Postcards for Hannah : Installment One

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While Hannah’s away studying in Michigan and I can’t enjoy wonderful conversations about art and things we’ve read and heard and seen, in person, over wine or coffee, I’m going to send her little Postcard Stories based on what I’m reading, watching, seeing, listening to and thinking about. It’s not the same as talking art in person but hey ho, Hannah gets some nice mail from the homeland and you lot get to read a few new Postcard Stories. I’m not a mad woman. There won’t be one of these every day, just when the notion takes me.

 

23rd August 2017

Edinburgh, Scotland

In 1914 Alfred Wolfsohn was conscripted by the German army and dispatched to the trenches on the Eastern, then the Western fronts. He was seventeen years old at the time and employed as a stretcher bearer. Within weeks he was suffering from psychiatric issues: hallucinations, nightmares, intense survivor guilt. He was not haunted by the maimed and ruined bodies of soldiers on both sides of the barbed wire line, nor even the ever-present possibility of death, hovering over the mud. It was the godless noises a human being would make when subject to excruciating pain which turned young Wolfsohn. He noted, with a tempered curiosity, the way a mortal voice would only approach the full capacity of its aural limits during the few second immediately preceding death.

Something in this realization reminded him of his own mother, who had dawdled him upon her knee as a child, and mimicked an angel’s voice at the highest point of her vocal range, only to turn and chase St Peter’s tones, just below the lowest point of her range. Perhaps he even heard divinity in those notes which sat just below and above human capacity. At very least Wolfsohn saw the mysterious potential in pushing the voice beyond its normal breaking point. Holiness was there. Also horror. And a deep sense of his own fragility. Which helped to keep him after the War. Which drove him to pass his high/low technique on to others: singers, actors, well-known authors. Which did not take the hurt out of the War but let him roar his anger louder, and right at the Almighty’s pitch.

 

24th August 2017

Edinburgh, Scotland

I am in the bookshop at Edinburgh Book festival buying a book because I have spilt an entire bottle of water, (not carbonated), over Bernard McLaverty and The Essex Serpent, so the pages have turned translucent as tea bag paper and are threatening to disintegrate and will require several hours to crinkle dry on my bedroom radiator. After much deliberating I buy Lydia Davis and carry it to Prince’s Gardens where I intend to eat a sandwich and spend the afternoon reading in the sun. After less than two pages I realise that I have already read this Lydia Davis short story collection. Then, I remember how irritating I found it the first time round. But I have purchased it now and broken the spine and it is the only dry book in my possession, so I commit to reading all 287 mediocre pages. It is just as dull on the second read. Also, the avocado in my sandwich is not ripe. It has the consistency of pear or some other hardish fruit when bitten into. And the sun has disappeared and there are too many seagulls of unusual size roaming round the gardens. My afternoon is ruined. This, I note with further irritation is exactly the kind of non-incident –the spilling of the water, the already read and still disappointing book, the hard avocado- which Lydia Davis would stretch to fill seventeen pages. I have a feeling like déjà vu but less intriguing.

 

26th August 2017

Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England

We are standing on top of the American landscape architect, Charles Jenck’s visionary sculpture, Northumberlandia. The information panel tells us it has been formed from 1.5 million tonnes of earth, each muddy clod and grain recovered from the coal mine which runs like a recently scabbed gash, all the way down two of the site’s four sides. The information panel does not use the term, ‘recently scabbed gash’ but we have eyes in our heads.

These self-same eyes are not high nor nearly wide enough to see the sculpture in its entirety. If viewed from an airplane window, or indeed, from space, through a telescope, we would see the sculpture is a woman, reclining. The information panel includes an aerial photograph for those visitors given to skepticism. Right now we are standing in the middle of the ‘Lady of the North’ – her left breast to be precise, which is not so much a breast as a tight, grassy dome, nippled with rocks.

We are wondering, both individually and collectively, what this place will look like one thousand years from now. If future archaeologists will imagine our people a people who worshipped rendered deities similar to this enormous, outdoors lady, and came on pilgrimages here, to pray and offer sacrifices. Later, we will begin to question the wisdom of our contemporary archaeologists and historians, wondering if they have leapt to similarly wrong conclusions about our forefathers and mothers, those who left limestone horses in the hills and furnished Stonehenge from slabs. Perhaps, we speculate, the sites were never intended to be holy, so much as a pleasant spot for the ancients to visit on Bank Holidays. Much like Alton Towers, but with the queues.

 

30th August 2017

QFT, Belfast

David Lynch says his mother refused to give him colouring books as a child. “Here is a colouring book for your brother,” she said, “and a colouring book for your little sister. But no colouring books for you, young David. There is artistic genius crouching behind your ever-so-slightly-lazy-on-the-left-side eyes and I don’t want to constrain this wild, creative streak with already drawn lines.” David Lynch says his mother would only give him blank paper for drawing on, and ordinary wax crayons. He would like me to assume that these crayons were mostly shades of red and black for he has been cruising on this limited spectrum ever since. Later, he would like me to forget the cine film footage of happy, smiling David at four and seven, with siblings and toys and sporting goods, or, at very least tuck these images away so they pale in the shadows of that one anecdote about young David encountering a mad woman, roaming naked round his front yard.

After some thought I have decided that I do not believe David Lynch when he says that his mother refused to give him colouring books. It is too neat, like a misremembered story, or a detail added long after the event, in the hope of adding weight.

 

2nd September 2017

East Belfast

Last Friday I decided to visit the Library of Mistakes in Edinburgh, Scotland. I had several mistakes I was interested in donating: a white T-Shirt ruined by a red wine stain, a lie I’d told, accidentally, to my grandmother, the shattered remains of my favourite Beatrix Potter coffee mug. I was hoping other people could borrow my mistakes and perhaps learn from them, or at very least, feel a little less stupid about their own mumblings, stumblings and unconscious misdemeanours. However, when I arrived at the Library of Mistakes it was not there. There was a Subway sandwich shop right in the spot where the library should have been. I assumed they’d listed the wrong address on their website and took my mistakes home with me.

 

 

 

 

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