Captain’s Log 20/02/19 09:15
I’m in Ruth’s kitchen, aka ‘Nana Flapjack HQ’. This morning I’m dropping off my poem at an anti-fracking demonstration on Preston New Road. It was easier for me to come down last night, so Ruth and her husband invited me to stay in the spare room. She met me at the train station and we spent the evening eating Thai curry, baking flapjacks and playing Rummikub, a German game I’d never heard of before, but which turns out to be very addictive.
Ruth makes me some porridge, I pack my bag, and me and her jump in the car. It’s raining quite heavily today, but it makes quite a nice change from the freak blizzard we drove through when I was last here. I look out at the relatively calm, green countryside and remember being engulfed in sideways snow. It feels like a different world.
It’s been 3 weeks since I last came down to Preston. Since then, events have shifted quite dramatically. It was announced last week that, after a 5 year battle, Cuadrilla lost their appeal to frack at the bottom of Barbara’s garden in Roseacre. This is fantastic news and, because of it, a camera crew from BBC Scotland are coming to film today’s demonstration. With the new site cancelled and the one at Preston New Road struggling from government regulations, it seems like this could be a real turning point.
We get to the community action hub, where the ‘protectors’, as they like to be known, meet before every demonstration. Among others, I bump into Tina, Miranda, and Barbara from Roseacre. I mention that she must be happy about Cuadrilla’s rejected appeal.
“When I first found out I was dancing around the living room,” she says. “But it’s not over yet. There’s a lot more to do.”
I also see Nick, who got cajoled into doing some arts and crafts with me last time I was here. I ask him if he thinks this is the beginning of the end for Cuadrilla, or whether it’s just a temporary lull.
“I think it’s definitely the beginning of the end. If you look at AJ Lucas’ share prices, who own Cuadrilla, they’ve fallen from around 5 Australian dollars to about 15 cents. It’s not profitable for them to keep this place open.”
Today, like every Wednesday, is the Call For Calm, so the women here are once again dressed in white, ‘the colour of peace’. There’s around 20 of us and it’s still pouring, so everyone is given an umbrella. We begin the march up the road to the fracking site, with the camera crew filming as we go.
On the way, Katrina from Gate Camp tells me that, since I was last here, a new crane has been taken on to the Preston New Road site. She also tells me the police have been violent with protesters, after quite a long period of being more placid.
“They pulled one of the ladies and tore her dress, then knocked someone else off their bike. When the bike landed on top of them, they started stamping it down. Stuff like this used to be a regular occurrence here- we’d forgotten what it was like.”
We cross into the middle of the road. Tina starts walking backwards and making a live video feed, as the traffic behind us comes to a halt.
“Here we have Rowan McCabe, the Doorstep Poet. When he last came, it snowed for the first time during one of our demonstrations. Now it’s raining, which has only ever happened 4 times. I don’t think he’s a good omen,” she jokes.
We get to the fracking site. I notice the crane sticking out of the ominous green block. The women begin the Call For Calm and, according to the ritual, the men wait on the other side of the road.
After the ceremony is finished, Ruth asks me to read my poem. They’ve set up a mic and a portable speaker, which has been covered with a raincoat.* I called it ‘Oh England, Don’t They Fear the Way You Shake’, a repeating line I stole from Luke Wright’s ‘O England Heal My Hackneyed Heart’. I think it probably had something to do with PJ Harvey’s ‘Let England Shake’ as well.
I do a few more poems, then grab a cup of tea and a flapjack and start chatting to the others. But, at this point, Miranda tells us she has some bad news. During my set, she got a message: Cuadrilla have just appealed to make some big changes to the way they’re doing things here. This includes increasing the amount they can frack in one place, reducing the amount they have to keep an eye on pollution, and changing the chemical mixture they pump into the ground, presumably to make it stronger.
One of the major risks raised by fracking skeptics is that the mixture used can spread into nearby water sources, poisoning animals and people. Considering what Cuadrilla are using at the minute is by no means safe to drink, this does not bode well.
“I’m going to go home and find out what’s going on,” she says.
People carry on, I get involved in the weekly barn dance to ‘I Would Walk 500 Miles’, but I think it’s fair to say the mood has changed. Later, as Ruth drives me to the station, she tells me her thoughts.
“Some people are saying we’re going to have to start all over again. But we have so many more supporters than we did when we started. And if everyone does something small it can make a huge difference.”
If there’s one lesson I’ve learned during my visit, it’s that things move very fast here. What initially felt like a day of victory has now turned into the start of a whole new battle for this community. But something I find reassuring is that the people I’ve met are really vigilant. They aren’t blinded by naive optimism, or hindered by pessimism either- they seem to approach everything with a calm and measured focus.
And, through pooling their skills, they’ve created a pretty formidable team too, made up of legal experts, scientists, builders and politicians, to name a few. Sometimes, these people have had to teach themselves these skills. But when you consider someone like Barbara went from having no experience of law, to being the head of an independent commission which has stopped an entire fracking site from being built, I do feel hopeful.
As I say my goodbyes to Ruth on the platform, it feels strange to be leaving at this point. But I’m certain that, if there is any group of people who are able to win this fight, it’s them. And I wish them every success.
*Oh England, Don’t They Fear the Way You Shake
Oh England, don’t they fear the way you shake?
Your seaside towns are trembling underfoot.
They’ve fenced your fields and stabbed with poisoned stakes
and still they argue this is for your good.
Oh England, can’t they see the spreading blood?
Your crystal streams are sick and bitter from it,
your clouded hills have blackened with unease.
Their drills are turning now on Sherwood Forest*
to bury Robin Hood in the debris.
Oh England, won’t they listen to us plead?
Is the future not worth more than profit?
Won’t their children breathe the dirty air?
Don’t they know they have the power to stop it?
Oh England, are their hearts too numb to care?
Meanwhile, your fever grows with every summer,
the flowers wilt, homes flood with rising tides;
across the sea our sisters and our brothers
are fleeing from the fires for their lives.
Oh England, don’t they see there’s not much time?
Yet, listen! You can hear a distant drumming,
the footsteps treading closer every day.
On the horizon now you see them coming,
the steely focus set on every face.
They’re marching to the fenced off fields as one.
They’re here to heed their island’s dying wish.
No upstart thugs with bloodthirst on their tongues,
they’re councillors and carpenters and scientists
who’ve tired of waiting round for their destruction.
They’re gathered in their hundreds at the gates,
their hands have grabbed the metal bars and shook them.
Oh England, whisper that it’s not too late.
*A petition to stop fracking in Sherwood Forest-