What follows is an edited diary of events, theoretical speculation and conflicts with authority as they happened some of which is alluded to in Nameless Wilding
Language as Form or rather Dance. Orpheus as its highest expression. This is what Symbolism aspired to: words and music as demiurge directed at the reconstruction of man and nature. Conceived as the ultimate artistic act like Eurydice it turns to stone because it cannot break with the past. Orpheus fails to fulfil his prophecy and does not have the courage to throw his lyre away.
One day in February 2011 we noticed that a piece of sparse ground at Shipley Stn where the old signal cabin had once stood seemed an ideal spot for seeding so we decided it would be best just to throw a lot of trefoil chaff over the hard core, granite chipping ballast and see what would happen. Unfortunately trains were always rolling on through this junction, at least one every few minutes and the logistics were going to be difficult. A cunning plan was called for. We proposed to do the seeding on a Sunday when traffic throughput was considerably diminished. Also we were going to have to be wary about railway police headquarters which was only a short distance away but maybe there were a lot fewer staff on duty there on Sundays. We definitely didn’t want to end up with a £1000 fine for trespass.
Above: walking the walk and talking the talk Below: the same area six moths later
So around 10 a.m. one bright but cold morning in early March 2011 one of us casually tripped down the platform skipping around the trespassers will be prosecuted notice attached to the wooden fence down the ramp and onto the ballast, scattering birds foot trefoil chaff all over the place. Although we’d checked on train times inevitably (sod’s law) a train pulled into the station and the conductress alerted was calling security on her mobile. The culprit was ordered off the track immediately under pain of instant arrest. Meanwhile one of us shouted from the adjacent platform, “The man on the ballast is ill suffering from dementia. Don’t shout at him because it makes him worse, sympathetic treatment is necessary.” A tooing and froing went on a bit and finally the poor lost, demented soul was coaxed to Health & Safety. “No need for an ambulance” we assured these cop substitutes. True, beforehand we had worked this scenario out as best as possible in such circumstances and in practise it played out a treat. Moreover within a year we had a truly incredible display of ‘eggs and bacon’ as the plant was once vernacularly and beautifully called becoming almost instantly an absolutely stunning Common Blue haven. Now though we were living in fear of the Round Up, sub contracted defoliant killers outfit, again always in the so-called interests of the Health & Safety Exec, biding their time ready to destroy wild nature yet again.
Some glorious punch-ups. Two Sundays later we tried to do something similar on a partially abandoned ballast platform that fronted the big car park. This time the big numbs in high viz jackets with fluorescent Railway Enforcer logos emblazoned on their backs immediately rushed to the scene even though we were only looking at the ballast platform. An especially authoritarian dumbo wanted to know what we were doing. We answered, “looking at butterflies.” This guy in all his wisdom aggressively said, “Butterflies don’t fly here, they fly over there” as he pointed to the dead official butterfly meadow which had basically been destroyed by the development of the big park ‘n’ ride scheme which was never opposed by the subservient local ecos, scared to death of authority and the law. Well this guy, this enforcer, obviously was on a mission trying to teach butterflies lessons in Lockeian civics especially respect for private property so there was no point in arguing. Yes we wanted to bop this arrogant buffoon with a haymaker but instead we just looked vacantly at him and then stared fixedly at the very tall trees somewhat in the distance behind him. After about ten minutes the disconcerted guy couldn’t handle this non verbal communication and finally flustered because of our refusal to react or respond went away no doubt looking for a more typical harassment scene somewhere else on Shipley Stn.
What we’d quickly learnt in all this everyday on-going confrontation was always to constantly change tactics as this throws these stereotypical goons more than anything else. In any case this ‘enforcer’ personnel always seem to be undergoing rapid turnovers, no doubt on the feeblest of employment contracts and a wage around the minimal legal level which means they are pushed around from pillar to post only able to get their rocks off intimidating frightened, submissive people. However, the specific backdrop to this sudden intensified harassment – as we found out later – was to do with a spate of car break-ins around the station.
Above: Shipley Stn. Chucking seeds over the wooden fence fronting the ballast platform and the wall up Station Road.
A couple of weeks later we decided in broad daylight and at a busy part of the day – late afternoon – to cut down some invasive buddleia with tree pruning loppers. They were running amok just outside the police HQ shading out some valiant struggling birds foot trefoil plants which we’d seeded some months previously. Big snips out beavering away and a train pulled into the adjacent platform. Realising we’d been clocked we scarpered double quick for the lift shafts at the other side of the park ‘n’ ride so we could survey the consequences from the railway bridge. Then we espied this obviously psyched up enforcer scurrying towards the footbridge steps looking somewhat hesitantly at us. Amused we decided to let him grab us. Bounding up the steps, face red, this crazed goon shouted at us, levelling at us the accusation that we were “trying to break into the police station with a pair of bolt croppers.” Flabbergasted we laughed out loud one of us retorting, “Why on earth would we want to break into a cop shop when usually we want to break out of them?” By then even more furious at such a cheeky reply he blurted out we were nicked and the real cops would be here within the minute. Then backing off he said we had the option of immediately leaving railway premises never to enter this particular station ever again. Even more amused we replied, “We ain’t moving. Bring it on. Can’t wait” etc. etc.
By then a crowd of people had spontaneously assembled including a bunch of Asian and white school kids. Performance was obviously desired by the motley assembly so we complied in order not to disappoint our audience, or rather, new found friends. The enforcer notebook out, biro in hand, then demanded of one of us who was really mouthing off “What’s your name?” This was followed by a quick transcendental reply, “Fuck off.” By then our enforcer was shouting out loud “Look I’ve asked you your name” followed again by the reply, “I’ve told you I’m called ‘fuck off’” A bit of a set too then followed after the stakes were upped and after further insults were traded capped – from our side - with, “We’ve eaten bigger people than you for breakfast, etc.” The final result: the goon cleared off, tale between his legs on the verge of panic, completely humiliated. Moreover, by then everybody was clapping and jeering him with one older, upstanding citizen calling out to his fleeing back, “Good God man, they’re old age pensioners and you’ve lost the fight.” The school kids of course simply loved it and noticing a look of adoration in their eyes a bit of demagoguery was called for: “Hey kids, never in your life let anybody tell you what to do – just fight the man. Don’t get intimidated, just hit back” etc, etc. Responding, one of them said, “You’d better beat it, the cops are bound to come now” followed by a bit of simplistic bravado in reply, “Not scared of cops” etc (….. how untrue but bravado had taken us!) Then the lads left, all agog, one of them saying, “I’m telling all my mates about you. You’re great” as clenched fist salutes followed, half spontaneous red fist, half the gesture of Bradford football supporters.
A day later though this time in the dark we were back at the crime scene seeding the railway verges again hoping that nobody was clocking us.
June 11 2011: Security Menace No 2 has his eyes on us on Shipley Stn. He obviously did not approve of us looking through the fence on the Morecambe / Leeds platform. Still less did he like us sitting on the station benches eating our butties. The railway station is no longer a social space
13th June 2011: We are both proud of our achievement behind the Ilkley platform and stood for several minutes on the bridge surveying our handiwork. We both want to see a complete yellow carpet of trefoil extending for over 150 yards. I could never look at a work of art with the same pleasure. There is no recoil here, only a feeling of fulfilment and yet greater potential.
14th June 2011: I suggested we extend the area by cutting down the carr woodland. We cut a path through the carr woodland that opened out onto the beck bank side near the bridge into The Big Field. Armed with loppers and a saw we simply got carried away creating a labyrinth through the woodland, which gave out onto the site, where the Lanolin factory once stood, though without betraying too much and giving the game away. I like this conservation by stealth. Now I am dreaming of yet more transformations covering the entire site that runs alongside the beck, and all done with the utmost clandestinity so no one is aware of what is happening. The aim is to create the most beautiful ‘unofficial garden’ in Bradford that will become evermore bio-diverse; a haven in particular for butterflies and insects in general. My aim is to be able to live in it secretly like a mole or water vole. I have a feeling I can build some kind of den that will go undetected, that is a part of nature and hence can pass unnoticed. It is like I am reliving my childhood. And I find it inspiring; a great reliever of pain and an antidote to the passage of time that inevitably brings with it terrible loss.
Above: One of the newly cut passages I find I am creating a thing of beauty and to sit and watch the meadow grass waving in the wind (and which the Common Blue also delights in) is a deeply moving experience. This project seems to be a summation of my life that is taking me over. I can think of little else.
June 24th 2011: I could scarcely recognise the official nature reserve of the Boars Well it has become so overgrown and jungly. This ‘wild’ feature goes practically to the heart of the city. You wonder what other city can boast such a feature? On the same day but on the bus going back I listened to a mix of white and Pakistani gals address each other as ‘blood’. Bradford, despite everything is never less than interesting.
17th July 2011: We sat on the rocks above T’Mucky Beck (officially known as the Bradford Beck) after planting the trefoil sacks on the garage site with some pleasant banter from the passing churls from the down ‘n’ outs Carters Arms next to Shipley Station. Wildflower meadows are not for the likes of them except to pass out on with a mix of booze and spliffs. But a meadow all the better for that!
Above: Outside window in the spit and sawdust Carters Arms alongside the magnificent mortar-less budd wall (left) built into a quarried rock face. In August 2011 an idea took flight: Why not stuff the cracks in the cliff face outside the Carters Arms with trefoil taken from Gaisby or Windhill toward the back end? And that’s just what we did as well seeding the grassy top. Alas, though one of Bradford’s finest raucous pubs, the Carters was to close a year later.
18th July 2011: We ate our sandwiches around three in the afternoon sheltering under the railway arches from the rain. A guy with a greyhound passed us: he was going rabbiting. He was initially reluctant to admit this but once we approved he said his dog had brought him many “rabbits to put in the pot” – a time-honoured poachers way of putting it.
24th July 2011: Coming back on the 576 bus from Halifax to Bradford Interchange listened in on a casual conversation; one, a young black guy with a child, the other a young white guy. The latter yearned for pre-capitalist times of farming meaning simple living. The black kid said no one gives a fuck about the dead and dying in Africa. The white kid said he fancied leaving the planet and journey to outer space, only the capitalists would have got there before him…….. It was quite possible to talk to these guys and they would listen.
30th July 2011: I sat in the waiting room on the Morecambe platform in despair, almost at the end of my tether and consumed by impotent rage. I had been blocked on all fronts. Furthermore I was prevented from planting the garage site because a gang of kids were sitting on the concrete blocks above the site. In fact they turned out to be a salvage firm and eventually a trailer pulled up. They were scavenging for scaffolding. I stopped and watched them and they in turn immediately thought I was going to report them some wore hi-viz jackets to legitimise the operation. If the cops had been notified they would have halted the operation. Metal theft is increasing in the Bradford / Leeds area and metal drain covers are now increasingly replaced with plastic imitations. In Healey Mills Marshalling Yards I noticed concrete drain covers had been removed presumably by people intent on cable theft.
6th August 2011: This is such a clandestine operation, transforming a landscape piecemeal, hoping it will not be noticed by the authorities yet obvious to the largely poor locals, for it is to be their convenient playground too. Thus, nothing too drastic and therefore like the process of nature itself opening up places through which ‘others’ of all species will inevitably but remorselessly follow. Neither we nor nobody else can lay claim to these spaces as they have their own organic momentum. This is no man /woman land as after all the no-people from all over the world use it; no-people because they have no money. But has anybody else, especially at our past-it age, done such imaginative conservation looking over their shoulders as we were today behind the Ilkley platform? We had been prevented from working on the garage site as the guy was desperately beavering away on his automobiles working heavy overtime just to survive, so on impulse – not to be defeated – we set to work on the back of the Ilkley platform. We were forever ducking down, crouching and hiding from the trains as they pulled into the station watching for drivers but especially conductors who always contact security. For we have to remain anonymous able to melt into the background, melt into passengers at will. And our task has hardly begun.
Above: The glorious bare bones Windhill Estate as seen from the back of the Ilkley platform on Shipley Stn. A great mix of potentially liberated human life – alternatives and ‘immigrants’- reside here. Most approve of what we are doing as they’ve also adopted the land below and don’t want to see it developed. August 7th 2011: garage site. The pods soon began to pop and seeds would fly out from the grill and land on the worktop. Perhaps I should be using the microwave on a low setting. What a learning process this is? Yet this was the day of the Tottenham riots. It did not diminish what I was doing, for this is also a protest against madness, surveillance and abuse.
8th August 2011: LONDON EXPLODES. Is the rest of the country particularly the north about to follow? As I passed the Forster Square Retail Park I thought to myself this is the only place in Bradford worth looting. The rest of the centre is virtually empty of retale outlets apart from pound and betting shops.
Waiting at a bus stop having picked a couple of Tesco bagfuls of trefoil seeds we were asked by a young guy if he was walking in the direction of the city centre. He was walking away from it! This is a city without a centre.
We did a little seeding on this day of riot (9th August 2011), a police helicopter gave us the once over although by now we are used to this aerial sleuthing. Who could possibly have alerted them? D than went off to the Manningham site finding three male Common Blues. I hardly think the butterfly was there in the spring. At night we returned to the garage site to put down seed purchased from Shoeburyness. Twenty pounds does not go a long way. I was alarmed to find that earth had been scattered over the area we have been attempting to conserve. However, a further inspection we came to the conclusion the garage owner had become aware of our activities and feared that they might be accused of utilising land they do not own to burn rubbish. Ironically we both live in fear of each other and we and the people in petty authority positions are playing a cat and mouse game with each other. It did though feel salutary to think we were having this effect upon the garage owners.
10th August 2011: The day the riots turned sour with an inter-racial conflict between blacks and Asians resulting in the death of three Asian youth in Birmingham we knew fuckhead had triumphed once more. Yet the consequences may not be reactionary. Easy credit has resulted in a kind of curious abolition of exchange and has overshot its original aim. These thoughts were in my mind as I passed through Bradford centre’s consumer desert. “Aspirational rioting” is unlikely ever to break out in this failed city. And it gave an ever-greater pertinence to what we are doing.
First thing we did when we hit the Manningham Lane site was to cut a passage through the dense buddleia and so join up the upper and lower part of this latest Common Blue site. The cutting of these passages took me back to what we did on Indian Hill (our name for disguised earth covered factories tricking the Luftwaffe) in County Durham aged 13 to 14. Time becomes confused and I am old as well as young. We were / are the new Neolithics cutting down the post-industrial wild wood this time. The chief pioneer tree was however not the birch but the buddleia though nonetheless there was the occasional sallow and silver birch.
The site is a welcome retreat for the most marginal, particularly East European immigrants. The most pathetic sight of all was the discarded cartons of Felix, the cat food. A primitive hearth and some blackened stumps of wood suggested the cat food had been cooked and eaten. It was heartbreaking, the sweet looking cat on the carton making this wretched expedient even more poignant.
14th August 2011: “Stone flags wanted. Any quality. Cash on collection.” We have been branded partisans of the shadow economy of pilfering. We attract attention and arouse suspicion and seeding means we are obviously up to no good. We trespass though in fact nature is the greatest trespasser, heedless of the ownership of property.
20th August 2011: De-podding tonight and ideas flowed. Concentrate on the heart of Bradford city not the peripheries. A success here would count more. But the real coup would be the seeding of the “big hole” ex-Westfield site in the centre of town. Was my de-podding of seeds at all similar to Melville's Ishmael up to his arm in blubber in Moby Dick? My activity rather stimulated the imagination: “a white out” it was not.
25th August 2011: The path through the wood leading to the garage has been ‘roped’ or rather sellotaped off. At first I thought it might be the council or the garage doing it but on reflection I think it is a form of ‘arty’ installation that has its origins in Terry Atkinson coming to Bradford. We opened up the area with saws, snips and shears now others are making their own contribution. The environment has been dynamised because of our innovation. We are the hidden facilitators. 3rd September 2011: Stainforth Construction site and others along the Otley Road. Amazingly found four male Common Blues on the Stainforth Construction site / Greens Health Fitness at bottom of Fred Atkinson Way. Prior to that had been most delighted to see a male Common Blue on the Tesco site plus found one on the Baildon Homes / Focus Store site….. After the Stainforth experience walked back to the Baildon Holmes area. Four kids were playing cards using a huge stone gatepost now cracked and on its side forming a rough table. They had a dog with them and one of them would occasionally throw a ball into the distance and the dog would chase after it. One kid was sitting on a smashed plastic stool. Security was nowhere to be seen as if they’ve given up or rather have been given notice. These kids were also drinking cans of lager and eating wine gums and caramel nibbles. Between boyhood and youth there was something sad about it. But it does indicate these areas are being increasingly invaded and used by the commoners; a foretaste of occupation perhaps?
Sept 4th 2011: Onto the garage site but the gates were still open. Paint had been poured over a corner of the concrete blocks blocking these informal, industrial roads; an obvious bit of Windhill Estate installation by an utter naïve who left his signature in the paint. So this is where the art school went? We took a photo with a spindly birds foot trefoil plant sunk into the concrete top. Will it ever flower? And will the roots ever bind to the concrete? Further down the tarmaced road covering the former Bradford Canal someone had dumped a load of leylandia. The sawn logs had been piled up almost deliberately as if this was a gesture of eco fly tipping. A hidden vanguard, we had set something in motion. This is now becoming a peoples’ transformation of landscape with others sensing this is an attempt to lay hold of waste ground and to collectively develop it according to individual inclination.
Above: Various naive installation displays below the Windhill Estate
8th October 2011, two incidents: When planting at the top of the Morecambe platform steps we were asked by youths passing by if we were disposing of bodies. “Yes” we replied, “we are doing body parts.” One guy laughed and gave us the thumbs up. Bradford’s Victorian cult of death and now a youth cult known as Bradford Gothic has become laughter. The second was when we boarded the 624 bus outside the Boars Well loaded down with a couple of trolleys full of plants plus carrying spades. “This is not a removals firm” was the surly driver’s response.
22nd October 2011: Had to wait until three in the afternoon for the garage to close so we could get into the work on the ‘anti-consumer peoples’ eco space. Tore into the work rapidly pulling up a lot of buddleia along side the old tarmac path next to the Bradford Beck. Then must have put into the ground about fourteen translocations of birds foot trefoil we collected yesterday from Windhill Quarry.
We then moved onto chopping out buddleia roots. This was heavy work requiring the axe though afterwards we both felt very positive about the effort. An internal lightening takes places inside the body and colours and forms appear more meaningful, altogether much brighter as if illumined by an inner light. A revolution would also make things appear thus but even more intensely.
Saw a dished Small Copper behind the Ilkley platform. The trefoil there is doing very well though never well enough. There seems to have been the most desultory of attempts to cordon off the carr woodland between the garage and the bridge to The Big Field. Grey coloured old electrical cable had been stretched between trees in an effort to prevent access to ‘our’ industrial rockery. – the old child gardening of the butterfly child become old men…… and yet it is so ineffectual that we can never be sure if these feeble attempts by a suit (a council official) aren’t also an art installation from the unofficial Windhill Estate school of youthful naivety. There is such an ambiguity about them and we are as puzzled by them as ‘they’ are puzzled by what we are doing. Does it ever cross their minds this might be an ecological initiative?
Hurt a foot when digging up in haste continental trefoil by the side of a busy slip road near the Cathedral Centre. Again if a police car had sped by it almost certainly would have stopped and then what? The job is not only heavy physically but mentally stressful too. Digging up birds foot trefoil from Windhill Quarry I am always mindful it is a SEGI (Site of Ecological and Geological Interest). I thought an elderly bearded eco-type guy was approaching to ask us what the hell we were up to. So I rapidly dropped everything and began to scrutinise some oak leaves, like I was a tree doctor or surgeon. But I needn’t have bothered: he was not the slightest bit interested.
20th October 2011: Mushingham County Animal Farm in the USA: the owner – Terry Thompson – let all his animals loose and then killed himself. The reserve had Bengal tigers, lions, cheetahs, wolves, giraffes, camels, grizzly bears etc. “There were many sightings of exotic animals along a nearby highway”. Deputies went to the animal farm where they found the owner dead and all the animal cage doors open. I recall that in my wildly imaginative days in the late 1960s I had read somewhere that the animals in the jardin zoologique had been released during the Paris Commune of 1871. Something of Douanier Rousseau’s jungles – insurrection and the tall grass parting to reveal a friendly, inquisitive face - though this time not the face of a simple, domestic cat; nonetheless the fierce instinct tempered by an ambient communality with a vision. Stupid, mad perhaps but we had more than a world to win.
In our ‘mad’ eco project in Shipley there are forces all unknown to each other yet each creatively (more or less) reacting to the others. We have essentially set these forces in motion.
1. The fly-tipper. 2. Those who would put to further use what the fly-tipper had left. 3. The vandals and the shifting boundaries between them and the art ‘vandals’, their youthful naiveté mounting informal installations. 4. The council officials who are perplexed by what’s going on and don’t know how to put a stop to it, their efforts to enforce the law becoming a kind of installation – in the absence of barbed wire, chucked cabling will have to do, moreover they have no money allocated to do anything else than improvise with the things dumped around them. In a way they are persecuted stupid suits with few resources. But who is going to take notice of them or their feeble counter insurgency? Only the really conditioned middle classes who don’t go here in any case. As for the rest, rather it is treated as a further invitation to participate, to add to the wonderment of this enchanted carr woodland that bears a strange resemblance to a Claude Lorraine perspective of tiered, towering trees especially when the sun is low in the sky and shadows are lengthening…. A grand avenue framing industrial dereliction and rubbish.
And that strange spidery, drone-like UFO that suddenly arose high over these self same trees amid the banks of silver birches and tall goat willows. It hovered in the air above us, a strange, whooshing sound like it was alive and observing us. This latest piece of kiddy consumer electronic gadgetry derived from American military hardware some lad from the Windhill Estate had bought or whizzed suited this scene of increasing mystery perfectly. And the day was overcast, silent and not a leaf stirred…..
Sitting before this changing rubbish dump today we had a sensation of possession that our clandestine activities were bearing fruit and that we actually were changing (making) a landscape (not painting it as a Claude would have done). This impression was enhanced by two girls playing beside the filthy, often turpentine coloured beck – accompanied by the sounds of their laughter. When we crossed the wooden bridge we saw they had pulled down a couple of concrete slabs which had once formed the approach to a previous bridge probably washed away in the ferocious torrents that suddenly seem to appear from nowhere as a cloud bursts over some Pennine promontory perhaps five miles away towards Wuthering Heights. But these gals were also taking hold of this abandoned, morphing cityscape of huge potential.
The more we engage with this thing, the more ideas we have, practical ideas like piling up the stones in the railway station behind the Ilkley platform to create stone chairs. And as for the possibility of creating water features in the beck ……. And then see if others add to it.
And so we dressed up for our night time raid on Windhill, D wearing a red devil mask, a hi-vis jacket on which was written “Conservation (Un)limited” and in front a placard which read, “the beginning is nigh” and a crib from London’s Occupy movement. We dug up three trefoil plants and attracted the attention of a man with a dog. We hurried off, he looking at the holes we had left behind and then quizzically looking at us as we hurried up the hill. Obviously puzzled he did not have a mobile to phone the police. Even so we were slightly nervous as we waited at the bus stop on the steep descent from the junction with Carr Lane opposite Windhill Quarry and sure enough two horse riders suddenly appeared. Yes, this area really was for the ‘middle classes’, those that could buy into the astounding view across the Pennine valleys. To further prove this several expensive dogs were being exercised. The continental trefoil planted here by a concerned eco council parks official is merely an adornment serving no ecological purpose whatsoever. So why not take a lot more and plant it on the Leeds Road site near the railway bridge on the approaches to Shipley market place; a working class / marginal area where nature flourishes and which the council thankfully despises. There at least it will be of benefit.
Above: At Dusk. Shipley Station
Going onto the station we planted trefoil behind the Morecambe / Leeds platform and then David posed in his devil’s mask before the transport police HQ. Nobody came, as it seems security has received its full surveillance marching orders and Network Rail cannot any longer afford their presence as they once recently could. 2nd November 2011: Moved dumped rocks from the fly-tipping heaven enclave on the old canal above the garage site. Some could be called boulders and some were even bigger and let’s hope this stops the council mower doing its worst. A camper van came along the road and for a moment we thought it contained officialdom some busy body having phoned them. However we quickly realised they had come to check out the contents of what had been fly-tipped. Maybe they had been told about the leylandia logs which they wanted for their wood burning stoves as they looked like ‘concerned’ middle class eco types, the type of ecos we could never get along with. No cussing – no cunts and fucks -here.
Above: eco-bagged dumped leylandia and stones ready to be moved to the Leeds Road site to stop the council’s baying cutting machines relentlessly, month in month out, taking out wild nature. We then went on to clear the Lanolin site of Oxford ragwort. And then in an inspired moment of derring-do started to cut passages through the dense carr woodland fringing the Bradford Beck. What to do with these passages? Let them grow, let them find their own form, let others also develop them. Let kids descend the sometimes gentle sloping bank sides to the poisoned but beautiful waters with strange rock features protruding from the river bed especially some intriguing post-industrial rapids. At all costs don’t make a typical anodyne ‘conservation’ path with the usual witless Health & Safety railings. This must remain an invitation to the joys of childhood danger. Rather this terrain to be made up of tree stumps and rudimentary steps, indeed hardly steps at all.
5th November 2011, Stuck into the Lanolin site. This time we seemed to reclaim it for ourselves. And the contours began to emerge. Where Claude painted we landscape, not the evocative somewhat mysterious painted dream but its potential realisation. For this covered in industrial canal which John Ruskin unintentionally lyricised is like a grand avenue, a dream in perspective especially when the sun is setting and the rays turn golden gilding the tree tops. We began connecting up the different parts – the three parts – of the site. The aim is to create an industrial meadowland. I had thought the clay filling used to bury the canal was too contaminated even for trefoils. So I was delighted to discover that the hop trefoil that I had planted was beginning to really take off.
Taking the birds foot trefoil from Carr Lane high on Windhill turned into a somewhat interesting nightmare. I used night vision for the first time on my camcorder. The moon was high in the sky and the lights of Shipley and Bradford lay sprinkled across the valley bottom below us. The ground was very stony so it wasn’t easy digging up continental trefoil. Previously during the daylight hours we had marked individual trefoil plants with white plastic tabs. I doubt if the plants will be missed but we were still expecting police to turn up at any moment. We were asked by three people from the poor Wind Hill Estate right down the bottom what we were up to. The camera was mounted on a tripod but one girl seeing D holding a spade silhouetted in the moonlight in front of a terrace of wild growth and trees asked if we were burying bodies - that same old Bradford obsession! Yet no matter how suspicious it looked, they merely said we would be in serious trouble with the police if we were. Typically they did not threaten us with the police as the ever so nice petite bourgeois do.
On the Lanolin site I then began to notice the industrial rockery underlying it all. Bare the stones and thumbs of cement and it will be ideal for the Dingy Skipper. These stones can be re-arranged, altered even according to whim, a rock fantasy for the Dingy Skipperif they ever arrive here. There was obviously a ‘ziggurat’ of stone from the old canal which I had glimpsed through the nettles yesterday like I was gazing into a deep murky pool seeing things and shapes like the remains of a drowned city or under sea water baby-like strange caves; an industrial Atlantis from ages past awaiting discovery and a second dawn. David had uncovered splendid huge stones from the long forgotten Bradford Canal. Had Ruskin walked on them, we wondered. The place has such immense potential setting us dreaming. In no other city is this possible. We are uniquely favoured. Built on rock, Bradford is the impossible city.
Rarely have I felt as fulfilled in what I am doing as I do now. It feels perfectly right, a wormhole to the future.
Above: And did Ruskin’s feet in ancient times walk upon these stones of green?
25th November 2011: Two Gaisby Quarry translocation trips made easier by deploying proper wheels. If it weren’t for the dead stalks of trefoil and a few seedpods it would be virtually impossible to recognise the plant. Today planted the Lanolin site putting down some twenty-eight roots. A cold day with intermittent, heavy showers we took shelter against the wall of the old canal wondering was this formerly a bridge through which the canal flowed? The extraordinary variety of scudding cloud in Bradford, David parodied in surrealist cum symbolist poetic diction “fish clouds in the sky ocean.” I first thought it was Dylan Thomas, but no it was his own invention, a piss take of what poets make of industrial dereliction.
Above: One day in September 2011. The moment the quarry closed three gaunt wild horses crossed the vast cavernous region of Gaisby Quarry floor like they were being led heading up the steep paths where grass is to be found on the rim of the quarry. It was an unusual site, these bony horses reminding one of Don Quixote’s nag, only this time there was three of them. Bradford is always full of surprises. On the same day Gaisby Top became The Great Gaisby!
We slashed an entire bank side and then some. The aim is to create industrial downland unusual because it is not natural geology and natural land form. Come some dry weather and we intend to make creative use of roundup – in particular exposing the stones to make a permanent feature.
Was the council called on us? We noticed a dustcart backing up where the concrete blocks have been set down to prevent travellers from using the site. We expected the fly tipping to be cleared on returning. Nothing had been touched. Had the council workers been rummaging through the litter in the hope of finding something saleable? And was that the reason two council workers in hi-vis jackets had come onto the Lanolin site maybe looking for bunce; a drink on the job? Would they have asked us what we were doing had we remained on the site? But by then we were moving off, work over for the day and to them perhaps we were just passing through? Or was this paranoid over-reaction? We have though a lot to be paranoid about. We want to continue as before, a secret, shaping force, devil gardeners that flit in and out of existence that cannot be pinned down, a dramatic, elemental force that cannot be stopped because nobody knows who we are. Once we lose our anonymity we lose our power to mold landscape and bring out the best in our unknown compatriots encouraging them to do the same.
28th November 2011: A poker game with authority. A cat and mouse game neither side sure of what the other is up to. What was the dustcart up to when it drew up in the lee of the concrete blocks just off Carnegie Drive leading up to the Windhill Estate? And why did they drive right onto the relatively manicured council turf? Was it to avoid detection, a few snatched minutes before returning to the depot on a Friday afternoon? And why did the hi-vis men give the Lanolin site the once over? Had they been alerted by the community cop who had clocked us as he walked down Briggate in the afternoon? Everyone knows something is going off. But what? That it might have something to do with ecology is the last thought that occurs to any of them. What a sad reflection.
We were surprised when we visited the Stainforth Construction site on Fred Atkinson Way just off Otley road that the company had been provoked on account of our clandestine presence to clean up its act and remove the stacked up building material it had deposited on the site, a piece of land they probably didn’t own. There is now a skip there in which to deposit builders’ rubbish. It seems to prove this part of the site doesn’t belong to them and that they fear the council or our ‘authority’ thinking we are powerful figures in an unknown official organisation and not just a few bums. And each of us is responding to the other in a paranoid fashion and being clandestine has given us an unexpected feeling of power. Anonymity has worked on our fears. It is this that has had the greatest effect; the sheer unknowingness of it all.
The Manningham Lane site. We chopped out the roots of several dozen buddleia bushes. A dumped upturned bath had been used as a bench. Moving it we found trainers and a bag of clothes beneath it. Will they be gone when we go back to the site? Someone had lit a fire and cooked tins of beans on it. Were these rough sleepers or alcoholics? Disturbed to find a throwaway syringe. None of the derelict sites we have worked – perhaps 20 in all throughout Bradford – have turned out to be needle parks. Drinking dens – yes!
Above. Campsite for Manningham’s rough sleepers from cat food to the un-inevitable syringe
My axing techniques continue to develop. I lacked the strength after three days of swinging an axe to strike at the thick stems. All of a sudden on Valley Road I split them in two discovering this was an easier way of getting rid of big roots. We were furious to find someone; some arsehole has seized the road from Canal Road to Valley Road, putting up a notice saying it was a private road and not to trespass. This was arrant seizure of public property. And so I returned along this road after uprooting the final few stumps on the Valley Road site. The gates of the land bank next to Uriah Woodhead’s builders merchants were open someone having broken the lock. Why? Nothing had been fly-tipped. I think Bradford fears a mass occupation. Some goon from the posh Audi showroom nearby cast his beady eyes over both of us. Had he challenged us he stood to lose his job because I was furious over this illegal seizure.
What a delight to catch the West Bowling bus. At the back two pensioned nutters were bawling the odds: “Noisier than kids” as she sought to control a dysfunctional family. You will never get this sort of response and banter in west London now. Dreams of past girlfriends – all leaving or walking away. They have everything to do with the present Occupation Movement and in particular what we are doing in Bradford.
17th December 2011: Removed some cut leaf cranesbill from Bowling Common. There were little plants of the stuff across Lower Road on the derelict site opposite. Is the plant just to say moving into Bradford and has it brought the Brown Argus with it?
We cut down more buddleia on the Manningham site. By not gutting the roots earlier in the year we in fact created work for ourselves. It took rather longer than we thought. We were watched from the windows of the Christ Scientist Church which is being converted into offices. This time they did not call the cops. More curious and perhaps respectful, who knows?
But Cathedral Point has been bordered up and a lock put on the gate. However it did not signify a new wave of securitisation and to our relief the tall tin fences put up around Baildon Holmes were still down. So we spent a couple of days clearing parts of the site of buddleia and goat willow. Again we weren’t challenged. I filmed part of the procedure. The presence of a ‘film crew’ may have reassured the homeowners overlooking the derelict site. Whilst clearing the site a woman with a dog came onto the space. Is Baildon Holmes becoming a public space?
Above: Easy chairs have been left at the ‘illegal’ entrance to the site from the bridge to Dockfield Road suggesting people are increasingly using it as a recreational area, especially a place where they can let their dogs roam free from the leash and maybe throw balls for the dog to catch. 18th December 2011: On reaching the Stainforth Construction site, surprised to find that the remaining buddleia and goat willow had, more or less, been sawn down! So it was only a question of hacking out the roots and generally clearing the site of small plants of sprouting buddleia. Why did Stainforth Construction do this? Were they afraid ‘we’ might eventually remonstrate with them and that ‘we’ were an arm of the Aire Valley Regeneration Plan – members of deputy PM Clegg’s Liberal party’s army of volunteers who would make good the original plan for sweet FA.
Only by remaining unknown can we exercise this power. We are playing games with authority by pretending to be other that what we are. A hidden force and all the more powerful because of it; an eco Bakuninism. Unmasked and we are virtually nothing.
We must do the same on the garage site. Remove the lavatory and cistern then cover with a groundsheet. We even thought about placing them in front of the garage gates. Unfortunately it could then be treated as a prank. A couple of weeks ago we had cleared some wood that had been carelessly discarded (in fact covering some of the birds foot trefoil we had brought down from Gaisby top) and stacked it on the fire area. We were there when garage man had set fire to it. Unfortunately there’s no camcorder footage of it though we had thrown a scare into garage man!
A new idea: Why not clear the fly-tipped bed bases, pallets, etc and make a bonfire of them? We could soak it with petrel, set light to it, film it from a distance and wait for the fire engine to arrive.
11th January 2012: Lanolin site. Thought we would be here only a couple of hours or so; instead spent the entire day. We simply responded to unanticipated events; in this case simply climbed a mound onto a plateau to clear it of vine and nettles. Slashing with a machete we came upon a mound of stone, brick and concrete. It was like we were in an equatorial forest when suddenly before us was the ruin of an ancient civilisation. Except this is the remains of a canal lock. The topography of the place began to fall into place. The ‘dip’ must once have been a wharf which over the decades has transformed from a stinking black chemical soup to trefoil and butterflies.
It was by far the most exciting discovery on the Lanolin site. How many other people know it is there? It is like stepping into virgin territory where no one has trodden before. Possibilities leap frog; another industrial rockery, a playground for the Dingy Skipper. A plateau of trefoil. We raked the cut stems into a heap. If we had been deep topographers we would have sold it. But ecological practicality overrules aesthetics and dosh and sometime in the future we will set fire to it as it takes up too much space.
We have never undertaken a more demanding project and one so full of promise. Surprises leap out at us.
There might be the possibility that our sites of industrial dereliction around Shipley station may become a SEGI as time goes on. Although the official eco organisations are worried about what is taking place and keep well away fearing its ‘criminal’ nature they are not openly hostile though will never lift a finger to help out practically. This was to be expected and indeed it is something of a relief as it puts clear distance between ‘them’ and us. However the more it succeeds the more they clap from a safe distance and herein lies the danger. So we are walking a conservation tightrope. The whole place could be domesticated, cleaned up, tyres removed, proper saccharine footpaths made, seats installed, etc. Yuck, yuck, yuck….
The place just surprises. The concrete remains of the canal basin like an industrial Chicken Itza or an industrial Brimham Rocks. Within twenty square feet of this feature found tutsan, harts tongue fern, a single daffodil (cultivated) bluebells, box tree, gelder rose, wild privet. Why was this diversity so concentrated? Were song birds responsible? The wood next to the Bradford Beck is wider at this point. Across the beck is The Big Field. There’s post-industrial rapids here too. How do you develop this; maybe some slight focussing on the water feature, or better still to leave it alone? But you could do makeshift dens and hides / tree observatories to observe birds, but executed so discreetly as if they didn’t exist, so people walking through wouldn’t really notice anything. Yet the whole place has been ‘worked’ and is crammed with ghosts; a presence you can still palpably feel.
Above: Aarons rod and wild privet on the Lanolin site 13th January 2012: Removed some cranesbill from Bowling Common. The conditions were icy but the plants were all neatly stashed in bags and trundled away. Then the bags started de-frosting turning into water! It resulted in a nightmare journey on buses to Shipley from the other side of Bradford! Expecting bus drivers to throw us off at any moment we were steeled for the first onslaught as melt ice become riverlets flowed down the bus floor towards the door. Fortunately the driver from the Interchange through Wrose to Windhill didn’t notice as truth to tell he was a wee bit shortsighted. Nonetheless it was very trying and tiring and we were pleased when all the cranesbill was planted on the Lanolin site. Unless a person has had direct experience of digging up plants, transporting them on a trolley, then onto a bus packed with passengers then they don’t have any notion how tense and nerve wracking the situation can be.
So we were physically and emotionally exhausted by the time we had finished planting cranesbill. But then we set to work clearing the industrial mounds of vine and thick-rooted bramble. Though difficult it was also rewarding, as with each slash of the machete an exciting terrain was revealed. These are not natural features as this is artificial countryside and thus formally more intriguing than natural landscape. However, nature has worked on these mounds, soil having accumulated over the decades from decaying vegetation and leaf litter. Would be interesting to itemise what these mounds are made of. In fact in themselves the place resembles an archaeological site, like something gone skew-whiff from the Bronze and Iron Age; maybe an industrial iron age where there is no buried treasure, no barrow covering a grave from 2500 BC. Yet there are things to be unearthed, revealed more by suggestion than explicit statement, so no one can be sure if there by design.
Above: the cleared post-industrial mounds which were then seeded with continental birds foot trefoil
Turned-up lots of bricks from the industrial Brimham Rocks as these are just the type of thing the Dingy Skipper likes to bask on. Thought of constructing a heaped-up wall of brick extending half way down the slope; it could though have looked like an installation even though suiting the Dingy Skipper perfectly. The brick will give off real heat during the late spring months which the Dingy would love. Perfect. Make steps. Well not steps, as that’s too formal. Make unnoticed steps, even anti steps but which are functional nonetheless.
People are using the site more. The point is to encourage their involvement – to elicit it – without them realising. So they think it comes from them. It is the opposite of being ordered, told, commanded – the opposite of rules, of byelaws, of the constrictions of nature reserves. It is essentially lawless, a dream landscape in which each is king and queen. Absolute. Talked to a guy with a dog who knew a lot of recent past history about this forgotten nook. As a school kid he had seen the former Lanolin factory built next to the filled in canal, burn down. This area was formerly known as pitty pops or pitzy pots. Where the Shipley garage standing above on Briggate now is there were houses beneath the high cliff face. When the guy left he did not take the usual path but the one we had created that went from the form dockside through the bottom of the former canal basin. 15th January 2012: Cleared the mounds further and then chopped down a few trees; we also cleared matted scrub from around the huge stones deposited on the side when the canal was closed in the 1920s. This discovery of the remnants of the Bradford Canal was breathtaking. We never had the foggiest it was there and we suspect this is true of the vast majority of people who casually use this place. Frequently we came close, very close, rather like those intrepid explorers who suddenly broke through impenetrable jungle to find an ancient civilisation, a ruined civilisation. A few stone edifices all that is left to say it was here. No one though has been here for decades. This has become virgin territory in a manner of speaking and are we opening things up to intrepid travellers and then the next step on from that, of all things an alternative tourist venue when the place finally becomes a SEGI?
The water authorities in cahoots perhaps with the council are obviously opposed to people walking along the beck bank. Their ridiculous attempts to stop them like dragging sawn off logs across the new paths we’ve created won’t deter anyone apart from the most programmed and insipid suburbanite. And if someone is adventurous enough to walk along the beck bank a few twigs here and there ain’t gonna deter their questing spirit. We are essentially explorers, discoverers. Never has industrial dereliction been so attractive: the problem is it is also the fertile ground of a bad literary romanticism. The problem is deep topographers have the drop on conservationists. Deep topographers know little or nothing about nature and conservationists have no idea just how much they are in thrall to a banal countryside aesthetic. Indeed a meeting up of topographers and conservationists could be of some value in helping change entrenched attitudes. Both though have a long way to go before arriving at revolutionary perspectives.
Listened to a radio feature slot on Incredible Edible based in the Hebden Bridge / Todmorden nexus. Pam Warhurst the spokeswoman said through this food for free gardening she had never felt so motivated. Same here. Rarely have we felt so fulfilled in this most awful of societies where fulfilment is an illusion in any case. Doing this embraces the necessities of dis-alienation. However, it seems on reflection that Incredible Edible flits in and out of officialdom and some of the trendy eco, Small is Beautiful shopkeepers so typical of this area helped initiate the project benignly patronised by local councillors. Other people suggest that it has since drifted from this limited social stratum connecting with estate tenants catching on with the proles? We will have to wait and see. We will have to wait and see always remembering in ancient days the most extensive commons in England were in this neck of the woods and a powerful, even subliminal memory remains.
Drew up a list of some sixteen things still to do. Today, we did none of these things as the process takes over and one cannot plan. The bonfire hearth on the garage site is spilling over threatening to cover the entire dwarf trefoil meant for the Dingy Skipper……and Dobbin the horse was back on the Leeds Road site giving the place a haircut……. And then we noticed the warning spikes near the high-pressure gas pipe that runs parallel to the bridge over the beck from the Windhill Estate. Had this pipe been prompted by the promised development plans published in the local Telegraph and Argus or had we been responsible? Perhaps a bit of both. But felt nonetheless this site was being taken away from us and from the exploited of Windhill. All our work was coming to nothing. Dispirited we still set to work on the Lanolin site removing the six or so large rotting sheets of thick ply half buried in the ground. The ply had killed off the grass beneath and was relatively easy to move, exposing the mashed dead stalks and the bare earth beneath. It should be easy to sow with seed. Finally we crowned the piled up boards with a giant green plastic crate and so inverted its legs looked like the turrets of a plastic castle. When the surrounding trees come into leaf all will be concealed.
The council are still up to their silly tricks of dragging cut branches across the paths we’ve cut through both carr woodland and scrub by the side of the beck. We have now started to call it Fart Beck because it smells like an open sewer, emitting beck farts. No slick builder will want to locate a housing estate here. Well we had to keep saying this in order to keep spirits up. We then moved on to the containing wall of the former Bradford Canal to take out the nettle roots. It was very arduous and an axe was used to chop the roots in two. The roundup had been partially successful. So tomorrow we will seed the entire area. 18th February 2011: Dug bank sides on Lanolin site ready for seeding. Ready fencing has been placed across the Briggate entrance to the Lanolin site and notices were pinned to it saying “Beware Deep Excavations.” Looking over the rise to the concreted section we noticed part of it had been fenced off where the beck ‘bridge’ has come away falling to the somewhat hemmed-in torrent below. For sure the council must have known about all of this for some time – perhaps even years – but our actual presence on the site had compelled them to go pro-active perhaps in fear of a Health & Safety Executive going generally bananas. For certain the council’s attempt to somewhat cordon off the site has been partially successful as only one person exercised their dog on this a Saturday.
19th February 2011: Seeded the Lanolin site and the back of Shipley Station. Also pulled up a lot of buddleia on the garage site, clearing a substantial area ready for planting. Also stacked discarded bits of wood onto the garage’s fire hearth – if nothing other than to put the frighteners on the owners. Moreover, they have been dumping plasterboard in the wood simply because as a fire retardant plasterboard doesn’t burn. It was a tense afternoon in general constantly hiding from the trains as we seeded the back of the Ilkley platform. It was the same on the garage site as we were expecting the owner to turn up anytime. It would have meant further confrontation and it is still better that we retain our anonymity for the time being.
Talked to an interesting Canadian woman on The Big Field with a dog called Rusty. She asked us what we were doing having noticed us before. We explained we were ‘developing’ the entire area – deploying deliberately vague language not knowing where she was coming from – cop or subversive? But then she turned enthusiastic and honesty kicked in. She certainly did not want a housing estate on what she regarded as her precious bit of land saying, “Why not convert the empty mills instead.” We were totally in agreement and she thoroughly approved of our direct action empathising with the way we don’t ask permission, just going straight ahead.
Continued on the next webs......