…to the National Parks.
Tag Archives: landscape
A car park in a strangely shaped corner of the village. The gritting bin looks like a plastic toy, the PAY HERE sign has been photoshopped ineptly on to a previous landscape; for a moment, in the end-of-afternoon winter light, the pay & display machine seems awkward, abandoned, not part of anything. Behind them, something’s reasserting itself. This curve in the road is older than any of the buildings that surround it. The past doesn’t so much force itself on the present as embarrass it.
If you untie an old knot, Bob Almanac showed me, the original colours of the rope shine out again from a nest of convolutions — pink, yellow, green, orange, much as they were in a quiet shop on a wet afternoon in winter. “You release the light that was caught up in the knot,” he said. “I think of it as releasing the light.” He smiled shyly. “I thought you’d like that.” Out running in the early morning to avoid the heat, I found three pairs of women’s shoes someone had thrown into a ditch at the top of Acres Lane where it bent right to join the Manchester Road. Delicate and open-toed, with very high heels that gave them a radical, racy profile, they were all size four: one pair in black suede, an evening shoe with a brown fur piece at the toe; one in transparent plastic bound at the edges with metallic blue leather; and a pair of light tan leather sandals with a criss-cross arrangement of straps for the upper part of the foot. Inside them in gold lettering was the brand name “Marquise”. It was a little worn and faded, but otherwise they seemed well-kept. They were still there when I went back the next day, but by the one after that they had gone. I couldn’t imagine who would have thrown them there; or, equally, who would pick them up from a dry ditch full of farmer’s rubbish at the edge of the moor. [From Climbers, 1989.]
Moored with weedy strands of rope against an absent tide, the fishing boats are canted at all angles. They are stumpy & made of wood, all colours like a box of sweets, red & blue with fluorescent pink fenders, green & yellow with white numerals on the side. Pennants stream from the masts of the bigger ones in the wind. A dog runs between them. After it has gone, & its pawprints have filled slowly with water, nothing happens for twenty minutes. Then a woman walks across the sand & climbs laboriously into one of the boats. The bottles clink in her shopping bag. Rain comes on. A hovering gull is reflected for a second in the rain-polished stones of the harbour, before it creams away on urgent business, flying very straight and level above the town until it swoops down & disappears among the roofs. Someone you know walks past hunched up against the rain, never looking up at the window.
It’s hardly a new story. The priests convinced people that the world wouldn’t work without their intervention. They constructed myths about which anything we can say is only another layer of intervention, a wad of the same cultural chewing gum which sticks to everyone’s shoe. So usually I would bypass “history” & write about the site as it is now, the ruins I see in front of me & the people I see working among them. But today no-one’s working, so that’s out too. In the end there’s the landscape, the footprint planed off the top of the hill thousands of years ago for reasons I can’t hope to understand, the white tower of cloud building up in the blue sky above the mountains to the south; the black smoke on an adjacent hilltop. Oh, & I can say I like the shade trees, which are a shock and a comfort in this high, dry heat. Down in the town, which is named after a local plant with seedheads like accretions of oily dust at a street corner, people drive around in pick-up trucks trying to sell one another liquid propane; all the computer keyboards are configured so that to produce some quite common symbols you have to make no less than four keystrokes; there are oompah bands & parades of children in identical tracksuit bottoms. After two or three days it’s the most boring place you’ve ever been. The gods don’t come forth. The priests are long dead. The approaching thundercloud stays on top of the hill & after a few grand but silent flashes of light, nothing happens. & that’s a good thing, because they were all quite clearly mad anyway.
“…the steady climb, bare land either side, and ahead, on a soft blue sky, the moment of going over. She had in her an intensifying presentiment, a mix of foreknowledge and memory, a place, a state out of childhood into which she was advancing with the sureness of a sleepwalker. Imminence! The brink of a vision of freedom!” –David Constantine, “Fault”, from Tea at the Midland.
The park, yellow & brown. Water standing in short grass. It’s water on everything & stags’ heads over the bracken as if someone’s crouching in there holding up horns. The hill opens out & I’m back thirty years: I’d have spat on a park then. I would have run it so totally into submission, seeing myself drift instead down the side of Kinder waving my arms, utterly free (apart from a bad knee & no money). In the park’s car park I check out this really brutal-looking Subaru Impreza WRC then walk thru walls of trees to get back to you. Never imagine I don’t have such talents.
Dubious & formalised, as in Bilbao’s ex-docks or Sheffield reinvented as an apres-steel boutique: from industry to heritage industry. Wreckage needs to be real. It needs to be free. The central, inevitable & useful thing about a bent & rusty girder sticking up out of an overgrown cooling pond is that it’s a bent & rusty girder sticking up out of an overgrown cooling pond. Anything else is so pathetic: cleaned up, saved from itself (separated from the entropic processes it was always part of) & fit for a place on the mantelpiece in a nice front room. That teaches us something about the sublime in general: ie, really, it’s the Black Spot, the beginning of the end. So try & avoid capturing, recapturing or–especially– “celebrating” it. The urge to convey the authentic glee & terror of the post industrial wasteland is the beginning of the processes of romanticisation, postmodernisation & domestication. From the raw horror of a working blast furnace, through the uncanny of that much rust, to the kitsch. We need to live in the ruins; forget them; then live through them all over again, as whatever the landscape makes of them. Anything else is the media souvenir.