Watching the wonderfully uncanny film By Ourselves about John Clare’s flight from the Essex asylum, when a small procession passed the flat. This is the recording.
Gone home to
Sleep away the
Dread of day
Gone home to sleep
Away the dread of
Day that hangs so
Very heavy like cloth
Gone home to sleep away
The dread of day that
Hangs so very heavy like
Cloth of a curtain in
An ink-darkened chamber where
No light enters, like sleep
Like sleep a smothering dooming blackness
And always the death night strangle
But some respite still some respite
Sweet lifting from sharp day’s struggle
Day of dread sleep away the
Home to gone gone home
Hauntology [n]: present absences; absent presences (author’s definition, after Derrida)
What do these images say? About the town? About rivalries between hostelries? What tales might be told? How might they figuratively, literally be connected to one another?
The primary concept was to photograph pubs that are (or were) obviously pubs. Since taking these the photos, and especially with reference to the book below, it has become apparent that many more pubs have existed, many buildings of which are still standing. The author’s ground floor was once a pub called The Castle, dating to 1774. A future project may, or may not, involve using the book as a guide to photographing those less obvious examples, hidden as they are in plain sight. The book, too, details more than can be seen: of tunnels and passages, of violence and intrigue.
As well as an effort to capture images of pubs that are easily discernible, it was also an attempt to explore the uses of black and white film. All photographs taken with Nikon F50 in January 2018. Photos 1-17 with Ilford FP5 Plus black and white film. Photos 18-25 with Ilford FP4 Plus black and white film.
All dates from: Davis, M & Pitt, V, 2015, The Historic Inns of Frome, Akeman: Gosport; except date for Cheese and Grain, from Wikipedia.
It’s been happening a lot lately: the glitching reality of over-tiredness.
I don’t get enough sleep. I know when I should, but so often I’m halfway through something: a bottle of beer, or a favourite TV show. I force myself to stay awake, use my might to keep my eyelids from closing. It’s impossible, of course: like holding a bag of sugar at arm’s length, indefinitely.
My eyes shut momentarily. I’ll see something that isn’t there; construct a glistening narrative to explain it perfectly. Or sometimes it’s a pristine thought, small and round, like a pebble. It’s like a mini revelation, an unlocked mystery; a little bit of my world falling precisely into place. I accept the thought, the vision, or the narrative without question.
But then it vanishes to nothing, as though it was never there. All I have left is a strange sensation, of wonder, bemusement, and of spiralling darkness.
It’s all these things, but mostly it’s the darkness. A black cloth gently lowered over me.
This is not a metaphor.
It’s been a long time since I wrote something, 8 months if published blog post are anything to go by (which they aren’t, of course; I’ve written scrips and scraps, but lack the impetus to push them towards finalisation).
I’ve just walked from work to Bradford on Avon, on the day the election results were announced. Hung. Seems apt, as the Conservative’s discuss a coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party. But seats were lost: comfort; comfort.
I finished reading Confabulations by John Berger the other day. Notes on language: on what it means; what it can mean; where to look for it; how we should look aslant. So much observation, so much imagination; extrapolating. But it’s not the imagination of an idealiser, though Berger is an optimist, constantly seeing and reseeing hope. It strikes me quite forcefully (if that isn’t a contradiction) how he can turn his experiences to the political with the reader barely noticing. He talks of the ahistoricity of political rhetoric, his scorn for the ‘socialist’ Hollande.
Berger is a thinker of, and in, the visual. The ‘mother tongue’, he argues, is pre-verbal, perhaps even pre-cognitive (by which I mean, before we develop a cognitive sense of our selves and surroundings). We behave a language before we utter it. In one delightful, and memorable, section, he talks about the language plants speak in their gestures, one we can never hope to ‘translate’. Formal, contemporary translation is something Berger rallies against: “… true translation is not a binary affair between two languages but a triangular affair. The third point of the triangle being what lay behind the words of the original text before it was written. True translation demands a return to the pre-verbal.” (p.4)
A convergence then occurred. I began reading The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane, for the first time. It opens with a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson:
All things are engaged in writing their history… Not a foot steps into the snow, or along the ground, but prints in characters more or less lasting, a map of its march. The ground is all memoranda and signatures; every object covered over with hints. In nature, this self-registration is incessant, and the narrative is the print of the seal.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, quoted in The Old Ways, p.5.
I wonder about the walk I’ve just done. What is the language I have just spoken? What is its narrative? The first step is the hardest, they say, but such meanders come easily. The difficulty, I think, is to say why to relay that story. Which is why I feel burdened with scraps and scrips. But right now, as I write this, it seems that ‘narrative’ is too strong a term. That although there is a ‘start’ (work’s office), and an ‘end’ (Bradford on Avon, or perhaps this canal-side pub), it’s the trod in-between that gives wayfaring its meaning… not meaning… something less than ‘meaning’… but somehow, more.
I left a trail, a signature. Particularly memorable, is the steep track by the woods: the ground still soft from rain, but (an important ‘but’) the most noticeable trails were those of cows. I might have left a story, but what of the cows’ tales? I feel like: if it’s difficult to work out my own narrative, what hope for the cows?
The cows’ trod: it seems like their path. But further on, there’s speaking of a more human nature. I looked at a map of Dorchester earlier, and followed the straight Roman track to London. But on the walk, between two gates, the footpath through a field couldn’t even hold true. But there’s still more language to read. The curl of the sown seeds. The stacked black hay bales. The ribs of the fire-blasted barn: the bones bent this way and that, from the fire that melted it. Is this the narrative of the farmer? A cypher for rural industry? The fire’s story? How do the scorched trees fit a narrative like this? Innocent bystanders or tortured participants? Who knows? And who cares?
There is no story, is how I want to conclude this story. There is, because now it is written. In a sense, the narrative is double, because there’s the path I’ve left, and this account of the path I led. And there’s the stories of the walkers, and they walkers’ dogs; of the guy eating his lunch at a kissing gate (white, loose shirt; the tussled hair: every bit the romantic); the birds singing and rabbits darting; the unseen cows and bull; hardworking and blighted farmland (an antithesis of the bucolic, the romantic).
A plethora of narratives, tying and untying themselves from each other, not fully decipherable or translatable, like the rise and fall of the very voices in this pub garden. But every now and then, something catches. 500 Miles on the stereo; a cyclist with an Irn Bru jersey: converging lines: they meant something to me, right then, even if my meaning is not their (the singers’; the cyclist’s) narrative. Confabulations, indeed.
John Berger, 2016, Confabulations, Penguin Random House
Robert Macfarlane, 2012, The Old Ways, Penguin Hamish Hamilton
Walk — 02/09/2016
A necessary day off work and still energised after my long walk along the GR4 from Montserrat to Sant Vicenç de Castellet, near Barcelona.
In the week run-up to this, I’ve been poring (pawing? pouring? pooring?) over the OS maps on Bing, Open Street Map’s becitizenized paths, and Google’s satellite images. I have a great fondness for walking from the front door. But nothing really ‘took’. The post-industrial, nature-clawing-back of the River Avon to the east is too familiar. To the north, the monotony of the suburbs; to the west: the social housing and barely-functioning industry that so often lines the edges of city centres.
No, I need a concept, something that might give me direction: a move away from the whims of personal intrigue; of willful wandering.
From the OS maps, I notice the gridlines, and we live just shy of the intersection of ST63 and ST73. That’s it: I shall follow one of these lines as closely as I can. But which way? South: it has to be. After less than 1km, I’ll need to cross the Avon, and without a huge diversion, there’s only a single option: the Avon’s oldest ferry crossing to Beese’s Riverside Bar. The bar’s only open during the summer, and so too the ferry crossing. I can follow the gridlines in other directions in the depths of winter.
Ferry. What is a ferry? I grew up landlocked; a brook opposite the house. The nearest big river was the Thames in Oxford, but we rarely went. So a ferry to me is the behemoths that run from Dover to Calais. My first shock at the non-industrial sized ferry was the 20-berth fishing boat taking people from Mallaig to Knoydart, NW Scotland. Until arriving at Mallaig, I could only picture a vast boat, with bars, amusement arcades, and vehicles. A lifetime’s conception dashed, but pleasingly so. Beese’s ferry is even smaller, carrying a maximum of six people.
* * *
So I’ve made it. In about 5 hours I’ve covered eight 1km segments, plus a bit more either end. But that’s as the crow flies (imagine: a crow flying straight!); it’s a fair bit more underfoot: a zigzagging, doubling-back meander. Now, I’m tired, my legs ache, blisters flowering. The bottoms of my jeans are heavy with water because this is not Spain, and there is rain, and there are ticks.
* * *
Some might like to praise the UK for its plethora of paths, taking in as they do the long distance trail as much as the quotidian and local. I, however, was not praising the quality of the path marking. I was surprised: the closer to the city (Broomhill near Beese’s; Stockwood Open Space Nature Reserve), the less likely the rights of way are to be signposted. I followed wrong paths back on myself; pushed through bramble thickets; raised my hands aloft through head-height stinging nettles — only to have to turn back. I started to rue my straight-jacket decision to follow the fictions of the Ordnance Survey’s Cartesian cross-lines. Wouldn’t it be much nicer to have a walk at a beauty spot? What is this going to prove, anyway?
But I stuck with it. Of course I did.
I have lots of ideas, most of them fleeting, but if I get as far as starting the journey, I’m loathe to abandon. Even the unexpected rain (that went from fairy mist to persisting-it-down), did not tear me from my aim. And so much the better.
It’s peculiar, following the lines. The walk can be categorised into three scenes: 1 — suburban Bristol; 2 — single-track country lanes; 3 — field footpaths. Because I had the schema, I missed most of the villages on the way. I ignored the most intriguing-looking paths. I merely chose the route that allowed me to follow line ST63 most closely.
It took a long time to feel I’d left Bristol and its conurbations. For every leaf-dappled lane, every overgrown path, there followed as much in the way of post-war bungalows and social housing, bus stops and convenience stores. Horseworld was especially confusing — a sanctuary for diseased horses (according to one sign, feeding the horses is forbidden because they may transfer diseases deadly to humans). Horseworld resolutely threw out the notion of ‘the city’, with its stables, paddocks and electric fences — only for houses to reappear. And why does a city like Bristol require a horse sanctuary?
* * *
Out of the city proper, and onto the many, many unclassified roads. Some were narrow, steep, and with near-vertical banks to cling to as cars approached. Some were wider, encouraging lead-footed drivers to swerve to avoid me. The most fun on those lanes, was the abuse hurled at me from a small hatchback. Incoherent, but I transcribed to my phone what I heard:
“Awefurfife fur fa fawf!”
I grew up in the countryside. Narrow lanes and speeding cars are nothing new to me. On the city’s edge, I imagine gangs of adolescent youths, at the end of long summer holiday, hurling abuse, and possibly worse. I’ve always had this sense; a feeling that arises from the unknown. But despite all this, the country lanes, on this wet day, really got to me. When I heard a car far off I’d tense up. Anxiety would start with a tiny thought before torpedoing down to my heart, where it would bloom into heavy-handed arrhythmia. I started to dread the approach of every car; imagined scenarios where two could cars would need to pass each other right where I stood, pinning me to the bank, speeding off, leaving me. And it was because of this that I broke my rule.
I was near the end of the walk in Pennsford, and the last bus stop before wandering off the map’s edge. The road: steep, narrow. The cars: fast. Legs: sore. I wanted the walk to last longer than it otherwise would (the sore legs a pleasing ache of achievement). I ducked off the road onto some footpaths. I went round the back of a church, which had a barbecue in the graveyard. I looked at the limping sheep, one so poorly it wouldn’t get off its elbow; it’s toenails overgrown, black and gnarled. I zigzagged a river at the path’s whim.
And then, after 5 hours, I was in Pennsford. Its single-cell gaol, the vast railway viaduct, the pubs, cafés and museum, and of course, the bus that arrived just as I did.
Walking the Catalan Pre-Coastal Range – 18/08/2016
Monestir de Montserrat a Sant Vinenç de Castellet
As soon as I got off the 1.5 hr loops I didn’t see any one. But I heard people: gentle talking on a parallel path above mine. But there was no path. I even heard voices and movement when the cliff to my right was sheer. This was before I got very tired, and up in the cool, high air of the mountain. But I’m convinced it wasn’t my imagination. Utterly. But that doesn’t mean I can explain it. I balanced a small quartz stone on a tiny cairn.
Later, I came to a small monastery. A sign for the GR4 pointed me down an unused-looking path alongside the carpark track. It didn’t seem right, but the arrow looked pretty confident. I got to wooden hut, perhaps a hide. A sign in both Spanish and Catalan seemed to say: don’t proceed further without permission. But it was the only path I could see: steep steps off the steep cliff. I edged slowly forward to try to decipher the status of the steps: whether they were safe, and whether this was my path. I passed the hut and was startled to see a man sitting out and staring to the vast plain below. I was ruffled, but remembered enough to cobble ‘dónde está la gran recorrido quatro?’ He understood. I knew roughly that it went down the valley side, so was surprised when he told me to go back across the main road and rejoin the path I’d left. My puzzlement translated, and he seeked to clarify: Lo siento, GR 4?; si, quatro. Ah! Perdon. He checked his phone and I’d been too hasty with the right turn, and he wasn’t familiar with path. He apologised again and I left to take the proper path down the valley.
* * *
Back onto the path, and again no single other walker (though some mountain bikers and a couple of cars). I was no longer followed by occasional chatter or slipping rocks from a hidden path. Who made those noises before? And who was this man, only too pleased to help a hapless hiker? How, and why, was he there?