Sunday, 31 October 2010

Happy Halloween

Marking essays at the moment. But because I just had to stand up for a while I faffed about with a small squash and a scalpel for ten minutes or so at around 2am.

I had made squash risotto earlier in the week so I didn't have to do any scooping of seeds and flesh. Thankfully.

It was very delicious, if slightly gelatinous.

Now I must get me to bed. Don't let the spooks in.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Day of The Bearded One (International Kim Ayres Day)

A photographer with a passion for faces; a damn good writer; a teller of stories; a philosopher; a web designer (ex) who will wrestle HTML to the floor until it gives in and does what he wants; an über blogger; a husband to a marvellous artist, and a father to two smart, beautiful, witty, stylish kids.

On a day so wet and windy roads were closed by fallen trees and floods, Stevie and me gritted our teeth and drove into the wilds of Galloway to attend a weekend storytelling workshop. It was November 2006, not my time of year, and so far not my year. And now the weather howled: "Go back to bed!" I'd have obeyed, gladly, but I didn't want to let down the young friend I'd arranged to meet there. I cursed myself for having done so. But today how glad I am. It was in that cosy, picture lined school hall, in a village so small you're more likely to meet an astronaut from Timbuktu than someone who was born there, that I met the subject of this post: Kim Ayres (aka The Bearded One), whose birthday it is today.

I can't say for sure that if I had never met Kim I would never have discovered blogging. I can say for sure that he's the one who convinced me to give it a go. Good writing practise he said, and it forces you to write regularly so as not to let people down. Previously I had imagined blogs were the domain of a particular sort with whom I had nothing in common. The other thing I can say, with some conviction, is that even if I had discovered blogging without knowing Kim, I would not have met the same people (i.e. you) because when I first signed up he was the only person I knew with a blog. So almost everyone I've met in blogland I have met either directly or indirectly through him. So I'm grateful to him for that alone.

But blogging isn't the only thing I've gleaned from Kim. By telling his story so frankly he's shown me how to take a step back from certain irritations and look at them rationally, ridding them of their power over me. He's helped open my eyes to the complexity of our relationship(s) to the rest of the world (along with Nietzsche), and thus helped me not to judge myself, and others, quite so harshly. And he's shown it's never too late to change direction. Not to mention how much one can achieve in the most difficult of circumstances if one is passionate about one's task.

Since I've known him Kim has taken up photography as a full time, living making, occupation. It's been a joy to see his work go from strength to strength, his enthusiasm grow, and astonishing given that that for this whole period he's had to contend with extreme Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. How he does it I don't know, but I do know we can all learn from his experiences if we want to.

So, why don't you pop over here to say:


One of Kim's early practise shots, of me in an old burnt out hotel.

To get a good look at his recent work go to his website: Kim Ayres Portrait Photography.

Others who are honouring Kim today are:

Debra, whose idea it was in the first place. Thanks Debra!
and Mary

Monday, 18 October 2010

Lifting the Veil

As most of you know (due to various past posts), I didn't go the traditional route to university. When I was a child university was rather like the country mansion of some barmy lord – they were always barmy. I would get the odd glimpse, through dense woodland, whilst on, say, the fast train to Brighton, but there was no question of ever gaining access. Nor would I have wanted to. I'd heard the myths (then known as the 'god given' truth), especially the ones regarding people who tried to get 'above their station' by passing exams, and thus fooling the 'powers that be'. These stories usually ended in death or insanity.

At some point I met someone who knew someone who had been and survived, and, what's more, had a great time (though it was mooted that that was because he was a 'dropout'). Then I met someone who had been, and didn't look like a dropout (own teeth, clean fingernails, didn't wear green and blue together). Then I began to meet lots of people who either had been, were planning to go, or were actually there. One day university looked like nothing more than another option. You didn't have to be special, chosen, or odd. You merely had to be able to process information in a certain way.

I was a fairly crap undergraduate. I spent most of my three years trying to raise the veil of bewilderment high enough to see/hear/feel what was going on, in order to get some purchase on the courses. It was a bloody heavy veil, though, and I was prone to dropping it at terribly inconvenient moments (once it fell so hard it nearly took my nose off, but that's another story). Sometimes, for no apparent reason, a hole would appear in it, and, voila, I'd be able to see perfectly. During those moments of clarity much needed connections seemed to form themselves. But the veil of bewilderment demons would work quickly to fix the hole with their sharp little needles and mismatching thread. I would then have to try to remember those connections: imagine them, write them, draw them. I don't think I ever quite got their likeness down perfectly, but I guess I didn't do too badly as I did pass the courses, and get the degree.

It's a very strange thing, but the veil of bewilderment became very fine, sheer and light, for the whole of my masters degree. I never really had any problems with the work. I could see what I needed to and the whole course was pretty much a joy from start to finish. Though I constantly expected things to change, for the veil to turn from tulle to tweed (or worse), I never questioned why it didn't. Now, however, I am teaching first year undergrads, and I need some answers, badly.

I can see some of my students struggling to peer through their own veils of bewilderment, and want – no! need – to help them. To show them how to lighten their veils, lift them, peek through them, find a clean, sheer spot from which to look. I've had some limited success, but at times my own gets tangled up in theirs, and we end up tripping each other up. Sometimes I can see their veils altering in density during our discussions. Last week, though, most of the students came in clanking. Their veils had turned to iron.

Now in order to garner answers I need to formulate some questions, but where to start?

Mushrooms growing below a sycamore tree not far from the classroom. I'm not sure that they have the questions, but I like them.

Friday, 1 October 2010


In a comment on my last post Jenny said: "You love everything, Eryl..." Or words to that effect. This has been working away at me. I do tend to say 'I love...' rather often: 'I love the cuff treatment here,' (on the Sartorialist, recently); 'I love cake,' (with alarming regularity), and the 'I love graffiti,' that Jenny was referring to, are a few examples.

I have fallen into the habit of nonthink-speak. Love has become my catchall word for... what?

One of my problems has always been distilling all my thoughts and feelings about something into a manageable number of words in, what feels like, the required timeframe. I'm not really a conversationalist, and am one of those people who think: 'I wish I said...' hours, sometimes days, and, truth be told on the odd occasion years after the event. Actually I don't often think that anymore, but for years I did. These days I just accept the way I am and continue the conversation in my head. This is probably where most of my fiction and poetry comes from, so I'm even beginning to embrace being this way now.

However, when time is short and verbal reactions are required I struggle. (I'm struggling now, to order my thoughts in a way that will make sense to you. I began to write this post at ten past nine (am) and it will undergo several rewrites* over the course of the day, as I come back and forth between it and all my other jobs, and bits of senselessness jump out at me. I'm unlikely to publish it until supper time, and it will still be less than half as effective as I'd like. That is, it won't say quite what I intend.) And what with all the interaction of blogs and other web based social networks, I often feel a need to say something before the opportunity is lost. I don't mean to suggest I feel under pressure, it's not quite that: I enjoy being part of the conversation, I want to continue, I want to fully engage for several reasons (I've learnt a lot, and have much more yet to learn, and, I guess, I feel I have something to add) and so I just don't want to let it slip.

But I must face it: I really ain't adding anything when I just say: 'I love that!' and move on. What am I doing? What do I hope to achieve when I do that? It seems to me that it's a rather pseudo-cheery-polite way of saying: 'Eryl wos 'ere!' done in the hope that I'm not forgotten, so that when, one sunny day, I have more time to actually add something I'll still be part of the crowd. It is possible though that this relentless loving will alienate the very people whose sphere I wish to remain in. And, I do mean something when I throw out the phrase, so it seems time to find a more effective way of communicating whatever that is.

So, back to my original question: 'Love has become my catchall word for... what?' Obviously it's slightly different each time.

In the case of the cuff treatment in a photo on The Sartorialist, I meant: 'I'm really not sure about the coat over all these luminous colours: I can't help thinking of a brown paper-bag stuffed with sherbet bombs. Also the coat is a little too reminiscent of removal men (and I'm thinking in particular about a comedy sketch by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore here) to work with the rest of the look. Her hair, make-up, glasses and socks combine perfectly to reference the current 'Poetess' trend seen at several of the a/w shows last spring, and she makes me wish I was young enough not to look like a frump in tweed, but the coat seems to take the look from the library to the basement: it confuses (dulls) rather than illuminates. This is a jolly good effort though and the aspect of her look I find most impressive is the way she has folded, origami like, her sherbet coloured chiffon cuffs over those of the paper-bag brown coat, it reminds me of a Terry Frost painting.' Or something like that. It's taken me forty minutes to write that (and it's a bit too negative for my liking, I don't want to upset the poor girl) so you can understand why I don't have time to write considered comments on every blog I visit.

When I say I love cake what I actually mean is cake makes me happy. From making it to smelling, looking at, touching, and finally eating it, if it's good: fragrant from having been baked in a proper oven in a solid metal cake pan, springy, moist and either dense, like an Italian chocolate torte, or open textured with egg trapped air, it brings more than a little, if fleeting, spark of joy into my life. And this is true for many of your blog posts: from the photographs to the anecdotes to the descriptions of your own happy making events and finds. I say, 'I love this,' when something does give rise to that nice warm feeling of contentedness that love brings, if only for a while.

That's also what I meant when I said: 'I love graffiti!' Graffiti generally makes me happy, even the rubbish stuff. I have been know to spend far too long in bar loo cubicles because I was reading all about how Kit hearts Pongo and what a bitch Amy is. That anyone feels strongly enough to locate a pen, or scratching implement, and make marks on the laminate of a loo door, to me, shows they're alive. And that cheers me. As for those who risk their safety to spray paint motorway bridges with messages, regardless of the ugliness of their methods, technical skill, or artistry they always bring a smile to my face.

Here is some I came across in an alley on a recent trip to glasgow. I liked it so much I wanted to bring it home with me, so I made poor Bob hang about while I got my camera out and snapped happy:

This isn't, I know, graffiti. It's a window above I spotted as I was snapping, and something about it appeals.

So there you are: a meditation, of sorts, on my use of a cliché as a shortcut. In future I'll try to stop and think before I throw it at you and maybe throw something else instead. Thanks Jenny, for bringing me to my senses: the great contempt continues.

*Fuck it: I've now been at this for nearly four hours, and I still have: laundry to deal with, the house to clean, a pile of receipts to record on the business spreadsheet, supper to think about and make, the stuff for next week's seminar to read, and I haven't even cleaned my teeth yet. So, in order that I may visit at least a few of your sites today I'm going to publish this in its unrefined state: like crude oil I drop it on blogland's ocean floor in the hope someone else will clean it up.