The Pinch

Briony Greenhill
5 min readJun 9, 2022


Picture from Guardian article about land reform and the Who Owns England? book

Everyone seems to be feeling the pinch.

My sweetie is feeling the pinch. He wants to grow into his soul work, but putting down his screen job, which he calls “data mining”, is scary.

Did his ancestors, miners, feel the pinch? Keep going in jobs that didn’t serve them, for fear of what might replace them if they didn’t do it?

Folks I sing with are feeling the pinch. R, a manager at a solar power company, choir leader and artist, reports lying in bed peacefully on a Sunday morning, until the thought of money lands in his diaphragm like a spear.

Everyone in the circle had woken up that morning with money worries.

Sovereign had chronic money worries, explains their father, who emailed me this morning.

* * *

Some revealing quotes in Soil and Soul by Alastair McIntosh, p94:

Quote from 1815, Patrick Sellar, a lawyer:

“Lord and Lady Stafford were pleased humanely, to order a new arrangement of this Country. That the interior should be possessed by Cheviot [sheep] Shepherds and the people brought down to the coast and placed there in lots under the size of three arable acres, sufficient for the maintenance of an industrious family, but pinched enough to cause them turn their attention to the fishing [i.e. waged labour]. I presume to say that the proprietors humanely ordered this arrangement, because it surely was a most benevolent action, to put these barbarous hordes into a position where they could better associate together, apply to industry, educate their children, and advance in civilisation.” (my italics)

1912, Kenya — Lord Delamere:
“If… every native is to be a landholder of a sufficient area on which to establish himself, then the question of obtaining a satisfactory labour supply will never be settled.”

1960, J.L. Sadie in the Economic Journal:
“Economic development of an underdeveloped people by themselves is not compatible with the maintenance of thier traditional customs and mores. A break with the latter is prerequsite to economic progress. What is needed is a revolution in the totality of social, cultural and religious institutions and habits, and thus in their psychological attitude, their philosophy and way of life. What is, therefore, required amounts in reality to social disorganisation. Unhappiness and discontentment in the sense of wanting more than is obtainable at any moment is to be generated. The suffering and dislocation that may be caused in the process may be objectionable, but it appears to be the price that has to be paid for economic development: the condition of economic progress.”

“Oh wouldn’t you like, 3 acres and a cow. You can make your cheese and butter when you get a cow” — runs the old folk song that the eponymous theatre show is named after. The song comes from a time in British history where 3 acres and a cow is what you’re aiming for in life. It’s land sufficient to support a family.

That in 1815, lawyers trying to manage economic development were explicitly aiming that each family should have less than 3 acres, to “be sufficiently pinched to turn towards the wage labour” — was someone’s plan. It worked.

We’re many of us sufficiently pinched now.

Squeeze me.

And. Jubilee. The bells ring out and out and out, for hours on end, across town. We shut all the windows and doors on those warm June days. What do the bells say? You are British, celebrate our Queen, this is your nation, this is your Queen, celebrate her Jubilee. Excuse me? Celebrate one of the richest women in the land, in an over- and under-privileging system in which 30% of children live in poverty — in the 5th richest nation on the planet — and 70% of our land is owned by 1% of the population?

I post something to this end on Facebook. The 70% stat is from the film We The Uncivilised by Lily and Pete Sequoia. Zoë River Phoenix replies, “Actually I think that it may be more like 92% of land owned by the 1% (the law of trespass speaks to this).”

So. Hierarchy. Power. Power over. Land ownership. Access to land. Wage labour. Wage slaves. Play along or rot on the street. A system of power, laws, ownership models, legal and financial structures, all kinds of pieces of this system run like a system of veins through our country (not to mention world) and keep things as they are.

That vein system was constructed by humans organising themselves around power.

What if we organise ourselves around power. And differently.

We need land reform.

We need land reform.

We need land reform.

And how? The structural violence that is now normalised into “how things are” today has an explicitly violent history. After the Norman invasion in 1066, William the Conqueror declared himself the sole owner of all the land, animals and people of Britain. He enslaved the nation. He parcelled up the land to his leading warriors as thank you presents; they become the lords, everyone else the serfs, and off we went with Feudalism and a land ownership picture that persists to this day.

The lord-serf relation is echoed in owner-renter. Collaborative, stakeholder ownership models are different, better, more power-with than power-over.

The book Caliban and the Witch gives various accounts of what happened in the centuries following this invasion; a dominance paradigm that was echoed to various degrees in many European nations. To summarise…. “one day in Flanders 26,000 cotton workers had an uprising. The uprising was quenched and leaders were hung.” “The levellers…. uprising was quenched and the leaders were hung.” “One day in Northern Britain people organised into an uprising… it was quenched and leaders were hung.” Reading the book you get a sense of this rhythm of every century or two, people have another go at throwing off the oppressor. The oppressor has more power, quenches the uprising, hangs the leaders, and things carry on.

To 2022.

How do we hold this.

As we try and make our lives, and our homes, and our families, in situations of sometimes crushing economic stress in the UK.

Marshall Rosenburg, the creator of Non-Violent Communication, points to this 8000 year old construction of good and evil.

His first recommendation, I think it’s accurate to say, would be: don’t create an us-and-them mentality of good guys and the enemy.

War makes war.

War mentality provokes warring response. And the ones with more weapons and bigger army win.

“Or I will attack… and you don’t want that.” (World Power, Snap, 1990)

So. What is a peace way. What is a power-with way, to turn a monumental, very old system, into something healthier for everyone.

Something healthier for everyone.

Is what is needed.



Briony Greenhill

Briony Greenhill is a folk-soul improvisational artist who teaches Collaborative Vocal Improvisation (CVI); formerly a researcher with a 1st in politics.