Friday, 8 April 2011

Dwellings and Yellings

Photo:John Appleby

Interactions and interventions from Yr Wyddfa to Canigou.

The voice of the substratum
Leaks a dark auditory aura.
A seizure
Over carpet

From - Canvas of a Dead Room Chiseller

My house in Bethesda was up for sale. I had recently bought a lurcher pup from Clark Mellor, the professional wrestler from Hayfield. He had to trap the animal to show me as it had been ‘running wild’ with its mother in the hills. He also brought out from the oven a tray of meats that the dog had recently brought home - rabbit, hare and some ‘bird’ I couldn’t recognize! Yep, this was the dog for me! A dog that could feed itself! I knew its half sister up in the hills in Dinorwig, ‘Face’, belonging to Clint, a cowboy friend of Clarks. ‘Ochre’ was a working animal, that is, to me, a robber! Lur is Romany for thief. Ochre’s home had been nature, running wild with whatever her smell could identify. She didn’t need a home to define who she was, she had a nose. She was unused to indoor living and I respected that, who wouldn’t? I related to this beast. Inside the house however meant only one thing to her - food that had already been killed! No amount of training could diffuse the hard-wiring of a savage spirit intent of eating or hiding any food, in whatever form she could find, including that in the bin. Nothing could be left. She even learnt to open a cupboard to get to the Palma ham at the ‘in laws’. This was a catastrophe as well as a mystery. There was no sight of the ham until I noticed a freshly dug patch in the herbaceous border in the neat suburban garden - she had waited until we were watching TV, stolen the ham and buried it. Fucker! Ochre! It was magic to see her operate. I tried housing her in the small stable in the garden that our old goat, Lady, had lived in - but she resisted all attempts to contain her, howling night after night. I persisted with the Alpha Male impersonation. Howl, howl, howl - no sleep for us or the neighbours! I guess in the wild she would have been with her mother sleeping in the hedgerow or under some tin sheeting or whatever. I decided to spend the night ‘bonding’ with her in the stable to calm her, if only for a better sleep for me. It was thankfully a reasonably quiet night and I awoke to the sound of footsteps and voices approaching. I was still snuggled up to my hound wrapped around my sleeping bag. The stable door suddenly swung open as my head popped up and Gretel, my partner, turned around to a couple in their mid fifties and said, “And this is the stable,” and pointing at me on the floor, “and this here is my husband.” I saw their faces in bemused shock as the door was closed.

The Vortex.

“Hi, h hello...Hi, h hello...” The six year old smiling lad continued, “Hi, hello.” There was no response. He edged further forward towards the three men and two dogs on the other side of the fence. I heard them talking amongst themselves, posturing to their pets, passing a brief neighbourly moment with a few menial words. They were not deep in meaningful conversation, well, certainly not conversation that precluded anything else and everyone else in the vicinity. They were complaining of bald tyres and untaxed cars, lumbago, the weather, that kind of thing, shuffling pavement talk in any language in any part of the world. Whatever. The little lad within the perimeter of his front garden and perceptions was ignored. He turned away with a puzzled expression. His few brief years on the face of this land were eager with happy, simplistic communication and given space and caring attention to explore ideas and thoughts within creative play. One of the three men, our immediate elderly neighbour glanced at Ryley, our little lad, but with no acknowledgement. Of course they all knew he was there. They didn’t care. Between their few words that tottered between them, there must have passed some morphic understanding that Ryley was not worth replying to. I came out from the side passage that had concealed me and hastened to Ryley, “Its okay, they don’t want to say hello”. We went inside. I thought about it. I wanted to go back outside and give them all a communication mouthful! How can three grown men not want to acknowledge the lad’s greeting and say hello? To not bother returning a smiling hello to a gregarious child? How can you explain to a child that these neighbours, the three men that one sees walking by the house every day, do not want to return a spontaneous greeting? How can you tell a child that there are people who do not wish to speak to you? How can you ignore a child?

Of course this wasn’t such a big issue. And actually, when all is calm with your world again, what a bloody luxury to think there is a problem at all! I certainly didn’t want to make it a big issue in front of Ryley. He would forget soon enough and continue his innocent approaches. There had been many times myself when communication with the ‘locals’ was futile. But I liked to force a return greeting, extract a smile or at least turn a head in some acknowledgement. But perhaps there would come a time when the little lad, becoming the less-innocent youth would himself turn away, head down and ignore a greeting from a small child? Why? Because that's the way the people are? Because that’s the way the community is? Because of the culture? What culture? Because of what? Is it much the same deal wherever you are? I’m not sure. Perhaps ignoring a child is more abusive than actually being abusive? But my life is relatively easy, and with all the problems in the world surely a luxury to define or even consider! Or is it? It could be the seed planted in childhood that starts a war thirty years later?

But there again as all my friends say, “This is Nant Peris.” “The Happy Valley.” Sure, happy! I have always referred to Nant Peris as the village with a cloud on top. Planet Peris has a micro-climate. Due to its position underneath the Snowdonia Massif (Yr Wyddfa), any cloud on the summit would cast its dark shadow down the hill to Nant and sink it to the chilled valley floor. The steep mountain sides imprison the village to dull days and early darkness. Yet only two miles away, Llanberis can be bathed in sunshine, and Bangor, seven miles away, tropical in comparison. Five weeks during winter the sun never rises above the ridge. There is no sun. There is no sunset. My realization that there is no horizon from which to project one’s thoughts seems to close the deal. You are ‘dug in’. People seem to live in their chimneys, and the only sky they know is tuned into a digital box, straight to their brain! Permafrost of the soul! It is hardly surprising then that any communication has to be fought for. Hello, where are you Nant Perishers?

 Photo:David Dear

I am sure that the Sun just being out of reach and out of sight has its effect. Also, unable to project to a distant horizon, I am sure boxes in your thoughts, cuts off the world beyond the perimeter and makes one introverted. Left unchecked in the passage of time, disturbed! I joke, but there is something real here - the mountains are dangerous in more ways than one. You have to know when to get out! Most don’t.  Augustus John wrote -

“ The changing skies reflect our temper more accurately than could a splendid but perpetual blue.”  living close by he must have travelled through Nant, and might well have changed his observation to -  “The changing skies of Nant Peris reflect the savagery of our species...”

Yr Wyddfa is the highest and busiest mountain in Wales and was first climbed by botanist Thomas Johnson in 1639 although there is mention of ‘a triumphal fair upon this our chief of mountains’, after Edward the First’s conquest of Wales in 1284. The original hotel on the summit was replaced by a restaurant designed by Clough Williams-Ellis of Portmeirion fame and bore a plaque that read –

‘Wanderer, wait a moment; consider God’s wondrous work and your short journey on this earth’.

The man had a penchant for splendor and believed that architectural good manners need not lead to a site’s defilement! After Prince Charles called the summit café, ‘the highest slum in Britain’, it was demolished. Hafod Eryri, a controversial new café and visitor centre was designed and built and opened in 2009. It is creatively embellished with a new, slightly more secular couplet by Welsh national poet Gwyn Thomas –

‘The summit of Snowdon: you are here, nearer to heaven’.

The philanthropist and mountaineer, Edmund Hillary trained here for his ‘even nearer to heaven’ ascent of Everest and the first E8 and E9 climbs in Britain were recorded here on the ominous Black Cliff of Clogwyn Dur Arddu.

I had some friends from Ireland stay for a few nights. They arrived in Nant on a bleak dark evening, so had no idea of God’s wondrous work, proximity to Heaven or the geological ‘lay of the land’. The next morning they looked out of the skylight in the bedroom and much to their entertainment could only see mountain. Steep sided mountain! They looked to the top of the skylight - no sky, just more mountain! Jokes were made about the house having fallen over in the night, like in some Winnie The Poo story! They laughed all the way back to the Emerald Isle. ‘Lift up my eyes to the hills’ means the iris is buckling-in under the force of its near weight!

The sky is limited in Nant. Framed by rock, concealed by cloud, the nightscape is rarely visited. I would gaze up in amazement when its jewels finely emerged, giving more than a valley, global, universal perspective, and a gift of exploration in the astral life beyond Nant. The divine, red-blue scintillations of Sirious and Stockhausen’s claim that it was his home! Orion, fallen angels and giants, descending to Earth to procreate! Nephilims, dog stars, warriors and Osiris, green God of the underworld messing around with cables and TV reception in Peris! Always childishly appreciative of a starry sky, it lifted me to a more life-affirming consciousness. I often caught myself laughing, unknowing why!

Being so physically dug-in during winter, the seasons have real prominence in your day to day life. But I like the fact that the landscape comes through your door and engages with the psyche. Like in some Celtic mysticism, the landscape imposes itself and demands that you have dialogue with it. Living simply with woodburners and candles has the effect of really respecting and appreciating the seasons. Winter certainly blocked you in, unfortunately not with snow, but with wind and bone-paining rain. I called the wind ‘The Vortex’. It didn’t just blow, it threw itself across the valley and down the hill. It seemed to fall with immense tonnage - a dense droppage of air that would hit the house with a thunderous surge and sudden vibration. The air in the house moved in sync and your ears popped with the pressure, like descending in an aeroplane from altitude. Exhilarating! But fresh? Strangely no! For all the violent movement of air it fell in cyclical stagnation. Some might say ‘bad Chi’. The same sawdust from my chainsaw would still be swirling about the house months, years later. On a typical stormy day the horizontal rain would be in the direction of west to east in the front of the house. But at the back of the house it would be east to west. We had the highest annual rainfall in Britain. Wild and scenic and atmospheric, the mountains are a savage and soulful place to live, but I think not to linger. People seem to have spent a lifetime complaining here, unable or unknowing of escape. Live goes on I guess in all its day to day - car tax, bald tyres, bad TV reception, poor health...what hope? I sure picked up on it - the wet, cold mountains adding to my respiratory problems, depriving me of vital energy and volition. I too started complaining!

Fynnon y Sant: Photo John Redhead

Is there a picture emerging here? I drew cartoon sketches of mutant web footed creatures, their skin blown to ribbons and their thoughts and words blown to shreds in the enveloping, groaning vortex - as in some Lord of the Rings creature reduced by geography and climate to gibbering moaning wreaks. Crashing white veins of rain foam headlong down the gullies, like white bars of a prison, or like fangs gnashing from an angry mouth-sky. The dark shades of nature scrape and scratch at lifeforms that attempt to move or reside. The Nant Perishers under the dark force. A dark energy. Perhaps the ancients knew not to reside here, only worship?

One should not forget the ancient pagan sites in the area. I believe Elidir Fawr a sacred mountain and even possibly a temple lost and forgotten in the mystery of time? But more easily understood is the ancient pagan well in Nant Peris, Ffynnon y Sant with its sacred fish, the Trout of Wisdom, a symbol of the water’s purity and transformative powers. Legends tell of folk flocking here with a desire of glimpsing these fish in the hope and purpose of healing.

Mountain as product.

The slate product extracted from Dinorwic reached the four corners of the world. As I believe it, the way the land is changed changes the people – and whether you believe of a land seeking revenge to its loss is possible, just or otherwise, the suffering with death, dust and ‘depression’ does not surprise me. The ills of the quarrymen are a curse for their acts and the adversity of endeavor gives strength to the community. It’s a no win! This is not the nature of a people at one with the land! What had been forgotten and sidelined in the name of progress and jobs is the powerful archetype and supernatural qualities of ancient sites. The sacred wells of the British Isles were, in fact, such popular places of worship in pagan times, that the early Roman Church went to great pains to either eradicate them or convert them.

‘The Nile is listening.
Listening to the worked-out levels and fought-for seams.
Listening to the trickle once a stream.
Echoing underground.
Learning what she can along the way.
Continuing the dialogue as ligaments and tendons still twitching in the
Secrets of quartz veins, crushed bone and blocks of fat awash with
Chthonian talk.’

from - soft explosive hard embrace.

Saint Peris lived and died in this valley, then called Nant y Mynach, the Monk’s Valley. The hamlet then known as Llan Peris, took its name from the twelfth century church. It pre dated Llanberis where the first settlers arrived in five hundred BC.

It got me thinking about the poverty and practice of hill farming, the very nature of the people and their hardships with the land, the geography, the wind and rain and the low church, the education policy and the language as possible ingredients that can destroy so utterly, simple, natural communication with a small child? I tried to sideline my negative response and turn a blind eye. Life goes on. Ca la vie. But the issue asserted itself. Was I too becoming a gibbering moaning wreck under the influence of the ‘Dark One’? A child's development and his interaction with the world are important. We could integrate more, and be more a part of the local community? But on reflection, what is that? We are not ‘local’. Integrate into what...? My Father wasn’t Silicosis Sid and neither was my Grandfather Willy Two Fingers and they didn’t blow up the mountain or themselves on their doorstep! They did other daft things somewhere else. I have no traceable ancesters anywhere near here.

I am easy going and communicative, but appreciate my own space in which to do my own thing. I think that forcing an unnatural integration can only highlight the differences and lead to a wider gap with the community. I will never have a common thread with any ‘local’ community, let alone one that is built on intolerance and disrespect! I prefer my journalistic approach and be called mean spirited and cynical and talk openly about what ‘community’? The community by my fence ignoring a child? What culture? The culture that sees no problem with this? But this is everywhere isn’t it? If it wasn't, what would I work with? And who am I to condemn? You find your own tribe and do your thing. But I couldn’t let go of this. There is more. There is some damage. There is a problem when the anger and neurosis you feel becomes the subject of your work! I am past my sell by date here. Homes and anger and neurosis are a recurring theme!

Dark energy.

‘Home sweet home’, ‘Home is where the heart is’, are Common phrases relating to the pleasure and affection and self-absorbtion felt towards the place where one lives.

‘If there was one phrase symbolic of a childhood awakening... it drifted like a buoy, bobbing in a sea of banal, everyday terminology of order, routine and diligence, “Bottles in, bottles out. Washed up, dried up, put them all away.” The phrase rolled out as an evening declaration, an affirmation of ‘duty done’. The last daily responsibility before bedtime. This was my Mother or Father’s claim to a certain gratitude, like a magic rite of passage swathed in a tissue of resentment that must be acknowledged. Poignant and poetic, the words danced from the tongue like a tribal drumbeat and the house could rest and all could be thankful and content with the duty done.’

‘Hot water bottles in the beds, milk bottles cleaned and put out on the step, washed up the pots and plates, dried the pots and plates and put all the pots and plates away in the cupboard. All safe and correct and another day can start! The household can sleep. Sleep tight!‘                                                   

from – Bottles in, Bottles out.

As a child, this nightly, stock phrase of routine and habit conjured its own life force within me, and overtook the timely shapes of order into resonant, bedtime poetry. My imagination kicked in and composed themes from this basic format. It threw me headlong into a symphony of creative space where a questioning presence became a source of food. I realized that this source of food was really my home and all else an idolatry of shadows and ghosts.

My first exhibition on arriving in North Wales was entitled, ‘Of Mothers, Angst and the Black Light’, and attempted to portray this idolatry that not only didn’t sustain me, but I believed was ‘unreal’. From a very early age the cosy addiction of routine, order and stereotyped behavior were at odds with the virtual world in which I found myself. I realized that my home was somewhere other than where I lived with the carpets and curtains and I dwelled in the joyful ecstasy of an epic-stage that is indestructible, luminous and inspiring. I enter my home everytime I work! It is connected to all the creatures who work in this way, the land and beyond.
Years later, ‘Bottles in, Bottles out’ continues this investigation in ‘the causeway of addiction’, from squeaky clean suburbia to heroin addiction in doorways, of ambiguity, ritual space and society’s compulsion with objects not essences – and the eventual ‘push off the end’ for the chosen few.

A psychic recently told me about two of my previous lives. The first life I was crucified and the second I was a young boy of five running with or away from the wolves in the forest, having lost my parents. I don’t need a reason to be constantly on the move. I know I am antagonistic to settled living, angry at domesticity and restless. My Mother too was restless. Houses and contents changed hands like a pack of cards. She would sell the entire furniture in the house and then replace it all from the salerooms. The process was simply ‘same for same’, ‘garbage for garbage’. As long as there was an armchair and a newspaper in front of a roaring fire when my father came home from work, he was happy! Since moving to Wales I had lived and worked in sixteen dwellings and studios.

Change is important to me. I feel a definite correlation between ill health and stagnancy. For me, the time to move is linked to a timing device with a random, built in alarm. You have an idea when it might go off and when it does it presents you with a profile, pulled from the back of your lazy mind! From that point on all the comforting shapes and games and addictions of living that one constructs to camouflage this profile become annoying obstacles for change. This idolatry can be sticky! I call this the Ikea cloud! It is a zone to move through without deviating from the exit arrows! ! I have always thought that it is sedentary life that defeats us...the comforting shapes on one side of the checkpoint to freedom! You try going into Ikea to purchase one thing and one thing only!

The psychic also said that I wished to let it all go...

Nant Francon from the top of Central Arete.

Another house, which I had converted and lived in was an old inn, as mentioned in George Borrow’s, Wild Wales. He mentions, ‘After drinking some tolerably good ale in the public house’, he went on his way. This was placed in the next valley to Llanberis, Nant Ffrancon, between the Glyders and the Carneddau. There was also horizontal rain here, but the valley had a wider sweep to it and a more pastoral layout, giving more space to stretch out and observe one’s idiosyncrasies. It offered blends of the finer details like a smoothie. But this wasn’t a house to flourish in, nor a space to linger! Whilst working on the roof I found scrawled into the cement rendering on the chimneystack, ‘This is my house! signed Helen’. Obviously pertaining to a split up! I also lived here with a Helen! I too drank some tolerably good ale and went on my way! The house was sold to another Helen, who subsequently split up and sold it on…and went on her way…

I had been living with Mel and Ryley in the village of Nant Peris within the Snowdonia National Park for the last four years. Four years in one house is a good stint for me! The clock ticked! The alarm heralded my duty some time ago! It really was decision time for change, even though I had no idea of how or where. These decisions are only now trying to resolve themselves! Had my job been done? There became an overwhelming need for me to 'escape'. I felt desperately claustrophobic. It wasn’t the house that made me feel like this. On the contrary the house seemed to give me a freedom from this ‘oppressive nature’. It came from outside! I have lived and worked and touched many places, but nowhere quite as strange and alien as Nant Peris. Analyzing exactly what this is is difficult without condemning that which is just different or other. The non-conformist chapel next door emitted an energy that made me physically sick. The chapel’s name was Rehoboth, carved in a granite slab above the door. Rehoboth by the Euphrates is mentioned in Genesis as the birthplace of Saul. These Biblically named God’s sheds are a cultural icon but a plague on my sensibilities. What does Rehoboth mean here, damn it? Saul, first king of Isreal, battles with the Philistines, jealousy, rivalry, bloodshed and suicide? Smash and grab! The oppression has no end. The horror continues. Do we need this reminder in Nant Peris? David and Goliath is an inspiring tale but what does Nant Peris make of the bride’s price that Saul put on his daughter to marry David – one hundred Philistine foreskins! He comes back with Two hundred! The chapel of ‘two hundred foreskins’ engraved in granite above the door is more apt!

The Welsh sectarian chapels have always given me angst, but living so close to such ugly and vulgar vernacular more than reflected the bigoted nature of the few occupiers. Hold fire! Do not forget it is within these domains the communities grew strong - and defiant! Fortresses for the quarrymen and hill farming community! There was a need! I am not judging that which is ‘other’, and I feel demeaned for trying to put my finger on this angst...but...can we see the difference of a man cutting and fashioning a slate block for a cutting shed on the hill’s torn flank and a man doing the same to build an Aztec temple on a hill? Perhaps both slaves nevertheless and doing a job they are told to do but surely the intent and significance of approach can be judged? Is one destructive and one creative? Does one take and one give? Can the effects of love and hate be attributed?

God has replaced with bald words and pitiful, odious ‘singing’ that which was already rich in their souls, vital dialogue with the environment.

Anything beyond the preacher is out of reach. Cymraeg, the ancient tongue born from this reverence for the blessed earth is replaced with Christian and capitalist domination over nature. The ugly chapel has outgrown the anger and rage of men seeking solace and fuel for their hell. It feels out of place anywhere, but here in this valley it looks so foolish and unnecessary - like a portaloo used for praying to Tesco’s or Sky TV. I am sick with chagrin at pointing it out!

The mountains always produce a hardy more recalcitrant occupier. But there is more to it than this. The mountain guides and outdoor sector people who choose to live here are not like this, and yet they understand and appreciate and interact with the hills far more than the hill farmers. ‘Choosing’ to live here could be significant? They seem to belong, even though still using the hill for gain. I am particularly interested in the sense of place, community and landscape and their interaction. Without doubt the effort of enterprise that dug into the hill goes back a long way - still wired into the local psyche. I personally have no romantic vision of the mountains. Their nature is brutal and animistic, part of a living process with or without our presence. I am at odds with both sides of this coin.

I have a friend who walks the land as a way of life. His name is Barry Biscuit and he likes custard creams! He walks the land as one would go to work. I believe his lone wanderings and meditations on the hill give him a strength and knowledge that no ‘whistling to sheep’ or ‘climb when you’re ready’ junkie can reach or comprehend! He has an internal map that dictates his passage across the mountains. He avoids certain areas and rests in others he feels safe in. On one of our many esoteric talks, whilst snow drifted down through a hole in his caravan roof, he mentioned that Nant Peris is a ‘grade one’ place to avoid. It must be detoured at all costs if you wish to stay healthy. The energy is so dark. He thought it unbelievably stupid to enter, let alone climb in the slate quarries!

So, homes and anger and neurosis - what is it this time? If not aware it is easy to tip-toe into something’s open jaw.

As I said, when all is calm with your world, what a luxury to think there is a problem at all...but I don’t have this luxury, and I am not protected from it and am I fuck calm! My anger needs to take somebody or something down. Ochre would have known what to do when something smells funny – killed it, eaten it or buried it!

"The steep mountain sides imprison the village'.Photo David Dear

From Colonists Out: John Redhead©