When Mum isn’t playing word games with me over the internet or looking things up on Google she spends much of her time doing jigsaw puzzles – complicated ones with thousands of pieces. She has a special board onto which she builds her puzzle having painstakingly sorted out all the corners and straight bits first. She then groups similar colours into piles. Her dining-room table takes on the appearance of a military plotting map. This hobby would drive me absolutely insane but keeps her occupied for hours and provides the rest of the family with easy options when it comes to present buying.

Which I did recently…

Now, Mum likes a challenge but draws the line at those double-sided-plate-of-baked-beans affairs or pictures of wrapped sweets – the kind of puzzles pushed at Christmas in the novelty gift section. And she prefers a Gibsons puzzle – apparently superior in quality they also concentrate on landscapes or scenes with ‘plenty going on.’ So with those criteria in mind I looked for the busiest picture I could find. Perfect – a thousand piece, 19th century stately home in cross section, showing all the rooms – just like a doll’s house.

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Mum was thrilled but unfortunately her delight turned to frustration when it became clear that on near completion several pieces needed to finish off the roof just did not fit. She took it apart and tried again several times. She’s nothing if not patient, my Mum. However, it became evident after several fruitless attempts that the pieces left, although similar, were not part of this particular puzzle. She hesitated to tell me as it had been a gift but had to come clean when I asked her if she’d done it yet.

I’ll send them an email, I said, bristling.  So I did (polite, naturally), pointing out our problem. I wasn’t expecting anything really but it was worth a shot. The following day I received a reply from Gibson’s customer services, profuse with apologies and instructions for me to send various details back plus the offending pieces whereupon they would not hesitate to replace the whole puzzle. Which I did, by post. After two days, I received a letter back (yes! A letter – not an email!) assuring me that all the details I had sent were exactly what they needed, our puzzle had been ordered and would be with us within a couple of weeks.

Marvellous!

So often we receive shoddy service which, because I worked for years in a company which takes the maxim ‘the customer’s always right’ to a whole new level and who’s trading dictum is ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ it always comes as a bit of a surprise when other companies come up trumps. Hurrah for Gibsons, I say.

I did think I’d balance up this post with tales of irritating and/or appalling service but I’ll leave that for another time. Let’s just celebrate the good for a change. Have we received the replacement puzzle, I hear you wondering. Not yet, but I’m keeping the faith.

This post forms the final fifth part of a challenge thrown down by Sherri, over at her Summerhouse.  As Sherri herself  already changed the rules of the challenge which originally was to post five pictures and five stories on consecutive days (ha! not a chance!), I have taken a much more relaxed attitude. Having to nominate someone to carry on the challenge isn’t fair but I’m pleased to say that Tracy took it upon herself to have a bash. Frankly, even though my approach has probably been far too laid-back, I’m glad it’s all over. Challenges? Pressure? In the summer holidays? Ah well, the end of those is in sight now too. Back to the coal face very soon… 

 

 

 

 

 

As the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) garden at Wisley is almost on the doorstep I thought I’d mosey on up the A3 this week and take a wander to get some botanical inspiration. Having to park in the second overflow car park before mid-morning didn’t really bode well crowd-wise but I’m in chilled out holiday mode, so hey-ho.

Once through the gates it was obvious that there must be a special school-holiday event on. (Oh, dear). Grimly undeterred, I waded through hundreds of very small people attached to their Surrey mothers, all pushing the obligatory Surrey pushchair – the equivalent in stroller terms to a 4×4 vehicle. These modern day contraptions come with several levels of parcel shelving, space for two or three infants and room for all the paraphernalia that seems to be required when taking an outing, however uncomplicated, with your children these days. Things have changed since Son was small. We had the equivalent of a canvas deckchair which folded up like a telescopic umbrella. That and a modest back-pack was all we ever needed. Perhaps he was a deprived child, I don’t know, but it never took long to get ready or in and out of my humble hatch-back.

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I like to start a Wisley walk by taking the wide path through the herbaceous borders and up towards Battleston Hill, passing the rose garden on the right.

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“Off With Their Heads!”

It was here that I realised why there were so many children and their parents around – the event ‘Adventures in Wonderland’ was celebrating 150 years of the book by Lewis Carroll and the small visitors were rushing around like crazed beetles trying to find Alice and all the character sculptures hidden around the gardens.  In the centre of the rose garden was the Queen of Hearts, positioned here looking for all the world as if the three gardeners behind her had caused displeasure and were definitely for the chop. I began to see the fun in this and actively started searching out the figures for myself although I was at a disadvantage because I hadn’t been given a fact sheet to tick off or a little booklet on my arrival.

Now – here’s a point to ponder: When does a garden ornament become a sculpture? What actually defines a sculpture?

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I puzzled on this as I meandered through the hydrangeas, also wondering why ours don’t look quite like these gargantuan specimens. No Wonderland figures here as far as I could see so I changed route towards the rockeries, passing this intriguingly mown lawn and more herbaceous borders.

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Here I found the Mad Hatter standing on the edge of a bird bath as well as the White Rabbit. I spied the manufacturer’s details on an information stand near these two and thought what an excellent way this is to maximise publicity for your company.

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White Rabbit with the Dormouse sitting in the bird bath

I can imagine that these figurines will prove very popular and are certainly a step up from the kitsch garden gnomes or moulded Alsatian dogs I’ve seen at my local garden centre.

As I crossed the main lawn where I passed a giant chess set and a croquet game being played with plastic flamingos (this whole event has been very well thought out for Wisley’s youthful visitors) it occurred to me that I’d probably answered my own question, especially as I spied this bronze sculpture, on loan to Wisley from the Henry Moore Foundation.

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Entitled simply ‘King and Queen’ and created by Henry Moore in 1957, these two figures sit serenely in front of the house now used as a botanical laboratory. They overlook the canal and appear very much at home here.

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 Now, that’s what I call sculpture.

Adventures in Wonderland continues at Wisley until 31 August.

This post forms the fourth part of a challenge thrown down by Sherri, over at her Summerhouse.  As Sherri herself has already changed the rules of the challenge which originally was to post five pictures and five stories on consecutive days (ha! not a chance!), I have been taking a more relaxed attitude towards the rules myself. I’m supposed to nominate someone to take up the challenge after each of these posts but I’m not going to do that. Suffice to say, if you feel the urge to challenge yourself to five pictures/five stories (fact or fiction) then please feel free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wouldn’t want to give the impression that my life is just one continuous whirl of wafting around museums and galleries or discovering talented distant relations. There’s a certain amount of tedious monotony one has to get through before enjoyment is permitted.

Domestic drudgery is one of life’s necessities and I tackle mine on a what’s-needed- most-basis, rather than having a fixed routine as I know some folk do. I tend to take the ‘life’s too short to stuff a mushroom’ approach, a phrase coined by Shirley Conran in the seventies.

During a working week the bare minimum gets done but now with time off I am already sliding guiltily into thinking that a thorough, intense overdue spring-clean is in order.

How dull.

I start off with good intentions – planning my attack from the comfort of my morning bed while waiting to leap purposefully into the shower but by the time I’ve eaten breakfast and cleared away, the enthusiasm for all things household has worn off and I’m seeking excuses and distractions. As indeed I do when there is writing to be done. Suddenly a pile of ironing has never looked so appealing. Life can be so perverse.

I suffered an enforced incarceration last week which was the ideal time to set to which I did with gusto. I’m well aware that this sudden burst of domestic goddess-ery was brought on by a conversation I had with my hairdresser who revealed that she wipes her kitchen cabinet doors down every night. I have to say she made me feel inadequate and ashamed.

Stumbling across a Channel Four programme called ‘Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners’ didn’t help either. I was riveted: how two people with diagnosed OCD would cope deep cleansing the old country house of an eccentric hoarder made fascinating TV. As soon as the two dirt-o-phobes cleared anything out, the hoarder snuck around to the rubbish and claimed it back again. I don’t know who had the greater problem but all of them were cheerful enough about their predicament. They made me think I’d hit normal on the dirt to clean scale.

Now, this particular enforced incarceration I mentioned earlier began with what we thought at first was a piece of junk mail but which, on closer inspection, suggested that we may be eligible for free loft insulation.

Us? Free? These aren’t words that usually coincide where we are concerned but it was worth a phone call. This call elicited a visit from the gas board who carried out a short survey and, lo and behold – yes! – we were entitled!

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I arranged a time for the work to be carried out and was then forced to wait in for them to arrive. Which they did: on time and with very little fuss, completing the job in a little over an hour. Which was all very well except that I was then free to be distracted: but not, I hasten to add, before the area below the bed was designated a dust free zone and all the paintwork wiped down with a squirt of Flash.

So while I can feel smug in the knowledge that things here are beautifully spring-cleaned for the time being this comes as a reminder to occasionally check your junk mail. You never know what little goodies might be lurking therein.

This post forms the third part of a challenge thrown down by Sherri, over at her Summerhouse.  As Sherri herself has already changed the rules of the challenge which originally was to post five pictures and five stories on consecutive days (ha! not a chance!), I shall be taking a more relaxed attitude towards the rules myself. I’m supposed to nominate someone to take up the challenge after each of my next five posts but I’m not going to do that. Suffice to say, if you feel the urge to challenge yourself to five pictures/five stories (fact or fiction) then please feel free.

 

 

 

If, as a child, I wasn’t roaming around outside I’d be endlessly inventing stories and scribbling them down in my red Silvine notebooks bought from Woolworths or I’d be drawing or painting. Dad would wander past, look over my shoulder and tell me that I must take after his cousin, Wally.

Cousin Wally was a couple of decades older than my father: they were never close and we children never met him but Dad would often remark on Wally’s talent.

Well, it turns out that Cousin Wally (Walter Steggles 1908-1997) had considerable talent. Prolific talent which culminated in him having work exhibited at the 1936 Venice Biennale alongside such luminaries as Duncan Grant and Barbara Hepworth. He and his younger brother Harold belonged to the East London Art Club, whose artists collectively became known as the East London Group.

Talk about hiding one’s familial light under the proverbial bushel.

In the last couple of years the little known or even recognised East London Group have had something of a renaissance – interest within the indiscernible world of art dealing has increased, helped along by David Buckman’s publication of a very comprehensive history of the group, ‘From Bow to Biennale.’ This fairly weighty tome is based on correspondence and interviews with the last, now deceased, (Wally was the last surviving member) Group members as well as primary and secondary archival research.

Both Wally and Harold have extensive biographies along with colour reproductions of their work.

Harold Steggles (1911-1971) achieved some commercial success by designing posters for the Shell Petroleum Company but it seems that his older brother was the more artistically driven of the two. However, both brothers had work displayed at the Lefevre Gallery in London.

Wally painted all his life – he never married and lived mostly with his parents who moved around quite a bit. When he lived in Cookham he became acquainted with the artist Stanley Spencer and the two would visit each other’s studios. His paintings reflect areas of the country he knew – landscapes of East Anglia and Wiltshire as well as industrial scenes of East London.

The canal, Mile End by Walter Steggles

The canal, Mile End by Walter Steggles

It is the latter which most appeal to me and I was fascinated to learn that as Wally became interested in photography he would take his photos, “square” them up into grid formation and then use them to create a painting.

Without wanting to recount Wally’s life story here it’s important to mention that his passion and undoubted ability for art grew from attending evening classes in Bow, East London as a very young man. These classes were taken by one John Cooper who inspired Wally and who invited prominent figures from the art world to come and talk to his pupils. One of these visiting artists, Walter Sickert, left a lasting impression on Wally:

“Sickert’s advice has been constantly with me. I did not, however, wish to be an obvious follower as a number of artists have.”

So when I saw that the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester was holding an exhibition of Walter Sickert’s work I suggested that we take a look. Once we’d secured a parking space – which isn’t easy in Chichester but worth persevering  – we found the gallery pleasantly uncrowded. The current Sickert exhibition concentrates on the artist’s time in Dieppe, where he lived for a number of years. Often lauded as the English Impressionist, Sickert (1860-1942) was inspired by Monet and Pissarro and his work definitely reflects their influence although his method of sketching his subjects first and then work on his paintings back in his studio is much removed from the French Impressionists who worked ‘en plein air.’ I was intrigued to see that Sickert used the grid method to translate his drawings to the canvas and wondered if this was where Wally got the idea from for his photographs.

 

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Shop in Dieppe by Walter Sickert

All in all, I’m sorry to report that we were underwhelmed by this particular collection. Sickert’s paintings have a flat, unfinished quality to them. I found it difficult to pick out any one painting that had the wow factor although this one appealed because, I think, of its storytelling potential.

It’s not just the tenuous family link that creates my bias towards Wally’s pictures – his colours are vibrant and I prefer his style. His paintings are now fetching respectable sums at auction. According to family folklore, when Wally’s Uncle Henry died and his wife moved home, she threw out one of Wally’s paintings: it wasn’t to her taste, apparently. That woman was my grandmother.

Families, eh? So near yet so far…

This post forms the second part of a challenge thrown down by Sherri, over at her Summerhouse.  As Sherri herself has already changed the rules of the challenge which originally was to post five pictures and five stories on consecutive days (ha! not a chance!), I shall be taking a more relaxed attitude towards the rules myself. I’m supposed to nominate someone to take up the challenge after each of my next five posts but I’m not going to do that. Suffice to say, if you feel the urge to challenge yourself to five pictures/five stories (fact or fiction) then please feel free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the creaking educational locomotive grinds ever more slowly towards the buffers of the long summer break and we can leap onto the platform of unexpurgated freedom I can thank my lucky stars that last week is finally over. As is now tradition and to conceal the fact that our national curriculum is so thin on content that in truth the teaching of it finishes several weeks before the official end of term, we are obliged to suffer the agonies of Activities Week.   A misnomer if ever there was one, judging by the ‘activities’ to which I was assigned. My Activity Week was mostly sedentary and largely involved elephants.

I understand the ethos – to allow students to experience things they otherwise wouldn’t due either to financial restraints, unimaginative parenting or sheer youthful malaise – a condition which sadly is becoming increasingly contagious. I understand all of that – but to have to sit in school uniform in one classroom all day playing board (bored) games is reminiscent of an interminable wet weekend at your grandparents’.

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This was the fate of our unfortunate year seven’s who, lucky for them (but not me), then had a day off site to visit the Globe Theatre before returning to spend the next day welded to a stool in the art room following step by step instructions to make a clay elephant. All day: with a short break for lunch. By the afternoon, with the searing heat outside and the stuffiness of the classroom I felt my eyes drooping and had to make a conscious effort to stay awake. I sympathised with one of our older students who incurred a detention recently for falling sound asleep in a history lesson. I now know how he felt.

The following day we were treated to Africa Day – the possibilities of this sounded promising. But again, the students sat for what seemed like hours in a large circle in our acoustically challenged canteen while a lovely man from Ghana, dressed in traditional costume spent the day with the students telling stories of his African village and showing them how to make toys from recycled rubbish. image

Another forty elephants were made from old plastic milk cartons after which there was a spot of potato printing. A quick break for food and drink and it was back to sitting while they practised the art of African drumming. In the aforementioned echo-y dining room. There were enough drums for each child so you are lucky you only have to imagine the cacophony. I had to sit through it.

I don’t mean to carp on, but I would’ve preferred spending the day at a nearby fishing lake with a collection of year nine yobbos who turn into the politest, nicest shoal of lads you could ever wish to meet – once they are attached to a rod with a box of maggots at their side. I did this trip several years ago now and was as heartened at the students transformation as I was astonished at how adept I became at picking up a maggot or helping disgorge the unfortunate little fishes for those more squeamish. I have obvious skills in this area – why have they been overlooked? The main reason this activity is so popular and why staff members trample each other to take part is fact that the bacon rolls at the shop there are to die for and the opportunity to hear the trip leader tell one of his new ‘fishermen’ to go to the counter and ask for a tin of tartan maggots is legendary. I obviously need to improve my pitch for next year.

So, with only two days left of term time to fill with word searches and videos while the teachers complete their admin, the terminus approaches – the exit gate is in sight.

This post forms the first part of a challenge thrown down by Sherri, over at her Summerhouse. I normally avoid things like this like the proverbial plague but as she is such a regular visitor to my imaginary kitchen and we have shared so many odd and weird coincidences I felt it only fair to have a go. As Sherri herself has already changed the rules of the challenge which originally was to post five pictures and five stories on consecutive days (ha! not a chance!), I shall be taking a more relaxed attitude towards the rules myself. I’m supposed to nominate someone to take up the challenge after each of my next five posts but I’m not going to do that. Suffice to say, if you feel the urge to challenge yourself to five pictures/five stories (fact or fiction) then please feel free. I thought it would be a good discipline to make me write more regularly. Goodness knows, I’ve been pretty lax of late.

 

A headline in a recent newspaper caught my eye which in turn had me thinking nostalgically about the plaything that as a child I returned to again and again. I don’t mean teddy bears – they don’t count as toys – they are loyal confidants; one of life’s necessities (Bear ones) and I wouldn’t be without mine.  I’m not talking about skipping ropes, board games or dolls. I was never much interested in the latter although I of course had them. I was a little girl, after all, and dolls are what girls were meant to play with. I had a dolls pram too – maroon if I remember correctly – a miniature version of the sturdy Smart-Car-sized Silver Cross that my mother perambulated for years. The doll’s house was used initially but quickly abandoned – a shame really as it was made for me by my grandfather – a facsimile of his own home.

But it’s the humble Lego brick to which I pay homage. Apart from books which have always been a constant companion, the androgynous red and white bricks of my Lego-filled youth provided me with hours of creative activity and sparked imaginings beyond even the wildest playroom. I think the first set I ever owned consisted of a few bricks of each size and a flat grey base unit. I built houses. I built cottages by the sea; I built state of the art tower blocks; I built castles as my collection grew – whole towns once the Lego street map arrived. I made farms and zoos. Each Christmas stocking produced a tiny box containing much needed single tenners or double sixer bricks or window shapes, some with tiny closing shutters. Envisage my utmost delight when Lego brought out the translucent brick and I designed my architecturally inspired sixties houses with integrated translucent walls and imagined internal spiral staircases. This was only surpassed a little later by the production of a tiny circuit board with bulb, switch and battery which could be concealed within my house and – lo and behold – there was light! (And I had my first ever physics lesson. Sadly things have gone downhill in that department ever since).

Picture of assorted Lego bricks from Wikipedia

Picture of assorted Lego bricks from Wikipedia

My Lego collection is still around somewhere in the family, having been added to by various keepers over the years. To my mind though, these later additions are pretenders to Lego’s original ideals. Gone is the need to imagine a jumbled creation of duo-coloured blocks as something tangible and mysterious – now we have vivid themed sets with instructions. Where is the creativity, where is the encouragement to imagine?

The aforementioned headline stated that Cambridge University are to appoint a “Professor of Lego” with funding from the eponymous company. My first reaction on seeing this was one of ridicule but as I read the article and thought about it, I think they may be on to something. The Lego Foundation has provided the funding to research how children play. The article suggests that children have lost the ability to create their own amusement and this is impacting on their educational development. I am amazed that it has taken an injection of £1.5million to come to this conclusion. You’ve only got to look for children playing outside in the fresh air during their school holidays and you’ll pretty soon realise that our wide open spaces are largely empty. No jumpers for goalposts these days. No tree climbing either (too dangerous) no camp-making in the woods (again, far too dangerous) and definitely no unsupervised pond-dipping (even more dangerous).

Lego has been lauded as a therapy tool for children with autism and has also been recommended as a creative thinking device for business people – everyone should have a box of random bricks on their desk. I don’t think that’s too whacky an idea – it’s even thought to reduce city stress levels.

I think I might suggest that we introduce Lego to our department if the budget can stretch that far – we could get the students to create the finest structure they can with limited resources – introduce a bit of competition, just like the real world. Oh, wait a minute; competitiveness is frowned upon these days too. We’ll need another research project – Professor of Rivalry, perhaps?

 

 

 

The grand reveal:

This is a short post following on from my last one where I left you on tenterhooks just waiting to know if you can spot an expensive piece of art work, so without further ado, here are the details.

Colony – January in acrylic and mixed media is byimage Royal Academician Barbara Rae and for sale at a mere £57,000.

 

 

 

 

The Old House Dreams it is Still There imagein egg tempura is by Peter Messer and is priced at £4,850.

 

 

 

 

 

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is a carborundum relief in titanium white ink on paper painted with a mars black wash created by Royal Academician Richard Long. As one of an edition of two, it will set you back £80,000. (I’ve suddenly gone off this one although I think it looks very striking against the pink wall).

 

 

Flower Window,image an oil, is a tiny painting in a modest wooden frame by David Barrow and very affordable at £200.

 

 

 

 

 

Afternoon Skaters is an oil painting by Bill Jacklin,

imageanother Royal Academician. This one retails at £40,000.

 

 

 

 

 

Stolen Thunder III by Cornelia Parkerimage is a digital print which will cost you £850.

 

 

 

 

 

So, what price art? What would you buy and why. Enjoyment or investment? Who decides on the value of modern art? I’ll leave that open to discussion. It’s far too big a subject for me to pontificate alone.

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