Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The return of the guest

Thanks to those of you who supported my call for another gem from my brother, Ron. It had the desired effect and, as you’ll see when you read it, it brings a much-needed breath of culture to this fetid spot. (As a bonus, and quite unsolicited, it also does a bit of PR for The Figurehead.) Ladies and Gentlemen, give it up for (I believe that’s the current terminology) the inimitable Ron Kirton.

I’m taking a break from reading “The Figurehead” for two reasons:
Firstly, I am flattered by my brother’s thought that another blog entry from me will raise his profile but, chiefly, it was Scary’s directness in her posting of July 25th which led me to take the bait. The last time my name was uttered more than once by a woman was in 1963, when The Crystals sang it in their hit, “Da doo Ron Ron” (although, bizarrely, the object of their Crystalline desire was called Bill.)

“I met him on a Monday and my heart stood still,
Da doo Ron Ron Ron, da doo Ron Ron.
Somebody told me that his name was Bill,
Da doo Ron Ron Ron, da doo Ron Ron.”

But that’s as cute as this piece is going to get because I’m going to break an unwritten rule of this blog and have a moan.

Earlier this year I read an article in The Sunday Times about “a team of art sleuths” who had set out “…to crack a string of historical conundrums posed by the works of Shakespeare, Chaucer and Van Gogh.” The sleuths were about to present their findings to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Diego. (I believe the findings were also published in an issue of “Sky and Telescope” magazine). I’ll give you a flavour.

“A mysterious flood cited by the Franklin in The Canterbury Tales has been linked to a freak tide in Brittany on December 19th, 1340.”
These words from Hamlet – the “same star that’s westward of the pole”- refer to the Tycho star, or supernova, of 1572.

So far, so what, you ask. Well, instead of being enlightened, I’m angry when I learn that these detectives have pinpointed the exact time and day on which Van Gogh painted his “Moonrise.” (July 13th 1889, at 9.08pm local time, since you ask). The number of experts involved and the materials and methods they used: lunar cycles, Van Gogh’s letters, computer calculations, aerial photographs, weather charts, etc, are bewildering, though not as bewildering (to me) as the question hanging over their researches, namely, WHY?

I guess one simple answer is, “Because they can”, and I’m willing to accept that, in the name of science, not everything is going to be plain for ordinary mortals like me. But how does it benefit me to know that the blood-red sky in Munch’s “Scream” has nothing to do with the artist’s state of mind or the mania he was seeking to convey, but more to do with the volcanic dust thrown up after the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883? My frustration comes to a head, but then is gradually eased, when I read of one sleuth’s current project, “…to calculate the times at which Monet painted Waterloo Bridge and Charing Cross bridge from the Savoy Hotel in 1900-01.” And there it is, veiled by my naivety: my own little clue. You can just see their funding application; “…we envisage our researches will necessitate detailed observations from the Savoy, possibly taking a number of weeks.” And I bet it was nice down in the south of France, searching for that Moonrise, in July. Advancement of Science? This is no less than the American Association for the Advancement of Scientists.

(I mentioned the article to my friend Sunderland George, something of a scientist himself, who thought that he might approach the same funding agency to support his own vital research into why the tassles sometimes fall off the nipples of exotic dancers.)

I, meanwhile, shall return to “The Figurehead” and wonder at my brother’s research which helps him place a “middle adze” in the hands of a craftsman and a “fichu” around the neck of a lady, helping me to live in the book; far more honest.


  1. It has to do, probably, with the constant wish to be in control. If you know all the facts, reality can't cause unpleasant surprises anymore. Something like that.
    I see similarities with how tragedies are being discussed in the media. For instance the tragedy with the parade in Germany. If the mayor can be blamed, or the organisation committee, we know what caused it so it won't happen again. It's magical thinking, focussing on causes and consequences without being interested in all the other relevant aspects.

    Anyway, as for the song. Don't you have a relative called Bob? Why isn't he in the song? Or was he bob bob bobbing along?

  2. Ron, I think Anneke knows far too much about our family. Be careful what you reveal.

  3. It is a conundrum. With art, it is socially acceptable nowadays to reference deep phsychological pathologies when attempting to "explain" an artist's state of mind at a particular time and place. Over wine and dim sum, it makes for sophisticated chatter and satisfying one-upsmanship. What a shame that a simple scientific explanation could disrupt that pseudo-intellectual self-referential mindset with the fact that the artist in question may have been an astute observer of his natural environment, a recorder of events, taking a snapshot in time. Neither explanation satisfies on its own merit, and most likely neither or both fully "explain" the why. Only the artist knows that and generally we wait too long to ask those pertinent questions. I say, let art be appreciated however you wish.

  4. You folks are talking way over my head...

    Bill, I like "fetid."

    Ron, isn't it great that a song includes references to both you AND your brother?

  5. As an ex-academic, I have to admit that SOME (NB, only some) 'research' (NB the quotation marks) says more about the people conducting it than the subjects they're dealing with. I agree with Diane that many parts of Academia are enclosed, self-referential worlds which have only a tenuous link with the one the rest of us inhabit.
    Another fashion not so long ago was almost to dismiss the artist/writer/musician from the context altogether and insist that the work should be analysed/appreciated on its own merits with no reference to the creator's intentions, etc. In some ways, that's almost as bad. All art, even the trivial stuff, is an interplay between inner and outer worlds. It's fun to analyse it, but not when that kills the pleasure it gives. It's like trying to explain a fly.

    Linda, I'm glad 'fetid' touched a nerve - it's one of those words that manages to make what it's describing sound even worse than it is.

  6. Yes, Linda, it has got a bit cerebral, and I'm tempted to observe that the estimable DragonLady and Bill have got the issue nicely bookended and leave it there, particularly as I don't have the wherewithal to contribute. Anneke's clever 'Bob Bob...' deserves a response though. Since she clearly knows I have a brother named Bob, and I didn't tell her, it follows that Bill did, so why is he warning me to keep schtumm? Does the plotting and scheming he does in his writing leak across into proper-life sometimes or is he just paranoid?

  7. I don't want to disturb a happy and peaceful family, dear friends, so I'll give you a hint. Neither of you told me. Bill, think as a crime writer and you'll find out how I learned about your other brother.

  8. Goodness, you brothers are so matched intellectually! It's amazing to stand off and watch. Thanks for the peek into your familial deliberations.

  9. Oh yes, Marley, every night when we were little, Ron, myself and the rest (3 sisters and Bob) would huddle together in the cardboard box which served as a home, chewing on pieces of wood to ease the hunger pangs and discussing Kant's Critique of Pure Reason.

    Elementary, my dear Anneke. There seem to be two options:
    1. You travelled to Plymouth, made a thorough search of the registry of births and deaths from 1939 to the present and unearthed Bob by a process of elimination; or
    2. You saw the dedication in The Figurehead and jumped to the conclusion that the Bob mentioned there was a brother. I suppose it didn't occur to you that he might instead be a gay dalliance of mine. You should be more circumspect with your conclusions.

  10. The truth is often very dull Bill. Every time I open your Facebook page, all these people, your loyal facebook friends, are smiling to me from their photographs. That's were I saw a picture of a man called Bob Kirton: family resemblance, about the same age. I figured he was either your brother or your cousin. That's why I talked about a 'relative'.

    Now I wonder whether your other brother and three sisters are willing to write guest posts (and, even better, flash fiction stories for Rammenas)? Wouldn't that be fun for all of us?

  11. I thought my solutions to the Bob mystery were better (but I was wrong). In fact, my three sisters are driving around on holiday at the moment and they'll be arriving here on Saturday to spend a few days with us. I'll put your proposal to them. I agree that it's a great idea but I suspect I can predict their answer. Nevertheless, I'll ask.

  12. You might be able to trick them into writing a few alphabet stories. I'll post a Kirton alphabet special then.
    No matter what their answer will be, give them my kind regards!

  13. They're great game players (quizzes, trivial pursuit, Articulate - games like that) so the alphabet story might be a challenge for them. I'll try to get them to work together to produce one. For part of one of the evenings they're here, I'm going to try to get them to do the CSI Aberdeen crime-solving exercise that I wrote for that charity a few months back. Well, it'll make a change from discussing Kant's Critique of Pure Reason with them.

  14. Sounds like you're are going to have a good time!
    You can show them a great example, written by Ron. I just posted it: http://www.rammenas.nl
    Also for Ron's other fans here. And you'll understand how honoured I feel by this contribution.

  15. Ron, when your friend is writing up his research on the effects of combined centrifugal force and gravitation on tassles, I hope he will mention my work published in the British Medical Journal in 1974 on Guitar Nipple. (Google it!)....

  16. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1613055/pdf/brmedj01983-0059e.pdf

  17. Valuable data Doc. This also explains why Joan Baez is a much better guitarist than Dolly Parton.

  18. Excellent. My work is done. I have become a facilitator. Through my brother, the tone has been raised, the researchers have gathered and the blog has become a haven for arcane, nay esoteric, ratiocinations. Add to that the citing of Dolly Parton, with special reference to her assets, and all human life is here. It's truly humbling.