Real England: The Battle Against The Bland

Posted on: 01 May 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Michael Wale talks with a writer fighting to preserve the Real England.

Paul Kingsnorth has written a warning for us all. Called Real England, and sub-titled 'The Battle Against The Bland' he records what is happening to the British countryside as globalisation infests every corner of our life where it can seep.

His book is a good read, and might make you angry, so don’t read it too late at night, or you won’t get to sleep. There are gentle bits, but other moments where anguish is the only emotion you are left with.

For example his chapter about the disintegration of the British pub industry, and his careful research into the dreaded pub co's who run huge numbers of pubs, one removed from the real master.

It was Margaret Thatcher who quite rightly went for the jugular of the pub industry and tried to break up the brewing monopoly, who also ran all the pubs. Sadly, the monopolists deprived on one monopoly created another. Hence the chains of shabbily run buildings that pose as pubs today.

There are still some genuine pubs left, but they are sadly few and far between. The same with the brewers, although micro brewers are springing up across the nation, as lovers of real beer start to rebel and vote with their wallets.

Kingsnorth tells me, "We need to start acting for ourselves, influence our politicians."

He says that while most people say they want local shops they still drive their 4x4’s to Tesco.

"But we need local food. People are starting to realise this. There’s the expansion of farmers markjets, and even celebrity TV chefs are beginning to talk about using local ingredients. In the same way the people lack the power to do anything. What we need is an enlightened government to devolve it. The Tories are beginning to make a few noises."

Paul’s book is not all gloom and doom. There is a wonderful visit to the home and farm of the farmer and campaigner Robin Page, who became a writer of over 30 books, but most of all a tireless campaigner for a better British countryside.

As Kingsnorth observes, "The English farming landscape in 1940 would have been largely recognizable to someone who knew it in 1840 or 1740. Much of it today is unrecognisable to those who knew it in 1940. The rise and rise of intensive agriculture since the end of the second World War has remoulded it in ways that can never be undone."

Yet that has not defeated the indefatigable Page, who has dedicated his life to restoring wildlife, colour and character to English farming. In the late 1980’s he started an organisation aimed at doing just this, The Countryside Restoration Trust.

He felt that the conservation establishment only wanted to protect selected areas and reserves. He felt all the countryside should be protected and the wildlife brought back, which is just what his organisation has set out to do quite successfully.

One simple solution was to stop mowing the banks alongside natural brooks or other water running through a farm. Suddenly all sorts of creatures returned from dragonflies to fish, from yellow irises to water lilies. Somehow he raised £3 million for his organisation.

In contrast to the idyllic world of Robin Page there is an equally fascinating visit to the massive Bluewater shopping emporium in Kent. If George Orwell was still alive then Bluewater would surely have featured in one of his novels. The way Kingsnorth reports what he experiences seems positively Orwellian. He notes a 20 foot statue that he comes across as he enters this shopping kingdom. It is of a Coke bottle, and within the sides of this statue are four television screens showing Coke adverts and Sky news.

Kingsnorth captures the atmosphere: "Here I am, in somebody else’s kingdom. Disturbed and slightly sickened and yet also somehow excited. The abundance is breathtaking. Thousands of people in caps, shorts and open shirts mill around me with children, trolleys, Burger King cardboard cups. Bring me your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, and I will sell them things."

Kingsnorth lives in Oxford, where he has an organic allotment. Oxford has a lovely covered market. But he fears the authorities want a new shopping mall, "to take on Reading. Why on earth they want to do that I don't know."

Read the book. Hopefully, it will make you start righting the wrongs in our community.

You can purchase Real England from all good bookshops, RRP £14.99, or online at Amazon for £10.49.

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