Stay the Same

A small escape at spring equinox
20 March 2012, 10:55 pm
Filed under: ALL, Diary entries | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

So here I am. I’ve been filming every day for nine months now. Less than one hundred days of filming left to go! This means I have gone outside and stood on my platform whatever the weather over two hundred sixty fifty times. So far I seem to have retained my sense of humour if not any sense of perspective.

The last few weeks of filming have been difficult though with a fine mist or drizzle always in the direction of the camera lens. Today it started raining bang on 8.30. I have also started dreaming about tunnels . . .

It was very well timed then, when serendipty gave me and my mum (who is visiting right now) the chance to escape to the Isle of Eigg for a day.  It was a fantastic day, the sunniest day we have had in months. We went to the beach drank soup from flasks and caught up with some dear friends on the island. Everyone agreed this has been the worst winter in years, not so much cold but relentlessly windy and rainy. Everyone has been struggling with this particularly on Eigg as it is even harder to leave in bad weather than Knoydart. We were all quite giddy with the one day of glorious weather.

A trip out to a beach on a different island with a very different view was just wonderful. I stood outside on the boat the whole way home. As we flew across the water I thought about the relative freedom I have had for the last nine months from any major decision making. Suddenly the idea of this project ending was nearly as anxiety making as the prospect of it continuing for another three months.

#11 Mum & patron saints of obscurity
16 December 2011, 9:34 pm
Filed under: ALL, Responses to the project | Tags:

Me and my mum have developed a small tradition over the last few years of visiting shrines and sites possibly of pagan origin, often purported to have healing properties, the more obscure the better. We both enjoy the comedy and absurdity in these stories, (I am an atheist and mum a pagan), and the way that some quite odd traditions have been appropriated by Christianity.  These little pilgrimages into the British countryside have brought us closer together and given us a lot of enjoyment and you never know, some of it might even work.

Below is a picture of me drinking at St Wites well for eye disease. Mum has also taken me to St Catherine’s Chapel in Abbotsbury patron saint of spinsters!

Mum has written the piece below about Saint Styllites in response to this project. What interests me about his story is that for a while no one around him was sure whether his actions were driven by vanity or humility, the local monks reportedly devised a tests to find out which it was. Sometimes, it seems, there is a fine line between the two.

Thinking of Sam staying on Knoydart for a year, I was somehow reminded of Simon Stylites.  His story has the quality of myth, but is in facttrue.  It seems extraordinary that someone should be considered a saint because he lived on a very small platform on top of a pillar in a desert.  It sounds absurd, a weird and incomprehensible form of
behaviour.  I am not quite sure why Sam’s year long film project reminds me of Simon Stylites, except that she is staying one place for a while.  A year seems a long time to spend in one place.  It’s more than I could do.  But a year in one place is by no means a record – some people live in the same place for the whole of their lives.   At
least Sam is in a very beautiful place with a friendly community. Shecan even take the boat across to Mallaig now and again.  It occurred to me that maybe Simon Stylites held the record for staying in one place.  There doesn’t seem to be an entry in the Guinness Book of Records for staying in one place, but Simon Stylites still, after 1500 years, holds the record for pole sitting.

Simon Stylites began to attract a lot of visitors when he chained himslf to a large iron ball. He gained a reputation for settling disputes, giving good practical advice and being able to perform miracles. Eventually he began to feel a need to get away from all these people, so he built a small platform on top of an old pillar and lived up there.  His first pillar was about four metres high, and had a platform about one metre square.  It had a balustrade round it – this is shown in paintings of the time – but no shelter.  There was even a ladder for visitors to climb up.  Presumably it was removed when he felt that he’d seen enough people.  Small boys climbed up carrying goat’s milk and flat bread for him.  History does not tell us how his excrement was removed.  He soon found that the first pillar was not high enough, and moved to a succession of higher pillars, each with only a small platform.  His final pillar was about fifteen metres high.

Luis Buñuel’s film ‘Simon of the Desert’ is loosely based on the life of Simon Stylites. Buñuel’s film is set in the middle-ages, and Buñuel’s Simon seems to have faithfully imitated his predecessor’s religious fetishes in what today would be considered ‘extreme sado-masochistic performance art.’

#9 What the locals think

A few weeks ago I sent a letter to the local community asking for to responses to this project. This caused some confusion as I think people thought I wanted responses to the final film as opposed to the ideas and process behind it, so I sent a few questions as starting points. These included  how they would feel about not leaving Knoydart for a year, whether living in a place of such extremes affects their relationship with nature, their thoughts about aging and whether they have ever tried to record their experiences of life in any way.

Most people wanted to remain anonymous and some only wanted to share their responses with me personally. This is part of the nature of life in a small community where there is very little privacy. So I am incredibly grateful for the thoughts and comments I received. It is really useful for me to talk about the ideas behind my work and find out how other people relate to them particularly those living immediately around me! 

Here are a few things people said . . .

In your film I feel that perhaps you are searching for Sorley Maclean’s “Highland paradox of sensing both absence and continuity in the physical landscape.”

There is also Meg Bateman’s comment on the silent communion of two old crofters looking out “in to the land whose ways and memories unite them . .in certain knowledge that talk would hamper that expansive communion.”

Staying on Knoydart for a year, only being able to leave for up to a 24 hour period I don’t think would bother me.  I only normally go away because I need shopping .  . . .  I’m quite happy here.  I’ve been here for 20 years.

Perhaps your project is about your manipulation of your time rather than a comment on anybody else’s time or time in general, perhaps the title of your project should be “stay the same (?)” so as not to pre-empt the outcome, I suspect “most people” (whoever they are) let their time happen to them rather than taking control of their time (is that what JL was talking about when he he said “life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans?”).

Perhaps most people live in a place of extremes . .

When in a special situation I often stop for a second and try to freeze the moment in my head.  For example my son’s first day at school – I can still see it and feel the feelings now.

I am aware of the limits of time and at the moment I wish I had more but sometimes, when I see the very elderly, I hope I won’t have too much.

Of course time flows at the same rate but it seems to go faster as you get older and when you have too much to do to fit into it  . . .

I am happy enough with the way I am aging – own teeth, breasts and hair colour!

I watched an experiment the other day and two guys the same age were put into separate rooms not knowing what the experiment was.  One guy had to peel tatties for 30 minutes.  The other guy had a ‘babe’ massage him, pour him drinks, play pool with him etc.  At the end of the 30 minutes they were each asked how long they had been in the room.  Tattie man said 40 minutes and Babe man said 20 minutes!  That says it all.

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