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January 2014

Writings by the Say It Right Writers Circle themed around NATURE POETRY: Helping with the Bees – Ali H FICTION: Wild Woods – A Fable – Alan Marshall NON-FICTION: A Rush and a Push – Ozark Bule NON-FICTION: The World Is Fucked - Ben Smith FICTION: Constellations – Phil Chokeword

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Helping with the Bees By Ali H It's a hot day when I visit, I swat bluebottles away as I walk down the drive. Lightening bugs, ladybirds. You open the door slowly; Skin loose, skull huge, voice slurred. I hug your tiny, jutting bones and feel you shiver in the heat. The house is dark and solemn and desperate. You shuffle away towards the kitchen and your parents corner me anxiously in the hallway 'Do you know anything that can help?' 'Anything that can help at all?' I don't. We distract ourselves. Your dad takes me to collect honey from the bees. I watch them go drowsy with the smoke, They crawl over my gloves, Across the gauze in front of my face, Then onto my hat, Looking for a way in. He pulls out the trays of honeycomb, 'Here's the queen' he points, She sits unmoving, fat and powerful, Her eggs jelly-like, squashed into endless hexagons, They will hatch, and then more will crawl and more will swarm. We go in for lunch. We eat the same portions as you: a handful of salad and a slice of bread. You chew each mouthful a hundred times, and swallow with a dry mouth. I am so hungry. The room is hot and drowsy, as if we have all flown somewhere else in our minds. When I leave your dad gives me a jar of honey, 'To say thank you' he smiles weakly and looks away, 'For helping with the bees.'

The Wild Woods – A Fable By Alan Marshall There was once a village - long ago before the metal-smitters came, long even before the potters delved for grey clay in the river bank, and some say before even the great flintknappers cracked and honed their first flakes. The village sat in the ley of a hill, surrounded by the wild woods. Broad swathes of trees which were as tangled and treacherous as wild woods can only be in tales, but the people of the village were happy and safe for one good reason. Deep in the thickest parts of the forest there lived a pack of silver pelted wolves, sleek and alert as their great ancestors, and they shone and shimmered as they prowled amongst the twisted trees. Every night, when the world grew dark, the wolves lay curled against one another in their den deep in the forest and the light from their coats shone upwards against the black sky as a round, bright full moon. The people of the village knew this meant the wolves were fast asleep, and the bright disk of the moon allowed them to forage safely into the forest without fear. And so it was for generations as the villagers prospered, unafraid of the forest in daylight, and with a moon-lit world every night. Neither man bothered wolf, or wolf man. Now a tale is not a tale without a twist, and this one is no exception. The people of the village grew complacent in their safety and in due course they set about taming the forest with fire and antler picks – razing a clearing here, and fencing a paddock there – until slowly but surely the wolves could no longer find good ground to hunt. The silver pack became hungry and drawn, their bellies dragged like empty sacks as they stalked through the undergrowth, and it did not take them long to turn their eyes on the little village. Eventually the elder wolf called his pack to their clearing and told them how it was to be, “We must find food,” he said with fire in his cunning eyes, “and I know just the place. The youngest of us will take the shape of a man and go to the village where there are fine, fat people to eat, and return to let us know how we can get in and feast on them all.” So the youngest wolf turned himself into a crooked old man and was sent into the pastures as the pack waited in the shadow of the trees, where only their eyes and teeth could be seen. Night came, and the young wolf had not returned. The pack slunk to their den wondering what had become of him and slept, hungry and uneasy, the light from their coats lighting the sky as usual – a full moon, but with the tiniest sliver missing on one edge. The following day, more determined than before, the elder wolf spoke again, “The youngest has not returned and we shall surely starve. The next youngest shall go and find out what has become of him.” A young wolf was chosen, transformed himself into a handsome young man, and strode away into the waving grass. But by nightfall he too had yet to return.

The wolves curled against each other in their den feeling hungry and cold, and lit the night sky with a bright waning moon. And so it continued, as wolf after wolf left for the village, never to be seen again, and those who remained stalked the forest looking for the smallest sign of their missing brothers, until the moon pared away to the thinnest crescent and there was darkness over the village and the wild woods. The pack struggled on, waxing and waning, hungry and cramped in their dwindling forest, and the moon grew and shrank as they searched for each other and for food. In the village groups of men met, wearing their new wolf-skin coats, to discuss the looming threat of the dark forest beyond their paddocks and fields. But both wolf and man would never feel safe within the wild woods again. Which brings me to a second tale – a tale for another time – which tells of the day men rule over nature completely, and of the day the moon will go dark for good.

A Rush and a Push By Ozark Bule 2014: The 08:36 from Manchester Piccadilly to Buxton has old fashioned train doors, with handles that you have to open yourself. The doors feel like a remnant of an old century – when black and white films depicted train stations as the centre of all action; and Labour were a socialist party. I’m the first to the door as we approach Glossop station. Panic descends as half the carriage form an expectant line behind me. What if the handle won’t budge, the door remains resolutely shut? Will we laugh about it all the way to New Mills? 1932: The crowd gathers at Bowden Bridge. Between four and five hundred ramblers, most of them having arrived on the morning train from Manchester. The plan is to walk Kinder Scout, to avoid harassment by keepers and to continue to Ashop Head, before returning to Hayfield. The aim is to ‘open up the fine country at present denied us’. 2014: The fog lifts to reveal a blue plaque on Bowden Bridge: ‘On the 24 th April 1932…’ I walk towards Kinder Bank, passing Booth Bridge, walking along a path flowering with heather, although 82 years ago the trespassers would have walked along the road. Crossing the bridleway at White Brow and walking up to Snake Path the mist increases. The mist is so dense that when you hear footsteps approaching it seems unlikely that anyone could be so close, but the antihero of my Hitchcock thriller turns into a morning dog walker with two strides to go. As I walk, the Pennine Way path is always visible for the few feet ahead, I’m convinced that I’m actually walking away from the mist and will soon stroll straight through it and come out the other side – until I look round and see that I’m engulfed. 1932: A viciously right wing government - nominally a coalition, although dominated by Conservatives – is exploiting an international crisis of capitalism to attack its twin adversaries – the most vulnerable in society and the trade union movement who are best place to resist them. 2014: A viciously right wing government - nominally a coalition, although dominated by Conservatives – is exploiting an international crisis of capitalism to attack its twin adversaries – the most vulnerable in society and the trade union movement who are best place to resist them. 1932: John Harvey Jackson was an eighteen year old apprentice living in Stalybridge, Greater Manchester, in 1932. He remembers hearing of the British Workers’ Sport Federation’s call for a mass trespass on Kinder Scout, the highest point in the Peak District, and deciding to join the walk. John remembered: ‘In those days we worked Monday to Saturday with only Sunday off.

This was the day with friends we loved to head for the Derbyshire Hills, as Ewan Maccoll wrote “I may be a wage slave on Monday, but I am a free man on Sunday”, we were typical of the type of people he wrote the song for. We knew the moors were closed to public access but could not see why we should not be allowed to walk on them, we did no harm as we all loved and respected wildlife and the countryside, but many times we had confrontations with landowners, keepers and agents’. Like many ramblers that spring morning, John was set upon by keepers, who were ‘more like hired thugs’ – beating the ramblers with ‘sticks and boots’.

2014: Before I continue along the flag path to Eadale Road, and start walking back downhill towards Hayfield, the mist clears. I walk on, alone. Nothing around for miles. No cars, no factories, no this-spreadsheet-on-my-desk-by-first-thing-tomorrow-morning. They cannot touch us here. As the wind hits my face, my eyes feel bloodshot and start to water, and the howl of the wind drowns out the Woody Guthrie song playing in my head. I leave the moorland and walk on the path through fields to Coldwell Clough. I walk on the left of the stream and continue back to Bowden Bridge.

The World is Fucked By Ben Smith “The world is fucked and so am I, maybe it's the other way round.� Therapy? – 'Stop it you're killing me' Our current epoch of human civilisation is doomed. It is doomed for the simple reason that it is so detached from the natural world that spawned it that it doesn't have the knowledge, skills or comprehension to live within it any more. I sit here under electric lights, typing on a laptop, with no concept of the amount of energy they use. I have no comprehension of how much that energy costs in simple monetary terms, I equally don't know how much fuel be that oil, gas or coal it took to create that energy. How much was lost in transmission to this house, how much was waste heat up a chimney and how much energy was required to get that fuel to the power station and out of the ground in the first place? I do know that the energy sources our society is built upon are finite and shrinking. Our current energy system is built on oil, a resource which is not accurately reported upon and so we can't know when it will cease to be as readily available as it has been. We are told of the alternatives but those will not satisfy the increasing global demand for energy which is marching ever forwards as humanity strives for ever more growth. Lack of access to energy will eventually bring forth the biblical four horsemen; war, famine, pestilence and death. Our system that transports food, provides clean water and sanitation and enables our current model of survival is driven by cheap, plentiful and reliable energy. The removal of this will lead to conflict as we fail to adapt to a world where everything isn't suddenly present at our fingertips. I sit here drinking a beer, full of the food I ate for my dinner. I think I know the ingredients in this food and drink, but if you put hops and barley in front of me and asked me which was which I wouldn't be able to tell you. If you then asked under what conditions these crops grew and at what time of year they were sown I wouldn't know, just as I wouldn't know where they were grown or when they were harvested. I also wouldn't know the steps to brew them into beer. I am equally removed from the food that I ate thirty minutes ago. I don't know how the vegetables were grown, processed and delivered to me I simply consumed them. So what happens if one day I go to the supermarket and there isn't food on the shelf? What if there was a shortage of energy to harvest the crops, transport them to processing plants and then deliver them to supermarket warehouses and eventually to the co-op round the corner? I think I may have drunk too much and I need some water to rehydrate, so naturally I turn on the tap. I have no knowledge of where this water came from, a reservoir somewhere is the best answer I can come up with and when it spills over the edge of the glass and down the plug hole I have no knowledge of where it goes either. Water isn't a finite resource though, we all learn that at school. There is the water cycle which through evaporation, condensation and precipitation circulates water around our earth and gives us plentiful supplies to allow life to thrive. Except I'm wrong, fresh water is a finite resource and depleting. Fresh water sources around the world are running dry or becoming polluted. Our water does come from reservoirs but not necessarily those that are man made which we regularly see. Across the globe water is stored underground in rocks and it is this resource that we are proactively consuming at a rate which is quicker than it can be replenished. Aggressively draining water tables can lead to an ingress of salt water which pollute the water and make it unsuitable for irrigation or drinking, in addition man made pollution from industry and agriculture also pollutes water sources reducing the supply further.

The thing that really scares me is that studies show there is a good chance these resources will be significantly depleted affecting our current system and way of life in the next 20-50 years, in our lifetime. I am doomed. I am doomed for the simple reason that I am so detached from the natural world that spawned me that I have no knowledge, skills or comprehension to live within it any more.

Constellations By Phil Chokeword I sometimes tell people that I make my own constellations. It’s bullshit. To be honest, I joked with a girl once that I do it because I missed seeing stars in the night sky and she thought it was deep and that it made me more interesting so it stuck. It wasn’t ever true, it just got me laid and I liked the ring of it so I kept saying it to drunks when they saw me out at 3am, throwing little LED’s attached to magnets up against anything they’d stick to. The fact of the matter is that I grew up in the country but I hate it. I was a city boy born in the middle of nowhere. It was somehow the exact opposite of what I was built for. People ask me sometimes about village life and if I ever miss the sense of community. I tell them to fuck off. Try growing up where everyone knows who you are and what you’ve done and it’s impossible to reinvent yourself. I don’t miss nature either. I tell people that there are two kinds of being alone. The city alone and the county alone. I love wondering the city on my own – being around people but knowing that they don’t give a shit about you, with the chance of meeting something interesting around the corner or at least the prospect of a cheeky pint. Being alone in the country, alone in nature, means endless fields and mud and cow turds. I can tell you exactly what’s over the next hill. Another fucking hill and someone who knows your mum. The fact is I throw up little lights all around London for much more mundane reasons. I saw a video on the internet and thought it looked like fun. I’ve never slept that well and I’ve always liked the idea of wondering around at night, throwing up art. I can’t draw for shit, but even I can tape LEDs to a watch battery and a magnet and toss them at bus shelters. Too easy. Truthfully, I’ve not even visited home since I left, that’s how little I miss the county side. I don’t think about light pollution or nature much either - except to say that before I moved to the city, I lived in a New Town where I moved house every few months. That’s before I realised that the reason I moved so much was because I was pissed bored and moved on. I would go out at 2am, my pockets full of little light bulbs and wonder around the concrete estate, dodging scallys and every time I did, I’d always walk past this same empty lot and there would be a real urge to stop and look through the corrugated iron fence. I did it one night when I first moved to the new town so I knew there was fuck all there. Just some dirt, not even some dead grass or weeds, but I always wanted to look anyhow. I’d walk past, either on my way to make someone’s garage look like Christmas tree or on my way back, sipping a can of Stella and I’d always have a look. There was always nothing there. And it bothered me. I couldn’t work it out, why wasn’t someone using it for something and why wasn’t nature taking over? It just looked dead every time I checked. Barren. Poisoned. Wasted. Every time I moved terrace, looking for something to keep my interest, I kind of hoped that I’d walk past from another direction and it’d be different and I’d see some sort of green shoots pushing up. I never did. It pissed me off. In the end, I got a paper bag. I filled it with compost and some seeds and the night before I left that New Town for good, I threw it over the fence. It split and spilled out on the dirt. There wasn’t much more I could do than that so I left and left nature to it. I don’t know if it took. I’m no gardener. I like concrete. I make my own constellations and fuck pretty girls. That’s about it really.


The Say It Right Writers Circle January writings, themed around NATURE