Thursday, September 03, 2009

Ed, Will and Ginger

Anyway, continuing for a moment the Paul Kingsnorth theme (yes I know, I know), back in April Paul had a feature published in The Telegraph about three jolly fellows who roam the country, forage for bantam egg sandwiches in hedgerows, sleep 'neath the stars and sing for their supper. It is worth a read.

'People like to put labels on us’, explains Ginger. ‘Troubadour, minstrel...’

…Busker? Tramp? Now it would be very easy to poke snarky fun at Ed, Will and Ginger. Which, in itself, is no reason not to do so: the juxtaposition of their anti-modern values and the Web 2.0 technologies they use to promote them is inherently amusing, or at least worthy of a middling Mitchell & Webb sketch. They regale passers-by with songs of the “riddle-me-fal-de-roddle-o” variety and then hand out cards promoting their website, which includes MP3 downloads. The incongruity is perfectly captured in this picture, in which one of the minstrels, ensconced in a suitably rustic pub, taps away at a spanking laptop which, presumably, he had to do a bit more than sing for.

But – as with poets, or British surfers who embrace the bleach-blonde Zen-lite lifestyle to its full extent – Ed, Will and Ginger are only laughable to the degree that they take the thing seriously. If the project is seen as a bit of adventure, as fun, as source material for a book and a website – even as a way of promoting folk music – then it is rather admirable, in the same way that anything involving a bit of pluck and determination is admirable.

They only become ridiculous if they are described in terms of a political movement. As Vern points out below, it is telling that Kingsnorth’s article appears in the Telegraph, when the Grauniad would seem his natural home. In fact, a major part of Kingsnorth’s worldview is a sort of British crunchy conservatism (although, to certain temperaments, the very act of protesting against the mainstream is in itself more important than any worldview the protester hopes to realise).

The central conceit of this brand of crunchiness is the idea that the modern world, and its cultural, economic and political structures, is erected on a bedrock of national folk traditions. The modern structures depend on greed and shallow individualism and are less ‘real’ than the rootsy, earthy things that underpin them. And, hope the more eschatological crunchies, they can be peeled away or might one day collapse under their own gluttonous weight, to reveal the Leveller’s idyl that always lay beneath.

The crunchies, of course, have it all the wrong way round. The idyl is mythical, the crafts (here Ginger carves a wooden spoon and blogs about it!) are Dressing-Up Box imitations of grim rural poverty. Alternative lifestyles can only spring up and flourish because supporting them is the thing they are an alternative to: a complex web of tax credits, tax payers, economic freedoms and restrictions, healthcare services, pension provisions and so on. Without the context of the liberal democracy they profess to despise, the crunchies are entirely meaningless. Nothing wrong with having folksy types about the place – they add to the richness and variety of life, and nobody loves a traditional English pub more than I do – but as emblems of a political vision they’re hopeless.

Ed, Will and Ginger illustrate the problem neatly. They can sleep rough and walk all day because they are young, fit and healthy, have no family responsibilities or dependents and are free to live entirely self-gratifying lives. They are impeccably well-spoken middle-class beneficiaries of a good education, acting out Lord of the Rings and Robin Hood fantasies. Tattooed men in tracksuits tap their feet to the rhythm, writes Kingsnorth revealingly, but it’s hard to imagine ‘Ed, Will and Ginger’ being replaced by ‘Lee, Jase and Scott’.

Above all, their method of supporting themselves is not in any sense scalable. They can exist as troubadours only because troubadours are scarce. “We want to show that it’s still possible to do things like this, and the only way to show that is by example. We’re sowing seeds, I suppose…” insists Ed. But if everyone takes to the lanes and dines on wild garlic, the lanes will soon lose their appeal and the wild garlic will have to be farmed to meet demand. They can only get a free supper from the friendly pub landlord because the landlord’s other customers are prepared to pay him. And the landlord is only willing to give them supper in exchange for a song because they are a novely act: if thirty or forty Ginger-inspired troubadours come tramping in every night offering a rustic ballad as payment for pie and chips, he’d soon be booting them out on their bottoms.

Fortunately, Will, Ed and Ginger don’t really seem to take themselves all that seriously. Their blog is rather enjoyable, they seem like decent coves and their singing is nice. The appeal of their 'endless' Walk, however, can’t last, because eventually they won’t be young enough and they’ll either meet women and stop, or carry on and grow mad, ill and unattractively trampish. And in fact it turns out that Ginger has already left the band, citing artistic differences. So, as they like to say, it goes.


Anonymous said...

It strikes me as a kind of postmodern Grand Tour, a carefree, faux-profound rite of passage before one puts away one's toys. Or maybe a channelling of Wordsworth. Just as the Grand Tour descended into swarms of backbackers skipping the Louvre to save money so they could call home to Des Moines to see how the dog was doing, I fear Tintern Abbey will soon be displaced by lengthy running accounts on Twitter on natural substitutes for toilet paper.

worm said...

...will they 'meet women and stop',

or one day realise that hanging around in hedgerows with no money and questionable personal hygiene marks them out as beta males, so they will stop (and join in the usual alpha-signifying capitalist ratrace)- in order to meet women? I think that's what happens to most renegades (myself included)

a very well argued piece you've written here, this is something that I have tried to discuss before - but i'm not nearly as eloquent as you!

Vern said...

I wonder if our boy Kingsnorth, he who pulled himself up by his bootstraps, is lurking in the shadows reading all of this, but biting his tongue... after all, he inhabits a mythical world and it's not good to venture beyond the bubble if a man wants to keep his illusions intact.

As for roaming the countryside gathering folk songs, I seem to recall that this was done by Walter Scott and pals in the early 19th century. Kingsnorth's 'ideology' meanwhile is strongly reminiscent of William Morris' utopia 'New from Nowhere'.

All of which leads me to a further thought- 'the left'is becoming incorrigibly reactionary and backwards looking. The Darwin/God debates in the Guardian are straight out of the late 19th century, while we now find that the avant-garde of the eco movement are working their way back towards the kind of ideas that flourished post-Enlightenment among sensitive Germans and their intellectual heirs in England and beyond in the early 1800s. Even Kingsnorth's self identification as a poet mars him out as a classical romantic. Does he wander lonely as a cloud? I'm sure he loves daffodils. And he definitely hates the dark satanic mills.

(And of course when the left wants to get really retro, there's always the joys of disguised anti-semitism.)

David said...

So, pouffes, then?

Paul said...

Can I just say that I'm very much enjoying being the Bete Noir of this website? It's nice to pop by occaionally and see oneself still being talked about. Oscar Wilde had it right. Good old Oscar.

Brit said...

Oh I wouldn't go so far as Bete Noire, Paul, but you do have your own personal label, a TofE first. Well done.

A fortnight is a long time in blogs, however - we've moved on the Beatles, Pixies and rabid Scotsmen now - so if you want any more Kinsgnorth posts you're going to have to do or say something sensational sharpish.

Paul said...

That is certainly very exciting. I don't think I've ever had a label before. These Google alerts are wonderful things.

I don't have any plans to do anything especially reactionary or romantic over the next few weeks though. At least not in public. I imagine this means my hit rate here will go down. I wouldn't want that to happen, so I'll put my mind to it and see what I can come up with (taps pipe thoughtfully on chesterfield and leans back pensively).

Brit said...

Might be able to help you there, Paul. Pop in tomorrow...

Paul (but not Kingsnotrh) said...

Just because they are fools, doesn't mean we should laugh at them.

I saw them sing in Gloucester, and talked to them a bit. Even threw a quid in their hat. It was raining, and someone had given them mugs of tea. I think they are Derren-Browning people into it.

They're probably having a good time, which is proabably their real aim. I expect they are just big kids wanting to be Robin Hood, and i don't know what they are trying to do with all their newspaper prose. Maybe they just want to let their friends know what they're doing.

I admit, although i had the car round the corner, i felt pangs of something like envy.

They probably will end up doing what everyone else does, with jobs and mortgages and cars, but i am hoping they won't. It would be nice if they became rich and successful Tsars of the rural undergrowth. Fact is, right now they're doing something i never did.

They too gave me a website business card, on a stained bit of cardboard. It does strike me as strange, the doublr life of a symbolic Gypsy, alongside blogging on a laptop. But it seemed like they were only offending my own inner-merrie-englande ideal. It was my symbolism that was outdated, not their computer savvy walkabout. Do i need these boys to carry no plastic, or eat only from wild heaths? Do i need them to suffer in thorny bushes, all for my own theory of authenticity? Nope, not really.

I remember they were definitely well spoken. Mostly, though, i remember that they were willing to talk to me, and they asked me questions about my own slightly dull life around Gloucester. I think i banged on about the local closing. But they listened. My eldest boy will rarely do that when i start talking. They were good symapthetic strangers.

And i suppose they were posh, now you mention it. But they mainly spoke clearly, without aggression. 'Products' of a doubtless privileged background, they're at least nice ones. And they're not in a glass tower in London planning new ways of ripping my family off. So i can rejoice. There's 2 more spaces for my state-educated kids to possibly win, and they can take the big cash for the banking corporation instead. I jest a little bit.

I didn't know how to make a wooden spoon. I found their blog (almost embarassingly) useful. Doubt i'm ever going to try it, though. There's boot-fair every week down here. I'll sharpen my haggling instead, a far more useful skill in my life.

I did wonder if this was the beginning of a new wave of earnest wilderness seekers, all booted and blogging. Didn't some King or other ban this sort of useless wandering, some few hundred years back? I wonder how the authorities view this sort of thing, or if we could technically perform a Citizen's Arrest. They do carry sticks though (not sure if that itself is lawful).

TofE, you're right to say that the riddly diddlys Ed n Will (no Ginger in Glos) are not a template solution for modern global issues. We can't all follow, like Forest Gump's running companions, and leave our beautiful lifestyles to rot. The lads would only go home eventually, and leave us in the B-roads to shiver.

But that's not what they're selling. They didn't try to make me think they were new gurus, that's for sure. And I don't think there'll be a new surge in walking-singing. If there is, they are probably its extent. I reckon they're just doin a nice thing, which frankly makes me happier than watching the news. Have I a right to seek happiness? Or is that all a bit C18th?

I felt jealous, like i said, but it was tipping down, and sod sleeping out in that.

And as for Kingsnorth, if he is (as Vern suggests) a joyful disguised future anti-semite, well surely someone should put him on a list. He sounds well dangerous.

Good blog post, much dextrous writing here. Very mindful. It's good to read about modern politics through symbols i can recognize.

i reckon i'd vote for them. At least to get them off the Celebrity Island.

Brit said...

Yes they seem like nice lads.

Thanks for the considered comment, Paul (not Kingsnorth).

Anonymous said...

i think the life expectancy for homeless folk in England is somewhere in the late 30s.