Thursday, 29 April 2010

Elements, Elementals & Topography

Lawrence Durrell, in 'Balthazar', describes a wealthy, little, besuited man with shiny leather shoes, stepping down from the Corniche in Alexandria to walk across the shingle, as looking as though he was "... only used to the finest pavements".

Durrell also wrote a book called 'Spirit of Place', which was later parodied by one of his brothers who published a book called 'Fillet of Plaice'. I suppose Lawrence was only trying to encapsulate the sort of typical emotions inspired by the unique qualities of a particular landscape, albeit in a bookish, literary way. Writers - don't you hate them?

According to Cro, Bernard Levin once said: "I've never seen a landscape which wouldn't look better under a foot of concrete." Well, I once heard Levin say that he tore each page out of any book he was reading, immediately after he had finished reading it and if he was camping, used it as toilet paper. I never warmed to Bernard Levin, and greatly enjoyed watching him being slapped round the face on live TV by the friend of a writer who he had destroyed with some particularly vicious criticism.

The kings of old lead their troops into battle, but in recent years our impression is that Royals seem to be protected and isolated from just about everything, including the weather. I have an image of Elizabeth R. charging around her estates in a short wheel-based Landrover, only feeling the rain on her hair after it has been filtered and refined by a Hermes scarf, bought for her in Harrods by a Lady-in-Waiting. Her son - like his ancestor, George the 3rd - seems to have an affinity with the land, but I doubt if it is he that arises at dawn to milk the pigs.

King Cnut was not trying to demonstrate that he had absolute, God-given power over the elements when he attempted to hold back the sea in front of his entire court - just the opposite. He wanted to show that the most powerful person in the entire kingdom was impotent when confronting the primeaval forces of nature, and in so doing, he demonstrated the limitations of his political influence over matters too large for him to control. It was the gesture of a desperate wise man, not a fool drunk with power.

There has never been anyone so detached from reality that they walk around accompanied by their own weather-system, so far as I know. The weather and the landscape are a great leveler, and rather than being belittled when acknowledging your true place and scale in it as a human, some of the vastness and grandeur rubs off. I'm thinking of Edward Elgar, etc. - not Henry Moore.

And talking about getting out into the elements, I think this post qualifies me as a member of the Rambler's Association - it's rambling enough.


  1. I wonder how it was that the Cnut story became so twisted. It must have suited 'someone' to see him as a failed omnipotent.

    The TW3 slap was wonderful. One could almost hear the cheers echoing around Britain.

  2. Very interesting blog today. I knew you were going somewhere with all the talk of surroundings.

  3. Yep - that's what sparked it off, Amy. Shame I got a bit lost on the way, but that's what a walk in the country is all about, eh?