Shadows and Reflections: the annual collection of postings where Caught by the River’s ever-reliable contributors and friends old and new take a look back on the events that have shaped the past twelve months. Today it’s the turn of Ben Myers:
Space. If anything 2014 has been about an abundance of wide open spaces.
It began where the vast tangled jungle of the Quintana Roo region of Mexico meets the sea and ends here in the upper Calder Valley of West Yorkshire where the moors stretch for miles in all directions
Wide open space seems to have defined 2014 for me, a year punctuated by moments of pure joy and inexplicable but not entirely unfamiliar bouts of anxiety, for which I tried all the usual recommended remedies. Ultimately though only one proved consistent: walking. Endless walking and a constant forensic study of my surroundings, wherever I happened to be.
On some days there feels nothing more significant than understanding the history of where it is you live or come from. And here amongst the tumbledown ruins of farms up top, silted mill ponds and slick-stoned footpaths worn smooth by centuries of foot-fall – of neighbours who still talk of being haunted by “stag-headed men” on the moors – I continually discover new markers to England’s industrial past.
Sometimes the four counties of Yorkshire seem unending. They are as varied as four different countries, with the weather to match. A week in the woods of The Wolds offered a totally contrasting experience to my daily wanderings in the scudding clouds in the West Riding. Driving past Hull out across the No Man’s flatlands of the East Riding towards the spit of sand known as Spurn Point couldn’t feel more atmospherically different to exploring the overgrown dells that play host to the wrecked mills and 17th century weavers cottages that I have been exploring for a future writing project.
And then there was Scotland, where I have spent a quarter of the year, exploring the Lammermuir hills between Berwick and Edinburgh, a sparsely-inhabited place of true raw beauty – of red kites, hares, salmon and the flinty crack of distant gun shot.
Perhaps as a result of this, much of my cultural intake has had space and landscape at the heart of it: both Cynan Jones’ The Dig and Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake were novels that opened new doors in my imagination. Both are devastating works. Published a few years ago I discovered Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, a Norwegian writer who exceeds the more in-vogue Karl Ove Knausgaard, as well as a long overdue reading of Ulverton by Adam Thorpe, Vulgar Things by Lee Rourke, an intense and dark, dreamy and discombobulated fictional depiction of Canvey Island. Francis Plug: How To Be A Public Author by Paul Ewen meanwhile offered light relief and made me feel much better about being a far-from-public author. Helen Mort’s poetry collection Division Street said more about contemporary South Yorkshire than any novel, song or news report ever could.
Released in 2012 I also discovered Ben Rivers’ film Two Years At Sea. A brilliant exercise in minimalism it is comprised of a series of cinematic landscapes depicting the Cairngorm woodlands and portraits of the hermetic Jake Williams. It’s worthy of a Turner Prize.
All the new music I enjoyed seemed to explore landscapes too, both internal and external, sonic and auditory, whether the remotes screes and tarns and mythology of England in Dylan Carlson’s Earth and the north-west black metal band Winterfylleth, the emotional peaks and plateaus of Wild Beasts or the gaps between the suburbs explored by School Of Language. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Fat White Family, Sleaford Mods and Eagulls provided the abrasive, electrified pure rock thrills still needed to punch holes in the ceiling too.
Prince live in Manchester challenged my preconceptions about comebacks and arena gigs. It was the best show I’ve been to in years.
Sitting by a perfect Scottish salmon run in autumn was equally as exciting though.
As was swimming amongst shoals of fish in Mexico.
Seeing an adder sunbathing on a North Yorkshire forest track in August even more so.
Ben Myers, Beastings, was published this year by Blue Moose Books. We have it on sale in the Caught by the Rivers shop, priced £8.99