Manchester's St. Peter's Square, on one side of which stand the magnificent edifices of the Central Library and Town Hall Extension, has just seen the first show of blossom on the newly planted trees which are part of its recent refurbishment. The flowers are inverted mauve trumpets, so pretty and so unusual as to elicit much admiration from those who have noticed them. Not, however, from the homeless protester I spoke to whose tent is one of the many pitched underneath them.
He and I discussed - briefly - not the causes of homelessness nor the remedies, but the council's failure to provide shelter despite its legal duty to do so. We then had an inconclusive argument about whether budget cuts imposed on the council by central government were to blame and whether the council should divert capital expenditure to meet operational shortfalls. "At the end of the day, we don't need trees: we need houses," said the protester. He had a point, of course, but not really a solution. Tomorrow is polling day and he urged me to vote the incumbents out of the council chamber. Even if I could, would it resolve the question of how best to allocate resources?
By way of contrast, I've just been to visit my relatives in rural Lincolnshire, a place where tented encampments of homeless people are not in evidence and the blossoming trees are remarked upon less than the bumper crop of asparagus that has just come into season. My brother-in-law, David, drove us just beyond the village (I know, it's so unsustainable) to a local farm entrance where asparagus bunches at £1 each were left on a table next to an honesty box. I scooped them up, a bargain if you don't factor in the cost of fetching them. The village was recently in the news when a resident - a friend of David's and a fellow Boston United fan - won £54 million on the Euromillions Lottery and bought himself a top-of-the-range Range Rover. As we passed the home of the winner's daughter, David pointed out that there were now two such Range Rovers parked outside her modest bungalow and that his friend had not even bought him a cup of tea at last Saturday's match.
In the course of this short journey we also passed within yards of the RAF base where our Eurofighter jets are stationed. They look like machines dreamt up for a Star Wars sequel and they fly as if they were in one. We watched two of them take off and, within seconds, they were on a vertical ascent. Awesome and terrifying are the only adjectives I can find to describe the spectacle. Of course, Eurofighters are expensive to buy - even the local Euromillionaire, if he were to resist buying another Range Rover, would be about £12 million short - but they are worth it, according to the Ministry of Defence. I watched the planes scream through the skies and thought about the cost of maintaining such squadrons against the cost of a few hostels for the homeless.
We drove home and, shortly afterwards, were sipping tea in the conservatory when a WWII Lancaster bomber flew directly over us at about 300 feet. I'm told it is one of only two still operational and that it is practising for a forthcoming ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of VE Day. Compared with the Eurofighters it looks and sounds like a lumbering relic of a bygone age, but I guess that in its day, it too was awesome and terrifying, especially if it was coming at you with a belly full of bombs. It was also expensive but, under the circumstances, the cost would have been easy to justify.