There's something about nomads, travellers, gypsies and tinkers that disturbs us respectable stay-at-homes. It's deep in our belief systems, this anxiety, and goes beyond the rational suspicion that if you are going to be encamped on the horizon by tomorrow's sunset, you are beyond vendetta, you will have nothing to fear if you dally with my women and steal my hard-earned treasures. When I was last in Zambia, in Lusaka, there was a new conviction that crimes and nuisances, tears in the public fabric and insult to the body politic, formerly attributed to taxi drivers and other resident criminals, had suddenly become the work of the Somalis; the Somalis being an encampment of maybe a hundred and fifty destitute and timorous refugees down by the market. They were no doubt up for a bit of stealing, these Somalis, how else should they live? But they certainly didn't have the logistics, the numbers, the fire power or the energy to accomplish one percent of the wickedness carelessly attributed to them. And when foot and mouth disease struck Britain and decimated the sheep and cattle population a few years ago, a Northumberland farmer's wife wrote a column in the Guardian, describing in workmanlike but heart-rending paragraphs what effect this scourge had on farmers and their families. Only once did she entirely lose her cool, right at the beginning of the outbreak. She described how a lone mountain biker had ridden across the county, along footpaths closed by Defra, spreading the risk, almost the certainty, of cattle annihilation as he went. So subtle had been his subterfuge that he had closed all gates behind him, moving like a shadow; in fact nobody had actually seen him, this spectral traveller. The only undeniable evidence of his passage had been tyre tracks, mountain bike tyre tracks, the tread pattern unmistakable and always the same, reported from every corner of the county. So that was that then. It wasn't the squalor of farming practices, the incompetence of Defra, the idiocy that reigns in Whitehall and at Westminster that brought the plague upon good country folk. That would be too complicated. No, it was an invisible nomad, a lone mountain biker. The American artefact of Al-Qaeda follows the same pattern. That the interdependencies of interest and relationship among Saudi Wahabis, the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence agency, the poor and dispossessed who struggle to survive the thuggery of the US-Israeli axis, and a hundred other islamic groupings; that all these might be the complex cause of falling towers and exploding trains, is unnecessarily complicated for White House and Pentagon purposes. No, keep it clean. Blame the global nomads.
Back in the 1980s I enrolled on a course called “Protect and Survive”. One evening a week a retired Wing Commander would train us in leadership; not just any leadership, but how to lead our Cumbrian villages through a nuclear holocaust and out the other side into a changed, sure, but recognisable and sturdily surviving England. Yes, equipped with only the Wingco’s wall charts and some brown paper and sticky tape, we were going to protect our villages against thermo-nuclear bombs. Fission-fusion bombs. With brown paper. Multi-megaton jobs. Paper. Brown. You heard right the first time. British, you see. Our Wing Commander, he was about eighty, was out of his depth. Sure, most of our group were decent right wing citizens who believed, or affected to believe, the drivel the Wingco regaled us with. But two of us were sceptics and, in my case, a dirty rotten spy. I was a member of an anti-nuclear (weapons and reactors) group, and I used to report, in a light hearted fashion, on the Protect and Survive course. I also used to ask the Wingco probing questions, continually and repetitiously, like a backwoods John Humphrys . Maybe I should have anticipated the heart attack he had six weeks into the course (not fatal, I’m glad to say, and not actually in front of us). I’m sure it was nothing to do with the strain of explaining to me yet once more about the brown paper. The new Wingco was younger and more savvy, and was keeping a special treat for the last session of our Protect and Survive course, before certificates were handed out to the successful. The treat was the denouncing of a traitor, a traitor even now in our midst. He read excerpts from my light hearted and abusive accounts in our trade journal, Cumbrian Owl. He spoke of honour and gentlemanliness. He implied I had none. Injudiciously, I had included in my reports thumbnail sketches of my Protect and Survive, by now ex-, colleagues, including the lady amongst us. This was damnable. Especially the false eyelashes. There was muttering. Remember I was in border reiver country. Death meant little up there. I was scared. Charm was my only hope. When the session had been wound up, I went and talked to the new Wingco for ten minutes, bygones be bygones and all that, making sure that I walked with him all the way to my car. Once on the road I drove like hell, waiting for lights to swing out of a side lonning and get on my tail. Not just paranoia. Two of the course members belonged to a rifle club and had made, more than once, strange enquiries about what would be done with the residents of Dovenby Hall Mental Hospital in the event of a nuclear attack; they were volunteering to “look after things”, they said. They said they were trained. I didn’t want them to follow me home. Recently it has been officially admitted that the whole thing was a cynical farce; that brown paper over the windows does not save you from the thermal radiation, nor a stout kitchen table from the blast of even a small nuclear weapon in the vicinity. It was idiot propaganda which fooled only a small, gullible and officious section of the rural population. The “Protect and Survive” episode seems relevant to our attempts to halt global warming. It is clear to all but the most simple minded that the British Government has neither the will, the understanding, nor the courage to take measures against global warming. It’s true Gordon Brown holds a set of strong, almost absolute convictions on twenty crucial matters of ethical and practical concern, but then again he simultaneously holds the equivalent set of strong, almost absolute convictions which are diametrically opposed to the first. Like he believes in reducing relative poverty, and simultaneously he believes in the superiority of “business”, especially American “business”, to all other forms of human aspiration and achievement. So, with global warming, he believes, or articulates belief, in the absolute priority of the human species working towards a sustainable existence. And simultaneously he believes that we must construct more motorways, airports, power stations, he believes in the complete deregulation of “business”. And his actions, as always, promote the second set of beliefs. So all the sustainable stuff is just “Protect and Survive”; propaganda produced by idiots for idiots.