A barn conversion cabinet

England is a palimpsest of Medieval churches, ruinous Gothic institutions and follies built by mad a

Rural England has been laid waste by the rich. Just look at the names of their houses: The Old Rectory. The Old Bakehouse. The Old Red Lion.

Last week I had dinner with a company director who had just moved from The Old Stables to The Old Watermill.

Somewhere behind this façade - Marie Antoinette’s play dairy brought to the market by Kirsty Allsopp - is a smokier, more productive landscape. And I am determined to see it peopled again.

I am pleased to report that bright young backbenchers are queuing to sponsor my new measure, and I shall be nobbling ministers next week to ensure it gets a fair wind from the Commons authorities.

The idea behind the Rural Property (Restoration of Original Use) Bill is simple. Someone living at The Old Post Office will be obliged to sell stamps. The occupier of The Old School will have to teach the village children. The Old Brewhouse will sell beer again.

These changes will come hard if you live at The Old Forge, I admit. But you weren’t forced to buy it, were you?

As for myself… I notice the Statesman calls this place a “farm“. That may be a euphemism. The soil is poor and, judging by what I have been digging up lately, if I resumed its original business I should be arrested.

Which is why, next time I am in London. I shall consult the Parliamentary draughtsmen about the wording of the exemption clauses.


Nobbling ministers?

Hazel Blears was excited when she heard she was coming to the West Midlands. “I'm delighted that for the first time a Cabinet will be meeting outside of London. We will be taking politics closer to the people and hearing their concerns first hand.”

Next week’s meeting will not be the first outside the capital: Lloyd George’s Cabinet once met in Inverness and Asquith held them at the Reform Club regularly. There are even unconfirmed reports that Mrs Thatcher made her ministers leave London.

And why leave what Blears calls “the Westminster bubble” only to enter the Birmingham bubble? Isn’t meeting in the region’s largest city just a little too obvious from a security point of view?

I can reveal that, as a result of these considerations, Gordon Brown and his ministers will be meeting in a barn conversion just down the lane from me.

At present it is a desirable weekend cottage, but I am confident it will have been converted back into a barn by then.


It is not only the Boden-wearing classes who reduce the variety of the countryside. People’s reliance on in-car technology, says the President of the British Cartographic Society, is breeding a generation scared of reading maps.

What maps there are offer a sterile view of the world. England is a palimpsest of Medieval churches, abandoned mineral railways, ruinous Gothic institutions and follies built by mad aristocrats. But you won’t find them on your satnav.

It’s worse than that. A couple of years ago an Evening Standard survey found that only one per cent of drivers would be able to gain a map-reading badge in the Cubs.

Does it matter?

Ask them at Hampton Loade. It has a ferry over the Severn that is strictly for foot passengers. But that does not stop cars arriving daily, demanding to be carried across. The satnav programmers are convinced it is a vehicle ferry.

Hampton Loade is a charming village. But it’s not as if there is an Old Fisher-Out’s Cottage waiting to be taken over.

Jonathan Calder has been a district councillor and contributed to speeches by Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy. These days he prefers to poke gentle fun from the sidelines. He blogs at Liberal England