Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Picking blackberries from hedgerows, making daisy chains, collecting acorns, playing conkers, wandering the fields looking for rabbits, daydreaming under a tree on a sunny day. These are the precious memories of my childhood when my relationship with animals and the natural world became an integral part of my imagination and personality.  I was lucky enough to grow up in the late sixties before the age of parental paranoia and health and safety fanaticism.  Children were allowed personal freedom to explore the world, test their bodies and minds,  learn about risk, learn about the magic of nature.  But times have changed. We live in an age of fear, much of it unfounded.  Kids spend more time alone with their tablets than playing outdoors.  I was sad to learn that the 2008 edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary aimed at children between the ages of 7 and 9 has omitted the following ‘nature’ words believing they are no longer relevant.

The obsolete words are catkin, brook, acorn, buttercup, blackberry, conker, holly, ivy, mistletoe.  No doubt they have been replaced by technology words like database, spreadsheet, voicemail, pixel.

Contact and knowledge of the natural world are essential to a child’s artistic and spiritual development, be it poetry, visual art, music.  How will future generations learn to cherish other living things and respect their environment if they don’t even have the right words?

 

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Photo taken by the author

 

The Magic Mirror

I am the eye in the wall, unblinking
as you twist in your dreams.

I am mistress of deceit calling you,
naming you, mornings and evenings.

I am silver and pure delight
of thin brittle skin slithering

over your shame. Like winter
I bite envy into your bones.

Mermaids swoon in my whirlpools.
Beetles and lizards creep, frogs doze

in my tangled borderlands.
White lilies wither to bronze beneath

your selfie gaze. My heart
is a diamond you will never find.

You so want to break me
but you will only break yourself.

 

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Image created by the author

 

 

Without Warning

I saw a red balloon
low in the western sky
going down, down, down.
The wind whittled a prayer
and seagulls fell to ground.

Flowers floated slick
by the harbor wall.
Birthdays and funerals
gone, gone, gone Cola cans,
rubber bullets and condoms.

The lawyer twisted words
out the side of his mouth.
The preacher whistled
Three Blind Mice as the poet
flew away in a paper plane.

White feathers gathered
on the darkening lawn
so I turned myself inside.
Mesmerized by static,
I waited for the fall.

 

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Painting titled Atomic Bay by the author. Acrylic and mixed media on canvas.

The Good Housekeeping Guide to the Apocalypse

In the aftermath of  the Hawaii ‘whoops apocalypse’ fiasco, here are a few tips for surviving a nuclear war gleaned from the internet.  (A good sense of humour, a vacuum cleaner and a four leaf clover are also essential):-

The best advice for surviving a nuclear bomb is to be somewhere else when it goes off.  If that doesn’t work out for you then remember ‘duck and cover’.

Think of radiation as dust that can be consistently and carefully cleaned and disposed of. Twice daily vacuuming of house hold surfaces is recommended. Warning! Do not dry dust or sweep because this will cause dust, and potentially isotopes, to become airborne where they can settle onto surfaces or be inhaled.  Feather-type dusters should especially be avoided. Internal Contamination is 20 to 100 times more harmful than external exposures. Run the air conditioner 12 hours a day on the re-circulation setting. Warning! Do not use fans or AC units to blow outside air into the house.  Be sure to try and keep indoor air from becoming too dry.

 

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Artwork by the author

 

Some careful kitchen habits:-

Keep your dinnerware in clean cabinets with doors, or place in containers such as Tupperware bins.  Remove covers carefully so dust doesn’t land on clean surfaces. Rinse your cooking utensils with clean filtered water before use.  The best filters use activated charcoal or reverse osmosis which are very effective against radioisotopes. Rinse the outside of food cans before opening them.

Survival Checklist:- Think of radiation as an invisible layer of dust on all surfaces that needs to be carefully cleaned away and managed.

Create an air tight seal in your home. Seal all external doors and windows.  Duct tape is handy and comes in twenty seven different colours and patterns to match your décor.  I recommend Penguin Invasion and zebra print for a modern funky look. The glow in the dark option will help you find your way around when the lights go out.

Aggressively clean off surfaces in your home without creating dust (wet wipes and water filled vacuums essential).  Keep food in clean, sealed containers.

When you go outside, wear a set of coveralls, goggles and good quality dust masks to cover your mouth and nose.  Shower every time you return from outdoors.  Sleep at least two feet above the floor.

Carry young children while outdoors.

Fight fall-out with duct tape, mop, water filtered vacuum, sponge, paper towels, plastic bags, sturdy trash container, hand-held radiation detector.

Essential reading: Step-by Step Home Butchering, A Beginners Guide to Hunting, Self Defense for Dummies, DIY Burials.

Ignition Switch #6

Hope you enjoy my photographs that show the changes in Petrol pump design from the sixties to the noughties.  Note the switch from gallons to litres and the introduction of unleaded.  I took the pictures at disused filling stations in Northern Scotland.  Can you spot the bird’s nest?  Would a bird be faster than an Esso ‘tiger in your tank’?  Someone should do research!

In the final shot I liked the spectral polythene sheeting shredded and flapping in the wind which often reaches 70 mph in the Flow Country.

In the first shot I was drawn to the signs of corrosion and nature taking over.  Turquoise and orange were fashionable colours in the sixties.  The fourth picture shows purple pumps, a colour that is still popular today…the trains and bus shelters are all purple (or the colour of Scottish Heather perhaps!)

 

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All photos taken by the author

 

 

Ignition Switch #5

I was fascinated by the weird shapes of these oil drill bits I saw discarded at the site of an onshore oil well in Northern Scotland.  They remind me of alien seed pods from a sci-fi film!   The drill bits were originally diamond tipped and cost thousands of pounds each.  They were quickly worn out by the toughness of the granite.

 

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Original photographs by the author

A Tiger in Your Tank

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.

 

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This photograph was taken by my maternal grandfather on my third birthday.  I am standing by our first family car, a Ford Consul. The dolls were called Nina and Nadia.

 

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!