Derek – Friday 15th October 2021

The fencing is going up between us and the Gateway site as the estate nears completion. I recall the trains of concrete lorries going in as work progressed. The main ingredient of concrete is cement which in its manufacture accounts for 8% of climate change gases. At the only consultative meeting between the housing association and locals, their overuse of concrete was put to them. They had no coherent reply. It clearly hadn’t been considered, which is a sad reflection on Gateway Housing Association who, without the need to satisfy shareholders, should be in the forefront of green housing.

When the temporary fencing on our side comes down, between us and the Gateway site, as well as the couple of yards of ground we’ll get back, there is a narrow gully about 2 feet deep, just our side of the fence. We are discussing with the contractors how to fill or cover it, as the gully would be a danger, especially to children.

I spot a lone white butterfly on the perennial wallflowers. They react to movement, I try to minimise my motion as I home in with a camera. I suspect the chilly weather has also made it more sluggish, so I am able to get within a couple of feet before it flies off. It is a small white butterfly (Pieris rapae), hated by allotment holders as the very hungry caterpillars ravage their cabbages.

In the pond are tiny light brown disks, like backgammon pieces for frogs. The water irises’ seed ponds have opened and their seeds are floating in the water. This is the irises’ means of dispersal. In a stream, the current would carry the seeds away, say to a mudbank which they could colonise. We will collect some up to be given away in our seed packs.

The indigo is in flower. Its inflorescence is very like that of the privet, spikes of tiny white flowers. During the summer, the garden had a number of indigo dyeing workshops. The dye is blue, the colour of jeans. The word indigo comes from the Latin for Indian as the dye was originally exported to Europe from India. IndiGO is a low cost Indian airline carrying the largest number of passengers in the sub-continent, which, like all other airlines, is a heavy user of fossil fuel.

But indigo has a sadder history. The colour was very much desired in 18th century Europe, which led to it being planted in the West Indies, and the English colonies in what is now the USA. Slaves were brought over from West Africa to maximise profits. The trade in indigo was very lucrative.

Another plant we had that is associated with the slave trade is sugar cane, just this week taken out. We grew it as part of our Americana project and I tasted a bit of the stem. It is slightly sweet and I contemplate how much you must need of it to produce a meaningful amount of sugar. It was shipped over, highly concentrated as molasses, from the 16th century, to the detriment of Queen Elizabeth I’s teeth. Her father, Henry VIII, had perfect teeth but hers were painful stumps. She became addicted to sugar. From Tudor times, the sweetener caught on rapidly. Thousands of slaves were used in its production, their average working life less than ten years.

We are beginning to face up to our part in this awful trade. Though many resist, as the National Trust is finding out in the reaction of an active minority to the Trust’s telling of how money from slavery went into the building of many of its grand houses. The resistors accuse the National Trust of rewriting history. But in reality, it is a correction of history. This country was involved in slavery for 250 years, with too much evidence of this trade to credibly say otherwise.

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