Saturday, 28 April 2012


At such a time,
 in such a mood,
whispers seek release
while rain drips
and dark air flaps
an entry at the door.

The Legacy of the Daisy Chain

Driving back from Hitchin, having just seen my oldest friend, I found myself musing on life after death - in the sense of what survives us after we die. I've known my friend since we were both 14 years old. That's 35 years ago now. We don't get together very often (hence I received my belated birthday gift from her today - just 3 months late), but the friendship is important to both of us and we keep the link going.

My friend is coping with cancer at the moment. We don't talk about the shadow of death. She's very strong, very positive, and - despite the cancer coming back a year ago - this time metastasized (it was orginally breast cancer), the last year of treatment seems to have it on the retreat at last.... for now. 

To be honest, based on the pessamistic appraisal of her chances from a couple of mutual friends who are doctors, I had thought her survival for even a year was unlikely. But here she is! Every so often a phrase slips out that reveals that she knows her time may be quite limited. And in this her 49th year she has been doing plenty of special 'bucket list' things - while at the same keeping life as normal as possible for her 12 year old son. She goes to work, she does all the normal stuff. For now. But will she get another 5 years? 10 years? Another 20? A full life-span? 

As for me, I'm currently happy to be alive. That may sound trite, but it's surprisingly novel for me. My recurrent depressions are always marked by finding it hugely onerous to have to go on living. But I'm not depressed at the moment - I like not being depressed! I am, however, being rather careless with the gift of my life. I had an abnormal smear a few years ago and had to have laser ablation. Got the all-clear thereafter, but am still supposed to have a smear every six months. For the second year, I have ignored the recall letter - putting it off till it's more like 12 months since the last smear. Is this sensible? Of course not! 

And in the car, I was thinking about how we live on -  in people's memories and the like. I no longer believe in a spiritual survival after death - so as far as I'm concerned when you die you die and that's the end. But the effect we have on the world can live on after we have gone. The most obvious way, for me, is through my sons - and possibly (in due course) their children and their children's children. There's the biological survival of the DNA - but there's also the shaping of their formative years and what they take into their adulthood and future parenting (if any). And so on. 

There are other marks we leave on the planet - good and bad. For example that blithe carbon footprint and all those disposable nappies in landfillI on the down-side (how will the next generation - and the one after that - cope in the world *we've* taken for granted and left spoilt? Will there come a time when it would seem kinder not to bring a child into such a world, I wonder?). 

once did the thought experiment of writing my own imaginary epitaph, choosing what I would like to have achieved, what I would like to be remembered for (we were encouraged to dream rather than restrict ourselves to what was strictly likely in a prosaic sense). My epitaph was mostly about family stuff (eg 'a greatly loved great-grandmother', that kind of thing) rather than (say) inventing some new amazing gizmo. Perhaps I also included a bit of credit for my role in scouting - I like to think some of the Beavers over the years might retain some memories of the things they enjoyed doing, and that had an impact on them, thanks to that Beaver Leader of theirs - what was her name? Keema?? 

 I love the quip I read once - no one ever looks back and says ' Oh I just wish I had spent longer in the office.' Apart from the vocational saints and geniuses, work is not 'life' - it is not where our fond and meaningful memories are to be found (although now that I'm in an educational job, rather than an administrative one, I do feel more connected: the effect of what I do now to help these young children, especially the ones with special needs, seems so very very important.) I don't remember the name of my Brownie leader, or (even younger) my Bunnie Leader, but I do have a few tiny memories of doing things in those groups. I remember my P2 teacher a little bit (mostly the negative aspects - cos she was very scarey!), but I don't remember my P1 teacher at all. One primary school teacher in particular (P3? P4?) had a HUGE and very positive effect on me - Mrs Cook. She was a wonderfully enabling and permissive (yet strict) teacher, and I blossomed in ways I might not otherwise have done thanks to her. 

Books and the like are all very well (the other kind of children you can leave behind you and which carry part of you into the future (until all the copies in the world are lost...or just unread), but they're not the same as living in someone's memory (unless, perhaps, you are Shakespeare; although now some say the man called Shakespeare wasn't the true author of the plays - 'the play's the thing' not really any man behind them - he hardly matters in the end.)

Not sure why it should matter, but the thought of being forgotten seems sad. Of course most of us do eventually get forgotten - the history books only record a very very tiny minority of all the humans who have ever lived. I can still remember both of my grandmothers. Even my eldest son (possibly the youngest too)  has tiny bits of memory of them, having visited them many times when very young (great granny who can't hear and great granny who can't speak). But eventually I will die and eventually my sons will die - and in the end there will be no-one alive with any first hand experience or memory of my grandmothers. The chain only stretches that far. The hands linking one-generation-to-the-next-and-the-next is fragile and short. A limited daisy chain, pretty but soon broken. 

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Another gulp by the culture vultures: David Hockney conspicuously consumed

Bob and I went to see the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy today - Easter Sunday, 8th April 2012 (we had a timed ticket for 6.30pm). Despite the crowds, there was much to enjoy. Room after room glowing with views of the lush green (or mellow hazy purples, oranges and browns) of the yorkshire countryside. Wall after wall stuffed full of images. The impact was one of accumulation rather than individual focus.

Bob consumes exhibitions ridiculously quickly. He called me selfish for not being willing to bolt my own visual banquet, since he then had to hang around long enough to get very VERY tetchy about the wait. But I simply could not digest the feast any quicker!

Having gone through all (but one) of the rooms, I tracked back to the start and walked through again one more time, more quickly this time, just trying to fix in my memory the lasting traces of each room's effect (affect?) on me, and the highlights that 'spoke' to me (singing off the walls) here and there.

The very first circular room had four paintings of the same scene with three trees, portraying the four seasons. Winter in this room was an out and out highlight for me - I bought the mug with this image on it (one way to consume art: I like getting to see it frequently in this form).

The second room was of early landscapes - some of them all time wonders, such as the grand canyon and the Mulholland Drive ones. And another couple of highlights for me were to be found in the third room, the first yorkshire landscapes - with wonderful stripey plough-lines in the fields, the patchwork of fields and the swooping, curving road (this latter one now adorning my fridge as a fridge magnet). (A different example from this room is shown below)

A less successful section was the wall of watercolour sketches in the next room. Hockney's watercolours just look crass; he does not use the delicacy of the medium but rather just ends up with faded muddy approximations of his oils. The wall of smallish landscape oils seemed to me an example of when more is somehow less - the huge number of images almost devaluing each one as an individual painting. At right angles, on the wall opposite the watercolours, was a much larger vibrant yellow oil painting which stood out as a particular favourite. 

The next room (5), was Tunnels. On first encounter I liked several of these, but on my repeat 'walk-through' they didn't stand out (although I did like the effect of so many images of the same scene with each looking so different; in this case the cumulative effect was enhancing and effective).

Room 6 was Woldgate Woods - Six massive canvases focussing on the same scene. One or two I liked better than the others, but again no particularly strong highlight, but rather an enjoyment of them in juxtapostion.

Room 7 - Hawthorn blossom - had one singing highlight, with a delightful picture that made me literally smile with pleasure when I first turned to look at it. But in the same room there were also some heavy, lumpy pictures which (for me) didn't really capture the delicacy and frothiness of abundant white blossom (whereas, oddly, the charcoal studies did). Some of the pictures were, however, appealing for other reasons - reminding me of alien landscapes with vivid exaggerated colours and weird bulky white shapes, like aliens

Trees and Totems (No 8) was my absolute favourite of all the rooms. And I loved, loved LOVED the biggest of the works, with the fauvist intensity of the colours (purple and rich yellow ochre) and the simplified graphic style of the shapes, and the sinewy lines. These are studio works, based on many charcoal studies. The imaginative freedom reduces the sense of 3D space in the final works (compared with those painted fast in situ) BUT the flatter decorative surface and intensity of colour really zing! This was the only postcard I purchased (a consumer again) It is currently attached (by magnetic clip) to the fridge. Nom nom nom.

In the Arrival of Spring room (No 9) the much vaunted ipad art was effective but overblown - they did not really translate well to the vastly enlarged print size. On the other hand, viewed from the distance of half-way across the room, they did 'work'. I did, however, love the huge 32 canvas work on the remaining wall - stylised and decorative, (reminding me a little of Gauguin - or perhaps I mean Matisse, I'm not sure which!) - and this was another work which translates very well to the form of mug decoration for my continued enjoyment
Next was the Sermon on the Mount room (No 10). The final and largest work in here left me rather cold - the orange mountain/rock just looked silly I thought. The less exaggerated, more naturalistic version of the picuture was ok, but again it struck me as a bit ho hum. The only work that piqued my interest was the (almost humorous) study with the mountain now a cosmic pyramid shooting out rays of energy (or something like that!). I suppose part of the trouble with the Sermon on the Mount project may have something to do with the interest in the landscape being to the detriment of the original spiritual focus of the Claude Lorrain painting which Hockney was reworking here. 

The moving (but not moving in the emotional sense!) multiple images in the video room (No 11) didn't convince - more headache and eye-ache than anything else. 

But beyond that room was another which I almost missed out (and I later helped another couple who were in danger of omitting it in error), a tiny dark cave-like space, cocooning the secret heart of the exhibition, in the shape of sketch-books and actual ipads (Room 12). This was very much one of the highlights for me - and I only wish I could have spent longer looking at every single image in the slideshow for each sketchbook (the sketchbooks themselves being in the glass cases, open at one double-spread page each, but with an electronic slideshow on a screen above). 

And then in the final room (No 13)  (or two rooms, due to a major central partition) - there were recent works. First a set of several HUGE ipad prints of Yosemite Valley - which, despite him questioning the overblown size for the unsubtle nature of these ipad images, held up as overall favourites in the exhibition for Bob. I remain torn. Part of me just thinks 'ego' when I see the images enlarged to such a ridiculous size when originally created at the size of an ipad. But at the same time, they do have an impact and the simplicity of line and shape 'works' - as long as you don't go up and peer at them. You have to stand back and then the scale can have the right impact. Round the dividing wall and the very final space featured a few more of the studio pictures with vivid colours and  almost abstracted shapes, with oddly floating disembodied glowing green leaves in the very forefront of the picture's surface. Another pleasing graphic design for endless reproduction.

 The colour pallette of both these final works - and those in the Trees and Totems room -  were cleverly turned into beautiful (abstract) silk scarves in the Hockney shop. But I resisted the temptation, beautiful as they were.

I further exasperated Bob by spending another sizeable chunk of time in the shop - selecting the two mugs, the fridge magnet and the postcard mentioned above, in addition to the full (expensive!) exhibition catalogue.

By the time I joined him outside he was nigh on apoplectic, which meant that the journey home was rather unpleasant. He kept calling me selfish, because I (as always) got what I wanted and didn't compromise (ie by spending much longer than he wanted to spend looking around the exhibition) - but the sacrifice he was insisting I should have made would have been too much for me to bear: ie to leave the exhibition prematurely - when Bob was sated but I wasn't. Like leaving a play at the interval, or having one's gourmet meal whipped away after the first few mouthfuls, just because another diner had eaten as much as they wanted.

I don't know what the answer will be for future exhibitions - can we ever manage to go to exhibitions together without falling out over the difference in the amount of time we each want to spend there? Can I speed up a bit without feeling miserable about it? Perhaps Bob should just be free to go on home and leave me to it. (I'm sure the time of day didn't help on this occasion - even early evening is not a Bob-friendly time slot. I've now got huge concerns about the theatre tomorrow evening. Forcing Bob to come with me may prove to be a terrible mistake - he's almost decided already not to like it cos he feels press-ganged into going.)

 (I don't recall us falling out so badly over the other exhibition we went to recently: the Yayoi Kasama one. Did I go faster than I would have wanted to, left to my own devices? Did I compromise?? I can't really remember. But certainly Bob didn't get sooooo cross - I don't recall him getting cross at all - and he enjoyed the shop bit almost as much as I did on that occasion (we spent even more money on exhibition-related items that day!)

Our journey home was dreadful - misjudgement after misjudgement made for a horrible combination of tube, replacement rail bus, ordinary bus, longish walk, and then (finally) car. But we managed to achieve an equilibrium, with mugs of tea, so that if not altogether fond we were at least no longer furious by the time Bob turned in (at a surprising late - for him - 10pm)

So, there you have it - art and marital issues. Chomp, chomp chomp.

(Post script: Bob really enjoyed the play - 'The Recruiting Officer' the following night, as did I. Very relieved, I must say!)

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Christy Moore

Before I went to the concert at the Royal Festival Hall this evening (on my own) I was a tad worried that I wouldn't enjoy it and would regret having bought the ticket. I need not have worried. The live experience was electrifying! A smattering of songs I knew and many I didn't (I only have two Christy Moore CDs, the old classic Ride On and his most recent one, Folk Tale.) It was hearing the Morecombe Bay song on Radio 4 a month or so ago that prompted me to buy a ticket to see him live. He did indeed play that particular song, and also (as the last one before the encores) the classic Ride On.

Duriing the concert, I tried to keep a note of the set list, although the oddities of predictive text scrambled some of the titles beyond any recognition.

Here's the list as far as I have it recorded# (I think I missed a few)
In addition to the ones mentioned below, I've got one other whole song recorded (audio only) which I don't know the title of; and a snippet of video which I also don't know.

How long
Sacco and Vanzetti
Missing You - RECORDED
Farmer Michael Hayes
Holy Ground
Casey you're the devil
The City of Chicago (on the Ride On CD)
My Little Honda 50 (not a song I'd liked previously, but it was great live!)
Little Musgrave
((?? Predictive text put 'Ots one', so no idea what this one was!)
Sunshine (a solo by Declan)
North and South of the River (written with Bono and the Edge; there are versions by Christy with the U2 guys providing backing vocals and there's also a version by U2)
Viva la Quinte Brigade (on the Ride On CD)
Butterfly (So Much Wine) - have now discovered this song is a cover, original is by The Handsome Family, but Christy sings it about/dedicates it to George Best.
Don't forget your shovel
Delirium Tremens  (mentioned in the Telegraph Review)
Matty (=Dark Familiar one) - have this one RECORDED in full (audio)
Sweet Thames (apparently he always does this when performing on the Southbank)
McIlhatton (on the Ride On CD)
Joxer (=  funny football song, referencing Jack Charleton)
Ride On  (have this one on the Ride On CD ofcourse)
Burning Time
(Cliffs of Dooneen?) - RECORDED
Lisdoonvarna - RECORDED (and it's on Ride On CD)

Links to articles about Christy Moore

His song-writing (in the Telegraph):

A review of the Concert I saw (in the Telegraph)

Another review (in the Guardian)

Just been listening to 3 very different versions of 'North and South of the River' - on Youtube. It was one of my favourites during the concert -  a beautiful song about the relationship between the north and south of Ireland.  It was co-written by Christy Moore, Bono and The Edge. Both U2 and Christy Moore have performed and recorded it. The only live version by U2 differs greatly from their recorded version (I don't much like the latter). And there's an early version with main vocal by Christy plus backing vocals by Bono and The Edge (hard to get hold of, but I've ordered a CD from Amazon that I *think* has it on it.