Wednesday 30 June 2004

The Curious Incident of the Fox in the Night-Time

"What the hell is that?" I croaked, woken from my recurrent dream of loading reams of information onto the computer, by a banshee wail that went on and on, somewhere in the very near vicinity.

"It's a fox" said Patsy123, twitching the nets, "but I can't see what it's attacking."

Next morning, apart from some suspicious fox poo on the front path, there was nothing to indicate that a fox had been anywhere near.

What made the noise? A rat? A cat? A bat?

Who knows. But I'm back now, away from hooligan London foxes.

Monday 28 June 2004

Out to Lunch

Back in three days.

I'm off to London to stay with Patsy123. Time to bathe in the glorious Hopper exhibition, take in as many other galleries as possible, buy more books than I can possibly carry, meet up with Buddy K and True Rat, and do something with A Welshman I should have done a long time ago.

Be good till I get back.

Sunday 27 June 2004

Round and round she goes.....

Modern technology has made great strides forward. This is more than can be said for Doctor Pam and me as we inched our way round the Hoppings Quagmire, but I couldn't help reflecting on how much worse things would have been in the past.

There'd been a lot of rain, but I never felt that I was in danger of having the mud cascade over the tops of my walking boots.

The difference clearly lies in the tools and materials available to local councils to deal with this kind of unfortunate weather. In the past, the Council would have used straw and sawdust to soak up the excess water. Not terribly effective, but sawdust you could get from sawmills and there's always loads of straw about.

Now, however, there's no shortage of wood chipping machines. Every council has them for use in the parks and gardens. And when the heavens opened this time, they were able to chip as much wood chip as they needed. The more it rained, the more they chipped.

Very effective. We were often walking in a thick film of mud, but it was floating on a good foundation of woodchip.

We had a good time walking in the mud-slicks, but the punters hadn't turned out in the numbers really necessary to provide the genuine Hoppings experience. For a Friday night Hoppings, this was quite quiet.

But that didn't stop us going round several times, taking in a good coffee (proper coffee stalls - another innovation!) and some rather fine donuts. We passed on the liquorice whips (7 for £1) and the stall selling "flumps" (only 80p) - mainly because neither of us knows what a flump is.

Yes, we could have asked, but when Doctor Pam asked if the bottles of Coke were cold, she got a "Yes, love". And they weren't. Serves her right. Horrible stuff.

After waiting 20 years to come to the Hoppings, I guess Doctor Pam really needed to go on one of the rides. But she doesn't like going upside down, being spun round or being shaken about. Doesn't leave much, really.

So it was, as the rides and shows were closing down for lack of patronage, she decided she'd go on the traditional Merry-Go-Round; all gaily painted horses going sedately up and down to the sounds of a calliope.

"I'll go and find a horse with my name on it," she said, "and if there isn't one, I'll look for the next most suitable."

As the ride powered up and the horses came towards me, I strained my eyes for sight of her horse's name as she turned the corner. And there it was! And the tune changed, then, too!

Doctor Pam galloped past on a horse named Bimbo, while the calliope played God Save the Queen.

Saturday 26 June 2004

Garden Treats

Posted by Hello
Doctor Pam's arrival found the weather trying to make amends for its former behaviour, but the prospect for the Hoppings still looked poor.

My Gardeners' World aspirations got the better of me on Friday afternoon and we tootled off to a garden centre in Birtley, Thing about garden centre stuff is that it tends to be very heavy, so the availability of Doctor Pam's car enabled me to hammer the plastic on all sorts of stuff.

I got:

* two really nice big blue earthenware planters,
* one bird table (sans pole to support it),
* one huge bamboo pole (which might support the bird table or get a rose up it),
* two lots of dianthus (Corona Cherry Magic) for the gaps in the tubs at the front door),
* one pack seed and insect suet feast (for wild birds),
* one pack berry treat feast (for wild birds),
* one "Seven Friendly Men" garden decoration.

The last is interesting. As you may remember, my intention on the garden decoration front, is to make various ludicrous objects from some kind of All Bran & Concrete Secret Recipe (when I find it - still looking).

But I couldn't resist this Seven Friendly Men thing (there was a bigger one called "Five Friendly Men"). There were quite a lot of them, so they were cheap, but they were obviously hand-made. There are seven men standing in a circle, looking in over, their arms round each other's shoulders. Their faces have a curious Inuit look to them. In the centre is a small bowl. (Wonder if Marja-Leena has come across anything like this?)

Anyway, whatever their origin, they look really cool standing in the middle of the lawn. I try not to think they may be pissing into the bowl.

Doctor Pam reckons she's never been to a garden centre before. It was, therefore, a revelation to her how much fun you can have there (including the wealth of wonderful real food available at the farm shop) without feeling you've fallen too deeply into the shocking ways of the Middle Classes.

Friday 25 June 2004

The rain it raineth ev'ry day....

A Yellow Raincoat (Oil on canvas 36 x 36 ins) Posted by Hello

The photograph has done some odd things to the colours of this painting, but it seemed appropriate. Not only is the underpass pictured near the Town Moor, but it has, rather obviously, a raincoat in it.

In fact, the rain lashed down all day on Thursday. It got to the point where I emailed Doctor Pam and pointed out the likelihood of the Hoppings being washed out. Since she's been waiting for 20 years to come up and visit the Hoppings, you can see that the purpose of her trip might be defeated.

However, she rang back and said that the car was already loaded so she might as well come.

In a sense this reminded me of the time I had what was thought to be a broken bone in my foot. (In these days of the Grand Limp, a memory ever on my mind.) They put a plaster cast on my foot, right up to my knee. Then they checked their X-rays again and found I didn't have a broken bone in my foot, just a hairline fracture.

"Still, since you've got the cast on, you might as well keep it for a month," said the doctor, smiling beatifically. Waste not, want not. A motto that made the NHS what it is today...

By the time Doctor Pam arrived, the rain had stopped. So provided there is a fiercely hot Equatorial sun today, baking the Town Moor mud dry, and the Council workmen haven't spent all night drowning their sorrows over England's Darkest Hour in Euro 2004, but labour like labouring has come into fashion and get the wood chips down on what's left of the puddles, all will be well.

Wednesday 23 June 2004

Jack in the Box

Hoppings sketch (A4 sketchbook, watercolour and pencil) Posted by Hello

Both the Frootbat and I are interested in photography; he for material from which to make darkly surreal collages, I for base material for my paintings. That was our main reason for going to the Hoppings yesterday afternoon.

I've battled with the Hoppings as subject matter for years. At one time, I was attracted to the colours and decoration of the sideshows and rides; still am, to a degree. But I came to realise that the colours are so garish, especially now that they've moved away from traditional decoration, that it's practically impossible to create coherent paintings from them.

I had a go at the frantic bustle and movement of the place - hence the sketch above - but that didn't really do it for me.

My most encouraging development in the last year has been a set of paintings, all unfinished, dealing with the people there. They had their origins in the only successful painting from the last attempt - see the detail in All the Fun of the Fair. Last time I went, I started to notice the cashiers in their little booths, sitting looking absolutely bored. This is, of course, especially the case during the slack period of the afternoon. There's something rather poignant, I think, about solitary figures enclosed in often highly decorated boxes, waiting out their time.

I hope I've got more material this time, but I can never tell until the film is developed and I get to fiddle with it in Photoshop. It would be good to be able to expand this series. My friend Mo tells me she may have wangled us a show in the Long Gallery at the University. It would be nice to have the Hoppings Series done for that.

Meanwhile, Doctor Pam is coming tomorrow night to stay the weekend. She's always wanted to see the Hoppings, so we'll be out on Friday night. Night time photography! Could prove even more useful.

A Veritable Fox

A fox! An urban fox!

When I referred to an urban fox in a recent post I was definitely joking. But tonight I was alerted by the peep of the security light going on. "Another damn cat," I thought. But it wasn't. It was a fox. No doubt about it - it trotted across the lawn several times and stood still to shake the rain out of its fur.

I can't explain how thrilled I am at this. It seems such a privilege to have this wild creature come and visit my garden. It seems less and less like we are encroaching onto the countryside and more and more that countryside and suburbs are coming together as one.

Tuesday 22 June 2004

All the Fun of the Fair

Untitled - detail (Oil on board) Posted by Hello

Maybe walking for two hours on a sore foot wasn't a good idea, but, hey, the Hoppings are in town!

The largest travelling funfair in Europe, the Hoppings comes to Newcastle's Town Moor for a week at the end of June every year. As a child, it was always something I looked forward to with huge anticipation and the visits there, especially at night, were filled with excitement and wonder.

I still remember the time my parents steered me clear of any stall where I might have won a goldfish. Our last goldfish had recently died and they didn't want another. He'd lived on for years after killing off all other competitors in the tank and I think they were glad to see the back of him. Anyway, just as we were leaving the Moor, their attention was diverted just long enough for a lovely couple to come up to me and say, "Here, sonny, would you like this goldfish?" That one lived even longer than the previous one.

The days of giving away goldfish are gone, of course, and it's clear that most of the tat given away now comes from pretty much the same warehouse. Most of it made in China, I should imagine.

I met the Frootbat beside the bandstand in the Exhibition Park at about 3.30 and we set off up to the Moor. There's always a sense of bewilderment, I find, when I get to the Hoppings. A sort of "Where do I start?" This is compounded by the fact that the Hoppings now grows appreciably year by year. For years it consisted of two long rows but these have increased to four.

The answer to where to start is actually the same every year. Walk up the first row to the top, walk down the next, up the next and so on. And despite the increased entertainment, it's always laid out more or less the same every year.

First of all, there are the fortune tellers - the innumerable daughters of the one and only, the original Gypsy Rose Lee and the occasional Gypsy Rose Higginbotham. They were always an attraction to young women and I guess it's still the same now. Why is it young men never want to know how their lives will turn out, I wonder?

During the afternoon, of course, there's not a lot of activity, and the lady clairvoyants, evidently unable to tell when their next punter will turn up, sit about in the sunshine outside their caravans, trying to catch an eye.

Sunshine! There's an innovation of recent years. For some reason (connected perhaps with the Fair's origins in the Temperance movement) the week of the Hoppings always coincided with the most torrential downpours imaginable. Wellies were always de rigeur when I was a kid, and at least one visit was a complete washout.

But global warming seems to have brought about a change in the fortunes of the showmen. OK, so it rained once or twice this week, but the ground was still firm and only the occasional slough of bark-covered water lay here and there to trap the unwary. But then if you're daft enough to not watch where you're going, you're just as likely to walk into a mess of discarded noodles, a heap of fallen chips or a slippery ice cream cornet. All part of the fun.

After the fortune tellers, there are rows of hoopla stalls, hook-a-duck stalls, penny arcades, darts stalls and shooting galleries and even a few of the old lucky number stalls (where you pick a straw and push out the ticket from inside).

Rounding the top of the Moor, you start to come down the row of sideshows. In my youth there were real sideshows - boxing booths, ghastly old women doing "artistic tableaux" to the strains of "The Swan" by Saint-Saens, dwarfs and three legged sheep and halls of mirrors.

The crooked mirrors still survive as part of the Houses of Fun - those places where the floor shakes back and forth and blasts of air blow up girls' skirts. Some things never change, though the number of girls in skirts has, I suppose.

Many of the sideshows now are developments of two basic entertainments. The Ghost Train in various forms still seems to pack 'em in and people still come out looking slightly breathless and rearranging their clothing. The Rotor seems to have made a big comeback, although the original, which was doing no business the last few times I saw it there, has gone. But there are lots of new ones declaring their "sticky walls." The Rotor, in case you don't know it, is the ride where you go into a room which slowly spins, then picks up speed until you're stuck to the wall....and then the floor drops away.

Down the middle of the ground are the big rides. Waltzers, dodgems, helter-skelters and one or two old fashioned merry-go-rounds with properly painted horses. I even saw a set of shuggy boats for the kids. But mostly the really big bits of technology have taken centre stage here. There's a colossal Big Wheel, the biggest I can remember at the Hoppings. How the hell do they transport such a thing? There are a surprising number of people prepared to pay big money to get strapped into a metal ball and then get flung heavenward by two massive bungy-ropes.

So how many of these potentially suicidal rides do you suppose the Frootbat and I went on? Absolutely correct. None. We went to see the fun, not take part in it. I guess the showmen could tell that, because with one exception, none of them tried to rope us in. The exception was a guy who was either very desperate or simply the world's worst judge of character.

"Come on lads," he yelled," kick a football through the goal!"

The Frootbat! And me! Kick a football!!!

Monday 21 June 2004


Yes, I have a pronounced limp and cannot resist trotting out, inappropriate though that verb may be, the old Spike Milligna joke - I have a pronounced limp. L.I.M.P, pronounced "limp."

Dunno how it happened, but I seem to have strained some intricate little cog or rubber band in my heel. It's slightly swollen and hurts to put weight on it. Disappointingly, this meant I didn't get to walk on the beach at Tynemouth yesterday. Last time I was there the tide was in, so the best we could do was walk along the prom, making clucking noises at the jet-skiers disrupting the peace.

This time I didn't even get out onto the prom, except when I hobbled for a bus back to Newcastle. I had to make do with watching from the window one or two surfers in wetsuits (it is the North Sea!) ride a few not very big waves. No hanging ten today.

It being the longest day of the year, I suppose I should have been celebrating some arcane shamanic ritual, but I just put my foot up and finished the remains of a bottle of schnapps.

How was your longest day? Anybody dancing naked round a stone circle?

Sunday 20 June 2004

Sand in my shoes....

The Long Sands, Tynemouth (Oil on canvas, 28 x 36 ins) Posted by Hello

I'm off to Tynemouth for the rest of the day. With any luck the weather will hold up and Patsy123 and I can go for a walk along Tynemouth's beautiful Long Sands and, as my mum would have it, "get the smell blown off us."

See you later.

Friday 18 June 2004

Woodpigeon Resurrection?

I'm cautiously optimistic. The garden was visited by a fat woodpigeon today. I realise that one woodpigeon looks much like another, but as he flew off, I'm sure I spotted a raggedness in his tail. Looking under the bush again, the feathers there seem mainly to be tail feathers. I've seen collared doves escape with only the loss of some tail feathers.


To wish him well, whoever he is, here's a poem I wrote at a time when I did such things:


Plump and round, pearly grey,
Circling in,
White flashes on his wings
Signal his approach.
Undercarriage down,
But still a bumpy, heavy landing
Several feet from the grain.
Almost bewildered, looking round,
Why am I here?
Then sees the seed
And waddles to it, slow and indirect.
Staccato pecking,
Neck spots up and down.

(26 May 1995)

And I picked and ate my first raspberry of the year today. Sometimes life's not too bad at all, huh?

Thursday 17 June 2004

Jack me into the broadband and pass the stem cell toffees......

Torquil, Oil on board Posted by Hello

You can't beat it, can you, a good night of amiable conversation and argument over an enjoyable meal?

Patsy123 is up from London again so we spent the afternoon wandering round the shops in town, just mooching. I bought another ludicrously expensive colour cartridge for my HP710c and Patsy123 found out the carpet she has on order for Tynemouth is gonna take another 4 to 5 weeks. I came off best.

And then it was time for another meal out. Can I afford it? Like hell. Should I stop? Like hell. This time it was an old favourite - for me at least - Paris Texas. It's an old student hangout in St Mary's Place; cheap and cheerful. If you stick to what they do best, like pizza, pasta or vaguely Tex-Mex stuff, you'll do fine. If you push the boat out and opt for something like grilled tuna steak, you'll be making a big mistake (won't you, Buddy K?)

The food was excellent, anyway. In fact I'm tempted to think they've got a new chef - they've definitely got some nice new bistro-style tableware. Must remember, also, to tell Will Barrow that there seems to have been a sufficiently large turnover of staff to maybe make it safe for him to go back again.

As the pretty good house red loosened my tongue, I found I was talking myself out of what Eric Maisel would call a meaning crisis. With some effort on my part, it may be that I should channel my efforts into a slightly different meaning container.

And what meaning container might that be, I hear you ask. Well, no, I don't hear you ask anything of the sort, of course, because you probably haven't the faintest idea what I'm talking about, so I'll ask it for you.

"What meaning container might that be. Mr Zip?"

Why, thank you for asking. I'll tell you. One of the strands running through my thoughts for some time, has been an urge to do some figurative painting. I spent years doing cartoon figures and all the while wanted to do figure paintings. When I finally got to painting, what did I do? Don't worry, these are all rhetorical questions. I began painting townscapes with no figures in them whatsoever.

In the last year or so, perhaps as an expression of my need to make and keep contact with people, figures have started to walk into my pictures. In ones or twos at first; in crowds later on.

But I've been trying to make sense of my attraction to certain kinds of figure painting. It's not a school to which one might attach oneself. The painters are as apparently diverse as Stanley Spencer, Paula Rego, Alan Feltus, Carel Weight, Balthus and Hopper (you'll have heard of him?)

In his foreword to a 1998 exhibition, Jeffrey Carr, the Curator, has this to say:

Embodied Fictions is an exhibition of twelve nationally known realist painters who use the figure to create fictionalized worlds. These paintings demonstrate the power of painterly figuration to embody content. The quality of embodiment relies on the depiction of visual appearances to create fictional worlds, in the way a novel or film can make an invented situation seem "real". This use of the figure is distinct from the way a modernist might use the figure for a purely formal exploration, or the way a postmodernist might use the figure as a cipher, a sign or a decorative symbol to generate content.

I think this, and his even more interesting essay, may be enough to point me in the right direction. "Go for it," said Patsy123, and she's often right.

But she wasn't right, I felt, when we later turned our attention to an argument about the current proposals for human embryo cloning. I'm much too tired to cover the ground of the entire argument - and it was a proper argument, not simply a difference of opinion - but basically I came down on the side of support for stem cell research, broadband connections for nursing homes and colonies on Mars (I think if you're going to have an argument, you should be wide-ranging). I ventured that science, research and technology are the only things which will get us out of the hole we're very likely digging even now. That they may have got us into it in the first place is irrelevant.

Patsy123's arguments tended to be more like reservations about the fallout from technology. Really, she's been reading too much Oryx and Crake. If Margaret Atwood would simply admit she's writing science fiction, I'd have a whole lot more time for her.

I think I played my masterstroke by telling Patsy123 that she was arguing from a position of a glass half-empty, while mine was half-full. She doesn't like to think her glass is half-empty. If I hadn't seen her opposition wilting, I'd have played my trump card (what kind of game requires strokes and cards?):

Anything the Conservative Right Wing Bloody Moral Majority in America are against must be OK.

I rest my case.

And my weary body.

Wednesday 16 June 2004


I woke up at 6.30 this morning. Not unusual, you may think. Bloody unusual for me. I was so stunned that I was not just awake, but wide awake, that for a long time I thought it simply had to be 6.30 in the evening. I was more prepared to believe that I'd slept the clock round, than that I'd woken at 6.30 in the morning.

I knew I'd had a heavy night and figured the extra bottle of wine I shared with the Bi Man at Caffe Zonzo after the wine tasting might have proven just a red too far.

And I'd posted to my blog! What the hell might I have said if I was in such a state that I'd slept the clock round?

Finally, I had to get up and check that it was indeed 6.30 in the morning. I looked at last night's blog and it didn't read too much like the ramblings of a piss artist. In fact, Amy had already found sufficient sense in it to past a comment. So I took a couple of Alka-Seltzer and went back to bed.

When I woke up again it was 10.00 and all was back to normal.

Tuesday 15 June 2004

Liddl' ol' wine drinker me....

Posted by Hello
Two years ago my life fell apart. I've made it an important rule of this blog not to dwell on that period.

The first rule of Boogie Street is: You do not dwell on that period.
The second rule of Boogie Street is: You do NOT dwell on that period.

Writing round it has proven enormously useful. But what proved even more useful at the time was getting involved in the funny old world of local artshow private viewing.

Some people would be ashamed to say that they based their social life on free drinking opportunities. I'm here to tell them that they'd be wrong. When the Greater Depths opened up, I found that I had no money at all and that everything I had might go down the pan.

[Here, I acknowledge buddies who helped out at the time, and continue to do so, to whom I'm eternally grateful]

One of the things you can do in such a situation is give in. Accept that everything has gone. Gorn, Fiona, lorst and gorn. Or you can say, fuck it, what is there I can do that costs me nowt? And the answer to that - especially to someone in my situation and with my background, is - go to private views.

I am more or less gregarious by nature, and private views gave me the perfect opportunity to make contact with People in the Know. Unfortunately, People in the Know in this arena are not the people who can do you much good as an artist - at University, for example, I made good friends with librarians, print technicians, secretaries etc, all the people who make the world of academe actually work. I did not make friends with most of the tutors, who, by and large, were egocentric arseholes who did not make friends..

But the People in the Know are the people who oil the wheels, who make the world run smoothly. And none makes it run more smoothly than Big & Happy. Big & Happy runs a wine retailing business, and over the last two years he's cornered the position of Wine Purveyor to the Middle Class Gallery Trade.

So it was that tonight I was invited to a wine tasting organised by Big & Happy. Absolutely nothing to do with a private art show viewing. Just a wine tasting. OK, it was in a gallery, but it had to be somewhere. This is the second I've been to, and both were really enjoyable.

Mostly they're full of tolerably, though, unexcitingly well-dressed folk sticking their long noses into glasses and saying. "Ah yes, blackcurrants!" Because I'd had to go to another artist function in the afternoon - four artists talking bollocks over a bottle of rose - I wasn't really dressed for the occasion, but I thought, rather than go home and change, I'd play the Bohemian. Anyway, as I so obviously know Big & Happy, no-one would turn their nose up in an aggressive manner.

And they didn't. Because most people, even the despised middle classes, are just ordinary folk out to get by in the world without hassle. So I had a few interesting conversations with people I've never met, before Boy George turned up.

Boy George bears no relation to his namesake, other than his sexual proclivity, and he is a Very Nice Man indeed. We compared wines - he knows his grapes much better than I do, and I'm always open to knowledge - and ended up going halves on four bottles of something expensive but unbelievably palatable. Should you wish to get out there and get some in your own cellar, what we bought was four bottles of Nine Popes from George Melton's Barossa Valley vineyard. Although the bottle we tasted was the 1998 vintage, we had to accept the 2000 vintage and will have to wait a couple of years before drinking.

I find it difficult to believe I'm writing these words, but I have no doubts about the value of the purchase and that each bottle is worth the money we paid. The reason we bought four bottles? That's all that was left out of Big & Happy's two cases. Crazy, huh?

Red in Tooth and Claw

I came back saddened from my trip out to feed the birds this morning. Under the bushes I noticed an awful lot of feathers. It may have been a collared dove - I've lost those before - but the size and colour lead me to think that the woodpigeon who comes to hoover up every day has met an untimely death

I wouldn't mind so much if I thought he'd gone to feed a hungry urban fox, or a desperate hedgehog, but I know it'll have been a bloody well-fed domestic cat. They're on the increase round here as new families move in (don't they know the Council Rat Man is on top of the problem?) and much though I like cats, it's becoming quite a task to keep them out of the garden.

Ah well, a radical trim of the lower layers of the bushes is called for, so that the cats can't hide there.

On a lighter note, I found when I entered the Martock Bean Enclosure, that there are signs of new growth in every leaf axil. Fingers crossed, there may yet be beans aplenty to keep the Martocks off the endangered species list.

Martocks aside, I was still a little heavy-hearted when I got back to Stately Zip Mansion. But as always, I found a quick visit here was enough to set me off again with a happy heart.

Monday 14 June 2004

Tales of Mum

It's always interesting visiting my old mum. I get to catch up on all the things I've been doing of which I'd otherwise be totally unaware.

The £1m she told me about last time has had another half million added to it. This is compensation for my having to bear the indignity of being wrapped in chains and having all my clothes torn each time I go to visit her. Luckily, all of this money is in a bank and two signatures are required to get at it - hers and mine. One benefit of this is that Tony Blair has abandoned his attempt to marry my mum, because he cannot get his hands on the loot, and has married someone else.

I guess I should also find myself in the Births, Deaths and Marriages column, because I'm now married with a baby. This came as something of a surprise to me. It will come as an even greater surprise to Patsy123, whose baby it is, and who is now going by the name of Lulu.

It was my mum's turn to be surprised to learn how improbable this is, due to our both being 57. She thought we were only 40.

As I was leaving, one of the nurses asked, "Did you see the football?"

I shook my head.

"Worra load of rubbish!" she said. "They couldn't play football in my front passage!!"

She said nothing of any forthcoming fixtures in her back passage, and I didn't ask.

Sunday 13 June 2004

A Blog at Bedtime

Posted by Hello
I've had Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian on my To Read shelf for the best part of two years. When I got round to reading it - and I expect to do that Real Soon Now - I would, I'm sure, have let you know what a fine book it is.

But I just got an email from the Frootbat, who can do it so much better than I:

Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian is one of the strangest, cruelest, most downright majestic books I have ever read and I urge you all to read it now. It is a genuine masterpiece, the sort of book one feels privileged to have read.

John Banville in his original review (the book is nearly 20 years old) said that it reads "like a conflation of the Inferno, The Iliad and Moby Dick' and other reviewers mentioned Hieronymous Bosch, Edgar Allan Poe, the Marquis de Sade and even Milton - and there is no question in my mind (John Banville will be much relieved to hear) that it truly belongs in that exalted company.

Someone reviewing another of McCarthy's books talked of the true hero - 'as always in McCarthy's books' - being the language, and in Blood Meridian I found myself stopping continually to reread sentences, paragraphs and whole pages for the sheer pleasure - and marking them to go back to. But McCarthy is no mere stylist - it's more as if he imagines every element of his narrative in detail and savours it for all its nuances before committing himself to the words to describe it.

Time after time scenes seems to flash into real life in the mind because of the clarity and poetic power with which he describes them; for example, the way a fire behaves in wind, or the effects on shallow water of the passage of men and horses. And the story never flags, not once.

The fact that it is set in the 1840s in the Tex/Mex borderlands and based on historical events makes it sound like a kind of Western historical novel. It's not.

From what I can make out on this first reading, it's about the only true knowledge of oneself and the world being gained from descending into utter lawlessness. No justice, no loyalty, no morality - just violence, torture, pain and death. The character whose life begins and ends the novel - the kid - attains some kind of humanity during his passage from loveless childhood to violent death at 45, but it's only relative - in any more conventional novel he'd be a cold, dysfunctional villain. His triumph comes from holding back from immersing himself completely in anarchy, unlike his nemesis, The Judge, who is a very strange, almost mutant, human being, but may also be an immortal force of Chaos itself.

The only novels I can think of that have anything in common with Blood Meridian are Russell Hoban's Pilgermann and Jerzy Kosinski's The Painted Bird. That is only because they have something of the apocalyptic violence in a world that is not quite ours, but is Blood Meridian's almost entire being.

It's a gruelling but strangely exhilarating - and somehow, despite its horrors, uplifting - read, but certainly not for the faint-hearted. If any of you are still interested after all of this, but reluctant to jump straight into something so strange and violent, I'd recommend you start with the Border Trilogy, especially All The Pretty Horses. This, too, is a masterpiece (and I assure you - I don't use that word lightly); after reading it you too will be strangely willing to have Cormac McCarthy's babies. Should he honour you by suggesting it.

Build it and they will come...

A week or so ago, JonnyB mentioned that he has a couple of self-imposed rules when it comes to blogging.

The first rule of blogging is: You do not talk about blogging

The second rule of blogging is: You do not talk about blogging.

No, sorry, got a bit confused with Fight Club there. But he did say he never writes about blogging. And I'm beginning to think he might be right.

For reasons which I have no intention of rehearsing here, my blogging seems to have aroused some quite strange and overheated reactions in various private email conversations recently. I find it all quite baffling and it becomes increasingly clear that it may be a mistake to let your friends know you're blogging. Certainly, I can see why someone would choose not to.

So maybe this is the last I'll have to say on the matter. I'll just keep my thoughts about blogging to myself and get on enjoying it. Which I do.

Saturday 12 June 2004

Musical Beetroot

Spinach beet (A4 sketchbook, Pilot disposable pen) Posted by Hello

It can hardly have escaped your notice that I'm passionately interested in Art and in Gardens. I'm therefore really pleased, over the moon, even, about having booked my tickets to London at the end of the month. At last I can get to Tate Modern to see the Hopper exhibition.

But I've also just realised that on the same trip I can take in Tate Britain, where they're showing The Art of the Garden. Hurrah!

Lest you get the impression that the Zip Passion Portfolio contains only two quivering passions, however, let me reassert my abiding interest in music. And here, I'm indebted to Occupied Country for drawing my attention to the existence of The John Martyn Website. They're playing One for the Road and Johnny Too Bad at the moment, but the selection will change.

I've been a fan of John Martyn for years and used to look forward to his gigs in Newcastle a lot. Even when I thought he was slipping a little into MOR with the Phil Collins-produced numbers, I still thought he was terrific; just not as terrific as in his Echoplex period.

There was a good tv documentary on Martyn a couple of weeks ago and it was encouraging to see him making a determined effort to get back on the road, despite all of his set-backs, not least being the loss of a leg.

Last night's BBC4 documentary on Viv Stanshall was also well worth watching. I had no idea he'd done so much after the Bonzos split up - everything from an opera to a ship converted to a floating theatre. Yet most of it came to nowt, mainly because he had no faith in his ability to succeed, and kept walking away from things, people, projects.

An unjustly neglected English eccentric, I didn't even know, until now, that he'd died in his top floor flat when he set his beard alight. I think it was "Legs" Larry Smith who said that if the fags couldn't kill him from the inside....

Neil Innes carried much of the story, inevitably, and had a good tale about their first drive across America. Being somewhat odd-looking, they were stopped by a police car. The police officer asked them if they had any drugs, coke, hash, whatever. "No, no," said Innes, hoping against hope that Stanshall would keep quiet, "we're British, we prefer a good pint of beer."

"D'you have any weapons, any guns or knives?"

"No, no."

"Then how do you fellas expect to defend yourselves?"

At which point Viv Stanshall leaned forward and said, "Good manners!"

Oh, and it's not all old stuff I like. This week, the CD player has been occcupied with: Manu Chao, Philip Glass, Andy Sheppard, Andreas Scholl, Duke Ellington, EST, Brad Mehldau, Bill Frisell, Rabih Abou-Khalil, Gregory Isaacs, Zappatistas, the Baghdaddies and Natacha Atlas.

And Donovan.

Blu-Tack on the Side of a House

Posted by Hello
Edward Hopper famously said that all he'd ever wanted to do was paint the light on the side of a house.

At the risk of continuing to plough a lone furrow, I thought I'd revisit my contempt for much of what passes for art (and incidentally art education) today.

It's often been said that a culture may be assessed by the art it leaves behind. Are we then content to be judged on the strength of a can of Manzoni shit, a light going on and off in a room, a piece of Blu-Tack stuck on a wall, a child's toy cast in bronze, only much bigger, or any of the other pretentious and shallow pieces of work that regularly catch the eye of the equally shallow Red Top editors?

Some time ago, The Little Git, an old acquaintance of mine, asked what criteria are available to evaluate conceptual art?

"You might try Sol LeWitt's Sentences on Conceptual Art, I said, "but you might then come to the conclusion that this is mostly bollocks, and who am I to argue?" And then I ranted something on the following lines...

Conceptual art is an art form in which the idea is paramount. You must determine how well the artist whose idea it is has conveyed that idea. If you feel the artist has failed to convey the idea adequately, it is almost certainly your fault for not putting in sufficient work to enable you to understand the idea. If you find the work conveys to you something entirely different to the artist's original conception, this is probably OK, because it means that it has succeeded in creating an interface between you and the artist which broadens the available dialogue and the artist will be content to have provoked a reaction, whether intended or not. Or he may feel that you have simply misunderstood his work because you have failed to put in sufficient work to enable you to understand the original idea.

Many conceptual works are, it seems to me, works of philosophy rather than artworks. Unfortunately, many of them are works of extremely simplistic philosophy, boiling down to "War is Bad", "Some People Do Not have Enough to Eat", "These Objects Have Nothing in Common But Look Interesting When Placed on a Shelf Together", "This Ordinary Object is Just Like Every Other of its Kind, But I Brought it Here from Somewhere Else and That Makes it Special."

Younger art students with no experience of life will find these ideas very attractive...

Do not, under any circumstances, suggest that the work on display (and in this case I referred specifically to the work in his local gallery) is an insult to everyone's itelligence and a complete load of shite, because the artist will chase you from the gallery and threaten you with physical violence. I could probably produce a sworn affidavit to this effect, which, when framed and hung in said gallery would be just as valid as anything else there. As I am an artist, I have the power to say that this is so.

I'm tired now. Think I'll go and sniff some turps for a while.

Thursday 10 June 2004

Hopper again...

And now we come to the tricky bit. My old buddy, Buddy K (AKA Throdorus Gassoon) suffers from a form of Comment Box Claustrophobia, so I've imported part of his latest Comment here. How this will work out, should the occasion occur again, remains to be seen.

But it's my blog and I'll do whatever I think is right.

Saw the Tim Marlowe show on Hopper, thought it all a bit shallow - but the paintings were great - and I suspect not a little influential on Mr Zip - especially the view of a NYC building from the train (can't remember the title).

Surprised he didn't mention the other great US big city alienist of the time - Cornell Woolrich. Hopper's paintings would make great covers for his books. Suzie Sue and I are going to see it next week.

I missed most of the Tim Marlow programme tonight, but have generally found him interesting and competent enough. I think he's more of a populariser of painting, and who am I to condemn him for that?

I also missed some of the Alan Yentob (I still find it difficult to believe he changed his name from "Botney") Imagine programme on Hopper last night, because instead of checking the tv listings, I fell under the spell of Jurassic Park III. What I did see, however, was very good, and I'm assured Patsy123 has it all safely on video, waiting for my trip to London.

What fascinates me about all the attention the Hopper show is getting is that it's painting we're talking about. Not someone's snot in a jar. Not a room lit by a light-bulb taken from the desk-lamp of the architect of the Twin Towers and placed in a gallery context. Not ....oh, make up your own. You can do it. Anyone can.

Now why should it be that so much attention is being given to a 20th century American Realist painter? Could it be that there's so much more to say about his work than there is about snot in a jar? Surely not.

Or could it be that the publicity surrounding contemporary art was enough to get the general public into galleries, but now the same general public have recognised that a lot of contemporary art is superficial bollocks.

At the same time they've been exposed to the long tradition of painting and suddenly realise that, hey, we can look at this! It isn't elitist after all. You might have to work at it. You might find that the more you learn about art history, the more you get out of gallery visits. But we can enjoy looking at paintings.

I've noticed that there's been a recent flurry of books by some of the bigger publishers, Dorling Kindersley for one, providing a good popularist background to the history of painting. The guys at these publishing houses don't do this sort of thing unless they think they've spotted a trend.

And perhaps tv producers have spotted the same trend. As a painter, I hardly need say that I would find this a Good Thing.

Football match? What football match?

Jackie Plays On (oil on canvas, 36 x 72 ins) Posted by Hello

Living as I do in a constant state of football apathy, I might be excused for not noticing that there's some kind of football event about to happen. But even I can't miss the madly flapping flags of St George attached to every car going by, and the tv trailer overkill.

So, OK, I know there's some kind of footie tournament about to addle the brains of much of the population (I was about to say "male population", but women are so keen to be laddish now). I won't offer my Henman-inspired scepticism about the likely outcome (largely because I don't know what I'm talking about and prefer to hold my counsel on such occasions).

Instead, as my part in the festivities, I offer my painting of the statue of Jackie Milburn.

Wednesday 9 June 2004

See you at the Beer Tent

Posted by Hello
The Frootbat emailed me today, telling me and Buddy K why he won't be going to the Bracknell Festival:

I think I'm going off big festivals. It's all the standing around, you know. They should have an Oldies section, with seats. And free bowls of bread soaked in milk. And secure walking stick parking facilities. In fact, I think I'm going off big gigs - I haven't forgotten my unpleasant experience seeing Public Enemy at Northumbria U. last year - the air of uncritical drunken worship almost, regardless of the quality of what was presented. Plus a floor so sticky you had to keep moving unless you wanted to be trapped in one place. Plus lots of students - one of whom said, "You lads don't look like Public Enemy fans." The cheeky young pup! If Chuck D had been in the audience, rather than on stage, I bet he would have been spluttering and complaining as well. DON'T, DON'T, DON'T, DON'T, DON'T KEEP TALKING SHITE! And if they'd had the Beastie Boys as support, I'm sure we'd have heard, YOU GOTTA FIGHT! FOR THE RIGHT! TO BE COMFORTABLE!

I won't be going either, but mainly because just as it starts I'll be getting back from a few days in London where I'll be soaking up the delights of the Hopper show at Tate Modern. I can't really afford the time or the money to turn round and go back down again.

But in a way I sympathise with the Frootbat's reasons. I never was much one for the big event. Give me a more intimate venue like the Live Theatre, the Corner House or even the Cluny (bad though the sight-lines are), and I can enjoy myself. Put me in a field full of geeks, nerds, drunks and stoners and I can enjoy myself for a while. Then I'll start to realise I've been downing the warm lager for some time and begin to wonder how long I'll have to queue for a pee.

And oh for a seat. I'm lucky in that I can stand for very long periods. This is good considering how much time I spend in front of an easel. But there comes a point where I really would like to sit down, and the ground is not made for the likes of me and my office-damaged back.

Late last year, Buddy K kindly bought us tickets to go to the Newcastle Arena to see Radiohead. Once there, I got pissed off immediately with the fact that even though we had seats, we were forced to stand up because the jerks in front insisted on doing so. During the quieter numbers it was obvious the rest of the audience thought it was cool to sit down. Our jerks, who could after all have stood on the Arena floor, didn't seem to think sitting was the thing to do at any time.

After the gig, when they were filing out, one of them said to Buddy K, "Sorry if we blocked your view." Gritting your teeth and smiling do not a pretty face make.

The light show was good, provided by some video engineers who clung perilously high up on the lighting gantry. But then, who really gives a shit about light shows? It's the music that counts.

And I've found it difficult to find any affection for Radiohead's music, so not knowing the songs didn't help the evening. I recognised some of the earlier stuff, which has a certain melodic quality. Thom Yorke's voice is perhaps better live because he inevitably has to shout, but the sound mix was pretty poor and much of the music came across to me as extremely loud, undifferentiated noise.

A great number of air guitars were in evidence and the arena floor was a sea of waving and punching arms; even cigarette lighters made an appearance amongst the mobile photo-phones.

The support band was Asian Dub Foundation who were thunderously loud (my right ear started to hurt and the air in my lungs was vibrating), but came across as interesting. For a while. After a while it seemed like a little went a long way.

Still, glad I went. It was an experience.

Automatic Flatterer

Still unable to have my ego massaged by Haloscan, I turned to other means. Going here, I typed in my name and got this, amongst other things:

Mr Zip you are fabulous !!!
... and we appreciate you for who you are.

Feel better already.

Morning Blues

It's quite amazing how attached to my little cyberworld I've become. I've been online for less than a year, but the sense of connection to the outside world is considerable. I'm convinced that when I'm "put in a home" I'll be perfectly happy provided I can have a broadband connection.

Which makes it all the more disconcerting when something goes wrong. I was just about to post my blog last night when I discovered I'd gone offline. I couldn't edit the post which read "[....I think I hear one coming....]" - the device I use just before midnight to ensure that my post appears on the appropriate day.

I tried all the usual things to get it working again. I switched the modem off and on. I rebooted. I paced up and down the room several times. I went up and down stairs,waving my arms and crying, "I don't know what to do!"

I tried to be stoical and tell myself that there are lots of things you can do with a computer which don't involve internet access. One quick game of Doom showed me how wrong that is.

Finally I located the number of the free telephone information service.

Apparently I was the victim of essential work in the Midlands on the rubber bands holding the Internet together. Why this should have an effect in the North East, I can only wonder, but they said it could last up to 8 hours.

When I got back upstairs to the desk, I was online again. Sometimes all it takes is a phonecall.

But now it's Haloscan letting me down. I get all excited when I see there are comments on my latest post. No matter that it may be someone telling me to give it all up and get a proper job, I want to read it! And all I can get out of Haloscan is "Can't connect with the database."

I've tried to connect through other blogs, but that's no good. So I have to wait to read the words of drivel or wit someone has kindly left for me.


Tuesday 8 June 2004

Venus & Madonna

Ford Castle grounds (sketchbook, coloured conte) Posted by Hello

Venus successfully completed its Transit of the Sun today. I suppose there never was any doubt that it would do so. However, the Weatherman had given me similar assurances that I would have no difficulty in viewing same, while I could expect to sit about being scorched on the hottest day of the year.

Round about 9 o'clock this morning, the skies over Stately Zip Mansion did their best to conceal the fact of the Sun, let alone the Transit, by putting on a thrilling display of black rainclouds. Lightning flashed and the accompanying crashes of thunder set off every car alarm in the street. That was Venus done for the day. Still, I saw it on the telly, didn't I, so that's alright.

We did get to the Alnwick Garden, however.

And what a mixed blessing that was. The Phase 1 Cascade is fine, the biggest in the country. But almost everything else is a sea of mud, concrete and noise. Dumper trucks jockeyed for position with elderly grey-haired ladies, most of them in wheelchairs. Down from Scotland in big charabancs, I trust the ladies didn't feel cheated.

I don't know how the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland - for it is their Garden - have the nerve to charge full price (£4.00) for permission to come in and have a cup of tea on a building site.

Except that they have the nerve for anything. The Garden is being built with £50m of Lottery money, which might sound OK until you realise that it's not a public garden, it's their land, their garden, and the public have to pay to get in.

And lest we forget, the public had to stump up £22m for the Madonna of the Pinks this year to stop the public-spirited Duke from flogging it to the Getty Museum.

Putting aside such socialist-inspired carping, however, there were small moments and places today of real pleasure.

Sheltered from the rather cold breeze, we found a handy wooden bench next to a circular pond and yelled at one another over the roar and gurgle of the fountain in the middle of it. And there CJ produced her picnic, splendid as usual. Poached salmon with Bearnaise sauce, potato salad, spicy couscous, green salad, washed down with my contribution, a bottle of Chardonnay.

Oh, and a special word for the ornamental garden and its attendant gardener, full of tales of heavy cow manure mulches and liquid manure feeding. Unfortunately, the delphiniums were only just opening and most of the roses were not yet in bloom. Suckers for punishment, we may well go back when the roses are out, and give His Grace some more money.

In the heat of the night.....

Believe me, I should be in bed now, not tapping the old keyboard. But suddenly I felt I had to keep up the pretence of blogging every day.

So just a few lines about the day just gone.

I saw Patsy123 off at the station. Through the window of the carriage I could see her arguing with a passenger who was evidently in her seat. Tickets were compared. I did my utmost not to smirk as she then shuffled back down two carriages to what was actually her seat. She told me later she'd tried to sit in the seat shown on her ticket to Newcastle, rather than that on the return ticket.

I know smirking is wrong and most ungallant - indeed, in Eshington, it's even bad for your health - but sometimes one cannot help a smirk stealing over the Zip features. I made up for it by smiling in an extra-winning fashion and waved at least twice as the train pulled out.

Other than that, well, it was a Do Nothing kind of day. I bought some acrylic primer and lugged it home, but couldn't quite summon up the energy to do anything with it.

I checked out the Martock Beans in their Enclosure and watered them, but am concerned with their definite dwarfness. Pinching out the tops in accordance with my Bumper Fun Book of Broad Bean Etiquette seems not to have produced the desired result. They are definitely not bushing out.

I thought for a while I heard a snigger from somewhere nearby, but realising that sniggering is an ungentlemanly thing to do, coming higher than smirking on the List of Unpleasant Traits, I knew I must be mistaken.

A ham sandwich and a cup of revitalising tea, replete with guarana and acerola, were sufficient to send me instantly into an afternoon zizz, and after that, well, Do Nothing indeed.

But tomorrow, I must be up bright and early. In addition to the Transit of Venus, there's the Garden at Alnwick to see. More later.....

Sunday 6 June 2004

Pre-Coastal Mutterings

King Edward's Bay (oil on board, 36 x 36 ins) Posted by Hello

One day last week, the postman used an interesting new technique. Waiting until I went into the garden to feed the birds, he took advantage of the only time I wasn't actually in the house to ring the doorbell and run away. It took me until the end of the week to get to the sorting office to collect my parcel.

Incidentally, why is it that I can only collect my parcels up to 12.30? Presumably the staff don't go home after that. Surely someone could take responsibility for handing over a parcel now and then? It's not as if there's likely to be a long queue of people suddenly forming after 12.30.

Anyway, in an obvious attempt to confuse the hell out of me, the postman woke me up today by hammering on the door. He'd brought another parcel and had forgotten how a doorbell works. It wasn't until after he'd gone that I realised it's Sunday! What are postmen doing delivering on Sunday? I always thought that Sunday deliveries were a sign of a civilised society and bemoaned their curtailment all those years ago. But now they're doing it again without a fanfare. Trouble is I find it difficult enough remembering what day it is, without the Post Office confusing me further.

Today is another trip to the Coast. Donning my most winning smile, I'm off to meet the Patsymum who's visiting Patsy123 at her Tynemouth gaff.

The picture? Patsy123's flat overlooks King Edward's Bay.

Shmoozing up the South Tyne

It was a good Saturday. Mo and Mr Grumpy picked up Patsy123 and me and we drove out Hexham way.

Two friends of mine had sent invitations to previews of their Art Tour shows. As we drove Westwards, the weather deteriorated a little. It had, of course, been hot and sunny in Gateshead, but by the time we were skirting Hexham, a spot or two of drizzle came our way. But what's a spot or two of drizzle between friends? We were welcomed as long lost buddies at each show - or at least I was, for that's kind of what I am - and the work was good to see. The first was excellent, and there were some genuine improvements to be admired at the second.

I spent a little time envying people who live in lovely old stone-built houses in the country until Patsy123 reminded me that a) you need a car to live there, and b) you spend a fortune trying to make and keep them habitable.

I also felt a modicum of envy when confronted with V's spacious and tidy studio. Then I reminded myself that a) she'd have tidied up the place in time for the Art Tour visitors to come poking about, and b) if I took my own advice and cleared out a lot of the junk from my own studio, it would be considerably bigger than hers.

[Note to self: Clear Out That Junk! ]

I also must look further into the giclee printing side of things. I learned a good deal about the mechanics of it on this trip, and it's clearly a nice little earner for my two friends. I, too, must get a finger in this pie.

For some reason, I don't believe I've ever been on the roads North of Haydon Bridge, but driving round Warden and places like that was eye-opening. The South Tyne valley is very lovely, I know, but here's an area I really should make an effort to visit again.

Back in time to drink some drink and make a big vegetable curry which will last many days and see me regular as clockwork. If I say so myself (and on this occasion I didn't need to, because Patsy123 said it for me), I make a really good curry.

Tomorrow (Sunday) may be more angst-ridden as I go to meet the Patsymum for the first time. But after that, the decks will be cleared for blogging again. There are important strands to catch up with, All Bran and copperheads not being the least of my blogging concerns.

Friday 4 June 2004

Old Gadgie with a Dog

Posted by Hello
It seems to have been a day of travelling on and hanging about waiting for Metro trains. But at least it gives me the chance to see interesting characters like this.

Thursday 3 June 2004

The Lazy Blogger

Coming from Evening Church (oil on canvas, 36 x 36 ins) Posted by Hello

Patsy123 is here for what she calls "the weekend" (Wednesday to Monday!) and I'm off for Coastal Duty at Tynemouth. I'll be coming and going from now until Monday, so may not have time to post anything substantial, if at all, until then.

For now, in response to an overwhelming request, here's another of my paintings.

Somewhat improbably, this is based on Coming from Evening Church, by Samuel Palmer.

Wednesday 2 June 2004

Seek and ye shall find.

Some years ago, in a fanzine I was particularly fond of, the editor ran a series in which the same 10 questions were put to a different person each issue. I was never asked to complete the questionnaire, but I did it just the same. I don't remember the first nine questions or my answers, but I've never forgotten my answer to the last:

Q. When you look in the mirror, who do you see?
A. Someone else.

Which is a kinda tricksy way of getting to the subject of this post. What I found today was not what I was looking for.

There's been considerable interest in the recipe for Geoff Hamilton's All Bran concrete (well, one person asked), and I've done my best to find it today. I can see it in my mind's eye - a little piece of paper with the recipe

1 part All Bran,
2 parts powdered bismuth
1 part liquid nitrogen....

that sort of thing, written on it. It probably wasn't All Bran. Shredded Wheat? Cheerios? I don't think so. I know I put it Somewhere Safe.....

But my search has certainly uncovered a lot of stuff from my artistic past, and it's been a fascinating unearthing. For one thing (and this ties in with Marja-Leena's comment about papier-mache) I came across both a book on papier mache full of quite interesting ideas for fine art applications and this sketch for a sculpture:

Posted by Hello

I also rediscovered my old notebook in which I used to write down quotes from articles, books and other sources. Boy, am I glad to find that again.

Diderot developed a theory of ethics based on the idea of the statue; if we wanted to be good, he said, we must become sculptors of the self. Virtue is not natural to us; we achieve it, if at all, through a kind of artistic striving, cutting and shaping the material of which we are made, the intransigent stone of self-hood, and erecting an idealised effigy of ourselves in our own minds and in the minds of those around us and living as best we can according to its sublime example. I like that notion....

....What statue of myself did I erect long ago, I wonder? Must have been a gargoyle.

John Banville: Ghosts

I'll continue looking for the recipe, but I determined today to take a radical look at the way my work spaces are arranged. I think I've worked out a way of shifting furniture around, in part from one room to another, so that I have a better organised thinking and writing space, and a more open studio area.

This can only be a Good Thing and may even lead to further archaeological treasures.

Tuesday 1 June 2004

The Secret Garden

Posted by Hello
I fancy a monolith in my garden, it would look great and I could pop out and do a bit of worshipping on hot summer nights, said Anna, commenting in Maria-Leena Rathje's blog.

Which set me to thinking about my garden.

The borders are pretty much full of the usual sort of things: cherry trees, broom, hawthorn, raspberries, rhubarb, pyracantha, clematis, birch, and like so. But the middle has a big balding lawn which serves no purpose at all and two weed-strewn beds which occasionally play host to courgettes and now hold the Martock Bean Enclosure.

Pretty damn dull, really.

When I was up at Duntrune, I was captivated by the garden there. Whether by design or neglect, the place has fallen into a considerable state of disrepair. The croquet lawn is full of tufts and weeds and - best of all - the stonework balustrades are overgrown with moss and ivy, roses and other creepers. Here and there, small bronze figurines peer out at you from the dark bushes. There's a rill dashing through, which the chaffinches were making great play in, and a splendid pond with a winged Mercury sitting gazing sombrely into it's depths.

Magic, indeed, like Sleeping Beauty's castle garden.

I want my garden to be like that. I have plans for a rockery through which water cascades, then runs down a channel to the pond. The pond, of course, will have to have at least one sloping side to allow the birds to get down and bathe.

When Patsy123 was here last we went to a garden centre which had some great arbours and swinging seats. Maybe I could have one of those.

But I'm particularly keen to introduce unexpected pieces of sculpture and ancient-appearing monoliths. Like the one above, perhaps. Paths made from mosaic pebbles and broken paving stones will wind through forest glades, leading the visitor to secret places and moonlit grottoes. Water will trickle audibly here and there, and there'll be the gentle swish of bamboo and tall grasses. The scent of jasmine, lavender and roses will fill the air. Curious objects will suddenly come into view. The wildlife will scuttle and rustle as we pass by. Sagging pagodas of an indefinable origin will waft their rotting vapours at us. Dark and brooding figures of the Elder Gods will loom out of the shrubbery, and brambles and thorns will tear at our legs as we run for the safety of the patio....

But how do I go about making my monoliths? Easy. Somewhere I have a recipe of Geoff Hamilton's showing how to make a kind of biodegradable concrete out of All Bran and cement!

Wait though. All Bran and cement? That can't be right, surely.....