Archive for June, 2010

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.

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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.