Interview with Peter Styles about his novel Birds, Booze and Bulldozers

As we reported a few weeks ago, you can now download Peter Styles novel Birds, Booze and Bulldozers, about the environment movement in Britain during the nineties, for free. This is the interview Carbusters did with Peter when the book was released a few years ago.

How much of your latest book is autobiographical?

Birds, Booze and Bulldozers is essentially a “faction”, approximately 50% “real” and 50% imagined – I’d like to think that only those who were involved can tell which half actually happened. I wanted it to be a “fish out of water” account as it helps the non-activist reader to have empathy for what Lester experiences, but it does of course reflect a lot of what I thought and felt at the time.

You took part in the Newbury bypass protest, any standout memories from that time?

I think the mid-90s was a very special period. Although there never seemed to be enough bodies on the ground we were blessed with lots of full-time activists compared to today. It managed to capture the headlines and public imagination long before the “Cult of Swampy” occurred. There were so many great moments, times when you really thought you were making a difference.

The protests at Newbury were the pinnacle in terms of scale and media interest – it was the last battle we lost in order to “win” the war. My overwhelming memories are lack of sleep, mud, tears and laughter. Being at Kennet Camp the night before the eviction, knowing I was going to be one of the last people to see such a beautiful place, was quite spooky and reinforced my belief we were doing the right thing.

Do you feel you achieved something then?

If you look at the effect of direct action on issues such as the roads programme, rainforest timber and third world debt, I think a persuasive argument can be made that we did make a difference. It also caused a ripple effect through to the heightened environmental awareness of today.

The book reveals an interesting variety of people involved with direct action in the 90s, not the stereotypical eco-warriors. Was this the case?

There was a genuine diversity in the people involved; the press invented the stereotype of the “eco warrior” in order to categorise us for the hard-of-thinking. One thing about people, which is both wonderful and sometimes frustrating, is that everyone – even with globalisation and social pressure to conform – is different. Jeremy Clarkson [TV-host of Top Gear] may be a planet trashing arse but at least he’s a distinct individual and the same could be said of most activists.

You described yourself as a full-time environmental activist in the 90s. Are you still active today?

I haven’t been arrested for 12 years now and at the grand old age of 36 couldn’t see myself climbing up a crane unless there was a very good reason. However, a hatred for the car and the culture and economics that surround it still burns inside me. There are many ways for people to do the right thing and activism is merely one.

What do you think of the new generation of direct action groups, like Plane Stupid?

I have great respect for the new generation of activists. It’s far harder to do direct action at airports, especially with all the post 9/11 hysteria. There was a story about someone infiltrating Plane Stupid in the paper recently. Its nice to see the group members were sharp enough to spot him – and that the campaign is deemed worthy of being spied upon.

Does direct action still have a role to play? Can you save the planet with a bicycle lock?

Maybe. But it’s going to take many thousands of people to get fired up and do something about it. Right now I can’t see it without something drastic happening to people’s lifestyles. Perhaps a movie version of Birds, Booze and Bulldozers at every multiplex would help shift people’s attitudes.

Interview by Sam Fleet, published in Carbusters #34.

One Comment

  1. Paddy Wagon
    Posted 9 February, 2010 at 19:25 | Permalink

    Spot on.

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