The Luddite within me frequently wants to rail against modernity. And it’s a craving I all too readily indulge. Whenever I see yet another motorway disfiguring a favourite landscape – or note with virulent regret how “improvement” work on a minor road has rendered it like all the other minor roads with their sweeping regulation curves where once there were idiosyncratic, if heart-stopping, right-angle bends – then I feel moved to let any unfortunate passenger have it with both bitter barrels. Amongst the other freely proffered insights into my grumpy-old-man-ness, they will likely have to endure acid observations about how we’ve sacrificed everything to speed, and how, rather than encourage better driving, we’ve preferred to make it possible to go everywhere at a steady 60mph without requiring any noticeable degree of skill.
And don’t run away with the impression that it’s only roads that can elicit such contempt for the modern world. It’s also things that can be seen from roads. Trees cut down for no apparent reason, or yet another hedgerow grubbed up, or some unlovely factory belching out noxious fumes, or blameless front doors replaced with vile plastic and fake-stained-glass monstrosities, which might be doubly glazed, but which are also more than doubly philistine. Come to think of it, I really don’t have to be in a car at all: the most innocent news broadcast, or newspaper headline, is sufficient to get me started.
But. It’s quite a big but, actually. There’s just the slightest possibility that I might not be being entirely consistent in this railing against the machine. As it happens, it’s not really a slight possibility, it’s a an odds-on certainty. And rarely has my hypocrisy been brought home to me more vividly than it was on Saturday. You might remember that the Saturday in question was, even in the usually sodden North West, a day of azure blue sky, without so much as a con-trail to obscure its vivid beauty. Iceland’s ash-spewing volcano might have grounded every plane in the country, but it was not impeding the sun’s selfless decision to bless us each and every one, the wicked and the virtuous alike, with its golden generosity. What better thing to do than to find a peaceful tranche of countryside, and go for a sun-drenched ramble? And being a photographer to boot, surely bringing the camera was an obvious additional pleasure. My only problem was that I knew nothing of the countryside around Manchester. Enter my first hypocritical act. A quick search on the Internet, and I was within minutes downloading and printing off a route that would guide me to “both hill and valley”, enabling me to drink in “historical sites of industry, farming and religion”. Yes, that would be the Internet that depends on a vast manufacturing capacity for computers containing all sorts of toxic ingredients, a world-wide network of wire and fibre-optic, and quite a good deal of energy. My first hypocrisy, but by no means my last. Did I mention a camera? I believe I did, and not a box Brownie whose only environmental crime was a rather natty leatherette exterior. No. Mine is a Nikon SLR that sports all the latest, and probably the most environmentally rapacious, ingredients that modern technology can provide.
At this point it would, I think, be churlish not to share some of the results of my endeavours, whilst I continue my mea culpa. (This first image is of the ancient beech trees of Big Cover Wood.) Those of you who know what EXIF data is, and have an EXIF viewer installed, might notice that this image has embedded GPS data. So you can locate the exact place where I took this shot, and display it on a Google map. Oh, I see that this is actually not Big Cover Wood at all, but Billinge Wood, a couple of hundred yards further north. Great fun. But this wouldn’t be that much fun if I didn’t possess a GPS attachment for my lovely Nikon. Which of course I do. That is two juicy hypocrisies in one, since my GPS gizmo not only requires all the same naughtily modern paraphernalia as the camera itself, but it would also be rather less effective without the assistance of the United States’ network of military geo-stationary satellites. Somehow, I suspect those satellites didn’t get up there using some special green technology, nor, I have the sneaking feeling, are their components constructed from recycled lentils. And that bête noire of trendy liberals everywhere, the infamous military-industrial complex, seems to be implicated somewhere. (This next photo shows a wonderful example of the way trees interact with the prevailing winds, with buds on the protected side growing more strongly than those on the exposed side. This is not, as is often supposed, the result of the tree being physically bent over by the wind.) Not that the contradictions of my ramble were restricted to those between technology and nature. These fluffy lambs, exhibiting rather less racial prejudice than can be said of the human race, will I suspect be shortly gracing a dinner plate near you. Or maybe not very near you, since it’s quite likely they’ll be transported a very long distance from their Lancashire field along one of those very motorways that I was making curt comments about only a few paragraphs ago. (Oh, but they are cute, aren’t they?) Descending from the lambs’ idyllic, if sadly temporary, home I ended up walking along a pretty stretch of the River Darwen, which from this picture you would probably not have guessed was so polluted in the 19th century from the cotton mills that it was notorious for its stench and disgusting colour. Not all progress is bad, evidently. (Although you might be able to see that even now, in a nostalgic nod to its seamy past, a stretch of barbed wire on the left bank has captured a delightful array of old plastic bags.) Not far from the river is the village of Pleasington, which sports a Roman Catholic priory (complete with suitable inner glow, it would seem.) It also sports some quaint weavers’ cottages, but I’d urge you not to get too misty-eyed about the disappearance of craft industries from the modern economy, since in 1818 6,000 weavers felt it necessary to besiege Woodfold Hall, a local manor, to demand an advance on their wages so that they could keep their families fed.
What with one thing and another, my intended relaxation didn’t quite produce the romantic glow I’d been hoping for. To be sure, I enjoyed myself, and drank deeply from the well of bucolic bliss, but I couldn’t prevent these pesky contradictions from insinuating themselves into my consciousness, and reminding me that in fulminating against the modern world, I might just be exhibiting a scintilla of inconsistency.