Elsewhere: A poem by Patrick Wright

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The ambulance wends its way through conifers. All screams
déjà vu. They give you room 16. It reminds me of our hotel
in negative. I share a sense of prescience. You on a gurney
say ‘it’s by design’, which again was expected.

Shuffled in, your glass doors open to a garden of squirrels.
Close, the jingle of an ice cream van. You slurp a cornetto,
sure it’ll make you puke. A final wish, with fizzy lemonade.
Ice cubes too, on tap. Ice gold, nil by mouth. Every sip, bliss.

Doctors crowd round with clipboards, a welcoming party. No
prophets of doom. Smiling receptionists. They list objectives.
They come, go. They begin sentences with so. You ask to be
‘safe, happy.’ I talk of ‘art class, garden visits, lucid chats.’

Outside, benches where we’ll slow and squeeze a lifetime,
pretend our future veranda. This jolts a small resurrection.
‘Fling open the doors, windows,’ you cry, ‘let the squirrels in.’
I comply. Wind catches curtains, sends the cactus spinning.

By day, more dreamlike than dream, a way-station. The light’s
tinged, a polaroid, like this already happened, was meant.
The full sunlight, inappropriate, the solstice ill-timed, spent
as I sit by your bedside, whisper though light-headedness.

I say everything – again – everything I want to say. Words
dense, right into your ever-waking ear. The final sense. Last
words, you requesting your hair washed, the hairdresser and
aromatherapy lady. So random, far from drama, non-events.

Then comatose days. Corridors, nodding nurses, nulled time,
snack bars, numbed out, peering through slats, wax, soap-like,
Madame Tussauds, open mouths. No yawn. By night, to your
door, moth-like, your lamplight through the nightmarish gap.

I catch your breath, nothing else. Nevertheless, it’s etched,
taken back to the camper bed. Routinely I enter, reassure you,
how close my vigil. Quick, before leaving, I kiss your forehead.
Next morning I’m told your lips are white. I check fingertips.

Outside’s sickly warm again. Volunteers knee-deep in weeds,
lawnmowers dragging a din. Likewise, inside, hoovers mutter,
say we’re earthly still. Vitals no longer matter, just measures
of distress. The room smells of cabbage, your skin porcelain,

hair spread, Pre-Raphaelite. The CD player spins, loathsome  
notes, panpipes. You talk with an eyebrow. That and twitches
of your cruicked arm. Your lips, paralysed. A straw no longer
knocks your nose pipe. Your hands warm, as they were at home.

I dim your side lamp with a scarf. The gestapo bulb overhead
gives me a migraine. Syringe drivers bleep, end a programme,
and a sparrow sings like a normal day. Pine trees surround
the grounds, while your observed breath beats, primitive.

Through doors, dandelion seeds swarm, souls in June heat.
They drift, orbs. They drift, fall. They are, I think, past residents.
A pastor offers a sticking plaster. I confess, want to follow you
to fields of patchy grass, roundabouts. I dream of tumbleweed,

wait for a knock at my door, on pins, wait for the knock, news
of a change of rhythm. Hours pass, lighting candles, listening
to news 24. Panic managed, diazepam, a fact sheet. A scream,
withheld, says why are you not doing more. Surely a remedy,

the vestige of hope. I just mop your legs with frankincense.
All I do is say – again – how I’d gift you my every limb. This
as fatigue overwhelms, cells go haywire, your body turns on
itself. A bee stinging, which stings and takes the consequence.

Vinyl butterflies cling to your bed. You’ll never notice them.
They take the place of eloquence. I recycle those same words,
repeat them again. I kiss your fringe, stroke your lobe, mourn
those wispy bits on your cheekbone, lashes the nurses praise.

I call to angels in agnostic space. I am here for the vapours,
for the portents. I am here as witness. Only now should I pray?
Enough of this horror show. Enough of this pincushion flesh.
Enough of vomit, faecal taste. Enough’s enough she finally says.

About Patrick:
Patrick Wright was born in 1979. He completed a PhD in English at the University of Manchester in 2007, supervised by Professor Terry Eagleton. He graduated, more recently, with an MA (Distinction) from the same university in Creative Writing, and is now working towards a second PhD at the Open University, focusing on ekphrastic poems in response to modernist painting. Here he also teaches Arts and Humanities modules, including Creative Writing. His poetry pamphlet, Nullaby, was published by Eyewear in 2017. His poems have appeared in several magazines and anthologies, and he has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. 

Uncanny Waters: Upcoming events in London and Hastings

Photo: Katrin Schönig

Photo: Katrin Schönig

Our editor-in-chief Paul Scraton is heading to the UK next week for a couple of events that bring writers, filmmakers and musicians together to explore the topic of uncanny coastlines and waterways, from the Baltic beaches of Paul's book GHOSTS ON THE SHORE (Influx Press) to the canals of London and the coastlines of southern England. The events will take place at The Social in London on the 28 February and at the Electric Palace in Hastings on the 2 March.

Paul will be reading and presenting, with filmmaker Eymelt Sehmer, the short film IN SEARCH OF GHOSTS, a lyrical portrait of the book. Alongside Paul and Eymelt, Gareth E Rees will read from his new book THE STONE TIDE (Influx Press), his novel about tragedy, folklore and eco-apocalypse in Hastings, with a live musical performance of U118, a psychedelic invocation of the town’s infamous beached U-Boat. Finally, Gary Budden, author of HOLLOW SHORES (Dead Ink) and contributor to Elsewhere No.01, will explore the emotional geography of Kent's coastline and London's haunted canals with a reading and GREENTEETH, a wyrd fiction super-8 film directed by Adam Scovell based on one of Gary's stories.

In Hastings, they will also be joined by Rebecca E. Marshall who will be presenting her immersive documentary GLITTER AND STORM, which evokes the magical joys of sea swimming.

If you are anywhere near London or Hastings, we would love to see you at one (or both!) of the events. You can find out more information and get tickets using the following links:

Uncanny Waters - The Social, London - 28 Feb 2018 / Facebook event page Buy tickets
Uncanny Coasts - Electric Palace, Hastings - 2 Mar 2018 / Facebook event page / Buy tickets

Curious contours of time in a city – Hyderabad

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By Suranjana Choudhury:

“The desire to see the city preceded the means of satisfying it.” Michel de Certeau

Can one experience a city and then narrate it? Is it not quite challenging to embark on such a task? A city lives its own life. I had visited Hyderabad before, the most recent being my fourth time in the city. I knew that Hyderabad also possesses its own lived realities and fantasises. But prior to this I never experienced any urgency to write about this city. Now, as a resident of a quiet and mildly pensive hill station like Shillong, I have grown rapidly sharp and perceptive to the kinaesthetic appeal of a place like Hyderabad.

A longer stay in the city offered me the scope to experience Hyderabad with all its fluidities and fixities.  The sights and sounds overwhelmed me as I realised that I had come to live in what was both an ancient and a very modern city. I remembered my stay in Rome. Rome too had a similar appearance. It had witnessed thousand years of history and preserved many derelicts of the past amidst its growth as a global metropolis. Hyderabad also exuded such a peculiar charm. As a city, Hyderabad has traversed a historical route which has been quite different from that of most other cities in India. The city is defined through its relationships between the expansiveness of its space and episodes of its past. History is a tangible, palpable presence which none can dare ignore. The city does not merely tell its past, it does more than that.

Marco Polo in Calvino’s Invisible Cities tells us that the past in Zaira is contained “like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the Bags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.” There are many ways of describing the city. On the one hand, it incarnates the busyness of lives driven by corporate dreams. On the other, an idleness of an archaic feudal order. The forts, the tombs, some celebrated museums, some half-forgotten memorials, stood in sharp contrast to a few glamorous and a few prosaic components of contemporary city culture. I responded with awe to the richly nourished histories of Salarjung museum, to and fro motions of time in Golconda gullies, aromatic tastes of biriyani, dazzling visuals of various saree stores and of course heavy trail of chaotic traffic on the streets.

Of all my experiences received in Hyderabad, I remember a particular twilight spent in Golconda fort. This extraordinary structure is not a singular edifice; rather it is a community of constructions spread on a sprawling landscape. Being a Saturday, the place was already swollen with visitors arriving from everywhere. The composition of this anonymous crowd chronicled the hierarchy of a society and the differences of lives lived. On the huge, sprawling canvas one could witness such multiplicities in terms of nationality, ethnicity, language, religion. In short, the place was microcosmic India.

Some fashionably attired young men and women had arrived to spend a casual evening, some very spirited and dedicated travellers browsed every spot of the fort. Interestingly, it appeared that for some families the fort also offered a veritable site for picnicking. Some burqa-clad women, some scantily dressed. A father trying to appease a demanding baby. Some ravenous children gorging on multi-coloured ice-creams… They all presented an aesthetic delight of a different measure.

It was not just the sound or the sight or the smell; the space had transformed into something else. It evolved into an enduring visual, aural and tactile archive, preserving all the contours of this unique experience. It was a rhapsodic evening. As I walked along the belly of the historical ruins, I grew progressively aware of something which is perhaps symptomatic of every tourist spot. Golconda fort has ceased to be a piece of history. It had embraced saleability. This remnant of history had become an object to be exhibited; a public display to be visually consumed.

Amit Chaudhuri, the noted creative artist of our times, writes about a similar trope in his extremely evocative article “Kalighat Revisited.” I had read it long before I visited Hyderabad. I suppose his writing was somewhere lurking in the margins of my mind, and this in turn informed my observations. As more and more viewers trickled in, the fort growingly ascertained its acceptability, its popularity in the sphere of public desire.

There were other aspects of the Golconda narrative. Just as a television visual often renders random layers of a scene one upon another, so does the pattern of traveller/ consumer behaviour offer compelling commentaries on time and change. Some years back, when digital cameras were not digital and world was not so narcissistically obsessed with ‘selfie-images’, the photographer-sellers hitting those tourist places had reason enough to experience their own sense of self-importance. But now, these photographers appeared more and more desperate and sad. There were quite a few of them hanging around. They longed for potential buyers. With anxiety and hopelessness writ large on their faces, these professionals exercised several strategies to acquire a willing customer. They seemed haunted by phantoms of a happier past.

Their tragicomic predicaments held sway over everything else. Even a few years back there was no dearth of customers for them. The visitors who did not possess cameras or who forgot to bring one would gravitate towards these photographers to carry back their own personal memories of having been visited the fort. They would deliver one photograph after another in surprisingly short span of time. They were performers, conjurors who ensured that the audiences experienced full satisfaction after the show got over. However, a post-globalised universe has now fiercely transformed our imagination and cravings. I perceived these lost professionals as parallel recipients and victims of a changed world. They haunted the margins of an existence. Could they launch a different career? Is there any other strategy?

It is difficult to arrive at any answer. When I walked outside this luminous, resplendent architecture, my thoughts had changed perceptibly. I no longer felt an outsider. The collective experience of this visit opened up an imaginary space. This space was infinite, boundless. I was happy to inhabit and possess it together.

About the author:

Suranjana Choudhury is an Assistant Professor at the Department of English, North Eastern Hill University, Shillong. Her areas of interest include Narratives on Partition and Displacement, Women Studies, Travel Writings and Translation Studies. Besides her academic writings, she has also contributed to Humanities Underground, The Statesman, Cafe Dissensus, Coldnoon Travel Poetics, and Scroll.in.

Postcard from... the Canal Bank

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By Paul Scraton:

To reach the canal bank the path moves past a stonemasons, where headstones wait in rows for future owners behind a chain link fence, and through a colony of allotment gardens, mostly locked and shuttered for the winter. Gnomes, felled by the last big storm lie on the lawn. Puddles gather in the centre of sagging trampolines. Leaves that fell months ago clog the drainage channels. The courts of the tennis club stand empty, the nets packed away. Grass grows long on the American Football field. Across the Atlantic they are preparing for the Super Bowl. Here, the season is long over.

Past a patch of wasteland of chipped bricks, blackened fire circles and piles of empty spray cans, the path runs alongside the canal now, through a tunnel of overhanging trees. Every so often a road crosses above, taking buses and cars in the direction of the airport. Thousands of people must pass this way each day departing or arriving in the city, but down here by the water is the domain of only a few. Joggers and cyclists. Council workers cleaning up the verges. Dog walkers. The canal itself still takes a barges or two, laden with coal, gravel or scrap metal, but as long as it is not frozen this is a place that belongs to the grey herons and mallards and the rowers with their metronomic strokes and heavy breathes. Their coaches ride ahead on little motorboats, issuing commands through a loudhailer, the only sound competing with the jet engines of the planes as they come into land.

In the summer, with the allotments in full swing and the path part of a major cycling and walking route, the canal bank will be alive with people. Alongside the rowers there will be kayakers on the water. The smell of barbecues and the sound of pop music from the gardens. The ringing of impatient bicycle bells. In the winter it returns to the edgelands. An in-between place. On the opposite bank from the path, smoke rises up from a houseboat in the shadow of a young offenders unit. Workers park their cars in front of steel and glass office blocks serving an airport well past its sell by date. Beyond the high fences, all is quiet and still in the army barracks built for an occupying army that left decades ago.

Places get their character from their surroundings. From the tennis club and the gardens. The proximity of the airport and the still waters of the canal running through the middle of the scene. But they also get it from the weather. From the season of the year. From the time of day. Now, with the rowers out of sight and earshot, everything on the canal bank is calm. Even the planes seemed to have stopped taking off or coming in to land. Winter mist above the water. The sudden movement of a jay, spotted through the trees. A siren in the distance.

A large branch, felled by the storm and not yet dealt with by the council workers, blocks the path. It doesn't matter. This is far enough. It's time to turn back.

A winter pilgrimage

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By David Lewis:

In the shortest days I make a secular pilgrimage from the small town of Presteigne to Limebrook Priory, about eight kilometres away.  My one long annual walk, my one communion with the natural world, is sacrosanct and taken aloneIt is a pilgrimage of solitude. 

On this cold grey afternoon Presteigne is deserted.  The old town ends abruptly at the last wall of stone and lichen, and the river Lugg leads me into a wide valley of sheep fields, slashed with lines of hedge-snow.  My mind slows to the touch of a thorn hedge and the crunch of my boots on wet gravel, and the silence folds itself around me.

Silence is walking’s greatest pleasure.  I work in heated buildings and electric light, and I value a cold wind and the rain on my face.  Solitude too is a rare gift, and I do not expect to meet other people on this journey.  I am not a serious walker, often stopping to appreciate the moments of stillness: a pheasant in an empty field, a buzzard rising on a thermal, a shaft of sunlight through a cloud.  It is quiet enough to hear the buzzard half a mile distant; already even the quiet shops of Presteigne seem a long way away.

After four miles, the valley narrows and deepens.  This is the loneliest and darkest stretch of the journey.  The river is sullen and powerful after recent snows, and walls of tall sombre pines darken the light with a slow sighing of branches.  There is a legend that defeated soldiers escaping the medieval battle of Mortimer’s Cross passed wearily through this gorge.  Was the mud as deep, the river as menacing?  I break through ice into mud, stumble over the frozen ground in their footsteps.  There are ravens overhead, breaking the silence with their wary croaks and the air with their ragged bullet bodies. 

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In the next wide sheep valley the grey light returns, but there is no sign of human life – no farm, no house, no road, no vehicles.  The pale fields are bare, cut by the wind with the raw smells of winter fields - sheep manure, dry grass, mud – until the wind drops behind a shoulder of hill, and an old thorn hedge-line takes me to the Lime brook.  Usually the nuns’ stream is light and playful, but today it is a powerful torrent surging to join the Lugg.  An isolated farm road for ten minutes’ brisk mud-free walking, and the Priory appears around a corner.  I have arrived.  The pilgrimage is over.    

Stone still stands on stone, walls still stand, but Limebrook Priory was dissolved by Henry VIII and  has been a ruin since 1539.  I arrive at 3pm, when the nuns would be preparing for the mid-afternoon service None, but grass has grown even over the ruins, and I struggle to imagine vegetable gardens, refectory, the nuns’ cells, the church itself.  I do not stay long, but always leave something of my journey for the nuns’ memory; a makeshift staff, a pile of leaves held by peg or river stone, even just a thought.  In the nuns’ steep, narrow valley daylight is lost early on winter afternoons, and I repack my rucksack and climb into the grey light above the Priory.  The valley has already folded protectively around the old stones and the walls can barely be seen.  With every year, Limebrook Priory belongs more and more to the natural world. 

On this little-used road I nod to the only people I see all day.  Hooded and muffled against the wind the hedge-layers are strangely medieval, with a hill’s arc of stem and trunk behind them that the nuns would recognise as a well-laid hedge.  I have a long road still to walk, and half an hour after leaving Limebrook I start to lose the light.  I imagine the rush lights and candles being lit in the Priory behind me in time and space, the preparations for the dusk service, Vespers.  My dark road bends through woodland and fields until the lights of Presteigne appear through the trees and hedges.  Wet and exhausted I stumble up the hill past the old houses, their warm rooms a long way from the mud and cold thorns of the dark path behind me.  Yet my winter pilgrimage is a celebration of these contrasts.  This floundering walk over saturated fields and narrow roads is a rare slowing of personal time, when the only sounds are the wind, the river, a distant bird.  And for me the annual ritual of the journey, towards an appreciation of daylight around the winter solstice, is pilgrimage enough. 

David Lewis has written five books of history/landscape/psychogeography about his native Liverpool and Merseyside.  He posts urban/rural images on Instagram - davidlewis4168 and mutters about the world on Twitter - @dlewiswriter

A village pond without a village

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By Matt Gilbert:

As quests go, this wasn’t exactly an epic. There was no Green Chapel to be found, no Mount Kailash to be reached, nothing but a pond next to a busy A-road, on the fringes of Croydon.

Beulah Hill Pond is named after a farm that was once here, before the area was built up. According to Croydon council’s website, the place was also known locally as ‘Big Pond’. The site had long been used a ‘watering place’ for horses and cattle and a bar had been placed across the middle to prevent livestock from straying too far in and drowning. In the past, when it froze, people liked to skate on it.

Other than that, there is nothing exceptional about the pond: no rare species make it their home, no famous historical events occurred there and it doesn’t lay claim to a ghost. As ponds go, this one is almost utterly unremarkable. Almost. Yet something about the place caught my imagination.

When we first moved to this part of South London, I noticed the pond on an A-Z and wondered what it was doing there. On a map the pond looked a little lost; wedged into a corner between a road, a pub and a row of houses. I made a mental note to go and take a look sometime, before forgetting all about it.

A couple of years later I read a story in a local paper about a pub called the Conquering Hero, which was home to a pig. The pig – a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, called Frances Bacon – had been barred from wandering about near the bar, because it had taken to deliberately knocking over people’s pints to drink them. The report jarred my memory – this was the pub next door to Beulah Hill Pond. This was a sign, finally it was time to pay a visit.

I felt a mild, but nagging sense of guilt. I thought about an old ad for Time Out, which showed London’s famous tube map with all the station names blanked out, except for two. One of these, near the edge of the page, was marked Home, while the other, near the centre, said Work. The headline read: London without Time Out. I used to scoff at the idea that I would ever inhabit London, my adopted home, in this way. Now, here I was about to visit somewhere a few minutes’ walk from my home, that I had never seen before, via roads within my postcode that I had never previously set foot upon. The distance between us was negligible, but Beulah Hill Pond simply wasn’t within my orbit. Last year, one early morning, I set out to change that. 

This bit of what is now South-East London used to be Surrey, but today belongs to Croydon and Lambeth. The area is also known in places as Norwood; a name derived from the Great North Wood – as in north of Croydon – that once stretched over land to the south of the Thames, where the ragged edges of London shaded out into the Surrey hills. However, unless you go back to prehistoric times, this territory was never covered by some vast wildwood of the imagination. For centuries, stands of trees and coppices dotted the land, but for the most part were managed as commercial enterprises – many by the Lambeth and Croydon manors of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Tiny remnants of this sylvan heritage can be found scattered across south east London – Dulwich and Sydenham Hill Woods being the largest examples. Local place names including Forest Hill, Penge, Honour Oak and Gipsy Hill, also carry traces of this bosky past.

Looking at some old 18th and 19th century maps online, I was intrigued to see that some of today’s streets appear to follow the course of the edges of former fields and land boundaries, but on the ground, picking up such historic traces proved hard.

As I walked I tried to imagine ancient fields and tracks that once hugged the same curves as the tarmac and paving slabs beneath my feet. Sparrows in straggly, uncut hedges, near occasional grassy lanes leading to garages, made a desperate stab at evoking a greener past. Mostly though, as marching rows of Victorian terraces on Tivoli Road gave way to 1930s semis, I had a greater sense of multiple daily dramas being acted out behind door after door after door.

Steam from central heating snaked into the air from outlet pipes. Music rattled out of windows. Kettles boiled. Parents yelled at children to get dressed for school. Others readied themselves for work. Or not. The relentless everyday of human life.

Nearing my destination, I rounded a corner onto the A215. Cars sat in long queues waiting to pile into London. I glanced up and in the morning sun, confused glinting wires that fanned out from a pylon, for a series of highly choreographed aeroplane vapour trails.

I looked back down, and there it was, my stray pond. I don’t know what I had expected really, but I was a little disappointed, to find the pond fenced off behind iron railings. A couple of benches set on concrete next to the road faced the water. A sign showed photos of birds you might see: Herons, Moorhens, Ducks. I peered through a gap in the railings. A yellow polystyrene burger carton floated in green water. From out of the reeds behind it, a lone moorhen bobbed into view.

I recalled a conservation volunteer I’d once met telling me about a clean-up session he’d been involved with here, where they’d found a mummified Terrapin. Thick ranks of small trees and shrubs surrounded the pond on three sides. Perhaps somewhere behind the wall of vegetation more aquatic life was in hiding. I looked again at the fence, it made the place look like an enclosure in a zoo, but at last I was here. I had found it, a village pond without a village.

Matt Gilbert grew up in Bristol and now lives in London. He blogs about place, books & other diversions at richlyevocative.net and tweets @richlyevocative

Postcard from... Gdańsk

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By Paul Scraton:

Under the archway at the end of the Long Market, two photographs looked down on the pedestrians as they moved through to cobbled streets of the Main Town or out to the car park by the theatre, where the Christmas Market was in full swing. Not many people looked up, to contemplate the vision of Gdańsk as it was at the end of the Second World War. Perhaps they had seen them so many times before. But for the new arrival, they were enough to make you stop and stare.

Here, in the city where the war began, roughly 90% of the buildings were destroyed. The photographs showed the devastation in brutal black and white. It was possible to make out the streets, but barely a single building survived intact. What remained were the stone steps, leading up from the street to where once elegant townhouses stood, now reduced to piles of rubble.

The rebuilding of Gdańsk was an incredible achievement, the Main Town of the city once again reflecting the Hanseatic heyday of this port city that would later come to symbolise the opposition of everyday people to the Communist elites via the Solidarity movement born in the shipyards. On the waterfront or along the Long Market, in front of the grand churches or the amber shops of the atmospheric Ulica Mariacka, the rebuilding made it possible to imagine a city where the war never happened; even with the knowledge that behind those façades, so true to the originals, were buildings of a much more modern construction.

Elsewhere in the city, the reminders of what happened in Gdańsk in the 20th century were easier to discover. The Old Town, to the north, was a fairly nondescript residential district, with only a few pre-War buildings, such as the iconic Post Office, still standing or rebuilt. There were many memorials, of course. To the Post Office workers who held out against the German forces. To the victims of the Second World War and the Communist regime that followed. There were museums seemingly around every corner, trying to tell the story of the city via the many events that shaped it and the different periods of its long history.

Kashubia and Poland. Hanseatic League and Teutonic Knights. Prussia and Germany.

Free City. Destroyed city.

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But perhaps the most striking reminder of the past appeared back in the Main Town, on Świętego Ducha. There, on one side of the street, the houses had been rebuilt as elsewhere. Red brick and ornate façades. Crow-stepped gables and Dutch-inspired roofs. But on the other side of the cobblestoned street, the space had been left empty when the rebuilding began, eventually filled a little by trees, a car park and a public toilet, standing in the shade. On that side of the street the steps that survived the war lead up from the pavement to only the memory of the building that stood there before. A ghostly entranceway to a city almost completely destroyed, now re-imagined. The steps were like a postcard from the past, enough to stop you in your tracks – just like the photographs, hanging beneath the city gate.  

Headlong towards the end of the year

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As we reach the middle of December, the Elsewhere crew is already scattered and soon there will be no-one in town, holding the fort, as we head off on our journeys to family in friends, whether in Germany, Thailand, Ireland, the United Kingdom or Poland. So we thought we'd take this last opportunity to say thanks to the wider Elsewhere community for another great year of exploring place and places, whether in real life, in the pages of the journal, or here on the website. We'll be back in 2018 so make sure you check in with us then.

In the meantime, if you would like to support the journal in any way, the easiest way to do it is to buy a copy. All five editions of the journal are still available via our online shop, where you can buy them individually or in double sets. And if you already have them all (thanks so much!), then it would be great if you could share a word about what we do with any of your family and friends who you think might be interested. This also includes our facebook, twitter and instagram accounts. Word of mouth is how we keep going...

So that's your lot for 2017. Thanks again for all your support... we're off to unfold maps, check our train timetables and clean the old mud from our walking boots. See you on the other side...

Paul & Julia

Printed Matters: Europe by Rail

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Long-time readers of Elsewhere: A Journal of Place will know how much we love rail travel. In the pages of the journal and here on the blog we have never been slow to admit that it is almost certainly our favourite mode of transport,  challenged only by our joy of going for a walk. It is a love that we share with a couple of close friends of the journal, Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries. Nicky was a very early contributor to Elsewhere, with a short essay appearing in the very first edition of the journal, and together with Susanne, is the editor of the wonderful hidden europe magazine.

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Last month, Nicky and Susanne’s latest project hit the shelves: the 15th edition of Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide. As both editors and now publishers of the guidebook, Nicky and Susanne have brought their trademark attention to detail to all aspects of the new publication, and as always it is an absolute pleasure to read. With routes from the Atlantic coast of Portugal in the west to the Carpathian Mountains in the east, there can be few more pleasurable ways to spend a cold and windy winter’s afternoon than to be curled up on the sofa with this book, reading about and imagining the different journeys contained within these pages, growing ever-more inspired for the next journey to elsewhere.

Nicky and Susanne have been kind enough to send us some sample texts from the book, to give you a sense of what you can discover between its elegantly designed covers, and we can highly recommend it either for yourself, to plan a trip, or as a Christmas present for that rail-loving friend or member of your family.

Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide

For the 15th edition of the guide there are a number of new routes. One of which takes us from Zagreb through Serbia and Bulgaria to Thessaloniki in Greece. As befitting a book written, edited and published by strong proponents of Slow Travel, the routes are not ones where anyone is in a rush. Here’s how things get started, around Zagreb station in Croatia:

Take a look around the vicinity of the station before leaving Zagreb. The north is the posh side of the railway tracks. The distinguished Croatian writer Miroslav Krleža wrote a damning essay on social (and spatial) divides in Zagreb in 1937. To the north of the station, he found “hot water, roulette, lifts, on parle français, Europe, good!” Over on the south side of the railway there were “open cesspits, malaria… Balkan, a sorry province.” To Krleža, those quarters of Zagreb beyond the railway were “the back of beyond, Asia.” That from a left-leaning writer who was keen to shock the Zagreb bourgeoisie – all by definition residing north of the railway – out of their complacency.

Nowadays, the cesspits south of the tracks are long gone and the district between the railway and the river, while not pretty, is an edgy part of town where activists protest against real estate speculators. Even Zagreb has its rebel zone. If you incline towards more sedate cityscapes, stick to the north side of the station where the Esplanade Hotel still has uniformed bellboys and the Paviljon restaurant attracts an affluent elite who like elaborate cakes and seem not to have noticed that the Habsburg Empire disappeared a while back. Both the Esplanade and the Paviljon are visible from the front of the station. It’s also impossible to miss the statue of good old King Tomislav and his horse which arrived here in 1947 and commemorates the tenth-century monarch who is credited with having created the first coherent Croatian state. Whatever you make of Tomislav, the statue was a good way of recycling old cannons which were melted down to secure the bronze needed.

As the journey from Croatia to Greece continues, the emphasis, as with all the routes in the book, goes beyond practical information to give the reader a sense of the appeal of the journey. Here are a couple of further snapshots of the route to Thessalonki:

From Slavonia to Srem

The train to Belgrade rolls on across the dark plain to reach Tovarnik, a village which would barely warrant a stop bar for the important fact that it’s the last community in Croatia. Just over the fields lies the border with Serbia. It’s not so many years since minefields in this border region continued to pose a major danger. Today, all is calm and the border formalities, conducted at Tovarnik and at Šid on the Serbian side are invariably civil and often even good-humoured.

Beyond Šid, our train doesn’t rush. This is pleasant, undemanding country: the Sava flatlands drifting away to the southern horizon on the right side of the train, while to the left there are the distant ripples of the forested hills known as Fruška Gora. The first stop is at Sremska Mitrovica, the biggest community in Serbia’s Srem region and a relaxed riverside town which traces its history back to the Roman settlement of Sirmium. The town’s claim to be ‘the glorious mother of cities’ may raise a few eyebrows, but it’s a nice enough spot for a first taste of Serbia.

Towards the Bulgarian border

Leaving the main line at Niš, there is immediately a sense of entering another world. We’ve swapped a double-track electrified railway for a humble single-track rural line where trains are hauled by an ancient blue diesel engine which was once reserved for use on the luxury plavi voz (Blue Train) which ferried Yugoslav leader President Tito around the country. But there is no hint of luxury on the slow train to Dimitrovgrad. The railway follows the Nišava Valley up into increasingly rugged hills, along the way passing through Bela Palanka and Pirot, the latter newly raised to city status and still noted for its fine traditional woven carpets. From Pirot it is just a short hop onto Dimitrovgrad, the last station before the Bulgarian border, and a community where ethnic Bulgarians outnumber Serbs by two to one. The language spoken in this border region is Torlak, a South Slavic transitional dialect which has elements of both Serbian and Bulgarian.

Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide is published by hidden europe publications. Alongside the guidebook, there is a dedicated website that includes regular updates and news on European rail travel. The book is available on Wordery, Amazon or via a number of different outlets, which are listed on the Europe by Rail website

Am I Alone In Dreaming Of Rubble

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By David Lewis:

I am walking through a blunt triangle of empty terraced streets, dominated by a long low red brick church, closed and boarded up; a hole in the boards allows local children to once again play in the church porch.  It is starting to get dark.

Twenty years ago, in a period of deep, isolated research, I began to have dreams about Liverpool.  I was studying the city’s churches, curious about how they define the city; how their spires contribute to the roofline, how their architecture dominates a street, how the city is changed on the date of their demolition.  I worked alone, spending weeks in the city’s Records Office poring over memoirs and old street plans.   Days were spent immersed in the stark and beautiful photographs of Liverpool in its Victorian prime, and in the dark and destructive 1960s when many of the city’s older churches were demolished.  I took many long journeys to find the sooty, bruised survivors, only to discover that this destruction was ongoing.  In some cases I arrived only days after the final clearance, to a raw slash in the urban landscape, a sense of wounded stone and dust settling.  I began to see all buildings as temporary, as part of a rolling history of the fabric of the city.  Lines began to blur. 

And I started to dream.  Carl Jung famously dreamed of the city; mine were more prosaic. They have always been short and in black and white, and fall into two categories.  In the first, I can see small details of the city - street corners, ruined walls, unnamed streets reduced to fields of rubble.  Some districts appear time and again; Edge Hill, Toxteth, Netherfield Road, places that have been in a radical process of decay and regeneration since the 1960s. I started to record the dreams as accurately as I could, in a staccato, notebook style.  Sometimes they help me remember more detail; in other cases they are all that is left of the dream. 

Unknown derelict dockland streets, ironwork, weeds, tall closed warehouses.  A steep cobbled street called St George’s Place, behind a railway station. Early morning. 

The dreams were fuelled by the photographs, but I came to realise that they were also reviving memories.  The Liverpool of my childhood was a city partly in ruins, and blitz-memories were still strong.  Older people talked of evacuation to north Wales, of nights in air-raid shelters, of bombers over the city.  The destruction continued after the war, when in a spurt of self-loathing the city demolished with a frenzy, and on car journeys to visit relatives in the northern reaches of the city I saw miles of cleared terraced streets.  In those days all gaps in the landscape were known as ‘bommies’, a word which meant bomb sites but also bonfires; urban folk memory overlapped urban function.  I had a recurring dream of a large square black building in the middle of a demolished city, a composite view of the boarded-up churches and barely-open pubs I saw on the disappearing streets of north Liverpool. 

In the other dreams, I see residential areas associated with my grandfather’s family.  Vincent Lewis was born in 1904, and grew up surrounded by family in the working-class streets of Liverpool 8.   As a child I knew many of the streets with family connections, and as an adult it was these places that began to appear in different dreams; sometimes in ruins, sometimes full of people, sometimes just streets of alleyways and tall brick walls. 

Cockburn Street in the early morning.  There are no cars and the street is deserted but I can see down another cleared street to the Mersey below me, gleaming silver.  Tall walls behind me. 

I came to realise that all these dreams, these blurrings of old photograph and old memory, are a creative response to the demolition of my grandfather’s city.  The books I have written on Liverpool are an attempt to understand and articulate the Victorian city that is gradually disappearing.  Yet the pace of urban evolution is so quick that one day all our familiar places will have gone or been radically changed and everyday memories, however commonplace, will have become history.  I still walk the vulnerable city as often as I can, exploring and recording amputated streets, stretches of cobble and redundant warehouses.  Often after these long walks I dream once more of the city in ruins, feeling now that our rubble dreams tell us more than we know.      

David Lewis has written five books of history/landscape/psychogeography about his native Liverpool and Merseyside.  He posts urban/rural images on Instagram - davidlewis4168 and mutters about the world on Twitter - @dlewiswriter

Mount Koya: Beware of Bears

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By Pete Martin:

I stop at Karukayado (the Hall of Karukaya). The Karukaya is a story of a boy called Ishidomaru who came to Koya-san in order to meet his father. The boy met a monk, who was in fact his father, but, as the monk had renounced his past life for priesthood, he told the boy that his father had died and sent him back to his mother at one of the inns at the edge of the mountain. (At this time, women were not allowed to enter Koya-san and so seven temples were built on the periphery for women). Ishidomaru found his mother dead at the inn and so returned to study under the monk, never knowing the monk was his father. The hall is now preserved as a hermitage where father and son practiced asceticism together for over forty years. I walk along the corridor of the hall that houses the shrine and follow the paintings on the wall that depict the story.

In the centre of Koya-san is the Kongobuji and Danjo Garan complex. The Kongobuji is the head temple of Koya-san Shingon Buddhism. The temple comprises two temples that were combined together in 1869. It has a feel of history and tradition in its plain, ancient wooden features. It was in the willow room of the Kongobuji that Toyotomi Hidetsugu, the nephew and retainer of the great Toyotomi Hideyoshi, committed seppuku (ritual suicide by disembowelment) after being accused of plotting a coup.

The complex opens up further with the old, dark wooden Fudodo on the left sitting prettily in front of a lake. This is the oldest existent building in Koya-san built in 1197. Opposite is the magnificent towering red Daito (Great Pagoda). Kobo Daishi planned the Daito as the centre of the monastery. The original construction began in 816 and was completed seventy years later. The forty-nine metre high red pagoda that is here now had to be rebuilt in 1937. Inside there is a golden statue of Buddha Mahavairocana.

This area is spectacular. The ground is covered with snow or, where it has melted, with wet orangey-brown gravel. Beyond the Daito are more sacred buildings, including the Meido (Portrait Hall), where it is said that Kobo Daishi had residence. This building is closed to the public and is only opened once a year, on the anniversary of the day Kobo Daishi began his long (and continuing) meditation. Inside is a portrait of Kobo Daishi painted by his disciple Shinnyo.

At Rengendani, it’s a short walk uphill to my shukubo - a temple that provides lodging. The outside of the shukubo looks like an old, traditional temple, with a rock garden and carp pond. Inside, I change into geta and am shown to my room by a monk in full robes. Inside, it’s completely modern except that there is no heating. Later, I change into my kimono and warm outer coat and I’m collected from my room by the monk for dinner. My private dining room is a small room along a cold, glass panelled corridor. The shoji on one side have simple tree paintings on them. The others are bare. The glass doors are closed and in the middle of the floor are a cushion and two red trays with cold food laid out. Beyond the glass doors, I have a view of the rock garden, now lightly lit in the dark of the evening and sprinkled with what remains of the snow. Another tray is brought in with hot food, sake and tea. I take my time to sample it all. It’s one of the best meals I have ever eaten and in one of the most amazing locations. It takes me nearly an hour to finish everything.

Just before seven o'clock in the morning, I’m lead to the older part of the temple, through the cold corridors, to the shrine room. At the back there are cushioned benches on either side of the central aisle. I sit down. Two small side rooms have hundreds of red lanterns on the ground. In the middle of the room, there’s a model of a golden pavilion in front of the altar. From the ceiling, more lanterns and pendants hang. The only light comes from several rows of lit candles. One monk sits directly in front of the altar and one monk to the side. The one to the side begins a slow chant and soon the monk at the altar begins a louder chant.

Both use various bells, chimes and cymbals to wake the Buddhas. Halfway through the chanting, one of the monks comes to me and asks me to drop three grains of rice into a bowl. The monk then returns and they chant in unison again. Without intending to, I find myself falling into a trance. I’ve been given a sheet of paper with the words to the ‘Heart Sutra for the Perfection of Wisdom’ which is written in Japanese and English. The Japanese is also spelt out phonetically in English. Amazingly, I can pick up the sounds and I’m able to chant quietly along with the two monks as they recite the sutra. Time seems to stand still.

After forty minutes or so, the morning ceremony is finished and I’m taken directly to breakfast. The rock garden looks very different in the early morning daylight. Once breakfast is done, sadly I have to leave the inn. At the stop for the bus back to Koya-san station, there’s a sign on the wall which reads: ‘Beware of Bears! Recently bears were seen at each area in Koya-san and there are so many eyewitness reports. When you go out, don't go out alone.’ I now realise why I have had the wonderful sights of Koya-san to myself.

Pete Martin’s book Revolutions: Wandering and wondering on a sabbatical year is a compelling tale of travel and change and is out now. More information can be found at www.wander2wonder.com.

The Library: Travellers in the Third Reich - The Rise of Fascism through the Eyes of Everyday People, by Julia Boyd

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Read by Marcel Krueger:

I strayed by mistake into a room full of S.S. officers, Gruppen- and Sturmbannführers, black from their lightning-flash-collars to the forest of tall boots underneath the table. The window embrasure was piled high with their skull-and-crossbones caps.
- Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time of Gifts

In 1934, 18-year old Patrick Leigh Fermor walked on foot from Holland to Constantinople, which also meant that he had to cross Nazi Germany. But of contemporary political events he records little in his classic work of travel writing, 'A Time of Gifts'. Instead, the youngster is most fascinated by the palpable history in the Gothic old towns of Germany, the still-feudal society structures outside of towns, and the odd tipple. Besides a pub chat about Herr Hitler now and then, no one seems to be interested in engaging the youngster in political talk or even convince him to join their side.

Two years later, in April 1936, a group of English students between 12 and 14 years of age along with their teacher hiked up Schauinsland, a mountain in the Black Forest, a challenging hike even when undertaken in favourable conditions. Just short of the summit, the group - inadequately equipped and clothed - was engulfed in a blizzard, and severely lost. Hours later, some of the boys made it to a nearby village, from where a search party set off to rescue the scattered group from storm and darkness. By that time, four of the group of 27 were already frozen to death or had died from exhaustion. This tragic event became locally known as the Engländerunglück, literally ‘The Englishmen’s calamity’.

The Nazi propaganda machine now went into overdrive. The dead were laid out with all possible honours, the surviving members of the group pampered and feted by the local Hitler Youth, and all reports about the rescue effort suddenly credited the Hitler Youth itself with helping in the rescue. In 1938, in memory of this event, local authorities even erected a memorial for the deceased English students, with the inscription “The youth of Adolf Hitler honours the memory of these English sporting comrades with this memorial.”

These two events, the travails of an unperturbed vagabond and the tail of doomed yet innocent youngsters exploited by Nazi propaganda, are perfect examples of how visitors from the anglophone experienced holidays in Germany between 1933 and 1939. Few specifically came to see how the new Nazi state remodelled society, many came for steins full of beer, castles, deep forests and cheap accommodation. In 'Travellers in the Third Reich', Julia Boyd provides an excellent overview of the types of visitors that came to Nazi Germany before war erupted, by weaving many sources and eyewitness accounts together.

Boyd's travelogues do not begin with Hitler's rise to power, but instead record views and statements of tourists and visitors right from the end of World War 1 and the birth complications of the Weimar Republic. From there on it chronologically follows the developments in Germany up until August 1939. The 21 chapters are arrayed both chronologically and topically - there is 'Old Soldiers' about visiting veterans, 'Hitler's Games' about the Olympic Games 1936, and visitors being increasingly confronted with the growing anti-semitism in '"Peace" and Shattered Glass' in the wake of the Munich Agreement and the Kristallnacht 1938.

From an impressive array of sources, Boyd summons professional soldiers, diplomats, school children, Chinese students, pilots, nurses and 'it' girls from London that recorded their personal impression of Germany under Hitler. Among these witnessed we increasingly find resistance fighters (and those to become one), English families faced with Jewish refugees for the first time, and also Nazi sympathizers like Unity Valkyrie Mitford, of whom Boyd writes:

The story of Unity - the fifth of Lord and Lady Redesdale's famous brood of seven - is that of an unhappy, not particularly bright young woman finding glamour and purpose in a cult religion. She might have become prey to any number of eccentric beliefs or deities but unfortunately for her, and those around her, she fell for the Führer.

Whereas often the view towards Nazi Germany pre-1939 is dominated by the events playing out and being recorded in Berlin, Boyd's book is nicely balanced, presenting quotes from all over the German Reich and Austria. Student Joan Wakefield, for example, recorded an encounter from Upper Silesia on the border with Czechoslovakia in 1938:

On the road back to Rauden, they met 'hundreds' of tanks and lorries filled with soldiers. 'All a bit terrifying,' commented Joan. But anxiety melted away as she was absorbed once again into the daily pattern of riding, swimming in cold forest pools, parties, practical jokes and the inevitable tennis.

'Travellers in the Third Reich' is a hefty tome in hardcover, and surely nothing for the beach. But all the different sources and viewpoints are neatly weaved together and I almost devoured the book, eager to learn more about the many protagonists - and if the reader gets lost in all those fellow travelers, there's a handy dramatis personae at the end of the book; which also comes with a fine cover imitating a 1930s tourists add by kid-ethic.com, as well as maps and black-and-white images.  

Two things stand out: the widespread anti-semitism that prevailed also in the anglophone world before the 2nd World War, and how naive many of the visitors are when faced with obvious propaganda or even criminal machinations they witnessed. This is an important and nuanced book, one that shows that not all the people from future Allied countries perceived Nazi Germany as dangerous, and that a feeling of goodwill was quite strong especially in Britain in those years. And it shows that something we, in hindsight, might call dark tourism was not so dark for those undertaking it, as long as the streets were clean and the beer was flowing.  

Paddy Fermor made it to Istanbul, and spent the remainder of the 30s in southern Europe and Greece; only to be called back to England to join the army in 1939. Because of his knowledge of the area he became a Special Operations Executive and parachuted into Crete, where he became one of the few Englishmen aiding the local resistance fighters, famously capturing German general Kreipe in 1944.

The pupils from Strand School never returned to Germany; the father of one of the victims, Jack Eaton, led a futile legal battle against the failings of their guardian teacher, and in the end erected a private memorial to his lost child, one that was not utilised by the Hitler Youth - maybe because the story behind it was too personal, unusable for any propaganda effort.

Nazi Germany affected them all, in one or another. In her afterword, Boyd underlines the fact that the 12 years of Nazi Germany are not only still an endlessly fascinating period of time; but that these days it is imperative to look at the reasons for the rise of the Nazis and what it means for us today, still.

More than eight decades after Hitler became chancellor we are still haunted by the Nazis. It is right that we should be.

About the book:
Travellers in the Third Reich: The Rise of Fascism Through the Eyes of Everyday People (2017) by Julia Boyd is published by Elliott & Thompson. Support your local bookshop!

About the reviewer:
Marcel is the books editor of Elsewhere: A Journal of Place and author of Babushka’s Journey: The Dark Road to Stalin’s Wartime Camps. This November, Marcel is launching the books with a series of events in Berlin, Dublin, Belfast, Dundalk and Solingen. You can find details of Marcel’s book tour here.

Letter to a Stranger

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By Shawna Bethell:

The thing I didn’t tell you was that I met your brother on the ferry. He was looking for you. Your father wanted you home. To this moment, I’ve never told anyone that I met either of you. I felt it would be a betrayal of sorts, though I didn’t even know your names. But I knew your stories, two parts of a whole, none of us expecting I would cross both your paths. Yet I did, within a half-dozen hours or so. Harris is a small island, after all.

I was sitting alone on deck watching grey waters when your brother approached and asked to sit. Together we watched sleek arch-backed porpoises rise and fall as they swam alongside the ferry. We watched a low sweep of rock appear in the distance, growing until it became an island large enough for a port, a village and a road up the coast that would cross a narrow isthmus to another stretch of gneiss known as the Isle of Lewis.

Eventually, he started talking. Told me more than he probably should have about your family, but he spoke with earnestness, and I couldn’t help but listen. He had tracked you to that slab of stone sprawling in the distance and hoped you were still there. In time, we disembarked and as I walked away, he asked me to dinner. I declined and wound my way up the hill, unknowingly, to you.

It was later that evening, in a hostel full of travelers, when our paths crossed. I was rummaging in the kitchen when you came in and I asked you where to find a knife for my vegetables. You were a large man, with long blonde hair bound back by a leather cord and gold wire-rimmed glasses that framed blue eyes. From the leather sheath on your hip you pulled that gracefully thin filet blade with a round wooden handle and passed it to me. I still remember how caught I was by its elegance. Casually, you also opened the cupboard and offered spices from your cache saying I’d likely not find anything but salt and pepper in the communal kitchen. Then you quietly paced the cramped space, crowded with washer and dryer and Formica table, while I sliced in silence. When I returned the knife, you left.

That night, as a woman from Skye cranked open the window above our bunk and slept comforted by familiar cold air blowing in from the sea, I was left sleepless by the same damp chill, so I took my laundry back to the warm kitchen, made a cup of tea and sat down with my journal.

I hadn’t realized any one else was around when you walked in from the TV room and spoke. As before, you paced the perimeter of the room past the washer and dryer, along the counter and back before pulling out the chair across from me to sit.

You said you were from Finland and had worked a lucrative desk job as expected by your father until a few months before. Then, with no word to anyone, you left. You landed on the island and hired on at a fish cannery off the rocky shore. You said you liked the physical labor, liked the men you worked with. You said you weren’t planning to stay on the island, but had no plans to go back either. 

We talked a lot about family and expectations. I told you about the Midwestern United States, where people were rooted by generations of family loyalty, a pull so strong that I felt my choices in life were abdicated before I was old enough to know I had choices to make. I loved my family, but when I finally left the Midwest, it was with a sense of escape. I landed in a mountain town in the western U.S. populated with out-of-work miners, scientists, artists and travelers. It was a place where people accepted you as the person you presented yourself to be, and it was where I gained the freedom to be the writer I wanted to become.

In the dark early hours of morning, you put on your jacket and went outside, cigarette in hand, and through the window I watched the orange tip burn as you paced the walk out front. Shortly you returned, explaining you had to catch the ferry for work in only a few hours and needed to get some sleep. I don’t remember that we even shared a ‘good-bye.’ You just walked away through the drafty, concrete-block hallway, and I was left to pull my clothes from the dryer and stuff them into my pack. Then I followed the hallway to my own side of the dorm where I fell easily and unexpectedly to sleep.

By daylight you were gone and I caught a ride north, jotting a quick ‘thank you’ and tucking it into your spice cache before I left. We never did exchange names. It didn’t seem necessary, I guess. But I still think of you, and I wonder if your brother ever found you. I wonder if you ever went home. I did, eventually. For better or for worse. Sometimes, I’m still not certain. But that strange triumvirate of love, loyalty and obligation will call even the most wayward of us back.

Wherever you ended up, I hope you went there by choice and without regret. I hope you found the life you wanted. I wonder, though, if you ever knew, if either of you ever knew, if you ever talked about that woman you both happened upon, who carried two men’s stories back out to sea.

Shawna Bethell lives in the central Midwest of the US. Her work has appeared in the Denver Post, The Mountain Gazette, High Desert Journal, and This Land Magazine among other publications.

Standing on a windy corner of Ku'damm in Autumn

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By Emily Richards:

It is six o'clock in the evening and I am waiting for a bus because I chose to miss the last one. Here at Olivaer Platz in Berlin, as the people run out of their offices to jump on buses, speed across lanes in their shiny black BMWs, or swerve on their bikes through traffic in their anxiety to be home, I am unable to move, mesmerised by this autumn evening.  I have passed through this place, one of the busiest in Berlin, at different times and for different reasons for twenty-five years now. Once it was strange to me. Then, it was home. Now it is strange again.

It is not yet dark but there is a haze upon the air, and some of the street-lamps are already glowing silvery-bright. The autumn light turns from gold to a translucent pallor, tinged with the colours of the red, gold and brown leaves swirling in the wind. The flowers on the corner of the Platz, planted in a gesture of beauty amidst noisy traffic, still grow in green profusion, though a dimness is settling over them as evening falls. They are the first to lose their outlines in the twilight; the first to be overlooked as our faces turn towards clocks, mobile phones, LED displays to see if it's hometime yet, so that the longing which has built in us all day can be released like the tension on a trigger.

But I won't be going home just yet. I'm kept here almost against my will by the fading light, by the faces of Berlin that pass me by one by one and look at me for longer than English faces would, on this evening, two days after the general election. In the election, a radical right-wing party gained over a quarter of the vote in parts of Germany, and thirteen percent overall. I look at each person who walks, ambles or hurries past, and their faces look different to me.

I never noticed how misshapen and worn a human face can look. Sagging skin, stooped shoulders, a grimacing mouth; orange blusher scarring the too-pale face of a middle-aged woman who plunges in uncomfortably high shoes to her next appointment. Her head's skewed around awkwardly to pin her mobile phone to her shoulder as she talks into it, gesturing vaguely, staring at nothing. A tall, elderly woman with thinning brown hair and feet too plump for her old black shoes walks as stiffly as if on stilts, slowly raising each foot high above the pavement before grinding it back down. A younger woman with half-shaved head, dressed entirely in black with wide Cossack-style trousers and Russian boots, walks boldly past, but her clothes are dusty, nearly grey in places. A young man ambles in front of me, dark hair closely gelled to his scalp, eyes glued on the tightly-clad bottom of the young, hard-faced woman ahead of him, whose heavy gait is disconcertingly masculine for someone with such a bleached-blonde ponytail and such conventional make-up. Her double chin sags and the lines around her eyes crease as she swings her head round, shouting into her phone. An old man – but surely he's not much older than I am! – with a loose mouth, a white fringe of hair and a red nose stands for minutes in front of a rubbish bin, staring into it, looking for bottles he can take away and turn into money; then he looks around swiftly, bends to the ground and snatches up a fag-end before swinging away, arms flopping wide and uncontrolled in his badly-fitting beige jacket.

There is a sense of dissolution in the air.

The summer dissolves; the outline of the Ku'damm, of its buildings, buses, lamp-posts and cars, seems to dissolve in the haze of this autumn evening, in the rustle and whisper of the leaves moved by the wind. Before my eyes, the safety I once found here dissolves too. The reassuring, orderly security of these middle-class Germans loses its outline in the dusk, their aspirational Wirtschaftswunderland revealing itself as the illusion I should have known it to be. I did know it, really. But the shared illusion was a comfort, and, as such, transcended its own illusory nature to demonstrate its greater truth: that security, beauty and order all matter, and that those who are denied them or have lost them or mistrust them will turn to more dangerous illusions of their own; for example, that rejecting everything outside your own culture and experience will keep you safe. In this way they remove safety for everyone, not least themselves. For what if one day their fellow voters turn to them and say, "But you had a foreign grandparent did you not? You were once kind to a refugee, we hear." Then you too will be cast out. This is what happens. But by then you'll have done your damage, and it will be too late to be sorry.

Yet nonetheless, on this autumn evening, the wind whispers to me that something is stirring, something is afoot, something is changing. And I prefer this in the end. I prefer it, though I don't know what it is, what it will demand of me, what it will do to me.

And now here is my bus. And like all Berliners I might be foolish enough to miss a bus once, but I won't miss it twice. For who knows when the next one will arrive? Who knows when I'll be home.

You can read more from Emily on her blogs The Castle Captures Me and Boring in Berlin.

Printed Matters: The Line Between Two Towns

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We are really excited about this place-related project from our friend and Elsewhere contributor Laura HarkerThe Line Between Two Towns is a new zine that explored the Esk Valley line between Middlesborough and Whitby in northern England, bringing together writers, poets, artists and photographers who have all been inspired by the different destinations on the line between the two towns. Here is Laura's introduction to the zine, and you can order your copy online here.

The idea behind this zine came from wanting to explore the differences between Whitby and Middlesbrough, and all the unique nuances and cultures that set them apart from one another. Though there are such stark differences between the two towns, there is still one thing that brings them together: the Esk Valley Railway.

It clocks in at only 36 miles long, but the Middlesbrough and Whitby line was once part of a larger network of railways that covered the area until many lines were closed after Dr. Beeching’s cuts. Thankfully, the line remained open due to its popularity. Originally intended to serve the mines and quarries across the region, the Esk Valley line quickly became a hit with Teessiders who realised that it placed the North Yorkshire seaside just over an hour away.

Over the past few decades, the area’s industry has disappeared, Brits have set their sights on sunny European beaches, and the line is now rarely busy except for Bank Holiday weekends. But it continues to be an important lifeline for many in the villages it passes through, connecting them to Middlesbrough and Whitby.

I was born in Middlesbrough but we moved to Glaisdale, just outside Whitby, when I was 11. Carefully picked up from my urban childhood, I was transplanted to the countryside where most other kids were members of the Young Farmers and thought my Boro accent came from Ireland. Even though my childhood so far had been spent less than 30 miles from Whitby, I realised there was a large gulf between these two locations – industrially, culturally and aesthetically.

This isn’t something that bothered me that much until I moved to Berlin and I was constantly asked the same question: Where are you from? When Germans and other non-Brits asked, the answer was easy – I went with North Yorkshire. But when Brits asked, expecting a more specific pinpoint for their mental map, I couldn’t bring myself to give just one answer.

I couldn’t just say Whitby and ignore Middlesbrough or that would be turning my back on my first decade, family ties, and roots as a Teessider. But I couldn’t simply say Middlesbrough, as I’d spent 15 years on the moors by this point. My Boro accent is long gone and my Middlesbrough geography gets hazy whenever I step off Linthorpe Road in the centre of town – I can’t quite stomach saying I’m a true Teessider. And so I thought about writing a personal essay on this identity crisis and the towns that sparked it, using the Esk Valley Railway to bind it all together. When I realised there was just too much for me to say, I decided to make this zine and open it up to submissions to try and create something of a printed tapestry of the area.

The zine includes works from local writers, poets, artists and photographers, all of which have been inspired by stops along the line. Threading together their work along the context of the Esk Valley Line, I wanted the zine to explore the cultural and landscape shifts that can be found taking this particular train journey, from starting in Middlesbrough surrounded by tired factories and ending in Whitby just steps from the beach. And it might actually help me figure out what to say whenever someone asks me where I’m from.

The shingle beach, Crosby

All Images: Chris Hughes

All Images: Chris Hughes

About a month ago we published the essay The War Memorial in the Sea by David Lewis. As always, we love to hear what people think about the work we publish both here on the blog and in the print journal, and we are especially pleased when it inspires as moving a response as this, from a long-time friend of Elsewhere, Chris Hughes:

Following on from David Lewis’s fascinating piece about the architectural rubble spread on the beach north of Crosby promenade after the clearance of bomb damaged houses and major public buildings in Liverpool and Bootle at the end of the Second World War I send you these photographs taken a couple of years ago on the beach just south of the shingle. Like David I have tramped across the shingle to find the remnants of the large buildings of Liverpool destroyed in the bombing and once found wonder in imagining which of the buildings a remnant comes from. Looking at the photographs from the time, and to see the sheer scale of the destruction, it is doubtful that even the most brilliant architectural historian could identify the pieces; it’s enough to find them and marvel that their presence is still here.

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But what of the bricks, thousands, probably millions of bricks, half bricks and the grainy rubble that was once a brick that lie scattered along the beach, some still resembling the cuboid they once were, others pummelled by the tide over and over again to become a rounded pebble? What a range of colour and texture is here considering that all were created from the clay of the local area and the North Wales brick works.

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Following the death of a good friend who was also a lover of stones, shells and drift wood, we were asked to bring a stone to the funeral from our own area and a cairn would be built of these stones as a symbol of our love and friendship. There are no natural pebble beaches on the Sefton coast; it’s all sand, so it was here, to Crosby shingle beach I came to select two very different rounded remnants of bricks to add to the cairn. And very good they looked too, bright red and orange among the predominantly grey and white stones from other parts of the country that were piled up along with them.

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On a very windy day in February 2015 we went to walk among Anthony Gormley’s cast iron men on Crosby beach and I saw the way that the wind had carved out the patterns on the sand, blowing away the smaller grains, leaving the heavier stones and shells each with a tail of sand in the lee of the gale. The larger pieces, almost whole bricks, ended up isolated in little pools of water; a tiny moat around the brick castle. I started to look for the different colours in the bricks, the reds and browns, oranges and yellows, but also the blue and black. Was this a different band of clay? Was it crushed shale or even clinker from the iron furnaces of the day? I’ll probably never know but the colours will always remain in the bricks of the Crosby shingle beach.

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Moor-haunting

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By Elizabeth Wainwright:

I moved back to a place that I know; it tugged me in my sleep, seeped into my blood like wine and desire. Suddenly I am on Dartmoor, feeling myself dissolve into its shifting mist and separate from my body – like long ago when I was someone I am not, and being under the influence, I drifted away from myself when I hadn’t chosen to. But this time I choose to wander away from myself: not sure whether I am an individual or part of the churning mass of life.

I have become fixated by hares, those mythical and elusive creatures. Search them in spring, and if you’re lucky (I haven’t been so far), you’ll witness the ‘mad march hare’ boxing antics; elegant creatures transformed into tall, aggressive dancers; each one Odette and Odile, black and white swan, fighting for courtship rights. This time I hear them snorting nearby, calling the approaching solstice into being like a spell.

I’ve taken shortcuts that were the long way round. I’ve opted for easy routes that were the boggy, marshy, slow routes. I should know better. But Dartmoor is an ancient cauldron of reason and desire; and I am learning that I gain less from a level-headed caution than I do from imagination and intuition (whilst all the while feeling the edge of my compass in my pocket, safe in the knowledge that someone knows where I am). A stones-throw away in Exeter, where I live, I enjoy wandering and observing life in the city – as Virginia Woolf called it, ‘Street Haunting’. On Dartmoor, I do the altogether more consuming, wide-open-space version; I become a moor-haunter, a Gore-Texed Artemis, roaming; sometimes searching, sometimes found.

Joseph Campbell said, “What the myths are for is to bring us into a level of consciousness that is spiritual.” Dartmoor is a place in Devon, but more than that, it is a myth. It strips me of any role, any context, any time, and takes me into the place behind the pause button. It is here I have heard God and myself. Where I’ve reacted to and interacted with nature. It’s here I’ve doubted myself, and then felt the most ecstatic, frenzied, deep but momentary understanding of absolutely everything. And also where I’ve simply watched a sunrise with a quieted mind and mug of tea.

Once, I saw the carcass of a dead moor pony and I stopped to look. It clutched a foal, half-born. Half in the world and half hidden. Dead before it was alive. The foal wouldn’t get to stagger on lanky legs; hunker down in winter snow; doze in a summer haze to the amusement of passing tourists. Dartmoor is barren, heartbreaking. But it is not cruel. It would rise up to meet the death with soft grazed pale grass, and with it, feed worms, ravens, plants. Nothing mourned, but nothing wasted either. Suffering without cruelty. We’re terrified of our own mortality – especially in the age of the self. But perhaps that pony had no sense of itself as a separate being. It was always connected to all the other creatures on the moor.  “The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction”, but these are not horses of instruction – they are wild and free, hardy and intuitive. Theirs is a third way inbetween Blake’s aphorism; inbetween wrath and instruction, desire and reason. I see myself there, feel it on Dartmoor – theirs is the here and now, the mysterious kingdom come, on Earth. Not fierce uncultivated energy, and not mindless robotic being either. Rather, free to roam and to congregate, to sense and respond.  

I flinch when someone asks a question to which I must respond by saying ‘I like walking on the moor’. It feels like Peter’s denial before the rooster crows, claiming I never knew it. I feel Dartmoor glance at me, granite eyebrow raised, hurt. I do like walking on the moor, but that’s the method, not the purpose. For me it is no hobby. It is essential, like touch, and I like to think it is essential for Dartmoor too. Because we need people who are happy to get lost and get found again; to sit on a rock and all-at-once smile and weep at the grandeur and beauty of a sight that contains scale and possibility; colour and tiny miracles; music. Not a ‘nice view’ that we do not really see, but rather a roaring, existence-shaking singularity where all that ever has and ever will exist is here in this one moment, and it’s all the more heightened because for some reason we get to experience it but the dead foal never will. We need to tap into the soul-aligned ecstasy of being out in non-human nature (rather than mind-aligned ‘pleasure’) because when that joy takes root and turns into astonishment, deep connection, essence, and understanding, it becomes so infinite that one person can’t possibly contain it and so all we’re able to do is give it away, maybe to a neighbour or a child, or to the world. We become protective of it; we lovingly work in a garden, or furiously work on the global sustainability agenda (knowing that ‘sustain’ is a pale shadow of what we really feel or want).

But it all starts with a place, a call of the wild, a call of the divine. And for me that place is Dartmoor – its purple heather that fills lines of folk songs; its yellow summer gorse that in winter, yellowless, shelters sheep; its gentle springs that swell into churning white water; its storied tors and ancient bronze-age traces; its space and howling peace; its smells and shape-shifting light and weather and mood.

Dartmoor is a grazed, razed, bleak and beautiful place. No, it’s more than a place – it’s an experience. But it reclaims the idea of ‘experience’ from those companies that two-dimensionally offer ‘great customer experience’ or a ‘really wild experience’. Dartmoor owns the real meaning of the experience – ‘to feel or undergo; observe as a source of knowledge; an event which has affected one’.

Dartmoor affects me; it reveals knowledge and wisdom that – in my broad travels –  has not disclosed itself elsewhere in quite the same way. So I will keep on moor-haunting. And if we meet, and we talk about pastimes – please know that Dartmoor is more to me than that. It is stopped time; truth-telling time; wonder-full, wild, sensual, transformative time. It is never just passed time.

About the author:

Elizabeth Wainwright is The Ecologist’s nature editor, and she co-leads the community development charity Arukah Network. She has lived, worked and travelled around the world but is now back in Devon, UK, where she is from. @LizWainwright www.elizabethjaynewainwright.com

Names of the Wind

 Photo: the Bora in full spate on the slopes of Mount Mosor, near Split, Croatia, by Nick Hunt

 Photo: the Bora in full spate on the slopes of Mount Mosor, near Split, Croatia, by Nick Hunt

We are extremely pleased and proud to welcome Nick Hunt back to the Elsewhere blog. Nick wrote a piece for us about ‘walking into the world’ in Albania a couple of years ago, and he has returned to reflect on the names of the wind… or the names of the specific winds that inspired his journeys across Europe for his new book Where the Wild Winds Are, published this month:

Every traveller knows the thrill of falling in love with a name. Some might be stirred by the name of a city: Odessa, Buenos Aires, Timbuktu. For others it may be a route through a landscape: the Silk Road, the Via Francigena, the Camino de Santiago. For me it was the names of Europe’s great seasonal winds – the Mistral, the Tramontana, the Bora, the Meltemi, the Kosava, the Foehn, the Bise, the Sirocco, the Levanter – which I saw on a map one day, invisible pathways threading across the continent, connecting regions and cultures that seemed quite separate in my mind. They sounded like things from a fairytale, invitations to a quest.

Why are some winds given names, while others remain nameless? What distinguishes one current of air molecules from another? I set out to follow four, which seemed an appropriate number for winds, drawn by the romance of their names but also intrigued by their effects; Europe’s great aeolian forces are said to influence everything from architecture to mythology to psychology. The Helm – Britain’s only named wind – blows down the western slopes of Cross Fell, the highest point of the Pennines, with enough force to destroy stone barns in the nearby Eden Valley. According to local legend the summit was formerly known as Fiends Fell, until the air-dwelling demons – whose howling caused such terror in the parishes below – were exorcised by a wandering holy man. The Helm itself takes its name from a long white cloud called the Helm Bar (a helmet for the mountain’s head) which acts as a harbinger of this freezing north-easterly. I camped for four days and nights up there, scanning the desolate moorland and waiting for the cloud to form; when it did, the demons returned to haunt me with a vengeance.

My second wind was the Bora, which led me down the Adriatic coast from Trieste in north-east Italy through Slovenia and Croatia. Fierce enough to sink ships and hurl fish from the sea, the Bora is also credited with helping defeat the last major pagan army to oppose the Christianisation of Rome – turning the arrows of the troops back towards them in the air – despite the fact that it takes its name from the pagan god Boreas, ancient Greek avatar of the cold north wind. It is celebrated for bringing good health, in stark opposition to the southerly Jugo, which muddies the sky with a yellow haze (taking its name from the Slavic word for ‘south’, this is the local variant of the many-named Sirocco, whose other appellations include the Khamsin, the Ghibli, the Sharav, the Marin, the Leveche and the Xaloc). During my three-week walk I found myself in a tug-of-war between Jugo and Bora, north and south, clear skies and humid haze. At last I met my quarry on a snow-covered mountainside above the Croatian city of Split; appropriately enough for a god, Boreas froze the blood in my veins and knocked me off my feet.

The etymology of the Foehn, which I chased across the Swiss Alps, perhaps also stems from the divine – it may derive from Favonius, the Roman god of the west wind – but locally it has earthier names: Schneefresser, ‘Snow-eater’, Maisvergolder, ‘Corn-goldener’, and Traubenkocher, ‘Grape-cooker’, in tribute to its warming effects. Associated with clear skies, sunshine and the coming of spring, it is also blamed for causing headaches, nosebleeds, insomnia, anxiety, depression and a host of other ailments; antique maps depict the Foehn as a puff-cheeked face blowing out not air, but showers of human skulls. I tracked this ill-omened force for a fortnight from one deep valley to another, acting on meteorological tip-offs and snatches of local lore, until eventually catching it in the heart of Haslital. After experiencing three days of relentless roaring heat – incongrously thundering from snow-capped summits and glaciers – I woke one morning so depressed that I could hardly move. It felt as if everything in my life had gone disastrously wrong, and it took me most of the day to understand the cause and effect. The legends and old wives’ tales were true: I had fallen victim to Föhnkrankheit, the notorious Foehn-sickness. As soon as I escaped that valley, the symptoms disappeared.

My final wind was perhaps the best-known, being something of a household name far beyond its native range: the bitter breath of the Mistral, which blows, according to superstition, for three, five, seven or nine days southwards down the Rhone Valley from Valence to the Gulf of Lion. Its name comes from the Latin magistralis, which means ‘masterly’, and it certainly dominates the land; the farmhouses in its path are built with windowless north-facing walls to protect against its blast, and lines of closely-packed cypress trees are planted as living windbreaks from east to west. Like the Bora and the Foehn, the Mistral makes a clean sweep of the sky and helps create the vibrant light that has attracted generations of painters to the south of France. But there is a price to beauty; this ‘wind of madness’ is notorious for driving people crazy. Vincent Van Gogh, who lived in its path for two years in the town of Arles – during which time he cut off his ear and committed himself to the local asylum – referred to it in his letters as ‘a nagging malice’, ‘pestering’, ‘merciless’ and ‘the devil’, even as the conditions it brought inspired some of his greatest works. I followed its trail for ten days down an ancient pilgrims’ path on the western bank of the Rhone, ending my travels on the Plain of Crau, a little-known and desolate region classified as western Europe’s only steppe. Two thousand years ago the geographer Strabo travelled there, describing ‘an impetuous and terrible wind which displaces rocks, hurls men from their chariots, breaks their limbs and strips them of their clothes and weapons’. Apart from the chariots, nothing much has changed.

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Nick Hunt’s Where the Wild Winds Are (Nicholas Brealey Publishing) was published in September 2017. Nick’s website can be found here.

End of the Line

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By Catherine Marshall:

This is a story of a rather unusual bus journey to the end of the line in Edinburgh, a discovery of an industrial museum witness to centuries of change and my own transition in moving to a new city and country.

I have always been drawn to the theme of transition both in my private life – often moving flats, cities, countries – and in my photography – which often features urban spaces undergoing change. When I first moved to Edinburgh from Germany, I had a reverse culture shock. I had to relearn a British culture that I had left behind fifteen years ago. To be honest I was happy that I had washed up in Edinburgh and not South of the border. It felt closer to Europe, the tenement-style buildings also reminded me of Berlin. As an English person, it was also nice to still feel foreign, to learn Scots phrases, hear poems read in Gaelic and learn about Scottish culture through my sons' school education. 

When it came to taking photographs and negotiating the city I was less comfortable. I almost felt that as an English person I didn't have the authority to go out there and reframe the landscape through my camera. Apart from that, I had no idea of the geography of the city and didn't know where to start. Then I came across came across (g)Host City, a kind of sound-map of Edinburgh to download where you can hear a story or a poem set in a particular location of the city. I decided to take an 'unreliable bus tour' by Japan-dwelling Scot, artist and musician, Momus. It gave me the framework (and courage) to set off to those mysterious sounding destinations on the front of buses I had seen in town: Wallyford, Ocean Terminal, Hyvot's Bank and Bonally. I cannot really describe the surreal, dark and funny tours he gave, as that is something to discover for yourself.

On one journey I wasn't sure if the bus had actually reached the end of the line. It seemed to circle back so I just decided to get off. The audio tour had ended, my google maps app was not working and suddenly I found myself off map. Two bus stops stood baldly on opposite sides of the country road, the only punctuation marks in an otherwise unreadable flat landscape. Should I go left or right or take the bus back? I decided to follow my nose. Walking down a winding B-road I saw another marker in the landscape, an exclamation mark of an industrial chimney stack. I was alone, not having seen another pedestrian since I had left the bus, and was glad to see some sign of civilisation. A pit head winding-gear came into view. As I walked closer I saw a bricked wall with tiles with illustrations of former industries; fishing, pottery, coal, and brickworks. Through serendipity I had found the Prestongrange Industrial Heritage Museum located on the north-east coast of East Lothian. For centuries this area was the centre of intense industrial activity, with a busy harbour, Morrison's Haven. Now you can just see where the harbour used to be, a rectangular outline on the grassy bank, marked with a sign on the ‘bygone years’, the sign itself nearly faded away through the erosion from the sea air. 

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At the museum I found myself donning my headphones again, this time to listen to an audio-tour of the outdoor exhibits narrated by the late artist John Bellany who grew up nearby, conjuring up, not so different from Momus, an alternative world to the one you see with your own eyes. From Bellany’s stories of Prestonpans you visualise a lost industry; the smoke billowing from the Beehive Kilns that once produced bricks for the buildings of the New Town. Or you find yourself at its mid-eighteenth century heyday with ships loaded with salt, oysters, ceramics, sulphuric acid and coal, or bringing silk, furs from Canada, whalebone and French brandy in return. In the nineteenth century, Irish workers, who first arrived in the West of Scotland, are brought with their families and their traditions to the East by new investors, Summerlee. These new owners also improved workers' conditions, installing indoor plumbing to the mining workers’ housing. Electric generators replaced the steam engines in the powerhouse and electric street lighting was brought to the area. Today the powerhouse houses art exhibitions. I was so taken with the museum, and the fact that I was free to wander with my camera making my own discoveries of an overgrown railway bridge and train tracks in the surrounding forest, that when I returned to the visitor centre the assistant said that she had been thinking of sending out a search party. 

As I left Prestonpans, walking west along the coastal path towards Musselburgh, I came across a quite alien landscape. This was not the Edinburgh that I could have imagined existed when I had set out on my 'unreliable bus tour' that morning. I had found, however, something equally strange. A vast cracked grey landscape stretched out before me towards the sea, made infinite by the fog that was closing in. These are called 'lagoons', a salubrious name for a place where Scottish Power deposited waste ash from the now closed Cockenzie power station. 

In these coastal areas, the delicate balance of man and nature is most apparent. The oysters that the Edinburgh population once enjoyed with their French Claret disappeared towards the end of the nineteenth century overfishing, new dredging methods and pollution from sewage and industrial waste. As industry disappears, nature reclaims, and also in this case offered opportunity for recreation. Bellany recounts several generations of Prestonpans children using the disused harbour as their own swimming pool after the 1930s, conveniently heated by the water dispersed from the pit boilers. Now this coastal area is a destination for walkers and bike enthusiasts. There are also plans to create a nature reserve on the site of the lagoons. Although the lagoons in themselves are dead, they have provided a sanctuary for both sea and wading birds and there are three hides for birdwatchers in the area. In the photographs I took that day, I was drawn to the themes of transition and change, nature reclaiming land itself. But I also wondered about the transitions that families had to go through in the passage of time when industries that had sustained them for so long, came to an end.  

About the author:

Catherine Marshall is an artist and writer based in Edinburgh. She studied photography at the London College of Communication and Glasgow School of Art. She has lived in different countries and cities including Berlin, which she made her home for a decade.

www.catherine-marshall.com

To Island Farm

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By Tim Cooke:

On my fourteenth birthday, I was presented with a new bike, complete with front-fork suspension, and the freedom it brought saw a change in my attitude to rules and regulations, borders and boundaries: they became less concrete. As such, the local edgelands, many of which were totally off-limits – both geographically and by parental decree – became my choice stomping grounds. In tow with the more feral and exciting of my friends, I tore through sun-baked industrial estates, ploughed headfirst into monastic woods and derelict graveyards, took up with rogue youths hanging out in car parks beneath brutalist recreation centres and explored the grounds of water treatment plants hidden on the salty flanks of wild coastal scrublands.

One of the first of these potent and dynamic – but often, at a glance, unremarkable – landscapes that demanded our attention was the old POW camp at Island Farm. A close friend of mine, who lived around the corner and introduced me to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, second-wave punk music and Camel cigarettes, had visited with an older schoolmate and returned with beguiling tales of BMX tracks, booze and beautiful girls. It was a daunting prospect, particularly because this strange zone had attached to it many dark and mysterious mythologies that served to keep us clear – not least those concerning satanic rituals and predatory criminals. I’d lived less than half a mile from the site for fourteen years but had never before set foot on its hallowed ground. It was daunting, yes, but compelling, too.

It was midsummer and the sun was hot and high in the sky when the boys called at my door. We’d crossed the large, somewhat monstrous, graffitied sewage pipe in the field behind my house – over the River Ogmore and into Bluebells Woods – every day for the previous week and we needed somewhere new to explore and claim as our own. I fetched my bike from the padlocked shed in the back garden and we set off in single file. The road emanated that warm stench of scorched tarmac, released by a light morning shower that had failed to clear the thick humidity, and the beech trees sizzled with birdsong; we waved to our smiling neighbours, who had known two of us since birth, as we passed.

We rounded a blind bend at reckless speed, forcing the still air into a gentle flurry, and arrived at a treacherous junction that bled onto the A48, a fairly busy dual carriageway separating the town’s southern-most suburb from its surrounding countryside. This is still the point at which the suburban realm leaks into rural territory. The cars whooshed by one after another – red, yellow, black and blue – and we pedalled across to an inlet from where we could join a narrow track into a profusion of slim tress and overgrown shrubbery. A sign warned that trespassers would be prosecuted; we all turned our heads, hocked back our best phlegm and spat at it with embarrassing vigour.

I recall the journey up until this point with surprising clarity, but the next portion has slipped entirely from my mind, the topography obscured by a dark mist that simply won’t shift. I’ve created the right conditions: I’m sat in front of a window at the top of a hill, looking out onto the Black Mountains, the only noise is that of the tits, chaffinches and siskins pecking at the birdfeeder in the garden. I have a copy of an article I recently wrote, detailing some of the camp’s many fragmented histories via a walk I undertook earlier this year – in search of the one remaining hut that contained the prisoners – but still the memory refuses to take any discernible form. I do, however, remember that incomparable feeling of anticipation, a kind of excitement only teenagers on the cusp of something brand new can feel.

We must have weaved our way around the labyrinthine system of footpaths, tearing clouds of dust from the dry earth with our wheels, perhaps stopping momentarily to fill our mouths with sour blackberries, before emerging onto a wide expanse of grey land with no apparent purpose. When I revisited this spot a few months ago, it gave off an eerie sense of transition, as if something was happening. There were wooden stumps hammered into the soil, with rubber boots placed on top to serve as weird markers of some kind. Drinks cans hung from painted trees. Felled wood peppered the terrain and two sets of tattered blue overalls were cast nonchalantly over a stump, an empty bottle of homemade wine or cider resting in the crook of a nearby branch. It was ugly and beautiful, the same but different.

I imagine as youngsters we would have dragged our bikes in rapid, imperfect circles around this nondescript plot of pallid ground, unaware that we were riding on rubble formed during the destruction of nineteen of the twenty units that once constituted the POW camp; the debris was supposed to extend a runway at Cardiff Airport, but it was scattered instead to level the uneven surface. Grass has since grown over it in wild tufts that suit the landscape like an untamed hairstyle.

This is where it comes back to me: we dismounted under a cover of oak-tree foliage and wheeled our bikes along yet another passage surrounded by tight knots of bracken and bramble. First from below and then suddenly above the chirruping birdsong came the aggressive conversation and trigger-happy laughter of adolescents eager to prove something and impress, some relishing the challenge. We swept clear the final twigs and leaves and arrived at a sort of amphitheatre – a dome cut into the topsoil and layered with improvised obstacles to make a gnarly cycle track. Around its circumference were strewn three or four groups of boys and girls, smoking, drinking and flirting.

The air surrounding this congregation was hot and hormonal and laced with pollen. I scanned the faces for any I knew and spotted that of a lad I’d met in the schoolyard after hours, described to me by a friend as one of the best skaters in town. Today he was on a BMX, throwing himself at the final ramp, which was composed of a dented white washing machine turned on its side and a heavy layer of turf thrown over the top. He skidded to a halt at the foot of the banking we were descending and raised his chin: “Alright, boys?” We nodded in return and the chatter that had suddenly dissipated resumed.

For the next half-hour or so we sat alone about five metres from three girls I recognised from the year above. I knew one of them as mouthy and popular, prone to hurling abuse at unsuspecting victims she passed on the path between lessons, while the other two were, as far as I was concerned, beautiful and unobtainable. It was about this age that something chemical had rendered me incapable of talking to anyone I found attractive. The idea of spending any length of time in the company of good-looking older girls was totally outrageous, but before I knew it we were in a circle, sharing Super King cigarettes and swallowing gulps of cheap cider from a plastic flagon. I hardly said a word, which didn’t matter, because they carried me along with their jokes and small talk; it was bliss.

The rest of that first visit remains mainly as a kind of montage, or mosaic. I recall my longing for the brown-haired girl with faint freckles and braces on her teeth. The disproportionate ache I felt then makes me think now of the artwork produced by the prisoners once held at the camp: images of scantily-clad women – wives and girlfriends left behind, perhaps never to be seen again other than as memory-traces scratched into prefabricated concrete. I recollect, too, tumbling from the top of the repurposed washing machine, the pain that dug into my groin on impact and crawled into my stomach. Then there were the feelings of belonging and community that would stick with me right through my years on the darker edges of town.

Finally, we arrived at the far end of the zone and smoked in the shade of Hut 9, from which seventy prisoners escaped in November 1945 by tunnelling into an adjacent field. All of them were recaptured and later dispersed around the world, but I’ve no doubt their ghosts returned from wherever they perished – this landscape needs them somehow. The structure itself, its weathered brickwork and boarded-up windows, meant little to me then – I would even scrawl my name on the wall, adding inadvertently to the tangible palimpsest this site also requires. It feels now, divorced from any official history, like a monument to a significant moment in my life. Strangely, I can’t recall a single journey back from Island Farm, only getting there, staying awhile and, eventually, moving on.

About the author:

Tim Cooke is a teacher and freelance journalist. He writes about film, literature and place for various publications, including the GuardianLittle White Lies, the Quietus, Ernest Journal, the Nightwatchman and the Hackney Citizen. His creative work has appeared in the Lampeter Review, Drain Magazine, Foxhole Magazine, Stepz, Particulations and Litro Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @cooketim2