Avenging AngelThursday 27th April 2000
THERE'S A WHEEZING of wingbeats as one of the Mute Swans gets airborne and flies low over the rushes to land heavily on a small patch of open water. The second swan swims around to join it, gliding along with its wings arched, stately as a galleon.
They greet each other, wings-raised and arching their necks, turning their heads, so that, from our viewpoint, they form a heart shape. They then turn to feed in synchronised display, dipping their heads together. This rushy field, by the way, is earmarked for sand and gravel extraction on the local plan.
Starlings feed together with less grace and more apparent urgency in a small flock on the cricket pitch. Goldfinches are still together in a charm (the collective noun for goldfinches), flitting over the fields. Yellowhammers are starting to stake out their territories.
On the garden shed a pair of Dunnocks have been investigating the honeysuckle near the teapot in which the Robins nested last year.
Guardian of the MeadowsYellow Archangel is in flower at the corner of the meadow, which is now condemned to become a building site, at the entrance to the woods. It's a surprise to see it just there, I've never seen it on this particular corner before.
It's a strange coincidence, a story that really goes back ten years, but the last time the meadow came up for discussion at a planning meeting, last December, there was a terrific storm in the morning. A huge bough from an old Ash crashed down, blocking the path right at the entrance to the woods, at the corner of the meadow, and I wrote that its shattered, arching form looked 'like some guardian angel.'
Now here's the archangel, in just the same place. Sadly it is growing ringed in behind the builder's mesh-grid fence.
It reminds me of a scene from one of my favourite films, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. A film about a group of misfits, who are ultimately dependent on one another, moving through a landscape of a world gone mad, where half the characters are scheming to get their hands on gold, and anything goes. It raises the question; does the quest for gold ever count for more than honour, justice and a sense of community? No wonder I find the story relevant to our times!
As preparations are made for a public execution in a little western town a woman turns to the 'Bad' character, 'Angel Eyes' (Lee Van Cleef) and says;
'That man (the 'Ugly' Eli Wallach) is the Devil incarnate. He deserves to hang.'
'Angel Eyes' smiles slyly and looks towards the livery stables;
'Just because you put a rope around a man's neck, it doesn't mean you're going to hang him. That 'devil' has a guardian angel, a blonde-haired guardian angel.'
So I'd like to say;
'Just because you put a fence around a meadow it doesn't mean you're going to build on it. That meadow has a guardian angel, a Yellow Archangel.'
I'm afraid that, for us, Clint Eastwood isn't going to ride in, guns blazing, to save the day, but I am now approaching central government, to ask that the practice of threatening witnesses with financial annihilation immediately before they start give their evidence at a public enquiry (as happened to me) should be stopped. Amazingly, as far as I can discover from the local authority, the Department of the Environment and the Regional Government Office, this practice is sanctioned under current legislation, not just here in Wild West Yorkshire, but throughout England.
'I must advise,' writes a Council spokesman, 'that Circular 8/93 . . . represents current government policy.'
We really value meadows in Wakefield; just think of 'Church Meadows', 'Hawthorn Meadows' and 'Chevet Meadow', to name just three of the numerous green-field house-building developments currently in progress within five miles of Wakefield city centre. Silkwood Park, that one's different. Here, on the western fringe of the city, on what would once have been preserved as green belt, they've erased half of an old 'Green Lane' to make way for another hotel and for factories.
It makes me sad and indignant to see what is going on, but, until we can get a change in the law, it is simply too risky for ordinary people to oppose such plans. You could risk loosing everything. I'm sorry to sound like such a coward, but this is real life, not the movies. At the enquiry it was made plain to us that the possible total of costs for a two day enquiry at our local Town Hall could be up to £240,000 (about equal to what I've earned in the past fifteen or twenty years). That's about £400 a minute. Three or four of us would have to sell our homes to raise that kind of amount. There's no way I would want to risk that again.
On the day I attempted to give my evidence, but made a complete hash of it, I felt so terrified.
When houses, hotels and factories get names like 'meadow', 'park' and 'wood' what names are we going to reserve for the real countryside?
'Leaf Production Unit' perhaps?
I do apologise for going on about this matter, which greatly troubles me. I promise there'll be more natural history tomorrow!