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Sunday, 4 February 2007

Steve Long 2007

This year's SA4QE began for me when I got hold of a copy of The Trokeville Way. It arrived on Saturday 3rd Feb, and I noticed that Russ had quoted a couple of lines from AE Housman's poem A Shropshire Lad at the front of the book. Things immediately began to slip into place - I had been planning to visit Shropshire on the 4th Feb for some weeks, for another reason. I had seen it as an opportunity to 4Qate somewhere different, but the reference to Shropshire in the Hoban book suddenly made it significant.

On Sunday morning I was running in a hill race on the Long Mynd, a hill above Church Stretton. It was a dry and sunny day, although the ground was still frozen underfoot where it was shaded by the hills. The views were superb. The race over, we wanted to look around Ludlow, an historic old town with plenty of timbered buildings, cobbled passageways etc. We found a market there, a typical Sunday market with stalls of collectibles, bric-a-brac, old books, jewellery etc.

I was looking out for some Hoban symbolism, and saw for example a turtle brooch. Then rummaging at a bookstall I noticed a book by a Norma Ridley, called something like "Northumbrian Approach". The similarity between Ridley and Riddley, Russ's Mr Walker, was too good to miss. The book was in a box containing an assortment of hardbacks including some art history, e.g. on van Gogh, and appeared to be popular with the browsing public. I slipped my yellow paper between Ms Ridley's book and the next.

The yellow paper contained the following text:

He went to the window, looked at the frost-sparkling cars, thought of the seasons revolving inexorably while metal rusted and flesh decayed, thought of trees across the common, now bare, how in the summer dawns they swayed their leafy tops in the early breeze, indifferent to humans who slept and woke and slept again.

from Angelica's Grotto

The world is full of ghosts: not the kind who groan and clank their chains, not even people ghosts, but the ghosts of the touches of hands on what has been used, worn, handled. Might it be a kind of metaphysical DNA, so that from the touch of a woman's hand on a necklace, a man's hand on a knife, the whole person might be called into being? Indeed, has the whole person ever ceased to be, entirely?

from The Bat Tattoo

I like the first quotation because it makes a beautiful contrast between nature's cycles and the more superficial cycles of man. Hoban's words show how nature's cycles have such permanence and reliability in comparison to our own. They highlight how unreliable our actions, and how impermanent we are.

In the second quotation I like the idea that anything touched by us somehow retains a memory of us. Things like hand rails and old stone steps are obvious examples, but Hoban uses much lighter touches, contrasting male and female aspects. This sensitivity and closeness of observation is one of the reasons I like Russ's work so much.

On another stall at the market in Ludlow I happened on a copy of A Shropshire Lad, a 1948 reprint of an 1896 edition, and I bought it.

Best wishes,


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