Writing 'Mismapping Todmorden Moor'
The new Liquorice Fish Books anthology, What Lies Within, offers a goodly selection of innovative and unusual works but perhaps the most striking is Judy Kendall's "Mismapping Todmorden Moor" …
My first experience of mismapping was completely inadvertent and unplanned. I was taking a friend on a walk in Gloucestershire, a walk that was new both to me and the friend. We had a printed leaflet as our guide. We started at the church of a small village and turned right at the church as instructed by the guide. The instructions detailed all sorts of interesting remnants of possible barrows etc. to admire on the way but we both found them very hard to identify, although, after a lot of time spent trying to pick out these features we usually managed to work something out. Often too, curiously, the hill, or field, or gate in the guide seemed to have shifted a bit. We were successful however and on returning to the car I glanced at the instructions again to go over the walk once more. It was then that I realized it said turn left at the church, not right. We had been mapping a different landscape onto the instructions all the while - no wonder it was so tiring.
Later, I asked my orienteering/fell-running brother-in-law about this and he said it was quite a common experience in orienteering and one to guard against. If you think you are right the human mind is so resourceful that it can map almost any piece of land onto any map or instructions.
I was fascinated by this and a few years later decided to put it to the test by purposefully attempting such an exchange. Taking a guided walk leaflet to Todmorden Moor in West Yorkshire I mapped it on to a different area of Todmorden - same country but different hill completely. This time the mismapping experience would not just be held as a mind/body memory, however. I was going to take notes as I walked.
It was difficult to keep to the walk, and passers-by noticed my dilemma - one man asking me if I was lost. I suppose I was but not in the way he might have meant but it seemed too difficult to explain. The gymnastics I executed to fit one walk to another were considerable at times, as gradient, landscape feature, road name, house name etc diverged. It resulted in a fair bit of humour in the notes to keep the two walks in 'sync' as it were. I started off assiduous with my note-keeping, but as the walk went, on these notes degenerated into sketches even though I am by no means an artist, and then into bird-watching - I was going off-piste in more ways than one.
It was a very intense experience, with the attention focussed on every stone, almost every piece of grass, while the mind tried to fit one landscape onto another. In many ways I walked that land more acutely than when I am not attempting to mismap.
Such a very creative but exhausting experiment took me several months to recover from, but I found that others responded very positively. First off were my two brothers, who, when I described my ventures to them, on another walk, enthusiastically suggested other routes that deserved mismapping, including the one we were walking at the time - now on a list I intend to pursue. However, it was only with the spur of a liquorice fish commission that I attempted to do anything other with my Todmorden Moor mismapping than type up my notes.
My written version of the mismapped walk was worked up from this typed draft. In the draft I tried as much as possible to retain the spaces and the layout of my scribbled notes. These seemed important and telling of themselves. I wanted to include both voices - mine and the original guide's – in the final piece, so that there would be representation of both sides of the mismap. This involved therefore a copyright permission request to the rather bemused authors of Todmorden Walks, very kindly given by the way. I mashed these voices together in a way that sometimes involved blending and melding so it is not always clear - although mostly it is - which voice is which, just as I am not sure I was always quite clear myself as to who was who or what was what as I became more and more immersed in the walk and the way the land seemed to speak to me.
The result starts with prose text and an initial echo of ordnance survey layout. It also reflects, a little, the layout of the printed guided walk, but then moves into visual text and into poetry – perhaps marking the period when, as the walk went on, my initial detached experimenter self dissolved into something less precisely defined and more immersed in the present.
I then performed the piece at a Salford University staff seminar, almost off the cuff. I was planning to use powerpoint but a fortuitous break-down in IT resulted in photocopied papers the audience had to rapidly shuffle through to keep up, particularly since I read at speed and cut or paused in silence over certain sections – helpfully motivated to do so by the ten minute time limit to my presentation which I am sure I still managed to overrun. I liked this effort, and sense of haste – it had an echo of the hard work and disorientation of the original mismapping. The response was again surprisingly enthusiastic and I had the strange feeling, once the performance was over, that not only I but my audience had walked the ground again.
I wonder if Mismapping works better in performance or on the page, so I am waiting to see what responses I get from the anthology. I decided at the beginning that if this was a success I would do more, and the responses so far, from my brothers, from liquorice fish, from my colleagues, have convinced me I should, although I need to find ways to ring the changes so it remains in that uncomfortable but so fruitful area of experiment rather than of automatic reflex.
This sounds great in an off-the-wall kind of way - although potentially dangerous ? It is interesting how, thinking we are being logical, we fit the evidence of our environment into what we expect to find. I once walked a leafleted path from Devil's Bridge anti-clockwise rather than clockwise - there were arguments as there were two of us. Each of us utterly convinced that we were reading the map and instructions correctly - and providing 'evidence' from what we could see. Only at the end of the walk did we notice the arrow that was pointing us in the correct direction - the road less taken maybe. I suspect that many of us have unwittingly conducted out lives like this.