Performance Publishing
Header

On Saturday February 27th, from 11am to 4pm, we’ll be at the Finsbury Art Festival. Our little contribution to this positive cornucopia of fun things to do in the Art Zone will be showing off the pamphlet stitch. This simple little stitch, used for centuries by anyone from teeth-grinding political radicals to quaint little crafts-people, only takes seconds to learn yet will hold your bits of paper together in the form of a pamphlet for hundreds of years! And for those of you who like reading as much as fiddling with bits of paper and string, we’ll be binding some of the contributions from our guest bloggers, David Barnes, Eddie Farrell and Julie Rafalski. Plus one of the stories by David Henningham from Erroneous Disposition of the People.  All this and much more, absolutely free! Can it be true?

Come and find out! I gather it will be a very child-friendly, as well as adult-friendly event. What better way to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon?

St Luke’s Centre
90 Central Street EC1V 8AJ
020 7549 8181

On Friday I finished an 8 week block of German Language learning and with that my head for the first time in two months has begun to clear a little to formulate a few thoughts.

Last year when I began to try and learn the German language I looked at a few course introductions on the internet. Only one has remained in my mind. The name of the course, I have forgotten but the essential question it proffered I have not; first and foremost, ask yourself seriously why you want to learn this language.

I can’t hide the fact that somewhere in my imagination I had fancied myself sometime in the future at an elegant dinner table flitting effortlessly between English and Deutsch with a suave cosmopolitan air. This fantasy I imagine came from watching films and also from having observed in awe certain friends doing this. One year on however, I am still formulating my answer to the question and this may be playing a part in the slowness of my Learning. Before going any further I must state that I would dearly love to be able to speak German in order to communicate on a day to day level with people in Berlin. Apart from anything else this shows good manners while being a guest in another country. Indeed this may be as good a reason as any and the only one necessary to focus all my energies toward blinkered learning of German. But for another inescapable factor; I am an artist with an inbuilt sense to question.

So sitting in my class 5 days a week other thoughts and observations have been coming to the fore taking equal precedence to sentence structure and to determining the correct case of speech. Having my attentions divided in this way can on occasions make the subject of German language secondary; as a mature student, the classroom set up is of equal interest. For here I am being given a mini-re-run of my school days; you know the ones that hit you like a herd of stampeding cattle and spew you out badly trampled somewhere in your late teens. From my perspective with a 27 year gap, although learning in classroom has got no easier, I am occasionally able to stand back from what is going on and consider things that I hadn’t had the space or words for the first time around. This may have been typified the other day when the teacher (meine Lehrerin) noticed me struggling through yet another exercise and in a gentle conciliatorily tone said, you know this is not about the substance and interest of what you are trying to say, this is about getting the Grammar correct. What came first, the chicken or the egg?

I would like at some stage to broaden this out a little more and not just be me, me, me , but too many of the thoughts I have on this subject are based on personal experience so for now and with apology, here is more about me.

I have been both cursed and perhaps blessed throughout my life with being dyslexic; even as I write this blog I know that I will have to check and re-check it a thousand times, before then handing it over to a grammatically competent friend to make a final check. All this in order to make it readable, acceptable….. Normal. To me, it is not just about recognising the necessity of taking such steps but it is also important to stop and consider how much of the original thought one had in the head is shaped and compromised to achieve this…. normality.

So what does a dyslexic have in their head? The official response to what I had in my head whilst at Primary school was to remove me from the normal class and place me in a remedial class. ( although the term dyslexia appears to existed since the 1880s, in Britain in the late 60s, it seems, certainly in the state school sector to have been unknown.) The removal from my class came about from being found by the teaching staff to be a slow learner. The irony of this is that due to my slowness of grasping the foundations of accepted learning, this dyslexic learnt very quickly a multitude of ways to protect himself from being humiliated every day at school. I used a combination of fading into the background and going on the offensive. From this hostile and chaotic foundation my schooling continued; the commitment to self preservation used up most of my energy and left only a fraction of time to vaguely note there were other things called subjects that I should be paying some attention to. Learning through this makeshift filter forced me to develop a system of discovery which occasionally touched on the official syllabus but very often went off at a complete tangent. As a result I wonder if I use any other parts of the brain that that normal learning doesn’t require or if I am just hopping frantically around within the regular channels, which I am told represents a depressingly low percentage of the brains capacity. Whatever that may be, I would say that the effects of a rigidly enforced system of education that presented itself to me as completely illogical, pushed me into finding alternative ways of gathering information from the world.

A while ago, I spoke to a good friend, a retired University lecturer, who had for several years been helping invigilate exams at Edinburgh university. He told me that dyslexic students were now allowed half an hour extra to read through the paper. This I told him was missing the point; all they would get from these students is an average attempt at being normal and answering the questions in the way that was required, when if throughout their time at University they were allowed to expand in their own way they may come up with something truly unique and complimentary to the overall subject. He was very interested in these comments and said that at no time in all the academic planning meetings he’d attended had he ever heard this point muted. And such is the academic world, in which education is now a massive ever expanding industry funnelled through an ever narrowing gate, rigidly governed by statistics and percentages that in my opinion continue to ignore the potential for real learning and instead target the fool’s gold pinnacle of the well paid job.

It is little wonder then with these thoughts igniting in my head that my regurgitation of the endless tables of German prepositions are taking their time to spew forth. To try and make room for both I had to expand my waking day to fit around the class which ran from 9.30am till 1pm, five days a week. This would not only mean staring at and fiddling with incomprehensible homework exercises in the afternoon, evening and into the early hours, but also falling out of bed at 6am every morning to stare and fiddle some more before the next class. Around the 4th week I began to seek refuge from this cyclical madness and found some from the writing of A S Neill in his book Schoolhill and perhaps more surprisingly the electric and Chicago blues of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker. Both sources were well known to me; the chapters of A S Neill tolled an obviously comforting chime connecting directly to my difficulties with formal teaching, the solace found in the sound scape generated by the blues musicians was a little less obvious though.

asneill

Straying onto you tube one night from the online language translator I sometime use I found myself spellbound by a particular recording of Muddy Waters’ Hoochie Coochie man. From the early 1980’s when I first discovered this music I quickly moved on from condemning the songs as sexist crap; the lyrics soon become nothing, one must take in the whole abstraction of sound and performance to discover an uncompromising struggle for humility and dignity. The film of Muddy Waters does exactly this, encasing it in a muffled, bleeding; an inexplicable audio beauty of his Chicago electric Blues from that period.

Both of the Howlin’ Wolf performances are incredibly raw documents of an uneducated man who knows everything and nothing and whose vulnerability allows you to see it all. Why was I drawn to these performances? I would find that difficult to say exactly, but in the context of my current thoughts they illustrate how a human being without a recognised and accepted useful ability can find their own form to directly communicate and articulate something incredibly rich and complex about the world. I would strongly recommend you take a look at them yourself.

Man has always been quick to exploit the world of its resources and to a certain extent this may have become his be all and end all. I would ask (and I know I am far from being the first) why can man not take advantage of huge technological advances to begin to seriously look more closely at himself? The perpetuation of this destructive cycle stands little chance of being broken when the main generator of innovation and insight is inextricably linked with behaving correctly within a strict formal education. And I would venture to suggest that the so called, outsiders, misfits, freaks (not my terms but ones widely used) collectively present a natural resource through personal experience for our civilisation to consider other ways of being. Not to be just creamed off, colonised, enslaved, exploited and wasted within an already failing system, but to be learned from and to help to develop a wider all encompassing mind-rich civilisation with unheard of and un thought of possibilities.

Now where was I……

brechen (to break) – hat/ist gebrochen

fahren (to drive) – hat/ist gefahren

fliegen ( to fly) – hat/ist geflogen………………….

The function of the child is to live his own life – not the life his anxious parents think he should live, nor a life according to the purpose of the educator who thinks he knows what is best. All this interference and guidance on the part of adults only produces a generation of robots.

You cannot make children learn music or anything else without to some degree converting them into will-less adults. You fashion them into accepters of the status quo – a good thing for a society that needs obedient sitters at dreary desks, standers in shops, mechanical catchers of the 8:30 suburban train – a society, in short, that is carried on the shabby shoulders of the scared little man – the scared-to-death conformist.

Extract from A.S.Neill Summerhill ( a pelican book) 1962

 It has been a month of corners.

I suppose it began with looking down the Landwehrkanal from the corner of Luetzowufer and Klingelhoefer Strasse and realising for the first time just how close the Bauhaus Archive building is to to Potsdammer Platz. Potsdammer Platz, during the inter-war years was the busiest crossroads in Europe. However up until the fall of the wall in 1989 it was more or less a no-man’s-land. Since then, the massive rebuilding program at Potsdammer Platz has become a symbol and the ‘Showcase of reunified Germany’. From my vantage point on the Herkules Bruecke I could see clearly the profiles of Daimler Land and the Sony Centre, while in the corner of my eye the slightly sunken archive building; This view prompted a wave of questions to rush into my head, but I will come back to these a little later.

I’m not sure if I have ever given corners too much thought. A snap response makes them sound a bit bleak; you’ve painted yourself into a corner; go to the corner and face the wall you naughty child; we’ve got you cornered come out with your hands up.

cornersI suppose it’s how you look at what a corner is though. These examples suggest to me something draining, life-sucking and concave, not something convexly pushing forward and outward? Actually, can I describe a sharp angled thing like a corner as being a curve?

y-michael-wedgwoody-02-michael-wedgwood

A year or so ago Michael Wedgwood was obsessed with making simple drawings of just 3 lines; they were of the letter Y or the letter Y inverted. He liked what opened up from making these basic marks; both could be read as corners; one a corner to the floor and the other, a corner to the ceiling. Further to this, when a simple 2 line 90 degree corner is drawn out on paper I read it as either a 2 stage move; the end of something and then the beginning of something new or as a sweeping continuation of the same something.

Bruce McLean once told me about one of his favourite works made by Lawrence Wiener which he found,’ critical, intelligent, self-referencing and very succinct’. He describes it so, It was in the last room of The American Art Show at the Royal Academy, as you came round a corner into the room, opposite a statement said – TO SEE and as you turned into the gallery at 90 degrees on the facing end and last wall and piece in the show, it said, AND TO BE SEEN.

The month of corners continued when I found one in the street; a big multi-angled one made out of MDF. Berlin is a fantastic city for finding household goods (no longer needed by one party) which are put out in the street for others to take and use. I moved to Berlin with some basic necessities; clothes, books and records, over the past year I have supplemented these with several chairs, lamps, a hoover, a carpet, a clothes rail, a double bed and a printer; all clean, usable and found neatly stacked on the pavement with the note, FUR GESCHENKE. But what fascinated me about this board with two specific cuts taken out of it, was the intention of the person gifting it. Did they think someone might take it as a piece of timber, to refashion for another use or did they believe someone may take it to fit in an identical corner of their home? It remained propped against a wall on Choriner Strasse , each day I would pass and consider its intention. One sunny afternoon I took the time to make a quick drawing of it while starting to wonder if I may have the perfect corner to house it in the flat. Then after a week it disappeared. Taken away as rubbish, taken as timber or now sitting in the corner of someone else’s flat? I will never know.

Finding virtual corners in a city is one thing but some city centres such as Glasgow or Manhattan consist of nothing but, and this then becomes an essential part of that cities orientation; I’ll meet you on the corner of Sauchiehall and Lexington. Berlin, though not in any way a grid, has some good corners like the junction of Saarbrueke Strasse and Schoenhauser Alle, where a week ago I discovered a modest memorial stone to Karl Liebnecht. It was surrounded by conkers from a solitary horse chestnut tree that stands above and from which I collected a large bag of them thinking they could be roasted and eaten only to be informed by a friend that they are poisonous (perhaps then, a Karl Liebnecht memorial conker tournament instead for next year?).

The Dorotheenstaadtischer Friedhof (cemetery) is the final resting place of several German notables of the Arts. Around one specific corner can be found not only Bertolt Brecht and his wife, Helene Weigel but the finally rested bones and ashes of Heinrich Mann, Hanns Eisler and Paul Dessau who had been hounded around the world of the last century for their beliefs, politics and work. The Brechts’ corner looks like a leafy double bed with the two engraved boulders acting as headstones looking like pillows.

My favourite corner of the Alte Nationalgalerie is on the ground floor. Entering the first room on the left hand side you are immediately confronted by one of Gustave Courbet’s wave paintings (Die Welle, 1870) The best position to look at the painting is from the doorway, however, in a busy gallery this is impossible. So I have taken to sitting on the polished wooden bench to the left, where one can slide back along into the corner next to the door frame. From this angle you can view, undisturbed, the odd picture of two horizontal slabs, which freeze and flatten this mighty natural force.

But, back to my original corner on the Herkules Brueke. Since July this year, three German institutions, Klassik Stiftung Weimar, Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau and the Bauhaus Archive Berlin, have been celebrating the 90th anniversary of the foundation of the Bauhaus. This has seen an exhibition and a series of events under the banner of, Bauhaus. A Conceptual Model which has taken place in the hall and ground floor galleries of the Martin Gropius Bau. During this time the Bauhaus Archive building has been emptied of its exhibits and simply shown as a work itself, under the title of, Schoen angesehen or A beautiful sight. I have to confess that over the summer, whenever I had passed the building on a bike ride over to Charlottenburg or Schoeneberg, I’d mistaken it for being closed for renovations. This meant stopping off for a quick pee and a look at the postcards in the only part of the building that appeared open.

It would appear from reading the Exhibition’s accompanying newspaper, that 30 years on, the Archive building is not big enough for the ever growing collection and that something larger needs to be built for this purpose. This would then leave the original one, reconfigured from a Gropius blueprint to act as perhaps a library and a research centre. I have to say that I have always been underwhelmed by the Archive building and have found its spaces cramped and dark (the latter, apparently needed for preservation conditions), and completely at odds with the innovation and enlightenment of the objects, drawings and ideas on display.

The programmed debates listed at the back of the paper, have not only focused on the turbulent history of the school, but have also been debating the Bauhaus’s relevance in the world today. I had my own meditation on this while looking towards Potsdammer Platz, (post toilet und postkart) that goes under the banner of What If.

What if in 1989 the Bauhaus Archive building had been emptied and all the contents had been asked to make its way over to the barren waste land of cold war Potsdammer Platz and burrow down into the sandy soil?

And what if then, in the Spring , just like Paul Klee’s Pflanzen auf dem Acker picture of 1921, each idea and notion began to push its head out of the ground with the promise of something new and challenging to act as the founding structure of a new unified Germany at the heart of Europe?

The blurb accompanying Bauhaus a Conceptual Model says The Bauhaus is Germany’s most successful contribution to international art and culture of modernity in the early 20th Century, it also goes onto say that, Its dissolution in 1933……….as a laboratory and workshop of modernity was destroyed by a deliberate political act…….Considering the intentions of what the new Potsdammer Platz was hoped to symbolise, I could think of no better and poignant foundation stone than that of the Bauhaus; its history and its monumental legacy left to the rest of the world which was forcefully fragmented through ignorance and prejudice of the then political climate of its homeland. I would also add that I have nothing against the Architect Renzo Piano, but why ask him to coordinate this prestigious and culturally significant project when you have the work of the spiritual Godfathers of modern architecture and Design in abundance and in your possession? That is a little like choosing to book the Bootleg Beatles to play at your birthday party when you could have the Beatles.

So what if, following the Spring growth contemporary Architects, Artists and Designers were invited onto this site to study these new shoots and collaborate in helping them grow into something more like a living workshop than a Museum (this was indeed Gropius’s said intention and hope for the original Archive building).

And what if then the site began to grow into a network of never seen before Restaurants, Bars, Cafés, Hotels, Libraries, Theatres, Swimming pools, Concert Halls, Walk Way, Gardens and Sports Halls, etc. each with its own workshop/college and production centre attached, training and apprenticing a new workforce/student body, attracted from all over unified Germany and beyond.

What if you could enter a café and not only buy a cup of coffee, but also the cup you were drinking it out of and the chair you were sitting on?

What if you could go to the toilet and leave having bought the toilet you had used and the towel you had dried your hands on?

All wrapped, packed and replaced by the attached workshops as part of an economic learning exchange.

And what if Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s Licht Raum Modulator really was and not just an old quirky film dragged out now and again and shown at selected art institutions.

What if the names Lego, Imax and Hyatt were the names Schlemmer, Breuer, and Feininger?

Yes what if? All this and more was being constantly generated and regenerated at the former busiest crossroad in Europe

Actually, is a crossroad a place where four corners meet?

20 minutes later I’m off the train and breathing in the clear air of Kirkcaldy.  Years ago the place stank of Linoleum, the weird thing was that the whole of Britain seemed to know about it; at Leeds City Station in 1980, I was having my ticket checked by an elderly rail employee; he looked at the ticket, punched it and as he gave it back said, Eee Kirk Kaldie. Ikun smelLeenolleeum frum thaa!

The production of Linoleum in the town was the doing of a Mr Nairn and although he and his factories are now well gone his benefactor gave a rather special collection of paintings to the Museum and Art Gallery that’s just a minute walk from the station.

The ground floor Museum has an eclectic collection of Fife pottery and memorabilia including John Thompson’s Scotland Jersey.  John Thomson by the way was born in Kirkcaldy and grew up in Cardenden.  He was the Glasgow Celtic and Scotland Goal keeper in the late 1920s and died tragically following an accidental collision with another player during a match in 1931.  The woollen Scotland Jersey now in a display case at the museum looks like his mother might have knitted it.

The Paintings which were gifted to the town are upstairs and include work from The Glasgow School and the Scottish Colourists, namely, Peploe, Cadell, Fergusson, Hunter, McTaggert and Hornel.  I have a soft spot for these pictures; as a teenager they were the first real paintings I had ever encountered.  On recent visits, I have found the clutter of stuff building up around the gallery space a bit depressing.  The only recent acquisitions seem to be 3 things by the Kirkcaldy born painting phenomenon, Jack Vetriano.  He is the scourge of any one claiming to be a painter in Scotland, for whenever you are in new company, whether formal or relaxed, within a few minutes of them finding out you are a painter, you find yourself spitting with rage and announcing to them that you do not consider Jack Vetriano to even be a painter!  While your gentle inquisitors sit quietly smiling, silently accusing you of being merely jealous of his fame and fortune.

Leaving his soft- scrubby-porn daubs behind I head down the staircase and out towards the high street of the Lang Toun.

Kirkcaldy has another famous son; the boundary signs announce – Welcome to Kirkcaldy, The Birthplace of Adam Smith.  My knowledge of Adam Smith is shamefully pitiful and somewhere along the line his name became synonymous with that of Margaret Thatcher.  Considering the two missed each other by almost 200 years, I have slowly been able to extract him from Maggie’s bed, (perhaps another theme for Jack Vetriano?)  But since working on this blog I feel I now must at least try and read The theory of moral sentiments, if not his more widely known book, The wealth of nations.  It would be too pat to now link the more famous book, which in 1776 advocated a free market economy as more productive and more beneficial to society, to the current state of Kirkcaldy High Street, but one can’t help but see something highly ironic in it all.

Kirkcaldy High Street is very long.  It runs parallel and one road up from the esplanade which faces south onto the Firth of Forth.  I’m not too sure about Adams Smith’s time but in the 1970s I knew The High Street as a bustling town centre with busy shops, restaurants, cafes and a cinema.  Today, it is just one of many high streets that has suffered from the general decline in heavy industry and a further onslaught from the out of town shopping centres.  But then, right there, not all that far from where the cinema once stood in which I saw Towering Inferno, Herbie rides again and Jaws.  Just sitting in between Greggs the Baker and a closed down discount store, there’s a small darkened plaque on the wall which reads. ……ON THIS SITE STOOD THE HOME OF HIS MOTHER IN WHICH HE LIVED FROM 1767 – 1776 AND COMPLETED “THE WEALTH OF NATIONS”

I ran into Adam Smith again that day, on The Royal Mile when I returned to Edinburgh; he stands just a little way down from where his friend, David Hume is sitting.  Unfortunately their enlightened spirit doesn’t seem to have touched the fat fingered sculptor (I presume he made the pair) who has entombed them as statutory statuary.  (Poor David Hume looks like an oxidised Jabba the Hut).

In part one I promised you two public toilet stories, here’s the second.  On my last day in Scotland we took another trip over to Fife only this time by car.  We stopped off at Wemyss, the birth place of Jimmy Shand and the last resting place of my father, then followed the coast up to Leven where we stopped for a toilet break.  As we approached a damp looking concrete bunker between the golf links and the beach a woman suddenly sprang out carrying a roll of orange cloakroom tickets and a money bag.  It’s 30p to use the toilet.  I was dutifully finding some change when I said in passing that it used to be free to go to the toilet in Scotland.  Aye it’s all changed now, she replied.

And changes are afoot or certainly back at the two Bridges.  The Forth road suspension bridge built in 1964, which we had crossed twice this day has problems.  The massive network of steel cables strung over the upright stanchions and support the road are corroding.  A friend told me about this several years ago after he had watched a TV program which had recorded the pinging noises coming from the fraying cables.  On hearing this I immediately thought about the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse (America 1940) and the otherworldly film footage made of it. Apparently, aeroelastic flutter had turned the road into a billowing streamer.  The first time I saw these incredible images I couldn’t believe it was a steel bridge that was oscillating and bending in such an extreme way.  I also remember getting emotionally involved with the drama of a dog trapped in the abandoned car on the bridge.  After an hour or so of these structural gymnastics the road finally cracked then shattered and fell into the river below.

Looking beyond the disaster movie aspect of the Forth Road Bridge, certain practical questions come to the fore; how do you get 20, 30 or even 60,000 vehicles (predicted use) over the Firth of Forth every day and as we are told, the bridge will be lucky to last until 2020, where does the money come from to build a new one?  While pondering this, something obvious struck me which I understand has been articulated by the Green Party and environmentalists some time ago.  Why not bring into the equation a drastic reduction in car use?  As good citizens of the planet, could this present crisis not be a perfect opportunity for Scotland and her newly reinstated Parliament to show the way.  To be enlightened.

the_skating_minister

Back on the Royal Mile is the Scottish Parliament.  It sits in and on a more forward looking plinth than the statues mentioned earlier.  A few years ago I took a tour of the building designed by architect Enric Miralles.  I was impressed by the layout of the debating chamber, which unlike the Palace of Westminster where the Government and Opposition face each other, here everyone sits facing forward; more like how an orchestra would be arranged.  We were also shown one of the offices used by Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSP’s). Each of the 108 offices, our guide told us with some pride, has been given a specially designed Contemplation Space; a small semi private window seat.  In this retreat, (the shape of which was inspired by Sir Henry Reaburn’s painting of the Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch) the MSPs are encouraged to take some moments away from the everyday grind of politics and to simply sit, relax and think.

contemplation-space

I asked an obvious question; do the MSPs use their Contemplation spaces? Our guide gave a small pause before replying.

I shouldn’t think they have the time.

I visited Scotland a couple of weeks ago. It was an early start from Berlin and as the plane juddered high above the Forth Estuary on approach to the Scottish capital, I hadn’t had a wink of sleep; the constant offering up of tea, luxury coffee, Panini’s, gambling and snacks (Snaarks),had seen to that. To my left through dark, puffball clouds I could see The Crags and Arthur’s  Seat cradling the cities east side and to my right, the two bridges straddling the Firth of Forth which lies between Edinburgh and the Kingdom of Fife.

When I accompanied my Brother in Law to Costco cash and carry at Loanhead a few days later, snacks were still the focus of attention, only this time they were enormous.  Everything about Costco is enormous, from a car park full of family 4 wheel drives to the walls of goods inside. I did what I always do when in large supermarkets; grab hold of a trolley and attempt to give myself purpose.  The trolley however, was massive; more like an open top caravan; I was dwarfed; my arms could barely reach across the width of the push bar.  This Alice in Wonderland status was highlighted when seeing everyone one else in the store in perfect proportion to their trolley.  Pondering replacing the barrow-baskets with the tiny trolleys that most supermarkets now have for kids to push around, I wondered if everyone would shrink down to the new scale? – A policy Nutrition Scotland would do well to consider.

Drinking Scottish beer for the first time in over a year, did nothing for my equilibrium; waking up one particular morning with a hangover from hell and a longing nostalgia for the chemical free Bier of Germany.  The Jordan Valley Food Store on Nicholson Street provided a welcome anchor point though; along with a selection of whole foods, they are still producing a Scottish/ Middle Eastern Snaark supreme; it is a scotch pie casing with either a nutty rice or chick-pea and onion filling.  These have been a favourite of mine for years and still retail for under a pound.

My two public toilet encounters occurred on trips to Fife.  The first was at the Waverly Railway station, where I joined a long line of tourists struggling to find exactly 30p in silver to put in the turn-style.  I always feel cheated when having to pay for a pee and I’m often transformed into a monies-worth lunatic, producing the behaviour that eat all you can for a fiver buffets can effect on some people.  So having had a pee I then hang around, over washing and over drying my hands, then unnecessarily considering, squeezing something out while I’m there.  Well, I’ve paid for it!

brig-2web

This concept is readily understood from Baker’s ‘human cantilever’ model with his assistant Kaichi Watanabe representing the live load. The pull in his supporters arms indicates the tension in the ties and the push in the lower struts the compression in the tubes.

From Waverly I boarded a Dundee train and within ten minutes was at the Forth Rail Bridge.  I remember the exhilaration I experienced as a child when crossing this red steel monster for the first time on my family’s move up north, to a fresh beginning in Glenrothes Newtown.  I was a little anxious of the crossing then, having seen a photo of the bridge some weeks before; due to its undulating shape I had expected more of a big dipper ride than a level train track journey across.  All the windows were rolled down that day and children wished and threw lucky coins out into the river below.

The über safe cantilever construction that makes the shape and scale of the bridge unique only really happened because of the Tay Bridge disaster in 1879.  So, from its completion in 1890 this once regarded eighth wonder of the world has successfully combated 120 years of constant rail crossings, harsh east coast weather and two world wars.  It’s a little sad to consider then that the large sickly yellow patches of restoration work that currently cover the Bridge, may be in part due to an attack of Compulsive Competitive Tendering; the Bridge has always had a somewhat Hans Christian Anderson story attached to it concerning its maintenance; painters would work from one side of the bridge with a special red paint and as soon as they had reached the other side, it was time to start all over again.  The story is almost as famous as the Bridge itself; a Zen like, life-long occupation.  In the 1990’s when I lived in South Queensferry, the village under the south side of the bridge.  It was possible to see a new, more efficient technique of maintenance being practiced.  This involved contractors, abseiling from the Bridge, spot painting and restoring the worst bits.  Looking at the bridge today I wonder how successful and cost effective the plan was, as the current extensive stripping and repainting of the hulk, (which is hoped to last for the next 20 years) has already reportedly cost 180million.

 Having passed above the Hawes Pier, ( the starting point for Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Kidnapped), I take a last look over at the troubled Forth Road Suspension Bridge, then we speed off into Fife……….

Eddie Farrell: Speak

July 3rd, 2009 | Posted by Eddie in Eddie Farrell (UK/DE) - (3 Comments)

When I was 45 I moved to Berlin and overnight lost my voice.

7 months on, I consider myself to be in a very privileged place; floating between languages

These bright summer mornings I wake up early to bird song and the sound of the odd car on the road. Both posess an international language; (Olivier Messiaen may have queried this about the feathered ones; he observed that from continent to continent the same species of bird could have a different song.) But to my untutored ear the soundscape could be that of 10119 Berlin,  NW5 London or Fife, Scotland.

It is only when the radio is switched on that location becomes linguistically specific. The channel, Deutschland Funk, (nothing to do with the music of US black origin ) spews out a flock of words that soar and flap around the room and I begin another day of trying to Lug them. Slowly my catch increases; to put a percentage figure on it would be difficult, perhaps anything between 25 and 65 percent. From this I can get the gist and sometimes, completely the wrong gist.

It is one thing accumulating words but it’s another putting them into a sentence. On the occasions I have attended language classes, I have become utterly dejected as fellow classmates from Malaysia, Japan, France , Spain, Italy, Lebanon and Turkey, reel through conjugation tables and identify Dative and Accusative sentences. At the end of each class and in the coldest winter I have ever experienced, I became at times the unnamed vagrant from Knut Hamsun’s novel, Hunger; trudging the snow, slush, grit pavements, hating everyone around, because they could speak German and I couldn’t!  At times like this I would seek refuge in the Melodic language of Schubert and Haydn or convalesce in the silent ward of Renaissance painting at the Gemaldegalerie.

A sobering thought occurred to me quite early on when surrounded with exercise books full of indecipherable sentences and pages of my incoherent notes; language is an egalitarian currency, equally available to all. Was it this that attracted a young Noam Chomsky to study linguistics? My desire to live an enlightened life drives me on to try and learn a new system of speech. However, belief in the ability to do this often leads me to grimly meditate on the life of an illiterate pauper.

A few months back a friend noting my frustrations with language studies, offered this advice; You don’t learn language through the head it comes through the gut. At the time I liked the saying but wasn’t quite sure what they had meant. Another friend said recently, that they retain much more of a new language when they are relaxed; perhaps sitting in the sun, having a coffee and cake or a beer, taking in the smells, the air, the weather, the touch and feel of something. I offered up a similar experience with a life spent drawing in small books which I always carry around. On the odd occasion that I flick through them,( some going back 25 years), a whole flood of memories can come rushing back to the exact time they were made; the taste of a cigarette or a specific conversation. This is not the same for me when looking at old photographs.

I have noticed that if one does concentrate just as much upon the context as what is being said, you can pick up a lot. I mean, I dare say we could all identify a fire in the building by the clouds of smoke and fumes before we needed someone shouting Fire, to convince us of the fact. A final demand bill is easily detected by its warning total being printed in red ink; although this could be an occasion when you turn, not being able to read or speak that specific language, to your advantage.

It is here as an artist, that I begin to consider the pace of learning a new language; for once you get over the sudden shock of not even having the words to ask for the right kind of bread, and once you get use to, linguistically, feeling like a complete fool, then you can begin to enjoy the Tabula Rasa; a new beginning and all its freedoms.

I am currently reading a biography of Leon Trotsky; The Chapter of the book that deals with the first World War, talks about his brief time in Zürich. He, a Russian could read and speak French, English, Italian, German and Austrian, and he was just about to go off and lead a revolution!  Although there is no mention of this in the book, I have been thinking about another group of revolutionaries in that city, a year or so after Trotsky. For the Cabaret Voltaire, language had betrayed the world; the pen pusher, statesmen and Politician, had through their eloquent use of language, lead the world to the logical insanity of mass slaughter on the battlefields and in the trenches of the Great War. Even though the Dadaists could probably speak as many languages as Trotsky, they chose to grunt, scream, bang and dance; destroying and creating language and often saying much more with nothing.

Last Year I attended a lecture given by Gustav Metzger and really liked the point he made about waste in language. He focused specifically on the mobile phone and not just on the unknown damage it may be doing to the environment. He also spoke about the absolute waste of language through the mountains of unnecessary phone conversations had everyday.

In the past months I have kept in touch with people in the UK mainly through the internet . Whenever I speak to my good friend Michael Wedgwood on Skype, he is often accompanied by his 6 month old daughter. In recent times she has become increasingly vocal as she lies in the background, at first I thought she was distressed and kept asking if he wanted to check all was ok. Oh no, she’s fine. She is just making noises. listening to herself and learning.  Giacometti’s deathbed, is the other end of the life scale but one account told of the strange noises coming from the dying artists mouth. When asked if he was in pain he communicated that he wasn’t, he was just enjoying the sounds he was making. Shortly after, he passed away.

So now in Berlin, where each day I behave a little less like Kasper Hauser and speak a little less like a German version of Manuel in Faulty Towers; I must also be aware and alert to how the huge gaps in my language are filled in. Did I really move to another country in order to repeat all the things I was doing already? If that is the case by the time I am 90 I will be back chasing my own dusty tail and still banging my head against the wall, only then in fluent Deutsch. However, in these salad days, I should celebrate all the things a new country and language offer. Especially the absolute bliss of now and again, hearing, speaking, and understanding absolutely nothing.