Thursday, 22 January 2009

Beauty and the Beast

Helford is a beautiful fishing village in Cornwall.

Its problem is its beauty.

70% of the properties in the village are owned by people whose main home is elsewhere. Otherwise, Helford is a small village with fishing as an important industry, landing about £1,000,000 worth of fish a year. Furthermore it is the only fishing port in the UK which has no proper facilities for landing the fish – fishing boats offload their catch into dinghies, and four-wheel drives come down to the beach to receive the fish from the dinghies. Back breaking work, in a flourishing local industry which helps what is left of the local community to survive.

And do we think that the second-home-owners enjoy the fresh fish when they find the time in their busy lives to visit? Most certainly they do. It’s sold locally helping local shops to survive.

In the winter, the village is like a small ghost town.

It would be logical for the fishing community to want to improve their lot, to build some kind of facility to ease their burden and possibly to allow for a bit of expansion in the local industry. This is actually what the local community want to do. They have shown their plans to the local councillors, who are all in favour of the scheme. Kerrier District Council supports it. The plans are pretty modest really. It’s only a small village! They want to build a road along the side of the river – all but invisible from most angles. And they want to build a jetty to allow their small fishing boats to unload straight onto vehicles instead of from boat to dinghy and from dinghy to vehicle. And to load diesel, nets, water and stores straight onto the boat, rather than via the dinghy.

Strange, therefore, that there have been nearly 200 letters of protest against the planning application for the project. It seems that roughly half the letters were sent from addresses outside Cornwall. What is even more interesting is that a number of the letters were from identical pairs of names at two different addresses!

One holiday-home owner had the courage to be interviewed on TV, and I give him full marks for that. He was Mr Nick Jacobs who spoke from his Mayfair address, and he felt that as a second home owner of some thirty years standing, he was entitled to his view, which was (paraphrasing) that he didn’t want a new road, which would lead to car-parks and basically the ‘industrialisation’ of the village.

What he and his fellow protesters don’t appear to grasp is that the village owes its existence and its character to the fishing industry. The way to preserve that character, and to stop the community from dying and fossilising, is to promote, encourage and improve the local fishing industry. If that doesn’t happen, then in not too long a time, the visitors will arrive to find there are no locals, no shops, no-one to look after their precious holiday homes. So they will have to arrange all to arrive at the same time, to give some semblance of community...what a joke that would be!

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

The Sin of Optimism

We have all had a great deal of gloom lately. There are people losing jobs by the thousand, sound businesses going out of business through lack of credit, interest rates on new loans sky high – if they are available at all...

If Gordon Brown or his ministers come up with a plan, the other parties rubbish it. If David Cameron offers an option, Labour spokespersons tear it to pieces. All the politicians are very guarded when assessing the present situation, stating that they are doing all that can be done (or that the other lot are NOT doing all they can), and that there may be further measures needed later. Out in the country, the people whose interviews make it into the media are the ones who are suffering from redundancy, mortgage problems or lack of retail trade.

How sad I was to hear in the media today the response by Alan Duncan, Shadow Business Secretary, to a tiny and uncertain flame of optimism from a Government Minister.

Baroness Vadera, Business Minister, said, "I am seeing a few green shoots but it's a little bit too early to say exactly how they'd grow."

This was hardly earth shattering, particularly as she added, "Is this a positive straw in the wind, or should we say one swallow does not make a summer? It's too early to say."

Her comments reflected the fact that she had heard on Tuesday about a company which had successfully raised hundreds of millions of pounds.

Mr Duncan is the epitome of the smooth talker who has an answer to everything but a solution to nothing. So when he accused Baroness Vadera of being out of touch and insensitive, I felt that he may not understand that those of us who are on hard times may actually find comfort in a small spark of optimism. We all know that we aren’t out of the woods, that there is still plenty of misery to come, but when I heard the Minister’s comments my reaction was a cheerful one. When it was reported that a Tory was demanding an apology from Baroness Vadera, I thought that maybe the doom-merchants need to get a sense of proportion. I for one like to hear a bit of cheerful news from time to time, even if it doesn’t affect me.

We’re all grown up, Mr Duncan. We can listen to the news and understand what we hear. But if optimism is a sin, Mr Duncan, then let’s have a few more sinners amongst the politicians.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Technology Rules OK

Remember the Millennium Bug?

During 1999 there were dire warnings that banks would crash, that planes would fall out of the sky, that there would be social collapse, all because the first digit of the year was about to change.

Of course, none of these fears were fulfilled, and none of us really knows whether disaster was avoided by hard work and planning by the back-room boys, or that nothing would have happened anyway.

In any case, during the nine years since then, our faith in the power of technology to solve all impending problems has increased. Most people are completely confident that any disaster will be averted by the clever guys in the back room. Terrorism doesn’t stand a chance against our sophisticated police forces. Meteorological disasters will be foreseen in good time for the authorities to take adequate precautions. Such is our confidence that if the system fails even in a relatively small way – a bank collapses leaving shareholders bereft; a train comes off the rails; we immediately expect an enquiry to find someone to blame and possibly prosecute – and we expect to be compensated.

We have, to a greater or lesser degree, absolved ourselves from responsibility for our own lives.

What a profound shock it was, then, when it was discovered that the Microsoft Zune music player had its own version of the millennium bug, a Leap Year bug! This gadget wouldn’t work on the 366th day of the year!

Now I have never even seen one of these things, but the fact that this problem made international headlines indicates to me that we are relying on others to look after us on an increasingly trivial level.

I was talking to my brother yesterday, and as is often the case when I talk to anyone at all, the subject of climate change and peak oil came up in the conversation. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my brother now accepts that peak oil is imminent – I had previously thought that he agreed with the Prime Minister, that our oil supply would remain ample for our needs until at least 2030.

What I found disconcerting was his certainty that before our diminishing oil supply becomes a crisis, our scientists would find a new source of energy so that our lives will be able to continue as before with no discernable hiatus.

Oh how I wish this was true, but the premise doesn’t stand up even to the most superficial application of logic!

I am afraid that the time is coming for us to start looking after ourselves again. It’s going to be difficult, because the ‘system’ is not geared for it – but over time, I expect we shall manage! I don’t share this sublime faith in our technological age, but I do still have faith in the individuals that make up our race.