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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Standing At The Gate Of The Year -


B​ack in the mists of my ​childhood years (late 1950's), a pre-teen, I read a poem in my ACS School Annual that deeply moved me and quietly lodged in my now-fading memory throughout the long and winding 50+ years.


I remember cutting it out and sticking the piece of paper on my old bedroom cupboard door with Scotch tape (no blue tack until a few decades later).  As a kid I often used to ponder over the comforting words much like a morning prayer as I got ready for school, or had just a few minutes spare in the middle of my wild childhood days.  Now that my time is starting to draw-in, the fear of the mess I may leave for others to gather up and stick in a rubbish skip when I've gone has got me doing the odd bit of rummaging and chucking-out.  It's currently stuff that my mum and dad brought across the seas when they emigrated from Singapore to the UK that I'm still sifting through for the umpteenth time.


I was going through the contents of their old camphor-wood chest, and got the shock of my life........there was that exact piece of paper, yellowed with the passage of decades, but with words as comforting to me as the day I first read them in my old school annual.  My mum knew I loved these lines and when they uprooted from the old country she'd saved my scrap of paper, carefully removing the sticky tape, and stored it with all her memories and treasures, hoping that one day I would be able to read them again. This action encapsulates the loving 
​support that she and my dad always had for whatever I held close to my heart.


Today was that day, and scanned-in below is that ​old piece of paper that I found after all those hidden years - it brought to me a melancholic nostalgia or 'saudade', not just due to the poem, but also the manner of its passage from my childhood room in our old Singapore house to my current flat in London.  Reading it again from the same source for the first time in fifty odd years brings a rather larger than normal lump to my throat from the realisation that all the intervening years have not even slightly dulled ​it's​ emotional charge.



​I hope you too enjoy the message, and the wonderful serendipity now transformed into an Xmas greeting from us all.  Have a blessed Xmas and may the new year finally bring us the peace and love that all living creatures deserve.





2015

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Last Tango in Chiang Mai

Don't you find that there's always those quiet times when your attention turns to the creative side and longs for deep meaningful pursuits which will help to connect you with your inner soul.......the pure longing for a deeper truth which you somehow know is far closer to the 'real you'?

​Well, 
here are some handy and interesting suggestions that may awaken your creativity and you may want to explore further, .......especially if you happen to find yourself sitting below a Flame of the Forest tree in Chiang Mai.......

​  
Moustachios are often a sign of creative genius......maybe that's why  Dali, Zorro, Freddie Mercury and  Hitler were all driven forward by that fertility festering on their upper lips.  If YOU can't seem to grow a decent one, never fear - just turn to nature and choose the seed pod that best suits your outfit today!
​​



Even grumpy old twits can look quite distinguished with some simple, natural embellishments



These days, it's often popular to exclude fascsitas - but all creatives regardless of political leanings are welcome here





Dance releases your suppressed anxieties.......always try to include a quick Tango in your creative therapy session and it could improve those good results that you're expecting.



A quick swap of seed pod could make a welcome change, pushing you to new heights of achievement?



Just make sure there's enough of the raw material to go round your creative group



There, that's an hour well spent in anyone's books!!


Coming soon: How to never miss out on a good chance to shut up!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Walking in God's Own Country

Climbing the path from Hartsop, up the steep gradient to Boredale Hause, looking west the farms and fields nestled below Dollywagon Pike in the Deepdale Valley are an idyllic vista.  The kind of place in which people live and love without reference to the outside world.  Let the global issues rage, and our corrupt leaders, bankers and brokers line their pockets with our hard-earned pittance.  Wealth can't buy beauty and tranquility like this - and its free for all who wish to put a raincoat and a sandwich in their pack, stretch their legs for a few hours, and head off over the Lakeland Fells.  Its one of God's blessings that most of humankind has forgotten.  Perhaps that too is a blessing? 



  
Walking west down the path from The Knott (2423ft), along the banks of Hayeswater Gill, a lone stone cottage sits under the shadow of 2 Oaks.  It's been slowly 'absorbed' into the surrounding pasture, the stones that it's built from have blended with the neighbouring dry stone walls that stretch for mile after mile across the hills and valleys.  Testament to the determination and sheer hard work that the poor folk of Cumbria were capable of more than a century ago.  The mosses and lichens that have taken root on the roof have long since fused with  slate tiles below, and jointly they work to keep the old cottage dry.  When sudden winter blizzards howl down the valley, this old stone cottage will shelter sheep that are unable to head down the valley in time to get back to the farm that they came from a few hours before when the sun was shining in the blue morning sky.
  





Hayeswater Gill runs down to Goldrill Beck which in turn feeds the Ullswater Lake emerging just above Patterdale.  Freezing, clear water, babbling along and twisting past the huge boulders that have rolled down the valley and ended up like big stone jewels decorating the river's run.  Thanks to ice-age sculpting there is always natural artistry to be marvelled at in these valleys and hills.  Waking in the morning surrounded by such beauty and emptiness gives Lakeland dwellers (as it gave the Lake Poets) a charge of peaceful energy..........the power of tranquillity that holds you firmly in its grasp.  No advertising copy, no hoardings, no politician's latest claims, no anger and angst amidst the daily grind.  It's devoid of any bullshit other than that made by cattle.  You don't need to escape anything in the peace of the pasture!




Chris is picking her way up the valley between Middle Dodd (2150ft) and Little Hart Crag (2089ft), heading for an ancient crossroads at 1500ft.  Its the point where 2 old drover's tracks, one running roughly North-South and the other East-West, cross each other at the Scandale Pass.  From that point she'll take her artist's kit out of her pack and spend a few hours capturing the wonderful vistas in colour and line.  There are 50 miles of absolute heaven sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and the upper part of the M6 motorway.  Don't tell anyone, because its just perfect just like it is now.  If you want man-made entertainment, Hollywood style plastic crap or a media-led spectacle just go the OTHER way, thanks! 



Sunday, September 23, 2012

DASHWOODS GO TO DARTMOOR - a week of artistic endeavour and friendship washed down with fine West Country ale

"Friends are the bacon bits in the salad bowl of life", said someone, I can't remember who, but, by the time in life that grey hairs start to sprout, most of us begin to realise that true friendship is worth far more than a thick back pocket.............so it is with the Dashwood Art Group.

The Dashwoods are a bunch of artists from pretty diverse backgrounds and a spread of ages spanning many decades, who meet weekly in Crouch End to exercise their deep passion to draw and paint. So, why not take a brave new step into the unknown?  They all agreed to spend a week together in Dartmoor, living together in a big farmhouse near Okehampton to paint 'en plein air'.

Bruno demonstrating his 'Artist's Wrestling Association' stance


It could easily have ended in disaster, with the possibility of misunderstandings, quarrels, disputes and the ruination of their close relationship forged over 20 years of once-weekly, two hour painting sessions in North London. Living together for a week would mean group decisions on activities, supermarket foraging, cooking together and generally 'mucking -in' every day.  Also, sharing the individual highs, lows and the inevitable cock-ups. But, if the Famous Five did it, so could The Dashwoods.

Week's plans being laid - L to R: Chris, Maureen, Nancy, Bruno, Charles, Bill & Alan (Tom took the pic)


From the moment we arrived at the Estrayer Farmhouse, there was certainly a tangible group magnetism working to pull us all together, and plans had been made in secret to celebrate 2 birthdays that just happened to fall on the same week. Nancy excelled at the all-important key tasks, combining the creativity of Claire Damon's baking and cunning of  Patrick Mcgee, the infamous IRA gelignite smuggler, making a mega-tasty cake, then transporting it in a foil covered milk bottle crate, which despite its size, was surreptitiously sneaked into a pre-planned party at Scott's cool mansion in nearby Sticklepath. With a combined age of 154 (you guess the break), Bruno and Scott were relieved to have only 7 candles to blow out - 22 years per candle!
 

I'll huff and puff and try not to dribble


Although Scott scaled the North London barbed-wire entanglement a year ago, escaping to Devon, he used to be a regular Dashwood-er, and is doing stirling work preparing the DDC (Dashwood Devon Chapter) for other potential escapees.  Busy recruiting 'local talant', he signed up Lynne, who arrived to meet the rest of the gang, but didn't get through quite the same amount of  West Country ale as the veterans, who drank the 154th birthday celebration night away.

Sunrise brought with it the determination to pull out the paint brushes, uncover the canvas, and head into the wilderness of Dartmoor.  The Jurassic stunted oaks of  the dream-like Wistman's Wood ( http://www.legendarydartmoor.co.uk/wistman.htm ) beckoned after reading stories of pixies and the hounds of hell chasing sinners to their doom in it's mossy, lichen-coated tunnels of twisted branches .  An ancient Druids meeting place, full of supernatural significance - an ideal place to paint while one shivers in fear.                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Chris painting above Wistman's Wood & West Dart river


Charles & Alan at Wistman's Wood

It was a reasonably sunny day, with shifting cloud throwing patches of brilliant sunlight across the Moors and the Dashwoods chose little hollows to settle down in, sheltering from the stiff breeze.  A scattering of huge granite boulders some of which were the remains of ancient settlements, doubled as cosy seats, warmed by the morning sun, and offered comfort to city bums, unused to the rigours of country loitering.  There were occasional curious walkers who passed us by, wondering why so many artists had decided to paint so close together - a 'paint in' maybe?  Perhaps the beginnings of an English version of the popular Spanish tradition of  'Concursos de Pintura RĂ¡pida' (Rapid Painting Contest) which has yet to take hold in the Green and Pleasant Land.


As they scribbled away, eyes half- locked on the gnarled branches and woods, prepared for anything that looked vaguely like a ghostly apparition, the hours ticked away and it started to become apparent that the Devil had only dispatched his recce platoons, disguised as very demure sheep and the odd slightly more devilish Dartmoor Goat to check that the Dashwoods were not stealing anything other than the images of this very beautiful location.

Gorse bushes in bloom on the way back from Wistman's Wood

The Devil's Agent spying on the Dashwoods

  Painting done for the day, we headed for the Two Bridges Hotel  for some pre-lunch  liquid sustenance in the shape of the delicious locally brewed Jail Ale - named after the infamous Dartmoor Prison only a mile or so down the road.  Perhaps the more likely threat around the 'wooded badlands' would have been escaped villains in tattered jail-house garb, had it not been downgraded to a low risk Class C penitentiary, and earmarked for closure in 2010.

View towards Moortown - Nancy and Maureen getting wet and cold

The next day was far from sunny, but  despite heavy grey skies and threat of  further downpours, we headed towards Tavistock in the trusty camper-van named Elvis, and the works, high-performance, Astra Estate and struggled up Pork Hill to disembark near Cox Tor and sample the delights of a drizzly Whitchurch Common.  It soon became obvious that painting was not an option that morning .The wind, wet and walk soon blew any residual hangovers away, leaving half the group with soggy shoes and the others with damp cameras.

Pew Tor in the background


Best meal of the day starts with Bruno's coffee

In Dartmoor, thank god, there aren't many 'modern buildings', but the few that do pepper the wilderness are often pubs, and these are unfailingly full of character.  You may not like the 'mixed accumulations over 2 centuries' style,  but there's always lots to look at.              'Modern', to differentiate them from the remains of ancient
 settlements that, although no longer standing, are almost impossible not to (literally) stumble on.  On any Dartmoor walk of more than a few hundred yards, one will find slabs and collections of granite and various other rocks with distinctly right-angled corners laid out in a discernibly organised pattern.  Farmers and other locals have long since pilfered the useful ones and turned them into parts of walls, housing and used them to line irrigation streams at strategic points where they are likely to get eroded and leak, so in such a manner, old villages have been 'recycled' over the years on a huge scale - and we consider recycling to be a current idea!   The pub we visited to get out of the drizzle and wind was no exception.  The Warren House Inn has been mentioned in late 17th century records, burned down and rebuilt in the mid 19th century on the other side of the road, originally a packhorse path to carry tin and essentials across the moor.  The story goes that the landlord kept the original fire burning during the rebuilding, and transferred it to the newly built pub and it has kept burning until this day.  It was still burning when we got there at lunchtime! Full of that olde worlde character that tourists, incomers (and the Dashwoods) love.  The menu was brilliant, but keep well clear of their lauded 'Warren Inn Rabbit Pie' unless you want to feel queasy all day - I did!    

Lunch at the Warren House Inn

 The wonderful beers that they keep so well at the pub made up for the dodgy dish - Otter Ale, Tribute and Doom bar were hits with The Dashwoods, and there was Tanglefoot and Butcombe as well. All brewed barely an hour's drive from Dartmoor, in the counties surrounding Devon - Cornwall, Dorset and Somerset................I think

Meals were always a a joy - from home cooked breakfasts, scented by Bruno's superb 'alarm-clock coffee', reaching out to all bedrooms as it's aroma wafted up the stairwells, to lunch at a pub or dinner around the huge dining table at Estrayer Farmhouse. 

Charles' Post-Porridge Smile


Alan contemplating the next breakfast dish





Nights at the NOT round table






















The Dashwoods all took turns to cook in a spontaneous, unplanned and enthusiastic queue.  Whatever was in the fridge including left-overs and half-finished bottles of beer or wine, were magically transformed into wonderful meals, despite only having one sharp knife and a murderous potato peeler which took chunks off innocent index fingers like a Samurai without a worthy opponent.  We even invited guests over one night, and that was a perfect send off to Charles and Alan who had to get back to London the next day.  The choccy boxes emptied and the glass recycling bins filled, the smokers shuffled out in batches to puff and watch for UFO's, and howl at stars in the crowded night sky. 



Dinner on Charles and Alan's last night at the Farm - Woody Allen dropped in uninvited!






























































Looking towards the south in the night sky, there always seemed to be a faint glow on the horizon.  Maybe it was the ghost-campfires of the Viking hordes that rampaged across this peaceful, pastoral heaven only thirty-ish generations ago.

The Dashwoods came into luck when they chanced upon a local yokel (he drove a Mercedes) in the nearby pub.  He had a wealth of knowledge about the area and suggested a wonderful place to paint that didn't require a long drive.  Just round the corner and up a steep track was the old disused Meldon Quarry and adjacent to the quarry, overlooking a valley, crossed by the Meldon Viaduct, is the railway yard at the western end of the old Dartmoor Railway.  Complete with the hulks of  old locomotives, railway carriages, platforms here was the spot 'the Merc-driving yokel' directed us to............ a decked-out area looking out over the river Oakment valley and the Meldon Reservoir.  A mixture of green valleys, lakes, concrete and steel picturesquely fused together ..........'function in a junction'.

Painting at the Meldon Quarry



What a wonderful find.  Comparatively comfy, perfect vista, no sheep poo or prickly gorse and a level surface to spread out the kit.  The Dashwoods settled into the serious business of artistic endeavour and soon silence reigned apart from the sounds of pencil scratching on paper and brushes tapping on  the side of  tupperware water containers.


Meldon Viaduct over the Oakment Valley 

The Dashwoods settle down to serious work











Dashwoods find a great place to paint














Tom and Bill were happy to watch the paint splashing, but as the silent minutes ticked away, they became bored and decided to explore the local walks - jumping over the fence on to the ex-railway track, and heading across the viaduct in the direction of the Meldon Reservoir, the OS map promised a lovely clear circular walk round the water's edge, and back across the 'Dartmoor side' of the reservoir, across the dam, and through the quarry.  Picking blackberries as they walked, and finding the route barred at the water's edge, they took 'the high path' across the ridge overlooking the reservoir.  Beautiful views across Dartmoor and the surrounding villages soon appeared as they cut across a line of ancient trees marking the final fold of the hill.
Tom emerges above the tree line 

The colour of the landscape and the Devon Blue sky above tempted them to linger and savour what was clearly a local beauty spot.  The path got less distinct as they walked on, and as the footsteps crunched by it became clear that they would never get round the reservoir and make it back to rendezvous with the Daswoods for the planned late pub lunch that everyone was looking forward to.  A change of plan beckoned.
Lookout Sheep Keeping Watch on Tom and Bill

Green Tree Tunnel
Meldon Dam Face
Taking a detour down to the water's edge, and then back across the dam, Tom and Bill found their way back to the far side of the old disused quarry, and back up the steep track to find the Dashwoods all huddled together pouring over the results of the mornings paintings.  They were all hungry and thirsty, and the time was ripe to pack up the paints and head in the direction of the local.  Only Bruno was still hard at work, having commandeered a whole bench which he clearly needed for the intense creativity inspired by the surrounding scenery.

Bruno Works Hard at the Creativity
Now, many think that art is a solitary pursuit, and that is often how it turns out.  The truth is that many artists very often seek the company of other creatives and preferably those who also paint.  It's part of the passionate process, and getting together to discuss the detail of the subjects and the many ways of representing the colours, shapes and emotional response is part and parcel of the joy and agony that making art demands.  The impressionists were famous for getting together over an absinthe or three, and so are the Dashwoods, although they prefer to stick to a more refined tipple - the local ale.

Its often done in a setting shared with good beer, wine and tasty food.  The inspirations are even greater, and the discussions more animated when a group of artists post-mortem the day of painting over a few pints.

There were days when the group shelved brushes, paints and canvasses to visit local sites of interest.  The Fitch Foundry in Sticklepath was superb!  We thought that it would be generally boring, but the main attraction for the Dashwoods was a huge working water-wheel that entirely powered the foundry.  Unbelieveably, there was a scheduled, working demo of how an ancient foundry worked, complete with a smithy who took questions as he hammered the glowing billets into shape.  Slowly,  realisation the beautiful tinkling stream running past rocks and clumps of stream-side flowers also had an alter-ego..........it was the driving force that...........................(to be continued.)


































































































































































































View from Branscombe Common









Lynne & Easel











Chris painting - Belstone Common















Love at 1st Sight







Last Morning Mist Rising

 

 

 


















Au Revoir Estrayer