Tag Archives: landscape

A Landscape History of Brexit, Orion Magazine.

My short essay ‘A Landscape History of Brexit’ was published this week in Orion Magazine, Winter 2018, Volume 37, Number 4. It was behind a paywall, but now it’s not! So please enjoy it here.  You can also read short extracts of the opening and closing sections below.

This article has been in production for months but as I write, on 9th March 2019, I’m beginning to dare to hope that this foolish and irresponsible venture will never take place.  Fingers crossed.

Pending Storm over Hengistbury Head - geograph.org.uk -
Pending Storm over Hengistbury Head – geograph.org.uk https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pending_Storm_over_Hengistbury_Head_-_geograph.org.uk_-_310093.jpg

1. Extract from the opening

Some say the sea connects us, others that it divides us. Of course, both are true.

I live on the south coast of England, close to the English Channel or, as the French call it, la Manche. France is less than one hundred miles away across the busiest shipping area in the world. Day and night, tankers and cruise ships ply across it while fishing vessels and oil rigs mine its depths. Viewed from any window in my apartment, the winter sea stretches out as still as a landscape painting, a paintbrush sweep of gunmetal blue blurring into the horizon and fading into white clouds.

But this view has not always been so watery. The Channel rests upon a lost world. Below its surface lies an ancient forest floor, criss-crossed by old pathways created by the feet of thousands of people travelling to and fro across a vast nameless wilderness. Once, this stretch of terrain was part of continental Europe, a landscape of forests, plains, and rivers. And just a mile along the coast from my home, a hill called Hengistbury Head still holds that history fast in its stony cliffs.

Twelve thousand years ago there was no Channel, just a wooded landscape of broad valleys and intersecting rivers. But Hengistbury Head was a landmark even then. Five hundred feet above sea level, it provided a vantage point for Stone Age hunter-gatherers following migrating herds of wild horses and cows, red deer, Arctic hares, reindeer, mammoths, wolves, and antelopes. On the flatter and more sheltered northern side of the hill, there was space for the camps of multilingual buyers and sellers, craftspeople, and travellers.

Human activity continued at Hengistbury for thousands more years. But during this time the icecaps were slowly melting.  As it got warmer, the ground became increasingly swampy, the rivers wider, the lakes deeper until, in 6,100 bce, disaster struck. The pressure of rising water levels in Norway triggered a series of landslides, which in turn caused an area of landlocked sea to burst its banks. The resulting tsunami rushed southward toward what was then a peninsula but would soon become a separate landmass. Mesolithic people looking down from Hengistbury Head must have been terrified to see the flood surging past. And when the waters finally levelled out again, the island I now live on had been created—no longer joined to the landmass now called Europe.

2. Extract from the closing

Today, Hengistbury Head is a dramatically beautiful nature reserve. Travellers come not to hunt or trade, but to watch heritage farm animals grazing peacefully, or spot rare natterjack toads breeding in shallow ponds, or thrill to the songs of larks rising in the evening air. But, just like those Stone Age hunter-gatherers, the visitors still speak many languages. These days they include the Polish, Portuguese, and Romanian of local workers and the foreign tongues of tourists from France, Germany, and elsewhere. Will Brexit finally silence them? We will soon find out. It is not the sea that divides us from each other, but ourselves.

Read the rest at Orion.

Orion Magazine

2019: New book, old book, and a Landscape History of Brexit

Wishing you a belated Happy 2019! Here’s a quick update on my current projects – a new book, an old book, and an upcoming article about the landscape history of Brexit.

New Book

Last summer in London, I heard Rupert Sheldrake in conversation with Douglas Rushkoff at a Team Human event.  In the first few minutes, Sheldrake casually remarked, as if it were obvious, that “Our minds stretch out far beyond our brains.”

That comment made instant sense to me, because for some time I’ve been trying to reach out beyond my own brain in an effort to disentangle my academic training from my real experience of everyday life.

It’s ironic that, whilst some kinds of teaching and research enable us to think wild new thoughts, there is also an undercurrent which encourages academics to dismiss other strands that do not meet certain criteria.  Unfortunately for me, I was often guilty of wandering  those forbidden paths, which is why I frequently  found myself unable to fit in. That was often quite painful, but since leaving my job as Professor of New Media at De Montfort University in 2013, I’ve felt liberated to explore modes of thought which might not be admissable in standard academic research. I’m allowing my mind to stretch out beyond my brain and, for once, I’m not feeling guilty about it.

The result of that freedom was a very enjoyable 2018 spent writing my first novel for two decades. It’s only halfway done and it doesn’t have a name yet. but perhaps by this time next year it will be finished. Or perhaps not. I’m having a good time putting it together and don’t really want the process to end, so it could take a good deal longer than that.

What’s it about? I can’t really explain yet, but it’s fed by the work I’ve been doing for years on technology,  on nature,  and on the future of life in general. Perhaps even the future of people.  I’m putting it together rather like an oil painting, beginning with faint outlines followed by sketches, then pale washes,  then darker washes, then brushing in stronger definition in some parts, and painting out other areas to start them again. The story is expanding and contracting as I go, so much so that I can almost feel it working between my fingers as it comes to life.  I’ve written quite a few books but this process is very different. I hope it works. We shall see.

I came across the image below and somehow it felt like the novel, so I keep it beside me. I’ve no idea why it seems that way, it just does.

Vegetation in the city of Bam is green and stone-covered desert has various tones of gray. Image credit: NASA/JPL/ESA https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/images/earth/earthquake/20090304/sub2-browse.jpg

Old Book

I’m very excited that the SF Gateway is republishing my first novel, Correspondence, which was shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 1993.  I’ve written a brief introduction to the new edition, which will come out this Spring.  I’m also working on an article about the influences behind the novel, and how it has foreshadowed much of my work to date.

The SF Gateway has republished many science fiction and fantasy titles in this ‘portal to the classics’. It’s financed by Gollancz, a publishing house that many will remember not least for its distinctive yellow book jackets. I certainly owned quite a few. I’m very proud to be included.

A Landscape History of Brexit

I’m a regular contributor to Orion, ‘America’s Finest Environmental Magazine’. This February they will publish my piece about a landmark coastal hill near my home, Hengistbury Head, and how it was an international trading post even before a tsunami came down from Norway in the Stone Age and divided what-would-be Britain from what-would-be Europe. Now we are facing another tsunami, this time entirely of our own making, but I’m still hoping that common sense will prevail and someone will put a stop to this sorry and embarrassing self-mutilation.

In the meantime, I wish you a happy 2019 as the storm gathers.

Pending Storm over Hengistbury Head - geograph.org.uk -
Pending Storm over Hengistbury Head – geograph.org.uk https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pending_Storm_over_Hengistbury_Head_-_geograph.org.uk_-_310093.jpg


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Featured Image: Drawing of Purkinje cells (A) and granule cells (B) from pigeon cerebellum by Santiago Ramón y Cajal, 1899; Instituto Cajal, Madrid, Spain. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=612581

Travels in Virtuality: Death Valley

Chris Townsend’s recent wonderful photos and descriptions of his recent walk through Death Valley have inspired me to recall my own pathetic attempt to get there in 2002. I wrote about it in my memoir/travelogue of cyberspace, ‘Hello World: Travels in Virtuality’ (2004).

Last week I re-published the chapter in which I tell the story of my ill-fated trip. The lesson I learned  was that reality – and indeed virtual reality – should not be confused with the products of the imagination.

Read Travels in Virtuality: Death Valley at Medium.