Monday 21 December 2020

Maiden Voyage

On Howe's Strand at the solstice a boy and girl were taking selfies at the water line, then crouching down to photograph the lowlit turbulence of the stream at the back of the beach, which was swollen after a couple of heavy showers. A man was walking his dog on a circuit round the beach, at least three times. We were drinking spicy tea from a flask, propped against a poured concrete wall. In the sodden stubble fields up on the headland, a flock of yellowhammers lifted the breeze. Up the road when we left, the girl from the selfies was smiling. She was the joy of solstice. Everyone in their masks in their cars, their bubbles, was eclipsed by her smile up there in the late sun. 

I absorb a headland and a beach south of Cork city, as Denton Welch absorbed Shanghai and surrounds in the 1930s. I've been re-reading Maiden Voyage as slowly as I can, often in the middle of the night. Denton heads out into the Shanghai night in his friend Vesta's clothes, lipstick staining his teeth pink. We head down to the coast on a maybe OK day, meet a shower of two, and hail, get a wet foot in the swollen stream, tramp among sugar beet and blackened stubble. Reading influences the walking and music influences all of it. I've listened to Monteverdi's L'Orfeo almost every night this week. A model of musical clarity, beneath whose orderly structure everything is ready to be described.

William Burroughs recommended Denton Welch to students, perhaps as material ready to be cut up, each phrase or word a bright shiny object that could find itself next to new neighbours and lose none of its patina.

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