Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Tiffany Atkinson, Neil Rollinson followed by Thunder and Lightning





The Boo and a writer friend are working on a project that involves global warming. It is always difficult for me to think of global warming big scale, I sort of glaze over on a close up shot of Al Gore's face, it is something ‘out there’ huge and running away from me down an increasingly steep slope and I try not to think too hard about what’s at the bottom of the slope for my child or her children and their children ( see I have already run that sentence on out of control at the mere thought of it). Coastal erosion and flooding are features that might increase as a result of this and I have seen at first hand the effects of floods, front rooms sticky with mud and sewage and a stench that soaks into the walls ( let me tell you dear reader it is not the water it is the smell that gets to you like a thousand unflushed toilets being emptied onto your Axminster), a child’s doll and a bird cage ominously empty,floating serenely down a high street. I have also walked along the Norfolk coast and seen abandoned houses teetering on the edge of cliffs where once there were back gardens and men in badly fitting shorts mowing neat and well kept lawns. I have photographed broken old sea defences sticking up from the sand like rotting teeth. Things encroach and perhaps this erosion on the Norfolk coast is a metaphor for how we as the human race react to impending change. Some ignore it, the more socially active and closely effected insist that better sea defences, flood defences etc will hold it all back. They believe that modern engineering and ingenuity , if only the money was thrown at it, can allow us to be Canute standing at the turn of the tide and saying thus far and no further.

We may be able to do this for a short while, we may be able to shore up the eroding coast line and continue to believe that global carbon emissions is nothing to do with small Norfolk communities and historic windmills saved from the encroaching sea. We all like to look at the smaller picture because that is something we can hold in our hands, we as individuals can touch and hold on to it. The bigger picture we have to leave to the nation states to work out, the canvas is so huge it can’t be hung anywhere where we can see it all in one individual eye sweep over human misery. I try to be a good greenish person, I wash at 30 degrees, turn out lights, use low energy light bulbs, try not to buy fruit and veg with high air miles, once used a brick in the toilet cistern until the plumber took it out and told me I was at risk of something that sounded like a plumbing disease of the pipes but I still tend to think this is useful but in the end, even if multiplied by thousands of others like me, not the ultimate answer. It is like the inhabitants of those Norfolk coastal villages, I can protest and be vocal about what should be done but in the end nature will answer those statements we have hurled in its face both in the past and now. It will probably always have the final say and the trick is to keep the dialogue going for as long as possible if we can.

What brought all this on? Perhaps a drive back from a Poetry Trust reading in Suffolk (which featured Tiffany Atkinson and Neil Rollinson of that more later) in apocalyptic weather, thunder, lightning, torrential rain. Weather is spectacular, weather can make you feel very insignificant, it can make you realise that the human species, can harness it, divert it, generally faff around with it but in the end it is a force not to be reckoned with but will reckon with us as a species. Weather and the planet are an intimate relationship, they are so intertwined that what falls or burns from the sky is only an expression of the earth’s state. I always find it interesting that in most mythologies the earth is always female and the sky or things of the sky are male. The thunder and lightning on Thursday night seemed very male, lots of rumbling and stomping around accompanied now and then by quick flashes of magnificent illumination. I like storms, there is something pure and magnificent broad brush stroke about them but this is from a choosing perspective, when forced to be in them they can take on a different hue. I eventually pulled into a small lay-by in the forest (yes I know parking near trees when lightning is about could be seen at tempting fate, I think poets struck by lightning is a low actuarial risk) and watched it all happen, admired the ability of an individual raindrops to be so heavy it can shake a car and contain within its surface tension such a huge amount of water that my sun roof started to leak and I had to resort to sitting in the car with my anorak on and my hood up. I became fascinated by how quickly small rivulets formed on the falling camber of the road and within minutes small streams with tarmac beds were hurling themselves in the same direction. Weather and the earth not to be taken lightly, not to be ignored, not to be viewed under a leaking sun roof.

Poetry reading was good, Neil Rollinson read some of his hall mark erotic poems which you can read here if you are in that sort of mood
but for me his other poems asked something more of me and I liked to be asked to think and feel something north of the waistline by a poem ( that is not to say that visceral sexual feelings elicited by words are to be sneered at, the art of the erotic is extremely demanding if it is to avoid soft porn clich├ęs and avoids making you feel that at any moment a TV Repair man, or a plumber will arrive at the door with a six pack, off the shoulder dungarees and a took box). The other poems on his website are worth a look to get a flavour of his whole range. Tiffany Atkinson’s work comes at you from left field (is that a cricketing derived term?) and is rich with quirks and surreal images. Here is her poem Rain that seems appropriate considering the events of the drive back

I have been looking at this gallery of photographs under the title earth that were submitted for a competition. They are well worth a look if you too find the power of the photograph sets off trains of thought at full speed (so much more green, the train, than being driven to something).

Friday, 10 July 2009

Mosquitoes, Brown Hens and Jimmy Cagney on the Fourth Plinth




I have been bitten by the mother of all mosquitoes; it must have staggered away from my leg with at least a hundred times its own body weight of my blood. I attract things that bite me, I must give off exactly the right pheromone that attracts blood sucking things. Should vampires exist I am surprised they haven’t found their way to my door. I have sprayed myself with all sorts of stuff over the years in an attempt to keep the blood suckers away but nothing really works. Someone once suggested raw onion but I think that would drive everything and everyone away and make me the complete Nelly No Mates. Once bitten , despite the application of various medical preparations I swell up and turn a vivid red , not all of me of course, although it feels like it as I feel I become merely the pale bloodless thing attached to the mossie bite, I am simply its means of transport through the world. The mosquitoes in the USA where built like jump jets, could be heard three blocks away and could penetrate Kevlar. The English mosquito, however tends to use stealth as its main weapon and usually makes its getaway before you start to itch. As I quietly swell I contemplate where that mosquito has dined before, dung heap, dog, cow, the kind of person you wouldn’t want to exchange bodily fluids with. I have wondered whether allergy can be conquered by sheer will power and anti histamine alone, why can some either not be bitten or others have minimal reaction? I am obviously the bug fine dining experience, I came away from a picnic last year covered in insect bites whilst the people with me were totally unmolested. Such things tend to make you paranoid and deeply melancholic about the joys of al fresco summer activities. Picnics usually mean flapping the wasps away from the food and finding sand in your sandwiches. The idyll of lying by a babbling brook in long sweet smelling grass under the shade of a spreading chestnut tree is the sort of ‘happy place’ talked about in all those guided meditations. You know the kind of thing, imagine it is a warm sunny day, you are lying beside a cool river, birds singing etc etc. I can go along with it so far but then something bites me….end of meditation, happy place is transformed to itch and scratch central. It is hard not to take this personally, the insect world no doubt has not got my name on its Most Wanted list but it feels like it some times. The insects over the past few years seem to be more virulent perhaps the eco system is so out of balance that they have had to up the anti to survive. On the other hand it may be that my resistance has diminished, should I make old bones they will be bones placed carefully inside one walking fluid filled mosquito bite. I will now stop my rant about insect bites as you may be eating your tea , dear reader.

I have just applied to go on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square as part of Anthony Gormley’s art project. It was an impulse thing but then I thought this may be a way to combat my very real fear of heights which for one so tall is ironic. I do tend to fall off things and trip over things but if the point of this art piece is to represent Great Britain in all its diversity and strangeness then watching someone try to overcome fear may be interesting. I have thought no further than that, I am presuming of course that given the lottery of selection and the amount of people who have applied I will not even have to put my money where my mouth is and confront my fear. Even the blessed Jill Archer in Ambridge failed to get a place so I tend to think I will not be deemed worthy. I will keep you posted meanwhile I do keep having a peek via the webcam at the goings on the plinth and most of it is quite boring but then so is life so if it is meant to be representative a large proportion of it will be but now and then someone does something rather odd or interesting, I liked one man who sat and sketched very quietly and the woman with the green balloons. A lot seem to spend a great deal of time on their mobile phones , presumably saying ‘Hi, guess where I am, I’m on the fourth plinth.’ Should I get up there I think I would be muttering quietly to myself, ‘I’m going to die, I’m definitely going to die’. Of course sheer exhibitionism will be present why else would anyone be so stupid as to place themselves on a really high small platform in the middle of a busy public place. That’s what I want to know, why would I stick myself up there when I can get dizzy just peering over the edge of a teacup. Is it the ultimate Jimmy Cagney , White Heat moment, ‘Look at me Ma, top of the world’? Of course that film character fell off. I am perhaps engaging in a little bit of Russian roulette, hoping of course that when that lottery draw happens on 1st August I won’t get picked. Do they have insurance for people that go up there? Do you have to pass a medical? Is anyone with vertigo automatically excluded? Is anyone who puts themselves up there who suffers from vertigo automatically excluded on the grounds of sheer stupidity? We shall see, well maybe we shall see.

Meanwhile whilst I await my name not to be pulled from the plinth hat I am happy to inform you that my friend has named one of her new chickens after me. It is brown and rather small and I am egotistical enough to think she will produce wonderful eggs. I hope the fox and the cat will do her no harm and she will be content to just eat, scratch around and roost quietly up on her perch, hopefully she will not fall off it. I don’t think chickens can suffer from vertigo, although come to think of it they don’t seem to like flying a lot.