Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Winning The Battle But Losing The War?
Fables and parables are likely as old as language itself. Aesop's Tortoise and The Hare is more iconic of patience & method than anything yet written, springing to mind yet again just the other day as I'm cycling atop the north downs. I am mid-ride, and ascend up the steeps overlooking the Darent Valley on my way through Warlingham , then across east to leafy lanes of Knockholt on my way to descending into sleepy Otford Village. Despite the beauty of this area, I rarely ride north of M25. The lanes are tighter, the driver's more impatient, he troads less well-kept (if such a thing were possible). I am in gawking mode - taking in the scenery of roads not-yet-traveled. I begin my descent and pass a super-high security area as I am coming down the hill enroute to Otford. High-tech cameras… double-fences….fencecd-in cameras and cameras trained on the fences. I follow a truck down a side road towards an entrance gate at the base of the hill, also with double gates, infra-red cameras. I could slip in drafting behind the 18-wheeler, but think it wiser to stand my ground. I think: WTFF is THAT in leafy old Kent?!?!
When I get home, I check out my maps, and it turns out that the installation is the old Fort Halstead (I'd never heard of it) but all locals have Apparently, the Brits built it at the turn of the last century as part of a ring of strategically-located fortifications in order to protect London from what one might only guess to be a land invasion (from ummm errrrr I don't know…the Germans?) which were meant to be manned by Dad's Army. After the first world war, it was home to sercret weapons research and other things no one likes to talk about . Anyway, the German's failed to breach blighty's shores (for which they [the Germans] are undoubtedly thankful, preferring Spain and Greece in any Event) never testing the Volunteer Force (likely a good thing for the occasionals). After WWII, Fort Halstead housed top secret military research (think of Ian Fleming's likeable "Q"). Though in its hey-day, it was thought to be center of UK Nuclear Weapons Research, with time, (and the 1970s) (and the fact that half this island eats baked beans for breakfast), it became quite clear the UK couldn't really afford such luxury. So with an empty billfold, in one of the last sales of state assets, the UK Government privatised it (calling the outfit QinetIQ, eliciting thoughts of "The Smartest Guys In The Room) after which management and directors paid themselves larger salaries and big bonuses before remembering that they've only got one big (and very skint) customer, who occupies a rather over-crowded island in the very North Atlantic and no longer has an empire. QinetIQ, in a move to cut costs so that they could continue to pay generous salaries and bonuses to management and directors, decided that they didn't really need the Fort Halstead installation (with their skint customer now in need of fewer , if any, Nukes) and, sitting as is does upon some 300 or so acres of the most expensive real estate outside of London, they decided they would close it (NB: It was the largest employer in the Sevenoaks area with > 1200 people!!) and cash in on the soaring land values. The sale process was set in motion and irony of ironies, who buys this former fortification designed to protect the people and government of London, thereby capturing the proverbial flag? Yes, you guessed it….The Germans! (Deutsche Bank's Anglo-sounding property development group Armstrong Kent LLP for a whopping "undisclosed sum" of millions). One would be forgiven for wondering if The Brits only won the battle but really lost the war...?