Here come the rogues!

Including two distinct types

So the first bunch are entirely harmless in most ways but just as a weed is a flower in the wrong place these are mostly weeds in the wrong place – that’s to say the North Quay in the centre of Bath isn’t the place you’d expect to see clifftop and ancient meadow specialists. But walking along the river just now is a continuous surprise, for instance I’ve never seen a corncockle in its natural habitat – there’s a clue in the name – and as for ragged robin, one of my favourite wildflowers I associate it with boggy ground in West Wales and on Mendip but not next to the bus station.

Now I know that there are many purists who think that these artificial wildflower mixes somehow ruin the ‘purity’ of the local environment – and you can see their point – except that short of seeing them in the wrong place you’d be pretty unlikely to see them at all. Why not a bus station? – if it keeps the species going surely that’s better than letting it become extinct because they’ve turned its favourite habitat into a car park. I’ve been fascinated to see what’s survived and what’s passed into oblivion over the last three years, and the sheer diversity of plant-life on the river bank makes a glorious picture in the sunshine. Sadly I think some will not thrive in this turned over soil and the nettles and docks are not going to give way to their more fragrant and colourful new neighbours. Perhaps this would be a good time to put up signage to introduce walkers to some of the newcomers. I was honestly flummoxed by the corncockle, for example, because I’ve never seen it before and it was just as beautiful as an unexpected non-native introduction because it’s virtually extinct in the wild. So rogues, but the kind you can develop some affection for.

Walking through Bath today we could see that, notwithstanding all the scientific advice, the streets are slowly coming back to life; and you have to wonder why this is being allowed? My own darkest fear is that the Covid 19 pandemic is being used as a kind of distraction burglary and what’s being stolen is the environment, the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. What’s being stolen is job security, education, care in the community and a hundred and one other supremely important things that are regarded as profit sapping extravagances by the powerful, and if they get their way we can wave goodbye to any chance of dragging the earth back from destruction.

That corncockle is almost extinct because of what’s been done to its natural habitat. In fact you could say that the wildflower seed mix so beloved of architects and town planners is- ‘though it might be keeping the species just about alive – no more than a bit of idle greenwashing. Playing the fiddle while the earth burns. The same could be said of so many artisan extravagances and consumer distractions.

the more dangerous kind of rogue wears a suit and tells you what you want to hear while he’s draining away your hopes and selling them off to the highest bidder

There’s a very well thumbed copy of Naomi Klein’s book “This changes everything”. It’s so well thumbed, it looks as if I’ve had it for years, but it’s almost new. The truth is it’s so alarming that I can only manage a paragraph at a time and so it’s aged prematurely while it fuelled my anger and despair. And that’s the problem. Despair is their tool! It’s really not impossible to imagine a world in which we made things we needed for real, and made them so they’d last. I’ve got a large Pyrex bowl in the kitchen in which I’ve been proving bread dough for over fifty years. It’s scratched and dull from continual use and yet I’m so fond of it I treat it like an old friend. I’d be heartbroken if anything ever happened to it. I don’t feel poor; I don’t feel ashamed that I wear a pair of shoes until they pretty much fall apart; I don’t feel ashamed that I can sew a button on, or that we buy quality clothes because they last for years and pass through from ‘best’ to ‘OK for the allotment’. I don’t need a big car to prop up my fragile ego.

While I was writing this I wandered into the kitchen and saw a drug deal being conducted right in front of me on the street below. Both dealer and customer looked like rogues, but the more dangerous kind of rogue wears a suit and tells you what you want to hear while he’s draining away your hopes and selling them off to the highest bidder. Farmers and fishermen alike have been conned into thinking that leaving the EU would allow us to protect our own. It can’t do that because the World Trade Organisation is set up to make it illegal to protect our own.

Covid has taken our attention away from the environment – the hottest, sunniest and driest spring for many decades has been taking place. Levels of pollution have dropped – this isn’t rocket science! – but if we go back to the way things were they will rise inexorably again as they have in China. Covid has taken our attention away from an economic system that has served the wealthy for so long, but is now collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions. We haven’t got one big problem we’ve got several and time is running out.

Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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