Month: February 2013

Frosty Morning

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Today’s photograph was taken at about 8.30, there was a frost and bright early morning sunlight coming through. It is a panoramic photo sweeping from the rough fields towards Reginald Mitchell Way in Sandyford.

It was a fantastic light and was picking up the frost on the dead grass and weeds, so I have included some more of the pictures I took walking across the field. Light is a hard thing to describe non-visually and cameras don’t pick up the light the eye sees. I am fairly pleased with these pictures as they convey something of the atmosphere of the morning, Turner would have painted it wonderfully. In some ways the interpretation of light through painting is much captures a morning like this much more satisfactorily than a camera; if of course you have the technique.

So I will have to do with these. Most of the pictures are exactly as taken, but a couple needed some manipulation to improve the feeling, just a boost in the depth of colour as the sun was flooding across the lens. These were all taken on my phone.  

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Discarded Art

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There was an article yesterday in The Observer about having workplace psychiatrists, as this has been put forward for Parliament. On the same day there was considerable criticism by IDS towards a graduate who had had benefits taken away because she wouldn’t work for free for a commercial company stacking shelves in a pound shop, rather than working as a volunteer in a museum where she may have helped people visiting rather than increasing profits. His criticism was that she probably felt shelf-stacking was beneath her.

After my degree I worked on the coke ovens at a steel works, delivered free newspapers, cleaned JCB’s. The menial jobs are fine and when you are paid properly for doing them, and  when you know they are for a short period to get over through a time and through your ‘education’ there is a light at the end of a tunnel and actually become part of your education. It is when they are your life that it becomes an issue. But these workers will almost certainly not have the benefits of a workplace psychiatrist to help them through the depression this sort of work causes.

Depression has no sense. It just comes, for me without any realisation it was happening. I was in a job I loved, I was reasonably well paid, I could plan my own time, go to and do things I wanted to. It first struck me hard when I was attending a week long writing course. I was looking into a thick black oil in my thoughts and could see nothing the other side. I did the most stupid thing and went and got drunk in a pub on my own. When I had realised what had happened I wrote about it, which helped, a piece I have lost and can’t rewrite. It then came and went, I began to recognise the signs, though didn’t see anyone about it. I didn’t feel at the time I had anyone to talk with. The only time I discussed it with my wife she just felt I was blaming her for something, a partner is probably not the best person to talk to as they begin by seeing your depression as a criticism of themselves, then feel hurt you have kept it to yourself, not easy. My very supportive Management Committee were spread all over the country and well I could have but didn’t talk. I wish I had had the services of a workplace psychiatrist.

When about ten years later I had gone through a long period of bouts of medium depression I went to the doctor. There was a set series of questions they asked and when I answered ‘yes’ to ‘have you had thoughts of suicide’, whichI had begun to feel was a quite normal thought process, they sent me for some support. The tablets they gave me I didn’t like as it felt they took over my life and for a short period I lost my creative abilities, I got off them asap!

Now I feel as if I have controlled it, I keep a record of how I am through two sets of questions they had asked me every week, I use Excel and when I see the graph rising know that I have to work on things. That has happened very little over the past four years.

I wrote a poem I completed in 2011 Six Trees, trying to express how it felt/feels, it is below, I allude to the wonderful Stevie Smith poem Not Waving but Drowning, though I cannot get close to her concise qualities.

Six Trees

Six black oaks in a circle
A circle around a cover of briar
A cover of briar sand brown in winter
Winter’s safe haven beneath a spiders web of branches
Branches energetic with rooks cawing to a silent world
A silent world that emerges cold green as the sun warms
Sun warms the rooks depart to feed in fields
Fields I know so well in which I am lost I am lost
I am lost in a place so familiar I cannot see the patterns
Patterns of grey stone walls flowers smells memories
Memories that offer a way out and captivity

Look
Look over there no not there over there a horseman
A horseman on the ridge galloping so swiftly
So swiftly he cannot maybe does not want to hear my cry
Hear my cry I plead to no one to nothing
Nothing I say is heard lost to the wind unheard
Unheard as even I am not listening
I am not listening to what the others say others say
Others say this is a magic place where I see no magic
No magic in nature only unyielding relentless growth
Growth which envelops the path

The fear of happiness
Happiness the starting point you know
Know from the inspection of your levels
Your levels of the unlevelled oil black ink black emptiness
Emptiness in which all thoughts intentions creativity melt
Melt like snow ice lard ice cream ghosts sugar in tea
Tea yes let’s have a cup of tea that always helps
Always helps to block out the reality of your knowledge your knowledge
Your knowledge that you don’t want this but it is inevitable
It is inevitable that a black block will put your life on hold
On hold unheld unholding working through another cycle

Today
I’m waving not drowning

Tim Diggles 2011

Today’s photograph is of discarded art in the backs near my flat, taken (after the dustmen have been) at 9.05am on a bright cloudy and cool day.

Paradise

Last night I watched Riot at the Rite on BBC4, a recreation of the first performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring as danced by The Ballet Russes, featuring the near riot, the difficulties both the musicians and dancers had with the music and the tension between Diaghilev and Nijinsky. Riot featured the whole ballet in costumes and set very close to the original, it is worth looking at contemporary photographs to see how close. With dance notation they are also able to follow the original choreography. It was fascinating and I felt well done, good to see dancers performing compared to that silly Black Swan film.

I’d seen a couple of performances of The Rite of Spring, one was with the same choreography but very different staging and costuming, the other was a quite wild version by a Canadian ballet company, both at Saddlers Wells. It is not a great favourite of mine but I can see why it changed so much in the arts at the time. It came out at a period of huge changes in all aspects of society, especially the arts. Picasso was painting works such as Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, with its angular broken up figures and African masks and faces (there was a nice touch where in Riot where Picasso was in the audience drawing a chicken!). New music and poetry were changing the soundscape of the avant-garde while experiments in pictorial composition changing ways of seeing. But this was for an elite, in many ways it could be argued that the influence on popular culture didn’t really come about for at least another 50 years.

The recreation of that first performance included the heckling and mocking of the performance, the near riot situation, something we now find hard to fathom. Perhaps the reaction of the good citizens of Caerphilly to the performance by The Sex Pistols is the closest we come! My father told me that he attended the British premier of Ravel’s Bolero at the Royal Albert Hall and throughout the performance members of the audience were heckling and whistling, nowadays it seems a very tame piece!

I only ever booed once at a theatre performance, not during the play and not at the actors but at the director Calixto Bieito when he came on. That was at a performance of Hamlet in Edinburgh by the Birmingham Rep. It was as if a bunch of ‘too clever’ sixth formers had looked in bits at the play, interpreted it, then not drawn all the pieces together back to a coherent play. It all took place in a night club and began with Claudius coming on singing He ain’t heavy, he was my brother…; later the wonderful ‘To be or not to be…’ speech was performed as a TV chat show, and there were even worse bits including live ‘rape’ which luckily have been erased from my memory. The usually three hour plus play was cut to about 1hr 20minutes. So I booed and got looked and frowned at by many others. I was annoyed not just at the stupidity of the production, but also because I knew that this would often be the only performance others would see of what is a magnificent play, it’s like only ever seeing a pub five-a-side team play football, when you could watch Port Vale! Luckily I’ve been to 6 Hamlet’s in the theatre, and there was only one other really bad one by Northern Broadsides. I don’t object to interpretations of Shakespeare and have seen some fantastic plays, but this, it felt like they were scared of the text.

I also booed at Roy Harper in about 1972. It was an expensive ticket at The Victoria Hall in Hanley. He was due on at 8.30pm. He came on stage around 9.45, mumbled a bit, started two songs he didn’t finish, mumbled about what a great time he’d had in the dressing room, fell of his stool, then shambled off, not to be seen again! Lots of people were saying things like ‘hey man that’s a genuine guy’ and things like that. I got escorted through the doors by a policeman for booing and shouting that I wanted my money back! I got rid of the two albums I had of his the next day.

I should have booed at Ginger Baker’s Army in the same venue and I think same year, they also couldn’t finish anything, the band just kept falling to bits, I just left instead!

Today’s photographs are of The Paradise in Paradise Street, Tunstall. The pub goes back around 150 years and has always been one of my favourites. The very interesting sign goes a very long way back, and looks like a set for The Rite of Spring! Taken at 10am on a chilly/mild bright day.

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Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of one of my favourite films opening, Fellini’s 8½. To some like me it is a near perfect work of genius, others think it excessive, presumptuous and self-indulgent. It was greatly criticised by feminists for the scene where Guido in a dream tames all the women in his life like a lion tamer. The film is a critique of film making and the breakdown of a creative person who is haunted by his past with no thought for the future. I love it.

It was made in black and white and would have lost almost all its power in colour. It has an amazing Nino Rota score, mixes surrealism with an everyday realism. It is also probably the only Italian film quoted in Steptoe and Son, when young Steptoe is trying to better himself (and of course impress a woman) by going to a foreign film, and old Steptoe pulls him down from his pedestal.

I first saw it on the invaluable BBC2 World Cinema series around 1971, which introduced me to so many films otherwise unavailable in a place like Stoke-on-Trent. For so many people that was an important part of their ‘education’. It is hard now to imagine how hard it was to see such films outside London and just a few cinemas around the country. Now we can find almost everything online or on DVD, then if you missed it, you missed it! There were not the repeats BBC4 has and no way of recording. I loved it then but when I eventually got to see it on a cinema screen then it really ‘blew my mind’.

50 years feels a very long time and is. The Fellini films stand the test of time, they are very much of their period, La Dolce Vita is the signature film of the early 60’s mentality, but because they are so good and so powerful still have a power few other films do. The final scene of 8½ would now be made with lots of cgi, but the fantastical realism Fellini used through actually making the scene means it works so much better.Image

The film ends with my favourite scene where Guido is at one with his breakdown and all the people from his past (priests, wives, lovers, mother) come together and dance in a circle around the film set to a wonderful music tune, then as the screen fades it shows one of my favourite quotes, (I ended Underpainting quoting it) – “Any artist worthy of his calling should make one vow: to learn how to be silent”.

If you’ve never seen it, please see it and you are so lucky to have such a great treat in store!

Today’s photograph is looking from Jacqueline Street towards Burslem into the sun on a bright breezy sometimes cool sometimes mild day at about 11.20.

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Point of view

Last night’s Renegade Writers meeting highlighted the difficulty of point of view (pov). One of the new members had written a very effective piece about a mother being taken away to a mental institution in what felt like the 1960’s, and the reaction of her 5 year old daughter, then the changes in her over a number of years until she was her mothers’ carer. The problem with it was it jumps from one pov to another. He wrote some really fine and moving passages, which I think we all appreciated.

POV is difficult to master. If you write first person then there are passages you want to include which show what another person is thinking, or action away from the readers’ viewpoint. There is also another issue which I started to bring up but Misha intervened to stop me complicating things even further for the poor man! That is not just whose viewpoint are you writing from, but from what time is it written. Are you living through the events with the characters in real-time; are you looking back and in what circumstance; is the narrator’s situation important to the story?

If the story is told looking back after the event (past tense) how does that effect what maybe life threatening situations, the reader knows you survive! If maybe written from a prison cell the reader knows you’ve been caught! It’s difficult isn’t it!

In The Tin Drum, Grass writes the pov from his ‘hero’ Oskar’s situation much later on when the he is now living in some form of institution, so the narrator can make comments on his past, and of his life in the institution which becomes part of the narrative, there is interaction with a guard, short descriptions of his life there. In his book Too Far Afield, Grass uses more than one narrator from a government department giving reported conversations during regular meetings with the two, linked through time, characters Theo (known as Fonty) and his constant shadow Ludwig, and we hear about the disintegration of their world when the Berlin Wall falls, in Fonty’s fight to save a paternoster lift inside what was once the Nazi Air Ministry. It is a highly complex novel and required me to stop after about 200 pages and read novels by the 19th Century German novelist Fontaine to make any sense of it!

Of course such complicated pov is not for a beginner. I was saying on my way home from Renegades how in effective novels you don’t actually notice the pov. Choosing a pov is probably one of the initial actions when writing. In my first big piece of writing, Underpainting, by default I chose to tell a story from an omnipotent viewpoint, I wrote characters’ thoughts, dreams, saw things from fly on the wall, looked back, wrote phone conversations from both sides. It could be said like watching a film, and that was a criticism many years ago, that it wasn’t literature but an extended film script! It probably is.

Today’s photograph is of the rear of my flat which is being cladded to improve the warmth as part of a government scheme for areas of deprivation. They have done inside at the front and will soon do the side. It was taken at 9.30 on a mildish getting brighter day.

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A little hard copy now and then…

I was reading Karl Hyde’s quite mesmeric daily online diary (http://www.karlhyde.com/) which he has kept with a new image since 2000 and found this – I have so much in my life that’s virtual it’s important that I have a little hard copy now & then.

It was a response to being offered a virtual receipt in a shop, but I feel it is a highly profound statement, especially where books are concerned and for many music. I could not ‘live’ now without my PC, I started using the things in 1989. I have always seen them as a tool and never had a great love for them, but they have organised things for me because I am an awful physical filer, my office used to be a series of piles of papers with empty filing cabinets; my writing is awful so at least notes and letters were now readable; I was awful when doing handwritten accounts and spreadsheets were clear and added up properly.

Now, living for 98% of the time on my own I have people to ‘talk’ to, articles to read, music to listen to, films to watch, things to fully waste my time, and a machine to write on and importantly research on. However, it does feel nice to pick up a book, a CD/DVD and isn’t it odd how hard it is to edit/correct on screen, even though printing out, making the notes then doing the work is twice the work. I wonder why that is? Is it a perceptual thing, should we use a coloured background on screen? When people have difficulty reading they often need a ‘pastel’ paper or background, I’ll have to try it, or is it that we naturally scan the page because of the unnatural distance the computer screen is from our eyes. In 1992 when I really began to work intensely onscreen I found I was getting very bad headaches, screens of course were not as subtle and much smaller. I went to the optician who found that my right eye was compensating by missing the screen altogether, so I had a pair of glasses which moved it leftwards, for a while it was quite painful as the muscle fought against it!

PC’s are a pain but we would find it hard to go back to not having them. For a couple of years I didn’t have one at home and every day walked to the library to use one there. You could only have a period of two hours per day, so writing had to be quite intense and I didn’t wander off onto interesting sites! What was annoying was that 10pm moment when you wanted to get down what you’d been mulling over, I often tried writing it down, not only did I get hand/arm/wrist ache I usually couldn’t read what I’d written when it came to transcribing it the next day!

Karl is releasing his first solo album soon after three decades with Underworld and I have an interview planned for this blog around the time of release.

Today’s photograph taken at 9.10am on a bitterly cold day looking like snow, in the backs near my flat.

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