While the world is beset with argument, whether violently in eastern Europe, intemperately in the Tory Party, or globally over energy and the climate, here in the remotest corner of the Midlands it feels right to say what a lovely summer a small place can have.
A rural community
South Shropshire has an area two-thirds the size of Greater London with a population less than a half of 1% of that conurbation. We have close neighbours who live in another country, Wales. Their language can be frequently heard in our streets and shops – those that remain. But we are not isolated. We are more frequently hearing another language, Ukrainian, from those refugees living in our towns, who are making friends, finding jobs and contributing to our community.
It is a rural community. Our towns are small: several of them would be called villages in other parts of the country. Our largest town, Ludlow, is a national treasure with more listed buildings than many cities, a castle which is a proper castle, and a reputation for fine food which manages to survive the challenges of recent years. Nevertheless we still have a need for food banks and demand for their services is growing here as it is in so many places.
Summer here means tourists. They are very welcome, bringing business into the towns and making good use of our National Trust and English Heritage assets. They also walk down the middle of the street as if cars did not exist, stroll across road junctions so you cannot see if traffic is coming, step off the pavements at random, and in one case I saw a couple standing in the middle of a mini-roundabout seemingly admiring the frontage of a pub. It introduces a certain lottery quality into driving about town.
Our MP – good for his constituency?
Philip Dunne has been our MP since 2005 and to his credit has been a good constituency member. He has served as a minister. He has always had environmental and conservation interests and now chairs a Parliamentary committee. He was the sponsor of a recent bill on sewage discharge into rivers, which fell by the wayside during 2021 but was partly brought back to life by the Government’s bill on the environment, the same one which permits sewage discharge into the sea. To his credit he did not vote in favour of that decision.
We are, like so many, also preparing for the inevitable on-surge of poor policy decisions made on the basis of dogma and philosophy, rather than evidence and experience, which a new non-elected government will invent. Many of them will be against our beliefs and principles but will nevertheless probably be voted for in Parliament by our lone MP.
What do we fear?
What do we fear most about the coming months? I think it is the effects of the collapse of the health service. Let’s not pretend… here, it has collapsed. We are more than fifteen minutes away from the nearest ambulance at the best of times. Our local hospital is in ‘special measures’ and successfully getting a GP appointment is a ‘dark art’, although the non-medical clinical staff are more accessible.
Helping the NHS is another of the great success stories our (soon to be) last prime minister boasts about. It ranks along with the success of “getting Brexit done” as half-baked an idea as there ever was. The indecision about energy matters also seems to have been standard behaviour during the last ten years of government. When you add in little issues like selling off Channel 4, which is either an open act of malice or of revenge, you can see why we have concerns for the ongoing collapse of public services.
As compensation, I still have my garden. I am sure it is greener than many in England. We have had a good share of rain and our wild meadow front lawn attracts attention and praise. That success and finding a way to destroy the blackspot on our paving will number among the year’s achievements. Perhaps managing to miss a few visiting pedestrians as they hesitate distractedly in the middle of the road is another.
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