Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: Why do some people love it when things go pear-shaped?

A car in the floodwater at Burrowbridge, Somerset

A car in the floodwater at Burrowbridge, Somerset - Credit: PA

Did you feel lucky last week? As news of the weather-related disasters piled up in the south-west, I did. I felt very lucky.

We get our share of meteorological misfortunes here in the east, of course. From early December to mid May, we’re always in line for whatever Russia or Scandinavia slings at us.

Topographically there’s not much standing between us and the steppes, so those biting north-easterlies will often carry on scything us long after the rest of the country’s been basking in spring sunhine for weeks.

On this coast too, when the weather finally does become hot, it’s often accompanied by days of leaden humidity, with not a breeze to stir the leaves. Or there may be weeks of drought, with farmers spraying water on to parched fields while praying for rain.

But apart from the notorious floods of February 1953, we’ve rarely had to face anything resembling the enduring deluge that our poor counterparts in the south west are having to cope with. For me, the best thing to do here is probably to wish them all good luck and then shut up.

Not so the Eco-Evangelists. The letter pages of this newspaper and others have been peppered with their grim apocryphal wafflings. They lash out at everyone: car drivers, politicians, even the BBC, whom one correspondent described, rather bafflingly as ‘climate change deniers’.

I’d like to nail my colours firmly to the mast right now and say that I am neither denier nor believer. I simply don’t know whether climate change is man-made or not. A thing which I do ask myself, however, is that if climate change really is taking place, which it might be, would I be prepared to assume that it is necessarily man made?

Most Read

Similarly, would I be arrogant or foolish enough to believe that we flimsy humans could do anything at all at this late stage to prevent it or even, to slow it down?

If everyone in Colchester, with its population of roughly 180,000, stopped driving their cars today, went vegetarian and converted to sustainable fuel, I doubt it would alter anything. Even if we all started wearing those odd, shapeless fair trade garments made in developing countries so new that you have to look them up in a big atlas, it still wouldn’t affect the weather. If climate change is taking place, who are we to think that we can stop it?

While nailing my colours up here, I’ll also throw in a stout hessian undershirt and add the following: I have never driven and will never drive a car. I mostly use a bike or public transport.

It is with some reluctance that I even get into my tamer’s car when she takes me to my less accessible engagements. I’ve also spent large parts of my adult life as a non-carnivore. This is not because I’m a vegetarian but because I’ve often lived with vegetarians and ‘when in Rome’ etc.

I rarely travel on aeroplanes, either, unless forced to do so for work purposes and anyway have only flown about three times since 1996. Partly brought up by a thrifty Edwardian grandmother, I was programmed not to waste resources and have been recycling ever since leaving home.

Even by default, therefore, my so-called carbon footprint must be the size of an under-developed wren’s. I’d also like to add that the only political party I’ve ever played a benefit concert for was the Greens.

It’s their pedal-powered delusional optimism which I chiefly admire, rather than any possibility that they might actually be ready to govern yet. Despite all of the above mentioned, if the hardcore end-of-the-world brigade ever get into power and start telling us all how to live our lives, you will find me at the barricades alongside Jeremy Clarkson’s petrol-heads, the Tweedy Massive and the Countryside Alliance, because I will not be lectured.

I was staggered last week, at the temerity of certain Eco Evangelists, who, upon seeing an opportunity, wrote in to the newspapers, or yapped like terriers on radio phone-ins about the floods. Do they think that there is one single person, who, upon witnessing the awful events of recent weeks, did not consider, however briefly, at least a possibility that those disasters might actually have been climate change-related?

One letter to an Essex paper was from a Baptist preacher, fulminating about the storms, stating that they were caused by our ‘sinfulness’. Oh really? Sinful, is it? Well, on that premise we must be remarkably chaste over here in Essex. Those people in the south west would have had to have been at it like demons to reap that particular wind. In fact, I think I’ll move down there as soon as it’s all dried out.

When people begin rearing up so fervidly about various perceived eco-crises, I don’t believe that it’s all necessarily humanitarian-driven. How redundant, writing to the papers at a time of crisis only to say: “Of course, you know whose fault this is, don’t you?”

It’s part of that grey skein of tortured puritanism, which is so well-woven into our national tapestry. Religious or secular, they’ve just always been there: trying to ban Christmas, warning us about the perils of pop music, television, computers, polka-dancing or whatever.

Far from trying to prevent misfortune, they can’t wait for things to go pear-shaped. Because then they’ll have been proved right and all that standing around with a placard will have been justified. I blame the weather, myself.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter