Born without a clue. A lifetime later, situation largely unchanged. Nevertheless, one perseveres.....
Over the 30 years I did periodically drop by for very brief visits with curious friends. Each time the land would be noticeably wilder and more overgrown (and the boundaries surreptitiously transgressed by new-wave territorially acquisitive neighbours). And each time I would find myself feeling more depressed and vaguely guilty and the time spans between visits grew into years. As I look back I try to understand this feeling of depression that would wash over me, not only when I visited the place but also whenever I thought about it in the course of my other lives and activities. I would sometimes wake up, sweating, in the middle of the night in a flurry of thoughts of remorse and guilt and failure. Perhaps not logical, or even reasonable, but there nevertheless.
I think the sense of failure arose, in part, out of failed personal relationships and frustrated and unfinished projects. But I think it was due also to the onset of the Thatcher years. Suddenly Milton Friedman was among us and it felt like we were in the middle of Chilean-style economic coup. In the blink of an eye the country was awash with vile shitheads. Deregulated banksters and speculators began to pour out of the woodwork to dance on the remains of the welfare state and celebrate the abandonment of “society”. A headlong and divisive race began - to the bottom (for the many) and to the top (for the scummy few). And the whole sickening thing was supported by ignorant petty opinionistas trotting out the usual tripe about “freedom to get rich” and “trickle down” and “only the lazy suffer”.
I felt as though I and my generation had a lot to answer for as we let the evil winds of arrogance and ignorance race through the fragile ramparts of the egalitarian and sharing society that the war generation had struggled so hard to build. That generation had fought not just the War. They’d also fought the Tory oligarchy’s attempts to return everything back to the pre-war cap-doffing state of play – a state of play which had to be abandoned during the war simply because it didn’t work. “The war effort” required a much more rational and equitable distribution of resources and responsibilities if the war was ever to be won. Churchill’s government even worked with the trade unions for heaven’s sake! Ernest Bevin, the Transport & General leader, and others like him, had been absolutely instrumental in creating an infrastructure that assured, more than ever before, that resources and services reached the people actually doing the work. At the war’’s end, when Churchill tried so desperately to reinstate “empire” and the status quo, he lost the election to Atlee whose government set about trying to embed and enhance those wartime social gains.
What had I been doing poncing about in a field when the destruction of all these gains was being planned and getting underway? Why hadn’t I recognised and been doing more to protect those unique and hard won enhancements? What had I and the intelligent elements of my entire generation been engaged in apart from libertarian self-indulgence?
But then one day my erstwhile guitar buddy Bob Shuwop showed up with his new car. Now a perfectly respectable careerista with a good job and a steady relationship, he’d invested in a carefully chosen and specific model of Volvo. It was shiny and luxurious and surprisingly sporty and he was very pleased with it. He was itching to drive somewhere substantial and asked me about the land in Essex I was reputed to own (he’d never been there or known anything of its history). My inclination to return was probably at an all time low and I resisted. But Shuwop persevered and offered, besides a comfy chauffeured drive complete with stereophonic surround sound, a coffee and croissants stop en route and I succumbed.
When we got there, the ghastly steel mesh gate was so overgrown and the chain and lock so rusted as to be impenetrable. We had to fight our way in through some heavy elder and bramble growth to the side.
Once inside, we began to grope our way through yet more intense bramble and blackthorn and nettle which had taken over the entire lower meadow. In fact, we gave up and progressed through the clearer areas under the massive spreading oaks and hawthorn. As we worked our way around, Shuwop took the lead and kept saying things like, “Whoa, is this part of it?” and “Wow, look at that...” and “...and this is all still yours?” and “Look at those amazing trees.” Gradually, trailing more or less listlessly behind him, I found myself moving from sort of passively murmuring responses and humouring him to re-seeing the place with a fresh set of eyes. The wilderness of overgrowth had had the side effect of hiding all the piles of rubbish I knew were there and bringing out and reminding me of the palpable beauty and seclusion of the place. Shuwop didn’t stop until we’d made our way right round the “estate”. At one point we even encountered neighbours in my old tiled cottage whom I’d never met but who knew my name and seemed pleased to meet me!
Shuwop was still bubbling with enthusiasm as we got back in the car and kept it up all the way home. He was listing all the miraculous qualities of the setting and running on about the infinite potential it held. He talked about rebuilding (or completing) the arts workshop and maybe establishing a glamping site or a nature study centre for school visits or an outdoor climbing and adventure venue or even just an upmarket horsey place. He even said he would knock together a business or project plan, complete with costed spreadsheets (his professional forte) and variable “what if” scenarios. By the time we got home, my mind and spirit had begun to re-engage.
Shuwop never did produce any of that stuff, and in fact never properly visited again. I think the novelty of his sumptuous car wore off and he reverted to pubs and sofa-surfing, but his work was done. The seeds of his enthusiasm had taken root in my brain and I found myself plotting the logistics of a staged and staggered return to take on the wilderness and return the little valley to its former beauty and charm.
- One Man's Madness / Part 13 - The Return
The continuing story of one man’s 60 year love affair with 2.5 acres of Essex countryside.
© 2018 Deacon Martin