Sparky the cat sunbathed today, so he was occupied while I revisited some old edits from my novel Baby, Baby (published 2010) … and found this Incident in St Ives … Daze Potter (17 1/2) and Dr John Guthrie (the famous fertility expert) discuss what makes animals look the way they do …
An Incident in St Ives … Christmas Holidays, 1984 ..
Daze thinks she’s the only visitor at the Trewyn Studio Sculpture Garden today. Frost spikes the grass, and from the azure sky a pale dazzling sun glitters on the sculptures.
‘Hi,’ says a voice.
He’s a bearlike guy, middle-aged, and very slightly familiar: he is the famous Dr John Guthrie, her stepsister Jenny’s Dad.
‘Hi,’ says Daze, eyes screwed against the amazing winter sun. Something prompts her to act nonchalant. ‘You over here to see the sculptures? Barbara Hepworth’s cool. You been before?’
‘Uh – no – in the area, killing a few minutes, getting to know the places to go,’ John says.
‘You moving here?’ She expects he’s after a holiday cottage, the sort that takes away homes from locals.
‘England, yes: Cornwall, no.’
‘Right. Jenny’s not home today. Gone out. You knew that?’
‘Yeah, yeah … I’m here for the week so … Tell me about Hepworth then, educate me about art.’
Daze doesn’t buy his approach. He’s surely read up enough art to make conversation at posh parties. But she plays straight, plunging into her subject and pointing out the pieces she likes best in the Garden. ‘Hepworth’s early work was figurative, but then she began adding windows on the world through the figures. Because we’re part of nature.’ She pauses, looking up at John to see if he’s actually showing interest. Then adds, ‘If holes can be add-ons – maybe not?’
John chuckles. Good.
‘Anyhow, I love the wooden ones best, silky and tactile: don’t you want to run your palms over them? It’s not allowed, but whatever …’ Her hands move like a dancer’s, just not touching, over the nearest figure.
Petite and serious, Daze knows she’s pleasing him.
They move on, towards a water feature where the golden fish are today snuggled deep down away from the surface. ‘Fluidity,’ Daze says, gesturing at it with mittened, expressive hands. ‘I don’t like Andy Warhol’s stuff, taking some media icon and stamping it out over and over, like repeating something from a template is clever-clever. Irony’s dead, and no-one’s got anything more to say. But Hepworth knew how to be timeless…I didn’t know you liked art.’
John shrugs. ‘I like to know what’s going on in the art world.’
And I was right, thinks Daze, pleased again. ‘This lecture Jen’s going to next week – with the enigmatic Max – that’s about shapes, isn’t it? Animals’ shapes?’
‘We call them phenotypes,’ he grins. ‘You into biology?’
‘Maybe. Tell me?’
‘You mentioned fluidity. Well what it’s about is roughly this: every animal or insect is different – in its own way. The genes which describe the phenotype – or simply pattern for making them – that’s the same sequence for each. Fluid.’
‘Sequence? Jenny talks about DNA sequences … it’s like the language of life?’
‘You could say. So, there seems to’ve been a kind of fluidity – movement from one species design to another, meanwhile certain basic patterning techniques are retained. Kept. Used in all cases. Not your Andy Warhol templates, more like -’
‘Crochet? Same stitches but different combinations?’ says Daze, enthusiastic for more. ‘And different combinations of colours and thicknesses of yarn?’
‘Got it. Homeobox means genes out of the same box – many skeins of yarn, different colours and thicknesses.’ John laughs. ‘Crochet. Hey, you heard about my sister Val? Lives in Scotland? Breeds sheep, uses their wool to make – tweeds and knitted hats … all kinds of fabrics and patterns, same basic stuff … yep. I think we’d be safe to say that around 600 million years ago there was a common ancestor of animals on Earth today. This animal, whatever it was like, somehow acquired that genetic toolkit – specially-adapted body-building genes. The structures they build diversified – the key genes are still the same, hardly different in widely varying animals.’ He winks. ‘Wicked, or what, Daisy?’
‘You’re welcome …Cold, hey?’ John rubs his hands and stamps his feet. Looks at his watch. ‘I’ve a couple of hours, then I need to be in Bodmin. How about we find a hot chocolate somewhere, and a muffin?’
‘Yeah: could be …’ Hmm: is he useful? Is he intriguing, with his animal-making knowledge? (to be continued…)
Meet Mari Howard and a host of other Indie Authors at the Indie Author Fair, Foyles, London, April 17th –