Friday, October 18, 2013

Growing Pains

When I was a child I had a great love of the countryside. I would go for long walks down the lanes, and across the meadows with my mates around the environs of Potters Bar. I particularly liked playing and exploring the local streams like "Bridgefoot" where in its clear running waters you would see shoal upon shoal of Sticklebacks, little fish we would catch in our nets, and take them home in jam jars to be re homed in our garden ponds. I particularly liked playing around and exploring the many small lakes and ponds, each brimming over with its own natural wildlife. It was easy to find lots of frogspawn, some of which, like the sticklebacks would find its way back to our garden pond. It was fascinating watching the little tadpoles slowly take form in their protective jelly, then hatching into the water, and  slowly growing legs while their bodies grew slowly plumper and their tails slowly retracting until at last they reached their destination of turning into properly formed frogs. They would then, after a while, struggle their way out of the pool and make off on their own to pastures new.
If I walked outside my garden gate and turned right and walked about a hundred yards, I could climb through the wire into what was affectionately known as the "cow field", although the cows of my very early youth disappeared to be replaced by horses from a riding club whose premises lay in a far flung corner of the field next to the main road, Mutton Lane. Just the  other side of the fence  was a small pond which was home to all sorts of water borne life, but of particular interest to me and my mates were the newts. There were various hinds of newts living here, and they were not uncommon. Some of these also found themselves living in my garden pond!
When I look back, there were ponds, clear streams, fields, woodlands and wildlife everywhere. Tragically, now, many of these places I loved and played in have vanished along with the wildlife they supported. The vast field near my house with its newt pond got redeveloped into a big housing estate. From the railway path, you could look up across the field and see my house standing proudly in its row as you walked to and from the shops. Not any more, just the bland view of the obscuring over-priced houses. Another bit of the field was swallowed up after they knocked down my old junior school to make way for more "badly needed" flats and rebuilt the school on the field, a mere shadow of the proud buildings where I received my primary education. The fields separating the northern and southern parts of Potters Bar were slowly consumed by more development, laying waste to the "sprat pond", another haven of wild life where my brother used to go. Of course, it goes without saying that this theme has gone on at an ever accelerating pace since my childhood and the landscape in many places has changed beyond recognition for the worse. And the cause of all this
I feel a great despair for this planet because us humans have blighted it with our presence and determination to breed beyond the limits of what the environment can support. The net result is the rapidly accelerating destruction of our countryside as the towns turn into cities and the cities keep expanding ever onwards swallowing up local villages and the land between the villages being redeveloped with endless new housing estates. Of course, all this puts additional pressure on the infrastructure, so more and more roads get built, more and more shopping centres spring up, more and more traffic on the roads, ever more power stations and wind farms have to be built, more and more pollution.....and so it goes on.
One of my favourite sci-fi films is "Blade Runner". It begins with a vision of a future where you don't see any countryside, everywhere you look is a vast multi-layered city towering up into the sky, while in the streets below people scurry around in a constant smog of pollution. My fear is that if we continue as we are, this is the kind of future we could be heading for unless there is a radical change in which we, as a species command our affairs.
As I see it, population growth is the most obvious factor driving all this, along with an economy which is ever seeking more and more growth, which in the long term cannot be anything but unsustainable. Look around where you live. Unless you are very fortunate there will not be any truly natural (primeval) countryside to be seen, its all being either farmed or redeveloped. On an aircraft flying across Europe earlier this year on my way to Hungary, I couldn't help but notice the landscape below which was all a patchwork of farm fields, with very little in the way of forest or open moorland to be seen. We are getting to the point where the only bits of the planet which are untouched by humans are those very remote and inhospitable places which, for the moment, we see as unfit for human habitation, but I believe even that will change. Of course, another outcome in all this is man's continued inhumanity to man, with wars and jaw dropping barbarism going on in untold spots around the globe, while millions starve and children live on the streets or out of cardboard boxes, scavenging among the city rubbish tips in the hope of finding something to keep a foothold on staying alive.
Clearly, the world needs to stop, step back, and realise that we cannot go on like this. Unless something is done to turn back the tide, our future on this planet is at best very grim, and at worst doomed. A factor I haven't mentioned yet, is, of course climate change. All the time I hear of governments pledging to take steps to reduce the amount of CO2 they chuck out into the atmosphere, but when do you hear of them saying they will take steps to reduce, or at least stabilise their populations? You don't. Religion has a lot to answer for where population explosion is concerned, particularly in the insistence on the sanctity of all human life and the right of every foetus to be born, whether or not it may be deformed, or not wanted by the parents, or the result of a rape....or whatever - you get the picture. You have those who don't allow contraception or abortions. The result being large families of people in very overcrowded cities, poverty, deprivation, and disease - ridden early death for many of these unfortunate children who had to be born because they are sacred to the god existing only between the ears of those who believe in him/she/or it. They call themselves "pro life" when the ultimate outcome of their stance is misery and death.
China has been castigated for its one child policy. China is at least facing up to the problem and trying to do something about it. You would think that China having the land mass that it has, would have loads of room for everyone, with vast reaches of unspoiled countryside. Well, this is more and more not the case, and they are fighting to resolve it, even though some of their methods seem cruel to us in the west.
Well, I think I have made my point. I have mentioned these things in earlier postings, but now I am not working any more (for the moment at least), I find myself with more time to ponder these issues, and write about them. Its now time for me to take a walk from my house where there was a nice field at the back of us when we moved in 16 years ago, and is now an ugly housing development. I'm going to the corner shop which was once a much more modest affair but which charmingly catered for all our basic needs, but has since been taken over by Tesco attracting every man and his dog as well as being frequented by massive delivery lorries blocking up the road and creating chaos.....oh joy! 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Cold Comfort

As I sit pondering, the snow is falling outside my window. It has been for over an hour now and I am not feeling much like doing anything that involves moving more than a few small muscles. I feel cerebrally active but leave out the physical - its something I need to work up to, like building up a head of steam from cold, and at the moment I'm cold, though not in a thermal sense (I'm warm), just in the getting up out of my comfortable settee (think the last interest - free installment on it has been paid- I'll know when the statement comes!). My wife has started zotting around the house doing things that have to be done because "I just can't sit here" - I know what she means but I refuse to feel guilty so I'll just sit here with "Primeval" as background audio visual wallpaper while I wax lyrical.

Back to the snow. Its still snowing and the vacuum cleaner dirt cylinder has just been emptied. Yesterday on BBC2 they showed a documentary - "Winterwatch 1963 - the Big Freeze" which I watched last night following returning from watching a pantomime in Cambourne, late and when I really should have been in bed. It re-ran a very old film on the "Tonight" programme presented by Cliff Michelmore (that took me back!), and it seemed as if in January and February of 1963 the world nearly came to an end while perishing under polar blizzards, Siberian temperatures, and Himalayan ice flows. One amazing fact which came out of it and was not mentioned by Cliff was that half the British bird population was wiped out. (Its still snowing). However, over the following not many years, the birds quickly re-established themselves in even greater numbers - hurrah!

In 1963 I was a mere stripling 13 years old skinny lad who could easily die of hypothermia if left out too long. I remember the Big Freeze. At the time, from my point of view it didn't feel like the Big Freeze, it was more a wow, this is fantastic - all this snow and I can't wait to get out in it type of thing, though my Mum and Dad didn't see it in the same way. My Dad (we didn't have a car) used to cycle (the pedal type) to work each day from Potters Bar to Southgate and somehow or other still made it to work every day - and back. I don't ever remember him coming home early because his kindly caring employer had let him off early because of the severe weather! One thing which really stands out in my memory is OUR SCHOOL NEVER CLOSED - NOT EVEN FOR A DAY!!!!! I remember one lunchtime building a huge snowball - the type you could only build by rolling it with the help of others, and then , somehow, lifting it high enough to crash it down onto one of the other boy's head - can't remember who he was but I have a hazy memory of him not being very amused  This lead to a pitched snow battle between all my mates and all his mates and any form or level of violence was good enough, so long as it involved snow - oh how we laughed!

I remember milk bottles on the doorstep with the cream having expanded upward and leaving the tin foil top sitting precariously on top, often with bird-beak driven holes in the top where the desperate starving birds had pecked into them for sustenance. When I went "down the shops" down the "line path" to Darkes Lane with my mum, she never had to carry the shopping home because we'd stick it on the sled and pull it home. I was very sorry when the thaw eventually came as it must, and the snow disappeared, as taking the sled shopping was fun; not taking the sled and there being no snow and no use for the sled was just plain boring. One day I took a trek to my mate Paul's house and we built an igloo in his garden. This was no nambi-pambi half-hearted igloo, but the real McCoy. The snow was so deep in his garden we actually cut and fashioned big snow building blocks and finished up with an igloo you could live in - if you were so inclined, but I wasn't and my parents wouldn't have let me even if I had wanted to.  It was still there when all the surrounding snow had long melted, it was that good!

Nowadays when it snows, we just don't seem to be able to cope. Schools close because there is 2 inches of snow on the ground and horror of horrors it might even become 3!!!!! People get sent home from work early - mustn't risk anyone having an accident on the way home if we leave it too late! Even so, if I get sent home, I don't complain! - more time for pursuing my hobbies.... The ten pin bowling league gets cancelled, even though if people did make the effort and drove carefully, it would probably be alright! Trains stop running and airports close. The economy falters as goods do not get delivered and we hear of food prices having to rise. It will be very interesting then, as we plunge ever deeper into the Doomsday consequences of global warming or should I say climate change, to see how we cope in the future when we most surely according to current predictions have to face winters far worse than anything we encountered in 1963. Back to the British "War Time Spirit" and "Stiff Upper Lip" methinks.

Its still snowing.

Monday, January 14, 2013


My wife was recently reading one of the "Shopaholic" series of chic-lit books. Although not a chick myself, but more of a grumpy old git that sometimes likes to get in touch with his feminine side, I stole it away and read it myself. I was immediately amused, entranced and ensnared in the antics of a fictitious woman who just has to shop!

Now, I know that where women are concerned, shopping is a kind of divine ritual which just has to be done no matter what and no matter what the state of the home finances might be. In the book, the heroine. although in deep financial trouble herself, and ironically is employed as a columnist in a savings magazine, just cannot stop shopping and keeps buying expensive and exotic things even though she doesn't actually need them, but then if they are sold at such a fantastic discount, then you would have to be mad not to buy - I mean you are actually SAVING money if you do!!

I have to admit, that unlike many men, I do actually like shopping. I think its a primeval thing going back to that part in my genetic make-up that sends me out into the wild to hunt and kill and bring back the trophies to a grateful wife and family who are massively impressed by my great dexterity and cunning in acquiring such wonderful things! At least, it might be like that in my mind, but the reality is that I rarely buy myself anything and even when I do I have to justify it to myself. I mean - do I really NEED it? Is it something which will make a possible difference to my life? If its a book, well if its non-fiction does it contain information I could get for nothing off the Internet? Okay, its a book I really want so could I buy it for cheaper as an ebook? Hang on, what about all the books you have already, and you haven't read them yet. So I don't buy it.

Right, never mind anything - I've got some spare cash so I'M DETERMINED TO TREAT MYSELF. How about a new camera? Well, Jessops has just gone under, so can't look there. Never mind, John Lewis is always good - yeah, great, they've got a whole range of real hot quality cameras. Hang on a moment - whats wrong with the  DSLR you already have, not to mention the 12 mega pixel bridge camera, and have you forgotten the 8 mega pixel camera on your smart phone? Okay, forget it, so lets get a movie camera instead. Not so fast.....the voice from within shouts - you already have 1080P on both your cameras and guess what? - 1080P on your smart phone so JUST FORGET IT YOU ARE NOT GETTING IT BECAUSE ITS A COMPLETE WASTE OF MONEY AND YOU ARE JUST SPENDING FOR THE SAKE OF IT!!!!!

This is just not fair, surely theres something I can buy myself - I know - a cappuccino and a muffin in Muffin Break - yeah ecstasy!

Finally, I do end up getting something, but more likely along the lines of a pack of 4 gel pens for £4.60 from Staples. ...or something............................ oh well, lets get the groceries - I don't have to justify not starving!