Editor-At-Large: There won't be a garden of Eden for Adam and Ian

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The Independent Online

When Adam and Ian tied the knot last week in The Archers, they made radio history - the first civil partnership in a soap opera. I tuned in - along with more than five million other listeners - eager to find out if their happy day would go without a hitch. Both dads finally relented and turned up, and in the end a jolly good time was had by all. This long-running relationship, with all its ups and downs (including Ian's thwarted plan to have a baby with his friend Mads) started back in April 2004 with a kiss in that most unromantic of environments, the polytunnel, where Adam was growing strawberries. I was enthralled by the veracity of the storytelling but depressed that this modern-day Romeo and Romeo were snatching their moments of passion in such an unromantic and ugly location. Some listeners and readers of the right-wing press were more concerned with a gay storyline than the fact that the countryside around Ambridge, like so much of Britain, was being blighted by these repulsive tubes of plastic sheeting.

A day after this fictional partnership was formalised, the High Court in London made an important decision. The Court of Appeal ruled that large-scale polytunnels now need planning permission, ensuring that a system will be in place allowing both farmers and protesters to argue their case in the future. Sadly, it is too late for much of our most beautiful countryside - from Kent to Sussex to Surrey and the West Country, acres of rolling fields are now completely enveloped in flapping plastic under which is growing a whole variety of soft fruit from strawberries to raspberries. And along with polytunnels come large caravan sites housing temporary labourers, often from Eastern Europe, who pick this stuff. The farm in question was on protected land designated an Area of Great Landscape Value, and overlooked by the Surrey hills, which are an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

In the end, it is up to us as consumers to decide whether we would like England to resemble the Canary Islands or parts of southern France and northern Italy, where the desecration of the landscape in the name of farming is huge. Do we really need to eat strawberries out of season, at rock-bottom prices, or could we possibly learn to enjoy domestic fruit that is seasonal, such as apples, pears and cherries? Do we want designer lettuces in December or celeriac and Brussels sprouts? It's a tough call, and our farmers are fighting to stay in business by growing the stuff that supermarkets demand for their customers.

The Government has proved time and time again that when it comes to protecting the countryside, it is just not interested; it always allows commercial forces to prevail. This week it decided to close thousands of small rural post offices. A couple of weeks ago the Barker report was published recommending that planning rules should be relaxed so that many more homes can be built in the green belt. The report also advocated that the planning process for power stations is streamlined, to try to thwart delays in big national building projects involving transport, energy, water and waste. Former BA chief Rod Eddington's proposals for the future of transport favour road pricing and don't plan to curtail new airports or air travel. The Government has said it is pressing ahead with plans to expand Heathrow and Stansted as long as "environmental concerns" are met. Of course this is hogwash - you can't expand a major airport any which way without having a completely deleterious effect on the surrounding area.

So, if Adam and Ian's partnership is to mirror the real world, I await the first battle in The Archers over expansion plans for polytunnels. That's the hot story, not whether two grown men will be sharing their lives till the day they die. At this rate, Ambridge will be under a flight path, choked with traffic and surrounded by fields of plastic - and who will want to live there, gay or straight?

Why can't other stars be more like honest Billie?

Billie Piper would make a perfect Virgin Mary, if any television channel could bear to be brave enough to televise the real story of Christmas.

What I specially love about Billie is her no-nonsense approach to interviews to promote her autobiography Growing Pains. No tight-lipped prima donna here, but a frighteningly honest soul who admits to a hairy upper lip, thick eyebrows and prodigious use of Immac. Hardly the kind of revelation you'd get from Her Royal Madgeness, who prefers to drone on about Kabbalah.

Billie cannily left Doctor Who at the height of her success and now plans her theatrical debut in a Christopher Hampton play early in 2007. Unlike other stage-school alumni (Posh for example) she's honest about her struggles with an eating disorder and has managed to move from pop pap to developing a considerable acting ability; her first big role in BBC1'sThe Canterbury Tales was tremendous.

The only slightly spooky aspect to the girl is her devotion to housework: she claims she does up to four hours a day when she's not working. There's more to life than a duster, love!

Seventies trip: It'll be cheese and pineapple on sticks next

Retro food is making a big comeback, with Marks & Spencer reporting a massive rise in the number of women buying cheesecake as a "reward". Iconic chef Simon Hopkinson and cookery writer Lindsay Bareham have tapped into the trend with a new book of recipes entitled 'The Prawn Cocktail Years'. Only the other week Gordon Ramsay was berating a pub owner in 'Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares' who had the temerity to serve a prawn cocktail in a scallop shell on a bed of mashed potato. We were left in no doubt that there's Gordon's way, and the wrong way. Mind you, I doubt he'll be including toad-in-the-hole in the new restaurant he plans to open in the Trianon Palace Hotel outside Versailles. It could be too big a gastronomic leap for the picky French.

Carbon copy: You can't save the planet just by planting a tree

I've lost count of the number of times pop stars claim that they've gone carbon neutral and offset private jets by planting a forest. According to scientists in California, planting trees is a "feel-good" gesture that doesn't actually do much to save the planet. Trees reduce greenhouse gasses but they also trap heat - and, apart from a narrow strip around the equator, this outweighs the benefits of reducing C0 2. In the far north, trees cover areas of land which would normally be covered in heat-reflecting snow. Only the other week we were told that cows were the biggest culprits when it came to greenhouse gasses. So what's the truth? In the end, it is better to travel less, shop locally and scale down our consumption.

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