‘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.

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