Dealing with inclement weather at this time of the year is nothing new. We’ve had some snow in London already this December, but it’s unlikely to be a white Christmas here this year. The early 19th century was a chilly time, though, as illustrated by this witty 1821 etching by Richard Dighton from the Wellcome Library collection. This unfortunate chap has just had his fashionable top hat knocked into his eyes by falling snow being shovelled above – just as he passes a shop selling ice skates (I love the shop’s name: ‘Careless Skate Maker’. Not sure I’d want to be shopping there if I was wanting to get out on the ice!). This was obviously a common annoyance in a wintery 19th century London, and it didn’t matter if you were an elegantly dressed gentleman like this one – the snow would still get you!
It’s almost Christmas Eve. Wherever you are, and whether you have snow or not, keep safe and warm out there…
For links to more festive reading, click here!
Today is Yorkshire Day, an annual celebration of all things connected to God’s Own County, as it is affectionately known. Although I am a Londoner born and bred, I know that a great number of my ancestors came from the West Riding of Yorkshire, and I still have links to that part of the world. So, to celebrate Yorkshire Day, I went on a hunt for something interesting to share with you all – and I found this intriguing photograph.
Taken somewhere between 1898 and 1902, this image shows Park Row in Leeds city centre (now part of the city’s financial district). It is a moment in time on a fairly busy street, showing many Leeds residents going about their everyday lives. They all seem to be ignoring the photographer… except for the group of boys in the foreground, who have stopped with their handcart by an ornate lamp-post to watch in fascination as the picture is taken.
Even as late as the turn of the 20th century, the sight of a photographer and all his kit can’t have been a common one for such working-class lads, and it’s obvious that they’re highly curious and seem to want to get in on the action! Perhaps it is my imagination, but are one or two of them posing for the camera? One also wonders if they ever got to see the finished article – or even knew that they played a small part in the history of Leeds and of Yorkshire.
I don’t know what I want to say to people. I get ideas and I want to put them on film because they thrill me. You may say that people look for meaning in everything, but they don’t. They’ve got life going on around them, but they don’t look for meaning there. They look for meaning when they go to a movie. I don’t know why people expect art to make sense when they accept the fact that life doesn’t make sense – David Lynch
With the prospect of a new set of Twin Peaks episodes in the next couple of years and all the surrealistic magic and mystery that will inevitably entail (I, for one, cannot wait), David Lynch has been in and out of the news in 2015 at quite a rate of knots. However, the quote above is from an interview Lynch gave to the Los Angeles Times in 1989, round about the period when he was making Wild At Heart. And it contains an almost illogical logic that arguably still applies twenty-six years later.
A well-known proponent of making art that may or may not make sense (depending on how you look at it), Lynch is quite right in his comments in my view. Why should we expect a film or a novel to have a coherent structure, a beginning, middle and end that hang together in a sensible way when life is not like that at all? Obviously, life has a definite beginning and a definite end, but what goes on in between is mostly unpredictable and usually unstructured – and down to us to make sense of, or not, as the case may be.
We know life has no real structure, which is, I think, at least partly why we so often expect art to, particularly when we’re dealing with a novel or a film or a TV series. It’s comforting to think that the lives of fictional characters are in some way predictable, even if our own lives aren’t. But one of the main purposes of art is to be provocative, to unsettle, to produce an element of disquiet, and – most importantly – to make the audience think. And those are all things I would immediately associate with Lynch’s work. It’s that artistic unpredictability that forces us to think, forces us to confront the fact that we have to make sense of our lives where we can find it – and reminds us that, in this existence, almost anything can happen.
And it usually does.
Oh, I love this!
Like many, many people, I was genuinely upset when the novelist Terry Pratchett died last month. His books have been a part of my cultural existance almost as long as I can remember, and the joy they have brought into my life cannot be underestimated. So when I heard that a clever street art type had painted a tribute to him in east London, I had to go and find out what it was all about and report back to you all with photos.
And it’s wonderful.
Packed with many of Terry’s most beloved characters (and a great portrait of the man himself), this mural really is a fitting tribute to him. If you want to see it for yourself, you can find it right by the park in Code Street, off Brick Lane. I recommend you do go and have a look if you’re a fan, it’s an amazing piece of work!
Today is National Poetry Day, so (just like last year) I decided to share a poem with you. As this year’s theme is Remember, I’ve gone for one of the first poems I learned by heart as a child – and still remember with pleasure…
Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.
Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.
Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.
John Masefield (1878-1967) was Poet Laureate for thirty seven years between 1930 and 1967, and is also well-known for his classic childrens’ books The Midnight Folk and The Box of Delights – amongst a huge amount of other writings over his long life, both prose and poetry.
I was introduced to ‘Cargoes’ as a precocious poetry-reading child by my late mother and immediately fell in love with the tongue-twisting phrases and vivid, intriguing imagery. This is a poem to be learned, read aloud and remembered…
Ask anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with 20th century literature about the poets and poetry of the First World War, and I can guarantee that the names ‘Rupert Brooke’, ‘Wilfred Owen’ and ‘Siegfried Sassoon’ will be mentioned at some point. All three are rightly-reknowned poets (especially Owen), but they weren’t the only ones to be creatively inspired by their war experiences. In today’s World War One post, I’ll be looking at the life and death of another Great War poet – one who came from a very different background, and whose work is still perhaps not as well-known as it should be.
Born in Bristol on 25th November 1890, Isaac Rosenberg was the eldest son of a family of Jewish immigrants who had originally come over from Eastern Europe. When young Isaac was seven years old, his family moved to the East End of London in search of work. Settling on Cable Street, in the heart of the area’s large working-class Jewish community, the Rosenbergs found it difficult to make ends meet and Isaac, although intelligent and artistically talented, was forced to leave school at 14 in order to earn some money for the family.
He was apprenticed to an engraver, a job he apparently hated, but he was already beginning to write poetry and also started attending evening classes in art at Birkbeck College. He lost his job in 1911, but a lucky chance meeting led to his artistic talent being recognised by a patron, who agreed to fund his studies at the prestigious Slade School of Art. At the Slade, he studied alongside a number of young artists who went on to be very successful (and who also later reflected the impact of the war in their work), including Stanley Spencer and Mark Gertler.
Moving in the well-connected circles associated with this creatively charged atmosphere obviously had an impact on Isaac, as he was able to get a small book of his poetry privately published in 1912. A year later, he met Edward Marsh, the editor of the influential Georgian Poetry volumes and one of the most important people on the British poetry scene at the time. This meeting seems to have been very positive as the two men corresponded right up until Rosenberg’s death.
Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3rd 1802
Earth hath not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendor, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! The very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!
William’s sister Dorothy (1771-1855) was also a writer, and she kept a journal. It is this entry, recording a journey taken by the siblings through an early-morning London in July 1802, which is said to have inspired him to write this sonnet:
… we left London on Saturday morning at ½ past 5 or 6, the 31st July (I have forgot which) we mounted the Dover Coach at Charing Cross. It was a beautiful morning. The City, St Pauls, with the River & a multitude of little Boats, made a most beautiful sight as we crossed Westminster Bridge. The houses were not overhung by their cloud of smoke & they were spread out endlessly, yet the sun shone so brightly with such a pure light that there was even something like the purity of one of nature’s own grand Spectacles.
Tucked away in a row of 18th century almshouses just behind Hoxton Overground station, the Geffrye Museum of the Home is one of London’s real hidden gems. Examining the homes of the urban middle classes over the last four hundred years, the museum is divided up into a number of different ‘living rooms’ which each represent – and are decorated in the style of – a different time period.
What is art? Big question, that. If you went out and asked a hundred passers-by, you’d probably get a hundred different answers. But most of them would probably mention things like paintings, sculpture and galleries, or would refer to famous artists or other well-known individuals and institutions within the art establishment.
All of those would certainly be valid answers to the question I posed above – but art doesn’t have to be confined by the gallery setting, just as it doesn’t have to be confined by our own or critical expectations and archetypes. And street art refuses to be confined by anything.
Street art is democratic art: literally the art of the street, and thus art for everyone, art to be seen by anyone. Sometimes political, sometimes philosophical, sometimes beautiful, sometimes funny, sometimes simply eye-catching. You don’t have to go to a gallery to see street art – or even be the type of person who visits art galleries in the first place.
People are taking the piss out of you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are The Advertisers and they are laughing at you.
You, however, are forbidden to touch them. Trademarks, intellectual property rights and copyright law mean advertisers can say what they like wherever they like with total impunity.
Fuck that. Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.
You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.
Remix culture FTW! I believe this quote comes from Banksy’s 2004 (?) book Cut It Out, but his official website isn’t actually much help in this respect. Please feel free to leave a comment if you can confirm or know better…