This is a highly commended book by poets Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts, subtitled Journeys into England’s True Wilderness, about the regions that divide towns and cities from the countryside
They make an interesting point in terms of these regions being a sort of pressure release for teenagers, where parks, school playgrounds and gardens are increasingly encroached upon, shrinking, and covered in CCTV. There is something in kids that requires them to be free range, to do things away from the eyes of prying adults and younger kids, whether it is in dens or treehouses, or just a quiet corner hidden from the world.
“At their most unruly and chaotic, edgelands make a great deal of our official wilderness seem like the enshrined, ecologically arrested, controlled garden space it really is. Children and teenagers, as well as lawbreakers, have seemed to feel especially at home in them, the former because they have yet to establish a sense of taste and boundaries, and have instinctively treated their jungle spaces as a vast playground; the latter because nobody is looking.”
They quote JB Priestly, writing in the 1930s “Between Manchester and Bolton the ugliness is so complete that it is almost exhilarating. It challenges you to live there.” Ugliness is like the earth, if you go far enough into it you start coming back from beauty. Areas of what we now classify as national parks were often seen as frightening, savage, in need of civilisation, yet those same qualities are what we now seek.
Perhaps part of their appeal is that they are constantly changing; beyond the control of authorities, rubbish is dumped, weeds spring up, animals breed. It is a place capable of stimulating the imaginations of kids, to make use of what they find. I heard a guy on the radio talk of how he and his mates used to have a den – they dug a hole, covered it with a door they found, then camouflaged it with the soil they had removed. They had a fire in it, but they left it burning and the fire brigade had to put it out, thus ending their den. Our house used to back onto a creek where we used to fish for tadpoles and hang out with our friends. We also used to have a den beneath the house, a space so low we had to crawl around, and my brother, the future telecoms lecturer, rigged up tin cans with string for communication, though as he was a boy, we never had much to say to each other. It was fun just to be there away from adults, despite all the dust. And it was cool in summer.
“Time and time again, we found place that is as difficult to pin down and define as poetry, but like poetry, you’d know it when you saw it. It often contained decay and stasis, but could also be dynamic and deeply mysterious. Edgelands are always on the move. In our own lifetimes, we’ve noticed how they have changed, largely as a result of the big push for the motorways and the rise of out-of-town shopping, as retailers shifted their operations to the huge floor space and parking opportunities available on the margins of ur-cities. such developments tend to perpetuate further development, as infrastructure forms its busy threads of connective tissue and the course of existing roads is altered, like light bending towards a black hole. The rudely functioning big sheds of retail, their battleship greys festooned with the primary colours of brand names and logos, were largely unknown to us 30-odd years ago, as were the reinvented spaces of the outlet village.”