The LT-909 Psychogeography: Practices in Memory Maps class took a trip to Orford Ness.
Using a prompt from W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, we collected brief writings from the students and teachers:
“Where and in what time I truly was that day in Orfordness I cannot say,
even now as I write these words.”
Elizabeth Bennett, course lecturer
Where and in what time I truly was that day in Orfordness I cannot say, even now as I write these words. It seemed to be that my feet traversed that bleak landscape even as my eyes travelled over the many miles of marking that day, and my heart was with the walkers even as my body accepted the restraints of the desk chair. What I saw was an excel spreadsheet, what I felt was a grey horizon.
James Canton, course lecturer
A land of sky and stone. A place where hares gather, where deer tear free. To think, here – hidden away from the gaze of others – men once planned and plotted and prepared ways to kill other men. Best left for the hares and deer, and for the German Sea to edge away.
We stand on the lookout, meant to be admiring the craters,
where the lighthouse was just dis
I shut my eyes,
turning to the wind,
and hear a distant ringing…
Is it a classmate’s exhilaration
at the whipping wind
or displaced tinnitus
Orford Ness. Time’s lying around everywhere. It’s in the ridges (fulls), painstakingly built by long shore drift. One full marks the edge of the land, then the sea starts on the next, laying out time horizontal – you could leap across centuries if you didn’t have to stick to the paths.
Time’s in the stuff of the fulls too: ancient pebbles rubbing against flints rubbing against amber that, 40 million years ago, was resin dripping down a Baltic pine.
As is the way of these things, ancient twists with modern. Plants and lichens nestled down in the centuries, forming ridges of vegetated shingle along the fulls.
Then man found time for Ness. The air buckled with explosives, secrets and lies. Like any abuse, it thrived behind closed doors. Ness served, for decades, then men left. It lay silent, waiting. Ness, no longer useful, was passed from the MOD to the NT.
In the time I tentatively call now, we visit Ness. We carry our brief time spans over our shoulders (they don’t amount to much). Time is thick and rusting around ruined laboratories, firing ranges and the remains of ordnance. Moss makes steady progress in its bid to turn the tracks into green ways; hares dance, and balls of lichen blow across the shingle ages.
‘It’s soothing,’ says the NT woman. I’m struggling. I would like to smile in whole hearted joy at the games of the hares. I would like to shake my head at the folly of yesterday and be seeped in the relief of now, when we know better; but we don’t. Atomic Weapons Establishment Aldermaston continues to produce the ‘extraordinary product’; staff can raise ethical concerns.
It’s seems likely that Ness has nearly done. As we burn on, Ness will go under. The sea will slop into the bomb testing pits and rub out our shame. Ness time – will stop.
The tombstones of military progress crumble beneath the tendrils of Mother Nature, slow and persistent, reclaiming what is hers. She doesn’t recognise linear progression or time; she is cyclical. I find myself placed at her mercy, myself a crumbling tombstone, in no time at all.
It’s all about the sky
Lying flat to escape the wind raking off the sea and
in truth, to tether myself to the earth under this vast unsettling expanse of sky,
I stare up into the blue.
Skylarks rise where bombs once fell
(Dropping bombs from planes was a novel idea in 1914.)
Bombs are extinct on the Ness. The larks may not be far behind
(The UK population has plummeted by 75 per cent since 1972.)
How (on earth) can we contemplate a sky without Skylarks but not without bombs?
Even sandwiched between shingle and gravity, the thought cuts me adrift.
I place pebbles over my eyes for ballast.
amidst a liminal boundary that seems
unceasing and unending.
Orford Ness – oneiric, silenced
Where is the ferryman?
Goldless i stand,
and friended by distant hares.
Knowing hares, unperturbed and alert,
Just waiting with the horizon’s patient fixity.
All photos were taken by Madeleine Last during the field trip, unless otherwise indicated.