Categories
Penwith Poetry West Cornwall (and local history)

In memory of J.M.

A tall donnish schoolmaster enters the gate

only a little late, dismounts

with a certain characteristic style

steering between the other master’s cars

He holds both bars and stomps,

observed by some third form boys, behind

the staffroom, past the prefect’s den

and parks his velociped in the cycle shed.

Allons enfants! We foregather before him

in serried desks- pupils in pupitres.

and listen to his high voice entreating us

to sing a folk song about a peasant soup.

Pacing the long dias by the grand piano

he encouraged us to belt ’em out. Pronunciation

rather than grammar was his choice forte.

We embraced “Auprès de ma blonde

Qu’il fait bon, fait bon, fait bon.“, the

Marseillaise and Sous le pont d’avignon

The lyrics he swiftly chalked above

the staves on the board in the Music Room.

Thinking back, he may have been batered

by the War and tough times along

with the Chinese Inland Mission.

Appearing himself like a cross between Ho Chi Min

and Ezra Pound.

Even then I thought he may not

have fitted in with the other masters

being deemed eccentric he would not have minded

entirely blinded to such bourgeois mores.

“China Reconstructs” tucked under his arm

and head full of ideograms, I wonder

just what I might still learn from him now.

Humphry Davy School - Marnick Builders

https://studycli.org/chinese-characters/types-of-chinese-characters/

Categories
Art and Photographic History Penwith West Cornwall (and local history)

The Discrete Charm of Temporary Huts

Two schoolmasters sat shredding their gowns in the late afternoon in the hut and during the urbane conversation fed the torn off pieces into the gap at the top of the stove. In such a manner, a little more warmth was afforded to extend their discourse for another few minutes. Their talk was conducted with epigrams in various European languages and spiced with the odd Latin tag. The stove added to the convivial ambience and the prevailing gemutlichkeit.

Let us move on from this staffroom tale, occasioned as it was by a copy I had made of some features of a well-known painting by Braque. Here it is:-

Here is the small sketch that I made several years ago:-

The painting with its lovely colours may be found in Yale University Art Gallery and is discussed at https://artgallery.yale.edu/collections/objects/50855

I wondered why this painting held my interest and began to recall that a good number of my lessons at Grammar School were delivered in the damp but sometimes warm and cosy Temporary Huts. In my memory these seem to have been in the late afternoon and within the sound of the games field outside. One of these was the so-called Prefect’s Hut which I cannot ever remember actually entering. A good deal of R.E. seems to have taken place in such huts which were on raised piles of concrete blocks. There may have been a coloured oil map of Paul’s Journeys or the Middle East on a roller above the blackboard. Then there was German that I was supposed to be cramming for Oxbridge Entrance. All of which was rather a failure although I was quite interested in Scientific Terms like Bremstrahlung-(German: “braking radiation”; electromagnetic radiation produced by a sudden slowing down or deflection of charged particles (especially electrons) passing through matter in the vicinity of the strong electric fields of atomic nuclei. Nowadays my German has somewhat improved and in particular psychoanalytic words like durcharbeiten hold greater appeal.

In recalling particular lessons in cosy atmospheres, one in particular springs to mind taught my my own Form Master- a retired Wing Commander who had an intriguing time in Special Operations and would frequently preface remarks with “As my old friend, Bill Penny used to say…….” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Penney,_Baron_Penney Anyway, this lesson was an attempt to demonstrate measuring the acceleration due to gravity. It involved a swinging lath on a pin supported by a retort stand and a falling lead ball which left a mark on said lath when released using a string mechanism. A pipe smoker and hence possessing a lighter to burn through the thread, his use of the rather ersatz apparatus combined the master’s cricketing interests effectively. It produced a reasonable estimate of “g”.in those days in centimetre- gram-second units and we proceeded to consider some of the sources of error in the value we obtained.

Humphry Davy Grammar School, pre 1980 | Picture Penzance archives

The huts may be seen in the bottom left hand corner of the pre 1980 view of my Grammar School. Whilst not actually Nissen Huts these rather shabby buildings brought to mind the many black and white Second World War films that were much in vogue in the Sixties.

Categories
Penwith Poetry St Ives West Cornwall (and local history)

Lament for Cornish Cafe Society

Perhaps it exists only in the imagination. I remember visiting the Cafe Central in Vienna with its wide variety of journals and literary magazines, gorgeous variety of coffees and its habitués. Mostly tourists when I visited but there were the ghosts of writers and revolutionists from Krauss to Trotsky. Then naturally the confectionary of all types and colours. Not quite Penzance but in its many transformations at lest one or two establishments have provided an atmosphere conducive to reading, talking and day-dreaming. The creative aspect of the latter sometimes under-rated.

In my youth it was a pasty on the beach with a towel before large bath towels were in vogue. Before we began to worry about the depletion of the ozone layer and the St Ives Times and Echo would boast about the town’s high monthly U.V Index statistics.

Sweet pastries filled the mouths
of those who sat beside us
and stayed for a while.

How the hours went by,
people just passing through
The descending sun ending
a forever with you.

(See Lily at https://hellopoetry.com/words/cafe/

The décor seems to change frequently. Decorators and interior designers must make considerable profit with properties so frquently changing hands. Different styles come into vogue, multiple mixes of gin followed by martinis with names as hot and suggestive to suit. The patrons change as does the topics loudly conversed. The rate of change changes until suddenly they become silent, empty and inaccessible. No more ladies who lunch with sleeping babies in stylish prams.

Their salads come and their forks they deploy
you can tell this is a luncheon they will enjoy.

They catch up on all the news
Sharing with one another their views.

No gossip here – they are not that type
But occasionally you will hear a gripe.

About a husband , son or some other man
Someone who should be hit over the head with a pan.

http://jsimser.blogspot.com/2007/10/ladies-who-lunch.html

Elections come and go and it seems the wrong people get elected over and over. Those who don’t enjoy cafes or approve of culture and provide illusions about taking back control, whose egos are inflated by a sterile nationalism that was out of date at least a hundred years ago.

There are some animals whose presence seems to fit in with the soporific state of the nation. They represent perhaps the affectionate tranquillity which is more English than the butcher’s dogs and greased pigs of the contemporary age.

Categories
Art and Photographic History Penwith

Ponderings on Nostalgia in paintings

Clearly, that which we personally find nostalgic, pertains to ourselves alone but are there paintings which evoke in general this kind of mood state in the viewer? One painting which possibly does is this Matisse. It is discussed in detail on Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luxe,_Calme_et_Volupt%C3%A9

Matisse-Luxe.jpg

The fact that the title comes from Baudelaire is partly evidence to this state of mind-

Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.

This lines are from a poem called L’Invitation au voyage and certainly the second stanza has a definite cosy feel to it even when google translated into English-

Shiny furniture,
Polished by the years,
Would decorate our room;
The rarest flowers
Mixing their smells
With the vague scents of amber,
The rich ceilings,
Deep mirrors,
Eastern splendor,
Everything would speak there
To the soul in secret
His sweet native language.

Returning to the painting itself, the colours invoke a sense of delicious and delicate luxury, as does the seaside setting and the recumbent nude figures. The sailing boat with its gaff rig beneath the boughs of the tree, which itself offers a protective quality, suggests that the shore may be quitted should ennui prove too troublesome.

On a personal level, my interest in this technique was stimulated by a term we did in the third year with our art teacher, Charlie Mac, when he suggested we paint using pointillist technique to give our work a more lively quality. We did some nice work from the end of the harbour pier in Penzance. However in the above m, Matisse was following the suggestions of Signac and creating a seminal work of Fauvism. The wild beasts are here in a somewhat pussycat or kittenish era even Louis Vauxcelles, who used the term, the following year in 1905 might grudgingly admit.

Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf and the power of sisterhood | Art UK

This portrait by Roger Fry of Virginia Woolf has I think a somewhat similar pointillist character. However, it evokes nostalgia because I can remember from childhood people dressing in warm woollen jumpers and staring pensively into the distance. This painting is on loan to Leeds Gallery from its owner.

Categories
Book Reviews Literature Penwith Poetry St Ives

Museums, memories and myth making.

Written by the daughter of Guido Morris, the famous St Ives printer and illustrator. A fascinating mélange of her family and personal archive with the changing history of museums. It emphasises the importance of touch as a means of recollecting the past.

In reading about museums I discovered that Derrida had written about archives. He develops a post modern approach to how the perspectives on the past are subject to change. Witness the recent debates about racism and colonialism in relation to this.

From My Archives: Derrida’s Archive Fever

There are two moving poems by Louis MacNeice that moved me when I read them this morning. The first was an early poem called just “Museums” with a pronounced rhyme scheme. The second is more interesting and called “In the Reading Room at the British Museum”. The final line is perhaps more poignant than ever.

Museums by MacNeice

Museums offer us, running from among the buses,
A centrally heated refuge, parquet floors and sarcophaguses,
Into whose tall fake porches we hurry without a sound
Like a beetle under a brick that lies, useless, on the ground.
Warmed and cajoled by the silence the cowed cypher revives,
Mirrors himself in the cases of pots, paces himself by marble lives,
Makes believe it was he that was the glory that was Rome,
Soft on his cheek the nimbus of other people’s martyrdom,
And then returns to the street, his mind an arena where sprawls
Any number of consumptive Keatses and dying Gauls.

On Derrida this link may be of interest

https://youtu.be/uHtXeUH4gnY

 

 

Categories
Art and Photographic History Penwith Uncategorized West Cornwall (and local history)

Sketches from Windows

When I think of paintings from interiors of the scene beyond, I tend to think of the South of France,of Dufy or perhaps Matisse. There is something too which reminds me of looking out from a safe place to the activity beyond. It recalls hours in childhood, perhaps when bored watching the summer visitors who looking lost were exploring the cobbled hill outside, often looking somewhat lost themselves.

The above is a view in an Oxford suburb into the garden with trees and a bird-feeder beyond.

This is a view from an upstairs window in Cornwall. The rubber plant has not survived my feckless care unfortunately.

This is a view from the Newlyn Art Gallery cafe which has a splendid large window overlooking the Mount and Bay.

A sea view at Christmas 

A friend has sent me this useful link-

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young_Man_at_His_Window

Categories
Art and Photographic History Literature Penwith St Ives West Cornwall (and local history)

Remembering Red Barnaloft

I have previously posted about Red Vienna – the time in the 1930s when an attempt was made to establish a form of social security system in the elegant city and when worker’s flats were built to ease the conditions of poorer citizens. Notoriously, they were shelled by nationalists in the dark period leading up to the Anschluss when the Austria was annexed to Nazi Germany. https://jacobinmag.com/2017/02/red-vienna-austria-housing-urban-planning

Karl Polanyi wrote: “Vienna achieved one of the most spectacular cultural triumphs of Western history … an unexampled moral and intellectual rise in the condition of a highly developed industrial working class which, protected by the Vienna system, withstood the degrading effects of grave economic dislocation and achieved a level never reached before by the masses of the people in any industrial society.”

In my personal psychogeography towns and cities remind me of St Ives where I spent many years of my early life. After the gas works was deconstructed and I think, before the Tate arrived many of the fisherman’s lofts and artist studios next to Porthmeor Beach were replaced by the Barnaloft and then the Piazza flats. They seemed to stand out as a statement of the modernism with which the town had been associated. The interior courtyard of the latter had an interesting Hepworth sculpture. They were not by any means worker’s flats but were frequently occupied by what has since been called champagne socialists.

Properties for Sale in St. Ives, Barnaloft St. Ives Cornwall | Nethouseprices.com

Before the flats were constructed there was the beach cafe occupied by the Val Baker family. This was a homely venue offering a superb view of the sea and marvellous sunsets over it to the West. Little was seen of Denys himself whom I assumed was upstairs with leonine head bent over the typewriter. Denys may be somewhat forgotten but represented the spirit of bohemian values to the locals. He had been active in promoting the celtic culture as a Welshman intrigued by Cornwall and St Ives in particular. He and his wife were committed to pacifism and had been active in the committee of 100. https://www.rainydaygallery.co.uk/denysvalbaker.html

100 years of Red Vienna - VIENNA – Now. Forever

The Foot family has been long associated with St Ives. Issac Foot, bibliophile and liberal politician as well as a staunch Methodist stood in the town for Parliament. That by-election was rather interesting in the troubled atmosphere of 1937 and very narrow indeed. Isaac Foot went on to become Mayor of Plymouth.

Left Foot Forward | The Isis

Paul Foot his grandson and active contributor to Private Eye was often to be seen around the town. He was an active and intelligent member of the Socialist Worker’s Party as well as a campaigning journalist with a splendid sense of humour. He died rather young and was a notable loss to radical progress in this country. His book on Red Shelley is a moving introduction to that committed poet. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Foot_(journalist)

 

Also some years ago spontaneous outdoor performances were given by another group associated with the Foot family-The Footsbarn Theatre Group. These were jolly and musical. Particularly memorable was a performance in St Ives Guildhall of Around the World in Eighty Days with a scence at the Old Bore’s Club which was gloriously funny -a tour de force.

Which leaves us with the intriguing figure of Peter Shore. Any Freudian would not be surprised that given his name he might have been strongly attracted by the glorious beach at Porthmeor. I used to see him taking his morning beverage be-shorted high above the sands at Barnaloft. These buildings were designed by the St Ives Architect, Cyril Gilbert- a shy charming gentleman who later ran the superb Wills Street Gallery near the Police Station. I digress- Shore was a fascinating figure who it seems travelled from the intellectual left of the party to total opposition to what was then called the Common Market. He was for some time an active M.P. for Stepney. Apparently he acted in a sort of Alistair Campbell role in that he advised on media promotion. I well remember how he responded when interviewed later in his career by someone like Robin Day or Brian Walden. He would begin by rephrasing the question and pointing out the precise strength of the case to which he was opposed. It was about then to be devastated by the power of his retort. However, in the questioning this just didn’t happen due to the interviewer’s interruption.  You were left with the impression of his honesty and rather sad disappointment. And yet now I feel a little more straight honesty in political matters is crucial- a Balm of Gilead.

Sometimes it is salutary to hear what the opposite case – this clip exudes English chauvinism which is deeply misguided.

Categories
Penwith West Cornwall (and local history)

Mousehole on a Summer Evening -A Guest Posting

Many tangential thoughts on Mousehole on a summer evening –

I went to Mousehole this evening – it is of course an enclave and playground for the rich, consisting now almost entirely of holiday and second homes, which I noticed more than ever before. Still, I’ve always loved it there – perhaps the way and reasons I do are part of the problem.

The atmosphere is all loveliness and lingering warmth. The ice cream shop is still open. It’s crowded but there’s no hurry. Doors and windows are left open – cars left parked in the middle of the street. It’s not full of any old tourists either (this isn’t Penzance we’re talking about) and as it was late many of them will have been staying there. Wealth and the ease that comes with it was everywhere. An endless leisurely parade passed by, whilst their manner and the cut of their clothes silently shouted at me.

I watched, in what felt like slow-motion, as a thin woman in the whitest white jeans (clearly so expensive they managed not to look tacky, a feat) hesitantly starts to lower herself onto the harbour steps before realising she has a blanket in the house – no don’t worry, it’s literally 30 seconds away. A balding man carries a full glass of red wine out of a house further down the cobbled street to better enjoy the view, another follows with the bottle.

And all at once I realised I was feeling a discomfort that wasn’t only coming from insecurity to jealousy or general misanthropy. I mean I expected all this, it’s bloody August and I took the bus to bloody Mousehole. I went because I thought it would be beautiful on a summer evening. And really – awful realities aside – how can I fault others for wanting to see beauty?

But – that beauty is somehow flattened and now it doesn’t stand up on its own.

(I had a similar feeling when I was young on holidays in France – some of the places we went to felt curiously empty, though full of people. I’d tell myself – this is so beautiful – you should be feeling something here, finding something here. But some substance or context had gone. And I felt a guilt I couldn’t define, as though I was the reason. It was like visiting a model town, a perfect replica in every way but still a replica. And we would think – what a lovely change, to travel, to go away – what might we learn from this place, how might it change us. Still, we have paid to be here, this room was built for us to stay in – so, how lovely is the view we see, how good is the food we eat. Was it disappointing or would you recommend it to a friend? And there again was the emptiness that we’d brought).

So, this evening in Mousehole that valuable sea-view felt like something that was owned and hollowed. And I was colluding in it, and had to look away.

I’d never felt more strongly a ghost of somewhere with an identity, with continuity, the ghosts of lives lived and shaped by place, of real homes and a strong landscape with a beauty that’s incidental, of a sea that defines and encloses rather than being set back and seen. I’ve never felt more intensely that the place I was visiting was not that – because of us it was something and somewhere else.

And all I could do was sit on a bench, wearing clothes that until then I’d thought were smart, eating a pasty in a manner that would make a dog excuse himself from the table – pausing only to angrily brush chunks of potato off my jumper – and stare inland. Thinking about a place that loses itself over and over again, a summer at a time – and wondering how long even a ghost would be able to stay.

( Post from I V-W with thanks)

 

Categories
Literature Penwith Poetry West Cornwall (and local history)

Reading Padraic Fallon

  1. Fallon (1905-1974) came from lovely County Galway and was drawn to Dublin by George Russell (AE) to take part in the Irish Literary Revival. Heaney wrote of him “His sensibility has weathered in Galway the rainy light that was familiar to both Rafferty and Yeats; it has been tutored by a landscape at once elemental and historical; a landscape that holds the walled demesne and the tower as well as the bog-face and the stone wall…”

I came across this poem entitled YESTERDAY’S MAN which contained the following lovely and intriguing stanzas:-

Lines of verse too left littering

After poems that never got away,

A pen drawing, very odd, the storm God Zu

Trusses in his fowl form to a carrying pole;

(From him the wren-walk on St Stephen’s Day)

 

Copied I suppose, to prove a point,

(Akkadian seal, Babylonian cylinder?) How

Much at home I am in this mad world

Suddenly and again! And here somewhere

You the girl enter

 

Anonymously, in two wooden stanzas, into which

You have entirely disappeared. Words, words,

That’s all you are, girl who never

Was a lover. And I likened you,

Body I could see through, to a catapult

The poem concerns itself with writing poetry and the poet looking through his notebooks and considering lost loves, regret and all in a stormy atmosphere. I like the variation between detail , here about the paraphernalia of writing and the vagueness…”here somewhere”. The latter representing ageing disorientation.

More on Fallon may be found at preview.co.uk where Seamus Heaney has written an appreciation and quotes some lines about Lands End.

 

 

 

 

Categories
Book Reviews Literature Penwith Poetry West Cornwall (and local history)

“Bronte Territories” by Melissa Hardie-an Appreciation

The Brontë sisters with their brother, Branwell, in a painting by him called the Gun Group Portrait.

Wandering down Chapel Street in Penzance, you cannot fail to recognise that you have entered that part of town where history feels close-by. The sea in the distance, the church and the chapel architecture is impressive, the Turk’s Head Tavern and the baroque wonder of the Egyptian House, the Portuguese consulate and almost opposite the house where George Eliot stayed waiting for calm weather for her voyage to the Scillies. Reading Melissa’s book is like taking a similar peregrination through lost corridors of time to recover a sense of the rich liveliness of Penwith’s past. Welcome to the psychogeography of Bronte’s Territories.

The Brontes are still much in the news. The Irish Times, just two weeks ago, were reporting on the O.U.P. computer analysis of Wuthering Heights apparently confirming it to be the work of Emily and not, as had been suggested, that of her brother Branwell. Iconoclasm may be in vogue. However, a square in Brussels – the city where two of the Bronte sisters studied French – is to be named in honour of the literary siblings. Other authors make claim to curious events in Shropshire in the early years of the 19th century drew the parents of genius together. It is to the intellectual and feminine furore of Penzance and its inspiring hinterland that Hardie’s work appropriately returns us.

In a key chapter on the literature and legend of Cornwall from 1760 much mention is made of the intriguing and taciturn figure of Joseph Carne, a geologist of great renown and an energetic banker. His personality was such that he combined a skill with numbers with a strong Methodist belief and mixed in a variety of literary circles. Nearby Falmouth was a key port for the Packet boats recorded in the poetry and memoirs of Byron and Southey. It too was the home of the Quaker family of Foxes who founded the Cornwall Polytechnic Society in 1832. Carne was a friend and shared their Non-Conformist beliefs. Hardie shows how Carne encouraged his daughter in her geological studies and mentions the doctors, engineers, vicars and scientists whose cultural sources were enriched by contacts which included Bretons, Huguenots, Hessians as well as a significant Jewish community. She reminds us that in reading Davy, for example, we encounter not just a socially beneficent scientist, a traveller and a poet. This is the endowment the Branwell sisters took to Haworth.

It is interesting to consider that within this Cornish background at this period there were a number of competing beliefs and attitudes. There were the mythical beliefs fostered from folklore- piskies and stories in the expiring Cornish language. There was the old religion of Rome not far beneath the surface. Yet there were also new discoveries especially in medicine and geology that fostered a scientific empiricism. This can be seen in figures such as Davies Gilbert to whom this book gives due prominence- a polymath, mathematician, engineer and President of the Royal Society and a wonderful diarist to boot. William Temple much later stated, “The Church exists primarily for the sake of those who are still outside it. It is a mistake to suppose that God is only, or even chiefly, concerned with religion.” It was the evangelical zeal of the Wesley brothers and their belief in education, temperance combined with stunningly beautiful hymns. It was also a challenge to superstition. It is often said it averted revolution which France and later Peterloo portended.

Melissa Hardie shows us the other supportive factors that came into this heady mixture and sustained the Branwells and flowered in the Bronte’s work. These are twofold; the societies and the family or kinship links. The Penzance Ladies Reading group who carefully studied together a stunning variety of literature from the classics of the Ancients to the contemporary travel writings. Not forgetting the subversive eloquence of Lord Byron, a gentleman with Cornish links through the Trevanions. The founding of libraries and collection of artefacts had practical even economic benefits. The Royal Cornwall Geological Society studies into metallic intrusions assisted the efficiency of mining. Local banks provided the capital for further developments in the industry as well as the magnificent Wesleyan Chapels that the Carnes, Branwells and Battens founded and fostered.

The author has researched both land and legacy extensively. Her approach is frequently imaginative and sometimes speculative. This is a strength because she is also at pains to inform the reader of the limitations of the evidence. Footnotes and suggested reading in themselves are useful but the illustrations are worthy of pondering- several works of art in themselves. They add significant detail. This patient work by Melissa supported by other members of the resplendent Hypatia Trust must be counted as filling a deep fissure, or as we might say in Cornwall, a zawn in Bronte Studies.

See also from the Guardian –

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jun/29/bronte-grandfather-smuggling-past-financed-books-charlotte-emily-anne