Friday, December 4, 2009

Bilsten Protest site

And we turned off the road by the VW garage and entered the wood, looking back in the dark the neon VW sign seemed to simplify into a Peace image behind the lattice of trees. A further 400 yards of dim and dimmer plodding we were in the Site.

Our steps triggered the first line of defence, the dogs. Yapping and growling, we called out over them to their owner John. With dreadlocks and a flashlight on a band around his head, he led us down a pathway and over the river on a little wooden bridge to a corral of huts and awnings where a warm fire awaited us. We were there as couchsurfers and were immediately accepted even though we had not notified them we were coming! We took a seat around the fire which when lit to its full shone a pale orange light upon a sign - "Welcome to Bilston Vasey - you'll never leave." The site had been here for 7 years and though the people had changed it appeared the site would never - until the Bailiffs came. A local industrial estate was to be extended here, and a connecting road was to be built through this glen, so a group of environmental protesters had set up camp among the trees to try to block its construction. And every environmental protester must eat, so off we went to the local Marks and Spencers in a retail park and raided its skip of its discarded edibles. "I wouldn't want to spend the Queen's currency if I could help it," said John. Three or four very large bin bag sized bags including the wonders of Sushi, top range mince pies and a feast of lovely muffins, scones and rolls, not to mention bagfuls of potatoes and veg, were hauled campward and a supermarket trolley was requisitioned (to be later turned into cutlery in the fire!). And to damn the establishment further we hurled two bouquets of pink roses at the M&S security cameras to lodge them in the protective grid, a moment where the flowers became Molotov cocktails of joy in an impish show of disobedience.

The next day after a night in the ground level gypsy caravan, the drapes of the evening had been taken down and the mazy spread of tree houses and walkways sprawled across the canopy above us like lazy orangutans. Rachel had seen this place on, reading something like "couch spare in a tree house - turn up any time, no need to ask!", so we did just that arriving here in the scenic border country 30 minutes outside Edinburgh. Today we learned tree climbing, via ropes, abseiling down afterwards. We also took a stroll to get some wood for Tom who was constructing a musical instrument, a cross between a mandolin and a fiddle he called a "Mandifiddle". The day after we went a wandering up glen and down burn, tracing our way around the genetic modification epicentre that is Roslyn Biotechnology to arrive at the centuries old medieval church at Roslyn that has been made famous by the Da Vinci code. As we were now down with civilisation, we merrily leaped the fence and saved ourselves £7.50.

Back we tramped to the site, tramping an appropriate term, wet shoes sludging through the draining fields to the mesmerising glow of the fire. Talk goes around the fire from 4pm in winter, as there is light there, and if you have nothing to say you stare into the fire. Some people had been here for a long time, others had diffused here from a protest site in Ayrshire where a coal field was going to be plumbed very soon, the bailiffs were expected at any moment, the eviction order had been served. £100,000 a day is the fee for the specialised eviction team - you would have to recycle a lot of M&S roses to pinch that sort of sum. One man, a scouser named George, knew and was friends with "Swampy", the face of the Newbury bypass and an environmental protester celebrity. In that siege the protesters dug deep in tunnels and eeries high in the trees and kept the eviction team at it for many months. In fact John had had to leave Ayrshrie taking his dog and a friend's dog with him to save them from being taken away.

However our time was up and Rachel and I were to be evicted by commitments of our own, Rachel with her Ba (Honours) studies and me with my graduation ceremony and first day working at Social Services coming up over the next two days. As we left the gathered companeros who were sitting around the fire Tom turned to say "Good luck with everything, Job, Career, Degree" (i.e. the trappings of society which he mistrusted so). And as we tramped back to the cold light of the VW sign, part of me was also mistrusting, doubting and finding the life i would return to a bit hard to digest. Here we had had lungfuls of woodsmoke, glens with gushing rivers, 500 year-old yew trees, folk singing by the fireside and small adventures padded out over carelessly slow measures of time. It was a sad feeling to leave, but I am still warmed and inspired by the experience and the people there and if it is at all possible I want to go back.

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