August: Sabbatical – in the Country.
August: Sabbatical – in the Country.
Five months in to the pandemic.
Things have gone two steps forward and one step back. In the UK, society went from complete lockdown to easing a little. Where I live, shops have opened, even pubs and restaurants – and people have tried to provide conditions that are safe. What ‘is’ safe is a moot question however and there has been a lot of swinging around – other cities in lockdown again. We are to wear masks – although no-one seems to be clear when and where. As the photo of Bournemouth beach shows – some throw caution to the wind:
Kinda’ weird when the ‘enemy’ is invisible. Everything looks so normal but it is clearly not.
I have stayed put with very little use of the car. The seasons change – now we move into full summer. But, really, it is autumn for nature – the countryside has done what it is going to do. Last weekend was Lammas or Lughnasadh.
This festival or sabat marks two things: the celebration of the beginning of harvest; the first stirrings of the darkness – the death and resurrection of the Holly King. His influence will only grow more apparent as the days, weeks and months go forward now.
Spectacular skies and sunsets in the forest:
The forest is now dark green – it has lost that fresh spring green. The berries are also out. Like the Rowan Tree: a tree for protection against wicked forces!
As for my own ‘harvest’, the plants have grown well but produce has been modest so far. One courgette on my courgette plant!!!
Still, I have been active with cooking with summer things. A favourite – Pea and Broad Bean Risotto with parmesan:
Reviews coming in.
One from Meyn Mamvro – a magazine which deals with prehistoric sites in Cornwall – stone circles, holy wells, etc. Unhappily, exploring these has had to be virtual and at a distance.
Also, the latest from the Powys Review – an association dedicated to that extraordinary literary family from Dorset.
‘Magical’ best describes their rural parables and tales. I am down to speak at their summer conference next year – assuming we can actually meet. Although, by then, I guess Zoom will become a norm for social interactions!!!
Some good theatre this month ‘At Home’: a fine production of Terence Ratigan’s The Deep Blue Sea; and then that Shakespearean tales of jealousy, Othello!!
Other virtual events included, WOMAD At Home – in lieu of the actual festival. All the usual was there: performance, workshops, talks, shops, recipes, etc.
Lots of writing this month. I shall be posting some knew chapters on Bourdieu later this month – as a forerunner to the new book, and looking for responses and feedback. No one who looks at my work would be surprised at this focus; but actually, they would find further developments in my thinking about him and his philosophy. http://www.michaelgrenfell.co.uk/bourdieu/
For me, his books are ‘canonic’: each time I read them, I find new insights and understanding.
Lots of reading and listening this month, too. So, two CDs and two books.
The CDs are: a collection from classic Lee Konitz – modern jazz and swing with a high level of smooth sophistication; and another collection of country blues players. The latter is amazing with some names I definitely had not heard of – Little Hat Jones, Papa Egg Shell, the Two Poor Boys and ‘Funny Papa’ Smith. If not classic, the 25 pieces are still beautiful songs from the 20s and 30, spirited singing and excellent guitar.
Music features also in one of my books: Mahler – The Eighth – by Stephen Johnson. Johnson is a fine musical journalist but he is also a musician himself, which means he can get inside the piece and explain what is going on. The symphony itself – surely a masterpiece of the Mahlerian oeuvre – is analysed section by section. But, then, there is analysis of the socio-cultural background of the day and his personal state. The eighth was actually written in 1907 but not performed until 1910 – the year Mahler in fact died. One does get a sense of mounting crisis – partly precipitated by his health problems and discovering that his wife – Alma – was having an affair with Walter Gropious. Quite a lady was Alma!! Read her diaries and letters!!!
The other book was a biography of Pamela Colman Smith. Who? Yes, not that well known but actually she designed and painted the Waite-Rider Tarot card deck that has become a principle source to go to for those looking for divination. PCS turns out to be quite an individual as well: she used to perform recitals of Jamaican faery tales and plays with her toy theatre. She also knew Yeats – Jack and William Butler – as well as Ellen Terry and Henry Irving. She also had successful exhibitions of her art – one was the first non-photographic exhibition to be held at Arthur Stieglitz’s gallery in New York. Her style is very original – a kind of mix of Japonese, Pre-raphaelite, and Comic book. Faery! Anyway, she was born in 1878 and her style did not survive the onset of modernism from the twentieth century. Although being a member the Golden Dawn, she later converted to Catholicism and spent most to the second half of her life in Cornwall – first the Lizard and then Bude, where she died penniless. Even her grave was unmarked!! Anyway, a fascinating read from Dawn Robinson:
Third month of lockdown and of ‘micro-life’: I say ‘micro’ but really it has gone both ways: certainly, one’s world shrinks to everyday surroundings and becoming very attentive to things at the doorstep. I have followed nature this year in a way I have not done before – the days, the weeks, and months. For a while there was great stillness, but things became unsettled this month. Various reasons for this: the enormity of the situation became clear to people – and this virus is going nowhere – also, the strain of lockdown became evident. As I write, things are being relaxed: pubs, shops, art galleries, public spaces. There are also mounting crises: theatres for example and various other employment places are shedding jobs. So, we still wait and see,,,,,
June was the month of the Summer Solstice in my part of the globe: 22.53 on the 20th to be exact, but the day is normally celebrated on the 21st. We have had weeks of sunshine and blue skies, but the Solstice was suitably grey and rainy. Still, I was up at 04.15 to greet the event. Some rain and a little dawn chorus from my resident blackbird:
Skies later were spectacular:
The Forest too:
A ‘grey mare’ celebrating. And a cow too!!!:
Sun re-established itself and we hit the highest temperature of the year: in my garden at least:
One result was that the Lavender bush burst forth: Beautiful colours and sounding like a Beehive.
My plants are coming on too. Courgettes – care of a special fertiliser I have been manufacturing:
Sadly, one result of the extra sun is that people go crazy for the beach. A major incident was called at Bournemouth when they were invaded by thousands of sea-seekers.
One understands the sentiment, but ‘social distancing’ clearly has gone to the wall. We shall see if this affects the infection rate!!
Someone sent me a photo of a previous time:
Looking at this, one might think it was last year – it could be. But, actually, it around 1966 – yes, that is almost 55 years ago – and is a photo of the Folk Cottage in Mitchell, Cornwall – a celebrated and now famous folk club. Those were the days when the post-war generation were full of energy and spirit. Everything seemed possible.
Actually, this room was/ is upstairs in the building and many folk singers performed there. In fact, there was almost a folk club everywhere. Various ones in Bristol, where I lived and other famous ones in Cornwall where my family came from.
A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of visiting this place and speaking with the now owners/ residents. They showed me around and now this is one of their bedrooms. To think that the mermaid painting was somewhere beneath their wallpaper!
Incidentally, the singer is the middle is Ralph McTell, who I also had the pleasure to speak with this month.
Of course, I wrote a biography of him a while back. Parallel Lives:
Inside my house, I am cooking a lot…… Like Gooseberry Crumble – a rare treat.
Lots of cultural consumption as well – again, some procured from inside the house and others on the Internet. Of the latter, a very good production for the National Theatre in London of A Mid-Summer’s Night Dream by Shakespeare. A very weird play, perhaps apt for mischieviousness and madness of summer nights.
Such long days, full nature, and soft summer evenings have also inspired me to listen to Delius with his ecstatic pieces: Walk to the Paradise Garden, Summer Night on the River, A Song of Summer and On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring. The titles speak for themselves. Incidentally, I have also been listening to his Requiem, Mass of Life and songs based on Whitman poems – Songs of Farewell.
With all this, and somewhat following up on last month with Robert Simpson, I have also been listening to other English composers: Nicholas Maw and Bernard Stevens. I love the way they are both radical and pastoral.
More follow up in reading as well. First Jung’s Red Book. I have had this pretty much since it came out but it is almost impossible to read since it is enormous. So, this edition is ‘reader friendly’: small sized so that one can easily handle it – and read it!!
The other book has been by Barry Lopez: Of Wolves and Men.
Readers of this page will know I have been enthusing about him for a while. His prose is like fine porcelain. When I suggest him to people, they just look at me oddly. I think it is the name. I mean what is it? A kind of mix of the mundane and the exotic. This book focuses on ‘the Wolf’ – not an obvious topic of course. Through the pages, he shows how it has become the focus of mythology, faery tale, wonder, fear, and, incidentally, almost hunted to extinction. One such legend, is that the gods were to turn them into humans but only got as far as the eyes. I mean, look at the photo.
As with other books like Arctic Dreams, bit by bit Lopez gets into the ways of these animals and show their sensitivities. In the end, one gets a picture of the subtle dynamic of life itself and how far human beings have gone in destroying it.
So, second month into super lockdown and things are the same, but all has changed. Certainly, one’s perspective – not just in ideas but actual experience.
We are in a world of isolation and masks:
Lots to say, of course, about the politics of what is going on – but why spoil a good blog?
My own life has gone in both directions of the micro-macro spectrum.
Micro to the extent that my world is my immediate environment – house, garden, forest. Apart from driving up the road to keep the wheels moving, I have not driven anywhere with the car for almost three months.
Super expansive though in terms of the scope of contacts and information on the Internet. To me, the Internet is Faustian: it allows us to do all these amazing things, but it also has its dark sides, and is mostly responsible for the rise of populism.
So, May – a special month.
1st May is Mayday, and I suitably celebrated with ‘Lily of the Valley’ in the house.
Also up a few times at 04.30 to hear the dawn chorus:
Elsewhere, it is that Green Man time of year:
The Forest is often on fire:
For me, I am unable to procure flowers from the Garden Centres – as they are closed. So, I leave a patch of my garden to go wild and enjoy the wild flowers: Buttercups for example:
Some roses as well:
The Buddha under a ‘cloud’ of petals:
I have also got to planting some seeds. Hopefully, these will turn into Courgettes:
A friend from students days, sent me a photo of the time. Mike in 1979 when he was living in France:
Still cooking lots: leek and potato pie – and bread!!!
I have been desperately searching the house for hidden supplies of chocolate. My latest and last find:
Some of my lectures were published on YouTube. In the Court of King Crimson from last year in Santiago, Chile. With Spanish Interpretation:
Also, this month I did a lecture on Bourdieu and Social Suffering for a university in Buenas Aires, Argentina:
Still possible to get all manner of culture from the Internet. This month, various plays from the National Theatre have been a feature. All excellent.
An ex-pupil sent me a film he had made – video plus a reading of the Irish poet William Butler Yeats’ poem The Man who dreamed of Faeryland:
I was very into Yeats when I was a student; he was influential on another poet became committed to William Blake:
In fact, it has been quite a poetic month: also reading the poems of Arseny Tarkovsky – son of Andrei:
So, quite an extravaganza of reading and listening to music – being so ‘home’ bound:
I completed the detailed reading of In Search of the Miraculous by P D Ouspensky, who was an early student of Gurdjieff. It is, in fact, his account of meeting Gurdjieff and what he was taught. I did the reading with a friend – 15 pages per half month – it took us about 18 months.
I am also publishing my précis of the book here:
Also, I have been reading Peter Kingsley’s extraordinary account of Jung and the Red Book: Catafalque.
Literature wise, I have been reading Ben Okri’s Freedom Artist, which is a ‘magic realist’, allegory of the current world – should we say ‘dystopia. It is to be read ‘slowly’. It has the sub-title, Who is the Prisoner?. The answer at the end seems to be ‘the ego’ – so quite a lot to meditate on there.
I began the month re-listening Robert Simpson’s String Quartets. Again, one of those lesser known English composers. I like them. A bit like Bernard Stevens: radical and strident without every submitting to chaos and abandoning the pastoral, which is so important in English music.
The sunny weather however, had me gravitating to more exotic climes: Reggae and the amazing Malian singer Salif Keita – what a Joy!!
So, several weeks of ‘lockdown’, reducing all human contact. I santitise packages as they come in through the post.
On the roads there are no cars – animals are moving back into town. Everywhere is quiet – more birdsong!
One days seems to roll into another:
And the weeks…
My village would normally be full of people and cars. But, now I can walk down the High Street alone (we are allowed out for one hour per day).
The psychology of plagues is well known and does not seem to have changed much over the centuries: people fear, stock, but get used to it. Shocking figures of daily deaths – 1000+ – from Italy and Spain a couple of months ago seem less shocking once visited again in the UK. Meanwhile, the government struggles to convince that it knows what it is doing.
For myself – apart from all the trips, etc. – daily life has not changed that much: I write in the morning and speak with students in the afternoon. Except that the latter are strictly Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp, of course. And super busy since there is so much free stuff now being put out. Love Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Gary Barlow’s Crooner series. Brian May of Queen showing guitar parts. Shakespeare Sonnets from Patrick Stewart. Chris Packham from his home in the New Forest. Free plays from the National Theatre. To name but a view. It certainly shows who does and does not put themselves out there. The aspect of it I love most is the very amateur approach these take – no glitz – just everyday. Show the reality of real art.
My horizons are immediately limited. No matter. I get to follow nature this year in a way that I have not managed before. I watch the flowers comes and go:
Also, the insects. Bee on my Rosemary bush:
Apple blossom on my tree:
Some spectacular vistas in the Forest as well.
It is the season of the Bluebell:
I love it when the leaves come out this time of year. It begins with a ‘green mist’ which gets more dense. It is a special sort of ‘spring green’ that does not last that long.
Wild Garlic as well:
I love this. Recipes for wilted with pasta and some Dandelion, Garlic and Chick Pea flour cakes:
Ususally, these things come and go before I notice them! Too busy.
Earlier in the month (7th), there was an extraordinary large moon:
Then some spectacular skies around Easter:
Later in the month, a new crescent moon set beside Venus in the early night sky:
One of the high-spots of the month was the Musica en Moviemiento AAD course. This really took AAD work – with Zoom – to a whole new generation for me. Amazing to see what is now possible. Like 30+ guitarists spread out across countries and town in lockdown all managing to connect musically:
We did four meetings per week for three weeks, which included Guitar calisthenics, repertoire, T’ai Chi, Themes, Feldenkreis, Pranayama.
Lots of reading and music listening.
I think a highpoint CD wise was this one from the Chilean band Los Jaivas. They manage to be both Folk-rock and slightly psychedelic. Anyway, it works:
Sobering words from Jim Al-Khalili on the ways of things – how they really are – in terms of physics, the universe, etc. Highly mystical and spiritual by other words!!!:
So, March 2020 turns about to be a momentous month, as it is the time that when Covid-19 struck.
One of the most scary aspects of it – for me – was the speed with which things developed. At one point, the situation was changing by the hour. Alarm bells over what was happening in Italy and Spain soon became a foreshadow of what was going to happen here. So, what began as a ‘well, it is only about 50 people who have this virus’, quickly mushroomed exponentially. As I write, it is some 50,000 people – a rise over just a couple of weeks or so.
Panic was immediately evidenced by stripped supermarket shelves and people stockpiled:
Something I had never seen before.
England was not exactly fast off the block. From my Public Health days I know that with large epidemics, there are only three ways forward: Find a vaccine (it is going to take at least a year); let people catch it and build immunity (will result in shocking numbers of deaths and an overloaded health service); Test-Trace-and-Isolate. Some countries moved fast on this one – Argentina, for example – and seem to be having some success. But not here. By the time the ‘lockdown’ was called the damage was done; especially in places like London where people are squashed together on the Tube – holding hand rails, etc. – the major source of contact infection. Many of the sick and dead now result from this inaction.
I have never known anything like this in my life. Plagues, of course, are famous. Like the ‘Black Death’ of the C14 and Bubonic plague in the C17. These were caused by a bacteria. In those days, there was the ‘Plague Doctor’ who came to attend you. The beak was for sweet smelling herbs apparently, such was the stench. The stick to prod you for diagnosis. Not that I think there was much he could do for you, that is.
So-called ‘Spanish Flu’ 1918 was a virus but was indeed influenza. This one is a Coronavirus and seems particularly contagious. What we do know is that plague acts as major instigators of social change. We do not know in what direction, but clearly this is ‘shake-out’ time in terms of some businesses and ways of doing things. In the spirit of Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ – i.e., those who can adapt to change – already it is clear that all sorts of new systems are opening up whilst others are disappearing. Apparently, the level of traffic on the roads is equivalent to what it was in 1955.
Lots of material coming online: free concerts, free plays, free art tours. Also, community groups and friends writing in with suggestions, recipes, information, etc.
Sadly, my trip to Argentina is cancelled:
Unless I want to pay for 14 days of quarantine. The guitar course of Musica en Moviemiento is cancelled. However, we immediately commit to doing a three-week ‘at-a-distance’ course, including Guitar Work, Themes, T’ai Chi, Pranayama. And, so, one evening, there are 30 people on my Zoom screen for the inaugural meeting. Amazing – and a lot of energy and good will generated.
Oddly enough, at this dark time, spring suddenly announces itself, and we have some of the nicest weather that we have had for months!!! The clocks go forward and we have lighter evenings:
All the flowers are out as well.
Wild flowers too. Like the Lesser Celendine – which offers a cure for piles apparently – and the pansies (these are spread by ants because the flower seed as a small amount of food on it for them, so they take them back to their nests).
We are allowed one hour’s walk as exercise each day. Luckily, I have the forest at my doorstep:
All this is clearly to go on for a long time. Life and reports will therefore take on a ‘micro’ character. More books, more reading. More music. So, maybe more than one book of the month, and CD.
This month, I have been reading ‘Gurdjieff Reconsidered’.
Despite its title, it is really a ‘Gurdjieff revisited’. Not exactly a hagiography but certain something ‘in praise’ of Gurdfieff. Lots of anecdotes from his pupils working with him, especially in the USA and France. Many I knew but there were some I did not. The problem is, with this sort of book, that it can take on the character of an ‘apology’. Not really, here, but there is a tendency to ‘excuse’ what might be questionable. The problem is then that there is this way of copying and emulating what he offered rather than ‘recreating it’. What he left, after all, is a resource for application and extension. Not a doctrine to be held by the faithful. The work comes from ‘Being’ – not personality. Easy to mix these up.
Really, for those wishing to know more about what Gurdjieff was about, I would recommend Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous. Précised here:
I have also been reading some more Barry Lopez: About this Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory.
He really is my favourite writer and, by this I do mean writer. He can take something like going to the shops to buy bread and turn it into a evocative poetry. His writing is really like porcelain – fine and delicate. Someone once asked him how he does it, what advice he would give to a world-be writer. He said, ‘First, find out what you truly believe’. This is work that needs to be read slowly – to savour every word and sentence. He mostly writes about travelling and work experiences. Oddly, however, in the course of these, something else emerges which is truly philosophical and pertains to life, human’s relationship to the world, and the permanence of death.
Speaking of which, I have been much exercised with French writer Albert Camus’ La Peste (The Plague). Part allegory for the Nazi occupation of France and part philosophical meditation on living under the shadow of death, it is a remarkable meditation of the way people behave in such circumstances.
For music, something light-hearted: the new CD by Tame Impala – The Slow Rush.
In a way, this is pure pop – bubble-gum. Yet, I love its young vitality, synth sounds and freshness. Recorded partly in Fremantle, Perth, Western Australia, it is soaked through with sunshine and that outdoor living vibe. The sort of thing you have on in the car as you go off to the beach ‘barby’ with your six-pack in hand. Ha!!!
February turned out to be even more wet than December and January. I do not think it has stopped raining:
I went up to London to do a lecture at the Institute of Education, UCL.
While there, I took in the exhibition of the Belgium artist Spilliaert at the RAA. Quite impressive this, and very Scandinavian – even if he was not! He often painted in inks, which he combined with graphite. Subjects were somewhat ‘lonely’ figures in their own landscapes – a mixture of Munch and Hopper, perhaps.
Then, to Cornwall. Stormy walks around Lands End:
Next, on to my home village of Mousehole (Mowsel).
Very different to Mousehole in the past:
This came from an exhibition of photos of local people – at work and at play – at the Penlee Gallery:
A local artist, Herbert Dyer, here working with Copper which he shaped into ornamental figures. I have a small example of his work – Newlyn on a matchbox holder:
A mixture of sun and clouds in Penzance and Marazion/ St Michael’s Mount:
In Penzance, I also went to a concert of Piano and Flute music: music by Mozart, Messiaen, Haydn, Franck, and Reinecke. All good stuff, but I was reminded that Mozart disliked the flute and, after a couple of hours of its shrill tones, I too had had enough! Ironically, the best piece was probably the Mozart.
A trip to the Tate Gallery in St Ives for the Naum Gabo exhibition:
I have always associated Naum Gabo with geometric constructivism:
But, it turns out he had a much broader range of output than I knew. Albeit still in geometric mode. Anyway, an important figure in the development of St Ives arts in the 30 and 40s.
For Books, I finally completed the Hesse biography.
There is a really terrible review of this book by John Gray in the New Statesman.
In fact, he hardly seems to have read the book after the opening sections and takes the opportunity to list all the reasons he does not Hesse, which are so obvious.
Turns out that Hesse was a lot tougher than one might think: volunteered for the front in the First World War and sheltered various refugees in the second. More interestingly, is the way he was a kind of early pioneer to the sort of ‘self-discovery’ explorations that became the norm with younger generations in the post war period. His parents were Pietist Lutherians – he was born in 1877 – and he had a torrid time with their attitude to life and literature. Hesse made lots of mistakes – like marrying the wrong person three times and for all the wrong reasons. And, he did end up extremely sensitive and neurotic. However, he opposed German nationalism against a lot of public disapproval. In his life and work we see his struggle for a certain kind of spiritual consciousness. Clearly, he was doing this against the background of nineteenth century German philosophy and with none of the techniques we now have at our dispossal. But, he was aiming for something credible – I am certain of that – and did suffer for the positions he took in attaining it. Indeed, it is a position many of us are still struggling for – and against reactionary hectoring by the likes of Gray.
Somewhat as an antidote to all that, I read Agnes Poirier’s account of the Parisian Left Bank:
Not so academic and a bit journalistic, still it captures the lives lived and the views shared (and otherwise) by artists, writers and philosophers from the 1930s onwards; of course, also focusing on what happened in the second world war. All the star Parisian Left Bankers are there: Sartre, de Beauvoir, Camus, Vian, Greco, etc. A very lively and telling read.
My CD of the months is Brahms’ Late Piano pieces. Lovely playing here from Stephen Hough. The title suggests a spirit of sadness and departure, but this is not how these come across – these are not like Strauss’s Last Four Songs. There are more introspective pieces but many are very lively. Nevertheless, the mood is somewhat of ‘aloneness’ – as if someone playing for and to themselves in a separate room. Great CD:
As I write, the country seems to be going into lock-down over the Coronavirus. We shall see what happens. Nevertheless, with everyday now the light is strengthening and there are signs of spring:
January appears to have been a quiet month, after my return from South America/ Australia.
On the down side, it does not seem to have stopped raining since my return; but warm!
Epiphany on the 6th, and a special day where the strength of lighted is noted – the sun is returning!!
And, there are hints of spring:
Also, an amazing Wolf Moon – on a night when it was clear enough to enjoy it. Exceptionally, it coincided with a Lunar eclipse making the spectacle even more intense:
More King Crimson writing. My Anniversary Essay went out on the DGM page:
Someone sent me a photo from my past. This would have been in 1978 when I lived in Toulouse, France and worked for the Aérospatiale there! 44 years ago!:
Some interesting reading and listening this month.
For my CD of the month, I choose the latest from Michael Kiwanuka.
What am amazing combinations of sounds, vibes and sources. I hear, believe it or not, tropes of: Tim Hardin, Fifth Dimension, Cornershop, Bill Withers, Yousou N’Dour, Samba and Marvin Gaye. If he ever gets to synthesise all of these as one voice, that would be some formidable sound. Still rather good though….
I am still reading the Hesse book from last month as it is rather long – 800 pages. Enjoying it and learning a lot more about a writer who I have always felt drawn to: like the way he tried to enroll for the front line in the First World, his very troubled relationship with his parents, and the way he was completed ostracized by German intellectuals for his lack of nationalist fervor. He comes over a lot tougher than often thought. Also, there is this struggle for personal self-hood that was resonant with those reading him from the 1960s – here you see the buds of the struggle opening in another time, and therefore not fully developed. He made a lot of mistakes along the way, not least marrying three times to women he seemed to have very little in common with. But, it was the done thing:
When I used to visit the house of John Fowles in Lyme Regis, there was this painting that he kept over his stairway. At dusk, there would always be a lamp lit there – I took it as a kind of symbol of ‘at home’ or presence. Incidentally, it is a practice I have adopted myself: always light a lamp at dusk to acknowledge that special point of the day – when the day is over but the night not yet arrived.
The very same painting was used on the cover of the original edition of A Maggot:
In the intro. to this book, Fowles explains how he came across the water colour. What attracted him to it, besides the subtle colours and the vivacity of the face staring back at him, was that it was dated in a very precise way – and unusual for that: 6 July 1683. Fowles’ novels always seemed to begin with a single – dream – image for him. He recounts how one such image that kept coming back was of a group of figures riding on horseback against a sky at dusk somewhere in the West of England. One day, he connected that image with the painting and told their story.
And, what a strange story it is: beginning with intrigue and the sexual habits of the ‘gentlemen’ of the day and – along the way – even reproducing copies of magazines of the day – ending up in a mystery story involving alchemaic philosophy, possible visitors from outer space, individual liberation/ salvation, and the founding of a significant breakaway sect of the Quakers.
It was just about the last piece of fiction Fowles wrote, although living for another 20 years. Given his very atheistic views and attachment to natural history, it is quite extraordinary that he should write such a book.
He insisted that it was not a ‘historical novel’ (pace Lukacs), but as the title suggests, A Maggot – which he explains is not only the larval stage of a winged creature but a term with a much older (and now obsolete) definition, ‘a whim or quirk’. Maybe this is part explanation and part apology.
There is a third meaning given in the novel.
Reading it again after 35 years, I found it most intriguing and enigmatic.
So, December and back in winter UK. Some efforts to get used to a new climate!!
At work too. The university…..
I get to see the new William Blake exhibition at the Tate Britain; the first for twenty years or more.
This is probably the third major exhibition of his that I have seen and each one has been very different from the last. The first was just lots of pieces on show; the second offered a number of historical narratives – as was the norm in museum approach at the time. I was getting ready not to like this one. However, I was mistaken: it was a fine show. The pieces were not too crowded – either in terms of spaces between them or the narratives they offered.
Amused to see this notice at the entrance to the exhibition:
Good to see some actual writing in Blake’s own hand. Also, a very nice photo of the house in Broad Street, London where he was born:
This reminded me that he was actually born into quite a comfortable family: his parents kept a haberdasher/ hardware shop. Quite something in 1757!!! There is always controversy as to how well off Blake was. It is true that aside from his original works – which he sold very little – he did have a number of good commissions for engraving – which was his profession. That being said, expenses were high – all that copper plating for his books ( Jerusalem is 100 plates!). Apart from his three years in Felpham, he lived most of his life with his wife in two rooms! So, he could not be that rich. When he died, most of the engraved copper plates were sold off to support his widow! Only one fragment remains.
Blake was/ is a major influence on me since my early days. I wrote various pieces around him here:
The exhibition included the famous Sea of Time and Space from Arlington Court, Devon.
This picture was only discovered later in the C20 when it was found covered in dust on top of a wardrobe. Happily, the dust had protected it from the light, which faded many of his watercolours. This picture is seminal piece from him and sets out his view of life/ death, souls, and the material/ spiritual worlds. For him, water signifies materialism; so we see people drowning in it, and indeed being saved from it when the ‘fabric’ of existence is severed. I wrote a piece on the Beach Boys where I pursued ‘water’, the sea, as a metaphor for life – connecting it with Heideggerian Dasein. A lot of fun. It is here:
Christmas and some nice flowers sent to me from a dear friend:
Also, a nice card from Musica en Moviemiento together with a recording of a piece we did on the recent course:
The Forest is very wintry:
Some nice encouraging New Year cards/ video going the rounds:
This month I have been reading a new biography of Hermann Hesse, a writer I often come back to at difficult times. He seems to understand the tension between the inner and outer worlds and what to make of it.
Some nice soundscape sounds from Daniel Lanois as my CD of the month:
So, way behind with last month’s report; therefore, I have decided to offer a two-month bumper posting. This kind of works out since I have been away for 6 weeks in Australia and South American. In a way, it is holiday ‘snaps’ but, along the way some quite telling experiences.
Before I even left, I managed to take in some art in London.
Firstly, the extraordinary sculpture piece in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern in London. The piece is called Fons Americanus by the artist Kara Walker. It stands some 13 meters high and is a kind of mimic of the sculpture of outside Buckingham Palace, London, which celebrates Victorian Imperialism. However, in this piece, the artist draws attention to the slave trade on which the wealth of Britain was made. A theme which had resonances while I was in South America – reading of the millions of slaves that were brought to that continent to service the various natural exploitations there. A kind of piece about the links between America, Europe and Africa.
Also, the Anthony Gormley at the Royal Academy.
Back at the Tate Modern and the somewhat whimsical pieces by the Danish artist Olafur Eliasson. Interestingly, he too had a Turbine Hall installation some years ago: a big sun set in mist in which spectators were invited to sit. The sensual nature of his art was demonstrated in the various pieces in various ways: his interest in architecture; shapes; colours. One had distorted 3-D effects, another mist with lights running through it; still another where you are invited to walk through a long tunnel of coloured mist. Perhaps not the most profound art but certainly I cannot think of another that invites you to get inside it in such a complete way.
Before I leave, the last rose of summe in my garden:
And some photos – then and now – of Lyndhurst where I live:
First, Fremantle, Perth, West Australia. One of my favourite places. The plan is to mix some business – in effect sessions at universities – with some pleasure – chilling out in the local terrain. So, beaches and sunsets:
While there, I also get to reacquaint myself with Aboriginal art, which fascinates me – indeed, as does their whole culture:
On to Adelaide and another favourite place. I am greeted by the ‘cheese festival’ -quite something – and my host Justin. Here, I have a seminar, a masterclass and a public lecture. The last is a discussion of the 1960s and The Beatles. A great crowd turn up, including one who went to school with Brian Epstein. LOTS of post lecture discussion. Later a trip to the Adelaide beach as the weather hits – HOT. Also, more Aboriginal art, included some contemporary artists:
I also pose next to the only other place in the world that has Grenfell Street:
A one-string fiddle I play in the Centre of Creative/ Performance Arts:
Flight to Melbourne:
Not one of my favourite cities – despite its heavy cultural involvement. Maybe it is just too English for me – well, the weather is. It is very cosmopolitan, but then lively for that. For example, the only place where I have come across premises of the Theological Society (who incidentally hold Georgina Houghton’s work):
Again, Lecture, Masterclass, and individual student tutorials:
Soon, I am leapfrogging from Melbourne to Santiago to Salta. Happy to be back again in the Samsi Yoga/ Tai Chi Centre in Salta and to be with my host Vijaya:
We are on for another MeM Course: https://musicaenmovimiento.com
We are about 18 and run a Performance/ Intro and Active Listening course in a nearby retreat centre:
Quite a stunning environment marked by spectacular scenary. The local trees are extremely tall. Also, despite being in a convent/ monastery, some have managed to develop distinctive Sheela Na Gig characteristics:
Also, the sound of the Cojoyo – a kind of moth which attracts its mate by rubbing its wings together. We had this first in the morning and later in the evening. They begin and then build to a cacophony until pretty much stopping:
Later a performance at Samsi. Here, a clip from the sound check – playing Fallen Angel by King Crimson: https://www.instagram.com/p/B5gNnToJb5-/
The plan was for me to return to Chile to do more lectures, but the demonstrations there made this practically difficult. Therefore, instead, I went back top Patagonia – Bariloche. In typical Patagonian style the weather here was cold and windy. In fact, we reached 4 degrees one day – this allowed me to state that on this trip, I had gone from 4 to 40 and everything in between.
Again spectacular scenary:
I get to see a Green Lake – because of sediment deposit and the motorbike that Che Guevara rode on an epic bile ride from Argentina up through South America to Venezuela:
A 1600 year old tree and spectacular waterfalls:
Also, a ‘black glacier’:
After six weeks, time to return to the UK – again a dramatic drop in temperature.
Reading and listening. Again lots happening and lots of words and sounds. But to note are, first the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges, with its elements of magical realism and post modernist themes of time and place:
Also, of course, the posthumous CD of Leonard Cohen. More a recital of poems than a set of songs – similar to the Dear Heather CD – but telling in its insight into himself, love and life:
No one to follow
And nothing to teach
Except that the goal
Falls short of the reach