14 September 2020

In the gallery

 The Eyes have it......

    or.... The sign of a good painting.....

I still revere Peter Cook, even though a quarter century has passed since his fatal gastrointestinal haemorrhage at the age of 57.... And to this day I cannot enter an art gallery without thinking of Pete and Dud eating their sandwiches in front of Cezanne's Les Grandes Baigneuses [Eleven female figures repose in an imaginary landscape bordered by trees.....] The painting was purchased in 1964 with a special grant and the aid of the Max Rayne Foundation.  As Pete tells Dud in their In the Gallery sketch, The Big Bathers (Pete's translation of the painting's title) cost almost as much as Tottenham Hotspur. About fifty thousand pounds a body - you could get the real nude lady for that price.....

Anyway, the art critic in Pete lectures Dud in what makes a good painting.  That's the sign of a good painting - if the eyes follow you round the room, it's a good painting.  If they don't, it isn't.

Dud queries how that works with the Big Bathers, and Pete explains that if they are facing away, then the sign of a good painting is if the bottoms follow you around the room.  And they test the theory.....

In these days of up-lock and anti-social distance, I have been thrilled to revisit some galleries, and to test Peter Cook's perspicacity.  I concentrated on the eyes of certain famous paintings (no, not the bottoms.  I have no place for drifting bits of gauze in my life.....) And I was alarmed to find that not all our treasured masterworks are looking the same way....

Take this group of Four Poor Clares, by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, pictured around 1320-25 from the Chapter House of the Sienese church of San Francesco. They certainly don't seem to be following me.....

And this Virgin and Child, by Ambrogio Bergognone (c.1488-90) appears to be watching something while her boy is distracted by something else.... (and neither seem interested in the Carthusian monks behind  them, building the Charterhouse at Pavia.....)

My curiosity is raised.  Who/what are these icons gazing at?  What attracts their attention?  And why won't their eyes follow me?  Here is Giovanni Bellini's Doge Leonardo Loredan (1501-2) [looking uncannily like Pier Paolo Pasolini by the way].  His dead eyes seem to be deliberately avoiding the artist's attention.  Very cinematic (never look at the camera....)

But Albrecht Dürer's father (1497) would appear to have an eye on his son?  Or is he looking past him?  I hate to say this, but there's a touch of strabismus in the gaze.....

In Jan van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait (1434) it could be that Giovanni Arnolfini, a wealthy Italian merchant resident in Bruges, is contemplating his wife's bump, and that she is dreaming of a happy family.  But she could be looking at her husband's hand and thinking she would rather their guests (in the mirror) hadn't got off the bus.  Either way, they sure ain't looking at us.....

Rembrandt, one of my all time faves (up there with Peter Cook), could play tricks with the light, and his Belshazzar's Feast (c 1636-8) shows us shock and awe as the divine hand writes on the wall (Thou are weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.....  something of a Johnsonian nightmare, perhaps?) These eyes are never going to follow us around the room......

But when he comes to paint himself, as he did many times (he painted himself before the mirror at least forty times, etched himself 31 times and made a handful of drawn self-portraits); he is not shy.  Rembrandt van Rijn will stare us down, daring us to eyeball him back, as in this example from 1637.

His son, Titus, looks a little more abashed when painted in 1658, but he was his father's agent and factotum, and things weren't going well at the time (though they were worse ten years later when Titus died of the plague.)

There's a distinct family likeness visible in this self-portrait at the age of 63 (the year after Titus's death).  But Rembrandt is not finished.  He looks at the viewer with the hint of a smile; there's life in the old dog yet, and these eyes will not only follow you around the room, they will haunt you all the way home.....

I wander the great Galleries of London, almost alone with these darkening faces.  I almost see the paintings reacting to each other in their suspension.  

Edouard Manet's The Execution of Maximilian (1883) not surprisingly upsets the woman in pink sitting with her cat within earshot..... Her expression reminds me of someone on holiday who has just realised the people in the chalet next to her have a child with ADHD.....

And I am interested to see the interaction of others with the windows on the walls. What does this little daughter think about Georges Seurat's Bathers at Asnières (1883 - 4)?  Does she like the little red dog in the foreground?  Or does she wonder why these boys are swimming in a river so close to the smelly chimneys in the background?  Or does she wonder why no one is looking her way?

Meanwhile, other solitary browsers seem to be checking Pete's other thesis.  The Rokeby Venus [The Toilet of Venus, 1647 - 51] (Diego Velasquez's only surviving nude) has the kind of bottom that might just follow you....  (though probably only if you had a Porsche and a flat in Knightsbridge....)

Amidst all this, despite the solemnity of great art, one picture stands out.  The eyes of Frans Hals's Laughing Cavalier (1624) do definitely follow you around.  He's a confident 26 year old and he poses as a man of some vitality.  He is proud to be seen, and will watch every watcher with a view to perhaps meeting up later when the gallery closes.  

As Dud says to Pete: That's the thing about the laughing cavalier - at least he has a giggle......

In risu veritas.....

With thanks to The National Gallery and The Wallace Collection for allowing me to wander freely amongst these treasures and to take photographs (I promise I didn't take any of the pictures....) I didn't use flash and I won't benefit in any way from this blog.....

4 September 2020

Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside!

August Bank Holiday....  

            Great British traditions.... 

Everyone delights to spend their summer's holiday 
down beside the side of the silvery sea. 
I'm no exception to the rule, in fact, if I'd my way, 
I'd reside by the side of the silvery sea.

Especially, I think, when it's a Bank Holiday weekend, and there's a bloody virus all about.....

But when you're just a common or garden Smith or Jones or Brown,
At business up in town, you've got to settle down.
You save up all the money you can till summer comes around
Then away you go to a spot you know where the cockleshells are found

This is just a £3 dish of cockles and whelks, with lots of vinegar (and grit....), from.....

But my friend....

had the works.... by which I mean, a pint of cockles, a pint of whelks, two pints of shell-on prawns, two dressed crabs, two punnets of jellied eels, some smoked mackerel, and almost everything else that was on offer (though I lost count.....)

Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! 
I do like to be beside the sea! 
Oh I do like to stroll along the Prom, Prom, Prom! 
Where the brass bands play, "Tiddely-om-pom-pom!"

So just let me be beside the seaside! 
I'll be beside myself with glee 
and there's lots of girls beside, 
I should like to be beside, beside the seaside, 
beside the sea!

Timothy went to Blackpool for the day last Eastertide 
To see what he could see by the side of the sea.
As soon as he reached the station there the first thing he espied
Was the wine lodge door stood open invitingly
Grinning to himself, he toddled inside and called out for a wine
Which grew to eight or nine, till his nose began to shine.
Said he 'What people see in the sea, I'm sure I fail to see'
Then he caught the train back home again and to his wife said he

Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! 
I do like to be beside the sea! 
Oh I do like to stroll along the Prom, Prom, Prom! 
Where the brass bands play, "Tiddely-om-pom-pom!"

So just let me be beside the seaside! 
I'll be beside myself with glee 
and there's lots of girls beside, 
I should like to be beside, beside the seaside, 
beside the sea!

William Sykes the burglar he'd been out to work one night
filled his bags with jewels, cash and plate. 
Constable Brown felt quite surprised when William hove in sight. 
Said he, "The hours you're keeping are far too late." 
So he grabbed him by the collar and lodged him safe and sound in jail. 
Next morning looking pale, Bill told a tearful tale. 
The judge said, "For a couple of months I'm sending you away!" 
Said Bill, "How kind! Well if you don't mind, Where I spend my holiday!"

Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! 
I do like to be beside the sea! 
For the sun's always shining as I make my way,
And the brass bands play, "Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay"

So just let me be beside the seaside! 
I'll be beside myself with glee 
and there's lots of girls beside, 
I should like to be beside, beside the seaside, 
beside the sea!

I have to say I love it, and I wouldn't trade it for all the tea in China (nor for all the Novichok (which actually means 'newcomer') in Russia, or elsewhere.....

"I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside is a popular British music hall song. It was written in 1907 by John Glover-Kind and made famous by music hall singer Mark Sheridan who first recorded it in 1909. It speaks of the singer's love for the seaside, and his wish to return there for his summer holidays each year. It was composed at a time when the yearly visits of the British working-class to the seaside were booming.

"It was, for a long time, used as a signature tune by Reginald Dixon MBE, who was the resident organist at the Tower Ballroom, Blackpool, between 1930-70."

(Thank you Wikipedia)

25 August 2020

All Creatures Great and Small

 The world around us.....

Enough of these shots of wildlife!  

OK.  This may be the last such for a while, but I have a sermon to preach, and these recent pics are relevant.....

Not just because I walk every day and carry a camera all the time.... Maybe because I love wisdom (or do I love sophistry?)

Anyway, in observing the world around me, I muse here and there about the present, the past, the future....

I watch birds, like the Red Kite (top) the female Black Cap in the Elderberries (above) and snap at insects, like this male Banded Demoiselle....

And this Common (I think) Darter.....

And this (toxic) Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar feasting on its beloved Ragwort.....

And it's fun to catch a glimpse of some of the more camouflaged denizens of this world, like this common Field Grasshopper (who has the ornate latin handle of Chorthippus brunneus)...

I wonder at their beauty and their form....  I love to see the glossy sheen of Corvids, with their raucous voices and bold behaviours (they don't like Kites or Buzzards and will mob them to protect their young)....

It's great to see the usual suspects - tits and wrens, robins and sparrows, starlings and, as here, a chaffinch or two.....

And I am thrilled sometimes to spot something less common, like these two LBJs (little brown jobs) that were twittering and squabbling just ahead of me the other day - too far and too quick for me to ask them to identify themselves at the time.....

I kinda (sic) thought we might have a Whitethroat here, but couldn't get the eye stripe. So I made enquiries of the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) who thought there was a Whinchat wanting to dislodge a Whitethroat from its perch. That may be the case, though I sort of think they may both be Whinchats (females).  But hey!  What's in a name?  (A rose would smell as sweet....)

Excuse me?  You said you had a sermon to preach?

I'm coming to it.....

Well, get on with it will you?  I've not got all day.....

OK. I don't see so many animals/mammals.  At least not live ones.  The occasional deer, maybe, and this confused Hoglet, who seemed to have lost its mum.....

It's the dead you notice.  And I don't mean roadkill....

This badger had probably been poisoned - it doesn't have natural predators, and it wouldn't have died of old age quite so obviously.....  The local gamekeeper is renowned for his eradication of threats to his game birds....  He shoots crows and poisons foxes, so, sadly, I think this chap may have met his end in a similar way....

Though quite what happened to this common shrew (Sorex araneus) I cannot guess.  It would appear that this was a brutal murder, but there's no sign of a blunt instrument.....

And your point is?

Hang on a minute.....

And look at this....

You really lost me now.  That's disgusting!  

No.  It's a little unpleasant to look at, but it's the way of nature.  Everything has its time, and then  it's recycled.  We may not like wasps and flies, but everything has its place, and part to play.

So what is your point?

OK.  It's simply this.  In all my walks I observe the turning world and I note that everything seems to me to have integrity.  I mean, birds, animals, insects, et al, all do what they are made to do.  There may be strategies, and there may be camouflages, but there's no deceit.  I expect I am naive in this, and experts may give examples of where I am wrong, but, for instance, the corona virus did not set out to ruin our world.  Just like ebola, and influenza, and leprosy and bubonic plague, it didn't set out to spoil our fun.

We are the plague that will destroy this world.  We are the makers of the new Mars.

You're nuts!

Not a bit!  I'll give you one more example. What words spring to mind when you see this picture?

I will give you a few suggestions: Ambition. Laziness. Deceit. Lust for power. Selfishness. Irresponsibility. Cowardice. Misjudgement. Nepotism. Confusion. Pride.....

Methinks you do protest too much.....

Just take those words and see if any of them apply to any of the creatures, alive or dead, that I have illustrated above this last.....

Errr, well....

So.  Who did kill cock robin?

The sparrow.

How do you know?

Well, he confessed.

You'll believe anything they tell you, won't you.....?

Is that a wasp in your mouth?  Or are you just pleased to see me?

And..... on with my walk.....

Some people think the sky is blue....

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
Alexander BPJ wants them all.....

20 August 2020

The Ridgeway National Trail

 Walking, Just Walking....

It was grey, and wet, and slippery, and not a great day for an 87 mile trek.

Though it could have been worse.  It could have been hot, like two weeks ago.  Or thundering, like a week ago.  

Nothing's ever right.

It's all a compromise.....

Anyway, yesterday, we made it to the top of Ivinghoe Beacon at the northern end of The Ridgeway National Trail, looking into the murk over the Vale of Aylesbury.  Amanda held her umbrella to shelter our daughter Hannah and her husband, Cameron, while I took some pics of the occasion.

So, all geared up, and carrying packs with a tent and sleeping bags, food and 'stuff' here they are, smiling, and raring to go.

This was not a mercenary mission; it was something they had wanted to do, and with the relaxation of lock-down, the plan had been finalised.

But it seemed a good idea to ask for sponsorship to raise money for the National Brain Appeal as this charity manages Rare Dementia Support (Rare Dementia Support is a fund held by the National Brain Appeal. Registered Charity Number 290173) which we benefit from in caring for Amanda, who has the semantic variant of Frontotemporal Dementia.....

Dementia is currently incurable, and it is a one-way street. It is no fun for the sufferer, but is also hard for the family and carers, as memory slips away, recognition and language disappear, behaviour becomes unpredictable and sometimes problematic if not dangerous. But thanks to the researchers at the National Hospital for Neurology & Neurosurgery, Queen Square, London, and their associates, progress in understanding is being made, and support is offered to sufferers and their carers.

(Which is good, as there is very little on offer from this government.....)

A few weeks ago we did a little reconnaisance, and walked to Wayland's Smithy, a two-phase Neolithic tomb originating from about 5,500 years ago. According to English Heritage, Wayland’s Smithy has been a recognised feature of the historic landscape since at least the 10th century AD. The name of Wayland’s Smithy has been linked to the long barrow since at least AD 955, when it was referred to as ‘Weland’s Smithy’ in a Saxon charter. It appears to be a name handed down from a time when metalworking was remembered as a potent, even magical practice.

It is a magical place, surrounded by mature trees and resting largely undisturbed by the masses.....

It looked pretty much the same when I first visited, (shortly after it was built.....) which is reassuring in a way.....

It's not the only piece of prehistory upon the Trail (and that's apart from me.....) The Ridgeway itself is an ancient pathway, trodden by innumerable human feet over at least five millennia.  Some of it is now on metalled tracks, 

some on muddy footpaths,  (and this is Hannah, yesterday),

I walked it about twenty years ago, when I was a lad of fifty or so, but it has been a National Trail since 1972.

It is part of a longer route which connected the coast of Dorset with the Wash and the North Sea.  In this section it follows the chalk ridges of the Wiltshire Downs and the Chilterns, so it is well drained and allows for fair visibility all round.

Along the way there are sites such as the Bronze Age Uffington White Horse, and the Iron Age Hill Fort known as Uffington Castle, where Amanda inspected the Trig Point at 261 metres above sea level.

The route is not all consistently well surfaced, but some stretches, as here near Uffington Castle, have been made good for wheelchair users, and, inevitably, cyclists.  When I walked it, however, much of it was uneven and in places badly rutted by off-road motor bikes, which made the going pretty tiresome.

I walked it in high summer, though the first two days I got pretty wet and my boots rubbed and I felt quite sorry for myself (as you can see.....)

But it warmed up after crossing the Thames at Goring Gap, and by the time I got to the White Horse my brain was scorched and I had to lie down.....

But I survived, and didn't wake up to find myself entombed, so I carried on......

And after another day or so I passed Barbury Castle, another Iron Age Hill Fort, 

And then, finally, after some five days of hard walking, I hobbled down to the World heritage Site of Avebury, where a lot of stones live in a circle.  

It was a wonderful feeling, and the stones were so welcoming!   

This is where Hannah and Cameron will be in a few days time, footsore but happy, with a great sense of achievement, after their 87 miles of backpacking. And, I hope, having inspired donations to help a seriously good cause.  Please support them, if you can, by donating something via JustGiving via: 

Well done little goblin!

Ain't talkin', just walkin'
Up the road, around the bend
Heart burnin', still yearnin'
In the last outback at the world's end

Ain't Talkin'
Bob Dylan

Contact Rare Dementia Support

For information relating to a specific dementia diagnosis contact the RDS Direct Support Team at contact@raredementiasupport.org or by telephoning 07388 220355 or 07341 776317 and we will refer your enquiry to the most appropriate team member.

Please note that phone calls will not be answered immediately, so please leave a voicemail message with your contact information if you would like to speak to somebody on the telephone. 

For regional enquiries please email Roberta McKee-Jackson at r.mckee-jackson@ucl.ac.uk.

For more information about our work or to share your stories and feedback please email: contact@raredementiasupport.org.