Maltby Colliery: A Local Favela, and a Dingy Skipper egg hatches.
(A Film Plus Script)
Maltby Colliery between Rotherham and Doncaster, South Yorkshire is one of the few working, deep mine pits in Yorkshire. Maltby is a vast complex, after everything is taken into account, from nearby quarries to old spoil heaps. Like its more distant neighbour Kellingly Colliery it helps feed the huge coal-fired power stations alongside the Aire/Calder navigation as it flows onwards to the Humber estuary. Recently these big power stations especially Drax, the biggest CO2 polluter in the country, has become the target of the contemporary Climate Camp protesters. Maltby is a hub of often frenetic activity as the shots of these big dumper trucks testify. Moreover and thankfully this piece of industrial excavation has been spared the open-cast treatment, which increasingly is the lot of coal everywhere in northern England, Scotland and Wales. These operations are now being resisted by local communities everywhere though their activities have not yet achieved the profile they need to acquire. More imaginative tactics are necessary if we are to get something of the clean coal technology urgently required.
What we are looking at here though is a new inflection; a new featuring of the spoil done by British Coal, itself influenced by the recent appalling makeovers elsewhere in this area and which we have filmed and commented upon. Note the benign rolling hill design and the lack of escarpment. A spurious downland rye grass courtesy of some horticultural company will surely follow and all the increasingly rich biodiversity which quite quickly begins to thrive on this barren shale will be killed off before even gaining much of a toehold.
However this makeover backs onto the old spoil which hopefully will not be meddled with by the landscape designers and a now crippled Royal Bank of Scotland........Here we see that refreshing spoil covered with natural self-regeneration together with the typical sparse carr woodland of hawthorn and birch........Here is a sudden, deep escarpment, a variety – most likely – of half formed chalk on which exquisite plants often bloom. In this area as Strata Smith noted in the latr 18th centuty, the coal measures lay deep beneath a covering of variegated chalk.
After traversing the rim of this giant spoil heap a little distance away we spied an allotment area. Bit by bit what we were looking at became more obviously odd ball. Nay more, a lot more, because people where living here re-shaping the area for themselves. We immediately began to refer to this amazing place as The Maltby Favela.
Allotments in mining areas always were fascinating places full of strange twists and turns often becoming out-of-kilter living spaces inhabited day and night by willing refugees from the stifling atmosphere of the increasingly unclear nuclear family. We've never tired of mentioning our signalman grandah turned his mini-allotment at the base of his signal cabin into an enchanted garden where he sometimes would happily bed down - escaping a fierce Yorkshire matriarch - with one or two of his pigs. The allotment had spread up over into the signal cabin proper as the levers and Morse system became transformed instruments in a veritable jungle of plants so that decades later a photograph of the cabin became a tourist postcard commemorating the interior landscape of old Whitby.
Note the smoking chimney........the geese and hens, the twists and turns of unpaved alleys and snickets bordered by ply board sheets or corrugated materials etc you could get hold of in any dump.......In the background the anodyne re-make of the spoil heap never seems to stop fronted by a hillside of giant nettles at times six foot high spreading in all directions. Quite frankly we'd never seen nettles like this and most likely the consequence of nitrates plus incessant warm rain as global warming intensifies.
The favela is situated right in front of a 1950s council housing estate where no doubt miners still live like as though the sprawling chaotic urbanism developing slowly in front of them happened accidentally outside all planning laws. What most likely happened was the council turned a deaf ear as old containers, grain silos and the like appeared overnight...........as the trucks on the spoil hill above still endlessly rearrange the burnt shale.
People indeed live here who have no wish to turf nature out of the window or prevent the mice from scurrying about (cats can do that) or insects invading everywhere. In and among this you find huge discarded tyres on which a five spot burnet caterpillar heading for pupation lies motionless on a toughened rubber base right next to those lived-in shacks....... a harmony of odd ball nature and odd ball human kind.
We thought the allotments near the pit on Thorne Wastes were amazing until we stumbled on Maltby years later. For sure on those allotments near Thorne pit you could see exactly why Bunting's Beavers became an almost unstoppable direct action eco force of local people resident in Moorends pit village giving a constant two fingers up to all external authority. Somehow a changed, diverted environment has brought with it a greater passion for real communication between people. Surely something of this must also be true of this favela. In recognition of this we were discreet in not videoing too much or dwelling on the ins and outs of this fascinating topography as we had no desire to put the backs up of those living here who have obviously set their faces against the modern and post-modern world.
This inspiring environment couldn't help but bring comparisons. Something perhaps like Facteur Cheval's fairy palace at Hauterives in mid France but this won't do either. But then isn't Maltby something better, something that perhaps could easily become a possibility everywhere, simply because these living spaces are artless serving a practical purpose for those who live differently and where money isn't the be all and end all of everything and unlike the fairy palace this is not an arena for display.
We are not suggesting we all go live in makeshift shacks but the Maltby favela is a space put together by the possibly squatter tenants themselves without recourse to the excrescences of designers, town planners, architects, sub-contractors' building plans, or any other statist or para-statist officialdom. Places like these remain as pointers to the moment peoples' assemblies armed with a contemporary revolutionary critique redirect the environment away from the dead spaces of contemporary housing estates, offices, shopping malls, prestige artifacts and roads demanded by an imperious capitalism colonising the totality of our everyday lives. Moreover all modern construction techniques are today little more than a variant of planned obsolescence, part of the "creative destruction" cycle of the seemingly endless display of fictitious capital.
Here we have the old Maltby terrain where the Dingy Skipper thrives, living side by side with other invertebrates like this Oak Eggar caterpillar in and about sparse vegetation on an often bareback ground and where even marshy hollows allow a display of teasel.
True we took with us a plant of bird's foot trefoil on which had been deposited eggs of a Dingy Skipper and back they went to a room in Bradford where we slowly observed their evolution.
On the 18th June 2008 we noticed one caterpillar forming inside an egg and started filming at about 21 hundred hours. There was no activity and the little creature seemed to be resting. However as soon as a light was put on the egg it seemed to activate the caterpillar inside.
At 21 40 hours the embryonic caterpillar shifted from the left to the middle of the egg.
At 22 05 there was no movement.
By 22 20 there was a little movement. The emerging caterpillar seemed to pause for breath or was maybe devouring the inside of the egg shell as perhaps this activity was slightly less arduous than eating through the eggshell.
Two hours later at 00. 50 there was still no movement. It seemed very odd as though it was dead. This was the same state of play with the other eggs.
At 3.20 hours there was again some movement especially when two halogen lights were switched on. Then it was back to lifelessness again......
People may say this anti-film with no storyline is chaotic, collaging almost abstract theory about subversive urbanism and ecology together with nearly invisible forms of life only observable through the microscope. But why not range like this for after all it is nothing more than a dialectical movement that is the essence of our daily perceptions.
We would say this Maltby favela opens on to a new world incomparably more alive with possibilities than the mundane, barren urban existence we are forced to consume daily. For sure basic amenities and quality hygiene are lacking but that can be put right quickly without disturbing ambience............as the many insects move almost invisibly evolving beneath our feet creating a rich biodiversity we must now consciously interact with if humanity is to survive the pending holocaust a suicide capitalism is now unleashing.
Note the changing colour of the egg from brightish orange dulling to a drab-ish brown as the young caterpillar matured inside, the embryo showing a transparent green underside
Finally the caterpillar cracks open the egg top and a black head slightly protrudes slowly eating away at the egg shell – its first meal and rich in nutrients.
Just looks at its young jaws moving in a growing twilight slowly eating it away.....as the munching becomes more and more determined. And then everything goes quiet with no more munching just an occasional slight movement.....and the noise in the background. Finally a black head pokes through the shell top as the caterpillar finally clears the shell and moves away from the egg.
Moving away the caterpillar munches away at the surface of the bird's foot trefoil leaves never fully cutting through. Only the veins of the leaves are left leaving a membrane like when leaves rot down. The veins must be made of a harder material, less digestible.
The first skin cast. The larval head is brown rather than black. The caterpillar seems to be weaving a tent after appearing to devour its skin cast.
For days the caterpillar remains inert as if dead .... Here we see the faeces of the young caterpillar.
The caterpillar then begins to spin a web of something like silken twine sometime after the first skin cast.
Here we have on the 21st of June 2008 the caterpillar compressed between leaf membranes spinning the thinnest of yarns beginning with a single thread woven gradually into something thicker over time.
(Tracy who has made this voiceover has said all here could have been put much simpler. Why not leave aside all complicated revolutionary suppositions and say you enjoy broken down buildings with trees growing out the brickwork, slums in general though without inter-gang, drug-fuelled violence, down and dirty landscapes, dwellings alive with insects and fungi and so much more besides? OK – and yes – all that is true too.
David & Stuart Wise: 2009
The above film looks at the surrounding topography of the working pit at Maltby, South Yorkshire concentrating on the old spoil heaps plus projected new additions influenced by the appalling makeovers elsewhere on closed colliery workings. Something of the life cycle of a Dingy Skipper is documented here. However, the main thrust of the film is a polemic highlighting the need to redefine humanity's relationship to small organism biology involving deserting a consumer lifestyle culminating in the overthrow of capitalism. This is partially illustrated here courtesy of an allotment favela existing alongside a miners' housing estate; an arena where the totalitarian organisation of modern and post modern space - expressive of a dead life - doesn't exist.... (Blurb on back cover of original DVD).