The greatest amazement of all in nearly 100 years

The scientific and technical advancements of my lifetime are truly breathtaking. I was born and grew up in Islington in North London. Our lighting developed from oil lamps to gas mantles and then electricity. With the gas mantles, in the street outside, a man came around with a long pole to ignite the gas powered lamp standards. Horse drawn vehicles e.g. milk-floats and delivery vans, were still part of the transport system.

The butter in Sainsbury’s was still patted into shape by white coated assistants; my father was one of them. Payment for haberdashery purchases was delivered to the cashier via an overhead travelling capsule. Music recordings came on rather noisy. heavy discs with a maximum play time of about 7 minutes. Since those days amazing advances have happened, coming increasingly helter skelter on the heels of existing methods of delivery.

Indeed the speed of change is unrelenting; perhaps most remarkable of all in communications in the digital age. The “must have” incentive is unabated, and smart phones must be ever more smart. Cause for concern for what all this progress does for the sense of wonder?

It may be a symptom of senility but it seems that for me the most remarkable discovery remains that of radio (or “wireless” as it was known when it surfaced in the 1920’s) At that time we lived on the third floor of what was called a “tenement house” – flats without the privacy they now have. Just below us lived a widow who had a son and daughter. She was proud to tell us that the daughter, who worked in an office, was a “telephonist” but did not mention the son. Yet it was he who introduced me to a primitive wireless set, which could be confined in a matchbox, in about 1925.

The essence of that piece of equipment was a spiralled wire (known as a “catswhisker”) which could be moved on a small piece of crystal until it picked up a frequency carrying music or a message. The message was very crackly but real – and a marvel.

When we acquired a somewhat larger crystal set, we heard our first news bulletins and radio plays. The first night it was a production of Jane Eyre. So enthralled were we that we duly listened to a complete repetition the following night. The wireless soon became an integral part of the home and our way of life.

After the second world war, radio was to some degree eclipsed by television, first flaky and black and white and then in colour (with all its glamour). But somehow none of this eclipsed the sense of wonder of the catswhisker scratching the crystal. Even the internet hasn’t done that.

Len Clark February, 2013.

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On Legs

ON LEGS 

Particularly because of the shortcomings of my own I have in recent times, when travelling, become especially interested in the legs of others.  Whilst I suppose there is an element of envy in this, the interest is in no way erotic, despite the fact that current women’s fashions provide plenty of leg.

Waiting at railway stations  offer perhaps the best arena, but anywhere in London provides ample opportunity for survey.  Overall I am impressed by how efficient they are, conveying the bodies that are their burden in all directions at all sorts of giddy speeds.   In so doing they invest their owners with a sense of purpose, however trivial the aim.   Of course not all are fleet of foot, but somehow the struggles of those with  a mobility problem  do not have the same appeal, perhaps because the experience is too near home.  But overall legs are par excellence the messengers of intent.

 Coming  home from Chichester today I was struck by a contrast. An elderly man of massive proportions (at least 20 stone) got on the bus, wearing a tee shirt and shorts, and I noted his bare legs, like two trunks of oak trees.  My immediate reaction was a sense of jealousy that he would have  no trouble with mobility with those legs.

A little later a small, emaciated looking woman got on and I noted her spindly, matchstick like, legs, and I marvelled how she managed with them.

Quite a while later both alighted. One after the other. 

The man (who could have been an ex- Channel swimmer) rose with difficulty, and then struggled to the exit with obvious discomfort (even more slowly than myself.)   Then the matchstick lady got off, smartly making for the door and tripping down the street!   Appearances not always what they seem to be.

Len Clark 29.5.12

 

 

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A year on… By Len Clarke

A YEAR ON. 

It is now over a year since Isobel went into residential care at Broadwater Lodge, just a mile from home.  So a review of where we are may be due, although it is difficult to disentangle the objective from the subjective factors. 

To recap:  The decision in March 2011 to arrange her admission was not because of the  problems immediately associated with her dementia, though there may have been some interplay between the psychological and the physical  factors.   A series of unexpected falls from bed in the middle of the night was the trigger. We did not have theresources to help her with her basic needs of dressing, going to bed, rising, eating and the toilet, and whilst we are not present at crucial times there is evidence from sustained observation on day time visits that the home has performed well.   Recently a daily “help sheet record” has been available in her room.   It is largely repetitive but it does indicate that she has care during the night as well as the day.   She has had several falls from bed but these were regularly reported to me by telephone next morning (None  reported for the past six months.) 

How well does Broadwater Lodge meet Isobel’s and our needs?

I think that we were all a bit hesitant at the outset, butdoubts have either been dispersed or diminished, so far as is possible.   We (and in this context I hope I can interpret for the family) always recognised that this was a second best option.   The most important single factor – which has been reinforced over the year – is the kind and patient handling of residents by the staff – almost all young and from overseas – has impressed me very favourably, and I have no anxieties on this score.   

I presume that there are in place procedures for calling on medical help when it seems needed. In one instance, when I suggested it, this was immediately taken up andimplemented. I have an impression that the owners (Care UK) are like other operators aware of the bad press their industry has received and are anxious to dispel this. 

The general admin of the homeleaves something to be desired, but  this is of much less importance than the quality of personal care.   For example, the standard of laundry seems excellent, but the efficiency of return of items to the rightful owners less good.  One of the benefits of daily visits is to be able to keep the management on their toes. 

What about the emotional deficit?  (a term I use hoping it does not sound too dramatic.)? 

In almost 60 years of marriageboth Isobel and I had active, and sometimes separate, agendas, so we were not in-bound.   But the past year has been completely different, not only in the circumstances of the “separation” but on our day to day routines.  Looking back over the nine yearssince she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, they have glowed as a treasured part of our lives, despite occasional aberrations and crises linked to the disease.    Perhaps this has led to a heightened sense of loss in the past year. 

During the first few months in care Isobel showed a degree ot “rebellion” alongside the evidence of her reduced ability to implement the rebellion.  And here was one lesson that we reached.   Early on in her stay she could be quite sparky – such as “Cut the cackle”, or when I explained thatI had no longer the physical strength to cope with her falls, she responded “Then YOU ought to be in here.”   Progressively her manner has been more subdued, with occasional flashes of humour and acute perception.  The contrast is very marked.

The environment of the lounge where we normally talk is not ideal, and sometimes there are slightly disruptive other residents.   Once or twice we have met in her room and this is probably preferable, as, sadly, rational conversation with the other residents is rarely feasible. 

There are periodic meetings between the management and relatives, but these have not been very managed; signs of lack of experience by the management.  Most recently (April 2012) there was the usual emphasis on physical aspects (building modifications and baked beans on the menu), but I managed to insert a concern for some privacy when visiting. 

There was one incident, about three months after admission, when Isobel said that she felt quite relaxed and willing to let events unfold so long as she could see me.  Comforting though that may have been it was not repeated.  Almost always she asks about coming home (without having a clear idea what or where “home” is).  My response is rather reluctantly accepted, but the sense of sadness that she is unhappy invariably persists after visiting.   Coming home is invariably linked with a feeling of my having taken the easy way out for myself.

One thing which I think we haveall learned from visits is that we are probably looking too hard for some signs of optimism, however small.    This, it is clear to me, is looking for something to cheer up ourselves, hardly commendable.    But it is a temptation that is hard to resist with someone we still love and cherish for her normally vibrant character.   The shadow that is the present falls heavily, and evenings often hang heavily  – hopefully not for her.

To take a wide perspective our situation is probably replicated thousands of times elsewhere in the country, with the increase incidence of dementia, as I sense from the few other relatives whom I have met at Broadwater Lodge,  but that is little comfort.

Len.  April 2012

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On collecting cornflake packet tops

Despite its commercial motivation, I am all in favour of collecting cornflake packet tops, which in due course are “sent up” in exchange for a metal badge of Uncle Crunchy, or such benevolent and mythical character.   The occupation is honest, uncomplicated and uncontroversial.   Not so all special badges, such as those in the Honours List.

About the middle of November 1981 there arrived, amidst the manila envelopes with agendas and the desultory correspondence with HM Inspector of taxes, an envelope carrying peremptory remarks about confidentiality and immediacy.   The Prime Minister (Mrs Thatcher) wished to be assured that I would find the award of CBE acceptable. Immediate reaction was one of slight irritation at being put so unfairly on the spot on something which had till then been infinitely remote and theoretical.  Then the nagging question why?- it could hardly have had its source in a donation to an unloved political party.  

No citation was given, so it was – and remains to this day – a mystery as to who was responsible.   I wondered how many people receiving such a letter reply “No”, and of those how many were affronted by the mere thought, and how many are insulted that the offer was so paltry.   No one knows ( or if they do they won’t say.)

Isobel was helpful but in no doubt: it should be declined.  I much respected her view.  For me – as with many things – the issues were more confused, and as the family were untroubled by sophistry, it had to be worried out alone.   In the end I said Yes, because it might give a bit of extra weight to the causes I cared about, not for personal gratification.   But assenting rather oddly and unjoyfully.

Silence ensued until New Year’s Day, when the newspapers had my name in the throng of hundreds of others. Only new was the comment “for services to conservation”, which sounded good if imprecise.  Nowadays “conservation” can cover anything from restoration of oil paintings to being kind to spiders.   At least I knew it was neither of these.    I guess that the aesthetes and arachnologists  may have wondered who the devil I might be.

Letters and phone calls ensued.   The List-Watchers were soon off the mark.   Some were candid ”Good Lord, fancy your name being there” (said in the nicest way of course.)  Well trodden and well chosen words; and the great majority from whom it was good to hear.    It was like a second dose of Christmas mail after the New Year had broken. 

Some letters had their wry or unconscious touches.  Previous recipients of awards sometimes made casual reference to the fact which might have been lost in the communal conscious.    Some promised higher awards ahead, promotion or a peerage – maybe they were employed by the patronage without my knowing.   Perhaps the most intriguing was from a millionaire, also a CBE, commenting that in his experience it was the CBEs who were the really nice people!

It was surprising how many assumed that the Queen had chewed her pencil far into the night to decide whether to include me in or out, so that refusal would have been unthinkable after all that regal effort.

There remained in my mind some doubts about “joining the establishment” but the die had been cast.  I just hoped that any loss of integrity would be minimal.

The family showed no zest for seeing the inside of Buckingham Palace – arranged promptly for early February – but my niece Judith and daughter in law Suzanne were interested to see what goes on, and so it was very nice to have their company on Der Tag.

A rail strike meant going to London on the Honda 90.  Entrance to the palace was no problem (as others have found since) and to the background of seaside bandstand music we were drilled for the presentation.  It was all very efficient and marvellously smooth (120 presentations inn75 minutes, without a trace of haste). The footwork and pleasantries were explained, and we were on our way.

Ours seemed a rather dull bunch.  I was between an Army dentist and a man who dealt in toxic waste.  The only popular star I noticed was Sebastian Coe, whom we expected to bound in for his MBE.   As we left, in adjacent room to the presentation, rather like the checkout in a supermarket, an official claimed back the medal and put it in a box for me.  We then joined the audience and the band to watch the remainder march up.

Outside in the courtyard – and I was rather disappointed there were no cups of coffee – it was Fotographie uber Alles and then off to celebration lunches.

And that was about it.   A while later came an inscribed scroll and an explanation that I was now entitled to be married in a chapel at St Paul’s cathedral, as were my children.  This seemed to be the only perk.   CBEs don’t apparently have an AGM

It was all an enlightening experience, for which I  am grateful.   And on reflection I would not exchange it for collecting cornflake packet tops.  Because I am not that keen on cornflakes.

 

Len Clark

 

 

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Samaritans

Involvement in the Samaritan movement proved to be an important element in my retirement activities.Yet it certainly seems to have been by chance that when walking along Woodbridge Road in Guildford some time in 1979 I made an impromptu call at the Guildford centre to enquire about what they did. This set in train and application for interviews and a training course before I became a trainee “listening volunteer” in April 1980.

Though the brainchild of a charismatic Anglican priest with limited parochial duties in the City of London, the connotation of its title (bequeathed by one of the tabloid newspapers) ‘Samaritan’s is not a Christian – or in the formal sense – a religious organisation. The aim is, basically, to offer a listening ear, and so share the burden of distress of callers, in the hope that it will help them to find a way forward themselves, and in particular to avoid the despair which could lead to suicide.It is stressed that the final responsibility for action remains with the caller.The listening is via the telephone, face to face encounters and, latterly by e mail and text messaging.

Great stress is placed on the confidentiality of the encounters.I would find it hard to point to any instance in which I had prevented a suicide over the years in the calls to which I have responded. Hopefully a contribution has been made to a raft of support which saved someone from self-harm or destruction.

When Samaritans started, it offered an almost unique telephone help line:now there is a plethora of these, though only few offer a 24 hours cover, and most are “directional.”Very many problems centre around relationships, including of course sexual ones.This indeed, was a prime motivating force in the launching of the service by Dr Chad Varah, of St Stephens Church Wallbrook. He argued forcibly that sexual repression was the Great Enemy, meaning that freedom to discuss sexual problems was the Great Liberator. But today, thanks to the mass media we are awash with, no topic can be explored without it being conjured up as the key. Even Freud has been outbid. Since commercial sex-lines can be expensive, Samaritans get their full share and cope most of the time with equanimity. Sex remains a problem for many, but the Stage Scenery has changed.

Some callers become “regulars”, some are very abusive, some heart rending and a few hilarious.And many other shades of the human condition. Samaritans use their first names and a register number, and pack their secrets away when they go off duty.

An unexpected discovery was the wide range of experience, talents and characters amongst my fellow volunteers. It was a special delight to come to know people from such diverse backgrounds and common humanity.

Apart from answering calls there was another aspect to which I felt drawn. A branch Director, chosen by the members, has the last word on the general conduct of the branch, but there is concurrently a Branch Committee, democratically elected, looking after the premises, publicity, outreach and finance. Quite soon I found myself on the branch Committee, and in due time its Chairman, Branch Director and Regional Chairman (South East England). All offices are limited to three years duration in the first place which keeps the water fresh. At one stage I was nominated as the Regional Director (“Representative”, to soften local patriotism) but was deemed “too old”. I think this was one of the rare occasions on which I felt thwarted from doing I job for which I felt I had the attributes. Looking back many years later in retrospect I thing” they” were right, though at the time I thought otherwise.

The movement, in my experience, copes fairly well with the inherent clash between nation conformity – to ensure the same service everywhere – and localism, but when there are personal problems it has been a reminder that we are just human. And sadly we are all currently bound by modern legislation of good intent but sometimes dubious value – such a Health and Safety, and Freedom of Information

For many years the national office was based in what I believe was a semi detached house in Slough (aptly for an organisation dealing with despond) but inevitably standardisation meant growth and as a claimant to be in the Premier League of National Charities the Headquarters is substantial and extensive, with fund raising a prime objective.But the heart of the movement remains, with the individual lifting the telephone and meaning very sincerely “Can I help you?”

Nationally perhaps one of the abiding memories is attending a national conference in the Great Hall of York University, when the thunderous hubbub of 1200 delegate dies down to a silence to enable the proverbial pin to be dropped. A great sense of unity.

Few who have been Samaritans will not have very heart warming memories, of both callers and colleagues, and many rich relationships have been engendered by coming together with a common aim.

Len Clark

01.2011

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My time with the National Trust

                                      My time with the National Trust

It is fifty years since I was first involved in the affairs of the National Trust – I joined the Council in 1961 – though I had been interested in it for some years before.My first real encounter was in the 1940s when I stayed at the City Mill in Winchester, the first of all youth hostels in the South of England.

My fresh involvement stemmed from the fact that in the immediate post War years the Trust decided to widen the field from which the so called “nominated members” were drawn to its Council. Fifty percent of the Council members were elected and a similar number nominated from “kindred bodies\” with aims in common.Most of these were from learned societies, museums and the fine arts.The democratic mood of the 1940s suggested that bodies such as the Ramblers Association and the flourishing YHA should join the family.

My predecessor had been John Clarke, Chairman and then President of YHA, a genial architect from Merseyside, who I suspect took a rather perfunctory interest in the role, which after all entailed attending only two or three meetings a year, each lasting little more than a few minutes.I recall the relaxed and rather laid back Chairman,the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres inviting Council members, if so disposed, to stay on to listen to the debates of the Executive Committee which followed.This struck me as a little odd, since we, the Council, had appointed the Executive Committee, albeit from “a slate.”

The Council did not offer much opportunity for socialising, but I noted that it included a number of well known public figures, such as Harold Nicolson, Hugh Casson, Canon Raven, Lord Chorley, Anthony Blunt and others.After about four years I wrote to the Chairman (by this time the Earl of Antrim had replaced Crawford) to enquire whether there was anything more useful I could do in the Trust’s management.This must have rung a bell, for shortly afterward I was invited to join the estates Committee, concerned with the open space properties – there were separate committees for gardens and historic houses.Here I found interesting problems of management, along with my friend John Cadbury, a generous donor to the Trust (and YHA) in gifting Wilderhope Manor in Shropshire – still in service as a youth hostel. Herbert Gatliff, one of YHA’s more colourful figures, had been to this Committee so in a sense I replaced him.Like all NT Committees of the time it had its share of the Upper Crust.I rather liked the chairman, Earl de la Warr (of Ashdown Forest and Bexhill fame).

But it was in 1967 that I found myself in deeper water.For a couple of years a bitter and unseemly feud had been brewing beneath the surface in the inner circles of the Trust.The early success of the Neptune Appeal, launched by Lady Dalton (wife of Hugh Dalton) to acquire and protect beautiful coastline, led to the appointment of an Appeal Organiser who was Conrad Rawnsley, grandson of Canon Rawnsley, one of the Trust’s founders.Rawnsley had undoubted vigour but was something of an individualist.It emerged later that there had been backstage animosities, involving amongst others the Secretary, a solicitor named Jack Rathbone.

Things came to a head when Rawnsley used a Press Conference on the progress of Neptune to launch an attack on the Trust’s government.He was immediately sacked.This opened a can of worms and within several other disgruntled members set up a “Reform Movement”, culminating in a Special General Meeting with a proposed Vote of No Confidence.Lord Antrim did his best to keep order in a crowded central hall – no easy task – and during a duller patch in the middle of the afternoon he whispered to me (I was standing near the chair) “say something Mr Clark.”

I obliged though it did not amount to saying anything of much consequence, but it seemed to catch the mood of the meeting.I opposed the vote of no confidence but suggested it was time for the Trust to look at its style of government and update its thinking.A motion along these lines was proposed by John Betjeman, a leading member of Council; it was carried and the malcontents headed off. The management then decided they had better act, so they commissioned Sir Henry (later Lord) Benson, a noted accountant from Cooper Lybrand, to head a Committee of Inquiry.

Henry Benson had inhis office (appropriately named Abacus House) a shelf full of volumes comprising his reorganization efforts on behalf of a whole lot of public bodies, from the South African Railways to the BBC). The three other members of Council appointed to the Committee were Sir William Hayter (Warden of new College Oxford), Pat Gibson (later tobe Chairman of the Trust, and myself.

For the next two years we had a busy but fascinating time, with endless meetings, papers and interviews.Henry Benson was always “driving the bus” and also at times to the point of exhaustion the two joint Secretaries, John Rogers and Jack Boles (later Director General.)The Benson report was comprehensive, forthright and persuasive, and although now dated in many respects it is still quoted with a degree of reverence accorded to one of the Books of the Old Testament.

In general “Benson” was a modernising instrument, with a sharp eye on democratic accountability. Amongst its main recommendations (almost all were accepted by Council) was a degree of decentralisation by setting up regional committees, with a monitoring though not executive role.The central structure, which had grown a bit like Topsy, was rationalized by bringing Historic Buildings Gardens and Estates into one Properties Committee.This was presided over by the urbane Irish Peer, the Earl of Rosse, owner of the famous telescope at his home in Birr Castle. He was later succeeded by the equally genial Sir Marcus Worsley, a Yorkshire landowner.

I enjoyed being a member of the Committee, especially when sitting next to Hugh Casson and watching his artistic doodling.The Benson formula lasted more than three decades before another radical modernisation prescribed by Lord Blakenham (whose father I knew on the properties Committee) was adopted.Since then, reorganisation have followed, unabated.It is a good question to ask whether the pendulum has swung too far and too fast.But then the outside world has been changing too.

Nowadays the Executive is a small group of dedicated trustees and much time and paper is saved.However I had a liking for the Benson pattern, which involved a “Committee week”.On Tuesday new acquisitions – and in mytime there were many of them – were considered on merit on Tuesday by Properties, on Wednesday on financial viability by the Finance Committee and on Thursday finally endorsed by the Executive Committee.Despite some duplication this involved some 50 committee members and there was a good feeling of consensus at the end.I did the Tuesday and Thursday slots.

One of the Benson outcomes was an age limit for membership of committees – 75 for members and 70 for the chair.At the time this seemed eminently sensible, but in due time I was recipient of the boomerang effect myself!

Benson opened a new chapter in other ways too.The principal officer had hitherto been the Secretary, but with the departure of Jack Rathbone a Director General was instroduced and the Trust wisely looked outside the somewhat private world of the elite. Sir John Winnifrith, head of the Ministry of Agriculture, took over.

He was a cheery, ebullient character, with formidable government expertise a (as well as a strong antipathy to Europe!)He set about modernizing the somewhat traditional methods of the Trust’s administration and when he retired after a few years he was succeeded by another able Civil Servant, Sir Freddie Bishop.Later there was something of a return to an earlier pattern when Jack Boles graduated to be Director General and was followed by Angus Stirling (both duly knighted.)

Equally rewarding were the contacts with the field staff – mostly land agents (usually trained at the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester.)Invariably they had the public school stamp of good manners, but I never felt that this was a veneer and found good friendships amongst staff who worked well in partnership with committees.The aesthetic aspect of the Trust, as represented by the Historic Buildings Representative, did sometimes have a jarring note of elitism (Now I believe disappeared) and it was reported that Robin Fedden, a most interesting and engaging head of the aesthetic side once said that the National Trust would be a marvelous organization if there were no members!This may be apocryphal, but is too good not to quote.

A member of the staff with whom I had perhaps most contact was Ivor Blomfield, a Land Agent, then regional Director, Secretary of the Trust and finally Deputy Director General.He had just the right balance of caution and pragmatism that made for a steady hand on the tiller, I also much enjoyed my contacts with Ivan Hills, who had been Chief Agent, especially after his retirement when we had many a mug of coffee putting the Trust on the right course, in his Frensham cottage.

I was fortunate in having got to know Pat Gibson on the Benson Committee and so be comfortable with his steady chairmanship over an important decade (1977-86).We got on well, though he was for me a rather private person who might have opened up in other circles.When Jennifer Jenkins took over from him it was good to have a woman in the chair, and a bonus to have such an able one.Her political connections ensured she was a good conversationalist.

There were times when I wondered whether I had allowed myself to succumb to being part of the establishment, so was reassured when people like Malcolm Petyt and John Anfield joined me on the Executive.

My experiences with the Trust were thus much caught up with personalities and the foregoing comments are somewhat random ones.An extensive and excellent panorama was provided by John Gaze (the Chief Agent who followed Ivan Hills) in his book “Figures in a Landscape”.Sadly he died before finishing it and I was glad to be asked to provide a final chapter.

At the beginning of the 1980s the sort of reverberations of the Rawnsley affair once more disturbed the normally placid NT scene but in a very different form.This happened when many people felt that the Trust had been too readily compliant in permitting the Ministry of Defence to have an underground bunker at its Bradenham Estate in the Chilterns..The rumpus was bound to have some political overtones. One useful outcome was the formation of a very moderate and responsible “Monitor group” which ever since has had its reporters at AGMs and a team of watchers with a wary but fair minded eye on the Trust’s doings.

Acquisitions of new properties – often large houses and estates – were a regular feature on our agendas, and each seemed to have special qualities not to be ignored.The Trust was taking on a stately home at the rate of about one a year, apart from Important stretches of countryside and coastline – which presented less of a problem for me.When we were considering taking on Chastleton House, near Moreton in Marsh (acquired in 1991) I remember going down to view it in advance on my Honda motorbike with a firm prejudice against it – I felt that enough was enough in country houses – only to be bowled over by its very special character and dust hallowed atmosphere which persuaded me to support the acquisition.

As I have said the countryside acquisitions were those which usually gave me a special thrill – none more so than the Abergwesyn Commons (16000 acres) in Mid Wales – another long motorcycle trip to view.I heard, again apocryphally maybe, that a Committee member had said “If Len wants it, we had better let him have it”. I greatly doubt I had that sort of influence.Another round trip to view the Begwns in Radnorshire was marked by unrelenting rain. Wales always had a special appeal!

THE REGIONAL COMMITTEE: Shortly before he died Lord Antrim was anxious that the last remaining region – the South East – should have a Regional Committee and I was persuaded to take it on.This involved the privilege – never to be repeated – of being able to handpick the 12 members of the committee.Again I remember my two firm prejudices: no Etonians (not because I had anything against them per se but they were already very well represented at Queen Anne’s Gate – quite the contrary); and a better representation for women.

After working on this agenda with David Musson, the Regional Director, we assembled a useful team – with just two women – and two Old Etonians.Incidentally one of my successors, Chris Brickell from the RHS, who I suspect dismissed my doctrinaire approach regarding women, was much more successful than me in increasing their quota.

The Regional Committee work was absorbing.David was an amiable team mate, though some people found him resistant to change.One cause célèbre occurred when the Committee agreed, on the agent’s advice, to an arrangement whereby we and a local owner, Patrick Evelyn, exchanged roles for managing adjoining pieces of one another’s land, in our case passing over to him care of Severalls Copse at Friday Street.

What we did not know was that the land in question had been acquired as a result of local subscriptions and that Patrick Evelyn was persona non grata with many locals.The protests were loud and we narrowly escaped being pelted at a public meeting held in the village.Fortunately I had as Vice Chairman Eric Sibert, former County planning Officer and experienced in handling public uproars.We agreed to reconsider and at a recall meeting three months later the temperature and attendance were half of those at Abinger.We backed down and the locals formed a Friends Group and sent us a cheque to help maintenance costs.

I suppose it was a “perk” of the job to have tickets to attend some prestige chamber music concerts held at Petworth, Clandon and the Vyne promoted by an upmarket estate agent for his potential clients.I recall vividly programmes by Alfred Brendel, Vladimir Ashkenazy and ,many leadingstring quartets.

THE COUNCIL.

The Trust’s Council has always suffered from having too much accumulated expertise in specialist fields and a dearth of functions.As a result there was always some sense of frustration.At one time Council decided the level of subscriptions, but I doubt whether this now applies.

THE CENTENARY.This was rightly a year of great rejoicing.The Trust had reached its century and had achieved much.Several histories were published and sages predicted the future for the Trust.A celebration lunch at the Grosvenor Hotel (doffing a cap to the Duke of Westminster, sometimes considered the “fourth founder”).Perhaps the most impressive event was a three day Countryside Conference in Manchester Town Hall ranging over many aspects of the environment.It attracted a pantheon of “Countryside Top Brass” and was memorable.

By this time I had shed my regional function but was still on the Executive and Properties Committees – but for just one more year.At Roger Chorley’s suggestion I was one of two “assessors” to assist Lord Peter Oliver, a former Lord of Appeal, in his review of the constitution, which largely endorsed the status quo and that, my third committee of inquiry into the workings of the Trust, was an interesting chapter.My fellow Council member/assessor was Gunter Treitel, an academic lawyer from All Souls.

Once the 75 year boomerang had struck I was winding down.There was an advisory committee on road schemes (many threatening inalienable Trust land) which met intermittently and finally died out.Charles Nunneley succeeded Roger Chorley in the Chair and after Martin Drury had finished his stint as DG (preparing smoothly for transition) Fiona Reynolds became Director general.I had some quiet satisfaction from knowing that I had not only been on the Committee appointing her to her first job post Cambridge, but of having introduced her to the Trust at Queen Anne’s Gate.More major reorganization was on the way and this time I was just a distant observer.

The Trust were very generous in giving me one of their Founders’ Awards – too heavy to wear but an excellent paperweight.But I had received far more from the Trust, in discoveries and friendships, than I had ever given it.

LenClark

04.08/01.11

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A ROAD WITH A VIEW

A ROAD WITH A VIEW

Some recollections by Len Clark of 19 years with the Landscape Advisory Committee of the Department of Transport. Written April 1994, revised January 2011.

It was during the summer of 1975 that I received, out of the blue a letter from Tony Crosland, then Secretary of State, inviting me to join the Landscape Advisory Committee which, he explained, existed to advise him on the landscape and environmental implications of motorway and trunk road schemes under consideration. I replied querying whether a mistake had been made, since I was not a motorist but only a walker and cyclist. I was assured that this did not matter, and in September attended my first meeting at the Marsham Street Office.

This was in a large, ill-designed committee room, to which I was to become increasingly familiar, though never reconciled. Professor Monica Cole and I the new members joining what seemed to be a gathering of the Great and the Good. Major personalities included Sir Henry Abel-Smith (related to Royalty), Sir Basil Engholm (ex permanent Secretary in MAFF),Sir Laurence Kirwin and Sir Giles Loder. In earlier years there had been such eminent figures as the architect Clough Williams-Ellis and Sir George Langley-Taylor of CPRE.

The business was interesting – careful consideration of reports from small teams of members who had carried out site inspections, which was a major part of the commitment to joining the committee. Meetings were held monthly, so it was possible to get into the swing fairly quickly, though it was a good while before I dare say anything – and this was probably peripheral. By contrast I suspect that in later years I was one of the more voluble of the members.

In November 1975 I joined my first inspection – to appraise the relative merits of several options for a southern by-pass of Cheltenham (which in fact was never realized…) Sir Giles Loder, owner of the famous Leonardslea Gardens, was leader of our team, and I recall his extreme kindness in making me feel at home and understand some of the jargon, such as “grade separation” and “on-line”. The Regional engineers were led by Briigader Baldwin, who was a living “mission statement” in is enthusiasm, before the term had been coined.

Of the inspection itself I recall most having a stiff neck as the coach followed small lanes and it was necessary to look first left, then right round the sides to get some sense of the likely imp[act of the proposed routes. It seemed very complicated but fascinating. Since then I suppose I have been involved in about 200 inspections covering every English counties except Staffordshire and the Isle of Wight (which has no trunk roads.), as well as a dozen in Wales. This has involved drafting about 50 reports – the tradition being that one member of the team volunteered for preparing the draf, which was then commented on and amended by other members before being submitted to the Committee. Following that further debate the final version was sent to the Sec retary of State.

(I recall one irrelevant incident at Cheltenham. Not having been familiar with hotels (rather than youth hostels!) I assumed that the card hanging on my doorknob indicating breakfast requirements was to assist the catering staff in preparation) I duly completed it and had left it on the handle before going down to breakfast). On return I found a second breakfast awaiting m – room service…)

THE CHAIR.

When I joined the LAC Sir George Taylor was in the chair Having known him through National Trust Committees was an advantage. He was firm, friendly and determined. Woe betide the Regional road builder who attempted to give contentious advice on the planting of particular species of tree alongside a road, if he did not agree. He made a major contribution to enhancing the standing of the committee. He was succeeded by Michael Wise, a name I held in reverence as Professor of geography at the LSE ( following the redoubtable Dudley Stamp.) Michael was a marvelous colleague to have.

His courtesy and patience sometimes belied his sharp critical sense, but he believed in giving everybody a good say without letting the subject get out of hand. Most impressive were his summing up. He brought on board all the criticisms and advocacies which had been important to the debate, sometimes bearing down relentlessly on the project engineers (like a judge’s summing up), and then, having been rather devastating on any insensitive advice we had been offered by the engineers ended with “we are MOST grateful, mr Smith, for all the work and trouble you have put into preparing this scheme” Thus was any bruising assuaged. Michael’s special contributions to inspections which he joined included a sharp “eye to perceive” and a large bag of aniseed balls to keep us going until lunchtime.

When Michael Wise gave up the chair after eight years Trevor Lewis, from Pembrokeshire took over. With long experience on the Countryside Commission and other amenity bodies he had a wide knowledge of the road system and its impact on the countryside. His was a pragmatic approach to the job – forthright without being dogmatic. But he recognized that final decisions would be made elsewhere and was not at risk of emotional involvement. My final chairman was professor David Jones, keeping up the LSE tradition, and he too had a wide knowledge of the countryside and the impact5 of new roads. He introduced the idea of having several vie-chairmen, looking after sub-committees concentrating on Lighting, signage, planting, urban schemes and motorway widening. We were well served by all our chairmen, tough in retrospect it is clear that it became increasingly difficult to establish the rapport which we would have liked with the |department and its policy making staff. They probably regarded us as an unnecessary extra.

THE STAFF.

In my early days there was a succession of competent young men as secretary and assistant secretary, but they moved on frequently. Then more stability when we a young woman called Teresa and John Stainer who wore an extraordinarily long raincoat against the weather on our outings. The secretariat were invariably helpful, though not infrequently in the dark about policy. At first the principal officer was Ron Denny who took a keen interest in the politics of schemes and had wheeling and dealing tendencies, which was interesting. Thereafter attendances from senior officers were very occasional and Buddha-like in character. In the case of the professional staff it was different. Michael Porter, the department’s Senior landscape Architect, had an encyclopaedic knowledge of road schemes over the years and worked closely with members, as did Leo Kramer who kept up the tradition. We were also well served by Andrew Cunnison, the architect/planner with a specialty in bridges and structures.

He showed a special enthusiasm in our informal discussion and in addition made it mandatory to the hotels where we stayed overnight and for lunch that Black Forest Gateaux (his personal favourite) was always to be on the menu. For the committee.. Similarly the horticultural and regional staff were almost all very friendly, though the Welsh office were a tad anxious that we should reach the right (that is their) conclusions.

FELLOW MEMBERS

A colourful collection. The patrician members mentioned above tended to give way partly to professionals in landscape architecture and allied disciplines . But I was most impressed by the calibre of the reports. Sir Basil Engholm had produced a mini, based on a series of visits, . covering possible corridors for a new route linking Swindon and Milton Keynes (again never built) . It was a sort of monumental template. Derek Loveday and Bodfan Gruffyd added much colour to the work.

Derek put his stamp on all his inspections and his reports were crisp and incisaive, though not leaving much room for dissent – and he could erupt with indignation if his fuse was ignited. Bodfan was known to all for his exotic dress (tartan trews, cloak and flowing bow ties were standard) and his no less colourful discussions in a romantic vein. He had been landscape adviser to Lloyd George at Churt. He too could erupt, notably with the head chef at a hotel over the menu. He believe that our visits should include patronizing the local economy, such as buying kippers at Lowestoft, clotted cream in Cornwall and even a visit to a rock making factory when looking at a by pass for Blackpool. Bodfan also had the rather romantic notion that our reports were personally perused by the Minister over his breakfast marmalade.

But others, though less colourful, were also worthy of recall. Geoffrey crow had worked with Colin Buchanan and lectured in civil engineering at Imperial College. He was perhaps the most conscientious of us all, with a careful eye to minutiae in his reports which put me to shame. And his oral presentations were just as thorough as his written words. But he was kind and congenial as a companion on field trips.

I did not find Monica Cole’s ultra-Thatcherite views to my taste, yet we got on well, maybe because we joined together. As she had a cottage in Cornwall we were often on visits together on schemes in the South West. She fought long and bravely against cancer, but died in January 1994.

Others deserve mention too. Gils Loder has already been mentioned. Colonel Hill brought a kind of “Captain Mainwaring” touch to proceedings. A youthful enthusiasm to all our visits. Well on into his eighties he would charge up a hillside to get a better view of the “battlefield” and could see solutions as the sappers would have seen them. I was frequently reminded of my schooldays when I learned that Caesar “having wintered in Gaul, threw a bridge across the river”. Paddy Hill might have done the same.

Charlie Darvill was perhaps most remarkable of the lot. With a wiry frame and healthy constitution he was a keen cyclist, who had been known to cycle from home in Sheffield to meetings in Marsham Street. The great mystery was how he managed to keep his best suit in his saddle bag without creasing. A Communist in his early days he had been Head of a Sheffield Comprehensive School, he was much respected for his eye for landscape.

Ethel Chipchase was an unexpected later arrival as a keen rambler and trade union organizer. She could specialize in the “diot question” which could take out the middle stump.

These are just some of friend sI came to appreciate thorough serving on the committee: there were many others.

THE MINISTERS..

Transport must be the Transit Camp for aspiring politicians. It is not possible to recall all those we had. Like the floats in the Lord Mayor’s Show, not all made lasting impression. In any event we were assigned the Under Secretaries most of the time. Linda Chalker was well spoken of, though I did not know her,and near the end Kenneth Carlisle showed more than average interest in our work, attending two meetings as well as an inspection. One or two ministers joined us for the niceties of a Christmas drink but more sent notes of apology

On more than one occasion a Minister joined us for an inspection, only to be called back to Westminster by phone. It would be good to think our work was appreciated by Ministers, but alas most of them were in a hurry to get another rung up the political ladder.

THE WORK ITSELF

In case these notes seem trivial and gossipy, they are just to set on record memories before they glaze over, And in any case working together is an important feature of any voluntary wrok. But the tasks were not taken lightly, although all our work was unpaid. Briefs took hours to digest and rail journeys were sometimes tedious. Rarely was a preferred route obvious, and as an inspection proceeded any assumptions from reading the brief were frequently demolished. Impressions on the first day ertr often cancelled on the second, when inspecting another route.

Discussions went on long into the evenings following a day in the field, and sometimes consensus was only reached as the return train was pulling into the station in Cornwall or Cumbria. Revisiting the area for other purposes later brought the problems of the visit into re-focus. I recall lunch at the malting at Snape in a howling gale, with doors slamming (the poster said “The malting is delightful at any time of the year.”). But when we revisited six months later for a reinspection we had an idyillic autumn day.)

Looking at Telford’s road across Anglesey left me deep sense of history, as we travelled from Llanfair PG to Holyhead. The last report I wrote (on an eastern by pass for Leicester) involved a slog in the face of a bitter wind across fields in order to assess the impact one line would have on virgin countryside. It was often clear that landscape was not just a theoretical or purely aesthetic concept, but had to be related to people. So that farm and community severance, the impact of noise and lighting were part of a holistic approach.

For me the greatest gain has been to come to know better soe of the intrinsic beauty of the English and Welsh countryside, especially those corner which have not been accorded a medal – of AONB, SSSI and the rest. In a real sense the landscape is a seamless garment , and what we were doing was to try to preserve some sort of integrity, and at the very least to minimize the damage. As Michael Wise has said “almost wherever one travels in England and Wales the benefit of the Committee’s advice can be seen in roads that fit into the grain of the countryside, imaginative landscaping and tree planting schemes, good design of structures and, recently less environmentally damaging lighting scheme”. Towards the end of my stint some of us, as members of the Lighting Sub-Committee visited Denmark, Belgium and France to draw on their experience and – by rare dispensation, to Glasgow.

To have played a very small part in this chapter of concern for the environment has been a privilege – and for the opportunity to work with others giving their time and expertise freely in a common purpose, without the distractions of confrontation and political advantage – this was a bonus and something for which I record special gratitude.

THE END.

Just as the invitation to join the landscape advisory committee had come out of the blue, so the dismissal. On 31 March there arrived a circular letter (with smudged rubber date stamp pt to indicate its stay on the back burner) telling me – and all the members – that as the committee had outlived its role it had been decided to abolish it with immediate effect. There had been no earlier intimation. The reasons given were that the department now had access to its own consultants and landscape architects, and that there was now a Manual of Guidance for building Good Roads and Bridges. Two crucial elements had not been taken into account. First that the committee had provided a completely independent source of advice free from any departmental or other constraints (eg Cost Benefit Analysis). And secondly that experience had shown that there is often a dilemma in resolving which route is least damaging in environmental term and difficult issues of this nature are not derived from manuals or courses of study. The committee had discharged this role with much sensitivity.

But such is the way of governments. The following day the formal request to hand in “our arms and equipment” – that is, passes to enter Marsham Street, all files and confidential papers. Shortly afterward a man called with black sacks to take away our “State Secrets.”

Len Clark

April 1994/rev.January 2011.

NB. The Landscape Advisory Coommittee was the outcome of the work of an earlier voluntary group called The Roads Beautifying Association.

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