Goose green: Urban improvement can often get out of hand

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Twenty years ago, I saw a Canada goose followed by gang of goslings, all a-swimming round their mother, in a pond on the south side of Clapham Common, and it quite changed my ideas about what ought to happen in towns. I went home and bought a beehive and started a family - in which order, I forget.

The intervening years have seen Canada geese, like the traffic round the common, multiply so that both traffic and geese have been declared a public menace. But what can one do? Taking pot-shots seems to have little effect on either species.

I was in Los Angeles once when a brief open season was declared on cars by a delinquent sharpshooter. Cars stayed in their driveways when the mystery executioner cracked his first windscreen, but a few days later the 12-lane freeways were as crammed as ever. And this was not even a first for human nature. Traffic jams are far from being unique to the modern town and its surrounding satellites, sometimes called, with affectionate malice, 'burbs'.

Herds of American buffalo once roamed nature's own burbs, the Great Plains, in

numbers so great that Buffalo Bill didn't have to be even sober to hit one. Now buffalo are as rare as hens' pyjamas and who is to say the same will not happen to Nissan and Ford? We should treasure and record the jams in our burbs while we still have them, for all is flux. I suspect there will not be enough Vauxhall Cavaliers left, 100 years hence, to fill Chelsea Bridge Road. Ou sont les Trabants d'antan?

While cars become ever more aerodynamic-ally smooth, they have a way to go before they match the sleek lines of the Canada goose in flight. They do more for me than any uninsur-able hot hatch-back. Thirty or 40 honking great birds in a ragged V can give me goose-bumps, beating up against the wind to get over the trees before shooting past the back garden on their way downhill to Battersea.

It's the same thrill as watching Concorde do a banked turn over the common before settling down for the well-worn 12-mile landing approach to Heathrow. But Concorde doesn't cover the ground daily round Eagle Pond with fresh goose turd.

The other thing I feel nostalgic about at ground level around the common, is a further multiplication of traffic in a Red Route scheme. I have attended meetings and studied maps and put my name down, as many have, but roadbuilders' schemes are still decided in a wonderfully undemocratic way. Why cannot we

contribute some degree of control to our own environment? The answer must lie in the human race's swampy past, and the millennia spent extracting ourselves from the primal sludge at the expense of other, possibly more polite, creatures who did not thrust themselves forward.

If the Red Route goes forward, I could lie down clasping the family dog in front of mighty JCBs, but by then I know it would be too late. The road-building companies have pumped up the Tory party with donations in exchange for being allowed to lay Tarmac anywhere, and these

banana republic-style arrangements are fondly revered as British as Mad Cow Disease, and have been going on so long that to denounce them is somehow unpatriotic.

Even if the Red Route comes, I shall try to stay. There is a heroism in merely recording the facts of survival that has attracted writers to blighted cities, in London's case probably since before Boudicea's out-of-town horde burnt it down for the first time.

In fact, we are citizens of enormous privilege: most European towns have been razed many more times than London. The best thing I have to complain about at the moment is that the house next door has a case of severe internal refurbishment. The party wall threatens to do a Jericho, skips depart with smoking loads of eviscerated lath and plaster, while yet more girders, sand and cement are loudly dropped outside, to fill the hole the builders have just created.

We, the wordprocessing outworkers in the info-tainment industry, do not wish even more noise and pollution brought on a Red Route, thank you. We have quite enough of our own already.

Occasionally, after a long spell of percussive drilling, pictures start to drop off their hooks and my wife, who processes words in the house, but nearer the party wall, may protest, before turning back to the glowing screen to weave phrases that will grace the tables of hairdressers and

presidents alike. As for me, my mind wanders, weak with futuristic nostalgia into the burbs of Fractai Space where all wishes are granted; on the ground, Tories develop a coherent urban

transport policy, while overhead, great honking hordes of everlasting Concordes darken an ice-green evening sky.

Snoo Wilson's new play Darwin's Flood is on at The Bush, Shepherd's Bush Green, W12.

(Photograph omitted)

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