The Old Straight Track

The Old Straight Track

Stourbridge Common –

tracks to nowhere, the iron bridge, memories of the fair…

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Stourbridge Common is the nearest piece of semi-rural land to where I live in Cambridge. It is only a five minute cycle ride away but on dark winter afternoons it can take on an epic doom-laden appearance… The straight track across its centre becomes a walk into the infinite instead of a few hundred yards towards the railway bridge.

As one walks collective memories of the distant past crowd around. For Stourbridge Common was the site of one of the largest medieval fairs in Europe, only eclipsed by the great fairs of Champagne in central France. Here thousands of people thronged, and you could buy anything from alchemical materials to humble vegetables. Supposedly Isaac Newton found here prisms useful for his researches. There are still streets running down to the Common with names like ‘Garlic Row’ which embalm the memory of the goods once battered here.

My aim today however is a much more recent relic. The iron footbridge over the railway which, since the nineteenth century, has rudely bisected the ancient common. As you walk the track it looms closer, the gloom lightens, and a strange dusky light spreads in the sky, until finally the graffiti in all its glory becomes legible.

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Underneath a wee space sometimes used by homeless people for a last ditch place to sleep if all the hostels are full…

The bridge of course is nowhere near as old as the railway, and it is far from pretty. However, for some reason I rather like it in all of its boxy gaucheness. With its walls of welded steel in graphite gun metal grey. The best thing is the echoing clang as you ascend the stairs – you can imagine you are clambering up some sea-swept gantry on a large warship. The walls of the staircase are high to prevent accidents, you feel boxed in – safe but on edge at the same time. If such a bridge does not feature in the grungy Noir of the chase thriller Get Carter then they really ought to have put one in, worth it for the sound effects alone.

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One feels a little reluctant to trust one’s weight to the decayed metal but I trepidaciously ascend the steep steps feeling like a seven year old on an adventure…

 

 

More graffiti on the caged walkway at the top. More reminiscent of Tower Hamlets than a village common…

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One the further side one crosses a small brook, which as local psychogeographers know rises in the village pond of Cherry Hinton , snakes its way past the chalk quarries at the bottom of Mill Road, crosses the lesser known Coldhams Common, before going under the Newmarket Road and more or less following the railway line across Stourbridge Common on its short journey towards the Cam itself. A place for lads from the nearby estates to hang out and swing on the tree over the treacherously swollen brook…

 

As I return the light fades again, and the poignant, fractal silhouettes  of alders are outlined against the sky. Vernacular gloom, rusty nostalgia, the trudge through endless puddles…

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Littoral Fringes of the New Forest

Littoral Fringes of the New Forest

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Many of us would like to have a corner of the earth with which we have a special connection. But I suspect I am not alone in finding myself pulled in two directions: there is the place where I was brought up, on the fringes of the New Forest and the edge of the large estuary of Southampton Water – a shoreline but not a seashore, with industrial relics, and intrusive modern gravel banks, a boundary zone for which the word liminal is far too airy fairy….  Continue reading

New Post – striking mythic drawings based on ancient slavic beliefs

Rarog the Divine Falcon

Rarog the divine Falcon

We feature the fascinating mythic art work of Marek Hapon based on the ancient slavic beliefs of his pagan ancestors. 

“My first contact with ancient Slavic beliefs occurred while spending summers at my grandmother’s farm in eastern Poland. It was there that I discovered the world of supernatural beings — some frightening and others wondrous. One such scary demon was the Licho…. ”

Marek Hapon Drawings

Sci Fi and Fantasy issue – call for ideas!

Dark MOON
2018 ISSUE OF URTHONA ON THE THEME OF SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY
Please let us know if you have any thoughts about a Buddhist perspective on this kind of literature, or any author recommendations – apart from the obvious ones.
     Science Fiction and Fantasy allow unfettered licence to the imagination. This can be liberating but also it has drawbacks. Many books in these genres lack emotional depth, and get lost in the details of building an alternative world or worlds. On the other hand there is the opportunity to deal directly with universal archetypal themes – heroism, betrayal, the quest for truth and beauty, the unmasking of comfortable illusions of self and world – that are not easily dealt with directly in genres that are tethered to what we think of as ‘realism’. So we want to seek out the best writing there is in this area, particularly from contemporary authors, and ask what it has to offer spiritual seekers in the 21st century.
     It has been quite a learning curve for me looking into this area as I have not explored it since I was a teenager. So far as I can see there is a great deal of very fine recent science fiction out there. I have enjoyed reading Venor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep, Dan Simmons The Hyperion Cantos (a sci-fi version of the Canterbury Tales) and Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station.
     However the fantasy genre seems to be quite moribund to me! It has been taken over by the Grim-Dark Game of Thrones type of fantasy almost completely it seems. There are a few  rather whimsical English fantasy books from the last few decades such as those by William Horwood, but that it is it apart from Phillip Pullman – we have covered him in issue 19 but may return to him in this or a future issue.
     So do let me know if you feel I have missed out on any other fantasy authors after Lewis and Tolkien who have moral and imaginative integrity, or if you have any science fiction recommendations that we might have missed.
     I’m aware of the book ‘Dharma of Demon’s and Dragons’ on a Buddhist approach to this literature, which is useful if a bit superficial in my view, and we will build on what Loy did there. 

 

Our plans so far include a piece on the novelist Nicola Barker, hopefully an interview with Christopher Priest, something on ‘The inklings – Tolkien, Lewis, Williams, something on Phillip K Dick, and possibly to reprint an interview with LeGuin we did about 15 years ago. Movie wise we have a piece on some classic alien encounter movies such as ‘forbidden planet’, and a review of the recent release ‘Arrival’. We would of course like to cover the seminal work of spiritual / cosmic science fiction: Olaf Stapleton’s ‘Star-maker’.