My mum walking alongside the River Witham in Lincolnshire.
A brilliant and hectic week has just passed, highlights of which include the Playful Festival on Friday – where I learnt about the wonders of Minecraft, that games ≠ points, and about games people’s frustrations at badges and the ‘gamification’ of brands/sites, as well as getting a teensy bit grumpy at game designers’ propensity to play with and challenge all rules apart from those pertaining to gender-; a performance of Brian Duffy’s Modified Toy Orchestra after a spectacular Artists’ Brunch Sunday at the Edge in Birmingham; and a top meeting with the Nightwalk York music people – Lantern Music – ahead of our trip to reccy the area around the Minster at the beginning of October.
Saturday evening, as you may have seen, I had the immense pleasure to take part in Stoke Newington Airport‘s Live Art Speed Dating. An absolutely brilliant event, incredibly welcoming and supportive, and having spent 3 or so years in the West Midlands I can say an incredibly valuable effort by Fierce to get Live Art out into the heart of the Black Country. Having primarily hid behind pen and paper for the past 5 years, performing again was a bit strange, but mostly good. The piece I decided to do in the end was a very simple one, and probably still a bit writerly, but the base ideas of which are something which I think I’d like to work up further. All of the other artists’ work looked and sounded brilliant brilliant, and my main regret of the night was not getting a chance to see any of them!
My ‘date’ happened down the back of the stage, in a dingy and dark little corner. It was lit by a lamp and a green emergency light, was called ‘Home’, and consisted of an audio track of me speaking for 3:30 about the fact that the growing consensus on sea level rise puts my county mostly underwater in 50-100 years, and what it feels like to understand that you might never be able to return to the landscape that to you, is home. This was listened to over headphones, whilst I spoke about 2 seconds behind the recording with the idea of disorienting the listner. The iPad I was playing it on (longest battery life available to me, 3 hours action, left it at 96%[!]) had a picture of the tree I centered the speech around on it. The final thing I did was to give them 30 seconds to write down the ten things they’d take with them if being evacuated, they could then leave that with me, or take it with them. The text was pretty short so I’ve included it at the end of the post if you’re interested.
Things people would pack if evacuated with only one bag:
5 people would take a phone
3 people would pack their passports
3 people would take their grandmother’s cutlery
1 person said they’d take their grandad’s potato peeler
7 people would take photographs
8 people would pack socks
3 people took abstract things like ‘love’, ‘life’, or ‘heat’.
3 people packed other people
One of those people was James Brown
2 people packed some form of diary, one person a notebook
1 person would take all of their Vinyl
1 person would pack onions
1 person would take two gold jackets
Also, women tended to be more practical, taking things they could use, men more nostalgic, taking things they owned and prized (though obviously there were exceptions to this on both sides).
The piece went down somewhere between middling to very well. One person left tearfully, several people visibly affected, a couple interested, and few unmoved. I think developing the piece would involve looking at becoming more disorientating, or perhaps playing with erasure of the audio as well as the place I was talking about, maybe I lose myself, and begin to forget what I was saying. Maybe different sensory disruptions. Maybe asking them to read out the words for me. I’m not sure how much the iPad was a bit of a distraction on the table as it’s not exactly a ubiquitous piece of kit yet, so a longer headphone cable would mean I could have the player on my lap and eliminate out of context distractions. I think a longer piece would look more at the idea of ‘home’, how our landscape makes us, and what we associate with it. I’m also coming to these more interactive forms from quite a writerly background so I need to learn to free up a little bit too. Though I think I’m glad I started with something simple.
(If you want to see where you live under different sea level rise conditions, check out this map. Remember to take into consideration storm surges if you’re coastal/London, and infrastructure; your house may not be underwater, but if much of your surrounds are, it’s unlikely sewage systems/water/ electricity/gas supplies will be maintained.)
There’s a tree near where I grew up. In the highest place for miles. This tree is tall, taller, I think, because in my mind it merges with the memory of standing at the foot of it as a child. This tree is tall though, and it sprawls towards the sky like a reaching arm. And on it are these little slats of wood, nailed, to form steps and handholds, so you can climb up, sit in the crook of its branches and look out across to where the ground meets the sky.
I used to imagine sitting there and watch the season change, as though recorded in time-lapse. Watch the fields ploughed, and planted, watch the shoots spring, grow green, and as the sun, rain and clouds flash across the ground, grow golden, weighed down, as the hedgerows thicken.
Two summers ago I stood on that hill, and I saw something different. You couldn’t see the roads, the divisions between crops, or hedgerows. It was like when it snows, but darker, muddy grey. One colour.
About a third of my home county is below sea level.
I was two years old when we moved there, and one of my earliest memories is watching my mum spread across a huge map in the dining room, shading in all of the ‘safe’ places. We made sure we lived up high.
I have these dreams, about disaster. There’s lots of different kinds, zombie uprising, food riots, flooding, wizards. The dream always begins with me packing, though. Good trainers for running. A coat. A screw driver, hat, gloves, a jumper, and socks. I always pack socks.
When – as is looking increasingly likely – an ice shelf collapses sea levels will rise 3m in about 50 years. And as extreme weather events become more frequent we’ll have more regular and bigger storm surges. The storm surge in Lincolnshire in 1953 was about 6m. So that would make 9. A total additional sea level of 9 metres.
But those numbers don’t really mean anything to me, I can’t picture them. What I do see is the view from that tree; static, grey, unchanging. Flood defences broken too often to repair economically. And the place, abandoned.
It’s so strange to think that within my lifetime there’s a good chance I might never be able to return to the landscape that to me, is home.
And it is. And there’s nowhere else like it. It’s made of big skies and hot summer’s days and blackberry stained fingers and racing after the horizon.
In 1953 30,000 people were evacuated in one night.
They could take a bag. About 10 things.
What would you pack? What would you take with you? You’ve got 30 seconds.