As someone who lives in a big city (London) I have an uncertain relationship with the land these days. Given that I grew up in the relatively tamed wilderness of southern England, there is something oppressively tiny about those stray tufts of green that spring up in British cities. Brockwell park, my local, has all the signifiers of nature — trees, wild flowers, long grass, bodies of water — but sometimes a pale facsimile takes you further away from the real thing; makes you more aware of its acute failings.
This third episode of The Town That Didn’t Stare, ‘The Ley of the Land’, is, in many ways, the most personal. I wanted to open it with a discussion of the house where I grew up, Ley House (hence the title), and from here move to an unlocking of the idea of leys and their relationship with East Grinstead. There is a slight element of deferred gratification in this, because I ended up pulling at two threads on false memory, with Elizabeth Loftus and Amelia Tait, before coming to the nub of what this episode is really about.
Dowsing and geomancy are fascinating subjects because they have all the veneer of a civilised middle class afternoon activity, like metal detecting, but are actually reliant on something almost magical, a sort of mysticism of the earth. Graham Gardner, the first voice you’ll hear in this episode other than mine, was actually the first person I interviewed for this entire series. He had a green screen background to his Zoom that looked like he was looming over the nighttime illuminations of the earth from space.
The other major thing I wanted to cover here was Paganism. Paganism, as Marc Heal says in this episode, was very important to Sussex and stuck around long after it had gone from most parts of the country. The idea of pagans in the Ashdown Forest, while not particularly widespread, is very evocative to me, and I had the perfect interviewee in Damh the Bard. I also have his son — ‘Sabbat’ — stuck in my head, where it’s been for months.
One note I should add on this episode is that the sound quality during my interview with Richard Creightmore was really bad, the worst of the series. I patched it up as best I could and ended up having to cut 90% of the stuff I would’ve liked to have used. Richard was a perfect interviewee for this because he’s created his own stone circle, the only one, out on the Ashdown Forest. But the line was so poor that it was very hard to hear what he was saying. If I get loads of complaints about that section then I’ll probably cut it out, and this paragraph will make no sense.
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