May 23rd, 2013


Lakenheath Revisited

In Stories From The Dark Earth Julian Richards has been revisiting some of the digs he featured in the 1990s archaeology programme Meet the Ancestors. Science has advanced in the last decade or so and now all sorts of additional information can be gleaned from the findings (which is a great argument for not reburying old bones but keeping them reverently in hat boxes.) Last night he was looking at the Anglo-Saxons.

When archaeologists first dug up a man who had been buried with his horse in Lakenheath, Suffolk- on what was then a USAF base- all they could say with certainty was that he was a warrior. Now we know he came very early in the Anglo-Saxon time-line but was born locally,  that he was related to a number of the people buried near him and that his was almost certainly the foundation burial about which three cemeteries grew.  Also they've reconstructed his horse's bridle; it was a fancy piece of work with dangly bits.

As it happens he features in a poem I wrote after watching Julian's original show. He's an old friend and it's good to know him better.


            Under Number One Baseball field
            The Saxons slumber. Sand devours
            But chalk preserves their skeletons.
            Next to the archer lie his bow
            With six sharp arrows in a quiver.
            Fear him, grievous underworld creatures!
            Fear the knight with sword and shield
            And bridled war-horse laid beside him!
            Graves of children cluster round him,
            Once and always their defender...

            Tock- a baseball sails the sky
            That's scored with wakes of flying ships,
            And rolls to rest beneath the poplars.

Sons Of Hogarth

Keith and I were looking at Manchester's collection of 20th century British art. We weren't  impressed. Here's Vanessa Bell trying to be Cezanne and here- on a later wall- is Vanessa Bell trying to be Matisse. Here's Ben Nicholson trying to be Braque and here's someone whose name I forget trying to be Dali. A theme emerges. Even Paul Nash- an artist capable of great work- spends a lot of his time giving us Cezanne's take on the English countryside. I don't hate these paintings- I'd be happy to hang most of them over my fireplace- but they're imitative and second-rate. The only artists who emerge as remarkable are the ones who don't give a damn about riding the European art history train: Spencer, for instance and Burra and Lowry-  sons of Hogarth all three- bloody-minded, obsessive and in love with the grotesque.

Later we sat in front of Ford Madox Brown's "Work". Keith doesn't like it but I think it's wonderful so I tried to convert him. Brown is another Son of Hogarth.  He's doing the great 19th century novel in paint. His people are goblins. The weird, flattened perspective of the foreground- as if viewed through a telephoto lens- threatens to tip Victorian Hampstead into your lap.