Search This Blog

29 June 2007

UK Floods

Flooding in June 2007The horrific flooding experienced this week in South Yorkshire, the Midlands, and other parts of Britain has been described by some as an "Act of God". It is no such thing. It is an Act of Man.

For decades we encouraged farmers (with financial grants and subsidies) to rip out hedgerows to make bigger fields, and to put in subsoil land drainage systems.

Result? Faster rainwater run-off.

At the same time the River Boards of the 1960s and 1970s went on a mad spree of environmental destruction in the interests of Land Drainage, turning meandering river systems into straight, vegetation-free, drainage canals resembling aquatic motorways.

Result? Faster movement of flood water from A to B.

Whilst all this agricultrual mayhem was going on, town and country planners were merrily permitting housing and industrial development in flood plains, against the advice (in earlier days) of the same River Boards that were destroying the rivers' natural ability to balance the discharge of flood waters, and against the advice (in more recent times) of the Environment Agency.

In the older suburbs of our major towns and cities that were built before the age of mass car ownership you will also find people rooting up their front gardens and converting them into paved areas to accommodate one, two, or sometimes three cars.

Result? Additional surface water run-off to overload inadequate storm drainage systems.

At last, though somewhat too late I fear, farmers are considering the re-planting of hedgerows, and the Environment Agency talks about the desirability of allowing agricultural grassland to be given over to floodwater balancing. More voices are being raised by politicians and others about the need to take seriously the matter of building houses, factories and offices in areas known to be prone to flooding.

We have only ourselves to blame for many of our so-called environmental disasters.

20 June 2007

Stirring up English Nationalism

English Devolution please!
I'm all in favour of devolved government to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but the Blair Government has made a complete pig's ear of the exercise by totally ignoring the gaping hole in their scheme which is ENGLAND!

The English are a fairly laid-back kind of people who are prepared to be kicked about a bit, but only up to a point. Take them beyond that point and they turn up the heat. I believe that we are fast approaching that "tipping point".

Already we have one sore point regarding medical prescription charges: in Wales prescriptions are free. If you live just on the English side of the border you pay the normal charges; if you live on the Welsh side you pay nothing.

Then there's the question of university tuition fees - in England students pay them and get into debt; in Scotland they don't.

Now the Scottish Executive is conducting a review of medical prescription charges, and they have also recently proposed that the size of primary school classes should be reduced.

All this is perfectly fine, and in many ways I have always found the Scottish approach to social affairs to be generally more agreeable than the English, and in any case with devolved government one expects there to be some diversity of political actions across the UK. So far so good. What I object to is the fact that England has no such devolved government; we are controlled by the UK's Westminster Government, and what makes that so unfair is that the MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland sitting in the House of Commons exercise their votes on legislation covering English domestic affairs whilst English MPs have no say whatsoever over equivalent matters in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Then we should also consider that much of the devolved administrations' social programmes are made possible by the fact that they are receiving significant subsidies from the UK government, which means that social benefits being enjoyed by the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish are partly paid for out of taxes paid by the English.

I am heartily sick of this half-baked devolution, and at the next General Election I am going to cast my vote for any candidate who supports the notion of (ideally) an English Parliament, or (at the very least) a restriction on MPs from outside England voting on our affairs.

If Labour gets re-elected, I wonder what chance there will be of Prime Minister Gordon Brown (who is a Scot representing a Scottish Constituency) addressing this issue. I am guessing, not much. Is there a case for hoping that David Cameron's Conservatives might be more sympathetic, considering the Conservative Party in Scotland is almost wiped out these days?

19 June 2007

June is rusting out all over.

The Full Waterproofs

This delightful picture of an under-water blogger is published in connection with a couple of recent posts: one relating to a canal boat holiday that was promising to be a washout (it wasn't) and the other relating to the exorbitant prices charged by some specialist shops for wet weather gear.

Two of my internet friends insisted on having sight of the full gear in use. Since the canal holiday was surprisingly free from torrential downpours I've had no reason to model this chic little outfit; until now, that is.

After a long, warm and dry spring, June has turned out to be depressingly cold, wet and windy, and last week the UK had to put up with severe weather leading to serious flash floods in many parts of the country. I had to put the full waterproofs into service just to put the bins out last Friday morning.

Today is overcast, with more rain promised for this afternoon, but I am at present being cheered up by the song of a thrush in full and enthusiastic voice in my back garden.

11 June 2007

George Bush in Albania

Apparently the Albanians were hugely enthusiastic about George Bush's recent flying visit; they gave him a rapturous reception.

I recall that the Albanians were similarly infatuated with Norman Wisdom.

09 June 2007

Madeleine McCann's parents

The other week I posted a plea for the return of 4-year old Madeleine McCann who was abducted from a Portugese holiday resort, and said my thoughts and prayers were with her parents at this time.

A friend of mine who reads this blog got quite fired up about the fact that the McCanns deserved no consideration because they were guilty of neglect, in that they went off to a nearby restaurant in the resort leaving their children unattended.

Well, yes - to a great degree I also felt they left something to be desired in the way of child care, and yet looking back on my own years as a parent I know that there were many times when I was less than a model parent, and I suspect that this is true of many of us. Most of us have not had to be reminded of our periods of neglect because we were fortunate enough to be on the right side of the statistical fact that the chances of someone abducting our children are in fact very remote.

Certainly I can say that my wife and I never left our children unattended in a hotel or holiday cottage room whilst we went out, but I am sure we were guilty of other kinds of parental neglect from time to time.

Many people find the McCanns guilty of gross negligence, but these two professional and intelligent people have already found themselves guilty and are overwhelmed by an unbearable burden of guilt that will be with them forever.

I make no apology for praying not only for the safe return of little Madeleine, but also for strength to be given to the McCanns.

02 June 2007

Cruising the Rochdale Canal with Shire Cruisers -

I have just returned from a narrow boat holiday on the Rochdale Canal in West Yorkshire, and living as we do in an age where society appears to thrive on complaint and litigation I feel bound to add some counterbalance to this culture by unreservedly praising and recommending Shire Cruisers of Sowerby Bridge.

In terms of customer service, quality of boats, and the comprehensive level of pre-cruise information and training, they surpassed anything we have previously experienced in fifteen previous boating holidays on various parts of the UK inland waterways system. So I am happy to place this on record (and no, they haven’t offered me a free holiday to get me to publish this on the Web!)

To describe the Rochdale Canal I can do no better than to reproduce the introductory piece from the well written Pearsons' “Canal Companion – Pennine Waters” ..

Reaching Sowerby Bridge, the Calder & Hebble Navigation goes into a telephone box, puts its underpants on outside its trousers, and emerges as the Rochdale Canal, Superman of the inland waterways, fully equipped to take on the tyrannical Pennines.

One is treated to the glorious scenery of Calderdale, the steep wooded hillsides, the craggy granite outcrops of the Pennines, and the towns that not only nestle in the valley bottom but climb up the hillsides in a stone-terraced display of gravity denial; then there are the banks of wild rhododendron, yellow iris at the water’s edge, the singing birds in the trees, the ever-watchful herons silently standing in anticipation of a fish supper, and flotillas of ducks and geese.

We were on a short break (less than a week) and were therefore only able to travel westwards from Sowerby Bridge as far as Todmorden before turning round, but the somewhat tame distance of about 12 miles was transformed into a marathon by the existence of 18 manually operated locks raising us by about 200ft on the westward journey, so by the time we had returned to base our aching muscles testified to our completion of 36 lock operations.
We moored up in Hebden Bridge for several hours and were amazed to find that the town was closed! What kind of enterprise society is this, where all the businesses get together and say, “Hey, lets not make any money on Tuesdays!” To be fair, I was told that the shops do open on Saturdays and Sundays, but it still seemed a bit odd to turn up in the middle of the week to find everything battened down. We did, however, manage to get a good lunch at Moyles Restaurant.

We had no time to investigate Todmorden because in our attempts to turn the boat around we got stuck. Water levels were down a bit so turning the boat tended to be more of a mud wrestling exhibition. By the time a number of willing helpers had pushed, pulled and shoved, we finished up in the same direction as before and decided to go through one more lock to find another turning point. This decision introduced us to the first lock with a “guillotine gate” at the lower end, and an ambiguously-written British Waters notice drawing our attention to the fact that although the gate was electrically operated, the paddles (i.e., the valves for draining the lock) were manually operated from a control box “opposite this control panel”. I looked behind me to see what was opposite the control panel and found a smart looking metal box on a post. This turned out to be a repository for dog shit! The paddle controls were on the other side of the gate.

Todmorden was described by Susan of Shire Cruisers as the "Frontier Town" being right on the border between Yorkshire and Lancashire. The town is administered by Yorkshire but has an Oldham (Lancashire) Post Code. The poor dears are therefore totally confused.

A short way beyond this lock was our turning point, but again we needed willing land-based helpers (of which there never appeared to be a shortage) conducting a tug-of-war with the sharp end of the boat whilst I did the business at the blunt end with my head all tangled up with overhanging tree branches. After much heaving, reversing, tiller waggling, and a ruined hair style, the boat was now heading back east.

The meteorological office had forecast several days of the most appalling weather so we were tooled up with all the wet weather gear, but as it turned out it was a mixture of sunshine and showers, and not too much of the latter. By comparison with the forecast we felt we had been handed a bonus, making us grateful for the fact that weather forecasting is a somewhat inexact science.