Close to the edge

It seems a while now since Geoff and I drove up the A1 for a Ghost Lab in the old pit village of Horden, County Durham. I do not know the area but I was prepared to see a village much like the ones on the home turf of South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire: a bit strung out, one village melding into the other in a rolling landscape. I think that was there but all I saw was the sea.

We had a look at the numbered streets where the mine owners could not be bothered to give them names. I reflected that there was a degree of honesty about the lack of naming; at least you would have known who the boss was: who to despise; who to fight. I thought about Orgreave, the scene of the defining event of the strike which has now been turned into the Advanced Manufacturing Park with an adjoining new village in the ‘heart of the Sheffield city region’ called Waverley with streets called ‘ Bakewell Gardens’ and ‘ Rowsley Drive’ and a pub called ‘The Winter Green’. So now in Orgreave there is no sense of class struggle but I have to accept a new landscape, redeveloped, not too bad actually. That was not Horden.

From the Numbered Streets, so well portrayed in Ribbon Roads songs, I could see the sea and that was different from Orgreave. It so much reminded me of Portland: where in a similarly denuded landscape, from old abandoned quarries you could see the blue horizon and dream of lands far away or adventure closer to shore. Horden was the same for me: I wondered if anyone clambered down the trail, past the old pit, onto the beach where the slack would have been dumped to surf. After all just up the coast at Roker there is meant to be quite a good surf beach. I hoped that some ‘off grid’ surfer lived in the Numbered streets to brave the cold heavy swells that come down through the North Sea in the winter. A ghost in a wet suit walking through the sleet to catch a glimpse of Hawaii or California, to give hope.

As we wandered around the village we wondered what stories could be told by the Numbered streets, what stories would be told in the Ghost Lab. I wondered whether there would be any difference. Felix Guattari in Chaosmosis talks about Cartography being, amongst other things, a means by which a group forms a subjectivity that protects themselves. In the Ghost Lab , Andrew Macmillan, in his mapping exercise, brought forth stories that hinted at that process.

As a retired geography teacher, Andrew’s mapping intrigued me; I was enchanted. Now a few months later I find myself thinking about Cartography again. I wonder how Guattari idea could be developed to bring in the physical entity of the Numbered streets. In telling their stories how do those terraces shape a subjective identity? I think of my imaginary surfer, how can a fictional form contribute to the notion of psychic solidarity? I think of the weather and climate, of the stories that emerge from global warming: does my imaginary surfer face the same conditions as the colliers who trooped down the hill to tunnel under the sea? Could not the notion of Cartography be extended to map the entanglements of ecology, social injustice and psychic disturbance?

I could see the sea? But when in Horden what did I smell, hear, touch or feel? What emotions were there cursing through my body? Were they the same or different to other Ghost Labs? But most of all, and this was particularly true as we left, I wonder what can be done? The forces that produce the Social Haunting seem so powerful, so destructive that I cannot say I have any magic that could easily rectify the pain that we witness, that can heal the pain or the grieving. It is the peculiar power of a Social Haunting to affect us collectively over a long time and a large space that distinguishes it from the grief that we all feel, and share, when a loved one is ill or dies. But a Social Haunting seems to be worse because it is not an intensive feeling that can be overwhelming but an extensive one. A feeling that is dispersed, hidden in the nooks and crannies of the streets, people’s memories, the weather and in Horden case: the sea.

For so many of us the sea, and particularly the beach is a liminal zone of hope. We go to sunbathe, to catch up on our reading. We might be clutching a board to surf, a sail or kite to rig. To be out there riding the waves is to be at peace. Yet for me the sadness of Horden was that it seemed to be so cut off from the sea. Only a few yards from this village the sea could be glimpsed but not smelt, or touched or immersed in. Perhaps it is all too polluted, too dirty, too black to be seen as a desirable escape. Perhaps things will change, but we have to re- imagine our world, Horden’s world, not for psychic protection, not just to allow the ghosts to speak, but to allow us to liberate ourselves, to wander, over the flat plane of the sea.

Mark James

Mark JamesComment