Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Top Ten Things To Do Whilst You're In England

Hadrians Wall and Win Sill (Rod Edwards)
Dear visitor to our shores,

Our country doesn't always come across terribly well to outsiders.

We've carried on invading people long after everyone else dropped out of the Empire building game, and if we don't send our tanks our football fans can be just as unwelcome abroad. At home we neglect our elderly but protect our Bankers.

Oh dear.

2012 London Olympics (wikicommons)
But there is another side to England, the polyglot country of Celt and Vikings and Anglo-Saxon and Norman and many, many others, that had trial by jury and habeas corpus before the Middle Ages were done, that killed its King one hundred and fifty years before the French Revolution, that voluntarily abandoned slavery, that welcomed refugee Jews and Huguenots and revolutionary Russians, that spent the accumulated fortune of a century on defeating fascism and then celebrated by founding the Welfare State and giving away the largest Empire the world has ever seen, which faced down the spectre of racial conflict and instead opted for tolerance and diversity and which, when it welcomed the world to the 2012 Olympics, decided to showcase the National Health Service and rock music.

So please come and see us some time.

But whilst you're here, what should you do? Here are my suggestions.

1. See what we've stolen off you

Lord Elgin's chess set
Before you all came to see us, we came to see you. Unfortunately some of these early tourists came away from your countries with a little bit more than just memories.

The Elgin Marbles are the most famous, but there's a lot more. Fortunately, not only can you can see most of this stuff for free whilst you're here, but we've also built some pretty impressive museums to house it all in.

The Natural History Museum is the most impressive building. You almost expect Professor Challenger to come marching up the stairs with the Pterodactyl he's just caught in the Lost World. The British Museum must be next best, with its new dome making an interesting blend of classical and modern.

Natural History Museum by Raymond Choo, My Shot
Of course, not all the stuff on show is loot. From dinosaur skeletons to Roman remains, a lot is genuinely ours. You can see the Sutton Hoo treasure in the British Museum or - even better in my opinion - see some of it where it was found in Suffolk.

It's also not just ancient junk. In Manchester you can look at a replica of the 1966 World Cup in the Manchester in the National Football Museum, pretend to be Eric Cantona at Old Trafford or learn about the Peterloo Massacre in the People's History Museum.

And there's plenty more to see. Just don't ask if you can take any of it back home with you.

2. Eat fish and chips on the beach

Fish and Chips in Staithes, North Yorkshire (AH McKay)
We English are more famous for our sense of humour than our food. However, I did know a foreign lady once who was very fond of the traditional offal dishes I prepared for her. She enjoyed my kidneys in red wine and oxtail in beer, but her favourite was my Tongue in Cider.

Oh dear, a double entendre appears to have inserted itself into this blog. If I find another I'll whip it out...

Okay, maybe we should forget the jokes as well and stick to what we know; bland food.

Fish and chips is a product of the Industrial Revolution, when railways allowed fresh fish to be brought to the big cities and Working Class people could afford to eat out for the first time. Once the
Fish and chip in Hunstanton, 1973
Trade Unions had managed to get the employers to agree to Bank Holidays the same trains took the workers to the seaside. Where better to enjoy your fish and chips?

Now looking at the seas off these islands you could be forgiven for thinking that the fish isn't likely to be very fresh even when it's alive, but don't worry, once it's been deep fried and drowned in vinegar you won't notice. Preferably it should be cooked in beef dripping, but that's rare outside of Yorkshire, and then served with mushy peas, although they are often confused for avocado dip in these more cosmopolitan times.

Abroad the beach may mean sun, sand and sex, but in cold, wet and repressed England it means fish and chips. As I said, it's best when we stick to what we know.

3. Drink a pint warm beer

Real ale at the Guy Fawkes Inn, York, North Yorkshire
The English drunk is not a pretty sight.

Whilst the ritual of knocking back as much as you can in the last ten minutes before the bar shuts at eleven is mostly a thing of the past, I would strenuously recommend you avoid the sort of places where that sort of behaviour still goes on. You can usually spot these places by the trendy music and trendier clientèle.

Instead head off to somewhere a little more rustic. Our milds and bitters may be a bit of an acquired taste, but there is real art in some of those ales. Watch out for the Big Brand nitro-keg ales that are a poor substitute for the real thing and go for the ones with the weird names by companies you've never heard of.

And don't worry if you're a lady, women drink pints as well now.

4. Walk in the hills

Kinder Scout, Derbyshire (M Porter)
Look at a map of England and you will see that half of the country is north of the Humber estuary. This may come as a surprise to many people, including the BBC and most of our politicians.

This forgotten half of the country is mainly famous for grim cities with great football teams, but in reality most of it is hills. We really can't pass them off as mountains, not to people who know the Peloponnese or the Pyrenees or the Alps, but they aren't bad. The Lake District is the really pretty bit, but that makes it busy and some of the 'hills' can be hard work to climb.

High Cup Nick, Cumbria (M Porter)
Running up the centre of the country are the Pennines, which includes some of the most the most gob-smacking beautiful - and peaceful - countryside in England.

The Pennine Way runs from Kinder Scout above Glossop, famous for the Mass Trespass that opened up the hills to ordinary folk, over Black Hill towards the Yorkshire Dales and lovely Malham Cove, ascends Pen y Ghent and on to Cauldron Snout and High Cup Nick before coming up against Win Sill.

This a ridge running the width of the country that provides fine views towards Scotland. Some Italian visitors a couple of thousand years ago adorned it with a long wall and some attendant forts, which makes walking it even more interesting. Kevin Costner even called by once.

The weather up here can be foul, but it can also be divine, and being England it is never too cold, or too warm, for a walk.

5. Attend a ritual at a stone circle

2014 Summer Solstice at Stonehenge (Paul Townsend)
Wild nature is all very well, but the urge to adorn it is only human.

Given that England is a country where the idea of cafes that open after 6PM is still a novelty, it may seem strange to claim we were ever amongst the more civilised nations in Europe, but four thousand years ago we might have been. Before even the Egyptians were building pyramids, we were constructing giant astronomical temples in the landscape.

Handfasting at Avebury (Wikicommons)
Everyone has heard of Stonehenge, but this is just one of over one thousand stone circles that once covered these islands. Most are now gone, but a hundred or so still stand. What's more, thanks to a revival of Paganism over the last few decades, they are mostly still in use. I've even helped to add a new one myself.

Modern Druidism has its origins in eighteenth century Welsh nationalism. These days though it's open to all and part of a Druid ritual actually made it into the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Paralympics.

Along with Wicca - the only religion England has ever given the world - these modern Pagans can often be seen in stone circles taking part in rituals either public or private. Contrary to rumours, we tend to keep our clothes on.


Avebury Stone Circle at night copyright (Mystical Crafts & Gifts)
Since the national disgrace that was the visitors centre has now been replaced it's worth visiting Stonehenge again. To get the authentic experience you need to go on one of the Quarter Days when the stones are opened up for giant Pagan party. Midsummer is the big one, although midwinter is the celebration the stones were actually built for. The days when these gatherings ended with a charge by the riot police are thankfully long gone and it's a party atmosphere now.

If you prefer your ancient relics free and open to everyone all year round then nearby Avebury is the biggest stone circle in the country and the rituals there are smaller and more spontaneous. For a more spiritual experience though, head away from where the crowds are. A visit to smaller circle on the moors under a full moon is a profound experience.

6. Visit a romantic castle

Bamburgh Castle alias Le Joyous Gard
In 1066 some less welcome foreign tourists dropped by in England. They killed our King, wiped out a significant proportion of the population and nicked all the best land. And the damn thing is they've still got most of it, but that's another story.

However the upside of these skivers coming over here and opting for an easy life living off the backs of ordinary, hard working families is that they had to build some really quite wonderful castles in order to stop the common people lynching them.

Or rather they made the common people build them some wonderful castles.

Alnwick Castle alias Hogwarts
In due a course efforts were made to tame the excesses of this psychopathic 1% and so chivalry was born. Rather like the good folk to try to make evil corporations do the right thing, the effort was mostly worthless, although there were some fine exceptions.

Sir Thomas Malory's Le Mort D'Arthur  is probably the finest testament to Chivalry. You have to flick through to the good bits, and most of the stories were nicked off the Welsh, but there is some decent stuff in there, and once you are in true Romantic mode you can view these castles as they really aren't.

Knights of the Damned (M Porter)
The finest castle in England, as far as Malory was concerned, was Sir Lancelot's Joyeus Garde. This was almost certainly based on Bamburgh castle in Northumbria which Malory besieged during one of
our less-than-romantic civil wars. As it's built on the beach and looks out over the Abbey of Lindesfarne, castles don't come much more romantic than this.

But whilst all our great castles are wonderful when it is just you and your imagination, to get the authentic sight, sound and unfortunately smell of the Age of Chivalry, you need to go to a re-enactment. Whether it is a noble joust or a massive brawl, we do these things quite well now and a really big event is a spectacle not to missed.

7. Picnic in the grounds of a stately home

Chatsworth House
Fast forward a few hundred and the aristos still live a life of comfort and ease whilst the workers toiled in the factories to pay for it all. However by 1913 the proles are getting a bit restless and the only reason we don't have a Class War was that we had a World War instead.

The legacy of this era is some of the finest domestic architecture in Europe and, thanks to a century of Death Duties, most of it is open to the public. The houses can be magnificent, but sometimes the grounds are in are even more spectacular. Under the guidance of landscape architects like 'Capability' Brown and Joseph Paxton, armies of labourers demolished peasant hovels, levelled hills and planted trees with the aim of creating "nature perfected".

To enjoy them just pack the cucumber sandwiches and the champaign, or the Scotch eggs and cider, or the pie and the bottle of ale or....well, you get the idea. As long as you don't forget the umbrella and the mac.

8. Watch a cricket match

Cricket at Ashford-on-the-Water (Mick Garratt)
Another reasons given for why we never had that revolution is that the aristocrats did at least play games with peasants they were oppressing.

When it comes to international sports we English invented most of them, although in the spirit of true sportsmanship we now let other people win.

The most English of sports is surely cricket. With the white clothes, rituals and traditional use of willow, cork and leather I'd love to claim that this is some legacy of the ancient druids, but the truth is the game was probably invented by the French.

Test Match cricket is clearly the top of the tree, County Cricket is for the serious fan only and 20/20 Cricket is for people who would really rather be watching football, but village cricket is for the Romantic. Here's one misty eyed description of village cricket, from a court judgement of all places:
In summertime village cricket is the delight of everyone. Nearly every village has its own cricket field where the young men play and the old men watch. In the village of Lintz in County Durham they have their own ground, where they have played these last 70 years. They tend it well. The wicket area is well rolled and mown. The outfield is kept short. It has a good club house for the players and seats for the onlookers. The village team play there on Saturdays and Sundays. They belong to a league, competing with the neighbouring villages. On other evenings after work they practise while the light lasts.
Dad takes a catch (M Porter)
This was the late Lord Denning, a poetic judge, but also a part of the Establishment. He kept the Birmingham Six in prison, even though he knew they were innocent, as to let them go would make the system look bad. The Establishment has always liked cricket.

A game of subtlety that requires patience and concentration to enjoy, cricket also lasts long enough to have a picnic and get gloriously drunk, although maybe not quite long enough for you to learn all its fiendishly complexities.

However the best games of cricket are those you play with your family, perhaps after your picnic or on the beach before you eat your fish and chips.

9. Go to a music festival

Metallica Glastonbury 2014 (BBC)
But if cricket is a bit dull for you, then perhaps music is more your thing. The days when we could claim English music ruled the world ended with the demise of Britpop, if not the Beatles, but our festivals are still pretty good.

Your modern music festival has its origins in the USA with Monterey, although the Beaulieu Jazz Festivals that started in the mid-fifties blazed a bit of a trail.

The ideal British music festival aims for an atmosphere somewhere between Lord of the Rings and Woodstock, but thanks to our weather often ends up a cross between Waterworld and Passchendaele.

Glastonbury is the big one, although as everyone knows it isn't as good as it used to be and never was. Then there's Cambridge for the folkies, Donnington (alias Download) for the metal heads, Hawkfest for the ageing hippies, Beautiful Days, for those who remember Glasto as it used to be etc etc.

My favourite though takes place in a field in Oxfordshire the second weekend of August.

10.  Visit the neighbours

The Giants Causeway, Northern Ireland (Wikicommons)
England is not alone in the world, although some of its residents seem to think it is, and one of the best things about living here is our wonderful neighbours. They might not think it's so wonderful having us next door, but that's a different matter.

Wales is but a short drive from most of the country, Scotland a longer but much more interesting drive, and Ireland and Northern Ireland are only a short ferry journey away.

All are nations in their own right, except for Northern Ireland which hangs in a sort of legal limbo and so is known as 'The Province', and all are custodians of a Celtic heritage that used to be England's as well.

Bron-Yr-Aur, Machynlleth, Wales (M.Porter)
The scenery is amazing, the culture fantastic and you'll receive a really warm welcome, especially once they realise you're not English.

From Northern Ireland's Causeway Coast, where Led Zeppelin got the cover of Houses of the Holy, to the little cottage in Wales where Led Zeppelin recorded part of their third album, you'll find plenty to surprise and delight.

I haven't space to tell you everything about them unfortunately, and anyway this is a blog about England, my England, a place I love but not so much that I don't want to change it, and a place I hope you will visit soon.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Guns 'n' Roses versus Metallica

It was 1987 when I more-or-less simultaneously discovered beer, girls and rock music.

The first band I ever saw was Motorhead, at Southport Arts Centre in 1987. This was the tail end of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) and the era of Hair Metal, but mostly I listened to the dinosaur rock bands of the previous decade; Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Deep Purple and its spin-offs and Hawkwind.

However there were two contemporary bands I was aware who were neither spandex wearing Glam Rockers nor older than I was; Guns 'n' Roses and Metallica. They are both still with us, and both have been candidates for Biggest Rock Band in the World at different times, but their career paths have been a little different.

Round One: 1987


Metallica formed in Los Angeles in 1981, one of several bands to emerge from the city's Hardcore Punk scene. However as I was eleven and living in Merseyside at the time I wasn't listening to too much Hardcore Punk at the time.

Guns 'n' Roses came along four years later, formed from the merger of two other bands.

Then in 1986 Metallica released Master of Puppets, probably the best Thrash Metal album of all time. All the songs are great, but it's the title track that sticks in the memory. It is seven minutes of head-banging that is scored like a symphony, and made Metallica a band that even people like me, who looked down on Thrash, admired. Few people usually read the lyrics of Thrash songs, but in Metallica's case it was worth making the effort, and the album includes songs inspired by H P Lovecraft's Shadow Over Innsmouth, Ken Kesey's One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest and, in the case of the title track, cocaine addiction.

Guns 'n' Roses in 1987
The next year though was when Guns 'n' Roses came out with one of the most amazing debut albums of all time, up there with The Doors and Never Mind The Bollocks. Appetite for Destruction doesn't have a bad track on it and three of the songs; Welcome to the Jungle, Paradise City and Sweet Child O'Mine are amongst the best Hard Rock numbers of all time.

They were initially considered too toxic for MTV. The station eventually agreed to play the Appetite for Destruction once, at four o'clock in the morning, but after fans jammed the TV station's switchboard afterwards to demand more they gave in and the band were on their way to fame. It was hard rock, but so popular they even got played in the trendy discos that girls went to, which was a bonus for me.

There was also controversy in the form of a robotic rapist in the front cover, which perhaps should have raised a few concerns amongst liberal listeners like me, but which we largely passed up at the time.

Metallica in 1986
Metallica always came across as bunch of ordinary blokes who, apart from now wearing better trainers, appeared to be completely unchanged from their days of playing dodgy clubs in LA. G'n'R by contrast were something else. Front man Axel Rose and lead guitarist Slash came from dysfunctional families and had difficult childhoods. Rose was forced to attend Pentecostal church eight times a week whilst Slash had to live in Stoke-on-Trent. A decade earlier they would have made prototypical punks.

At the time I dressed rather more like Metallica - at least until I discovered paisley shirts. However if I'd had a top hat and the guts to wear a man-skirt that's what I would have been doing, because without a doubt their look made them the coolest thing in the world in the eyes of seventeen year old me.

So it's a strong start for both bands, but on balance you'd have to say G'n'R take this, but only by a small margin. So lets put the scores at this point as:

Metallica 2 Guns 'n' Roses 3


Round Two: 1988


Liberals took a bit more notice the year after Appetite for Destruction though when G'n'R released their EP Guns 'n' Roses Lies. As well as the track Patience, which showed they were also the master of the Power ballad, it contained - against the advice of the rest of the band - Roses' song One In A Million in which he lets loose at a variety of things he hates, includes black people, immigrants and homosexuals. He also had a go at the police for good measure, but G'n'R were now sounding less like rebels and more like my parents.

Metallica meanwhile released And Justice For All. Not quite as good as Master of Puppets, it did contain One, a song about the First World War that manages to be both heavy and meaningful and is one of the best things they ever did. Lyrically the album dealt with themes on ecological destruction (Blackened), corruption (...And Justice For All) and discrimination (The Shortest Straw).

By this time I was running a rock disco at the university in Leicester which, thanks to a low admission price and cheap beer, attracted every rock fan in the city. It was still Paradise City and Sweet Child O'Mine that filled the dance floor, but Metallica had escaped from the Thrash Hour and were getting regular plays later in the evening. So this round is both a musical and moral victory for the Thrashers, a clear two-nil win. The aggregate score is now:

Metallica 4 Guns 'n' Roses 3


Round Three: 1991


Metallica were on a high. Along with Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeath they were one of the 'big four' of Thrash, but they were getting ready to transcend the genre that had spawned them.

Their fifth album, released in 1990, cost a million dollars and three marriages, but is one the greatest rock albums of all time. It was marketed in a jet black cover a la Spinal Tap and lacked an actual name, a la Led Zep IV.

Like Appetite, there wasn't a bad track on it. Of Wolf and Man is a classic Thrash track, Wherever I May Roam is a well constructed song by band that tours more than most and The Unforgiven is an angry song about the struggle to remain an individual in a repressive society. However the two songs that stand out are Enter Sandman and Nothing Else Matters. The first is a Thrash track with a rif so catchy and commercial it sounds made for MTV whilst the latter is their entry into the Power Ballad category and another candidate for The Best Thing They've Ever Done.

Guns 'n' Roses meanwhile came out with two albums released simultaneously; Use Your Illusion I and II. The albums certainly contained some of their best material. There were excellent cover versions of Live and Let Die and Knockin' On Heaven's Door, the surprisingly poignant anti-war song Civil War and You Could Be Mine ,which was used to great effect in the film Terminator II. Best of all there were two fantastic Power Ballads in Don't Cry and November Rain. The video to the latter was almost a major motion picture in itself, but it deserved the Hollywood treatment being, in my opinion, there best ever song.

However in between there was an awful lot of crap. An awful lot. G'n'R were seemingly incapable of telling the difference between a classic and something they should have left on the studio floor. At this time I was still listening to them on vinyl, so not only was I pissed off that I'd had to pay twice, but also because lifting the needle up when pissed was always a but dangerous so I had to listen to the shit songs to get to the good stuff.

Meanwhile drugs were starting to cause problems. Heroine had rendered Steven Adler almost unable to play the drums and so he was fired. Rhyme guitarist Izzy Stradin menawhile decided to clean himself up but then found he couldn't stand life in the band if he wasn't on drugs, and so he left too. Slash continued to take pretty much every substanced known to man whilst Axel continued to sneer and demand he actually listent to the lyrics of Mr Brownstone.

Mucially though in this Battle of the Bands less is definitely more, and so I award a two-one win to Metallica, making the scores:

Metallica 6 Guns 'n' Roses 4


Round Four: 1999


The paths of the two bands were now to cross literally. In August 1992 they collaborated on joint stadium tour. Nirvana had refused to be the warm up so Faith No More got the gig. Things went well until Montreal, when Metallica front man James Hetfield accidentally walked into a twelve foot pyrotechnic flame, suffering Third Degree burns, which cut the set short. Guns 'n' Roses came on earlier than planned, but the sound was off and Rose had a sore throat. Disgruntled fans took out their frustrations by rioting.

Both bands decided to follow up there last albums with sequels made up of cover versions. G'n'R managed to take songs such as Since I Don't Have You by The Skyliners and Ain't It Fun by the Dead Boys and rehash them so well they felt like original compositions. However they also decided to add as an unlisted 'Easter Egg' a cover of a Charles Manson song. Not only is the song pointless and tasteless, not to mention rubbish, the whole thing seemed like such a manufactured controversy that I suspected some music industry exec was behind it.

In fact it was all Axel Rose's doing and, like with One In A Million, he pissed of the rest of the band in the process. He also pissed off a lot of the fans with some pretty offensive language and behaviour on the stage, and relationships within the G'n'R fell apart.

The band did make another awesome cover version, this time of the Rolling Stones' Sympathy For The Devil for the film Interview With Vampire. A brilliant song brilliantly used in the film, as it meant they didn't need to ruin Interview by making The Vampire Lestatt. (Or maybe not...)

However things had now gone too far between Rose and Slash, and the latter quit. He was followed by a series of replacement axemen, including one who would only play with a KFC bucket on his head. 

Metallica meanwhile toured and toured. Their album Garage Inc was interesting rather than spectacular. But as it was in effect a tribute to the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal bands that had inspired them, they are to be thanked for remembering a genre that by this time was on its last legs. So for doing this, keeping going and not behaving like complete idiots, I award Metallica a one-nil win.

The scores now are:

Metallica 7 Guns 'n' Roses 4


Round Five: 2008


By 2008 Metallica had played virtually everywhere you can play, including our own Monsters of Rock festival four times, and have continued to release albums that, although not up to the best of their back catalogue, are still interesting.

Guns 'n' Roses meanwhile have been in the studio apparently since the last century with all sorts of rumours flying around about what the guitarist was up to. In fact a lot of the time we weren't even sure who actually was their guitarist. The resulting album, Chinese Democracy, must rank as one of the most over-produced and over-promoted in rock history. It's not rubbish, but it is totally forgettable.

One-nil to Metallica then.

Metallica 8 Guns 'n' Roses 4 


Round Six: 2014


2014 and Metallica play the Glastonbury Festival for the first time, inflicting Thrash classics on the various rich kids and slumming accountants that make up the Glasto audience these days. A whiff of controversy preceded them thanks to Hetfield narrating a documentary about bear shooting in Alaska. However as far as I'm concerned he could shoot unicorns, Metallica were deservedly the Biggest Rock Band in the World.

Guns 'n' Roses meanwhile, having lost every original member apart from Rose, started a residency at The Joint in Las Vegas. With Rose having let himself go a bit since the days he was married to supermodel Stephanie Seymour it seemed they were headed down the Elvis route to Living Legend status.

Rumours of a G'n'R reunion have continued for years, but apparently the main stumbling block is that Axel believes that after his last OD Slash's soul leftb his body and another soul replaced it. This other sould certainly appears to still be able to play th eguitar, but Axel only wants to play the first one.

I think I'd have to award this a two-one win to Metallica giving the final scores as:

Metallica 10 Guns 'n' Roses 5


A clear win but...

....if I wanted a Hard Rock/Metal song that could be played to a mainstream audience I'd go for Sweet Child O' Mine over Enter Sandman, if I wanted a Power Ballad I'd opt for November Rain over Nothing Else Matters and if I wanted to air guitar I'd go for Paradise City rather than Master of Puppets.

They may have gone from the Baddest Band in the World to one of the Saddest, but G'n'R will always have a special place in rock history, and my history.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Bad Capitalism: The Pacific Lumber Story


In January 2007 the venerable Pacific Lumber Corporation filed for bankruptcy.

Founded in 1863, the company had been engaged in battle with environmental campaigners for the last twenty years of its existence.

One eco-warrior had been killed by a falling tree, another maimed by a bomb and hundreds of others injured or arrested.

Yet in the end it wasn't the Greens who had seen off the venerable old company, but Wall Street. This is the dramatic, tragic and cautionary tale of what can happen to a company with high moral principles, but low profits, in the modern world.

The King of Trees

Photo Michael Nichols
Northern California is the land of the giant redwood. For 20 million years over 2 million acres of the coastline had been covered in Sequoiadendron giganteum, the tallest of all living creatures. Able grow to over 300 feet tall they can live for more than three thousand years.

But the United States of America has not had a good relationship with the tree. Well known to the American Indians, and noticed by at least two passing travellers, the first tree to be officially discovered by the White Man was chopped down before anyone was even sure there were any others.

They've been chopping them down ever since. The wood is hard and resistant to decay, but brittle and likely to shatter when fallen. As a result only half the wood cut usually made it to the mill. The tree grows slowly and in order to germinate the seeds need to dry in the sun. Unless regular wildfires cleared the vegetation beneath the trees there would be no new trees. After a century of clear-cutting and ill advised 'total fire suppression' by the National Park Service the redwoods that had covered the hills were seriously depleted. By the 1980s over 90% of the coastal redwood forest was gone.

A Sustainable Business

County of Humbolt Collection
But amongst the companies that were destroying the forest, one was different. The Pacific Lumber Company, abbreviated to PALCO or just PL, stood out from the crowd in both the way it treated the forest, and the way it treated its workers.

Under the leadership of Stanworth Murphy, president from 1931, they turned their backs on clear-cuts and adopted a plan of "selective cut". PALCO would fell just 70% of the redwoods in a stand, taking the older ones and leaving the vigorous young trees. In half a century these "residuals" would have regrown and the area could be logged again. Once the machinery had moved on from an area it was usually impossible for the untrained eye to tell which sections had been logged.

Partly this benign policy was the result of California giving tax breaks to companies that left part of the forest intact, partly it was smart politics for an industry that was politically unpopular, but in no small part it was down to the personal beliefs of Murphy, a keen huntsman and outdoors enthusiast.

Mr Murphy, as everyone called him, also set the pace of the cut. Even in the 1930s it was clear that the rate at which the the trees were being felled was not sustainable, so PL had a 100-year management plan. Each year their foresters calculated the sustainable yield from their forests and that was how much was taken, no matter what the market price of the timber.

There was no union in PL. They didn't need one. They paid better wages than any of the union shops as well as providing pensions, health insurance and employee stock plans. PALCO went through the Great Depression without laying off a single worker whilst their soup kitchens fed anyone who turned up. Once Murphy had employed a business adviser. On being told of the efficiency savings he could make he replied "I can't lay off those people. They're all my friends."

They were debt free, the company pension fund was over-funded and were diversifying into real estate and a successful welding business. Their profits were $44 million after tax on net sales of $280 million. This was less than many of their rivals, but enough to keep the company going.

On the other hand their sustainable cut policy not only preserved the redwood forest, but was increasingly looking like a good business plan. Whilst rivals were reduced to felling secondary and even tertiary growth, PALCO found itself sitting on the world's largest supply of mature redwood forest and had cornered the market in "uppers", flawless maroon-coloured boards that you only get from the heart of giant redwoods.

When Stanwood Murphy handed the reins over to his son Warren the company continued on its own way, providing steady employment and a forty hour week to its devoted employees. Today he might found a niche for himself on the Sustainable Business circuit, but in the corporate America of the 1980 he and PALCO appeared to be relics of another era. Their prudence meant PALCO were now sitting on $1.8 billion worth timber. Being asset rich but relatively cash poor would be good business sense in an ideal world, but in eighties America it could be fatal.

The Asset Stripper

Charles Hurwitz was the very model of the modern corporate raider, a real life Gordon Gecko but without the charisma. A slick salesman he would in due course tell the victims of his hostile takeover "There's a story about the golden rule. He who has the gold rules."

Hurwitz started off selling mutual funds before embarking on the predatory career that would eventually make him a billionaire, by taking over United Savings of Texas, the largest savings and loans company in the state, in 1982. More acquisitions funded by junk bonds followed until, in 1985, his Maxxam Inc had Pacific Lumber in his sights.

Hurwitz's co-conspirator was Michael Milken, 'the pope of junk bonds,' whose Drexel Burnham Lambert bank provided high-yield bonds to finance takeover bids. This was the first decade of Monetarism and thanks to dealers like Milken it was now possible a company to launch a hostile bid for another ten times its size. Supposedly liberalisation of the financial markets increased the efficiency of the economy.

PALCO was about to find out what "efficiency" meant.

Hostile Takeover

PALCO operations were centred on the town of Scotia. This was a Company Town, the last in America, but Scotia was nothing like the Grapes of Wrath.

Fashions in everything except pick-up trucks were years behind the rest of America and in this Redneck workers paradise it was considered a good laugh to call a German immigrant a Nazi.

When news of the possible takeover broke many residents were for getting their deer guns and bushwacking Hurwitz. One executive, passing the town's long suffering German, said "Better stoke up those ovens again, Hainie, we got us another Jew to burn."

Officially though PALCO was not for sale. A series of legal protections had been put in place in 1981 to safeguard the company. As the Board explained to the shareholders in a letter "Corporations have an obligation to society as a whole. In particular, companies charged with the stewardship of scarce resources such as timber have a duty to use such resources wisely."

But under Ronald Reagan Wall Street had gone takeover crazy and shareholder value was everything. Neither legal agreements, nor .30-06 bullets, nor casual racism was going to stop Maxxam Corporation. Using Drexel's junk bonds they were offering shareholders greater returns than if they stayed with the Murphy's. Refuse to sell and the company would face a legal challenge it couldn't win. The board folded and on 27 September 1985 Hurwitz bought Pacific Lumber with $800 million he didn't have.

Warren Murphy had resigned the previous day. PALCO was going to change.


Hurwitz was heavily in debt, but he had also just acquired nearly $2 billion in assets. To pay his debts those assets needed to be liquidised - quickly. The first thing Hurwitz did was raid the company pension fund. Half was stolen immediately, whilst the rest was invested in one of Drexel's junk bonds, the Executive Life Insurance Company.

Maxxam Inc now owned more giant redwoods than any other private company. Selective cutting was abandoned in favour of clear-cutting the forest. The cut rate was officially doubled. Unofficially in was believed to have been trebled, at least. The loggers' forty hour week was a thing of the past. Working for PL was not as much fun as it used to be.

Thousand year old trees started to topple at ever increasing pace and it was only a matter of time before someone noticed.


Greg King in All Species Grove c. Greg King
The forest that PALCO was hacking into was largely unknown to the outside world. Few people had the skills or the inclination to wander so far from the beaten track. One who did was Greg King, whose family had once logged the coastal hills.

Greg was working as a reporter for an alternative newspaper when he met Darryl Cherney, a former English teacher from New York who had quit his job to become an itinerant folk singer. He was now living in Garberville. Garberville was about thirteen miles from Scotia, but was a different world to the limber town.  In Garberville they didn't harvest trees, but marijuana.

Darryl's Dodge van had broken down on the way to tree planting so Greg gave him a lift. On the way they talked of the destruction PALCO was wrecking on the redwoods and planned what they were to do about it.

Earth First!

Darryl Cherney
The banner that Greg and Darryl decided to campaign under was Earth First! This radical environmental group had been inspired by the book The Monkey Wrench Gang by the US writer and wilderness lover Edward Abbey. Under the banner "No compromise in the Defence of Mother Earth" the group believed in using sabotage ("ecotage") to defend pristine wildernesses.

Avowedly non-hierachical, Earth First! had no leaders and no headquarters. Darryl had spent some time fruitlessly trying to meet up with the group before being told that if he wanted to attend an Earth First! meeting, the best thing he could do was call one.

This they did, calling themselves the Earth First! Redwood Action Team. Greg would scout out the forest, Darryl would organise the demos and the hippies of Garberville would make up the numbers. As 1986 turned into 1987 Earth First! started to get itself organised, and noticed. There tactics were to hold rallies and stunts whilst stopping the cut by carrying out 'tree sits' and blockades.

Greg bought PALCO shares and gatecrashed their 1987 AGM. Then he went hiking again. Pushing through ferns ten feet high and knee deep sorrel, he explored deep into PL territory. A logging road led him to a moonscape of devastation amongst the verdant foliage. His map revealed this was the area the loggers had called Timber Harvest Plan (THP) 86-199. The team had long ago decided that the first step to saving the forest was naming it so Greg decided the place should be called Headwaters.

Saving the rest of it from the loggers was to be his life's mission.


"Timber workers don't think about anything except surviving" said one of those loggers, who had already survived of the Vietnam War. In Humboldt County you were either a logger or a fisherman. With the fishing industry virtually wiped out it was an easy choice.

Surviving though wasn't guaranteed. The US Labor department listed logging as the most dangerous job in the USA, but PALCO expected its staff to work ten hours a day, six days a week. This was for a job were wages started at $9 an hour. $5 (allegedly) if you were Mexican.

The job for life was also becoming a thing of the past. PALCO was following the other timber companies in laying off its own woods crews and relying increasingly on"gypos", temporary contractors who bought their own equipment and who could be hired or fired on a whim.

But the loggers remained loyal to their employer and their community. Since the last union had been busted in the thirties they had nothing between them and management. If Maxxam said that Earth First! were costing them their jobs and their livelihoods, then the eco-warriors became their enemy.

In time many would come to look back with regret on what happened, but at the time Scotia was united in its opposition to the hippies trying to save the trees.


Woods in 2012
 But direct action wasn't the only way to do that.

Greg and Darryl had been working out of the Garberville based Environmental Protection Information Centre, which had been campaigning to save the redwoods for three years. However what made them an effective fighting force was when Darryl recruited Robert Sutherland, alias The Man Who Walks In The Woods, or just Woods.

Woods was eccentric, but brilliant. A self taught botanist, he had been drawn to Humboldt County after a mystical vision of the Indian god Shiva in a glen in the Kings Range, itself named after Greg's family. He lived in a house in the woods bequeathed to him by an equally eccentric Vietnam vet.

EPIC fought its battles in the courts, opposing PALCOs THPs one by one. This hadn't been done before, and soon Woods was pointing out the failings of the government agencies who were supposed to be regulating the logging industry, and winning victories.

EPIC were never to lose a court case, but they were limited in what they could do. In May 1989 Woods wrote to Hurwitz asking him to save Headwaters Forest. PALCO responded by applying to log the forest section by section, knowing EPIC couldn't fight thirty separate legal cases. In January 1990 EF! trespassers found PL had carved a one mile long road into the area.

The Redwood Action team would have to raise their game to save Headwaters.

Judi Bari

Judi Bari
The person who would show them how to do this was Judi Bari. Judi had organised campaigns against the Vietnam War whilst in college, and had been a union activist before joining Earth First! She was a single mother when she met Darryl in 1988. She played the fiddle, he played the guitar and they became partners in music, in campaigning and in life.

Judi challenged some of Earth First!'s more macho tendencies, and helped introduce class and gender issues into the group that had been unofficially known as 'Rednecks for Wilderness'. Actions shouldn't be in the middle of nowhere, she said, but where people can see them. Loggers shouldn't be regarded as the enemy, but as much victims of corporate greed as the forest as PALCO weren't just clear-cutting trees, but jobs.

With Judi on board the Redwood Action Team became more effective, but that would come at a cost. How high the cost was to be the trio did not yet know.


Greg King in Headwater c. Greg King
The locals of Scotia reacted to the actions of the hippies first with incredulity, then with disdain and finally with abuse. At first Greg and Darryl didn't mind too much. It all made good copy for the papers.

By 1989 though things were getting serious. Greg had already come back from a days hiking to find a message on his answering machine saying he would "die in the woods". Violence from loggers was common during blockades, as was the absence of a police response. On a protest outside a mill run by Pacific Lumber Greg had been punched to the ground. Dave Galitz, the company's Public Affairs Manager, offered to buy Greg's assailant dinner.

More seriously, in August 1989 Darryl, Judi, her best friend Pam Davis and the four children they had collectively were sat in her little Subaru when a logging truck doing about 45mph crashed into the back. The vehicle flew through the air and concertinaed against another vehicle. Fortunately nobody was seriously injured. When the driver of the truck got out he repeatedly said  "I'm sorry. I never saw the children." Later Judi and Darryl discovered he'd been part of a convoy they'd blockaded the previous day.

Death treats were coming through thick and fast, but that didn't stop Judi, Greg and Darryl organising the biggest protest they, or anyone else in Earth First!, had ever organised for the next year. It was to be called Redwood Summer and was to involve activists from all over the country. The plan was for the trio to lead the action. However that was not what happened.

Redwood Summer

Considerable planning went into the logistics of the event, but Judi was equally thorough in planning the politics. She persuaded Earth First! to renounce the tactic of tree spiking. Tree spiking involved driving nails into trees that were scheduled to be cut in the hope of deterring the loggers. The problem was if the trees were felled the nails exploded in saw mill. In a safe mill this only wrecked the saw blade but if safety precautions had been neglected, as had been in the mill in Elk, California in 1987, the result could be serious injury.

Judi also made everyone who turned up for Redwood Summer sign up to a code that read "We will use no violence, verbal or physical, towards any person; we will not damage any property; we will not bring firearms or other weapons to any action, or base camp."

Despite this the death threats continued. When a picture of her in the crosshairs of a gun was pinned to the door of the Mendocino Environment Centre at the start of May 1990 she asked the Mendocino County Sheriff's office to do something. The police said they didn't have the manpower to do so just then but "if you turn up dead, we'll investigate."

On 24 May Judi and Darryl were in Oakland, California on their way to a concert in Santa Cruz. At 11:55AM they were droving past Oakland High School when the car they were in exploded. Darryl blacked out. When he came round he was blind in one eye and his ears were ringing. Next to him Judi was screaming at the top of her lungs.

It looked like the police might have something to investigate after all.

The Bomb Squad

Within an hour of the blast FBI officers were on the scene. One of the first was Special Agent Frank Doyle of the Terrorist Squad. He was soon joined by fifteen of his colleagues. Less than a month earlier the team had all been in the woods of Humboldt County on a 'bombing training exercise'. During that summer school they had blown up three cars with pipe bombs, two with the bombs placed under the driver's seat.

Doyle, who had been to over 150 bombing crime scenes, looked at the wrecked Subaru and concluded that the bomb must have been in front of the back seat and hence clearly visible to Darryl and Judi. They were both immediately arrested for transporting illegal explosives, Judi whilst the Doctors were trying to save her life in the Oakland Hospital.

The press immediately started running stories about the Earth First! terrorists blown up by their own bomb.

The Third Casualty

c. Rev Greg Larson
Greg King heard about the bomb whilst addressing a gathering of the media in San Francisco. He told the journalists they should be covering not only the destruction of the redwoods, but the government crackdown on environmentalists. Two days later he attended a vigil for Darryl and Judi outside Oakland Police Station.

However the strain was now starting to take its toll. On the way home he became convinced the Earth First! activist giving him a lift was a government agent. Then, when he started the ignition of his own car, he feared it would detonate another bomb. Paranoia gripped him. A week later he returned to the forest but he knew he was done.

The lonely walks through enemy territory, the violence on the blockades, the death threats and the attack on his friends had drained his personal reservoir of courage dry. He would eventually return to activism, but for now it was time to take a break.

Jail Time

Redwood Summer carried on, but with the three leaders out of action, and the press labelling Earth First! as violent terrorists, it did not get the national coverage it deserved.

However just before the summer got going, the junk bond market collapsed. One of the first casualties was Drexel, which went bankrupt in February 1990. The Executive Life Insurance Company, where the PALCO pension pot was now invested, also took a major hit. It limped on until April 1991 before the authorities stepped in and seized control. It took $1.5 billion of public money to save the company in what was then the third largest bailout in US history.

By this time the 'pope of junk bonds' himself, Michael Milken, was starting a ten year jail term for fraud.

Not proven

But Judi and Darryl would not be following him into the slammer.

When pictures of the bombed car were eventually published they clearly showed the bomb had been directly under Judi's seat. It would also subsequently be revealed the bomb was hidden by a towel and triggered to explode when moved. The explosion was not an accident, but an attempt at murder. Agent Doyle was either wrong, or he had lied.

In July 1990 the charges against Darryl and Judi were quietly dropped, but no other suspects were ever charged.


Despite injuries that left her permanently disabled Judi Bari would return to activism. Tragically she died of breast cancer seven years later in 1997. By this time I was involved in supporting actions against logging in the USA on this side of the Atlantic. I was sure I would one day cross the pond and meet her. I am gutted that this never happened.

Rally in Carlotta 1997 c. Mark Bult
The campaign to save Headwaters Forest though continued. In 1995 a rally in Carlotta attracted 2000 people, the largest anti-logging action in US history. There were 265 arrests for civil disobediance.

The next year this record was beaten as more than 6000 people blockaded the main logging road into Headwaters and 1033 were arrested for symbolically trespassing on PALCO land. The protesters remained peaceful, as Judi wanted, although the police continued to use pepper spray and what was termed "pain compliance" to move them. Using cotton buds to put pepper spray directly into the eyes of locked-on protesters was a US speciality.

c. Mark Bult
But the outside world was finally starting to notice. Saving Headwaters became a minor part of Bill Clinton's campaign to get re-elected in 1996. The administration started to negotiate, but Hurwitz once again showed he was the master of the deal.

Headwaters could be saved, but it would cost the taxpayer $480 million. In return Hurwitz would drop his Fifth Amendment Takings Lawsuit against the government. Hurwitz was claiming that by enforcing the regulations on protecting endangered species the government was unlawfully seizing his private property. He was effectively suing the US government for upholding the law.

Two months before the vote to re-elect him, Clinton agreed the deal. 7472 acres of redwood forest became a nature reserve, but in return PALCO were to be given free reign in the other 200,000 acres they owned.

Death in the Forest

So actions to stop the redwoods being felled continued. In January 1998 Julia "Butterfly" Hill broke the record for a 'tree sit' when she climbed a 200 foot redwood called Luna and stayed there for two years.

David Chain
In September that year a group of Earth First! activists, including 24 year old David 'Gypsy' Chain confronted loggers within Headwaters. They were illegally felling trees in the nesting ground of the marbles murrelet, a seabird that flies inland once a year to lay just a single egg on the branches of a redwood.

52 year old logger Arlington Ammons lost his temper. Cursing that he didn't have his gun with him he vowed to aim a tree at Earth First! instead. The first half dozen missed and the group withdrew to eat lunch. Then Ammons felled a one hundred year old redwood, 135 feet high and three foot across at the base, without warning. It landed directly on Chain.

PALCO denied they had been reckless. The Humboldt County District Attorney refused to press charges against Ammons or PL but said he had thought about citing Earth First! for involuntary manslaughter.

Then in November 1998 Pacific Lumber made history again when they became the first logging company in California to lose its license. They had racking up over 300 violations of the Forest Practise Code in the previous three years.

Less than ten years later they went bankrupt.


PALCO got its license back in March the next year as part of the deal that finally brought the Headwaters Forest Reserve into existence.

This was an amazing achievement for the collection of misfits that made up Earth First! Making it up as they went along, and with almost no help from the big environmental groups, they had saved Headwaters at least, but the cost had been high.

The tree which killed David Chain still lies where it fell. There is a memorial there to the man who "always loved the outdoors and adventure (and) couldn't stop talking about the beauty of the redwoods." It was vandalised in 2007.

In 2002 a jury agreed that the FBI had violated Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney's civil rights and awarded their estates $4.1 million. Still no-one else has been charged in relation to the bombing, which remains unsolved.

In 2004 the City of Oakland declared 24 May as Judi Bari Day.

In the end Michael Milken served less than two years of his prison sentence. He and Hurwitz are now billionaires. However when you count the money spent bailing out Executive Life Insurance Company, buying Headwaters Forest and sorting out the rest of the mess they created then they have cost the US taxpayer far more than a billion dollars each.

Looking back on his days in charge at Pacific Lumber from 2006, Warren Murphy said "We were the good guys. It was fun, it was easy — it was a great life." He had run a prudent company that had been rich in natural, social and human capital. Over the next two decades he had had to watch almost all of it squandered in order to provide "shareholder value".

The Moral of the Story

The takeover of Pacific Lumber, funded by cheap money, proved disastrous for almost everyone except Milken and Hurwitz. PALCO went from a profitable company with a secure future to nothing. Employment in the logging industry in Scotia dropped from 1000 to just 300. The world's largest redwood mill now stands derelict.

Although the government stepped in and saved Headwaters, the area now protected is one tenth of that covered by Stanworth Murphy's 100-year-plan.

Whilst we do need the state to protect us from the worst of bad capitalism, rather more we need sustainable companies that take the future of the planet, their employees, and indeed themselves, seriously.

The Last Stand by David Harris
(This one is not totally accurate! "There is a lie weaved into every sentence" - Woods)
When Corporations Rule the World by David C Korten
"The last stand for headwaters forest" Do or Die #6
Green Backlash by Andrew Rowell
Timber Wars by Judi Bari
Death and anguish in the redwood wars San Francisco Examiner March 14 1999  
Violence, Archive, and Memory in the Making of the Redwood Imaginary by Richard Widick

Headwaters Forest Reserve website
The Judi Bari website
Who bombed Judi Bari? film website