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More in response to Tapestry
By David Walsh

'Life's rich tapestry' is a well-used idiom that speaks to the mixed fortunes that are an inevitable part of all our lives. The phrase represents the stoic acceptance of bad fortune, the celebration of good, and the idea that all human experience is akin to a complex weave of extraordinary art.

I am happy to confirm that the actual tapestry gifted to me by Maureen Schooling represents in the fullest sense my own good fortune and this simple fact was indirectly re-affirmed by other Tapestry feedback contributions here on SpeedwayPlus, notably from Mick Hargreaves (25th March) and Wally Majko (9th April).

Like Maureen, over the years both have made selfless contributions to the speedway scene in South Australia through the pursuit of their own creative passions: video production and silk-screen printing respectively. And as with Maureen's tapestry I have been one of the riders fortunate enough to benefit from their kindness after being a rider at their speedway - North Arm, Adelaide.

For example, I have in my possession many first-rate recorded meetings from North Arm, Murray Bridge and Mildura speedways courtesy of Mick, and for years during my career I proudly sported printed vinyl bike covers of the highest quality which were annually dispatched by Wally from a home studio in Adelaide. Never was payment for any of the above countenanced. Therefore I hope the sentiments expressed in this second instalment of my own feedback to Tapestry can serve as some small repayment-in-kind to all concerned.

* * *

Grassroots clubs such as the now defunct North Arm are in large part kept going by people who are involved solely for the love of the sport and during my time there I met no one who wasn't friendly, kind and who went about their sporting passion with great good humour. I have never had any connection to Gillman Speedway, which superseded North Arm as Adelaide's bike track in 1997/8, but my assumption would be that the same spirit continues and thrives there too.

It is clear that much else has changed, though, not least the track itself and its accompanying facilities. From photographs Gillman Speedway does look impressive and it is a shame that some individuals involved at North Arm are no longer around to enjoy the thrills on offer and participate in the continued evolution of speedway in the area (special personal mention here for my former sponsor, Aidan Higgins, his wife Janette - both now sadly passed away - and mechanic Merv Stevens).

However, from a distant ex-rider's point of view I note that Gillman's bends do seem long and sweeping while the straights appear relatively short by comparison and, although such strips undoubtedly serve up top-drawer action, they were never my personal preference. More good fortune for me, then, as North Arm and Mildura, the two Aussie venues I rode the most, both featured longish straights and well-defined, sharper turns (Gillman does share perhaps the most important similarity to the other two tracks, however, i.e. no place on the programme for those undesirable, incompatible cars!).

Personal preferences are inherently subjective, though, and mine certainly needn't be taken seriously by anyone. But I would contend that tighter tracks instil a more deft technique; they encourage a greater appreciation of the power that must be harnessed for their successful navigation, and they teach us that in order to remain upright and balanced to the very end the pull on the twist-grip must be regularly eased and occasionally knocked-off altogether.

Now, I am not making a case here for my own mastery of the required technique; the occasions I got it spectacularly wrong are far too numerous for that, as witnesses from beyond the safety fence can testify. But the message holds and it is my hope that, despite the temptations of a wide-open throttle and the exercise of unbridled power such as they exist at Gillman, those coming through the ranks now can still emerge bearing the evident class of so many in recent years schooled within the more disciplined confines of North Arm and Mildura. The production-line of kids courtesy of the Sidewinders club ought to ensure many have a reasonable chance of success, given the necessary guidance of course, and I'm sure I speak for all interested parties in wishing them well. Certainly, speedway fans in Britain will always look forward to bearing witness to the fortunes of the region's next generation of greats, to follow the likes of Adams, Lyons (both Mildura), Parker (Adelaide), all now regrettably retired; and Sullivan (Adelaide), Crump (Mildura).

Meanwhile, the high-octane power that other hopefuls will need to control in order to progress successfully is what ultimately keeps drawing us all to the speedway arena. Yet Maureen Schooling reminds us that there are other powers at work at the speedway that we ignore at our peril, which brings me right back to her tapestries...

There is power in a tapestry.

Don't believe me? Well, just consider Maureen's work alongside the most famous tapestry of all, the one hanging on a wall in the Musee de la Tapisserie de Bayeux in Normandy, France.

To many it would seem absurd to compare Maureen's four speedway frames to the Bayeux Tapestry, and they are indeed fundamentally different. But before moving on to a couple of reasons why, it is worth noting the similarities, all of which are as facile as can be and require a not inconsiderable degree of spurious word-play.

Those similarities include: Riders, horsepower, symbols of state and damaged bodies. Heavenly bodies, helmets, chains, t(y)ire-some tracts, and hot, hot action.

Look closely and you'll see it's all there. Why, you could almost believe the Bayeux Tapestry was a depiction of the first ever meeting between the Milton Keynes Knights and Long Eaton Invaders, the only match in speedway history where every single English spectator would have willingly paid an extra ten groats for a rain-off. That didn't happen. The Invaders won.

Of course, despite its location being across the Channel in Normandy, the Bayeux Tapestry is actually a depiction of one of the most significant events in British history (what, and an away win for Long Eaton wasn't?). Indeed, the tapestry exists in the first place to reinforce the perception that that is the case. This particular tapestry is, after all, little more than elitist, ecclesiastical and nascent-state propaganda.

Widely understood to have been commissioned by Odo, the eleventh-century Bishop of Bayeux and half-brother to William I, the tapestry was made to serve the interests of the power structures established following the Norman invasion of England in 1066 (aah, those invaders!) and aggrandises Odo's place within them. Given the success of the Norman venture those power structures have been the foundation of status and privilege that has prevailed in England ever since (though granted there was a significant wobble in 1649!).

Should you want evidence for such a sweeping claim then look no further than the castles of Wales to see what 1066 eventually meant for the people of Cymru. Then consider how many folk there still, even today, bridle against the status quo imposed from the south-east of England. There is therefore a terrible ethical flaw in what at heart is represented by the Bayeux Tapestry.

Perfectly symbolised by the fact that the tapestry's deceit begins by masquerading as a tapestry in the first place - it is actually embroidery - its sheer size, artistic splendour and received cultural reverence asks of us to value its shameful celebration of feudal/tribal hatred, avarice and conquest through warfare. 'Life's rich tapestry,' indeed, and, dare I say it, plus ca change!

Mercifully the true art of tapestry making has survived over the centuries in spite of the Bayeux imposter, which leads me back to the differences between Bayeux and what Maureen Schooling has created.

First, embroidery, noble medium though it is, is simply not tapestry. End of!

Second, the basic values imbued in the fabric with every woven 'stitch' of Maureen's handiwork stand diametrically opposed to Bayeux. Those values were summed up by the astute observations made by Wally Majko in his succinct feedback to Maureen's original article on SpeedwayPlus. He stated: "You only create work like this if you love the sport. Very generous of Maureen to present them to the riders."

And that's the (higher) power contained within Maureen's tapestries right there. Not necessarily in what they depict (though I'd certainly never want to take on Sam Ermolenko in a wheelie competition!) but in the spirit in which they were made and then given away. Two words:

"Love" and "Generous."

It has never been established whether either of those words applied in the making or deploying of the Bayeux embroidery. In any case, even if it had it matters greatly what it is that's being loved and then generously presented to others. In that, brutal warfare is a million miles from sport, no matter how William the Conqueror may have managed to inspire his foot soldiers. In other words, the 'beautiful game' of sport, war is most certainly not!

So thanks Wally for that observation, others said as much too. That the values of love and generosity were recognised is no coincidence. They are, after all, traits I have encountered amongst people throughout the speedway world, not least in Adelaide, and they are above all else what I believe elevates our sport to a worthy place on the 'Grand Tapestry,' i.e. the very fabric of life on this planet.

Just how viable current models of motor-sport are with respect to our ever growing environmental concerns is an increasingly pressing question, though technically speaking speedway is better placed than any other - it just smells so...different! And how we happily remain complicit in mass killings just for more of the filthy stuff that fuels most motor-sports is, to say the least, troubling - think the disastrous 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil 'gusher,' just for starters. Yet we must remain confident that the best in us as human beings will endure. This is, after all, a precious little world we all share and a bit more love and generosity would do us all very nicely indeed.

Yes, I know, I know, pass the sick-bucket and all that. And besides, what do those sentiments actually mean, especially on a global scale? Well, perhaps it is best just to leave the answer to the late, great John Lennon who would no doubt have replied quite simply, "imagine!" And who on this Earth could possibly argue with that? Those who constantly nurse the sick-bucket, I shouldn't wonder.

* * *

You may hug the kick-boards and take the long way round if you must, or remain on the line, play it safe and never budge, but 'love and generosity' has the power to really move the rough-riders. And guess what? The actual 'barons,' 'hawks' and 'hitmen' in our midst absolutely hate that.

For them, speedway metaphors just will not do; instead the words 'vampires' and 'daylight' spring to mind. And which side in that particular contest might you be on? No need whatsoever to answer that question. Don't even go there. There is no need to bite!

It is now six weeks since my last submission to SpeedwayPlus based on this subject and I still can't quite tell you how pleased I am that Maureen thought me worthy of one of her tapestries. After all, recalling the time she presented it to me in her original article on SpeedwayPlus, she quoted me as having said: "Why me? I am not a world champion or anything special." Quite so, I couldn't have put it better myself!

On a more practical stroke of good fortune, I managed to transport the tapestry back to Britain inside my Scott Team USA competition bag despite it already being crammed with all manner of odds-and-ends. Of course, at the time I was completely oblivious to the fact that this gift from Maureen would one day lead me to research the rather dubious fortunes of Odo, Earl of Kent/Norman monk. However, even through the pickled eyes of what can only be described as a 'rum-fug,' I was aware of the immediate risks involved in shipping the tapestry home in a bag made of such inappropriate material - medium-thickness, lightweight nylon.

Well, the tapestry survived the trip totally unscathed and to this day remains in pristine condition, which is more than can be said of the Team USA bag. That is looking rather shabby these days and seems destined to be replaced by something more sturdy someday soon, or at least continue to play second fiddle to a tried and trusted forest-green Skyway hold-all which, ironically enough, is great for carrying valuable things long-distance by train!

That the tapestry withstood the rigours of a round-the-world flight while relatively unprotected by American baggage lends still more proof of the strength of substance in what Maureen created for me along with those other three, rather more special, riders: i.e. two formidable world champions (respect!) and, not least, another rider who has just retired and had a huge send-off at Sheffield Speedway packed with fans, many of whom had traveled far to pay tribute. That, of course, is Shane Parker's real triumph and one that was richly deserved for his sterling service on track and as chairman of the Speedway Riders' Association. It was my privilege to have witnessed the beginning of his career back in Adelaide in the late 1980s/early 90s, and so now I pay my own personal tribute to him, along with all the other North Arm enthusiasts I've mentioned (and many un-named) in this piece, below:

To those North Arm lights: salut!

All that now remains is the need to return to the reason why all this has been written in the first place: Maureen Schooling's tapestries.

At the risk of repeating myself (because I am), thanks yet again, Maureen, for what you did twenty-some years ago. The essential qualities in your work, as set out above, are as deep as they are broad, and the plain truth is your tapestry will more than do for me.

As for Bayeux......Adieu!

David.

 

P.S.

An equally well-used variant of the phrase 'Life's Rich Tapestry' would be 'Life's Rich Pageant,' which happens to be the title of a 1986 album by American band REM. For the record, it is a most appropriate heading and comes with the highest recommendation, er...from me, but don't let that put you off. Enjoy!

P.P.S.

Oh yes, mustn't forget...(how should I put this?)...ORANGE JUICE! Or as an alternative why not just swallow some good old-fashioned water? It's great, just so long as it hasn't been 'fracked,' irradiated or similarly P.P.S.ed in. Mm, the 'Grand Tapestry' isn't being very well looked after these days, is it?!!

Further reading:

Carson Pastan, Elizabeth & Stephen D. White, 2009, 'Problematizing Patronage: Odo of Bayeux and the Bayeux Tapestry,' in, The Bayeux Tapestry: New Interpretations, Eds. Foys, Martin K., Karen Overbey & Dan Terkla, Boyland Press: Woodbridge, pp. 1-23.

Davies, John, 1996, The Making of Wales, Alan Sutton Publishing: Stroud.

Flint, Valerie I.J., 2004, 'The Bayeux Tapestry, the Bishop and the Laity,' in, The Bayeux Tapestry: Embroidering the Facts of History, Presses Universitaires de Caen, 2004, pp. 217-233.

France, John, 2004, 'The Importance of the Bayeux Tapestry in the History of War,' in, ibid., pp. 289-299.

Lewis, Suzanne, 1999, The Rhetoric of Power in the Bayeux Tapestry, Cambridge University Press.

Williams, Diane M. & John R. Kenyon, eds., 2010, The Impact of the Edwardian Castles in Wales, Oxbow Books: Oxford.

 

This article was first published on 13th May 2012


 

  • Ivan Blacka:

    "David that was some posting you did. I had to read it a couple of times to take it all in. Have you ever thought of becoming a writer cause man you have a imagination like no other. The more I read it the more I realized how cleaver you are with words. It must have bought tears to Maureen's eyes. Well done.."

  • Maureen Schooling:

    "Re David Walsh on my tapestry's. Yes Ivan, he did bring tears to my eyes. And I agree David should write, he is fabulous. He does work in a library you know. I also had to read a couple of times to take it all in too. Some good history learn't there too, I did history at school & was very interested, to read all about what David wrote about.You learn some thing new every day.Thanks again David & Ivan, you are true gentlemen."

  • Vanessa:

    "David, nice to see what you're up to. Seems like an eternity since I knew you at Ellesmere Port Speedway. "

  • David Walsh:

    "There is indeed power in a tapestry!

    The power represented by Maureen Schooling's tapestries has already been covered here. Now there has emerged a bona fide rival to Bayeux - the Great Tapestry of Scotland.

    This astonishing series of tapestries is not only a visual feast and folk-art triumph, but serves as a timely reminder of a nation's history in what could yet become an epoch-defining year.

    The Great Tapestry of Scotland has recently been exhibited at the Anchor Mill in Paisley and will be on display again at the Scottish Parliament, 1st July - 13th September, and at New Lanark, 20th October - 22nd November, before finding a permanent home at a location still to be determined in the Borders.

    Any Scot, or anyone at all, with a beating heart and an eye for crafted beauty should take the time to see it - it certainly has the power to move!

    However, while the Tapestry includes plenty of prominent depictions of various, ahem, monarchs, there appears but one single tiger - the scales of representation somewhat out of kilter there, I'd say, a tenuous link to speedway though that is.

    Ok, look! Joking aside, having excluded the actual Monarchs and Tigers (not to mention the Lions, Eagles, Bulls, Rockets, Giants, Devils, Saints and even the most striking of Lightning!) the regrettable truth is that while Scottish sport is generously included, speedway doesn't feature at all in this work.

    We can only conclude, therefore, that in the recording and indeed creation of one very colourful history of Scotland, as of 2014 there remains important work still to be done!!

    In the meantime, visit the Tapestry anyway: as entitled, it is Great. Furthermore, the more entries in the visitors' book that call for the inclusion of a sport that's regularly heralded by a Fanfare For The Common Man can only be, in my book, a good thing!

    So, while those scales of representation may never be perfectly balanced, that in itself is no reason not to stay positive about ultimately achieving a certain inclusivity in The Great Tapestry of Scotland, one in which the followers of all the teams listed above, both past and present, ought to feel a personal interest.

    So why not go and sign up in that book? Mention that special team. It's a finely woven history and it's your history too! "

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