Mix-tape

It’s an odd thing writing a blog, perhaps it’s an odd thing writing anything, opening yourself up, hoping people find something in what you write.

Like almost all things blogs often seems to promote something and I can see the way they can be used to market your work or product. There appear to be all sorts of ways of reaching thousands of readers with your product, writing things which attract people to your work; there are loads of ‘how to’ pages to get more people.

Yes I do want more people reading, but at any cost? I’ve read about making lists because they are popular and yes I sometimes read those and think well I don’t agree or do agree. Are those what people do when they can’t think what to write? So if you are a regular reader (have I any yet?) you’ll know when I am short of ideas or time! And yet each year I make a ‘mix-tape’ for my friends of what I’ve listened to during the year and send it with a Christmas card, and hopefully some enjoy it and find new music to listen to, buy, experience, they would otherwise not thought of. If you like the idea there is a You Tube list of 2012’s music on my website  https://sites.google.com/site/timdiggles/you-tube-links-wtblt-2012

For 2013 I have given myself this task of writing something for this blog each day and include a photograph I have taken that day. Not easy. I do not presently work, I have become ridiculously poor, so my travel and experiences are much more limited than before. So I am left to write about the minutiae of every day, and limited to photographing the local environment. But after one month I have enjoyed the challenge and have probably investigated the area for visual images much more than I had ever imagined.

It has slowed my other writing, but that had got a bit stalled anyway and there have been some ideas which I can see developed in my stories. So now for my list of favourite films… that will be for another day when I am stuck!

Today’s photograph was taken at 10am, sunny, strong icy wind, looking through a fence from the local park into the school grounds and a garden made for the kids that has gone into dereliction.

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Dr Kildare

So I arrived at the hospital in good time for my biopsy, not anything big, but I have to have a full anaesthetic. I waited. Then I waited. An hour and half late I was taken to the ward, then I waited. I was reading Orwell’s Homage to Catalona, which was very suitable because most of that is about… waiting.

I had three blood pressure tests as I was way high and the nurse was talking about whether I’d even be able to have the biopsy, so on the third I did some long deep breathing which just about reached the safe level.

Then I waited.

At 1.30pm the doctor turned up, Dr O’Dare, which made me want to call him Dr Kildare. He had those similar good looks and in my mind I started to write a nurse and doctor romance whilst shoving the endoscopy camera up my arse, such a romantic situation. He went over my files which are beginning to look like a very thick fantasy novel and went away saying it wouldn’t be long.

Then I waited.

Not too long after an Anaesthetist with a sense of humour visited me, ummed and arred about the blood pressure, and signed me off as ok. They told the man next to me he would be first in and to get ready.

I waited, read a bit more, felt very hungry and thirsty (not allowed to eat after 7am), then suddenly there was a flurry as a nurse told me to get ready and wondered why I hadn’t changed, the bed was got ready, I struggled into one of those stupid gowns. I was all ready to go. At the desk they checked who I was. I was not the person on the clipboard and the nurse asked me if I was sure I was Timothy Diggles. I told her I usually was. So I was wheeled back and the man next to me wheeled out. He was having kidney stones removed!

They told me to stay in the bed as it wouldn’t be long before I was sent for.

So I waited.

I dropped off to sleep and dreamt of a bus journey in Scotland leaving Edinburgh in the company of Lionel Messi (???!) and we couldn’t get off.

I wasn’t asleep long as they had the TV on, nobody watching it, and the noise Jeremy Kyle going on and on woke me, not what I wanted exactly. Half an hour had gone by.

So I waited another hour and a bit and listened to two albums on my phone Kraftwerk’s Trans Europe Express and First Aid Kit’s The Lion’s Roar, and odd pairing really. Then all was go again. I was wheeled out, checked five time to make sure I was me and sent off into a blankness waking up just 20 minutes after going under. As I said it’s a minor thing, which I used to have without anaesthetic.

By 7pm I was home looking for a soft cushion to sit on and something tasty to eat.

Now to wait for results and the joy of visiting the same department soon for a double hernia operation.

Today’s photograph is at the hospital above the bed.

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To be or what to be…

For last night’s meeting of Renegades Writers Barry had written a radio play based on the idea I had used in Macbeth at the Writers Group. In his, Shakespeare brings Romeo and Juliet to be discussed. It was very amusing and I felt pleased someone had felt one of my ideas worthy of development.

I’m doing an interview with Karl Hyde of Underworld for a future blog. One of my questions to him is how he feels about the way others take their work and re-mix it. That is the norm in music, especially dance music. The use of images by one artist as the basis of their art has a long tradition. Many Roman sculptures are copies of ancient Greek originals. Lots of artists have reworked classical paintings, or since the early twentieth century utilised others’ images, famously Duchamp ‘shocked’ the artworld by putting a moustache on a reproduction of the Mona Lisa. A much more serious reworking was Francis Bacon’s use of Valazquez’s Pope Innocent X in a remarkable series of paintings that have had a huge influence on painting. There are countless other examples.

The use of others work as a basis for your own is an important aspect of art but seems more frowned upon in writing. Last night we talked about how Jane Austen’s books have been rewritten to modernise them. We of course see many interpretations of Shakespeare to try to make it more relevant to a modern audience, or to try to draw out the meanings, with varied success! In films it has gone on since the very beginnings. Recently there was a shot by shot reworking of Psycho, which seems pointless and was fairly awful. Whereas the Dollar films add to the experience of the Japanese originals they are based upon, bringing a new dimension to what was then a very tired genre.

In writing you are always expected to have new stories, new twists. But there are only so many stories that can be told, The Bible probably had most of them anyway, and even that was changed so that in the King James version text was adjusted to make sure any parts questioning the place of the monarch were removed, and many what they saw as irrelevant books of the original biblical writings were not included.

As writers we can interpret the world through stories, poems and so on, using our own experiences and viewpoints. We cannot help to be influenced by what we read and watch, and it should never been seen as a fault, I would love to have the ability to write like some of my favourite authors, on the odd occasion I read through and think I’ve expressed something better than them, then I get some supportive criticism at Renegades and realise that well maybe not!

 One of the points raised in Barry’s play was Shakespeare’s use of other texts as the basis of the dramas, if he could do it then it must be ok!

Today’s photographs are of Newfield Street and just behind my flat in Tunstall on a very windy day, cold and sunny, taken around midday.

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…out with the pigs

A book I ordered had arrived at Tunstall Library, Nat Tate – An American Artist by William Boyd. It is a spoof biography, I’m reading it as part of my researching as I write Traitor to the Cause, which is a novel written as if it is an autobiography. I am also reading The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas, Gertrude Stein’s autobiography, but written as if of her best friend.

After picking that up I went to look in the literature/poetry section as I wanted a book about poetic forms, someone having borrowed my Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms many years ago and never been heard of again. Looking along the shelf the library numbering system created a lovely clash, next to Teach Yourself Creative Writing was a book called Working Ferrets.

As I wandered back to my flat with Working Ferrets in my bag alongside two William Boyd books, it led me to think how important the unexpected clash of objects, people, events creates a tension or humour in a piece of work. As (in my mind) a visual artist this is used all the time, whether to highlight or counterbalance. Much of surrealism depends on these oppositional elements. British humour has for a long time, look at how many plays and films depend on a working class character moving in the upper class and vice versa or the mistaken venue.

In my poem on the events around personal grief, Then Nothing to Do, I used this technique. The poem is in two parts set around the deaths of my father and mother 25 years apart. One of the things I find around these periods is how in times of the deepest grief things happen as a counterpoint.

When my father died my parents lived in Llanfair Caereinion in mid Wales. I rang the local funeral director and was told by his wife that he was ‘…out with the pigs’. Of course there were not enough people living in the large rural area to warrant a full time funeral director, but the contrast and breaking of a ‘spell’ made me and my mother (who was totally devastated), smile, it brought in a reality to the situation.

Over the years I have read quite a few autobiographies. It is an odd genre, how many are really and truly honest. How many of us could write about ourselves with the distance and understanding that a good biography has. I don’t read the footballers or stars writings, though I did read a Stanley Matthews’ 1947 book about his growing up as there are members of my family mentioned. One of my favourites is Luis Bunuel’s My Last Breath. In it he writes of his lifelong quest to find the perfect cocktail and at the very end of his life how he may fool people and ask for a priest, just to have the final laugh.

Gunter Grass has written two very different autobiographies. The first Peeling the Onion is a fairly straight story of his life up to the writing and publication of The Tin Drum. He writes about the fact he was a member of the Hitler Youth and a teenage soldier at the very end of the war, and how he was brainwashed by the Nazi regime. There is a lovely bit where he is hiding in a ditch with another young soldier who plans to become a priest, and thinks this may have been the current Pope!

In his second autobiography he moves into a very different sphere. The Box: Tales from the Darkroom, in this he uses the fantastical realism of his novels. The book is a set of gatherings where his children dissect his faults over meals which he lovingly describes. They use photographs that a woman who has lived with them has taken on her very special box camera, and show another hidden truth from often impossible angles. It is one of my favourite books of any genre and I realise I could slip towards it as my character in Traitor, Vincent, is a photographer opening up the deep yellow Kodak photographic paper boxes to find his past!

Perhaps a new line of work for Vincent will develop from reading Working Ferrets!

Today’s photograph is of the magnificent Victorian cast iron sign for Tunstall Library. A sunny mild windy day, I’ve made it black and white as it shows the workmanship better. The other two are inside the Library showing the linked motifs.

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To read Then Nothing To Do go to https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnx0aW1kaWdnbGVzfGd4OjUxMzQ0ZDRjMzJhMDU0ZTM

Sketching out the future

It was back to school again this morning. What was supposed to be one visit has now turned into three and could be a few more. I am doing this as a volunteer, but the repayment is from working with the children, their enthusiasm and their sheer hard work. Today we started on the self portraits, sketching their faces using mirrors, to then work on them next week with colour. First I talked about how art was central to many things we take for granted such as design, computer graphics, not just painting and sculpture. Not all people are ‘artists’ and the longer I go on I can see that. In my early idealism I thought anyone could be, but they are not. I don’t mean in an elitist way, just some people have mindsets and brains which see and function differently. I am not ashamed to say that I have absolutely no idea how a car works, as long as mine went I was happy, if it went wrong the garage would get it going again. Whereas, my brother lived for cars, when we both lived at ‘home’ as soon as he came in from work off would go the suit and on with the overalls, his friends would come and spend all evening taking cars to bits and putting them back again!

A lot of art of course takes great technical knowledge. In sculpture for instance you learn welding, casting, woodwork, carving, plastics, they are tools to reach your goal – the finished work of art.

At the end of today’s session two girls came to me and thanked me for teaching them how to draw, which was lovely. What it did show was the incredible developmental capacity children of this age group (8-9) can go through in such a short time, and they had. We looked at proportion in the face, the shape of the head, not just an apple or circle, but how to build from basic forms. It was hard and demanding work for them. Next week we go a stage further. At any age it is very hard to draw (or write) what you see, not what you think you see.

I have found it a very invigorating few weeks, that does not however mean I wish to use my qualifications and go to teach full time. No, I prefer the role I have just visiting. I am trying to add to the children’s educational experience in my visits, share my enthusiasm for the arts. The use of people from outside the school to share their skills is a vital but now underused aspect because of funding.

For too many in the government and its departments all they can think of are for pupils to become good worker fodder, what they don’t seem to realise is that Britain for 50 years has been in the forefront of design, theatre, visual arts, music. These may seem to be ephemeral but are huge earners for the economy – look at just how much tax and foreign income does our music and games industry generate.

I’m just repeating arguments here that many others have made for many decades, but the spark begins at schools like Summerbank and if just one of the children today has been enthused to think seriously about working in the creative industries then I may have achieved something. The arts are not just for an elite, creative minds come from a broad explorative education, an education which does not always tick boxes or add percentages to a school. Old fashioned, idealistic, unrealistic? I don’t think so. All children need to learn to read, write, add, subtract, multiply, know how things work and what they are made of, where-when-why things happened; they also need to learn the tools of creation and be confident about using them. Whether that is playing an instrument, acting, singing, dancing, wielding a paintbrush, creating a story. Artistic skills need to work alongside the scientific and mechanical skills if we are to develop our society.

Now get down off your soapbox Tim!

Today’s photographs are from this mornings session at Summerbank School.

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Basques Abandoned

For quite some time I have wanted to record myself reading my ‘poetry’, after all much of it was written for performance. I have been reinvigorated to undertake this arduous task by the very fine and perceptive editor of Centrifugal Eye accepting my poem Macbeth At The Writers Group which has up to now only been ‘performed’ at Renegades.

Do I record my work as sound only or do I film myself performing? Or maybe I film suitable images and do a voice-over. I think just recorded is the best so I can invade people’s minds on their MP3 players.

I have a microphone. When looking it up online it is now seen as a ‘vintage’ microphone, I only bought it in 1981! I talked to my expert friend George and he recommended a preamp and things as the recording I can get through my pc is so low that the voice would be badly distorted to make it heard properly, maybe I should wait and find a recording studio or until I see him again.

Listening to poetry is how I became to properly appreciate it. My education between 11 and 16 was pretty poor, my own fault really, so I had little understanding of poetry and its beauty, form and formalities. Then when I went to Cardiff College of Art I found that Cardiff Central Library had the most wonderful record library. They had all the Argo recordings as well as a tremendous selection of music. The recordings opened up a new world and through the poet or actor speaking/performing I ‘got it’! I had grown up listening to Under Milk Wood, the wonderful 1954 Argo recording with Richard Burton, and fondly remember winter afternoons listening to this with my mother, but here was an even more delightful world.

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There is a difference between actors and writers reading. I have a copy of Alec Guinness reading T S Eliot, which I prefer to Eliot’s own version, his voice just didn’t fit the rhythm of the words, which is odd, because most writers ‘fit’ their words, I would urge you to listen to Stevie Smith reading. It may be interesting to find an actor to read my stuff, just to hear it back, I’d probably end up re-writing it yet again! Some of what I write was started 10 or more years ago and revised and revised. I never actually see it as the ‘finished article’ at any point.

At the last Renegades Writers meeting I attended, Jem brought up the issue of improving the way we read our work. We often rush to try and fit a bit more in to the slot we have, maybe because we know it ourselves we don’t emphasise things enough. I remember attending a group, I can’t remember where, who passed their work to another person to read aloud, not a trained person, but a way of hearing how their work sounded. I remember organising a weekend of workshops, and we had the glorious Rosie Garland (aka Rosie Lugosi) who is a truly top class performer, we didn’t dress in thigh length patent boots, black stockings, figure hugging basques and flail whips (I am sure there were many who secretly wished for that!), but people did learn a lot about planning and presenting their public performances, using their voices better and improving stagecraft. The presentation of your work is important, whether in a workshop setting or in public, because a well read piece makes people notice it and give the supportive feedback we need to improve and develop.

So, sometime soon you will have the joy of being able to download not just the texts of my writing but me performing, so clear off those albums from your iPods, once you hear it nothing else will feel right.

Today’s photograph is the locked door of Tunstall Baths, built in 1890 for the people of the town and closed due to cuts in 2011 and probably never to open again. Overcast, windy, bleak midwintery, just about to rain, 1.45pm.

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Searching for diamonds

Looking at the photographs I’m taking each day, like the one below, I see that in the main I am looking for abstract compositions in the often decaying human environment I am living in. My ‘eye’ was formed as an artist, my preferred artists people like Ben Nicholson, Mondrian, David Smith, artists who were abstracting nature into its constituent blocks.

I found when documenting work I did with children and young people that I was photographing humans successfully. But I just don’t have the ‘eye’ for people that someone like Cartier-Bresson had. So why is that?

It could be less interest in humans than abstract patterns. Perhaps it was an innate shyness, it takes considerable guts and self-confidence to photograph people outside a ‘confined’ situation such as a project creates where people are expecting to be documented. If you see movie film of Cartier-Bresson he works like a dancer. He used a lightweight small camera, and would dance on and off the pavement, people obviously hardly noticed him working.

Photographing people going about their everyday lives creates some of the finest and most interesting photographs. They show us a glimpse of everyday life, capture points of tension, relaxation, which even moving film has difficulty with. But they do impinge on people’s privacy. I remember in about 1976 walking past the old Cardiff Library, a fellow student took a shot of a very scruffy homeless man searching through a dustbin, a good subject, but he became aggressive and quite rightly so I feel, he was unhappy being photographed in what for him was probably a very distressing time. I could see what the photographer was intending, making a point that in the middle of a big area for consumerism someone was so desperate he was searching a bin for food/drink/money/diamonds. After a heated discussion it was settled by the photographer giving the homeless man a couple of pounds, who traipsed off down to The Greyhound, where I was on the way to.

So if you are expecting lots of pictures of people this year you may not get them, but I will try, maybe a few portraits of people I know, and even self-portraits.

Today’s photograph is near the park where a building is slowly disintegrating. It was windy, sunny, chilly, at about 10.15am.

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