In the old days I was Canis Marinus, Dog of the Sea.
I was born in a mangrove swamp of the Antipodes,
abandoned by Ma at first swim to the murky
mysteries of waves, death and capitalism.
I was crated frozen to the Land of the Free.
Now they call me Tiger, Blue, Hammerhead,
Great White, Art-wank. I prefer Sea-Dog
but they call me shock, ragged, monster, demon
or jaws (cue scary music and pearly sharps to die for)
the perfect engine and eating machine, soulless
beast, killer of slaves and pretty girls in bikinis.
I can morph into fin soup, a Chinese delicacy
or a shifty money lender. A role model for the aspiring
acolytes of Damien or a trophy tanked up on formalin
stinking behind the thin glass wall of privilege.
Predators queue and gawp
at the impossible.
I stare straight back
and what’s more
I never blink.
I was inspired to write this poem after seeing Damien Hirst’s so-called conceptual art entitled ‘The Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’. I found it disturbing to see a wild creature exploited and displayed in an art gallery. My feelings of distaste and anger increased when I later learned that Hirst had several Tiger Sharks killed for his art work. Even though the sharks are preserved in formaldehyde they start to decompose after a few years and need to be replaced. Other animals have also been killed by Hirst for his art, including cows and calves for the piece titled ‘Mother and Child (Divided)’. I find the morality of this indefensible. It is one thing to kill for food or survival but not for art or entertainment. Hirst’s pickled shark was sold for millions.
I also find it sad that humans have a tendency to demonise and label as ‘other’ anyone who is different from themselves, this includes other species, races, religions, sexual orientations, disability, etc. Even sharks can respond positively to kindness and afffection. They are not the vicious, mindless monsters portrayed by our culture but a beautiful creature trying to survive the best it can, just like the rest of us. Please watch this amazing YouTube video showing a shark conservationist petting and playing with a shark. Perhaps they are truly the dogs of the sea.
The February air is zesty with unexpected sunshine and the northern wind softened to a breeze. Spurning my faithful duffle coat I reach for the cashmere coat with a fake fur collar that I haven’t worn since leaving London. This coat has been on a long journey and in storage for two years. Its chic appeal seems incongruous in this land of anoraks and woolly hats but why not be different today? Should I wear the sheepskin gloves or the fluffy angora ones? I go with the fluffy. The dusky pink matches my suede boots.
The street is quiet, not even the builders around and no sign of my elderly neighbor who likes to feed the seagulls every morning. A battered red pick-up truck rattles down the road towards the harbor trailing an aroma of fish. I’m heading to the village shop for milk and bananas. As my clumsy fingers place the house key in my coat pocket they dislodge a crumpled piece of yellow paper from the silk lining. It flutters onto the waterlogged front lawn. The sulfur color reminds me of old moss, the sort that clings to old stone walls.
It’s not a discarded shopping list or a receipt for some long-forgotten object of desire but a couple of cinema tickets; Twenty One Grams. It’s a poignant film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu about how people’s lives intersect and fragment due to a random event. The story reveals the patterns concealed beneath the surface of everyday life. The twenty one grams refers to the amount of weight which is mysteriously lost at the moment of death.
I went to see this film on my thirtieth birthday, the first of March, many years ago now. We ate lunch in the roof top restaurant of an art gallery overlooking the Thames before going to the cinema. After the film we drank cocktails in a trendy bar in Knightsbridge. It was an enjoyable day in a faraway life. Tom and I were both in a good mood and we didn’t mind the cold wind, dodging the rain showers without an umbrella or searching for an elusive parking space. I didn’t complain about the dirty pavements, the crowds or the traffic. At that time I’d never heard of Caithness and living in Scotland was a romantic dream. I was wearing this same grey coat with a leopard fur collar. It felt like the wrong coat for a wet day.
Today I queue in the village shop while two incomers, a mother and teenage daughter stock up on junk food. They are horsey types who have adopted a feral lifestyle. The mother wears a red bandana and a dirty shredded t-shirt any eighties punk would be proud of. Her bare feet are encased in flip flops. Jagged green toenails protrude from a crust of mud. Both women exude a smell reminiscent of rotting potatoes. They spend more than twenty pounds on sweets and chocolate. As they exit the shop Elaine reaches under the counter for the air freshener and sprays it around in a protective circle.
On my way home I wonder if I’m wearing the wrong coat.
One day you’ll write about us, you said on your last visit.
A starry love story, a film…
Betty Blue meets Quadrophenia, you said. I said,
but how will it end? As I left you at Central Station you said, I’m missing you already. I said, never, remembering silence as we drove deep through Kielder forest.
There’s a bond between us
that can’t be broken, you wrote in your last letter.
Blood, sex, magic you said. I said,
I’m sick of bleeding
and magic’s not real
and there’s more to life than fucking.
I want to be cherished, You said, that’s cloying.
Sometimes, naked on star-less nights
I Google your name and wait.
Cars have always played a positive role in my life so the inevitable news that petrol and diesel cars are to be banned in the UK from 2040 fills me with nostalgia. Of course it’s an essential step towards decreasing air pollution and global warming but the internal combustion engine will be missed by many of us. Technology keeps moving on with the advent of electric and self-drive vehicles (the latter being a terrifying prospect when I think how often my laptop crashes). The traditional petrol car has been a cool cultural icon for nearly a century, a symbol of personal freedom, style and aspiration. It has featured in many wonderful movies:- Rebel Without A Cause, The French Connection, The Italian Job, The Driver, Thelma and Louise, the list is endless. Can you really imagine an exciting car chase in an automated electric car? Would Thelma and Louise make their heroic stance against conformity and authority while sitting passively in a car with no steering wheel? Is this new technology a sinister portent of a future where citizens lose control over their lives?
I grew up in the sixties when petrol was cheap and motoring was a carefree, guilt-free experience. Cars were affordable even to many working class families and it allowed them to escape industrial towns to explore the countryside and the coast. Our first family car was a second-hand black Ford Consul. I remember the smooth, comforting contours. It felt safe and reassuring long before the compulsory seat belts, inflatable air bags and zero tolerance of drinking and driving that we take for granted today. We lived with a certain amount of risk and people didn’t stress about all the horrible possibilities of what might happen. That said, there were far fewer cars on the road and people were more respectful of each other. No-one had ever heard of road-rage.
Nearly every summer weekend we would pack up provisions and our little orange tent and head for the seaside together with numerous friends. In the cooler months we would go for long drives around the countryside and have picnics in the back seat or bravely shivering in a lay-by. We couldn’t afford garage repairs so my father maintained the car himself and took great pride in his immaculate standards. It was typical for many working class men to repair their own cars. Before the digital era and the concept of built-in obsolescence it was relatively easy to replace parts. Our Ford Consul lived to a great age and was eventually sold on. We replaced it with a two tone, blue and cream Humber Sceptre with curvaceous chrome trims and sculpted wings. My father was devastated when the bodywork was damaged in a minor scrape with a dry-stone wall. He took to his bed for a week and didn’t speak or eat. The car had to be scrapped because he couldn’t find a replacement panel.
Now I live in a remote rural area where once upon a time there was a petrol station in every village. Like the village shops, the petrol station was a focal point for the community, enabling human contact and the exchange of information. Buying petrol used to be fun. There were free gifts such as drinking glasses, (I still have one chunky tumbler at the back of my cupboard!), coasters, sunglasses, sweets, posters. As a little girl I remember being thrilled with a free kite. In the UK there were Green Shield stamps, paper tokens you were given with petrol purchases that you collected and glued into a book. The books were exchanged for gifts at a Green Shield Centre. Petroleum companies had jolly slogans such as ‘Put a Tiger in Your Tank’ by Esso. All that has gone. In the eleven years since I moved to this area the few surviving petrol stations have closed. The only remaining one is part of a large supermarket chain. We now have to drive over fifty miles to obtain fuel and you need to plan ahead. Life is becoming more difficult and more isolated. There are no local jobs selling petrol, work that suited many women and students as it was part-time.
It’s sad to see the derelict petrol stations at the side of the road. In recent years I’ve photographed the decaying buildings, old signs and rusting pumps. Grass and weeds are reclaiming the former concrete forecourts. I find them bleakly beautiful. Many of the old designs had an Art Deco influence. Will the new electric charging points of the future have the same sense of design? I fear not. The future is less concerned with aesthetics and humanity. There will be no-one to chat to about the weather when you plug your car in to an impersonal machine.
So I hope you enjoy my photographs of the bye-gone petroleum era entitled Ignition Switch. There are more to come.
And if you are a bit of a petrol-head or have any memories to share of motoring experiences in the past I would love to hear them. Please leave a comment. Times must change but sometimes you can’t help wishing they would stay the same!
Perhaps the world is not as we know it. We live in an age of conspiracy theories. Whether it’s the death of Princess Diana, the Twin Towers and 9/11, the veracity of the moon landings, who shot JFK or alien abductions. In the digital age it’s become too easy to manipulate the public with fake news, fear-mongering and subtle propaganda. Once upon a time a photograph was believed to be an accurate record of a moment in time but now we know it is a fiction. It’s increasingly difficult to know where truth lies. We have lost trust in the authorities and the scheming mass media who only give us fragments of the full picture.
Now there is new evidence linking the death of Marilyn Monroe with UFOs. Yes, you heard that right! A recent crowd-funded documentary, ‘Unacknowledged’ directed by Michael Mazzola, focuses on the work of conspiracy theorist Dr Stephen Greer. The film claims the Hollywood star was murdered by the CIA because she threatened to expose the truth about aliens and Roswell. Apparently, John Kennedy told her about his trip to a secret military base to see ‘things from outer space’. It’s claimed that Marilyn had affairs with both Kennedy brothers and when Bobby wanted to end their relationship she threatened to reveal all at a press conference. Stephen Greer has convincing documentary evidence to support his claims. Some time before this film was conceived, a former CIA hitman made a death-bed confession about his part in killing Marilyn and now we know why.
Even UFO sceptics will be swayed by the overwhelming evidence in ‘Unacknowledged’ showing how a secret capitalist-militarist power elite have suppressed information about the existence of aliens and the revolutionary technology that could change the world for the better. Industrialists with vested interests in petroleum products are threatened by developments that would undermine their control and profits. Even the US President has been kept in the dark. The film presents a cohesive argument including classified documents and a vast number of mind-blowing interviews with former top scientists, military officials and politicians. ‘Unacknowledged’ is worth watching if you have an open mind and are willing to think out of the box. The documentary is available to rent from Amazon and Netflix.
“Everything looks more beautiful in retrospect”. So says Michelle Monaghan’s character in the 2011 science fiction thriller Source Code. The film, directed by Duncan Jones, stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a US army captain who is repeatedly sent back into a virtual parallel universe in an effort to prevent an explosion on a Chicago commuter train. He tries to change history and many of us would love to do that when looking back on our own lives.
Alas, time travel and parallel universes are still the stuff of fantasy. The relationship between the present and the past is complex. Looking back can feel like being lost in a mist where the edges of reality become blurred. Memory is unreliable. Research has shown that after a while we do not remember the actual past event but more a previous memory of it. Our perception of the past changes over time, shape-shifting and misleading. The Czech-born French writer Milan Kundera described it thus; ” We pass through the present with our eyes blindfolded. We are permitted merely to sense and guess at what we are actually experiencing. Only later when the cloth is untied can we glance at the past and find out what we have experienced and what meaning it has.”
The process of writing can help our recollection and understanding of our personal histories. Time unravels like a piece of knitting. But there are still blind spots. I’ve realized that memories of some painful events from my past have been erased or diluted. Perhaps this is a defense mechanism. I have to work really hard at remembering them, removing the blindfold. As I grow older I’m periodically overwhelmed by a sense of nostalgia. Its tempting to believe that life was more real, more authentic, more fun in the past. Perhaps the younger we are, the more intensely we experience events but the fact is life was never perfect. Each day we are confronted with problems and difficulties. Satisfaction and happiness are derived from how well we rise to the challenges of life.
I took this photograph at Wick harbour. Wick is a small fishing town about thirty miles from my home in northern Scotland. In the 1800s it was one of the busiest and most prosperous herring ports in Europe. The bay was filled with hundreds of boats, the quayside lined with thousands of barrels of herring. The shouts of fish wives mingled with the cries of sea gulls and the howling wind. Today it holds the silence of abandonment. But decay can be beautiful. The old paint, fading colors and streaks of rust in the photograph are evocative of some strange interior landscape, peeling back the layers of time.