Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Cracking views.

The town I live in was, and remains, one of my favourite places. I fell in love with the area whilst working here in the middle of the noughties. Great people, nice pubs, pretty churches and some of the most amazing scenery this side of the Lake district.

But my house is a right shit-hole.

Riddled with black mold, not one single operable internal door and with missing floorboards that the landlord has had carpeted over, creating a series of ankle-snapping, mini tiger-pit style hazards to give each nocturnal trek to our outside lavatory that "crossing a minefield" vibe, it is truly a home to be thoroughly ashamed of. On the rare occasion we allow people to visit our squalid habitat they are restricted to the living room, the only room in the property that is free from the cough-inducing fungal spores that have left me unable to climb a flight of stairs without sounding like an Asthmatic mule.

Someone once asked if they could use our toilet. The horrified "NO" both Dickfingers and I screamed in unison led to the lady in question hurriedly departing with a look of abject horror on her face.

Still, when I cast aside the bedroom curtains in the morning I am greeted with a thing of beauty. The magnificent Rivington with it's gardens, follies, lakes and streams. It's dense woodland, it's grazing animals, it's viridescent morning glory. I'm looking out on natures majesty while the neighbours look in on my moldy bedroom and me, scratching my arse.

When the sun is at just the right angle I see it's silvery rays blinking at me from the choppy waters of the huge reservoirs that lie to the left of my vista. The reservoirs supply water to those further downhill, towards the Irish sea. Towns, cities and villages many miles from here, all the way to the coast. The drinkers of the water I see glinting in the distance are people I've never known and never will. Folk that have never heard of the town I live in, that don't realise that they're occasionally sipping on a glass of delicious, Lancastrian water that, relatively recently, flowed around my dogs' ankles as they frolicked on the beach I like to take them to. I get to look out from poverty and see beauty, it's by far the best way round.

Things were very much the other way round when I was a child. A huge chunk of my formative years was spent in Salford and surrounded by dereliction, demolition and development. The terraced houses and small factories that surrounded my father's grand looking pub were derelict when he bought the place, were levelled a year or so later and were, over the remainder of our first decade living there, redeveloped into modern council housing with gardens and curvy cul-de-sacs along with a sprawling industrial estate that would eventually merge with the docks and become the Quays and, latterly, Media City.

I would cast open my curtains in the morning and be greeted by slate-less roofs, piles of rubble or cranes and heavy machinery. Dust, dirt, and destruction all around. But I was a small boy, and later a youth, who had seen nature and it's beauty in the past and to whom all this urban decay was as beautiful as it was fascinating. A very different beauty to Rivington and not a beauty many would appreciate, but great beauty nonetheless.

The houses that sprang up around our pub were lovely, the council tenants that were re-housed there considered themselves to be very lucky, until they began to move in.

Once a few dozen houses were inhabited it was discovered that the ageing water supply which had previously been enough to supply the outside lavs (Yes, they still had outside lavs in the 80s, thank god we've moved on) and Belfast kitchen sinks of the area were in no way sufficient to feed the indoor toilets, kitchen sinks, washing machines, showers and baths of these palatial new properties. At some point something subterranean gave way, the topography having been in some unforeseen and unforeseeable way affected by the mass excavations and erections taking place all around. The water turned green and it had insects in it.

The council turned up with hard hats and clipboards.

"Hmmm," Hummed one official, "that doesn't look right."

And right it was not. We were advised it was okay to bathe in, but for fuck's sake don't drink it. My father rubbed his hands and rejoiced.

The men of the area had an excuse to go to the pub and if ever an excuse was abused it was this one. In those days children weren't allowed in licensed establishments (quite bloody rightly) and so large, wooden tables were purchased and placed on the waste ground by the pub. Et voila, the family friendly beer garden had arrived in sunny Salford, sandwiched between the main road into Manchester and the semi-constructed M602. My dad was coining it in.

Then came the bowsers.

The new housing was split into several, small estates. The water board (Those two words have taken on a very different meaning in the years since United Utilities were formed) began delivering huge storage tanks on wheels, bowsers, filled with drinking water. One was delivered to each small estate and mothers and children began ferrying water home as fathers glumly ordered one for the road.

I swear there was a tear in my father's eye as he watched the happy people fill up their pails from the bowser on his new beer garden. Until then, I'd not realised how caring my old man was.

A day or two later one of the lovely, new, beer garden tables went missing. Coincidentally, at about the same time, one of the new houses over which my bedroom window looked acquired a similar table in the back garden. There followed some enquiries, accusations and denials after which punches were both thrown and landed before the matter was eventually settled out of court.

Now, the children of the family that had returned our table were what I am choosing to call "urchins". Two boys and a girl, the eldest three years the youngest's elder, with Midwich Cuckoos blond locks and surly, snotty expressions. Many a morning I would see them, as I gazed out of my bedroom window whilst performing those bone-popping, yawny stretches that teenagers do so well, harmlessly breaking into empty properties, whimsically spray-painting racist abuse onto the wall of the corner shop or playfully kicking a dead rat around.

The morning after the return of the table I drew open my curtains and gazed out. There they were, the urchins, playfully standing atop the bowser and taking it in turns to piss in it. Even the little girl. The elder of the two boys spotted me watching them perform their morning ablutions and greeted me with two fingers and a cheery "fuck off" before the three of them ran gleefully back home.

I scratched my arse and continued to watch. As they approached their own front door they realised their mistake when their mother passed them, bucket in hand, heading in the opposite direction to fetch the water she would need to give their father his morning coffee or wash the spuds for their own tea. The elder of the boys once again spotted me, his face less smiley now faced with the prospect of drinking both his own piss and the piss of his siblings. I returned his Anglo-Saxon greeting from earlier and popped the top off one of the bottles of spring water my dad had brought up from the cellar for my family to drink, rather than having to keep sending my mother out with the kettle whenever he wanted a cuppa, and mouthed the word "cheers" as I took a glug.

I'm sure the piss-cocktail did no lasting harm to any of those inhabitants of the Village of the Damned, just as I'm sure the faeces that falls from my frolicking hounds hairy arses into the reservoir do no harm to those tea drinkers and teeth brushers farther downhill.

It's not a nice thought, though, is it?

I was watching the news a few nights ago. The town in which I live gets scant mention on the television and so when I heard the delicious Lucy Meacock utter "Horwich" my ears pricked up. It's funny how the mention of somewhere or something close to you forces you to smile when that mention is on the telly. I smiled automatically, before realising the story was about how some greedy bastards are going to be allowed to frack us.

Fracking, along with it's associated protests and environmental campaigns, is seldom off the local news lately. Just a couple of weeks ago the residents of a sleepy and very lovely little village to the north of here managed to stave off the threat of fracking in their own area. They fought hard and long and, although we all know deep down that it will eventually be forced on them anyway, they can now sit back and feel rightly proud of themselves whilst enjoying their lovely, unspoilt environment.

Many of the protesters and campaigners were locals and were described as nimbys, their selfish opinions disregarded as they have a vested interest. Many others weren't locals and were described as rent-a-mobs and disregarded as it was none of their business. What chance does that give anyone?

Some of my townsfolk are already banding together, preparing to fight a fight that they've never fought before against an entity that has fought this fight over and again, that has succeeded sometimes and, more importantly, that has lost a few times too. It's the losses that make you strong, a foe with a battle scar is always more formidable.

Whatever happens, Rivington will remain as beautiful as it is now. The value of my home wont be affected since this house is worth nothing and, given the level of pride my landlord takes in his assets, won't even be standing in a year or two. I live right on top of the land they're to frack and it won't matter a jot to me one way or the other. Even should the tales of environmental disaster regarding contamination of the water supplies be correct, it wont matter to me. My water comes from the Lake District.

But still I'll fight against it. I'm no nimby, fill my back yard with as many wind turbines as you like. But rape the earth for profit using technology that even a child can see isn't environmentally friendly, pumping chemicals into the water table and flushing toxins from the rock beneath our feet in the process? Here, next to your drinking water? Fuck that, my dogs have to swim in there!

Horwich is, as has been pointed out to me on many occasions by Wiganers, just a "shitty little town". A shitty little town with an ineffectual council. (I asked them why it had been on the news before any residents had heard about the plans and why they had no information about the process. The answer, no one had told them. Right there, in a thread on my Twitter account, Bolton Council telling me that they weren't told of any discussions taking place, that they had zero knowledge of the issuing of the licences. I sometimes wonder what we pay that shower for.)

Cuadrilla will get their way, eventually. There may be some lip-service paid to our discontent. They'll promise the council some money and if the council still says "no thanks" they'll bribe someone higher up the ladder to tell the council to say yes. But it'll not matter a jot to me. My beautiful view will prevail and my Lake District water will taste every bit as refreshing.

I'm sure it won't affect you either. Unless you're one of the people behind me, to the west and down the hill. Or one of those that will get thirsty as you pass through the region and stop off for a cup of tea in a cafe. Or a Big Mac and Coke. Or purchase a soft drink from your local shop that was manufactured in that region. Or a ready meal. Or a beer. Or have loved ones that live there. Or have an ounce of decency.

There's no proof that fracking is hazardous to health, but come on... have you seen what they do? It's Jimmy Saville all over again, no one says anything even though we can all tell just by looking that something's not right.

Most people wont give a shit about my back garden being prodded and poked. Why should they? It's not as if my back garden is watering theirs, is it?

Those people, they've no need to worry. They can just rub their hands and wait for their gas bills to go down. I mean, they will, won't they? If we're all sat on top of a big lump of gassy rock, surely we're all going to be better off, and surely no big business would make profit from a process they thought might hurt others? That never happens, does it?



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