Sunday, 28 April 2013

Ashes Time

According to Robert Bly, the poet who became more famous as a thinker about the "crisis of masculinity" with his book Iron John, young viking men would often enter a permitted period of lassitude, when they would simply lie around the hall doing nothing much, maybe listening to Bj√∂rk or more likely Burzum, and often sleeping in the warm ashes of the fire.  This was known, apparently, as "ashes time".

These would presumably have been young noble vikings, and not the sons of working-stiff vikings (and certainly not anybody's daughters).  "Hey, there may be no daylight today but wood needs chopping to make fresh ashes for his lordship to wallow in, you lazy git -- get out of bed right now!"

One of the great advances of modern society since the 1970s has been the democratisation of ashes time. In the absence of any actual work to do -- not even any wood seems to need chopping -- whole sections of the population have nothing better to do than stay in bed.  For the first decade or two, this can seem like an extremely fine idea.

Unfortunately, as the Nouveau Idle do not stand to inherit the Great Hall or the dragon-headed ship, and will not by right of birth lead raids or steer great enterprises of state, this period of wool-gathering, day-dreaming and daytime TV amounts to nothing more than an extended false start to life.

Ashes, indeed.

Someone has been busy making ash piles up on St. Catherine's Hill.  The view is gradually opening up, as trees and scrub are felled and burned, in an attempt to recreate "proper" chalk downland.

However, I suspect that the scrub will be planning its counter-attack right now.  Thorn and brambles never sleep.  They know the weakness of our species, with our fondness for permitted or enforced periods of lassitude.  They'll be back.


Huw said...


Those are lovely photos. The first one in particular, with the M3 echoing the grey of the ash. It reminds me of a particularly excellent John Piper photo (which I can't find on the internet!).


Mike C. said...

Thanks, Huw -- the motorway has become much more visible with all the tree felling that's been going on. More audible, too, which is something I don't think they'd taken into consideration...


Bronislaus Janulis / Framewright said...

Proper chalk land? Por qouis? excuse sp.

Unknown said...

I'm beginning to suspect that you carry a roll of that orange net stuff around with you wherever you go.

Nice pics.

Downland is fragile stuff, but chockfull of biodiversity, and charismatic biodiversity at that (flowers, butterflies etc). The problem is it requires early modern grazing patterns to maintain, and nobody can be arsed to pfaff about with that (or pay).

Who cares? Well, my feeling is that if you have a landscape and ecology which has taken hundreds of years to form and stabilise, you should think hard before allowing it to be taken over by a short-term something you can find everywhere. I say that as a fan of entangled secondary woodland.

Unknown said...

This naffing blogger is naffing irritating in its naffing handling of naffing google IDs. Naff.


Mike C. said...


Odd, no-one else seems to have found registering with Google a problem -- you do it once (choosing a nom de blog if you prefer) and you're golden, as those annoying people say.

Yes, my roll of fluorescent netting is my equivalent of John Hinde's red Reliant, always there to add a splash of colour.


As Struan says, chalk downland is a particular habitat characteristic of parts of southern England, which has evolved from a combination of geology, climate and human land-use. Places like St. Cat's Hill tend to lose their unique identity when free grazing by cattle and sheep has stopped.


Unknown said...

Oh I registered, and I have all my settings fine-tuned, but for some reason my name does not appear with the post, and there is no way to add it during the comment submission.

I don't take it personally, but I didn't want you thinking I was indulging in adolescent pranks.

Old Winchester Hill in early summer was an epiphany for me. The first time I felt a landscape to be somehow special - magical, and alive in a self-contained way. It is part of the reason I am so suspicious of the wilderness myth.

Struan said...

I think I may have solved it: my profile on Google was fine, but I needed to fill out the profile here at blogger too.

Testing, testing. Hello?

Sorry to use you as a testbed - feel free to delete.

Mike C. said...

Message received, and correctly labelled.

Yes, Old Winchester Hill is a very special place. Why it has that name is a mystery, though, given it's 11 miles away. Any ideas?

They've finally swept it clean of unexploded munitions, so the warning boards have gone, though most times I go I seem to find a .303 casing or spent round cast up in a molehill.


Struan said...

There is a daft story of the Romans trying to build a settlement there, but the newly-laid stones rolled down the hill each night, so they gave up and founded Winchester instead.

I suspect someone in power in early middle ages Winchester was jealous of Old Sarum and wanted one of their own.

Grazing is a tricky thing. A local nature reserve was originally put on the map out as grazing for a late viking/early middle ages war horse stud. It progressed to calvary horses for the royal stables until the 50s or 60s. They graze cattle in the open pastures now, which is changing the flora little by little, but the major grazing pressure in the woodland itself is now from an invasive Spanish slug. Talk about coming down in the world.