Drawing From Memory

2013-06-12 20.33.59The drawing task this week was to sketch something from memory, using any materials we wished.  After a false start trying to capture something from the day, I settled on the landscape which is most deeply embedded in my mind’s eye.  And going way back to the beginning of deciding to start to learn to draw when my basic objective was to learn how to work with pastels, I stuck with them, and tried to incorporate as many different types of mark as I could.

The thing about drawing from memory is that once you’ve started it gradually moves further and further away from the picture in your head, or at least that was my experience; and it turns out that’s all right because it is essentially abstract.  I still wish I had better control over the rendering of colour with pastels…..

Fleeting – A Photo

IMG_1947_edited-1Here’s one that was but a brief moment, albeit one that was long enough for me to see the bird and for it still to be there by the time I had found my camera.

I don’t know what kind of bird it is, other than a very wet one.  It had been pouring with rain; there are still drops hanging to the underside of the railing, but the sky had started to clear.  I had been doing what I normally do at Cove Park: staring out of the window every time I raised my head from my desk, watching the weather, and the clouds rolling in and back, and the changing light and shadows on the hills opposite.

I have hundreds of photographs of this view in varying lights, at different time of the day and in different seasons, but this is the only time I caught a little bird visiting for long enough to pose for a photo.

Talking About Sir Walter Scott

2013-04-25 14.03.08-1I suppose when you’ve been named after a character in a novel, it’s inevitable that you develop a complicated relationship with its author.  And if the name is a relatively unusual one, and the book a well known one, or at least one that is the inspiration for many teatime television classic adaptations, that relationship can go through distinctly fractious phases.

It was a difficult time when Ivanhoe was on the school curriculum, and everyone who cracked a joke about the book to me thought they were the first; but since then, I have been more pleasantly surprised when people I have met around the world have unexpectedly commented on the name and made the link to the book or to actors who have played the characters on television.

Taking a moment to think about it though, I couldn’t recall if I had ever read any other Scott books.  (Indeed of all the 19th century Scottish literature I read at school, I had to spend a few moments checking which were by him and which by Robert Louis Stevenson, so little did I enjoy them at the time.  That research revealed that the ones I did recall were by RLS, apart from Marmion, noted especially for its soporific qualities.)

So when I heard that, as a part of a wider programme of commemoration of Sir Walter Scott, Radio 4’s ‘Open Book’ was recording a special discussion of his contemporary relevance, I thought it would be a good opportunity to reassess my own knowledge of his work.  The recording took place in the Crush Bar at the Opera House Covent Garden, a red and gold plush interior lit by a splendid chandelier, and was filled with a crowd of what must have been typical members of the Radio 4 audience.  Interestingly, a show of hands revealed that fewer than half the people present had read a Scott novel, and only a handful had read more than one.

The panel comprised Scott enthusiasts Stuart Kelly and Allan Massie, and recent convert, Denise Mina.  All of them praised the humour of the works, but recommended developing the ‘laudable’ art of skim reading to overcome the more verbose sections of the novels, but then pointed out how many well known literary tropes had originated with him: Robin Hood splitting an arrow when he fired his own into a tree, Sir Walter Raleigh laying his cloak over a puddle for Queen Elizabeth to step over, two rival heroines, a blond and a brunette, re imagining history by recounting the third Jacobite Rebellion that never was ……

At the end of the discussion, a second show of hands showed that the majority of the audience had been convinced that they would try one of his books sometime soon.  Maybe you can be persuaded too, now you know about the skipping?  What do you think?

The programme featuring my contribution to audience ambience and applause will be broadcast on Sunday.

The Return of the Sun


After days of cold rain and grey skies, it has been refreshing and restorative to see sunshine and feel warmth on my face. I fear it may not last until Sunday when the weather map on the television shows another swathe of wind and rain hit the west coast, so time to head back east……

A Film and A Curry

What more does one need for a good night out?

Danny Boyle is enjoying something of golden glow at the moment, feted for both the Olympics opening ceremony and a tremendous stage production of Frankenstein within the last couple of years, he has also kept his hand in making films.  I heard him say, in one of the many interviews he has given as part of the publicity for his latest release, Trance, that he made the film in London to escape from the tension of being involved with the Olympics. And the film gives a very different picture of London, a rather dystopian one at that.

Part caper, part psychological thriller, Trance, is the story of a fine art heist.  In return for the settlement of his gambling debts, James McAvoy’s character, a dealer in an auction house, agrees to be the inside man on a plan to steal a highly prized Goya as it goes under the hammer.  The theft goes according to plan, until McAvoy takes a blow to the head and forgets where he has stashed the painting.  To make him recall the location of the loot, Vincent Cassel, the gang leader, sends him to a hypnotist, played by Rosario Dawson.  And from here, the viewer is sent on a looping track of wondering what is real, what is only in the minds of the protagonists, who is the goody, who the baddie, and who’s in charge.

It’s an intriguing set up, and many of the surprise swerves and switchbacks of the plot kept me guessing and puzzled, and it is filled with the swoop and sway and visceral violence which is such a Danny Boyle trademark, but I never quite felt that the final resolution  fully satisfied all the complications along the way, especially as it relied on a fairly long explanation direct to camera by one of the characters to put us all in the picture before the end of the movie.  But it is always a pleasure to see James McAvoy, and especially when he can use his natural Scottish accent.

And after the film we went for a curry, starting off with that traditional Scottish dish Pakora (basically deep fried batter made from chick pea flour) .  I have no idea if this is served anywhere in India, or why it is so popular in the west of Scotland and virtually unavailable in England.  Perhaps it’s because the people who opened the first Indian restaurants in Scotland came from a particular part of the sub continent, or perhaps more likely, if, when they did arrive here, they worked out the Scottish taste for fried things and set about satisfying it.

For me it is a taste from adolescence, from bags of carry out pakora from the local restaurant, eaten on bright summer evenings sitting on a bench on the front overlooking the river with a friend.  So if I’m ever in a curry house in Scotland, it simply has to be part of the order…..
2013-04-17 20.21.25

Bracing Myself Against the Wind

2013-04-16 15.54.29It had stopped raining for long enough for the idea of a walk to be not quite so preposterous as earlier in the day, but I didn’t want to go too far in case it started again.  So I followed the dog walkers’ path through the woods and up to the town’s reservoir.  The wind flattened my jacket against me and threatened to tug my borrowed hat away onto the hillside; when I hesitated on where to place my feet to avoid the worst of the muddy puddles it tried to unbalance me, and it whipped up the surface of the water as if the furies were racing by.

The sun, when it broke through the cloud brought the water into a sudden sharp knife silver, and disappeared as quickly as it came.

An Exercise in Patience

eacI drove back to London from Scotland yesterday.  It’s about 430 miles door to door, depending on which route I choose.  My best time, achieved on a quiet, dry and sunny Boxing Day (26th December for the non British amongst you) about 20 years ago, is seven and a half hours including stops.  To achieve that, the roads must be clear and pit stops must be kept to a minimum.

Yesterday’s journey was marked by being the antithesis of all of the above.

In spite of general rejoicing in weather forecasts that summer had finally arrived, there was little evidence of sun or blue sky in Scotland, so the windscreen wipers were on intermittent and the headlights were on dipped when I saw I was approaching brightly illuminated brake lights and emergency flashers on a high point just outside Ecclefechan.

It’s just north of Gretna, but I think it’s important to note its closer proximity to Ecclefechan, a name which in my family is used as a stand in for any number of comical Scottish place names, along with Auchtermuchty, Lesmahagow, and Tomintoul, in imagined football score reporting as in Ecclefechan 4, Auchtermuchty 3.  (And Ecclefechan’s Wikipedia entry notes that it has two shops, one of which is no longer a Post Office.)

Anyway, this spot on the M74, the main west coast road south from Scotland, has little to recommend it; and yesterday it was positively dreech.  So it was not a great place in which to be stuck in stationery traffic for over 2 hours.  When I say stationery, I mean absolutely stock still, nobody going anywhere, engines off, car doors open to stretch legs, chatting in the carriageway, dogs being walked in the central reservation and one small child tightrope walking on the crash barriers holding onto his mother’s hand.  Had the sun been shining I would have had hopes of an impromptu football match.

According to the local radio station which I found eventually, it was due to an overturned caravan.  I couldn’t check further, as of course, in such a remote place where information is at a real premium, there was no telephone reception.

Finally, when everyone hurried back to their vehicles, and after a few faltering starts around cars that couldn’t get going without being pushed, the traffic sped fairly smoothly past a car and a caravan, each perched on a break down trailer.  Fortunately it was only the caravan that looked bashed and dented, so I’m hoping no-one was hurt.  But really it is just another argument for not allowing the things on the roads.  They just shouldn’t be allowed.  Dragging a caravan around is as socially unacceptable as drink driving in my book; they share the same self obsessed disregard for other road users, and create as much potentially fatal jeopardy.

Knowing that there would now be two hours worth of pent up need for toilet and fuel stops, I elected to go into the first services, but instead to drive on to the ones just north of Carlisle……. and, in quite a large car park, parked diagonally opposite the car that had been immediately to my right in the jam…… only to find that the service building was closed because of a fire alarm.  So I ran across the bridge over the motorway to the northbound services where there was a long line at the ladies’ because only half of it was open.

It was then that I realised how much of my patience quota for the day I had expended on sitting trapped in the jam in the middle of nowhere.

I’m over it now; just don’t mention caravans.

An Unlikely Use For An Airline Eye Mask

Not tartan enough

I don’t think my friend J asked me if I had anything tartan I could lend her because of my Scottishness, I think it was more that she knows I have all sorts of odd bits and pieces in drawers and cupboards.

When she first told me she was going to a Burns Supper for the first time, I wished her luck.  Sooner her than me: I’ve only been to one, and that was when I was at school, and was required to answer the Toast to the Lassies; the food wasn’t very appetising, and the evening went on and on…..on and on.

J only needed a small something in tartan, to show willing; it didn’t have to extend to something like those sashes the Queen Mother used to wear over her dress for country dancing, nor indeed to one of those tourist tat ‘See you Jimmy’ hats, but at first I told J that I didn’t have anything suitable, because tartan’s not really my thing.

She was just about to leave when I remembered a handkerchief/eye mask combination that I’ve had in my bottom drawer since Virgin Atlantic gave them to me years ago, when I was one of their frequent flyers, saved, because you  just never know when something even as ostensibly redundant as yet another airline eye mask, might be useful.  Astonishingly, I was able to put my hands straight on them, and as I had recalled, one was a perfect tartan pattern.

I didn’t really have much of an idea how she could use the hankie nor the eye mask; maybe a temporary bracelet or a covering for an Alice band……

I’ve only just heard the low down from J about her evening: fun, although my predictions about the food and the interminable duration were all on point.

And as for the tartan?  She didn’t wear it, but instead had it in her handbag, ‘just in case’.  So when the games started, she was well prepared. As well as challenges to find someone with the same birthday as them, everyone was charged with finding the person carrying the most unusual item.

And in those circumstances, what could possibly trump a tartan eye mask?

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