Editorial Team Laura Andrew Anjia Barbieri Daniel Fox Tim Gooch Alison Green Tim Halpin Naomi Racz Merryn Robinson
Peninsula Issue 2: Borders
Peninsula Issue 2: Borders
Copyright © this publication Clutag Press 2011 Copyright © in all contributions resides with the contributors All rights reserved. No part of his publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without prior permission of the publisher. First published in 2011 by CLUTAG PRESS PO BOX 154 THAME OX9 3RQ A CIP record for this title will be available from the British Library ISBN: 978-0-9565432-3-3 An imprint of Clutag Press and Clutag-Archipelago, PENINSULA is published by Clutag Press. Its contents are commissioned, edited and also contributed by students studying for the MA Writing, Nature and Place at Exeter University’s Cornwall Campus at Tremough, Penryn. http://peninsulamag.blogspot.com ® TM CLUTAG -ARCHIPELAGO is a registered trademark Designed by MA Students 2010-2011 and typeset by Tim Halpin Cover Illustration: © British Library Board, Maps K. Top. 48.25-1e. Set in Palatino Linotype Printed by Senecio Press
High Island - Connemara Norman Ackroyd
Extract from Map of Aran Tim Robinson
Interview with Tim Robinson Tim Robinson, Tim Gooch
Penryn to Pandora Tim Gooch
Moss Anjia Barbieri
Circles in the Dew James Towillis
Cattle Grid Alyson Hallett
Beached Laura Andrew
Line in the Sand Sonia Shomalzadeh
Comings and Goings Alison Green
Waves Stephen Ring
Un-Mapping the Perimeter Merryn Robinson
Crossing the Tamar Tim Halpin
Nearly there, but... Naomi Racz
Topographical Dissection No. 6 Tom Baskeyfield
Bon Voyage Douglas Dunn
Moth Paul Russell
Those Halcyon Days David Plant
Fictional Borders Daniel Fox
Plants Without Borders Weeds by Richard Mabey Reviewed by Anjia Barbieri
Translating the Land Map of a Nation by Rachel Hewitt Reviewed by Tim Gooch
n this, the second volume of Peninsula, we investigate borders; those sometimes visible and at other times elusive boundaries which permeate nature and place. Daring to tread in the footprints of Andrew McNeillie’s Archipelago, our aim was to create an anthology filled with the unique words and illustrations of both established and emergent contributors in this specialised field. In particular, we wanted our Peninsula to reflect the individual style and interpretation of each of the eight students currently reading for the MA Writing, Nature and Place. As well as assuming individual editorial roles, each student has offered a finely tuned piece of writing. Laura Andrew, taking her inspiration from Millais, paints a contemporary picture of borders induced by age. As the explorer, she listens to the experiences and latent desires of Eric, now ensconced in a sea-side care-home where a chicken and ham pie marks the boundaries of conversation. Meanwhile, Tim Halpin takes us on a trip across the confusion of constitutional frontiers into ‘Devonwall’. Along the way, Tim explores the geographical and psychological border marked by the Tamar and the indifference of swans to boundaries. Daniel Fox offers an eclectic view of the position of place in fiction and in so doing, illustrates his perspective on the modern genre of nature writing. His discussion of the paradox which sits within the novel questions the very borders of the writing with which we are involved. In equally ambitious mode, Tim Gooch turns his attentions to the Ordnance Survey, providing a critique of the work of Rachel Hewitt and an investigation of Translations, Brian Friel’s play. Map of a Nation offers us the first indication of visible borders, one in which cultural aspirations lead to prosaic boundaries. We have also included one of Tim’s sketches in which he investigates the meanings of Cornish place names. Merryn Robinson invites readers to walk with her around the Pendennis headland in Falmouth. Using the transitional space where the sea meets the shore as her border, Merryn un-maps this peninsula and brings her wealth of specialised knowledge to bear as she re-draws lines in the sand. Meanwhile, many miles along the coast in Dorset, I consider
Editorial the borders of the Sandbanks and Studland peninsulas which form the entry point to Poole Harbour. I also see this as a transitional space, one embodying departures and arrivals. On the slopes of a Cornish field and in the depths of an abandoned gunpowder works, Anjia Barbieri literally grounds us with an examination of minutiae: moss to be precise. In her chosen locations, Anjia, who also reviews Richard Mabey’s Weeds, suggests that mosses not only comprise botanical borders, but also mark boundaries between past and present. Conversely, Naomi Racz, a pioneer travelling along electronic routes, takes us from Plymouth to Penryn without ever leaving her kitchen table. Crossing cyber borders, her journey using Google Street View makes fascinating reading and brings a new dimension to the writing of place. Recognition of the individual voice and respect for each other’s work has underpinned the strength of the group. The confidence gained has enabled us to take greater control of our individual writing; and subsequently of this anthology. We are extremely proud to include unpublished works by prestigious contributors but were also determined to offer lesser-known writers and artists an opportunity to display their work. We are equally grateful to both those whose submissions we have published and to those whose work was not chosen on this occasion. Tim Gooch’s interview with Tim Robinson provides us with both interesting thoughts on writing in the field and with inspiration to progress with our own work. Norman Ackroyd was not only kind enough to entertain some of our students in his studio and home in London, but also offered an etching of sea borders for inclusion. Likewise, Douglas Dunn generously sent us a new poem. With this contribution, we take our only journey outside the boundaries of the archipelago and into a city devoid of traditionally signposted borders. We were delighted to find two external contributors on our doorstep able to support our venture. Paul Russell is a visiting professor and author from New York who gives readers a taste of his forthcoming novel, The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov, with an excerpt highlighting his interpretation of borders. Alyson Hallett, meanwhile, is Leverhulme Poet-in-Residence with the geography department. Not only are we grateful for the poem she wrote for us, we are also proud to have crossed the borders of academic disciplines. Forging new liaisons has been of great importance to the editorial committee and we were especially pleased to receive so many potential submissions from students studying for the MA Art and Environment at University College Falmouth. We have chosen photographs by James Towillis, Tom Baskeyfield and Sonia Shomalzadeh and wish these
Editorial colleagues success with their respective careers. We are also grateful to Stephen Ring, a more established artist, who has allowed us to use one of his seascape images. Our anthology set out with an aspiration to both follow and differentiate from that which had gone before. This would not have been possible had it not been for the tutelage of Andrew McNeillie and Sarah Moss. Having offered us their own inimitable interpretations of nature and place, they stepped aside, giving us the freedom to work within the complementary frameworks they established. We would like to offer our thanks for their kindness and support. Alison Green, On behalf of the students on the MA Writing, Nature and Place Exeter University, 2010/2011
Interview with Tim Robinson Tim Gooch
In February 2011, Tim Gooch interviewed Tim Robinson, author of the Stones Of Aran books, to ask him about the theme of borders in his work and life on the Aran islands. TG: Do you feel that the linguistic borders of Árainn have changed since you published your books in the 1980s? TR: I have no objective statistical information about language use changes, but I fear that the young generations are opting for English, under the pressures of global culture and economics. I would guess that the spatial boundary has been internalised by the islands (i.e. the language divide is interior to the topographical boundary, the coastline), so that on the biggest island, Árainn, for example, English predominates along a narrow corridor from Cill Rónáin, where the day-trippers (some 300,000 of them a year!) disembark, via the pubs and b&bs, to Dún Aonghasa, the principal tourist attraction, while the villages off this route still harbour much more Irish. Also that the boundary has become a temporal one, English being the dominant language during the summer tourist season and the islands relaxing into the comforts of Irish for the winter when there are virtually no visitors. TG: In your opinion, do you think borders (sea and land) are still a valid way of categorising an increasingly mobile world? TR: In the Aran Islands, topography still rules, the coastline being the containing feature of island life, for the possibility of getting away to the mainland, by sea or air, can never be taken for granted in the Atlantic regime of storms and fogs. But in general borders have become more permeable, at least for us privileged First-Worlders. This has good and bad effects. Borders as administrative impertinences (the hassle of visas, currency, etc)
Tim Gooch are less annoying than formerly – but what lies on one side of the border tends to become more like what lies on the other. Fundamentally borders are a violation of the human right to wander the globe. TG: Do you believe that borders are a good way of approaching the history of Árainn and the wider archipelago? TR: Unavoidable for places as well defined physically as the Aran Islands. In the context of the whole North-East Atlantic Archipelago from Dover to Rockall, I guess the current borders of Wales and Scotland have some cultural and historical weight and dignity; the Northern Ireland border is the ingrown toenail of Irish history. TG: As a cartographer, have you found physical borders to be important to the way people live their lives, or are they ‘just lines on maps’? TR: The geological difference between Aran (limestone) and south Connemara (granite) has meant that two very poor communities living in harsh terrains could benefit themselves by exchange of specific goods (e.g. turf was shipped as fuel from the bogs of Connemara to turfless Aran, and potatoes, willow-rods, and even limestone tombstones sent in return from Aran to infertile Connemara, as detailed in my book on Aran). But such considerations become less important today as technology overrides space and time. That means increase of convenience but a loss of difference. In the 1970s I spent many days in Aran walking the land in the company of the few elderly men who could remember which of the multitudinous drystone field walls represented boundaries between traditional subdivisions (mostly associated with single villages) of the townlands (the smallest official land divisions). These narrow subdivisions stretched across the island from the sheltered northern coastline by way of the rocky heights to the cliffs facing the Atlantic. Each individual tenant had a scattering of fields along one of these strips, depending on which village he or she lived in. The system is obsolete, and nowadays I’m sure no one remembers its details. So, the lines I have marked on my map are the only surviving record of a structuring of space that once ruled people’s lives through their access to grazing, to wells, to fishing places, to the cliffs for seabirds and their eggs. All reduced to ‘just lines on a map’.
Interview with Tim Robinson TG: Arguably a large part of the writing featured in Archipelago and Peninsula is about borders. Do you have any advice for authors wanting to write about place? TR: Pour yourself into the place like milk into tea, and stir. Walk everywhere, look at everything, be alone, talk to everyone you meet on the way, consult the experts on all topics and look for the rhymes between their ’ologies, cultivate places like friendships. TG: You obviously have a great attachment to the Árainn Islands, but if you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be, and why? TR: At present, for a few months, I’m living very contentedly in Cambridge, wondering at fine old buildings and cared-for spaces, loving the sunshine on old brickwork and cut sandstone, reading the monuments of intelligence, and even enjoying the curious rigmaroles of High Table…
Penryn to Pandora Tim Gooch
nder overcast skies, I set out with a rhyme in my head. ‘By Tre, Pol and Pen, Ye shall know Cornishmen’. Looking at the OS map in my hand, it seems I’m on the right track, starting as I am in Penryn, and armed with O.J. Padel’s A Popular Dictionary of Cornish Place-Names. He promises to include ‘All those place-names which appear on the Ordnance Survey Quarter-Inch Map of the county (1:25,000)’. This worries me a little, as my 1:50,000 Landranger Map is likely to be far less detailed. However, I get an easy start. Penryn itself is a relatively uncorrupted word, as far as place-names go. It is a fusion of ‘penn’ and ‘rynn’, meaning the end (penn) of a point (rynn). Having crossed Commercial Road, I reach the parish church of St Gluvias, one of the many saints whose names are preserved in place-names. The lives of these figures are often difficult to transform into linear narrative, but they are at least easy to decipher as place-names. Past the old churchyard, the well trodden track leads to a small inlet marked as Bissom on the map. It is probable that it shares the same etymological root as Bissoe, the Cornish word ‘Besow’, meaning ‘birch trees’. A cursory look around reveals some birch trees among the vegetation, a remnant of what was once a large expanse of woodland. A number of decaying and abandoned boats line those inlets. Those made of wood look like forgotten Viking longboats, their wooden ribs curving up out of the mud flats at low tide. Passing Trevissome Ho, a name to which I can find no clue, the unpaved path runs along the road for a while, and I descend into Flushing. The place-name here is a bizarre one, apparently named for a Dutch port and made of the name ‘flisse’ and the suffix ‘ingham’. A public house stands on the corner, named The Seven Stars, but it’s only 11:30, too early for a drink. Sipping a cup of tea in ‘The Quay Cafe’, I try to find an explanation for this common public house name. The usual suggestion is that it refers to the seven stars of the Plough constellation. However, I could find no evidence for its origins in the book, so I set my feet to the path. While walking, I had concocted a possible origin for Trefusis Point, past Flushing and facing Falmouth Docks across the water, ‘farm at the
Penryn to Pandora stream’, taken from ‘tre’ and ‘fros’, but I found the answer to be much simpler. Two weeks later, while researching the packet boats that sailed from Falmouth, I found a local publication subtitled ‘The story of three post office packet captains connected to the Trefusis family through marriage [...] The family lived in Flushing for a number of years’. I am informed that ‘the Trefusis family had possessed this land long before the Norman invasion and owned the whole village of Flushing’, which might explain the Dutch origins of Flushing, for the early packet boats sailed to Holland. The next point, just before Mylor Churchtown is Penarrow Point. Again, a speculative meaning would be ‘headland’, a corruption of ‘penardh’. Out of Mylor Churchtown, I have to walk along the road for a little while, passing south of the small hamlet of Porloe. A possible meaning for this is ‘grey pool’ from ‘pol’ and ‘loes’, but there seems to be no geographical basis for this. The path branches away from the road, and descends through lush woodland into Trelew, and along Mylor Creek into Mylor Bridge. As I am about to turn towards Trelew, I glimpse a large settlement fairly close at hand. As it is too big to be Mylor Bridge, I assume I am looking at Falmouth, with the water between concealed by some trick of terrain and perspective. I orientate myself with the direction of the road on the map, and realise that it is Penryn. My route is basically the shape of a letter ‘B’, with Penryn at the bottom of the vertical line, and The Pandora Inn at the top, the two semi-circles forming the two headlands in between. I have been walking for nearly four hours, reaching the junction of the two loops in the ‘B’, but have travelled barely a mile and a half from where I started. This is a forcible reminder of how little you actually travel if you follow the coast. It also demonstrates another virtue of experiencing a landscape on foot; seeing a place we know well from a different angle can entirely alter our perception of it. If I was told to name the settlement before me, I would not call it ‘the end of a point’. Something like ‘harbour below two hills’ would be more suitable. Fortunately Mylor Bridge is equipped with a public house, and in The Lemon Arms I nurse a welcome pint, and enjoy resting my feet for a few moments. Seeing me consult my map, the barman informs me that the place around Weir Point is pronounced Restron-git, not Restron-guet. Only ‘The folks who come down from Lundun with th’ yachts’ say the latter. Armed with this knowledge, I re-examine the names assigned to the geography of the path. The clouds are clearing and the wind is freshening as I leave my foam-smeared glass on the bar, and head out again. The track is uneven past Mylor, and passes through fields and thickets until it rounds Weir Point and runs past Restron-git Point.
Tim Gooch I pass a row of houses and farms with unmistakably Cornish names such as Penarrow, Porloe Farm and Parc Avallen, and I stop to photograph the signs. I wonder if they are genuinely Cornish, or whether they have been built more recently, and given local names in order to appeal to a kind of idyll. The track descends steeply throughout a community that is surprisingly busy for its small size and isolated location, and the famous Pandora Inn is something of a surprise. It is tucked well away and camouflaged under a thatched roof, so that you are on top of it before you see it. Originally it was The Passage House Inn, but it was later named The Ship, and then The Pandora Inn after a Royal Naval vessel that chased The Bounty. It has since become a local landmark. Even though it is October, there are a number of ‘the folks who come down from Lundun with th’ yachts’, enjoying an archetypal Cornish pub, and my feet are urging me to follow suit. Beyond the Public House symbol on my map, the settlement of
Penryn to Pandora Restronguet Passage lies opposite Harcourt, Feock and Porthgwidden, and the hamlet of Restronguet Barton nestles in the hills above Weir Point. According to the map, there is a path that crosses Restronguet creek at low tide, but I wouldn’t like to try it. A pint of Tribute ale at my elbow, I sit outside the Inn, and attempt to decipher some of these curious names. I am reliably informed that Feock is a corruption of a saint whose origins are unknown. It is possible that he was known as St Fiac in Brittany, but what is certain is that the settlement was named as ‘Seynt Feock’ in 1392. It is fascinating how many saints Brittany and Cornwall share. There seems, throughout the sixth and seventh centuries, to have been a great deal of travel and commercial activity between the two areas, close both in language and genetic origin. Though the saint’s origins are lost, like St Gluvias, the place named after him is relatively easy to trace through history. For whatever reasons, once a community is named for a saint, the name usually undergoes very little change.
he other names were more difficult to decipher, and I had to return to the library to break them down and discover the original meaning. The first step is to trace the name back as far as it can be traced in written record. The second is to discover the meanings of the words at the time. For example, the word Mylor is the modern form of Ponsnowydh, meaning ‘new bridge’, but no link is apparent between those two names without the help of old maps and language records. What strikes me is the amazing locality of these names. Restronguet is not too far from its original three word root, the ‘ford (res) at the promontory (tron) by the wood (coid, written as ‘guet’ in 1407)’, just as ‘white (gwidn) bay (porth)’ inspired Porthgwidden. However, even though names can originate from the same words, the end result for us can be bewilderingly different. The origin of Harcourt demonstrates this aptly. It means ‘above (har) the wood (coid)’, but the word for wood has been mutated by English influence in East Cornwall, and the woods themselves have long since disappeared. I would never have guessed that the suffixes ‘guet’ and ‘court’ came from the same word. The house-names I observed on my walk appear to be a mix of the genuine and the imagined. Penarrow would translate as ‘rough (garow) end (penn)’, yet the house was built on level ground some distance from the water. This leads me to think on the recent attempts being made to revive the Cornish language, in turn part of a wider revival of the Gaelic cultures. In the course of informal discussion, I have heard it referred to as
Tim Gooch an attempt to put a dead language â€˜on life supportâ€™, or as a noble and vital way of preserving the linguistic heritage of these islands. It is a difficult age in which to be having this debate, for England is far more accessible than it was even a hundred years ago, before high speed trains and motorways. For me personally, it is also a tortured issue. I have a passion for language and names, for there is nothing more beautiful or mysterious than words, yet I also disagree with preserving history and tradition simply for its own sake. There is a lighter side to my researches. I found a book specifically concerned with old Cornish inn names in Falmouth Library. According to the author, The Seven Stars has a symbolic Christian origin; the sevenstarred crown worn by the Virgin Mary. It is not clear how this came to be used as an inn name, but then inn names would be worth a study of their own. It seems that my walk had unconsciously become a highly Christian one, but that is perhaps due to Cornwallâ€™s long history with its Christian inhabitants. Harry Armstrong, in his history of St Gluvias Church, maintains that the original Saint Gluvias was martyred for his faith, but he provides no clues as to when, where or by whom. Indeed, it seems difficult to find any information on the man behind the vague facts. It is a provocative example of a wider trend; we live with places whose very origins are lost.
Moss Anjia Barbieri
or the past six months I’ve been living on an exposed southward-facing grassy slope. It’s enclosed by a high hedge to break the force of the prevailing winds. Aside from the spindly gorse and privets and the minute weed species that camouflage themselves in between blades of grass, the diversity of plant life on this hill could be considered negligible. By November, as the growing season came to an end, the slope, churned by tyres and footsteps became just mud. The remaining grass which hadn’t been trodden to mush, took on a yellowish tint. The effect of seasons on even this barest of landscapes is reassuring; hinting even at its bleakest, any state it may be in is only temporary. At the bottom of a lane of wind-wrecked barns and out-buildings is a granite basin shaped like a corner bath. Once it would have continuously flowed with spring water. However years of disuse have filled it with stagnant rain water and a perpetual, emerald green film of mosses, almost completely covering the stone structure that they cling to. These miniature plants are fascinating, and seem to me to reside in a complex space somewhere between the kingdoms of plant and fungi. They photosynthesise, yet are non-vascular — they have no internal vessels system to transport water or dissolved sugars to their cells — and reproduce by mushroom-like spores rather than flower and seed. Their Latin names are also perplexing, as impenetrable almost as the rock on which they grow: Brachythecium, Dicranoweisia, Leptobryum. I cannot pronounce them, let alone begin to imagine how they came to be. The overcast days have merged into one another, each morning the sky is looking more like granite than before, I’ve started to feel increasingly mummified by the layers of clothes necessary to keep out the elements. In spite of the approach of winter, the vivacity of this moss-covered sink doesn’t relent. Even through December and January when the pool’s water has frozen over, the glazed mosses still glisten the deep colour of malachite. It’s nearing mid March now. That in-between season, when the colours of spring have not fully shown themselves, yet the dull, icy grip of winter has started to relax. Those sharp mornings when each blade of withered
Anjia Barbieri grass wears its own frosty cloak are becoming just a memory. In sheltered places, the patches of sunlight are surprisingly warm. I still regularly go to examine the mossy basin. In its corner far out of reach of the sun’s touch, it looks unchanged. Whilst the rest of the field is beginning to take on a brighter hue, these minuscule creepers appear to have no concept of the seasons. By choosing to thrive in these eternally damp and shaded places, they have in a way removed themselves from the effects of planetary cycles, creating their own slow world of growth and retreat, almost imperceptible to the naked eye.
he dog’s restless and is nudging me with his muzzle, trying to block the view of my computer screen with his panting profile. He takes no pleasure in watching me sat in a fixed state of concentration. He wants to run, and it’s not long before his persistence wins me over. Usually, I’d attach him to his lead and we’d walk down the main road towards one of the abandoned quarries that hide behind the apex of this slope. Today though my partner’s left me his car. We can leave the lead at home. We can go to the woods.
n the valley floor, amongst the crumbled brown leaf litter and odd discarded sandwich wrapper, translucent shoots are beginning to soak up the intermittent bursts of sunlight. Soon the ground will be carpeted in an ocean of bluebells, gently ebbing to gusts of wind. The dispersed white flowers of onion-scented ramsons will perhaps look like little crests in the breaking blue-flower waves. Someone’s been out with a chainsaw, ripping into the previous year’s growth just in time before the sap begins to rise again. Scattered stacks of drying logs rest against the occasional stump, the paths seem freshly tidied. It’s comforting being surrounded by trees, watching the shadowplay of sunrays through branches displaying itself on the granite ruins. Without the ruins this would be just another wooded valley, sculpted long ago by the persistent flow of water. A century has passed since the Kennall Company’s gunpowder mills were turning. Using the force of the River Kennall to pulverise the sulphur, saltpetre and charcoal that once fully processed, would be packed and sold to mines and quarries, not only in Cornwall but all around Britain. At the turn of the twentieth century when the Cornish miners stopped going underground as the industry collapsed, the need for the water driven mills of Kennall Vale diminished. The works officially closed in 1910 and the moss species started to accommodate themselves within the rectangular buildings. In one of the raised leats that runs parallel to the Kennall and would
Moss have brought water directly to the gunpowder grinding wheels, two cubes of chicken wire filled with irregular lumps of granite divert the water back downhill to the main river. A laminated sign informs that in the winter such diversions are necessary to prevent excess damage to the old buildings from raised water levels. The dog ventures deeper into the Vale, I follow his acrobatic jumps over fallen trunks and lateral branches with prudence and precision, worried that a foot placed wrong could result in me tumbling into a fast flowing stream. Though the sun is shining and all around me are the first tentative clues that the hibernation of winter is drawing to a close, it isn’t yet warm enough to be suddenly immersed in the entropic water hurtling itself over boulders, tracing the downward path of the valley. Eventually we find ourselves veering away from the percussive sound of water into a tangle of forgotten rhododendron. Its canopy provides a welcome green respite from the angular bareness of the neighbouring beeches. Its branches stretch out like green-gloved fingers eager to grasp at any passer-by. Everything in this valley is shrouded in the same green; trees and stone alike. Over time, some of the leats have blocked themselves off through the accumulation of debris and lack of maintenance, expanding into still lakes topped up by rainwater. Sitting on a fallen log, I pull out of my bag a thick library book on mosses. I’m hoping it will help me to find out a little more about the different species that grow so abundantly here. Leafing through the first few pages however, I realise the book is aimed at a far more scientific reader. Instead of full page, zoomed-in glossy photographs, I’m presented with page upon page of small type text and meticulously drawn details: basal cell capsules, leaf margins, cells near leaf apexes. To appreciate this book I think I not only need to be equipped with a microscope, but a year’s worth of plant anatomy lessons. The neat line diagrams of each moss’s particulars seem completely removed from the feather-leaved, Lilliputian ferns I can see when I look closely enough. I put the book back in my rucksack. Perhaps I’ve no need to catalogue my experience here with a long list of long names. I remain seated, watching a small awakening swarm of gnats skip across the lake’s meniscus. Breaking the interlude, the dog brings me a series of small branches, hoping for a game of fetch. As he drops each stick by my feet, he tries to catch my gaze with his best imploring look. Please, come on throw it. Throw it. Throw It... I surrender, and as I pick the stick up to launch it, I notice it’s almost entirely covered in flaky grey-green growths. Lichen. I have a vague recollection of the old ruins here being covered in a mosaic of different lichen. Circles of sage-green, ochre, burnt sienna, black and
Anjia Barbieri white; an artist’s palette of colours adding the pattern and definition I’d been hoping to see against the canvas of moss. This stick aside, so far the sight of any lichen has eluded me. Today the trees and crumbling granite mills are wearing only grassy shades of green. Perhaps I’ve jumbled my memories and imposed the image of other granite ruins, in other places onto the watery landscape of Kennall Vale. Back on my feet, I notice the path has taken on a more unmanaged quality and suspect that somewhere I’ve deviated away from The Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s prescribed walkway and have entered a potential no man’s land between private and public grounds. Was the brick rubble I climbed over before sitting by the lake a forgotten territory marker? Or perhaps the slight tear I notice in my skirt came from the snag of barbed wire rather than a bramble thorn? Maybe it was stepping across the Wildlife Trust’s chicken wire water blocks that set me off course? I walk on regardless. The flora appears oblivious of any potential boundary change. Elongated beeches and naturalised rhododendron still dominate the view, each of them blanketed in an ever softer, more comfortable bryophyte down. The moss of the granite basin at the farm, which seemed so surprisingly alive during the cold winter months reminds me in comparison now of an oilslick, incapable of sustaining life let alone itself living . Ahead I can make out a large barn constructed out of the familiar ripples of corrugated metal. Though most likely filled with ivy choked agricultural belongings, the abandonment of it begs it to be explored. As I step through a door-less frame I see some cream coloured roof panels lying discarded on the floor; probably some sort of low grade asbestos. I then wonder if the thick layer of dust is anything more ominous than the effects of passing time. Whether asbestos is present or not, if left be long enough, everything indoors will end up covered in some kind of dust. The barn is filled to the rafters with logs. Some have been left as whole trunks whilst others have been cut and split, ready to be thrown onto a glowing fire. The building has an air of suspended activity, as though someone casually left it one day and the place is still patiently awaiting their return. I climb over the logs to an opening which appears to lead back outside. I can hear the sound of a chainsaw, and glance up at my four-legged companion, always one step ahead, staring down at me from the rectangle of daylight. Outside there is a rusty red tractor, the same colour that the not-yet-sprouted beech leaves will turn in autumn. It’s covered in a layer of green, like icing sugar sprinkled on a sponge cake. A small sign that one day this disintegrating machine will inevitably, as the moss takes hold, gain a feathery beard too, and eventually be swallowed by rest of the landscape. The motor of the chainsaw stops. Through the thickets to my left I can
Moss just make out an oval of flushed skin, a mop of sweaty hair and the slender shadows of limbs. ‘It’s all private around here.’ A voice echoes out from the bushes. As I move towards the voice, the figure begins to takes on a more organised form, rather than just being a set of singular features. ‘Sorry, I was following the dog, I didn’t see any signs.’ ‘Just so you know.’ Before I have time to say a cursory thank you, the rumble of the saw once more fills the valley. I wonder a moment whether I should turn around and follow the water eastwards, back down stream. Back towards all the official heritage. Behind me the barn stretches like a bridge over its course. An indication that this water may have once been used to power the saw mill that cut through all those abandoned logs. Scattered around is the rubble that shows this was, in the not so distant past, an operational place. However the slow creep of green suggests that even this rubber, metal and plastic debris will, like the granite mills, be reclaimed by the valley and the moss in time.
Cattle Grid Alyson Hallett
Designed of course to keep cattle from crossing over from moving from their allotted plot of field or moorland onto roads that might take them to the sea or the pub or gardens plumped with carrots nasturtiums rosemary a flattened grille if you like like a prisonerâ€™s window laid down on the ground marking the edge of the cowâ€™s compound while the sky stretches from this oak hedge to the tip of Rough Tor unbarriered like cattle at night when they collectively dream of a green and gridless place over the moon roaming through space
Beached Laura Andrew
wo boys and a sailor sit on the pebbled beach. Behind them the artist’s brushstrokes portray a calm sea rippling under a clear sky. ‘The Boyhood of Raleigh’, painted by Millais, depicts the young Elizabethan explorer seated on the beach at Budleigh Salterton listening to tales of the vast ocean which awaited him. As I sit on the same beach almost five hundred years later, the sea which extends out in front of me is certainly less iridescent than it is in the picture. It has a chalky quality and reflects the bleak sky which hangs heavily above it. A kite surfer navigates the waves atop the water’s murky hues. His muscles are outlined in a tar black suit and for a moment he is king. Shortly after, I watch him tumble, and plummeting forward disappear beneath the heavy waves. An elderly couple, aided by sticks and one another, make their way along the promenade. Almost a third of the population of Budleigh Salterton are retirees. Gathering together at the edges of the country, small communities like this are found along much of Britain’s coastline. As they set the pace of the landscape, time slows and for a while I gaze out to the horizon. The scale of the water becomes overwhelming and I too find myself tumbling under its weight. Gulls laugh overhead, bringing me back to the shore. Just last year a lighter strip was formed along this stretch of the beach’s usually pink and purple mottle. Thousands of starfish, exhausted after spawning out at sea, were washed up onto this stretch of the Jurassic Coast. Dead and dying they formed a rug of fleshy pink along the length of this pebbled strip. The promenade at the rear of the beach is lined with street lights, not the crooked walking sticks we see in most towns today, but the ornate black lamps of the Victorian age. The measured line is broken only by a flagpole in the centre, where a St George’s Cross at half mast flaps in the on-shore winds. The same flag whispers from the background of black and white photographs I have seen of this beach, covered with families, three generations all holidaying together. Escaping the wind I make my way towards the town. A large white cottage with a thatched roof is set back in a lush green garden. I am surprised to find that this is the town’s museum
Beached and am disappointed that it is only open for the holiday season. But even in the winter months the town’s streets bustle with locals, waving to one another as they make their way in and out of butchers and greengrocers with brightly coloured shop awnings. An ice cream dairy boasting thirty different flavours beckons me in and I stand at the counter wide-eyed. The clerk greets each customer by name and asks after family members before serving me with a smile. Eric’s home is on the outskirts of town, a large brick building which towers over its neighbours on either side. Despite calling in advance, Eric is not in. Waiting by a window in the living room I notice three care workers emerge from a greenhouse in the garden. Checking their watches they stub out cigarettes in a plant pot and make their way slowly inside. Behind me some of the residents are playing bingo, seated in a circle. Their approach is somewhat unorthodox, but it certainly makes me smile: ‘I’ve got the number below, will that do?’ Looking back out at the garden I gaze for some time at the magnolia tree with its bleached bark. Defiant against the gloomy day its buds struggle to shrug off the confinement of their winter jackets. Bingo is over. I realise then that I have been waiting half an hour, and there’s still no sign of Eric. The members of staff seem unconcerned, ‘I suppose there has just been some miscommunication between the office and Eric.’ I try to explain that I’ve made a long journey. ‘Well, why don’t you just leave your contact number and email address and he can contact you then, much easier.’ I write down the details and leave feeling confused and frustrated. I wonder if Eric had changed his mind about meeting me. Maybe he lost track of time. Or perhaps he just forgot. Driving back along winding lanes, through patches of woodland and passing open fields the journey seems endless. The slow roads make Budleigh seem entirely cut off from the suited bodies in the city only fifteen miles away. As the roads slowly become wider and faster I finally reach the motorway. Cars dash past. With eyes front their drivers are encased in their own world and the other cars become peripheral. The telephone rings shortly after I arrive home, and I am surprised to hear Eric at the other end of the line. There is a twinge of exasperation in his voice: ‘No one ever gave me your message. I only went out for an hour, and I don’t go out that often.’ I listen as Eric tells me about his family. He has three daughters, eleven grandchildren and fifteen greatgrandchildren. I must sound surprised. ‘Well, that’s what happens when you get to my age,’ he chuckles down the phone. I ask if he sees them often, ‘not so much, but I keep in touch a bit by phone and I’ve been learning to
Laura Andrew use the internet, eighty and learning the internet, not bad eh?’ I can hear his smile slowly fade, ‘well, they have a life to lead of their own.’ I arrange to visit again and the following week I return to meet Eric face to face. Arriving back in Budleigh early I wander down the length of the beach and eventually reach its famous pebble beds. This formation of rounded quartzite embedded in the dark red cliffs resembles a magnified cross section of sedimentary rocks. Packed tightly together, some small, some large, they have lain here side by side for almost 250 million years. But the layer upon layer of pebbles which tower above me were once far below water level. Deposited by a huge river which flowed northwards from the French mountains they were deposited in the river’s immense bed. Slowly but surely, as the sea laps away at the cliff face, the pebbles are broken away and scattered hundreds of miles from one another; forming the beaches along the coastline stretching from Devon and all the way to Kent. Settling down on a bench with Bill and Vera ‘who so loved this view’, I am swiftly joined by a number of seagulls. Edging around me at a safe distance they eye my sandwiches. Their gaze begins to feel like a burden and I reluctantly throw them my crusts. When I arrive Eric is well turned out with his hair brushed into a neat wave. His room, though small, is self contained, with a television, bed and his recliner, in which he is sat. He greets me with a smile and a strong handshake before struggling to his feet to dig out some photos of his school days. Two show him crossed legged in shorts, a boy in primary school, and one is from his sixth form days. ‘That last one was just after the war finished and we were able to go back and finish our education. I’m the one in glasses, the NHS had just arrived you see, in ’48. Security “from cradle to grave” was what was promised then. Of course, I had to pay the weekly contribution just like everyone else, even when I was still in the Navy. But it did make a big change despite its shortcomings. My first operation was in our kitchen, well before then. I can still remember my mother scrubbing down the old wooden table. Two drops of chloroform on my top lip and I was out like a light. They extracted most of my teeth at the age of four. They wouldn’t do that today.’ Eric spent two and a half years ‘too many’ of service in the Navy and often worked on submarines. ‘When you’re underwater you never know whether you’re going backwards, forwards or sideways’ he laughed ‘and it wasn’t worth opening a window to find out!’ Eric was a medic in the Navy and decided to join the Red Cross after that. I notice a collection of model buses arranged on his chest of drawers. ‘I worked for Dennis as an
Beached accountant after the Navy, so I like to collect the models. That bus there had exactly the same shell as the fire engines, the only difference was the engine inside.’ ‘Of course, being an accountant wasn’t what I planned at school. In fact I was accepted to Goldsmiths to train to be a teacher, but then the war came and after it was over you were forced to go where the jobs were. I always liked English better than maths but then the war took so many of us off-course. I went to the North-Western Polytechnic and struggled along to get my qualifications. But once I got there, I liked it and travelled a lot, Johannesburg in South Africa, Monte Carlo, Lisbon, all over.’ ‘I would like to have walked the country with all this free time really, that was always the plan, but then so much of your time goes up on just living.’ Eric was forced into retirement early, after breaking his back he had to stop working at sixty. ‘It was a scary time. It still is. Mainly I just miss not being in control of my own life. My chair helps a lot though,’ he gestures to an electric wheelchair near the door. ‘It’s still hard to get to the shops though, the pavements are narrow and most of the shops here don’t have wheelchair access, the doorways are narrow and most still have steps. They’ll soon be taking away my mobility allowance anyway, the people in care homes aren’t entitled for much longer. I suppose they think we don’t need it as much as others. But I know that if I lose my chair it’ll be goodbye to my jaunts outside. Its probably just as well’ he jokes ‘after all, I get twenty pounds a week now, after paying to live here that’s all I have left.’ On the wall opposite hang Eric’s accountancy certificates, framed alongside a picture of his father and grandfather who ran a family business together delivering parcels. They stand with horse and cart, smiling out from the sepia photograph. ‘My grandfather carried on working, almost until he passed away, out and about in the fresh air, not cooped up inside.’ I ask if he spends much time with the other residents, but he shakes his head. ‘Most of the others here are not a lot of company; they are mostly old and frail. Sometimes they surprise you though. There is a quiz here every month, and there was this one lady who didn’t usually say much, but one day she chirped up and answered almost every question right! I was surprised as she was often so quiet, and then two days later she was gone.’ A chicken and ham pie and cup of tea signal lunchtime and we say a swift goodbye. As I leave his room I see him glance out of the double glazed window at the trees gently swaying in the light breeze. As I step out from the warm home and smell the sea in the air, the beach beckons
Laura Andrew to me one last time. The shoreline is this townâ€™s true centre, its traces are everywhere you look. Even the walls which line the streets are made from the familiar pink pebbles. Rocks of similar size have been concreted in orderly rows between red brick borders. They try to mimic the beds in the cliff, but are too regimentally arranged. Sitting on the beach once again, I look at the boats of all shapes and sizes which are strewn along the pebbled expanse in front of me. Some of these crewless vessels are unnamed and rusting in places. They seem unloved and forgotten as they slowly crumble, coming to resemble the other driftwood on the beach. Although I know it will be cold, as the sun dances on its surface and reflects the clear sky above, the sea certainly looks more inviting than before.
Comings and Goings Alison Green
wo sleek cormorants leave Dorset, flying low across the choppy green sea between the tips of the Sandbanks and Studland peninsulas. They head out into the Channel where the stack of Old Harry pokes his Jurassic head out into the sunshine. Surprisingly, the average depth of the water in Poole Harbour is only eighteen inches but, here, where waves swirl and splash against the slipway, a deception lurks. The haven entrance is four hundred yards in width with dangerous tidal currents. I watch as a sailor in his streamlined yacht foregoes a jaunty pose to manoeuvre carefully across in the direction of the disappearing birds. You can time-travel in this sea. Close by, in seven metres of water, the Swash Channel Wreck lies on flat sand and shingle. A Baltic oak boat from the early seventeenth century, boasting three cast iron cannons, the vessel displays a carved merman to the archaeological divers who rate it the most important example of its kind in British waters. Presumably, it foundered either on its way in or out of the harbour where today it is threatened by an aggressive, globally warmed shipworm which has migrated here. The Sandbanks floating bridge, the Bramble Bush Bay, is chugging slowly back from the Shell Bay side. Although it’s a newer model than the one I first encountered forty years ago, the placards bear the same advertisements: Manor House Hotel, Ulwell Camp Site, Swanage Trattoria, Bankes Arms, Studland United Naturists (the optimistically abbreviated SUN). Nothing changes in the Purbecks. Despite being secured by chains, the ferry rumbles on with caution. Years ago, an earlier version escaped and took its passengers on an unanticipated trip to Bournemouth pier; not as bad as the original though which, having broken free of its chains, made landfall on the Isle of Wight before being recaptured. The sign on the ticket hut depicts a black car falling off a cliff into curly waves. It’s a childish drawing squashed inside a red triangle. It looks amusing. As if anyone could be so… The ferry currently conveys ten cars and a green double-decker bus which, on arrival, must project themselves down the ramp and back up the slipway. Of course, now they’re facing the back of the sign as they were the day the bus fell off. Even worse,
Comings and Goings some think the sign gives folk ideas. Observers say that the young woman who drove off the slipway when the ferry was still on the other side was smoking a last cigarette as her car sunk into the only deep part of the harbour. Aboard the Bramble Bush Bay, I meet Friday Greg who is today’s National Trust volunteer. There are, apparently, other Gregs employed in a similar capacity and to avoid confusion they are prefixed by the name of the day on which they appear. Friday and I fall into conversation about Dartford Warblers of which, I have read, there are currently 130 known pairs on Studland and Godlingston Heath. This is news to Greg but he gratefully accepts my update and in exchange tells me of the Long-Billed Dowtwitcher which has been blown in from North America on the gulf stream; a rarity on our shores. This is a land of taxonomies, lists and conferment. When we reach the Studland Peninsula, we will be on one of the thiry-one most important heaths in the UK, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Purbeck Heritage Trail, the Gateway to the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site and the start of the South West Coastal Footpath. A startlingly turquoise sculpture commemorates these combined achievements of nature and committee; whilst the sign below reminds intrepid hikers that Minehead is another six hundred and thirty miles further along the beach. The hoof prints in the sand of Shell Bay speak of an early morning canter between a drift of seaweed that has been liberally scattered with cuttlefish. The past week’s rains have left small seas and rivulets, creating peninsulas within the peninsula. Grandchildren, their discarded coats and shoes now exchanged for flotsam and jetsam, pretend to be shipwrecked on a desert island. We take the heather walk away from the sea and onto the heathland, home to all six of the known British reptiles: adder, grass snake, smooth snake, sand lizard, common lizard and slow worm silently glide or scurry below another set of Purbeck’s inhabitants, the hyphenated night-jars, stone-curlews and red-backed shrikes. It’s a naturalist’s paradise and likewise for the naturists, one of whom we inadvertently disturb whilst tramping across animal tracks back towards the beach. On the edge of the dunes, we sit overlooking the sea-grass meadows of Studland Bay in which both the spiny and short-snouted seahorses breed prolifically. Well, you might as well say it, I remark to my daughter. How did you know what I was going to say? Why wouldn’t you? OK. We’re so lucky to live here comes the mantra. Clichéd it may be, but we take nothing for granted.
’m back on the tip of the Sandbanks Peninsula and in the background there are suitably placed hills to frame the scene. Not just any old hills though. An evidently well-read child behind me informs his father that they are part of a large island mass. The parent, busy finding out where he currently is with the aid of an iPhone, derides the son for his stupidity. I can’t help it; I inform the father that his son is correct: that is the Isle of Purbeck. Dad can’t find it on his expensive mobile internet. An island must be surrounded by sea to be an island. Well, not exactly I dutifully inform him wishing I’d minded my own business. There is a lot of sea, but at Wareham the land is further displaced by the River Frome. This is not clear according to Wikipedia and I am dismissed. The hills are the northern ridge of the Purbecks known as Nine Barrow Down, bursting with stone-age burial grounds and the new mast for Heart FM radio. Up there, on the calcareous grassland, sits an early Neolithic long barrow, some sheep and a large number of rabbits all communing with ancient nature alongside Abba’s rendition of Dancing Queen. Cattle are grazing in tune …see that girl, watch that scene…and unseen to the naked eye, the mountain bikers are soft pedalling downhill to scones at Swanage before taking the steam train back to Corfe. We board the yellow boat to Brownsea Island because I want another perspective on the peninsulas. There is a peculiar spring tide in evidence and we must all be back on the return vessel by 3pm. It’s not an official National Trust opening time but a boatload of bird-watchers, armed for an overland safari, has also taken advantage of this out-of-season opportunity. We move with ease along the once-scrubland which has recently been cleared by middle-class lady volunteers and those on community service and find ourselves crammed into the gloriously wooden-scented new hide along with the cameras, tripods and flasks of the professionals. The sea-birds hang out in the lagoon: always leaving; always arriving, dependent on the weather. The twitchers, armed with uniform note-books, congregate to see the birds they hope for, including a record nine hundred avocets. Reed Margin, Tamarisk Bushes, the Boomerang, Oystercatcher Lawn, Wader Pool, Gravel Island, Sand Bar: each tiny part of the view reached by amateur telescope has been listed and recorded in an attempt to achieve ownership. They document the ornithological comings and goings alongside cheese sandwiches and prawn cocktail crisps. Jaffa Cake anyone? This is not a place for the faint-hearted and sadly, not really comfortable for those of us who just wanted to enjoy the birds we couldn’t name.
Comings and Goings
he Sandbanks Peninsula is in its twenty-first century incarnation: the third most expensive real estate in the world, subject of interminable TV celebrity programmes and incessant summer traffic jams. It appeals to the rich and famous who buy their properties and in so doing pay for the privileged view of places whose very beauty precludes purchase. On this side, the modern day elite of football managers and slum landlords reside, having displaced the northern likes of John Lennon’s Aunty Mimi, viewed as tasteless as the common lizard. They pulled down her silly bright pink house in favour of mock Tudor, garish glass monstrosities and private boatless jetties. Only when you reach the ferry does an element of continuity and sensibility reappear. The stone for the slipways and the road foundations came from the cliff-facing quarries of Dancing Ledge and St Aldhelm’s Head on the Isle of Purbeck and was brought along the coast by barge. In the mid 1950s, local people were asked whether they would prefer a new ferry or a bridge and a sensible decision was reached. The bridge was rejected. It would, of necessity, have been so high as to have dominated the natural landscape. Soon, the pilot boat will lead the Barfleur out on its journey to Cherbourg. Five hundred and twenty feet long, she carries six hundred cars and twelve hundred people to their French holiday destinations. To see her cruising through the shallow harbour defies comprehension but the best view is from the heathland behind Shell Bay. As I look from the dunes, the water is out of sight and it seems as if the giant ship has beached amongst the gorse like some apocalyptic indicator. I use the harbour as a natural boarding pass to foreign climes. When I complain that my friends fail to keep in touch, my daughter tells me it’s no wonder: you’re always moving around. How will they know where you are?
Un-Mapping the Perimeter Merryn Robinson
here is a mist when I begin: not a thick sea fog, but a light blurring of the distant edges. Only definite shapes are visible. The cargo ships in the bay appear to float, not on the water, but slightly above, as the mist line drowns the true horizon. Someone has breathed on life’s lens. As I stand on the shore facing out to sea, Falmouth’s Pendennis headland reaches round behind me, pointing like a crooked finger in a south-easterly direction. It is low tide, and the upper beach is slimed with green algae after ten rainy days in a row, slick to the rocks and slippery. Enteromorpha, I note in my book, reassured at the ease with which I can recall names I’d thought I’d forgotten. I’m attempting to map the headland by looking at the landscape in a different way: tracing the less definable perimeter where the sea and land physically meet rather than circumnavigating by road. Anywhere that two different habitats converge is marked by changes in flora and fauna. Often a transitional area will include elements of both habitats, intermingling in subtly increasing and decreasing abundances. The effect is that of a series of borders within the border. On rocky shorelines like this one, this ecological zonation is clearest in the seaweed populations. At the high water mark the first of the brown algae, Pelvetica canaliculata or channelled wrack, is identifiable by its grooved stems or ‘stipes’, like weedy seawater canals in miniature. Initially baffling Latin tags make sense on closer inspection: Fucus spiralis, spiralled wrack; F. vesiculosis, bladder-wrack with its bubbles or vesicles; and F. serratus, with predictably tooth-edged blades. The nodular, ropey Ascophylum nodosum or egg wrack sounds to me like it should be a shelf in a fridge door. Here in a tide puddle like drowned salad, is a patch of leafy green Ulva lactuca, bubbles rising furiously in the brightening sunlight. This is photosynthesis in action. Phyco-phobics should bear in mind that marine algae provide over half the oxygen in the atmosphere as a waste product of their own livelihood. The oceans are as valuable carbon sinks as the dwindling tropical rainforests, yet people still have the audacity to be offended by seaweed.
Merryn Robinson Moving down shore the wracks pile up, crisping to an oxymoronic mixture of crunch and slide underfoot. The top layers have crusted in the sun, blackened and rubbery; underneath is protected, stewing in its trapped moisture, waiting for the relief of a wave. Intertidal habitats provide some of the most arduous living conditions on earth. Organisms adapted to this harsh environment deal daily with stress levels that make merchant bankers’ lives look like a stroll on the beach. Not only do they have to deal with inundation and desiccation twice daily, but also hugely varying temperatures in the shallow tide pools, fluctuations in salinity, and exposure to aerial predation during low tide. Some of these changes can be extremely sudden: think of a rockpool that’s been reducing to shrimp bouillon all afternoon in the sun, instantly cooled by as much as 11°C by an incoming wave. As I progress to deeper pools I begin to find red algae: delicate specimens, prettier, more susceptible to disturbance and change. First to appear are the calcareously lilac Coralina; and the mossy Ceramium rubrum with strands like a string of beads and the tips of its filaments like tiny pincers. Hiding amongst the sturdier wracks is a little cluster of Chondrus crispus, which, when submerged, has a beautiful iridescent sheen over its red leather fronds. Seaweed falls into three categories: greens, browns and reds, which in turn are found in different sections of the intertidal zone. Green algae, the Chlorophyceae, predominantly occupy the uppermost limits due to their tolerance of lower salinity levels – hence the greater abundance of these where the rainwater run-off had washed over the upper beach. Phaeophyceae, brown algae like the wracks, are found midshore onwards; and reds, Rhodophyceae, are found in the low shore to sublittoral areas. Originally it was thought that this was because red light can only penetrate the uppermost surface of the water, allowing rapid photosynthesis in green algae; whereas additional pigments in brown and red algae allow them to use the blue and green light which penetrates deeper into the water. In fact light quantity, rather than quality, is a more limiting factor for underwater photosynthesis as more than ten percent of sunlight is reflected by the sea’s surface. Even in totally clear water strong light can only reach a few metres at most, with 50m being the absolute limit of the photic zone. In deeper oceans brown seaweeds like those of the Sargasso Sea grow to tens of metres in length to best take advantage of the little available light. Although there are no such things as sea trees these algal giants are the closest marine equivalent. As I near the now incoming sea the wracks become thicker and more abundant, beginning to emulate their Sargassan cousins. Now kelp rises ominously on the approaching waves: a spaghetti soup of thongweed, and
Un-Mapping the Perimeter the waving bracts of Laminaria digitata’s giant rubber gloves. This is as far as I can walk if I want to keep my boots dry, and however much I defend seaweed I’m not a fan of wading unawares into a swirling mass of kelp. I think this is what most people’s objection to seaweed revolves around: fear of the unknown as you plunge into the depths – what could be hiding beneath after all? Making a quick note of what I’ve seen I draw an ambiguous line in my notebook, estimating the distances between each new frontier of algae in stride-lengths. I pick up my bag and move on round the beach, here deserted but for a cluster of cormorants further out in the water, waiting on a ledge. They seem to observe me with hesitant interest, a landlubber tentatively treading their home turf. They take to the air at the last minute when I reach the incoming waves. Closer inshore where the sea wall appears to grow up out of the rocks terrestrial vegetation is encroaching. What appears at first to be grass growing on the rocks is on closer inspection thrift, a coast-loving metallophyte, still sporting the occasional pink flower, pushing the landward boundary like a floral ascetic clinging as close to the coastal fringe as possible. By my third survey I am on the peninsula proper, the beach all but disappearing into narrow gullies of sand as patches of rock get wider and taller. The further around the headland I go the more pronounced these gullies become. I am grateful to the barnacles for providing such an effective natural grip on the more sheer faces. On a bend in the headland I reach the part of the coastline where the sea wall runs out. A wave runs in over the sand, coming much further inshore than I’m expecting. One summer’s day at high tide, I saw this same gully so full of water it seemed bottomless, its sides a garden of frondy seaweeds and flower-like anemones, shoals of fish shivering silver in its depths. Looking at my watch I realise it’s already half tide and I have no idea how far round the Point I’ve still got to go. The old saying about tide and time springs to mind as I curtail my route. It is only when I return by the usual road to the pinnacle of Pendennis that I realise just how much I had underestimated the size of the headland. The direct road round the top was always going to be a lot shorter than the jagged up and down over the rocks on the outer fringe. This is a perennial problem when measuring the coastline. Officially Britain’s mainland coast measures 11,072.76 miles, according to the British Cartographic Society. Looking at the map I attempt to estimate the minute fraction that is Falmouth’s Pendennis peninsula. Immediately I hit a stumbling block, should I measure low water mark or high? Using a piece of string I determine roughly half a mile’s difference between the two perimeters, but
Merryn Robinson given the scale of the map it’s quite hard to measure accurately, especially as I wiggled about a lot more down at the tide-line than the markings on the map actually account for. To measure it properly you’d have to take a tape measure to the actual rocks, and this would give you a far longer distance for the coastline than if you were to measure the representative black line at a smaller scale on the map. But here’s the conundrum. You could never get a definitive length for the coastline of Pendennis – or even the whole of Britain – as the answer entirely depends on the scale at which you are measuring. It would be impractical to go round the edge of the land with ever-decreasing sizes of rulers, measuring more and more precisely each nook and cranny exposed at the lowest tide, the distance increasing with the diminishing scale. At what point do you stop: do you measure the cracks in the rocks as being part of their perimeter edge, do you measure the limpets attached to the rocks, or the barnacles? If you were to look at the smallest microscopic scale the surface of the rocks on the shore would be so uneven that if you were to measure it precisely the length of the coast would increase exponentially. Even excluding the waxing and waning tides, the coastline remains an indefinable border, a shifting perimeter that’s somehow representative of its position between elements. Neither terrestrial nor marine, but always both, the coast defies easy classification in every way, rightly refusing to be pinned down, even on a map. I think how I tried to trace the peninsula on the page and wonder how long a piece of string really is. Reaching Pendennis Point I cross the car park to the viewpoint and hop the barrier to reach the wave cut ledge below. The ledge slopes, pale in the sun but glossy dark under the waves, threaded with veins of marblelike quartz injections. Sitting out on the fingertip of the land makes me feel like I am sitting on an island, surrounded on three sides as I am by water. The word peninsula derives from the Latin paen-insula meaning ‘almost an island’. I feel a sudden affinity for the light out on Black Rock in the middle of the Fal estuary. Despite the fact that twenty feet or so above me is a car park rammed with tourists I feel completely alone. Some canoeists pass on a level with me. I could pass the time of day we are so close, but I’m loathe to admit anyone else to the comfort of my almost-insularity. Looking up behind me towards the main headland it is surprising to see Little Dennis, the main castle’s baby brother on the lower edge of the cliff, so high up above me. It’s odd to think of the amount of times I’ve stood up there and looked out at the same view I’m looking at now and without venturing down to the very edge. My whole experience of walking round Pendennis by the coastal fringe, thwarted though it has been, has still shown the landscape in a completely new light. Looking
Un-Mapping the Perimeter north-west round the other side of the Point towards the town I resolve to see how far I can go tracing the periphery on foot, stricken with a desire to see the familiar unconventionally. It is only now that it occurs to me that I seem to be demonstrating to myself in four dimensional reality the whole inspirational process of discovering an idea by way of approaching something well-known from an alternative angle. I no longer feel the need to make my map, having revealed to myself the point by way of the process: trust what you know, and the rest will follow. Progressing round, having now abandoned the concept of an intertidal survey, I continue to make discoveries en route, even where I canâ€™t keep along the actual shoreline. Eventually I rejoin the road and, passing with the docks below on my right and Falmouth town ahead of me, complete my circuit. The sun is spangling the sea to a clear, deep blue. Out in the bay cargo ships loom like cardboard cut-outs, disproportionately large on the horizon. The mist has completely cleared. I can see for miles. My head is buzzing both from the salt wind, and the revelations Iâ€™ve had on my peninsular venture. I hoist my bag a little higher, and set off home in dazzling clarity.
Crossing the Tamar Tim Halpin
n the strip of muddy pebbles a man with a rose tattooed on his upper arm is surrounded by hissing white birds. ‘If you feed the swans please do so only on the beach’ reads the sign beside the river. I suppose the tattoo is more likely to be showing his support for the England rugby team than the Labour Party. The swans peck him tirelessly, their heads reaching up to his chest, tearing at the loaf of bread in his hand. It doesn’t take long before he is forced to throw the bread in large chunks towards the water, and rejoin his family. He pushes a pram towards the Union Inn, its entire façade painted like a Union Jack, and enters through the upright of the red cross. Later I see them looking out of the window framed in St Andrew’s blue. The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, which received Royal Assent in February 2011, reduces the number of MPs in the House of Commons from 650 to 600, and legislates that the number of voters in each constituency shall be no greater than 5% more or less than the average. Cornwall currently has six parliamentary constituencies, all much smaller than the average. However if there were only five constituencies in Cornwall, they would all be much larger than the average. In order to comply with the new legislation, one of Cornwall’s constituencies must bridge the Tamar and include part of Plymouth. The swans mill around on the shore, wandering between the day boats stranded by the low tide, Abode, Gipsy Lady, Absent. Above us, the two bridges seem out of proportion, skyscrapers in a village. They make landfall on a hill about half a mile from the shore, seeming to bypass as much as possible. It was not until later, when I was entertaining the thought of walking the Saltash Heritage Trail (first stop – the shopping centre), that I realised what I found so odd about the swans. In Staffordshire all the swans have yellow ring tags. You can tell a Warwickshire swan by its red tag, and Leicestershire swans are blue. But these Tamar swans, living between Saltash and Plymouth, Cornwall and Devon, have no tags at all. The Tamar has been the Cornish border since the tenth century, when King Athelstan drove the Cornish – for some reason referred to as the ‘West
Crossing the Tamar Welsh’ – out of Wessex and across the river. The refugees must have been ferried across, or taken the long trip up to Latchley Ford, which was the most southerly crossing place before Greystone Bridge and Horsebridge in the fifteenth century. These bridges were probably commissioned by the abbot of Tavistock, the largest landowner in the area (and paid for with indulgence money). Brunel’s Royal Albert Bridge, completed in 1859, was the first bridge to cross the Tamar from Plymouth, but it was not until the Tamar Bridge opened in 1961 that car drivers could avoid either taking the Devonport ferry or making the long detour north to Gunnislake. Now, approximately 40,000 vehicles cross the bridge every day. After climbing up Lower Fore Street, which runs uphill from the riverbank to the high street, I turn to face the cars arriving into Cornwall across the bridge. Most disappear beneath me, underground into the Saltash bypass tunnel, but a few veer off into the town. Perhaps they were tempted by the fading banner put up by the council a few years ago, ‘Visit Saltash – Parking 20p For First Hour’. Tomorrow is St. Piran’s day, and the high street is decked out in black and white flags. Mayor’s Ball to be held at China Fleet Country Club. Tickets available at the Guildhall, £27.50 each. Proceeds to the Mayor’s Charity Fund. A Cornish Cornucopia – St. Piran’s six course Cornish meal and full evening’s entertainment with Knockers and Wreckers, £12, wear tartan if poss. Brunel Independent Mortgages. Isambards Bespoke Kitchens and Interiors. The Plymouth Herald is in competition with the The Cornish Times. ‘Big wheel twice as high as Smeaton’s Tower planned for Plymouth Hoe’. ‘Residents’ solar farm plan fury’. I buy a cheese and onion slice (‘it’s not a pasty unless it’s got beef in it’) for lunch and eat it on a bench overlooking the bridge. The constitutional boundary change is not the first time the Tamar has been bridged by institutional centralisation. To retain control over the spiritual lives of the West Welsh, Cornwall was ministered to by the Diocese of Exeter in Devon until the nineteenth century, although by that time most of Cornwall’s worshippers were dissenting Methodists. But in municipal life it has only been since the 1970s that there has been a tendency to treat Devon and Cornwall as a single administrative unit. ‘Devonwall’ has its own police force, ambulance and fire services. Even the National Trust lumps the two counties together, with Cotehele, on the bank of the Tamar, not at the extreme edge of Cornwall, but in the middle of the Devonwall region. As the constitutional integrity of Cornwall has gradually eroded, the proliferation of St Piran’s crosses has boomed. A recent EU directive decreed that pasties can only be called Cornish if they come from
Tim Halpin Cornwall, leading to a flurry of multinational food processing companies erecting factories on the west bank of the Tamar. Ginsters, in packaging emblazoned with St Piran’s flag, make ‘real honest food’. Based five miles west of the bridge at Gunnislake, they’re owned by a company that also makes Melton Mowbray pork pies and Tesco ready meals. The cars keep on coming, the uniformity of speed and trajectory gives them a sense of inevitability, like the production lines that manufactured them. Every car brings with it a consignment of white noise in the space between the tyres and the road. Every now and then there is an unexpected lull, a few hundred meters suspended like a rope between the last silver Picasso and the bus I can see just crossing over into Cornwall. I count the silent seconds. One, two, three, just long enough to realise that it’s not silent at all, there are people talking on the high street, four, five, a train is just coming up to the Prince Albert bridge, six, seven, cars in the distance, eight, pigeon, nine, and the 592 to Liskeard arrives, bringing with it an impatient tail of cars and noise. The cheese and onion slice long gone, I head off towards the bridge. This will be the first time I’ve left Cornwall in months. Hardly exceptional compared to local news reports of octogenarians who had never travelled east of the river, but it still seems significant to me. The bridge was widened not too long ago, and now pedestrians and cyclists share a wide lane on the south side, separated from the cars (£1.50) and lorries (£6), with a good view out across the river if you’re tall enough to see over the anti-suicide fence. Whenever a really large lorry (four or more axles – £8.20) drives past, the ground bucks. I put my ear to the metal fence. When you listen to a conch shell you can hear to sea, though I’m told that you’re really hearing the amplified sound of blood being pumped around your head. Through the bridge I can hear Pandaemonium. 24hr CCTV surveillance carried out by Devon and Cornwall Constabulary ‘for the purposes of public safety, traffic management, and crime prevention’. I’ve passed over this bridge in a car several times, and it feels like any other stretch of road. Walking across, I can’t forget that I’m suspended 100ft above the river, and crossing a threshold. I stop at the middle of the bridge, and peer over the barrier, wondering if someone in a CCTV surveillance centre somewhere is getting anxious about my public safety. There’s the Royal Albert Bridge, and beyond it, the meeting of the Tamar and the Lynher. This is the official end of both rivers, beyond the confluence the estuarine stretch of river ought to be known as The Hamoaze, but is usually still called the Tamar. Three and a half kilometres south is the Devonport-Torpoint floating bridge, the most southerly crossing point on the river. The tide is coming in, small boats
Crossing the Tamar have swung around on their moorings to face the sea. A few cyclists, some people walking dogs, a couple with a pram, and some men in fluorescent jackets. It takes me about fifteen minutes to dawdle across the bridge. During this time, about 750 vehicles will have passed me, enough to pay for the upkeep of the bridge, continual improvement to services, and subsidise the Torpoint ferry. On the Plymouth side, a team of road builders are improving the bicycle access to the bridge, straightening out a section of cycle lane and re-surfacing. The tarmac steams as it is flattened by a one-man roller. Beside these works stands the Tamar Bridge office, where I’m meeting Chris Coates, a bridge engineer. He invites me for a cup of tea and we sit in the waiting room, near a queue of people with questions about the Tamar Tag electronic toll collection. ‘We’ve always been trying to get across the Tamar. I remember my father, who worked on the original planning application for the Bridge in the ‘50s, he was obsessed with Brunel. When they built that bridge, they had to dig twenty feet down into the mud before they hit rock for the foundations, all the while with the tide coming in and out. Our bridge was just as big an achievement. When it opened in ‘61 it was the longest suspension bridge in England.’ I ask him about what the Tamar meant to the people in Plymouth. ‘Now, y’see, they just expect it to be done. Like the widening in ‘01, no one had ever done that before, widen a bridge when it was still open to traffic. Now they just complain if it’s behind schedule. How do you put a schedule to something that no one’s ever done? They just expect it to be done and don’t care how, they’re not interested in engineering, even when we’ve got the best in the world. Why aren’t more people proud of that?’
few miles up the river, on the Cornish bank, is Cotehele Quay, part of the Cotehele Estate, the centrepiece of the National Trust’s Devonwall region. It has been restored to how it would have been in its nineteenth-century heyday, complete with the 1899 57ft ketch-rigged Shamrock. Here, the river is surrounded by reed beds, meandering as though it were part of the Norfolk Broads, not winding its way through a steep-sided valley. Today the only traffic is a pair of swans, but if I go into the Discover Centre in the restored quay buildings I can learn about the history of shipping on the Tamar. This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was once full of industry. Mining and lime processing polluted the river as well as the sky, and the strawberry monoculture in the picturesque market
Tim Halpin gardens encouraged such a concentration of disease that fields had to be left fallow for years. Soil erosion was so severe on the steep ploughed slopes that every year soil had to be winched back to the top. It’s turned into one of those spring afternoons that is pretending to be a summer morning. I wait on a bench beside a wooden crane, sunning myself. Rachael Masters is involved with the Tamar Community Trust. She arrives by bike, which I think is rather brave, but she assures me that she knows the roads better than anyone. I take this to mean that she is a local born and bred, but in fact she’s only recently moved here from the South East, after taking early retirement from her job as an accountant. We share the coffee from my Thermos flask and I ask her about the history of the Tamar valley and the people who lived here. ‘They had much more to do with each other than anyone else. The Cornish didn’t think these Easterners were properly Cornish, and the Devon farmers envied their climate. I’m sure there was rivalry between the communities on either bank, but it was friendly. They were all Tamar people at the end of the day.’ She talks about the ‘valley economy’, and the arrival of the railways. ‘There was a huge boost to the area, economically. Produce, say strawberries, could be packed up and shipped down the river to Saltash, put on the next train to London and be in Covent Garden market within 24 hours. This was two weeks before strawberries from anywhere else in the country were ripe. There were no air freight strawberries from Peru then, Cornwall was as exotic as it got, and they paid a premium for it upcountry. ‘The people complaining about “Devonwall”, seeing it as letting Trelawny die and so on, they’re all from the far west. They’ve no idea about the Tamar really. It’s all in their heads. To them the river is a metaphor, but to us it’s just part of life.’ A few months past, David Cameron was forced to make a public apology after being caught complaining about the Cornish protests against the constituency border changes. ‘It’s the Tamar, not the Amazon, for heaven’s sake,’ he said, adding that he wouldn’t put it like that in a proper interview. ‘That was obviously a stupid thing to say,’ Rachael says, ‘but he’s got a point. I don’t know about now, but back in the nineteenth century they’d have jumped at the possibility of a Tamar Valley MP.’ Rachael has to get to a meeting about the Big Society in Calstock, and leaves me to finish the coffee. I wish I could get a lift back to Saltash in the Shamrock, but not even the tourist ferries are running at this time of year. I turn my back on the Tamar to walk to Calstock where I’ll catch the train back to Plymouth.
Nearly there, but... Naomi Racz
he journey from Plymouth to Penryn begins at my kitchen table. I set up my laptop, make myself a cup of tea and type Plymouth into the search bar of Google maps. I’m dropped down into the middle of the Royal Parade. I do a 360º turn, it looks to be a thoroughfare with shops on one side and a church on the other. Google Street View works by showing a yellow line along the road you are on. Arrows pointing backward and forward allow you to select the previous or next image, enabling you to ‘travel’ along the road. I click on the arrow pointing east and set off under a grey and overcast sky. I reach a roundabout and try to navigate my way round it. It’s disorientating and I have to stop and check I haven’t missed my exit. I’m beginning to realise this journey is going to be a long and arduous process. The images don’t quite match up: a sign reads ‘City of Plymoth’. There are cracks here and there, bits missing from the world. The sky has cleared up now. I reach another roundabout; this one has the shell of a church in the middle and I find myself wanting to walk around and explore it. But I can’t. This is the first time I’ve seen the centre of Plymouth and it almost makes me want to visit. That’s one of the advantages of Street View; it allows you to see a place before you go there, though it may not always be presenting the whole story. In Canada columnist Les MacPherson complained that spring was not an appropriate time for Google to be taking its images of Canadian streets. The complaint was that this would not represent the country in a favourable light because it doesn’t look as attractive during the snow melt period. Indeed the images were later retaken. Google Street View is ostensibly providing a candid representation of what’s actually there. In truth it seems there might be more of an agenda behind it. Maps are often said to conceal more than they actually reveal and this may be just as true of Street View as it is of an Ordnance Survey map. I’m going down Mutley Plain now. It’s a road lined with the familiar collection of shops: Subway, Domino’s Pizza, charity shops, Somerfields, a tanning parlour, Indian takeaways, Ladbrokes, banks, Boots, travel agents and estate agents. This could be anywhere, this is Any Town. I reach
Naomi Racz another roundabout and finally I’m on the slip road for the A38. I make another cup of tea and grab some more biscuits. It feels nice to be on an A road where all I can see is tarmac and trees and there are none of the messy distractions of the city. My housemate walks into the kitchen and we talk about our respective days as I creep along the A38. The land to either side of the road starts to open up, but there is little to see besides trees. There’s a sense of not really moving, I click to the next image and nothing seems to have changed. A break in the tree line reveals water, I must be nearing the Tamar. The last time I crossed this river by car I was navigating whilst my mum drove. We were driving from Manchester with all my possessions in the boot. It had been a slow meander down, with an overnight stop in Bristol, and by the time we reached the Tamar I was ready to be in Penryn. Crossing the river and entering Cornwall seemed like the last little push. I put on a Bob Dylan CD and we sang along to it whilst snacking on Pringles and mints. It was around St Austell that the CD went off. By now the setting sun was glaring in our eyes as the landscape became a monotony of fields and trees. Nearly there, I said, looking at the road map. Half an hour later we reached Truro, nearly there. ‘Nearly there’ sums up the journey nicely. I’m on the bridge now and again I find myself wanting to go through the computer screen and be there. Google have done something truly remarkable by taking the concept of a map and turning it on its head. We are no longer given the omniscient, bird’s eye view of the land. Instead the map reader is placed in the landscape. But there will always be a barrier, a border between reader and reality — the screen. I stop and take in a 360º view, the tide looks to be out and the boats are nothing but flecks of colour on the water. A sign states ‘No Stopping No Turning’. There is no going back. I could if I wanted, I could reverse backwards into traffic. I don’t have to keep going, but I do. ONE AND ALL Welcome to CORNWALL. I’m heading through Saltash. I take a look at the satellite image on which my route is marked out with a blue line. There’s still a long way to go. I’ve been at this for hours now and I’m getting hungry. I try to speed things up a bit, click click click without waiting for the image to become clear. I’m travelling through a blurred landscape, everything has been smudged and I couldn’t tell you where I am. Somewhere green-grey-blue. There’s nothing much to see anyway, just road, road and more grey road. But all this clicking has upset my laptop and the map has gone blank, there is a black screen where the image used to be. I suppose cars break down, laptops get over heated and stop working properly. I wait for a minute or two until my laptop calms down and the image returns. I guess there’s no quick way to do this, I’ll stick to the slow method. I check my location
Nearly there, but... again. I’ve only just passed Saltash. Another click and the sky transforms from grey and overcast to brilliant blue. I can almost imagine the feel of sun, magnified by the car windscreen, on my skin At least the view is starting to open out a little now, I can see beyond the road to fields. I will see plenty more fields before the journey is over. There are primroses along the side of the road and the land undulates out in soft hills. But I’m too disconnected to appreciate it. It doesn’t affect me or impress itself upon me in any way. Everything goes by in a blur. Click, dark skies, click, sunshine. I drift through road works, no problem. Click, dark skies. The weather is getting neurotic now. Finally the fields are broken by the little white cottages of Tideford. If I can just make it to Liskeard then I can have another cup of tea. Road, road, fields, trees, pylons, grey road. Finally I make out a sign, Liskeard 3 miles (or 120 clicks of the mouse). I make it to Liskeard and set Par as my next goal, but I only get as far as East Taphouse before admitting defeat for the day.
he next day I’m back in permanently sunny East Taphouse. I have tea and biscuits and I’m ready to tackle the rest of the journey. I open up Google maps and get going. The houses of Middle Taphouse blur by. I reach the next village along, you’ve guessed it, West Taphouse. I pass a lay-by and spy on two women stood beside their car eating. For privacy reasons Google uses face recognition technology to blur out faces and these two featureless women look like something out of a science fiction film. I zoom slowly through the landscape, I’m like Roadrunner playing musical chairs. My laptop whirs away, trying to imitate the engine that I should be hearing. Lostwithiel passes me by. The name makes me think of tragic romance. Lost-with-iel, Lost-with-it-all, Lost-wistful-all. I cross over a railway line and outside my house the Maritime Line train rumbles past, offering its sound track. This journey has become all about the destination, I just want to get there and for it to be over. This experiment in non-journeying has left me feeling cold. Par is my next destination, I just need to make it to Par. I get to the top of an incline and the land opens out. I can see the sea like a cool grey band on the horizon. It gives me hope. A sign on the road side reads ‘ESCAPE LANE’, I try to turn off down the lane but it’s not been mapped, there is no escape. I make it to Par, next stop St Austell, then Truro, then Penryn. I pick up the pace and hope my laptop will hold out. The route suddenly diverges into a lay-by and for the first time I’m made aware of the person whose job it must have been to drive the Google car around. They must have stopped to rest and then couldn’t be bothered going back to get the section of road missed. It seems odd for a company
Naomi Racz whose stated aim is to ‘organise the world’s information’. Google have already created street views of the US, Canada, Mexico, most of Europe, Japan, New Zealand and Australia, and they seem determined to map ever more countries. It reminds me of the short story ‘On Exactitude in Science’ by Jorge Luis Borges. Borges describes an empire in which the cartographers created a map ‘whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it.’ Successive generations realise that the map is useless and leave it to weather away, until all that remains is the ‘Tattered Ruins...inhabited by Animals and Beggars.’ I have my doubts as to whether Google will ever be able to achieve their ambition. Not only has the project been plagued by controversies over privacy, but it is an aim that by its nature can never be achieved. The world is a constantly changing place, as soon as the images are taken they are out of date. Welcome to the city of TRURO. Welcome indeed. I’m on the A39, driving through a sun-dappled avenue of trees. I’m on the home stretch now, nearly there. I can see the Maritime Line, a little train trundling along it. Nearly there. I’m on the B3292. I think I’m going to make it before dinner. I stop when I reach Penryn Bridge. The tide is out. It’s good to be there, here.
Bon Voyage Douglas Dunn For Marco Fazzini I arrived in the city where the streets have no names As if there were never hero statesmen or soldiers, No victories or public anniversaries or saints. Nor are there numbers or letters. You find where you are By landmarks — bridges, churches, theatres, squares With monuments to The Unknown Plumber, the Baker, The Fishmonger, and so on through traditional trades. People know where they’re going by familiar faces, Or unfamiliar faces. You can sniff where you are, Once you know how, by bakeries, tanneries, print shops, Potteries, coffee blenders, breweries, wine merchants, Or routes plotted from the famous opera house. (God knows how post gets delivered, but it does.) There are no hotels. Tourism is not forbidden, Merely discouraged. ‘Let others sleep elsewhere’, Seems close to the city’s unofficial motto. ‘They should learn that we who live here are superior.’ Taxis, therefore, are non-existent, like trams, or buses, Postcards, souvenirs, or political parties Where it’s a case of ‘Vote for Me, if you can be bothered’. National or foreign news eludes the newspaper (There’s only one) which is dedicated to gossip, Reports of dog-fouling, sexual scandal, and advertisements. The national government has given up on this city, Only too willing to leave it to eccentricity, Somewhere beyond taxation and conscription, An invisible city not worth the trouble. (Already, the railway station seemed like yesterday. My suitcase weighed like a cruiser’s anchor.) Two hundred paces west of the big basilica Subtle changes in the local dialect can be heard Quite clearly by a studious or attentive ear. There are as many dialects as districts. I’d asked my friend, the last time I saw him,
In Scotland, how on earth I’d find his apartment. He’d smiled and said, ‘Use your telefonino. Just describe what’s around you. It’ll be a matter Of a few right turns, a few lefts and straight-aheads. No one ever gets completely lost. On one corner of my street, there’s a butcher, On the other, across the road, a patisserie. It’s the only such configuration in the city. I’d meet you at the station, but I think it best That you find your own way, and learn our mysteries.’ So I was homed in by rights, lefts, and doglegs, By trials and errors, one stupidity After another, several hot piazzas, four bridges, A couple of cold beers in somnolent cafés Watched by the drowsily suspicious drinkers Sipping their local colourful concoctions. And my friend was growing increasingly ratty. ‘Your sense of direction is that of a cretin. What is the idiom? Pull your socks down!’ A smell of fish wafted from the wharves. ‘Do you know a street,’ I asked a stranger, ‘A butcher on one corner, a patisserie opposite?’ It was at what they call the hour of moth-light. ‘Of course, it’s unique in the entire city. Come, I’ll show you.’ I noticed that his smile Echoed my friend’s exactly, the very same Sardonic glow, meaning that he possessed Savoir faire, that I didn’t, and never would. Children were playing games in the dusty dusk, Skipping ropes for girls, tops and hoops for boys. Two bridges later, one piazza, some lefts and rights, And I dialled my friend. ‘Thank God. At last. I’m famished. Three flights up, and it’s the green door on the left.’
The Moth Paul Russell
hat a paradise my new home at Christ’s seemed! How I loved the mellowed stone, the venerable rituals. I loved the academic gowns worn by dons and undergraduates alike — as if we were all participants in a medieval pageant at once whimsical and perfectly serious. I loved that Milton, ‘The Lady of Christ’s,’ had written poetry under the mulberry tree in the Fellows Garden. Even the battered old bicycle that served to transport me from lecture to lecture in halls scattered across the narrow-laned town seemed well-nigh timeless. I found the English on the whole to be quite sympathetic, despite their tiresome desire to discuss ‘the Russian Crisis’ with every Russian they came across. Most showed themselves to be hopelessly gullible; Bolshevik propaganda, crude though it was, found in them an ideal audience. But my only real complaint about England was this: I was cold all the time. It may seem an odd complaint for a denizen of arctic clime to lodge, but in Russian houses wood fires blazed warmly throughout the winter; I was woefully unprepared for how parsimonious the English were with their coals. I quickly fell in with a very gay crowd, and if the world around me had admirable depth, my loves in those years were blessedly shallow. All that anguish expended on the likes of Oleg and Davide had taught me a valuable lesson. No more would I fall deeply for anyone — and since no one else in my set did either, all was well. There are few things more heavenly than drifting in a punt on a lazy summer afternoon. Hat Trick, Sheet to the Wind, Careless Destiny: I still recall their whimsical names. My friend and I and a portable gramophone playing Al Jolson crooning ‘Coal Black Mammy’ or that foxtrot we couldn’t get enough of during 1921, ‘Forty-seven Ginger-headed Sailors.’ My friend changed with the season: Francis Snell, so delightfully musical; brilliant Stanley Haycroft; Percy Duvall who was, come to think of it, something of a bully; Maurice Upton-Grainger, exhibiting even then aspects of the dipsomania that would kill him prematurely; gallant Nigel Hebbelwaite. In those halcyon days, an affair could mean anything from protracted
The Moth deep-gazing into another’s pupils, to the full-throated re-enactment of fondly-remembered Etonian hi-jinks. I asked little of these charming and varied relationships, and I got exactly what I asked. Of them all, the loveliest was Hugh Bagley. I fell in with Hugh one night at The Portland Arms, a pub forbidden to undergraduates (as they all were). A certain set I found congenial frequented its panelled rooms, drinking brandy alexanders and listening to jazz played on a phonograph set up behind the bar. Hugh’s gray eyes and luscious lips immediately attracted me, as did the chic figure he cut in his black-and-white checked ‘stovepipe’ trousers. That he was quite drunk and had been stood up by a dear friend made my conquest of him, rather excitingly undertaken in a punt moored near the Trinity bridge, absurdly easy. That might well have been that, but he sent me the next day a vase of beautiful jonquils with a gallant card expressing the hope that he had not been too forward, and wondering if we might soon lunch together. I was surprised that he even remembered my name, given his advanced state of inebriation, and frankly astonished to find that he thought he rather than I had been the aggressor, I accepted his invitation. We had just enough in common to ensure some jolly times together. He made it quite clear from the beginning that his destiny, as the eldest scion of the Bagley clan, was marriage and family — the fortunate girl, one of the Morris-Stanhopes from Buckinghamshire, having already been determined. Nonetheless, it is to Hugh that I owe one of the most deeply serious experiences of my life. In 1921, toward the end of spring vacation, I travelled down to Somerset to stay with him for a few days at his family’s Westbrook House. I had never ventured into England beyond Cambridge and London. We drove round to a couple of Norman churches, had pints in the local pub, visited an elderly friend of his who restored antique clocks and another who, though stone deaf, managed a lively conversation while serving us crumpets and sherry. We took his Irish Wolfhounds, Hansel and Gretel, for long, muddy walks. On the final afternoon of my visit, informing me that he had saved a great treat for the very last, he walked me down to a small barn at the edge of a mown field. Two farmhands waited there. When they threw open the large double doors, Hugh invited me to peer inside. In the semi-darkness where startled doves flapped their wings. I was not at first sure what I was seeing. ‘Her wings are folded. We’ll put them right when we bring her outside.’ ‘She’ turned out to be a de Havilland Moth — a handsome, bright red, two-seater biplane. Her attendants pushed her out into the sunlight and began the task of moving her wings into place.
Paul Russell ‘You’re proposing we go up in this machine? Can you fly it?’ ‘Of course and of course. Unless you’re too frightened. I’ve been up two dozen times or so, with nary a hitch.’ I told him the ‘nary’ made me a bit anxious. ‘I’ve gotten much, much better on landings. Trust me.’ He had thoughtfully brought along a flask of whisky for encouragement, and had halfway fitted me into a leather flight jacket, cap and goggles before the enormity of what I had agreed to do fully struck me. ‘You never told me you had an interest in aeroplanes,’ I told him. ‘I’m many-faceted, as I hope you know by now. It’ll be surprisingly cold up there, and the wind is terrific. We won’t be able to converse. So if you’ve any last words for me, say them now.’ I laughed nervously. Were the two young brutes not in attendance I would no doubt have told him ‘I love you, crazy Hugh,’ but in their presence I asked only, ‘Have you taken your betrothed up?’ ‘Never. She refuses to go. I suppose there really are certain pleasures one can only enjoy with other men!’ On that merry note, the labourers having secured the Moth’s fragilelooking wings in place, we finished off a flask, climbed into our respective cockpits and strapped ourselves in. The motor turned over, sputtered, caught. Hugh taxied slowly onto the grassy airstrip. With dashing sangfroid he gave a thumbs up to his groundsmen and we were off, jostling along the uneven turf as the elms at the far end of the field rushed nearer (so this was how I would die) and unsteadily at first, then with more assurance, we found ourselves airborne. The air streamed past us, we climbed, we banked, the green earth upended itself, then straightened out. My heart was beating like a racing stallion’s; any moment now it would burst. Fear did not leave me, but instead commingled with jubilation. The sky was a cloud-flecked blue. Below us lay the house, the gardens, the road leading to the village, the village itself, and beyond the pied roofs the irregular chessboard of fields dappled with earthbound sheep safely grazing, farther on the darker woods, purplish low hills, and in the far distance what must be the Bristol Channel and Wales: our world as angels see it. As far as I knew, no one else in my family had flown — with the exception of Uncle Ruka, whom everyone thought was half mad. And so he was, I thought giddily, and so am I. What heights we had known, what exhilarations — while all the proper, normal world slumbered unaware. Thus in his honor I said a little prayer to the martyred SS. Sergius and Bacchus, those secret Christians, soldier friends whom I had always imagined were lovers as well. For a few fanciful moments I pretended
Paul Russell Hugh and I were Sergius and Bacchus ascending to our reward in heaven: at any moment the winged hosts would come down to welcome us. But then I remembered that Hugh, too, had chosen the proper, normal world; Uncle Ruka and I were alone in our fugitive ecstasy, and Uncle Ruka of course was dead, so I was very much on my own. So be it. In my delirium I could practically imagine casting off the straps that secured me, hoisting myself out of my seat, perching for a moment on the wing, unnoticed by my pilot, before launching myself into the illimitable azure. Would God’s hand gently lift me up? Rather than rush toward me, would the world recede, the fields and woods and rivers knitting together in a shrinking tapestry till the whole became a blue-green orb, a dot of dim light, then nothing at all? With a shiver I tried to imagine the presence of God, which was all at once not so difficult as Hugh had sloped the plane into a perilous-feeling turn and to the right all was heaven’s cerulean abyss, and to the left the mottled fundament of terra firma. Soon enough we righted ourselves, and my giddiness calmed. Enough of God’s dazzling lure for one afternoon! The flight of the Moth lasted fifteen minutes at most; then we were back on the solid ground that is, after all, our birthright. Staggering out of the cockpit, helped down by one of the muscular gardeners, I fell on impulse to my knees, and like my mother on her annual return to Vyra kissed gratefully the dark earth of Somerset while everyone else stared. ‘You’re hilarious,’ Hugh told me. ‘But you did all right, didn’t you?’ ‘Splendidly,’ I spluttered. ‘I think I’m going to have a heart attack now. I can’t thank you enough.’ ‘Isn’t it marvellous? As a hobby you absolutely can’t beat it.’ ‘Hobby?’ I exclaimed. ‘I’d say — more like a vocation!’ – excerpted from The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov forthcoming from Cleis Press, 2011
Fictional Borders Daniel Fox
s a child I remember feeling that inanimate objects were a little hard done-by. Once, my mum bought me a helium balloon at a fair and my hands lost hold of it on the walk home. I cried uncontrollably as I watched it float off into the sky. Mum thought I was playing up because I’d lost something I wanted and told me to keep quiet, but I was actually crying because I thought I had condemned the balloon to a lonely floating death away in the oblivion of the evening air. I imagined it floating for days up and up, alone into space and there was no-one at all to talk to up there. Grown-ups never seemed to consider things unless they moved or grew and even then they were pretty choosy. Often I felt sorry for a solitary cup left on its own in the kitchen cupboard when the others were all drying on the draining board, and the loneliness I thought it must be feeling shut in the dark with no other cup to whisper to, made me place a couple of its friends in there for company. The remains of this childhood fantasy exist even now in how I feel about books. They have more personality than cups and balloons, after all, and if I’m honest, in the background of my thoughts I still occasionally imagine them talking to each other when I leave the room. The other day when rushing to get ready and find a clean shirt, I noticed Virginia Woolf sitting next to Ernest Hemingway and just had to spend a few seconds separating them. I picked Eudora Welty from the shelf above and stuck her in between. She is eminently logical and passionate, and appreciates the art of both her new neighbours. They haven’t yet fought. Welty’s wonderful little book is entitled On Writing. In it she characterises the elements of fiction (character, plot, mood, etc) as angels watching over the writer’s hand. The angel of ‘Place in Fiction’ is a minor one, or at least it was in 1956 when she wrote it. As much as I admire her lucid metaphors, enough to be happy to put her with Woolf and Hemingway, I think things have changed since 1956 and place has a different value to us now. The borderline between fiction and non-fiction has shifted. There has always been a paradox at the centre of the idea of place in fiction that seems to me more understandable now; more understandable
Daniel Fox because it relates to a modern urgency, a conscious fear of loss, and this has changed the way fiction is written. The huge changes to daily life since 1956 might have taken us further from the idea of the local and intimate relationship with a place; our daily experiences contain great numbers of images from all over the world and the words of dozens, perhaps hundreds of people we’ll never meet, but that has made place all the more valuable. The paradox is that fiction is grounded by place while place remains mysterious. Place has no origin, or rather it is so ‘old’ that origin becomes meaningless. It both pre-exists us and will outlive us with certainty, and yet it is the everyday, the concrete. It is easy to think of places as being owned by people, but it is just as easy to see place reflecting that ownership back, reminding us with a blank, benign face of the arrogance and ephemerality of property. To stand at a place like Stonehenge it is clear those ancient builders didn’t think of that patch of Salisbury Plain as their property. It is manifest in what was done there that the wisdom of a great ‘all’ was there present and everywhere present, watching; there was life for them in the landscape, it was not a dead, inanimate thing. The tautology that every place is a slice of an all, a connection to a whole, is exploited in fictional settings. In permitting the creation of a place, perhaps unnamed as in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, it must nevertheless work effectively to ground a novel. Eudora Welty, as ever, explains clearly. The reason why every word you write in a good novel is a lie, then, is that it is written expressly to serve the purpose; if it does not apply, it is fancy and frivolous, however specially dear to the writer’s heart. Actuality, it is true, is an even bigger risk to the novel than fancy writing is, being frequently even more confusing, irrelevant, diluted and generally far-fetched than ill-chosen words can make it. Yet somehow, the world of appearance in the novel has got to seem actuality. Is there a reliable solution to the problem? Place being brought to life in the round before the reader’s eye is the readiest and gentlest and most honest and natural way this can be brought about, I think; every instinct advises it. The moment the place in which the novel happens is accepted as true, through it will begin to glow, in a kind of recognizable glory, the feeling and thought that inhabited the novel in the author’s head and animated the whole of his work.
For Welty in 1956, the role of place was to make the ‘lie’ of fiction appear actuality, to provide setting that realistically acts as permit and constrain. The events and characters must be contained in a place to make them in any way believable. The writer uses the specific (grounded but mysterious) place to prop up the significances of plot, character and mood chosen from all those possible real-life combinations as the important ones.
Fictional Borders Today, place is still used in this way, but the idea of building a believable world is less important. Plausibility is played with. We are more familiar in everyday life with fantasy; what was distant has become close; reality and unreality are less distinguishable. When J G Ballard’s Crash was filmed in America rather than in the hinterland of the familiar Heathrow/ M25 where the book was set, you might think that he would have been annoyed. He wasn’t, saying that the idea was that the place could have been anywhere in the world: it’s all becoming the same. I doubt anything like J G Ballard’s fiction could have been written in the fifties, before much of the loss of identity of place, and the everyday practical connection with it. At the same time as this change has occurred in the places around us, we have become more open to the blurring of boundaries in the novel. It is common now for booksellers not to know where to place a book that could be part memoir, part novel, part travelogue, part history, part philosophy. We are more open to the conflation of truth with dreams, fantasy, the incredible, but simultaneously less accepting of coincidence. Somehow the fatal undermining of the grand narratives and the rise of Magic Realism in fiction has reduced our capacity to accept the simply unlikely, and it is difficult to write into a novel a highly unlikely but possible event. It is difficult to make coincidences work and when they appear in eighteenth and nineteenth-century novels, they seem dated and quaint. My father once returned home from school to find his mother crying that she had lost the diamond from her engagement ring. The next day on the journey back from school across the park, he saw a glinting in the grass and bent down to pick it up. Miraculously, it was his mother’s tiny diamond and it must have been lying there in the acres of grass for a day. This is true. It actually happened. It was talked about often in my family, but to use such a coincidence in fiction is somehow untenable and would appear contrived. Welty believed that this sense of contrivance could be avoided by building up the groundedness of a place as setting. But it seems this is less true in a world that has changed so much and has become so skeptical and yet so fantastical. Non-fiction writing about place, and poetry about place, are multiplying. Just as the romantic movement was a response to the wrenching changes of the industrial revolution, now we see a similar response to the despair left to us by the scientific and mass media narratives of climate change and peak oil. This magazine is an excellent showcase of the interesting directions in which such literature is heading. But place in fiction seems left out of the historical-observational non-fiction response of writers like Robert MacFarlane, Tim Robinson, Kathleen Jamie, Iain Sinclair and the lyrical-observational poetic response of Alice Oswald and Douglas Dunn.
Daniel Fox Fiction writers are having problems coming to terms with their position in all this: how to present these matters in the novel. The redefining of place as something more than simply a setting is one way to move on from the indistinct Ballardian-anywhere. Examples, I admit are rare, but Eugene McCabeâ€™s masterful Death and Nightingales, is one of the best I have found so far. Written in 1992, it comes to this strategy not from the environmental perspective but from the colonial. The place of the novel is very much a real place on a map, the border-country of Northern and Southern Ireland, and it is successfully made more central than the characters. They exist within it along with ghosts and secrets, so that they are haunted by the place as much as they haunt it themselves. Everyone digs in the book; secrets and lies are everywhere hidden in the bogs, the wells, the lakes and the rock: bodies, bog butter, and lost children hide in the landscape and are part of it, informing everything the characters do and are. Nothing I have read in fiction gets to the bottom of a place and the relationship between people and a landscape, more effectively and sensitively. It is too easy to consider place an inanimate object, like a cup or a balloon. Something that we do things to, not the other way round. Everywhere around us machines dig the earth, erect constructions and change the appearance of the environment to make it more convenient for our burgeoning populations, but these forces, relying as they do on an unsustainable model of perpetual growth and cheap energy, will not last. As learning to live with what we have slows our lives down and makes us walk through the landscape with a renewed interest and perhaps clearer eyes, there will be, I think, a place for fiction just as there will always be place in fiction. The end of the world is nigh, we are told, but we hear no more than that. That is not enough: where is the empowerment needed to get through and write and create, not just survive on the other side of these unintended revolutions.
Plants Without Borders Weeds: How Vagabond Plants Gatecrashed Civilisation and Changed the Way We Think About Nature by Richard Mabey. Reviewed by Anjia Barbieri ‘Plants with the potential to become weeds are, of course, defined by their contempt for boundaries.’
he presence of weeds unifies all sorts of landscapes: a concrete-lined street, a derelict building site, a farmer’s field left fallow. These seemingly disconnected places find a thread of communality through the similar weeds species which choose to grow on them. Buddleias, which in the summer shower a confetti of purple florets to the ground have, in the centuries since their arrival, naturalised themselves as wasteland landmarks. Originally native to China, this familiar bush came to England to ornament Victorian gardens with its showy blossoms. Over time they have crept beyond their enclosing walls and can be found thriving almost anywhere that has the slightest hint of human occupancy. Reading Weeds you realise buddleias are far from being alone in their migratory tendencies and that most plants, once they’ve drifted out of their botanical context in gardens, woodlands, or far away continents, will be proclaimed weeds. One of the main focuses of Mabey’s new book, is his attempts to ascertain why it is that weeds have been labelled so; and what it is about their characteristics that gives them a vital role to play in discourses concerning land, nature and ultimately place. Take the Weeds Acts of 1959 and more specifically the Ragwort Control Act of 2003, which both prohibit people from encouraging the growth and planting of certain plant species, in particular ragwort. Attitudes towards this seemingly innocuous plant whose mass of small flowers in midsummer radiate yellow jolliness, certainly appear to have changed since John Clare wrote his sonnet ‘The
Review Ragwort’. Mabey uses this shift in popular opinion as one of many clear reflections on how it is that weeds can commence discussions concerning how we view, and ultimately treat, the world around us. In parallel with the numerous plants to which Mabey refers (the glossary of plant names at the back of the book is almost nine pages long), there are also many different types of borders which continuously crop up. So much so that the many weeds themselves could be defined as allegorical to a wider discussion on the nature of boundaries and their permeability. Rather than concocting a potentially divisive argument surrounding the issue of borders and their political implications, Mabey sticks to discussing plants and the perennial question, what is a weed? As the book opens he treads familiar ground asking the reader to remember the old adage that a ‘weed is a plant in the wrong place’ and more specifically to remind us that a weed has now also become ‘a plant growing where you would prefer other plants to grow, or sometimes no plants at all.’ The book eventually after having covered substantial ground, concludes in much the same place as it began, with the idea of weeds being natural boundary crossers; a ‘stateless minority’ and the ‘consequence of our rigid separation of the natural world into wild and domestic’. In a forty year literary career, Richard Mabey has continuously composed tributes to the countryside. Through his body of work he has opened up a space which deviates from the premise that nature writing need concern itself only with frontier ‘wildernesses’, allowing for an exploration of the relationship between nature and people. Mabey’s chosen vehicle for this exploration has nearly always been plants. Through his fascination with botany he manages to engage in the debate concerning the effects we, as a population, have on our environment, as well as in turn speculating on the ways these environments have affected us and our own civic evolution. Developing from his previous writings, Mabey uses Weeds as a tool to discuss aspects of nature previously neglected. The result is a unique cultural biography of British nature told from the perspective of some of its most underestimated inhabitants. The time span that Mabey covers in order to place his weeds is impressive, from the onset of human civilisation and agriculture in the Middle East, via Genesis, right up to modern day London. He places a particular emphasis on the contemporary attitudes towards these declared renegade plants. As Weeds progresses Mabey cites John Clare and Shakespeare alongside Will Self and John Wyndham as all having used various weeds as important symbols within their works. The book explicitly tells us that weeds are important and that their presence in a place, far from being an eradicable nuisance, can allow for an acute and sensitive
Review appraisal of the social history of that location. Entwined throughout the discourse, like a creeping bindweed vine, are the diverse literary examples of the impact certain weed species have had upon cultural imaginations. Like the buddleia bush, the book itself can also be seen as a type of boundary crosser. Not only does Mabey’s writing satisfy the botanist, but nestled between the Latin names is an incredible volume of meticulous detail, enough to appease any reader with historical or literary inclinations. It’s Mabey’s carefully considered writing, full of interesting facts and amusing anecdotes, that allows the reader to ultimately engage with both the narrative, as well as his overlooked protagonists; the weeds themselves. Weeds: How Vagabond Plants Gatecrashed Civilisation and Changed the Way We Think About Nature by Richard Mabey, was published in 2010 by Profile Books, ISBN 978-1846680762, rrp £15.99.
Translating the Land Map of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey by Rachel Hewitt Reviewed by Tim Gooch
rom a young age my holidays and periods of spare time have been spent hiking around Britain and the brightlycoloured Ordnance Survey maps were always a key part of that experience. I have always counted Britain’s OS maps as a wonderful luxury, to have every square mile of the country accurately mapped. The right to roam is enshrined in British law and the beautifully detailed OS maps are readily available at a reasonable price. However, until I attended a lecture given by Rachel Hewitt, author of Map of a Nation, I had never thought about the origins of the Ordnance Survey. Those beloved orange Explorer maps had been such a hallmark of my childhood that I had never imagined a time when they were not available; they might well have been commissioned by Noah when he emerged from the ark. Her book begins in the aftermath of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. As the soldiers of George II pursued the fleeing rebels into the Highlands, they became seriously hampered by a lack of accurate maps of the area. Moreover, wars with France highlighted the fact that England also possessed no single, standardised set of maps of her own coast. The maps were initially controlled by the Board of Ordnance and the War Office, giving rise to the name ‘Ordnance Survey’. The project also coincided with the rise of Enlightenment thinking in Europe, when a desire to know and understand the world through rational, reasoned thought was becoming prevalent. It was the age of Newton’s laws, steam engines and new art forms. Hewitt’s treatment of the material is thorough and scholarly; the bibliography is longer than some of the chapters, and the book is well written and highly readable. The chapters are also interspersed with 66
Review Hewitt’s personal anecdotes related to walking and reading the maps, and the reader is given a distinct impression of the author’s physical presence in the landscapes. The book has sold well since its publication, and has been praised by walkers, academics and historians alike. Map of a Nation also deals with the interesting paradox of any map; as soon as it is published it is out of date, for human and natural landscapes change more quickly than is commonly thought. It became clear that the OS maps did not represent the empirical reality of Britain’s landscape as many had hoped they would. In the penultimate chapter of her book, Hewitt writes about Brian Friel’s play Translations. The play is set in 1833, during the twenty year period in which the Ordnance Survey was mapping Ireland. The three acts of the play centre entirely on the schoolroom of a fictional village, Baile Beag. Hugh, a drunken academic, teaches the townsfolk alongside his lame son Manus. The only engineers to appear in the play are Captain Lancey and Lieutenant Yolland. Lancey stands for correct military procedure and empirical reasoning, while Yolland falls in love with both the language and the people. In Friel’s play, the relationship between the mapmakers and surveyors is an antagonistic one; the debate over how placenames should be recorded in the name-book (a phonetic understanding or direct English translation of the Gaelic name) forms a key part of the second act. Another of the play’s narrative arcs is the presence of the new National School, representing progress and standardisation. The clash between the old and the new, the provincial and the central lends a constant tension to Friel’s play. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Owen, the younger son of Hugh, who left the village to pursue a life in Dublin. He speaks English, and is hired as a translator by the English soldiers. He is used in this capacity on two occasions, and both of these have symbolic significance. He deliberately mis-translates Lancey’s words about the purposes of the mapping project in the first act, but then translates accurately when Lancey is threatening to burn the houses and slaughter the cattle after Yolland goes missing. It would appear that Friel’s representation of the Irish Ordnance Survey was largely a false one. Hewitt states that ‘Brian Friel carried out many of his own wilful mistranslations of history in the play, such as describing how the surveyors carried firearms’. Friel was a key member of the Field Day Theatre Company, which had a very specific cultural agenda, of which Translations was a part. The play uses language to display cultural dominance and colonial ideas, yet the Ordnance Survey’s efforts in Ireland were largely harmonious. However, it seems Friel was never trying to emulate reality. For Friel, the conflict of languages was more important 67
Review than historical fidelity. The play is intentionally misleading, and Hewitt acknowledges that ‘Friel never intended that it should be [historically accurate]’. Translations and Map of a Nation complement each other, showing both the enterprise and the historical interpretation of cartography. Map of a Nation is a book that covers an important time in Britain’s history. The men of the Ordnance Survey caused no wars and instigated no dramatic change of monarchy. They carried on their patient, painstaking work over the course of a hundred and thirty years; the last of the ‘First Series’ maps wasn’t published until 1870. Because of this scope, the enterprise receives less attention than it should, but Hewitt writes it into an appropriate context. Coming to a Britain anxious to know itself in intimate physical detail, the maps represent a standardisation, a reasoned approach to naming and ordering the world. Whether you are interested in these debates of language, or whether you enjoy exploring Britain with an OS map in your rucksack, Hewitt’s book is a fascinating study. You certainly won’t read an Ordnance Survey map as innocently as you did before. Map of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey was published by MPG Books in 2010, ISBN 978-1-84708-098-1, rrp £25
Contributors Norman Ackroyd RA is an internationally celebrated landscape artist. Laura Andrew is currently working on a study of farming. email@example.com Anjia Barbieri lives, writes and travels in and around Cornwall. firstname.lastname@example.org Tom Baskeyfield is originally from Macclesfield in Cheshire, and currently resides in Penryn, Cornwall as he studies for the MA in Art and Environment at University College Falmouth. His work focuses around place and the concern of our ever-distancing connection from nature. http://tombaskeyfield.carbonmade.com Douglas Dunn’s New Selected Poems was published in 2003 (Faber & Faber), and A Line in the Water, with etchings by Norman Ackroyd, by the Royal Academy, in 2009. He is Emeritus Professor of English of the University of St Andrews. He is working on a new collection of poems. Daniel Fox has worked outdoors most of his life on building sites and farms, in forests and gardens, but he comes indoors to write. He’s currently living in Mevagissey, Cornwall, working on his first novel. http://danieljfox.blogspot.com Tim Gooch grew up on the Romney Marsh in Kent and now lives in Cornwall. He is interested in islands, maps and place names. email@example.com Alison Green is a freelance writer. firstname.lastname@example.org; http://abiteintheneck.blogspot.com Alyson Hallett is currently the Leverhulme funded poet-in-residence in the University of Exeter’s geography department in Cornwall. Her latest poetry book is The Stone Library (Peterloo Poets). www.thestonelibrary.com
Tim Halpin is currently researching for a project on climate change and the politics of landscape. email@example.com David J Plant is an illustrator living and working in Bristol. http://davidjplant.blogspot.com Naomi Racz is a writer from Manchester. She studied at the University of St Andrews. firstname.lastname@example.org Stephen Ring is an artist and landscape photographer who started his artistic career selling detailed paintings of birds from the iron railings of Hyde Park. From there he established two successful art shops before moving to Devon. www.stephenring.co.uk Merryn Robinson previously studied Coastal Environmental Management at the University of Exeter. Her next project will be a non-fictional narrative following the River Fal. email@example.com Tim Robinson studied maths at Cambridge and worked as a visual artist in Vienna and London before taking up writing and moving to the Aran Islands in 1972. He has made maps of Aran, the Burren and Connemara, and published books on Aran and Connemara, where he now lives. Paul Russellâ€™s novels include The Coming Storm and War Against the Animals. His latest, The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov, will be published by Cleis Press in October, 2011. Sonia Shomalzadeh is an Environmental Artist researching plastics in the ocean and their effects on Marine Life. She studied at City & Guilds of London Art School. http://soniashomalzadeh.carbonmade.com James Towillis aims to create works that cause us to remember, to literally re-member, come together and be one again. He is interested in all mediums, ranging from music through to sculpture and garden design. www.jamestowillis.com
The editorial team would like to thank Adrian Lack of Senecio Press for his invaluable help and advice, as well as the National Library of Scotland and the British Library for permission to reproduce the extract from Royâ€™s Military Survey used on the front cover of this issue.
A nature and travel writing magazine created by the students of the Writing, Nature and Place MA at the University of Exeter.