Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Archive for May, 2011|Monthly archive page

A DIARY OF A DAY OF PROTEST IN LONDON

In A.Graham on May 25, 2011 at 9:51 am

The numbers taking part in the giant rally in London on March 26 varied according to which newspaper you read. The Independent on Sunday claimed half a million. Others settled for 400,000 – whilst the TUC, which had organised the protest, counted up to 250,000 before it ceased counting – whilst thousands were still arriving, to join the great procession that filled the streets of the capital.

But all agreed that it was the largest street demonstration since that held against the Iraq War n February 2003. No doubt Cameron and Clegg were taking note, but whether they will really get the message is another matter. But for those who took part in the protest (and many were marching for the first time), it was a reaffirmation of their determination not to take the swingeing cuts lying down, but instead to join the campaign for an alternative approach.

DAWN START:

There were coachloads from across the west, including the Forest of Dean, Monmouth and Gloucester. For us, it was an early start. We were up in the darkness before dawn broke, to drive up through a sleeping Forest to Cinderford to join sleepy-eyed demonstrators outside the Co-op store for our coach to London.

Gradually we woke up, as we headed along the motorway and then crawled through the traffic before being dropped off by the Tate gallery on the embankment. We joined the growing swell of fellow demonstrators, before being directed across the Lambeth Bridge to the south side of the river.

By now demonstrators seemed to be streaming in from all directions. We joined with others who were queuing for a boat to take us back to where the main march was assembling on the other side of the river.

BY BOAT:

Several boatloads ferried demonstrators back towards Blackfriars Bridge, where the tail end of the march was growing longer by the minute. Demonstrators with banners and placards who’d come to join the rally by coach, by train – and, in our case, by boat – were arriving all the time.

We made our way at a slow, shuffling pace along the Embankment, enlivened by music, and the chants of demonstrators as the march snaked its way slowly forward. Most of the major public sector unions were there, banners flying. Unison was out in force, as was Unite, and the health sector unions, including nurses and physiotherapists. Railway workers, too, and the Prison Officers Association (POA), proclaiming that “prisons were not for profit”. Quite right: the privatisation of the penal system should cause concern, to say the least.

The pace quickened slightly as we reached Big Ben and turned past Parliament where lines of police men clad in yellow high visibility jackets stood shoulder to shoulder behind barricades. The whole of Parliament Square was cordoned off for the occasion, and the march was routed to the right, up Whitehall and past the heavy iron gates that now bar Downing Street.

Around Trafalgar Square and on towards Piccadilly we saw the first signs of anarchists activists who later in the day were to indulge in their own unauthorised direct action. but by the time that took place we’d passed on by. They were working to a different agenda than the vast majority of the marchers, who were there in common cause to save our services, and to fight to protect our welfare state.

At last, after our long trudge through central London, we reached Hyde Park where the main rally and the speeches were taking place. We had already missed the main speakers – Ed Milliband, and Brendan Barber from the TUC – but we were able to take the weight off our feet, have a picnic, and meet up with old friends, whilst keeping half an ear open to the speeches relayed from the main platform.

FAMILY FRIENDLY:

The TUC had billed it as a “family friendly” occasion, and many on the march had brought their children. After all, the cuts will be affecting their future – even more so than they will affect ours. Indeed, the whole structure of care and support, of nurturing lives, built up since the war, is under threat from a government that believes a vague slogan, “the Big Society” will act as a cloak to their real intentions.

For many of the youngsters there was a play tent, provided by the Woodcraft Folk, where they could write their own messages to David Cameron – or draw pictures to send to the PM – on how they saw the cuts. Many were entering in to the spirit of the occasion (some no doubt guided by encouraging parents!).

The speeches included many from those whose work is already affected by the cutbacks – and one trade unionist who brought greetings from across the Atlantic and described how Republican administrations in states that they controlled were undermining welfare and trade union rights.

The last speech of the day came from Rich Daniels from the Dean, chairman of Hands Off Our Forest (HOOF). He spoke forcefully and articulately, including a few Forest anecdotes.

By then it was time to leave. We made our way along by the Serpentine and out of Hyde Park, heading up towards the Albert Hall where our coach was waiting to take us back to Cinderford. It had been a long day, but one that had been rewarding and worthwhile.

AN ALTERNATIVE:

It showed that more and more people are prepared to fight Cameron’s programme of cuts. That more and more of them are not prepared to accept his message that such a drastic pruning of welfare services is “necessary”.

Not only is there a growing realisation that the Government (backed by the Tory media) has been falsifying its claims in order to force through a hidden agenda, but also that there is an alternative strategy to reduce our national debts.

It wasn’t the parents, their children, the health care workers, the millions who work in the public sector, who caused the crisis in the first place. It was the bankers who were prepared to gamble recklessly with our money – and are still prepared to pay themselves big bonuses even after billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money has been poured into stabilising the banking system that caused the crisis in the first place.

So, if anyone should help to pay off the nation’s debts, surely it should be the guilty ones. The alternative strategy is for a “Robin Hood” tax, levied on the fat cats and their bonuses. Such a tax would hardly leave them impoverished. They would still be able to enjoy the rich life style they’re accustomed to – but they would have to take some financial responsibility for the state of the economy.

That, and the cancellation of such expensive and unwanted programmes as Trident renewal, should allow the Government to start putting money back into the economy and building up the public sector, rather than demolishing it brick by brick. But sadly we have a government in power that has an agenda far removed from that of the people who will suffer from its actions.

As Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, declared in his speech to the rally, “WE are the Big Society“. It’s a concept that Cameron, Osborne and Co. no doubt would find hard to grasp.

{article by AG, photos by C. Spiby}

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The campaign to save the Forest: how HOOF won the day

In A.Graham on May 25, 2011 at 9:44 am
Mobilising opposition to the planned sell-off of Forestry Commission woodland was not going to be easy. The opposition was there – the vast majority of Forest folk were outraged by the plans – but building a concerted, and successful campaign required organisation and determination.

The news that the Government was moving in on our forests came last Autumn, with the announcement that Forestry Commission woodlands were to be sold off. Caroline Spelman, the Minister responsible, presented the move as cutting down on bureaucracy, and freeing up our assets. Other Tories were eager to claim that the Forestry Commission was a “Quango” – which it isn’t and never has been. Incidentally, the sale of forest land was not in the Tory election manifesto, and for many the announcement came out of the blue.

“HOOF” (Hands Off Our Forest) came into being to organise and sustain the campaign against the sell-off. First, there was a need for maximum publicity. Posters were soon appearing throughout the Forest, and yellow ribbons were appearing on trees along the roadside (the idea of one supporter, Sally Albrow). The campaign gained the support of the Forest’s two weekly papers, the Review and the Forester. Meanwhile, the Citizen remained firmly and uncomfortably on the fence.

The first test of support for HOOF came with a meeting in December at the Miners’ Hall in Cinderford. It was packed to the doors. If there were any in the audience who backed the Government’s plans, they kept their mouths shut.

SPEECH HOUSE RALLY:

On New Year’s Day, in cold, grey weather, HOOF attracted over three thousand people to an open-air rally in the Speech House grounds. They stayed to listen to speeches from Jan Royall, Jonathon Porritt, the Bishop of Guildford and a representative of the union that organises the Forestry workers. Braving the snow that started to fall half way through the rally, the crowd stayed to watch the symbolic burning of the House of Commons – the “Mother of Parliament” where the sale (or as many saw it, the theft) of our forests was being considered.

A “CHARITABLE TRUST”?

Then came the announcement that the Forest was not “for sale” after all. Instead, it would be taken over by a “charitable trust” which would ensure that all our rights would be safeguarded. But neither HOOF nor its supporters were taken in by this move. Indeed, backing from the public continued to mount.

On February 4, Mark Harper finally held his “consultation meeting”. However, he had given the public (those with whom he was meant to be consulting) little more than 24 hours notice, and the room in Coleford where the meeting took place was woefully inadequate for the numbers who turned up. But turn up they did, surrounding the “Main Place” building in Coleford, making their opposition clear. Inside, Harper faced a barrage of critical questions and at the end of the meeting was smuggled out by the back door, braving a couple of eggs that were thrown at him before he made his escape.

VICTORY:

The “consultation” period was meant to continue until April 21 – but on February 16, the Government abruptly and ignominiously announced that it was withdrawing its plans. The wholesale disposal of our forests would be abandoned, and instead a panel would be set up to conssider their future. Who would be on this panel, and how it would be constituted was not then known. But Mark Harper, who had found himself defending the Government, must have felt that the rug had been pulled from under his feet. All he could do was assure constituents that the Government had listened to their views and acted accordingly.

But it was a victory for “people power” – mobilised and organised by HOOF. Incidentally, the organisation remains in being. After all no-one knows yet what this panel may pull out of its bag of tricks!

As a footnote (or should that be HOOFnote?), campaigners throughout the country gathered on Sunday, March 20 for a day of activity in the woodlands that they had worked so hard to save.

In the Forest, HOOF chose Wenchford for the occasion. There were no speeches, just a gathering of like minded folk using the occasion to meet, compare notes and enjoy the sunshine. Some came with their families – and their dogs. Children splashed around in the brook, others walked up the valley beneath the trees, or arrived on bicycle with yellow ribbons tied round handlebars.

It seemed a perfect spot for such an occasion.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

SNUBBED:

Hot on the heels of the Wenchford celebrations came the news that the Government had chosen the members of its panel to consider the future of our woodlands. There are no members of HOOF, or indeed other groups in the Forest Campaigns Network on the new panel, which will be headed by the Bishop of Liverpool. He has promised to consult the public – but Ian Standing of HOOF described it as “a snub”.

We will see.

As Safe as Houses?

In C.Spiby on May 25, 2011 at 9:32 am

The Nuclear Fallout of the Japanese Earthquake & Tsunami

While the reactors at the Japanese Fukushima nuclear plant were being dowsed in sea water in hope of cooling their highly-radioactive contents, Oldbury on the other side of the Severn let off a worryingly tall plume of steam which could be seen from miles around.

Here’s one witness – a mr. Jonathan Bailey: “I live on the edge of Thornbury (top of Butt Lane )… from this view the clouds of steam were as wide as the power station and there was a loud roaring noise – and I am 3 miles away as the crow flies.”

There’s been a lot of concern and calls for a re-examination of the ‘lessons to be learned’ – but no abandonment or even stalling of the new generation of privately-owned nuclear power stations in the UK, including along our Severn.

This is based on the premise that the Japanese geological uniqueness makes a similar tsunami impossible here. Right? There was one in 1607. Then it killed 2,000 people and flooded areas as far inland as Glastonbury.  In fact, Dr Haslett of Bath Spa University College and Dr Bryant conducted a geological survey of the estuary in 2004 and concluded that “two large chunks of farmland… were simply washed away, one where the foundation of the Second Severn Crossing is and the other is now the reservoir for the Oldbury Nuclear Power Station”.

A spokesperson from SANE (Shepperdine Against Nuclear Energy) said: “A possible cause of the 1607 tsunami is not yet known, but the possibilities include a submarine landslide off the continental shelf between Ireland and Cornwall , or an earthquake along an active fault system in the sea south of Ireland . This fault system has apparently experienced an earthquake greater than magnitude 4 on the Richter scale within the last 20 years, so the chance of a bigger tsunami earthquake is a possibility.”

Farfetched? Alarmist? I’ll let you decide, but I guess – on the plus side – it is probably right to say that another event like that is unlikely, if not entirely impossible. I mean it’s not as if we’re building these things along the second fastest tidal river in the world, right? Oh, we are. I guess it’s a good job then we’re not prone to a lot of flooding either. July 2007 anyone? I guess at least we’re not planning on storing the radioactive waste on site with the new builds. We are! And the site is three times the size of the existing one? Blimey.

At least there’s no case of international terrorists mad enough to hijack civil aircraft as a fuel-filled missile in a co-ordinated attack. Like, um, 9/11. Or a car loaded with explosives like at Glasgow airport; what about 7/7 or the audacious IRA mortar attack on the MI6 headquarters in London? These plants seem pretty vulnerable when you put it like that.

But none of that has happened to us. Yet.

I mean it’s not as if Oldbury is regularly shut-down for safety reasons, is it? Oh, hang on – that’s how we started this – with the shutdown and steam plumes of 17th March 2011, the very same week Japan’s reactors of approximately the same age were at near-meltdown.

This event turned out to be benign. Failing to find out anything on their website I turned to the South Gloucestershire County Council’s Emergency Planning who, seemingly unaware of the event, merely passed on my questions to Magnox, the current operators at Oldbury. They said the issue was “Due to an electrical problem within equipment, housed in the turbine hall, an automatic safety process caused the shutting down of the turbines and the associated Reactor Two at the site.   The turbine hall is outside of the reactor building and is on the non nuclear side of the plants operation.  The steam which was released as part of this process is used to drive the turbines on the non nuclear side and is at no point in contact with radioactive material.

The automatic shutting down of the reactor is again a safety measure and stops the generation of heat used to produce steam to drive the turbines. 

Whilst I can fully understand your concerns in light of events in Japan, this event does not represent any safety issue at the site and is simply a standard safety process.”

Sounds fine. But consider the Oldbury fire of 2007, which also triggered a shut down. Imagine if that had got out of hand?

It’s all very well that these malfunctions occur in the non-nuclear parts of the plant and that their automatic shutdown is purely precautionary.

But if precautions of that magnitude are that necessary then the risk can’t be entirely benign. And let’s not forget, it wasn’t the tsunami or earthquake which released the radiation in Japan or (at the time of writing) could potentially expose their rods – putting the disaster at Chernobyl level – but the consequence of these things damaging the non-nuclear parts of the plant.

Following Japan, some countries have delayed decisions on new nuclear power; others like China cancelled them for now. No such move here. No delay – just observation which, one suspects, is mindful of the cost of delay since we’re dealing with the likes of commercial giants E-on and the leading French provider of nuclear power (Horizon their partnership is called). And yet this week I’ve heard the most sense from Walt Patterson of the London-based think tank, Chatham House when he said of nuclear power[i]:  “Why turn to the slowest, the most expensive, the narrowest, the most inflexible, and the riskiest in financial terms? Nuclear power needs climate change more than climate change needs nuclear power.”

You can see photos of the 17th March 2011 steam plumes and the 2007 fire at Oldbury on the local Facebook group page for ‘NO to new NUCLEAR POWER at Oldbury‘.


[i] Cited in BBC News online ‘Nuclear power: Energy solution or evil curse?’ by James Melik Reporter, Business Daily, BBC World Service, 14 March 2011 Last updated at 23:46 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-12730473)

The last time they tried to sell the Forest

In A.Graham on May 25, 2011 at 9:25 am

What goes around comes around, so they say. And the attempt by David Cameron’s Government to mount a bargain sale of Britain’s woodlands certainly wasn’t the first time it had been tried. In the Autumn of 1993, John Major’s Tory Government announced that it was to sell all of the Forestry Commission’s woodland – including of course, the Forest of Dean. A campaign of of opposition was soon mobilised, kicking off with a rally at the New Fancy site organised by the Ramblers’ Association. By the end of the year the campaign to save our Forest was mounting, and on January 20 1994, the BBC TV programme Close Up West organised a debate at Speech House on why the Dean was so special to those who lived here.

Robert Rickman, described as a “commercial forest consultant” drew the short straw. He had the task of putting the case for selling off the Forest to a packed, and largely hostile, house. Looking somewhat uncomfortable, he admitted that much of the Dean was managed as a “heritage Forest” but adjacent woodland not only could but should be exploited by commercial operators. Forests, he declared, are part of our natural resources, producing timber, and they weren’t being operated on a commercial basis.

Ian Standing, then curator at the Dean Heritage Centre, made the point that the Forestry Commission has the responsibility of managing and protecting the entire landscape. They weren’t merely responsible for the trees that grow on it. Private companies would be interested solely in increasing income from the woodlands. For those who lived there or visited them, forests were valuable open spaces.

Ralph Anstis took a historical view of his beloved forest, evoking memories of the enclosures and Warren James. And he made the important distinction between the “right of access” and the right to roam, which people enjoy in the Forest of Dean. He had organised a poll of local people, which indicated that 96 per cent of the 2,000 questioned wanted the Forestry Commission to stay.

There were also contributions from freeminers and sheep badgers, outlining their rights and privileges, and how these could be threatened by any sell-off. And Paul Marland, then Tory MP for the Dean, was interviewed. He declared that he didn’t believe there should be any change in the status of the Forest of Dean. “It’s a special case,” he said, and continued that if there was any threat to it, he would “lead a rebellion” in the Commons.

Finally, Robert Rickman conceded defeat. “I can’t see any government trying to change things in the Forest of Dean,” he said ruefully.

So, what’s changed since 1994? Well, we’ve had a change of MP since then. And here it’s perhaps a pity that Mark Harper hadn’t been prepared to learn from past experiences!

Incidentally, as a footnote, although our Forest was saved, the Government continued the piecemeal sale of Forestry Commission assets, until 1998 (after the defeat of Major’s Government). That year the Forestry Commission had been ordered to sell over £40 million’s worth of woodlands – described as “a massive privatisation and loss of public access” by the Ramblers’ Association. That particular sale was halted.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

In R.Richardson on May 25, 2011 at 9:19 am

The push towards “academy status” for schools. By RUTH RICHARDSON

The word “academy” has traditionally had a somewhat esoteric ring to it (as in the Royal Academy or the Academie Francaise). But these days, for teachers at least, it has a somewhat different connotation.

Pressure from the Government is mounting for local authorities to submit plans for improving schools, both secondary and primary, that are “performing unsatisfactorily”. They are being told that “the academy solution will be the most appropriate route to securing improvement.” Dr. Elizabeth Sidwell, the new Schools Commissioner, has said that she wants to “work with local authorities to come up with robust plans to tackle under-performance, brokering academy solutions and helping all schools to become excellent.”

NOT JUST ACADEMIES:

Academies, it should be remembered,were not the brainchild of the present Government. The architect of the academies’ programme was Lord Adonis under Tony Blair’s New Labour Government. But the push towards schools becoming academies has accelerated under Michael Gove. The idea that private companies or religious foundations might take over a school has been extended to include the concept of the “Free School”. Here, a group of parents might combine to start up a school to serve their area. “Isn’t this what the Big Society is all about?” you may ask. “Why should we be concerned?”

The concept behind academies and free schools is that each school should be autonomous.

The role of the local authority would be severely undermined. Control over planning pupil places would disappear and the provision of services such as SEN (Special Educational Needs) support, or support on building or legal issues would be under threat. Academies and free schools can implement their own admissions policies, and also devise criteria for excluding unruly pupils (at present exclusions are referred to the local authority who act as arbiters).

Surely, no school is an island; collaborative working supported by a central body is preferable to each school going its own way, and indeed competing with its neighbours.

HOW THE UNION SEES IT:

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) is recommending that members get together to pass resolutions against their particular school converting to academy status. Teachers’ pay and conditions would be under severe threat. They might be expected to work longer hours and even where assurances are given that the status quo will be maintained, there is no legal guarantee that these would be honoured once academy status is achieved.

FREE SCHOOLS:

Plans for thirty free schools have now been approved.

Free schools do not have to pay national rates or follow the national curriculum. They can employ non-qualified teachers and head teachers. Funding of up to £50 million has been set aside to meet the capital needs of free schools in the current financial year.

While seeking information about academies and free schools I found myself wondering why the present Government would want to go down this road. One reason no doubt is to further erode the power of the local authorities. Another is ideological – the belief that “private is good, public is bad”. But we should remember that any group, religious, big business or otherwise, that seeks to sponsor an academy will have an agenda. Either profit or influence will be a motive. That is the nature of the private sector.

Aren’t Books Brilliant!

In John Wilmot on May 25, 2011 at 9:12 am

Books stir the imagination, broaden our horizons and are essential to our understanding, argues JOHN WILMOT

Like many other children I was brought up in a home surrounded by books. We devoured them, to the point of being accused of “always having our noses stuck in a book”. They stirred our imagination, and led us by the nose into worlds beyond our small rural childhood existence.

Later, they became essential to learning about who we were, and what we were capable of being. When I left home to seek work in the big city I found myself in lodgings with a left-leaning landlady. She broadened my horizons by introducing me to such Socialist classics as The Iron Heel by Jack London, and the Italian anti-fascist novel Fontamara, by Ignazio Silone (first published in 1934). And the world of books has stuck with me ever since, passed on to my children who have the same passion for the written word.

Of course not everyone shares that view. My brother married, and his wife couldn’t abide books. She thought they were just “dust traps” and used any excuse to throw them out. Gradually the bookshelves emptied and towards the end, my brother also ceased reading, preferring to bury himself in a world of electronic technology.

THE POWER OF BOOKS:
Which was a pity, I always thought. But books still have a potency that is tacitly recognised in many societies. Why, for example, were books so often censored or even banned? Why did the Nazis engage in public orgies of book burning,  of those volumes that criticised their regime, or didn’t fit their racial ideology of the superiority of the Aryan people?

Here in Britain we tended to have a more ambivalent attitude. Our Victorian forebears set up public libraries to help to encourage the spread of literacy. But what the working classes were encouraged to bury their noses in was carefully screened. It might have been important that they could read and write, but they still had to know their place.

It was an attitude that lingered well into the 20th Century. Indeed, when Penguin books produced its notorious unexpurgated edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the publishers were taken to court. During the trial, the prosecuting counsel asked the question, “would you allow your wife or her maid to read this?” Such outmoded attitudes, it seems, were still strong within the judiciary. Penguin, of course, won the case and the veil of censorship was twitched slightly by the verdict.

Despite the growing popularity of electronic alternatives (the computer, TV, and hand-held digital gadgetry), books remain as important as ever. And that’s why the recent BBC promotion of the world of books and reading was so welcome (World Book Night, broadcast on BBC2). Apart from the TV coverage, a million books were given away, with the recipients encouraged to pass their copies on when they’d finished reading them.

THE ATTACK ON BOOKS:
It was, perhaps, ironical that the initiative coincided with the local authority attack on public libraries. Faced with the need to make swingeing cuts in their budgets, they saw the libraries as a soft option. Mass closures were announced. Indeed in Somerset this was coupled with the slashing of the County’s entire arts budget.

Many would be forgiven for thinking that the philistines had taken over. But the councils involved in the cuts probably didn’t expect the backlash that emerged from outraged library users. Some cuts were hastily modified, but in essence the attack on our libraries has carried on, in local authorities across the country. And with it the ability of many families to encourage the habit of book reading in the next generation has suffered.

I don’t want to impugn the motives of those county councillors who backed the mass library closures in Gloucestershire or elsewhere. The official line is that libraries are not considered to be “front line services” Neither, it seems, are many youth services or those that offer free legal advice like the CAB that suffered from the cuts – but I’ll let that pass for now.

Books, and book reading, as far as I’m concerned remain vital in any society that likes to call itself “civilised”. Reading books can be both a very private and also public experience. They can be something we can retreat into, or become a shared experience. That’s one reason why, to me at least, they’re so important.

When the dominoes start to topple

In C.Spiby, Reviews on May 25, 2011 at 9:05 am

REVIEW: The Death of Grass by J. Christopher

Although John Christopher is popularly known as the man who brought us ‘The Tripods’, this seminal 1956 work in the cannon of apocalyptic fiction needs to be disassociated with the authors sci-fi credentials, deserving a much wider audience. Just as the William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ offered a grotesque analysis of the potential of cruelty of humanity, so ‘The Death of Grass’ offer us a taste of how civilisation can quickly crumble. And with it, all that makes up society.

The premise of the book is one now familiar with anyone who considered the possibilities of swine flu, BSE, foot and mouth, aids or avian bird flu. In fact, in 1999, a form of stem rust appeared in African crops which quickly became an epidemic spreading from Africa to Asia and the Middle East and destroying a large amount of cereal crop with it.

Anyway, take bird or swine flu – here is a direct correlation to Christopher’s terrible prognosis just as ‘Threads’ posed the interconnectedness of things – Christopher sees a rampant disease among grasses as the first domino which sets the path to the destruction of modern civilisation.

Things start as a distant rumble, in China. But soon the BBC news reports that the rioting for food (rice and wheat or barley make up the genus that is in the family of grasses) begins to spread Westwards through India and then into Eastern Europe. The Western world begins charitably – sending supplies, but soon the mass begin to question this policy as scientists fail to find a way to stop the virus from spreading.

John Custance – our protagonist – and his family make an early break for his farmer-brothers Lake District valley farm, where he too has been watching the virus intently and switched to planting only root vegetables. They escape just as London is sealed off by the Army. However, things turn quickly nasty at roadblocks or the roads to villages, now arming themselves defensively against the masses rioting in the cities. I guess this does sound far-fetched but Christopher reads like John Wyndham: characteristically British and reserved – both in content and style. And it is that British reservation which increases the terrible frankness of murder, rape, looting – the juxtaposition of the English countryside with its dead grass but profoundly ordinary provincial setting that makes it such haunting reading.

Although I found the opening annoying (there’s a poorly written segment where he said / she said / he said / someone said comes over as rather amateurish – it’s as if Christopher struggles with openings), once the pace quickens, so does the fluidity of the writing and I’m certain most readers will become compelled by the protagonists struggle for survival in a speedily crumbling world. Penguin reissued the novel under its Modern Classics banner – so it’s claims on our time as readers comes with good recommendation.

‘The Death of Grass’ does the social decay and lawlessness of an holocaust at least as well as the leading examples of apocalyptic film – ‘Threads’ or ‘The War Game’. As such it is chilling warning of how fragile our world might actually be.