Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Long ago, this was all rock and ice.
"Then the trees began to grow.
"And the trees became a forest.
"And the forest filled with magic."
It floats in the air like semi-sentient pollen, a collective consciousness, a hive mind of history.
If you stay still, you can hear it calling. For history echoes: it ripples through time.
"A forest remembered in place names.
"A ghost of the Great North Wood.
"Eldritch mysteries covered by tarmac."
And barely a tree in sight.
A stealthy fox forages through South London city suburbs for food found in the discarded boxes of finger-lickin' chicken, at night.
"The sylvan wildwood stretched from sea to sea.
"England slumbered beneath a canopy of leaves."
And then it woke up.
It parcelled out the commons into private ownership, did England. The forest became fields. Settlements were built. These turned into towns and then, oh!
From Tim Bird, creator of GREY AREA - FROM THE CITY TO THE SEA, GREY AREA - OUR TOWN, comes his most eloquent offering yet, a quiet and contemplative lament for a long-lost wood which once covered South-East London, barely blemished from Croydon to Deptford, close to the Thames. The early roads which later ran through were unsafe to travel, for brigands lurked in the cover of darkness.
Clambering over a plastic wheelie bin then wall, our nocturnal fox strays into the arboreal past then slips back into the far starker present. Back and forth, back and forth, it will be our witness to stories still being told of what once happened in the Great North Wood.
It's an elegy whose rhythms are masterfully controlled, along with the ebb and flow of time, refrains resonating throughout; its economy focuses us on every carefully constructed sentence, every astutely chosen image, so that you're likely to linger longer over each.
Like the last oak left standing, defiantly, at the centre of a suburban roundabout.
Or the one which isn't, its ancient, deep-ridged bark and natural spread of shelter replaced by a sheer metal traffic light.
As to the architecture of time - those echoes I mentioned earlier - we're not a million miles from Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's FROM HELL, as you'll see in who boards the night bus back home. Bird's geographical and historical interests parallel those of Oliver East's, while his buildings mind one of Darryl Cunningham.
Salmon pinks pick out the billowing, cloud-like canopies over cool slate grey and early morning blue, while orange makes the fox and firefly magic glow. It also proves handy for a cameo by Queen Elizabeth I, who gets a little squiffy then knights an oak.
"These days estate agents talk about Honor Oak as a leafy suburb."
So it's not without its comedy, either.
"Now only small patches of ancient woodland remain amidst the suburban sprawl of south-east London.
"Oaks lining pathways behind tower blocks.
"Or roundabouts marking forgotten parish boundaries.
"Standing proudly in back gardens.
"Intruding on landed marked for development.
"The subjects of town planning meetings."
There's an 'X' cut into its bark, marking the solitary tree for felling.