Friday, 7 May 2021

Formal funeral in Clare


Formal funeral in Clare

Taking the dogs for their daily walk in Clare yesterday, I spotted a traditional funeral cortege. It was just leaving Martin's the undertakers, carrying the coffin to the church where the vicar came out to escort the coffin to its central place in the aisle. I did not learn who had died, but clearly someone who wished for a traditional send off. Formal horse drawn funerals are rare in Clare, although I did see one a while before, when the horses and carriage were brought together in the park prior to their journey to collect the coffin.

Ann and I have been working hard to repair the damaged decking at the back of the house, ripping up the old decking and placed it in the skip. Then, following Ann's idea, we filled the far half with gravel. That was a job and a half, because of the depth of the wooden surround. Lacking hardcore to fill the base, we had to buy bags of gravel before getting the top layer of smooth Scottish pebbles. We estimate that we moved a ton and a half of stone between us, from the garden centre to the car, then the car to the site. We were glad to sit down after the last bag was in place.

Next, we have ordered the new decking boards delivered yesterday, and spent the morning shifting them to the site in readiness for screwing down. In the evening, our friends Rae and Malcolm came to share a takeaway supper from the Rose and Crown, our local pub. Malcolm is in his 80's, but has already volunteered himself to help fix the boards in place at the weekend (weather allowing). We prepared ourselves with a good lubrication of wine.

I have now finished two more portraits, the one of Ann in her natural pose, the other of one of our granddaughters, but I regret I cannot publish either. Modesty forbids in one case, and in the other, MA likes to protect her children by not publishing photos of them on line. However, we see them and I am quite pleased with the results.

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

The Empty Chair

The Empty Chair
After receiving some complements about my hat from some boys in Clare Park (not sure if they were being facetious, but no matter), I decided to paint it for memory's sake. It is slung from the old wooden chair in my room, which looked so bare I had to call it more poignantly,  The Empty Chair. The room is not really empty; in fact, it is fully cluttered with papers and books piled high against every wall, but apart from the pain of having to paint clutter, it would then have to be called The Lost Chair, for it would hardly be visible.

Finally, we are all emerging from lockdown. we can eat outside under blankets (al fresco dining is not suited to April weather in England), and most shops have reopened - at least, those that haven't gone into receivership  due to the harsh conditions of lockdown). I have returned to our local art shop in Bury to browse and buy a few bits, so much more pleasant than perusing an on-line catalogue.

Ann likes to order her clothes online now, and even though the shops are open one still can't use changing rooms in any case. Last week she ordered a new skirt and went upstairs to try it. Suddenly I heard a plaintiff cry, "John - John - help!". The poor girl had pulled it down over her head and got it as far as the waist, but it was very tight and she couldn't get it off again. It really was stuck. I could hardly get a finger in under the band, but managed to wriggle it slowly back up. It was very difficult getting it past the breasts, though it was so tight. Finally I succeeded, and could ease it over Ann's extended arms. It wasn't because Ann was being vain ordering a skirt too small, she explained, it was the same size as she always orders, but some of the foreign made ones make them too small. Some good is coming out of all this though. I took a number of photos of Ann in the altogether, and we chose one for me to paint. I look forward to finishing it.

Outside, we have done a bit of gardening, and decided to renew the patio. This was built for us by Sam many years ago, but has finally succumbed to age and weathering, and some of the boards have started to rot. We had quotes for rebuilding the decking or changing it to a stone patio, but the quotes are humendous. So we have removed the old decking ourselves and stacked it up ready to order a skip. The framework is still sound, so we'll just buy new decking for most of it, and plan to fill the remained with gravel.


Thursday, 8 April 2021

Ravens in Suffolk

The surgery seemed to have forgotten to call me for my second jab, but hot news - I had my second Covid jab last night. Ann suggested I drop a note into the surgery as GPs are never there anymore, and their telephone is a minefield of selections and waiting, with only Dalek voices at the end. The first jab was in January, but following the government's unusual policy, the second was spaced three months later. I think they called it right on this one, so hopefully the whole country will have some protection soon and we can get out and about again.

Ann in Lockdown
I have now completed a portrait of Ann. It shows the isolation of lockdown, with Ann working on her Apple in a stark, bare room, just a coffee cup and volume of poetry for company (I was behind the camera, then in the studio painting). It is a larger painting, oil on canvas, 14"x12". I am keen to try some larger canvases soon, when the art shop in Bury reopens and I can browse and select the things I want.

With no prospect of foreign travel again at the moment, we have booked a week away in Northumberland. I hope to take the paint set up there with us, and perhaps try some plein air painting, as we artists call it (I'm slowly learning the terms now, thinks to my YouTube tutors). 

Edwin has had another prang in his car. This was not his fault as he wasn't in it; it was parked in the private carpark behind his flat in Cambridge. Someone had reversed into it with a towbar, but left without leaving their contact details. A witness told Edwin which flat owner had done it, and Edwin left a note asking them to cough up, but they have denied it. He is reluctant to inform the police over it, so will probably have to pay for the repairs himself. This is the second time someone has bumped into him in a carpark, and just left. It is an expensive business.

Ravens in Hundon
We are getting a lot of birds now, with the feeders up round the house. Beside all the little ones, yesterday Ann spotted a pair of ravens. They are huge birds and landed on the roof of the saloon, then hopped down to the lawn to feed at the foot of the bird table, frightening off the pigeons that usually take up positions there to wait for seed to fall. This bird table must be an antique now; my dad made it for my mum more than 50 years ago, and I brought it down to Suffolk when they died. Ravens are rare in Suffolk, but Ann discovered that a breeding pair had been reported three years ago, so perhaps they are returning to the area for some reason.

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Pigeon pests and high jinks

 My earlier picture, Strata 1, taken from the strong banding formations seen in  Dales Gorge, Western Australia, looked a little barren. I have always much admired the striking geological formations we see in the UK, but even more prominent and colourful strata can be seen at sites round the world. The native tree there has the odd name, Snappy Gum Tree, and is distinctly white, so I have now added one to the composition. It breaks the bands up well, and is a worthy addition to the frame.

Strata 1 and Snappy Gum Tree

Making the most of the hot March weather, I could take my first walk of the year round the fields without being caked in mud. The ploughed fields were heavy with pigeons that rose in a thick cloud as I approached. This morning, after the Nightingale's early greeting, came heavy repeated gun shots. I suspect the farmers don't see pigeons in the same way as we non-rural folk, but view them as pests gorging on their newly planted seed. Ann hates to see birds shot, but even she curses pigeons when they crap on her car. She refuses to park on the drive beneath our huge maple tree throughout the summer because of the bird mess, so parks on the roadway instead.

Ann is fond of japes, always at my expense. I have a habit of sitting on the stairs to fasten my shoes and flicking my slippers into the corner for my return. Now when I came back from a drive or walk, I often find just one and have to play "hunt the slipper" for the other. It may be hung from a door knob, or hidden in a basket; Ann peeps out semi-secretly, full of amusement at my loss. This morning, for just a few moments I left a bowl of fruit I was enjoying for breakfast. When I restarted it, I suddenly came upon a slice of cucumber slipped in and hidden beneath the oranges and benanas. Of course, Ann bursts out laughing so I know it's her. 

Today she is full of high spirits as the end of lockdown looms into sight. Already we have booked time away in Northumberland and can't wait to get away, although we dare not risk a holiday abroad until next year, though, so that is something to look forward to in the future. Out on the walks, people are opening up like the buds on the trees, suddenly cheerful and chatty. Taking the car in this morning, our local garageman came over and chatted for nearly 20 minutes, and even the Ocado delivery man spent time on conversation.

Saturday, 27 March 2021

Computer problems and sociable walks.

Death in a cold apartment

I wonder if she died in her sleep
or if she lay knowing end was nigh
and thought of past regrets
wishing someone was near
to hear her last confession
or wipe away her tear
at being wrenched from all she knew
and from everything she held most dear
 Further to my earlier blog about Edwin witnessing the police breaking down the door of the apartment opposite theirs, to recover the body of a woman who died alone (see An Eventful Time in Lockdown), Ann was moved to write a poem about the event. As I've mentioned before, she writes compelling poetry that plunges deep into the despondency and suffering of humanity. There is no shortage of material, but she has been stymied recently by computer glitches, and was unable to log onto WordPress for a while, so there was a hiatus in her work. Strangely, the HomePods also stopped working for a while. Siri kept doing its own thing, suddenly blurting out answers to questions no one had asked, or starting up with unbidden random music. When these systems go wrong, they do so in unique and idiosyncratic ways.

Meanwhile, our son Mike and his partner have started a new computer based business. It is a web design/optimisation service, about which the two of them have considerable experience. So if anyone wants to produce the latest in web pages and reach the top of the search engines, then log onto duodigital. I'm sure they'll have more success than we've had lately with the silicon beasts.

Dog walking brings us into contact with a variety of fellow walkers (always while maintaining social distance rules naturally). For the last few months, we tended to pass at a good distance, often swerving to avoid each other, but as lockdown draws to a close people are becoming more sociable again. This morning it was an older lady walking with a stick and three Welsh springer spaniels. I had Byron on the lead, but Bronte can usually be trusted to "walk on" and ignore other dogs. One of the dogs suddenly started aggressively barking at her, though, causing Bronte to jump and run on. "Oh, she was once nipped by a border collie," the woman explained, "she's disliked them ever since."

Then this evening, two boys stopped to admire my hat, and ask where I got it. I don't think they were being sarcastic. Perhaps it should be a subject for a future painting, if it draws so much interest.

Thursday, 25 March 2021

The Nightingale returns

Waking early, as the first light edges into the room above the dark curtains, I hear the magic notes of the nightingale. It is only late in March, but he has returned early this year. Last year I heard his arrival in April when we were in the first full lockdown with silent, empty skies and roads (see The Nightingale in Empty-Skies). I have opened the window to hear better, and lie for hour listening to his trills as he soars through an unrepeating repertoire. Perhaps his early arrival signals a long, warm summer to come. Finally, the boring pigeons begin to cut in and steal the peace with their multitudinous single strain of noise. 

Grayson Perry Alter Ego
My first portrait of Grayson Perry was in Acrylic on paper when from when he started his Art Club on Channel 4 last year (see Painting Grayson). We are now enjoying his new series, for which I have completed a more contemporary portrait of him in oils on canvas as his alter ego.  We live in a strange, confusing society where to take on certain styles or fashion ones hair in a forbidden way is now absolutely tabboo. If Grayson were to suddenly aspire to be a cowboy, that would be OK (white western men), but a Native American? Definitely out - cultural appropriation. A woman wishes to wear dreadlocks? Verboten. That is stealing Afro-American identity.  Don't dare to come to a fancydress party as an Arab person; that's out now. People moan so often and loudly if a white man dares to dress as another race of person of colour (I can't even say BAME now, that term was suddenly decreed wrong by the thought police) and you will bring down the wrath of the mighty media. Yet it's fine for Arab people to dress in European clothing, or Afro-American women to straighten their hair. It's fine for women to power dress in city suits and boots. Shall a man wear a skirt and hair ribbon and the fashion of a teenage chick? Fine - don't dare to criticise or question, or you'll be labelled an intolerent trans-hater. My point here is not to question Grayson, but to ask in what world is it now forbidden to dress as someone of another culture? It used to be a mark of admiration and respect for other peoples, but now this is where the intolerence lies. Once, men could dress as minstrels because we admired the people and that style of music; indeed, a popular BBC show was built round this theme. But now, one touch of the black grease paint and you're dead in the ground. That is not cultural respect; it is complete intolerence for other people. One day it will reverse, and we will be able to copy any race or culture because we admire it. 

Now I am working on a portrait of Ann, not in a contemporary style but a more classical interpretation. I look forward to completing it and presenting her with it. She is my fiercest critic, so I will try hard to make it worthy of her.

More moans from the front: my tooth socket is as painful as toothache, even though the tooth is now consigned to the bin. I am taking CoCodamol to ease it, supplemented by a large shot of brandy, but was so tired today I went back to bed twice. It was not helped by getting despairing messages from the company I work for demanding urgent replies, and saying they need to get hold of me, and why wasn't I responding to the stream of emails they sent? I don't like to admit the truth on these occasions, for although they haven't shown any overt age discrimination, I am conscious that it is the first thing they might blame if I don't come up to the mark. I simply replied that I had been away from the office (true), but would work on it straight away.

Monday, 22 March 2021


Work has been excessively busy lately as we approach the start date for our new clinical trial. Ann had an appointment with the glaucoma clinic, but work prevented me taking her, so happily Edwin was able to come over and do the honours. Happily the glaucoma is well under control, but Ann has a cataract in her 'bad' eye. Because she still has some peripheral vision in it, they will make another appointment for her to have this cataract removed.  Now I sit under my blanket (I seem to get cold easily), tired from the day's work and in pain from the tooth removal. It's strange, but I had no pain from the cavity before the removal; now it is like intense toothache. It eases with CoCodamol, but I don't like to take them too often, so am waiting until nearly bedtime so they will kick in as I go to sleep. 

Strata 2 Crete

It is a day for reminiscences. For some reason, perhaps because I'm curled up under my blanket, I am remembering when I had to stay at my grandfather's house in Burnley for some months. He was dying, and she went up to look after him, taking we children in tow. The house was in an old cotton weaver's row of back-to-back terraces, what they call "two up and two down". The parlour was for Sunday use, with an old wind-up 78 rmp gramophone, but they moved a single bed there for grandad so he could be downstairs. The one toilet was a brick shed at the end of the yard. It opened as a straight drop onto the sewer below; it looked about ten feet down, and we were always worried we might fall in. To flush it we had to go back to the kitchen and empty a bowl of water down the sink. I remember doing so, and racing back to watch the water swirl away far below.

Bath night was a tin bath brought in from the yard and placed before the fire on the hearth, then filled with kettles of hot water. We boys took turns getting in, and jumping out quickly, embarrassed until mum wrapped the towel round us. In bed, we were warmed by an old stone water bottle which was far too hot, but suddenly very cold, and against which we stubbed our toes if we forgot it was there. I would lie awake far into the night, listening to strange sounds in the deep silence, and hear a church clock chime the hours.

An old "aunt" came for tea one day, and we had boiled eggs. She was disgusted that my mother gave us an egg each. "In my day, children were only given the top of the egg," she complained.

We went to a local school for a term. Even in the 1950's it seemed old-fashioned, almost 19th Century. Boys and girls had separate entrances, and the playground had a high wire fence running down the middle to segragate us. We had morning assembly each day in a large school hall. One morning, a very small girl, barely 6 yearls old, was late, so was summoned by the head to the stage at the far end of the hall. I still remember the deep sadness with which she walked down the aisle. There on the stage, in front of the whole school, her misdemeanour was read out, she was reprimanded, then caned by the headmaster. Now, such punishment seems barbaric, but then it was taken as normal.