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The Sweet Cheat Gone

July 3, 2009

Mama and...


Of all the means of expression, photography is the only one that fixes forever the precise and transitory instant. We photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing, and when they have vanished, there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again. We cannot develop and print a memory. – Henri Cartier-Bresson

A conversation I was having with our friend exitbarnadine got me thinking about photography or more specifically, photographs and their melancholic power. Initially, I thought to quote great chunks of Susan Sontag’s seminal work, On Photography but then I thought if anyone wants to read Sontag, they can download the book here. Anyway, what I want to examine is something rather different, that is: why old photographs unsettle me so?

Although I agree with much of her analysis, I draw different conclusions. My thoughts may not be original or very interesting but they’re my own, not Sontag’s.

Consider the picture that heads this post. It’s my mother and one of my siblings. I don’t know which one and neither does she. The light and the eucalyptus tree in the background tell me it was taken in Kuwait. Sometime between 1960 and 1966. But since my mother had five children in those six years, the baby could be any one of them. Who took the picture? My father? Perhaps, perhaps not. Not only do I not know but I can never know.

There is nothing, to my mind, quite as unreal and leached of significance as a photograph with no context. A painted portrait, no matter how little information we possess about its provenance–who painted it, who the sitter was, when and where it was painted–is never as dumb as an old photograph, adrift on the temporal ocean and flying no flag, bearing no name; origin, destination and cargo unknown. Our friend Tom Clark has written some beautiful poems addressing some of these matters.

I think what unsettles me most is how little I can glean from family photographs, even when I know exactly who the dramatis personae are. Take this photograph, for example:
Father and Gang

The picture was published in a Kuwaiti newspaper some years ago to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the first group of Kuwaitis to be sent to the West to train. I know who all the men in the photograph are. They’re the men who built modern Kuwait (my father is seated on the far left). I know roughly when the picture was taken (1950) and where (London) but more than that, I cannot tell. All the men in the picture are dead and most likely couldn’t tell me any more than I already know anyway.

Who is the woman? Where in London was the picture taken? What happened afterwards? Did they go to a pub? Why do these seemingly unimportant questions haunt me?

It’s not, as one might imagine, simply the evidence of time past and irretrievable, it’s something deeper than that. I begin to wonder if in fact, photography does more to obliterate the past than preserve it. For decades we’ve been told that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words‘. I no longer believe it, not for a minute. How I wish my father had kept an extensive diary–how much more could a thousand words have told me about the taking of that photograph than the photograph itself?

We have been conned into believing that photographs provide some sort of unimpeachable record–that, yes, this thing or something very like it existed, that this person or someone very like them existed. But waves/particles of light exciting a light-sensitive medium and preserving an instant in light and shadow is just that–light and shadow, no more reliable evidence of anything than Plato’s shadows on a cave wall and when bereft of context, even less so.

I suppose what really causes the melancholy I feel when viewing old photographs (aside from a naturally melancholic disposition) is that for me, they serve to emphasise the essential unknowability, the unreachability of the past, even the very recent past.

Perhaps that’s why I regard our great libraries as one of our crowning glories. As unreliable as written records may be, as questionable as the veracity of chroniclers oftentimes is, a photograph will never be a substitute for a thousand well-chosen words. Falling into an old photograph is like falling into a well–the deeper you go, the darker it gets.

Books are the opposite: you may fall into a dark tunnel but more often than not, you’ll see a light at the end of it. However distant the light, however feeble its glow–books, words, can illuminate.

Photographs add to the deepening dusk.

  1. July 3, 2009 6:29 PM

    Beautifully written, Mishari. It seems strange that a melancholic tendency should induce this compulsion to seek whatever is outside the frame or unspoken on the page. Perhaps one yearns for those things that are unknown because they promise elusive knowledge we feel is denied us.

    I am occasionally hit by a stab of regret that my grandparents died when I was just too young to understand what an extraordinary resource of time-travel they were, for self-understanding as well as social/historical experiences etc. My mother has a chest full of old photos from the late c19th onwards. Fortunately she knows who many of them portray and I’m trying to listen and remember, before those figures become anonymous forever. But you’re right, seeing them gives few clues. The portraits and letters I’ve seen offer far more character.

    There are diaries, too, from between the wars, that I have not yet begun to examine properly. But I will.

    In the Berlin vlohmarkts (sp?) there are boxes and boxes of old photographs for sale: unknowns, staring out. Given the city’s C20th, that gives added sadness and mystery, I think, to your observations. Mute strangers’ memories for sale.

  2. July 3, 2009 6:31 PM

    Don’t know if you have the time (or inclination!) to read it, but this story of mine touches, I think, on some of these themes.

  3. mishari permalink*
    July 3, 2009 8:09 PM

    Thanks, XB. I still haven’t fully teased out what it is that so unsettles me, but I guess it’s to do with people allowing themselves to be gulled into complacency, thinking that pictures are a replacement for a written or oral record.

    I’ve asked my mother to do something I wish I’d asked my father to do had I thought of it–record, on tape, the story of her life, in as much detail as she can remember (names, places, dates, addresses) from as early a time as she can remember.

    I know what you mean by those ‘boxes of old photographs’ full of mute strangers. I remember finding a cardboard-box full of photographs put out with the rubbish in Barcelona. I took them home to examine more closely and what a very melancholy business it was.

    There were no letters in the box and the photographs, except for the occasional illegible scrawl on the back, told me nothing except, ‘this was once someone’s treasured record of the past’.

    I could trace a few people’s whole lives, from childhood to old age. Other faces appeared but once, only to vanish again, back into the great fog of unknowing. Without words, the pictures were worse than meaningless–they were something that once had meaning, now rendered meaningless by their very nature: fleeting light and shadow, caught for an instant.

    What would we know of ancient Rome or Greece if all we had was photographs? Without words, photographs only add to the frustration of time and distance.

  4. freep permalink
    July 3, 2009 10:23 PM

    Nice work, mishari. There’s something compelling about your desire for a lost diary of your father’s to appear. When I skimmed through what you said, I thought, ‘this is about the coldness of mechanical reproduction, about the loss of an aura’, Benjaminesque reflections. But it’s a good deal more than that. A taped diary of your father’s would be as good as a handwritten notebook; the sound of his voice would give you as much and maybe more than the style of his handwriting. So there’s much more; writing, like speaking and painting, has to be deliberative. Your photographs could have been caught on the equivalent of CCTV.

    But I’m sure you realise you are caught in the elegiac spiral of ‘recollection before it is too late’. It is a malady that afflicts everyone increasingly once they are turned fifty, or are orphaned, or harshly severed from their roots. It explains the rage for family history that has been the saving of many a public library, and which occupies the half of the internet not consumed by porn. I try to resist it myself, but my older sister spends much time hunting relatives. I would like my dead relatives to speak, since I have only my mother’s ashes to drink.

    Today I found myself browsing in the new Newcastle Central Library, and they have laid out their family history resources well. And I was under compulsion, seeing Ward’s and Kelly’s Directories of the 1920s, to check out my paternal grandmother, who died before I was born. And there I found her, at 39 Newgate Street, Morpeth in 1924 and 1929, running a sweetshop. My father, who was born in 1912 and very reticent about his past, never told me his mum ran a sweetshop. What would be best to recover about this? A photograph of my granny standing at the counter? The accounts for a year or two, if they ever existed? Or some letters or a diary? No contest, mish; I’m with you. I want words.

  5. Meltonian permalink
    July 3, 2009 10:50 PM

    Your parents are very good-looking. I suppose you got the ugly gene.

    My forebears are all so horrible I think they’re better forgotten. My uncles and aunts are still at each other’s throats in their eighties and nineties.

    I hope you’re going to do the same thing you suggested to your mother and carry on with your autobiog. Speaking almost seriously, it was an entertaining read and I think any of your descendants would be glad to have it.

  6. mishari permalink*
    July 3, 2009 11:07 PM

    MM, I suppose I will. What holds me back a little is the sheer, unadulterated disgracefulness of my behavior until I reached my 40’s.

    I’m sure you’re right, freep, and partly, it’s a function of age to want to re-capture something of the past before it’s completely beyond reach. For example, my mother’s paternal grandmother was Polish, from a wealthy, aristocratic family. My mother has hundreds of photographs taken by her Polish relatives in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

    As a child, I found them baffling, comical or boring–all those pictures of hunting parties standing outside forest lodges or men posed with one foot on some poor, dead beast; all those people in funny clothes and hairstyles, sporting facial topiary to make Mills weep with vexed envy; all those strangers stiffly posed in front of grand houses, in lavish gardens, sitting in carriages.

    Now I burn to know who they were: their names, their histories, what became of them, etc, etc. But already, I suspect, many if not all of them are out of reach.

    I have one photograph that haunts me particularly. It’s a photograph of a young man in profile, moustachioed and gazing toward a window. He’s my great-uncle, my grand-mother’s brother.

    He served as an infantry officer in the trenches of WW1 and then drank himself to death shortly afterwards. My mother knows very little about him because her own mother didn’t speak of him much.
    He is, in effect, completely lost. This bothers me a great deal.

  7. July 4, 2009 2:35 PM

    “the essential unknowability, the unreachability of the past…”

    Lovely piece, Mish.

    Reading it reinforces the thought, which I mentioned when we discussed this a few nights back, that if it is to learn to unlock the doors to the secrets of the past, it is Proust to whom we would turn as our first guide.

    You’ve acknowledged this, of course, in the title of your post.

    Proust distinguished habitual, intentional “voluntary memory” from the “involuntary memory” which he compared to a deep-sea diver.

    Beckett outlined Proust’s approach as follows.

    “[“Voluntary memory”] is the uniform memory of intelligence; and it can be relied upon to reproduce for our gratified inspection those impressions of the past that were consciously and intelligently formed. It has no interest in the mysterious element of inattention that colours our most commonplace experiences. It presents the past in monochrome. The images it chooses are as arbitrary as those chosen by imagination, and are equally remote from reality. Its action has been compared by Proust to that of turning leaves of an album of photographs. The material that it furnishes contains nothing of the past, merely a blurred and uniform projection once removed of the our anxiety and opportunism–that is to say, nothing…

    “But involuntary memory is an unruly magician and will not be importuned. It chooses its own time and place for the performance of its miracle. I do not know how often this miracle recurs in Proust. I think twelve or thirteen times…But the first–the famous episode of the madeleine steeped in tea–would justify the assertion that his entire book is a monument to involuntary memory and the epic of its action. The whole of Proust’s world comes out of a teacup…”

    Mish, my pursuit in those poems you liked was not dissimilar from yours. Some ancient photographs recovered after my mother’s death stirred great curiosity, causing me to realize how little I truly remembered of the past and how much–the overwhelming undiscovered part–was simply dark country to me. In a way something like that which you have described, I found the photo evidence so limited and incomplete as to frustrate rather than satisfy the desire to know. But out of looking at the photos came wandering reveries, and out of those came the poems.

    The two poems that came in this way from those old photos were

    Torn from an Old Album



    The third in that group was a meditation upon the small sad trove of keepsakes and knick-knacks which was all that had finally remained of my parents’ lives:


    It may be a stage in life you are now passing through, being yourself now older, and looking back, and feeling the loss of time. The melancholy is intelligible. The self examination is useful. The piece you have written is very fine.

  8. parallax permalink
    July 5, 2009 2:27 PM

    Thanks for this Mish, well deciphered – yes I follow your unease. So many takes on this issue.

    I follow freep’s Benjamin pointer about the lack of aura: if you don’t (can’t) confront the real – Benjamin was prompted by the reproduction of works of art (essentially, I think) – that postcards (or even cartoon frames) of El Greco would never have the impact if you didn’t – in the flesh – confront the works of art. i.e. Capitalist reproduction basically fucked the impact of art in the *now*. (issues here, obviously that reproduction showed art to the masses – but hey, if you don’t see the real thing you can’t engage – good, but, at the end of the day, an elitist, bad call Walter). Time marches on, I’ve been to the Louvre, and seriously, I found it more interesting to take pictures of the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd queuing up to see La Gioconda, than to photo the enigmatic woman in all her glory.

    I don’t have Sontag to hand but I recall her looking at a photo of the idea of the sublime, which was someone on the brink of death after being flayed alive – I think she was moving towards how desensitised we are when we see so many *war* atrocity photos – the ones that sear your photographic mind – like the young girl fleeing from napalm in Vietnam. Sontag questioned how removed are we from the TV reality to the sense of being moved by fiction (Zizek territory).

    Anyway – yes the frame, the captured moment, and what lies beyond. It’s a bit like the captured frame of poetry – most poets can do a *well* captured scene in a poetic frame. Others, and here I count freep, produce a well wrought poem and in addition produce not only the frame but also something beyond, to let you know that the poem sits within,but not confined by, that snapshot. Someone’s looking into that frame or poem with you, over the shoulder – and when you turn around there’s that negative, fuzziness that makes you see the world anew.

    Me, I take photos of my feet on solid ground.: “so where did you go parallax?” “Well, here’s a photo of my feet on Wimbledon Common; here in Marais before the Bastille monument; here in South Yorkshire where they closed the pit.” “But you could have been any way.” exactly.

  9. parallax permalink
    July 5, 2009 2:53 PM

    I could have been any way (I blame Marais) – but I was of course anywhere.

  10. Meltonian permalink
    July 5, 2009 8:02 PM

    Well, I don’t think anyone wants to hear about your starred first at Balliol or your successful career in the City or your work for widows and orphans, but a penchant for crashing sports cars and taste for debauchery gets attention. Byron’s letters or Wordsworth’s? I know which one I would pick up.

    I have one of those very small monochrome photos from the Fifties in which one of my father’s sisters is pictured with their mother. My mother can just about be seen in the background, looking away from the camera. On the back of the photo is written, ‘A lovely snap of Mother and me. Pity Bonnie got into it.’ Those words are worth a thousand pictures.

  11. Meltonian permalink
    July 6, 2009 12:15 PM

    Para, I forgot to mention that the First Fleet departed from Ryde Roads in 1787. There were no photographs of the event, no doubt for reasons of national security, but there is a picturesque monument, only occasionally vandalised, on the walkway which tops the sea wall. Permission to kick yourself is granted.

  12. July 6, 2009 12:39 PM

    In future the past may be off limits. Pursuing illuminations about what’s irrevocably lost, this could not possibly be seen as socially useful in any new world order.

    Ah, we’ll perhaps one day have to slink off into a back alley to say these things. Pausing then in the shadows for a furtive smoke, and

    A Stranger Offers Us a Light

  13. parallax permalink
    July 7, 2009 12:16 AM

    now, I never knew that MM – shins suitably bruised.

    Thank god for photos hey? I notice that: ‘THE MAYOR OF MOSMAN, ALDERMAN P.C. CLIVE, TOGETHER WITH ALDERMEN B.S.J.

    Actually I did once go to the IOW – eons ago, I have a glass pot to prove it, but I don’t really remember much about the trip – it’s overshadowed by a dire bed and breakfast incident in Portsmouth.

  14. Meltonian permalink
    July 7, 2009 12:28 PM

    I’m glad to hear that your countenance once shone on the Ramada Amusement Arcade and The Codfather Fish ‘n’ Chippery (We Batter Anything), para. You were lucky to survive Portsmouth. Southampton is a far more refined and civilised spot, and the ship models in the Maritime Museum piss on the tat in the Royal Naval Museum.

  15. freep permalink
    July 7, 2009 5:40 PM

    My granny had a photograph of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On the back it said ‘Plenary Indulgence for prayer to Mary of Perpetual Succour, D.G.’ It looked authentic to me. It rather scuppers my theories about the inauthenticity of mechanical reproduction, especially since it was vouchsafed to me in a dream that my granny did gain immediate entry to Heaven, thanks to BVM.

  16. Meltonian permalink
    July 7, 2009 7:29 PM

    I wonder how far my signed photo of Matt Le Tissier (actually my son’s, though I stole it when he left home) will get me? You will recall that the great man was known as Le God. This unimaginative nickname at least carries a resonance of eventual salvation, which is a great comfort as the horror of swine flu comes ever closer.

  17. mishari permalink*
    July 7, 2009 7:38 PM

    Evening all…thanks for the very apposite Beckett quote and kind words Tom. I’ve been thinking, pace Proust, about taste/smell/memory and I’ll be back later to share what we must laughingly call my ‘thoughts’.

    Unfortunately, I’m plastered at the moment…long weekend. Moved the brood to Barcelona for the summer.

    I made the mistake of allowing Des to irritate me and posted a long, incoherent rant on Carol’s Poem of the Week blog. The Age of Disgrace continues unabated. Fuck me…I’ve had to re-type the last paragraph 15 times.

    Nap time…luego, muchachos.

    PS: My pig’s got Mowbray flue…is it fatal?

  18. Meltonian permalink
    July 7, 2009 11:48 PM

    I thought you must have finally decided on the gender reassignment. I suppose Princess Misharia will have to wait in the shadows for a little longer.

    Abuse alcohol responsibly.

  19. parallax permalink
    July 8, 2009 12:40 AM

    Barcelona – oh very nice. Enjoy the summer Mish. Also apologies re my Sontag misalignment above – the picture of the flayed-alive guy is in another of her books: ‘Regarding the Pain of Others.’

  20. freep permalink
    July 8, 2009 10:14 AM

    Hope the hangover’s gone, M. Your rant was a fine one, and not incoherent. Best of all was the Youtube link, which established exactly what you said it did, and reminds me why it’s wise to choose poetry readings with care, and to sit near the door. Des, the fellow who we sometimes have felt deserves some benefit out of many doubts, is not deserving after all, and neither understands nor can utter poetry.

    Here is a good one for you, to clear your head, from the master. It may not be Stevens’s best, but exemplifies everything you would want from a C20 poem: dense, allusive, economical, aphoristic, and with a subtle music.

    The Good Man Has No Shape

    Through centuries he lived in poverty.
    God only was his only elegance.

    Then generation by generation he grew
    Stronger and freer, a little better off.

    He lived each life because, if it was bad,
    He said a good life would be possible.

    At last the good life came, good sleep, bright fruit,
    And Lazarus betrayed him to the rest,

    Who killed him, sticking feathers in his flesh
    To mock him. They placed with him in his grave

    Sour wine to warn him, an empty book to read;
    And over it they set a jagged sign,

    Epitaphium to his death, which read,
    The Good Man Has No Shape, as if they knew.

  21. July 8, 2009 10:22 AM

    Welcome back, Mish.

    Melton, best take care lest the Man Upstairs eavesdrop on your jests.

    (However I’ve always thought of God as more of a Peter Crouch.)

  22. mishari permalink*
    July 8, 2009 12:05 PM

    Oh, my aching head…thanks for the commiserations, chaps, and thanks for the Stevens, freep. A great choice. It’s one I’ve always loved.

    I think Des has talent, but Jesus, he can be irritating. The constant re-telling of The Greatest Story Ever Told (his eight-year study of Amergin; the unmasking of the previously occulted secret heart of poetry to our Hero; his subsequent titanic struggle against the forces of poetic mediocrity [that would, actually]; his Triumph as The Greatest Living Poet…ggrrrr…how many goddamn times do we need to hear it?).

    But it’s the constant nasty digs at Carol (always quickly followed by ‘hahaha: just joking’, which merely serves to emphasise that he’s not fucking joking) that annoy me most, I think. Anyway, I hope my electric-soup fueled essay in A Dose Of Ones Own Medicine does some good, though I doubt it will…sigh.

    Peter Crouch, Tom? The footballer? Impressive. A bit like hearing an Englishman in a pub suddenly deliver an analysis of Ted William’s batting style or a eulogy to Phil Rizzuto, King of Shortstops……

    You must post those pix of your feet on the ground, para. We luftmenschen need frequent Bringing Down to Earth.

  23. July 8, 2009 1:12 PM


    He’s long, he’s blue,
    More thin that fat;
    Let us give the god his due,
    And it’s not the first time we’ve seen him do that

  24. Meltonian permalink
    July 8, 2009 2:59 PM

    OMG this site has been defiled by a Pompey shirt. BTP, you are officially beyond the pale.

    I’ve no serious objection to Crouch (though he shouldn’t be playing for England) but he seems too intelligent to be a credible God. Matt’s dimwitted yokellish Guernseyness has exactly the right semi-consciousness Jehovah must have. ‘Second World What? Oh, war. Has there been a second one? I missed that… must have nodded off… ‘

  25. July 8, 2009 10:09 PM

    A poem should rhyme
    Or at least be in time
    Or it can’t be sublime
    And it ain’t worth a dime.

  26. July 8, 2009 11:00 PM


    Well put, though in some quarters blue/fat/due/that might be considered, if not sublime, at least an actual rhyme “scheme”.


    You see over all these centuries I’ve (perhaps mis?)taken your pompey references for the words of a loyalist. Don’t think it’s easy to find God in a Pompey shirt.

    Still, the more I think of it, I can easily picture the Deity of a Mechanistic Universe doing a Robot Dance. After all why not, he’s God ain’t he? (Just nothing too sexy in the repertoire, thank you.)

    But if it’s Saints you want… I was going to offer you Grahame LeSaux, but seeing as you’re a family guy–no.

    So alright then, Le Tissier, and in truth, the historical-trivia-knowledge quotient in the EPL, from Wazza on down, is probably not much higher. And there is something in his shooting style, like a golfer chipping out of a sand pit, giving loft, arc, and then drop: pure genius in a way. That alleged Man Upstairs could never match it.

    Mathew Le Tissier: Le God: His Several Miracles

    Still, I fear you hide your true Pompey colours from us. Let me try this again.

    Could Glen Johnson be God?

    The curious thing with that bit is that although GJ’s definitely at least semi-divine in his moment, one might almost be tempted to turn all this round and say the difficult words…


    But I fear this has descended from the sublime to…

    Well anyway I’m off the South Coast today and on over the Chalk Downs to Winchester with

    Someone Two Feet Shorter Than Peter Crouch

  27. July 8, 2009 11:10 PM

    Now how the f–k did that happen? These bloody codes. Try again:

    Mathew Le Tissier: Le God: His Several Miracles

    Could Glen Johnson be God?

  28. mishari permalink*
    July 8, 2009 11:18 PM

    Who are all these people? Mind you, you can’t impress a man who’s shaken hands with Carl Yastremsky, Roger Maris, Bob Cousy, Bobby Orr, Joe Namath and Muhammed Ali…I haven’t washed my right hand since.

  29. July 8, 2009 11:34 PM

    I wrote one of your “two-rhyme” poems once. Here it is:

    The Manichean duality
    Of being old and being young
    creates our odd reality
    Of dying when we’ve just begun.

    I didn’t feel it was up to my usual standard, however.

    I even wrote a “three-rhyme” poem once, based on a quotation (the first paragraph) which a GU commenter claimed wasn’t the stuff of poetry:

    The influence of natural objects
    in calling forth and strengthening
    the imagination in boyhood and early youth

    later aids construction projects
    for bridging fords and lengthening
    the girders and the pathways across the River Louth.

    (Hmm, now I look it up, it’s the title of a Wordsworth poem. It may have been Mills:


  30. mishari permalink*
    July 8, 2009 11:49 PM

    That title’s a bit of a mouthful. Still, life was lived at a less fevered pace in those days.

    I hope you don’t think that I’m fanatically devoted to rhyme. It’s not that at all. In fact, most of my favourite modern work (1900 to the present) doesn’t rhyme.

    No, what annoys me is the idea that rhyme is evidence of a lack of ‘seriousness’ or ‘depth’ or some such nonsense. Equally annoying are the chopped-up prose merchants, who think that as long as powerful emotion is expressed or intimate confession, chopped-up prose is ‘poetry’. It’s not.

    I commend people to Tom’s blog, where they will see the difference between re-formatted prose and poetry produced by a cool and lucid intelligence.

    How poems are made with the right words in the right places in a manner reminiscent of a master cabinet-maker using a huge selection of rare and beautiful woods to create something unique and lovely.

  31. Meltonian permalink
    July 8, 2009 11:55 PM

    There will be other great footballers but there will never be another Le Tissier, BTP. That was a cracking goal from Johnson, but as far as I’m concerned that’s the only thing he’s done in his career that’s worth noticing. So lares et penates status for him-the god of the toilet-seat, perhaps, knowing his penchant for lifting them from DIY stores. Allegedly.

    Nice poem on your site, btw.

  32. mishari permalink*
    July 8, 2009 11:58 PM

    Was Johnson charged or accused of nicking a toilet-seat? Jesus…talk about infra dig.

  33. Meltonian permalink
    July 9, 2009 12:03 AM

    I think he was actually busted for it. Him and a friend waltzed out of a B&Q with one stashed under some other stuff. Considering he earns about £50,000 a week it seems rather odd.

    Are you actually in Spain?

  34. mishari permalink*
    July 9, 2009 12:07 AM

    No, no…I’m back in London until the weekend: neccessity, I’m afraid. I’ll be going back and forth a lot until Sept. I don’t mind. I love train journeys (at least, on decent trains, such as they have in France and Spain…

  35. Meltonian permalink
    July 9, 2009 12:14 AM

    I’m less and less keen on travelling anywhere. I’m not looking forward to trudging upstairs to bed. Well, it’s got to be done.

  36. mishari permalink*
    July 9, 2009 12:26 AM

    Well, you need to adopt a more rigorous approach to such demanding tasks. I suggest you make Base Camp 1 at the foot of the stairs to prepare yourself for the next stage: Base Camp 2 on the landing.

    One needs to acclimatise oneself to the altitude, old boy, or you could come a cropper. An embolism in the buttocks can be fatal as well as unsightly (or should that be ‘even more unsightly?)

    It’s reckless to attempt an assault on the summit unprepared.

    With Inez away, I’ll just fall asleep on the sofa. Can’t see the point of going to an empty bed and Pongo’s not fussy. The poor bugger’s going into a box for the trip this weekend. He dislikes it extremely. Can’t really blame him.

  37. July 9, 2009 2:41 AM


    That’s a bit hard on Pongo. Is it because the family desires his company? Would he not prefer yours, as that would come box-free? (Ah, reading further, I understand: you will soon be following… but presumably not in a box?)

    And thank you for the generous comments (I first typed “neberous,” this must be going to my “head”) about the TC/BTP blog poems. Having you looking of course spurs one on.


    May we have a reprise of your brilliant three-rhymer?

    The influence of natural objects
    in calling forth and strengthening
    the imagination in boyhood and early youth

    later aids construction projects
    for bridging fords and lengthening
    the girders and the pathways across the River Louth.

    I imagined a Misharitown Poetry Slam. Into the ring with the above masterpiece I have placed:


    Wisdom and Spirit of the universe!
    Thou Soul, that art the Eternity of thought!
    And giv’st to forms and images a breath
    And everlasting motion! not in vain,
    By day or starlight, thus from my first dawn
    Of childhood didst thou intertwine for me
    The passions that build up our human soul;
    Not with the mean and vulgar works of Man:
    But with high objects, with enduring things,
    With life and nature: purifying thus
    The elements of feeling and of thought,
    And sanctifying by such discipline
    Both pain and fear,–until we recognize
    A grandeur in the beatings of the heart.

    And the winner is… Obooki!


    And I suppose Le Tissier must win out. But Glen Johnson will not have gone home without a prize. Though I suppose a toilet seat wrapped around one’s head could prove an albatross of sorts. Yet then again, perhaps useful, should, say, Dean Windass choose to sit on one’s head. (I did say “sit”, not “become neberous”.)

  38. July 9, 2009 9:02 AM

    Have just driven from Lisbon to Amsterdam ( the pig has 3 weeks in Holland with, mostly, others doing the performing duties ) in 2 and a bit days so I completely empathise with Pongo’s attitude to travel.

    Chewing up the kilometres can be interesting in a weird map-related way but whoever said it’s better to travel than to arrive had obviously never paid out on the French and Spanish Toll roads.

    It’s the mania that builds up whilst touring that leads bands to imagine that anyone else is interested in hgow tough it is being on the road. ” Six days on the Road” even by the estimable Flying Burrito Brothers is one of my least favourite tunes for that reason.

    Lovely bit of writing too Mishari. I had a complicated upbringing ( which I was unaware of until I was 30 ) and experience odd emotions ( I’m not sure melancholy is the right word but uit may well be ) looking at photos which apparently depict a happy family in the 50’s but which were in fact anything but.

  39. freep permalink
    July 9, 2009 10:41 AM

    I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed Tom’s writing. The crispness seems evidence that age can ennoble more than it can cripple, and that stripping away extraneous foliage reveals the beauty of a tree in winter.
    Off that sofa, mish, and give Pongo a treat. Prawns, he deserves.

  40. July 9, 2009 11:04 AM

    Many thanks Freep, a prawnlike treat if perhaps less well deserved than Pongo’s (assuming he gets it, I should say).

  41. mishari permalink*
    July 9, 2009 1:07 PM

    Glad you liked the piece, Al. Good of you fellows to be concerned on Pongo’s behalf but the ‘box’ (more of a large-ish plastic crate, really) is the lesser of two evils (cat-evils, I should say).

    The train journey takes between 15-17 hours in total. Also, I usually stop off in Paris for a day to visit the in-laws. Rather than subject the poor sod to that (to the 15-17 hour train journey, not the in-laws, who are delightfulEd.), we agreed that shipping him over by plane is best all around.

    Fear not, freep, Tom…Pongo’s life is an endless round of being showered with affection and prawn-like delicacies.

    BTW, Al, have you had a read of Charlotte Higgins’ (Grauniad Art Editor) CiF piece on soi disant Twitter art (God help us)? I’d be interested in everyone’s reaction but yours particularly, given that’s it’s kind of your field of expertise.

    I know what I think (and posted same as @bottlerocket, my latest nom de guerre)…naturally, I was promptly charged with ‘philistinism’…yawn.

  42. July 9, 2009 2:17 PM

    Gormley’s Field ( thousands of little clay figures ) was very good but this new one just seems like a hi-concept idea. No mystery or ambiguity to it – it does what it says on the tin.

    Jeremy Deller is a very good bloke, genuinely interesting and interested in new forms of folk art and related mutant-forms which don’t seem to fit into any other art-form. If you’ll excuse me it’s a bit of a non-starter to invoke Van Gogh as this sort of work is not about introversion or intense self-expression but something more carnivalesque. Deller is no different to anyone who organises a parade. Rio carnival samba schools have designers, musical directors and choreographers, all of whom could be termed enablers.

    Why Charlotte Higgins thinks it’s new God only knows but she never seems to be able to look beyond the press release which is presumably telling us this is new. It isn’t – it fits into a long tradtion which I know Jeremy Deller would not deny. Twitter art? what a stupid term.

  43. mishari permalink*
    July 9, 2009 2:53 PM

    Al, I know nothing about Deller and had never heard of him until today. What I found bizarre was his being awarded the Turner (which is a prize for Art, no?) as an ‘enabler’.

    The term is so broad that everyone–from a patron who commissions a particular work to someone who introduces an impecunious artist to an honest dealer–is an ‘enabler’. I recognize the concept, as broad and vague as it is (encompassing everyone from Diaghelev to Charles Saatchi).

    What I don’t get is ‘enablers’ winning Art prizes…and I am sick to fucking death of the Grauniad’s infantile obsession with Twitter. I’m begininning to suspect that the Grauniad Media Group actually owns Twitter. That would explain a lot.

  44. July 9, 2009 2:53 PM

    Just spoken to a friend of mine, someone whose opinion I’d respect who saw the Deller parade and said it was very poor – so there you have it!!!!

  45. July 9, 2009 3:06 PM

    Mishari as we’re on an endless path of people who are trying to re-interpret what art is and what function it should have we’re going to get everything but the kitchen sink. Whether that’s good or bad I don’t know – personally I’m in favour of people throwing ideas against the wall. Some of them do stick. But you do get a lot of garbage too. I’ve met Jeremy Deller – he has interesting ideas.

    His folk art archive is wonderful – bringing in gurning competitions, prisoner art, cafe signs, cake-baking competitions, Trades Union banners etc. etc. to add to the usual suspects.

    I think he won the Turner for his restaging of the battle of Orgreave pit during the miner’s strike using miners and policemen who were there at the time. That had a lot of interesting fall out to it.

    But apparently nul points for the parade.

    Agree about Twitter. Have done my porridge arguing against it but it’s apparently now culturally rather than merely commercially significant.

  46. mishari permalink*
    July 9, 2009 3:41 PM

    I suspect, Al, that Twitter will be as ‘culturally significant’ for about as long as Napster was culturally people’s attention spans become even shorter, Twitter will be seen as too intellectually demanding…

    Introducing Twit! (patent pending). Social networking without words or pictures but using low grunts, brief howls and truncated barks. I’ve already signed up freep’s dogg…

  47. July 9, 2009 4:02 PM

    I’m introducing Fractured ( copywrite still under negotiation ). A discussion thread that lasts as long as it takes to write the title of the discussion thread. Anyone who attempts to prolong a thread by answering a question is thrown off.

  48. mishari permalink*
    July 9, 2009 4:13 PM

    This is very hush-hush, so keep it under your hat but I’m working on a radical new social networking application. It involves gathering in groups in a premises licensed to sell alcoholic beverages.

    Once there, users of my system will ‘chat’, ‘joke’ and ‘gossip’. More technologically adept users can attempt to ‘pull’ (still some bugs in this sub-routine but I’m working on it.

    As my new application involves users going to a so-called ‘public house’, I’m thinking of calling the software Going Down The Pub®.

    Catchy, no? I dunno, though. What do you think, Al. Is the world ready for it or am I ahead of my time (gentlemen, please)?

  49. July 9, 2009 4:27 PM

    I’m thinking of a cutting edge social network site called A+E where you get blind drunk and go to a white room to insult and at times physically abuse people you don’t know. Oh hang on that’s CiF isn’t it?

  50. mishari permalink*
    July 9, 2009 6:15 PM

    The following headlines are all from the front page of today’s Grauniad (spot the ones I made up):

    Hemingway Was Failed KGB Spy

    Steven Augustine Ate My Hamster

    I Slept With My Daughter’s Ex

    How Much Does the Internet Weigh?

    Jordan’s Agony: “I Had Mowbray’s Love-Child”

    Michael Jackson To Be Buried Without His Brain

    …the exciting new soaraway Grauniad, where intellectual ferment is more than just a phrase.

  51. Polly permalink
    July 9, 2009 7:18 PM

    Hello! I know you’ll have gone through loads of topic changes but I’ll start with the original post – wonderful to see you delving into the personal, Mish, and what a good piece you came up with. Do you feel any better for it?

    I’ve been away. This weekend was the celebration of a late friend’s birthday – a disparate crowd gather together who wouldn’t be friends normally and remember our fallen comrade. It struck me how incredibly sad some pictures can make you when I saw a picture of her sporting her red rose tattoo to discover that it was really blue. A simple slip of the memory compounded by time, nothing purposeful or neglectful. But it was like she was staring disapprovingly from that photo and it made me feel horrendously guilty. Ashamed. How could I forget!?

    That’s the thing – photos are stark unwavering slices of life. moments artificially preserved intact and not subject to the smoothing round the edges that memories get and the further on in time the more marked the difference becomes until they become sad things to look at. Anyway that’s my tuppeneth…

  52. Meltonian permalink
    July 9, 2009 8:14 PM

    Well, it was a large baby, but Michael’s a big chap.

    Did you catch the story in the foreign news section?

    Pig Impresario Sought In Tollbooth Slaying
    From Our Correspondent

    French police are hunting for the perpetrator of a savage assault on RN10, believed to be an E Taylor. Inspecteur Graimet, 39, who leads the investigation, said ‘This desperate character, when asked for the toll, and a little something for the tollkeepers’ annual outing, threw savagely his coins in the face of the collector, who sustained a small cut to his chin. Subsequently the pig enormous which accompanied Taylor crushed the booth with the keeper in it.’
    The pig is said to have lost a portion of its tail in the carnage. Inspector Graimet reports that it was very good with sauteed onions and a glass of calvados.
    The search continues.

  53. mishari permalink*
    July 9, 2009 8:28 PM

    Is there a reward, d’ye know? For information leading to the capture of the miscreant? Sorry, Al…nothing personal but baby needs a new pair of shoes.

  54. July 9, 2009 8:29 PM

    Whilst in Portugal I was rung up by the Korean Swine Association wanting to book us in October. Sadly (or perhaps not) we couldn’t make their dates but the accompanying email is one I shall treasure.

    MM we threw our coins savagely at every booth we stopped at (at least 20 through France Spain and Portugal plus the return journey). Bit disappointed the other booths didn’t complain.

  55. mishari permalink*
    July 9, 2009 8:34 PM

    Are you serious, Al? I mean, it sounds perfectly plausible. I don’t suppose you’d favour us with the contents of said email?

    The Korean Swine Association plans to spend 2.6 billion won (about US$ 2.25 million) in 2004 on promotional activities to increase the consumption of unpopular cuts by airing ads on television and radio programs.–from

  56. July 9, 2009 9:07 PM

    I’m entirely serious ( as well as laughing every time I think about it ) – I’m not computer literate but when I have a bit more time I’ll try a cut and paste or whatever it is these things do.

  57. July 9, 2009 9:09 PM

    There you go

    Dear Sirs,

    We , Korea Swine Association are preparing the event ” 2009 Korea swine festival ” in Seoul on Oct.21, 2009 and

    have seen the attached picture on your website.

    We would like to ivite the pig on our festival .

    Can we rent the pig ?

    If possible please quote us as soon as possible.

    Best regards,

    K.J.Choi./Korea Swine Association

    Tel : 82-2-595-6277 , Fax : 82-2-599-3227

    Mobile phone : 82-11-9978-7768

    [한메일 Express]메일목록과 미리보기를 동시에!


  58. July 9, 2009 9:43 PM

    “The following headlines are all from the front page of today’s Grauniad (spot the ones I made up):…”


    6. “Michael Jackson To Be Buried Without His Brain”

    No brainer, M.

  59. mishari permalink*
    July 9, 2009 9:49 PM

    Wonderful, Al…thank you. That’s priceless.

    “Can we rent the pig?”

    You are planning to “quote them as soon as possible”, I hope?

    Actually , come to think of it, you just have…

    I suppose we’ll never know (unless the WRAS site provides the kind of metrics wordpress does) what first brought them to your site. Giant pig? Inflatable Pig?

    I’m astonished that they were, presumably, willing to transport your pig all the way to Seoul. Are there no giant inflatable pigs closer to Korea than the UK?

    Great stuff…

  60. July 9, 2009 10:29 PM

    Good Lord, just back from the Groiniad… the story about the woman stabbed to death in a court in Dresden for wearing a “head scarf”. Why is everyone missing the point on that one? A Russian lunatic stabbing her doesn’t make Germany “Islamophobic”… but the fact that her *husband* was shot, whilst trying to save her, by court officers who automatically mistook *him* for the killer, speaks volumes. They probably ran a metal detector over the plaintiff Muslim couple as they entered the courtroom whilst letting a psychotic Aryan with a butcher knife waltz in unmolested. Shooting the husband was a nice way of confirming their suspicions; wouldn’t have mattered a whit if he’d been Christian, though (quite a few of the Turks in Berlin who the Germans assume are all Muslim are not). *Looking* different is what gets you in trouble.

    I was walking down Goethe strasse a few years back when a German Shepherd, on a death-white crone’s long twanging lead, went beserkers on me, barking and snarling from across the street. And all the Germans in the vicinity, of course, stared at *me* (not the dog) until I had dwindled safely on the horizon.

    (Wakes up family, packs bags, books flight, calls taxi and opens all the nozzles on the oven…)

  61. mishari permalink*
    July 9, 2009 10:44 PM

    I can’t find that story, Steven. In the Grauniad, you say…? I did, however, find this gripping narrative in The Indy:

    Bono has been given the go-ahead to instal a wood-pellet boiler to heat his Victorian mansion.

    The U2 singer and his wife Ali Hewson have been granted permission by Dun Laoghaire Rathdown co council to a develop a room below their two-storey house to put in the hi-tech heating system. –Indy, today

    …and that’s it, aside from a few more boiler-related details. Finis. Bongo installs a boiler. Crusading journalism at its boldest…

  62. July 9, 2009 10:54 PM

    Mishari we’ve taken the pig to Taiwan and Australia so Korea is no problem. The dates clashed with work in Ireland and it’s a long way and a lot of work freight-wise to go for one day of work.

    The photo that was attached was posted by someone else on Flickr so I guess that’s how they found us. It seems to have circulated to a variety of blogs and sites.

    I imagine there are dozens of inflatable pigs but none have a theatre show inside them ( a sentence I never thought I’d ever write ). as far as I know at least. I’m hoping that’s what interested them but who knows. The phone call was equally as bizarre but of the you-had-to-be-there variety so I won’t laboriously explain.

    Steven A the same thought occured to me. How did the suspect get through security with what sounds like a substantial knife?

  63. Captain Ned permalink
    July 10, 2009 12:55 AM

    Someone who was in my year at university is now Twitter correspondent at Sky News. I can only ask: how does the world work?

  64. Captain Ned permalink
    July 10, 2009 12:58 AM

    Anyway, this is nice:

  65. Captain Ned permalink
    July 10, 2009 1:02 AM

    And so is this:

    Up with The Dodos!

  66. Captain Ned permalink
    July 10, 2009 1:05 AM

    Oh yes, and I meant to say: Tom Clark. Much respect. Many excellent things on your website.

  67. Captain Ned permalink
    July 10, 2009 1:16 AM

    Anyway, as I’m drunk, here’s a link to a website concerning one of the most wonderful writers of the twentieth century, of whom I never tire of championing:

  68. Polly permalink
    July 10, 2009 8:09 AM

    Oh god, and so it starts all over again, people miss the point and make a point of the mis-point. Absolutely bloody tragic that the poor woman got attacked and killed when trying to get some justice, but the precise issue *is* the court security. The criminal justice system inherently involves a victim and a miscreant of varying natures of extremity – it’s common sense to protect the victim from the accused, who quite clearly has something against them in the first place! The fact that they are in court for their behaviour means that 1) it’s not supporting by the society they are in; and 2) they are clearly wrong. That Russian doesn’t represent the views of the German nation, or of Europe…

  69. Polly permalink
    July 10, 2009 8:10 AM

    I meant supported, not supporting… need caffeine!

  70. July 10, 2009 8:30 AM

    Capt. Ned,

    And a tip of the virtual cup to you…

    Your rhetorical question re. the success of the twittering idiots (“how does the world work?”) is, unfortunately, self-answering (evidently it works by Twittering, little did we know).

    The Dodos clip curiously connects with your other link, David Jones, with their line “Come and join us in the trenches”.

    There was a period when at Cambridge I went round often to Jim Ede’s cottage in Kettle’s Yard, Jim had on display a number of DJ’s sketches and watercolours, which he had purchased in the late Twenties/Early Thirties. Back then Jim had worked for the Tate and begun to cultivate his Jones interest, which evolved into a lovely advocacy. During that time I considered In Parenthesis and Anathemata grand masterpieces, I suppose this was partly due to Jim’s contagious enthusiasm and partly due to the quality of the works themselves.

    Along with the earlier Jones pieces Jim also had up one of the most ecstatic of Jones’ late watercolours, the 1950 Calix in Light. Three stemmed glasses on a highly polished table set before a window, the window open, a wooded scene beyond. The lyric life of the piece, a wild profusion of plants, daisies, cornflowers, dahlias, exploding from the center in an entangled mass. There was strong religious symbolism–Jones of course after the trauma of his war experiences been converted to Catholicism, influenced I believe by Eric Gill. But all I could see then and all I can remember now was/is water, colour, refracted light.

    I believe the piece is still there in Kettle’s Yard, though of course Jim isn’t.

    (BTW, he once in the summer of ’63 sent me on a curious errand, as an informal emissary of the Tate, to the Schloss Brunnenburg, high up in the Dolomites, where Ezra Pound’s son-in-law and daughter, along with, it was our understanding, Ezra himself then lived–and where Henri Gaudier-Brszeska’s Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound was ensconced on a hillside looking out over a long valley stretching, it almost seemed, all the way to Innsbruck. I toiled up that mountainside in summer heat, and, gasping, stood below a high turret out of which popped the grand leonine head of Ezra’s daughter Maria, who looked just like her father. She said her father was off in Venice and besides, what audacity, here I had come to ask that she simply give away a large and monumental work which commanded the entire valley as might the image of an archaic god. I was admitted and showed the letter from Jim and the Tate’s formal request, but the good woman was having none of it. I couldn’t blame her a bit, and felt an absolute fool!)

  71. July 10, 2009 9:13 AM

    Nice post, Mishari. I find photographs sometimes similarly unsettling, particularly the portrait-esque ones, as the actors in the photo always look so expectant, so personally expectant as they look at you/me/one, and yet – as you say – I’m not always sure of the details.

    Hi to Parallax by the way!

    • parallax permalink
      July 17, 2009 2:31 PM

      Yo, olching. I promised you souvenirs from my travels. Heading to your blog now.

  72. July 10, 2009 9:51 AM

    I was force fed David Jones when at art school – a lecturer always brought him into the discussion even when it seemed irrelevant to the matter at hand. A mix of rebellion, annoyance over this lecturer’s single-minded enthusiasm and a genuine couldn’t-see-it-myself-ness kept him at bay. I’m not sure I still get David Jones entirely but he’s one of those like Stanley Spencer or John Cowper Powys who have invented and lived in an entire world of their own. For that big respect to the Jones posse!!

    Interesting how he captures an intense sense of light by populating his drawings with things. Turner did the same by de-populating his pictures.

  73. Meltonian permalink
    July 10, 2009 8:58 PM

    You will be pleased to hear, CaptainNed, and perhaps it will ameliorate your hangover to some extent, that the Welsh ladies abused in an IoW gift shop have been offered an all-expenses paid holiday on the Island by the council. The name of the council’s chief exec? Beynon. The Taffia lives!

    Great story, BTP. I hope it’s all in your memoirs.

  74. Captain Ned permalink
    July 11, 2009 9:51 PM

    Hangover? What hangover? For lesser mortals, Meltonian. As for this Beynon boyo – good to see that Wales is extending its political influence, even if it’s only as far as the IoW.

    Kettle’s Yard is a great place. What I particularly like about it is that, if you ask nicely, the staff (who seem to be very knowledgeable about all sorts of things) will actually let you sit on the chairs and read the books. The small exhibition centre often has some interesting shows, as well.

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