Indulgence – A Photo

So, the prompt this week for a photo is ‘indulgence’.  I’ve hesitated over what to post on the subject.  What is indulgence?  It’s an interesting word, isn’t it?  Certainly one that sent me to the dictionary.

According to my trusty OED, to indulge is to take pleasure freely (not necessarily in good things), or to partake too freely.  Indulgence on the other hand, as well as being the noun to describe the same things, it also has the meaning of  ‘the remission of temporal punishment still due for sins after sacramental  absolution’ and a sort of religious privilege granted.

Hmm.  Tricky to find a photo for that one.  Anyway, wouldn’t you rather give pleasure than take it?

So here’s a photo of the picnic in the park for the first birthday of the daughter of friends.  She was just enjoying being the centre of attention, and appeared to prefer crawling over the plates of sweets and cakes rather than eating them.  But the adults indulged themselves in the memories of the things they had enjoyed about parties when they were little….

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Perhaps my audible shout of frustration at the abrupt ending to this movie is a testament to how effectively it had ratcheted up my feelings of tension and anxiety and the keen expectation that something nasty was just about to happen.

The story is of a young woman, Martha to her family, Marcy May as she was renamed by the commune leader, Marlene, as she must identify herself on the commune’s telephone, trying to escape both a sinister paternalistic cult and her memories of it.

The movie starts with Martha, played by Elizabeth Olsen, sneaking out of a shared house at dawn and running away through the woods.  Pursued by one of the men from the cult as far as the nearby town by, where she makes a faltering call to her estranged sister, she is haunted by the memories of what has happened to her during her time with the group, and her fears that they are still chasing her.

Told in two intertwining tales, flashing backwards and forwards between scenes in the commune and a present in a vast lakeside house rented by her sister and husband, the narrative glides seamlessly between the two.  Watching, you begin to wonder what is real and what Martha is conjuring from her own disturbed imagination and increasing paranoia.

I got a feeling of a character completely isolated, out of place both in the closed in crowded community of the cult, and in the spacious clinical house of her sister.  Martha is both disturbed and awkwardly out of step with her conventional sister and she finds that she can fit into neither environment.  Her sister doesn’t want her skinny dipping in the lake, nor sitting on the kitchen counter; while in the cult her misdemeanours had been eating before the men had finished, and not ‘sharing herself freely’ enough.

Eating was a recurrent metaphor.  Hungry in the cult from only one rushed meal a day, after the men, when Martha runs away, her first stop is a diner where she eats a sandwich both furtively and desperately, but can’t finish when the boy chasing her catches up.  At her sister’s house she nibbles at her food, pushing it around her plate with a fork, while her brother in law ( a rather stiff and possibly miscast Hugh Dancy) berates her for her lack of respect for his home and hospitality.

For such an effective psychological thriller there is barely any violence, the threat is created and built solely from the idea of its potential.  Elizabeth Olsen gives a great performance as a person haunted by her experiences but not prepared to give anything away.

My only gripe with the film remains that of the ending…….

Home Tourist – Hyde Park

Looking one way.....

Even though I’ve live in London for years there are occasions when I see something new, when I’m in a familiar area at an unfamiliar time, or when I take a route different from my norm.  Each time I have such an experience it reminds me that even little changes can bring a new perspective.

On Friday I was heading from Knightsbidge tube station to the rendez-vous point for my drawing class in Kensington Gardens, it was relatively early in the morning, yet there was a surprising level of activity in Hyde Park.  The army was out and about running and exercising on horseback; dog walkers in expensive wellingtons were out in force, as were lycra clad runners and cyclists.

I can still be surprised from where it is possible to see the London Eye, but I had no idea it would be visible from by the Albert Memorial.  And there is, but even more surprisingly it is dwarfed by the still growing Shard.  I can’t help but wonder if the planners knew that the thing would be so startlingly conspicuous from such a distance.

Looking the other

Elmgreen and Dragset’s Fourth Plinth

By complete chance, Thursday enjoyed both beautiful weather, and the the unveiling of the new installation on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square.  I had a couple of hours to kill in London, and, reminded by a friend of the unveiling, I went to have a look.

With nodding, and sly, reference to the tradition of equestrian statuary which usually commemorate great leaders or dead generals, the installation, Powerless Structures, Fig 101, is a shining sculpture of a young, curly haired child riding a rocking horse.  Where the triumphant military leader might be depicted sitting bolt upright on a noble steed, one of its front legs raised as if in sedate and dignified procession, the boy waves his arm in the air, imagining himself, perhaps as a rodeo rider or jousting champion, astride the wooden horse rocked back as far as its rider can achieve.

The accompanying information speaks of celebrating potential rather than historic achievement, and there is a wit and humour about the idea of this juxtapositioning of the toy and child in the Square otherwise occupied by Nelson, monumental lions, the fountains, thousands of tourists, as many pigeons and the ever present street performers painted in bronze or silver standing immobile for hours hoping for the chance of some coins in the hat on the pavement.

I’m not sure the sculpture would look like much anywhere else.  It’s the positioning of it; the monumentality of the plinth and its location that makes us look at what is otherwise a rather plain, albeit, very shiny, piece.  It raises questions about what it is we memorialise in this public way, in these great civic spaces, and it raises a smile.

It’ll be there for a while; go and make up your own mind.

Drawing En Plein Air

This week at drawing class we spent the morning in Kensington Gardens sketching whatever appealed, both large and small.  For February, the weather was decent, although not as warm as Thursday had been, and sitting for an hour on a conveniently placed bench turned a bit chilly.  So I was pleasantly surprised to discover the hot water in the washhand basins in the otherwise rather unprepossessing public toilets……..

After lunch, back in the studio, we drew something of our own composition, from our sketches, memory and imagination, based on our impressions of our time in the park.

I had been struck by the straight line arrangement of all the trees, the straightness of all the paths, the complexity of the patterns created by the multiplicity of bare branches, and the gnarly and knobbly barks on some of the older trees and a row of trees curved against the prevailing wind.

I’m quite pleased with the solidity of the dinosaur foot tree roots, although I couldn’t decide what to do with the sky for fear of spoiling it……

Muddling Through And Learning On The Way

I’ve been doing something this week that has made me brush up on some of my rusty computer skills.  It turns out that they were only dormant, and that with a little bit of time and practice I was back up and running as well as I’ve ever managed in the past.

Not that I’m any kind of expert.  At all.

But it made me reflect on the development of my ability to use computers and the more common software packages.

I believe they teach IT skills in schools now.  I’m quite jealous of that as I’ve never had any kind of formal teaching on anything computing related in my life, and yet here I am ‘online’, with a novel on file comprising 120,000 words, all of which I’ve typed myself at least twice, I’ve edited digital film and photos (more or less skilfully), and dabbled in all manner of other time wasting ‘social media’ activities; my only skill seems to be the ability to follow a set of instructions.

It all happened very slowly, of course.  When I first started work no-one had a computer on their desk, columns of figures were written out and added up by hand, reports were dictated or written long hand and a person in the ‘wordprocessing department’ typed them up on a machine called a wordprocessor, and  short letters were typed by a secretary using a golf ball typewriter, using carbon paper to make copies.

When I did my accounting exams one of the questions on the IT and Systems paper was about menu driven software and spreadsheets.  I only remember the question as I had never until that point heard of either of those things.

But before long I was being asked to produce information on spreadsheets, so I had to sit at my desk and, by trial and error, of which the larger proportion was error, get it to look like I knew what I was doing, and try to resist the temptation to simply type in all the numbers rather than work out how to construct formulae.  Remember, this was the era before online help, when the instructions were in a printed book, the only office copy of which had been misplaced.

The first time I had to type text in a  format suitable to be seen by another person was when I went to work in Moscow.  To ask the secretaries, who were not native English speakers, to handle long technical letters was not an efficient use of anyone’s time, so we all did our own.  It was one of those systems with little green type on a black screen; for the first couple of months I was in purgatory, not only did I know nothing about Russian tax, I had to type out advice on that very subject myself (so that it could be faxed to clients, before the era of email ubiquity).

At a recent visit to an exhibition, my friend and I had a discussion about the massive changes a person who lived from 1890 to 1980 would have seen in their lifetime, and that, although we had lived since 1960, it had all seemed pretty much the same throughout. So would they have felt the same?  But thinking about it now, just in this context all these change have come so gradually over us that we don’t notice, we’ve acclimatised without being aware.  Maybe in fact we have lived through as dramatic technological changes as any in era.  And it’s not over yet.

Trial and error have been my tutors, and will continue to be so, and even though I’m still pretty cack-handed with it all, to such an extent that I can be easily patronised by any computer literate small child, I can at least say that I’ve worked it out for myself.

Running Around

Ever feel like you’re running around with a little guy in a boiler suit on your back, and you simply can’t shake him off?

Or maybe you’re the one hanging on for dear life to the back of a spectacularly stupid bird?

I think Mary Chapin Carpenter wrote the lyrics to the song that includes the line ‘some days you’re the windscreen, some days you’re the fly’.

Normal service may resume  soon…..

Making Things Last

I’ve often been teased in the past for leaving flowers on display long after, to other people’s eyes, they have lost their beauty.  I’ve left roses in a vase until all that is left is a dark, brittle shell of their former fresh brightness, and I’ve cut small still flowering shoots off  freesia when the main stem has shrivelled to brown, put them in fresh water and kept them going for a few more days.

Fresh cut flowers are such a luxury that it seems only right to make them last as long as possible, and to enjoy them at every stage of their life.

Tulips are a harbinger of spring.  Although now it does feel sometimes that they are available all year round, they still provide a feeling of eager anticipation of a change in the season.  I love the way, once released from their paper wrapping, they twist and reach towards the light.  Usually they end by shedding all of their petals, but this bunch, which I’ve had for over two weeks, has faded without shedding.  They are sitting in front of me on the table where I’ve been working, and each morning I expect to see them denuded and gone, but somehow they are hanging on.

The petals look tissue paper thin now.  That one standing tall in the middle reminds me of something in a Flemish still life; it should be against a black backdrop with a pewter plate and a wizened apple in the foreground.

The temptation to reach out to touch them is strong, but so far I’ve resisted, as I think they will collapse at the slightest contact.  So long as I don’t shake the table, they’ll be good for another day at least……..

Following the Rabbit of Enquiry Down the Tunnel of Google

Even though I’m not at all interested in sport, I’ve been listening to Sport and the British by way of a podcast, so have occasional binges of listening, followed by periods in which the episodes just accumulate.

It is essentially social history told through the lens of sport; telling of class, social and sexual differences, Empire and commerce.  It’s yet another subject in that category of things that I don’t want to be involved in myself, but which I’m happy to hear people who are interested, talk intelligently about.

Had you ever wondered why, for example, if all of football, rugby and cricket originated in Britain, why rugby was exported to the Pacific Islands, Australia and New Zealand, while cricket made it to the latter two as well as India, Pakistan and the West Indies, and football went primarily to South America?  Well, no, nor had I, but it was, nevertheless,  interesting to hear an explanation involving which type of Briton went to which place, whether for colonial government or for trade.

A couple of the frequently mentioned expert contributors are academics from De Montfort University.  I remark on this only because I had never before heard of that University.  So, of course I did what I always now do in those situations, I went online and searched for it, and I now know that it is Leicester and became a university in the early 1990s.  Perhaps because the only university I might have previously associated with sport and sporty things is Loughborough, I delved further into why De Montfort is the source of such a fund of knowledge on the history of this subject.

And now I know; they have a whole team of people there – a collection of no less than 8 Professors and Doctors with a multiplicity of publications to their names.  And to top it all, you can do an MA in the subject, should you be so minded.

The idea that there are so many academics operating in what, until now, I could only have imagined was a very tiny arena, made me pause.  It reminded me of a Partner of the accounting firm where I did my training, a diminutive man, disappointed that he never grew tall enough to be a footballer, in the same way a young ballerina might be aggrieved that she grew too tall for the Royal Ballet, who turned all his professional attention onto being the tax adviser of choice to football clubs, when, in the 1980s they were first rushing headlong into public Listings to raise capital.

He was ferocious in his pursuit of footballing clients, going directly head to head with anyone who might try to compete with him.  Doing whatever it took, and then bouncing along on an inflated cushion of his own self importance at having such ‘glamorous’ clients.

And I wondered about the dynamics of competition between 8 academics, in the same department, all studying aspects of the same thing.  Maybe it’s no more competitive than academics expert in Medieval swordplay, or 18th century domestics arguing the odds, but somehow I can’t help but think that people who choose sport as their area will be particularly cut throat in their ambition to be the winner, the top dog, the most published, the most frequently consulted.  I like the idea too that now they’ll be able to crow that it doesn’t matter any more that they’ve never been invited on In Our Time; they’ve had a whole series.

So there you have it.  All I was doing was listening to a quite interesting programme on the radio, and now I’m constructing a drama, with a new cast of characters, at a university in the Midlands.

Down – A Photo

‘Don’t look down’, a piece of advice that is often difficult to obey.  Gravity pulls at everything, even one’s attention.

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