Thursday, 14 December 2017


The People's Park, Halifax, West Yorkshire.

I don't much like parks. They are too much nature tamed. They have walks without purpose and flow with an atmosphere of worthiness, municipal community and alone-nes. They are uncomfortable places.

I don't much like flatness. I once stayed a week in Huntingdonshire in an area that was counted as 'semi-desert'; not because it was dry but because so few people lived there. To ride on a bus you needed to phone in advance and ask the driver to collect you; and you could see everything for miles and miles.There was no-where to hide. There were, I suppose, advantages to this flatness. For instance I could so easily see a storm coming in advance of its arrival there was time to get home before it began to rain. I'd rather have sheltered under a hedge though - if there had been hedges. But there were none. Just miles of visibility.

Hills are tiring to walk in but because you can't see everything at once there's more to see. Constant surprise. What's over the brow? What's around the bend?

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Statue of Venus in The People's Park, Halifax, West Yorkshire.

Scotland has a new five pound note. I heard about it by chance on 'Woman's Hour' this morning.* It has a portrait of Nan Shepherd on it. I'd not heard of her before and know little about her still - but the interviewee on Woman's Hour read a bit of something she'd written; comments on how you can see static things 'move' merely by shifting the angle of your head, your eye, your body. Turn upside down.

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Last week I visited The People's Park in Halifax. I'd been there a few times before. It's growing on me - but on my first visit I decided it's exactly the kind of park I don't like; more or less flat with a fountain that's never turned on and a short, stagnant 'serpentine' stretch of water with a grassy bank in the middle so ducks have to come out on one side and up-and-over if they want to swim its full length.

According to the Wikipedia entry, Francis Crossley - the man who established this park - was so impressed by the scenery of New England he returned to Halifax eager "to arrange art and nature so that they shall be within the walk of every working man in Halifax; that he shall go to take his stroll there after he has done his hard day's toil, and be able to get home without being tired".

The idea that everyone in Halifax would be able to walk there for a stroll after a hard day's work is a bit of a far hope as it's not in the centre and it is up a hill - but it had already begun to strike me (as I softened towards it) that in a town as hilly as Halifax a flat space to walk in might have been a luxury after a day working hard for Francis Crossley and his relations.

I don't think he and I would have got along. I may well say more about his attitude towards workers in another post but even on lesser things we'd probably have irritated and puzzled each other. Why did the White Mountains of New Hampshire inspire him to provide Halifax with a large area of flat grass? (I don't want to under-rate him - there were trees and plants too - but you get the jist.)

Historic England's entry about The People's Park says it 'It provided for quiet enjoyment of the scenery and for walking, and all meetings, games and dancing were forbidden.' (Oh joy!) Lots of games in the summer now though, and a children's playground.

Statue of Telemachus in The People's Park, Halifax, West Yorkshire.
who has not put on his armour
but has propped it against his left buttock instead.

When the park was opened in 1857, a troupe of copied statues was brought in: Hercules, Venus, Diana, Telemachus and Sophocles. (Apollo arrived broken.) I don't know why visitors would want to see a load of semi-naked men on pedestals while they were walking quietly round the paths after a heavy day at Crossley's carpet mill . . . and I don't know why these giants of mythology and Greek and Roman religion never got the hang of getting dressed. And the extra surprising thing about the arrangement of these statues is that when walking along the broad path beside them one is presented with a selection of bare bottoms. 

Slowly we return to Nan Shepherd . . .

Hercules from behind with colour deepened.
Hercules looking strongish because the colours are deep in the photo.
The idea that things look different from different angles is basic to the kind of photographs I take. It's easy to say and perfectly obvious to all but not always acted upon or taken seriously or even noticed. Different lights send different messages. Different directions bring out different strengths and different weaknesses; and different colours and different lichens. Photographs of ancient and Victorian statues tend not to explore this too much except by chance. Each statue is left to say it's own thing - which is more or less 'look at me, I'm on a postcard'.

Hercules from behind with insipid exposure.
Hercules looking as if he's dropped his bath robe
and is stooping to catch it  - because the colours are weaker.
(Actually he's leaning on a club over which is draped the skin of the Nemean Lion.)
Hence the range of Hercules photos here - rear view and from different angles. I'm not sure what he's holding behind his back but suspect it's apples he's stolen from the garden guarded by the Hesperides. (Briefly, I thought of explaining this but got bogged down and bored . . . perhaps they are not apples but oranges? Who cares?)

Hercules from the side.
Hercules looking looking like a teacher who has confiscated a yo-yo.
My viewpoint here perhaps influenced by having experience
of overbearing teachers but none of  apple-scrumping heroes.

Francis Crossley would not have liked me. Definitely not. Nor do I think I would have liked him. I imagine he'd be disappointed to know I don't appreciate these statues in the way he probably intended. He might even be cross. And I doubt he would have been pleased to see me hurrying up and down laughing and taking photos. (Though he might have been interested in examining a digital camera before anyone else of his age.)

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