In this world there are tough sells. Telling people that their new home is built on an Indian Burial Ground is one. Building a viral research centre in the middle of Kings Cross is another.
For some mad reason it's proposed to erect a viral monolith next to our estate. In between Somerstown and the sunlight will be 13 stories packed full of the deadiest germs known to man. Right next to the Eurostar. We've seen 28 Days Later. We've seen Survivors. What could possibly go wrong?
The people of Somerstown are normally fairly laid-back, but we're managing to protest the nightmare fairly well. We had a hilarious community meeting about it the other week. One woman pointed out it'd attract terrorists like flies to shit. Someone else pointed out that UKCMRI, the people behind it, already have quite a nice research establishment in a non-residential area.
Brilliantly, UKCMRI had sent along someone to talk to us. Clearly, tough crowd, but he was marvellous. He turrned up late, saying he'd had a problem organising childcare. "Would you be happy if someone built this next door to your children?" someone asked. The man went pale. "Um, yes," he quavered.
Someone else asked, "How many of the seven chimneys will be used for burning animal corpses?", to which the guy responsed, "Um, well, not all of them, obviously." There was a ghastly silence. "I mean, most of the animal corpses will be driven away in special lorries...". A hand shoots up, "So you're saying that there'll be lorries going up and down our road full of dead animals carrying plagues? The roads our kids play on?" The crowd tuts.
The man looks like he'd like to go home now. Instead he tries to explain the animal experiments. "You see, we use a lot of ferrets, especially when we're looking at the common cold. What's great about ferrets is that they get the sniffles." The crowd make a noise. It's the noise of people suddenly deciding that ferrets are the cutest things ever, and then imagining heaps of cute ferret corpses being burned. It's an odd noise. Children wail. Mothers clutch babies protectively.
It actually gets worse. The man haplessly tries to explain that many of the diseases they're trying to cure are "you know, things that people in this area, deprived areas, suffer from..." This goes down like a cup of cold sick. "Are you saying people like us deserve to have this next to us?" an irate woman demands.
It may be Nimbyism, but there's a point to it. No-one would dream of building the UK's largest virology centre in Knightsbridge. As it is, slapping it on a bit of empty ground near the ignorant poor seems a safer bet. Only, it turns out, we're not actually the ignorant poor. I realise the people who are going to turn up to a public meeting aren't necessarily a representative sample, but they seemed sensible, informed, and above all scared. And, frankly, if someone told you they were planning on building the biological equivalent of an Indian Burial Ground next door, so would you be.