Friday, 2 June 2023

O Lucky Man...

ca. 1936

Several people were curious to know more about a remark in the recent post Cabinet of Curiosities: "I don't think Dad believed in luck, or that anyone would have characterised his post-war life as lucky, although he was easy-going enough (and perhaps wise enough) to have disagreed." So I thought I'd revisit, re-write, and stitch together some bits of posts from a few years ago (I did warn you there'd be more of this refitting and recycling going on...). The result is a bit long, so if you have no interest in my family back-story, or are prone to the complaint "TL;DR", I'm sure you can find something more congenial to read elsewhere.

My father died in July 2007, not long before what would have been his 90th birthday. I'm pretty sure he would have made it to 90, and maybe even 100, had he not concealed the symptoms of the cancer that killed him. Or rather, had he not succumbed to complications in hospital shortly after the emergency operation that attempted to save his life. Typically, this foolishly brave, stupidly self-effacing man had concealed his illness for too long because my mother was dementing, and he felt honour-bound to see her through her final years. Only when she had finally been admitted to a care home did he seek treatment, but it was far too late. As I say, typical. What can you do?

This was also typical, of course, of so many decent men of that entire generation, born into the long shadow of the Great War, and destined to follow their own fathers into another conflict not of their making and, like them, to become cheerfully grumpy, insolently obedient, and reluctantly brave enlisted soldiers. Deference and obedience were part of the fabric of society then, and it took a braver, more free-thinking sort of man to question or refuse so-called military "service": it was almost literally unthinkable. But the problem with soldiering, especially as a private or NCO and particularly under wartime conditions, is that it amplifies and consolidates attitudes of compliance and conformity into automatic reflexes, not least by re-badging them as virtues. Do what you're told, and we'll all be OK. Do what you're told well, and you'll be rewarded with praise and promotions. Don't, and you'll cop it, you 'orrible little man. [1]

These questionable reflexes weren't easily unlearned when men were "demobbed", and got carried over into civilian life and the workplace. Before the war, my father had been an apprentice at a local engineering firm, Geo. W. King, which was run by the King family along patrician lines. The head of the firm was known as "Mr. George", and his son as "Young Mr. George". They seemed to know most of the large workforce by name, and it was a successful and innovative enterprise, mainly building conveyor belts and other mechanical handling devices for car factories and warehouses. After returning from six years in uniform Dad was taken back on, worked hard, did what he was asked to do, and rose from the factory floor to the drawing office, eventually achieving middle-management status as a "production controller". Equipped with a little schoolboy French, he was even dispatched to France around 1960 to help oversee the installation of conveyors in the Simca car factory at Poissy.

For a while deference and loyalty combined with natural ability seemed to be paying off. At patrician Geo. W. King, considerable effort went into building that loyalty. As it happens, I was born in the upstairs flat of a house just off the Great North Road in Stevenage that belonged to King's. My godparents, also employed at King's, lived in the downstairs flat. The King's apprentices' "charity beat balls" were a big thing, locally: in 1964, the Rolling Stones, no less, performed for them in the Stevenage Locarno Ballroom. Families were not ignored, either; every year there was a children's Christmas party and an outing to a show in London [2]. Every five years, a new "long service" lapel badge was awarded to employees. By the 1970s, Dad had worked there for over twenty-five years, and was still only in his early 50s.

Things began to go wrong around then, however. As the post-War decades progressed, younger men in possession of engineering qualifications were leapfrogging their seniors in the promotion stakes. Dad found this a bitter pill to swallow, I think: the educational opportunities denied to his generation but secured by them for future generations were being taken up by relative beginners, and this put the older hands like him at a disadvantage. Also, the work environment was changing from the patrician to the managerial as control of the firm slipped away from the King family. Worse, the British car industry was in terminal decline, with knock-on effects all down the supply chain. Then, catastrophically, in 1973 Geo. W. King was taken over by Tube Investments, who saw no future in the mechanical handling side of the enterprise. Seven hundred employees were made redundant, including my father. To add insult to injury, TI stole the King's pension fund, simply because it was a handy pot of money, and the law at that time said they could. None of those long-serving, redundant employees would see a penny of their pension. So much for loyalty, long service, and those ridiculous lapel badges.

This (combined with various domestic troubles and setbacks I won't go into, but including, I'm sorry to say, a rebellious adolescent son who gave frequent and unnecessary cause for worry to his parents) would have embittered any man whose whole philosophy of life had been crumpled up and flung in his face. Loyalty? Long service? Hard work and experience? Fuck off, fool, and welcome to Brave New Britain! Dad became more inward and withdrawn, despite managing to find work for a few years in a start-up run by other ex-King's employees who valued what he had to offer. But the father I had known as a small child – beaming and bearing gifts when he returned from a week working in Paris, or proudly showing us round the King's stand at an Earls Court exhibition – that man had retired from the scene, hurt, before he had even turned 60 in 1978.

Now, all fathers are weird; it's a weird job, believe me, although it was considerably more weird back then. It took me years to realise my father had always been, under his easy-going manner, a wary, frustrated man; aged 37 when I was born, and probably with one disappointment too many already under his belt. You could never quite take him at face value, particularly when he expressed an opinion or made a joke. Often, when he said one thing, he meant quite another, but you would eventually stop noticing his humorous or ironic intent, if you ever had; children are not generally great at picking up on irony. Take bourbon biscuits, for example. I will now never know whether his pronunciation of "bourbon" as "berben" in the American style was one of his little jokes, or a slightly mistaken bit of Besserwisser one-upmanship. Whatever, within our family "berben" was the Authorized Version. So I will never forget the day one of my partner's parents – very distinguished, university-educated people – requested a bourbon biscuit, pronounced rather pedantically in the full-on French manner, and I got a severe, spluttering case of the giggles. Thanks, Dad.

Burma Reunion 1947 (Dad centre front)

Majorca 1970

In many ways he had been an unusual man and an untypically engaged father, rather ahead of his time. I was never ignored, and I could always get his full attention. Which was worth getting: he always seemed to know everything I might want to know. Whether it was the various types of cowboy pistols, the names of American Indian tribes and their chiefs, how to repair a punctured bicycle tyre or make a trolley out of pram-wheels and planks, how to draw a boxer, how to mix brown paint out of blue, red, and yellow paint, or the best way to build a bonfire... He always knew. He often made me playthings – a sailor's hat from a cornflakes box, a hideaway from wooden pallets in the back garden, an improvised guitar from a rolled up newspaper stuffed in a tube – and taught me, quite consciously, how much better imagination was than expensive, unaffordable toys. True, he would also sometimes offer to wallop me, give me a good hiding, skin me alive, knock my block off, put salt on my tail, and various other hair-raising threats, and I'm sure I must have had the occasional smack, although I can't actually remember any; the threat was usually enough. To this day, the very idea of levering open a tin of paint with the business end of a chisel or forgetting to put the lid back on that tin gives me an almost religious thrill of guilty horror.

Engagement with the wider world outside work and family never seemed to hold much interest for him, although at one point around 1965 he did stand for the local council as a Liberal Party candidate. He lost, Stevenage being solidly Labour in those days, but I can recall the excitement of having a direct personal interest in an election, with all the posters, flyers, canvassing, and "knocking up" of potential voters on the day (no, not like that, fool). I don't think he had been a long-standing member of the Liberal Party – it may even simply have been a membership of convenience for the period of the election. My understanding is that he had been persuaded to stand by an old acquaintance from his pre-war youth in Letchworth and Hitchin who was a Big Noise in the local party, and whom my mother always pointedly referred to as an old girlfriend [3].

And talking of my mother... He loved that difficult, conflicted, and (in my opinion) rather manipulative woman with an exemplary, selfless devotion. Again, I think their relationship was ahead of its time, as a working-class couple aspiring to a modest slice of the "social mobility" pie. He understood her boredom at home and supported her need to have a job – she was out at work full-time as soon as I was settled in at primary school until forced to quit by health problems in her 50s – and he never ignored, embarrassed, or belittled her the way other men seemed so often to do to their wives. In their prime, they were a formidable pair, seemingly cut out for bigger things: things that would never happen, though, largely because they had no actual idea what they might have been, or any plan of how to arrive at them. Both had spent crucial formative years in the army (Mum had been a sergeant in an ATS ack-ack unit), and I think they had placed their entire stake, naively perhaps, on the anticipation of military-style rewards and promotions for loyalty, obedience and hard work. In the end, though, they were let down by a system that had exploited their trust, then betrayed and casually discarded them as surplus to requirements.

As old age set in, and the disabling ill-health that had prematurely ended my mother's working life became a matter for concern, the two of them moved to Norfolk to live in a mobile home in my sister's back garden, entirely dependent on one state pension and the few supplementary benefits they could be persuaded they were entitled to. They had always been inseparable – unhealthily so, really – and now rarely ventured out except to shop, spending every evening at home in front of the TV. They had no friends in the area, no real interests, and nothing much to say for themselves. As a younger man I felt oppressed by what they had become, and my visits "home" were a trial of endurance that never lasted more than one long, tedious afternoon.

After my mother died in 2007, and before his own final illness became acute, Dad had a year of relative freedom, which I did my best to encourage. Things he hadn't done for years "because of Mum" came back into his life. He could go for walks – Mum couldn't walk, and couldn't bear to be left alone – so I bought him boots. He could listen to music – Mum didn't enjoy jazz, his passion – so I bought him CDs. He could read – Mum always felt ignored when sitting in the same room as a reader – so I bought him books and an illuminated magnifier to aid his failing eyesight. Our Sunday evening chats on the phone – a weekly filial chore I had come to dread over the decades – became enjoyable; he was free to talk about things he hadn't talked about for most of his life, and most weeks I would be jotting down a new shopping list as I listened.

Then the inevitable call came: he had been rushed into hospital for an emergency operation. I drove the four hours up to Norwich to visit him afterwards, and he had shrunk alarmingly into a tiny, frail, exhausted old man in a post-op gown. We talked for a bit, nothing of any great consequence, but then I had to leave for the long drive back home. On the way out, I realised I had left a bag behind, so headed back. The curtains had been half drawn around his bed, so he didn't notice me, but I could see him: he was laughing and joking with the three young nurses who had arrived to give him a bed-bath. So I grabbed my bag and left the old guy to it. He was just weeks away from his 90th birthday: how would we best celebrate that now?, I wondered. The very next day, though, I heard from my brother-in-law that he had succumbed to post-operative complications and hadn't made it through the night.

Which, as I imagine is always the case when a parent dies, released a number of contradictory emotions, ranging from grief to relief. But I was grateful to have had that final year and those last glimpses of him as the man himself, no longer compartmentalised in the role of father and dutiful husband as I had known him for most of my life. They are good memories to have of a decent, intelligent man who didn't deserve the string of misfortunes that blighted his later life. But, as I wrote in the earlier post, I don't think Dad believed in luck, and would have disagreed with anyone who suggested his life had been unlucky: you simply had to play the cards you were dealt. Unlike me, and despite all the evidence, I don't think he could ever quite bring himself to believe that the dealer might have been stacking the deck all along.

1985: younger then than I am now...

1. A conscript "citizen" army also teaches good men the arts and habits of "dumb insolence": a passive-aggressive, veiled hostility towards lesser but socially-superior men granted unchallengeable disposal over their lives. You do what you're told, sort of, but make sure in the doing that the teller realises you think he's an idiot, quite possibly by sabotaging the outcome by following the letter, not the spirit of your orders. Anyone who seeks an explanation for the craziness of industrial relations 1945-1975 need look no further.

2. I'll never forget those coach-rides into central London, eventually going along the Chelsea Embankment before turning up into the West End. At one Christmas show, I remember looking across at a striped awning opposite the theatre we were being ushered into, which appeared to bear the name STRIPE-ERAMA. Only in later years did I realise it must have been STRIPERAMA, a strip-club on Soho's Greek Street.

3. The name "Elma Dangerfield" always used to come up, but this cannot be right, at least in the "old girlfriend" stakes.

Sunday, 28 May 2023

The Avon Gorge

Stand by for another book. Well, I did say there were three (or maybe even four) more currently in the pipeline. This is the next one to pop out. There will be more.

Although we live in Southampton, in 2015 my partner got a job in Bristol, and so had to find accommodation there to ease the burden of commuting. She managed to find a nice, modern flat in a block perched on the top of the Avon Gorge quite near the Downs, and I got into the habit of joining her there. We had previously lived in Bristol in our post-university years from 1977 to 1984, and it was fun to reacquaint myself with the city. It has changed quite a lot in the intervening decades, although the Downs and the Gorge have changed very little, if at all.

Being so near the Gorge, I began taking regular walks along it, either towards Clifton, where Brunel's famous suspension bridge is located, or towards Sea Mills, where the steep-sided gorge opens out into a less dramatic valley, and the road and the railway to the port at Avonmouth are conveyed over the mudflats of the Avon's tributary river Trym on two rather less elegant structures. Naturally, I take photographs as I walk, and have built up a solid series over the past eight years of regular visits, in the vein of that now well-established photographic genre of "repeated visits to the same limited geographical location", which AFAIK has no name: "chorography", perhaps?

I'm wary of photographers who make work in landscapes they do not inhabit as a resident. But no-one really "inhabits" the Avon Gorge. For locals it's primarily a landscape of transition, passed through when commuting into Avonmouth or into the city centre by road or rail, or briefly traversed when driving over the suspension bridge. For others it's a leisure resource: rock climbers learn their ropes on the cliff faces, and on many nights we have watched the flickering lights of mountain-bikers descending down steep tracks through Leigh Woods on the far side of the Gorge from the comfort of our flat. Then there are the peregrine-watchers, who regularly occupy a little rocky platform with their tripods and telescopes, and various other hobbyists, not to mention those in pursuit of various chilly thrills under cover of darkness. But all of these folk, having done whatever they came to do, will go home to somewhere quite different within the city.

Consequently, I feel I am getting to know the area as well as it can be known, and that there is value in my particular take on the visual variety it offers. Being tidal, the Avon rises and falls dramatically twice every day, exposing or covering the mudflats, whose colour depends on the light, the weather conditions, and the direction of view. On a far slower, seasonal timetable, where the sides of the gorge are heavily-wooded the absence, presence, and colour of foliage is in constant flux. By contrast, the human elements in the Gorge change very little, apart from the density of the traffic: what little available space there is has already been fully occupied by road, rail, and other infrastructure of long-standing. The interaction of these elements in their differing periodic cycles is what gives the Gorge its ever-changing visual interest.

I have long been an admirer of the genre established by Hokusai with his Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji – followed by such similar collections as Hiroshige's One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, and Henri Rivière's Thirty-Six Views of the Eiffel Tower – so I was initially tempted by the idea of "X views of the Clifton Suspension Bridge". But the bridge is somewhat over-photographed, and as so many of the better photos in my files do not include that particular landmark I settled on a less specific "X Views of the Avon Gorge". The final value of "X" as yet remains to be determined: even now, each walk still seems to add something new.

But sometimes a line needs to be drawn under an ongoing project, however provisional, so that it does not become one of those never-ending accumulations of unexamined material that ends up too overwhelming and too various ever to bring to a satisfactory conclusion. So this book – actually a 56 page "magazine" (a format I have come to prefer) – represents the drawing of such a line, and is now available at £15.25, with the usual downloadable PDF version at £5.99. Clicking on the cover image below will link you to a full preview on my Blurb bookstore; have a look and see what you think. In this shop browsers are under no obligation to buy!

Talking of periodic cycles, it seems I have recently returned to straight photography as my main medium (which will come as welcome news to some of you, I know). This is almost entirely due to the iPhone. A while ago I bought a Panasonic GM1 on eBay, which is the smallest micro 4/3 camera ever made (and it really is hilariously tiny) together with its dinky little collapsible 12-32mm lens, and even that feels on the bulky side by comparison. There's really no arguing with the convenience of a phone now that the results are good enough to make you think twice about carrying even a doll's-house-sized camera. In fact, several of the pictures in the Avon Gorge publication are iPhone pictures, and I doubt anyone but me could say which they are, even as medium-sized prints.

Tuesday, 23 May 2023

The Tourist from Mars Returns

In 2014 I was pleased to be invited to put on a solo exhibition at the FotoForum Gallery in Innsbruck, Austria by its director, Rupert Larl. As it happened, this would be my second exhibition there: the previous one (Der Widergänger / The Revenant) had been held 11th September to 10th October 2009, and was by all accounts a success, but unfortunately pressures at work (yes, in those days I had a proper job) meant I had been unable to attend in person. But in 2014 my upcoming retirement meant that I was free to travel to Innsbruck that summer, and so the gallery generously funded a ten-day residency for me during the first two weeks of the exhibition (6th June - 5th July).

I printed the ninety or so A3-sized images for the show myself and shipped them to Austria a month in advance of the exhibition's opening, but – just as a precaution against postal mishaps – I also sent the gallery a DVD containing the image files, so that as a last resort they could be printed locally. In the event everything arrived safely, and the backup was not needed. I myself arrived in Innsbruck on the day of the opening of the exhibition, "A Tourist From Mars" [1], and had an exhausting but memorable day being interviewed and filmed for the local TV station and newspapers in the afternoon, then in the evening reading out my statement-cum-manifesto at the official opening, something I had drafted in my schoolboy German, but which was then brushed into grammatical and idiomatic shape by a local teacher and photographer, Heinz Jürgen Hafele. It was the closest I have ever felt to "celebrity" before or since. Then for the following ten days I simply got on with exploring Innsbruck and the surrounding area in search of photographs. It was all an enormous pleasure, and a fitting climax to that phase of my life, and I will always be grateful to Rupert Larl for making it happen.

Then just a year later my computer suffered a backup drive failure and, despite the best efforts of a data recovery team, a great deal of my older work was lost, including many of the image files that had been shown in Innsbruck. Luckily, all of the photographs I had actually taken in Innsbruck during June 2014 had survived on the laptop I had taken with me, but I was kicking myself for not having kept a copy of that DVD. It then occurred to me that Rupert might have held on to it, so I emailed him, but it seemed that he hadn't. Oh, well, too bad; such is life with computers. But then, five years later in 2020, I got an email saying that he had after all found copies of those exhibition files on his computer hard-drive when tidying things up in advance of his own retirement from FotoForum, and would they still be useful? He was kind enough to transfer them to me, and I made several safety backup copies, but then – having no immediate use for the files – promptly forgot all about them.

In recent weeks I have been having one of my periodic book-making binges (there are at least three in the pipeline) and it occurred to me that – although at the time I did make a book from the blog posts I wrote and illustrated during and shortly after the Innsbruck residency – it might be worth compiling the pictures from the actual exhibition into a book in its own right. These were, after all, the best work I could muster from the productive five years following the 2009 show, and have held up pretty well, I think. Reassembled they would make a sort of retro retrospective, but – rather than attempting to recreate the layout of the two rooms of the exhibition itself from memory – I would arrange them using the folders as found on the backup DVD, which essentially contained selections from the sequences I had either already put into book form or was actively compiling at the time. For example, the largest selection, "Avalon", was still two years away from becoming the book England and Nowhere.

So a new "Tourist from Mars" publication is the result, and is available now as either a 108-page "magazine" at £26 or as a PDF download at £5.99. As always, I recommend the PDF as the closest rendering of the actual photographs, although the magazine is a much more satisfying object to handle and browse through [2]. You can click through on the image below to see a flip-book preview on Blurb (be patient, it can be slow):

It's a sobering thought that this exhibition was nearly a decade ago, now. Although I've had pictures in various group shows since (most notably, perhaps, I sold out the editions of two of my digital prints at the 2017 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition) and have produced a ton of work subsequently, that second solo Innsbruck exhibition at age 60 seems to have been something of a high-water mark. The clear lesson, forcefully pointed out to me in 2014 by Rupert Larl, is that it's simply not enough to make work, however good, and just wait for interest in it to materialize. It also requires persistent and time-consuming effort to be put into self-promotion, backed up by an unwavering, bullet-proof self-belief bordering on the sociopathic.

However, to acknowledge the truth of this is not the same as acting on it. I, like so many self-motivated amateur artists, have found it hard-to-impossible to turn myself into the kind of attention-seeking self-publicist who can unblushingly exploit the undoubted efficacy of pester-power. Rupert was surely right, though: if as an "unknown" you really want to get your work out there, you've really got to make that supplementary effort. But, even then, you'll still have to put up with more disappointment and frustration than any normal individual with a healthy instinct for self-preservation can be expected to bear. Is it really worth it? For a youngster hoping to make a living as an artist, it has to be; otherwise, get yourself a proper job. For the rest of us, I doubt it, and the older you are, the more I doubt it. Why put so much effort into making yourself unhappy?

But, cheer up, that's no reason to stop making the work! Although if making work neither makes you happy nor earns you any money, you probably should stop doing it. As for me, did I mention I've got another three books in the pipeline? And, actually, I've just thought of a possible fourth... I mean, really, in the end who has time for all that exhibitionist-publicist malarkey when there's so much fun to be had without it?

Mirror, mirror, on the tree,
Show the fairest view to me...

1.  Unlike 2009's "Der Widergänger" this was actually not my idea for a title, but borrowed by Rupert Larl from a post on this blog.
2. Relax... I realise you have no intention of buying anything! Hardly anyone ever does. The prices simply reflect what it costs to indulge in this low-risk (and addictive) form of vanity publishing, which I recommend. It's true that I have almost certainly produced more individual titles on Blurb than I have ever sold copies of them, and I've definitely given more away as gifts than I've sold (hmm, talk about "content wants to be free"...). But every year I am able to add a volume or two to the shelf of my stuff that has been accumulating in my old college's library and, who knows?, maybe future generations will find them of interest.

Friday, 19 May 2023

Something for the Weekend

Oops, that's the front camera...
Accidental selfie going up Pilsden Pen

Until COVID arrived on the scene I had been in the habit of having a single, annual haircut, generally at the point in late spring when heat, humidity, and the still relatively generous head of hair my genes have bequeathed me started to become an unpleasant combination. In haircut week – which was generally some time around now – I would go from scruffy collar-length to neat above-the-ears in fifteen minutes. So, when COVID caution and the lockdowns began in March 2021 I was already due for that annual haircut. But, hairdressers having been declared a health hazard, I thought, WTF, I'll just let it grow. It would be fun, after all, to compare and contrast the beyond shoulder-length thatch of my youth with whatever my scalp could manage to put forth in my late sixties.

When I was working at the university library there was a hairdressing salon located in the Student Union building, and I would go there for the haircut. It was convenient, obviously, and there was also little alternative: old-fashioned men's barbershops had been vanishing from High Streets everywhere for years. So, having become accustomed to it, since retiring in 2014 I'd walk the pleasant 2.5 miles across Southampton Common to the campus, despite the fact that I'm sufficiently a boy of the "long 1950s" never to feel entirely comfortable in its unisex atmosphere; "unisex" here meaning "a female environment in which men are tolerated". As in all such salons, there were always rather too many mirrors, smells, lifestyle magazines, and haircare "products" for a graceless lump of a straight white male like me to feel at home. The constant pounding club-style music did nothing much for my tinnitus, either.

Oh, dear... They were doing well until the word "perfumery" intruded...
[image from the Advert Museum at historyworld]

In the meantime, though, barbershops for men have been popping up all over the place: there are at least four on our local suburban High Street. "Grooming" seems to have become important again to a lot of young men, although it seems to me that most of these establishments are working with a primped-up notion of "masculinity" that doesn't sit well with the older male. No, I do not want my beard oiled or my moustache waxed, thank you very much, and, no, I don't want my hair gelled, either. What I liked was the old-style barbershop that closed twenty years or more ago where I used to go with my son. It was a step up from a well-run car-maintenance garage in ambience, but only one step: functional, sparse, with tools laid out ready to hand, and reassuringly under-decorated. The elderly barber, George, knew his trade and how to match cut to head, and could read your personality like a psychiatrist. I never had to ask to have a bit more taken off, and the ritual enquiry "Would you like anything on it, sir?" was always a question expecting the answer "No". George's well-honed instincts also told him that I did not require interrogation about my holiday plans, or the prospects of England against Australia in the Ashes. He would work in a deep, austerely contemplative silence, broken only by the snip of scissors and the buzz of the electric trimmer.

When I was a small boy, we used to be despatched to an identical local barber clutching a half-crown coin (that's two shillings and sixpence, which is 12½ "new" pence) with strict instructions to ask for a "short back and sides". We'd sit in a row on a bench, shunting up one until it was your turn (an appointment? What's that?). The barber would place a padded plank across the arms of the chair, sit you on it, pump it up to get you to a convenient height, then drape you in a cloth tucked inside your shirt collar and get to work, usually chatting over his shoulder with someone more interesting than a seven-year-old boy, occasionally interjecting, "Oy, stay still, you, or I'll 'ave yer ear off!". It was oddly disconcerting, getting to stare at yourself in the big mirror over the sink, just a head sticking out of a cone of grey cloth. Back in those days, I imagine those ten minutes getting a trim were the longest most males, young or old, ever spent looking at themselves in a mirror. Doubtless, prolonged eye-contact with oneself does foster uncomfortable introspection: no wonder so many customers preferred to chat about the football. As a distraction I used to study the kit laid out by the sink: the scissors, razors, clippers and trimmers, and the leather strop hanging from a hook like instruments of torture. Which, in a way, they were: I hated getting my hair cut almost as much as, in later years, I hated shaving.

Obviously, in those days there was none of the compensatory "unisex" pleasure of having two young women in intimate contact with one's head – one to wash, one to "style" – something that no longer feels as mildly transgressive as it did at first. In the mind-set of the 1950s, though, that would have been verging on the scandalous: positively Profumo. I imagine there were sleazy joints in Soho where you could pay for that service, plus extras, but the systematic suppression of pretty much all direct expressions of sexuality meant that any physical contact fizzed with erotic charge. Male barbers were adept at avoiding unnecessary touching with their busy hands, and even a casual brush of the fingers when passing change in a shop was tantamount to an indecent proposal, deserving of an apology and carefully avoided. But sex was nonetheless always a silent subtext in the barbershop. Alongside the tubs of Brylcreem, boxes of Durex condoms were openly on display. The barber's famous final question – "Anything for the weekend, sir?" – was the cue to palm a "packet of three" discreetly to the customer.

[image from the Advert Museum at historyworld]

Where I realise I probably differ from those men of old, and most men even today, is in a willingness to be seen with radically different lengths of hair. It's curious how rigidly guys always seem stick to a chosen length and style, which seems an expensively high-maintenance approach to me. I lost the habit of "popping in for a trim" when I let my hair grow to its full natural length after leaving school, and have never regained it. Even before COVID, I enjoyed the shape-shifting effect of gradually changing demographic over the year, at least as seen in others' eyes, like a slow-mo werewolf. 

Your tacit approval or disapproval rating gradually shifts in the months following an annual haircut. You start off neatly barbered, bristly, and a little hyper-masculine. The suit-and-tie crowd acknowledge you, and people call you "sir", without a hint of irony. The edges gradually get knocked off that look, and you become Mr. Windblown-Casual, who lives for the weekend out on his boat, like the guys in the preppy clothes catalogues. Then, somewhere around three quarters of the way through the year, you pass through a barrier of respectability, and find yourself back in the fold with the sub-cultural types. You're suddenly "mate" to everyone again, or even – once you start getting visibly old – "young man" to patronising twerps [1]. I don't know whether my body-language adapts to mirror the hair, but I suspect it may: in the weeks before finally conceding I need to get my hair cut my partner always tells me I have a positively (or perhaps negatively) defiant, two-fingers vibe. After three years of unchecked growth, my hair is almost back at the length of my early twenties, except now completely white and very much thinner, and I suspect she's a little fed up with looking like a probation officer escorting me to an ankle-tag fitting when we're out together. I've had to admit, reluctantly, that it's not a great look any more.

So I finally booked myself in for a haircut on campus, and now, at least temporarily, I'm Mr. Respectable again! Although, in truth, "respectability" is a condition I have never aspired to or attained. I'm just one of those lifelong Pig-Pen guys, happily emitting an irrepressibly scruffy vibe. So, no need to call me "sir", but do watch it with the "young man" bit, mate...

1. I'm an easy-going sort of bloke, but that "young man" business really makes me bristle. Hilariously, I discovered recently that an old friend had been taking this as a compliment on his youthful appearance, rather than the condescending jibe it really is.

Sunday, 14 May 2023

Cabinet of Curiosities

Now that I've been writing these blog posts for a while – 14 years, actually, which is rather more than a while – there are quite a few older ones that, if I were to write them now, I might well do differently. I've learned a lot about myself and my views by thinking about me and about them out loud and in public, as it were, and no doubt my ability to write has improved along the way, too. So at the moment I'm finding it an enjoyable exercise to find interesting posts that are more than a few years old and polish them up in the IH workshop to 2023 specifications. Expect to see more of these in future.

This one is a revised version of something I wrote in 2009. Our recent visit to Dorset, and the inevitable fresh haul of trophy rocks we brought back, reminded me of the central idea of that original post: that rocks and fossils can serve as both personal talismans and aides-mémoire. As with photographs, I find that in my case I can remember pretty much where and when and how each significant keeper was found, right back to the days of my childhood and the beginnings of my fossil-hoard ("collection" is far too grand a word for this unsystematic and unlabelled cabinet of curiosities).

A diabolical body-part

Six hundred or so years after the Reformation, the religious function of icons and relics is a distant and slightly queasy memory in England. The Protestant Tudors swept the whole paraphernalia of folksy religiosity into a bin labelled "Papist Nonsense", the lid of which was banged down firmly by the business-minded puritans of the English Revolution, and then sat on heavily by the puritanically-minded businessmen of the Industrial Revolution. The kissing of venerated bones is now about as un-English as you can get, although some – Ted Hughes, for one – have proposed that we have been in secret mourning for the loss of Merry Old pre-Reformation England ever since. Possibly; certainly, a few more public holidays would not go amiss. But getting intimate again with wizened body parts, ancient nails, and bits of timber, though? Not a chance. Although it will be interesting to see what our latest monarch makes of the latest Pope's coronation gift of two splinters of very old wood ("I saw[ed] these and thought of you").

Relics of the intimate life of celebrities past and present are still sought after by many, however. Locks of hair have always been popular for some reason, even before the advent of DNA paternity testing; I suppose that – unlike fingernails, bones, or teeth – hair is the only suitably flexible and non-compostable body-part to have hanging round your neck in polite company. Certainly, no visit to a stately home is complete without the opportunity to gaze into a glass-topped cabinet of "association" curiosities: a shrivelled orange that allegedly once passed through the hands (but not the digestive system) of Florence Nightingale sticks in my mind. The recent book by Warren Ellis inspired by a piece of gum chewed by Nina Simone and retrieved by Ellis at a concert in 1999 shows that the reliquary instinct is far from dead, even if the saints are rather more secular these days.

Personally, I have formed strong bonds with certain bits of rock; fossils, mainly. It all started when I was quite young. The glaciers that ground across England, smoothing off the gnarlier features of the landscape, eventually passed through the high chalk valleys where I grew up, before finally giving an icy shrug in the face of climate change and retreating back north, dropping flinty treasures from their overstuffed pockets into the topsoil as they went. As a boy with the innate collector's urge to gather up nature's leftovers I began to fill a bedroom drawer with them. A fossil sea urchin might turn up on a garden spade; I was given a perfect heart-and-star Micraster by my godparents, spotted in the chalky rubble of a new underpass being excavated near their house. More common were those ridgy shell ashtrays known as "devil's toenails", and the occasional spent bullet of a belemnite. Partial, perfect, or bumped and battered, they all went into the drawer.

On one memorable day, walking through the little copse behind our house, I knocked a stone lying at the side of the path with my shoe and it rolled over to reveal a fossil cockle shell, identical to the ones in the seafood man's van that trawled our street for business on a Saturday night, and just like the illustrations in my Children's Big Book of Fossil Porn [1], seductively half-concealed within its flinty matrix. I cannot exaggerate the importance to me of that accidental find; it felt like an almighty wink from the universe, a reassurance that something, somehow, was on my side. Or maybe, after I'd grown up a bit and learned a few life-lessons, that something, somehow, was inclined to have a bit of fun when it could spare me a minute.

My father had a stone, too. I still have it. It's a quartzite pebble, about the size and weight of a billiard ball, mottled with rusty reds and blueish veins. It lived permanently in our sideboard drawer, and always reminded me of the backs of his hands, in which slate-blue stone chippings were still milkily visible, embedded as a result of a war-time motorbike tumble in Egypt. Why had he kept this stone? It seems that one day in 1941 he had a close encounter when driving a lone truck in the Libyan Desert (he was a despatch rider, and they had realised pretty quickly that motorbikes were useless on desert terrain). Here it is as he told it in the memoir I encouraged him to write in old age:
A few days later I was approaching a slope which was the only way up an escarpment which rose sheer from the desert, a few burnt-out vehicles scattered around should have warned me to keep a sharp look-out, but as I got close to the slope a Gerry fighter-plane buzzed me. I went into the drill, hand brake on, ignition off and a running jump out and as much space as possible between me and the truck. The plane returned a few times and gave a few short bursts, but did no damage. I was tucked into the corner of the escarpment and as he came by I got off some shots with my revolver, until it was empty, he came back again and I was so angry that I picked up a stone to throw, but he turned and banked away and disappeared. For some reason I must have tucked the stone into my pocket, and later decided to keep it, which I have to this day. Much later I wondered how a polished stone shaped rather like a small hen's egg came to be in an area where everything was very hard and like slate (very difficult to dig through in a hurry, there were a few inches of sand on the surface, but underneath was a layer of hard packed shale, sometimes a pick would just rebound off it!). Near to this spot I found two graves with crosses and British steel helmets; they were two Hussars, I assume from a tank unit. The graves were well made and had large stones round the edges, with a note in German on each cross, so I assume that the Germans had carried out the burial.
It's not exactly a "lucky stone". I don't think Dad believed in luck, or that anyone would have characterised his post-war life as lucky, although he was easy-going enough (and perhaps wise enough) to have disagreed. So I doubt that stone acted as anything but a reminder of one of a number of occasions when the luckiest thing possible seemed merely still to be alive and in one piece. So, apart from his album of wartime photographs [2], it was pretty much the only object I had to make absolutely sure that I rescued from his residual belongings when he died in 2008.

Here is one of the photos from that album. The caption on the back, in my father's writing, reads: "Convoy, Pyramids in back, That's me waving". I have always found this a picture of pure exhilaration. When I was small, I could imagine that my Dad could see me, and was waving to me. Somehow, now that he's gone, and knowing so much more now about the truth and the magic of photography, I find I can believe that again.

1. Actually British Fossils, by Duncan Forbes, published in Black's Young Naturalist series, 3rd ed., 1961.

2. Not taken by him. Some other DR in his unit, or perhaps an officer, must have been a keen photographer, and documented their passage from Dunkirk, through the Western Desert, to India and eventually Burma. It's quite a document, which I will probably eventually donate to the Imperial War Museum in London.

Monday, 8 May 2023

Not My Thing

"Look, stranger, at this island now"...
Down by the Itchen water meadows

So, did you manage to avoid the coronation? It seemed surprisingly easy, actually, around here. Provided you didn't turn on the TV or radio, life went on as normal. Nobody knocked on the door, to request and require the pleasure of our company at some hideous bunting-strewn tarmac picnic, mainly because there weren't any taking place within at least a two-mile radius. It poured with rain most of the day on Saturday, which must have helped, although there has been very little evidence of royalist fervour in the streets round about, anyway. A subset of the same houses that do Christmas lights in the front garden every year did string up a few plastic flags, but that was it.

By contrast Sunday was surprisingly hot and sticky, and we drove out to the Hockley Viaduct to check on the safe arrival of the swallows that nest beneath the M3 where it crosses over the Itchen Navigation. I saw no evidence anywhere of the dreaded street-parties, despite the ability of the media to stumble across isolated covens of Daily Mail readers wearing knitted crowns and union jack bowlers, and partying like it's 1953: "The royals aren't what they were, but what is? That Meghan? Words fail me. Mustn't grumble, though... Lovely cake, Doreen, nice and moist...  'Scuse fingers!" What with the drubbing the Tories took in the local elections, you might almost imagine that some profound change has been taking place in our national psyche. We'll see. Apathy is not the same thing as a demand for change. Besides, Charles and Camilla were never going to be a popular double-act: in the hearts of even the most fanatical royalists, the embers of suspicion around the highly-convenient death of Diana in 1997 smoulder on.

Mind you, I couldn't resist taking a peek. Penny Mordaunt in costume as a flight attendant on Valhalla Airways was brilliant, I thought, and Prince Louis in his mini Dr. Evil outfit is clearly shaping up to be the next right royal rebel. Somewhere out there is a five-year-old Epstein avatar, and their destiny has been written by the Fates: resistance is futile. But as for the rest of it: bleugh... I have a visceral dislike of that sort of carry-on, and I started making up facetious little poems in my head, mainly with rhymes for "Camilla" ("vanilla", "filler", "caterpillar", "scintilla", and so on). Listen, Chas 3.0, I'm so not going to accept a knighthood for services to blogging, so let's get that straight from the get-go.

More seriously, the disgraceful Metropolitan Police behaviour around anti-monarchy dissent must have seemed like a proper cunning plan to some Top Cop, but was, in effect, entrapment: hey, let's give permission for a demonstration in one particular place, then arrest anybody that shows up there before they so much as unfurl a banner! But this was so egregiously unfair and disproportionate that it will have lost yet more of whatever little public respect remains for the Met, although probably not as much as the shooting dead of two dogs on the same day. Now that, to the average Brit, is definitely a step too far down the road to a police state: Oi, coppers: no!

I have to say, though, that the slogan NOT MY KING is fairly ridiculous. "Not in my name!" made a certain amount of sense in relation to the Iraq War, although it always struck me as weirdly deluded, in an entitled, middle-class kind of way. It might as well have been "I say! Steady on, now!". But "not my king"?  Oh, yes he is... You might as well shout "Not my hapless Tory government!" Well, I've got news for you. It was somebody's hapless Tory government that rushed through the anti-protest legislation that ended up with you handcuffed in the back of a police van on Sunday. Some things cannot be wished away, simply because nobody asked you.

So would a Starmer-led government repeal the Public Order Act 2023? You do have to wonder: power does funny things to the people who crave it. After all, I'm still waiting for the anti-trade union legislation of the Thatcher years to be be taken off the books, despite three subsequent majority Labour governments...

Arrest that horse!

Thursday, 4 May 2023

Miller Light

Two images from The Sea Horizon, with reflected gallery visitors

We were in Bristol over the recent bank holiday weekend, and as we had reason to be down on the waterfront I thought it would be a good opportunity to drop into the Arnolfini Gallery to see Garry Fabian Miller's exhibition Adore.

In my early post-student days in the late 1970s and early 1980s I was living in Bristol, and back then the Arnolfini housed an "art" cinema, which was where I encountered the films of Werner Herzog, Andrei Tarkovsky, Peter Greenaway, Wim Wenders, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, et al., all then in their inventive prime. It was an amazing time for cinema, and it seemed as if there was something new and exciting to see every week. "Exciting", of course, in the intellectual sense; exchanges of gunfire, car chases and crazy special effects were completely absent, and the cinematic mood was mainly one of an alienated languor. The ability not to scream with boredom when the camera lingered too often and rather longer than necessary on a face or scene or telling detail or on nothing in particular was the price of the ticket of entry. The cinema would gradually empty during a showing of, say, Mirror until, when the lights finally went up, you knew you had found your tribe.

That mood was very characteristic of the 1970s – perhaps less so of the more frenetic "post punk" and Thatcher-defined 1980s – or at least of that decade as experienced by a certain, mainly university-educated, art-oriented demographic. But, more important, those were the last years of a post-war world that was already passing into history, a time before personal computers, mobile phones, and the internet had begun to accelerate the pace of everything, and an extended, open-minded length of attention could still be presumed upon by artists of all kinds, from "prog" rock musicians to experimental film-makers.

An album like Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon or Wim Wenders' film Kings of the Road probably best encapsulate that end-of-an-era feeling for me. It was as if artists sensed we were poised at the top of the long slow climb up some societal fairground ride, and were urging us to relish the height, the view, and the stillness in the last moments before the imminent rush of descent. It is very hard, now, to recall or even describe a world in which, for example, "snail mail" or word of mouth were the only viable methods of communication between geographically-separated friends; the frequent changes of address of one's youthful years would break what had seemed strong links and result in mutual obliviousness ever after. The fact is that I have lost touch with more people I once regarded as friends than I can remember – even their names have started to vanish – although I'm pleased to say I have kept (and in a few cases regained) the very best of them.

I can't now remember whether I saw Garry Fabian Miller's first exhibition at the Arnolfini in 1979, although I'm sure I must have done. What is certain is that I was very impressed by his show The Gatherer at the John Hansard Gallery in Southampton in 1991, and – in my usual completist fashion that has filled our house with unnecessary but beautiful books – decided to buy anything he might publish. That earliest work – a sequence of 40 views across the Severn Estuary made from the roof of his house in Clevedon on the Bristol Channel – was first exhibited at the Arnolfini, but it was shown again in 1997 at the Hue-Williams Gallery, this time accompanied by a large and beautifully-produced catalogue on heavy paper with the images printed separately and tipped-in, with the title The Sea Horizon. But, despite every effort over many years, I could never find a copy for sale, which was strange. So, in the end, I actually wrote to Fabian Miller to ask whether he might still have any copies. It turned out that he did: just a very few. But his reply included this information:

750 copies were printed in 1997 of which probably 150 were sold. Of the remaining 600, most were destroyed in the MOMART warehouse fire. I have a very small number that remain. People occasionally tell me that copies sell for in excess of £2000 on rare book dealers websites. I last sold a copy in November for £1000.
Ouch! But patience is often rewarded, and the thing about very scarce books is that, because they do not figure on sites like AbeBooks, most run-of-the-mill booksellers have no idea quite how scarce they are or how to value them, and therefore pick what seems like a suitable price out of the air. So, eventually, and after a very long wait, this worked to my advantage and, incredibly, I now have two copies of The Sea Horizon – like buses, you wait for ages, etc. – both bought for very modest prices, and now probably the most valuable books I own by some margin.

GFM's recent move into textiles
(that's a carpet illuminated from beneath)

If Garry Fabian Miller is a new name to you and I have piqued your interest, you could do worse than buy a copy of the Adore exhibition catalogue, which is small (14.5 x 16.5 cm), chunky (256 pages), nicely cloth-bound (in a choice of three colours), packed with illustrations and text, and reasonably priced. It's an attractive little volume giving a very full summary of his career to date. His central fascination has been with the properties of light, and camera-less darkroom photography, but, in essence, I'd say his work has been an ongoing exploration of that very 1970s idea that repetition, patterned regularity (including the dreaded grid), and the use of simple natural and geometric forms have an intrinsic but unspecific "spirituality", one of those ill-defined hippyish terms which raised the hackles of the urban nihilists of the "punk" generation.

I am ambivalent myself about certain aspects of such art, in particular the privileged lifestyle and off-the-peg philosophy that too often seem to underpin much self-declared "spiritual" art. The retreat into spacious artisanal rural seclusion is not an option for most of us, and a certain pang of envy shading into scorn is unavoidable. I confess I am all too easily reminded of my own encounters in the 1970s and since with those folk sometimes referred to as "trustafarians", the well-heeled, financially-secure experimenters with alternative lifestyles, who nonetheless always seemed to me merely to be redefining the customs and shibboleths of aestheticised upper-middle-class life, passed down from Bloomsbury via Hampstead. Such people are simply not my tribe, and I have never felt more like a barbarian outsider than in their tastefully exclusive company.

Talking of exhibitions, I also dropped by the Royal West of England Academy to admire the red dot stuck beside my picture on show there. Which means, yes, it has sold, which is very gratifying. As I have often said, the sincerest form of flattery is not imitation, but cash purchase. The picture in question is "Pickaxe Cross, 23rd December 2021", taken with my iPhone on a solitary walk along a lane leading towards Golden Cap on the Dorset coast. It was an afternoon shortly before Christmas that was so unpromisingly dull and wet I didn't even bother to take a camera with me; but when the clouds suddenly lifted the late afternoon sunlight streamed through, illuminating the veil of mist over Golden Cap in an unforgettable moment.

It is the framed version that has sold: unframed prints were on offer for £175 in an edition of 50 – that price took into account the gallery commission, intended to leave me with about £100 – but there were no takers. So if anyone reading this would like a print, I'll happily sell you one for £75 plus P&P: email me (my address is in the "profile" at top right).

Friday, 28 April 2023

Some Dorset Landscapes

From Colmer's Hill near Bridport

Here is a little gallery of some of the photographs I took while we were away in Dorset over Easter. Some were taken with my iPhone, and some with the Fuji X-T1. I think you'd be hard put to say which was which at this scale and resolution, and even as modestly-sized prints the differences are noticeable only to the most highly critical eye. Obviously, the main advantage, practically-speaking, of the Fuji is the ability to change aperture and focal length, in this case by using the excellent Fujinon 18-55mm f/2.8-4 "kit zoom", the best all-round lens I've ever had the pleasure of using.

On Hardown Hill, near Morcombelake

Lyme Bay during Storm Noa
(on the horizon you can see what the Cobb is for)

On Stonebarrow Hill, looking west towards Lyme Bay

On Stonebarrow Hill, looking East

On Pilsden Pen looking south
(highest hill in Dorset)

On Pilsden Pen looking east
(rampart and ditch of the hillfort in the foreground)

Seatown Beach

Lyme Regis during Storm Noa

Engraved window at Montacute House

This pane of glass in a window at Montacute is inscribed with some Latin verse, engraved in 1770 (and presumably also composed) by the then owner of the house, Edward Phelips, using a diamond-tipped stylus. It begins with the lines:
Felix cui mentis Vis & Divinior Ardor
Intima Naturae pandere sacra dedit
Qui potuit Causas Scrutari & foedera rerum
Qui Newtone tuis gressibus ire Comes
and has been translated as:
Happy is the man who has a sharp mind and a spiritual passion
To reveal the innermost secrets of Nature
Who can grasp the causes and relationships of things,
Who can walk in the footsteps of Newton.
Yet happy too is the man who cares for his fields,
And who knows the many riches of his garden;
Who has learned how to graft trees
So that each may thrive in its soil,
Who knows which grow best in the rich mud
And ooze of the bog, and which flourish on the stony ridges,
Which shun the biting cold of the north wind
And which come into leaf up among the snows of Scythia.
Do not scorn or despise this humble toil;
For it is the concern of the Great Creator himself.
Do not seek Him only amid the stars in the sky;
For it is in the small things of life that you may find God.

(Translation by Peter Hill)
This upmarket tagging of windows seems to have been a bit of an 18th century fad, but I must admit I would not have expected to see Newton invoked by a member of the landed gentry in this way. The reference to Scythia – not exactly a near neighbour to Dorset – leads me to suspect that this may be an adaptation of some classical pastoral poem, but I know very little about Latin poetry or its conventions, which are rather different from those of English poetry, and don't mean to start finding out now. A quick google draws a blank (nothing in the Georgics, for example).

It's an interesting reflection, though, that the ability to compose verse in Latin would have been an expected and unremarkable outcome of the education of the more intelligent male members of a relatively undistinguished landed family. Like most grammar-school pupils in the 1960s I studied Latin at school for five years, and passed my O-Level exam with the top grade, but for me simply to parse this little poem aided by a "crib" [1] is a tough enough challenge; actually to compose anything similar is way beyond my capacity. Even the simplest Latin inscription or motto can be baffling, as they tend to be truncated allusions to "famous" passages in classical literature or in scripture, and exploit the brevity of Latin's grammatical and poetical conventions which defy easy comprehension. It is always embarrassing to be put on the spot, when looking at the memorials in some church or stately home: "So, you know Latin, don't you? What does all that hocus-pocus mean?"

And yet Latin was once the lingua franca of the educated classes (although Greek seems always to have carried more prestige among actual classicists). It is easy to forget that Newton's major scientific works were written in Latin, not English, for example, or that English poets like John Milton once produced a parallel Latin-language body of work that is now inaccessible and unknown to most of us and yet was often well-regarded in its day. Ben Jonson's snootiness about Shakespeare's "small Latin, and less Greek" in his eulogy in the First Folio of 1623 is notorious (and possibly misunderstood), but the move towards the use of vernacular languages that could be understood by all literate folk was already unstoppably under way, exemplified in Britain by the various translations into English of the Bible, culminating in the "King James Version" of 1611. Today, the prestige of the ancient languages and their double function as a barrier and a bridge into the higher realms of education and knowledge has faded: I think most of us are far more impressed and mystified by fluency in mathematics, that peculiar and difficult language that, unlike poetry, actually seems to make things happen [2].

Churchyard at Symondsbury
(yes, the yellow plaque does read "Danger of Death"...)

1. A slightly suspect crib, too... Isn't "Newtone" the vocative case ("O Newton!"), for example, and  "tuis" = "yours"? I could easily be wrong, though. As that great translator from the classics Alexander Pope wrote: "A little learning is a dang'rous thing; / Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring" (An Essay on Criticism). Wait, Pierian Spring? WTF? Wikipedia to the rescue!

2. W.H. Auden, Part II of "In Memory of W.B. Yeats":
You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.