The Sovereign Forest: a tale of Robin Hood

The first chapters of my Robin Hood story are now available over at Fiction. Come back every Wednesday for the next instalment!

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King Coal’s Graveyard: a walk in Midlothian mining country

Collieries where a thousand men had laboured for a hundred years became silent fields around a concrete shaft-cap.” Neal Ascherson, Stone Voices

I’ve lived in Midlothian for 13 years. The visual signifiers of the county’s industrial heritage are largely gone: demolished or overgrown. It wasn’t just coal: shorelines on either bank of the Forth once boasted vibrant salt industries, and paper mills once dotted the banks of the Esk. But from the nineteenth century until the late twentieth, coal was the dominant industry in the area around Dalkeith.

The pithead winding gears are all but gone – Newtongrange’s Mining Museum is the outstanding exception to the rule – and the sites of many old collieries are now light industrial estates, or housing developments, or countryside: hillocks more or less natural to the casual glance but which lack the mature woodland you’d expect of their landforms.

I took a walk one autumn morning to the site of two former collieries: the neighbouring pits of Woolmet and Monktonhall. Starting in the village of Danderhall, at the edge of the village I find a Miner’s Memorial Garden.

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My reflection holds the phone awkwardly because of a broken thumb

Before I start, and with no sign of industrial activity other than the frantic house-building that heralds the growth of Shawfair new town (of which more later), I’m given this cautionary welcome. People died here; on average, one every three years. Spookily, the last man to die shares my Dad’s name. He was killed by a roof fall, the only miner to die in the brief period that Monktonhall was run by a miners’ co-operative.

I start along the path between the new development and the site of the curiously-named Woolmet (the name means “hermit’s retreat” or “place of the cave”). The pit itself closed in 1966 and was latterly a training centre, appearing on OS maps as late as 1988. But all that’s gone, replaced by a gently rounded hill formed of the pit spoil. The slope nearest Danderhall bears the scars you’d expect of such wasteland: beyond the rusting goalposts, three burned out motorcycle chassis sink into the black soil amid energy drink cans which, unlike the bikes, do not rust. There is a grey petrochemical film on the puddles.

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Site of Woolmet colliery. Mining and football were once intertwined in Scotland. The black streak is a crow, unruffled by my approach until I raised my phone to take a picture.

One side of the hill feels like a down, hollowed out by rabbit warrens and bare of trees:

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What’s over the hill?

But the eastern slope is thick with birches – those early colonisers – and orderly rows of planted firs. In the distance, the Millerhill incinerator nears completion. In the low November sun its bright geometries form a stark but pleasing contrast to the russets and browns of autumn leaves.

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We must have our industrial monuments. Once it was the spindly pit-head towers. Now, symbols of our throwaway culture’s guilty conscience.

At the summit – such as it is – of Woolmet hill stands a plinth whose plaque is missing. This photo shows what it used to look like (I presume the trolley is now part of the memorial garden in Danderhall). Sodden firework casings suggest the place has some local significance, even if just as a handy vantage point. A post-industrial beacon hill.

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Descending through the trees, I follow the path to the A6106. The underlying red stone shows through black s(p)oil.

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The sign welcoming the visitor from the main road, with its reference to Lothian Regional Council, dates it to the early 90s at the latest. Woolmet was closed (management claimed it was “exhausted” and “uneconomic”; the workers were unconvinced) when the neighbouring Monktonhall complex opened, and the workforce transferred to the new colliery.

Later I discover that though I’d walked over the site of the old bing, the colliery buildings themselves had stood further north, just past the cul-de-sac of Moorfield Cottages. Amazingly, singer and activist Paul Robeson visited Woolmet in 1949. He’d been invited to perform a miners’ benefit concert at the Usher Hall by the NUM.

dsc_0495_1.jpgI cross the road to the turn-off for Woolmet’s usurping neighbour. Monktonhall was a super-pit, like Bilston Glen in Loanhead: the two were jewels in Scottish coal mining’s crown. Three-quarters of the output from Monktonhall went straight onto freight trains bound for the nearby – and recently demolished – Cockenzie power station. These trains travelled with the speed of an inter-city, and such was their frequency that the service was nicknamed the “merry-go-round”. Cockenzie’s relentless burning of coal – unthinkable today – fed these power lines.

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The road to the site of Monktonhall is also that to Shawfair railway station. Built as part of the Waverley line’s re-opening, it’s a station patiently awaiting the growth of the town around it. Ultimately, Shawfair will fill the gaps between the existing villages of Danderhall, Newton and Millerhill. Just now it’s a station, a park and ride, a private hospital, the headquarters of the SQA and – the sole reference to a once mighty industry – a pub called The Old Colliery.

Monktonhall means “the hall of the farm of the monks” in reference to the once-powerful Newbattle Abbey which owned much of the land hereabouts from its founding by David I in 1140 until the Reformation. The first record of coal-mining was by those monks; fittingly, this space pretty much marks the end of the industry, too. Also down this road is Harelaw, whose name means “hill of the hare”, but I see no hares today.

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Kerbstones and car-park markings remain but the twin winding towers, designed by Egon Riss*, are long gone:

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image copyright LeeW

Monktonhall was itself built on a spot previously occupied by a row of miner’s cottages (Adam’s Row) built to house those who worked in the adjoining mines of Woolmet, Carberry, Old- and Newcraighall.

Overgrown slabs of concrete cover what I assume is the site of the buildings above. I can’t figure out where the shafts would have been, and they’re obviously sealed anyway. Dotted across the wasteland are small blue pipes, like periscopes:

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How deep they go I can only guess. The two shafts here were the deepest in Scotland. Below where I stand men worked, over 900 metres down. I look up into the sky and try to imagine that distance – the height of a Munro – above me but the blue allows no sense of scale. There’s a chemical odour on the breeze. Barrels seem placed in homage to Paul Nash’s Equivalents for the Megaliths:

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Beyond is a curious little domestic tableau. If I wait long enough, will a Beckett play commence?

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In 1966 around 40,000 people were employed in the coal-mining industry in Scotland: half of the figure in 1956, but twice the level by the end of the miners’ strike in 1984. Cross-referencing Scottish Collieries with my OS Pathfinder reveals the remains of some 30 mines within a ten-mile radius of Dalkeith.

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Monktonhall was mothballed in 1987. Always a wet mine, lying as it did so close to the Forth, the pumps kept working in this fallow period, then in 1993 the co-operative re-opened it. But it wasn’t to last. Despite the optimism of “Monktonhall Colliery: The case for revival“, a survey report commissioned in the late 80s by Lothian Regional Council, Midlothian & East Lothian District Councils, and the NUM, coal had had it’s day in Britain.

“Against advice, a new face…was opened…Water, already a problem in the pit, started to pour in. The entire Lothian coalfield was in effect draining into the pit and the pumps could not cope.”

Monktonhall went into (with grim irony) ‘liquidation’ in 1997. The buildings, including the eye-catching towers, were demolished the following winter. Deep mining in Scotland, but for Longannet in Fife, was finished.

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The future’s bright; the future’s Shawfair

Shawfair’s houses now rise around a perimeter, as if to join forces and converge on this central spot. What will happen to this site I do not know. Although fossil fuel extraction shouldn’t be this country’s future, it is a huge part of the country’s past and should be remembered and recognised as such. The name ‘Monktonhall’ appears on no contemporary map: I hope, as the streets and houses draw closer and the seams of Shawfair join together, it may appear on a future one.

*Riss also designed two mines in Fife whose towers I remember from childhood: Rothes in Thornton, and Seafield in Kirkcaldy.

Sources:

Ascherson, Neal: Stone Voices (Granta, 2002)

Hutton, Guthrie: Mining the Lothians (Stenlake, 1998)

Oglethorpe, Miles K: Scottish Collieries (RCAHMS, 2006)

Thanks to the National Mining Museum, Newtongrange

Every fertile inch: Derek Jarman’s “Modern Nature”

Dungeness occupies a peculiar place in the English psyche. If the more overtly symbolic Dover cliffs can be read as embodying England’s stance toward Europe – aloof, haughty, withdrawn – Dungeness, whose geography is far less confrontational, is more ambiguous.

It is an English wilderness; one of the largest expanses of shingle in Europe. It is inhabited, but the settlement is very un-English: isolated cottages lined up amid the shingle and facing the sea.

These contradictions, or multiplicities, make Derek Jarman’s stay at Dungeness entirely appropriate. Not merely a film-maker, he was an artist, writer, set-designer, gay rights activist and gardener: Prospect Cottage is testament to that. And that gently sloping shore, in stark contrast to the white fortresses to east and west? As he says of his 1986 film Caravaggio, it was “my own throwing down the gauntlet at the American-oriented cinema and saying ‘here is a film oriented towards Europe’, which has always been where I’ve looked”. No-one proposes giant, aggressive statues of Prime Ministers on Dungeness beach.

I found Modern Nature – smartly repackaged by Vintage earlier this year – shelved in one bookshop under Nature Writing and in another under Biography. As with its author’s life, the book – though undeniably a diary – is not content to belong to merely one genre.

As Jarman says of the cottage, or more specifically of the garden which attracts tourists in their numbers a quarter of a century after his death from an AIDS-related illness, “There are no walls or fences. My garden’s boundaries are the horizon.”

This is a brave, even transgressive idea, and can be read several ways. The first, and most trite, is that it symbolises a life without the boundaries imposed by bourgeois culture. Secondly, that in being open – neither delineated nor protected – it lets the outside (the Other) in. Thirdly, the counter, is that it stakes a claim to everything that lies “outside”, i.e. the entire world might be my garden.

There are many descriptions of the wildlife around his cottage: his director’s eye is ever-sharp: “Today the sun shines with an unreal intensity, precise as a street corner in a de Chirico, razor-sharp shadows. The crocuses bright as flares in the shingle.”

Yet those expecting the consolations of the new nature writing will be disappointed. This, unlike the books that cover the tables in bookshops, is not a tale of personal redemption found through extended exposure to nature. We know how his story ends, for a start (though Smiling in Slow Motion continues the diary until a few weeks before his death in 1994).

Jarman moved to Prospect in 1986; Modern Nature is his diary of 1989 and 1990, when his immune system first shows signs of ailing. Weeks pass in hospital, in which he is unable to write. He is angry, and often scared and lonely and exhausted.

“When the doctor first told me I was HIV positive, I think she was more upset than me. It didn’t sink in at first – that took weeks. I thought: this is not true, then I realised the enormity. I had been pushed into yet another corner, this time for keeps. It quickly became a way of life. When the sun shone it became unbearable. I didn’t say anything, I had decided to be stoic.

This was a chance to be grown up. Though I thought I ought to be crying, I walked down Charing Cross Road in the sunlight, everyone was so blissfully unaware. The sun is still shining.

The perception that knowing you’re dying makes you feel more alive is an error. I’m less alive. There’s less life to lead. I can’t give 100% attention to anything – part of me is thinking about my health.”

Yet he finds delight in the smallest of things, as he tends to the garden; planting or watering (an act we see in his 1990 film The Garden1, the making of which is detailed in the book), or exploring the headland.

Ever a social animal2, he details all the gossip of his wide circle (much of the talk is on the declining health of friends and lovers as AIDS takes its brutal toll), and takes special pleasure from the company of people such as Tilda Swinton – a long-term collaborator – and Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant.

I was intrigued to discover his loathing of Peter Greenaway’s A TV Dante (Greenaway does not emerge from this book well), which as a 16-year-old blew me away. I had always linked the two directors in my mind, possibly because their works were contemporary and (in different ways, though the nuances were lost on me at that age) highly extravagant.

If Prospect Cottage is a refuge from London, it is far from stable: battered by the storms which reshape the beach and lend the landscape its unique look (watching The Garden, I was struck by how much Dungeness actually looks like the set of a Jarman film), and also at the mercy of one of Jarman’s many pet hates: officialdom and bureaucracy (a facet of the “straight” establishment whose oppression of gay rights and culture he campaigned against):

“It is not the good manners of Dungeness that have made it so delightful, rather the haphazard growth and crusting past. The old army buildings, PLUTO pipelines, even the great nuclear power station gives this landscape it’s charm.”

Quite so. Another kick in the teeth for those who see no beauty in concrete. RAF Denge is nearby, with its World War 2 pre-radar “listening walls”, designed to alert coastal defences to incoming Luftwaffe attacks:

“The listening wall is the greatest concrete structure in the kingdom…even great Lutyens’ Cenotaph or the many monuments of battle lack it’s power”

What, then, is the “nature” recorded in this diary? Not solely the flora and fauna around Prospect (shown in The Garden in wobbly 8mm glory). Philip Hoare describes it as “a natural history of the HIV virus” and writes:

“Like some contemporary Thoreau – his tar-painted seaside hut set, not like Thoreau’s Walden next to the new railroad, but in the shadow of a nuclear reactor – Jarman recorded his sojourn in Modern Nature, his ironically titled journals, alongside the development of the virus that would soon take his life….His writing spoke to a queer nature, as well as being a natural history of his infection in the way that Kathleen Jamie’s essay “Pathologies” treats cancer cells under a microscope in a Dundee hospital as an equally valid subject for “nature writing”…”it’s not all primroses and otters””

Nature is also what we need to live: not merely plants and their place in the food chain, or in mythology3 but the chemicals that prolong our lives or in Jarman’s case keep the illness at bay as long as possible, and also in the form of the massive nuclear power station that haunts the book, standing gnomically behind Dungeness’s fragile ecosystem.

A poem which appears under the entry for April 27th 1989, and which is spoken on the (superb) soundtrack of The Garden, includes these poignant lines:

My gilly flowers, roses, violets blue

Sweet garden of vanished pleasures

Please come back next year

Cold, cold, cold I die so silently

Modern Nature is a fascinating, funny, angry and brutally honest glimpse into the mind of a major artist.

 

1 The Garden saw him revisit the 8mm format of his early films (of which A Journey to Avebury is highly recommended, as is Adam Scovell’s study of it)

2 In an interview on the DVD of Caravaggio, he describes his approach to film-making as an environment in which “…everyone can come together for a few weeks and find something to work on which opened up avenues of different sorts for themselves and that that was the real purpose of film making…to create community. This is one of the reasons why its been difficult for me to join in the commercial or even television-oriented cinema that we live in now where people are actually sort of employed for jobs. [That] never struck me as the right way. People should come to it because they want to make a film.”

3 “In ancient Greece, where every part of the body was perfumed by a different scent, mint was used under the arms. In the middle ages it was used for whitening the teeth. Menthe was a nymph whom Pluto loved – changed to this plant by Proserpine in a fit of jealousy.”

 

Sources:

Jarman, Derek: Modern Nature (Vintage, 2018)

Hoare, Philip: “The Unfinished World” (in Ground Work, ed. Tim Dee, Jonathan Cape, 2018)

Caravaggio (BFI DVD, 2007)

“Landfill” by Tim Dee

My copy of Landfill was supplied for review by Little Toller Books.

Tim Dee’s latest book may just be his most important. His 2008 work The Running Sky is justifiably recognised as a classic of modern nature writing. Through the months of a year Dee looks at a particular species, habitat, or aspect of our relationship with birds. Never the monomaniac, he sees connections between things that are not always obvious: a magpie’s eye for collecting seemingly disparate threads and bringing them together.

His second book, Four Fields, is – for me – his weakest. A study of four different fields (in England, America, Africa and Ukraine) in different weathers and seasons, the book reads like the author is trying too hard for unity of design. That said, Dee’s prose is always a pleasure, and the chapters on Chernobyl were engrossing. Of all the Chernobyl-related literature I’ve read, this passage stands out:

“Fall-out was so potent in these woods that for a time it destroyed microbial activity as well as most other living things. Rot was killed, decay arrested and the dead kept immutably dead. There were no friendly worms. Death, needing no colleagues, moved as an absolute master through these woods and fields, armed solely with itself, raining death beyond death down over the trees and grass, keeping everything dead.”

The idea that there can be a form of death so absolute that it prevents rot is appalling; utterly un-natural. I first read that paragraph with the same creeping feeling of dread that a horror story gives.

All of which brings me nicely around to the new book. Landfill is, in one sense, a book about death. Throughout, we see glimpses of Dee’s ageing parents and the slow constriction of their horizons (ironically, in a book about one of nature’s great colonisers) and his adjustment to their increasingly straitened circumstances. But it’s also about what we throw away, and the effects of our behaviour on those most raucous and vital of our urban neighbours: gulls.

The book’s promotional material calls it “a new book about rubbish and birds” but that new is surely superfluous. There can’t be many books devoted to the relationship between our culture’s detritus1 and the natural world, and certainly fewer still about gulls. Why not? Dee has written passionately about the purpose of the new nature writing, and in his introduction to the recent Ground Work: Writings on Places and People, says:

“Modernity has shattered our world like never before, we are more deracinated than ever, but because we feel most places to be nowhere we have also learned that anywhere can be a somewhere.”

Landfill, then, is a further entry into the library of nature writing which aims to redress that particular imbalance.

***

As an occasional birder, gulls are one of my blindspots: I can identify black-headed, herring, lesser- and greater-black-backed but like many people tend not to pay them much regard (though watching a soaring white gull against a clear blue sky is one of life’s small pleasures). “Nowadays gulls are trash birds, the subnatural inhabitants of drossscapes“: this is true. We view them as we view pigeons or rats (“slum avifauna”), and in the process we establish a mental hierarchy of nature. But larophiles (from the genus larus) exist, and this book shines a light on them.

Our rubbish tips allowed previously cliff-dwelling birds to colonise inland areas miles from the sea. However, changes to our disposal habits are forcing them to adapt. We throw away far less food waste than we used to, so the number of gulls at landfill sites has dropped. At the same time, reports (usually in the silly season, which coincides with the summer holidays) shrilly alert us to the hazards of marauding gulls who brazenly steal tourists’ chips or guzzle their ice creams. The reality, as ever, is more nuanced.

But what are gulls to do? “We’re responsible for all this. Gulls are caught in an ecological trap with us”, says Viola Ross-Smith of the BTO (Dee speaks to many experts throughout the book and generously allows them their own voice, even their own chapter). I particularly like the anecdote about how “[gulls] have even learned that dumps often don’t open on Sundays and they must go elsewhere…apparently [they are] confused by public holidays, and wait for hours in vain.” Poor sods. Yet “gulls are dynamic birds and fast adapting”, displaying aptly-named “behavioural plasticity”.

On the subject of plastic, I would have liked – and indeed expected – a little more on the subject of rubbish itself (the balance is definitely in favour of “birds” over “rubbish”). As it happens, while I was reading the book BBC4 showed a documentary on the history of landfill which was far more informative on what happens to what we throw away. Perhaps I’m being too literal in my expectations.

Despite what the title implies, this is a book more about order than mess. I hadn’t known that the early years of this century saw the Herring Gull split into several individual species, including Yellow-Legged and Caspian, which had previously been considered sub-species. Dee examines this at length, pondering the way we sort and organise the natural world – none of which materially affects it (a Herring Gull doesn’t know it’s a “Herring Gull”) – and then revise that ordering. Species are “lumped” together or “split” apart, yet the whole time “a species is a human construct”. Gaps in the Arctic sea ice have made passage around the northern hemisphere easier for birds, and this has allowed previously separate subspecies to interbreed. “Evolution isn’t over, although most of us carry on as if it has finished – as if its discovery, the auditing of its accounts, locked it down forever.”

***

Dee intersperses his own trips to watch gulls with pretty much every significant cultural appearance of the birds (including, naturally, Daphne du Maurier’s The Birds, which I’ve looked at before) or of rubbish dumps. Again, I got the feeling that at times he was trying to bring everything into scope and was perhaps over-reaching in search of significance. That said, his contempt for Richard Bach’s “poisonous” Jonathan Livingston Seagull is amusing. He loathes its embodiment of a particularly American sense of Manifest Destiny, and laments that the gulls are only gulls in form. Bach “stole their gullitude and colonised or domesticated the birds even as it constructed a fable around their real aerial mastery.”

Moving onto cultural representations of rubbish, he looks at Clive King’s gentle, wonderful Stig of the Dump: a book I persuaded – over a period of months – my reluctant son to let me read to him, and who then loved it. Dee muses on the dump in question, full of pre-plastic junk, all reusable and re-purposed by Stig. He looks, too, at that poet laureate of “living residue”, Samuel Beckett, via Happy Days and Endgame, works in which life, in true Beckettian style, just persists.

Although by the end you may feel that every cultural reference to gulls and rubbish tips has been exhausted (though the anti-epiphany of Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island is absent), ultimately this is a rewarding book, even if the concept may not be one with immediate appeal. Dee himself had reservations, but the process of researching and writing the book evidently affected him:

“I thought writing about this might describe an impoverished experience: birders turning to gulls because they are the only birds around…but it turns out more substantially that the meeting of gulls and people is exuberant… birders [are] processing the gulls, picking through them, finding new things to know and to understand, finding value in creatures others labelled shoddy or dreck. This enthusiastic ordering of life…in the midst of the organising of what we would call death is gripping. Landfill means more than just a tip for the end of things. It is also a description of how we have worked the rest of the living world, learned about it, named and catalogued it, and have thus occupied or planted our planet, filling the land.”

In the introduction to Ground Work quoted from above, referring to the charity/lobby group Common Ground, whose guiding principles inform much of the best of the new nature writing, Dee writes:

“One of the reasons why nature writing is resurgent today is because of Common Ground’s steadfast belief in the value of exploring what the natural world – even the broken-down, rubbish-dump world – means to us.”

With biodiversity destruction rampant, the Brazilian rainforests under renewed threat, plastic choking the oceans and species extinction at unprecedented levels, we can no longer turn our face from what we have done to the world. And that, as this thoroughly absorbing book examines, means bearing witness to the environments our culture has created, even if it means risking “the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass”.

 

1 “At the point we identify anything as waste, even though up until then it has been ours, we don’t want it and we don’t like it.”

 

Sources:

Dee, Tim: Landfill (Little Toller, 2018)

Dee, Tim: Four Fields (Jonathan Cape, 2013)

Dee, Tim (ed.): Ground Work: Writings on Places and People (Jonathan Cape, 2018)

A blank space filled

They’re building houses on the field.

Not in the field: the field has gone. On it, on the site that it once occupied. For a hundred years, it was a field. Before that, common land perhaps, before the village spread up the hill to encompass it. I don’t know.

The developers haven’t grubbed up hedges or cut down a woodland or demolished a historic building to create the space for the new houses. All they’ve done is levelled a hillside field which had been largely unused for 34 years.

We moved when I was nine. The new house was separated from the nearest street by a long, rutted driveway (whose potholes, no matter how often they were filled, always returned in exactly the same form) and from the rest of the village by a quarry1 and, directly in front of it, the field in question. Behind the house – to the south – was a steep whin-furred hill2 above which the sun barely rose in winter months.

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The field in 1855…

That first summer – we moved in June – the field was full of crops. What crops they were I don’t know, other than that to us they had the softness and pliability of grass. At season’s end the field was full of monolithic cuboid bales (which the farmer would shout at us for clambering over).

That summer (and perhaps all the summers beforehand, I don’t know) local kids of all ages played in the field. The long grass converted it into a different world. We made tunnels through the grass; flattening it into broader or narrower channels through which we crawled, playing hide and seek, or ambushing each other by tying the grass in loops that caught a running foot. In the centre of the field where all the paths met was a vast plaza of flattened grass; a meeting point from which all points of the field were visible. Hours were spent in perfecting these hidden channels and creating new ones, or hidden ones whose start and end points were not linked from others: to get to these you needed to jump over the grass to find them. The field seemed to contain more space than its dimensions occupied.

Then the field was mown, and the bales raised. The field shrank overnight.

After that summer, it was left fallow. Ponies were kept there until recently. An electric fence was installed to prevent their escape3. But because it was much quicker to cross the field to get to school than it was to take the road, I risked the fence twice daily. Sometimes it got me – a snap that seemed to twist the bones in your finger all the way around – and sometimes it didn’t.

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…and 1947

By coincidence, one of the houses at the bottom of the field belonged to my aunt and uncle. My route took me down the field, over the low wire fence at the bottom, and through their garden. The sightlines were clear and the distance sufficient that my cousins and I could pass messages from house to house just by leaning out of a window and shouting. No-one was disturbed, there was only a field in the way.

And that’s it. Since then the field has been a negative space; a memory; a pause or comma between streets. But enough to seal its fate. The houses are being built – though such is the height differential of the slope that there’s now a virtual cliff at the back of the site. In fact the gradient is such that you wonder that it was even worth the bother (the site foreman told my Mum that it was the most troublesome development he’d ever worked on). The houses themselves are social housing, which the country needs. There’s some local discomfort about this, but when I was growing up almost every house in the surrounding streets was a council house: all that’s happening is a belated attempt to mollify the logical consequences of Thatcherism.

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How Google Maps sees it

From now on, the field will be a ghost: the memory of it will lie beneath the flats and houses.

The book From Place to PLACE by Common Ground is about parish maps: local communities creating alternative, subjective maps of their area which can give precedence to parts that an “objective” map wouldn’t. My son’s school has recently been undertaking a project along similar lines in the town where we live. In the book, people are asked to consider not just what it is they treasure about their “parish”, but also what they would miss if it were to disappear (the direct implication being: to make way for new buildings). If I had ever to contribute to such a map of my home village – which I left for good more than twenty years ago – it wouldn’t have included that field for the simple reason that I wouldn’t have assumed there was any threat to it; nor did I appreciate it’s quiet value. Now I do, but it’s too late.

 

 

1 Home to the peregrines – or the descendants thereof – that Kathleen Jamie wrote about in Findings.

2 Suzy’s Planting

3 I once managed in a particularly harsh winter to sledge from the side of my house, down the drive, down the banking, down the field and crashed into the fence at the bottom: 200 metres at least. It was magic.

 

Vintage maps reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Other images copyright Google