Tuesday 30 October 2007

A candle in the wind

I apologise for my absence last week. Oh, you didn’t notice? While not being under the delusion that you care one way or the other, I was unwell. I had one of those bugs that give you, in random order, a sore throat, hacking cough, streaming nose, aching joints and an overpowering feeling of lassitude. I didn’t bother the doctor. Just went to the post office and obtained assurance that there was a lot of it about.

It’s been going on for a fortnight now, and I still wouldn’t put any money on myself in an arm-wrestling contest with a week-old kitten.

It’s been really lousy timing for two reasons. First, I’m one of those people who is programmed to become depressed anyway as the days grow shorter. Add a bout of physical illness, and I quickly slip over the line from miserable to suicidal.

Secondly, there was something I really wanted to write about last Tuesday, namely the Wandylaw wind farm planning application. Thank goodness I didn’t. A few cynical barbs from me might just have prompted Berwick’s brave councillors to back their planning officers and approve the thing.

I pulled out all the stops for Wandylaw Moor 20 years ago, trying to stop it being dug up for opencast coal. It did precisely no good. In an admittedly sparsely populated area, the majority of locals seemed to be firmly on the side of the developers. Then it was all about “jobs”, which were few and far between, as I recall, and mainly filled by immigrants. Though in those days they only came from County Durham, not Poland.

Of course, I had a personal interest. At the time I was living in a small cottage that looked out onto Wandylaw Moor, writing the definitive comic novel about “Big Bang” in the City. (It’s still waiting for a publisher, 20 years later.) My family had rented the place as a holiday home for most of the 20th century. My mother even claimed to have been born there. It was certainly the place where I’d spent my happiest holidays. I loved it with a passion. Unfortunately I was in a pathetically small minority.

So it was with great delight that I read that this unjustly neglected stretch of moorland between the coast and the Cheviots had finally gathered a respectable fan club, and that the doomed councillors of Berwick-upon-Tweed had decided to go down in style, with flags flying proudly and nearly all guns blazing. Grey men in Whitehall will have reflected how wise they are to eliminate these nuisances and concentrate decision-making power in the hands of reliable Labour stooges from the urbanised parts of the county.

Those who wish to despoil the open, rolling uplands of Northumberland with wind farms have precisely the same mindset as those who burst into the great mediaeval cathedrals intent on smashing their stained glass, whitewashing over their wall paintings and decapitating their icons. Both are motivated by the same spirit of self-righteous do-goodery: then to get back to the true word of the Bible, now in the name of the new religion called “Saving The Planet”.

Behind these well-intentioned vandals lurk exactly the same sort of cynical fat cats. Indeed some of the landowners who have allied with developers to cash in on the ludicrous subsidies for “renewables” are physical as well as spiritual descendants of those who profited so hugely from the stripping of the altars.

Like the Terminator, they will undoubtedly be back. And heaven knows there is enough bad news on other fronts to make me sure that the last thing I want is a long life. But still, for a few minutes last week, the cloud of depression lifted enough to justify cracking open a bottle of champagne and raising a glass to the planning committee of Berwick-upon-Tweed Borough Council. As I believe they say in Australia, “Good on yer, mates!”

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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