Saving Planet Earth (the Home Counties way)
‘Somebody had to change the world, and obviously I was the one for the job.’
My words? No, Joan Baez’s, but they will do for now.
For yesterday was ‘Action;’ day, and if you have been following Greta Thunberg (which you might have been), or living with my wife Caroline (which I like to think I would know if you had), you will understand was a day of action for the climate.
Now all I know on that subject for sure is that I am living in a warming world, and that this fact is eventually going to inconvenience the human race, albeit not half as much as it is going to inconvenience the creatures we share the planet with. And, whilst I have insufficient scientific knowledge to enter into the debate as to who caused it, I find I don’t care. I quite fancy just taking my own foot off the carbon pedal and hoping that it does some good. Because it seems to me that we have, as a species, reached a point where consuming ever more seems to make us less, rather than more happy, and that’s incentive enough for me to change. Plus all the stuff like rising seas and dead insects.
So when Caroline suggested we spent the late afternoon with the students of East Hampshire venting our feelings in the streets of Petersfield, I thought it sounded quite fun. I don’t agree with them taking time off from school to do it- that just seems to be virtue signalling at no cost- but I was more than happy to support them in their own time. Besides, I hadn’t been on a demonstration for a decade, and demonstrations are good for the soul. And, even if they aren’t, they enable you to feel part of a motivated crowd, and allow you to wear beanie hats.
In homageto some primal middle class instinct, I inscribed my message (‘Old Gits Against Climate Change’) on the back of the white cardboard backing of the edgy Marks and Spencer sweater I had bought yesterday. Caroline drew a smiley whale on the back to make it all look a bit more accessible and off we went.
Well insulated from the cold with our flasks and beanies, we parked the car at a discreet distance from the start point of the march, partly because it was available free parking, and partly because we would demonstrate our impeccable green credentials to the crowd by rocking up on foot.
In 59 years, I have been in many crowds: partisan ones in sports stadia, genial ones on the beach or downright hostile ones in street riots, and I protectively told Caroline how it was going to be. ‘Stay together,’ I said, ‘and this will be fun.’
‘It is Petersfield, you know’ she replied, but I ignored her. You can’t be too careful, even in the Home Counties.
We looked out for the banners. We listened for the tell-tale sounds of the crowd- raised voices, whistles, drums, tannoys and singing- to give us a sense of direction, but all we heard was the quiet sound of people going about their normal Friday afternoon business. People having their eyes tested at Specsavers, their waist measured at the menswear shop or their wallets lightened at Waitrose.
We searched high and low for the action, which had been well-trailed in the local press, on social media and over the bush telegraph, but in the end we admitted defeat. The entire crowd, in the event, turned out to consist of just the two of us plus Erica, who does life drawing with Caroline on Thursday evenings. The 118 thousand people of East Hampshire simply had better things to do with their time.
Erica took an ironic photo of the two of us in the shade of the town square statue, breathing defiance at the suburban peace and quiet around us. As a piece of direct action, it had been about as effective as an episode of Mrs Brown’s Boys is funny.
The tragedy and virtue of the British is that we couldn’t give the tiniest collective toss about politics: the scrapes we get into, and the lack of violence with which we emerge from them, is testament to this extraordinary apathy.
In consequence, I realised that saving the planet may take a day or two longer than we had first imagined, and I ended up singing We Shall Overcometo the dogs once I was home.