I originally posted this some time ago, and honestly thought that we might be getting out of this business by now, but we seem to be having to continue the effort to be sportingly stand offish.
I recently posted a short video of me drawing. The clip was done on time lapse so it looked quite speedy, I draw fast but not that fast! So here’s another with the drawing in real time. Here’s the drawing as it was finally used, though come to think of it, although this is the final I might well have done it again after, so this may well not be the one in the film, if you get any drift.
And here’s the movie. It’s not Cecil be De Mille but I am working on my production values. I’m hoping this works but will persevere if it does not. I hope you find it diverting, I’ll be trying more of these very soon. Thanks for visiting.
My good friend Steve has let me borrow a book that he thought might suit me. “Edgelands” by poets Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts. I’m not much into poetry but this book is prose. Not quite sure how one writes a book with someone else but they seem to have managed it seamlessly. I’ve really enjoyed it and what shows how good it was that it sent me off in other directions to look for things I knew little about. Including the authors.
If, like me you like to see broken down old sheds, and find beauty in broken down buildings and barns then this is worth a read. It’s an appreciation of the broken bike that finds itself in an unusual place, and how there’s an untold story behind it. Of places where no one really chooses to go. Waste ground and old industrial sites. It took me back to my childhood in the industrial North West, when it was industrial. Walking past a small boat on the Gloucester to Sharpness canal the other day I got a whiff of coal burning and that took me back in an instant, rather like this book.Burning coal: not something one comes across these days. Recent lock down has involved exercise locally and walks to the airport and it’s environs. Here are indeed edgelands. Plenty of broken down sheds, as well as park homes which also count but are generally in very good and tidy order, well cared for and inhabited mainly by elderly people with little means. I’ve spent walking holidays getting more excited by a broken down Volvo truck than the view over the Mediterranean. Discovering a broken down East German Trabant in an olive field in Sardinia was a real highlight for me. So you can see where I’m coming from and these two poets find as much poetry in the subject as I do.
I was also asked this week what my favourite food was when I was a child, and how I got to school. That took me back too. I went to school in what seemed to be a Hilman Minx Police Van, or what they called a ‘shooting brake’ in those days. It was big enough to accommodate a few unbelted 5 and 6 year olds to go to the Barber Bridge Methodists School a mere 5 miles away. We all behaved ourselves as we thought we were being driven by a policeman, but he was probably just a uniformed civilian officer or cadet from the police training school where my father and the other kid’s fathers used to spend their time teaching new recruits the finer points of policing. So I went to and from school in a police car. It’s only struck me now how odd that is.
My father was promoted and the family moved from what was a rural farmland location to the very centre of the then coal industry on the edge of Wigan. He was back at the sharp end. It was there that one night he had to get my Mum to cut off his tie after a shift where a friendly customer had got hold of each end and pulled them in a gesture of defiance. He claims to have introduced the clip on tie to the Lancashire Force as a result. It was in this area and at this time that pubs closed at 10-30pm and anyone on the streets after 11.30 considered a little dodgy. The local pub had a notice in the window “Clara at the Organ” every night. Clara played to the customers and they all knew that if she stopped then two policemen had just walked in to check for underage drinkers. Everyone seemed to be happy with the arrangement.
The new family house was a semi detached set on what might be described as perfect Edgelands. Scrubby ground outside our modest garden picket fence, broken down cars, disused railway embankments and a view of slag heaps. And coal everywhere. We were in a triangle of railway lines with smoke in every direction. It left sooty spots on my mother’s washing. We could see the huge Heinz Bean factory from out scrubby back garden. Apparently my mother cried for 3 weeks when we moved in, but cried for another 3 weeks when we moved again some years later, as she loved the people there so much. My brother and I moved from playing in open fields and streams in the countryside to running around these Edgelands dry and dusty wastelands surrounding the Rag and Bone yard that faced my mother’s kitchen window. This could so easily have been the model for Steptoe and Son, except there was no son, just Arthur and his wife: Destiny. Not her real name but she was keen on attending funerals in the area, she did n’t seem to need an invite. I recall her coming to the kitchen window asking my mother what she ‘were cuking’. “Pastry” Replied my mother. ” I like doing that too” said Destiny ” Gets me nails clean”.
Here I walked to my new school along the streets of Lower Ince, calling at my friend Tom’s house on the way where there was usually time for a quick piece of hot toast done on the banked up coal fire that glowed like a forge in his tiny living room. His dad was a miner so they made sure they used their coal allowance. Central Heating was what you got from porridge.
Each time my father was promoted, he and the family moved. He was promoted a lot. Each time we moved Aunty Winnie made a pie. A meat and potato pie. She’d bring it round to the ‘new’ house and complain about her corset or her feet as she walked up to the front door with large pie in hand. I have no idea how she made it, but these days it might be described as a heady mix of potato chunks and carrot suffused in a dark sauce with delicate chunks of beef topped with a golden crust of home made shortcrust pastry, best consumed with a side of pickled red cabbage: sublime. Edgeland’s best.
If you feel like a trip to the Edgelands you’ll find this a fascinating book and you may discover more about yourself, just like I did.
“Edgelands” Journeys into England’s True Wilderness by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts published by Vintage
Choosing the right place and time to go out for a walk seems to be more important these days than before we were locked in with the key seemingly chucked away somewhere. In this country you can be lucky with the weather and the further north you go the luckier you can be, or not. For instance, if it rains in the Lake District there are days when you can’t see more than a few feet in front of you and you might as well be walking around the old sewage farm close to where you live. At present we have to walk locally and we are very lucky to have some fine locations almost on the doorstep, though I have to admit to some ‘location fatigue’ in relation to walking to the local airport and back.
One of my favourite saunters is to the Red Lion on the banks of the River Severn. Sadly the pub is closed at present, so no promise of a beer. The walk takes you with a lot off ‘up’ to get the heart rate moving, to the top of a hill overlooking a large slab of Gloucestershire, and from there over as far as Wales with the Malvern Hills on the right looking like a large beached whale or two on the horizon. Whales and Wales.
My walking friend: Robin, and I were lucky enough to choose this route on a day last week when the sun shone on us. It was worth every second. Stopping for a tea break before we’d hardly started at the top of the hill was a wise move. After all who wants lukewarm tea and a damp backside down by the river. I’d taken myself a jam sandwich, Robin was in a class slightly higher than me with his fancy hot cross bun, but his looked like he’d sat on it. We’d set off at the start off the afternoon as we stood admiring the 360 degree view all around we mused that we’d made the right decision. Why walk when you can stand and stare with the bonus of a snack. As we stood there, the skies changed constantly and the sun came out gradually. It was quiet with no road noise and just the sound of skylarks starting to get in tune for Spring. A good spot for a song.
Walking down the other side of the hill and down some green lane we both thought that Spring was about to burst forth. It was altogether a super walk. It has almost everything, a hill, a view, tree clumps, water, more water, ponds, bird life, woods, river views, and on the day we were there a lovely early evening light.
I don’t normally post more than one image or two but this walk was worth a few and certainly worth Robin’s rendition. At the time I thought it was quiet in the background, and that he was only competing with the birds, but you can hear a helicopter which disturbed the peace a little later.
Hope you enjoy the post, the tune and the pictures.
Same old, same old.
TV is a massive hole that needs to be filled every day. Something the local council have really given up on around here, and probably everywhere. Before the ‘C’ word arrived was no better. Suspension testing holes in the roads were rife.
When we lived in Gloucester the road men used to come by occasionally with a teaspoon of tarmac and add another patch to the already patchy road. It had the look of a grey quilt which had been sewn together over the years, when one big road refurb would have solved the lot. My neighbour used to keep a tin of spray paint for when the surveyors came out to indicate which holes to fill, and when they’d gone, he’d survey it a little more and circle some extra holes. It worked and the men came and filled both the official holes in the road as well as the unofficial. A couple of heavy lorries later it generally all popped out.
So telly is like a lot of these holes in the road. Always needing to be filled, generally not very good and occasionally when some big production is sanctioned: something worthwhile.
In lockdown we’ve probably all been watching too much. Talking to a friend today she said she always knew these days what time it was, by the constant crap on the telly. Nice turn of phrase, I thought.
We were talking about her website which I put together. We use a company that I’ve used for years, I’m what’s called a ‘heritage’ customer, their disruption, not mine. But lately we’ve had problems. Their sites worked using Adobe Flash, and that has been ‘retired’. Sadly the company did not seem ready for it and now nothing works. It has the look and feel of a company in terminal decline. A website company where the customers can’t edit their own websites.
I’m saddened by it, especially as I’ve been recommending them for years. But they’ve just not been mending the holes in the roads, and the result is a bit of a car crash.
Here’s a random picture.
In the present scheme of things small things that go ‘wrong’ might be considered to be trifling, and they are. I have this odd theory that things going wrong come in 3s. Once those three things have passed you can move along and get on with the day and hope that something productive might emerge.
Those that follow me here, and thanks if you do, will know that I’m a cartoonist and that makes me an artist. Over lockdown I have done a lot of landscapes, experimenting with media and different ways to make marks on paper. I’ve enjoyed doing them and I had every intention of putting them up on Artfinder for sale. That’s the originals of course, not prints.
So I thought it might be a good idea to log in to Artfinder to get my shop there up to date with the very latest in my oevre. That word, along with juxtaposition, being the sort of word that artists use. So there I go logging into art finder, only to find out that they’ve chucked me out. I’ve been curated! I’ve only sold a couple of drawings through it so they have hardly made me redundant, I was already redundant. That aside I was more than a bit miffed. Artists and Cartoonists or the mixture of the two as I might be described, have to get used to rejection, but it still makes it no more pleasant when you are rejected. Language was of the blue variety for a short while until a cup of tea calmed me.
I checked to see if my friend Ros had been curated too, and thank goodness she had n’t. But then she does better on it than I do. Take a look here.
If you feel like checking out her website then take a look here. Here lands my next of three things to go ‘wrong’. I put together Ros’s website for her through Moonfruit. I’ve been with them for years and at the outset I was almost evangelical on how good they were. Great customer relations and a good easy site to construct. They built it all on Adobe Flash. Now Adobe Flash as been retired and it’s thrown them into a whole lot of trouble.
Long story short: I am now unable to edit anything on her site and on the other ones I have with them. Customer support has been as been useless.
So that was two of my allowed things to go wrong, I needed the third to turn this all around and get on. Then here it comes over the hill. ‘Over the hill’ might be the operative words here. I was idly looking on google search and searched for myself, hoping to feel relevant. Plenty on there about me, all written by me! Then further down the page I come across an item on eBay. One of my original drawings for sale at a Buy it Now price of £13 pounds! Is someone likely to get a bargain? No they most certainly are not. It was a pile of doo doo and should have been binned back in the 70s when I did it.
Time to go away and feel sorry for myself? No, certainly not. Someone had gone to the trouble of keeping that awful drawing for 40 plus years, I should feel better about myself. I’d reached problem number 3 and I could get on with things again
A trip to the plot was the best possible balm to a relatively bad day. An hour down there would be enough to make it all look much better.
This is the canal from Gloucester, the UK’s biggest inland port, to Sharpness at the mouth of the River Severn. I found this on a trawl through old images and it reminded me that I used to take a walk out on Christmas Day camera in hand and I recall well that this particular day was bright, cold and crips and there were very few people around. It was Christmas Day 2009.
This view overlooks the warehouses that would originally have been the timber yards that in their day would have been bustling with men unloading timber from Scandinavia. Some which would have gone to the nearby match factory, which is still intact, though a little run down these days. Matchmaking is one of those industries that many might be glad to see the back of. Working in foul conditions and with dangerous chemicals many of the poor girls working there would later suffer from Phossy Jaw, which deformed their faces and was a result of handling phosphorous for the matches.
There’s still at least one timber yard on the canal: Nick’s Timber. There may be more that I’m not aware of. But the timber no longer comes in on ships up the canal. It probably comes via another port and then by road.
The area makes for an interesting walk from Gloucester Docks, and like the ships, you can eventually get to Sharpness, but it’s a long way, so do it in bits. Sharpness Docks at the other end is also an interesting place to look around and has the feel of somewhere trapped in the 1950s.
The picture below is more recent, taken about a week ago, on a cold day. The inhabitants of Sheena Mackay were no doubt toasty in their ship’s lounge. This is in the marina at Sharpness where there are quite a few inhabited barges and boats, and quite a few more uninhabited. The whiff of burning coal as we walked past one of the barges took me back to my youth in Lancashire with chimney’s blowing out those evocative sulphurous fumes of the home fire burning, no doubt lit by a match from the Moreland’s Factory down the road here in Gloucester.
Pitchcombe: Combe is from the latin for dung and in this instance pitchcombe is the word used for the hurling of dung.In particular cow dung that has dried enough for it to be successfully lifted as a complete circle about the size of a piazza, and then thrown.It is thought that Pitchombe preceded Frisbee as a marketing name, but has since fallen out of common parlance.
I did a book, a very small book, some years ago now. Loosely based on the famous bestseller ” The Meaning of Liff” by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd, my book took Gloucestershire place names and gave them their true meaning and derivation. It was great fun to do and the limited numbers that I had printed seemed to go down well. This is one of the pieces from the book. Pitchcombe is over near Stroud, lovely place.
The practice of carefully lifting a cow pat and hurling it like a frisbee, was something that I did indeed used to do when quite young. A risky business, one got to know in due course exactly which ones were ‘feasible’ and which might become a bit of a disaster.
I had not done anything like this since then until a walk with my friend Robin unearthed a cowpat of exactly the right constituency and I could not resist.It lifted in one big circle and flew like a bird. I wished now I’d taken a photo of the event to demonstrate a real ‘Pitchcombe’, so the drawing will have to suffice. Robin will vouch for me, I did hurl it away from us.
These drawings and writings appear in Cotswold Life every month under the title of “Glossary”.
I can recommend sitting in front of a map of your area to give new meanings to place names, a great lockdown activity that anyone can do. Yorkshire is a brilliant area to try, having such place names as Mytholmroyd. Try it!
Take cats for instance. I’m no fan of cats but for some inexplicable reason I thought that since the world seems to like them then some snappy tee shirt ideas featuring cats might be a good idea. Years ago I had the idea of doing a cat alphabet. Almost a font of cats if you will. I revisited this idea when the second lockdown came, thinking it a brilliant concept that deserved my time an effort. I got them onto t shirts and there they lay, never to be disturbed. In an effort to get things rolling I thought that I might make a couple of bespoke shirts for my grandsons. Another poor choice.
There are times when you ‘get into’ an idea, and can’t see what’s wrong with it. Nearest and dearest are supportive and mutter encouraging words, when they should say: ” Dad, that’s a really crap idea!” But then comes the chink in the armour that starts you thinking, that grows at the back of your head where the “That’s a crap idea” germ is waiting to breed. Many years ago I had desk space within a design company, they wanted to fill the place out a little and look busier than they really were. So I sat in the corner desk looking like a busy assistant, scribbling away at my work. They used to make fun of the work, saying things like” Well it might be ok when it’s finished” (when it was ). I could always tell if it was an ‘ok’ piece of work if they did this. If they remained silent and made no comment, I used to doubt myself.
“Just one question Dad: Why is the cat green?”
It’s not. At least I did not think it was green, but then I am slightly colour blind. ( my better work is in black and white, uncomplicated by the nervous choice of colour )
So I go back and take a look. It’s turned green overnight. As soon as someone says it’s green my brain says it’s green. Who in their right mind would buy a tee shirt with a green cat on it, I think to myself. Adding with a mutter: ” It’s a crap idea anyway”
It’s gone in the bin. Hopefully never to crawl out of its cat flap again.
If anyone suggests a dog alphabet, they must be barking.
If you are remotely interested in my tee shirt ideas, there are some better ones over here.There some particularly great typographic designs from any good friend Al Blethyn, a man with an eye for type. There are no cats anymore, green or otherwise.
This is quite an old photograph from my time with the printers in Gloucester. We did work for a company that make bespoke high quality shirts, and the allowed me to take a few photographs in the factory machine room. These shirts cost around £200-00 each, or they did then, they might be even more these days. You had to order 5 as well, so that’s a thousand quid on 5 shirts. Beyond my pocket.
I saw lots of shirts being made and this is one shot of someone’s hands working on a seam. Beautiful hands working on a beautiful shirt. They had women working in this factory who’d been making collars for 30 years! They had some men there as well, including a guy who looked like a Rastafarian. The atmosphere in there was a gentle hum of efficiency and calm.
It was one of the joys of the job to go into somewhere like that.
I don’t recall if this caravan was dumped, I think not. It is pictured in South West France next to a corn field. I think it has the feel of an old master, with that dark set of trees in the background and the wonderful sculptural clouds set on a pale blue behind the tree and Mediterranean blue at the top of the image. I think this would make a fine painting, perhaps a huge one like you get in these modern galleries these days, so big you could not even get it through a caravan door.
Perhaps I’ll do it.
And what price would you put on that painting? Thousands of pounds methinks.
Am I daydreaming of acceptance as a fine artist that people write about? Someone who’s asked to comment on his work on “Front Row” on Radio 4.
“Is there a drop of wine left in that bottle?”
“Go on then”
I worked for a time for a print company in Gloucester. I sold print. I enjoyed it. I was supposed to pull in the smaller customers who were not necessarily used to print or did not see a need for it. I’d got this proper job after a life drawing cartoons and was ready for a change.
The local farmers market in the city which happened every Friday morning at the Cross, was a happy hunting ground for potential customers. All small businesses, they were quite easy to engage in conversation if they were ‘quiet’ and as long as I bought something from them they put up with my own sales talk. I tried to go there at least every other week, and as a result we usually had something tasty for that weekend.
Mrs Hill sold their own farm brie. I suspect she was not over enamoured of standing around at the Cross every week trying to sell her brie. Husband was the farmer, she the reluctant farmers wife. At least I detected reluctance on her part. She made no great effort to sell, just displayed the produce to the people and read her copy of the Telegraph. A tall handsome woman who looked slightly out of place and who might in other circumstances have been Lady of the Manoir.
I’m not quite sure now how I came to take a photo of their cheese. I always took my camera to the market and on this particular sunny day, as I recall, I’d bought some local apples, plonked them next to the cheese and took a few pictures. They were used for a mini leaflet for them. The cheese was absolutely delicious. Unforgetable
I can find no trace of them now.
I know it’s gone now. Shame. It had this wonderful patina to the bodywork, the sort of effect an artist might take years to be able to do. It was also a pick up truck and I suspect they are very rare these days.
From even further back in my collection this image was taken in 2005 in Ontario, Canada. It was the last trip taken with all the family and is in some ways apt, as we went to Ontario on a big trip. We spent hours in our car and then I stopped and took pictures of other cars like this left with others in a field. I also took a lot of images of Canadian barns. I suppose that might have been the start of my obsession with sheds, after all, barns are just big sheds. Ontario has some beauties, or it did when we went back then. As I recall my enthusiasm was not universally appreciated by my passengers.