Archive for March, 2018


Posted: March 25, 2018 in Chat
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Pink black slouch and lounge;
retro’s specific to the twenty year limit’s
periphery of reference.
Silk and rustic; heraldic, synthetic
admixtures of wool, Kashmir, satin.
Alice-blue gingham, with crinolines:
white is still pure, romantic,
without sins.

The sound track guitar on overdrive
distorts its chords to a programmed pulse;
and even if the music is a love song it is
tuned to a sulphate beat: dance, cruise, music
for the catwalk; lizard-like; ambient.

Panelled and fish-tailed dusty grey; a train
of gauze, lampshade head-dress;
kaftan and puckered waistcoat, djbella,
patterned with satin, sheer. Sateen
 swimsuit under high head-dress and train:
colour transforms to shape, shape to colour.

To look cool, even though the room is rising,
keen, though the style is low, look
catwalk-kitsch in full face-mask,
in Edwardian layers, as the room spins hotter.

The beat is an astrakhan flashbulb pulse,
the keyboard an embroidered burnt umber,
and that guitar again, perspex, translucent;
the singer’s voice a textile acid yellow.

A sampler tape labeled Sex Sounds – Normal.
Design after design; a model turns,
throws a red carnation to the camera.
We all applaud; we are all the show.


We had time to spare, and it was freezing out.
Early for our drawing class, we called in at the nearest welcoming door, our town church (it had heating).

This was a revelation. The church goes way back; there was even an anchoress, Joan,  in residence at one point.

St Michael’s Church:


The siting of the church goes back to 1220, and later, Queen Eleanor, wife of the hated Edward 1, extended the grounds. A previous post links the area (site of a Royal Forest) with The Black Prince, brother of John of Gaunt.

There are a number of ‘incumbents’ from that late medieval period still resident. They are in the form of funerary busts and tombs: knights, complete with faithful dog at their feet (you can strain the possibilities here, and wonder whether this was the vestigial remains of the practice of sacrificing loyal servants, to serve in the afterlife. What a chilling prospect that must have been.)

The church has on display a rare survival from pre-Reformation times. It is a Pardon Brass, dating from 1506. This was granted by the Pope, and allowed the named person in this case exemption for the price of  five Paternosters, five Aves and one Creed. Exemption? The person’s soul could be allowed 26,000 years and 26 days in Purgatory instead having to burn off their sins in the ‘down below’.
This, of course, was one of the indulgences that Martin Luther railed against.
I remember a Graham Greene short story about a modern version of this.

What caught my eye, maybe in a slightly frivolous mood among all this gloom and death, were the hairstyles of the knights on display. The period the tombs cover is 1475 to 1550.

See the always entertaining Lucy Worsley on hair:

Apparently one of the most used styles of the early period was the ‘Bowl-Cut’: a (largish) bowl was placed on the head, bottom of bowl to one’s crown, and all extraneous parts chopped off.
The middle double photo here shows something similar in style to that.
The first photo shows a definite Page-Boy cut, apparently a Tudor-period style. This is the  effigy of a school teacher ie a higher ranked, not a noble, man.
The next photo has an extravagant frill of hair and high forehead. Perhaps this was a later version of the Bowl-Cut, an interim style moving towards the longer Page-Boy.


100_1154               100_1156

The middle double tomb has a woman’s style that seems now a little strange. You could almost speculate a head-binding practice at work here. But no. Women’s hair could not be shown in public – ah, the temptations of hair. The scraping back is very severe. This was, of course, for the nobles only: dignity and honour were only allowed the knighted. And why were they knighted? Anything to do with killing people, with sacking towns for plunder whilst on Crusade? Many family fortunes were made that way.

We, others, could get away with more  display, hair-style wise. The women at any rate were allowed loose displays of natural hair.
Then there was the Royal ruling on the all having to wear woollen caps. And so it went on, the stratification, coding of status, the badges of deserving and undeserving.


Yep, he has lain his head on his helmet. And no, I don’t know what the paper under his hands says.
This double tomb is covered with graffiti, small carvings of initials and names, the latest 1992. But at the least these two have kept their noses – that is usually the first to go to the vicissitudes of time

You cannot go away without an example of the most extreme hair style for men: the 16th century flamboyant Restoration festoons of curls. All false, of course; what lay underneath was probably an itching short cut.



Christ Church windows, and so to our drawing-class:



And now I know I will never be an artist.


apologies to HS

I was at that stage where my hair style staled
so let it go, and nor too fussed about the next: ‘The mussed-
bed-look! It will be back. Bound to. For good – or ill,’
I’d say. Then it reaches another ok stage, and so say:
‘Me. Yo.’ But that goes too, and the in-between bits, o,
they’re worst; there’s more of those, last longer, and they’re cursed.

I was thinking, ‘It’s all like this; it’s how the good bits call
the tune that make the less good just plain bad. And if I should
for instance, open the window, I’d watch the greasy city slide
over its shelf-life collar in its journey to its next fifteen minutes.
The slide’s continual. But what a view I got!’ Then not.
And it was time to get back to work.

OAMENI ŞI MARIONETE/ MEN & PUPPETS by DANIEL DRAGOMIRESCU. Orizant Literar Contemporan, Bibliotheca Universalis, 2017

 This is a dual-language publication, produced by the excellent and indefatiguable Contemporary and Literary Horizon, of Romania. For their background, see:

Every so often a book comes along that makes you feel good to be alive. This is one of those.

The best books broaden and deepen our sense and understanding of the world. I was going to go on and write ‘and add destinations to our bucket list.’ But no, these best books have already taken us there; we feel we know the places, the people, with our hearts. The place? North-eastern and central Romania.

I feel privileged to have a copy of Men and Puppets, by Daniel Dragomirescu. The book is a collection of reminiscences, autobiographical snippets, and is well worth the time and effort in getting hold of. Elegantly presented, and on the whole, well translated, this is part of a series of books by Orizant Contemporan Literar. All are dual-language, and by writers from many countries.

Daniel Dragomirescu grew up in the north-eastern Vaslui region of Romania, in the 1950s and 60s. He writes of life from the inside; the autobiographical angle gives a necessarily limited view of the times, limited to one’s interests, activities, and to the villages and small towns of the time.

Big Politics, the State, the Eastern Bloc, are not words or concepts of everyday life. He does come up against them (A Meeting with Cerebrus); they are also, on another level, a basic part of that life. Yet they are everywhere, especially for the generations from before the War, his parents’ and grandparent’s generations. It is they who have to watch what they say.
We see the unquestioned fate of pre-War bourgeois families, in their disgrace (Sandals). All is accepted as a part of life. The State restrictions have their circumnavigations, but they can be suddenly enforced due to the arbitrariness and fickleness of officials (At the Nadovari Camp). But they are not ‘officials’, they are people one’s father might know from school, from ‘before’ – their fickleness is the fickleness of everybody, everywhere.
We read also a first-hand account of a devastating earthquake hitting Bucharest. People at their most vulnerable; we read also the hidden threats by people.

One of my favourite stories, Marilena, has its own ways of handling the hopes, passions and lost opportunities that are always with us. And this is one of the heartening aspects of the stories: how love, hope of love, arranged love that could grow into itself, are always a part of our lives, our world. These things are instantly recognisable, and they go to the core of who we are.

In the new Romania religion once again plays a major role.
This may surprise us, and yet, as Fish Borscht makes clear (to my mind the only story that doesn’t gel), religion never really went away. Even this story is full of the riches of the lived life, the times, the mind-set of the period.
The role of religion is a curious one; there are many expostulations to God, in the stories. These are post-Communist.
I wonder do they read as a little self-consciously apparent?
Are the stories part of the new movement to re-establish a continuous Romanian identity, that had just been interrupted for a time?

What becomes clear through the reading is the seamless identity we all wear and are part of: here we all are, with all our hopes, woes and lapses of understanding. The details may differ, but the responses are so very recognisable. And because we can identify, our hearts are also in these stories, as we respond to the same things they did.

The last chapter, Typewriter, brings the whole book into focus. I had begun to wonder at the book’s title, Men and Puppets. Well, here it was, spelled out.
I wrote, above, how the fickleness of officials is the fickleness of man; there is the fickleness of officials themselves, though. I also wrote of the State being just the background to people’s lives. So it was, but as they took on more responsibility, became adults, the State became a major interference in their lives. Take Ceausescu’s decree that all typewriters should be officially registered.
It smacks of a Nazi-era dictat, and it is little surprise we find a militia chief admiring Nazi-era tactics.
After the Fall of Ceausescu, the militia excuse themselves as puppets of the regime. Officials, militia, puppets, anything rather than just ordinary people.

Daniel Dragomirescu has a masterful technique. The use of the motif of his meeting with a stray dog in a cemetery, in A Meeting with Cerebrus, becomes the key for opening up the whole part of his life at that period. It is this mastery that is the secret, it works behind the scenes to bring the chapters to life.

A most enjoyable book, full of the fears, hopes, loves and doubts of lives.

I picked up a copy – limited edition – of PAVEMENT PRINTS, by Ralph McGaul, the other week.


The booklet consists of rubbings he made of masonry marks, and pavement markings, within a certain area of the local town. There are still parts with the old, or to be correct, older paving, and kerb stones. That is where to find them.


This is fascinating, as a slice of material history – whether they are charting the codes of highway workers, road makers, or maintenance crews, or, as we see, more individual marks.
Local Council funding has gone through huge overhauls recently. No longer could they afford to keep up more than a cosmetic maintenance service ie cheap-sourced road repairs, and skeleton-crew highway maintenance.
Now we have again a dedicated service, with sign-of-the-times negligible identity, contactability, or ethics. This in itself charts the crisis in identity of local Councils: are they at last transparent portals of central Government ? Or do they maintain hold on local cross-Party/no-Party decision-making?
The Council that covers the area of the booklet has an almost regular place in the satirical magazine Private Eye’s Rotten Boroughs section.

These markings have, therefore, gained layers and levels of implication.

Not all in Ralph’s booklet seem to be highway markers. The centre-spread gives a pavement/kerb rubbing: P.W./JUNE 1962, and page 28, the last page, a photograph of the stone and process of record. There does appear to be a border of chiselled dots around the stone. Almost an Egyptian cartouche. The town museum carries a substantial  19th Century collection of Egyptian artefacts.
Another stone carries the message BERT/ TALKS. Another records a name: ERNEST/ bASKERVILLE (sic). All cut substantially into the stone.
Who knows what was being recorded here.

Many stones carry numerals, and here there is much variation in styles of stone carving. Some appear roughly scraped, others, for instance, aptly on page two, carries the numeral 2, within a circle. The style of this numeral is the cursive character of early 20th Century written script. Page 36 carries two examples of 2 within a circle, the upper also cursive, whilst the lower has the simple form, more Cailibri or Ariel typeface, we might say.

And so I had a go.
But by photographing the marks.
Instantly we see a change in the craft of the recording: no longer the noble dirty-handedness of the craftsman.
It can be said that essentially photographs record light, light on surfaces. The attention is diverted once more, firstly, from the subject to the craft, as in the rubbings; secondly, solely to the effect.

100_1138               100_1143


100_1145       100_1146

100_1147        100_1148

I have to admit the reversed number 2 intrigues me – no, it’s not a camera glitch. The Maltese cross is from another area of town, a hidden, covered alleyway.



And yet. on another level, all these images are presented as deliberately devoid of their contexts: they were intended as kerb indicators to on-pavement features. These may no longer exist.
And yet, part of me sees this as artistic license, to be able to take an image as self-sufficient, with no web of meanings, intentions, purposes: thing-in-itselfness.
I am very uneasy with this, it would seem to hold open the door to a lot of abuse, avoidance, moral vacuity.

You could, subsequently, put meanings to the marks; they would be forever transitory, and the original intention lost further under the patina of whimsical meanings. The original meanings may well be utterly banal, as the pavement signs probably were. But you can still read into them the human element, the sociological and historical reality around them.

This could imply I am averse to abstract art, but it is not so. Nor fantasy, nor language art.
A little wary, perhaps – after all, it is too easy to jump in and think This is the best thing ever. Everything is part of a relationship: abstract is only abstract because there is the non-abstract etc.
The one always relates to the others. In isolation, like refined food, refined anything, it has a capacity for a form of harm, whether ethical, or physiological, or whatever.

And if you didn’t feel This is the best thing ever, you wouldn’t be able to do it fully.
Art as a process: realising it was not The best thing ever, that There is still something/more to do, as all part of the cognitive world of being an artist.