Monday, 25 March 2013

Intermission: Review

A timely and thoughtful review of 'Lune' by Billy Mills on Sabotage:

"Lune: a leash for a hawk; fits of lunacy; a crescent formed by the overlapping of two circles; a crescent moon; a river whose tidal estuary is at Plover Scar, Lancashire; a poem in five sections by Sarah Hymans printed as a neat concertina or gatefold pamphlet, subject of this review.  ...

Lune is a rich addition to this contemporary pastoral tradition: part narrative, part evocation of land- and sea-scape, part metaphysical meditation on what the world is and what it is to be in that world. The title in the first instance derives from the river, but the other definitions of lune that I referred to in the opening paragraph of this review all seemed to me to come to bear on the poem as I read it. The sea is a leash, limiting the walker’s range of movement, the pull of the moon is what creates that intertidal space, the bay’s crescent is formed by sea and land intersecting, and these are all things the poem brings to our mental vision."

You can read the full review here.Or, even, buy it here

I like the timing, given the subject of current posts being the landside of the Lune.

Monday, 18 March 2013


There's a t-junction nearby known as Bonkers corner, derived from Bank House Corner. Bank House Farm being at the end of the lane. That particular Bank House is still there. There were at least three other Bank House Farms (Upper and Lower included) around here once. Plenty of embankments.

Most of the farms have kept the names of their tenant farmers from years ago. So Tomlinson and Gardener's Farms don't have the Tomlinsons or Gardeners living there anymore. The previous inhabitants are as part of the landscape as the buildings. Waymarkers, inscribed on maps.

So when people moved into School Villas (down the road from where the old school was) and changed it to 'Chick Villas', it seemed a casual disregard, almost insulting, of the place. As if their smallholding of chickens took precedence over the previous role of the house. I don't know if someone said something, but a month or so later, the new plaque was removed and the old name reinstated. I might be imaginging the curse, but I always thought it bad luck to rename houses.

Crook Cottage, however, neighbour to Crook Farm, was originally Mill Cottage (housing the nearby Abbey's mill). Perhaps it was sold to the farm after the abbey was dismantled for family or workers and so became Crook. Crook Farm is so-named for its location in the crook of the estuary.

Our place is called Lighthouse Cottage, despite the (replacement) light having been demolished in the nineties. The old fireplace still stands in an external wall, and the stone flags that would have been the foundations of the light are still, in part, visible. But no light. In name only.

As with the fields, layers of past activity and residents are sometime evident, other times not. Not everything can remain to honour the past. There isn't the space. As with memory, the reasons for forgetting can also be lost.

It's a kind of hording, reminding me of an attic crammed with old clothes, photographs, toys and momentos. Does my clinging to names, suggest a reluctance to allow it to become past? Aware my own presence here could be lost, like the mill. And yet, I've renamed all our outbuildings: the shed of shame, the shed of danger, the garage of retirement (already renamed to the garage of redemption), creating new histories in the small time we've been here, despite their previous purposes of housing fishing tackle, cows and the lighthouse oil. I'm busy making a new cartography for the place. An aural map, which of course will always be incomplete.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Slack and other Fields

Ironically, the inland houses are more likely to be flooded than those on the seawall. Their cellars wash out every few years. All the land round here is reclaimed, dyked; the reedbed long since cut down for grazing cattle. Over a couple of square miles lie ten or so farms, some of which, no longer farming, have been divvied up into two or three houses. Fields grow on or just above the water table. The sea wall, alternatively, is butressed, raised a little higher.

This is most obvious after heavy rain when the fields gleam with huge swashes of water, and  curlews, especially, crowd the mud, pecking for whatever has been lifted by the wet. Shallow pools stretch where the old dykes were, dividing the smaller fields. Swans spread across two fields this year, with maybe as many as fifty in each most days. I like the sight of them and sheep sharing the land. It adds a surreal quality to my notion of 'coast': more blurred than otherwise. Transitory.

As are the fields themselves. I saw a map of local fields. Each had a name, given for its soil type or relative location. The field opposite us is called Slack Field, where slack is used to mean a "soft wet area of low-lying land that sinks underfoot, poor drainage, soil is unfit for cultivation but can be cut and dried and used for fuel".

Other names: Dead Man’s Butts, Chapel Hill, Salt Coat Piece, Long Greet, Lower Greasy Pike, Higher Greasy Pike, Little Barn Field, Mill Pasture Meadow, Little Rough Mill Pasture, Further Moss Field.

The map is obsolete. These fields have been dyked together but these names conjure small histories. In less than a square mile were over seventy named fields. The map is undated, but is from before the lighthouse was built in 1847.

Naming something is a peculiar habit that both connects and distances us from it. Connects by the thought process of defining a thing’s quality. And distances us in the way language (code of the intellect) does from physical entity. Either way, and both, what had been fairly nondescript fields become containers of history from when the Abbey was a vital part of the landscape, pre 1534.

Everything shifts round here, more so than many places. The bay's turf and channels have swung in patterns for the past centuries, and its people have never been too worried about this, knowing it's ‘twenty yard one way, twenty yards another’. But now everything is unknown. In a recent, wonderful piece on the weather Richard Mabey calls British weather whimsical and claims climate change will increase this 'whimsy'. Just as meteorologists can't forecast exactly what change will occur, nor can oceanographers. Sea levels will rise, obviously in some places, surprisingly in others. Coastal erosion around here could mean the deepening of dykes, the loss of still-working farms, equally it could mean the silting up of localised coves. Ultimately, nothing is known.