Wenlock Edge - wish we were there

Mar 98
Oils on board
61cm (24") x 46cm (18")

Coat collar high, envied scarf nestling your skin,
Unguarded for once, you freely smile,
For brief moments tenterhooks are loosened.

In the chilled stilled midwinter air
A tower stands out from the Edge,
Bold against furnace hued sunset sky.

In the proud tower you do not see me;
Magpie minded you pick and hoard
A pleasing future treat for you to give.

Canvas stretched, resonance painted - postcard stamped!
In mind and paint I ape these moments, this place;
Endlessly resolute, endorsing a circumstance.

(Words - August, 2004)

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For many years I have been in the habit of saying to myself in a lazy way that I blame it all on Julie Christie.

I had seen her as Lara in Doctor Zhivago, as Bathsheba in Far from the Madding Crowd, and most intoxicatingly - or perhaps that should be toxically, as Liz in Billy Liar.

So it was that when my very own 'Liz of Billy Liar' walked into my life I was, as the saying goes, wide open.

Had I seen Julie Christie as Diana in Darling and therefore been forewarned it might have been very different. That was a film which had me nodding knowingly when I saw it years later.

I was sitting, working, when this real life 'Liz out of Billy Liar' literally walked up to me, and launched into a conversation which ran on for - if I remember it correctly - eight hours. An instant connection - we got on like a house on fire. The next day as I tried to think of a pretext to approach the girl she approached me with a pretext of her own.

I should say here that to call her 'the girl' is a touch misleading - back then she was a little older than I was, and I'm inclined to believe that all these years later she is still the senior of the two of us. In any event from now on I will refer to her as The Third Entity.

Those first meetings were the high point.

To indulge in the stock-in-trade of the inventive artist, allusion and metaphor, there was another high point, some 87 days later. At the time of year usually the coldest in the northern hemisphere we stood side by side a little before sunset high on Wenlock Edge.

Geographers and geologists will know there is a connection between Wenlock and the Craven Fault. Long before we got to Wenlock Edge we had both made a mistake. It was the same mistake, save only that we made the mistake in opposite directions - in that regard we were in my opinion both at fault.

I believed everything she told me, and then added a glaze of wishful thinking, thereby creating The Third Entity. She believed not a single word I ever spoke.

I knew why I sought her company - I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. I never did know why she sought out my company. I'm inclined to think she may have seen me as a reliable Rottweiler who would effortlessly repel unwanted pesterers. However that may be, the reality is that as often as not she made me feel more like a neutered poodle.

More or less half way between the two high points there had been the evening we sat side by side at the cinema watching Doctor Zhivago. If there were any justice in the world then in this incipient Billy Liar-ish saga The third Entity would have seen me as a strong Zhivago - I had the greatcoat, I was dressed for the part after all. In all probability she saw me - if at all - as a pale shadow of Pavel Antipov, which takes us neatly, via Tom Courtenay, back to Billy Liar and the intoxicating Third Entity.

As we stood on the Edge on the 87th day it delighted me to see her smiling with undisguised pleasure at the glory of the approaching sunset - the Sun, to the south-west, was almost in line with the Edge itself. I noted the impressive ruggedness of a tower against the brilliant light.

In the painting the stylised tower serves one purpose. In the writing it serves an entirely different purpose.

The Wenlock Edge episode is a subject matter I've returned to from time to time. I've tried to find the tower on various maps, this in the process of compiling source images and ideas for potential future works. These efforts were without significant progress until 2018. At that time, on the internet, I was able to locate the (likely) site of a quarry which we had passed on the way to the Edge, this gave clue to a likely viewing point, and this then led to the nearby Flounder's Folly, which could conceivably* be 'THE TOWER'. (So far I have not been able to find another candidate.)

Website information about Flounder's Folly states that it was once owned by Julie Christie (that deserves an exclamation mark, by the way!)

If Flounder's Folly is THE TOWER,
if it was owned by Julie Christie at any time between the first conversation and the 87th day,
by the merest chance, I have been right all along,

*Although no pun was intended, the use of the word conceivably did bring to mind the green book and orange peel.