Cold hard truth

JANUARY LAMBS

A cold wind out of the east
Like this would cause my old boss to shake his head
And mutter, “It’ll check ‘em, worse’n snow,”
And he was a man who ought to know:
A dozen winters on Romney Marsh as man
Then twenty more as master
Of three hundred acres of stubborn clay
Had taught hard lessons. He’d learned them well,
And in time passed them down to me;
And so today, riding by a meadow
Sprinkled with January lambs
Like well-floured loaves or fallen clouds
Pressed to their dams in the wind-combed sward,
I shook my head, murmured ‘This’ll check ‘em’
And felt the easterly thrust me back
Into a life now half-forgotten
And wondered if I’d grown at all.

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The unkindest cut

In its drive to straighten out the nation’s finances, the Coalition (I won’t call it the government, as no-one actually voted for it) is proposing to sell off publicly-owned Forestry Commission land in England to raise a bit of cash.
The abysmal record of our formerly state-owned utilities in private ownership (the railways, buses, gas, water, electricity, phones…) should be enough to make anyone nervous at the prospect of another sell-off. But there’s also an important point of principle at stake.
Forestry Commission land is PUBLIC. We have a RIGHT to walk our dogs, ride our bikes and horses and take our children to play in them. As it is, 70% of the land in Britain is owned by less than 1% of the population (almost without exception congenital Tory voters).
Furthermore, the Forestry Commission, for all its faults, is now reversing its old, discredited policy of mass conifer planting and restoring our ancient woodlands – Britain’s equivalent, in habitat and biodiversity terms, of the tropical rainforest. Unfortunately, while of inestimable value for wildlife and recreation, our indigenous broad-leaved woods are far less profitable than coniferous monoculture. You can guess which way a new commercial owner is likely to lean.
There’s a huge groundswell of opposition to the plans, with the splendid Woodland Trust in the vanguard. Whether the Coalition will listen is another matter.

THE UNKINDEST CUT

Our politicians found the means to ease
The crisis in the banks that caused the crash,
And keep our struggling soldiers overseas
By cutting jobs and wages. But more cash
Is still required, so now we find our woods
And forests on the market. Public lands
And ancient oaks and coppice merely goods
To sell off cheap, and once in private hands
We’ll never get them back; then enterprise
Will take the place of stewardship. Behind
Locked gates and out of sight of prying eyes
They’ll plant their conifers and rob us blind.
They’ve hocked our future, spent our legacy.
They will not take the greenwood. Not from me.

For more information, and to sign the online petition against the proposals, please click here. Thank you.

www.woodlandtrust.org.uk

Bonus culture

It’s bonus season at the banks, and the billions are flowing once more. My feelings on the egregious sums involved, and the people receiving them, are not suitable for publication. Instead, I’ve written about the payments-in-kind over and above my modest income I receive on a daily basis, courtesy of the Bank of Mother Nature.

FEATHERING MY NEST

Today, I got my bonus.
But I am no sacks-of-gold man;
My pockets are as shallow
As my wonderings are deep,
My profit margins narrow
As my wanderings are wide.
I took my reward
In the rosy blush of bullfinches,
A fieldfare blizzard,
The gallybird and magpie’s laugh,
The high keening of the buzzard
Black against a near-spring sky,
And my dog’s joyous circling
Of meadows lost last week to flood;
Free of tax, guilt and opprobrium,
Out of reach of moth and rust;
All mine to give away.

Cattle drive

Out riding at the weekend, I followed a small group of cattle being driven along a lane. I didn’t begrudge the hold-up: for one thing, I was grateful for the rest; for another, I’ve created a few bovine traffic-jams in my time, and the whole scene brought back many memories. It also set my imagination working.

DROVING

Just ten head – steers, heifers and their dams –
And still they fill the lane with their wanderings.
Like tourists, they stop and gawp,
Take snapshot snatches at the hedgerow
Or duck into drives and gateways.
The old man out in front
Never turns, but keeps step,
One mallet fist holding
A plain yard-long ash stick outstretched,
Rigid and unarguable as a border checkpoint:
They will not pass him.
Behind, the boy – six foot and four-and-twenty –
Trudges, wordless but for odd sharp yips
And gruff praise for the laughing collies,
Waiting for the grip of that hard hand
To weaken.

So long, Gerry

In one of those odd, slightly spooky coincidences, I listened to one of my all-time top-10 albums, ‘City to City’ by Gerry Rafferty, on my way to a client meeting yesterday morning – only to hear his death at the age of 63 announced on the news that evening. His lasting memorial will be the anthemic ‘Baker Street’, which was a big hit here and in the USA in the 70s; my favourite song of his, though, is probably ‘The Way It Always Starts’, co-written with guitar legend Mark Knopfler for the movie ‘Local Hero’. Fame and fortune weren’t kind to Rafferty; let’s hope he’s now found the peace that eluded him in life.

CITY TO CITY

Something made me take
That CD off the shelf.
Not my usual choice
For a Monday-morning beat-the-traffic
Run from town to town.
It filled the car from front to back
With sad songs and singalongs,
Folksy musings on love and loss
Swirled high by a soaring sax;
A simple, sweet perfection
Salmon-smooth, fish-hook sharp,
That made me wonder
Where he’d gone.
And then back home,
I flicked the radio from off to on
And wished I’d never asked.

Happy new year?

Apparently, the prospects for the UK economy are better in 2011 than in 2010. Which isn’t really saying a great deal; after all, you can’t fall off the floor. I’m certainly hoping it’s a more positive year; just in case, though, I’m considering a Plan B. As the bankers have so graphically demonstrated, these days, competence just doesn’t pay.

RECESSIVE THINKING

If not better, I’m no worse
At this
Than I was
Two years
Ago.
So
Why is it I
Now have to settle
For a whole lot less
While the men who made
All this mess
Are still
Doing very nicely,
Thank you:
Maybe it’s time
I dropped the ball,
Downsized my scruples
Embraced ineptitude
And made life simpler
For myself,
Knowing that as others
Picked up the bits
I’d still be sure
Of cleaning up.