Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Tuesday 11 February 2014

Quote of the week - Levelling criticism

"I will apologise for probably not having done enough to twist arms..."
Lord Smith's apology of an apology after coming under fire over the Somerset floods.

The rising waters have caused much comment in the Tavern, not least because one of the clan grew up a stone's throw from Muchelney and saw at first hand the floods of 1947. The results of the collective musings are, in no particular order:
  • If the Rivers Tone and Parret had been more accurately - albeit less picturesquely - named 'Drains', perhaps desk-bound bigwigs at EA HQ might have questioned the use of management techniques better suited to natural rivers. 
  • During the 1947 floods, the locals managed to get around thanks to a centuries-old network of narrow causeways designed to stand above flood waters. With increased car use, these footpaths lost their importance and many have since deteriorated or disappeared.
  • For the past century (apart from a brief respite during WWII), heavy farm machinery has been steadily compacting the soil in areas previously trodden only by beasts of burden or used for pasture - meanwhile, the same machinery has made it possible to cultivate previously fallow headlands and remove stands of withies, altering the drainage patterns.
  • Although the inhabitants of the Levels have somehow managed to escape the nicknames and jokes attached to fen-dwellers in East Anglia, the area was, by the 1940s, so accustomed to inundation that Darwinian selection had turned the local cats into accomplished and habitual swimmers. 
  • In the previous floods, a new development in one of the affected villages was hailed as a success - and a design to be emulated -  because none of the new houses flooded. The fact that the water draining away from the development was washing round cottages downstream which had never before been affected (including that of a family friend, who had lived there flood-free since the 1930s) was, of course, someone else's problem.
Finally, a quick bit of research suggests that the higher echelons of the Environment Agency are stuffed with graduates of 'top' universities and Lord Smith himself boasts highly impressive academic credentials (albeit in the field of English Literature). Is it possible, I wonder, that this situation has fostered something of a sense of superiority over the horny-handed sons of toil and their petty concerns? 

I suspect the Somerset farmer whose urgent request for channel dredging was rejected last year would certainly think so.


  1. But you see the top people have qualifications in management, they don't need to know about what they are managing and how. All they need to do is hold meetings and agree a new direction which will attract funding.

  2. Very true, Demetrius; presumably it all comes from government, where today's agriculture minister can be tomorrow's Health or Education Secretary.

    The quango merry-go-round, from Food Standards to Civil Aviation via Animal Welfare and the General Teaching Council all without any direct expertise, has encouraged this to the extent that a whole class of senior managers has emerged completely unaware of their own shortcomings.

  3. "...the area was, by the 1940s, so accustomed to inundation that Darwinian selection had turned the local feral cats into accomplished and habitual swimmers. "

    One hopes that they don't follow the example of Sunderbans tigers and turn to man eating...

  4. An interesting thought, Julia, particularly if they start interbreeding with those 'big cats' people keep seeing:


    Incidentally, you knwo your cats and dogs; what do you make of this?


  5. Julia, I agree - definitely canine from nose to tail.

    In any case, since a large black dog is missing in the area, it's surely a clear case for applying Occam's Razor.


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