Marker

An Obituary
for a Whiteleaved Oak
Winstanley SCHTINTER





FIRST DAY IN THE WORLD’ wasn’t what he said: my friend, my brother, my editor. But it sounded like that and we settled on it, as a new salutation reflecting an insistence on every day ever onwards as sacred, festive and holy. The pilgrim says it cannot be so staying still, and so I go as permitted by time, demand, money.

It has become routine for some days every few months to be spent in Malvern, a town famous for its hills and its water. I housesit for a friend who goes to visit his son in The Netherlands, there receiving treatment for a severe, rare form of epilepsy. The law in the UK dictates that medicine available in The Netherlands and proven to work—in fact the only treatment that is likely to prevent his son suffering brain damage and even death—is illegal here. Recent legislation supposedly changed that but in the first year since ‘legalisation,’ just two prescriptions had been handed out in the whole of the UK. To access cannabis oil all other potential treatments must have been proven to fail. So? Fill the child with pills and make them a junkie, and in the years that it takes to wean them off the synthetic, manmade barbiturates—for only then can the effectiveness of the plant treatment be judged—to your doorsteps for a slow clap.

With the boy’s dog I quickly develop a relationship, the novelty of a huge garden in which to throw a ball as compelling to me as it is to her to run and fetch. The issue is in the return, as she refuses to release the ball from her mouth and yet looks at me expectantly, wantonly, for the next episode. I introduce two balls. At first this works: the ball which she returns with she lets go at the reveal of the other. But smartening up to the game quickly, she insists on both balls at once, and determined to keep them both away from me, she chokes. I save her. The game is over. Instead we’ll walk. I allocate a peak of one of Malvern’s famous hills to each day. The third is ‘The Beacon,’ probably the most visited. The date is February 23.

I carry two shit bags and hand sanitiser. I know a man so eager to hang on to an idea of trailblazing something, anything, in the world, that he chuckles each time he sees me carrying hand sanitiser, inferring contradiction on my part for having laughed in another time at his nervous, dance-floor tick of incorporating repeat squirts and rubs with the cha-cha-cha, and carrying it now. I enjoy the hills for their lack of bins and with no litter either I feel like I have the place to myself. I’m not entirely calm, obviously, as I’m nervous about covering a decent stretch of the ascent, only for the dog to loosen its bowels and for me to be unable to justify going back down again, to the nearest bin, and so to have to hold on to the turd for the rest of the way up, and back. There are two young boys who catch me from a distance urinating; to these I dock my cap. My cap? Fantastic. Its logo adapted from the Ryanair logo, in turn adapted from the Gaelic Harp, with enhanced breast and ass and skull. I designed it myself quickly and produced it cheaply. #DeathGeneration, ours. My jacket, a ruby red Harrington, found a day earlier in a cat-focussed charity shop on nearby Barnard’s Green, is the kind of thing you buy and wear only in a place you aren’t familiar with/isn’t familiar with you. I’m hot but I don’t like the t-shirt underneath so I won’t take the jacket off. My jogging bottoms are grey and borrowed. I’m used to wearing black trousers. Paul, the impossibly tanned, lascivious postman from my village, used to wink at me as he commented on my proclivity to wear black, ‘best colour for hiding dirt.’ Correct, Paul. These trousers being grey and my being public, I have to be sure I’m all pissed out. The dog does its business.

Going up, I photograph the distance from the position of the camera in Alan Clarke’s Penda’s Fen to its subject, Stephen, the boy deliciously undone by the history of this place. At the peak a crowd of boys very much unlike Stephen slump around the trig point, confusedly performing hardness as they play out Ed Sheeran through a bluetooth speaker, loud, each head down, fiddling their respective handsets. I descend the adjacent slope right away, bag in hand, and lower towards a stream. The stream veers off from the path before rejoining it to pass St. Ann’s Well. Until the 1850s, this is the fount from which Malvern’s famous restorative waters were bottled. As wealthy invalids made the trip to and from the holy water, a structure grew up around the well. It reminds me of the ginger bread houses IKEA sells, or the architecture of a kind witch imagined in childhood. A beaten mosaic, “Ann’s,” sits at the centre of three levels off the well. Empty benches curl around each platform to make an arena for a stationary Volkswagen people-carrier with blacked-out windows. No one else is around. The dog eagerly pulls her way into the building, and as we pass from tarmac to tile the water stops. There is a basin in the shape of a shell, and a dolphin with its mouth agape from which the water wants to fall. As I pull the dog back, I note a small plaque on the exterior of the building, dedicated to 'blind George' Pullen. Blind George is said to have performed with his accordion each day at the well until his death, February 23rd in 1936. The date then, is today. Woah. I descend the hill further, often with my eyes closed, tempting the steep decline which George mastered. The light seems to fade with each blind step reopening. At the base of the hill, I stop with iPhone unlocked to search as we lazily do for the next piece of the puzzle/a sense of what else has been and so can be in this day. February 23rd in 1936: TIME Magazine published with Leni Reifenstahl as its cover star.  That’ll do. Wetherspoons. Sacred, festive, holy.

Back at the house to feed the dog, I see the empty fireplace and all of its potential and the anchovies in their can and the capers in the fridge, and use these three and more against time and TIME finding the tired Wetherspoons conclusion. According to Paul Devereux in The Ley Hunter’s Companion (1979), St. Ann’s Well is positioned on a ley line which ends at a hamlet called Whiteleaved Oak. The hamlet, so-called for the ancient oak which sits at its centre (and at the convergence of three regions), is equidistant from Glastonbury and Stonehenge. The writer John Michell theorised that the Whiteleaved Oak is at the centre of the ‘Circle of Perpetual Choirs,’ a decagon of song formed by the ancient sites of Glastonbury; Stonehenge; Avebury, and others today less evidenced. Once, foresters would’ve maintained a constant chant from these sites to simulate the heavens and secure good time(s). So did Blind George, I suppose. I am carried into morning by thoughts of these songs and George’s quiet, sensual and necessarily monotonous journeys to and from the restoring waters of the great matriarch who came to be known as Ann, sold and bottled up.

I leave after breakfast to a thick fog and hope that it carries through. It doesn’t, lifting slowly to the theme of Are You Being Served? (Coil edition). Ground floor: perfumery. Stationary and leather goods. Wigs and haberdashery. Kitchenware and food. Going up. I’ve read about a wood with a steep incline accessed from the main road which goes some way towards the tree. My outfit is the same as the day before; even so, the jacket comes off. The weather is unseasonable. News channels decorate the isle with yellow smiley faces, for it is February, and here we are: blossom and lotion. Men wear shorts. The promise of this new Britain after months or years of cold, and how we respond to it with nothing but glee, but shorts, and live in a time more broadly where it is acceptable, even celebrated for adult men to wear trainers, is evidence of the pathological void which banalised and cannibalised all of those days that meant to be sacred, festive and holy; the last collectivity in how we in our culture of self-promotion and false-movements identify deep down and protect ourselves as sedentary, singular embers. I see your dreary burn if I feign to see you at all (and vice versa). The ecological catastrophe has already happened. No roar of flames but a blanket of soot, long settled and ever denser. In a decade or so if I walk a path this quiet and remote, and if I am seen in shorts or wearing trainers by a justified ancient born of the third millennium, I will seem old, fair game. They will associate me with carpet, crisps and diesel. They will associate me with a collective failure to disobey and in this delegation of thinking and feeling and acting past, future… however they hurt me is forgivable.

A narrow, lightly-worn path eventually levels out and the foliage recedes. In the distance, a black silhouette. It bears no resemblance to the images I've seen but it is unmistakable. Inappropriate somehow to say that I see it. The light layers the landscape now in a way that Malvern tourist board call Elgarian. Pity. But it is true that this landscape, at the centre of which leans this tree, fall within a field of music, where theory goes to die and words are only ever an instrument of song.

A tractor’s tire tracks lead someway to a crater around which tower three trees. At the centre of the crater, kindling and logs good-to-go are stacked in a hearth. The dog wants to play. I tentatively approach the Whiteleaved Oak. It dominates the two other trees, the crater, the land around. Approaching it: my awe is of its hostility. This feeling fades some as all of the gifts adorning the tree’s branches are easily inspected and no ceremonial carcass is found, but still there is something here of suffering.

Hanging: FREE bunting, ribbons reconnecting fallen branches, a hoodie, a drum, a walking stick, a packet of incense, a woollen koala. Rope. Shells, origami, bracelets, necklaces, string balls, hair balls and plats, toys, horse shoes, letters and notes folded and hidden in folds of the bark, keys, a slogan: vive et vivas. This slogan, vive et vivas, was the motto of Warin de Halla, namesake for the surname ‘hall,’ derived first from ‘heall,’ and the first registered ‘Hall’ in history. A worker or in residence at a large ‘hall,’ Warin would’ve taken the name with the advent of poll tax. And so, all those blocked or enamoured (or likely both) by the family name: know your true origin in tax.

The hall of Castlemorton is the only manmade structure clearly seen from the tree. The area is perhaps best known for hosting the last free party in Britain in 1992, an event exploited by the government to effectively ban gatherings of people on common land, with an emphasis on the criminalisation of ‘repetitive beats’ (or perpetual choirs). In 2009, a police helicopter and several riot vans were deployed to a private property in rural Devon hosting a 30th birthday party with 15 people in attendance. No music had yet been played. Section 63 of the Act (made law as a consequence of Castlemorton) was used by police to shut down the party, their justification being that the gathering had been promoted online as an ‘all-night-party.’ The Act also repealed the duty imposed on councils ‘to provide sites for gypsy and traveller use,’ and allowed for inferences to be drawn from silence, compromising an accused person’s right to it.

I begin to climb the tree. I think of my parents who pass quietly from Autumn to Winter, and the home they keep still incomplete, according to their preconceptions of what will make it. Going up. I think about how until recently I'd thought that all those whose lives I'd passed through—just passed through—would feel a distant affection, and connection however fleeting with me, through me, and with their own, sad mortality, on news of my end. I don't feel that anymore. I think that those who outlive me will feel like winners. Certain friends especially.

As I lower myself inside the trunk I slip. The base of him—definitely a him—as I hit it, seems to echo. Beneath here another world sounds plausible. In here there are faces. In here there is a visitor book, in a plastic container and wrapped by an Intersport bag. In the visitor book there are drawings of stars and notes of ‘namaste’ and how clarified visitors feel in the ‘aliveness’ of this ancient tree. I think it is not alive. I think what visitors have found calming is a death slower than the royal we can comprehend. A death active and observant which goes on and on. In this way it is a totem between the future that was divided and flattened in this country by the Romans, and the one that we have; we witness; we sometimes try to comprehend. Of course it makes sense that the in-between place falls at the centre of this constellation of sites, but that it is this in-between place I had not expected. I cannot say that the tree is good.

The content of the visitor book is dull. Here is a place of music and silence, not words. Mark Hollis is dead. He was a musician who preferred silence. One woman writes in the book about how she brought her child to the tree because he lost his dog. And at the tree ‘she is overwhelmed finally by the emotion of her great love leaving her’ (sidelined by the loss of the dog). She writes that she will not love again. She cannot afford to. And love is a choice. She understands now that ‘probably’ her son needs her more than the man who let her go. This is her choice. Probably.

On arriving at the tree I had a hard time finding my lighter, and such a desperate craving for a cigarette that I decide on parting I should leave it behind. I think about writing something for the son of my friend but the words don’t come. I write something for G, whose birthday it has been and whose cancer rages on. I write something too for A, who appeared briefly and who I don’t think will feel satisfied on news of my death. The friend I misheard, on the first day in the world, saw immediately her appearance as brief, as she entered in a role as the emblem of a woman whose murder remains unsolved. Sold and bottled up.



            *



This text was written in early 2019 and I did not intend to share it in any form. I do so now for having attempted to re-visit the tree, finding a bed of soot and a wisp of smoke in the space where it had stood.





 



Winstanley Schtinter has been described as an ‘artist’ by the Daily Mail and as an ‘exorcist’ by the Daily Star.






2020



Marker

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Hotel is a magazine for new approaches to fiction, non fiction & poetry & features work from established & emerging talent. Hotel provides the space for experimental reflection on literature’s status as art & cultural mediator. The magazine is bi-annual, the online archive is updated periodically.

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2020
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