Copyright all Text and Images J.A. Hindle 2008
Nine Miles was written in response to a very specific threat; the resurgence in the current century of a level of road building that had been thwarted, albiet temporarily, at the end of the last. My initial hope was, through describing the incredible phenomenon that was the British anti-roads movement in the 'nineties, to bring people's awareness back to an issue which is every bit as relevant today as it was then. It is also my hope that the book might inspire anyone acting on behalf of the environment in general, from protestors to elected politicians, from those concerned solely with reducing their own carbon footprint to those seeking to foster a change in behaviour throughout society.
Though united under the anti-roads banner, the movement represented far more than any single issue. It was the fountainhead of various underground cultures that had been in existence for years; the free party and free festival scene, the travelling convoys and the squats of the eighties, hunt saboteurs, punks, hippies and nomads of every description. Galvanised by the authoritarian laws of an arrogant government, the groups united and became something meaningful to people across the country, a cry of resistance that eventually had a massive impact on the political agenda. Environmentalists, transport consultants, landed gentry, anarchists, businessmen; these and many more became part of what was perhaps the most dynamic political movement in Britain in a generation. There were plenty of contradictions in these alliances and yet somehow it all hung together, a cohesion arising out of both the strength of feeling towards a shared enemy and the common bond of a genuine love for the land.
It could be said that that was where it all began; from a love for the land and the widely felt sense of answering a call. There was talk of awakening, of people rising up to take back the power from the corrupt and oppresive. Whatever it was, something struck a chord with a generation that had been kept under the thumb for too long. It was a cultural shift as much as anything else and it often felt like the whole country had an ear to that. Change was blowing away the vapours of a stagnant cabinet, a hope we barely understood rising beneath our feet, even while we were wading through a high tide of road schemes, of mounting security and surveillance, of not knowing where it would end.
Nine Miles is an account of my time in this movement but it is my hope that - just as there was great unity of purpose among the disparity - there is something here that everyone involved can recognise, that rings true with the general experience. Hopefully too there are things that might strike a chord with those new to the events I've described. The book holds a wider message than purely the fight against roads and the car; how it can feel to live in greater harmony with our surroundings for instance - a simpler, cleaner, sometimes harsher life but also a richer and more meaningful one. If we remember what happened at Newbury and the campaigns that led up to it, perhaps that can help inform how we act from here on in; not just in whether or not we engage in direct action, but whether as a society we can reconnect with the spirit that drove those protests, whether they can help inspire us now to move forward in a multitude of ways towards a more ecologically balanced future.
The roads have returned, the culture of the car is in full stride even as the earth begins to lose patience and more and more starve so that we can grow crops to keep our engines running. As one of the birthplaces of the Industrial Revolution, England has a massive responsibilty for the current environmental crisis and therefore ought to have a keenly felt role in finding a way beyond it; in helping found a culture of respect and material constraint and in fostering visions of where the world ought to be going. That's surely a task we should all have a hand in.