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THE CLOUD APPRECIATION
SOCIETY'S DAY OUT
Char March is Writer-in-Residence for the Watershed Landscape Project in the South Pennines. So her ‘office’ is the high moors that separate (and link!) Lancashire and Yorkshire.
The watershed is that invisible line, that meanders along the top of the moors, where each raindrop has to decide whether it is going to flow East (down into God’s Own County!) and eventually end up in the North Sea, or whether it is going to flow West, develop those strange Lancastrian vowels, and eventually end up in the Atlantic.
This collection is a celebration of Char’s love/hate relationship with the moors – they can be awe-inspiring, tranquil, full of fabulous birdsong and wildlife… and they can be downright terrifying – especially in the grim weather that they love to generate. ‘The Cloud Appreciation Society’s Day Out’ fizzes with the fabulous palette of people, birds, colours, textures, sounds, and emotions that the moors evoke.
The Cloud Appreciation Society’s Day Out
Indigo Dreams Publishing
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“I have walked, cycled and talked about this landscape, but when I read these poems, I feel it. As I sit here at my desk in London, my feet are wet, my face hammered by the wind, my eyes see clouds of sausage and mash – all around me is half Yorkshire, half Lancashire. With this collection, wherever you are in the world, you can carry the Pennine Watershed in your pocket.”
CLARE BALDING, TV Presenter
”These poems brim with those non-identical twin qualities of compassion and wit. Char March presents a landscape fathomed through the prism of human experience, and human experience filtered through landscape to create moving and engaging work that leaves you wanting more.”
IAN MACMILLAN, Poet, TV and Radio Personality
The Cloud Appreciation Society’s Day Out
We help Marjorie with her zimmer,
Freda shrugs off everyone, threshing
her white-sticked way out of the minibus
across the tussocks, beheading several
lesser-spotted orchids, but Gordon says
“Well, they’re not that rare”. And gradually
we settle. Some perch on boulders,
David and Sasha hold hands
on their plastic-backed tartan rug,
the ones who haven’t got their bus passes yet
lie flat on their backs, almost hidden
by the slowly uncurling bracken.
Alice has forgotten her “seeing glasses”
but says Gregory’s reading ones seem
just the job. Josie has already listed off:
a cat stretching; Anglesey; a woolly mammoth;
and “a thing like a Kenwood mixer”.
Geoffrey points and says: “Is that the Gulf
of Mexico with an oil tanker?” Ranjit has found
Winston Churchill in some cirrus.
Margo’s sunhat has slipped down and she is already
snoring. I’ve brought my folding chair
and my neck pillow. I zone out the list-makers,
tune into the oyster-catchers’ double whistles
sonaring off the cloud-filled reservoir.
I look up, shade my eyes, see a fish
with one huge feathered wing
very slowly turning
into a tumbling pile
of bangers and mash.
Trapped under its solid self
it squeaks and chortles.
It is life-noise –
the joy of bubbling.
Straining to get down to God’s Own County
or – this tendril – to The Other Side
where it will develop those weird
O’s, and that slightly rolling R
as it gushes past Clitheroe,
Barnoldswick and all those
that are definitely not
If you stop, they stop
The fritillary moths stagger through the air
drunkenly zig-zagging away from you
just above the grumpy heather,
The rabbits’ scuts flick-flick-flick
then neatly disappear under bums
as they freeze, mid-meadow,
ears radaring. Gradually there is
a change to languid
pul – ling – down – of – one – ear,
then the other, that unconcern
of grooming, their short memory
of flight… gone. And a complete return
to concentrated nibbling.
The roe deer steps out of the disused quarry,
one bluebell stalk wagging like a limp cigar,
then freezes, all eye-white and nostril,
seeing a rifle
in your walking stick.
The clouds never stop though.
No sooner a teapot than morphing
to crocodile, laughing man in a topper,
map of Iceland, then New Zealand,
The Heptonstall Artemis
Crossing these moors has to be done lightly
with a quick tripping trot for
sphagnum hummocks disguise
peaty soundings stealthy as submarines.
The ping-ping sonar of lapwings traces
from open blue to the sucking dark,
deep and brown – tender as cows’ eyes.
This bog’s surface is soft; yielding as an udder
licked pink and steaming by your hot rag.
For months of milking-times I lie on the lip
of Colden Clough to watch you, glistening
with steel buckets and rain, in sun and moon.
Your boots clump out your criss-crossing care,
calling your herd of ladies to you – all leggy
sweet-breathed and long-lashed. Calm
under your touch – the crown of your head
firm on their flank, they yield to you, let their
calves’ milk down – into the hissing chug,
the many gulping mouths of your machines.
I lie in the tormentil on that dip slope, and I plot.
It is beside the octagonal chapel I finally bring you
to ground. I stand close by the waterbutt
to watch you tuck a wilting handful
of fox-and-cubs beside her headstone.
Then follow you into the furniture-polish-hush
of the pews. And, when enough minutes
have been spent watching your bowed head,
I huff – hard – on your bare nape.
Your tractor keys are a feeble talisman
held out like garlic. I take them, drop them
onto stone. You shift and shuffle against me;
uneasy as in an unknown stall.
But my hand’s a gentle lead, and I
am breathy-warm and sure.
Last week they said it was cold in London.
A thin bit of mizzle brought them out
in a rash of umbrellas, much buttoning.
Up here, cold
is the landscape;
rain the absolute norm.
And no pissing about
with mizzle, drizzle, mist –
we shove through solid water,
that holds us lurching
at gravestone angles,
across Heptonstall’s cobbles;
through bucketclanking farmyards;
out onto the moor.
Our air is luscious,
slapping us awake
like a wet cod
across our chops.
Moor – another dimension
The scratching-crackle of heather
closes round me
a forest of desiccation
trembling with those tiny half-hidden dots
that never really look like flowers
and yet, from a mile away,
mist the moor in imperial purple.
I lie in the realm of insects,
tormentil, liverwort, lichen and mosses
and tell myself, as usual,
not to look at the sun,
but do anyway,
and the blue of the ionosphere
shatters, and sizzles
through the bowls
of my retinas.
I think I hear a vole
crashing through the treetrunks
a bulldozer with a top note
of skylark that is jerking
up the blue like a
Char March has been working with a huge range of groups – on both sides of The Great Divide – to get them inspired about the Pennine moors.
She has taken deaf children, sheltered housing residents, quilters and textile artists, skateboarders, choristers, and writers from both sides of the Pennines on all sorts of explorations of the moors to help them express what the watershed landscape means to them. And also, to explore watersheds in their own lives – when they’ve had to make decisions about whether to take one path, or another.
But working with community groups was only one half of the residency; the other half was for Char to produce her own writing about the watershed. So, this collection is a celebration of Char’s love/hate relationship with the moors – they can be awe-inspiring, tranquil, full of fabulous birdsong and wildlife… and they can be downright terrifying – especially in some of the grim weather that they are prone to.
Char has explored the watershed in all seasons, and all weathers, and even managed to break her ankle during her residency while setting off on a moorland walk!
The project was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and Char has had two exhibitions of her work during her residency – one at the excellent, independent Saddleworth Museum in Uppermill, and one at the stunning Cliffe Castle museum in Keighley