Month: July 2013

Whirleybirds

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Last night I watched Before Sunrise, it was the first time I’d seen it, as it was made in 1995 it had taken some time to get round to watching it. I enjoyed it, I liked the format and the fact that it was the first of a series about the same characters. It didn’t have the quality of the Antoine Doinel series by Truffaut, but then I would say that wouldn’t I. 

It didn’t feel 18 years old until I realised that neither character, or any of the others, were carrying phones, tablets or laptops. It immediately dated it. The angst the characters had about keeping in touch would not have happened now. To me, aged 59, 1995 doesn’t seem that long ago, but in terms of personal communications it is another age. I didn’t get a mobile until 1997, a big Nokia phone that I hardly used. I was certainly not using the internet to any extent as it was dial-up and very slow and things like Facebook were not invented.

It is odd how quickly the change has happened. When I was little we had a TV which only picked up BBC, I remember we went to a friend’s house to watch Richard Greene in Robin Hood every week and were desperate to see Chuck and P.T. in Whirleybirds! We also have to remember that it was only in the mid 1980’s that we had a fourth channel available. Now we have so many channels and there’s hardly anything worth seeing!

I began a novel in 1994 it is called Underpainting. It wasn’t completed until 2007. I wondered whether to update it, for instance there was a ‘scene’ where one of the dual main characters cannot get in touch with anyone whilst travelling on a train, as the train’s payphone keeps cutting out. That now feels like the stoneage. But it added to the tension he was feeling. I am wondering whether to start putting a chapter every couple of weeks on this blog, get ion touch with me if anyone is interested.

I enjoyed Before Sunrise, I quite enjoyed being annoyed by the character Ethan Hawke played who firstly needed a shave and would have been better drowned in the Danube. I’m sure Julie Delpy could have found another more interesting lover, a young Tim Diggles would have suited her well who would have understood her take on Seurat! I look forward to seeing the other two films.

Today’s photograph is a bit more tree bark, creating maps and abstract shapes. Taken on a cloudy summer’s day with sun emerging dappling then disappearing, just waiting for some more showers.

 

Don’t shoot into the sun…

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The photographs today were taken yesterday evening at around 9.15pm. The sun was low in the NNW and giving a golden warm light onto the overgrown grasses and flowers in the local park. Most shots are into the sun, something we were always taught NOT to do! Oskar was pulling hard at me so as many were blurred as sharp. I’ve tried to capture something of the feeling and complexity.

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Waiting…

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This photograph was taken while I was waiting for my bus from Renegade Writers last night, about 9.45pm. The bus was 20 minutes late, which meant I missed my connection and waited watching overheated people at Hanley Bus Station. I was however treated to a wonderful blue in the sky while I was waiting in Hartshill and time to ponder what had been discussed at the group. Summer’s ok for waiting and late buses… sometimes.

 

‘Making life richer… for the pourer’

Today’s photographs on a warm clouding over day, some would say hot, are of the truck from Bargain Booze delivering to the shop on the opposite corner of my street. It’s 9.30am, they used to deliver at about 5.30am, an event which certainly woke me up as it happens about 10 yards from my bed! On the side of the truck there is an ironic pun on what they do – ‘Making life richer… for the pourer’.

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This statement could make a blog in itself as Bargain Booze’s shops are mainly in some of the poorest districts in the UK where alcohol is a health and poverty issue. But that is not what I am talking about, maybe not on the surface.

Having the shop there offers a constant trickle of people walking past my window where I write, from 5am when it opens to 9pm when it closes. The main ones I notice are the all-day drinkers living in the streets nearby.

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A deep red-faced couple come about four times a day, they have already been today. He usually has a four can pack of extra strong lager, she a large bottle of cheap white cider. She quite often has bruises on her face, he plasters. There is an elderly man who parks at about 10.30am on Tuesdays, buys a bottle of whisky, then sitting in the car pours that into a flask, takes a few long drinks from it, sleeps for about ninety minutes and drives off. There are two women around 30 who most days drop off their kids at the local school, then go and buy a few cans of lager or cider, which they replenish around lunchtime and go together for the kids at 3pm.

Am I nosey? Prying into people’s privacy? Perhaps.

It’s hard not to see, the room I write in has a window overlooking the shop door, it is part of being an artist or writer to notice things, patterns, sounds. They offer imagined stories. I’m not anti-alcohol, far from it, I love a good red wine or dark beer, but I don’t drink in the day or on my own. I don’t need to find somewhere else for my mind to be or to stimulate it. Others do, I have no problem with that, things happen.

For some reason in the bath I was thinking about a photograph I have on my Pinterest board, Photography. It is by August Sander, of three young men, country people, dressed in their best suits on their way to town for a night out. A fine photograph, but not particularly remarkable. It was used by John Berger in one of his wonderful books on photography (his remarkable Ways of Seeing, a series of TV programmes and book had a great effect on me in the early 70’s). He analysed the picture in many ways, but one of his main issues was it’s historical importance. It was taken in Austria-Hungary in 1913. A year later the young men 18/19 would almost certainly be involved in the First World War, very likely dead. Here they are smiling, expectant of a good night out, totally unaware of what is just over the horizon. We know because of where we stand, both through the photographer and our place in history, yet we are unknowing of that same horizon in our lives. Berger’s ways of looking beyond the surface have helped me through my life.

That’s what photography, art, looking, can do.

1976

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Yesterday evening I went for a walk with Oskar at about 10.45pm, I looked at the temperature and it was still nearly 25C (77F). Next week it will probably be going above 35C. This has been going on for a few weeks and looks like continuing, lovely, but not really British.

It reminds me of 1976. During my degree show in Cardiff the heat began and got hotter and hotter until a dramatic brak in the weather at the end of August. I moved to an upstairs flat in Riverside, Cardiff overlooking The Taff and Cardiff Arms Park, as the summer went on the river totally dried up even though at that time it was tidal. It had been a dry winter and spring and within a few weeks there was a drought, we only got water for a couple of hours a day! South Wales and the South West were probably hit the hardest, I remember going to my parents who had moved to an old mill house in mid Wales and there were no problems with water at all.

I found the transition from 6 years at art college to ‘reality’ quite hard, but being in Cardiff was the best place as there was a busy art life which I began to become a part of. It was this time I read Mann’s The Magic Mountain which cooled my brain in the scorching heat taking me to the high Alps!

These hot summers are memorable, once in a generation. Our houses are not really built for heat, more to keep us warm. I am finding it hard to take photographs, rather like the period earlier this year when we had weeks of snow. The light is so strong and it is boring!

Yesterday I updated my printable booklet of poetry Gathering Grief, adding a piece that was published earlier this year in The Centrifugal Eye and adding some pictures that I had had in mind, so please either follow the link at the top or through here (Poetry) , I’d love to hear what some of you think!

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I have featured one of my father’s watercolours (above) which he did every holiday, this of Telegraph Hill, Llysfaen in North Wales, painted in 1961.

Being lazy ,today’s photograph is of the strawberry plant in my rubble patch which I featured before and attached itself to the wall. It is now ‘burning’ off in the hot sun, the colours are quite wonderful. This was taken at 10.55am very hot and pure blue sky, the temperature already 27C in the shade and a very hot dog is trying to find somewhere cooler!

The Undiscovered Country

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I have noticed that over the past couple of years I have not bothered finishing books, the endings don’t matter to me. There have been some exceptions for instance John Burnside’s A Summer of Drowning and that as I expected just stopped really, as many of his do, which is how it should be. I still begin at the beginning but I have been wondering whether to just open up a book and start from where I open it at random, as I know how much care is taken by writers, editors and publishers to get the first few pages right to entice you in.

One of the things some of the readers of The Report have fed back to me is how they think it needs to be longer and that the ending is not an ending. To me it is, is that arrogance? Well perhaps, but the story reached a conclusion where the next steps were just that, steps which could be imagined by the reader, left to your own device.

It appears George R R Martin does not want to finish his series of books that is now the TV series The Game of Thrones. I think that is right. I read the first one and would never wish to read another word he wrote, but the TV series is enjoyable twaddle. I enjoy how layer upon layer is added and sometimes pulled out from under the viewers’ feet, but nothing really moves on. The story, like life, continues relentlessly whether the ‘hero’ has been discarded or not. Twin Peaks had that same feel, people wanted resolution after the first few episodes, but the entanglement and darkness burrowed deeper and deeper into the soul of the town until there was no need for resolution.

Why do we look for endings? Is it an assurity, a safe place for us. Games have strict beginnings and endings, I love football and there is a 90 minute period where we know all that goes on – goes on, and we know an ending, a resolution, will happen whether we like the outcome or not. The game offers us a period we can let our anger, joy, hidden feelings become public alongside thousands of others.

But real life isn’t like that is it?

We think that an ending of a life is an end, it is for the person dying, ‘the undiscovered country’. But for the rest of us it is the start of grief, the reorganising of our lives, the beginning of memory and past tenses. The endings in our lives are as much a part of our lives as are beginnings – ‘In my end is my beginning’.  The retention of memories are absolutely vital in our culture, isn’t it Judaism that has Yahrzeit, an annual remembrance of someone who has died, lighting a candle to remember them? Most other religions do something similar in some way or other. Is that why people want to follow a religion? But what about someone like me, I have no and want no religious or spiritual belief?

My last blog was about objects and the people are kept alive as long as we remember them, but that fades, objects break, photographs fade.

A work of art has an odd lifespan. A painting is created with a moveable malleable liquid medium by an artist, which dries. If a portrait it has captured and stopped a person in time, a landscape a place, an abstract – a thought, a feeling, a need. If she/he is lucky it gets put on show or is sold. The artist dies, but the painting remains, slowly disintegrating, it may become fashionable or put into store, or like Churchill’s portrait by Sutherland destroyed. But it is there well beyond the lifespan of its creator. In some ways that creator still has life; how many of us listen to Bach or Beethoven, read Basho or Bennett, view Lowry or Leonardo, and they live within our lives for a period, sharing their interpretation of life. I watch the films of Francois Truffaut over and over, wishing that he could have developed his Antoine Doinel character who appeared in five films into later ages.

Is it immortality that unknowingly underlies the need like I have to be an artist? Perhaps, alongside the arrogance I mentioned!

I don’t want endings in books and Traitor will not have one, if it ever gets finished that will annoy those who want a nice rounded ending. Good!

Today’s photograph is of a window in an old factory in Tunstall which I took a photograph through on one of my blogs, it is now boarded up and has another life. It was taken at 10am on a hot sunny day.

Wise Old Owl

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This morning I sat in bed drinking my first cup of tea listening to the news on BBC World Service then the transition to Radio 4 with the Shipping Forecast. Opposite my bed is a huge mirror that looked right in the hallway of the old house but here dwarfs the room. Why I need so many morrors around I don’t know, I don’t exactly have any hair to get right and the last time I wore a tie was for my Mother’s funeral in 2005. But that is another blog in the future.

What I was looking at was a collection of objects which mean something to me. Usually they are surrounded by framed photographs, but I am planning to put together one of those multi frames of family and memories. I mused about the importance to us of what are often objects of no value except sentiment, and that is far greater than monetary value. Most of us have them, they are a touchstone for memory, the people who gave them to us, passed them on or are associated live again; the places become alive.

On the radio a few weeks ago a woman was talking about how important the recordings she made of her mother and father talking were, both had died, she had photographs, but hearing their voices, the intonations, familiar phrases brought memories flooding back. I could have done that, I had the equipment, but I didn’t; I didn’t think until it was too late. But then so few of us do.

When I got up I took a few photographs of the objects, there are more knocking around the place but these are a few that I had out.

The owl with the clothes brushes was on the wall in the hall next to the front door throughout my childhood, I never remember being brushed with it and it hung beside a frame with a print which showed two owls in a tree and the rhyme written beneath – A wise old owl sat in an oak, The more he heard, the less he spoke; The less he spoke, the more he heard; Why aren’t we all like that wise old bird? – what a load of old rubbish! But I love the owl even if it has lost some of its eyebrows.

The sailing ship is I think a model of The Mozart, made by my father, the last one he made. Every now and then he would make these, carving the wood, making the masts, rigging and sails, I’m still not sure what the sails are made of. They are not finely finished but are accurate, he enjoyed doing them and there was a collection of maybe a dozen, I think my brother has a few. They were a part of him, he had a liking for sailing ships, I don’t know why, I never asked.

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The two white ceramic dogs and rabbit flower holder come from our caravan in North Wales. I had a green rabbit but that got broken. They are a reminder of many holidays overlooking the sea, sometimes with the wind and rain lashing onto the caravan off The Irish Sea, and finding things to do whether drawing, games, reading, there were no TV’s in caravans then.

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Most of the other bits have less ‘value’ but more recent memory. The broken handled dog a gift from a friend that looked a bit like my old dog Milo, in fact he looked usually lime the brownish pottery dog as he was always grubby!

These sort of memories are of course personal and often without much sense. But it is always useful to use them when developing a character for a story. The importance of these ‘things’ cannot be quantified, but they are a part of a person and can easily be overlooked. For my character Vincent his first camera has a resonance, but I also have him treasuring the cap badge of his soldier father who he vaguely remembers and the loss of that is quite devastating to him.