Until yesterday, I thought that the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy was a work of fiction. Turns out though that Douglas Adams was more of a seer: the Vogons have taken over. Whilst we may not be threatened with an interplanetary bypass, they have infiltrated every Parish and Borough Council planning body up and down the land. They have re-written procedures. Made things more efficient. And made things utterly opaque.
Our neck of the wood is characterised by river floodplains – broad, meandering rivers, oxbow lakes, levees, river terraces and floodplains. Our soils are rich with lovely river cobbles, rills of quartz running through them from aeons ago, then worn smooth by hundreds of thousands of years of gentle fluvial frottage. Each cobble is matt and sullen when dry but lights up, glossy, pearlescent when wet, sparkling with mirror-like beauty. Between the cobbles is thick clay, smaller stones and grit.
It’s the bloody grit the Vogons want. From the air, the Trent snakes north east, broad and shallow, an ancient transport thoroughfare. But either side are the scars: gravel pits and mounds; the machinations of engineers, the machines of extractors. The Vogon planners are in on this and with the weasel word-tunes they play, they charm us lowly naïve snakes: ‘New gravel extraction will create 11 jobs’; ‘New habitats to be created on site of former gravel pit’; ‘New leisure complex and family play area for Burton’.
Thousands of years of our land, gone in a week. Miles of hedgerow, teeming with life, rent and pulled, ripped, slashed, burnt. The shy and secretive bat; their world destroyed – at least they can take flight and – hope; but not the rabbit and their warrens or the badgers and their setts. A small price to pay? Meadows destroyed; ancient rights of way, removed of diverted. The seasonal ebb and flow of the trees foliage, cleaved apart, thrown to the ground, dragged off. The sad cry of the corncrake or piping lapwing left for the reserves on Springwatch or Countryfile, like some perverse Truman show theme park.
Anger. We would have stopped it of course, had we known. How could this be? This won’t happen on our watch. But we didn’t. We didn’t care, apparently. It went through with no objections.
They told us it was going to happen. They put up posters. We can’t complain. We were given fair notice. They were on display for two weeks.
Yeah. In Alpha Centauri.