Monday, 19 October 2009


I was getting the train from Stockport today and met up with a primary school group, not in uniform but all looking somehow old-fashioned and sweet. Boys in short trousers and flat caps; girls with plaited hair and cardigans. Then I noticed they all carried brown paper parcels marked 'Gas Mask'. They'd been on a visit to the Stockport air-raid shelters. I'd never heard of them before but the kids told me about a huge maze of underground tunnels and hard hats and bunk beds. They were learning about wartime Britain - what a great way of bringing that to life!
What made me laugh though was the eager description (it obviously left the deepest impression) of a sixteen-seater toilet. Seems most suitable for an evacuation ;-)

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Bugsworth basin & Bunty

I took the boat to the end of the canal for a couple of nights at Bugsworth basin and practically had the place to myself. Only a couple of other boats that looked to be shared boats were there for a while. I was wondering that there weren't any local liveabords as it's a lovely green spot, away from the road and surrounded with trees but I guess the rather aggressive red sign threatening a £10 a night overstay charge on the 48hr limit was a bit off-putting.
As anyone who's been there knows, it's a warren of canal arms where boats loaded up with limestone and has been lovingly restored. There's also a 3D model of the way the basin used to look, along with old buildings, now long gone. Funnily enough, it only has a couple of little boat models in the whole basin, whereas I think the place was heaving with them at one time. Thing is, like some other canal restoration projects, I get the feeling that it's been restored more for the benefit of walkers/historians rather than boaters. It's maintained within an inch of its life! The very short grass was being shorn again while I was there; there are dog-bins every few yards and I didn't feel I could even chop wood alongside my boat for fear of getting messy splinters on the ground. I thought I was being paranoid until I came to fill up with water again before leaving. My hosepipe isn't very long so I had to start the tap running and dash onto the boat, holding it into the water tank and once it was full, dashed back out with it to stop the tap. Of course I left a watery trail behind me and an officious-looking character said "oh dear, you have made a mess"!
I did laugh though when some anarchic geese flew in and pooed the towpath up in 5 minutes. Childish, I know ;-)

Speaking of childish things, last week I came across a 'Bunty' magazine from 1972. I pounced on it, as I was 9 back then and remember reading Bunty sometimes and wanted to see if I recalled any of the characters, etc. I was horrified to see what sexist rubbish I was exposed to! It was all about 'straightening out' tom-boys, knowing how to behave in a ladylike way, cleaning a home. One story, involves a husband wanting to buy a new fridge. He says he'll dump the old one in the countryside and the wife gently reprimands him for being a 'litter-bug'. We later see it piled into a landfill. Ah - the dawning of environmental awareness in the world of Bunty!
A few pages later and my spirits rise as I see a quiz page where a girl is walking out in the countryside, with things that need identifying. Is this where I found my interest in nature perhaps? No! The quiz is titled 'Dangers in the countryside' and explains how a simple walk can result in disaster. You have to identify all the bad things that can happen, like an insect bite or nettle sting. It even had 'storm cloud' listed! It's a wonder girls ever ventured outside of their well-ordered homes.
Luckily, it doesn't look as though any of it has rubbed off on me ;-)

Friday, 9 October 2009

Leave it in the ground!

There's a community near Lanark in Scotland that has been opposing plans for an opencast mine at Mainshill Wood for the last few years. With four other mines in the area, I read that it's one of the heaviest mined areas in Europe and also happens to have the highest rates of cancer in Scotland.
In solidarity with the local people, anti-coal protesters have been camping on the proposed site since the summer. (
As well as the wonderful wildlife here that will be wiped out: deer, badgers, rabbits, bats, owls, pheasants, and some stoat-like creatures I couldn't identify (!), there's also a large lake at the bottom of the site. When you read up on opencast mining pollution and how sulphur in coal gets exposed to the air and rainwater, leaching a toxic mix into waterways, it seems unbelievable that the plans could even get permission.
Another sad thing is to look at the horizon. The hills rise and fall gently in the distance, until you suddenly see a flat table-top where a mine has been made and there's nothing but grey, stepped rubble. More lovely hills, then the next dead space
But what is lovely to see here, is the great relationship between local people and those camping in the tree-houses, tents and tunnels. As many local people are elderly or have children, they are only too glad to support people willing to sleep rough in the woods! They bring donated food, warm clothes, tarpaulins, tools for building defences against the excavators. They also fill water containers since Scottish Water closed off the mains pipe across the land.
At the moment, efforts are being made to stop or at least slow the tree-felling there as once this is completed, the way is open to the bulldozers and then mining can begin. (Didn't have my camera, so here's a sketch of the site being cleared)
People (that i think are amazingly brave!) are prepared to stay high up in the trees and down in tunnels to stop this going ahead. It's all about costing the company enough money to mean it's no longer economically viable as a project.
It's easy to get despondent about facing up to powerful corporations (in this case, Scottish Coal) but when you see how E-ON has backed down from expanding Kingsnorth power station, that's a real inspiration to environmental protesters to keep up the pressure. Sure, E-ON claim it's the recession that has put their plans on hold, but the huge and expensive disruption to their operations over the last couple of years must have taken their toll. They haven't been able to attend a single trade fair without actions taking place, a sustained campaign of protests and, thanks to Climate Camp, a raised awareness of their environmentally damaging plans. I had my doubts about the effectiveness of the coming Climate Swoop at Ratcliffe-on-Soar, but now I'm pretty damn sure this may have helped their decision to drop Kingsnorth - for the time being at least.
I hope the people of Mainshill take heart from this and see that ordinary people can take on giant corporations - and win!