Saturday 30 December 2006

.....and a Happy New Year!

Made me laugh, but even The Sun wouldn't touch it.

Friday 22 December 2006

Merry Xmas... all our reader.

Wednesday 20 December 2006

Something Else

Something has been digging in the garden. I first noticed it about a week ago. I was putting out some seed for the birds when I saw a pile of earth by the path. Then I spotted another pile a little further along.

Something had burrowed under the path. Something frantically digging, piling up the earth. What could it be, that something? I remembered the rat I'd seen a while ago. Had it returned to live under the path, near my daily piles of birdseed?

For the next few days, I watched out of the window for signs of the rat. Or something else. But nothing seemed to spoil the tranquillity of the garden and the birds showed no sign of being alarmed by that something living under the path.

Perhaps it wasn't a rat. It occurred to me that the two excavated piles of earth were very near what I'd always supposed were the entrances to the home of the woodmice. Perhaps something had burrowed under the path in pursuit of the mice.

I went to look. The earth showed signs of having been dug out in a frenzy. A blood frenzy? Stones had been pulled out from under the path as if some horrid force were desperately trying to reach the cowering mice. The two tunnels created by that something were large enough for .... what? A rat certainly, but what else? Might something nameless and vile even now be tunnelling not only under the path, but under the house?

At every opportunity I looked out of the window in the living room. When doing the dishes, my mind was not so much on cleaning the crockery, but on staring out of the window, searching for whatever might have dug those hellish holes.

At night, I caught myself peering into the darkness, the lights off in the house the better to accommodate my search. As I stared into the blackness, the light from the street lamp shone through the tatters of Winter foliage and as the chill breeze moved them I fancied I saw something move on the path. I stared until my eyes ached from the effort, but the movements seemed only insubstantial shadows.

Days have gone by without signs of any further digging. Yesterday I pushed some of the earth back into the burrows, blocking the exits. I'll check again in a few days to see if they remain blocked. Maybe I will have sealed the fate of whatever dug its way under the path.

But what if that something has indeed tunnelled on towards the house?

This morning I thought I heard scratching under the floor of the cellar.

Tuesday 19 December 2006


I sit in the bay and watch the sun go down. Although the day started with frost glittering on everything around and a ragged fog lay in the Valley, the sun put on a brave face and burnt most of it away. But now the sun is going down.

It has dropped behind the Silver Hills and is burning the sky a startling orange. The hills take on a deep purple cast but darken quickly to indigo. The orange gives way in the upper sky to a gentler cadmium violet, Monet's favourite colour. Where the orange and violet meet, there's a paler band of greenish blue, fading even as I watch.

Further north, the sky over the city has turned already to a deep ultramarine and then darker still, to Payne's grey.

The lights are on in the Valley. Mostly sodium yellow, but scattered with motes of brilliant white. Here and there are patches of cobalt or cerulean blue, winking from the shop signs at the Retail Park.

Nearer at hand, although they've been on all day, the Christmas lights which cover the trees and bushes at the house where the Cat Who Rings the Doorbell lives, now excite the darkness with their manic flash and jiggle.

The soundtrack of this early evening show is, as always at this time, provided by the hum and shush of tires on the damp road. Not to be outdone, a blackbird shrieks his defiance.

All my Nightmares

I am startled awake by something inflating suddenly and rapidly underneath my pillow.

Looking up, I see on the wall above the headboard, a flashing and sparking piece of electrical equipment, crackling and buzzing. It may in some way be connected to whatever has inflated under my pillow.

Ants have invaded the bed. They are swarming under the bedclothes. I can feel them running over me. They may actually be spiders.

Outside the window, presumably on a ladder, a man is looking in, impassively.

Monday 18 December 2006


I'm not a fan of the works of Terry Pratchett. Every Christmas I would buy the latest of his books for No.2 Ex but could not bring myself to read any of them. A few pages was always sufficient to suggest they were full of rather obvious attempts at humour. I know there are those among you who would vehemently disagree, but I'm pleased to know that many of my friends feel as I do.

Nevertheless, in the absence of anything better to do last night, Patsy123 and I sat ourselves down with a bottle of Australian cleanskin and gave Sky One our rapt attention as they screened the first half of Hogfather.

"Rapt" is something of an exaggeration. As the plot failed to unfold and the scenes plodded inexorably by, Patsy123 and I took it in turns to nod off. Taking it in turns meant that we could update each other on events we might have missed, but curiously neither of us actually seemed to want to do this, preferring instead to sit in something of a blank stupor until it was all over.

And then ........ hurrah! It was all over.

And the new episode of LOST came on. In a blinding blur of fascinating plot and sharp direction, the one hour of LOST had been and gone.

Tonight I decided to give Hogfather a chance to acquit itself honourably. A further two hours of my life Ticked. Ponderously. By.

In one of his last lines in the "action" Death says something like:

"In a Universe so full of Wonders, they have managed to invent Boredom."

I couldn't have put it better myself.

Thursday 14 December 2006

Attack of the Sprouts

Here it is the 14th already. Must be time to get the sprouts on the boil for Xmas Day.

For those who think that sprouts "just taste like poo," here, courtesy of Patsy123, is a bit of Xmas Fun.

Wednesday 13 December 2006


After Rain (oil on canvas)

I came across this yesterday:
FOR SALE:Original 'Tyne Bridge' canvas.(38 x 26 inches) Purchased at Ruebens Gallery in Leeds in Summer Collection 2003.Still in wrapping and original condition. OFFERS INVITED.

"Still in wrapping" eh? Is this meant to be a selling point? So good you haven't even unwrapped it. Bummer. That one could have sold three times over.

Closed & Opened

Last week I went to the Christmas Show Private View at The Henshelwood Gallery in Newcastle. This was both exhilarating and sad. Sad, because it was the final private view there. The gallery is closing. When it goes, Newcastle will have lost the best private gallery it has, leaving only Gallagher & Turner to carry the flag for good honest painting.

But it was also an exhilarating show because it included half a dozen exquisite small oils by Andrew Gifford. A real painter's painter, Gifford has made the study of light his life's work and his pictures glow with a radiance which is hard to describe.

He was studying for his BA in Fine Art at Newcastle University when I was taking a part-time OCA course there, and I followed his working methods and his progress with great interest. His work was a major influence on me at the time. My only regret is that I didn't buy one of his River Tyne paintings then. I certainly couldn't afford one now, given that his small oils (about 8 x 8 ins) at the Henshelwood were selling (and they did all sell) for £4600. Amazing, considering in the same show were a couple of oils about the same size by John Houston, and they were for sale at only £1700.

For days afterwards, I found myself looking at Andrew Gifford skies and it's set me to reappraising some of my own work and rethinking where it is I ought to be going. Inevitably, of course, I have to be my own person, but I think I may at times have strayed too far from the Gifford-inspired road I set out on 15 years ago.

Wednesday 6 December 2006

Tomma Abts

I suppose I should come clean on where I stand on Tomma Abts and her winning of the Turner Prize.

I've posted comments about this on one or two blogs and it began to seem to me that I was vacillating. But my opinion varies to reflect the question. Am I glad a painter won the Turner Prize? Of course, given that I'm a painter and painters have not done well previously.

What did I think of her being given the prize? I was interested in her quiet demeanour at the prize-giving, and the fact that she seemed to be mercifully free of self-aggrandisement and meaningless artspeak. I was amused by the Channel 4 interviewer's question, "How do you know when a painting is finished?" and half-expected him to go on to, "Where do you get your ideas from?" On reflection, that last might have been a difficult one as she seems to have no ideas.

What do I think of her work? I quite like it, but only in a very low-key way. I think I saw a couple of her paintings in last year's soul-achingly boring British Art Show at the Baltic and remember thinking, well, at least it's painting, and then drifting on.

The trouble is, I guess, she's coming from a different direction from mine. While I value working in what I regard as a long and honourable tradition growing out of the history of painting, she, I suspect is approaching it from a Postmodern sensibility.

Her working method is to start without any prior idea and to work the paint by layering and abrading until an image begins to clarify. I have no quarrel with the method. David Prentice often starts his paintings in this way. Max Ernst often maintained that he never knew what his pictures would look like before he started. Before him, Gustave Moreau used what would later be called Decalcomania to develop parts of his paintings.

The images Tomma Abts discovers in her paintings appear in most cases to be reflections of work done by the Abstractionists of the early 20th Century. I'm not even sure the images are important, except as a form of Conceptualist irony

Irony: the prophylactic of the 21st century

This seems like a kind of arid archaeology, quite unlike Ernst's exciting psychological self-discovery.

So: do I like Tomma Abts's paintings? Only a little and not very much

Oh, and what do I think of the Turner Prize? I gave up being either irritated by it or particularly interested in it a long time ago.

Hullo clouds hullo sky

The way out is via the door. Why is it that no one will use this
-- Confucius

I used the Confucian method in a very literal sense last night. I stormed up the hill, all 10% hilliness of it, in record time, blowing the greyness out of the pores of my being.

It was a black night, and by the time I came back down the hill it was raining quite heavily. I was wet and not very warm, but I like the night - it has none of that indeterminacy of the grey twilit world. By the time I'd settled down to a bowl of hot three bean and lentil soup, the clouds in my head were dissipating fast.

Today the sun is shining and all's right with the world.

Well, not everything, unfortunately. The Nice Department Store Man rang to say that his client has had a burst pipe and his house is flooded, so there may be a delay in moving forward with the placing of one of my pictures. My troubles seem to evaporate even further in comparison.

I also got an email from Mr Kiwi Collector. He and his partner want to either buy a picture they saw last time they called, or commission one on the lines of the one below.

I may make a living out of this yet.

Grey's Monument (Homage to Claude) (oil on canvas)

Monday 4 December 2006

Grey Days

(Mr Zip, mixed media)

God, how I hate these short days. With luck there's a little sun early in the day, but that gives way to a horrid blankness that leeches all the colour out of everything. By 4 o'clock the light has gone and the oppressive greyness asserts itself, oozing into every pore.

Saturday 2 December 2006


I went to the Art Club AGM last week. I don't usually bother because I'm only an Associate Member with no voting rights, but there was something curious about the wording of the invitation this time.

I arrived in a bad mood because someone had left the lift door open at the top and I had to walk up to the fifth floor, by which time the meeting was in full swing.

There had obviously already been some heated debate. There were scowls aplenty and muttering in every corner.

The Secretary had been deposed, along with his wife, the Membership Secretary, and the Treasurer. All of them Associate Members. It was beginning to look like the Night of the Long Knives for Associates everywhere.

I kept my head down and said nothing.

The President and Acting Chairman, said, "I suppose it would be churlish of me not to ask The Secretary to read his Report."

"Yes it would," said The Secretary, "and whether you like it or not, I'm going to read it."

He began to read his Report.

Within minutes, an Angry Woman stood up and shouted, "This is not a Report, it's a Diatribe!"

"No it's not, it's a Report," said The Secretary, "and I'm going to read all of it."

Which he did, while the Angry Woman stormed off to the back of the room to make a cup of coffee as loudly as she could manage it.

When The Secretary had finished, The President and Acting Chairman said, "I think it would be beneficial for the Membership's understanding of events if I were to read out some of the correspondence which has passed between The Secretary and myself."

"You can't do that!" said The Secretary. "It's private correspondence."

"Then I shall only read out my own letters," said The President and Acting Chairman. "To read out some of yours would offend the sensibilities of some of those present."

And so he read out some of his own letters and the picture became clearer and Members and even, dare I say, some Associate Members were seen to be nodding in understanding.

The meeting came to a close and blows were not traded, but some of the problems arising were passed to a Sub-Committee composed of disinterested parties.

The President and Acting Chairman became, temporarily, The President and Acting Chairman and Acting Secretary and Acting Treasurer. He went home looking tired.

I had a piece of cake and some coffee and went home, pleased to be not on a committee any more.

Thursday 30 November 2006

A Department Store Calls

Blackett Street (Oil on canvas, 36 x 36 ins)

The Nice Department Store Man phoned yesterday to make an appointment and, as arranged, called round this morning.

He's looking for a picture to finish off a room he's designing for a client of the Department Store and had seen one or two of mine in a gallery his wife works for.

We had a good chat about the Valley and my view of it from the window of Stately Zip Mansion and then had a cup of tea.

Over the cuppa he told me about the voile he'd chosen and the colour of the desk top and how he was hoping to get his clients away from the idea of art prints to Go With The Curtains. I agreed this would be a good thing and that real paintings were much to be preferred.

Then we had a little parade of paintings. It became obvious that what he was looking for was something less strongly coloured.

This amuses me periodically. I used to be criticised for making work that was a bit sombre and gradually I moved into the field of colour. Not simply out of a need to make a buck, but because it was something I felt I wanted to do. Now I get people asking if I have anything a bit more sombre. I suppose it takes all sorts.

Luckily, I think I have the very thing - this painting seemed to hit the spot. Now we await the reaction of his client.

Thursday 23 November 2006

" the time I'd climbed four flights of stairs..."

Another commission finished. This time for some friends, to illustrate an article in their fanzine. This is just a detail.

I agonised over this one. It's a long time since I did any illustrating and I found I wavered from illustration to fine art techniques. The end result is in pencil with some monoprinting in black oil paint.

My friends are happy with it, which is the main thing.

Monday 20 November 2006


I've spent a lot of time just looking at a small picture today. It started life as a picture of Scottish moorland, a field stretching away to hills disappearing in mist, but it never completely convinced me.

A few days ago, I happened to be standing near it and in my hands was an inkjet print of a sky photographed from the window of Stately Zip Mansion. The two came together in my mind and within a minute or so, I was blocking in this new sky on top of the hills of the painting.

It's curious now. I'm not sure what it might be a picture of. Patsy123, looking at it this weekend, thought it was a picture of a lake. It's beginning to look like a lake to me too. Oddly, the field has indeed taken on the aspect and colour of a lake. The clouds at the far side now begin to be hills and perhaps trees.

I might let the picture take me there. It needs more work and it's always possible that the accidents of paint will change its direction. We'll see.

(House on a Hill, 12x12 ins, oil on canvas)

I rather like it when a painting starts to take on a life of its own. This one began life as a daytime picture of a castle somewhere in Dorset. It never quite worked and as I played with it, the river came into existence, followed by the trees, then the castle became a house and the moon came out to light it up.

A complete surprise to me.

Sunday 19 November 2006

Pictures at an Exhibition

Fettercairn Distillery (Oil on canvas, 12 x 12 ins)

Evening Sky (oil on canvas, 12 x 12 ins.)

Big Dave and I went to the opening of the Friends' Exhibition yesterday. I have three pictures in it. These are two of them.

Saturday 18 November 2006

Big Dave

Big Dave arrived. He brought with him a bottle of M&S Islay single malt whisky. He was not unwelcome.

I summoned up my most creative kitchen mode and made a pasta dish of wholemeal penne with smoked bacon, onions, garlic, celery, plum tomatoes, a few sliced black olives, chilli, a pinch of thyme, a bit of chicken stock and a couple of teaspoons of anchovy sauce. It was grand, even if I say so myself, and Big Dave, who puts himself forward as something of a Big Man in the Kitchen, was interested in the two teaspoons of anchovy essence which had lent the dish a piquancy he had not been able to identify.

"Oh, just a passing reference to puttanesca," I posed.

Smoky bacon and anchovy essence being the salty elements they are, we resorted to making sure there were two empty spaces in the red wine racks in the kitchen. And then we had to find out if the M&S whisky was any good (it most definitely was), but not before we'd done a mutual sampling of an interesting sloe whisky I picked up last month.

And so to bed, grateful that we'd not wasted our time buying drink in the pub.

Friday 17 November 2006

A Blustery Day

I heard by email today that the painting arrived safely and is "looking good!" Which sets my mind at rest.

Time now to prepare for the arrival of Big Dave. Before going home, Patsy123 helped me clear out the stuff which had accumulated in the small front bedroom - the room Big Dave refers to as The Cupboard.

We removed
  • a 3ft square heavily textured and so very heavy oil painting
  • a vacuum cleaner
  • a large roll of canvas
  • some canvas shears
  • a cheap champagne flute wrapped in newspaper
  • a wine decanter without the stopper (which I think I threw away because I couldn't find the decanter)
  • a square of paper with the number 138 on it - my entry number for the Great North Walk which I didn't do because of the onset of plantar fasciitis two years ago
  • a big blue towel
  • a pair of shorts in need of ironing
  • some curious pieces of exercise, or possibly bondage equipment, belonging to my late father
  • 8 Summer shirts on hangers waiting to be ironed
  • 3 pairs of sandals
  • 1 pair of walking boots
  • 1 pair of tan suede loafers

and then we were able to make the bed ready for Big Dave's arrival.

Patsy123 went off home, her head down as she walked into the blustery Sou'westerly blowing leaves at her from the Dene at the end of the street.

Thursday 16 November 2006

The Driver's Knock

Taking the Glum Man at DHL at his word, I decided I'd go with the mighty Parcelf Force and duly made arrangements - online no less - to have the parcel picked up between 10.00 and 15.00 today, for delivery tomorrow before noon.

Cost me £38, including full insurance cover, which I guess is OK enough.

The online facility even allowed me to print off my own despatch label, to be put in an envelope by the driver and clagged on the front of the parcel.

I worry about these things. I was up early so as not to miss the driver's knock. They always knock, as if to demonstrate some secret loathing of doorbells. I paced the floor, picking up odds and ends, putting them back down. I find that when I'm waiting for someone to call, I can't settle on anything that might distract me from the Driver's Knock.

Lunch time rolled around and still no Driver's Knock. I checked the phone to see if somehow, perhaps because I'd been playing Michael McDonald's Motown too loudly, Parcel Force had phoned to tell me some bad news about my collection arrangements. No message. I turned Mr McDonald up again and could now actually hear him.

The weary hours dragged by. I looked out at the collared doves sitting wistfully among the tattered leaves of the cherry tree and sympathised. But I didn't dare feed the birds because experience has taught me that the moment I go out into the garden, there will come a Knock at the door which I will not hear.

I shuffled papers on the table, but couldn't find it in me to concentrate on filing them away. Patsy123 will tut when she calls round later today.

She phoned me just after 3 o'clock. That's 15.00. The time when my window of opportunity for parcel collection closed. I was doing the dishes, on the principle that by not showing my agitation, the forces that move in mysterious ways would remind the Parcel Force Driver of their commitment to me and cause him suddenly to Knock like thunder at the door, the words of apology tumbling from his lips.

"I would just phone them up and complain," said the ever-practical and phone confident Patsy123.

I looked up the number in the Phone Book and gave them a call. "We have changed our number," said a Recording.

I rang the new number. "Choose one of the following five options......, " said another Recording. I chose No.1, Tracking Your Order.

"Hello, said a voice, "I am a Recording but you can talk to me as if I were a real person and I will understand."

I hung up and dialled again, this time going for No.5, All Other Enquiries.

A real human female person answered and we chatted amicably about my problem. She promised to ring the Driver and find out what had gone wrong. True to her word, she rang back about five minutes later to say the Driver could be with me in 15 minutes or at 5 o'clock, whichever I preferred. I said, "Fifteen minutes would be good."

"OK," she said cheerfully, "I'll get him to do that. He must not have noticed the collection times on the documentation."

Well that's OK, isn't it? I mean, the collection times are only for my convenience, after all. I fumed a little. Steamed a little. Paced a little more, watching the clock tick away the 15 minutes.

And then there he was. The Driver had Knocked! And he was so nice and friendly, giving me a little bundle of envelopes in case I might need to send more parcels in the future, that I completely forgot to be surly and stern.

The painting has gone, and I can relax, conscious only dimly of the other commitments I've made to get more artwork done. In the horribly near future.

Tuesday 14 November 2006

Watching Paint Dry

I finished the commissioned painting tonight; two days in hand. Provided the paint is dry, I may be able to get it in the post tomorrow, although how it'll be travelling remains to be seen.

The man at DHL was decidedly sniffy. "I wouldn't send a painting by us," he said glumly. "Not enough insurance."

The start of the painting process was, as always, rather slow. I squared up an inkjet print and drew it out on the 24 x 20 ins. canvas. I fixed the drawing and covered it with a magenta acrylic wash. After that it was a matter of laying in the basic colours, and then comparing and adjusting colour, tone, perspective as I went along.

When I was at university, I was encouraged to use soft brushes and to thin my paint, usually with Liquin. I've been working more or less like that ever since, and most of this painting was done that way. But I do find this method lends itself to fiddly detail.

When I began painting, I was a much broader painter and I was beginning to think I'd lost that for good. I'd look at my older pictures and wonder how on earth I actually made them.

Part of the way through this painting, however, I dug out an old tube of Oleopasto and mixed that in the paint. Wonder of wonders! That was what I'd been missing all this time. It makes the paint thicker and stickier and has such a drying effect that I find I have to work faster. Working faster means less fiddly. This is a Good Thing and something to be taken on board for the future.

Saturday 11 November 2006

Frans Widerberg

Before going on to a birthday dinner engagement last night, I went with Patsy123 to the opening of the new Frans Widerberg show of prints at the University Gallery. There are over 100 prints, mostly etchings and woodcuts, and it's a splendid show. Widerberg's imagery consists of horses and riders, naked figures, singly or in groups, and birds. They exist in a strange metaphysical world, often coloured in vibrant red, yellow and blue.

I love them, but as with all private views, much of the time was taken up with schmoozing, so I'll be going back for a more considered viewing later in the week.

Later in the week, that is, after I've finished the commission I'm working on. A red brick building in another city, I'm working from client's photographs with the brief to "get away from the brick red colour " (!)

It's proving to be an interesting venture, but blogging may have to take a back seat until it's done.

Friday 10 November 2006

Comment Boxing

Patsy123 tells me that, having accepted the offer of a patch from Microsoft, she can now access my Comments Box. Haloscan suggest, for their part, that problems associated with Symantec's working away in the background, may cause problems in raising the Comments Box.

I don't run Symantec, partly because Norton Security caused me no end of problems as it battled with other software. So maybe the problem some people are having leaving comments isn't down to my set-up at all.

Thursday 9 November 2006

Rhythm Kings

What could be more fun than a load of old farts playing old fart music to an audience full of old farts?

A couple of nights ago, Patsy123 and I went to see Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings. It was exactly as I've just described it and it was magic

Bill Wyman sat contentedly on his stool most of the time, surrounded by ace musicians like Albert Lee and Georgie Fame, who all had a go at lead vocals. Now and again even Bill took his "turn in the barrel," as he put it.. Beverly Skeet was getting over a bout of the 'flu and so couldn't perform I Put a Spell on You, apparently her usual standout number, but still lent excitement to the vocals.

The songs had been chosen to reflect the influence they'd had on all of the band members - songs by Mose Allison, Bob Dylan, Clifton Chenier, Ray Charles and like so.

To cap it all, Soul Man Eddie Floyd put in a guest appearance and was a show-stopper.

And then, when they would normally have done a number in tribute to Lonnie Donegan, who'd inspired them all, they were unexpectedly able to bring on Lonnie's son, Peter, who did an amazing rendition of his father's version of Frankie & Johnny, complete with Jerry Lee Lewis-style piano. His curse and his gift is that he's inherited his dad's nose, through which he sings in the family manner. From the live dates on his website it looks like the boy lives in the north-east.

A great night. A great band.

Monday 6 November 2006

Sacred & Profane

My Bonfire Night was a curious mixture, but not easily forgotten.

My Mum died a few months ago, just after her 90th birthday. The vicar who performed the funeral ceremony, suggested that I might like to attend the All Souls-Tide service she carries out each year at her church, St Chad's.

Patsy123 and I decided it seemed the right thing to do. and so found ourselves sitting at the back of a surprisingly full church, joining in the hymns, when we knew them from years of school assemblies, (Amazing Grace; Morning has broken; The Lord's my shepherd; Guide me O thou great redeemer) and the call-and-response elements of the service.

The climax of the service was the Reading of the Names. The Rector and the Vicar took turns in reading out the names of those whose funerals they'd officiated at in the parish. We were invited, on hearing the name we knew, to go forward and light a candle and place it on a tray before the altar. When Mum's name was read out, I found it really quite moving to light my candle, with Patsy123 close behind me.

I'm not religious. Indeed, I'm mostly anti-religious, but I found the service quite affecting. Not, I have to say, convincing in the religious sense, but the taking part in a ritual, a ceremony, fulfilled a need for something to mark Mum's passing; something in addition to her funeral.

I came away with that sense I always have after church services. That feeling that I envy the congregation their certainty of faith. I sit in churches and wait for my Damascene conversion, but of course it doesn't happen, and I don't honestly expect it to. It's just that, in my rationalist heart, there's a romantic longing for a bit of superstitious inexplicableness.

My romantic leanings were amply satisfied after the service at St Chad's, when we walked back along to Saltwell Park and it's bonfire and firework display. The bonfire was a decent size and Patsy123's frantic search for a flashing blue glow-in-the-dark light-sabre was thankfully cut short by the start of the fireworks.

We Ooohed and we Aaaahed, following the unwritten form of this ceremony, and then wandered happily home to big bowls of spicy lentil soup, reflecting as we went that we must be the only country in the world that has a night of fireworks that doesn't really celebrate anything. Guy Fawkes? Who cares? Gunpowder Plot? Wot Gunpowder Plot? Why, it's just Bonna Neet, man!

Saturday 4 November 2006


The phone rang.

A voice at the other end said, "Are you registered with the Telephone Preference Service?"

"Yes," I said. "I am."

"Well, sir, you may have noticed an increase in the number of house and car alarms going off and being ignored by the people round about. We market a product which alerts a central control office who can deal with this problem Our demonstrators will be in your area tomorrow and will be able to demonstrate to a small number of clients -------"

"Excuse me," I said. "You asked me if I was registered with the Telephone Preference Service, yes?"

"Yes, sir, that's right."

"And I said 'yes, I am.' "

"Yes, you did, sir."

"Well, what that means is that I don't want you to make these BLOODY STUPID UNSOLICITED CALLS!"

Thursday 26 October 2006

A Change Is Gonna Come

Since returning to the Glades of Blogdom, I've been a little dissatisfied with the layout of this blog. The template looks a bit old and clunky. I don't feel ready to rush into "beta" because I haven't the faintest idea what that is, but maybe it's time to change to one of the tidier templates that Blogger has available.

The only reason for reticence is the possibility of everything going belly-up. Will everything posted and arranged heretofore - the stuff on the sidebar, the illustrations - suddenly go arse over tip and leave me with a load of work trying to put it back together again?

Somebody tell me?

Wednesday 25 October 2006

Red & Green

The Blindfold (oil on canvas, 16 x 16 ins)
[ An experimental painting with a tenuous link to the post. It was actually inspired by Siri Hustvedt's novel of the same name.]

In several comments on other blogs recently, I've mentioned the fact that I'm colour-blind. Specifically, my perception is deficient in the red-green range. Lots of people when they learn this wonder how on earth I manage to paint, but really it doesn't cause me much in the way of problems these days

For a long time I was unsure of colour and tended to limit myself to black and white drawings. It wasn't until I decided to buckle down and learn to paint, that I found all I needed was an understanding of colour-mixing. And when it came to red, I simply made a red that looked like what I could see.

There are times when I go against what I can see, however, and then I worry a little about how it might be perceived by others. I remember once deliberately using a Constable trick: I put in a spot of indian red on a traffic light in a painting to draw the eye. It didn't draw my eye particularly, but it seemed to work OK - the picture won me my first painting prize.

Reds vary, of course, and I find I can see red-orange more easily than red-violet. And when they appear in combination with green, I start to have practical problems. I don't often notice berries on trees, or poppies in fields (expect no Monets from me!) until they're pointed out to me, and even then, I'm underwhelmed by their vibrancy.

Green I dislike immensely, unless it's an earthy green like olive green. Don't like to paint with it, don't like to even wear it. I am unlikely to produce any useful pictures in the Summer countryside. Too much bloody green! Give me Autumn and Winter any day. Even better, put me down in a street in the city and I'm in painter's heaven.

Tuesday 24 October 2006

I have no mouth and they must scream....

Both Ian Gordon and Patsy123 tell me that they've had trouble accessing my Comments. Some people are evidently getting through OK, because I've got comments, but I see from the Forum slot on Haloscan that other bloggers are having similar problems.

I'll see what can be done, although as a technological incompetent, I've no idea what. Meanwhile, just keep trying, guys!

Monday 23 October 2006

The Confidence of Drink

Coming back from London by train from our Venice trip was the usual uncomfortable affair.

The crummy old carriages that GNER were using to haul us home (and the rest of the passengers on to every station between Edinburgh and Aberdeen) were ill-equipped to take luggage and everyone had piled their suitcases precariously onto the overhead racks and into the aisles.

As the train pulled into Newcastle, there was the usual pandemonium as people wrestled their cases along the narrow aisle to the door.

A Scotsman appeared coming the other way, a can of lager in his hand..

"You might find it easier going if you let us off first," I said.

"Oh aye, but I'm a little bit drunk you see, so I'll give it a go anyway," he beamed, and squeezed past, through the muttering crowd.

Sunday 22 October 2006


Venetian Wall (Oil on canvas, 40 x 40 cms)
I went to Venice for a week in 1997. This painting was one of the results of that trip and I've wanted to go back ever since. Earlier this year, I sold a picture for a decent price, so Patsy123 and I decided it was time to go back, this time for two weeks.

These are just some thoughts I wrote down shortly after our return

Venice was everything I remembered and more. I think I could happily live there. Even the heavy rain we got in the last couple of days didn't put me off. Indeed, while Buddy K and his wife were with us for a few days, we were hatching a plot to go back for a visit in the Winter (of some unspecified year).

The little bridges over the canals showed up a minor disadvantage of roller-cases. "These damn bridges," said an exasperated American tourist. "Why didn't they just build everything on the same level?" By which I guess she meant they should have raised the ground level by at least twenty feet - this, in a city where the ground level is already supported on piles driven into mud.

We wandered for hours every day, side-tracked by little alleys that might lead to a dead-end or a canal, but could just as easily open out into a delightful little campo, with kids playing in the pools of rainwater.

The Jesuits were not popular in Venice during the Republic, but when they were eventually given more permanent status, they really pushed the boat out in building their first church there - Gesuiti. It's the most vulgar palace of kitsch imaginable. They coated the entire inside with green and white marble, inlaid so as to look like the finest curryhouse flock wallpaper. And the balconies have huge swags of drapery all carved from green and white marble. The weight of all this grandiosity means that the church has suffered from subsidence ever since

Looking at paintings took up a greater part of the trip this time.

The Peggy Guggenheim is always worth a visit - Max Ernst's "Robing of the Bride," Picasso's "On the Beach" and Robert Motherwell's "Personage," to name but three I was glad to see again.

And the great collection in The Accademia. Amongst the many treasures there, of course, is Paolo Veronese's "Feast in the House of Levi" which eventually inspired a Monty Python (or was it Secret Policeman's Ball) sketch

But this time, ah this time I got to see the Tintorettos. After a spell-binding time with Titian's "Assumption of the Virgin" in the Frary, we went round the corner to the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. Blimey. After agreeing to the contract for the first painting there, Tintoretto (who,incidentally, is alleged to have been able to tell the difference between forty different reds) accepted a commission to spend his life filling the place with yet more. There are somewhere around sixty pictures by him .And all of them breathtakingly daring in their use of composition, perspective and light.

I like the description in The Rough Guide of the first picture to greet you as you enter (although it was painted in later life):

The tempestuous 'Annunciation', with the Archangel crashing into the room through Joseph's shambolic workshop, trailing a tornado of cherubim...

... scaring the life out of Mary who was getting on with her sewing. You can see the picture here.

The trip was not without its mishaps. I'd completely forgotten about the Mosquito Menace, and was bitten rather badly before we could get to a pharmacy to buy preventative measures and oils and unguents. Even with those, however, they got to me, and I do tend to respond rather unfavourably. As a result of a bite on my finger, I woke up in the middle of the night with a hugely swollen finger and a signet ring inclined to cut off the blood supply. I managed to keep it from turning blue, but had to find a jeweller the next day who could cut off the ring for me

A couple of days later, I woke up with my face badly swollen on the left side. Took two or three days for the swelling to go down with the aid of yet more stuff from the pharmacy and I was forced to go round with what, in my childhood days, would have earned me the ultimate insult - a fat fyess.

Later in the holiday, I evidently let one of the little buggers get up my right trouser leg when out to dinner. The next day I had 8 bites on the leg which gradually developed into coffee-saucer sized scarlet areas of painful itch

Despite all of this, I never wished I was anywhere else. One day we went to the Lido to look at some rather neglected Art Nouveau houses. Within minutes of getting there, we were pissed off with the automobile traffic and yearning to getting back to Venice itself where you can wander about and never think of getting run over.

Oh, and just about everything else. One night, the four of us went to a concert in Chiesa San Vidal in Campo San Stefano. Given by a group called Interpreti Veneziani who performed Vivaldi's Four Seasons, a Mozart piece and Folies d'Espagne by Marin Marais. It was splendid -- especially the Four Seasons, each of which were led in turn by one of the four violinists; and the Marais, when the cellist took centre stage and played the cello with every inch of his body, flinging his sweat-soaked long hair at the audeince

And then there were the bottles of Prosecco, glasses of spritz with Campari, plates of fegato, bowls of fish soup overflowing with mussels, clams, prawns, squid, and langoustine, excellent grilled sea bream, buns and pies, the fun of travelling everywhere by vaporetto, and above all, helpful pleasant people who never seemed to feel it was more than their job's worth to help where they could

I can't wait to go back

Saturday 21 October 2006

Taken to Task

I began my path to a Structured Life last night. I prepared a list of things I wanted to get done today; it was a "closed" list, a list of Must Do tasks.

Unfortunately, I stayed up so late making the list that I slept in and didn't have enough time to get all the tasks done.

There's more to this thing than meets the eye.

Tuesday 17 October 2006

A Night with Roger

There are times when I can surrender to sentimentality, but it's not often that I'm overcome with emotion. Last night was a whole other order of emotion. Patsy123 and I went to see Roger McGuinn at the Sage Gateshead and both came away on an emotional Higher Plane.

From the opening Mr Tambourine Man (McGuinn walking onstage with electric guitar and wearing a "McGuinn No.1" NUFC shirt) to the 3rd encore My Back Pages, it was an unforgettable trip through his back catalogue via Byrds and Appalachian songs, all with witty and entertaining introductions. I gasped - gasped - when he played Eight Miles High on his 7-string acoustic (the Roger McGuinn RD7) - it brought back memories of hearing it for the first time and now it was even better. A combination, as he said, of "Andres Segovia, Ravi Shankar and John Coltrane."

I always contend that I dislike nostalgia for its own sake and I don't honestly think this was nostalgia. It was honest-to-god consummate musicianship, truly memorable songs and the still pure, still strong voice of one of my favourite performers.

Many of my friends tell me that good music came to an end with the 80s. I've always disagreed and gone on buying new music, but last night's concert helped me see their point of view.

I was moved, I tell you. Moved.

Saturday 14 October 2006

As I Walked Out

Walking and thinking. Thinking and walking. They do work together if you want them to. I'd set out with the intention of seeing where my thoughts led, and it was instructive, if not terribly unexpected.

Because it had come up the previous day, I reflected on the idea of the city and the countryside becoming interpenetrating. What started to surface was the possibility of seeing how this subject might be treated in paintings. At this point, I'd reverted to thinking in images, so I can't readily convey to you what was in my mind. It'll have to be filed away for the future. Before I can tackle that as a subject, I have to finish wrestling with the sensory input of two weeks in Venice last September. There are canals and vaporetti to be brought into existence.

It was only after I'd finished shopping in Borders and Sainsbury's that the other raft of thought drifted into view. The choice of self-help books had been almost instinctive and while I'd be the first to admit to serious tendencies to disorganisation and time mismanagement, I'd not felt previously that these were indicative of anything more deep rooted. But now I began to see that they probably are.

When I left work in 1997 to go to University, I didn't find it difficult to adapt. I simply exchanged one form of disciplined routine for another. There were times when I was lonely (my fellow students didn't share my need for discipline or routine and stayed away in droves, so that most of the time I was alone in the studio) but everything seemed to be continuing more or less as before.. I suspect now, however, that the first cracks in the foundations of my life structure began then. It was as I graduated in 2001 that the real collapse began to manifest itself. In rather quick succession a series of Bad Things happened in a period on which we do not dwell.

So here I was now, a free agent trying to make a living from painting, but with no sense of routine, no commitments to anyone or anything,other than to visit my Mother and ensure that she had everything she needed (except that I couldn't provide the one thing she needed above all else - my Father).

In September my Mother died, shortly after her 90th birthday. It wasn't unexpected and given the quality of her life I viewed it as something of a release. Until now, however, I hadn't viewed her death as the destruction of the last remaining prop in my world edifice.

But here I am now, an even freer agent whose only constants are the need to make artworks, and Patsy123 (the least demanding and more reliable of the two).

It may seem obvious that the death of my Mother should leave me in something of a state, but it's more than that. It's the death of the past; the death of all the old certainties; the death of my original support system.

So I need a new support system and a new set of routines and structures. Recognising that is the beginning. Enter the self-help books.

Friday 13 October 2006

Not so Down in the Valley

"You should get out more." Everybody says it, though mostly in a Postmodern, ironic sort of way. I say it myself, but rarely to myself. Anatole France said, "If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing," which is worth a moment's consideration; but more to the point, he also said, "It is good to collect things, but it is better to go on walks."

I decided to test his theory today and set out for the Valley once again. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and it was a beautiful day.....

Trudging back from the Valley in the dark some four hours later, I felt I was able to consider the project in an even-handed way. Even-handed, because in my left I carried a bag of books from Borders; in my right, a bag of groceries from Sainsbury's. In my mind I carried thoughts from the walk, and as anyone will tell you, they were the most valuable of all. If they don't tell you that, you should thrash them soundly until they admit it is so.

What were the books? Books to change my life. Books to put me on the path to order, success and happiness. Nut books, in the words of my friend Doctor Pam (who swears by them) But not your run-of-the-mill everyday nut books like,Men are From Mars but Women Moved my Cheese. I sat at the table used by the man who'd committed to memory the Illustrated Karma Sutra on the previous day - though I was careful to sit in a different chair - and looked through a bundle of potentially life-changing books.

I came away with Why Am I So Disorganised? - Sort Out Your Stuff by Dr Marilyn Paul; Getting Things Done by David Allen; The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp; and another which I shan't tell you about (and no, it isn't the Illustrated Karma Sutra) I also bought a magazine glorying in the improbable title of Turps Banana.

The David Allen book is something I just had to read. I did some research on the Interweb yesterday, finding out what I could about the books I thought I might want to buy. In the course of my research, I came across David Allen. David Allen is a phenomenon. I've never heard of him before, but try Googling his best known book Getting Things Done - or better yet, the way it's become known, GTD - and you'll find around 20,300,000 hits. It's like a religion, with the GTD acolytes vying with one another to find the best software to accommodate his "43 folder" system (which he himself advocates putting into, well, folders). Who knew so many people were in need of advice on Stress-free Productivity?

Tomorrow: what I bought at Sainsbury's. No, really...... tomorrow: what I thought about on my walk. Well you'll just have to wait, won't you?

Thursday 12 October 2006

Down in the Valley

I wonder if it's possible to write and paint? For me, I mean. I'm fully aware that there are painters who write. And there are writers who paint. There are even painters who write on their paintings. But it seems that the only time I'm visited by the writing muse is when I'm stuck with my painting.

Or when I'm in something of a depression.

Which tends to be the same thing.

I went for a walk on the Valley yesterday. As a kid, I used to love the Valley. I'd cycle there with my buddies and we'd play all day in the woods, drinking Tizer and making useless clay lamps out of the mud we'd dig up from the river bank. I don't think you can get at the river now; it's been culverted in. And there's not much left of the woods either. Cut down to make room for more offices and factory units. But that's OK really; it's what the Valley is for, and if it makes for more jobs, then who am I to complain?

I still like walking on the Valley, though. Despite there being fewer areas of woodland, there are still open fields and every Avenue is filled with trees and bushes. These are usually kept trimmed a bit, but still spill out onto the pavements. And curiously, it's pretty quiet.

A dual carriageway runs down the middle and this is always full of cars, lorries and buses rushing about their business, but the other Avenues are generally rather quiet. I suppose because everyone's at work. Except me, the lone pedestrian.

So it's a little like walking in countryside which has been invaded by the city. Or in a city which has been invaded by the countryside. I guess it's one of those curious non-places that modern civilisation tends to produce, such as airports and shopping malls, but this one is much nicer than those.

The Valley teems with wildlife. Every bush twitters with sparrows and there are innumerable blackbirds flitting silently from tree to tree, or shrieking at everyone and everything. Earlier this year (or maybe it was late last year - pleasant memories seem to flow together now into a sun-filled whole) Patsy123 and I walked on the Valley and saw a family of rabbits sitting about in the late rays of a setting sun. As we approached, they scampered off to the safety of a huge clump of overgrown shrubs by the side of their field.

But why was I on the Valley yesterday? It was a fairly miserable day, grey and misty with occasional showers, and I was somewhat grey and miserable myself. I'd decided to go there to see what Borders might have in stock (did I mention that, in addition to offices and factory units, there's also a Retail Park?) My curiosity had been piqued by mention in a recent blog of a book by Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now. I thought it might prove interesting and/or useful.

In the event, I found I wasn't in the mood for the Tolle book, but I spent some time leafing through some other self-help books. Nowhere near as much time as the guy who slid a big illustrated copy of The Karma Sutra off the shelf and sat himself down at a table in the corner with it. He was still there when I left, slowly turning the pages. I'd like to think his wife or girlfriend might be in for a good time later that night, but somehow I doubt it.

Mostly I was fascinated by books about organisational strategies and time management which seemed to suggest a way out of my present malaise, but in the end I didn't buy anything. Maybe I'll go look again. Or maybe I'll just shake myself up and get on with things.


I saw the Giant Rat of Sumatra on Sunday. Well OK, it almost certainly wasn't the Giant Rat of Sumatra, given that although we don't know the outcome of that infamous case, we can usually assume that Mr Holmes effectively sees off his foes and anyway, it would be rather elderly by now.

But it was a big rat.

I spotted it as I was helping myself to some muesli in the kitchen. It was at the bottom of the garden helping itself to the seed I'd just put down for the ever-hungry wood pigeons and collared doves.

At first I wasn't sure it was a rat, because I couldn't see a tail, but using the binoculars in the living room, I could see it well. As I watched, I could see it raise up on its hind legs and sniff the air. I could feel Patsy123 shiver next to me.

It wasn't totally unattractive. Unlike the rats in movies, which are always wet and dirty, this was a very clean specimen, with white fur showing clearly on its underbelly. But it was a big clean specimen and I manfully went out into the garden and sent it one its way. It ran off through Lucy Smooth's garden, so far as I could tell.

With luck it might prove to have been just a passing rat, a traveller by trade. But it does mean I've had to stop putting down seed for a while. The feeders are kept well stocked, but the wood pigeon doesn't like the new regime of having to pick up bits and pieces the sparrows have dropped or thrown away.

Tuesday 9 May 2006

Casting a Wider Net

I posted three small paintings off to a gallery in Birmingham today. We've been in correspondence for a little while. They wanted some pictures which are now sold, but I sent them some jpegs of similar work and they chose three.

Really, it's cost me a small fortune to post them and the potential return is not that great. But I have to keep operating on the principle that exposure in other parts of the country can only be good and might in the long term lead to something greater.

Meanwhile, my new picture of a storm over the island of Naxos is giving me some pain. I think I can see where it needs to go - the manipulation of the original photograph was too extreme and I need to pull back a little to get at the essence of the subject. I should have tackled the problem earlier today, but got involved in the packaging of the three Birmingham pictures and once out in the sun (it was gloriously hot today) didn't feel like hiding away in the studio. Maybe I'll pick it up again tonight.

Tuesday 2 May 2006

The Lakes

Grasmere Tree (sketchbook, fibre tip)

I just got back from a week in the Lakes. Every year at about this time, I go painting with Compo & Clegg and the rest, but the last three trips to the South-West of Scotland have been Ordeals of Bad Weather. This time we thought we'd give the Lakes a go. I know, the Lake District and rain are not generally regarded as mutually exclusive, but we thought we'd chance it anyway.

As it turned out, we hit lucky. Apart from an overnight bout of rain, and a shower or two the following morning, we had terrific weather. But there were, unfortunately, some desperately cold winds blowing off the lakes themselves, which somewhat restricted the kind of work we might have got done otherwise. I limited myself to drawing a few rotted and blasted trees. One of them (see above) I was rather pleased with, even if it harks back more to my illustration days.
I suspect that next year we'll not return to the Lakes. Walking the hills is always an attraction there, and a distraction from the primary purpose of the trip.

Friday 14 April 2006

Happy Two Years

A Happy Second Anniversary to All Our Reader.

Friday 7 April 2006

Movie Time

I liked The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada a lot. A fine film in fact. There were echoes of Peckinpah's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and nice little touches like the old blind man (played by Levon Helm) listening to Mexican radio, even though he can't understand it, and later a group of Mexicans watching a US soap on tv, even though they can't understand it.

There's a truly bizarre scene in a cantina, with a little girl playing an out of tune piano, while a tv blasts out a dubbed version of what looked like an old Flash Gordon serial.

The tv soap opera pops up in various other places in the movie. Turns out it's not a real tv show; Jones created it for the movie. Just one of many fine and subtle touches.

I'd like to think this signalled the beginning of a great directorial career for Jones.

Thursday 6 April 2006

It's been a long, long time...

I dunno. Why am I doing this again, after so long? In a sense, it's sublimation. I have to get work done for three shows in the not too distant future, I'm not sure quite what it is I want to paint, or indeed what size canvas I want to paint on. This is not a good frame of mind to get anything done. So I've picked my way over the floor covered in bits of stretcher pieces to the computer, my Electronic Buddy who never criticises and always says hello (except last week when his power unit went phut).

And that's it, really. Putting my head over the parapet to see if anyone shoots at me, but more to simply do something. In a moment, I'm off to meet Patsy123. We're going to see Tommy Lee Jones's film, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.

Talk to you later.