Thursday, 7 January 2010

Snow and Cambridge

Wysing Arts Centre, on another (sunnier) day

No more than about 3" of snow first thing this morning but deep enough, crisp enough and even enough to make a smooth sweet layer. No cars either so a pure muffled silence. No strong wind to freeze and pound the ears and stab into the temple so the walk to the station over partly gritted surfaces was, if you shut your eyes, like walking on an imagined moon. Once at the station - arriving early - the odd gust pinched and bit in sharply but then, when it was still, the temperature immediately seemed to climb.

At Cambridge met artist Phyllida Barlow and we got in a taxi together to see artists Caroline Wright and Helen Rousseau for a project. It was at Caroline's studio at the Wysing Arts Centre, well outside Cambridge, working home to some 30 artists. Big high-ceilinged studios with tall windows.

The project is a kind of conversation starting with the visual art but moving into and out of writing, generating more visual work and writing, and maybe sound work too. It will come with its own blog and website, and will work with libraries and galleries. I was willing but ginger at the outset. Art writing often bores me solid and I fear there is a part of me that is capable of producing some of it, but having talked things through - and listened to something Phyllida wrote - it suddenly sounded substantial and exciting, and maybe there will be the core of a book in it too. Once I have the web address of the blog I'll put it here, and provide a permanent link in the sidebar.

Enough about that for now.

On the way back, the train was as crowded as I expected and the marking I had intended to do (and had done on the way to Cambridge) became impossible. Opposite me, a young bearded man was about to work on his laptop and glanced over at the papers I had brought out to mark. He asked me if they were UEA papers? He said he recognised them. He himself had been a student at UEA, finished last summer. History and Economics. Father a theologian - Hebrew and Old Testament, just taken up a position at Perth, Australia. Young man was at boarding schools in Indonesia and Malaysia. Off to Vancouver to work and see his girlfriend, then an MA and then, possibly, to do field work in some good cause in Africa.

That's pretty well the world covered in one conversation. Never asked each other's names, will probably never meet again. Talked all the way to W, me asking most of the questions until I feared I must sound as though I were quizzing him. But he was happy to talk. Like most Brits he himself does not ask questions. Nobody here does which explains why English conversation can be slow. Manners. Lack of curiosity. Maybe even a certain dullness sometimes. This wasn't dull. Better than cramped marking.

Walking back from the station was colder than walking there. Air enters the mouth like small blocks of ice. The streets almost deserted. A police car with flashing light was blocking the end of our street. Couldn't see why, but something must have happened further down. We shall find out.


Lucy said...

I wish I had been in the seat behind listening.

It's true abut the English and questions, but some people know how to ask the right ones. Cautiously I'd say perhaps women are a little less inhibiited than men about it. Others feel they need to overcome the aversion, but overdo it, and are intrusive and clumsy... but probably not as much as others fear to be.

George S said...

A nice boy with a long way to go but with a fund of good will, Lucy.

In my experience women are less inhibited with other women then men with men. I have only been talked to by drunken women on late night trains or very elderly women.

I myself feel a little inhibited from talking to strange women on a train unless they're quite old. It occasionally happens but I always wonder, what if they think it's an attempted pick-up. At any rate it might seem uneasy or unwelcome. So I leave it and smile if our eyes meet then look down again.

With men there's more likely to be a conversation in the North of England than in the South. But I've had a few good train talks over the years, nearly always with me asking the questions or moving the conversation on. Privacy and the English., I think.

Rachel Phillips said...

It's manners I like to think. I always talk to people on trains and planes and ask lots of questions and enjoy a good conversation, and then get told off by my friends who find me embarrassing. I enjoy it. I am Norfolk through and through but maybe I am not typical of the breed.

Rachel Phillips said...

I am back. I just thought about it and remembered, of course, all my family talk to people on trains and planes and my partner talks to everybody everywhere and we are all Norfolk born and bred. My partner has such a broad Norfolk accent that few understand him but that is another story. How stupid of me to forget this when I made the first comment. So Norfolk people do talk, it is just all the rest who dont.

George S said...

Ignore your friends, Dubois. Keep up the good work. Why shouldn't human beings talk to each other if they feel like it? If they don't want to talk they can smile and politely excuse themselves. I don't always feel like talking myself. It is manners, of course but I still don't know enough about Norfolk manners to be sure how these things go in such passing acquaintanceships. Come to think of it, I do believe it has been more friendly in Norfolk than most places.