I guess if she were a boy she’d be a Lolly Laddy, or a Loblolly Laddy, depending on the circumstances. Did this one at 4:00 am when I was non compus mentis, whatever that means at that time of the morning. Just trying to keep from falling downstairs, I guess. I love the colors: violet for tranquility, red for strength and energy, yellow for clarity, and blue for feeling blue at that time of the morning.
I suppose, if I were Rimbaud, I would be able to write letters instead of colors. Alas, now I no longer know where to hang these things: I am running out of wall space. And frames. And nails. “A nail, a nail, my kingdom for a nail”… Richard III aka the Hunchback of Loblolly Alley. Mind you, I think his nail was detached from the shoe that fell from his horse. “To lose one horse is a tragedy. To lose two is careless.” Oscar Wilde on parenting.
I love the sparkles though. We have several sparklers and we keep them for the sad times when the world needs brightening, as it does all too often nowadays. The seasons roll on. The year is trickling by. I have decided to sleep under my duvet. It is certainly warm under there and the Teddy Bears really appreciate it. They want to hibernate, but I refuse to let them. If I let them hibernate the cat will be up on the bed, and we can’t have that, can we? Not me, and definitely not the bears. And here’s why not: Teddies or Cats? Click and you’ll find the answer. Or maybe you won’t. So try clicking here: Teddy Bears FFS. Oh dear, I think there’s a typo there: a Teddy Bear Typo. Never mind. I am sure you won’t mind.
I wouldn’t go down to the woods today, if I were you. And I think you know why! You shouldn’t go alone, either. But if you venture out, think twice about taking your teddies. They might run away to join the picnic and leave you all alone with the Night Bumps, the acorn throwers, the wild folk, and the Wood Chuck wood-chuckers.
Art has almost always told a story, even though, as in the case of the Cave Paintings in Altamira, Puente Viesgo, Lascaux, and elsewhere, we may not know exactly what that story is. On the other hand, many of the great paintings of the Spanish Golden Age (1525-1680) have a hidden narrative that we can often work out. Take, for example, Vulcan’s Forge (1630), painted by Diego Velázquez after his first trip to Italy (1629). On the surface, this is a painting of a typical Spanish Forge of the seventeenth century. Ordinary workmen labour away at their daily tasks, but, and there is always a but, the figure on the left is adorned with a god-like halo. Why? Because he is the bearer of a message. Vulcan’s wife, Venus, has been having an affair with Mars, the god of war. Vulcan has forged a net of fine, golden chains and placed it over the bed where they will loiter. Now, Mars and Venus are trapped in that net, caught in the act, so to speak. No wonder the mouths of Vulcan’s helpers are open in wonderment.
Before the arrival of photography, painting was the only way to record the world, to make a picture of what was happening, to tell a story in paint. That is why a picture is worth a thousand words. I have retold the narrative of the painting of Vulcan’s Forge in 128 words. There is, of course, a great deal more to tell about his and other paintings and how they represent the artist’s narrative reality. The advent of photography changed the artist’s vision of the world. As photography developed and became quicker, faster, and offered what some might consider to be a more accurate version of reality, so artists rethought their role. Was it to capture, in paint, the world as they saw it, with a single visual entry point, and a constant perspective? Or was it to catch the way light fell upon objects (Monet), or to offer multiple entry points (Braque), or to paint the turmoil of the inner mind (Picasso, Miró, Pollock)? Artists could do such things. Until recently, with the advent of the computer, it was much more difficult for the camera to do so. The camera recorded, but artists created and re-created their own narratives of the world around and inside them. Now we can enter photoshop and the equivalent and play around with out own photos of reality, distorting them and twisting them as we please.
Verbal to Visual to Verbal
Which came first, the chicken or the egg, the verbal or the visual? Or was there a sort of spontaneous combustion? In the case of Scarecrow, the artistic collaboration between myself, the author, and Geoff Slater, the artist, the words came first: “In the beginning was the word.” He heard me reading my story, started to sketch the characters, and within six months we had produced an illustrated book.
Words and narrative first, then an artist’s rendition of key moments in the narrative. However, in the case of Twelve Days of Cat, our second artistic collaboration, Geoff sent me 12 drawings of a cat and I looked at them and worked out a narrative that would join them together in a symbiotic relationship. Scarecrow is an illustrated narrative in prose. Twelve Days of Cat is a narrative in poetry based on what was once an independent series of charcoal sketches. Who cares which came first, verbal of visual, when the results are so pleasing to ear and eye.
Some days, monkey winds himself up like a clockwork mouse. Other days he rolls over and over with a key in his back like a clockwork cat.
Monkey is growing old and forgetful. He forgets where he has hidden the key, pats his pockets, and slows right down before he eventually finds it and winds himself up again.
One day, monkey leaves the key between his shoulder blades in the middle of his back.
All day long, the temple monkeys play with the key, turning it round and round, and winding monkey’s clockwork, tighter and tighter, until suddenly the mainspring breaks
and monkey slumps at the table no energy, no strength, no stars, no planets, no moon at night, the sun broken fatally down, the clockwork of his universe sapped, and snapped.
Comment: Monkey Temple is A Narrative Fable for Modern Times written in verse. The poems show strong links to Surrealism and Existential Philosophy. They portray the upside-down world of Carnival and out line Monkey’s Theory of the Absurd in a dystopian world that mirrors that of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, LaFontaine’s Fables, the esperpento of Valle-Inclan, and the witty conceptismo of Francisco de Quevedo. This is a walk through the jungle of the Jungian innermost mind. But watch out for those monkeys: they bite.
Timothy heard his older brothers moving from room to room, searching for him. He knew they would find him but for now he had found refuge beneath his grandfather’s double bed. It was dark under there in that sepulchral space. He had placed his grandfather’s enormous Royal Doulton chamber pot between himself and the door so that the dog would not pick up his scent, run to his hiding place, and lay the Judas lick upon his cheek.
His grandfather had forgotten to empty the chamber pot. Dark urine splashed on Timothy’s hands and sleeves as he squeezed behind the giant china pot that overwhelmed his nose fills with his grandfather’s nocturnal vapors.
The voices got louder as his brothers climbed the stairs and approached the bedrooms on the upper floor.
“Where is he now, drat him?”
“Don’t worry, we’ll find him.”
“And then he’ll be for it.”
“I’ll beat him with the little red brush they use for cleaning the fireplace.”
“That will teach him.”
Timothy was familiar with those threats, especially the little red brush.
He remembered the fox the hounds killed at his feet, one sunny morning a year before. He cycled down the lane outside his family’s summer cottage. The fox limped along the side of the lane, saw the boy on his bike, but too tired to run from him, continued limping in the roadway. Timothy got off his bike, leaned it against the rough stone country wall, and watched the fox. Its tail, speckled with mud, dragged behind its low-slung body, sweeping the ground. Timothy observed the twigs and thorns protruding from its black-tipped orange redness.
Timothy walked towards the fox. It tried to move away from the boy but collapsed and lay at the edge of the lane, flanks heaving, tongue lolling out through the white strings of thick foam that choked the muzzle and streaked saliva on the forequarters.
The hounds came from nowhere, an incoming, barking tide that rounded the corner and rushed towards Timothy who froze with a fright that pressed him against the wall. Sun-warmed stone jutted sharp edges into his back. As he stood there, unable to move, a rough hand came over the wall and grabbed him by the shoulder. He felt himself hauled upwards. The flint points dug into his back and he yelped as the firm hand drew him over the top of the wall to safety.
“Get out of there, you stupid boy, or the hounds will have you.”
Timothy hid his face in the farmer’s rough homespun shirt. He shuddered as the dogs bayed and growled and scrapped and scratched. Then the fox, it must have been the fox, let out a high-pitched yap and whine and the pack gargled itself into a drooling, slobbering sort of silence. The farmer pushed Timothy’s face away from his shoulder and forced his head towards the spot where the hounds, on the other side of the protective barrier, rubbed their ears into the dead fox’s torn and bloodied body.
“That’s what they’d have done to you, my boy. Never come between a pack and its kill.”
Timothy watched a member of the hunt staff pull a knife from his jacket. The foxhunters broke into cheers and howls of pleasure when the man severed the fox’s brush and held it on high. The farmer thrust Timothy towards the Master of Hounds.
“Here, blood him, Master, he was in at the kill.”
The Master of Hounds opened his mouth to flash a smile filled with pointed, foxhound teeth. He stooped, dipped his fingers in the still warm fox blood, and streaked a smear across the boy’s face.
“There,” he said,” you’re blooded now. One of us, eh what?”
The mingled scents of fox and hound and blood and death and urine and feces made a heady mixture and Timothy started to hyperventilate. His breath came hard in his throat and, as he struggled to breathe, tears rolled down his cheeks.
Timothy feels safe in his secret hiding place beneath his grandfather’s bed. He can hear his brothers’ taunts and calls as they search for him, but they haven’t found him yet. Sticks and stones may break my bones, he whispers, but names will never hurt me. But names do hurt. Tiny Tim they call him and ask him where he hides his crutch. I don’t limp, Timothy once replied. When he said that, one of his brothers, Big Billy, kicked Timothy as hard as he could with the toe of his boot, just above the ankle. Timothy screamed with pain. You’ll limp now, said Big Billy, and his other brothers found the joke so funny that they all called kicked Tiny Tim at every opportunity. Limp, Timmy, limp, they chanted as they chased him round, limpTiny Tim, Tiny Timmy.
“He’s not up here,” one of his brothers called out.
“Must be out in the garden, the coward, we’ll have to hunt out there for him,” another replied.
“Can’t run, can’t hide,” said Big Billy. “Get the dog, we’ll track him down.”
The voices finally faded. Protected by the barrier of his grandfather’s cold but intimate body waste, Timothy curled up like a fox in his den and fell asleep. He dreamed of the proud brush of a tail flying in the wind, of a warm stone wall, drenched in sunlight, and of a farmer’s strong, all-protecting arm.
Comment: I have written several versions of this story, some longer, some much shorter, some in the first person singular, some in the second person. In all of them, the word-play on the little red brush (fox and fireplace) is paramount. This particular version occurs in my short story collection, Nobody’s Child available on line. Sometimes a story will not leave me alone. It wanders around, takes slightly different twists and turns, and new images and scenes emerge, as they do in this particular piece. Alas, I didn’t have a photo of a fox, so I used a photo of three plump pigeons hiding, you might even say ‘cowering away’, from a hungry hawk circling overhead while they hid in a crack in a wall in Avila, Spain. It always surprises me to know how many people (and animals) flee from what Robbie Burns called “man’s inhumanity to man”.
Spotify Don’t forget to scroll down to appropriate audio episode.
Cave Paintings Cantabria
Who painted these pictures on the walls of night’s cave? This grayish hand, fingers flexed, outlined in black soot, that deer dancing, those bears, horses, bison, running?
Did they come from nowhere, plucked from nothing but the artist’s memories of what he saw as the ice age faded and heat and warmth returned to warm his world? Drawn from life, without doubt. Unless these Neanderthals were truly creating art from a literal vacuum with nothing new invented since according to Picasso. And he should know.
Imagine them as sounds, as letters from distant relatives, as colored vowels scored on the blocks of a child’s first alphabet set. Sit and stare. Watch flames flitter over sharp shapes. See life enter the drawings as flimsy light flickers over the cave walls’ dips and bumps.
Once seen, never forgotten. Not just the paintings, but also the clammy cave damp, the red hanky draped over a pocket torch to imitate firelight, the drip of water, slow growth of limestone deposits growing into stalagmite and stalactite. Such things flit in and out of my mind like owls or bats, drop in on my sleep wake me with predatory beaks and claws, calling for my skull’s shut doors to open wide, to let them in, and to bring them back to life.
Comment: The picture comes from an ash-tray my parents bought at the Cuevas de Altamira, in Santillana del Mar (Cantabria, Santander as it was known then) in 1963. We visited many cave sites in Cantabria including Puente Viesgo, where we saw the sooty hands. Back then, the caves had only just been opened. At Altamira, a young lady came to greet us. We asked her if we might view the caves and she whistled loudly. Her husband came down from the fields where he was working. He took a large iron key from his pocket, opened a huge door set in the rock, and in we went. One light bulb illumined the inner chamber. Only a small segment had been dug out. We reclined on a rocky bank. He doused the electric light, took a torch from his pocket, and covered it with a red pocket handkerchief. He moved this back and forth to imitate firelight and immediately the whole wall came to life and the animals moved in the flickering light. Pure magic. Unforgettable. We were the only people there. Four of us. A few years later, you had to book an appointment and a place. Within six years, the caves were closed as the heat of human bodies raised the cave temperatures and caused the paintings to deteriorate. I was so fortunate, so privileged, to see those paintings in what was almost their pristine state. In 1991, I visited the facsimile of the caves built in Madrid. I paid my money, went in, sat down, and came out crying for all those things we had lost, for all that beauty that had been denied.
Late evening, low light, fox in the distance, photo through windows, two crows bombing him, fox on the run. A lovely sequence. Before the fox came, a hawk circled the lawn. Then came the crows. Then I saw the fox. Sorry about the quality of the photo: best I could do under the circumstances.
Just to say that this is a fine ending to a wonderful day. My fellow artists (Anne, Caitlin, Chantal, and Dan) are fantastic. Evening meal in he Garden Cafe was superb, as usual. Individual tables, suitably spaced. I had a lovely lunch with Geoff and Jeff. Many thanks for the welcome welcome you have all given me.
After the evening meal, we did a live reading on the porch, from One Small Corner and Tales from Tara. That was so much fun. To cap the day, I called my beloved and she told me that all was well and that Stars at Elbow and Foot (Selected Poems, 1979-2020) had arrived safely in Idlewood. Oh frabjous day, calloo callay, he chortled in his glee.
Basil decided he liked beer, especially in small tins. The news says that many teddy bears have become addicted to alcohol in the course of the pandemic. What the Strolling Roans call Teddy’s little helper, or Basil’s in this case. I do hope he’s all right.
Basil swears he likes cats. “Look,” he says. “She’s reaching out to me.” I am worried that she’s coming to give him a nasty scratch. Am I worried? Of course I am. I thought Basil was a tee-tee-tee-total bear. I think he’s trying to break in.
Suddenly, I am not so sure. I think he has been talking, in secret, with one of my friends, whose name we will not mention. Couldn’t be him. How could he talk when … (comment removed by MI6, or equivalent).