My two last days at the battle of Newbury, 1996 and 1997

My last day at Newbury is spent high up in the trees, dangling from a polyprop walkway. All around is chaos, destruction. Hundreds of yellowcoats, mounted police, diggers, chainsaws. A bulldozer drives underneath me, shaking the trees that hold me, pushing over a neighbouring tree, and another. Everything is burning; I am engulfed in smoke. I weep.

Then I get angry. I start to shout.

‘Fuck you. Fuck off. Fuck you. FUCK YOU.’

I am a warrior. I am a resistance fighter. I am playing my part in a noble lineage. I imagine a column disappearing behind me into the ancient past: of ordinary people transformed into heroic figures by giving themselves and their lives to the causes they believed in.

I am doing my duty.

I am metal in the furnace.

My life is changed. Here, this moment, amid the nightmare, comes a transforming moment of clarity.

My voice is loud, surging out from deep in my belly. But it is not loud enough to rise above the roar of the saws and the flames and the giant machines.

There is a bit more of the story.

A year after the evictions, there is a reunion on the site. I go. All is desolate. The fairytale pond at Rickety Bridge is now a large plastic pipe. The meadow where the colony of endangered snails lived is now a small square enclosure surrounded by floodlights, razor wire and signs that read ‘SSSI: KEEP OUT’. Bare liquid mud is everywhere.

But Middle Oak has been spared, thanks to the Druids’ magic. We gravitate towards it. It is surrounded by a fence, beyond which the earth has been scooped away to create a massive hole, full of construction equipment and workers. A huge pile-driving machine rams a colossal metal post deep into the earth. The boom pulses through the earth and into our bodies as we cling to the fence.
Then: the construction workers knock off and go home.

Then: the protesters knock down the fence and run to the tree.

Everyone climbs up into Middle Oak. We fill its branches.

There are many tears.
After a while our attention turns to the construction site. Wordlessly, like some flock of birds or super-organism, we stream down from the tree to the work site. It is cold, drizzling, twilight.  We turn into a guerilla gorilla gang: shouting, screaming, jumping, drumming with whatever we find. I clamber up onto a crane and bang it with a crowbar, making animal percussion. My raincoat rips in half lengthwise as I pound the chassis. This is cathartic, like a mass funeral, cathartic grief, commonality, instinct.  As darkness falls the frenzy shifts. People pull masks over their faces, scoop sand into petrol tanks, smash and slash equipment systematically. I laugh and applaud. Then the portacabin is set alight. It blossoms quickly into a fireball. I run away, reeling from the destructive power of our collective rage.

Catharsis 1997. Photo by Yvette Dostatni.

Catharsis 1997. Photo by Yvette Dostatni.

Much of the aggregate used in building Newbury bypass was taken from the military airbase at Greenham Common after that was decommissioned. The Common is a common again. Somehow, I like that. Impermanence.

Life goes on.  I panic about the future.  I also see things that soothe me.

I saw a gang of teenagers outside Primark in the January sales, all gazing into the sky in wonderment at ten thousand starlings massing over the high street at dusk.

In the autumn I saw a mushroom that had grown through the pavement, making the tarmac explode into splinters.

Once I saw a swan on the motorway. There was a five-mile tailback behind it. No-one would hurt it.

Imagine the Granada Welcome Break a burnt-out hulk open to the sky, grown round with creepers and weeds, inhabited by pheasants and feral pigs.


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