What is the normal disposition of people in regard to their social circumstance? Elie Wisel Holocaust survivor, writer and political campaigner, who died yesterday, commented that indifference is a trait worse than either hate or anger, which – as John Lydon reminds us – is an energy, a productive one. An activist such as Wiesel will no doubt think of people’s disposition as naturally ‘active’. My feeling is that anaesthetised by our consumer lifestyle and saturated by media channels, we become adrift from things: lethargic . Our normal disposition is complacent apathy. We act when we have to, and it’s usually reactive rather than proactive, but I hope I’m wrong. As an educator, we seek to initiate ‘agency’ among students – an action on the world. This is never straightforward.
My standard leap of association now begins to other matters.
Walking on the moors today, I realise everday I’m becoming more like my Dad: fascinated by maps, landscape, local history.
This is the Basin Stone. It sits above the town where I live, like a throne of ascension.
There’s nothing on the moors. Literal silence in fields of emptiness, scored by sheep hunger. Here and there a crop of rock, a breeding lapwing or two and overall bogland. It’s redundant space; a thinking place of tranquility and reflection. The wind carouses your thoughts. It’s a good place to wander. Somehow my mind flits back to the past so often, transcends the reality of now: how did people use the moors in the past? For leisure, I wonder, as fell runners strut past.
This Basin Stone was, according to local signage, a place where the Chartists met and others before them who aren’t named, which is a travesty to me as I immediately train my eye on that obscurity. I feel like the character in Sartre’s Nausea sometimes, who was obsessed with printed texts and read every scrap of paper he found discarded on the street. A need to know basis.
Fading memories, dying nouns. The moor is image as metaphor of what you take there. I find a weather-beaten signpost and read it as symbolic of a dialect that has no relevance today, which strikes me as tragic.
There’s scant language on the Moors. A QR code for heritage piques me, but digitally I’m sound when abandoned to the moor and look only for words within to transcend from my steps.
Instead, a rock holds a narrative, like the dream of a sleeping giant stilled to stone.
In discovering the existence of the Basin Stone this weekend, this ice age relic of atrophied time, I became fixated with finding something out. It’s quite high up – what, a 1,000 ft above sea level? A steep climb from town. Fairly remote. Why would the Communists, who held an early address there, and the Chartists and the mysterious ‘others’ mentioned on a dilapidated tourist sign gather at some random feature? Sure: safe, perhaps clandestine…obvious answers. How can we ever know the detail of such obscure past histories?
“Where to for the meeting this Wednesday neet, pal?”
“Up on t’Walsden Moo’. At t’Basin Stone.”
“What, beyond that bog all t’way up thur? Eee, bugger that laddy. I don’t think so. Corrie’s on at the ‘Drome.”
Or was it something else? A landmark, not physically, but a metaphorical one, of membership and congregation – a medieval Twitter. If you want to join in the cause, you have to make a commitment to action: to walk up onto the moors in, what – the dead of night? Not a particularly formidable challenge, but a simple normative gesture, a symbolic pledge. If you’re in, show it – do it. The agency of the ages: a commitment to self-determinism, symbolised by that rugged, indominitable granite pulpit.
Later, after a little snooping on Google, I learn that there was an exotic weirdness associated with the rock, as somehow I’d expected there would be.
How spirited the energy of people once was, in comparison to our busy modern lives where little of any social value is so honourably accomplished. I hate to think like this. I think of how rich our lives are and how impoverished our relationship to nature has become.
It seems to me that, like a degrading language, our memory of heritage becomes endangered when we neglect to explore the story of places. It is imperative to be active, to be like verbs, to search what is around is, to record discovery, to create new identities to maps that give our landscapes a dignified, vivid typology. We are afforded all this by mobility and knowledge and it only needs our action to disturb its dormancy.
What a way to situate literacy – in the stories of our landscape.