Extract from ‘Saltmarsh Sojourn’

Malcolm Brown shares an extract from his Psychogeography piece

Martyrs ~ Satanic Mills ~ Red Sails

Venus had burned bright in the icy blue, western, March sky for several nights — the moon heralding in spring tides to fill the estuary and swamp the river grazing of geese — as the vernal equinox approaches it has kept me awake. Head full of visions and wonderings, until I find myself moved to walking. To drifting out beyond the town out into the lowland marshy wilderness; following the Kyip-Kyip of the redshank the sentinel of the marshes.

Walking for me had grown from my teenage years when, too impatient to wait for buses, I challenged myself to walk to my intended destinations, and arrive before the bus — often than not I got there first. From this grew a malady, an obsession for walking (and later running!). As an only child I would disappear from home for hours at weekends and during school holidays, to roam without purpose, other than to walk. Wandering the highways and byways, parks and open spaces throughout East Ham, West Ham, Manor Park and Wanstead Flats. I became learned of street names and locations — I did ‘the knowledge’, of the cabby! On these perambulations I would, like my hero Sherlock Holmes, try to read the histories and purpose of my fellow pedestrians. I walked and observed.

So it was that early on a clear, bracing March morning I found myself outside the former Maldon Iron Works an impressive three storied building of yellow brick. Now a gym and retail outlet. On its SE wall a plaque, a stone inset which reads –

Stephen was a Maldonian who along with several others in Essex were burnt at the stake for denying transubstantiation, the Catholic church’s teaching of the change of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. The sixteenth century was a tough time for having differing religious views.

People pass by, no one seems to notice this dedication and that around four hundred or so years ago, an act of religious fear and barbarism took place here at the junction between the Causeway, that brought travellers across the marshy floodplain of the river Chelmer, before propelling them up the steep Market Hill with its fine Georgian Houses into Maldon town centre.

I reject the notion of climbing Market Hill and instead head eastwards following the slowly rising sun along the river frontage towards the Hythe. Near a boat yard and opposite the old Sadd’s timber wharf — now a barren brown field wilderness, a ghost of Maldon’s industrial past, lie several low buildings in immaculate condition. Completely painted black, they cling seal-like to mud of the riverbank — echoing the dark satanic mills of William Blake’s, Jerusalem poem.

Salt has always been important in this part of Essex the Romans paid their soldiers in salt and all along the Essex coast Ordnance Survey maps mark the remains of salt evaporation known as ‘red hills’. Where once the estuary’s salt rich waters were boiled to release their precious commodity. Maldon salt is special in its construction when dried the salt crystals form delicate pyramidal structures mirroring snowflakes.

At the Hythe the ochre red sails of the barges are furled and stowed. These vessels have sailed from here with a crew of one man, a boy and a dog for decades. Their business was taking hay and straw up the Thames estuary to London, (they were called ‘stackies’) and bringing back manure for the fields. Today they are used as pleasure craft and for taking visitors on wildlife tours. Maldon has a long history of sailing and ship building.

One of the barges has been converted to a tearoom; here over breakfast, I fall into conversation with old Maldonian called Cliff. His memories of Maldon are still vivid after seventy plus years.

  “It’s all history and tourism now boy,” he grumbles, staring out over the exposed mud that the barge is perched on, to a group of foraging dunlin on the far bank.

  “Use to be industry here, ships were built, big iron works, Mr Bentall from Goldhanger and his plough, trade went on, what we got now hey? — salt! that’s it”. He flows on, on a tide of reminiscences and might have beens.

  “History and tourism that’s it,” he repeats draining his teacup.

I tell him about Stephen Knight and his plaque.

  “Never heard of him, where you say this plaque is?”

 I tell him. He promises to go and look for himself.

 “Mind you, Essex has always been a bit non-conformist, there were them people out at Tillingham…..the Peculiar people, that’s them and more besides”.

He asks me what I am doing here in Maldon.

  “Drifting,” I say, “I’m walking into local history and wilderness.”

  “Why?” he frowns at me, “it’s all just history and mud, lots of mud!”

  “I like walking, getting lost, no purpose, just drifting and observing.”

He shakes his head as he rises — we shake hands, as he leaves the gang plank, now on dry land, he looks back smiling — he mouths, Good Luck! I sit down and bite into my toast when I look again he has evaporated into the salty air.

Posted in Wildeasters | Leave a comment

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.

Documents:Users:Terry:Desktop:DSC_0480.jpg
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.

Posted in Wildeasters | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Wildeasters | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Wildeasters | Leave a comment

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.

Image-4
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.

Image-3
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.

Posted in Wildeasters | Leave a comment

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.

dsc_0630

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.

Posted in Wildeasters | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Wildeasters | Leave a comment

Beachcombing Wild Writing

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

1

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.

5

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

3

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

4

Posted in Wildeasters | Leave a comment

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.

Untitled

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.

1

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.

Posted in Wildeasters | Leave a comment

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.

IMG_0915

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.

IMG_0908

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.

IMG_0902

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.

Posted in Wildeasters | 1 Comment