Along and behind Marine Road West, into Central Morecambe
TODAY THE SUN ROSE IN THE WEST END . . . 21st June 2022
After the first three parts of In Her Kingdom by the Sea, the series was intended to continue as a photo supplement with occasional captions. Clinging to a faith dating back to the 1970s that even accidental images without obvious focus can surpass a thousand words, it was easy for me to overlook that the atmosphere of places is often subtle to the point of inconsequentiality[i], or too personal to convey. Every day we pass wonders of depth and transference and take them all for granted. Though the general atmosphere of Morecambe and Heysham may not be so intensely distinctive as (for example) Bilbao[ii] as it appears in films of the 60s and 70s such the magisterial La Casa sin Fronteras (The House Without Frontiers, 1972[iii]) or the trashier Viaje al Vacío (1969[iv]) zones of Morecambe’s discarded central area do possess a similar, if more subtle, gravitas:
The B5274 off Euston Road, Morecambe – ancillary Gateway to the West End . . . 6th March, 2022
I don’t know if a caption, a few words, or any kind of context can save such images from inconsequentiality in the way that catalogue essays can occasionally save ‘gimmick art’[v] from immediate disposability, but on behalf of such otherwise homeless images, it seems only fair to attempt to connect them to the world which they hint at, occasionally encapsulate, often idealize, and sometimes even project beyond . . .
Regent Road, projecting itself into the bay . . . 16th September 2022
My photo-only supplement intention (or laziness?) was in any case eroded when the Platinum Jubilee, busted, bunted, sceptred and flagged itself onto the streets and into my reluctant consciousness, compelling me to spell out that In Her Kingdom by the Sea had nothing whatever to do with the (understandably) dormant and now deceased, Queen Elizabeth.
Regent Road, reverse view . . . Christmas Eve, 2022
When part 4 came out[vi], several steadfast readers expressed disappointment at the lack of text. The “missing element of gentle sardonic commentary” being a particular description which both pleased and surprised me – considering that in my mind the Digression had become a series of volcanic eruptions, vents of spleen which few would care to notice. Having exhausted the initial bile stemming from being obliged to live in a town, would I lose interest? Would enough topics worth putting into words, continue to arise?
Back Marine Road, 18th January 2022
To be fair to Heysham and Morecambe, being obliged to live in any town or city would have triggered a negative reaction. Glasby’s protagonist in The Weird Shadow over Morecambe[vii] describes the place as “contender for the unenviable title of ‘The most depressing town in Britain’”, but this is ridiculous. Many built-up places are far worse. The Irish Sea may be dangerously radioactive but sparkling or dully gleaming, its shifting flow or the default presence of its reaching seabed, undoubtably grants a sense of space. Emerging onto the promenade with the Lakeland fells corrugating the far horizon of the bay is almost always vastly uplifting . . . and as I’ve come to know some of its people, their personalities also expand this constraining municipal grid.
St. Barnabas extension, June 2022
Even before this point in In Her Kingdom . . . it could be contended that topics genuinely connected to the area have become scarce. While nuclear fallout, dead end resignation, cannabis clouds and seagulls are relevant, other things such as wishing the Mysterons would come and finish our kitchen[viii], are only tenuously so:
“Never know why [the Mysterons] got so miffed about Moonbase[ix] being destroyed
by Spectrum when they could rebuild it so easily. Wish I could get them to finish our kitchen!”
“There are things called builders you know . . .”
“Too noisy and intrusive. The Mysterons I could handle – they wouldn’t play Radio effing C, R, A, P,
for a start . . .” [x]
“Quick tho’. And you can go out cycling.”
“Brainwave labour is quicker than manual: it’d be over in seconds. Plus, they could hardly charge for materials.”
“They so would.”
“I could trust the Mysterons – might even take them cycling with me. They would never stoop to teen speak: ‘THEY SO
WOULD’! Are you OK? The Mysterons would be totally quiet and leave no mess.”
“You’re overthinking this. Besides . . . Spectrum would turn up and destroy your kitchen.”
“!*%$! Didn’t think of that. Last thing I want is creepy Scarlet traipsing dust all over the place in his long black boots.”
“Or the Angels!”
“Spare me the bloody Angels and their cargo of hairspray . . .”
Red walls and Mysteron skies above Balmoral and Westminster, Morecambe, 24th July 2022
Back at the end of summer as I came down the stairs, thinking how to improvise something to support or at least ramble along with the images, a bent missive was shoved through the letterbox of the owl house. This previously mentioned, ersatz stained-glass owl by the way, is not unique, I’ve noted others around town, two even in the same road. Fortunately, they do not hoot to each other, unless they do so very gently under cover of all the seagull racket?
Osborne Road, Morecambe, 8th October 2022
Intended for a previous resident, the antediluvian communiqué which had slapped to the floor, was inevitably junk mail: IDEAL & PRACTICAL[xi] catalogue [emphasis on ideal: practical is not glamorous, keep it in small print] August 2022 edition . . . a sales brochure filled with “innovations” and tat. The editorial by Sylvie Solley (Director), reads thus:
According to the phenomenon of the butterfly effect, a simple flap of wings can
change your life. So why not invite butterflies into our homes, in a lighter form, to
revive and beautify our houses?
How any of the invariably tacky bric-a-brac which follows could be lighter in any sense of the word than a real living butterfly, or change in the remotest way our destiny, I’ve no idea, but obviously this catalogue was a true gift horse, and I was going to look right down it’s throat. When you feel like raging or crying about the state of the world what else can you do but laugh?
Cheerful bombsite, 16th September 2022
Despite my objections to paper wasting, I have a (very limited) soft spot for these pre-screen-crazy age catalogues: they disregard, bypass, abuse (or occasionally flog), most of the destructive, addictive or facile inventions of the last 40 years.
Enviable façade but house clearances exhausted . . . September 2022
Ignoring the various bits of ornamental butterfly and general junk spread over the next few leaves – including a butter dish that prevents butter from melting “even in the sun!” (practical for climate change) – I arrived at this sales pitch on page 8: “Escape to the other side of the world . . . via your table!” That a tablecloth can be presented as an alternative to flying and travel is a surreal yet admirable chicanery; but that a trashy “stain resistant” table “adornment” (“rectangular and circular versions available”) with assorted tropical motifs could make you feel you were on the other side of the world is as optimistic as Johnny Depp’s interpretation of Edward D. Wood Jr.[xii] in Tim Burton’s 1994 film[xiii]. Don’t IDEAL & PRACTICAL know that Monstera deliciosa/Swiss cheese plant[xiv] grows just about everywhere indoors now; that toucans are adept at spilling paint[xv] and make a bloody racket[xvi], and parrots spend all their waking hours whinging about defunct golden currencies?
Regent Road, rainy Vintage Bus Day, May 2022 – Laurence Olivier’s show in The Entertainer (1960), takes place at the Alhambra[xvii]
(behind the 1974 Atlantean bus in Southport red and cream livery) where the music hall scenes were also shot.
The parrot theme in IDEAL & PRACTICAL recurs on page 12 with a plastic and metal version. “A whiff of exoticism to spice up your décor.” “To be hung up” notes one sidebar. “Spins in the wind” states another alongside a suitably blurred picture. Only £12.95. Perhaps it’s the desperate, clutching-at-straws-consumerism which is both so humorous and yet depressing?
A whiff of exoticism . . . or perhaps a hint of the Raj in Balmoral Road, July 2022
Evading the PETS section – who needs them – and the “PRACTICAL” (ditto) the fake brick wall wallpaper on page 30 caught my eye – ideal for covering damp patches and cracks in the plaster, you could even wallpaper over your windows so that you can’t see out, or over the cellar doorway so you can’t see the rising water . . .
The Glen caravan Park, Westgate, Morecambe, 21st August 2022
To be honest, my enthusiasm for this winging-it project was exhausted by the time I reached the resin rock-climbing tortoise on page 33. Bypassing the OFFICE section. I reached the following slogan: “A good car . . . is first and foremost a clean car”. No, I don’t think so. A good car, I would say, is first and foremost one that goes along. Or maybe not . . . in the near future when like old phone boxes, perhaps all cars are doomed to become decorative greenhouses for flowers and book swaps?
A backstreet conspiracy of Wheelie bins, 6th December 2022
Fortunately, just after the IDEAL & PRACTICAL period I’m recalling, in late summer, a friend at the Nib Crib writers (for some reason, probably the baby and cot aspects, I’m not that keen on the name – but don’t tell anyone), introduced me to Linder and Michael Bracewell’s[xviii] guide to Morecambe and Heysham[xix], published in 2003 under the perplexing title of “I Know Where I’m Going”. I’m not sure why the collaborators or publisher chose this title, unless it’s an ironic comment on the cheesecake cover picture of Rosemarie Frankland[xx], (first UK Miss World Champion 1961), in a swimsuit at Morecambe in 1960.
I know I’ve been going downhill, but you never know . . . Yorkshire Street West
As a cohesive part of the progress myth, Morecambe and Heysham certainly lost their way decades ago (and could be seen therefore as symbolic of the human race, though our loss of direction dates back much further). For me, and surely for most of those older than me, the title “I Know Where I’m Going” must be indelibly linked to Powell and Pressburger’s tour de force film of 1945[xxi] . . . which memorably orchestrated the old Scottish or Irish folk song [xxii] for a dream dissolve sequence near its opening[xxiii]. Although the air soon fades and eventually segues into a brief fantasy landscape of tartan hills set to “You’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road”, the entire ballad as orchestrated for the film (and possibly sung by the Glasgow Orpheus Choir) is played over the closing credits[xxiv].
I knew where I was going . . . Springfield Street, 12th April 2022
There is such a lot of good detail in Bracewell and Linder’s I Know Where I’m Going – that I wish I’d encountered the volume earlier. Although it begins a trifle blandly (acting as a mainstream antidote to In Her Kingdom by the Sea), the tone gradually shifts, escaping the tourist information/grant project/objective guidebook prison camp, to blossom into something far more idiosyncratic and personal.
Osborne Crescent and the best-preserved pair of houses in this style perhaps? October 2022
Arguably, I Know Where I’m Going, ends by praising an idea behind Morecambe and Heysham’s poetic qualities, their past more than their present, not that this necessarily matters – we all have to find hope somewhere . . . but although such qualities undoubtably exist (as they do in almost every village, town and city, if you know how to look), given the wrong mood or weather, they can easily be missed. Used as an actual guide book, I Know Where I’m Going might disappoint visitors.
I Know Where I’m Going – Heysham by double decker[xxv]
On page 42 of I Know Where I’m Going – allusively invoking The Sense of an Ending[xxvi] by Frank Kermode[xxvii] – Bracewell examines the role within the “cultural psyche” of the seaside town . . . which “now represents the lingering fade-out of an archaic way of life; the bustle, amusements, routine and excitements of another age”.
Transport from another age: NRN 586, a Leyland Atlantean, built for
Ribble Motor Services in 1960, on Marine Road West, 4th September 2022
Apparently, in Bracewell’s view, “a coastal drift has taken place amongst the generations who grew up with Pop” – this being Pop in the original 50s/60s cultural-historical sense, embracing a whole sensibility of music and art[xxviii], rather than the catch-all-drivel signified by the term nowadays. These people – all pensioners by 2022 – he asserted in 2003, felt an inclination to defect “from commodified modernity” to “inhabit Pop’s ruins”.
3rd January 2022, Clarendon Road East
This theory (or wish fantasy) of Bracewell’s is very appealing and must apply to a handful of Morecambe and Heysham residents, but in our experience, few incomers move here for such poetical or retrospectively celebratory reasons. Sometimes the nostalgia for university days plays a part, but by and large the principal reason is economic. Property is cheap. Even for those residents who embrace Morecambe and Heysham for the reasons Bracewell waxes very lyrical about, the chief reason was budgetary. Making a virtue of necessity. To this could be given other spins: from willed survival to extolling the qualities of the area’s strong alternative atmosphere: political, ecological, bohemian and artistic.
Edgelands Gallery – sadly no longer extant on Yorkshire Street West, but still busy as a virtual space
“with occasional pop-ups in the real world”: www.edgelandsgallery.co.uk
Other incomers are the refugees and migrants who have little choice . . . although one young man I bumped into had moved from Bolton to be near his girlfriend and was very happy to have “gone upmarket”, noting the indisputable relief “the sea and the sky gives us”.
Pacific air currents above Westminster Avenue, 21st June 2022
Bracewell’s later analysis is fascinatingly thought-provoking and even if it only addresses an image – a ideal hologram – its dream is partially true and could become more so. With my own constant longing and aiming for the chronological time (and space) dissolve, I’m the last person to complain about anyone wish-willing the future,
Aiming upmarket, arrow head and flowerbeds . . .
Generally however, it is the memories of faded glory and the saving graces that Bracewell address and magnifies – the promenade rather than the reality of the streets behind. In most of the houses behind, the majority of long-term residents wouldn’t recognise or give a stuff about “Pop’s ruins” and would be glad to grab as many of the by-products of “commodified modernity” as they could lay their hands on.
“Stuff commodified modernity!” (1) Back Marine Road, 6th December 2022
Arguably this commodified modernity[xxix] has got so many of us hooked on the stimulation or excitement of the fake and the mediocre in almost every sphere of life, that real challenge – particularly in the cultural artistic world – is no longer understood or even registered.
“Stuff commodified modernity!” (2) 18th January 2022: Albert Road from Yorkshire Street East
Thinking is a dying art; feeling being rapidly distorted by the welter of prescribed emotions we are algorithmically[xxx] fed, each in our own, apparently connected, but actually, techno-isolating universe. Self-centredness may be a basic human necessity, but the deep value or potential that certain (inescapable) aspects of this have, are quickly eroded if the inspirations or influences become mass-produced ones, cloned from thoughtless social-climbing or business ambitions.
23 Regent Road – A door with a view / living inside a bus shelter, Christmas Eve 2022
Thankfully, Halloween and all that Americanised trick or treat rubbish are long over – as well as fireworks, Christmas and now New Year too. But back in early November, the evidence of the alleyways was that even seagulls don’t like pumpkin. Littering my way to Tesco in that autumn of yesteryore, savaged pumpkin heads lay forlorn and rotting, an eye here, a tooth there, their grins dispersed, while pissed-off looking seagulls looked down, pondering again from roofs and gutters – “Can we force ourselves to eat that orange mulch?”
“Don’t waste food, it’s a crime / Help the Earth to gain more time,” window poem at Eggcup,
Albert and Claremont Roads, 25th November 2022
This slaughter of the pumpkin heads makes a good contrast to the rise of foodbanks and Foodshare. The first Foodshare we belonged to was on the other, more affluent, side of Morecambe Bay at Witherslack and had barely started before covid and lockdown infinitely escalated its value. Now with the social economic crisis, the contributions to foodbanks have fallen drastically while the demands on Foodshare schemes like Eggcup – our “big local” – often requires an understandable rationing of supplies among the increasing membership.
Stanleys[xxxi] – another community venture which functions as a vital social centre as well as a
Foodshare outlet. If places like this can’t save society, nothing can. Stephen Hayton[xxxii]
and colleague working hard on Christmas Day, 2022
Yet the primary aim of Foodshare was to try to reduce consumerist recklessness – to change attitudes in societies where excessive choice inevitably equals waste. Out of season, air freighted foods, for example, have produced eating habits which are unsustainable and should always have been considered so. By its very nature, Foodshare’s stocks can’t help but vary – unfortunately often leaving those with children and allergies out in the cold[xxxiii].
New Year nocturne, Chicago Buildings[xxxiv] Marine Road West, 4th January 2023
In the Sight & Sound editorial of April last year[xxxv] Mike Williams invokes Jaron Lanier, Silicon Valley’s “most rebellious pioneer”, who calls the smartphone “the cage that goes everywhere with you” and the social media companies “behaviour modification empires”. Perhaps Lanier has inadvertently (?) hit upon a should-be-obvious truth: that many people like or need cages – a longstanding fact which has guaranteed the popularity of so many modern gadgets. Even the deployers of that fashionable, clever-dicky phrase or concept of thinking “outside the box” are usually unknowingly trapped inside one.
Shut in a box: Francis Bacon at a Bacon Counter counting Bacon by Rob Lever: www.leverart.co.uk
Freedom, true freedom outside the box, isn’t something widely understood, and if it was, it probably wouldn’t be wanted. Like the principle of democracy, it’s an inspiring ideal. The reality requires integrity and self-discipline. If freedom and democracy are equally hard to achieve, there is a crucial difference: if we were all to achieve individual, material freedom (the supposed quest for which is one of the driving forces behind the devastation instigated by ‘progress’, consumerism and the desire for endless choice) rather than achieving it inside our heads and hearts, society would explode into total chaos. If true democracy on the other hand, could be achieved (towards which electoral reform and proportional representation are desperately needed[xxxvi]) the chances are that society might slowly improve.
Old grandeur in Morecambe’s West End, 27th Jan 2022
But to escape the knot of such realisations, back to the long-ago summer and a hot day last July with perfect flying conditions . . . when strange shapes appeared against a bolt blue or azure sky, resembling invasion fleets from a distant galaxy. The annual Catch the Wind Kite Festival[xxxvii] had returned to Morecambe – summoning a natural synaesthesia[xxxviii] of sound, sight and the sea breeze. Closer to, rather than an incursion of spacecraft, at certain angles the sky might almost have evoked the late biomorphic, ‘Great Synthesis’ paintings of Kandinsky[xxxix]:
10th July 2022
Except Kandinsky – so far as I know – never deployed eggs, sausages or chips in his compositions:
10th July 2022
Nor dinosaurs, giant squid, or day-of-the-dead style skellingtons (sic):
10th July 2022
Nor threatening trios of bears and the odd stingray:
10th July 2022
Nor the looming monster bear himself:
10th July 2022 “Colour directly influences the soul,” Kandinsky Concerning the Spiritual in Art[xl].
Tessellated texture with point and diamonds above the beach,
and that familiar smell from countless holidays
– of seaweed and wrack
opposes the building, gusts, buffets and that
between buildings where I saw the sun
rise during the climate change heatwave . . .
A different smell of sunburnt flesh
Failure of imagination
lost instead in nostalgia, and the feelgood factor of SUN
and brine and kites . . .
The invasion fleet has arrived, the victims targeted, but no-one is noticing . . . 10th July 2022
An invasion of inflatable creatures, an overwhelm of synaesthesia, or a retreat into the nostalgia of summers past – three of the kinder prospects in store for us perhaps?
26th August 2019
© Lawrence Freiesleben,
Morecambe, June 2022 – Jan 2023
NOTES All notes accessed in December 2022 and January 2023
[ii] I don’t know if Bilbao retains this gravitas 50 years later, but even if many of its façades have been glossed, as with all cities, the true place will hopefully survive behind the scenes. Apart from a few brief (sometimes spoiler-containing or inaccurate) synopses, I’ve been unable to find any in-depth analysis or deconstruction of this fascinating film, or in fact anything beyond the fact that it was a total commercial failure (IMDb): “to the point that the production company of the filmmaker Pedro Olea was forced to close for economic reasons.” Though added after this, is one, more illuminating, sentence: “According to many critics, this film seems to be a veiled denunciation of Opus Dei and the enormous political influence exercised by the religious organization in Franco’s Spain. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opus_Dei#Criticism
[iii] www.imdb.com/title/tt0066898/?ref_=tt_rvi_tt_i_3 Oddly, La Casa sin Fronteras (The House Without Frontiers, 1972) appears to have a likely-coincidental connection to The Ghost and Mrs Muir (frequently mentioned earlier in this digression) in that the two main characters (who fall in love and aim to escape to another world), have the same first names: Daniel & Lucia. But both names are fairly common . . .
[iv] imdb.com/title/tt0062438/?ref_=adv_li_tt Variously known as Macabre, Shadow of Death and Invisible Assassin – my short review of July 2021: “At first, Viaje al Vacío, seems like an upmarket TV episode of something good from this period with added atmosphere and locations. Ultimately, drifting towards the exploitative, the plot becomes muddled to the point of absurdity, while the Hurricane Express (1932 – imdb.com/title/tt0023038/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_0 ) ending (the device of perfect rubber masks enabling characters to convincingly swap appearances in seconds) is ludicrous. Yet the film remains worth watching for weather, mood and setting . . .”
[v] Extract from internationaltimes.it/a-lost-generation-digression/ (18th October 2017) defining “gimmick art”:
A few years back another friend, exasperated by my use of the phrase, asked me to define, roughly, what I meant by ‘gimmick art’. A longer list was cut down to two points:
1) Exhibitions/installations best left as a few lines on the back of an envelope and used to light the fire (like my written note to navigate Wakefield).
2) Exhibitions/installations that would be completely incoherent or meaningless without the accompanying catalogue or leaflet. Sometimes these catalogues are the only place where any ‘art’ that might attach to the work resides. They often contain one or two points of interest – usually in a political/polemical vein, occasionally vaguely philosophical or aesthetic – but the ‘artwork’ itself usually does little or nothing to expand upon this.
From the clever down to the incompetent, traditional representational art, largely lifeless with constricted skill and patience, still persists. On the other hand, dominating most of our non-commercial spaces – epic sheds capable of bestowing a divorced grandeur, such as Tate Modern or The Baltic – gimmick art continues to flourish despite public disinterest or even contempt.
[xiii] imdb.com/title/tt0109707/?ref_=fn_al_tt_0 Ed Wood 1994 15 | My short note on re-watching the film last week: “The first half of this is very funny and even if it palls a little by the end, Depp/Wood’s relentless optimism is very appealing . . .”
[xvi] My mother used to complain that I was awake 24 hours a day as a very young child and her health visitor hearing the racket from upstairs asked if she owned a toucan!
From animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/toucan# : “The word “toucan” comes from the sound the bird makes. Their songs often resemble croaking frogs. Toucans combine their extensive vocal calls with tapping and clattering sounds from their bill. Many toucans make barking, croaking, and growling sounds, and mountain toucans make braying sounds like those of a donkey. Females generally have a higher voice than the males”
Back of the Alhambra, 18th January 2022
[xviii] There is an apocryphal story that Michael Bracewell, semi-legendary writer and one time upmarket television presenter, may actually live in Morecambe or Heysham’s Sandylands . . . may in fact BE, in disguise, the retired sea captain pictured in Part Two of this digression – who I very whimsically linked with Rex Harrison’s Captain Daniel Gregg, and described as “Becalmed flotsam, run aground from the classic film” ( internationaltimes.it/in-her-kingdom-by-the-sea-part-2/ ). In all seriousness, this overlap seems very unlikely. As a Cornwall friend of mine was recently granted an email interview with Bracewell, I asked him to make his first question this: “Please – to stop a Morecambe friend from pestering me – are you prepared to say on oath, whether or not you live or have ever lived, in Morecambe or Heysham?” Hopefully the interview will take place before I finish this 8th part of In Her Kingdom by the Sea . . . (It didn’t)
[xxiii] www.youtube.com/watch?v=oha_ww5Jexg&ab_channel=OldTimes approximately 7 mins 44 seconds to 10 minutes 52 seconds
[xxviii] Though some of the ideas behind it remain interesting, personally I wouldn’t rate Pop art very highly. Its values are extremely suspect – whether intentionally or not, it epitomises and glorifies consumerism, while the end product is often slick trash not dissimilar in emptiness and tone from much of the ‘pop’ music of the last 30 years at least.
[xxx] news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2016/10/dont-trust-that-algorithm/ An old reference, but here is a more recently updated one, ironically produced by gov.uk: www.gov.uk/government/publications/findings-from-the-drcf-algorithmic-processing-workstream-spring-2022/the-benefits-and-harms-of-algorithms-a-shared-perspective-from-the-four-digital-regulators
Perhaps colour really does influence the soul? See notes 38 and 40 below
[xxxv] Sight and Sound magazine, April 2022, vol 32, issue 3