Back in prehistory, before we started buying music online, early adopters had to copy and paste album artwork (from a niche website like Amazon) onto tracks individually. Can you remember the first time your computer started thinking for you? Those crude, pixellated little covers metamorphosing into high-resolution beauty and some of them inexplicably started changing identity altogether: The Moulin Rouge! soundtrack now sports an edgy black and white shot of a guitar worthy of Joy Division and Michael Spencer Jones’ gender-bending artwork for Suede’s Stay Together now features Al Green. These small things are merely unsettling: the double-take as the eye pauses on an unfamiliar cover. You wonder what it is before realizing that you bought it in Our Price, and that you’re actually quite attached to the dated sleeve of the original. Some might say that this constant revision of our digital lives keeps things fresh, stops us from feeling bored… or old. But perhaps it smacks of the Ministry of Truth. Far from keeping us young, all that these endless revisions help us achieve is an earlier taste of Alzheimer’s, as we search for things that looked different yesterday, or that have inexplicably moved, or have vanished altogether.
Ground Work is David Attwooll’s and Andrew Walton’s love affair with Oxford’s Port Meadow, a spot for which my affection is documented in this piece on David Morley’s Enchantment. The pamphlet is a sort of Shepheardes Calendar, comprising twelve poems, starting with December, perhaps to ensure that, as soon as we begin reading, we are crossing thresholds and experiencing change: ‘The water meadow we both walk across / is veiled in mist and frost, a screen for time / stuck between clicks deleting and loading data, / teaching us to read objects singly, / in freeze-frame. / Blink: a bare tree’s film-star silhouette, / a polystyrene block in a pool’s iced rim.’ That the meadow is ‘veiled’ feels particularly apt as, following the Thames north, you soon hit Godstow Nunnery. With understated economy, Attwooll’s language alludes to wimples and the pamphlet starts playing around with the idea of artefacts, using digital ones as its extended metaphor. Yes, change and loss can be viewed as mist and frost. However, when challenged and forced to consider objects out of context, our perception often achieves greater clarity.
In June’s Godstow, I suddenly made sense of the name of the floating restaurant, Rosamund the Fair, that has been woven into the tapestry of my life for the past ten years: first on my Thames mooring, and later as a resident of Banbury. ‘For love of her the King conferred benefits, / sent lathes and roofing shingles from Wallingford / in 1176. // Her tomb in the choir before the altar / was surrounded by silk hangings, / lamps and candles, and laden with flowers. // The lightshow of a dying star as bright / as a firefly seen from three thousand miles away. / The nuns sang masses for Rosamund, worldly rose.’ On interment, Rosamund, Henry II’s mistress, enjoyed a central position indoors in a well-heeled nunnery but that transformed, following the Second Act of Dissolution, to a spot in George Owen’s family home and, after the Civil War, Rosamund suddenly found herself buried al fresco. Along the towpaths of Oxfordshire, the historical artefact persists and the next time I pass Tooley’s Boatyard I will remember her and catch the smell of roses on the breeze.
Ground Work is far more than a love affair with a place: Attwooll’s poems offer a measure of consolation, as the rhythms of history warm us with their domesticity and point to the common ground between us and our forebears. However, mutability’s relentless force is felt through the drive of the seasons and the fragility of our digital age.
The pamphlet is also a collaboration with painter, Andrew Walton, and some of his work can be viewed here (and there is more on the Black Poplar Facebook page).
BUY GROUND WORK
Price is £5 plus £1 postage. Cheques to David Attwooll please. (90 Divinity Road, Oxford. OX4 1LN)
You can bag a copy for a fiver at the brilliant Albion Beatnik, or at Blackwells.