This Land

“For there are brighter sides to life, and I should know because I’ve seen them, but not very often” (Still Ill, The Smiths)

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I wish the diagrams of carbon footprints and three-planets-consumption-rates would give up traveling through my mind in the form of guilt-trips right now, as I’ve only ever flown one other time in my 32 years on the planet.

Anyway, it must be said that I’m far less bothered about seeing every corner of the globe as much as I’m bothered about seeing the only bit I know well from another perspective: thousands of feet above the land as the plane flies over Northern England.

I’m seeing England for myself as I’ve seen it all way through my life on paper and on a computer screen. I’m a map obsessive, but maps of the land I live on, and the towns and cities so near to me that I can see their light pollution as the night closes in (Surely one day we can leave behind this civilisation built on competition, envy and power, driven by fossil fuel addiction, and find ways of allowing such sights without making us complicit in destruction at the same time?).

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not my image – forgot my camera

I appreciated my work friends asking me if I wanted to meet up with them in Amsterdam. I took them up on it in an instant. As I’ve said, time and time again, although I travel often, 90 percent revolves around the former heavy industry heartlands of the West Riding of Yorkshire, and 9 percent traveling to and from cities such as Manchester, Liverpool, London etc. I’m not a great planner for the far-flung, either in time or space.

The here and now seems so claustrophobic in an England too socially-fragmented to truly convince itself that the age of endless austerity can end, that the far-flung other seems to refer to another dimension rather than another place. But, granted, I seem affected by this inertia to the point where claims of self-fulfilling prophecy aren’t unjustified.

The compulsive comparisons of Amsterdam’s size to English cities made it clear to me that I have an indelible relationship to the landscape of England. The land clearly means a lot to me. This is why, even as I constantly refer to it as an unhappy and sick place, I can’t see any point in fantasising about (or even planing) running away to some scarcely populated wilderness, or somewhere lacking our horizontal winter rain. The view from the plane as we flew back over to Manchester Airport was a sight-seeing far more appealing to me than the world-famous layouts of historical European cities.

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again, not my image

A family with the wrong members in control

George Orwell famously wrote that England was a family with the wrong members in control. A seemingly somewhat reluctant but necessary text he wrote in a punch-drunk manner as England, along with other old imperial nations, had stubbornly and clumsily walked into a war with a Germany that had been turned into an insane war machine.

The text has been massively misused ever-since for jingoist aims. The English people haven’t faced anything like the threat they faced when the Luftwaffe was conducting bombing raids over towns and cities. The biggest threats we face are subjective, not objective – climate change is clearly being lived through, and the madness of Fracking is in our midst (for example), but no effective action can be taken on this until we ask ourselves what type of society we want.

But this is exactly what Orwell was arguing we needed to do in in the 1940’s, a time where all the classes had to work more closely together out of sheer necessity. In the midst of such a turbulent time Orwell was asking if 1940’s England really wanted to go back to a stuffy and backwards class system. To some extent, after the conflict ended, such alterations were attempted.

A similar coherence is demanded today. We have reached the point of the 1930’s levels of inequality; power seems unaccountable as wealth is sucked into fewer and fewer hands. I don’t think anybody actually thinks this is a good thing, but we just seem so locked in a claustrophobic here and now – compounded by the cyberspace technologies we cling to – that we don’t seem to be able to effectively communicate as a whole, and ask the necessary questions of where we would rather be. A sharing of cynical postmodern humour seems all we’re capable of.

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this image is actually my own!

The 20th century Artist Isamo Noguchi said “we are the landscape of all we have seen
. The landscape of England is what I have seen, come of age in, and wanted more from. I’m not sure about ‘the family’ notion altogether, but as 2016 begins England is most certainly a place where wrong the ideas, institutions, and people are in control.

The view from the plane brings everything together. Suddenly the coast of Lincolnshire is connected to the Ferrybridge powerstation, which is connected to the mill town of Huddersfield, which is literally a stones through away from the sprawl of Manchester, over a pennines that looks like a few small hills. Pretty much similar to how the planet as a whole must feel from space, but let’s rearrange the house of England out before we go there.

As we leave Manchester Airport our train home takes two different routes through the city , cutting through the quintessential claustrophobia of ‘Cottonopolis’. It takes us past the areas that fostered some of the best pop music albums since pop music began. I’ve only been out of England 3 days, yet feel a renewed perspective as we cut through the light-green peaks that separate Manchester and Sheffield. I can’t get away from this place – and when I’ve been elsewhere I realise that I don’t want to get away from it anyway. Perhaps when Manchester’s Morrisey sang “England is mine and it owes me a living” it wasn’t one of is odd jingoist quirks, but an recognition that the place he knew as home could be a far better, sharing, happier place to be within.

Spending time elsewhere and then seeing England from above made me realise I have never wanted to leave this land I just want all that is upon the land to be rearranged into what it could, and has always promised it could be.

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About John Ledger

A visual Artist, eternal meanderer and obsessive self-reflector by nature, who can’t help but try to interpret everything from within the tide of society. His works predominantly take the form of large scale ballpoint pen landscape drawings and map-making as social/psychological note-making. They are slowly-accumulating responses to crises inflicted upon the self in the perplexing, fearful, empty, and often personality-erasing human world.

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