steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Long Home

I first heard of Richard Long's work when I visited an exhibition of it in Boston's cochlear Guggenheim museum, circa 1992. What I hadn't realized until a few days ago - shame on me! - is that he's a Bristol boy and has lived in this area pretty much all his life, a fact now being celebrated in an exhibition at the Arnolfini. I intend to go to that at some point, but today I took advantage of the good weather to walk to the "offsite commission" on Clifton Downs, called "Boyhood Line".

The Downs cover quite a large area, and although I knew it was somewhere near Ladies' Mile I wandered for quite a while without spotting it. I wandered so far, in fact, scanning the ground the while, that I began to wonder whether the installation was a myth, or rather a device to make jaundiced art lovers look anew at the world around them, a bit like Granny Weatherwax's "school for magic" in The Wee Free Men, which is nothing but the world itself. In that spirit, I took a couple of pictures of the lines of stone and concrete that had been laid along the roadside to discourage cars from encroaching onto the grass.


I made sure when my children were young to tell them what it meant when they saw metal posts sawn off in this fashion - that it was a relic of the wartime requirement for metal, which saw thousands of fences and gates sacrificed to the defeat of Nazism. Such wayside archaeology always pleases me, but I do wonder what office this one served when it was in its prime - and has it been moved since, to take up its second career as a bollard?

I wandered so far that I found myself at the edge of the Avon Gorge, which was taped off, with ambulances, fire engines, police cars and even an ice cream van all in attendance. A group of three firefighters, clad in waderish boots, was standing nearby in a Norn-ish huddle.

"What means this tape?" I asked the nearest one.
"There's been an incident. We cannot tell."
"Belike a falling has befallen here?"
"It may be so; we must not speak of it."

Sadly this is one of Bristol's most popular suicide spots, though its being a sunny afternoon with plenty of people about may suggest an accident. I can find nothing on the local news, though, so hopefully it was neither and the firefighters were being overdramatic.

Walking back on the other side of the road I finally found "Boyhood Line", which runs along around 200 metres of one of those natural tracks that humans (being genetically 95% sheep) tend to make on even the most featureless landscapes. I remember reading in Robert MacFarlane that these unofficial paths are called "desire lines", which would be an excellent title for a small volume of landscape-infused poetry. In any case, it was striking how at different points the limestone rocks which Long had brought to the site (in a wheelbarrow, apparently) sat proud on the land's surface, or else had begun to be absorbed into it, in the month or so since they were laid.

I sought, and soon discovered, the three headstones on the slope next the moor: the middle one grey, and half buried in the heath; Edgar Linton’s only harmonized by the turf and moss creeping up its foot; Heathcliff’s still bare.


The afternoon was growing hot. Beyond Brontë there is, of course, the Preacher:

Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets.

So I went to drink coffee, read Maggot Moon and learn how to express uncertainty in Japanese (かもしれません, apparently). When I came out of the café there was yet another ambulance parked outside. Only this one seemed rather Symbolic of Britain's Divided Soul, given that it was emblazoned in English written the right way round, and Welsh in mirror writing. So I took a picture of that, too.


And came home feeling a little melancholy.
Tags: bristol, nippon notes, real life
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