Text written to be performed as part of the Full English Performance Marathon at Platform Southwark, curated by Dateagle Art, Saturday 19 October 2019. Subsequently published by TACO in Dreamstime Free: The End and commissioned to be reworked in to an accompanying sound piece broadcast on rtm.fm.
We didn’t walk all this way to be English.
I’d rather be in Scotland.
I’d rather be in Wales.
I’d rather be in Ireland.
I’d rather be in England.
I was (I am) in Scotland
I was (I am) in Wales
I was (I am) in Ireland
I am (I was) in England
We walked across and then we walked in boats when the place where we walked began, slowly, to fade. The place where the water met the sea changed beyond our knowing so quick that we couldn’t know and the sky and the sun and the moon stopped telling us so how were we to know?
We’re not really an island, the land is as much a part of us as our bodies and we’re thousands of islands, an archipelago joined by the water that joins everything together; all land and all animals and all plants are all joined by the water within and without them. Anyway not so long ago there was a great plain, you could walk from Holland to Norfolk. They are the same place, just different. All it is is water, and that is there to help us move. 5000 years ago (not so long really) Orkney was at the centre of a community that stretched from North Africa to Scandinavia. The great soft, wet road of the sea pulled us all together.
Such short spans of time to decide what makes us who we are. The people that built Stonehenge were completely eradicated by violent male invaders within two generations. The maternal culture of an earlier world submerged. So it goes. We make ourselves in relation to the things we share the world with, the ancient things left behind by people we never swam with, only their houses for the dead and the few houses for their living lives long ago and their few things buried and dug up. Their lost rubbish and the feelings they put in to the earth and voices upon voices carried through time speaking stories through the beasts and the trees to reach our in-breaths and shape our out-breaths.
There’s an ibis carved in cave in a gorge in the borderland between Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire by nomadic hunters 13,000 years ago. There were no ibis on the islands then and the nearest the birds had ever been was a thousand miles. These people, sheltering out the worst of the winter storms within the body of these rocks shared the story of the bird they were family with and made that bird appear before them in an image that would last through time to us, people that need no caves to shelter from winter storms but need the memory of the family of birds and beasts they are part of.
The fish bones are dry
Will we ever go to Blick Mead? Hidden water near the centre: the first place, a subtle pond. A place where everyone came. An opening to something else, giving out the wyrd gift of pink flints from brown water. Unlike anywhere else anyone knew, a place worth coming to and a place worth staying near. A place people from lands and rivers and seas away would hear of and need to be with. The foundation of a community, rooted in water, in one place because of what nature did in that place.
Signs rise from the water and get made in to stories to bind people together. It’s frightening being apart. I’m afraid of being lonely. We’re afraid of being lonely. We (tetrapods at first, finning on all fours across Devonian sands) rose from the water and life was hard so we bound together with all the things that were in the water and the air and we kept the water in us and we travelled all together because it was hard to travel alone and we all needed each other’s help.
Back at the pond we could see the acts of the things that were part of us that we couldn’t see. We were reminded where we came from and what was inside us and what we couldn’t escape. What surrounds us too. The act of stone released from water and dying (changing?) on their surfaces, the ones that held the most need, the ones like glass that we used for everything. They came out of the water and turned vivid pink, there they were on the surface of everything all along.
The wood that we’d put in the ground to mark the time one of us went from life to death rotted down as they left us and flowed down the river to the eternal house of the sky and the land and the water.
We made pits in the rotten stumps and left things for those past.
The pits were filled with:
a bear’s scapula
1610, 897, 200, 3000 years ago
How much time passes?
We couldn’t live together in the centre, it was all swamp and water and eyes staring at us with teeth and the wood was wet so no fires to keep us warm and keep other things back. We were less afraid together at the edge of the sea or the edge of the river or on the sea or on the river. It was hard to get across the water sometimes to our families south or north, our one great family; our boats were our family, the trees our family, all was family, all is kin. It was hard to live for long so why would we not help each other; after all we were all part of the same thing, eternally going round with the waves and the wind and the water and the waves and the water and the wind and the moon was our mother and a good mother that knew when we needed light to move and light for love.
The many many people that we—now—are not related to by blood but instead by time and place sat in their thousands on the banks of the glen above the mounds of their dead kin, above the stones that they knew the meaning of and we don’t and they, together, in that place, made that meaning together. It’s still there but they are not so we can feel it but not know it, probably they felt a lot and didn’t need to know like we do, maybe we should trust the way things feel that we don’t know?
That was an age of time ago and they had animals but not so many. The dogs they made at Cuween were on their journey away from the wildness of wolves toward the family of humans. The lambs we eventually made ate all the saplings and now the woods are moors and the Scots are gone and no-one even eats seaweed anymore and some people forget the violence done to them, others don’t and I’m sorry, we’re sorry.
A cobweb broken, it moves silent and unseen, marking prominent rocks.
Inside and outside never existed it was just through. We and things passed through each other. A great breathing, every in-breath an out-breath, every out breath an in-breath. No distinction, no moment of change, all was, is and ever will be change, and change changes, changing change.
The stories were spoken in to the stones, the stones store them with the stories of their own, they breathe them out with the stories of the sky and the water. All one story, all one long, infinite, expanding story, endlessly changing.
Great ancestral circles,
The remains of the dead,
How can we explain this wasteful stripping of turf? The ditch was dug deep we used the antlers of our dead family, grateful that they chose to let us belong to their death. Many of us took time together, we had food to spare and we all belonged together, we share the world, the world shares us and we are in the skin of the world so we mark the wombs and doorways to gather together and be all of us all there when it seems like things will turn; and the light of our father-mother & growth can let us be more together again. Out mother-father blesses us endlessly with the drawings that never change and always change. We return always and the drawings have changed but we don’t change them, we draw them and they are there and always will be there.
We planted a trunk for you when you had gone and we watched the trunk rot and fall even though we had gone too and had our own trunks. The wet wood floated us down the river and we seeped back in to the land, earthfast again.
oþ hund cnea werþeoda gewitan
until a hundred generations of people have departed
Unawake and unsleeping
Skin names, some perceptions: culture erodes.
Ideas & encounters:
A ball of light, shedding.
The never-ending wind is still the same
Teeth & stones, vaguely visible.
The tongue shall they keep…
There’s stones everywhere, we saw them in valleys and by roads, some more together than others, some bigger than the ones that were smaller. Some so big as to be unimaginable. Some were roofs, others were walls other had been hidden within earth long sagged and slumped away.
Withypool, Chestnuts, Kilmartin Glen, Skara Brae, Midhowe, Maeshowe, Stenness, Barnhouse, Watch, Comet, Brodgar, Dwarfie, Cuween, Wideford, Fortingall, Castlerigg, Grime’s Graves, Coldrum, Addington, Oldbury Hill, Woodhenge, Stonehenge, Silbury Hill, West Kennet, Avebury, Carwynnen Quoit, Merry Maidens, Hurlers, Boleigh Fogou, Lanyon Quiot, Moonstones, Cool East, Glanleam, Coom, Capel Garmon, Maen Llia, Machrie Moor, Druid Auchencar, Shandon.
Plants were here first though, the colonisers of island land after the ice had left the tundra behind and the tundra had warmed and the wind had blown the seeds across the plain and the water. The trees arrived:
Birch, Pine, Oak, Ash, Willow, Elm, Lime, Alder, Beech, Yew, Juniper, Hazel, Hornbeam, Cherry, Rowan, Thorn, Whitebeam, Service, Hawthorn, Holly
Some yews still grow, watching the world for longer than the stones the people placed to mark the turning of the years, long roots of life in to deep time:
Fortingall, Ankerwycke, Defynnog, Cynog, Crowhurst
Yew, through it’s journey through the languages of the peoples of Europe ultimately means infinity. Trees can change sex, males grow branches that make the red berries of the female; edible flesh shrouding a toxic seed.
It wasn’t once a garden of trees it was a wild place, the land did what it did, things grew and ate and shat and died and we knew we were part of it and we could sense—sometimes—we were separate and that made us afraid again so we drew and we thanked and we gifted and we built and we walked and we sat and we looked and we planted and we bred and the things we made changed the surface of the land and we felt safer and we felt more still, but we never tried to escape like we do now.
However far we’ve walked, we are all ancestors now. What we do and what me make flows out in to the future and being sorry will not be enough. Our ash will rot, our plants will die, our leavings will live.
So let us speak plainly,
There is no escape.
We are nature
What we do to it,
we do to ourselves
Our bodies do not end where they touch the air.
We are all one thing.