Thursday, 17 February 2011

Tories felled by Forest Thump

Like Bottom before him, David Cameron wandered into the woods and got turned into an ass. Seems Oberon is still around, and doesn’t discriminate between a rude mechanical and a smart-arse plutocrat.
It isn’t just that the woods won. They always must. What surprised me was the totality of the surrender and the speed of the victory.
I’ve written before about the cultural and emotional resonance of the woodlands. Thinking a little more around the theme, I begin to understand that for a people with such a bruised, retiring and secretive sense of nationhood as the English, certain things will have animating force; that when the symbolic and the actual are united in a single phenomenon, as they are in these ancient woods, an extraordinary vitality will exist – which we’ve just seen uncorked.
Coole House in Ireland, the home of Lady Gregory, was clearly once such a place. Why else was it destroyed? But Coole’s Seven Woods remain, and I’ll leave it to an Irishman (an Anglo-Irishman) who used to frequent both woods and house to suggest more boldly what I’m hinting at here. This is a little known poem by W.B. Yeats, Introduction to the Shadowy Waters.
All the versions I found online have inaccuracies. In the one linked here, "hordered" should be "bordered" (line 1); "bough's" should be "boughs" (line 6); "Buddy" should be "Biddy" (line 15); "clown" should be "cloven" (line 20); and "Paire" should be "Pairc" (lines 7, 9 & 11). I've left a note at the site. Maybe they'll correct the copy one day.
Thanks to all who signed petitions, campaigned, and spread the word.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

The meaning of the movement in the woods

Round one, then, goes to our nationwide army of tree-huggers. But if you study the detail, you’ll see that rounds two, three and onwards are still to be fought.
True, the Government has started to back away from the indiscriminate sale and enclosure of our woodlands. But this weekend’s concession applies to just 15 per cent of forestry. The remaining 75 per cent is still - unless our pressure is sustained and successful – heading for the auctioneer’s hammer and thence to the barbed wire and chainsaws of privatisation (Mary Creagh explores background and jeopardy in her Guardian piece from February 11).
If you’ve been following the campaign websites of the Woodland Trust and 38-Degrees you’ll have observed that whenever a target was set on a particular day for a new total of petition signatories it was almost always exceeded.
Thinking, in the couple of weeks since I last blogged on the subject, about this extraordinarily vigorous response, I remembered a book I’d read back in 1998. Called Guilty Men, and written by a Welshman, Hywel Williams, it recounted from inside the disintegration John Major’s government (Williams was special adviser to John Redwood, onetime Secretary of State for Wales).
In a sentence that came back into my mind after more than a dozen years Williams reflected on “pragmatic England, a country whose identity is so profound that it does not need the consolations of obtrusive nationalism.”
It’s on the money, that description, isn’t it? Show an English man or woman the front garden of another English man or woman in which the flag of St George is flying on a pole, and our first English man or woman will confidently tell you that within the house beyond the garden and the flagpole lives a nutter.
But that submerged and diffident sense of nationhood has certain fuses which certain threats will ignite. The future of our woodlands is clearly one of them, and all that should surprise us, really, is that the Tories, of all people, were too dim to see that they were bringing flame to blue touch-paper.
My picture shows a tumulus on Hampstead Heath. Reckoned at various times to have been an old rubbish dump, the stump of a windmill or a Victorian folly, the hillock is now accepted as the burial mound of a bronze age warrior (making its creation roughly contemporary with the Trojan war). Locally, it’s known as Boudicca’s Tomb.
Nuff said?

Monday, 7 February 2011

At the court of public opinion

And lo! I found myself in a great vaulted court, upon the bench of which crouched a monster whose limbs shook incessantly, and whose face was bloated and twisted and black. And from his flabby mouth, each time he exhaled, issued a myriad sparks, which were drenched to cinders by the bile that followed them, and fell upon the granite blocks of the walls and on the beams and ceiling, and on the furnishings and on the floor, which was a sea of hissing, creaking clinker, while everything else besides was vanishing under a film of soot.
And I said to the demon at my side, who was naked except for a pork pie hat, and scratching himself, “what manner of creature is this?”
And he replied, “The name of the monster is ‘Opinion,’ and his time is the last winter of the living language. In his realm there is no tender thought that goes untrampled, no guilty dream that is not seized and turned out of doors to be pilloried, no doubt or difficulty that passes unreviled.”
And as I listened and watched, there was a dismal, universal hiss, and a multitude of blackened shapes began moving in the hall, and shaking themselves, so that they spattered each other with droplets of pitch, and I thought that they were dogs or crows, but the demon said:
“These are Opinion’s people, who cleave to him because they fear the silent zones of their imaginings, and because he tears up every day behind them as it passes, and weaves all their life from the prickings of the moment.”
And as I looked, around the margins of the hall appeared others, each holding a box with a glistening eye; and I said to the demon, “what machines are those that the bored-looking men chewing gum are brandishing? I fear an emission of death rays.” And he replied: “Verily. Or not quite. Those are engines which capture a moving likeness and publish it throughout Opinion’s realm. See how the people feign that the gum-chewers and their engines are not there?”
Then the people howled, and chewed the clinker from the floor, and began to utter, all at once: “what I think is” – “there should be a law” – “at the end of the day” – “if I was the government” – “listen...” – “no, you listen...” – “the thing is, basically” – “it’s shocking, disgraceful” – “no other word for it” – “call this democracy?” – with such a clamour and commotion that scarce one phrase could be told from any other.
And all the while the monster writhed and sparked and spat, but other beings, slender, discreetly-besuited and all unbesmirched, moved among the people, robbing them of their wallets and purses, and they noticed them not.
And my demon stopped scratching, and said: “what is now proved was once only imagined.”
Then a woman separated herself from the people, and wiped the soot from her face and eyes, and said, “all this is nonsense; we just don’t understand...” but the monster roared, and showered her with bile, and sparks that fired the pitch on her body, and the other people grabbed her by the throat and buried her beneath the clinker.
I wept, and my demon said, “steady as she goes, old blubber. They haven’t even started on the football, yet.” And he took off his pork pie hat, and put me inside, and we sailed up into the clouds, where there were ice crystals, and the wind fingered my ears, and I do not know whether it was the wind or my demon who sang in a whisper:

I know a man who has nothing to say
Who has violet eyes and hair white as milk
And a waistcoat as green as a willow in May –
Six buttons are roses of pink twisted silk

And we descended in a spiral, over the sea, where I saw numberless waves, lapping and momentarily reflecting the sun, and throwing up patterns of gold and silver, which were as inconstant spheres and intertangled lines of light along the granite cliffs. Then the voice sang again:

I met a lady who never once spoke;
She’d cyclamen eyes and sloe-berry lips
And a tunic as green as a late-August oak –
Six buttons were polished carnelian hips

Then we flew low across the heath, cutting the airy way like a bird, until we came to an ancient tomb, surrounded by tall firs (within which, my demon said, were entrapped the spirits of Roman legionaries). There he set me down, and said:
“Everything possible to be believed is an image of the truth.”
Then he was gone, and a kestrel landed on the high branch of a hornbeam tree, and shifted from foot to foot. And my mobile phone rang. It was a cold call, desiring me to “participate in a survey – your views count.”
To be continued (possibly).