Raul Detained

A while ago I blogged about a short film that my nephew and his friend, Raul, made. The film is called ‘A State of Superposition’ and chronicles Raul’s experience of leaving Somalia and coming to the UK.


Now Raul has been threatened with deportation on Wednesday, to Tanzania where he knows nobody. He is 18. He has only had a few days warning and a campaign has been mounted to halt this. If you could take a few minutes to help us, all the details are here. http://freeraulally.wordpress.com/how-to-help/. Thanks.

Raul Detained.

via Raul Detained.

The Museum of Jurassic Technology

Mice on toast, a whole room of women who collected cat’s cradles and their disembodied hands floating over books, the telling of the bees, portraits of Russian space dogs, sculptures on the eye of a needle, more specifically, Pope John-Paul the second on the eye of a needle, trailer park models, the European mole, letters Mount Wilson Observatory 1915-1935, sublimation through purification, the opera singer with amnesia and her tragic death, tea served Russian style. On the roof, birds and a man playing a stringed instrument.

On Sunset

‘A husband is different to a boyfriend. A boyfriend can just go ‘bye bye’ and leave.’

‘Husbands do that too sometimes. It has been known.’


The run up was like this. I was talking about the weather and saying there was snow on the hills near the airport this morning. He replied that there was snow in his country as well. I asked where he was from. He said Armenia.

I asked how long he’d lived in Los Angeles. He said 25 years. I asked whether he liked it. He said ‘not so much’. I asked if he thought he would ever go back to Armenia. He said it was impossible, he has three children and six grandchildren now. It’s different when you have a family, he said. And anyway, he is used to America now.

‘Are you married?’…

The breeze comes through the window and blows dust into my eyes. I watch the street numbers increasing towards my destination. Bits of palm trees blow across the road.

He offers me some gum. I take it. Equilibrium is restored.





Dancing backwards

1. Dancing backwards: Glasgow 2013

The man in the high visibility jacket and the Scotland baseball cap sits in a mobility scooter decorated with anti-bedroom tax and ‘no cuts’ slogans and some small flashing lights. Big band music emanates from an attached megaphone. In the passing crowd of protesters, a girl of about nine starts to dance. She twirls her red Unite flag like a baton and kicks up her legs and laughs. She is dancing backwards down Ingram Street, right on the edge of the march. She doesn’t see the shopper coming.  The shopper looks in a rush and is not amused at being poked in the legs by a twirling flagpole. Near to the girl, two grown-ups are talking. ‘You look at the city in a different way moving through it slowly, like this’.

2. Maggie Maggie Maggie: Durham 1980s (repeated)

Being waist high, walking though the centre of Durham, squashed. The sound of brass bands and ‘Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, out out out!’ All that excitement and anger.

In amongst the family slides, (the babies, the birthdays, Christmases and holidays) sits one of the Durham Miners’ Gala. Judging by the clothes it’s pre-Maggie, Maggie, Maggie and indeed pre-me, but this is what it brings back. And here we are again (‘They say cut back…’).


Crane and Distillery

‘It’s not that what is past casts its light on what is present, or what is present its light on what is past; rather, image is that wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation.’

Walter Benjamin [Arcades Project, N2a, 3]

Everything points to the crane. The crane, the regeneration workers tell us, is the focus of the development. The challenge is to link up the waterfront with the town. But private developers own a patch of land between the crane and the town. The deal was done during the boom and the developers were meant to build houses for sale. But this hasn’t happened and now the developers want to build a supermarket instead – which the regeneration people worry will suck people and money away from the town. For now, the crane stands on one corner of a big triangle of unused land containing only a pile of dirt that we are told just keeps getting moved around. At the far side of the triangle sits a further education college and a little further up the road, a small well-designed block of Housing Association flats. But because of the empty patch in the middle, none of these things fit together in the way that was anticipated. Standing on the top of the crane my stomach rises into my neck- it’s only when you are back on solid ground that you are aware of its slight motion. I shuffle around the edges of the jib, following the reassuring blue line that lies under the metal grid. Looking east, the Clyde twists around back to Glasgow. It is getting harder for these projects to the west of the city to access money as the Commonwealth Games have turned heads eastwards. Down below, the physical traces of ship-building are still written on the river, the slip where the QE2 was launched has been left in place. The developers gave the regeneration project the crane, but 4 million had to be spent on its renovation. Everything points to the crane.

In another town up the road is another remant of the industrial past, although this one is not restored. The whisky distillery stands with a patch of wasteland on one side and the river on the other. Across the river is ‘the rock’, popular with climbers and home of an under-promoted castle – the oldest fortified castle in Scotland, apparently. The ground that is wasteland and occupied by the distillery was meant to be covered in houses by now but the developers went into administration. The council want the distillery to be pulled down in order to create sightlines to the rock from the town. This ruin has not taken on the role of symbolising an inheritance, rather it is cast as a blotter-outter of views, the obstruction between the town and ‘real’ history. Looking across from the football ground towards the distillery, glowing orange, in front of the town and with a snow-covered Ben Lomond in the background, while listening to the aspirations of the regeneration workers for this place, pulling down the distillery seems not only like an act of vandalism but also at odds with their aspirations. They want to get the climbers to come and spend money and for tourists en route to Loch Lomond to stop by. The distillery looks like it could be converted into any number of things that could serve that purpose but maybe the issue is money rather than sightlines? We drive down a road that we are told is the success story, a private development of houses and flats, only the flats have declined 30% in value and have not proved popular.

The high street has a lot of vacant shops. One empty shop-front is mocked up as a deli. ‘It could be yours!’ promises the poster over the backdrop of pretend rows of olive oil.



Stomping over the bridge home and in a mood, I bump into my neighbour. He is off to post a birthday present and is pleased at finding just the right present for the right person. The wind is blowing and the weather can’t decide between sleet, rain and snow. I tell the neighbour that I am feeling grumpy. That a draft of a piece of work is going back and forth between me and a co-author and I am getting tired of looking at it. The neighbour recalls his friend, a designer from San Francisco, and how she was talking about how it used to cost twenty bucks to get a plan couriered across town. Since email, plans continually get sent back and forth and the process takes twice as long. Email, he reckons, has just made us lazy and less careful about what we send. I walk away thinking about this and how co-authoring would work if I was using the post. At the front door of my block I see another neighbour who asks me if I know what is going on with the recycling bins that have been full for over a week. He says he might do a run to the tip and if so he will take our rubbish too. We walk up the stairs. His partner and baby are standing by their door. The baby looks back at me with a face as equally grumpy as my own. His bib reads ‘I’m a baby, what’s your excuse?’ A fair point.

Museum Hours

The Glasgow Film Festival has dominated the week. I’m missing it already, even though I have 5 films still to go (including the Devil’s Plantation which I am very excited about). Yesterday was Museum Hours. I picked this on the basis that it was about two strangers striking up a friendship in a museum and involved a lot of walking about in Vienna. The plot is simple, a woman from Montreal goes to Vienna because her cousin is in hospital there. One day, wandering round the Kunsthistorisches Museum, she asks a museum gallery attendant for some directions and they start spending time together. But much more than that the film is about ways of seeing (no surprise then that John Berger gets a thank you in the credits). It was quite an extraordinary film.

The film starts with flashes between landscape paintings and real life scenes with similar configurations (bird, snow, the same angles). But the real life scenes are modern and urban and the paintings are from the museum. This sets up the point of the film from the beginning. The discussion of paintings and the remarkable in the everyday, particularly in Breughel’s paintings, is inter-cut with city scenes throughout the film. At one point a flea market scene on a winters day is combined with the voice-over audio gallery guide about the Egyptian book of the dead.

It takes a while to adjust to the slow pacing. At first, I find myself wandering off, remembering two trips to Vienna also made in the winter. A busy street scene reminds me of walking down a shopping street, furious after having an argument with a boyfriend and yet somehow being on a mission to buy him cufflinks for an important talk he was giving that day. And then later dancing round to Strauss waltzes in what I think was the city hall, whatever building it was we learned later had played an important role in the Anschluss and then it felt altogether less romantic. And then a few years ago, another winter trip with Adey and some friends for an Aquarian birthday fest. Cake and comparing guidebooks in coffeehouses, the extreme contrast between the cold formal streets and the underground gay disco which was straight out of the 1970s, Whitney Houston playing in a late night bar as we sang happy birthday to Tom, the Freud Museum and the home video playing there of Freud’s birthday that focuses mainly on the family dog. I’ve seen that video twice now, once in Hampstead once in Vienna.

As the film goes on you realise that the pacing is entirely on purpose. If the film is about looking and lingering then it needs to move slowly, like a flaneur with his lobster on a lead, rather than marching about. There is quite a long section which involves an art historian talking about specific Breughel paintings and some smart-arse visitor takes issue with her interpretation of the paintings, of how extraordinary things happen in everyday settings, Jesus carrying his cross or Paul on the road to Damascus are depicted in the middle of busy scenes and are not the focus of the paintings. She recalls the poem by Auden.  She doesn’t read it out, but here it is:

 Musee des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

It also reminds me of one my favourite books ‘If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things’ by Jon McGregor.

Somewhere in the process of watching the film your eye becomes more trained to detail. I am looking at the face of the art historian like it is a painting. And then coming out onto the Rose Street afterwards I am looking at Glasgow with new eyes.