Thursday, 10 July 2008


It is Beatles Day today in Liverpool (great city of my birth and misspent youth). To commemorate this, the BBC website is offering a picture tour of John Lennon's home, 'Mendips', in Menlove Avenue, where he lived with his Auntie Mimi. The pictures are odd, to say the least; and even to an untrained eye like mine (and I am the world's worst photographer), there is evidence of a certain cack-handedness.

Anyway, the link below takes you straight to John's John.

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Tuesday, 8 July 2008


Balancing the absurd short-sightedness of women like my neighbour next-door-but-one (overheard today shouting over the fence at the deaf nonogenarian next door: 'The tree (that is the millenium oak referred to in previous posting) will soon be down dear. Off with its head...Only eight weeks to go...'), is the spectacular altruism of Rotarian and ex-Royal Navy search and rescue diver Tom Henderson, founder of Shelterbox. Back in 1999, when he was watching reports of a natural disaster on the TV, Tom saw aid workers dropping bread and other items for survivors, who were obliged to scramble and hustle to get provisions. Realising that these people had lost pretty much everything - their homes, their livelihoods, in many cases, their loved ones, he felt it a was a loss too far to see them forgoing their dignity as well. To help restore that dignity, he founded Shelterbox as a Rotary Club project, based in Helston, Cornwall, not realising at the time that this would become one of the world's leading humanitarian relief organisations.  The boxes in question, each costing around £490, contain a tent (shelter), essential tools and cooking equipment, etc to sustain an extended family of up to ten people for up to six months. 

I wandered around the vast warehouse used by the charity at the fantastically named Water-Ma-Trout industrial estate. One of our party (a teacher, too) asked if the eponymous boxes could not be more 'environmentally friendly'. With gentle patience, our guide explained that the plastic containers had a vital use as water reservoirs for the recipients, once the contents had been unpacked and the shelter pitched. The idea was that they filled the box with water, threw in the water purification tablets (which cannot, for some unfathomable reason, clear US customs because they are classified as 'a food'!) and - survived. Clearly, the eco-friendly cardboard box would not serve such a vital aim. Clearly, and sadly, the eco option is often one that only cosseted westerners can afford to contemplate. When choice is limited to dying of thirst or staying alive, the plastic box comes into the fore.

Go there!

Sunday, 6 July 2008


Back from two cracking week ends, the first at Dartington Hall, Totnes, where I had the unexpected pleasure of watching a performance of Shakespeare's 'King John' in the garden - rarely performed these days, although this excellent production by The Playgoers group begged the question why; the second in Bristol, where it finally became clear to me why so many media and literary types left London for the city in the 1980s (the splendours of Georgian Clifton, the vibrancy of the St Paul's Carnival, etc, etc, etc). Then I opened my mail.

It seems yet another new (and unwelcome) neighbour (a witch-like woman with a sinister black cat) has logged a planning application to fell one of the ancient oaks behind our bungalows and radically reduce another by 3 metres, which, translated, means more than twelve feet off the whole circumference of the canopy. The trees, around which the gardens of these humble properties, built in 1967, had to be accommodated (not, note, the other way around - even in those years of planning horrors that were the Nineteen Sixties), have been in situ for hundreds of years. They are home to squadrons of birds and squirrels, and other forms of wildlife clearly depend on their eco system. They are, moreover, in the public domain, sited on a strip of land maintained by council operatives who mow the verges, and thus, it seems to me, are not in the ownership of anyone, least of all the flowing grey-haired witch with cat, who moved in less than a year ago; but she likes to parade about in a tiny turquoise bikini (not a good look for a woman in her fifties - even though her figure is still good), and objects to the shade they cast on her garden. They cast even more shade on my immediate neighbour, a widow of 93, who has tolerated the oaken canopy above her house for twenty three years. They even cast partial shade over mine - but I like it! Shade isn't dangerous; it's just shade; and it appalls me to think that some individual can breeze into an area and lobby to have an ancient tree - an English oak, for God's sake,  the symbol of our nation (rudely annexed by the Conservative Party - but that's another rant) cut down because she doesn't like the view. There is a principle I remember from my law school days: caveat emptor (let the buyer beware). Why choose a property that abutts two wonderful, ancient oaks if you don't like their shade? I'm afraid the sinister answer points to the fact that certain witch-like individuals (and there are too many around these days - too many certainly alive and kicking in Truro) believe that their right to stamp whatever ghastly imprint they can make on an area (like a fouling cat) overrides the rest of the long-term community's rights to enjoy two wonderful old trees. 

I bet if they'd been yew, or any other of those witchy trees, the troll would have let them be.

Anyway, I have taken  a deep breath, resorted to cool legal arguments and logged my objections. Three years ago, my arguments (for conservation and the preservation of an important local visual amenity) saved a bank of ancient birches from being decimated by a proposed new build of flats and garages, which was thrown out at appeal. The Planning Inspector then upheld the principle that community needs overrode those of selfish, short-sighted individuals. I have cited that one in my fight for the oaks - because it will be a fight: I sense that witchy-woman is brazen. But reason, sound argument, and bloody-minded common sense will, I trust, prevail.

Meanwhile, if I could string her from  a high branch of the highest oak with her revolting pussy (yeah, dreadful pun, I know), doused with tar and covered with all the feathers of all the songbirds her evil cat has murdered, I would. I would pelt her with garlic bulbs until she capitulated. Would that I only could!