News Of The Skews
This issue's look at national media skew-whiffery examines the Daily Mail's hysterical view of Newbury.
Squall 12, Spring 1996, pg. 16.
The Daily Mail - the paper that brought your grandparents the rousing headline "Hoorah for the Blackshirts" (yes, seriously) in support of Fascism in the thirties - can always be relied on for the most accurate portrayal of events.
The edition of the Saturday Mail on January 13 excelled itself, thanks to the bravery of two intrepid reporters who fearlessly entered the nether world of the Newbury protest camps.
Beneath the strapline: "Drink and drugs aplenty, and a cause worth sponging for" ran the headline: 'A Day in the Life of an Eco Warrior.'
Greg Swift, the 'journalist' who penned the piece is obviously a man of great imagination and originality. He also seems to be a voracious hunter for the truth.
Mr Swift introduces the piece using his great descriptive powers to conjure the atmosphere of the camp at Snelsmore Common at night.
"The still of the night is pierced by strange, animal like noises," he writes, commenting on the unusual sounds to be heard in the middle of the countryside. Ah, but he is referring to the protesters who use "high pitched yelps as a sort of primeval language".
The scene set, Mr Swift introduces us to these savages. They are unfriendly at first but the group of "dishevelled, filthy protesters" are soon put at their ease by "the gift of eight cans of beer".
Mr Swift is unfortunately unable to elicit much information out of the protesters. Due to the "profusion of drugs - predominantly cannabis, speed and ecstasy, though occasionally heroin, much of the conversation is rambling nonsense."
Mr Swift, is obviously shocked and disturbed by his experience. "Looking around," he writes, "it is astonishing to see how prepared they are to let their bodies suffer. Many are infested with head lice, and the longer serving members have blackened teeth and hair.
"Occasionally supportive locals invite protesters into their homes for a bath or shower," he continues. "But it is frowned upon by the tree dwellers to use soap".
Mr Swift reserves most of his righteous and understandable anger for "the young single mothers who drag their children through the mud and undergrowth to confront the bulldozers".
One such child, aged only three, had a shoe missing and his "face screwed up in a mixture of fear and bewilderment." The child, comments the incisive Mr Swift, had already suffered enough abuses of power: "maternal rather than official".
But, alas, Mr Swift is disappointed that despite their "manic, staring eyes" the protesters are not as tough as they would have us believe. After dicing with danger and dodging chainsaws, when they were arrested many started to cry and "begged the police to keep the details from their parents".
Steven Morris, another Daily Mail correspondent of great esteem and stature, added a few hundred words concerning dole cheques to Mr Swift's accurate, balanced and thoroughly well-researched version of events.
Mr Morris has great sympathy with the postmen who "battle through mud and litter" to deliver dole cheques to the fearfully named Nutty Oak and Squirrel's Den. These are sent after protesters nip home every two weeks for a "wash and brush up - and to sign on the dotted line". No doubt the redoubtable Mr Swift must have had a strong word about personal hygiene in order for the protesters to change their washing habits so rapidly.
"The vast majority freely admit that they have no intention of doing an honest day's work," Mr Morris comments - in the course of his honest, and deservedly well remunerated, day's work at Newbury.
He then states that at least half the protesters are on benefits, but some only on Income Support because "they have never worked at all". Obviously they must have tendered out the contract for building tree houses and tunnels to the lowest private bidder while they made merry on the munificence of their government allowance.
But not to fear. We are reassured that come October the scandal of "the dole scroungers" will come to an end with the introduction of the Job Seeker's Allowance.
All in all, a worthy piece. The only things Messrs Swift and Morris failed to notice was the long red tails sported by many of the protesters and the mark of the beast on each of their foreheads.
"Drink and drugs aplenty, and a cause worth sponging for"
A few weeks later, on February 12, the day after 5,000 people demonstrated against the by-pass, the Mail wheeled out "top writer", Dr Anthony Daniels, who appears to be a psychologist.
Under the headline "To Protest is Fine, But Why the Squalor?" Dr Daniels could appreciate popular concern about more ring-roads and asphalt, but is puzzled by the motivation of the resident protesters whose conditions are "profoundly harsh and uncomfortable".
No doubt after putting a reasonable sample size of protesters on his couch, he comes up with a few answers.
Would you believe that many members of this "outcast society", who reject "the values of mainstream society", find comfort from joining a "community of like-minded people"?
Not only this, it seems the resident protester has a profound fear of failure. Dr Daniels concludes that the protesters "dream wildly of success and hope they have the talent to achieve it."
But their dreams of "power, fame, wealth and glory" are doomed through lack of talent and committent. So the bitter protesters don't even bother to try, and instead look for immortality in the woods of Newbury.
This aim, says Dr Daniels, is secondary to concerns about traffic congestion and dead dormice. Concerns which the good doctor admits are perfectly well-founded.
So all hail to the legendary er, so and so, of Newbury...
IF YOU NEWBURY LIKE I NEWBURY - report from the frontline in the Third Battle Of Newbury - Squall 12, Spring 1996
Pro-Newbury Bypass Lobby Grows - Momentum is gathering for the Newbury Bypass - Squall 10, Summmer 1995
ROAD WARS - the latest from the anti-roads movement including 'Free State Of Pollok', 'Sky Village' at Stanworth Valley, plus the spectre of the A30 in Devon and the Newbury Bypass - Squall 9, Jan/Feb 1995