May 2011 Issue 128
This spring has been an unbelievable one so far with every day being sunny (at least partly) and generally spring-like for the past month, making it impossible for me to complain about the normal Manchester greyness as I usually do. Perhaps this years seasons are going to stick to what they are usually meant to be like but never are. Although it still could be a bit warmer to be truly pleasant outside, at least it’s not raining which makes a nice change in these parts. It’s still a really nice feeling to be able to walk around in the park and be aware that everything’s growing around you, and to be able to smell the flowers and blossom. Especially the white blossom, because I’ve never noticed before what a distinct smell it has. Which blows the theory about white flowers which normally have a fairly subtle smell… but the white blossom stands alone.
My sense of time has been thrown a little out of joint recently by the incredibly late Easter weekend… which means that Jack’s only just gone back to collage today. So what will happen to the Whit break? Will that still come at the end of May… who decides these things anyway? Who has the power to control the calendar? Can it really all be decided by the church still… surely not. Do they really hold a big meeting at the beginning of every year involving all the head bishops in the country… the meeting is called, perhaps, The Agenda for 2011. I wonder…
On Good Friday we drove down to Lower Shaw Farm in Wiltshire, where we had arranged to meet Sheila and her kids. Although Lower Shaw Farm is not actually a total farm any more, the farm buildings have been converted into more general community buildings with dormitories etc., the farm does still produce most of it’s own food. There’s also chickens and ducks… I actually held one of these ducklings, which was quite fresh - only about one day old. I was surprised that it didn’t really feel feathery so I imagine the feathers were quite smooth. It was kept in a completely dark room, probably because the light would damage it’s eyes. The food was great… all home grown vegetables and home made crunchy bread - all cooked in the big kitchen which served all the people who were staying there for the Easter weekend. I’m not sure exactly how many people were there, but judging by the general business of the place I’d say there were at least fifty. The farm seemed to me to be run along general anarchist principles in that there was no rigid schedule, but there was a very loose structure, more like a guide line you could follow if you wanted. My favourite day was Easter Sunday although this wasn’t anything to do with it being Easter… we went to the nearby village of Avebury to see the ancient stone circle and stone buildings. These buildings were actually inside the circle, though at the time I didn’t realise this… I thought they were just nearby somewhere. Although this ancient village dated back some 4000 years I was amazed to find the church had a steeple… and yet this was way before Christianity or God. (Actually Brigitte’s just told me that the village was built some time later than the stone circle, so that makes sense). Quite useful having Brigitte to fill me in on the missing gaps as she also visited Avebury at another time. Possibly the stone circle was used to tell the time by the sun… or perhaps we will never know for certain. Anyway, it was fascinating to be so close to such ancient things… I could feel those thousands of years passing as I touched the stones of the circle. Very exciting.
IN THE DARK
As has been happening for the past few years, I felt very confused much of the Easter weekend, simply because I was somewhere where I’d never been before and so was quite literally in the dark. It was also very difficult to hear what people were saying which was pretty frustrating. I don’t want to stop going to crazy places or doing wild things… it just takes quite a bit of adjusting to, if you see what I mean!
Which brings me up to something I’ve been avoiding writing for ages - even though I have written The Ziggy Collection, which on it’s own is pretty directly autobiographical. But I haven’t written anything about the past ten years, which have been an extremely traumatic time for me… but also a very exciting time in the way of my ideas about fiction being involved in my life. Therefore, I wonder if I could write about the loss of my sight and combine it with fiction, perhaps the final part of The Space Between?? I’m not sure if this would work at all. Even if it doesn’t, I may just write about the last ten years - so that it would follow on directly from the final story in The Ziggy Collection.
CATCHING THE LIGHT
We took several copies of my fairytale, Catching the Light with us down to Lower Shaw Farm, and got quite a bit of interest and even positive feedback there! This short fairytale based on Oscar Wilde’s life is now available from us, so please don’t hesitate to order a copy from Rawprintz. I’m still waiting to hear from the Oscar Wilde Society, as I’m hoping they’ll show some interest… maybe even allowing me to write an article about the story.
Last week I found out I didn’t get lucky with the Jerry Farr application… which means there will be no touching Elephants or Cheetah’s. Naturally I’m really pissed off about this, as I was really looking forward to this Touching Safari in South Africa… though I suppose it was pretty inevitable in a way. The letter from the Jerry Farr organisation said that the standard of applications was very high which made it difficult to choose. Andy’s just told me that the organisers only received eight applications from all over the country, which I find absolutely incredible. I would have thought most Ataxia people would have applied again this year, especially because the project limit has gone up. I can’t see any reason why everyone shouldn’t apply for such a great idea as the Jerry Farr Memorial Fund… can you?
After I’d overcome my initial confusion over Prince William getting married, when I thought he was still a little boy, I was thinking about the royal family generally. I’m not a big follower of them but I am looking forward to the day when the next king, Charles comes to the throne. Although I’ll admit readily that I think the monarchy is a pretty useless showpiece of the English establishment, I do think that having King Charles will be amazing… simply because it’ll take us back maybe to the seventeenth century. Perhaps knee breeches, white stockings, and buckled shoes will come back into fashion… not to mention wigs for both men and women. I suppose this has already been the case to a degree with the New Romantics in the early eighties, but it will have more impact with King Charles on the throne.
I had a real fun time on the bank holiday for a change, nothing to do with the royal wedding. Or I suppose it was really, because we went to a street party, which was the first time for me – even though I’ve lived in the city most of my life. As well as being a beautiful sunny day, there was a general atmosphere all around, with flags and bunting everywhere along the street and kids running around with animal faces painted on. There was plenty of music as well… and this became absolutely deafening when we arrived home and discovered they had a sound system across the road which caused everything in the house to vibrate. It was quite ridiculous – so we escaped pretty rapidly to another crazy party in another part of town. Here the music was also pretty deafening… which made it even more confusing for me. But I didn’t really mind, it was great to sort of see all my old writing friends again – this was a writer’s party after all. It was held to celebrate our friend Gary’s engagement. When we finally arrived home way after midnight the deafening music across the street was still in full flow… and continued for another few hours – I don’t think anyone got much sleep that night, but it was a great bank holiday.
I couldn’t make up my mind whether or not to include this piece about Scott or whether to just leave it to the imagination after having talked about it for so long. Though including a different piece may have turned out to be plain annoying. Anyway, here it is… I don’t think I said much about Scott himself anyway, as this is just a piece of my own fiction. The actual first meeting between Kathleen and Scott doesn’t take place until the following year, but I wanted them to meet earlier to fill in a space in The Space Between… and of course, fiction is more important than fact.
While feeling uneasy about not describing Scott more fully than I do, even though I am telling this meeting from Kathleen’s point of view, and I don’t think she would have been particularly impressed at that time, the thing is I can’t actually remember ever having seen a photo of Scott except where he was swathed in balaclavas, so I’ve got no memory to go on, the only image in my head of Scott is of John Mills playing him, and I’m not sure how closely he resembled the captain! I decided finally to include this piece because it didn’t really say much, as I think that such meetings take on such historic significance afterwards while at the time they almost pass by without even being noticed. But I do want to get across some of Scott’s vision and obsession with the Antarctic as I think these things would have struck Kathleen particularly… just that feeling of excitement. Also, I thought this would lead on nicely into the next book, as we’re nearing the end of The Space Between now, though I’ve not yet worked out the exact way I’m going to end the book, though I have some ideas which I hope will work out once I begin to write them down.
I was really surprised when I found out that in fact Kathleen and Scott had only just met when Scott went on his final South Pole expedition, so that I suppose they couldn’t really have known each other so well. Perhaps this is a fault of my imagination, but I’ve always imagined there to exist a particular closeness between them, and maybe this was not the case? I wanted to get this across particularly, and I hope that I’ve succeeded. Scott was undoubtedly obsessed with the Antarctic, and it was absolutely suitable that he should have met his end there. I’ve found out recently that Scott’s body is actually buried there, along with the bodies of his two comrades in the tent. I was really glad to hear this… it just seemed unimaginable that they should be buried anywhere else but deep in the snow.
I really wanted to touch Kathleen’s statue of Scott to get some idea of what the captain looked like, but I was dismayed when I discovered her statues of Scott and his team were in New Zealand!! The only reason I can think of for this is that Kathleen made then there, as this is where she and her husband said goodbye for the last time. Anyway, Scott’s statue fell over recently when there was an earth quake in Christchurch, and both of Scott’s legs were broken… this catastrophe reminded me of when Scott’s body was actually discovered and dug up by other members of his team. Though Scott’s legs remained in tact this time, his arm actually snapped off, presumably they just placed the limb beside him tactfully and left all three bodies beneath the frozen snow and ice. My mum told me an interesting geological fact about the bodies gradually moving because of the ice-sheet above them… which means that in the next century they’ll be beneath the sea. But this doesn’t really matter anyway, because the point is that they’re buried in the Antarctic.
The Space Between
copyright Nicola Batty (c) 2011
THE STORY SO FAR…
It is the autumn of 1906 and Wilde has been dead for six years, leaving only one copy of his manuscript which has been taken over seas to America by Georges. Meanwhile another copy has been printed by Charles Ricketts and given by Charles Shannon to Kathleen Bruce, who is a sculptress and is promised to Shannon. But here she visits the house of a friend in Highgate, where she meets a man who will greatly influence her future.
Now read on…
CHAPTER 6 - 1906
Kathleen was surprised.
“Are you really a Captain? How very impressive.”
Robert laughed softly.
“It took me several years to become accustomed to giving orders, but by now I’m becoming quite used to it.” Robert adjusted his navy blazer self consciously, brushing fluff from his lapel with a slightly impatient movement. “The men need some focus to their energy… someone to urge them forwards towards their goal… wherever that maybe.”
“But surely, Robert,” put in Henry, in his loud, commanding voice, “the point of your Antarctic expeditions is to explore unknown territory, and therefore making new scientific discoveries should be the most important thing. Isn’t that the focus to keep the men’s minds fixed on?”
“Well, yes. Certainly science has its place in my Antarctic expeditions,” said Robert, “but I would never say that science alone drives me forward… it’s something much more than that, about the frozen landscape of the Antarctic, those glaciers and white snowdrifts… so completely unmarked and new, awaiting a footprint. And we have to go forward, to go onwards into those unexplored territories… we have to make them our own.” He fell silent, giving a healthy shrug of his broad shoulders. “And that is the nature of my obsession with the Antarctic.”
Nobody spoke for several moments; outside, the wind blew raindrops which splattered against the window pane.
“I… I would very much like to see the Antarctic, I’m sure… though I don’t think I will ever be able to…” Kathleen said hesitantly, her voice sounding quite unnatural to her. She felt suddenly as if she was alone in the room with Captain Scott, as if all the other people had disappeared. “Your words about it fill me with an excitement, also.”
“Indeed, Kathleen… I’m sure you would be greatly impressed by such wonders. I myself intend to return within the next few years, for there are many more discoveries to be made in such a place.” Robert’s words sounded like they had travelled from much further than the Antarctic; to Kathleen’s ears, they seemed to have taken on a quality that was strange and unreal. She realised suddenly that her eyes were fixed directly on Robert and she dropped them quickly as Sarah took her arm; there was certainly something about the excitement and intensity of Robert’s Antarctic visions that she was absolutely unable to resist. Although she could feel Sarah pulling at her sleeve, it was several moments before she turned her mind and face to her friend.
“Kathleen,” Sarah gave an impatient tut, glancing apologetically at Jane. “Sorry to distract you from such important scientific matters, but we did come here to see Jane’s ceramics… which are in her studio. Would you like to come?”
Giving a little laugh of embarrassment, Kathleen began to move away towards the other door leading back into the house. Of course… please lead the way,” she said. As she turned she stopped and glanced back at Robert, whose eyes still followed her. She reached out tentatively towards him, and their hands met briefly, but the contact between them was lingering and promised much more.
“I hope to meet you again, Kathleen,” he said quietly, his words almost inaudible above the general chatter of his friends, who seem to have found their voices. “I don’t know when I shall be visiting London again but I hope to see you when I do.”
Kathleen smiled, her mind still filled with his vision of the Antarctic. It was as real to her as it was to him.
“I’d like to see you again very much, Robert,” she said, as she withdrew her hand slowly and left the room.
Another extract from The Space Between will appear in June.
Welcome to Andy’s bit…
I was sorry to hear that Nic failed to win the Jerry Farr travel award again this year. After missing out last year and the year before with her proposal to go to Tahiti, (which is something she still wants to do) she simplified her application this year proposing an African Touching Safari, for blind people. When we found out that there were only eight applicants and that the standard of the proposals was very high, I said maybe they should have given the prize to the worst entry as they obviously need the break, whereas somebody who is able to put together a winning entry is probably able to find the funding from elsewhere. Anyway… Congratulations to the winner, I sincerely hope they have a fantastic holiday.
Finally, I want to tell you about, George DeRoe who sadly died recently. He lived in a shepherds hut in a remote part of Wales and he was a friend of a friend of ours called, Olive who is a long time subscriber to this Newsletter. I wrote a poem about him that you can read here on my Proper Joe’s bloggage.
More from Urban Scrawl Andy in June.
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