Wednesday, 15 February 2017

A FAR CRY




Well, I'm in print again. A small book, published by Mantle Lane Press, being launched on March 11th in Leicester.

These are stories based on people and events in faraway places; about universal themes and real people and events. About the things that unite us if we can learn to trust one another, and the hopes and fears we all share.  I look forward to reading the other two books.

 
 

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Oriel Davies Gallery, Newtown - Fantastic Exhibition!


www.orieldavies.org


I spent a good part of today in Newtown, Powys, investigating the Oriel Davies Gallery.  The Gallery (which has a very good cafĂ©.  Falafels! Cheese scones!) was playing host to the Crohn's and Colitis patients' group and I was there in - I hope- a supportive role to listen to the local consultant telling us about advances in treatment.

All very interesting.

The Gallery, however, offered a very different type of experience in the form of an exhibition titled 'Imaginary Worlds'. Well! This was something else. Over 130 artists from near and far sent in work, which ranged from line drawings to woodcuts, collages, prints, paintings and illustrations.  Of these, fifty two are exhibited here. These are magic works, detailed, inventive, witty and with an intellectual and emotional content sometimes sadly absent in the major galleries.

I loved Ben Fairclough's 'Favoured Pig-Demon', Layla Holzer's 'Monstrous Feminine' and Ulla Aatinen's woodblock 'Being',  which was masterful in its simplicity, being a figure arranged on a slope and managing to be both present and other-worldly at the same time. It reminded me a little of Rousseau's Sleeping Gypsy, without the lion sniffing his garments, in that it captured the night; the wonder of the stars; the silence of the desert. I loved it.

Playing the game of   'If I could steal one painting when the curator's back is turned...'  that painting would be the winner.  The curator and selectors should be congratulated.  I urge you to see it.  It closes on 25th Feb.

Monday, 6 February 2017


WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS by C P Cavafy

Constantine Cavafy, the Greek poet writing in 1898 in his adopted homeland, Egypt, understood the ebb and flow of political events and the turmoil of change. His parents, with Greek and Turkish heritage, had settled in Alexandria, where Cavafy was born.  He learned to speak half a dozen languages.

Egypt in the 1890s was a turbulent place.  Greece scarcely better. The British occupied Egypt from 1882 and didn’t leave until 1922, and in that time the Mahdist War broke out, mainly due to the debts the country had incurred.  In Constantinople an Armenian revolt was brutally crushed, and Cavafy, whose origins were associated more in Alexandria and Constantinople than in Athens, was dealt a cruel blow when the British fleet bombarded Alexandria and his books and letters were burned. Cavafy later renounced his British citizenship.

Although the family left Alexandria for England in 1872 and lived in Liverpool, where they had business offices, Cavafy and Co as a merchant company was wound up in 1877 and the family returned to Alexandria once more. 

Essentially the Cavafy family were wanderers, living mainly in Alexandria but visiting Constantinople and Athens as well as England. They  saw at first hand the changes that followed from political upheaval.

Who were the Barbarians in the poem?  The English, who were heavily involved in the fighting and cared little, it seemed, for libraries;   the Sudanese fighters allied to the Egyptian army, or the Turks crushing the Armenian nation?   What the poem captures is the passivity of the crowd, who stand and wait, expecting something to happen.

The New Yorker published a superb piece on ‘Waiting For The Barbarians’ and the Government Shutdown,  by Daniel Mendelsohn on Feb.3rd.  The parallels are well drawn. The Senate is silenced. Everyone is waiting, silent and expectant. There is a hint of punishment to come. There is also the promise of rewards for the right people. There is also ‘a perverse yearning for some violent crisis that might invigorate the state.’

Sounds familiar? Cavafy saw history repeated in his own lifetime, over and over again.  He saw apathy and lack of willingness to tackle the difficult tasks of government as dangerous inaction, and disliked the self-serving, indolent attitudes of the rich and powerful. 

In our time, present leaders appear as barbarians and are held up as dangerous bogeymen, yet there’s a secret wish within the population for the overthrow of the old order, no matter what the cost.

When the bogeymen go missing, or simply fail to appear, who can we blame? If the Barbarians don’t put in an appearance, we’ll have to take on any changes ourselves. This could be dangerous. Our inner barbarians are never far from the surface.