Tuesday 7 February 2006

Reasons to be cheerful

The good thing about being an incurable pessimist is that I’m never disappointed. And once in a blue moon life does throw up a pleasant surprise, like a £50 cheque from the premium bonds or a column in The Journal.

The bad thing is that I tend to end up sitting on my own on Saturday nights, sipping whisky and thinking about playing Irish roulette. That’s like Russian roulette, but using five bullets.

I try to counter this by thinking of all the things I want to see before I die. Given that I hate travel for reasons of both principle and personal comfort, it’s a fairly short list. And if we’re realistic, what are the chances of the UK naked ladies’ synchronised swimming team trekking all the way out to the Cheviots to put on a display for me? Particularly as I don’t have a swimming pool.

Shortly before he died last year, the great comic writer William Donaldson observed to the young co-author of his final book, ‘You’re so lucky – you’re going to live to see what happens to Charlotte Church.’

Now I have to say that the future of that young Welsh liver isn’t something that keeps me awake at night. But I do count myself lucky to have lived long enough to see some of the monstrous buildings that went up in my childhood reduced to rubble. And my attitude to today’s crop of development proposals is much influenced by the perspective of age.

As a sixth former, I remember laughing with my friends about the way newspapers always print the age of anyone they write about. What on earth was the relevance of that?

Then one gets to 40 and suddenly death ceases to be a distant, hypothetical concept. Now it looks more like a giant truck bearing down at breakneck speed, horn blaring and lights ablaze, and with absolutely no-one at the wheel. From this point, nothing becomes more relevant than the time you’ve had and how much you might have left.

So when I read on the letters page opposite that wind farms are a convenient short-term stopgap, while we wait for scientists to master hydrogen power or nuclear fusion, I feel even more gloomy than usual. Because for me they represent the permanent destruction of the finest countryside on the planet. If the time ever comes to dismantle them – which I doubt – I shall be long dead.

Twenty years ago I lived in a small cottage right in the middle of one of the many developments currently seeking planning permission, at Wandylaw. I can confirm that it’s a good spot for the technology, as I used my own small wind generator to power my lights, word processor and TV.

But that was on a pole around 12 feet tall, hardly noticeable one field away, and would have come a poor second in a dust-up with a sparrow. How very different from the new generation of behemoths, which threaten to bestride the wonderful open spaces of Northumberland like something out of The War of the Worlds, reducing even kites and buzzards to neat salami slices.

All this so that a few large corporations – and some suspiciously small ones – can cash in on the latest market-distorting subsidy scam. The twenty-first century equivalent of all those rolling acres of Sitka spruce, planted with generous State aid to ensure our eternal self-sufficiency in pit props, which now cost more to harvest than they realise as wood pulp.

Yes, faced with a straight choice between a 400ft turbine and a nuclear waste dump in my back yard, I’d probably plump for the former. For a true pessimist, the nuclear option presents many more alarming possibilities when one asks ‘what could possibly go wrong?’

But far better than either, I think, is to remember the wise words of our Dear Leader. There is a Third Way.

Put on a pullover, turn down the thermostat and don’t take that cheap flight. That’s as good a way to save the planet as any I’ve heard of. And it will leave you richer into the bargain.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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