Following up from last week’s ink polaroids: some photos. This batch: gliders, at Kilburn.
Following up from last week’s ink polaroids: some photos. This batch: gliders, at Kilburn.
Struggling, out of breath, up steep steps up a hillside; turning back and looking down to snap a quick photo. Reaching the top, and turning again to adore the view; gasping for breath in the cold January air. Wandering along the clifftop, past all the other Sunday walkers, and watching gliders taking off: the growl of the winch cutting out, then the whistle of the towline falling to ground, and the glider passing quietly overhead. A random dog jumping up my leg, as I stop to take a photograph of the glider.
A railway station in the depths of the countryside, with no trains, no trains at all today. The only village nearby is the single line of houses built because there’s a station here. It used to be a busy junction, but now it’s a quiet branch, most of the platforms decaying to grass, and rust on the rails. We wander along the platform, wondering if the people who live here now have spotted us. The signal at the platform end is red, and villagers are walking their dogs.
There are photos of all this, to come, but for now the ink polaroids will have to suffice.
A spare weekend: we went wandering, in the car, and on foot. We drifted through the moorland village of Levisham, as untouched a village as you’ll find in Yorkshire, with one road wandering through it across a broad green. Ambling downhill, we reached the railway station. We watched a train pull in, and shunt about, great clouds of steam rising in the December cold.
Prowling around the station, we discovered its Artist In Residence, Christopher Ware, in his studio. We chatted a little while, and studied his prints of bucolic trains. He can’t have many visitors on a day like that; hopefully we were a welcome distraction for a few minutes.
Mike Troubled Diva recently wrote about how it feels to be middle-aged at gigs, and suchlike. I’m not middle-aged yet, but I know how he feels, because on Saturday night I went to my first gig in ages, at Leeds Met SU. It felt like: I was the only one there over 25.
We hid up on the balcony, with a small crowd of other late-20s people, and watched. Sometimes I wasn’t watching the band as much as I was watching the frenetic crowd, moshing away. They were here to see a local band, Hadouken!,* who (if you believe the NME) are part of the New Rave scene. Personally, I think the NME is only ever interested in puns on “New Wave”, but there you go.** I might not believe in the existence of New Rave as a genre myself, but the crowd definitely seemed to. The crowd of 17 year olds were wearing outfits last seen in 1989, and covered themselves in heavy trees of glowsticks. After a few minutes they started to get bored,*** and threw them all at the stage; or broke them open to drip and spray each other with luminous toxic goop.
The band themselves: well, they were energetic. Rapping with guitars, and very very loud. It definitely got me bouncing; but when my own attention span occasionally started to fade, I began to wonder: does “rapping with guitars” really deserve its own genre name? And whatever did happen to Baxendale, anyway? But then, I started bouncing again.
* the exclamation mark is part of the name, I think.
** Hands up who remembers the NWONW scene!
*** “I don’t know, kids today, no attention span at all…”
We walked up and down and around the town, admiring the scenery, admiring all the people and their outfits. I hadn’t dressed up myself. I don’t do dressing up. At the top of the steps to the abbey, we paused in the graveyard and watched people posing for photos, before turning and looking out over the sea, at the town disappearing into the mist. The weather was strange: dark, windy, but misty too. The town disappearing into winter.
Here at Symbolic Towers, we pay attention to our readers. If they send in tips, we pass them on. Mr E Shrdlu of Clacton writes…
The Plain People of the Internet: You say what? You had a letter? From a reader? Whose name is E Shrdlu? Honestly?
Me: Shush there. Be quiet and listen.
The Plain People of the Internet: If you say so. But don’t expect us to believe it.
… E Shrdlu of Clacton, who writes:
People who liked Friday’s post may be interested in…
The Plain People of the Internet: You mean, people who like long posts about the history of the London Underground? When posts like yesterday’s get a much better reader reaction? What are you thinking about?
Me: Come on there, stop interrupting. And since when have I been bothered about reader reaction, in any case?
The Plain People of the Internet: We’re only saying. Offering a tidbit ourselves, you could say.
… may be interested in the book London’s Secret Tubes by Emmerson and Beard, which goes into all that stuff. At book length.
The Plain People of the Internet: Now, we wouldn’t mind seeing photos of that beautiful Yorkshire scenery you were wittering on about. That “unutterable beauty” stuff.
Me: It was “unassuming beauty”. And I don’t have any – the car would have rolled down the hill. Carnage.
The Plain People of the Internet: My god, that’s terrible. The joke, we mean.
Me: If you’re so plural, shouldn’t that be “our god?”. The best I can do is photos of trains down in the mist-filled dale. And why shouldn’t there be real people called E Shrdlu, from Clacton?
The Plain People of the Internet: Flann O’Brien would sue, were he still alive.
That long post, it must have drained me out. I have lots of long posts to write: Indie Comic Book Of The Month, for example, or Films I’ve Seen Recently. I’ve run out of words to write them with, though.
So here’s an ink polaroid. Yesterday: the view from Egton, in Yorkshire, down into Eskdale. The road drops beneath us, out of sight, past a “25%” gradient sign; beyond is a mist-filled valley, green, pale green, rising back up to the moors again on the far side. Beyond the horizon smoke rises from heather-burning, blending into the mist. Deep in the valley, a moving line of puffing cloud marks out a train heading south. Apart from the train, nothing is moving, nothing in sight, but nevertheless it feels like a quietly active day. I’m feeling slightly nervous, partly because I’ve never put quite so much trust in my brakes before. I’m surrounded by unassuming beauty.
Over the years I’ve had all sorts of plans for art projects which have never quite got off the ground. So I’ve never had to answer the question: how would I feel if I did something Artistic, which became famous all over the place, but nobody knew it was me who did it.
The local news here was full of something similar, recently. All around Yorkshire, in Goathland, Kilburn, Arthington and Braithwell, mysterious stone heads have been appearing; and some then disappearing again. Intriguing, you could say. I’m strangely attached to the idea of mysterious heads – which are reminiscent of some of the stranger stone crosses on the Yorkshire Moors – popping up in the night. Rather like crop circles, in a way.
Unfortunately, though, the mystery of the stone heads hasn’t lasted very long. Crop circles were a puzzler for a few years, back in the 1980s. The stone heads have been a mystery for a few weeks; but they’ve only stayed a mystery for a few hours now the story has hit the national news. They are apparently made by a chap called Billy Johnson. Presumably, he’s done it all for the publicity;* as he left some easily googleable clues attached to each head, it’s fairly obvious that he wanted to be found. Artists have to make money somehow, after all. Personally, I’d rather it had stayed a mystery, though.
Mysteries are good for the imagination. An anonymous sculpture, appearing out of nowhere, is something to tantalise the mind and get you wondering about all those things sitting just around the edges of the known world. A self-publicising sculptor called Billy Johnson – whether he’s real or not – is dull and mundane by comparison.
* and I’ve just helped, haven’t I. Oh, well. Billy, if you’re a self-googler and you’re reading this, I’ll tell you where my own street corner is; you can leave one there and I’ll make sure you get some more publicity for your website.
Update, August 29th 2020: This post originally linked to the website about Billy Johnson’s stone heads, which was easily findable if you did an internet search on the words attached to each head. It has since disappeared completely from the internet and the domain name bought by an entirely different woodcarver. However, the “friend of Billy’s” who set the site up is part of the “digital fiction studio” Dreaming Methods who seem to have used the publicity from the story to distribute more of Billy Johnson’s stone heads rather more widely than he could do on his own. If you want to see Billy Johnson’s work, you can find a lot of it scattered around his local area, near Barnsley.
I am not a hero. I had always suspected as much, but now I know it’s true.
I popped round to the corner shop, just to pick up a few things, and noticed some dodgy-looking men hanging around outside. Nothing surprising there, really. I tried not to pay them any attention. You don’t, do you.
As I was pottering around at the back of the shop choosing the longest-dated bottle of milk, one of them comes in. Late 20s but looks older, scraggly beard, dirty jacket. Looks like he should be dragging a dog on a string behind him. Purposefully, he strides to the dairy fridges at the back of the shop, and starts grabbing packets of cheese off the shelf. Two at a time, stuffing them into a carrier bag he’d brought with him. One of his friends followed, jacket over his arm; he plucked something off a shelf and slipped it under his jacket.
Should I do something? Should I say anything? The cheese man eyed me up, as I put a yoghurt in my basket. As he looked sideways, he didn’t stop grabbing cheese and dropping it into his bag.
I did nothing. Nothing at all. “He might have had a knife,” I rationalised to myself. “He might have punched me.” Or he might just have ran. As it was, they walked out of the shop, as quickly as they’d came, with £20, £30 or more of cheese in the carrier bag. Is there a market now for black-market dairy produce? Has someone worked out how to get a legal high from mild cheddar? My logical mind says: it was the far corner of the shop, furthest from the tills, furthest from any of the staff, in a straight line to the door, and one of the most valuable products per kilogram in that part of the shop. The rest of me says: maybe he just liked a lot of cheese?
As we got back home at half-three in the morning, I noticed a man sitting on the other side of the street, sitting on a front-yard wall. I’m always wary of people loitering in the small hours. We got out of the car, and I could hear him mumbling, his hand to his head. I assume he was talking on the phone. I couldn’t make much of it out.
“Yeah, I’m just off Sunk Island Road somewhere. Yeah.”
Which he wasn’t. In fact, he was nowhere near Sunk Island Road. He was on Iambic Ave, which is off Pentameter Road West, which is on entirely the wrong side of the city. Here’s a map. It’s not a very good map, but it’s a map nevertheless:
Pentameter Rd. W. —— Pentameter Rd. —— city centre —— Sunk Is. Rd.
< ———————— a long long long long way —————————————->
Flash forward. Twelve hours later. We’d been out again, and we’d come back again. And as I was parking the car, I noticed a man sitting on the other side of the street, sitting on a front-yard wall.
I looked at him.
I wasn’t sure it was the same man. Similar clothes. It had been too dark to get a look at him.
Just as we were getting the shopping out of the boot, up pulled two police cars, one with its rear side window missing. No glass there; the space was filled with a metal grille. They stopped alongside the man sitting asleep on the wall. I watched the coppers approach him, one holding his handcuffs out of sight behind his back. As one of them checked all the rubbish bins in the yard, the others scooped him up and walked him into the waiting car. Bundled away, as if he was never there.