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A butterfly emerging from a chrysalis is an embarrassingly obvious metaphor for a human undergoing a transition phase into a new future.
I am a human undergoing a transition phase into a new future.
In a visual sense, I’m transforming from a beautiful butterfly slowly into a wrinkled old maggot/caterpillar thing. But that’s only a surface change. In another sense, I’m metamorphosing from a maggot-brained child-human into the magnificent, mature, awesome-brained old person I’m working on.
I like to think so, anyway. It compensates for the maggoty appearance.
Here are the photos. I took them in a butterfly house near Totnes after my lens stopped steaming up.
Anyone who has heard of Redruth knows that it, and its neighbouring town Camborne, are considered among the roughest and dodgiest parts of Cornwall. Once, when I told a man at a car boot sale that I taught in the area, he quipped, “do you have to wear a flak jacket?” I forgave him though, because he had a nice beard.
Jokes about the general seediness of the population abound:
Q. How can you tell if a Redruth girl is having an orgasm?
A. She drops her chips.
Seems that Redruth’s status has been pretty poor for a long time. Daniel Defoe dismissed it in an offhand way in the 1700s in A tour thro’ the whole island of Great Britain, divided into circuits or journies, suggesting that there was nothing worth mentioning between St.Ives and Padstow:
From this town and port of St. Ives, we have no town of any note on the coast; no, not a market town, except Redruth, which is of no consideration, ’till we come to Padstow-Haven, which is near thirty miles…
Shortly after Defoe’s cheeky comment Redruth was to experience a massive turn-around in its fortunes thanks to the Industrial Revolution, the age of steam and tin mining, but now, like many post-industrial areas of Britain, it has slumped back into poverty which is why there are so many jokes about it.
Not that the stories about Redruth’s ills are all lies. I live right in the heart of the town and within a few weeks of moving here my son had to encourage an intruder out of our house with a hockey stick, and we regularly enjoy the lilting sounds of drunk people yelling abuse at each other within inches of our front door.
Having said that, though, the town itself is quite visually pleasing if you mostly look upwards and ignore the boarded up shops, the drunks and the pale, spotty teenagers with their arses displayed over the tops of their sagging tracksuit bottoms. And despite the downsides, the first thing we all noticed was the chattiness of the people in the town. We experienced more street banter and friendly faces in our first few months here than we ever did in the more middle class town we moved from. Plus there are sofas in the cinema.
Here are some of the visual reasons why I love this town despite everything:
I went to Perranporth Beach yesterday to scour the cliffs for something inspiring to photograph in response to this challenge. I was a bit confounded by the word, ‘lost’ – there’s plenty of detail everywhere, but I couldn’t pin down anything that could be called ‘lost’ in it. Probably overthinking, as usual. I found some graffiti scratched into the cliff in 1965, and a tiny tunnel with bars over the entrance, but neither were exactly lost:
So I decided that this week’s challenge had stumped me. I went home, dropped the dog off and wandered into Reduth where it was St.Piran’s Day. A friend had suggested I take some photos of the event so they could potentially be used for promotional purposes, so I went off with the intention of taking images of the Cornish bunting, stalls, dignitaries and the miner statue bedecked in its lamb and flag costume.
When I got there, though, I was distracted by a team of drummers (I do hope the real collective noun for drummers is more exciting than that. A throb maybe?) in the centre of town making the most spectacular, hypnotic, entrancing noise. I sat on one of the plinths in the square and watched the drummers and the audience. As ever, my photography finger responds to people more than to anything else and I ended up taking a set of images pretty much entirely focused on the humans of Redruth rather than St. Piran’s Day in general. After I edited them I realised that what I’d done was to get lost in the detail. Duh.
These weekly challenges are difficult. I usually manage something, but last week’s topic, ‘kiss’ ended up stumping me altogether. I looked through my street photography and was disappointed to note that I’ve never managed to catch any spontaneous snog pictures, and my family are not particularly known for their public displays of affection. The closest I came up with was this romantic moment between son 2 and his girlfriend. It’s not a kiss, exactly.
My interpretation of this week’s challenge is better than last week’s because… well… I actually did one. Only… ‘interpretation’ is probably not quite the right word – the proper word is something like, ‘literalation’ because I’ve taken the challenge, and sort of sat still with it.
Instead of dreaming up a lovely metaphor for overcoming hurdles in life or whatever, I’ve just chosen pictures of walking. Or shambling. Or in some cases running. There are no deep meanings here, and you won’t be drifting off to sleep at night even slightly more enlightened than you were before you saw my pictures of perambulating mammals. Sorry.
Being my mother’s daughter, aesthetics has always been a big thing for me in terms of home. My mum never feels completely at home in her dwelling place unless she has made it look and feel the way she wants it to. She lives in a lovely Cornish cottage with wobbly cob walls and beams, but her aesthetic is essentially Scandinavian (which makes sense because she is Swedish), and she had been unhappy with her small, dark kitchen for decades – unhappy to the point of wanting to leave the house. But last year, she and dad had an extension built with a new kitchen that fits her need for light and clean lines and now she is incredibly happy in her home. Here’s a picture of it when it was just finished:
Although my aesthetic is a more cluttered one than my mum’s, it has always affected how contented I have felt in my dwellings to the point that, even when I have lived in squats, caravans and benders with almost no money at all, I have tried to find ways to make them please my eye, or at least feel like they belong to me in some way.
In the squatting and travelling world most people had next to no money, and all our furniture and possessions were found in skips or given to us or bought from jumble sales, resulting in what could politely be called an ‘eclectic’ style of home decor. Looking at some of these pictures now it seems funny to think that I loved these rooms in one way or another. Today, I would pay a lot of money not to live in them.
The first is a shot of my first home away from home. It is the top room in a three storey squat in Falmouth in the early eighties.
The carpet, chair, chair cover and bobbly lamp shade were skip finds, and the pictures were either lifted from gigs or torn out of magazines. I can’t remember where the painting came from. It looks like squalor to me now, but I really liked it then.
The next one is also from the eighties. It’s a squat bedroom I had in Hackney, London. I had a thing about purple in those days, and I spent about a week’s food money on paint. There was no B&Q with shelves and shelves of coloured emulsion then, instead you had to go to a specialist paint shop and pay what seemed a LOT of money to have a pot mixed for you if you wanted a colour other than magnolia or white. The effect in this very old and tatty photograph is – as you can see – pretty garish. I think the red wall hanging was made by my grandmother and is now sadly lost.
My second purple room was in a squatted flat on Stamford Hill Estate.
The next picture is of the inside of a caravan we lived in on some wasteland when son 1 was small. We had no running water, no electricity (hence the tilly lamp), very little money and no toilet, and we used to visit the local tip regularly because in those days you could buy things for a few pence. We glued some hessian wallpaper up and made curtains from some material we found there. The table came from my parents’ house (I think) and I covered the kitchen cupboards with cut out pictures from magazines and books. Again, I wouldn’t want to live in it now, but it felt very much like home in 1992.
But this post wasn’t supposed to turn into a bemused peer into my domestically cacophonous past – it’s supposed to be about home and personal aesthetics. It was triggered by a visit to the home of a much loved friend yesterday. This friend, T, has fallen in love with a man, R, whose home is now hers too. Their home is one of the most wondrous places I have ever been, partly because it is incredibly rooted in family and regional history, but also because R has such a strong aesthetic that it saturates every corner of the place. His aesthetic is kind of timeless but in parts surprisingly modern; it’s very traditional but also includes elements of eccentricity that prevents it looking like every other envy-inspiring home in Country Living magazine. Here are some photos.
R and T’s home knocks me for six every time. I find it almost impossibly beautiful, and my friend H and I regard it as a very special treat to visit. Yesterday, however, this wondrous place struck me as even more of a home than ever before. The air had shifted in some way, and it took me a while to realise that of course this was because there has been a new addition to the place – one that brings with it mess and chaos and the need for an occasional plastic object. Here it is:
Seeing how this unutterably lovely little bundle of disruption has affected this place, I realised that although I’ve yearned most of my life for a home I find aesthetically pleasing (and have now finally got one that’s almost there), it’s not the aesthetics after all that actually make the home.
In fact, the times when home feels most homely are when our aesthetics are being disrupted: when we have Christmas in mum’s perfect kitchen and there are people and dogs and mess everywhere; when an otherwise tastefully decorated Christmas tree is hung with odd lumps of paper and glue made by a child’s hands; when there’s a curled up cat and all his cat hairs rumpling up the sofa cushions; when spouse puts a Darth Vader head he found in a skip on the bookshelf next to my tasteful antique map of Cornwall. A home that is TOO visually beautiful can feel a bit intimidating, and I have visited people’s houses in the past that have given me hideous inferiority complexes. Aesthetics will always be important to me because I’m a visual person, but I’m not looking for perfection any more. Perhaps I can put up with the flimsy fake brass door handles I inherited with this house after all.
P.s. If you would like to experience the joy of visiting R&T’s house, they offer various types of accomodation at various times of year. Please see their website for further details.
We’re not a family that talks about love much. That doesn’t mean we don’t feel it – not at all – just that declarations of love can seem a bit insincere to our oh-so-British ears. This is particularly so when the word ‘love’ is flung about a lot in a relationship. To us it has impact only when used sparingly; anything else smacks of insecurity to our cynical ears.
So when son 2 was born and turned out to be a little package of enthusiastic and unabashed love it was a bit of a revelation; we were used to our more reserved toddler who really only wanted cuddles when he was sad or ill, and even then accepted them graciously rather than actively engaging with them like son 2 did. It has always been very easy to give love to our second son because he was born with a nature that invited it. It is harder to be sure that son 1 knows he is loved because he has become more and more detached from us as he has grown up.
Son 1 had a more difficult time growing up than son 2. When he was born we lived in a caravan on a traveller’s site with no running water, no electricity, no sanitation and drunk people all around. I was too immature of mind to deal well with my new responsibility and knew little or nothing of the psychology of children. I became post-natally depressed and if it wasn’t for my spouse, things could have been a disaster. He faced responsibility with determination, compassion and even a little joy. He got up and did the night feeds and woke me up for the morning feeds by singing along to cheerful songs on the radio and handing me a cup of tea.
We loved son 1 tremendously, but we weren’t the finest of all parents. We were very poor, we didn’t know what we were doing and we were tired and stressed much of the time. It wasn’t the best start for a sensitive young boy, regardless of how much we adored him. We made a lot of mistakes. When we moved into a house and son 1 went to playgroup and then primary school, he was only too aware of our difference from other parents. We were still big-booted, pierced and grubby and we didn’t have fitted kitchens or smart cars. He felt this acutely, but rarely said anything about it; he instead spent his time with other families who were more securely rooted in the ‘conventional’ lifestyle that he preferred.
Our son is now 21 and at university. He is independent, clever, witty and stylish and we are incredibly proud of him. When I think of him, however, I am always a little sad because he remains quite detached. It’s nothing serious or terrible, but he wouldn’t choose to spend time with us; he doesn’t really know what to talk to us about and he resists engaging with our interests and humour. Having son 2 has shown me what a parent/child relationship can be and at the moment I don’t have this with my firstborn. It saddens me to my stomach that he was the one who had to suffer the brunt of my parenting mistakes and that son 2 received all the benefits of what we learned from them.
But, son 1 does phone us when he has a problem and he did turn to me when he had his heart broken. I take solace from this and have a secret fantasy that one day, when he has children of his own, he might understand. In my fantasy, he is a famous fashion designer or journalist or publicist or something, and he’s on Desert Island Discs. He chooses a record that has something to do with his childhood and he says, ‘I was a very different person from my parents, but I realise now how much they loved me.’
This has been an interesting photo challenge. Interesting for me, that is, not you, my poor visitor. It can’t be very interesting for you to have to sit through people-you-don’t-know’s years. Especially since people tend only to take photos of the things that make them seem shiny.
It was interesting to me though because, before I did this, if someone had asked me, “how was your 2012?” I would have said, “Totally shite. Bloody awful. One of my worst years ever.” And yet, when I looked through my photos I found that there have been brilliant things in every single month of the year. Properly brilliant things – ones that made my heart sing happy songs – even though in the background I was in the throes of work-based misery. Of course, photos are a massive edit of your life – you don’t take pictures of yourself crying for days on a sofa or going to a funeral, etc. But even so – the fact that I was able to produce such a happy set of edited highlights shows there were some very highlighty highlights.
There’s a lesson in this. Something to do with the ways we view the world, etc. I won’t write it here in case it gets all fridge magnety.
Not being a very delicate-minded person myself, I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do this challenge. Then I found myself at Heartlands half way through a dog walk and encountered a group of delighted children being sprayed with foam from a fake-snow machine. I liked this little girl in particular with her delicate hand investigating the snow. I have no idea why I failed to focus the damn pictures properly. I think it might be my middle aged eyes.
Two days later, again on a dog walk, I was with spouse in Tehidy Woods admiring the glorious trees and sundry other winter delights:
We sat under a tree for a while so brown spaniel could dig a massive trench, and were joined by a little round robin who spent 20 minutes strolling around us eating worms from our hands. There’s a Cornish superstition, apparently, that a friendly robin is a visit from a dead loved one, but none of my dead relatives as far as I know were so keen on eating worms. Anyway, here is the robin with his delicate wings and tiny cute robiny feet.