The Way We Live Now

When this all began my thoughts were of long walks in this beautiful place I’m lucky enough to call home. All those remote hilltops I’d never quite got round to climbing, those prehistoric monuments unphotographed. However, it’s not going to happen until the lockdown is over. Though I don’t for a moment believe I would be putting others (or myself) at risk by driving to remote places and walking alone in them, somebody used the word ‘solidarity’ when I raised this dilemma on social media, and that struck home. We are all in this together. So no roaming empty landscapes for the time being, and no hills that I cannot reach easily on foot for my one daily dog walk.

View north from Caer Caradoc (pre-lockdown)

I have another dilemma, less easily resolved, which is: how, as a photographer, can I respond to this situation? It’s the very opposite of a visual event – it’s an absence, a vacuum, a blank sheet of paper. A deserted Trafalgar Square is one thing, a quiet Presteigne High Street is a little less unusual, to say the least. Any ideas are welcome. In the meantime there is gardening to do, and the studio to tidy. Stay safe and well, all of you.

Metaphor

I can’t be the only person to have thought it, but Coronavirus really is the most perfect imaginable metaphor for Brexit. It’s an infection whose cause we don’t really understand, whose outcome is uncertain but is at the very least unpleasant and damaging, and whose only certain consequence is self-isolation. What a perfect phrase to describe our new condition! If ever there was an apt mot du jour, this is it.

The great novel using disease as metaphor is of course Camus’ The Plague. I’m sure there is some writer out there sharpening their pencil (or keyboard) at this moment, with a vision of a quarantined and divided community in mind.

Here is a nice landscape from yesterday’s dog walk, before the (non-metaphorical) storm arrived.

A sad day . . .

that we hoped would never come. Speaking as an Englishman, I apologise to my friends on the other side of the Channel for this act of national insanity. I apologise for the harm it will cause to the greatest and most long-lived peace project the world has ever seen. It will harm us more, of course, but that is the entirely predictable consequence of the lies told by Gove, Johnson, and the rest of that shameful, dishonest and self-interested crew. It’s our fault too, those of us who didn’t take action, who didn’t reach out – but how? – to those who thought differently. We were, and are, lulled by social media into feeling optimistic about the ultimate triumph of reason and humanity. But some vile things are crawling out from under their stones and real action will be required to banish them to history. And one day, I hope in my lifetime, we will be back.

Again, I apologise for the actions I never took. In a long-dead tongue that is nevertheless understood across the community of Europe:

Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa

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Addendum – no obvious celebrations in this town on the 31st. Shortly after 11pm a solitary firework exploded with a dull thud, sounding like a door being slammed shut . . .

Back to the future

Enough of politics (almost); I thought I would comfort myself by taking a longer view, and spending a little time considering the Neolithic age. I don’t remember visiting Silbury Hill since we climbed it as a family towards the end of the fifties (and probably picnicked on the top).

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Silbury Hill

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Not Silbury Hill

You are now discouraged from climbing it (rightly, in my view) though thankfully there is only the barest suggestion of a fence – a tactful reminder rather than a barrier.

I wanted to visit in winter, since this is when the River Kennet (or Cunnit) reverts to its old course and floods the meadow around the base of the Hill, so that it is reflected in the shallow water.44483This literal isolation seems to return a little of the sacredness the Hill must once have possessed. Nobody knows, of course, what it really meant to its builders or why it was built. However we do know that it was deliberately sited on wet ground, near the source of the river, and also that when first built from rubble and heaped chalk it must have been a dazzling white for many generations, until eventually the grass was left to grow over it. Imagine this vast mound, bone white under a full moon, doubled by its reflection in the surrounding lake. It would have drawn people as Mecca does today.

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Evening, Silbury Hill

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Moonrise, Silbury Hill

The road from London to Bath and Bristol runs beneath the Hill, as it has done since long before the Romans came. Traffic howls past at rush hour but somehow at a remove. The light trails left by a long exposure provide a convenient metaphor for the flicker of our brief histories compared to the more than four thousand years of the mound’s existence. This is a place for perspective.

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Silbury Hill by moonlight, with Venus and light trails

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Moon and Silbury Hill

A shameless act of self-promotion . . .

for which I make only a modest apology. Over the last few years I’ve had a number of small exhibitions, and I have had increasing numbers of visitors asking whether they can buy my images off my website. Well, now they (and you) can, in the form of limited edition prints of some of my favourite pictures, from my Print Store.

Stubble burning, East Anglia 1972

Stubble burning, East Anglia 1972

These are high quality fine art prints on heavyweight paper, in editions strictly limited to 50 at each of the three sizes I am offering. Full information regarding sizes, payment, delivery etc can be found here.

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Winter, Shropshire

New images are being added regularly and prices start at just ¬£50 – I’m sure you’ll find something that will give you pleasure for many years to come. Please contact me if there’s a picture you remember seeing but can’t find on my website.

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Akureyri, Iceland

The Power of Nightmares

Recently the psychotherapist Susie Orbach wrote an interesting article on the Brexit decision, mentioning the psychic harm done to some of those directly affected by the vote. I’m one of the lucky ones; I won’t lose my residency or be thrown out of work, and I’ve already had a lifetime of enjoying the rights and freedoms that EU membership bestows on us. Nonetheless I’ve been aware for some time of a growing sense of a sort of weary sadness perpetually at the back of my mind. Last night it took clearer form in my first indisputably Brexit-related dream.

I was in Windsor, the town where I spent some of my childhood, and somewhere I have scarcely thought about, let alone revisited, for nearly forty years. I was walking along a road I once knew well past long forgotten shops and buildings. Down the street came an endless procession of marching soldiers, squad after squad. And the edge of the pavement was lined with onlookers, many of the men wearing cloth caps and saluting. I knew it wasn’t Remembrance Sunday – just an ordinary day – but when I asked a bystander what was happening, and why, no answer came. Just a middle-aged man, a little shabby, standing silently at the salute.

Ring a Ring o’Roses

And so the endless dance continues, with both our government and the opposition seemingly unaware that, no matter who forms the ring, Brexit remains a circle that cannot be squared. Little has changed since I last posted here over a year ago. Our country is still brutally split. A democracy that ignores the wishes of half the electorate is no democracy. That is true, naturally, on whichever side of the Brexit chasm you stand.

There is a strong sense of injustice, cleverly exploited by those few who stand to gain from Brexit. One cause of this – the huge financial disparities in our society and around the world – is brilliantly analysed in¬†Oliver Bullough’s new book Moneyland. It is a superbly researched account of the incredibly complex ways in which so many of the ultra-wealthy steal and conceal their money. For the slower-witted, such as myself, some of the chapters require reading twice, but it repays the effort. I strongly recommend you buy this book (preferably not from Amazon but from a real bookshop that pays its due taxes in this country).

There will be some kind of a deal, of course, at the last minute. It will satisfy nobody, and is likely to leave the country worse off. Our global influence will wane. Decisions taken in Europe will continue to affect us, but will be made without our involvement. So much for ‘taking back control’.

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What can we do? Keep writing, keep protesting. Make every effort to come to London later this month and let our politicians know that we will be heard. Assemble on Park Lane, north of the Hilton Hotel, on 20 October 2018 from 12pm (midday) and march to Parliament Square. Hundreds of thousands came last year. Let’s make it a million this time. And don’t forget how that playground rhyme ends:

We all fall down

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