Friday, 30 May 2008

Breadcrumbs to Peake, Steerpike and The Cure

So this week I have been at home watching rain fall yet again and have decided to give into it all, to just give into the mood and curl up on the sofa with books I wanted to read for the first time and books I need to read again because…well because I need to and like following a trail of breadcrumbs, one book leads to reading something else and then I end up at some strange twisted gingerbread house complied of sweet and sour, something a little bitter in the back of the throat that despite its taste you still crave like sherbet lemons or salt.

I have been reading Gormenghast books again. Mervyn Peake was my age when he died of Parkinson’s Disease and there seems a synchronicity in being drawn to read those three books again. He intended to follow Titus Groan through to his death in a series of books but of course died before he could complete that. I had forgotten how rich and chill and searing the language was in these books. Peake takes fantasy, the surreal and the bizarre and twists and teases it out into the real world through words and a story. Archetypes become flesh and breathe real air but there is always a little twist in the mirror to make them us but also grotesques. Like all such material based on the dark world of fairy tale and fable it touches on something deeply human. The original Grimms’ fairytales were not dark and terrifying just for the purpose of frightening small children into submission they held something of the madness and darkness universal to all cultures. Jung had a lot to say about fairy tales and the psyche, that well of racial unconscious that sits, sometimes a little foul and stagnant, at the bottom of society.

Peake went to Germany soon after the war ended and as a Government commissioned artist drew those people still dying in Belsen. His poetry reflects the real torment and ambivalence he felt at this role of recording such suffering. See this poem The Consumptive, Belsen 1945 to access something of these feelings. Seeing the results of such madness on a huge European scale must have feed into his writing. Human nature is never far from those dark so called fairy stories. In Austria a man keeps his own daughter in a cellar for endless years, keeping her children there, finding her other children as if by magic on his doorstep. His wife cooks and watches television above them apparently oblivious to what is happening under her feet. How far is that from the dark world of the Grimm brothers?How far is that from a witch keepng a child in a cage and feeling its finger to see how plump it has become and being tricked with a bone?

Peake’s nonsense poems for me somehow hold almost a greater poignancy than his other poems, that love of strangeness, the surreal make them far more than silly poems for children. Judge for yourself here.

I was a little disappointed when they turned the first two Gormenghast
books into a TV show. As with all books that you know and love you have developed your own internal images but revisiting the DVD, I have to admit that it is astounding lighting and photography and attempts to re-create that dark claustrophobic sense that inhabits Peake’s illustrations and the acting is at times inspired. In this clip from the TV production, it shows us a Steerpike who is far too beautiful for my liking but then the media know that women love a beautiful wicked man who just might be saved by the love of a good woman and they are trying to maximise on viewers after all. A friend and I have been accused of being rather Clarice and Cora, finishing each others sentences and on one memorable camping holiday in the Cotswolds we were spotted moving across the cowpat field toward the toilet block in that strange unison of movement shown by the sisters in this series. However in our own defence we are much nicer and far less stupid.

Then the literary breadcrumb trail led me to The Cure, one of my favourite bands and their track The Drowning Man that was influenced by Fuchsia and Gormenghast. Everything is connected somehow when you are looking for connections of course. We are creatures of a gestalt mentality; we like to make whole our experiences even when there is no rhyme or even a reason.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Convolvulus, Jomo Kenyatta and Cheese Stings(It's Strings,you idiot)

I have been tagged by Mrs Slocombe (see links list on right)

The rules: Each player answers the questions below about themselves. At the end of the post, the player then tags 5-6 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read your blog. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer.

1. What was I doing 10 years ago?
Wondering if I need to give my daughter more nutritional snacks and extra fish oil so she can revise for her GCSEs more productively. Assuring my elderly mother that we were indeed related, that the next door neighbour wasn’t evil, she had enough artificial flowers and that her parents would arrive shortly and so wandering off down the road was not a good idea. I was getting into a size 14 dress ( ah those were the days ) and just starting to have menopausal night sweats that felt as if I had contracted some malarial based disease from Fen midges.

2. What are 5 things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order)?
i: Just finished work but as sun shining I should fight with convolvulus and kid myself I’ve won.
ii: Clean out the fridge as I’ve just realised that if I don’t the convolvulus may get in there too.
iii: Phone a friend about something I should have phoned them about ages ago but now it is so late that phoning about what I should have phoned them about ages ago looks pathetically too late.
iv: Watch the next episode of Heroes and ponder that my daughter stalked the Indian Doctor character at a recent Heroes convention in Northampton of all places ( but then why shouldn’t heroes come from Northampton). I tend to think that, as she pointed out he was even better looking in the flesh, that such stalking activities may be allowable as long as they don’t involve pants enclosed in letters or tying him to a bed and breaking his legs to prevent escape. I know my daughter to be far too sensible for such things, she assures me she stalked him in a time framed, post modern, post feminist ironic sort of way and was actually researching the convention for material and outlets for her graphic novel work plus drinking and dancing.
v: Get to bed earlier than last night as post football UEFA Cup Final I found myself watching You Tube clips of James Stewart in Harvey at 1pm which took me by surprise, I expected to find myself in bed by 11pm but then I expect to find myself in a lot of places and somehow I end up somewhere else.

3) What Snacks do you enjoy?.
Bright neon pink taramasalata on white processed bread, Wispa bars dipped in coffee and the resultant gooey middle sucked out whilst the chocolate casing remains in tact. Dunking has to be timed to perfection to ensure maximum sucking effect without the loss of the structural integrity of the whole chocolate bar. It is best done privately or sensuously in the company of someone you feel will misconstrue like in that scene in Tom Jones with the chicken eating etc. Hula hoops , cheese strings but that is reserved for very depressing days and time has to be spent in pulling out each processed cheesy strand until you are left with a fly whisk effect rather like that thing Jomo Kenyatta used to carry like a septre. Pumpkin and sunflower seeds are kept for when feeling all the above has taken its toll on my digestive system and I want to kid them at work that I eat them all the time.

4) Things you would do if you were a billionaire?
Enjoy it in a deeply socialist, caring , sharing sort of way. Fund someone to invent tasty fat free cheese strings ( see above) and look for an old Renault 4 ( my first car) and restore it to immaculate condition but with a few additions like real leather heated seats, air conditioning, surround sound CD Player, Sat Nav that has Alan Rickman’s voice, a bigger engine that allows it to go from 0 to 60 in less than twenty-four hours, a customised paint job but nothing vulgar like flames or mock graffiti, maybe a tiger though , although a curious meerkat on the door may complement the Renault 4’s sit up and beg shape. Oh and shoes, lots of sparkly shoes.

5) Places you have lived?
Nottingham (old grim estate). Cambridge ( surburbia). Back to Nottingham ( grim estate).York. Terraced house in a mining village near Leeds. London , Wandsworth before it was up marketed , a stones throw from the Arndale Centre and Youngs Brewery( just one street short of Putney..the Shangrila of postal codes). Peterborough ( grim new housing estate). Brington near Stamford , Lincs ( a Jane Austen sort of coaching horse changing place, where fleeing Regency Bucks swapped horses whilst eloping to Gretna Green with underage heiresses who’s fortunes would solve their gaming debts). I lived in a country idle, a leaky cold cottage to escape to, whilst working on afore mentioned grim housing estate. A flat in a converted convent near Tunbridge Wells which had seen the light and had become a Community Home for recalcitrant teenage girls. It had a wood in the ground in which, we were told, adders lived and thrived; this threat kept the teenagers housed there from escaping through the woods although they did regularly manage to get mini cabs to pick them up from London and they would disappear off into the night back to The Smoke ( so much initiative I always thought and so unapplauded at the time). The Fens, first in a flat by a river with one also running down our bedroom walls, electric blankets created a steamy sauna effect with a slight sparking frisson of danger. Thereafter here in a small council house in the same small market town that will do me fine until they carry me away in an ample wooden box or alternatively wrap me up in the copious convolvulus (see things to do list above) and give me a truly green funeral; organic, biodegradable, no carbon footprint and not just a sustainable resource but one that could take over the world if allowed to.

6) Tagees:
Oh dear this is where I become Nelly No Mates, in the blogger playground. If anyone would like to be tagged then I’m happy to do so. Answering the questions was quite painless and made me think a bit which is dangerous it also stopped me cutting down any convolvulus; which is quite pretty in its own twisted way.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Going to the wall, and the power of a name.

A friend’s son is in the Balkans on a young photojournalist project and he posted this yesterday about Raza an old blind Roma woman they came across.

Does it help the situation or even her situation that her plight is portrayed so graphically, especially in a world that at the present is inundated with disasters of such immense proportions, as in China or Burma? There is that horrible phrase, compassion fatigue. We stare at images or read reports and we become anaesthetised to the pain and horror of it all. Is one old woman’s story any use, is one old woman’s image going to change anything? No one can say and so no one can reject its power, its potential for good. Cynicism does nothing, hope may do something, so a no-brainer really. What our response should be however is the stickier problem.

In Burma and China thousands upon thousands are also dying or living in terrible conditions. The young and the old always go to the wall first in any crisis situation. That saying ‘going to the wall’ comes from the days when churches had no seating and those who could not stand up for the length of the service were said to go to the wall in order to have something to lean on to support themselves during an interminable mass, hence the phrase ‘the weakest go to the wall’. We tend to use it now to indicate death, the weakest die first but originally there was something hopeful in that phrase, something was there to offer support, a wall. We may not be able to be a wall but I suppose if there are enough individuals around who care we could each be one small brick in it ( not in the Pink Floyd sense).

Ships full of aid sit waiting for the permission of the Burmese Government to let them unload their desperately needed cargo. Thousands literally have no wall to lean on in Burma and the outside world is the only wall they can look to for support. I note the French government is indicating that the government in Burma is committing a crime against humanity in not allowing aid and aid workers into the country. Fat chance we have of seeing the Burmese generals in the dock at the Hague and perhaps such statement only push them further into an entrenched position of isolationism. In denouncing something do we illuminate that behaviour on the world stage and make it less likely to happen or does denouncement in itself put up the shutters and make it less likely that the behaviour will change? I really don’t know and perhaps each situation is different and has its own scenario. What we can maybe contribute is a sense of expectation that our own governments will do something positive and proactive to help not only in the case of huge disasters as in Burma but in the small painful situations, like Raza's in which people can be lost to situations which threaten to overwhelm them and leave them without hope or the means to find it. This old woman has a name, there is something powerful about a name, a marker of someone's individuality and signature on the world.

Strangely, yesterday I was also sent a link by a friend to a short animation that makes the point about individual response to loss of hope and the power of a name.

Does it help if we have no expectation of hope and change?

I am sorry if this post is more than a little serious, I hope it has not strayed into polemic. I was really giving myself a good talking to here and allowing you , dear reader, to eavesdrop on it, not presuming to preach.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Keats, the Zen of the Broom and the Reason Why Seabirds Don't Sing

Wells Next the Sea, Norfolk ( note no to used)

Whilst at the Poetry Festival attended some excellent readings given during the week-end; Lavinia Greenlaw, Jacob Polley, Sophie Hannah, Martin Figura, Andre Mangeot. Dame Gillian Beer, a well known Cambridge academic on the Friday evening interviewed the actor who played Trigger in Only Fools and Horses, Roger Lloyd Pack. He records Poetry CDs so his invitation to the festival wasn’t that bizarre. Dame Gillian interviewed him about his Desert Island poem choices, some Shakespeare, Keats, Rilke, Wendy Cope etc. There was a strange moment when Dame Gillian told the actor she had watched several DVDs of Only Fools and Horses in order to feel she had done her research on him. She then pointed out that she found Trigger a very zen type character who truly understood the ‘broomness’ of broom and she’s right, watching this the man does display an extraordinary grasp of a zen like existence.

The essential nature of who and what we are is nothing to do with our physical properties but our identity bestowed upon us by chain of memory and how we function in the world. Hmmmm could see a whole PH.D coming out of Trigger’s philosophy of the broomness of broom.

Also came back from Wells with the question of why seabirds don’t sing. I can’t think of any sea birds that have what we might construe as a song. Not all ‘land’ birds have a song of course so it can’t just be a question of territory and singing to ensure others know to ‘Get off my land!’ Mating is done by all birds so song can’t exist just for that purpose. ‘Oi, over here darling, get an earful, you’ll want my genes in the pool darling!’ When I posed this question several poets present went into reverie mode, will there be a rash of why seabirds don’t sing poems in the near future…It must be a metaphor for something , all that sea, salt and cries are out there to be turned into grist for the poetic mill. Someone suggested it could be purely physiological as seabirds throats have to be capable of expanding to accommodate fish sliding down. I did see a herring gull over the week-end steal huge mackerel from a boat and after much positioning it threw back its head and with a couple of gulps the fish disappeared whole down its gullet; a spontaneous round of applause went up from the assembled crabbers on the quay. It was as if we were celebrating some one at a pie eating contest getting a whole pie down their neck a mixture of admiration and disgust. Does the construction of such a throat preclude singing? Are champion pie eaters unable to sing, are they never asked to do karaoke at the pub, do they dream of singing at the Met and have to console themselves with it chicken and egg or pie and song , which came first? Did their lack of ability to sing drive them to become champion pie eaters?

Can any ornithologists out there reading this tell me if any sea birds have songs, as opposed to screeches, cries, hollers or squawks?

It may have been Triggers choice of Keat's Ode to a Nightingale, got me thinking about bird song. He recited it from memory and in a very unactorly way, which was a relief. Actors can take a poem sometimes and in striving to make it a dramatic experience totally ruin the quietness or power of it. He did convey the reality of Keats’ tortured mind, so well done Trigger, you understood the ‘poemness’ of the poem.