Now comes a major problem. Today there is developing a need for these rail routes to be restored but until such time as firm plans to do this are in place whose responsibility is it to maintain the bridges and embankments for possible reuse – a reuse which, as far as the local authority is concerned, may never happen? You and I may well say that it will, but one can see the point of a local authority refusing to sanction such expenditure.
     There is a prime example of this near here where the old Great Western main rail route south of Stratford crosses the River Avon on the steel girder bridge, known as Stannals Bridge. It is the property now of Warwickshire County Council and is in dire need of maintenance. If it is left, it will fail and be a total loss. Minimal regular maintenance now could keep it in a fit state for the line to be restored at a future date but the funds required are being denied. Should this be so?

Although it is an utterly beautiful sculpture in its “increasingly rust-ridden” state; as a usable structure, I fear it will soon lose its integrity, and therefore its ability to provide safe passage – for pedestrians and cyclists, never mind a railway line. However, imagine traversing it, rebuilt or restored to its former glory (as is posited in Arup’s report), in a steam train, overlooking the river, on your way into “Shakespeare-on-Avon” station. What’s not to love?

And, with only a single line being proposed between Stratford and Long Marston’s existing freight depot (or maybe even as far as Honeybourne), there is a chance that you could still walk and cycle over it, as you do today. You might even have fewer cars to contend with, as you then explore the town centre.

Personally, I think reopening the line to a large, new residential development at Long Marston (and beyond) is a solution from the School of the Bleeding Obvious. Which means, of course, that it will never happen. What a shame. What a travesty. What a wasted opportunity…. Just wait for the Herald to run it as its lead story, though, when our town becomes completely gridlocked; and Stannals Bridge succumbs to neglect: crumbling into the Avon, and injuring some innocent, holidaying bargee.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Bent double…

…it’s impossible to argue that people should be forced to stay where they were born – certainly not Belgium or Aldershot – so it follows that we’re allowed to move about. Isn’t that really the point?

I went to see – or rather, listen to (although there was some wonderful mime…) – Jeremy Hardy (one of the funniest, most profound people on the planet) present his “restrained burlesque show… where Shakespeare danced” at Stratford ArtsHouse, on Saturday night. This is probably the sixth time I’ve seen him do what he describes as his “real job” – stand-up – although, as defined by Hardy’s impromptu hands-up, I was amongst a minority of those who had seen him perform live before.

In the second half (of a two-and-half hour show: with “two intervals” – the second one of infinite length: during which time he headed down the M40 towards home…), this prompted ponderings on his demographic. As he says, he’s mostly known for his appearances on Radio 4, “whose audience is mainly made up of Telegraph readers”; and, although this brought a big laugh, and a light ripple of applause – because the first half (as is his wont) was a wonderfully funny dissection of current politics, from Hardy’s slightly self-mocking, but longstanding and truly-felt viewpoint quite far out to the left of the continuum – some of the hilarity (I felt) was tinged with nervous self-recognition. (There’s a reason Bart sells so few copies of The Guardian – but that’s exaggerated, I would surmise, by our rural isolation.)

Hardy had started the show lightly pointing out how – although he was only basing his assumptions on a sample of one: Stratford’s most famous son – we were all racist and misogynistic (a theme he brilliantly returned to, later, when discussing gender identity). But, looking around, when the lights went up, it was startling – and somewhat discomfiting for someone who grew up amongst the satanic mills of East Lancashire, where there is a large (and mostly integrated) Asian population – to discover that every single face there was white. For a town whose economy relies utterly on tourism, this seems somewhat ironic: as if we are happy, as a population, to accept Johnny Foreigner as a temporary visitor, but not as a resident.

In the twenty-first century the economic benefits of tourism to the area are well known. A report released in July 2013 by the Heritage Lottery Fund revealed that heritage tourism’s importance to the UK was increasing. Robin Tjolle, Destination Manager for Shakespeare’s England commented, “We estimate that 4.9m people a year visit the Stratford-on-Avon district and our wide variety of tourism businesses help to generate more than £335 million of spend per year into the local economy which supports over 8000 jobs.”
– Sylvia Morris: The Shakespeare Blog

Now it may be that Stratford holds no attraction as a permanent home for immigrants of any generation – but I find that difficult to believe, being one (by Hardy’s definition, anyway: even though my face is a becoming shade of Pantone 91-8 C…); and not forgetting that we have, of course, an Iraqi-born MP. It may also be the case that Hardy holds no attraction for them, either: but, at previous performances (even in Cheltenham: the spiritual homeland of the Telegraph reader), audiences were a bit more varied.

Hardy himself lives in Streatham – “next door to Brixton” – and, the night after his appearance in Stratford, was taking part in a benefit gig in Bloomsbury for the Kurdish Red Crescent… – so I don’t think the problem lies there.

According to the Office for National Statistics, however you measure it, Stratford-on-Avon district just has less immigrants living here than either the rest of the West Midlands, or the whole of the UK. For example, if you compare Age of Arrival in the UK (QS802EW), only 6.2% of Stratford’s residents were born ‘abroad’, measured at the last census (2011); compared to 11.2% for the West Midlands; and 13.8% for the UK. It’s even more marked when you compare people’s stated Ethnic Group (KS201EW) – with only 6.4% of Stratford’s population classing themselves as non-white (English/Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish/British); versus 20.8% in the West Midlands; and 20.2% overall.

So what on earth is going on? Is it to do with Stratford’s less-affordable housing, compared to the rest of the region? Or is there some other factor?

Well, if you delve deeper into the census statistics, it turns out that not only does “Stratford-upon-Avon [have] 20% more Higher and Intermediate managerial, administrative or professional households than the national average”; but we also have fewer people on benefits (7.7%, compared to the UK’s 13.5%) – whether that be incapacity benefits (Employment Support Allowance: 1.5%/2.4%) or Jobseekers Allowance (1.0%/3.3%) – and this in an almost entirely service-based, somewhat seasonal economy. Our population’s median age is also high (46, vs. 39 for the UK): but that could just mean that we’re healthier (which is hinted at in the numbers) because of all the wonderful countryside, fresh air, and culture – not just that people like to retire here (which they do appear to…).

In conversations with other incomers – especially those who live or work in Stratford itself – it seems that these skewed figures do manifest themselves as subtle, mostly-lingering-beneath-the-surface, airs and graces. But this is both hard to quantify and to find evidence of… – although I did stumble across this:

There is plenty to do in this town. We are no different from any other town in England. I think the Stratford upon Avon snobbery and sense of entitlement is filtering down to the younger generations. Oh dear.

If there is a basis to (and for) such superciliousness (or is it smugness…?), then maybe it stems from some form of protective jealoushood regarding “Stratford’s most famous son”, and our perceived ‘ownership’ of him? Or at least a fear that if he was found to be some sort of ‘fake’ – not just a characteristically undocumented Jacobethan figure – that the local, tourism-based, financial system would collapse (which it might well…)?

I only suggest this because, when the ‘anti-Stratfordian’ (and surely that word says it all?) film Anonymous was released – as part of a growing campaign ‘proving’ that Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford, was posh enough to write Shakespeare’s works (under a pseudonym, of course); but that grain merchant “Shaxper” himself was just an ill-educated Warwickshire oik who couldn’t rub two braincells together – the town was at the heart of an exercise (defensive, maybe; ludicrous, certainly) to redact every public reference to my hero: blacking out every sign with his name on; and even draping the Gower Memorial statue with a black cloth…! (Surely it would have been better just to promote (and read) James Shapiro’s entertaining and erudite Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?)

I understand such defensiveness when faced with such trolling. (I only call it this because I do not see what the anti-Stratfordians have to gain. It just seems to me the equivalent of microwaving your pet rabbit.) But I’m still not convinced that this then readily translates into the uppishness I sense. Perhaps it is, after all, just a consequence of our demographics; coupled with the feeling that Stratford-upon-Avon – seen as the home of English literature as we know it – is a special (and therefore more expensive) place to live.

Anyway, after rambling, and leaving behind the subject I started with (not an uncommon trait – which I blame on my grammar school English teacher, Eric ‘gild the lily’ Whittle: who always prompted us to “begin on a wing and a prayer”), I leave the final word to Jeremy Hardy – one of my favourite “apes with broadband” – who prompted the whole shebang:

For me, ancestry is just one thing that connects us to people, and feeling connected to other people is generally a good thing, as long as one kind of connection does not have primacy over all the others. Heredity, race and nationhood are not the best criteria by which to judge our fellow humans.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

The devil’s in the dog-tail…

Ever since the Swan Theatre opened in 1986, there’s been a running quip in the Bard family – when one of us attends a play there we get asked: “Have they changed the seats yet?!”

As much as I adore the Swan as a venue – it’s probably my favourite theatre, just above (sorry) the Barbican’s Pit; the acoustics (because of the size, and the beautiful walls of exposed, aged brick) in my (deafened) opinion are superior to the main Royal Shakespeare Theatre: and I therefore hardly needed the captions at Thursday evening’s thrilling performance of The Witch of Edmonton (only on for one more week) – I do find the reupholstered seats still quite challenging: especially as the majority are nothing but shared, padded benches, some with cinema-style bases. (I noted John Woodvine – whose daughter, Emma, is in charge of the company’s text and voice work – also struggling to fold his imposing frame into one of the stall seats: although he had wisely, and knowledgeably, picked one with somewhat better legroom.)

This time, unusually, I was in the first gallery, directly opposite one of the two surtitle screens; but the Lebensraum (I originally put “wriggle room”: but I like my fellow audience members to keep still, please…) must have been designed by someone (Michael Reardon himself?) with shorter trousers and smaller boots than I: because I felt tightly squeezed between the chair (in front of a standing rail) and the (sumptuous golden wood) balcony – although this did have the advantage of almost forcing me to lean over the stage, gaining what, at times, felt like a private performance, because of the intimacy of the space. (Which is one of the reasons I so love it.)

Being disabled, I always ask for (and so far, have always been granted – by the brilliant RSC Access team) a seat at the left-hand end of a row: which does provide many, many options in the Swan. This week, though – because there was nowhere for me to rest my duff left leg in such a constricted gap – the flip-down seat immediately to my right, fortunately, was vacant: but I therefore spent most of the second half twisted round, at a peculiar angle, resting my right side on the seat-back, to make things a little more expansive. Let me just say that this gemelli impersonation didn’t do the core injury in my neck many favours; and, although I easily ignored the growing pain whilst enthralled in the play, boy, have I paid the price since.

I would therefore ask (by way of drawing the RSC’s attention to this post – them having kindly promoted my previous writing on disability matters) that, as well as flexible wheelchair spaces (which seem so accessible, from what other disabled patrons have told me), can we please have designated chairs with more space in and around them for the walking wounded, as well (of which there were quite a few, on Thursday: some even with crutches): perhaps just moving back, say, one of the single Gallery One rows a couple of feet (ahem) – assuming that Health and Safety would not mind the incursion into the walkway behind…? (In the main theatre, most of the left-hand positions leave plenty of leg-stretching and walking-stick room: so this isn’t usually an issue.)

Apart from that, Mister Bard, how was the show?

Well, it certainly was entertaining, thank you, and distinct (Swan traits, I think); and, although I had read through the prompt book in the Swan Reading Room, beforehand (as is my wont), the company was uniformly excellent in pulling real thrills from it and bringing it to more than life (and death) – as they have consistently throughout this immensely successful Roaring Girls season: from the blood-soaked Arden of Faversham and The White Devil to the uproarious The Roaring Girl itself; and whose Moll Cutpurse was compared to the (supposed) witch’s devil of a Dog at one stage (oh dear) in this play.

The season has also shown how adaptable the bare bones of the Swan can be: and Niki Turner’s deceptively austere set of labyrinthine whispering withes at the rear of the stage – through which Tim Mitchell’s lighting creates haunting spookiness (paralleled with Paul Englishby’s music – especially violinist Zhivko Georgiev’s fiendish demonstration of the darker side of ‘the devil’s instrument’…) – continues behind the stalls, where some of the hectic action takes place.

Each of these productions has featured a guest ‘star’ in the lead rôle: and this time it is the charismatic Eileen Atkins as Mother Sawyer – not so much “roaring” as cursing (and rightfully so) as the eponymous ‘witch’ (who brings a new meaning to ‘spell checking’…) – directed imaginatively, and prudently in period, by the RSC’s artistic director, Gregory Doran (“an honorary Roaring Girl!” according to Erica Whyman: under whose stewardship the season was put together).

The text – somewhat chunkily assembled from the multiple authors’ contributions (you can definitely see the joins…) – ranges from scenes of the sublime (the grief of Ian Redford’s Carter and Geoffrey Freshwater’s Old Thorney is heart-tugging indeed; as well as the grace of Faye Castelow’s murdered bride) to the undoubted star of ridicule, Dafydd Llyr Thomas, as cocky Cuddy Banks (part of a crew of somewhat rude Morris men mechanicals).

This isn’t to say that the play’s messages are dulled in any way by such piece-work; and Doran – who also edited the performed text – gives it air, and lets it speak for itself: thankfully not stopping the audience from seeing – and thus delighting in – its obvious dénouements and dramatic irony. Nor does he shield us from the violence – the blood which is spilled eventually flows into true forgiveness: a salve to the prejudices and differences at the core of the drama.

Ma Sawyer is something of a stooge, a scapegoat for “scandalous malice”, because of her age, sex, and looks: anything or anyone unusual is feared or taunted, or both – “’Tis all one To be a witch as to be counted one…” – sadly, still a leitmotif with applicable significance, nearly four hundred years on. (The play – by William Rowley, Thomas Dekker, John Ford “&c” – was first performed in 1621.) Although initially peeved by this, once she actually gains the powers she has already been accused of having and using – granted by a magnificently cunning Jay Simpson as Satan in canine form (“Were it not possible for thee to become an honest dog yet?”) – revenge is far too tempting: and Atkins portrays this grasping of dark (but not fatal) energy with great subtlety; as well as its eventual, inevitable loss, and her eventual, inevitable (although possibly undeserved) fate – both prompted by devil Dog’s malevolence. Only Cuddy’s simple goodness and strength is a match for the manipulative Lucifer, who is never far from – especially behind – the action: “I know thy qualities too well… therefore henceforth I defy thee. Out, and avaunt!”

The almost accidental nefariousness of Sawyer is contrasted with tangible, innate evil – the eruption of a seed we are all said to possess… – principally Ian Bonar’s astute portrayal of Frank Thorney as an emerging swindler and bigamist: who, rather than trying to extricate himself peaceably from his predicaments, spirals crime upon crime. At first, it is hard not to sympathize with him – perhaps another “scapegoat”? – as he takes us in (knowingly), as well as those around him. But it is not long before we see him for what he truly is – and he gets what he truly deserves. However malevolence emerges and is practised, we are shown, it must be punished.

So let’s every man home… with heavy hearts, yet as merry as we can, though not as we would.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Only sensible in the duller parts…

In October, last year – exactly (and coincidentally) thirteen months ago – I wrote what I hoped was an encouraging email to fellow members of the then Tysoe Residents (Neighbourhood Planning) Group; and, as a result, was asked by David Sewell (also a member) if he could reproduce a shortened reading of it in the Tysoe & District Record. I was more than happy to oblige: as we were in the midst of the opening stages of our skirmish with Gladman Developments, and I thought it might act as a rallying call to the village. However, precious as I am of my words (and the effort it takes to produce them), I also felt that the full version deserved a proper repository.

Initially, I linked it to a photograph of Tysoe, taken from Windmill Hill, in my longstanding online gallery. But so many words, in a repository of images, seemed to jar. (I usually accompany my photos with just a couple of sentences, at most.) And so, an idea that had been bubbling under, somewhere in my subconscious, for many a year – of starting a blog (although I had no particular theme in mind: which, happily, shows to this day!) – rose to the surface, and began to be made concrete: and, on 20 November 2013, I launched this site. (Although, sadly, not a single bottle of champagne was hurt in the process.) And, so that my original post wouldn’t feel lonely, and there would be a hint of progression, and of great(?!) things to come… – one foundation stone does not a building make… – I added a recently-completed poem, to keep it company.

But what to call it?

Keith Risk – who was then chairman – had, good-humouredly (because of the length and content of my many emails and other (public) writings for the Group; as well as my growing addiction to Shakespeare – currently the fifth most-used label on the blog…), christened me “The Bard of Tysoe”. And, for want of any other name (Holofernes may have been as apposite…) – and giving me a sort of core theme to riff on (particularly as I was so heavily involved, at the time, in that “skirmish” for what was left of a small field of ridge-and-furrow on Oxhill Road…) – it stuck. And has been stuck at the top of every post, and every page, ever since. (I’m quite attached to it, now, thank you.)

I also hoped that such a moniker would (maybe; modestly) hide my true identity from most readers. Although, at a celebration following the village’s first victory – at the Stratford-on-Avon District Council Planning Committee (East) meeting, on 8 January 2014 – an acquaintance sidled up to me, and said (with a big grin on his face): “Are you the Bard of Tysoe?” Admittedly, he could have asked this of everyone he met, reverse Spartacus-style: but, having stumbled onto this website looking for information on “planning in Tysoe”, he had put two and two together, and there I was: unmasked! (Darn it.)

In a way, though, it truly doesn’t matter who I (really) am: the version of me that I present, and that you read (and therefore infer), on here – and my varied thoughts on various topics: from Charlecote to Shakespeare; torment to Tysoe (of course!); the windmill to The Wind in the Willows – are all that are important (in the tiny, dark corner of the Web that I inhabit…). I just hope that they are also of interest to someone other than myself – although, as James Joyce declared:

It is my idea of the significance of trivial things that I want to give to the two or three unfortunate wretches who may eventually read me.

As Michael Foley says, as well, in his entertaining book Embracing the Ordinary – well worth getting hold of: especially for phrases such as the sublime “by the sweaters of Benetton I sat down and wept” –

[Proust and Joyce] both understood the crucial paradox: if you write for yourself it will be relevant to everyone and if you write for everyone it will be relevant to no one.

So I wrote for myself – quite happily – wondering how long I could keep the words flowing; hoping to give them some sort of relevance to something; fully expecting to quickly run out of ideas (and split infinitives on which to clumsily hang them…), and therefore last a month at most; and for only “two or three unfortunate wretches” to stumble upon my words (and (occasionally) convoluted grammar).

Which would have done, to be honest.

But, twelve months on (exactly to the day), after over a hundred posts of extremely varying length (and, some would say – including me – quality…), the site has been visited nearly 6,000 times – and by people from all over the globe.

You would think that I would be speechless at such numbers. And I am. (Why are they so low…?! And why, with so many page hits, have I only got three subscribers…?!) But my fingers are obviously connected to a different part of my verbal cortex, it seems (and, yes, I have just made that term up… – but, as always, the link does go to somewhere relevant – although I am unsure as to how many readers actually venture out into the wider realms of the ’Net: hitting on, and trawling for, my various references, side-swipes and Easter eggs…). So, the written words continue to flow. And will do so, for as long as I can hold a book, a thought, a virtual pen, and a glass of single malt. (Although maybe not all at the same time.)

Friday, 14 November 2014

Beginning with a single step…

There is something richly rewarding about putting one foot in front of another – as has probably been said as many times I have actually done so… – particularly over several miles; and especially when the weather is clement, and the landscape picturesque (although I also love walking in the rain and snow, in certain cities, and on the flat…). There is also something richly rewarding about overcoming the pain and effort that each step takes – especially when the (small) sensible part of my brain is telling me to turn around, before I go too far (literally beyond the point of no return).

But, without stretching my limits, pushing the boundaries, then one of the reasons that I walk would lose its allure: as that last mile – when my legs are wobbly; bits of me ache that I didn’t know I had (as well as those I did); and then, finally, my destination comes in sight – suddenly pushes all negativity away: and a final rush of acceleration (or imperceptible increase in speed, to those observing me…) rewards me with a rush of endorphins and adrenaline (the body’s natural painkillers and energy bars), that, like an emphatic, crescendoing Elgarian finale, wipes out any memories of the heartrending passages that have preceded it. (A bit like childbirth, I am told.)

On Monday, on a whim, I ended up taking more steps in one day (just over 14,000) than I had done in total over the last three weeks; and remembered – even through the next day’s subsequent fug of tiredness and worsening symptoms – why I have always walked to deal with my pain: even if, in the short term, it so increases it. Not only does it improve my fitness, and therefore my ability to deal with daily challenges; but, whilst I am “putting one foot in front of another”, I am also directing my gaze mainly outwards – and not concentrating on what ails me – whether that be on the scenery (and framing a reasonably good photograph), or chatting to the other walkers I meet, and engaging in some reciprocal fussing with their various canine companions.

Let us fix our attention out of ourselves as much as possible: Let us chase our imaginations to the heavens, or to the utmost limits of the universe; we never really advance a step beyond ourselves, nor can conceive any kind of existence, but those perceptions, which have appeared in that narrow compass.

Coping with aches and pains by focusing elsewhere is, of course, an ancient trick; and one that has been used in all sorts of ways: from meditation to pushing through the effects of injuries inflicted by war. We distract ourselves – sometimes deliberately, sometimes not – and ignore our own needs – sometimes temporarily, sometimes for long periods of time – to care for others, or simply to get through the day: perhaps the two sides of a coin featuring a self-serving head and altruistic tails.

Pacing and distraction (usually by some form of relaxation) are key parts, therefore, of most pain (self-) management programmes – once you have gotten over the fact that this is how it’s (always) going to be. That doesn’t mean stopping fighting, of course: just applying whatever energies you may have in a more organized, consistent fashion. On a day like Monday, though, when there is suddenly the strength, or the urge is felt, only a true ascetic would have stuck to their self-imposed limits, ignoring the resulting enjoyment and reward (which, despite accepted wisdom, is not wiped out by the agonies of the morning after the day before – unless you let it).

The real challenge – for me, though, in my current state (in the bottom dip of an infinite sine-wave of permanent ill-health) – is in repeating such achievements: so that they become habitual, and don’t depend on whim or chance. This I used to be good at: walking between twenty-five and fifty miles a week, up hill and down dale, and in all sorts of conditions (both me and the weather…). In fact, in many ways, it became an addiction (but much less harmful than most analgesics); and I think there wasn’t a footpath within five or ten miles of my front door that didn’t bear the fading imprint of my favourite walking boots (which I have replaced with an almost identical pair; but still can’t bear to throw away: even though their soles have long been treadless and flat – an apt metaphor, perhaps, for my current lethargy: which I keep telling myself is enforced; and yet I know that Monday’s trek is eminently repeatable…).

A week or so ago, in the Guardian, Ben Okri wrote – in the King or queen for a day column – that…

If I had the power to impose my will, I would get people to walk more. We walk only when we have to, hurrying between places where vehicles can’t take us…. I would have people walk to the next bus stop rather than stand there waiting. I would have people get lost walking just for the special pleasures of discovery. I would have people walk when they are depressed, walk when they are overwhelmed with problems, when they are anxious, when they are sad. I’d have them walk when they are happy, just so they can infect the world with their precious mood.

It is not an accident that the ancients linked walking and thinking. Images of Plato’s Academy show master and pupil walking. The peripatetic philosophers walked thinking. There is a Buddhist practice of mindful walking, walking as a form of meditation, walking linked with breathing as a liberator of consciousness.

…walking is its own thing. It keeps us close to the right level of life and close to the natural pace of things.

And, having already grumbled in this blog about…

…our lazy ways of driving our children to school; or arriving at village meetings by car; or nipping down to Bart’s for a loaf of bread in our 4x4s, when all of our local amenities are central, and easily accessible on foot even to those, like me, who walk in pain, and with a stick; and when the three hamlets – from Tysoe Manor to Lane End Farm – are less than two miles from end-to-end (and that’s using the roads; not cutting corners with our frequent footpaths, or as the numerous crows fly…)

…all I can do is concur – and hope to lead by example – by just continually “putting one foot in front of the other” as I used to do; and remembering, as Laozi famously said, that “The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet.”

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Infamy, infamy…

Anatomy of a migraine

A migraine may begin in many ways:
Quite instantly, or with some challenging delays,
With auras like the borealis, or the singing of the whales –
But however it may start, the pain then never ever fails
To lay you low, with potions, pills and ice,
In darkness and in silence, and not feeling very nice.

It keeps you down for hours, or even several days,
And punishes in many different ways:
Not just the hurt, but losing half your sight,
Or even half your body (that’s not right);
And feeling sick and dizzy, and quite crushed –
But then, a migraine is not ever to be rushed.

And even when it’s gone, it leaves you out of phase:
Your brain feels ground from diamond into clays;
Your appetite is gone, and you feel weak;
And sometimes you don’t even have the strength to speak.
Some sleep will do you good, and give you energy to burn –
Until, of course, the damned thing cruelly chooses to return.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

The stars are the street lights of eternity…

Moonlight is sculpture; sunlight is painting.
– Nathaniel Hawthorne

In this month’s edition of the Tysoe & District Record, Jane Millward, our hardworking (but, of course, voluntary) Parish Council Clerk, wrote that “The cost of providing street lighting around the parish has gone up by 40%”; and added that the Parish Council, therefore, “would like to sound out opinions from our residents on some of the options.”

I have posted about Tysoe’s “rude interruption of sodium” before; as well as describing my night-time peregrinations around the village: where “The pools of darkness, inbetween, highlight what a beautiful place we live in”. But I do accept, and understand, that, earlier in the night, there may be a need for street lamps – for example, where “continuity of lighting levels is important to pedestrians” – although our neighbouring villages of Oxhill and Pillerton Priors manage without them (as did the village of Fovant, in Wiltshire, where I used to live: and where the nightly view of the Milky Way was so much more than compensation for the dark – but not consequently mean – streets).

Many councils – regional, county, district, town and parish – are already turning off a goodly proportion of their street lamps between midnight and 05:00 or 05:30 GMT (with them not then coming back on if it’s already light, and the sun has begun to rise…) – for ecological reasons (the benefits to wildlife; lower emissions…), as well as economical; and without any obvious downsides. For instance, approximately 80% of Warwickshire County Council-owned street lights now operate on a ‘part night’ basis: leading to nearly 40,000 street lights being switched off for some of the night. And in Essex – contrary to what you might expect – “The experience to date is that there has been no increase in crime or accident levels which could be attributed to the introduction of part night lighting.”

There is, as well, no statutory requirement for local authorities in the UK to provide street lighting. The Highways Act simply empowers local authorities to illuminate our roads: stipulating that any “lighting units are kept in safe condition”.

I know that the Parish Council “will be checking to see we are on the best tariff available”; but I wonder if there are additional ways of mitigating costs. Part of the 40% increase is “due to increased VAT levels”; and I therefore would be interested to learn if the Parish Council is – or could be – registered as a charity: as, according to HMRC, “subject to certain conditions, your charity may be able to buy fuel and power at the reduced VAT rate”. There are probably details in the council’s constitution that I am not aware of that would make this impracticable – but I feel I should mention it for the sake of completeness: especially as any organization that is registered for VAT may also be able to claim some of it back.

Another possible strategy would be to change the source of the electricity used. I have written before about the feasibilities of generating our own wind power, and how this could be financed by the village. To simply fuel our few street lights – and for short periods of time – would not require the leviathans striding across the Edge Hills that I presume most folks would imagine: an image which seems to be the largest obstacle – and the “only one honest objection” – to onshore wind power’s acceptance and deployment. Or we could use solar-powered low-energy LEDs: which have a potential to generate excess – green – electricity that can then be sold back to the grid to raise revenue for the Parish Council, or provide dividends to residents who have invested.

Such lights might again raise aesthetic disapproval: because of the “bright white light” most of them are designed to produce. But I see no reason why high-wattage LEDs need be used; or why we should not break the mould (if we are to carry on lighting our streets), and keep to the dull orange we are accustomed to.

As well as saving money, it will be a boon to skywatchers in the surrounding countryside, as LED lights provide more illumination on the ground and less to the clouds. Close to 100% of the light goes downward, unlike conventional street lights which send a third of their glow into the night sky, causing light pollution.

Financial help for such projects is now available – at least for local authorities: and I admit that I do not know if this applies to parish councils, or if they are allowed to borrow money (although I am sure that Stratford-on-Avon District Council could play a pivotal rôle here, if needs be…) – for making the switch to low-energy streetlights “with the launch of a new Green Loan from the UK Green Investment Bank (GIB)”: which offers “a low, fixed rate… over a period of up to 20 years”.

We have the means to limit climate change…. The solutions are many and allow for continued economic and human development. All we need is the will to change.
Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Having said all that – and having walked around Tysoe many times during the dark hours mooted by the Parish Council, and never met another soul, and encountered next to no traffic – I believe that (disregarding any other reasons) there isn’t actually any need or demand for street lighting then (if at all…): especially, where lamps generally are left on, by other authorities, it is principally to safeguard the interaction of large amounts of traffic and pedestrians.

And if you’re worried about the increasing number of vehicles parked overnight on the Main Street chicane, these should already be protected by the requirements of the Highway Code: that is, not parking “on a road at night facing against the direction of the traffic flow unless in a recognised parking space” (so that their rear reflectors catch the attention of any oncoming headlights); and displaying “parking lights when parked on a road or a lay-by on a road with a speed limit greater than 30 mph”.

Mind you, keeping BST throughout the year, and limiting the centre of the village to 20 mph (as Clifford Chambers is in the process of doing) – which, realistically, is the maximum sensible speed for traversing it (at any time of day) – would also help; and, anyway, the current street lamps do little to negate the need for main beam headlights, if you are driving through Tysoe with safety in mind (and are not instead updating your Facebook status on your smartphone to “Currently in intensive care” or, perhaps, more likely, “Currently in custody”).

Whatever is finally decided, it must, I suggest, be uniformly applied (and policed); and follow an audit of the entire parish. As I have written previously, “Windmill Way must contain as many lamp-posts as the full length of Main Street”: and is therefore one of the largest sources of light pollution in the village. Subject to residents agreeing, the number of lamps that are lit there – at any time – could be reduced drastically and permanently.

It is especially important that, in historic towns and conservation areas, particular attention is paid to the aesthetic quality of street furniture and lighting. Care should be taken to avoid light pollution and intrusion, particularly in rural areas. In some cases it may not be appropriate to provide lighting, for example in a new development in an unlit village…. Where street furniture or lighting is taken out of service, it should be removed.
– Department for Transport: Manual for Streets

The decision must also apply to any new-builds. Imagine if Gladman’s proposed eighty houses were built, and all lit as densely and uniformly as Windmill Way. Upper and Middle Tysoe residents would drastically lose the number of stars they could count in the night sky, as would those living nearby.

Light at night not only disrupts your sleep but also interferes with your circadian rhythms. Recent research indicates that intrusive lighting may reduce the production of melatonin, a beneficial hormone, and a resulting raise in the rates of breast and other cancers.

And, finally, villagers should be conscious that any lights they fit to their homes – for security reasons, perhaps (especially considering the recent heating oil thefts in Tysoe, highlighted by David Sewell, editor of the Record) – should not be excessive, and contribute to such pollution themselves: lighting only their own properties; not trespassing onto the public highway, startling motorists and passing pedestrians with their “unsafe glare”; and certainly not – as does one property in Upper Tysoe – flash on and off, every minute or so, like some Warwickshire Pharos, when it is gusty (not an uncommon occurrence at the windmill end of the village). There is nothing worse, once you have gotten your night eyes in – and “It takes between 40 minutes and an hour for your eyes to become fully adapted to seeing in the dark”– than then being blinded by such an unthoughtful and solipsistic installation.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

The Wastage of the Willows – Branch II; Leaf I

Let’s keep it between us…

There was a reason for Badger’s books staying safe and secure on the tall study shelves, as well as dust-free. In fact, there were several reasons: all of them rather small.

The Mole – who had long since lost the description of timid (probably somewhere in the Toad’s banqueting-hall: but he had never thought about it enough to go back and look) – had fallen into the same trap as those who could not see past his slightly shy, slightly bumbling, slightly muttering-to-himself exterior: assuming that the wood-mice who loved and looked after him (as saviour, friend, and a sort of great – in size, as well as generosity of heart and mind – uncle) were as timorous (“PusillaniMOUSE! Oh, amn’t I a clever, clever Mole!”) and nervous as he had been, before the Water Rat and the Badger had helped him find what he now – mostly – thought of as his “courageous core” (although, sometimes, it felt as solid and enduring as the pinkest, wobbliest blancmange).

Partly it came from numbers; but mostly it came from knowledge, habit and necessity. In a world that was changing faster than the seasons, they had soon determined the exigency of their – and of all the other animals they knew (whether they cared for them, or not) – situation. Something had to be done; and, having discovered the large blueprints in the study, they knew that these held the key. But the Mole was correct in one regard: they understood the significance of these large sheets of heavy paper; but not their detail. And, yes, they were frightened by the scale of change: but this did not mean that they would not face it full on, given the chance. One mouse may not be very strong – although containing more concentrated fortitude than you could possibly imagine – but multiply their courage by the hundreds of kindred groups scattered throughout the shrinking meadows and dwindling copses, and there you have an army: as determined as any mole, water rat or badger; and with as big a united heart.

These tiny, almost hidden foot-soldiers – only visible to most others when they desired – were, in reality, as ever-present as early-morning spring dew and fledgling love; common as sudden summer thunder and cowslips; pervasive as autumn rust and squirrelled nuts; ubiquitous as frosty days and cutting winter’s winds. And, therefore, wherever you stood – from here in the newly-tamed Wild Wood to where the river had swept wide and languorous from before recorded times to the day that man’s greed had vanquished it (exiled, temporarily, to never-fading memories and perennial hand-me-down bedtime tales) – you were never far from one of their extended family groups: be it of tiny harvest-mice, or larger field- or wood-mice (some of whom had beautiful golden collars); and, consequently, always close by one of their numerous discreet dwellings and ancestral byways – linking cousin to cousin, uncle to nephew, aunt to niece, sister to brother, parent to child. Secretive as these creatures could be – often moving quickly from place to place – their expansive labyrinth was, nonetheless, the most efficient way any animal knew of moving significant news and notices around – sometimes seemingly faster than the original thought had taken to form; and so much more reliable than the whispering, rumorous breeze!

Their urge to keep their conspirations hidden from the Mole, for the moment, though, had clashed with their instinctive compulsion to keep his inherited home spick and span; and by leaving the plans subsequently unswept of dust, whilst applying their usual conscientiousness to the rest of the study (where they should not have been, of course), they had almost – through too much supposition and deliberation – drawn attention to their machinations. Luckily, every time the Mole entered this room, he was intent on one thing, and one thing only: solving the riddle that those drawings represented, so that they could never come to fruition; or, if they did, then be wiped from the face of the meadows they had so desecrated. He knew something didn’t quite add up, when he looked around his workspace – hence the umming and head-scratching – but those parts of his brain involved in adducing, deducing and inducing were too brimful of unresolved ideas and blind alleys for that particular something to register.

When the Badger had made his first appeal, under the old lime tree, it was therefore to the mice that he had turned to spread the word; sharing the heavier part of the burden with the rabbits: who were also scattered near and far; and who, it appeared – although only they knew the true extent, of course – had a similar network of extensive paths and burrows. The problem was – or, the problems were – the Twisted Pair of weasels: who had easily persuaded all these malleable “fluffy bunnies” that they were on a between-you-me-and-the-gatepost mission of the Badger’s; not helped, in turn, by the young, almost-minuscule-as-a-mouse rabbit recruit to the committee being both innnately gullible and readily intimidated – unnerved not only by its own shadow, but everyone-else’s: especially when larger, and in larger numbers (than one). Thus it was that the Chief Weasel so thoroughly usurped the Badger’s powers: dividing the animals into long-forgotten – once-traditional, perhaps – rôles of predator and prey.

The mice, however, had wisdom beyond their diminutive size – and this, too, came from their propensity to share, and always discuss matters of import amongst themselves, before reaching any decision with their collective circumspection: a custom that had served them well many, many times. (Proof that the Mole’s views on committees weren’t always correct!) It helped that they had never trusted the weasels and their collaborators, though: knowing them to be, in such matters, false prophets. Thus they had helped the Badger undermine the equivocating stoats and weasels – but, sadly, only so far as to convince those who were already on the Badger’s side. And not for long enough.