The Wind in The Pylons
Welcome To Weaselworld
Stumbling on a tunnel hidden behind a big old cupboard in his kitchen, the Mole (from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In The Willows) finds his way along it, leaving his idyllic river bank and all his friends far behind him.
He emerges into an unrecognisable landscape of vast naked fields and out-of-town ‘shopping zones’ whose grey hulking sheds loom hideously above derelict land. Here and on the gargantuan six-lane road he finds nearby, the only animals he can see are locked away behind the glass of bizarrely-shaped contraptions moving at nightmare speeds in all directions. The tunnel has penetrated time as well as space, and the Mole has been carried forward eighty years into a 1990’s where the weasels have taken over altogether. Nature itself is under attack from every quarter and Pan, the god of the natural world, has been driven into hiding.
Who are the weasels? Author Gareth Lovett Jones comments:
“For Kenneth Grahame the weasels were simply what he did not like, and may perhaps have feared – the ‘grasping proletariat’ of his day, as one of his biographers describes them. I have taken just the same tack, except that in my case the betes noires are such things as New Right politicians and economists, and the leaders and apologists of today’s terrifying corporate greed-culture which puts profit and
shareholder interests above all other considerations, the small matter of our continuing survival on the planet amongst them.”
Weaselworld is an apocalyptic place, totally unsuited to a sensitive creature such as the Mole, were it not for one strange fact: in this world of the future, no one who comes into the Mole’s company can do anything but speak the truth to him.
And in a society where the lie is a standard tool of the professions and can be exposed to the advantage of those in the know, the Mole rapidly finds himself a rising star in the eyes of one of its wiliest arch-manipulators, the Chief Executive Animal of petro-chemicals giant Toad Transoceanic, Mr Humfrey Wyvern-Toad.
Corruption And The Apocalypse
Often a wildly funny book, The Wind In The Pylons may well be the best satire the green movement has yet had written for it.
Alongside the prototype New Right politicians of Thatcherism and Majorism, memorably epitomised in the appalling character of Minister For (Development-) Development, the Rt Hon Gibbert Phangachs MP, amongst others, there is the second generation - ‘young’ Mr Probity Stote of the New Animalists and his Shadow Minister, Mr Nosepoak Catpole. (The author has extended Grahame’s range of furry animals in a number of directions, with names to match.)
Root and branch, this is a corrupt
and biddable politics whose representatives bend over backwards to service only the most large-scale business interests, where government committees are funded and largely staffed by the manufacturers of the products they regulate, and ‘science’ is used not to expose the truth behind potentially dangerous products but to rubber-stamp them.
Above all, it is a politics without dissent: in Weaselworld all animals of any influence are agreed on the highest power – the ne plus ultra invoked to justify any action, however destructive – they call it the ‘Mystery Of The Market.’
Though constructed like a children’s book, The Wind In The Pylons could hardly be more urgent, and for much of its length it is a work of lacerating, Swiftian indignation.
“I have never joined in with street protests and the like,” says the author.
“Who knows, perhaps I should have done. But I have kept tabs on the issues over the last two decades, and this novel is my way of contributing something concrete (and very largely factual) to the debate. Read George Monbiot’s “Captive State”, or Tom Athanasiou’s “Slow Reckoning” or “False Dawn”, Professor John Gray’s withering book on the multinationals, or Bruce Rich’s or Arundhati Roy’s very distinct accounts of the crimes against humanity of the World Bank during the eighties and early nineties, or Marion Shoard’s and Graham Harvey’s books on the inexorable, state-engineered spread of chemical agribusiness. How can anyone confront facts like these and not feel indignation? Unless of course you are part of the game, as so many people are, and take the position that endemic corruption is in some way ‘natural’?”
How, then, did The Wind In The Pylons come into being?
“There came a point in the mid nineties when I had got sick to the point of nausea with turning on the ‘Today’ programme and hearing the voice of the next – what can one call them? – ‘professional ameliorator’? – giving only the very best of reasons for whichever stark new outrage it happened to be: Shell in Nigeria, the Newbury by-pass, Monsanto on the safety of ‘BST’ in milk, some NFU man talking up the wonders of modern
farming. The Wind In The Pylons is in one sense a kind of love-letter to such people, and to the nineties as a whole: they certainly supplied me, one after another, with a multi-coloured parade of weasels, though the book also had to obey generic laws, and that includes an element of cartoon-like exaggeration.
But how is it possible to exaggerate something like a university Chair in ‘Corporate Ethics’, funded by that paragon in the field, BAT? In a world where the behaviour of organisations is already grotesque, the irony must be at its sharpest where one does little more than photocopy it.”
In The Line Of Fire
The targets of Gareth Lovett Jones’s excoriating love-letter do not stop at ardently biddable ‘Darwinian’ politicians, manically hubristic trans-nationals bosses or the bent
and temporising scientists who serve them. The Mole’s uneasy journey brings him up against many other shining examples of weaseline behaviour, and, as the author says:
“They are all linked, though I was quite some way into the writing before I knew that for sure.
The best I could find to say for the weasels occurs in a little scene (actually in Volume Two) where a group of them are being taken on a guided walk in the Chilterns, and one of the party seems to be experiencing some kind of race memory of a time when they too were a part of nature.
“As to the main players, every last one of them has lost his respect for nature – his understanding of nature’s laws of balance and gradualism. Each animal is seeking to expand his own exclusive
territory outwards, and then again outwards, into whatever may be left to colonise.
“Why are all the characters male? It’s not so far from reality, is it? The brute colonising instinct always falls to the male of the species. But there is another reason, because I made a point of respecting the unities of Grahame’s book wherever I could and his characters are, of course, to the last speaking part male.
This is pastiche, and if pastiche doesn’t love what it copies, then it has lost its reader before it starts.”
So the Mole passes by way of the Master of a fox hunt (a toad, in case anyone was wondering), to the site of a grim chicken battery (owners absent in all but deed).
Meantime, by way of his meeting with Toad Transoceanic’s Head of Degirthing, the tragi-comic Mr Rette – a water rat of course – the Mole comes to understand more than he might have wished about the nightmare
treadmill of the ‘deregulated’ work-slave living in constant terror of redundancy; and through Mr Rette’s teenage son, Justin, he comes face to face with information technology, and the psychic and intellectual traps it sets for the unwary.
Throughout the book the Mole remains a symbol of hope, by remaining true to himself and acting as the small sweet voice of a very practical reason.
“Everything else is different here – that includes the Rat, the Toad and the Badger in my
reinventions of them. So it was crucial I should keep the Mole recognisably as Grahame made him – candid, loyal, stout-hearted, sometimes prone to childlike displays of emotion, not the most articulate of fellows but prepared to struggle against barely comprehensible jargons and his own verbal limitations to get at the truth. He is a visitor from another age, but he is also something deeper: he represents innocence – the innocence that Grahame himself imagined, and no doubt hoped
to find in himself. The innocence of the pre-lapsarian world he has come from, the world of children’s storybooks. So long as there are Moles about, there may be hope for us – even Mr Rette seems to be changing towards the end, as a result of having met him, though the Toad of course is quite beyond reform.”