Eclectic - from social documentary to "painterly" and abstracted pictures.
On many edges - leadership development - social development (esp children's education) - photographer - writer - web - ideas - marketing - networks - love music - customer 1st
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- Golden tresses hung on clay
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Category Archives: Travel
Clouds like nymphs fleeting heavenward.
High above in childish fantasy,
Pictures melting, fast deserting
Loosing glory, gaining solitude.
Bursting forth as living water.
Sometimes grey, looming ominous.
Coloured scarlet by dying embers.
Broken by light, blue beyond.
Where are they going, or coming from?
Written Summer 1967
Last weekend I was at the ICEHOTEL, just outside Kiruna, Sweden. It’s about 200km north of the Artic Circle, which makes it Lapland. Approaching from the south, the land looked cold even before he touched down. Reminded me of a song by Billy Joel.
“… we were strapped against those Scandinavian skies
The landing gear came down and touched the Swedish ground
And we were all so paralyzed”
For once, passengers took their time leaving the plane, to be sure their coats were fastened, and that fingers wouldn’t freeze so they could take happy snaps of the last hour of the sun.
It was cold. But then when something is planned for and anticipated, it feels good. Warm coats. Thermals. Lingonberry juice. Everyone tried to be nonchalant, like they had done this a thousand times. But no one quite knew what to make of the parking signs outside for the huskies and their sleds. Locals looked bemused.
As in all hotels, one constant is the bar, the centre of conversation and amusement. This one was no different, though it had a million glasses made of ice.
“Would you like to keep yours, sir?”
Warm lips created soft indentations, and the light sparkled on a myriad bubbles, both in the liquid and in the ice. Bubbles everywhere.
At each turn, artists created their visions in ice. Some stark, some complex. Most magical. And all thought provoking.
“Eternity”. A frozen couple, standing together, staring into the near distance. Guardians of ideas and hopes. Standing at the foot of a bed of ice.
Every year huge blocks of pure ice are taken from the Torne River. A building is created. Art inspired. Glasses used. Beds made. An ice church welcomes all faiths, and vows are exchanged. And every year it all slides gracefully back from where it came. The ultimate “eco-hotel”.
Much inspiration. Very hard to capture, despite the technology everyone brings. Nikon, iPhone. Somehow the ice decides its own brand, how it will shine, what colour it will be. Thousands of images. All fleeting. Like some grand impressionist attempt to define the cycle just fails, because nature itself is in charge, not the artist.
However there is nothing uncertain about sleeping on a bed of ice. It’s real. And it does tend to focus the mind. Why did we do it? I guess because somehow it had always seen a challenge, something unusual.
“Come to the desk when you are ready. Just wear your thermals (and boots of course) – and get your sleeping bag. Run like hell and get tucked in! Don’t worry, it’s a constant -5C, so it can’t get as cold as outside. And we have alarms installed. We don’t want anyone to drown if there is a fire.”
We were hoping to see the Aurora, and we learnt how to chase it on snowmobiles. But freezing fog made that impossible. The clouds were not quite ready to drop yet another load of snow. Nor were they keen to leave. Instead they swooped low onto the land, to be sure everyone knew who really was in charge.
Other times the clouds gave moments of magic. Blue. Wispy clouds. Sunset and sunrise. But not now. Not when we were searching for the Lights.
I reflected, remembering past poetry, past events. Past vistas. It seemed that the clouds were defining everything, not the ice. The artists could work with the ice. It was solid and had clarity of view and purpose. But no one could work with the clouds. They were imperious.
The clouds decided what colours he saw. How much we saw. What we felt. Whether we were warm or cold, grumpy or happy. And the clouds were the mother and father of all we saw. They created the water that froze. They hid the landscape. They pampered the trees.
And they changed at will. Whenever they wished. However they chose.
“Happiness is like a cloud. If you stare at it long enough, it evaporates.”
Tall and straight with vestal eye.
Sunset embodied in life eternal,
Golden charm of folded petal.
Coloured scarlet with flaming torch.
Virgin purity of snowy white,
Or rainbow hues of any in nature.
Short and bushy in green confusion.
Often chosen with ecstatic movement,
Showing love, cherished enchantment,
But creature of death to people fallen.
This we ask of a solitary flower
Which we ourselves can never reach.
Written Summer 1967
It’s snowing out there. And, this being the UK, a national disaster is being declared. We read that 11 inches of snow fell on Moscow last night, and almost 200 people have died in that country because of extreme cold. “Snowpocalypse” the Moscow press are calling it.
Yet the M4 gets closed down with an inch of snow. People pretend they can’t get to work, and show themselves in snowball fights on Facebook. And then they wonder why their management get annoyed.
Some years back, I took a picture of a Rose, ignoring the odds and poking its tongue out at the heaviest frost of the year.
It became one of my most viewed images on flickr.
In 1967 I also wrote a poem about a rose. Looking back, it’s too complex and wordy – but it is a poem of its time. It’s how I felt, and it was of course heavily influenced by the sights, sounds and social upheaval of the “Summer of Love”.
It was the year that the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, the Who and many other bands tried to out-innovate the Beatles.
Which was an impossible task.
John, Paul, George and Ringo were demonstrating what a “high performance team” is. Extraordinary achievements followed with quickening momentum, and every member of the band contributed in a unique way – the smoke and the acid flowed like water untroubled by small pebbles. They were leaving the others behind.
“High Performance Team: A small group of people so committed to something larger than themselves that they will not be denied”
Katzenbach, J and Smith, D (1993), The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the high-performance organization.
“I am a Walrus”, sang the man in that high-performance team.
“Sitting in an english garden waiting for the sun.
If the sun don’t come, you get a tan
From standing in the english rain.
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen.
I am the walrus, goo goo g’joob goo goo g’joob”.
Was the Rose sitting in the garden, waiting for the sun? Or was the Rose in a team with the rain?
The Rose was both part of the whole and yet totally alone.
The picture doesn’t work without the background, and the Rose could not survive without the help of the sun, piercing the frost. Yet the Rose was standing tall, doing what it does best. It was not just surviving – it prospered.
And it made the garden and its world a happier place.
By being together alone.
“We could feel alone when we were together, alone against the others”.
Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
A Burtonian Poem
a mist descending
rolling with tidal motion
over the blackened parapet
of the Trent Bridge.
in Hartshorne a farmer wakes early
to milk his cows,
for him every day is the same.
children making early morning tea
for their parents.
the walls of a bed sit explode
in the agony of a hangover.
black coffee enters a thousand throats.
the Sun rises high above the valley,
casting the shadow of Winshill across the traffic
at the Swan.
slowly the suburbs awaken,
to read the Mail or the Daily Express.
birds sing in the trees throughout the borough.
school boys in dark blue,
a duffel bag on their shoulders,
a girl friend in their hands.
shop girls arriving at work,
to make up and talk of their weekend.
the market traders prepare their stalls
to do battle with Paddy.
in the bed sit
a young man is sick
return home to sleep.
cars flow steadily down the Ashby road,
to meet the chaos of Bargates
and the waiting traffic wardens.
He drove into town, for the first time for ages. The floods were very bad – the worst for years. Even the swans sought refuge. Rivers Trent and Dove merged to form a new inland lake. The floodwalls just manage to stop an invasion of the town. Christmas lights sparkled on the water, daring it to come closer.
The Trent keeps flowing.
He recalled the times he walked the Burton streets. Drinks at the Queens, bowling on Saturdays, browsing in the bookstore on Station Street. Later, walking in the Trent meadows, maybe getting lucky. There were no fancy restaurants, and the pubs just had beer. The market was by Royal ascent, and was the only place for both potatoes and presents. Now of course Sainsbury’s vie with Tesco.
The Statutes Fair still takes over the market in October. It was founded in 1824 “for the hiring of servants”, and was once called a “human flesh market”. It doesn’t change. As he walked through the marketplace, he remembered that day in 1966, when he first went to the Fair with his girl. And he remembered the party where “Good day Sunshine” was the dance music du jour.
Today the Abbey, a thousand years old, is a restaurant. The car parks are bigger than the market stalls. As he dined, the staff was knowlegeable about the history of the place, with tales of monks trying recipe after recipe to create the perfect beer.
Local brewers, who ran the town, later built the Victorian swimming pool. Now the global Coors sign glows across its fiefdom.
In his day, the pool was due for demolition, but that took years, and the heavy smell of chlorine was still a persistent memory. He did remember submitting a design for the new pool, in a contest at school. But no one bothered to reply, even though he built a cardboard model with a curved roof.
Today they claim a “state of the art” fitness centre.
He was fiddling to get WiFi, a sign of the times which would have been magic in the clubs of old. Yet, even with this modern twist, faces from the past floated by, like broken branches on the swollen river. He wondered what became of them all?
“We will be at war with the Chinese in 5 years” said a school friend – in 1961. The Power Stations both sides of the town were deemed nuclear targets. What was it like to live in their shadow? He could barely remember.
The Trent keeps flowing.
It’s time to meet the family. The ancestral tree shows that nearby Tutbury had been “home” for over 500 years. The antique shops in that High Street bear witness to so much, and the graveyard in the Church to so little. Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned there for a night – but who remembers anything else of that town?
He wonders what happened. How was his line broken, and why was it fragmented to allow him to wander the world?
There is much news to swap, and many stories to tell. Pictures are shown. Yet there is a sense of flood. The waters cover the details of the land, and make it all murky and brown. Detail gets lost, and things merge.
Generations flow, and people move on. Learning happens. Success and failure. Dreams change. Things shatter. Conversation takes unexpected twists.
There are new bars in town, and the old schools are no longer there. The new hospital gets mixed reviews. Family is treated there, yet it all seems rather a perfunctory experience. They weren’t really happy about it all. Is it just a personal view of entitlement, or a thoughtful perspective on patient care?
When he walked these streets, there was no such concept. He cut his thumb, building balsa planes, and the nurses seemed fine. He still has the scar. Just physical, not mental of course.
Aubrey de Grey says we can all escape death by surfing the longevity curve, waiting for technology to catch up and solve the problems we have. A fantasy? Not really. It already happens. What is now routine surgery was unimaginable when he was growing up.
It would have been considered magic (or at least that’s what Arthur C. Clarke wrote).
Family conversation often takes strange twists. Let’s debate the new migration that makes the town a melting pot – welcome to some, unwelcome to others. Respectful debate veers so close to lines which are moved as generations change.
How can anyone forget that the town has centuries of history, of Romans and monks, of battles and beer.
He leaves. He’s really pleased to have seen everyone, and thoughtful about what it all means. Yet he knows he will never know why it all happened as it did. He will never be able to connect his sense of himself, of where he is today, with that understanding of where he came from.
But the Trent doesn’t forget. The Trent knows.
The Trent keeps flowing.
Jump .. Home
Jump once Jump twice Jump thrice
And we feel the life that there is around us
within us beside us and beyond us.
And there is another jump with another beyond that.
Jump twice and there is no jump
Just a distant measure of success
Jump thrice and the smile disappears
Because the jumper has lost his beat
Jump once Jump twice Jump thrice
And the works becomes clear by comparison.
Home is where you came from. Home is where the family is. Home is where you work.
Home is where you are.
Where is that, exactly?
“Runaway Train” was a favourite song. Cool video too. But was years later that the meaning became clear, explained first hand by someone who did it. Someone who left home to find home. Someone who believed that actions not ideas were the key.
Home is not an idea. It’s an action.
Well, let’s recall the pediatrician story. Some time ago, a new expat family were asked how they would know if they were well settled in their new assignment.
“When your toddler has a problem, who will you call? Will you go to the local doctor, first, and ask for advice? Or will you call the pediatrician “back home”?
Call the local, it means you are home. Call the pediatrician, it means you aren’t home”
It’s the test of being home. Where is your doctor? Who do you trust?
Home. The place we feel safe. The place we go back to. Where we hide, and where we celebrate. We all have somewhere like that. Even travellers have the caravan, embedded in their group.
Home is where the way of life fits living the way you want to.
Jump home then.
The ugly Expat was having a beer by the pool, his pretty companion happily munching on nasi. She lounges with a certain style, practised and without conscience. The sun covers everything like a cloak of anonymity, baking everyone with its constant stare. Well trained staff walk backwards and forwards, offering ice but little consolation. He looks across the pool.
Is he thinking of home? Perhaps more to the point, where are her thoughts? She is a long way from home. Or maybe she is home. Who knows.
A young Japanese mother, daintily dressed in black, was also by the pool. She plays with her toddler. Careful to avoid the sun, and equally careful not to smile. Snacks arrive. Cold drinks refresh. Other mothers watch, yet they seem lost in their own dreams without truly seeing. The toddler is oblivious.
It’s raining at home. It usually does. The day you need the Sun it plays a peeking game.
The police car sat on the bypass, keeping watch lest laws get broken. At the Queens, the likely lads enjoy an illegal Scotch, hidden deep inside a creamy coffee. Scarves at a nautical angle, the afternoon will be spent playing snooker and giggling at music magazines.
Trying to be mod, failing to be hippie, ignoring the pervasive scent of hops and barley. And still hoping to have an amorous evening in the meadows.
Home it was.
Safe, comfortable even as wonders needed to be explored and worlds waited to be changed. Yet it was a place to leave, to put into the perspective of experience and never to repeat. But oh, the stories that it led to. The myths it created.
“Sing out if you want anything” said the Purser, knowing that the acquaintance was brief and the impression immense. Darkness enveloped the flight, with everyone doing their best to turn away. Too late now.
A single cube made it all right. Sleep now.
Home is where you stop, and this bird isn’t it. The infamous second night. But the bird is known, like so many others. It starts here, goes there, and does so with a cosy sequence.
Home used to be 2K. And it still is. But rarely.
Let’s catch some fish – coral trout, spangled emperor, Spanish mackerel and have a barbie. Family from all over, fishing, cooking, eating. And smiling. Don’t forget the smiling. They come together both through tragedy and the start of new lives. They are together because the chose to be. And home is wherever they are, as family.
Jump. Jump all over.
It was home, overlooking the South China Sea. No skyscrapers in sight so it couldn’t have been real. The big boss visited, inspecting the kingdom. Drinks flowed, and cautious small talk from the dozens present. “Would you like peanuts?” asked the 3 year old of the big boss. “Of course, thank you” he replied. He was handed exactly one peanut. Maybe for the first time in his life. One peanut. But it was the 3 year old that was home, not him. Her peanuts after all.
Spiritual home. What an old-fashioned concept, never recognised in an election. Is it a collectivist or individualist place. It’s neither. If individual, how can you be attached to others in some big whole? And, if collectivist, what does it mean to your soul?
So, “where is home”?
Home is where your spirit is. On the grass, by the pool, at work or in love. It’s everywhere and nowhere. It’s now yet, yet also was then. One thing is for sure, though. It will be there tomorrow.
Jump there. Once, twice or thrice.
Home will be right there.
There is a moment of sheer horror when truth is open for all to see.
When eyes that are closed are scared of the night time, and strangers that smile become the immortal.
If it t’were done, said the man, then get the f*** on with it.
Success is a virtue for those that don’t have it.
Speed is a problem for people in slow-mo.
Taste is a matter of feeling and substance.
Heat is a moment with wonderful distance.
If it t’were done, said the man, then get the f*** on with it.
So why this, why now? It’s because of a deal. The past and the future. Escape is always a negotiation between the two. A deal starts with what is, and moves to what should be.
He was in Paris on business this past week. Now, on other days, a trip to Paris is always an adventure. There are things to see, and people to observe. There are new tastes to acquire, and thrills to seek.
The adventure is still there, but there is something a little numbing about the Eurostar routine. It’s a comfortable way to travel of course, and the blackness of the tunnel marks a helpful moment in time. But the routine of a bus is not the same as a road trip. Ask the Beats. The crazy, DeLorean effect of time shift means that it’s just another taxi, just another office, just another meeting.
You are spoilt, the voice says. Others would love to be doing this. Maybe so, your quiet voice says. But your loud voice knows otherwise. That voice knows the pain, the hard work. It’s a job and that’s that.
Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 7
If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
It were done quickly: if the assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch
With his surcease success; that but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all here,
But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
Let’s hope that there is a difference between plunging a dagger into the back of a King, and making a business trip. Well, at least we read that there is. Macbeth’s problem was, of course, his wife, everyone agrees. Yes, he did the dirty dead. But was it his own choice, or did his Lady spur him on? Isn’t that all a bit ridiculous? People inspire others, to do all manner of things. But at the end of the day each of us decides what to do.
Macbeth killed. Fact. Can’t blame the Lady for the dagger.
Was success a virtue in its own right?
Did Macbeth’s success lead to an inevitable dénouement? Fate is at work. When a deal is done, do we recognise that moment of delicious unveiling? You know it’s for real. Yet you worry that there will there be a twist that blows everything apart.
There are too many questions.
The train speeds on. Missing stations. Hurtling into the fog with no chance of stopping in time. How the driver must trust. Signals. Radio. Putting instinct to one side and keeping steady as you go. Is it true that there is a Dead Man’s Handle? Is Macbeth nearby?
The passengers in the cabin pay attention to their tablets, and dismiss the quality of the air. No one notices the Tunnel. It’s a tube, which starts at one end and finishes at the other. It’s all over almost before it starts.
Always a schedule, always a plan. Speed.
The staff were friendly, they even joked. Was it really a stew? Road kill a fellow traveller offered. Taste in food. It begs the question, is there taste in a deal?
“I am a reformed lawyer – but not quite, as I still like to taste the blood.”
Could have been Lady Macbeth, washing her hands to get rid of the mortal stain. The Lady had style. She had taste. Occupying seat 43 another lady had style. Had taste. And she still hated the road kill. What deal had she been doing in Paris?
There’s something aesthetic about a deal, taking a view, connecting the dots. It’s a dance – sometimes a dance macabre, sometimes it rocks, and sometimes it’s just a jig, backwards and forwards. But it has its own rhythm, its own style. A deal is tasteful.
Or, as Macbeth discovered, it’s not when it has no taste. No style. No right.
Taste. The flavour of the deal.
Open the window, please; it’s hot in here. It’s always a game, negotiation. What would good look like? What are our asks? What are our gives? Who’s the good cop?
It gets warm. Ever had a “cold deal’? If you think you have, then to be honest you don’t know what a deal is. It’s always hot. It has pressure. There is a tiny volcano just beneath your seat.
Hold on, don’t move. Hold on.
You want to escape the heat.
You want to calm things down and slow events. You want to escape the volcano.
Macbeth tried. It was a deal that he thought was menacing and cold. But then there were ghosts testifying to the deed. He couldn’t escape. The past showed through, the prophecy foretold when the trees moved.
Escape the past – not possible.
There’s the heat.
Escape to the future.
That was how he saw things, all those years ago, and he wrote it all down, and shared with his love. But had things changed? Was it all golden? Were there tresses? And what happened to the clay?
It was an early morning at Heathrow. Things were calm after the Olympics, and it was all pretty routine. Security was fast – though how many times must he be told to take his jacket off, and put things on a tray. Is his memory that bad? He had time for a coffee and spicy juice before following the crowd to the plane. Outside, autumn was appearing, like some kind of calming cloak, covering everything. It seemed to get the approval of the onlookers, all keen to get some certainty in the weather.
Odd though that there are no seasons inside the red white and blue tube. Just a trolly with the same coffee and snacks all year round. But there was a window to the outside, and after the usual cotton wool views, the first sight of Norway did indeed show that the gold was starting to appear. Not in huge amounts – spotted across the landscape like dandruff amongst the trees. But bright, clear and demanding attention. He was confused, though. What were those brilliant white spots on the field? Hard to make out. Then he realised that it really was autumn. The white spots were hay bales in their protective coats. Ready to feed the cows during the harsh winter, soon to be upon them.
Taxis are always easy – will that be by card, sir? And do you speak English or German (obviously not Norwegian).
He’d forgotten, though, that he wasn’t alone. She was there, ready to take on the world – or, better said, ready for battle after breakfast. The best meal of the day everyone calls breakfast. When that was first noted, did anyone know about airport sandwiches? He thought not.
It was all pretty straightforward. He went to the office, exchanged pleasantries, started doing business … and then he saw the tresses. Of course he’d seen them before, but today they meant more. He had that poem in his head, and was trying to make sense of it to tell the story of the day.
Once there was a not-so-quiet revolution. For the first time, kids went to Uni instead of the Army. Music rocked the world, and everyone challenged the rules. Mind expanding, eclectic, crazy colours and liberation. No one thought about the future – yet everyone protested about the present. Everyone loved everyone – except of course those that they didn’t – and then they argued and protested. He remembered that demonstration against Maggie. And he remembered the tresses.
Lots of them
Black, gold, red. Straight, curled. Plaited. Short. Long. Masculine. Feminine. And in between.
And there, today, so distant from those days in space, time and money, were the tresses. Long, grey, tidy. They wouldn’t have looked out of place at the Uni Bar. But today they controlled the room. Led the people. Pushed, joked and generally knew their value. The tresses unconsciously bound him to both the past and the present.
It went well. Mission accomplished. And there was still time to enjoy Oslo. Well, at least to sample the food in a restaurant getting ready to face the cold, windy nights with heating and blankets. Not necessary today, but always present, just in case. A pleasant evening amongst colleagues and friends. And, despite that last Akvavit, an early return to the hotel, knowing there was more business to do in the morning.
What he didn’t know, though, was that the airport would develop a unique flaw. “Sorry everyone, we can’t fuel the planes. The entire airport is offline”. Like some kind of warning on his computer. “Cannot connect to the network”.
And then he saw the clay. It was beneath his feet, connecting everything. He walks on it. Uses it. Molds it. Yet none of us really ever see it. It grounds us, just like his plane was grounded, stuck in the clay. Not in the air, flying free. But stuck.
The BA Captain was an unexpected star. First, instead of hiding behind the bureaucracy of the moment, he came out to talk, to explain, to reassure. Then, he managed a small miracle – or was it just a competitive strike?
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we managed to get the last bowser of fuel. So, if you wouldn’t mind (getting your asses in gear) we will leave in 10 minutes”.
Leaning back in his seat, in that same tube, with the same trolly but different drinks, his mind wandered. Analysing the day, thinking of the gold, admiring the tresses, and wondering where the clay was now.
And it all came together. The real meaning of the phrase.
Golden tresses hung on clay. A civilisation grown from strands. Combinations and permutations.
The magic of being human, creating worlds of inspiration out of normality. The magic of love and friendship, built from simple origins.
The reality of living.
Sipping his drink, he smiled to himself. He knew he’d explain it all somehow.