Sunday, 28 December 2008
Two bids in the middle
The Great Ox jumped over the Dome
The Five-Legged Rabbit
Laughed "Art ain't just 'grab it':
It's passion and freedom to roam."
Wednesday, 24 December 2008
So the theme this year is 'Pantomimes', and the strapline, 'Nothing recycles like a pantomime plot!'
I'm chuffed , because this is the first card I've completed in full colour (two years ago saw red on the breasts of the fully inflatable 'round robins', and on my bald patch, but my colour confidence was not high enough for me to risk inking the whole card in).
All good wishes, and our love...
Monday, 22 December 2008
That means anyone is free to share it or adapt it for any use whatsoever - even commercially.
No attribution to me, by name or in any other way, of the original concept, is necessary. Check the licence out for all the details.
Because the Five-Legged Space Rabbit is a soft anarchist, a trickster and transformer, and really wouldn't have it any other way. Probably.
I'm umm-ing and er-ing over the degree of creative commons licence I wish to apply to my other work - photos and stories, including the characters Wind Boy and Sloth Man - and will make the whole thing clear when my cogitations have stopped.
Sunday, 21 December 2008
Saturday, 20 December 2008
According to yesterday's News Guardian, a life-size model of Whitley's Great Ox is to be created out of flowers and, on the day, paraded through the streets to the ground where, in the 1780s, it used to graze. The Ox was famous in its day. Thomas Bewick drew it.
Friday, 19 December 2008
So here are the reasons, in no particular order:
First, practice: I've written and drawn stuff since I was little, but this is the first time I've had a go at producing something substantial. At the same time, each post is a fresh page in a virtual notebook. I want to get better.
Second, investment: relocating to somewhere with an identity as strong as the North East is for the long term, and for all the joy, can be hard work. Here's a bit of upfront investment in Whitley Bay: "I don't know you, but I want to get to know you, and this is my way of saying so."
Third, experiment: what happens as I get to know Whitley - the people, the culture, the contexts? And what happens as I engage with what I find out? This is entering the realm of psychogeography; starting to tiptoe around questions of spirituality. It's taking ideas about the impact of the Information Society (from my librarian days) and mixing them with a dose of creativity (as an artist). Does mythologizing a place help it to find a meaning otherwise hidden to itself?
Fourth, incarnation: I've elected to move, in adult life, through a naive Christian evangelicalism, and a period of rejection of all things religious, finally to a tentative re-engagement with the Big Questions. And I guess what I admire about the church I've left is the belief that stuff happens not when you believe it, but when you start to embody it. You take the risks; you say and do foolish things. I believe in love, in the meaning it gives to lives. I want to make a difference. I believe writing does this, and art, and engagement with people. Blogging is one way I incarnate what I believe is important.
Fifth, communication: publishing online gets my thoughts out there. Well, publishing and then then publicising it all. I've read loads these past four years, and ideas are beginning to resonate with one another. I think I'm onto something; now I want a dialogue about it. Something about story-making and psychology, evolution and spirituality, anthropology and present day cultural change. A blog is something that doesn't require the endorsement of a formal institution before it is listened to. If people like it, they stick with it: if they don't, it's cheap and they can leave it behind. It gets its validity from its personal usefulness, its likeability; not its permanence or pay-roll number.
Sixth, evidence: I'm leaving tracks. For instance, I don't get money: I don't get money. But maybe, one day, E and I will role-reverse and I'll need to bring in the cash. Here's me saying to all my lovely potential employers, hey, I can stick at something. I can make it happen. I can dream, and take a risk, and come up with something a bit special. I'm not prepared just to sit around. What do you mean, everyone has a blog? Well, yo, I'm with it. I'm funky.
And there's a seventh: celebration. 'Cos Whitley Bay is great. It's a bugger, but it's a beautiful bugger. Weekends we go down to the beach and can look out to sea twenty odd miles, no interruptions. Great shops. Good food. Fantastic people. Self-esteem, at times, lower than the Mariana Trench.... And the pride of a princess.
Wednesday, 17 December 2008
These figures, drawn in chalk, have stood hand in hand in the portal of a ruined building in Jesmond Dene for more than a year. Above them the artist has written the word 'Spark'. The darker grafitti in the preceding post is from the same site.
Monday, 15 December 2008
Quotes from four of the books I have open at the moment: from Brody's The Other Side of Eden, McKee's Story, Gladwell's The Tipping Point, and Penn and Kinney Zalesne's Microtrends.
Shamanic forms of expertise are based on a multitude of specific facts; they do not arrange the natural world into hierarchies of families and genera.... Hunter-gatherer knowledge is inductive and intuitive; its conclusions emerge by allowing all that has been learned to process itself. (Brody, pp. 268, 269)
Inside the scene [within a story] is the smallest element of structure.... A beat is an exchange of behaviour in action/reaction. Beat by beat these changing behaviours shape the turning of a scene. (McKee, p. 37)
To look closely at complex behaviours like smoking or suicide or crime is to appreciate how suggestible we are in the face of what we see and hear, and how acutely sensitive we are to even the smallest details of everyday life. (Gladwell, p.259)
In fact, the whole idea that there are a few huge trends that determine how America and the whole world work is breaking down. There are no longer a couple of megaforces sweeping us all along. Instead, America and the world are being pulled apart by an intricate maze of choices, accumulating in "microtrends" small, under-the-radar forces ... which are powerfully shaping our
society. (Penn and Kinney Zalesne, pp. xii, xiii)
In a nutshell, the more detail, the more data swarming, the more we are all in a position to think like hunter-gatherers. Think as we have evolved to think, using science, perhaps, but in the service of intuition. Think as the highly refined tellers of stories that we are. Then better placed to put intuition in the service of an imaginative and renewed science.
It could go wrong: the latter two books are both keen to comfort the control freak by suggesting that knowledge of the small gives us the power to direct others. Though I'll take my comfort in the thought that by the time truly we are able to see the tiny atomie all together, we'll have been won over by an anarchic and compassionate, shamanistic (dare I say truly christian?) vision, one that values wisdom, a good mystery and the diverse natural world.
Sunday, 14 December 2008
View down one of the wagonways, this one built in 1813, I think, that criss-cross North Tyneside. Several venture into Whitley Bay, though this doesn't - it carves a line down the back of the Freeman Hospital; a particularly icy line on Thursday, when I took the photo.
The wagonways were used to transfer coal down to the Tyne. They have been redeveloped as a network of walking- and cycle-ways (skate-ways, Thursday), with information boards picking out historic information. A case of an old story, retold in a new context.
At one time, as wagons rumbled laiden by, the story might scarcely have been told at all, so evident it was (like bothering to relay the adventure of the 308 bus from Whitley to the centre of Newcastle).
Then told by the retired miners - "This was the clart I dug year in, year out. And here's the track that led it, horse-drawn, then steam-drawn, to the docks at Wallsend."
Now, told again, but in a fresh story - the drive to get people walking again, the urge to reconnect with the land around, with people and the past.
A bird flew by as I took the picture, two old boys and a dog just before. Behind the hedge on the left, the Freeman's new car park.
Thursday, 11 December 2008
This is the Welch sweet factory on Laburnum Avenue. A photo of it, circa 1925, can be found on the Tynetown website here.
I'd heard that John Welch was the father of Denise Welch, the actress, who attended Bygate School in Whitley Bay. So to check this out I started to look online for information about Welch's. And he wasn't her dad, though, assuming there has only ever been one sweet manufacturer called Welch in North Tyneside, his was a family firm.
And then, as I searched, I found a link to the Whitley Bay Smoke Cell, supplied by an American science firm called Sargent-Welch.
The catalogue invites you to "closely observe Brownian motion in smoke particles using this apparatus....A box with a plastic lid features flanges that allow easy attachment of a standard microscope".
I was intrigued. Why "Whitley Bay Smoke Cell"? I tried digging further.
Here is an experiment using the apparatus described in full. And here is Wikipedia's description of Brownian Motion.
But, online at least, amidst reams of school science catalogues, no mention of why the Whitley Bay Smoke Cell is called what it is. Any blogger out there care to do some digging and let me know, I'd be really grateful! One of you is a physicist, I know, and E, as this is my fiftieth post, you owe me that beer you promised!
[This post started off exploring 'Microtrends, Beats and Tipping Points". How a moment, captured in a photograph, spins into a story with lasting resonance. I've gone way off topic! I'll have to drag myself back tomorrow.]
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
He was standing alone against a telephone exchange box, waiting for the bus on the High Street, alone except for the pigeons at his feet, pecking around his bags of shopping. He wore horn-rimmed spectacles and a beanie, and clenched a fine pipe between his teeth. And somehow, although the street milled with people, he had coaxed and cooed a black-feathered bird up to eye-level, where he was expertly inspecting it.
I was aware of him as I dodged traffic to leap onto the kerb: one second - a perfect picture. We made eye contact. Then I scared the bird.
I told E about it this morning. "Flying vermin!" she declared, a reflection of popular opinion.
Tuesday, 9 December 2008
But I didn't know he did this:
Nice comment in the BBC obituary today:
"With his story-telling skills, his love of found objects and mechanical improvisation, his funny voices and air of eccentricity, the man himself gave a good imitation of everyone's favourite uncle. "
Monday, 8 December 2008
Mary Corliss in Time wrote: "The message of the futility of war has rarely been painted with such bold strokes."
E and I scarcely spoke on the journey home. Some strange, terrible beauty.
The BBFC gave the film an "18" certificate. (For comparison, Platoon was given a "15", in 1988). Not because of the violence, though reference was made to its violence, but because of "one scene of strong animated sex". At least the BBFC acknowledged that 'the film, containing profound observations about Israel's relationship with its Arab neighbours and the senselessness of war, is clearly not a sex work.'
It's probably not worth commenting on the availability, online and on mobiles, of sexual images to the average teenager; or suggesting that an animated erect penis in such a movie is not going to cause the downfall of civilisation; or drawing attention to the systematic dehumanisation that young men and women undergo from the age of 16, before, at age 18, they are dispatched to kill for their country.
Though the MOD doesn't bother with the figures (Quote from Hansard, 30th June: Mr. Bob Ainsworth: Information on recruitment by region is not held centrally and could be provided only at disproportionate cost), I suspect I'm not the only one who believes there are a disproportionate amount of young recruits drawn into the Army from the poorer regions of the UK, including the North East.
Saturday, 6 December 2008
Earlier we stood in line for a couple of crepes, which we ate outside The Bedroom, listening to the Shiremoor Salvation Army Band carolling Christmas round and round in the mileage of brass fluting of its tubas, trumpets, trombones and horns.
Wednesday, 3 December 2008
Monday, 1 December 2008
At Tynemouth Flea Market I was able to buy five boxes of slides, sight unseen, from a bric-a-brac man. This is the first, from 1967. The slides were taken by the girl in the picture, and cover a period of seven or so years. Many depict scenes around the Northumbrian coast, Cullercoats up to Seahouses, with a couple of Newcastle Airport at the end of the 60s. She grows up, still recording snaps, and herself in some of them: with glasses on, long hair and a summer dress in the last.
I have an idea to weave the images into a story - though the story that moves me is the one recorded by the girl. I'll never know this story, of course - just a handful of images from it. She'll be around fifty now. She's probably still local, or the bric-a-brac man would not have been offering the slides for sale. She could take a great photograph. I hope life is good for her.
Wednesday, 26 November 2008
Not one but two dreams about bears last night. In the first I attempt to herd wild bears back into the paddock by the primary school where they have been at play. I ride on the back of one, and friends shoosh the others, and (knowing bears) I am fearful for my friends and also my legs. Hair-raisingly, because no-one has alerted the primary school, a nursery-room is full of little children playing. The most violent of the bears makes his way in and hides, or is pressed by my friends behind the furniture, as I progress towards him, scooping the children out of the room one by one with an urgent 'Go!' as I do so.
In the second dream the Buffy DVDs I've been watching set the tone. It is power-hungry teachers calling up the spirit of a great and vicious bear, and knowing not what they do, and I (which reveals a flexibility I certainly don't share with Sarah Michelle Gellar) leaping to the top of the symbol-rich wooden framework that they have constructed in order to summon the animal. I drop onto the back of the enormous bear to thwart it. Again I am fearful of a mauling. The bear is somehow a spirit seeking wings, and when I throttle it the spirit is still at large. I trap it between two picture frames, 'so that it can look at itself in Hell for all eternity!', but the frames break and disappear, leaving the spirit invisible, untraceable (and a part of me?).
What to make of these dreams? I'm being far too heroic, but at least I'm dreaming that I'm with friends. I want to identify with the bears in the first dream - I've been reading Brody about shamanistic dreams as intuitive means for hunters to know the animals they hunt, by meeting them, even becoming them. This is about the possibility of incarnating. These beasts are not being anything other than observably wild bears. The bear in the second dream is more problematic. The spiritual dimension of the bear is apparent - its urgent aspiration heavenwards. I am the one who throttles it into submission and who seeks to cast it back the way it has apparently come. But I am left uneasily aware that the spirit is probably in me, and I need to live with it.
Conclusion: my waking life has to be open to expressing this 'bearfulness', without unleashing it on others, including my friends. It fits with the work I've been doing around being fully myself, and reminds me that with passion comes responsibility - a good, if predictable lesson. The Christian word is maybe 'holiness', in the sense of 'wholeness'. And there is the sense, to pick up the Brody quote from Sunday, that as well as 'a profound and intelligent uncertainty' to the hunter-gatherer life, there is an unavoidable engagement with it.
The force of the dream, perhaps, is to take these truths 'out on the road', which, sorry Whitley, means stretching my 'essence of bear' muscles around here.
Tuesday, 25 November 2008
Monday, 24 November 2008
A Whitley Bay Thousand is a local blog, but I'm using it to explore a big idea.
This, in a nutshell, is that we are moving beyond the dichotomies by which we've been living as agrarian and hunter-gatherer civilisations, into a new assimilation of the two.
If, in broad strokes, hunter-gatherer societies have known their ecosystem before they have changed it, and farmers have changed their ecosystem before they have known it, it is also true that both philosophies have brought benefits and damage. In no sense can we say, unequivocally, that one is better than the other.
But we can say that enormous and immediate pressures are influencing us, as civilisations, to change the ways we live. Population growth, and what appears to be an increasingly unsustainable pace of consumption, are depleting the biodiversity and mineral resources of the planet. Or, at least, rearranging them in ways that are starting to boggle our minds. Scientific models predict a boggling in reality too, in ways that may compound one another; in ways that, through complexity, become more and more difficult to anticipate.
At the same time, and perhaps as a response, some of our big ideologies are starting to change. Christianity, for example, with which I am perhaps most familiar, is seeing a rejection of traditional forms of church in favour of new, 'emerging' structures. These are increasingly open to ambivalence, doubt and equivocation, not, as the stereotype would have it, because the core of Christianity is rejected, but because it is actually seen to be a celebration of such attitudes from the very beginning.
Simultaneously, the most cutting-edge science, that which it is quite easy to portray as antithetical to Christianity, is itself embracing ambivalence, doubt and equivocation in the pursuit of the greatest precision. A case in point might be psychology, which increasingly understands consciousness, and all its emotional and cognitive underpinnings, in terms of homeostasis - our preservation, as minds and bodies, of optimum internal and external survival conditions - for sound evolutionary reasons.
Homeostasis is about the middle ground, neither too hot nor too cold, too pressured nor too free, too drunk nor too sober, too extreme in any direction. To use a Christian image, it is the narrow gate, not the walls stretching out on either side. It is the passage through life, rather than the graffiti about what that life might be. It is perhaps, were the choice to be required, a preference for the event, the experience of life, over a definition of that event, together with an understanding that defining life can only ever be the most provisional part of coming to know it.
Once again, Brody puts it well: "Everyone must pay close attention, be careful, use every faculty to be aware of the land and all that it may hold....There is a profound and intelligent uncertainty. No one knows what is going to happen or which decisions about any part of life will turn out to be correct. Hence the importance in [the Inuit language of] Inuktitut, for example, of expressing caution and qualifications of all kinds. The analogue nature of myth mirrors a sense that the world itself defies digital ways of speaking. " The Other Side Of Eden, p.246
If we are seeing a renewed commitment to this core truth on a societal as well as personal level, it makes sense to celebrate it in public. How best to celebrate it? Perhaps in story and myth, made relevant by its expression in local and relevant idiom. Hence my attempt to know the place I live, know the land around Whitley, and to celebrate it in words and images.
Sunday, 23 November 2008
Our companion told us how, at five, as she left for the morning shift at the shopping centre, the snow had fallen pristine. "I love to walk on the fresh snow," she said, "Just a big kid; my son's the same." We drove past the forecourt of one of the light industrial workshops scattered between the Metrocentre and Gateshead proper, and I imagined her son, burly, confident, scuffing through Geordie snow with his workboots on.
Then she said, "I've still got their first snowballs, you know. I'm a hoarder. I can't get rid of them. The first ones they made. They're in a tupperware box. I'll give them to my son and daughter when they're thirty."
"How old are they now?" I asked, meaning the snowballs.
"He's twenty eight, and my daughter's twenty three."
After a moment she continued: "Ee, I had a panic when we changed the freezer. I put them in a coolbox, all wrapped up, and took them to my sister's! And my son's girlfriend, when she came round, my son said, 'Take a look what me mam keeps in the tupperware - '"
Now she laughed, aghast at herself: "He said, once, 'See what I can get for them on Ebay -'"
"What do they look like?" I asked.
"They're a bit smaller now than they were." she admitted.
We got off the bus at Gateshead, with cheerful goodbyes. Twenty minutes later E and I were on and off our third bus, in Birtley, and the meltwater was making music on the town's greystone walls. We walked the Durham Road to the church, and the christening of our friends' new baby in it.
Friday, 21 November 2008
Tuesday, 18 November 2008
"Once I built a railroad, I made it run. Made it race against time. Once I built a railroad, now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?"
Whitley Bay, Park View, 8.00pm last night, I'd left the house. I don't bring money in, with what I try to do. E does that. I placed my wallet on the sidetable as I passed her, on the phone, on the way out. Rain-flecked, icy sky. Needed to let it burst in my head, to happy-slap me out of a sallow mood. Why does no-one pay me when I follow my vocation? Why must I vocate and work for cash at the same time?
I was near The Celtic Path. A man passed, drunk, shaven-headed, tough. Small smile to disarm him. He sussed me out.
"You got twenty p for a telephone call?"
"I've got no money, no wallet. Left it at home - "
"You got twenty p?"
Shrug. "No wallet -"
"You got twenty p?"
Shrugging; backing and turning. Still -
"You got twenty p?" he asks.
Happy-slap. I brought fifteen quid into the house last year. But I'm not poor the way he is. My desperation is a luxury. The meeting leaves me quiet.
Did it quieten him? Not in a way I could see. His desperation had set him on a railroad: forward, forward for money that simply wasn't there. And it reminds me of the song: the shock of deprivation after a lifetime of graft.
"Brother, can you spare a dime?" - But no words with which to conceive of your need, no manners with which to articulate them, save those that have helped build the railroad system, the finance on which you depend, in the first place. Probably words given to you by that very system.
They say you need a quiet hope to get through life. Hope is what is left when the words are taken away. But you have to have the words taken away to see it.
Monday, 17 November 2008
The residential school was part of a process of ethnocide. The plan that shaped these schools, and the attitudes that informed their daily regimens, emerged from the agriculturalists' need to get rid of hunter-gatherers. These schools represent a dedicated and ruthless attempt to transform the personalities and circumstances of "native people" into ... well, what? Farmworkers and industrial labourers? Domestic servants and housewives? All of these, and yet the project is easier to understand as a negative rather than as a positive undertaking. The intention was to stop people being who they were - to ensure that they could no longer live and think and occupy the land as hunter-gatherers. The new and modern nation-states make no room for hunter-gatherers.
The Other Side of Eden, p.189
No room for hunter-gatherers. No room for the mindset where survival depends on knowing rather than changing a landscape. Not surprising then, perhaps, that people in our society who adopt this mindset - and there are such people; it is a tool of mind the capacity for which we all possess - should find themselves outside and against the systems within which the rest of us are happy to fit.
But it sounds like a challenge - a gauntlet thrown down. No room? then let's make room. If, for a while, we've had enough of changing our environment, if we are losing our faith in the enduring value of doing so, then it wouldn't be surprising to find more of us choosing to change our worldview in order to know our environment more fully.
I'm convinced this is happening. People I meet, books I read, trends I see around me, here in Whitley and all over, tell this story again and again. Therefore the need to accommodate such people within our accepted understanding of society becomes more and more imperative.
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
Samuel Coleridge, Kubla Khan
Girl it looks so pretty to me
Like it always did
Like The Spanish City to me
When we were kids
Mark Knopfler, Tunnel of Love
Where do you go to dream for England?
You pay to live in the Dreaming Spires - average student debt on leaving education is twenty five grand. And in Newcastle you cannot sit inside, chatting, dreaming, reading, writing, drawing, except for the outlay of the price of a coffee. That lasts an hour, give or take, so not bad rental - two quid an hour for the use of a table. But it's still rental.
Church buildings should be dreaming spaces - as should mosques, temples, all places of worship. But price of entry is too often doctrinal conformity. The same goes for shopping malls - love us, love our capitalism. Libraries are great. But shhhh!
Home then, after work? But the best dreams are dreamt in company. The dreams that change communities - surely they should be dreamt as communities? The dreams that change work should be dreamt at work, out loud... and not imposed on others, as Kubla Khan in Xanadu imposed his.
Perhaps the Spanish City Dome has a future as a gathering space for dreamers. It has been inspired by poetry, inspires lyrics. It's watched over by statues of the muses of dance and music. And our town, like pretty much every other, lacks places indoors where the community can gather freely to dream, delve inside its daily activity, celebrate the story that kindles underneath.
Could it happen? Honestly, I doubt it. Not yet. Until then, and perhaps it's no bad thing, and shouldn't change, everywhere's fair ground for dreaming on...
Sunday, 16 November 2008
His book (from which I've been quoting already) expands on the thesis of the seminar. What you realise, pretty soon, is that it is not just about screenwriting - it's about the ways we make sense of life. This from his website:
in ALL creative work, everything works in the shadow of classic story design.So if community development is creative, then it is story. If taking reponsibility for your life is creative, then it is story.
Religions realise this - traditional Christianity is the invitation to participate in a massive story arc, one of cosmological as well as personal scope. So too Islam, Hinduism, a myriad others. Though it would be a truism to say that, realising this, we live in a post-religious age.
Still, we cannot avoid seeing life in terms of story. The regeneration of Whitley Bay is a story. Here's a pitch: tiny seaside town blossoms as pleasure resort, but internal and external pressures conspire to see it fade. Will it succomb? When all seems lost, it rediscovers its heart. Belief returns. A newer, braver, wiser Whitley rises.
Robert McKee charts twenty five movie genres - twenty five basic pitches: love story; horror film; modern epic; western; war genre; the coming-of-age story; redemption plot; punitive plot; comedy; biography; animation; fourteen others. It'd be very fun to pitch 'Whitley - The Movie' in terms of each of these. Then, having selected a pitch, to make the movie by living it.
Saturday, 15 November 2008
Friday, 14 November 2008
Thursday, 13 November 2008
You may think you know, but you don't know you know till you write it down.... Explore your past, relive it, then write it down. In your head it's only memory, but written down it becomes working knowledge. (p. 73)And Brody's:
I found myself thinking about the grief that comes with loss of words. What must it mean not to be able to put names in your own language to the things that you care most about? (p.173)
Between the two ideas lies the territory I'm trying to work in. McKee is optimistic. He assumes that to write down is to make usable. But he is also urgent: not to write down is to abandon. Brody is pessimistic. To abandon a culture is to lose something quintessential. But he is also generous: he measures the weight of this loss, gives it its worth.
How to remain generous without compromising urgency? Elegiac whilst celebrating change? Words must be used, I think, but those words that exist before they become words, that don't need to be written, only because they are written already in the deepest part of us. We must keep faith with the power of silence to change things. And we must write the silence down.
Well, I'm down. Yesterday and today. So yesterday I stuck two posts up, and objectively, you know, they're not nearly as bleak as I feared they'd be. But today I want to try and dredge the mood a little. Pull up a few images and word them, so that they become handleable.
So this is me earlier today, walking on the path up our street. I'm feeling the concrete. I'm feeling the absence of grass. A part of me yearns through the soles of my shoes, down through the paving slabs, to be flat-footing the mud. Whitley is like everywhere - everywhere named - because it bears the mask of human culture, thinner than cellophane, over it. I can't punch through this plastic - it smothers everything beneath it, and I did not choose for it to be there.
When I was seventeen, once on the way to school, I imagined the roads in Barnet being torn up by the life force in the earth they covered. Part of me willed it. Non-violently, and in a controlled manner, I'd still like it to happen. It's part of what I think a reparative society might do - a society that draws its satisfaction from the constructive process of unmaking the excesses of consumerism. Removing some of the ideological cellophane of culture, as well as its objective bricks and barricades.
I suspect that we are going to get a reparative society. But we are in a period of transition. I'm dedicated to smoothing this process of change. And when I'm down I see the size of the hurdles ahead - sense the intractability of our present society, allow myself to explore its pain (which is my pain too), allow myself to be daunted.
That's not the end of it, though. At my height I sense the potential inherent in our present culture, just as much as in all possible future variants. Then on my walk down our street I delight in the terraced houses, the flagstones, the funky cars and the funky people in them. And with these two poles in mind, the high and the low, Whitley utopian and holed in the bow, I begin to be realistic again.
Wednesday, 12 November 2008
Today marks the launch of the WBM - the Whitley Bay Mimblers.
It will be dedicated to the meticulous planning and execution of mimbles in Whitley Bay and surrounding areas.
Short walks, with maximum impact. From the car-park to St Mary's Lighthouse. Around the lake at Marden Quarry. Around the block. In to and out of the Briardene.
Full hiking equipment required - boots, jackets, rucksacks and sticks; Kendal Mint Cake; GPS; Map and Map Case; copy of CAMRA pub guide; gaiters; hip flask; emergency whistle; emergency back-up hip flask; sun-cream, scarf and gloves; fleece (cat design on front optional); scissors (for scrumping cuttings from National Trust gardens); ball of wool (for attaching to tea shop doors, and unravelling, to prevent loss); compass; shades, and Werther's Toffees.
This post is dedicated to someone who'll ramble again, one day. But in the meantime, we'd like to help you get your walking strength and confidence back, and we reckon mimbles are the way forward. You know who you are, Hectoria.
Tuesday, 11 November 2008
With my test card pattern sweater and pimpin' fake fur winter coat - the one with the fur at a downward slant, the one that ratchets the sweater sleeves down my arms and over my hands whenever I swing them - I was - admit it - drop dead gorgeous. And I'd drawn a pretty nifty picture for the front of our annual Christmas Card. And then I'd dropped into Waterstones to hunt for a book of Bob Dylan lyrics, and explained to the girl behind the counter that it was for a piece of art, and she'd more or less said so: "Cool," she'd said.
So I was high on Cool.
After lunch I took a trip to our local supermarket, basketing the BOGOFs nonchalantly, sauntering to the checkouts. I unloaded the basket onto the empty conveyor belt, and waited.
"Two minutes," said the checkout girl.
Uncoolly, I bridled, but collected myself. Though there was no queue, a handsome lad on the other side was waiting by the plastic bags. Perhaps he's her bloke, I thought, perhaps they've just been arranging to meet up. Then, as the girl started running the groceries through, he began to open one of the bags.
"Don't worry," I said, suavely sliding my rucksack off my back and onto the checkout. "I've brought my own."
"I'm not packing for you," he said, "I'm waiting for a DVD."
It arrived. He took it. I felt a bit more cool evaporate. I packed my rucksack quickly, pinning in my card number, fiddling shut the zipper, and walking away, subdued.
But the girl called me back. "Hey!" she said, "You've left your card in the machine!"
So that's the Spirit of Cool. You've either got it, or you haven't. In the morning I had it and in the afternoon, it went.
This is like the occasion I visited the Alnwick Gardens Treehouse Restaurant with E, when, in the Gents, admiring the sleek new shape of the upmarket urinals, and contemplating quite why there was a need to stick taps on them, it slowly dawned on me why the man at the urinal opposite had looked at me so strangely. I left without washing my hands.
Monday, 10 November 2008
So we've got this thing called money, and nearly everyone uses it. Friend I spoke to at the weekend told me it was used by his managers to try to entice him back into a Big Company, when all the reasons he left are about morale and values, not financial reward.
They assumed the inherent good, or at least inevitability, of money. They were so sure it was all they'd be able to motivate him with, that they were unable to develop an alternative strategy to keep him. And he's good.
But is money inevitable?
I asked myself what money does, and I decided you could call it a work battery. It stores up work done previously, ready for discharge when you need it, to reciprocate for work done for you now. It's a handy size. It fits in your pocket, or a handful of digits on a computer. It retains the core ethos of community - reciprocity. I can imagine it developing out of the need to survive like this:
In a trusting community, work by one is 'repaid' by work in kind. But where no such repayment is possible, the produce of earlier work may be offered. A harvest of potatoes perhaps, or a metal it has taken much effort to find or extract. And in time, rather than humping your produce around with you, you might choose, within your community, a symbol to represent such produce, which is printed on paper, and portable.
So here's the rub: a battery carries a charge, but it takes energy to store the battery under the right, dry and cool, conditions - energy which is unaccounted for by the battery itself. And in the exact same way, maintaining the environment within which money works requires energy. It requires stability, the freedom to flow, an investment of trust within the community using the cash. The bigger the community, the greater the investment. And that investment cannot come from the money itself, or the money is drained of its usefulness.
What this extended thought helps me to do is tie money right back into hard physics. It is the physics of effort expended, which is about burning the calories we consume, which are subject to universal laws like the conservation of energy. We are survival machines, and 'work' is ultimately what we do to survive. If money is simply one, rarified and highly developed, tool for survival, it is no more (or less) useful than any other tool. Screwdrivers are useful, but not to pump up bicycle tyres. Generating money is no more (or less) valuable than anything else that helps the community survive.
Another tool might well, under certain circumstances, be preferable. I wonder if, credit crunching, now might be such a time.
Tuesday, 4 November 2008
E and a couple of friends and I went for a meal. The food's good - solid homespun feel, with a little extra that's not just down to the presentation (though marks for that, too). Nice mussels dish, with canneloni beans and spinach; meatballs that feel beefy enough they'd stand up to a game of squash; chicken livers in a thick, sweet wine sauce; pizzas and pastas and some top end dishes around the fourteen quid mark. Home-made apple pie for desserts.
The owner's got an infectious enthusiasm about the place: it's the first he's owned, though he managed the place when it was Bellissimo, up until a year or so previously, before moving to a restaurant in town. Now he's back, bravely. It's a tough time to grow a restaurant, I've heard. He's taking the patient route and, not least because the food is so good, I hope it pays off for him.
"They put a crowbar to it - " she said, "In the car-park, here. But they didn't take anything. I had a brand new stereo in it, but they didn't take it."
She was shaking her head, with a rueful smile, that her thieves should have been so stupid.
I bought the groceries (too much chocolate) and took the story with me.
This is my big ponder: is storytelling the key to unlocking the power of anarchy in suburbia? Stories only work amongst equals. And everyone loves a story. The sharing of a story - the listening to, as well as the telling of it - is the fundamental democratic act. It transcends material economy, because whether material goods are present or absent, a story can be told about our engagement, or lack of engagement, with them. With each other, too. And everything is a story, isn't it?
Robert McKee, a lecturer on scriptwriting, is good on the tools of narrative:
He's talking about the medium of film. What he says holds for all forms of storytelling - novels, journalism, blogging, dance. And, I think, the medium in which anarchy is most at home - real life itself.
"A storyteller is a life poet, an artist who transforms day-to-day living, inner life and outer life, dream and actuality into a poem whose rhyme scheme is events rather than words...."
Story (Methuen, 1999, p.25).
We have remarkable freedom to arrange the events of our lives in poetry schemes. Emma and I married on my birthday. She achieved a doctorate on her own - she aimed for it, but it was a realistic aim, and life fell in such a way that she achieved it. I developed cancer in the months after I left my job - not before, not after: there's poetry there. It is possible to live your life as a story, whether or not anyone is watching. Life lived as a warm, engaging story will probably engage others warmly in it, and if not, do you really care? Generation Y, who are often accused of living lives as if they are on TV, have grasped something fundamentally important here.
So, to Whitley. If Whitley Bay is lived warmly, if it allows for itself the thrills and risk of an adventure, if it builds romance and a deep interior life, it will thrive and be remembered. To live like this means, by definition, to allow that all are equal in the sharing of the tale, and suburban anarchy grows.
Monday, 3 November 2008
Thursday, 30 October 2008
The Star and Shadow cinema is the bees knees. Entirely run by volunteers, it demonstrates that for imagination and spirit, leaderless organisations can knock the horsebrass off their corporate stable-mates.
It's not just a cinema, it's also used for gigs and art exhibitions, discussion forums and the burgeoning Newcastle green movement. E and I attend the monthly Storytelling, offered by A Bit Crack, whenever we can. E pulls the beers, fulfilling a lifetime's ambition to work in a pub. If you find a place that fulfills your lifetime ambitions, you stick with it, don't you?
So the Star and Shadow is brilliant, brilliant, and it blazes a light. But it is urban, and has surely been given a chance to thrive, in part, because its core resources, people, are plentiful. My other favourite project (I've lots of 'other favourite projects'), a community called The Simple Way, throbs at the heart of downtown Philly.
My question is, what happens when soft anarchy goes suburban? Does it require a critical mass of people to succeed? In small towns, dormitory towns, where identity dissolves, and architecture does not aspire to any form of greatness, towns which point elsewhere to see their values defined, and do not make room for revolution, is 'leaderlessness' disarmed of its power to change?
I say, in hope, no. It has the added strength of unexpectedness. Soft anarchy is powerful in suburbia. A post in a day or so to explain more.
Tuesday, 28 October 2008
Material well-being depends on knowing, rather than changing, the environment.
I think what I am trying to do is to know Whitley. Which is a community in transition. Know the culture of it, but also its roots as a small fishing village on a bleak coast, between the great monasteries at Lindisfarne and Jarrow, and up from the priory at Tynemouth; bearing the infrastructure of its late nineteenth, mid twentieth century kiss-me-quick blossoming; fighting shy of the anonymity that a future as a dormitory town would bring.
When the blossom falls, the fruit swells.
When the fruit falls, the seed takes root.
When the tree falls, its daughter rises.
Monday, 27 October 2008
Sylvester's Ballroom, one of the derelict buildings along Whitley's seafront. I've been thinking about my second post, no. 999. I said in it:
But Sylvester's doesn't look very alive.
Whitley Bay is for the living. Whitley Bay is, as it always has been, alive.
So I'm thinking about how you look at things. What I'm thinking is this. You can look at something face on, and it is what it is, right now. Sylvester's is a boarded-up shell.
Or you can look at it sideways. From a vantage point in the past, say, Sylvester's is an Ozymandias, warning of future collapse, whilst from the future, it points back to an Eden. But these are scarcely more alive.
There's another way to look. It's not really looking: it's more not looking. The life flows out through the cracks, as you shift your viewpoint back, face on and forward, but as soon as you stop moving, you cease to see it. In other words, as long as you are alive and moving, it is alive. When you die, it dies.
Sylvester's is each viewpoint: a swing-band panoramic swirl-room; shell-suited chav-suite; far-from-sweet hereafter. But also a tea-dance when you wanted a Time Warp; a Millenium, not a millstone round the neck.
And face value? Now? Whatever you want. It's whatever it is, and whatever you want it to be.
Sunday, 26 October 2008
What would it take? In the words of transitiontown.org:
It all starts off when a small collection of motivated individuals within a community come together with a shared concern: how can our community respond to the challenges, and opportunities, of Peak Oil and Climate Change?
They begin by forming an initiating group and then adopt the Transition Model (explained here at length, and in bits here and here) with the intention of engaging a significant proportion of the people in their community to kick off a Transition Initiative.
A Transition Initiative is a community (lots of examples here) working together to look Peak Oil and Climate Change squarely in the eye and address this BIG question:
"for all those aspects of life that this community needs in order to sustain itself and thrive, how do we significantly increase resilience (to mitigate the effects of Peak Oil) and drastically reduce carbon emissions (to mitigate the effects of Climate Change)?"
Some facts and figures about the towns that have already committed to this project:
- There are 101 already - 65 in England, 5 in Scotland, 6 in Wales, 1 in Northern Ireland, 1 in Ireland.
- Other countries where you'll find transition towns include Australia, Italy, Japan, New Zealand and the USA.
- UK towns include: Totnes, Brighton and Hove, Nottingham, West Kirby, York, Chepstow, Dunbar and Tynedale. All sizes, locations and local backgrounds. Loads more information on their websites.
- These are bottom-up initiatives - they don't happen unless local people, like you and me, start them.
Anyone out there want to join me? I'm going to start asking questions...
Thursday, 23 October 2008
For a year, 2005-06, I attended Whitley Bay's Baptist Church, where I felt happiest on the edge, near the back. Dave regularly sat near the back. In protestant churches, especially, this seems to be the creative norm - one reason why I find the conversations around emerging church forms, where creativity is often more actively celebrated, so interesting.
Dave is an artist, teacher and long-term Tyneside Coaster. He also has two blogs, one a great mix of commentary on his painting and photography - artist and teacher in dialogue; the other a collection of pictures alone.
He's far too self-critical! There are many fine, fine pictures of North Tyneside and Newcastle. He teaches locally. Some of the most interesting posts are about his collaborations with class-members.
Wednesday, 22 October 2008
The point being that His Five-Leggedness is starting to leap about in my head. I reckon there are a few adventures to be had. I reckon Whitley Bay has not heard the last of him. At the very least, he's wonderfully scrawlable.
There are one or two other characters hanging around the more imaginal corners of Whitley. Sloth Man hangs under the occasional Security Camera, waiting for crimes to occur beneath his shaggy bulk, whereupon he'll slip his grip and thwart, with the help of gravity, the muggings and Attempts at World Domination underneath.
And Wind Boy, a blast of innocence from a golden age, Ariel to Sloth Man's Caliban, with a touch of Fotherington-Thomas threatening to break through.
Maybe I'm being unkind to Wind Boy. I made up Wind Boy when I was seven or eight. At the foot of the track past our old allotment there was a tip, bound up with brambles, mattress frames, and bicycle wheels. The kind of place you can walk across without touching solid ground, and only minimal scratches. I climbed a tree there which swayed in the wind, and pretended I was Wind Boy. I suspect he has the kind of Teflon naivety that adult cruelty cannot touch.
If they've started to turn up now, and I suspect, in my sketchbook, they'll take some shape, perhaps Whitley's in for a Gotham City makeover.
Monday, 20 October 2008
"We're a democracy -"
"Too late for that, son!"
Too late? Too soon?
Sunday, 19 October 2008
As I left the Metro at lunchtime I was called back by a trio of students. They wanted to walk to the ice rink, and had journeyed all the way from Sunderland to do so. Actually they'd travelled even further - one from New England, USA, the other two from Dortmund, Germany. They were argumentatively amazed at each other for attempting the journey on a day when the Metro system was snarled up, and frankly a little pissed that there was another twenty-five minutes' walk to go.
We passed our house and I gave them a smart old A to Z, and waved our dog-eared new one at them to say, hey, it's okay, we've another - which, thinking about it, may not have convinced them too much - and they went their way.
My gran on my mother's side grew up in Chile. We treasure lots of stories from them. As my gran grew older she suffered Alzheimer's, but could still remember a pair of penguins she kept as pets, briefly, when very young. There is a photo of them, by a brook, on the family's land. They didn't last long in the Santiago heat. Two sailors had brought them as gifts for the family all the way from the Antarctic. The story goes that Gran's family, and other colonial townsfolk, had put Shackleton's exploration party up as they passed south on one of their journeys, and again on the way back.
So after today I figure we're not so different from the heroes of the past after all. The fascination of ice; great explorations; reciprocity. Isn't it great the way history repeats itself, mostly? Except in smaller doses, of course.
Another organisation that ices for Whitley is the Cake Dec Centre, around the corner from us. In case you're peckish.
Friday, 17 October 2008
Sunday, 12 October 2008
Yesterday the coronet had grown into a birdcage, encasing the Dome from bottom to the pinnacle on top. Photos, on the next sunny day from now, will follow.
It's not a simple birdcage, either. There are three tiers, platformed, a man-height apart. Then a layer of golden gantries, spun more refinely, over the bow of the dome. And finally, the pinnacle, which itself looks like a lopsided crown, is boxed in more scaffolding. The Dome looks like a vastly obese, concretely regal budgerigar. The kind that Alec Guiness, or perhaps Alastair Sims, might play.
Further along the coast, abandoned buildings are being boarded up and whitewashed. The latest, like the outline of a Playschool House ("these are the windows: one, two, three, four,"), invites someone with a steady hand to doodle curtains and a vase of flowers, a TV and perhaps Mummy and Daddy on it (the house, not the TV).
Monday, 6 October 2008
Found glass is part of my toolkit. The functional object shattered, then made smooth and more beautiful by the action of sea and sand. It reminds me of me, and when I'm feeling mordant gives me hope for Whitley. Two years ago I made fourteen figures out of wire, twisting the wire around pieces of found glass and leaving them throughout the town.
I left one on a perch above Whitley Bay Metro Station, sat above the flow of people into and out of the town, where it remained until work began on the front of the building and a steel and glass canopy, to the original station blueprint, was fixed into place. Someone took down the wire and glass figure, but maybe it wasn't needed any more...
My toolkit is a bit unorthodox: poetry and theology; photography and random acts of kindness; eye contact and walks about town; hard science, soft anarchy, and storytelling.
Sunday, 5 October 2008
And fly low
The hard wave
And low sky
For a line
That is truly
Your line -
And the sky
And high wave
And the path
Of the wind
Be your wing
And your eye.
And fly low
The hard wave
And low sky
For a line
That is truly
Your line -
Saturday, 4 October 2008
Bagged one: a white, heavy cotton, steel buttoned, all-weather Timberland. Time to embrace my inner lumberjack.
Briefly tempted by: half a dozen multi-coloured Next shirts, a writing desk like a rostrum with drawers set down one side, a green-tiled kitchen table, a wooden horse, a flank of cushion covers, a large cake in the steaming, people-filled coffee shop (no. 129) on Park View.
So many people inside, escaping the rain, that the only way to fit them and the pastries into the same premises must have been to have fitted the pastries into the people like so many petrushka dolls.
Inspect my straw-slender torso. The cafe bulging like the blouse of a bactrian on the back of a dromedary. I'd not fit. My act of charity to stay outside, I'm telling Emma. I'd have broken the camel's back. Take a bit of pleasure in my off-centre halo.
But the cakes I missed...
Friday, 3 October 2008
Paul's studio has a showroom and a workshop, both of which you can look into from the road. It's a long white building, stretching the angle of the timbers tudoring the first floor flat, like a giddy moment at Whitley Bay Ice Rink.
In the showroom, to set perhaps above a front-door, a couple of mid-life Harleys are frozen in stained glass. Side-on view: if they'd not pulled up sharp they'd have shattered through it, though perhaps the forward momentum is still there, to carry them on if the magic of the glass ever breaks before its form does.
In the workroom next door, on a dusty benchtop, a circle has been cut in a circle of clear glass: it rests, surrounded by a small congregation of orange.
I passed the glass-master's shop on a sea-walk back from Cullercoats. The waves had swelled up, as if the sea was taking a breath, and another, and another, without letting go of the first. And on top of this in-swell, fresh waves rolled. You could lose something deep in something so deep.
Whitley Bay is a town on the edge. Clubbers party hard and drunkenly on the way to the seafront. Inland, the glass-master catches a moment in a pane that a gem-blade can slice, and we need him, for the deeps around us forget they have surfaces easily.
Thursday, 2 October 2008
It's a one time tourist destination, with a Scottish fortnight once a year when the factories closed, and thousands upon thousands spilling into the town and pleasure parks, onto the beach, and up to the lighthouse. A playhouse. A Spanish City, with pleasure dome, coronetted at present by scaffolding (it's set for a repaint).
You can still buy Whitley Bay rock at the newsagents on the high street, or a cup of tea and an outsized muffin at the Rendezvous Cafe, halfway along the beach to the nature reserve and caravan park. But the town is deep in transition. It's no Xanadu, or not an obvious one, anymore.
This is not a bleak blog. It's not about scrabbling to find a new name for Whitley Bay. It could be about uncovering an old one. Names have meaning. Meanings last. Meanings last longer, and stay truer, than the names we give them.
Whitley Bay has a thousand meanings, and I want this blog to uncover and document them. By recording them I want to celebrate them, to show that I believe in them. The Whitley Bay thousand (the 'thousand' is arbitrary) could be a thousand people, working secretly and in public, to reimagine the town. Or it could be a thousand actions, or prayers, or events, or angels, whatever you understand them to be. These are my thousand: you'll know of a thousand more.
This blog is not about worrying whether a dead man stops in Whitley Bay, because Whitley Bay is for the living. Whitley Bay is, as it always has been, alive.