The last 2 years have been both a frustrating and a destructive time. Covid had brought much of the world to a halt, international travel has been decimated and in the UK the only residence to have seen social gatherings appears to have been no 10 Downing Street, the home of our Prime Minister.
The river Parrett somehow became something of a reason for me to get out of my house and explore the local countryside. The Parrett rises in the small Chedington Hills near Crewkerne, Dorset, in a swamp of springs, small ponds and tributaries through Dorset then Somerset before becoming a slow and winding tidal muddy waterway, issuing into its own estuary and eventually Bridgwater Bay and the Bristol Channel. Exploring it has been fun and although I already have accrued a collection of photographs, there is more of the river and it’s moods to see.
Some of the photographs are below, but I have started a Gallery of images here for those who are interested. This will be reviewed and added to in the months ahead.
The title of this blog entry may seem a little disparaging, though repeated efforts to initiate conversation or a relationship came to nothing. All I know about this man was that he was an older man, diminutive in stature and by his appearance was definitely a sadhu. It also seemed that Manikarnika Ghat appeared to be his home.
He was there every day, sleeping beside one of the temples amongst the goats and cows and spent his days silently watching the antyesti rituals. I never saw him engage in conversation with another human being, apart from to ask for chai, or some food, or to acknowledge with a little nod if chai was bought for him. His whole life seemed to revolve around the ghat where cremations of his Hindu brothers and sisters occured.
I sent some recent photographs of Avebury stone circle to a friend, commenting that some of the stones resembled the shape of people’s expressions or the outline of animals. I saw a shark, a rabbit, a smiling face, a hunched figure, all legitimate interpretations of random shapes of and markings on the collection of immense stones. Her good natured laughing reply was to refer me to pareidolia.
Pareidolia is the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern. It has been described as the science behind seeing faces in everyday objects, for example clouds, and often leads people to assign human characteristics to objects. The more I think about this, the more I realise I do this a lot, and the process of imagining and interpretion of random stimuli to arrive at a hypothosis or understanding, has informed much of both my personal and professional life.
Assessing stimuli we encounter is surely essential in navigating through choices we have in our lives. Sometimes that assessment is correct, other times it is incorrect and errors are made. It is unclear to me how intellectual this process is, or whether it it is instinctive, or on a varying spectrum between the two absolutes, depending on changing circumstances.
Subsequent to my attending Frank’s talk regarding his Glastonbury murals, I returned to the town again the following day to visit the Summer Fayre organised in the Bauhaus style Zig Zag building and the Life Building. I had tried unsuccessfully to visit both buildings in the late afternoon the day before, but was encouraged to return for the Fayre the following day. I often feel myself being pulled here, and always enjoy returning. I do not fully understand this motivation, but do enjoy the sense of chaos and abandonment found within both buildings and the potential they both have for art and work projects, activism and the portrayal and inclusion of alternative life styles.
This equivocation is of course a veiled reference to the very nature of Glastonbury itself. I find it sometimes a chimera of a town, where it’s reality is often impermanent and, somehow similar to the sense of maya in India, Glastonbury seems to present with alternating depths of what is cogent and real. This is a fascinating quality and its demeanour can quickly change depending upon who you speak to, and where that conversation is held, and your own state of mind and receptivity and sensitivity and honesty at the time. But perhaps the maya is entirely in my own mind; after all, what is reality?
The afternoon commenced with a talk about his work by Frank Harwood, one of the artists noted for painting murals on the walls of Glastonbury. The day then became a little messy with visits to some of the murals followed by visits to the alternative areas of the town, including a psychadelic skate park, in search of interest and colour. I managed to get into one travellor’s site but the day ended with a veiled warning to leave another. Here are the photos, starting with an image of Frank in front of a projection of one of his murals and the second photograph depicting some of his statues. All photographs taken by my relatively new iPhone se 2020.
Watch Frank describe his working of his Adam and Eve mural here and view a collection of his paintings and sculptures here.
The current Henry Moore : Sharing Form exhibition at the Hauser and Wirth Gallery at Bruton, Somerset, is a meditation upon Moore’s early attraction for and inspiration by the monolithic structures at Stonehenge. His daughter Mary is curating the exhibition and was very much present in the build up to the opening, providing information about her father’s life and artistic values during a private party before the opening. She recounted that Lee Miller, Peggy Guggenheim, Benjamin Britten, Graham Greene, Helen Frankenthaler, Mark Rothko and Lauren Bacall were among the guests she remembered coming round for tea during her teenage years. She hoped to recreate that sense of awe in the Somerset show, where visitors are able to wander among bronze, marble and plaster works displayed to dramatic effect across five galleries and outdoors.
More of her comments can be read below, between photographs of his sculptures.
On a journey between the north Somerset towns of Wells and Bruton, I decided to stop for a while at St Aldhelms Well, near the church of St Aldhelm at Doulting. Both the church and the well were apparently named after Aldhelm following his death in the immediate vicinity whilst on his ecumenical rounds as the Abbot of Malmesbury Abbey and Bishop of Sherborne. he was well known and revered throughout the church as a poet, scholar and theologian. Following his death in 709, his body was returned to Malmesbury and he was buried at Malmesbury Abbey. He was also sanctified and his Feast Day is the day of his death, 25th May.
Arriving at the bottom of the narrow lane, I saw the figure of a man washing himself in the flowing waters of the well. It was a warm sunny late May day and I was pleased to see someone invigorating themselves in the ancient spring. A woman then arrived with a collection of large plastic bottles for filling at the well, and we entered into conversation whilst we waited for the man to finish his ablution. She told me the water here was very good for drinking, and made a fine cup of tea, much nicer than the popular White Spring at Glastonbury which she said was ‘calcified’. She told me that the best spring for drinking water however was at Whitehole spring, where it was actually commercially bottled and sold, though it is still possible to collect water for personal use there without charge.
Another set of photographs portraying something of the landscape of Somerset.
The Quantocks are a small, narrow range of hills which follow the north Somerset coastline from Williton north to Bridgwater.
On the very ridge of them, heading west from the Triscombe Stone, a Saxon Army route, or ‘herepath’, known as King Alfred’s Way, allegedly marks his route to resist the Viking invasion in the 9th century. Known also as The Drove Road, the route was well-used by local farmers moving cattle and sheep to the market in Taunton.
The third photographic documentationof the landscape of Manikarnika Cremation Ghat, Varanasi, is a collection of portraits of family members within its environs. As a sacred site, its general demeanour is spartan to say the least. It is largely a series of terraced steps which lead down through the debris of previous cremation rituals to the river Ganges below, a river considered to be a living Goddess though in reality is an inordinately polluted riverway. There are a number of separate areas and waiting spaces, all constructed in concrete and blackened by the soot from the fires.
Dotted amongst the families are the white clad Kartas, the oldest male relatives. Sometimes they isolate themselves, leaving the remaining family members sitting mostly on the terraces as the cremations roll relentlessly on. The wait can be up to 8 hours. Most people I approached were very happy to be photographed. The camera was a Sigma DP2 Merril, capable of astonishing quality but unpredictable colour balance.
Building on the theme of portraying landscapes of the UK, particularly Somerset landscapes of rivers and waterways, these images here show the final passages of the River Brue as it winds its way through its muddy estuary and into the River Parrett and the Bristol Channel at Burnham on Sea.
Originating in the parish of Brewham in Somerset, it travels 31 miles, providing an important drainage channel for water from the low lying, prone to flooding Somerset Levels. (more…)