Tuesday, 14 July 2015

A tale of two societies…

It sometimes takes a long(ish – only ever “ish”, with my health…) walk to settle my thoughts (and maybe yours, too?): and it was only after pootling around Packwood House’s meandering meadows and tree-lined byways that my feelings crystallized – seeded during time away relearning Dorset and Wiltshire’s delightful wonderments – and I realized how much I missed the place where I once lived; but how little I missed (and how much it stressed me) being connected permanently to the Internet (that is, of course, until I returned to Tysoe and a seemingly infinite queue of unread emails…).

As my friend Duke Senior recently opined – and reported (by email!) – though, whilst I was away on my travels in the land of the hill-fort, barrow and henge:

Dorset. A delightful part of the country, where there are still some old style ways of living, and virtues, to be found among the Hardy-esque rural bliss. Like it or not, we here in the Midlands, albeit as rural oasis in the midst of urban and suburban existence, are not like that. The question is, critically, how to retain the oasis-like qualities, when the historical agricultural foundations are somewhat fragile; and there appears little inclination or potential to foster alternative cottage industries, such as prevalent in Dorset, Somerset, Cornwall, for example. But there are heartening signs of all sorts of activities in the village, including overwhelming support for the Post Office, that suggest there are grounds for hope that something can be fashioned, to avoid this becoming just a commuter village, with retirement homes.

And thus it was good to find myself, as the PO was just opening – a couple of days after I had returned to this “better place” – at the end of a sizeable snake of villagers, wending its way towards the counter, eager to make use of its manifold offerings. As always, familiar faces filled the shop; and both conversation and service were friendly and welcoming. So, as June’s edition of Oxhill News reinforces: “Use it or lose it” (and contact Nadhim whilst you’re at it…)! Oh, and please walk there, if you can….

I only make this request, because, whilst incomprehensible rumours circulate of a third draft of the itself‑confusing (in both process and content) Neighbourhood Plan – which I had believed was on hold, whilst the Parish Council wrestled with it, and perhaps wrested back some form of control (it’s amazing what can happen when you leave the village for a short while…) – as well as a proposed/supposed “Simple English” or “Plain English” version – which makes me wonder what language the ‘official’ rounceval is in…) – there continue to be mutterings of “the risk of urbanization” in quelling the seemingly permanent rush of traffic on our tiny roads; as well as the massive increase of ofttimes dangerous/illegal parking outside the concentration of our public facilities (churches, school, village hall, shop, pub, hairdresser, etc. – including, of course, our threatened Post Office) – and not just at peak times any more.

But I do wonder if, maybe, some form of such controls/constraints are exactly what we need? Do we, as a community, really prioritize appearance and the picturesque above safety and common sense? (Hard to believe, I know, considering the attempted mass-Poundburying – like Bunburying, only different – diktats of the NP.)

For example: why not install a pelican crossing – or, indeed, pelican, crossing – outside Tysoe Children’s Group – where, possibly, the sight of a large, non-native bird with a beak full of fish – accompanied by other exotic fauna, elsewhere – would finally tame our speeding idiots/motorists…? Or even an Ettington-style priority system on entering Middle Tysoe from the Banbury Road, just before you hit (hopefully not literally) Church Farm Court; and/or on the Oxhill Road, before Windmill Way and Sandpits Road?

And I only ask this, because – on my many meanderings, walking stick as essential prop – I all too-frequently espy familiar, local cars parked in the centre of the village, no more than fifteen minutes amble from their points of origin; or ignoring the now freshly-painted road markings. (In Warwickshire dialect, the word ‘slow’, now writ large in several places on our byways in gleaming, titanium white, obviously means the opposite of what my grammar school English teacher beat into me: in the same way that ‘sick’ – I am informed by my backwards-wearing-baseball-capped intimates of a certain youthful disposition – means something is rather what-I-at-a-similar-age-would-simply-have-referred-to-as ‘spiffing’. And we are obviously using some longer parochial measure than the mile for our speed limit signs – a maximum, remember; not a target to be accelerated past as soon as the laws of physics permit….)

Perhaps (just for a change (ahem)) I am being cynical; but I do wonder (and not for the first time, of course) how many of these repeatedly-recognizable vehicles have crawled – or, in many cases, zoomed (watching the guys carefully laying down the new lines in Main Street made me realize how courageous you have to be as a Tysoe pedestrian: even in high-viz habiliments…) – half-a-mile or less, without the objective of travelling any further than the return journey home. And it is noticeable, coming back from the slightly behind-the-times-feeling south-west – although I’m not saying that motorists in Wessex villages are any better behaved (well, maybe slightly; and certainly more polite…) – how driving (and living) does feel considerably calmer away from motorways and major cities. No-one appears to be in the permanent rush that so characterizes the A3400, A422, A429 and the Fosse Way; and driving just at or below the legal limit is no longer punishable by Velcro-like tailgating or insane, risk-taking overtaking on blind bends and summits. Time (and traffic) seems to pass just a tad more slowly and sensibly….

I am sure that, if we really felt the need to install them, there are methods of managing vehicles and their speed which would not make the core of Tysoe resemble the centres of Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick, Banbury, or Coventry. But I am equally certain that real improvements come from changes to behaviour, rather than systems.

As the World War II poster (and the motoring organizations, when there’s a light dusting of infrequent snow) asks: “Is your journey really necessary?” And, if it is, can you do it on foot (as I politely requested earlier); or by bicycle or bus – or even on the hoof…? And, finally, can you also do it calmly, and within the law? If not, perhaps you also need a vacation away from traffic both digital and mechanical…. I can highly recommend it….

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