Monthly Archives: February 2012

‘Twas a wonderful craft, she was rigged fore and aft

First up, it’s clear that Malcolm has had issues with Slugger O’Toole (or, to be more precise with Pete Baker thereof). But, then, if you invite people to be offended, what d’ye expect? Take that as your starting point, and all that follows here is sour grapes.

Second, Malcolm has a personal interest here. There is at least a strong possibility he may be rusticated from Norf Lunnen to the County Armagh for extended periods over the next while.

Third, the antecedent, eponymous Slugger O’Toole has been part of Malcolm’s experience since a pasty-faced freshman at TCD, on his walk back to a cold-water flat in Ballsbridge, encountered the Ronnie Drew Ballad Group at O’Donoghue’s on Merrion Row.

Now consider this:

0 – 0 – 1 – 0 – 0 – 8 -37 – 0 – 2 – 4 – 0 – 18 – 17 – 3 – 9 -2 – 7 – 16 – 16 – 1 – 0 – 5 – 0 – 9

Those are the number of comments each the last two dozen posts have received (and that’s back to Monday morning — admittedly those numbers were collected before Malcolm was summoned to fodder). What’s more eighteen of those posts have been made by Mick Fealty, the onlie true begetter, himself.

The biggie there (37 comments since Wednesday, 22 February, at 1:29pm) is on the thread Many Catholics are questioning whether they necessarily have to be nationalist… Now there’s a matter open to dispute and definition. It might even say something of what, sadly, enthuses and engages Six Counties types. Or is the main focus for Sluggerdom.

Again, anticipating the usual, let it be understood Malcolm is an aficionado of Slugger O’Toole; and has offered hundreds of posts (some good, some … inebriated)  over many years. Only a couple have run foul of the editorial process, such as it is.

Slugger has been, in so many ways, the most open, most available, least prejudiced, least partisan, least partial cyber-forum in Northern Ireland. It should, it ought, it must continue.

Apart from anything else, Mick Fealty has committed time and energy, sweat and blood to this platform. Nor is he the only one.

Clearly something has gone awry.

It could be that we are in an inter-election dip; and that temperatures and involvement will rise in due course.

It could be that the whole Northern Ireland thing is presently outside that famous “marching season”.

It could be that everyone is so content with the dispensation given us, there is little reason for discontent or dispute.

Certainly it is self-evident that the previous poison and vituperation has quietened — which is to be celebrated.

It could be that Slugger‘s Pale is too much the golf-club and garden-centre belt around Belfast (actually, these days, it stretches the length of the M1 to Dungannon). The north-west, though, still gets short shrift.

Or, it could be that Slugger‘s moment has come … and gone.

One reason might be, putting aside the excellent Brian Walker and occasional forays from one or two others, Slugger has become very, very limited in its range of topics. Even irrelevant. It once headlined itself as a place for politics and culture. Define “culture” (it seemed to be football and rugby). And compare and contrast (as they always say) politics.ie.

Malcolm very, very much hopes for a second coming, a coalition of the willing, a gathering of the All-sorts:

There was Barney McGee from the banks of the Lee,
There was Hogan from County Tyrone,
There was Johnny McGurk who was scared stiff of work,
And a chap from Westmeath named Malone.
There was Slugger O’Toole who was drunk as a fool,
And fighting Bill Tracy from Dover,
And yer man Mick McCann, from the banks of the Ban
Was the skipper on the Irish Rover.

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The female of the species …

Just a quickie, says Malcolm.

1. A clip from the BBC website:

2. Mr Kipling, around 1911, made some exceedingly fine precedents:

WHEN the Himalayan peasant meets the he-bear in his pride, 
    He shouts to scare the monster, who will often turn aside. 
    But the she-bear thus accosted rends the peasant tooth and nail. 
    For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

    When Nag the basking cobra hears the careless foot of man, 
    He will sometimes wriggle sideways and avoid it if he can. 
    But his mate makes no such motion where she camps beside the trail. 
    For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

    When the early Jesuit fathers preached to Hurons and Choctaws, 
    They prayed to be delivered from the vengeance of the squaws. 
    ‘Twas the women, not the warriors, turned those stark enthusiasts pale. 
    For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

No, Malcolm, there is never a moment to feel even the smallest qualm of sympathy for the Murdoch Empire.

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Asymmetry?

  • “Liberty” is proportional.
  • A small advance in Syria may be something we may devoutly wish.
  • One in England may be something we can deliver.

Malcolm had to note an unhappy parallax view:

Sub-title: “Images of war come back to visit me when I’m trying to sleep”

Which continues:

Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin, an American, and award-winning French photographer Remi Ochlik died when a shell hit a makeshift media centre in the Baba Amr district.

From the large to the small

Every secondary-school English teacher ought, by now, to have pulled out old teaching notes and class plans, and fired up the Labour-government-financed smart-board for this:

War photographer: Carol Ann Duffy

In his darkroom he is finally alone
with spools of suffering set out in ordered rows.
The only light is red and softly glows,
as though this were a church and he
a priest preparing to intone a mass.
Belfast. Beirut. Phnom Penh. All flesh is grass.
He has a job to do. Solutions slop in trays
beneath his hands which did not tremble then
though seem to now. Rural England. Home again
to ordinary pain which simple weather can dispel,
to fields which don’t explode beneath the feet
of running children in a nightmare heat
Something is happening. A stranger’s features
faintly start to twist before his eyes,
a half formed ghost. He remembers the cries
of this man’s wife, how he sought approval
without words to do what someone must
and how the blood stained into foreign dust.
A hundred agonies in black-and-white
from which his editor will pick out five or six
for Sunday’s supplement. The reader’s eyeballs prick
with tears between the bath and pre-lunch beers.
From the aeroplane he stares impassively at where
he earns his living and they do not care.

The great Don McCullin

Yes, Carol Ann Duffy’s subject is McCullin (conflated with the late Philip Jones Griffiths).

Where does McCullin contribute to this? —

The cost to ordinary people of decisions made by their rulers has been at the heart of McCullin’s work since he made his name with photographs on the construction of the Berlin Wall before moving on to produce legendary images from the war zones of Indochina, Latin America and the Middle East. After seeing his work, Henri Cartier-Bresson said to McCullin: “I have one word to say to you: Goya.” An admiring John le Carré, with whom McCullin visited Beirut, wrote in an introduction to McCullin’s 1980 book, Hearts of Darkness: “He has known all forms of fear, he’s an expert in it. He has come back from God knows how many brinks, all different. His experience in a Ugandan prison alone would be enough to unhinge another man – like myself, as a matter of fact – for good.”

“I’ve seen my own blood and broken a few bones,” says McCullin, “I’ve been hit, which isn’t an entirely bad thing as at least you have a glimpse of the suffering endured by the people you are photographing. And in a sense, crumbling empires and war have been with me all my life. I’m from England, and like every other great empire who stole bits of the world, there is a price to pay. And I was born in 1935. So since I’ve been conscious of the world I’ve either been in, or been on the periphery of, a war zone.”

Of course, no teacher (circa 2012) dares divert from the “teaching-and-leaning” matrix imposed, line-by-line, even minute-by-minute upon the doings of the week. Such a thing, with an open-ended, unscripted — and unpredictable — discussion among inspired and confident students, couldn’t happen in our pre-digested, ministerially-approved, top-down-modular-processed  National Curriculum. Someone present might have a real, unscheduled moment of personal discovery.

Good grief! Ofsted may stride through that classroom door at any minute, and demand to see the magical/maniacal “five-point class plan”.

There are different degrees of freedom. Homs and Homerton. Damascus and Damgate.


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Hoo, Wat(ford), Ware, Wen …

There’s been some sort of verbal meme running through Redfellow Hovel in recent days.

Blame it on Sixpenny Handley, where one of the quality papers was recommending a tasty house for sale. The address alone must add to the price. After that, it was open season.

A Malcolmian aside

— Hold on, Malcolm! Can a “meme” exist outside cyberspace?

Of course. The word predates hashtags, virals and the lot. You’ll find that a certain Richard Dawkins, in chapter ix of The Selfish Gene, apparently coined it back in those dark, pre-BBC Micro days of 1976:

The new soup is the soup of human culture. We need a name for the new replicator, a noun which conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. ‘Mimeme’ comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like ‘gene’. I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme.‥ It should be pronounced to rhyme with ‘cream’. Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches.

Days of yore (before even a 2MHz CPU)

Presumably some medieval meme infected Wiltshire and Dorset in particular, generating place-names that shouldn’t exist outside a Stella Gibbons parody (though her “Howling” is in Sussex — same difference).

Malcolm’s Norfolk origins come into question here, what with Witton and Watton, Thurning and Thurne, Tittleshall and Tuttington, Fritton and Fritton, Creake, Snoring and Peaseland Green.

Mote and beam stuff

So, as the Pert Young Piece set off for her day’s business in the court-rooms of Watford, the word-game of this posting’s title inevitably developed (“Little things and little minds”, we hear you say.)

Acidly, the thought emerged that Watford is about to lose its final link with higher culture, as Saracens remove to Barnet Copthall.

Our learned friend, the Pert Young Piece, added that London postal districts would then have the grand sum of two premier rugby clubs. London Irish are based at Sunbury [TW16] and play home games at Reading [RG2 0FL]. Harlequins (a blood-injury blasphemy at Redfellow Hovel) are at the Stoop [TW2 7SX].

Morning glory

Now Malcolm heads off into the late London morning, to buy the weekend’s rail tickets, via Ponders End, passing Ugley, Wicken Bonhunt and Wendens Ambo, catching a glimpse of Chittering from beside the Cam, on to Ely, along the flats of the Great Ouse, over Hilgay Fen to Downham Market (not far from Stow Bardolph which provided a Shakespearean character) to journey’s end at King’s Lynn (that was “Bishop’s Lenn” before the Reformation and Henry VIII snaffling it as “Lynn Regis”).

So, only one musical accompaniment here:

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A4e and the Eye

The BBC is anodyne:

Four people have been arrested on suspicion of fraud at government contractor A4e, police have confirmed.

The former staff – women aged 28 and 49 and two men, aged 35 and 41 – were held last month and bailed until mid-March.

As part of its work, A4e handles millions of pounds worth of government contracts for welfare-to-work schemes.

The government said it understood the investigation into A4e’s offices in Slough, Berkshire, did not relate to its Work Programme.

Paul Dacre’s lawyers at the Daily Mail obviously have stronger stomachs:

Four people have been arrested in the fraud investigation surrounding David Cameron’s ‘back to work’ tsar Emma Harrison.

Officers carried out dawn raids on the homes of former staff of her employment agency A4e, which receives tens of millions every year in Government contracts.

The two men and two women were questioned on suspicion of cheating taxpayers.

The revelation about last month’s arrests marks a major escalation in the crisis over A4e, which is paid by the Government to help the long-term unemployed find jobs, and prompted fresh calls for the suspension of its contracts.

The company has insisted that police activity had been confined to searches of its offices.

But last night, as a whistleblower made claims contradicting the company’s assertion that the problem involves only a ‘very small number of individuals’, it also emerged:

  • Advisers say they were placed under relentless pressure to say they had found the unemployed jobs;
  • They say they were paid £50 bounties each time they placed someone in work – but A4e received nearly £2,000;
  • Despite the police investigation, A4e could be in line for a share of £126million of new Government contracts.

Private Eye has been firing the shots atA4E for months (though a dedicated blog-site was loading the ammunition). Clearly Thames Valley Constabulary are very slow readers  — or Emma Harrison’s little rip-off had some good protection.

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Yeats reprised and ignorance recognised

As he has mentioned previously, Malcolm’s “other” bedside book is John Stubbs’s Reprobates: The Cavaliers of the English Civil War. Boy! Is this a good ‘un!

A Malcolmian aside

One of the best (in all senses) reviews of Stubbs was that by Adrian Tinniswood’s in Literary Review. Malcolm insists on quoting the first two paragraphs:

When I was an Eng Lit student back in the early 1970s, a time when deconstruction wasn’t a proper word and everyone thought critical theory had something to do with physics, any attempt to mix history and literature was regarded with deep suspicion. Mightn’t it help our reading of ‘Easter 1916’ if we knew a bit about the rising itself, we asked tentatively? No, said our teachers: that would ‘lead us away from the poem’. Then didn’t Yeats help to explain Irish history? No: literary sources were unreliable. In any case, we weren’t there to study history. We were there to study ‘the Text’.

No matter what the work was or who produced it, that text existed in its own sealed world. Literature fed on itself, and external narratives, whether they involved Tudor politics or Wilfred Owen’s war or Thomas Hardy’s Dorset, were off the menu.

From which perspective, Malcolm recognises in himself, from  way back, a proto-deconstructionist. Or is that just an Irish, even a TCD kind of thing?

Taking that most glaring exemplar given by Tinniswood, Malcolm finds it impossible, even incredible, to dissociate Yeats from his historical and political context. Easter 1916 exists in a precise moment, even instant of time. Consider the dates:

  • Back in February 1915 Henry James, who was editing a fund-raising anthology along with Edith Wharton,  had asked Yeats for a war poem. What James got was something between a bit of flannel and a flea in his ear:

I think it better that at times like these
A poet’s keep his mouth shut, for in truth
We have no gift to set a statesman right;
He’s had enough of meddling who can please
A young girl in the indolence of youth,
Or an old man upon a winter’s night.

  • Over the Easter weekend of 1916, Yeats was staying with Sir William Rothenstein at Far Oakridge, near Stroud. On Easter Monday (24th April) Yeats heard of the Rising. It seems that Yeats was a trifle miffed. He was a sworn IRB-man, and — in his own eyes, if none others — the Greatest Living Irish poet , so he felt aggrieved that he had not been consulted (as if Yeats could ever keep a secret). This was, though, a Great Irish Happening; and it required the Yeatsian touch, one way or another.
  • Any remaining initial and subjective distaste was swept away when the signatories of the Declaration of Independence were dispatched by firing squads. He had affinities with Tomás Mac Donnchadha, who had paid his dues by dedicating a book of verse to Yeats. James Connolly, a fellow antagonist of William Martin Murphy, had stood along with Yeats on a number of issues. Yeats had known the Gore-Booths since 1894 on his first awkward visit to Lissadell — and now Constance Markiewicz, who had been Connie Gore-Booth, was under sentence of death. The most direct link was the execution of John MacBride, the estranged husband of Yeats’s enduring love, Maud Gonne.
  • If that wasn’t the motivator, then came revulsion at the summary murder of Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, and a consensus of national outrage shared by Lady Gregory and Yeats’s own family. On 11th May 1916 he wrote to Lady Gregory that he was trying to write a poem on the men executed — “terrible beauty has been born”.
  • In all Yeats’s collections the poem has the subscription of a key date: 25th September 1916. Stephen Gwynn edited Scattering Branches, Tributes to the Memory of W.B.Yeats (1940), where Maud Gonne MacBride supplied its significance:

Standing by the seashore in Normandy in September 1916, he read me that poem: he had worked on it the night before, and he implored me to forget the stone and its inner fire for the flashing, changing joy of life, but when he found my mind dull with the stone of the fixed idea of getting back to Ireland, kind and helpful as ever, he helped me overcome political and passport difficulties and we travelled as far as London together.

Quite frankly, how one comprehends Easter 1916, outside of those contexts, escapes Malcolm completely.

Back to Tinniswood, en route to Stubbs

Sure, royalist stalwarts like Henry Jermyn, Endymion Porter and the archetypal cavalier Prince Rupert do put in an appearance. But the real focus of Stubbs’s book is the cavalier poets, that motley collection of royalist writers who gathered around the aging and irascible Ben Jonson in the late 1620s and 1630s and went on to seek their fortunes at court, simultaneously memorialising and mythologising its decline. The self-styled ‘Tribe of Ben’ – William Davenant, Thomas Carew, Sir John Suckling and the rest – remain resolutely minor figures, both in literature and in history. Most are remembered for a single poem, like Sir John Denham and ‘Cooper’s Hill’, or even a single line, like Richard Lovelace’s ‘Stone walls do not a prison make’ or Robert Herrick’s ‘Gather ye rosebuds while ye may’. Some aren’t even remembered for that. Can you recall anything Suckling wrote?

Err, yes, murmurs Malcolm:

Out upon it, I have lov’d
Three whole days together;
And am like to love three more,
If it prove fair weather.

Time shall moult away his wings
Ere he shall discover
In such whole wide world again
Such a constant lover.

Which, sadly, goes to make Tinniswood’s point.

Dancing to the Drum

In the fastnesses of last night, Malcolm was embroiled in Stubbs’s Chapter 4, in which Suckling is off with Sir Henry Vane’s embassy (1631-2) to the wars in Germany. Marvelling at the rolling names of the protagonists — Gustavus Adolphus, Wallenstein, Oxenstierna — suddenly  a tsunami of guilt flooded over Malcolm.

He had “done” the Thirty Years War as a paper for the Irish Leaving Certificate, 1960. This required hours in a dusty classroom, having outlines and details drummed in by an excellent teacher. That was when the High School was at number 40, the top end of Dublin’s Harcourt Street: a totally unsuitable but magnificent building — rather than the present very suitable, but unprepossessing complex at Danum. Malcolm learned enough to take “honours” in the examination. And now? He cannot recall any of it. There are fifty-eight (fifty-eight!) battles and sieges of the War listed on wikipedia: at a pinch, Malcolm could name just the one — Lützen, and that because it involved the death of Gustavus Adolphus.

Deconstruction

To return whence we departed, nine hundred finely-chiselled words ago, Malcolm wonders about two aspects (other than his fallible memory):

  • How did a protestant school in the Irish system manage to teach such religiously-loaded topic as the Thirty Years War? For Malcolm dimly recalls that, if there were a hero of that whole mess, it was the King of Sweden.
  • How and why was the war in Germany taught in isolation, as a clinical experiment almost? Why were the wider, European dimensions — and the even more limited local perspectives — not better explored? Was it not made clear that perhaps 30,000 Scots were fighting the protestant cause in Germany, and when the rump of them returned they formed the hardest men of the Covenanters’ resistance in the Bishops’ Wars? Was a conscious link (if so, Malcolm cannot remember it, or he was too dim too perceive it at the time) made to the wars in Ireland that were about to explode?

Stubbs manages a sidelight on all that:

The death of Gustavus at Lützen — even more, all the more unbearably, at another moment of victory — was shattering to the militant Protestant cause; but also, less tangibly, hugely dispiriting to the admirers and followers of the direct, chivalrous approach the king had embodied. Sweden had been out-manoeuvred in the council chamber rather than outfought in the field. It is an irony that so many in the pro-Spanish element at the English court would belong to the side branded ‘cavaliers’ in the British and Irish civil wars, since their cold political realism in the early thirties had very little of the cavalier about it. It was a strong sense of irony, in fact, which saved Suckling from the excesses of grief for the fallen hero seen in other quarters. he had seen a little too much of statecraft to take the cause, or the blow it suffered in losing Gustavus, to heart. 

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Here come the rantin’ lads

Anyone looking for the shorthand of this post should refer to Doubting Thomas‘s comment on the earlier post, below. For those who prefer the scenic route …

It’s Topic 12ts297 all the way from 1976. If you’ve got an original, keep it, frame it, put it in the safe deposit …

It turns up regularly on eBay, with decent folk sharing their happiness and making a decent profit on their initial investment. One can acquire an electronic placebo from iTunes. A warning, however: another fine recording, Along the Coaly Tyne (a compilation of Louis Killen and Johnny Handle), uses the same cover image.

A Malcolmian aside

It took Malcolm a while to identify the source of that image.

It seemed remarkably akin to Ford Maddox Brown’s Work, the far better-known — and contemporary — depiction of Hampstead High Street from Greenhill. Stand at that spot, look up the hill, ignore the fashions, tarmac and traffic, and not a lot has changed.  Even the dogs are dressed very like that whippet in the foreground.

Fortunately a full explanation of Iron and Coal by William Bell Scott is on line, thanks to Andrew Graham-Dixon’s site reproducing a review (dated 28th November 1989) he did for the Independent:

William Bell Scott, a little known Victorian painter who was uncharitably remembered by Algernon Swinburne as an ‘imbecile, doting, malignant, mangy old son of a bitch’, is both the discovery of this show and the creator of its centrepiece, Iron and Coal: The Nineteenth Century. This is an impressive if somewhat ungainly painting and probably the most strident piece of Novocastrian propaganda ever painted. A quartet of broad-shouldered foundry workers raise their hammers high, bashing something unseen but doubtless major into shape. Scott’s picture has, itself, a sort of piledriving thrust: every detail is significant, hammering home just how modern, how up-to-the-minute Newcastle was in 1861.

At lower right you find a technical drawing of a passenger locomotive of the latest design, then in production at Stephenson’s engineering works (the setting for Scott’s picture); next to it you find what the catalogue identifies as a seven-inch breech-loading Armstrong gun, also Made in Newcastle and a great success in the Crimean War; the background is a tangle of telegraph wires and ship’s masts, picturing Newcastle as a buzzing, humming metropolis, Victorian capitalism’s capital city. Scott was cavalier with topography and various other things besides (there were no telegraph wires in Newcastle at the time), but then he had a point to make: there is no Tyne, so to speak, like the present.

Tell it like it is, Algy baby!

Then look at the image on wikipedia, and spot the difference:

There’s another, fuller analysis of the painting on the Images of Industrial Revolution site, which seems to indicate that wikipedia and therefore the image used by Graham-Dixon are at fault.

Still ranting

Along came the Whisky Priests [volume and sensitivity alert!]:

Killen and Handle must be held responsible for what they kick-started.

And so to Doubting Thomas’s point

Which is undeniable.

Let’s have no quibbling here: privatization has been a total, unmitigated disaster for anyone outside the investing classes.

What it didn’t do is denationalize: it internationalized (which amounts to “anyone but British”). Large swathes of Malcolm’s public transport, rail and bus, come courtesy of DBahn — that’s German National Railways. His electrical supplier (irrespective of to which corporation the account is paid) is EDF energy — that’s Électricité de France (gas bills included). London’s main airports are run by BAA, which is owned by Grupo Ferrovial of Madrid. Thames Water is an agency of the Macquarie Group of Sydney, Australia.

All are answerable only to the markets and the limp regulators.

This particular gripe grew out of the patent lies that the water industry have been peddling about security of supply. Get this:

In recent years companies have invested heavily in better connections between their own supply zones and also in cooperation with neighbouring companies where cross-boundary connections are the most cost-effective way to secure supplies for all.

It’s not as though nobody knew what was happening:

Hotter, drier summers will mean that flows will fall. More water will evaporate. The water mains will come under greater pressure, breaking more frequently as London’s soils dry out, and so further contributing to the loss of water. Put this all together and a London drought is a very real and rising risk.

The result (and only yesterday):

Ms Spelman said after the summit: “Drought is already an issue this year with the South East, Anglia and other parts of the UK now officially in drought, and more areas are likely to be affected as we continue to experience a prolonged period of very low rainfall.

‘Use less’

“It is not just the responsibility of government, water companies and businesses to act against drought.

“We are asking for the help of everyone by urging them to use less water and to start now.”

Is it fair to blame the ConDems for a chronic problem?

By no means, except:

“The Tory-led government is out of touch with the pressures facing families – the fact that it has postponed its long-awaited Water Bill means that there will be no action to tackle unsustainable water usage or to help households facing rising water bills for at least another two years,” [Mary Creagh, Labour’s shadow environment secretary] said.

If that refers to the Flood and Water Management Bill, it’s been in daft form for nearly three years. But, of course, Lansley’s NHS privatisation must take priority and parliamentary time.

The gentleman on the far right has an objection?

— Yes, indeed. Surely you must admit that water quality has improved since privatization?

True. Very true. Mainly because of catching up (or not) with EU standards. Small issues like cryptosporidium apart. And not forgetting stuff like this (in the National Audit Office report on Tackling diffuse water pollution in England, July 2010:

In 2009 only 26 per cent of water bodies in England met the required levels of water quality under the [European] Directive’s more demanding classification system.
The Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (the Department) and the Agency do not expect that all English water bodies will achieve these levels by 2027 as it may be disproportionately costly or not technically feasible for some water bodies. Although the Directive does allow for these reasons, if the European Commission does not accept the case for these particular water bodies, it could take legal action against the Government. If such action were successful and the United Kingdom did not comply with the judgement, there is a possibility that it could face considerable financial penalties.

Not so much rage or rant against the machine. We’ll be retching against it.

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