Monday, 2 March 2015

Michael Sheen at Tredegar

A wonderful barn-storming speech by the actor Michael Sheen has, quite rightly, featured prominently in the news today. Delivered from a bandstand in a typically blustery Tredegar, Aneurin Bevan’s birthplace, he rounded on all politicians and notably lambasted Labour’s timid leaders and their lack of conviction. Why, oh why, can't Ed Milliband, or anyone for that matter, in the Labour Party speak with such conviction and passion? Here's the speech for you to enjoy. Even if you disagree with him, admire the rhetoric.

Many parts of what he said resonate particularly with me and I've selected a few below. The full text of his speech is at the end if you'd like to reach your own conclusions about it. 

“In today’s political climate, where politicians are careful, tentative, scared of saying what they feel for fear ... all political parties drift into a morass of bland neutrality and the real values we suspect are kept behind closed doors. Is it any wonder that people feel there is little to choose between?”

Of Labour politicians he says: “You must stand up for what you believe, but first of all, by God, believe in something".

“Do we want to be a society that is exploitative, that sees people as commodities, as numbers, and mere instruments of profit? Or do we want to be a society where each person is recognised, where all are equal in worth and value – where that value is not purely a monetary one?”

“Do we want to be a society that is supportive, that is inclusive and compassionate, where it is acknowledged that not all can prosper, where those who are most vulnerable, most in need of help, are not seen as lazy or scrounging or robbing the rest of us for whatever they can get? Where we do not turn our backs on those facing hard times, we do not abandon them or exploit their weakness, because they are us. We leave no one behind, we only say we have crossed the finished line when the last of us does, because no one is alone and there is such a thing as society.”

"To those who have discarded all principles, save that of profit before all else; to those who have turned their backs on the very idea of a truly democratic society, and aligned themselves to nothing but self-interest; to those who have betrayed the vision of equality, and justice, and compassion for all – that vision that provided the crucible from which came forth the National Health Service – I say to you, as Aneurin Bevan said in Trafalgar Square in 1956: you have besmirched the name of Britain; you have made us ashamed of the things of which formerly we were proud; you have offended against every principle of decency and there is only way in which you can even begin to restore your tarnished reputation. Get out. Get out! Get ... out!"

In 1945 Aneurin Bevan said: ‘We have been the dreamers, we have been the sufferers, and now, we are the builders.’ And my God, how they built. And what they built. Every bit as much a wonder of the world as any architectural marvel, or any natural miracle … The National Health Service. A truly monumental vision. The result of true representation. Of real advocacy. A symbol of equality, of fairness, and of compassion.

The nation that swept the post-war Labour government into power was made up of people who had faced the horrors and the hardships of the second world war. And had bound together as one community to overcome them. They had been sustained and inspired by their feeling of comradeship, and their sense of responsibility for their fellow man and woman. Compelled to help those in need and those struggling in the face of hardship.
These were the experiences that shaped them, and this was the vision of life that the welfare state was born out of. Faced with an enemy that sought only to divide, the National Health Service strove for unity. Where they traded in fear-mongering, and blame, and exploitation of the vulnerable, the NHS represented compassion, and generosity, and acceptance. Where they slavered with voracious self-interest, the NHS symbolised courageous self-sacrifice for the good of all.

In his book In Place of Fear, Bevan said: ‘The collective principle asserts that no society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means.’

‘No society can legitimately call itself civilised’: now that begs the question, what sort of society do we want to be? What is our vision for ourselves? What are the qualities and the principles that we aspire towards, and choose to defend?

Because it is a choice. Do we want to be a society that is fractured, divided, disconnected? Do we want to be a society that is suspicious and mistrustful of its own people? A society that is exploitative, that sees people as commodities, as numbers. Mere instruments of profit, to be used while they have use, drained of whatever they can offer, and when they are seen as no longer useful, just abandoned, cut adrift. Preferably unseen and never again heard from.

Or … or … do we want to be a society where each person is recognised? Where all are equal in worth and value. And where that value is not purely a monetary one. A society that is supportive, that is inclusive and compassionate. Where it is acknowledged that not all can prosper. Where those who are most vulnerable, most in need of help, are not seen as lazy, or scrounging, or robbing the rest of us for whatever they can get. Where we … we do not turn our backs on those facing hard times. We do not abandon them or exploit their weakness. Because they are us. If not now, then at some point, and inevitably, they are us.
We are not afraid to acknowledge that we can be ailing, that we can find ourselves weak, that we can be infirm, and that we all at some point need help. We don’t shy away from this hard truth, we embrace it. Because in that way, together, we are always strong. We leave no one behind. We only say we’ve crossed the finish line when the last of us does. Because no one is alone. And there is such a thing as society. This is what I believe to be Aneurin Bevan’s vision of a living tapestry of a mixed community, as he said.

At a time now, when people mistrust politicians as being too professional, too disconnected, no longer representing the voice of the people they have been elected to serve but more likely to represent the voice of wherever the money is. No longer standing for anything meaningful, or inspired by strongly held beliefs.

At a time like this a man like Aneurin Bevan seems like a mythical creature. Like a unicorn perhaps. Or perhaps more fittingly, a dragon. He didn’t care what the polls were saying. He didn’t worry about his PR, or what the current popular trends might be. His vision was long term. It was far-reaching, visionary in its scope and revolutionary in its effects. He had cast iron integrity and a raging passion. This was a man who had no fear in standing up for what he believed in. And he made no bones about how he felt. This was a man who publicly stated: ‘No amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical, or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep, burning hatred for the Tory party.’

In today’s political climate, where politicians are careful, tentative, scared of saying what they feel for fear of alienating a part of the electorate; where under the excuse of trying to appear electable, all parties drift into a morass of bland neutrality; and the real deals, the real values we suspect, are kept behind closed doors – is it any wonder that people feel there is very little to choose between? Bevan said: ‘We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run down.’

So when people are too scared to say what they really mean, when they’re too careful to speak from their hearts, when integrity is too much of a risk, it’s no surprise that people feel disengaged with politics.

There is never an excuse to not speak up for what you think is right. You must stand up for what you believe. But first of all – by God, believe in something.
Because there are plenty out there who believe in grabbing as much as they can for themselves. Constantly sniffing around for markets to exploit, for weakness to expose. They won’t say it, of course – they’re too smart for that. No one says they want to get rid of the NHS. Everyone praises it, across all parties. It is about as powerful a symbol of goodness that we have, so it would be too dangerous not to. But for decades now, there has nevertheless been a systematic undermining of its core values.

This is beyond party politics. The Labour government arguably did as much damage to the NHS as any Tory or coalition-led one. This is about who we want to be as a nation, and what we believe is worth fighting for. Too many people have given too much, and fought too hard, for us to give away what they achieved and to be left with so very little. To those across the whole party political spectrum, and to anyone in any position of power or authority, I ask you to search your heart, and look at who and what you serve.

To those who have discarded all principles, save that of profit before all else; to those who have turned their backs on the very idea of a truly democratic society, and aligned themselves to nothing but self-interest; to those who have betrayed the vision of equality, and justice, and compassion for all – that vision that provided the crucible from which came forth the National Health Service – I say to you, as Aneurin Bevan said in Trafalgar Square in 1956: you have besmirched the name of Britain; you have made us ashamed of the things of which formerly we were proud; you have offended against every principle of decency and there is only way in which you can even begin to restore your tarnished reputation. Get out. Get out! Get ... out!

Sunday, 1 March 2015

A word overused, misused and abused

Here are photographs of five people who were all described, in completely separate news items on a single day last week, with the same word. Do you recognise them? And can you guess the word?
From the top:
Lt Cdr Chris Gotke
Staff Sgt Kate Lord
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey
Margaret Thatcher

And why were they in the news?
Lt Cdr Chris Gotke: awarded a medal for crash landing a plane safely during an air show.
Madonna: for taking a tumble at the Brits awards ceremony in London.
Staff Sgt Kate Lord: awarded a medal for establishing an innovative training programme for female Afghan soldiers.
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey: the latest soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery in Afghanistan.
Margaret Thatcher: for her part in the Miners' Strike of 30 years ago.

And the common word used to describe them (and their actions)?

And that's not all. A quick search of recent BBC headlines gives us the following: Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, comes to us as a 'hero' of financial circles; one of the judges on Dragon's Den is, apparently, an entrepreneural 'hero'. Good grief, even a celebrity chef has been given the status of a 'hero' of the kitchen.

Let's go to a dictionary for a definition:

HERO (Definition): “A person distinguished by courage and admired for brave deeds. A person who has noble qualities and has performed selfless acts. Regarded as a model or an ideal for others due to heroic action.

Hero, a word that gets thrown around a lot, but is not always deserved. It's yet another word that is in danger of becoming meaningless because it is used to describe so many different people for so many different reasons - as in the above list. Its overuse means that the original meaning is getting lost. Which means that those who truly deserve the title are then lumped in with those who have manifestly not made the same sacrifice. Try comparing the actions of those I've mentioned and think which one (and in my opinion, there is only one) really deserves the epithet of 'hero'.

Now to the related but much trickier topic of calling all soldiers heroes. I understand the emotional need for some to do this as it allows families to feel their child did not serve, and possibly die, in vain. And in our sound-bite driven political climate, I certainly understand the political requirement that every elected official cite the word over and over while talking of soldiers. After all, it justifies their own war mongering decisions that shed other people's lives. But in reality, the word hero doesn’t apply to every person just because an individual enlists and wears a uniform. Unfortunately we seem to have become fond of the term hero for all sorts of overly nationalistic and political reasons. Don't we insult our true heroes when we throw the term around so casually? Don't we insult the likes of Joshua Leakey when we lump him in with Madonna and Thatcher?

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

What is so difficult about politics?

My post today stems from a question posed by Granddaughter #1 asking me what political parties were. It was a tough one to answer in a few words (and without me lapsing into a ranty polemic)and I mumbled something about them being groups of people who share the same ideas about the way the country should be run. This seemed to satisfy her but it got me thinking about how I would explain various political positions to her if ever she asked. Maybe she won't, maybe one of the other grandchildren will but, just in case it comes up, I've got the following on file for them.

Bampi's Cynical Guide to Politics

Despite what you might think, politics is simple. No matter what specific party people belong to, they fall into one of three categories: Left, Right or Middle of the Road (MORs).

Lefties trust the Government and think that it can pass laws to solve all problems and make everything fair.
Righties trust business. They think that business and free markets will best produce what people want. They will make all products safe and treat all people fairly.
MORs trust neither government nor business. They change who they trust based on whoever benefits them the most at any given time. They trust only after they know that a policy is good for them.
Simple isn't it?
*  Hate anything that comes as a result of business. They dislike people who have more than them and insist on regulating everything.
* Don’t have to think or research. They know that Tesco's is bad; anything not natural (organic) is bad; big Pharma exists to rip off the poor and anyone who disagrees is a non-thinking misogynistic, racist Neanderthal idiot.
* Are sarcastic and sure of themselves. They use and or make up facts and statistics to win arguments.
* Will support a strong government.
Simple isn’t it?
* Hate regulations. Regulations just get in the way of production.
* Believe that i
f people do not succeed it is because they are lazy and they need to learn to fend for themselves.
* Believe that Government should provide Armed Forces to protect the country and build roads and stuff to make businesses more productive.  

* Don't have to think or research. If government is involved, and it is not protecting their interests, it is a bad thing. Anyone that disagrees is a bleeding heart Namby Pamby Socialist infiltrating anti-British traitor.
* Rely on loud aggressive name calling to win an argument.
* W
ill support a weak government.

Simple isn’t it.

* Have to think and analyse everything. Is it good for me? There is no need to help the poor, unless the poor are causing problems, then maybe we need to allow them just enough affluence enough not to be frightening. 
* H
ate seeing the homeless as they make them uncomfortable.  Something should be done about that. Legalize drugs? Well, the ones they like, yes. Equal rights for women? Sure, if they have a daughter. Racial equality? As long as it doesn’t cost them their job.
* W
ant safe food and cheap drink and will vote for whoever can best deliver what they want.

* Think almost everyone is wrong. They avoid all meaningful political discussions but have nice teeth.
* W
ill flip flop their positions as needed.

Simple isn’t it.

Oh, I almost forgot. There is another category that I will call the “what is best for everyone” group. People in this group:
*  Read, research and analyse every issue based on what is right, fair, safe and most productive for the most people regardless of how it will effect them as individuals.
 Seem to be in an almost invisible minority and a political party for them is conspicuous by its absence.

Simple it isn't. Depressing it is.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Yuk! Kids.

I dislike** kids. Don't get me wrong, I don’t dislike children, young people, babies, infants, toddlers, adolescents, teenagers or youth. But I do dislike the universal use of the word 'kid/kids' to describe any and all of the categories of young folk.

'Kid' has its uses, certainly. It can be a friendly word, a loving word, even – in certain contexts. But words have connotations, subtle nuances of meaning that colour their interpretation. When writers begin to use certain words as if one size fits all, meanings get lost and the underlying sense becomes distorted. In addition to conveying youthfulness, the word 'kid' has associations of irresponsibility, poor judgment, triviality and mischievousness. Responsible behaviour is not expected of 'kids'.  “Kids will be kids”.  'Kids' are not to be trusted or taken seriously. In some ways, it's quite a derogatory word and I wince almost every time I hear it.

I realise I am probably flogging a dead horse and I should just accept that people have been using it in the vernacular for years. But I still think that, in most contexts, 'child' or 'children' are much better choices than the rather lazy 'kid' or 'kids'. I'll keep on plugging away but I suspect that the day can't be far off when I'll go to an art gallery and see a portrait of the Blessed Virgin and Baby Jesus labeled “Mother and Kid.” I kid you not.

See if you can spot the difference:

These are three kids.
These are three children.
**I could have chosen to write 'hate' instead of 'dislike' but hate is another word that is being debased by its ubiquitous usage. I try to be very selective when I use it.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Biased? Moi?

Every now and again one of my more political posts elicits an exchange of e-mails with someone who takes exception to what I've written.  One such recently ended with me being accused of being biased.  To which my response was "of course but the difference between us is that I know I am".

Every one of us has our prejudices and our preconceptions. We are socialised from birth in a society that feeds and waters those prejudices and helps them grow up big and strong. Me? I know I have a liberal left wing take on the world. I see the world through this filter and, I'll admit, many others (some of which my acquaintances would find considerably at odds with my assertion of being both liberal and left wing). Let's face it, people, myself as much if not more than most, are a mess of contradictions.

I know full well that when I write, talk and think about politics, I am doing so through the prism these prejudices have given me. I am aware that I am more likely to ascribe nefarious motives to my opponents and benign ones to my allies. Believe it or not, where possible, I do try to remember this and mitigate it, but it doesn't always work out. In the heat of the moment, reason will fly out of the window. Who can blame me? When the Tories are being particularly Tory, it is so hard not to get very angry and ranty.

Everyone is biased in one way or another, even though most of us wouldn't admit it. We all think we know the truth and we all think that we are right. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary!

Friday, 20 February 2015

On the slow train from Newport to Brecon

A couple of years ago (was it really that long?) I wrote in praise of  "Slow Train" by Michael Flanders and Donald Swann A little ditty they composed in homage to the cultural loss resulting from the Beeching Railways Axe. They simply strung together a list of the names of just a few of the 3,000 small stations and halts that were closed during this period. The result? Musical poetry at its best, accompanied by some lovely old photographs of steam trains and sooty platforms. I know you want to see the clip again, so here it is..

Enjoyable and evocative though that clip is, it's not half as evocative as the one I came across recently. It's entitled 'Lost Railways - Last Train from Newport to Brecon 1962'. From the archives of BBC Wales, it shows the journey of the last train to travel along the old Brecon and Merthyr Tydfil Junction Railway, starting in Newport and ending in Brecon. Here it is (there is no sound). Watch it carefully as I'll be asking some questions at the end of it.
This line holds so many memories for me, particularly Bedwas Station. The station and the marshalling yard were places we played as children and the railway line was our route around the back of the mountain to one of our 'dens' (the railway line was also the scene of a childhood indiscretion - we were about 8 at the time - that led to some of us appearing before our local JP - but I'll draw a veil over that. OK, if you insist, it involved a guard's van, a guard, air pistols, cowboys and Indians and Acker Brookes, our local bobby - I blame it all on John Wayne. I wonder how many other people remember the incident now? And blush? As I don't!).
Down: the line took us to Newport for train spotting and onward journeys to Bristol Zoo and Brighton (to visit my grandmother). It also took us, via a convoluted route involving Machen and Caerphilly, to the semi-tropical paradise of Barry Island. What joy! It was famous even before Gavin and Stacey.
Up: we went to the Brecon Beacons for hiking and camping with the cubs and scouts. Happy days and days, I'm positive, that started my love of open spaces and wild scenery.
There's so much about the film I enjoy. Not that long in (at 0.40), it reaches Trethomas Station and immediately after (0.50-1.10) the train passes through the Coke Plant (I worked there as a student) and Bedwas Pit (my dad and grandfather worked there and it was another of my playgrounds). At 2.03, there's a glimpse of the village of Pantywaun, demolished quite soon afterwards to make way for the expansion of the nearby open-cast coal mine. I remember getting off there a couple of times as the starting point for a hike. And then up to Merthyr and through the Beacons to Brecon. What a trip and one that would present-day tourists would love.
Admittedly not the Orient Express but it was MY line and I can still remember many of the stations along it. Without resorting to the internet, I came up with:

Newport, Bassaleg, Rhiwderin, Church Road Halt, Machen, Trethomas, Bedwas, Maesycwmmer, Fleur de Lis, Cwmsyfiog, Brithdir, Abertysswg, Torpantau, Cyfarthfa Steelworks, Talybont-on-Usk, Talyllyn Junction and Brecon.

I bet Flanders and Swann could write a song about them! In fact, what not listen to the first clip and try substituting some of the above names into the lyrics? It really works and is a very pleasant digression from whatever more pressing matters you might have on.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

A walk on the West side of Dartmoor National Park: Walkhampton,Horrabridge and Sampford Spiney

A delightful 7.2 mile walk with our U3A Group. It took us to parts that we had not walked before and, unusually, there was very little moorland involved. Our route took us from Walkhampton down the river Walkham to Horrabridge and then across fields and bridleways to Sampford Spiney. The return from there involved crossing Huckworthy Common and back to our starting point via Huckworthy Bridge. The weather was dry and clear and the walk was made all the more enjoyable by not having to wade through endless mud and puddles! And, for those of us who love old buildings, at the end of the walk we had tea with one of our friends in her wheelwright's workshop. The usual random set of photographs follow.
The route - highly recommended and one to add to our 'must do again' list.
This one caught me out. Lurking on the other side of the hedge was a Friesian cow. Not so, it's a life size statue in the (large) garden of the famous photographer David Bailey.
A granite gate post. I took this because it's rather unusual in that it shows the lumpy bit on the (right) end which is normally buried out of sight. It gives a good idea of how heavy these pieces are.
This occupied a couple of us for a while. What extruded it? Because it was made up mainly of fur, we concluded that it was probably fox droppings.
Strange things seen in hedges Part XX: ear muffs. Discarded by whom? And why?
A set of iron rails over a stream. What are they? For many years they acted as the base of a wooden launder (water chute) that took water from the stream (Blackbrook) running through the centre of Walkhampton village...............

..and used it to drive this overshot water wheel. The launder collapsed quite recently as a result of general decay and lack of maintenance. Although the building is called the Mill, it waa, in fact, a wheelwrights' workshop. In a report written in 1998, Martin Watts, (an acknowledged expert on water-powered mills), stated, ‘The Wheelwright’s Shop at Walkhampton is a remarkable survival of a once widespread local industry and unusual in that it retains several machine tools that were driven by water power…. As a water-powered wheelwright’s shop that still retains its prime mover and machinery in full working order, the site at Walkhampton can be considered unique in England.’
The water wheel was, by a series of cogs and drive belts, used to power a large number of machines in the wheelwrights' workshop. By my reckoning there were at least 12 take-off points; just imagine the noise and the motion when the work was in full swing. The building dates from the 1840's and was in the same family (the Veale's) for most of its working life. Water power was used until the 1980s when a 3-phase electricity supply was installed. The workshops were in operation until circa 1990, after which time the associated ramshackle outbuildings were demolished and the site used for a small development of houses. The workshop building itself has been converted into a couple of dwellings. But the actual workshop, and it's contents, as they have listed status, remain relatively untouched.
Another shot of the workshop with a cartwheel in place. Rather oddly, the carts were repaired on the first floor of the building, being pulled up there via a wooden ramp. I presume this was necessitated by the fact that the machinery was just too heavy to be anywhere other than on the ground floor. Carts are relatively light and so wouldn't pose a weight problem.
A collection of metal pieces, the function of which has been long lost. The friends who own the building would like to do some restoration work but this isn't as easy as it might sound. The triple complications of the building being listed, being in a Village Conservation Area and being within the Dartmoor National Park mean that even making minor changes is fraught with difficulty and bureaucracy. A good example is their wish to restore the launder. As a result of a stand-off between the Village Conservation Area (under Devon County Planning) and the DNP (no, not me), their respective legal teams have been brought in to hammer out a resolution.  Conservation gone mad!

Thursday, 12 February 2015

I agree with Martin

If only I had the skills of Martin Rowson. He encapsulates the futility of Prime Mininster's Question Time brilliantly in this cartoon from the Guardian today. Click on the image to see it in all its colourful glory.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Grrr - another British institution bites the dust.

On an already gloomy day, I was distressed when I heard that Kraft (who bought out Cadbury’s under dubious circumstances and who, in turn, have been subsumed into Mondel─ôz International) have been rather krafty and changed the chocolate on Cadbury's Creme Eggs. No longer does thick Dairy Milk surround the sweet, gooey filling but, by common consent, it's been replaced by a cheap, thin chocolate shell that tastes as sugary as its filling.

I decided that I really had no right to damn these new ova without actually trying them and it took all of 5 microseconds to persuade myself to buy one in the interests of fairness. Ok, a box would be even fairer. And that revealed more treachery: it’s now a box of 5 rather than 6. Robbed of an egg before I’m even off the chomping blocks. But, despite this, I mentally prepared myself to push aside my prejudices and judge the egg for what it is. I closed my eyes, bit off the top and…..…I was NOT happy.

I’m not convinced the inside hasn’t been changed a bit too, but the chocolate is now a darker colour, thin and really sweet. The old chocolate was thick – sometimes it was an almighty effort to bite through it, especially if it was chilled. It was milky and cloying, which balanced the oozing, sugary filling and every mouthful was a mission of pleasure to complete. The new egg lacks texture, taste and I would like to know who thought they could change a Great British Institution and get away with it. Oh, that sounds a bit UKIP-y but you know what I mean. Generations have grown up with the uniqueness of Creme Eggs and their limited annual release simply made them more desirable. Just like the arrival of the first snowdrop in Spring, the first swallow in Summer, it was a talking point: "Creme Eggs are back in the shops!”. They were a guilty secret to be scoffed (sometimes whole; sometimes 6 at a time - simultaneously - whole) and savoured.

Now, I realise that this is very much a ‘first world problem’ and in relation to the horrors of the news headlines, bastardising Creme Eggs is, perhaps, not such a big deal. Except it is. Change it back, please, Kraft. Because there’s a significant part of the nation that won’t be buying them any more until you do. Are we really going to swallow this bad egg, people? For that is what Cadbury has wrought upon us. A bad egg.  And it's not even good in parts, like the curate's egg in the famous Punch cartoon
* For any readers in the USA, the new taste reminds me very much of the 'chocolate' in Hershey Bars. I'm sorry, you make many fine things but chocolate isn't one of them.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

You always see something new.

The same walk as I reconnoitred on the Monday of this week (see here for post) but this time with the U3A group members. There are advantages and disadvantages of walking with a group but there are absolutely no disadvantages in going over the same ground. There's always something new to see and enjoy. Sometimes it's down to the season (less growth means that you peer into woods): sometimes it's down to the time of day and the angle of the sun; sometimes it's down to the weather and sometimes it's just down to the way you are feeling, On this occasion, it was a mixture of all of them. And this route will bear repeating again, possibly when the bluebells are out in late April.
Sheep, with some fancy ear piercing.
There's still a little snow on the tors.
A frosty scene with a hazy sun.
I'd never noticed this plaque before and find the contrast of its former uses intriguing. School and Chapel of Ease? Children and corpses? All became clearer when I read that a Chapel of Ease was a place of worship where it was difficult to get to a church. That makes more sense and I'd guess that the 'school' element was more likely to have been a Sunday School than anything else.
As I said previously, less growth means better views into woods. Here's another thing I've never noticed before - a water wheel pit next to Hill Bridge. My estimate would put the wheel at around 40 foot in diameter and, having rooted around the area and seen no signs of leats or launders, I'd say it was under-shot (water coming onto the wheel at the bottom) with a feed coming directly from the river. What did it drive? There were no remains of any associated buildings or machinery and nothing coming to light on an internet search. A mystery.
The River Tavy looks pretty calm here but, apparently, it's one of the fastest flowing rivers in the UK. Hardly surprising, I suppose, if the drop off the moors is considered. Oh yes, if you look at the Wild Swimming website, this particular spot is recommended for skinny dipping. Only for brave exhibitionists!
Lunch by the Hill Bridge Weir.
A grave we passed and one which aroused my curiosity. It's in the style of a war grave and commemorates someone in the Merchant Navy. I haven't come across many of those, neither have I come across many men who have been awarded the DSC - Distinguished Service Cross. In a very short space of time when I got back home I discovered that this was the grave of Alfred William Edwards, born in Plymouth and who died locally when on leave. He became Master (Captain) of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship, Ennerdale (a tanker and floating gantry) in 1943 and won his award for bravery during the Allied Landings in Sicily. In his will, he left all his estate of £1185 8s 5d (around £100,000 at today's value) to his widow Doris Rose Annie Edwards. So now we know.
The modest grave of William Crossing in the grave yard at St Mary's, Mary Tavy (there is a St Peter's in nearby Peter Tavy). William Crossing was the author of THE definitive book on Dartmoor - Crossing's Guide to Dartmoor. Written around 1906, it chronicles Crossing's rambles across and around the moor over many years and give details of many structures and customs now lost. It was a life time's work for Crossing and he was fairly poor for most of his days. His wife, Emma, actually died in the workhouse in Tavistock. 

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Is that all there is?

A wonderfully bright and crisp day, which is more than can be said for current political discourse. Prime Minister's Question Time this lunchtime (and, yes, I did watch most of it) was both puerile and pathetic. And the media is awash with synthetic indignation over Ed Balls forgetting someone's name. Only another 95 days to go to Polling Day and I find myself whistling the Peggy Lee song "Is that all there is?". Is this really the standard of debate we will have to put up with? 

Turning now to Miss Lee's performance: isn't it great? She really owns the song. It sounds Kurt Weil but isn't. Forget any existentialist analysis of the lyrics, she's simply singing about how we all focus on nonsense and make mountains out of molehills. And that's exactly where I started. 

Monday, 2 February 2015

A circular walk in the snow from Mary Tavy

We are leading a U3A walk on Thursday and, given the atrocious weather recently, it made sense to walk the route and check that it was still accessible. We've done this one before and it bears repeating. It starts and ends outside the church at Mary Tavy and takes in moorland and a very pleasant walk along a leat. Just over 6 miles and today it had the added thrill of hail and snow!
The route for those who profess an interest in seeing it.
I think they were looking at the view
Not too many panoramic views today.
Gorse and snow - yellow and white.
And in the distance, the tors of North Dartmoor. Although you can't see them, there were a few soldiers running around the army firing range.
A flurry of snow on the lane to Creason Farm.
The River Tavy at Hill Bridge, deceptively calm as these are the head-waters above the fish weir. Further downstream, the torrent is reinstated.
Also at the weir is a take-off for this attractive leat. It dates from the 1830s and runs for about a mile into a reservoir which served a number of the mines in the Mary Tavy area. Nowadays the reservoir is used for a local hydroelectricity scheme. The leat bank affords a very pleasant (and level) walk and a close up view of where the leat was chiselled out of pure granite. Quite an engineering feat.
I've been up and down this lane to and from the leat several times and today I learnt it's called Horndon Clam Lane. Why? Because it leads down to the River Tavy where once there was a wooden bridge or, in the vernacular, clam.
The tower of Mary Tavy church in the haze.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

When political dinosaurs ruled the earth.

As the General Election draws ever nearer, a number of Labour Party luminaries (specifically Tony Blair, Alan Milburn, Peter Mandelson and Ed Balls) have talked about the need for Labour to chase the 'centre ground'. All of them, in my opinion, wilfully ignoring the fact that, since the days of Thatcher, the Tories and their cronies have been working hard to change where the centre ground lies. Labour, following the lead of their natural opponents like a puppy, has allowed the project to succeed. The centre no longer lies mid-way between the old-fashioned binary choice of Left and Right: it is well to the right of where it once was. And is that where the Labour party should be? Is that really the pinnacle of its aspirations? Once upon a time the party had ideas that transformed society for the better but all that now remains of Clement Attlee's post-war revolution is the NHS and even that is under serious threat (No, Posh Dave, I don't believe the NHS is save in your hands).

I think Ed Miliband understands the need to make public ownership, redistributive taxation, greater social equality, employees' rights and fair welfare provision subjects for serious discussion once more. Unfortunately I don't see any signs that he can turn these issues into a coherent and convincing set of policies to present to the electorate. I know what the Tories are about as they've been at it for years. I want a real Labour party of the conventional left to oppose them. But where is it, Ed?

I've mentioned Clement Attlee once already and some say that Miliband is a sort of latter-day Attlee. A man who is deceptively modest and unassuming; who will amaze us once he gets into Number 10 and his many strengths emerge from behind the scenes. Possibly but this scenario forgets that Attlee had a formidable team to help him get his policies through. Who will give Ed the passion of Aneurin Bevan? The skills of Herbert Morrison and Ernest Bevin? The intellectual support of Harold Laski? These are the people Ed needs, not the likes of Blair and Balls babbling about the centre ground. A truly vacuous concept if ever there was one. 

Me? I'm a political dinosaur: unashamedly Old Labour with a fantasy that one day Real Labour will come back and represent the social values and heart that have long been stolen from mainstream politics by the Tories, Lib Dems and New Labour. I am a product of Attlee's reforms and, to a very large extent, I owe my present lifestyle and health to them. I wish that my children and grandchildren could have the same privileges but the chances of this are fast receding. Perhaps we need a Syriza or a Podemos to stir things up?

Thursday, 29 January 2015

With apologies to Jane Austen...

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a grand-daughter should be very wary of what her grandparents tell her. Certainly, she should never believe that the heated front seat of their car gets hot enough to cook bacon and eggs on.

Will we ever be forgiven for saying that it does? Or for providing proof? My word, how we laughed. Gotcha! Oh dear, are we entering our second childhoods?

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Wonwell Beach

Yesterday's walk was along the Inny, about 5 miles from its source. Today we went for a short walk at the other end of the river system - along the estuary beach at Wonwell in South Devon. Admittedly not the Inny estuary (there isn't one as it flows into the Tamar and thence to Plymouth Sound) but that of the River Erme. The Erme arises on Dartmoor and we'll be walking near its origin next week, so more of it then. Although we've been there many moons ago, or so we think, Wonwell came as a surprise. At the end of many miles of very narrow high-banked Devon lanes, we came to this expanse of sands. Was it really like that before? Of course, it must have been: perhaps we were thinking of somewhere else? 

Looking out to sea over the sands towards the English Channel. Here's a thing to remember: this estuary is a ria. What on earth's a ria? Simple: it's a drowned river valley that remains open to the sea. There are a lot of them in this part of the world, apparently.
Looking upstream towards the valleys through which the Erme flows. At some point up there, the river becomes a ria. But where?
This is obviously a kiln but in a strange detached position on the beach. Such a strange location that I questioned whether or not it was a kiln. A little research later and it was confirmed as a late 18th century lime kiln which originally abutted onto the nearby cliff. Much erosion over the years has resulted in its present position.
Continuing my catalogue of less-than-adequate photographs of birds: a lone oystercatcher poking around the sand for shellfish.
And another one: wigeon. Lots of these rooting around patches of vegetation. they don't go for shellfish but love a bit of grass or algae.
And off they flew.