Thursday, 7 October 2010

On Lines in the Sands

Over a year ago now, I remember going down to St Ouen's Bay. I parked at the far end of the day, in the car park with the toilets, and made my way down the slipway on to the beach with my eldest son. It was a cloudy day but the cloud was fairly high and the temperature was pleasant. We walked down across the sand until we reached the markers, posts and ribbons stretching into the distance towards the other end of the bay. I could see in the distance that at Braye slip, a small line was slowly forming. It looked as though there would be a moderate turnout and people were walking beside me, but at that point it seemed I would have to walk some distance to catch up with the small line in the sand.

But by the time I got to El Tico, the line ahead had grown considerably so I decided to stop and wait for it to join my position. I looked back across the beach and now there was quite a multitude, some deciding like me to stop where they were, and others coming forward to fill in the gaps. Within about half an hour or perhaps slightly more, there was a definite line of people stretching across the length of the bay from Braye slip to as far as I could see the slipway at L'Etacq.

It was like one of those join the dots puzzles when a picture appears fuzzy and then sharpens into focus and a whole becomes clear. There was now a solid line of people, a great crowd who had all come encouraged Mike Stentiford, to present a protest against the creeping development which threatened to erode the natural landscape of the coast. It took time and a little stamina but I think above all else it was the fact that it was Mike Stentiford who had made this clarion call that brought so many people to take their places and draw the line in the sand. Perhaps only the late Gerald Durrell could have also commanded such widespread respect and such affection that people would give up their time and come here.

I remember having a nesting box in the garden which was empty for many years until suddenly some blue tits took residence in it. We knew they were breeding and had heard the young and seen the parents going to and fro bringing food to the nest within the box. But we didn't know how many young there were likely to be this was the day before the Internet made all kinds of information readily available. We rang up Mike Stentiford to ask for a little brief advice and he gave us not a few minutes but a good 20 minutes to tell us what to look out for. Such generosity to complete strangers.

And now over a year has gone by, and I wondered precisely what lessons have been learnt. Ignorant of the indigenous and migrating wildlife, such as the Brent geese, and ignorant too of the natural beauty of the small harbour and its village, the developer has now turned a greedy eye towards St Aubin, and once more it is Mike Stentiford who is leading the protest. One can do absolute wonders with computer software and the mockup which has appeared in the press makes the development as attractive as it could possibly be, even if one might well quibble over the singularly small buildings which it shows. It is easy to forget that these artistic renderings are as real as the virtual world of James Cameron's Avatar. It is a neat, clean world, a Disneyland fantasy, into which we must avoid being sucked, because all fantasies like this are presented in the most seductive fashion possible.

Developers of course are out to sell something, in this case an idea, a utopia. We can do this, they say, and it will not cost you a penny. Such altruism! And the reclamation of the land, we are told by Guy de Faye, will be landfill, so we can guarantee that it won't happen overnight - because I do not believe there is enough rubbish of suitable quality to dump there right now. In the meantime, we can expect many years in which St Aubin would be an unsightly mess with the new sea wall (probably not in granite but the same sort of blocks that attract decaying seaweed at the other end of the bay) and a large hole gradually being filled in, lots of heavy duty vehicles and machinery, noise and dust. We will then be told that you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs -- an apposite description for the smell of rotting seaweed. The smell of rotten eggs.

But why do it in the first place? Why is there this insatiable itch to take a picturesque little village and turn it into some kind of Ocean Park? I can understand the money motive but what is alarming is that there are developers out there who seem to think that this kind of thing is progress. It reminds me of the passage in C.S. Lewis's work "That Hideous Strength", where the developers want to introduce their bright progressive future, and - of course - wipe out any inconveniences along the way.

"It's about the village of Cure Hardy," said Cosser when they were seated. "You see, all that land at Bragdon Wood is going to be little better than a swamp once they get to work. Why the hell we wanted to go there I don't know. Anyway, the latest plan is to divert the Wynd: block up the old channel through Edgestow altogether. Look. Here's Shillingbridge, ten miles north of the town. It's to be diverted there and brought down an artificial channel - here, to the east, where the blue line is - and rejoin the old bed down here." "The university will hardly agree to that," said Mark. "What would Edgestow be without the river?"

"We've got the university by the short hairs," said Cosser. "You needn't worry about that. Anyway it's not our job. The point is that the new Wynd must come right through Cure Hardy. Now look at your contours. Cure Hardy is in this. narrow little valley. Eh? Oh, you've been there, have you? That makes it all the easier. I don't know these parts myself. Well, the idea is to dam the valley at the southern end and make a big reservoir. You'll need a new water supply for Edgestow now that it's to be the second city in the country."

"But what happens to Cure Hardy?"

"That's another advantage. We build a new model village (it's to be called Jules Hardy or Wither Hardy) four miles away. Over here, on the railway."

"I say, you know, there'll be the devil of a stink about this. Cure Hardy is famous. It's a beauty spot. There are the sixteenth-century almshouses, and a Norman church, and all that."

"Exactly. That's where you and I come in. We've got to make a report on Cure Hardy. We'll run out and have a look round tomorrow, but we can write most of the report today. It ought to be pretty easy. If it's a beauty spot, you can bet it's insanitary. - That's the first point to stress. Then we've got to get out some facts about the population."

No comments: