Mar 18 2012

Freeman’s Wood-a romantic name for a soulless concrete future

Today I saw something which ashamed me and filled me with glee. It roused me from torpor and filled me with passion. It made me want to hang garlands of flowers around it, spray-paint bold red Anarchy signs next to it. But of course I did nothing. I was a (very vaguely) respectable looking woman with a baby sleeping in a pram and nowadays I don’t fight the state, I just  bitch about it.

But there is something about seeing menacing signs being subverted by the simple means of spray paint that brings out the spring passion in everybody.

Freeman’s Wood does not soar splendidly. You do not gaze at great gnarled oaks here bearing silent stories and majesty. No. In this strip of wildwood betwixt housing estate and derelict mills are spidery old trees, the only trees for miles around but they still whisper and rustle, still change with the season, wild creatures still live their lives amongst them and people, city people, edgeland people, Marsh people walk or cycle past and feel better for just having seen a glimpse of nature.

And now they are fenced off with spiky topped fencing. They are now being felled despite having a Tree Preservation Order being placed upon them.

There used to be a BMX track here amongst the woods, a kids place, made by and for kids. That has been cleared away and fenced off in a place that used to belong to the people. Well, they thought it did. Now Shadow People have claimed it as their own and despite acting illegally by felling the trees are getting away with it. And for more box like housing in areas where people are desperate to sell their own homes.

When Occupy Lancaster occupied the derelict Railton Hotel opposite the train station, a place I have had to apologise and explain about to every non local friend or family member arriving on the train and always ending with ‘but the rest of Lancaster is lovely’, the police arrived at night and in force to the peaceful people trying to make the eyesore habitable (owned by a Shadow Person who apparently live continents away and has not touched the once beautiful building for many years.  Although the splendid rose bushes were suddenly sprayed with weed killer one unhappy day)

Many police came, many people were arrested, a knitting vigil was held outside the building and this was felt dangerous and anarchic enough to have a police car watching the knitting at all times.

But now, illegal destruction is going on in the woods and nobody cares. Well nobody in authority. But somebody has spray-painted slogans, one of which, the common land and the goose, has been a slogan of disenchantment and anger about stolen land for centuries.

And it  is sad the slogan has had to remain in public use. But in some way wonderful because people still are angry and aware enough to use it.  Tradition lingers and centuries old anger against the state still suddenly flings itself against a metallic sign even though we now have mobile phones instead of geese and apathy reigns supreme. But  some stranger somewhere with a can of spray paint knows about the history of common land and about how it can so easily be stolen from the common person.

If you reside in Lancaster, write to the council about Freeman’s Woods. Look at the blog and  website below to find out more. Get angry. And do something.

If you don’t live in Lancaster, the great land grab is still happening and has happened around you.

And now there is not much land to grab anymore.

Mar 11 2012

Haigh Hall and highlighters

This post is dedicated to Lemons who replied to my blog when I thought I could not be arsed to write anything and after the realisation I had a reader, I wrote….

The elegant manor house hides nothing more sinister than flip board charts featuring ‘mind maps’, corporate slang and possibly some comic sans handouts in the cheap tin bins. I don’t know. I never went inside but ghosts do not appear wherever there is designated parking.

Haigh Hall near Wigan looked very haunted on ghost hunting sites on the Internet where in some Ballardian scenario it is now more scary than in actual reality. It was owned by People of Pedigree and a delve through its old parkland, skirting dog poo and having to reply to cheery people saying ‘hello’ did not diminish my enthusiasm and trust in coming face to face with some wraithly ancient nobleman-would he have a 19th century Wigan accent? And how would I be able to tell?

Then I saw the designated parking. My heart sank. For ahem, some strange reason I never get to actually see any undead but the conference rooms on the first floor looked despicably modern for being in such a glamorous sweep of antique façade and the function rooms downstairs were too red napkinny looking to harbour a visitor from another realm. I suspect he would be asked to pay a sixteen pound a head surcharge in case of potential ectoplasm stains on the canapés.

The view across Wigan is glorious and tinged with a little irony, as now, it is the slightly shabby around the edges manor house, which works for a living. The chaise longues have been carted off to auction and replaced with well-lit fire escapes and I imagine precautionary laminated signs possibly with warning Clipart near the hot taps.

And now the people who used to work at the mills whose chimneys still stand untouched, admired and part of the landscape come to t’ manor to sit in rooms now stripped and unsmocked of velvet and learn in a different less physically grubby way of how to make more money for someone richer. But at least there is probably a coffee machine. I was too scared to enter the building, it being a Sunday morning and looking neither bride or slightly over eager trainee at Footlocker who really wants to maximize her potential by getting there a day early.

The parkland surrounding Haigh Hall is still (apart from the dog poo dodging) timeless (actually I suspect dog poo dodging or the lack of dodging and thus resultant swears might be the only thing that links all of humanity throughout the ages)

A handwritten sign states that the small gauge railway described and pictured on Haigh Hall’s website in a charming glossy chugging photograph is not working today. A look at the rusty tracks says that the small gauge railway has not worked since Chesney Hawkes was number one.

The enshrouding managed nature is extensive and beautiful though and free to wander around in. I liked the high barbed wire walls surrounding the abandoned zoo-such things are a delight to the macarborous viewer imagining the entombed lion skeletons which clearly do not lie within. There is a derelict crazy golf course; surely the perfect setting for a first novel that nobody ever buys. There is a walled garden for people to read in, surely the best use of council tax to ever exist, apart from boring sanitisation.

I like Haigh Hall and respect to the ghost hunters on the websites I guiltily peruse who profess to have found the undead here hanging around the Douglas Suite, possibly like me, wandering what the hell is a slide carousel? I suspect it is not as fun as it sounds.

And what is more terrifying? The possibility that ghosts exist in this Hall or the actual realization that people are forced to sit in a room in it, visualising not the past but future profits and how they can be a key marketer and upsell, upsell, upsell.

This is why I like the past more. But even now the Past has to work for a living.