Friday, 19 September 2014

Should Have Gone to SpecSavers!

If you stop for a moment and look all around, its all changed. Our idyllic semi rural boating lifestyle is not what it used to be. Change has taken place since the days of the old boating families working the cut. The reality is that even the old boating days of 200 years ago are on the the grand scale, relatively modern.

Since man first arrived on these shores he has changed his surroundings. He at first lived as a hunter gatherer and to a point was in tune with the wilderness. Then over time he became sedentary as a farmer and since then he has decimated the post glacial forests. With fire and axe he created open ground to grow crops. At that time he brought significant if unintended changes to the environment. River catchment areas were significantly changed. The sponge that the wilderness had created to soak up and slow the movement of rain water from entering our rivers was in the main destroyed. 

As more land was cleared of forest the vista and the environment changed gradually again. Open views were created across large tracts of grassland. The flora and fauna also gradually changed as forest dwellers were driven from their places. Which were given over to the flora and fauna of the open glade and flood meadow.  Slash and burn continued but now water management became a new part of man's arsenal of change. Ditches were used more and more to drain water from the low lands and the environment was gradually changed once again.

The small isolated farms became hamlets. Hamlets in turn became villages. Then villages naturally became towns.  The environment was changing once again. Towns grew larger with the advent of markets, the agribusiness began to set down its roots. Footpaths and salt-ways became roadways which were passable for parts of the year. And would remain much the same until the era of the turnpike arrived. Rivers became the main artery for commerce as the waterways provided raw power and a means of transport. 

As towns evolved the countryside had to provide the staple foods. As towns grew, so grew a fledgling cottage industry for providing all manner of goods. But now local resources for power were depleted and new materials needed to be won. With the development of mines came a much cheaper source of energy. This heralded the birth pangs of the industrial revolution and the first of the canals being constructed. Now coal and other materials could be moved in and out of our industrialised towns. The environment had changed once again and the world of commerce had arrived.

Now the vista is of smoke filled towns and cities, with their church spires vying with a huge patchwork of fields and occasional woods. It not until you get up close that you realise it was all created with slash and burn. But now the environment of the patchwork of fields is in turn drenched in chemicals to kill insects and weeds. Which in turn can then leach into the watercourses. At the same time the hedgerows which were the last bastion of nature have been uprooted and in their place vast areas of sterile monoculture continue to be created.  

The so called 'canal heritage' is now used as a developers lie to build houses overlooking the waterways. Where the people living the dream of the 'developers lie' form groups to stop other developments from occupying their vista.  

If you do stop for a moment and look around. Our seemingly 'idyllic' semi rural lifestyle on the canal is not quite what it purports to be after all. Since man first arrived he has certainly changed his surroundings. Now the inland waterways perpetuates the myth with  smoke and mirrors, dressed up with words like habitat, environment, heritage and 'ye olde worlde' tea rooms. We continue to live 'the dream' when in reality what you have is a nightmare. Of a waterway, filled with a myriad of land and household chemicals, as well as the waste and the fly-tipped rubbish of your bankside neighbours. 

Your heritage is now sold off wharves surrounded by houses and the advent of the growing number no mooring signs. The broken, leaking and worn out infrastructure where the bottom grows ever nearer the top. The pleasant vista of the discarded shopping trolley and other such detritus. As councils save money by reducing the frequency of emptying bins, the towpath provides and alternative. The towpath is also providing a velodrome for cyclists traversing at high speed and a dumping ground for dog poo. The bankside vegetation overhangs on corners and bridge-holes. The grass when power strimmed is then power blown onto your boat or into the canal.

Your future seemingly lies in the hands of the 'waterways partnerships' where personal whims and fiefdoms hold sway.  The future of the waterways now belongs in the hands of the bored but carefully selected busybodies, who know - that they know best. Where the wishes and desires of the majority of boaters are doomed to fall by the wayside. Where mooring time limits are being cut and penalty charges (which are implemented as fines) are made in their place. As the inspired dash for more of your cash arrives. There are chuggers who failed on the high street and now ply their trade on the towpath. But its not only the charity muggers who ply their trade on the towpath. Its the home of the bridge troll selling drugs. Its the home of the quick fix latrine for those living rough or in drink. Its the home of the 'no-go  bandit country' as our boats provide convenient targets for vandalism and theft. 

So what of the future. We have a trust that certainly 'talks the talk' but then talk comes cheap. However, the trust is seemingly unable to 'walk the walk'.  Where priorities include poetry and encouraging graffiti, as locks have now become art installations.  Where protection of habitat and wildlife are now used as an excuse to do nothing. Where other charities who want to work alongside the trust - now feel 'short changed' by the expensive and proliferate way the trust have of conducting business.  

Where other charities raise a revenue stream from having 'members' the trust does not want a paying membership, just cheap, on a whim, here today and gone tomorrow friends. After all, members might want to question what happens on the waterways.  Such as why the infrastructure continues to deteriorate year on year. While at the same time the anointed few continue to 'enjoy' a bankers bonanza bonus for failure.

Where exactly is the heritage in that.

Maybe we should all rename our boats... The 'Rose Tinted Glasses.'

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