Monday, 28 December 2009

Pig's Ear And Cowpat Bigfoot

“Rosetta are you better are you well, well, well?” I’m not thinking of ‘Rosetta’, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s film (1999): the story of a poor Belgian girl who yearns for waffles, hides her shoes in a drainpipe in the woods and lives with her alcoholic mother in a trailer park; ‘Rosetta’ the grim, claustrophobic, quasi-documentary. No, I’m singing ‘Rosetta’ as sung by a pair of pigs - Pinky & Perky’s hit-single from the early 1970’s. I can even remember the words to ‘The Thirsty Mini’, the B-side: I once owned a Mini and drank when I drove it! Will I ever escape (grow out of) my ‘popular culture’ roots?

Like the woodpecker, pigs too live in trees: perhaps that’s why pigs fly? I fell off a pig’s ear once - flew off a pig’s ear - an ear long since blocked.

Here’s the pig’s ear I’m talking about; Pig’s Ear (route 2) was a hard-severe climb in an old disused quarry – Whitwick quarry. The route was so-named because some 30 feet off the ground the crux involved a tricky maneuver, utilizing a strange protrusion in the rock - a handhold shaped like a pig’s ear!

Notice, the route starts off by two shot holes: cave-dwellings for woodpeckers?

I made a right pig’s ear of trying to climb past the pig’s ear – fell off it – but pigs don’t fly! This little piggy went a plummet - I was only 14 – and I hit the ground with a thump - landed on my backside: no real damage done except for a blue bum - couldn’t sit down for a fortnight. I vowed to come back another day and climb Pig’s Ear. Another day became another year, and another year became two decades.

I moved to London, where over the years I suffered all of the symptoms listed on the ear above. But I didn’t give much thought to quarries or pigs ears; except occasionally, when I touched my ear (out of nervousness) - ran my finger around the auricle: it’s all crinkly like a quarry.

It wasn’t until the late 1990’s that my interest was rekindled; I read a short story by Graham Greene. ‘A Shocking Accident’ is about the tragedy of a boy’s father being killed by a falling pig. The pig falls from a balcony (in a city where it’s common for people keep pigs in their homes). The boy (Jerome) suffers for most of his life because the first reaction to the story of how his father met his death is one of laughter.

1999: I alight the bus in Whitwick, older and wiser, and with the aid of the original climbing guidebook (1973), make my way out of the village, towards the quarry. But when I get to where the quarry should be, the quarry’s gone! I’m standing in a meadow (once a vast hole in the ground), decked in rope, slings, nuts and crabs, surrounded by cows; and only the last 30 feet of Regalia Buttress – the final pitch of what was once a route of some 150 feet in height - are still poking out of the ground. To cut a long story short (after much searching a local farmer filled me in), the 200 feet deep, mile-in-circumference quarry had been completely land-filled in the late 1980’s – well and truly blocking-up Pig’s Ear.

Strange to think the pig's ear is buried deep beneath this cowpat: a cowpat shaped like a big foot! Say the pig's ear - like a voice from the beneath - is somehow influencing cows into shitting like human feet?

Look: here's a normal cowpat, uninfluenced by pig's ears from the deep, in a natural rocky landscape.

I’m going to write to the BBC –Time-Team. But I’d only get them to excavate down to about 5 feet below the pig’s ear handhold. Then I could just step off the ground and swing on a pig’s ear with out any fear – fear of flying.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Woodpeckers And Painkillers

It’s Christmas Eve and I’ve always associated woodpeckers with hangovers, or more precisely, headaches. Back in the 1970’s there was an advert on TV for Woodpecker cider. I have no recollection of the visuals, but the words accompanying jingle went something like: “when the woodpecker knocks be sure to let him in, because the woodpecker knows: cider goes with everything”.

Thick heads. Thick trees. What’s the point of ascending a thick tree with a tripod? What are the chances, once you’re up there, of finding three branches spread in a formation that’d accommodate the spread of the tripod’s legs?

And say you do find the branches agreeable - get your tripod up; imagine the struggle it'd be to take a photograph using an old wooden glass-plate view camera? You (at high-altitude) have to put your head under a dark-cloth, plunge yourself into total darkness, and to top it all, as soon as you try to focus; the ground glass screen turns everything (your whole world) upside-down!

When everything's topsy-turvy, when I can’t see the trees for wood and the hairdryer’s no comfort anymore: I put on my fireman’s hat (stolen), don a suit and tie (a tie decorated with woodpeckers), load the suit-pockets with painkillers, go out and climb a tree - a tree inhabited by a woodpecker. I climb up high to his hole (open door), and as there’s nothing to knock, I pour: pour paracetamols into my mouth. If at this point I were to fall, it’d look like suicide, so I steady myself and spit – spit the tablets into the woodpecker’s hole; flood the home – overdose the house – medicate the menagerie. And if anyone happens on by and looks up to see what I’m at - I chant:

Painkillers for the woodpecker,
For the splitting headaches he must get.
I’m neither, fireman or vertical-golfer,
No need to run for the vet.

As I normally have a mouthful of tablets, these lines often go misunderstood. I’ve forgotten to mention, when I look down on these nosy-parkers, I’m wearing an eye-mask improvised out of paracetamol packaging – made from the foil and plastic wrapping you pop the pills out of. I can see through the holes of the popped-out pills. This DIY mask helps me focus my mouth-to-hole (orifice-to-orifice) aim – like a sniper.

If you can’t call on a woodpecker this Christmas, why not try crumbling a few paracetamols on the bird-table? make his headachy Christmas, a white Christmas: You’ve got a hangover? Think of the woodpecker!

Monday, 21 December 2009

Stuffed Sheep and Talking Trees

So Camera clubs’ far and wide still consider lambs and nudes good photographic subject matter for their competitions: lambing and modeling – who are we to judge? Camera clubs can judge for themselves - award rosettes to the tastiest lamb or nude. Here’s some advice (from a “black-list” of nudes) on what to avoid if you’re thinking of entering (fancy your chances in) the ‘nude category’.

But have you considered entering a sheep? Or what happens when two fully-grown men - photographers – stuff a camera inside a sheep and deceive other wild creatures? Or have you given a thought to a young model – Ricky - a mere child who speaks because he’s got Jesus inside him?

Some notes on the Stuffed-Sheep Camera:
A stuffed sheep could be made useful to photograph birds living on moors and mountains. It had been " set up lying down," and a hole left in the chest for the lens of the camera to peep through. Finding a sandpiper's nest in the bottom of a lonely little ghyll far up in the heart of the fells, I placed the camera, minus the legs of the tripod, on a flat stone in front of it, focused, put a plate in position, and, attaching about fifty feet of pneumatic tubing, extended its full length in the direction that would give me the best view of the bird's nest. After carefully placing the sheep over the apparatus and tying the wool on the chest back, so that none of it should wave in front of the lens, I erected my little hiding tent at the opposite end of the pneumatic- tubing, covered it with rushes, and retired inside, to wait the home-coming of my " sitter." I had not been concealed ten minutes before a shepherd arrived on the top of a steep hill above me, and began to send his dog round the stuffed sheep with the intention of herding it. When it failed to move my animal, the old man broke into unprintably hard terms concerning his canine assistant's lack of intelligence, but the poor, libeled brute knew more than his choleric master, especially when he came to leeward of the sheep, and caught the aroma of the stuffer's workshop.

I once used a hollowed-out tree as a changing-room (see Dropped Trousers, 19/11/09); but beware of artificial trees – tree-trunks containing photographers. But there’s a worse kind of tree than a tree that can see: trees that talk too!

Geraldine and Dave have a little boy Ricky and they teach him how to play golf and they talk with him a lot.

She must be a great mother because her Ricky is always talking; and all the time he’s talking, he’s smiling! She even asks him: “Ricky, how come you’re always so full of words and smiles”? And instead of answering: “because trees talk too” Ricky smiles and says: “Because I have Jesus in me”.

Friday, 18 December 2009

A Meeting Of Three Partings

Alfred Jarry said, “The work of art is a stuffed crocodile”. At first-sight this seems absurd, yet when you think about (decode) it, there's a profound and serious point: art is not the wild beast we’d like to fool ourselves it is - it's anything but - in fact art's really rather tame and prone to being eaten away by time – has no real bite.

One rare exception - art with teeth - art that still pricks, is ironically, Jarry’s brilliant, The Passion Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race”(1896); a report of The Crucifixion written from the point of view of the commentator on a cycle race. J.G. Ballard appropriated Jarry’s Passion to describe modernity’s most famous crucifixion - the Kennedy assassination - in his speculative novel, The Atrocity Exhibition.

Talking of crucifixions: imagine you’re out walking – wandering through a wood  - crossing Wimbledon Common (as I often am) – and all at once in the bracken, suddenly finding Jesus: The Savior, flanked by two thieves, all three leaning-up against trees - hands in their pockets - playing with themselves. “Here they crucified him, and with him two others –one on each side and Jesus in the middle” (John 19:18).

What I found in Jesus (Jacques) was a kinky gaze; it's as if his eyes are undressing me - the ‘king of the Jews’! But as I looked more closely at their heads I saw this tree-hugging trio were unified by their partings: what we’re really looking at here is a meeting of three partings: the triple departure (on the cross) of Jesus and the two thieves, subtly expressed in hair. The Parting of the Red Sea is another biblical example; on that occasion, explicitly expressed in water (Exodus 14).

Jimmy Nail’s best-known hit (and every nail needs hitting) was called Crocodile Shoes (see Crucifying An Album Cover: Nailing A Nail, 13/12/09). In the mid 1980’s, long before Nail released (murdered?) Crocodile Shoes, I had myself photographed naked with a mouthful of nails, a drill on one hand, a stuffed crocodile in the other.

An ant -Adam Ant, inspired the photograph; or more specifically his song, Stand And Deliver. Imagine being held at gunpoint by an ant – robbed by Adam. And even though my body language says Adam, the photograph shouts Eve. I wanted to be depicted handling a serpent; the stuffed crocodile - he was a stand-in (the picture was taken in Dublin).

I didn’t like the way the photograph turned-out –never printed it and since have lost the negatives – only the contact sheets survive. But twenty-five years of close contact with other contact sheets have taken its toll; the emulsion has melted – my skin’s disintegrated. But look: time has been kinder to me (to a stuffed crocodile even) than it has to Adam Ant.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Last Christmas: A Real Stocking-Filler

I wish I’d still got all those deformed feet my uncle Robert used to send me for Christmas. I’d get a foot a year - one every Christmas: real ‘stocking-fillers’. My uncle was an orthopedic shoemaker; he’d gift-wrap and post any amount of lasts and casts to a vast amount of fiends and relations (many overseas). The foot would always come accompanied by a pen (Parker or Papermate). The idea was to use the last as a paperweight cum penholder: the pen standing in the hole where the leg-bone should be.

My parents would unwrap theirs, pull out the pen and throw their feet onto the fire - they'd go straight back up the chimney - making up for the lack of a Yuletide log. The lasts were made of wood in those days, but later they were made out of shiny bright plastic-resin, rendering them indestructible. Once, on Boxing Day, I left my foot (a child’s foot) out in the front garden on a writing desk – complete with pen (put it in context – illustrated its use): but nobody took it (took to the foot). On the twelfth day of Christmas, when we took the decorations down, I had to bring it in again.

By my late teens I’d accumulated a shoe-wrack of bad feet, and at a time when I should have been out pulling girls, I bought a drill, stayed in and screwed my feet to the ceiling.

I even invented a name for what I was doing: Last-Lunging. So called because I’d make desperate lunge-like swings from last to last; hand to foot. My brother Alex, couldn’t bear to watch; although he was happy to answer the phone (when I was ‘last-engaged’), inform the caller I was last busy last-lunging, and that I’d call them back.

One side-affect of lunging for lasts - more a bottom affect really - and one not experienced when hand-jamming, head-jamming or even during one-arm-one-finger-pull-ups: reaching for your toes, and touching your toes, makes your pants ride-up.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Coda: Face-Jam

The distraction of deathly children aside, I still dreamed of getting my face into that crack. A couple of weeks after my first attempt (to jam my head in the crack and hang from it: see Head-Jam 5/12/09, before reading on) I was back, hanging around beneath the crack. The children's bodies hadn’t been moved; I'm going to write to the Blind - send them some photographs: The Institute for the Blind shouldn't be exhibiting young corpses, in an aquarium, on a pay-as-you-gawp basis.

My thinking: my head’s too big but my face might fit. I could jam my face into the crack, puff out my cheeks and thus support my body with my face.  Hence, the birth of a new ‘crack-technique’: “The Face-Jam”: the birth of a new slogan, into bargain: “The Face-Jam: It’s never too late to let your face take the weight”.

I set-up my tripod; anchored it to the street with my rucksack; set my camera on ‘custom-timer’ (to take a photograph every 5 seconds) and set to work on the crack. 

My head's too big - my face is too small: puff as might, I couldn't let go of the wall.  I had to face it: my face wasn’t fat enough to fit (too fit a face perhaps?).

It’s ironic: when I jammed my fists in my elderly neighbour, Mrs. Sharpe’s cracks, twenty years ago; she was happy to pose with lard.

Saturday, 5 December 2009


I’m hovering above the pavement - face to the wall, head full of Ideas - deep in ‘crack-contemplation’. I’d recently been very taken by Ideas, an article in Mountain magazine, advocating the merits of “head-jamming”.

I’m just about to become a crack-head when a child’s voice brings me back down to earth:

“Mummy, are all these little children dead?” But before I have a chance to step down and turn round, there’s a motherly reply: “No darling, of course they’re not dead; they’re only sleeping”.

It would be untrue to say that I’d never noticed this strange, glass-encased dolls-house - inviting donations for the Blind – I’ve passed it several times on my way to the beach; but like a familiar painting, long-hung on the sitting room wall, this strange asylumesque structure, and its tableau of what I only now realise are, 'dead children', had become all but invisible to me. I forgot my headlock for a moment and went over and joined the life-sized children contemplating their deceased counterparts, through the glass.

It was indeed a disturbing tableau. The children appeared to have been ‘struck-down’ in the midst of play: the result of a gas-attack or a high school massacre? Troughs of pink, oversized flowers added to the funereal atmosphere. One poor soul had died on his bike – sat dead in the saddle; 

a clock had crashed to the ground – time had stopped; the roof of the building was cracked and appeared scorched: a meteorite hit?

Even the Teddy Bear’s picnic had been poisoned!

Their mother had wandered off to sit on a near-by bench, and was busy filling her face. The children however, weren’t convinced about her ‘sleep-theory’. “I can see up her skirt”; “why’s she sleeping with a whip in her hand?" But I resisted telling the kids; “these children are no more asleep than you or I”. Instead, I corroborated their mother’s lies, but added: “If they are asleep, they can’t be very comfortable, we should go to a café and get them some soft white pillows; and we won’t have to pay, cafés give tiny pillow-cases full of sugar away free with coffee, or tea”. They seemed to like this idea and ran over to inform their mother. I didn’t turn around, I kept vigil over the ‘dead’, but I was able to observe her warped reaction, as an even more warped reflection, in the glass of the cabinet: her piggy-eyes burned into my back; her thin lips branded me with an N for nutter.

Without looking back, I go over and have another attempt at jamming my head in the crack; but my head's too big. By the time I’m back on the street - ears burning - the family have vanished; Anyway: how would we have got the sachets of sugar-pillows through the glass and positioned them under the heads of the dead? 
Perhaps I should carry this photo of an ‘Office Sleeper’ in my wallet – ready for the next time I have to try and explain this inexplicable tableau to children?  
No, the purest ideas remain pure - whether it’s a head-jam, or pillows of sugar for fallen children - because they are unrealizable.