About Mary J Howell

I am a writer. Murielle's Angel is a work of fiction inspired by walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in 2002. A short story I wrote is published by Honno in the anthology, Dancing with Mr Darcy

Workable Truce

We have reached a workable truce, I think, the baby and I.
What’s that lovely expression from Nadine Gordimer, our ‘covenant of living together’, a phrase that at present I find impossible to let go.

When I first mentioned it to Sunny Boy, he immediately thought it applied to him, us, and it does. But oh, it so applies globally, a two way stretch, a fluid working agreement for the mutual benefit of all.
I can hear Sunny Boy’s voice of reason in my ear…sounds like compromise which means no one is happy. And yet a covenant implies agreement drawn up between people..signed sealed delivered and promises kept.

I will not bomb your children if you do not bomb mine; I trust my government to do their homework on flammable substances and firms who clad buildings (on the cheap?) because they have mine and my family’s and friends’ best interests at heart. In return I will be a dutiful member of society.  I will not sell you down river and shaft our peace agreement to further my own ends. And so on.

It’s when you reach impasse that troubles start and posturing begins. So many people take up a stance, an intransigent stance and then the outcome is doomed.

Whatever led from grandmadom to politics? Working truce. That was it, and compromise. Backing down rather than standing on a high horse, trust, love. Yes, love would cover it.

Grandmadom

IMG_4060

The new state (for me)  of grandmadom doesn’t even get a google red squiggle – and  I thought I’d invented a word.

The birth of a baby; a real baby, not the book, that must now wait, no time for all that now. The infant progeny needs limelight for the phosphorescent glow around her. True colours. Time has a new feel to it. I wonder if Lewis Carroll had witnessed the looking after of Alice as a baby and knew all about murdering it, beating it gently on the baby’s back to get her to sleep. That blissful state of exhaustion. Not the fractious feverish search for comfort that an empty belly or a belly that is too full gives.

Today we uncovered black toads as I moved the bins to get the pram through. A mother and baby, I’ll be bound, sheltering under the bins outside. It’s is so dry here and oh so hot, they were a complete surprise. At first I thought some animal had flattened its body in the narrow gap between bin and pebbles and deposited its scat, about to issue the usual warning to mind your step. Instead it was much more of a proclamation. The jet black colour of the little pile had me fooled, till I moved the bin some more and discovered the mother a larger black sponge and something too regular about the folds. Beside I’ll swear the mother blinked. Slowly and deliberately like some primeordeal remnant. Perhaps a grandmother herself.
They’ll probably burn to a crisp, if they don’t wake up and find their exposed predicament or I’ll cover them. Something about the heat and the strange loop of time will help me forget.

A warm breeze plays about my shoulders. The slight rustle of leaves is cooling like running water. Birds sing for evening and I wait. Wait for the heat to go, wait for the request to change the nappy, nurse the baby, make the tea. (dinner, now that they live in the south.)
New rules now I am both mother and grandmother.

IMG_4059

The Covenant of Living Together

The covenant of living together is a concept discussed by Nadine Gordimer in her book The House Gun. It implies the give and take of any relationship.  Gordimer includes the government in her covenant and asks if the state should share responsibility for what happens to its citizens. The state in question is post-apartheid South Africa. Decades of violence and the casual keeping and use of guns have a role in the story. As does the decision to ban capital punishment. It is a complicated tale of love and betrayal, but she asks if the state too hasn’t betrayed its own citizens.

Perhaps we should be asking questions of our government. Where does the responsibility lie after the fire in London? With the dismantling or destruction of the NHS? With the extrication from Europe with complete disregard for the impact on anyone? Child poverty?

The list is endless.

 

Ewan MacColl and The Manchester Rambler 


I love the way blogs lead to places. Avenues open to new ventures, new ideas,  to follow or discuss.  Or is that life?

The Peak and Northern Footpaths Society’s walk in May in commemoration of the opening of the Snake Path  and subsequent Mass Trespass, led not just to the Snake Pass and a well deserved half in the Snake Inn, but to music and poetry too.

The Manchester  Rambler, Ewan MacColl’s folk standard sung by folk heros across the land stems from the 1932 Mass Trespass that Ewan MacColl took part in. The story is in the song.

The  bastardised version we sang in pubs in our misspent student days, only ever joining in the chorus and getting it wrong to boot belied the serious undertow. We knew more of whiteslaves than wageslaves and we knew precious little of those either. Perhaps in this era of austerity and the misery of zero hours contracts it is time for a re release.

The Manchester Rambler

Ewan MacColl

Lyrics

I’ve been over Snowdon, I’ve slept upon Crowdon

I’ve camped by the Waynestones as well

I’ve sunbathed on Kinder, been burned to a cinder

And many more things I can tell

My rucksack has oft been me pillow

The heather has oft been me bed

And sooner than part from the mountains

I think I would rather be dead

Ch: I’m a rambler, I’m a rambler from Manchester way

I get all me pleasure the hard moorland way

I may be a wageslave on Monday

But I am a free man on Sunday

The day was just ending and I was descending

Down Grinesbrook just by Upper Tor

When a voice cried “Hey you” in the way keepers do

He’d the worst face that ever I saw

The things that he said were unpleasant

In the teeth of his fury I said

“Sooner than part from the mountains

I think I would rather be dead”

He called me a louse and said “Think of the grouse”

Well i thought, but I still couldn’t see

Why all Kinder Scout and the moors roundabout

Couldn’t take both the poor grouse and me

He said “All this land is my master’s”

At that I stood shaking my head

No man has the right to own mountains

Any more than the deep ocean bed

I once loved a maid, a spot welder by trade

She was fair as the Rowan in bloom

And the bloom of her eye watched the blue Moreland sky

I wooed her from April to June

On the day that we should have been married

I went for a ramble instead

For sooner than part from the mountains

I think I would rather be dead

So I’ll walk where I will over mountain and hill

And I’ll lie where the bracken is deep

I belong to the mountains, the clear running fountains

Where the grey rocks lie ragged and steep

I’ve seen the white hare in the gullys

And the curlew fly high overhead

And sooner than part from the mountains

I think I would rather be dead.

Songwriters: Ewan Maccoll

The Manchester Rambler lyrics © The Bicycle Music Company

Truth better than Fiction. A postscript.


The poet Dave Toft has sent me a correct version of the events following the 1932 Mass Trespass. Good to have the facts straight. I take the liberty of posting it here (with permission).

“There was no physical battle – just one scuffle. The gamekeepers were overwhelmingly outnumbered. One was injured in the single scuffle – he tried to hit someone with his stick and they took it off him and hit him with it.

The five who were sent to prison served up to 6 months hard labour. There was a public outcry but they weren’t freed because of it, they served their time

4 of the 5 were blacklisted and lost their jobs. The 5th was expelled from Manchester University and instead took up a place in Cambridge

The oldest of the trespassers was 21. The leader was 20. Jimmy Miller, better known as Ewan MacColl the famous folk singer, was 19, but not arrested. They would have all been working in the mills since being 14.

At least 2 were killed in the Spanish Civil War.

They were almost all in the Communist Party, which was not unusual amongst progressive young left radicals in that period,who wanted a fairer society and who opposed the rise of fascism. The repressive nature of Stalin’s rule was not known at that point.”

For the Many Not the Few

img_3920

This weekend marked the 120th anniversary of the granting of freedom to roam on the footpath in Derbyshire known as The Snake. A recognition of the rights of the working man to enjoy at least a few hours away from the grime of factory or pit.

In 1932, barely thirty five years later the freedom had been rescinded.   The grandiose promise of ‘for ever’ was fragile.  Four or five hundred ramblers mostly from Manchester trespassed en masse,  having to fight a pitched battle with gamekeepers  especially enrolled by landowners to keep them at bay. The ramblers won. Trespass was not illegal, but men were accused of rough handling the gamekeepers and a handful were arrested.  Thanks to public outcry they were released and once again freedom of access to wilderness was restored.

The good things in life should be accessible, if not free, to the many not just the few.

img_3922

 

Dave Toft, himself a child of blackened back-to-backs of salford, and introduced to the life changing joy of the wilderness at an early age, read his poem to the 75 of us who had gathered on a grey Sunday to retread those footsteps into the wilderness of Kinder.

Climbing Kinder (for the 1932 Mass Trespass)

To these slopes

Here on the sides of this great and ancient plateau’s edge,

Where the curlew sings on a summer’s day

Its solitary, swooping note

Like a crystal drop of Kinder water –

A song far sweeter

Than any music humans ever made –

The walkers came

To claim for all who’d follow

The right to hear that song

To breath that air with smog- bruised lungs

To taste the sweetness of the open space

To pause a moment from the draining race

Of hard industrial existence

 

And they called those walkers ‘trespassers’

As if by claiming back these stolen treasures

By repossessing all these hard won pleasures

It was they who were the criminals.

 

But when you climb up Kinder now

And feel your legs strain hard against the earth

And fill your lungs with fresh free air

And watch the long white hare

Kicking its legs in the very ecstasy of life

Remember there are those who would have kept this from us

And those who even now would, if they could

Keep us from the silver stream and open moor

And windswept wood.

 

 

A Parliament of Seagulls?

Marauding seagulls stole my sandwich. I was enjoying my lunch, a brief ten minutes on the beach before a volunteer slot in the local RNLI.  The speed, the stealth, the determination of the posse impressed some bystanders.

 ‘Wo, did you see that?’  

One of them jeered at the seagulls, offering his crisps with a smacking of his lips, ‘come over here if you think you’re hard enough,’ and made us laugh. We’ve come to expect it of seagulls, there’s nothing much we can do.

The randomness of the attack and the unfairness made me indignant but it did make me think.  How helpless individuals are against the might of a determined force. How vigilant we should be and how worried by the stealth taxes and infringements on liberties of those less able to fight back.  We must fight back any and every way we can.