Five years ago, I wrote a book called The Willow Man. It was about three children who were 'stuck' in different ways, and it told the story of how they became unstuck. The catalyst in this process was the Willow Man: a figure forty feet tall, woven out of willow.
I knew children who were stuck in the ways I describe in the book. And I knew the Willow Man. Ever since the year 2000, he had stood beside the M5, just outside Bridgwater. Thousands of people drove past every day, and like me, they gazed at him and marvelled. This is how I described him at the beginning of the book:
His powerful torso was twisted at a slight angle to his massive thighs, so that his small head gazed with a mixture of defiance and contempt across the concrete ribbon of the motorway. He seemed to be perfectly balanced on one leg: the other was bent, as if at any moment he might choose to complete the step and take his freedom...
About a year later, I was driving down the M5 and I saw that something terrible had happened. All that was left of the Willow Man was a steel skeleton. Vandals had set fire to him, and all that careful craft, all that artistry which had been woven in with the willow - all of this was turned to ashes. There was a public outcry, a positive howl of sadness and outrage: the Willow Man must be rebuilt. And he was.
He became an emblem of Somerset; his picture has appeared on leaflets, on posters, on the sides of trains. He was a part of the landscape - an expression of the landscape. But now the Willow Man is under threat from another direction. Well - from all directions. In fact he's not just under threat: it seems as if the battle is already lost. Developers have succeeded where vandals failed. On one side of him is a massive complex of warehouses, belonging to the supermarket, Morrisons: on the other, a housing estate. Instead of a proud figure silhouetted against the sky, a focus for wonder and imagination, he's hemmed in and imprisoned - you can scarcely see him. Look at the pictures: look at him as he was, and as he is.
It seems like the death of a dream.
Houses matter: new jobs matter. But something that makes thousands and thousands of people pause, and reflect, and experience the power of the imagination, every single day - that matters too. Would it be beyond possiblity to set the Willow Man free and rebuild him somewhere else? He cost in the region of £15,000 the first time round. Surely, even in these times perhaps especially in these times - that's not such a great sum for something that delivers so much?