Provincial Letters

Far from the mad crowds of the city, Blaise Pascal passed comment on the strange behaviour of this urban contemporaries in his Provincial Letters. The connection between them and this blog is somewhat tenuous.

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Location: Grimsby, N E Lincolnshire, United Kingdom

My star sign in Superstition. And I didn't believe in reincarnation last time, either. The only thing I can't tolerate is intolerance. I am a fanatical ant-fanaticist. I am bigotted only where bigots are concerned. I am a fundamentalist atheist. I'm proud to be a product of evolution; I know it in my genes.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Posted @ 21:00Alexandra Dock Sunset

It was cold, frosty cold; chilled air with no trace of wind. The sun was orange on the skyline, bright in the steel-blue winter air. Just a short walk over Corporation Bridge, watching the water — a still high tide — and taking photographs as the mood took me. Feeling moderately pleased with myself as at least two of the tunes I've been working with seemed to have crystallised into workable songs. Not exactly the most cheery of songs, but the achievement is in the completion; only time — and an audience — will pass judgement on their quality. Damn it, I know that, in the end, it'll be me who judges them the most harshly.

The bridge — a memorial to the dock's busier days — rises in mechanical splendour; more solid than the memories, real and imagined, that it invokes. Once, this dock echoed to Slavic voices, bringing timber from northern Russia. Once, this dock was a place of industry rather than retail, a place closer to making; a place for content rather than form and fashion. All too easy to dream when there's no conversation and when people, tight and safe and warm in their little cars, are detached from the crisp atmosphere of this fading February day. All too easy to wax lyrical — with consequent verbal effluvium — when all the world is boxed and hidden.

A rare encounter with a stranger: he stops and asks if I'm looking for the diver. I mumble. He says there was a diver in the dock earlier. I wonder if he means a human or a bird, but don't press the question and let him walk on, leaving me unenlightened. Bundled against the cold, the other pedestrians glance at me — mobile phone in hand — snapping the sights of the late afternoon. Too polite to question; too curious not to sneak a glance. A group of young lads comes towards me, boistrous and chirpy. I'm ashamed to say my first reaction is fear: remembering that encounter last year when I had my phone stolen and got a clout in the face for standing up to another group of teenage boys. But my shame is enough to calm me and I smile as they pass. Note to self: the world — and the behaviour of people in it — is better than you imagine.

Walking on, I think of going for a beer; just think, my pockets lack the wherewithal for such an adventure today. Content myself with a small purchase of crumpets for tea. Rehearse the lyrics to my new songs in my head, as many lines as I can remember. I'm determined to dispense with sheets of words in front of me when I take them out in public for the first time. It's far too easy to leave this chore lying in the "to-do" list and then becoming dependent on those printed and hand-written sheets. Surely I can't have exhausted my brain's long-term memory capacity just yet.

Now I start to worry again about the shabbiness of my recent public guitar playing. Sitting alone I am — reasonably — competent with the mechanics and the sound satisfying to my biased ears. Sitting or standing in public, my fingers not so much have a mind of their own as become detached from the control of any mind whatsoever and disappear on their own, unique intergalactic trip to planet Incompetence. The little monster on my shoulder calls out "this is the bit you always cock up, bet you do it again". And, sure enough, I do:

The memories come back to haunt me
They haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don't come true?
Or is it something worse?

Bruce Springsteen; The River

And now the gremlins get busy in my psyche again: this is all a bit like your life, ain't it? But sod self-pity for a game of soldiers — for today, anyway — remember what you have accomplished in the past few days.

And, looking at the photographs, I remember the gorgeous thrill of the outdoor air, cold as it was, and the pure joy of seeing the hard light of the sun in that pure blue sky. It was a short walk through a short winter day, but it made the day. Sitting at the computer, warm and full of crumpets and tea, I feel less fragile. That seems to be enough for now.

In the end it's all academic really. I've had a reasonable day: a little conversation, a brief but beautiful walk and some lyrics. On the grand scale of things it doesn't amount to much but it made my day — it was my day. Also managed to take some photographs and string together a few words to help me remember it.

Now the day's over, I'm still wishing for a beer and a bit of, possibly loud and trivial, company. But that'll have to wait for another day when the ancient gods finally make a re-appearance. I'll be content with TV — A Knight's Tale is on Film4 later — and tea and some guitar practice (and a cigarette or three). Must make some effort to record some of my songs for that album I've been threatening everyone with for the past few years. Really must. That would be an achievement.

Ahh, memory: somewhere in the back of my cobwebbed memory there's some fragments of Eliot. Give me a moment with Google...

That's it, "and then the lighting of the lamps"...

The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o'clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.
And then the lighting of the lamps.

T S Eliot; Preludes I

You can always trust in Eliot for an apposite quotation.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some lovely pictures Roger- if you're out Friday, will get you a beer in appreciation of your photo skills-Ian O.

Wed Feb 07, 06:57:00 pm GMT 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like a perfect day. We all spend too much time wrapped up in work, life and materialism, that we sometimes forget the beauty and contentment that can be found in the simple things like a walk around our beloved town, crumpets for tea, and a self-penned song that we've almost nailed. I envy you the day you've had today. I've spent mine in a stuffy school, then on the road for 2+ hours to get to and from a meeting to discuss the future of the music service. Beautiful pictures, by the way. TS x

Wed Feb 07, 08:03:00 pm GMT 
Blogger woja said...

Thanks, guys — I liked the photos too; really quite proud of them. But, it must be said, the light was wonderful.

Thanks to Ian O & Mark W for the Christmas present of the mobile phone with a really quite decent camera in it.

Wed Feb 07, 08:18:00 pm GMT 
Blogger EAPrez said...

Beautiful photos and really loved the read - I remember a similar fear I had one evening in a parking lot - I was alone, it was dark and I had to walk past a group of a half a dozen or so black youth. I felt uneasy - then I was ashamed for feeling that way. I kept thinking how awfully racist of me to develop this fear because they were black teens. BUT as I thought more about it I can honestly say I would have had the same fear if it had been six white youths - dressed the same. It was the fear of being alone in the parking lot with
them not their color.

Sun Feb 11, 07:54:00 pm GMT 

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