Sunday, 8 January 2017

Gongkar Chode Monastery Artwork

The Gongkar Chö Monastery or Gongkar Dorjé Monastery is located in Gonggar County, Lhoka Province, Tibet Autonomous Region near Gonggar Dzong and Lhasa Gonggar Airport

The Classic Slum

The text below is from Robert Robert’s classic book The Classic Slum: Salford Life in the First Quarter of the Century. It partners my Dec 2015 blog Paddy In The Smoke. I think of this book as being parallel to Engel’s Condition of the Working Class in England. Or indeed any contemporary news article about food banks, tent cities, health care being in crisis, migrants, warfare and terrorism. The photography is mostly by Shirley Baker.

One usually was not sure whether or not there would be enough money left for food from day to day. The employment situation was grim and while some could find work that might last for an extended period, they could expect to be terminated and unable to find employment elsewhere at some point. Since the cost of living, which included mostly food, was so high, families often did not have many luxuries and many homes were almost bare since there was not money for anything except sustenance.

In one of the more salient quotes from the book, Roberts writes; “the homes of the very poor contained little or no bought furniture. They made do with boxes and slept in their clothes and in what other garments they could beg or filch. Of such people there were millions.”

No view of the English working class in the first quarter of this century would be accurate if that class were shown merely as a great amalgam of artisan and labouring groups united by a common aim and culture. Life in reality was much more complex. Socially the unskilled workers and their families, who made up about 50 per cent of the population in our industrial cities, varied as much from the manual élite as did people in middle station from the aristocracy. Before 1914 skilled workers generally did not strive to join a higher rank; they were only too concerned to maintain position within their own stratum.

Inside the working class as a whole there existed, I believe, a stratified form of society whose implications and consequences have hardly yet been fully explored. Born behind a general shop in an area which, sixty years before, Frederick Engels had called the ‘classic slum’, I grew up in what was perhaps an ideal position for viewing the English proletarian caste system in all its late flower.

All Salford [wrote Engels in 1844] is built in courts or narrow lanes, so narrow that they remind me of the narrowest I have ever seen, in the little lanes of Genoa. The average construction of Salford is, in this respect, much worse than that of Manchester and so, too, in respect of cleanliness. If, in Manchester, the police, from time to time, every six or ten years, makes a raid upon the working-people's district, closes the worst dwellings, and causes the filthiest spots in these Augean stables to be cleansed, in Salford it seems to have done absolutely nothing.

For twenty years from 1850 Engels held interests in cotton mills on the western side of Manchester. This meant that on journeys between town and factory he had to pass through Salford; our ‘village’ lay the greatest slum en route. One of his early mills (Ermen and Engels) stood in Liverpool Street, which ran through the heart of it. This is how Engels described our area in 1844:

The working-men's dwellings between Oldfield Road and Cross Lane (Salford), where a mass of courts and alleys are to be found in the worst possible state, vie with the dwellings of the Old Town in filth and overcrowding. In this district I found a man, apparently sixty years old, living in a cow-stable. He had constructed a sort of chimney for his square pen, which had neither windows, floor nor ceiling, had obtained a bedstead and lived there, though the rain dripped through his rotten roof. This man was too old and weak for regular work, and supported himself by removing manure with a hand-cart; the dung heaps lay next door to his palace.

Through a familiarity so long and close, this district must have become for Engels the very epitome of all industrial ghettos, the ‘classic slum’ itself. He died in 1895 having seen that little world change, develop, ‘prosper' even, yet stay in essence the same awful paradigm of what a free capitalist society could produce. By 1900 the area showed some improvement; his ‘cow-stable’ had doubtless been demolished together with many another noisome den, but much that was vile remained.

What We Did on Our Holiday (2014)

I had the good fortune to watch this film again over the Christmas/ New Year period. Although I had seen it once before, it didn’t make such an impression on me first time round. It humorously opens up the great themes of humanity- life- relationships- death, etc. I was originally turned off by the ‘farce’ elements; the faux middle class self- effacing humour (which always turns out to be reassuringly self- affirming funnily enough); and by the precocious child acting for its own sake, which utterly failed to charm me. This time however, sat in front of a Hygge crackling log fire, with the cold weather outside, and everybody in the house already gone to bed, it struck me as having the potential to be a classic film.

Billy Connolly is solely responsible for the success of the film in my opinion, injecting a hefty dose of Big Yin right into the heart of the plot. Without that realism (I mean, the realism of his screen congruence rather then the fact he is portrayed as dying), I think I would actually quite hate the cloying nature of this film. Apparently he had prostate cancer during the filming, but didn’t mention it to the directors at the time. Incredible. I should watch/ listen more to Billy Connolly’s films and comedy routines as much of his good stuff was being done when I was a kid in the 70’s.

The other great ‘star’ of the show is the location. The nature scenes shot in Gairloch in the Scottish Highlands and Loch Lomond evoke such a primitive and forlorn sense of openness that they become a canvas into which you can project infinitely and not come back, just like Billy Connoly does on his death and Viking burial at sea. Note to self: Must Go To Gairloch!

In addition to some excellent live folk music in the film, there is ever such a brief inclusion of The Waterboys- Fisherman’s Blues from the eponymous 1988 album. Fisherman’s Blues becomes a skilfully deployed musical spear that prises open your heart chakra by a million minute degrees. I don’t know what I was doing in 1988 but whenever I hear that tune I am young again, naïve and full of life and wonder. Researching their album, I found out The Waterboys have in recent times released a 7 CD version of Fisherman’s Blues, containing 121 tracks which were recorded over a 2 year period in a variety of locations; and that the folk elements of the album marked a radical departure from their earlier work, which I must admit I am very grateful for. So looks like, in addition to listening to many hours of Billy Connolly comedy routines, I have a 7 CD 121 track journey of Irish folk- blues to work my way through. Happy New Year!

The Thinker of Tender Thoughts

By Silverstein

The Hermitage of Rima Staines

Delightful watercolours...

 Baba Yaga ~ watercolour on paper ~ 2011

 God Learns ~ watercolour ~ 2012

                                Anja in the Horse Chestnut ~ watercolour on paper ~ 2010 

 The Bells ~ watercolour ~ 2007

                                                      Balalaika ~ watercolour ~ 2005 

Fish Egg ~ watercolour ~ 2009

 Telling Stories to the Trees ~ watercolour on paper ~ 2007

The Visitors ~ watercolour on paper ~ 2008