Friday, May 26, 2006

the whole nine miles

Last December, as I told you, I was proof-reading my friend Jim's manuscript about his time on the tree protests of the mid-90s.

It's finished, done, dusted and darned available to the whole wide world as a proper book now.

Entitled Nine Miles, it's a beautifully written personal story not just of the protests, but of how the will to protest changes the protester, how it connects with something older, stronger and deeper. That deeper spirit, that rightness infused itself in all of us who fought those campaigns.

It's an extraordinary story told with candid humanity, a warm clarity that captures the brilliance, the lunacy, the nobility and the haphazardness of the campaigns. He can be in front of the cameras on national TV one minute and the next he's taking a three day walk where he's unknown to anyone, barely ever even in a village.

It's perhaps at its best and most evocative when he's doing nature writing. He can spend several paragraphs just telling you he woke up and it was morning.

I don't know how long I'd been asleep for, but when I woke up, I was fifty foot up in an oak. A clear, bright sun had come up through the tree line, covering everything with a fine golden light. It was already late autumn and the leaves were pretty much all down. From here, the effect of the leaves on the ground was stunning, like a vast cloth of copper running all over.

Dawn had come in under a heavy blanket of mist, which had already burned off. But steam was still rising up from the wet earth, the ground erupting with the sound of water writhing in the new warmth. I was in an oak on the edge of an area of older trees, which overlooked a small valley full of coppice; hazel and blackthorn and elder interspersed. This lower storey was visible now as a network of fine hemispheres, all lit brilliantly with the early morning sun. And because of the mild weather, the hazel had recently flowered into tubular catkins. They hung in their thousands, like a cascade of green fire. My breath poured out in white clouds.

It had been my first night in a tree and I'd slept in a hammock. Between one thing and another, I'd had the distinct feeling of being on a boat. Drifting off, I could feel the movement of the tree in the wind, a circular roll around the main mast of the trunk.

The only books I know of that came out of it all were mine and Kate Evans' magnificent and definitive Copse. Jim's written his now because otherwise that movement's history will be left to journalists and academics who weren't there and didn't understand it. As Jim says in the introuction, 'too many people are forgetting. Too many never knew in the first place'.

Writing history is not just so people can have knowledge of the past. That in itself serves no decent purpose. It is so we can learn and take inspiration from what has come before. It has to be relevant to us otherwise it's boring and useless. The big challenges that face our society require a reconnection with the motives and spirit that shone so brightly on those campaigns.

You can read extracts and order copies of Nine Miles from the book's site.

Short notice I know, but he's doing two readings from the book in Newbury tomorrow (Saturday May 27th), to coincide with the Newbury Mayor's Fringe Festival (why there should be a festival just cos a local dignitary is getting a haircut I don't know, but anyway).

The first is at 2pm, at Newbury museum, and is free, but it's tiny (20 people) so get there early.

The second is 8pm-10pm at the upstairs bar at Northcroft Leisure centre, Northcroft Lane. This has a £2 entry fee as the venue has a hire charge. There will also be showings of Hearts And Minds, the film made by the campaign in summer 1996, and Wild Horses At Newbury, the incredible footage of horses steaming in to disrupt tree felling and psyching-out the police horses.

He'll be doing readings at the Big Green Gathering, and is up for doing them elsewhere if anyone wants him to.

No comments: