Open the book of my vanishing memory
Paul Simon

I updated this blog on a fairly regular basis for around ten years after I retired from teaching in a further education college in Liverpool in 2008. The blog became a way of remembering places I’ve been and walks I’ve done, as well as art and photography, books and films, music and other things that have made an impression on me. Sometimes I get riled and write about injustices in the world and the destructive nature of the economic system that we live under. All these things I put down here so I don’t forget.

Remember what you have seen, because everything forgotten returns to the circling winds.
Navajo Wind Chant

Formby evening 7
Evening on the beach at Formby

And the blog’s title? Leonard Cohen once explained the meaning of this blog’s signature song as follows:

‘Ring the bells that still can ring’: they’re few and far between but you can find them. … There is a crack in everything … But that’s where the light gets in, and that’s where the resurrection is and that’s where the return, that’s where the repentance is. It is with the confrontation, with the brokenness of things.

Howard Jacobson, writing in the Independent, added this gloss:

‘That’s how the light gets in’. Savour that! At a stroke, weakness becomes strength and fault becomes virtue. I feel as though original sin has just been re-explained to me. There was no fall. We were born flawed. Flawed is how we were designed to be. Which means we don’t need redeeming after all. Light? Why go searching for light? The light already shines from us. It got in through our failings.

So this is all about ringing the bells that can still ring, celebrating whatever moves or inspires me – and looking for where the light gets in.

The grave of Wifred Owen
The grave of Wilfred Owen

Some pointers

  • Posts are organised into the main categories of Art, Film, History, Ideas and Politics, Literature, Music, Nature and Environment, Photography, Places, Theatre, TV and Radio. Some of these main categories (especially Place and Art) have sub-categories to explore.
  • Poetry is a page with links to all the poems quoted in posts
  • Walking the Canal is a journal of walks along the canal from Liverpool to Leeds
  • Walking the Mersey is a journal of walks along the Mersey and its tributaries, from source to sea
  • Re-Reading Dickens is a record of a project to re-read (or, in some cases, read for the first time) every novel by Charles Dickens.
  • The First World War one hundred years on compiles posts on a journey I made in August 2014 to sites of the First World War on the Somme and in Flanders, plus others that are records of exhibitions of work by the war artists, and books that I have read on the subject.
  • In pursuit of Bruegel documents our pursuit of Pieter Bruegel the Elder in the cities where most of his works are exhibited – including Brussels, Antwerp, Vienna, London, Berlin and Madrid.
Bruegel room, Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna
The Bruegel room, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Who are we, if not a combination of experiences, information, books we have read, things imagined? Each life is an encyclopaedia, a library, an inventory of objects, a series of styles, and everything can be constantly reshuffled and reordered in every conceivable way.
– Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium

Path Dumfriesshire
Walking a path in Dumfriesshire

I am a history; a memory inventing itself
– Octavio Paz

Liverpool – its places and history – crops up often in these pages for the simple reason that’s where I belong. For more Liverpool insights and history visit local historian Mike Royden’s website. His latest book, Tales from the ‘Pool is available here.

49 thoughts on “How the light gets in: an imperfect introduction

  1. Agreed. Absolutely amazing. You have acquired one of the most stunning bodies of World War I art history and analysis I have ever had the great privilege to stumble upon. The works of Paul Nash move me like no other. Keep writing the good fight!

  2. Thank you both for your kind comments – and apologies to Marilyn: I only discovered your comment today.I am very pleased that you have both found worthwhile things here. Ross – I would strongly recommend Paul Gough’s book ‘A Terrible Beauty: British Artists in the First World War’ for an insightful account of the war artists.

  3. Agreed. It’s a marvelous blog which I visit regularly and have recommended widely to family and friends. I love the mix of art, literature, music and politics. It’s beautifully illustrated and on a personal note, I was happy to discover you had reviewed a book by my uncle, Karl Sabbagh about his Palestinian roots.

    I look forward to more posts.Thank you.

    1. I’m fine thanks, Marilyn. very kind of you to enquire. Not sure why, but for the moment I seem to have lost the desire to write. So I’m taking a sabbatical. Best wishes, Gerry.

  4. Gerry, I was quite struck by your review of the Simon and Garfunkel ‘bio-show’. This is due to be played on a once-weekly basis in London, but not I think with the 2 guys who you saw.

    Would you say that the programme is interesting enough in itself to play well, regardless of who takes the 2 leads.

  5. Hi Gerry, Continuing to love your site, just been reading through the ECM stuff, brilliant. Been a fan since the mid 70s. I agree, Koln Concert, cert for the desert Island, plus As Wichita, and the White album. Saw Metheny for the nth time in Warwick Arts a couple of weeks ago. But thanks for the read, yet again.. Can you drop me your address on my email? I have a book to send you :-) Cheers, Mike

  6. Hi Gerry, missing getting the updates from your blog but continuing to enjoy it as a wonderful archive- as you say- lest we forget. Hope you and your family have a warm and cosy christrmas. Deirdre

    1. Many thanks for your good wishes, Deidre; they are reciprocated! Though (for the time being, at least) I have stopped posting, the blog continues to have a life of its own – still drawing visitors, often to posts I had forgotten I had written!

  7. Looking through your archive yet again continues to give much pleasure and erudition. I can well understand your need for a sabbatical. The amount of work you have put in is truly astounding. I wish you and yours a very happy new year.

    1. Thanks Yossi; I really appreciate that. As I remarked in the reply above, the archive continues to draw visitors, and though I don’t know at the moment how long my sabbatical is going to be I’m glad it brings enjoyment. Seasons greetings to you and yours – and let’s hope 2018 has better things in store!

  8. Many thanks Gerry, especially for interrupting your sabbatical. Very much appreciated. Best wishes for next year. Hope it brings forth more research and writing. Always a great read. Regards, Mike

  9. Dear Gerry,
    I mailed you the other day as there had been no blog entries for quite a while. A couple of minutes ago I saw your note about taking a sabbatical. Wish you all the best and seasons greetings.

  10. So kind of you, Janne! A notable anniversary (450 years since his death) and a good reason to visit the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. I wish you all the best in 2018!

  11. I owe you a big thank you, Gerry.
    I came across your blog a few years ago when I was doing a bit of research on a Stockport artist called EE Smith, as I own a couple of his paintings. (You’d included “Stockport from Brinksway” in your Mersey Basin piece). There was an instant connection as it was uncanny how many subjects you wrote about which were close to my heart.
    I really admire your style of writing and am in awe of the depths of your research. You’ve opened up new subjects for me and reinforced my love of others.
    Even if you never add another piece to your impressive body of work, there’s plenty there to keep folk like me happy for some time to come. Cheers, Gerry.

    1. Thank you so much for that testimonial, Ian! Maybe I’ll return someday to the blog – we’ll have to see. But I’ really happy that you find so much here to inspire you.

  12. Yes, Gerry, I have so appreciated learning about artists I didnt really know of and music I had not heard. You have helped to encourage my exploration, and I have found you blog a great joy and inspiration.
    Sincerely, thank you for posting all this and making profund but accesible.

  13. Thank you for all you have written and shown in the past. I hope your sabbatical refreshes and nourishes you for all you have given out.

  14. “Leonard Cohen once explained the meaning of this blog’s signature song” He was not explaining the meaning of your blog’s signature song. Hyperbole talking with helium breath. Have you been sued yet? Rhetorical, no answer wanted.

  15. Hey there!
    I am looking to walk the Leeds Liverpool canal once Covid restrictions lift. I’ve been reading your blog.

    I was wondering if I can ask a few quick questions on logistics/where you stayed when you walked it? I know it’s been a few years, but I am struggling to find anyone else that has walked it.

    Best wishes

    1. As I explain in the posts, these were all walks from home to a starting point (either by public transport to begin with, or by car when I got over the Pennines) from where I walked to an end point where I could catch a bus or train back to the start. There were pubs along the canal where I had lunch and liquid refreshment – I’d start by exploring which canalside pubs offer accomodation. The canal goes through several small towns where overnight accommodation may be also be found. Have a good trip!

      1. Thank you so much!
        I wasn’t expecting a reply – I thought I hadn’t sent this comment in the end as I read your posts a bit more and realised you had used public transport. Whoops! I must have hit send accidentally.

        Thank you though for such a quick reply. It’s definitely helpful. I have now read all your posts too which has made planning my trek even easier.

        What a great resource!

      2. Also – for my walking guide I used Collins/Nicholson Waterways Guides (5) – North West and the Pennines which details each canalside pub and may say whether accommodation is available.

      3. Perfect! Thank you. I think a friend has one of those from their time living on a boat. I’ll get my hands on one.

        Thank you so much

  16. This is quite the blog — a standard to which we all could’ve aspired back in the days when blogging was The Serious Thing to Do. I’m a little saddened that your sabbatical has continued so long, but I still have a lot to explore so this will just become an occasional deep-dive. (And there’s always the “notify me of new posts” checkbox below…) FWIW, what brought me here was looking for information about the album cover for Bringing It All Back Home; what a rabbit hole that became. Thanks so much, and I hope you are going well and have found other things to keep inspiring you.

    Best regards,
    John Simpson

  17. Gerry, are you still active on here and is it possible to contact you please?

  18. Have just stumbled across your blog through Robert Mcfarlane and discovering Eric Ravillous paintings. I hope you are still writing and finding some inspiration.

  19. Is there a way to sign up to receive new additions to your extraordinary blog, so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle?

  20. Just found this blog. I am reading David Copperfield and I found your “Rereading Dickens.” This is a lovely blog and the more I dug in, I found your fascinations must add up to an enriching life. Surely you are enriching the lives of your readership. Hope you’re well and I wish I had found this 10 years earlier!

    1. Thank you! Very pleased you have found things to enjoy here. Although the blog is no longer updated there is still plenty to browse through.

  21. Hi Gerry,

    Love your writing and particularly enjoyed your ‘Walking the Mersey’ series.

    Please could you email me at the supplied address so that I can share a book with you?

    Best regards,


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