Hospitals.

It wasn’t the end of my experience of hospitals. In my early seventies it was discovered that I had gall stones. I needed an operation to remove them, it was set for January.

Just before Christmas I met my friend Peter, he was tucking into a piece of Christmas cake, he had had the same operation the week before. ‘No problem’ he said ‘Easy peasy with this new keyhole surgery, you’re in one day and practically out the next day’ The specialist that I had see was a lovely man, full of humanity, Mr. Heddle. He also assured me that the operation was an easy one. I had every trust in him as I thought he would be doing the operation himself.

I went in with no fears, but it was six weeks before I came out again and even then I had to convalesce. People told me what had happened because I was ‘out of it’ for a lot of the time.

The surgery was performed and I was put in the recovery ward but I was not recovering I was getting worse, no one could understand why. It was a student doctor who solved the problem. The surgeon wasn’t Mr. Heddle but was a new man, he had cut into my duodenum by mistake. It was rumoured  (though I am not sure of the truth) that it was the first time this surgeon had done a keyhole operation. It is difficult because you are operating looking into a screen, I believe it is a little like a mirror,

I was seriously ill, they thought I might die. I had sores all over my face and my mouth and throat felt completely dry all the time. My lips had to have water dripped on them, they were all cracked and white. I was in a lot of pain therefore on morphine. My breathing was difficult and I had to use a nebuliser. The nebuliser was like heaven, suddenly you could breathe clean air and it made a comforting bubbling sound like a hookah. I felt disgusting because my blood soaked bandages were dirty. Why didn’t they change them? I learned later that disturbing the wound and exposing it to the air by continually putting on new bandages, is often more harmful. I had the dreadful agony of bedsores.

I was hallucinating in a completely surreal parallel world. Even when I came out of hospital the alternative world that I had lived in seemed more real than the actual one. The hallucinations were very archetypal. I was on a lonely beach, behind me were sand dunes and a large grassy hillock. Two women with shawls over their heads came to me offering two keys for a wooden door in the hill. They seemed to be offering two choices, one that I would live but have a dreary life or two, that I might die but that if I lived my life would be fulfilling. I felt emotional and terror but I chose number two. It took me ages to differentiate between the reality and the hallucination.I couldn’t find the drawings I did for this one, if I find them I will add them later. I’ve done so many drawings in my life that it is difficult to keep track of them all.

In another dream I thought I was in charge of a storm that could overwhelm the Hebridean Islands. I kept hearing the words of the weather forecast. I knew I was on a bed but behind me I thought there was a glass case containing ancient tools and knives with leather thongs attached to them. I somehow knew I was on a bed and that people were looking at me.

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The Hebridean hallucination was all tied up with Celt imagery too. When you think of my travel history to the crosses and the islands I suppose they all came together in a mish mash in my mind.

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When I left hospital I was haunted by thoughts of what might be going on in the other world that I had inhabited. This went on for months and was disturbing, in the end I got rid of the hallucinations and ghosts by drawing the main incidents. I found that I could deal with them then. I think I am still affected by them.

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I had some terrifying ones too. I thought I was being attacked by birds and having to swallow the feathers. Possibly the strangest one was Oriental (where did that come from?) I was in a room with Buddhist looking men, one of them was praying.  They were breeding some kind of insect/worm in glass cages and I was sure they wanted to put me in one.

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On another occasion I was in a maze of boxes and I couldn’t get out.

They then had to cut my stomach again and this time I lost my belly button! Finally I was allowed to go to a convalescent home. I chose a rather luxurious one, the Old Rectory in Ickham , the rooms were comfortable with fine furniture. I thought I deserved nice food and a lot of comfort after my ordeal. Sadly it wasn’t to end there. I had to go back to the hospital for a routine check after a few days. I was taken in the hospital transport and brought back afterwards to my beautiful room, so calm and quiet after the hubbub of the hospital ward. The next day the home received a phone call it had been discovered that I had a bad infection. Only people dressed in protective clothing were to come near me and some of the sheets had to be burned. I had to go back to hospital for further surgery. I felt like a leper, unclean and apologetic. It was awful.

Afterword………. The husband of the owner of the convalescent home was a lawyer. For some reason or other I was reluctant but he persuaded me that I had a case and that I should sue. He knew that I wouldn’t be able to look after myself for a while. I needed paid help for the cleaning and the gardening for nearly a year. The case took about a year and in the end I got £15.000. The rather funny thing is you get nothing for the suffering and pain and the lawyers have to find a precedent case. The precedent was a case where a woman successfully sued because she could no longer wear a bikini, they also cited the fact that I had no belly button.!!! How ridiculous. Plus of course the expenses that it had incurred.

Can I write this? It’s all part of the story so I must try.

This will be the hardest thing that I have ever attempted to write. I’m a Quaker, I’ve been one since my early thirties. Why? Because through my own personal experience of the transcendental (albeit very fleeting) I have come to believe that there is more in life than just the material world. It is very difficult to describe something that I feel in my inner being.

Almost accidentally throughout my life I had come across people that had impressed me. The first two were at art school. Jake Nicholson, son of the painters Ben Nicholson and Winifred Nicholson, came to give a talk about his time in America. In some part of his talk he must have given his favourable views on the Quakers he had come across during his time there and for some reason the memory of his words stayed with me.

The external examiner for Education at Corsham was a man called Robin Tanner who was a Quaker, educationalist, artist, illustrator and etcher. He was in the William Morris mould, a socialist and poet. He sympathised with the Austrian Professor Cizek and his views on the paramount importance of art for children. Tanner said ‘We are all born with the attributes of the artist, the designer and the craftsman. We have the power to select, to transmute the ordinary into the memorable, to see the world imaginatively or as the poet Rilke expressed it, to re-enkindle the commonplace’ To make the ordinary extraordinary. I read some of his writings and it chimed with what I was feeling. Robin Tanners own work has the same kind of lyrical quality as Samuel Palmer in his early days.

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Etchings by Robin Tanner

Letchworth, where I lived during the first two years of my first marriage to Robin had been founded by the Quakers and lots of them still lived there. They founded the Settlement for further education that I have spoken about in an earlier part of my blog. I came to meet Margaret Harvey, a Quaker who was a great and influential advocate for the arts. She was a friend of Mary Hoad the principal of the nearest art college at St. Albans. She was interested in the personal work of the local art teachers and encouraged us to have a collective exhibition in the town gallery.

When I moved to Stevenage I found that behind a lot of excellent social initiatives there were Quakers. I went on peace marches and of course the Quakers of all ages were there too

Now I am not a person who would ever join an established church. I couldn’t subscribe to a creed. I am suspicious of most ‘religion’ OK for those who have ‘faith’ and ‘believe’, maybe I wish that I could, but I can’t. Having said that I am a seeker, and it seemed to me that the Quakers were also seekers. It is very difficult to pin down Quakerism, there are as many views as there are Quakers but the one thing that they would probably agree on is that they seek the ‘inner light’ and that’s what I seek too. That part of us that can experience and recognise the transcendental. The same light that impels us to make art. A meeting happens largely in expectant silence and that suits my personality.

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New Forest. This natural circle of grass at the bottom of the wooded hill path is called the meeting place.

This seeking could be a rather selfish ‘in turning’ but the experience of the search has led to  social action of all kinds including the peace testimony. Just one example, the Society of Friends published the forward looking ‘Towards a Quaker view of Sex’ years before the current reforms. There are Quaker Buddhists, Quaker Hindu’s, Quaker Cof E’s and even some Quaker Catholics. When I went to live with Betty she was already a Quaker and I soon joined.

Just before Easter some years ago, the C of E church at Blean invited all sorts of different denominations to come to an evening meeting during Holy Week to give their churches views on the Resurrection. They invited the Quakers too and I was appointed to do the impossible. There is no specific Quaker view. I put a lot of work into researching the views of early Quakers. Eventually I decided that the best thing to do was to take my recorder and interview a wide section of Quakers and transcribe what they had said. In the face of the confident beliefs of the other denominations I think most people in the congregation thought that the Quakers were ‘wooly’, we are often accused of that.

nov25forestsun                     The New Forest. I drew this one evening as the sun was setting.

Now the very difficult bit.

I was tired when I got home, Ken and I were sitting at the table having a cup of tea and talking about the evening when he suddenly stopped in mid speech and slumped sideways against me in danger of falling on the floor. I realised immediately that he had had a stroke. I tried to hold him up whilst reaching for the phone and dialling 999. We were downstairs and it seemed like ages before the ambulance arrived though it was probably only about ten minutes. They carried him up the stairs and into the ambulance. My heart was pounding again and the familiar feeling of cold trembling was creeping over me. I gathered essentials and tried to follow the ambulance in the car. By the time all this happened it was about midnight. Going down Sturry Hill I was overtaken by a police car which pulled in front of me and signalled me to stop ‘Do you realise that one of your tailgate lights isn’t working. It is a punishable offence’ at that stage I just broke down in tears. They thought I was being over dramatic until I told them the circumstances. They then drove in front of me clearing the traffic until we got to the hospital. At this stage Ken was still conscious but it was clear that it was a bad stroke. I phoned the family. He was put into a small side ward. We congregated around his bed, I held his hand and the family spoke about the good times that they had had. The hearing is the last thing to go. He lasted a day before he died. It was a bleak and sad time. I can remember coming out of the main door of the hospital after his death and being offended that the sun was shining and that people were talking, laughing and going about their everyday business. I was going to illustrate this part with hospital drawings from other occasions but I think it would be inappropriate. Another of my drawings from the New Forest might just do.

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Difficult Times (not much about art, you might want to leave it but it is part of my journey)

Ken still had a yearning to spend holiday time boating, I wasn’t that keen but he had had two heart attacks and he was ten years older than me so I wanted him to have the best time that he could. I drew the line at hiring a cruiser. I found an advert for a converted boat house next to the broads with the possibility of hiring a small boat for a week. I thought this would be a good compromise. We arrived at the main house and the owner John, took us down a very long garden path, rather wild to the boat house.

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The flat was upstairs. The river was about thirty yards away and there was a beautiful little dock at the side of the lawn. From the upstairs window there was a great view of the river in both directions. The entrance  to the hire boat firm was just across the river.

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I felt a bit ambivalent about the atmosphere of the place, I had an uneasy feeling. We had taken the canoe with us. The first day that we were there the hire boat firm brought the little boat and tied it up in the small dock. In the afternoon we had such a good trip in it to Wroxham Broad, it looked as though we might have a good week. I always have my sketch book with me of course and I made some interesting drawings of  twisted tree roots half in and half out of the water, and other boat houses at the edge of the Broad.

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The little dock at the side of the garden with the small hire boat brought from a boat yard just across the river.

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Ken in his element on our way to Wroxham Broad on the first day.

About half way through the night Ken started to cry out in agony, at first I thought it might be his heart, but it was his prostate, it had blocked off. Another night time panic, very like the first one. Somehow we managed to negotiate our way up the long overgrown garden path with Ken in some distress. There were no mobile phones in those days. The hospital was in Norwich. I had never driven in Norwich and didn’t know my way around. My heart was pounding again just as it had in Cornwall. All the time Ken was getting worse. With some relief I found signs pointing to the hospital and headed in that direction. We got there and went in the foyer with only to be told it wasn’t the right part. We had to get back in the car and eventually after some anxiety we were in the right place. They took him to a ward and put in a catheter. I slept there for the night, deja vue. They said they would operate the next day. In the morning I went back to the boat house to gather some necessary things, I’d been told to go back in the evening. I spent the afternoon trying to draw but I couldn’t settle down enough to do anything of any value.

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River bank.

To my dismay, when I got there in the evening I found that they had not done the operation.  They said that they had discovered he didn’t come from the area and that he would have to go back to Canterbury. I remonstrated but they wouldn’t listen. We had a hideous journey back. The specialist in Norwich had phoned Canterbury and I naturally thought he would go straight in. Then even more bad news they couldn’t do it, he would have to wait his turn. So he was at home with the catheter. He got infections (as you do when you are using one for a long time) I had huge arguments with the hospital and so did Ken’s children. In the end I had to appeal to Roger Gale to intervene on our behalf.

John, the very kind owner of the boat house insisted that we should have a free holiday in the flat the next year. We did go but I really didn’t enjoy it there were too many bad memories about the place. There was one big plus however John had bought a large traditional Broads sailing boat, he had restored it and he took us out for a couple of trips.It was not easy under sail as the river is not very wide, you are tacking every few minutes and avoiding inexperienced skippers of holiday cruisers. It was a beautiful old boat. Although we had hired lots of fibre glass boats on our holidays Ken’s heart was in love with wooden boats especially of traditional build.

 

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John’s traditional Broads sailing boat.

I didn’t know at that time but it was the beginning of some bad years. I have so many drawings of hospitals from those years. Drawing was a consolation and a way of distracting myself from pain and worry.

Nov24hospital ward

At least you had a comfortable place to sit. I certainly wasn’t capable of drawing standing up any more.

 

More Musicians ( I promise that these will be the last ones for a while)

I could see when I look at my collection that I haven’t drawn any contemporary pop and rock musicians and I wondered why. Then I realised that I don’t know much about new developments any more and the reason is because I don’t hear it, not because I don’t want to or that I don’t like it but I have come to love the spoken word even more. Radio 4 makes the background to my day, so much of the output is thought provoking or incredibly informative. I’m a huge fan of the dramas and stories. Life simply isn’t big enough for all the things you want to do and the places you want to go to. I don’t seem to want to watch TV any more, I prefer to choose a film or a TV series and watch it on my lap top. I admit it does cut you off from certain conversations. Can you believe it I have never watched Come Dancing in spite of my love of dance.nov22sagaguitar

 

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When Ken and I started playing we played lots of folk music, we belonged to a folk music group in Canterbury and twice a year we went to stay for the weekend at Springfield House near Rye. The food was fantastic and we were often up most of the night playing (no change there then) What made it special for me was that it was that it had been the home of Edward Burra and I’d always loved his paintings. Everywhere I went in that house and garden I could imagine him being there. His family were well off, they had eight servants. The house is elegant with a beautiful staircase as a kind of centrepiece. As a child Edward developed rheumatoid arthritis, this meant that he had to leave his boarding school and be taught at home. Apparently he said to his mother one day ‘I’m just going out’ and more or less left home just like that. Paul Nash encouraged him and introduced him to surrealism, but his work doesn’t fit into any ‘ism’ it is unique and personal. A bit like George Grosz or Otto Dix.

novv24burrablackwomen He loved to observe the seemy side of life wherever he travelled and he travelled a lot. Most of his work is on paper, his hands were very twisted with arthritis and he couldn’t cope with oil. He was just unfortunate that he lived in a time when abstract impressionism was king and figures almost non existent. He might have preferred it that way as he never went to any of his private views, fame might not have suited his personality. During the latter part of his life he made quirky rather dark landscape paintings, another unfashionable subject at that time.

Valley and River, Northumberland 1972 by Edward Burra 1905-1976

He described Rye as ‘a duckie little Tinkerbell towne’ but who could help liking a man who also said ‘always join the minority’ So Springfield was full of his spirit for me.

At Springfield the two guitarists shown immediately above were brilliant song writers about everyday subjects. I wish I had the words to some of them. a lot of them were funny wry observations on life, Cockney in style, slightly Chas and Dave. I can remember one of them was called ‘Sunday Tea with my Gran’ The chorus being a repeat of all the food she put on the table.

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There were various jazz clubs, mostly trad jazz, the one I went to most often was at the retro Walpole Hotel, in Margate. You could order food and drinks and listen to the band.  It was held in the basement, you had to use this incredibly old fashioned iron fretted lift to get there. I guess there was a staircase but I was already finding them a bit difficult.nov21bernardbest

I couldn’t possibly leave this page without mentioning one of Ken’s favourite musicians, a local, born in Canterbury, sax and clarinet player Tony Coe. Ken knew Tony’s father, I think he was called George, they knew each other from dance band days as George also played the sax. We saw Tony play on lots of occasions but the one I remember with the greatest pleasure was a master class he did for the Canterbury Fringe Festival. He inspired them and taught them so much in a very short time. He is such a sensitive inventive player, his whole life is in his music.

nov23tony coe.jpg                    Tony has the kind of hunched back that a lot of sax players develop.

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Above… Tony with renowned jazz pianist Stan Tracey.

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With a student at the master class held in the Old Synagogue, in Kings Street.

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Above… a group of students playing as an ensemble at Tony’s master class. He taught them so much in a short time. I have enough of these musician drawings to make a book of anecdotes….but I won’t!

Musicians (again)

Going through these drawings has brought back so many memories, more than I could ever imagine. Before I started this blog I had no idea what a resource I had to evoke instant recall. It has been a pleasurable experience so I really can’t leave it behind yet. It will be a shorter blog than usual because I have spent a lot of the day designing my Christmas card and sending it off to the printers for Black Friday. I did it last year and made good savings on the money I usually pay for cards. It’s been bugging me for a week. The only thing that I realised after it was all approved and paid for was that I had put an e where there should have been a c. My eyesight is poor these days and it was only when I saw it very enlarged that I realised. In the middle east they always leave a small mistake on their woven carpets on purpose…only Allah is perfect so you are tempting fate trying to emulate him. That’s my excuse.

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The year after Ken had been so ill, I decided ‘no boating’ We both needed a holiday so I devised a trip to the West country using hotels that had heated swimming pools both he and I needed relaxation and exercise. The first hotel was a very expensive one on the banks of the Thames at Caversham. It soon became obvious that the swimming wasn’t for him. He couldn’t swim very well and it made his heart pound in an alarming way.  Each day in our various hotels I usually had the pool to myself, great luxury with a robe and big fluffy towels. We had paid so much for the hotels that we couldn’t afford to eat in them, apart from breakfast which was included. At Caversham we sneeked off to the greasy spoon across the road.

The drawing above comes from a hotel that we stayed in in Torquay. It had a pool, very run down but I didn’t mind. The rest of the hotel had seen better days too. There was a small ballroom with a balcony all around it. In the evening we went to hear the band, we were there having a drink when they came in. It was almost like a joke, they were old and worn like the hotel. They shuffled in. We almost left. Then they started to play and they were absolutely terrific, full of life, inventive in their rhythms and improvisations and fun. They got people dancing almost straight away. Not many bands can do this. The music brought them to life and at the end they went back to being shuffling old men again.

nov22lederhosegood.jpgOn another night they had a Bierkeller Band, definitely not my cup of tea, or my pint of beer. I stayed because I knew they would be interesting to draw. The sight of grown men in leder hosen reminds me of Nazi’s and the Hitler youth movement. Here was another cigarette smoking musician, it shows how long ago it was.

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Almost by accident, (more later on in the blog) I joined a Keyboard and Organ Club. It is a very strange little world of it’s own. There are specialist musicians who make their living doing the circuit. They are hired by keyboard clubs as entertainers and travel miles to earn their crust at village halls and clubs. I have never been to one where alcohol has been served. Tea , biscuits and a raffle are more the norm BUT there are some wonderful players well able to utilise the immense range of sampled sounds that these instruments provide. In my drawing, you can see the remarkable jazz player Steve Lowdell, who has had a lifetime of experience in the jazz world. Because some of the audience also play keyboards the musicians often brought  huge mirrors on stands to allow the audience to see their hands, you can see it in the drawing. This is a great opportunity for drawing, very unusual. Nowadays they bring a movie camera and a screen. A lot of musicians look down on music played on keyboards, wrongly I think, it is a special skill of it’s own. This strange world also hosts conventions in holiday camps and hotels, not a world that I want to join.

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I like to use a sepia pen in my drawings but I have huge trouble finding a decent fibre one, if I used pen and ink it would be easy to get the brown colour. I actually would prefer to use a dipping pen(even better a reed or bamboo) pen and ink… I like the flow and the way you can easily get a living line, alas it just isn’t practical.

nov22violingoodone When you draw musicians you realise how important their posture is, on the other hand the body always being in the same position for hours does impose awful strains. You can sometimes tell what instrument a musician plays even when they are without their instrument. A lot of sax players, including Ken have one shoulder higher than the other.

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Peter Donohoe playing at the Bath Mozart Festival, great to hear beautiful music being playing in my old art school haunts, the Assembly  and the Pump Rooms. I would like to have included the setting but there is never enough time.

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Above…in the cathedral.

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Above.      Playing the ‘pans’ in the Kings Hall.

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Kent Youth Wind Orchestra.

Musicians

I’ve been in and around music of all kinds since I was a child. My mother was a good pianist and my father played the violin very well by ear. I often wonder if it was the music that brought them together, it seemed to be the only time that they got on well.  They argued a lot and I used to go and sit on the stairs with my hands over my ears.

The kind of music that they played would probably be called light music. They played music from the shows of the thirties, especially Ivor Novello ‘We’ll gather Lilacs’, and ‘No ,no Nanette’, songs of the day and ballet music. The first present I ever bought for my mother from my own money was the sheet music for The Sugar Plum Fairy. I have always sung and played, not very well but I have inherited a good sense of rhythm, and pitch. I am not afraid of singing anywhere, it comes naturally to me. I can play the keyboard using my knowledge of the chord positions. It’s known as fake music but it doesn’t sound bad and I enjoy it. If I have the melody line and the chord symbol, I can play just about anything. There has never been a time in my life where music hasn’t played some part

I have always drawn musicians…Ha…I thought, for this Post I could gather my musician drawings together, I had absolutely no idea of the hundreds that I have made over the years until I started to find them…there was no way I could get them all gathered together in a couple of hours. These are just a few, not necessarily the best. As with the museum drawings I’ll sprinkle a few more in later posts.

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Hassan Erraji a blind musician playing the Kanun. The instrument makes a beautiful sound. His hands are  so sensitive on the strings. Plucking with one hand and stopping with the other. I’m a big fan of world music.

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I love rhythm of any kind and these are the Taiko drums, The great thing about the Japanese Taiko drums is that they combine music and movement together. I first saw them at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I had gone to do a textiles course at the Edinburgh College of Art. I was staying in a student hostel close by. The rooms were cheap so there were lots of fringe participants staying there too. I used to look out of my window and see my next door room neighbours juggling and doing acrobatics, they were from China. I usually finished my course around 5pm so I was free for the rest of the evening. I spent the time going to all sorts of brilliant and way out performances in church halls, garages, indeed anywhere that provided space. I was already, all those years, ago finding it difficult to walk. When folks realised that I was a bit disabled I was treated like a queen and often ushered to the front seats, or helped in through a different door. I had such a good time but the two things that I remember were both Japanese, the Taiko drummers and dancers and a Butoh ritual dance group. They danced naked but covered in white mud, it was so elemental and beautiful, very sculptural. There are fierce critics of this type of dancing, they say that it looks as though it were being performed by zombies.  I have a drawing somewhere but I can’t find it. I will add it when I do. It was also the first time that I ate sushi.nov21 2violinsThis couldn’t be more different, very European, a Bach recital in a church in Prague. Wonderful to hear soaring music in a Gothic building. We were taken there by our Czech friends. When they heard we were staying in a tent they immediately invited us to stay in their flat in the middle of Prague. Four memorable events, this concert, a visit to the interesting Jewish cemetery, (all the headstones had little stones left on them, it is a tradition,) a performance by the magical Black Theatre, and a walk around all the places associated with Kafka.

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Closer to home, the Charleston Chasers in the Kings Hall, complete with potted palms (not in my drawing) This is such joyous dance-able music, and so redolent of the age. They take great care recreating the exact musical style . It really is a kind of historical record. I loved the huge ridiculous instrument, I think it might be a Sousaphone.

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I heard these three musicians at the Broadstairs Folk Festival. There aren’t many people that like the bagpipes, but I do. I think they were Breton. It is no mean feat to smoke a cigarette and play the banjo at the same time. How did he do it? We often camped there in the official camp on the school field. I did a very memorable song writing course there with Dave Goulder. We used to go to the jamming sessions, in the pubs  I was playing on the accordion and melodeon and Ken on his flute. We used to come for a shower.

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Two bass players, you must be dedicated to carry the bass round with you. You wonder if bass players started on violins, then cellos and finally on the grandaddy of them all, the mighty bass.nov21bassistwoman.jpgI think this is pretty unusual a woman bass player. I remember that she looked extremely elegant and straight backed as she played.nov21harpistThe sound of the harp is so special. The hands are interesting but difficult to draw. I never worked out what the doll was doing on the back of the chair, my guess is that it was her good luck talisman. Looking back at these drawings has brought back so many memories that I am going to have to continue with them. Time to sleep. 2.30am. Yawn!

Confession…I am a museum and gallery junky. There I’ve said it!

I blame my father, he took me to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford when I was quite young. Of course it was the Egyptian mummies that fascinated me, I think that’s true for a lot of children. That was it, I was hooked. Wherever I go I look for a museum or gallery…I know that I will find some kind of treasure there. I have never been disappointed. One museum eluded me and I have never forgiven it, it was a museum for tin sculptures and constructions in Lisbon in 1960. I was really looking forward to it as I had seen pictures, it was closed for one week and it happened to be the week we were there.

Sometimes you come across quirky little ones like the folkloric museum in Zennor. I have often got to know them before they have been ‘polished up’ into interpretation centres. I used to like the railway museum in York when it was in a big shed next to the station. There were hardly any notices, everything was piled in, you had to discover your own visually interesting treasures. The same thing applied to the old Pitt Rivers Museum (as I have mentioned earlier in the blog) All sorts of things were just kept in drawers and you could just root around freely.

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Inside the spinning room in the transplanted weavers house. Swiss Open Air Museum.

This museum is like our Weald Open Air Museum or St Fagans near Cardiff. Historic buildings of all kinds have been saved and rebuilt in parkland. I am very fond of this drawing because of it’s visual complexity regardless of the subject.

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This one also from Switzerland but this time the rooms a re-erected inside the building. I loved the shapes of all the blacksmiths tools and the way they are arranged. It gave me the idea for a new piece of work.nov20mussudelycoral

This was an unexpected find, what a delicate object, I found it in Sudely House, not a place where you would expect to see such a thing. It is the internal skeleton of a sponge called a Venus Flower.nov20rocksIn contrast this hard rock from the Geological Museum. I decided to split it up into four, each one of the would make an interesting piece in it’s own right.nov20mussoulhouse

A clay Soul House. I love the idea of a soul house, the soul can go in there to rest until it is resurrected in it’s next form. I liked the Birmingham Gallery and Museum. They were doing really imaginative work with different ethnic groups in the city. The next week  they were going to take the children from one of their art groups to London, to the  galleries and museums but the mothers asked if they could have another bus and come too. That doesn’t sound like much until you realise that these women hardly come out of their houses. To me that is one of the things that is good about cultural activities, it can bring people together in a non threatening way.nov20musdoll

Someone has lovingly made this little doll, what we don’t know is whether it was made for a child or for ritual purposes. I hope it was for a child. It resonates with me because my father made me a comforter doll out of an old blanket. Essentially it was five rectangles, body, two legs, two arms. The head was made from an old beret. The eyes were black trouser buttons and he had embroidered a mouth and a nose with darning wool. It was rather flat than three dimensional, very primitive, but I didn’t mind. I called it Tweedle and it remained my comfort for years. It was wartime so a lot of toys were home made, how different it is now.

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Two items of dress with such different purposes on the left the dance costume worn for a festival by Bolivian miners and Japanese armour from the Edo period. I have used both of them in subsequent pieces of work. I picked up the idea of separate units fixed together from the armour. An upholsterer friend gave me a big sack of leather off cuts left over from his work. I had no idea what I would use them for but never look a gift horse in the mouth (this is why my house is untidy, I keep things that might be useful one day!) I cut the pieces into rectangles and joined them with brass aeroplane clips gradually building up the shape. I have it hanging in my hall, it’s OK but I envisage more work on it adding punched holes and lacing. The armour has very elaborate lacing.

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Different heads, at the top Mayan, now there’s an interesting culture, and Nigerian. The art of West Africa is so rich.nov20musgas

I found this babies gas mask in the museum and art gallery in Swindon. I was six when the war broke out and I had the Mickey Mouse mask. It was in a square cardboard box with a cord to hand over your shoulder. A surprise I didn’t even know that there was such a good little gallery in Swindon, it had an excellent collection of distinguished paintings. I enjoyed it.

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Car (Austin 7 but not that far off from my old Ford Popular) from a village museum in Wales and below an elegant sculptural piece of railway equipment from the old railway museum in York.

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Of course you realise than I could go on for pages and pages just with my hauls from museums, but I will just include two more because they have similarities. I might spice up further posts with the odd museum drawing here and there!

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Hat with intricate pleating of the starched cotton. Imagine ironing that!

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But this beautiful sculptured organza jacket by Kei Ito, in the Birmingham Art Gallery, was a real work of art, so amazingly clever in it’s construction. I don’t know when a piece of clothing stops being just functional and turns into a work of art…but I’d say this was pretty close.

As you will see from above I also note down the names of the painters and paintings that I have liked. When I look at my drawings again I realise how many wonderful places I have been too and what a creature is man! (and woman!)

 

Meetings.

I think I have been to more than my fair share of meeting in my life. It started with staff meetings in schools but they were OK. The colleges were a different matter, in the many years that I worked in further education we seemed to be fighting for one thing or another. In the fight for survival in the brutal days when colleges were being cut like corn, we fought for academic recognition. We were continually writing course submissions, negotiating with different examining boards, meeting up with course moderators, it was unending.

Now… I have a problem I just can’t resist doodling or designing in meetings. I tried to keep my mind on the subject in hand but once I had made the first mark I was away. The design ones were straightforward enough but the doodles, I never knew where they were coming from. I have hundreds of them.

I can draw reasonably well but that can sometimes become a hindrance because the best drawings often come when your conscious mind is left behind and you are just free flowing. I suppose that your years and years of looking come in useful because you have a headful of images at your disposal.

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I made the shrine, bottom left. I had see the ex votos in cathlolic churches. If people thought they had been cured or saved in any way they often painted primitive pictures of the scene eg been rescued from drowning, being gored by a bull etc. If their sight or their hearing had been cured there would be a wax ear or eye. Little trinkets were often left, or bits of jewellery. I had just had two new hips. In my piece they were represented by large legs, from dolls, sprayed gold, the shrine was made of textiles in red pink and orange, like a little Punch and Judy set up. It had lots of small gold bells. Someone bought it to give to a friend who had just had the same op.

I don’t actually like selling things much, because when I make them they are an expression of me and what I am thinking at that time. They are like my children going out into the world, I just hope they will be looked after and not thrown on a tip if someone gets tired of them.

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At the time that I did this one I had become entranced by the beach huts. I was interested in the fact that such a basic shape could have so many forms. I had photographed them all individually. When the great storm came I also photographed the destruction and the scattering of the personal things that people had left in them There was an uplifting side, the council took the pieces to the car park and many people collected them and rebuilt, a heartening example of peoples resilience. Sadly nowadays you have to have the council approved standard model but people still customize them in imaginative ways.

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I made the curved form with the tower out of clay. I encrusted it with textures. In my head it was derived from my drawings of the derelict tin mines at Chacewater. The thing is… that things that have happened long in the past resurface again. images have to be given time to ‘cook away’ in your inner being. If they are important to you they will emerge in a different form.

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The above drawings were mostly ideas for textiles. I subsequently used quite a few of them. But the there were the ‘out of your head’ variety, nothing to do with design.

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I used to teach the life drawing classes, so the naked form was in my head, I don’t know whether anybody glanced over my shoulder, Drawing hass always been so important to me. There is hardly a day when I don’t draw.

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Sometimes the accidental juxtaposition of the words and image add something to the whole. I often write little things that I am thinking too. See above. Who was Lilian?

November 18 2018. Having BIG trouble with my very ancient PC. If I don’t post it will mean it has finally given up the ghost. It might mean the dreaded Windows 10. I’ll keep going till the LAST POST! Then there will be a gap before normal service is resumed. Fingers crossed.

Friesland. Still up and running (just)

Oh dear, I really should leave Holland but I can’t until I have dealt with Friesland my favourite Province. Friesland is very different to the rest of Holland, they have their own language spoken by 50% of the people and their own culture. It is, or was, a farming and fishing economy. Because a huge amount of the land is below sea level, the farms are built on little man made mounds often surrounded by trees. Farm houses consist of one end for people and the other end for cattle they are very distinctive and I think beautiful in style. The cattle are the famous black and white Frisians. There is also a culture of people who live by waterways using them as their main means of transport.

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On one of our visits we hired a boat to voyage around their lakeland area. The lakes lie on either side of Hollands biggest main canals. To go from one lake to another you often had to mix it with the big boys, the massive sea going ships including sharing locks with them. The locks and swing bridges are an interesting hazard in themselves as they only open at certain times of day. Vessels gather as close as they can but of course you can’t just stop a boat, you either have to tie up to a stanchion, and there are never enough, or keep moving backwards and forwards jockeying for position until the bridge or lock opens. Then the great off before the bridge lowers again or the gates of the lock close. The lock keepers have an interesting way of collecting your fee, they have a pouch on the end of a fishing pole.

I loved the areas where they cultivated and harvested the reeds. I have no idea why but I have always loved sun bleached sear grass and reeds.

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nov16reedbike It must be some deep ancestral memory in my soul. I know I would love the grasslands of Africa (alas beyond my reach now)

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A favourite area was around Giethorn, not the village itself , which is hideously overrun by tourists, but the lesser known little villages in the area.

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Typical Dutch house, the windows, the patterned shutters for just the lower half of the window, the small bricks laid in distinctive patterns.

Sports. A lot of sailing of course especially in Sneek (pronounced Snake). Then two very distinctively Frisian activities. Speed skating and Fierljeppen, pole jumping over water. All Frisians hope that the winter will be so cold that all the canals will freeze over to the safe depth for skating. Then the stage the great long distance skatetrail. The trail covers a continuous track between eleven cities and only a few people manage it. It goes on through the night and is a true test of endurance. If you complete the course you get a special medal, these medals are highly prized, Richard’s father had one. It happens less often now because of global warming. A shame I would love to see Holland when it is covered in snow and ice. Breughel comes to mind.

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The other, even rarer sport is Fierljeppen. Crossing a canal using a pole. Of course the origins are practical; farmers needed to get from one field to another across the dikes and waterways that drain them. There were bridges but that often meant a detour, not so good when you are trying to get home at the end of the day, hence crossing by pole. You see children practising and young village men testing each other at who can cross the wider ditches.

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Hence the sport. In the big competitions the pole is stuck in the water, the athlete sprints, leaps off the bank into the air to catch the pole and climb up it in mid air whilst trying to control the poles forward and lateral movements. He must then make a graceful landing on the other bank. It requires very complete athletes to do this.

FK Fierljeppen

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We were invited by our friends to a nearby village to see their contests. You had to pay for a ticket on the tiers of seats set up on the bank. It went on until it was dark and floodlit. It was very entertaining because you had children over a smaller area of water and no hopers in fancy dress knowing they were going to drop in and superb athletes. The other thing that spices things up are inter village rivalry. There is always plenty of food and drink too. I think I have mentioned in an early part of my blog how much I enjoy coming across unusual events that are part of the culture of an area.

The Netherlands (again)

It was only when I started writing this blog that I realised that I had spent so much time in ‘the naydorlaanz’ as our Dutch friends called their country, they didn’t seem to like us calling it Holland.

Why did we spend so much time there? There were the boats for Ken of course but it wasn’t just that. My feelings about the country all started the second day we were there. We were cycling to the village to buy bread when we passed a field. In this field were about fifty children from about seven to ten, and what were they doing? They were building houses. Dotted about the field were piles of wood, planks and hardboard. They were handling saws, hammers, chisels, the lot, and building these structures, some had two storeys already. It was brilliant I was absolutely enthralled that they had been trusted to be sensible and they were being so creative in the process. It was everything that I admired. Sadly I didn’t have my camera with me.

We met a young family man with whom we soon became friends. Richard Van der Berg, His father was Dutch and his mother English, so he spoke good English (mind you so did everybody else and with good accents) He invited us to stay at his home in Zwartsluis, near Zwolle. The village was a kind of junction between major waterways.There was also a thriving canal barge village there. He was interested in conservation and had bought a tumbled down, but beautiful, old canal toll house and was converting it himself. He was a social worker in charge of some truly difficult young men, nothing was working with them. Then he hit on an idea, he would buy a wreck of a traditional boat, the old ones with barge boards and rebuild it with them. It was paid for by the Social Services. Can you imagine that. It had worked and they had nearly finished it. They had all acquired marketable skills along the way.We went on a voyage with them and they were rightly proud of what they had done.

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……………Richard holding the tiller and the boom.I’ve just noticed that I have printed the photo the wrong way round…look at the writing!

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Richard and his delinquents restored this historic boat from a wreck.

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Richard took us to meet his father and mother who were pensioners. They lived in houses especially built for pensioners by the Zwolle council ; these houses were so thoughtfully planned for old peoples needs. Their pension was much better than ours and they seemed to be better cared for in every way. There were council led clubs and events that they could go to.

Whilst we were there an uncle died and we were invited to the funeral, at first we said no, we didn’t think we had a right to be there. They insisted, so we did go and it was quite an eye opener.The main area of the crematorium was a rather beautiful oval shape and the doors on one side opened out into a custom built cafe. The main room had a huge curved wrap around cinema screen. It was a humanist service and as part of it the screen opened up and showed this life enhancing film of the beauty of the seasons, the night skies with all the stars and the dawn,accompanied by gentle music and natural sounds, it was so fitting. Then everybody went into the cafe where the food was laid on. All these things were adding up to my belief that the Dutch are a very civilised, socially orientated community. All the time I was there and ever since I have been impressed. On Tuesday this week I had an appointment at my surgery. On the paper that they had given me the hand written time looked like 3.10,  I should have been there at 2.10. She said that they could fit me in an hour. I could have gone home but I find the walking from the scooter to the waiting room difficult so I decided to wait. Alas I had left my book at home, there was nothing for it but to read the regional Health Magazine. The first thing I saw said, East Kent to adopt the Dutch system (it did give it a proper name) for training nurses in the community. It said how well the Dutch had developed it and how successful it was. We would be following the Dutch programme. They would be paid whilst they were studying and working.

Several more things happened to reinforce my admiration. In a local village where several more members of their family lived, on a farm, there was going to be a Flower Festival consisting of a parade of floats. There is a huge one in Zundert every year and maybe in other villages in Holland. We were invited to help., The whole family pitch in, and when I say pitch in everyone works through the night. Rather like the Rio Carnival, there is  rivalry between the farms and the clubs taking part. The subjects of the floats are a closely kept secret till they are revealed in the parade. We all went into a huge barn lit by lanterns. There on the back of a big flat bed truck was a massive chicken wire structure, it wasn’t altogether clear exactly what it was at that stage. Down one side there were tables with mounds of dahlias with more in great piles behind. Each table dealt with a different colour. I sat down at the white table, our job was to cut the stems off and put the flower heads on trays. When they were full they were carried to the people who were threading them into the chicken wire structure. People were singing and loads of food and schnappes were being consumed all night long. A real family and friends effort and everyone knew that the same scenario was being enacted in other parts of the village.Why leave it so late why not do it the day before, the answer is that the flowers need to be as fresh as possible. All the flower cutters could go home once all the stems had been dealt with. Something else impressed me the children were making their own little floats on hand carts and prams.

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The parade started around 3pm, to say it was amazing was an understatement. It was so creative and clever. Our carnival, I’m sad to say, much as I love it, is rubbish in comparison. It used to be better in the 80’s I think. I have lots of photographs which I will put on this site  and you can judge for yourself. By the way our float didn’t appear, the lorry had a puncture! All that work wasted.

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All made of flower heads, usually dahlias. Brightly coloured of course.

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Even the police have decorated their sidecar.

But I still had one more positive experience to come many years later. In the Herne Bay paper it said that some Dutch Folk Dancers (a lot of whom had been in the services) had been invited by the ex servicemen’s club in William Street. They were coming to dance in Herne Bay and Canterbury and the surrounding villages. They were appealing for people to put them up whilst they were here. We offered.

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Johann and Elizabet outside the door of my house.

The couple were getting on but a bit younger than us. Johann and Elizabet. They had their own musicians and were good dancers, we had fun. The next year they came to us just for a holiday with their grandson nov18dutchdancers1

My drawings of the group in their national costumes.

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Then they invited us to stay with them in Holland, they lived in a little village called Zwiep, near Lochem. He had just said he was a baker and we imagined a bakers shop like the ones we have. How wrong we were, they owned their own mill, ground their own flour and cooked the bread in traditional wood burning brick ovens. The bread was brought out on wooden paddles. You have never tasted bread, pies and cakes more delicious. There was something else about the place, it was known for it’s witches and around the grounds of the bakery there were wooden witch effigies.

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Their house, left and the mill beyond.

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The Bakers.

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They were so kind and took us all over the place. I have written all this and not even touched on my favourite Dutch Province Friesland, I’m afraid there will have to be another episode. I think it likely that most of the British people think of Holland as being staid and a bit dull, look under the surface and you will see that that is a mistaken view. They have a far greater sense of care in the community which puts us to shame.