The Hows and Whys of the Hampshire heaths

With the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Kingsley, I posted recently about his contribution to a sense of ‘place’ in this corner of North-East Hampshire where I live, which referred to one of his works (“Prose Idylls, New and Old“), and how it described the ‘rough commons’ terrain of the area.

Since that post, I’ve learnt more about another of his works, “Madam How and Lady Why: First lessons in earth lore for children“, where he writes at length about the local landscape, name-checking very specific points on the heaths and commons, and in the woods of the area.

In the chapter titled ‘The Glen‘, he begins;

*You find it dull walking up here upon Hartford Bridge Flat this sad November day? Well, I do not deny that the moor looks somewhat dreary, though dull it need never be. Though the fog is clinging to the fir-trees, and creeping among the heather, till you cannot see as far as Minley Corner, hardly as far as Bramshill woods–and all the Berkshire hills are as invisible as if it was a dark midnight–yet there is plenty to be seen here at our very feet. Though there is nothing left for you to pick, and all the flowers are dead and brown, except here and there a poor half-withered scrap of bottle-heath, and nothing left for you to catch either, for the butterflies and insects are all dead too, except one poor old Daddy-long-legs, who sits upon that piece of turf, boring a hole with her tail to lay her eggs in, before the frost catches her and ends her like the rest: though all things, I say, seem dead, yet there is plenty of life around you, at your feet, I may almost say in the very stones on which you tread. And though the place itself be dreary enough, a sheet of flat heather and a little glen in it, with banks of dead fern, and a brown bog between them, and a few fir-trees struggling up–yet, if you only have eyes to see it, that little bit of glen is beautiful and wonderful,–so beautiful and so wonderful and so cunningly devised, that it took thousands of years to make it; and it is not, I believe, half finished yet.”

For those not so well versed in the area, Hartford Bridge Flat(s) is the long, open , flat area of land, traversed by the A30, and now home to Blackbushe Airport. During WWII when it was first built, it was named RAF Hartford Bridge.  Much of the area is now a nature reserve, home to Yateley Common, and nearby Castle Bottom.

The book is an introduction to the ways of nature (using the ‘fairy’ characters ‘Madam How‘ and ‘Lady Why‘), but for me, it is as much a physical connection with this same area of Hampshire that previous generations of my family would have been roaming at the very same time as Kingsley – in particular, the Vickery family, who, at that time, had lines in Minley, Hawley, Hartford Bridge and Elvetham.  Who knows, some of them may even have stumbled upon each other, although probably not my great, great grandfather Alfred, who was exactly two years old when Kingsley died in 1875. His descendants settled in Eversley, and Yateley.

Looking out over the nature reserve at Castle Bottom, which is between Eversley, and what is referred to as Hartford Bridge Flat(s).

Other mentions for locations on this patch in this book include:-

“All round these hills, from here to Aldershot in one direction, and from here to Windsor in another, you see the same shaped glens; the wave-crest along their top, and at the foot of the crest a line of springs which run out over the slopes, or well up through them in deep sand-galls, as you call them–shaking quagmires which are sometimes deep enough to swallow up a horse, and which you love to dance upon in summer time.”

On Yateley Common at Darby Green, looking back over towards the other side of the Blackwater Valley.

“But what could change a beautiful Chine like that at Bournemouth into a wide sloping glen like this of Bracknell’s Bottom, with a wood like Coombs’, many acres large, in the middle of it?…… and so at last, instead of two sharp walls of cliff at the Chine’s mouth, you might have–just what you have here at the mouth of this glen,–our Mount and the Warren Hill,–long slopes with sheets of drifted gravel and sand at their feet, stretching down into what was once an icy sea, and is now the Vale of Blackwater. And this I really believe Madam How has done simply by lifting Hartford Bridge Flat a few more feet out of the sea, and leaving the rest to her trusty tool, the water in the sky.”

Looking at ‘The Mount’ referred to by Kingsley, from the road outside his rectory in Eversley.

“Water, and nothing else, has sawn out such a chasm as that through which the ships run up to Bristol, between Leigh Wood and St. Vincent’s Rocks. Water, and nothing else, has shaped those peaks of the Matterhorn, or the Weisshorn, or the Pic du Midi of the Pyrenees, of which you have seen sketches and photographs. Just so water might saw out Hartford Bridge Flat, if it had time enough, into a labyrinth of valleys, and hills, and peaks standing along; as it has already done by Ambarrow, and Edgbarrow, and the Folly Hill on the other side of the vale.”

The ‘Welsh Drive’ in Bramshill Forest, looking towards Wales.

Reading the text, and seeing the places name-checked finally inspired me enough to take a walk around Bramshill Woods for the first time this week.  I’d always wanted to see the ‘Welsh Drive‘ for myself – the historic, long-distance drove road along which cattle were herded from Wales to markets south of London, and along the route. I had to stop for a while to feel a connection with the track that is still there today, and which Kingsley must have walked himself.

The ‘Welsh Drive’ in Bramshill Forest, looking towards the A30.

Very little how, why, or wherefore, but I just felt inspired to go out, and to collect these words together too in one place, since they have helped make this place more particular for me as Kingsley’s 200th birthday approaches.

 

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Kingsley – making it quite a place

I don’t pretend to be a serious historian, but I do take an interest in the identity of my local area.  I was born in Farnham, on the Surrey/Hampshire border, and spent the entire 18 years of childhood growing up in Yateley, in Hampshire – the town to which I returned some four years ago at the age of 45.  Our neighbouring village is called Eversley.

The village sign indicates the meaning of the village name is ‘wild boar clearing’, in this case, on the edge of Windsor Forest.

Dabbling in my family history, I discovered generation after generation on my Mum’s side, deepening my roots in this area of North-East Hampshire, through Eversley, Elvetham, Hartford Bridge, Minley, Dogmersfield, Crookham, Fleet, Rotherwick, Winchfield, Crondall, Odiham, Dipley, Hazeley Heath, and north towards Tadley and Sherborne St. John too.  I go back around four centuries, before the blood lines start scattering further afield.

‘Place’ is very important to me, but even with the pride I have in this area of North-East Hampshire, I’ve never felt able to pretend to be able to tap into any great wells of social, political or cultural significance for this patch.  There’s always been William Cobbett, but that’s really over the border in Surrey – and of course there’s always been Jane Austen, but somehow, I’ve always felt she’s had too good a PR campaign, with huge swathes of Hampshire laying claim to be ‘Jane Austen country’, even though she probably didn’t have anything to do with huge parts of it.

Jane Austen’s PR machine has been beating Charles Kingsley’s in this corner of Hampshire for some time – take this sign as you cross the River Blackwater from Berkshire into Hampshire as an example.

That’s why I got so excited when I first heard about plans to mark the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Kingsley on the 12th June, with a festival in Eversley – the neighbouring village to Yateley – on the 14th and 15th June.  Kingsley was rector of St Mary’s Church, Eversley from 1844 until his death in 1875, and was ordained in Farnham in 1842.

Charles Kingsley – writer of a diverse range of work; from The Water-Babies, to social commentary and natural history; historian; social reformer (helping to secure child labour reforms); and of course, local Hampshire rector.

I had no real understanding of Kingsley’s true legacy before I heard about the festival (novelist, poet, historian, social reformer, Christian socialist and keen interest in so much more) – and unravelling the various layers to his personality and career have provided an insight into just how much of a significant place Kingsley must have helped Eversley be back in Victorian times.  It has really given me a sense of pride in the relationship between my home town Yateley, and its neighbouring village, Eversley.

WATCH some clips from a BBC series on Kingsley and The Water-Babies, ‘The Secret Life of Books’ – pictured here, a stretch of the River Blackwater. Click on image above.

Kingsley’s friends, correspondents, and possibly visitors:

With Eversley effectively providing the nerve-centre where he was rector, the roll-call of names of Kinglsey’s friends, likely visitors, and correspondence through letters is quite breath-taking, and has helped me see my own ‘backyard’ through a completely different prism.

‘Authors’ (John Stuart Mill; Charles Lamb; Charles Kingsley; Herbert Spencer; John Ruskin; Charles Darwin), pub. by Hughes & Edmunds 1876, ©️ National Portrait Gallery, London. (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

It is likely that this circle could have included John Ruskin (visionary, & critic of art, & architecture); John Stuart Mill (philosopher & political economist); Charles Darwin (geologist, geologist & biologist); Henry Fawcett (economist & statesman) and Millicent Fawcett (campaigner for women’s suffrage); Herbert Spencer (philosopher, biologist & sociologist); Octavia Hill (social reformer); Lewis Carroll (best known as a children’s author); Thomas Hughes (lawyer & politician, best known as author of Tom Brown’s School Days); Frederick Denison Maurice (theologian, and one of the early founders of the Christian Socialism movement); Elizabeth Gaskell (author of Cranford, & North & South); Thomas Cooper (Chartist & poet); Charles Blachford Mansfield (chemist & author); and Charles Dickens.

Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales

Apparently, Kingsley’s sway in the pulpit could pull in audiences from far and wide, including officers from nearby Sandhurst and Aldershot (Blore, 1920).

St. Mary’s Church, Eversley, Hampshire. Kingsley’s pulpit.

Kingsley’s appointments signpost too just how much influence he must have been able to command.  He was appointed as chaplain to Queen Victoria (1859), and in 1861, a private tutor to the Prince of Wales.  Royal patronage will have helped in his advancement in academic positions.  On Gladstone’s recommendation, with Victoria’s approval, he traded a position as Canon at Chester (1869), for one at Westminster (1873).

Heckfield Place

The front of Heckfield Place, by night.

And just like today, there was Heckfield Place.  Today, it is a source of wonder and speculation, recently snaring the prize as Sunday Times ‘Hotel of the Year’ 2018. and playing home to a range of speakers through ‘The Assembly’ series, such as Dr. Julian Baggini; Viv Groskop and Sir Michael Marmot.  It is inconceivable to think that it did not feature on Kingsley’s radar in some way.

The stunning underground cinema at Heckfield Place plays host to a regular ‘Assembly’ range of talks – I can just imagine a season of Kingsley’s network, back in the day!

Back then it was home throughout Kingsley’s tenure to Charles Shaw-Lefevre.  He was the second-longest serving Speaker of the House of Commons (serving between 1839-1857), who then went on to become Viscount Eversley of Heckfield from 1857-1888.  I’d love to know more.

A bit about the physical place itself

Kingsley wrote of the local ‘commons terrain’  in his book “Prose Idylls: New and Old” (1873), London, Macmillan and Co, and particularly the chapter entitled, ‘Winter Garden‘.  You can find a digital copy of the book here.

from “Winter Garden” – pg 164:  “Grand old moor! stretching your brown flats right away toward Windsor for many a mile – Far to our right is the new Wellington College, looking stately enough here along in the wilderness, in spite of its two ugly towers and pinched waist.  Close over me is the long fir-fringed ride of Easthampstead, ending suddenly in Caesar’s camp; and hounds and huntsmen are already far ahead, and racing up the Roman road, which clods of these parts, unable to give a better account of it, call the Devil’s Highway.”

Castle Bottom, on the edge of Eversley parish – part of that ‘wilderness’ featuring commons, firs and sandy heath to which Kingsley refers.

from “Winter Garden” – Pg 165:  “I respect them, those Scotch firs.  I delight in their forms, from James the First’s gnarled giants up in Bramshill Park – the only place in England where a painter can learn what Scotch firs are – down to the little green pyramids which stand up out of the heather, triumphant over tyranny, and the strange woes of an untoward youth.  Seven years on an average have most of them spent in ineffectual efforts to become a foot high.  Nibbled off by hares, trodden down by cattle, cut down by turf-parers, seeing hundreds of their brethren cut up and carried off in the turf-fuel, they are as gnarled and stubbed near the ground as an old thorn-bush in a pasture.  But they have conquered at last, and are growing away, eighteen inches a year, with fair green brushes silver-tipt, reclothing the wilderness with a vegetation which it has not seen – for how many thousand years?”

More of that ‘Winter Garden’ – pictured here in Spring!

from “Winter Garden: – Pg.169:  “I pass through a gateway, out upon a village green, planted with rows of oaks, surrounded by trim sunny cottages, a pleasant oasis in the middle of the wilderness.  Across the village cricket-ground – we are great cricketers in these parts, and long may the good old game live among us; and then up another hollow lane, which leads between damp shaughs and copses toward the further moor.  Curious things to a minute philosopher are these hollow lanes.  They set him on archaeological questions, more than he can solve; and I meditate as I go, how many centuries it took to saw through the warm sandbanks this dyke ten feet deep, up which he trots, with the oak boughs meeting over his head.”

The view from the top of ‘The Mount’ looking back towards St Mary’s Church, where Kingsley was parish rector, and where the festival takes place.

from “Winter Garden” – Pg 171:  “So I go slowly up the hill, till the valley lies beneath me like a long green garden beneath its tow banks of brown moor; and on through a cheerful little green with red brick cottages scattered all round, each with its large neat garden, and beehives, and pigs and geese, and turf-stack, and clip yews and hollies before the door, and rosy dark-eyed children, and all the simple healthy comforts of a wild ‘heth-croppers’ home.  When he can, the good man of the house works farm labour, or cuts his own turf; and when work is scarce, he cuts copses and makes heath-brooms, and does a little poaching.  True, he seldom goes to church, save to be christened, married or buried: but he equally seldom gets drunk.”

The Revd. Peter Ditchfield made note of this when writing a piece for the nearby Arborfield Local History Society.

“… his “Winter Garden“, that great stretch of country through which you can ride fifteen miles on end, wherein flourish great Scotch firs, bright hollies with their scarlet beads, furze patches rich with its lacework of interwoven light and shade, and the deep soft heather carpet, which invites you to lie down and dream for hours; and behind all the wall of fir-stems, and the dark fir-roof with its jagged edges a mile long against the soft grey sky.

He loved to ride through the fir-forests “with their endless vistas of smooth red green-veined shafts holding up the warm dark roof, lessening away into endless gloom, paved with rich brown fir-needle — a carpet at which nature had been at work for forty years. Red shafts, green roof, and here and there a pane of blue sky, while for incense I have the fresh healthy turpentine fragrance, far sweeter to my nostrils than the stifling narcotic odour which fills a Roman Catholic Cathedral”.

More of the barrenness, this time towards Yateley.

Kingsley admired greatly the grand old moor, stretching its brown flats right away towards Windsor for many a mile, and the green wilderness of self-sown firs. “There they stand in thousands,” he wrote, “the sturdy Scots, colonizing the desert in spite of frost, and gales, and barrenness ; and clustering, too, as Scotsmen always do abroad, little and big, every one under his neighbour’s lee, according to the good old proverb of their native land, ‘Caw me, and I’ll caw thee’. “

Two hundred years on

Kingsley died on 23rd January, 1875, and the breadth of his influence was demonstrated by the attendees at his funeral in Eversley, embracing everybody from the servants of the Bramshill Hunt, and the Gypsies of the local common, to Dean Stanley (the Dean of Westminster) to a representative from the Prince of Wales.

It has certainly made me think a little differently, whenever I might be prone to say, “nothing ever happens here”.  Much of his legacy remains to inspire and challenge, or to be explored.  Unusually in such cases, there is little ‘hype’ to ‘fall for’, which is refreshing.

Eversley today has it’s ‘celebrity’ connections – people like Laura Marling coming from the village, or Sky Sports News presenter Nick Powell living there, and former England cricket captain, Andrew Strauss.  But in Kingsley’s day, it is as if he helped connect the place, and open it to a wider range of influences unrivalled today.

It feels like a real privilege to have the programme of events marking the bicentenary of his birth on 12th June taking place on the 14th and 15th June in the field called ‘The Mount’, opposite the church where Kingsley was rector.

The festival features an outdoor opera spectacular (a ‘cantata dramatica’) based on one of his poems (Andromeda); a puppet-show interpretation of his most famous work (The Water-Babies); a play bring Kingsley back to his old parish today (starring Blue Peter favourite, Peter Duncan); a series of ‘Tent Talks‘ exploring Kingsley’s social, political and cultural legacy; a pageant on the theme of ‘child labour’ – and much more besides.  More at ck200.live .

Those ‘Tent Talks‘ feature a range of academics, including one of the main festival curators, Dr. Jonathan Conlin (University of Southampton); Professor of Economic History, Jane Humphries (Oxford); English Studies lecturer Dr. Jane Ford (University of Teesside);  English Literature lecturer, Dr. Alexandra Gray (University of Portsmouth), and Deisenroth Presidential Professor of the History of Science, Piers J. Hale (University of Oklahoma) – plus professional pundit/priest, Giles Fraser.

Any proceeds from the festival go the local school which bears Kingsley’s name, and the charity, Child Hope UK.

I think the bicentenary is a good opportunity to reassess Kingsley’s contribution to the local area.  If we can put up signs welcoming people to ‘Jane Austen country’ as you enter the county, we must be able to acknowledge Charles Kingsley’s rich contribution to this particular corner of Hampshire in some way?

References:

George Henry Blore; ‘Victorian Worthies – Charles Kingsley’ (1920);

Charles Kingsley; Prose Idylls, New and Old (1873)

Norman Vance: Artist biography of Charles Kingsley;

North Craven Heritage Trust, Journal 2011; ‘Charles Kingsley, Christian Socialist’

 

Real Bread – is flour, water and salt really poetry, science, history – or politics?

To mark the start of “Real Bread Week” (23rd Feb – 3rd Mar 2019),  I did everything in my power to pass on the ‘sourdough bug’ to my 10 year old niece Olivia.

Olivia creates her levain – starter, plus a small amount of flour & water.

I’m not sure whether sourdough baking is more poetry or science – looking after the starter culture; autolysing the dough; the rhythms of the stretch & fold in the bulk fermentation (less aggression than a knead); the shaping; the proving; the scoring; and the eventual bake at 240 degrees with steam.

Olivia takes her levain, then adds a huge amount of flour and water, mixes to create the dough which she leaves to autolyse.

Or whether it is more history (the ancestry of your starter culture; and all those ancient organic grains – einkorn; emmer; khorasan), or more about ‘living in the now‘ (the texture; the smell; keeping to time – and of course, the taste)?

Olivia with her finished sourdough bake – in her ‘I Am Real Bread’ limited edition ‘Real Bread Week’ apron.

All I know is that it puts a smile on my face – and a loaf to pass on to a friend, neighbour or stranger. In that respect, and its total integrity as opposed to everything else you see going on in the formal structures of representative democracy, sourdough – and ‘Real Bread’ is one of the most political things I get my hands on right now!

Me in a ‘Real Bread Week’ special edition t-shirt as Real Bread Week kicks off.

Thank you for the continuing inspiration, with flair and style to Bake with Jack; Vanessa Kimbell (and her Sourdough Club & Sourdough School); Guildford Sourdough Club; The Wee Baker and so many more. Do look each of them up on Instagram – and Jack has a great YouTube channel.

Crumb shot. Crumbs!

You can find where I got the original recipe I used for sourdough starter here, and the recipe for the actual loaves here – both from Kitchn.

The two main books I always recommend are Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s “How To Make Sourdough“, and Vanessa Kimbell’s “The Sourdough School.”  The book by Sarah Owens, “Sourdough:  Recipes for Rustic Fermented Breads, Sweets, Savouries and More” explores a vast array of ingredients, and is beautifully laid out too.

The absolute key is to develop yourself a time schedule – draw a chart if it helps. Each batch takes me two days. Once you know your time pattern, it gets a lot easier.  And it is nothing more than flour, water and salt.  The more you practice, the more you learn – and Bake with Jack’s videos are great for practical tips and answer very specific questions too.

Find out more about the Real Bread movement here.

The floury corner of my kitchen.

Best of 2018

As ever, it has been a tough call pulling together my top tracks of the year, but in what has been a difficult year due to deaths in the family, and against the backdrop of stagnant cesspit of national politics, it has been a usefully therapeutic exercise.

Top (L-R): Sunflower Bean; Clairo; Jungle; Meldoy’s Echo Chamber; Middle (L-R): Tom DeMac; Trampolene; Gwenno; Scent; Bottom (L-R): Skoot; Peggy Gou; Rhye; Junodream.

I’ve included links to videos of my twelve favourite tracks from 2018.  You can also find a Spotify playlist at the end too.  The full list is:

  1. Sunflower Bean – “Twentytwo“;
  2. Clairo – “4EVER“;
  3. Jungle – “Heavy, California“;
  4. Tom DeMac & Real Lies – “White Flowers“;
  5. Melody’s Echo Chamber – “Cross My Heart“;
  6. Trampolene – “The One Who Loves You“;
  7. Gwenno – “Eus Keus“;
  8. Scent – “Soft Scoop” (iced_coma_mix);
  9. Skott – “Stay Off My Mind“;
  10. Peggy Gou – “It Makes You Forget (Itgehane)“;
  11. Rhye – “Waste“;
  12. Junodream – “To The Moon“.

When it comes to new music, I must make a personal ‘thank you’ during 2018 to Phil Taggart (BBC Radio 1), Janice Long (BBC Radio Wales), the Late Junction team (BBC Radio 3), Jo Whiley (BBC Radio 2) and Ricky Ross (BBC Radio Scotland/BBC Radio 2) who all continue to provoke and entertain, and signpost me to things I otherwise would not have discovered.

You can find all twelve tracks via this Spotify playlist (I am freeradiodutch on Spotify):

Psychogeography is killer!

Psychogeography has been emerging as a dimension in my life for a good few years – a way of navigating and making sense of my own personal space, and a paradigm worthy of use interrogating professional, social and cultural evidence and ideas in research. I make these claims (I’d previously even started to try to integrate it into the curriculum while I was still teaching public relations at university) yet, beyond actually walking, sensing, and reflecting, I had yet to invest much energy in reading around the subject. Luckily, Coverley’s paperback on the topic has come to my rescue, and is the ‘all points’ introductory text that many have rightly come to recommend. [“Psychogeography”, Merlin Coverley, (2018) Harpenden: Oldcastle Books]

The book takes a good wander around the terrain which the subject inhabits, highlighting the various strands which bring their own shades to this particularly vague of topics, and collecting useful contributions. from them all.

“Psychogeography: a beginner’s guide. Unfold a street map of London, place a glass, rim down, anywhere on the map, and draw round its edge. Pick up the map, go out into the city, and walk the circle, keeping as close as you can to the curve. Record the experience as you go, in whatever medium you favour: film, photograph, manuscript, tape. Catch the textual run-off of the streets; the graffiti. the branded litter, the snatches of conversation. Cut for sign. Log the data-stream. Be alert to the happenstance of metaphors, watch for visual rhymes, coincidences, analogies, family resemblances, the changing moods of the street. Complete the circle and the record ends. Walking makes for content; footage for footage.” [Robert MacFarlane, ‘A Road of One’s Own: Past and Present Artists of the Randomly Motivated Walk’, Times Literary Supplement, 07/10/05, 3-4, pg.3.]

Stumbled on, but strangely drawn to as if I was in the film ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, this concrete lump is the remnant of an age when gravel was extracted from an area in Hampshire that is now part development, part nature reserve – true ‘borderlands’.

I’d always understood that psycogeography was about exploring how a place makes us feel and behave, so getting beyond simple physical, and human geographical subject labels.  It’s a lot more than that. The book asserts that psychogeography is neither a political creed (which has mainly been embraced by the Situationalists), nor a literary movement, an ecological fashion, nor a set of ‘New Age’ ideas, or avant-garde practices, but instead, it charts an ever-moving definition which draws on all for sources of inspiration.

One of the most literal definitions to which the book repeatedly returns is that ‘point where psychology and geography intersect‘, and the practice of walking, through which to experience it is central too, although more recent writers have expanded this to included other forms of transportation, such as train, bus, car and plane.

Perfect for an aimless walk, this disused runway on Yateley Common was originally an RAF base in WWII, and in the 1970s, played host to a Bob Dylan concert with a crowd of over 200,000 people.

I suppose an aspect which has always appealed to me is that where there is also a preoccupation with drawing on the past, and what it has to tell us through the lived topology of place. For some people, this goes as far as to include the occult, and the New Age too.  I have always been interested in how two very similar, but neighbouring places can have very different personalities, and how such effects can endure over time. A friend of mine more aptly call’s this a place’s ‘soul’. The book starts to introduce how this is indeed an aspect of psychogeography.

A walk when on holiday in the ‘picturesque’ East Sussex town of Rye does not mean heading for the usual destinations for me. You never know what you might find – the history (and hue) of this ‘Private Members Club’ looked interesting.

While I wanted to get straight onto the contemporary and existential aspects of the practice, I found the historical and literary chapters really helpful, not only in charting its development, but helping to unravel particular characteristics of the practice, and what they can achieve.  The book takes us through Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe and a reimaging of the streets of London; William Blake and his visionary, transformative topography of London; Thomas de Quincey’s dream-like wanders, and metaphorical quests, such as for a ‘North West passage’; Robert Louis Stevenson’s gothic trawls of gruesome, yet entrancing streets of Victorian times; Arthur  Machen’s art of wandering, particularly provoked by constantly looking for the unknown; and, Alfred Watkins and the near occult, hypothetical alignment of places or features with a wider geographic, spiritual or religious significance.

Turned a corner, and another part of Rye which made me feel, well, it spoke to me on a deeper level.

As well as in London, the book spends time in Paris, looking at the idea of the flaneur – and flags up one the huge issues, until recently, with the whole tradition – it’s near exclusion of a female perspective. While here, it touches on the debate over whether the idea is about being an observer, or a participant; spectator or agitator? Loner, or alone in a crowd? Can it be practiced sitting down, from a chair, as mental travel? Solitude is a concept which is something to which I will return. And when it moves on to examine the calls on it by the more avant-garde and the Surrealists, we touch on on the role space, and performance play in its discharge, and in doing so, I for one am invigorated by how it might wake us up to what our current political, economic and environment balance sheets are doing to our daily inter-actions with the places we inhabit, often in more of a sleep-walk, than anything than a real relationship of any kind with our surrounds.

Stationery for a long time in Rye!

Undirected ambling.?Dreamlike wandering? Detached observation? Committed and involved practice? Drifting purposefully? Purposeful gait? Pedestrianised stalking? Deep typology (as coined by Nick Papadimitrou)? Eavesdropping? The book provides so many ways of looking at the the practice.

“I’ve taken to long distance walking as a means of dissolving the mechanised matrix which compresses the space-time continuum, and decouples humans from physical geography. So this isn’t walking for pleasure – that would be merely frivolous or even for exercise, which would be tedious.” [Will Self, ‘Psychogeography #1, A walk though time and space,’ The Independent, 03/10/03]

Self is one of a number of contemporary authors who have embraced psychogeography in their writing, both fiction, and non-fiction. Iain Sinclair has done much to re-examine the practice, for examine, using the idea of the fugueur (who is fleeing, escaping) to chart things, as well as the flaneur. He has also discussed the obsessive charting, documenting, and journaling/storying which can accompany all of this.  Some can practice it in a very progressive, reclaiming, power challenging fashion; others can interpret it as an extremely conservative, affirming, identity expressive form. There is a wide spectrum, as with everything.

It does what it says on the tin. I love walking somewhere new as often as I can, being provoked by something I shouldn’t have found.

This is the perfect introductory book. As most reviews have said, “it does what it says on the tin”, with plenty of accurate references underpinning it.

I am fascinated by psychogeography on a personal level.  It really speaks to me, and helps me unravel the relationship I have with my town, and county, knowing I have been able to chart stories for generations of my family back past the year 1000, and in my town to the early 1600s.  I’m fascinated about the levels of relationship with place, what makes a town different from its neighbour, and how landmarks and developments shape the soul of a place, and intrigued by just what goes on in ‘borderlands‘. Should we be worried by a privatisation and sanitisation of public space making any prospect of free movement by modern day flaneurs nigh on impossible?

Feeling #1, in the churchyard of St. Andrew’s, in central Farnham.

Feeling #2, nearby in the grounds of Farnham Library in Surrey. A different feeling – more of a centrifugal force, as though the ground was twisting us. Not the calm that I thought the peaceful park would bring.

And on a professional level, from an industry that has always been a bit of a ‘jackdaw’, I’m fascinated about what psychogeography can do to help create new practice, or understanding in public relations and communications. If we can unleash more of allowing people to think more about how a place makes them feel, rather than more literal measurements, untangling human and physical geography  so that the pedestrian is born again, maybe we will open up a new flank of possibilities? Or maybe I’m clutching at straws. Thankfully, I’ve retired, and I’m free to ponder these things on long walks, rather than having to pitch them as new strategies in boardrooms!

Old Dutch, New Tricks

I decided to launch a new blog when at the tender age of 45 years, I was medically retired due to my neurological condition of Arnold Chiari Malformation, and related ugly sisters, Occipital Neuralgia and Complex Mixed/Central Sleep Apnoea.

It has meant a lot of readjustment, but it has also made me realise that I now have more of a space in my life (and a responsibility) to reflect on the things that are important to me.  My previous blog had just become a bit of promotional tool for my previous work role, so the decision to start again seemed natural.

Hence, Dutch HQ was born.  And so to the ‘header’ strap-line.

Dogs create amazing paintings by shaking their coats - raising awareness of their plight, and funds for their shelter.

Dogs create amazing paintings by shaking their coats – raising awareness of their plight, and funds for their shelter.

Communication” – because of my time spent working and lecturing in PR and communication, and my fascination with how we manage to interact on a human level, whether that’s anthropological, rhetoric, persuasion or design, for example.

Yateley Common (with thanks to the Yateley Society)

Yateley Common (with thanks to the Yateley Society)

Commonplace” – because, first, I like the spirt of the ‘commonplace‘ books, which gave people a home for their thoughts, notes and jottings long before blogs arrived. Second, I want to give voice to the ‘particular’; those everyday details which we take for granted, which in fifty years time will probably be celebrated as nostalgia.  I want to celebrate them now, and in doing so, also give more of a voice to the political side of my character that I feel I often allowed my professional roles to ‘muzzle’.  Third, I now live next to a huge area of ‘Common’ land in Hampshire where I grew up, and I love it!

Sometimes, the signs leave me feeling like I'm headed this way

Sometimes, the signs leave me feeling like I’m headed this way

Finally, “Confounded“.  Again, this has two sides.  First, I want at times to be described as “..that confounded…”, or  “that damned”, because of my actions or positions.  But, less ambitiously, “Confounded” because I am bewildered, confused or astounded by much of what I see, and want to reflect on it.

So, whether it’s public relations, or education; politics, radio or ‘listening’ more broadly; or music, family history, Leeds United, botanical prints, sourdough baking, Slinkachu photography, Ben Whishaw – and much more besides in my wider personal space, welcome to the new home of Dutch HQ.

Whether it’s about where power lies, or why buses are a disgrace outside of London; how organisations work most effectively with their customers or supporters, or why a particular colour works best in a campaign, I want to be there.  If it is a mess, so be it.  That is life.  If I can do something about teasing out the individual threads, so that the mess becomes a bit more fathomable, and we become more motivated to clear it up, so much to the good.