• When Everything Goes Sudden

    Lying awake by night in Combe Haven Valley, the place is defined in its acoustics by occasional geese calling out overhead; going or returning, in ignorance of everything to come. Otherwise in such dark hours, the place is only distinguished by surrounding lights – the various conurbations the valley stands in contrast to. Even then the floodwater is visible along the valley floor – one huge grey sodden mass standing out against the blackness of the hills.

    There was an air of quiet excitement earlier that night, arriving on site with the last of the light, a sense that resistance to the road planned here was finally well and truly underway. Later that evening, heading back to my tent, there were voices from treetops, the sound of CB’s crackling into newly familiar life and, down the track, someone trying to hammer very quietly.

    Even without the contractors, it’s been a gruelling time for those on route; freezing conditions in unheated tents, what many cite as the worst rain in living memory along with the struggle to try and establish new camps and new treehouses with what had been an almost total paucity of numbers. But on that Twelfth Night of Christmas, with a clearly full contingent getting briefed around the fire and more promised the next day and with the muted mania above there was a feeling of being on the brink of something that promised stress as well as satisfaction and which could not help but prove monumental. The stakes could hardly be higher with the scheme being just one of 191 planned or proposed around the country, at an estimated cost of at least £30 billion. Forty of the schemes are direct revivals of roads that were dropped in the nineties after widespread protests and public outcry.

    It is perhaps fitting then that the area, if not the road's route itself, has already played such a key part in the nation’s history. Local historian Nick Austin has proposed that Combe Haven Valley is the site of the Battle of Hastings, which could make the landscape eligible for registration as a World Heritage Site. While archaeologists say there is no hard evidence that the valley is the site of the battle, the landscape does fit the description of the battlefield and surrounding area in 1066, meaning that excavations planned for later this year could prove very interesting. The area is also rich in Mesolithic, Neolithic, Iron Age and Romano British deposits.

    Austin claims that the battle took place around Crowhurst and not at Battle Abbey as previously thought in his recently published book ‘Secrets of the Norman Invasion’. Other evidence has also pointed to the existence of a Norman longboat buried in Combe Haven’s peat marsh; the story goes a local builder found the prow in a ditch in the 'thirties but was told to rebury it by his boss for fear it would hold up construction of the aerodrome then underway. East Sussex County Council - who are providing £44 million pounds of tax payers’ money to help fund the road - have refused to ask the independent experts, the Battlefields Trust, to examine the evidence for Austin’s claims.

    The Battle of Hastings was seismic of course for the wholesale removal of the existing English gentry and the supplanting of a Norman elite in their place. If Anglo-Saxon England wasn’t always the paragon of virtue sometimes claimed, it nonetheless inspired generation after generation with an idea of liberty and still stands as a rallying cry of what England can mean away from the clutches of autocratic rulers.

    The saying goes that history doesn’t always repeat but often can rhyme. In that light certain governmental throwbacks look almost plagiaristic towards the policies of party predecessors. That the Tory road building programme of the eighties and nineties proved one of their most unpopular policies and sparked off a movement that touched a nerve across society is already an almost ancient aspect of our modern history. But even now the memory remains for those involved – the chaos and the carnage and the scouring experience of living in beautiful places now mauled beyond all recognition, or totally removed by cuttings of almost unimaginable proportions.

    Another generation are now experiencing such carnage and undergoing the rituals of active protest on the ground. The great shame and sense of monumental waste – of money and landscapes if not through the toll exerted on those taking part in such protest - is countered perhaps by one thing; the flame of empowerment such experience can bring. That means people can wake up to their potential when current policies fly in the face of arguments for a sustainable transport policy that were won a long time ago. What can happen when people realise such potential is being shown in Hastings now and could be repeated further afield. With an almost comically venal crop of characters in government, such rhymes and repetition could be the very thing that England so blatantly needs.

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branchlines

The posts here originally grew from a website that was set up to advertise a book that describes things a long time ago. That book was always intended to address more than any single issue, even if it encompassed that as well.

At its broadest, I hoped it could help express how things can be when anyone of us acts on behalf of the environment, of their community, of our collective future itself. It was informed by far more than simply the times it describes; it was an attempt to articulate a feeling that has carried on and grown and means more than just a narrow 'us and them'.

I'm mainly working on other writing at the moment but thought there was probably something to be said for keeping these posts online while the issues they deal with remain relevant. I hope you find something on these pages that proves of interest or use as we all rise to meet the new times.

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