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.

Wednesday 11 August 2004

I love the smell of tar in the morning.

Monday morning dawned somewhat damper than I'd expected, but even O'Swishity was optimistic that it would dry up and the Felting Lads would get the roof done by the end of the day.

We agreed that, horrific though the Good Deal at first appeared, it was indeed a Good Deal and will save me "years of trouble." Now I just have to shift around the Zip Millions to make it possible to pay him.

Anyway, the Felting Lads set to, one stoking up the tar boiler, the other stripping off the old felt.

They were only into their first cup of tea, when the heavens opened, and they had to rush to store all their equipment, including the cooling tar, in the garage alongside my mum's wordly goods which she refuses to have with her at the nursing home.

And it's rained constantly for two days now. Unbelievable. August!

A Day at the Lake

On Sunday, Providence sent respite from pages of accounts and worries about the Felting Lads, in the form of a camper van full of Patsy123 and her friends from London.

The weather could hardly have been better, so after the obligatory visit to stand at the feet of Gormley's
Angel of the North, we headed off into deepest Durham, ending up at the Derwent Reservoir.

It's years since I've been to the Reservoir. It used to be a favourite of my parents. They'd wait until a Bank Holiday came along, then join the other motorists filling the little roads up into the hills of County Durham. Never could see the point, and the Reservoir held little attraction for me then.

But now I'm older and perhaps a little wiser, and there's a great deal of fun to be had laying out a picnic of pasta salad, green salad, prawns with a sweet chilli dip, some crusty bread and a couple of bottles of red wine.

And even more fun in wandering down to the edge of the water where the beach of millstone grit gives way to rather sticky mud. We added to a small pile of stones someone had left there until we had our own
Andy Goldsworthy, then carried back on our shoes rather more of the mud than we might have liked.

After driving from the Reservoir to the campsite at Acomb where Patsy123's friends were staying, we walked to the nearest pub. It was one of those country pubs which seem to be stuck in a time warp; forever 1950. Fizzy beer, no food and a box of Liebfraumilch.

But it was a beautiful evening, so we sat with our fizz at a table outside and watched the sky dim.

No sunset to speak of but I assured Patsy123's friends that they could look forward to another gorgeous day the following morning.

Saturday 7 August 2004

A Good Deal is Proposed

O'Swishity called round yesterday. He was full of smiles and Irish bonhomie. He intends to bring the Felting Lads on Monday to get the old felt stripped off and lay the new. Tarring to follow.

He thinks this will be done in a day and will give me "at least 25 years peace of mind." If only peace of mind were so easily attainable.

But O'Swishity has an eye to a business opportunity. He wants to do more work on the house. Work which will free me from "future hassles with all that paint and ladders and stuff."

When I protested that I was really short of money, he told me not to worry. "I'll do you a Good Deal, Guv'nor. I want to show the neighbours what we can do and maybe drum up a bit of business."

Clearly another early morning will be called for on Monday. O'Swishity promised not to start before he's outlined his Good Deal, but I want to be sure.

"Don't you worry, Guv'nor, " was his parting shot. I've done nothing else since.

Slug Pellet Story

The Martock Beans are looking very sorry for themselves. They were doing fine until very recently - three nice shiny pods and some flowers which would hopefully produce more.

Then came the wet weather and the Attack of the Monster Slugs from Hell.

Within 24 hours they'd reduced the plants to skeletons and even had a go at one of the pods. I was out of slug pellets and didn't have the time to get into Newcastle to buy more.

Then I remembered the little shop on the local high street I'd passed umpteen times before . A pokey little place with a shabby exterior, some plants and rabbit hutches outside. Walking by, it was impossible to see anything inside.

I had to go past it again the other day, so I thought, what the hell, give it a try. Nothing to lose but our Martocks.

Once my eyes became accustomed to the gloom, I realised it was TARDIS-like. Much larger on the inside than the outside. But every square inch of it was crammed with stuff - household, gardening, pets. In fact, because it was nearly closing time, it was also crammed with the stuff which normally sits on the pavement outside.

I could see a small box of slug pellets sitting on a shelf, but I couldn't figure out how I was going to get to them past the piles of other things.

"Can I help you, mate?" came a voice from the darkness at the back of the shop.

"I'm after slug pellets," I said, "but can't figure out how to get round to them."

"Divven't worry, Aa'll fetch them oot."

And from out of the realms of darkness and the past came Rod Stewart!

It was the Rod Stewart of the Faces days, with a big hooter and a ridiculous kind of mullety hairdo. And a limp. And a Geordie accent.

So perhaps it wasn't Rod the Mod. On the other hand, maybe he's tired of his life of fame and riches. Maybe he's gone back to being the down-to-earth guy he used to be and has taken on an old persona. Maybe he really is selling slug pellets in Gateshead.

And could that have been Maggie May he was humming as I walked out the door?

Friday 6 August 2004

Paperwork Blues again

The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and it's a beoootiful day.

And what am I doing? Am I mowing the lawn? Nope. Am I painting the front and/or the back door? Nope. Am I sitting at the dining room table doing paperwork? You betcha.

Two of those paperwork problems were despatched earlier in the week, but then we entered a state of flux - Patsy123 arrived at Tynemouth with her baggage train.

Today I am centred; I am calm. Just the state to be in to tackle my 2002/3 accounts which letters from the Inland Revenue and my accountants suggest would be A Very Good Thing Indeed.

So I'll sit there,
Steve Coleman and the Five Elements tootling away rhythmically in the background, and finish the damn accounts.

All the time with one ear cocked for the sound of Mr O'Swishity at the door. He's coming round to fix a price for recovering the felt roof on the garage. He'll flash his diamond ring at me and grin winsomely, call me "Guv'nor" and set a price which will be high but just within the range he can read next to the word MUG on my forehead, .

On the other hand, he may be a totally honest fella who'll help me fit in with the other house-owners in the street all busily building bedroom extensions, libraries, conservatories, minarets and turrets onto their semis.

House modification. It's the new rock & roll.

Tuesday 3 August 2004

Now arriving at Platform 37

Posted by Hello
I'm off to Tynemouth for the evening. Patsy123 completes her major move from London to Tynemouth today with the aid of a man with a van. From now on, it'll be the occasional trip to London to sort out the remainder of things down there, rather than the other way round.


Monday 2 August 2004

Cat-droppings Latte to Go

I'm a keen coffee drinker. I used to drink five or six mugs a day, each mug made with two and a half spoons of instant. These days I'm more careful, and keep the dosage down by alternating with decaf or tea.

But it's still one of my favourite beverages and I keep my eye open for new and interesting blends. So imagine my excitement when I read that:

"A food scientist has cracked the secrets of the world's most expensive coffee, Kopi Luwak, whose beans pass through the intestinal tract of an Indonesian civet before being roasted and savoured."

Read more about this, but perhaps not till after breakfast.

It's Mushroom Time

Magic Mushroom (oil on canvas, 28 x 31 ins) Posted by Hello

I confess I've been feeling like the cashier in the painting for days now. Mostly this is a follow-on from the end of the Figure 8 show. No sales and, despite positive comments from many well-meaning people, the inevitable draining away of confidence ensues. This is what Eric Maisel calls a meaning leak.

I should have rallied straight away, and got on with more painting - a meaning reinvestment - but those little hard-core paperwork projects are still staring at me from the dining table. I cleared one off today, but four more remain, and I can feel that ol' anxiety building. I'm constantly expecting something to go wrong.

Maybe creative people are the biologically anxious offspring of biologically anxious parents. Maybe anxiety runs in their families. Maybe they are psychologically "highly sensitive" and prone to anxiety because they are inundated by sense data. But it is more likely that the anxiety we see is the result of the heroic effort the creative person is is making trying to force life to mean. His brave efforts make him feel threatened at every turn, whenever he thinks about going into the unknown to create and whenever he tries to wrestle a new creation into existence

Eric Maisel Ph.D. - The Van Gogh Blues

Whether this is actually the case - and I find Maisel's arguments very persuasive - I know I have to get those last few bits of paperwork out of the way before I can start to feel OK again.

Blue Moon

For those of you who missed yesterday's blue moon, there's a photograph of a really blue one at this site, with Jupiter thrown in for good measure.

The photography on this website is always awe-inspiring.

Sunday 1 August 2004

"Whatever happened to Jimmy Nail?"

So asked Anna in her comment on my "Geordie Frustration" posting. It's perhaps a measure of the paucity of my writing inspiration that I decided to answer her here.

But it's a fair question. There was a time when Jimmy Nail was like horsemuck - he was everywhere.

(*Note to self: is it reasonable to go on using this simile? How much horsemuck have you seen recently?*)

But now he's slipped a little from the public view.

He was, of course, in the two most recent series of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. The one where they dismantled the Transporter Bridge and rebuilt it on Native American land over a gorge like the Grand Canyon. And then the one supposedly set in Cuba, where Oz (Jimmy Nail) won the heart of a Cuban ballet dancer but gave her up for the freedom of his buddy, Barry.

Plausible plots as ever.

The interesting thing about these two series compared to the earlier ones is the change in Oz as a character and the greater prominence given to him. My suspicion is that the money Nail made from Spender and his relatively lacklustre singing career went into financing the two Auf... series. And for money, there has to be a payback. Hence more and better Oz.

But for all you really need to know about Jimmy Nail, you should go to
Sharon's Jimmy Nail Fan Site. It's all there. His charity appearances on the Sunday for Sammy charity gigs and even the fact that "A video of Jimmy on stage performing 'Why Aye Man' with Mark Knopfler is included on Mark's 'Ragpicker's Dream' album."

To which I can only add that Why Aye Man is a jolly fun kind of song and the theme tune to an excellent and scurrilous series called Breeze Block (by the writer of Rab C. Nesbitt) about scruffy folk in the Byker Wall .

For some reason it never moved from its tryout on BBC3 to mainstream BBC. Shame.