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A Sideways View...

Walking past the Calderdale Way to the future Wind farms
Road to Nowhere


Support your local shop
Car hell


Immortal bags
Cheap food Be hip, resist, be ecological!
Guitar music is on the way out...'


Signal Failure
Junk Fax


A “special relationship”
It's not easy being green',


Traffic - the long view


Rambling on!


Car toll
Overwrapped and over here  



Wind Farms  

Blobby Logic (AKA Eric Young) 

 “According to today’s newspaper Noel  Edmonds will soon be telling you that wind  turbines are excessively noisy, unreliable,  inefficient, won’t reduce pollution, waste  land, don’t create jobs, cause house prices to  fall, deter tourists, kill birds, and frighten  horses. (Haven’t we heard that somewhere  before?) Noel Edmonds might also tell you  that Mr Blobby is funny. Should we believe  anything he says? The evidence is stacked  against him!
 Videos of “Noel’s House Party”  will end one argument and a quick scan of the  impartially researched information on renewable  energies will expose the other claims as  nonsense. 

Well-designed, suitably positioned wind  turbines aren’t noisy. Visit one and listen for  yourself.
The Scottish Executive discovered  that only 1% of people living near wind turbines  thought that they were noisy. And I bet  that 1% was Sean Connery making one of his  rare tax-free visits.  Any claim of inefficiency conveniently  ignores the fact that the fuel for wind energy  is free and clean. Unlike inefficient, dirty coal  and gas-fired power stations, where much of  the energy is wasted as heat, there is no comparable  “waste” if some of the wind is not  used!

Noel Edmonds might point out that  wind farms only produce around 30% of their  theoretical capacity but this should not be confused  with inefficiency. The wind supply does  not allow turbines to work non-stop throughout  the course of a year, and the energy outputs  of wind turbines are calculated for them  working at 30% of their capacity.  Unlike gas and coal powered electricity,  wind power will reduce the amount of carbon  dioxide being released into the atmosphere.  Wind turbines offer the cheapest available and  most developed renewable energy to deliver  carbon cuts on a large scale. 
A wind farm will only use approximately  1% of the land on which it is sited. The  remainder could be used for farming or be  protected as wildlife habitats. The RSPB supports  sensitively sited wind farms because it  recognises that wind turbines are less of a danger  to birds than electricity cables. The British  Horse Society is also not opposed to wind  farms, it has found no conclusive evidence  that turbines frighten horses. The UK’s first  wind farm was actually built next to a stud  farm and horse riding school! Have you ever  spotted any sheep or cows too scared to graze  around wind turbines? 

Wind energy creates jobs too. The New  York State Energy office has concluded that  wind power creates 66% more jobs than coal  fired electricity generation. Wind farms can  also provide an important source of income  for local people. They are a longstanding  tourist attraction! A Cornish wind farm had  350,000 visitors in its first 8 years of operation,  and a MORI poll in Scotland reported  that 80% of tourists would be interested in visiting  a wind farm! 
And there is no evidence that house prices  fall due to their proximity to a wind farm!  Used together with other renewable energies  and wholesale energy efficiency measures  wind power offers us the opportunity of  a more sustainable future. The UK has the  greatest wind resource in Europe. Even if you  don’t like the look of them (and are partial to  lurid, multi-coloured sweaters) I believe you  should open your eyes to their environmental  benefits that are far too great for us to lose.    

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Support your local shop

Vaughan Ryan 

 I recognise the pitiful state that our  society is in. I walk amongst you on Market  Street with my head down wondering what is  to be done about the puddles near bus stops.
I  am appalled by the selfish and unsocial attitudes  foisted upon us by much of the media. I  rage silently against the amount of vehicles  driving along the canal towpath. I am not stimulated  into action by politicians because I am  not convinced of the worth of their political  system. I wonder what sort of award a mill  conversion could possibly deserve after  making its neighbours lives unbearable for  weeks on end.
 But I’m not apathetic. I know  that there is something I can do over which I  have a very strong control.  I know that every penny of every pound I  spend (and save!) encourages activity.
I can  influence what goes on around me. I am determined  that my spending power will encourage  as much positive and useful activity as it can  in my local community and beyond. I am  thinking globally and acting locally. I have  discovered a powerful tool.

For too long I  have consumed without thought, wasting time  journeying long distances to drop money into  far off tills, needlessly exploiting workers and  supporting slave labour, foolishly donating  money to animal abusers and environment  polluters.  My money will win battles. It will talk to  the selfish in a language they understand.
I’m  becoming an ethical consumer. If it can, it will  be bought locally. I’ll be sourcing sustainable  businesses that don’t exploit or pollute. No  genetically modified organisms here. I’m  actively seeking out the Fairtrade labels (and  there’s loads in the Co-Op!). I’m purchasing  cruelty-free products from companies that  don’t test other products on animals.
I’m  sending a message of support to sustainable  and responsible business people and denying  my custom to those who are slowly destroying  the fabric of our society.

 I’m avoiding those  who didn’t support the results of the traffic  review consultation.
I’m joining the 52% of  people who say that they are actively  boycotting at least one product. I’m challenging  my long held ideas and attitudes about  shopping and consumerism and I’m loving it.  I’m part of a movement that cost the enemy  £2.6 billion in lost sales last year.
Come and  join me, support your local shop, the WTO is wobbling.    
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Car toll

 I’m sure that there must be a law of economics  written somewhere to tell us that if you  give something a zero price there will always  be an excess demand for it.
Such a law was  obviously written way before the advent of  the daily free newspapers that flutter around  our bus and train stations and ITV One but the  basic truth just about still holds firm.  Similarly it seems that unless there is a  realistic and enforced monetary deterrent to  many unwelcome activities then there will be  an excess amount of these activities taking  place.

Surely there can’t be many people  who would flinch at the prospect of housing  developers and members of Council planning  committees facing financial ruin and being  prohibited from ever setting foot in town  again if they flagrantly flouted planning laws  or showed little respect for the wishes of local  residents? 

The 2001 Census revealed that only 15%  of the people traveling to work in England  use public transport, whilst 61% use a car. In  London, where the percentage of those using  public transport is much higher, the huge volume  of vehicles using the roads for work, as  well as getting to work led to the introduction  of the notorious congestion charge - a £5  financial deterrent on most vehicle users,  attempting to reduce the amount of unwelcome  traffic entering the centre of London.  According to Transport For London, less  than four months after the inception of congestion  charging, traffic levels are already  down by 20% and even Jeremy Clarkson has  admitted he was wrong to suggest that it  couldn’t work!  Bus passengers are not all  smiles however…it seems that their favoured  modes of transport are now almost racing  around the non-gridlocked town and are  unable to respect their old slow timetables! 

A road charging scheme in Trondheim,  Norway had a similar effect on its traffic levels  so what’s stopping Hebden Bridge? Let’s  start by charging £5 (or £3 and 2Favours) for  driving through St George’s Square, with all  proceeds going to its ultimate pedestrianisation,  and then before we know it we could set  up a couple of toll booths at each end of town,  another one or two on Heights Road and we’d  soon be able to finance our very own local,  pollution free tram service with a chair lift or  water balanced cliff railway serving all hilltop  settings.    
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A “special relationship”

Someone told me they’d  recently seen a dog pooh  with a tiny paper American  flag on a cocktail stick  standing up in it. Instead of  the usual red stripes, which  represent the original 13  colonies who rose against the  British in 1775, it bore the  legend “U.S Foreign Policy”.  That’s the type of considered  political comment I’d normally  warm to, but after repeatedly  watching those American Marines making  such a good job of yanking down that statue in  Baghdad I realise that they could now be  carrying out an equally important task here in  the Calder Valley. 

Attaching a few ropes to the mobile telephone  mast on Heights Road above  Mytholmroyd and pulling it down, whilst  ensuring that they’ve got a few locals around  to attack the fallen tower with assorted  footwear, in front of an array of international  television camera crews, would surely help  cement the so-called “special relationship”.  And should the U.S ever consider invading  our green and pleasant land, the removal of  this mast would be a classic pre-emptive  strike. 
It was discovered during the Kosovo War  that mobile telephone towers have the ability  to detect the American’s radar-invisible  Stealth Bombers and Cruise missiles because  they continuously emit energy pulses that are  disrupted by anything crossing them. It was  claimed that one of the £1.4 billion bargain  bombers was actually shot down by Serbian  forces using this technology. 

Armed with this knowledge perhaps we  could remove the need for the proposed  American Missile Defence System, also  known as Star Wars, at RAF Menwith Hill and  Fylingdales by simply surrounding our coastline  with mobile telephone masts.

Forget the  facts that I’ve yet to meet anyone who actually  wants one of these towers near their homes,  that the jury is still out on their potential  health hazards, that it might encourage even  more people to use mobile telephones and talk  loudly about inane things in public places, that  security authorities are able to track anyone  with a mobile telephone by using these masts,  or that they might cause homing pigeons to  lose their way home, and I think that we are on  to a winner! 

And if that’s pie in the sky to some of you  then I’m all for creating government legislation  that forces all major educational institutes  to develop specific departments of pie in the  sky. Such departments would be expected to  introduce unpopular ideas and inventions that  are beyond the accepted scientific “rules”, for  discussion amongst the masses without fear of  ridicule in the nation’s media. Anyone for  compulsory National Environmental Service?    
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Be hip, resist, be ecological!

Kathleen Tansey

Being “older” gives you  the advantage of being able  to look both forward and  further back.  When I look at the world  I inhabit today, my town of  Hebden Bridge, and back to  my childhood in an equally  small stone-built town, I see  huge changes. 

As a child I bought sugar  and flour weighed out in brown  paper bags from the wee corner shop a few  steps from my front door. My mam never  went shopping in a car and always carried  her shopping home on foot. I roamed the  town, its park and surrounding countryside,  and walked or sometimes rode my bicycle to  school, often on my own. 
My world was much more local –  quieter, cleaner, slower, much less polluted,  and less anxious – but also had much less  choice, was more prejudiced and more  limited. I doubt if it really was much safer. I  suspect people had a different attitude to risk  then and were less influenced by fear inducing  media crime and “bad news”  reporting. 

It seems to me that fear is behind many  of the great threats to the environment we  have today. There are the fears of nations, fed  by old rivalries and power struggles, propaganda  and arms sellers, and those of individuals.  The relentless march of technology, and  the need for profits, constantly upgrades the  latest type of gun, bomb, mine, missile or  even weapon of mass destruction and cause  us all huge fears and huge world problems as  nations fail to agree on their control, removal  and eventual safe (?) disposal. And yet there  appears to be little consideration of the total  waste of money on these weapons when we  face climate change, decreasing natural  resources, increasing pollution and an evermore  unreliable public transport system. 

Given the choice what would benefit your  quality of life most!  Fear seems to make many people happier  to go out by car rather than foot, especially at  night.  Women, men, children, reclaim the  streets! Shop locally! Join the queues at the  Picture House! Hang around on street corners  non-threateningly! People take their children  to school in a car because the roads are too  dangerous to cross…see the illogicality? 

Make time! Walk whenever possible, get fit  cheaply and stop you and your children  becoming couch (and car) potatoes.
Let’s  have one less exhaust pipe blowing out  fumes in the school run traffic jam or by the  traffic lights.  Don’t be afraid of the cold! Cars are  rushing everywhere. People rush too, they  compete because of the fear that if they don’t  do things quick enough something nasty will  happen. Perhaps their jobs will go or there  just won’t be enough time…for what?
Some  expensive leisure activity or just slumping in  the chair exhausted? Our consumer society  today plays on our fears as well as our wants. 
Be hip, resist, be ecological.    
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Signal Failure

John Morrison

 It's an uncomfortable time for every company  and individual with responsibility for our ailing  railway network. Stephen Byers, for one, may have cause to regret his hasty invitation to the electorate: to vote the government out at the next election if there isn't a tangible improvement  to the system. Genuine improvements - as opposed to cosmetic, vote-winning gimmicks -  will probably take a generation to implement,  not merely the remainder of this parliament. 
From the start I had no confidence in rail  privatisation. It seemed to be designed to benefit  shareholders more than passengers. And  now, with terrible irony, Railtrack shareholders  are every bit as aggrieved as the passengers  who are waiting for their dirty and overcrowded  trains to turn up. The fact that pundits are  harking back to a golden age of British Rail  indicates just how far the service has degenerated. 

The founding of our railway system, a century  and a half ago, owed little to government  and much to entrepreneurial energy. During the  'railway mania' of the 1840s, investors  ploughed their money into what they believed  to be the transport system of the future. By  1867 the lines were being run by no fewer than  476 rail companies, a number that gradually  declined as the smaller companies merged. By  1923 our railway was in the hands of just four  companies, which combined in 1948 to form  British Railways. Instead of the alphabet soup  of tiny companies - competing, inefficiently,  against each other - we had one nationalised  body to run the show.  And that, I reckon, was about the last sensible  decision to be taken over our railway  infrastructure.

In 1963 Dr Beeching wielded  his infamous axe - closing half our lines and  two thousand stations. He recommended that  the remaining rail lines should be upgraded,  though the government of the day was keener  on saving money than spending it. We waved  goodbye to our branch-lines and, embarrassingly,  the Advanced Passenger Train. Designed  to lean into corners at high speeds, it just made  passengers sick. By the time British Rail was  broken up, and sold off to the highest bidders,  a once great transport system had been reduced  to a skeleton service. 

While this government looks no further  than the next election, our railway system will  continue to atrophy. There was never any need  for privatisation. Then, as now, what was needed  was a properly funded British Rail. I would  love to believe that 2001 represents a real turning  point. I sincerely hope that the Strategic  Rail Authority's master plan will have the  desired effect. And I'd like to believe in Father  Christmas and the tooth fairy too.    
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'Guitar music is on the way out...'

John Morrison

Predicting the future is a notoriously  difficult business. Those with vested interests  in maintaining the status quo find it more  difficult still. Sir Bernard Ingham, for  example, who is paid to polish the tarnished  image of the nuclear industry. A favorable  view of alternative sources of energy, from  the pen of our very own Purley King, is about  as likely as turkeys voting for Christmas.  Sir Bernard is welcome to his recently  aired opinions about nuclear power. I can  only echo those high-principled words of  Voltaire, who declared "I disapprove of what  you say, but I will defend to the death your  right to say it". In Sir Bernard's case, though,  I sincerely hope it won't come to that.

It's depressing to hear the green alternatives  being rubbished. With nuclear power  largely discredited, fossil fuels running out  and the internal combustion engine threatening  to take over the planet, only a fool  would refuse to look for new ways to create  and harness energy. OK, even the most enthusiastic  proponent of wind and wave energy  would admit that these technologies are still  in their infancy. There's a long, long way to  go, but at least we've made a start.
The nuclear lobby spends huge amounts  of money to promote their cause. If a proportion  of that sum could be diverted into the  research and development of new, sustainable  technologies, who knows what we might  achieve in ten, twenty, fifty years? It's all too  easy to shoot new ideas down in flames. We  should support green initiatives, if only on  the basis that we have nothing to lose and  much - potentially - to gain. 

Here are a few choice quotes from people  who shared Sir Bernard's short-sighted view  of what the future might hold. In terms of  misreading the runes, he's in excellent  company... 
"Drill for oil? You mean drill into the  ground to try and find oil? You're crazy."  Drillers who Edwin Drake tried to enlist to  his project to drill for oil in 1859. 

"This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings  to be seriously considered as a means of  communication. The device is inherently of  no value to us." Western Union internal  memo, 1876.
 “Heavier-than-air flying machines are  impossible." Lord Kelvin, president of the  Royal Society, 1895. 
"Everything that can be invented has  been invented.” Charles Duell,  Commissioner, US Office of Patents, 1899.
 “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”  HM Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.
“Stocks have reached what looks like a  permanently high plateau.” Irving Fisher,  Professor of Economics, Yale University,  1929.

“I think there is a world market for  maybe five computers.” Thomas Watson,  chairman of IBM, 1943. 
“There is no reason anyone would want a  computer in their home.” Ken Olson, president,  chairman and founder of Digital  Equipment Corporation, 1977
“We don't like their sound, and guitar  music is on the way out.” Decca Recording 
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A licence to kill

John Morrison

BANNING FOX-HUNTING IS TO LABOUR  WHAT HOUSEWORK IS TO ME. We know  these things have to be done, but there always  seem to be more important things to do first.  For the government that means being beastly to  foreigners and driving another nail into the coffin  of the NHS. For me that means going to the  pub. 

Every time fox-hunting gets onto the parliamentary  agenda, more important issues take  precedence. And, as issues go, maybe hunting  isn’t quite as critical as, say, war in  Afghanistan, or the imminence of war in the  Middle East. Even within the animal welfare  movement there are more pressing issues. Why  cut up rough about fox-hunting, which kills  only a few foxes, when we mistreat animals on  a truly industrial scale, in our farms and laboratories  and abattoirs? Well, I feel this cruel  and anachronistic ‘sport’ does need tackling,  and there’s no time like the present.

For years the government has promised to  ban fox-hunting. Then someone pointed out  that a person who could dress up in a pink jacket  and ride around the country was perfectly  capable of putting a cross on a ballot paper. So  instead of an outright ban, we’re now being  sold the idea of licensing fox hunts. What a  cowardly cop-out. A humane fox hunt is an  absurd oxymoron. What are we going to have:  an ‘acceptable’ level of brutality? It makes no  more sense than getting cannibals to eat with a  knife and fork.  Where I was born and raised, near Otley,  the hunt was a familiar and colourful spectacle.  But even as a young lad I realised there was  more to it than just chasing a fox. These people  were riding roughshod - in the most literal  sense - over the countryside. Even gardens like  ours (my dad used to get apoplectic about the  hoofmarks in his lawn). Fences were no barrier.  The message was unequivocal: “The countryside  belongs to us”... 

What particularly grates - with me, anyway  - is the dishonesty of the hunting lobby. On the  one hand they insist that hunting with hounds is  the most efficient and humane way to cull  foxes. On the other hand they try to mollify the  animal lovers by suggesting that most foxes get  away. Hunters can’t have it both ways. If what  they say is true, then they aren’t merely bloodthirsty...  they’re bloodthirsty and inefficient.  Could anyone devise a less effective method of  culling wild animals than riding over hill and  dale, with a pack of hounds? It’s a nonsense. 

The apologists for hunting say they are  engaging in a dance of death with a worthy  quarry. In regarding the fox as an adversary -  not just vermin, like a rat - they are trying to  elevate the whole sordid business into a noble  contest. They paint a picture of hunting as a  cohesive social activity that binds country people  together.  “If these animals weren’t hunted”, they  insist, “the delicate ecological balance would  be upset. We are conservationists. We love  foxes...” Come on guys, let’s have the truth.  “...And the way we express our love for these  fascinating animals is by hunting them down  and killing them.”  Ah, that’s more like it. “OK, it’s a fair cop.  We are bloodthirsty people. It is our delight, at  weekends, to chase small mammals to the point  of exhaustion, then let the dogs tear them limb  from limb. That’s the bit we like best, not the  riding, or the stirrup cup at the Fox and  Hounds”. 

Fox hunting is not a suitable pastime, in the  year 2002, for sentient adults who still have  their frontal lobes intact. Let’s be in no doubt:  there are many other kinds of hunting for  horsey folk to enjoy, that do not have the death  of an animal at their heart. It would be good for  the morale of flagging Labour supporters, like  me, to see the government grasp this particular  nettle. Not merely on the basis of whether or  not it’s a vote-winner... but simply because it’s  the right thing to do.    
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Walking past the Calderdale Way to the future

John Morrison

 If you see a rather unfit, bearded man  labouring over the tops, it'll be me. I'm  taking a springtime saunter along the  Calderdale Way. This is the perfect time of  year for walking, I reckon. The colour is  returning to the landscape. It's neither too  hot, nor too cold. And, while the swallows  are returning to their summer haunts, the  more unpleasant insects have yet to muster  in numbers. 

The Calderdale Way loops around  Todmorden and Halifax, taking in some  splendid countryside in between. It's familiar  territory, of course - though too often  glimpsed through a car windscreen as a  greenish blur. Walking offers different  perspectives, and a chance to slow down. As  a world-class dawdler I take every opportunity  to admire the views, and catch my  breath. From the hills that overlook the  valley, you could write the story of  Calderdale. And what a story it is, even if  we consider merely the most recent history  of the textile trade.

 If anywhere can be called the 'cradle of  industry' (and there are plenty of candidates),  the milltowns of West Yorkshire have  as good a claim as anywhere. We've gone  from cottage industry to the economy of the  mill and (for writers, website designers and  Reichian therapists, at least) almost back to  cottage industry again.  What struck me, as I gazed down from  the hilltops, was the speed of change. The  signs of industry are ubiquitous: the causeways,  canal, railway and roads; the mills and  the towns that sprang up around them. When  the valley was helping to meet the world's  needs for wool and cotton, it must have  seemed as though the trade would last for  ever. But when decline came, it came  quickly. The manufacture of textiles round  here, on a truly industrial scale, lasted little  more than a century: a mere blip in the  history books. 

The relics of industrial architecture are  everywhere to be seen, but already you need  to 'read' the landscape to understand exactly  what it is you are looking at. All along the  Calderdale Way I saw old mills mouldering  away in side-valleys; all that remained of  some mills was a solitary chimney. A hillside  quarry - like a bite taken out of a breadcake  - is gradually becoming less of an  eyesore as trees and grass and moss soften  its harsh outlines. Mill-dams and convoluted  watercourses are quietly 'going back to  nature'. You can almost see the land 'healing'  itself, like new skin growing where a wound  had been. Given time, the uglier traces of  our industrial past will simply disappear  beneath the soil.  A hundred years hence, Calderdale Wayfarers  will no doubt still be enjoying the  panoramic views down over Hebden Bridge.  But what will they actually see? A tourist  brochure of 2102 may supply the answer.  "Before the new-age industries went into  terminal decline, due to the sudden and  disastrous resurgence of common sense,  Hebden Bridge was know as an important  centre for fortune tellers and tarot card  readers. They should have seen the end  coming... but, alas, they didn't." 

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Over wrapped and over here

John Morrison

Food packaging wasn't always the problem it  is today. There was a time, not so long ago, when  market stallholders would tip the fruit and veg  straight into our shopping bags. Now we stand in  the supermarket aisle, rubbing a plastic bag  between finger and thumb, trying in vain to get the  damn thing open. Or maybe that's just me. 

Our infatuation with purpose-free packaging is  reaching bizarre new heights. On those blissfully  rare occasions that I need to call in at a motorway  service station, I see oranges on sale. They aren't  sold by the pound, not even by the kilo. Each  orange is individually wrapped in a clear plastic  bubble, with a little label for the hard of thinking.  'Citrus Snack' it reads... and there's me thinking it's  just an orange.  There are bananas too, snug in their own little  banana-shaped plastic sheaths. Since bananas and  oranges already come with their own wrapping -  elegant, easy to peel and biodegradable - any further  packaging is unnecessary.  A new kind of pizza made a brief appearance  in local shops. The base was pre-smeared with  tomato paste, but all the other ingredients were separately  shrink-wrapped. This, in short, was a pizza  you built yourself. You could add the little slices of  cheese, mushroom and ham in the exact proportions  you preferred. Maybe, if you weren't thinking  too clearly, you could kid yourself that this was  home cooking. 
The supermarkets seem to be in the vanguard  of this trend, as they continue to add what they call  'value' to the humblest of foodstuffs. So it's goodbye  to the turnip, and hello to some shrinkwrapped  concoction called 'Turnip Surprise' ('tiny  baby turnips marinated in a spicy Chinese-style  sauce, ready to microwave in seconds').  You'll find a dollop of unappetising gunk in a  plastic tray, sealed with film, and slid into a cardboard  sleeve emblazoned with heating instructions,  list of ingredients, serving suggestions... and a fullcolour  photograph of something very different to  what you'll tip onto your plate once the microwave  has gone 'ping'. All at a price per pound that would  make a saint blush. 'Serves two'? I don't think so... 

The manufacturer adds any two magic words  from the lexicon of food labelling: fresh, pure, natural,  prime, farmhouse, farm-fresh, free-range,  organic, authentic, country-style, wild, homemade,  traditional, heritage... While some of these  epithets have a specific definition, the truth can be  stretched imaginatively in a way that Bill Clinton  would immediately understand. 'Natural' is a good  one in this context - vague, with a host of pleasant  associations, but ultimately meaningless. 

In an Alice in Wonderland kind of way, these  flowery words can mean whatever we want them  to mean. My favourite description, found on a  packet of vile, frozen, 'Mexican' enchiladas, is  'Authentic style'. If you think about this combination  of words for long enough - and what they  might actually mean - you'll come to the conclusion  that either the world has gone crazy, or you  have.    
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Traffic: the long view

 John Morrison

I had my wrist slapped some time ago  for suggesting that we could create a pedestrian  oasis in Hebden Bridge by banning cars  from St George’s Square. The square could  be extended by banning traffic along Bridge  Gate from St George’s Bridge to the packhorse  bridge. It’s impossible, I was told. It  couldn’t work. Lorries wouldn’t be able to  negotiate the bend around Hope Street. Or  something.  But my own view (and call me naive, if  you will) is that we should make the most of  the best things we’ve got. Instead of being a  car-park for about ten cars, and a two-way  road that’s too narrow for two cars to pass, St  George’s Square could be the bustling hub of  this little town. 

Some of us give our time selflessly on  sunny afternoons, to sit outside the Shoulder  of Mutton and monitor the traffic flow. We  watch in amazement at the unhappy conjugation  of cars and pedestrians in and around the  square. What’s amazing is that accidents  don’t happen on a weekly basis. But they  will. Some day soon a driver will reverse  into Bridge Gate and knock a child over. Or  a pedestrian crossing the top of Crown Street  will forget that cars can come from every  conceivable direction, and get swept up by  the bull-bars of some 4x4 off-road  monstrosity. As for the juggernauts that  lumber across St George’s Bridge, I fear we  will see a major tragedy. 

It seems odd to dismiss ideas out of hand  as being unworkable - especially in the  Calder Valley, of all places, which prospered  on the can-do spirit of textile entrepreneurs.  So let me get this straight: we can get to the  moon and back, we can build huge  skyscrapers... but bringing some order to the  traffic chaos of a small South Pennine town  is beyond us. 
Pedestrianisation can be made to work,  of course it can... if the people of Hebden  Bridge want it badly enough. And instead of  finding more convenient ways to route the  juggernauts through our narrow streets,  shouldn’t we be planning for a future when  they no longer need to do so? Businesses that  are regularly serviced by vehicles of this size  could surely be helped to relocate to out-oftown  brownfield sites.  There is a solution to a very real parking  problem, and it’s even closer to home than  recently reprieved Calder Holmes Park.  Build a three-storey car-park in the scruffy  area that surrounds Garden Street. One wall  of the car-park is already in place: the huge  retaining wall that supports Commercial  Street. Cars coming from the Halifax direction  could enter the top story of the car-park  from Commercial Street, with other traffic  entering at ground level (perhaps from the  town end of Garden Street). The exit would  be into Albert Street, towards its junction  with New Road. Offer the site to a developer,  and sweeten the deal with planning permission  to include a few apartments in the  scheme. The car-park could be large enough  to meet forseeable needs and, because of its  position, could be almost inconspicuous.

 The idea is not mine; it was explained to  me by one of our ex-councillors. But the more  I think about it, the more sense it makes. Isn’t  it time to stop pratting about with half-baked,  make do and mend schemes? Instead of mortgaging  our squares and green spaces to the  infernal combustion engine, let’s solve our  parking problems once and for all. In twenty  years time we should be able to look back,  with a degree of pride, knowing that we took  the long view. It’s a great little town, but we  could still make it better. 


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Road to Nowhere

John Morrison

Whenever the traffic threatens to grind to a shuddering halt (and that seems to be every other day here in sunny West Yorkshire) the cry goes up to build more roads. Or, as now, to widen the roads we already have - with the M1 and M62 the latest candidates for expansion. It's a hugely expensive option; worse, it fails to address our underlying transport problems. It's like trying to cure obesity by letting our belts out by a few more notches.

In the good old days, roads used to go from place to place. Now, to ensure the smooth flow of traffic, roads go wherever places aren't. Instead of being slim ribbons of tarmac, motorways gobble up the greenery on either side of them. They soon become bloated with roundabouts, slip roads and cloverleaf junctions: a spider's web of concrete and tarmac spreading across the landscape.

Businesses sprout up alongside the motorways as they did around the railways 150 years ago. Little Eaters, Happy Chefs, filling stations, distribution centres, car auctioneers and out-of-town shopping malls, conveniently sited in the middle of nowhere. Huge tracts of land are swallowed up in this way, just to keep the traffic moving.
It wouldn't make much sense anywhere in the world; in an island as small as ours it's utter madness. It is a salutary experience to stand on a bridge spanning one of our motorways, to watch lorries filled with corn-flakes, underarm deodorants and other staples of life in the 21st century heading north... and different lorries filled with cornflakes, underarm deodorants and other staples of life in the 21st century heading south. I wonder, in my simplistic way, whether all these journeys are strictly necessary. If we weren't quite so insistent about moving goods around the country, maybe we wouldn't need to build so many new roads and mortgage our precious landscapes to the internal combustion engine.
It's amazing how accepting we are. If any other major system worked as inefficiently as motor traffic - with 25 million road deaths in a single century, appalling pollution, depletion of finite fossil fuels, huge increases in needless journeys and the number of vehicles - we wouldn't even entertain the idea. But we still cling to the much-vaunted 'personal freedom' a car is supposed to give us, like shipwrecked sailors clutching at driftwood.

Talking of shipwrecks, I am not the kind of person who gloats at others' misfortunes. So it gives me no pleasure to learn that MacDonalds and the nuclear power industry (two outfits close to Sir Bernard Ingham's heart and wallet) are having a few troubles. No pleasure whatsoever. Cheers, drinks all round.

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Immortal bags

John Morrison

 I’ve read that we Britons use about eight billion plastic bags every year. That’s rubbish: there must be twice that number stuffed into the cupboard under my stairs. And I hardly dare open the cellar door any more. I can hear them rustling. Yes, these bags are everywhere: a tidal wave of tat, threatening to overwhem us. Eight billion: that’s 135 bags per person per year. They blow down our city streets like tumbleweed. When they catch in tree branches, they look like Tibetan prayer flags. Except they’re not prayer flags; they’re the flotsam and jetsam of a selfish and secular age.

Plastic bags are a global problem. If they’re not the worst environmental problem we have to face, they’re certainly one of the most visible. With a nice sense of irony, South Africans dub them the "national flower". Turtles eat bags, mistaking them for jellyfish. The holy cows of India eat them too, as they forage for food; the beasts either choke to death or starve. Discarded bags block drains in Bangladesh, probably contributing to the floods that have devastated the country in recent years. Bags are a bugbear wherever they occur.

The humble plastic bag is an interesting creation. It’s flimsy. You’re lucky to get home before it splits asunder and deposits your groceries all over the floor. Yet, for all its flimsiness, it’s damn near indestructible. The experts can’t agree whether it will last 300 years, 1,000 years, or even longer, before rotting away to mulch. But they can agree on one thing: we’re creating major headaches for the waste management industries of the future. What a tawdry legacy we’re leaving. Bangladesh has banned polythene bags; Taiwan and Singapore may follow suit. And closer to home, the Republic of Ireland has levied a tax on plastic bags, which has reduced the number of bags in circulation by a staggering 90%. Shoppers have to pay 15 (Euro) cents per bag - that’s about 9p - with the extra revenue being earmarked for a variety of environmental projects. The tax provides a good incentive for re-using bags, instead of letting them pile up at home.

The fact that we hoard these bags is a sure sign of a guilty conscience. We know we shouldn’t throw them away, yet we usually forget to pocket a few when we go shopping. It’s time our own government grasped this particular nettle. A 9p charge might be just enough to change our wasteful habit of reaching for new bags whenever we visit the supermarket. The ladies at the checkouts open the bags for me, look me up and down and ask “Would you like any help in packing?” Do they say this to everyone, or is it just old dodderers like me? The packing I can manage (even though hand-eye co-ordination is not what it was, thanks to years of recreational drinking). It’s paying that’s the problem. Perhaps we could have an amnesty for all those billions of bags already in circulation. I’d be happy to redeem my own collection for a nominal sum. Even at a penny a bag, I reckon I’m sitting on a small fortune.

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Rambling on!

John Morrison

The Right to Roam legislation is making some farmers and landowners a bit twitchy. To hear them talk you’d imagine that hordes of rampaging ramblers were planning to lay waste to their land in a frenzied re-run of the Harrying of the North. It’s mildly intriguing to hear from certain quarters that you (yes, mild-mannered you...) are a member of a group that is doing untold damage to the countryside. Landowners are trying to update the Country Code. They’re taking out the deadwood, all that guff about shutting gates and taking litter home, and thus reducing the code to this simple, easily remembered injunction... 1: Is your visit to our land really necessary? 2: It’s not, is it? 3: So bugger off smartish, before I set the dogs on you.

But of all the problems that hill farmers face (and that’s a hell of a lot right now), woolly- hatted ramblers would seem to be among the more benign. There are, after all, comparatively few walkers who want to stride out across the moor-tops, where paths are few. The landowners’ fears, that those empty upland acres will be over-run with walkers, are largely unfounded. The Right to Roam is not a pressing issue for the majority of walkers. They are happy to do some undemanding ramble featured in a slim volume entitled ‘Twenty Five More South Pennine Walks From Pubs With Warm Beer, Vegetarian Food and a Relaxed Dress Code’. Carrying an open book as they walk, they look like strolling Shakespearean players rehearsing a soliloquy. Attached to their cars by an invisible umbilical cord, and unable to read a map, their greatest fear is getting lost.

It’s good to escape the crowds and the Tarmacadam tourniquets that strangle our cities. Walking in the countryside is good for us in ways we are only beginning to understand. At those times when our little island seems unbearably crowded, a view from the breezy tops can provide some much-needed perspective. People sometime talk as though our countryside was already beyond redemption. "It’s doomed... doomed", as that wild-eyed Scottish loon used to say in Dad’s Army. The hedgerows are disappearing, we hear, and greedy developers keep bulldozing ancient woodlands, just so they can build another accursed out-of-town shopping complex. And, God knows, there are a lot of people who seem to dedicate themselves to leaving the countryside more battered and bruised than when they found it. It’s easy to get depressed.

So we need to see the bigger picture once in a while. To stand on a hilltop, drink in the view and reassure ourselves that this little island isn’t irredeemably knackered after all. I’m not suggesting we should become complacent... but just acknowledge that we have some wonderfully diverse landscapes. They haven’t all disappeared. We still have so much to celebrate. And the best protection for our treasured landscapes is for as many people as possible to love them and visit them.

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Car hell

John Morrison

The late and largely unlamented Millennium has been and gone. Even those pedants like me who were under the impression that a new century begins with '01' rather than '00' have welcomed in the 'Noughties' with a muted cheer and a bottle of the finest Armenian wine that small change can buy. I don't know about you, but I'm happy to get back to what passes for normality in a small Pennine milltown. I'll be happier still if I never hear the accursed M-word again.

We are told - mostly by Railtrack publicists, with their fingers crossed - that the trains, too, will soon be back to normal. I'll believe that when I see it. In a few short months the company has achieved the seemingly impossible: making us nostalgic for the good old days of British Rail and their sandwiches. The lines require a rolling programme of maintenance and repair, year in, year out. But it seems that the custodians of our railway network can only react to crisis.
A maintenance schedule should not need kick-starting by a tragic event such as the rail-crash at Hatfield. It's depressing that people have to queue up, after a day's work, waiting for a train that may or may not arrive. It's even more depressing that shareholders seem to be at the front of the queue, and rail travellers somewhere near the back.

But Railtrack is guilty of much worse than this kind of routine incompetence. They're doing something truly unforgivable: driving people off the trains in droves, and back into their cars. Once we get behind the wheel, we'll do anything - absolutely anything - to keep on driving. To occupy those few square metres of Tarmac, we'll sell our souls to the devil (or at least discuss some kind of time-share option). Never mind that city traffic now moves at an average speed that would make the Hansom cab of Victorian London seem break-neck by comparison. Never mind that petrol prices keep on rising, or that fossil fuels are a finite resource. We'd rather do without the inessentials (food, clothes, shoes for the kids) than give up our cars. It's a love affair of epic proportions.

In our imaginations, of course, the car represents freedom. We've all watched the adverts. We're driving along a deserted alpine road in a red sports car - the hood down, the wind in our hair, a gorgeous member of the opposite sex in the passenger seat, lost in admiration of our driving skills. In reality, of course, we're just joining a line of traffic stuttering slowly towards oblivion - car and driver fuming in unison. One day we'll look back at the internal combustion engine and see it for what it was: an experiment that didn't work. In the meantime wouldn't it be good if we could cut down on non-essential car journeys? Yes, if there were fewer vehicles cluttering up the roads there'd be a bit more room for me and my car to get around.

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Cheap food

John Morrison

THE FOOT & MOUTH CRISIS IS BUT THE LATEST BROKEN LINK in an increasingly fragile food chain. As we lurch from one crisis to another, it seems that our cheap food will cost us dear. And not just us; future generations too will be paying for all our mistakes. E-Coli, GM, BSE, CJD: the whole alphabet soup of our livestock mismanagement, and our meddling with the building blocks of life.

After World War II the Holy Grail of food production was good, cheap, plentiful food for those who lived in a land fit for heroes. The motives were good, even if some practices became unacceptable. Cooping chickens up in battery cages. Confining veal calves in darkness to ensure pale meat. And, perhaps most cynical of all, forcing herbivorous animals to become not just carnivores... but cannibals. That’s a sin of almost Biblical proportions; what on earth were we thinking of? Yes, some of the indignities visited on animals in the name of producing good, cheap food should make us hang our heads in shame. It’s not as though we’ve succeeded in our aim.

Good, cheap food is still a distant prospect - in that the good food isn’t cheap, and the cheap food tends not to be very good. Worse, the gap between cheap and good is actually getting wider. The supermarkets are hastening this process, by operating a two-tier system of selling processed foodstuffs. On the one hand they have their cheap ‘n’ cheerful, no-frills, budget brands (24 beef burgers for 99p anyone?). On the other hand they sell sleek, seductive, overpackaged ‘premium’ products. By rolling an undistinguished cut of meat in peppercorns, or marinating it in ‘Indian’ sauce, the supermarkets can charge double the price. Imagine - trying to reduce the cuisine of a whole subconti- nent to a single glutinous, glow-in-the-dark sauce. What would ‘English’ sauce be, I wonder? Thin gravy, probably. And what will the supermarkets think of next? Separate checkout tills for paupers, with their fluffy white bread and their loss-leader tins of baked beans?

Iceland, the frozen food stores, tried to gain ground on their competitors by ensuring that all their produce was both organic and GM-free. The result, perhaps predictably, was a drop in profits. What sector of the market were they aiming at? After all, the people who want organic produce are not the same folk who like their food frozen solid and shaped like cartoon characters. It’s unsettling to see food production divide up into good quality for the wealthy and fastidious, and cheap rubbish for those whose budgets do not stretch so far. But that’s the way it seems to be going. We know what’s in those 99p burgers, don’t we? It’s just something we’d prefer not to think about. Value-added foods are taking over the freezers and cook-chill cabinet. Instead of searching for expensive new taste sensations, to titillate our jaded palates, maybe it’s time to stop bombarding over-processed ready meals with microwaves and get back to some proper cooking. What were they called, those things we used to throw into a casserole, before bunging it in the oven for a couple of hours? Oh yes, I remember now: they were called ‘ingredients’...  

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Junk Fax

John Morrison

NOT SO MANY YEARS AGO, we were told that the paperless office was just around the corner. Imagine: no more memos, no more file copies, no more faxes, no more invoices, no more delivery notes, no more statements, no more bumph. It sounded rather splendid. Unfortunately, we’ll have to keep on imagining it, because it never happened. And it probably never will. Paper will continue to have its uses. As vulnerable as it seems, at least it doesnt disappear into the ether by mistakenly pressing the delete button on a computer keyboard.

The society that stores its accumulated wisdom on computer discs is a society that will soon have no history at all. We can still save huge quantities of paper, though, and outlawing junk mail would make a good start. It only takes one fool to open a letter and think he might already be a winner to encourage Readers Digest to send out another million unwanted missives.

If theres one thing more irritating than junk mail, its junk faxes. I used to get two or three every day, usually in the night. When I got up each morning, paper had issued from the fax machine, snaked across the desk and - on a bad day - reached the floor. What bugged me most was that I was paying to get them. I was buying rolls of fax paper so that unseen hands could keep sending me unwanted faxes. They asked me to consider car leasing and mobile phone ring-tones, printer cartridges and baldness remedies. Most of these services I could do without (apart from the last one, of course) but still the faxes came. And if I wanted to stop receiving them, it would cost me even more money. The small print at the bottom of each fax informed me that if I had received this fax in error (Please accept our apologies, yeah right...), I could fax the page back and be removed from the companys database. And, in even smaller print, I saw that this would cost me 1.50 per minute, and that faxing the sheet back would take no longer than two minutes. Yes, I would have had to stump up 3 to stop receiving something I didnt want in the first place. Aaaargh...

There was, of course, no phone number; no-one at the end of a phone who I could bellow at in rage and indignation. Then a new kind of fax started to appear. Are you totally fed up with junk faxes? they asked, in all innocence, as though they werent being sent by exactly the same companies that had been bombarding me with junk faxes for months. I had to admit a grudging admiration for such bare-faced cheek. It was like creating a disease with one hand and offering a cure with the other. Thankfully there is a genuine cure to this irritating problem. You too can stem the tide of junk faxes - and save a few more trees in the process - by phoning the Fax Preference Service on 020-7766 4420 and opting out. Hooray...  

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'It's not easy being green',

John Morrison

'It's not easy being green', as Kermit used to sing. Well, he was a frog, so he knew what he was talking about. Society in general - and Hebden Bridge in particular - is full of people who feel much the same. They would like to be 'green', but every time there's a conflict between pragmatism and idealism... it's pragmatism that wins out. "I need my car", they say. "How else can I get the kids to school, or do the weekly shop at the supermarket?" Even a simple definition is elusive, conjuring up more questions than answers.

Being green is not about subscribing to every principle in some mythical charter. It is, I trust, a broad church, not a rule-bound clique. There should be room for many shades of green, various degrees of commitment. What about meat-eating cyclists? Vegetarians who smoke? Vegetarians who, bafflingly, reckon it's OK to eat chicken and bacon? People who drive five miles to the bottle bank and drive five miles back? What about people who sort their rubbish into bags, but then never take it anywhere? Can they join the green club, even if only as associate members? What about me, with my cartload of good intentions and my principled procrastination: could I be a Friend of a Friend of the Earth?

The world faces ecological problems of such magnitude that it's hard to know where to begin. Deforestation, climate change, acid rain, third world debt... the list is depressingly long. We'd like to do more, we really would, but we can't all devote our lives to environmental activism. Most of us don't have the time, the energy, the inclination (or, let's face it, the bottle) to bob around in an inflatable dinghy, interposing ourselves between the whales and the harpoons. There seems such a huge gap between who we are and who we would like to be. When the gap grows too wide, disillusion sets in. We're tempted to close our eyes, cross our fingers, burrow under the duvet and hope the problems will go away.

So I doff my hat to whoever it was who first coined the motto 'Think globally, act locally'. We hear it so often that it's in danger of becoming just another cliché. Yet these four well-chosen words achieve the nearimpossible: they bridge that yawning gap between thinking and doing, between the ideal and the pragmatic. Our contributions, however small, are important. Every little bit helps - whether it's planting a tree, buying FairTrade products or giving a few quid to Greenpeace. At the very least, we can make a simple audit. We're either adding - however minutely - to the sum of human happiness, or we're subtracting from it. OK, it may be a close-run thing, but as long as we're on the right side of the equation, then surely we can afford a little smile. Not a smile of complacency or self-satisfaction, but just the warm feeling of contentment we get from seeing, say, a Ferrari with its wheels clamped, or Michael Portillo's face when the votes were announced at the 1997 election.  

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John Morrison

THE SUMMER OF 2001 IS NOT ONE THAT WALKERS WILL REMEMBER WITH ANY GREAT AFFECTION. We did the decent thing and obeyed the footpath restrictions. We stayed away from livestock because we understood the farmers’ plight. Selfdenial seemed a small price to pay, if it helped to eradicate foot & mouth disease.
It’s been a tough time for hill farmers, there’s no doubt about it. I read some while ago that the hill farmers of the northern counties are to the Labour government what the miners were to the Tories. Which, if true, is not good news for the hill farmers.

As the government has been learning, rural tourism is more important - in purely financial terms, at least - than farming. The hill farmers have our sympathies. It must have been traumatic to stand by and watch as their animals were slaughtered: like witnessing the death of a much-loved member of the family. Or - perhaps more accurately - a much-loved member of the family who had a one-way ticket to the abattoir. It’s been frustrating for walkers to watch the landscape change from spring to high summer, without being able to get out and enjoy it. I’ve hardly crossed a contour line since March.

All that nonsense about the countryside being ‘open for business’ only made matters worse. There are still a few intrepid souls around who want more from a day out than just driving to some honey-pot village, parking in the pay & display and mooching listlessly around the gift shops. We want to enjoy the freedom of the hills, not just buy a tea towel emblazoned with Yorkshire beauty spots. Like everyone else, I was glued to the news bulletins on TV, gob-smacked by the scale of the foot & mouth epidemic. Seeing animals being bulldozed into pits, thousands at a time, or burnt on huge pyres, created some very uncomfortable associations. This wasn’t the rural Arcadia committed to canvas by John Constable or T h o m a s Gainsborough. No, this was an apocalyptic vision conjured from the feverish imagination of Hieronymous Bosch.

With so much of the countryside off-limits, I tried a few town walks. But, since I don’t like passing any pub without sampling the beer, an intimate exploration of Haworth took eight hours - of which the last two were just a blur. I tried to climb the precipitous north face of the Tourist Information Centre, followed up by a lateral traverse of the Branwell Brontë Massage Parlour and Tea Room (rated as ‘severe’ in a brand new book, Teashop Climbs in West Yorkshire, published by the Opportunist Press). But I was forced to give up. Partly due to the lack of foot-holds, but mostly because armed police were shouting at me through a loudhailer.

So let’s throw our woolly hats in the air, and offer heartfelt thanks that the footpaths are now being reopened. Of course, the landowners haven’t let the grass grow under their feet while we’ve been away. A lot of them have seen their land free of ramblers, and they’ve come to prefer it that way. Most of the foot & mouth notices may have been taken down, but I’ve seen some disturbing new signs going up in their place. ‘Keep strictly to the waymarked footpath through the estate. We maintain this so-called right of way under protest, and begrudge every second that you are on our land. Yes, that means YOU... and the rest of the rambling riff-raff. Woody Guthrie was right: it’s not your land... it’s OUR land, and don’t you forget it. So clear off sharpish, before the gamekeeper sets his dogs on you’.  

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John Morrison

Endangered species are an emotive subject, though it all depends on which species we're talking about. People are prepared to put their hands in their pockets to save giant pandas, baby seals and other appealing animals. But when the time comes to bolster the numbers of some rare leech or lamprey, people don't usually feel quite so generous. What bothers me most isn't the extinction of a super-rare creature. I confess I find it hard to get worked up about the demise of an animal I wasn't aware of in the first place. No, what concerns me is finding so many familiar species in decline.

Birds in particular. Twenty years ago song thrushes were an ever-present feature of the garden. Now their numbers are way down. Lapwings tumbled and dived - like demented black and white butterflies - over every field. They were so common that they never even got a mention in my nature diary (or 'nature dairy', as mine was called, confusingly, until I learned how to spell). Why bother mentioning a bird you saw every day? Skylarks, too, were everywhere. That lovely liquid song was the soundtrack to my childhood adventures. Now, whenever I hear one, I stop and listen - wondering when and where I will hear the next one. Redpolls, linnets, yellowhammers the colour of butter toffee, whitethroats and their scratchy summer song: these are just some of the birds that are disappearing from our heaths and hedgerows. Even the once ubiquitous house sparrow is strangely absent from many of its former haunts. And if the sparrow (the Arthur Daly of the bird world) is unable to thrive, what hope is there for more retiring birds such as the dunnock and garden warbler?

These observations are not the ramblings of some old buffer who harks back to a golden age - when winters were warmer, young people respected their elders and beer was thruppence a quart. Well, not just that, anyway. The statistics back me up; our common birds are just not so common any more. It's depressing to think that the summers to come will be filled with the noise of traffic, radios and the banshee howl of unattended car alarms... but not much birdsong. This, thankfully, is just one possible future. By looking at the evidence of the recent past, we can be cautiously optimistic. For example, the hard winter of 1962-3 decimated the bird population. Millions of birds died of cold or starvation. Wrens, I recall, were hit especially hard. But within five years the bird populations were back almost to what they were before the big freeze. Today, bucking the trend, wrens are thriving once again.

The year 1962 was, coincidentally, when Rachel Carson's Silent Spring was published. The book brought the wanton misuse of agrichemicals to a wider audience, and offered dire warnings about what would happen to the planet's wildlife if we continued to pollute the land with pesticides. At the time it sounded like scaremongering; in retrospect the book seems measured and understated. We learned some of the lessons: at least farmers don't spray DDT on their crops any longer. But the biggest lesson is that the loss of our garden birds is neither inevitable nor irreversible. When we stop poisoning the birds, or grubbing up the hedgerows where they nest, their numbers will recover.

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