Northbound train

A long, slow groundswell
Torn, cut, worked over
And the steel road slicing through.

Raisin rooks
Cookie-dough cows
Low sheds full of secrets
Silos packed with wealth and mystery.

Flat as a skillet.
Only the trees
Muscular pylons shouldering powerlines
And the racing streak of the train
Break the line.

A sudden tunnel
Through a surprise hill
Coming out of nowhere.
The odd comedy of a deadpan country
And a suggestion of what’s ahead.

Farmyard junk, mouldering straw
The carcases of nameless machines;
The tell-tale symmetry of old spoil heaps
Now grassed over; the burial mounds of industries long dead
But still remembered
And never far below the surface.

Turbines and church spires
Jostle for airspace
Each tapping into and transmitting
Their own unseen sources of power.
In this unpeopled place.

The empty heart of England.

 

Random thoughts from the East Coast Main Line, somewhere between King’s Cross and Peterborough, earlier this week. N.

The unkindest cut

In its drive to straighten out the nation’s finances, the Coalition (I won’t call it the government, as no-one actually voted for it) is proposing to sell off publicly-owned Forestry Commission land in England to raise a bit of cash.
The abysmal record of our formerly state-owned utilities in private ownership (the railways, buses, gas, water, electricity, phones…) should be enough to make anyone nervous at the prospect of another sell-off. But there’s also an important point of principle at stake.
Forestry Commission land is PUBLIC. We have a RIGHT to walk our dogs, ride our bikes and horses and take our children to play in them. As it is, 70% of the land in Britain is owned by less than 1% of the population (almost without exception congenital Tory voters).
Furthermore, the Forestry Commission, for all its faults, is now reversing its old, discredited policy of mass conifer planting and restoring our ancient woodlands – Britain’s equivalent, in habitat and biodiversity terms, of the tropical rainforest. Unfortunately, while of inestimable value for wildlife and recreation, our indigenous broad-leaved woods are far less profitable than coniferous monoculture. You can guess which way a new commercial owner is likely to lean.
There’s a huge groundswell of opposition to the plans, with the splendid Woodland Trust in the vanguard. Whether the Coalition will listen is another matter.

THE UNKINDEST CUT

Our politicians found the means to ease
The crisis in the banks that caused the crash,
And keep our struggling soldiers overseas
By cutting jobs and wages. But more cash
Is still required, so now we find our woods
And forests on the market. Public lands
And ancient oaks and coppice merely goods
To sell off cheap, and once in private hands
We’ll never get them back; then enterprise
Will take the place of stewardship. Behind
Locked gates and out of sight of prying eyes
They’ll plant their conifers and rob us blind.
They’ve hocked our future, spent our legacy.
They will not take the greenwood. Not from me.

For more information, and to sign the online petition against the proposals, please click here. Thank you.

www.woodlandtrust.org.uk

More fighting talk

This week, I’ll be finishing a beginner’s archery course run by a local club. I’ve wanted to try archery for years, and so far it’s more than lived up to expectations. It’s both very simple and incredibly subtle, with even the smallest error or inconsistency in the draw, aim or release ruthlessly and publicly exposed by an arrow going high, low, wide or missing the target altogether. When it comes right, though, it’s fantastic: the hiss of the arrow leaving the bow, followed almost instantaneously by a good solid ‘thwack’ as it buries itself in the gold.
The 14th Century law that required all Englishmen to practise archery on a Sunday morning was finally repealed in 1960. But standing on the shooting line with my fellow apprentices, I get a real sense of being part of a tradition stretching back to Crecy and Agincourt. 

STRAIGHT SHOOTING

By right, if not by law,
I should be at the butts now
Putting in my two hours
With the longbow
As ordered by a long-dead king:
Schooling my arm
To a hundred-pound draw-weight,
Matching my own eagerness
To the taut string and Spanish yew
Pleading for release
To send the clothyard arrow
Singing to the gold.

The law that laid low
The fairest of France at Azincourt
Is now repealed
And Englishmen are free
To make their Sabbath as they will.
A few, and fewer, file faithfully to church
While most cut grass, stalk shops
Wash spotless cars
Wheeze and roar on the football field
Or sleep off Saturday.

The butts are lost
Under homes we cannot
In all conscience call our castles
And with them the keen eye,
Firm hand and loyal heart
They bred in us.
Men without a target
In a land with no true aim.