Friday 30 April 2004

Dazed & Confused

For my own part, today has had me somewhat Dazed & Confused. Too much to do and no sense of priorities. I did get a copy of Joss Stone's "The Soul Sessions" done for Patsy123 and one of Leonard Cohen's "Ten New Songs" for Ted. However, most of the day has been taken up with wrestling with a picture of the Millennium Bridge. I really hate painting bridges, but when you base a career on paintings of Newcastle and the Tyne, you can't help but have a bridge or two in some of the paintings. And bridges, especially the Millennium, are very popular with the punters, so now and again I have to put my principles to one side. I think this one could work quite well, but it doesn't want to play the game. Too many bloody railings, for a start, and while I don't intend to paint them all, I do have to find a way of indicating them. Maybe I should pack up for a while and go investigate yesterday's sighting of Proper Boxes in HMV.....

Eek! A Mouse

It's been a busy day on the Estate, but in something of a sporadic way. There have been times when the grass, trees and shrubs were alive with tits, sparrows, siskins, blackbirds, jackdaws and wretched magpies. But for a short while every now and then, there's a quiet period. It was during one of these lulls in avian activity that I noticed the Mouse has returned. Rushing back and forth picking up cornflakes and bulgar wheat (I'm out of birdseed) and taking them away to wherever its nest is under the badly laid path. It's a fieldmouse, so I'm OK with its presence, and have even been charmed in the past by its creeping within two feet of me to eat. Maybe I don't pose much of a threat, being so much bigger and slower than it is, unlike the magpies, whose shadows are enough to make it scamper.

And I have to say that it's much preferable to the rat I had last year which caused me to develop a good relationship with the Council Rat Man. His traps and poisons proved strangely ineffective for a while, but he eventually saw it off by ramming a huge bag of poison down its hole and covering with a big stone.

Time Well Spent

I know I must be contravening some Blogger's Charter by not having written anything for a day or so, but things have been hectic. It did occur to me tonight, however, that watching for the umpteenth time Captain Jayneway get her kit off to do battle with those big buzzing viruses on board Voyager, was not a useful way to spend my time. I could instead be blogging like crazy.

On Wednesday morning I realised the calendar in my head didn't agree with the one on the wall. I had to get a painting finished and to the framer's so he could frame it in time for me to collect it on Saturday. The picture was only barely started and quite a complicated composition. To be honest, I didn't think I could finish it in one sitting, but with the help of a lot of Liquin and a makeshift mahl-stick, I got it done by about 4 o'clock.

Which meant I just had time to shower and dress for a private view with CJ at Red Box. Interesting work, though I'm tempted to condemn with faint praise by saying it was "decorative". Maybe I lack the necessary feminist interest in paintings so clearly based on patchwork quilts and torn fabric samples. Would look good and unobtrusive on an office wall. Providing you don't have an aversion to the colour red. Isn't this favourite colour choice for women's art wearing a bit thin now? I think we all get the biological connection.

I always feel a little uncomfortable at Red Box previews. I don't recognise many of the people who attend. Oh, they'll be gallery hangers-on, artist's sycophants, "networkers" and general boozers like all those who go to previews (I do not exclude myself), but they're not the same ones who go to the other previews I attend. And quite often there's an unhealthy gathering of the University Cabal which makes me want to leave even earlier.

However, I can't grumble about the wine which flowed like...well, wine. And set us up nicely for another bottle over some pasta at Zizzi, followed by a drop more at The Bacchus. CJ was unusually unsteady on her feet, but I was fresh as a daisy.

Anyway, Thursday was therefore spent photographing the new picture, rushing to the framer's, dropping off film at the developer's, meeting up with Patsy123 who'd just come back from London, lunch at the Playhouse (which has now covered its tables with the most horrendous 50s style plastic cloths - all big roses and bananas), general shopping and collapsing in front of the TV to watch the quite likeable New Tricks. Followed by another serial killer movie, Blowback, with the unlikely premise that a serial killer is executed in the gas chamber, only to be revived by shady CIA operatives and conditioned to be an assassin for the government. This is swept away in a matter of moments by the serial killer then revealing that he hadn't really been conditioned at all and was out for revenge on those who'd convicted him the first time round. Barmy plot, not too good acting by Mario Van Peebles.

I'd have been better off blogging. You know it makes sense.

And just before posting and going to bed, I can see I have a lot of work to do with this Spell Checker. Doesn't recognise words like "barmy" and wants to substitute "motorcars" for "networkers"!

Tuesday 27 April 2004

Bird Update

It's been obvious, since my return, that the collared doves have given up any attempt to make the high-rise golden cypress habitable. There is a dove who occasionally sits and coos mournfully on the roof, but I don't think he's fixed up. More promising are the frequent visits to the desres pyracantha made by a blackbird. I think something may be occurring there, which means my planned pruning of said pyracantha will have to wait.

But what am I to make of the magpie with no tail, now taken to visiting?

In Ruins Ruined

I took my exciting new copy of In Ruins to Scotland. Settling down in front of a friendly log fire with a glass of malt whisky by my elbow, I was soon engrossed. Until I got to page 90, that is. It was blank. As indeed was page 91 and pages 94, 95, 98, 99, 102, 103, 106, 107, 110, 111, 114, 115, 118, 119. All completely blank. I sort of lost interest after that. I did consider the possibility that it was some kind of postmodern ironic jest, but decided in the end that that was a little too cerebral an explanation, and opted for an old fashioned printer's cock-up as more likely.

Anyway, I've been in touch with Bibliophile Books and the nice people there have apologised and are sending another copy, hand checked for completeness.


One of the delights of Raised by Chaffinches (see LINKS) has been the ongoing saga of The Shed. When I got back from Scotland, I found that the man who owns the estate next to Lucy Smooth has installed a shed of his own. It's a little square one and he's put it at the bottom of his garden where it stands about 12 feet above the road. Looks like a bloody guard tower. Maybe there should be a test to see if people are fit to own a shed.

I took the opportunity of peering at his shed while hanging out the washing in the unaccustomed sunshine. Did a bit of grimacing, that sort of thing, over the tops of the grasses. Then I realised that if I did as Lucy Smooth suggested yesterday and actually cut the grass, I'd get a better view of the Guard Tower. Just as I was about to power up the mower, there was a clap of thunder and the rain started. Rushed to get the Zip shirts back inside and then thought, "This rain could last for days." So, no doubt to the amusement of the neighbours, especially the Man in the Guard Tower, I mowed the lawn in the pouring rain.

Angel of the North

I'm knackered. The Scottish trip took it out of me and Sunday I spent walking in the sunshine with Patsy123 to the Angel of the North. She's not seen it before, at least not close to. I have, of course, but it's always worth a look. I still think it's probably not good sculpture, but it's certainly achieved iconic status, and that's not all bad. More interesting than the big man, however, are the people who come to look at him. This time there was a long procession of big bellies eating ice cream. Several of the big bellies were carried on the short fat stumpy legs of American women, so that's to be expected, but an awful lot more were wobbling on the fronts of local Geordies. What's becoming of people here? Too much popcorn, beer and burgers, I guess.

Anyway, they all took their turn at standing with arms outstretched in ludicrous parody of the metal man, then sat on his feet and had their photos taken there. Gormley would be thrilled to see how popular his creation has become. There was even a family from Africa, dressed in really great yellow baggy outfits who were genuinely pleased to let Patsy123 take their photo altogether with their camera. They didn't have big bellies.

After all that fun, there was nothing left for it but to walk in the continuing sunshine to the Ravensworth Arms. There I was forced to try out all three of the guest beers, brewed by the North Yorkshire Brewing Company. It's a hard job, but Mr Zip is up to the task, and the beers were not found wanting. But the long walk back to Stately Zip Manor and the subsequent bottle of Baron de Barbon rioja took their toll.

Said goodnight to Patsy123 and fell sound asleep in the armchair. Woke up at 5 o'clock with a stiff neck and tumbled into bed. Plans for blogging put on hold.

Saturday 24 April 2004

Haste Ye Back

Just back from Duntrune Castle. Filthy weather. Trouble with the staff. Great fun. Cuppa tea. Zizz. More later.

Friday 16 April 2004

Tonight's Panic

The theme for Tonight's Panic is What to Take to Scotland? Working outdoors, as I shall be for the next week, is really quite problematic for me. I'm primarily an oil painter, and a studio painter at that. Oil paint is not, I find, an agreeable way of making pictures in the outdoors. So Monet did it. What did he know? It's messy and it doesn't dry quickly enough. I'm only slowly coming to terms with the problems posed by watercolour - its inherent wateriness for one thing. I haven't used acrylics in over ten years, so I may try them out again. But they do dry too fast. There's always drawing, of course. That's what I ended up doing on last year's trip. Maybe I'll just fill the car up with everything and do some mixed media work.

To be honest, I'm not really bothered. The other guys are all amateur and look forward to a week's solid painting. I do it for a living and find the prospect of being in the middle of nowhere, away from paperwork and problems, far more attractive than getting some pictures of the countryside done. But then I'm not much of a landscape painter anyway. Chimneys, dereliction, rust and good old concrete and brick are my stock in trade. Last year, while the guys were getting to grips with lochs and braes and forests, the only things to rustle up some excitement in me was a set of old rusted anchors.

Last year's trip was a bit of a disaster in terms of weather. In one day we had sunshine, wind, rain, hail, thunder and lightning. Before Ted could close up his box easel he had a pile of hailstones in it six inches high. I see the forecast for tomorrow is rain coming in from the West of Scotland. Oh well, at least there'll be In Ruins to read and no doubt a decent bottle of Scotch to hand.

But how many jumpers shall I take?

On the Shelf

I got a package from Bibliophile Books today. I don't often buy from them because of their postage rates which make the purchase of only one book uneconomic. But now and again I find enough to warrant the outlay. This time they had a hardback copy of In Ruins by Christopher Woodward. I'd seen a paperback in Waterstones a while back but it was dogeared and printed on really cheap paper. The hardback is very nice indeed and was only a fiver. The blurb says, inter alia, "This elegant provocative book argues for the values of solitude, mystery and picturesque decay - seeing a ruin not as a pile of stones, but a living expression of human imagination......In Ruins is full of strange delights, exploring the melancholy charm of eternal fragments."

There it is again, see? Melancholy. More on this one later, I'm sure.

The other book I went for is Wieland Schmied's Edward Hopper: Portraits of America. You can never have too many books on Hopper, I always say. The reproductions are good quality, though not of any paintings I haven't seen before. What I was interested in was the text, which, according to the blurb, "shows how, by linking fiction and reality, concealment and revelation, Hopper's images evoke an enigmatic uncertainty, which is both mystifying and fascinating." Interesting parallels are drawn between Hopper and Giorgio de Chirico, and Hopper and Caspar David Friedrich.

If only I had time to read them now. Maybe in a lazy moment in Scotland.

Daddy's Gone A-Humping

Having something of a melancholy disposition does mean that I tend to revel in the gloom of the Autumn and Winter, but I have to say that now that Spring is here, I'm enjoying it. All that bough and brushwood sheath greenness, and the birds, of course, getting it on. As I walked down a leafy suburban lane in Crouch End last week, hand in hand with Patsy123, we couldn't help but notice the two fat pigeons taking Lennon's advice to "do it in the road." The week before, two collared doves had sat in a tree on the Zip Estate and plighted their troth for all to see. Since then they've been cuddling on a cherry bough amidst the burgeoning blossom.

I did notice when I got back from London, that they'd been inspecting the golden cypress. It's a big tree, about 25 feet, but not popular with birds as a site for a high-rise apartment. Two blackbirds set up home in it a few years ago, but high winds and damned magpies saw off some of the chicks. The long fall to the ground for the fledglings' first flight must have been more than enough to encourage their parents to seek accommodation elsewhere in subsequent years. But the doves do look like they've decided to stay. They're hauling in their usual collection of grasses, timbers and stalks, with an eye on me all the time. What they generally don't like about the conifer is that the layout of Stately Zip Manor is such that my kitchen window looks directly into their bedroom. My frequent forays down the outside stairway to the Catacombs are also rather disconcerting. However, with my imminent departure for Western Scotland, they may find enough peace to get settled. When I return, I hope to see food being delivered regularly.

Meanwhile, all over the Estate there are birds aplenty. More than I've seen for the last couple of years, it seems, or perhaps the scales of those years have fallen from my eyes at long last. Whatever, there do seem to be more sparrows this year. When I first moved here I'd get over a dozen sparrows on the seed, but their numbers have dwindled drastically. It got to the point where I'd get the binoculars out to see what that odd bird was, and found it was a sparrow! Today there were at least half a dozen sitting on the fence, and probably a few more in the bushes. A good sign.

And in addition to the recent crop of chaffinches, I got my first flashy little goldfinch. Hurrah.

Thursday 15 April 2004

Night night

After a hard day at the blogface, I think I've said all I want to say for one day. A heavy day tomorrow, attempting to fit in the paperwork for a new mortgage; visiting my mum to see if Tony Blair is still sleeping on the mattress by her side (don't ask); getting some photos of my paintings developed so I can send them off to a gallery in Leeds; trying to finish one of the paintings for Leeds; talking to the framers; and packing for my trip to Scotland on Saturday. Needless to say this cannot all be achieved, but it'll be interesting to see how much does get done and which tasks get dumped.

Jazz in Soho

I went to Ronnie Scott's last Thursday night to see Charlie Watts and The Tentet. It was great to see Charlie having such a good time playing with so many jazz musicians he obviously admires. Though all eleven of the Tentet (!) got at least one solo, Charlie limited himself to a few rolls and flourishes. I think the presence of Evan Parker accounted for the extra man. Good to see him in a front line with the likes of Julian Arguelles and Peter King. The man I thought the most of, however, was Gerard Presencer on trumpet and flugelhorn. In addition to providing a terrific duet with Henry Lowther, he did quite a few of the arrangements, most notably one for the Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want."

An amazingly enjoyable night, topped off by a taxi ride home in a white Merc with leather upholstery.

My 5 Year Old Couldn't Have Done That

One of the thrills of being in London was the opportunity to see the El Greco exhibition at the National Gallery. Once you get through the Counter Reformation propaganda of the subject matter, the paintings are stunning in themselves. Some are so huge they fill the whole wall, and the light that seems to flow from them is a feat of technical wizardry. Many of them are astonishingly modern in appearance, too. It's easy to see how Picasso could have found them so attractive, and how much "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" owes to El Greco's "The Fifth Seal."

Later on, I got a chance to see the new Lucian Freud pictures at the Wallace Collection. He seems to get better and better and his little self-portrait I thought genuinely moving.

After that, a quick whiz round the Collection to look, in particular, at the Fragonards. "The Swing" is the star of that gallery. I know it's fashionable to knock Fragonard for being frivolous, but this is a great little picture, full of light and a sense of people just having a bit of naughty fun. What's wrong with that? I was also tempted to roll up Rembrandt's portrait of his son Titus and stuff it under my coat, but finally couldn't choose between that and a little-known picture called "The Bookworm", so decided to stay honest for the day.

Mind the Gap

I returned from London on Tuesday in the company of two elderly Scots and their grandson, a kid with ginger hair and a gap in the front of his teeth which neatly accommodated the bottle of Coke regularly thrust there.

On the table was a bag of salt and vinegar crisps. "The first to see a horse can have these crisps," proclaimed Wee Eric, then muttered under his breath:"That should be easy." It wasn't. There were no horses. His grandparents took no part in the hunt for a horse anyway, but got on reading the Mirror and the Sun.

Exasperated, Wee Eric changed the rules. "Whoever sees a house first can have these crisps." Despite some theatrical close attention to the countryside eye movements, which went completely unnoticed by his grandparents, Wee Eric couldn't find even a house in the rolling farmland.

"Whoever kills me first can have these crisps," said the wee man, but before anyone else could win the prize, he added "and that's me, cos I've killed me before!"

Shortly afterwards, I thought, "Why not start a blog?" Go figure.