Like a fire in the sun …

Northumberland has been clinging to the wreckage of autumn these last few weeks but its all over now.  Despite Black Friday, despite the ever sooner onset of Christmas and the tyranny of things, it has been a quiet few weeks in Beaufront Woodhead.  It is also a time of inner conflicts.  The desire to play golf set against too damp courses and uninviting weather – the solution – head for the coast. The impatient need to be out on two wheels set against slippery surfaces, biting winds and too much salt on the roads – the solution – sit tight and polish the hardware.

For now, the priority is the much delayed task of writing the follow-up to Golf in the Wild. My modest ambitions for the first version have been met – the production costs have been recovered and 800+ copies shipped.  The sequel is progressing at a glacial pace – I am currently researching Loch Eriboll, just a few miles down the road from the return journey’s place of departure, Durness. Eriboll has some fascinating history, not least that in May 1945, this was the location for the surrender of thirty three U-boats, the pride of Germany’s Wolfpack.  I could be stuck in these waters for weeks, but no matter, the days are short and the nights long.

In the meantime, this is Northumberland as autumn falls into winter:

The view north ... Hopeful Monster ... Perfect conditions ... Messing about ...

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Mixing up the Medicine

I’m not here, I’m back there – I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.  It feels like a personal vindication – I am twelve again.  I shout down the stairs to my mum and dad – “I bloody told you so!” 

“We will have none of that sort of language in this house!” – it is the voice of my mother echoing down the years.  There is no need to respond.  I know when their argument has lost its foothold; they change the subject.

In response to Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize, The Irish Times brought together the response of forty Irish authors, poets and scholars to his literary honour.  I have long been a consumer of Irish fiction, it is in my head as much as the work of Robert Zimmerman.  These reactions from The Irish Times will now provide a future guide to my consumption of Irish literature – those with a churlish or superior response will disappear from my reading wishlist.

But what of those I have already read and admire.  What, in particular, would Anne Enright have to say, would I be obliged to never open her books again.  I need not have been concerned – not only did she approve, she came up with a one-liner worthy of the man himself – “And once you “get” Dylan, you can’t get away”.

On the day his Nobel Prize was announced, Migrant in Moscow, on Blipfoto, clicked on the tag ‘BobDylan’ and a stream of ‘likes’ came pouring into my mailbox.  I had forgotten just how many times I have used his words on Blipfoto.  Many of these images have already appeared on WordPress but, I repeat them here in celebration – good on yer Bob!

Ballad of a Thin Man

You see somebody naked
And you say, “Who is that man?”
You try so hard But you don’t understand
Just what you’ll say When you get home
Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is Do you, Mister Jones?
Ballad of a Thin Man

 

Black cows in the meadow Across a broad highway Black cows in the meadow Across a broad highway Though it’s funny, honey I just don’t feel much like a Scarecrow today

Black cows in the meadow
Across a broad highway
Black cows in the meadow
Across a broad highway
Though it’s funny, honey
I just don’t feel much like a
Scarecrow today
With apologies to Black Crow Blues – Dylan

And I answer them most mysteriously “Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?”

And I answer them most mysteriously
“Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?”
Ballad in Plain D

... for playing electric violin on Desolation Row

You would not think to look at him that he was famous long ago
For playing electric violin on Desolation Row

... the bells on the crown Are being stolen by bandits I must follow the sound

Farewell Angelina, the bells on the crown
Are being stolen by bandits
I must follow the sound

... now over 50 years old

… now over 50 years old

I'm not there

I’m not there

When the jelly-faced women all sneeze.<br /> Hear the one with the moustache say Jeez, I can't find my knees.

When the jelly-face women all sneeze.
Hear the one with the moustache say Jeez,
I can’t find my knees.

Rainy Day Flowers #12 & 35 ...

Rainy Day Flowers #12 & 35 … (or Women)

And these visions of Johanna are now all that remain

And these visions of Johanna are now all that remain

You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Not when you have Egger.

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

This wheel's on fire, rolling down the road.

This wheel’s on fire, rolling down the road.

Visions of Johanna

My internal roadmaps contain a section dedicated to the streets of Manchester in the 1960s.  Most of these monochrome memories start from Oxford Road station with its three wooden conoid roofs, a remarkable building for its time with echoes of the Sydney Opera House.  Even a self-absorbed teenager noticed such things but when it came to railways, I had previous.  An avid trainspotter from the age of eight, what else was there to do, I knew Manchester’s stations intimately: Manchester Central, Piccadilly, Victoria and Exchange – all of them dark, filthy and rundown – hell’s Cathedrals.  This was the norm, this was all I knew – smog, steam and rain – the assumption was that this was the way everything ended, Oxford Road included, the station where most of our journeys on clackety closed compartment trains from Altrincham would finish.

Down Station Approach to the left was the Corner House Cinema specialising in ‘adult entertainment’ and to the right, along Oxford Road, was the Family Planning shop, nothing more than a hut beneath the railway bridge. I had no use for either of these services but like forbidden fruit, they intrigued.

The main attractions were the musical instrument shops that lined the south side of Oxford Street, full of guitars and drum kits well beyond our means.  At the junction with Portland Street was a sheet music shop, another frequent haunt – we were as likely to buy the sheet music as the vinyl.

St Peter’s Square is dominated by Manchester Central Library, no longer the blackened cake tin of my youth, it roughly marks the point where Oxford Street becomes Peter Street.  Less than 200 yards further on is the Free Trade Hall where, on May 17th 1966, Dylan had his confrontation with Judas – “I don’t believe you”   ……..  “You’re a liar.” 

This goes some way to explain an obsession that has not left me.  My head is full of disturbing verse, none of it attributable to Wordsworth:

Inside the museums, infinity goes up on trial
Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while
But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues
You can tell by the way she smiles

So when I create an image such as this, inevitably it is Visions of Johanna that conquer my mind:

And these visions of Johanna ...

 

“Bob Dylan – Visions of Johanna”  Director: John Hillcoat

Different faces …

… you would not think to look at him
That he was famous long ago
For playing electric violin
On Desolation Row

... for playing electric violin on Desolation Row

There is nothing that connects the above image with the next other than they are both block mounted, both have been yellowing in the attic and both were taken around the same time, in the late 1970s/early 1980s.  I would guess they were taken with a Praktica L using one of the many lenses I carried together with my Dad’s Mamiyaflex – humping that lot about was like going to war and not conducive to capturing Cartier-Bresson’s ‘moment decisif’.  This tousle-haired snub-nosed cherub is my eldest, Patrick – taking the controls of a helicopter at a Cornish air museum:

... at the Helston Air Museum - early 1980s

And finally, this one has absolutely no connection with the above. On Thursday I made the annual pilgrimage to Birmingham for the Motorcycle Live Show at the NEC. This young lady caught my attention – I cannot imagine why 😉 A modern day Loren, she could only grace the Ducati stand:

... the Ducati stand, Motorcycle Live, NEC (yesterday)

As I type this, the wind is blasting around the house, the rain lashing at the window and I fully expect the power to go off at any moment.

Highway 61 Revisited

Highway 61 Revisited was released on 30th August 1965. It is now more than fifty years old and yet, it still sounds as fresh as when I first heard it, hidden away in my bedroom – turn that awful music down Robin – this minute!  Except it wasn’t awful and I didn’t – so the rebellion began.

Michael Gray, author of the first critical study of Dylan’s work, Song & Dance Man: The Art of Bob Dylan, argues that the sixties started with this album.  By contrast, Joe Boyd suggests the sixties began in the summer of 1956, ended in October of 1973 and peaked just before dawn on 1st July 1967 (from his memoir, White Bicycles).

I was born too late.  My sixties began on 25th April 1969 and ended on 6th October 1973. Regardless of beginnings and endings, it is certain that this album and these songs were an essential part of the mix. I remain eternally grateful for its sound and influence, so this post is a brief tribute:

Highway 61 Revisited ...

Everything passes …

… everything changes, just do what you think you should do – To Ramona, Bob Dylan.

More than fifty years separate these images and much has changed in the intervening years, not least me.  In the earlier photograph I have adopted a ‘workman-like’ pose in contrast to my usual preference for pulling faces at the camera. In the later image I prefer to hide behind the lens.

The cars from the 1950s are lined up for the Ballachulish Ferry which is now replaced by the bridge, visible in the second image.  The hotel remains but the family car has transformed from plain and utilitarian into a sleek object of beauty.  In the older image we are gathered around my Dad’s Ford Consul (331 ELG) while the car in front, an ugly-duckling Vauxhall Victor, belonged to my Uncle Ed – they should have kept the Jaguar.

In 1959 we were travelling north to Cullen in Banffshire, a journey that took forever with an overnight stop in Callendar.  We used the only section of motorway built in the UK at the time but it did little to reduce journey times – the 8.5 mile Preston Bypass which eventually transformed into part of the M6.

In 2015 I have driven alone to play golf at Traigh near Arisaig, a brief few days away, not feasible in the 1950s.  On my return I could not resist the delights of the Dragon’s Tooth Course squeezed between mountains and loch, a few hundred yards from the Ballachulish Hotel.  It is a fine test of golf and feels like similar mature courses celebrating their centenaries but in 1959 it did not exist, the fields of Glenn a` Chadias were still being used for grazing cattle.  Everything passes, everything changes.

000-Ballachulish 1959 The queue lane ...
This final image from RMWeb.co.uk shows the ferry in action in 1962 from the other side of the loch, with the Ballachulish Hotel visible in the background. An early implementation of roll-on, roll-off.
003-Ferry postcard

It was twenty years ago today …

… Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play.

Well, much longer than that but, it was twenty years ago today that we moved into our converted farm buildings.  Things have changed since those long ago days but, we remain the same 🙂

The first image was our first sight of the buildings which now comprise our home and the second image is Pam standing in what is now our main bedroom:

The Old Barn ... The Byre ...

These images were taken on moving in day, 4th March 1995:

The Old Barn ... The Old Barn ...
And these were taken this morning – twenty years later, 4th March 2015. Like the man says, things have changed:

The Old Barn ... The Old Barn ...