Tuesday, 31 July 2007
I have just returned from having lunch with a cousin. We are kissing cousins in so far as we are the affectionate one peck on the cheek cousins but not bear-hugging, Italianesque triple kissing cousins as I have witnessed at some other family gatherings. Of course this outward display of affection bears no correspondence whatsoever to the love you have for someone, that side of the family is Yorkshire and reticent after all. Travelling back on the bus, trying to reduce my carbon footprint a tad I decided to use my Wallace Stevens thinking time on how we greet each other and how we display affection.
I have for some reason slipped into being the recipient of what I feel is the greeting reserved for the elderly. “You’re looking well.” I got it three times last week from friends. One of course would prefer,
“You’re looking gorgeous /stylish/beautiful/perky/sexy/fantastic." Any of those descriptive terms would do. But no, I am starting to get the, “You’re looking well….. despite your handicaps/problems/disposition/haemorrhoids/age which feels like the continuation of this statement left hanging unspoken in the air. Once you get over fifty perhaps the only thing you can expect in a greeting is some indication that the greeter is pleased that you aren’t dead yet and are managing to stay out of incontinence pads and hospital.
Perhaps I am being oversensitive here and churlish the “You’re looking well” comment might also encompass the greeter’s genuine pleasure, amazement and admiration at your ability to maintain a facade of well being. I should be grateful for such greetings but still I can hear endless old women at bus stops when I was a child nodding to each other and saying “You’re looking well.” and the classic response,“Mustn’t grumble.”
I have recently joined Facebook and am now trying to navigate all the greet and meet display behaviour that goes on with that. I have had graffiti on my wall, been given mice, penguins, fish, drinks, nudges, etc. I have had offers to be bitten and turned into a Zombie, a werewolf and a vampire. This is a whole new world of social expectations of how we greet and show affection to others. If someone sends me a fish should I send one back, likewise the drinks. The social etiquette of this cyber world is beginning to become complicated. Will Person X accept my invitation to be a friend if they don’t what does it say about them and me. I have accumulated friends of friends, people I don’t really know. I have worried about declining an invitation to be someone's friend because I have no idea who they are but then three days later I find out that I do know them but I had only met them once with a friend of a friend at a poetry reading etc. Will I hurt people's feelings if I don’t let them bite me or give me fish or hide their offering of a small duck on my profile. The angst associated with this is endless. I have sent people small offerings myself and watched to see if they display them (like the aunt’s awful vase that is brought out only when they visit but now on Facebook the awful aunt with bad taste can visit at any time of the day or night and see that you have hidden or rejected her lovely vase). Is Facebook a way of playing Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon…you know that game when you start with anyone’s name vaguely associated with Hollywood and then name someone connected with that name (a film they were in together, they were married, they opened a restaurant together etc etc) and thus the idea is that it will only take seven names to arrive at a connection with Kevin Bacon. On Facebook perhaps I am only seven degrees away from Seamus Heaney or Gore Vidal if I play my friends right, seven clicks on faces in profiles and I could be on the Queen’s Facebook page. At present I am two clicks away from George Szirtes a former TS Eliot prize winner, he or one of his friends must have at least been to a garden party at Buckingham Palace (does this count as a viable connection).
This game of course relies on other people’s friends letting you become their friends and that’s where it all falls down as I am immediately back in the playground wondering why on earth the cool gang would want me to join them and not wanting to embarrass myself by asking as I may be rejected, deleted and not offered fish or mice. I note I have only sixteen friends whilst others have scores I can at a glance see how unpopular I am and rate myself against others. See what I mean reader this way lies madness and social dysfunction. Perhaps I am not sending enough smiley fish or drawing on others walls or telling them about my favourite movie/song? I have signed up for a facility that allows me to post questions, should I ask why I am friendless?
I can feel myself getting very hot and sweaty on the bus and a lie down in a darkened room is fast being required but then a small ray of light enters my burning head as we turn onto the by-pass. I actually use the word friend very sparingly, a friend is someone who knows me totally and whom I trust without or should I say beyond question and whom I know trusts me. I have very few such friends and that is wonderful as such friends are rare and precious. Facebook friends are perhaps just people trying not to be isolated, to form a quick community of belonging based on whim, interests and mouse click. I went into the market in my small fen town yesterday and as I walked around I was aware of how many people I met who I know to say hello to and who know me in various guises, neighbour, mother, professional, volunteer, resident of this small town for twenty-five years. Were all our nods, friendly eye contact and greetings the same as a mouse click, a cyber fish, a Zombie bite? I don’t know the answer and I don’t ask the question in the expectation of a yes or a no.
It may be that cyber communities are the way forward in a fast-paced isolating world where we need such things to keep a feeling of connection. I wonder whether on Facebook someone would send me cyber chicken soup if I was ill, would I bother to tell them I was ill on Facebook in the first place. On Facebook you are only what you want others to know butthen that is true of us most of the time. A neighbour brought me real soup when I broke my leg a while back but of course she could because she’s kind, a few yards away and is there even when the power goes off. However spontaneous expressions of caring are always to be welcome and I am grateful that someone would want to click on me in their day for a minute or two as in reading this blog for instance which I take as a form of greeting.
I have been reading short stories and essays by the Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho who appeals to the old dippie hippie in me. He studies Kyudo, which is the Japanese Art of the Bow, refined to a state of meditation.
I have just sent out some poems and am contemplating sending out the novel in the autumn and this particular section from his book just spoke to me. Of course just substitute writing/poetry or anything one is serious about in this world for the word arrow but of course you and he know that already.
How to observe the flight of the arrow (Taken from Like The Flowing River)
The arrow is the projection of an intention into space.
Once the arrow has been shot, there is nothing more the archer can do, except follow its path to the target. From that moment on, the tension required to shoot the arrow has no further reason to exist. Therefore, the archer keeps his eyes fixed on the flight of the arrow, but his heart rests, and he smiles.
If he has practised enough, if he has managed to develop his instinct, if he has maintained elegance and concentration throughout the whole process of shooting the arrow, he will, at that moment, feel the presence of the universe, and will see that his action was just and deserved.
Technique allows the hands to be ready, the breathing to be precise, and the eyes to be trained on the target. Instinct allows the moment of release to be perfect.
Anyone passing nearby, and seeing the archer with his arms open, his eyes following the arrow, will think that nothing is happening. But his allies know that the mind of the person who made the shot has changed dimensions: it is now in touch with the whole universe. The mind continues to work, learning all the positive things about that shot, correcting possible errors, accepting its good qualities, and waiting to see how the target reacts when it is hit.
When the archer draws the bow string, he can see the whole world in his bow. When he follows the flights of the arrow, that world grows closer to him, caresses him and gives him a perfect sense of duty fulfilled.
A warrior of light, once he has done his duty and transformed his intention into gesture, need fear nothing else: he has done what he should have done. He did not allow himself to be paralysed by fear. Even if the arrow failed to hit the target, he will have another opportunity, because he did not give in to cowardice.
Goodbye and thanks for all the fish..... hasn't someone else written that line before?
Thursday, 26 July 2007
E mail from Boo recently (Beloved Only Offspring) from San Francisco. ‘Do you want me to bring you back anything in particular ?’ she asks. Yes, California sun, cloudless blue skies, shining water in the bay, trolley cars on hills, the hippie ghosts of Height Ashbury drifting against a backdrop of the Mama and Papas singing California Dreamin, Beat poets reading in dark coffee shops.
The rain and grey skies are beginning to make me feel a similar colour. As people are supposedly meant to grow to look like their dogs can you also grow to look like your weather? There has to be some fantasy I can retreat into to raise me above the water table. I have tried to remember how miserably hot it was last year when I was in the States, 98 degrees and high humidity. I recall staggering into air-conditioned shops and pulling on the coolness like an oxygen mask. I lingered and dwelt on the retail experience just to forget that later you would be spat out of the revolving door onto a hot slab of sizzling pavement. I have been trying hard to remember how I swore I would never complain about rain and cold ever again. I try but I can’t quite summon up the vehemence of my promise.
‘Go to City Lights Bookstore and buy me a Ferlinghetti’ I request ‘preferably signed by him’ I add just to make the task more of a quest; so much more interesting than a duty. I am practising hard at becoming an elderly demanding mother who will only drink out of china cups and who will bring their own specific brand of bed linen when I come to stay for Christmas. Ferlinghetti will keep me fired up when I start to become a boring old fart ( if that stage has already not been reached I wonder as I use my Tesco Card and check my standing orders online). He and those other beat poets will make me remember that poetry can be full of heat and burn up the oxygen in the room with words.Born on Coney island, perhaps Ferlinghetti had the roller coaster mentality from birth as he wasn’t just fire and polemic as in Populist Manifesto Number 1, he could write beautifully crafted moments of tenderness as in Driving a Cardboard Automobile without a Licence, Number 20 and Number 8. If you want to feel some heat and the warmth to stave off the grey rain weather just watch the wonderful Anne Waldman (yes dear reader in case you only summon up those Karouac on the road testosterone types there were/are women beat poets) delivering her poem Makeup on Empty Spaces.
In case you are still needing some streets of San Francisco action to melt the grey the car chase in those old sixties American cars in Bullitt might do it for you, especially if you are the testosterone charged type or maybe if you just need an injection of Steve McQueen’s blue sky eyes.
Here endeth the blog for a wet rainy day, last one to B and Q for the gopher wood and the cubit tape measure is a dead duck.
Friday, 20 July 2007
I have of course left you in suspenders re the purpose of the meadow hole and it would appear I should eat humble pie. The main purpose is (roll of drums, should I announce the purposes in reverse order to heighten tension like on Strictly Come Dancing or that Joseph show) no the purpose is Anguila anguila.
I eventually talked to a very nice sane doctor who is a ‘Fisheries, Recreation and Biodiversity Technical Specialist at The Environmental Agency. The reason for the restoration of the ancient Chub stream that used to traditionally bi-sect the meadow is to save the eel from extinction. The European eel has suffered almost a 99% drop in population over the past few years, basically it is hovering or rather swimming on the brink of extinction. The gouge in the meadow is to allow them to avoid the local lock, it is part of an Eel Recovery Plan, a bypass for eel traffic if you like. Apart from the effects of pollution that have effected them, eels don’t do locks and weirs and flood defences, they give up and die, they are not the feisty show-off salmon types who jump up stream to spawn. Indeed I discovered that our common river eel spawns far far away in the Sargasso sea near the warmth of the Caribbean. The eel larvae piggy back on currents and drift haphazardly towards Europe in a journey that can take up to three years. Throughout this journey they are changing into glass eels (what a gift of an image that is). Then they become elvers and eventually eels in freshwater. After all that they come up against locks and weirs and die.
The Isle of Ely was of course originally The Isle of Eels and eel fishing and wild fowling was the sole livelihood of virtually all Fen men but now we have carrots , celery and Science parks which is inevitable progress but the eel didn’t stay to watch.
I now know more about Anguila anguila than I thought possible but strangely since my lecture on the spawning grounds of the eel I keep thinking of Jean Rhys’ book Wide Sargasso Sea; perhaps it is just the name that makes me join up two very disparate dots but then I have used some of my Wallace Steven’s thinking time to mull this over. I think it is something as clichéd as the image of swimming against the tide.
Jean Rhys famously spent nearly twenty-seven years in seclusion, writing nothing for publication after her last book in 1939 was a terrible failure and then in 1966 out she comes with Wide Sargasso Sea, which was hailed as a literary masterpiece and she was hailed by some as one of the finest literary writers of the twentieth century. Just goes to show that either you shouldn’t give up on the writing or that just sometimes the times and the writing are in perfect step. I suppose you can’t work to have your finger on the pulse or on appealing to the Zeitgeist ( those that do nearly always come a cropper or appear artificial and phony) you just keep writing and in the end hope quality will out. Of course there may be scores of writers and poets of huge talent that are not recognised out there. Writers and poets who believe their time has not yet come or they are ahead of the times of even behind them but there are probably far fewer than our own egos will allow us to believe.
PS The nice environmental scientist pointed out that the newly dug eel channel would fill from below rather than directly from the river. Why, because the water table has been significantly altered by the building of houses on the local flood plain. So only a small portion of humble pie over here please.
Thursday, 19 July 2007
Today, having a day off, I decide to investigate the meadow hole. I am the master of ignoring what I should be doing, like writing and sewing up torn jeans. In the past few hours I have experienced Kafkaesque moments trying to fathom and infiltrate bureaucracies of such complexity I wonder why the corridors of power are not as knotted and twisted as a plate of spaghetti. I have, however, come to the bottom of the large hole/trench (see attached picture above) in the meadow. Indeed for the past few hours I have felt like Alice falling down a rabbit hole; I kept waiting to be put on hold for the White Rabbit or have my call transferred to the Cheshire Cat or would I like to email the Mad Hatter with my questions. In the end I discover that there had been a notice placed at the beginning of the footpath near the meadow explaining the reason for the digging and one quick contact number, unfortunately the recent downpours had dislodged it. I am assured it will be replaced for other hole gazers to consult without recourse to my rather labyrinthine experience. One conversation with a very serious woman went something as follows.
“Hello, I’m phoning up to ask about a hole in a local meadow”
“We don’t deal with all holes it depends on the purpose of the hole and whether it is a private or public hole but certain private holes are within our remit dependent upon their purpose. Can you tell me the purpose of the hole?”
“If I knew the purpose I wouldn’t be ringing you, I want to know its purpose.”
“Sorry are you saying it’s a random hole?”
“No, it obviously isn’t random as someone is digging it with a purpose.”
“And that purpose would be?”
“I don’t know but they must have one.”
“So who are they?”
“I don’t know who they are if I did it might help me know what their purpose is.”
“So it definitely has a purpose then?”
“I don’t know.”
“So it could be random hole appearance.”
“How do you define random?”
“Holes without a specific purpose.”
“All man-made holes must be dug with a purpose in mind, surely?”
“You’d be surprised, sometimes holes appear that no one admits to digging.”
“You mean like crop circles, there are spontaneous appearances of unidentified holes.”
“Oh yes but they are usually just mistakes that no one wants to own up to especially if they haven’t got the correct hole permit for that specific location.”
“You have to have a permit for a hole?”
“Yes illegal holes are really serious.”
“So someone will have had to get a permit for the hole in the meadow?”
“It depends on the purpose. What is the purpose of the hole?”
“I don’t know that’s what I want to know.”
Note to self: attach self to chair with ball of string and maintain hold in order to find your way back to sanity during another such an experience.
If it had been possible to build the Tower of Babel without climbing it, it would have been permitted.
Wednesday, 18 July 2007
I woke up this morning and someone had scratched the surface of the pavement outside my house with some fierce thing. I go to work and when I return there is a hole. In this hole is an empty Waitrose chicken salad and mayonnaise sandwich carton and an empty bottle of Zero coke.
The larger hole/trench in the meadow is getting bigger and being lined with huge blocks of concrete. I feel the urge to ring someone and berate if only to make myself feel better.
Tuesday, 17 July 2007
There have always been episodes of phantom hole digging around here. Soon after I moved into this house I planted some rather nice bushes in my front garden. I awoke in the morning to find large holes where afore mentioned bushes had been. Actually that is not true I wandered around for quite a while in the living room staring out of the window until I suddenly realised what was different about the garden. It took some time for the absence of bushes to register; the presence of absence is always trickier maybe than the presence of presence. However, surely a hole is as positively present as the absence of a bush? ( Yes I know, dear reader this paragraph could be given the 'Carry on Up the Fens ', Kenneth Williams/Sid James dirty laugh double entendre treatment but just get a grip ).
I tried to explain this when I reported the theft at the police station. He pulled a slight face when I gave my address, council housing or should I now call it social housing I could see him thinking. In paranoid mode, I expected some sort of comment about what did I expect planting nice bushes in my front garden in that locality. However, he shuffled his papers “You’re the sixth person this week reporting missing bushes, one person’s even had two trees go missing. It’s probably someone doing a landscaping job and needs a few bushes, they usually go round sussing out all the local gardens and then they just steal what they need to complete a job. It won’t be neighbours, you might notice if they had your bushes in their garden.” I pointed out that my neighbours were lovely and not that stupid. Some classy newly be-decked and planted garden was never raided and my skimmia was never located.
Now holes are appearing all round the neighbourhood in pavements and roads courtesy of the gas board, we have had letters about it. There will be holes it said and yes there are holes but they seem to appear in the middle of the night and I haven’t as yet spotted anyone appearing to dig them, look down them or generally manage them. Small white hurdles appear round them to stop the local pensioners and small children diving in head first but other than that nothing. There is a positive frenzy of hole digging and then nothing is happening around said holes. I have a sprayed yellow square and a yellow arrow on the pavement outside my house, I have the hurdles in place to guard the sprayed pavement as if the pavement was a hole in waiting , which it is of course but as yet no hole. They have been creeping up the street at the rate of two holes per night. I do not sleep well, surely I would have heard digging? By my calculations my hole should be dug tonight; like waiting up for Santa or the tooth fairy I feel I need to catch the hole digger doing what they do.
Then to top it all as I drove on the ring road round my small fen town early this morning I passed over the local flood meadow not a hole but a huge meandering Somme like trench has appeared in the meadow overnight leading from the river bank. It was not there twenty-four hours ago when I drove past and now the whole meadow is scarred and gouged. I ask someone who lives near the flood meadow what this trench might be for, extra drainage I am told. This is an ancient meadow, it has been a flood plain for the town for centuries, is the extra rainfall we are having now just too much for the flood plain to do it’s job? It transpires that they need the extra drainage because of the houses they have built further up on the flood plain. So the meadow could do it’s job perfectly well as it has done more or less since before medieval times except now someone had the bright idea of building on part of the flood plain.
How clever, how forward thinking, how socially conscious of them to provide housing for those who are desperate to get a foot on the housing ladder. No, these are top of the range, four by fours in the garage, private moorings for boat on river, jobbies. I think I am having a ‘Swampy ’moment, except it’s hard to chain yourself to a meadow and I don’t do camping in bad weather. I’m not exactly eco-warrior material, I don’t think tunnelling under the flood meadow would be my cup of tea, especially as the water table is high and it’s bound to make for a soggy sleeping-bag. Besides it’s digging up the meadow I am concerned about. Adrian Mitchell is an old poet warrior who has made his voice known about many environmental issues. This poem although about life, also says something about my meadow too. I have walked across it in all seasons and all weathers, dodging cow pats, examining flowers I have no name for and causing huge swathes of Canada geese to rise up with such a churn of wings I thought the air would never stop vibrating. Now I won’t be able to walk across its full extent unless I take up Fierljeppen ,a sport practised by some who have an affinity for tall poles and muddy water.
There are holes and there are holes and this is one great big long winding hole I ought to try and at least make some noise about. Those phantom diggers one day could undermine the whole fabric of the universe and when you are already in a hole I thought the clichéd advice was to stop digging.
Saturday, 14 July 2007
Today I woke up at 5 am, sun breaking through and the wind blowing. My mother’s voice seemed to echo from beyond the grave…”A good drying day" so I get up and wash sheets. Now of course washing these days only demands hurling things into a machine, reading the paper or doing some writing whilst drinking tea and then pegging out on the line…the ultimate solar dryer. This hardly seems to deserve the word ‘washing’. I can still clearly recall the palaver of Monday as a child, the set wash day all over Nottingham. Bubble and squeak and left over meat from the roast on Sunday was the usual menu as this required less preparation and left more time to engage in the ritual of ‘the washing’. Pre a twin-tub and post ponch and tub era there was an enormous green enamel vat wheeled out that churned grey sludgy water round with a huge central paddle that looked as if it could have been stolen from a Mississippi river boat. Attached to this monster was an electric mangle, the well to do’s step up from the old free standing mangle with a cranking arm that prescribed a circle of Olympic proportions. Washing women did not require gyms in those days, arms were toned heaving a solid wet mass of sheets up to the mangle and wrestling with it to feed it through the two rollers that turned inexorably. If the amount became too bulky the rollers did spring apart without warning usually smacking the bent over woman in the face and causing major nose bleeds and two black eyes. Not all facial injuries to 1950’s wives were caused by domestic violence.
My mother believing that a girl should start to know her housewifely duties at a young age would sometimes leave me in charge of feeding small titbits such as tea towels to the electric mangle god. The art was ensuring you fed the item through evenly and straight. A tea towel at a wrong angle could start to bunch and ruche and there would be that frightening experience of something going in but nothing coming out. I learnt that lesson young, dear reader, no matter how carefully you prepare and work if you don’t come at something from the right angle it can all go pear shaped or rather in my case bunched wet tea towel shaped. One Monday, being ill with bloated white tonsils the size of small embryos, my mother decided that my illness whilst necessitating time off school should have the family motto applied to it “You’ll work it off”.
This motto had stood generations of my family in good stead and incidents of women going shopping three days after having’ everything down below taken away’ or men back at work the day after being run over by a carthorse were told round the fire in the evening to ensure these prime examples of ‘working it off’ were taken on board. I tried to apply it to the Boo and as a working mother it did prove useful sending her off to school feeling lousy with the family motto ringing in her ears. It stood her in good stead as she only had eight days off school in all of her school career and little time off any paid work she has undertaken since. Of course there was the time she projectile vomited into her Thunder Cat packed lunch box and the lunch boxes of the children either side of her but we won’t go into that.
Anyway the tale of me as small child trying to get the tea towels through the mangle. I was pretty good at it but no doubt on this occasion the tonsils must have meant I wasn’t at the top of my mangle feeding game. The tea towel started to go crooked so my six year old fingers decided I could wangle it through the mangle at a better angle (completely unintentional rhyme there). The mangle proceeded to eat my finger, then fingers in the plural, past the first joint and it just kept eating. I have to say it didn’t hurt that much; a doctor subsequently told me children have very pliable bones in compression situations. Just as well they were malleable as the hand went in then as far as my wrist and then I was up on my toes as the mangle was quite high off the ground and my arm seemed to be following. Where was the bloody automatic springing apart business I remember thinking, my skinny arm couldn’t have yet been as indigestible as a big screwed up bed sheet. I was bright enough to realise that I would not end up being eaten whole by the mangle. Then of course I did something really clever (I subsequently passed my eleven plus) I could just reach the plug flex and I yanked it out. Mangle stops but no springing apart; automatic disgorging of chewed items does not occur when the electricity supply is interrupted. My father read me the relevant passage from the Servis Washing machine manual afterwards in a slow ‘this is a lesson for life’ tone later. Indeed it has been a lesson for life I have never since pulled out a plug of any electrical item that is attempting to eat me.
My mother did release me manually with her usual accompanying quick slap to the head for having got my arm stuck in the first place and making wash day even more stressful for her. ‘Can you move your arm, can you move your fingers’ she said. I could so that was it, no ambulance, no sympathy, other than arnica for the bruises. As I was fine, not even a slightly flat arm to show at school later in the week, I felt somewhat cheated rather than relieved, children have strange priorities. I tell you this tale now because it popped into my head as I was pegging out the tea towels just now. I could use it in a poem but then there is probably too much nostalgia around these days anyway but I do recall it with something bordering on nostalgia.
The Boo tells tales of her childhood with definite nostalgia, she can talk for hours with friends about Thundercats and She-ra . In Prague not so long ago we even hiked up the steep hill to the castle to see The Barbie Exhibition at the little Toy Museum hidden in a back street. Nostalgia is something more than just memory; maybe it is the capacity to recall something with particular emotions attached, fondness, longing, even sadness without necessarily letting fact intervene. It can even occur when you would think there would be no capacity for any positive emotion to attach to an experience at all. I have worked with children, teenagers and adults, who have all experienced horrific things in their lives yet each one of them have had some things they remember with fondness, even a strange wistfulness in the midst of what we might see as unrelenting anguish.
I could make endless suggestions as to why this should be but the one that keeps coming back to me is the recent research I read that said that humans are ‘hard wired ‘ physiologically for narrative, we seek out the story. If I were to say barking dog, broken window, sound of running feet I expect each one of you have already joined up the dots to make those events into some sort of story. If it were the case that the dog is barking in Australia, there is a broken window in Islington and the sound of running feet is in an alley way in Iran it would indicate that there is no narrative, no causal link between those events at all but yet I know I still try to connect them. Time lapse animation works because the brain is not fooled into joining up the dots I think it demands that they join in order to make sense of something. So perhaps with nostalgia we do like to tell ourselves our own story about our own past and nostalgia is a tool we have in making that past less one dimensional, adding a warn fuzzy texture to the life we have led. Just a thought.
Read this poem by George Szirtes that literally plays with that idea of making our own story from half remembered, half forgotten things; which half dominates may be due to the emotion the memory evokes.
Sunday, 8 July 2007
It was the Boo’s MA graduation this week. As she commented herself whilst donning the cap and gown there are endless comedy moments to be gleaned from such garb which she said was essentially much like male genitalia ..a great deal of stuff dangling down solely for display purposes. Having been to her first graduation I was well prepared with tissues and patience as I watched countless bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young people being clapped by fond family. ‘Probably at least half a million quids worth of student debt in this hall’ said the man next to me. He said it in a rather wistful, puzzled way. I suspected he might have privately wondered why on earth his child was doing art instead of something useful like engineering or pharmacy but had kept it to himself, not being the sort of man to want to cause trouble or tread on dreams. I noted when his son strode across the stage to have his hand pumped by a strange man for graduating in Fine Art he clapped vigorously and his wife cried. Behind many an art student is often a puzzled but supportive family.
The Boo had been at Hull Art School as an undergraduate and had lived for three years near the areas where the current floods have struck. We therefore watched the television coverage with personal interest and then there was that endless concert to draw out attention to the state of the planet. Global warming is of course far more serious than some sopping wet houses in Hull and Sheffield but, as in poetry, from the particular we can sometimes access the universal. A woman crying at the state of her new carpets and the steady loss of a glacier in the Himalayas seem to be so disparate as to make the connection ludicrous, indeed opponents of the Al Gore School of thinking would vehemently say so. There have always been cycles of warming and cooling, the world has always blown hot and cold, ice ages come and go, the desert was once a sea, the sea once a desert. But then I wasn’t scurrying around in a metal box on wheels or flinging myself through the air in one now and then. I wasn’t there, wanting to keep butter cool in a fridge, buying dates in plastic, washing towels at 60 degrees, keeping the computer on stand-by. It is much more useful and relevant to say I; the particular to the universal. We spend a lot of time trying to embrace our individuality these days, learning to love ourselves as Oprah would say; we want to be the ultimate particular. Now all these particulars may be bringing the universal down about our ears.
Gerard Manley Hopkins battled with the universal and the particular both in spiritual and poetic ways. In Binsey Poplars of course he speaks to our times in almost prophetic terms
We are making an art out of hacking and racking the growing green these days. He uses the odd word unselve in this poem, being unselved by an act. I tend to be an optimist, I am far too big and particular to be unselved by a few ecological problems; unnerved maybe, a few sleepless nights, a slight twinge of guilt, a fridge magnet that exhorts me to save it. What would being unselved feel like? Hopefully for me it won’t ever feel like watching my home disappear under three feet of water.