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.