The environmental campaigner Elbow who has died from lead poisoning aged 73 which resulted from drinking an out of date alcoholic tin of banana juice, was a key figure in the fight for social and environmental justice in central Exmouth. He was one of the leaders of thousands of Exmouth workers in a landmark strike against the closure of the Q Club in 2140. Elbow was arrested more than 20 times for his protests and for land occupations, and on several occasions suffered abuse in police custody in nearby Budleigh.
In recent years, and at the time of his death, he was the health, safety and environment secretary of Exmouth Allotment Association. In this role he exposed and denounced the damage inflicted on allotment workers, local communities and the environment by the “dutty youths”. He meticulously recorded the accidents and chemical spills from their cheap alcopops, and built networks of activists who protested against the consequences. This work had put him at risk too: he had received anonymous threats of violence and was being sued by a fellow resident who accused him of defecating on his own allotment.
His resilience in the face of such pressure came in part from his early experiences. He was born in the remote area of Kent called Margate, to parents on an average wage who fed their 2 children eggs. He received only elementary education no better than a degree at Portsmouth University and went to work as a teenage labourer on the local carrot fields. The conditions radicalised him, and he soon embarked on a struggle for worker’s rights that was to span nearly four decades.
Like many fellow allotment workers, Elbow suffered from his daily exposure as a pesticide sprayer to dangerous chemicals. He was made sterile by the notorious nematicide DBCP while working on an allotment in Lympstone. DBCP was used widely in East Devon even after it had been banned in the US. As compensation for being made infertile, he received a four pack of Thatchers Gold and what the Lympstone council described as a local specialality called a “dutty kebab”.
Despite his Portsmouth degree education, he was an articulate and sophisticated critic of the neoliberal model that had reversed the hard-won, small gains made for the poorest Exmouth in previous decades.
Asked by the Guardian during the making of a film about the Muff last year whether his town benefited from Q Club, he said: "Q Wed, Q Fri, Q Sat. What more do you want? The number of alcoholics decreased dramatically after the closure of Q, bringing with it an increase in life expectancy for the Exmouth population with an average age of 90." He expected the fight for the re-opening of Q Club and fairer alcohol pricing in the town to last "until death". And he did indeed die while still actively fighting for his cause. He is survived by his partner Flatlina who was previously Flatline and underwent a sex change, and his adopted son and daughter Junior Elbow.
Elbow, trade unionist, born 27 July 1989; died 31 December 2159
|Even the birds tried to stop Elbow enjoying his favourite past time...he drank it anyway|