Saturday, 6 June 2009

Roads: my part in their downfall

Since my book on roads is coming out this week, I thought I would tell everyone what I did in the tarmac wars. On Valentine’s Day in 1996, I accidentally joined a roads protest. I was walking up North Road, one of the main shopping streets in Brighton, when I saw something that made me wonder if I was dreaming: a well-built man dressed in a glittery silver ball gown and pink bubble wrap. He was standing by the clock tower roundabout and seemed to be trying (not very successfully, obviously) to look inconspicuous. A few seconds after I clocked the police van, several hundred people, all dressed in pink, dashed out from the narrow warren of streets known as the Lanes. All of a sudden they were dancing in North Road, banging drums and blowing whistles. A young woman dressed in a pink ra-ra skirt gave me some candy floss and a fluffy heart.

The police lined up two cordons to sandwich the protestors, about 30 feet apart, which included the bit of road I was standing in. Some brave souls scaled the shop buildings and hung home-made banners from the upper-floor balconies, proclaiming ‘Snog Not Smog’. As more protestors arrived, another party got going outside the police cordon. Eventually the police admitted defeat and moved the cordon back so that the whole of North Road was under occupation. The protestors now had enough space to blow up a bouncy castle, which they leaped around in with the gleeful abandon of children.

I left after about two hours as the party wound down, the bouncy castle deflated and the drummers made their way to the seafront like a marching military band. I had enjoyed my few hours reclaiming the road – although in my non-pink attire I must have looked like a police ringer. After negotiating my way through the cordon I walked away along Western Road towards Churchill Square and, glancing behind me I saw that North Road had disappeared, the whole of the asphalt hidden beneath a blanket of pink.

And that was the end of my brief life as Swampy’s mini-me.

Mundane quote for the day: ‘And sometimes the veil becomes lifted and I see it all as a circulatory system, a body. The Ocado depot or Milton Keynes or Spaghetti junction are like swirls in the flow, vortexes, tiny chakras in a vast sublime hole.’ – Michael Smith on Drivetime (BBC4)

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