Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Politicians rubbing our noses in their dirty work.

"I think our councillors are good people doing a good job". There, I've said it. But what is the public's opinion?

Chatting with people, and eavesdropping on private conversations, (don't get all moral high ground with me - I'm not Jonathon Ross leaving obscene messages on Andrew Sachs' answerphone) it is clear that many have a much lower opinion than I do, of the efforts of our local politicians.

Partly it's caused by expenses scandals, partly it's our media, partly it's a national malaise that we'd rather see bad in people. And partly it's down to the bickering between politicians, particularly now, in the silly season leading up to elections.

A good principle in life is to under-promise and over-deliver; then people are usually quite satisfied with one's performance. But of course the politician is put in an awkward position. Who will stand on a ticket of "my influence will be limited, as the authority's powers are weak, and their funds meagre"? And if they stood as an "honest appraisal of the situation, but I'll do what I can" candidate, would they get elected? (Even under an AV system?)

Over many years I have got to know dozens of local politicians, some quite well, and I would say that most of them are good people who want to do their best to serve their community. They work hard with the local people and businesses, showing tact and patience, have barrow loads of case work, put in endless hours at public and private meetings, and are rewarded with reasonable expenses, some allowances, and very little glory. Yet so many people have nothing but contempt for the councillors' efforts.

And now it's the run-in to the local elections. And what do we receive from the political parties? A load of messages from new people seeking election, describing what the current incumbents have failed to achieve, even if the issue is not the responsibility of that authority, out of their control or influence, and regardless of central government regulations and any budgetary restraints. And to counter that, those currently elected are claiming the glory for things that have been provided by others, and would have happened anyway. And the current and prospective candidates are making promises to the electorate that they cannot possibly keep.

No wonder the public has so little faith in politicians to deliver. And I find it all very sad, as I am very fond of our democratic system, I admire those who dedicate their efforts to serve the public, and I appreciate all they are trying to do on our behalf. So why, why, why do you all make the elections such a turn-off, with all that silly posturing?

Monday, 18 April 2011

a letter to Great Britain's furthest address

In the days of the Royal Mail monopoly, in response to a challenge from alternative service providers, the RM always pointed out that they would deliver a letter anywhere in the UK for a single price. And today I have posted a letter to the most distant address from home, to Cape Wrath lighthouse. That's some kind of milestone in my life, as well as being a brown envelope with a stamp on it.

The lighthouse is at the extreme north west corner of the island of Great Britain. It is eleven miles from the nearest public road, and my letter will have to travel on a foot ferry to get onto their access track. There's no road name, or any houses, but the area is called "the Parph", a happy coincidence in that it is Essex language for "path".

I have written to the owners, the Ures, who also run a cafe at this remote spot, and explained to them about my quest for Fred Slattern to become Britain's most north-west poet. I sent them a Fred Slattern poster, as I'm sure the people of Sutherland will love to hear Fred's "message from essex". Their "Ozone Cafe" at the lighthouse never closes, not that they get much passing trade, being at the end of an isolated cul-de-sac with a 600 foot drop to the sea, ten yards further on.

Fred will be there for lunch and a recital at lunchtime on 16 May. I'm sure his many followers will drop in to say hi. And I'll give the Post Office a bit more time than the usual next-day delivery for first class letters.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Wilderness in the Essex countryside

What makes a wilderness? I have had the privilege last week to deliver poll cards for the 5 May elections, to all the properties in the Birch and Layer Breton polling district. It's an area I know well, only a few miles from home, and all the lanes and rights of way are familiar, from years nerdily poring over maps and exploring on foot and by bike. Some gently rolling countryside, mainly farmland, but some woodland and heath, and cut through by the beautiful Roman River valley. There are hundreds of homes in the area, mainly at the conjoined villages of Birch and Layer Breton, but also the smaller hamlets like Hardy's Green, and even smaller settlements like Craxe's Green, Porter's Green and Birch Park, places probably unknown to most Colcestrians living only five miles away.

The picture above is on a route between Glenelg and Kinlochhourn,(on the west coast of the Scottish Highlands) taken from a point four miles from the nearest road. Yet anyone sitting down on that route would sooner or later meet another person passing by, maybe in twenty minutes, maybe in an hour or more. However, in the Essex countryside one often meets - nobody.

The weather has been fabulous, warm and sunny, a bit breezy, but lovely for early April. Surely there would be lots of people about? On my serpentine path through the countryside around the main village I rarely saw another human being, and certainly no one to speak with. Most of the remote houses and farms appeared uninhabited, and there was no one else walking or cycling along the minor roads. There would be the occasional passing car, but no acknowledgment of a fellow human-being sharing a beautiful day, surrounded by nature.

In the distance I observed some tractors, working the soil on their own, and I remembered reading about the isolation and high suicide rate of farm workers. I saw a few postvans, but again it's all terribly rushed, as the miles have to be eaten up so quickly. There's no time for bicycle delivery; it's only efficient if, like me, you are only delivering cards, and to almost every house in every lane. (A few villagers had chosen not to register to vote.)

Of course I didn't expect to see a French Breton onion seller (with stripy jumper and strings of onions over the handlebars) in Layer Breton. But I did expect to see a bit more rural life, people living the dream/fantasy of self-sufficiency, simple lives outdoors, physically working the land by their own efforts. Trying to convert the natural wilderness of Essex heathlands into a vegetable garden.

I did my bit for the democratic process out in the sticks, and returned to suburbia, to the roar of the first grasscutting of spring. At last, a sign of life, even if the end product is manicured lawns rather than a basket of vegetables.


Related Posts with Thumbnails