Hospital

I’m waiting for an op on a double hernia. It’s been 10 years since I was last in and I have my fancy phone to connect with the world. I’m reading Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia quite a wonderful book, the trouble is I tjought I was only going to be in for a day then the specialist told me 3 to 4 days and i’ve nearly finished it, time to try the e-book app I think.
So blogs and photos may be a bit limited!
Today’s photograph is of the waiting room which I got to know quite well!

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Setting the Goalposts

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Today’s photograph was taken in the backs behind my flat of goalposts, at 12.30 on a bitter cold white day with an icy east wind.

Yesterday would have been the 105th birthday of my father. In a few days time it will be my 59th birthday and this weekend the 9th birthday of my friend’s daughter Saleena, who spends a lot of time here, or used to, but as she is getting a bit older is spending more time with friends.

Not having children it has been fascinating to watch her (and her year younger brother’s) development. Because they are not mine but have spent a great deal of time with me, I can see them fairly dispassionately. I was very interested in what they were like when they were 18 months old, as that is when my birth mother gave me up for adoption and I was taken by my grandmother to a Dr Barnardo’s home in Bristol. I have no recollection of that time, there is something, but I don’t know if it is just knowing what happened, and a story I tell myself. I wanted to see what understanding of the environment around me I may have known. I have a couple of pictures my birth mother gave me of me with her, but little has been discussed, it is the past.

Last Sunday I watched Big Fish on Film 4. I’ve seen it in two bits previously, but this time watched it all the way through. I like it better than any other of Tim Burton’s films, I don’t know the book and would be interested to read it. It tells of a man whose father is dying, his father has usually been absent, but when home told the most fantastical stories about his life, which eventually the son didn’t believe and wants the truth before the parting. Of course he finds that the stories were real, just a bit enhanced to improve them. Big Fish has a sentimental aspect that I think is necessary, it aims arrows at the senses and finds the bull’s eye, certainly enough to bring tears to my eyes!

Is that as writers, artists, photographers we are doing, enhancing the reality we see around us and in our lives to make them preferable to what actually happened?

I don’t remember my father ever telling any story. He wrote very fine music, was a talented amateur watercolourist, a brilliant mathematician, member of the Royal Astronomical Society, but not a fantasticalist (is that a word, if not it should be). In many ways the father in Big Fish and mine were complete opposites, and yet had the same goals in working for us as a family. I remember how proud he was after I got my 2/1 BA(hons) degree in Fine Art, he understood that having a top quality degree in pure maths and spending his working life teaching at a college. It isn’t really until one is at an age that we knew our fathers and mothers that we see the world closer to where they saw it. My father was 49 when my parents adopted me, so I knew him as an ‘older’ man and I was only 25 when he died. Big Fish showed an ‘adult’ relationship between father and son, and yet the child-father relationship could never leave, until the father became dependent on the son to complete his story.

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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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