Thursday, February 28, 2019

10 Mars Bars

Recently I received the sad news that an old college friend of mine (Mick - Michael Dean) had passed away. Although those days were now 35 years in the past, the memories remain as vivid as ever and probably will remain so unless I suffer a lapse of memory brought on by old age.

At times like these there is often an exchange of memories and photographs between friends and, though we feel have a clear picture of events, there are also surprises or 'blasts from the past'. I received one of these 'blasts' in the form of a tangible record of something that occurred within the first few weeks of arriving at college.

In the Autumn of 1981 I arrived at Newcastle Upon Tyne Polytechnic (Later to become Northumbria University) to study on the BA (Hons) Fine Art degree course and initially stayed at the Lovaine B Halls of Residence. There I met a group of friends, most of whom I am still in contact with to this day. Within the first 2 months we collectively decided that life in the Halls of Residence was horrendous and so 7 of us rented a house in the Benwell area of Gateshead, just across the river from Newcastle. However before we moved out an event occurred one Wednesday evening the memory of which has now been brought to the fore.

During a casual and mundane conversation, mention was made of Mars bars and how filling they were. I personally liked them and declared that I found them so tasty that eating one would be as easy as anything, in fact I could probably eat more than one. I'm not sure how this happened or what exactly was said but within a short time I had stated that I could eat 10 Mars bars without problem.

Consequently, on Wednesday evening on the 21st October 1981 a group of friends gathered in the Lovaine B Halls of Residence, primarily to eat dinner but also to witness me eat 10 Mars bars. As 8 of my friends sat down to eat a perfectly normal meal, I lined up the 10 Mars bars in front of me on the table. At 7:00pm I began eating the first one and by 7:40pm I had consumed all 10. Surprisingly, after dinner I accompanied the others into the city to have a few drinks and didn't feel worse for wear. In those days, it is worth noting, Mars bars were considerably larger than they are today.

In recent weeks, following Mick's sad passing, among many truly nostalgic photographs there was one of a page in a notebook. It turned out that this page, in one of Andrew Brown's notebooks, commemorated the Mars bar event in the form of a declaration, stating:

'Between 7:00pm and 7:40pm on Wednesday the 21st of October Patrick S. Ford at 10 Mars bars in quick succession without any break longer than a minute and without throwing up. We the undersigned are witness to this event.

Andrew Brown
Jane Watmough
Mark Dunn
D. Todd
Alan Laffey
Nigel Roberts
Michael Dean
Heather Craig (I took some pictures)'

I could only marvel at this document, seeing it now after so many years. It is a terrible tragedy that this news only surfaced due to Mick's untimely passing, but this is often how the world works. Mick was a hard-working, kind man and deserved to live out many more years with his family. It just doesn't seem fair at all.

Despite the event being the result of a silly, playful wager among friends, it is also quite prescient as it seems to point towards performance as an activity to be explored. This is quite possibly my first performance piece. If only I could track down those photographs taken by Heather Craig!

I would need to check the dates but the event may possibly have been inspired by visits to The Basement in Newcastle where, as a first year Fine Art student I saw artists such as Alastair Maclennan performing a 24 hour walking performance. Seeing him perform was such a privilege and I feel grateful that I had such an experience and I feel exactly the same way about attending a lecture by the great Joseph Beuys at Leeds Art Gallery (Henry Moore Institute) back in my Foundation Course days, wonderful experiences that should be treasured. 

The page in Andrew Brown's notebook

Since this account was posted I have been contacted by Alan Laffey, one of the signatories to the 10 Mars Bars event. He made two pertinent comments that are worth adding here:

A) He felt sure that the event occurred not in the Lovaine B Halls of Residence, but in the house we subsequently moved to in Rectory Road, Benwell, Gateshead. He remembered that the wrappers from the 10 Mars Bars were attached to the wall in Rectory Road as a memento of the event. I remember this but cannot recall if the event happened there, or if the wrappers were brought from the Halls of Residence when we moved. I need to find my now misplaced diaries to check as I'm sure there would have been an entry to record exactly where the event took place.

B) He also reminded me that following the 10 Mars Bars event there was talk of a follow-up project, namely the eating of 25 Cadbury's Cream Eggs. I can remember this now and I wonder why it was never followed up. Perhaps I gained some sense?

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Saigon Citadel Walk - Terminalia, Festival of Psychogeography

Following on from the previous post: Saigon Citadel Walk - Planning, 25 January 2019.

On the morning of Saturday 23rd February, I travelled to District 1 of Saigon accompanied by Nina, Yiu Lai Lei to mark the occasion of the Terminalia Festival 2019.

This one-day Festival of Psychogeography has been held every year on the 23rd of February since 2011 and brings together individuals and groups who mark the Festival of Terminus, the Roman god of boundaries and landmarks.

To participate in the festival Nina and I chose the location of the old citadel of Saigon, which I had plotted from evidence gathered from old maps. As is often the case, different maps indicate slightly different configurations added to which is the fact that there were more than one citadel. I had chosen the first and largest as the focus for our walk. The larger incarnation of the citadel presented more opportunities for exploring the city and I also felt it was the most attractive in terms of design, however dubious the actual precise details of the design may be.

Map of District 1 showing location of the original citadel

Nina and I began our walk at the junction of Dong Khoi and Le Thanh Ton and walked north-east to Hai Ba Trung which is approximately where the centre point of the south-eastern facing wall of the citadel would have been.

The corner directly opposite the Vincom Centre on Dong Khoi

Start Point: Junction of Dong Khoi and Le Thanh Ton

Light vehicles and cyclo riders are banned from this street

Beautiful typography on this retro building facade

Flexible modular blocks allow the tree roots to rise without cracking the pavement

This face of the citadel wall would have continued until Ton Duc Thang and then turned a 90 degree angle to run directly north-west.

The East Corner of the Citadel Wall, junction of Le Thanh Ton and Ton Duc Thang

Reinforced concrete slab masquerading as an ancient architectural wall plaque

Street sign: two typefaces plus graffiti

Carmelite Monastery of Saigon

Potted tree dancing in the wind

Hem 45, not particularly inviting

Christmas bells hiding away until next year

A sign indicating the location of a street-side motorcycle repairman

Inverted motorcycle helmet becomes an artefact

This north-east facing wall would have crossed what is now Le Duan and Nguyen Thi Minh Khai before reaching Nguyen Dinh Chieu and the citadel wall's most northerly point. It then turned 90 degrees to head south west.

The North Corner of the Citadel Wall, junction of Ton Duc Thang and Nguyen Dinh Chieu

Gold and cream wall with bottle green accent

Navigating the fractured pavement

The bewildering spaghetti of cables

Misaligned pastel coloured pavement patterns

Reaching the western corner of the citadel (with local cooperation)

The north-west facing wall ran across what is now Hai Ba trunk (again) and Pham Ngoc Thach before reaching Nam Ky Khoi Nghai and the most westerly corner.

The West Corner of the Citadel Wall, junction of Nguyen Dinh Chieu and Nam Ky Khoi Nghia

New year celebratory gateways still in place after the Tet holiday

2019, Year of the Pig

Flaking stucco reveals pastel green sublayer, works well with the small sculpture

Supreme People's Court

The path of the south-west facing wall ran across what is now Vo Van Tan, Nguyen Thi Minh Khai (again), Le Duan (with the Reunification Palace on the right) and continued until it reached the most southerly corner at the junction with Le Thanh Ton.

One street before the South Corner (Ly Tu Trong) we found a small park dedicated to Quach Thi Trang, a student protester who was killed by the Police during demonstrations against the South Vietnamese Government in August 1963. The wall around the park featured decorative spheres that closely resembled cannon balls. Could we have stumbled across remnants of the defensive power of the old citadel?

Cannon balls used as decoration? 

The South Corner of the Citadel Wall, junction of Nam Ky Khoi Nghia and Le Thanh Ton

From here the walk took us back along Le Thanh Ton (with the People's Committee Hall on the left) to the junction of Dong Khoi, where we started.

The People's Committee Hall

Colours collected with the 'City Palette' App at intervals during the walk 

Our walk allowed us to gain a better feel for the city, and instilled in us a sense of how large the original citadel must have been and how much of the central area of the city it occupied.