It's a rare week when you can say your future hangs in the balance, but last week was such a one with the hearing of our long-awaited planning appeal.
As a quick recap, we have a plan to turn three acres of pasture land into a small-scale farm based mostly on trees. Based meaning that the trees will provide not just produce but a habitat in which other elements of our system can thrive – such as chicken. We have worked out a plan based on permaculture principles where all systems are integrated with the aim being for zero waste. The human beings in the system are part of that integration, thus waste and consumption flow seamlessly around the whole venture. It's a complex system, but then so is nature, which permaculture aims to echo.
All of this requires us to live on the land, however the local planning department disagrees. So having had our initial planning application turned down, we turned to the planning inspectorate in the hope of having a, er, more considered hearing.
Planning appeals are a little like trials. Both parties have to supply proofs of evidence before the proceedings and the planning inspector presides as judge and jury. It's a painfully formal and dry affair as was evidenced by the posture of some law students who were there to observe as part of their course. Within ten minutes it was clear most of them had lost the will to live – their eyes raised heavenward in despair as the day loomed long before them. The atmosphere wasn't helped by the temperature in the hall, which was very, very cold – in every respect.
Since Gully was the appellant and therefore a witness, I got to speak as a member of the public. I had visualised being coherent, but failed. This is an old problem – under pressure or in confrontational situations, I tend to lose any ability to articulate and end up behaving like a six-year-old. First I start blustering, then I turn to abuse and finally end up in tears – often I do all of these at the same time. My bosom pal, Beth, has the same issues leading to what we term the 'Yeah, but at least I've got friends' syndrome, in fond memory of a particularly inarticulate difference of opinion she once had with a flatmate.
Thus I babbled on incoherently, trying to express to the men in suits how inspiring our vision is, how much our application means to us and how committed we are. The two lucid moments I had came courtesy of Einstein ('madness lies in repeating the same thing over again and expecting different results' and Ghandi ('be the change you want to see'). Apart from that I made an arse of myself whittering on about just not being able to understand the negativity.
And the negativity was palpable. Three of the villagers had tipped up for a nice day out and sat shaking their heads and rolling their eyes whenever they felt the need – as did one of the members of the council team, whom I had expected might have been a little more professional. But aside from all that the gloomy surroundings of Tiverton town hall were beginning to suck all the spirit and hope from me. Our glorious vision was being suffocated by an outpouring of cynicism and dry arguments over DM10s, Core 18s and PP7s. There came a point where I realised that even if I was locked in a padded cell for a week with certain members of the opposition they would still never grasp the essence and spirit of what we are trying to achieve. It was like trying to explain Chopin to someone profoundly deaf.
The next day I was discussing career options with eight-year-old Matty, I was explaining that some people went to university and studied subjects they were either very good at or very interested in and that some studied because they had particular jobs in mind. 'So, for instance,' I explained ' you may want to go to university because you want to work in a planning department and you need a degree that will enable you to get that job.
But,' I added hastily, 'you don't want to do that.'
'Why,' said Matty.
'Because,' I said 'you will lose your soul'.
'What do you mean?' he asked.
I fumbled around in my head for an explanation, then hit upon one. 'Well,' I explained, 'like the dementors in Harry Potter.'
Dementors are not visible to muggles. But they were there that day in Tiverton town hall alright.