Thursday, 9 August 2007

The Omphalos

The Greeks
had gods in the skies gambling
and drunken ones in the forests gamboling
and malevolent ones deep
in the only sea they knew
and ones that lived in your fireplace.

They had rapist gods in the form of amorous swans.

Well, anyway, the Greeks

(should we give them any credence)

believed, amongst all these things,
that the World had a bellybutton.

They called it the Omphalos
and perhaps they went in search
of it by oar and sail.

Such naval (ha ha!)
expeditions were
bound to fail.

This is vessel in which I made
some early explorations of a similar nature.
It was a drinks cabinet.
It was called the Funky Kingston and I gave it away to someone - I cant remember who now.

The trouble with explorations is that
no matter where you go,
you only ever find one thing on them
- the limit of your endurance.

The funky old Greeks had a word for that too.
The Ultima Thule.
The isles of briton where so called.

It is, like the omphalos a geographical point that is not tied down to the Earth. The further the mediterranean cultures explored, the further away they placed the Ultima Thule. It was in the Orkneys by the time of the Romans.

Having found the Furthest Place, the Omphanauts turned back, and when they reached home they found what they had been seeking.

So where do I wish to sail to in my vessel? to the ultima thule or to the omphalos?

Monday, 6 August 2007

The Omphalos

This is me, setting off on such an early voyage, from the beach at Aldeburgh.

This tiny craft
was of galvanised
tin construction
without keel
or rudder,
and as such it was certainly
not designed
for travel through space
in what we currently call
But through
another kind of space
it was
most excellent

Shush! Never tell me I was posing for a photograph!

Such a vessel is no more nor less useful than, say, a bronze horse,
promising triumph whilst never twitching a fetlock.

Where are bronze ponies available for imaginary treks?

When they make me king
I shall have the previous rulers
who observe our metropolis from horseback
carefully dismounted.

I wont have them melted down to make canon,
they would probably like that,
I shall have them buried
head downwards
in the pavements.

This would not only serve as an example to wananbe heroes and warmongers but also as useful places to park your bicycle.

Their mounts
left unmounted
free to gaze
(not graze)
from their
lofty plinths
far nobler
objects of
our admiration.

Of course as King I shall no doubt have a very fine equestrian statue of me commissoned, to meet the demands of protocol.

However I shall have the horse placed on Parliament Hill, trotting towards Highate Ponds, where it will serve as a climbing frame for children.

and my own effigy?
That can be buried
head down
in the sandpit
near the swings,
by the railway line
where I played
as a child.
A homage
to the legless boatman,
and a word of advice. Hide the parts that don't work.

There I go, with self-deprecation again

In the real world I can only expect an imaginary monument.

I was born on Parliament Hill. This is a drawing of it from distorted memory. Later I shall make this drawing look nice but for the moment it has all the information there: The house where I was born, the hill, the kites. the erotic gerkin that wasn't there when I was a child and the GPO tower that was.

The lions of Trafalgar Square are always giving rides to children.

They make a strange commemoration for a naval battle,
the commander of which
stands impossibly detatched
from them in the sky.

There were no lions at the Battle of Trafalgar.
People who say there were are not telling the truth.
They have not been widely used in naval warfare,
although their sudden deployment
would have given Neslon the advantage of surprise.

"Unleash the big cats!"

The ship I am building however is not a warship. It is a houseboat, or an ark.

I am perfectly serious about it.
I may be building a real ship in an imaginary world
or an imaginary ship in the real world.

Or both simultaneously.

This is the very first
and simplest design,
which I drew
one Easter in Poland,
jealous of a jowka.

It is not in dry dock, it was never intended to get wet: I planned to build it in a field somewhere,
ideally one planted with lavender
amongst wolds and bosks
poetically oblivious to planning permission.

When the man from the council comes around and asks if I have the right to erect a residence on the site I shall explain that it is not a residence, it is a boat.

"Are you aware, Sir, that we are seventy four miles from the sea?"

"I'm waiting for a flood." I shall say.

That is presumably what I was doing whilst I was sitting in the tin plasterer’s bath on Aldeburgh beach.

I may previously have given the impression
that beaches were a desirable place to be,
when in fact the opposite is the truth.

If you sent a probe to investigate whether
a certain planet was suitable for colonisation,
and your probe landed on a beach,
it would send back very discouraging data:

“There is plentiful water, but it is poisonous. The soil is completely barren and rocky. A small boy has been discovered sitting in a galvanised metal tub but when his brain was scanned it was found to be elsewhere. Message ends."

The probe that landed on a sandy beach in Zanzibar sent back a frankly unreliable report before its sensors, clogged with sand, gave up.

It is thought that it may still be there,

buried in the sand.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

the enigma of the legless boatman

There is a boatyard in Zanzibar where the boats lie propped up on the sand like the ribcages of whales and upturned turtles.

There are no plans
or blueprints
or powertools.

The boats are
by hand

"This must be the most beautiful boatyard in the world," I said.

a man
all the
around him

He must be the foreman,
I decided.

You could probably afford to buy one of these wooden boats, if you could spare the time to watch it slowly taking shape under the shade of the palms.

When it was finally ready you could sail it away.

The boatbuilders would watch with amusement your clumsy attempts to get it out to sea and past the island.

The man who was up to his waist in sand would shed a tear.

He must have lost them in an accident,
falling from one of the timber gantries
spanning the cavity of an empty hull.
Or perhaps they were eaten by a shark
basking in the shallows.

To lose one would be a misfortune; to lose both would save outlay on trousers and shoes.

So how did I know his legs were missing?



If he had legs it would take a long time to dig down deep enough to accomodate them, but without lower limbs he could be propped regally in his private sandcastle.

How he got to work in the morning was another mystery, though.

He could not stay there all night - the tide would come in and so might the shark.

Which brings one to the inescapable sadness of the boatyard.
Boats, by their nature, take you away.
But where on Earth would you rather be than on a beach in Zanzibar?

It was time to get back on the tour bus.

How could I stay longer and watch them working?
(short of sawing my legs off?)
As I wondered about his strange predicament the limbless shipbuilder saw me watching him, and responded with an angry gesture.
I didn't mean any harm by staring there was no malice or mockery in it - possibly some envy.

The nautical amputee frowned at me and the other tourists.
I went on staring anyway - after all what was he going to do about it?


The difference is that none of my ships have been launched successfully. Some are found to be not sea worthy, others so large thay cannot be dragged from their dry-dock, many more lie unfinished in the sand.

We are both beached escapologists.

That is why I am constructing a new ship, of which this is the first plank. This one will incorporate all that was best about the earlier designs, and none of their holes, leaks and other fatal flaws.

And that is why this gathering is called

come back later to see how the construction is going.