I’m so glad I used lockdown to build a pond in the garden, it is now constantly used by the local birds for a drink or a quick wash under the wing pits. The local bad boy came today as I was hanging out the washing. Not the slightest bothered by me faffing with the pegs, he just got on with the job. Still not bothered when I filmed him on my ancient iPhone, and walked a little nearer to him.Then I took a step too far and he flew off. ” That’s that” I thought, but not so, he dropped by a few minutes later to do the other wing pit.
Just outside Painswick in Gloucestershire, Paradise is a few scattered houses, a former pub, and a simply glorious valley. Just the place to go on sunny summer evening, with my good friend Robin and a bottle of beer each.
I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
In a moment of weakness I mentioned a way of describing art in an unintelligible way and it’s known as “art bollocks”. Robin has adopted this with enthusiasm and is now adept at the language. He did use the words “dimensional clutter“ in this short video. Hopefully this was the beer talking.
You know what it is. The deep bit of dashboard in front of the steering wheel awash with old bills, probably unpaid, empty fag packets ( that’s cigarette packs to anyone outside the UK ) , old takeaway wrapping and detritus. In some cases the vehicle is relatively new and the purchase date can be probably ascertained by digging deep and finding the invoice for it deep in the dashboard. Poor chap never has the time to clean it out as he’s off to the next job, not yours, to try and make headway on it before he finishes at 3.00 to get down to Witherspoons. He’ll need to trade it in before too long as driver visibility may be impacted.
If you intend to employ a builder avoid one with builder’s dashboard. He might not turn up anyway, and if he does he won’t finish the job, unless you pay cash up front and even then he might have better options.
Another of my portrait shots and unusually in this one my good friend Al Blethyn is facing the camera. He wears well does this fellow. We shared offices for nearly ten years and never a cross word. Unusually in this picture he’s not smiling broadly, which is something we do a lot when we meet. He’s a fine designer with a brilliant feel for type. We are at present collaborating on designing t shirts! Possibly the oldest t shirt designers in the country. Take a look at them here, and you’ll see what I’m on about when it comes to type.
This shot taken recently on the banks of the Wye in Herefordshire where he now lives. An afternoon with him puts my jawline in danger from all the smiling and laughing. We might not agree on everything but we are still looking for the things we don’t generally agree on.
Altogether a very agreeable chap with more hair on his head than he has a right to at his age.
You mighty see a few of these portraits in the next few weeks, so don’t say you were n’t warned. This is Ron and as you can see from the background it was taken when there was very little green around. It was cold but bright, unlike now in May, when it’s cold and very damp.
Ron is one of my fellow plotters and has been working his allotment for a number of years. I have only one instruction to my fellow allotment victims, and that is “Look noble” and they do.
Ron’s potatoes seem to grow at exactly the same rate, each plant being the same size. I wonder if they come out of the ground the same size.
Nowhere. Like everyone else I’ve been nowhere but around where we live.
I’ve also been pretty quiet on the blogging front too. But like a duck in the water I’ve been paddling away. More projects and one in particular has taken quite a bit of my time. I have a habit of never finishing projects and it may well be tricky to get to the end of this blog without drifting off.
That aside I’m determined that my new project will take off and it’s all about t shirts. Odd really, but I never wear them myself, but leapt at the chance to ‘design’ some and get them out there. They’re here
With my good friend Alan we have been rattling out quite a lot of designs. Why do we do it? Because it’s there, and we actually enjoy doing it. I’ve even been advertising them on Facebook.How’s it going? Well, I cannot pretend that we are selling millions. It seems that the easy bit is getting them on a site. Selling them is an entirely other matter.
Getting a celeb to wear one and be photographed in one would be a fine start, but we don’t know any celebs. Social media will help, and we’ve done quite a bit of that, both on Facebook where we have a page, and on Instagram where we have had a lot of likes, but not many people reaching for their wallet.
My son, who is never short of an opinion, suggested designs based on ‘events’ and ventured an idea for a shirt about a recent raid on an armoured van in South Africa. Search “Phone Robbie” on you tube and you can see it. It’s pretty compelling viewing. I spent a tenner on promoting the t shirt on Facebook and it got 7.7k engagements and over a 100 click links to a website. I suspect the links were to You Tube! I may well have been paying for advertising them. You can see the page here.
So at present I am in the danger zone, where I recognise that I might abandon. I’ve done this on other projects and regretted it, so we’ll be sticking in there.
I like the idea of a couple of 70 plus year olds designing t shirts. Why not? It would be even better if it took off, and we are going to try our best to get it to do that. So if I’m a bit quiet on this blog front, you at least know that I’ve not given up on this project.
My mother and father inherited a small cottage in Wales in the 1970s which was formerly the home of my Aunty Gracie. Gracie lived with her sister Mary, in the house for many years, almost all her life. I remember the place well with it’s black cast iron kitchen range in the quite dark back room, usually lit even on the warmest days. We always went to visit the two sisters when we were on holiday in what was my father’s home town. We were allowed to view the parlour: the front room, but not allowed to go into it. I don’t think that they ever really went into it either.
Mary was a little scary for us two small boys as she wore an eye patch, the thought of what was behind the patch did nothing for our nerves. Mary always gave us a penny when we called, pre decimalisation.The other scary item was a glass dome in the hall way which contained stuffed birds. They stared lifelessly at us.
Mary died first and not very long afterwards Gracie. They left the cottage to my father and mother and they loved it. It was no longer scary to us and held only pleasant memories. I was given the glass stuffed bird dome and had it for many years, I brought dried flowers from the Amsterdam flower market ( I used to visit Amsterdam now and again in the 70s, I had an agent there! Yes, I had an agent! ) and put them in place of the birds. Like the birds they gathered dust in the glass dome for quite a few years.
My parents eventually got around to going through a trunk left in the attic of the house. There they came across a collection of baby clothes and what might be called christening robes. It appears that Gracie had fallen pregnant in around 1915. These clothes and robes were intended for the baby. It’s speculated that the baby died. Gracie, then a respected local schoolteacher was shipped out of the town to Ludlow in Shropshire where she was able to teach again. She eventually came back home to Wales but not for a number of years.The event was never spoken of to either my father or his father.
The father of the child, it is presumed, was a soldier, possibly and most likely from the village. There were several postcards of First World War soldiers in the trunk, not all the same man. They had pleasant messages to Gracie written on the backs or were blank. I wonder if the father ever knew he was a father, or if he ever survived the War and then the Flu Pandemic of 1918.
So Gracie had a secret. The only evidence remaining is the christening robes, three of them. Two in cotton and one in what I think is lace. They have been in a cupboard for years now, but we’ve decided to ‘release’ them back into the world where they may be either used or further appreciated. They have gone to our local hospice charity shop where they will try to raise some much needed funds for them from their eBay page. The Robes date from at least 1915 and may well be older than that. They were sadly unused, but kept carefully and are still in excellent condition. I did not want them to spend any longer in a cupboard, they’ve been hidden away for long enough.
I felt that I also needed to get Gracie’s secret out there. I hope she and her sister Mary would have approved. They were both lovely people.
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