‘Follow the Country Code’ was one of numerous mottos stuck on the end of the Central Office of Information Public Information Films that put the fear of God into schoolchildren during the days when I myself could be counted amongst their ranks. It’s a subject I’ve raised before, but it’s always worth mentioning that the TV shorts this underfunded and overlooked Government department that Dave’s administration dispensed with during their initial Coalition axe-wielding served as a highly effective propaganda tool that got the message across far more efficiently than any other comparable campaigns. Whether consciously scaring the shit out of the population – see the mid-70s rabies series and the notorious Hammer-esque, Grim Reaper-by-the-river nightmare narrated by Donald Pleasence – or choosing to opt for comedic interludes featuring thick animated working-class couple Jo & Petunia (no relation), the PIFs of the past registered with the public and undoubtedly taught more than one generation to look both ways when crossing the road and to refrain from throwing bangers around on 5 November.
One only has to endure a shopping expedition at the moment to feel as though we are all currently living through a big-budget remake of a 70s PIF, so perhaps the need to reinforce the message via television reboots is unnecessary; there were a few half-hearted attempts early on in the pandemic, though these were unworthy of being lined-up alongside the classics of forty-fifty years ago. Anyway, to return to the opening sentence of this post, the PIFs that dealt with countryside matters were less reliant on shock tactics than tapping into the romantic allure of olde Albion. Other than the ones advising day-trippers to make sure they always closed gates behind them and didn’t offload their litter in farmer’s fields, the main rural-based PIFs were distinctively eerie travelogues profiling Great British beauty-spots that were generally deserted locations when the COI film crew turned up. Most included crumbling ruins of historic conflicts, the battles at which were painstakingly simulated by the cameraman shaking his equipment as the echoes of medieval swords clashing emphasised these tranquil surroundings once played host to unimaginable carnage.
I guess this particularly specific strain of PIFs was aimed at an audience poised to be tempted by the newfangled affordability of foreign travel and attempted to remind them of the attractions on their own doorstep. Holidaying at home has long been regarded as the poor relation of ‘going abroad’, yet many overseas excursions often become little more than glorified equivalents of the old ‘Wakes Week’ vacation, when blue-collar workers would descend en masse upon traditional British seaside resorts; it didn’t take long before the likes of Benidorm became Blackpool without the rainfall, so I suppose the PIFs that acted as promos for the various regional tourist boards were intended to offer an alternative. I can’t say that the appeal of either Blackpool or Benidorm has ever registered with yours truly, though if home-grown holidays have been the preserve of both the historical connoisseur and those on a limited budget during normal circumstances, the situation imposed upon us in 2020 has rendered Blighty the destination for the majority of natives – and the outcome of this unexpected ‘staycation’ has exposed how much Blighty has benefitted from exporting its least desirable elements to mainland Europe during the summer months.
Although a few took advantage of brief lockdown relaxations and holidayed abroad earlier in the summer, the sudden quarantine regulations relating to an increasing roll-call of nations have probably put paid to that for the time being; therefore, it would appear the British Isles will be the only option in the immediate future. Perhaps demonstrating how unaccustomed many are to holidaying at home, the manner in which some have treated their own backyard has mirrored the sole scenario they associate with the great outdoors – the festival circuit. Barbeques, rubbish, DIY bogs and the leaving behind of tents and garden furniture have so far characterised the mark made by ‘fly-campers’ on the rural landscape. Seemingly incapable of differentiating between the Lake District and Ibiza or the Peak District and Glastonbury, this generation of ill-educated holidaymakers deprived of the ‘Country Code’ manual via PIFs have created headaches for wildlife conservationists and nature rangers alike as they invade locations they have no notion of how to behave in. One Devon warden commented, ‘Anything you would expect people to understand, such as littering or people using the countryside as a lavatory, they ignore.’
Lest we forget, this is supposedly the über environmentally-aware generation, forever lecturing the rest of us on the danger of plastics clogging-up the oceans and the environmental Armageddon mankind is inflicting upon the planet; yet, paying lip-service to the cause of the day only stretches so far, it would seem. Decorating the countryside with nitrous oxide canisters or shitting in the open air because of coronavirus fears re public conveniences somehow don’t register as proper pollution. The potentials of fire, especially when the climate is conducive to spontaneous combustion, are something these eco-friendly charlatans don’t equate with their own approach to the rural life; tree-hugging only appears to be applicable when dispensing a lecture to everyone else. Mind you, anybody who has ever lived in a neighbourhood populated by visiting students with a twelve-month visa will be familiar with the wide chasm between saying and doing when it comes to consideration for the environment.
140 acres of Surrey heath-land was decimated by fire a couple of weeks ago, and emergency powers have been handed to the Dartmoor National Park Authority to prevent fly-camping, following one evening when over 50 fire pits were dug. With the final Bank Holiday of the year imminent, it’s understandable that those entrusted with care of the countryside are mindful that the last such weekend saw moorland fires causing chaos in the New Forest, Peak District and Yorkshire Dales. It can be bad enough having to inhale the noxious fumes of scorched slabs of animal hide emanating from a back garden, but at least the only prospect of an inferno resulting from that kind of repulsive banquet in urban surroundings is at the home of the chef; transplanting it to the country threatens something on a far greater scale.
There certainly seems to be a disconnect between ticking all the right eco-boxes and actually knowing how to act once in a rural location; a gap in education could probably explain the failure to join the dots, and I suspect there’s a little more to it than merely the abolition of the Central Office of Information. I don’t doubt that environmental concerns for some are authentic passions and motivated by genuine worries over what will remain for future generations; but so much of what we see today in terms of alleged love for the natural environment is a fashionable pose engineered to paint a flattering portrait on social media – the same superficial cyber virtue-signalling that can apply as much to what ‘issues’ the account holder supports as it can to a couple eager to fabricate a fairytale relationship that has little in common with reality. When it comes to demonstrating how much some care about ‘the environment’ once in it, too many are showing they couldn’t care less if it won’t adhere to their urban routines.
© The Editor