Despite what I might have said in a previous despatch, on Sunday I went to Cahors to demonstrate. My body said no, but my head said yes. It was high time to take part in another manifestation.
It may smack of Not-In-My-Back-Yard-ism, but I don’t want the privateers of the petro-chemical industry despoiling this beautiful department – or any other department, beautiful or not – in the search for gaz de schiste.
For those of you who haven’t yet heard or read of this latest crime against the natural world cooked up by the Money Men and their tame back-handed politicians, let me explain.
Someone somewhere has dreamed up the wheeze of drilling bore-holes into the rock beneath the soil, then ‘fracking’ the sub-strata by pumping at high pressure millions of gallons of precious drinkable water mixed with a toxic compound of lethal chemicals in order to break up the shale and release all the bubbles of ‘natural’ gas, which can then be brought to the surface, stored in tanks and sold to the general public as a miraculous clean energy.
Except of course it’s about as clean as bio-diesel. But don’t let that stop the government of France’s diminutive president with the stack heels and shifty eyes from granting licenses to companies to go off and undertake explorative studies all over the Massif Central and its foothills. This sort of thing has happened already in the U.S.A. – with the predictably catastrophic environmental consequences. Surprise, surprise: the aquifers have been poisoned, the indigenous wildlife killed off and the landscape rendered lunar. I couldn’t bear to watch the documentary, Gasland, when shown at the local cinema, but reputedly it shows polluted tap water being set on fire.
So I persuaded my friend Adrian, the celebrated tree surgeon, to come with me on Sunday afternoon. It was a beautiful hot spring day and we headed south on the A20, which cuts through the kind of lush landscape that is under threat. We speculated about the type of human bean that could a) dream up such an idea in the first place, b) pursue money with such appetite and sangfroid and c) live with himself when the results of all this reckless greed are documented. It was ever thus, I suppose…
|'Meet on the bridge, we're gonna meet on the bridge...'|
Friends who dined with us the evening before told me that we would be assembling by Cahor’s famous old bridge – the Pont Valentré – at 3 pm. Despite the fact that we passed likely demonstrators all heading in the opposite direction, I managed to persuade my friend to follow me all the way down to the river. There was no one there, bar the odd Sunday promenader.
So we walked all the way back up the central artery, lined with gendarmes in their Sunday-best uniforms, to the big car park in the centre of town by the grand prefectural building. Incredibly, the first people we spotted in the human throng were the friends who had (presumably unintentionally) misled me. In fact, they didn’t stay long. Keith, an artist who has lived long enough to understand the way of the world, muttered something about the same old crowd and their dogs-on-string. ‘This lot aren’t going to frighten the bureaucrats. Where’s the press, man? Where’s the press?’
Nevertheless, Adrian and I filtered into the crowd on its way down the main street. We fell in behind a gaggle dressed as Revolutionary sans-culottes: a man playing a fife, another beating a drum and a couple of women shaking their home-made maracas. We turned left into one of the town’s narrow medieval side streets, which took us down to the monumental abbey. It would have been the perfect opportunity for a bit of Met-style ‘kettling’, but the crowd was well ordered and the gendarmes looked rather more amiably insouciant than usual.
Adrian recognised an old boy with a thick white beard and an anti-nuclear T-shirt, who looked like Ben Gunn reincarnated as an eco warrior. We stopped for a quick chat and discovered that there were roughly 3,000 souls present. Not bad, but not that good given the gravity of the situation. Then we fell in with our jovial fifer once more and followed the crowd down to the river Lot and along almost as far as the old bridge, where all the speechifying started.
I am not and never have been one for rhetoric. Adrian wanted to hang around on the pretence of people-watching (whereas I knew that he was on the look-out for his latest heart’s delight), but I persuaded him to return to the car, so we could beat the traffic back out of Cahors. In truth, though, I had been long enough out of my nest for one day and I simply wanted to get back home.
There were no military-style roadblocks out of the town. Nor was I hauled out of the car and beaten by gendarmes on the look out for dirty anarchists. As Adrian slumbered in the passenger seat and I steered the trusty Berlingo northwards, I wondered whether what we had done would make any difference. Perhaps not, but at least we had, to translate the French literally, ‘manifested ourselves’.
I was heartened to see that today’s Guardian was carrying a story about gaz de schiste and other demonstrations occurring around France. There is still hope. But what happens when hope runs out? I have to ask myself, punk, am I committed enough to get myself a rifle and learn to be a sniper? Whoops, there goes another Money Man…