I recently had this correspondence with Alistair who saw the show in Norham, Northumberland last month back. He gave us permission to post our exchanges online which I wanted to do as they made me cry (in a good way).
15 October 2016 21:52
Hi Robin and Naomi,
Good performance. Thank you for coming to Norham. Tweed Valley is a conservative area, and your message is revisionist of establishment posturing, so I wonder if you got a positive reaction? Seems like Marion Shoard is a gatekeeper person: if she was for you, who could be against you! It was an interesting evening for us, in lots of ways. We saw the ad for your show in Berwick High Street, but we live three miles north of Norham, across the border into Scotland at Horndean, the next settlement beyond Ronnie, your guest singer, who lives at the first settlement north of Norham Brig and over the border, at Ladykirk.
Interesting for me. When I worked in agricriculture as a farm worker, I was a NUAAW rep and had training at Southend where I bought ‘The Painful Plough’ way back then. That was 1975.
Interesting for me because I studied at Oxford University Institute of Agricultural Economics 1969-72. In those days, the Common Agricultural Policy was at an early stage, and was seen as a device to 1. Protect the small acreage farmers of France by holding up prices with subsidies and 2. Reducing the European tendency to overproduction with quotas for each commodity and 3. Withdrawing produce from the marketplace into storage when there was overproduction e.g. the grain mountain. In those early days it was seen as adverse to British Interests. I’ve been away from agriculture for years now, apart from a family farm extended family owns, and I haven’t really followed the single farm payment developments closely, so I was really interested in your summary, and in the views of the Welsh farmers you have spent time with, and I do not doubt, knowing the general mindset of the preset Westminster elite, that the direction is to consolidate into larger land units that then become attractive to fund managers and insurance interests, and cease to produce food as their prime concern.
Interesting for me because I am quite close to the Scottish Greens, and have followed Andy Wightman’s work in recent time. Following your exposition, I will look more closely at his site.
Interesting for me because we ramble, and have enjoyed the Right to Roam in Scotland, which as I have understood it permits access onto all PRIVATE open spaces unless and until the landowner requests that you leave the site for a genuine and defensible reason e.g. timid or frightable stock. Your summary of the Right suggested it referred to PUBLIC open spaces, which are surely not 80% of Northumberland? Clarification needed for me here.
In general your narrative was well supported by facts, and was not long on opinions, which made it enjoyable, as one could think, and buy in with one’s own conclusions. Too many facts, too fast, can become a barrage, and the mind closes, hence of course the value of your songs. Anyhow, in general you got it right. At the end, saturated with impressions, we needed a more stark arrival point i.e. the Land Reform groups names and logos appearing on your string line.
Anyhow, I really mustn’t criticise your content, as it was original (in its collected form), and superbly researched and presented. You are both immensely multi-talented, and I will certainly do my best to commend your presentation to contacts wherever you go. What you are doing is most worthwhile – to rightly judge the English and other UK countries, and Eire, in our past internal struggles, and in our past overseas activities, is a proper road to understanding ourselves and our place in the world today. For me you did not put a foot wrong, and my over-riding reflection is your positivism – you were not embittered as many revisionists are, or grinding axes at us, which is the angry face of revolution. You were, I think, true revolutionaries, seeking sound values for yourselves and offering them as tenets of worth to those willing to accept them. That is a most civilised and companionable modus vivendi, and I am sure it will win you many friends.
So, I thank you for your cultural contribution of “Three Acres and a Cow”.
On Sunday, October 16, 2016 11:07am, Robin wrote:
Thanks so much for your letter – it was a delight to receive. So good to get feedback from someone with a depth of knowledge on the topic.
We got a good reaction from the people we talked too… As it was our third day on the road and I was knackered, I prioritised singing songs with the people who had traveled a long way and missed some of the first half, rather than trying to gather as much feedback as I could have. The messages in our guest book were positive.
Ronnie, Gail and Joan enjoyed the evening hugely and as most of the audience were known to them, I am sure that they will collect more reactions and feedback in the coming weeks.
The show has been performed to conservative audiences in the past, but not in such a rural area. I must confess to being quite nervous about this, but am growing in confidence now due to the feedback from so many people from extremely differing backgrounds over the years. I also know that the Norham area has traditionally elected Liberal MPs, and that land reform has historically always been a cornerstone of Liberal policy.
You will be glad to know that Marion Shoard and I have been in conversation and are about to start exploring making podcasts and radio shows together. She is very happy to hear that people are talking about land again and that more singing is involved this time around! I also encouraged her to get a wikipedia page which she has – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marion_Shoard.
I am so glad to hear that you know of Roy Palmers book ‘The Painful Plough’… His work has been a huge source of information and inspiration over the years, and I was incredibly lucky to have him mentoring me and sending unpublished ballads he’d collected, the last few years of his life. Sadly, he does not have a wikipedia page and I am yet to work out how I can make this happen, as his contribution to English culture has been huge and largely unrecognised outside of certain niche circles.
I have read and heard that the CAP was set up as a behind-the-scenes face-saving way of Germany compensating France for war time damage and was indeed never framed in British interests. It has morphed into quite a different beast since then. I generalise this into supporting farmers as i hope this is a useful summary of what is a hugely complicated topic (as they all are under the microscope!!)
Our statistics on Northumberland rambling %’s is taken from the Ramblers Association factsheet ‘The Right to Roam’ which can be found here – http://www.ramblers.org.uk/~/media/Files/Go%20walking/AccessFactSheet-FS8.pdf – It states in a table on the 2nd page that the amount of publicly accessible open land in Northumberland went from 19% to 85% in 2003 and I trust them on these figures. Please do let me know if you interpret this differently.
Thanks for your thoughts on the pacing and balance of the piece – a conscious effort has been made to keep opinions to a minimum and deliver it in as gentle and fun way as possible, allowing people to make their own conclusions. There are a few topics where I do offer my own opinion sometimes and I am glad you think we get the balance largely right.
The ending – ha… if there was anything resembling an English land reform movement we would indeed be signposting people to it! but there isn’t really yet… we are trying to support one into being under the rubric of ‘Land for What?’ but alas are a long long long way behind Scotland – http://landforwhat.org.uk/.
I usually mention the Landworkers’ Alliance and Ecological Land Coop (and their names are on the line) who are doing ground work to challenge the status quo around land but I was super tired and did not talk about them at the Norham show you saw.
Your last paragraph or two were very nourishing, thank you. At times, it can be a long and lonely road that we’ve been walking and if you’ll forgive me mixing metaphors, words such as yours give wind to our sails.
Hi again Robin,
Appreciate your full response to my letter, thanks.
What you say about the origins of the CAP does ring true to my understandings. I spent time in Germany in the early seventies, as secretary of the United Kingdom and Ireland Agricultural Students Association, representing UK at the 15th International Agricultural Association of Students at Stuttgart and Kiel, and also in a hosted group of international ambassadors for change allied to a group called MRA, visiting the Ruhr industrial area which had been the scene of much conflict. There was still a vast dammed reservoir of guilt in Germany about the events of the thirties and forties, and it drove much of what they were doing at that time.
Also, I note that my confusion about the Right to Roam in Northumberland is entirely cleared up by your reference to source material.
Like yourself, I have down the years been at first surprised, and then more often scandalised, by revelations about “Great Britain’s” past. We have had an extraordinarily selfish and cruel ruling class, possibly from the Norman Conquest onwards, as your overview suggested.
My own clan were Highlands and Islands folk in the C17th, C18th and C19th centuries, and were forced by a combination of malicious social forces to emigrate to the Southern States (where there is a Clan Reunion for 350 of them each year now) to Canada where one of my great, great grandfathers was born in Nova Scotia (and your description of the ships which took them there was spine chilling), and to South Africa, and to Australia where John MacKichan blew himself up at Lobo whilst clearing land with dynamite. The decision to move to lands of opportunity was driven not by ambition, but by desperation, and the terrible injury inflicted on the aboriginal native peoples as a result is a crime by proxy by those who forced the emigrations.
The sharp thrust of your delivery in Three Acres and a Cow is that there are areas of the world in which the UK establishment, and you were not specific, is still connected to genocidal activity. That was a telling insight about the repetition of learnt behaviour, and it should arouse indignation among our people to think that the worst we have known is now being dealt, perhaps in our name, to others.
Your summary on Ireland named one Englishman viewing the Irish potato famine as “An Act of God”. I have read that there was stored grain available in England, and that it was indeed promised to the desperate Irish, but then deliberately withheld, which corroborates your judgement of genocide of a million Irish who died in those years. There is a loch in Ireland where a wandering, starving band inscribed their heart feelings on a stone – I have visited it and seen it but do not remember detail, except to note that it is most moving. The Gaels are a different race, driven in early centuries AD to the “Celtic Rim”, and in culture and values see themselves as different from the English. That is not a antagonistic difference, but a dignified ontology and identity. You will have felt it in your time in Wales, and for what it is worth, in my own performing days I sang a national celebration in Welsh in Bangor Cathedral, “Ee gumree ganav. uist tervisk dwicht a don” (phonetic spelling now – a distant memory) and I felt the rose and bloom of the Welsh culture then.
For the self-interested English to exploit, and to dishonour, other racial groups than their own seems to have been a terrible and constant theme of history. This inter-necine animosity strays from your main points of Land Rights and food security, but they are strongly linked in our history. One of my clansmen, starving, was imprisoned for the act of stealing one turnip, from the owner of a field he had toiled in all day, in an attempt to feed his family. That harshness was imposed not by the native clan system, but by the annexing of lands after 1745 by a vindictive English oppression. The tales go on.
All power to you, always find the performer’s balance between intensive output and gentle restoration!