Today is DH Lawrence’s birthday and I intended on celebrating it by going for a stomp across the country of his heart with other members of the DH Lawrence Society. Bert loved to organise walking parties. His childhood friend Jessie Chambers wrote in her memoir DH Lawrence: A Personal Record (1935) that “Lawrence was always the originator and leader” of these “explorations of the countryside.” To celebrate this aspect of his personality a 6 mile circular walk had been arranged as part of the annual DH Lawrence festival to visit the ruined, 13th century Codnor Castle, once the administrative heart of much of the local area and home, for nearly 300 years, of generations of the De Grey family, who were local dignitaries and trusted lieutenants of successive kings of England.
We know Bert visited the castle thanks to a letter to Blanche Jennings on 30 July 1908: “Wednesday we shall walk to Codnor Castle – we shall be out all day.” I was hoping to be out all day as well. In order to achieve this I had to be at The Lion in Brinsley for 11am. Lawrence’s father Arthur was born in Brinsley at 50 Mansfield Road. He worked at the local colliery which was opened in 1842 and closed in 1934. An accident in 1880 would take the life of Bert’s Uncle James. To get to Brinsley from my house takes about 25 minutes. I gave myself 20 minutes because I like a challenge.
What I hadn’t taken into consideration was the roadworks at the end of my street, the new 20mph speeding restrictions in built up areas, and the sheer volume of traffic on the roads. If you want to know anything about humanity, jump in a car. You’ll witness every gamut of human emotion. Today it was absolute hatred. I wasn’t the only one in a rush and nobody was prepared to budge. Lawrence wasn’t a fan of modernity and I suspect he wouldn’t be sympathetic to the plight of someone trapped in a mechanical horse frantically trying to undercut anyone and everyone on a futile quest to meet an unachievable deadline.
When I finally made it onto the A610 I put my foot down, ignoring the 50mph signs and cranking it up to 70. But there were others in a bigger rush than me, zooming past at 80 and 90 mph. I imagined that they too were rushing to The Lion, desperate to take in some of the Eastwood countryside, perhaps wondering why Lawrence disguised Brinsley pit as ‘Beggarlee’ in Sons and Lovers despite there being a nearby former pit also called Beggarlee. By the time I reached my destination it was 11.15am. There was nobody around. I’d missed the walk. I probably had a speeding ticket.
Undeterred I legged it down Hall Lane and headed to the nearest field where it was signposted Old Brinsley. Given that the average age of membership at the DH Lawrence Society is 70 I niavely presumed I would be able to catch them up. I couldn’t see anyone on the horizon but I carried on. I could hear Lawrence shouting at the QB in my head, as he does in Sea and Sardinia, and vowed to be a better planner in the future. If Lawrence could make it to Ceylon, Australia, and New Mexico, I could catch up with a group of septuagenarians. However, what I hadn’t take into consideration was the cows.
My shouting and swearing attracted the attention of a herd of cows who began to chunter over from an adjacent field. They probably thought I was the farmer rather than a disorganised reader who simply wanted to recite bits of Sons and Lovers at relevant locations on a 6 mile circular walk. Then a few of them began to pick up pace. Some ran into each other. A very excited cow kicked out its legs like it was a rodeo bull. Perhaps it was a bull? I dropped my head and looked for the under carriage. No, it was definitely a cow. But a very excitable cow. Then the whole herd started to run at me. There must have been about sixty but I didn’t have time to count. I made it to a bush towards the end of the field and started to shout at them to go away. They surrounded me. Mooing and staring like they wanted a fight. I tried to walk away calmly, but they followed, less calmly. Then one at the back panicked and began to run which set off the others. I legged it to a nearby tree and clambered up, waving my copy of Sons of Lovers at them, telling them to fuck off so that I could continue my quest to find the septuagenarians. But they were having none of it. They wanted me dead. I could see it in their “wicked eyes.” My fear dissipated for a moment as I tried to figure out what tree I had climbed up. Lawrence could name every flower, plant and tree. I didn’t have a clue what tree it was. I just knew it was prickly and my hands were bleeding.
As I stared at the cows and the cows stared at me I thought of Birkin in Women in Love when he tells Ursula he wants their connection to be founded on something beyond love, “where there is no speech, and no terms of agreement.” This was definitely a moment of no speech and no terms of agreement. Just a lot of stamping and mooing. This is the wrong book I screamed, waving my copy of Sons and Lovers. FFS! This isn’t Women in Love.
In chapter 14 of Women in Love Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen are invited to the colliery owners annual water party. They decided to escape and borrow a canoe off of Birkin and row off to a secluded island to have their own private gathering. They strip off, have a swim in the sunshine, and end up singing and dancing in front of a herd of Highland cattle. The merriment ends when Gerald Birkin turns up and shouts at the cattle who quickly disperse.
I consider taking my clothes off but decide against it. I’m not giving in to these moody cows. What I need is a Birkin or else I’m going to be stuck up this tree forever. It is at this point that I spot a man in wellies casually mowing his lawn in a garden on the edge of the field. He has to be the farmer. He looks like a farmer. I scream and wave at him from my tree. Eventually he looks up. Too casual for my liking, but at least I have his attention. He has just clicked that it isn’t my intention to hide up a tree with a copy of Sons and Lovers, screaming my head off at a bunch of cows. You ok? he shouts across. Of course I’m not fucking ok. These cows want me dead. Do you want some help? Of course I want some fucking help. He climbs over his fence and casually walks over, clapping his hands at the cows who immediately disperse. I jump down from the tree and immediately want to give him a big cuddle. I decide against it. I’ve made a lot of bad decisions today and it isn’t even noon yet.
He asks if I’d like to be escorted out of the field and I say yes, of course I want to be escorted out of the field. I consider giving him my copy of Sons and Lovers but decide against it as I’ve highlighted my favourite quotes. I tell him it’s DH Lawrence’s birthday today and he nods his head. I don’t elaborate further. I get back to my car and smoke three cigarettes on the bounce and then speed out of Grinsley and Eastwood as fast as I can.
I’m in such a rage that I decide to pull over to call my GF. She’s more of a hornet than a Queen Bee, and delighted by my misfortune. I am always scalding the GF for her poor time management so she revelles in mine. Rightly so. She’ll store this day forever. She’ll never forget it. September 11th will forever be cowgate. Rather than DHL’S birthday. Or the date when two planes flew into the twin towers.
As I head back on the A610 I clock the blue and yellow hell that is Ikea on the outskirts of Eastwood. Lawrence wasn’t a man for flat-packed philosophies but he did love his DIY. I park up in the industrial estate and head to Starbucks, which is where I’m writing now. Two coffees to the good and some more fags and I’m feeling a bit better.
Although I missed the walk I do feel as if I’ve celebrated elements of Lawrence’s personality on his birthday. He hated the herd mentality, despising any group that attempted to force its will upon him. He hated the dehumanising effects of industrialisation and how this slowly removed man from nature. The cows were a curt reminder that nature still has some fight left in it. He couldn’t get out of Eastwood fast enough and this led him across the world in search of Rananim. I’ve driven at 70mph to Starbucks, settling for a cappuccino rather than a utopian community of like-minded people. And I am in such a rage I’m scaring the couple next to me with the thud of my keyboard. Lawrence also fictionalised his experiences to create content for his books. A lot of the time this included vignettes of close friends and local families. Jesse Chambers never forgave Lawrence for his portrayal of her as Miriam in Sons and Lovers. This blog is my version of this process. My GF will go mad when she finds out I’ve described her as a hornet. And then she’ll just moo at me or something similar.
Later that evening I drive back to Eastwood for the Lawrence birthday lecture. I tune into BBC Radio 4 and the first story reports there’s been an increase in tuberculosis in cows. To stop this spreading 33,500 badegrs will be culled this Autumn. Lawrence died of tuberculosis. I discover at the birthday lecture that the topic is The Art of Living. It’s a fascinating talk by Jeff Wallace, exploring the impact of Lawrence’s health on his writing. Perhaps the cows were trying to tell me something. Instead of running I should have listened.
Happy birthday, Bert. I miss you.