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Chapter 58: The Trouble Is
Carmarthen to Pembroke
“My wife and kids left me.”
Adrian’s car smelt of bubble gum and his look was melancholic.
“I’m…I’m sorry,” I replied awkwardly.
“Trouble is,” he continued, his voice still sombre, “they’re coming back tomorrow!”
He cracked a bolt of laughter and I couldn’t help but join him. You got me there I told him. They’d gone on holiday that was all and Adrian had enjoyed a week alone. There was a box of Stellas in the footwell fresh from the Tesco Extra. “I’m gunna get home, get some burgers on the barbie and have the evening all to myself.” He couldn’t wait.
Adrian was on the young side. Late 30s with a smart beard and cheerful manner. I told him I was travelling around Wales for the weekend. “Ahh,” he groaned, “I’d love to go travelling. Trouble is… I haven’t got the balls!”
He’d picked me up from a police observation zone on a busy roundabout. A sign read ‘no waiting at any time’ so I was doubly grateful for the ride. We were passing through South Wales, out of Carmarthen, past Bancyfelin. Adrian could only take me as far as St Clears. It wasn’t a long drive but I didn’t have a destination in mind. I thought I’d like to go to St David’s but it was getting on and the road there was bitty. Adrian suggested I go to St Govan's. It wasn’t too far away and there was a chapel built into the cliffs.
He whisked the little Toyota off the dual carriageway and we zoomed around the bend. “This is my wife’s car by the way,” he clarified self-consciously, “If you’re wondering why I’m driving it…”
Adrian dropped me outside a pub on a fast road with not much space to stop. He wheeled off with a wave, back out of the car park and on to his barbecue. A white Mercedes screeched to a halt a long way down the road. It hobbled onto the pavement gingerly as I ran to catch it.
It was driven by Toya. She fitted pipes in Hinkley Point and was done for the weekend. “I’d normally come home on a Friday,” she explained with a burly Welsh accent. She lived in a flat near the power station during the week, “But I had to fake an emergency like, so I could come home today. Don’t wanna be dealing with Friday traffic round here.” The traffic was made worse by the Iron Man that weekend. She said I should be careful not to get stranded on the peninsular since they’d be closing all the roads.
Well, she assured me cheerfully, returning to Hinkley Point, she wouldn’t have to fake emergencies for much longer. They were moving down to a four-day week so her Friday commute would be a thing of the past. She couldn’t bloody wait.
Toya was a cool woman, I liked her instantly. She had a ponytail pulled back tight and a pair of black sunnies. It said Marc Jacobs in mini bold on the arms. She told me about Hinkley Point nonchalantly. It was turning into a nightmare apparently. Not for her personally, but the project itself. “We’re miles from finishing it. It’s nowhere near completion and it’s millions over budget.”
It was based on the model used at Chornobyl, though, apparently, much safer. It would use seawater to cool down. Toya was working on the most expensive section of the whole plant. It was a long and arduous process but it was also the most important part. Right underneath the reactor. “Trouble is,” she surmised, “if it ever gets used we’re fucked.”
Toya had spent her career working in power plants. They have plenty of pipes so there’d always been work. She worked in the Milford Haven oil refinery for several years and told me about the Extinction Rebellion protests there. To begin with, they just blocked the entrance roads. People couldn’t get to work and lorries had to drive through fields. It was irritating but she kind of got the point. “They crossed the line though when they got on the roof of an oil tank. They literally had no idea what they were doing! Funny…” she said with a slight cock of the head, “But dangerous.”
Toya thought their campaigns were more of a nuisance than anything else. It was the same with Just Stop Oil. It frustrated her how they pissed off normal people who were already having a tough time.
I told her about a Twickenham rugby match I’d been to a few weeks before when two campaigners scrambled over the pitch-side boards. Orange paint puffed against the vivid green grass and they pranced jeeringly until they got tackled. 60,000 people began to swell. The players watched hands on hips as they were carried off, limbs splayed and limp, like bodies from a finished battle. They’d done their job. The stadium rumbled.
Then one of the guards decided to parade his captive all the way around the pitch, frogmarching, arms fastened in his grip. I’m not sure why, it was only going to rile the crowd up even more. Thick-headed bald men charged forward to the fence faces twitching, mouths twisted, arms flinging abuse. One hurled a pint and it exploded on the captive’s face. 60,000 people roared, brimming this time like a wave forced upwards. It was a visceral moment that seemed to prod the sleeping dog of the mob and though there was really little more than a twitch of its paw, it was enough to give me a glimpse of what it might be like awake.
The campaigner sucked in through his nose and puffed his chest as the jeers became deafening. He appeared to be savouring the abuse, tasting it almost, like a player on debut. But his conviction was resolute. In his mind, he was a martyr bound to a stake, resigned to his fate. The beer slid right off him.
“Ahh, it’s just rich kids on their gap years,” Toya gibed, “You know, they’re targeting the wrong people. People are suffering! They should get the ones that actually make a difference. Go throw paint on Boris Johnson or something.”
Hinkley Point at least would make some green energy. “Apart from the nuclear waste that is,” Toya corrected me. The plant will only last 60 years, a very expensive 60 years at that too. She went on, continuing the pessimistic turn, “The wind farms aren’t even much better because they’re made of carbon fibre which can’t be recycled. They’ll last 30 years then they’ll have to be chucked. We closed the coal fields too soon. It’s like, we’re one per cent of global emissions… What’s the point when China and India are pumping it out?”
“Well I guess we kinda started it. We could start stopping it maybe,” I replied.
“Yeah to be fair 99.99% of the world’s problems are caused by the West!” Toya laughed at the absurdity of it all.
We came into Pembroke and I craned to look at the vast castle that dominated the town. There was a statue of Henry VII with a greyhound rubbed against his leg. His fingers caressed its neck.
“Ah, we’ll be all right,” she suddenly cheered, lightening the mood, “We’ll be dead by the time it gets really bad!”
“Touch wood…” I didn’t fully share Toya’s optimism, besides, there are more generations than our own. Either way, the crisis is steadily prizing open divisions and it’ll only get worse. “I think the issue’s bloody capitalism,” I went on, “Profit, greed and growth. The trouble is it’s so deep there’s no rooting it out. You can see why people say it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism…”
“Yeah well,” she shrugged, “It pays my wages so I don’t mind!”
It was hard to disagree. I guess that’s the trouble.
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