Climate changes

BLOG CLIMATE

 

DURING THE 1980s, I lived and worked just over fifty miles south-east of central London in Gillingham, one of the Medway Towns in Kent. Usually, I drove to London on Saturday afternoons after my morning dental surgery session ended at 1 pm. Then, after buying innumerable gramophone records and later also CDs and seeing friends, I would spend the night at my father’s home before returning to Kent late on Sunday evening.

One winter Sunday evening, after visiting friends, who lived in South Hampstead close to the Royal Free Hospital, I began driving towards Kent. When I reached Lewisham in south-east London, snow began falling lightly. I thought nothing of it. By the time I arrived at the start of the M2 motorway, the situation had changed considerably. The motorway was under several inches of fresh snow. The few vehicles travelling at that late hour drove on a pair of groove-like tracks made in the snow by vehicles ahead of me. It was rather like the page in the song “Good King Wenceslas: ‘Mark my footsteps, my good page, Tread thou in them boldly … In his master’s steps he trod, Where the snow lay dinted’.

The snow continued to fall and by the time I reached the motorway exit west of the Medway Bridge, I decided that it might be better to drive through Strood, Rochester, and Chatham rather than along the motorway that by-passed these places along a hilly exposed rural route, which I believed might have been badly affected by the snow.

It was about 2am when I left the motorway. I joined a line of cars that was crawling slowly towards Rochester – a traffic jam at 2 am. Eventually, I drove across the River Medway on the bridge at Rochester. The traffic was slow moving and dense despite the time. I decided to leave the main road and follow a back road that wound around Rochester Castle and avoided the city centre. I drove about fifty yards upwards along a steep snow-covered lane and then the car would go no further. Its wheels were unable to grip the road and I slid down to the bottom of the hill where I had started. There was no choice. I had to re-join the slow procession of traffic crawling through the interlinked Medway towns.

When I reached Gillingham, it was long after 3 am. I turned off the main A2 road and drove, or rather slid, downhill along Nelson Road which was covered with deep snow. At my street, Napier Road, the snow was even deeper and had not been compressed by passing vehicles. I headed towards my house but could not reach it because my car became wedged in a drift of densely packed snow. It remained locked in the snow for over three weeks.

The following day, the Medway Towns were almost paralysed by the snow. However, the only stretch of railway that was still operating was between two neighbouring stations, Gillingham and Rainham, where my dental surgery was located.  I managed to reach my surgery by train in my Wellington boots and wore these whilst treating the few patients who decided not to cancel their appointments. The only patients who struggled through the snow that day were elderly people who considered that cancelling appointments was disrespectful to the professional. All those brave souls, who made it through the hazardous snow, were seeing me about false teeth.

Although the snow did not disappear from the Medway Towns for over three weeks, the rail service to London resumed quite quickly. So, I continued to make my weekly visits to the capital. Fifty miles from snow-covered Gillingham, London was free of snow. Exaggerating slightly, visiting London was like travelling from the Arctic to the Mediterranean. Few of my friends in London could believe that my home in Kent had sufficient snow to keep most skiers happy.

The spectacular change in climates that I experienced that winter when shuttling between London and Gillingham occurred long before the concept of ‘climate change’ became widespread in the public eye.

The lost city

IN DECEMBER 2005, we spent a Saturday night at a bed and breakfast in a remote spot near Winchelsea in East Sussex. In those days we still had our own car and could stop where we wanted on or even off the route.One of our stopping places was Redhill in Surrey. We wanted to visit its contemporary Roman Catholic church of St Joseph and St Paul’s, but not for religious reasons. The architects, who had designed it, knew that my late uncle WS Rindl, an accomplished structural engineer, was a keen amateur sculptor. They asked him to make some decorative features and a crucifix to adorn the exterior of the church. In addition to the concrete crucifix, my uncle designed and constructed concrete gargoyles to run off rainwater from the roof. Each of these gargoyles is decorated in bas-relief with castings of the tools used by builders and engineers. On one of these drainage spouts there is a representation of what looks as if it were an early rather bulky model of a pocket calculator. The church, completed in 1984, is a lovely example of imaginative 20th century architecture, well worth a detour to see.The rurally located bed and breakfast was housed in a building that was at least 300 years old if not older. The accommodation was comfortable but the breakfast was disappointing. The fried eggs served seemed as if they had been made long before breakfast and kept warm; they were not as fresh as the frost that had coated the surrounding countryside overnight. We made a brief visit to Winchelsea, a place that has always fascinated me. Founded as ‘New Winchelsea’ by King Edward the First in the 13th century, the town was a coastal port, complete with city walls. By the 1520s, what had been a thriving centre of trade declined rapidly because of shifting of the coastline resulting from silting up of its harbour. Apart from some of the town’s mediaeval gateways and the large church of St Thomas the Martyr, it is difficult to imagine that Winchelsea was once a bustling metropolis. The decline of Winchelsea is one of many examples all over the world of how environmental changes can affect the ability of civilisations to thrive. In January 2020, we visited Lakhpat in Kutch, a part of Gujarat in western India. This huge walled city, far greater in size than Winchelsea, was a thriving seaport until the early 19th century when an earthquake caused the sea inlet on which it stood to become transformed into a salty desert. Today, the seven kilometres of intact city walls contain not a city but only a few widely separated dwellings and a Sikh Gurdwara. The church, which dates back to the 13th century, looks large. However, what can be seen today is all that is left of what had once been a far larger cathedral-like building.On the Sunday morning when we entered the church, a service was being held. There was the priest and his congregation of less than eight people, looking a little lost in the huge church. Seeing the three of us entering, he welcomed us, and said in a pleading voice:
“Do stay. Come and join us. You will help swell our numbers.”
This ancient church, although beautiful, was sadly unused in comparison to the modern one we had seen at Redhill.We could not stay for long because we had a prior arrangement to meet our friend Tony at the art deco De La Warr Pavilion at Bexhill on Sea. He had invited us to view an exhibition of 20th century furniture being held there. I was amazed to find that many examples of the kind of furniture my parents had bought in the 1950s and 1960s were now regarded as classics of design and commanded high prices at the sale. I remember that some of that furniture was comfortable and some it looked good but was uncomfortable. We revisited Bexhill on Sea recently to see an exhibition of works by the op-art artist Bridget Riley. We stayed in a lovely Airbnb near the pavilion. On this visit, we had time to wander around the town, a paradise for lovers of charity shops that raise money for good causes. Bexhill is also a popular town for retired people to live out the rest of their lives.Our Airbnb was next to one of Bexhill’s numerous charity shops. This particular store, which lay between our accommodation and the Pavilion, specialised in secondhand wheelchairs, walkers, bedpans, and Zimmer frames. I guess that there is a high turnover of such items in the town.

Houses of Parliament

westmin

 

Recently, I attended an event, a performance of Albanian polyphonic singing by the ‘Grupi Lab’ ensemble from Vlore (Albania), in a room in the Palace of Westminster in the heart of London. For those who are unfamiliar with the Palace of Westminster, this enormous building contains the two Houses of Parliament.

To enter the Palace, it was neccessary to weave around the barricades put up to limit the activities of the Extinction Rebellion climate change activists. The public entrance is in Cromwell green, close to a statue of Oliver Cromwell. After a series of security checks that resemble those at Heathrow Airport, we followed a path that leads into the huge Westminster Hall. Although restored in parts, this hall dates back to 1097 AD. Its marvellous hammer beam timber roof  was built in the 14th century. Much of the timber is original, but some of it had to be replaced after a bomb struck in 1941.

After the concert, we decided to visit the public gallery of the House of Commons. After a short wait, we were issued with tickets and then escorted to another security check point. The examination here was very thorough. 

The public gallery overlooks the chamber in which Members of Parliament debate and make speeches. When we arrived at about 5.30 pm on the 14th of October (2019), there were more people in the public gallery than in the chamber. A Labour MP was delivering a lengthy, dull speech. Nobody seemed to be paying him the slightest attention.  After what seemed an eternity – actually, about ten minutes – he stopped. He was followed by a Conservative MP, who made an interesting speech, concisely and powerfully phrased. Again, this did not appear to interest anyone else in the chamber. During the couple of speeches we heard, we could see the few other MPs present sitting quietly, many of them fiddling with their mobile telephones or tablets. This, my first ever visit to a sitting of the House of Commons, was interesting but hardly scintillating.

What impressed me most about my visit to the Palace of Westminster was the staff. Everyone we encountered was not only helpful, but also kind and couteous. The ‘pomp and circumstance’ of the Palace did amaze me, but not nearly as much as the superb staff.

Climate, cycles, and trees

cycle

 

Undoubtedly, there is much concern about the future of planet Earth’s climate. So much so that children are missing school to go on protest marches because they are worried that they might never complete their lives because of catastrophic flooding or abnormally high ambient temperatures. Whether or not the dire predictions will turn out to be fulfilled remains to be seen, but there is no harm in trying to do something to address and then ameliorate or extinguish the perceived causes of the predicted ultimate disaster(s).

One of many measures being taken in London to reduce the output of gases toxic to the environment is to encourage the use of bicycles instead of motor vehicles. At present, cycling in London is fraught with dangers. There have been many collisions between cyclists and motor vehicles with quite a few fatalities amongst the cyclists. Many attempts are being made to segregate cyclists from other road traffic by constructing dedicated cycle lanes. Countries like the Netherlands have demonstrated very successfully that cycling can be made both safe and enjoyable by means of a comprehensive network of cycle lanes. 

Recently, there was a plan to construct a cycle lane along the tree-lined Holland Park Avenue in west London. From my frequent observations of this thoroughfare, there is only heavy cycle traffic in the morning and evening rush hours. Outside these busy times, there are few cyclists using this stretch of road. I felt that because of this a cycle lane was of questionable value.

To build the proposed cycle lane, planners faced a problem, which they might not have anticipated. In order to construct the cycle lane, twenty mature leafy trees would have had to be removed from Holland Park Avenue. This prospect aroused the anger of protestors in the area, who felt it was wrong to chop down trees to make way for a cycle lane. In a way they were correct.

Trees, as most people now know, help to protect the climate, which motorists (in cars powered by fuels other than electricity) are destroying. One need only look at the recent international protests against cutting down the rainforests in Brazil to understand the perceived importance of trees. Granted, Holland Park Avenue is hardly a rain forest, but chopping down trees does not seem like a good thing. In Bangalore (India), many trees have been removed to accomodate the needs of a rapidly growing metropolis, and the city’s climate and water supply are being adversely affected by factors such as this.

So, we have a conundrum: cyclists or trees? Rather than sit on the fence, let me give you my answer. The object of encouraging cycling and preserving trees is to save the future of human existence. If that is accepted, then saving cyclists’ lives and protecting them from harm has to take preference over saving twenty undoubtedly attractive trees.

All I ask of the cyclists is to protect themselves and pedestrians by obeying traffic signals.

For more about the Holland Park cycle lane, see:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-48635369

Cycles and branches

bike

 

There are plans to make a cycle super highway through west London. This might make cycling more attractive to people living in the areas it passes through as well as making it safer for cyclists by separating them from other road users. All very well, so far.

In order to creat this cycle thoroughfare, quite a number of well-established old trees will have to be cut down and removed. While cycling no doubt reduces the amount of toxic gases emitted by vehicles, removing the trees cannot be so beneficial to the climate of the future, about which so many people have become concerned.

The authorities have said that the felled trees will be replaced by new trees nearby. That is good, but many trees take a long time to reach the size and ecological efficiency of the trees that will get the chop. A large number of people have protested about the proposed  sacrifice of trees for the cyclists, so we wait with baited breath to see whether the trees will survive or the new cycle route will come to fruition. Being Britain, there will probably be a compromise!

 

Picture by Natalia Goncharova in an exhibition at the Tate Modern, London

Climate change

Early morning flight_500

High above the clouds

A climate protester flies,

Changing the climate

 

 

This was inspired by an article in the Daily Mail newspaper (see: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6938095/Dame-Emma-jets-5-400-miles-green-is.html), which reported:

“Emma Thompson arrived at Marble Arch yesterday afternoon to support climate change protesters and urged others to join their numbers.

What she might not have mentioned to them is that she had just flown back to Heathrow Airport from Los Angeles the day before.”

 

Garden city

Bangalore in South India has long been known as the ‘Garden City’.

There are still many trees and gardens in the city, but these are gradually disappearing. With a population of 10 MILLION or more, there are excessive demands on the water supply. Trees are being chopped down to allow for road widening. This is causing the water table to sink lower and lower beneath the surface. The loss of tree cover and green space, which is becoming gobbled up by property developers, is causing the average ambient temperature to rise.

The ‘Garden City’ is under threat: it will soon be a concrete jungle, a jungle with few plants. Some say that within a decade or two, Bangalore will become uninhabitable. I hope this will not happen because the city is still a vibrant metropolis with a rich cultural and commercial life.