Radical common sense

IssueJuly to August 2006
Comment by Jeff Cloves

Ever get that feeling that only you in the whole world cares for the things that you care about; that the rapaciousness of global capitalism knows no bounds; that every High Street looks like every other High Street; that all governments are the same government; that Tesco has more pull than the UN?You do? W ell, at the risk of sounding like Samuel Smiles, let me tell you that mutuality, self-help and a 25-quid investment in Common Ground will work wonders.

The beloved ordinary

Now, mutuality and self-help is some thing that I take for granted all PN readers understand, but Common Ground may have escaped the attention of some. Put simply, CG is a facilitator and catalyst committed to cultural diversity and o local distinctiveness. It was set up as an environmental charity by Sue Clifford,Angela King and Roger Deakin in 1982 and has been a fount of inspirational wisdom and practical achievement ever since. For example, in May , CG published England In Particular (Hodder & Stoughton; £30 - currently available for #25) edited and largely written by Sue and Angela and illustrated by 62 artists. his beautifully written, elegantly illustrated and lovingly designed book claims to be “a celebration of the commonplace, the local, the vernacular and the distinctive”; which is exactly what it is. In crude terms it is an encyclopaedia of the beloved ordinary. That it has assembled its content with good humour , enthusiasm, rare insight and without a trace of patriotism or nationalism, is characteristic of all Common Ground's publications and initiatives. If you want to buy a present for somebody you love --and that includes yourself --look no further than this.

Affectionate and joyful

The book ranges (alphabetically) from Abbeys to Zigzag paths, via Cabmen's Shelters, Ferries, Gargoyles and Grotesques, Industrial Chimneys, PeleTowers, Racecourses, Sheep Folds, T in Tabernacles, Watercress Beds and YanTan Tethera, etc, etc, and the depth of its affectionate research and scholarship is evident in the 25-page bibliography and 26-page index.

These are a joy in themselves, but the book as a whole glad dens your heart,brings a smile of recognition to your face, and puts some lead in your protest -ing pencil. How can you not warm to a book which has this to say in its introduction?

Nature will endure whatever our actions bring [nuclear holocaust?]. It is we who are in danger. We deprive ourselves of a rich life. We need to live better with the world, and it is our ordinary actions that will be our salvation or our downfall. T o ground ourselves, under stand our place, find meaning and take steps to cherish and enrich our own patch of land demands that we change our ways, share our knowledge, get involved. W e have to know what is of real value to us, where we are, and find new ways of belonging.

On commons

Thus, the entry for Commons in England In Particular is a radical manifesto in itself and notes that, as John Clare put it, “Commons left free in the rude rags of nature” may have been the poorest land but--as is the case of Rodborough Common, Stroud, where I live - that is what makes them ecologically rich. It also notes that in the early 1980s Greenham Common “became a focus for protest against cruise missiles and nuclear war. Women created a peace camp, lived here, penetrated the base, danced on missile silos and created a vortex of(dis)enchantment ... walking here with the smell of gorse, the sound of larks, the sight of a hare, the laughter of children and the pounding of jogging feet, anyone can now be part of the process of reclaiming this place, despite its ghosts for nature and people.”

Unfortunately, the common ground beneath Burghfield and Aldermaston is yet to be reclaimed and England In Particular quotes from Greenham Common Blues by pacifist poet/printer/publisher, Dennis Gould. For PN readers in particular, what better endorsement of this beautifully visionary book.

Who stole the goose off the Common?

Who stole the Common off the Goose?

Who stole the land for airfields?

Who turned the scientists loose?

Topics: Culture
See more of: Jeff Cloves