Poor Mr Turner

December 1, 2014

All the things that Turner was, all the habits, the places he visited, the people he knew, the timeline of the events of his life is very well documented. One can pick up any book on Turner and even the poorest ones will give you this. These are the things which art historians dwell upon, mainly because they are not artists; it is fairly safe to say that hardly any of them know what it is like to feel the inward thrill, in the isolation of the studio, to see the paint which you apply becoming a new reality. How many non-painters could know the pleasure of the smell of the paint and turpentine (one of my tutors said that he turned to oil painting simply because of the smell of the turpentine) and the feel of clean brushes. Then, at the end of a long painting session, spending hours sometimes, simply evaluating, a mixture of self-criticism and pride, the results of the day.

I was hoping for at least some of this in Mr Turner and I didn’t get it. What I did get was a film about personal relationships with people, many of whom were caricatures and some set pieces, scenes pushed home in a pretty blunt and unsophisticated way to push the narrative along and try to explain some of his painting (e.g. the Fighting Temeraire scene which, even if it was true, showed none of what must have been a tremendously important event for Turner). We got a progression of already well known events, almost clichés, from Turner’s life. Starting the film more than half way through Turner’s life, we are expected to know of his prolific prodigiousness, his great travels, his hard-gained knowledge of classical history (he struggled hard to ‘better’ himself this way, in the same way as he struggled hard to be a better painter of the human form, in both ways ultimately failing) and his remarkable bravura in paint gained through treating a plastic medium like oil paint in the same way as he treated watercolour, of which his huge ability was outstanding; that is by laying down layers and layers of transparent paint over a largely pale, heavily built up base. This is the finishing off which Turner did in the Academy.

None of this was given in the film and anyone without much knowledge of Turner would surely have wondered what the big deal is with Turner. What we got was a rude and shuffling old man, a dirty old man, a man who could grunt in 100 ways.

On Channel 4 a couple of weeks ago, Timothy Spall gave an account of his experience in making the film and he also talked about his understanding of Turners great early days, his great knowledge and brilliance. It is no good having to add an appendix to the film in this way because this should have come across in the film itself.

It is inexplicable why Ruskin was treated so cruelly, a precocious, giggling child, who actually was, in spite of some of his well known shortcomings, a great thinker, a very gifted artist (a better observer of nature than anyone of his time, including Turner) and a very thoughtful man. It seems to be open season of kicking Ruskin, just as it seems to be for Constable, who was again treated with contempt by Leigh via Turner. The scene in which Constable is seen to be struggling to knife vermillion onto one of his late canvasses, only to be mocked by Turner, was a cruel one. Constable, a more humble and honest artist, had recently lost his wife (we know this because Hadleigh Castle is hanging on the wall as Turner breezes in and this was painted in Constable’s desperately sad days after his wife’s death). It is curious that this scene was produced as it only serves to make Turner seem like a jumped-up barrow boy, a show-off, and again, this is because Mike Leigh, like historians and writers on art have no idea what it really is like to be an artist, and especially a painter.

I wanted to see Turner really seeing inspiration, not occasionally scrubbing and spitting on a canvas or scratching in a token way in a sketchbook. In the end it was a morbid film which portrayed decay and miserable death and was no more than a portrait of a thoughtless user.

Martin Greenland interviewed by Andrew Lambirth

March 13, 2014

Martin Greenland interviewed by Andrew Lambirth

 

When did you first know you wanted to be a painter?

 

At primary school, when I was about six, a young man who used to be at the school brought in his paintings to show us. They were probably quite ordinary, but I thought they were fantastic. I’d already shown a lot of interest in drawing and painting, and by that stage I really wanted to paint. The next thing was buying my first oil paints a couple of years later instead of toys. It was the chance to do something really grown up. My dad used to do some oil painting – he wasn’t an artist, he was a vicar, but he could have been very good – and I loved the smell of the oils in his study. I loved the way a landscape would change and build up as he painted it. He liked bold dynamic work – Franz Hals, Maurice Vlaminck, Emil Nolde.

 

Then there was a gap when I was more interested in model-making, and later on in my school years I really wanted to be an architect. I still have a great architectural interest. Then I thought maybe after my O levels I would do a Foundation Course at Art School and do Interior Design.

 

So you went to Nelson and Colne College (1979-81) in Lancashire. What was that like?

 

It was a very good two-year course with some very good tutors (particularly Steve McDaid) and I did a lot of life drawing and studied various disciplines. I still couldn’t make up my mind what I really wanted to do, until some of the tutors suggested I study Fine Art. Then the difficulties started because I wasn’t really geared up to it. So I took a year out and began to study on my own. At College, all the tuition was about 20th century art, until the last two weeks of Foundation when they showed us Renaissance painting. I was overwhelmed by it. So in the year I took out I spent a lot of time going to galleries and looking at paintings properly, people like Titian and Velazquez, and trying to learn how to use oil paint. And something inside me said I should be able to learn how to paint like them. I wanted to be as good as that.

 

Were you trying to paint landscapes then?

 

No, human figures, based on life drawing. Even before I went to study Fine Art [at Exeter College of Art] I painted a triptych of three six foot panels. It was influenced by High Victorian paintings I’d seen in Cartwright Hall, Bradford – Victorians as Romans and that sort of thing. I painted a kind of anti-fur social/political statement: characters in Renaissance part-nakedness with a tiger. It sounds terribly corny but actually it was a damn good painting and I loved painting it. I liked allegory and symbolism – paintings in which an idea beyond what’s initially portrayed is suggested. On Foundation we made a trip to London and visited the Hayward Gallery. There was a Pissarro show on downstairs which I found very claustrophobic – too many dots for me – and I went upstairs where there was a Michael Andrews exhibition. I thought it was absolutely amazing – I was blown over by it – it was an incredible experience. It was refreshing and exciting: big paintings and colour. But more than that – what he was trying to do with paint. His ideas.

 

When I finally got to Exeter to study painting it was such a confusing affair. Too many influences were coming from all sides. I remember a lecture on Yves Klein, and everybody wanting to paint blue. I remember thinking at the time “I’ve got to do that sort of thing”, and it felt terrible. After a year I was still hobbling along, but I had no idea what I really wanted to paint. I painted a scene of London outside Fortnum & Mason at night, and some girl came round and said: “It’s a nice painting but it looks like a Christmas card.” My tutors absolutely hammered it – and they were right. They said I would be best going and doing something else. I responded by studying photography for two terms, though I kept on painting, restricting my palette and painting what I could see around me. As for photography, although I was unaware of it at the time, I was using the viewfinder to learn how to compose, and growing used to the landscape, simply as landscape. I learnt about the importance of placing, and understood about the periphery of things. Also the symbolical nature of elements within the landscape. My photography tutor didn’t like us cropping images, which was very good as it made you look with the viewfinder.

 

I did a painting at the end of the second year which really turned it – my first proper invented landscape. This was the real starting-point. It was combining ideas, and I wasn’t trying to be anybody else. I’d gone for a walk on a very hot afternoon in June. Something about the atmosphere was like when we used to go to Denmark as children. I kept getting flashbacks of the Danish landscape. I remembered a Maypole and ferries and lifebelts and I wanted to put all these things into my painting. So I did. Then I took it into College and the tutors waxed lyrical over it.

 

I’m interested in you saying that you had to train yourself to invent. Was that difficult?

 

At first it was very difficult – some things came, some things didn’t. Some things technically I didn’t know how to deal with. I tried but they just didn’t work. That I’ve come to accept is just the way it has to be. I see myself gradually changing, moving on. The tendency to present things as you think they are – or as you assume they are – and to over-illustrate them can be a big problem. When one looks at things there is a lot of ambiguity and uncertainty, simply because we have movement and binocular vision. Nowadays I try to force things in the painting to do something slightly unexpected, that I wouldn’t have actually planned. Some of the things in the past I used to do a lot more from actual drawings. I still do a lot of drawings in the landscape but I don’t tend to use them.

 

Even though you studied photography, you’d never use photographs as an aide-memoire in that way?

 

No. I take photographs and I still think they have the same importance to me as they did at College – compositionally. And they do have a similar effect in focusing my thoughts. But I’m also aware that if I go out without a camera it does force me to look a lot harder.

 

Did you have to teach yourself to have a retentive memory?

 

I think I have one naturally. I didn’t use it that much in the past, but now I’ve trained it. People say to me: “How do you manage to do it?” Well, it’s not done all in one go. It’s a gradual accumulation. If I’m painting a particular thing, I’ll go out and find some more information about it, probably by drawing in a sketchbook, a habit I started many years ago. Though sometimes I think I’m better just experiencing – I don’t want anything to get in the way of the experience at all, not even a sketchbook.

 

You live in a very beautiful part of England. Do you ever feel the urge to go out and simply record it?

 

I do feel that. There’s a place 10 minutes from the house and every time I go there I feel “it’s all here – why invent it?”

 

What stops you from making a painting just of that?

 

I’m inventing paintings because I want to bring other ideas together. I have to do it very carefully so it doesn’t spoil the whole thing. I’m still very concerned about atmosphere and the creation of a particular sense of space, time of day, whatever it might be. I don’t want that to be spoiled, but I want to bend it so that other things can come in to the painting in a much more subtle way, so that people don’t necessarily spot them straight away.

 

But isn’t it also about how you feel – not just what you know?

 

Exactly. I don’t even like to take a real place and do it as a straight memory. None of the places I paint exist. It’s a memory of a sort of place. The paintings I paint are places I want to see.

 

One of the notable features of your recent paintings is that there are no figures in them.

 

When I was at College I made a decision not to paint people. I thought there was far too much emphasis on the figure. People sometimes say my pictures need a figure for scale, but that would simply distract the eye and the landscape would become merely a backdrop, as is the case in a lot of painting – like Claude.

 

You bring landscape centre stage?

 

Absolutely right. The things that I put into a landscape are all painted deliberately, which is about the reason to invent rather than just to paint what’s there. Everything is there for a purpose.

 

And you control the quantities – how much human intervention and so on.

 

What is a straight natural landscape? I’m not interested in photographs of nature or TV programmes about it. The effect of mankind on the landscape is something that interests me very much indeed: the way that things are put into the landscape, and how they erode.

 

You quite like buildings or quarries that are abandoned, don’t you? So that you’ve got the trace of mankind without the immediate activity.

 

Yes I do.

 

Tell me, how much does the paint lead you and suggest the next thing?

 

An awful lot. Sometimes a painting can be quite meticulously planned out in terms of drawing on the canvas, but at others I have no idea what’s going to happen and I just put marks on the canvas and see where they go. So many things can happen. A drawing has no consideration of colour and tone, so the compositional balance changes as you add to it. Things go into a painting for a reason, but sometimes it’s simply compositional.

 

How long might you work on a painting? I know you like to finish a painting in the season it depicts.

 

I try to make sure it only takes three months. But if it needs more work, and it doesn’t actually have to go anywhere for an exhibition, I might carry on working on it and make it a picture of more than one season. But I do like the particularities of a time of year. If I could, I would probably stick to painting just one day – or a moment – in a season.

 

Do you tend to work on more than one picture at once?

 

Yeah, I do. It gets distracting sometimes. There have been times in the last few years when I’ve had up to 20 paintings in the studio at once. That’s a lot, though some might be quite small.

 

Do they help each other?

 

They can do. The painting is saying “Come on, you’ve got to sort this out before you go on to anything else”. But I know the thing to do is actually to leave it, turn it round and don’t look at it. I have to force myself to do that sometimes. And I look at the paintings from all angles too – I turn them upside down, I take them out the room, I get too used to the mirror reflection. I’m always looking in the mirror to see that the painting is working – whether there’s anything that stands out, either good or bad. If the composition is wrong and I turn the painting upside down, it shows straightaway. Even a painting which has an implied realism or illusionism has an abstract quality.

 

Your pictures tend to be quite dark. Are you painting a particular time of day?

 

I like twilight. I like very close related tones, and I’m interested in darkness. I’m interested in the experience of walking and moving through a landscape and the uncertainties that go with that. Once or twice I’ve found myself in difficult situations on walks and when you do see a light then, it’s a welcome relief. A beacon of hope. But when I put a light in a painting it has a dual purpose because it is just a light, and not necessarily positive.

 

I know you like to listen to tapes of the landscape that you’ve made – ambient noise. Do you have those on while you paint?

 

If I’m painting the implications of a thunder storm – that very tense, electric atmosphere – I play one of the recordings I’ve got of a thunderstorm at the right time of year. Then I’m actually in that landscape. There’s usually something playing in the studio, though sometimes it’s music. I’m very selective in my music listening, which again tends to be seasonal, though not because it’s illustrative of a particular time of year. It’s to concentrate my excitement or thoughts about that particular time of year. So Shostakovitch I’ll listen to in the autumn, because I first listened to it in the autumn back in 1988. I feel I’ll be spoiling my painting – or spoiling the quality that the music has – if I listen to it at another time.

 

Do you think about other painters much when you’re working?

 

Over the last few years I’ve come to be very interested in Courbet and the painters of the Barbizon School. I see things happening in my own paintings and I see similarities.

 

Is a sense of mystery necessary to your painting?

 

It’s not strictly necessary but it does crop up. Sometimes it’s deliberately there, sometimes people see it whether I like it or not. Actually, I’m not trying to imply one thing or another. I like ambiguity. Everyone brings their own experience and interpretation to looking at a painting.

 

Is it easier to invent a landscape or to copy it, do you think?

 

Interesting question. It’s easier for me to invent because I find it much more exciting. I get a bit bored when I do anything more than a sketch of straight landscape from observation. Whenever I have taken a canvas out into the landscape, I’ve been disappointed with the result.

 

You’ve talked about your work being a balance between the believable and the unbelievable.

 

Yes. I want the landscapes to be so convincing that you believe them, but there has to be something else there… to make people think a little bit more, but not so much that it destroys the atmosphere of the painting and makes it unbelievable. I think that people won’t be that interested if everything is explained.

 

How literally do you want your titles to be taken? Lots seem metaphorical.

 

They are. Titles are never put there just for the sake of it. Some come after the painting, some before. Sometimes the title actually prompts the painting.

 

It is the English countryside you paint? Because sometimes there seems to be a touch of the Mediterranean in there. Do you paint some sort of Golden Age?

 

The Golden Age possibly, that never existed. But the English landscape is the landscape I’ve most experienced, and at the moment there’s enough there for me. And at different times of the year round here one feels one could be in a different part of the world. I do like that – the hint of a certain sort of exotic otherworldliness in the Lake District.

 

What about the visionary aspect – that you are sometimes painting places you’ve never seen or been to?

 

Oh yes. I suppose they are visions. Sometimes I paint a landscape and later I find myself in it.

 

You mentioned that you often begin by writing rather than by drawing an image. What would you write?

 

It doesn’t always happen, but quite often. I write in my sketchbook. Sometimes it might start with just a word or two, an idea. Then I probably embellish it. It’s a way of getting down thoughts and being precise about them. Occasionally it’s like a narrative, but usually it’s just strings of notes: finding words that truly mean the thought that’s in my head.

 

Do you think you aim for a kind of serenity in your work, or for something less comfortable?

 

A bit of both. I like the idea of serenity, but not necessarily the comfortable armchair for relaxing in. Occasionally I want to create a sense of unease because I like that charged atmosphere.

 

This interview was recorded in Martin Greenland’s studio at Bowness-on-Windermere in January 2014, and subsequently edited.

Revival

April 26, 2013

First an obvious admittance, for anyone who may be interested or indeed looking.

This is the first posting for over a year.

Believe me, I have thought about and intended and even desired to start again but there has been something in me which has said “there’s so much stuff, a saturated world, a deep, drowning sea of words and images, there in the wide ether; just who is either interested in or is actually reading this?”. I have never bothered with Facebook (funny how that word isn’t recognised without the capital F; it makes me wonder when keyboards will come with a obligatory ‘TM’ key) and even though I have a Twitter account I have never used it. I just think to all that… “SO WHAT…?” Does it really matter if I am one of the first or indeed any of the ones who is able to comment on some insignificant thing happening, or are people really interested in what I made myself to eat this lunchtime? If everyone is doing this, i.e. making lunch, photographing it and posting it on Facebook who is actually reading what is sent? and who REALLY cares? It is pointless. When I think about the incredible achievements in science, art and humanity of our ancestors I am utterly dismayed by how we have become sheep to gadgetry, to the accumulations of computerised computing. I salute the few who still do not know how to even turn a computer on. Such irony; it is such a useful tool and yet such a curse.

I have long been thinking about creativity and restriction. I intend to say much more about this but this is something I consider a lot; the composer Shostakovich was on the verge of exploring modernism, possibly with a view to developing it further. We could say that unfortunately Stalin got in the way. Because he did, we have music which had to find its expression using a language which was already understood but underneath was coded with a subversive anger and energy. Even on the surface, the humanity of the music in all its expressions is there. Thank goodness for it. It is both tough and delicate, raw and melodic and as ‘modern’ as it could ever be. It is like poetry which rhymes, like Larkin’s, or like the POW drawings of Ronald Searle’s. It is not governed by dry intellectualism but recognises the limits of just what is audible. It recognises humanity and instead of being determinedly aloof, it communicates and welcomes people in. It refuses to pander to the fashion, it is produced within restrictions and because of these restrictions it flourishes.

As painters we have the boundary of the rectangle but to be great we have to push even further, all the time yet  still within that boundary, otherwise we are just servants, slaves to fashion, producers of bourgeois decoration to bloat an already saturated world. However, we still have to speak a recognisable language; we must communicate in a non-condescending, non-patronising form.

There is still much to be done, much within ourselves, to dig deeper to really, properly say what we mean. We must not be afraid to embrace tradition but we must strive to shun cliché.

National Park

February 9, 2012

This painting, National Park, has been bought for Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle, England, with funds from the Friends of Tullie House, The Art Fund and The V&A. It will be going on show at the gallery very soon.

I was the first really significant work produced after the winning of the John Moores Prize for Contemporary Painting  the previous September. Like all of my works, what is seen in the work is entirely fictional. What I had learned from my experience in the limelight of the contemporary art/painting world was channelled into this work. All that was at fault previously, the naive, the unprepared, the unprofessional, I attempted to get rid of in this and subsquent work, and I do believe that this has really happened in these last six years.

I set off in this work to produce a winter painting which was ABOUT my home landscape rather than of it. I have begun to realise that what is seen in my paintings is what I KNOW, which is as a result of what I have seen. The mountains have hints at and are the essence of the south-west Cumbrian mountains but as usual I had to invent them and to delight in exploring the landscape through the paint, to explore in the paint and to be enlivened by the success of the invention. What happened in the work was unplanned. I had produced a quite detailed yet spontaneous drawing, of which some elements remained in the final work which I carefully transferred to the canvas with charcoal which was fixed and slowly laid in with tinted Underpainting White. However, when this process was done I felt that I had lost interest in this quite pre-determined approach and so much of the lower two thirds of the painting was knifed over and over-painted in a quite random way. It was when the light was established through the more deliberate modelling of the mountains (which still continued to evolve in form from the original state) that form started to self-establish in the foreground and knife marks became quarry, low hill, forest, reservoir dam.

Later in the works growth I knew that there was here in this landscape the balance of the natural and the man-made, the preserved and the industrialised which are part of the balancing act of the National Park Authority. It was inevitable that the painting would end up being called National Park.

 

UNCHARTED LAND

September 11, 2011

 

Western Landscape 2011

 

This is an Autumnal reawkening for this blog, principally to announce my forthcoming exhibition at Art Space Gallery in Islington, London from September 16th to October 14th. This co-incides with the new gallery season in London and my show contains work all done in 2010 and 2011. This come after quite a season of exhibiting which saw my work shown in four joint exhibitions, all of which started in May. There was FLASHBACK, the 25th anniversary show at Art Space Gallery in London. This was followed but 16, a show of Cumbrian artists at the newly formed gallery at Rheged Discovery Centre at Penrith, England. Then came Charter of the Forest, a special exhibition at the Usher Gallery and Collection in Lincoln, England and finally came the show, i know a place, at Flowers East, London where Playground was invited for a deserved showing.

New Fiction

November 6, 2010

For those who haven’t yet seen it, there is just under a week left to visit the exhibition of my paintings at The Cornerstone Gallery at The Creative Campus of Liverpool Hope University. The majority of the work was created this year and most of it in the last two years. The venue is a true galleried space in the cavernous entrance to the building. I is (a) the key exhibition of the Independents part of the Liverpool Biennial, which itself runs till the end of this month.

The folowing links have good comments and reviews of the exhibtion.

http://www.artinliverpool.com/blog2010/10/martin-greenland-new-fiction-at-the-cornerstone/

http://www.liverpoolconfidential.co.uk/Culture/Arts/Meet-the-People-Artist-Martin-Greenland-15509.asp

http://www.catalystmedia.org.uk/issues/misc/articles/new-fiction.php

BACK SOON

August 11, 2010

I’m currently preparing for two exhibitions, in Liverpool at the end of September and London at the end of November. At the moment I am too busy to compose and post blogs but there will be further details of the two exhibitions posted here and on the website in due course plus images of new work in the gallery which will be posted at the end of September and thereafter when work is completed.

Perfect Whitbarrow Night

June 25, 2010

Here’s an improptu posting. I am by the window in my library at home here and I am looking out at the late evening sky. It is 10.32pm and the trees against the northern sky (there are 12 different species that I have identified) are dark and absolutely motionless, but beyond the sky is luminous with lingering blue light, descending to a soft orange where in the distance the sharp cut-outs of familiar mountains, those mountains which only six months ago were thick with snow, are a purple/blue/grey. It has been an almost surreal year so far. Dry, sunfilled, and after the frost hard winter, warm. It is not yet July but it has that feather softness which July brings. The hay lies in the fields where normally they would be hurriedly cut for silage for fear that the rain is imminent again. Now the land does cry out for rain. Nobody can complain about the Lake District being constantly wet when for so long, even more than ever before, it has become the land of heaven on earth. We have had rain; enough to make the land verdant, like a greenhouse. To look at the land is to see it in its perfection, but the reservoirs have been drained by our (and mostly Manchester’s) appetite for water (though little of it is actually drunk, I suspect).

For more times than I can recall, it is a perfect Whitbarrow night. Whitbarrow, that extensive slab of limestone, grown with stunted Junipers, Yews and Blackthorn, Birch, Larch and Honeysuckle, which on evenings of which this is so archetypal, the scent is like honey and vanilla. On such hot, high sunned, breathless days like this it is like Crete. The sheep graze over the broken stone, making it chink like metal, the grasshoppers fizz and whirr like cicadas. Then in the evening the deer bark, the owls call in the miles of dense forest on its more gently shelving eastern flank. It is for me a place of pilgrimage. I know it so well; all its pockets of intigue, its moments on its paths of different rooms. It is a quiet enough place in the day but in the evening it belongs to me…and the wild Soay sheep which carry bells and make the place feel like Corsica. It is a mere fifteen minutes away from here. In the winter we are alpine, nordic, and in the summer we are in the mediterranean.

The RA

June 13, 2010

Let it be know now that Awakening Land is not hung on the wall of the Royal Academy, nor is its companion piece, (Almost) A Place of Pigrimage. Disappointed I was, initially but not so bothered. Now that I have read Waldemar Yanuszczack’s comments in the Sunday Times I am very pleased that I have not been hung. In fact I regard it as an honour not to have been accepted into the middling territory in which the RA so firmly sits. This sounds like sour grapes but I have only submitted for the RA three times, twice (the first and the last) because I though I should, and the middle time because I was ASKED TO SUBMIT BY THE RA! … and each time they rejected me! I have always regarded it as nothing special, something for the well heeled chattering classes to pass by on their way to Henley or Wimbledon and even when I was at college I regarded getting into the RA as nothing special. I don’t even regard having a ‘salon des refusees’ as a resonable response because this implies that the RA is something worth responding to. Comments made in the Times effectively say that those RAs (whom the RA surely made RAs to boost its image) don’t bother to exhibit and those RAs that do are a middling mixture who paint semi-abstract works. When I was 20 and a RAW (joke! (see the RA Summer Show!)) student, I was wisely warned off producing semi-absract work (thankyou, Nick Gray) and this ‘mantra’ has stayed with me ever since.

It seems that the RA very, very reluctantly allows pretty ordinary work by non-members to pass in because it sells easily and therefore boosts the RAs coffers.

Shall I return to my position of not entering the RA? Not a chance. I shall now enter every year with the dangerous gamble of being ‘accepted’, but with the hope that I will always be rejected!!

Quiet Earth Now

June 4, 2010

Firstly and very importantly we need to get a few things absolutely straight. The Lake District is not Cumbria, nor is Cumbria the Lake District. The Lake District is the central part, and not the major part, of a big county. Secondly, Whitehaven is not a sleepy, picturesque fishing village or whatever romanticised vision the latest media take on it is. Fishing village it may have been two hundred and fifty years ago, but since then it has been a Georgian centre for trading rum and slaves and then a Victorian port, prosperous because of coal, mining and exporting. Since then its industry has deserted it leaving a bedraggled poulation and large, poor local authority estates riddled with social problems and a town centre desperately trying to re-invent itself.  The West Cumbrian coast is a battered and bruised old face, exploited and despoiled yet still with a noble character. Its sea is not the bracing clear sea of Cornwall or Wales or the North Sea or even of Wales because it is becalmed by Ireland and the Isle of Man. Because of this, no-one reallly wants to go there. Its industry blights the place as it limps along. Its tourism struggles to survive. Even on a benign sunny day like yesterday, like so many days this Spring (and Winter – where are the Lake District rain jokes now?) it is a tough landscape yet filled with pockets of softness and beauty. I have often thought that if our Lake District had the coast of Cornwall too we would have to put up barriers to stop people coming in.

Turn with your back to the sea and there are the mountains; there is ‘The Lake District’. Travel a few miles up very winding hedged and drystone walled lanes and soon enough you will be in ‘The Lake District’. The irony which has always been there ever since the romantic poets is that beauty lives alongside ugliness, prosperity beside poverty. In this little country they could never be far apart. Yet it is imortant to emphasise that the coast of West Cumbria from Barrow to Silloth is poor and neglected and forgotten. The unenlightened burghers in London, when they can be bothered to glance in this direction simply see The Lake District and are ignorant of anything else. Consequently all of North West Cumbria’s post industrial problems go unnoticed.

What happened yesterday is horrific because it involved people who just happened to be in view when the killer went past. Totally innocent, un-connected people, going about their business on a lovely sunny ordinary day. However it really has to be said; THIS COULD HAVE HAPPENED ANYWHERE!!! and the fact that he drove a few miles up Eskdale does not mean that he rampaged through the Lake District! 

The sun continues to shine and the birds sing. Days of heat penetrate into the evening and now a zephyr blows gently from the wooded hills above the lake bringing with it the scent of clematis and lilac, honeysuckle, larch and may. The evening sky, still luminous blue at 10.30pm  makes dark silhouettes of dense broad Wellingtonias and Horse Chestnuts, framing glimpses of settled reflections across the water. We have had rain to refresh the land enough, which is more verdant that you could know. We need the rain to fill our reservoirs but this year has brought us the climate we always hope for in this country. They fret when the rain doesn’t come and moan when it does. The balance will come; we need to learn again what it takes to be patient, to be courteous, to not be afraid, to contemplate.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.