This is the first of 4 posts illustrating the four ways I walk into Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent – each will begin at my flat and finish at the clock tower in … Continue reading Walking to town 1 – The Secret Way
More gates a theme running through the past year! These I have seen for 20+ years. They are entrances to the demolished tile factory which was huge and a big local employer. Don’t we still need tiles? For the past 10 years it has been a flattened area just used by fun fairs when they come. Stoke-on-Trent must be 50% derelict land, which shows its poverty, in London these spaces would be crammed with new housing no-one could afford. There has been some minor cropping on the top image, but very little else, the strong winter morning sunlight was on Friday as I walked up Brownhills Road from Middleport to Tunstall.
Click the images to enlarge.
In March next year I am going to be 60, not that old, but a milestone or maybe better a stepping stone to the future. Of course it seems not that old now, but looking back to when I first went to art college in 1970 something which was hard to imagine and I don’t think I even tried. Quite rightly too.
On my Pinterest site a few weeks ago I set up a ‘board’ I’ve called ‘Places I’ve never been; things I’ve not seen or heard – and could easily and should have…’ . Long winded I know. It came about when I saw a poster for Kubrick’s 2001- A Space Odyssey, and realised I had not seen it either in the cinema or on TV/DVD. It would be very easy to watch it, unlike when it first came out. Films were only on at the cinema, and in a city like Stoke-on-Trent which had 3 main cinemas and about 6 smaller ones in the late 60’s, if you didn’t go that week, then it was hard luck until many years later they may appear on TV.
I went to Boots in Hanley to buy David Bowie’s single Space Oddity which of course came out at the same time in 1969. Without me noticing the assistant put the single from the soundtrack of 2001 (Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra) in the bag, which was selling many more and in the Top10. Luckily I looked in the bag before I left the shop and they changed it. So that was the closest I got to the film.
My ‘board’ is an odd collection of things and places, it certainly isn’t a wish list and I may just be stubborn and not bother making all these things ‘right’. Would a visit to Stonehenge, Bolton, Southampton or Sunderland change my life? I deliberately based my story The Report in Bolton, a Bolton in a Nazi run Britain and I have set a number of chapters of an unfinished story in Venice. These were helped by Google maps, so who needs to actually visit a place nowadays!
Would listening to the whole of Never Mind the Bollocks make me change my life? At the time it came out I had bought quite a lot of punk music, but felt The Sex Pistols were a sham and punk by that time just a fashion, so never bothered, heard all the tracks over the years but never listened to it as a whole as no-one I knew owned it.
So reaching milestones is a useful time to assess things. I certainly do not have a list of things to do before I die, or a wish list of things to see/read/hear, places to go. Things will turn up. My regrets are having missed exhibitions such as Ben Nicholson’s at the Tate, which will never be repeated, and all those personal regrets like not asking things of now dead parents or taken actions which may have led to different outcomes, but then realising that I would not have experienced people, places and things if I had made a different decision. Changes to my life in terms of finance has meant I have had to look towards other things. My not working has given me the great opportunity of developing my own work which working put on hold. Even in ten months of taking more photographs I can see development and aim to concentrate more on refining my ‘eye’ which had wandered off course a bit! When I write, draw, photograph, create, even watch, read and listen, I don’t do these as a form of relaxation, they are far more intense, I do them in the terms of an artist.
Today’s photograph comes from January 1979, taken in The Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco on Ektachrome with my OM-1 using the standard 50mm lens.
Today’s photograph is a self-portrait with Rosie Garland’s book The Palace of Curiosities on a bright cooler blustery day in Tunstall and taken just after midday. Some of you may have read my interview with her a few blogs back , if not then I urge you to, since then she has been nominated for Desmond Elliott Prize for first novels.
I had just picked the book up from Tunstall Library, having ordered it the other day. Luckily we still have a library service even though many branches have closed and the books on display have been cut drastically, I normally have to order books I want from the stacks or like this from new. The history section in Tunstall now seems only to have books on Hitler and memoirs from soldiers in special units (I know, The Report is based around the Nazi’s but it is more than war porn).
You may think that as an old friend of Rosie I should have gone out and bought the book, certainly if I had been still working then I would have, but I am now in the bottom 1-2% and in poverty (in cash terms). However, ordering books for libraries is equally as important as buying them. Authors get paid rights, but more than that a greater number of people may read a book than otherwise would. I regularly order new books and hopefully add to the Library’s collection.
I know that when I go into Tunstall Library the first thing I see are two stands of new books, I always look and very often find books I would never have looked for on the main shelves, for instance that is the way I found Orkney by Amy Sackville and The Devil’s Footprints by John Burnside, each wonderful writers who I now want to read everything they have written and will write in the future.
New books keep the libraries alive. The most depressing thing we hear is when the local authorities state that a library or wherever was closed because no-one used them, it is an excuse to cut what in the UK is our most important and precious arts facility.
I like buying books, but except for second hand bargains do not have the funds to do so. For me and millions of others a library is a vital resource. So please, if you are a member of a library go and order Rosie’s book or any book that friends have written or you think can add to the artistic life of your community! Eventually one by myself…
Also today I put a couple of pages of Working up on Wattpad.
I would advise that the language is strong, nasty and the ‘imagery’ quite disturbing, but it is not gratuitous, what I am writing about is taken from conversations and observation, to write otherwise would make the scenes unreal. I would love to have some feedback and will add more.
Sometimes when you write you come up with a really great sentence, which sums up what maybe you’ve written in the last five chapters and stuns you by its simplicity, elegance and quality. At the last Renegades Writers meeting I was so pleased when Misha pointed one out of mine (I had hoped someone would notice as I thought it rather good!). At the moment it is placed about a quarter way through the book, but it is so fine (self-praise is not appreciated Tim!) that it may end up the final line in the book. It is simple but sort of sums up the whole story in ten words.
A whole book of great sentences would be almost unreadable, such things need to stand out. It would be like eating the finest steak and drinking best champagne and port every day, you’d be aching for a sausage sandwich and a pint of dark after a while.
Where on earth do these lines come from? Well I suppose our virtuosity that makes us writers or artists or whatever. In the early 1970’s I read Evelyn Waugh’s books. He was a brilliant writer of English. His subjects and stories are of course a sharp critique of the upper classes, his sympathies were certainly not mine. But he was a great story teller, and I would urge you to read his books if for nothing else to appreciate and learn from his style. It is so simple that it must have taken many edits and revisions!
In last Saturday’s blog I had thought up a phrase/line as I walked up Bond Street (two streets away), which is peppered with empty houses, many boarded up. Some look like no-one could possibly live in them, then at night you can see the lights on and people do. It is some of the most deprived housing in the city. The picture I put on the blog was actually a house which a woman lived in until recently; opposite to her was another woman whose window was always boarded up. I thought they were empty so did not deliver stuff there. Then I was told that they had a feud going on and as soon as one had new windows the other would smash them again; the feud was of course over a man, who had left the women a few years ago, but they carried on regardless.
A story I am sure Waugh would have handled beautifully, though the wrong class of people. Barry from Renegades said he may use the phrase – ‘a street with more empty houses than diamonds’ – alluding of course to Bond Street in London, the home of some of the most exclusive jewellers in the World, in one of his pieces, that would please me greatly. That quite nice little line just came to me as I was in the environment. The ‘genius’ of the writer? I don’t know, but the more we use words and read words and work with words, the more these sort of things just pop up in the brain.
Today’s photograph taken at 10.30am is of my dog Oskar, named after Oskar Mazareth, the character in The Tin Drum who through drumming remains at the age of 3, and tells the history of Danzig and his family just before and during the Second World War, through the eyes of a rather anarchic child even though by the end he is well into his teens. When his father dies he chooses to lose his power, and grows hideously. The story is told by Oskar while living in some sort of institution. It was the first book of Gunter Grass that I read and I have read most of his since then. Gunter Grass and Evelyn Waugh, two writers who have so little in common, except they both explore the history of the Twentieth Century through their characters and both are brilliant at using words.
As nearing the end of a year is often a time for reflection I realise that since 1st January 2012 I haven’t left Stoke-on-Trent or Newcastle-under-Lyme! In fact the furthest I have been is North Staffs University Hospital!
So how has this situation come about? Poverty.
Well that is one perfectly good answer there are probably others. After my last car was written off I haven’t owned a vehicle since early 2007, it makes financial sense of course and to be honest after initial ‘withdrawal’ symptoms I haven’t really missed one (except when trying to get to Renegades Writers on winter nights!). It would probably be more frustrating having a car sitting outside my flat and no money to buy petrol and all the extended costs a car takes up. Opposite me is a bus stop and another about 20 yards up the road; a couple of miles away is Kidsgrove station where I can get a train to London for just £8 each way! So few excuses not to go places, except that whenever I get enough together another bill comes in and seems to drain my resources.
In 2009 I began to feel that my grip on finances was running away, and on a chart I keep of my level of depression I could see worrying signs. I receive Incapacity Benefit at the full rate because I had paid my taxes and National Insurance for around 30 years. Despite what many Conservative politicians may think, £98 per week does not stretch very far! So from the beginning of 2010 I began to keep a close record of my finances using Excel spreadsheets. At first I felt like some sort of Scrooge without the welcome intrusion of the ghosts, keeping a record of every pound I spent. But it has lightened the burden, I now know how much I have left; what I have to keep funds for; the daily costs of gas and electricity so not to run out. It can get (for me) fascinating after a while, I will not bore you with all the facts but over the three years I can see the differences in costs, for instance in 2012 I have spent on average more than £10 per month than 2011 on gas and exactly the same on electricity; my shopping bill (for probably less stuff) has gone up by £24 per month and yet in the Other category (travel, clothes, fun stuff etc…) expenditure has gone down by £34. I will not go on but you see the trend!
In reflecting about these things I remembered that my father kept a little red notebook in his jacket pocket, and whenever he spent anything he wrote it down, then I take it worked out, like I do, what his income and expenditure was. He was an extremely brilliant mathematician (I am not!) who if born into an upper class family would probably have ended up in the City rather than teaching. His father worked on the railways and the family struggled in the early 1920’s to get him through grammar school then university. After my mother died and I went through her things I didn’t find any of these. It would have been interesting but one of us must have destroyed them when he died in 1980. Pity really.
Time to walk the dog in the rain.