Dear Friends

DF 49 - Despatch from the New Forest

October 2008

Dear Friends

The other day a journo asked me what I did in my spare time. For the last few years I have been working undercover as a war correspondent, although I've corresponded with no-one until now due to the sensitivity of the situationůso here we go.

Despatch from the New Forest

In the 11th century on boggy marshland near the south coast of England, King William 1 created The New Forest. It came as quite a shock to the Boggy Marshans who'd been used to scraping a living on open ground.

Rapidly maturing trees had the civilizing effect of dividing a first nation into two tribes. When The Separation occurred over a dramatically short period, superstition and lifestyle adapted to the altered environment.

The wild unplanted and newly drained areas became the home to The Gorse, after whom the shrub was named and in whose environs they struggled to survive. Gorse folk lived on the open moorland by day, rode ponies, ate rabbit and wore skins. At night and during eclipses they hid and slept in the bushes; a prickly and uncomfortable existence by any standards, but the concealment made it easy to reach out and grab a rabbit. They found the little creatures hard to catch from horseback and the deer were too shy to eat. The rabbits were consumed raw and their skins cobbled together with thorns to make warm garments; protection against the icy blasts that whistled through the spikes.

The Boo-Boos took to the trees and made a living by surprising travellers. Boo-Boos were altogether more humorous and mystic in their shadowy, deciduous, coniferous world. They ate nuts and berries, wore beads and smoked willow bark - for the benefit of keeping pain and hunger at bay, whilst stimulating the need to re-invent the past. They had fire and were great story tellers, relishing historical tales of bravery. Facts had been altered long ago but embellishments were still expected to suit the demands of each new generation. However the deeds of their ancestors were now so comically Homeric that more focus was given to the demonisation of the Gorse, often derided as wood-sceptics, bunny-lovers, dirty-foreigners etc.

During a vulnerable period when a committee of Health and Safety was formed by the least talented and adventurous of the Boos (diminutive), they nearly died out. It was deemed that the trees were dangerous - in the categories Bumping in to and falling out of - so they were ordered to lie in bed all day and night in case harm befell them. A few defiant characters saved the entire race when they realised that a Baby-Boo has to fall out of a tree in order to kick start its brain. So they rounded up the committee and burned them to death just to show how intolerant they could be, if pushed.

In fact, since then, the gender of a Boo has not been determined until adolescence. Each year the young things would spend a week away from home in the company of a peer group. Being unsupervised, much fun was had, peace pipes were smoked, beads were strung and decisions were made about what kind of sex they fancied. Many of them didn't fancy it at all and remained neutral - nearly all stayed peaceful.

Most importantly none had been corrupted by an adult Boo into thinking it should be one way or the other, and consequently no-one felt any guilt about their nudity, or the fights and chases during rutting at the spring equinox. As they all approached the bracing beam for the last time roars of allegiance were sworn to Jeffe, the One True God, and mead was drunk from buckets. This mead was a powerful elixir, much stronger than later versions. Its main ingredients were honey and virgin squirrel urine - both very hard to come by; the collection of which was part of the rite of passage to adult Boo-hood.

The Gorse on the other hand found no joy in exaggeration as their hardships were reality. The harsh winters were particularly difficult without firewood and anyway they had lost their fire-stick. Gorse stayed well clear of the forest as mockery was their greatest fear. They knew well the lie in the adage: They wouldn't say Boo to a Gorse.

Quite recently, sensing the looming crisis of change, both sides became willing to talk to me in arbitration - I had gained their trust; to indicate neutrality I wore a red chintz scarf that I got in Lebanon, 1966/7 - and presented their cases with articulate conviction. But whenever I played the devil's advocate the positively-magnetic jumble of dogma clams, bigot heels and thick brick walls flung us back, even further apart than our starting positions.

The isolation got to them eventually; inbreeding and ignorance is no way to evolve, survive or even dominate - Supremacy being the missing last chapter in Darwin's postulate.

During the peace process I was reminded that the ancient Greeks (clever buggers) originally, and Charles Darwin eventually, fell short in his suggestion that survival was the object of humanity. Up to that point he's right; fragile parties do evolve to suit their circumstance or make allegiance with power houses in order to get by, but ultimately the aim is supremacy; that's really what makes us tick.

Territory or ideology? Take your pick, it is human nature to fight to the death for a way of living. Through all the great - and not so great - wars, from the ancient Gospel Truths to our daily provender on Sky News - nothing changes, there it is.

And so with the Gorse and the Boo-Boo, they denied their common roots and made no peace - it had gone too far. Ultimately of course their environment will change again - Mother Nature will take a breath, or an anti-rural government will pave the whole area - and both tribes would have become extinct through lack of mutual support and adaptation. As I watched the road to peace disappear into its own mirage it became clear that each would rather die than assimilate.

Actually all this may happen sooner rather than later. In a final effort to reconcile both sides I suggested an election, thinking that democracy might be the answer to tribal friction. I explained the old template that had worked so well until recently. The premise being that the new leader(s) represented the whole electorate and governed for a specified time whilst the losers accepted the will of the majority with good grace and waited for the next opportunity to use persuasive argument rather than peevish violence or intellectual vandalism to settle the issues of the day.

It all started so well, and with the best intentions both sides put up decent candidates. Then the media got hold of the story. The field fanfares and jungle drums sprang into life and the whole campaign became a thing of itself. I tried to explain that you didn't need to examine every grain of sand to determine the difference between a beach and a desert, but as we all know - since OJ - these things are procreative by nature. Anyway, it's been going on for nearly two years now, everyone's lost interest and fallen into a coma - never to awaken it seems.

In their final speeches both sides are claiming victory in the name of Pyrrhus.


Ian Gillan

Copyright © Ian Gillan 2008

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