(4th June) Down to London for a meeting at Kew Gardens of the Society for the Environment (SocEnv), of which I am an Honorary Fellow (ahem). One of the speakers is Dr Thérèse Coffey MP, Parliamentary Undersecretary of State at Defra. The main subject of the meeting was biodiversity net gain, which is to say that when new developments take place there should be a net gain in biodiversity. Of course, the government is forging ahead with this agenda and may even publish a report sooner or later, which naturally should, all things being equal, be not too long delayed in time for further consultation, etc., etc. I do hope I’m not misrepresenting the situation here, but I think I did pick up the fact that a leaderless government is leaderless at every level. The machine stops, it can barely tread water.
Organisations like SocEnv, being professional bodies normally seek to be apolitical, so given the opportunity to ask the minister a couple of questions, I sought to do so in the least confrontational way possible. Difficult. First, where should we look for biodiversity net gain with fracking? Her answer was buried in waffle. No surprises there then. Secondly, since parliament with government acquiescence early last month declared climate change an emergency, what has happened since? Was the Committee on Climate Change immediately instructed to revise its recent report? The minister’s reply fills the space between the following brackets ( ). She expressed a rather forlorn hope that there would be no delay. At least, to her credit, I noticed that she travelled back to the city centre on the same underground train as me. No delays there.
This being the day of Trump’s visit I had expected the centre to be disrupted, but when I got to Westminster there was little evidence of the day’s protest. (My personal protest of course was going to a meeting about the environment the subject of which would have been lost on the president from the off.) But I did fortuitously take the opportunity of giving an interview to a TV crew from Isvestya, the Russian news outlet. I was very happy to tell them (in terms) what a profoundly stupid idea it was of May’s to invite Trump here on a state visit, the absurdity of which could only be emphasised by her imminent demise. For those who urged her to convince the President-of-Denial about the need to accept there’s a climate change emergency, she might as well have tried just as productively, with her dying breath, to convince him that FDR was the greatest president in living memory. The self-abnegation of the UK passed all known limits with this visit.
(5th June) On the recommendation of friends I paid a visit to the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow. The range of Morris’s activities, in a life spanning only 62 years, was astounding, and now, approaching 66 I wonder in comparison what I’ve been doing all my life. But such thoughts are just plain silly – I might as well ask why I’m not a concert pianist, or for that matter Theresa May. Point being of course is that one has the life one’s got, and in the case of Morris he sought to improve the lives of other people, particularly the aesthetic quality of those other lives. It’s a shame that he seems chiefly remembered for his wallpaper designs. A question asked of visitors to the gallery in one display is ‘What do you think Morris would make of today’s society?’ Not just about the destruction of the environment, nor the ubiquitous tat we live with (both physical and mental), nor indeed the loss of what, for want of a better word could be that English, Blakean sense of mystery (what others would call spirituality). I suspect Morris would tear his plentiful hair out. Hopefully, one day his wisdom will be tapped in some sort of holographic Ted Talk. In the meantime we could do with a Morris revival in our education system, surely an idea which could lead any Tory leadership hopeful to victory!
An unheralded pleasure in the gallery was a room devoted to Frank Brangwyn, another Victorian workhorse of an artist (who lived to 1956) who supported the creation of the gallery with a considerable donation of his own art. His etchings of the breaking-up of the last wooden sailing ships of the dying 19th century are in my mind at least on a par with Turner’s ‘Fighting Temeraire.’ Indeed, if I may be so bold, I would suggest they are better for being in black and white, the destructive romance of a ship’s demise doesn’t look quite so evocative in a blazing sunset. Better in sharp chiaroscuro, where the light is more sepulchral and the deep shade leaves things to your imagination.
Trump commemorating the D Day landings: how he must have wished he’d been there himself, racing up the beach under a hail of fire. Is he not the most courageous President since Washington? How brave! How self-sacrificing! Thinking about it, Trump will now probably get confused as to whether being at the commemorations was the same as being on that beach 75 years ago. His imagination knows no bounds – he was there with the veterans wasn’t he?
(7th June) Just been through Retford on the way back oup t’North and noticed a new sign on the station’s platform which says “Welcome to Retford. Gateway to the Birthplace of the Mayflower Pilgrims.” Now my knowledge of said pilgrims is not great, but weren’t they victims of some sort of minority persecution? So maybe the sign should read “Bugger Off Retford. Gateway to We’ve Had Enough.” What would it be like I wonder if e.g. Liverpool or Bristol had signs saying “Welcome to XXXX. Gateway to the Trade in Pilgrims from Africa.” I’m not sure it would hit the right note.