Category Archives: Heaton Hall

Horny Grazers in Heaton Park

A couple of weekends ago I visited Heaton Park. Heaton Hall, unfortunately, is now closed until Easter when it will reopen. I love visiting the place for its air: it has the same effect on me as going to the British seaside, minus the train fare.

These lovely creatures were grazing not far from the entrance to the park, but I only came across them on my way back. I’d like to say that we paid little attention to each other… although I do wonder what could happen if these horny guys (excuse the pun!) were a bit less interesting in food.

How I Write: Structuring a Narrative

This can be a never-ending story, and I saw other writers contributing posts on the topic… so I thought I’d add my two cents.

Doubtless, there is – and must be – some structure. Orwell said that the statement that art was for art’s sake was political, in that it asserted a specific idea. To paraphrase that, to render no structure to a text is also a political decision, for the structure will then rest in other, perhaps less obvious, components of the text. To take Memento for an example, it is seemingly without a structure, but as the film progresses, through multiples repetitions, the structure begins to manifest itself precisely through these repetitions that gradually help us to piece the story together. A broken structure, as in Bad Education, calls on our attention. To me, it was fascinating to notice that in Bad Education we had two films in one – but unless we pay attention, this fact may well escape us. In Vertigo, it is already in the middle of the film that we can see that the protagonist has stopped suffering from vertigo: Hitchcock points the camera down the spiral staircase, and we see that it is stale, yet the protagonist is too distressed to notice this – so we have the story starting anew. And, of course, Irreversible turns any conventional film structure on its head and gives us a narrative that unravels from the end to the beginning.

In literature, we can cite What Is to Be Done? by Chernyshevsky that started from the middle of the story; or Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Vargas Llosa that was interjected by excerpts from the young author’s scripts. Vargas Llosa is certainly fond of these complicated texts, as The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto, with letters and fantasies that break a storyline just as much as they enrich and help understand it, loosely follows the technique he used before in other texts.

Thus, for all the importance of structure and its role in making a text coherent, readable and pleasant in one way or another, “order is not all“, to now paraphrase Edna St. Vincent Millay. Indeed, at the start of the things it is not particularly important how we fetch all parts of our text together – whether we begin with the middle, or with the end, or start at the very beginning and continue to the end, then stop (I think this has something to do with Lewis Carroll).

Apparently, many writers have either notebooks or pieces of paper, should the Muse visit them. Umberto Eco, answering the question about how he writes, notes that he finds himself jotting down the thoughts on pieces of paper, in notepads, which he then assembles and studies before embarking on a book. His much elder brother-in-arms and compatriot, Francesco Petrarca, once declared something of a “writer’s bankruptcy”: he was inundated with his own notes, so threw half of them into fire. Personally, I use both notebooks and pieces of paper, and although I diligently try and use some notebooks for nothing but taking notes in the library or business meetings, somehow I end up finding there extracts for future essays or poems.

But now to the question: how do we decide what structure is “right” for the text we’re writing? If we believe that writers are being guided by some external force, then one may say that the force also imposes the structure. This, however, would go against the grain in Journalism or academy: whether we’re writing a newspaper article or an academic article, both have a structure that cannot be changed. An academic article or a study would often even have a set of chapters that has to be followed precisely. This is not to say that this structure cannot be enlivened or otherwise “tweaked”, but if you’re writing for a result then expect some criticism, should your peer have a strong view on how things must be done.

Yet with a creative, literary text – how do we decide what structure it follows? I’ve said before that a visit to Heaton Park was inspiring, coupled with a visit to Subversive Spaces exhibition at The Whitworth Art Gallery. I’m now writing the text, in Russian, but the way things go, I have written the end, and I have one third of the first part. A complete text, as I feel it, will consist of three parts, first telling a fictional story (dream); second telling the story of real people; third is the part that will show how the first two stories are linked together, and this part will also “solve the problem”. The reason I don’t tell more isn’t only because the text is not even half-written, but because at the moment I, being my own reader and critic, find that there are too many references in my head, and I’m not yet sure which of them are more powerful than others. There may be some oblique references to Bunuel; references to Heaton Park will be the most obvious; same with Surrealists’ fascination for hysteria, dreams, sex, and death. So, right now I’m something of Lady Shalott who makes a conscious decision to not look into the window, lest all the various threads she’s intertwining get knotted upon her seeing Sir Lancelot.

Now, to answer my own question – how did I decide on the way of writing this text? The answer, frankly, is that I didn’t decide it. I don’t always write texts from the beginning till the end, regardless of what structure they eventually assume. This is simply because when something speaks with you it speaks quickly, and my task is often to pin the thought down before it vanishes. Similarly, with the text in question, the one third of its first part isn’t “coherent”, in the sense that it contains bits that will be included in different chapters.

All the above, of course, begs the question about reading and editing – but that is a topic for another post.

Illustration:

William Howard Hunt, Lady Shalott (1889-1902)

A Day at Heaton Park

You know that it took me six years to get to Urbis. Well, it took me seven years to visit Heaton Park, despite the fact that for 4.5 years I lived in Clifton which is only 15 mins by car from Prestwich and the park. Perhaps, these are just some of the most unexplainable things that can happen in one’s lifetime.

I wasn’t planning to go anywhere this Saturday. My week at work was substantially busy. I’m doing basically the same thing as I have been doing since 2006 or even prior to that date – blogging, writing a copy, producing Social Media coverage of events, and also looking into how businesses can incorporate Social Media and Networks in their business routine. So, with a plenty of research, presentations, proposal writing, and even one business meeting the week was busy enough for me to almost forget about St George’s Day.

On Friday evening I relaxed with a glass of German wine. A ‘glass’ is an understatement, really, but then I don’t want to make a bad impression… Nevertheless, I still woke up at 8, and by the afternoon I was wondering if I should stay home or go out. I was well tempted by the sunny weather… and then I remembered that I never yet went to Heaton Park.

Rather than taking a Metrolink tram, I went by bus, and in some 20-25 mins I was near the park. A friend of mine went there before me and found the park mildly disturbing, mainly due to the relief of the land. Indeed, the hills and heaps of trees that conceal ups and downs can produce a weird effect, and as I said, the park would be a perfect place for a Surrealist study of space and our psychological response to it.

The park previously belonged to the Egertons, the wealthy landed aristocratic family. Sir Thomas Egerton, under whom the Hall enjoyed the first phase of its flourishing, was elevated to the peerage by the turn of the 18/19th cc with the title of Baron Grey de Wilton (1784) and then 1st Earl of Wilton (1801). Heaton Hall that is presently enjoyed by thousands of visitors each year was designed in the 18th c. by James Wyatt (British architect) and bears some distinct Italian traits both in outside and inside decor. The orangery that on the day of my visit hosted some private function was added to the house in 1823.

The considerable part of family’s income came from coal mining in North West of England, particularly Radcliffe and Siddal Moor. Sir Thomas purchased many of the paintings we see on display at the Hall, while on the Grand Tour in Europe in 1787-88. His own records indicate that he was collecting English contemporary paintings and the copies of Old Masters in Italy. In Paris, as well, he purchased large quantities of furniture, clothing and porcelain and brought it back, to adorn the Hall.

The rooms that are open to the visitors comprise, on the ground floor: a hall with sculptures in the four semispheral niches; an ante-library and library; the sumtuously decorated Music Room with a Greek harp, a harpsicord, a square piano and a Samuel Green organ; a billiard room; a saloon; and a dining room; and on the first floor: a master’s bedroom; the Cupola Room; the Pink Bedroom; and the Yellow Bedroom. The Cupola Room on the first floor was decorated by the Italian master Biagio Rebecca, but throughout the Hall the technique of grisaille is used extensively.

It is interesting to note the engravings and paintings in the room. In the dining room, for instance, one would be expected to stare at the sad, if not rather gruesome, demise of Dido. A copy of Giercino’s (left), the painting depicts a dying Dido, but what one notices instantly is the wound on her chest and the sword on which she thrusted herself. Arguably, this is not the most fitting painting for the room where people were expected to thrust knives and forks into meats, although the masters of the house had evidently had a different view. On the other hand, the upstairs boudoirs are all decorated with reproductions from the paintings by Sir Joshua Reynolds and some contemporary artists, depicting children or mother with a child. And in the library one can see an engraving “The Birth of Shakspeare” where the English Bard is shown greeted by Mother Nature and Passions.

The Hall was sold to Manchester Corporation at the very beginning of the 20th c., and in the recent years was managed by Manchester Art Galleries. Photography is not permitted; apparently, some visitor made the photos and then sold them off, so a snapper is now a no-no, and for the most intrepid of us there is a CCTV in every room. I have to say, though, that a good colour catalogue of the Hall is very due… and I would be up to participating in making it.

The park’s grounds were visited by the Duke of Wellington and recently – by the Pope John Paul II who spoke the Mass. The place is now marked by the so-called Papal Monument. And the Old Town Hall Colonnade (left) is the remaining piece of the town hall that stood in King St in Manchester’s city centre before the new building was erected in Albert Square.

After four hours of walking and talking photographs I was obviously too tired. At one point, as well, I walked up the steep hill, only to find myself within the limits of a golf course, and there I had to make an uneasy choice about climbing over the fence. The uneasiness was in that I was afraid I could fall over, since I haven’t done this kind of exercise for a good number of years. I managed OK, though.

Some information was taken from Peter Riley’s book, Heaton Hall and the Egerton family.

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