Wishing for Well Being

The ‘Wishing Stone’, Church Lane, Old Clee.

Curiosity about the world is one of the joys of childhood. Discovering everything for the first time, a child never stops asking, “Why?” Why this and not some other world? Why blue, why green, why thunder, why snow, why? If we are very fortunate, this curiosity stays with us throughout our lives. Wondering about the world and trying to understand how it works and why is one of the finest things we do as a species. Michael Frame

1 Prosperity

We can use the word ‘hope’ to talk about things that we desire for other people. In these cases, the meaning of  ‘hope’ is similar to ‘wish’. This meaning of ‘hope’ was used by Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury,  speaking at the Cambridge ‘Ethics of Sustainable Prosperity for All’ conference in 2018.  He defined prosperity as ‘that which is hoped for’.  He maintained that ;

“ …morally, such prosperity should be rooted to provide for the common good for all and shared social goals.  Yet we are currently looking forward in panic in our current politics of populist protectionism which puts national security  over global wellbeing and pitches North against South, East against West and rich against poor. Our well being is interdependent and interlocking, so prosperity for the few is prosperity for none.  International crises be they environmental or social do not respect boundaries. The secure border is a toxic fiction”.

His prescription for a prosperous sustainable future is;

.”.. to build sustainable virtuous civil societies which transcend narrow factionalism and look wider and beyond national electoral politics. This also means reinforcing international organisations and finding narratives of international cooperation being empowering of our humanity rather than a loss of national freedom”.

With respect to human relations, he said;

“…we need a positive sense of justice in what is owed to all humanity, ‘adnabod’ in Welsh, which means recognise or know someone.  Our localism and universalism needs to be connected, seeing the stranger as a neighbour in a true humanism”.

 Education has a key role to play. First, students somehow encounter material and immaterial traces of the past in their daily lives or later when they are adults. They are thus participants in the continuous social process defined as eutierria: “a good and positive feeling of oneness with the earth and its life forces.”  It arises when the human-nature relationship is spontaneous and mutually enriching (symbiotic).  We are both separate and one.  Neither standpoint by itself will do to make the selection and give meaning to the past in which people in the present form their identities. Second, due to processes of mobility and migration, new artefacts and ideas come into focus. 

This is how education for sustainable development will become based on the replacement of monetary prosperity with Williams’ universal prosperity of sharing for the common good.  The common good is defined as “certain general conditions that are… equally to everyone’s advantage”. … The pay off, from sharing the common good, is prosperity, as well being, to which all members of society have access, and from whose enjoyment and increased prosperity no one can be easily excluded. Real prosperity would be using sustainable energy sources and aiming towards non-financial goals such as family life, health and community. The Buddhist definition of prosperity is based on collectivism and compassion, is a good way begin thinking about non-monetary prosperity.

2 Imagination and Bluestones

This blog is about exploring the topic of ‘making wishes’. I first encountered its practicality in 1940 as a six year old boy roaming Grimsby’s Greetham’s Fields, with a gang of older children from Cooper Rd and Ladysmith Rd at the very edge of the town’s urbanisation. The following ritual was enacted at the ‘Wishing Stone, then, as now, sited beside the back gate of what we called the Curvy Cottage on the corner of Church Lane, Old Clee.

The wish-maker first recited the following rhyme: 

To make a wish;

First spit and turn. 

Then catch a kiss.

Next, you stood on the stone, spat on it, turned around three times, spreading your saliva over the surface; girls clockwise, boys anticlockwise.  After making the wish, someone might blow you a kiss, when a couple were said to be ‘sweethearting’.  Needless to say, a common wish in the 1940s was for the war to end.

This is not to say that the wishing stone did not once play a deeper role in the social life of adults in and around the village.  The stone belongs to a group of volcanic rocks known locally as bluestones.  They are thought to have been transported to Lincolnshire by glaciers  from the Whin Sill outcrop in Northumberland.  In days before maps they were frequently used on Lincolshire’s flat featureless claylands as boundary markers. Several marker bluestones are described in Bates’ book entitled “A Gossip about old Grimsby”.  There is a bluestone at Immingham situated in the carpark of the Bluestone Inn, Bluestone Lane.  Louth has a bluestone, now at the entrance to the museum.  Others gave the name Bluestone Heath to a remote part of the Wolds, traversed by an ancient ridgeway between Candlesby and Caistor.  This widespread distribution raises questions regarding the uses of other kinds of rocks moved by glaciation and deposited as Boulder Clay, (now called Till) when the ice melted. For example, a large block of distinctive granite from the Lake District was found during the excavation of Grimsby’s docks indicating that ice from the Lake District had crossed the Pennines and merged with North British ice.  Larvikite, a rare rock type from the Oslo Fjord area of southern Norway, is frequently found in the till beneath the submerged forests on the Lincolnshire coast. Some of these stones, called erratics, may have been gathered to build Old Clee Church’s Saxon tower, which is a compendium of many kinds of rocks scraped from the bedrock over which the ice travelled. 

Because of its rarity and size Old Clee’s bluestone will always trigger a sense of wonderment.  In the pre-scientific past it would have been a mystery; a doorway for the imagination and therefore a tool for learning the symbolic rural language of mental processes deep in the mind.  These are referred to as the unconscious. The unconscious deals with feelings and is a much larger realm than most of us realize. It has a complete life of its own, an enormous field of nerve energy, which constantly streams through our imaginations as a powerful organ of communication to make sense of the environment.   It does not make anything up but gives preexisting symbols a cultural meaning. Wishes exist because they are fleeting thoughts released by some kind of symbol. They are sudden daydreams that are appealing because you think they would make your life better. You see the surface of someone else’s life, and wish you could have that too.  

Eighty years ago, in Church Lane, the knowhow for making wishes was staged in a primitive courtship ritual which was passed from child to child at the boundary of their understanding. We were children of newly urbanized grandparents living in densely packed Edwardian terraces built on Grimsby’s former pastures (Figs 1 & 2).  In this sense, Old Clee is now a small, green ritual landscape left behind after a tide of post-war urbanisation..

Fig 1 Map of Old Clee, its pasture lands and the wooded Weelsby Estate (1905-6)

Fig 2  Ladysmith Rd.; the tree-less edge of Grimsby’s Edwardian urbanisation named after a British success in the Boer War. My childhood home.

In the early 1940s children’s imaginations were occupied with the Wizard of Oz, Pinochio, Snow White and Bambi, movies that all focussed on the power of making wishes.   From this point of view, it would only take the imagination of one child to invent a wishing stone myth that would be eagerly adopted by others. In this context, I remember many of us actors in the Church Lane wishing ritual had invented imaginary companions for effective coping with the blitz on dockland but, which scattered its bombs in the surrounding fields.  These invisible friends were a positive source of entertainment, friendship, and social support when making a wish. 

3 Landmarking the past

By Identifying prosperity with oneness in nature, can we identify patterns in cultural systems that could provide a systematic model for developing cities?  That is to say, can we build cities that will always and simultaneously incorporate the essential characteristics of ecologically sustainable ruralism promoting oneness with nature?  Might this be applicable for fractal reproduction of sustainable cultures across the spectrum from eco-village to eco-metropolis?  Today we can view our reactions to volcanic bluestones and other glacial erratics as solid symbols of this spectrum of cultural ecology. We can use the passengers of glaciation to meditate on Grimsby’s efforts to be great again after decimating the North Sea fishing stocks that earned it, briefly, the title of greatest fishing port in the world, and face up to the catastrophic polar ice melt of global warming. The bluestones provide an educational window to see the town in a ruralised glacial landscape.  In fact they offer local history a cosmic timescale for people to think about the short term mindless actions of their leaders in relation to securing the future of great grandchildren yet to come.

However, for me, above and beyond all this, Old Clee’s wishing stone marks a route to articulate the common wish of humanity for a better life.  This wish for economic prosperity brought my heroic grandparents to Grimsby from harsh livelihoods as agricultural labourers in the East Anglian countryside.  It was then perceived as a Victorian boom town, which attracted hundreds of economic migrants far and wide.  They were aiming for what they imagined would be a life of monetary plenty. This vision of Grimsby is now curated as history with the objective to stimulate the unconscious as an image/memory value forming faculty. These days the past is expressed in digital landmarking, adding heritage values to objects, places and neighbourhoods.  By viewing and collecting digital landmarks we encounter material and immaterial traces of the past in our daily lives. We are thus participants in the continuous social processes of social selection which gives meaning to the past.  People in the present value where they live and identify with it through pride in place.  This process of self education is particularly important to the future of Grimsby and other post industrial communities who, like Rowen Williams, are struggling to rethink individual prosperity in a world of increasing inequalities.  Prosperity is now being seen as a non monetary lifestyle, something to be wished for among several alternatives to conventional economic prosperity. The big wish is for a fairer society that operates within Earth’s ecological limits.  

Using social media, like this Internet page for digital landmarking, is to make an open international educational resource for the application of arts reasoning to explain sustainability.  Here the task of educators is to master the imaginative power of heritage and demonstrate to young people, fed up with a curriculum they see as irrelevant to their future, that history is not boring but life saving. The local library’s digital initiative clearly energises people to generate blogs, posts and pages demonstrating that heritage values represent a public interest in places, regardless of their ownership. Therefore, the use of law, public policy and public investment is justified to protect that public interest and incorporate it into plans for living sustainably.  In this context, a wish to save Grimsby’s huge, but redundant, dockside ice factory inevitably nudges us closer towards a culture of sustainability and equity.

At the start of the 2nd World War, Old Clee comprised a Saxon church, two farms, and a handful of ornamental cottages (Fig 3) built for agricultural labourers owing deference to the super–wealthy Grant Thorald family, who owned much of the parish. Little had changed since Old Clee was mapped as a cultural island at the turn of the 20th century (Fig 1) Its lord of the manor lived two miles away in his vast landscaped Weelsby Hall domain.  The fractal housing of urbanising Clee is evidenced by the identical bay windowed semi detached houses of the 1930s, lined up along Clee Crescent (Fig 4), punctuated by the singular, expensive, arts and crafts mansion. through whose railings I peered and wondered as a small child (Fig 5).  Development of what remained of its former open fields was paused until the War ended.  The fields, ditches and hedgerows awaiting development for housing were rich in biodiversity.  It was commonplace to encounter nesting birds, exotic butterflies, bats minnows and water voles.  Now the only evidence for its agricultural past and outstanding biodiversity is a few acres of wilding impoverished pasture at the end of Church Lane (Fig 6).

Fig 3. Grant Thorald’s Old Clee estate cottages in the Dutch style (1870s)

Fig 4 Clee Crescent fractile mass produced housing; pre-2nd World War

Fig 5 A unique Arts and Crafts ‘mansion’, Clee Crescent

But what if it were different, asks Paul Downton, founding convener of Urban Ecology Australia and a recognised ‘eco city pioneer’?  What if, every time we added to the urban weave we duplicated units of ruralism that not only provided good shelter for people but also increased biodiversity and enhanced the value of natural capital?  At best, sustainability and equity. are spiritual emotions denoting a profound sense of belonging with nature and refer to positive, pleasant feelings like joy, exaltation and the sublime feeling of living in nature.  These feelings may lead to a sense of inner peace that suspends the individual in a deep, inner spiritual state, which is hard to explain rationally with words and is best understood through lived experience and the application of memory and imagination.  This is where memory sites are a form of natural capital that can provide roots to bind urbanised people to place.

Fig 6  Church Lane end, Old Clee.

Memory is a major theme in contemporary life, a key to personal, social and cultural identity.  A memory site is any significant entity, whether material or non-material in nature, which by dint of human will or the work of time, has become a symbolic element of the memorial heritage of a community.  It may refer to any place, object or concept vested with historical significance in the popular collective memory, such as a monument, a museum, an event, a symbol like a flag, even a colour vested with historical memory (the red flag of left politics, for instance). What makes an entity a memory site is the interplay of memory history and imagination. 

To be considered as a memory site an entity must be definable in three senses: material, symbolic and functional, all in different degrees but always present. Within this category of memory sites Old Clee may be categorised as a ritual landscape where memory crystallizes and secretes itself around its wishing stone. Ritual landscapes are often associated with origin myths, ancestors, homes of spiritual essences, or locales where mythical or historical events occurred.  The features of ritual landscapes embed collective memory exemplified by groups that include nations, generations, communities and the preservation of the myths, histories, and the belongings of a locale.  Aside from a place of origin and mythology, ritual landscapes were also considered places of protection and renewal. Now memory sites are in need of protection because they landmark the cultural, traditional, spiritual, and religious importance of nature to people in their day to day surroundings. 

4 Internet References

More on Clee Fields…..

Open fields in Old Clee

Neighbourhoods and urban fractals

Ancestors and place

Grimsby and Cleethorpes Place Names

Memory  Sites

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