Nobody in the South of England needs me to tell them what a glorious day it was yesterday, as we visited the only part of Bristol not to have been bombed flat in WW2 - they left the best bit: Clifton - on a massive rocky gorge defensively overlooking the stretch of tidal water where all those African slaves got their first glimpse of their new lives in a strange world.
That tower is sited at the top of the high plateau where an Iron Age hill-fort used to be, and was converted into a camera obscura by an artist who rented it out in - I think - the 1920s, at the same time as digging a tunnel through the solid rock to a massive cave overlooking the river, 250 feet below.
It is a strange thing - made stranger by the fine weather outside - that people should actually want to pay to climb up to a dark room in a high tower, just so they can peer at a gloomy image of the world outside which they could actually see in march sharper detail without the use of lenses and mirrors.
It is voyeurism taken to the level of an art-form, and I could easily have spent many more hours up there, swivelling the apparatus through 360 degrees and taking an almost unhealthy interest in strolling couples, dog-walkers and passing cars, were it not for the young boy who I graciously allowed to take the role of censor and editor. He laughed uncontrollably each time he spotted his aunt and uncle sitting on a bench outside, soaking up the sun.
The Clifton Suspension Bridge as unseen by the man who designed it - Isambard Kingdom Brunel - because not only was the camera obscura not there when he was alive, but the bridge wasn't completed until 6 years after his death. I think that if you name your child 'Kingdom', then you must expect great things of him.
You have to be careful how you conduct yourself on the Clifton Downs. Someone maybe watching you...
I want to talk about dark things on this lovely (and rare) sunny morning.
G.E. was working behind the bar of our old pub last Sunday afternoon, when two pint glasses - one after the other - flew horizontally off the shelf and clattered against a fridge unit about five feet away. This event was witnessed by a very level-headed, 60 year-old American friend of mine. A few minutes later, a milk bottle did the same thing in a different section of the bar. I wasn't there, but both he and G.E. said they had never seen anything like it. I have.
The pub did used to have a reputation for things flying around on their own, but I don't think it has happened for over 30 years now.
Now I know that half of you are already thinking up plausible, ordinary explanations for these sort of events, and the other half are blaming it on dead people, but I know that the truth lies somewhere in between.
I used to be fascinated by this sort of thing in my youth, but for the reasons I will tell you in a minute, I have long since given up searching them out or even thinking about them much. The little event with the glasses and G.E. has sort of got me thinking about them again.
A fellow blogger we all know has recently given up blogging about fishing, etc. because (as far as I can make out) there is no room in his life for it anymore, ever since Jesus barged in (albeit invited) and took up all the space. I have no doubt that anyone who believes in a good god will be duty-bound to also believe in a bad devil, but - once again - I believe that the truth lies somewhere in between. Things are never so polarised unless taken to the absolute extreme of archetypal, Jungian entities. That is where the first clue comes into it. There are many physical effects attached to the workings of the human mind which don't come about purely from electrical activity activating muscle.
After the event which I will describe below, I came to thinking that I could very easily believe in anything, especially the evidence as seen through my own eyes. Because people have - for thousands of years - tried in vain to prove or disprove the existence of God, every religion depends on a system of pure, unadulterated belief.
Years ago, I had a friend who was into the Divine Light cult, and he described being in the presence of the fat boy Guru Maraji. As he walked past a few hundred followers, they all experienced a blast of ecstasy which caused them to all but swoon, so strong it was. He looked at me, wide-eyed with wonder as he finished the obviously true account of the inexplicable experience. I said 'so what?' It was a trick, nothing more, and I don't care if he used genuine psychic powers to perform it. I was not impressed and told him so, adding that only a fool would dedicate his life to someone who could perform a party-trick like that.
Years ago at art-school (Cro wasn't involved in this one) me and a group of about 5 others held little seances in the painting studio, surrounded by the soft-board uprights which everyone used to seclude their personal spaces.
We had a table and chairs, and on the table were bits of paper with the letters of the alphabet, plus the words 'yes' and 'no' at opposite ends of the circle. We did the usual thing of putting one finger on a drinking-glass and ask questions of the spirit world whilst a separate member stood outside the seated group, noting down the letters which the glass would stop at in its slow traverse around the table.
Becoming bored with a particularly listless spirit one night, we asked if it could prove its presence with some sort of a physical sign in the room, and it said 'yes' then obliged immediately.
With a terrific crash, one of the hoardings fell to the floor, followed by a real skeleton which was used for anatomy in the life-drawing classes. The atmosphere became instantly electric.
The glass moved so quickly and with such force, that it left our fingers as it turned direction, and we had to work fast to keep contact with it. The girl taking down the letters could hardly keep up with the spelling either, but would read out the messages when the sentences were complete.
So we asked it a lot of stupid questions, including 'Who are you?' This - before the glass flew round and round, faster and faster without anyone of us touching it, then smashing against the wall - was its answer:
"I am the sun. I am the wind. I am the rain. I am everything that God - in His divine wisdom - has chosen to create."
So we asked if it had a message for us. This was the message:
"Stop playing around with this foolish game and get on with your lives."
So we did.
I was going to do a post about the difference between sacred and secular art, but then I got sidetracked by my search for a Cuturi air-hammer, Model D, pencil-sized one, which I am trying to purchase for some very lightweight marble carving.
Well, I ended up doing a post on the difference between sacred and secular art anyway, as illustrated by some of the images I came up with in my search for the air hammer.
The above is how they use these carving power-hammers in Italy, where they are all made. Note the Madonna copy. Note the traditional newspaper hat as well.
This is how they employ the hammers in the good old USA. Where's the newspaper hat? This photo is also taken from a sales point for Cuturi hammers.
Here is another American site which loves these Italian air-hammers so much, he has wrapped them in the Stars and Stripes before photographing them and posting the picture up. I began to think that the obsession with 'butts' in every context was a peculiarly American thing, especially when I found the picture below, also brought up by searching for Cuturi air-hammers.
Then I looked a little closer. This sculpture was made by an old, very British friend of mine called Barry Baldwin, who used to run a stone yard just outside Bath, and one of whose sculptures adorns our local Waitrose supermarket, albeit at such a height that even I forget it is there most times I walk past.
Now I think about it, Barry's idea of a good holiday was to go down to the Tex-Mex border for a couple of weeks of honky-tonking, so I suppose I shouldn't be so surprised.
Yesterday's post-count of 1666 put me in mind of the Great Fire of London, and that - in turn - put me in mind of Samuel Pepys and his wonderful diaries.
Pepys did two distinct things when the fire crept nearer to his home in Axe Yard - he buried a huge and expensive Parmesan Cheese in the back yard of the house, and he sent his wife to a place of relative safety a few miles away whilst he helped the King of England to set an example to the rest of the populace by actually pulling down a wooden building with ropes as a fire-break. Can you imagine a King going out and rolling his shirtsleeves up in London should such an event occur today?
Also, I didn't realise that Parmesan Cheese was available in England in 1666 - I bet dried pasta or tinned tomatoes weren't.
Of course, Pepys being Pepys, his prime concern when sending his wife away from the conflagration was that she guarded his stash of gold coins - many thousands of pounds-worth - against theft from the relatives of the house where he sent her.
When he went to visit some time after the fire began to subside, he obviously asked to see the money so he could check it by counting it. His wife told him that she and the relative had buried it for safety against his specific instructions, and when he asked where, she pointed to a large tract of desolate land.
He went to the land with a spade to dig it up, but his wife and the relative had forgotten to mark the spot, and not only that but they also informed him that they had split the stash up into many different quantities and buried them in many different places, just in case one should be discovered. That way, she explained, they would not lose the lot.
Pepys spent several days from dawn to dusk, digging random holes in the wasteland until he had uncovered all but a few hundred pounds worth of gold coins, then cut his losses by giving up searching for the remainder. He had to go back to town to earn some more, and to hang around in the suburbs would have cost him more in the long-run.
Somewhere South of the river in old London town, there lies - probably beneath a high-rise apartment block inhabited by hoodies - an undiscovered stash of gold which once used to belong to Samuel Pepys.
I think the Parmesan survived, but even if he had not dug it up, it would be inedible by now.
Us forty to eighty year-old inhabitants of Blogland have the same attitude to current affairs as they do in the rural, middle-England village of Ambridge - we don't often like them impinging on our little world of food, art and rants.
'The Archers' were/was heavily criticised by some recently, by actually reporting on the flooding of farms in Worcestershire as they happened, in real time.
Normally, a nuclear bomb goes off in Europe, and about six months later, Jill will say to Shula, "Wasn't it terrible about that nuclear bomb going off in Belgium? Those poor people - I feel quite sorry for them with all that mess to clear up."
This time, the hard rains were still afallin' when a handful of them rallied round their stricken neighbours about 40 miles away, and travelled off in two tractors to rescue sheep and take them to the higher ground of Brookfield Farm.
This was The Archers fulfilling their original brief to be a service to the agricultural communities of G.B. - a service which has, up until recently, been falling behind in favour of the sexier business of illicit affairs and cut-throat business practices involving sausages.
The agricultural advisor drummed-up a bit of Dunkirk spirit by encouraging the scriptwriters to force David and Tony to perform an act of altruism which they - under normal circumstances - would not be able to afford.
Well I don't know about you, but I'm rather worried about (as Mrs Dale used to say) the situation in the Ukraine.
I am no expert, but I feel I need to become one quickly, just in case that nuclear bomb really does go off in Belgium.
This is all I understand as of the present:
The Crimea is strongly pro-Russian, Kiev is not.
There are two major oil pipelines running through the Crimea which come from Russia.
Germany depends on Russia for 40% of all its oil imports.
Germany is the biggest supporter of the Ukraine becoming part of the E.U.
The USA resent the E.U. as much as they resent Russia, but have massive trade-deals in place which the E.U. would dearly like a piece of.
The Western part of the Ukraine would dearly like to become members of the E.U. and Russia would dearly like them not to.
The Crimea would dearly like to be aligned with Russia, if not return to Russian territory after Kruschev gave it away 60 years ago, and Kiev would not.
Yesterday, the British Government made it transparently clear (by accident/on purpose) that they would like to keep all their pet Russian oligarchs on board by opposing the Ukraine entry into the E.U. and opposing economic sanctions against Russia.
Em has just belatedly commented that it is a shame that Germaine has lost a follower with her recent ill-informed foray into the world of eco-bollocks, and her massively helpful comments directed toward all the floating voters currently watching the Levels being topped up on a daily basis in the flattest part of Somerset.
Well, I have never really been a follower of Germaine (surprise), and I responded by saying that she has always been a deeply silly person, and age hasn't improved her. In a nutshell, it takes a combination of colossal silliness and similarly sized egocentricity to come out with the sort of fatuous and half thought-out ideas about really serious issues that she has been specialising in for over 40 years now.
I used to imagine myself mellowing with age, but the only wisdom that age brings - in my experience - is the knowledge that the worst personal traits that we all possess to one degree or another, will always be magnified through backward telescope of time, though they look smaller to us as we peer down the wrong end of the objective lens, and we look even sillier when we do this in public.
I have a friend who is proud of being set in his ways, but the trouble is that he stopped thinking about things at the very point of his early retirement. He stopped listening to other people too, and pretends to be deaf if he is challenged when formulating his response to a sentence put to him by someone else, long before the sentence is finished. His mother did him no favours all the way through his upbringing, but the most damage she ever did to him was to die and leave him enough money to stop thinking for the rest of his life.
I had a brief role-model at the age of about 50, and he took the form of a huge and benign country gentleman who doted on his grandchildren, taking them for long walks across the Somerset Levels (yes, them again), all the time feigning utter enthralment with every tiny discovery or event in their little lives.
Freddy had suffered the most appalling torture under the Japanese during WW2, having been captured in command of a mountain gun-battery on the North West Frontier. As an ex inmate of Changi Gaol, I couldn't believe how well adjusted he was to ordinary Somerset family life in the years of peacetime, but after he died, his children hinted at a darker side to him which he kept well hidden from his adored grandchildren.
His wife went looking for him on the morning of V.J. Day, and not finding him in the house, suspected that he had just wandered off on one of his usual walks, possibly to feed a pet pheasant which had adopted him, not knowing that he quite often shot his brothers in the air if they happened to fly over him when he had a gun in his hand.
When he didn't return within the usual time he spent on these walks, his wife looked a little harder for him, and found him hiding in a broom-cupboard beneath the stairs, which was roughly the same proportions as his solitary cell in Changi.
Some prisons are self-made, and some song-birds will choose a cage when faced with the insecurity of freedom in the vast, outside world.