Early morning sunnyBy the riverShapes meander intoA horizon unleashingflows of memoryLike a balmNourishingParched soulsThe watersWash over usUnifyingSeparate sidesThis thin veinElixirFlows onwardsFluid imprintPermanentOn the landscapeOf our livesFlitting by
London, Spring 2013
I was walking along Riding House Street in the West End towards All Souls Church Langham Place very close to the BBC and the revamped Broadcasting House. It was a little before 2.30 on this sunny afternoon and I had my old 35mm film camera with me.
People often ask what prompts the moment to take a picture? How long do you have? But in this case, the brief answer: as I was meandering along this thoroughfare that links the bustling grandeur of Regent Street with some fascinating back roads leading to Goodge Street and Tottenham Court Road where an exciting assortment of restaurants, cafés and shops await discovery, I found myself enmeshed between three sets of high verticals and yet all these buildings were very different to each other: an archetype 1960s office block on my left with glass predominant, on the right-hand-side there are hints of the baroque with this grand edifice of an early 20th-century pedigree and then straight ahead there is the tell-tale steeple of All Souls Church designed by Nash in the early 19th century and a survivor from the Blitz of the Second World War. Instinctively I felt that this might make an interesting picture - such is the eternal optimism of us photographers. So I stopped walking and carefully aimed my camera trying to capture this trio of verticals. I pressed the shutter and it clicked comfortingly. More about the finished image in a moment.
This area of London has a special resonance for me as just around the corner from All Souls is that evergreen media institution: the BBC and back in the early summer of 1985 I had the privilege of attending a production/presentation course there. It was an excellent training ground in radio and it helped to enhance my understanding of the spoken word on the airwaves. I learnt, for example, that the best pictures exist on radio and how one was to speak when broadcasting. It was an exciting eye-opener and I relished every moment of it.
Shortly after this course, there was a very happy event in our family when my wife gave birth to our first son that same summer. So, I suppose you could say that I came of age as a fledgling father and a novice broadcaster at around the same time 31 years ago. Later, I went on to use these newly-acquired media skills as a freelancer for the BBC World Service while working overseas in the Middle East. Sadly, no basic training in fatherhood was available at the time but I learnt about this new role as I went along, supported by a marvellous life partner, and hope my efforts as a parent have been half-decent, as they say in Dublin.
And returning to the image in question, the bird flying majestically through the top of the attached picture is a complete fluke I promise you - no photoshop, honest guv. Every so often as a photographer, you get these lucky breaks. For me, this image has come to convey a sense of timelessness within what is normally a busy metropolitan setting and yet it is also something extra - a memory or glimpse of happiness with a hint of movement, of life. A flight to a better place, to enchantment perhaps?
The image, Flight To Enchantment, can be seen at: http://www.artslant.com/global/artists/show/162261-nicholas-mackey
Image ©Nicholas Mackey 2013
© Nicholas Mackey
I don't know about you, fellow writers, but I am never satisfied with what I write. And this morsel about the Four Courts Dublin as per my previous blog is no exception. I am truly grateful for the time people have taken to read and even to make the additional effort in commenting on what I have written. It does lift my heart when I see that some thoughtful person has said something in response to my attempt at describing an event on a truly awful winter's day of nearly seven years ago in connection with the fairly mechanical operation of taking a photo - such comments really do 'add value' to my existence and I am buoyed up by them. Thank you.
As an aside, I revised this article 19 (yes, you read correctly, nineteen) times before it became partly acceptable to me. More about this later.
I agree entirely with the sentiments so ably expressed by Barbara Froman in her recent article about plagiarism in which she goes on to describe the challenges associated with the activity of writing. When reading this I said to myself, "That's exactly how I feel. Barbara has hit the nail on the head of the remorseless struggle when writing." If it reads well, then probably the author shed blood, sweat and tears in the creation. Other writers have talked openly and cogently about their battles to tease out the correct word, the well-formed sentence, the smooth-flowing paragraph and then the page that sits well within the tale being conjured up from the imagination. But the truth is that writing is a bit like a wrestling match with a sullen opponent who is of inexorable strength ready to cast aside your nebulous inspiration, your fragile dreams, your nervous first attempts at drafting those incomplete ideas on paper for the very first time. So easily our first endeavours into this magical world of the creative can be thrown off course and wrecked on the needle-sharp rocks that represent the repetitive reality of our daily existence. English teacher admonitions about mixed metaphors come to mind all of a sudden - I can't imagine why!
And the above reference to numerous revisions relates to how I try to put down my ideas on paper as it were aiming for lucidity - not always successfully I hasten to add - but here goes: often ideas for writing come to me visually, a bit like a film or video that plays out a single short episode - often with dialogue and varied angled views - or even a complete story unfolds in the realms of my filmic imagination and I rejoice in its fluency, the scintillating precision of the story as it clips along at a fair pace and I enjoy the 'ride' so much. Then I awake from my (day)dream and very quickly the finely-textured fabric of my story begins to unravel. As fast as I can, I begin to write, often in vain, attempting to recapture the excitement and magic of the story I had swirling around so effortlessly in my head perhaps just moments before. So I write and I write and I write and I write endeavoring to recollect the finely-tuned clarity of my dreams where I hope a story worth telling can be brought to the attention of readers in search of a decent tale.
But the truth is that it takes real, honest-to-goodness stickability to see the whole process through from that first tentative draft to the ultimate nirvana of publication when your newly-minted book takes on a life of its own. You then embark on another journey - that of being a published author - but that's a future story to be told.
Four Courts Dublin, November 2009
There was I wandering about on the Quays in Dublin by the River Liffey. It was sodden brass-monkey weather as I had to keep dodging the rain, like effing April showers that creep up on you and drench you with cold injustice. My camera was with me and I was holding a banjaxed umbrella in my left hand while attempting to snap away. I must have looked a sight in the dampened surroundings. All of a tic, I was resting against a wall on Merchant’s Quay opposite this well-known grand yoke of a building, you know, old and fancy-looking like them big places over the water in England. I was staring at this Georgian edifice when a well-dressed woman approached me saying “I think you need this more than I”. She thrust something into my hand and with that she was gone this fancy one with her confident Anglo-Irish tone to match her sensible, old-fashioned outfit. I glanced at my unexpected gift, a creased bit of paper that looked like it had been torn from a notebook with the date, 1937 inscribed on it. It read:
“To many an Irish person looking at this image of the Four Courts, it is redolent of ‘home’, of Ireland’s capital city, with the River Liffey flowing nearby. And yet the Four Courts (Chancery, King’s Bench, Exchequer and Common Pleas) based on a classical Palladian blueprint of James Gandon, a London-born architect who went to live in Dublin and designed a number of important public buildings in one of Europe’s largest and thriving cities at the zenith of British (colonial) rule there in the late 18th century.
“The benign aesthetic appeal of this landmark belies a turbulent past where colonial domination, religious and political marginalisation, historical loss and national resurgence are part of Ireland’s cultural texture.
"After the disastrous fire in 1922 during the Civil War, the newly-installed Free State government of the time had neither the inclination nor the money to restore the Four Courts to its former glory imbued with the influence of a foreign power in occupation of Ireland for over 700 years. To this day you can still see evidence of Ireland's recent bloody past in the form of bullet holes in the fabric of the building."
My mind was on other things so I stuffed the paper into my coat pocket and decided to take advantage of a dry spell as I stood there on the Quays. I took a photo of the reflection of the Four Courts in the slow-moving River Liffey. But instead of being satisfied with an upside-down image, I flipped the thing round to come up with a (right-way up) picture which was shown at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, London, in 2010 - as attached to this article.
But as it happens, I've kept this weird, A5-sized battered manuscript gifted to me from this chance encounter with an unknown lady by the River Liffey and despite its air of stilted officialdom, this snapshot of history resonates with me as I lost something of great value - as did many other Irish people - in the catastrophic fire of nearly a century ago at the Four Courts. We Irish lost much of our (official) history. You see, the inferno took with it many of the nation's government records prior to 1922 and delving into our past is now made that bit more difficult because of the actions of some warring Irishmen fighting amongst themselves - not that of a foreign power, mind you.
The quirks of Irish history that make us, er, Irish, I suppose.
© Nicholas Mackey
Writing For Life
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