View from the Bridge: 68

by John Morrison


68: High horse

We hear that Pakistan has joined India as élite members of the Nuclear Club. It's a headache for the West: what do these developing countries need nuclear weapons for ? They're just not accustomed to handling deadly warheads. They might start pointing them at each other, just for a laugh, and set one off accidentally. Nuclear weapons? Best leave them to the big boys, eh, lads? People who can take the prospect of global meltdown more comfortably in their stride.

Some folk can't sleep at night for worry. Green Man, for one: tireless keeper of the ecological flame here in Milltown. Having taken the troubles of the world onto his shoulders, he hasn't much time for levity. His confident assertion - "I have as good a sense of humour as the next man" - reveals either a man blessed with no sense of humour whatsoever, or a man standing uncomfortably close to Ian Paisley.

There's no doubt about it: our poor, battered, beleaguered world needs all the help it can get. If God really has given us custody of the planet, then we should be expecting a knock on the door any day now from a team of celestial social workers. Our lame and shame-faced excuses - "I don't know, maybe the earth slipped and fell, these things happen..." - will fool nobody. Look after the planet? Most of us find it hard enough to look after a goldfish ...

Those who wantonly despoil the planet deserve all our anger and disdain. So we really should be giving Green Man a fraternal pat on the back for being so concerned, so single-minded and so incontrovertibly right . There's a fine line, however, between doing the right thing and being a complete pain in the neck, and it's a line he oversteps rather too often.

He like to thinks of himself as caring and open-minded. But political allegiance is circular, and those who embrace the far left and far right occupy more common ground than they would care to admit. In the great census of life they do seem to be ticking a lot of the same boxes. Though the Grievous Bodily Arms is the sort of pub that makes him shudder with distaste, his entrenched attitudes and hectoring voice would not seem out of place in Milltown's own den of iniquity. The pub regulars, quick to acknowledge stubborn intransigence when they see it, would immediately recognise him as one of their own, and move aside, with grudging respect, to give him standing room at the bar.

You can't knock Green Man's ideals; it's just a shame he has the demeanour of a pub bore. He feels obliged to bang on interminably about whatever is bothering him this week, taking as the text of his sermonising the well-know aphorism: 'Think globally, act pompously'.

Old habits die hard. Green Man steadfastly refuses to buy South African grapes, for example. It's not a hard decision to make: there's still that awful South African accent, loaded with years of unmerited privilege and, in any case, he doesn't much care for grapes. He won't buy products from countries with repressive regimes and a poor record on human rights. So it's just an unfortunate accident of birth that he lives in Britain: a country which long ago took a swarm of rampaging locusts as a convenient template when framing its foreign policy. Green Man won't buy washing-up liquids that contain detergents or, indeed, any other ingredients that actually get the pots clean. It's not a problem for him, since his punishing schedule precludes anything as mundane as washing up.

You wish he'd relax now and again, and maybe let someone else have a turn at carrying the planet. But there's no room for complacency, he insists, while we face the threat of global warming. They say that towns such as Peterborough and Grantham could be lost beneath the flood-water, and that Milltown would become a coastal resort blessed with a Meditteranean-type climate, where orange and lemon trees would add welcome splashes of colour to the gaunt gritstone landscape. Problem? What problem?

Green Man issues long-winded, ten-page press releases about the depletion of our deciduous woodlands. He's prepared to turn out, at a moment's notice, to campaign on the pressing issues of the day, but is always too busy to apply that second coat of Artex to the back bedroom. He'll offer his free-range opinions on everything from acid rain to the closing of Milltown's public toilets. His convictions, at least, seem infinitely sustainable.

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