As protesters at Balcombe prepare to pack-up camp, we have to ask ourselves what is wrong with the pictures in the press of the demonstrations. As far as I can tell, quite a few things. Taken out of context, they look like the photographic record of a particularly unruly rave - from 1992 (look at the fashion). The last time I witnessed scenes of this kind was when, as a blemished 13-year-old, I watched a documentary about Woodstock. The only difference is that, now, there is less nudity (thank god).We have been told by The Guardian how the protesters have been ascribed various roles, including that of 'entertainment'. Since when was striking a conga-drum with the elegance of an inebriated baboon considered entertainment? Believe me, I've watched the footage and it depressed me more than the auditions for Britain's Got Talent.
It offends all my musical sensibilities. The only protester who did lend a bit of style to the proceedings was Vivienne Westwood, but then, if she could make John Lydon glamorous, she is probably above criticism. If we want to elevate the issues surrounding fracking beyond the "concerns of hippies and sissies" - as George Monbiot so adroitly put it - we need to dramatically change the public's perception of the environmental movement in this country. Oh - don't misunderstand me - I realise I sound dreadfully churlish. I know these hippies and sissies have their hearts in the right place and I can't help but have mild admiration, albeit charitable admiration, for Caroline Lucas MP. However, one does wonder how many trustafarians make up the ranks of this 2,000-strong army at Balcombe. Seriously, in the age of austerity, who can realistically afford a fortnight of unpaid activism in the countryside? Jests aside, let's get one thing straight: I agree emphatically with the cause of the protesters. Really I do! I simply question their methods and, 'frackly', I can't imagine anything worse than super-gluing myself to a fence. If fracking does indeed become a permanent feature of UK energy policy and production, it is likely to bore thousands of large holes into our 'green and pleasant land'. In reflecting on this thought I'm reminded of the imagery used by John Lennon in A Day in the Life: "I read the news today, oh boy; 4,000 holes in Blackburn Lancashire." It doesn't exactly conjure up an agreeable future for Albion. Nonetheless, there is a group who, for reasons unbeknownst to me, the media has largely overlooked: the Balcombe residents. One BBC piece reported that, despite 82% of Balcombe residents voting that they are against fracking, 100% voted that they are against illegal action. What this poll means by "illegal action" is the presence and activities of the demonstrators. True, these figures seem to have been manipulated by a group of particularly disgruntled locals. After all, there is evidence that some residents have joined forces with the tone-deaf protestors. However, it does beg this question:
If I hear another rendition of 'Hit the road Frack', I am going to start vandalising public property.
If most of us are fundamentally against fracking - whether we happen to be located in a fracking hotspot or whether we are just environmentally aware - why do we find it so difficult to unite behind a common purpose?
Part of the answer, in my 'humble' opinion, can be found in the photographs I so callously lampooned in my opening paragraph. You see, to outsiders, the demonstrators can seem thoroughly obnoxious. Even I, if I didn't think their cause so noble and brave, would be sorely tempted to tell them to 'fruck' off. In future, please can I ask the worthy demonstrators at Balcombe to make themselves more personable to local communities and, by extension, to the UK public at large. If it helps, I hereby offer my services to musically tutor all forthcoming protests.