Friday, 27 November 2009


(photo from Robb1e's photostream on Flickr here, used under the Creative Commons Attribution licence)

So says Martin Creed's illuminated sign on the front of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. I've been known to have my doubts. I've got a shaky film clip of it, which I quite like, and may eventually get around to posting. I wandered past the gallery last Sunday in Edinburgh with my sister and her boyfriend. We'd left the flat quite late, so only made it to the Dean Gallery before it closed, walking there along the Water of Leith, on the cusp of flooding like every other river I've seen recently. It was almost dark before we entered the gallery, darker when we left; as we walked home along the road, Creed's sign loomed out of the night rain at us, which might be the best way to encounter it.

When I was at high school in Ottawa, Canada, part of my bus route home took me down a winding hill. At the bottom was a church with a neon cross on the top, and in winter it was the only thing I could see outside the bus window, floating high in the darkness. The installation on the front of the gallery reminded me of this; not only because I remember the cross as being in the same cold blue neon as Creed's piece, but also because both signs aroused similar ambivalent feelings in me. I love the tacky aesthetic of neon, but being advised that everything is going to be alright in block capitals is a bit like being told DON'T PANIC. I wasn't going to panic, but I just might now...

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

I'm in St. Andrews, Scotland, visiting my sister. I found these bottle necks on the beach, including one with the cork still intact. I don't know what message that bottle was carrying, but I suspect no one ever received it. The sea keeps its secrets...

Monday, 16 November 2009

Brooded over by mist...

This past weekend I took a road trip to North Wales with the Clown and our friend the Pilot. The Clown had work to do, the Pilot and I were just along for the ride. There were all manner of severe weather warnings issued for Wales; certainly every river we passed on the way up was full to bursting and seemed on the cusp of flooding. I sat in the back of the van, watching the river that seemed a perpetual companion to whatever road we happened to be travelling and ran rapids in a canoe in my head.

The Clown's gig on Saturday was in Porthmadog; we were done there by mid-afternoon and took a winding route to Bangor through a corner of Snowdonia national park. It seems understated to use even the word stunning to describe the landscape in that part of Wales. I spent a formative part of my childhood in New Zealand, and I think I have spent all subsequent years dreaming of a place where the mountains meet the sea: Wales may be it. The road through Snowdonia was all painfully twisting corners, with lush valleys as an unexpected reward after the bends.

That evening we parked beside the Menai Strait to cook our dinner in the van, the lights of Anglesey (Môn) twinkling across the water. We were in the car park of a sailing club, and the wind rattling the rigging of the boats was the background music for our meal (pumpkin soup, lamb steaks and chips; a swig of scotch to wash it down, though not for the driver..). It might also have been the clink of weapons carried by the ghosts of Roman soldiers passing by in the darkness outside. Jan Morris, in her book on Wales, describes this place where the Druids of Celticism made their last stand:
The Romans entered Wales in about the year AD 50 and fought their way with difficulty towards this Celtic Berchtesgaden: not until AD 59 did they stand at last upon the Menai Strait...we do not know exactly where they made their crossing of the strait, which is nowhere more than a mile wide, but we do know just how they felt when, arriving upon its flat green shore and looking apprehensively over the water to the island beyond, they saw the Druids, their captains and their followers lined up on the oppostite bank. 'At this sight', says the historian Tacitus frankly, 'our soldiers were gripped by fear.'
Over the water it really was a fearful spectacle. The warriors were ranged along the water's edge 'like a forest of weapons'; the Druids stood with their heads raised to the sky, howling curses; and all around ran shrieking women, 'like furies', all in black, with hair wildly dishevelled and lighted torches in their hands. Even the Roman commanders, Tacitus tells us, hesitated before crossing the strait into such an apparent madhouse: but they were not the masters of Europe for nothing, and paddling across on rafts, swimming their horses, wading where it was shallow enough, the legionaries fell upon the Celts of Môn, slaughtering or capturing every one. All the holy altars of the Druids, all the magic groves of their culture were destroyed.
We live in more prosaic times: food in a muddy car park and then off to a travel lodge in highway services, rather than camping out in the van; probably a good idea judging by the howling gale that raged all that night.

The Clown's gig on Sunday was in Bangor. We got a chance to wander down to the beach, which was littered with slabs and shards of slate. It wasn't raining, for a change, and the light was beautiful. I tried to take some photos. I'm working only with a poor quality camera on my mobile phone, though I quite like what it does to the colour and texture of the images. I left with pockets full of slate pieces and other beach-combing finds.

I've decided all my Christmas presents this year will be either scavenged or home-made.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Today, just a poem.

Last Post

by Carol Ann Duffy

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If poetry could tell it backwards, true, begin
that moment shrapnel scythed you to the stinking mud ...
but you get up, amazed, watch bled bad blood
run upwards from the slime into its wounds;
see lines and lines of British boys rewind
back to their trenches, kiss the photographs from home -
mothers, sweethearts, sisters, younger brothers
not entering the story now
to die and die and die.
Dulce - No - Decorum - No - Pro patria mori.
You walk away.
You walk away; drop your gun (fixed bayonet)
like all your mates do too -
Harry, Tommy, Wilfred, Edward, Bert -
and light a cigarette.
There's coffee in the square,
warm French bread
and all those thousands dead
are shaking dried mud from their hair
and queuing up for home. Freshly alive,
a lad plays Tipperary to the crowd, released
from History; the glistening, healthy horses fit for heroes, kings.
You lean against a wall,
your several million lives still possible
and crammed with love, work, children, talent, English beer, good food.
You see the poet tuck away his pocket-book and smile.
If poetry could truly tell it backwards,
then it would.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

reason for it all

I watch a lot of theatre. Most of the time it feels like hard work. I often feel disillusioned and frustrated, or worse, indifferent (for a truly inspiring piece of writing about this feeling, read this blog post by Amanda Palmer). And then, occasionally, I'm fortunate enough to have an experience that reminds me why I've thrown myself into this whole theatre malarky in the first place.

One of those experiences was this past week at the Barbican, watching The Team perform their show Architecting. They are astounding. They are unapologetically ambitious - the themes they tackle are epic in scope: reconstruction - personal, national, global. They are for the most part excellent performers. And they are also my age. I was at the theatre with the Texan - we run a theatre company together with a few other people we met at drama school. We left the show near speechless, shaking our heads. It felt like a wake-up call, reminding us that we also should be making theatre like that: we have the abilities, but perhaps of late we have lost the drive. We need to sit down and reassess why we want to make theatre. I don't think there is one correct and constant answer to this - we discover new reasons for working all the time - but the question is important and one that we need to ask ourselves repeatedly.

We need to make theatre from material that is close to our hearts and deeply personal. I don't mean the stuff and drama of our daily lives, although I do not dismiss that either. I mean our ideals, our politics, our beliefs. We need not to be afraid of taking ourselves seriously. The Team take themselves seriously, and so they should.

The day after seeing Architecting, I went to a free exhibition at the Museum of Everything near Chalk Farm. This was also deeply inspiring, a collection of outsider and folk art. Most of the artists never thought of themselves as such and were unrecognised in their lifetimes. I wandered around the exhibit, and felt somewhat in awe of our human desire to create, without hope of an audience. Pieces of art made because they must be made, and then in many cases shut away for years without anyone ever seeing them. Scattered throughout the exhibition are pieces written by contemporary artists; one struck me in particular for the way that it summed up how I felt about watching The Team. The artist described his first encounter with his fellow's piece of art, and said that what he felt was envy, but a positive kind: ultimately he was glad that this work existed.

So, all in all, a thought-provoking few days in London. I'm back in Wales now for a week or so, and glad to be back. I cross the Severn Bridge with palpable relief; I like there is such a tangible boundary between where I've come from and the place that is my home for the present.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

things that go bump in the night

I'm in London for a few days, which means I'm trying to see as much theatre as I can fit in (and afford).

Yesterday evening I went to see this at the Barbican: seasonally appropriate vampire theatre. I walked in fairly confident that I don't ever get frightened in theatre (although films are a different matter entirely; I cannot watch scary films) and promptly had the living bejeezus scared out of me in the first room. Overall a good show; Slung Low have created an absorbing atmosphere very simply. They could probably do more with the concept, but that is probably an issue of time and resources. Still, I walked east from the Barbican with a prickly feeling between my shoulder blades, half-expecting every stranger who walked by to jump at me. It took a beigel and a doughnut in the harsh fluorescence of Brick Lane to shake that off.

I think London likes me better now that I don't live here anymore. She's a good city to visit if you know your way around, but every visit reassures me that I made the right choice in moving somewhere quieter. I'm going to walk as much as I can over the next few days, having more time than money. And also to give myself the chance to observe more.