ALL ALONG THE WALL
Here is some text about the process and ideas I had for the project.
I had too many ideas for songs; I only finished 4 pieces, 2 songs and two monologues, due to time….
I hadn’t completed them because I wanted to offer them to the group as part of the collaboration process. So what follows are some of the ideas I had and how they took shape and were or were not finished.
On The Wrong Side of The wall.
I tried to imagine what it would have been like for a young boy, a shepherd, out on the hills with his sheep and suddenly hearing and seeing the Roman Garrisons approaching, armour shining, elephants, scary.
Also how it would have been when they built the wall, how towns, farmlands, families and neighbours might have been divided, dealing with this occupying force.
I wanted to give another perspective to the wall, to bring it up to date and relate it to the more modern walls we now have in the world, the Gaza wall, that has been built in order to ‘annexe’ Palestinian land, the Berlin wall, The Mexican border, etc. creating ‘false’ frontiers. So I made this song ‘On the wrong side of the wall.’ I consciously avoided placing those modern walls in my song. Not naming them. I hoped just to reveal the effect of these walls on the people who have been divided by them, gradually and slowly as the song unfolds, hopefully making it more timeless, and subtle. I suppose, so that it appears the song is about Hadrian’s wall, but then, I wanted to reveal the oppressive nature of the wall- verse-by-verse. A verse about being stripped and searched was cut, by consensus of the group, to shorten the song for the show, but I have since included that verse when I sing it live, and also included the verse in the 'differently arranged' recording I have 'produced' - available for download above. We had many slow, lyrical songs already in the show; we needed a lively tune for the Show, so I gave this song a ‘sing along’ chorus and a lively rhythm. This song was completed and recorded.
Arrival Of The Romans. Excerpt.
I was 9 years, being pulled by ox and plough
through my grandfathers cornfields
I remember how
Shocked I was when I heard the menacing thud of marching feet
And saw the sun shining on their shields
and armour, I didn’t retreat.
Like a rumbling monster it snaked
Into the distance, from far away it came
With horses, oxen carts rattling,
Rolling Northwards, Shadowed
by a fleet of ships with supplies,
thousands of cooking fires lit-
-up the night skies.
Then they pegged and surveyed
through our grazing land
and would divide us and our families
with a wall (stanegate) they had planned.
the Soldiers built a white fort
on our farm plantation
on fertile soil, that we’d worked for generations,
that’s where they started to lay and build the wall foundations
our cornfields and farmland
the wall separated us from our friends and relations-
our kith and kin’s homes were knocked down
they destroyed all our havens
A ‘comic’ monologue….About the cultural colonisation and assimilation of Britons and Celts, and the divide and rule that took place, local chieftains that were bribed by Roman coins and the offer and promise of office and power, they would have changed their names also, succumbing to the Roman ‘conquerors.’
(I have a feeling that this kind of thing still happens in the world of more recent colonialism, eg. The Raj, also today the Indians who work in call centres in Bangalore India,to give information about British Rail train times etc. answer as Nigel, Steve. Suzy etc. and not their Indian names, the names of immigrants used to be changed, or anglicised when entering a country.) This monologue was completed and recorded.
I have parked up my van often on the Solway Firth, looking out over the mudflats, (without the ‘Splatchers’ or mud shoes that mudflat walkers would have worn in Mersea near Colchester to stop their feet sinking, like wooden snow shoes.) I would walk on that oozing mud when the tide was out, you could see the rusting wrecked remains of a bridge, I’d drink tea with and chat to the fisherman who wade out together and stand in the mud together, their nets like sails fixed on poles, they stand together, nets placed together, patiently waiting to catch fish as the tide returns to the sea again.
The Western end of the wall is close by. I wanted to include the Solway Firth in the song.
So I imagined a Roman soldier deciding to stay behind, when the rest of his garrison would pull out and return to Rome, those soldiers would return, but have no property or home or family left there, having been away so long, it wouldn’t seem like home. Galloway and the borders might seem more like home if you were in love with a frontier girl. A Galloway Girl. (This song was completed and recorded.)
The age of Wind and stone
Building and song is from a longer verse I made about Archaeology and the puzzle of history we try to complete but cannot. And trying to get inside the skins and heads of the people who built Neolithic tombs and stone circles, everyday things, cutting fingers, eating lunch, etc, not wanting to interpret or invest these buildings with some ‘misty new age mystical’ meanings. (This monologue was completed and recorded)
Endless searching’s, unanswered
No one knows the whole story
We could guess, people do, and many people doubt.
Like a jigsaw puzzle
we have one word discovered,
only one word uncovered,
we have all tried to guess
we have only one word
just one word discovered,
we think we know what it means, but we don't
know what the whole page says.
I had many other unfinished songs; here are some of the ideas.
I started to write an imagined Dramatic Border incident where people were not allowed through the gates in the wall. (In the end I made ‘The wrong side of the wall’ which perhaps tells a similar story or theme.)
All people (male and female)
between the ages of 16 to 30
who are residents of Carlisle
and the villages surrounding these towns are not allowed southward.
A cart with a bridegroom arrives at the checkpoint.
His wedding is in Carlisle
However he is from Galloway and young and he is told he can't pass through.
A relative of his
who is from Dumfries
and who speaks fluent Latin,
tries to talk to all the soldiers
to convince them to let him pass through.
A cart with only women and children
who are heading to Carlisle
for the wedding
arrives at the checking gate.
IDs are checked.
Five of the young women,
some with young children,
are from Galloway
and are told to leave the cart
They are not allowed to pass.
They are forced
onto the other side of the street
to go back home.
has still not been allowed through.
Aunts, uncles and other relatives
are all standing around
trying to figure out what to do.
The relative from Dumfries
continues to go from one soldier
to the other to ask for help.
The bridegroom is told
he cannot go through.
He stands to the side.
The bridegroom is sent home.
on the wrong side of the wall.
Little Brits. The resistance.
They call us Celts ‘Barbarians’
Just because they don’t speak our tongue
As if we are all the same as
The Goths and the Huns
They call us
Brittunculi -Little Brits.
‘Romans Go Home’
A kind of kids verse idea.
Our face was some thing they spat in
And our throne was something they sat in
(Till) then The Romans Tried to make us speak Latin
Maybe that is what scared our tomcat in-
-to running away and not chatting’?
and it hasn’t sat in the mat in the hall
since they started to build and formatting that wall.
They’ve searched all of Northumbria with a fine-toothed comb
For the person who sprayed on it ‘Romans go home.’
Where is Hadrian’s Wall?
It is around Hadrian’s garden.
Where is Hadrians wall?
It surrounds Hadrians house
It’s Too high to jump for a kangaroo-
There are no holes or gaps so no one can crawl through-
Not even a vole or a mouse.
Where is Hadrians wall?
It surrounds Hadrians vegetable patch-
It won’t protect it from rabbits-
For they have a habit-of
digging tunnels with a scrape and a scratch.
Tune called The wall-peckers hop
Roman Veteran Soldier.
I am a Centurion
A gnarled old veteran
I train soldiers.
I am stiffened with discipline,
I signed up for 16 years,
one of 20,000 men
I went with Maximus
I never returned home.
I was an army brat and I was landless.
She’s my common law wife
not my concubine
I’ve heard them call that hard working
woman of mine
Because she loves and lives with me
she’s called a collaborator.
I speak Latin and Briton; I have a Celtic accent,
and forgotten most of my mother tongue,
I crossed an ocean, I hope my kids will speak Latin
but they are still young.
Latin is the language of those in charge
and who rule and govern
But most people here speak Celtic
Their resistance is strong and the locals are stubborn
“Dear, Max, I, we are all stranded,
serving our emperor over here,
Apart from those warm socks I wrote and asked for,
Please send more beer.”
Tullio the Cartwright is fixing Ox-cartwheels
in his busy workshop with other men,
Carts break down often,
‘Damn roads are bad here, who built them?!
“Probably, the saddest moment of my tour
was watching local family members climbing upon wooden scaffolding type platforms
built next to the Wall
in hopes of seeing a family member,
or to yell and scream obscenities
at us Roman border guards
as they patrolled back and forth.
In, some cases, some guards would wave
or attempt to entice individuals
to cross over the wall.
Of course, if any one decided to make the attempt,
they would have been slain immediately.
I recall, many nights lying in bed hearing skirmishes in the distance
and finding out the following day
that a father was killed trying to get over the wall.
After all, I too was a prisoner of the Romans
“I could not help but feel
that each of us was thinking
that had we been out of uniform
and in some other place,
we would have loved to sit drinking
and talking over a few beers.
On the other hand,
a week from now,
we could be charging with forces
and fighting at each other…
making widows and orphans,
cripples and corpses.
A song about the many Transmarinus,
non-Roman builders of the wall,
North Africans, Batavians, slaves.
There are many of us
Us Batavians were recruited and I joined for adventure and to Rome
But this is the coldest, windiest place I’ve ever known
And the bandit Horse warriors here are a hard enemy to pin down
as good as any horsemen on the Rhine-
-Delta to be found
Those Selgovae, local hunters, from the Eildon hills show no fear
They can appear from nowhere then melt away, just disappear
I’ve ridden to Colchester, all the way up to the fens
We took the Medway towns of London
When we rode our horses across the Thames.
led by our own chieftain,
Us Batavians, who are skilled horsemen,
to say nothing of the trumpeting war-Elephants thundering charge
shaking the earth, stampeding
breaking enemy lines and scattering men.
The stonemasons, or building workers song,
praising their skill- Unfinished.
Gangs of 15 on the North side,
15 on the south
Keeping pace, working as a unit,
Hand to mouth
3 men laid courses
of stones and beds of mortar,
4 made and mixed one part lime, with 3 parts sand and water,
From the Sandpit near Chesters
at Fallowfield fell,
near the fort of Cilurnum.
We are paid over 200 Dinari a year
I swear that we all have earned them.
3 men filled the core,
4 provided clay to bond it,
and one gopher, the youngest,
made the tea and he responded-
to any given orders
like wood felling,
which would shake a-rickety under heavy stones, in high winds.
The B6318 military Road
(A wall pilgrims direction song re ‘route 66’)
“Take the B6318
it stretches westward and straight
and rolling up high crags to the Whin Sill,
at a roundabout, called the port gate
turn south down Dere Street
or what’s now called the A68..
After the port gate, where the Military road drops down across the A6079,
is a sign
for Brunto Turret- where the wall stands high..
..on a steep bank, you can hear the whispers of old soldiers talking,
complaining and stamping their cold feet
where the chilly wind blows through an old forest of trees…
Keepers of ‘Peace’
“Gaze upon my works, ye mighty, and despair.”
“I have achieved more by peace, than others have by war.”
Us Romans are
To be the keepers of peace
Not the makers of war.
To become their own ambassador
Not to become their own prisoners of war
Hadrian built an 80-mile wall
By mixing mortar, and then mixing metaphors,
Just like the building of a very
Stones that will last for evermore
They built it without a revolving door
Built for more than just decor
To keep out the boy and the girl next door
“In our innocense we called it civilisation
we recieved it as if we were
when it was really part of our
To teach us to sing from their song sheet
To sing in their choir
to bring us into and inside the empire…
into the family
into the fold
crown us, bribe us
so we’ll do what we’re told.”
into the family
into the fold
crown them, bribe them so they’ll
do what they’re told.
Give them an office,
Give them a job, Give them a knighthood
Get them to rob
Divide and to rule to control
the Pictish mob
These kings will inherit
What Rome leaves behind
Give them some gold and with
the ties that bind.
Give them a priesthood a pope-hood
Make them speak Latin
And write it, and preach it
And even to Chat in.
Coins, exchange and Black-market.
"Want to buy some Denari?" Slight but obvious accent.
I'd been tricked twice already,
once in Newcastle the very day I landed and once in York,
so I was wary.
"How did you know I spoke Latin?"
He shrugged. "Doesn't everybody?"
"Not in York, How come you speak it?"
"I listen to the Roman Soldiers. . ."
It seemed as if the Romans were using Corbridge as a show window in which people of the North could see the advantages of Romanization, there was obviously lots of money being poured in.
"Did you ever think how it looks to people from the other side?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, lots of those people don't want to leave—they were born and raised in some neighborhood, and that's home to them, no matter how miserable. But a clever guy who wants to make life a little less miserable can do it easy."
"I'll give you a simple example. He buys ten eggs for a bronze sestertius, and he carries them over the wall, where he sells them for a bronze sestertius. But this bronze sestertius he can exchange for three-and-a-half of the other kind. So he goes back through the gate buys thirty-five eggs, and keeps it up till he, maybe, doubles his weekly income."
Song idea as a letter home:
I’m a young Roman Woman I’ve become very lonely,
marooned in a sea of soldiers, with very little female company-
-of the same age, I’ll write another page-
of this letter, but your replies I lack,
it’s my third letter to you
but you haven’t written back.
Sulspicia Lepidina wore sandals
made in Gaul,
carved from leather
for her feet so small
I offered this idea to Ruth who did a wonderful job on it, re working it and making it her own, Kate and I sat with her and threw words into the pot, then I left Ruth and Kate to plot it between them and Ruth shaped it into a song she would sing for herself.