Friday, January 31, 2020

Happy Brexit Day

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last (Figure 124.1)!

Figure 124.1: So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good riddance (to the EU).

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Copyright © 2020 Paul Spradbery

Worlds Apart

Perth, Australia

Western Australia is, for the most part, full of bugger all. Its low-lying landscapes stretch to a dry, dusty infinity, and its overall population density is less than a 1/300 of that of the UK. However, its state capital, despite being the most isolated city on Earth, is one of the worlds most livable.

Southeast of the snakelike Swan River, which bisects the city, is the peninsular suburb of Burswood. Across the Matagarup Bridge (Figure 123.1) is the jewel in Perth’s crown. Here, two years ago, the Western Australian Cricket Association opened its new home: the Optus Stadium. With a capacity of 60,000, it hosts the Perth Scorchers T20 cricket team (Figure 123.2) as well as the citys two Australian rules football clubs. The stadium has its own, purpose-built bus and railway stations, but most spectators arrive on foot via the Matagarup (Figure 123.3). The whole environment is immaculate.

Figure 123.1: A panorama of the Matagarup, a pedestrian suspension bridge which opened in July 2018.

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Figure 123.2: Fanfare for the cricket man

Copyright © 2020 Paul Spradbery

Figure 123.3: The Matagarup, taken from the Optus Stadium

Copyright © 2020 Paul Spradbery

On the other side of the world, the dreaded coronavirus (2019-nCoV) has reached the UK from China. To date, two cases are confirmed. Hundreds of British evacuees from the heavily-affected Chinese city of Wuhan, having been flown in to Brize Norton (a Royal Air Force base in Oxfordshire), were, today, transported 187 miles (300 km) to Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral peninsula. I know the place well, having been confined there three times; and some of its staff are good friends of mine. Why such a distance? Why Arrowe Park? The reason is not, as has been claimed, because of secure units, specialist staff or spare capacity. It is because, in the event of a deadly outbreak, a peninsula would be relatively easy to isolate. In other words, the Wirral peninsula has just been designated as a potential quarantine zone. The Burswood peninsula in Western Australia is, to my current knowledge, a safer place to be.

There is another momentous event about to take place in the UK. An hour from now  2300 hrs UK, 0700 hrs Western Australia  the UK will finally set about breaking free from the clutches of the European Union. I have wished for this day for more than thirty years. In that time, I have witnessed British prime ministers behaving like wimps or traitors, gladly genuflecting before a cabal of unaccountable foreign bureaucrats. More disgusting still, I have watched fellow Brits (remainers) applaud every concession given to this hostile, debilitating entity. The main problem with remainers is this: they view the EU, erroneously, as a family of nations. It is no such thing. It is a regime, a supranational authority, or even an wildly overgrown quango. Its arrogance has laid entire nations to waste, Greece being the prime example. Its economic system is a protectionist racket. Its democratic deficit is all too plain to see. Its real aim is, and always has been, to subjugate, by stealth, proud nations into an amorphous superstate (Figure 123.4).

Figure 123.4: The bastard almost got away with it.

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Brexit is a very British revolution. When the EU inevitably implodes, the disparate peoples of Europe will remember who struck the first, and ultimately fatal, blow.

Champagne for breakfast.

Copyright © 2020 Paul Spradbery

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Salter’s Brook

An extensive, efficient road network should be a relatively easy proposition for a small island. Great Britain, covering less than 100,000 square miles (209,000 square km), has this geographical advantage. Motorways, consisting generally of three lanes in either direction, criss-cross the country, linking major cities and their respective conurbations.

It seems bizarre, then, that two of its largest cities are joined together by nothing more than a couple of country lanes. Manchester and Sheffield, with a combined population of more than one million people, are just 35 miles apart; and yet, a connecting motorway has remained stuck to the drawing board for half a century. The underlying reason for this (literal and metaphorical) roadblock is an imposing natural obstacle called the Pennines, Englands mountainous backbone which separates the two cities.

One of the lanes, the A628, has existed, in various forms, since the 1730s. Initially, it served as a packhorse trail for the eastward transport of salt, mined in Cheshire, across the county border to towns in Yorkshire. Back then, journeys would have been unimaginably arduous, given the routes rough terrain, high altitude and exposure to wild weather.

In 1844, the route was upgraded to a turnpike. The roads surface was improved and several diversions were incorporated, to make crossing easier and thus faster, before the route was transferred to government control before the end of the 19th century. Since then, little else has changed. During winter months, inclement weather leads to road closure. When passable, excessive traffic density often results in a convoy moving at the speed of an 18th-century packhorse. Such is progress.

Heavy-duty lorries use the road constantly, as there is no quicker alternative. If a car-driver finds himself trailing behind one of them, he has a choice of either overtaking, and thereby risking his life, or tucking in behind and crawling the whole way in second gear. The A628 has long been one of the most hazardous roads in Britain. Traffic accidents are common. As a small child in the late 1960s, I lived on one side of the Pennines and my grandparents on the other; and, whenever my grandmother visited, my father would drive behind her to be sure that she had made the return crossing safely.

The Cheshire-Yorkshire county border was demarcated by the snaking route of a small stream, named Salters Brook after the salt trade. The A628 road crosses it via an impressive single-arch stone bridge, built in the 19th century (Figures 122.1 & 122.2). I would guess that most motorists cross the bridge while scarcely noticing it. The nearest village is several miles away, so I suspect that many consider this minor wilderness bleak, forbidding and a mere necessity of travel, rather than a place in itself and a fascinating tableau of raw nature decorated by semi-obscured historical gems.

Figure 122.1: Beneath a leaden sky, the eastbound A628 veers to the right to cross Salters Brook Bridge. This used to be the county border between Cheshire and the West Riding of Yorkshire. As a result of the redrawing of county boundaries  geographic vandalism, in my view  the border now separates Derbyshire from South Yorkshire.

Copyright © 2020 Paul Spradbery

Figure 122.2: Look closely at the semi-circular stone arch. The angles and dimensions of every unit  keystone, voussoir and springer would have impressed Euclid and Archimedes. Ancient mathematicians knew that this design could withstand enormous compressive stresses. Vehicles crossing this bridge include 40-tonne lorries. The structure remains intact.

Copyright © 2020 Paul Spradbery

Looking south (and downward) from the bridge, there is an older crossing, a hundred yards away (Figure 122.3). This dates back to the 1730s and is a typically narrow packhorse bridge, carpeted by a rough, grassy footpath (Figure 122.4). Flowing beneath, the clear streamwater sparkles, even in the subdued winter sunlight.

Figure 122.3: Salters Brook meanders down to the original packhorse bridge. On the left bank are the ruins of an old sheep fold.

Copyright © 2020 Paul Spradbery

Figure 122.4: Note the constricted access to the packhorse bridge. This design was, I presume, to stop freeloaders attempting to bypass the tariff station.

Copyright © 2020 Paul Spradbery

Turning around: on the north side are the darkened ruins of an old inn (Figures 122.5 & 122.6), which would have provided refreshments for jaggers (packhorse owners), shepherds and any intrepid travellers. As the old county border, Salters Brook would have been a busy and thriving rural community, starkly different from todays scene of incessant motor traffic passing by without so much as a curious glance.

Figure 122.5: This image is an enlarged portion of Figure 122.1.

Copyright © 2020 Paul Spradbery

Figure 122.6: This photograph would have been taken circa 1900. The building beyond the bridge is the Millers Arms, an inn which stood from 1828 to 1920.

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I believe that there will, in my lifetime, be a motorway constructed between Manchester and Sheffield. The winding, undulating A628 will then revert to relative tranquillity, free from traffic noise and pollution. At the same time, however, Salters Brook and its bridges and ruins will be reduced to mere objects in a largely unseen landscape.

The British countryside is renowned for its geographic landmarks. It is, however, grand monuments such as Stonehenge and the Eden Project which steal most of the limelight. Interest should extend to the small, uncelebrated features, which do not present themselves so conspicuously to the public gaze.

Salters Brook is, to quote Rumi (1207-73), a treasure amid ruins.

Copyright © 2020 Paul Spradbery