memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for January, 2013

Lady Lazarus

The University of South Carolina has developed a sociology course dedicated to the life, work and rise to fame of pop star Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga and the Sociology of the Fame is to be taught by Professor Mathieu Deflem, a fan of the singer. The course description aims to unravel some of the sociologically relevant dimensions of the fame of Lady Gaga with respect to her music, videos, fashion, and other artistic endeavours. My personal opinion of this High Priestess of the Iconography of Popular Culture is that, while she is a talented singer with a great voice and is undoubtedly at the cutting edge of dance and fashion etc., her videos show a leaning towards the macabre and have sado-masochistic overtones, which (call me old-fashioned) make them unsuitable viewing for children.

LADY GAGA

LADY GAGA

Let’s listen in on a possible first lecture of the course, shall we? –          « … Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, aka. Lady Gaga, was born on March 28th 1986 in New York City ….. ….. right, that’s it for today; now for your assignment I want you guys to gather into groups of four or five and watch with attention the video of POKER FACE and then sit around discussing your reactions to it, kinda brain-storming session, word-association with flow-charts …. Anything that pops into your head, anything at all is cool … and even if nothing whatsoever occurs, that’s cool too (NRR – Negative Response Reflex). Later, at the Fraternity House: –          Hi guys, some of us are going round to Brad’s pit later to discuss some aspects of Wittgenstein’s theory of Logical Positivism over squash and cookies! It should be a real blast; why don’t you all join us? –          Tempting, it sounds like a real hoot, but I’m afraid we’re going to have to give Brad’s bash a miss this time; we’ve got to stay in tonight and work on our Lady Gaga assignment which is due in tomorrow; it’s important for this semester’s grades. –          What a drag, bad luck! –          Yeah, while you guys are having a good time discussing and debating the night away, spare a thought for us lot having to stay in and  get blathered and watch Lady Gaga videos and have ideas and stuff.  

Some of my latest therapy

Every evening after dinner I wheel myself to (what these days I unblushingly refer to as my) atelier. Recently I’ve been reviewing all my sketches and paintings and stuff from way back.

I touched up here, tweaked there, I snipped and pasted, trimmed off and recoloured backgrounds, heavy with the marker; it was great fun, better than having to think up a new idea.

This was a cut & paste job on  blue paper:

STILL LIFE WITH FRUIT

STILL LIFE WITH FRUIT

This was supposed a «father figure» (My dad had a beard).

ELDERLY MAN

ELDERLY MAN

Here’s (literally) cut and paste, making quite an effective colour contrast:

FLOWER

Here is a foray into the unfamiliar world of wax pastel. As one can see I’m a complete beginner and little control  over the medium; (I didn’t mean her neck to be that long).

PASTEL STUDY

PASTEL STUDY

This is rather a risqué little sketch for this place. Again in pastel I used lines etc. to cover up the mistakes.

PASTEL GIRL

PASTEL GIRL

This was (for me) experimental – bit of a confusion, bit of a mess, I didn’t where I was going – great fun though.

ORGANIC WOOD

ORGANIC WOOD

Another fast water-colour sketch:

SKETCH

SKETCH

This one originally was so bad that I did another painting on the reverse of sheet of paper (thick gummed A3 paper which can acrylics) so you get two for the price one.

CLASSICAL STATUE

CLASSICAL STATUE

So this one is on the side of the paper; it’s just a glorified doodle really but great therapy – very calming.

PORTRAIT

PORTRAIT

One doesn’t have to Tom Hanks (or Tom’anks as they say in Portugal) to understand the symbology of this one.

MALE - FEMALE PATTERN

I lovingly repaired this one from about four years ago. I discreetly touched up the colours without spoiling the spontaneous composition.

LIFE'S LITTLE DRAMAS

LIFE’S LITTLE DRAMAS

Depends what kind of mind you have when you view this one.

SAM_1921

CABIN CREW

CABIN CREW

this last one isn’t really a painting but a piece of cardboard which I would use at the end of each session to use up the paint – waste not want not.

 

UNTITLED-002

Polly and me

Polly is five, like me. I’m five too.

Polly is my friend.

We’re playing on the beach

A game with little stones and shells in the sand

Drawing a house for us to live in when we’re big.

Sometimes a wave comes in and takes the house away.

So we build it again: the shells are the roof and walls and the stones are the windows and the door.

Another wave comes up over the wet sand and drags our little house back down with it.

I kiss Polly.

Later as mum is putting me to bed she reads me a story … and the prince and princess got married and lived happily ever after.

And I’m going to marry Polly I whisper as I drift into warm sleep.

 ***

She stood at the kitchen sink, staring out at the back garden with unseeing eyes; she automatically folded and refolded the damp cloth before eventually hanging it up in its usual place on the oven-rail. Angie, her friend and neighbour, was sitting at the kitchen table, smoking nervously and biting her nails. Neither women spoke. The situation was just too sad, too tragic – the only thing one could say about the accident was that Robbie hadn’t suffered much and people did say that after the funeral, clasping the cliché and hoping that it would comfort her. Angie broke the silence:

–          How are the children bearing up, Pol? Here, sit down and have a glass of wine; they’ve all gone now and your sister-in-law is with the two kids. You’ve got to slow down, you haven’t stopped all day … don’t beat yourself up about all this, it’s not your fault you know.

–          Chloe is being very adult about it all but poor little Josh doesn’t really understand what’s going on. I should be feeling grief or anger or something but I don’t feel anything, just numb. You do realize that we were going to separate, don’t you? The papers didn’t mention that, did they? Only the Other Woman.

TABLOID HEADLINES

Polly closed her eyes; most of the papers had run the story, the broad-sheets with a discreet paragraph on page two: PROMINENT MERCHANT BANKER IN CAR CRASH or SIR ROBERT MACKENSIE IN FATAL ACCIDENT, but the tabloids went to town on the front page WHO WAS BANKER’S BIRD or CRASH MYSTERY WOMAN!

–          Look Pol the funeral’s over, the guests have all gone and you’ve given Immaculada and Magda the rest of the weekend off. Everything went as well as could be expected and now you’ve just got to try and relax …

(The front door bell goes).

–          I wonder who that is; I thought all the Press had gone, oh of course Magda’s not here, I’ll go.

PORTRAIT OF POLLY - PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

PORTRAIT OF POLLY – PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

I hadn’t exactly forgotten Polly, far from it but we’d drifted apart in our teens. Her family moved away to a more expensive part of the city and she went to a posh boarding-school while I slogged on at the local comprehensive, and so we never saw each other again.

I heard about her from to time to time. After university she drifted from job to job before writing a best-selling cook-book, so I couldn’t avoid seeing her glamorous face on the cover – in fact I bought a copy in Waterstones.

(The recipes were not really to my taste, being a fussy reworking of traditional dishes in the Nouvelle Cuisine style).

Marriage to a highly successful business man put her completely out of my reach. The years went by and I pursued rather unenthusiastically my career as a teacher, eventually becoming the assistant headmaster of a school in the suburbs. I married another teacher but it didn’t work out and after about a year we parted, amicably enough.

There was no passion in my life.

I was loveless, childless and middle-aged.

Thus it was until last week when I read in the newspapers all about the death in a car crash of Polly’s husband. The effect on me was surprising. I was inordinately stirred and moved with empathy for my childhood friend. After brooding about it for several days, I decided to travel by the underground to her Chelsea address which was splashed all over the papers. The imposing house was in a discreet street just off the King’s Road. I loitered outside her door, dithering and wondering if she was there and what on earth I would say to her. I noticed some press photographers on the side of the road and beat a retreat with beating heart and eventually returned crestfallen to my home in south London. That was yesterday.

Now today I’ve come back again and plucking my courage, I climb up the steps and firmly press the bell. I hear steps crossing the hall (probably a maid, I think, or one her children) and the door swings open – it’s her. A neat stylish woman (but with the story of the last months written across her beautiful face) is standing there looking at me enquiringly:

–          Please excuse this intrusion on your grief, Lady Mackensie. I’m sure that you don’t recognize me but we used play together when we were children living in Hastings

–          I’m sorry I can’t quite place you … oh yes of course I remember, we used to play on the beach together?

–          Yes, I’m glad you’ve remembered; it makes it less embarrassing for me.

–          Won’t you come in for drink, we’re in the kitchen.

–           No, I won’t bother you any further now, but maybe we could go out some time next week or something?

–          Yes OK, I’d like that.

Polly returns to the kitchen.

–          Who on earth was that?

–          Oh just a ghost from the past; we used to build sand-castles together when we were kids. We agreed to go out for a drink, sometime next week.

–          Surely you’re not going!

–          Why not. It’ll take my mind off all documents I’ve got to sign; besides he looked rather attractive in a pathetic helpless sort of way. There’s only one problem, though.

–          What’s that?

–          I can’t remember his name!

The Flooded Plain

Annaba, Eastern Algeria.   January 1972

algeria

I stayed at the Paradise Hotel for about a month before the Company managed to arrange a furnished flat for me.

It was my very first flat – two bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen and I was not yet 21 years old.

I bought a Telefunken sound-system – tuner/amplifier, turntable and two speakers, which I artfully placed at the requisite height and distance apart, angled for maximum effect for the sofa at the centre of the living room. I was fussy, I was finicky, I fiddled with them and adjusted them until they were just so.

(It was all new to us in those days – creating sound-stages, woofers and tweeters and so on).

The living room window had a tiny balcony which overlooked the dusty parched football stadium which proved useful in January as an emergency landing pad for helicopters from the American 6th Fleet during the extreme weather conditions which caused the flash floods from the mountains which inundated much of the coastal plain.

THE FLOODED PLAIN

THE FLOODED PLAIN

The previous evening the road between the site and the town was under about two feet of water in some places and it had been quite a little drama for us to get home.

The Company’s small fleet of cars consisted mostly of identical little Renault R8s, which were unequal to driving through the water and were stranded on the small islands along the road.

I however, not having yet been allocated a Company car, hitched a lift with two others in a VW Beetle driven by a visiting fireman from Head Office in Sheffield called Earnest, a field accountant (the first I’d met of the breed). He was a slow-talking, patient, pedantic and dogged Yorkshire man. He wore a rumpled dark suit and a white drip-dry shirt with a dark tie; a pork-pie hat and a pipe clamped between his teeth completed the effect.

While we expressed our doubts about the viability of the expedition he remained firm. What-yer-have-to-do-is-to-keep-the-vehicle-in-low-gear-and-keep-yer-foot-on-the-gas-pedal-so-as-avoid-stalling, he explained sternly, pointing the stem of his pipe at my chest.

So we set off though the darkness and driving rain and soon got to where the road disappeared in a large lake of dark grey water. Earnest crouched forward slightly at the wheel, pipe clenched between his teeth and drove the little car into the water. The level of water rose until it was an inch above the door-sills and started to leak into the cabin, but the gallant engine continued to turn over and the car didn’t stop its progress (although the exhaust-pipe was under water).

Thus we glugged and gurgled our way across the flooded plain, phutting and farting sedately past the stranded R8s until we reached terra firma once again. There was the smell of tobacco smoke in the little cabin – it was Earnest puffing away triumphantly at his pipe.

Anglo-Saxon rocks

I fell in love with my own language

When I was in my mid-thirties

You know how it is

First I noticed it

Then I felt drawn to it

Lastly I fell for it

Hook, line and sinker.

 

Those old tribesmen

Round their fires at night

Little dreamt that their

Mode of communication

Would journey to the stars

 

English is on a roll

Sibilant and sinuous

Compressed, economic

Fed by the dual rivers of

Romance and Germanic

Lyrical fused with bluntness

Softness with violence

Races prevail

Hegemony of

Ubiquitous language

Probes the four quarters

Of the spinning world

Whispering susurrus

Subtle persuasion

 

And as a bonus

It’s the idiom of rock and roll

Yes, English really rocks

PEACE, LOVE and ROCK & ROLL

PEACE, LOVE and ROCK & ROLL

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact.

Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.

The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

The Gospel According To Matthew

 The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Il Vangelo secondo Matteo) is an Italian film directed in 1964 by Pier Paulo Pasolini.

It is a retelling of the story of Jesus Christ, from the Nativity through to the Resurrection.

I remember how struck I was was on first seeing this film about forty or so years ago. At the same time I was seeing such films as François Truffauld’s L’Enfant Sauvage and Werner Herzog’s Aguirre The Wrath of God.

Raised on a diet of Hollywood pap these films opened my eyes to the European Cinema.

The dialogue of the film is mostly taken directly from the Gospel of Matthew, as Pasolini felt that images could never reach the poetic heights of the text.

He reportedly chose Matthew’s Gospel over the others because he had decided that “John was too mystical, Mark too vulgar, and Luke too sentimental.”

Pier Paulo Pasolini was an atheist, homosexual and Marxist.

When commentators evinced surprise that an non-believer like him could make a film with such a religious theme he replied that anyone who thought he was an non-believer knew him better than he did himself.

The film, shot in black and white, is set in a stark bleak desert landscape. Using amateur actors Pasolini stages a series of set speeches from Matthew’s gospel.

STONY DESERT

STONY DESERT

The film is devoid of the customary sanctimonious sentimentality of the genre.

Jesus is a stern Marxist Christ who endures his sufferings with a stoical formality.

The score of the film, consisting mainly of sacred music by J. S. Bach (Mass in B minor and parts of the St. Matthew Passion) and the Gloria from the Congolese Missa Luba is unforgettable and indeed for most of my life since, whenever I have listened to the St. Matthew Passion I have thought of that film.

A serious and profound film, I would suggest it merits another viewing.

Fruta da Epoca

CHERRIES

CHERRIES

Sweet Cherry.

Vigorous tree with strong apical control with an erect-pyramidal canopy shape, capable of reaching 50 ft. In cultivation, sweet cherries are maintained 12-15 ft in height. Leaves are relatively large (largest of cultivated Prunus), elliptic with mildly serrated margins, acute tips, petioled, and strongly veined.

I love cherries – I reckon they are just about my favourite fruit, except possibly the-perfect-peach (do I dare to eat a peach?)

Consider the cherries which are harvested in due season from the orchards of the Douro valley – red, plump, succulent, delicious.

I doubt that these will end up on the shelves of Sainsburys or Safeways like the strawberries of the Algarve that are whisked away by the waiting refrigerated trucks, throbbing in the misty dawn and driven along the hot dusty motorways of Spain and France and through the Chanel Tunnel to the London vegetable warehouses at dusk.

No, these cherries will flood the fruit markets of Penafiel and Bom Successo and each kitchen-table in the region will have a laughing overflowing abundance and children shall dangle them from their ears and youths and maidens shall dance joyously in the church-squares of the golden valley.

GIRLS DANCING ON BEACH – PAINTING BY THOMAS MILNER

In the Home the appearance of cherries will be greeted by the incurious and unexpressed satisfaction of the continuance of the seasons – of course, cherries, what else? The old people will think.

Because we are not anywhere near this season, the presence of a bowl of shiny dark cherries in front of one of the old dears (brought that afternoon by a visiting daughter) drew tacit attention from some of us.

It was supper-time and the rest of us had boring old stewed apple; but not this old dear who set about her bowl of cherries with a will, spitting out stones while the cup of her curved fingers fed another one into her chewing mouth. From time to time she would lift her crouching face from the plate and glance around with a look that said: eat your hearts out, suckers and if anyone thinks that they’re going to get a bite of my cherries, well they’ve got another think coming …

Blessed are the Ungiven for they shall inherit … for they shall inherit what? … I know, for they shall inherit all the cherries!

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