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Posted by markswill in Cars and Bikes, Navel Gazing, Politics, Schmolitics.

For those of you who live in cities, much of what follows may prove baffling, or more likely, irrelevant. But here in rural Wales the business of simply getting from A to B can prove vexatious – underlining, if nothing else, how dependent on the mercy of governments and oil companies we who live here are. In this town of some 2,000 inhabitants there are but four buses a day to the nearest town with a railways station, two of which don’t easily connect with any train I’d want to catch to, say, London or Birmingham. So most people get in their cars and drive the 15 miles to the station where, for the moment anyway, they can park for free. That, or they badger a friend, lover or family member to ferry them there and back. (The taxi option is a withering £20-30 depending on who you use and how drunk you are).

If, as many people do, you have to work in one of the bigger towns or cities within a 25-50 miles radius, then buses are hardly an option. But with fuel at £6+ a gallon and insurance costs escalating alarmingly, commuting by car adds hugely to the cost of working, and ergo, living.  And although it strikes me as a false economy – if only because I don’t have a whole family to feed – many residents drive 16 or 22 miles to the nearest towns with large supermarkets instead of buying somewhat more expensive supplies (due partly to, yes, transport costs) from our local Costcutter, butcher, greengrocer, newsagent and most recently, fishmonger… all of whom have been seriously feeling the pinch since the recession kicked in and the case of the last two I fear are not long for this world. The ironmonger and baker packed it in years ago, as did the sole remaining village shops in smaller communities nearby, making more people travel more miles at more expense to bring home the bacon.  And of course those hit hardest are the older folk who make up a substantial part of the rural population and who, because they aren’t able to travel to the nearest Tesco or Morrisons, are obliged to live on the minimum rations they can afford at the marginally more expensive local shops.

So there we have it: transport costs push up the price of food in small rural areas, and with a collective shrug of  “Market forces, dear boy”, the government does almost nothing to compel the oil, energy and transport companies to at least keep their prices at or below inflation and thus living outside the major conurbations become much more expensive than living in them.

What the government has done is hire t.v’s Mary ‘Queen of Shops’ Portas to advise them on ways of regenerating high streets. This sounded like a typical bit of benign window dressing until it was revealed that the same Ms Portas’s Yellowdoor consultancy earns £5million p.a. advising retail park developers how to drag custom away from town centre high streets… But then this coalition government does hypocrisy really well, just look at their reaction to the phone hacking scandal. So it came as no surprise to me that Portas’ Yellowdoor consulting operations were not mentioned in a piece in last Saturday’s Guardian on her sterling efforts of increase footfall on the very high streets that Yellowdoor regards so contemptuously.

As it happens, last Saturday’s Guardian magazine had a well researched but ultimately depressing cover feature on how Tesco never takes no for an answer when it comes to decimating existing retail townscapes and forcing people into their cars (assuming they’ve got them). Bribing town councillors, speculative ‘land-banking’ and wearing down protesters until they get their way is a long game they can afford to play and arguably, along with bankrupting all but industrial-scale farmers, must play because they must keep expanding in pursuit of ‘shareholder value’. Which is of course the capitalist mantra that, along with offshore tax avoidance and a feckless addiction to property speculation helped orchestrate the banking crises which we lowly tax-payers are all now, well, paying for. As the Guardian’s John Harris eloquently and bitterly explains, “Supermarkets have their own suppliers and support services, independent shops use local food producers, solicitors, accountants. And when any (of them) start to suffer, you get a domino effect. If we’re not careful, we will sleepwalk into a future where the Big Four (supermarket chains) represent the only choice we have.”

I know such hand-wringing for what must seem like a bygone retail age may just  sound commercially naïve, but it cannot be coincidental that all of my townie friends who come to visit leave entranced at the sense of community that still – just – exists in our small town, a spirit undeniably enhanced, if not a consequence of, everyone bumping into everyone else on the high-street whilst  they’re doing at least some of their weekly shop.

As for me, well not immune to a slice of hypocrisy myself, after the frustrating, countrywide search I chronicled some months ago, I’ve finally found an immaculate Citroen XM to replace my battered old estate car. It is not the relatively economical diesel or petrol-engined 2-litre version I had originally sought, but because it had been meticulously maintained during its 14 year life, I ended up buying a gas-guzzling 3-litre V6 automatic with leather interior and every option known to man (circa 1997) at a price I couldn’t really afford.

Man and machine in perfect harmony, just before gas-guzzling off to Tesco's

It is of course absolutely sensational to drive in the way that only hydropneumatically suspended Citroens are, and something I really, really needed to own before I peg it, but its thirst and my innate respect for the planet will, if nothing else deter any temptation to skulk off to Leominster or Ludlow for that essential tin of foie gras that my local mini-mart just refuses to stock.

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1. andy tribble - August 9, 2011

So don’t live in the country.

Very few people NEED to live in the country. A whole load of people living in the country is a sentimental hangover from when agricultural production was labour-intensive. But now, it isn’t.

Move to the town. You can walk to the shops, the hospital, the railway station, and the bottle bank, and get decent broadband and foreign food. That’s what towns are for. Towns are by far the most fuel-efficent way of organising all these services. Instead of worrying about fuel burn, you cut out the journey altogether.

I get annoyed when rural dwellers complain about the difficulties of transport, cost of fuel etc, and hint (or even insist) that the rest of us ought to subsidise them.

Living in the country is a luxury. A luxury is something you pay extra for. It’s an illusion that fresh air, birds singing etc are somehow ‘free’. You have every right to enjoy these things, of course. But you also have to pay for them.The price you pay is the extra fuel cost and travelling time. If you don’t want to pay it, move.

markswill - August 9, 2011

You’re right Andy, people like thee and me can, within reason, choose where we want to live with all of the attendant costs and inconveniences this may involve. But as I implied, there are a lot of people who for various reasons have little or no choice (e.g. the indigenous old, young and poor) who are prey to higher transport and food costs through no fault of their own.

2. john dickinson - August 9, 2011

So there!

3. Pete - August 9, 2011

Maybe you could start a rival taxi service and use the proceeds to offset the running costs of your new baby.

I’d recommend an LPG conversion which made my late V6 Audi A6 bearable to fuel. LPG works better with big engines (slight performance pay-off is negligible in real use) and the savings are really substantial. The conversion I had done was also completely reliable and never faltered, something that i hope you experience with the rest of the XM (reaches for the lucky rabbit foot and four-leaf clover collection whilst looking for a black cat and two magpies…).

4. Frank W - August 9, 2011

Unlike Mark, who lives (in one sense at least) in a town, I actually do live and indeed work in the country. Neighbours are refreshingly distant, my mate the farmer mows the hedges, my other mate the gardener assails the grassy greensward and my mate the mechanic at the local garage posts me an MoT cert every year. Saves fuel just phoning up for one of course.

The nearest town (Holsworthy) is just under three miles away and there is a useable bus service (although I only use the bus when catching trains from Exeter, which is 50 miles away)(because the bus fare is cheaper than the carpark). I do all my shopping in the local town. I wouldn’t know a foie gras if it bit my leg, but they sell excellently wormy spuds and rubbery hairy carrots. I grow my own apples of course and feed them to the distant farmer’s sheep.

There is no sense of community. Apart from in the other local town, Bude, where they are taking CallMeDave’s ‘localism’ nonsense seriously, which keeps the better half preoccupied. I live in the country because I want to be away from folk. Because it is empty. And quiet. I love it. This being Cornwall, most of the nearby houses are owned by Londoners and mysterious men from Dudley and are therefore completely silent, unlit and empty (apart from the flashing torchlight of the burglars) except at summery weekends when the strange folk appear and mow their lawns en masse, drowning out the wheeze of the trees, sheepish chomping and the distant church bells.

Presteigne is a suburb, Mark. Go live in Cefn Einion. You know you want to.

markswill - August 9, 2011

As is so often the case, Frank, you take me too seriously. It’s not foie gras I crave, but Marmite flavoured croissants

Frank W - August 9, 2011

If the Citroën is irony in metal (as it surely is) then irony in Marmite is probably an inevitable bedfellow. Astounding French product bewildered by tasteless English eccentricity. Chilli Twister Fies at the OK Diner for me!

markswill - August 10, 2011

I’m pleased that you appreciate the tortured analogy I constructed specifically to amuse you, Frank. And then you go and confound me with the example of chilli fried twisters which are an equally preposterous construct dreamt up by a fast food industry in thrall to Big Pharma and their diabetes medications. Needles to say, your next bowlful at the OK Diner will be on me.

5. Ian - August 9, 2011

I would love an XM, unfortunately when I mentioned this to my mechanic he turned pale and started muttering under his breathe. I guess they are not too easy to work on.

markswill - August 9, 2011

My mechanic (he actually describes himself as a motor engineer… which he is), rubbed his hands in relish when I told him what I was buying. I know it’ll end in tears, but hopefully not before bedtime.

6. Richard - August 9, 2011

Like Frank W I too live and, occasionally, work in the country. My neighbours are also a good few hundred yards away. Rob the farmer and district councillor mows my hedges, I mow the grass, and the garage at Ivybridge sorts out the MOTs.

There’s a village shop a mile and a half away in Avonwick that stocks the essentials, Neil the biking butcher in South Brent keeps me on the carnivorous path, and the station and the Majestic are no more than seven miles away in Totnes, the aromatherapy capital of the South West.

There’s no bus, no pub within walking back from distance, and very few second homes within a radius of several miles. It is also delightfully quiet, apart from when the off-roaders at Wheeldon are letting rip, proof positive that Council planners are sometimes prone to doing far less than they should to protect the AONB.

Of course I don’t need to live in the country. But it’s a pleasure to get up on a summer’s morning just as the sun is rising and take the dog for a walk along the banks of the Avon. And there is much to be said for being able to go to sleep without a nightly serenade of police sirens and drunken revellers vomitting their way home beneath my bedroom window.

I certainly don’t believe anybody should subsidise my existence. By the same token, were HMRC to allow me the option, there are those whose existence I would prefer not to support. Sadly, I don’t have that choice.

But I’m lucky enough to be able to live in the country. Conversely I fully understand why some may wish to live in the city. To each their own.

paulblez - March 11, 2013

I am intrigued that this post should suddenly re-appear again, 18 months after Richard first sent it. Perhaps it was to prompt me to question this part of it: ” It is also delightfully quiet, apart from when the off-roaders at Wheeldon are letting rip, proof positive that Council planners are sometimes prone to doing far less than they should to protect the AONB.”
Are you saying that you live within earshot of Wheeldon Farm (which I know and like, but haven’t visited since they used KTMs rather than Suzukis). ? Or are you complaining about their trail riding forays, in which case planners have nowt to do with it. Either way, it smacks of churlish NIMBYISM to this quiet trail rider. FWIW, I know they’ve tested electric bikes down there, and I’ve encouraged them to use them more, which I’m sure they will, as the range of electric bikes improves in leaps and bounds. PNB

markswill - March 11, 2013

I can only answer the first question, Blez: It appeared because I discovered a load of old comments that ‘apparently’ required my approval, so I gave it. WordPress is getting odder and odder: John Rushworth, who also subscribes to it, couldn’t post a reply to my latest due to WP’s claims that he’d already sent one! He’s going spare as a result, and I don’t blame him. As for your other ripostes to Richard, well I’m keeping my powder dry!

Richard - March 11, 2013

They are now no longer using Suzukis but Husqvanas at Wheeldon. And, for what it’s worth, when four-stroke poppers are being ridden flat out on the outdoor tracks, they do shatter the tranquility of this part of the Avon valley, which is otherwise almost entirely devoid of any passing traffic.
I’ve no objection to anybody riding bikes, motorised or otherwise, but some locations are unquestionably more appropriate than others.
That said, given the appalling number of solar panels our planners are currently permitting to be smeared across our otherwise unspoilt farmland, it’s arguable that there will soon be little of the AONB left that’s worth protecting.
As for being a NIMBY – you betcha!

7. Paul N. Blezard - August 9, 2011

Mark, I’m disappointed that you didn’t mention the clear opportunity in that there Presteigne to sell to the local yokels cheap, economical, lightweight powered two wheelers with enough carrying capacity to hold the contents of a large supermarket trolley. The cheap, Chinese-built modern(ish)125cc equivalent of the old Honda C90 cub fitted with the biggest Pizza-box/DR top-box-cum-panniers type device that can safely be bolted on. Of course, in a sensible world, there’d be a 150mpg safe, warm, dry and comfortable version in the showrooms already, for about two grand. Maybe one day you’ll be able to buy an electric one……PNB

markswill - August 9, 2011

Actually Paul, we have one of, in not the, highest per capita population of electric bikes in Presteigne thanks to my pal Pete’s OnBike dealership/import outfit. But a good one costs more than I’d pay for a ‘proper’ motorcycle, indeed more than I paid for my slick new XM and needs a new £600 battery every couple of years.

8. WTK - August 9, 2011

I guess I agree with most of your comments, altho I live in the city and have a house in the country, just like those strange bedfellows in Cornwall. What annoys me is the price of petrol and what the consumer knows about that pricing structure. From the exploration/drilling, to pipeline, to refractory to distribution pipeline, to truck transport, to retail markup, it breaks out as follows (based on notoriously inexpensive and low tax-rate US gasoline at 2009 $2.35 per gallon pricing:
Crude $.061, refining $.11, post-refining $.10, taxes 18%. Note that taxing is fixed, so while margins are healthy for oil companies, our dear governments are screwing us. I would venture to guess that you ae paying at lwast 3 quid per gallon in taxes. The cost of the product is reasonable, but the 100+% “VAT” is not…

markswill - August 10, 2011

It’s actually closer to six quid a gallon hereabouts Terry, and that’s another source of ire: fuel costs are higher the further away from the cities you live. The cost of crude oil has fallen significantly in recent weeks, which hasn’t been reflected in prices at the pump. Hence my anger at the government for not taking action to force the oil companies to stop exploiting the motorist. I guess you’re having trouble filling the tanks of your Gulfstream G6, too?

9. WTK - August 9, 2011

…sorry about the typos but my electric hybrid computer acted up…as did my solar powered steam turbine. Speaking of hybrid, have you read the NASA report that resulted from 4 years of climate-satellite data correlation? It seems that our “climate loonies” have underestimated the radiation heat loss of the planet by a factor of over 400%, which was confirmed by the very same loonies who are now mightily recalculating the year of Armaggedon, the ice cap melts, and polar bear deaths. Talk about Inconvenient Facts! Oh yes, and the average earth temperature has decreased .3 C since 2001.

Pete - August 9, 2011


The ten warmest years on record have all occurred between 1997 and 2008. – extracted from this link
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-02/nsfc-2we022309.php but there are many more.
2008 cooled a bit and then 2009 then went on to be the second warmest on record

10. WTK - August 9, 2011

This is an open offer: are any of you, or your kinsmen, kind enough to take our President Nobama off our hands? It would do the US a great favor and I will try to repay you the best I can. Maybe just park him in your parlor and tell your friends it’s a family heirloom. Are you willing to swap someone else for our President? The US is very open to entertaining a trade of any kind. How about your XM, Mark? Our President is barely used and appears to be in good shape…

11. andy tribble - August 10, 2011

I am going to have a second bite at the comment cherry and commend your choice of that Citroen, the suspension is a marvellous thing. Our family car was something similar a few years back and I loved it, I could take speed humps without noticing and without slowing down… until the seals blew, the first sign was brake fluid warning lights as both the brakes and springs draw from the same large tank of fluid. The electric windows failed too, one after another, at great expense. But still, the ride was a joy. Loved the party trick of pulling the lever back to get maximum ride height so I could park in fields.

12. markswill - August 10, 2011

Well I’m pleased that your approve of my latest automotive folly, Andy, and I’m realistic enough to know that owning one of these complex machines hostages me to fortune… to put it mildly. But as I explained, this one has been meticulously maintained and will continue to be providing I can loot enough flat-screen t.v’s and expensive trainers from my local out-of-town shopping centre to foot the bills.

13. Tony Rooney - August 10, 2011

As entertaining as ever mark. Agree with the transport issues, i’m in a village with no shops and one bus a week. Interesting that living not far from an oil terminal that fuel costs are high for us so nothing to do with transport costs . Also local tesco fifteen miles away in Cardigan has no competition and is also highly profitable in what is a relatively poor area . Still we’re well away from the riots !!!

14. WTK - August 10, 2011

Just two short comments:
Mark, it seems to me that the government is the biggest exploiter if indeed taxation is 6 quid-ish. I think 18% in the US is exhorbitant.

And to Pete: I noted your link was 2 and a half years old. The recent radiation-effect i.e.; release of heat from the earth calculated at 400+% low was released this week. Further, NOAA has issued a declaration that they will not, and cannot, predict regional or global weather beyond 5 days when using two dozen supercomputers due to the buterfly-effect of chaos theory. Long-term effects of “global warming” are being recalculated as we speak, including the potential Maunder Minimum solar cycle.

I lied—three short comments: Mark, why are you such a glutton for punishment in choice of vehicles? Next I suggest you buy a Maserati Bi-Turbo if you want to get to know your mechanic intimately. I wish you serious luck with the XM my old friend…

Trisha Takanawa - August 10, 2011

Mark I’m actually standing here outside the Orpington Tescos and I’m definitely experiencing an unmistakeable warming sensation.

markswill - August 10, 2011

Ah, Orpington, land of my fathers. But Barry, why do you persist in responding to my rants in the guise of oriental women. The cross-dressing I understood – sort of – but why sully the name of once proud nations with your scurrilous invective?

markswill - August 10, 2011

Don’t get me started on taxation, Terry. Our so-called coalition govt., and successive ones before them, use stealth taxes such as fuel ‘duties’ to avoid raising income tax for their wealthy friends and, of course, maintaining benefit payments for rioting looters. Almost 82% of retail petrol (gas, to you furriners) prices are in fact down to this. Even your beloved Obama wouldn’t get away with that.

Your second point directed at my friend Pete (who you’d almost certainly like if you met him) is I know something which exercises you mightily and I respect the diligence of your research… but think how much extra heat those super computers are generating and energy they’re using. I personally need convincing of the reasons why the weather patterns have changed so dramatically since the ’70s, but I’m trying to keep an open mind in the face of constantly changing (sic) data.

As for the Maserati Turbo option, don’t think I haven’t seriously considered it, but most of those that still exist are piles of rust lying inert on the driveways of bankrupt owners. Anyway, between the Lancia Glumma and the Citruin I think I’m doing my very best to keep the motor trade buoyant.

Pete - August 11, 2011

Sure, that’s why I added the 2009 for good measure (and for further good measure here’s the news from NASA re 2010 http://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/news/20110112/ – yes another hot ‘un ). While the earth may be radiating at a percentage previously miscalculated that doesn’t alter the fact that measurement shows it is warming and that these hottest years are in the past decade that you said has cooled (source?).

Prediction of weather is different from the long-term trend that has and is being observed in the climate. Computer re-modelling of the trends is a continuous process as more knowledge is obtained – it would be silly not to do it again and again.

I’d love global warming to be a fallacy but the convincing evidence all points the other way.

15. WTK - August 10, 2011

Yes, Mark, I like the term Stealth taxes wrapped up in excise,fees,duties, registrations, or as we say in Amerika “Revenue”! Are you sure you don’t want Nobama? Say, for well, whatever you have laying around unused. He is plugging to overtake Herbert Hoover now that he has passed Jimmy Carter as the worst President. Have you noticed his “deer in the headlights” stare the last two weeks on your looted flat screen?

Well, climate change is tricky. Either I am 30 years older and dampness is affecting my joints, or it’s just plain more damp. The jury is out.

You are doing a yeoman’s job supporting the local spanner engineer. The comforting thing about the Bi-Turbo is the use of spacer-washers to set the valve clearances, which means you have to try each cylinder and then disassemble to adjust—the last quote I got from a shop in 1992 was a mere $3,700, “if all goes well”. What enlightened engineering…

16. Nigel Bull - August 11, 2011


Try reading Tescopoly for a whole book full of reasons why the big supermarkets and particularly Tesco’s are bad for us. You did a good job of putting it into a few paragraphs and you are not over the top in your analysis. I live in Caerphilly, not exactly a big town, but still one with four Tesco stores with another big one that is to be extended yet again only 3 miles to the North. We have(as do many areas)a very weak local economy and what money there is to spend is hoovered up and sent to Cheshunt. I see the future looming and its not a nice sight.

For rural areas, the internet is the salvation for cheap material purchases and taking advantage of supermarket delivery offers. Its also why so many chains have shut down of late too. Get a polytunnel(although I seem to remember youve been down that route!)then shop local for the rest.

Meanwhile, buy yourself a Micra K11 1.3L. Driven by grannies, but with a 75BHP DOHC engine that can improved no end for just a few quid. Its light-weight, goes better than a Cooper-S and can be had for peanuts. Its got a cam-chain and all that ever goes wrong can be written on a stamp. Most of all they are fun to drive and are available for so little. I have just finished a £90 bargain that cost me £75 for a gearbox and £8 to get through the MOT. I think Mr Persig had a hand in designing this one!

17. markswill - August 14, 2011

I wasn’t aware of ‘Tescopoly’ but thus apprised, I’ll go after a copy. As you say, our supermarket-driven future is not an attractive one and yet I see nothing being done to address it in any meaningful way.
No room in my garden for a polytunnel, but my fingers are black (with oil, generally) rather than green, Talking of which, I take your point about Micras and maybe when I’ve got the XM out of my system I’ll be obliged (by penury) to get one. Indeed ten years ago someone ‘gave’ me a rather similar Honda Civic which after spending £200 getting it through an MoT, served me well for over two years and was quite a hoot to drive: the meek shall inherit the B-roads.

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