Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

I bet you’ve never really considered this, have you? I hadn’t either until the other day when I noticed that Son and I were stirring simultaneously in opposite directions. Most of you will perform this daily ritual stirring clockwise but for just around ten per cent of the population, the opposite will be true.

It will come as no surprise to friends and family that I fall into said ten per cent. I was born with a minority affliction. I am not disabled – I am left-handed and being so renders simple everyday tasks tricky.

Using a tin opener is a challenge; I have trouble with serrated bread knives (a beautiful loaf will end up with a 45 degree overhang); I can’t use a corkscrew and even getting into the house via the front door using a simple Yale key can be problematic. Everything has been manufactured by the majority for the majority but for us Lefties, the world is just the wrong way round.

Buying something as boringly necessary as an iron means I have to choose carefully and from a meagre selection – of those where the electrical cord emerges from the top of the appliance rather than the (wrong) side.

When I was a child my grandmother despaired because she couldn’t teach me to knit properly – I would train the wool ‘the other way’ around the needle.

Of course, there are left-handed alternatives for a lot of things. I wouldn’t be without my left-handed scissors for instance or my left-handed cheque book (not used quite so much these days but so simple – the perforations are on the ‘other side’ of the book) but most left-handed items tend to be flash-in-the-pan five minute gimmicks and of no use at all. The craziest thing I saw advertised last Christmas was SLOPED LINED writing paper. The lines were printed on a downhill slant to prevent ‘left-handers from smudging [their] writing.’ Give me strength! Firstly, whoever writes with a smudgeable pen these days – quill pens went out even before I was at school – and why oh why are we not teaching our left-handed pupils to do the simple thing and SLANT THE PAPER?!!

I’m astonished and irritated that so many left-handed students struggle with their handwriting. Most of them hold their pens awkwardly and/or “hook” their hands over the top of their writing in order to see what they’ve just written. Left-handed children should be guided, early on, to turn their paper so that in effect, they are virtually writing top to bottom, almost vertically. (I’ve always done this – I think I figured it out for myself because I don’t remember anyone suggesting it and my writing is at best stylish and at worst legible). Turning the paper negates bad pen holding habits and helps improve writing. No need for that uncomfortable hooking. I find it incredible that teachers don’t seem to be aware of the subtle and simple changes that could be suggested to make a left-hander’s life easier. I’m astounded that, once a seating plan has been devised, some pairs of students are knocking elbows. Never sit a left-hander on the right side of a desk facing forward: swap them round and instantly both pupils gain much more space. Obvious, you may think but there’s been many a time that I’ve had to quietly suggest a reshuffle.

Left-handers are adaptable by nature – we have to be. We are creative because we have had to be. We come at the world from a different angle. From learning to tie shoe laces to driving a car, our lives have been fraught with difficulties that right-handed people can’t even imagine. We have to put up with the negative connotations that the word ‘left’ dredges up – ‘left out’ and ‘left over;’ the French ‘gauche’ and the Latin ‘sinistra’ whereas the opposite of wrong is good old goody two-shoes Right.

I have to admit to a couple of advantages. I can surprise an opponent playing tennis if I hit the ball well because a left-hand spin sends the ball off in an unexpected direction. I feel at home driving in mainland Europe because for me, anti-clockwise around a round-a-bout holds no fear – in fact, it feels more comfortable.

Left handers are probably more ambidextrous as we have to adapt to using right-handed things. For instance, I was once offered a set of left-handed golf clubs (not that I play the real game – the most I’ve ever done is the crazy variety on holiday) but I did try them out and they felt just wrong. Interestingly, we know a right-handed person who plays with left-handed clubs. What’s going on there, I wonder?

I checked out a list of famous left-handers. Einstein, Michelangelo, Winston Churchill, Bart Simpson, Paul McCartney, David Bowie…the list was quite surprising. I seem to be in esteemed company so why should I worry. Truth is, I don’t. Just don’t ask me to slice your bread, knit you a jumper or open the wine and I’ll be fine.

 

Read Full Post »

Hello 2016! Over half way through January and already I‘m writing the sixteen part of the date with consummate confidence – no slipping back into last year for me. Yet what have I done so far? Nothing but feel lackadaisical, that’s what. Everything is an effort. Maybe it’s the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having that assists my sluggishness – particularly in the writing department. However, thankfully I don’t think I’m alone. Several blog posts I have read lately seem to be complaining of similar afflictions. So I’ll heave myself out of my malaise and share my recently read titles and my new book pile, purchased delightedly with Christmas money gifted specifically for that purpose.

I started the Christmas break (it seems so long ago now), by reading the book club choice – “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?by Jeanette Winterson. This sorry autobiographical tale details her early life with a monster of an adoptive mother and how, against all odds and between bouts of being locked in the coal cellar she collected a forbidden library of books, taught herself literature and wound up at Oxford University before embarking on a career as a writer and journalist while seeking her biological mother. The title refers to a comment the adoptive mother made to Jeanette when she discovered her having a relationship with a woman.

This was an interesting read if only for the fact that she and I are of similar age and my own childhood was in complete contrast to hers. While I was riding my Raleigh bike with its Sturmey-Archer gears carefree through the leafy lanes of Surrey she had run away from home ‘up north’ and was living in the back of an abandoned mini car, wondering from where her next meal was coming. I won’t reveal the outcome of her search in case anyone chooses to take this on. To sum up – it’s a quick read but not an easy one.

Next up was “A Spool Of Blue Thread” by Ann Tyler, recommended by Lisa. I had only read Ann Tyler once before and hadn’t particularly enjoyed her so this was started with some apprehension. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this family saga spanning three generations. We start and end with Denny, the black sheep of the family and Tyler’s writing is pacy, winding us through various time frames and familial relationships using mainly dialogue. Her characterisations and her descriptions of place create a vivid visual picture. It’s a very clever story and well deserving of its place on the Booker Prize shortlist.

After seeing the film “The Lady in the Van” I just had to read Alan Bennett’s book to find out if the film was completely true. Both the film and the book are enchantingly British, very funny and well worth a watch or a read – preferably both. I’m not saying any more than that lest I spoil it for you!

Having enjoyed the above title so much I decided to revisit and indulge in Alan Bennett’s “Talking Heads.” This is a compilation of the series of monologues he wrote to be performed both at the theatre and on BBC television. They hark back to the early eighties but lose none of their wit and poignancy over thirty years later. I‘ve read these more times than I probably care to remember but each time I find a new gem of an observation or turn of phrase that has me laughing out loud. The book I have lists the name of the actor who originally performed each one and the cast list reads like a night at the BAFTA’s. I find these monologues highly inspiring and am hoping that by reading them again now will send a jolt of creativity across my stagnant bows.

So…that’s what I have been reading and this is what my new book pile looks like:

image

Having looked at Pauline’s new year list recently, I’ve pre-ordered two titles from hers – “The Forgetting Time” by Sharon Guskin and “The Reader on the 6.27” by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent. Neither title is available in the UK till later in the year so I’ll have a lovely surprise when either turns up on the doormat.

So many books…so little time. I keep the ones I might conceivably read again – the others I pass on, not minding if they are lost to me forever. Rather that than lend a precious title to a friend who returns it in appalling condition. This happened once, which inspired this 300 flash fiction. I haven’t lent anything to her since…

LENDING

As she adjusted the vertical blinds at the far end to stop sunlight streaming through the window and discolouring the books Margaret noticed with distaste that Ms Elizabeth Rivers was in again.  Only last week she had said to young David (work placement, not permanent staff); she had said to him, she said, that she would rather never lend Ms Rivers a book again.

While she tidied her pristine work area and wiped her computer screen with a vanilla scented wet-wipe, Margaret kept a disdainful eye on Ms Rivers rummaging through the shelves, opening a book, reading a page, turning it over, reading the back cover synopsis, ramming it back on the shelf, repeating the process with another title. The state her last selection had come back in had been a disgrace – corners bent over, unidentifiable smears on covers and, worse still, remnants of what looked like blueberry muffin squashed between the pages of “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.”

David arrived from the kitchenette with yet another mug of coffee which he placed with exaggerated care onto a cork mat next to his keyboard. He looked at Margaret somewhat defiantly she thought, and nodded in the direction of Ms Rivers, who by now had chosen two titles and was looking for her third. Margaret turned her attention to Mr Dawkins, another regular who had an insatiable interest in Military History, and who treated the books he borrowed as if they were precious relics. Swiping his card with a flourish, Margaret heard David dealing with Ms Rivers who was remonstrating loudly.

“I’m sorry, Ms Rivers” she heard David say, “Your card appears to have been withdrawn.”

Margaret, head down, busied herself by straightening a pile of leaflets.

oooooooOOO~OOOooooooo

 

Read Full Post »

How’s your Christmas shopping going?

I know people (I work with them) who have bought, wrapped and labelled everything already but quite frankly that’s just not fun. What can more invoke the spirit of Christmas than panic buying, overspending, lugging heavy parcels home on a rush hour train without losing or breaking anything; feeling exhausted, flaking out at home with a cup of tea, sore feet and a crashing headache? These efficient types have no idea what they’re missing.

So I started mine this week. Having Mondays off is very useful at this time of year when weekend high streets and shopping malls resemble the frantic activity of a termite mound. We decided to make for the quieter – dare I say more select – side of town and headed off to the Kings Road in Chelsea.

However, on alighting at Sloane Square underground station I was transported back three decades to when I worked in the West End, during the conflict in Northern Ireland and a time of sustained danger from bombing or security threats which perpetually hung over our capital. As we queued to take the escalator, a piercing blast from a public address system assaulted our ears followed by an innocuous sounding message – ‘This is a staff announcement. Would Inspector Sands please go to the ticket office immediately.’ This was followed by another ear-shattering siren and the message again, repeated several times. I was up that escalator like a rat up a drainpipe.

Call me paranoid – it’s not as if Sloane Square is a big or complicated station – only two platforms with one train line passing through – where the hell could Inspector Sands have got to, to warrant such an insistent command for his presence?   This may well have been a genuine call for him to attend his ticket office – but as I shot past it on my way through the exit, said ticket office was well and truly shut. Perhaps Inspector Sands has the only key, who knows, but for me, this sounded like a coded warning to station staff that all was not well in Sloane Square and they should start checking their given areas for anything suspicious.

Back in the day, with hoax bomb calls designed to cause maximum disruption up and down Oxford and Regent Street and elsewhere, coded warnings to retail personnel were commonplace. Not wanting to cause mass panic or an exodus of shoppers unless absolutely necessary, it was the sensible way of communicating to responsible staff to check their areas, report back to a central number within a store and then for a follow up message to be broadcast alerting the workforce of the all clear. Without wanting to divulge any particular message, it doesn’t take long to work out that while one store seemed to be forever looking for a lost child answering to the same description another would be having frequent meetings with a General Manager on a nonexistent eighth floor. My lunch hours trailing round various competitors were often swiftly truncated if a tannoyed announcement interrupted my browsing.

So I hope that Sloane Square really does have an Inspector Sands. I hope my suspicions were unfounded but old habits clearly die hard. With heightened security quite rightly sweeping our cities after the appalling events in Paris it’s best to be vigilant and stay safe: but carry on.

Here’s wishing you all a peaceful run up to your festive seasons.

Read Full Post »

Reading. Books: several of them. I’ve been wallowing in my book pile and, prompted and inspired by my blogging chum Pauline from way down under who listed the titles nestling on her bedside table, here’s a little resume of what’s been distracting me the past few weeks.

51XnpJUKiCL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_[1]

First up is The Children Act by Ian McEwan. This was a book group choice. Nice and brief and classic McEwan. You either love or loathe him and as I’ve read a fair few of his works I guess I fall into the former category. A friend who struggles with him thinks he’s pompous which I can understand as he’s quite wordy and very British but his characterisations are spot on and often humorous. The Children Act introduces us to Fiona, a high court judge who specialises in family law. She is faced with a case involving a seventeen year old boy suffering from leukaemia who is refusing a blood transfusion to save his life because of his and his parents’ religious beliefs.

Fiona, who is highly regarded amongst her peers and for whom home and work life has to this point been straight forward is thrown by the vulnerability of this boy’s situation which then begins to reflect the disharmony in her personal life.

I read this book quickly, bounding towards the unexpected ending so typical of McEwan’s work. Definitely worth a read.

51wj-JwPCZL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_[1]

Next was The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. This book had very mixed reviews which I trawled through after I’d finished reading the novel. Set in 17th century Amsterdam I thought the author evoked the darkness and damp of a major European trading city very well. The story revolves around young Petronella who is recently married to an older, well heeled Merchant who spends much of his life at sea. He presents Nella with a doll’s house replica of their home and she begins to furnish it with miniatures created by the mysterious Miniaturist. Strange co-incidences begin to occur between events in Nella’s life and the items delivered by the Miniaturist. It’s as if the pieces are for-warning her of subsequent tragedies. This is not a happy tale, there are several despicable characters here but this all adds to the darkness and gloom. The descriptions of place are excellent and the historical facts surrounding the trading laws at this time interesting.

The main criticism I read afterwards was that the ending didn’t tie things up but in my view, that was the point. I made my own mind up about the character of the Miniaturist (who, incidentally, we never meet) and I recommend that if you read this novel you take that approach too!

517vp0uzBKL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_[1]

Ishmael’s Oranges by Claire Hajaj was a title we nearly chose as a book group read but it was considered too long for the time we had which was a shame because I think it would have provided us with a good debate. Essentially the book deals with how the Israel-Palestine conflict affects ordinary people. The story is presented from two points of view – those of Salim – a Palestinian and Judith who is Jewish. They meet in London in the 60’s and we track them through their life together, the familial conflicts they encounter and the heart rending decisions they are forced to make when their cultures collide. It’s an ambitious task for a first novel and I found some of the subsidiary characters unbelievable which weakened the plot slightly but that said, I enjoyed the read and although the ending was predictable my attention was held till the last page.

51P92XvIwFL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_[1]

I’m just about to finish Nora Webster by Colm Toibin. His writing is beautiful, very wordy which slows the pace but that works well in this story of a small town Irish woman, recently bereaved, and how her life is changed. She has to become independent, find a job, sell the family’s summer house and manage her children. To be honest, not much happens but the relationships between Nora and her family and the new friends she makes through her love of singing are completely believable. The dialogue is written so that the gentle Irish lilt comes through – very clever.

Colm Toibin’s novel Brooklyn has recently been adapted and released as a film starring Julie Walters. I think we’ll be in for a treat.

51Z-ArCLRAL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_[1]

And lastly – I must share with you the reading material being delivered to our eleven year olds in the run up to Christmas. One of my favourite modern tales, Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce can be enjoyed on so many levels. The class teacher and I are already drawing short straws for which one of us has to read out the ending. (It’s a tear jerker). The story deals with so many issues – happiness, bereavement, greed, friendships and is told through the voice of young Damian who has an odd but endearing penchant for Saints. In his quest to be ‘excellent’ he collects them while practising mortification. There are some laugh-out-loud passages (at least for the grownups in the room) and the story provides the opportunity for plenty of class discussion. Prior to beginning reading, the students were asked if we could ever care for a fictional character. One little girl answered that there would be no point in reading a book if we didn’t. She nailed it for me.

And with that in mind as well as the previous mention of the wonderful Julie Walters, here she is as one of my favourite characters of all time.

Who’s your favourite fictional character?

Read Full Post »

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.

image

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… 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

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.

image

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.

image

“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?

image

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.

image

image

image

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.

image

image

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.

image

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.

image

 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

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!

image

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.

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

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.

 

image

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

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’.

image

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.

 

Read Full Post »

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?

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »