This morning I met Charlotte Weightman who works for the RSPB's 'Twite Recovery Project' as their Habitat Intervention Officer - fabby title! She is an UTTERLY splendid human being: incredibly knowledgeable, enthusiastic and open to all sorts of ideas, completely committed to working with a vast range of audiences, and having a MASSIVE range of skills from all forms and styles of communication right through to soil science and grass identification expertise. As you can tell - I thought she was truly inspirational.
Charlotte completely converted me to carrying a banner for the tiny maiden-aunt-ish Twite - a chubby little brown bird whose numbers have fallen by 90% in the last 14 years. It is just clinging on here in the South Pennines - with only 100 breeding pairs left.
I will be trying my best to come up with some sound-files and creative writing that Charlotte can use in her campaigns with schoolchildren and farmers to get the message across about how important it is to preserve, conserve, manage and increase our hay meadows that border onto the moors. They are lovely fields - I walk through several of them on my way from my house to the moors. And the Pennine Finch (the local name for the Twite) is incredibly conservative in its eating habits - it only ever eats seeds, but it likes to nest in bracken and bilberry cover on the moors and then nip down to the nearest hay fields to have a seed nosh. More on this later - must get off and put up my Watershed exhibition at Saddleworth Museum!
p.s. sorry about the lack of photos in these last few posts - as you can tell, I had got behind with my blog and so wanted to just let you know wot's been happening.
It was ACE to get to see the exhibition launch of Andrew McMillan and Sally Barker - writer and artist-in-residence for Year 1 of the Watershed project. It was launched on Sunday, and I loved seeing Sally's photos and sculpture in their true size (I have been an avid follower of her Watershed blog), and also to hear and see Andrew's poems.
This afternoon, I am driving over the moors to Saddleworth to set up my own Watershed exhibition at the museum there, so it was great to be inspired by Sally and Andrew's work.
I've been trying to find a way to get local skateboarders interested in the Watershed project - and to do a trip to the moors and do some writing about it - for months now. No joy. Very unsurprisingly, the guys want to stay right there and play with their brand new skatepark. So, I've been going to them - to see what it is about their completely artificial environment that they love so much, and to gather some of the wonderful names of all the skate moves and tricks to see if I can produce some poetry that captures the feel of the skatepark.
I've also been recording interviews with the skaters, and with some of the BMXers at the park, and I took Bill - my pal the BBC sound recordist - on my latest trip to see them last Friday.
It's pretty bloomin' intimidating for an ancient old woman like me to approach all these teenage lads having a great time clashing and spinning and zooming up and down all the concrete ramps, half-pipes, blocks and rails (see, I am getting some of the lingo!), but they have all been incredibly nice to me and very up for being interviewed about what makes them tick as skaters. They are a great bunch, and I look forward to capturing more of their thoughts over the next few weeks and stitching it into my wild moorland stuff - the interweaving of artificial environment with (allegedly) wild natural environment.
Bill captured loads of brilliant sound effects as some of the guys clattered to and fro doing their best tricks for us. And we also recorded masses of great comments from them - including that they loved going up on the moors only when the reservoirs were emptied for maintenance...cos the concrete spillways and the sloping faces of the dams made such fantastic skateparks!!
This really is some project - that has me working with such a huge range of people in such a variety of ways. I am loving it!
Had another great session with the ladies at Mytholm Court last Tuesday - I had recording 7 moorland birds (including the very endangered Twite - or Pennine Finch) and played them these recordings, asking them to come up with ways of describing them to the deaf children I am working with. They came up with brilliant analogies: the grouse sounded like trying to start up a car with an old starting lever; the grey heron sounded as if it had fallen out of bed the wrong side....
Then, because this whole area is steeped in the remains of the clothmaking industries, I asked them to describe each bird in terms of what sort of material would it be: the Twite was satin being ripped in little jerks; the heron was a hair shirt, or emery paper; the skylark was fine cotton streaming out fast from an incredibly long roll...
Have a go at thinking up your own analogies and images for the sounds of the moor - mixing up different senses, (eg describing the smell of something by describing what colour it might be; the taste of something by describing what sort of texture the taste might have; etc), is a great way to start. This is called synaesthesia, and can lead to some truly creative writing.
All day Friday, I worked with my pal Bill Bartlett who is a BBC sound recordist - I met him last year when we worked on the telly programme Country Tracks together. I have been interviewing virtually everyone I have met as a result of the Watershed project - to collect their feelings and thoughts about the watershed and the high moors - and have been sending these recordings to Bill. He has edited them and collected masses of 'atmos' and sound effects from the moors, then mixed all these elements together to create a soundtrack for the Saddleworth Museum Watershed exhibition which I am off to set up this afternoon. We're really pleased with the result, but determined to do even better - and to expand the scope of the soundscape we have created - for the Cliffe Castle exhibition which starts in late September.
So, on Friday, Bill and I were out again - up on the moors above my house, to record the sounds of walking, doing up boots, cagoule rustling, sheep commenting on what an idiot I looked striding through and across every type of surface we could find up there! But, on a usually absolutely sodden section of moor - studded with huge rushes and with a thick undercarpet of sphagnum moss - we could not find anywhere that was more than vaguely damp. We couldn't find any standing water, bog or squelchy mud. In the end we had to improvise with a very short puddle on a concrete farm track, and a bit of mud to the side of the concrete. So, I dutifully slopped and sploshed through this while Bill held his extremely expensive microphone as close as possible without it getting coated in slop! Aaaaaah, the things we have to do for ART!!
On Friday 10th, I ran a writing workshop at Saddleworth Museum for a group of brand new writers. They were a lovely set, and all worked very hard. Here's some of them scribbling madly everything they could possibly think of about moorland. They came up with a splendid feast of words, phrases and lines. Feel free to use their 'palette' of morrland impressions to inspire your own pieces of writing. Here's how I prompted them to come up with such comprehensive lists...
I asked them to write down:
verbs to describe how you can move across moorland; ways to cross the moors (eg packhorse trails, M62...); all the different forms of wildlife, including birds; think about what's underfoot and what it feels like; what about the plants and the geology; what sorts of modern stuff do you find scattered across the moors; what sounds can you hear and what smells are there; how can you be on the ground but tied to the air; what stories or myths have you heard about moors; what literary references are there to moors; name as many specific places on the moors as possible; list moor weather; ...
Have a go at this yourself and you'll soon come up with MASSES of 'colour' for your moorland 'palette' of material to help you paint your poems and stories.
Here's what Keith, Carol, Di, Karen, Rona and Sue came up with:
Boat Lane, Bleaklow, Standedge, Stone Edge, Pule Hill, Brun
Clough, Lads Hill, Saddleworth Moor, Marsden Moor, Wimberry Moor, Indians Head, Lark Hill, Binn Green, Dovestones, Standedge Heights, Black Hill, Broadhead
Beast of the moor, Daphne du Maurier, Wuthering Heights, Bills o’ Jacks, Moors Murders, Inns with creaky signs, Hound of Baskerville, Sherlock Holmes
Boggy peat damp smell, pheasants moaning, wind in grass, burnt grass, traffic in distance, stones tipped over time, millstone insects, outcrops, heather, empty cans, sky above – kites, hang-gliders, quarry, old rail track for stone, white hare, uneven ground, evidence of camping, wet grass, weathered exposed rock, grass moving, echo of the past, timeless, plane wrecks, magic mushrooms, wimberries
Bird calls – sharp, piercing, soul depth, evocative; distance, horizon, space, openness, wildness, wilderness, undulations; sheep bleats and baas, sheepdog – whistles;
hot sun, gentle sun, gale, breeze, wind, rain, hail, sleet, snow, drizzle; signs, fencing – barbed wire, litter – cans, bottles, plastic, paper, cigarette ends; grass, tussocks, stone slabs, gravel, peat, worn path, beaten track; packhorse trails, packhorse bells, packhorse hooves and shoes, packhorse driver calls, packhorse train; picnic bag/box
Deceptive bleakness; massive micro world; marks of man; reduced colours; grass (a desert of); dotted about sheep; space; big sky; trespassing patches of bog; lost birds; sudden cloughs (hidden); startling stubborn
trees; terrified hares; purposeful people; ankle-breaking tussocks; enticing paths; false horizons; intruding scratchy heather; coarse grasses; terrain; forced entry;
Wet soggy soaking; kites – attached to the sky; Yorkshire;
Lancashire; staggering wandering falling wading wuthering hard work; criss-cross communications above because below is slow; murders; hard sharp mist-piercing low muffled sounds; trails roads cuttings footpaths relentlessly; cotton tops wimberries brambles rushes and reeds roughness; grouse lizards curlew peregrine falcon beetles; cutting edge rocks hard gritstone sharp; plastic bags rubbish lunches debris from people
Earthy peaty muck spread smells; bird song tractor noise;
brittle grasses/shrubs; black plastic left by farmers, beer cans at the bottom of Lark Hill; sense of permanence, history; isolated; vigorous and sturdy walking; fog blizzards; gritstone; thick sturdy sheep; looking up between branches; blue and green; martins catching insects; skylark warble; horse flies and evening midges; roe deer; wimberries purple-stained mouth
And this is Rona’s lovely palette poem:
Walking hard, heather is deep and spicy as the foot bruises the stems.
Holes to catch foot in, then roads left by ancestors.
A supermarket bag waves like a pennant from the lone spindly shrub, the stiff plastic sounding harsh and hoarse.
A privileged glimpse of a mountain hare with its white winter coat
The proud pheasant cock hogging the road once too often, now a pile of feathers, his call no more.
The flightpath to Manchester airport hogs the hill crest.
Ooops! I didn't have my film-maker - Mark - or my soundman - Bill - or my stills photographer - Janina - with me yesterday when I took out a minibus-full of elderly residents from Mytholm Court sheltered housing for a two-hour mystery tour of the moors. So, I only have one very shaky shot of everyone in the bus to prove that we did go out there! It threatened rain all day, but in fact the moors did us proud and we had bright sun with fabulous constantly-changing clouds, and a sudden smack of rain just to keep us in order as we were on our way home.
The ladies all really really enjoyed it, and wrote lots of good stuff that I am editing and collating for them ready for working on more next week with them. We sniffed hawthorn blossom and nettles, bracken and thistles, we talked about their experiences on the moor, when they worked at The Packhorse pub and dealth with sheep on their farms, we looked at rock formations, lambs, rabbits and cloud patterns (including checking out The Cloud Appreciation Society's fabby book: 'A Pig With Six Legs'), asked the workmen what they were working at on Widdop reservoir dam, we heard peewits, skylarks and curlews, and discussed the terrors of driving over the tops into the dreaded Lancashire! Sadly there wasn’t enough wind to fly the kites I had taken – that must be a first for Widdop! But I managed to get my lightest kite up in the air a bit (Phyllis ordered me to run with it!!), and Freda held the string from inside the minibus - armchair kite-flying! But we were soooo lucky with the weather and, although the air on the tops was cold, the rain held off until a sharp shower hit our minibus as we drove home on the Long Causeway – so the moors provided us with spectacular skies and quite a bit of bright sun. Even Dave the driver joined in when we were discussing windfarms (he was strongly in favour of them!).
I LOVE working with Mytholm Court residents, they are a lovely gang, and they couldn’t say thankyou enough to the Watershed project for their two hour mystery tour today!
Char March - I'm a freelance writer and tutor. I am Writer-in-Residence for the Pennine Watershed Project, and this blog takes you through some of the work I've done in that role