Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Phantom Hole Digging in gardens, pavements, meadows and Adrian Mitchell



There have always been episodes of phantom hole digging around here. Soon after I moved into this house I planted some rather nice bushes in my front garden. I awoke in the morning to find large holes where afore mentioned bushes had been. Actually that is not true I wandered around for quite a while in the living room staring out of the window until I suddenly realised what was different about the garden. It took some time for the absence of bushes to register; the presence of absence is always trickier maybe than the presence of presence. However, surely a hole is as positively present as the absence of a bush? ( Yes I know, dear reader this paragraph could be given the 'Carry on Up the Fens ', Kenneth Williams/Sid James dirty laugh double entendre treatment but just get a grip ).

I tried to explain this when I reported the theft at the police station. He pulled a slight face when I gave my address, council housing or should I now call it social housing I could see him thinking. In paranoid mode, I expected some sort of comment about what did I expect planting nice bushes in my front garden in that locality. However, he shuffled his papers “You’re the sixth person this week reporting missing bushes, one person’s even had two trees go missing. It’s probably someone doing a landscaping job and needs a few bushes, they usually go round sussing out all the local gardens and then they just steal what they need to complete a job. It won’t be neighbours, you might notice if they had your bushes in their garden.” I pointed out that my neighbours were lovely and not that stupid. Some classy newly be-decked and planted garden was never raided and my skimmia was never located.

Now holes are appearing all round the neighbourhood in pavements and roads courtesy of the gas board, we have had letters about it. There will be holes it said and yes there are holes but they seem to appear in the middle of the night and I haven’t as yet spotted anyone appearing to dig them, look down them or generally manage them. Small white hurdles appear round them to stop the local pensioners and small children diving in head first but other than that nothing. There is a positive frenzy of hole digging and then nothing is happening around said holes. I have a sprayed yellow square and a yellow arrow on the pavement outside my house, I have the hurdles in place to guard the sprayed pavement as if the pavement was a hole in waiting , which it is of course but as yet no hole. They have been creeping up the street at the rate of two holes per night. I do not sleep well, surely I would have heard digging? By my calculations my hole should be dug tonight; like waiting up for Santa or the tooth fairy I feel I need to catch the hole digger doing what they do.

Then to top it all as I drove on the ring road round my small fen town early this morning I passed over the local flood meadow not a hole but a huge meandering Somme like trench has appeared in the meadow overnight leading from the river bank. It was not there twenty-four hours ago when I drove past and now the whole meadow is scarred and gouged. I ask someone who lives near the flood meadow what this trench might be for, extra drainage I am told. This is an ancient meadow, it has been a flood plain for the town for centuries, is the extra rainfall we are having now just too much for the flood plain to do it’s job? It transpires that they need the extra drainage because of the houses they have built further up on the flood plain. So the meadow could do it’s job perfectly well as it has done more or less since before medieval times except now someone had the bright idea of building on part of the flood plain.

How clever, how forward thinking, how socially conscious of them to provide housing for those who are desperate to get a foot on the housing ladder. No, these are top of the range, four by fours in the garage, private moorings for boat on river, jobbies. I think I am having a ‘Swampy ’moment, except it’s hard to chain yourself to a meadow and I don’t do camping in bad weather. I’m not exactly eco-warrior material, I don’t think tunnelling under the flood meadow would be my cup of tea, especially as the water table is high and it’s bound to make for a soggy sleeping-bag. Besides it’s digging up the meadow I am concerned about. Adrian Mitchell is an old poet warrior who has made his voice known about many environmental issues. This poem although about life, also says something about my meadow too. I have walked across it in all seasons and all weathers, dodging cow pats, examining flowers I have no name for and causing huge swathes of Canada geese to rise up with such a churn of wings I thought the air would never stop vibrating. Now I won’t be able to walk across its full extent unless I take up Fierljeppen ,a sport practised by some who have an affinity for tall poles and muddy water.

There are holes and there are holes and this is one great big long winding hole I ought to try and at least make some noise about. Those phantom diggers one day could undermine the whole fabric of the universe and when you are already in a hole I thought the clich├ęd advice was to stop digging.

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