Frank Wood’s pamphlet, Racing the Stable Clock, is on the way. But trees – and logs? Don’t talk to me about the wood kind of wood.


Why? I have spent many hours this week attempting to complete a “Householder Application for Planning Permission” for the external flue/chimney for a wood-burning stove. The saga is long. My advice would be not to read this blog entry.

We are putting in a wood burning stove. At least that is The Plan. The stove has even been chosen, and these things are not cheap. The installation requires the erection of an external steel flue because this house doesn’t have a chimney. Did we need planning permission? It was my job to find out.

I ransacked the Council website for information. I was taken to Building Regulations 2004, which cheered me up. I happily printed a section that indicated apparently clearly that no permission was needed for such an addition. But just to make sure, I emailed a free online facility known as Planning Aid. Belt and braces, I thought. A chap called ‘Armstrong’ replied.

I am very influenced by names. Anyone called Armstrong is durable, honest and steely to me. Mr Armstrong, however, sent me a document titled Guidance on Householder Permitted Development Rights. The regulations changed earlier this year, he said, and now you do need planning permission for flues and stoves: the relevant section is page 38.

I read page 38. Page 38 told me that a “flue forming part of a combined heat and power system” was not permitted “as they are permitted by other classes”. What on earth did that mean? What “other classes”?

On page 64, I found a statement I thought I understood. It said “a planning permission is needed for flues for dwellinghouses or flats within an Air Quality Management Area.” I didn’t, as advised, look up section 83 (1) of the Environment Act 1995 to find the definition of an Air Quality Management Area. I assume it is what used to be called a “smokeless zone”. Yes, we live in one of those. But log burning stoves are permitted in smokeless zones, so long as they are the right kind. Ours will be the right kind. Nevertheless, it appears the flue needs “a permission”.

I braced myself and set off to complete the planning document. Everything in the Council website encourages the applicant to do this electronically. Still, a small part of me was still hoping perhaps this planning thing wasn’t necessary, even though Mr Armstrong was strong, dependable, honest and almost certainly right. So I phoned the planning department, going through the usual options and waiting until one of our Advisers was free. The eventually-free Adviser didn’t know anything about stoves or flues but said she would also send me a paper copy of the application form, which had notes. Thank you, I said.

Of course, the notes in the paper copy must be the same notes that are on line. At least I assume so. I decided to complete as much as possible of the online document while waiting for the paper copy to arrive. This allowed me to discover the cost, which is £160 plus just over £14.00 for a small piece of OS map illustrating the site. Roughly £175.00 in all. Ouch.

Money is one thing. Time is also costly. In the middle of all this, I am attempting to:

  • finish the HappenStance Christmas Card
  • check the Inky Fingers proofs (don’t ask)
  • complete Jim C Wilson’s pamphlet, cover, flyer, website info etc
  • complete Jim Carruth’s pamphlet, cover, flyer, website info etc
  • assemble materials for the imminent subscriber mailshot
  • write three reviews
  • log pamphlets for Sphinx reviews (pun intended)
  • pack up and post three HappenStance orders
  • make dinner

But a little thing like a planning application form? Half an hour.

Two hours later, I have shifted into the present tense. I am ranting and tearing my hair. I have done most of the form. I have attempted to pay the fourteen quid to Ordnance Survey or whoever gets the money for the few square inches of map I must mandatorily purchase. But World Bank says there is a problem with my card, my trusty reliable card used to buy so many online goods. World Bank has locked access to the bit where you pay for the map, so I can’t attempt to put the payment through with any other card.


Later and calmer the same day, and logging in with a different browser, I find I am no longer locked out and so I can pay for the bit of map. The money leaves my account painlessly. I now possess a tiny bit of OS map legally, which means I won’t have to use the illegal screenshot I took earlier. (I have never been good at breaking the law). Emotionally exhausted, I postpone the next bit to the next day.

Next day: the paper copy of the form arrives. I have a cup of tea and read carefully through each and every bit of the five pages of notes. They advise me that if in doubt I can apply for a “Pre-Application Discussion”. This sounds like a great idea, so I phone the Council again, go through the number options again, wait for Our Adviser to be free again.

Is it a Householder Application or a Something Something Something Application? Our Adviser asks me.

A Householder Application, I reply knowledgeably (it’s what it says at the top of the notes).

I’m sorry, she says. We don’t do pre-planning discussions for householder applications.

Back to the online planning application. If it turns out that I don’t need it, according to Our Adviser, they will refund half the money and give me a Certificate of Lawfulness instead. I have never had a Certificate of Lawfulness and I think I would like one. (You pay £70.00 for a Certificate of Lawfulness, which certifies that you don’t need Planning Permission. Effectively, it is a Certificate to confirm that you don’t need a Certificate.)

Oh well. I am all in favour of electronic approaches really. They save trees, which means more of them can be cut down and used for log burning stoves suitable for use in clean-air zones.

I click on the Location Map bit of the application and consult the piece of OS map with my house on it in its electronic window. The software requires me to draw a land boundary around my property, and assists me to do so by instructing me to click on all corners of the boundary line. To complete the job – Control + click (or Command + click if using a Mac).

I am using a Mac. I duly click at the corners and the line around the property appears neatly. How very clever technology is.

Wait! “Command + click if using a Mac” to complete the boundary line doesn’t work. I try again. It doesn’t work again. I try right-click instead of left-click. I try double click. Triple click. I try other inspired key combinations. I google for solutions to this command not working. I try some of them. Nope. There’s no way my mouse can release the line from the cursor. No way I can get off the map without leaving lines in non-boundary places. No way I can complete the required action and get on to the next bit. No way I can get far enough to pay the £160.00 and send off the application.

I do many things in my attempt to solve this problem. I lock myself out of the Planning Application more than once. In fact, the only way I can get back to the piece of map I have now purchased but can’t use, is to remove it from the planning application by unclicking the “map-attached” button, and then going back to square one and reattaching it. I am relieved the expensive map hasn’t vanished in the meantime.

An interesting purchase, this map, this little piece of Ordnance surveyed. Although I have paid for it, I don’t seem actually to have it. That is to say, it’s not on my computer. It’s inside the Planning Application that I can’t send off, though I have at least screen-shotted it.

By now, I have spent another couple of hours messing about. I consider phoning Our Adviser (although I don’t think Our Adviser is likely to help) but it’s Friday and after 4.30. Our Advisers will have gone home.

Wouldn’t it be good to have a satisfactory conclusion to this story? I haven’t got one. I have forwarded the link to myself at work, where I can use a pc, but not until Tuesday. Perhaps that will let me do the bit I can’t do at home. But at work I really do spend my time working. An hour spent on this jiggerypokery is more than I can afford.

What do people unfamiliar with the world of clicks and online payments and advance whizzkiddery do? I daren’t share this experience with my Other Half because he will just go into full mutter mode and tell me, as he has always told me, that all this modern computer business is complicated nonsense, don’t I know that yet?

The paper application is in front of me. It is quite short, and I find I mainly understand it well. At the top it refers to “The Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (SCOTLAND) REGULATIONS 2008.” Apparently we are now following regulations 2012, but not on this form.

There are more capital letters, this time in bold font. They say PLEASE NOTE IT IS FASTER AND SIMPLER TO SUBMIT PLANNING APPLICATIONS ELECTRONICALLY.


Whose bicentenary was on 7th May this very year?

Robert Browning, no less. Perhaps you already knew. The significance of the year and date escaped me completely. It was mere coincidence (or happy synchronicity) that led me to putting The Pied Piper of Hamelin into a tiny pamphlet in September. In fact, it’s not even in the shop yet but it does exist, trust me.

I don’t know when poetry for children (apart from nursery rhymes) first appeared, but the Pied Piper, in 1842, must surely be one of the earliest manifestations. Heinrich Hoffmann’s Der Struwwelpeter wasn’t printed until 1845, three whole years after the Pied Piper had piped the children into the mountainside, and though both tales are set in Germany, I doubt the German psychiatrist Hoffmann was remotely aware of the aspiring poet/playwright Robert Browning.

In fact, when Browning penned his children’s epic, he was a mere thirty years old, unmarried, living with his parents, a poet who hoped to write for the theatre. He was ambitious but he was certainly far from successful. His main reputation up to that point was for obscurity. His marathon poem Sordello, had been published in 1840 (at his father’s expense) by the same publisher who was bringing out the works of a then little-known contemporary, three years his senior, Alfred Tennyson. (Tennyson didn’t make the leap to celebrity status until 1842; and Elizabeth Barrett’s 1844 volume Poems, the book that would change Browning’s life forever, was still a twinkle in the author’s eye.)

Poets are not always nice to each other. Tennyson said he understood two lines of Sordello only, the first and the last, and both (since one claimed it was going to tell the story of Sordello and the other claimed the story had been told) were lies. William Macready, the leading actor (and friend) whom Browning very much wanted to impress, noted in his diary for 17 June, 1840: “After dinner tried – another attempt – utterly desperate – on Sordello; it is not readable.” How one’s heart goes out to Macready! But at least he reserved his comments for his personal diary, and the friendship survived. (Clyde de L. Ryals calls it a “wonderful, zany poem”, by the way — perhaps Browning was just somewhat ahead of his time. John Lucas’s excellent Student Guide to Robert Browning observes drily that Ezra Pound “claimed to understand it, although he never explained his explanation”.)

But enough of Sordello. Browning had had good friends and he valued them. When William Macready’s oldest son fell ill and was confined to bed, he wrote him a story for entertainment purposes. It was a story in verse: The Pied Piper of Hamelin, and he suggested the boy might like to illustrate it. The author wasn’t preoccupied with penning Great Poetry. Perhaps that’s why the Pied Piper leaps off the page so delightfully:


They fought the dogs and killed the cats,

….And bit the babies in the cradles,

And ate the cheeses out of the vats,

….And licked the soup from the cook’s own ladles,

Split open the kegs of salted sprats,

Made nests inside men’s Sunday hats,

And even spoiled the women’s chats

….By drowning their speaking

….With shrieking and squeaking

In fifty different sharps and flats.

Oh boy, what a rhymer! What a man of metre! What fun he was having!

The year before Browning’s death, the Pied Piper appeared in an edition illustrated beautifully by Kate Greenaway and, although I don’t possess a copy, I think this may have been the version I first read, perhaps my first dose of Browning. With or without illustration, the poem has unparalleled bounce, a quality not often associated with long poems. And it shows Browning’s joy in unreasonable rhyme, something he showed off at dinner parties, apparently, to the end of his days. Who else would rhyme “painted tombstone” with “the Trump of Doom’s tone”? It’s a joke, of course, and some of this no doubt baffled the young Macready. Other bits though must have been a joy, such as the voice of the surviving rat: “So munch on, crunch on, take your nuncheon, /Breakfast, supper, dinner, luncheon”. Such fragments can follow one through life, long after much else is lost.

The HappenStance version of The Pied Piper of Hamelin has a number of rats scattered through its pages, though not in the Kate Greenaway style. They are what poet Frank Wood (his first pamphlet will imminently issued by HappenStance in Racing the Stable Clock) calls “racing rodents”. He likes them so much he wants those rats for his pamphlet too. . . .

In the 1870s, by which time he had outlived Elizabeth by decades, Browning had a pet owl called Bob, which sat either on a bust beside his desk or on his shoulder when he wrote. This is recorded in an anonymous article titled ‘Celebrities at Home’ in The World (1880). A pet owl called Bob. A brown owl.

The great Robert Browning had a sense of humour. Never let that be forgotten.