Sunday 21 November 2004

I don't know why I say goodbye, I say hello.....

Beyond Lemba (work in progress)(oil on board) Posted by Hello

I've come to a realisation recently that I'm overextending myself. I've added so many things into my life in the last year that they're causing conflict and chaos. Something has to give, if only for a while.

When I started blogging, it was with the (unexpressed) intention of posting something every day. Clearly that's fallen by the wayside. My other activities have meant that I couldn't channel my mind into writing mode to enable me to keep up the output. I don't want the blog to become a chore.

So for a while at least, I think I need to put Boogie Street on hold. I thank all those who've shown a surprising interest in what goes on at Stately Zip Mansion and hope to throw open the doors again in the near future.

See you in the blogs!

Thursday 18 November 2004

A Good Egg of a Day

The People Show will be looking for entries in the New Year, so I decided to press on today. Instead of fannying around with some of the small pieces which glare at me in the studio from time to time, I made a decision to do two new paintings for the Show.

Despite the handicap of an obviously off-square canvas, I managed to get something involving the rigid grid-like structure of the Tyne Bridge off to a good start. The top two thirds of the 24 x 24 ins square canvas is taken up with the mass of the end of the Bridge, reminding me a little of Franz Kline. Behind are the cool planes of what I used to think of as the Black Stump until it was clad in some greyish stuff last year, and the pier of one of the Bridge supports.

The bottom third of the painting consists of runners in the Great North Run. A return to an old friend.

I like the way the composition divides into a calm cool grid played off against the energy of runners in reds, ochres, yellows.

Later, I went into town for an hour or two. Picked up some olives and sour cream and spoached around the HMV store.

Back home, I whipped up some chicken with wild mushrooms. Too much chicken, not enough olives. Too much cream. Too rich. Would have been fine for two, but Patsy123's away looking after her mum who's had a fall.

After dinner I made a first acquaintance with Philip Glass's Symphony No.2 and Symphony No.3 which I'd picked up at HMV. Great stuff. I've never thought of Philip Glass as being impressionistic, but there were moments there when I found myself thinking restless sea pictures (indeed, Rebecca came to mind) and steam locomotives.

And then it was time to delve further into Chuck Palahniuk's Diary. A very strange and disturbing novel, and certainly engrossing. And hey! It's about an artist.

When they were in school, Peter used to say that everything you do is a self-portrait. It might look like Saint George and
the Dragon or The Rape of the Sabine Women, but the angle you use, the lighting, the composition, the technique, they're all you. Even the reason why you chose the scene, it's you. You are every color and brushstroke.

Peter used to say, "The only thing an artist can do is describe his own face."

You're doomed to being you.

This, he says, leaves us free to draw anything, since we're only drawing ourselves.

Your handwriting. The way you walk. Which china pattern you choose. It's all giving you away. Everything you do shows your hand.

Everything is a self-portrait.

It's been an unusual day when I haven't felt any real pressure. When everything - even the not terribly successful chicken and wild mushrooms - felt right. Not often I can say that.

And so, on that rather comforting note, to bed.

Wednesday 17 November 2004

Mark my words.....

Into the Depths (oil on canvas, 36 x 36 ins) Posted by Hello

This is one of the reasons I've been quiet. Getting pictures ready for another exhibition. This time it's the Gallery Friends Show, with a theme of "art from words" to try to get the more conservative members to think outside the box.

Won't work, of course. Last year we used an "art from art" theme and still got the usual watercolours of bunches of flowers, allegedly based on some obscure Dutch work. This year they'll be on even safer ground, what with the availability of Wordsworth's daffs and the like.

Not that I can honestly say my entries are actually based on literature. The picture above was done a couple of years ago and was based on a shelled building in Cyprus. I've simply hung an Orpheus & Eurydice tag on it.

No photographs of the other two yet. The second one was another 36 x 36 ins unfinished work called Woman in a Garden. Patsy123 helped out by finding a couple of verses from a D H Lawrence poem called Snap-Dragon and I reworked the woman. I'm still not sure about it, but it's been accepted, so I'll think again when it comes back (I regard these Friends' shows as a chance to show slightly unusual work, knowing it won't sell. It's the watercolour bunches of flowers that always sell.)

The last one is very much an oddity. It's 24 x 24 ins and based on Siri Hustvedt's
The Blindfold. It started out as something out of die Neue Sachlichkeit but I was uncomfortable with the way the two figures were not contained within the picture area. I got rid of the subsidiary figure and it started to look like a mid-period Paula Rego. Then it simply took on a life of its own and became what it is now. Very strange.

Thursday 11 November 2004

Moveable Feast

Have you decided what day to celebrate Christmas Day yet? I haven't made up my mind which of the days in the Christmas Day period to make my own personal Christmas Day; a day that suits my own circumstances, not one forced on me by something as meaningless as a date on a calendar.

Last Friday was Guy Fawkes' Night, right? Or Bonfire Night as my calendar calls it, so as to ensure that children everywhere can go untroubled by the historical origins of the celebration.

As it happens, Patsy123 and I had a really good night watching the Council firework display in Saltwell Park. The crowds were well-behaved, the weather quite clement and there was plenty of ooing and ahing to make the night a success.

But some people evidently don't see any need to join in such communal tomfoolery. They had their displays on the Wednesday before. Others chose Thursday, while still others went for Saturday or Sunday and even Monday.

And I'm not talking about the odd rocket or banger. I mean big displays lasting ten minutes or more. From my living room window, I've been able to watch Guy Fawkes Night being celebrated every night for the best part of a week.

So why stick to December 25th for your Christmas Day? As it happens, the 25th falls on a Saturday, but that might not be convenient for you or your family. Why not have your own individual Christmas Day on the Thursday beforehand, or perhaps later, on Tuesday 28th?

This is the 21st Century, for godsake. Let's not be hidebound by tradition and calendars. You have nothing to lose but your sense of any kind of community. Maybe that crazy old bat Thatcher was right and there is no society

[That was an Old Fart Rant on behalf of the Christmas Party]

Monday 8 November 2004

Opportunity Knocks Again

An Angry Buzzing (oil on canvas, 36 x 36 ins) Posted by Hello

Where does the time go? Things have happened but gone unreported on Boogie Street, like the Crete trip and the walk up on Simonside. I'll have to try to get to them.

Meanwhile, the time today was spent initially on tidying the place up in anticipation of the arrival of the Two Ladies from Harrogate. They're opening a gallery there and having seen the work at the Big Gallery in Newcastle, wanted to take a look at some more of my work.

We had a good afternoon together, chatting about stuff, and eventually they left with eleven of my pictures, including the one above, to show at their inaugural exhibition.

Who said there isn't a god? (Note to self: it was you, but others got there before you.)

Monday 1 November 2004

"[Mr Zip] paints the town"

[Mr Zip] and his Great North Run painting Posted by Hello

According to the Evening Chronicle of Saturday October 30th, "Eight scenes of Newcastle by artist [Mr Zip] are on display and up for sale at a city gallery." It goes on to say that the "oil paintings of streets around the city have been on display ..... since September 10 and are proving popular with visitors."

The gallery manager was quoted as saying that they'd had some of Mr Zip's work on display before "and it went down very well."

"They are all up for sale from between £650 and £1600."

Mr Zip said, "They are all of streets in Newcastle, like Blackett Street and Newgate Street."

"I am particularly interested in the effect of light on those streets, especially on wet days."

In addition to reproducing "The Burning Bush" they also showed a copy of this one:

The Sage, Gateshead (oil on canvas, 24x24 ins) Posted by Hello

Friday 29 October 2004

Fame calls after all.

The Burning Bush (oil on canvas, 36 x 36 ins) Posted by Hello

Given that I was standing in my underwear in the draughty hall, I probably didn't acquit myself overly well when the woman from the Chronicle phoned today.

Seems I misjudged them and they do intend to publish a piece on me and my work, either tomorrow or Monday.

That'll teach me not to be so pessimistic.

Saturday 23 October 2004

A Heath Robinson Affair

Posted by Hello
I met some old friends for lunch in town on Friday. I hadn't seen Mad Mal and his wife for about a year, so we had some catching up to do.

We met in the cafe area of the
Laing Art Gallery, which, along with the rest of the gallery, has been newly decorated. The horrid custard walls, which had such a disastrous effect on the viewing of their fine David Bomberg, have been replaced by a much less obnoxious cream.

Which is fine, except the Bomberg is no longer on the wall. Nor are any of the good pictures that used to line the staircase walls.

It's an unfortunate fact that the modern breed of curators seem not to like things cluttering up their walls, especially those old-fashioned painted things. I'm hoping they're going to put them back in due course, but I can't forget that when Sunderland Museum and Art Gallery was refurbished a few years ago, the big Victorian pictures which used to hang on the walls of the staircase were never put back. And both galleries are run by Tyne & Wear Museums.

Nevertheless, we did have a good time in the current exhibition of
W. Heath Robinson illustrations and paintings. Heath Robinson was always one of my heroes, particularly as I once thought I'd like to be an illustrator. I gave up on that when I found I got bored with having to draw the same character more than once - I wanted to invent new ones each time.

The exhibition covers most of his career, from the early work much inspired by Victorian wood-engraving, through his illustrations for Rabelais, Shakespeare and various collections of fairy tales, including Perrault and
Hans Andersen, to the illustrations he is best remembered for - the improbable inventions.

There were one or two watercolours done, not as illustrations, but as fine art. I have to say that, despite the blurb attached to them which suggested he was using a much more loose style, they looked very uncomfortable, as if he yearned to get back to his trademark precision.

His mature drawing style is wonderfully concise. He developed a balance of clean even line set off by one or two areas of (usually) solid black which, together with his fondness for an elevated viewpoint, endeared him to me forever.

Friday 22 October 2004

Mr Zip's Nature Diary Contd.

So there I was, getting on with my little jobs in the garden. I'd finished putting some chunky brass screws into the fence panels ripped loose by the rampaging Italian topiarists and was getting ready to fill up the birds' seed feeders.

Then the mouse walked by.

It's that mouse I've seen before, scoffing the birdseed, but this time he was really close. He crept over and picked up a sunflower seed, tested it , then ran off with it to wherever his apartment is under the badly-laid concrete path.

Seconds later he was back, so I threw him a piece of breadcrust. He thought about it briefly, then came forward and picked it up. It too passed the nibble test, so he went off with it.

When he came back I was bending over, filling up the container with peanuts, so I threw a couple his way. He liked those too. Then he came back and edged nearer the little heap of seed I put down for the ground feeders. Eventually, he was directly below me and as I was still bending over, he was within a foot of my hand. I could see his pale little limbs with their beautifully delicate paws and his bright, bright little dark eyes.

Why should it be that a fieldmouse isn't scared of me? I'd have thought that by it's very size and nature he would be scared of just about everything. I accept that I'm probably too slow to actually catch him, but getting within a foot of me seems like extreme rodent bravado.

Whatever he felt about the experience, it gave me a little thrill.

Thursday 21 October 2004

Careful with that axe, Eugene

A gang of crazy Italians has destroyed my hedge.

Woken by the sound of rhythmic thumping from a reverie over what to do with the stalled picture on the easel, I went outside to find three old men armed with a big axe and a pair of loppers cutting into the hedge.

Watching them wield the axe in a most un-Boy Scout-like manner (I had my Woodsman's Badge, so I know about these things) was really frightening. If the axe hadn't been quite so obviously sharp, I'd have feared for arms or legs ending up on my lawn. And arms and legs do make such a mess in the shredder.

Within an hour they'd hacked it down to fence height, luckily sparing the thick branch to which one end of my washing line is tied.

So why didn't I tell them to piss off and leave my hedge alone (apart from the presence of a glintingly sharp axe)? Well, because it's not really my hedge. It belongs to Lucy Smooth, whose husband used to keep it under control until he died.

It's not exactly hedge material. Not your privet or Leylandii. The gardens round here are regularly visited by the Tree Fairy who leaves little trees agrowing. Most people just pull them up, but years ago Lucy Smooth's husband thought it a good idea to let one grow and turn it into a hedge. Although it flowers, I've never seen it produce any kind of fruit, but I think it's some kind of Mountain Ash.

Training the trunk to grow horizontally, he allowed the branches to shoot away in a vertical direction, weaving some of them into a dense screen.

However, by the end of every year the branches are some fifteen to twenty feet high and have to be cut down or they'll turn into trunks. Since he died, I've done my best to deal with the monster. But as the tree-hedge is actually in the garden next door, I can't quite reach some of the branches and Lucy Smooth's son (who lives just over the road) is too indolent to lend a hand.

So it seems she's called in the local mafiosi to make the hedge an offer it couldn't refuse.

But I've been there. I know how the prune-craze can grip you when you set to with the secateurs, let alone a pair of loppers and an axe.

In a pruning frenzy, they gave the olive tree a flat-top. Then they parted the apple tree from its crown. By then everything in the garden was no taller than they were, so they retired indoors to shout at one another. It's the Italian way of having a conversation, compounded by aging hearing I imagine.

The wind sure as hell is whistling across the blasted heath and through the gap where the hedge and trees used to be. To make matters worse, on my way out today I noticed that a small blight on the hedge at the front (not mine either) has turned into some kind of arborial alopecia and there are huge areas of dead leaves and shrivelled berries.

I feel like my cocoon is under attack.

And the birds aren't gonna like it.

Wednesday 20 October 2004

Fickle Fate

Newgate Street (oil on canvas, 35.5 x 26 ins)) Posted by Hello

Do you ever get the feeling that you've jinxed yourself? However irrational it may seem, however foolishly superstitious, does it ever seem to you that by telling everyone some good news about something about to occur, you somehow prevent it from happening?

I picked up a copy of the Chronicle tonight and found they'd run with a story about the guy whose pictures are hanging next to mine at the Gallery. I knew they'd photographed them, but apparently he was in the happy position of being at the Gallery when they were there and was able to be interviewed.

Now they've done that, I think it unlikely they'll run anything about me.

Poot. If only I'd kept my m........

Anyway, this is one of the pictures they probably won't be showing.

Monday 18 October 2004

The Photographer Calls

I was woken at the ungodly hour of 11.30 this morning by the insistent ringing of the telephone.

It was a man whose name appears to be The Photographer From The Chronicle. At least that was what he called himself throughout all of our conversations.

Apparently, when there's no news and The Photographer From The Chronicle is twiddling his thumbs, the accepted solution is to go down to the Big Gallery and take some shots of the pictures in there.

Anyway, that was what The Photographer From The Chronicle did today. And as he'd taken some shots of my pictures, he thought it would be good to get some extra shots of me to go with the shots of the pictures. Maybe it'll make a feature.

When he arrived, he said "Hello, I'm The Photographer From The Chronicle."

So it was that I found myself in the studio with my nose shoved up against The Madonna of the Toboggan, my palette (which I never pick up) clutched near my left ear, a dry paintbrush in my right hand.

"Do you always hold the brush like that? Looks kind of funny"

"Unlike the palette by my left ear?" I asked.

"Ah, that's to keep the striplight out of shot," he explained.

We finished off the session with me down on my knees with my head pressed up against some of the figures in The Great North Run, staring into the void like El Greco's
St Peter.

I'm sure it'll look great when it's in print. And, of course, any publicity is good publicity.

Saturday 16 October 2004


Just as I was leaving the house this evening, I saw a blackbird in the garden. I retrieved the latest gowk from the compost.

Walking up the path that runs by the dene, I met a toad.

Sometimes it's like a jungle out there.

I've always been rather fond of toads. I never quite forgave my mother for making me take back the one I found in Saltwell Park all those years ago. After all, she let me keep the tiddlers, and they all died.

In the gloom, I almost trod on the toad. Only the fact that he might have been a turd saved him. He was looking pretty miserable. You may think it's difficult to tell whether a toad is miserable or not. Trust me, he was miserable.

Maybe it was because his normally rough and leathery skin was slicked with rain, or maybe he was just, you know, having one of those days. A kind of toady brown study.

Sitting there on the path was not in his best interests, and I told him so. I'm not averse to carrying on conversations with animals, providing no-one is looking, so I explained that just where he was sitting, the Future of the Nation normally hang out, drinking lager, smerkin' tabs, scribbling their infantile messages on the fence and generally cussing as much as the sentence will allow.

"They will make short work of you, I can assure you," I warned.

I bent down to pick him up. He hopped a couple of hops towards the hedge. But that seemed to be it. I tapped him with my finger. No more hopping took place.

Since I did actually have shopping to do and it was pissing down, I figured bold moves were called for.

Very carefully, with the edge of my foot, I slid him, and the leaves he was sitting on, under the hedge.

"Thanks, bonny lad," he said, " I couldn't have hopped another inch."

Know how it feels?

Patsy123 sent me this poem, though I can't quite recall when:


The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even
forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.

No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

Billy Collins

Wednesday 13 October 2004

Harvest Fest

The TV told me today that weatherforecasters are predicting a cold and icy winter, with some of it coming along real soon now. This means I may have to throw out my firm belief that trees laden with berries do not constitute a sign of a forthcoming Bad Winter.

Because the trees and bushes round here are certainly heavily laden this year. My pyracantha has never had such a crop of orangeness and the dene at the end of the street is crunchy underfoot with hundreds of acorns. Best of all, next door in Bob Eh's garden, the hawthorn is full of fat little fruit. Fat little fluttery fruit. The best crop of sparrows in years.

I'm getting at least a dozen in the garden every day. I've not had that many for almost ten years. It's getting to the point where I may have to buy another feeder for them.

But still no blackbirds. I was up at Hexham today for a seminar on self-promotion and the trees were full of blackbirds gulping down berries from the rowans. The blackbird I reported here a while ago proved to be a young straggler who's not been seen since.

The gowks continue to go in the compost.

Interesting Facts

In my mailbox when I got home, was this from Will Barrow:

1. The Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than the Aussies, British or Americans.

2. Mexicans eat a lot of fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than the Aussies, British or Americans.

3. Africans drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than the Aussies, British or Americans.

4. Italians drink large amounts of red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than the Aussies, British or Americans.

5. Germans drink a lot of beer and eat lots of sausages and fats and suffer fewer heart attacks than the Aussies, British or Americans.

MEDICAL CONCLUSION: Eat and drink whatever you like. Speaking English is apparently what kills you.


Well, back from Crete already. Weather was wonderful, food excellent and I completed my fifth walk down the Samaria Gorge.

When I've assembled my thoughts, photographs and like so, I may have more to say. Didn't do any drawing, however (tsk!), so you've had that.

Sunday 26 September 2004

Back in 5 mins...

In Chania Harbour (oil on board 12 x 12 ins) Posted by Hello

...or so it will seem, I expect.

Tomorrow we're off to London. Tuesday, we fly to Chania on Crete. I'll try very hard to have a good time. Please do the same until I get back.

Friday 24 September 2004

Steppin' Out

Posted by Hello
"They're still very white," said Patsy123 last night. She was referring to my new trainers.

The planta fasciitis continues to give me trouble and I desperately needed something I could wear on holiday that would give my foot support. Especially if we decide to do the Samaria Gorge while we're on Crete.

So I found myself in John Lewis's trying on running shoes. The talk all round was of the forthcoming Great North Run and how exciting it was to attempt it. I thought how exciting it will be to attempt the Samaria Gorge with a bad foot, but said nowt.

Designers of trainers must be on acid most of the time. They seem to come up with the most ghastly confections of multicoloured cross webbing imaginable and have now taken to introducing springs in the heels. Most of them I wouldn't be seen dead in.

I finally settled on a pair of Adidas Rush running shoes in relatively tasteful black, white and grey. They were made in Indonesia where people must have small feet because although I take size 8, these are 9s and not at all excessively roomy.

I've been wearing them ever since to break them in, but have failed to find something to wear that will make the shoes look anything other than brilliant white. (The white bits, that is. Clearly the black and grey bits are not in any sense brilliant.)

I'm beginning to feel like the old gadgies who get on the late night bus at the Bluebell on the High Street. Always in their best grey suits, they nevertheless fail the sartorial test by wearing trainers which glare from under their trouser cuffs.

I did see an advert recently for prestressed trainers, complete with scuffed suede trim, but you have to pay for all that prestressing and it only helps them to fall apart quicker.

No, what we need is a can of instant scuff-and-shabby to spray on new trainers. It's amazing I wasn't offered one at the shop. Last time I bought a pair of shoes I was asked if I also wanted to buy a can of protector and a pair of socks!

Thursday 23 September 2004


The Gateshead Herald & Post is a fine example of the free newspaper.

In addition to a great deal of general advertising, it also incorporates Homemaker Plus, a solid collection of estate agents' pages.

This is the section you turn to when you want to know how your house is doing in the rocketing house market, by comparing with Mrs Cannybody's house when you notice she's just put up a FOR SALE notice.

But it is a newspaper as well. Primarily, it's a purveyor of non-news. All the news that no-one else thinks fit to print.

Last week there was a non-story about a double-decker bus that took a wrong turning and crunched part of the upper deck under a railway bridge.

No-one was hurt.

Nevertheless, the paper devoted quite a few column inches to interviews with passengers who happily speculated on what might have happened had any of them been sitting at the front upstairs (pretending to be the driver).

Occasionally they do come up with some interesting little items, however. Things that are worth following up elsewhere. This week, they carry this report:

Arts summit a coup
A global summit is to be held on Tyneside.
Hundreds of delegates will be in the region for the World Summit on Arts and Culture in June 2006.
Held against the backdrop of the Sage Gateshead, Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art and Millennium Bridge, it's a massive coup.
It is organised by Arts Council England, North East, and supported by NewcastleGateshead Initiative, the Culture10 scheme.

Not bad for J.B.Priestley's "dirty backlane leading into Newcastle"

Given equal prominence this week is an important story, complete with dreadful puns, about another upcoming cultural event:

Nailing an ambition
Madcap Paul Usher is hoping toe make it big at the Baltic - by donating his personal collection of nail clippings.
As we reported last week, Uruguayan artist Carlos Capelan is to feature his own cuttings as part of his new exhibition when it opens next month at the flagship centre for contemporary art in Gateshead.
Paul has been keeping his own nail trimmings in a plastic box after embarking on a mission to discover how many he could gather in 12 months.
Now two-and-a-half years after starting out, the 30-year-old, from Gosforth, says he has been inspired by Carlos' work and has now offered to donate all his clippings to the artworld.
"I just decided one day to start saving them," he proudly reveals. "I wanted to see how many I could build up but I've never really known what to do with them until now.
"I've been inspired and think giving them to Carlos would ensure they go to a good home. I thought straight away about getting in touch with the Baltic."
Paul, an accounts assistant for a print company, regularly tops up his collection by trimming his toes every 10 days.

The phrase "Get a life" comes instantly to mind, coupled with similar thoughts about the alleged artworks. But I'll hold judgement on that one until I've seen them.

Wednesday 22 September 2004

Sunday in the Park with Patsy123

Patsy123 and I took a stroll through the renovated Saltwell Park on Sunday. I've wanted to see what kind of a job the Heritage Lottery Fund had paid for and this seemed like a good opportunity.

It's late in the season now, of course, and the wind was pretty fierce at times, so the general public weren't greatly in evidence, but there were sufficient to show how much the Park is still appreciated.

We cut through the Grove and admired the freshly decorated Bandstand. This isn't the one I remember as a child, evidently, but is a little 1920s number they picked up from
Beamish Open Air Museum and is nicely Art Deco. Brass band concerts still happening there, apparently.

The work isn't completely finished, but enough has been accomplished in the grounds to show how well the money has been spent. They've rebuilt the Almond Pavilion (burnt down by vandals a few years ago) and removed the intrusive pathway in front of it. From the Pavilion you can now see the view that Edward Kemp, the original landscaper achieved - an uninterrupted view across the lawns to the Lake, then on over the valley to the countryside beyond.

The Lake was drained and cleaned before refilling and the island in the middle reduced to it's original size. It's still big enough to provide a home for Canada geese, at least until they start their honking skeins over my house later in the year. And there were eight swans a-swimming, as well as coots, mallards and tufted ducks.

Unusually, there were three small Hassidic boys taking a rowing boat out (how times must have changed in the Gateshead Orthodox community!) and a Jewish woman who seemed to think that feeding the already overfed ducks should be achieved by heaving the contents of three loaves into the water in one go.

The big hit in the Park is the renovated
Saltwell Towers. Originally built as the home of William Wailes, a local stained glass manufacturer, it's a wonderful fairytale structure of towers and turrets, all done out in decorative brickwork.

When I was a kid, there was nowhere more fascinating than Saltwell Towers Museum. From the whale's jawbone at the entrance to the stuffed birds and giant dollshouse, I loved it.

It eventually fell victim to various forms of rot, the roof collapsed and for a long time there was talk of tearing it down.

Now, however, the exterior has been splendidly restored and inside there's the inevitable Visitor's Centre done in a sympathetic contemporary styling. There's a cafe, a small gallery space, some interactive displays, a nicely integrated ramp for wheelchairs which seems to be part of the design rather than something that simply had to be there and some stained glass decorating the spiral staircase.

It's perhaps a little churlish to criticise Bridget Jones's stained glass, but it did come across as rather insipid, unlike her usual work. And I do wonder why she had to find her inspiration in the rose bay willowherb she saw in Germany, when there must be a wealth of other imagery in the Park itself (including willowherb, I'm sure).

All in all, though, a really good way to spend a Sunday afternoon, even if the wind had us chilled to the bone by the end of it.

Tuesday 21 September 2004

Books Before Bedtime

Having finished Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, I really don't understand all the hoohah. It's not a very good book.

Oh sure, it's crammed to the gills with information, but it's so poorly written that the lumps of information sit on the page like rocks in a river, slowing the flow.

For instance, in an early part of the book, the protagonists are racing through the Tuileries in Paris. Despite the fact that the Tuileries play no part in the workings of the plot, Brown feels it important enough to stop the action and leadenly dump into his prose an explanation of the name "Tuileries".

It's like that all the way through. People suddenly find themselves, even in the most dangerous moments, being "reminded" of yet another irrelevant fact or other.

I thought at first that it was quite a page-turner, but eventually I found myself yearning for the end to come. I really need to shake off this feeling of having to finish a book, just because I've started it. Life's too short and there are more than enough good books to read.

If you want to read about the Merovingians, the Knights Templar and the conspiracies surrounding Mary Magdalene and the Jesus bloodline, look out a copy of Henry Lincoln's Holy Blood - Holy Grail.

Although not an especially good book, I got more out of an hour reading Rhino Ritz: An America Mystery by Keith Abbot, which contains the following:
F. Scott Fitzgerald was trying to put his arm back on. It had fallen off in the street and he was trying to put it back on so he could drink some more. It was his right arm and he needed his right hand to drink with.

A bizarre concoction written by someone I've never heard of, it's strangely reminiscent of William Kotzwinkle or more nearly, Richard Brautigan.

And whatever became of Richard Brautigan?

Apart from being dead, that is.

The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break

Chania Harbour (sketchbook, pen and ink) Posted by Hello

I haven't been abroad since August 2001. That was a disastrous trip and left me with bad memories of an island I love - Crete.

And I've reached a point where I'm desperately in need of battery-recharging.

So it's definitely time to lay the ghosts and re-establish Crete as one of my favourite destinations.

Patsy123 and I spent some time
online at the weekend, arranging a flight to Chania and a hotel there. We fly next week, cameras and sketchbook at the ready.

I can hardly wait.

Friday 17 September 2004

... and down again

I happened to be in the bathroom washing my hands, when I noticed there was water flowing down the outside of the shower hose.

Funny, I thought. Shouldn't be doing that.

In an attempt to stop it, I figured I'd just turn on the shower to release the pressure or whatever.

There was an almighty clank inside the mixer unit and boiling hot water started spurting out the sides and over the edge of the bath onto the floor.

The stopcock and boiler are two floors below in the cellar. By the time I raced through the kitchen, water was running through the ceiling. It stopped within about fifteen minutes of my turning off the water and the boiler, having filled up various pans, plastic containers and mixing bowls.

I have some insurance to cover this sort of mishap. Or had some insurance... I pay the guy who installed the central heating system to deal with emergencies. I trust him and he knows the water and heating convolutions of the house inside out. However, when I phoned him last year to do a small repair he said, "Oh we don't do plumbing now, just central heating."

Although I'd been toying with switching to insurance which covers all eventualities, I foolishly let sentiment get the better of me and stayed with him.

Now, of course, I had no plumber to call on.

There are hundreds of plumbers in Yellow Pages. Do they answer the phone? No they do not. Or if they do, they turn out to be a national firm of locksmiths moonlighting in the plumbing trade who don't have any plumbers in my area.

To cut the story of a most miserable night short, I did get a guy out who cheerily informed me that the shower was wellfucked (a plumbing term, I gather) and that when I get to replace it, all the expensive tiles will have to come off the wall.

Meanwhile, the shower is disconnected so I can have hot water. But I do find myself recalling childhood memories of a quick rub down with a rough flannel and Friday night baths.

At least I no longer have to hump the zinc bath in from the backyard.

Thursday 16 September 2004

Up to the top of the hill.....

Yesterday was one of mixed blessings.

Last Wednesday, on an ad hoc trip into the Hexhamshire countryside with Will Barrow, we called into a gallery that Will had visited once before. Set on the brow of a hill, it has a beautiful view out over rolling fields and woodland.

I got talking to the gallery's director and finally edged in a query as to whether she might be interested in showing my work. Turned out she was quite amenable, so I gave her a website where she could check some things out.

By the time I got home, there was an email letting me know which of the works on display she liked, and suggesting I follow up with some actual work.

Which is what Will and I did yesterday. In another day of glorious sunshine, we loaded up the car with pictures of varying sizes and headed off to the gallery.

While Will sat and looked at the collection of tractor seats, I showed my wares, and after an hour or so, we were able to leave with five pictures going on display there.

It's days like that, which make things seem about to go right. Except that more was waiting at home to shake me out of any complacency.

Tuesday 14 September 2004

Back on the Circuit

I've been feeling worded out. Although I've been like this for a few weeks now, I think maybe the current malaise is simply too much input clogging up the word works.

Things are always a little flat in Galleryland during the Summer but we're definitely into the Autumn/Winter Preview Season now.

Last Thursday's preview was the first of the Season. A good turnout at the Scottish gallery, lots of very decent wine and some good pictures. Nice young artist who was able to talk intelligently about the work and didn't obfuscate.

Even when The Groundling, much the worse for wine, insisted on telling him what she thought his work was about and how she just knew her theory was a load of rubbish, but she just had to tell him anyway, he was able to run with the line that it's always interesting to hear what other people think your work is about and thank you for sharing your theory with me.

Friday was my own show at the Factory. I say "my own show" but despite there being only three of us on the invitations, there were, of course, lots more artists' work on display. It's a BIG gallery.

I got there early with Patsy123 and hung about looking approachable, glass of champagne in hand. Somehow, however, I failed to meet up with the woman with the camera who was taking pictures for a magazine which is distributed free to "the better class of people" (Mrs Sums and the Architect get it stuffed through their door and think it's a lot of bollocks).

The champagne flowed very freely and by and large I had a good time, though the Man With The Talent was rather more of an irritant than normal, hanging on my shoulder like a bloody Cap'n Flint.

Will Barrow kindly introduced me to the Chief Coonslor who was delighted with the work and couldn't understand how he'd never heard of me before.

"Aa make no promises, mind, but ye might hear from us again," was his parting shot. Well, who knows....

Friday 10 September 2004

Says Who?

I took some time to browse through "Have Your Say" today. Issued by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, this is a brochure giving some background to the forthcoming Referendum on An Elected Assembly for the North East.

I don't intend, at this stage, to dwell on the merits or otherwise of a North East Assembly, except to say that anything which has the support of Sir John Hall fills me with distrust.

What I found interesting about the brochure was the choice of photo-illustrations. There are six individuals pictured, each giving a "thumbs up" or a "thumbs down".

In the "thumbs up" camp are
  • a well-dressed young white woman, with fair hair, smiling confidently
  • a young white man in a suit and tie, with fair hair, grinning broadly
  • a tall young white man, with blond hair, in an "I Heart NY" t-shirt, beaming

In the "thumbs down camp are

  • a well-dressed young Afro-Caribbean woman, looking cautious
  • an old man with a flat cap and a walking stick, looking grim
  • a short young Asian man in a pullover with no shirt, smiling, but trying to edge the taller lad in the t-shirt out of the picture

What this seems to say to me is that only old farts and the reactionary, even pushy, ethnic community would consider voting against such a great idea as a Regional Assembly.

Young white folk, who constitute a very large proportion of the area's populace, will naturally be forward-looking enough to see the obvious benefits of such a plan.

Or is it just me being cynical again?

Tuesday 7 September 2004

Return from Planet Mum

Mum was not quite herself today. A little on the strange side.

"They're telling me I have to marry the King of Spain's son, now," she said.

"Why might that be, Mum?"

"Oh, any excuse to give me my final discharge from this place!"

I was under the impression that her "final discharge" from the nursing home was the thing most dear to her heart, but evidently not at the expense of marrying someone, not even the King of Spain's son.

I thought I'd tell her that Patsy123 had returned from China. "You remember, she came to see you?" She gave me a fixed stare then looked at her watch and said,"Twenty-five past five."

"Are Stone and Abie still living with you?" she suddenly asked.

"There's no-one living with me," I said. "And who are Stone and Abie, anyway?"

"Stone's your half-brother and Abie's a black man."

"I didn't know I had a half-brother. Stone's a funny name."

She smiled her most secretive and engaging smile and said nothing.


"I thought you were driving your wife Pamela to school today?"

Before I could say again that I'm no longer married (and never to Pamela), she said,"Very active imagination."

"You have, don't you?" I said.

"Not me! The person who keeps telling me these stories!!"

Sunday 5 September 2004

A Return is Foretold

ZipMedia is pleased to announce the arrival of a final report from Patsy123, our Roving Correspondent:
This is our last day & guess what? I have come down with a cold. suppose thats what happens when you share train compartments with folks for long periods of time. Spent yesterday spending money, no good bringing any back is there? Got one or two things for you.

I will try to give you a call from Heathrow tomorrow, just to check if you will be at the airport. This has been such a great trip, I've some philosophy ideas to share with you, but I am also looking forward to returning to you and my Tynemouth flat.

Woohoo! Patsy123 is coming home, bearing gifts, philosophy and a cold, all for me!

(Note to self: Make sure it's not one of those chicken colds.)

Saturday 4 September 2004

Imitation Limestone

Sketchbook page (w/c, pencil & collage) Posted by Hello

I have lots of sketchbooks. I went through a long period of collecting them. Most of them are empty, or at best only partly filled.

At University I'd buy two new ones at the beginning of each year, even if the previous ones weren't filled (which they weren't). It felt right, somehow, to divide up the periods of creativity. But I'd also buy others that seemed to offer that special size or shape for some other project I had in mind.

I like the idea of sketchbooks. I suppose that's to do with my love of books as objects. But somehow I've never got in the habit of using them regularly. I think it's because I find loose bits of paper more easily organised into projects. Maybe that's because I always seem to have an interest in several idea-threads at one time.

Curiously, having talked to other artists about this, I find I'm not alone.

In an attempt to try to get some sense into this state of affairs, I've been going through these old sketchbooks - the partially completed ones - to see if I might begin to use them again and also to see if they might conveniently continue with their respective themes (assuming they have any).

There are problems with this. One dates from a trip I made to Malta and is concerned mainly with the remnants of Tigne Barracks. I think that may have to remain discrete. There's another devoted to drawings done inside the Hancock Museum. As such, I regard that as an ongoing project, or at least one to which I'll return sometime in the future.

But the rest are somewhat haphazard, and probably the best that I can do is simply pick up one and fill it, going on to the next.

Going through them, however, has proven supremely beneficial. Tucked inside one of them, evidently marking the place, was a slip of folded paper. And on it was the legend: "Imitation Limestone."

I have found the Recipe for All-Bran Cement!

Of course, as I've long suspected, it has nothing whatsoever to do with All-Bran. But for those of you whose work may have been tottering on the brink, needing only the recipe to continue, here it is:
  • 2 parts coir
  • 2 parts sharp sand
  • 1 part fresh cement
  • cement colourant

Something of an anticlimax after all this time.

And the page it was marking? That's it at the top of the post. What was I thinking?

Friday 3 September 2004

Taking a Line for a Walk in the Park

Saltwell Park (pencil, 8 x 10.5 ins) Posted by Hello

They tell me we're to have an Indian Summer. After the disaster that was August, that can only be a good thing.

Today gave the appearance that they might be right. It was a beautiful day with just a touch of a breeze to irritate me but keep the rest of the folks happy.

I went for a walk in the Park. It's over a year since I was there last, because of the work they've been doing with Lottery/Heritage Money to put it back to it's former Victorian splendour.

I'd intended to walk right through, taking in the refurbished Saltwell Towers and the Lake with its swans, geese and ducks, but I knew there'd be lots of mothers and kids and screaming and I wasn't really in the mood.

On a whim, I'd taken a sketchbook so I decided to pick a quiet part of the Dene and do a bit of drawing.

Close to the bridge over the stream there's a good view of one of what I guess should be called Turrets. As a boy I was told they were called The Frying Pans and only in recent years did I come to question whether that might be true. Too late to ask my dad whether he was having me on

I made the right choice. With the exception of a lone jogger and a child who ran past screaming "Ice-cream-ice-cream-ice-cream!" I was undisturbed

There's something remarkably calming about drawing from the subject. I really ought to do it more often

Thursday 2 September 2004

O for a Muse of Fire!

I think I'm still basking in the warm glow of having nothing that must be done. My mind seems empty of anything worth putting in words.

I suspect, in fact, that this is as a consequence of having spent so much time recently thinking visually. I've got out of the habit of verbalising. Normally I find myself writing things in my head and can't wait to get them down on the screen.

All I have at the moment are images - images of streets, images of figures, images of more abstract elements derived from buildings and rust and brick and pipework.

In an attempt to reconfigure my brain, I'm reading. I recently finished Chris Petit's Robinson - a fascinating book which manages to transpose some of the qualities of Neo-Romanticism (did I mention that Graham Sutherland was the subject of my Dissertation?) from the landscape to an urban setting.

In the dark underworld of seedy London, the narrator is seduced and manipulated into Robinson's schemes. Dragged down by alcoholism and drugs, he finds himself involved, first of all, in the shady side of the second-hand book business.

But Robinson - a Harry Lime for today - continues his corruption by drawing him into pornographic film-making and finally into collusion in torture and murder.

Petit, a film-maker himself, paints an unforgettable picture of the city's underbelly, full of cardboard-box townships and riots, with an apocalyptic storm as the ultimate backdrop. JG Ballard, out of Iain Sinclair.

And now for something completely different, and certainly less demanding. I've just started Dan Brown's
The Da Vinci Code., which, despite the hype, comes well recommended. I'd have preferred it to be called The Leonardo Code, though.

Wednesday 1 September 2004

Free at last!

Posted by Hello
Courtesy of the Frootbat and his motor, I delivered my eight pictures to the Gallery on Monday. I can relax. The weight has been lifted from my shoulders.

Tuesday, I sat around the house all day and basked in the warm glow of having nothing that must be done.

Today, of course, I have to think about dealing with the pile of post which accumulated during the paintfest, mowing the lawn and sundry other mundane duties.

So if producing those pictures was such a chore, why'd I do it? And as both
Anna and Marja-Leena have suggested, was it sensible to try to create eight pictures from scratch?

A couple of months ago, I went to see the Gallery's Director and showed him a CD of Interesting Work. "Bit dark," and "Anything newer?" and "Nothing like what we sold before?" were his initial reactions. Working on his lack of enthusiasm, I volunteered, if he'd give me a show, to come up with the goods. In other words, a set of urban subjects , like what you sold before, Guv.

Two days later, I got a phone call from the Gallery Manager offering me a "Booth" which could take six to eight of my pictures. "I understand from the Director that you'd be prepared to do a new set of work for this show," she said. My heart sank a little. Not entirely at the prospect of getting new work done, but at the thought of the old work getting older and not getting an airing. After a while, such work starts to look stale and I begin to question whether I might not reasonably paint over it.

Anyway, I agreed to have the work ready for the opening of the Autumn Show in September. The rest you know (assuming you bothered to read the possibly tedious progress of the work's construction).

I work from photographs. Sometimes they're very successful photographs. For instance, I held a show in 1995 in which the entire collection of 15 pictures came from one roll of film shot from the Tyne Bridge on a cold but sunny Sunday in November.

At other times, I have to be a bit more creative with the photographs and computer techniques have been playing an increasing part in that. Before I quit office work, I relied on the good old office photocopier. Now it's computer technology.

My working methods involve cropping, increasing the contrast, collaging (both onscreen and actual paste-up), cranking up the saturation and altering the hue.

And after all of that, I very often make drawings in charcoal, compressed charcoal and coloured Conte, using the printed results of onscreen manipulations as subject matter.

I make the paintings by working from the drawings, the printouts and the photographs, and whatever the painting says to me during the process.

Sometimes this preparatory stage is intensive. Sometimes it happens over a long period, as and when I feel like it. So it was that when I needed subject matter for eight pictures, I already had preparatory studies done for most of them (and two of the eight were, in fact, already complete)

But that doesn't mean it wasn't hard work. I'd rather not have to do it again, though I'm sure I will at some point in the future.

I'm pretty pleased with the results. Two, maybe three, of the pictures are, I think, a good step forward; probably as a result of looking again at the paintings of
Andrew Gifford, whose work during his training at Newcastle influenced me quite considerably while I was taking advantage of the OCA course there.

It might be argued that I sold out in agreeing to do specific work for the Gallery, but I don't think this is the case. My main interest is in urban subject matter. I like paintings streets. So it's no hardship to have to concentrate on them again.

And the Autumn Show is a good opportunity. I've been given pride of place, with two other artists, on the invitations. The Opening will bring in, on the evidence of previous Openings, around a thousand punters, many of whom will not come simply for the champagne. Who knows, I might make some money out of this. "Everybody needs money, that's why it's called money!" as Danny De Vito so convincingly put it in David Mamet's Heist.

My figure work is a long-term project, I think, and no doubt will go through innumerable phases before it gets where it's going (if it ever does).

For instance, I was sitting last night doodling on a little panel cut from an old painting. What appeared was this, which I might very well carry through to completion, just for the fun of it.

Posted by Hello

Further news from Abroad

Patsy123, ZipMedia's Roving Reporter, breaks cover again:

Hi all,Now in Ulaan Baator after two days at the ger camp. Can't describe it in few words. Most amazing place, never seen so much open space. Warm gers, good food, went horseriding (loved it) tried archery (was useless). Journey from Siberia to Mongolia was an experience not to be missed. Tell you about it on my return. With a great group of people, all eating out this evening.. Tomorrow am. train to Beiijing. This will be last message I expect. We are both well & hope you all are.

Which made me rush to Google to find out what a ger is. Turns out to be the proper Mongolian term for a yurt.

Saturday 28 August 2004

Fish on a Bicycle?

Posted by Hello
While Patsy123 and her friend M are trundling Eastwards, M's husband has been doing something which makes most people go "Eh?" He's cycling round the North Sea.

He's undertaking a 6,000km Sponsored Cycle Ride round the North Sea in aid of Charity. Leaving Newcastle he's following a circular route along the coasts of England, Holland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Shetland Isles, Orkney Islands and Scotland (but clearly not in that order).

website for his adventure is interesting and the photographs uploaded from his mobile phone are well worth a look. The pictures of the Stones of Stenness and the ruins of Skara Brae are particularly good.

And you never know, you might want to give him some money.

More News from Abroad

ZipMedia's Roving Correspondent, Patsy123 sends us this report:

Hi All. Update since last email. Enjoyed the rest of our time in Moscow. It was not at all how I expected. Very bright, clean, cheerful, spacious.

After four night & three days on the train sleeping (or attempting to) reading, window gazing, chatting, eating & stretching legs on bleak exposed platforms we alighted at Irkutsk to pouring rain. We were picked up along with other travellers & taken to our home stay by Lake Baikal. The lake was spectacular, the oldest & deepest lake in the world, the only one with freshwater seals.

Only problem was that apart from one afternoon, the entire area was shrouded in mist & rain. We had a trek up the mountain planned with a guide (us & the other travellers) but they all chickened out but me cos of the rain. so, I had my own Siberian guide. We did half a day then headed back for hot soup instead of the planned picnic.

We stayed with the wonderful Rita who fed us to bursting with pancakes, omul the local fish, borsht & other local fare. Then sent us to relax in the banya (sauna) at the bottom of the garden.

Now we are back in Irkutsk for tonight and an early start on the train to Mongolia, the next leg of the adventure.

Hope all is well back in the UK, might get to email from Mongolia, if not then probably not in Beijiing either as the Govt. seems to have clamped down on the internet there.

Friday 27 August 2004

'When I am laid in earth'

The end is in sight. With an extension from the gallery, I've been able to slacken off a little, but I'm now at the stage where I have to keep moving from one painting to the next, glazing, tinkering, scratching out, get the idea.

I play music as I paint. But what happens is that I get so involved with the painting that I can't be bothered to change the CD, so I just play the same one again. And again. And....

I've had Dido and Aeneas in the machine for days. It's getting to the point where I could probably do the complete opera solo.

You've heard nothing until you've heard my Dame Janet Baker!

When I am laid in earth, May my wrongs create
No trouble in thy breast;
Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.

Wednesday 25 August 2004

News from Abroad

I got an email from Patsy123, directed to all and sundry:

Hi all,Here we are in Moscow. St Petes was terrific, a city of Golen Splendour. Moscow is fine.. Today we did the Kremlin, so much to see. tomorrow we might we set off for Siberia. Won't write more the computer keeps deleting stuff. Don't know how easy it will be to find internet from Siberia but will try. If not, don't worry we are being well looked after by our travel company.

and then one for me:

I am really enjoying this trip. M & I are managing OK. I wish I could tell you about everything but will wait. I prefer Moscow to St Petes. It is more 'real'. St P is very beautiful but in a contrived way. Looked at the amazing Metro Stations today. Had best go, time nearly up. Hope all is well with you. Are you painting (cant find question mark)

It's almost as good as being there, isn't it? No, of course it's not.

Am I painting? Too right.

Sunday 22 August 2004

Back to School

I took another break from the palette on Friday night. It was the opening of the MFA show at the University which proved, at least on a first inspection, to be pretty interesting (not least because a friend is represented in it). I'll go back when it's quieter and I have more time.

While I was between conversations with people I knew, I met a Taiwanese PhD student who was keen to talk about her painting. Turned out she has a show coming up at the gallery I'm going to talk to on Monday about a group show.

She pressed an invitation on me and asked if I liked the work shown. It's always difficult on these occasions to say "No, I hate it," but luckily I didn't have to.

"Yes, I do" I said, "I'm a figurative painter myself."

Which was the cue for her to explain her work to me.. One of the images was of a monochrome painting obviously derived from a television image of Elvis Presley. Very grainy and blurred, but obviously Elvis.

"My work is about reality and our perception of it," she said. "We know it's Elvis but it doesn't look like him."

On the front of the card was a painting in full colour of a branch of a bush, again photographically derived..

"What is this stuff?" she asked, rhetorically, pointing to some blurred.foliage in the background. "It doesn't look like leaves, but we read it as leaves. What is the reality issue here?"

Luckily, I don't think she wanted an answer, just someone to bounce her ideas off in an excited manner.

It wasn't until she'd gone to give out more invitations that I was able to take a more relaxed look at the images on the card. One question she hadn't asked me. Did I think they were good paintings? By which I mean, did I find them aesthetically pleasing? And the answer has to be "No." They looked like they might be well enough crafted, but the compositions weren't good.

But then, who gives a toss for outmoded aesthetics these days, eh?

Too much thinking and not enough emoting, I'm afraid.

Later, in the
Trent House, I sat with a couple of the Fine Art Department's former staff (secretary and technician), both now retired. Over a pint or three we reminisced about the lacklustre attempts at education made by some of the less talented tutors.

Ee, it was like Old Farts Heaven.

Friday 20 August 2004

A Night Out with Mrs Sums

I haven't been getting out much. Apart from nipping up to the shops for a few food essentials, like "Manager's Special" fino sherry, I've been hard at work on the next set of pictures.

I have to get six to eight pictures done by 27th August. At the present count, I'm two short, but yesterday I made the stretchers, stretched the canvases and primed them. Three of the pictures are finished, bar some tweaking, three are well on the way, and I have ideas for the two new canvases.

So basically, I'm not worried about meeting my target., But it does mean I'm not getting out much.

Last night, however, Mrs Sums and the Architect invited me out to the cinema. Actually, to be accurate, Mrs Sums invited me out to the cinema. It became clear later that this was to keep the Architect happy because he was less than enthusiastic about the movie. He's more of a Star Trek: Nemesis or Spiderman 2 kind of guy and the movie we were going to see was
Japanese Story.

Somehow, any mention of this film passed me by, despite its critical acclaim. The
Tyneside Cinema thought it its public duty to let the local populace have another bite of the cherry. Would that the multiplexes operated this kind of policy.

I wasn't sure what to expect. The film concerns the relationship between a bluff Australian female geologist and a reserved Japanese business man and how it deepens to become something more profound as they drive through the desolate Pilbara region of Western Australia.

It's a road movie and a love story and just as you think that's as much as you're going to be given, it twists itself into another dimension, concerning itself with the nature of obligation and grief.

Toni Collette, as the geologist, gets to work her way - splendidly - through the whole gamut of emotions and rather overshadows Gotaro Tsunashima, who gets to play mostly handsome and reserved (but very engagingly)

It's not the film I'd have chosen to go to see, so thanks to Mrs Sums for that, because it's a hell of a good movie. Thanks also to the projectionist for switching off his radio before someone got up to brain him.

And the pint of Ossian in the Bacchus afterwards went down well, and cheered the Architect up, too.

There's an excellent long review of the movie

Wednesday 18 August 2004

I know, "What's a gowk?"

I miss my blackbirds. I haven't seen one in over a month.

This crazy thing they have where they go off to warmer climes and are replaced by other blackbirds from, um, colder climes does my head in. In particular, the gap between Departures and Arrivals is a painfully long one.

I became aware that they'd gone when the apple gowks I threw out for them every day started to pile up. Eventually they were harbouring so many wasps that I had to just turn them under the soil.

I've really missed the blackbirds' antics. The way they attack everything they eat as if expecting it to fight back. The noisy, excitable cry they have when they're disturbed and fly off into the bushes. The funny run, halt, run across the ground and the turning up of the tail as they settle on a branch.

But this morning I saw a shadow scuttle under the bushes. A distinctive shadow. Sure enough, out into the daylight came a young, or maybe a hen, blackbird..

I saved my first apple gowk tonight.

Here's Johnny!

The distribution of condoms to the athletes at the Athens Olympics made a number of news bulletins.

Less widely reported is a news story on the
BBC News website, provided by the BBC Hindi service.

You can read the full story on the website, but it seems that the weavers of the holy Indian city of Varanasi are getting through around 600,000 condoms a day.

Varanasi is home to the world-famous Banarasi saris, and weavers are rubbing condoms on the looms' shuttles so that they're softened by the lubricant, thus making the process of weaving faster.

There are around 150,000 to 200,000 hand and power looms in Varanasi alone and almost all are using the technique. And every loom has a daily consumption of three or four condoms.

There's an interesting little side panel in the story which lists other Unusual Uses for Condoms:

  • Villagers use them to carry water when working in fields
  • For waterproofing ceilings: condoms are spread under the cement-concrete mortar
  • They can be mixed with tar and concrete to give a smooth finish to roads
  • They can be placed over the ends of guns to protect them in desert sandstorms

Of course, they can also be.....I was tempted to end on a rather coarse note, but as I often have to remind Patsy123, this is a High Class blog.

Monday 16 August 2004


Well, the Olympics are upon us, complete with drugs and lying scandal from Day One. For want of the energy to click the off-switch, I watched part of the opening ceremony. Am I the only one to have been irritated by the DJ's clumsily repetitive background electronica, or is it just that I no longer appreciate the alleged "youthful" approach ?

I hear from various sources that megabuck sponsors of the Games, including Coca-Cola, have protested about logos. They've protested to such an extent that anyone found wearing or carrying something which blatantly bears the logo of one of the sponsors' competitors is liable to be expelled from the venue.

Keep on Rockin' in the Free World.

Sunday 15 August 2004

The Language of Sculpture

Henry Moore sculpture (etching & aquatint) Posted by Hello

BBC4, the digital channel, have been running a truly excellent series of programmes about the Sixties and I became conscious last night that I'd not kept up to date with all of them.

They showed what I understood to be the second part of a three parter called Art and the 60s, and it was fascinating. It dealt with the radical changes in British sculpture which came about mainly through the work being done at St Martin's School of Art.

The programme led off with
Anthony Caro's rebellion against the naturalism of his mentor, Henry Moore (he worked as Moore's assistant for two years). Destroying all he'd done in the Moore manner, he went on to devise a purely abstract form of sculpture made from flat aluminium rectangles, beams and rods, all painted a vivid colour

In this respect, it was interesting to hear him say that his very first sculpture in this new style was painted green. His wife told him it didn't work and suggested he paint it red, which he did.

I've never been a great lover of Caro's work, although some of his more recent work which I saw at Tate Modern a few years ago (such as Child's Tower Room), did seem to have something about it. There's no denying, however, that he set the scene for a break with sculpture of the past while providing a set of rules and guidelines (codified in print by
William Tucker) to take things forward.

And following closely behind Caro was
Phillip King.

King also spent a couple of years working with Moore and also came to reject his way of working. He embraced Caro's new sculptural guidelines and using new materials, such as fibreglass, produced strange, colourful sculptures derived almost entirely from his imagination, like Rosebud and Genghis Khan.. Long before I ever grew interested in fine art, I loved the work of Phillip King.

Indeed, the Sixties are where I began to be both fascinated by fine art and disillusioned by the direction it seemed to be taking. Because no sooner had Caro laid out his rules for making sculpture, then, of course, a new generation came along who saw it as their duty to throw out, or at least question those rules.

As the programme demonstrated, it was a short slippery slope through the performances of
Bruce McLean, the recorded walks of Richard Long, Barry Flanagan's heap of sand with the middle scooped out, to the music hall posturing of Gilbert & George's Singing Sculpture..

My use of the term "slippery slope" I freely admit puts a slant on the programme which the producers perhaps would not want. But they were able to draw out of some of the older artists a view that much of the later work was "not sculpture."

And personally, I was fascinated by the fact that while Caro and King were prepared to talk openly about their ideas, people like Long and Flanagan were at first unwilling even to be interviewed and then either aggressive or monosyllabic in their replies to perfectly reasonable questions.

Saturday 14 August 2004

No time for Blog

Cigarette Break (Oil on canvas, 24 x 30 ins) Posted by Hello

Unless something truly exciting or commentworthy happens today, I'm taking a break. Patsy123 leaves tomorrow morning for three weeks on the Trans-Siberian Express, so we're going to hang out together in town this afernoon.

Friday 13 August 2004

The Bigger Plan

Posted by Hello
Today's online horoscope said:

You are not on a rocket ship; you ARE the rocket ship. Or maybe you are a rollercoaster ride. Anyone coming into contact with you now can tell that this is not just another day for you. You are feeling good about what you do that is different from what others do. But it's not just about what makes you unique. It's also that what you do at this time is fitting into a bigger plan and it feels good to be a part of something that you are helping to create.

If only I felt like a rocket ship. Or a rollercoaster ride. I feel more like one of those dodgems I always seem to choose which resolutely refuses to move off however hard I pump the foot pedal, while all the other buggers are tearing round bumping me up the arse.

But I'm determined to make this "not just another day," I'm going to fit into the bigger plan.

So the rest of the day is to be spent getting stretchers and canvases ready. I have a space in the
Biscuit Factory's Autumn Show for which I'll need about six to eight pictures. I have three on the go and ideas for two more.

If only the bloody weather would pick up, I could get out with the camera. I could feel more like a rocket ship....

But as for "feeling good about what you do that is different from what others do." Well, they can't touch you for it, can they?

Thursday 12 August 2004

Sittin' on the Top of the Bay....

Yesterday, while finishing off my accounts, I looked up to find a pair of legs dangling outside the window. They were joined by two more. Then two more. Bearing in mind that the legs were, therefore, some thirty feet above garden level, this gave me pause.

I figured at first that they were dangling in an abseiling fashion from the roof. Then I realised that the Fascia Replacers - for it was they - were taking a cigarette break by sitting on the top of the bay window, dangling their legs over the front and gaily spitting into the garden for fun.

And none of these men were Mohawk (or was it the Sioux who made a name for themselves as steel erectors?). One of them sounded East European. He probably came in with the crush when Europe was Enlarged. Indeed, he may have been the crush. One was a well-spoken lad who seemed to have a desperate need to keep using my loo (he always took his boots off). The other was Irish and probably O'Swishity's brother, in which case, he was O'Swishity Two.

At another point in the day, I was looking something up on the Internet, when I glanced out of the window. O'Swishity One was standing on the top of the bay, wrestling with a pair of step-ladders which he then mounted to get up to a difficult bit of the job.

I'm no good with heights. So watching three men up forty foot ladders nudging a huge section of guttering into place was more than my stomach could stand. And they kept laughing every time one of them made a move which might have thrown them all forty feet into the garden.

The fact that they snapped my washing line was a small price to play for such a display of bravado and skill.

By contrast, the Felting Lads were quite boring, laying their tar and felt with little fuss and less noise.

As they'd apparently taken away their tar boiler and rolls of felt, I went to put the wheelie bin back in the garage.

As I lifted the door, I was greeted by the sight of five men hunkered down on upturned recycling boxes and old suitcases, eating take-away McDonald's. Quite, quite surreal.