Sounds quite charming, doesn’t it? The sort of thing that might have been written by Hopkins, and later set to music by Finzi. But my recollection of the silver heron is very different – for when I was unemployed in the late eighties I sent off dozens of job application letters, and received in turn dozens of rejections; one of which, from a company called BMARC, arrived on the most impressive notepaper, heavily textured and bearing a motif in the form of a long heron picked out in silver leaf across the top of the page.
‘BMARC’, as every schoolboy knows, is the trading identity of the British Manufacturing and Research Corporation, a firm which achieved notoriety for being a very effective exporter of UK technology – unfortunately the technology in question was high-octane military hardware, and the overseas purchasers were some unscrupulous dictators in Latin America.
It was even alleged in ‘Private Eye’ magazine that the UK Secretary of State for Trade and Industry had made special efforts to secure the contracts for these delightful pieces of machinery, which would, it appears, be used as part of the Argentine military campaign to seize by force the Falkland Islands
I was reminded of this by a recent news item in which it was claimed that Argentina had been granted a loan of several million pounds to buy all this firepower, but had so far not managed to repay their debt. The country to which they still owed this gargantuan sum? Great Britain, of course, the same nation which had sacrificed so much money and so many lives to regain control of the Falklands.
And now the Liberal Democrat Party (formed by the union of the Liberals and Social Democrats) is calling for the government (formed by the very reluctant coalition of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats) to cancel any debts owed to the UK by ‘reckless dictatorships’; apparently it has long been UK policy to lend staggering sums of money to developing countries, in order to enable them to develop their nuclear weapon programmes.
I saw a recent news item concerning pensions – the money saved by people during their working life in order to pay for a comfortable old age – and the alarming news was that life expectancy is increasing so quickly that the invested funds will not be able to meet the financial commitments promised to these people.
However, it occurred to me that the generation now enjoying their old age (and prompting the idea that life expectancy will go on rising) originally grew up in conditions of moderate food scarcity. They would have eaten a diet high in vegetables, low in refined carbohydrates; and a lot of their travel would have been on foot or by pushbike.
Nowadays, we are seeing the rise of a generation which has had ample supplies of food, often including highly-processed animal products. Many of today’s youngsters are accustomed to eating burgers and pies and sweets on a regular basis; a lot of the meat and poultry served in low-cost outlets will be stuffed with growth hormones, antibiotics, and preservatives, all of which can accumulate in the body and give rise to health problems. Even when people do consume fruit and vegetables, these staples are covered in pesticides while growing, and coated with fungicides while being transported round the world.
This generation is also reliant on motor transport, with regular use of a car for all but the shortest journeys. Sitting in traffic exposes one to exhaust fumes; and the constricted posture can cause muscular disorders, impaired circulation, and problems for the digestive system.
So it would be reasonable to expect that today’s young people will have a variety of health disorders, including obesity, diabetes and immune system malfunctions. There will also be food shortages caused by the decline in the bee population (crop pollination depends on these humble creatures, remember). There are also vast stockpiles of waste nuclear material from disused reactors around the UK; these materials will gradually pollute air and water, causing a mysterious rise in fertility problems and genetic deformities.
These individual factors have assailed us for decades, with minimal effect; but so far no generation has had to cope with their combined impact. So it seems likely that in twenty years we will see life expectancy down to about sixty-two years in the UK, with infirmity and senile behaviour common. And the prospect of an ageing population will be the least of our worries…
Silver Heron Reprise…
But still, we can take comfort from the idea that an elegant wading bird is the emblem of a company which represented so much hope for Britain in the manufacturing renaissance of the late 1970s.