The Soldier And The Painter

A few months ago I read The Noise Of Time by Julian Barnes, written from the perspective of the composer Shostakovich in Stalinist Russia. I remember thinking at the time how difficult it must have been for creatives living under such regimes. Often it is the writers and the poets who are the first among the disappeared.

Anyway.

I woke in the early hours of this morning with the remnants of a dream clinging to the shirt tails of my emerging sense of self. The dream was of an artist-a painter, who was living in a country that was under some kind of communist or military rule. He had been called to be conscripted into the army, but his passion was for his art. He was stood before a desk being questioned by a seated officer, a strict disciplinarian, who was giving him the party line about what his duty to his country was, and what an honour it is to serve the ‘leader’ and to give your life for the cause. 

The young man replied that he had no intention to die for the cause, but rather to live for his art.

This provoked a concerted effort from the officer to bring the young man around to the official way of thinking.

The artist replied “I’m not going to be a soldier anymore than you are going to be my psychologist.”

That was it. I woke up with that last line rattling around my brain, a film with no closure, a story with no end.

It has been some months since I read The Nosie Of Time, and haven’t really thought of it since, so I’m not too sure if that was where the seeds of my dream were sown. And to be honest the storyline was not really the same as that in my dream.

But I feel a little cheated. I was filled with admiration for my conjured character, whoever he was. Maybe he served as an archetype for all of those creative types that I spoke about at the start of this post. I feel like I really need to know what happened to that young artist, and what price he paid for his courageous stance.

I probably will never know. Perhaps I should write it myself.

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A Final Manchester Post: Still The Flowers Grow

(Things have got heavy here on City Jackdaw, understandably so. This will be, I think, my final post on the Manchester bombing. At least for a while. And here are some final photographs: some inspiring, some personal, some heartbreaking. Thank you for acting as witness with me.)

There are still many armed police on the streets. I saw one heading for the Gents toilet in the Arndale shopping centre. “Do you want me to mind that while you go in?” I asked him, indicating his gun. He laughed. I’ve seen other officers reassuring children, placing their helmets onto young heads for photographs.

Meanwhile, outside, still the flowers grow.


Real bees-Manchester bees, were flying among the thousands of flowers, unthwarted by the barrage of moving tethered balloons.


There was a subdued air compared to the earlier staunch triumphalism, the knee jerk refusal to be cowed.

My two youngest children and I.

Then, somewhere beyond this transformed square, a lone piper began to play.


A woman took a photograph of her little girl, stood in front of the flowers. “I’ll show you this when you grow up.”

“I don’t want to grow up,” she replied. I can understand why.

Everywhere: an alternative message to hate.

Remembrance of the twenty two.


And messages to ourselves; to each other:


But also, heartbreakingly, survivor’s guilt:


My kids stayed a little longer, quiet and thoughtful among the reflecting figures.


This place of memorial draws the creatives: the musicians; the poets; the painters. I’ve seen them everywhere, and of course I’m one too. Bleeding our art through open wounds.


Victoria train station, through which the Arena (site of the bombing) can be accessed, has now reopened. Samaritan volunteers were present everywhere, handing out cards for anyone who may need help. Above the platform scaffolding shows where the damage is still being repaired, draped by one of the We Love Manchester signs that adorns the city.


And also this, a memorial to the dead, and a tribute to the people:


This has been laid, naming and depicting the dead as angels. The five males in white, the females in pink, the girl with the balloon the youngest victim, eight-year-old Saffie.


I left the centre still, even more so, a proud Mancunian, moved by the resolve of the Manchester people.