Postcard from... Hyltenäs kulle

Image: Katrin Schönig

Image: Katrin Schönig

By Paul Scraton:

The marketing material promised ‘West Sweden’s most beautiful lookout point’, the Hyltenäs kulle rising above the dense forests and lakes of the Mark municipality, but as we followed the narrow, winding road up the hill the mist was descending and a light rain had begun to fall. At the top, a solitary man stood with an umbrella against the drizzle, looking out into the gloom.

‘I’m supposed to be photographing a wedding up here,’ he said, glumly.

‘When?’ I replied.

‘In about an hour.’

I left him to his thoughts of where he could place the bride without getting too much water on her white dress, and began to explore the summit of the hill. In the early years of the 20th century, the merchant George Seaton built a huge hunting lodge on the hill, which at the time of construction had been cleared of all trees and other plant life in order to maximise the views for Seaton and his guests. Perhaps this was tempting fate. They barely had time to enjoy it – just a handful of hunting seasons – before the lodge was destroyed in a fire. Now all that remains are the stone foundations and the hill, declared a nature reserve in the 1970s, is once more overgrown with a forest of oak, birch, hazel and mountain ash.

But the views that brought George Seaton to the Hyltenäs kulle remain. However dreich the day.

Paul’s essay ‘Bordercrossing’ appears in Elsewhere No.05 – Transition. You can order the latest edition of the journal and all back issues directly with us, via our online shop.

Five Questions for... Brendan Walsh

IMAGE: Brendan Walsh

IMAGE: Brendan Walsh

For the next of our semi-regular series of short interviews with contributors to Elsewhere and other friends of the journal we have five questions for Brendan Walsh, whose poem 'Playing War’ appeared in Elsewhere No.05. You can find our more about Elsewhere No.05 and order your copy here.

What does home mean to you?

I've realized that home, for me, can only be determined in retrospect. Home is a memory. I can look back at times/places and say, "yes, that felt like home," but in the moment I'm not sure it can be pinned down succinctly. Oftentimes we equate "home" with "comfort," but why can't comfort exist without home? The more comfortable one becomes in the absence of a defined location, the greater comfort one can find in every single place.

Two years ago I would have said that home is wherever I am with people who accept/love me, but it isn't that easy. I have been with wonderful people in places that were definitely not my home. Before I had the ability to travel freely, this question was much simpler to answer.

Where is your favourite place?

My favorite place is Laos. I lived in Vientiane for one year, and I'm currently back visiting for a month. I won't say that there is one place within Laos that I prefer--I am simply enamored with the feeling of being here. In my life I've never encountered a collective society that is more welcoming, humble, kind-hearted, relaxed, and hilarious. The landscape is calm and brutal in the same blink. Mornings are hazy, slow, and warm.

What is beyond your front door?

Palm trees, geckos, coffee, mangoes fallen to the sidewalk, beaches, hopefully sun.

What place would you most like to visit?

Right now it's a tie between Papua New Guinea and Mozambique.

What are you reading/listening to/looking at right now?

I'm reading Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer, Between the World and Me by Ta-nehisi Coatesand Become What You Are by Alan Watts, listening to thousands of motorbikes tear through Vientiane's Lane Xang Avenue, and looking at three women congregated around a cart weighed down with coconuts. 

Printed Matters: NANSEN Magazine

As small independent publishers of a small independent journal, we are always interested in the work of like-minded folk, especially if the subject matter relates to our own investigations of people and place. NANSEN Magazine is a new project from an old friend of ours and tells the story of migrants of all kinds. Their first issue was published yesterday, and we caught up with editor and publisher Vanessa Ellingham to find out more.

Hi Vanessa! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, and what inspired this new magazine?

I’m a journalist and editor, originally from Wellington, New Zealand, now living in Berlin. I’ve been here for four years, but before moving to Berlin I lived in Copenhagen for a year with my partner, who’s Danish.

My year in Copenhagen didn’t go very well. I was struggling to settle in, find work, make friends and feeling pretty lonely. One of the things I did was go and volunteer at a refugee camp, where I met other newcomers in a very different situation to myself - for one thing, if I was so fed up I could just move home again, which they absolutely could not. It got me thinking about all the things we had in common as newcomers to Denmark and the solidarity to be found between different kinds of people living far from home but all giving it their best shot.

What is it about the topic of migrants and migration that interested you?

Migration has always been part of human life on earth and it certainly isn’t going to stop. I think the events of 2015 only highlighted the need for us to better understand why people leave home in search of a - hopefully - better life.

I first had the idea for a magazine about migrants a couple of years before the “refugee crisis”, when I was standing in IKEA in Berlin, having just shopped for new furniture in a new country for the second time in a year.

With NANSEN Magazine we want to introduce our readers to all kinds of people on the move and explore the personal experiences of migration that other migrants can relate to and non-migrants probably will, too.

Because migrants aren’t just refugees. We’re also doctors and artists and lovers and diplomats. Some migrants are better known for being movie stars than for their immigration status. But they likely have many shared experiences with other people who’ve upped and left home.

That’s why we focus on one migrant per issue, to go deep into their experiences so that, after reading the magazine, you feel like you’ve really gotten to know that person.

What can we find in issue #1?

Issue 01 centres on Aydin Akin, someone many Berliners will know, although most likely not by name. Aydin is a 78-year-old Turkish-German man who cycles across the city each day, demonstrating for migrant rights.

It’s an endurance protest - his trip takes three hours each way - and he’s been doing it for 12 years. But if you spot Aydin on his bike, decked out with his handwritten protest posters, his two megaphones blasting music and his protest chant, and the annoying whistle he bleats on as he rides, it can be hard to see him as anything other than totally crazy.

Turns out Aydin has some great ideas for how to better welcome newcomers to Berlin and Germany. He’s spent almost 50 years now living in Germany and advocating for equal rights for all of Germany’s migrants. He believes that giving newcomers equal footing from the get-go is the best way to prevent the anger, hate and violence that occurs when people are excluded from the societies they live in. I think Aydin’s someone worth listening to, whether you live in Berlin, Germany or somewhere else.

So Issue 01 is about Aydin and his life in Berlin. But because he’s so focused on others, and the broader migrant community, this issue spins out to explore what it’s like to be a Turk living in Berlin today. We spend a day waiting in line at the Ausländerbehörde, we chart the history of Turkish guest workers in Germany - another large group of migrants who arrived en masse by train, decades before the 2015 “refugee crisis” - we talk about Willkommenskultur and we meet the next generation of Turkish-German Berliners.

What is next for Nansen?

We plan to make future issues of NANSEN about migrants of all kinds living all over the world.

And we promise they won’t all be people working in the area of migration, Aydin just seemed like a great subject to start with. We like to be bold and a little playful - you can expect us to go beyond the melancholy of traditional migration reporting. Because there’s plenty of joy in being a newcomer, too.

But making future issues really depends on how Issue 01 sells. So we’d love to sell you a copy of our mag!

Can you also tell us a little bit about the Give Something Back to Berlin project?

At GSBTB I work in communications. I edit and manage the online magazine, which is by and about Berlin's newcomers.

GSBTB started as one answer to the gentrification taking place in Berlin neighbourhoods like Neukölln, where hip young newcomers were moving in and pushing up the cost of living, to the frustration of the locals, both Germans and other, more established migrants. GSBTB offered a platform for newcomers to be matched up with volunteer opportunities, enabling them to give back to their new home city.

We started with a Facebook post in 2012. Today GSBTB runs many of its own projects, from cooking groups to social meet-ups to art therapy, that support newcomers to get settled in Berlin. At any of our events or projects, you’ll find locals, expats, refugees and people somewhere in-between all mucking in, invested in the idea of doing something good for the city together.

NANSEN Magazine website
NANSEN Magazine on Facebook
Give Something Back To Berlin website

Ruin Renewal: Manchester's Upper Brook Chapel

Photo: Mark Dyer

Photo: Mark Dyer

By Mark Dyer:

Nestled amongst the busy hum of traffic and surrounding car garages, I noticed the crumbling remnants of the Upper Brook Chapel when I first moved to Manchester in 2014.  Recalling a ruin from a Turner painting, the roofless Neo-Gothic church never failed to strike wonder in me. As unopposed vines and vegetation encroached upon the sandstone columns, the elements mounted a relentless assault upon the exposed innards of the building. The open husk of the nave, like the splayed ribcage of a fossilised whale, provided ideal nesting space for winged critters, whilst the intact rose window hinted at its former glory.

A fascination with ruined structures is nothing new. Like the above-mentioned painter, I never fail to recognise the poignancy of man’s futile attempts to defy nature and time. It is a sentiment that fascinated the early modern period when confronted with the remnants of antiquity, through to John Ruskin and the Romantics who contemplated man’s relationship with nature. It could be said that my reaction to the Upper Brook Chapel was commonplace, expected even, or, simply, inevitable.

Then, in early 2016, development work on the Chapel began. According to the aptly named website ‘Saving the Chapel,’ [1] Manchester City Council agreed a proposal from developer Church Converts to renovate the building into micro flats. This involved relocating the Manchester Islamic Academy, who were leasing the attached Sunday School from the Council. By mid-2016, the scaffolding that would support and surround the structure during these developments was erected.

However, the east-facing façade of the Chapel, which I frequently passed, was bedecked with a denser layer of intricate metal. This method of scaffolding is known as Double Scaffolding and is commonly adopted for stone masonry to avoid drilling into the walls. This criss-cross thicket, belted on like a muzzle, transformed the humble chapel ruin into an iron basilica. From the pavement, I was confronted by a fortified cathedral whose stockade loomed above passing pedestrians and would-be invaders. Indeed, the St George’s flag raised on top of the monolith in June 2016 cemented the image of a battle-weary and battered bastion.

We might liken the braced edifice to more modern trends in architecture. Consider Fritz Höger’s Chilehaus, Hamburg; or the Grundtvigs Church, Copenhagen, designed by Peder Jensen-Klint and Kaare Klint. The bare metal of the scaffolding in particular evoked in me a dystopian imagining of Jean Nouvel’s Fondation Cartier, Paris, as if the glass had melted away in some unknown catastrophe. Whether a fortified citadel, a fragment of expressionist architecture, or the future bones of one of our cultural houses, the Upper Brook Chapel had certainly been transformed from its Gothic origins.

So, through the preservation and development of one ruin, we are presented with another, very different, sort of ruin. Robert Smithson conceived the idea of ‘ruins in reverse’ [2] whereby the apparatus and detritus of construction work will grow out of ruin into the finished building. But Upper Brook Chapel was already a ruin and has been made more ruinous, so how might we articulate what is occurring here? Ruin regeneration? Ruin renewal? Ideologically, we might understand such an activity to be part of and run in parallel with urban renewal and cleansing. Aesthetically, however, it appears to work in contrary motion. Presented with such a dichotomy, my interpretation of the Chapel was more nuanced than before the development work began. The preservation of heritage has resulted in a temporary ruin that is somehow more commanding, more socially engaged, and more representative of how ruin can challenge us in the 21st Century.

Illustration: Mark Dyer

Illustration: Mark Dyer

Then, one evening, during the full throws of development, I chanced upon a particular sight. In the wake of fading twilight, where the inky sky provided a fitting backdrop to the obsidian basilica, a lone construction site lamp warmly permeated through the vacant double lancet window and surrounding labyrinth of iron. This simple scene, serendipitously witnessed, instantly transformed the imposing ruined monolith into a tender and reverent sanctum.

The gentle glow amidst the darkness gave an air of solemnity that the Chapel had not hosted in years, though this prompted an image of private worship or individual spiritualism as opposed to the institutional congregation.  Consequently, I was reminded of those forced to worship in secret, away from persecution in its many guises. Post-Reformation? Post-Referendum. A sanctuary for the minority, the unwanted, the forgotten. The St George’s flag erected during the EU vote now cast a more sinister shadow across the windswept parapet.

This asylum buried in the stone masonry in turn reminded me of Lud’s Church, Staffordshire, England; a natural chasm in the rock that provided a safe place of worship for the Lollards in the 15th Century [3]. Similar to Upper Brook Chapel, this cleft in the Peak District features towering columns of Millstone Grit rock festooned in lichen, a dizzying open skylight and a quiet aura of solemnity. However, instead of being carved by and into nature, the Chapel has been formed as a result of additive manmade processes to form a composite structure whose social and contextual recollections are multifaceted and era-spanning.

When the development work of Upper Brook Chapel is complete, the church-cum-mosque will host plush apartments for students and young professionals, lining the pockets of shrewd property owners, if not the Council itself. Whilst I appreciate the importance of preserving our architectural heritage and history, as well as the financial viability of sustaining derelict buildings for non-commercial purposes, should stone and mortar be prioritised above existing religious and social networks and relationships? Where will these people now seek sanctuary?

About the author:
Mark is a composer of concert and installation music. His primary artistic focus is the ‘musical ruin’: the quotation and fragmentation of existing music, that might elicit a feeling in the listener analogous to that experienced when visiting an architectural ruin. Mark has worked with ensembles such as Psappha, OUT-TAKE Ensemble and Collective31, and has published in the new music journal Tempo. In September 2017, Mark will begin a PhD in Composition at the Royal Northern College of Music, supported by an AHRC scholarship awarded by the North West Consortium DTP. Listen to his music at http://www.markdyercomposer.com/

Notes:
[1] Czero Developments. (2017) Saving the Chapel. [Online] [Accessed 27th February 2017] http://www.savingchapel.com
[2] Smithson, R. (2011) ‘A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic,’ In Dillon, B. (ed.) Ruins. London: Whitechapel Art Gallery, p.49.
[3] Cressbrook Multimedia. (2017) Lud’s Church. [Online] [Accessed 28th February 2017] https://www.peakdistrictinformation.com/visits/ludschurch.php

The story of a beach: Strandbad Wannsee, Berlin

Image: Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-P014703 / Frankl, A. / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Image: Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-P014703 / Frankl, A. / CC-BY-SA 3.0

By Paul Scraton

Down in the south-west of Berlin, close to the border with Potsdam, is a wide expanse of golden sand. This the Strandbad Wannsee, the city’s most famous beach, and a popular place to escape the heat of the summer in Berlin without leaving the city limits. The story of the Strandbad Wannsee, which has been name-checked in popular show tunes and punk songs, reflects Berlin’s experiences in the 20th century, and especially the years of division, when this beach became the Riviera, the Adriatic and the North Sea of the West Berliners imagination, all rolled into one.

The tale of the Strandbad begins, as so much in Berlin, with the rapid growth following German unification in 1871. From three quarters of a million residents, the city boomed to reach almost two million at the turn of the century, less than thirty years later. The majority of incomers lived in one- or two-room apartments in so-called Mietskaserne (rental barracks), enduring cramped conditions with limited sanitary facilities. It was unsurprising that as soon as the spring weather turned warm people flocked to the lakes and rivers surrounding Berlin.

At the same time, public bathing was technically illegal – Victorian morality was just as pervasive in Wilhelmine Germany as it was on the other side of the North Sea – but soon the numbers were such that the local municipality of Teltow, south of Berlin, bowed to the popular pressure and in 1907 it made a 200m stretch of the Wannsee shoreline open to the public. The Strandbad Wannsee was born, with two separate beaches (one for men, one for women) and a motley collection of ‘facilities’ among the trees, usually housed in tents. By the late 1920s the tents had been replaced by the buildings that remain to this day, designed by Martin Wagner and Richard Ermisch in a simple, functional style known as ‘New Objectivity’.

By the late 1920s, the visitors to the Strandbad Wannsee had access to changing facilities, terraces for sporting and other leisure activities, the beach itself and various culinary offerings, each designed to accommodate tens of thousands of bathers at any one time. But while this corner of the city might have felt like an escape from the city hidden beyond the trees, it could not remain aloof from the turbulent events of the period as Weimar Germany lurched from crisis to crisis and the National Socialists came ever closer to power.

The tension in the city was reflected in the street battles between Nazis, Communists and agents of the state, flaring up dramatically in the working class neighbourhoods of Wedding, Prenzlauer Berg and Kreuzberg. Yet another place where such battles occurred was the beach at Wannsee. Planting flags each political grouping would mark out its territory on the sands indicating allegiance by sewing the appropriate patch of identity on bathing costumes. Add to the simmering mix long hot summer’s days and excesses of beer and soon fighting broke out, often involving members of staff and, once the alarm was raised, the authorities.

The man attempting to manage the Strandbad through this period was one Hermann Clajus, a local Social Democratic councillor. After Hitler took power in 1933, Clajus was dismissed from his post and learned that he was about to be arrested. On the 18th March 1933 Hermann Clajus took his own life, and as with the rest of Germany the Strandbad had fallen into Nazi hands. By 1935 Jews were forbidden from bathing at Wannsee, although this regulation and its accompanying signs were removed for the 1936 Olympics, presumably in an attempt to hide overt displays of discrimination from visiting dignitaries. By 1938 Jews were forbidden from bathing in any public baths, open air or otherwise.

After the Second World War, particularly following the building of the Berlin Wall, the Strandbad Wannsee became very important for West Berliners. With sand imported from the West German Baltic coast, it offered a very real sense of escape within the limits of their surrounded city. Most of the lakes and much of the Baltic coast, lying within the territory of the German Democratic Republic, were now off limits, and so Wannsee and the surrounding forests became the only really accessible “countryside” that did not involve a flight, train or autobahn transit through the GDR to West Germany. This sense of longing for a seaside far away, having to ‘make do’ with the beach at Wannsee, was best expressed in the lyrics of West Berlin punk band Die Ärtze’s 1988 single Westerland, which namechecks the Strandbad in its opening line.

The Wall is now long gone, and West Berliners have the choice of many lakes in Brandenburg. They can be on the beach at the Baltic Sea in a couple of hours, but the Strandbad Wannsee retains its popularity, celebrating its centenary in 2007 and designated a cultural heritage site. Its popularity with Berlin’s public is undiminished and approximately a quarter of a million bathers pass through its turnstiles every summer.

About the author: Paul Scraton is the editor in chief of Elsewhere: A Journal of Place, and his short essay on crossing borders appears in the latest edition of the journal. He is also the author of Ghosts on the Shore: Travels along Germany’s Baltic coast (Influx Press) and you can read more of his work on his website www.underagreysky.com.

Five Questions for... Louise Slocombe

Image: Louise Slocombe

Image: Louise Slocombe

We return to our semi-regular series of short interviews with contributors to Elsewhere and other friends of the journal. Today we have five questions for Louise Slocombe, whose essay 'Quarantine' on the Point Nepean quarantine station in Melbourne, appeared in Elsewhere No.05. You can find our more about Elsewhere No.05 and order your copy here.

What does home mean to you?

That’s always a difficult question for an immigrant. I love living in New Zealand and it was very easy to settle when I moved here from Britain ten years ago, but I find that the feeling of having uprooted myself has grown stronger over the years. So home has to be more than one place for me – it is both where I live now, but also the places and people that I reconnect with when I visit Britain.

What is your favourite place?

Wellington in New Zealand, where I live, has an ideal balance (for me anyway) between being big enough to have a happening cultural life but small enough to escape from without having to get into a car. At the same time, it is in a completely ridiculous location for a city – on a major faultline, built over rugged hills and steep valleys, and subject to crazy winds. It’s the sort of place you only live in because you want to, but these things all give it a vibe that I really like, not to mention the great views from every hilltop.  

What is beyond your front door?

Lots of native birds – I live on the edge of the city, close to a wildlife sanctuary that has been amazingly successful in bringing native birds back to the city. Watching them gives me a huge amount of pleasure. If I venture further afield I can get down to the city and the harbour, or I can head off into the bush and wander for as long as I feel like wandering.

What place would you most like to visit?

I would really love to visit the subantarctic islands, which have amazing flora and fauna, and I also like the idea of how remote and wild they are. Needless to say, they are not easy or cheap to get to, but that all adds to the attraction.

What are you reading right now?

At the moment, I’m reading about the psychology of memory. There is some really beautiful writing about memory – it seems to be a subject that invites the use of metaphors.
 

The Library: Wherever the Firing Line Extends - Ireland and the Western Front, by Ronan McGreevy

Read by Marcel Krueger:

One of the interior decoration staples of many an Irish pub, or really any self-proclaimed 'quirky' beerhouse between Norway and Sardinia is the 'On this site in 1856 (or 1768 or 1699) nothing happened'-sign. There is no statement more untrue. Even though the events that took place near the sign over the last centuries may have gone mostly unrecorded in written or oral history, it does not mean that all the love stories, tragedies, atrocities that occurred there have never happened. For this exact reason, I am an advocate of memorials, regardless if they are large Victorian stone slabs in public parks, small blue plaques on buildings or even smaller, unobtrusive ones like the German Stolpersteine dedicated to the memory of Holocaust victims or the Last Address plaques in Moscow remembering the victims of Stalin's purges in the 1930s. All these memorials and monuments help us to view both the past and the present in context, to provide details and names of happenings long ago that we would have otherwise passed by without thought.

Ronan McGreevy has done a similar thing in his book: through a framework of site-specific memorials, all accessible today throughout southern Belgium, the north of France and Germany, he paints a picture of the actions of Irish troops on the western front in World War I. Beginning with the first shots fired at Casteau in Belgium to, incidentally, one of the last 1918 actions near Mons (where a marble plaque remembers the 5th Royal Irish Lancers) just 12 kilometres from that first engagement. Printed in hardcover and enhanced with black-and-white and colour images as well as maps for most chapters, the book is structured along both the British troop movements and the memorials that came after. Some chapters focus on specific military actions and the units involved, like the railway station at Le Pilly and the 2nd Royal Irish Regiment; others focus on single soldiers, like poet Francis Ledwidge (remembered by a plaque from 1998 near Passchendaele) or Robert Armstrong, a World War I veteran who became the head gardener of the Valenciennes military cemetery after the war and who died in a German prison camp in 1944. One story and chapter that stood out for me is the story of the Iron 12, twelve Irish prisoners executed by the Germans after being caught hiding with Belgian civilians.  

Despite that fragmented approach, the book manages to provide an excellent overview of the Irish involvement in the British campaign 1914 - 1918 in contrast with the Easter Rising in 1916 and republicanism at home. As McGreevy puts it in the introduction: 'It is perhaps the great paradox of Irish history that more Irishmen died fighting for the Crown than ever died fighting against it.' Sometimes the fragmentation of the chapters however seems to lead McGreevy slightly astray, and in just a few paragraphs we cover decades and move from the detailed description of an action on the ground over to events in Ireland many years later and just barely find our way back to the actions on the western front. Also, due to the wealth of details presented in here the book will mainly appeal to amateur historians and other World War I enthusiasts.

And yet the strength is the concrete interface of occurrence and memory expressed as memorials, and their connection with the landscape. The writing is strongest when McGreevy explores the sometimes hidden or unobtrusive location of the memorials and their equally unobtrusive history and changing political significance, from the small plaque at Mouse Trap Farm to the large Island of Ireland Peace Park in Messines, opened by Irish president Mary McAleese, Queen Elizabeth II and Belgian King Albert II in 1998.  

'Wherever the Firing Line Extends' can be used as guide book on the ground, and at the same time is a fine addition to the canon of publications on the double identity of the Irish soldiers in World War I. While the book is focusing on individual stories in the face of industrial scale slaughter, it is the new approach of appreciating the memorials later generations left for these men that makes it a refreshing read. After all it is for us, the living, that these memorials exist. They remind us not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

About the reviewer: Marcel Krueger is a writer, translator, and editor, and mainly writes non-fiction about places, their history, and the journeys in between. His articles and essays have been published in the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian, Slow Travel Berlin, the Matador Network, and CNN Travel, amongst others. He has translated Wolfgang Borchert and Jörg Fauser into English, and his latest book Babushka's Journey - The Dark Road to Stalin's Wartime Camps will be published by I.B. Tauris in 2017.

The Great Ruins of Love Lane

Image: David Lewis

Image: David Lewis

By David Lewis:

Cities are in a permanent process of evolution, fast or slow, and districts within a city change at different speeds, depending on investment, need, attitude.  Nowhere is this more evident than in Liverpool, which is no longer the crumbling monochrome city of the early Beatles photographs, but a modern holiday and conference destination.  Confidence roared through the city again from the late 1980s, building luxury hotels and celebrity-chef restaurants, revamping museums, opening new visitor attractions and developing the huge Liverpool One shopping development complex, a shopping mall in the heart of the city. 

A slower, more varied pace of change can be seen in the 1840s docklands north of the city centre, which have evolved since 1945 through bomb damage, obsolescence and redundancy.  This has left a bruised landscape of old warehouses and railway yards, closed pubs and overgrown vacant lots.  There is silence here, and sunlight, and huge empty skies.  The Mersey is never far away.

It is precisely this neglect that makes the docklands vulnerable to development.  Slowly, with altered attitudes, the pace of change is quickening and the confidence is spreading northwards.  New uses have been found for giant survivors; Jesse Hartley’s Stanley Dock buildings have become the Titanic Hotel, and the hulking Tobacco Warehouse next door, once the largest brick building in the world, is being converted into urban apartments.  

Image: David Lewis

Image: David Lewis

I walk these streets now with a new sense of urgency.  Blackstone Street, Cotton Street, Saltney Street, Dublin Street - I am at home here, clearing street dust to discover cobble or street railway, granite kerb, a softness of old sandstone.  These ground-level Victorian ruins add colour – rusts and steel blue-greys – to the streets.  Old Liverpool is a city of brick, and walls snake through the old districts; ubiquitous and invisible, shiny red or gleaming hard blue-grey; heavily sooted, organic, hand-made.  On the oldest warehouses the brick folds into narrow doorways and narrow barred windows capped with sandstone or rusted iron.  The bricks and mortar have flaked away after 170 years of river weather, but these structures add fluidity and definition to the city and warm colour – chalky reds, dark blues – to the streets.  Each brick was hand-laid decades ago, on bright days or damp days, sooted with river fogs and steam-smuts or laid in warm sunshine as the city roared north along the river; brick by brick, wall by wall, street by street.

This hinterland is full of oddity and unexpected glories.  Gateposts, fragments of walls, arches in stone or brick, monolithic survivors like ruined sandcastles left behind by the tide.  Some have found new uses and stand, silent and dominant, in new fences, new boundaries.  There are also ghost places, vacant lots full of buddleia and butterflies which once housed large railway yards or churches, their histories forgotten.  Nothing survives of the Martyrs’ Church, St. Augustine’s on Chadwick Street; nothing survives of the giant goods stations of Waterloo, Great Howard Street, or Canada Dock, apart from stumped walls and fragments of story. 

Ruins can be invisible here.  Love Lane lies beyond the huge railway arches carrying commuter trains up the coast, and is connected to whole streets of redundancy, truly empty places, scenes for a car chase or a clandestine meeting, film sets for unmade films.  Sprainger Street, Little Howard Street, streets of walls and graffiti, windows and doors bricked up, more buddleia and more grasses, silence, a beautiful decay.  Nobody seems to be here. The air smells of rotting rubbish, vegetation and illegally-dumped engine oil.  At night the few streetlights illuminate the darkness rather than dispel it, sending a weak light spilling across the cobbles to create great polygonal slabs of velvet darkness.  These lost streets are dominated by the amputated, hacked remains of another railway viaduct, overgrown and crumbling, a lost route to the lost station of Liverpool Exchange.  The bricklayers’ art has created great swirls of brick, smooth and close-fitting like dragon scales or armour.  These arches are muscular, seeming to crouch, tense and full of unexpressed energy.  They have the deep calm of gigantic Roman ruins, solid and seemingly permanent. 

Image: David Lewis

Image: David Lewis

And yet these old walls, these folds of brick and obsolete arches, are increasingly vulnerable.  A grandiose, long-term plan called Liverpool Waters is promising apartment blocks, and open squares of bars, restaurants and shops along the waterfront.  Everton Football Club have confirmed a £300m move from Goodison Park to the Bramley-Moore Dock.  At ground level, the Ten Streets project will deliver new work/living spaces, renovated buildings, more public space. 

I believe that cities need dark streets and grey areas, places of awkward, disjointed history and ambivalence.  Cities need to regenerate periodically, but they also need the old, the quiet, the derelict, a sense of faded history.  Is it not possible to have rough edges to our cities, dark corners, un-developments?  We should be able to discover something of our cities for ourselves; not everything should be signpostedPerhaps these old streets are where the city has most potential, perhaps these scraps of buildings and stumps of walls remind us that all things are possible within a city; perhaps without decay there can be no sense of potential, and ultimately no regeneration.  Our ruins should be left to their decay. 

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

Announcing Elsewhere No.05 - Transition

We are extremely pleased and proud to announce the publication of Elsewhere No.05 on the 13 July 2017. With contributions on the theme of place and transition from great writers, poets, photographers, illustrators and other visual artists, we are sure you will enjoy it too.
 
Order your copy of Elsewhere No.05 from our online shop

This is the first issue of Elsewhere where we have a theme beyond that of place, and in our editorial we wrote a little about what the theme of ‘transition’ meant to those writers and visual artists who answered our call for submissions: 

“For some, it was personal: stories of memories, of what changes in us, in growing up and the moments that can shape a life. For others, it was about the transformations brought upon a place: a theme park that became a naval base; a fortified border that becomes a patch of woodland. About how a house, a street or neighbourhood can alter, incrementally, until it is no longer recognisable. About the impacts of war, the decline of industry or the first waves of ‘new money’ washing through dilapidated streets.  

Transition is also about movement, about the nature of travel, and thus of home, belonging and identity. And it became clear that these have always been the themes of Elsewhere, and that the idea of transition has, in part, shaped the journal from the very beginning.” 

As well as publishing the new edition on the 13 July we will also be holding a combined launch event and fundraiser for the Sparrow Home in Thailand, a project which features in this issue. It will be in Berlin and hosted by the Circus Hostel – we will announce more details soon.

In the meantime, every order before publication date is a great boost for us, so head on over to the shop where you will also have the chance to buy No.05 in combination with other issues of the journal, or back issues to complete your collection.

Elsewhere: A Journal of Place online shop
 
It would be a great help to us if you could share the news with anyone who you think might enjoy our journal. Word of mouth is what got us started and what keeps us going.
 
Finally, we would like to use this opportunity to once again thank the wonderful contributors to the journal and we really hope you will be holding their work in your hands soon.

Worlds Apart

IMAGE: Frank Hajek

IMAGE: Frank Hajek

By Jessica Groenendijk:

The otter changes course and heads into a crystalline, shallow tributary. I snatch up my binoculars and see it flush a large catfish, water surging as it chases its prey over a sand bank. The fish escapes and the otter, too, is swallowed by the jungle. How will we identify it now?

“Quick, let’s follow on foot,” I say to Frank. “We might be able to catch up.” 

Frank gestures to our boat driver, Zacarias, to nudge the bow of our fifteen-metre canoe into the mouth of the stream. I grab the day's provisions and tug on a pair of light trainers, token protection against sting rays. Then I swing my legs over the side and lower myself into the current, enjoying the shock of cool water on my skin. Frank follows, the camera and zoom lens slung around his neck. Zacarias reverses the engine; he agrees to moor the boat nearby and wait for us. 

It is mid-morning. The sun is a hot weight on our shoulders and leaches the green from the surrounding vegetation. We are nearing the end of our annual giant otter census in Peru’s Manu National Park. We have already filmed all the resident families, but the nomadic solitaries present a greater challenge. They are elusive, silent, and secretive. We still smart from our failure to film the throat marking – as distinctive in giant otters as our fingerprints are unique to us - of a lone individual sighted yesterday. 

I push my feet through the water, feeling the thin cotton of my trousers swirl against my legs. Pristine, crescent-shaped beaches flank the banks of the meandering stream. Water slips sinuously between rocky shelves and over drifts of sand, nibbling at miniature, sculpted cliffs until they crumble and dissolve. The polished trunk of a majestic ceiba spans the current, its bark long gone, its sun-warmed wood smooth and satisfying to the touch. I revel in the freedom of walking in the stream, after so many hours spent in the dense, claustrophobic forest. 

There is surprisingly little wildlife. No sign of the otter, only small schools of fish flitting from pool to pool. I disturb a sting ray, a tiny spurt of sand staining the water where it had been resting. Lime and lemon butterflies shiver on damp soil where a tapir urinated at dawn. Twice I spot the tracks of capybara. I know it is the wrong time of day for animals to be out and about, yet I am disappointed. 

Sand bunches in my socks, rubbing raw the skin between my toes, and the vicious sting of a horsefly enhances my discomfort. By now, I have given up hope of seeing the solitary otter again. A shady spot on a beach tempts me and I whistle to catch Frank's attention. 

“Let’s stop awhile, have something to eat,” I call to him. The sound of my voice makes me wince. Like shouting in a cathedral or an ancient library, it seems wrong, irreverent. 

Frank flops down next to me. “I feel like Alfred Russell Wallace,” he says, looking at our tracks on the sandy canvas. “Like we’re the only humans ever to have ventured here.” 

I nod, conscious of an all-too-human desire to claim this remote pocket of rainforest as our own, by right of first passage, even if only in spirit.  A kingfisher arrows past, it's challenging chatter ringing in my ears. I push myself off the sand and brush my hands. “Let’s keep going.” 

The channel narrows and trees tower on either side. The beaches all but disappear. We penetrate deeper and deeper, and with every step I feel more alive. My senses hum. 

“Jess.”

Frank’s voice beside me is low and taut. I glance at him and follow his gaze. About one hundred metres upstream, a tree has collapsed from bank to bank, forming a bridge over the water. On it lies a jaguar. 

Frank lifts the camera from his chest. But even with the zoom we are too far away. We walk, our paces measured to avoid splashing, our eyes never leaving the jaguar. Excitement wells in me. Nothing but air separates us from the big cat. Not the metal and glass of a car, nor the wooden hull of a boat. Here we are on an equal footing, as we were meant to be. 

My eyes burn and I blink. In that split second the jaguar is gone. There is no in-between, no slow slinking into the forest. Anywhere else I would have regretted the loss. Here it feels right. 

“Strange,” says Frank. “I didn’t think he’d be so scared of us.” 

The sun is lower in the sky, the foliage now luminous, greens burnished with old-gold. Although it is tempting to explore further, we will find ourselves spending the night unprepared if we do not turn back soon. 

“What do you think, just one more bend?” I ask. Frank agrees without hesitation. 

As we round the meander, a beach, larger and higher than any we have seen so far, slopes gently up into the forest. Our shoes squelch as we step out of the current and walk onto the sand. Hollow, blackened tortoise shells litter the ground. There must be over fifty of them: pathetic, tiny domes, the size of cupped hands, scattered amongst great carapaces. Three stout baskets, woven from a single palm frond, lie abandoned next to the charred skull of a brocket deer and the voice box of a howler monkey. 

Frank and I stare at each other. 

A pair of macaws flies overhead, their agonised cries startling me. We pick our way through the clutter. A dozen makeshift palm frond shelters dot the beach. At either end of every shelter are the ashes of a small fire over which the tortoises were roasted. Alive? I grimace. Between the hearths is space for two or perhaps three people to sleep. 

Frank’s soft “Hey!” interrupts my thoughts. He motions me to the water's edge. At his feet is a set of human footprints, unexpectedly large, even allowing for time’s erosion. 

A cloud blocks the sun. We both know what we have stumbled upon. The hunting camp of a group of so-called ‘uncontacted’ people, known by outsiders as the Mashco-Piro but who call themselves the Nomole, meaning “brothers”. People who, due to past traumatic conflicts with what we call civilisation, choose to live in complete isolation from the rest of us, rejecting all we represent. People who walk naked, hunt with bows and arrows, use stone axes, and eat almost exclusively meat. I recall the jaguar’s fear. 

It seems inconceivable that only a few hours’ walk from here, engine-powered boats pass by daily, laden with tech-savvy tourists. 

Logic tells us the Nomole are unlikely to be nearby – there is no acrid smell of smoke and the footprints are not fresh – but I cannot shake the feeling we are being watched. My skin prickles. We might have walked straight into them. What would have happened then? Would they have shied from us, run into the forest? Or would they have attacked us? Judging from what we’ve heard, an encounter might well have been fatal. 

With this comes the uneasy realisation we are intruders. The stream is not ours. It never was. We are trespassing. 

I take a last look at the silent camp, suspended in a web of gathering shadows.  Frank cannot resist taking some photographs, and even this benign act feels like an invasion.
We retrace our steps, subdued in thought, trying to reconcile what we have seen with our lives outside. We have not witnessed the past, nor the future, but a different present. The otter and jaguar, the Nomole, and ourselves: three separate, parallel worlds briefly intersecting, almost colliding, on the banks of a rainforest stream.

*****
 

Jessica is a Dutch biologist turned conservationist and writer. She fuses her work in conservation and her personal experiences of wildlife and wild places with her passion for words and photography to help connect people with nature. Her writing has been published in BBC Wildlife MagazineEarth Island JournalThe Island Review, and Africa Geographic, as well as in Animal: A Beast of a Literary Magazine and Zoomorphic. Her blog Nature Bytes was Highly Commended in the International Category of the 2015 BBC Wildlife Blogger Awards. She is a member of The Society of Authors and is currently working on a book on giant otters and their conservation. Follow her @WildWordsAuthor on Twitter and Facebook and find her Words from the Wild at www.jessicagroenendijk.com.

Claxton Brick Ponds

By Samuel W. James:
 
The water’s a long way from the road,
through fields and a wood without a path
where dry twigs aim for the eyes.
 
There are ditches filled with brambles
to be leapt over, before the green snakeskin
of the pond appears.
 
In a stream connected with the main body
there is some clear, though still, water
where the white flesh of a great dead pike rots.
                               
No bubbles disturb the weeds of the surface
which seem to be the food of the insects.
On the other side the wood ends
with plastic blue electric fence markers.

 

Samuel W. James is a new writer from Yorkshire. He has been published in the following magazines: Allegro, London Grip, Peeking Cat and Ink, Sweat and Tears.

The Housewife of New Friends Colony

NewFriends.jpg

A story by Rita Malik

Her husband Ravi had eaten a strange leaf in the first strange country he had visited long ago, under the pretense of his business affairs, no doubt. But his gastronomic tendencies were awakened to the new possibilities. Possibilities that did not include in any way shape or form, yellow or red ground spices, mixed all spice, cinnamon, nor betel nut, no hing, no lentils, and no unnecessary red or green chilies. The peptic ulcer his personal physician had for so long profited over, that helped house him in a perfect Mercedes Benz, was no longer going to provide the funds. The salt had lost its savor. He was a connoisseur of all things non-Indian. He could even gallivant and float and beam over the most delectable and bland fish, boiled potatoes, as long as they were associated with a culinary culture and a national pride of some independent nature, such as Irish dishes. Yes, Ravi had developed a taste for Irish food.

Meanwhile, his friend Vijay had hatcheries all over China. Seema had wondered during many pillow talk parlances with Ravi about the state of affairs if one has only to rely on the revenues from various chicken hatcheries to make a living.

“But he’s doing very well,” Ravi had told her. “How else could he live in that beautiful farmhouse and all that acreage in the middle of Delhi?”

“Inheritance,” she’d replied, flipping a magazine page without looking up. “He’s his father’s son.” Vijay’s grandfather had been the Mayor of Delhi once upon a time. The family had depths of connections, especially in political circles. His wife, a pretty woman, who went by the name of Penny, outright non-Indian, even though she was a Kashmiri, had the gift of youthful looks and a fine figure, Seema reflected ruefully.

Seema herself was darker skinned, but by no means of the blackish sort, seen in the people of Dravidian descent. Her family was from U.P. Bihari’s. Wheat skinned. And there was no noble lineage. She had been able to hide this from her friends. In fact she had led them on to believe she was descended from a long line of Rajputs, before the drastic changes took place, industrialization, globalization. She made self-deprecating remarks and joked about the Rajputs along the way, endearing herself with the Dolly’s, the Sweety’s, and the ruffians of Punjab, as she would call them, in her parlances with Ravi after their partying.

Still, Ravi never understood. He did patiently hear her out, as she ranted about the housewives of New Friends and South Extension.

“Shopping and kitty parties and showing off, that’s all that these women find time to do.” Why she had done this, the deliberate misleading as regards her lineage, she did herself not know.

Swimming in the city and country: Turning - by Jessica J. Lee

IMAGE: Katrin Schönig

IMAGE: Katrin Schönig

Read by Paul Scraton:

Early on in the pages of Turning, a swimming memoir about taking a dip in 52 lakes in Berlin and the surrounding Brandenburg countryside, Jessica J. Lee admits to fears and insecurities in the water. This is something I share. I have never been a massive fan of swimming, whether in the sea or the swimming pool, and especially when out of my depth. It has only been in the past couple of years, swimming in some of the very same lakes that Lee visits in this excellent book, that I began to conquer those fears.

It was then that I began to understand what people were talking about when they - like Lee herself - quoted Roger Deakin and his description of the ‘frog’s eye view’. As Lee describes being in the water in Brandenburg, surrounded by the pines and the sky, I can picture it exactly as I have experienced it as well. You do get a different view from the water, a different understanding of place. And that, for me at least, is ultimately the story of this book: as well as personal history sensitively and bravely told, Turning is about a person gaining a feeling for the history and the stories of the places she visits, deepening her knowledge of the geology, ecology, communities and political history of the city she lives in and the surrounding countryside, each time she takes to the water.

As someone who both shares these interests about place in general, and about Berlin and Brandenburg specifically, it is not surprising that I found myself nodding in agreement and recognition as I read. There were other elements of the story that resonated as well: the loneliness of being new in a big city and of building a personal connection to the place by getting to know and to love the landscape, the forests, the suburban S-Bahn lines and the gruff owners of rural snack kiosks.

Lee is an elegant writer; precise in her description, thoughtful in her observation, and most of all interested in the world that surrounds her. This is not always the case when it comes to memoirs, which can sometimes become so tied up in the internal emotions of the writer that there is no space for any exterior, for the world around them, and therefore context to the story they are trying to tell. In Turning, Lee’s personal journey is deeper and richer for the reader because the lakes and their surroundings are characters in the story. As is the weather. As are the seasons. The plan was to explore the 52 lakes over the course of a year, and so Lee was swimming at the height of summer and in the depths of the winter, breaking the ice with a little hammer in order to clear enough room for her to have a swim.

Indeed, one of my favourite lines in the book - one that had me reaching for a pen in order to scribble it down for later - concerned the shifting of the seasons: “It’s all too easy,” Lee writes, “to be sucked under by sadness in the autumn.” I understand that emotion only too well, even if I haven’t (yet) tried a plunge in an autumnal pool to try and alleviate the October blues.

And then, a few pages later, more recognition: “I’ve become divided, stretched across places.” At the very time I was reading this book, I was working on my own project about walking the outskirts of Berlin. One of the motivations for these walks was to try and gain a better understanding of the city I live in a time when my feelings about place, belonging and identity had been thrown into turmoil by referendum results and a series of trips “home” that made me wonder, more than I ever had before, where “home” actually is. I too have felt stretched and divided. The only question, is whether it matters. Each walk, each swim, can help the clarification process.

Walking or swimming. Building our connection and understanding of a place by interacting with the landscape, the history and the people, can be done in different ways. The strength of the book is, I believe, that it not only is a good story very well told, but that it will make readers think about their own places, their own feelings of home and belonging, of their own lakes, forests or city streets, and think a little deeper about them. Jessica J. Lee’s is a trip to the lake well worth taking, inspiring even this reluctant swimmer to reach for his swimming shorts (if not the ice hammer).

Support your local bookshop! Go and get your copy of Turning by Jessica J. Lee there. Meanwhile, here is Jessica's website.

The Library: Signal Failure, by Tom Jeffreys

Review: Christo Hall

For those who haven’t kept abreast with recent British infrastructural projects, HS2 is a £55bn high-speed railway plan first mooted by David Cameron’s government in 2009. It’s an attempt to renew Northern England’s economic potential after years of neglect from Westminster and deindustrialisation that has accentuated a north-south divide in the country. For its advocates, including the previous chancellor, George Osborne, it will “change the economic geography of this country”, for its opponents it’s over budget and comes at a huge cost to the areas affected – the homes that require to be demolished and the environment.

It’s these various divisions that Tom Jeffreys, in his first book, Signal Failure, grapples with via his attempt to walk the length of the HS2 route – a 119-mile trek that takes him out of Central London, through endless suburbs, beautiful and ordinary countryside and into Birmingham. Along the way he wild camps—in some cases to his own better judgement—in a suburban open space, a pub garden and besides a major road; he meets people that will be affected, in some cases displaced, by HS2; and ponders the disconnect between mind and body as he suffers injury and disappointment halting his attempt to undertake the walk in one sitting.

For one thing I have learnt that I am not a nature writer.

It’s nonsense to try to categorise a book to a single genre and it’s especially so for this one as Jeffreys smoothly and deliberately blends elements of nature writing, journalistic reportage and a meta-review of writing about nature and place. Each of these strands raise compelling passages, such as his observations of how an infrastructure project’s simulations and renders fail to depict relationships with real people, conversely his portrayal of a West Midlands dairy farmer’s complex relationship with HS2’s impact on his land, and Jeffreys’ framing of his book in the context of nature writing that has preceded it, making it in part an ode to the likes of Bruce Chatwin, Richard Mabey and Roger Deakin. It’s a signal of how much of an admirer he is of nature writing, and it reveals a kind of imposter syndrome, that Jeffreys feels incapable to write authoritatively about nature – that’s not to say that this is a bad thing, such reverence offers a welcome subjectivity and an absorbing down-to-earth tone.

Why does building for the future so often involve destroying the past?

While born in Buckinghamshire – as it happens near enough on the route of the HS2 – Jeffreys’ fascination for cities is not disguised, neither is his comfort within them. Nature, for many city dwellers, conjures up untamed forces and barbarism yet nevertheless is apotheosised because of its embodiment of a simple, more human life. It’s a view that at times leads Jeffreys to see the city as an encroachment, continually eating away at nature’s resources and beauty, and that impresses a strong tone of regret. Is it a metaphor for something that should have been done about HS2 while there was a greater chance of impacting the plans?

Perhaps the author’s greatest contribution is the perceptive and astute power of his social commentaries throughout the book. There are many striking and quotable phrases that come to mind, such as “you can tell officially approved graffiti because the people are always happy” or his insight to point out that state and council-funded outdoor gyms erected at the time of the 2012 Olympics, encouraging exercise, coincided with McDonalds being the Olympics’ official restaurant. In other passages he asks: “at what point does psychogeography become tourism?” or notes that “what bothers me is the implication that the UK’s only landscapes worth saving are those that fit within the aesthetics of the late Romantics.”

Somebody once wrote that as the mayor he would like to see his local country lanes neat and tidy and easily passable. But as a poet he would prefer them artfully overgrown.

Signal Failure is an enthralling and irresistible read, and difficult to review because along the way Jeffreys produces a better summary and analysis of his own book and its place in the canon of nature writing better than I or any reviewer could. As such this is a thoroughly researched book, substantiated by the tomes that weigh down his backpack throughout his walk. But it’s also a vital reminder that it takes more than demographic analyses and cost-benefit models to understand the value of our environment and our place within it.

What’s a train without its passengers, a town without its residents, or any kind of journey without its traveller? – Warts, imposter syndrome, injuries and all.

Christo Hall has written for The Quietus, Prospect, Review 31, White Noise and others, often about cities and urbanism. He is online editor of the Bartlett School of Architecture’s LOBBY magazine and founding editor of Cureditor, a site that recommends arts and culture articles.

Signal Failure by Tom Jeffreys is published by Influx Press

Should've Gone

Edinburgh to London2 May 2015.jpg

By Sibyl Kalid:

We’re standing at the top of Carlton Hill and there’s a fire burning at the oil rig across the water. It doesn’t look like a fire; it is too whole, like someone has trimmed its edges. It’s almost Christmas. M is leaving tomorrow, and I’m going back to London next week. Neither of us is sure when we’ll be back. The city is indifferent.  It winks obstinately, as it has done for four years, cars beating down tracks through the long stems of buildings, pace unflustered by M’s stifled tears. In the time we’ve been here Scotland hasn’t left the UK, the UK has decided to leave Europe, and the Starman has left the earth. We’ve been living on the endless rumble of national events, registering them with the stable acceptance of a barometer. It’s unnerving to discover that now we’re the thing moving, and it was this tumbling collapsing city that was the constant all along.

Last night I had that strange feeling of sleeping in a different room to the one I’m used to – my flatmate’s, mine having been taken over by its new tenant and her green bed-sheets. Most disorienting were hearing footsteps to the bathroom and not being able to place them. I had the realisation that, through the past year, night-steps have been like little sonic messages, bouncing back from a friend to my half-asleep consciousness, orienting them in an identity and route through the mumble of slipper on carpet. Eternally scornful of those with a domestic inclination, I’ve discovered nesting instincts I never knew I had.

In October we started receiving packages from Specsavers addressed to someone called Hannah Steeds. We knew nothing about Hannah Steeds, other than that she was, presumably, either long or short sighted, and had at some point lived in our flat. The Specsavers boxes piled up next to the front door, as poor Hannah must have found everyday tasks increasingly difficult, and our shared apathy halted us from either contacting our landlord or returning the boxes to sender.

The mystery then spooled when a postcard arrived from someone self-determining as ‘Mumsykins’. We assessed from this moniker, and from the quaint stone-walled house featuring on the front of the postcard, that this wasn’t just a gaffe from a friend who had fallen out of touch. The writer of the card indicated that she was looking forward to seeing Hannah at home, that she had recently visited a small rural town in the West Country that she thought Hannah would have liked. The baffling thing was how a mother cosy enough with her daughter to call herself ‘Mumsykins’ could have not kept abreast of her daughter’s address. Using the digitised Yellow Pages we tracked a Hannah Steeds to a family address in Bristol.  It’s not an uncommon name, but we were worried about Hannah’s eyesight and didn’t have anything else to go on, so we were prepared to take the punt and send Hannah’s accoutrements on to that address.

One day Hannah Steeds herself turned up at our door. I wasn’t in when she arrived, so it was my flatmate who passed over the postcard and contact lenses. He reported her as ’25-30, tall, but quiet and shy with the body language to match. Glasses. No Bristol accent’. And, apparently, absent-minded; she lived at 26/4, the flat below ours. She had just given out the wrong address, both to her mother and to Specsavers.

As with the solution to most mysteries, big and small, I found this disappointing. Hannah’s post wasn’t the imprint of collateral scattered in transition. Simply a casual mistake of the misplaced mind, as it unwittingly misplaces the body. There was no great conspiracy of illness, or amnesia, or filial alienation. My bank statements and reminders to renew my National Galleries of Scotland membership still roll into my flat in Edinburgh. But I don’t get the same wistful satisfaction from these forlorn reminders of my past inhabitancy as I did at the prospect that Hannah Steeds once lived in that flat, and that in the lost universe of some long-delayed postcard, or long-neglected mother, still did.

That endless pouring in of ancillary admin also seems like a taunting wink from whatever household god has observed the wearying tugging up of physical anchorage. The sentimentality of moving is always quashed by the picking up of detritus, as we concern ourselves with box sizes and bubble wrap and the turbulent ownership history of a frying pan. Every time I shift I am bewildered by my astonishing ability to explode myself over all available surfaces. My handwriting scrawled over paper pinned to the wall. My broken dvd player, rejected from my family home. Flour I bought for a cake I didn’t make. The fruit bowl with my name carefully painted on it above a picture of kiwis. Four mugs. Three cacti. A duvet. One pillow with case. A soup bowl. Matching coloured spoon. Shampoo. Half empty gin bottle. My desire to become a monk alternates with an impulse to gather everything up and attach it to me in a memorialising shroud, as I assess the ghostly inventory of the things I did do, and the things I could have but didn’t. That’s always the real sting of leaving anywhere. That gnawing concern that you didn’t live a place well enough. The minute you start walking away time horse-shoes and you remember your initial expectations of a place, before you first arrived. What you thought you’d do there. Who you thought you’d meet. Who you thought you’d be. I also start to mourn every grumble, and remember the sense of guilt I felt when my uncle came up for my graduation and commented on how beautiful the city was, how many levels there were to it, as if there were two cities sloping on top of each other. My vision of the city had plateaued into my daily grudge across the meadows, and now I felt like I needed to touch every corner, to make sure I’d appreciated it properly.

On the way home from Carlton Hill M and I climbed up into the alcoves in the wall that faces a graveyard. We felt like statues, whose only duty was to watch, that if anyone walked by we’d be offered the privilege of being an invisible onlooker, eternal and impassive. But no-one did.

Sibyl Kalid’s website

Postcard from... Samarkand

IMAGE: Tim Woods

IMAGE: Tim Woods

By Tim Woods

How did I get through 39 years – four of them studying geography – without even hearing of Samarkand? A vital stop on the Silk Road for centuries, and today one of Central Asia’s major tourist attractions, I knew nothing about it until I had to travel there for work and started reading up. How did that happen?

The answer is in its location: I’ve never had much reason to think about the countries of Central Asia. For most of my childhood, they weren’t even countries, just unmentioned parts of the USSR, then briefly the CIS. They were not part of the backpackers’ highway by the time I’d reached that stage of life, their brief heyday as a hippy route into Afghanistan long since over. Too far east to sneak into Eurovision, and too rubbish at football to qualify for the World Cup, they never crossed my frame of reference and I rarely gave a second, even a first, thought to Uzbekistan or its trickily spelt neighbours.

My loss. Samarkand is incredible, an irresistible combination of breath-taking buildings and security so lax that you can walk among these ancient sites that would be cordoned off in most places. I only stayed for one night, but was grateful for a glimpse; one day I’ll hopefully return and give the city the attention it deserves.

April Clouds

170417_Himmel_maerkischesland_lr.jpg

Märkisches Land, 17 April 2017, East

By Rolf Schröter:

The landscape that can be viewed through the window of an intercity train flies by, and things one might wish to focus on vanish too quickly. The only real world thing outside the train that can be grasped, that stays long enough to let musing begin, is the sky. This is especially true in spring, when above the monotonous agricultural deserts of the German plain the clouds and sunlight perform their works of great theatre. I try to focus on small excerpts of that performance, to capture them in a small notebook that I carry in my pocket. It is hasty work, as the clouds and the train move, and by the time I am finished things have progressed so far that I cannot check my sketch with the original any more. It doesn't matter. Instead I note the time, the approximate place, and the direction of travel. I take home with me a report, even if it might be fiction.

Westhavelland, 28 April 2017, West

 

Wolfsburg, 28 April 2017, West

 

Isenbüttel, 17 April 2017, East

 

Uetze, 17 April 2017, East

 

Rolf Schröter is a draughtsman living in Berlin. While doing technical and design drawings for the living, he is spending a lot of free time sketching from observation in his town or on journeys. He publishes this work on his blog skizzenblog.rolfschroeter.com.

Back down Ashley Vale

IMAGE: Matt Gilbert

IMAGE: Matt Gilbert

By Matt Gilbert

Sometimes when I go back it feels like nothing’s changed. The abrupt left turn from Ashley Hill, the sudden switch from concrete underfoot to earth, the choice of downward paths between high hedges.

The place I’m thinking of is Ashley Vale, St Werburghs, in the north east of Bristol. Here, hemmed in by roads and railway tracks, is a V shaped territory within which can be found allotments, woods, scrubland, grassland, a couple of streets, a pub, a city farm, some lock-up garages and a hill – Narroways Hill.

The name Ashley Vale – I later learnt – derives from the Anglo Saxon ‘aesc’ meaning ash tree and ‘leah’ – wood. There was once an estate here called Asselega. Not far away was my infant school, Ashley Down. For now Ash remains the predominant tree on the ground and in the local place names.

Entering from Ashley Hill, there’s an iron gatepost on the right a short way down the lane, which leads towards a track that runs through a small ash wood over and alongside a railway line, before sloping down gently through allotments until reaching Mina Road, where a left turn will take you through a graffiti covered tunnel – a reminder that you’re still in Bristol.

More often, I would go the other way, take the left hand path and drop on foot swiftly down to the floor of this urban valley, past a lone house in the middle, adrift in a sea of allotment gardens. These have always been subject to change, moving through the seasons and an ever-rotating cast of crops; tended and grown and pulled out and dug up.

On one side of the lane the plots rise steeply towards Ashley Down Road: stretching away uphill, a hundred small empires of beanstalks, cabbage, carrots and potatoes, bordered by narrow, leaning sheds and water butts; punctuated with crab apple trees and Hawthorn. The ground patrolled at night by cat and fox, carefully treading around each other.

On the opposite southern side, a smaller number of allotments on flatter ground filled the space between Gaunt lane and the steeply banked woody edge of the railway line.

*

As a teenager and into my early twenties I’d walk this way on route to my favourite pub – The Farm – which sat on the edge of the Ashley Vale allotments, next door to the St Werburgh’s City Farm.

Here we’d sit and chat in what we imagined were converted pig sheds in the garden, or try our hands at bar billiards in a little room at the back. With the 1990s rapidly approaching, this strange relative of billiards seemed something of an anachronism, yet the clanking element of playing against time and a dropping bar, as you tried to avoid sinking wooden mushrooms was deliciously compelling.

The pub’s position, at the bottom of two sloping hills, bordered by green lanes and allotments on two sides, faced only by a row of tightly terraced houses on Hopetoun Road, gave it the feel of a village inn, rather than the city pub it really was. As a result I indulged in private fantasies that The Farm was somewhere in the Shire; its lush surroundings, small green hills, gardens and stands of trees forming a tiny Hobbiton in Bristol.

On the way home from visits here, on still-light summer nights, I’d often stop on Hurlingham Road, on higher ground, a little beyond the bounds of Ashley Vale and look back over the scene. As I took in the view beyond the woods and allotments, my eyes would follow the blur of yellow street lamps as they merged into the whiter light of cars on the M32, and I’d find myself wishing that like them I was heading somewhere else.  

Now, far removed from those teenage years, my relationship with this place has been transformed. I remember once reading in David Lodge’s Small World about an essay, by an academic character, on T S Eliot’s influence on Shakespeare. In the book this is presented as the pretentious waffle of a postmodernist. However, I was struck hard by the notion that later readings and experience can change your perception of a writer, a person or a place.

Certainly in the case of Ashley Vale my view of it has altered over time. For a long while I even had the name wrong and referred to the whole area as the Narroways, when in fact, this is just the hill at one end.

*

When I first encountered the lanes that criss-cross the area, I appreciated the woods and greenery only as a kind of abstract, scenic backdrop for visits to the pub. I certainly had no idea that the place was under any kind of threat.

Firstly in 1997 in the face of efforts to sell off the land around Narroways hill by Railtrack, a mass protest was organized by the Narroways Action Group and the plans were eventually dropped. Then in 2000, thanks largely to the actions of local people, The Narroways was granted Millennium Green Status.

Today there looms a different kind of danger. The ash, like all ash in our diminished country, could be killed off by one or both of the Emerald Ash Borer or Hymenoscyphus fraxineus, the fungus behind ash dieback. This thought presents a nightmare vision of a denuded hollow, its woods stripped away, leaving open ground, ripe for levelling and development.

So now, more than ever, I appreciate the life that can be found within this small area of land. I look at the website of the Narroways Millenium Green trust and delight in reading a rollcall of the plants and creatures that can be found here.

Amongst old fruit trees, grasslands, sycamore and ash can be found waxwings and slow worms, common lizards, Small Copper and Marbled White butterflies and hedgehogs, not to mention robins, blackbirds, blue and great tits.

The names checked and logged in a recent ecological management statement from the Narroways Millenium Green Trust, sounds a little like a floral class-register: Upright Brome, Black Knapweed, Agrimony, Autumn Hawkbit, Lady’s Bedstraw, Field Scabious and Yellow Oat Grass, all present and correct.  

There is something reassuring about learning that these things are here, and while I can’t pretend that I am able to identify them all, knowing the names and knowing they are there makes me care about the place more deeply than before. I definitely take care now to try not to confuse Corky Fruited Water Dropwort for Cow Parsley.

*

Since those early days my sense of the history of the place has grown. Largely through a wonderfully resonant brief history by Harry McPhillimy of the Narroways Millenium Green Trust.

I have learnt the story behind the fantastically named Boiling Wells Lane, an atmospheric pathway entered at one end through a dark railway tunnel. This name comes from a spring that ran here, whose water was gaseous in nature and as it bubbled and frothed on its course gave out the appearance that it was boiling.

Nearby on the other side of the hill lies another path with a tale to tell: Cut Throat Lane. At 18 I knew the name but not the history. The story goes that In 1913, a woman named Ada James was murdered by her fiancé Ted Palmer, who cut her throat during a row; but Ada didn’t simply collapse and die, first she staggered back as far as Mina Road, where in front of witnesses, she managed to write her killer’s name on a piece of paper. Before she died she apparently declared that  ‘My fiancé did it’. Soon, Palmer was arrested and hanged within a couple of months. Poor Ada’s ghost is now said to haunt the scene.

Even the allotments, which always seemed so ephemeral, it seems have deeper roots than I once believed. In the same short history mentioned above, I learned that during the medieval period, strip lynchetts – short individual field terraces – once lined the slopes above Boiling Wells Valley. So those ever-changing small plots of land are also echoes of and heirs to a land use that stretches back for centuries.

I no longer live in Bristol, but often find Ashley Vale and the Narroways still with me. I see hints of it in other places as I’m passing through. On trains in south east London for instance, watching crowded tree and bramble covered banks flicker past, I’m taken back. Amongst these crow haunted verges, amidst rogue forsythia, ivy carpets, old paint pots and littered cartons, there is always a glimpse to be had of this somewhere from my youth. A place I once dreamt of leaving, but now no longer have any desire to escape.

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

References:
Narroways Millennium Green Trust
Harry McPhillimy From Norway To Narroways

In the village there is a river

IMAGE: Martin A. Smith

IMAGE: Martin A. Smith

By Martin A. Smith:

In the village there is a river.

Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that along the edge of the river there is a village.

It is not a big river, or a grand river. It is a small river, alive with trout, which slowly, gently makes its way down from the hills and the mountains, skirts the four ruined castles that give this place its name and passes through to the world beyond.

As it approaches the village it first passes a couple of houses, both with chickens running around the garden, then a ruined factory full of broken windows and rusting machinery. This was a textile producing area and every town or village on a river had a mill. When the industry became too expensive the mills and factories were shut down and left to decay. Now all towns and villages with a river have a ruined factory.

A part of the factory in this village though has been turned into a visitor centre for the castles, another part into a restaurant that has a Michelin star, luxury out of decay.

The river continues past the restaurant, the town hall, the bakery (open every day except Tuesdays) and the post office (open Tuesday afternoons and usually runs out of stamps)

The post office used to be a night club and, rumour has it, a brothel.

The river runs past the car park and away.

It is a large car park for a small village. It is used by the tourists visiting the ruined chateaux on the top of the hill and is the site of the old station.

A village this size wouldn’t normally justify a station, let alone a nightclub, or indeed a brothel. But they were not for the village; they were for the goldmine further up the mountain.

But the mine didn’t last long, the station closed, the nightclub became a post office and the village returned to being a small quiet village with a large car park for the tourists.

Along the river’s edge running adjacent to the car park there are large sloping walls. Flood defences built with granite and concrete and cement. The gentle river seems trapped at this point, encased between the mountain on one side and these defences on the other. They seem incongruous, ugly, unnecessary.

I do not know if they were they built to protect and support the railway line, or built later as part of the car park. But I know that they are unforgiving and I wondered why they were built so.

Then it rained and we watched as the water rise.

And suddenly the walls looked small and insufficient. People ran to remove their cars and protect their homes from the onslaught.

It was only for two or three days but the rain was relentless, obliterating the view across the valley, shrinking the world to a few feet in front of the window.

Swept down from the mountains by the crying winds the rain and the river it fed brought whole trees past our doors, broke the banks upstream and some villages were evacuated.

But the walls were enough. The river was contained and the rain eventually stopped.

The water started to subside and the village could relax, this battle with the elements was over. The locals met and discussed the water, how many leaks their homes had, the after effects of the flooding, all thankful their homes remained intact. Because for a time it was not certain.

In the village there is a river, and there is still a river and there is still a village and the walls that seemed incongruous, ugly, unnecessary kept us safe.

Martin A. Smith is an artist and composer whose work is concerned with the emotional response to the nature of place, memory and environment.

This piece is part of a gently ongoing project to discover the story of a small village in France.

Elsewhere No.05: Some thoughts from the editors

IMAGE: Paul & Julia in discussion, Tim hiding behind the camera

IMAGE: Paul & Julia in discussion, Tim hiding behind the camera

For the first time in the short history of the journal, for Elsewhere No.05 we did the submissions process a little differently. Unlike with the previous four editions of the journal, we had a call for submissions  and a specific window of time in which people had to get us their work. On top of that, Elsewhere No.05 is also the first time we had a theme. So we were certainly interested, as the 31 March deadline approached, as to what writing and visual art on the theme of place and transition we would receive.

This week, after weeks of reading, I sat down with our editor Tim Woods and our creative director Julia Stone, at Elsewhere HQ Berlin-Neukölln to discuss the submissions and, slowly but surely, build a contents list for the fifth edition of the journal. With the number of submissions, we were unable to give personal feedback to every person who sent us their work, but we thought it might be a nice idea to share some general thoughts from our perspective, which might be food-for-thought for anyone submitting to us or another magazine/journal in the future:

Theme

Elsewhere is a “journal of place” and we decided, for issue No.05 to add the theme of “transition” into the mix. Now, within both of these there is an awful lot of room for manoeuvre. We had said from the beginning that genre or style of writing is not a deciding factor. Fiction or non-fiction. Poetry or prose. We will consider writing that could be labelled memoir or travel-writing, psychogeography or local history, reportage or experimental fiction … we really don’t care. What we are interested in is that it is good, and that it somehow conveys some sense of place within the topic of transition. Unfortunately, some submissions either did not relate to the issue theme of transition and/or were not related to the topic of place, and so however well-written they might have been, they were just not right for us.

That said, we did receive an incredible mix of writing and other submissions that DID fit the theme of the issue; from prose essays to poetry; illustration to photography; interview suggestions and book reviews. What was most gratifying was not only the quality of the work shared with us, but the diversity of approaches and styles that made it so much fun to read and also so difficult to come to a final decision. It meant that the decision-making process took a bit longer than we would have hoped, but it was certainly never boring!

Transition

Talking of the theme, and this is not a criticism but more an observation; we were interested in how many of the writers sending us the work interpreted the theme of transition on a very personal level, relating to movement, home and emotion, rather than on a political or societal level. As you will hopefully see when Elsewhere No.05 is published, we have tried to put together a journal that offers a mix of different perspectives on that theme.

Paris and Berlin

Perhaps because of where we are based, we often get a lot of submissions on the topic of Berlin. And for this issue, the German capital was joined by its French counterpart as the most popular place to write about in our submissions pile. But especially when it comes to Berlin and other places we know well and – more crucially – have been written about a lot, we are extremely picky. It is a reminder that writing about places that have been covered a lot, or with which your audience are familiar, it can sometimes be more difficult to make your writing stand out.

Format

At Elsewhere we consider every submission that arrives, however it is formatted and even if it is clear at first glance that someone hasn’t read our submissions guidelines. Sometimes, in very rare cases, we also receive submissions from people who appear to think we are someone else, or haven’t actually looked at what we DO publish. It would not take long on our blog, for example, to know that we are unlikely to publish a listicle piece about 30 Ways To Get Cheap Spring Break Tickets To Europe. It is also better not to send submissions addressed to our friends at The Berlin Quarterly or Gorse.

In general though, what was really nice about this submissions window was how many people did appear to be following what we do, both in print and online, and had sent us pieces that they thought would interest us. In the vast, vast majority of cases this was true, and the reading process was all the more pleasurable for it. We also wanted to use the blog to say thank you to everyone who took the time to send us their work. We really appreciate it. And we can’t wait to share the details of Elsewhere No.05 in the coming weeks.

Paul