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Archive for the ‘Sculpture’ Category

And so, early in March, to Linford Wood, in Milton Keynes, while the trees are still bare:

Sad to say the wood sculptures are not what they once were – the grand old bearded philosopher and the big gorilla are long-lost to the elements – but it’s still a worthwhile wander, eyes primed for the crafted creatures; the bluebells will be out again soon and there’s a decent chance of seeing a jay.  Here’s one of the survivors:

2011

2017

Meanwhile, back indoors …

Engrossing evening of a dialogue outside ‘the bubble’ with Milton Keynes Humanists guest speaker Salah Al-Ansari, Senior Researcher with the Quilliam Foundation, an academic theologian and a practising imam.  Salah is one of the leading lights of the liberal wing of his faith – what is becoming known as Reform Islam – which recognises the Koran as a sacred text but significantly also regards it very much as an historical document – pretty much as the Christian Bible is seen by most these days.

A wide-ranging, open-ended conversation ensued, which was both enlightening and entertaining.  Salah kicked off the discussion with the view that we should be talking about Islams in the plural.  Interesting to learn that when he was studying to become an imam in an Egyptian university, his professor was a woman.  It was agreed that secularism does not imply atheism.  Positive change, albeit slow and not so often visible, is happening among the Islamic communities.  An ex-Muslim atheist in the audience added spice.  There is more about Salah at www.quilliaminternational.com/about/staff/salah-al-ansari/ and from there, if you are not familiar with them, it is well worth exploring the work of the anti-extremist (from all sides) Quilliam Foundation further.

Because it was there

I have piles of books I intend to read but I often take an impulse book out from the local library for no other reason than because it’s there.  The library I mean.  Use it or lose it!  Hence the next book, that happened to catch my eye.

I’ve always looked upon the American artist Edward Hopper as the painter’s equivalent of a one hit wonder – you know, the haunting Nighthawks, all the lonely people in that late night cafe.  Ivo Kranzfelder‘s Edward Hopper 1882-1967: Vision of reality (Taschen, 1995/2006) has disabused me of this but, to continue the metaphor, I still wouldn’t want more than a single disc ‘Best of’, and vinyl at that.  A bit samey, and I’m not convinced by the (please don’t take this the wrong way) proportions and posture of some of his women (like the one on the book’s cover, actually).

It’s a handsomely produced volume, with some stunning black and white photos by Hans Namuth of the man himself, not least those taken in places he painted.  Frankly, sometimes I struggle with writing about painters and what they were trying to do, and a chapter head like The secularization of experience doesn’t help.  Apparently he didn’t say much about it himself, but what did strike me was that 1942’s Nighthawks, and a number of his other more well-known paintings, were being done at precisely the same time as Abstract Expressionism (not that I’ve got much against …) was evolving and taking hold of American art in New York.  So good for him for sticking to his guns to the end.

Anyway, not to in any way get things out of proportion, I have to claim it was a bit of a trauma – after all the landscapes, townscapes, buildings, room interiors, urban scenes and absorbed individuals, all the mustards and terracotta, muted browns, dull turquoise, beiges, greys and olive greens – to turn over from page 105 and suddenly be all at sea; as it happens one of these was the first painting he ever sold.  Normal service was quickly restored.

What it says on the poster

Staying in the library, I learned a bit and was mightily entertained by this FoSSL (Friends of Stony Stratford Library) presentation. The turbo-driven opening chords of musical director Paul Martin on the mandola suggested we were in for a treat and so it proved.  Shakespeare – a musical celebration, curated by Vicki Shakeshaft, was a fascinating and nicely paced mix of music, songs (take a bow soloist Simon Woodhead), readings and contextual history with a colourful morris dance duo thrown in for good measure.  And all, if my powers of recall are functioning properly, without resort to “If music be the food of love …”  Came as a surprise to me that “Who is Sylvia / What is she” was the Bard’s (from Two gentlemen of Verona – if asked I’d have said music hall), and my English teacher never told me that Hamlet’s advice to the players was a rant and that “Let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them” was a gripe at Shakespeare’s company’s erstwhile clown, Will Kemp, who once morris danced from London to Norwich.

Further musical adventures

No poster for the early March Vaultage, but it was a good ‘un.  Folkish duo Phil Riley & Neil Mercer – guitar and mandolin – did a great set of their own material with a singalong of Neil Young’s Rockin’ in the free world somewhere in the middle, finishing with a thrilling Russian folk dance-based tune.  Oi!  The March Aortas – nice and varied – deserves a mention too.

First Scribal I’ve managed this year  – Out! Damn virus! – was another good one too.  Stephen Ferneyhough kicked off with a musical history of the Brackley Morris with one of those squeeze box things – I can never remember which is which.  A storming set from featured singer Bella Collins – great voice and material (folk, blues and beyond), skilled emphatic guitar, foot stomping on the floor.  Own songs and a couple of covers – Jimmy Reed’s Shame, shame, shame morphing into Prince’s Kiss and back again!  Stephen Hobbs is wearing his bardship well, as if there was any chance he wouldn’t.  Mark ‘Slowhand’ Owen’s dazzling fretwork on one of his songs had a couple of us fearing for our own fingers just thinking about it.

And finally … best book review ever (click on the picture if you can’t read what’s between the cat’s legs):

 

 

 

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Of lidos and Lowestoft

A wet walk one afternoon in Waterfields Rec, by the banks of the River Colne, in Watford.  More a park with a pitch, nicely developed of late with a big nod (and a wink) to the area’s heritage.  Can’t really get too excited about the recently restored Grade II listed Coal Duty Obelisk of 1861, but this rain-affected photo really doesn’t do justice to an impressive statue of an Edwardian bathing colossus.  Under his knots-in-four corners handkerchief helmet there is a head of hair more than hinting of older creatures, of mythical beings.

watford-swimmerwatford-swimmer-explanationYou’ll have to take my word for this, because the photos I took that reveal more of that detail suffer from even more of the rain drops that despite the umbrella kept falling on my camera lens.  The statue stands on a slim plinth in the middle of a splendid bit of planting only hinted at in the explanatory text.  Good one, Watford Council.

I give you this inadequate photo because I cannot resist placing it near those of two statues of Triton, the Greek god of the sea, that you can find on the esplanade at Lowestoft:

triton-1-lowestofttriton-2-lowestoftTriton, a merman he should be – messenger of the sea: blowing that conch shell he could calm or raise the waves.  Son and herald of Poseidon, the sea’s main man.  Or rather, god.  Why two statues?  Who knows.  As it happens at least one of them is Grade II listed too.

Why spend an afternoon in Lowestoft?  Because it’s there.  And the availability of a cheap coach trip to the eastern-most settlement in the UK (which must count for something) (mustn’t it?) from our deeply land-locked abode.  The sea, the sea.  Cue obligatory East Anglian seaside photo of beach huts:
lowestoft-trad-beach-hut-photo

Blue skies, fish and chips as commended by some blokey TV chefs at Nemo’s, a beach to stroll, ice lowestoft-north-piercreams to be had. This photo on the left is a detail of the structure colourfully holding up the North Pier.  The dog-free beach was immaculate, the pebbles where there were pebbles eminently pick-overable.  What with all these cleaned-up beaches I do miss a whiff of rotting sea weed mixed in with the ozone, but such is progress I suppose.

All seemed well, but one road back, parallel to the seafront, signs of poverty and desperation – empty premises, non-chain charity shops, a Salvation Army Hostel, another uninspiring drop-in day centre.  House prices interesting, except you’d have to live there in winter too.  A thriving leisure boat harbour, but the fishing industry has pretty much gone.

You can go on the Mincarlo, the last side-winder trawler built in Lowestoft in the early ’60s and now maintained by a charitable trust; I opted to go linger aimlessly awhile at the end of the South Pier but my traveling companions went on board, could not believe the noise of the engine, tried to imagine what time spent at sea must have been like with that constant – not much to romanticise … save the bravery and community, of course.

Decorated pebbles, a lovely touch at the War Memorial by the South Pier (click on the photo, then click on it again on the new page to enlarge it for more detail):
war-memorial-freshened-lowestoft

A pleasing geometry of rocks, sand, wood and sea

A pleasing geometry of rocks, sand, wood and sea

A late late summer English sea-side. Glad we came.

A late summer English sea-side town. Glad we became briefly acquainted.

 

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Briefly, catching up, top of the pile has to be:

  • The artist saying a few words amid her creation,

    The artist saying a few words amid her creation,

    Anna Berry‘s wonderful 2-hour pop-up guerilla art installation Fake plastic trees: a memorial to the Midsummer oak.  It felt good to be a part of this critical celebration of place, and of friendship.  The grand old oak was

    A l;ittle bit of magic in the wet early evening

    A little bit of magic in the wet early evening

    engulfed by the Shopping Centre extension – the bit that MK dwellers still call ‘the new bit’ despite its having had two official names so far – the extension, as I was saying, to the original Grade II listed building (oh yes), and though the tree was retained as a feature, over the years it died a slow – painful to watch – death.  Anna created “a magical forest of memories” in an underpass, but let her tell you all about it (and see some better photos than mine) at: http://www.annaberry.co.uk/3-2/installation-pieces/fake-plastic-trees/

  • Stan and NanSarah Lippett‘s graphic novel Stan and Nan (Cape, 2016) is a lovely piece of work – poignant, illuminating and profound.  I struggle to find the words to describe the artwork – far from crude, certainly not childlike, maybe outsider (yet it started as an art school project) – and will have to settle for economic and stylised.  While she can be quite busy when it helps, Stan and Nan is a prime example of
    Taken from the Guardian's review.

    Taken from the Guardian’s review.

    the less-is-more principle of storytelling.  The spare use of muted colours is at times dazzling; in no other form can you quite get spectacle, the delight and surprise, of simply turning the page and getting a glimpse into something bigger.  Stan and Nan tells with a deceptively light touch the story of Sarah‘s Nan and her man Stan.  The first half gives us their courtship and life together until his sudden death, with a glimpse of his artistic talents; the second starts with her funeral and unfolds with the tales told and the story of her days without Stan, including her close contact with Sarah.  Here are unsung superheroes, living out the days of quietly momentous lives.  It was an interview in the Guardian about how it evolved that led me to the book; go there to get more examples of how it works its magic: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jul/09/who-was-the-creepy-man-in-the-family-photo.

  • Rankin - Naming of the deadInteresting Book Group for July: Ian Rankin‘s The naming of the dead (2006).  A re-reading for me.  That’s the Rebus one taking place during the fateful early days of July 20015, with the GB meeting at Gleneagles, the Make Poverty History mobilisation and concert in Edinburgh, and the 7/7 bombings in London; it stands up well as a social document.  John Rebus’s take on the grander stuff? – “All he could do was lock up a few bad people now and then. Results which didn’t seem to change the bigger picture.”  Several of the Book Group don’t normally read genre fiction; one, disappointed that, as cream of the crop, Rankin wasn’t a better writer, had to be re-assured how bad some of his successful contemporaries are at putting a sentence together.  Another made a really good point when she said, disregarding the somewhat convoluted if intriguing plot (maybe serial killer mixed with maybe military-industrial complex skullduggery and more), that it was basically a novel about relationships.  Yes, there are indeed plenty of those, familial and professional, with, classically, Rebus and younger colleague Siobhan at its heart (and in this example also a prime example of Rankin’s most annoying stylistic habit, of unnecessary adverbial qualification or thesaurus haunting in the matter of speech):

‘ … your mum says she’s not bothered who whacked her. Nobody seems worried about Ben Webster’s death. And yet here we both are.’  He lifted his face towards her and gave a tired smile.
‘It’s what we do,’ she replied quietly.
‘My point exactly. No matter what anyone thinks or says. I just worry that you’ve learned all the wrong lessons from me.’
‘Credit me with a bit of sense,’ she chided him, putting the car into gear.

  • Couldn't manage a decent photo of the Burne-Jones window but the unstained glass offered up instant Monet

    Couldn’t manage a decent photo of the Burne-Jones window but the unstained glass offered up instant Monet

    A day trip to Cromer, the weather just right – hot enough, sweet breeze.  Nice lunch at Browne’s round the back of the Parish Church (thank you TripAdvisor) – excellent veggie sausage and mash, while Andy and pal sampled the celebrated local dressed crab.  Into the church of

    PaintShop Pro One Step Phot Fix gives us the blue sky of another era's postcards

    PaintShop Pro One Step Photo Fix gives us the blue sky of another era’s postcards

    St Peter and St Paul with an extremely tall tower and a vibrant Burne-Jones window, then sea-sidey stuff: the promenade, the Pier, the ice cream, the beach.  As Swinburne wrote, now embossed in metal and embedded on the esplanade, “an esplanady sort of place” – what a lovely word!

  • IF programmeSummer cold and/or chronic hay fever and the excessive heat meant I didn’t see as much of IF – the biennial Milton Keynes International festival – as I might have, though to tell the truth I couldn’t get that excited about the 2016 edition.  Went to the opening biggie – the largest bubble on the programme cover – the truly international Voalá: Station.  Without being really spectacular it was worth the crick in the neck.  I’ll let the programme do the talking: “Four suited and booted businessmen are swept up into a world of magic, distracted from their daily commute by a mysterious woman who unleashes four sirens who transform the men’s evening into an unforgettable and magical ‘flying’ performance.  Weaving together aerial acrobatics, music and colour, and played out above the audience” … in the Mini-Bowl at Willen Lake.  The mysterious woman had a powerful singing voice but I wish there’d been more of the accordion than the booming modern stuff.  The fireworks were interesting, not your usual, with some lovely blues if I recall correctly, but you had to be in right part of the Bowl to fully appreciate them and the action at the same time.  From others’ enthused reports, I wish I’d drag my blocked nose and sorry body out to see the Station House Opera: Dominoes event, the collapsing dominoes even going up and down the stairs in the Theatre on their route around the city.
  • Arabian tent IF

    The Arabian Bar Tent: roof detail

    Also part of IF, took in a couple of performances on the Stables Sessions Acoustic Sessions Stage in the Arabian Tent: the ancient rural seasonal reflections of the immaculate Straw Horses, and the fragrant Naomi Rose doing her greatest hits (plus an intriguing new song) – such originality.  [http://soundcloud.com/naomi-rose-2]

  • Scribal July 2016July Scribal Gathering was suffering a bit from the post-Brexit blues, the audience energy-sapped.  Shame it was this one had to be set up as a comedy themed night.  Slight of frame Muslim stand-up Zahra Barri had a wealth of decent material from her Egyptian/Irish upbringing, but it never really caught fire; shame.  Philfy Phil, singer of inventively witty dirty ditties, tried to get away with not doing his rewrite of The boxer (“Dali died” etc.).
  • Vaultage early July 16Vaultage mid-July 16What else?  A couple of Vaultages, and an afternoon’s music in Wolverton’s  Secret Garden the Sunday before last, with the ubiquitous Mark Owen, the angular funk and Jo Dervish’s distinctive vocals from Screaming House Madrigals (with a TOT WMGtouch of reggae) and  quirky compositions of some wit from The Outside This (as featured in this photo from my crappy phone).  Nice relaxed community event, and it hardly rained at all.

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Sojourning in Bristol a week or so ago we wandered by the river with no great plan and crossed the modern pedestrian bridge spanning the floating harbour.  Pero’s Bridge is named, in reparation, for Pero Jones – an African slave brought back from the West Indies by a local merchant – who lived and died in Bristol in the late eighteenth century.

Love locks on Pero's Bridge

Love locks on Pero’s Bridge

The length of the bridge was decorated with padlocks, attached and inscribed as tokens of love (or memory) in an urban metal update of the old custom of tree dressing.  I was much taken with this, hadn’t encountered its like before; a woman called Jenny even had 5 locks in a column spelling out her name.  Seems it is not unique to Bristol, and that a bridge in Paris actually collapsed under the weight of all the love.  I’m curious as to the etiquette – do you throw the key into the River Frome as a gesture of eternal love (or til rust do us part)?  Do you surreptitiously keep the spare just in case?

Let us now praise the inventors of durable exterior housepaint

Let us now praise the inventors of durable exterior housepaint

Thought we’d at least have a look at Brunel’s Great Britain and couldn’t resist going in.  Big fan of old Isambard for the GWR, but I had no idea of what a big deal this was.  Built in Bristol, it was the first propeller-driven iron-hulled ocean liner, launched 1843, the first Atlantic crossing you could set a reasonably accurate timetable for.  Used as a troop ship in the Crimean War, then for the emigrant passage for Australia and in its old age used to carry bulk cargo.  Holed up in the Falkland Islands in 1886, beyond economic repair, it still had a contribution to make, some of its structure being cannibalised to patch up HMS Exeter, damaged in the action that saw off the German battleship Admiral Graf Spee in the Second World War.  It was somehow returned to Bristol in 1970.

Great Britain ticketIt’s a class act, this dockyard museum and ship restoration (http://www.ssgreatbritain.org/).  Your entrance ticket is a reproduction of  the Passengers’ Contract Ticket to Australia (click on the picture, then click again), and the trip through the dockyard, the museum, the dry dock (over your head a rippling water-filled glass ceiling) where you can walk round the tired old iron hull, and of course on board the ship itself, is full of nice touches.  The interior has been restored; as you wander the sumptuous first class dining saloon you get snatches in a babble of mealtime conversations wafting in and out; in the kitchens a back projection of a rat moving across the back of the shelves, the cook cursing the lazy cat, a ship’s doctor tending a bloody wound, and various other scenarios.  Horse smells from the hold, even, it threatened in the guide, though we didn’t encounter it, a whiff of seasickness.

Here some views of the hull’s massive texture:

20160523_5220160523_4620160523_45Sorry, but like my 8 month old grandson, I’m fascinated by texture, though with me it’s more visual than the relentless touching.  It’s an extraordinary feeling to walk round this awesome structure and think of the decades of oceans’ wear and tear; I know it’s simple eureka! physics but the idea of all that iron floating still seems magical.

Barber and poetPretty sure this is not an original piece of what library cataloguers have cause to call realia, but I’d hope he has to be fact-based.  You couldn’t make it up.  I’d love to find some of his stuff.  I like the idea of a barber-poet shaving a beard and staunching the bleeding to the accompaniment of the sound of soothing stanzas recited.  Beats “Where you going on your holidays? – Oh, hang on.”  (Sadly the nearest I’ve found to any such poetry was tucked away on the .org website, where you’ll find a poem by Joseph Earl James, written and poignantly submitted from Islington Workhouse, celebrating Great Britain’s predecessor, the steam paddle liner, Great Eastern, including the lines: “Brunel thy mind so great with power at will / Subdues the toughened Iron to thy learned skill.”)

First class on deckMusicians stuck in the cornerWhile the dining saloon was a bit special, the actual First Class accommodation was nothing special, especially by today’s standards (or at least what I’ve seen on telly).  The bunks were slim and with a raised edge (anti-rolling out of bed presumably) and not that much of an upgrade from those in steerage, except those had zero privacy and were housed like shelves in a corridor with the odd little space for belongings.  Apparently those in steerage mainly banqueted on ship’s biscuit.  And had no music other than what they made for themselves.  Leaving you see the grandly decorated stern – for the first modern liner, definitely olde school.

SSGB Horn of Plenty

The Horn of plenty

Continuing adventures

Woolly BristolBristol in wool

Back on shore again we retraced our steps, this time to enter the splendid Mshed, Bristol’s history museum, there to climb the stairs and get a great Tate Modern-like view across the city and see a fabulous knitted representation of it.  Note those multi-coloured houses as featured above in my second photo here.  How about that as an idea for the MK50 celebrations?

I’d hoped (the sadness of the sojourning ex-librarian) to get a good look inside Bristol Central Library – a classic old municipal showpiece library building of renown, Grade I listed even – but unbelievably in a city of well over 400,000 souls, being a Wednesday it was … CLOSED (capitalised in disgust at austerity politics).

20160523_115Wandered around the new bit, where we said hello to a statue of Cary Grant (Bristol’s most famous? – still called Archibald Leach as all pub quizzers know, when he left in 1920, aged 16) and encountered again the group of young French students we’d just thankfully missed on the SS GB.  Nothing against the French; just seems in my experience they can be the noisiest school groups going, which is some feat.  That’s them reflected in the enormous static disco mirror ball behind the energy tree in the photo.  Should have found out what goes in inside really.

Another thing I should have done – and this not for the first time – was consulted Simon Jenkins’ trusty England’s thousand best churches before we went rather than after the event.  Godless, I still like a good church.  And so it was we missed 4- and 5-starr-ers in favour of the Cathedral.  Which is a Weird windowperfectly good cathedral – Gothic Revival and all that – but without any special wow factors.  Indeed, deja vu of Worcester in finding the caff and the bogs – even men and women’s – in the same niches,  on the same corridor with stained glass decorated windows from which you can see the cloisters.  One of said windows boasted these weird creatures.  Undersea? Cute aliens?

By which time we were knackered and went home.  Or at least where we were staying.

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20150815-KFK-unplugged-posterClissoldNo, it’s all good …

Standout performance for me at Kinks Night at The Clissold Arms “unplugged” session was a storming Twentieth century man.  When Geoff nailed the bit where the organ sweeps in two young men next to me – mid-20s? I’m not good at this – punched the air and cheered.  (Take a bow, Geoff Lewis).  I’d been talking to them earlier – favourite album Muswell Hillbillies (so men of taste) – and they got no kicks from modern groups at all.  With audience participation expected, these young lads knew all the words, on some songs better than the performers.

It’s a fascinating phenomenon, the way the musical generation boundary lines have faded.  At the annual Official Kinks Fan Club Konvention in November – a shindig graced on stage by a full cast of the Kast Off Kinks, with sometimes brief appearances from Ray Davies (though never Dave) – attendees’ ages range from teens to late seventies at least.

The Clissold Arms in Muswell Hill is where the Davies brothers had their first public performance, in late 1960, over the road from where they lived.  It now houses a room dedicated to The Kinks and their works.  The Kinksfan Kollektiv‘s Clissold sessions had their origins in an evening before the Konvention singalong and grew in scope from that to almost a military operation.  This summer special, outside the usual season, came about because of the vacation arrangements of Jim Smart, over from Hawaii, one of the original movers and performers of the fan sessions.  Was a good evening, heartening to talk to someone you’ve only previously known over the internet (hi Jim).  But … London prices: £4.40 a pint!

Cloud atlasCloud Atlas

Book Group book for August was David Mitchell‘s Cloud Atlas (2004).  I’d read it when it first came out and been impressed enough to give it a re-read.  I wasn’t the only one in the group, this time around, to subvert the subversion of the novel’s original unorthodox format.  It consists of six novellas, all relating to one another by various gestures, arranged like an onion with its layers, as if you were boring through to the earth’s core and then out again on the other side.

The initial nineteenth century diary of an eventful Pacific voyage cuts off suddenly and we’re into an epistolary account of an entertaining scoundrel of an English composer on the run in Belgium in the 1930s, wherein a purloined first (and only) edition copy of that diary figures in one of his personal fundraising schemes.  We move from there to a stylish fictional thriller novel set in post-Three Mile Island America, which breaks off at a genuine cliffhanger, into a very funny comic novel concerning an English publisher, whose experience publishing true crime has him on the run too, set in the present.  Then we move into the future, for a future archive interview concerning the development of artificial intelligence in cyborgs until we hit the core of the book, another kind of science fiction, a (not too difficult) dialect record of life when hi-tech civilisation has collapsed, into which an anthropologist from a surviving remnant of civilisation is allowed to stay for study purposes.  And then we are out the other side, in reverse order, with more links between them floated as the narratives develop, and the eighteenth century diary entries constitute the final part of Cloud Atlas.

But, as I say, this time I ignored the splits in the individual narratives and read each one straight through.  And the links between them became more obvious.  All are fascinating in their own right; he takes you into the working mind of a composer of music, for instance.  And it’s a lot funnier than I remembered and – definite shades of Thomas Pynchon – still just as seriously prescient a decade later.  Beautifully written too, an impressive fluidity of style.  It’s a meditation on human nature, really.  What drives us, makes us great, is what is also likely to be our undoing: “human hunger birthed the Civ’lize, but human hunger killed it too“.  Simple yes, but ultimately there is hope.  Near the end, our voyager comes out of his shattering experience, vowing, “A life spent shaping a world I want Jackson to inherit, not one I fear Jackson will inherit, this strikes me as a life worth the living.”  So over to us.  I thought the notion of a ‘cloud atlas’ was very Yoko Ono, and it turns out Mitchell got it from an actual piece of music composed by her first husband.

Vaultage late Aug 2015Music closer to home

No August open mic hiatus for Vaultage nights in the Vaults, which Pat and Lois have established as a more than dependable full music night out these past few months.  Featured act at the last Vaultage were VHS Pirates,  who describe themselves on FaceBook as, “a new uplifting exciting band from Northampton who play a mix of frenetic Folk Ska with a sensitive sprinkle of 80’s pop.”  Not to mention the unlikely sight of a banjoist supplying the rhythm on the up beat, the owner of one of two fine voices, a subtle keyboardist (the sprinkle) and original material of wit and no little invention.

Meanwhile, over at Aortas in the Old George a sparsity of performers on Sunday gave the bonus of what turned into featured sets from Dan Plews, Naomi Rose, an angry Mark Owen (his driven Getting away with it, a take on the Rebekah Brooks saga, given fresh venom with the news earlier in the day she was getting her job back), and comic verse from the poet Hobbs.  Would have happily paid to see that.  Earlier in the month stand-in host Pete Morton had led what turned out to be a decent night with his own songs and some well-chosen covers, in an evening also notable for an older couple leaving the pub muttering ‘Shouldn’t be allowed’ at Naomi’s most miserable song, Permanent blue.

MK-Calling-11

Keelertornero: Heads of assembly at MKG

MK Calling 2015

This summer‘s exhibition at MK Gallery featured selections from an Open Call for work from local artists, amateur, student and professional.  I went along with someone whose default position on a lot of contemporary art is disparagement, but she stayed the course well enough.  It’s a varied and interesting exhibition.  My favourite piece was Head-of-Assembly-KEELERTORNERO-2014-Vinyl-records1Chin Keeler and Emma Tornero’s Heads of assembly (2014), hanging from the ceiling of the Cube Gallery.  You have to be there: these are heads made from moulding vinyl records over mannequins’ heads, with the labels still in place.  The programme notes suggest the artists deal, among other things, with ‘unkempt fantasy‘.  Here’s an individual head, image filched from the internet (probably their website); click and click again for an enlargement.

Crossword clues I have loved

Can’t do cryptic crosswords but can appreciate a bad pun when you hear or see it?  Then you’re in with a shout.  Some favourites of old from the Guardian – an occasional series here at Lillabullero – with the compilers credited.  Zen punnery & thinking out(or well in)side the box.  (Crosswords are printable for free from the Guardian website.)

  • From Rufus: Space for army manoeuvres (5,4)
  • From Paul: One’s days are numbered (8)
  • From Pasquale: Call at table, suggesting preference for sirloin or T-bone? (2,5)
  • Paul again: Most adventurous combination of underclothes (7)
  • A favourite of mine, from Paul: Bad quality expensive jewellery? That’s clumsy (8)
  • More from Rufus: No beer left? That’s the limit! (6,3)
  • Arachne spinning: She’s over-groomed (8)
  • From Picaroon: Celebs ill-equipped for dinner parties (8)
  • From Chifonie: Space traveller posed on vessel (6)
  • One more time from Rufus: A loaded statement (8)

Solutions under this picture of some frogs ©moi:

Frogs

  • Rufus: Space for army manoeuvres (5,4) Elbow room [arm-y]
  • Paul: One’s days are numbered (8) Calendar
  • Pasquale: Call at table, suggesting preference for sirloin or T-bone? (2,5) No trump [not rump][a bid in the game of bridge][a US election slogan?]
  • Paul: Most adventurous combination of underclothes (7) Bravest [Bra vest]
  • Paul: Bad quality expensive jewellery? That’s clumsy (8) Bumbling [Bum bling]
  • Rufus: No beer left? That’s the limit! (6,3) Bitter end
  • Arachne: She’s over-groomed (8) Bigamist [women can’t do it too?]
  • Picaroon: Celebs ill-equipped for dinner parties (8) Notables [No tables]
  • Chifonie: Space traveller posed on vessel (6) Saturn [Sat on urn]
  • Rufus: A loaded statement (8) Bulletin [Bullet in]

Sorry.

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That’s the Isle of Wight, that is, not some early short-lived fledgling socialist republic.  He made the claim in a letter to his old chum, Friedrich Engels: “One can stroll here for hours enjoying both sea and mountain air at the same time.”  We did a bit of that; cliffs and hills, anyway – there aren’t exactly mountains.  The great man convalesced in Ventnor shortly before he died.  There’s a scruffy blue plaque on the wall of the house in St Boniface Gardens where he stayed attests to the fact; no-one has ever blamed Ventnor for his demise.

Getting there is interesting.  The Southern Railway train from MK crossing London on the old freight lines is still a novelty to me, a journey through the hinterlands of Wembley and Shepherds Bush to the exhibition halls of Olympia, then on to West Brompton and over the river at Imperial Wharf.  I was going to say it was one of those flashes of understanding how the bits of London all fit together, but I’m afraid West Brompton still means nothing to me.  As I say, old freight lines running through an industrial and commercial hinterland: a vast heavy duty scrap yard, mountains of shredded metal, unglamorous back ends of buildings, big new developments (soon a hinterland no more), this time of the year all leavened by a great burgeoning of buddleia bushes in bloom wherever they have the room and inclination to thrive, which is a lot.  Legendary Clapham Junction may be, but it’s still a surprise at just how busy it is.  And so to Portsmouth and the catamaran over the sea to Ryde.

The train from Ryde Harbour to Shanklin is an experience.  A redundant two car ex-London Underground train which was new in the 1930s; needless to say none are left on the mainland outside a museum.  Both coming and going off-peak it was standing room only for parts of the journey.  It is probably the bumpiest, jerkingest passenger train ride in the country.  People do say coming to the Isle of Wight is like losing a decade or two, but this is scandalous, really, because heritage railway it is not meant to be.  Cheery conductors, though.

Welcome to ShanklinA friend picks us up at Shanklin – the old track on to Ventnor is history – and he has set things up nicely for us.  We see TWO unmistakably red squirrels – indeed, we have to slow down to let them cross the road – and a big bird of prey on the way.

FarmerA breezy walk down to the sea front and a hearty vegetarian breakfast at Besty & Spinkys fine esplanade cafe.  In the evening to Dimbola Museum & Galleries,  Dimbola Lodge in Freshwater, home of Victorian photography pioneer Julia Margaret Cameron, for the private view of Steve Blamire and Julian Winslow’s Portrait of an Island exhibition – 20 incredibly inventive photographic portraits of contemporary creatives currently working on the island.  I’ve nicked this rubbish quality low pixels small pic via the PrtScrn button purely to show how their mind works: he’s a farmer, so that’s a warrior Jimi by John Swindells at Dimbola 2necklace made of asparagus.  We knew one of the subjects and – interestingly – she hadn’t seen the finished product until now; she was absolutely delighted.  Tremendous show, well worth the visit.  Also got a look at the Isle of Wight Festivals exhibit, a fascinating collection of posters – oh the memories (not the festivals, just the amazing variety of period Letraset fonts) – alongside photos of the first three historic events what line-ups!) and those that have followed this millennium.  In the grounds, the Jimi Hendrix Garden and a life-size statue by John Swindells of the great man himself, that the locals were not impressed by.  This Daily Telegraph article (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1520329/Life-size-Hendrix-statue-infuriates-islanders.html)about the controversy makes for a wonderful snapshot of Englishness, particularly of the Vectian (Isle of Wightian – from the Roman) variety, and gives a good picture of what has been achieved at Dimbola.

Herbaceous borders MottestoneHad a good time in the extensive Ventnor Botanic Garden, where they enjoy a microclimate an average 5º hotter than mainland UK, so loads of sub-tropical exotic plants and trees in specific – Australian, South African, NZ – contexts.  Now a Community Interest Company, they operate a healthy ‘Keep ON the grass’ ethos.

And the next day more horticultural adventures in the gardens at Mottistone Manor, where we actually got to use our National Trust cards (we really should make more of an effort).  Never before have the words ‘herbaceous borders’ crossed my lips or tripped from my keyboard, but they were spectacular (click on the photo to Shack window furnitureenlarge, and then again).  It’s a ‘dry’ garden; they say they don’t water.  The Shack – one of the 5 things not to miss, the leaflet said – was actually pretty good too: a supercharged 1930s state of the art shed that you could easily live in, the period Penguin books arranged on the shelves by colour.  Here’s a link.  Cannot not mention the charming window shutter handles.

StonesAnd up the hill on Mottistone Down to the neolithic standing stones known as the Long Stone, though I’m not sure it counts anymore as a really ancient monument given they were moved sometime in the first half of the nineteenth century.  Fantastic views over the downs and the sea, though.

Given the nature of both gardens and some of the plants I couldn’t help occasionally thinking we’d slipped into a science fiction landscape.  Those on the left are from the quietly impressive ‘tranquil’ lower garden at Mottistone (which used to be the cow sheds, apparently), that on the right from Ventnor:

SF plant 04 VBG SF plant 01 VBGBedroom 02Finally, before we leave the island, a glimpse into the bedroom we slept in – this might develop into a series – another bedroom of one of our friends’ absent and well-on-the-way-to-fleeing-the-coop children.

Thanks, D & J, and Zappa.  He's a briard.

Thanks, D & J, and Zappa. He’s a briard.

Just a slight return: I came across the story of the missing Karl Marx mosaic while checking for something else.  I didn’t see it for myself, but there is a fine community-made mosaic detailing some of Ventnor’s greatest hits gracing the main car park.  Ventnor mosaicThe picture I’ve used of Karl Marx at the top of this piece was lifted from an article about his mosaic being physically and criminally lifted earlier this year; its whereabouts remain, as of late July 2015, a mystery.  Here are links to a couple of web articles about this act of vandalism, complete with comments, links which I provide because of the classic nature of the – albeit swearless – comments, some of which could have come straight out of that regular Private Eye feature, and some of which reflect citizenship of the highest order:

 

 

 

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Wild Wales… by George Borrow, was one of those books I bought and kept for a couple of decades and never got round to reading.  It made the charity shop pile the last time we moved.  The book had appealed to the younger romantic in me when we’d visited and holidayed in the Principality regularly – my wife was born 4th generation Cardiff, so we had family there – but over time the active Welsh connection has dwindled, and save for the odd fleeting visit we hadn’t spent any time there for years.  Two weeks ago we returned for a few days, staying with friends and relations in Ceredigion – in Aberystwyth and then down the coast a bit, in New Quay, to be precise.  So, a few impressions of mild Wales (with Aber mostly mended from those storms).

  • the revolution in durable outdoor house paints of many colours has certainly brightened the place up.  That depressingly monotonous (rain-dampened) grey vernacular architecture is mostly, now, on its way out.
  • approaching Aber, flying overhead more red kites than I’d previously seen in a lifetime. A magnificent sight.  Can’t find a collective noun, but there were enough for one.
  • Stuffed toysthis fine collection of stuffed toys the sort of thing that no longer surprises, staying with friends whose grown-up children have fled the coop; not in our house, but not unusual
  • Aberystwyth very much a student town now, but it’s falling down the league tables and the locals are worried, with the newish unpopular Vice-Chancellor getting the blame.  Unprecedented (we were told) ads in windows in town offering cheap accommodation.  Impressive Arts Centre complex half way up the hill out of town.
  • Aber follyin Aber, one of those delightful second-hand bookshops it’s so absorbing to spend time in – two floors, cramped honeycomb of rooms – so full they can’t possibly get more books in, can they?:  Ystwyth Books.  (On Abe he trades as Martin’s Books).  Bought selections of Donne and e e cummings.
  • that was after a civilized picnic – if I could remember the friendly caff we got it from I’d say because it was delicious – in the no-charge castle grounds just off the sea front.  Nearby, in full view, a striking Victorian white elephant of a building that they still haven’t decided what to do with
  • Osprey signageit only rained one morning, stayed damp for the afternoon, which was just right for the walk along the boardwalk on the wetlands of the – again – wonderfully friendly Dyfi Osprey Project.  Timed it just right to see Monty, their returning osprey, fly back to the nest – after his me-time – and his this year’s mate, feeding the nestlings.  My luck to be on one of the telescopes in the beautifully constructed wood observation lodge when that happened.  Some fine specimens around the seed feeders at the project entrance too – bullfinches a particular treat for us.  And again, one wonders about what I have to call the myth of finches and expensive nijer seed – the sunflower feeder was by far the busiest.

And so down the coast a bit for a couple of nights just outside New Quay: guitars, dolphins, feasts, gardens and faeries: Face Sculpture heaven

  • had a lovely afternoon at Sculptureheaven, two and a half acres of themed gardens in a rural setting  with integral gallery, workshop and tea room.  There’s a Gothic Garden (goth sculptures with purple and black plants), a Planetary Herb Garden (I know, I know, but it’s beautifully presented), a zen garden, an Angel House (a bit spooky, actually), a faery dell, a rowan grove with hare sculptures dotted around and a whole lot more.  Friendly and welcoming, it’s Green Man notebookenchanting and peaceful (and collectively not as twee as a cynic like me might think), a hands-on family’s labour of love, created from scratch over a decade, with wit and spirit (they’ll show you the photos from when they acquired the place).  There’s a green earth goddess, like the ones at Heligon, but, they say, she’s high maintenance; a photo brings up the rear of this post.  If you’re thinking of going, make sure of the opening hours and be prepared (absolutely no pressure, of your own volition, but still) to spend some money.  More Green Men are not to be seen in one place outside of the pages of a book.
  • the tea room at Sculptureheaven deserves a bullet point all of its own.  Tea and miniature cakes are to be had for a suggested donation to The Halo Trust (a landmines charity).  All were tasty but the lemon drizzle cupcake was divine (the secret being a touch of lime, said the baker and co-proprietor).
  • Whatever it ismore charity with the evening open gardens at Llanerchaeron gives a completely different feel to a routine NT day house visit.  Shadows have more to play with, it’s cooler.  Folk trio fiddling away on the lawn on the way in to the extensive walled garden and wooded lake.  Really pleased with this photo of whatever it is (to enlarge – like all the other photos – click, then click again on that page).
  • the best trifle tart I’ve ever had at The Hungry Trout – what does that mean in the context of humans stuffing themselves? – in New Quay.
  • New Quay dolphinthat came after we’d had the luck to see the dolphins frolicking at second attempt.  Note to self: get a proper camera. That black dot is one of a family of five …
  • inserted at this juncture to give the pics some room, where we stayed one of our hosts dealt occasionally, as a sideline, in Fender guitars, so, I got to play – never done it before! – 5 Strats (one with an absolute dream of a neck) and a Telecaster through a small Marshall amp.  Phew, rock and roll … Now know I’m a Telecaster man.
  • New Quay 2and down on the quay in New Quay, a bus shelter proudly sporting the town’s youth’s talents or something.  Two of five – the other three are New Quay 1monochrome – are pictured here.  Not quite sure why, really. I’m intrigued as much as anything.
  • as promised:
The earth goddess at Sculptureheaven; she's high-maintenance.

The earth goddess at Sculptureheaven; she’s a high-maintenance gardening project.

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