Thursday, July 27, 2017

To tan is to be!

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The weather continues to confuse.  One moment it is sunny, then cloudy, then hazy, a sudden downpour, humid, cool. 

No, I’m lying. 

We have had some changeable weather that Toni has described as ‘awful’, but all I have to do is translate it into British terms of weather and I find that I am more than satisfied with what we are getting.  Yes, to be fair, it is not entirely cloudless skies and unmitigated sunshine, but I have to realize that I have been driven indoors because I am glistening with sweat and it is perhaps a little too hot.  The third floor study is relatively cooler and, even if the fan doesn’t create cool air, it at least moves it around a little.

Art passes

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The ‘unsettled’ weather has also destroyed The Stain.  I had great hopes that the slash of fading red from the broken bottle of cheap wine would be something that could have lasted through the rest of the summer, but two sharp torrential downpours seem to have consigned my gestural piece of land art to evaporation and the gutter. 

The next time I pass on my newly charged electric bike, I must pause and see if there is anything left.  I do feel somewhat self conscious taking photographs of nondescript parts of a pavement, but it would be somehow ‘satisfying’ to find some tinted remnant lurking.  Given the amount of time that I have spent being confounded by various manifestos of the artistically self obsessed, it is the least I can do to drag out the last pieces of aesthetic significance from a chance event deemed art-worthy!  And I have to say that it was more interesting than some of the stuff that I have been studying over the last couple of years via the course in the Open University.  Though, there again, I defend maligned Modern Art with a vengeance when provoked by those who cannot find an upturned and signed urinal to be provocatively original!  Though with Duchamp I sometimes wonder, as with Warhol, how much of his ‘art’ was clever and how much taking the piss - and if the difference between the two is real, or indeed matters!

Anyway, I am sad that The Stain has gone, but also recognize that one particular part of the pavement in Castelldefels will be forever different (at least to me) because of what it once contained.  And with Modern Art, who can ask for more?

The ghost of past hurt

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I follow my father in the way that I take the sun.  My mother was fair skinned, blond haired and blue eyed - and so was I when I was a pre-toddler.  But after a few years my father’s genes asserted themselves and my eyes went hazel and my hair (O tempora! O mores!) a very dark, almost black-brown, and in the summer I went a more than acceptable shade of not white.  When the summers were kind enough to have a reasonable quantity of sun.  Of course in my childish memories, all summers were sunny, as were all visits (and there were many) to Barry Island.  In Barry my excavations were frenzied and extensive, all my efforts devoted to building a castle mound surrounded by a wall that would resist the sea, so that eventually I would be sitting surrounded by the incoming tide.

The real joy of course, was the even more frenzied activity to repair breaches in the wall to obtain the “island” objective.  Sand was plundered from the castle mound to rebuild sea-washed defences and eventual, and usually quick and complete failure was guaranteed.  But once, and once only, did I achieve sufficient repulsion of the sea to be surrounded.  It was only momentary, but it remains an achievement that I treasure!

Here in Castelldefels we have no tides.  Technically, I am told, we do, but they are not aquatic events that you would recognize sitting by the side of the sea.  Certainly, if you are more used to the tidal range of the Bristol Chanel then Med. tides can be ignored!

So, castle building does not have the same allure - and it is some sixty years too late to hold the same attraction.  Admittedly, there was a spate of civil engineering in the sand when I was in university in Swansea when streams on the beach (ask not of what the water was composed!) lured me back to the sort of hand digging where you paid the price through the sand impacted under the fingernails.  Extensive systems of canals and dams were built with Robert perfecting his technique of dripped sand buildings with fantastic towers that rivalled the architecture of Gaudi.

I find that I am not drawn to constructions and I also find that my ability to lie in the sun has also lessened.  Time was when a Christmas holiday trip to Gran Canaria would seem me outstretched for hours.  On one particular day lying on my hamaca in Maspalmoas it started to rain!  I and the other northern Europeans who had paid and arm and a leg to stay on the island in high season simply ignored the adverse weather conditions and waited for the weather to get better.  And it did.  Or at least it got good enough to lie there with out shuddering and we could continue to rely on the penetration of the UV rays through the cloud cover to do what we had expensively paid for.  And anyway, it was always worth it, greeting colleagues in cold Cardiff in January, and watching their eyes take in my bronzed skin!

Nowadays, I use factor 20 cream - rather than the perfumed cooking oil that I used to buy to get that “deep down tan”.  It never worked and I always dreaded the day when I would finally start to peel and then I would worry about the fact that I could be going home even whiter than when I arrived!

Nowadays I do not have to rely on two sunny weeks in foreign parts to get my tan done.  I live in foreign parts and they do have a disproportionate number of sunny days - even in December and January - when our nearest star can be enjoyed.

But I also notice now that, as I brown, elements of my history show up on my skin.  For example, just above the second knuckle of my middle finger of my right hand, there is now a faint outline of a small, three-sided rectangle.  It must related to what must have been a fairly serious cut or graze, where a flap of skin was ripped out of my flesh.  It must have hurt, there must have been quantities of blood and, given where it is positioned, the flexing of my hand and finger must have pulled and broken the scab.  On the right hand, as well, it must have constantly been rubbed and knocked.  It must have been an extended and thorough nuisance.  And what with the natural propensity to pick and worry at healing scars it must have been a feature of my life for ages.

And I have absolutely no memory of the injury at all.  The ghostly outline is almost like a accusation form my body.  Look, it seems to be saying, this happened, it was an event and you care so little that you have consigned it to forgetfulness!

Other scars have a back-story that I remember well.  The ball of the right-hand thumb and the slicing of an open salmon tin; my right elbow and the tip over the tennis net during my victory leap; my inner thigh where the rotten tree stump entered and broke off; my chin and the collapse of friends on top of me in junior school; my lip and something on the building site that bit back; my foot and a piece of rubble on the Asia side of Istanbul - and all those scabs of childhood on knees and legs and arms that would have to be layered in three-dimensional ghostliness to show the succession of minor cuts and abrasions that is part of growing up.

I have always found the expression “like the back of my hand” as a picture of familiarity to be woefully inappropriate - I challenge you to describe yours without looking at it!  And, in my opinion, apart from our faces (and let’s face it, we mostly recognize ourselves from reflections in mirrors and that is absolutely NOT how we appear to other people!) what parts of our bodies do we actually know?

It is usually only when something is going wrong that we start to explore the substances of which we are made.  Which is why I am grateful for my ghosts of past hurts.  They make me think and they encourage me to remember and with the absolute pleasure that comes with confused recollection, although specifics might be inaccurate the experience can be retextured to my own individual attitudes and prejudices.  I can remember about the cut on my finger, even if the unique circumstances are lost.  I know how I am and what I’m like, so I can place the cut and call it mine.
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