On the dining table my father spread out the beautifully penned manuscript for the family to see, written in cursive script reminiscent of Elisabethan calligraphy, and beautifully embellished with coloured inks although the choice of paper was somewhat unconventional for hand writing of this quality. I remember how moved my father was to find this unusual document among the census forms which it was his duty to collect.
So what was the motive for covering the pages of a census form with calligraphy? Two or three pages of skillfully executed rhyming verse made an eloquent statement of protest. A poem of annoyance directed towards bureauocratic systems in general and the decennial census ritual in particular. It was well expressed with a touch of humour I recall.
I wish I had a photograph, but of course if I had one to show that would constitute a breach of confidentiality, and my father was a law abiding citizen although I suppose sharing the sight of this rare treasure with his family might be regarded as an infringement of some sort. As far as I am aware the UK Statistics Authority have no powers to punish beyond the grave, despite their obsessive hoarding of personal life details in archive vaults. The collecting authorities would no doubt have described the aforementioned document as a spoiled form, which I must confess makes me smile, a term which sparkles with irony to further reinforce the artist’s heart felt message.
My father would have dutifully submitted the aforementioned ‘spoiled form’ along with all the correctly completed ones, the clerk who had the interesting task of extracting data from this document might well remember it still, I do hope it made their day. I would love to know what became of this bohemian piece of artwork.
Was it unceremoniously shredded to a resounding chorus of “tut tut tut” in the climate controlled high security corner of a busy office ?
Is it displayed to this day in the private gallery of a retired civil servant? or respectfully stored in a special archive for the collected works of that celebrated author, Anon?
——————– oOo ——————–
A few days ago I sent a print of this text to my Sister asking if she remembered the document, the incident or anything about it. Her reply is interesting, she remembers a census form, correctly filled in with the required personal details in hand written copper-plate cursive script, probably she thought penned by an elderly person who would have been taught at school to write that way.
I stand firmly by my version of the incident, however I am obliged to reflect for a moment upon how trustworthy human memory might really be.
It seems to me that our memories, especially the ones we like to cherish and share with others are subject to being strongly modified to fit with our changing world view. My sister tends to respect authority figures, whereas I will admit to being somewhat wary of them. So if I did indeed see an elegantly defiant piece of artwork this would have resonated with my world view, whereas someone who readily accepts the status quo would feel disaproval and be dismissive about the importance of such things, or choose to remember a subtly different interpretation of events perhaps.
To round off this post here is a poem I composed for a get-well card. My friend Bob was hospitalised with concussion after he came off his bicycle on a sharp corner. You may wonder how this is relevant?, be patient until the last verse.
How soft the software engineer
how hard the black tarmac
how loose the grit at the corner
where Bob took a skid coming back
If only we could cut and paste
events of yesterday
the part where Bob set off down hill
and cast all cares away
The programming would be tricky
but probably worth the sweat
software for re-writing history
would be popular you can bet
The most difficult part of the project
would be reliable memory
ask any three witnesses what they saw
and they never will agree.