Campaign

Visiting Reclaim the Power camp

8.20 Two policeman get off the train at the same time as me at Balcombe.

8.23 Lots of traffic on the road from the station, some of it very fast. I get onto the verge as a police car comes past. I get a wave and wave back.

The camp outside Cuadrilla's site

The camp outside Cuadrilla’s site

8.30 At the camp outside the Cuadrilla site I talk to man with a big dog. The dog barks then licks my hand. The man says the camp is two miles down the road. That’s not what the press briefing said.

8.35 A car stops and a man on his own offers a lift. I get in and then think ‘Is this a bit risky?’ The man says “I’m taking the corporate shilling to get a decent cup of coffee”. He says the water at the camp outside Cuadrilla’s site entrance tastes funny – something to do with the plastic container it’s stored in. I wonder if the car has central locking. The man says he’s from Horsham, which for some reason makes me feel better. He says his sister lives nearby. We reach the Reclaim the Power camp and he stops to drop me off. Sorry for being suspicious.

8.40 There are six police outside the gate. Half are in baby blue tabards; the others in the standard fluorescent yellow. A man and woman inside the camp walk towards the gate. They’re carrying clip boards and look serious. They are part of the media team. I explain I’m an independent journalist with a blog, following the story. I say I have three things I want to find out:

  1. How the European gas market works
  2. How much water is needed for fracking
  3. Where the money would go if fracking were successful

They write this down. I say, having got a lift, I’m a bit early for the press briefing (scheduled for 9am in the briefing pack). They say there won’t be a press briefing this morning. I left home at 7am for this. They say they’ll find someone to talk to me and would I like to stay by the gate until they ring. I sit on the grass. It’s damp.

8.45 There’s a team controlling the camp gate (two women, a man, one yellow tabard and walkie-talkie). The woman in the tabard invites me to sit on their piece of plywood as long as I don’t mind her smoking. It’s their camp. There’s a massive tripod made from scaffolding poles in front of the gate. Every time a car needs to come through they have to move it. I talk to the non-smoker about my blog and the Cuadrilla exploration in Balcombe.

The tripod at the entrance to the camp

The tripod at the entrance to the camp

8.56 The BBC does a live piece-to-camera from inside the camp. The media team say cameras are allowed in only between 1pm and 3pm. The reporter says they’re the early crew and they’re going home. No stamina.

9.15 Shift change at the gate. The friendly woman goes off-duty. I write a blog post.

9.25 A man comes over (no clipboard) and I explain who I am and what I want. He writes this down on the back of my card. I turn up the volume on my phone so I don’t miss his call.

9.36 An Irish campaigner asks the police if they’ve got any cows milk for his coffee because there’s none in the camp. He says: ”Could you get one of your lads to pop up to the village to get us a couple of pints”.

9.55 Another BBC crew arrives in the lane outside. Conversations with the crew take place across the hedge.

BBC reporter outside the camp

BBC reporter outside the camp

10.10 ITN arrives. The BBC crew is still outside. This makes me feel a bit special. But the plywood is getting harder.

10.20 The sun comes out. This doesn’t feel like work. It is very peaceful.

IMG_4057

10.30 A campaigner arrives from Haywards Heath. We met a week ago at a meeting in Balcombe. He says the police are inside the Cuadrilla site now, rather than in front of the gate. And there’s razor wire on the fences.

I tweet that the camp is quiet. My tweet doesn’t come up when I search for it. There are a lot of cars in the field for a campaign about climate change and reducing carbon. To be fair, there are also lots of bikes.

IMG_4058

The gate team are worried about some sheep getting out of the neighbouring field, into the camp site and then on to the road. The new shift worries about how to work the walkie talkie.

10.45 My bum is numb. I stand up, which seems to alarm the gate team so I sit down. They ask me if I am ok.

11am I have a dilemma. I could sit on my rain jacket and over-trousers but the sky has clouded over and it looks like rain. There is a plywood walkway from the entrance to a big tent which has Power To The People on it in pink writing. The gate team asks if I’ve spoken to anyone yet. I tell the gate team that I am not getting stroppy, yet. I am offered a cup of tea.

11.02 Spots of rain. People arrive in a taxi. A woman plays a guitar at the welcome tent.

11.05 The walkie-talkie goes. Are the BBC local or national? The question is relayed across the hedge. They’re national. The man on the gate radios back to say they’re local.

11.08 I talk to a man from Winchester who’s here for a couple of days. He says he wants to find out what’s going on. He says he’s amazed that 80 per cent of the population still believe the BBC. I say I used to work for the BBC. We discuss sloppy journalism.

11.10 A boy asks if I have something to cut two holes in a cardboard box. I say I have knife but don’t tell the police. I get out my Swiss army card and make the holes. He says he’s got one of these too.

11.15 A steady stream of cars come in. More police are at the cross-roads outside the camp. Will the “lovely composting toilets” really be lovely?

11.20 I am given a chair and it has arms. The radio goes “Has anyone got a pensioner?” Someone shouts “They can interview my mum”. The boy climbs the tripod. I’m asked “Are you ITV?”

A couple drive up to the gate in a red car. They are looking for a country fair. They say to the gate crew “Are you winning?” The crew says “Do you want us to win?” The couple think about it and say “Yes”.

11.25 I am beginning to feel sorry for ITN on the other side of the hedge. A lady from the media team goes out to talk to them. “Today is all about workshops and training. There are about 300 people here.” It doesn’t sound very exciting. The media lady tries harder “The numbers are growing.”

The wind is getting up.

11.26 The BBC are shown into the field. I am assured that they are not getting anyone to talk to – not like me.

The boy climbs the tripod, holding the cardboard box at the same time. The gate team say if the police try to take over the camp someone climbs the tripod so they can’t drive in any vehicles.

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11.28 I eat my piece of ginger cake and half my shortbread biscuits. Somewhere there should be a packet of oat cakes but I can’t remember seeing it.

Having the chair presents a problem. I now can’t go to the loo and risk losing it. The boy at the top of tripod is collecting acorns from a tree in the hedgerow and collecting them in the cardboard box.

11.30 The camp has a truck with a line of solar panels mounted on the back. This could be a solution for people where the council turns down planning permission for solar panels.

Most people are wearing jeans, trainers and hoodies. A woman walks past in gold stilettos. Surely a journalist?

11.35 There is a traffic jam in the lane. The police minibus is trying to come up and the camp minibus is going out. I gave up going to see my parents for this.

Honesty doesn’t always pay. If I’d not worn my press card I could have gone anywhere. I am invited (probably not seriously) to volunteer for the media team. I say I could interview myself.

A lady in a red and blue sleeveless dress and leggings comes to the gate to say she is concerned that the entrance is untidy. The media team agree. Could it be cleaned up quickly because there’s about to be an interview. Should the tripod be in or out of shot? Definitely in.

11.43 A car alarm goes off.

11.48 I am invited to join a workshop on fuel poverty – providing the participants agree. Then I can talk to James who knows about gas markets.

11.52 I’m inside the tent! Most people are sitting crossed-legged on the floor. I stay standing at the back. An ant crosses my hand. The talk is about pensioners choosing between eating or heating. There’s something crawling down my neck.

12.15 Ruth from Fuel Poverty Action London gets applause for her talk about campaigners hanging out at Warm-Ins at Westfield Stratford

12.20 There are ants on my notebook. There are ants everywhere. We are divided into groups to come up with some action points. It’s hard to hear because there’s a totally different discussion going on in another section of the tent. I can smell food. People are mostly in their 20s or over 50. Apart from a toddler who eats a sausage on her mother’s lap and never utters a word. A dog keeps rolling on its back. Must be the ants.

12.50 I find James and tell him about my interest in the European gas market. He smiles. He will find someone from the media team who can help me.

1.05 There is no one in the media tent. James has an idea and phones a friend. I am to speak to Lawrence.

1.15 Lawrence in brilliant. He knows everything, pretty much, about gas. Unfortunately, he won’t tell me his full name or who he works for. We negotiate and agree I can call him an energy campaigner. He has some ideas on who to talk to about water – but they’re not here.

1.45 I return to the gate. A bald-headed reporter is accusing a campaigner of stealing a farmer’s field. He says “Why don’t you just go to a festival and stop causing trouble”. The campaigner answers calmly and refers to support in the village, quoting an opinion polls. The reporter says “You can make opinion polls say anything you like.” Another calm reply. Then they both laugh. It’s a media training session in “How to be a spokesperson”.

1.55 Someone is sitting in my chair. I go back to the plywood. It is getting cold. I am offered a slice of melon. The juice drips down my arm. Something has bitten my neck. I am offered a cherry cookie.

2.00 A policeman in a (regulation) baseball cap talks over the hedge about the march tomorrow (Sunday). He says: “Just let us know where you want to go and we’ll organise it.”

2.10 A man in a straw boater pushes a bike up to the gate. He says “I have to tell you I’m totally in favour of fracking.” A woman on the gate offers him a cup of tea. He says “I would construe that as a bribe”. He goes up to the welcome tent instead.

2.15 My fingers have gone white. A minibus is heading up to site entrance. I take one of the last seats.

3 replies »

  1. You didn’t mention how many times we checked you were doing ok and offered to get you a cup of tea! 🙂 But, big Respect for your patience.
    – One of the Gate Crew

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