Monday, 21 April 2014

Object of the story

Today, I watched a documentary about the writer and ceramicist, Edmund de Waal. Recently, his work has been “concerned with ideas of collecting and collections; how objects are kept together, lost, stolen or dispersed.” In the programme, he talked of how his installations have a musical quality about them. That he can actually hear their tunes in his head. And in his writing, he is influenced by shapes, as if the creative process reaches the point on some spectrum where words and objects meet.

By Creator:Edmund de WaalPhotographed by: York Museums Trust Staff 
[CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

This kind of thinking appeals to me, and it goes a long way towards offering an explanation about the way objects speak to us, particularly when we are introduced to them for the very first time. For instance, whenever I’m presented with an object I’ve never seen before, any number of stories begin to form in my head. Who it may have belonged to. Where it may have originated. How old it might be. I have become the next step in the object’s journey, and the fact that it’s talking to me means that I have become inextricably tied up in its story. The newest cast member, if you like.

Edmund de Waal’s ‘Atemwende’ (Breathturn), is inspired by the poetry of Paul Celan. I studied Aesthetics for a year, and a lot of good it did me, because I find it difficult to articulate my response to it, beyond saying that it’s quite beautiful. It’s unfortunate that most of us are at the mercy of the language used by aesthetes and critics, when discussing art. It has its place, but it can also distract or impede. So my advice is to approach any new object as you would a friend. Allow it to introduce itself to you, and listen to its story. Simply look beyond what you see in front of you, to the point where words and objects meet. There will be signs that mark the artist’s journey, believe me.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Jurassic Lark

Although dinosaurs became extinct around 65 million years ago, there never far from a child's imagination. These sprang from SW's mind just the day before yesterday...

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Who is Michael?

Michael stepped out of the lift, pushing an empty wooden book trolley ahead of him. He'd been shelving books on the fifth floor, Arts and Humanities. It was his favourite place in the entire library, but it wasn’t the subject matter he loved so much. It was the view. The tattered fabric of his city, roughly stitched, and snagged here and there by insistent church steeples. It was a place to dream, a place where he sensed that the promise of God was balanced precariously on the tips of consecrated needles...

Thursday, 10 April 2014

In your hands

I’ve heard it said that it’s possible to tell a lot about a person by looking at their hands. When I was a boy, I was fascinated by my grandfather’s hands. They were not only huge, but the palms were calloused and stained from the wood he worked with. When he turned them over, they were tanned dark brown, veins replicating the branches of trees, nails chipped and broken like weathered shells that had dug themselves from an ancient beach.

Martin still isn't convinced that washing-up benefits his 'mitts'.

My own hands were a source of fascination for our daughter. The first contact we ever had was when she clasped her own little digits around my index finger. But even after she grew beyond losing her hand in mine, she would occasionally take hold and say quietly, perhaps reassuringly, “Daddy hands.”

Do you pay attention to people’s hands, and if so, what do you look for?

Friday, 28 March 2014

SW Snaps

SW asked me to free up some space on her camera, so I set to work. She's developing quite an archive. Here is a very small selection of some of the things (including Things 1 & 2) that have caught her eye.

Her beloved 'Monty'.
A would-be chick
A rustic riddle
Thing 2
Things and the swing

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Past, the parcel

I was watching a Terence Davies film the other night, “Of Time and the City,” a documentary collage of 50s and 60s Liverpool. Now, Liverpool is a city that I’ve driven through once, and flown over twice, but I’ve never actually touched down and spent any time exploring.

 I actually remember a time when Queens Way really was this clean.

Archive footage of any cityscape, caught, canned, and eventually served as a feast of nostalgia, has a tendency to chime with our own metropolitan memories. Buildings can prove to be recognisable and even familiar, despite the fact that they might be hundreds of miles away from our own stamping ground. After all, a slum is a slum, and few of us will have been spared those architectural statements of hope that sucked up communities and piled them high in the sky.

Many of the people in the film looked as though they had tumbled from a family album, when in fact, they were waiting to climb in via cine camera. Toothless pensioners wearing expressions that suggested they had forgotten the password to posterity. Chanting girls, stirring the air of their dreams with twirling ropes, while the boys rampaged around the great corridors of their own imaginations. And not forgetting those young couples, negotiating the divide between all that they held dear, and all that they dared hold.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Dream with great care

My late stepfather had a dream. It was an admirable dream that eventually turned into something of an obsession. Whatever it was, it couldn’t be realised until he had won the lottery. Then, with a cheque in hand, he would see everyone else alright. In short, his nearest and dearest would be relieved of any financial burdens, in the time it takes to say ‘Lotto’. Our lives would become a bed of roses.

I used to caution him, “be careful what you wish for.” But he was adamant that a sum with six zeros could only change things for the better. He didn’t buy the argument that the money may cause unhappiness. It was easy to understand why. Born in 1920 into poor conditions, he was one of thirteen children raised under the roof of a tiny cottage, set deep in the Hampshire countryside. When he and his twin brother, as growing lads, developed a love of football, there was a pair of boots to share. As a result, he always had a good left foot.

30 years ago my newspaper editor cautioned me in a similar way, regarding my writing ambitions. “Most of the writers I know,” he said, “struggle to pay the bills. Not everyone writes ‘bestsellers’.” A successful Fleet Street editor himself, he obviously thought that everyone who desired to see their work in print, was pursuing fame and fortune.

But my ambition was to write and be published, so that I might share my ideas and observations. I imagined earning a living but never courted the idea of becoming rich and famous. In fact, today, I can honestly say I feel the same way. I could probably get used to the ‘rich’ part, but we seldom get owt for nowt, do we? The endless promotional engagements, radio, or even worse, television interviews, public speaking, book signings, the pressure and conditions of contracts, the expectations of readers. And all of this, while you’re trying to pen something you’ll be proud of.

And then I read a piece by Robert McCrum. And while I don’t feel in the least bit sorry for Rupert Thomson all the time he can afford to commission “a builder to create a tiny office (4ft 9in x 9ft 11in) at home in his attic,” - at least he has an attic -  I do 'feel' for those ‘talents’ out there, who are not taking enough care when it comes to making wishes.