A Certain Day
Words to accompany paintings in A Certain Day, an exhibition of my paintings at That Art Gallery in June and July of 2022 exploring ways of remembering through the medium of landscape.
The valley sighs like an exhaling lung. Vapours rise and muddle with the humdrum sky. Sounds ascend from the loamsome belly of the earth, deep at first but soon decorated with bell-like melodies that form into words. The valley has learned to sing. The first words are clay, rain, thorn, rock. Then vetch, field maple, beetle, owl, hare, worm, and finally barn, path, gravestone. Some of this song I copy down into my notebook the rest soaks unevenly into the rough hessian of my memory. The song today is strange but brings to mind others. It has borrowed couplets, stolen some motifs, comes attired in a hand-me-down melody. Pedalling my bicycle I whistle it home. I whistle it in the kitchen over coffee, while digging in the garden, walking with the dog, cleaning my brushes. It joins the river of song whose words are people, history, death, climate, ritual, life, each of the seasons. It is the river that pulled me to this place and that carries me on to the next. The valley breathes and sings whether I am there or not.
Remembering the valley whilst watching it sway in the breeze. Midsummer blows through the trees in barley gusts, unseating catkins, clouds of malevolent pollen, pluffs of pigeons. The long grass bows in processions. Here is a path. Here is a new one I make. Down at the river the dog drinks, in the rust coloured air of August or July I hear the voice of my father saying something about churches, or is he just frustrated, or does he simply sit with a granny rug over his knees whilst spring blows his comb-over back to life. A squirrel a wood louse. Magical beasties. I am a small boy with big person worries. I hear Odessey and Oracle by the Zombies this time of year. Song is on every flirty breeze. There is nothing to this leap of imagination. It’s no leap at all. The day writes itself automatically, then folds the page. I go back to reread it and it has changed like everything one goes back to. I am reading it now, writing it out. A golden haze, a leaf green wash of green man snot. Children in a line on the path, binoculars that are a hindrance, hot hay fever. I want to be here but I also want to be safe inside. Down in the valley everything is muffled in velvet. I am a down filled sack. I am alone. I am alone in a quiet church trying to hear dad say something encouraging. Peter Puget’s gravestone. Brimstones in a courtly spiral. A community notice board with pins and staples makes me weepy. Why why why. The joke blue sky, the Triassic wings of dragonflies. This world. This world. This world wakes, I press the accelerator down through a village built for horse and cart. This world. I drive my machine running on dead dinosaurs out of the valley, popping out at the top like a jack in the box into a world of slicing swifts, auto fumes and pie and a pint £8.95 lunches. Behind me the valley falls into the ground with a sound like a fart and goes silently back about its business.
On another day the valley is curtained with rain, with a thin sheet of phthalo night. I am revisiting after painting a few of its scenes and it has taken on some kind of mythical quality, a double life that makes it feel a little remote. I am with mum, walking the dogs up the valley to the church, cutting across field, stile, field. I find a buzzard feather that I stow in my car cup holder where it rattles around for a couple of weeks before being thrown away or lost under the seat. Cow pats, one or two big bad oaks of old in ground of their own. Soft falls the summer breeze, I snap photos and the dogs maraud. Here we are looking across the vale, there we were, here we will be. I feel a deep understanding rise up before I realise I understand precisely nothing and am in fact a total stranger here, a vagrant without a nation or a compass to point. Sycamore helicopters. The sad far-awayness of old songs, the clatter of a boombox. In the big old barn there will be a summer beer festival. I stab it into my phone calendar and still forget to go. On my bike I topple down a dry river bed coming out on the quiet lane, suddenly loud with my breath and beating heart. I am a kind of fool especially in the blooming spring. In winter the layers peel away and the skeleton of Everything judders in an icy dance breathing long breaths out into the milky white way. Houses with aluminium sunrooms. Landrover Evoques. A boat in a field. Holly berries. How often I have thought of you down by the stream and up on the tree-lined hill that we can see from the motorway. The winter branches curl like fingers, pulling me into the holly green hedgerow where I will lie until the next spring. Hear the nightingale sing. Hear the nightingale. Hear the lovers court, marry, die and turn to ice.
The giant opens its legs to make the sides of the valley and in falls grass, whole copses of trees, farmsteads, weather systems, a planet or two. In falls all the sounds of wet days, snowy afternoons, silent nights. In falls instruments of wood and metal. In falls an odd, assorted bunch of mostly obtuse, stubborn people. In falls the pearlescent night, zinc day, crumbling dusk. Down into this bric-a-brac I ride my bicycle. Down I wind in the back seat of a hearse, down I walk with the dogs. From afar I can peer into this world like a fortune teller into their crystal ball. The steeping sky gives way to lines of hedges each enclosing a field, each with it’s own once-upon-a-time name. Not knowing them, I name this one "Dejected Bull" and this one "Remembrances". I name this one "Cow Pat" and the next "Harebell Blue". John Clare found the divine in fields. The gurgling stream sounds like lute music. I hear Henry Purcell and Thomas Campion. “Like the flower" my daughter observes. I am deeply moved in ways I do not understand so have to make a painting. I puff up a hill. Fires burn. Owls hoot. Here's the lonely churchyard, here’s the tiny church with the pauper's coffin resting on the roof beams. The quick and the dead. Steely twilight. I keep no company, am haunted by my own self and by the quicksilver melody that pours down these fields into the song-spate river from which I dip my cup to quench all my thirsts. I am haunted by an imaginary nativity of milk maids, yeoman, farmhands, artisans, potters, tosspots and poets that have come before and unload their endless, confusing litany into my ear and request me to translate. Visions of social history books. The seasons turn from winter to spring. I'll come back here always, but maybe not so frequently. "History is made in the future" I muse uncertainly as I lazily shift gears crunching steel cog on steel chain, sounding a dull bell across the small valley universe.
Misty twisty, balladeer vibes. Lutes via bluetooth. Silence falls. Green mossy ivy silence that slowly unpicks stone walls. Baroque Saturdays. He barks from behind a screen, long-lining it out of my vision. He talks from between clouds. Tuscan bells in a North Somerset valley. A hill so steep I eventually have to get off my bike. Field scabious. Linen sky. I trundle along stopping to make calls, finalise arrangements, liaise with family. Life through your own eyes. Life pounding in the chambers of your heart. Life getting away from you, swooping up too close, or worse; life inaudible. This place is so old. It drips with garden-variety lore. Every leaf is a galaxy, blackholes in the graveyard quiet. Sweltering yearning for the inexplicable. The blue of distance. Sometimes I feel so tired. Hark, I have trapped this valley in a jar! Terrarium valley. It has its own climate, its own discrete cycles. It’s the tiny world I wanted to create with model trains but didn’t have the money for as a child. And it’s all in my head. I have imagined a real thing into alt-existence. Bells peal. The words and music and sweet birdsong clang into silence. I close the notebook, eat my granola bar and set the GPS for home. I don’t know if this is a goodbye or a fare-thee-well but I must be going. The valley sighs like an exhaling lung, singing its heart out, growing roots, leaves and branches inside the jar, on the far horizon from where I now walk the dog. Whether I’m there or not.