Summa: diary (October 17-20, 2022)

Oh, these are the days my friends / And these are the days my friends (Philip Glass, Einstein on the Beach (1975))

October 17. 7.30 am: I speed-walked from home to Plasgrug Avenue and back within half-an-hour. En route, I tried not to think about either my pace and body or the hour, day, week, and month that lay ahead. Instead, my focus was upon people, places, things, and sounds, as they approached and passed behind me. Life as lived cinema, in other words.

I was saddened to hear, today, about George Brinley Evans’s death. My association with him was exclusively in the context of the Miner-Artists: The Art of Welsh Colliers exhibition, which I’d curated in 2000. We met at his home in Glynneath [Glynnedd], West Glamorgan, a year earlier. He’d been a miner, writer, and self-taught painter. I interviewed him about his life and work, and selected his contribution to the exhibition and accompanying catalogue. George was a passionate advocate of adult education and a firm believer in the value of working-class art. He, and others like him, exemplified the coal miners’ ability to transcend their social conditions while, at the same time, portray them from the perspective of insiders.

George Brinley Evans, Coggin’ at ‘Four Feet’ (c. 1963) emulsion & watercolour on paper, 17 x 24.5 cm.

Meanwhile, the Government — sans Prime Minister (for the most difficult part) — faced-down the opposition, following the current Chancellor’s historic U-turn on his predecessor’s mini-budget. (Given what the Conservatives have been forced to dump recently, U-bend would be a more appropriate term.) Why was Truss absent? It’s one thing to be a failure (aren’t we all, sometimes), quite another to be a coward. Short of dealing with the outbreak of a global thermonuclear war, I can’t imagine what more ‘urgent business’ (as it was referred to) could’ve detained her.

October 19. Over the past few days, I’ve been in conversation with several friends. All are creative practitioners of one sort or another. Our discussions were salutary and invigorating in equal measure. Knowing the times and comprehending ourselves: these commitments, it strikes me, are no longer optional for artists. Desperate times beget desperate hearts. No one is immune. We’re apt to thrash around wildly, hoping to grasp hold of something that’ll prevent us from tipping over the edge. Steadying ourselves amid the turbulent waters, and keeping our eyes fixed upon the horizon, drains our mental and emotional reserves.

We must hold fast to our obligations to art, our aptitudes, and what little resources we can still afford. In these days of uncertainty and decline, achieving anything of worth will be far more difficult, slower, and costly, both materially and spiritually. We may be tempted to question the value and relevance of what we do, self-doubt, and abandon our vision for an easier life. On occasion, faintheartedness and paralysis may overwhelm us, as opaque problems stare back at us blankly. And, crushed by a sense of our impotence in the face of what may appear to be intractable circumstances, we may forget that others have lived through, and triumphed over, far worse days.

The weather has been brittle and bright. Autumn is Spring’s elder sister: one of the best of seasons, in my opinion. Today, I was grateful for an opportunity to visit the School of Art on business; Dr Ruddock (Postgraduate Co-ordinator) and I rummaged through the dirty-laundry basket of the Masters and Doctoral schemes. Thereafter, I wandered around the third-year painting studio. ‘Oh! How I miss Dr Forster’s presence on the floor’, I lamented (inwardly). Dr Roberts (Research Office for the Humanities) met me for coffee at the Arts Centre. He’s the only person in the university who’ll not feign a faint when I start bashing-on about sound equipment. We discussed the perils of live performance and the availability of external grants for some of my developing projects.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom of Darkness: Liz Truss gave a lack-lustre response that wouldn’t have got her through a job interview, let alone Prime Minister’s Question Time; the Home Secretary resigned; chaos and manhandling were rumoured in the Commons during the vote on fracking; and dismay and disillusionment were voiced among senior Conservative backbenchers — and all within just a few hours. It’s like watching a party balloon deflate at high speed.

October 20. Choral speaking (which was a competitive sport when I was in secondary school) is a group recitation of a short piece of prose or poetry, in such a way as to emphasize its dramatic and tonal characteristics. The aims of the exercise are to improve the students’ pronunciation, annunciation, fluency, and confidence in reading. From my recollection, the experience of choral speaking was far more rewarding for the participants than for the audience. I’m adapting the mode to render the Nicene Creed in The Book of Common Prayer (1892). Anglican congregations confess this in unison during the service of Holy Communion. I’ve never before set a liturgical text, either sonically or visually. And, I don’t know how to. That excites me.

1.30 pm+: And there you have it! Another prime-ministerial shift comes to an end.

Ophelia’s bed

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