Scene From Far Off

Terry Flower recounts a trip to Boulge Park, following in the footsteps of W. G. Sebald

   It was a grey overcast afternoon in February. Conducive to sitting by flaming firesides and the recalling of warm memories. But we were out. Retracing Sebald’s footsteps across the arable flatlands of East Suffolk, three miles inland from estuarine Woodbridge and the site of Saxon burials. Sebald had been drawn here by stories of the FitzGerald’s. In particular Edward FitzGerald, famous for his translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Was it, I wondered, Sebald’s admiration of the poets craft and endeavour or FitzGerald’s own admission that all of his relatives were mad; further that he was insane as well, but at least was aware of the fact.[1]

   Our journey began at St. Andrews church Bredfield. A small, welcoming, narrow-isled church, with a generous and elaborately carved hammer beam roof that seemed slightly out of kilter with such a modest place of worship. A risk assessment would have found the structure capable of bearing many times the load required of it here. A flying advertisement to a wealthy patron. From St. Andrews we set off, slip-sliding across a muddy harrowed field towards the site of Boulge Hall. It was into this manor house that the Fitzgeralds moved in 1825, having previously occupied a neighbouring manor house, Bredfield House, where Edward FitzGerald was born in 1809. Nothing much remains of either great house today. The former having been hit by a flying V2 rocket in the last war, the latter decayed, and over the years pilfered for building materials. Arriving at Boulge we entered the small family church. Full of marshalled memorials to the FitzGeralds. The interior was untidy and tight. Feeling the pinch of holding too many histories. Outside the family mausoleum brooded; gothic, moody. Flint and stone in blacks and greys. Beside, but set apart, a long granite tombstone of polished pink. This is the grave of Edward FitzGerald. At its head a tender homage to the poet; a spindling rose. Seeded from a Persian flower that casts it scent over the grave of Omar Khyyam. Only at this point did I feel the bud of the day turn to leaf.

Yes I have entered your olden haunts at last; through the years, through the dead scenes I have tracked you.[2]

   Moving out of shade and into the light we set off on the last leg of our field-tripping journey towards the site of Bredfield House. As we crossed through scrub dotted with oaks, we spotted a roosting barn owl. It flew off to patrol a distant spinney. Up and down it went at the edge of the far leafless-grey-wood, trying to flush out small birds with the silent movement of its white wings. With perfect timing it echoed the group, trying to tease into the open-air thoughts from the day’s dense thicket of experience.

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Photo by Terry Flower

The moving finger writes; and having writ, moves on.[3]


[1] Caulfield, Catherine. The emperor of the United States and other magnificent British eccentrics. London: Routledge. 1981. 86.

[2] Hardy, Thomas. After the journey. From Woman much missed. London: Penguin Classics, 2015. 23

[3] Khayyam, Omar. Rubaiyat. Trans. Edward FitzGerald. New York: Random House. 1947. 35.

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Journey to Orford

Sarah Beavins writes about her pilgrimage to get to Orford Ness.

The other side of Woodbridge, I missed my turning to Orford at the roundabout, so with time to spare, took the next right: a minor single track road bearing a sign saying ‘Not suitable for LGVs’. Just a few yards along, the eroded stump of a long ago fallen tree turned its underside towards the road, a vortex of bleached star veins; the sort of things that Victorians put in their ‘stumperies’, the fern garlanded gardens paying homage to damp and decay. I didn’t stop, already drawn into the steep banked lane, with the gunmetal sheen of January sunlight striking up from the wet road.

At the junction, I crossed the double tracked road, and continued on the scant ribbon of road I’d chosen. Jewelled splashes of standing water flew from the bow of my KA. The field’s dips and hollows either side of the road were filled with ruddy water, standing undrained on the low lying land. The hedges, expectant with nascent buds stretched gnarled black fingers to the clarity of the sky. A kestrel hung sentinel above the lane, suspended with concentrated attention, fixed upon the chance of a meal.

Ahead, the road dipped. In the dip lay a sea of chocolate-smooth water, stretching some 20 metres. I stopped. The water overlapped the verge at the centre of the sea. To drive through a flood, one keeps the throttle active, especially if the exhaust tailpipe submerges. The murder is in letting that pressure go, when the water will rush up the tailpipe to the engine and all is lost. Fearing being astray, I reversed the long lane back to the junction.

Resisting the lure of the satnav, I struck out along the road. At Melton, a junction painted with hieroglyphics I could not decipher took me in confusion onto a road flowing towards a destination that surely was not mine. I stopped in the mouth of a junction leading towards a used car showroom and turned on the satnav. Her instructions directed me to a road at the next junction, yet I inexplicably found myself driving a road she did not intend. Quite how I had mistaken her instruction, I do not know. In a land of fields and gates, the flash of water and light spangled my vision and obscured my sight. Time pressed upon me, anxiety rose with the slow traverse of the minute hand of the clock on the dash. At last I was able to stop and turn. Anxiety reduced slightly, attention to route redoubled, travelling in the right direction did not seem a certainty.

I drove the road towards Orford. Rendlesham Forest bounded my margins, the flicker and flash of the low sunlight through the straight boughless trunks of the trees running tickertape in my wake. I stopped, pulling in between and SUV and a campervan nattily decorated with ‘Dia de Muertos’ livery. I stood in the fringes of the forest, in that lofty space, and considered the dry season, how a sandstorm might look, and where I would shelter in this landscape.

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20/20 Vision

Terry Flower writes a poetic piece about a trip to Orford Ness.

Late January. Orford Quay. Cold Westerly.

Do not leave your car unattended.

A low winter sun at its zenith raking across the landscape and bringing everything into textured focus. Sharp as the wind, cutting across my face. No summer haze to
distort this lenticular vision. No summer picnic. It only takes two minutes in a tender to slip across the Ore. The chill factor doubles on a journey of weightlessness. Then boots find terra-firma-friction on the concrete quay the other side.

Here history and memory striate and synchronise like the furrows of the vegetated shingle. Another hundred years leaving vague but stubborn stains on this iron-ic island. Part abandoned war-laboratory, part wild-life sanctuary.

Home to…
Brutalist bunker.
Redundant concrete fence posts
stripped of chain link now piled in rusty
nests.
Lagoon cockle and
starlet anemone.

Round the decay, with elemental stealth, nature is winning this war. Whether we call it continuous ruination or curated ruination, the effect is the same. Lives and purpose become faded and fretted. And, like the bunker, we bank them up with shingle against the blast of time. Collective memory isn’t the clean straight line of a radar signal. It’s a hare’s path, stop-starting and jagging this way and that over the stones that we find hard to walk upon.

4 years after her husbands death my mother-in-law still cannot bring herself to throw away his clothes for fear that in some way it may diminish 60 years of love.

Photo by Malcolm Brown

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Visiting Ronald Blythe

Sarah Beavins writes about a visit to writer Ronald Blythe in his Wormingford home.

We walked the high-sided track down to ‘Bottengoms’. Blythe’s poem ‘Down to the Dwelling House’ is about this track, sunken through years and carts and feet and cattle. The grass centred flint trackway is sheltered by the tall banks. Now, in late October, the banks showed tired, tangled vegetation, settling in for winter. The exuberance of March growth is half a year away. The track is in good enough condition for most vehicles to pass, though Saab and Mini owners may have misgivings about their exhausts.

The house sits enfolded in gentle valley and trees. A dog-walking woman visits ‘Ronnie’ before we go in. Ronald Blythe does not lack either company or care. We wait under an oak that is busy yellowing its leaves. The lane is overhung with autumn. Branches will be bare soon. A mossy stone path leads to the low, wide front door. There’s a blue plaque outside to John and Christine Nash.

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Photo by Malcolm Brown

Stepping through the front door, we entered a neat room with a broad fireplace, herringbone brick floor, beams and single bed with a dressing gown draped carefully over it. It was tidy, there was little clutter. Moving towards to middle room, some of the loose bricks chimed underfoot. Blythe had described that sound as ‘zylophonic’. I couldn’t imagine that sound before, but they sounded exactly like that, and brought a grin of sheer delight to me.

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Photo by Malcolm Brown

We jostled into the central room. Ronald Blythe stood in bright blue jumper and pressed beige slacks, his mid length white hair combed carefully, his complexion pale, translucent. He is not a tall man. I felt as if we were to have an audience – which I suppose we were. We went one by one to shake his hand. He showed keen interest, looking directly at us. He is an observer. Sharp blue eyes missed little about each of us, I am sure. In the moments that I had his full attention, I liked him. Some folk, you just know, are good folk.

He asked us to sit down. We were not quite sure what to say, were almost shy, in awe. I looked around the low beamed room, and was taken with the plumbing. An artful plumber, unable to site pipes in the wall, had run and flowed the copper pipes in ranks around the beams, feeding the radiators and rendering the ground floor toasty warm. I remarked that I liked the overlay of old with new. Ronald spoke a little wistfully of the vast fires there used to be, how cold winters had been, and how pleasant it is to have central heating.

One of his cats was sociable. There are two cats, Ronald calls them both ‘Cat’. I muse that there is power in naming things, and not naming them sets them free. Maybe that was his point. The other cat was not there. Perhaps our concentrated adoration of a being other than itself caused its disaffection and absence.

One of our cohort smiled almost all the time we there. He knows much about Ronald and his work, and has met him before. I took some photographs for him of him and Ronald. The pleasure shining from his face was a joyful thing to be around. There was a warmth that was not about heating.

Ronald said he had often cooked on the range back in the days when the Nashes lived here. It took time, he said. There’s an electric cooker now. The house was full of cigarette smoke back then, everybody smoked back then. But he didn’t. I volunteered that I’m a flaky smoker and go in cycles of smoking and not smoking. Ronald looked straight at me and said kindly ‘Oh my dear…’ but it wasn’t censure.

Discipline was important to John Nash, Ronald said. Nash painted, drew or created in the mornings whether he felt like it or not, and that example had been a lasting influence. An artist of any kind must apply themselves in that way, and writing was no different. He speaks softly but clearly and precisely. I imagined his voice flowing in church.

We left when Ronald’s lunch arrived. I squatted down by his chair to thank him and put my hand on the arm rest. He covered my hand with his hand, warm, long fingered with raised veins. These hands, these writer’s hands, had never embraced the computer age. His writing was with pen and paper, or later, a typewriter. He was content with his achievements, experiences and honours, square with the world, I thought, and he communicated quiet humility and love of life.

I am delighted and humbled that I had the pleasure of spending a little time in the presence of Ronald Blythe. The blue plaque outside the house will one day be joined by another. It is usual for 20 years to elapse from someone passing to the siting of such a plaque. It is my hope that Ronnie’s joy and sweetness in life endures, and that the start of the countdown to that second plaque is years away.

Post script: I mentioned the trip to a friend who hails from Manningtree a few days ago. He laughed, and asked if he had his clothes on. At my puzzled look, he said that ‘Ronnie’ had been well known as a naturist, and had often been found gardening unashamedly naked. My liking for Ronald grew even greater with this tale.

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Little Gods of the Field

Jo Gerrard writes about her search for the elusive corncrake on the tiny island of Iona.

 

I sit at the long wooden table: highly polished, sticky circular residue soiling the shine, a bowl of imitation iron fillings – I investigate with taste; it was locally sourced seaweed, dried and crushed into sprinkle sized portions. As I pick out the remnants of the sea vegetable from my molars I am asked the usual conversation starter question: ‘What brings you to Iona?’

I pause. I inhale a long deep breath. I hesitantly reply, aware of the mawkish response: ‘I just woke up one day with it on my mind.’ There is a nod of recognition. Most people seem to have had the same experience; the same answer to the same question. It’s like a phone ringing and ringing waiting for someone to answer the call. I picked it up. So did the middle-aged man opposite me, and the woman sat on the sofa whilst reading a book about migrant birds. The only one who didn’t is the elderly man I shared a room with. He had been dumped here by his family who were on holiday in Scotland. The conversation had been soundtracked by a long-haired man sat crossed legged in the corner strumming a guitar. I called him ‘two chords’ as that appeared to be all he knew. It was apt; the same repetitive revelation spoken to the same repetitive C and G chords.

The small talk ends abruptly. The door swings open. A woman in her 40s bounds in with the respiratory effort of someone crossing the finish line of a marathon.

‘I’ve … seen … one!’ she wheezed in-between words. ‘I’ve … seen … a … corncrake!’

The scattering of people in the communal room make coos of congratulations and awe. Even Two-chords downs the guitar for a brief moment to acknowledge her great feat of observation. The woman pulls at a tube hanging out from her rucksack that was still laden on her shoulders. She sucks on it like her life depended on it. It probably does; the tube was connected to an oxygen canister. This woman had hiked over the island for days seeking out this bird – with a heavy gaseous bottle on her back which was her lifeline – yet I was lolling about dreamily. I’d achieved little other than a ‘Celtic tan’ (my skin was beginning to match the hue of the red ensign flag), and a few pictures of oystercatchers. And now I am brimming with curiosity: what was this corncrake? And what made it so special?

Corncrakes are not much bigger than a blackbird, and are related to coots and moorhens – however, unlike them, corncrakes live on dry-land. Their scientific name crex crex is onomatopoeic; their call is rasping like two wooden combs being rubbed together. I’d heard it many times on the island. I knew it was a corncrake, yet I was never really compelled to seek it out. I wanted to see whales, dolphins, eagles – I wanted the full tourist experience! The big hitters! I wasn’t interested in small ground-nesting birds. When I was back at home I looked into this troubled bird. Changes in farming habits has meant the population has declined dramatically in recent years, with up to 60% of chicks being killed by usual mowing practices. What also prods my intrigue is how, up until relatively recently, people believed they went underground, or turned into moorhens in the winter. When so much mystery has been uncovered, the corncrake clings onto an air of myth. It has been found as far as the Congo, and Kathleen Jamie called them ‘Little Gods of the Field’ in her book, ‘Findings’. That is what they are: mysterious, elusive, and if we listen we can hear their call, but we rarely see them. I now have an unquenchable thirst. I must see a corncrake.

The next three visits to Iona I made attempts to spot one. I camped out in tent-breaking gales, torrential rain, a brief spell of unseasonal snow, and blazing heat. I heard corncrakes everywhere. They teased and taunted me with their crex crex that seemed to be coming from every direction. I visited the puffins on Staffa again, I saw dolphins, whales, a black otter, seals, oystercatchers, sandlings, dunlins, plovers … a whole array of wildlife … but no corncrake. I give-up. I admit defeat. Perhaps it is just the thought of them that is magical. Maybe it is like Christmas Day, when after all the presents have been opened there is a slight pang of disappointment – the anticipation has been dissolved into empty boxes and torn paper. The myth of the corncrake is the charm. I don’t want to see one. I don’t want the magic to go.

On the next visit I relax. I sit on the beach reading and watching the ring-necked plovers run in and out with the tide. I look for green stone, witnessed spectacular sunsets, and hike across the little island to the most inaccessible parts – envious of the buzzards above cruising the thermals as I wearily wish I was fitter. As part of my tradition formed by a solitary mind, I run up Dun I and wash my face in the Font of Youth (still awaiting results), and then slowly descend the hill which seemed to be getting more perilous after each trip. I stroll back along the road heading to the White Strands beach (allegedly where monks had been repeatedly slaughtered by Vikings) when … what was that? In my periphery I spot something small and brown. I turn my head. A downy looking bird stares back at me. We both freeze for a split second, both shocked by the existence of one another.  Then it bolts across the field into the undergrowth: gawkish, inelegant, much like Sesame Street’s Beaker in a panic.

I am annoyed, but the rush of adrenaline betrayed my outward peevishness. I saw a corncrake. There was no one around to share my joy. I grab my phone and searched for someone to text – no one I knew would be interested, but I am. I care. I’d seen this bird and someone was going to hear about it. Then I remembered: there is no phone reception on this island.

The next day is my last on Iona. I do the usual as my tradition dictates: wander the shops, light a candle in the chapel, have a Windswept beer, and panic a little about weather vs ferry. I stroll up towards the Machair and spot a small crowd at the foot of a private garden. They hold up cameras and phones all pointing at this patch of long grass. I hear a nearby crex crex. My pace unconsciously increases in speed like an inner desire has overtaken my legs and now marched them to stand beside a camo-clad man holding a long lens that probably cost more than my car. I sidle up beside him; he appears to be the best to befriend at this moment.

‘It’s just there,’ he says, pointing at the grass. His grey beard doesn’t conceal the satisfied warm smile. ‘Just up from that rock.’

I see it. Between the blades of lush green grass and pink wild flowers is a Little God of the Field calling out to the females. It is so close I can see its beak opening as it crex crex. I’ve now seen two corncrakes in as many days, and this time it has been shared with equally as surprised spectators, and equally as in awe of this bird.

I don’t stick around for long. I don’t want to take the moment for granted. I’ve stepped into this magical world of the corncrake long enough and do not want to impose like an over-staying guest. I thank the birder and go on my way. I meander up onto the beach with a contented step and watch the plovers running in and out with the ebb tide. I while away the hours as I wait for my ferry just finding joy in being part of the landscape: quiet, still, observing, alone. Slowly I begin to understand the call from this little Isle in the West. Iona.

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Jo Gerrard is currently studying the MA in Wild Writing at the University of Essex after completing her undergraduate in Creative Writing at Greenwich. Her main interests lie in faeries and folklore, however she is a keen birder and often loiters in the shadows with binoculars seeking out those feathered friends.

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Helford Side

Caroline Woodburn, inspired by a summer-time visit to Helford in Cornwall, reflects upon the closed and stubborn nature of adults in contrast to the playful, inquisitive minds of children.

Finding ourselves among the crowds of mussels
that cling,
awaiting a tide to kiss them back to life.
Tiny, clustered, grey with want of love.
Such hard shells withstanding even
the tread and tramp of children’s feet.
Little fingers grasp at them, at us,
and prise us from our rocks – discarded.

Limpets too.
A vast field of eyes it seems
that spy on us unshaken in their sturdy grip.
Push, pull, try to fool the foot to slip away
and give itself entirely to our grasp.
But they are stubborn, strong.
Little fingers have no luck,
twisting their ridgéd bodies from the rock.

Within pools a creature lurks.
Disguised as flower or jellied sweet
it sits and waits;
tiny fingers of its own dancing, swaying,
luring in the curious hands of ours.
And as we reach to touch red fingers,
baby suckers grab at us
and pull us deeper into shallow depths.

These creatures crowd and cling
and pull,
stubbornly unmoving, rigidly stuck,
waiting for the tide like we
alone did wait on Helford side.
The children crawled and plucked and dipped,
whilst we stayed stubbornly stuck.
Finding ourselves – creatures on the rock.

Caroline Woodburn is currently studying the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Essex, after having been an English and Media Teacher for 14 years, as well as an Assistant Head Teacher. Her writing often takes the form of human portraits, explored through both poetry and prose.

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Beachcombing Wild Writing

To the Beach and Beyond – six writers respond to a Beachcombing Wild Writing Workshop

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As part of the finale for Essex Book Festival 2018, on 31st March at Jaywick Martello Tower, Judith Wolton and Wendy Constance (commencing the last term of their Wild Writing MA) hosted a Beachcombing Wild Writing Workshop. Starting with a walk along the beach, the participants were encouraged to note any responses to the five senses, absorbing the coastal atmosphere whilst looking for something interesting to bring back. Returning to the Tower they took part in a variety of writing exercises, starting with flow writing as many words as they could think of about the sea. Further inspiration was provided by two trays of beachcombing collections (supplied by Judith and Wendy), as well as a memory exercise asking them to recall (or invent) a previous beach find of their own to write about,

At the end of the session participants were invited to develop a piece of writing to contribute to a group compilation. The diversity of the responses reflects the individuality of everybody’s imagination from a shared experience.

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Standing at the edge of the world
When the world was flat,
And all the seas
With monsters filled,
And sweet siren songs
Called the sailors back.

When the ships that sailed
Carried golden treasure,
And crews were
Crusty old tars.

When the skies were black,
And the sun
Never shone,
And the clouds
Blew constantly past.

When the waves on the shore
Pushed forwards, sucked back,
And the birds in the air
Flew higher.

When the dark horizon
Stretched endlessly
On…

And breath seemed
Impossible to take.

Then that’s how it felt
To stand as a child
In awe,
At the edge of the world.

Rosemary Leak

2

Broken Umbrella

Silver skeleton by the sea,
unclaimed, forgotten,
lying in a grave of pebbles and sand.

Its black fabric
that unselfishly shielded heads
from rain and snow
lies beside it,
a shredded burial gown.
Its help is broken,
its work finished.

Someone will pick it up,
perhaps a child,
pull apart its shiny bones,
throw them at the sea,
then turn away.

The waves will take them in,
like God,
unconditionally, forgiving.

When I am broken,
will Death throw me at heaven,
then turn away?

Will God take me in
like the waves,
forgive me my selfish life,

the help I never gave
when I could have,
the work for others
left undone?

Kathryn de Leon

6

Beach Spoil

Wind bullies my hair and buffets my face,
Gulls capture the sloping currents.
As pebbles shuffle at my feet,
I look closely at the texture there.

It is not as it seems.
I gather a handful of discards in seconds,
Carelessly thrown away fragments,
Mixed with the rain damp stones.

Tangled in weed, the broken plastic spoon,
That stirred sweet grains into hot liquid,
Stirs bitterness into the café latte shore.

This shimmering zip locked bag held fishhooks,
Cast on synthetic line to snag the mouths of supple fish.
Waves gnaw fretfully at the adulterated shingle.

Here, a firework casing, a rocket shot free,
That scattered constellations, fell empty to dark water,
Where starfish walk on paths spangled with trash.

Bottled misted water guzzled into a thirsting throat,
The containing cap holding it pure,
Casually pitched to taint the sea-slaked stones.

Spat from the lips that sipped saccharine fizz,
A pink straw pokes from twisted seaweed,
As the sucking waves foam and gag on the beach.

A clump of nylon sutured inseparable to weed,
Blight stitched into the suffering shore,
The stuff of the strandline woven with disease.

Red ribbon girdles the mouth of a ruptured balloon
Its skin tattered, its helium dispersed.
It does not fly, except in the craws of birds.

The margins above the tide line
Assimilate our greasy tossed leavings,
Bleached pale by sun, wind and swell.

In the seas, our oily refuse seems consumed,
But gives no nourishment to our Mother Ocean,
Tumours of plastic spread at her heart.

Bilious with sickly indigestion,
She oozes soured sweat from her grey face,
Spewing our waste with an injured moan.

Sarah Beavins

7

Looking at the sea

What do I see when I look at the sea?
Rows and rows of waves, orderly and patiently waiting to come in

What do I see when I look towards the sea?
The sea wall, bricks built up one on top of the other bracing themselves against the elements

What do I see when I look alongside the sea?
A troop of caravans, arranged like soldiers waiting to move in formation

What do I see when I look up from the sea?
Birds flying in formation, and clouds floating horizontally along with the wind

What do I see when I turn away from the sea?
A solo daisy on the ground, perfect and round
The Martello Tower, strong, defensive and bound
Puddles, making their own shapes on the ground

This is what I saw the day I went to see the sea

Louise Hall

Inspired by The Sea 1887 Jan Toorop

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By the Water

Waves crash against the rock barrage,
lifting the strands of seaweed which extend,
and reach out towards the tide.

My grand-father drowned off a rowing-boat
in a choppy sea like this, leaving
a wife and six young children on their own.

A squall blew up from nowhere.
We heard he hit his head on the side
of the boat as it capsized,
that he didn’t swim and soon vanished.

The pain set in motion through many lives
was like an ocean swell born
thousands of miles away, whose force
strikes the shore without mercy.

This morning, I swim out from the beach,
staying within my depth. This isn’t our element.
The sea tastes bitter, freighted with salt.
I climb the pebble bank before water chills me.

Paul Donegan

8

On my way

A faceful of brown water
into my mouth, into my nose
swallowed it whole
swallowed me whole
gulping it down
scratching my throat, my nostrils
coughing it up, blowing it out
burning my nose
scalding my throat
snot hanging on my lip
blowing it up, coughing it out
and the waves at the shore
lap, softly
tickling mum’s painted toes

Emma Kittle-Pey

The great escape

The rain swept the dummy into the giant puddles in the road, and it bobbed along before drifting into the drain. The baby shrieked as it fell but the mum pushed the buggy and spat at a tourist, ‘no sorry I don’t know where the tower is, we’re not from round here’, thrusting it over the broken road, and the dad walked ahead looking onwards at the tip of the tower that he knew, and she knew, so well from when they were kids.

Inside she raged like the storm that had just been: that she was inside out with cold and the baby was screaming and they’d ended up in this really bad place, to see his mum again, embarrassing! And where’s the f’in dummy?

The dad felt the flatness in his belly that he could do nothing else but be quiet and keep on going. The baby was screaming and she had her jaw poking forward, like she does, and he began to walk a little faster. He started to rage a bit inside too, that they were back here again (last time it had been okay, but now she was right and he felt ashamed).

The baby raged inside and didn’t know why, but we all know he wanted the sucky rubber of the blue dummy on his tongue.

The dummy found peace on its journey to the sea, but just, just, when it was about to start its adventure, was plucked from the stream by someone that cares about sea-life and plastics. It sits in the tower on a table of found objects now, and soon it will be in a glass case in the museum-of-the-way-it-used-to-be-when-we-let-the-plastics-go-to-the-sea.

Emma Kittle-Pey

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The Ghost of Dunwich

Roseanne Ganley explores the effects of coastal erosion on Dunwich, a landmark of the Suffolk coast, and the presence of the ghosts that haunt the land. 

 

The coast had been eroding for some time now.

Seas of parish churches and religious houses were no longer present. Looking over the cliff edges of Dunwich in Suffolk, you could get a sense of the horror of events that had occurred in the early twelfth and thirteenth century. Towers of parish churches could be seen floating underwater, out in the depths of the North Sea, their presence still haunting over us. On a cold and blistery afternoon in the heart of winter, her ghostly figure is said to have been seen, falling over the cliff edges and diving into the sea.

It was inevitable that the sea would eventually wipe out the entire town. More devastation would be caused, and more buildings would be lost to the ever-changing tide. The raised, cliff top edges held their posture well, staring down at the sea below, standing their ground. A narrow path leading from the beach car park, led its way up to the top of the cliffs, twisting its way round tall, pine trees and forestry intersections. The panoramic views at the top of the Suffolk coast were undeniably pleasant. I waited. The crowds of local dog walkers, wrapped up in winter coasts, edged their way past me as I looked over across the sea. As soon as they were gone, I was alone. I could feel her presence, waiting to make herself known to me. The stories were true. She was real.

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Strong easterly winds left me feeling uneasy about where I was, longing to be back in the warmth of my car again. She had been seen for many years, the locals had almost gotten used to her being here now, making the odd appearance every now and again. Crowds of tourists would flood in during the summer to Dunwich, to see the Ancient Roman Ruins, visit the local Museum and take great pleasure in spending their days on the beaches of Suffolk. The winter brought about a harsh setting. The village eerily quiet and void of tourists. The beaches absent of any human activity. The tide sweeping in and out without a cause. Dunwich Heath a few miles inland provided more comfort. Stretches of purple coloured heathland, bringing you away from the exposure of the coastline. It was impossible not to be drawn into the wilderness of Dunwich Forest and Heathlands, a national beauty. To pretend you are in a foreign land, wandering the paths less travelled and worshipping the trees and the surrounding natural world. I could walk for hours in this paradise. In the summer many tourists from around the world travel to this foreign land, take vacations here and live the life of a gipsy for weeks on end, living freely in the wilderness.

But back on the coast, the ghostly presence of the lady who once committed suicide on the cliff edges of Dunwich could still be felt. Her silent screams across the land, traumatised by what Dunwich used to be. Will Dunwich still exist in ten or so years down the line? Or will it be a ghostly presence of the village that once was, now stripped of its entirety taken by the coast, the sea sweeping in and taking every monumental aspect of this historical village. Only time will tell.

All I know is that it will never be the same again.

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Roseanne Ganley is a 22 year old MA Wild Writing student from Ipswich. She is an outdoor enthusiast, travel writer and mental health blogger, and is interested in the workings of the mind in relation to the outdoors and how walking can improve our wellbeing.

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Orford Ness: A Guide to Memory Mapping

Tracy Lee-Newman delves into a psychogeographic investigation of place whilst on a trip to the wild Ness.

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January 2018, and let’s start with layers. Socks, vests, t-shirts, jumpers, fleeces, raincoats, gloves and hats. Orford Ness is what’s known as a ‘storm beach’, and none of us are taking any chances.

Curving round the Suffolk coast, the Ness is the site of our class’s first field trip; a promontory of shingle, marsh and mud approximately ten miles long, accessible only by ferry. Now owned by the National Trust and recognised as an internationally important area for nature conservation, for most of the 20th century it was a place the public were excluded from because of the secret research undertaken on site by the military; research conducted in the now abandoned buildings we are taken to explore.

Will Self, Robert MacFarlane, the late W. G. Sebald, they have all been tempted to examine what Self calls “one of England’s strangest wastelands”. No wonder, then, that our tutor, Dr James Canton, believes this place will help us hone our psychogeographic skills by heightening our awareness of the different strands of natural and man-made history such places are composed of. Good students all, we pick apart the owl pellets we find in shelters, listen to the song the wind sings through a stairway’s railings, ask unanswerable questions about Cobra Mist – the myth-enshrouded radar project based here until 1973. Inspired by MacFarlane’s urgings that we note the “textual runoff” to be found most everywhere, we photograph the signs, the notices that warn of unexploded ordnance, the peeling DANGER sticker on a decommissioned atom bomb.

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Led by David, our National Trust guide, we climb atop the Bomb Ballistics building and, with his help, unfurl the horizontal. Undulating shingle ridges furred with vegetation. Aldeburgh and the Sizewell nuclear power station in the distance. The battleship grey of the North Sea colliding with cloud-riven sky. The wind-beaten pewter of the rivers Ore and Alde.

But if you drop your gaze, or even close your eyes, you’ll notice that the vertical unfolds. This place too, has layers. Biplanes from the First World War test ghost-bombs on the spit. The spirits of the German Prisoners of War camp and the Chinese labourers employed to build a wall still linger. Pigeons, owls and swallows may have colonised the bunkers, and the hares the vegetation, but this place is so uncanny that it doesn’t feel too fanciful to see them swerving to avoid the bomb ballistics experts and the draughtsmen bussed in from surrounding towns. David tells us that the longshore drift has rolled flint down the east coast for hundreds of years, but the future is uncertain.  This might look like a largely dead and static landscape, but look again; look deeper. The roof of the pagoda might fall in tomorrow. Erosion may once again turn to accretion. One day, that lighthouse will join its predecessors at the bottom of the sea.

Back home. I shuck off my raincoat, my wellies, then pick my owl pellet to pieces. A few tiny bones. Tufts of fur. And, more than likely, scores of things I’d need a microscope to see.

Memory mapping: it’s all about layers.

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Tracy Lee-Newman is currently working towards an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Essex. To date, her short stories and flash fiction have been published by Slingink, Secret Attic, Centum Press, Pure Slush and Bath Flash Fiction, and she has a forthcoming piece in Flash Fiction International. Always interested in the effects of places on people, she worked until recently leading Forest School sessions with children, and remains committed to helping those with special needs flourish in both natural and built environments. She tweets @writeatme.

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Vanessas

Barbara Claridge finds opportunity for discovery in a simple garden experiment. 

Vanessas’ Diary 9th – 16th September 2017

Saturday

I’m wondering where the butterflies shelter when the September sky clouds and cold heavy rain falls suddenly. Each so strong drop might pierce the wing of such a pretty thing. Like showers in April, the rain stops too soon, abruptly. The wind shifts a little and the sky clears to a brilliant powder blue with a white cirrus fringe, and one butterfly is back.

This morning I have laid out some rotting peaches on the railway sleeper edging to the terrace, where I can sit close and observe butterfly behaviour. First is the red admiral, resplendent in black uniform with bright orange epaulets and white flashing. Another lands and another flitters. There is no way to describe their flying; it is so determinedly random. They seem intoxicated, fascinated by the treat.

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Now a comma all aquiver. It is like having my own butterfly garden with free entry. These European commas are no less exotic than those species who need a hot house and tropical food plants, and here close watching is easy. Why seek out a rare passerine or golden oriel to bird watch when a blackbird would do just as well? In fact, I have begun to think there is much to be gained from watching pigeons, those birds most despised by gardeners. Instead see what a few rotting peaches can do for you.

 

 

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In quick succession, I have four read admirals, the comma and a peacock, which is somewhat faded against the bright, new-hatched look of the admirals. I spectate at a fashion show as they parade the peach walk and pump their wings, piercing at the flesh and tube-up the sticky syrup.

Look closely and the admiral’s body is the colour of a brown bear pelt and the only black is under the white wingtip markings.

The different species do not interact and skilfully avoid each other’s feeding space. It has been like this for days ever since I had the idea of the peach experiment – the same group it seems. Today’s rain has made the juices runny. Aimless green and black flies crawl over the edges of the fruit. They quiver-fly in drunken circles then fall on the gravel, never still.

The peacock moves to land upon a glistening blade of grass nearby – needing a drink I muse? He rests a while, wings now folded, so that, edge-on, he looks just like a blade of darker grass.

I wonder what I will find feeding on the last of the lavender on the other side of the garden.

Sunday 10:20

The butterflies return when the peaches have been streamed in sunlight. Today the sky is filled with alto-cirrus and lower, faster travelling thin cumulus. It is 13 degrees C. My diary experiment has led to questions not answers. How do butterflies smell? How far can they smell? Can the wind knock them off scent targets? The clouds are building, can they sense the rain?

A second day watch and the wind is strong from the south west. The wind chimes clatter in the peach tree out of tune, but in tempo with the wind. I needn’t have bothered to buy them as the metal fat-ball hooks and swinging empty bird feeders clank and echo out of tune against each other.

More ugly flies are attracted to the shrinking shells of peach flesh and the stones, drupes, are more exposed, stripped clean and now a lighted brown in colour.

See, a comma returns, but a new hatch, with sharp waves to wing-edge and brighter orange scales.

Every so often my peripheral vision is caught by a quick movement against gravel or stone. But no. A turning leaf mimics a butterfly while the real ones cling fast with tail and open wings into the wind direction, sunning themselves. Vivid patches of hot sunlight alternate with chill of cloud.

Monday

This morning, in an experiment of childhood returned, I made up a saturated solution of cane sugar syrup and poured it over the peaches to make them even sweeter. I kept a small volume of the brown sticky liquid and three quarter filled a white china ramekin which I put on the step by the door. This was to test if the peaches or the sugar syrup had more attraction for the butterflies. However, up to this point I have only attracted the wasp brigade and an army of tiny brown ants to the peaches and no additional butterflies.

Wait and watch a while longer. Before the end of the day I moved the ramekin away from the step and onto the sleeper next to the fruit bait.

Tuesday 08:45

First red admiral arrives. The day is bright and cool at 12 degrees C. The peaches on the sleeper begin to look like gnarled prunes and my experiment has gone very wrong. In the bright early light the white ramekin contrasts so starkly against the black of the wooden sleeper. Last night it was part full of sugar syrup solution and a drowning wasp. Now it is completely empty with two dead flies lying upside down in the bottom. What has drunk the syrup? In the absence of any slime trail or other evidence my best guess is hedgehog. But every drop has gone in the night? Maybe a mouse party?

The wings of the two flies are stuck down on the empty base but I see their legs twitch and I feel I must release what I trapped. I knock the china against the hollow wood and the flies fall out, damp but alive. Within seconds they rub their legs dry and disappear. A wasp comes drinking, but the syrup is gone and the peach not to his liking so he goes elsewhere in the garden for sweeter fare.

Wednesday

Rain. I use my butterfly time to research some butterfly facts in Collins Butterfly Guide – The Most Complete Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Europe, wondering why any author might write a least complete guide.

The Red Admiral, Peacock and Comma all belong to the Nymphalidae family and collectively form part of the group of butterflies known as Vanessids, but only the red admiral has Vanessa as her prename. Vanessa atalanta, such a stately name, is fitting for such a large power dresser. The larval host plant for all three is the common stinging nettle which grow in abundance around the perimeter of my garden in Brittany. All three species can overwinter as hibernating adults, and the comma and peacock feed in early spring on salix (willow) blossom which again I have growing in the talus ditch and in a woven semi-circle bower, which is in urgent need of reweaving and clipping at this time of year. This wet day is proving to be very valuable in my butterfly study week, allowing me time to put together old ideas and new facts to test against real observations.

Thursday

The peaches are shrivelled. It is a cold 10 degrees C this morning. September morning shadows are visibly lengthening and the light is changing colour. Around the autumn equinox the transit arc of the sun’s elevation is lowering, fast shortening the days. No creatures except two watching cats. A family of late blackbirds scooters across the wet lawn, flying low between the shrubs looking for wet worms and young snails in shells soft enough to swallow whole.

By 11:21 the three red admirals are back, proboscis prodding and nectaring the disintegrating peach halves. Could they be the same butterflies each day?

By observing closely, I have found that the flies and wasps strip away layers of the fruit, hoovering the surface with a tube that seems to be a ‘mouth’, whereas the butterflies just suck out the juice. Flies are not attractive creatures to me. They twitch about across the peach surface and make the skin on the back of my neck itch just watching them. Yet their wings are of such translucent fabric, delicate in its own way, but held stiffly behind their bodies like black organdie glued to a fine wire edge. One lands on my toe and I feel no sensation.

There have been no butterfly feeders this afternoon. The cat weather vane points due west into a light breeze and I think this may be the end of my butterfly watch.

Friday

Fine rain all day

Saturday

vanessa 3The peach remains are no longer of interest to any creature. When the sun does come out, the bright yellow dahlias in the border draw in the peacocks; the red admirals and comma are gone. Wait a moment, my attention is grabbed by three beautiful violet carpenter bees on that yellow dahlia ……..

 

 

 

Watch the Vanessids here: https://youtu.be/B-ukWk79i0g

 

Barbara Claridge has just completed the Wild Writing MA at the University of Essex as a full time student.  Following a long career as Headteacher of a Hampshire junior school, where outdoor learning was a passion, she moved to Brittany with her husband and began a five-year renovation/construction project of a longère and garden.  She has also worked with the British Council in Beijing and Pittsburgh on the International Headteacher Programme and completed short-term voluntary projects as a Primary Education Adviser in Ghana and Namibia. She tweets @56190bjc

 

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