Incoming! Within days of his reappointment as environment secretary, George Eustice announced a daft (sadly not draft) policy. Phase out the sale of house coal and wet wood in England.
Apparently, it’s all about saving the environment and improving air quality. Since this ban will affect rural areas (those in urban areas have the 1956 Clean Air Act to fall back on) one has to question his priorities.
Given the current state of the nation, perhaps this is a smoke screen to hide the ministerial incompetence that’s allowed significant housebuilding on flood plains or the inactivity that’s seen rivers go undredged with flood defences unfunded?
But they’re not just coming for our coal fires and wood burning stoves. Elsewhere on Planet Woke, assaults on my senses, activities and habits continue. My favourite incandescent lightbulbs are no more, and halogens are next in the banishment queue. Their replacement LEDs throw off a light so harsh I look 103 and my interior decor appears green.
Petrol is, apparently, the devil’s own fuel. Despite using my combustion engine vehicles solely for high days and holy days, my weekend cars are being taxed more (and they might unfreeze fuel duty in next month’s Budget).
Next, they’ll be after my swimming pool, given the huge amounts of gas monstered by the two boilers used to heat it. But my pool means I don’t have to haul my carcass three minutes down to the sea and risk catching a chill. Soon they’ll be telling me I shouldn’t concentrate so much water in one place. Or call time on the ultimate pariah-making device, my beloved five-door Aga. I leave it on 24/7, even in the summer, because there’s no better way to bake or roast a potato.
Anyway, why would you want to ban coal? Setting aside its incredible industrial revolution legacy, my collection of Great Western Railway jigsaw puzzles act as a reminder of its once glorious industrial past.
The gentle fizz and pop released as you eject the contents of the scuttle into the fireplace is wondrous. It’s a slow burning fuel so there’s time for a pre-luncheon walk. The aroma that pervades is unmistakable. There’s something almost pipe-like in its quality.
On a very cold day, when the air pressure is high and the temperature low, the smoke that emanates from your chimney hangs in the air wafting gently, filling your nostrils with a comforting, homely and familiar smoky perfume. Cue the cor anglais of Dvorak’s New World symphony (that’s the Hovis ad music to you).
If you ban this fuel, you end another element of British life. And say goodbye to the intense warmth it generates while the final preparations can be made for a delicious lunch. I’m thinking roasted wing rib of beef, served rare, with roast potatoes (done in the Aga, obvs), Yorkshire puddings and English mustard. And no — there is not a vegan option.
I do wonder if the politicians who develop these insane policies have ever left their urban landscape. So you ban burning coal and wet wood. How are you going to enforce that?
And what about the ultimate pyromaniac pleasure, the garden bonfire? Is that next for a ban? Or is this an attempt by the government to finish off the coal and forestry industries once and for all?
My friends are mostly an urban lot so couldn’t give two figs about a coal or wood-burning fire — unless they’re going to the pub or staying at Soho Farmhouse. They’re struggling to appease their brainwashed children by selecting hybrid or electric cars, deploying hemp shopping bags and ordering weekly “organic” veg boxes while serving a range of supper options because of this food allergy or that dietary preference.
Of course they’ll fastidiously recycle every possible bottle and can, forgetting that people once used to drink water out of taps or actually chopped lettuce themselves. It’s all a nonsense, because they’re still flying to the Alps while there’s enough snow to ski or jetting off to the Maldives before they vanish under water. So how can they justify this behaviour? Carbon offset, darling! And anyway, “we’ve all got to start somewhere”.
But the measures to clean up our air or reduce emissions continue to baffle me. We were told we couldn’t have diesel cars, so prices plummeted and jobs were lost. We sold our diesel cars (not to scrap, but to people who liked the idea of a cheap top-end motor) and bought new environmentally friendly ones instead that took a huge amount of energy to make.
At least we save on the congestion charge, something we were told would improve the quality of the air we breathe. Yet our roads are clogged by the school run, minicab apps powering fleets of ghastly Toyota Priuses and belching vans delivering all our internet shopping.
When I was growing up, we walked to school, had electric milk floats deliver milk in reusable glass bottles and turned our bog rolls and washing up liquid bottles into spaceships. Those with money never worried about conspicuous consumption unless their bank account couldn’t cope with excessive spending, travel or new stuff. How times change!
Generation Z is eager to bleat on about how we’re all heading towards extinction, yet the takeaways still come to the door because Netflix can’t be disturbed and Amazon still delivers, creating even more packaging waste because it’s much more convenient. Since Jeff Bezos has set up a $10bn fund to fund climate change action, it’s all fine.
Meanwhile, plastic packaging is disappearing from everything in the supermarket, leaving customers to juggle loose produce into bags they have to pay for. I always forget to take them with me when I go (I have a life, not a bag for life). And I was getting some ferocious side-eye in Pret the other morning as the only person who wasn’t clutching a mouldy looking cork-covered reusable cup.
As much as I want to resist, perhaps we simply have to agree to implement these futile measures. For now, I think I’ll put half a cow and some potatoes in the oven, light the coal fire and take a chair down to the beach and see if I can stop the tide from coming in.
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