Between Monday 4th and Friday 8th May 2020 we posted contributions from Indigo Moon, Rob La Frenais, Tessa Gordziejko, Dave Hubble and Deborah Tomkins. You can find the full, week-by-week listing at Quarantine Connection.
Day 20 — Deborah Tomkins: Archipelago (an excerpt)
Deborah Tomkins is a writer of long and short fiction and articles, who started writing about climate change to answer the question – ‘How, really, will it be?’. She is based in Bristol, England.
Deborah says of this piece:
“Below is an extract from my first novel, Archipelago (unpublished), which I wrote in 2007-2008. It’s a family saga, set over three generations, beginning in the year 2000, exploring the impacts of climate change. It was ambitious and tricky – mostly because whenever I wrote something and set it in a particular year (a global financial crash, for example, set in 2030), it immediately happened. This was frustrating, but it also shows that writing fiction about the huge and immeasurably complex is possible to do. Just don’t be too definite about the dates.
“It’s been tough to read this, after so many years. This passage was set in about 2060, but already many of the events are happening or are on the way to happening. I, like Julia, am looking for the hope. It’s there, I think, deep inside this most fragile of opportunities to change the track our world is on. I have no deep wisdom to offer, just my assurance that while I live I won’t give up working and writing for the Earth.
“I suspect that the stories that come out of this time (will it be a year, two years, five years?), those that make an impact, will be the ones that resonate at a deep emotional or even spiritual level, a level we haven’t yet plumbed. These will be stories where we recognise the gifts that come with being human, the gifts of imagination, creativity and empathy which are so often denigrated by the industrial giants – whatever they say in their advertising or job recruitment campaigns – and where we act on these gifts for the betterment not only of the human species but for all our more-than-human kin.
“As writers and artists, we know this already. Others may not be able to articulate this, but they long for good times with family and friends, devour feel-good novels and movies, are kind to animals and appreciate ‘nature’. It’s there for the tapping, this instinct for good.”
Archipelago (an excerpt)
Julia had never lived at the farm during the times of isolation that Max had imposed, harshly, it had sometimes been felt. He’d done this when there’d been terrible illness in the locality, and it had, for the most part, worked, despite lingering resentments from both within and without their walls. He’d had a thick enough skin to deal with this and didn’t care what people thought. But Julia had never witnessed this, so the first wave of sickness took her by surprise. She knew that a particularly virulent disease had begun sweeping across the world from the Far East, that it had reached Europe, that people were being advised to travel only if strictly necessary. Later she wondered if her reaction was a common one, when she’d felt in her guts that they were safe, and that because life seemed to be normal, and normal activities still took place in normal ways, and people talked about the weather and what was for dinner, and traded and gossiped and complained and planned for their futures, that nothing bad was likely to happen here, in this very ordinary place. How deceived she had been.
No quarantine meant that one of the children went to a birthday party in the village, and three days later developed a crippling headache and high fever with a blotchy rash that spread rapidly over her body, so that within a day she was coloured a strange purplish-red. She was racked with a cough that caused her to vomit copious quantities of mucus and bile, and then ominously both bile and sputum became a dark reddish-brown. Almost at the same time news came that two children had died that morning, children who’d been at the same birthday party. The little girl died late that night, and the next day her mother and father and baby brother began to cough and developed a crippling headache and high fever.
Julia, bewildered and terrified, imposed a quarantine, but it was too late. Of the original family, only the father survived; why, nobody could tell. Twenty-seven others from the farm were infected over the following two weeks, and eleven died. Necessary conversations were conducted at a distance of several metres, necessary chores kept to a minimum. And it was the youngest who were the most ill, who died; the old people hardly fell ill at all.
When Julia recovered from her own dance with death, as Archie poetically called it, she found that despite his crippled foot he had heroically taken on all the animal husbandry; that only four of the children had survived; that an area of ground just below the cliff had been set aside as a graveyard, the area that George had refused to sell to a developer on the grounds that Gaia needed it; that some of the rabbits and guinea pigs had perished during the crisis because they’d been forgotten; that Rose had herself fallen sick, not with the plague, but with a chest infection brought on by exhaustion; that the village had been decimated; that a national state of emergency had been declared; that the mortality rate was currently running at around twelve per cent; that the only places where this disease had not yet appeared were Antarctica, the Falkland Islands, New Zealand, and Iceland; that the prime minister had promised to make the economy his prime focus as soon as the emergency was over.
Wheat was in short supply that year, again. Half way through the winter they stopped making bread altogether, reserving the last few sacks of grain for the livestock. They ate instead oatcakes and porridge and flapjacks, until the oats ran out; then came potatoes, and fried vegetables, turnips, squash and onions, with slices of omelette on the side.
Julia had never imagined that she would long for the spring taste of cow parsley and nettles as she did today. There was no rice, of course. All the optimistic predictions of growing rice in the fens of East Anglia had come to nothing; salt water flooding in from the North Sea had put a definitive end to that experiment. Rice was still grown in certain parts of the world, but its shipping made it prohibitively expensive, so rice pudding was a luxury.
They had rice pudding at Christmas: a pale, rich spoonful each from a deep bowl, creamy with butter and milk from the goats, made sweet with a little honey, and punctuated with juicy dried grapes from the vine that tangled its way up the kiwi. They ate muntjac with rowan jelly, and home-grown vegetables, cabbage, carrot, onion, potato and butternut. It was a feast, and they celebrated joyfully, abandoning themselves to the gluttony of the day, the children’s eyes big with wonder and excitement, the adults publicly shedding, for once, their preoccupations. But Julia caught the shadow of worry in people’s eyes, glances between partners and friends, a glass raised in toast across the table for just a few seconds longer than usual, a hand gently placed on another’s shoulder. Later, before the songs and stories began, when they were clearing up, people embraced wordlessly, solemnly, long hugs stretching into the future, in a slow dance in which participants moved from partner to partner around the room. Julia stood in the doorway and watched.
So this is how it is, she thought. We don’t talk about it anymore because there is no point. But we all know. We all know that some of us may not be here next year. We all know that hundreds of millions have already starved to death, and that billions more of us will surely follow, a slow, lingering, fatalistic extinction. There is scarcely clean water to be had anywhere in the world. And the animals. No more elephants, wildebeest, tigers. No more gorillas, snow leopards, albatrosses. No more tuna, dolphins, black bears. No more forests, despite the preservation orders slapped on their remains in the last decades; not for want of trying to save them, no. The climate was changing too fast, that was all. No more icebergs, no more glaciers, no more water therefore in Chile and California and northern India and China. No more tundra, no more prairie. Not enough oxygen. Plenty of methane, and carbon dioxide, and water vapour. Lots of hurricanes and typhoons and tornadoes. Lots of violent electrical storms. Lots and lots of floods, and sea surges, and tsunamis. Quite a lot of earthquakes, as the world adjusted to its lighter, slimmed-down, ice-reduced self. Lots of landslides and mudslides and newly unsafe mountainous areas. No more walking holidays in the Alps and the Himalayas.
Where is the hope, Archie? Where is it? I need to find it.
Day 19 — Dave Hubble: A Time for Shedding
Dave Hubble is an artist and former ecologist exploring how people will be creative in a future that looks increasingly bleak, but tinged with hope that it won’t be. Dave is based in Southampton, England.
Dave says of this piece:
“My interest in the Anthropocene in art manifests primarily through junk art, using waste materials – in lockdown this has overlapped with a lot of self-reflection and re-evaluation, and hopefully some positive changes.”
A Time for Shedding
I like a good (i.e. bad) pun. A dad-joke by a non-dad.
I have a shed. This is not that shed. This is part of another shed, dismantled.
There is junk, stored just in case.
These are ‘in case’ times, the junk is for using.
To use is to liberate.
Men and sheds.
Men and openness. Men relinquishing control. Allowing themselves to be vulnerable.
Openness as an artist.
Freeing the creative process.
Day 18 — Tessa Gordziejko: The Art of Virtual Social Dreaming / The Cave
Tessa Gordziejko is a writer, performer, creative producer and activist making work about the climate crisis, whose socially engaged, collaborative arts projects connect citizens and communities with deep themes. She is based in Yorkshire, England.
Tessa says of this piece:
“Social dreaming is a shared space and process that elicits associative thinking. This is called The Matrix, a word whose original meaning comes from womb, and whose modern meaning is ‘a system or environment in which something grows or develops’. Participants bring their ideas to the Matrix in the form of dreams, images, allusions, thoughts and feelings. The invitation, or task, is to ‘step off’ from the stimulus to access dreams, memories and associations in order to think new thoughts or reveal ‘unthought knowns’. These take shape through the material gradually acquiring an inter-woven character, reflecting and responding to the world through the communal unconscious reaching up into the Matrix. The collage of overlaid associations belongs to the Matrix, rather than to particular individuals within it. Ideas may originate in the participants’ lives and experiences but they take on character and meaning which relate to the shared whole. The Matrix disrupts the usual ways of thinking and gaining knowledge, like a dream disrupts our consciousness.
“In February and March 2020, in association with Slung Low in Leeds, I hosted three events using the structure of The Social Dreaming Matrix. The Matrix process is sometimes called ‘rhizomic thinking’ – many shoots from a shared root – and connects strongly to the collaborative creative process. My purpose was to explore how a group of people could use social dreaming to make work emanating from many voices – even when it is made by an individual artist. A gathering of people shared dreams, associations, images and memories in a cosy space on the upper deck of the Community Cultural College bus in Holbeck. We then spent time mapping the most prominent, memorable or otherwise significant themes and images to emerge. I wrote a blog about those three sessions. Almost immediately after the third session, the country started to close down in response to COVID-19. The social element of Social Dreaming was no more. The experiment had been brought to a close.
“Or had it? I went back to the origins of Social Dreaming: the collection, by psychotherapist Charlotte Beradt in 1930s Germany, of dreams of her and colleagues’ clients; how looking back across the collection years later, it pre-figured the horrors of the Third Reich to come, and the impact of thought control by a brutal authoritarian regime. I traced how Social Dreaming, through the work of social scientist Gordon Lawrence at the Tavistock Clinic in the 1980s, was developed as a way to understand the collective and connected unconscious, not just as individual analysis; how within the framing of a ‘Matrix’ where dreams are shared, it could shine insight into a community, a society, the human condition. I consulted with colleagues and we agreed that many of the conditions of The Matrix could be created through virtual means. And people are having vivid, weird dreams. What more important time to be sharing dreams and associations from our common unconscious?
“We ran our first Virtual Matrix on 24th April, with 18 participants. It was a learning curve, but we produced a rich map of images, dreams and associations from which I asked participants to create something to stimulate our next session. Creative contributions are startling to come in and will be posted on The Art of Social Dreaming Resource Page on my website. Here is a poem I wrote from last week’s content… and the mind map that inspired it.”
On the morning that we emerge, blinking, from winter,
the cave opens its eye.
The turning woods unfold their sides just enough
for early rays to seep into the valley
And find the moss-encrusted
stone socket of secrets.
The sleeping king in the mountain,
An Arthur or a Fionn MacCumhaill, waiting for the sun,
buried with the warrior tribe, earthbound, ready
to wake, to rise, to overcome.
Or some other red-headed hero,
Gilgamesh or Erik the Beserker, will lead our expedition inwards,
our assault on the bursting walls of our imaginings.
We seek him at this liminal place, this opening by the ferns;
deeper inside, the unseen fists
of fear or danger, death or panic sprout through the sides of the passage
like painted animals in a flickering light
or red silhouettes of hands on ochre,
a hallway, a stairwell, grabbing as we crawl.
Ghosts of the untouched, the soup-eaters
walk grounded in their time below the stone-soil,
whilst we float just above it, walking on air, feeling movement in dark and light,
inside and out, in time present. Time past sings in polyphony,
time future is above us, silent as the trees.
In memory, the redwood groves protected us,
their tops reaching higher than the sky,
the openings in their timeless trunks, invited us like a hug,
with the presence of friendship, strong and good.
A cave in a tree. The trees by the cave,
insistent with growth, are doing fine
in the green-ness of dreams, the dream-ness of the grene wud,
the Green Man, holding foliage and vines.
The hairy Woodwose, Enkidu, grunting, bending earthwards a cherry branch,
skeletal, not yet in bloom, waiting for spring, for words
to sprout with feeling through the threads of light
where there is defence and attack, the spell advances,
where the red man and the green man, the animals and birds
kneel to the fairie queen, sit beside the lady bright.
We seek safety underground,
warmth of the home-cave, rituals, a fire, a drum,
we want a song, a dance, a gathering, a touch…
we need a sleep, a dream, a sunrise and a going down.
Day 17 — Rob La Frenais: New Mobilities After the Lockdown (an extract)
Rob La Frenais is an independent contemporary art curator, working internationally and creatively with artists entirely on original commissions, directly engaged with the artist’s working process as far as possible. He is based in London, England.
The following is an edited extract of an article Rob originally published in the French ‘makers’ magazine Makery.info and he says of this piece:
“I was thinking about the lack of open space during the times for social distancing during excercise and wanted to promote the subversive idea of occupying private golf courses for the public, so I recently started to imagine a group of aviation industry executives meeting on a golf course after the crisis to discuss how to re-purpose a no-longer functioning aviation industry, for a future fiction project. It occurred to me the answer was not just the airlines, who are now all demanding to be bailed out, but actually the manufacturing industry, Airbus and Boeing, could take the initiative. So the idea of retooling planes as trains came into my head. In this article about mobilities after the crisis, I propose the seemingly crazy idea of ‘planes on wheels’, which turns out to actually exist in at least two examples as future concepts. In other words, we need to think out of the box to not repeat the climate mistakes we were making before the crisis.”
New mobilities after the lockdown: How about retooling the airline industry?
For those citizens of countries where exercise is allowed during the crisis, an extraordinary, high-definition view of the urban world is now available. It’s as if an optical filter has been lifted. For example, Central London is clear of haze and there are breathtaking views of the Shard and other significant buildings from the Millennium Bridge, as exercising cyclists enjoy the cycling superhighways along the river Thames. Elsewhere birds are singing, owls are hooting and nature is growing closer, the fresh spring air tempting people outside, hopefully physically distancing, despite different restrictions in, for example, France (attestations and 1km limit), the UK (policing sunbathing despite no restriction on exercise) and Spain (total lockdown). Only urban foxes (in London) are looking sad and desperate as there is no food being thrown away from the closed restaurants. It’s a payoff. The fear and loneliness for some, the trapped children in city high-rises and the rising mental health problems in locked-down communities and of course the fear of catching the disease itself – not to mention the hundreds of thousands of people who have died – as opposed to clean air, almost car-free roads, not having to do that crowded commute and in cities a dramatic drop in pollution (thought to have increased the chances of infection in the first place) are in direct contrast to each other.
So the big debate, before we can even see the light at the end of the tunnel, is what will we do with our transportation options after the crisis. 90% of planes are grounded, airlines are calling for bailouts, which in my view they should not get. Climate activists, while careful not to be seen to be capitalising on the crisis, are suggesting we should definitely not go back to business as normal, while politicians, for example in Milan and the North of England, are suggesting we should use this window of opportunity to plan for a car-free future. In the Guardian, the Deputy Mayor of Milan said: “We worked for years to reduce car use. If everybody drives a car, there is no space for people, there is no space to move, there is no space for commercial activities outside the shops. Of course, we want to reopen the economy, but we think we should do it on a different basis from before. We think we have to reimagine Milan in the new situation. We have to get ready; that’s why it’s so important to defend even a part of the economy, to support bars, artisans and restaurants.” Milan has announced that 35km of streets will be transformed over the summer, with a rapid, experimental citywide expansion of cycling and walking space. The Mayor of Manchester, UK, Andy Burnham said: “There needs to be a new normality where we improve things. We ask for the public’s patience because we’re going to build back better. I think people do want to keep the cleaner air, they do want to keep exercising, they do want maybe have a more flexible working life where they don’t have to go in the office every day.”
But what about those grounded planes? What about the factories that are producing them? Airbus is temporarily adapting commercial aircraft production and assembly activity at its German sites in Bremen and Stade and pausing production at its A220/A320 manufacturing facility in Mobile, Alabama in the United States. A recent press release stated that “An Airbus flight test crew has just completed its latest mission with an A350-1000 test aircraft. This is the third of such missions between Europe and China. The aircraft returned to France with a cargo of 4 million face masks on Sunday, 5 April.” But we and the manufacturers are still faced with the fact it may not be feasible to imagine a market for flying equivalent to what had existed before.
So let’s look radically at the concept of re-tooling. After all many industries have started retooling to manufacture ventilators, personal protective equipment and hand-sanitiser. What is an airplane, after all, but a long metal tube with wings, computers and engines attached? Last year, before I dramatically reduced my flying, I took a plane from Toulouse to the UK. I arrived at 5pm on a Friday and the airport was congested with massive queues of weekly commuters returning to Paris and vice-versa. For approximately 10 trains a day between Toulouse and Paris, including both TGV and Intercities, there must be at least 50 planes. This is traditionally because the TGV stops at Bordeaux and slows down, so the ratio is much worse than, say between Paris and Marseille. (Although the new trains, when they ran, had got the journey time down to 4 and a half hours). Also everyone knows the chaos on the French autoroutes at peak holiday times. If we totally rethought the speed at which we needed to travel, radically changed our expectations about personal car ownership, thinking out of the box (or just maybe crazy) we could save the airline industry and rethink travel in Europe in a not-too distant future. Already some airlines (Lufthansa and KLM, for example), before the crisis, started to encourage their customers to use the trains for short journeys such as between Amsterdam, Koln, Brussels and Paris.
It’s kind of sci-fi but also in the spirit of DIY culture, but … how about planes on wheels? It would not take much imagination to think of an airplane fuselage retooled as a train (with the wings maybe retooled as windmills, but let’s cross that bridge when we come to it). In real life, Alstom manufacture both trains in Europe and business planes in Canada. Let’s take the concept one stage further. Let’s make long road trains of plane fuselages, to be hauled on highways, autoroutes and autobahns, hauled by renewable electric trucks or hydrogen vehicles. Like Zeppelins and ocean liners, the journey could be made luxurious enough to enjoy the longer travel time, with good food, live music, travelling cinemas, and art galleries. For those who enjoy the airplane experience, the road trains could even simulate the business class experience of a long-haul flight. Such a train would probably take 8 hours between Toulouse and Paris. Of course the road trains would have to take priority over the hopefully-dwindling private transport, maybe fitting into scheduled journeys of autonomous vehicles. It would be a retooling of an almost unimaginable scale, but would save jobs and there seems no reason that existing factory technology to produce fuselages could not be used to make such trains – perhaps with less exacting specifications needed for 700 kph flights (twice the speed of an average TGV).
When I thought of this rather fantastical idea – riding my bicycle across a deserted North Circular Road the other day – it was for a post-crisis fiction I was planning to write. However, a search shows these ideas have been around for some time. ‘The Engineer’ proposed an idea not dissimilar to this in 2014. Richard Morris writes in his blog: “Sometimes we must think further ahead and consider new transport concepts. One new idea for mass public transport is the ‘highway train’ … a form of hybrid carriage with some of the characteristics of both a bus and a train.”
Before the crisis there were already speculations into the plane/train concept — but in reverse, with trains that turned into planes — projected 50 years into the future. Now we have a ‘sci-fi present’ during the crisis, why can’t we think the impossible, with ideas similar to ‘planes on wheels’ radically refreshing our thinking on everything, from work habits, clean air, better living and rethinking mobility?
Day 16 — Indigo Moon: Into the Frozen
Indigo Moon is an activist and writer specialising in environmental, LGBTQ+, animal and human rights, whose online platform uses creativity as a tool to influence and encourage positive change. She is based in Bath, England.
Indigo says of this piece:
“I wrote this poem for a nature poetry competition called Ice Songs Poetry, which follows a cold, frozen theme. I wrote about the journey of the Arctic fox and how they hunt. I wanted to reimagine the risk the Arctix fox takes to hunt for prey and highlight its vulnerability. It was also important to capture the dangerous environment the Arctic fox lives in.
“I hope others can gain a new appreciation for the Arctic fox and other species who live in inhospitable environments. Frozen landscapes are both beautiful and terrifying. It was my wish to merge this environment with the vulnerability of the Arctic fox and see what feelings it produced. I felt a curious sense of calmness due to the colour of white and an emotional attachment to the Arctic fox. I felt compelled by the fox’s determination and strength to live in such an inhospitable environment and saddened by the knowledge that the fox would spend hours and hours inflicting damage to its being just for one meal, and even that might not last long enough for it to survive.”
Into the Frozen
Blanket white terrain
Shimmers rainbow on the crest
A soft crunch
And a paw descends
Deep into particles
By the nose
She plunges headfirst
Face buried in white
There’s nothing but green
Into the frozen