It's easy enough to be pleasant
When life goes along with a song.
But the man that's worthwhile
Is the man who can smile
When everything goes wrong.
The lowering orange fireball that is the slowly-setting sun has begun sending sinister shafts of light slanting down through the grey-gathering storm clouds, creating an apocalyptic sight on the far horizon.
Away in the distance and across the velvet Vale, the square sided flint tower rises up above the village roof tops, glistening as if already moistened by the imminent rain. In the foreground are ranks of pollarded Willows – standing sentinel-tall yet ready to weep when next summer comes – whose now bare-naked, late-afternoon branches, mark the sea-bound progress of the cut-glass river that glimmers like intermittent slithers of silver amongst the water-meadows.
Out of eye-shot, a dog barks – the echoes, as much now as they would have then – ripple through the slack-sided valley; wood smoke filters languidly into the late-afternoon air, its scent borne lazily-away on a barely discernable breeze. The path toward the tiny hamlet that is dominated by the centuries old Mill leads down toward the river; the crumbling pathway awash with mouldering leaves from the previous autumn’s windfall.
To the left is a small house, the topmost part of its roof already adorned with a first layer of golden rushes, its remaining thatch mildewy-green-and-grey intercut by small patches of lichen – all is set to be overlaid. A squadron of ducks and drakes quack noisily on the water, bobbing and weaving between one another in their persistent search for the scraps of bread being thrown by the lanky, balding man wearing a Barbour jacket buttoned to the neck, his jet-black flat-coated retriever sitting patiently at his heels.
Two flying-V formations of geese silently split the gathering storm high above the bunches of mistletoe that hang like a jolly green giant’s testicles skewered by an elderly Elm; broken brambles coagulate over banks of hawthorn and broken-down tree-trunks; beside the newly excavated mole-hills is an exquisitely cut-and-laid hedge – a throwback to an old fashioned countryside art-form nowadays almost extinct.
Walk left down the narrow lane, past the mill to stop and stare in awe over a moment frozen from time on a million biscuit tins and chocolate boxes.
What to look out for in Winter.
The snow is drifting and swirling, saucer like flakes raining down from the bluebacked starlit night obliterating – in their magnitude – the very stars themselves; the gloom punctuated by soft halos of luminescence from the far-away street lamps; the cobbles underfoot throughout the Square have become a crunching mass of ice-encrusted footprints.
The guards in front of the mausoleum are due to change; a small crowd, huddling together in a vain attempt to beat back the Siberian cold has assembled to watch the spectacle. The great-coated sentries – all within the same inch of height, each impeccably dressed with jackboots brushed to a mirror finish, goosestep past implacably, seemingly oblivious to the tundra-like perma-frost and biting cold.
The ceremony takes around about fifteen minutes – the incoming troop will remain in-situ for four, bone-crushingly cold hours until they, in turn are relieved.
Ceremony over, the five of us walk away; we trudge toward the north-east of the Square – diametrically distanced by about half a kilometre from the slight slope upon which Matthias Rust landed his light aircraft that leads down to the river which bisects the city.
We all stand and look… somehow standing back a little – perhaps some show of respect, perhaps a degree of nervousness. Above and to our left are the almost pink-red walls of what was throughout much of the last century’s history a conglomeration of buildings whose name alone was enough to strike a chill into any heart.
In daylight as much as it does in darkness – lit by the warm underglow of strategically placed arc-lights, the Kremlin is, at best a forbidding place. All of the great seats of power – from the White House to the Elysee Palace, from the Reichstag to the Government buildings in Canberra have a certain majesty about them. The Kremlin has something else – it is as arresting as the Reichstag, it is as striking as the White House and yet… it has that aura of… dread… that somehow encircles it and envelops it.
A little to its right – as we’re looking at it – are two vast wrought iron gates. Beyond their imposing locked-tight facade is a vast slab of what looks like either highly polished granite or similarly treated marble. In the middle is a flickering flame.
It is Russia’s Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.
Yet, its not that – stunningly simplistic a homage as it is – which draws the eye.
I’ve turned around… and, while up close and personal its extraordinary, the slight distance and the falling snow create their own little bit of magic.
Because, there – in its own set of spotlights – is the lit-up cathedral of St Basil’s behind us; crowned by a swarm of gold and green encrusted onion-domes that are as much associated with orthodox churches worldwide as with this creation.
Somehow, this is different – and because, creation it is… here, rainbow colours predominate with blues seamlessly melding to gingerbread hues; bronze and pink not colliding but colluding in colourful abandon emerging into shallot-shaped others that more resemble over-sized strawberry mivis pointing sightlessly into the night sky.
It’s a truly extraordinary building of nine chapels all built upon one foundation to celebrate the Intercession of the Virgin that was constructed over a six year period during the mid-sixteenth century by Postnik Yakovlev who, if legend is to be believed, was blinded to prevent him building a more magnificent building for anyone else. True lies… Yakovlev built at least one other in Kazam – equals, Ivan the Terrible (who commissioned St Basil’s) clearly wasn’t that too terrible. Probably.
Its snowing… hard..; its my first and only time in Moscow – double the two and that combines to it being chocolate-box romantic yet, I’m here to work and romance is a very, very long way away; I’m also having a why me moment – not least due the sort of people I’m around – but am also overwhelmed by what I’m staring at… who, for pity’s sake has that sort of vision..? And, not only that… but this bloke Yakovlev saw it …in his mind’s eye… in 3D for fxxk’s sake. Equals (pour moi) jaw on cobble-stones moment.
Dramatic – yes; spectacular – affirmative; extravagant – completely; magnificently stunning in its simplicity – totally; exquisitely beautiful – absolutely.
Staring at it had the exact same resonance as standing in precisely the same spot upon which John Constable – second son of Ann and Golding of the same name – had placed his easel and roughed out preliminary sketches of an empty hay-wain crossing the river Stour just above Willy Lott’s farm and right beside Flatford Mill.
Sketches that he took back to his lair near to Hampstead Heath that later transposed into a painting of jaw-dropping beauty that has long since defied its chocolate box mentality and which was first exhibited in France to overwhelming acclaim.
In the greater scheme of things, the view over the river at Flatford isn’t exactly jaw-dropping; it doesn’t – for example – have that same jaw on the floor moment one attributes to a first sighting of Niagara Falls or Chenonceau, that most magical of chateaux in France.
But… Constable saw something in his mind’s eye… just like friend Yakovlev did. Just like Catherine de Medici did when she oversaw plans to build a castle that spanned the River Cher in the Loire valley.
Another example could – even, perhaps should – have been, standing on the small bridge that spans the pond-like lake at Giverny on which a blanket of lilies thrive… Monet’s lilies.
Or, how about Picasso and… The Girl With The Mandolin…?
Look at them in reality and then try to imagine yourself in the mind’s eye of the creator.
Impressionism but… something way… absolutely way beyond that.
Witness the gigantic canvases of Monet that span walls that are, basically, longer (or should that be wider) than most conventional houses. He stood there, painting away, brush stroke after brush stroke… detail here, splodge there and yet… to get true perspective you have to stand yards… as in bloody yards back… to figure out whats what.
Or… the gentle cubism of Picasso’s masterpiece… up close a jumble of brown-grey shapes; a girl with misshapen breasts holding what might or might not be a musical instrument but, from a short distance back… an astonishing piece and quite my favourite – he saw something… something that others couldn’t. The same as Monet saw it in his head, in his mind when perhaps others didn’t. Just like Constable and the same as Yakovlev and Catherine de Medici did.
And thus… and probably not before time, you’ll be wondering what the heck have I’ve been wittering on about.? And, how have I got mixed up in one of these… tardis-like open-jawed moments..?
Quite simple… after a spot of very much un-needed lousy news this morning, I’ve been off to the well, searching for a bit of much-needed awe-inspiration.
And the not-so-good news was..?
In-bound, it arrived by winged email message… polite yet straight to the point; the compilations that I’d been asked to put together will now be done in-house at Island.
My enthusiasm had been courteously noted and, they’ll be back to me should they require further assistance as the days tick down to the actual celebration.
Absolutely bloody marvellous… not far short of two week’s work rendered totally useless; lists already compiled and sleeve notes already started were, this morning, consigned to the waste-bin.
Will the un-obvious cuddle up alongside the relevant; will the eclectic nestle in amongst the germane – who knows..? Or, does it matter in the greater scheme of things?
In one sense it does since it was shaping up to become a fabulous – and paying – proposition that had really begun to exercise the mind amidst the trials and tribulations of bringing Project X to heel.
This morning I sat in the chair upon the back of which was writ large – utterly useless. I sat staring into space, unsure of what might come next, worrying myself into yet another black hole.
This afternoon, I came away from somewhere that I’d never really planned to visit with a renewed sense of imagination.
This evening, following a text that, in itself made my breast swell with pride, followed a brief chat on the phone and I’ll be going to bed feeling a deeper sense of purpose and an even deeper sense of knowing… just knowing that Project X is the correct course to be steering now – albeit, the global economy is saying different.
My youngest daughter, tonight, won her very first piece of silverware – a cup that no doubt will become a cherished possession for which, she within her team of three, knocked seven bells out of the competition to win the first round of the Rotary ‘youth speaks’ competition.
Dad, you are a bit random and a bit dysfunctional but… you can succeed… I didn’t think I could but, trust me, I’m looking at the cup I won tonight. You can too.
Tomorrow’s Project X meeting is – once again – pivotal and, despite the lousy news of earlier today, I’ll be walking the walk and talking the talk with renewed vigour.