Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Keep Calm And Carry On

     Whilst waiting to do my workshop for the Suffolk Poetry Society on the Shotwell peninsula for Ian Griffiths and the rest I've had a lovely time of it in Southwold a cold North Sea beach in Suffolk 'where England juts out furthest into the German Sea.' Home to Adnams  Ale, numerous Pilgrim emigres to America (inc. Rev John Youngs, founder of  Southold LI) and the Anglo-French naval engagement with the Dutch in 1672, battle of Solebay, sinking of the Royal James and all that.
     It's a 21st century family-friendly throwback to old tawdry Victorian seaside resorts, with chip shops, arcades, amusements, seagulls to throw rocks at, and a long pier (623 feet). Also, colorful monopoly box cabins strung like  Christmas candy along the strand. Very long promenade too, stretching distanceless to the north and south from the pier, with plenty of sandy groins (Eng term groynes) that possess just enough patches of pebble (Eng term: shingles) to comb a bit. There's not much in the way of driftwood or shells, but the blueblack rocks are important for decorating sand castles.
     The pier, which was reconstituted just in 2001 from a fanciful thing that had been constructed in 1900, was deliberately weakened in two places during the war to keep Germans from landing their tanks on it. 'Keep Calm And Carry On' advised the British government to its citizens, as they watched the horizon of cloud and gunmetal sea for genuine German warplanes.
     Today's pier juts out into a gentler world. It has a number of amusements, but above all a great arcade of coin operated items, designed by Tim Hunkin, a 21st century cartoonist and artist-engineer known for works like  Rubberworld, Anthropologists Fundraising Ritual and The Secret Life of Machines.  And The Vulgar Life of Clocks. For Southwold Pier, he's devised a number of fine instruments of terrible delight: Autofrisk and Gene Forecaster. Instant Eclipse.  Microbreak. a wolf with red glowing eyes you look at face to face. A bathyscape that seems to plunge. Whack A Banker. The Disgusting Spectacle. Pet  Or Meat, A device at which you spin an arrow and see where it lands -- then view what happens to the lamb in detail. 'Is It Art,' where you present any object to the expert and he will tell you authoratively whether it is art or not.
     Monstrous and fanciful things they are, constructed of rough old metal like one of those old fashioned iron 'have fun helping spastics' penny catching devices, but with contemporary nuances and modern sensibilities, computer enhancements and video components. Like the lifesize mechanical dog you can actually walk, he wags his tail and looks back at you stupidly as you hold the leash, he trots along and barks and there's a video image you follow as you walk him. He chases nasty looking tabby cats one after the next, until as a grand finale to the game he leaps off a cliff into the sea. Never walk alone again!
     Gotta be there to appreciate the feel I think, it's all about pluck and polity disrupted with perverse English inventiveness and enhanced with the iron cracking jaws of Jack the Ripper. Lovely and bloody cold, as they say.
     Keep calm and carry on. Last night we came home chilled to the bone and ordered in Indian food, curries and kormas, balti, chapatis and plenty of chutney. That warmed us up all right!

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