Friday, 5 October 2012
In a perfect world badgers would be culling us. We make a far greater mess of the world. We kill other species and ourselves on a scale unimaginable in the animal kingdom. The hungriest man-eating lion watches us in envy.
I am pro-badger and have been since I first read The Wind in the Willows but the cull puzzles me for other reasons.
Professor Ian Boyd, Chief Scientific Adviser, and Nigel Gibbens, Chief Veterinary Officer, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, have pointed out that bovine TB does not affect human beings and only a small proportion of the national herd is affected by it.
So why are we doing it? An EU directive demands eradication but bans the use of cattle vaccine. Rather than persuade the EU to allow cattle vaccination, the Government has ordered mass slaughter to please MPs from rural areas, who in turn protect their seats placating a minority of vociferous farmers who cannot see the cull is a PR disaster for the farming industry.
Off the coast of America there is an underwater continent of the same size. It is the collection of waste plastic which ocean currents have collected from round the world. It could be harvested and machinery exists to recycle it. But we are too busy creating another continent of scrap metal.
The world is girdled with a dense armour of scrap aluminium from derelict space rockets which could wreck satellites forecasting weather, interfere with the fuelling of mobile phones, immobilise sat navs and enable other more sinister uses.
For why? To satisfying the ill bred curiosity of scientists.
The benefits? Teflon. We can now fry eggs without burning the pan and we know there used to be rivers on Mars.
Could it be the Government? Ed Miliband proves his fitness to run the country by talking for an hour without notes. After all, similar demonstrations won leadership battles for both Cameron and Clegg. So what is the big deal? All over the planet there are wives who have been doing that for centuries.
There is one product of the scientific age without which I couldn't live. The computer family. It has replaced the television as a way of passing time until Charon knocks on the door to invite me to a river picnic. I have just spent months trying to find a tablet I could use. I have been baffled by iPads, Kindle Fire, Kindle Touch and Nexus. All went back to their makers without a nudge from Charon. Then I saw that the Apple Store in Cambridge was offering to set up iPads for buyers and the problem was solved. I joined the iPad generation.
Not all my friends approve. I knew a man once who warned his friends of a change of address by writing a letter to The Times which they could not fail to print. Another friend has all the gear but refuses even to use the room where it is housed
Laid back and leisurely, another friend, the elegant Dr Michael Senior, is the archetypal Victorian Man of Letters, attached to the 20th century for purposes of rations and accommodation only.
He lives in style in an elegant mansion on a hilltop, with views up, down and across the Conwy Estuary in North Wales. Every window a seascape. Sunday afternoons he hosts a croquet party for his friends; he farms, chairs historical societies, dines out and knowledgeably wine tastes. Even his house has a relaxed name, Bryn Eisteddfod, in English the sitting down place.
Do not be fooled. He is like the swan, relaxed on the surface but beneath going like hell. A driven man. He is a compulsive Open University degree collector, has written more than thirty books - a book a year – and published prize-winning poetry and learned articles on folklore. He paints at a furious rate, studied for his doctorate in philosophy in what he laughingly calls his spare time and gardens tirelessly. His day is planned to the minute.
Although he is primarily an historian, the author of ten unpublished novels, he began as a playwright. His first play “The Coffee Table” was broadcast on Radio 3 and in Canada and New Zealand. It had a stage production at the Toronto Playhouse. He thought he was on the threshold of a glittering career.
2Tthe Literary Advisor of the Royal Shakespeare Company rang and asked if I had any other plays. I hadn’t, but I said ‘yes’, and he asked me to send an example. The company were putting on a season of new plays at the Barbican and he thought I might be one of the chosen playwrights. I quickly wrote four or five and sent them off. They were liked but before they could be put on the company’s policy changed and they were never done. Kenneth Tynan encouraged me to write film scripts but they were never made into films.”
“I am reconciled to that sort of thing. Being a writer is like playing the one-armed bandit. You get a trickle of luck and you think the next one is going to be the big one. The next book is always the best. It’s an addiction, like gambling.”
He has had a gambler’s luck. He toured Greece to write a book on “Greece and Its Myths”. That was the book he enjoyed most of the many. The most scholarly was his “Tales of King Arthur”, a rendering in modern English of Sir Thomas Mallory’s immortal and largely incomprehensible “Mort d’Arthur”, out of print in the UK but still a big seller in the US.
“It is the best story ever told but it gets bogged down in the detail of jousts and genealogies, essential to the medieval reader but lost on us. I wanted to make it more accessible to the ordinary reader.
“I believe the subject matter is related to Wales. Dinas Bran, for instance...”
(Castell Dinas Bran is the ruined castle, sometimes called Crow Castle or Bran's Stronghold, on a high peak overlooking the town of Llangollen and the Dee Valley.)
“Bran relates to the classic gods and there are early stories about it closely related to the Holy Grail. Bran in the Mabinogion possessed a holy vessel which I see as a grail prototype. There are several reasons to classify Dinas Bran as the Castle of the Holy Grail. For one, a Celtic scholar R.S. Looms has suggested it was the castle of the Fisher King who was traditionally the keeper of the Grail. Bran may well have been a river god. Parsifal is Percival who is also connected with the Mabinogion. British myths have been neglected and I see it as my job to bring them back to the public.”
It is a labour of love, not money. His UK and international books made money but he writes mostly for a one-man Welsh publisher, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, which brings him a few hundred pounds a year.
“They are read and people enjoy them and that satisfies my reason for writing - to communicate. People write and phone me from all over the world to say they have enjoyed my books. That gives me a very good feeling and is really the only reward I want.”
Painting he also does for fun. “I paint four pictures a year. I am Chairman of the Friends of the Royal Cambrian Academy and we have open exhibitions which allow us to put up our paintings there, which is a great privilege. “
Another privilege is the situation of his house in the Conwy Gap.
“The Conwy Gap extends from Conwy to Deganwy. It is a sunshine trap. I can sit in my window and see it raining on Anglesey and up the valley at Rowen whilst my garden is bathed in sunshine.”
It is symbolic of a man whose life is suffused with the stuff.