It's a sign of age that random song lyrics from decades ago keep popping up in my mind as I read the online news. However, just sometimes, instead of this being random mental noise it means something. Or so I'd like to think.
And so reading Boris' appeal for for a Thames estuary airport, those lines from Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi popped up. I know those bleak, uninhabited waters well, between Medway and London. Thousands of acres of glutinous, stinking mud where only little islands of grass as tough as Kevlar can live, littered with the rusting hulks of dead ships, and the collapsing skeletal remains of piers and jetties where man has failed to establish life on those hostile, cold and desolate shores. Even the first Thames shelter - Gravesend - is locked behind twisting, treacherous mudbanks and offers scant welcome. It's the land of the dead, of secret murders, will-o-the-wisps and nameless evils, where no decent person would moor after dark. So perfect then, for a new London airport, you'd think.
Except that once it's built, we'll wax rhapsodic about Europe's last unspoilt wilderness, now lost; the beauty of the quiet marshes where only the haunting cry of the curlew moved the air, the joy of a sail from the little Hobbiton shire town of Leigh-on-Sea across the sunlit waters to a deserted eyot for a Summer's picnic, then back for the blazing inglenook of an ancient pub. We'll mourn the loss of such an extensive area of natural beauty so close to London, the vast skies kissing a flat horizon, and discover tiny bright flowers and viridian mosses that have been lost. The ancient wood of dead ships is smooth and silver and somehow living, and even the rough pitted chestnut-brown of rusted hull plates sparkling in the Sun offers a vivid chromacity in contrast to the colours of earth and sky. We will have desecrated something irreplaceable.
Such of course was the case with Dungerness marshes - as bleak, hostile and ugly as above until Derek Jarman found a beauty and a value there, and today his little cottage stands sentinel over a much-loved landscape.