Wednesday 30 March 2011

back to work then

It's back to the drawing board, here at Schloss Marland. In a good way. Probably. This is another go at the three hares motif. And yesterday's picture was inspired by Alan Summers' haiku (below).

I've started looking into ways of selling pictures, too, before this room disappears under the teetering mounds of paintings, drawings and tubes of old paint that I have to fight my way through to get to the keyboard and type this. It's all rather messy. I've opened an Etsy account, but had to stop because I destroyed my credit card in error. As you do.

virgin snow
a fox makes prints
for the morning

Wednesday 23 March 2011

The Unsound Barrier

Sometimes it feels like the other blog, Being Drusilla, is more the place for the 'official' version of things than here on Upside Down, where I still feel more at home. So over there are the, as it were, formal reports of the week just passed, and here I can do the more 'what I did on my holidays' stuff.

So. Last Monday I was up bright and early, and just getting dressed when wham! -I was hit by an excruciating pain in my middle. I creased up on the bed and waited to see if the waves of pain would go down. Last time something like this happened, I ended up in hospital having my gall bladder removed. At least I knew it wasn't my gall bladder this time; other than that though, it just bloody well hurt.

The pain slowly eased enough for me to get down to the doctor's just as soon as the surgery opened. He checked me over. "Pains in the leg? No? ....liver's OK," he said. "...are you feeling stressful for any reason at the moment?"

"I'm supposed to be down at Channel 4 tonight," I said...

Apparently it was a muscle spasming, or some such thing. He wrote me a prescription, and told me to make sure I was there. Part of me was hoping he'd say it was out of the question, so I wouldn't feel guilty about not going.

So I did get to London after all. Bright and early, enough to spend the afternoon in the V&A. It was mildly trippy, what with the painkillers. Though the V&A can be a bit trippy anyway. Wandering around the cast courts reminds me of the bit in Easy Rider where they're out of it on acid in a New Orleans cemetery.

And then I met Richard and we wandered around Westminster, and finally to Channel 4 for the launch of TMW's 'Memorandum of Understanding', as described here. And I got to talk to some really nice people, some of whom I'd met before and some of whom I only knew online and had been looking forward to meeting at last; and some of whom were strangers. Of which latter category one or two had the idea that 'networking' means 'barking out your prepared mission statement and then moving on'. So I got to hear all about what they were thought or were engaged in, information which I instantly filed under 'F' for 'forget', while I remained a total stranger to them because I couldn't get a word in edgeways. Odd. Fortunately, these encounters were in the minority.

And I was on a bit of a high all the way back to Bristol. And not just from the tablets.

The other expedition was down to Plymouth. I was really looking forward to going down there, and I set off bright and early, just in case the car conked out. It went away to get welded a couple of weeks ago, and there's been a rather scary rattle going on ever since, which I knew I'd have to get round to sorting out, but hadn't quite managed yet.

On the motorway I found that if I approached 60 mph, the rattle began in earnest. It reminded me of that film The Sound Barrier, when the bold fearless etc pilots fly their Spits a bit too fast and they start shaking like crazy.

Though I don't think that the Trav would manage to break the sound barrier, even if I'd sorted out the rattle and then washed the car for good measure.

It skittered like heck if I hit a bump on a corner, too.

So it was a lively old journey. I stopped at Totnes, Hippy Central, to drop off my hippy boots for re-soling at Conkers. Then I bought the entire stock of preserved ginger from the Happy Apple, because they sell great buckets of it for £2.99, and you can't have too much preserved ginger; and I admired the gorilla up the tree who was dangling a bucket down on a rope to collect money from Red Nose Day. And the women dressed as witches. The trouble with Totnes is, it was hard to tell who was dressed specially for Red Nose Day, if you see what I mean.

Then to Modbury, where I wanted to take pictures of a grave. When I was working on a farm near here, twenty years ago, I was cleaning the paper and paint off a wall and found writing on the original plaster. After it'd waited there so long to be found, it was a shame that I couldn't decipher what it said, other than the name, Jane Lakeman, Ashridge Farm. But I'd found her grave in St George's churchyard, and I wanted to recall what it said on it, because I'm writing something...

And there were primroses in the hedge and in the churchyard, and as I was going into the church a chiffchaff started singing, the first I'd heard this year.

Traffic in Plymouth was scary, but I found the library and clunked gratefully into the car park to be greeted almost immediately by Sue, who was organising the reading. Which was really nice.

And so was exploring the city, especially the waterside.

Unfortunately, we had to rush away in the morning, as Richard had family duties back home; and, because the rail service was disrupted by works, I was going to drive him to Taunton. The Sound Barrier effect wasn't as bad with him acting as ballast on the port side, I have to say. Taunton was big and complicated-looking, and there were no signs to say 'Railway Station'. But a police van turned into the road ahead of us, and I noticed that it said "British Transport Police" on the back. "Look! They will be going to the railway station; let's follow them," I said.

"How do you know they're going to the railway station? They might be going to the bus station. They might specialise in roads," Richard said. He was being a bit glass-half-empty about this, I must say.

"No, British Transport Police only deal with trains. At least, I'm pretty sure they do. Anyway, it's a plan, and a plan is always a Good Thing" I said decidedly.

And after a while, lo and behold we came to the station and the BTP van turned into it. "Words cannot describe just how smug I am feeling right now," I told Richard as I followed it into the short stay car park. He wisely said nothing.

Home again, I finally got round to giving the car a Serious Looking At. First I overhauled the Armstrong dampers, which are what people used to use before those big springy shock absorbers came along.

There's an arm attached to a piston, and when the arm moves the piston pushes against oil and forces it through a sprung valve, so that the motion is smoothed out. But after a while the oil gets manky and horrid, and some of it leaks out, and then you've got to think "I really ought to do something about the dampers." And then more time passes, and then a bit more, and.... you get the picture.

Doing the front dampers, I squirted oil into the filling hole and then rocked the car up and down to encourage the oil to go down. There was a creaking noise from somewhere. So I put my foot on the bumper and leant across and felt around under the wheel arch, while rocking the car, and wondering what people would think if they saw me doing this.

And I found that the nut that holds the damper arm to the kingpin was loose. And the bolt was creaking in the bush. If you see what I mean.

So I squirted loads of silicone grease in there and did it up. And now the car is much happier. And so am I.

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Three Hares

Full Circle
In ancient China
the moon is made of figured silk,
woven with the pattern of galloping hares,
three conjoined by a single ear,
together whole.
An eternal circle
embroidered on bolts of cloth,
carried by camel through singing sands,
the booming dunes of wind-whipped
Xhiang Sha Wan,
where Silk Road
frays to quick oasis, and
wondering artists paint three hares

on sacred temple cavern walls.
The Buddha’s wheel
of life and death
rolls through Persia’s burning plains,
eclipses sere, salt-desert suns: a brazen tray
engraved with hares, a stamped,
Islamic copper coin.
Crossing rivers, bridging rifts
in hidden groves of moss and stone,
these three hares chased on Jewish tombs
and makeshift tabernacle roofs,
the blackened beams
of Dartmoor churches
at the edges of the earth, bear
a trinity of hares, three in one, the risen son,

beneath a moon that pins
the universal oceans.
The poem is by Deborah Harvey. I did the picture because it's a hares time of year. Here are more trinities of hares.

Thursday 10 March 2011

adventures in accidental ornithology

This is a greater horseshoe bat. It gets its name from the shape of its snout, I think. I've been drawing wildlife for the Dundry project. I popped up there yesterday to take some panoramic photos, and stopped at the big Sainsbury's to bung our collection of plastic bottles into the recycling bin.
I heard an unfamiliar bird song; a bit like a sedge warbler but far more mellow. I spotted the bird up in an alder tree, and took this picture, which is not very good as a picture but is good enough for identification. So here is a siskin! -the first one I've knowingly seen. I was vaguely hoping that it would turn out to be a massively rare bird, but my big book tells me that they're all over the place. Part of me feels like you do when you get an e-mail from the National Lottery, telling you that they have GOOD NEWS ABOUT YOUR TICKET, and then discover that you've won £5.20.

And part of me thinks, ah! A siskin! -having only previously known the Armstrong Whitworth version.

...there was a lot of junk scattered around the recycling bins, in that queer magnetic way that happens with recycling bins. I guess that someone thinks, "Oh, what shall I do with this pile of old crap? -I know, I'll throw it on the ground next to a recycling bin."

And there was this drama being played out. You don't mess with a duck.

Saturday 5 March 2011

Wordsworth and the chocolate frog

how high the moon

(this was an unfinished account of a journey to Wales. I was in the Co-op yesterday with Deborah, who hadn't heard of the Bill and Dot connection. And then I recalled this...)

Bob Dylan set off from Bristol in a Bentley, on his way to Cardiff on 11 May 1966. He’d played a gig in the Colston Hall the night before and had been booed for playing electric guitar.

And William and Dorothy Wordsworth set off from Shirehampton, just to the north of Bristol, on their way to Wales, on the morning of July 10 1798. They were walking, because they were frugal types, and because walking is what the Wordsworths were good at. One of the things they were good at, anyway.

James and I decided to average it out. We were going to cycle to Wales.

By the afternoon of 29th June, the temperature in Bristol city centre was on the wrong side of 26C, and I had just cycled home from a hospital appointment. Home was three miles away. Uphill. I drank a cold beer while my body decided whether it was going to succumb to heatstroke, and checked my e-mails.

hi Dru,
I just rode into town and back and am half-dead. I think it might be better to postpone til it's cooler - what do you think? I'm not sure I'm capable of riding to Aust and back in this heat!
Dorothy would do it I know, but...

Hugely relieved that James had articulated my own thoughts, I gratefully responded

…though we could always do it by Morris Traveller….

And so we did.

We bowled over the Downs to Shirehampton, and to the Co-op supermarket which stands on the site of the long-demolished Church House, where the Wordsworths had been staying, and whence they departed on that July morning two centuries or so ago. We wondered what they would have taken to sustain them on their journey. We hunted the shelves for Grasmere gingerbread or Kendal mint cake, items which William and Dorothy would certainly have been happy to take with them if only they had been obtainable in seventeenth century Shirehampton. We would have been equally happy to take them with us today; but it was still not an option, so I settled for two Cadbury’s Freddo Frog chocolate bars (15p each), a vague nod in the direction of Wordsworth’s early enthusiasm for the French Revolution;, and a jar of Bonne Maman apricot conserve to spread on the scones which I already had in the car.

James admired the brass plaque, erected at the expense of the Shirehampton Local History Group to commemorate William and Dorothy’s stay here, as I queued at the checkout. The chap behind me in the queue had a bare belly sticking out from his unbuttoned shirt. He was buying a a family-sized packet of crisps and an oven-ready tray of liver, onions and mashed potato. I felt very continental in comparison.

We drove up the hill, past Kings Weston, a very big house with lots of chimneys, designed by Sir John Vanbrugh in 1710 especially for rich people who wanted a very big house with lots of chimneys. It stands on the west flank of a ridge overlooking the Severn, with views across the river to Wales. The view also takes in a great spring tide of motorway junctions, chemical works and vast proletarian housing estates, which lap practically all the way up to the servants' entrance, leaving the house sitting in its wooded corner like an ancient relative who was once looked up to but is now usually ignored and is a bit dotty and insanitary.

We then passed Blaise Hamlet, a little cluster of thatched ‘gingerbread’ cottages where retainers of the adjacent Blaise Castle House would once have been installed in order to look picturesque for the people in the big house. I wondered what William and Dorothy would have made of it; but on that July morning in 1798 as they passed by, the hamlet was still thirteen years in the future, though Humphry Repton was already at work creating a picturesque landscape for the owner of the house. I was struck by the area of common ground in the aesthetic sensibilities of Repton and Wordsworth, although they seem worlds apart in other ways. Here is Repton describing the effect of cutting back the trees on the hill behind the house and installing a cottage:

…this by its form will mark its intention, and the occasional smoke from the chimney will not only produce that cheerful and varying motion which painting cannot express…. It must look like what it is, the habitation of a labourer …but its simplicity should be the effect of Art and not of accident.

Red Book for Blaise Castle

..and here is Wordsworth, on his return from this short expedition to Wales, describing what he saw in the Wye Valley:

…these wild pastoral farms,
Green to the very door; and wreaths of smoke
Sent up, in silence, from among the trees!
With some uncertain notice, as might seem
Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods,
Or of some Hermit’s cave, where by his fire
The hermit sits alone.
These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind
With tranquil restoration….

(Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey)

At least I know what I think of Blaise Hamlet. Pevsner describes it as ‘the nec plus ultra of picturesque layout and design. ….(it) is indeed responsible for some of the worst sentimentalities of England. Its progeny is legion and includes Christmas cards and teapots. Why then are we not irritated but enchanted by it?’

Why indeed, Nikolaus? I am not enchanted but irritated by it. So there. I said as much to James as we drove by, and if he disagreed, he wisely kept his own counsel.

Soon we join Cribbs Causeway, the main road from Bristol to the old ferry at Aust. If I’d been walking, I’d certainly have felt ready to stop for a munch on my Cadbury’s Freddo by now, but I imagine the Wordsworths would be have been too engrossed in conversation to bother themselves with their lack of a chocolate frog. Unfortunately, they did not record the minutiae of their trip, so there is no way of knowing. But look! Round the roundabout, in 1966, comes Bob Dylan in his hired Bentley! Sitting in the back, looking a bit grumpy because it’s been a long tour and he was heckled last night for playing electric guitar. Folkies like their folk music to be properly authentic. An authenticity achieved through Art not accident, presumably. Bob’s Bentley speeds up and glides effortlessly past our Moggy, but perhaps we’ll catch up with him later on at Aust.

We pass beneath the M5 and drop down the long wooded slope into the vale of the Severn. The road runs straight, alongside deep rhynes cloudy with meadowsweet. Then we jink over a bridge which crosses the railway line to Cardiff, already in a deep cutting on its gradual descent to the mouth of the Severn Tunnel, and then presently cross another bridge over the approach to the new Second Severn Crossing. We briefly glimpse lines of lorries rumbling to and then from Wales as we cross over, descend the embankment and park up. We study the map. Somewhere, very near where we stand, there once ran the railway line to the pier of the New Passage ferry.