View from the Bridge: 12

by John Morrison

12: The Feng Shui Man

Willow Woman gazes around her little terraced house in Milltown and doesn't much like what she sees. Not even the accumulation of mobiles, crystals and wind-chimes can disguise the unpalatable fact that she is living in abject squalor. Having spent most of the winter trying to get on first-name terms with her inner child, she has managed to avoid such routine household chores as cleaning, washing up and emptying the cat litter tray.

The usual remedy - simply to burn another joss stick - can no longer mask the malodorous atmosphere of grime and neglect. The clear rays of spring sunshine seem to permeate the gloomiest corners; even Willow Woman, generally unaware of the chaos in which she lives, realises that desperate remedies are called for. She springs immediately into action and phones the feng shui man.

Within minutes a fey young man is knocking at her door. Seemingly oblivious to the obvious health hazards he inspects each room in turn, nodding sagely and scribbling notes. "I can tell you are a very spiritual person", he says. Having a pre-Galilean view of the cosmos - believing that all the planets revolve around her - Willow Woman nods appreciatively. "And you feel things more deeply than most people do." Willow Woman admits that, yes, this is indeed the case. "And not everybody understands, as I do, your need to go down the road less travelled". Willow Woman, impressed by the young man's insight, is now hanging on his every word.

"Are there any changes I can make", she asks him, "that would help to create more harmony in this house?" The answer comes from her daughter, Sky, who clumps through the door in khaki fatigues and steel-toed boots: "you could always start by clearing up some of those cat turds, mum, they should be rock-hard by now".

Sky is counting the days until she can leave this pigsty for good. She thinks there's a very good reason why the road is less travelled: it's a dead-end. The only road she's interested in travelling is the one that leads away from the stifling confines of Milltown. She doesn't have much truck with new-age philosophies. That hippy-drippy 'All You Need is Love' stuff makes her want to go out and give someone a damn good kicking. After a childhood during which her mother could hardly decide what to cook for tea without consulting the Tarot cards, Sky has decided that actions do indeed speak louder than words.

*     *     *

The 1990s are throwing up some curious allegiances. Elderly ladies with blue-rinsed hair are manning the barricades alongside young activists like Sky and her friends. And Milltown is currently embroiled in a contentious issue of its own: plans for a supermarket to be built on a patch of unprepossessing scrubland just outside of town. As soon as the plans were published, a makeshift army was mustered to thwart them at every step.

An environmental audit of the proposed site revealed a remarkable (though optimistic) variety of wildlife that would be lost to the bulldozers. Sightings of such rarities as the Natterjack Toad, Golden Eagle and Thompson's Gazelle underlined the value of the site to the local community. Until its transformation into a miniature Serengheti, the scrubland was mainly used by courting couples, dog-walkers and fly-tippers. Emboldened by rotgut cider the Town Drunk would spend balmy summer evenings there, exposing himself to passers-by.

But now there are alternative plans for this wasteland: a nature trail, picnic site and an interpretive centre. Environmental activists begin to move onto the site and construct tunnels and tree-houses. They are joined by more conventional Milltown folk, the eclectic nature of this raggle-taggle army emphasised by the placards being raised aloft: the messages range from 'Save our Scrubland' to 'We Say NO to Casual Knitware'.

The editor of the Milltown Times, alert as ever to a good story, has dispatched his crack photographer to the scene. She looks doubtfully at the hieroglyphics on her Kodak Instamatic - finally setting it to 'sunny' - and gazes myopically through the viewfinder at the demonstrators. "Smile" she says, absentmindedly.

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