HS2 – the end of the line? Politics – who cares?

HS2 Crosses Here

HS2 Crosses Here (Photo credit: R~P~M)

I am going to do something a little bit different today with my blog piece.  Don’t worry, I am not going to stop ranting.  I said a little bit different, not completely out of character. Today I want to drag myself away from the usual preoccupations of a 40 something year old mother of three and write about something which makes me both very cross and also seriously concerned about the future of politics in this country.

What’s got me so worked up?  Yesterday, I did a little bit of work on a briefing for the campaign against HS2 (the High Speed 2 rail link for those who don’t live in the UK and for those who do but don’t think it will affect them in the slightest (more on this later)).  Firstly I have to declare an interest – I live very close to the proposed line in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  I can almost hear you all switch off – “oh she’s a NIMBY”. Yes, I am a NIMBY but then isn’t everyone?  If a motorway or a railway line was going to be built through your back garden, you wouldn’t welcome it with open arms, would you? NIMBY is a totally meaningless expression, used as a cheap stock insult thrown at protesters to try and undermine their protests and dismiss the validity of their viewpoint.

So, yes, I am a NIMBY but wake-up everyone else who doesn’t live anywhere near the proposed line, this project will affect you, will cost you and will not benefit you.  This Government is using the word NIMBY to alienate us from you, to pull the wool over your eyes, to convince you that this is a project of huge economic, environmental and business potential.

I am not going to bore you with a mountain of statistics and figures – that would be extremely tedious and I don’t even need to because the arguments in favour of HS2 are so fragile and tenuous that you don’t have to dig very deep to expose its nonsensical foundation. Suffice to say that HS2 will undoubtedly cost way more than is predicted as these projects have a habit of doing and the purported benefits are highly disputable.  The latest strategic case is built on frankly questionable assumptions and flawed projections, many of which the Government has failed to provide evidence to support, and as I suspect happens with so many of these projects, once you look behind the headline figures, the calculations are a moveable feast, open to some quite blatant manipulation to suit purpose.

Forget the numbers.  HS2 does not stack up on any level.  All I keep hearing is how we need this super-duper railway system to rival those in other countries like China, France and Germany.  Hello, why do we? One glance at the map answers that question.  We are not a large country, people do not have to travel huge distances between cities – London to Birmingham cannot be compared to Shanghai to Beijing – that’s patently ridiculous.

Apparently we desperately need more capacity as all our trains are overcrowded and business travel numbers will dramatically increase in the future. I don’t agree. With the exception of some extremely busy commuter routes, most of our trains run half empty and surely a dramatic increase in business travel is unlikely as technology progresses further and the need to meet face-to-face diminishes? Even if it does increase, why does anyone need to get to Birmingham and beyond any quicker? The Government seems to be assuming that all business travellers sit on the train, twiddling their thumbs and playing “Angry Birds” on their phones. Most business travellers work on the train – in fact, many relish the opportunity to get things done which they don’t have time for at other times of the day.  Where’s the economic benefit to shorter journey times? Why not just upgrade current railway lines – way cheaper, just as effective?

So no real economic benefit. What about environmental benefit?  The argument about HS2 providing “green” benefits has been largely abandoned – it just does not.  Instead it will destroy some of our most beautiful ancient woodlands and habitats, something which we have a responsibility to preserve for future generations. Take where I live, for example, in the Chilterns AONB – how ironic that I can’t do anything to my house without jumping through thousands of hoops with planning etc but the Government can authorise a train line which will scythe through the countryside, destroying mile upon mile of both land and housing.

I know what you’re thinking – may be she has got a point but frankly it is not really going to affect me.  Wrong. If you are a tax payer, you will be paying for this. Is this where you want to see your money spent (wasted?). Think about your own local area for a minute – is there perhaps a hospital that is being forced to close, a school that requires some serious investment or public services which require upgrading? Wouldn’t you rather see money spent on these things that actually do affect you, rather than a wasteful, unnecessary rail link which appears to be nothing more than a vanity project, a useless legacy which this Government seems determined to leave for future generations?

Looking more closely at HS2 has left me ever more concerned about politics in this country. It is no wonder that increasing numbers of us believe absolutely nothing which comes out of politicians’ mouthes. HS2 is so clearly, in my mind, one of the most outrageously wasteful projects of recent times and the fact that the Government is still trying to “persuade” us that it is for our benefit only goes to make me mistrust their motivations on all other issues both at home and abroad. The result – well me – I’m  mistrustful, skeptical, cross at the actions of politicians, verging on “giving up” on politics. What about for our children?  What sort of faith can they possibly have in our political system if it is so patently not acting in their best interests, if there is always another agenda? In my mind this can only lead to a generation of young people who are totally apathetic about and disinterested in politics.  This is a serious state of affairs and one which politicians need to address urgently.  Trust has to be rebuilt, respect for the people that politicians serve needs to be regained.  HS2 is a small issue on the world stage, of course I appreciate that, but a generation of young people who are simply not interested in politics is not.

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English: Beko Washing Machine. Türkçe: Beko Ça...

English: Beko Washing Machine. Türkçe: Beko Çamaşır Makinesi. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If I was in any doubt as to what my children think of me then my daughter has put me entirely straight on the matter.  Aged 4 she has become rather obsessed with the bigger questions in life – how do we die? When do we die?  Where do we go when we die?  I have tried my best to answer her questions in a way she would understand, reassuring her without looking totally clueless.  However, it would appear that her concerns were slightly more mundane – nodding sagely as I told her about the ins and outs of Heaven, she asked “when you die, who will do the laundry?”  If ever a question could bring one crashing down to earth from the contemplation of the esoteric delights of Heaven, then this is it.  My daughter sees me as a washing machine.  Her concerns about me dying are not about losing a loved one but rather focused on who will ensure she has a clean school uniform for Monday.

I would like to say that my sons who are older (and therefore supposedly wiser) can appreciate the finer points of who I am.  This is not the case.  My elder son seems to think that I do nothing all day and his regular accusation is “Mum, you don’t do anything for us”.  I can honestly say that there is hardly anything that I can imagine that my son could say that annoys me more than that particular accusation.  It is guaranteed to send me into a rant about the usual “you don’t know how lucky you are” stuff and an endless list of examples of my activity on his behalf. Rant over, I always ask myself why on earth I felt it necessary to justify my existence to a 9 year old…but I can’t stop myself. My extreme reaction to his statement always bemuses him and my humiliation is complete when he says “it’s ok, mum, no need to get all stressed, I didn’t mean it”.

My middle son is trying to get his head around the fact that I did have a career before I accepted this long-term, badly paid, hideously long hours position of mother.  He asked what I did before I had children and when I told him that I had worked in an office like his father does now, he looked incredulous.  He asked me what my job is now, “Cleaner, taxi driver, cook, children’s social diary co-ordinator” I replied. Incredulous look again. “But when do you do all those jobs?  Do you do them when we are in bed?” he asked. Clearly my description of my current job status did not ring any bells with him at all and I am slightly concerned that he now thinks that when he is tucked up in bed, I am busy driving around the county with a 2 way radio, taxi-ing random people from here to there before returning to cook 40 covers in a restaurant and finishing off with a few hours cleaning. Perception that I was working those sort of hours would at least explain why my daughter recently asked me if I had been 100 years old yet.

Does it bother me that my children perceive me like this?  No, not really, after all this is what I do at the moment, at this stage in our lives. Yes, it would be nice if just once a week, one child picked up a wet towel abandoned on the floor after a bath, folded it and put it back on the towel rail in the bathroom – but I know this is just a pipe dream. Yes, it would be nice if just once a month, one child attempted the highly difficult and dangerous task of placing a plate in the dishwasher – but I know this is beyond all expectations.

What does bother me a little bit more is my own perception of myself as only the sum of these things.  2014 needs to be the year when I put this to rest and strike off “professional procrastinator” from my CV.  Of course I shall continue to be a fairly average cleaner, taxi driver etc for my children, but also this year is my year to start something for myself.  This blog was the start of it for me – this writing lark, and now I’ve got to get out there and do something with it….if only to see the incredulous look on my children’s faces if I do something that surprises them, something that falls outside of my usual job remit!

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Spoilt for choice


Gola (Photo credit: masochismtango)

Choice, choice and more choice.  Options, options and more options. Life is so complicated nowadays it is a wonder that we are not all completely paralysed with fear of making the wrong choices in even the most simplest areas of our life – what to have for breakfast, what TV channel to watch or what fruit to eat as a snack.  Back in the seventies life was (relatively) simple: take the three things I have just mentioned – breakfast was cereal and/or toast (or croissant on high days and holidays); there were only three TV channels (until the major excitement of Channel 4) and there were only three fruits – apple, orange, banana (and occasionally the very exotic pear) – end of.  Nowadays we have to choose between a million types of potential breakfast items (my daughter almost persuaded me this morning that a sugar-covered donut would be OK on the grounds that it is bread-like and had jam inside); there are so many TV channels that flicking through them all takes the same time as watching the omnibus edition of EastEnders and as for fruit…my children think it is perfectly normal to have mango, kiwi, pomegranate, pineapple and pawpaw and the only person who still eats good old apples and bananas in my household is me.

Although people my age may find the choice available nowadays quite bamboozling, it is perfectly ordinary for our children.  If I were to present my children, for example, with the choice between an apple and a banana, they would almost certainly say “is that it?” They expect choice, they demand choice.  This was very starkly demonstrated to me a while ago when I took a large group of boys aged 7 to a restaurant.  All the boys chose their drinks – variations of coca cola, orange juice and apple juice – until one boy who seemed to have difficulty deciding on what to drink.  I read him the options from the extensive menu and without hesitation he said “No, I don’t want any of those, I think I’ll have an elderflower pressé” – jaw-dropping – without batting an eyelid he rejected a fairly comprehensive list of drinks for a completely different drink which by anyone’s standards sounds slightly strange coming from a 7 year old’s mouth.  Needless to say this child will never be coming for a play date in my house in case he discovers that we only have the clearly inferior “Ribena” on offer.

Take shoes as another example.  When I was young, footwear was very simple  – girls wore flat Mothercare sandals (and I mean flat, totally pancake flat) in the summer, t-bar shoes in the winter (a very lucky few, whom I envied greatly, were allowed patent) and Dunlop Green Flash for sport.  This morning I have been trying to buy my son some trainers – it has so far taken me the best part of an hour online without resolution as I have waded through hundreds upon hundreds of trainers – astro, cross-trainer, running blah, blah, blah. There doesn’t seem to be any such thing as a plain simple trainer – in fact you can get any sort of trainer as long as it is not plain and simple.  Of course, neon, flashing, air-pocketed, ankle-supporting, breathable trainers also come at a high price – criminally high price.

Choice has permeated through every single fibre of our lives. Man’s best friend – the dog.  In my childhood, dogs basically came in sizes and colours and if you wanted to get technical they did officially have a breed name. My first dog was quite big and black and white and my second dog was small and brown.  Not today, oh no, no, no. It would be very very amateur to describe dogs by mere colour and size.  Today we have so many new breeds that one could be forgiven for thinking that someone somewhere is having a real  laugh at our expense, creating such preposterous breed names as cockapoo, spanador, labradoodle, shepadoodle and spoodle…..

Ok so I know you are thinking “here she goes again on one of her rants”…but I do actually, unusually for me, have a serious point to make. Not only do I think that all is this choice is frankly bad for our children and contributes greatly to the highly pressurised society in which we live where simplicity doesn’t appear to be an option, but if you stand back for a moment and consider what we have and what so many other people do not have, this level of choice seems at best ridiculous if not totally grotesque.  How wrong is it that we are wasting our lives worrying about whether to have rye bread, pitta bread, multigrain bread, half and half bread when half the world’s population has nothing to eat at all? How wrong is it that a 7 year old is asking for an elderflower pressé when half the world’s population does not have clean drinking water? I don’t know about you, but it makes me feel deeply uneasy and really very uncomfortable.  Our children are not just spoilt for choice, they are spoilt – full stop.  It’s easy to say but I don’t think it is easy to rectify –  some may think that all this choice signifies progress but I am not sure, if anything it is widening the gap between those who have and those who have not and I find this very worrying for future generations.  What do you think?

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