The Guardian (UK): It's an ill wind for the city of Dongyang: “Why are the oil companies allowed to ignore planning laws? Is it bribery, or just plain stupidity by the authorities?”: “…Shell, Esso, BP and the rest get away with ruining some of the loveliest villages we have left.” (ShellNews.net) 23 April 05
Simon Hoggart's diary
Saturday April 23, 2005
Following the election campaign in a beautiful Sussex village this week, I noticed that house owners had left their plastic bottles out, neat and ready for recycling. I was quietly admiring. Then I read a newspaper article which pointed out that all this plastic is being sent to China, in the holds of ships which have just brought us more cheap DVDs.
There it is picked over for anything reusable and the remains incinerated. This creates black toxic clouds of smoke which, say people in the city of Dongyang, who are among the worst sufferers, cause cancer, miscarriages and deformed births. Last week they rioted and fought police over our thoughtfully disposed of Fairy Liquid and Tesco milk bottles.
Or take the inquiry that opened this week into a proposal to build 27 giant wind turbines, each 377 feet tall, across a five-mile ridge in Cumbria, some of the most beautiful countryside in Britain. The turbines are opposed by the tourist board, the Council for National Parks, various rambling organisations, and of course the local people who, as ever, will have to put up with the ugliness and the noise.
Wind power is expensive and unreliable. For 80% of the time, the wind is too strong, or else too feeble. It despoils what is left of our lovely countryside. It is a lousy way of generating energy, but of course it is supported by our old chums Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, who, I have no doubt, are also keenly in favour of recycling plastic Highland Spring bottles.
When are politicians and public going to work up the courage to tell these eco-fundamentalists to get lost?
One of the best things about an election campaign for me is seeing the country, and a surprisingly large part of it is still gorgeous. Catch it before the wind farms arrive. The other day I was in Tolpuddle, a pretty village, recently bypassed by the A35. It has fine views over the river Piddle (I suspect the Tolpiddle Martyrs would have had a less mythic ring). There are plenty of thatched cottages, a few less satisfactory modern ones, but the overall effect is not far from idyllic.
You can visit the TUC's museum to the martyrs - not much to see apart from some banners telling the story - but there is a gift shop next door where I was able to buy a Tolpuddle Martyrs fridge magnet. This tells you all you need to know about what has changed since the 1830s. Then the martyrs and their families were starving on nine shillings a week. Now their descendants, like most of us, can easily afford stuff which nobody needs at all.
What was saddest about the village in 2005 - and this is something I have banged on about before - was the derelict petrol station in the middle of the main street with its prices hoisted high over the thatched cottages. Now it's fenced off and falling to bits.
Why are the oil companies allowed to ignore planning laws? Is it bribery, or just plain stupidity by the authorities? Do they assume that motorists, of all people, are half-blind and so likely to miss the filling station unless it's decked out like a Las Vegas hotel? If you drove through Tolpuddle and saw 20-foot-high signs saying DAINTY TEAS 5.99 WITH CLOTTED CREAM 6.99, or ANTIQUES 24/7 you'd be appalled. Yet Shell, Esso, BP and the rest get away with ruining some of the loveliest villages we have left.
The contrast with the inner cities is still remarkable. Tolpuddle is about as homogeneous as it's possible to imagine. The locals must scratch their heads when metropolitan types tell them that they live in a multicultural society; in some of these places the greatest cultural divide may be between blokes who like pork scratchings with their pint and those who prefer dry roasted.
This is not the case in, for example, Bethnal Green and Bow, a fascinating constituency which stretches from the edge of the City - all wine bars with specials on vintage claret - through to great Georgian terrace houses once occupied by silk merchants, now home to artists such as Gilbert & George and Tracey Emin.
Two minutes east, and you are in Brick Lane, which has become a sort of multicultural theme park, full of dark, exotic cafes, brilliantly illuminated sari shops and restaurants, all competing vigorously for custom.
A colleague, Audrey Gillan, took us to the New Tayyab in Fieldgate Street, which is her favourite. Here we ate a mountain of tandoori lamb chops, moist chicken tikka, fragrant rice, and vegetables with fresh herbs and spices.
It's excellent that London is now thought possibly the finest eating city in the world, and that another Guardian colleague, Heston Blumenthal, may run the finest restaurant. But if you haven't got £80 a head to spend, to eat well here you have to select an ambitious ethnic place, or from the amazing proliferation of pubs that serve great food.
· The best event of the week, though, was a Jewish wedding at Woburn Abbey. The weather was gorgeous, so the chuppah, a canopy under which the ceremony takes place, was on the lawn, and we sat in the sunshine as the couple were wed according to rituals that date back thousands of years.
But Jewish weddings are as much about fun as ceremony. The service was performed by Rabbi Pete Tobias from Elstree liberal synagogue. I'd heard of reform synagogues and orthodox ones, but never a comedy synagogue. He compared the happy couplewith the Osbournes (favourably) and Charles and Camilla, and Deidre and Ken. When the groom had to crush a glass under his feet he said: "It's an old joke, but I'm going to make it anyway - this is the last time Dan gets to put his foot down."
Then lots of drinks in front of the Statue Gallery, and on inside where there was an outbreak of spontaneous dancing. At the point in a Church of England wedding where we'd be waiting quietly for the first smoked salmon roulade, the bride and groom were hoisted on chairs above the throng, all swirling in counter-cyclical rings.
We reached home around midnight, and for all I know, it's still going on.
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