Poppy harvests and nightmares

Halfway through the poppy field - it was rather impressive
On Monday I had the pleasure of taking on another stretch of the Ridgeway (just two or three more to reach Ivinghoe Beacon!). As usual the walk was a mix of tracks and paths through farmers' fields, and at one point I felt I had been transported to Afghanistan. Because we were walking through a huge field of poppies.

It is striking how much the media influences our thinking, because the only association I could come up with immediately was that these must be opium poppies. Despite being on one of the best-known long-distance footpaths in the country, I nervously joked with my walking companion that any moment we were going to come across the farmer toting a machine gun and shooting anyone who discovered his crop.

Even beyond the joke, the first assumption was that these poppies were being grown for opium, though admittedly for a more benign application in the production of morphine for medicine. And perhaps they were - I have no clue what kind of poppies these are (though the field must have been magnificent before the flowers dropped). Later though, it struck me that the poppy seeds for all those seeded rolls and loaves must come from somewhere, and presumably this was a more likely crop.

The point really, though, was a sadness about the way my expectations had been manipulated. I often moan about the media's presentation of science, but this is a wider thing. Because the news is almost always bad news (apart from the occasional royal or sporting event, both of which I also consider bad news), we do get these negative associations all the time that make everyday life less pleasant. Even though children are safer than they've ever been, because you can't turn on the TV or open a newspaper without hearing about predatory pedophiles, parents keep their kids on tight leash and don't allow them the magnificent adventure of unsupervised outdoor play we had when young. We can't look at a muslim on the tube without suspecting we are seeing a terrorist. And an innocent poppy field becomes an evil source of heroin.

I don't know what the answer is. I'm not sure there is one. But it's such a shame that by constantly showing us the worst of humanity, the news media manage to make life into one long threat.