Friday, 5 August 2016

On Cataracts and Serendipity

Here’s the favourite woodland picture I referred to a few days ago. It’s a picture of Aira Beck flowing through a stretch of woodland which lies between High Force and Aira Force in Cumbria. (Waterfalls are called forces in Cumbria after the Norse. In Northumberland they’re called linns after the Anglian. In other places they’re just called falls, which word was specially invented to rhyme with balls.)

And there’s an interesting story attached to it. I did two versions – this one which was done on 35mm film, and a second one using my Mamiya 2¼ sq TLR (or 6x6 if you prefer metric.)

So one day, after Mrs Thatcher’s pea-brained scheme to re-invent the British economy on the American model had led me to the edge of penury, things were looking bad. The recession was deepening, work was almost non-existent, and oblivion beckoned because I didn’t know how I was going to pay the rent that month.

And then I got a letter from a publishing house which was holding the larger format version of this picture with a view to possibly using it on a book jacket. They were very sorry, they said, but they’d lost the transparency (this was pre-digital, you understand.) They assumed it must have gone astray in the mail somewhere, and they hoped that the enclosed cheque for £300 would suffice by way of compensation.

Suffice? In fatter times I would probably have bargained for more, but in the circumstances then prevailing I was cock-a-hoop. £300 was enough to pay the rent and buy an ice cream by way of celebration.

And that’s how my life has always been – ever hearing the cataract of financial ruin roaring a hair’s breadth ahead of me, only to have an unexpected hand stretch out from the bank to pull me ashore. I could tell lots of stories like that.

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