Category Archives: Culture

The Book of Trespass – a review

Nick Hayes asks who owns the land and who has the right to access it?

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Nick Hayes is an illustrator, best known for his graphic novels and distinctive black-and-white prints, but in this substantial hardback he shows he has the chops to carry off a very well-researched and engagingly-written non-fiction book. With the same precision that he renders the natural world through his art, Hayes, identifies the various layers of rights, rules, expectations, and entitlements around land-usage in Britain – the ‘spells’, as he puts it, of law that prevent us from crossing the sometimes invisible walls, fences, or thresholds of property. Each chapter is named after an animal – instilling an atavistic presence into Hayes’ conceptual and physical forays and incursions – ones often heedless of the artificial barriers humans impose on nature. The author weaves in his own experiences of trespass into his erudite interrogations into notions of property, space, boundaries, the rights of the commoner and the landowner, corporation, community, and individual. His firsthand accounts of stealthy flits into the vast estates of the mega-rich have a visceral frisson of transgression to them. And yet these aren’t macho versions of ‘urb-ex’ or rural flâneury, but often reflective ramblings with plenty of time to stand and stare, or, in Hayes’ case, sit and sketch. The ruminations on the rights of the (rambling) citizen amid the forests of legalese and doxas (ultra-orthodoxies considered a sacrosanct part of the status quo) and shibboleths of society, are counter-balanced with beers and sausages around campfires, and even the odd illegal high. Forbidden fruit is here to be tasted, Gardens of Edens scrumped, and grass definitely not kept off of. Two chapters stand out – one about the colonial spectre that haunts the ‘picturesque’ countryside: the slavery in stone of many a stately home; and the other about the Greenham Peace Camp and the rights (or lack) of women and property. These are impressive in their own right, but add to the heartfelt deconstruction of the glamourye of the property barons and (Conservative) consensus reality.  To his credit, Hayes consider both sides of the fence, and wishes for a more porous communication between polarised positions: it is the legal fiction of the fence that makes criminals of the commoner, and sows enmity between those who live on and love the land. Hayes considers other models of land usage and rights – and shows how the Scottish model is perfectly workable, with education and shared obligations of care and consideration. Other countries in Europe offer better access than the United Kingdom where 92% of the land and 97% of the waterways are off limits, often owned by offshore companies registered in tax utopias like the British Virgin Islands, and subsidised massively by government grants. Like Don Quixote, Hayes tilts at these windmills. His chutzpah and sheer cheekiness has to be admired, for it is done with wit, skill, and an artistic flourish. He is a most civilised interloper, even as he yearns for our wild roots to be see the light of day. Full of fascinating, eye-opening facts about the ‘countryside’ and the ‘rights’ we are deprived or begrudgingly granted by the descendants of those who stole the commons from us, The Book of Trespass is a must read for anyone who cares about access to the land – wherever one lives. Hayes reminds us that the stories we tell change our perception of place, of ecos and community, and it is time for those stories to change.

‘Trespass shines a light on the unequal share of wealth and power in England, it threatens to unlock a new mindset of our community’s rights to the land, and, most radical of all, it jinxes the spell of an old, paternalistic order that tell us everything is just as it should be.’

Nick Hayes, The Book of Trespass

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Kevan Manwaring, 8th February

The Book of Trespass is published by Bloomsbury

https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/the-book-of-trespass-9781526604699/

The Golden Room podcast: Episode #1

The Golden Room Logo

The Golden Room podcast #1

An Ecobardic Showcase (pt 1)

Welcome to The Golden Room podcast – a celebration of poetry, storytelling, music, song, conversation, and creative fellowship.

Created and hosted by writer, poet, and storyteller Kevan Manwaring, the plan is to release a new episode on the 3rd Sunday of the month – with this double launch on the Autumn Equinox being the exception! Roughly an hour long, each episode offers an immersive and relaxing medley of contributions – ideal to commute to, cook to, or sit back and unwind to: however you listen you are most welcome into The Golden Room.

50th BIRTHDAY POSTER new

The first two episodes offer a chance to eavesdrop upon An Ecobardic Showcase, a special evening which took place in Stroud, Gloucestershire, on 17th August, 2019. It was a double-celebration of Kevan Manwaring’s 50th and his doctorate. Proceeds went to Tree Aid – a worthy cause which you can still donate too, here:

https://www.justgiving.com/treeaid

The evening was excellently MCed by the inimitable Anthony Nanson. His links and much of the convivial atmosphere is edited out, to tidy up the raw recording (expertly done by Chantelle Smith; with help from Brendan Georgeson on PA, and thanks to Simon Fairbourn for loan of the recording device), but we hope you still get some sense of the atmosphere. Finally, many thanks to BAFTA Crew composer Rosemary Duxbury, for kindly allowing use of her sublime track, ‘Reverie’. Check out my interview and review of her latest release, ‘Thread of Gold’, after listening to the show.

LISTEN TO THE GOLDEN ROOM PODCAST #01 HERE

Tracks:

  1. [00:00] Intro: Kevan Manwaring
  2. [00:47] Reverie: Rosemary Duxbury  (Catherine Musker, viola & Patricia Siffert, piano)/[02:15] The Golden Room by Wilfrid Gibson, read by Kevan Manwaring
  3. [07:59] Welcome: a song by Chantelle Smith
  4. [08:22] Fifty: a poem by Kevan Manwaring
  5. [10:46] Mist-covered Mountains: a song by Chantelle Smith
  6. [13:20] The Dog: a story by Wayland the Skald
  7. [21:21] A Valentine for New Albion: a poem by Jeff Cloves
  8. [29:18] Overheard at Ascot; What the I Says: poems by Gabriel Bradford Millar (with Anthony Nanson)
  9. [32:35] Pan at My Window: a poem by Richard Austin
  10. [34:44] Planet Blues: a song by Sara Vian
  11. [37:51] Therapy: a poem by Brendan the Pop Poet
  12. [40:22] The Earth, She Moves Within: a poem by Joziat Khimba
  13. [45:45] The Butterfly Bishop: story by Kirsty Hartsiotis
  14. [55:21] Claw-hammer: Banjo by Scott Freer
  15. [59:10] Outro: by Kevan Manwaring/Reverie – reprise.


NEXT: THE GOLDEN ROOM EPISODE #2 An Ecobardic Showcase pt 2 – available from 22nd September. 

Look out for episode #3: 20th October – An Extinction Cabaret special!

 

 

Stuporheroes

Avengers Endgame

Superheroes should come with an Age Warning: For 5 to 15 year olds only.

or The Infantilisation of the Adult Cinema-goer

Recently I was sorting through some old comics to sell (part of a protracted campaign against my ‘pile of denial’, which I have been lugging from house to house for years now…) and smiled fondly as I leafed through the fragile, garish titles. It was like looking down a well – one that was forty years deep. Back when I was a child, growing up in the Rad-Lands of the East Midlands, part of the ‘boring dystopia’ (to nick Mark Fisher’s phrase) of Thatcherite Britain, comic books seemed to be the most exciting thing in the world (which tells you how exciting my world was…). I wanted to be a comic artist &/or writer (knowing local hero Alan Moore was an inspiration) and enthusiastically worked my way to art college. Foundation was fab, but Fine Art unfortunately acted as aversion therapy, disillusioning me about the art world (obsessed back then with wankily solipsistic concept art and the cult of the ‘Brit art’ personality). However, it did turn me into a writer (non, je ne regrette rien). Over the last few years I have observed with amused bafflement at the advent of the Superhero Movie (back when I was a feckless youth it was always a hit-and-miss affair – more often than not, a miss, though Donner’s Superman and Burton’s Batman were thrilling to see the first time around). From being strictly a Geek niche, the Superhero ‘genre’ (if you can dignify it as such) has come to dominant Hollywood. Nobody was expecting the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU, aka ‘some films about spandex’) to become the billion dollar juggernaut that it has mutated into – like some oversized green angry infant… As an adolescent I would have been excited to see big screen movie versions of Stan Lee’s (and Jack Kirby’s; and Steve Ditko’s; and the rest) four colour pantheon. But … then I grew up. Got interested in other stuff – novels with decent writing, deep characterisation, complexity of plot; movies that explore the human condition in a nuanced, non-essentialist way – shit like that. I realised the world was infinitely more complex than the Manichean mummery of the comic books. Some of the better, more ambitious ‘graphic novels’ did start to tackle this (Maus; Watchmen; The Dark Knight Returns; Love and Rockets…), and nowadays there is a whole thriving industry in ‘graphic memoir’. Boundary-pushing books like Bryan Talbot’s Alice in Sunderland or Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics (and many others) show what can be done with the medium. The comic strip is an infinitely adaptable form. It doesn’t have to be dumbed down, obsessed with body types, super-tight outfits, and salacious poses. Yet that ‘Charles Atlas’ aesthetic and ideology of comic book is dominating cinema (when so many other great works of sequential art could be adapted), and along with it the questionable power discourses and politics (it is interesting to note America obsesses about superheroes just at a time when its status as a ‘Superpower’ faces an existential threat: it doesn’t like being the weedy kid getting sand kicked in its face by the musclehead Putins of this world). Superhero Movies often assimilate the cosmetics of rebellion, of celebrating ‘difference’, and the self-determining individual, while actually all they are doing is: selling popcorn and increasing share-holder profit. Like the ‘V for Vendetta’ mask now owned by Warner Brothers, the aesthetics of protest have been co-opted by the multinationals to accumulate wealth. The MCU – now owned by that ultimate iteration of the Neoliberalist ‘Borg’, Disney – is the ‘perfect’ example of that cynical commercial imperative: marketplace dominance through transmedia storytelling. The ‘Avengers’ superhero team merely originated as a way to sell more comics. Some of the individual titles weren’t performing so well, others were – so, team up the respective characters and benefit from respective fan bases buying other connected titles: Excelsior! Earth’s mightiest heroes real ‘origin myth’ was simply arithmetic. And this model has been expanded vastly by the MCU marketing ‘vision’ – with each ‘feeder’ movie adding ‘value’ to the subsequent iterations, like individual franchises within a mall. The Avengers movie series is the artistic equivalent of the ‘Mall of America’ – Late Capitalism’s end-game. It is borne out of the (American) fantasy that ‘bigger is better’ – which in itself is Crispy Creme version of the NeoLiberalist project of infinite progress: the rapacious development that is instrumental in Global Warming and ensuing Climate Crisis.

Woah, better dial back then before you think I’m some kind of conspiracy theory nut – not allowed to talk about anything too serious, are we? That’s a breach of etiquette. And that’s part of the problem…

Whatever we think about the hidden discourses and agendas behind such behemoths as the MCU, what does seem evident to me is how the cultural hegemony of the Superhero Movie infantilises us – arresting the development of conscious individuals into ‘Fan-boy adult-lescents’ (and we’ve seen the worse iterations of that horrible entitlement in recent years, e.g. reactions to diversity in Star Wars). It amazes me how many ‘adults’ seem caught up in the whole phenomenon of the MCU franchise – how many spend serious cash on the whole bullshit ‘universe’. Of course, with the collapsing of ‘high’ and ‘low’ brow in cultural studies, us academics are expected to treat any cultural artefact with the same seriousness – presenting sober-faced conference papers on cynically commercial juvenilia, writing peer-reviewed articles on our anoraks, and Ph.D. theses on our OCDs (or Obsessive Narrative Disorders, in my case…). And thus, with our scholarly attention, we legitimise the Machine which sucks up our dreams and makes us pay-to-view. The ‘academic streams’ take place in smaller meeting rooms while the main venues are taken over by the real business – the buying and selling, glutting upon, and ogling of, the commercialised dream-stuff which serves as a surrogate for the real nutrients of Fantasy that can derived freely from the source: the Imagination. There will always be traders in the temple place until we stop being happy shoppers – so many Pac-men and -women. The first challenge is to wean ourselves off the titmilk. As ‘consumers’ we, are told, have power. Let’s all stop watching infantilised fodder (I know it won’t happen) and maybe they’ll start making movies for adults again. But that won’t wash with the infant tyrant entitled teenagers who now run the show. They will demand a rewrite if they don’t get the ending they can jerk off too.

But we can choose to walk out, or, better still, go and see an original film at an independent cinema. Hell, even read a book.

 

Copyright © Kevan Manwaring 2019