Tuesday 27 September 2016

Beach studies, St Bees Cumbria, and the Elements Festival launch!

 I've been on St Bees beach in a large caravan for over a month now, with a view onto the open sea, from my temporary home three vans back from the front. I can also see the sandstone head, its rocks and rockpools. The other cliffs south of the beach are limestone, though these too are red. Now that it's almost October the default weather is wind that rocks the caravan, sometimes driving rain, and yet the clouds can suddenly clear and the sky turn dazzling blue. I've done quite a bit of writing here, as well as teaching, on my West Lakes residency, and in just over a week's time I'll be home, then off to work elsewhere, but I'll be back mid October for a series of events for the visionary Elements Festival, which is all about diversity and minorities, and over 60's, quite a feat for such a rural outpost, thanks to Tonia Lu who dreamt it all up. I'll read some of my brand new residency inspired poems at the launch of the festival this Saturday, at Penrith Old Fire Station. 

The sea itself has swept into me, in all its terrifying splendour, the St Bees sandstone also has fed into the poems, one was written in Fleswick Bay, when I had it all to myself one glorious August day, and another aspect that's gradually seeped into my bones is the iron ore mining of Copeland's industrial past – our workshops are held in Florence Mine, where the miners' shower rooms are converted into a beautiful arts centre. This has led me to research my own mining past, in the depressed coal mining village of Llanbradach in the Rhymni valley, south Wales, where I lived with my estranged mother as a teenager for five years, under the shadow of the slagheap. She lived there much longer. I'm thrilled that I've written about this for the first time ever, because what a fascinating thing coal is, and the shallow sea-swamps of the Carboniferous, with their mega-insects!

The Irish Sea is wild in wind, roars like an open furnace, sometimes it's white with fume over glassy waves, sometimes bronze, pewter, or polished aluminium. People aren't swimming in it anymore, not even paddling, though on my daily walks along the mile wide sands that are revealed at low tide I wear sandals so I can paddle through the channels that lace the shore.  People mainly walk their dogs, usually in pairs, only a few family groups left. It's unusual to come across others walking alone, but when I do I tend to take photos (all these are with my iphone), and there are boats alone out there, sometimes paragliders above me too. For me, these frames of walkers, dogs with their shadows, seabirds, whether they're oyster catchers, a heron, or gulls, or boats alone on the horizon, are studies in solitude. 

Saturday 10 September 2016

The Lion's Mane Jellyfish of West Cumbria

Imagine coming across this on the beach. When I found my first, I took a photo and back in my caravan at St Bees, tried to identify it on google images. I guessed it was a jellyfish as it wobbled slightly when touched with a shell, but it could have been a giant eye, it looked like a giant eye washed up after the night's storm. It was surrounded by smaller blobs without the luminous red and tan colours. Those smaller clear jellyfish I'd seen before on other beaches, but my creature looked like it might be a lion's mane jellyfish. And the smaller clear ones? Moon jellies that the lions feed on! The lions that haunt Arctic waters can grow to be the largest jellyfish in the world, but these ones in the Irish Sea are more modest, the largest I found was a foot across.

Since then I've been obsessed by these sea-cats and the process of seeing them is quite strange. Once I see one I look around and usually find others scattered nearby. What's more, my feet seem to know where to walk, as if they've developed eyes. I think I've seen about fifteen by now, and some are striped like tigers or mint humbugs. Maybe one or two were compass jellyfish? Some have more mane to them and these larger ones have 'eyes' that look more like organs, bloodied even, like they've met with a violent death. I want to see more but I'm also aware these are freshly dead creatures and I don't want them to die.