What land are you from? asks the stranger on the road. It’s green and it’s grey and it’s hard to find a place to camp.
Me and R go camping a few days after I got back to the UK. I’m reminded of how tightly controlled all our spaces are. Everywhere is owned, fenced and private land keep out. I moan to R about Britain, the passive aggressive signs everywhere, the rules, the CCTV, the control, the obsession with private property. We have so much freedom here and such beautiful green spaces and forests with huge trees! Look at them. But we signed a lot of these freedoms away somehow to a propertied class and a distant elite and we plot about how to get it back. This land is our land and we don’t own it. I’ve given up all pretense of wanting a stable life with stable money and owning a patch of land, the things we’re meant to want. My mother doesn’t own any land, not a piece, she pays someone else to use their’s. That makes her poor in this country, but I know she’s not poor, she just grows vegetables and has a nice time. Meanwhile me and R watch the lights twinkle from a town near Bath and look at Bristol behind the hills in the distance. In the morning we wake to the familiar sound of rain on tents. This is England. Grey and green and rain on a tent.
What else? He asks. What’s your country really like? Countries are a stupid invention of our capitalist overlords to divide and rule over the working classes, I reply. Sure, but what’s it like in yours? he counters. It’s green and grey and people are scared of each other, I reply.
I hitched from the festival site, where I’m now working, 7 miles into Worksop. A woman picked me up the first time my thumb went up after the mile and a half walk to the main road junction. She lived in a nearby village and told me she only picked me up because she had daughters and wouldn’t like them hitching, and wouldn’t have picked me up if I was with a man. She tells me that Sherwood Forest is not what it used to be, that Robin Hood and Maid Marion married in her village church (St Mary’s), and that hitchhiking used to be safe but now it’s not because you can’t trust people these days. Oh no! I say. Why not? Well you just can’t can you, look at what happens.
I think back to a cycle trip. Leaving Marseille I get lost around highway junctions and I stop at a dock-worker’s bar and ask directions and attract a great deal of concern. The barman is very sad. ‘You’re crazy and you’re going to die’. They give me beer and bread and sausages and I enjoy it all over the next few days.
I was interviewed on BBC Bristol radio last week. I spoke about my mother and her tireless commitment to the boycott of Israel. He asked me suspiciously where that comes from. She’s just a normal person who cares about human rights and freedom, that’s where that comes from. Jerusalem is like Cold War Berlin isn’t it? No, its completely annexed by Israel and the Wall is outside of Jerusalem keeping most Palestinians out and the ones in like prisoners, is what I should have said. Refugees should have tents and blankets, and when they have houses and doctor’s surgeries it’s a bit suspect isn’t it? Is the implied question. They’re refugees as long as Israel doesn’t let them return. Is what I say. What about Hamas though? They’re very bad. Does Hamas mean Israel can shoot unarmed people at the Gaza fence? Why does it mean that? Is what I should have said. In Palestine I sat with an 11 year old boy who was shot in the face with a live bullet in Gaza. The bullet went through his eye and his brain. Tell me what Hamas has to do with that.
In the book The Outrun it’s written that in Orkney they ask ‘where do you belong?’ instead of where are you from. I belong in Britain then, though I’ve more or less settled on a nomadic lifestyle. I’ve cycled the length of this awkward cold island, seen its fields and beaches from North Sea to great big Atlantic in a thunderstorm. From motorway service stations and the Peak District in the rain to picking up a boat in Norfolk and tent poles in Reading and cycling Devon hills and festivals in Somerset and a pasty on the grass outside a petrol station in Norwich and warm beers watching a rock covers band in Nottingham and running from Victoria tube station to Victoria coach station and almost always missing the bus and oak trees in Sherwood forest (though it isn’t what it used to be) and I am all these things and I don’t own a piece of it but it owns me.
Listen for yourself to me on the radio (2hrs 10mins) https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06frc80
Mahmoud is the boy who I met who was shot in the head in Gaza. The hospitals in Gaza can’t provide for his rehabilitation so we have arranged this fundraiser, please give something if you can https://www.gofundme.com/help-mahmoud039s-rehabilitation