You know that a city is too gentrified when you start to see cafes selling cupcakes. I have a particular problem with cupcakes because they’re just fairy cakes, similar to those that we used to make in primary school and sold for 10p. But rebranded as cupcakes, they’re now sold for £3 per tiny cake.
Gentrification in progress. There’ll be cupcakes! an artist’s mural announces on London Road in Brighton.
I have called Brighton – and the London Road area – my home for a number of years. Brighton’s a great place. Small enough that you run into friends on the street, and big enough to be a hive of alternative cultures and projects.
Redwoods in Llandogo, Wales
I love Nature partly because she is not man, but a retreat from him. None of his institutions control or pervade her… If this world were all man, I could not stretch myself, I should lose all hope. He is constraint, she is freedom to me. He makes me wish for another world. She makes me content with this.
Henry David Thoreau (Journal, 3 January 1853)
It’s the middle of the night and I’m laying in my tent, deep in the woods. Suddenly I hear footsteps. They’re coming closer and closer to me. My heart races nervously. Something, or someone, is trying to get into my tent. I scream. The next morning, I discover that a creature has gnawed a hole through my tent. And the following night, the footsteps come again. As I fumble desperately for a torch, I put my hand on something furry and scream again. I have previously camped in forests inhabited by wolves and bears, but it is this creature, which turns out to be a tiny mouse, which finally manages to scare the hell out of me!
Protesters at Piccadilly Circus last year
I loathe London. I lived there for a decade. I did my time there, I lived on both sides of the river, I knew the city. So now I feel that it is my right to loathe it!
Why do I dislike London so much? Maybe my views are tainted by the past – by memories of the old me. But mostly I dislike London because it is the epitome of the capitalist system.
Just over a year ago, my friends and I travelled to Kurdistan in northern Iraq. It was January 2012 and we had just spent two months in Iran. Imagine our surprise when we reached Sulaymaniyah and were greeted with Christmas decorations on the streets of this predominantly non-Christian country, and imagine our confusion as we saw huge 4×4 cars rolling past expensive hotels. Within ten minutes of being in Sulaymaniyah, it was clear that the corporate takeover of the region’s resources was well under way.
Three days ago, at 5.30am on the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, myself and two others ran up to the security fence of the EDO arms factory in Brighton and locked ourselves onto the gates, using d-locks around our necks, ensuring that the gates would not open when the workers came in for their shift at 5.45am and stopping deliveries from arriving. The other two activists superglued their hands to the gates. We remained locked there for six hours until the police removed us, and we were given support by other anti-war activists, who stayed by our sides.
Since moving to Brighton, my second home has become the Cowley Club, a collectively-owned non-profit base for activists to meet each other, hold meetings, stage events and eat vegan cake! I have become involved with Smash EDO, an anti-arms campaign against the local weapons factory, EDO MBM. Admirably, Smash EDO has been campaigning constantly since 2004, holding weekly demonstrations outside the factory, as well as organising many mass direct actions, rooftop occupations, peace camps, critical mass bike rides, blockades of the company’s phone lines…the list goes on. And in January 2009, when more than 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Massacre, a group of activists broke into the factory and caused hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage. In court, the activists were found not guilty, as they were trying to prevent a greater crime. Despite all this, EDO remains in Brighton, protected by police at every demonstration.
I have returned to England after spending most of the last three years in foreign lands. I want to keep an open mind and try not to let past prejudices cloud my judgements about England. Whilst travelling, I was pretty critical of the land where I am from, but was I being unjust?
On my return, I discover that the obsession with consumerism, celebrity and image is as prevalent as ever, that the media is just as untrustworthy and sexist, and that the government is just as horrific. But I discover two amazing things: that England’s nature is beautiful, and secondly, that people are friendly! As I walk through the streets of Brighton, people smile at me! Some even say hello. People like to chat here. I realise that a decade of living in London had given me the wrong impression of people in this country.