My DunnyMonday, April 11, 2011
Guest blog by novelist C.C. Humphreys who recently moved to Salt Spring Island, BC
'Don’t worry,’ said Alex, ‘we won’t be using the toilet.’
Now I have known Alex for several years, ever since he sought me out for a photograph, having read my ‘Jack Absolute’ novels. So I should have remembered his twisted sense of humour – and his wonderful eye for juxtaposition.
So how could he leave out the dunny?
My dunny. It rests behind my writer’s hut on my recently purchased land on Salt Spring Island, BC. So is this photo an oblique commentary on my process? The words that pour out of me, all that I must vent in order to create? Why, then, the axe? Must language be hewed? And the shepherd’s crook? Is the phrase I seek like a ram in a hedge, needing to be hooked out?
Both Alex and I enjoy props. I brought a cavalry sabre to our first meeting. Props tell another story, bring in other worlds.
The axe is a recent one, coinciding with the move here. We live on 1.6 acres, mainly trees. Our house is heated by a stove. So for Christmas, my wife bought me this wonderful weapon, bound in paper with a pillow to disguise its intent. Best present I have had in years. I love blades, always have, and the Norwegian in me has always craved the chance to chop wood. Now I do so daily. I ‘limb and berm’ my felled trees - one of many phrases this London lad never thought would pass his lips. New words, pouring out.
The axe is superbly made… in Sweden, but I try not to hold that against it. The boots I am wearing though, they have a Norse connection.
1999. I am cast to play a Norwegian pathologist in the BBC crime series, ‘Silent Witness’. It films in my mother’s homeland, land of my heart, Norway. When we arrive in the Jotunheim mountains, I am informed that I won’t be filming for three days. ‘Why not break the boots in, love,’ says the wardrobe mistress. So me and my Salomans take to the forests, dispatched on the best hikes by the hotel manager who is the local guide.
2002. I am wearing the boots again. My son is six months old and this is the first time I have got away, up to my favourite part of England – South Shropshire. I am there to research the novel I have just been commissioned to write, ‘The Fetch’ which will be set partly among these hills – and partly back in the Jotunheim. Boots linking the two, I stride along the Wenlock Edge, a place already word-captured by AE Houseman. I meet a Lancastrian shepherd, as you do, who’d stopped to give his border collies a run on his way home from a Game Fair. We walk, talk, I admire his staff, the varnished hazel, the curled and shaped ram’s horn grip, the iron ferrule. ‘I make ‘em,’ he says. Back at the carpark he shows me one that had been commissioned but the man never came to the Fair to collect it. ‘So this one’s available?’ I ask. It is, and I buy it in a heartbeat. Aside from wife, child, cat, this is what I would grab in a fire.
Even as I write this I realize what Alex has done. He hasn’t just taken a photo of me and my dunny. He has captured a set of stories. That’s his genius, there in all his work, even in his deceptively simple portraits. There’s more here too - the gothic lighting on what was a bright Spring day? The way I am holding the axe? Remember: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
Now I really must lower the seat on that dunny. After all, I may have … visitors.
(Chris Humphreys is an author and actor and lives in a forest on Salt Spring Island. You can read more about him and follow his blog at: CCHumphreys.com