Common People

The lexicon of popular history,

With its ridge and furrowed semantic fields and stories,
Opens doors of childhood perception,
To fields of knowledge, imagination,
Wonderment and enchantment –
But, I think, especially enchantment.

Take, for example, an Anglo-Saxon tale,
The tale of Alfred the Great and the burnt cakes:
The moral of the tale presented to me in childhood books
Was all about the humility of a king
(A king in a common kitchen, indeed!),
And the curtness of the woman in the kitchen,
When discovering that the stranger –
Preoccupied with Vikings rather than griddles –

Had ruined the cakes.

But could a different moral have been presented to my boyhood self?

Where’s the next meal going to come from?
The woman in the kitchen has so many things to do.
Cooking cakes is, in fact, a difficult and highly skilled task.

Popular histories for grown-ups carry on this approach,
Textually rather than through pictures perhaps,
But the effect is the same.
Take the phrase ‘ordinary people’, for example:
The word ‘ordinary’ is, I think, used almost as a pejorative,
Rather than as a synonym for majority;
And what synonyms do we find for ‘ordinary’?
Ordinary, as in ‘not distinctive’ …
Common, everyday, humdrum, run of the mill …

The lexicon of popular history,

With its ridge and furrowed semantic fields and stories,
Opens doors of childhood perception,
To fields of knowledge, imagination,
Wonderment and enchantment –
But, I think, especially enchantment.

Take, for example, an Anglo-Saxon tale,
The tale of Alfred the Great and the burnt cakes:
The moral of the tale presented to me in childhood books
Was all about the humility of a king
(A king in a common kitchen, indeed!),
And the curtness of the woman in the kitchen,
When discovering that the stranger –
Preoccupied with Vikings rather than griddles –

Had ruined the cakes.

But could a different moral have been presented to my boyhood self?

Where’s the next meal going to come from?
The woman in the kitchen has so many things to do.
Cooking cakes is, in fact, a difficult and highly skilled task.

Popular histories for grown-ups carry on this approach,
Textually rather than through pictures perhaps,
But the effect is the same.
Take the phrase ‘ordinary people’, for example:
The word ‘ordinary’ is, I think, used almost as a pejorative,
Rather than as a synonym for majority;
And what synonyms do we find for ‘ordinary’?
Ordinary, as in ‘not distinctive’ …
Common, everyday, humdrum, run of the mill …

read more

General Election 2019: Red and Green and Blue.

The roots of Socialism’s environmentalism go way back: Thomas Spence, for example, who thought enclosure and what we call now call factory farming should be replaced by ‘People’s Farms’.
John Thelwall – ‘that Jacobin fox’, ‘the most dangerous man in Britain’ – associate of Coleridge and Wordsworth, who stayed here in the summer of 1797. His studied observations of ‘Nature’ would foreground working people too. It wasn’t just the cult of the picturesque and the sublime for him.
The Chartists, too, had a programme that involved a back to the land strand. They saw the environmental degradation caused by unbridled capitalism, industrialisation and urbanisation. Let’s not forget the 5,000 who met on Selsley Common in 1839.
Then, of course, we have William Morris. Visit Selsley Church to remind yourself of his influence! And sit and reflect on the long history of Socialism’s embrace of environmentalism. Then read the below!

The roots of Socialism’s environmentalism go way back: Thomas Spence, for example, who thought enclosure and what we call now call factory farming should be replaced by ‘People’s Farms’.
John Thelwall - ‘that Jacobin fox’, ‘the most dangerous man in Britain’ - associate of Coleridge and Wordsworth, who stayed here in the summer of 1797. His studied observations of ‘Nature’ would foreground working people too. It wasn’t just the cult of the picturesque and the sublime for him.
The Chartists, too, had a programme that involved a back to the land strand. They saw the environmental degradation caused by unbridled capitalism, industrialisation and urbanisation. Let’s not forget the 5,000 who met on Selsley Common in 1839.
Then, of course, we have William Morris. Visit Selsley Church to remind yourself of his influence! And sit and reflect on the long history of Socialism’s embrace of environmentalism. Then read the below! read more

Prehistory and Wormholes of Time

As the traffic rumbles past on Cotswold roads,
It’s hard to hear the chip of stone on flint,
Or the croak of corvids with their blood-drip beaks,
Or the breaking of the bones of a skeleton,
Or smell the rotting flesh on the capstone,
Or taste the ashes of the dead on the nightfall wind,
Or see the blood red sunset behind the silver river
Or the standing stone’s silhouette,
But try hard on a winter’s afternoon,
And you might just slip down a wormhole of time,
To rituals of death and memory,
And recognize the prehistoric past
For what it is and was:
Not something primitive and alien,
But something shared.

As the traffic rumbles past on Cotswold roads,
It’s hard to hear the chip of stone on flint,
Or the croak of corvids with their blood-drip beaks,
Or the breaking of the bones of a skeleton,
Or smell the rotting flesh on the capstone,
Or taste the ashes of the dead on the nightfall wind,
Or see the blood red sunset behind the silver river
Or the standing stone’s silhouette,
But try hard on a winter’s afternoon,
And you might just slip down a wormhole of time,
To rituals of death and memory,
And recognize the prehistoric past
For what it is and was:
Not something primitive and alien,
But something shared. read more

John Thelwall: Radical thoughts on Slavery, Empire and Landscape

A Pedestrian Excursion Through Several Parts of England and Wales

John Thelwall’s account of his rambles
Between the years of the naval mutinies
of 1797 and the 1801 Peace of Amiens:

‘The cottages in general, are small, wretched and dirty. Some of them are built of brick, others are plastered and may exhibit nothing but miserable mud walls, equally naked without and within. They are wretchedly and scantily furnished; and few have even the advantage of a bit of garden. To complete the catalogue of misery, there is a workhouse in the parish, in which a number of deserted infants are consigned to captivity and incessant application…’

And even though Citizen John was being pursued,
Followed and shadowed by spies,
With consequent anxiety,
Thelwall could still write that …

‘The vivacity of conversation made the miles pass unheeded under our feet. We canvassed various subjects of literature and criticism, the state of morals and the existing institutions of society. We lamented the condition of our fellow-beings, and formed Utopian plans of retirement and colonisations. On one subject, and only one, we essentially differed – America. I cannot look towards that country with all the sanguine expectations so frequently cherished. I think I discover in it much of the old leaven. Its avidity for commercial aggrandisement augurs but ill even for the present generation; and I tremble at the consequences which the enormous appropriation of land may entail upon posterity.’

A Pedestrian Excursion Through Several Parts of England and Wales

John Thelwall's account of his rambles
Between the years of the naval mutinies
of 1797 and the 1801 Peace of Amiens:

'The cottages in general, are small, wretched and dirty. Some of them are built of brick, others are plastered and may exhibit nothing but miserable mud walls, equally naked without and within. They are wretchedly and scantily furnished; and few have even the advantage of a bit of garden. To complete the catalogue of misery, there is a workhouse in the parish, in which a number of deserted infants are consigned to captivity and incessant application...'

And even though Citizen John was being pursued,
Followed and shadowed by spies,
With consequent anxiety,
Thelwall could still write that …

'The vivacity of conversation made the miles pass unheeded under our feet. We canvassed various subjects of literature and criticism, the state of morals and the existing institutions of society. We lamented the condition of our fellow-beings, and formed Utopian plans of retirement and colonisations. On one subject, and only one, we essentially differed - America. I cannot look towards that country with all the sanguine expectations so frequently cherished. I think I discover in it much of the old leaven. Its avidity for commercial aggrandisement augurs but ill even for the present generation; and I tremble at the consequences which the enormous appropriation of land may entail upon posterity.'

read more

Being John Thelwall

I first opened the pages of EP Thompson’s
Making of the English Working Class
On my 21st birthday in 1972:
It seemed to sit quite easily along
With the glass bottomed pewter tankard –
A traditional 21st father-son present back then:
Key of the door and welcome at the local too;
The glass bottom so I could see the King’s shilling,
And escape enlistment in some past imperial war –

The tankard now holds used paint brushes in the shed,
But the book sits on my shelf like a Bible:
But it wasn’t just the text that changed my life,
It was the picture on the cover of the labourer,
Foregrounded in late summer contentment,
Basket of blackberries, billy cock hat,
Puffing Billy, Locomotion, or some such,
Steaming and smoking along behind …

Like any sacred text, it is a product of its time,
But today, in 2019, I return to its pages,
Church bells ringing as I sit in the garden,
Hot on the trail of John Thelwall,
Like some government spy, checking the index,
To find, initially, this strange amalgam
Of Foucaultian-Augustan-Post Modernist-self-reflexive text:
Thelwall’s record of his Privy Council interrogation,
In the presence of no lesser personages
Than Prime Minister William Pitt,
The Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor …

I first opened the pages of EP Thompson’s
Making of the English Working Class
On my 21st birthday in 1972:
It seemed to sit quite easily along
With the glass bottomed pewter tankard -
A traditional 21st father-son present back then:
Key of the door and welcome at the local too;
The glass bottom so I could see the King’s shilling,
And escape enlistment in some past imperial war –

The tankard now holds used paint brushes in the shed,
But the book sits on my shelf like a Bible:
But it wasn’t just the text that changed my life,
It was the picture on the cover of the labourer,
Foregrounded in late summer contentment,
Basket of blackberries, billy cock hat,
Puffing Billy, Locomotion, or some such,
Steaming and smoking along behind …

Like any sacred text, it is a product of its time,
But today, in 2019, I return to its pages,
Church bells ringing as I sit in the garden,
Hot on the trail of John Thelwall,
Like some government spy, checking the index,
To find, initially, this strange amalgam
Of Foucaultian-Augustan-Post Modernist-self-reflexive text:
Thelwall’s record of his Privy Council interrogation,
In the presence of no lesser personages
Than Prime Minister William Pitt,
The Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor …

read more

Peterloo-Wiltshire Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt Walk

Peterloo Memorial Walk 2019
About thirty of us braved Manchester weather on August 16th on a performative walk around Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt’s birthplace in Wiltshire. Pictures here tell the picture of the day.
We carried out a dialogue between 2019 and 1819 as we processed: the poem below from Robin Treefellow gives a flavour of how memorialization of Peterloo can reach out to the new Extinction Rebellion generation.

Chalk and Treason

To the chalk
we must go walk.
On the chalk where vipers bugloss brightens
we must go to rebel, debate, and reinvent
This green island
owned by a small land owning minority.

So depart that moribund Houses of Parliament
mired in out-dated oppositional bun throwing.

To the high dreamy chalk we must go like the bees to nectar
discovering what Britain dreams:
dreams like a giant with ammonites in its beard.
When we have lost our way,
when the ways are all privatised,
when society is manacled to linear profit centred greed:
to the chalk we must go walk.
In walking by the yellow of toadflax and melliot
there is waking,
with waking we can change.
This green island where feudalism has gone on too long,
equality,
the earth common to all,
we must learn from the biotic knit of ground sward
and abandon the tenure under our hidden landlords.
For Britain dreams!
The land will be free of chemicals,
to breath and flourish.
So shall our life return
Rude and willed,
modernisation discarded by the road where mugwort grows.
O Albion calls us all
to remember!
freedom, green of leaf and brown of root.
freedom, bright as flowers by the way.

Peterloo Memorial Walk 2019
About thirty of us braved Manchester weather on August 16th on a performative walk around Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt’s birthplace in Wiltshire. Pictures here tell the picture of the day.
We carried out a dialogue between 2019 and 1819 as we processed: the poem below from Robin Treefellow gives a flavour of how memorialization of Peterloo can reach out to the new Extinction Rebellion generation.

Chalk and Treason

To the chalk
we must go walk.
On the chalk where vipers bugloss brightens
we must go to rebel, debate, and reinvent
This green island
owned by a small land owning minority.

So depart that moribund Houses of Parliament
mired in out-dated oppositional bun throwing.

To the high dreamy chalk we must go like the bees to nectar
discovering what Britain dreams:
dreams like a giant with ammonites in its beard.
When we have lost our way,
when the ways are all privatised,
when society is manacled to linear profit centred greed:
to the chalk we must go walk.
In walking by the yellow of toadflax and melliot
there is waking,
with waking we can change.
This green island where feudalism has gone on too long,
equality,
the earth common to all,
we must learn from the biotic knit of ground sward
and abandon the tenure under our hidden landlords.
For Britain dreams!
The land will be free of chemicals,
to breath and flourish.
So shall our life return
Rude and willed,
modernisation discarded by the road where mugwort grows.
O Albion calls us all
to remember!
freedom, green of leaf and brown of root.
freedom, bright as flowers by the way.
read more

Oakridge Walk February 23rd 2019

‘When vapours rolling down a valley
Made a lonely scene more lonesome’,
Wrote Wordsworth in The Prelude
Well, we weren’t lonely, a group of ten
Walking through early morning mists and fog,
Discussing enclosure of Oakridge common land,
A death-threatening letter for the squire,
Demeaning shouts of ‘Who stole the donkey’s dinner?’
Loud following him on his daily rounds
Past Lilyhorn Farm and Bournes Green.

A watery sun shone vaporous
As we stopped at a spectral crossroads,
Cogitating upon the Roman villa,
Down in the nearby fields of Bakers Farm,
Then processing Neolithic track-ways,
Past a field of sheep and hidden long barrow,
The sun now silvering the streams that run
Down to the Frome and thence to the Severn.

‘When vapours rolling down a valley
Made a lonely scene more lonesome’,
Wrote Wordsworth in The Prelude
Well, we weren’t lonely, a group of ten
Walking through early morning mists and fog,
Discussing enclosure of Oakridge common land,
A death-threatening letter for the squire,
Demeaning shouts of ‘Who stole the donkey’s dinner?’
Loud following him on his daily rounds
Past Lilyhorn Farm and Bournes Green.

A watery sun shone vaporous
As we stopped at a spectral crossroads,
Cogitating upon the Roman villa,
Down in the nearby fields of Bakers Farm,
Then processing Neolithic track-ways,
Past a field of sheep and hidden long barrow,
The sun now silvering the streams that run
Down to the Frome and thence to the Severn.

read more

No Barriers

No Barriers: In the Wake
A Game of Two Halves

First Half

So much of our language and discourse,
So many of our idioms and metaphors,
Have their provenance in our imperial past,
A maritime, sea faring history
(Slavery and buccaneers too),
The littoral not literal but figurative:
Figurehead, in the wake, becalmed, in the doldrums,
Above board, cut of one’s jib, even keel, foul up,
First rate, go overboard, groundswell, know the ropes,
Keelhauled, not enough room to swing a cat,
Overwhelm, pipe down, taken aback, take the wind out of your sails,
Three sheets to the wind, tide over, toe the line, true colours,
Try a different tack, under the weather,
Warning shot across the bow,
Windfall …

No Barriers: In the Wake
A Game of Two Halves

First Half

So much of our language and discourse,
So many of our idioms and metaphors,
Have their provenance in our imperial past,
A maritime, sea faring history
(Slavery and buccaneers too),
The littoral not literal but figurative:
Figurehead, in the wake, becalmed, in the doldrums,
Above board, cut of one’s jib, even keel, foul up,
First rate, go overboard, groundswell, know the ropes,
Keelhauled, not enough room to swing a cat,
Overwhelm, pipe down, taken aback, take the wind out of your sails,
Three sheets to the wind, tide over, toe the line, true colours,
Try a different tack, under the weather,
Warning shot across the bow,
Windfall …

read more

For the Love of a Chartist

PRESS RELEASE

FOR THE LOVE OF A CHARTIST

STROUD THEATRE FESTIVAL

Chartism was a working class movement of the 1830s and 40s that wanted to establish democracy in the country, at a time when only the aristocracy and middle class men had the vote.
It was based upon 6 points: the secret ballot so there could be no intimidation; payment of MPs so that working people could stand; same-size constituencies to prevent the old rural aristocracy lording it over the new industrial towns; ending the ownership of property rule to become an MP, so that working people could stand; votes for all men over 21 (there were Chartist groups in favour of votes for women even back then, however); annual parliaments so that governments would keep their promises.

All but one of these is now the law, of course, but you could easily end up in prison in Chartist times for supporting these ideas … lose your freedom, your job and home for wanting a democratic government…

It’s time to remember these freedom-fighters, and rescue them from what EP Thompson called, ‘the enormous condescension of posterity’.
And so this show – our counter-heritage rescuing of two special working people from the enormous condescension of posterity: George Shell of Newport and Charlotte-Alice Bingham of Stroud.

PRESS RELEASE

FOR THE LOVE OF A CHARTIST

STROUD THEATRE FESTIVAL

Chartism was a working class movement of the 1830s and 40s that wanted to establish democracy in the country, at a time when only the aristocracy and middle class men had the vote.
It was based upon 6 points: the secret ballot so there could be no intimidation; payment of MPs so that working people could stand; same-size constituencies to prevent the old rural aristocracy lording it over the new industrial towns; ending the ownership of property rule to become an MP, so that working people could stand; votes for all men over 21 (there were Chartist groups in favour of votes for women even back then, however); annual parliaments so that governments would keep their promises.

All but one of these is now the law, of course, but you could easily end up in prison in Chartist times for supporting these ideas ... lose your freedom, your job and home for wanting a democratic government...

It's time to remember these freedom-fighters, and rescue them from what EP Thompson called, 'the enormous condescension of posterity'.
And so this show - our counter-heritage rescuing of two special working people from the enormous condescension of posterity: George Shell of Newport and Charlotte-Alice Bingham of Stroud.

read more

STROUD RADICAL HISTORY: ALTERNATIVE HERITAGE WALK – Friday 18 May 2018

Two years ago an Alien landed in Nailsworth, unnoticed by the Stroud Valleys folk. Since its arrival after fifty years temporarily rooted on Planet Essex, this strange being has immersed itself in the Gloucestershire soil, attempting to make sense of its move here “for a change, and it ticked more boxes than anywhere else”.

See how a creature far from home has struggled with unfamiliar territory; intensively exploring its new homeland on foot, or by bicycle, guided by its ‘Ordnance Survey Explorer 168’, Gloucestershire ‘Pevsners’, and Wikipedia.

Join a naive explorer for a circular walk, as this being shares with you its Outsider Views on the Stroud Valleys heritage, as it attempts to blend-in with its new people.

Two years ago an Alien landed in Nailsworth, unnoticed by the Stroud Valleys folk. Since its arrival after fifty years temporarily rooted on Planet Essex, this strange being has immersed itself in the Gloucestershire soil, attempting to make sense of its move here “for a change, and it ticked more boxes than anywhere else”.

See how a creature far from home has struggled with unfamiliar territory; intensively exploring its new homeland on foot, or by bicycle, guided by its ‘Ordnance Survey Explorer 168’, Gloucestershire ‘Pevsners’, and Wikipedia.

Join a naive explorer for a circular walk, as this being shares with you its Outsider Views on the Stroud Valleys heritage, as it attempts to blend-in with its new people. read more