Lower Thames Crossing

After reading This Changes Everything I decided I had to hit the books when  it comes to environmentalism – with the result that I’m studying for an Environmental Studies A-Level over the next couple of years. I’ve got my first exams in May, which is an odd thought – it’s been a good thirteen years since I sat in the gym at school doing the last lot – but I’ve absolutely loved feeling as though I’m starting to get a proper grip on the science behind the statistics. It’s given me the confidence to talk about environmentalism more freely, and every time I sit down to do my homework (with the aid of white wine, these days…)  it is forcefully hammered home to me how cavalier we are in the way we treat our natural environment.

With COP21; world leaders like Obama and Trudeau taking the lead when it comes to talking about the importance of combating climate change; and high profile protests over Arctic drilling and fracking, its seems as though more and more people are taking notice. But it’s still very high level – we know something needs to change, but it’s hard to know what we can do – and all the while, local decisions are made every day which incrementally chip away at our wildlife and natural habitats.

Things slip under the radar. There may be public consultations about proposed developments, for example, but who actually hears about them? Take the recent EU Refit  – without the brilliantly coordinated work of charities like the Woodland Trust and RSPB, how would the average person have been aware they were being given an opportunity to voice an opinion on something they may  care deeply about? It can feel obscure, buried beneath layers of bureaucracy. Which is why it’s so important to participate when you get a chance; and the Woodland Trust is championing just such a chance at the moment.

Highway England have recently floated five proposals with a view to building  a new tunnel under the River Thames linking Essex and Kent. As the Trust has pointed out, three of those proposals involve cutting a swathe through areas of ancient woodland – with the worst offending proposal affecting eight woods in total. If you think that ancient woods are, by definition, areas which have been continuously wooded since 1600 AD, knocking them down for the sake of a road is not a decision to be taken lightly; nor is it something to be imposed on an area if the public don’t support it.

There’s a disconnect, somewhere, in the way we treat our woods. On the one hand we know that they’re vital carbon sinks; that they’re greatly valued for the way in which they shape our landscape; that they’re hugely important when it comes to offering a habitat for native flora and fauna; and that they have a key role to play when it comes to flood management. And yet on the other, we’re distressingly ready to lop them down if there’s money to be made, or if it suits our program of modernization or urban expansion.

There’s a public consultation running until 24 March, which gives us a chance to defend the woods affected by Highway England’s plans: the Woodland Trust has lots of helpful information on its website, making responding as easy as possible. I’m definitely going to be adding my penny’s worth – because these are the local skirmishes we can win, one at a time. And as a pragmatist, it’s just as important to sustain these local victories as it is to participate in the sweeping, international movements.



“Flora Mackintosh and the Hungarian Affair”

Afternoon, all!

I wanted to let you know that I’ve recently published my second novel on Amazon – “Flora Mackintosh and the Hungarian Affair”.

It’s very light-hearted, silly, and (I hope!) will make you laugh. The aim was to write something hovering between St. Trinian’s and The 39 Steps, and it’s inspired by the characters my friend Sarah and I invented together over instant messenger at law school, when we were trying to avoid work…



“Cheerful Weather for the Wedding” by Julia Strachey

I’m getting married on 2 April, and it just so happens that the novel chosen by my book club – and which we’re due to discuss the week before the big day – was Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, by Julia Strachey. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the book, which I hope is a good omen.

All I knew about Julia Strachey was that she was part of the famous Bloomsbury Group – and I suppose that invokes certain preconceptions about a novel. I’d expected it to be something akin to Virginia Woolf: a tale of aristocrats set in their domestic sphere, probably coupled with streams of consciousness; perhaps featuring the odd artist or academic, and a tension between the Edwardian and the “modern”. And to an extent those assumptions hold true – this is very much a story taken from the world of wealth, set in that strange limbo period between an old-fashioned England and something more bohemian. There, though, the writers diverge. Whereas Woolf conjured painful psychological truths, laid bare in such extraordinary prose, Strachey comes at her story from a totally different angle. There’s a moment early on when a character looks into an old mirror so that the drawing-room, as reflected in its corpse-like face, seemed forever swimming in an eerie, dead-looking, metallic twilight, such as is never experienced in the actual world outside, and that description holds a clue about what it feels like to read Cheerful Weather. If Woolf was an author hunting for verisimilitude, then Strachey is someone who revelled (from a distance) in the strange tragi-comedy in everyday life. It’s a surreal, funny, coolly detached, and even slightly sinister portrait of a single day. Let’s just say I hope my wedding day is a happier occasion.

It’s a short story of just 114 pages, and there isn’t much plot to speak of. The wedding in question is between Dolly Thatcham and her fiancé, the Hon Owen Bigham. Evidently it isn’t a particularly happy affair – Dolly consumes half a bottle of rum before lunch, and the characters all exist in a perpetual state of physical discomfort. There’s also a rumbling threat throughout that the occasion will be disrupted by Dolly’s morose friend, Joseph, who’s either suffering from a bad cold or repressed love.

The narrator’s eye never lingers on a single character for long; it’s Dolly’s day, but the supporting cast are just as important as the bride. Dolly’s overbearing sister Kitty charges about, braying at the other guests and bemoaning the fact that she has ugly hands and no urban polish. Their mother, Mrs Thatcham, bustles about the house in a constant state of surprise, disappointment and confusion, criticising the servants for following her own muddled orders. There are two brothers who move from room to room – the younger being persecuted relentlessly by the older for wearing the wrong socks (the shame, the older says, if another Rugby man should be present and notice the youngster’s inappropriate choice as he kneels in church), in a dynamic which is both oddly sinister and very funny. Everyone looks constantly frozen and chafed, with mottled skin and raw hands: Had it not been for the uncomfortable streaks of yellow, and the dark patches, now apparent over his neck and on the sides of his cheeks, no one would have guessed that in Joseph, during the last few minutes, a mistral had started up, and that deep waters were being severely ruffled. 

There’s a general feeling of madness in the air – half the guests are three sheets to the wind, and no-one seems to be listening to anything anyone else says. As the cheerful Lob says at one point, ignoring Aunt Bella’s story about her affectionate servants, My dear lady…I don’t care two pins about all that! No! The question, as I see it, is quite a different one. The whole thing is simply this: Is it possible to be a Reckless Libertine without spending a great deal of money? Quite.

If the novel were longer the wholesale unlikeability of the cast might be a problem. As it is the whole thing is perfectly judged – you’re able to observe the characters as though looking at a peculiar species of animal, marvelling at their strangeness. It’s a vivid, unusual little story, which reminded me in some ways of the tone used by Jane Hervey in Vain Shadow. I really enjoyed being a voyeur into such a sad, funny little world for an hour or so – and will try to steer clear of the rum on 2 April.Cheerful Weather for the Wedding