A peaceable conversation

Thursday September 1, 2005

A major leap forward in the quality of my TV viewing was marked today when the Artsworld satellite channel dropped its special subscription status and joined the community of stations available under the standard Sky package. I’ve considered subscription several times in the past but decided against on budgetary grounds.

I celebrated by sitting down to watch a documentary—The Art of Henry Moore—and was completely bowled over once again by the art of one of the greatest abstract sculptors of the 20th century. And his drawings. And the man himself, in an interview recorded in his late 80s, one I’ve not seen before, in which he drew the kimono aside on his creative thinking. There was a lot of material there, and I hope they’ll repeat the programme so’s I can listen even more carefully.

At one point he discussed something that touched a real chord with me—his need, even in advanced age, to go out for a drive every day in the countryside to see the landscape and the skies. He regarded that as an essential part of his creative process. I suspect that, if asked, he’d have said it was just as vital for those of us who, while less creatively talented, love the countryside.

There’s a snag that applies especially to the elderly. You have to be able to drive, to own a motor car, and to be able to afford to run it.

Even if all those things are true, it’s likely that you may need a little additional help in the form of access facilities. A planned trip can take in the tourist car parking and picnic areas which, while still regrettably rare, are to be found at strategic points throughout the country. There you can use the toilet facilities and, often enough, sit at a picnic table to enjoy the packed lunch which, if you’re prudent, you’ve brought with you.

It’s the long stretches in between that bother me when I’m out. The wonderful winding lanes, thousands upon thousands of miles of them, are a delight but typically lack one essential for the roaming motorist—somewhere to pull safely off the road and stop for a while, perhaps for comfort, perhaps for joy.

A long time back I adopted a policy of what I term “aggressive parking” to cope with this, where I’ll pull across the entrance to a field, display my disabled driver’s badge, turn off the engine and enjoy a half hour contemplating the view and relishing the quiet. I keep a folding chair in the car boot so’s I can get out and relax properly a little way from the car. Not far. Can’t walk all that far.

Obviously I don’t park across access tracks that are clearly in frequent use but even so, it’s very rare that some irate farmer doesn’t skid up in his landrover and accuse me of obstruction and attempt to move me on.

The “aggressive parking” comes when I wave my disabled driver’s badge gaily, and say something along the lines of “Just taking a little break, old chap. I’ll move if necessary.”

I’ve always put it down to the miserable bloody-mindedness typical of farmers and, to some extent, I’m probably correct to do so. There’s absolutely no harm done to anyone by an old bloke parking for a while, especially if he stays close to his vehicle so’s it can be moved in case of need.

Today, by virtue of coincidence, I learned another slant on the phenomenon of the irate farmer.

I was chatting with my neighbour, a long-since retired farm manager, and we touched on the subject, with some delicacy on my part, and he came out with a real eye-opener.

“Oh, that’s all down to the police,” he said.

“How’s that, then?”

“Well, long time since, the police have been asking farmers to keep an eye open for anyone loitering, to ask them what they’re up to, and to move them on if possible. And to let the police know when they come across any suspicious characters.”

“What kind of suspicious?”

“Oh, travellers looking for a site. Greyhound owners looking for a good place to go hare-coursing. That sort of thing.”

“Well I’m blowed. That explains a lot.”

“There’s always another side to a story,” he said, with only a modicum of self-satisfaction, and that well-earned.

So there’s another mystery solved, something that’s bothered me for ages. I shall be a lot more understanding, and forgiving, in future. It’ll not modify my parking habits but I’ll be a lot less inclined to condemn and far more likely to engage the farmer in a peaceable conversation when the situation arises.

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