Out Now!

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Rivers and ghosts

The Mersey broadly remains changeless

As does the sky

For much of the day

Seagulls do what seagulls do

And people stare as the Liverpool skyline slips in view.

And behind that skyline are streets and fine buildings.

Ghosts witness change more than those living it, and I always feel like a ghost when I come back to Liverpool. The streets remain broadly the same but everything has changed.
A case in point: Matthew Street:

And a club called the Cavern.

Ghosts caught in the present

Ordinary people in an extraordinary time.

All things must pass

If you look closely you can still see the remains of the cellar's arches.

                                                                      Now you can't

Tourists have taken their place

Friday, 21 November 2014

Earworms, maggots and bottoms

The word earworm is deservedly popular and refers to those tunes you just cannot get out of your head. One piece of advice is to hum God Save the Queen as a sure-fire antidote – like drinking from the opposite rim of a glass of cold water is a reputed fail-safe cure for hiccups. I’ve tried neither. 

There’s another word for the kind of tune that buzzes between the ears with no source of escape: Maggot. A seventeenth century word, perhaps older. It’s probably more accurate, too, because ‘worm’s are slow and tardy creatures. You’d probably have forgotten the tune before a worm had circuited your head. A maggot however turns into a fly that will buzz in your head until it drops from exhaustion. 

There are also visual maggots – one I cannot for the moment drive from my head. It’s KimKardashian’s bottom. And I don’t think singing God Save the Queen is going to have much effect.
 It’s everywhere, the meme of the moment, and peculiarly non-sexual. By that, I mean if Andy Wharhol had photographed and signed it – the image would probably fetch millions as art. And that’s how I see it – a product like Warhol’s soup tins, or four pictures of Marilyn. Soulless,(well that’s true of most bottoms,) a smart piece of design, and one firmly ensconsed in my head. 

Maybe, instead of singing God save the Queen I should try and intellectualise it – a sure kiss of death for almost everything.

 Maybe, in times of hardship and austerity, we are driven to the reassuringly large bottom – a kind of visual comfort food. That works for men perhaps, not too sure where it leaves women. Most men with fat bottoms are commonly called ‘lard-arse’.

 Nope, not working.

Carry on intellectualising. Is it a sin to objectify women or is it a recognition that women from prehistory have held men in thrall and awe? We objectify deities in stone and wood, limiting them in terms we can understand but nevertheless reflecting a need - here for example - the Kim Kardashian of its day.

Venus von Willendorf ; carved 24,000-22,000 BCE believed to have belonged to nomadic groups. Found near Willendorf, Austria and considered to be the earliest artistic form depicting the human body currently known to man
 Still not working. Kardashian remains. 

I remember when I was very much younger I had the same problem with Minoan women, where a different part of the anatomy was involved. That was easier to get over. You had to actively seek out Minoan art whereas Kim Kardashian is omnipresent, the Earth-mother of our day. Perhaps in time it will fade. I will give you progress reports. In the meantime I’ll pick out  Jack’s Maggot – a greedy and ruthless aural virus. It may mitigate the worst effects of Kardashian. And at least the dancers are dressed.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

A Spring Clean in November

The ultimate displacement activity: house cleaning – worse – the Spring Clean. Worse than that – a November Spring clean. Some of you will have already guessed it – yes - writing has hit a sticky patch. There is a hill of research to climb (to big to ignore) before I can go on. Nevertheless, I’m torn between the two competing impulses – to carry on writing, probably into a quagmire  – or stop and take stock. Research and think.

 I’d like to make this sound vaguely heroic using the metaphor of a traditional steppe torture:  tying the victim to two horses galloping in different directions. But in fact it’s pusillanimity squared, an indulgence, an effete quiver of the sensibilities. I could be in an office, down a coalmine - worse - teaching, or in Sierra Leone. And I’m worried about this? A module the size of a fridge has just landed on a comet 310 million miles away travelling 140,000 miles per hour. It puts my little hiccup into perspective.

But then, to be honest, I’m not worried. It’s a perfect excuse for a thorough spring clean, an approving wife and, biggest bonus of all Rock music in an empty house with volume right up to the ceiling. The house is shaking as I get to grips with duster and mops and various weird implements.

And, inadvertently, I’ve discovered the perfect play- list. No door or skirting board has been more vigorously washed than to the tune of Radar Love. Brushing proceeds at a frenzy to Hawkwind’s Silver Machine. Dusting demands the equally rhythmic but more delicate House of the king by Focus. Sweet Home Alabama is wonderful for toilets, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band’s Faithhealer - most excellent for windows. As the end approaches it’s one final strut to the kitchen to the strains of Tumbling Dice. I also hoovered the entire house but didn’t hear much with that. I think Rory Gallagher’s ‘Messing with the Kid’ was in there somewhere, but it doesn’t work with a Dyson - which is also rubbish for air guitar.

Now it’s back to the screen with an orange I’m finding hard to peel,  and a determination to write: a blog post. The sequal to The Gift can wait another day.

Friday, 7 November 2014


Just off the Hereford to Abergavenny road (A465), between Wormbridge and Wormlow Tump lies the ancient parish of Kilpeck. It contains a pub, a few houses, the remains of a castle and a remarkable church. On a still summer’s day there is magic in climbing the motte to what remains of the castle (a wall), sit for a time and just look around. It is hard to believe that 1,500 years ago Celts and Saxons farmed these lands in relative harmony. Even the Normans, not noted for their pacifism, were seduced by something in the air – and Kilpeck church is witness to that.


In the Middle Ages Kilpeck was a thriving settlement with its church and castle. King John visited it three times in four years. Now little is left but a church that has survived everything history could throw at it: the Reformation, iconoclastic puritans, Victorian prudes (with the exception of one lady perhaps) even the weather. The church is built of Herefordshire red sandstone, which is usually susceptible to the corrosive effects of rain and ice. There are rational explanations. The Kilpeck sandstone has developed a hard patina that provides some protection, but however it is explained the church exudes a mysterious peace, and will probably be there for another thousand years.

Walking down from the motte to the church

The Normans arrived in Kilpeck soon after the Conquest and it was given to William fitz Norman, a kinsman of the Conqueror. William’s son, Hugh de Kilpeck was Keeper of the King’s Forests and in 1140 he built the church. With its three, clearly defined sections – nave, chancel and apse – it is now almost unique; especially with its semi circular apse. Most have been destroyed or replaced by small rectangular alternatives. Another point of interest is that instead of destroying the earlier Saxon Church - the usual Norman practise - Hugh de Kilpeck incorporated it. He also did something else in keeping with its history and perhaps in some inexplicable deference to the 'sense of place' which still exists.

There has been a church on this site since the earliest days of Christianity. The village's name of Kilpeck is probably derived from kil Pedic, the "cell of St Pedic," who is otherwise unknown but was likely a local Celtic holy man. Records in the Book of Llandaff indicate that "Kilpeck church with all its lands around" was given to that diocese in 650 AD. Not only did he retain elements of the previous church, he decorated it in a weird and wonderful melding of celtic, saxon and viking imagery.

Around the top of the Romanesque arch you can see chevron moulding, followed by Norman beakheads. Below that is the Tympanium with its carving of the Tree of Life.  On each door jamb you can see two warrior figures – not Norman knights but clearly celt, referred to now as the ‘Welsh Warriors’. Serpents slither up and down the two pillars. The serpents are hungrily devouring each others’ tails. This idea of evil consuming evil is reinforced on the left hand column with its carving of a basilisk and a lion in conflict. If you look really carefully - on the right - you will see the ubiquitous Green Man. 

Most medieval churches were painted so this would been a riot of colour, but, judging by microscopic flakes, celtic colours not Norman.

Inside the church the eye is drawn to the two romanesque arches leading to the altar in the apse.

Again, on each pillar you have carvings. One is clearly St Peter carrying the keys of Heaven. The others may be Evangelists though some of Celtic tonsures, others Roman.

The apse where the eye is drawn to an early example of rib vaulting. The ribs intersect in four identical heads called Cat Masks. You can find similar ones in Durham Cathedreal or Elkestone Church in Gloucestershire

The  exterior of the church burst with imagery with no less than 89 corbels. I have two favourites. Below is the Sheela Na Gig, gorgeous in its obscenity. And again, against all the odds – Puritans and Victorians to name just a few – it survived. One explanation is that it may have been depicted as a fool opening her heart to the devil. Another explanation – though dubious because the same story has been repeated elsewhere – was that it depicted the patron’s wife after he refused to pay the mason for work done. Whatever the case the fact that a Victorian lady objected to a corbel on the front of the church but made no objection to this is curious. Rumour has it that the offending corbel, subsequently erased, was that of a man with a big penis.

To the back of the church are carved crocodiles shown devouring their enemy, the Hydrus. The latter covered itself with mud, slid into the crocodile's mouth and split open in its belly. It thus represents Christ's Harrowing of Hell - when, between His crucifixion and resurrection, Christ descended into Hell to save the righteous imprisoned there since Adam. 

My camera doesn't do justice to these carvings. If you would like to see the full range in sharp focus and close up there is a wonderful link here