Paths that cross will cross again

Photo: Julie Travis

Photo: Julie Travis

The trip to Cumbria was long and emotional but also beautiful and inspiring. We stayed in a small house at the foot of Blencathra and watched the mountain turn from green to white in a short-lived but furious snowstorm. From the back were sweeping views over St John’s in the Vale and more mountains than I could count, plus a bat that flitted around the garden one evening. Our visit to Castlerigg stone circle was marred by an arrogant pair of men who had camped inside the stones, and who stared and commented at us as we approached as if we had no right to be there. What was it someone said recently about some people and their sense of absolute entitlement? I nearly spoke to them, as I wanted to explain how disrespectful they were being (and that they were giving wild campers a bad name) but my instinct was to keep away. We returned later in the week and they were gone, replaced by visitors who treated the place – and us – with respect.

It was with great relief that we found the hawthorn tree where Jhonn Balance’s ashes were scattered, and the nearby Church Plantation, the location of his memorial woodland, entirely undamaged from the terrible flooding of December 2015. In the lane approaching St Bega church T found the body of a young deer (as you will see from the new ‘banner’ photo on this site). Ian had a fondness for photographing dead animals, and the deer was one of his favourite creatures, so I photographed it in his honour.

The story I’m currently working on, Dark Fire, finishes at Bassenthwaite Lake, and I took some time, sitting on a boulder on the shore, to note the details of the area. The story is near completion of its first draft and the trip has provided the motivation to finish it sooner rather than later. I also made some notes for what will be my next story (as yet untitled); perhaps it’s impossible to be in such a landscape and not stumble upon new story ideas.

 

The title of this piece is from a lyric by Patti Smith. All other images and text ©Julie Travis

And November brings starlings

Kirkstone Pass

These last few days have brought huge clouds of starlings; initially on the eastern side of Penzance, then perhaps 10,000 murmurating at Marazion Marshes last night and, just now, thousands of them whirling in a massive circle outside the back of the house. It’s been like a wonderful, waking dream.

As you can see from my previous post, the trip to Cumbria in September included a return to Jhonn Balance’s memorial. We spent some time at Bassenthwaite Lake, with only geese for company, near the hawthorn tree where Balance’s ashes were scattered, then made our way to the nearby woodland memorial. We had time here, too, to tidy up litter left by thoughtless visitors and to photograph the woodland. I was able to take in the surroundings more fully this time. The place is dearly important to me.

The trip was overwhelming for many reasons. We stayed in a house overlooked by Blencathra mountain on one side and the Helvellyn range on another and visited Castlerigg stone circle three times, such was its effect on us. On each visit the weather and light were radically different, the mountains surrounding the plateau on which the circle sits subtly changed as the sun came and went. On our first visit, we were lucky enough to have D, a local Pagan, quietly impart his extensive knowledge of the place. Thank you, D.

We also travelled east to Long Meg And Her Daughters, a stone circle so big that it contains several trees and a lane runs through it. Long Meg, outside the circle but seeming to keep a protective eye on it, has a beautiful spiral carved into her side. It is entirely different to Castlerigg but a fascinating place. On our last visit we were unable to meet up with Ian Johnstone (artist/farmer/Coil affiliate and Balance’s partner) but met with him twice this time. After several years of communicating with him, it was wonderful to meet face to face and we talked at length about many, many things.

JB Hawthorn & Dodd

Storylandia #15 – the issue devoted to my work – is now set for publication in January 2015. This means my deadline is two months’ shorter than I originally thought, but I’m happy that it’s going ahead so soon. Four short stories and one novella are now with the editor and I’m hoping that all of these will appear in the issue. I have one story that’s near to completion but won’t be ready in time and another with an anthology editor – this feels like a good momentum to have gained.

Back to the stars they go: Jhonn Balance, Peter Christopherson, Lisa Cook

 

With the death of Jhonn Balance seven years ago, in a fall at his home in Somerset, came the end of Coil. And with the end of Coil, a band/project inhabited by many over the years but with Balance and Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson at its heart, came a loss that becomes ever more evident with time. Coil created what I’ve always thought of as dream soundtracks, but that barely describes the depth of what they did. Some gothic, Industrial beginnings led to the original score for Hellraiser, to some dark ambience, to meditative and mind-expanding ‘moon musick’. Balance explored the occult, Death and What Comes After in much of his work. It was his attitude that initially attracted me to the band, his proud, defiant sexuality and interest in magick kept me hooked even when I wasn’t so keen on the music (Love’s Secret Domain, with its acid-house tinge, was really the only album that didn’t completely enthrall me). Although that voice, that beautiful, golden voice, was always irresistible. Balance has been described as a ‘musical alchemist’ but I’ll remember him most for his spiritual and magickal exploration. His relationship with alcohol and his often fragile mental state perhaps doomed him to an early death; at 42, he still had so much more to do here, and it’s still difficult to think of the world without him. But he has moved on – to whatever comes after – and perhaps its more our loss than his: Barbara Erskine wrote in Daughters of Fire, “…like the Celt, I also believe in a form of reincarnation… that the soul, on occasions, splits into three parts on death, one part to reincarnate, one to go to the Blessed Isle and one part to enter another life form – perhaps a bird or a shooting star.” The Woodland Trust memorial to him, situated near Bassingthwaite Lake in the Lake District, is in a place he loved and is a beautiful, fitting tribute.

Sleazy was the quieter, more stable half of Coil, though no less gifted than Balance. After Balance died he somehow carried on and managed to complete the band’s last studio album, The Ape of Naples, in 2005. He relocated to Bankok, continued making music and began to enjoy life again. A few months before his death (in November 2010) he posted a short film on Myspace, apologising for having cancelled a gig due to illness. In the film he claimed it was ‘nothing serious’, but somehow it didn’t ring true, and this quote, from 31 July 2010, seems to bear that out: “We are all only temporary curators of our present bodies, which will all decay, sooner or later. In a hundred years or so all the humans currently alive will have died. I take great comfort in knowing, with certainty, that thing that makes us special, able to enrich our own lives and those of others, will not cease when our bodies do but will be just starting a new (and hopefully even better) adventure.” He passed away in his sleep, in his own bed at home and no cause of death has been officially announced. I have my own theories but he and his loved ones deserve their privacy. With him gone, the void left by Coil has become immeasurably bigger, The Ape of Naples even sadder and more difficult to listen to. Coil were with me for around half my lifetime, their influence on every part of my life immense. I doubt any ‘band’ can take their place and perhaps I shouldn’t even look for someone to do so.

Sister George, London, circa 1994

 

Lisa Cook played bass guitar in Sister George, the leaders, as such, of the British Queercore scene of the mid-1990s. I got to know her after doing an interview with the band (which turned out to be their last) in guitarist Lyndon Holmes’ flat in Walthamstow. I’d seen them for the first time at a pub in Camden, North London, a couple of weeks after I came out. Gay punks! I was smitten. I played pool with Lisa, went to a few gigs with her and Lyndon and then girlfriend Yas (guitarist in Mouthfull), including Huggy Bear’s last gig. She was interested in my writing and made me promise that, should I ever make a film (a version of The Guinea Worm was being discussed at the time), she could play a zombie, whether or not the story included one. After Sister George broke up, she and Lyndon formed Kidnapper, a short-lived but brilliant pop band. She gave me their demo tape; it was full of promise but the band had serious personal problems and split up after releasing one single. I saw her at Club V (queer/indie club, late 1990s) but then she left London and I lost contact with her. She had a partner at the time of her death (in January 2008, of cancer) but my attempts to get more details have come to nothing, but she was far too young to leave us. We were friends for a time and Sister George were a truly great, feisty band that made it easier for me to come out. I’ll remember her with affection and sadness.

Brentor/Dartmoor, 8 November 2011