Saturday, 8 November 2014

Blood Swept Lands & Seas of Red

The Banker Pub

On a gorgeous day in August I met my dear friend Janet for lunch in a rather nice pub called The Bankers. It overlooks the River Thames, very close to the Tower of London. So, after a prettily dressed salad and a glass of lightly chilled white wine  (at a price that would make your Auntie scream), we nattered on about families, funerals and fallopian tubes. Then we strolled over to view the latest artwork.

It was a sculpture of ceramic poppies that erupted out of a window of the Tower. We thought it very pretty, and a fitting tribute to the lost soldiers of World War I.  What we didn't realise at the time was that the poppy installation wasn't finished. Day by day, week by week, month by relentless month, a team of 8,000 volunteers have planted 888,246 beautifully crafted flowers, one for each life lost during those years in the trenches, 1914-1918. 

The Poppies, August 2014
This morning I returned to the City of London in the early morning and sat writing at the bottom of the Monument, built to commemorate an earlier London disaster - the  Fire 1665. The Monument's a peaceful place now if you catch it before the rest of the crowds. I'd been having such trouble with my current chapter, trying to write about my hero's experience of war though I was born in peacetime. Eventually I thought I'd wrestled some sort of result after a short, furious bout of the scribbles.

The Poppies, November 2014
 Ten minutes later, quite unprepared for what I'd encounter, I took a brisk walk in the rain to the Tower. The poppies now are waist height. They fill the moat, right up to the railings. They spray across the bridge and surge along the river side in full view of the Thames River Police, the dredgers and the HMS Belfast. In 1914 there were many who thought the war would be a bit of a diversion, 'over by Christmas'. Now their descendants stand, literally thousands of them, every age group, every social class, in hushed silence at 8.00 am in the morning. There were so many people there that they closed first Tower Hill station, then Aldgate, then St Paul's. Still the crowds came flocking, stomping along the Thames path with their prams, umbrellas and walking sticks. Eerie, and unforgettable. Now there's a fitting tribute.

With rue my heart is laden
  For golden friends I had,
For many a rose-lipt maiden
  And many a lightfoot lad.

A. E. Housman

My short story published by Ether Books, Free today for Remembrance Sunday 

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Sunday, 1 June 2014

The Artist's Date or in Britain, a 'Jolly'

Out on a Jolly

So now I'm trying the next tool from the Creativity Course - the Artist's Date. Most blocked creatives find this creative 'playtime' much harder than the 'work' of morning pages. The idea is that, quite simply, you take your artist self out on a date, just the two of you. You're not supposed to achieve anything, feel anything, or come back with a result. There are no rules; results are cumulative, random, serendipitous - a red London bus pops into your narrative three months hence. You forget to be depressed in the mornings, writubg for ten minutes in the cafe instead. You don't drink as much gin and and you've enough cash  for a Creative Writing workshop. That sort of result.
No Rules

I found the concept slightly creepy at first. Your 'inner artist' is  a child-like creature, and in the UK the term 'date' has a distinctly adult feel.  Taking my newly emergent artist child on a date sounded pervy, until I changed the term to 'a day out with my artist'. Or even a 'Jolly'.

A mad dash through a street fountain

I discovered pretty quickly, your inner artist might be a child but the day out doesn't have to be childish,unless you want it to. This is no human child, but a wild, untamed chimera you're hoping to unleash. The artist small person doesn't do cute and it definitely doesn't do pink.

A bag of delicious fruit

The Jolly doesn't have to cost a lot of money, either -  some of the best ones cost nothing. You  devote a little time to yourself doing something that brightens your spirit, and gets your creative juices flowing. Perhaps a mad dash through a street fountain, a visit to the market for a bag of delicious fresh fruit,  mudlarking at the edge of the River Thames - but do it alone, with no other motive other than to stimulate the creative juices.

Mudlarking at the edge of the Thames

 For my first Jolly, I chose one of the two things no-one has a right to explore even once, according to Sir Thomas Beecham: incest and Morris Dancing. In London, the May Bank Holiday is a perfect excuse for normally sensible people to break out in Morris dancing outside the pub. I took myself to one one the banks of the river, feeling a bit of a twit.

Breaking out in Morris Dancing
  And whadda ya know, my inner artist really did glow.

You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough
Mae West 1893-1980