Ambling across the Devon fields to catch Obama so he could harrow the three corner field, I realised that the early March wind cutting through my clothes didn’t begin to counter the pleasurre of being outside. I concluded that I am an outsider, and I have finally come to accept the fact. As an outsider you know that when one door slams, it’s just another door slamming. Doors control people who are inside, they have no power over the outside. It is after all, out of doors.
I know that what I do, upsets a number of people, and for years I have fought to get people to understand and accept my point of view. By accepting my status as an outsider, I have the freedom, the space to do what I do. If people want to slam doors, that’s fine, if they want to understand what I do, and why I do it, come outside. It’s where I am.
Last summer, Obama and I walked from Brecon to Birmingham, in a remarkably casual re run of Cobbet’s Rural Rides, camping as we went and taking 13 days and probably 200 miles on the journey. I learned that once you are wet, that is it. Wetter doesn’t exist after the first few minutes.
I learned how beautiful Wales and England are while missing most beauty spots. I learned what a brilliant observer, and naturalist and social commentator Cobbet was, and I learned that the England he loved, a landscape with people, didn’t exist any more. The landscape exists but the people have disappeared. Nobody works in the fields, children don’t play in the lanes, explore the streams or even scare rooks in the fields. And the rooks have gone. Cobbet described a country with a rookery in every parish. I saw a rookery in every county and photographed, and recorded the ones I saw. None had mmore than twenty nests.
No rooks, no children. Obama and I had walked from Brecon to Synonds Yat before we heard childrens laughter outside the towns and villages we passed through. I saw buzzards and foxes, ravens, badgers, endless rabbits, hares, sparrowhawks, kestrels and kingfishers but I noticed every person, outside in the country. becuase I saw more buzzards than people.
The richer rural areas declare their status with endless signs threatening , prosecution, dogs, armed response, weapons of mass destruction for any individual rash enough to stray from the rural lane onto posh premises. The houses, glimpsed through the rambling razor wire, are set in extensive planting of four by fours, but no human is visible. The signs telling people to keep out are the only evidence of the existence of people.
Impeccably bred horses, (where do non impeccably bred horses come from, are they found under gooseberry bushes?) parade in fashionable rugs, on post and railed catwalks. In 200 miles Obama met one other equid, that wasn’t stuck in a field. I have heard concerns over the right to roam, it shopuldn’t be a right, it should be compuslory. We have allowed huge swathes of England and Wales to become the private preserve of the rich and their security firms with their offensive, threatening graffiti.
As I amble past, I can enjoy the beauty of your house, and your land, and your trees and your livestock and hear the birds and smell the wind. When you drive past Obama and I in your beautiful car, I can see the car, and appreciate its beauty. I know you can see the veneer and smell the leather, but then I can see the tree and smell the cow. You have paid, and you’re inside. I haven’t, I’m outside.
Albert Camus’ seminal, (which in my dictionary means unread) novel L’Etranger, always puzzled me because I thought “Stranger” would be a more natural, linguistically, translation, than Outsider. But Outsider is a word I feel comfortable with. My worthwhile life is outside, I no longer want to belong to an English society that is determined to excude so many from a countryside the owners never go into.
I no longer want to belong to a society that clings to their right to use whips on ponies and horses when they have been rightly abandoned years ago with every other animal. lion tamers gave up whips years ago. I know guard dog handlers who can’t believe that anyone would use a whip on an animal. Even the dog owners who upset the Government by christening their animals Tyson rather than Rover, and who walk down the road with tatoos, and rings and studs, don’t carry whips.
I start a quiet discussion of my philosophy and it comes back to whips. Sorry folks, if it bugs you shut the door. If you want to see what you can do with a pony without a whip, come outside. It is beautiful out.