Sunday, 31 May 2015

Orkney, Time and Tide

The calm before the storm in Scapa Flow:
                            Sunlight on seal-stippled water,
At the south end of Stromness,
Where our wharf once saw Atlantic archipelago mariners
Fill their casks not with rum and beer, but fresh water,
That trickled down the hillsides above the ness,
And so to Login's Well, at the back of our cottage,
Where salty old ghosts gather together:
The south Atlantic crews of Captain Cook
From the Resolution and the Discovery,
As well as Hudson's Bay scrimshaw seamen
(With Stroudwater scarlet to trade with the Iroquois),
Hoar frosted spectres from the Terror and Erebus,
Standing by the side of Ishmael, Queequeg and Ahab,
Staring at the Kaiser's scuttled navy, and HMS Royal Oak,
Down there in Davy Jones' locker, full fathoms deep.

But fiddles and accordions play in the streets,
As the herring girls, spirited by time and tide,
Gather down by the quay for the harvest
Garnered by the nets of the wide, wild ocean.

Sand martins sweep the sandstone banks,
Eider glide across the bay, gannets gull the eels,
Skuas soar above the causewayed Brough of Birsay,
Lichen glow on Pict and Viking stone enclosures,
While puffins ride the heights of Marwick Head.

Beyond the headland's time and tide,
Lapwings and curlews cry laments
Across the lochs and fields
Around Skara Brae, Stenness standing stones,
Eynhallow Sound, the Broch of Gurness,
The Isle of Hoy, and the Ring of Brodgar.

Also, borne on the ancient wind,
The hammer and scrape, the hammer and scrape,
Of bone and stone on bone and stone.

The storm doesn't arrive.

It tips and trips its squalls instead,
With runic rainbow arcs of colour,
Beyond conventional measurements
Of clock, chronometer or barometer.

The sun sets over sea eagled Hoy, 
Then cloudshines
A path down Maes Howe's passageway,
To open the gate for Neolithic wanderers,
To join us on the silver waters across the strand,
Where sheens of light and cumulus clouds
Dance to the music of time.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Stroud's Theatres of Memories

When looking at how Stroud’s history information boards portray the history of Stroud, we could do worse than relocate Bill Schwarz’s observation from Camden to Stroud (foreword to Raphael Samuel’s Theatres of Memory): ‘… the past has almost caught up with the present’. I say this because Stroud’s past been partly press-ganged on these boards to serve the needs of the present: tourists and visitors, spend your money, please.

But only partly press-ganged. The past still exists as a heritage tale on these boards and these boards help us individually make sense of what happened in our town. Bill Schwarz again: ‘The starting point of Theatres of Memory … is that history is not the prerogative of the historian … As readers of Theatres of Memory will know … Samuel is less preoccupied with the procedures of mainstream or professional history … he is engaged by the ‘unofficial knowledges’ that give form to the popular articulations of the past and present’.

So what ‘heritage ’do we find on these information boards? And might we re-write it?

Samuel wrote how ‘heritage’ can become ‘an expressive totality, a seamless web … systemic, projecting a unified set of meanings which are impervious to challenge – what Umberto Eco calls ‘hyper-reality … a ‘closed story’, i.e. a fixed narrative which allows of neither subtext nor counter-readings.’ So, he contended, be suspicious of professional historians: they so often ‘suppress the authorial ‘I’ so that the evidence appears to itself’; but, ‘History is an allegorical as well as … a mimetic art … Like allegorists, historians are adept at discovering a hidden or half-hidden order. We find occult meanings in apparently simple truths … the historian’s ‘reading’ of the evidence could be seen as an essay in make believe … an exercise in the story-teller’s arts …’

So, let’s examine the official heritage of Stroud, via textual selections from the official heritage information boards:

Allegorical? Mimetic? Mythic?

Whose allegory, mimesis and myth?

What did it say in Nineteen Eighty Four?
‘Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’

Subsequent posts will deconstruct Stroud’s heritage boards; after that, the next series of posts will offer an alternative view of Stroud’s ‘heritage’.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Situationism and Stroud

I’ve just finished reading The Beach Beneath the Street, The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International by Mackenzie Wark; here’s a few ideas from the Situationists that will act as a bridge to some subsequent posts about a conceptual re-writing of the historical heritage boards of our town.

‘Detournement, as in to detour, to hijack,
to lead astray, to appropriate’ …

‘A powerful cultural weapon …
the first step towards a literary communism.’

‘Capital produces a culture in its own image,
a culture of the work as private property …
Detournement sifts through the material remnants
of past and present culture for materials
whose untimeliness
can be utilized against bourgeois culture …’

‘Today, what is the aim of utopian investigation?
The conquest of everyday life,
The recreation of the everyday …’
‘Two types of time meet and mingle in the everyday.
One is linear time, the time of credit and investment.
The other is a cyclical time, of wages paid and bills due.
Linear temporality is ruling class time;
Cyclical temporality is working class time.’

Hence, derivee, psychogeography, potlatch,
Literary, intellectual, political and material potlatch,
And in practical terms:
A collective rewriting of the official heritage of Stroud …

And so: derivee, psychogeography, potlatch,
Collective walking, recording, inventing and writing,
Reworking Merlin Coverley’s urban outlook,
By wandering through both town and five valleys:

“…the predominant characteristics
of pyschogeographical ideas – urban wandering,
the imaginative reworking of the city,
the otherworldly sense of spirit of place,
the unexpected insights and juxtapositions
created by aimless drifting,
the new ways of experiencing familiar surroundings…”

In and around a mill town in the Cotswolds …
Watch this potlatch space.


Monday, 11 May 2015

Archibald Knee and Dorothy Beard

The link above takes you to transcripts of the coroner's report, 1916.

Please read below as well ... this is an astonishing story from WW1

'My beloved fiancée, Dorothy Beard, aged 18, of Burleigh, Brimscombe, and I, Archibald Clutterbuck Knee, aged 25, of West End, Minchinhampton, being both of sound mind, are writing this, our last will and testament together, this night of August 27th, 1916.
You, who are reading this note, have just found it lodged beneath my cap, and Dorothy’s hat and umbrella in the reeds by the side of Iron Gates Pond, Longfords Lake, Longfords Mill, Avening. You will see our bodies in the water. We hope there is no wind or rain tonight which might erase our words or blow our letters beneath the waters.
I, Dorothy Beard, have worked as a weaver at Evans and Sons in Brimscombe since school. Archie has courted me these last three years. We are engaged to be married but shall go to Heaven hand in hand as all but husband and wife. Our watery grave is but a passage to another world free from pain and suffering. We shall be at peace there.
I used to be a weaver too, until I volunteered for the army on June 14th, 1916. That was only some two months ago but it feels like a lifetime. I am now Private Knee, number 29386, 15th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment. Or I shall be for a few minutes longer.
I came home on leave about five days ago after an attack of German measles and now my nerves are bad again. They come and go but I fear they are here to stay. I can’t face going back to camp at Chisledon and I won’t desert. But I can’t face the Front. I know I shall be killed or worse, break down.
So that is why we are leaving this life together. I couldn’t face a life without my Archie. We have talked it through and we are resolved to drown ourselves, face to face, mouth to mouth and with our lips pressed together. We shall breathe our last breaths together.
When you find our bodies, you should find a return GWR ticket to Chisledon, my military pass and 11 shillings and sixpence in my purse. All I will have is my wristlet watch, my gold bangle, my necklet and my brooch. Our wordly goods are of no worth to us. Instead we await our Saviour with our final baptism. Our last glimpses of wordly life will be of each other.
We apologise for our love, but I am certain that I shall be killed or worse as I have said. And I cannot face a lifetime of loneliness without my Archibald as I have said. We have decided to leave this Vale of Tears and find Salvation with the Prince of Peace in Heaven.
The time has come to tie the bridal knot with the tailcoat of Archibald’s mackintosh and commit our bodies and souls to Jesus. These are our final words.
Signed Dorothy Beard and Archibald Clutterbuck Knee 3.30 am August 27th 1916'
(Imagined by me, September 2014)

When the bodies were found, Dorothy’s watch had stopped at 11 minutes to four o’clock. The manuscript has only just come to light.

He took her by the lily white hand,
He kissed both cheek and chin,
They walked down to the waterside,
And they gently wandered in.

Their bodies lay intertwined,
Two lovers in death conjoined,
Imagine Hamlet and Ophelia,
Lying drowned together,
Beneath the fronds and pond side ferns,
In the Iron Gates Pond at Longfords,
Lying hand in hand,
Instead of alone in No Man’s Land.

Monday September 1st 2014-08-31
It was a warm, damp and humid sort of day
When I caught the number 46 bus to Nailsworth:
I walked past the Weighbridge Inn (scene of the inquest),
Then along to Longfords Mill,
Searching for the Iron Mills Pond and the suicide spot.
I had a chat with a couple of friendly residents:
‘It must be down there, towards Iron Mills.
The other end of Longfords is Gatcombe Lake,
So it must be down the other way. It’s marsh now. It’s been drained.
It’s funny now you mention it. Some people have said it’s haunted down there.
It’s the only place in the entire mill that has a dark feeling about it.’
I met another man down by the water’s edge:
‘My niece is a Buddhist and when she comes to stay she always says
There is an ambience down there. She says she feels the presence of departed souls.
There wasn’t a family in the country that wasn’t touched by that war.
That’s why we’re standing here talking today.’
I wandered on, taking pictures of where I imagined they carefully placed
His hat, her bonnet and umbrella,
Gazing at the flowing waters, weirs and sluice gate,
Pondering on the spring-source of the waters that took their lives,
But my reverie was disturbed by a ‘phone call
(Our grocery bill for our holiday cottage, and whether we should have left the hot water on,
A pleasantly small grocery bill, and would I check about the water),
Until I reconnected with the past by recreating their route down from Minchinhampton
(In a reverse manner);
I was on the path the two lovers would have taken on that fateful night,
But my mind was full of questions:
Did they walk down the lane hand in hand for the whole time?
Or arm in arm, just like a courting couple?
Was the umbrella ever opened to keep off any rain?
Was a brow ever mopped on a humid night?
Did they circumspectly avoid any puddles or footfalls?
Were their minds made up from the start of their descent to the mill?
Did the plan develop as they walked down the lane?
Were minds made up before they reached the pond?
How mutual was the decision?
Were there any second thoughts or doubts?
Was there ever a backwards, wistful, glance at candled or gas mantled windows?
Was their path illuminated by a bright moon sky?
Was it reflected in the waters?
Why did they leave the cap, the bonnet and the umbrella?
Did either fight for life as the waters invaded their lungs?
Or was there a meek acquiescent submission?
Did their short lives pass before them in the waters, resignedly,
Or was there an electric regret?
Were they entering the Kingdom of Heaven through final baptism?
I passed a thick trunked sessile oak, a sapling when they passed this way,
Steadily climbing to West End, Minchinhampton,
Where Archibald closed a final front door on August 27th, 1916,
Then along the Tetbury Road, to the Baptist Church,
Where the gravestones were laid out in serene semi-circles –
I cut my hands on thorns trying to read each stone’s lettering,
Until I at last ended my melancholy search:
Then underneath:
WHO DIED SEPT 16th 1922
There was, in front of the headstone,
A small wickerwork basket that had sunken into the grass,
The remains of a Christmas floral dressing perhaps,
Left by a well-wisher paying their respects.

I retraced my steps back towards town, past Chapel Lane,
(Where the hearse would have travelled on its sombre path
To Archibald’s final resting place),
To photograph the names on the war memorial,
Where the alphabet of the fallen jumps from
George W Jones to Christopher Lawrence;
I read and reflected:
If Archibald had returned to Chisledon,
And had been killed on his first night in France,
Then his name would be up there:
IN THE GREAT WAR 1914-1918

I left Minchinhampton in pensive mood
(Was not Archibald (and Dorothy) a victim of war, too?),
To walk across the common and down the hill to Amberley,
In search of Dorothy’s grave at Holy Trinity
(There is a Victorian post-box in the wall there,
Did Dorothy send Archie her letters there?),
The Victorian graveyard is of surprising and staggering size,
And I traipsed through the wet shadowed grass,
Carefully examining each epitaph,
But unlike Pip, my expectations were low,
How on earth could I hope to find a needle in a haystack of the dead?
This was more like a necropolis,
Rather than just a graveyard full of weather beaten headstones,
And I was just on the point of giving up,
When two gravestones from 1915 caught my eye,
And a sense of intuition that the third in line,
With such a prominent RIP engraved on a cross might be the one,
Proved to be correct.
It was with a shout of triumph, when I read the name:
Dorothy Beard.
The grave was in a damp, sequestered, wood strewn corner,
The cross has tilted forward, the canting
Making it difficult to read the lettering at the base of the plinth;
I had to get down on all fours,
Using my bare hands to remove the patina of time:
BORN JAN 12th 1898 DIED AUGUST 28th 1916
(There is a disparity in the dates of their death,
But August 28th is, in fact, correct:
Dorothy’s watch stopped at 3.50 a.m. –
But they went missing, of course, on the night of the 27th.)
There was a small wooden basket similar to the one at Archibald’s grave,
Down in the ground with the sere leaves, chippings, twigs and sticks,
There was some broken glass too that I descried when on hands and knees,
Perhaps the remains of a jam jar or vase, blown over in a storm;
I stood back and studied the gravestones to the immediate left of Dorothy’s,
The first name was that of LONGFORD WILLIAM TAYLOR, BORN 1864
He died the year before Dorothy, in 1915,
Who was also born in 1864, lived as a widow for 46 years –
Until her death in 1961 –
What memories she would have carried of Dorothy into the nuclear age,
That poor young girl who wandered into Iron Gates Pond with her fiancée,
All those years ago…
Next to that grave stood a tall headstone
(With a small wooden remembrance cross attached, with wire, to its centre),
Listing three family deaths in a sorrowful year of 1915,
Including a son killed in action in France, aged nineteen years:

I took a final picture of Dorothy’s grave
(Wondering if Dorothy and Archibald talked of that recent gravestone,
And how that might have affected their mood),
Before walking back home over Rodborough Common,
With as view to soft lit Severn:
‘Severn’s most fair today!
See what a tide of blue
She pours, and flecked away
With gold, and what a crew
Of seagulls snowy white
Float around her to delight..’
And also Gurney’s lines on the Somme in my mind:
‘Suddenly into the still air burst thudding
And thudding and cold fear possessed me all…
But still a hope I kept that were we there going over,
I, in the line, I should not fail, but take recover
From others’ courage, and not as coward be known…’
Archibald, you must have met Dorothy some times when courting,
Over there at Tom Long’s Post, wandering towards the sunset,
Gazing in rapture at the line of the river,
With Sugar Loaf etched behind against the western skies,
And you, Dorothy, must have walked through Brimscombe so many times,
Arm in arm with Archibald,
Where Gurney bicycled and walked:
‘One lucky hour in the middle of my tiredness,
I came under the pines of the sheer steep
And saw the stars like steady candles gleam
Above and through; Brimscombe, wrapped (past life) in sleep!...
That ringed-in hour of pines, stars, and dark eminence.
(The thing we looked for in our fear of France).’

The fear of France…
And all roads seemed as though they might well lead to France…
Unless you walked out one night,
Arm in arm,
Along the New Road that led to the Iron Gates Pond.