Archive for January, 2021

Painting and Social History

Posted: January 31, 2021 in John Stammers Page

Here is a truly fascinating recent blog by jonathan5485 – my daily art display

In this article Jonathan investigates the paintings and cultural milieu of late 19thCentury England, in particular the art of Ralph Hedley.
It is, like all Jonathan’s posts, immersive and inquisitive, throwing open surprising avenues, and presenting surprising turns and artefacts.

Take this, for instance:

a widespread custom, up to the 19th century, known as the ‘barring-out’ of the schoolteacher by his pupils. On a certain day agreed by the school authorities, the pupils planned to bar the classroom door with the teacher outside and refused to let him in until he agreed to their terms, which were usually for a half-holiday, or something similar.  In Hedley’s painting we see schoolchildren enjoying the North-East custom of barring the teacher from the classroom on the 29th of May,  until the holidays for the next year had been agreed. One boy is wearing a Northumberland hat with a red pom-pom. Ralph Hedley has depicted the setting as a shabby country classroom in which children of many different ages are being taught together. The children’s clothing albeit shabby and multi-patched does not detract from the depiction of happy and healthy children.  However, although some of the children’s clothes are patched, they seem happy and healthy.

Ah yes, the happy and healthy children. Previous to this are two, ok sentimental, paintings of newsboys – neither can be older than seven or eight years old: ragged, exhausted.
This tendency in paintings also reminds of how the newly moneyed factory owners in their palatial homes in the country chose to furnish their walls with bucolic scenes of shepherds and country children.

In the Lords allowed themselves 
Bills of Regulation, bought with blood; 
a house in the country; sculpture,                       
yes, but paintings: English portraits,                   
Nazarene shepherds fat with health, 
children ruddy, without rickets,                          
and the girls demure yet buxom; 
rivers, vales, seashores;                                                                                   
 – mirrors of their assumption.

Every cloth a signature of snicks,                      
invisible watermarks of how man                        
is to man, interdependence between                    
need, require: their lady’s ’good works’,    
and the workable negotiation. 

They never read Theocritus, Homer,                               
nor followed Virgil, yet hatched                         
an Ovidian dialect                                              
with which to address their passing
into power.
(from Union Banner, something I was working on at one time)

Do pay this site a visit, it is always very informed, informative, and hugely stimulating.
In case you missed the link first time:


Be the light in the darkness is the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2021.Be the light in the darkness

We will continue to do our bit for as long as we can, secure in the knowledge that others will continue to light a candle long after us.

– Gena Turgel MBE, survivor of the Holocaust (1923-2018)

Watch the UK HMD Ceremony

Last night we watched a biopic of English band, Joy Division, released in 2007.
This is not CONTROL, the film of Ian Curtis’ life, but a documentary.

It is the sort of documentary that you can bring away a different aspect every time you watch.
I can see many other aspects to the events, people, times, but for me this time it was this:

The distance of time gives such a perspective on many aspects of that era.
We both grew up in the same era and area of northern England.
Footage from the time shows just how shocking conditions were, conditions that we took for granted, our normal.
London, of course, was different, another world as far as living conditions and expectations were concerned.

And, yes, the north was badly, terribly, neglected.
The main industries were gone or were going, and as yet there was little to replace them.
The scars of war were still being healed. Twenty-five years afterwards.
Which also shows very clearly how little input had been provided by hugely south-centric governments and planning.

The biggest jolt came, though, with comments/reminiscences of their first meeting, by Annik Honoré.
She was a major member of Plan K, and was to become Ian Curtis, Joy Division’s, lead singer’s girlfriend (she has since died, 2014. Ian Curtis died in 1980).
The band were booked to play at Plan K, in Brussels. It was 1979.
It was their first trip out of England.
This also is very telling. There was so little money available, and so there was little outside travel.

Annik described them, as compared to her fellow Belgians and Europeans of the same age, as
undernousished, wearing thin, cheap clothes … thin coats in Winter.
They were barely 21 year’s old.

And we were. This was all of us.

On the whole most people in Europe were better fed, more aware of the world, more clued-in.

Why was this?
England had joined the EU only a few year’s previously. The effects had not yet been felt, recognised. Nothing yet had trickled down through society.
We were still living in English isolation.

Given five years and we were in a boom. It burst, but the way ahead had been seen, and we built on it. The fabric of life, and living standards, had improved hugely. Five years’ time and we could hardly believe how we had been back then.

I do not blame Ian Curtis’ death on these conditions. Is there a link? I don’t know.
This is not the angle I am looking at it all from.
But I will say that since those days there is a very well established epilepsy and autism centre, and care groups, set up in the area Ian Curtis lived and died.

Joy Division got their impetus from Punk.
The Punks used to say, Never trust anyone over 25.
The over-25s had already forgotten was it was like to be young.

Maybe We should now say, When the BIG decisions have to be made, never ask anyone under 50.
The under-50s never knew how horrible and grim it was. What we took for normal back then.

And now, with the huge unemployment from the prolonged periods of quarantine under Covid, on top of Brexit….
Goods are already becoming hard to buy; what there is available is becoming expensive. Quality of life, of services, and foodstuffs, is already falling.

Never trust anyone… who had not lived through those horrible times… to decide for you.

And do we turn against this present government for forcing this?
No, we turn on each other.

The Song Weigher, The Complete Poems of Egill Skallagrimsson. By Ian Crockatt, Arc Publications, 2017

Egill Skallagrimsson, writes Ian Crockatt in his Introduction, was the most original, imaginative and technically brilliant of the old Norse skalds.

It is no small feat then, that he has taken on this task of rendering the complete poems of Egill Skallagrimsson, in as close a Norse metric as possible.
The oldest, earliest, of the old Norse sagas is Egil’s Saga. As we have it, it is a wholly prose translation. Egill’s poems, scattered throughout, also have this form.
It was Ian Crockatt’s task to render the prose form into the recorded poetic metrics of this consummate writer. Our English cannot reproduce the old Norse sound, nor syntax, and so Ian Crockatt had to call upon his own great skills and expertise to render accessible and understandable, indeed appreciable, all Egill’s poems, in translation.
He has succeeded brilliantly.

Unlike the skald of Ian Crockatt’s previous book in this field, Rognvaldr Kali Kolsson, Earl of Orkney (Crimsoning the Eagle’s Claw), Egill Skallagrimsson is not a very likable man. He is too red in tooth and… well, sword. He is too intent on his warrior trade, and lacks the leavening of Rognvaldr Kali Kolsson’s poems to Ermingerd of Narbonne, his journeys to Jerusalem, his humour, and playfulness.
He does, however, have his own laments for his lost sons, as well as his unstinting praise of friendship, and rare poems of love. The life was not easy for those of more liberal dispositions; these poems chart the ups and downs of the life a warrior led, if he was to survive. And Egill was a survivor.

Egill’s main antagonist in his poems was Erik Bloodaxe (Eirikr Blodox).
He’d actually killed Eirikr’s son at one point, then later, shipwrecked whilst sailing to ‘offer his sword’ to British Saxon King Adalsteinn, ended up seeking sanctuary in Blodox’s own halls. Understandably, his wife, Gunnhildr, wanted Egill’s head.
He was able to save the day through his reputation.
What reputation?
His reputation as the best, most gifted, inventive, skald of the day.

His accommodation to the charges was to take the form of suitably outstanding verses for Eirikr’s family. These are the Hofuthlausen – the Head Ransom – of Egill Skallagrimsson.
Such was the value of a skald’s work in-the-day, that it could save a life.
He composed 21 verses for his own head. And obviously lived to tell the tale.
He lived long enough to bemoan the loneliness and neglect of the fate of that of an old warrior.

His own father was also a highly prized skald.
These verse forms were notoriously complex, involved, tightly controlled, with rules and strictures. But mercifully few were longer than 8 lines in length.
For the Head Ransom he produced a new form, with shorter verses interspersed between the regular length verses, and introducing a greater preponderance of end-rhymed lines. It is suggested that this last embellishment echoed the dominant British form of the period, and so was a gesture towards Eirkir’s British base in England.

For deeper discussion of the verse forms, see my earlier post on Rognvaldr:

Muck, slime, mud. We waded
for five mired weeks, reeking,
silt-fouled bilge-boards souring
in Grimsby bay. Nimbly
now, our proud-prowed, Bergen-
bound Sea-Elk pounds over
wave-paved auk-moors, lockhorns
with foam-crests, bows booming.

(reproduced with author’s permission)

The standard form is of eight, six-syllable lines. The poem construction follows strict rules of rhyme, alliteration, half-rhyme, internal rhyme and trochaic ending per line (above).

If, like me, you are a bit of a metre-geek, you’ll love these.

And so, I had a go, using the dominant Drottkvaett form. Eight six-syllable lines, tied in couplets by alliteration, and each even line with two full rhymes. Trochees tend to be the dominant metre.
A recent trip to London gave me these:

Canyons of steel and concrete
caught in blue-red rain, blew to
yelps under lit yellows – 
baffled us battling
back through. Don’t be beaten;
busy cities broker
strangeness: blood is  seen there,
someone hurt; some’s own one.


Sea-toadstools; slow-flowing
seep of traffic-halted
jet-black, wet, jellyfish’d
jacks. Belligerent
brolly-bargers billow,
hail-stoned and sleet-harassed:
the City trawls homeward
to suburban harbours.


Hail and sleet half day’s light:
how the light is slighted.
What we see’s how wishing
works superstitiously.
Outside worsens; our take
on the season. Reason’s
tangled with belief, truth.
We’ve wrecked the weather. 

So what about the use of kennings – you know, the allusions to, but not actually naming of, things known to one’s audience?
I actually state in the piece what the subject is, in the second part.
I tried to keep the sea-theme throughout.

A kenning is a compound word, made from a base word for a thing, and its ‘determinant’ ie what modifies that base word. In Icelandic there is also a highly allusive element, usually to an element in another saga, and/or their world of myths and gods.
Kipling’s ‘old grey widow-maker’ for the North Sea, is fairly easy for a British person.
Ian Crockatt lists and explicates the kennings used in the poems in a very useful appendix. He also has an excellent appendix on Verse-Forms. Invaluable.

Ok, these are first tries, and I was trying for more subtlety.
There is still so much yet to learn about these verse forms.

I hope I have passed on the spark of these to you.
They are certainly a great way of ‘keeping one’s hand in’ in those times of drought.

There is a very interesting article on the New Scientist site, written by Alison George:

Entitled Code hidden in Stone Age art may be the root of human writing, it investigates the work of Canadian paleoanthropologist, Professor Genevieve von Petzinger.
Professor von Petzinger has been noting, dating and mapping cave art. OK, this has been done for decades, and more. What Professor Petzinger is investigating are the bits left out of the main investigations. Most work to date has been involved with the ‘big’ images, the animals. people even. But not the ‘decorative’ bits.

She has travelled and personally mapped, photographed/drawn, and dated, the examples still accessible. Then she went on to analyse the results. She came up with 32 basic types, she calls “consistent doodles” – and that is world wide.
The article, above, gives the full story, photos, maps, and conclusions – and it is truly fascinating.

Why are prehistoric cave paintings of such consistently ...

Her work takes us back as far as 100,000BCE.
Another important point that is made in the article is that the images and ‘doodles’ used were fully developed before being deployed on the walls. There are ‘grids’ of hatching, for example, that probably developed in complexity before being used in the wall art.
Where were the try-out’s? Also, on that point, where were the main-image art skills developed and practiced?

The well-known hand stencil images, she says, were an early type of image; they become used in combination with other symbols in time, but then faded from use. The time- dimension is clearly of importance.

It has been suggested they could be early approaches to what was to be conceived as communicative signs, i.e. ‘writing’. There was a long time to before early identifiable script was developed, though: the earliest cuneiform is estimated to be from 5000BCE.

And what of the inconsistent doodles? Are there any one-off ones that only occur in certain places, at certain times? Is there a local signature? The suggestion from the article is that there was long-term and consistent travel and communication between sites – trading maybe. Historian V Gordon Childe in his book What Happened in History (first published 1942) argued that stone axe ‘factories’ existed, where they were made in bulk and traded, as an example.

A further article I have read recently may have bearing on all this. The ‘Central Australian Visual Language’ chapter in Nik Cohn’s book, The Visual Language of Comics (Bloomsbury, 2013) collects together a lot of observations on visual language among native Australians of the Alice Springs region.
The chapter explores how native central Australians use and view images. The most striking example given is that of showing a drawing of a horse. We see a horse, standing, running etc. For the native central Australian this is interpreted as a horse lying, or dead. Their viewpoint is always from above, looking down. A seated person is represented as a bow shape, which is the cross-legged shape of someone seated. Their bottom is at the centre of the bow, and the legs to knees spreading from that. This is a big departure from our current predominant view points.
How predominant was this viewing point in that long period of cave art? Is there a way in here for interpreting the images?
It could be this is an anomaly. There are many more Australian paintings that do depict animals from the side, as we do. And from before our contact period.
The shift in perception may yet be of great significance, however.

All death and gloom?

Dr Omar Atiq closed his cancer treatment centre in Arkansas last year after nearly 30 years in business.

He worked with a debt collection firm to gather outstanding payments, but then realised many families had been hit hard financially by the pandemic.

Over Christmas, he wrote to patients telling them any debts would be erased.

“Over time I realised that there are people who just are unable to pay,” Dr Atiq told ABC’s Good Morning America

“So my wife and I, as a family, we thought about it and looked at forgiving all the debt. We saw that we could do it and then just went ahead and did it.”

Breaking ice; Spring on its way.

It is certainly worth noting that the oncologist is of Pakistan origin, and that the decision was taken through consultation with his wife.
Big Yes.

And enormous thanks to Eilidh G Clark
for directing me to Youtube’s far better coverage:

Don’t miss this!!