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Holey Swiss: Man Breaks Record in British Downhill Cheese Race

cheese
The champion cheese chaser, brie-umphant. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Some heroes wear capes. Others fling themselves down hills in pursuit of an 8-pound wheel of cheese.

As the BBC reports, a British man has set a record for the most cheeses won in the annual downhill cheese chase that takes place in the English county of Gloucestershire. Chris Anderson has won 22 races in the past 14 years; this year, he won the first and third of the three men’s races.

Anderson said his strategy was to “just run and try and stay on your feet,” according to the Press AssociationFor his efforts, he will get to take home the double Gloucester cheeses that he successfully chased.

Unfortunately, Anderson only likes cheddar.

It is not entirely clear when Gloucestershire’s unusual sporting event, which takes place in the village of Brockworth, first began. According to journalist Fraser McAlpine, the tradition could go back as far as the 15th century, possibly evolving from a “Beltane-style ritual of rolling burning bundles of wood.” In a 2014 article, the BBC reported that the earliest reference to the race was found in an 1826 message to the Gloucester Town Crier, but it seems to have been an established tradition by that point.

The rules of the game are simple: participants must chase a ball of cheese down Cooper’s Hill, which is so steep that it’s practically impossible to run down without tumbling over.

And tumble the contestants do. In 1997, a record 33 participants were injured—some even broke bones. Over his storied athletic career, Anderson has broken his ankle and bruised his kidneys.

cheese
Can you chase a ball of cheese down Cooper’s Hill? (Public Domain)

In 2010, officials cancelled the race due to safety concerns, but rogue fromage fiends have continued to stage the event regardless. The BBC reports that “thousands of spectators” turned out to watch the most recent installment of the games.

This year, the race got dirty—and even weirder than usual. ”[T]he kid next to me was pulling my shirt all the way down,” Anderson told British media. His spotlight was also threatened by an Australian who showed up to the race wearing nothing but a swimsuit stamped with the words “budgie smuggler.”

But ultimately, Anderson prevailed. “I’ve got nothing to prove now,” he said of his record-breaking win, according to the BBC. “I’m happy.”

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Restoring life to the Aral Sea’s dead zone

Graveyard of ships, Moynaq, Uzbekistan by Paul Ivan Harris
Image captionThe town of Moynaq was once Uzbekistan’s main fishing port on the Aral Sea

The loss of the Aral Sea in central Asia is an ecological disaster. Toxic chemicals in the exposed sea bed have caused widespread health problems. Can an ambitious project to plant millions of trees save the Karakalpak people of Uzbekistan?

Seventy-eight-year-old Almas Tolvashev shuffles through the sand towards the rusting hulk of a fishing boat.

The lighthouse that keeps watch over a crumbling flotilla of 10 or so ships is a stark reminder that Moynaq was once a thriving fishing port on the Aral Sea.

“The history of the Karakalpak people starts with the sea,” says the former fisherman. “Fishing was the first thing fathers taught their sons”.

Moynaq lies at the heart of Karakalpakstan, a semi-autonomous republic within Uzbekistan. In its heyday, this is where 98% of Uzbekistan’s fish came from.

Seventy-eight-year-old former fishing captain Almas Tolvashev with his grand-daughter by Paul Ivan Harris
Image captionSeventy-eight-year-old former fisherman Almas Tolvashev sits with his grand-daughter

“I was the first Muslim captain in Moynaq and my ship was the Volga. Captains were usually ethnic Russians,” Almas says proudly.

“There were 250 ships here. I used to catch 600-700 kilos of fish every day. Now there is no sea”.

The Aral Sea started to shrink in the 1960s when the Soviets diverted water from the two main rivers that flowed into the Aral Sea to feed vast new cotton fields.

As cotton production boomed, the Kremlin refused to acknowledge the problem. Locals had to put labelled sticks in the ground to prove the shoreline was disappearing.

Graveyard of ships, Moynaq, Uzbekistan by Paul Ivan Harris
Image captionMoynaq’s old shoreline is now a graveyard of old fishing ships

As the volume of water decreased, the concentration of salt increased, poisoning everything in the sea.

“Fish stocks went down and in the end all we caught were dead fish. Now young people have to leave for other countries in search of jobs”.

The Aral Sea has shrunk to 10% of its former size – an area of water as big as Ireland has been lost. But it’s not just a way of life that has been affected.

The captain waves his hands above his head: “It’s not like before, the weather is bad, there’s all this dust in the air”.

Lives in danger

When Dr Yuldashbay Dosimov first came to work at Moynaq’s hospital in the 1980s the shoreline was already 20km (12 miles) away.

He remembers the illnesses that were specific to the region: “Respiratory problems, tuberculosis and kidney problems were widespread. Until recently, many children died of diarrhoea”.

The Soviet authorities who expanded Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan’s cotton industry did not foresee that herbicides and pesticides from their new plantations would run off into the rivers around them and end up in the Aral Sea.

Graveyard of ships, Moynaq, Uzbekistan by Paul Ivan Harris
Image captionThe Aral Sea has shrunk to 10% of its former size

Contaminated drinking water caused many problems and these were exacerbated when the water retreated.

As the sea dried up, toxic chemicals from the cotton industry were left exposed on the sea bed. These were carried through the atmosphere by sandstorms and inhaled by people across a vast area.

Locals experienced a swathe of health issues ranging from stunted growth, reduced fertility, lung and heart problems to increased rates of cancer. For example, one study concluded the occurrence of liver cancer doubled between 1981 and 1991.

Another investigation found that by the end of the late 1990s infant mortality was between 60 - 110 out of 1,000 births, a number much higher than the rest of Uzbekistan (48 per 1,000) and Russia (24 per 1,000).

Graveyard of ships, Moynaq, Uzbekistan by Paul Ivan Harris
Image captionHerbicides and pesticides from Uzbekistan’s cotton fields have been left exposed on the former sea bed

For decades, these illnesses were an open secret. The authorities only acknowledged the disappearance of the Aral Sea after the fall of the Soviet Union.

When they identified the problem, they started work on a solution. And it’s a solution that Dr Dosimov hopes will radically improve the wellbeing of the Karakalpak people.

“They have to lessen the impact of the dried up sea on people’s health and that’s why they are planting saxaul trees”.

Sea bed forest

Several miles from Moynaq two tractors are inching across the horizon side-by-side. They are scratching long lines into the salty sea bed that 40 years ago would have been 25m (80ft) underwater.

Saxaul trees on the Aral Sea bed in Uzbekistan by Paul Ivan Harris
Image captionThe government hopes millions of saxaul trees can stop toxic chemicals being spread in the atmosphere

On the back of each tractor, a young man grabs a handful of seeds and feeds it into the thin trench.

“No matter if it rains or shines, we have two weeks to plant a hectare (2.4 acres),” says one of the men. “It’s been cold and rainy lately, but we won’t leave until we reach our goal”.

The men are sowing saxaul seeds. The saxaul is a shrub-like tree native to the deserts of central Asia, and now the first line of defence against climate change in Uzbekistan.

“One fully grown saxaul tree can fix up to 10 tonnes of soil around its roots,” explains Orazbay Allanazarov, a forestation specialist.

The trees stop the wind picking up contaminated sand from the dried up sea bed and spreading them through the atmosphere. The plan is to cover the entire former bed with a forest.

Orazbay Allanazarov, by Paul Ivan Harris
Image captionOrazbay Allanazarov believes the humble saxaul tree can help the Karakalpak people of Uzbekistan.

“Here almost one in two trees has survived. This is good.” He doesn’t hide his excitement as he strokes the branch of one white-grey shrub that stands two and a half metres high. It’s a long term project – this row of saxauls was planted five years ago.

“We chose saxaul trees because they can survive in the dry and salty soil,” he says.

Long-term project

The trees are planted in rows, 10m apart, so that when they mature and release seeds of their own, the gaps between the rows will be populated too.

Until now around half a million hectares of the desert have been covered with saxaul trees. But there are still more than three million hectares to be covered.

Planting saxaul trees on the Aral Sea bed in Uzbekistan by Paul Ivan Harris
Image captionPlanting saxaul trees on the Aral Sea bed is a long and slow process

At the current pace, it could take 150 years to grow a forest here.

“We are slow,” admits Allanazarov. “We need to speed up the process. But for this we need more money, more foreign investment”.

Like the seasoned fishing captain Almas Tolvashev, Orazbay Allanazarov knows the Aral Sea may never come back.

But at least now there is some hope that the Karakalpak people’s quality of life can be improved – a lifetime after a decision was made to choose cotton over fish.

Photography by Paul Ivan Harris. Editing by Derrick Evans

This BBC series was produced with funding from the Skoll Foundation

6 things you (probably) didn’t know about the Ottoman Empire

Turkish artillery of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War.  (Buyenlarge/Getty Images)
The Ottoman Empire is one of the largest empires in history. In existence for 600 years, at its peak it included what is now Bulgaria, Egypt, Greece, Hungary, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Macedonia, Romania, Syria, parts of Arabia and the north coast of Africa. In some countries, it is a legacy best forgotten; in others, it is a hotly-debated topic and, in a handful, national pride has been nailed to this vital part of their history.

Putting aside all the nationalist politics, the Ottoman Empire is a fascinating subject covering a dynasty that lasted 600 years. Here, Jem Duducu presents six lesser known facts about this exotic, yet still relevant empire.

1

The founder of the empire was a man called Osman

Osman, a Seljuk Turk, is the man who is seen as the founder of the empire (his name is sometimes spelt Ottman or Othman, hence the term ‘Ottoman’). The Seljuks had arrived from the Asiatic steppes in the 11th century AD and had been in Anatolia for generations, while  Osman had ruled a tiny Anatolian territory at the end of the 13th century and the early 14th century. He was very much a warrior in the mould of other great cavalry officers of the Middle Ages (like Genghis Khan before he won an empire).

It was on the coronation day of Osman’s successor that the tradition of wearing Osman’s sword, girded by his belt, began. This was the Ottoman equivalent of being anointed and crowned in the west and was a reminder to all of the 36 sultans who followed that their power and status came from this legendary warrior and that they were martial rulers. This certainly rang true in the first half of the history of the empire, and for the next 300 years, sultans would regularly be seen in battle. But as the empire matured and then waned, so the sultans began to shirk their duties on the battlefield.

Osman’s lavishly-decorated sword and belt are the Ottoman equivalent of the coronation crown jewels, but it’s doubtful that what is seen today on display in the Topkapı Palace Museum in Istanbul is what Osman held in his hand. Putting it simply, Osman was unlikely ever to have had such an impractical sword, though it could be that the original blade was later plated and embellished.

Osman was definitely real, but in some ways, he’s like King Arthur in the west: a founder of an idea and a near-mythical figure. During his lifetime, he was regarded as unimportant enough that we have absolutely no contemporary sources about him. We don’t know what he looked like; we have no proclamations extant from his reign, as Osman’s reign began in what was then the Ottoman Dark Ages.

Turkish chieftain Osman (1258-1324), who is regarded as the founder of the Ottoman Turkish state. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Turkish chieftain Osman (1258-1324), who is regarded as the founder of the Ottoman Empire. “Osman was definitely real, but in some ways, he’s like King Arthur in the west,” says Duducu.(Time Life Pictures/Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
2

The Ottomans could be unlucky

Only once did a sultan die in battle and only one sultan was ever captured by an enemy. Unfortunately for the early empire, these sultans were father and son. In 1389, at the famous Battle of Kosovo, Murad I was in his tent as his forces fought a brutal and bloody engagement with Serb forces. A contemporary account states that: “having penetrated the enemy lines and the circle of chained camels, [serb forces] heroically reached the tent of Murat (sic) … (and killed him) by stabbing him with a sword in the throat and belly.”

While this account claims to describe how Murad died, it doesn’t ring true. The idea that a dozen Serbs were able to break through the entire central force of the Ottoman army, which we know held for the whole battle, doesn’t make sense. Instead, there is a later report that as the Serb lines crumbled, a Serbian aristocrat (often named as Miloš Obilić) pretended to defect and was brought before the sultan. Murad, believing that any change to the battle would finally break the deadlock, met Miloš in his private tent, where the Serb lunged forward and stabbed Murad before the guards reacted. This would make more sense against the overall events of the day. Either way, after 27 years of rule, Murad lay dead in a pool of his own blood.

Murad’s son and heir, Bayezid I, was present at the battle and had already proven himself to be a fearsome warrior. He was known as Bayezid Yildirm (thunderbolt) because he moved as quickly and struck as lethally as a thunderbolt. Amongst many other military successes, he was to annihilate the last serious crusade sent from Europe to counter the rising tide of Islamic power. However, in 1402, he had to face a new threat: that of the legendary warlord Tamerlane (actual title Emir Timur), a brutal 14th-century warlord born in what is now Uzbekistan, who amassed an empire that stretched from present day India to Turkey, and Russia to Saudi Arabia. The two met at the Battle of Ankara, where more than 150,000 men, horses and even war elephants clashed.

Accounts of the battle are fairly sketchy and often contradictory. What is clear is that a pivotal point in the battle took place when some of Bayezid’s Anatolian vassals switched sides or melted away, leaving him with an even greater numerical disadvantage against Tamerlane. However, the core of the Ottoman force fought bravely. The battle was vicious and the resulting carnage was enormous. By the end of the day it was said that around 50,000 Ottoman troops lay dead; the same was said of Tamerlane’s force. If these numbers are true (and there’s no way of knowing), it was one of the bloodiest battles in world history prior to the 20th century.

Bayezid might have been up against a man who was his equal in leadership, but Tamerlane simply had more of everything – and some elephants. Bayezid had thrown all of his empire’s resources into the battle, but he couldn’t overcome the fact that Tamerlane’s empire was bigger. By the end of that violent and sweltering July day, Bayezid’s army was in tatters, and he and his wife had been captured, showing that Bayezid had personally fought to the bitter end.

Bayezid’s death in captivity led to a period of civil war and infighting amongst his sons, each of whom wanted to become the next sultan. These events almost undid the empire just 100 years into its history.

3

Ottomans are not the same as ‘Turks’

Perhaps the most surprising fact about the Ottoman Empire is that many of the ‘Turks’ mentioned in the European chronicles were no such thing. It is thanks to European ignorance (that has lasted centuries) and to nation building in Turkey that the Ottoman sultans have become ‘Turkish’ sultans. Quite often in European Renaissance literature, the sultan was referred to as the ‘Great Turk’, a title that would have meant nothing to the Ottoman court. So let’s clear this up: the Ottoman Empire, for most of its existence, predated nationalism. The attacking forces at the famous ‘Fall of Constantinople’ against the Byzantine Empire in 1453 weren’t all ‘Turks’; in fact, not all of the besieging forces were even Muslim.

More than 30 of the sultans were the sons of women from the harem. Why is that salient? Because none of these women were Turkish; it’s unlikely any of them were even born Muslim. Most of their backgrounds have been lost to the mists of time, but it seems most were European women, so Serbs, Greeks, Ukrainians. It is likely that later ‘Turkish’ sultans were genetically far more Greek than Turkish.

Similarly, any of the legendary Janissaries [an elite fighting corps within the army], including the famous architect Mimar Sinan who started his career as a Janissary, were all Christian children who had been brought into this elite fighting force and then converted to Islam. The best modern analogy to describing anything Ottoman as ‘Turkish’ is like saying that the anything from the British Empire was exclusively ‘English’.

Sultan Suleiman I the Magnificent, 1601. (Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
Suleiman the Magnificent, sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1520 to 1566. (Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
4

Suleiman was even more magnificent than you think

In the west, he has become known as Suleiman the Magnificent. In the east, he is remembered as Suleiman the Lawgiver. However, here is a full list of his titles and they are fascinating:

“Sultan of the Ottomans, Allah’s deputy on earth, Lord of the Lords of this world, Possessor of men’s necks, King of believers and unbelievers, King of Kings, Emperor of the East and the West, Majestic Caesar, Emperor of the Chakans of great authority, Prince and Lord of the most happy constellation, Seal of victory, Refuge of all the people in the whole entire world, the shadow of the almighty dispensing quiet on the Earth.”

Let’s break things down: the first title is obvious and “Allah’s deputy” implies his supreme Islamic authority without overstepping the mark (the word ‘Islam’ means ‘one who submits to God). The “possessor of necks’ harks back to his father Selim’s practice of beheading even senior officials; anyone who displeased the sultan could expect to be beheaded for certain crimes.

The next few titles are unexpectedly Roman. The Ottomans were aware that when they conquered Constantinople (in essence, the Eastern Roman Empire) the titles of “emperor” and “Caesar” still had importance. Claiming to be ‘”Emperor of the East and West” was not only an exaggeration, but also a direct challenge to the authority of Rome which, at this point, was hopelessly outclassed by the Ottomans.

“King of Kings” may sound a little biblical, but that’s only because the Gospels took the title from the Persian emperors’ shahenshah, literally, ‘king of kings’. So, again, the Ottomans are challenging a major rival, but this time it’s in the east, the Safavid Persians.

The next few titles are little more than showing off, but then we come to “Refuge of all the people in the whole entire world”, which shows that the sultans were well aware that their empire was multi-cultural and multi-religious, with Christians, Jews, Muslims and others all living together, not necessarily in harmony, but much better than anywhere else at the time. The ejection of the Jews and Muslims from Spain was still fresh in the minds of those living in the first half of the 16th century.

Only two of Suleiman’s military campaigns failed; he swept through everything else before him. When he wasn’t in the saddle, he was sitting in his opulent palace in the largest city in Europe. His empire stretched for hundreds, if not thousands, of miles in all directions. If anyone should be called ‘magnificent’, Suleiman fitted the bill perfectly.

5

The greatest humiliation in Ottoman military history was inflicted by Napoleon

On 20 May 1799, Napoleon laid siege to the port of Acre, where he fired the few cannons he had at the mighty defences, while the defenders sought refuge behind the city’s walls. As Napoleon was now committed to the siege, Ottoman forces were able to gather a relief force and march to the aid of the city. Napoleon had always picked competent generals and, even though his force was small, one Jean-Baptiste Kléber was a battle-hardened and highly capable general. His force of around 2,000 men (later joined by over 2,000 of Napoleon’s men) met the Ottoman relief force at Mount Tabor in Palestine. By comparison, Abdullah Pasha al-Azm, the governor of Damascus, had gathered an army of over 30,000. The French were outnumbered about 9-1; but, as we have seen, numbers don’t count for everything, and the Battle of Mount Tabor was possibly the greatest (often forgotten) humiliation of Ottoman martial power.

The Ottoman forces were made up of Sipahis, Mamelukes and other brave but outdated warrior classes. From dawn to late afternoon, Kléber sat in the hollow anti-cavalry squares, resisting every attack by Pasha al-Azm’s men. The Ottoman governor’s losses were mounting, but his army so dwarfed the French force that he could afford them. Meanwhile, after ten hours of fighting under the sweltering sun of Palestine, Kléber’s men were tired, thirsty and dangerously low on gunpowder and ammunition. It was then that Napoleon arrived with about 2,000 men, not enough to match the numbers in the Ottoman army but enough to distract them by sending a few hundred men to attack and loot the Ottoman camp. Abdullah Pasha al-Azm thought Napoleon’s tiny force was the vanguard of a larger army and panicked, thinking he was about to be attacked from the rear and flanks. He ordered a general retreat, at which point the two French forces charged the disengaging Ottomans, and the orderly Ottoman retreat turned into a messy rout.

Total losses of Ottoman soldiers were around 6,000 killed and another 500 captured, versus two dead French soldiers. An army of around 4,500 had fought an army of over 30,000 and not only won, but sustained just two fatalities. It was a devastating humiliation for the sultan Selim III, and a spectacular triumph that allowed Napoleon to continue his siege of Acre (although he would not take the port and this would mark the furthest extent of his conquests in the Middle East).

Engraving depicting the Siege of Acre, an unsuccessful French siege of the Ottoman-defended, walled city of Acre during Napoleons invasion of Egypt, 1799. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)
Engraving depicting the Siege of Acre, an unsuccessful French siege of the Ottoman-defended, walled city of Acre during Napoleons invasion of Egypt, 1799. (Archive Photos/Getty Images)
6

The Ottomans outlasted all their main opponents… just

From the middle to the end of the empire, when it was on its long slow decline to collapse, the empire faced three main rival powers that crop up again and again in Ottoman history: to the east, the Persian Safavids; to the north, the tsars of Russia; and to the west, the Habsburgs.

The Safavids fell first to Afghan invaders in 1736 and, while Persia/Iran would remain an opponent to the late Ottoman sultans, it was never the same expansionist threat it had been earlier under the Safavid dynasty.

Similarly, as the tsars of Russia began to spread their power south towards the Crimean Peninsula and the Black Sea, the Ottomans began to lose ground and were forced to fight multiple wars with the tsars. The most famous of these in the west is the Crimean War, when France and Britain joined sides with the Ottomans to prop up the failing state against the rising star of Russian power. However, the sultans were still seated in power when the last tsar, Nicholas II, was first deposed and later shot.

The Habsburgs and Ottomans fought so regularly that Vienna was twice besieged by Ottoman forces. There were so many clashes between the two empires that some of the war names sound half-hearted, such as the Long Turkish War (1593-1606). However, during the last war the Ottoman Empire was involved in (the First World War) the Ottomans were on the same side as the Austro-Hungarian Empire, led by a Habsburg. That dynasty didn’t quite make it to the end of the war, whereas the Ottoman Empire survived for a few years after it. The Ottoman sultans didn’t have time to gloat, however. The empire was dismantled by the victorious Allied powers of First World War, and a way of life that had lasted from the Middle Ages into the 20th century was gone by 1922, when the last sultan, Mehmed VI, was forced into exile.

 Jem Duducu

Jem Duducu is the author of The Sultans: The Rise and Fall of the Ottoman Rulers and Their World: A 600-Year History (Amberley Publishing, 2017).

Lucian Freud and Sue Tilley: The story of an unlikely muse

One of Lucian Freud’s more famous paintings depicts a fertility goddess having a nap on her sofa. She is naked and seems to be deep in unguarded sleep (her face is partly squished and she looks like she might be drooling). Despite this, she is majestic; she has curves on her curves, and they phosphoresce gently in shades of brown, pink, and white. How did the artist sneak up on her? Will he survive her wrath when she wakes up?

(Credit: Lucian Freud Archive/Bridgeman Images)

Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995) broke records when it was sold to Roman Abramovich in 2008 for £17 million ($33.6 million) (Credit: Lucian Freud Archive/Bridgeman Images)

No need to worry. For one thing, the goddess isn’t actually asleep: Freud painted her in that pose in sessions spread over many months – he liked to paint from life, and he was fussy, layering and working oil paint until it looks like slathered mud. But for another, the goddess isn’t actually a goddess: she is Sue Tilley, at the time working as a supervisor in a government Jobcentre in London (the title of the painting is Benefits Supervisor Sleeping), and she is as generous on the inside as she is on the outside.

 

In person, Tilley has a lot of presence, and you realise that Freud’s paintings tap into this. She was in her 30s in the paintings; she is 60 now. She is very kind, dead honest, quick to smile. She has the startling sophistication of someone who has been around the block a few times. And what a block.

(Credit: Sue Tilley)

Tilley was close friends with the Australian performance artist and club promoter Leigh Bowery – here photographed with his parents Evelyn and Thomas, 1984 (Credit: Sue Tilley)

Tilley led a Technicolor life long before she met Freud: she was close friends with the ‘total’ artist Leigh Bowery and when she wasn’t at her desk in the office she was part of the anarchic clubbing set in London in the 1980s, centring on notorious nights with names like Blitz and Kinky Gerlinky, but especially Bowery’s own creation, Taboo. The latter was one of the wilder and glitzier moments in a decade of egregious moments (polysexual, polysocial, polyeverything), and one of those avant-garde detonations whose effects can still be felt far away in the mainstream.

Wild nights

There is a large literature on the visual genius of Bowery. His exquisitely executed alter egos were nightmarish (in the fecund sense), often powerfully sexualised, sometimes purely beautiful, always resonant. Bowery ignored the boundaries of taste. He was a prodigy in all senses, but perhaps particularly in the old sense of an omen, a shooting star streaking across the night sky. Like so many of the remarkable gay men of that period, he was erased by Aids.

(Credit: Sue Tilley)

Bowery was also a muse for Lucian Freud; Tilley photographed him (pictured right) with the artist David Holah at her flat in Camden (Credit: Sue Tilley)

Tilley’s Instagram account offers a mood board that includes her 80s adventures: she says she didn’t consider it a good night unless she’d got drunk enough to fall over at some point. Although Tilley was Dorothy in this Land of Oz, her place in posterity really is guaranteed by a series of four nude portraits which Freud did of her in the late phase of his career. All are likely to remain of art-historical significance.

(Credit: Alamy)

Freud paid Tilley a small daily fee but she didn’t receive any money from the sale of paintings she modelled for (Credit: Alamy)

Of those, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995) is probably, and deservedly, the most famous. Evening in the Studio (1993), the first of the series, has her sprawled on the floor with a seated girl apparently disinterested and reading a book in the background. The composition is an odd combination of domestic scene and crime scene. (Tilley says she was relieved when Freud bought the sofa because it was painful to lie on the floor for hours.)

All of these paintings are in the hands of extremely rich men, capable of paying tens of millions of dollars for the privilege of gazing on Tilley’s ‘flesh’

Benefits Supervisor Resting (1994) depicts Tilley in the corner of the sofa with her head lolling back, as if she’d just swallowed some poison; a position that could not have been comfortable either. Finally, in Sleeping by the Lion Carpet (1996) Tilley is shown sleeping upright in a chair, facing us. I like that painting because the juxtaposition with the lions in the background suggests that Tilley’s grandeur is epic. (Quite true, I’d say.) She hates that painting because she says it makes her look awful.

Freud once revealed: “If I am putting someone in a picture I like to feel that they’ve fallen asleep there or they’ve elbowed their own way in: that way they are there not to make the picture easy on the eye or more pleasant, but they are occupying the space of my picture and I am recording them.” This unflinching gaze produced works that resonate deeply with viewers. “The task of the artist,” Freud said, “is to make the human being uncomfortable, and yet we are drawn to a great work of art by involuntary chemistry, like a hound getting a scent; the dog isn’t free, it can’t do otherwise, it gets the scent and instinct does the rest.”

All of Freud’s paintings of Tilley are in ‘private collections’, ie the hands of extremely rich men, capable of paying tens of millions of pounds for the privilege of gazing on her ‘flesh’ (Freud’s word). For instance, Roman Abramovich set a then-record for the largest amount paid for a painting by a living artist when he bought Benefits Supervisor Sleeping in 2008 for £17 million ($33.6 million at the time). If you want to see it, you might want to become very good friends with him. Be prepared to become a Chelsea supporter, because he owns that football club too.

(Credit: Lucian Freud Archive/Bridgeman Images)

Freud has been called an “unrivalled interpreter of human flesh in paint”; he painted Sleeping by the Lion Carpet in 1996 (Credit: Lucian Freud Archive/Bridgeman Images)

Another one, Sleeping by the Lion Carpet, is on display as part of the show All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life, currently on at Tate Britain in London until the end of August 2018. That painting is on loan from a billionaire who among other things owns Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. Catch it before he hangs it back up in his guest toilet.

Benefits Supervisor Resting, meanwhile, has been described as “Freud’s ultimate tour de force, a life-size masterwork in the grand historical tradition of the female nude, painted obsessively with intense scrutiny and abiding truth”; when it was sold at auction in 2015, Christie’s head of post-war art Brett Gorvy said that the painting “is recognised internationally as Freud’s masterpiece and proclaims him as one of the greatest painters of the human form in history alongside Rembrandt and Rubens”. Gorvy described the painting as “a triumph of the human spirit, showcasing Freud’s love of the human body”, commenting on Tilley that Freud “observed every inch of her with an uncritical eye almost daily for more than nine months”.

(Credit: Alamy)

Benefits Supervisor Resting (1994) has been described as ‘a triumph of the human spirit, showcasing Freud’s love of the human body’ (Credit: Alamy)

According to Gorvy, Tilley “is calm and confident, relaxed and comfortable in her own skin. She is very much in control, taking on the artist and the viewer. A contemporary take on the Odalisque and the fertility goddess, with her head flung back, she exudes an intriguing ambiguity, implying ecstasy, defiance and the deep exhale of peacefulness.” Benefits Supervisor Resting went on to sell for £35 million ($56 million).

None of the money that has rained down on her representations has made its way to Tilley. When she was posing for Freud he paid her a small daily fee (she told The Guardian that she thought she’d been picked out by Freud as a life model because she represented good value for money – “He got a lot of flesh”).

She liked Freud because he was ‘hilarious’ and loved to gossip with her

Yet, she says, she had the pleasure of his company. She liked him because he was ‘hilarious’ and loved to gossip with her. (Tilley met Freud through Bowery, who was also being painted by him.) She found Freud’s mercurial personality fascinating: she says he could be “mean, extremely generous, grumpy, funny, loud, quiet”; also manipulative, but perhaps in a rather charmingly transparent way. Grumpy seems to have won out, because eventually he dropped her as a friend after taking offence at an offhand remark she made.

(Credit: Tate photography, Joe Humphrys)

Freud’s Sleeping by the Lion Carpet is currently on show as part of All Too Human at Tate Britain (Credit: Tate photography, Joe Humphrys)

Freud gave her some etchings, which she sold years ago because she was short of money, but otherwise she has no mementos. She says he didn’t phone to say thank you after his first painting of her sold for a large sum of money.

She has a £60 printed copy of Freud’s portrait of Leigh Bowery (now in Tate Britain) on the wall of her flat. In 1997 she published Leigh Bowery: The Life and Times of an Icon, which must be his most definitive biography. It also captures the London club subcultures of the Bowery era very vividly.

From muse to maker

Tilley has retired from the Jobcentre and moved from London to a quiet seaside town in East Sussex. But she is not dozing off. She enjoys frequent visits from artists, creatives, and journalists from around the world who want to talk about Freud, Bowery, and Tilley. And the walls of her flat are vibrant with art, some of it by friends, but most by her. She learned how to draw when she was young and then dropped it, but she has recently taken it up again. She is good.

(Credit: Sue Tilley)

Tilley has been painting for years: this 2016 image shows Trojan, one of the people in Leigh Bowery’s circle in the 1980s (Credit: Sue Tilley)

Through friends and accident, she ended up having a large solo show of paintings and drawings at an east London gallery in 2015. It caught her a little by surprise, but got her working flat out to produce pieces to fill the gallery. Her style is sketchy, maybe a little cartoonish, self-assured. The effect of her anti-aesthetic is charming. She focuses on the personal: portraits of friends, drawings of everyday objects which she sometimes affectionately calls ‘boring’ but which she loves.

Tilley elaborates on this low-key universe in a further step in her artistic career: her collaboration with the S/S18 Fendi Men’s collection, where luxury clothes and bags are decorated with her pictures of desk lamps, bottle openers, banana skins, cups of coffee. Fendi calls this “corporate escapism” and it is undeniably fun; although you would need to be escaping after light-heartedly robbing a bank, since a T-shirt with a drawing of a martini goes for about £480. I suppose one can’t really complain, since a painting of Tilley goes for upwards of 35,000 times that amount. It is long past time that she got a bigger piece of the action.

(Credit: Sue Tilley)

Tilley describes this image she painted on a plate as The Benefit Supervisor Has Woken Up (Credit: Sue Tilley)

So, onward for Sue Tilley and her remarkable life. At one point she shows me a nude self-portrait that she painted on a plate for a charity auction. The image echoes Benefits Supervisor Resting, except she is sitting upright and alert, her eyes open. She tells me the title is The Benefit Supervisor Has Woken Up. I would say she never went to sleep. Such a pity that Freud isn’t alive to sit for her.

By Cameron Laux 14 May 2018

Three giant Viking swords stand buried in a stone in Hafrsfjord, Norway, recalling a mythic struggle for unity

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By now many of us are at least to some extent acquainted with Sir Thomas Malory’s classic tale of the Lady of the Lake and how she gave Excalibur to King Arthur, or the tale told in Robert de Boron’s poem of Merlin about the magical sword in the stone that could be drawn out only by the rightful ruler of the land.

They differ in some aspects, but both speak of the same Arthurian legend and a mighty sword that could only be swung by a man worthy to hold it in possession. This story about a powerful weapon identified with a single hero is as old as time. Whereas in this specific legend it was Excalibur for King Arthur, ancient Greek mythology speaks of many magical swords. Other legendary blades include Crocea Mors, the sword belonging to Julius Caesar, which was considered to hold supernatural powers, and for Attila the Hun it was the Sword of Mars. Most recently, in George R. R.  Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, it is the Lightbringer, the sword of Azor Ahai.

“In this dread hour, a warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword. And that sword shall be Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and he who clasps it shall be Azor Ahai come again, and the darkness shall flee before him.”

While all these stories tell of individuals who drew their swords out of fire or a stone to aid mankind in times when it was needed the most, a statue in Norway speaks of a time when groups and individuals put their petty differences aside and even buried them, so they could put an end to bloodshed and stand united under the same flag.

Little is known of the particular event, but what information that exists points to a great battle that took place in 872 on one of the fjords in Norway. The Battle of Hafrsfjord, as it is known today, was the result of a long-lasting conflict between three different factions and their leaders in Western Norway, among whom was Harald Fair Hair (Harald Hårfagre), son of Halfdan the Black Gudrödarson.

“The Saga of Harald Fairhair” (Heimskringla) is a Scandinavian saga that was written two centuries after the event. According to the story, the Hordaland-Rogaland and Agder-Thelemark factions were advancing with their troops towards Hafrsfjord, they were met there by the strong force of Harald Fair Hair, who was on a mission to unite the Norwegians who up until then lived in small tribes and villages.

The Norwegian tribes led a warring life, constantly fighting with one another. According to the legend, Harold, who was in love with Gyda, the daughter of King Erik of Hordaland, had to convince her of his love and devotion by uniting the tribes and thus putting an end to all the fighting between them once and for all. He was the son of a king who wanted to marry the daughter of rival one, and she was the daughter of a king who despised the man who wanted her hand. So marriage was not an option if peace between the two was not reached.

Harold, prior to the battle, had taken rulership over several small kingdoms in Vestfold, and continued with his conquest believing that negotiating peace from a position of strength would bring more fruition to his noble cause, and a better chance to negotiate the terms with the father of his loved one. But as he was growing in strength and force, the other kings allied against him and planned a secretive attack. News spread from the south that Erik of Hordaland, King Sulke of Rogaland, Earl Sote, the King of Agder and brothers Hroald and Had the Hard from Thelemark had joined forces and were headed towards the mainland with a large fleet.

This was a clear indication that an imminent attack was on the way and there was no space for a peaceful resolution. As a result, Harald assembled his troops and intercepted them at Hafrsfjord, where a great battle was set in motion, in which many, including King Eirik, lost their lives. In the midst of all the dead bodies spread around the battlefield, Harald was the last man standing and his troops fortunate to see the light of day. Many fled to the nearby Icelandic islands, and everyone left on the land came to live united under the rulership of King Harald Fair Hair, the first King of Norway.

His mission was completed. Harald got to marry Erik’s daughter, but at a devastating cost. This story is more of a romanticized legend than of actual historical evidence, and complete peace and unity took probably hundreds of years to be achieved. However, this battle is considered the greatest contributor to the unification of Norway into one country.

Three giant Viking swords are now forever embedded in solid stone on a Nordic hill in Hafrsfjord, and stand tall against the sun as a reminder of an ancient battle that eventually unified the kingdoms of Norway and its people into one nation. The swords were forced through solid rock so that they can never be removed and such a battle never to occur again. They stand for peace, unity, and freedom, and the place where they are impaled is near the city of Stavanger in the Rogaland region.

The memorial itself is named “Sverd i fjell” (swords in rock) and was constructed in 1983 by sculptor Fritz Røed upon the request of King Olav V. It consists of three bronze swords, each higher than 30 feet. The highest represents the sword of King Harald Fair Hair, while the other two symbolize the opposing factions

It stands proudly as a tourist attraction, and a historical reminder for Norwegians never to draw a weapon again against fellow countrymen.

 Martin Chalakoski

The Dark Hedges: The long tree tunnel of Northern Ireland that some say is haunted

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A lady-like specter glides through the shadowy arboreal tunnel of intertwined branches bent over the Bregagh Road in County Antrim in Northern Ireland.

Many say it’s the ghost of a maid from a nearby house who died mysteriously long ago. Others think it’s Margareth “Cross Peggy” Stuart, the daughter of a previous owner of the land, James Stuart. Some even suggest it’s a lost spirit from a deserted and long-lost graveyard, believed to lay hidden somewhere in the nearby fields.

On some nights, the forgotten graves are said to open up and she is joined on her walk among the bent trunks by the tortured souls of those once so dear, and now dead, buried beside her. Whatever her tormented past was, the locals call her the Gray Lady of The Dark Hedges, and she is believed to haunt the long ominous road beneath the huge domed crown of gnarled branches.

This spooky yet magnificent avenue of beech trees was planted by the Stuart family in the eighteenth century, with the intention to serve as an impressive entrance for visitors who approached their Georgian mansion, Gracehill House. Although the family had owned the estate for over a century, it was not until 1775 that one of Irwin Stuart’s children, James, decided to build a home for his family there, and name it after his wife, Grace Lynd.

As soon as they settled in, he acquired and planted 150 beech trees in two opposing rows to create an imposing road leading toward their estate. James believed that by doing so he was creating a stylish and grand look for their residence.

However, as years passed, and the trees matured, they began to bend over the road and their branches intermingled, thus creating an atmospheric tunnel and a very scenic road indeed. What James planned as the centerpiece of his home two centuries later became an unusually serene and spellbinding tunnel of ancient beech trees along the Bregagh Road, north of Belfast.

Intertwining and entangling, the branches of the trees form a dramatic union of light and shadow, making the roadway truly magnificent, a real gem of nature, and one of the most photographed natural phenomena in Northern Ireland.

The life span of a typical Fagus sylvatica L., commonly known as the beech tree, is 150 to 200 years, but they can achieve an age of up to 350 years .

A survey was commenced in 2014 of more than 94 beech trees as part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project. Authorized by the Dark Hedges Preservation Trust and the Causeway Coast & Glens Heritage Trust, the survey confirmed that the tree thrives here and often reaches the greater age of maturity, which is rare. According to the survey, when mature, the beech tree can grow to a height of more than 40 meters and form an enormous domed crown at the top. This transformed the treeline into a scenic backdrop, one that can be utilized in the creation of some unique and memorable television series, or movie sequences for instance.

And so it did, for the iconic trees of County Antrim were used as a filming location in HBO’s epic series Game of Thrones, representing the King’s Road in Season 2, Episode 1: “On the King’s Road.” In it, after Arya Stark, disguised as a boy, escaped successfully from King’s Landing, this was the path she took along with her companions Gendry and Hot Pie and began her journey north toward the Night’s Watch in the back of a cart.

Prior to that, to ensure the preservation of the trees, the Department of the Environment (NI) Planning Service in 2004 placed a Tree Preservation Order on the Dark Hedges, and five years later the Dark Hedges Preservation Trust was formed. Backed by Heritage Lottery Funding, the Trust aims to conserve and enhance this phenomenon, as well as to protect the remaining 90 trees that survive out of the 150 originally planted centuries ago.

Aside from the huge increase in traffic generated by people who now were eager to see this fantastical and dreamy place, the Dark Hedges had to endure even more hardship in 2016, when Northern Ireland was hit by Storm Gertrude. Two of the trees were completely destroyed, and many others heavily damaged during the storm.

As the place’s popularity increased, the number of people visiting it grew, and this raised concerns as to how the trees, being surface rooting, would handle the increase in traffic, or the graffiti left behind by vandals.

As a result, at the very start of this year, the Department of Infrastructure, to preserve the site from degradation and possible damage, announced plans to eventually close the road to traffic.

 Martin Chalakoski

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