The Windermere Bums

Words and Pictures by Joshua Cialis & Reece Merrifield

“The closer you get to real matter, rock air fire and wood, boy, the more spiritual the world is.”
― Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

Inspired by Jack Kerouac’s novel the, Dharma Bums, Foxtrot Uniform’s Joshua and Reece travelled to the Lake District to walk Lake Windermere; here is the account of their trip:
This was a literary adventure, as well as an adventure into nature, we explored Wordsworth’s sublime landscapes and the nature that inspired Beatrix Potter’s children’s stories, while also channelling Ray Smith’s – Kerouac’s Dharma narrator – wild zen outlook. In order to channel Kerouac’s novel we travelled light and carried only what we needed: a blanket, bottle of water, tarpaulin, loaf of bread and cheese, and for warmth in the cooler night a bottle of Port.
After an early train journey from Chester, we caught a bus to the edge of the lake and started our walk. Catching the ferry from Bowness to Claife and in true Kerouac style spent all our money on a great breakfast at the Café in the Courtyard. Our walk around the Lake bought up lots of haiku including:
Babbling brook –
My feet
Are wet
(by J.C.)

Skimming stones
Across the lake –
I sink
(by J. C.)

Gaggle of geese
Seek
The next adventure
(by R. M.)

After 16 miles we arrived back at Bowness to catch a ferry again to Claife lookout where we had decided to sleep overlooking the lake. As the sun set we ate our bread and cheese while drinking our Port. It was as the sun got to its lowest point that we began writing Exquisite Corpse poems (for those who don’t know exquisite corpse poems are a surrealist experimental writing exercise which involves passing a piece of paper between two or more people blindly). The following are a couple of poems written by the both of us while looking out over the lake:
Exquisite Corpse from Claife Lookout pt. 1 (by J. C. & R. M.)
Two lights attract my sight
reflected on dark crystal waters.

The shallow water tempts me further
The tales this water might tell:

The boat behind takes centre stage
A goose’s honk and birdsong in the silence.

A warmth emanates amongst the crag
Seldom people pass in this kind dark.

Ripples call out to hush the geese
The light in my eye is fading.

Claife Lookout pt. 2 (by J. C. & R. M.)

Tell me lies about the city
and find me the truth in tarpaulin.

Where is it that we’re going?
Subliminal hill overwhelmed by black cloud.

Silence but the goose’s honk
lost in the low Bray camping ground.

Lights reflect on an evening slumber
although we may see no stars tonight.

The ferry will guide us home tomorrow –

Tell me lies about city life: give me nature.

 

Poverty: A Real Fantasy?

Article by Reece David Merrifield; Photograph by the Salvation Army – ‘Coffin Beds’ at a Salvation Army Shelter in London

In Science Fiction novels and films, there always contains an element of society that is fictionalised and brought into a ‘safe space’; e.g. the fear of technological advancement in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? or media monopolisation in Fahrenheit 451. We may come away from these SF’s with an initial attitude to challenge these aspects in our reality. Nevertheless, this rarely lasts for a period long enough to make a real impact and, because they are in said ‘safe space’, these fears seem too far away to be worried about them in the first place. Interestingly, when faced with realist texts that talk about the absolute poverty rife in our lives, even today, it seems we react in the exact same way.

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell is a perfect example of this. I recently read this novel and was simultaneously appalled yet intrigued by its content. Bearing in mind he was writing about his experiences in the late twenties/early thirties, the sort of poverty he lived through is still experienced by millions around the world at this present moment. In-fact, you could go as far as to say Orwell’s ‘poverty’ was almost luxurious: he always managed to have money in his pocket and worked most of the time as well. Barring this, a quite harrowing aspect is his analysis ‘of intelligent, cultivated people’. He makes the valid point that these people can go as far as understanding a poor man’s situation through ‘ a hundred essays’, but they never mix with such people and, in doing so, can ‘enjoy harrowing [themselves] with the thought of its unpleasantness’ and not go to the lengths to change things because it is comfortable for them. It becomes a borderline fiction, a dystopia on the doorstep, but never really crosses the line into reality.

Bringing it back into conventional terms, consider this essay: it would be read (I presume) by liberal people far from the poverty line assuming they have in possession a means to access the internet and, from there, the ability to read, a place of shelter, and a way of feeding their bellies. I will admit, I am one of these people and have never been close to experiencing any kind of poverty. Orwell sums this up when he states: ‘For what do the majority of educated people know about poverty?’. I knew very little up till now, and still have a long way to go.

Another reference which inspired this mini-essay is an article titled ‘The Literature of Poverty, The Poverty of Literature Classes’ by John Marsh. Although I find the essay can be slightly pessimistic, he brings up the flaws of an educational system (both British and American) which teaches children how to critically evaluate a text without considering what they are being critical about. Do most of them really care whether they are learning about the Brave New World from Huxley’s imagination or Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, a tale rooted in the dust-bowl reality of the Great Depression, as long as they are able to make the grade? The words are there, so why should it matter what they talk about, poverty or not, as long as they can be analysed sufficiently? The two texts lie on opposite ends of the spectrum in relation to genre, yet in the middle of the spectrum lies those ‘intelligent’ people who are so distant from both that they become, in effect, dystopian fantasies. The ability to understand the themes may be there, but in practical terms those themes are alien and difficult to empathise with. I may be stretching the point to its limit, but it is certainly plausible.

Poverty is certainly out there, yet we treat it like a science fiction for a number of reasons: greed, ignorance, a lack of understanding and a feeling of inevitability, amongst many others. To end, I leave you with a poem in Louis Aragon’s Paris Peasant, titled ‘The Realities’, as a reminder of the blur between fantasy and reality:

Once upon a time there was a reality
With her own flock of sheep in real wool
And as the king’s son came passing by
The sheep bleated Baaah! how pretty she is
The re the re the reality

Once upon a time there was a reality
Who never could get to sleep at night
And so her fairy godmother
Really took her by the hand
The re the re the reality

Once upon a time there was an old king
Who got very bored as he sat on his throne
His cloak slipped off into the evening
So then they gave him for a queen
The re the re the reality

Coda: ity ity the rea
Ity ity the reality
The rea the rea
Ty ty The rea
Li
Ty The reality
Once upon a time there was the reality

 

References:

George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London (Penguin Classics, 2001)
Louis Aragon’s Paris Peasant (Picador Classics, 1987)
John Marsh’s ‘The Literature of Poverty, The Poverty of Literature Classes’ (College English Online, 2011)

Growing Up 4

Words and pictures by Holly Royle

The final instalment of our growing up series. Holly Royle’s poem ‘Doors’

Holly’s introduction: as I travel and experience living away from home I come to wonder, what is home? Is it the building or the happy memories that make it? Do I define home as my house, country or Earth? Oh how I wonder where will the next place be that I call home.

Doors
As I walk through the front door of my childhood home, the memories flood back.
Each room holds echoes of my former self.
I wonder if my younger self could see me now, what would she think?
Would she laugh or cry? Like or fear her future self? Would I be a mere stranger at the door to her home?
My childhood was happy, for which I am eternally grateful, of course I only see now things I wish I had understood then. Yet, that is life.
I wonder… how much more will I change? Will I like my future self? Or will she be another stranger at my door?

A Victorian Obsession

Words and Pictures by Holly Royle

The Victorian obsession with death is no secret and has been explored through literature, from Wuthering Heights, Dickens and Eliot to name but a few.
This obsession was heavily influenced by Queen Victoria. Following the death of Prince Albert, she spent the rest of her life dressing in mourning garments.
It was common practice at this time to keep locks of hair of a deceased loved one, which was often made into jewellery. Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights shows the significance of keeping locks of hair in a different practice, as Catherine is buried with a lock of Heathcliff’s and Edgar’s hair. Mourning jewellery made with Whitby Jet was another fashionable trend, also through the influence of Queen Victoria.
Post mortem photographs were not unusual. Families often could not afford the luxury of photos but would go to the expense at the deaths of loved ones, particularly unexpected deaths of children. Some photographs would be purely of deceased and others were sometimes with the family posing around the deceased.
The Victorian obsession with death is unsurprising considering the high mortality rates of the period.

In our modern day lives the technology exists to enable and prolong life which has resulted in most people being removed from death. However, this distancing appears to have removed an understanding of death and an increase in fear of the unknown.

Growing Up

Words by Jade W., Picture by Ruhi Cialis

The third instalment of our Growing Up series is here. This week features Jade’s poem ‘Blood of the Moon’:

Blood of the Moon

A lake stretches before me as
I bathe my skin in the blood
of the moon.

I breathe in the cold starlight,
my ribs aching from
the bruises blooming
beneath my skin.

A black cat slinks around
my feet, it’s eyes glowing
in the collapsing night.

I stare into the dark,
immeasurable waters of the future
as the bloodied pomegranate seeds
drip from my mouth.

 

 

Personal Libraries

Words by Jade Hainsworth-Walsh. Picture by Joshua Cialis

‘A bookshelf is as particular to its owner as are his or her clothes; a personality is stamped on a library just as a shoe is shaped by the foot.’  – Alan Bennett

As an avid reader and book collector, I am particularly interested in other people’s book collections. How are the books kept? Where are they kept? What kinds of books? How many books? Very true to the quote from Alan Bennett, I believe that the books people buy and read are very unique to them as a person. In relation to this, I am also fascinated with looking at famous author’s book collections, and how many books they have. I decided to do some research and look into what books particular authors had, and how many they had collected.

Here is a list of examples:
Ernest Hemmingway: 7,418 books
Lewis Carol: 2,600 books
Graham Greene: 2,522 books
William Butler Yeats: 2,284 books
James Joyce: 1,400+ books
Sylvia Plath: 1,001 books
Bram Stoker: 810+ books
Anne Sexton: 766 books

To acquire this information, I used a section of the website ‘Library Thing’ called Legacy Libraries. The Legacy Library is a source where famous historical people’s books are catalogued, and are there for public viewing. You can find many more different authors’ book collections here on their website:
http://www.librarything.com/legacylibraries

I looked at our own personal book collections here at Foxtrot Uniform.
Foxtrot Uniform’s Libraries:
Joshua: 250 (approx.)
Jade: 300 (approx.)
Reece: 200 (approx.)
Holly: 200 books (approx.)
In comparison to the other list, it looks like we have many more books to buy! Let us know how many books your personal library has in the comments.

Growing up

In the second instalment of our growing-up series, this is Joshua Cialis’ poem ‘Growing Up with Waves and Words’:

Growing Up with Waves and Words

The daily waters ebb and flow, beatifies you and I –
Saint and sinner alike.
And I, now in my twentieth summer – with sun kissed skin
Beatified daily and encrusted with salted diamonds –
Stand on the cliff edge watching a kingdom of sand
Float past on the cusp of a wave.

While in evening slumber some Canadian moans –
His helmet shining in the sun – while the orange light
Dances on walls papered with books –
A plethora of colours with beauty – and learned eyes
Stare upon them like treasure in the dragon’s jaw.

But all for what? To gain a knowledge unmatched
In outside light? Or fill an evening’s slumber with something
Less futile than sleep?
But to sleep is to keep a hundred secrets
That’ll later wash out in the waves.

 

Words by Joshua Cialis. Picture by Fiona Cialis

The Sublime? – Adventures in Consumerist Nature

Edmund Burke once defined the sublime as ‘Astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. In this case the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other.’[1] However, this was at a time when Britons generally only explored the British Isles -definitely only Europe. The average Briton had no access to the wonders of the world, and definitely no access to the internet with which they could search pictures of these wonders. Therefore, the threshold for what was sublime was pretty low; the Lake and Peak Districts are both impressive but are, by no-means as awe inspiring as the Himalayas or even the Alps.

It is our access – either through airplane travel or internet usage – that has meant that we no longer perceive so many of Britain’s natural sights to be classed as sublime. Vistas lose their sublime power when one has seen something far greater; the grassy Peaks of the English north are nothing but hills when viewed against the sprawling ragged Alps. Yet, England’s wonders still manage to pull in thousands of tourists each year. It is this too which ruins the sublime nature of England’s sights. With the paths clogged up by people, and giftshops dotted along the way to a sight of natural beauty the ruggedness and sublimity of the view is lost. I thought this on a recent trip to Cornwall; visiting Lizard Point the view which should’ve been wondrous and awe inspiring was instead a short meander down the path, past several gift shops before fighting through a crowd of selfie-stick waving tourists to see the rocks. Which one couldn’t marvel at due to the throng of people trying to get a view. We had hiked a whole morning to Lizard Point so anticipation grew as we snaked along the cliff path. However, most visitors had parked in the car park 2 minutes from the southern point and already seen a picture of the point in the gift shops before even getting there.

It is great that so many people get the opportunity to see our great sights but it does take away from the sublimity and beauty of our great countryside. Sights which once would be described as ‘one that feeds upon infinity,/ That is exalted by an under-presence,/ The sense of God, or whatso’er is dim/ or vast in its own being’ (1805 Prelude, Wordsworth, ll. 70-73) is now not so God filled or full of awe due to the crowds of people surrounding the view. Respect our sights of natural beauty and enjoy them but don’t clog them.

[1] Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, ed. James T. Boulton (Paris: University of Notre Dame Press, 1993) P.58
Pictures and words by Joshua Cialis

 

Growing Up

Over the next four weeks, the founders of Foxtrot Uniform will be writing poems based on the topic ‘Growing Up’.

This week’s poem is by Reece David Merrifield:

Two Weeks

I rode my red and yellow bicycle
for two weeks before it was stolen.

In those two weeks we captured a photograph
that still hangs amongst a crowd of cousins
of a child with a poor man’s fringe
blissfully unaware of times ahead.

In those two weeks I lived on a top floor
flat, where all the doors were made out of
pasta shells which were my favourite dish
until I got my feet tangled on them and I fell
down the carpet-less stairs. When my mother
thought we had guests she found me crumpled up
like post that shouldn’t have fit through the letterbox.

In those two weeks a lightning strike ripped
through the ceiling and only my eyes were free
from being paralysed as I laid there in a struggle to absorb
the sound of a baby girl’s cries
the taste of unacknowledged fear
the smell of parental trepidation
the touch of cold metal protecting my bones
all within a single sense of baby blue sight.

In those two weeks a stranger saved me
from drowning in a small foreign pool

Married my mother in a chapel
steeped in romance and CCTV

Taught me my first swearword
by locking the fucking bedroom door

​​​​​​​Made me laugh for the first time
When he grabbed my neck and threatened to clean my mouth out with the dishwasher.

If I look back on those two weeks
that probably weren’t two weeks
in two weeks time, will it matter then
if I still think of it as two weeks
as long as the memories are still there?