Saturday 26 April 2008

A box of beads on a foggy day

YESTERDAY'S FOGGY misty moisty morning brought an interesting box all the way from Utah.. and inside I found this - a delightful box of handmade beads, sent to me by an admirer of my paintings ~ Sharon Bourke, who makes these lampwork beads and gives them to friends and strangers and leaves them in nooks and crannies on walks to be happened upon by passersby.
A delightful treasure-trove to arrive on our doorstep on this grey day. The beads are made by heating coloured glass rods in a flame and wrapping the molten glass round a steel rod to make the hole. Centrifugal force keeps the beads spherical and mysterious chemical reactions between the different colours produce the one-off jewel-like results.
She enclosed a quote too:

"Beads are gypsies: glittering, magical, and primitive hitchhikers. You slow down to take a look, and they attach themselves to your soul."
Carolyn Manzi, Bead Power.

We have had some sunny days too though, enough for Tui to clamber up on the horsebox and begin work proper on wooding our new home. This front section was covered with metal and is now expertly bedecked with Honduran Pitch Pine. It will soon boast a lovely round window (unearthed on ebay) in the middle, but at the moment it has no glass in it!

Meanwhile I have been busy with the mystery painting.. which I am very happy with still, despite some struggles involving painting green glass ... anyhow it is almost done and those of you expecting a little surprise in the post'll be receiving something soonish. The dastardly hard drive people are making me wait even longer while they source parts from America apparently...
I am still expecting the worst.
Ho hum... time to light the fire.

Thursday 24 April 2008

Deadly Curios & Wardrobe Clearouts

TODAY I BRING you a motley collection of tales, the first few from a delightful book that I was reading last night in the bath. Timpson's England ~ A Look Beyond the Obvious by the late John Timpson who was a well loved presenter on BBC Radio 4 as well as writing a delightful collection of interesting books about local English oddities. I found some intriguing stories and photographs from corners and byways of England and wanted to share three on a rather deadly theme.

First there is the Old Coffin House (left) at Brixham in Devon... the father of a local girl is said to have told her suitor that he would sooner see her in a coffin than married to him. The suitor, being sharper than most, duly constructed the house in the rough shape of a coffin. The father was so impressed by his ingenuity that he relented and the couple lived happily in their coffin ever after.

Next we have a grisly memorial to the days of hanging - Steng Cross Gibbet (right) in Northumberland, where the body of William Winter was hung in chains after he had been hanged in Newcastle in 1791 for murdering an old woman in a lonely cottage near Whiskershield Common. He is said to have been urged on by two tinker-women who'd been given hospitality by the old lady. This strange band broke into the cottage, killed the old woman and took her belongings away on a donkey cart. A shepherd boy spotted the goings on however, and Winter was brought to justice.
Gibbets are places where the dead bodies of the hanged were displayed.. the Steng Cross Gibbet even has a wooden demonstration head! A great deal of uneasy tales and superstitions have sprung up about gibbets and the land they stand on, understandably. This one, rather bizarrely, is said to cure toothache if you take a splinter from the gibbet post and rub it on the offending tooth!

Last I bring you the Temple of Vaccinia or the Cowpox Temple. It was built in the Berkeley garden of Edward Jenner, the discoverer of vaccination. Mr Jenner was born in 1749 and devoted much of his time to the study of smallpox, a terrible blistering skin disease which killed thousands of people in those days. There was a tradition in Gloucestershire that milkmaids who caught cowpox whilst milking were immune to smallpox. So a small boy named James Phipps was used as a guineapig by Jenner to test the theory that an inoculation of the cowpox virus would protect against smallpox. It did and Jenner achieved great fame... celebrating his success by building this delightful little temple (above) in his garden.

Finally .. I bring news that I am having a major wardrobe clearout ... so if anyone fancies a rifle through this raggedy pile of old gypsy gladrags then feel free....
No news on the hard drive yet, so fingers are still crossed.
Wishing you all a happy end of week from sunny, haily, lamb-bedecked Scotland.

Sunday 20 April 2008

Telling the Bees

A WEEK after the Sunday-of-Lost-Data I have a little honeyed tale for you. Yesterday the postman brought a thrilling package of CDs, all printed and proper... my first ever album artwork for the fabulous debut release by Telling the Bees ~ a band of four lovely Oxford based musicians who might describe their music as ...darkly crafted folk, classical, cinematic, prog, acoustic-chill, psychedelia!

Untie the Wind, as the album is called, is a wonderful conjuring of a darkly imagined England, and for me has a very strong flavour of something friendly yet strange, and it is this folkloric old and yet not old world that I have tried to conjure in my drawings for them.

I was inspired by the old folk custom that inspired the band's name: that in English villages back in the days of superstitions... it was very important to inform the beehives and their inhabitants of any news: changes of ownership, births, deaths and marriages, otherwise they would take umbrage and leave their hives en masse. The custom was for a newly bereaved widow or heir to go up to each hive, tap it three times with an iron key and then inform the bees that their master had died. Sometimes the hives were adorned with black ribbon to show that the bees were in mourning, or left a small piece of wedding cake to share in matrimonial celebrations.

Telling the Bees will be performing at gigs and festivals across the country and if they buzz through your corner of the woods, I urge you to go along and dance to their evocative mandolins and English border bagpipes, fiddles and cellos, concertinas and songs.

Do click on the pictures to enlarge them.

"A Bedfordshire woman was telling me the other day," says a writer in a Northern daily paper, "how her son had been stung all over by bees. 'And no wonder,' she said, 'he never told them he was going to put them in a new 'ome, and everybody knows that before you goes to put bees in a new 'ome, you must knock three times on the top of the 'ive and tell 'em, same as you must tell 'em when anyone dies in the 'ouse. Ef you don't, they'll be spiteful, for bees is understanding creatures, an' knows what you say to them."

Just the same as a month before,--
The house and the trees,
The barn's brown gable, the vine by the door,--
Nothing changed but the hives of bees.

Before them, under the garden wall,
Forward and back,
Went drearily singing the chore-girl small,
Draping each hive with a shred of black.

Trembling, I listened: the summer sun
Had the chill of snow;
For I knew she was telling the bees of one
Gone on the journey we all must go!

Then I said to myself, "My Mary weeps
For the dead to-day:
Haply her blind old grandsire sleeps
The fret and the pain of his age away."

But her dog whined low; on the doorway sill,
With his cane to his chin,
The old man sat; and the chore-girl still
Sung to the bees stealing out and in.

And the song she was singing ever since
In my ear sounds on:--
"Stay at home, pretty bees, fly not hence!
Mistress Mary is dead and gone!"

some verses from TELLING THE BEES by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)

Friday 18 April 2008

Thank yous and News

WELL HELLO, and here's news for you... it has been a week of to-ings and fro-ings and frustrations and phonings. After much deliberation, I settled on a particular data recovery company that seemed to know what they were talking about and had a commitment to not over charging... so I packaged up my dreadful hard drive and sent it off into the wilderness (well Pall Mall in London actually!), content in the knowledge that the cost would not exceed £250 and that the chance of getting my work back was fairly good. I have now heard back, however, that it has to be sent off to another place for specific specialist rebuilding before the data can be removed and that this will cost a further £200 and that the chance of recovering lost work is now down to 60% or 70%.
I'll not bore you further with the ins and outs of data recovery negotiations, suffice to say that they have you over a barrel somewhat when you are desperate to get your work back again.

Well that's the depressing and fairly boring bit over.

Here's the happy bit:

I am just unbelievably smiling at the response to my dilemma that I received from you lovely people. Thank you so very much all of you .. not only for all the pounds and pennies so kindly given, but also for your words of encouragement. I turned off the donation button yesterday as I had received a goodly amount .. just enough to cover the costs. I was pretty speechless that people who, on the whole, I have never met, could worry in solidarity with me for my lost work and give money to help. Actually I found this so touching that it made me want to cry more than did the fact of my lost work. And this, I think, might just be the point of this whole fiasco! It has highlighted how very kind people are and how it is possible to build friends and communities of creative people who can help each other achieve their goals. How's this for an idea: that any of you who have a big project or problem or a dream or a plan that may be stuck a little with lack of funds.... ask for help here in this strange land of blog. I know that I would be happy to give what I could to another plea for something worthwhile given out by someone whose work and thoughts I respect.

In the meantime of waiting for news of lost work, I have been able to focus on my painting, which I have to report is coming along very well, and it is not like me to be quite so pleased with an unfinished painting. It will remain a secret... until those of you who helped me have received their prints, but for now, these mysterious-person-snippets are fragments of a hint, and she says to you all with a smile


Sunday 13 April 2008

Of nature and technology and of being caught between

HELLO all ... I write with a tale of woe, of epic disaster that summarizes perfectly the precarious tightrope that I walk, strung between a happy rustic home-made wonkyness and useful yet bamboozling modern technology.
Earlier today with the sun in the sky, we went out for our usual walk, happily trip-trapping past our favourite fields, photographing mosses and sheep, checking on the horsebox and on a tree we planted last year and collecting slightly damp sticks with which to start the fire on our return.
So we came in the door and kicked off our shoes, scooped up some coal and knelt by the hearth to start sweeping out yesterday's ash... and as I did this, one of the darstardly kindling sticks that I had in my skirt swept my external hard drive onto the floor. And now it whirrs and clicks and will no longer reveal its contents to me.
This hard drive stores all of my work ... every painting I have ever done, photographs, my half begun animation, my website and those of others that I have made, all my print-ready work which is my means of making a living. I feel sick. And I know, I should have backed it up.
I have spent the afternoon phoning various "data recovery" places with horrifying results... most of them saying that it's possible that my data might not be recoverable, but if it is, it will cost me anywhere between £250 ($500) and £1200 ($2400) (-this last figure was quoted to me by a man with indeterminable accent apparently shouting at me from the middle of a busy inner city roundabout!) I am panicking and hoping and panicking and hoping. Perhaps I might get cheaper quotes tomorrow from companies who don't work on a sunday.
It really makes you realise how at the mercy of these machines and this "data" we are. What on earth is it anyway, if not a series of 0s and 1s? And amazingly it is these same 0s and 1s that enable me to show you my latest paintings or a picture of newly fallen snow on our rooftop, and enable you to buy a print of these paintings or tell me how they make you feel.

I am at a loss as to what to do really. I have a new painting sitting on my desk ready to be done, but this has taken the wind out of me and makes me feel like giving up. So I have decided to try to call on these same wonders of modern technology which have put me in this predicament to help me out of it.
Here below is a little donation button, which, it occurred to me, one or two of you might not mind pressing and donating even one tiny little pound to help me pay for this "data recovery".. and then when the nightmare is over and my work is (fingers crossed) back with me I'll send each and every one of those who donate something a little print of this as yet unbegun painting. How does that sound?

I leave you with some photographs from our unsuspecting walk of beautiful unaware orange moss on a wall; the newly born and completely oblivious Rowan bud that is the tree we planted last year; and lastly, some delightfully skipping, chewing sheep who are chewing and skipping without the slightest jot of a worry about my lost data.

Thursday 10 April 2008

Sunday 6 April 2008

Bohemian Beelzebubbian Books

I HAVE BEEN READING some devilish stories in a lovely little book recently. Folktales from Bohemia by Adolf Wenig, illustrated by Josef Wenig, and published as part of a fantastic folktales series by Hippocrene books (It was first published in 1923 as Beyond the Giant Mountains). The illustrations are lovely red and black wood/lino cuts and all the characters wear the most delightfully clumpy clogs. There has always been something about the devil who appears in old tales like these that I like. He is rather a silly blundering fellow with a sooty complexion and the odd telltale horn and hoof. In these tales he is repeatedly outwitted by clever peasants...

How an Old Woman Cheated the Devil
In a certain village there was an old woman who lived all by herself in her old weather beaten hut. She was very poor and her poverty troubled her greatly, but she could not go begging for people would say: "She has a home and yet she begs." One day she said to herself: "What reward have I for working hard all my days and leading an honest life? In my old age I am to die of hunger."
Hardly had she said it when someone tapped on the window. The old woman looked out and saw a black man grinning at her.
"Open the door," he said; "I am worn out from my journey and I would like to rest."
But the old woman angrily answered: "Indeed! Lodge tramps and vagabonds! Just go on your way, there is no room for you here!" and she reached out to shut the window. The black man quickly thrust in his hand, all hairy and with claws in place of nails, so that she could not close it.
She was angry and scolded. The black man chuckled and said: " Be still, old woman, I am not so bad. Look at this!" and on his black palm he held out a shining ducat.
Her eyes opened wide at the sight of it. She snatched the money and hurried to let the stranger in. She did not care now what her guest looked like, but led him into the room and asked him if he had any more of those shining yellow pieces. The stranger again spread out his palm and lo! there was another yellow ducat. The old woman eagerly took it and put it into her pocket. "Well, well," she thought, "after all this fellow is not as bad as he appears."
After giving her guest some smoked meat to eat (for that was the kind he liked best) she sat him down and told him that she was a great lover of those yellow birds which he had placed in her palm. He chucked to himself.
"I will bring you as many as you like, if you will promise me your soul. I am the Devil."
The old woman was not frightened a bit and she answered: "I will not promise, but I will sell. In the loft by the window hangs a bag. Fill that with ducats and when it is filled, you may have my soul."
At this the devil jumped up and flew off to hell for the money. Meanwhile the old woman hurried up to the loft and cut a hole in the bottom of the bag. When the devil arrived with the money and poured it into the bag, it fell through the hole into the loft. The devil had to fly back for more money again and again until there was so much money in the loft that the bag stayed filled.
Tired and angry at the way the old woman had served him, he demanded his reward. "You have the money, now give me your soul!"
But to that she answered: "It isn't yours yet. You must do one more thing for me and then you may have my soul."
To avoid a quarrel, the devil agreed and asked what he was to do. The old woman handed him a sieve and ordered: "Carry water from the pond into the barrel which stands in the garden. The vegetables need watering and there is no water."
The devil took the sieve and ran to the pond, but dip as he would and run as he would, he could never get the water as far as the barrel. When the sweat dripped from every pore and he had become so tired he could hardly drag his feet, he flung the sieve to the ground and angrily exclaimed: "Truly I am an old devil and a mean one, but you, old woman, are still worse."
He slapped her across the face so that stars flashed before her eyes, and then vanished.
Thus the old woman got rid of the devil and had a whole loft full of money. After that, everything went well with her, but the marks left by the devil's claws remained on her face all the rest of her life.

* * * * * * * * * *
Still devil-hunting in Bohemia ... I now invite you to leaf through the pages of the Codex Gigas ~ ("gigantic book") the largest medieval manuscript in the world. It was created in the early 13th century in the Benedictine monastery of Podlažice in Bohemia, and is now preserved at the National Library of Sweden in Stockholm (taken in 1648 by the Swedish army as plunder at the end of the 30 years' war), where two librarians are needed to lift it. It is also known as the Devil's Bible due to a large illustration of the devil on the inside.
The codex includes the entire Latin Vulgate version of the Bible, Isidore of Seville's encyclopedia Etymologiae, Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews, Cosmas of Prague's Chronicle of Bohemia, various tractates (from history, etymology and physiology), a calendar with necrologium, a list of brothers in Podlažice monastery, magic formulae and other local records. The entire document is written in Latin.
On page 290 which is otherwise empty, there appears a unique picture of the devil, about 50cm tall. Several pages before this are written on a blackening vellum and have a very gloomy character, somewhat different from the rest of the codex.
According to legend, the scribe was a monk who breached his monastic code and was sentenced to be walled up alive. In order to forbear this harsh penalty he promised to create in one single night a book to glorify the monastery forever, including all human knowledge. Near midnight he became sure that he could not complete this task alone, so he sold his soul to the devil for help. The devil completed the manuscript and the monk added the devil's picture out of gratitude for his aid.

Bohemia in more recent years has continued to tell devil's tales, often with beautifully carved marionettes. If you have not yet sampled the dark and unnerving delights of Jan Svankmajer's animated films (such as Little Otik, Alice or Faust - which includes a life size devil marionette - left), then I heartily suggest you do .. if you dare.

Thursday 3 April 2008

Everything you can imagine is Real

A GIFT for a friend who has just turned 18...
Painted with oils on wood and a quote by Pablo Picasso.