Postcards for Hannah Instalment Five

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25th December 2017

Ballymena

Salvador Dali, attired in a deep-sea diving suit, once gave a lecture about a philosophy student who, over a six month period, ate an entire wardrobe, including the mirror. Anything, this lecture implied, could be eaten if consumed in small enough mouthfuls. Which leads you to wonder how a car might be eaten, or a large suspension bridge, or even a skyscraper. Each plug socket, each pane of strengthened glass, each steel girder, doorframe and carpet tile, if reduced to a morsel no bigger than a child’s marble, might pass easily through the mouth, the throat, the stomach, large and small intestines. The human body would naturally retain those elements useful for sustenance and, after some time, repel that which proved useless, in the usual manner. It would take a century, maybe two to consume something as colossal as a skyscraper. It would be hard on the teeth; harder still on the tender lining of the guts.

You understand what Dali is trying to say with his wardrobe schtick. There are no real limits to human consumption. If a wardrobe can be ingested, one ugly mouthful at a time, then there’s no idea so big or insidious, some idiot won’t open his mouth and swallow it whole.

 

26th December 2017

Ballymena

A hundred thousand cats have gathered in the Cats’ Banqueting Suite. The noise of them is like the sound of a hundred thousand extractor fans just switched off and purring their way back to silence. The hundred thousand cats have been confused by the signage on the Cats’ Banqueting Suite. Are they to eat in this room, or be eaten? It all comes down to where you place the emphasis. The hundred thousand cats do not want to be eaten but they are still cats and therefore incapable of resisting the offer of a free meal. There is something of an atmosphere building in the Cats’ Banqueting Suite.

“Better to eat than be eaten,” says one fat tabby who is crouched behind the buffet table and, as there is nothing in the Cats’ Banqueting Suite to eat –no sausages, ham or potted fish- nothing except a hundred thousand mewling cats, he sinks his teeth into the tail of the cat in front, who hisses, “so that’s what we’ve come to?” and starts into his neighbour’s hind leg. Before very long every cat in the Cats’ Banqueting Suite is joined together like a long and writhing, furry necklace, or a scene from a Leonora Carrington story where things, (mostly cats and horses), are always eating other things, (occasionally wolves and birds), to show that misogyny is bad.

None of the hundred thousand cats in the Cats’ Banqueting Suite have read Leonora Carrington, or seen any of her surrealist paintings. Neither have any of them eaten cat before, but the taste of it is delicious, like raw chicken, or mouse, or the inside of their own pink mouths.

 

1st January 2018

Newcastle

To steal a story from Hera Lindsay Bird who begins things but never quite gets round to completing them. Please picture a library of some standing, not quite as grand as the British Library, but larger in scope and size than the Linenhall. Imagine then a small fire flaring in the lower left corner of the fiction section. This fire is contained within a wastepaper bin, or woman’s handbag. It is entirely accidental, the product of a dropped cigarette or incendiary idea which has slipped from the mind of a passing writer, like a tissue improperly tucked into a sweater cuff. This fire must of course be accidental for it is beyond any of us sensible beings to imagine a book fire started purposefully with malicious intent.

See the fire swoop through the fiction section in an orderly, alphabetical fashion, consuming Austen, Atwood, Borges and Michael Chabon, (who wrote Wonder Boys and Kavalier and Clay and several other novels which aren’t quite as good). Finally imagine the firefighters arriving somewhere about L or M to stop the fire’s alphabetical spread. Of course the adjoining letters, (N, O, P), would most likely be lost to fire or water damage, but half the world’s stories would still be left. And we’d continue to read George Saunders, and William Trevor, Virginia Wolff and Kurt Vonnegut, who’d no doubt have wise things to say about fires and loss and the startling things which often emerge from the ashes.

 

2nd January 2018

Seven Stories, Newcastle

There are two old-fashioned, stuffed and jointed teddy bears encased in a glass display case next to the fire exit. They originally belonged to two sisters –Elizabeth and Jean Gilmour- and were purchased in Leeds market on the occasion of each girl’s birth, (1906 and 1909, respectively). Teddy is wearing a knitted sweater. Bruin, striped pyjamas and a fetching burgundy scarf. Teddy has both hands raised in the air as if overjoyed, or caught in the act of performing a star jump. Note their black button eyes, their hand-stitched noses, the way their pointed snouts have begun to fall back into their faces where the straw has worn thin. Still, they look pretty fresh for 110. And this has nothing to with being kept behind glass. These bears have been loved. These bears couldn’t be happier. Here they are, united in their dotage, and grinning, albeit a little lopsidedly. Both their owners are long dead. But, understanding bears better than most adults, they have left strict instructions for Teddy and Bruin to be housed, together, in the Children’s Museum. So, here they are now stuffed and placid, content to do what all good bears are born to do- make their children smile.

 

3rd January 2018

The Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle

Gallery Notes on “Study for ‘The Unknown.’” Oil on canvas. John Charles Dollman. (1912)

Note the topless lady kneeling in front of a small campfire, her legs encased in what appears to be a picnic rug. Note her right hand raised and pointed towards the horizon, possibly in warning, and the floral, bathing cap perched on her head. Isn’t she graceful? Isn’t she oh so very exotic?

Note the eight chimpanzees circled round her in awe, the chimp on the far left giving her a look which might well be reverence or could, just as easily be, “what the Bloody Hell’s that lunatic on?” Note the ninth chimpanzee, back turned, already scuttling away across the desert. Is it a desert? Or a soft play area for children? It’s hard to tell.

Note the mythical lighting, the lady’s hair which is styled like Cleopatra’s hair in paintings, the heavy gilt frame they’ve placed this painting in.

Ask yourself, which myth/legend/Biblical story this scene depicts. Rack your brain. Really concentrate hard. Ask the man standing next to you in the gallery. He is wearing a hat like Sherlock Holmes. He looks like he’d know his Greek-type shit. He doesn’t. Later, on Wikipedia, discover that there is no myth or legend called “Topless Lady and the Ring of Chimps.” Read that John Charles Dollman simply made the whole thing up. What a joker Dollman was! What a chimp!

 

 

 

 

 

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