Thursday, 13 December 2007

Taking Stock of Sunsets and Turbines in the Fens

Don’t Ask Me, Love, For That First Love

Don’t think I haven’t changed. Who said
absence makes the heart grow fonder?
Though I watch the sunset redden
every day, days don’t grow longer.

There are many kinds of silence
none more radiant than the sun’s
Sun is silent in our presence,
unlike love, silent when it’s gone.

Mimi Khalvati

I was driving across the Fens this week, past a group of twelve huge monumental wind turbines just as the sun was setting behind them. These twelve turbines never cease to amaze me, they tower across the flat reach of the fen and can be seen for miles, appearing to dance from side to side of the car as the road through the fens twists and turns towards them.

Old Fen roads follow the old sheep tracks that meandered through the fens before they were fully drained. They get from A to B in a strange sort of dalliance with the landscape, Fen men took their time in the past and never took a straight line as that could end up in a quagmire, true deep darkest fen people are still inclined to eschew the straight line when trying to arrive at some destination. They are not great talkers but regard the conversational landscape as something to be negotiated with care, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it leaves them room to manoeuvre and take stock. I think they do that well in the heart of the fens, they take stock; there is, of course, a huge stretch of horizon to take stock of. Perhaps it is a rural rather than fen trait, the ability to stand and take stock of things. Presumably the saying derives from watching your livestock or counting your beasts in an intense and careful manner.

Given the spectacular sunset, in which the whole sky took on the appearance of a bubbling cauldron of fire and the brooding outline of the wind turbines against this backdrop, I pulled over onto the verge and decided to take stock. I got out of the car and just looked for several minutes.I suddenly recalled I had the camera in the car so I took some pictures, one of which is at the top of the blog. Now perhaps taking stock should have meant just staying with the moment and watching that sunset slowly wind down. I have this concern that capturing the moment forever photographically can often mean that actually you lose that moment forever, as you become swept up in the minutiae of technology. Of course we now want permanent reminders of happy events, occasions, family, sights we have seen. A memory now can often be inextricable bound to its photograph to the extent that I do have some family photos which I am sure have allowed me to construct a memory rather than recall one. I have several memories of some events that I can still recall because I made a mental note at the time to emblazon the moment on my mind, print it permanently on my own synaptic hard drive but do we trust the memory? Before photography I am sure events and faces just slipped away but now we can refresh an event a face on a daily, even hourly basis should we wish to.

I heard on the radio that in the States they are having great success helping Alzheimer patients retain short term memory by fitting them with a tiny camera and a small screen that they can watch back to show what they have done that day, that hour, two minutes ago. It acts as a kind of constant stream of visual memory for them. That’s where I put the keys because I can see myself putting them in the fridge on the playback. This process apparently not only helps them recall things but also prevents the memory deteriorating. This would suggest that seeing something after it has occurred, re-enforces not just that event but our total ability to recall things. I do play a sort of video in my head when trying to remember something; it has a filmic quality to it. Before the invention of film, the cinema, any form of moving visual representation how did people refer to that , probably by just saying they ‘re-lived’ an experience. The mind’s eye is a very ancient term for seeing what we have experienced. Are we unique amongst the animals to be able to re-create past experiences visually? There are those who have difficulty doing that but who recall by other senses; sound, smell, touch. I worked with someone who could repeat things she had heard accurately years after, including boringly a number of Queen’s Christmas messages to the nation.

I was once however fascinated to talk with a man who had been blind from birth who assured me that he had ‘visual’ dreams, dreams in which his ‘minds’ eye’ functioned. He told me other blind people also had this experience. Does that mean we are hard wired to experience dreaming and perhaps memory in a visual way? Does the taking of a photograph appeal to our innate sense of wanting to capture something visually? Now we have the means to capture an experience in a physical way and keep it locked in our computer or in the album does our capacity to remember clearly become damaged?

I tend to think the camera is a mere blink of the eye in terms of evolution and that we just have to learn to slow down and take stock more and memories can still be made and retained. Those people that return with a viewfinder experience of their holiday definitely don’t take stock enough. Like The Fast Show I intend to make that phrase my motto for the coming year. ‘Today I shall be mostly taking stock’. In fact I think I might even have a T Shirt printed and take a photo of me in it to remind myself to do it. I could sell them to others and start a whole ‘taking stock’ campaign; it could become a total lifestyle choice.

I will look forward to being fitted with a small personal video recorder and screen in due course so I can find my car keys which have indeed been placed in the fridge before now.

No comments: