Summa: Some of these Days (November 2021)

November 8. The weathered weather and tidal information boards along the promenade and at the harbour are a predictive representation of a seascape in words and numbers. They describe its visual and physical aspects, moods and complexions, comings and goings, and interactions with other natural forces. Monday’s portrait will not be Tuesday’s, and Tuesday’s will not be Wednesday’s, and so forth … until the end of the world.

November 10. Our 140 year old chimney is being dismantled. We’ve no active fireplaces in the house and this brick tower is prone to wobble in very high winds. Had it fallen inwards, through the roof and into my study, I would’ve been irreparably squished. Our able builder told us that the lime mortar between the bricks had disintegrated. (It lasts only 60 years, he said.) Thus, the edifice had held together all these years by dint of its own weight alone. That was a sobering thought. On occasion, the full significance of a problem manifests itself only when we attend to that problem. The chimney’s demolition is a weight off my mind (in more senses than one).

November 11. Those who impress me most are in control of themselves, their craft, and their instrumentation. They also have a clear and single-minded vision about what they want to achieve, an intelligent and strategic approach to achieving it, and a steely determination to reach their goal. Nothing deters them. Failure is not an option. And success is a ‘pearl of great price’. The quest demands much of them in every way; which is its own reward.

November 12. I held an online chat with Stephen Chilton’s mother in the early afternoon. I’d wish her on anyone. She’s one of the most gracious, faithful, full-of-faith, warm hearted, and strong women that I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. We discussed the possibility of releasing the Seven Prayers for Stephen Chilton: Requiem as a CD, and of developing an in perpetuity website dedicated to his work, allied to the School of Art’s own.

My study — which had been put out of service following the collapse of a book shelf on January 25, 2021 — is finally being repaired. The damp problem caused by water seeping into what was the fireplace breast has, with the dismantling of the chimney, been put to rout. At present, the room has a mock-Tudor look. I hope to move back there before Christmas.

November 15. A rather alarming spike in my blood-pressure reading sent me scurrying to my GP surgery first thing this morning. The student doctor who dealt with me was exemplary. I suspect that my supervised experimentation with one half of my medication may have been in part the cause. The sub-flu like symptoms, that may (or not) have been produced by the flu vaccination that I received several weeks ago, could also be a contributor. I’ve been advised to double the dose of the other half of my medication, and see what happens. The chronic allergic rhinitis from which I also suffer — and which has caused an infection in one ear and, in turn, contributed to hearing loss — is receiving medication too. But I wont be surprised if surgery will be required in order to unblock the passage that connects the rear nasal passage to the back of the eardrum.

November 17. I’ve never subscribed a particular school of pedagogy. The best teaching, it seems to me, arises out of a collaborative dialogue between the tutee and the tutor in which each recognises their own and the other’s responsibilities. When both are on fire — that’s to say, listening intently, thinking deeply and widely, and responding openly — ‘miracles’ may occur. (There’re no guarantees.) These unsummoned and, often, undeserved blessings take the form of moments of enlightenment, which are recognised by both simultaneously. The awakening can be a heady experience — like a strong wind that suddenly arises and sweeps away all the dross and muddled thinking before it. In that moment, intractable problems unwind and the participants are able to see with pin-sharp clarity to the core of a matter.

November 19. With the builders banging and bashing and playing Radio 2 on the roof outside my studio all week, it wasn’t feasible to record or review the noxious noises that I was making inside. Instead, I pressed on with developing thematic strands for the sound suite and writing-up another entry for ‘The Road to Penallta Colliery’ blog series on my Intersections site. Around and about that task I attended to what is developing into a complex administrative operation directed towards the collaborating and facilitating external bodies, such as museums and archives. They’ve all been very helpful and supportive. Although I suspect they consider that both me and my enterprise are utterly bonkers. (And, they may be right.)

In the late afternoon, I and up to fifty-nine others (notionally) attended a combined retrospective and curated exhibition by the photographer Robert Greetham. Rites and Traces reminds of that moment during a jog when you stop to take a breath and look behind to see how far you’ve come before moving forward at speed. The journey thus far has been remarkable for its consistency. Not that this has been a conscious intention on Robert’s part. He set down his aesthetic roots four decades ago and the fruit of his endeavours ever since has, as they say, not fallen far from the tree. Two things in particular have endured: a rigorous formality and (far less easy to nail, let alone discuss) an undertow of terror. His photographs kindle the fearful instinct which we all share that every tangible thing, person, place, and experience must eventually slip from our grasp even as we reach towards what’s unseen, permanent, and more glorious. I recalled a verse from Henry Francis Lyte’s (1793–1847) most famous hymn:

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;

Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;

Change and decay in all around I see;

O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

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