Saturday, April 29, 2017
“Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.” ― Groucho Marx
I have no idea where this picture came from, just that it showed up on my screen one day and I couldn't help but save it for my own viewing pleasure. How on earth did the photographer get 23 (your count may be different) dogs to all pose in such a cheerful group? Although most dogs get along with one another quite well it's exceedingly odd to see them arranged in neat rows like a football team or an old fashioned school class. Looking at it makes me happy.
“Man is the Reasoning Animal. Such is the claim. I think it is open to dispute. Indeed, my experiments have proven to me that he is the Unreasoning Animal... In truth, man is incurably foolish. Simple things which other animals easily learn, he is incapable of learning. Among my experiments was this. In an hour I taught a cat and a dog to be friends. I put them in a cage. In another hour I taught them to be friends with a rabbit. In the course of two days I was able to add a fox, a goose, a squirrel and some doves. Finally a monkey. They lived together in peace; even affectionately.
Next, in another cage I confined an Irish Catholic from Tipperary, and as soon as he seemed tame I added a Scotch Presbyterian from Aberdeen. Next a Turk from Constantinople; a Greek Christian from Crete; an Armenian; a Methodist from the wilds of Arkansas; a Buddhist from China; a Brahman from Benares. Finally, a Salvation Army Colonel from Wapping. Then I stayed away for two whole days. When I came back to note results, the cage of Higher Animals was all right, but in the other there was but a chaos of gory odds and ends of turbans and fezzes and plaids and bones and flesh--not a specimen left alive. These Reasoning Animals had disagreed on a theological detail and carried the matter to a Higher Court.”
― Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth: Uncensored Writings
If there's a saving grace for humanity it's that our dogs love us.
Sunday, April 23, 2017
It's pretty much common knowledge that many of London's children were sent away to the safety of the English countryside during the WWII Blitz. What's less commonly known is that a number of those children who went to charity institutions never returned to their families but instead were sent overseas to the Commonwealth countries in a child migrant program that relocated thousands of them. Most were told their parents were dead. In general, that wasn't true but the parents who went looking for them later were told they'd been adopted by loving families who were taking good care of the children. That turned out not to be true in many cases either.
In all, approximately 130,000 British children between the ages of three and fourteen were deported to Australia, Canada, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and New Zealand between the 1920s and the 1970s. Rather than finding new homes and loving families, never mind the oranges, sunshine, and ponies they'd been promised, many of them suffered servitude, hard labour and abuse in remote orphanages and farms. You can read more about it here if you're unfamiliar with the story. I'd write more about it myself but having spent several days reading about the tragedies that befell so many youngsters it's easier for me to direct you to some of the sources I found. Many of the individual stories are shocking and very disturbing.
Even more distressing, if anything more were needed, was learning that the British government began the policy of sending away it's 'surplus children' as far back as the 17th century when 150 'waifs' were shipped to Virginia to work on farms. Between 1869 and 1935, it's estimated 100,000 unaccompanied children were sent as indentured workers to countries that needed the laborers and also to enlarge their population of white people.
It was not until the early 1980s that Nottingham social worker Margaret Humphreys found out that there were former migrants in Australia who were just realizing they might have living relatives in the UK. One day an Australian woman contacted her, to say she was trying to find her mother. The woman said she had been taken from a children's home in Nottingham and sent to Australia by boat, aged four, during the 1950s. Could Humphreys help? Her plea lead to a quest that would take Humphreys across the world and uncover a scandalous policy used to forcibly ship thousands of British children away from their homes.
While a number of those now grown children were able to be reunited with their families (and apologies made by the governments of Britain, Australia and New Zealand - but not Canada), it's not possible to undo the damage or to take back the years. I wept while I watched the video of the 65 year old woman meeting her 86 year old mother for the first time in more than six decades.
I understand childhood was always hard for the poor but I imagine there were compensations in being poor among your own. Thank goodness Margaret Humphreys was there to help before it was too late for any reunions.
Sunday, April 16, 2017
In the past couple of years I've preferred not going anywhere near Halifax's downtown for the simple reason it's undergoing what appears to be an unrestrained building boom. In a fairly small city such as this one erecting huge buildings that cover the entirety of square blocks, buildings made of concrete and steel with glass curtain walls, has a brutalizing effect both physically on the local environment and psychologically on the populace. That Halifax is a major destination for tourists wanting a glimpse of the historic maritimes lifestyle is another factor making these projects appear counterintuitive.
Since we couldn't find a spot downtown not covered by construction equipment we decided instead Crow would pose in Anton Furst's conception of Batman's Gotham City. It seemed appropriate.
"Modernism is damaging to all cultures, yet those that are wealthy can and do periodically escape its suffocating effects. They possess other sources of emotional nourishment. But it is the economically impoverished cultures dependent upon the industrialized West, and those that are subjected to “soft oppression” by the dominance of the global media, that suffer most deeply. They have no way out. Their own elites are forcing the modernist dogma down their throats."
~ Nikos Salingaros
“The type of work which modern technology is most successful in reducing or even eliminating is skilful, productive work of human hands, in touch with real materials of one kind or another. In an advanced industrial society, such work has become exceedingly rare, and to make a decent living by doing such work has become virtually impossible. A great part of modern neurosis may be due to this very fact; for the human being, defined by Thomas Aquinas as a being with brains and hands, enjoys nothing more than to be creatively, usefully, productively engaged with both his hands and his brains.”
~ E.F. Schumacher
So you want us all to go back to the Stone Age?
The word “back” is a trick. It implies a magical absolute direction of change. Suppose you go to your job, and when you get ready to leave, your boss says, “So you want to go back to your house? Don’t you know you can never go back? You can only go forward, to working for me even more, ha ha ha!” Really, all motion is forward, and forward motion can go in any direction we choose, including to places we’ve been before.
~ Ran Prieur
Long before it was an area of study, dictators took advantage of the impact architecture can have on the mind. By creating architecture at a monumental scale, rather than a human one, they inspired fear and awe in their citizens. By destroying the individual scale of a city, the tyrant believed he could usher in a new age. While fascism went out of fashion after World War II, the style of architecture did not, and now you can see that type of monumental building in cities around the world.
If the human scale of any given environment is defined by its community, then the outcome will be a human scale city.
Saturday, April 8, 2017
One afternoon last week I went looking for a copy of a picture by Ronald Searle that I'd once sent an old friend. I didn't find what I was looking for but instead found that despite the fact I'd always loved his drawings I didn't know anything about him at all. Over the course of his long life Ronald Searle drew thousands of pictures, most of them satirical - albeit, gently so.
You never got the feeling of outright cruelty in his images - except, perhaps, for the St. Trinian's girls and their penchant for torture, assault, and the carrying of deadly weapons.
The first, and major, thing I hadn't been aware of was the fact that as a young enlistee in the Royal Engineers who had just arrived in Singapore when it fell to the Japanese in 1942, 22 year old Ronald Searle became a prisoner of war * and would remain one until 1945. His collection of 300 eyewitness drawings of life in Changi Prison in Singapore and the work camps of the notorious Thai-Burma railway is an amazing achievement. He secretly documented his experiences and, with the help of friends, hid the drawings from the guards by placing them under the mattresses of soldiers who were dying from cholera. Luckily for him, Searle never contracted cholera, but he did suffer from dengue fever, beri beri, malaria, multiple skin diseases and starvation. Most of his friends and co-prisoners died.
The brutality and disregard for human life which he experienced first hand led him to ask himself the question - "could this happen to people in my home country, or is this something peculiar to the Japanese people and their culture?" His answer seems to be that it is a universal phenomenon.
The second thing I learned about Ronald Searle is how he reacted when his wife, Monica, was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer in the late 1960s - shortly after they'd purchased an old home in Provence they were looking forward to renovating. Feeling helpless in the face of Monica's medical disaster, the only thing he could think of to do for them both while she was undergoing chemotherapy and experimental radiation was to draw.
The delightful images of a Mrs Mole pottering about a dream house in a Provencal village were full of optimism meant to help them both through the long, painful process they could only hope would be successful. Monica had 47 treatments and after each session he gave her another drawing.
I drew them originally for no one’s eyes except Mo’s, so she would look at them propped up against her bedside lamp and think: “When I’m better, everything will be beautiful.”
The treatments did work and her cancer went into a remission that lasted forty years. Most of those years were spent in their Provencal home: four interconnected houses, the oldest one medieval, threaded by staircases and stuffed with accumulated treasures. A courtyard is shaded by a vast, ancient fig tree, and from the tiny roof terrace unfurls a glorious 100-mile view over mountains to the sparkling Mediterranean Sea. It's a wonderful sight to imagine.
Early in 2011, shortly before she died, Monica shared her treasured drawings in a book titled Les Tres Riches Heures de Mrs Mole (‘The Richest Hours of Mrs Mole’) to coincide with Breast Cancer Awareness Month. She died that July and six months later Ronald Searle followed her - he was 91.
It's certainly not true that artists don't have much to say; what is true is that the best really can convey stories of a thousand words in an image. Ronald Searle was one of them.
* a link you might be particularly interested in, Lindsay.
Sunday, April 2, 2017
I thought I'd have this one finished by now, instead this version might be as finished as it's going to get. This is how it looked a few days ago before I added what feels like too much colour to the original illustration which is still sitting on my table (probably not for much longer). That's the trouble with watercolour - you don't get to start afresh once something has gone wrong.. never mind when you get part way through a painting and begin to wonder just what you were thinking about when you drew it in the first place.
I'm going to blame it on a winter that's gone on too long and leave it at that. Meanwhile, captions are always fun if any come to mind.
April now and the temperature's supposed to rise above freezing presently.
Did you know William Morris invented modern fantasy fiction in the late 19th century as a way of challenging the robot-mentality of his own time? That’s the core reason that his fantasy novels have been completely and systematically erased from our collective memory.