I sat, listening with what I hoped was an interested expression, to one of my (on the Spectrum) students as he earnestly explained, in the utmost detail, the intricacies of his Pokémon Go game. This downloadable App swept our nation (and most likely the entire planet) at the start of the summer and is the sole reason that more children than ever were walking around during the holidays with their eyes fixed firmly to the screens of their mobile phones, obsessively collecting virtual cartoon characters. I suppose it at least got them outside in the fresh air and with any luck gave them some insight in to map co-ordinates – but I’m not holding out much hope on the latter. Frankly I just don’t see the attraction of these crudely drawn fantasy figures with their over large eyes, flat colours and lack of detail. I was about to say it’s probably an age thing but our local TV news ran a feature on a man – yes, people, an ADULT, who apparently was the first reported person to have finished the game and was offering help to others for a FEE. How low can one stoop.
As my student launched into a second phase of enthusiastic explanation, the like of which he never displays in any lessons, I felt myself glazing over and for the first time in my life was thankful to hear the bell ring indicating the start of maths. Then, as I sat trying to absorb what my teaching colleague was saying about simplifying expressions so that I’d stand half a chance if any of the students asked me for extra help, I realised that I could have been guilty of a similar useless obsession during my own summer holidays.
It began last term when a friend arrived at work one morning waving her phone at me and asking whether I’d seen the life-size blue cow at the traffic lights.
She’d managed to snap it while waiting for the green light to prove that she wasn’t going mad. A few neural cogs chugged around and I vaguely remembered my niece (the arty one), mentioning something about a Cow Parade.
So, on further investigation (OK, I Googled it: isn’t that what we all do these days?), I discovered that The Cow Parade reckons it’s the world’s largest public art event, providing artists and chosen charities a chance to benefit from the scheme. Anyone can sponsor a cow – from individuals, to schools to local businesses or multi million pound companies. Each cow is painted – either by an amateur or an established artist and then auctioned to raise money. There have been Cow Parades in different cities across the world since 1999 and over £2.5 million raised for worthy causes. This year the Cow Parade was coming to the Surrey Hills.
From this point on, my friend – I shall refer to her as WF1 (Work Friend 1) and I were on a mission. To see how many cows we could find over the summer, either by ourselves or by meeting up for a walk which would invariably end in a tea shop and doing a bit of cow-spotting on the way.
We started off enthusiastically enough.
Here’s one looking nicely out of place at the top of Guildford High Street while this mother and calf greet shoppers at the entrance to the Friary Shopping Centre.
WF1 was better at it than me and would arrive in the staff room with reports of yet another sighting. We met up for a walk across beautiful countryside ending at the Watts Gallery where a couple of painted cows were grazing, one of which had allegedly been decorated by Sir Peter Blake, designer of the Beatles iconic Sergeant Pepper album cover.
I think what had really happened here was that he’d allowed his signature to be used. I refuse to believe that one of our foremost pop artists would have been content with simple colour blocking when we could have had something fantastical. And those awful plinths! Whoever attached these sculptures to their bases certainly wasn’t over flowing in the imagination department, were they? A little green paint may have helped, or even a yard or two of Astroturf, which to be fair, I did spot a few days later as I spied a cow in the middle of a round-a-bout outside one of Guildford’s Park and Ride facilities.
But by this time, WF1 and I were becoming a bit bored by the whole thing. Once you’ve seen one painted cow, you’ve seen them all. I was much more taken with this wooden sculpture which I discovered near the Park and Ride when I stopped to photograph the one on the round-a-bout. Although I must have passed it hundreds of times in the car, the view was always obscured by a hedge.
Called ‘Farm Talk,’ the farmer and his bull were sculpted by Jo Wood in 2004 as part of the Wey Valley Rural Art Project.
The Cow Parade cows are due to be auctioned off on Thursday 20th October at a grand bash at Sandown Park. Tickets are from £10 (standing) or £65 for a three course dinner. It’ll be interesting to see how much these vibrant bovines fetch…and even more interesting – what do you actually do with one, once you’ve bought it?