Even if you are a staunch “remainer”, horrified at the zeal with which the UK is abandoning Europe, there are probably some features of membership which you will be happy to wave goodbye to. High on the list for many people is the Common Agricultural Policy and its system of disbursing agricultural subsidies through direct payments to landowners and farmers, calculated according to the area of land that they own or manage.
The EU ideal of ‘ever closer union’ is anathema to nationalists, because it seeks to build political structures for a world no longer based on nation states competing against one other. This has always been both the most idealistic and the most important aspect of the European project. Boris Johnson may want to endlessly relive a fictional version of world war two, but most Europeans have learnt the real history, and are serious about moving on from it.
Since 2009, the spectre of redevelopment has loomed over the residents of Hammersmith’s West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates. A sprawling £18 billion project, on the nearby site of the recently demolished Earls Court Exhibition Centre, originally left the estates’ 760 homes, built between 1961 and 1974, untouched, but the local council saw an opportunity for regeneration. With no desire to leave, however, and no clear plan for what they’d be offered instead, residents on the two estates organised, found a voice, and pushed back.
Britain’s towns and cities do not usually sit cheek by jowl with its countryside, as we often casually assume. Between urban and rural stands a kind of landscape quite different from either. Often vast in area, though hardly noticed, it is characterised by rubbish tips and warehouses, superstores and derelict industrial plant, office parks and gypsy encampments, golf courses, allotments and fragmented, frequently scruffy, farmland.
Continue reading Edgelands
A sharp-eyed 20th century traveller, approaching the nondescript village of Ingleton in the Yorkshire Dales, might have glimpsed, over the top of a battered tin fence and a scraggly elder hedge, the curious sight of a car dangling in mid-air from a dilapidated crane. The car was a Ford Pop, and had clearly hung there for decades. A profusion of buddleias sprouted through its cracked windscreen and missing doors, a green blob of rootless garden in the sky. And there, perched on the nose of the gaping bonnet — a sparrowhawk.
Review of How Did We Get Into This Mess? Politics, Equality, Nature by George Monbiot. Verso 342pp RRP £16.99
I drive up the ramp onto the ferry, like I’m crossing the drawbridge into a moated castle. Part of me wishes that I had Mohammed stowed away in my car. But after the border guards go through the bedding in the boot, I realise that even if I had been able to spare the young Afghan the nightly dangers of looking for lorries to jump, he would have been quickly discovered before we’d even reached the boat.
Continue reading Passport to Privilege
Man first began collecting wild food in Britain at least 33,000 years ago, well before the last Ice Age. Over the centuries, first agricultural advances and then industrialisation saw its dietary importance steadily decline. Indeed, by the 19th century living on ‘weeds and toadstools’ was a humiliating badge of poverty. Worse, it was frighteningly reminiscent of the starving revolutionary French peasantry.
Stealing land is difficult to do. You can’t exactly roll it up like a carpet and carry it away. But theft is a matter of ownership, and the undercover transfer of ownership of land is, in fact, incredibly easy in a country where the records of who owns what are a jealously guarded secret.
One seldom hears that controversial word “gypsy” these days. A pity, because it’s a colourful word, originating in “Egyptians” – that’s the story peddled by the first wave of Gypsies, displaced from India via Greece over centuries, who arrived on these shores in Tudor times. Their welcome (or not) depended on being interesting, exotic, glamorous1 in a world of humdrum village boredom.
Continue reading Tinker, Vagabond, Journeyman, Tramp