Today’s Observer has an article about Extinction Rebellion activist Roc Sandford 

In the past year, Roc Sandford has left the tiny Scottish island which is his off-grid home only once, to get a Covid vaccination. The rest of the time he has been alone with the birds, sheep and open skies.His days are busy but evenings can be lonely; cooking for one is “very sad”, he says. At the moment, he is enjoying some wine sent by a friend, eking out the six bottles by sipping from a thimble-sized glass. Despite his commitment to a close-to-zero carbon footprint, he misses socialising with friends and family. “I work very hard and very productively in this beautiful, beautiful natural environment, without the compromises one has to make elsewhere. But I can’t go to the pub.” Sandford, 62, is speaking to the Observer from a small shed perched on a hill a few minutes walk from his house on Gometra, in the Inner Hebrides. Here he can pick up 4G from a mast on the neighbouring island of Coll, 20 miles away. The signal is his connection to the world, his four children and a network of environmental activists. Just now, most of his time is spent on Ocean Rebellion, a sister group to the climate action organisation Extinction Rebellion

“The oceans are dying, and if they die, we die. Ocean Rebellion has been set up to help stop it,” says Sandford[…]“We’re playing Russian roulette, with a gun pointed at our children, with five bullets instead of just one in the chamber, and we go on pulling the trigger until it goes off. That’s basically what climate and nature breakdown are.”

One of Roc’s children works at an environmental thinktank, and the other three have all taken part in campaigns; two of them occupieda network of tunnels dug close to Euston station in London earlier this year to highlight the environmental destruction that activists say the high-speed rail link will cause.

Sandford says the protest was “worth risking your life for … if you’re really unlucky and you die, it was probably worth it in the fight. I don’t want any unnecessary risks. But if there’s a situation where, to drive change, you have to take unavoidable risks, then yes, I think it’s valid to do so.” Although he worries about his children’s safety, he points out that they were schooled in risk assessment while growing up on the island. “Gometra is a dangerous place. They were brought up with me drilling safety into them. They’ve brought that into their activism.”

So a little Russian roulette is good for the kids then? Just not too much.

Is it easier to be environmentally conscious and reduce your carbon footprint if you own an island? “It’s a fair question,” he says. “I’m really conscious of both how lucky I am and how much further I have to go.” But, he adds, everyone can do their bit: drive less, fly less, eat less meat and fish, turn the heating down.I don’t judge people. It’s not about judgment, it’s about figuring out how we get out of this terrible mess that we’re all in. People need to first understand what’s happening, understand how serious the breakdown of the climate and the breakdown of nature is. It’s real and it’s coming for their children. It needs attention. So, understand first, and then talk about it, because the silence is lethal. Given what we know, I don’t understand why people aren’t screaming.”

In a forthcoming TV programme, 

… sisters Blue and Savannah talk about their decision not to have children because of the climate crisis. “Dad is totally devastated,” a tearful Savannah tells Dooley. Sandford confirms this. “I feel extremely sad about it,” he says. “I want grandchildren. My advocacy to [my daughters] is to have children; people have had children in very serious circumstances throughout history. So, yes, I’m sad.” But, he adds, “It’s not just my children, there are loads of young women who’ve decided not to have children [because of the climate crisis], and we shouldn’t be putting them in that position.”

Despite his daughters’ decision and his children’s exposure to risk through their activism, he has no regrets about teaching them about the reality of the climate crisis. “We need to know, everyone needs to know.”

Some details are missing from this article. Though the Observer does point out that he bought the island with money left by his grandfather, it fails to mention that Roc is a millionaire. 

According to the Scottish Herald, he is “a paper millionaire who could easily pay for a jetset lifestyle if he sold his properties. He bought Gometra to expand his farming acreage, after selling two smaller farms he inherited. On the island farms a flock of 350 sheep with help from a neighbouring family.”

Because, contrary to the impression given in the Observer article, Roc is not alone on his island. There’s a tourist shop, with its own webpage, run by Roc and family members, apparently.

The Herald article continues:

“Pollution is theft. I think this is the root of the whole problem we are facing – that polluters are not paying the cost of their pollution.” Mr Sandford lost 17 ewes-in-lamb in exceptional wintry conditions on Gometra last March, which he blames on climate change. He said: “If we do not take urgent action, it may well kill everything we love.”

Roc has his own blog http://www.rocsandford.com

Though he claims to have only left his island once last year to get vaccinated, he was in a pub after a Finnegans Wake celebration last August, when he also gave a talk to the Institute of Chartered Accountants, and he was at Davos in January 2020. You can see a video interview at Davos here

in which he delivers a standard Extinction Rebellion spiel including this line:

I don’t want to die. I don’t want my children to die. 

Which a Bolshevik might describe as a maximalist position, I suppose. 

His living apart from his children seems to be the result of a complex situation. In his most interesting biography , he says:

Amongst many other serious abuses of my human rights I was systematically denied a right to family life within Britain and saddled with constructive exile on gender grounds by the British Government in contravention of articles 8 (right to family life) and 14 (equality) enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act (1998), when my children were denied British Nationality.

And

I am a single parent and live on my organic, off-grid farm on the Isle of Gometra and, obediently to High Court of Justice decree, otherwise in London. S(he) am non-binary—there being 10 kinds of people: those who are binary, and those who aren’t.

He has worked most of his life in farming and estate management, and he believes that “Pollution is theft.” A millionaire estate manager is hardly going to espouse Proudhon’s original version, “Property is theft,” is he? 

And how non-binary can you be living all alone with 350 sheep?

12 Comments

  1. The Scottish Herald article quoted above is a repeat of an article which appeared in the Scotsman the previous day. The Sun
    https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/13903301/millionaire-dad-hs2-tunnels-london-proud/
    adds some more details of his worries for his children, at the time they were in the tunnel under Euston:

    The wealthy landowner, a long-standing environmental campaigner, says he supports the efforts of his children. He said: “We’re putting children in danger by using petrol, diesel, gas. This puts carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which makes it heat up like a sauna, which causes food shortages, floods, burning forests and wars. It’s not a video game or a disaster movie. It’s real and it’s happening now all over the world, and soon it will be happening to us. Top climate scientists are saying governments like ours are risking killing almost all our children. It’s as simple as that.”

    Roc’s father was Jeremy Sandford, who wrote “Cathy Come Home” and his mother was Nell Dunn, who wrote “Up the Junction.” Both of them came from upper class, even aristocratic, backgrounds, and both of them were genuine radicals whose work changed British social attitudes in the sixties. There’s much to reflect on there.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Geoff, you beat me to it! I spotted the article yesterday and was musing on writing something, but now I won’t. Anyway, I couldn’t have come up with a better title. The key take-away for me is the selective nature of the Observer’s reporting. In this age of the internet, do they seriously believe they can get away with telling only a small part of the real story? Anyone interested in the article is surely going to search the internet to find out more? And anyone not interested is presumably going to be uninfluenced by it.

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  3. MARK HODGSON

    Anyone interested in the article is surely going to search the internet to find out more?

    It’s not always as simple as that. I wrote the above quickly, so as not to be pipped at the post by Paul Homewood at https://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com ! The branching nature of the internet means you come across information in a haphazard fashion. The most interesting fact about Roc, I think, is the stuff in my comment about his parents. “Cathy ComeHome” and “Up the Junction” won’t mean much to non-Brits or the under-60s, but these were a TV play and a film that changed the law and the way that poverty was viewed in Britain in the sixties. Those were the days when the BBC and the media in general saw it as their duty to resist government pressure and expose the wrongdoing of authority.
    More on Roc’s mum, Nell Dunn. She was apparently the granddaughter of the Duke of Argyll, whose forefathers owned Gometra in the 18th and 19th centuries. Roc’s website pushing his souvenir shop and his family history, is fascinating. Take this, from http://www.gometra.org/history.html

    In the early 1930s, my grandmother’s brother, Hamish Erksine, was engaged to Nancy, one of the Mitfords of the neighbouring island of Inch Kenneth.  According to files still pored over by MI5, Hamish had been expelled from the garden of Eton for having indulged in ‘indecent and unnatural acts’ on the banks of the Thames at Bray with the actress Tallulah Bankhead, a native of Alabama who liked to describe herself as ambisextrous.
    The marriage to Nancy never went through because Hamish was, despite or because of the Tallulah episode, ‘gay as gay’, and Nancy attempted suicide by switching on a gas fire without lighting it.  ‘It is a lovely sensation,’ as she wrote, ‘just like taking anaesthetic.’
     
    Hamish was the only guest at Madresfield on the infamous occasion in 1931 when three knights of the Garter appeared in his garden unannounced to tell William Beauchamp, a fellow Garter knight and the King’s Sword Bearer, who was busy with his embroidery, that he must leave Britain for ever by midnight or face arrest for homosexuality, then illegal.  George V remarked on the fall of one of his oldest and best friends that ‘I thought men like that shot themselves,’ and this was indeed expected of him.  He went to Venice for that purpose but found he rather liked it there.  Hamish was later captured by the Axis armies during the Italian Campaign, but allegedly escaped disguised as an Italian principessa – the imposture allegedly almost undetectable.  He loved it here and came regularly.  I remember him only dimly since he died when I was a child, but Mrs Anderson remembered him well and was fond of him.
     
    Hamish’s brother-in-law, my maternal grandfather, Philip Dunn, became distracted by my grandmother’s friend Pamela Digby.  She became his lover, and therefore had to be despatched, and so my grandmother set up a blind date for Pam with Winston and Clementine’s son Randolph Churchill.   Randolph cold-called Pamela saying : ‘Lady Dunn says I may ring you.’  They were soon married.  Pam went on to be, in Bill Paley’s words, ‘the greatest courtesan of the century’.  She eventually became Bill Clinton’s ambassador to France.  Her sister Jacquetta married David Guthrie-James of Torosay on neighbouring Mull.
     
    Nancy’s sisters Unity and Diana introduced my grandmother to their nationalist socialist friends, including the Führer, as they called him, who, she told me, took her to the opera.   At that time he was a charismatic nationalist leader with a utopian programme of state investment, public works and public good.  Despite clear evidence, including Mein Kampf, many (including David Lloyd George and George Bernard Shaw) thought him a good fellow.  (Even in the spring of 1945, Eamon de Valera, president of the Irish Republic, infamously sent a telegram of condolence to the German Republic on the death of their Führer.)
     
    My grandmother told me (in a phrase which resonates with Lear) that the Führer was a bore with hypnotic eyes.  According to Eva Braun’s biography my grandmother used to chaperone Unity on visits to the Führer’s flat, because he was keen to avoid gossip.  I have just opened, for the first time, her diary for September 2nd, 1939 :
     
    ‘Diana was very miserable.  She told me the Führer had told her he saw no other outcome now except war.  He thought it would be a Terrible war.  He kept shaking his head and saying “Poor England poor England.”’
     
    As is well known, Unity shot herself in the Englischer Garten in Munich with the pearl-handled revolver the Führer had given her, and was shipped to Switzerland where her family found her with a bullet in her brain and her blonde hair still matted with dried blood.  She lingered until, in 1948 on Inch Kenneth, the bullet-hole became infected and she died in the Cottage Hospital in Oban.  Diana was interned after being denounced to the authorities by Nancy as ‘a very dangerous person’, and she and her husband Oswald Mosley lived in a cottage in the grounds of Holloway prison with, as a Sadean touch, female sex-offenders as their domestic servants.
     
    We have been over-exposed to the Mitfords.  The cadaverous scents of snobbery and entitlement which cling to their clothing can turn delicate stomachs (as it turned Decca’s)…

    …whereas we have been underexposed to the cadaverous scents of snobbery and entitlement which cling to Roc and his sprogs. unless you read the Sun or the Scottish Herald. The above continues, on and on and on, quoting Kokoschka, Wittgenstein, Hindemith, Strauss, Churchill and the Kings of Strathclyde, all of whom figure in the Sandford family album. Wonderful stuff – Evelyn Waugh on speed, recollected in tranquility by a loony non-binary loner on the domains from which his ancestors evicted all those pesky McIntyres and McKittricks during the Highland clearances, so that their descendant could contemplate the end of the world in peace.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Fascinating article, thanks Geoff. It’s surely just a bit worrying and problematical that he has 350 sheep! It says here:

    https://extinctionrebellion.uk/the-truth/the-emergency/part-3/
    “Secondly, cows and sheep release an enormous amount of methane – a powerful greenhouse gas – in their burps and farts.”

    Maybe we could get George Monbiot to put in a polite word, before the emergency gets out of hand. I mean, Scotland is just a stone’s throw away from the Arctic, and he’s operating a one-man 350-sheep methane factory right on its doorstep!

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Apologies to Roc for my cheap jibe about the Highland Clearances. It seems he had ancestors on both sides of the story, including some who re-immigrated from Canada.

    I can’t recommend enough the rest of Roc’s history of Gometra, particularly the latter part of the Holocene, which resembles a joint Round Robin Christmas letter from the massed ranks of Burke’s Peerage. Why someone with tales to tell like this wants to waste his time faffing about the end of the world, I can’t imagine. For record beating namedropping, surely nothing in the world could better the following:

    My grandmother’s brother Loughie, wounded in the Dardanelles, married his Australian nurse from the field hospital, Sheila Chisolm.  He smelt no rat when, Great War over, his friend Eddie entangled him in interminable rounds of golf.  It turned out to be a triple betrayal: Eddie’s brother George was having an affair with Sheila, and Eddie was using golf as a means of getting Loughy out of the house.  When George V got wind of it, he married George off to Elizabeth Bowes Lyon and, unexpectedly, when George V died and Eddie abdicated, George and Elizabeth became King George VI and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.  Loughie fell from a window in Holland Park, leaving two infant sons, the younger of whom died as a pilot in the RAF.  Sheila remarried Dmitri Alexandrovich Romanov, a nephew of the Tsar, who, having been liberated by the Germans from the custody of the Bolsheviks in the Crimea, had escaped with his mother (the Tsar’s sister) and his grandmother, the dowager Tsarina, on board the HMS Marlborough.
    Their elder son, Tony, grown up by 1939, spent that summer racing around London with his best friend Jack (son of the U.S. ambassador to London) picking up fast blondes at parties in the great London town houses as they were shutting up shop, in many cases for ever, to prepare for the Blitz.  Both would die tragically, Jack near a grassy knoll.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Surely “Eddie” would have been known to his friends as David? And wasn’t George another Bertie? But it just all goes to show that here is a man with limited grasp on reality. Just like another climate warrior, Charles Mountbatten-Windsor

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve been making notes about Roc Sandford for nearly three years, getting ready for that book about climactivists that I’ll never write.

    A few snippets:

    He was educated at Dartington Hall, Totnes. That prolly says it all, but…

    The first big XR protests were planned chez Sandford at 1 Hordmead Road, a large, mostly derelict property that, back when it was the Paddington Conservative Club, was cleaned by Anne Maguire of the Maguire Seven.

    Sandford’s father on why he married Sandford’s mother: ‘I fell for a rich girl because I think money in girls is sexy and glamorous. They can do what they want. They’re not scheming. Middle-class girls are just whores, selling themselves for security.’

    The William Beauchamp mentioned above was also known as the 7th Earl of Beauchamp. He was the father of Hugh Lygon, Evelyn Waugh’s lover at Oxford and the inspiration for Sebastian Flyte.

    Roc says that he was ‘named for Saint Roc, patron of mad dogs, sea storms and the falsely accused, who declined his mother’s breast on holy fast days’ but his father said that he was named after the place where he had been conceived, Chateau du Roc, a chateau built on a rock. Prolly this one:

    http://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/44°54‘26.0″N+1°07’05.0″E

    In Aug 2019, Roc declared a climate emergency on Gometra and showed his private island’s solidarity with other islands that are sinking because of climate change by sitting with friends and family in a tiny boat on the big metal plank that links Gometra to Ulva.

    (Almost all of Gometra is at least 10m above sea level and post-glacial rebound is almost outpacing sea-level rise thereabouts, but hey.)

    The Happy Valley murder features in Roc’s story somehow, but I haven’t found that note yet.

    Nor the one about…

    But that would be telling.

    XR is full of weirdos but Roc is different gravy. Stick with him, Geoff.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Very interesting to review the twisted roots from which climate fanatics grow.
    Speaking of origins, the latest post seems a bit out of reach. Is there a way to be given the nodcto actually ready it?
    Inquiring minds want to know…

    [Email sent. — Scepticus]

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  9. VINNY BURGOO

    Stick with him Geoff

    And you stick with writing the book on climate activists. Your comments here are enough to fill several fascinating volumes.
    I know nothing about his parents beyond the fact that they wrote a TV play and a film. I don’t even remember seeing either. For all I know they may never have done anything else. My point was simply that they were concerned about the welfare of people for whom a petrol-driven car would have been a luxury beyond their wildest dreams. Ideals are distorted in strange ways in transmission.
    In case the point of the grassy knoll in the anecdote I quote above is not clear, it’s that President Kennedy used to pick up fast blondes at parties with the son of a woman who was once married to Roc Sandford’s grandmother’s brother.
    Any good biography of the late president will contain an account of how the grandson of the sister of the ex-husband of the mother of his best friend in his London cruising days later achieved fame as a founder of Extinction Rebellion.

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  10. Geoff, how do you do that? I get lost after the third linkage and am still trying to come to grips with the fact(?) that President Kennedy wrote Cathy Come Home! I would wager that you had no problem whatsoever with linking characters, living or dead, in the various series of Line of Duty. I had difficulties remembering what happened in the previous week’s episode. My hat’s off to yeh.

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  11. ALAN
    It’s not something that comes naturally, but I found Roc’s account of his family history so fascinating I made the effort. I’m an occasional reader of Waugh, Mitford, etc., but Roc out-Woosters them all. I thought Vivian Stanshall’s parodies of this world couldn’t be improved on, but Roc does it better.
    Do have a look at his family history, which begins in the Palaeogene, (?) flits through the Quaternary and really gets going in the Holocene Epoch, with the immortal opening sentence: “Our ancestors held an ancient veneration for rounded pebbles…” Roc has a geography degree, but he doesn’t boast about it.

    Liked by 3 people

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