chasing memories, fragments

These were drawings in Cresswell Dale: first, the wooded valley floor, probably first carved as a subterranean river then collapsed leaving steep sides and a flat uneven floor, with the waters sunk out of sight.  It is overgrown, gloomy and moist, with shaggy moss covering the dry stone wall and fallen branches.  Light filters in and captures the leaves.

I thought about my mother’s life as elections, starting with the story of the night of the axe.   This must have been the 1966 general election, when Harold Wilson held power for Labour.  We were asleep, my parents listening to the results on the radio.  They were interrupted by loud shouting. Upstairs, two women shared a flat and undertook sex work.  Taking a night off, they had invited friends over to listen to the election, and these lads had casually decided to rape them.  My father stormed upstairs (we held their spare key?) wielding the wood axe, and my mother heard the boys shinning down the drainpipe outside our window.  All was put to rights.  Some hours later, the shouting started again.  Back he went again with the axe, this time cornering the boys.  They had come back for the beers they had left behind and they trooped off sheepishly.  This is not intended as a funny anecdote – but has a feel of time and place.

This drawing is of Peter’s Stone, a local landmark which juts out of the hillside, in the dale near Tideswell where my mother lived.  The lowest image is of the field sketch, in watercolour and conte crayon.  I re-worked this many times, lifting and replacing the crayon and eventually drawing into it in graphite.  Photographing it in different light changes the image.

That was told to me as a story and so comes complete.   Much more recently, my memories are fragmented – made up of conversations at the time, not documented or rehearsed.  My mother was in Malawi in the early 1990s and the first democratic Malawian election was held then in May 1994.  The first South African post-apartheid presidential election was just 3 weeks before.  I think I have this right – she served as an observer for both elections.  This established her as an experienced election observer in difficult places.  So then she was again an observer, this time in post-conflict Balkans.  I thought she served in Serbia and Montenegro, but I cannot track that election.  Was it the Bosnian 1996 election?  What I recall her telling me was that people were returning to vote in areas from which they had been ethnically cleansed and those who had persecuted them stood their ground, armed.  Most observers were British ex-army mid-rank officers, pompous and ineffectual.  She was a short round grandmother and so commanded respect: she stood her ground.  The memory that troubled her was that the people who must surely have committed crimes, more than crimes perhaps, were affable and funny.  As she kept order and gave space for people to exercise their franchise, these men flirted with her and she liked them despite herself.

On the brink

Waking alone in a hotel room on Wednesday 9th November 2016 I am on the brink of discovering the outcome of the election, across the water, for US president.  This is one event which will surely affect us across the world.  The fear that America will choose as its leader an infantile vengeful narcissist overshadows the historic possibility that it might instead elect its first woman president.


Igor Mitoraj’s monumental sculptures are shaped to suggest their disintegration through the long passage of time.  Here, a vast bronze broken bust is positioned in a room adjacent to the bath house destroyed two millennia ago by the super-heated ash falling from Vesuvius.

This piece is named Sulla riva grande scripolata.  As best I can tell from online translation, this means “on the greater shore, cracked”.  Whatever the events of this day, there will come a time when our civilisation will be known by the cracked fragments found protruding from the pebbles and silt of the river bank.


Up and down the roads, I see giant, smug-blue bills being posted, supporting the Conservative Party candidate in the General Election. In this constituency, just 175 votes (0.03% of the electorate) separated the Liberal Democrat winner and Conservative runner-up in 2010. It is a top target for the Conservatives to win.

Tactical voting 3

Our house is divided between Labour (signified by red) and Green supporters (and one undeclared!).  It makes sense to us to support the Liberal Democrat candidate (signified by yellow).  As no party poster represents our views, I have made my own.   It would be fun to see more home-made election bills going up, especially (from my point of view) if they shared this rainbow of party colours.

Tactical voting 1a

Home-made poster now on display, much to the embarrassment of my family who think I am a bit mad.

The current predictions are that Labour and Conservative will each win around 270 seats, with 325 required for an overall majority.  The Liberal Democrats and Scottish Nationalists will hold the balance of power and, with a predicted solitary Green MP, could support a Labour minority government or left-leaning progressive coalition.  The more seats the Conservatives take, the more likely they are to lead a government, driven rightwards and towards authoritarianism by their extremist wing and partners.

To those who say we should always vote true to the party we support, I say this.  Let the parties take care of themselves.  As voters, we have to game the system against the odds, to get the government closest to what we want.

Tactical voting 2

This was my first attempt at a home made poster.  I like the idea of voter-driven reciprocity to challenge the system whereby parties take some seats for granted whereas a handful of marginal seats determine our futures. Using this website, I was really pleased to have had a promise of a Labour vote in Hammersmith from a Lib Dem supporter in exchange for my Lib Dem vote locally.  However, the vote swapping site seems to lack sufficient participants to be really viable.