Background music... diddle di dum di di, diddle di dum di di, diddle di dum di di...
Into view Michael appears with a book in his hand and gives the programme intro.
“In 2011 one woman transformed the forests of England. Her name was Caroline Spelman and her white paper inspired the public to take to the woods. Path by path she told them what they could no longer do unless they had the co-operation of the forest’s new owner, what they could and couldn’t see and just where they could go.
In recent days I’ve been travelling around the remaining bits of our countryside using my Spelman’s Guide, a book published in 2011. I’ve found it gives me such insights into rabid privatisation and just how easy it is to transform something that so many people love into a vision that suits Tory Dogma”.
Michael walks down a country lane
“Well here I am at my first stop. You must be Lord Huge-Trousers, so pleased to meet you, can you show me round your forest?”
The rotund rosy-cheeked host leads Michael over the fence(there is no gate) and up into the woods. Suddenly they come upon a large cleared area.
“Oh, all the trees have gone. What’s that sound of gunfire?”
Just then a pelleted dead Grouse falls on Michaels head.
“Making good use of the place, jolly good luck it bordered my estate.” says his Lordship.
“Come and meet my son Murgatroyd and the others.”
Michael regains his poise after removing feathers and guts from his hair. The tour continues and they all have a spiffing time until the next scene when Michael is getting out of a taxi in another country lane. Puffing, he climbs over another fence.
“Well now I’m several miles away in another privatised wood. My Spelman’s Guide says that free access will remain available on the path from the car park. Well, the car park is blocked off by the fence I’ve just climbed over but let’s see if I can find the footpath.”
Several minutes of searching later...
“Well, I have to admit it’s not as easy as the guide makes out. I think I have found the path behind these logs and brambles. I’m just walking through the woods, although it is very overgrown and the ground is a little boggy. Lets see now, I think this is the way.....aaarrrghh”.....
“Some bastard has dug a ditch right across the path!”...With difficulty Michael pulls himself up from the stagnant pool and brushes off leaves, sticks, mud and smelly water from his clothes. Puffing and slightly red-faced -
“I’m afraid I am going to call it a day on this one and move on.”
“Well lets hope my luck improves this time. Here we are at another wood. My Spelman’s Guide tells me that this particular site’s owner has promised to pay particular care to monitor public access and provide guides.”
As he climbs the fence a large bull-mastiff lumbers towards him giving out a deep continuous bark in what could be described as a ‘dark-brown’ voice.
“Well, at least they still allow dogs in here” (Slightly nervous note in his voice).
“Ah, I see his owner is with him”
Having paused horizontally astride the fence, our narrator is relieved to see that the beast from hell is on a lead, albeit extended. It is in the control of a robust crew-cropped male with shoulders nearly as wide as the padlocked gate.
“Ah, you must be one of the guides,” (proffers a nervous hand which is not reciprocated)
“I must say your dark jacket reminds me of a nightclub doorman.” (Gives a slight chuckle).
“Yer, how did you know?” Comes the reply.
“Well, pleased to meet you. Perhaps you could show me around?”
“Why?” Comes the reply in a gruff voice. Just then the ‘Guide’s’ mobile rings and he talks in to it saying ‘yezsir’ a lot.
“O.K. the boss knows your here. Says I’m to show you round”.
“So what exactly do you do here...sorry I didn’t catch your name?”
“I look after the place for Mr.Cruptovich. I keep everything sweet”.
“Oh I see er...(Still no name given) well shall we start off?
Just as they are about to set off the nameless guide bellows at a youth lifting a mountain bike over the fence. “Oy you, piss off. No bikes in here”
Michael accepted the short version of the tour.
“Well here we are at my final destination of the trip. This one actually has a car park and it seems quite full. Now my Spelman’s Guide tells me that the owner of this site has made particular efforts to involve the local community. So let’s go and see what’s on offer”. Climbing up a steep set of steps Michael pauses. “Well as you can see the new owner has built these nice multi-coloured steps which make life easy but I’m just wondering what that noise is.”
As with his first visit, on reaching the top there was a sudden absence of trees.
There were however a number of large marquees. The first contained several fast food vans with a sign over the entrance saying ‘Forest Grub’. The second a number of gaming machines and computer games signed ‘Forest Fun’. The third a bar signed ‘The Forest Watering Hole’. A little further on was a children’s play area including a bouncy castle.
“Michael!, I heard you were coming. I’m Grant Sleaze the owner”
The orange weasel faced man with greasy swept-back hair put out his hand.
“Oh yes, I’ve heard of you from your adult magazine empire”.
“So what do you think Michael? Fun for the masses?”
“Well, I have to say its not quite what I expected. I didn’t think you were allowed to build in the forest. How did you get planning permission?”
“Easy peasy. Just got to know what you’re doing and have the right contacts. First off the tents aren’t considered permanent. Second the government have relaxed the planning laws for the benefit of contributors to the economy like me. Third the Local Council is so skint that I just offered to loan them a couple of my cleaners to keep some of their public bogs open and Bobs yer Uncle, Done Deal.
Sighing slightly “Do you think you could take me round the forest as that’s what I’m really here to see?”
“No problem Michael. Only thing is most of its closed off at the moment. Just temporary you understand. Needs a bit of urgent maintenance while I have a chat with the Council in case they need any more bogs cleaning” Grant taps his nose with an index finger and winks at Michael.
Sitting next to an overflowing bin on the edge of the car park Michael sums up.
“Well that’s the end of an interesting and sometimes surprising tour. I have to admit though that I can’t help thinking we’ve lost something”.
Just then an old man in country clothes walks by.
“Ah, see you’re reading that guide by Spelman. Bad smell.”
“I beg your pardon, what do you mean bad smell?”
“Ah, that’s the trouble Tories don’t notice it until someone points it out. Go on have a sniff.”
Michael holds the book to his nose.
“Yes, it is a bit odd now that you mention it. Sort of agricultural, farmyard even.”
“What sort of farm animal then, pigs cows...?”
“Oh dear I think I see what you mean. It smells of...Bullshit!”