WE’RE going to try something different today. I’m off for a short run across the hills above Richmond, North Yorkshire, because it’s time I knocked myself back into a semblance of fitness – but this post is all about ethics and our place in the countryside. It concerns rights of way, highways and byways, rich and poor, perceptions and prejudices. I shall offer you a few multiple-choice questions as we proceed and include a scoreboard. It’s hard work because I’m running while I’m typing . . .
I park the van at Beacon Plantation above Richmond and jog to the entrance of Feldom Ranges military base, then puff and pant across fields to Whitcliffe Scar, which is very famous in this area for reasons I shall disclose later, then trudge through a bog while a thin winter wind cuts across a late afternoon Pennine landscape. Let me tell you about what happened last week in a lay-by near Barnard Castle. This is where you need to pay attention.
We’ve arrived at the multi-choice ethical test. Two days before Christmas I park my van at the side of a road near Wycliffe Hall, on the banks of the river Tees, go for a run, and return to discover a man taking pictures of the van’s registration plate. He’s stopped his car in the middle of the road and is holding a camera phone out of his window. He hasn’t spotted me yet because I’m approaching his car from the rear. I jog up to his window and confront him. What do I say? Or what would you say in this situation?
A) Oi, mate. What the effin’ hell are you up to?
B) Wow, is that an iPhone 6 Plus featuring an A8 chip, Touch ID, faster LTE wireless, a new 8MP iSight camera with Focus Pixels, and iOS 8?
C) Excuse me. Can I help you?
I’ll just veer off at an angle for a second. I am reminded of a radio discussion I heard many years ago while driving down the M6 to Wrexham with my father. Broadcaster Laurie Taylor was recounting an incident in which he was robbed in the street. As he chased the thug, the only words he could summon were the extremely lame: “Stop thief”. He was laughing about his reaction because “Stop thief” is what comic-book characters and actors in Ealing comedy films shout. But it was the only thing that came into his mind. And I feel the same now because I stick my head through this chap’s window, and despite racking my brain to come up with something original and vaguely spirited, say: “Excuse me. Can I help you?” So ten points if you said a very civilised C. Five points for a spirited A. Minus fifty if you said anything remotely like B.
So this guy, who is very well turned out, it must be said, says my van is parked illegally on private land, and that’s why he is taking pictures. I point out that my van is parked on the verge, and the verge is part of the public highway. But is it part of the highway? Here’s your choice.
A) The public highway is only the metalled surface of a road.
B) The public highway is a fixed measurement depending on the classification of the road.
C) The public highway includes the verge and extends to the bordering walls, hedges or fences.
Ten points if your answer is C, although different rules might apply in other countries. No points for A or B. I’m feeling more assertive now because I’m sure I’m in the right. The man changes his argument – a sign of weakness – and says crime is a problem in this area, with landowners being targeted and sheep rustled, and unfamiliar vehicles are all suspect. That’s another reason why he’s taking pictures.
This is an interesting point. Crime is a problem in many areas, but in the extremely affluent countryside along the County Durham and North Yorkshire border it’s a damned sight less of a problem than it is a few dozen miles to the south in Leeds, to the east on Teesside, and to the north on Wearside and Tyneside. So here’s the next question.
Put yourself in the place of the well-turned-out guy with the camera. You’ve driven a few hundred metres from your front gate and you spot an old white van parked beneath trees in a place where vehicles don’t usually park. You take pictures, just to be on the safe side. Would you have stopped to take pictures if the vehicle was:
A) A brand new Nissan Navara 4×4?
B) An unfamiliar van parked among local fox hunting vehicles, which park wherever the silly pillocks driving them decide to park, irrespective of land ownership, public safety or where the sherry-soaked riders happen to be trampling down crops and hedges in their crazed lust to murder wildlife?
C) A yellow Citroen 2CV with a big purple dinosaur sitting in the rear window?
Trick question – no points for any answer. But here’s another take on the same theme. You live on a council estate in a nearby town. You leave your house and spot an unfamiliar van parked at the side of the road. What do you do?
A) Find a brick and toss it through the windscreen just out of badness?
B) Peer through the window to see if the owner’s left any power tools inside?
C) Totally ignore it because you and your neighbours are ordinary people and the world is full of unfamiliar vehicles and only a very small minority are driven by criminals – and a fair percentage of those criminals are bankers, financiers and people who move in the highest circles of society?
Ten points for answering C, nothing for A or B. At this point the chap with the camera changes course again and says my van shouldn’t be parked on the verge because it makes the countryside untidy, and people in this area are very particular about their verges. My van is actually parked on firm bare earth. It’s one of those unofficial lay-bys that enhance our rich and varied countryside and provide a haven for picnickers and Sunday drivers out on a jaunt. Because he’s being so insolent, do you:
A) Reach into the car and twist his nose between finger and thumb through sheer exasperation?
B) Launch into a rant about the wealthy commandeering the countryside for their exclusive pleasures while they condemn the poor to lives of misery in rat-infested tenement buildings?
C) Wish you had the energy to pursue B but just stand there in silence?
Ten points if you said C. Actually, ten points for A and B as well. The man is about to drive away. I get the impression he has conceded defeat in this battle of words and silences, but as a parting shot he declares his intention to post the van registration number on the Farm Watch website. Then off he goes. What do you do?
A) Hurl a rock at his disappearing car?
B) Shout: “Do what you effing well want you effing Tory t**t.”?
C) Rush home and fire an email to Durham Police imploring them to charge the “arrogant sod” with harassment and wasting police time if he circulates the registration number?
Ten points for C, another ten for B, nothing for A. Twenty points if you would have done B and C.
So that was last week. If you scored sixty points then you’re a decent person and of a high moral standard, though you do need to curb your language in heated situations. A score of fifty points puts you on a level with Ghandi and Wat Tyler. With forty or thirty points you’re in the couldn’t care less bracket. Twenty points to zero means you watch too many episodes of The Big Bang Theory, Come Dine with Me and Real Housewives of Melbourne (that’s a bit of prejudice on my part). A minus score means you’ve read this far because you are expecting me to reveal the camera phone specifications.
On today’s run along Whitcliffe Scar I pass a memorial to one Richard Willance, a Richmond draper, who in 1606 was out hunting in swirling mist and had the misfortune to fall from his horse and break a leg. The horse died in the incident. Willance was alone, and fearing gangrene would set in if the leg wasn’t kept warm, he slit open the horse’s belly and thrust his broken leg into the entrails.
He was eventually rescued, but not before the townsfolk of Richmond insisted he remove the dead horse from the verge because it was making the place untidy. Sorry, made that bit up. Happy new year.
AND FINALLY . . . TALLY HO NO YOU DON’T
PHOTOGRAPHER Paul Kingston, of North News and Pictures, has managed to capture in one splendid image an attitude it has taken me nearly 1,500 words to parody. This is the Zetland Hunt at Greta Bridge, about two miles from where I had my run-in with the chap in the car. The picture appeared in several national newspapers today. The sign says NO DOGS. One rule for us . . . etc, etc . . .
La lucha continua. No pasaran!
I scored sixty points, AND I’ve watched every episode of The Big Bang Theory: where do I stand?
It puts you right at the top of the pyramid of perfection, Martin. Thanks for making me laugh.
I’d never seen The Big Bang Theory until just before Christmas when I visited my son and was obliged to sit through four back-to-back episodes. You deserve a medal.
All the best, Alen
HNY cousin and you’ll be pleased to know I got eighty points because I loathe these arrogant pricks so much I awarded myself an extra twenty! 😀
Hi Cuz. Thanks for another good laugh. Hope you had a good Hogmanay, but being the only Scot in Norway I expect it was pretty strange.
All the best, Alen
Far from the only Scot here – Bergen even has a pipe band – but it was just me and the Mrs at 12 then she was banished to bed while I listened to Flower of the Forest and had a wee bubble to myself! Hope you had a good one?
Excellent. Jools Holland and the Pipes and Drums of the 1st Battalion Scots Guards, a few glasses of Grouse, rounded off with Alfred Hitchcock’s 39 Steps.
Sounds good to me 🙂
Never mind what i scored. Let’s just say he might have thought twice after that…anyway, you peasant you, didn’t you know those aren’t DOGS? My good man, they are HOUNDS! please, don’t be bothering us with your little white van my goodness what is the world coming to. Butler, throw out this fellow. Can’t tell a hound from a dog.
Ah yes, class distinction in the doggy world. Good job I didn’t have my whippet with me. Actually, Liz, you’ve reminded me of an excellent TV series back in the 1980s starring Timothy West as a rich landowner and colliery owner who used to hunt peasants instead of foxes – Brass. I shall look that one up. (And I must confess that I’ve just looked on Google to check that hounds are actually dogs)
Not sure how you score 60 points – there’s only 50 available ‘cos one of the answers was a trick question and you said there weren’t any points.
I hate the huntin’, shootin’ crowd – they make me sick with their hypocrisy. They’re always saying it’s the farmers that hunt – not around our way it isn’t – they can’t afford those posh horses! And most of the hunting is in arable areas – wonder why they need to kill foxes there? I haven’t seen many foxes attacking crops and the rabbits they do attack are supposedly a pest in arable areas. And then they hunt endangered hares!! 😦 Shows what a load of tosh it all is. And they say it’s country people who hunt – no it isn’t – it’s rich folks who’ve moved out to the country. Country people are born and bred there. Hunting isn’t a country issue, it’s a class issue!
That’s my rant over for today.
I put mainly the civilised answers but, thinking about it, I can be pretty hot-tempered and uncivilised so maybe I’d have been up for assault now 😉 Loved the nose-twisting bit! 😉
Hiya Carol. Like you, one of my arguments against fox hunting is that much of it takes place in arable areas. Certainly around where I live in North Yorkshire it’s nearly all arable farming, yet the land supports several large and popular hunts, one being the Zetland, the one pictured.
What really bugs me is the way the followers commandeer the roads in their pursuit of the hunt. They park everywhere and anywhere, disrupt traffic, churn up verges, deposit litter, then move on to cause havoc somewhere else.
Thanks for the rant, Alen
Well of course! they have the right! they’re the ruling class… NOT!
Many kinds of hunting are rife in my area, from terrier men to hunting with big dogs- terrifying if you suddenly become an item of interest to them when you are just going out for a walk in the mountains. In another lifetime I was a farmer, like many of the terrier men, who profess to be keeping foxes under control. We had just under a thousand acres of hill and arable land and managed that by fencing properly, keeping our hens secure and patrolling the sheep diligently, bringing vulnerable beasts down to the farm when needed. I have spoken to the police about the terrier men, but they remain basilisk-like.While I scored reasonably well, I, too, would have gone for the nose-twisting bit. Or perhaps I would have taken a photo of your protagonists’ car as well…
Hi Iain. I was out walking local paths on Boxing Day and blundered into some sort of furtive activity that appeared to be linked to one of the hunts. Chaps with dogs skirting along hedge-bottoms and little groups of men and women, all dressed in country gear, standing in field corners and peering over dykes. It was all probably quite legal, but from the dark looks I received I formed the impression they would have hounded me off the land if they thought they could have got away with it. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, and I imagine that some people could feel quite intimidated.
If I’d had my wits about me I would have taken the chap’s number, but the thought didn’t occur until the moment had passed.
Shame, I enjoy your blogs but as a Tory who lives in the countryside you can imagine this one didn’t make me feel very welcome! A lot of supposition and little evidence of this being an incident of class warfare. Just a bloke (recent victim of crime?) taking a photo of a van he didn’t recognise in a place he didn’t expect to see one. W
Hi Will. I’m sorry you didn’t feel welcome, but one of the reasons I wrote this piece was because I was made to feel unwelcome and uncomfortable in my own country. To find yourself suddenly a potential crime suspect simply for parking legally on a country road was a sobering experience. So far as I can see, the only reason it happened – that I was considered a potential threat to people and property – was because my vehicle didn’t quite fit the profile for the locality. I might be wrong but I don’t think I am.
I think the class divisions in this country are now more apparent than at any time since the late 1930s, though I’m not saying this incident was related to class. It was more to do with attitudes and prejudices, and a fear of crime that bears little relation to the actuality of crime.
Finally, I could have written a serious account about what was little more than two grown men having a futile argument in the middle of nowhere, but I don’t think many people would have read to the end.
All the best, Alen
Farm Watch? Sounds like a digital-age version of the Yeomanry.
If it’s any consolation, we occasionally win one against the landed classes. Many years ago I was present in the Forest of Bowland (where the Duke of Westminster owes a large grouse estate, and the grouse are so tame you can hit them with a cricket bat rather than shoot them) on the first day of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, or the Right to Roam as the CLA preferred to call it.
The Right to Roam may not be perfect but the pleasure of being led on a legal walk by the very disgruntled head gamekeeper across open country, in the presence of some even more disgruntled CLA people and four old women from Manchester who has been sneaking illegal rambles on this land for years, was a memory I’ll treasure.
Hi Paul, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act was one of the best things Tony Blair’s government introduced, along with the minimum wage (which also has its imperfections). As well as allowing the British public access to their own countryside it dispelled the myth that our rural uplands would be invaded by masses of irreverent townsfolk who would show little regard for country ways or traditions. Former Tory minister Nicholas Soames said in an article a couple of years ago that there were real fears within certain circles that this would happen.
Your walk in the Forest of Bowland is certainly one to remember. It seems perverse now, that only a few years ago there were huge areas of England and Wales where only the rich and privileged were allowed to tread.
I always listen to Laurie Taylor and one of his jokes always makes me laugh out loud: what do you get if you cross a sociologist with a member of the Mafia? An offer you can’t understand…
I lost ten points on the highway question, but I’m used to the expression ‘back of pavement,’ so not having a pavement in the question threw me. To be honest, I’m torn on the whole town versus country debate. For me the real villains are those people from the town who buy up large parts of the country and force people born and bred there to move away because of property prices. Like Carol says, it’s the rich who want to buy it all up and turn it into a playground to make money who cause a lot of the aggravation. Looking at a village like Coniston in the Lakes where nearly every home is now a holiday let is scandalous.
Shoot ’em all, I say. And by the way, you could have avoided all this trouble if you had left the van at home and jogged to Richmond.
Hi Chris. Last point first. The nearest I’ve ever come to jogging all the way to Richmond was planning to walk there for the Richmond Beer Festival back in October – but I was offered a lift at the last minute, and that made the evening even more enjoyable.
Totally agree with you on the second homes thing. It’s a scandal. There are several aspects. There are the people with money to spare buying up what would otherwise be affordable homes for the less well-off. Then there’s the gentrification of rural areas, and this is happening in my neck of the woods – old farm buildings, and sometimes complete farms, being converted into luxury apartments, which results in tarmac being applied to cobbled lanes and electronically-controlled gates with concrete lions being erected everywhere. Large mock-Georgian country houses being built in open countryside (two near my village) and in full compliance with otherwise stringent planning laws.
Suddenly the countryside has become – or is fast becoming – the exclusive preserve of the better-off. I don’t think it’s a countryside versus town thing, I think the whole thing is solidifying along wealth lines.
Blimey, it’s Saturday night and I’m ready for a beer.
Once again a very enjoyable post, and a happy new year.
Hiya John. Good to hear from you. Happy new year to you too.
one last thing….I used to own a 2cv…. they dont count as car,fun,but not much fun. I drove it from London to Sheffield once,to be told we dont see many of those in these parts.I replied it was okay because that was the only part he was going to see of my parts in these parts!!
Great stuff. I have a sneaky regard for 2CVs. Like those old Volkswagen T2 campers with the split windscreens, they are vehicles of character – though not necessarily comfort.
The arrogance of some people is breathtaking. Taking a photo of his number plate seems like the best idea.
The hunting debate is really depressing because both sides use wildly specious arguments and the whole thing often seems to degenerate into a town vs country thing, as if people are defined by where they are from or where they live. I’m against hunting with dogs, but have mixed feelings about the legislation which always seemed to me to be a token, vote chasing affair which was always destined to not be properly policed.
Hi Mark. I think the legislation was a dead duck from the start. If you’re going to ban something you ban it – like badger baiting, cock fighting and hare coursing – not mess around in some sort of ineffective halfway house.
Nor am I convinced that the arguments are polarised around social backgrounds. I’ve lived my entire life in villages, in rural Cumbria and North Yorkshire, and I was brought up by a father who spent his spare time shooting and fishing. Fox hunting boils down, in its broadest sense, to lifestyle choice.
All the best, Alen
Sorry Alen, I don’t think I put that very well. What I meant was that there’s a tendency, particularly from the so-called Countryside Alliance mob, to want to pretend that this is somehow a town against country affair. I grew up in a village in Leicestershire – like Cumbria famous for its fox hunting – and I know that even forty years ago there was plenty of rural opposition to hunting, including amongst farmers, who have to put up with the damage caused by hunters. And yes – the legislation was useless, and cynically brought forward because it might be a vote winner, since there was never really any intent to enforce it.
I thought you put it all right, Mark. Perhaps my response could have been written more clearly.
Can’t be too careful these days. Would’ve done the same myself if I had seen your dodgy-looking hippy van. Just surprised he didn’t turn his 12-bore on you when he saw your straggly locks!
You’ve been far too chirpy since your appearance on Dragon’s Den, Missy. Can’t handle fame, obviously.
Happy new year, Alen
Tynemouth anonymous. I often consider the pros &cons of hunting while feeling the fob watch my grandfather sold to me lain on his deathbed. He beckoned for me to lean closer and with his ebbing last breaths he said “Remember this my lad…Wet birds never fly at night” He was right ! Many a time I have sat out with the rivulets drenching my attire and two thoughts cross my mind: Was the watch a bargain? And I must get this bog roof fixed! I will take an exit poll of the domestic staff re the hunt and remove all fire-arms from them before they go on the ‘lash’ To avid hunters they should remember that there is no close season for ADMIRALS ! I shall take another glass of Buckfast Elixar (excellent with a Valium sandwich) And give it some more contemplation.Pip Pip.(photos are up to usual excellence——keep up the blog 2015 and beyond)Pip&again pip
Peter, your comments never fail to raise a laugh. It must be one endless round of mirth up there in Tynemouth. I should visit the town more often. Haven’t been up for a few weeks. I took the granddaughter up St Mary’s lighthouse back in November but she wasn’t impressed (the granddaughter, not St Mary), before heading into town and stopping for tea and biscuits near the only available parking place.
On another point, I’m so glad I never made it to the rank of admiral. But my mother was a typist in the Wrens and she came into close contact with them every day. She refuses to say much about them. Probably just as well.
Happy new year, Alen
I was laughing so hard that tears ran down my cheeks and I have had some bad days. You get 100 points from me for making me laugh that much, Alen. I didn’t calculated my own points, I was too curious to slow down. Any way it is an unpleasant experience but maybe you’ve got it out of your system?
I wish you a Happy New Year too.
All the best,
Hi Hanna. Thanks for that. I’m glad you had a laugh. One of the great things about blogging is you can have a really good rant, get things out of your system, share your thoughts with other people, argue a few points, and have a laugh at the same time.
Blogging is the best thing since sliced bread (that’s a common English saying, not necessarily to be taken literally).
Happy new year to you too, Alen
Hi Alen, and a happy 2015 to you. If it’s any consolation, the bloke with the camera sounds like he’s the sort who lives his life in fear of the barbarians at the gate (that’s us, by the way). As for the broader issues, I think we are all pretty clear that the laws on access – just as with those on raptor protection – can be set aside by the landowning community at their convenience.
Four months from now we will be allowed to indulge ourselves in the illusion that we live in a democracy. We’ll get to – at most – tinker with the middle management; ownership and control will continue as before; uninterrupted and residing in the hands of people anonymous to the majority of us. At least that’s my (admittedly bleak) take on it.
Hi Dave. A happy new year to you too. I think I agree on every point you have made there. I’ve just been listening to the news, and it seems the general election will be defined by a race to cut public spending and services, which will effect the overwhelming majority of people, while life at the top will continue as normal – with above-average salary increases and bonuses – for the people in control of events.
Democracy is a failure on every level. Not only does our say not count for much any more (unlike forty years ago when we had elected members on the boards of the utility and power companies, and all the major industries), but there are millions of people on the lowest rung of the ladder whose needs are not being represented at all by the major political parties. And they wonder why voters are apathetic.
Did I say happy news year? Oh well, make the most of it.
All the best, Alen
Marvellous, structured ranting, Alen.
It amazes me that as far as human achievement can be depicted and measured (I dunno…space, mobile technology, microwaved popcorn) we really haven’t evolved our basic humanity very much at all. Without a basic system of social rules and laws, I suppose, the bloke in the car might have just burned your van to the ground (just in case). I grant you that. The fact that he felt compelled, enabled and jusitified to act in the way he did is a snapshot of that sense of get-off-my-land-even-if-its-not-my-land militant entitlement which is at the heart of this Tory government.
I’m off on one. I’ll leave you with this – as a gift. Cameron said yesterday that companies should be paying higher wages now that fuel costs are falling. What’s the collective noun for unstoppable-compulsively-liars?
Photos great – love the sideways tree. I’ve got one like that somewhere from near High Cup Nick. A photo. Not the tree. Have you done High Cup Nick here?
Hi Steve. Thanks for that. Feel free to rant on this website because it gives me a sense of safety in numbers. I listen to the TV news and I am usually left with the impression that there is a plan to remove our freedoms one by one and return us all to the status of peasants – and that everybody else is accepting it meekly because they’ve been told it’s for the good of the country. So it’s heartening to know there are like-minded people out there. In fact, this blog seems to attract them. Perhaps we should all go to live in the hills and become guerrillas.
I see you’ve found the High Cup post before I’ve had time to reply to this comment.
All the best, Alen
PS: As for Cameron, was I the only person who noticed that on the same day he stood in solidarity in Paris with the Charlie Hebdo victims, upholding free speech and freedom of expression, he announced measures to clamp down on the rights of firefighters, teachers and health service staff to take industrial action? Hypocrisy or what?