22 August 2022

Who cares?

 The Zombies

Well, let me tell you 'bout the way she looked
The way she acted, the colour of her hair
Her voice was soft and cool
Her eyes were clear and bright
But she's not there

She’s Not There

Rod Argent

The Zombies, 1964

Not so long ago I thought I was fortunate - it could be worse.

I am not so sure now.  We all have our crosses to bear.  I said this once when someone said they had a friend in the Conservative party......  Now I feel different (though not about the Conservative party, y'unnerstan?)

I look around me.  I see happy families.  Dog walkers.  Horse riders.  People who smile. 

And I think,"Good for you!"

Let me talk you through a day - last Saturday, in fact.....  And I only offer this as some kind of reference to people like me who care for someone they love.  I don't seek your sympathy.  I don't claim to be an exception.  But I do think it won't harm anyone to grow their realisation of a fact of life.  When I was younger (let's just say for the first fifty or so years of my life) I had very little concept of the effects of dementia. And I don't just mean on those who could be assigned the label (take, for example, King Lear, or George III).  I mean on those who pick up the traces, who carry the trains, who live in the shadow of this scourge.....

So, it started like this.  I made the tea.  I took Amanda to the bathroom, etc.  Changed the sheets, put a wash on, etc.  We drank, and spilled, a little tea.  I helped her get dressed, we stumbled downstairs.  We ate some fruit.  We went to the loo.

Then we put on our shoes, and sunglasses and hats, and I drove us to Holkham Gap, where the air is good and the sky is clean and the sea is far far away at low tide, and kites and buzzards squabble above the pines (thank you Jake Fiennes....) and the shadow of Gwyneth Paltrow still clings to the idea of Shakespeare.....

Despite the uncanny likeness, this is not our Gwyn.....

Anyway, we walked, gently along towards Wells, then cut through the pines and over the dunes.  Amanda fell, once, and struggled on the upslopes, the sands running out under her feet, but we carried on, the vast expanse of the exposed beach stretching far away to shores such as Lincolnshire and maybe even Heligoland....

And what is the point of this? What did she understand by this? It was a beautiful morning, with a breeze to lift the caps, and an air to pluck the strings. The décolletage a reminder of other times; the deep dark eyes a come-on to the few corpuscles still active in my system.....

But look closer, please (if you can bear it).  There is now an emptiness that mutely offers oblivion.  Look closer, please....

But it's too late to say you're sorry
How would I know? Why should I care?
Please don't bother trying to find her
She's not there!

Yes, in the huge expanse of blue and yellow there is a wonderful emptiness.  A void.

Whichever way you look.

However you look at it.

Whatever your perspective.....

And she will laugh, and have all the appearances of a life still to be lived.....

Though as we progressed in our return, she weakened, and flagged, and failed, and over the last mile or so I was practically carrying her as best I could.....

Later that day I took her to stay overnight in a local care home, partly for her to become accustomed, so that it isn't a shock when she eventually does take up residence in such a place, but also partly for me to get used to the idea (and to have a less disturbed night....  Excuse the self-indulgence?) 

I went home.  I cooked myself a drink, and poured myself a supper, and lapped up some Bonnie Rait.....

I wandered round our garden, sniffing the fading roses,

Admiring the water lily that has graced our new pond.....

And realised, as the cat turned its back on me, just how empty everything is......

As John Prine said (with Meadow in mind, I am sure):

You come home late and you come home early
You come on big when you're feeling small
You come home straight and you come home curly
Sometimes you don't come home at all

So, I retired to the lounge and revisited my obsession with:

A family saga that both takes my mind off the present and also somehow has many echoes of our life:

(A bit like the Archers.... but with pictures)

Then, all spent, I look in on Amanda's room to check she's not there:

And the rest is silence

So what in the world's come over you?
And what in heaven's name have you done?
You've broken the speed of the sound of loneliness
You're out there running just to be on the run

You're out there running just to be on the run
You're out there running just to be on the run

John Prine

Speed of the Sound of Loneliness

5 August 2022

Talking Pictures

 Staircase to Heaven

It doesn't happen often, but I have just managed a fleeting visit to London.  From remote, rural Norfolk, where the clap of a butterfly's wings is a disturbance of the peace, to the mixed up confusion of the Qatari Capital of the World, where a fetid spatter of international tourists clamour with the exhausts of a million air conditioners....  it's just a disrupted train ride, it's merely a hundred miles, though it seems like a light year.....

I carry a camera.  People don't seem to notice - everyone's too busy talking on their phones or taking selfies.....  And I snap away at this and that; young:

And old:

Day (this was breakfast in Bar Italia - Frith Street, since 1949 - and the girl was trying to sip tea between visits to the bathroom - she really wasn't very well poor thing):

And night (there are a lot of very very expensive cars to be seen prowling the streets of Mayfair - and there are a lot of very very smart young women too....):

Some scenes are humdrum:

And some slightly bizarre:

But I found most delight in galleries, where framed faces from the past were eager to catch my attention.  In the wonderful Courtauld Gallery this gilded child was desperate for attention:

Mary Magdalen, by Fra Angelico (active 1417 - 1455)

And a couple of handsome young chaps seemed immersed in discussing the contents of a suspicious box one held in his left hand....

Tobias and the Archangel Raphael, from The Trinity with Saints Mary Magdalen and John the Baptist
by Sandro Botticelli (1445 - 1510)

And I love the cross talk between and embarrassed Adam and a bored Eve in the Garden of Eden:

Adam and Eve
Lucas Cranach the Elder (1526)

And there are the famous faces, too, ones that everyone knows (but not everyone hears....) From the self-harmed Vincent:

To the long suffering Suzon:

A Bar at the Folies-Bergère

Édouard Manet (1882)

To the quietly reflective younger Seamus Heaney:

Portrait of Seamus Heaney
Edward McGuire (1974)

Currently at the Courtauld, there is an exhibition of Edvard Munch's Masterpieces from Bergen, amongst which there is this scene:

Evening on Karl Johan
Edvard Munch (1892)

Then it is time to descend the staircase from heaven to the ground again:

Out into the heat and glare of the drought of London.  Parched parks:

Trees shaken by the oven breath of a southerly breeze:

And trickling slime at low tide:

The mouth of the Wandle, Wandsworth

But then I find refuge on the site of the Millbank Penitentiary, in that marble monument to the sugar cube, the Empire's Tate Building.......

Here I am welcomed by one Walter Sickert, a proto-Europhile (born in Munich, raised in London, active in France and Italy):

I knew nothing of this man, confusing him perhaps with a mash up of Whistler (his tutor), Sisley and Seurat (what do I know?) and at first I am not sure about what I see:

His portraits seem distorted and almost garish, like this 1923 painting of Cicely Hey, a painter herself, and close personal acquaintance of Sickert, who modelled for him several times.

But as I move through the rooms, he grows on me.  Pictures of Music Halls in London and Dieppe capture a world of entertainment more or less lost to the modern sofa.  I particularly like the energy of this shot of the Tiller Girls, reminding me of an old acquaintance, Pamela La Marca, once a Tiller herself, whose lively manner and homely speech enlivened many a dull parents' evening in Rome:

High-Steppers (c 1938-9)

And on the other hand, he finds art in domestic boredom in this study of a listless couple.  It was posed in his Hampstead Road studio using models Marie Hayes and Hubby (one of Sickert's assistants and models), 

Ennui (c 1914)

But most of all, I like his street scenes, bold, colourful slices of urban existence, exploring light on architectural planes. It's a familiar world.... without the noise and heat of today:

Maple Street (1916)

And with that, I'm gone. Back to the world of pierrot and parades, sunshine and shadow, empty deckchairs and the strained vaudeville of everyday modern life....

Brighton Pierrots (1915)