Friday, 25 November 2016

A Special Relationship

My co-worker, Mary, popped into my office during her break yesterday and we had a little chat, in which she mentioned that her cousin had been visiting from America last week, in the company of a Trump-voting friend whom Mary and her family had never met before. We had a bit of a snicker over the way the conversation had developed around the dinner table - apparently, it took until the cheese course for the Trumpette to bluster that they'd voted as a protest against the establishment and for the common man blah blah blah, much like the Brexiteers who failed to spot how much worse off the common man (and especially woman) is going to be once they've been stripped of their EU citizenship but hey, we can buy our Cheddar in the pounds and ounces that no one under the age of 40 knows how to use now, can't we? And then Mary said how her Democrat-voting cousin had showed her 'this really brilliant meme about Brexit and Trump, which was the outlines of -

I knew exactly what she was going to say. 

'- both countries, with an arrow on the US map and 'I'm with stupid' on it.'



Well, you know your clever, funny friend has gone well and truly viral when that happens, don't you? 

Here's Dru Marland's own blog about her design and its odyssey around the world. 

And more importantly, here's where to buy your Special Relationship Christmas presents and support an artist living by her work.

  


Saturday, 19 November 2016

That's how the light gets in


This came up on my Facebook feed today; an FB-manufactured 'memory' from this day last year, when my partner shared it with me. I was glad to be reminded of it, however. It's been a black ten days, but there have been moments of light.


On Sunday we went to see Blackbeard's Tea Party at the Bristol Folk House - an annual event, as I am Band Auntie. 

Earlier, up the pub, I'd talked with my nephew and niece-in-law about how to write the political songs the times demand without descending into rant.  The answer, of course, is to find a historical parallel and use that. The same stories love to repeat themselves, and giving the listener the chance to make the connections makes the message more powerful. This was borne out at the gig when they played 'The Diggers' Song' - 'Stand up now, Diggers all!' - which felt positive and apposite. 


Just down the road on College Green 19,240 small wrapped figures were laid out in straight lines in an installation called 'Shrouds of the Somme' - one for each man killed on the first day of the battle a century ago. A reminder of where intolerance and war-mongering leads us. 

On Wednesday we had tickets to see Jonathan Pie, whose political rants I find funny, though I'm not sure how well they translate to a longer show. Or maybe it was just that with the election of Trump, reality has far outstripped satire. 

Yesterday, I was on parental chauffeur duty which required me to drive Chew Magna in Somerset - somewhere I've driven through many times but never actually visited. I bunked off for an hour or two and visited the Church of St Andrew. 


 



There was a striking play of sunlight and shadow in there. 



On one of the pillars, some impressive graffiti with serifs

There are also some interesting tombs. These are the cherubs on the tomb to Edward Baber and his wife, Anne, who died in 1578 and 1601 respectively. 


And this is a detail of the tomb of Sir John St Lo (died 1447) and, probably, his wife Agnes. Sir John - and his effigy - are 0ver seven feet tall. For some reason he looks a bit perplexed ...




... unlike this fine fellow. Wooden effigies are quite rare - we saw one at the Church of St Bartholomew in Much Marcle back in the summer - and this one is strangely vital. 


The Victorian inscription proclaims him to be Sir John Hauteville (1216-1272) but the style of armour sported by this knight is 200 years later than the last of the de Hautevilles. 

Whoever he is, the inscrutably smiling knight isn't letting on. 



Finally, today I met up with Dru who's currently moored near Limpley Stoke in Wiltshire and we travelled to Westbury to pick up a picture I've bought from the lovely artist, Kat Otterbee. On  the way we stopped off to buy some potato sacks of logs, Kat's currency of choice. It feels good to buy unique Christmas presents direct from artists, rather than chain stores and multinationals - a small protest against capitalism and exploitation. 

Sunday, 13 November 2016

The Leonard Cohen Songbook


I asked my sister for 'Songs of Leonard Cohen' for my 15th birthday. I know because this songbook tells me. 



I bought New Skin For The Old Ceremony nine days later, probably with my birthday money. Virgin Records at that time was a tiny shop off the Bearpit (we called it the Haymarket) in Bristol, by the entrance to Bus Station. It smelt strongly of joss sticks and was full of blokes flicking earnestly through boxes of LPs in alphabetical order. I found it quite intimidating going in there. Tried to look cool. Failed. 
Around this time I got a Saturday job in the office of a department store called Maggs & Co on Queens Road, Bristol - the old-fashioned sort with counters and uniformed lift operatives that don't exist any more. I also used to walk the three and a half miles to school and back every day to save my bus fare - 10p each way.

It took me till 11th December to save up for 'Songs of Love and Hate'. What a dark, scary album that is ... yet I must have preferred it over 'Songs from a Room', because I didn't buy that till February 22nd 1977. How many hundreds of miles must I have walked by then?  


And did I nearly wear my single of 'Do I Have To Dance All Night?' out, to transcribe the lyrics in my best handwriting without a single crossing out? 


I think it was love. And no callow, clammy-handed youth of my acquaintance ever came close. 

Friday, 11 November 2016

Love's the only engine of survival


I'm going to have to ban early morning phone calls from my younger son; they never bring good tidings. In January it was the death of David Bowie, his voice tender because he knew how upset I'd be. Our shared desolation at the outcome of the EU referendum in June was mirrored this Wednesday last by horror at Donald Trump's ascent to power.  This morning he was too upset himself to get the words out, but I guessed straightaway.  There was no one else left.




I was 14 when I first encountered Leonard Cohen in 1976. I was on an exchange visit to Bordeaux; he was singing in French and called Graeme Allwright.  I soon tracked down the originals of these cover versions and Leonard took over the soundtrack of my life, a conglomerate father/older brother/lover/husband/ mentor figure who addressed my needs in a way the actual men in my life couldn't or wouldn't. (Though to be fair, my older brother never existed.)  And unlike real-life Leonard - or, indeed, my later, eventual ex-husband - my personal Leonard was constant, always there. If anyone in that particular relationship ever drifted off for too long, it was me.



I've never found him depressing (though I do avoid listening to some of his songs when things aren't good - notably, Dress Rehearsal Rag). In fact, I'd say it was the other way around - when I've been at my lowest and turned to him, his songs and poems have lifted me. I think it's because although his great theme is endings - the loss, mess, despair and emotional exhaustion of them - he shows us their beauty too. 




But now - with the exception of Alan Garner - my heroes are gone, all within the space of three years - first, Seamus Heaney, then Terry Pratchett and David Bowie, and now Leonard Cohen. White, English-speaking men - I know - and flawed too, at least in the case of the singers. But as Leonard himself put it 'Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack in everything/That's how the light gets in'. And between them, they've taught me the importance of recognising beauty in the moment and celebrating it, that being good and being nice are not the same thing, that being yourself and pushing beyond your comfort zone is vital to creativity, and how to pick yourself up again and again and carry on with grace to the end.  

Finally, that I'm not alone. 



Recently, some of Leonard's darker, prophetic songs from the 80s have taken on a new insistency as our island turns in on itself, quoting the John of Gaunt death-bed speech out of context as usual, and a quasi-fascistic mindset takes hold in the country formerly known as the land of the free.  And, as a friend observed earlier, without the certainty that somewhere far to the west Leonard is writing and sleeping and eating and fiddling about on that Casio keyboard of his makes this lurch to the far right even harder to bear. But from the same song that contains such catastrophic images of war - 'The Future' - one line stands out today. It is 'love's the only engine of survival', and this is the route map he left us. 






Sunday, 6 November 2016

Badock's Wood on Bonfire Night



Dark Lane. As if that ancient name weren't enough, it also has a sign name in British Sign Language, which is unsurprising given its proximity to the school for deaf children. That name translates as Dog Poo Lane. (Both are apt.) (Although nothing to do with my dog, Ted.) (She said hastily.)


Photobombing leaf
Photobombing partner


Mill Tut round barrow

Sparkler



Monday, 31 October 2016

Sneaking About Sneakily

Dru and I had a jauntette yesterday, exploring Dru Marland Country. The First Trip of the Dark Quarter of the Year Getting Darker, GMT. 

We went to Abercarn Iron Foundry briefly ... 

... and then on to Pontypool.
Lots of interesting things to see in Pontypool. 

... plus every writer's dread. 

We also visited Pontypool Park, which is very impressive. 




I was looking for light. The larches were just right.


Burning bush
The obligatory supermarket chariot
And back to Bristol in time to see Andy Irvine at the Folk House. Nice job. 





Thursday, 27 October 2016

Bike Fettling (and a Red Kettle) on the Kennet & Avon

Off to the far side of Bradford-on-Avon today with Ted and Son the Younger, to take Son the Younger's bike, which had a dramatically flat tyre and an annoyingly persistent squeak, to be fixed by bike fettler extraordinaire, Dru Marland.

First, though, a cup of coffee aboard NB Eve ... 



... before getting down to work.


Where did they go?


Ted and I decided to leave them to it and go for a stroll along the canal. 

Before long we hit a stretch of black poplars. It was quite hypnotic walking past yellow trees ... 


... on a path daubed with yellow leaves.


I decided to take a selfie in the autumnal hat Dru had just given me but forgot that I'd just been using the zoom feature. (Clearly I need to practice.)


This is a Dru smile. The hat has taken over. 
Back at the boat, the Brompton was still being fettled. 
Ted decided to while away time doing some bird watching.
Then it was sorted, we bid adieu and headed back to Bristol.  
If not before, we'll definitely be back for the Christmas floating market on the Kennet & Avon this December - perfect for all those unique, handcrafted gifts that are so much more fun to give (and receive).