Tuesday, January 03, 2006

goodbye fromebase

I live in a town called Frome which is in Somerset which is in SW England which is in the UK.

Somerset people know that the name Frome is pronounced to rhyme with "groom" (and not with "loam"), and this is a sure way of identifying in-comers who are only rawly arrived from London.

I was most delighted to discover today that some younger inhabitants commonly refer to Frome as Fromage. (This has a sort of official laugh-ingredient because of Frome's famous annual Cheese Show, and a slightly less official chuckle that refers to the Cheese & Grain, which is a music & booze venue in an old warehouse, but the real comedy is to do with the deadly dull OK-ness of growing up in Frome, which seems crap and yet comforting and vaguely off-the-wall.)

Frome once had a flourishing LETS scheme (it was that kind of alternative sort of place, if that's what you wanted to see). The units of exchange were called Fromes. Things went well as people helped to dig out each other's ponds and if they were on invalidity benefit signed up for Shiatsu or learnt the piano. Eventually someone decided that this was an unimaginative name for the local currency, so they changed it to Shuttles and the scheme promptly collapsed.

When I ran an e-zine called Fromebase (for two whole hours, spaced a year apart) I loved the unresolvable pronunciation of the masthead. The e-zine existed solely for the shimmer of its polyphony and I could never think of anything to put in it.

"Frome" is a common name of English rivers, and perhaps it means "swiftly-flowing". Our river is one of the two rivers Frome that flow into the Bristol Avon - the north-flowing one that joins the Avon at Bath, not the south-flowing one that comes down from the Cotswolds and has its confluence somewhere underneath the pavements of central Bristol.

People tell you not to bathe in rivers (they're full of agricultural run-off) but in hot weather kids & alternative people head for the river and swim and get stoned. It's safer, anyway, than cliff-jumping into flooded quarries. In England as in the US, rivers (unlike coasts and mountains) tend to connote blue-collar neighbourhoods. Even the tiny river in Frome tends to wind along the back of industry and to be a scruffy and teenage kind of place full of leaking tanks and other bits of gear that don't show on the postcard's swept brow with its hanging baskets and medieval streets.

One of the things that I thought I'd put in my e-zine was TREES OF FROME. There are in fact no outstanding trees in Frome (that is, uncommon species or unusually big or well-grown or old) and this was my point, really; I wanted to suggest that in Frome and every other town individual trees were nevertheless powerful characters once you let them get at you. One difficulty I had was that many of these trees were in small private gardens and it didn't seem right to publish the addresses. Another was that trees disappeared so fast that I kept missing them; just as they started to pop with vigour they cast too much shade and got felled. However, the principal difficulty was in the end a poetic and technical one; I just didn't have a way of talking about what I wanted to say. Even if I'd been botanically competent (and whenever it got tricky, I wasn't) I was trying to break away from a species-based way of apprehending the world; but I still needed the botany, just like a poet needs to know how to speak a language conventionally, because botany had the only word-hoard that attempted to speak comprehensively about vegetative forms and cycles. Probably I wasn't thinking right; I was getting too tangled and the whole stupid idea was something I was deliberately making into too much trouble to embark on. It might have helped me if I'd seen Chekhov's letter to his brother:

You will bring life to nature only if you don't shrink from similes that liken its activities to those of humankind.

It was just the opposite of what I believed, but since this is Chekhov I've pondered those words and now I kind of believe them alongside their opposite.



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