essays / poetry / memoir / fiction from Cumbria
No signal - re-writing the countryside
The Fire Crane |
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issue w E l c o M E
c o n t E n t s
is an occasional showcase
for the best new writing from Cumbria. A freesheet published by New Writing Cumbria, it is distributed to galleries, libraries,
For Starters Mick North
Retreat Andrew Forster
and other cultural venues and meeting places in the county and
Map John North
beyond. It is also available at many events. If you’re reading
Red Man’s Way Kim Moore
this and know of somewhere that would be happy to take a few copies on your say-so, please contact us and we’ll send some out to you. The fi rst issue, published in September 2012, took the visual arts as its theme. This time we
Of Wolves And Waifs Anke Green
Beach House Diary 2012 John Fox
The Market Gardener’s Tale \ Daughters Of A Suicide \ The Writing On The Beams Helen Farish
Last Tango In Alston Josephine Dickinson
Protect. Survive. Ian Hill
Waiting Sam Smith
Please Come Away Jacci Garside
asked writers to think about country life – but not the kind you read about in Country Life. What we meant was ‘real’ country life, as opposed to the blandishments and branding strategies of tourist boards and the food industry. Life as opposed to lifestyle. Not necessarily the Lake District National Park. Not cottage gardens or cottage loaves or cottage kitchens. We wouldn’t have minded a bit of country cottaging – perhaps the call for submissions should have been more explicit, or maybe that’s for next time, if there is one. Fire Crane #03 will only happen if we can raise more money. Send us word of rich, openminded, cultured benefactors and keep your eye on the New Writing Cumbria website and Facebook page, where all our news is announced – details below.
Wax Jacket Martyn Halsall Dead Art Pauline Yarwood
a b o u t
n E w
w r i t i n g
The Fire Crane is published by New Writing Cumbria, a county-wide literature development project hosted by Eden Arts and funded by the Northern Rock Foundation. It supports and promotes contemporary writers and connects them with each other, and with
c u M b r i a
deSiGN: Jeremy Fisher, processcreative.co.uk, 01228 539536
The Newspaper Club, www.newspaperclub.com
In print and online, on the page and on the stage, writing in Cumbria is thriving and diverse. New Writing Cumbria is at the centre of a network that includes professional and voluntary arts organisations, small publishers, independent bookshops, book groups, libraries, festival and event promoters, writers’ groups, and individual writers working in many different forms and genres, from beginners to established practitioners. For more information, visit: www.newwritingcumbria.org.uk and sign up for our
Too Soon For An Elegy? Mary Robinson
The Softness Of A Chastity Belt Harriet Fraser
Nash The Mole Simon Sylvester
Hefted Ann Lingard
Moving On Ann Lingard
Stone Matters Mark Carson
readers, in Cumbria and beyond.
NEW WRITING CUMBRIA
April Cottage, Faugh, Heads Nook, Brampton, Cumbria CA8 9EA 01228 670076 firstname.lastname@example.org www.newwritingcumbria.org.uk EDEN ARTS
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Tourist Guide Terry Jones The Farmer’s Rainbow Sue Millard
e-newsletter, or fi nd us on Facebook.
WRITING CUMBriA CoVer iMAGe:
Untitled, mixed media (detail) by Sarah Le Brocq.
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f o r
| The Fire Crane
s ta r t e r s
When I started working on the New Writing Cumbria project on behalf of Eden Arts, early discussions about directions we might take included a vague desire to do something ‘rural’; but what? Having lived in the countryside for over 20 years, I’d become increasingly aware of how perceptions of rural life, interpretations of it, in the media and in the minds of people who don’t live there – and in the predominantly urban culture-at-large - can be infuriatingly off beam. Whenever something dreadful happens in a rural community, the place will be described as ‘sleepy’ and the community as ‘close-knit’. If someone gets shot on a street in Moss Side, those who live there will be just as shocked and outraged as those who witness a shooting in Gosforth, but most of the watching world will be surprised – amazed – by one incident and not the other.
ust as every piece of countryside in Britain has
Apparently, not much does go on there. Alongside
As an antidote to that, here are writers sending
the debateable idea that Cumbria is a rural county – is
messages from one of the most sparsely-populated areas
farming, forestry, mining, quarrying – our perceptions
a place made of people, or plant life and rocks? - is
in England. Many use writing as a tool for exploring
of it, the concept and value of it, have been shaped
the entirely wrong assumption that agriculture forms
and understanding where they live. Ian Hill goes under
by layer after layer of writing, music-making, art,
the major part of its economy. Farming is dwarfed by
the wire to experience the strange dereliction of the old
photography, thinking, remembering, imagining,
manufacturing, retail, health, construction, real estate,
Royal Naval Armaments depot at Broughton Moor.
marketing. I can’t hear the opening bars of Vaughan
and almost everything else – which is why, when you’re
Harriet Fraser enters the marginal and increasingly
Williams’ Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis, for
out tramping the fields with your dog, you don’t bump
marginalised culture of hill farmers. Ann Lingard
example, without picturing a vast expanse of Thomas
into many farmers or farm workers.
reminds us how close to extinction that culture came
been physically shaped by human intervention –
during the foot-and-mouth outbreak of 2001. A scientist
Hardy’s Wessex, seen from above as in a flying dream, and it brings a lump to my throat. This may change,
Nevertheless, 70% of Britain’s land area – the
as well as a writer, Ann is also a devoted keeper of
now that I know that E.L. James has ‘hand-selected’ it
countryside – is devoted to agriculture; the percentage
Herdwick sheep. By contrast, poet Josephine Dickinson
as one of fifteen tracks for Fifty Shades Of Grey - The
for Cumbria is probably higher. As most of us don’t live
favours Cheviots, even though convention would insist
Classical Album. But this is what happens in every
there, it’s not surprising that we know little about what
that she has no business doing so in the harsh environs
cultural eco-system, for better or worse: transference,
and how we farm. A National Trust survey in 2011
of Alston Moor. As a Cumbrian who has returned to
exchange, cross-fertilisation, fluidity, fusion, sharing,
discovered that two out of five adults didn’t know what
live not far from where she was raised, Helen Farish
an arable farm was, and one in six couldn’t tell you
tells me she is “interested in how memory affects your
what flour was made from. Given this level of ignorance,
relationship with landscape.” In all the work that
perhaps it’s surprising that the horseburger scandal has
follows, that relationship with place, people, and other
is rural? What’s the relationship between the stereotypes
caused such a stir. How many of us didn’t know that
creatures is passionately stated. If you stand in the right
and the clichés (all of which have grains of truth in
beef came from cows, until now?
place, you’ll hear it perfectly clearly.
It’s this, in fact, that interests me. What – and who –
them, otherwise they wouldn’t be so easy to recognise) and the reality of contemporary life in ‘the country’? Is
The strapline for this issue – ‘No signal’ – was
it even accurate to describe Cumbria as a rural county
inspired by Andrew Forster’s poem ‘Retreat’, in which
when 70% of its population lives in what the Cumbria
he portrays a city couple doing up a rural bolt-hole
Intelligence Observatory classifies as ‘urban areas’?
sporadically at weekends. The poem ends with an
Admittedly, those areas – ‘key service centres’ – include
image of them performing that little dance familiar to
places like Grasmere and Hawkshead, so let’s strip those
many of us, choreographed by the search for a mobile
out of the spreadsheet, along with anywhere else with
phone signal in whatever patch of the house or garden
a population of less than 10,000, and see what we’re
it happens to reside in. ‘No signal’ means a limited
left with. Even then, more than half of us are urbanites,
connection with the rest of the world and restrictions
marooned in a vast expanse of green and brown. The
on the amount of information coming in and out. It
tightly-packed terraces of Carlisle, Penrith, Barrow,
means a lack of communication and, therefore, of
Workington, and Whitehaven turn their back-to-backs
on the great outdoors beyond their boundaries and don’t know much about what goes on there.
Mick North, editor
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Red Man’s Way
Once a month they escape the world of tube-trains, deadlines, traffic jams, to slip on country selves with their woollen shirts and cement-spattered trousers,
When I finally get here and see the channel with the tide out and the boats drowning
slowing their pace in the time it takes to break an orange crate into kindling and fire the stove enough to boil a kettle. It’s their stone tent, a one-room cottage in the hills, one step from derelict: gravel levelling the earthen floor; walls stripped of lath and plaster; toilet and sink gleaming white in the corner; a light-fitting rigged to the single socket, hooked to a ceiling beam dry as an old biscuit. Each time they advance the house a little bit further, sanding a casement, stripping the door, screwing a bracket for a hanging basket to the outside wall. As the weekend progresses they move in and out of the path of the phone-mast, mobiles bleeping to reassure them when they’re back in range.
in sand, and the gulls wheeling overhead, sometimes hassling a lone crow from the sky and the old path across the channel, as if someone has drawn a finger across the wet black mud to make it so, I feel full, as if one person can’t carry this with them and be unchanged, as if I could speak seagull and they would come, cursing, articulate, their wings the colour of sky, as if I could hold my hand up and stop the noise of traffic from the nearby road, or pinch out the lights from the shipyard with my finger and thumb and it’s never silent here, because the wind likes to run its hands over and over the land, shaping the newly planted trees to strange angles, as slowly, year by year, the bank covers itself
with grass, and last summer, for the first time, ox-eye daisies, tall as your knees and fearless.
John North Note:
Red Man’s Way is a recreational path, running the length
of Barrow’s slag bank site, in the area formerly occupied by the Hindpool Iron and Steelworks.
Walk into the poem on the old track over the tops, past the oak like a moored boat off the coast of a ploughed field, towards the peat-bog wood where the poem sucks things in to keep – a tractor skeleton, an old wandered-off ram, bog-smell, dented buckets, fridges rusting into the quaking mud. In some places, bark peels to show the trees’ age under,
Sockbridge Phoebe Power
rings piled like a language, collecting moss. Birds fly in the poem’s head, nest in the crook of its elbow, migrate back into its footprints. Head to the fells, into the sun. Climb until you reach the cairn. From there, the poem stretches out behind, a valley where words stream into the centre. On another summit, others, waving.
The place that is ours is still ours although it appears to be emptying. Though the yellow heart-leaves fell. Though the darling collie is gone, fur that stored bark and burrs, clumps of the river. Grandpa remembered being with his books on a raft down the river when the house flooded. He was put in a basket to be burnt in. There are many people, many baskets. Books in baskets down the river. Acid-green leaves hanging like clouds on bushes. Daughters, fathers. ‘O sisters too’. I want to say to my father for the rest of the clinging cracks of time I love you. Emma’s wedding in three weeks. We’ll stay in this mill over winter, near the hollow water, till the children come to examine the next part of time. The hedges that were planted for us will be kept for them.
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Of Wolves and Waifs b y A n k e G r ee n
It was behind these limestone walls that I first learned about the stele, the memorial – here in this fine old house with its thick walls and double glazing, overlooking Morecambe Bay. But here as well, in my safe house on the peninsula, nobody hears me howling. The stele they’ve erected in the gardens of the convent in Bavaria is a rectangular slab of glass, just under five feet high. The glass carries an inscription in German, which begins with a quote by Antonia Werr. She was the founder of the convent, to which the nuns from the St. Josef’s Home belonged. Back in 1855 she said: “Where human dignity lies in tatters, there to carefully gather up and join together again even the smallest parts in order to restore a girl’s divinity - oh what a beautiful, if daunting, task”. The inscription then continues: We remember the foster homes of the 1950s and 1960s. We have incurred guilt in not following the mission of our founder and ask for forgiveness. The figure of Antonia Werr is also etched into the glass memorial, rising above the inscription. She wears a nun’s habit and stands behind a slender girl. Antonia’s hand is firmly placed around the girl’s elbow, whilst her face is turned up to the heavens. Her stance implies protection, but I still want to tear myself loose. They’re asking for forgiveness now all over Germany, for what happened in the foster homes right up to the seventies, almost exactly forty years after they locked me up in the St. Josef’s Home. And I just chance upon the memorial on the internet, sat here behind my walls, looking across the bay and watching the tides. Not far from here, stuck onto the peninsula, is a promontory called Humphrey Head. Like a huge whale it juts into the estuary. Here on this rocky outcrop, it is said that in the late 1300s the villagers of Cark killed the last wolf in England. They chased it with their spears down the steep limestone cliffs while it was trying to hide itself between the rocks.
At the foot of Humphrey Head an ancient spring flows from the rocks. Around it grow brambles and grasses, ivy, and mosses. For centuries people came here, believing that this was a holy well and that its water could cure their illnesses. It has a salty taste. This well is dedicated to St. Agnes. Lovely St. Agnes, only 12 years old, so pure and innocent she chose to die, rather than be defiled. St. Agnes is the patron saint of maidenhood, but nowadays her well is unholy and unkempt. It has a rusty sign above it: DANGER, water not suitable for drinking. Instead, water from the same aquifer is sold in bottles now. It’s supposed to make you beautiful in forty days or so, if you keep drinking it. I sit behind these limestone walls in my safe house and look up words. Verwahrlost. Girls like me who were taken into foster homes usually had that label slapped on them. They say the newly formed West German republic was immature and that the methods in the homes owed much to Nazi ideology. Until the 1970s, children and adolescents were hidden there like prisoners. Unpaid forced labour and humiliation was commonplace. But everyone kept quiet, all these years. These are the translations I find for verwahrlost: squalid, neglected, seedy, unkempt, tacky, scruffy, deviant, depraved, desolate, dissolute, shabby, bedraggled, degenerate, waiflike. I look up ‘waif’. A waif, I learn, is a living creature removed, by hardship, loss, or other helpless circumstance, from its original surroundings. The word is taken from the Old French, guaif, which means stray beast. It commonly denotes a homeless, forsaken or orphaned child, or someone whose appearance evokes that image. There are also ‘nautical waifs’ - survivors of marine disasters, who end up in the care and custody of others. And those who find themselves stranded on foreign shores. Talk about shipwrecks and disasters. Talk about war and the casualties thereof. Talk about children who were driven from their homes and orphaned – who were survivors, but only just. Talk about those children’s children.
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In the St. Josef’s Home they made us scrub the floors and say our prayers day in, day out. They told us we’d most likely end up on the streets if we continued our rebelliousness. With this likely end in mind, they let us smoke our two allotted fags a day, in the back yard. At weekends we embroidered tablecloths and runners, which the home then sold on. And in the laundry we washed and ironed for the entire diocese. (Although the laundry has long since gone, a current leaflet from the home still proudly states this!) Big sacks were dumped here from the nearby monastery. We were in charge of the monks’ underpants, having to mark each one of them with an embroidered stitch. Once they’d been boilwashed, we took the stitches out again. Fourteen years old. School? University? Excuse me, Fräulein, who do you think you are? We don’t need such clever-clogs or scholars here! You need to learn obedience and do a bit of work to earn your keep. No one else wants you, after all. You’re lucky we have found it in our hearts to take you in. We were locked up all week. But at least on Sunday afternoon they let us leave the building. A group walk with the nuns - unless, of course, you’d misbehaved again. On Humphrey Head I laid myself like a sick child under the wind whipped hawthorn tree. Who said, “Don’t cry, don’t sigh”, and “No one likes a moaner”? Let me now scream it out, because this whale-back rock can surely take it! Here on this rock I howled and baaed and not a single cow looked up and mooed. For God’s sake, woman, pull yourself together! Isn’t it enough now, Fräulein? Sometimes, when I call, a raven flies up from the cliffs below and courts me unashamedly, and beckons me like a flamenco dancer, or a Mongolian singer. Was the wolf that was killed here really a wolf? Or was it an outlaw, an outcast, like we were back then? Caput gerat lupinum, who cares now? On Humphrey Head the ground rises to meet me, offering me its strong old back. The limestone doesn’t cry out, but I do, still – and the wind and the ravens call back to me, they keep calling me, over and over.
Why does it take so long to grasp these things? Like the wolf, I too have been hiding myself between rocks, afraid and ashamed. Part of it was the not knowing. Because those who knew didn’t talk and then died far too soon. And part of it was the not really wanting to know. Photograph by John Preston | gardnslave.wordpress.com
On Humphrey Head, peregrine falcons and ravens make their nests. Sometimes a robin greets you. Northern Brown Argus butterflies, which feed on the rock rose, flit about in the summer. And hawthorn trees, lashed over decades by the west wind, grow crookedly but firmly into the landscape. Sheep and cows graze and they don’t give a shit about me hollering and howling. Howling not just about what happened then, but also about all that followed on from it.
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Be ac h House D i a ry 2 012 by John Fox
Sunday January 1st
New Year’s Eve. Our sky lanterns bound off on a whim and a maybe prayer. Dervish flames falter, nearly scorching some wishes, but others are tugged out of sight over spiky trees . “Probably gone to Australia,” says Reuben, our grandson. Forty years ago we nearly landed in Australia forever, but circumstance drew us to Cumbria. So now, on this edge of Morecambe Bay, on the Furness peninsula, we contemplate the whys of living here in our stilt house by the sea.
Thursday January 5th Following the second-warmest year on record it’s now pelting rain. Each day a yellow soup tureen with a constant tugging wind. Where is the sun? A beached conger eel lies on the shingle below Aldingham Church wall. Five feet long, slimy grey with dead moon eyes, twisted and bunched like a string of sausages in the unusually savage tides.
Friday January 13th
Despite the date, there’s lift off. The sun is back and the tide laps gently. Outside my studio a stranger’s whippet has one of our logs in his teeth. “Don’t run off with my wood,” I joke. “It’s £100 a trailer load. Everyone’s buying wood stoves.” “I have to ask - how did you get away with it? Your house I mean. I want to join a collective and build a wooden eco-house like this but the planners and the system always put you down”. He is a special needs teacher disenchanted with paperwork and a bossy headmaster. “The government are targeting teachers. All part of divide and rule. I’m going to leave the job. You’ve made my day. I don’t often meet someone who lives outside the box.”
Friday January 20th
In the shadow of stats and obligatory calendars, the first day of the second week of January is now labelled Blue Monday. Post-Christmas, empty pockets, dark days and black weather equals depression. Highest unemployment figures since records began, Costa Concordia disaster, brutal murders and a big rise in metal theft. We have no TV but bad news seeps in. Climate change too has come to our hearth with predicted increased rainfall and fierce storms. Run-off from water-logged fields weakens the shallow clay cliff, and last Wednesday night three hefty trees, lashed by 60mph south west gales, crashed to the beach. A wild cherry tree fell first. Severed white roots, revealed at the top of the fifteen metre bank, are like knobs of rhubarb suddenly opened to the light. The cherry hit three black poplars. Two fell. One, old and weighty with an extensive root system, slipped down ten metres. Remarkably, it is still vertical. From little seeds tons of contained contained carbon fall. A bounty. Work starts with lopping off the ivy. Not your ‘Holly and the Ivy’ ivy, but rampant strangling sinews. Bow-saw and machete rip it. Bark comes away too. Loamy corrugated slabs crammed with woodlice and minute coiled pink worms, fleshy fungi, like babies’ ears, peel away to reveal raw purple timber. We begin in the grey before rain; the tide is rising like a wall of advancing armour. With red chainsaws, helmets and steel-toed boots the morning is medieval. Chainsaws rasp, slice, jam and stutter as sweaty men curse in fumes. Great roundels, each slice weighing half a hundredweight. Each ring holds tell-tale blemishes. Cherry, a tideline waving along its edge with bright orange icing. Black poplar, green smears at its heart. Six of us, including grandchildren, heave half a ton of wood 500 metres to the Beach House. Of necessity we use a boat trailer on two wheels. The cobble shore is an ankle-breaker but we donkeys maintain a speedy gallop over many journeys. Somehow we have breath to tell the smarty pant magpies cackling overhead to sod off. Next day is easier. Our neighbour generously offers his fourwheel drive pick-up, and his labour with a 16-inch saw.
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So, over two days, we gather eight tons of timber to share between three families. It will take a week to cut and split into 12-inch logs then a year or two to season. But it is gathered. Sick of continuously hustling for paid work, my New Year resolution had been: “Wait and see what drops in.” This complete unity of process and place reminds me again of Australia. The happiest man I ever met lived there in a remote location in near desert conditions. A fitter and motorbike stockman, he had roamed the wire cattle fences of white man’s territory. His boss’s Range Rover was plastered with stickers reading, Eat Meat you Bastards. But one day he too dropped out. He married an aboriginal woman and they had a child. Built a three-room shack from discarded corrugated iron with a small windmill and solar panels to power a fridge and TV. Occasional rain collected on the roof fed an irrigation system for vegetables. Once a month he shot a kangaroo for meat and stored it in the freezer. He had everything he needed and a creative outlet.
| The Fire Crane
“This carving is not for sale. It’s a hymn to that unknown man. At least one person has remembered him. I have included the Roman soldier who refused to spear Jesus. That miner also hated the system and his job. He was so full of fear, death was his only certainty.” In our liminal space between land and sea on the west shore of Morecambe Bay there are no kangaroos and no talc. But this year logs have dropped in and from the hundredweights of washed-up garbage a prehistoric elk has been fashioned from plastic bottles. From other flotsam and jetsam, we have fabricated a whirlygig sculpture depicting the last wolf to be killed in England, on Humphrey Head opposite our ark. Centuries ago she was killed – one of the tales has it - by a returning Christian Crusader. “One infidel is as good as another.” On certain nights The Ghost of the Wolf still roams. We have seen prints of her paws in the wet sand, and in the right wind our own Whirlygig Wolf snaps her jaws in recognition.
His shack was next to a disused talc mine. From the offcuts he carved small primitive statues in the style of Epstein. Although they framed his garden he would occasionally sell one to passing tourists like us. He also engraved poems on slabs. One commemorated a white man from the talc mine who had killed himself by lying on the slope in front of a giant digger dumper. He fi rst removed the chocks from its heavy wheels, and as it started to roll forward he picked a point in its path.
Photographs by Sue Gill. Top left (opposite): Beach House deck with heron sculpture by Duncan Copley. Above: Flotsam and jestsam sculpture (also by Sue Gill) and Beach House in snow. Whirligig Wolf drawing by John Fox.
I The double-barrelled shot gun
II The Spectacles
III The Marble
It’s the third day after the fall: a bad blow to the head as he hit
On Tuesday Banks’ boy finds the glasses on the barn floor, rims intact, a rope over the beam above he’ll never tire talking of. It must have been a Tuesday because John Fox the butcher drives his white van with red lettering up the lonning on a Friday, and there were three days, you see, between ‘the fall’ and what on no account could be covered up as accidental. Mr Fox happens to pull into the yard an hour after the event, Dr Dolan there for the second time that morning swearing the patient at breakfast was not a man about to do himself in. The butcher, thinking they’ll still need to eat, carries meat through to the pantry – half a pound of liver, quarter of haslet, cold tongue – then continues his round. And Banks’ boy keeps the spectacles he can put his finger through, without ever trying them on once till the end of his natural-born days.
Down by the old hen-run, the news in last Friday’s paper takes seconds to curl up in the seedling flames.
6th July, 1956
the barn floor. Nothing right since the road accident in spring when he’d been worrying – a late frost, the plum blossom. It’s the third day after the fall: another blow – prices low, a glut of the crop he’s been counting on. His straw face at the upstairs window. The shot sounds (a stooping woman straightens) almost like the one before and the one before that which flew through the air simply to scare. If anyone had picked that autumn’s plums the price per pound was fair.
3rd July, 1956
12th July, 1956
The girls, two to a drawer, carry his things from the unlit house to the bonfire, passing rows of Little Marvel peas, onions (White Lisbon), the radish (Cherry Belle this year) already bolting, strawberries good for stewing or jam. Everything about the place looks as though it knows its fate, the wilderness August will cultivate. On one of the return legs, they hear a rolling sound in the empty drawer, a marble, duck egg blue – something in lieu of a life.
Photograph by Ian Hill.
three | The writing on the byre beams
o n e | The Market Garde ne r’ s Tale
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two | daughters of a suicide
by Helen Farish
The Fire Crane |
The Turnbull girls at the top of the lonning, the back of the barn, the Turnbull girls clustering like the clumps of daffodils my father and I planted years later as though sensing this was ground in need of healing – where they’d stood, frozen limbs, daisy print dresses breaking the heart of my uncle who always remembered seeing them as he came up the lonning and how he didn’t know what to say (this was all before my day); in any case one of the girls never spoke again. I think it’s her I go round the back of the barn to meet: mute fury in the face of grief, nothing further to be said.
In a John Menzies A6 notebook (40 leaves ruled feint) which my father used to mirror English with French and to safeguard the foreign language (to me) codes of his profession, finally I copy down the writing on the byre beams. Already twenty years (more) since my father said Look, read, imagine: here I am. Crossed out – 1945 white cow bulled 10th May. Dates the following year for the light cow, the dark and the heifer. 2nd July 1947 is legible despite being crossed out whereas what happened on that day (though uncontradicted) is too faint. And on 25th Dec something (what?) was Due with a capital. I find myself writing on one of the beams This is History and then try to sign the name of a man I never knew and tell how he made these records the decade before (in the same building) he looped a noose like he looped his Ls despite that year’s light, white and dark calves bawling. My father’s typically neat A6 notes now are next to mine which fail to follow the rules, accustomed as they are to unlined space. It was never the intention of the 1940s farmer to be read, but his impulsive pencil and wood logbook has become his J’étais ici, J’étais ici: a message to death – don’t cross out me.
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| The Fire Crane
When poet Josephine Dickinson moved to Alston in 1994 she was 37 years old and had been profoundly deaf since the age of six. She first met retired hill farmer Douglas Dickinson in 1998 when out searching for lost geese. Douglas was in his eighties, a widower with grown grandchildren. They fell in love, married, and lived together until his death – aged 92 – in 2004. This is an extract from Josephine’s current work-inprogress, a memoir called The Leech Gatherer.
Last Tango in Alston by Josephine Dickinson
Sometimes the healthiest looking sheep take it into their heads to turn over on their backs and die. And so it happened with a very good tup one late summer’s day in 2002. Jim came to the door and told me he’d found our tup on his back that afternoon, and righted him. I thanked him. That was early afternoon, about 2.00pm. I went down to see him about 5.00pm and he’d done it again. But this time he’d done it properly. He was dead. He lay there with his four feet sticking up in the air, like he was pretending to be a ship in full rig. So Douglas’s expressed concern that ‘I hope we haven’t that bugger to bury’ had come true. We dug a hole for him next to the wall just inside Billy’s Field. It swelled up to a massive mound within a day or two and remained prominent for years after. On the 8th October of that year there was a tup sale in Penrith and Douglas was intending to have ‘just a wee look’. We arrived and parked Douglas’s new red Vauxhall truck at the back of the mart building, then wandered round the covered pens for an hour or two looking at donkeys and ponies as well as the Cheviots and other more exotic breeds of sheep. In later years I asked Tommy, when he came to the door with his retired farmer friend Ernie from Slaggyford, why Douglas chose Cheviots as a breed to keep in his retirement. ‘Douglas was always changing breeds,’ he said. ‘He kept Texels, then he had a mixed breed. Then Swaledales, then Cheviots.’ ‘Yes, but what made him get Cheviots in the first place?’ ‘He was in the mood.’ We had attended several tup sales that autumn Lockerbie, Carlisle, St John’s Chapel. But in the end it was at Penrith auction mart that we struck lucky. We were greeted in the main building by a pair of men, one of them a short man in a dark leather jacket with a round face, and the other tall, thin and weather-beaten in a mac and a flat cap. This latter, whose name was also Dickinson, said ‘That was a good horse I bought off you in 1933 - the black one.’
‘Was it OK?’ said Douglas, smiling. ‘Yes, it was alreet.’
In the Hired Lad café next to the mart we queued up with the other farmers and ate a traditional lunch. As we sat at our little square table we suddenly became aware of looks and nudges from people around the room. Douglas was clearly preceded by some considerable fame. Back in the auction hall, Douglas’s daughter and her husband, who were visiting us from the US at the time, had made their own way here and were watching from the steps on the other side as the farmers gathered. After a little while they gave a cheery wave and slipped away to seek out a special meal by Ullswater. But Douglas had sniffed his quarry and decided to hang on in there. As it came near to the time of the auction more and more farmers squashed in. We were behind heavy steel barriers set up round a circular concrete arena. Though we had got there early and should both by rights be enjoying a ringside view, I found that two or three beefy men in flat caps were pushing me back, jostling elbow to elbow. I decided I was going to stick up for my space, and shoved my way inch by inch back to the rails. Meanwhile Douglas was somehow managing to maintain his position at the front without any apparent effort, and was purposefully rolling up under his arm a copy of the Cumberland News. Every year there was this business of making sure there would be a fertile, active tup to impregnate our ewes at tupping time. When I first came to live at Scarberry Hill, in 1998, we borrowed ‘a one’ from our neighbour Robert Bell, Robert Bell being one of the few farmers on Alston Moor to keep Cheviots in any numbers. Most farmers keep mainly the hardier and smaller but, in Douglas’s words, ‘more upskittlable’ black-face Swaledales, Bluefaced Leicesters or mules (Swaledale/ Leicester crosses). Robert, a lifelong friend of Douglas, cheerfully obliged when asked for help. He brought the tup over from his Garrigill farm on the 1st November in a trailer, stopping first at the house on his way down the lane and greeting us at our front door with his usual broad smile.
Douglas had been telling me tales of previous years: ‘Last year we got a one off Robert, and he simply would not work. He would do the rounds of the ewes a few times and then he simply staggered and couldn’t get up off the ground.’ ‘What did you do,’ I asked, ‘to bring him round?’ ‘We gave him a good dose o’ wormer, clipped his feet, put him through the footbath and hung him up to dry.’ ‘ Douglas, you should patent the process!’ I said, laughing.
Photograph by Josephine Dickinson.
As the auction began and numerous lots of sheep of various breeds dashed from the pens into the ring and out again, Douglas started practising his bidding. All I saw was a slight movement of his rolled up newspaper, which he removed from the safety of his armpit for a brief flash of a moment. The auctioneer, a loud and husky-voiced fellow, boomed, without hesitation or prompting, ‘Douglas Dickinson of Bleagate, Alston. Anyone else?’ Douglas bid daringly for a huge and very handsome Suffolk tup. He was a gorgeous chocolate brown and had the most exquisite feet. He would have been totally unsuitable for our muddy little hillside farm and our plebeian flock of ewes. However, I felt a certain thrill as I realized that Douglas’s bid appeared to be on the edge of a purchase. But the auctioneer’s gaze was lured elsewhere, and Douglas did not pursue the buy beyond a bid or two. We waited out a few more tups. >>>
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Photograph by Josephine Dickinson.
Why did Douglas do such crazy things? His life was full of trying things out and resourcefulness. As one of the last of a dying breed of small-scale yeoman farmers, he had opportunistically and simultaneously honed his skills as a businessman, farmer and local politician. It was as though he was on a mission to express life and its colourful diversity to the full in the harsh grey climate of Alston. Through the long winters we would often quote to each other the words from the Requiem Mass, Media vita in morte sumus (‘in the midst of life we are in death.’) Though the season turned and the hills dipped in sky came away with a frosting of snow, we were always:
‘… gathering, as it seemed Through every hair-breadth in that field of light New pleasure like a bee among the flowers.’ Wordsworth,
The Prelude Book 1 (1850 version), lines 578-580
I remembered Douglas telling me the story of a tup sale in Hawick long ago: ‘One day we took a tup to Hawick. He was past it. He could barely walk. He was old. And when he got to the ring the auctioneer said, “This is a tup sale. That is not a tup.” “Well”, I said to ’im, “this is a sale for Cheviot tups. He’s a Cheviot tup.” The auctioneer said “Alreet.” Got five shillings bid.’ Now in Penrith, at some point during the bidding for the Cheviots, a large, rough-hewn tup with one horn blunted, the other completely broken off, clumsily avoided the stewards’ sticks and skumbled into the arena. He looked as if he might topple over at any moment, so much weight was there in his gnarly upper parts. Douglas half-heartedly fluttered his newspaper, but did not pursue the matter when another bidder picked up the lot. The hammer went down at a hundred and forty pounds. As the steward prodded the jittery animal he lunged headlong out of the ring. There was a loud smashing sound just as he passed out of sight. Nobody seemed perturbed, and Douglas continued to tease the auctioneer with his paper for a few animals until suddenly we recognized one as the same tup which had left the ring previously in such an unusually precipitate manner. Where his single broken off horn had been was a crimson hole and the blotted remains of stanched streams of blood. Douglas’s ears pricked up. Here was the prospect of a bargain. He began to bid in earnest. The sums rose modestly, but soon the auctioneer’s hammer went down at a hundred and ten pounds - to Douglas. It happened so quickly I hardly knew it. Douglas sent me to the auction office to pay and to collect the ‘lucky penny.’
This was a reduction in the price of six pounds. I did not understand why it applied, but was told it was a tradition for the vendor to return a portion of the asking price to the buyer in such circumstances. I queued in the office with the other farmers all smiling indulgently at me on behalf of Douglas. The next challenge was to get the beast loaded onto the big red truck. Whilst I was in the office writing a cheque, Douglas drove it round to the entrance - but on the wrong side of the building. Someone had brought the tup out of his pen to await collection. He was still standing there with the tup on a halter when I returned. I saw that the truck wasn’t there and went to the other side of the building to find it and fetch it round. With a little help from the patient person who had waited with him, we got him loaded into the back and relaxed. Then we drove slowly up and over the vertiginous hairpins of the Hartside Pass, over the mountain to Alston. His hooves knocked and clattered on the metal floor and I could feel his weight roll and shift in the back as curiosity drove him to peer at us through the narrow porthole then stagger over to the grille at the back and survey the passing fields. It was a strange sensation, to feel his presence there, and his inquisitive gaze on our backs. Years later, in 2008, when Jim, the kindly man who had been shepherd on the farm next door and who, despite redundancy, continued to help me out with the sheep, arrived to collect the Texel tup his friend Tom had lent me for a month or so (after yet another Cheviot tup had tipped over on his back and died just days before he was due to be let out with the ewes), I happened to be sitting in my living room watching a DVD of Last Tango in Paris. It was Christmas Eve and I had a bad cold, and was huddled in my dressing gown with a cup of tea in front of the TV. Just as the female lead and Marlon Brando were gleefully enunciating a fairly
comprehensive series of synonyms for the male member, there was a loud knocking sound. I assumed it was the film soundtrack at first, since I had it on full volume. But then, when the two actors failed to respond to the sound, I realized it was my own front door. I rushed out, hastily pulling the dressing gown tightly round me, and found Jim standing bemused just inside the house. I apologised for my huskiness and sniffling and explained I had a cold and was watching a film, and would he like me to get dressed and come and give him a hand with the tup? ‘No,’ he said, smiling a huge beam of a smile, ‘I’ll get a bucket and some meal and they’ll come in … you go back to your film.’ When I got back to the TV the subtitle frozen on the screen from when I had hastily pressed the pause button was, ‘That was really funny.’ Certainly, it was the sort of joke that Douglas would have enjoyed. A month or so later Jim brought the news that the Texel tup also had fallen over and died - so continuing a grand tradition. I thought the lambs when they were born were funny little things, with their Cheviot fluff and bulk and their Texel waddle and squashed snout. (I was secretly glad that one of them, the hogg with the black eye patch, later had a lamb by her Cheviot shearling brother, a beautiful pure Cheviot ewe lamb which I kept for myself.) However, Tom was so taken with the Texel/ Cheviot crosses that he came and bought four of the ewe lambs, first choosing them painstakingly with the help of his wife and daughter. It gave me great satisfaction to feel I had contributed to the wider breeding flock on Alston Moor.
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| The Fire Crane
Photograph by Ian Hill.
by Ian Hill
Protect. Survive .
I always knew the fence was there. On summer evenings, I would cycle the road alongside the wire, views snatched between the thorn hedges of grey buildings, dark trees, the sour yellow of undernourished grassland. Sometimes, a Land Rover could be seen on the narrow tarmac road, cruising amongst the abandoned buildings menacingly, a reminder of the implicit contract between those of us outside the wire, and the one or two guarding the debris left inside, the secrets still within. I learned of Cumbria’s military past only in fragments, like scraps of a coded message I struggled to translate. Walking on the dunes at Mawbray one breezy winter day, I stumbled on a pair of concrete arrows, several yards long, partburied in the couch grass. They pointed obliquely out to sea, past the rotting concrete bases of former buildings, emerging like the stumps of teeth from the dunes. The arrows, aligned to a direction of 242 degrees, were directed to gunnery targets out at sea, sites for bombing practice for nearby RAF Silloth. One was painted white, indicating ‘smoke bombing’, or the use of smoke tracers for practice. The other was red, indicating the use of live armaments. Seaward, there is no sign of the range, but abandoned ordnance still washes up on the beach at times, discards from another war, reminders of the proximity of danger. I grew up in a landscape of military sites; airfields, signals stations, roads with inexplicable traffic lights which flashed when heavy aeroplanes were landing. During school holidays, I would lie on my back with friends on the lank grass at the
end of the runway, watching the planes take off above us, grey and red against the peerless blue of the summer sky. We became inured to the sound of aeroplanes above the village, learned to recognise each type only by its engine noise (‘Oh, it’s only a Jet Provost’), collected their identification numbers. The presence of so many RAF bases was incontrovertible; it was the way that my county existed; it was what we did for a living. Most of the kids at school had family in the RAF. Each term there were new boys, arrived like seasonal migrants from Germany or Cyprus, kids who were adaptable and resilient, unimpressed by their arrival in this dead-end county of flat lands and an antediluvian attitude to progressive rock music. Their fathers were chisel-chinned and solidly built; clipped, emotionless men who left home early to drive through security gates into a world that enveloped them with its certainty and power. My childhood was spent under a sense of menace and uncertainty, even though the 1970s was a decade almost
without conflicts, bracketed between the humiliation of the Aden crisis and the triumphalism of the Falklands War. Maintaining a substantial Air Force required a certain degree of paranoia and panic, the mythologising of an invented enemy, a latent distrust of all things Russian. At school we learned Russian phrases and read Marx, understanding only at a visceral level how it niggled the establishment, how it was somehow wrong, and therefore alluring. Something stuck in my mind, however. I learned to recognise the ephemeral architecture of military sites, the utilitarian brick and asbestos, the ill-proportioned windows with their aluminium frames and lack of ventilation. I began to notice places behind wire that were increasingly abandoned, left to the rosebay willowherb and the ammoniac patches of nettles. These places seemed peopled with ghosts, a fading memory of an uncertain time, the war that never was. It was the dump that obsessed me most of all. Broughton Moor Armaments Depot
closed the year I came to live in West Cumbria. The signs disappeared from the main road, the rumble of Chinook helicopters echoed in the silent space. It continued to hold a fascination, as derelict sites often do; a thousand acres of forbidden land, six miles of unbroken fence behind which could be glimpsed earth mounds, shadowed buildings, the blank vacancy of abandonment. For sixteen years after closure it remained in the ownership of the MoD, and rumours flitted as briefly as the roe deer glimpsed at the edge of the woods; of SAS training missions, of black helicopters arriving in the dead of night, of abandoned nuclear ordnance and contaminated land. Places like this have their own fascination and appeal, largely because they are forbidden, forgotten. They become a magnet for conspiracy theorists and black-balaclava paranoiacs, urban explorers of the forgotten parts of our past. On internet forums, middle-aged men known only by their tags and nicknames are sharing photographs of decommissioned military sites and derelict tramsheds taken below >>>
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the gaze of security guards; the pornography of abandonment. Men who grew up under the shadow of the cold war are trading theories and hearsay in a new culture in which the suspicions remain, but the doubt rests on new enemies, new threats, new forms of poison seeping through the soil. I visited the Broughton Moor dump on a cold January day, a morning of milky, colourless skies with a vague threat of snow. In the still air, the whisper of the pine trees was obscured by the sounds of the A66 in the valley below, a sound which, it seemed, was coming from another world, a different time zone. It had taken me one email to find my way in; a sign not only of the nature of networks in Cumbria, the casual associations we accumulate through our lives, but also about the decline in secrecy of the site, the way that it is shedding its furtive past in search of a newer, more public, image. There are Plans, and this time we are welcome to know them. Inside the wire, the place seemed bigger, more complex. I had heard enough stories; the many species of rare birds, the three hundred derelict buildings, the slivers of ancient woodland hugging the
sides of gills. What I was unprepared for was the sadness which pervades the place, the faint presence of previous residents in the hollow buildings. Through every doorway, the crunch of broken glass and washbasins beneath my feet echoed in the hollow spaces. Layers of paint flaked from the brick walls, each colour revealing a different, equally drab one beneath: battleship grey, salmon pink, magnolia; the patina of decay. Barn owls nest in the fractured panelling of timberframed walls. Behind the shattered glass windows, the remnants of former occupation: a row of rusting coat hooks, an empty noticeboard, the scatter of broken porcelain. Each building was different, and yet in each was the same signature debris: broken light fittings, cable sheathings, broken sanitary ware. It was this last detail I found so touching; the reassurance that, when the nuclear winter came, the staff at Broughton Moor would have clean hands and empty bowels, the better to meet the oncoming Soviet hordes. Leaving Broughton Moor, I felt sullied, disoriented, tainted by a strange new knowledge. I realised how much of our landscape is kept behind wire, excluded,
apart. On its website, the MoD details its sustainable development credentials, with strategy documents littered with the jargon of ‘biodiversity’, ‘sustainable procurement’ and ‘community involvement’. It trumpets public access to MoD sites, and lists the success stories of birds and animals that thrive on this undisturbed, secluded land. Only the occasional bombing raid will disturb them. Cumbria has some of the largest MoD land holdings in the country. Broughton Moor was, astoundingly, not even the biggest military site in Cumbria. The Warcop Training Area and RAF Spadeadam are each around ten times the size. Nationally, MoD land totals 208,000 hectares, or around 1% of the UK land area: approximately the same as the Forestry Commission’s land holdings in England, or just slightly less than the National Trust. These are the wayward parts of rural Britain, the places we are encouraged to ignore, the swathes of land whose size is out of all proportion to their economic benefit, their landscape benefit, their public accessibility. They are symbols of how decisions about the use of rural land can be made arbitrarily,
Holding onto the open door’s edge he points his toe into his boot. She yells, Hang on!
Waiting Sam Smith
Night’s sleeplessness is a lead weight hanging between his ears. Cotton-mist presses down every outside sound. A red geranium beside the down-curved step has one round leaf cupping last night’s rain. She comes busily from inside full of new-mother importance (she, her own self, has given life) and, with the glow of a lover renewed, she grips onto his arm and pecks his cheek. Her relaxing smile watches his slow tread up between the creosoted dark half-doors of the calf sheds and the stone walls of the old barn. She waits. At the cough-grunt of the tractor starting she turns.
through lines on maps, from bunkers and office blocks far from here. On the track back to the main gate at Broughton Moor, wizened ash trees tangle with ancient hawthorns in the network of field boundaries and hedgerows that date back at least to medieval times, possibly to the Roman occupation. They are a curious anachronism in this fenced place, a remnant of a communal farming pattern that disappeared with the Enclosure Act, and yet could be revitalised as part of the redevelopment plans for the site. One day, the fence will come down and the site will slowly merge back into the surrounding landscape; its boundaries will become porous again. It is an image of restitution that will never come to so many other excluded sites, those places held in the trance of the cold war collusion of science and secrecy, places on which the asbestos dust settles like the fallout from another age, the soft white sinter of decay and dereliction.
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please come away Jacci Garside
| The Fire Crane
Last night I walked the river path. You were there, night-warming: eggs still blank. You turned up this morning at the yard, looking scrawny but by the time I’d fed the stock, you were gone. I wanted to tell you in a way you’d understand: the chicks aren’t coming. * Took food to put near you this evening at your nest in the reeds, and as usual you pretended not to see me – head bobbed down to concentrate on huddling. * Over the weeks, odd days, an egg disappears, fox-taken, till just one is left, and you still sit in hope. You’re getting too thin and not learning. So I wait till you go ratching for food up the yard, go to your nest, take your last egg and hold it in my palm. Nothing ever felt so fragile.
Leaving, we almost missed the wax jacket, a malt shadow hanging on a row of pegs by the back door, leading out to evening. The rest of the rack had been emptied, swiftly, stuffed in plastic sacks of wool and tweed when the house was cleared out, early, by professionals
Wax Jacket Martyn Halsall
devaluing, as experts, its sheen like iced mud, tearings, split seams; colours drained to wintering country. We fingered its scruffed plaid; pick-pockets presuming cartridge cases, boiled sweets, passes for county shows, frayed maps unfolding onto aerial views of crags like a flight over biography; ratty hiking boot laces, pencil stubs for noting hands and sires, cardboard shields strung ready for members’ enclosures. Instead there were theatre tickets, bilingual receipts from a Japanese restaurant, a designer label snipped from a frock; a leaflet explaining perfumes.
Dead Art Pauline Yarwood
Someone round here has a sense of humour – the fox, not noticeably damaged, placed on a mossy bank with its forelegs crossed in repose, as though waiting for afternoon tea
We thought we knew its range; its trail of soured tallow. We had rummaged in these pockets for the odd gift, a snuffle of paper bag against warm tartan. Just now we emptied the pockets and left it there, closing the door softly, to prevent an echo.
and further along the lane a dead badger lies along the top of a thicket hedge, sitting up slightly, with its legs wrapped round, hugging the telegraph pole, as though it could save him.
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Too soon for an elegy? by mary robinson
O Burn it green or burn it dry The ash tree gives a good hot fire
ne of my earliest memories is of my father sawing ash and reciting that verse. A few yards from the house an ash grew in the blackthorn hedge. When it reached the height of the bedroom window – about once every ten years – my father would cut it down and leave the pollarded stump to grow back. There would be a crop of small logs, child’s arm thickness, and the smell of white floury sawdust. Old moss-barked ash trees bordered the garden. In a gale their writhing branches roared at the wind. The next day we would collect the broken twigs, scaly with yellow lichen, and use them for kindling.
Photograph by Rob Fraser
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| The Fire Crane
hen I heard that the ash trees are dying it was
Last year I visited the old Jewish cemetery in Prague.
we could grow enough ash saplings in this country for
like hearing an old friend is terminally ill. Ash
Twelve generations are interned here, the grave-stones
our own use.
die-back (Chalara Fraxinea) has reached Cumbria.
packed as tightly together as slates in a builders’ yard.
The Cumbria Flora describes the ash as “probably
Periwinkle creeps over the ground and weaves a wreath
the commonest tree in the county”. The ash was one
for every name. There are a few spindly ash trees. The
of the trees which greened the land after the last ice
Jewish tree of life is the vine, wrought on the metal
age. It turns up in Cumbrian place names – Aspatria
screen of the bimah within the synagogue on whose
(St Patrick’s ash tree), Great and Little Asby, Ashness
walls are inscribed the names of 80,000 Jews deported
Bridge, Askam in Furness. Even the OED definition is
to Theresienstadt concentration camp. Outside the sun
lyrical: “A well-known forest tree ... noted in Teutonic
shines strongly in a clear blue autumn sky. The shadows
literature from the earliest times; having silver-grey
of the Norse tree of life falls on the names of the Jewish
bark, graceful pinnate foliage, a peculiar winged seed or
dead. Ahead of me on the path a man is kneeling. I
samara called the ‘ash key’, and very close-grained wood
watch him take a yellow ash frond from the ground and
valuable for implements”.
press it in his wallet.
Much has been written about the decline of traditional family farms but far less about the decline of small nurseries and market gardens. The distinctive Land Settlement Association houses of the Solway Plain, set up in the 1930s for unemployed West Cumberland miners, were once the homes of dozens of thriving smallholders and market gardeners. Now there are very few left and those that are cannot earn a reasonable income from their land. Our young trees, together with the garden centre’s cheap bedding plants and the supermarket’s cut flowers, are imported in vast quantities from mainland Europe and beyond.
In the early leafless months of the year there’s an
The ash is a tree of life in another sense too. It is a useful
openness about the form of an ash tree – you can see
tree – flexible without cracking, easy to split, smooth
the sky, and the twigs crowd less closely than on other
for the handles of tools polished in use by the natural
trees. Young trees are leggy and the twigs end in a pert
grease of the skin. Ash wood was used for functional,
upcurve. Ancient trees have the grace of an Old Master’s
homely objects or things you might need for survival –
Pietà, holding out their branches as if wanting to fold
the handles of axes, hay rakes and hammers, walking
the light in their arms.
sticks (James Joyce’s “ashplant”), the shafts of arrows. That most practical and unassuming of old vehicles, the
The distinctive black buds give the twigs a chunky tip. They are like a creature’s claws. Hopkins, who noticed everything, wrote “How their talons sweep/The smouldering enormous winter welkin” (‘Ash-boughs’). Around Easter time the ash’s tiny flowers open – the
Morris Traveller, had a wooden frame made of ash for its rear bodywork. In the arcane language of woodcraft, already in decline when Hardy wrote The Woodlanders, ash was a good coppice wood for the production of treen.
male ones purplish and the female pale green. The twigs’ silhouettes have changed to bundles of worn-
Say “The Ash Grove” and folkies recall Los Angeles’
out toothbrushes. Because the ash is a “light tree” (in
legendary folk-music club which flourished in the late
contrast to “shade trees” like the beech or the sterile
50s through to the early 70s. It took its name from the
darkness of terraced fir plantations) and is late to come
Welsh harp melody ‘The Ash Grove’ (Llwyn Onn). In
into leaf, several plants grow beneath the canopy: wild
English versions of the song there are bluebells under
garlic, red campion, meadowsweet, valerian, butterbur,
the trees and a blackbird singing. The voice of the song
moschatel, ground ivy.
is the voice of lost love and now “the ash grove alone is my home”. In the last lines of his haunting poem of the
The buds are so tight that it is hard to believe they will ever open. When they do the leaves with their little leaflets feathering either side of a central stalk are semitranslucent. Every spring there’s the ash/oak, splash/ soak contest. But now the ash trees are dying, and the
same name, Edward Thomas invokes the song. It is part of a strange transformation which the poet experiences in a grove of ash trees. The poem ends: “But the moment
Now as I walk I look for ash trees and try to visualise their absence if they have to be felled. I climb High Pike from Nether Row where a grassy track is framed by big ash trees, perhaps a hundred and fifty years old. When I return the trees welcome me back from the open moorland and ease my descent to the valley fields. How blank and empty the path would be without them. Ironically it was self-seeding ash trees that often plugged the gaps left by the elms lost to Dutch elm disease in the last century. But some botanists suggest a glimmer of hope. The elm’s vulnerability to disease was exacerbated by its habit of replicating itself by suckering. But the ash’s prolific seeding brings with it the possibilities of cross-breeding variations and increased resistance. I will watch the ash trees anxiously through the seasons – the tight black buds, the spring flowers on bare twigs, the beautiful pinnate leaves in summer, and, in a few months’ time, the sound of the wind in the ash keys, those monocopter seeds clustering on the branches. There’s a smell of autumn leaves and a chill in the air. The ash keys break free, spiral away and lodge in a hedge-gap, a field, a copse, even a crack in the fellside rocks. I hope some will survive.
unveiled something unwilling to die/And I had what I most desired, without search or desert or cost.”
oaks too – stricken by acute or chronic oak death. But it is the opening of Thomas’s poem which has a In Norse mythology the ash is the tree of life, a huge ash tree with undying foliage called by the Tolkienesque sounding name of Yggdrasil. The roots penetrate to the depths of the underworld and the branches reach to the highest heaven. The Norns (or fates) tend the ash tree and water it every day. When the tree perishes ... Twenty-first century apocalypse-mongers have noticed.
prophetic ring to it – “Half of the grove stood dead”. The official response to ash die-back has been too little too late. The disease may have been in this country for years, perhaps carried by spores on the wind. The scandal is that the disease was also brought to Britain on thousands of imported ash saplings. Look at an ash tree in autumn and you will see more keys than a locksmith’s shop. Wherever the seeds land they germinate – surely
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Photograph by Rob Fraser
It’s a cold morning in the Duddon Valley. The stones in the beck are iced like cupcakes with a sprinkling of snow, each flake frozen in time by the sub-zero air. The roads are icy, and the sun is yet to come over the hills into the yard. At Turner Hall Farm, behind a split barn door painted wine-red, Anthony Hartley is sitting
The Softness of a Chastity Belt by Harriet Fraser
The sheep in Anthony’s lap is limp and lies with its head lolling off the end of the hay bale. For a moment, it seems to be lifeless, but it moves its head, and attempts a wriggle. Held fast with its legs tied, it stays still enough for Anthony to stitch a piece of cloth over its tail. This is clouting, an age-old practice among hill farmers that allows them to put
on a long bale of hay, with a large sheep lying
young ewes out onto the fell without them being impregnated by the ram. ‘It
between his legs. I know how that sounds, but
says Anthony. With their soft chastity belts on these sheep, that are eighteen
I can’t think of another way to say it – that is what is happening. Andrew, who has helped out on Anthony’s farm for nineteen years, is standing above another sheep whose four legs are roped together. It lies motionless on the floor. Beyond, against the back wall, around thirty sheep huddle together, in waiting.
makes for a better sheep, in the long run. We always do this with the shearlings,’ months old and have had one shear (hence the name shearlings), will rejoin the main flock in the fields around Turner Hall farm for the next few months. It’s traditional for fell sheep to wait until their second year (when they become ‘twoshears’) before getting tupped, but because most farmers separate the youngsters from the rest of the flock, only a few still clout. The red velvet material that Anthony is sewing over the tails of these sheep is wonderfully festive – and I would even say it’s very flattering on a Herdwick. I’m surprised at its quality. Each piece of cloth, cat-flap shaped, has a shine and softness that would grace the lining of any winter coat. But it wasn’t chosen for its colour. It was quite simply the best Anthony could find: flexible, strong and unlikely to fray. When he was younger, Anthony used to hunt for remnants with his father. Each year, the colour and pattern of the clout-cloths is different.
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| The Fire Crane
“I have to put my hand right up and
under the fleshy tail flap, into a world that’s warm, moist and utterly foreign
We spend a few hours with Anthony and Andrew.
and I begin. Despite nearly two decades of hands-on
like John Wayne after a long day in the saddle. Anthony
Anthony’s hands work deftly over the material, his right
experience on the farm, Andrew is wary of clouting any
agrees. I ask him if he’ll leave this one as it is, or re-
hand splayed over the velvet patch as his left stitches.
of Anthony’s sheep, lest he gets it wrong – I know it’s a
stitch the cloth himself later on. He says no, but if it fails
After each piece is stitched Anthony ties the final knot
real honour to be given a go.
he’ll know it’s mine – he is left-handed so finishes his stitching and knots the wool on the right, while my knot
with his hands; he holds the needle in his mouth and Andrew takes it away, threads it and sticks it into
The wool is so thick it’s hard to find the base of it, but
is on the left. I’ll certainly come back in the spring to
an old feedbag, ready for the next sheep. It’s a gentle
my fears of piercing the sheep’s skin with the needle are
help with the removal of the patches (it’s much simpler
partnership, a small production line that’ll see them
unfounded. I fasten the wool on the top right corner,
to take them off, I’m told) and see if the ewe I’ve clouted
doing perhaps a hundred ewes in one day.
with Anthony guiding me to secure it properly, and work
is safely through the winter without the burden of a
my way around. At the bottom of the patch I have to
There’s a tender poetry in this very practical task, just as
switch from my right to my left hand, which makes the
there is in the act of gathering the sheep in from the fells.
stitching much harder. And I have to check that the tail
There is calm, efficiency, and grace in the movement
isn’t being stitched in. I’m a lot slower than Anthony and
of the men as they handle the animals. Anthony’s
the sheep becomes restless, writhing and trying to kick
hands, weathered from decades of outdoor toil, work
itself free: it’s a challenge to stitch and hold at the same
in rhythm to create even, strong stitches. We chat about
time. I do make it around the material, though, and
the farming year, the sheep, the weather, the state of the
before tying the knot, Anthony shows me how to check
walls, about people we know, and his mouth curves with
that it’s done properly: I have to put my hand right up
each grin, his eyes narrowing with his frequent chuckles.
and under the fleshy tail flap, into a world that’s warm, moist and utterly foreign. Being a novice at this, I don’t
Outside the stable the rain has started falling in thick
put my hand up far enough – Anthony does that bit for
slats. It’s my turn to have a go and this is where I get a
me – and then I fasten the end with as tight a knot as I
true feeling for just how heavy and unwieldy a sheep
can be. I settle onto the hay bale and Anthony lifts a Swaledale ewe into my lap. I grip her back-end with
My hands are a little stiff with the effort of holding
my thighs and shift around until I feel balanced, reach
the cloth and stitching, and my thighs feel the strain of
for the red velvet, and flatten my hand over it to keep
bracing against the sheep’s back. I imagine that doing
it in place. Andrew passes me a needle and thread,
this for a couple of hours would leave you feeling a little
An earlier version of this piece appeared as a blog post at somewhere-nowhere.com. somewhere-nowhere is a collaboration between Harriet Fraser and her husband, the photographer Rob Fraser, reflecting on the land and the stories behind it. A related project, Land Keepers, is a year-long documentary on upland farming in Cumbria, run in partnership with the Farmer Network. A touring exhibition will be launched at the Wordsworth Trust in 2014 – read more at www.landkeepers.co.uk. Land Keepers is part financed by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas, and is being delivered through Defra. It is also supported by the Lake District Sustainable Development Fund, with assistance from Booths and from Littoral Arts Trust.
The Fire Crane |
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Photograph by Colin Griffiths. colingriffiths.blogspot.co.uk by Simon Sylvester
hree months had simply flown in a whirl of workmen, paint and plaster, but the house was finally ready and boarding school had finished for another term. David left to collect Victoria from Hampshire. I waved goodbye, and watched the big Audi trundle slowly up the track, dipping into potholes. David was right. We should get it fixed. After he’d gone, I drifted round the house. At last we were clear of the builders, and I wanted it to be perfect for Victoria. I did some cleaning. Then I blended some juice and did one or two Sudoku puzzles. The house was very quiet. I was considering some Pilates when I thought to look out the window. I don’t know how long the man had been sitting in his car. He waited, sat hunched in his battered car, parked square in the middle of the yard. I spied on him for several minutes before I summoned the courage to go out and talk. I was nervous, and even wondered about calling David or the police, but then I thought, no, you’re being silly, he’s just lost, that’s all, it’s nothing to worry about. I put on my wellies and marched across the yard. He was rolling a cigarette. I rapped on his window, louder than I’d planned to. “Sorry,” I called out, “can I help?” He turned towards me, cigarette still unlit in his sallow mouth, then leaned against the door to push it open. He stepped out. Involuntarily, I took a pace back. He was tall, in his fifties or maybe a little older. “Who- ” I said, then cleared my throat and tried again. “Who are you, please?” He gave a strange smile, halfway to a sneer, and raised a cigarette lighter. “Heard you had a mole problem,” he said. His voice was guttural. His hair was the colour of slate. His clothes were well-worn but greasy, and they fit him like a film. “Oh,” I said, flustered. “Yes. Of course, the moles. Did David call you?” He looked at me through the lighter flame.
“It’s me deals with moles round here,” he said, and showed his teeth. Half were missing, and his gums shone pink.
“Oh, I see. David never tells me anything! We do have quite a few.” “Seems the place is right infested,” he said. He was unshaven. His neck had a wattle. When he talked, his jaw moved a moment too soon, as though he was trying out the words before speaking. “They only turned up when we started landscaping,” I said, and gestured towards the garden. “We don’t know why. Does that happen often?” “This is the old Lloyd farm,” he pronounced, casting a critical eye around the yard. Smoke curdled from his cigarette. “Oh, you know the place,” I said, pleased. “We bought it off them a few months ago. He was desperate to sell, and we’ve always loved the Lake District. We’ve been renovating.” “Two hundred year the Lloyds been here,” he murmured, head tilted back, looking at nothing. “They’ve flocks hefted this way two hundred years.”
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| The Fire Crane
“Sorry,” said David, walking round from the driver’s side. “I told her about the gazebo. She couldn’t wait to see it.”
“Well,” I said brightly, “good to have some new blood, I suppose?”
He stopped the car, still looking straight ahead. The engine idled irregularly.
He stood in the yard, this scarecrow man, and pointed his cigarette at the house.
“Do you think you’ve got them all?” I asked. “Do you invoice us? Do you need a cheque?”
“Had them walls pointed. Don’t come cheap,” he said.
His lips slid back from his brown teeth, showing the gaps in his gums.
“I made her a cake,” I said. “How was the drive?”
“Don’t work like that,” he said. “I come back tomorrow, and take me traps. Find out how manys I’ve caught. You settle by the mole.”
He gave me a peck on the lips. “The M6 was just like always. Beastly on the way down, beastly on the way back up. Any news up here?”
“Yes,” I said, “it needed doing.” “Lakeland stone, miss,” he said, and showed his teeth. They were horrible. “Don’t need mortar, only lime. Walls got to breathe.” “Well. I don’t actually know how all that works,” I said, “David deals with all that. And I’m not a Miss. That makes me feel terribly old. My name’s Catrina. Cat. Everyone calls me Cat.”
I suddenly fancied a cigarette. I hadn’t smoked since uni.
“Well, you missed some local colour. The mole man came and set his traps.”
“Are you saying we pay for each one?” “Each mole. Then they’s yours. Do with em what you will.”
“Oh, well done, Cat,” he said absently. “That’s excellent. I’d totally forgotten to call them.” I stared at him.
He considered this. He radiated damp and cold.
“I’m not sure we actually want the moles,” I faltered. “I don’t know what we’d do with them.”
“What did you say?”
“Nash the Mole,” he said. “Would you like a cup of tea, Mr Nash?” I said. He shook his head and sucked on the cigarette. It had disintegrated into a sodden slip of paper, but still he smoked it. His fingers were a glossy ochre. “No. Best get on.” He reached into the back of his car, and pulled out a wooden box. It was open on top, and I could see dozens of metal traps. They were stained with rust and muck. I assumed it was rust, anyway. Without asking, he turned and stalked around the house into the garden. Back inside, I put the door on the snib. For an hour or so, I watched him from the windows. As he moved around, I tracked him from different rooms. It was fascinating to watch him at work. He criss-crossed the garden in long, slow paces. There was no pattern to his movements, and he didn’t seem to follow the actual molehills. Periodically he paused and tilted his head down, as though he was listening, or maybe smelling the moles. He worked right across the garden. After a while, I felt like I could see his map of tunnels. I followed his steps, and imagined the subway of mole-runs excavated beneath our new lawn. Each time his route crossed the new fence, it seemed to take him by surprise, as though he’d planned to walk right through it, and noticed it only at the last moment. He’d stop and scratch his head, then turn and mark another sector in the garden. The new fence still gleamed, not yet weathered by the rain. It cut across the old fields, marking out a nice big garden, and leaving the rest to go wild, the way it really ought to be. The garden had been only halfway landscaped when the first mole arrived. We’d only just had the gazebo put in, and overnight, the molehill erupted from the middle of the turf roll. Of course the workmen dug it out and repaired the turf, but the following night, three more appeared. The night after that, another two. Each morning brought new molehills. David started muttering about pest control. We need to call a mole catcher, he said. Nash worked for five or six hours. Every hour or so, he’d sit on the box and have another cigarette. At one point, he ate something from his pocket. He didn’t come to the house, and I was losing interest. I was getting really stuck into my Sudoku book when I heard his car boot slam. I had to scramble to get my wellies back on, and flopped across the yard to catch him just as the ignition caught. “Mr Nash,” I called, “Mr Nash!”
“Aye,” he said, “like as not, miss. Like as not. But that’s how it happens.” “Do you think you’ll get them all?”
“I’d clean forgotten to call the pest people. Good on you for remembering.” “I didn’t remember. It wasn’t me. You must have called him.”
At last, he turned to look at me. “I’ll get em all, miss. I’ll do em all, just how you say.” His eyes were creamy yellow, blood vessels in a tiny broken web. His jaw bobbed. The wind howled in the slates.
David shook his head. “Not me. I haven’t spoken to any pest people.” “What are you talking about? He’s been here. He said his name was Nash.” “I never called him. It wasn’t me.”
“Every last one,” he said. We looked at each other. With that, he drove away. I stepped to one side of the yard and watched his crumpled car jolt the whole length of the farm track. David was right. We should really get that fixed. I should call some driveway people. More builders. Once his car had dropped out of sight, I went into the garden and retraced his tracks. Every now and then I found a portion of metal sitting proud of the turf, betraying the presence of a trap, but for the most part the garden seemed untouched. It was as if Nash hadn’t been there at all. The glorious Lakes crested blue and grey in the distance, the fields rolling all the way down to our house. Our new house. Everything still smelled clean of paint and varnish. We’d gone for the Vanilla, in the end. David simply couldn’t stand the Magnolia.
“If you didn’t call him,” I said, “and I didn’t call him, then who did? What was he doing here?” “You mean he just turned up?” “He knew about the moles.” “You didn’t just let him in, did you?” “Of course,” I flustered. “He deals with all the moles round here. I thought you’d got him in.” “Christ. He could have been anyone, Cat. He could have hurt you.” “I didn’t know,” I said, suddenly confused and miserable.
I ate an omelette for my supper and watched half a James Bond film. Even with the Morsø turned up high, I couldn’t shake the chill from my chest. Wind gathered on the fields and raced down towards the house, moaning in the eaves. Leaves scratched on the window and gave me the heebie-jeebies. I went to bed early. As I brushed my teeth, I found the faintest of cracks in the brand new bathroom plaster. I dreamed of tunnels, worms, gums and teeth, everything in pink and black.
“And I bet he wanted paying, didn’t he? I bet he wanted money.”
The next morning was bright and clear. Beads of rain clung to the rhododendron. I did my Pilates, and made a cake for Victoria. Then I ran the hoover round the house. After lunch, a car beeped at the top of the drive. The Audi rolled through the potholes. David was right to get the four-by-four. You simply need one in the country. I went into the yard to greet them.
He tailed off. There was a strange noise on the far side of the house. It took me a second to work out what it was.
“Hi Mum!” called Victoria. I held out my arms, readying the best mummy hug in the world, but she jumped down from the car and bolted for the garden.
“Not at all,” I said. “He said he’d back, once all the moles were gone.” “Well, I can’t believe you let him in,” grumbled David. He pointed a finger at me. “Did he have ID? In fact, did you even ask if…”
Victoria was screaming. >>>
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David reacted first. He sprinted round the side of the car and into the garden. By the time I’d caught him up, he was already with Victoria, crouching by the garden fence. He had his arm around her shoulder, and she clung to him like the smallest matryoshka doll. They were staring at the new fence. I slowed as I approached them, and walked the last few steps in a fug. The moles hung in a row along the barbed wire fence, each little body twisting and shifting in the breeze. There were twenty or thirty of them, each bundle pinned to a barb. They were pathetic, scrawny little things. I’d never known they were so tiny. I remembered Victoria on the ultrasound scan. Twitching paws. The wire was so bright. A whole row of little beings. David turned to glare at me, but his gaze was drawn over my shoulder, and his mouth dropped. “Jesus,” he said. I turned round. Behind us, two more moles hung from the gate. They dangled in tandem, nailed to the top bar. Then I noticed the third one – even smaller and slighter, hidden between the adult moles. A baby mole, barely half the size. I could have cupped it in my palm. An adult mole, then the baby, then the other adult. David and Victoria and I stood across from the gate, watching the wind stroke through black velvet. Victoria clung to David’s leg, calmer now, chewing her thumb, peeping out to examine the little bodies. I studied her face. She’d grown three years in the three months since I’d seen her. A contour of mud marked the sides of her good pumps. She’d need new shoes. Three little moles, hung together on the gate, their bodies broken on the nails. I felt a spot of rain on the back of my neck. Why did I want a cigarette? I used to smoke a pack a day. I majored in Russian literature. “We should call the police,” said David. “And tell them what?” I asked, dully. “This is intimidation. Trespass. Harassment. Something like that.” I turned and faced along the track, looking for signs of Nash, but the battered car was nowhere to be seen. Beyond the track, open fields ran up to the hills, but they were lost in cloud, as though the land swept up into the sky, turned a loop and fell back down behind me. We didn’t talk. The moles danced on the wire. The great grey sky reached low and pulled someone else’s fingers through my hair.
March 18th 2001. Madeleine Tregwithen receives the phone call from Ministry that she has been expecting and dreading. Whitefoot’s flock is to be culled, a contiguous cull because it lies within three kilometres of a farm where foot-andmouth disease has been confirmed. For each infected farm, there are three or four others that must be culled out.
Hefted by Ann lingard
The lad who speaks to her on the telephone is dispassionate, he doesn’t know her, he’s merely doing his job. Madeleine owns the farm next to Low End, so her animals must be killed. His office is in Carlisle, he’s probably not long out of school, and looking forward to the end of the week to go drinking with his mates. The valuer and the vet will visit her farm this evening, he says, to estimate the value of her sheep – the hoggs, the ewes in lamb, the tups, all her flock. The slaughterers will come tomorrow. She has to fetch the sheep in, to collect them together in the in-bye land. She calls Martin on his mobile. ‘I can’t come, boss,’ he says. ‘I’m dirty. I was wanted over at Sowerbys’ farm yesterday and I’ve got to wait fortyeight hours before I’m officially clean.’ ‘But my sheep will be killed anyway,’ she says. ‘You can’t infect them now. What does a few hours matter?’ ‘It’s bloody stupid, aye. A month ago we had to wait seven days, then they said five’d do. Now they’re that short of help they need us all the time.’ ‘Martin.’ She cannot bring herself to plead but she needs his companionship, she needs a familiar face ... ‘Aye,’ Martin says softly, and she senses that he’s nodding. ‘I’ll come.’
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| The Fire Crane
Photograph by Nick May. From the exhibition, Till The Cows Come Home.
Martin and Madeleine stand in the yard and listen to the roaring of the sheep, as they mill around in indignation and fright.
‘Robinsons!’ She is shocked that the disease has crept so far amongst the fells, to strike at the best, and most-prized flocks.
uterus as cavernous as an aircraft hanger, inside which a third lamb has been known to hide – an old ewe with a kind white face.
‘Will you stay?’ Madeleine asks, knowing she is being unreasonable.
‘Aye, and Tom and ...’ He stops writing and looks away, swallowing hard. ‘Tom and Sheila Platt. They were culled out as dangerous contacts. Three hundred and forty sheep. And when the results of the test came back, not a single sheep had tested positive. They lost stock that had been in that family for two generations. Sheila brought some of her dad’s ewes over from the old farm when they moved across. She said those animals were like family themselves.’
‘Treat her with respect. Why don’t they treat her with respect?’ Tears trickle down her cheeks.
But when the valuer walks into the yard, she recognises him as David, an auctioneer from the mart, a man she trusts and likes. She touches Martin’s shoulder, an unusual gesture for her. ‘No, go along home, lad. You need a break.‘ In fact, she longs to throw her arms around him, and hug him, to weep against his shoulder. David looks grey and drawn. ‘Madeleine. Martin.’ Martin nods, then lifts a hand in farewell. ‘Aye, I’ll be off then. See you, Madeleine.’ What more is there to say? As they move amongst the sheep, Madeleine tells David what he needs to know about their background, and he takes notes as he goes, filling in columns, counting. The Herdwick hoggs, still black-fleeced, are in particularly good condition, fine sturdy little animals, and he compliments her and gives them a good price. She’ll receive financial compensation, money to help her restock; that is why David is here. ‘But where will I get more Herdwicks, David? Will there be any left to buy?’ She feels empty, completely devoid of hope. David, normally a robust, smiling man, known for his wit and persuasiveness in coaxing higher prices out of buyers at the mart, is flat-voiced with tiredness. ‘Robinsons down in Borrowdale have got it now. If it’s in the fell sheep, that’s the end. You can’t contain it. And how do you replace a hefted flock? How do you ever replace the generations that know their home heaf?‘
Madeleine is silent: there’s nothing to say. She knows and admires Sheila, a small blonde woman who is tough and uncompromising, daughter and granddaughter of hill-sheep farmers. David refuses the offer of a cup of tea. ‘Thanks, no, Madeleine. I’ve scarcely seen my wife and children for four nights in a row.’ ‘You look like you could do with a good night’s sleep.’ ‘That too. I wish.’ He grips her hand with both of his, and she can see that he is on the verge of tears again as he turns and walks away. March 19th. The vet comes early next morning and she sets to work taking samples from the sheep. The slaughter team arrives soon after and take control, herding the sheep into the pens. They move through with their bolt guns, laughing and joking amongst themselves, shouting to each other as they work. Thud. A ewe falls to her knees. Thud. Another keels over, legs twitching. Every one of the breeding ewes, each with one or two lambs inside her. Madeleine picks out some of the sheep she knows: a good mother; a bad influence; an old Herdwick ewe with a
The vet is a young woman who speaks with a Welsh accent. ‘It’s the only way they are able to cope, Mrs Tregwithen,’ she says. ‘Jeff - he’s the team-leader – told me he’s already had to kill twelve thousand healthy sheep.’ She takes Madeleine’s hand and holds it tightly, and they watch as the bodies are carried out and piled in neat straight lines. Later, when the team has left, she comes and sits in the kitchen, exhausted and traumatised. She cannot speak in sentences. ‘At the old motel,’ she says. ‘Drafted us in from all over the country. Can’t sleep. Vets are supposed to save lives not take them.’ She tells of a milking-parlour. ‘Empty - except for an old armchair covered with a blanket. Robbie Stebbings and his pedigree Holsteins. No-one came to collect the cows’ corpses for nine days. Virus everywhere. When the wagons came Robbie had to move them himself. Bodies falling apart as he scooped them with the tractor. Legs, and guts falling out of rotted skin. His little boy’s stopped talking.’ She cannot stop. ‘And ewes down by the river, further west. Some had lambed. Dead lambs. A ewe with feet and head hanging out of her backside. No-one would go near to help. No farmer with cows’ll go near. Mrs Tregwithen. Will no-one listen? Why doesn’t Blair come and see?’ She cannot stop, her speech is slurring, but she has to keep talking. ‘And on the salt-marshes, we had to chase the sheep ourselves, and two stuck in the
mud and we couldn’t reach them before the tide came in. No fences. No dog.’ ‘Why don’t you stay and have something to eat?’ Madeleine breaks in, even though she would now rather be on her own. ‘Go upstairs and have a hot bath, Bron, before you set off again. Get the smell of sheep off your skin. You need a break.’ ‘Have to get your tests sent off. Too much paperwork.’ Bron’s mobile rings. ‘I’ll be there in half an hour,’ is all she says, and she is already picking up her bag.
Madeleine goes out to the field to look: a long dyke of grey and white bodies already stiffening, like stones. She is quite alone. In the distance, two lorries grind up the hill with loud gear-changes, but here in the afternoon there is nothing but the soughing of the wind through the fence.
This is an extract from Ann Lingard’s novel, The Embalmer’s Book of Recipes (Indepenpress, 2009). A scientist as well as a writer, she also rears a few Herdwick sheep on her smallholding. In the following companion piece, she considers the resilience and cultural importance of the breed, and the science that helped to preserve it:
Moving On Hefted. A special word for a special breed of sheep. Herdwick sheep, reputedly introduced by Norse settlers, are a hardy, wiry-fleeced breed, wary and anarchic and intelligent; they watch your movements, make eye contact, watch your face. They learn their heaf, the geography and boundaries of their farm’s uplands, and their lambs learn it too: they are ‘hefted’ to their homeland. >>>
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Photograph by Rob Fraser.
“Logistically it was quite a big issue,” James Mylne, the specialist vet involved, agrees. “There were 35 tanks and we had to deliver liquid nitrogen every 28 days, and go through the whole disinfection process every time.”
The Herdwick Sheep Breeders’ Association (HSBA) lists the desirable characteristics of the breed: a ram should have a ‘masculine’ face, ‘broad and full between the eyes ... ears of medium length, white and alert. Eye, prominent and bright.’ The head of a ewe ‘should show a distinctly feminine character ...’ When Professor Dianna Bowles, who farms in North Yorkshire, first started buying and rearing Herdwicks, she says she was tempted to buy a certain tup (ram) because she “liked his eyes”. Luckily, her friend, a more knowledgeable breeder, told her to look for an animal that “had a leg at each corner” instead. It only takes a glance at its chunky legs to appreciate what this means. Individual farmers often select for their preferred minor variations. Herdwicks near Buttermere have long legs, for example, while those in Patterdale have paler fleeces, and on another farm the ewes’ faces may be longer and narrower. The annual sale of HSBA-registered tups, on the first Saturday of October in Cockermouth, facilitates a limited local shuffling of the breed’s genes. Local. That’s what makes this breed so precious and precarious. In 2001, farmers immediately understood that if footand-mouth disease (FMD) got into the Herdwicks on the fells, the breed – or at least a high proportion of it – would be wiped out. They were right to be worried. A subsequent survey for The Sheep Trust by Dianna Bowles, Cumbrian vet Amanda Carson and their colleagues has shown that Herdwicks are ‘highly concentrated in the Lake District ... with up to 95% of
breednumbers (46,884) tightly clustered within 23km of the breed’s mean centre.’ In other words, the Herdwick population – and its gene pool – is localised within a single region of the British Isles. Andrew Nicholson, who farms at High Lorton, breeds Herdwicks; his prize rams often sell for more than 1000 guineas at the annual show. Early in the 2001 FMD outbreak, his sheep were about to be culled, not because they were infected but because his farm was ‘contiguous’, or within the 10km radius of an infected farm. Dianna Bowles says, “He phoned me and said, ‘You’re a scientist – can’t you do something?’ I’d been writing long academic letters to people saying that something needed to be done, and now here was Andrew, asking me actually to do something practical.” He put her in touch with one of the top Herdwick breeders, Tyson Hartley, and she went on to organise an emergency response team of vets and specialists to help the Herdwicks and their breeders. With financial support from The Garfield Weston Foundation, and then other organisations including MAFF [DEFRA], the team collected and froze Herdwick ‘germplasm’ – semen and embryos – and set up the Sheep Trust’s Heritage Gene Bank. In Cumbria in March 2001, movement restrictions were of course in force so the germplasm had to be stored where it had been collected. “You can imagine what it was like, these old hill-farmers with tanks of liquid nitrogen in their barn,” Dianna says.
And it was a bad time of year for collecting semen, because rams produce their best semen at the back end of the year, which is when they are put to the ewes; Herdwicks are tupped in November and December so that lambing takes place in April when the grass is growing. Despite James’ care, much of the semen, which had to be collected in the spring was, he says, “pretty rubbish” when he checked its viability; less than half of the samples were worth keeping. Collecting embryos entailed even more complications, requiring three separate visits to each farm by the Sheep Trust vet team, and local vet Amanda Carson had to work hard, Dianna says, to allay the fears of local farmers who, understandably, feared the spread of FMD and distrusted MAFF. “Embryo transfer was something a lot of the farmers had never been involved with,” James explains. “It was all a big step in the dark for them – and for us, going to farms that weren’t desperately suitable for surgery.” These embryos were especially important for conservation, holding as they did the genes from both male and female Herdwicks: even if Herdwicks were culled to extinction, the embryos could be implanted into a surrogate mother of another breed, and the lambs would still be pure Herdwicks. It wasn’t until that winter that the material could all be moved to a central storage facility, now at Innovis just outside Edinburgh, where James routinely checks its viability. A year after FMD, some of the semen was used for artificial insemination, to demonstrate that the Bank was viable, and two ram lambs were born. “They were used as teasers,” James says, laughing, “so they had a great time.” And as for the Herdwick population? In the end, those on the fells escaped FMD; many were culled, but they were not culled out, they were not lost as a breed. Andrew Nicholson bought in Herdwicks to rebuild his flock. In the autumn of 2010, five of his ewes were inseminated with the stored semen from the prize tups that he had lost in the cull; three ‘mule’ ewes on a Yorkshire farm were implanted with Herdwick embryos collected in 2001: in April 2011, twelve Herdwick lambs were born out of the trauma of 2001.
Andrew has recovered the genes of his Herdwick tups and now they are contributing again to his flock. In October 2011, the young Herdwicks looked after by the surrogate ewes in Yorkshire were returned to their original breeders. Currently, Dianna is looking after one of those animals, now a shearling ewe which was tupped a few months ago. The cycle of sheep breeding continues. Many Herdwicks have had to learn their new heaf, but the breed is still there on the fells, warily watching with those ‘prominent and bright’ eyes. However, lest we forget, there is a plaque of polished Criffel granite at the entrance to what is now the Watchtree Nature Reserve at Great Orton: A Memorial. To 448,508 sheep, 12,085 cattle, 5,719 pigs buried here during the Foot and Mouth outbreak of 2001.
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| The Fire Crane
Stone Matters Mark Carson
The Men of Stainton have no care for their good fortune. Shapely blocks of flat-faced honey-coloured rock will grace their stonepile. The Men of Walney balance cobbles off the beach; their walls stay upright solely by virtue of their unrelenting prayer. The Men of Plumpton pick from Red Hill Oolite, Bannisdale and Haematite and Dalton Beds; they’re spoilt for choice.
Tourist Guide Terry Jones The Men of Gawthwaite slab their walls with thickly slate; care little for perfection, the string-course waney up the hill.
The Men of Grizedale build their artful eggs and towers and wiggly Silurian walls in forest fantasy. The fourteen ruptured Men of Dunnerdale stand in speechless admiration of the huge erratic boulder they’ve rowlled in place. The Men of Hawkshead slit the earth to heel their great flat flags on edge like massive playing cards in the devil’s game.
“Some areas around here are pretty primitive, people holding up their trousers with bits of twine and that sort of thing.” R ory Stewart, MP for Penrith and The Border, quoted in The Scottish Sun, 20 July 2010. Since re-quoted just about everywhere and thoroughly apologised for.
Everything you’ve heard is true, no electricity up here, we live with candles and torches, tie rags on our feet, in the worst winters, which is every winter, devour our own salted children. Language evolves slower than boulders; the edge between waking and dream still unfenced; from this we draw our main warmth. You may have seen high-streets, high-rises, traffic lights, come to believe a sweep of motorway will power you to Carlisle, Gretna, even Glasgow ... Do not, do not be deceived; none of these exist: railway line and tarmac end suddenly at a stone circle outside Kendal; tooled with stone blades, flints shining in the carriage lights, our Druids wait, masters at leaving bones white as snow.
The Farmer’s Rainbow Sue Millard
The dairy cow is black and white she eats green grass and gives brown shite. Her silky calf’s a jolly fellow he drinks her milk and shits bright yellow. But here’s a trick that knocks them dead: eat beetroot and your piss turns red.
The Fire Crane |
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c o n t r i b u t o r s
Mark Carson has been in Ulverston for almost 30 years and is a big cheese in the Furness poetry scene – 4th Monday Poets, Barrow Writers, and A Poem and a Pint. He is narrowly published in discerning magazines, and was commended in last year’s Maryport Literature Festival poetry competition.
Anke Green was born in a part of Germany known as the Siberia of Baden (or Badisch Siberia). She came to the UK in 1983 and now lives in Grange-over-Sands. She is a qualified interpreter and translator and has also worked as a drugs counsellor. Her short stories have appeared in Cencrastus and Neues Deutschland.
Josephine Dickinson was born in London in
Ann Lingard is a scientist and fiction-writer who lives on a smallholding in West Cumbria. She has published five novels, most recently The Embalmer’s Book of Recipes and Seaside Pleasures, and is currently writer-inresidence at the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology at Edinburgh University. www.annlingard. com
1957. Profoundly deaf from childhood, she studied classics at Oxford and taught music for many years. She lives in a remote corner of the high Pennines near Alston with various other creatures. She has published four collections of poems, most recently Night Journey (Flambard, 2008). www.josephinedickinson.com
Helen Farish was born in Cumbria in 1962, where she now lives. She was the first female poet-in -residence at the Wordsworth Trust (2004-05), and lectures at Lancaster University in the department of English and Creative Writing. Her debut collection Intimates (Cape, 2005), a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize and won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Her second book, Nocturnes at Nohant, was published last year by Bloodaxe Books. Andrew Forster is the Wordsworth Trust’s Literature Officer and a widely published poet. His poem in this publication, ‘Retreat’ (p3), appeared in his second collection of poems, Territory (Flambard, 2010). A collaboration with artist and printmaker Hugh Bryden, Digging, was published by Roncadora Press in 2010. andrewforsterpoems.blogspot.co.uk John Fox is an artist, poet, and cultural provocateur. From 1968-2006 he was Artistic Director of the celebratory arts company Welfare State International. Now, with Sue Gill, he is Artistic Director of Dead Good Guides and coauthor of a series of ‘rites of passage handbooks’, such as The Dead Good Funerals Book. He has also published the autobiographical Eyes on Stalks and two books of poetry, Ground and You Never Know. www.deadgoodguides.com
Harriet Fraser began her writing career in the early 1990s when she co-authored The Rough Guide to India. Since then, she has explored subjects as diverse as women’s health, baby development, psychology, farming and trees. She and photographer Rob Fraser work together as somewhere-nowhere. From their home in Dent, and as far afield as Nepal and Africa, they report back on their encounters with the land. somewhere-nowhere.com Rob Fraser is a professional photographer who moved to Cumbria a decade ago and divides his time between carrying out art projects, undertaking commissions, and working with schools and community groups across the North. He also leads wilderness treks for Keswick-based KE Adventure Travel. robfraser-photographer.co.uk Jacci Garside lives in a remote converted chapel and writes mostly about people. She has been published in many magazines including Acumen, South Bank Poetry, New Writer, Obsessed with Pipework, Domestic Cherry, and three Cinnamon Press anthologies. She hopes to publish a first collection soon. 24
Martyn Halsall is a former Guardian journalist who lives and writes in West Cumbria. He was born in 1947 and grew up in Southport. His first, prize-winning pamphlet, Signposts to the Interior, was published by Crocus Books in 1998. His poetry has appeared in various magazines, in two Lancaster Litfest Flax anthologies, and Dark Mountain. His awards include the Jack Clemo Memorial Prize (twice). He is poetry editor of Third Way magazine, and currently poet-in-residence at Carlisle Cathedral. Ian Hill grew up in Lincolnshire but has lived in Cumbria for 20 years. A geologist by training, he escaped from a world of science to become an environmental educationalist, and more recently a writer, bookbinder, and printmaker. His essays have appeared in Earthlines magazine, in the third Dark Mountain anthology of ‘uncivilised’ writing, and in The Language of Footprints, an e-book published by Lancaster Litfest’s Flax imprint. printedland.blogspot.com
Terry Jones was born in Bradford and lives near Carlisle. His first collection of poems, Furious Resonance, was published last year by Poetry Salzburg. His poems have appeared in many magazines and newspapers, including Agenda, Poetry Review, London Magazine, The Observer, Magma, The North, Other Poetry, New Statesman, and The Rialto. Last year he won the Bridport Poetry Prize. terryjonespoetry.weebly.com
Sarah Le Brocq is our cover artist. She finds inspiration from personal experience, as well as literature, poetry and the work of other artists. Ways of depicting human and animal form are a continual source of fascination. www.sarahlebrocq.co.uk Nick May is a filmmaker, photographer and visual artist. His 1989 Prix Italia- and Flaherty Award-nominated Channel Four documentary, The Hills Are Alive, explored the continuing legacy of Chernobyl from the perspective of West Cumbrian hill farmers. Recent projects include FOODCHAIN and Till the Cows Come Home... www.stringtheory.ltd.uk
Sue Millard is a poet, novelist and award-winning non-fiction author who lives on a small Cumbrian farm in the Howgills. Her poems have appeared in many magazines and in the recently published Candlestick Press pamphlet anthology, In Memoriam: Poems of Bereavement, alongside work by Carol Ann Duffy, Billy Collins, Jackie Kay, Paul Durcan, Wendy Cope and many others. suemillard.blogspot.co.uk
Kim Moore lives in Barrow-in-Furness. She won an Eric Gregory Award and the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize in 2011. Last year she was one of three winners of the Fermoy International Poetry Anthology Competition. Her first pamphlet, If We Could Speak Like Wolves, was published as a winner in The Poetry Business 2012 Pamphlet Competition, judged by Carol Ann Duffy. kimmoorepoet.wordpress.com John North was born in Lancaster but raised in the Eden Valley, won the Anne Pierson Award for Young Writers in Cumbria in 2009 and was runner-up in 2008. A chapbook, Northern Lad Meets the English Language, Fights, was published by The Freerange Poetry Project, in association with Carlisle Arts Festival, in 2007. He recently completed an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Manchester. Phoebe Power grew up near Penrith and is studying English at Cambridge, where she runs Pembroke Poetry Society. She was a Foyle Young Poet of the Year in 2009, won joint second prize (18-and-under category) in The Times Stephen Spender Prize 2011 (for a translation of Prévert), and last year received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors. Her poems have appeared in Orbis, Cadaverine, and Eyewear, and are forthcoming in Magma. phoebepower.blogspot.co.uk
Mary Robinson was born in Warwickshire and lives in West Cumbria. Her work has appeared in many magazines and anthologies, and her first collection of poems, The Art of Gardening, was published by Flambard Press in 2010. She won first prize in last year’s Words by the Water/Notting Hill Essay Writing Competition, and a new pamphlet, Uist Waulking Song, was published recently by Westward Books. www.maryrobinson.org.uk
Sam Smith is a prolific producer of thrillers, SF and mainstream fiction as well as poetry. He lives in Maryport, editing and publishing the long-running literary magazine The Journal and the poetry imprint Original Plus. He is also BeWrite Books’ poetry editor. thesamsmith.webs.com
Simon Sylvester is a writer, filmmaker, and teacher. His stories have appeared in Gutter, Smoke, Southpaw, Fractured West, Spilt Milk, Pank and other magazines, and his first novel needs a publisher. He lectures in film production at Kendal College and regularly posts nanofiction on Twitter. His book 140 Characters, a series of Twitter poems, is out on Cargo Crate.
Pauline Yarwood was born in Cumbria and grew up in Manchester. After teaching English and ceramics around the UK, she returned to Cumbria in 1987 and lives in the Lyth Valley, where she writes, makes pots and tends a very boggy garden next to the River Gilpin. She is a member of the Brewery Poets workshop in Kendal.
Second issue of New Writing Cumbria's literary freesheet. Strapline: 'No Signal - re-writing the countryside'.