Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Battle lines

Begun the Clone War has

Over the last few weeks, as extracts from the book appeared in the press, the book itself was published and I started giving talks around the country, I've been contacted by people from all over England with stories to tell. Many of the issues in the book, from the privatisation of city streets to the death of small farms, have touched people - and many of them, of course, are happening where they are too.

What I would really like this book to do is give people all over England a sense that they are not alone; that what they thought was an isolated local incident - a new superstore; the destruction of an old boatyard; the demolition of a pub - is actually part of a national trend. That there are reasons for it and ways to stop it.

Perhaps this is starting to happen already. Either way I would like this blog to encourage the process. So if something is happening in your area - good or bad - which relates to the themes of the book, do let me know. I'd like this blog to become something of a compendium of local and national campaigns and news, good and bad, which help define the battle against the bland.

Here are some cases I've been told about since publication:

Here in my home town of Oxford, people are mobilising in an attempt to fend off the arrival of a vast new shopping centre - three times the size of the current model - which threatens to finally convert this medieval city into a clone town par excellence. More about that here.

In Crystal Palace, London, the local Community Association is fighting Ken 'green' Livingstone's plans to flog off parts of Crystal Palace Park to private developers, who want to build - surprise, surprise - 176 luxury flats (quick thought: the looming credit crunch and ongoing collapse in house prices might turn out to be a rather good thing in two ways: it could make rural properties more affordable to local people, and it might stop the insane 'luxury apartments' boom in its tracks). More on their struggle here.

Also in London, artists and actors in Covent Garden are fighting plans to clone the ancient market. Covent Garden Market has got itself a new corporate 'branding director' who wants it to attract 'high level shoppers' rather than the sort of people who like little market stalls and chaotic buskers. You can sign a petition about that here.

In Lancaster, a Carnival of Culture was held last month both to celebrate the city's character and to protest about a coming cloning project. Our old friends Centros Miller (more about them in the book) are planning a huge corporate 'regeneration' scheme. There's a film of the carnival here. The campaign's website is here.

The rapacious Centros, meanwhile, are after the Somerset city of Wells too - here's what locals are doing about that. Maybe, like the noble knights of Bury St Edmunds, they should resort to extreme measures.

Finally an honourable mention to a non-English but nonetheless excellent and important local campaign to save a valuable community pub in Cardiff from redevelopment. Visit the community's website and lend your support to the fight to save the Pantmawr Inn.

Keep 'em coming...

1 comment:

Low Carbon Kid said...

Hi Paul

I came across your book via the Guardian review. I believe the struggle you're articulating has many fronts and aspects. For example, I think the Transition Town movement, although a reaction to Peak Oil, is all about communities fighting the multinationals' rape of the planet and restoring the local connections - it has multiple benefits. (Where I live, Machynlleth, Wales, is a Transition Town.)

I suppose where I take issue with your book is why you concentrate only on England - why not the UK? I moved to Wales from England. I like it here partly because some towns - Llanidloes is a good example - remind me of what England was like before the process you describe became endemic. But it is still under attackfrom the same forces.

I'm a writer. In the early '80s I worked with a couple of artists on reinventing the Marvel character Captain Britain, a Captain America clone draped in a union jack. I knew he was a ridiculous character, and in the wrong hands could be a channel for fascist propaganda, so I made him a bit Carollian and tried to introduce some politics. When I did so I was censored - and resigned. (A couple of yeasr later it was cool to have politics in comics).

Now I find that I'm coming back to the character, and am plotting a second 'return to roots' story. I am trying to address all the issues in your book, but inevitably for Britain as a whole. Not just the Celtic roots (the character comes with a strong connection to Merlin etc.), but its modern diversity.

In particular, I want to understand the current public attitude to what the UK has become, as a country colonised by vested interests and marketing pressures, global economic forces and lifestyle changes.

You mention various local campaigns against specific developments, such as in Oxford and Lancaster. Do you have a view on how how many people support what you term 'the battle against the bland', and whether, in fact, the majority view is: enthusiastic accceptance of modern life; resignation in the face of forces outside one's control; quiet despair; retreat into individualistic consumerism as compensation; or, in fact, a renaissance of new community spirit? If there was a call to rise up and fight in the battle, how many would do so, and do numbers count any more?

Best wishes
David Thorpe