If you drive along the A34 past Newbury this afternoon or tomorrow night, summer or winter, you will, whether you know it or not, be driving over a spirited land. Under the tarmac of the fast lane is a pixie spirit of glee. Under the middle lane, a robust spirit of courage. Under the slow lane, as deep and certain as earth, an older spirit of honour. And along every inch where the hard shoulder meets the grass and thistles, the two most irrepressible spirits of all: love and life. For love of life, for green, green life, a piece of theatre was played here in the mid-nineties, when hundreds of people camped in treehouses and benders to try to stop the road being built through a landscape of surpassing beauty.
Some of the players were tangly pissheads and some were darlings of innocence. Some invented an idiosyncratic architecture out of trash and some flew their words like kites from the treetops. Some fought funny, some fought angry, some fought stoned. They fought and failed to stop this particular road being built, but they succeeded in ambushing the imagination of a nation, and did so with flair and fury and fire.
Some came and blew a thoughtful breath to the flame. A few burned out and their part in this play left them charred. More, though, came and found their souls lit from this strange fire. A difficult fire, a fantasmagoric fire, a fire fit for a phoenix. This is written for them all. Crucially, it was also written by them all – it is fiction but it is also a truth, a record of my respect for all the players who put their liveliness on the line and who stepped then across the walkways between trees by starlight, and who step again now across these pages. “I found the poems in the fields and only wrote them down,” said John Clare, England’s peasant poet. Anarchipelago is a kind of “found fiction”, a story I heard in the mud and treehouses in that extraordinary time.