Saturday, 31 October 2009

On Powdering Your Nose

About this time last year I began to smell burning first thing every morning; I put it down to toast from the flat below. I smoke, so I’m used to having something burning, right under my nose. But this was different – burnt toast is the only way to describe it. It wasn’t until I attended a ‘sleep-over’ in a museum and woke up amongst mummies (dressed like a mummy myself – you had to bring your own sleeping bag), to the all too familiar aroma of burnt bread, that I knew something was seriously amiss.

I was referred to an Ear Nose and Throat Specialist. She poked a tiny camera a long way up my nose (a kind of fiber-optic tube). My watering eyes followed her dry ones, deep inside my head, via a monitor on the desk. I was both uncomfortable and somewhat nervous. “We are on a ‘head-trip’ together – complete strangers, yet fellow travelers” I remarked. No response, she just made a few notes then after a short while slowly withdrew the camera from my nostril. I waited for some kind of diagnosis, but she seemed more interested the state of her camera. The Doctor examined the camera, turned it over in her fingers, brought it up to her eye; in fact the Doctor spent more time examining her own equipment than she had spent examining me! The whole thing was disproportionate.

“What’s all this white dust?” she said, as she continued to scrutinize the tiny implement. I reached for my glasses and said, “White dust up my nose? Here, let me look”. She was right, the Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist wasn’t seeing things, the tube was dusty – no, pasty, coated in what appeared to be a flour and water type of gluey substance. I smelled it and it was odorless. I had no explanation other than I used to sniff hell of a lot of glue. But that was years ago – when I was a teenager – we used to meet in a bandstand in the park… I spilled the beans, named names: Bostik; Uhu; Evostick; Superglue; Gorilla. Strange thing: I can’t recall the names of any of my fellow-sniffers (friends?) yet I can recall all the brands of glue I abused – as well as a fair few of my preferred felt-tipped tipples, of the time. Perhaps the names of glues just stick. Someone should research ‘Adhesives and Memory’ (Bergsonesque). She sent me for a brain scan.

I’ve got to have an operation – a problem with my sinuses – nothing serious – keep putting it off (worried about the swelling and wearing all that wadding); and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the white stuff I secreted on the camera. I only recently got to the bottom of that mystery (almost a year after my consultation), and quite by accident; the enigma was solved by another camera (my own) making an accidental exposure of my nose.

I have a chin-up bar in my hall, from which, first thing every morning, I do one hundred, two-armed chin-up’s (in ten minutes); from then on through out the day, whenever I feel the urge, I reach for the bar and perform other altogether more complicated gymnastic maneuvers (one-finger-pull-ups, front levers, lock-offs and dead-hangs etc). 

I often record these ‘pulling sessions’ with self-timer photographs. But one ritual I never forget to perform (before chinning of the bar) is the generous application of gymnastic chalk to both hands. Gymnastic chalk (light magnesium carbonate) is absolutely essential as it absorbs sweat that inevitably builds up on the palms, as well as aiding grip – adhesion.

The camera’s self-timer was still running on ‘continuous’ (taking a picture every four seconds) as I fumbled to release it from the tripod, when it made this accidental exposure of the interior of my powdered nose - of  the light magnesium carbonate I must unknowingly inhale (and remember, you become heavy breather when you are pulling) at least one hundred times a day, each time my nose becomes level with my chalked fingers (yet, inhaled it is, as I never pick my nose).

This artless image has perfectly captured my chalk encrusted nasal hair, and portrayed it with all the beauty (in its own way) of those photographs you often come across; Jack Frost encrusted cobwebs in the hedgerow on a bright winter morning (a subject-matter much beloved car crash victims, as they lay dying in the ditch; a lovely 'last sight' at least - especially if the crash victim was active in a Camera Club). Also, cameras and chalk don’t mix; the Doctor was right to show concern. I’m mindful of wiping the chalk off my hands before touching my lens. And this mistake of a picture does go someway towards proving: “art is the act of making the invisible visible”.

Friday, 30 October 2009

A Pair of Drainpipes and a Trouser Press

Just received a communiqué from a photographer - a well-known art-photographer, from the 1970’s. He’s all excited about “The Excited Young Caddie(27/10/09). In fact he became so excited about the ‘excitement’ in the young caddie’s trousers, he traced it - look!

As well as physically tracing the “bursting out”, our old art-photographer went a stage further and traced his tracing of the “bursting”, historically, back through his own negative files, back to an image he made in the late 1970’s titled “Pinocchio” (and remember, photographs were starting to be ‘made’ and not merely ‘taken’, back then).

“Pinocchio” is the shadow cast by a neighbour’s drainpipe, photographed through a kitchen window.

The black and white world of late 1970’s, art photography was a world in flux, a tough (yet sensitive) world where photographs not only had to stand-up for themselves, they had to stand in for the ‘soul’ behind the camera - “self-expression” via a machine. Their exposures were ‘made’ towards the reflection of some “personal truth”; photographs that attempted to tell you more about the photographer than what was actually in front of the camera; photography as a vehicle of “self-expression; metaphors, equivalence and personal resonance were mined out of patterns on rocks; transcendence, myth and essence blossomed in the trees – you could even tell whether or not a drainpipe was merely dripping, or really fibbing!

Rather than views of, photographs served as meditations on. Furthermore, these shamans of self-expression often quoted and appropriated Buddhist principles – “the sound of one hand clapping” etc. But not, ironically, this old Buddhist saying: “To the man with no knowledge, rocks are just rocks and trees are just trees. Yet to the man with a little knowledge, rocks are much more than just rocks and a tree is never simply a tree. But to the man with complete knowledge, rocks are just rocks and trees are just trees”.

But as I ponder Pinocchio (as a drainpipe) it’s not noses fibbing (“Lie to me, lie to me Pinocchio” she moaned, as she sat on his face”) or drainpipes dripping (or visa versa), or even the uncanny similarity between my caddie’s excited groin and the drainpipe’s extended nose; it’s Vivian Stanshall (1943-1995) of the Bonzo Dog Dog Doo-Dah Band, and their song: “My Pink Half of the Drainpipe” I sing.

My pink half of the drainpipe
Semidetaches us
My pink half of the drainpipe
Oh, Mama!
Belongs to moi

Hey, neighbour!

My pink half of the drainpipe
I might paint it blue
My pink half of the drainpipe
Keeps me safe from you!

The name of the band came out of a Dadaist word game (sentences were cut up and the juxtaposed fragments were used to form new ones). But the band had to drop the Doo-Dah after becoming tired of explaining what “Dada” meant to audiences with no knowledge of art history. Thus they became “The Bonzo Dog Band” – later “The Bonzos”. “My Pink Half of the Drainpipe” appeared on their 1968 album: “The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse”, side 2, track 9.

But look at the preceding track, “Trouser Press”, track 8. “Trouser Press” beautifully iron's out the creases; the excited young caddie pressing against his own trousers; the 1970’s art-photographer’s more recent pressing/tracing (rubbing?) of the said young caddie’s groin; the 'Pinocchio effect' on the drainpipe. All of these images are sublimely sandwiched together under the "Trouser Press" (not forgetting, Drainpipes were the fashionable style of trouser when "Trouser Press" was penned.

Through the association of drainpipe, trouser, groin and nose, we are driven back onto the golf course where it all started getting exciting, just a couple of days ago. And if all this is not enough, look: one Roger Ruskin-SPEAR wrote “Trouser Press”. What's it coming too? We'll be performing press-ups over golf holes whilst reading (coming down hard-on?) Freud next. But lets not get started on the subject of Freud and noses - enough has written about that already! Finally, Vivian Stanshall often carried a euphonium and wore pink rubber ears...

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

An Excited Young Caddie Burst Out...

The Dean and his guests had enjoyed a great day’s golfing and were jogging steadily homewards at the tireless golf-trolley trot, which eats up the greens, when they found themselves confronted suddenly by a wild caddie who sprang from a spinney by the sixth tee.

“Your honour, oh, your honour!” panted the man, “the Great Crested Grebe, they be on the greens!”

The Dean looked hard at the caddie, in the gathering gloom of the autumn evening; and he did look hard, but the Dean still failed to recognize him: until an excited young caddie burst out…

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Guns and Poses

There’s something sinister about this postcard of Ristorante “Gambero” in Anzio, Italy (from 1960’s).

It depicts three deserted restaurants and a young woman cradling machine gun. This shouldn't be going on, on a postcard; but if it really were a machine gun (she’s firing from the hip) it would of course explain why the restaurant tables have all been vacated. Research around the image however (every time I look into it, it still screams: “Gun”), revealed the Exterminating Angel to be “The Young Woman of Anzio”, holding in her left hand, “a tray of sacrificial implements” (machine gun - sacrificial implement?).

Yet these empty restaurants still disturb me – it’s as if all the whiter-than-white tablecloths have just witnessed a crime. Think of all the mafia murders (real and fictional) that have been acted-out in restaurants suffused in an ambiance evident here. Who could forget Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) vowing: “It’s not personal…It’s strictly business”, as he committed the retaliatory murder of both Sollozzo and corrupt police chief McCluskey during a “truce meeting” in an Italian restaurant, in Francis Ford Coppola’s, “The Godfather” (1972)?

The director or the “Godfather” had a namesake (doppelganger?). This ‘other’ Francis Coppola was active in the Mafia in Anzio in the 1950’s; and in all probability frequented (operated from) one of the restaurants pictured on this very postcard. Read this: “Each time Giordano met with Frank Coppola, the deported ex-Green One who was competing with Lucky Luciano in the drug trade there… To the surprise of both Frank Coppola and the mob, the heroin had been diluted prior to the sale and Coppola needed to make good. Giordano returned to Coppola’s farm in Anzio to pick up the shipment, bringing it back in a steamer trunk with a false bottom” (American

Is that a pool of blood outside Ristorante “Gambero”? But as I further scrutinize the image, it’s not the dark puddle of blood, but the starched linen tablecloths, dangling in the darkness, that stab into my retinas. I’d seen tablecloths dance before my eyes like this before.

A ballet class was rehearsing a ‘Feather-dance’ at a school fete. I was so obsessed with the mirror image of the dancer’s legs in the tablecloths that I didn’t notice the cut-off hand and a feather flying into the picture. An Athena type of Art-postcard publisher rejected 'Feather-dance', on the grounds that they “Didn’t publish postcards depicting children brandishing knives”.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Hanging Around Toilets

Look at this annual ‘Bog Dinner’. Dinner a la bog is all very Bunuel - remember that dinner-party scene in “The Phantom of Liberty” - an elegant soiree with guests seated at toilet bowls instead of chairs?

But don’t worry about menu, forget the diners, look down into the skylights.

Four years later on the roof of another toilet-block, another skylight, two members of another club - a model airplane club, are plane spotting. He’s standing; she’s sitting - sitting on a skylight in a skirt, holding a pair of wings.

Every so often a head pops up inside the skylight and a face looks up her skirt. As she watches the sky, her bottom comes within inches of a toilet-dweller’s eye. She’s sat on the skylight above the Gents. Look at his white knuckles – he’s performing a fingertip pull-up, to look up. It’s like an ape-house down the Gents – talk about hanging around in public toilets! And the pilot of the wingless plane, he’s staring straight ahead, oblivious, he doesn’t ogle - he’s a model. Yet in all other respects the grounded aviator and our voyeur are fellow voyagers’; twin heads, sealed in their clear plastic bubbles, like spacemen or skydivers.
Notice the plane is named “Snipe”, after the wading bird of the same name. But snipe can also mean “get at”, or “moan”. Yet another meaning of snipe is “to shoot from a concealed place”.  It could be argued that our puller-upper, skirt looker-upper might be driven to physically performing (discharging) all three interpretations of ‘snipe’ (from the concealment of the toilet, in reaction to 'the view') at the same time.

All this ‘monkey business’ makes me think of Alfred Jarry’s creation, the monosyllabic baboon Bosse-de-Nage (literally, “bottom-face”). Bosse-de-Nage was Dr Faustroll’s fellow traveler and ‘lighter of the way’ in a speculatively designed ‘bed-ship’ the pair rowed through the rues of Paris, by night (where every so often the good Dr would buff the baboon’s shiny red bottom in order to make it function as a headlight).This is how Jarry describes the strange craft in “Exploits and Opinions of Dr Faustroll Pataphysician” (published posthumously in 1911)
 “But this bed, twelve meters long, is not a bed but a boat, shaped like an elongated sieve. The meshes are wide enough to allow the passage of a large pin; and the whole sieve has been dipped in melted paraffin, then shaken so that this substance (which is never really touched by water), while covering the web, leaves the holes empty-the number of which amounts to about fifteen million four hundred thousand…The skiff is not only propelled by oar blades but also by suction disks at the end of spring levers. And its keel travels on three steel rollers at the same level. I am all the more convinced of the excellence of my calculations and of its insubmersibility in that, as is my invariable habit, we shall not be navigating on water but on dry land.

Yet this still leaves the question: Is wearing a skirt on a skylight more risqué than dinning on a toilet? And those wings she’s holding; wings were just what I needed (but didn’t manage to find) to go with my gymnastic ring-halo – my ‘hot halo’ (“If I Drew It I’d Have To Do It”, October 19th, 2009). Maybe I should hangout in toilets more.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Dogging, Spotting, Buttering and Buildering

Earlier this year I was asked to contribute some photographs to book called “Revelations”.  “Revelations” ( is the story of Jerry Moffatt, who during the 1980’s was widely regarded as the best rock climber in the world. Jerry became 'the best' not only by climbing cliffs, but also, by endless days and hours of ‘Buildering’. Buildering- a term used to describe the art of urban climbing has nowadays become an activity in its own right (see utube – “Buildering in Bonn”, for example), but back in the 1980’s buildering was practiced as stamina training for 'real' climbing on rock. Here’s Jerry traversing a street in Sheffield.

Long white tennis socks were compulsory; John McEnroe was Wimbledon Champion and all the best Californian climbers sported them. Here’s Jim Collins, the famous American climber/builderer and white sock wearer, talking about the specialist buildering techniques he employed, towards achieving the hardest climb in the world at the time, a route in Eldorado Canyon, named ‘Genesis’ “I built a “Genesis machine” out of buildering problems. It was two hundred yards long and I named it the ‘Genocide traverse’. “It took me six weeks of four-six hours a day to put the whole thing together. I got blisters on my fingers from 'buildering’ so much. At one point I even carried a needle in my teeth so I could drain the blisters in the middle of the traverse... I dreamed about it (Genesis) about five or six times a week” (Randell, G. Inside the Arena, Mountain no.72, March/April, 1980, Sheffield, pp.32-38.)

Besides photographing Jerry, I often ‘Spotted’ him, as he buildered. When spotting a climber your goal is to soften the fall that the climber will take and to protect their head and neck. Your hands should be outstretched so that if the climber falls they will touch the climber’s lats (on their back, just below the shoulders, near the armpits) and you can keep the climber from falling uncontrolled. Some key points...use spoons not forks (your hands should look like spoons not forks).

Here’s a female builderer being spotted incorrectly (note the dangerous state of the spotter’s hands - ‘forks not spoons’) as she climbs a ‘buttered bog block’ (toilet block) in Bristol. The bog was buttered to increase its difficulty; a total reversal of the rock-climber's habit of applying gymnastic chalk for a better grip.  

By the end of Jerry’s “Revelations” we learn that he has given up climbing, taken up golf and become a businessman. Swapped 'gripping adventures' on rock, for the grip of a wood, six-iron or putter; traded a life on the dole for the life of a property developer; Jerry's progressed from self-development on buildings, to the development of buildings for himself.
When we were both seventeen, traversing the deserted streets of Sheffield, we existed on the dole. When I look-up ‘dole’ the index of “Revelations” (p.239) I find it sandwiched between ‘Dogging’, ‘Dominator’ and dyslexia. Dogging (or ‘Hang-dogging’) is the dubious rock climbing technique whereby a climber hangs off the ropes whilst he rehearses (wires) a difficult (his next) move.

‘Spotting’, ‘dogging’, buttered bog-blocks – I’m transported back (with my block of lard) to those lovers-lanes of old; nowadays, ‘dogging spots’. Spot is a popular name for a dog. And a ‘dog-leg’ describes the shape of a hole that turns back on itself, on a golf course.
Compare my ‘spotting’ of Jerry (1982) to my latest dog-shot (2008). 

Between these two dog spots, twenty-six years of my life.

Monday, 19 October 2009

A Sight For Sore Headlights

I’ve just received a communiqué from a friend. He said although he’d really connected with yesterday’s piece (“If I Drew It I’d Have To Do It”), it needed something Moore (sic). So here’s Sir Roger as “The Saint” (1962 - 71). I recall the opening credits - a halo appears to hover above Simon Templar’s (Sir Roger’s) head; in fact I can still hum the theme tune. “The Saint” didn’t inspire my religious drawings, but there could be a connection between Sir Roger’s signature feature – his legendary ‘eyebrow to camera control’, and my drawing “Elbow in an Eye-bath”.  

I was still at kindergarten, a fat child drawing stick figures, when “The Saint” was airing. Let’s get back to the now. I stepped onto the Tanita Body Composition Analyzer first thing this morning. Look at me (a CV?).

 Look at that; I’m 12.3% fat. But this hasn’t always been the case. For years, I’d park in ‘lovers lanes’ and do things with lard. I suppose those quiet, out of the way places have all turned into Dogging Spots (from Beauty Spots to Dogging Spots).

Would I go back? I don't have a car. Perhaps I should just turn up on foot with a Spotted Dalmatian and a block of lard. That would be a sight for sore headlights. Headlights, hell, we’ve come full circle back to the halo!

Sunday, 18 October 2009

If I Drew It I'd Have To Do It

I don’t draw anymore. The thought of putting pen to paper frightens me to death. I never drew from real-life; I’ve always drawn from my imagination (mental, rather than retinal images). For a long time I had this thing (illness?) where, “what ever I drew I had to go out and do”. Or to put it another way: “if drawn, it had to be born”. Or even, “once drafted, it has to be acted”. Whatever way you look at it, I had to live my lines (put my life on the line?). Consider my drawing of "An elbow in an eye-bath". 
This wasn’t so bad to do. I could perform the manoeuvre in the privacy of my own bathroom with my own elbow. The eye-bath contained Friars Balsam - I can’t remember why.

Certain sketches however, became so obsessively repetitive that I had to bring them to life to save myself (from incessantly doodling them). I was a martyr to my own drawings. Here, I pictured myself as some kind of saint (or angel), The Patron Saint of Hitchhikers’?

To get these drawings born I had to steal a gymnastic ring from a Leisure Centre (I hung from one ring whilst I unhooked the other). You’ll notice that I’ve got wings in the drawing; I couldn’t find any, so I filled the side-pockets of my rucksack to double as wings.

I had to persuade a real hitchhiker, a random stranger, to hide behind me and hold my halo in position whilst I posed for this self-timer photograph

Even after all of that I wasn’t satisfied. When I blew the photograph up I noticed a bit of my halo-holder’s eye and hair (just above my left shoulder). This photograph was made in the days before digital, prior to Photoshop. An eye-bath of Friars Balsam might have bleached out his irritating eye.

Occasionally (and this still happens) I’d feel the need to act out a drawing I hadn't made, but one I’d found. I was pulled to this drawing by the duel, yet paradoxical body language of the gentleman-gymnast. He seemed to manifest a basic contradiction; qualities of power and camp; he’s strong-armed on the one hand, yet limp-wristed on the other.

As neither of my arms is camp-trained (nothing to do with training camps), I found it impossible to pull-up with one hand on my hip.
I sported a bra for this 'compensation portrait'. It's all about achieving the right balance. I'm wearing an Eccles cake in each cup, of course.

Saturday, 17 October 2009


I got such a fright - inserting my finger into Mm. Henroit last night. I must still be in shock; I’m light as a feather, but I can’t take flight, my one-arm-one-finger pull-ups don’t feel right this morning (is the tendon in my middle-finger too taut?). A psychosomatic, acrobatic… oh, I’d love to just get up out of bed and play the piano for half an hour instead. What a way to start the day - with something delicate and sensitive – Satie or Scarlatti, rather than this obsessive, animal pulling every morning.

My father plays, his mother played, but I never progressed beyond “A Dozen A Day (Book 1, Pre-Practice Exercises for the Piano).” 

I doubt whether I even mastered more than half a dozen tunes before I gave up. Yet one tune caught my imagination - changed my life to such an extent that I’ve been playing that same tune every day, every year, ever since.
It’s called “Hanging From The Bar By Right Hand” and I took the tune visually, and practiced and practiced and practiced, until I could play it physically. I simply swapped bars of music for pull-up bars, piano keys for the trapeze.

I spent more time on the weighing scales than I ever did on piano scales, until I reached the point where I could not only hang from a bar by one arm, but pull-up on one arm.

Over the years, I gradually refined it from a five-finger-exercise, to a one-finger exercise. In pianistic terms, total regression, on the pull-up stage, a virtuoso performance. That said, perhaps I’ve been playing the same tune for too long (the pianistic equivalent would be, constantly playing the same note, albeit, to perfection). Perhaps it’s about time I pulled my finger out.

Friday, 16 October 2009

A Golf Hole in a Renoir and "The Weather In The Streets"

I bid a tearful goodbye to the lip-reader and made my way home. It was after midnight when I got back to my room. I was welcomed by the smell of cigar and fresh ironing. The Dean had been. What could he have wanted? I went from room to room; nothing had been taken, nothing had been left, so I got into bed with the hairdryer (I always, always go sleep with the hairdryer on - for the hum more than the heat). I went over my field-research notes, but my heart wasn’t in it. I kept returning to the image of that strange and brilliant couple on the golf course; their sparkling conversation, and all the fabulous concepts they talked into being before my lip-reader’s eyes; all those spontaneous combustions of speech, then the shock of her sudden, mysterious disappearance, and that final scene of a man alone on a green talking to himself. Bachelard said “A special kind of beauty exists which is born in language, of language, and for language…..To speak well is part of living well.”

It was only when I reached for “The Weather In The Streets” (my current book at bedtime) that I put my finger on (or more accurately, right into) the damage the Dean had done whilst I was out. He’d burned a cigar hole (another of his little golf holes?) right through the cover of Rosamond Lehmann’s “The Weather In The Streets.” The front cover shows a portrait of ‘Mme. Henriot,’ by Renoir; the Dean’s cigar has trepanned Mme. Henriot right between the eyes. More than that, he must have sadistically held the cigar on her pale face for quite sometime, as the hole has burned clean through the first thirteen pages of the book (burning books is bad enough, but incinerating only certain words is unforgivable). From then on, a round, brown scorch-mark becomes more faint with every turn of the page, until it finally disappears on page.33 (the age Jesus was crucified).

Inspection of the scorched pages revealed a few redeeming features, however. On page.7 the cigar had burned a hole in “a nice green jumper, lime-green”. “Cigarettes” had come close to being lit on page.5, as had a “Dolls’ House.” He’d almost set light to “Straw,” on page.19, a “psycho-analyst” on page.16, and a “female,” on page.12. He’d come near to burning another book “Tristram Shandy,” on page.18, and only just failed to light up a final “Cigarette” on page.26.