“WWithout fields – without us. “Without us – there are no fields,” great nature author Tim D wrote in his 2013 book The Four Fields. He had a warning: “These acres of ground and growing that continue to tell our shared story are so common, so omnipresent, and so mundane that we — for the most part — have stopped thinking of them as anything but a substrate or background, a green crayon trail , can be seen at the bottom of each child’s drawing.
It is this myopia that Benjamin Myers explores in his thrilling and fascinating novel The Perfect Golden Circle, set in the long, hot summer of 1989. Thatcher, Apartheid, the Berlin Wall: Everything seemed solid at the time. In the West, history is made at night. The farmers woke up to discover their wheat fields decorated with crop circles and other mysterious rays. Was it a foreign work or a proto-Panxis?
According to Myers, the officials were not saboteurs. Redbone and Calvert are an odd couple; Their names may refer to T-shirt maker Savile Row, but the two are closer in spirit to centrifugal visionaries like KLF. Redbone is younger, has toured Europe with different bands and is popular with women; Calvert is taciturn, always wears sunglasses, suffers from PTSD, and served in the SAS during the Falklands War. Over a period of weeks, they trek through the English countryside in a ruined mobile home. Their goals: to create ever more dazzling patterns, to remain anonymous, not to get caught.
The fields are rarely quiet at night. Redbone and Calvert encounter “lamps” that wander in convertible jeeps, flashing headlights on badgers and rabbits before putting dogs on them. you meet people having sex in stadiums; Fly tipper gypsy warriors prizes. A ghostly old woman says she has been searching for her lost dog, Sebastian, almost every night since 1909; An angry aristocrat who turns out to be the son of the third richest landowner in the country.
Even the days are not idyllic. The country’s streets are teeming with bastards, charlatans and advisers. Crop Circles depict Fleet Street reporters, ophthalmologists, demonic exorcists, humiliating psychiatrist, and retired physicist telling passersby that they were created “by a vortex of electromagnetic, hydrodynamic plasma.” There’s also a great Cornish wizard, “a new age, a cappella lyrical group improvising work that will later appear on their album Lapsed Eden / Visions of Gaia, and many of the leading Greenpeace activists…Four Police Officers, Half a Dozen Dogs and Brian Eno.”
The novel begins ominously. The tale evokes wolves chasing shrunken cops and fields full of bones, “rotting in the depths of the rich earth of a unique cemetery called England.” Everywhere there are echoes of David Pace, Gordon Byrne, and Stéphane Barbier – writers who make the recent past a occult, hallucinatory. There are also ghosts from other, more politically tense fields from the 1980s: Goose Green, Orgreave, and the Battle of the Stonehenge Bean Field.
But the constant stream of banter lightens the mood. Redbone describes his new music direction as “extreme nonsense but with a heavy acid house influence”. Calvert replies, “So you don’t play reggae in country West Country anymore?” It’s easy to imagine Myers laughing as he came up with the names of some circles: Throstle Henge Asteroid necklace and Bracklebury Dodman could be the Aphex Twin Tracks.
Myers is not cynical. What is most remarkable about the perfect golden circle is the way it depicts time – its intensity, its mysteries, its continuity, the way it stretches and flows. Redbone knows that “there is Lower England, a Chononic place” where there are “many mysteries that transcend the bounds of the here and now.” He and a friend have revealed they belong to a lineage of humans that has charmed the fields for thousands of years. The cuckoo’s song is “a cry through the ages..a song of praise for the warm land.” It never rained this summer. Wheat fields “whisper their desperate thirst.” Calvert, a Tiresias animal, anticipates new viruses and disruption of food chains.
Dee argued that the fields show “how we live both in and against the grain of the world”. Trapped by Redbone and Calvert, they work the magic of that stubborn breed of English Shepherd with an interest in princely dangers and manicured landscapes. They exemplify a countertradition: the chaotic rustic anarchism directed explicitly in Jerusalem by Jess Butterworth or David Rudkin in Penda’s Fen, or by dissident art groups such as the English Heretic and Folklore Tapes.
For Redbone and Calvert, England is “a kingdom wholly owned by dream dissidents and rat-tailed revolutionaries, and open to all comers. All boundaries and demarcation, visible or not, exist only to burn.” The perfect golden circle It makes these eccentric misfits look like hooligans of Arcadia, contemporary folk heroes.