Devizes in Danger

Art, Cartoons, Soapbox

Digger Rage

I produced this drawing in a ‘white heat’ rage when I found out that farm fields around Devizes were now targeted for hundreds and hundreds of new houses. The total figure as it stands at present is 800 new houses.

Devizes is a small market town that simply does not have the infrastructure to cope with this. Since the 1980s lots of developers have targeted Devizes: Lovell, Wimpey, Persimmon, David Wilson, Crest… you name it. None of them have built anything that provides a benefit to the town, unless you include the eastern link road that provided a useful arc of land to fill with houses.

Devizes needs better transport links before it takes more houses. It lost its own railway station (and line) in the 1960s when the Tory Minister for Transport, Ernest Marples, owner of the construction company Marples-Ridgway – which was busily building motorways – appointed Dr Richard Beeching as Chairman of the British Railways Board. Beeching obligingly decimated the railway network which forced transport companies to use roads, and rail passengers onto buses and into their cars.

Fast forward to today. Devizes is only three miles from the Paddington to Taunton line, yet has no station.

The only decent bus service is the 49 Trowbridge to Swindon, which runs until 7.00pm. There is a limited service to Salisbury, a very circuitous and slow service to Chippenham and the bus service to Bath, which used to be good until last year, is now operated by a second-rate bus company using second-rate buses. Use this service at your risk: the drivers regularly exceed the speed limit, the buses are so noisy that ear defenders should be worn and the lack of suspension will jar your back.

Want to go anywhere for the day? You’ll need a car. Note: the whole issue of sustainability will need an entire new blog entry.

How has this threat to green field sites happened? It’s the ‘Con’ part of the Con-Dem Government’s “Thank You” to their rich funders, the construction industry. A “Thank You” that opens the flood gates to unchecked development, sweeps away all planning safeguards and tramples over the rights of everyone else. Rural Tory landowners are rubbing their hands together with undisguised glee. If you’re one of them, stuff the credit crunch and the recession, “You’ve never had it so good.”

It is being dressed up as the way to kick-start the economy and help all the young people get “affordable housing” (young people whose lives are already buggered because they’ve got student loans to pay off).

Build lots more houses? I think not. Please sign the 38 Degrees petition to Save Our Countryside.


Art, Illustration, Soapbox


At various times in my life I have been vegetarian, sometimes reluctantly through pressure from family members, other times willingly. More recently, I’ve been eating meat occasionally – bacon, pork sausages, chicken and, less often, beef – and always with the magic words organic or free range to lessen any guilt trip.

I’m a guilt-ridden semi-reluctant meat eater. I feel it’s wrong, but I like it.

This week I’m reading A C Grayling’s book Ideas that Matter. It’s his ‘personal dictionary’ of ideas worth knowing about in the 21st century. Each short essay is informative and illuminating.

Grayling is vegetarian and his piece on vegetarianism made me laugh out loud and then re-examine my own attitude to eating meat.

He says there are three arguments why you shouldn’t eat meat. Economic (the weakest argument), health and (strongest argument) morally.

Here’s what he says on health:

…more compelling, is the health argument, which turns on the consideration that meat contains saturated fats and lots of bacteria, and if it non-organically produced then it contains antibiotics, vaccines and growth hormones, which with the fats and (despite the antibiotics) the bacteria find their way into the human mouth as it fulfils its function as a graveyard for the corpses of slaughtered beasts.

…What butchers call ‘fresh meat’ is nothing of the sort, but is in fact carrion, because meat is only soft enough to cut, cook and eat when it has begun to decay. That we eat rotten meat is a fact amazingly disguised in the case of game, hung for extra lengths of time to get even more rotten than other meats. Rotting is effected by millions of bacteria swarming in the meat, their task is to pre-digest it for us by eating it first; the gamey smell of hung venison comes from the excrement of the microbes smeared all over it- everything that eats must excrete, and the meat is both dining room and toilet for the microbes.

…Perhaps you like filling your mouth with rotting flesh full of injected hormones and vaccines, pullulating with microbes and covered in microbe diarrhoea. All these things, plus a carcinogenic finish of heat-damage caused by the cooking process, add up to a tasty morsel, after all, and who can deny it?

Thank you. I think in future I’ll ignore the tempting organically, lovingly, free-range, happy animals descriptions and try again to be a contented vegetarian.

A week of catastrophes

Cartoons, History, Soapbox

The massive earthquake off the north east coast of Japan and the ensuing apocalyptic tsunami was a double catastrophe of lost lives, lost homes and lost infrastructure.

Five days on and the relief work is hampered by the ongoing nuclear crisis at Fukushima with the threat of a radiation catastrophe.

Failsafe. There’s a word to contemplate. Are the assurances given so far about the reactors’ containment and ultimate safety hollow? When things go wrong in this industry, secrecy, half-truths, wildly optimistic pronouncements are wrapped around the feeble and often mistaken choices made to put things right.

I firmly believe that my father’s death in January 1961 from cancer (he was 40 years old) was caused by Britain’s worst nuclear event, the Windscale (Sellafield) fire and leak, three years earlier.

Needless to say, I am deeply suspicious of the nuclear industry. Nuclear Power? No thanks.

This cartoon by Low had a profound effect on me as a young nascent cartoonist. It seems appropriate this week, over 60 years on.

Baby Play With Nice Ball? Cartoon by David Low | Evening Standard, August 1945.

Looking to Quakers Walk, towards Devizes

Photography, Soapbox

Looking to Quakers Walk, towards Devizes

Looking to Quakers Walk, towards Devizes

A view of the historic bridleway known as Quakers Walk in Devizes.
This view will be lost for ever when the green field the other side of the track is filled with housing. The roads are already being built. The sales offices for Wimpy and Persimmon Homes are in place, flags fluttering in the chill breeze. I spoke to a lady who was walking her dog and she told me that the walk will be closed for six months while it is dug up to allow for the laying of major new drains.

It’s sad when owners* of agricultural land sell out to the developers. (*The Merchant Venturers, based in Bristol. Try Googling it.)

For me, it’s even sadder that all the new homes will be cramped little boxes with pocket handkerchief gardens (if lucky) and all looking like pattern book variants of various Victorian village buildings. But with smaller windows. Mean and cheap.

Why can’t these companies build 21st century homes that include the new technologies for renewable energy? Can’t they build zero carbon housing? (c.f. BedZed) Where’s Kevin McCloud when you need him?

Quakers Walk, Devizes

Quakers Walk, Devizes
Originally published on

Real materials versus computer software

Art, Fine Art, Soapbox

Salisbury Plain (from memory)

Salisbury Plain (from memory), ink and watercolour

August Bank Holiday I spent some time playing with ink and watercolours in my sketchbook. Doodles really. Playing with the medium. Simply enjoying myself. But the first time for absolutely ages.

I had to take advantage of a clear desk space in my wife’s studio – well away from my tiny home office which is dominated by the computer.

Some of the resultant pieces I’ve scanned from the sketchbook and a couple are uploaded to Flickr.

Looking at the Flickr set of my artworks I was struck by two pieces that I created with a computer art application (ArtRage). It’s a clever piece of software, similar to Painter but cheaper.

Midnight in Badalamenti

Midnight in Badalamenti, created in ArtRage

But those ArtRage pieces have no soul. Nothing feeds back to me from them. They are empty images. If only ‘Midnight in Badalamenti’ existed as a real acrylic or oil painting! It’s just an jpeg image in a world flooded with jpegs. There isn’t a real version I can hold.

I feel the same way about a lot of the work that I’ve done since the mid 90s using Adobe Illustrator. At first I used inked line work that I scanned and converted to vector. Pressures of lower and lower fees meant short-cutting this stage by using ‘brushes’ built into the software.

Nothing comes close to real ink, paint, colour on real paper, board, canvas.

I must find more time away from the computer. Computers have provided me with employment for the past 15 years but are now stopping me doing the very thing that gives me most enjoyment and creative nourishment.

Originally published on


Worst car I ever bought


Worst car I ever bought

Back in 1976 Fiat cars were built to last…oooh… anything up to two years. Which is about how long this heap of rubbish lasted. Rain water leaks, poor starting, rusting bodywork… bad, bad, bad.

This Fiat 128 was bought new – something I tend not to do any more – and, thinking back, it was my ‘poor man’s Alfa Sud‘.

For the first six months, engineers tried to find the cause of the more-than-intermittent missing acceleration. Bravely, I planned a three-week holiday driving up the Rhine valley to the Black Forest and the Bavarian Alps. The week before the holiday I took the car in for its service. I was assured all was now well.

We set off in the early hours to travel down to Felixstowe – over the Pennines then down the A1. A policeman flagged us down with his torch in the middle of the A6 in Whaley Bridge. Where were we going to at this hour in the morning? “The ferry at Felixtowe.” He was impressed by my adventurousness and wished us well for our holiday.

Driving down the A1, the acceleration once again began to falter. I lost my rag and just floored it. I didn’t care. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Whoosh! Suddenly the car leaped forward and we flew along. It was if a giant had given the car a kick up the backside. Problem solved. And it never returned.

We had a wonderful holiday. My mistake was not selling the car as soon as we got back.

It had to be parked facing downhill for morning starts. Gravity and a rolling start were vital ingredients. Eventually the seals around the back window went and let rainwater in, soaking the back seat which I regularly had to take out to dry in front of the fire. Sometimes the car smelled as though it had a dead rat hidden in it.

Two years from new, rust was eating through the doors. The lowest point was when I parked the car in central Manchester and returned to find someone had knocked the door-mounted mirror off, leaving a rusty gaping wound in the door. How did Fiat stay in business? Their cars were only suitable for clogging up the streets of Rome.

Note: The yellow VW beetle seen parked at the top of the hill in the photo belonged to neighbour Ted King. Ted was a character: a great racing pigeon man and a fine veg grower.

Originally published on

Bag o’ sh*t

Art, Cartoons, Soapbox

Hand on heart, I’ve never been a ‘doggy’ person.
Bag o' sh*t

I tolerate dogs. I tolerate then when they bark and growl at me. I tolerate them when they stinky slobber on my hand. I even tolerate them when they leap up and try and knock me over. Actually, I just remembered back to a little Yorkie I used to know called Chewy. Chewy was OK.

But poo is the problem. Poo on your shoe. Poo in areas where children play. Poo in areas like nature reserves where ecologists play – grovelling on hands and knees, looking for marsh fritillary larvae or early signs of squinancywort.

Good dog owners pick up the poo [scoop the poop] in a plastic bag and dispose of it in the appropriate manner. A hearty round of applause for all those good folk.

Bad dog owners shiftily avert their gaze to admire a passing cement truck and continue their sauntering walk as Effin’ Fido dumps a pile in the middle of the pavement/footpath/canal towpath.

But there’s an in-between breed [crossbreed?] of dog owners whose behaviour is, quite frankly, incomprehensible. After dutifully bagging up their pet’s excrement they throw the bag down into the grass, under some bushes, or even tie the bag onto a branch of a bush.

What do they think will happen to the bagged-up shite? Do they walk past the bag each day and admire it? The polythene is very effective at preserving its contents and preventing it from breaking down naturally. No chance of dung-loving insects processing it in there.

I am totally flummoxed by these people. I wait in hope of enlightenment from someone who has insight into their mindset.