Yes, the guys who built the tunnel which takes the A538 under the runway at Manchester Airport really knew what they were doing. Which is more than can be said for Wendy and Normal, whose own tunnel, just a few hundred yards away, was in imminent danger of collapse. Or at least that was the latest word on the local radio news as I approached the site of the airport's proposed second runway, where over 70 protesters are holed up in tunnels or perched in treehouses.
It was mid-morning on Thursday, the third day of the operation to remove the protesters, and security was high. Access to "the site", as it's known, is by means of an official minibus, which takes you through a large gate to a small, taped-off area in the middle of a field. On one side is the present runway; ahead and to the left is an area of trees beyond which the ground slopes down steeply to the river Bollin below. Down there is where the protesters are encamped, but from the middle of the field all you can see is the tops of the trees and a few treehouses in the distance, token outposts of Zion Tree Camp, Jimi Hendrix Camp and the famous Sir Cliff Richard OBE Vegan Revolution Camp.
My own camp for the day, that is to say the Bored Journalists Complaining They Can't See Anything Camp, was sparsely populated, and we were heavily outnumbered by the massed ranks of officialdom beyond the confines of our pen. A large number of yellow- jacketed police officers were milling around, most of them looking fairly jovial, and they were complemented by an even larger number of somewhat less jovial security men in blue overalls. Everyone was colour-coded. The bailiffs wore smart black overalls with 'Sheriff's Office' in yellow letters on the back, while the professional climbers, whose job it is to get the protesters out of the trees, wore white overalls. Then there were the professional tunnellers, mysterious men in dirty, unmarked black overalls and balaclavas who whizzed about on quad bikes. There were rumours that they were soldiers, SAS even.
Around noon the media liaison officer appeared and distributed a press release from the Coalition Against Runway Two. Wendy and Normal had issued a demand. They were demanding that a worldwide tax on aviation fuel should be introduced. Quite why they felt they were in a position to demand even ten pence for a cup of tea when they were holed up in a tunnel which was about to collapse on top of them remained unclear.
At one o'clock the under-sheriff of Cheshire, Mr Randall Hibbert, arrived. He was wearing a red jacket and a red helmet with 'Under Sheriff' written on it. There is no over-sheriff of Cheshire, which means that Mr Hibbert is the top man sheriff-wise. He had come to give us his latest briefing.
A bespectacled, slightly nervous man who clearly doesn't enjoy dealing with the media, he reminded me of John Nott during the Falklands War. Reading from a prepared statement, he said that press allegations of heavy- handed tactics by his tunnellers were "completely without foundation" (no pun apparently intended) and he urged anyone who had a complaint to report it to the police. Nobody laughed. He also told us that we might soon be able to move somewhere with a better view.
An hour later we were taken to our new position, another taped-off area at the side of a small weir at the bottom of the valley. From here we could look across the river to a flat area of ground abutting a steep, wooded escarpment. About 100 feet up in the trees we could just about make out the figures of several rather bedraggled protesters, who were looking down at a line of 30 or so police officers below. This was the Wild Garlic Camp and the sheriff's men were about to move in.
We watched as the white-overalled climbers manoeuvred their way upwards, sometimes making use of the rope bridges which the protesters had strung between the trees. I have to admit this game of Catch the Crusty was quite entertaining, but I think it would have benefited from a time limit. After an hour, two treehouses had been stormed but all the Crusties remained in play.
At 3.30pm the under-sheriff reappeared for his latest briefing. There was a lot of interest in Normal and Wendy, who were still holding out in their tunnel back at Zion Camp. He said they wouldn't come out voluntarily. "So how do you actually get them out of the tunnel?" I asked. "How?" repeated the under-sheriff, as if this was the first time he'd had to consider the problem. There was a long pause. "Umm ... pass," he eventually replied. And then he was off again. Up in the trees the game continued and it was obvious who was going to win, as it has been all along.
Dressing down for the president
The fashion world was in a tizz this week after President Bill Clinton denounced the industry for promoting what he called "heroin chic". According to Bill, one look at those hollow-eyed models on the catwalk and we all rush out and start shooting up. So what does top frockist Bella Freud make of it all?
"I remember they made a similar kind of fuss about schoolgirls," she says, "and I just don't think it has any bearing on what really happens. The few people it might influence would be influenced by a chicken crossing the road. The problem of people taking heroin is to do with their appalling circumstances and nothing to do with fashion. Maybe he thinks it's a way of drawing attention to the actual problem, but I just think it's feeble, absolutely feeble.
So that's that sorted then.
And has Bella ever lived in a tree? "I've often wanted to," she says, "but I've never actually managed it."
Brotherly love or tunnel vision?
Jodie Foster's brother Buddy was in London last week to promote his book Foster Child. "It wasn't supposed to be a biography of Jodie, it was more of a family portrait thing," he says of the book, which is subtitled An Intimate Biography of Jodie Foster, the last two words being in huge gold type on the cover. So he's a bit disappointed with the way his publishers have chosen to present the book and he's also a bit disappointed with his sister's recent rather negative reaction regarding its contents.
And he's even more disappointed by the concentration by certain sections of the press on what his book has to say about his sister's sexuality. It mentions three relationships with men and one with a woman. "All I say is that I assume she's bisexual, maybe homosexual," says Buddy, who was apparently born yesterday. "But to me it doesn't really matter either way. Maybe it's just the way I was raised. I had lesbian parents - my Aunt Jo and my mom - and to me it didn't seem a big deal."
Buddy was a child actor like his sister but these days he runs a construction company in Minnesota, building new houses. Has he ever built a tunnel? "No, but I've done archway hallways that were like a tunnel," he says. Well has he ever lived in a tunnel? "Not me, but I'm not saying there weren't periods of my life when it felt like it."
Hemmings works his magic again
"I do think Eclectic Similarities is a rather poncey title, I have to say," says David Hemmings of his exhibition of paintings at the Osborne Studio Gallery in Knightsbridge. It may be a poncey title, but it sums up the varied work on display, from pen and ink to watercolour with even a bit of sculpture. Despite being best known as an actor and director, David says painting is his major passion.
"I think I've come to it much more in recent years because it really does hold the key to almost everything else I've done through my life," says the man who will forever be remembered as the star of Antonioni's Blow Up.
"As an actor you paint a character, as a director you paint a scene, and it has that way of really just getting to you."
He moved back to London a couple of years ago from his previous home in Idaho. Divorce was one of the reasons, and "a very wonderful new lady" was another.
It's a little known fact that David is also an accomplished magician. I wondered if magic tricks were a useful way of pulling women. "I think in my youth it was a very useful ... device," he says. Any trick in particular? "I think anything in which it's necessary to hold the other's hand can always be helpful."
David says he's been following the Manchester Airport saga closely on Radio 4. He's never protested about anything in his life.Reuse content