Tuesday 28 March 2006

Turning the clock back

Evelyn Waugh complained that the Conservative Party had been in office for years but had never succeeded in putting the clock back my so much as one minute.

Well, I’ve done better than the Tories, which admittedly isn’t saying much. A little while ago, after a certain amount of correspondence, I succeeded in getting the electricity distribution people to remove a line of poles and wires that impinged on the otherwise uninterrupted view from my house to The Cheviot.

This doesn’t mean that some other poor rustic is sitting in the dark, trying to get their TV to run off a car battery. The poles weren’t actually serving any useful purpose, since they’d been erected to serve a Women’s Institute hut that had long been recycled as firewood. Its site has been back under the plough for years, though they do say that if you stand there on a quiet late summer evening you can still detect a distinct whiff of boiling jam, and the sound of ghostly voices singing Jerusalem.

I also feel modestly pleased about signposts. Round where I live we still have a lot of those attractive cast iron signs, which look indestructible but are in fact surprisingly easy to smash with a carelessly deployed hedge trimmer. The Government issued some new guidelines last year, saying that they ought to be cared for and preserved, though naturally they didn’t provide any additional money for hard-pressed local authorities to do so.

I’ve yet to see any positive results from my correspondence with the county council about repairing them, though they have come and collected all the missing arms that I had placed for safekeeping in my shed. However, the powers-that-be have at least started painting them, after a lapse of many years when they were simply left to rust. This is making them once again legible and fit for purpose.

The clock put back another minute or two there, then. So why do I end up feeling like that poor publican in Essex who has spent years working with officials from English Heritage to ensure that every repair and alteration to his ancient, listed, half-timbered pub complies with their multifarious rules? Then suddenly BAA come along and announce that they are going to bulldoze the whole thing to build a second runway at Stansted, and apparently that’s quite acceptable. National policy, you see.

Some years ago BT, as it then probably wasn’t called, put the clock back by removing the long line of telegraph poles and wires that used to run alongside the single track road from North Charlton to Chillingham. I’ve always thought it is one of the finest drives in the county, and usually take visitors so that we can try to count the seven (is it?) castles visible from the top of the ancient hill fort at Ros.

It’s peaceful, empty and beautiful. So where better to stick up a load of those things I’ve decided not to mention for a while, but they’re 400 feet tall and totally useless as a reliable source of energy. You know what I’m talking about.

One of the local farmers defended the scheme to this paper on the grounds that the area wasn’t particularly scenic, and it involved ‘agricultural, industrial land’. Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder but I think it’s a real shame he can’t see it.

More to the point, ‘agricultural’ and ‘industrial’ are not, or should not be, synonymous. Agriculture involves working with Nature to grow food crops in a sustainable way, showing due consideration for wild flora and fauna. Yet in the last 30 years many farmers have been tempted to move into ‘agribusiness’, involving aggressive monocultures that are distorted by subsidies and leave too much of their land effectively sterile.

It’s not the way to go, chaps. It never was. It’s high time to put that clock back.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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