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Sunday, August 18, 2013


Richard Dadd: Caravan Halted By The Sea Shore (1843)

Pounding up the packed M5 yesterday, I noticed that caravans are like a red rag to a bull for the rest of us drivers, even if they're doing a good speed. But I also used one or two in the middle lane as markers to see if staying in the outside lane is better than switching to whichever queue seems to be making better progress; it is.

And as I drove, I wondered whether there is a Best Place. Cornwall and Devon are so lovely, so do the people who live there go elsewhere on their holidays, and if so, why and where? You could do an experiment, perhaps using information from travel agents: find out where the majority in one location take their breaks, then go to that place and see where the locals take theirs, and so on. Would you end up somewhere that is perfect, or simply so poor that the natives don't go abroad? Would you end up back where you started? Would the trek never end?

Perhaps it is not so much about venturing into the unknown, as escape from the known. Gertrude Stein: "What was the use of my having come from Oakland it was not natural to have come from there yes write about it if I like or anything if I like but not there, there is no there there."

Richard Dadd: Artist's Halt In The Desert By Moonlight

Arabs - the Bedouin kind - have long caught the British imagination. Like birds, they seem free. Some of the happiest-looking photographs of the SAS are taken when they're wearing their shemaghs, and the first couple of lines of the following quote from James Elroy Flecker's "Hassan" appear on the memorial Clock Tower at 22 SAS' Stirling Lines base in Hereford:

We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go
          Always a little further; it may be
        Beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow
          Across that angry or that glimmering sea,
        White on a throne or guarded in a cave
          There lies a prophet who can understand
        Why men were born: but surely we are brave,
          Who take the Golden Road to Samarkand.

I suspect that Flecker originally wrote the scene as a stand-alone tribute to the heart's desire for the journey without end or final purpose, like Tennyson's Ulysses, and only afterwards turned it into a drama (all the rest is in prose).

And so, with regret, passing Gormley's awful Willow Man at Bridgwater (now thankfully dwarfed by the massive, gaudy-green decorated shed of the Morrisons depot) we took the Golden Road back to Birmingham, intending to return to the West Country as soon as possible.

CORRECTION: Not Gormley - Serena de la Hey. Apologies to both.

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A K Haart said...

I recently came across a volume of Flecker's verse in a Somerset bookshop, but it was a first edition and rather expensive.

Elby the Beserk said...

The willow camel that preceded the willow man was much better. I think some eejit burnt it down, but it was there for some years to entertain the kids as we drove down to Cornwall from Bristol.

Best places? Well, my parents drove down with us kids from Cheshire to Cornwall every August, and my mum's parents drove her and her brother down most years between the wars. So Cornwall for my family is definitely a best place; can't afford to live there tho' - but rural Somerset is very fine and very affordable if you look around, and compared with neighbouring Dorset, Devon & Wilts. So Somerset is definitely a best place for me.

Sackerson said...

AKH: probably worth it, though.

Elby: thanks for visiting. Yet Cornwall is full of hard-up people:

Still, there are non-financial compensations if you haven't a family to bring up.