Monday 28 January 2019

Art tales and trails

It’s not often that I use my blog for advertising purposes but on this occasion - now I’m part of a committee - I’ll write a shorter-than-usual post, and use it to promote our local art trail.

Every year the village of Larkhall, Bath, has a festival. The good people of the neighbourhood mass around the square, enjoy events taking place in the community centre - New Oriel Hall - and participate in activities in St Mark’s School and Alice Park. This takes place at one of the loveliest times of the year - May Bank holiday weekend.

The art trail coincides with the festival.
Richard and I got involved with the art trail - aka ‘Larkhall Open Studios’  a few years back when he submitted three of his paintings for exhibition at the Oriel Hall and sold prints & cards. We also became part of the stewarding rota and made visitor counts, dealt with questions posed by the public, took money, wrote out receipts and generally enjoyed being surrounded by paintings, ceramics and glassware - all made by very clever locals. Quite splendid. 

Before that Richard had co-run the Bath Fringe Art Fair - which took a great deal of management. The Larkhall Art Trail seemed easier to run, by far.

Almost five years ago we opted to open up our house instead of exhibiting Richard’s paintings in the hall. It meant a lot of moving of furniture but no loading the car with paintings nor coping with parking and carrying framed works to a deposit point. We are lucky enough to have a large sitting room with good wall space. And, in January 2014, with a click of the ‘send’ button our entry for an open studio was submitted. 

Richard didn’t open his studio as such. It is up two flights of stairs and is so full of canvases, paints, photographs, brushes, pallettes, rolls of bubble wrap ... the public would never get in to see anything of worth. And it's a health hazard.

By spring 2014 we were almost prepared when a thunderbolt struck us on Easter Day. April 20th, at 11:10 a.m. 

My 89-year-old mother, who was with us for the chocolate-egg-eating weekend, had a sudden, deep stroke. It was about two weeks before we were due to open to the public. She had rarely been ill. We were in a state of shock and decided to limp towards opening for one day only and tried to get the message out that, sadly, we couldn’t do more. On our front gate we posted the words 
   ‘Owing to family illness we are unable to open Sunday or Monday. Apologies to all.Richard’s website is'
And that was it. 

But the following year, by which time mum was in a nursing home with 24-hour care, we were pleased by our first proper open studio event. We had lots of interesting and interested visitors, and, although it takes quite a lot of prep, it’s a wonderful feeling to be able to invite people into your home, discuss art, inspiration, style and technique-and even more so when they buy an original work.But, of course, we are happy when we sell cards or prints too. Or visitors make donations to one of 'our' charities.

So there we were - part of the ‘Larkhall Open Studios’ circuit. And for 2019 we decided to go a step further by filling two vacant places on the Larkhall Open Studios Committee - namely Secretary and PR. I’m sharing the secretarial role with our photographer friend Pam. I deal with comms and general co-ordination and she is looking after the database and doing mailshots to at laest 120 artists and makers. Richard is advising and making decisions ... and will take up the PR reins in about a fortnight’s time.

Thus far one of our venues - Oriel Hall - is full. We have another venue - Nexus Church Centre - offering to host artists and their paintings, ceramics, lino-cuts, prints, cards or jewellery. And we have as many studios open to the public as last year. However - and this is the advert bit - the closing date for submissions to the Larkhall Art Trail      (Larkhall Open Studios) is the end of THIS week. 

Drum roll - here comes the promotion: 
Larkhall Open Studios - May 4-6 - 2019
If you live close to Larkhall, say Batheaston, the London Road, Camden or may be as far as Park Street, Bath and can make a submission in the next few days we would love to hear from you. We are happy to include painters, sculptors, ceramicists, photographers, jewellery-makers, makers of automata or textile specialists. 

Please email either Richard or myself on or for further information.
Richard’s website is

We have exhibition spaces left in the Nexus Church Centre. It has a bright, light room, with plenty of space for hanging paintings and displaying 3D work on central tables. There’s a purpose-built kitchen, we'll have gentle live music from a psalter player (and there are sofas and... toilets. ) And it’s just £15 for three days’ showcasing of your artistic talents. 

Please do support this venture. It’s a chance for the public to see your work without their paying gallery prices. And you don't have to give a % to a gallery either. Plus, if it’s anything like last May, it’ll be a heat wave. Many studios sell cakes for charity. It’s great fun and certainly worthwhile.

                                                Enjoy ! 

Friday 25 January 2019

An Angel This Way Came - Remembering the Holocaust

On Sunday we'll spend a few sombre moments remembering the millions who perished in the Holocaust. At my local cinema there is a special showing of Schindler's List. I won't go to see it as I've recently watched it at home and, for me, some features are so moving, so dreadful, I prefer to be in my own company when viewing.

It's not the obvious scenes of terror, humiliation and cruelty that always have the greatest effect. Just as when a loved one dies an emotion can come from nowhere. A certain smell, or a memory or a voice. And it can be hard not to cry. In Schindler's List one of the most remarkable scenes is momentary, simple but dignified.

In the film, after Polish Jews are forced from their homes to occupy what becomes the dangerously overpopulated, underfed Krakow ghetto, we see a formerly well-to-do couple in a run-down room.
                           'It could have been worse,' says the wife.
                           'Tell me, how could it possibly have been worse?' shrieks the exasperated husband. He was used to a fine apartment, a comfortable bedroom, heavy carved furniture, china, silver, mirrors and all the trappings of a middle-class life. Now he’s reduced to owning a suitcase and only part of a room with a blanket, hanging as a curtain, between him and others sharing the same space.
As its the last day, March 13, for Jews to enter the ghetto more crowd in to the room. But a family, who look less well-to-do, walk through the door and quietly bow and, one after the other, say 'Good day.' It is the simplicity of these people, who don't want to be in the ghetto any more than their wealthier neighbours, that seems so moving. Quietly and politely they bid 'Hello' to people with whom they are crammed together.They aren't outwardly angry but try to get on with others in horrendous circumstances as best they can. Why should such well-brought up people be so persecuted?

On a seemingly unrelated matter we have had to contend with things breaking in our house and garden. This week we had a rotten piece of garden fence collapse, one door handle's got stuck and a kitchen cuboard hinge came away leaving the door dangling, uselessly above the kitchen floor. What to do? We can't even use a drill properly let alone fix hinges, fences and handles! Richard and I are truly incompetent at DIY.

It was then that an angel came to our rescue. A kindly man in our neighbour-nextdoor scheme had just the right hinge in his kit box and came, promptly, at 10:30 am this morning to fix it. He was a qualified, but now-retired, engineer and was also able to replace the spring in a door handle for us. Another workman came to replace our fence. But the engineer wanted no money, merely a donation to his charity. We were more than happy to give a money to his cause as he shared common interests with ourselves ie helping in Sierra Leone and, in his case, Burundi and Zimbabwe. Again, a quiet dignity... and he got the job done. We felt blessed by an angel (and our fence-man knocked £50 off his estimate.)

It's a good feeling when people aren't greedy and simply want to help others and provide a service. It's also an effective way to promote a charity where, in his case, he tries to help people in war-torn or desperate situations. He helps communities grow crops more efficiently and to give back some self respect to others in straitened or degraded circumstances.

I felt that today we were blessed. It's an antidote to the cruelty of the Holocaust. And so refreshing after months of politicians arguing and the poor being downtrodden and scapegoated rather than helped. A rare occurence to find a good man who wanted to help without making a charge. Prices are rising and, in some quarters, so is a grasping mentality.

But, for today, an angel this way came.

Wednesday 23 January 2019

The Quiet Activist?

Icons - The Greatest Person of the Twentieth Century ( BBC TV)

It shows that I have a certain mindset: I watched aspects of this BBC TV series 'The Greatest Person' and became really involved, but only in the areas which interested me. It will come as no surprise to my brother that I didn’t watch the ‘Greatest Sportsperson’ but I did watch other episodes. For instance I saw the ‘Greatest Entertainers’ of the C20th and the ‘Greatest Leaders’ of the C20th. But the episode which I saw in real time - thus enabling me to vote online - was ‘The Greatest Activists of the Twentieth Century’.

I sense there is a pattern emerging here and it must reflect my personality. I do go to some political meetings and always seem to know the answers to political questions at our local pub quiz. Hence my appreciation of the ‘Greatest Leaders’ episode in this mini-series.
Of the four (Roosevelt, Churchill,Mandela and Thatcher) I had the least knowledge about FD Roosevelt. And it struck me that our own current Labour leadership could bring about a new deal for the impoverished and hard-working folk of England - those with little hope in their lives. This is after nine years of an austerity budget in the UK. In England, especially, public services have been cut to skeletal provision. 

But back to 'The Greatest People.' In choosing the greatest leader of C20th many would, I'm sure, vote for Winston Churchill who saw off the Nazi threat - despite other MPs' calls for appeasement - in the second world war. Of the four nominated I certainly didn’t favour Margaret Thatcher but, if I’d watched the programme in real time, my vote would have gone to Nelson Mandela. 

And this is where the pattern in my thinking starts. Mandela fought for an oppressed people and suffered greatly whilst being imprisoned. FDR was disabled through polio. Churchill was also imprisoned early in his life - but not for the 27 years Mandela endured. There is sacrifice, imprisonment, pain, disability and a care for ordinary people’s hard luck in the three leaders I favoured: FDR, Churchill and Mandela. Without Churchill where would Britain have been? But without Mandela...

Next up was the feature on entertainers. As Oliver Cromwell found - if you ban entertainment and Christmas you won’t be popular. People need fun, chance to forget their hard lives and relaxation. For David Bowie I scored highly but slightly behind Charlie Chaplin, who had a dreadful early life but later entertained others with his famous on-screen depiction of a down-on-his-luck tramp. Chaplin’s ‘The Great Dictator’ was surely a work ahead of its time, when cinema was still in kindergarten? However, if I’d watched this BBC offering in real time my vote would have gone to Billie Holliday. Again she had a difficult, unsettled early life but rose up and out of degradation. She survived, through her own efforts, to be a great singer and brought a song about killings in the deep south to a much wider audience. Of course I’m talking about her rendering of ‘Strange Fruit', a song about the lynchings of black people in parts of the USA (after the abolition of slavery). We may not have heard of Abel Meeropol, aka Lewis Allan, who wrote the poem 'Strange Fruit' but Holliday's thin, strained voice perfectly captures the mood of the subject. My vote would have gone to her. Marilyn Monroe - like Thatcher in the category above - wouldn’t have been favoured.

Finally I did manage to watch ‘Greatest Activists’ while it was being broadcast. It brought a tear to my eye when I relearned the trials of the lives of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. The quiet dignity of Gandhi's walk to the sea to make salt is moving and astounding in its effectiveness. 

Dr King and Mahatma Gandhi fought not for greatness for themselves but, again, to lift an oppressed people out of subjugation. Likewise Emmeline Pankhurst and her warriors brought about the votes for women in 1918. She too was imprisoned for her beliefs and wanted change for others - not self-glory.

The pattern in my voting, it seems, is to favour those who have suffered themselves and brought about change for, or greater understanding of, an oppressed people. In the C20th the most oppressed were women - they were second-class citizens in the UK until 1928 when all could vote in elections - and black men, women and children the world over. Whether we look at South Africa and Mandela’s vision for ‘one man, one vote’ or the USA where Martin Luther King fought against segregation or Gandhi who wanted freedom from starvation and oppression from British rule for the Indian sub-continent, people of colour have had to fight for rights the rest of us take for granted. In the USA segregation meant African-Americans were not allowed to use public water fountains when they were thirsty nor to go to public theatres nor cinemas. That's as segregated as the Jews were in late 1930s Berlin. Although, unlike the persecution of Jews and gypsies under Nazism, African-Americans and non-whites followed signs to where they could legally walk, talk, eat and rest.

But as for the activists: FDR was disabled as was another nominated activist, Helen Keller, who was deaf and blind from the age of eighteen months. Despite her difficulties she campaigned for the rights of the disabled all her life. And Tanni-Grey Thompson, I’m glad to say, was included in the ‘The Greatest Sportspeople’. She is one of the faces of paralympic sport, fighting for the rights of the disabled to show how they too can compete and participate. 

In my own small way I have tried to work in the field of the disabled and the have-nots. I was a teacher of special needs children for over thirty years and had to overcome opposition and lack of funding in special needs education to get children the provision they needed. My charity interests concern schooling for girls in Sierra Leone. Without an education the girls may fall pregnant in their teens and be stuck doing domestic chores in a country devastated by war and ebola. Education is a liberator. And my concerns are for people of colour and those pushed to one side. Oppression of people through religion eg Jews or through political beliefs is at one horrifying level. In theory, if being persecuted you could change your religion or vote for another candidate. It's a long shot under repressive regimes but it might save your skin. (Although I know the registration of Jews in Nazi-occupied lands included knowledge of parents' and grandparents' religion. Changing to being a non-Jew was not viable. A handful of Jews in Berlin survived because they didn't register and passed themselves off as non-Jew throughout the war.) But to oppress people because of something they can never change - a disability or the colour of their skin - is an even deeper wickedness. 

The pattern in my favouring people who have fought against the oppression and suffering of others shows where my interests lie: the little tramp ie Chaplin, ‘Strange Fruit’ the lynchings of the blacks ie Billie Holliday, getting black people the vote and suffering imprisonment ie Mandela, getting women the vote and likewise enduring imprisonment ie Pankhurst. And being shot down in pursuit of freedom for the oppressed ie King and Gandhi. They died for others. 
These are the people I admire. 

Someone else can vote for the sportsmen and women! My concerns are for the have-nots. And how I admire the trailblazers who put their own lives and well-being on the line for the liberation of others. A fascinating series but it’s made me wonder whether I’m a quiet activist...If there can be such a thing! 

Wednesday 16 January 2019

The View from Europe

So we’ve had the ‘meaningful vote’ which was another crushing defeat for Theresa May. I’ve tried not to write about the Brexit issue and process as it’s troubling and divisive but I’m curious about a comment made by Monsieur Macron. Following the defeat of the EU-agreed withdrawal bill last night this is what Macron commented:

"We will have to negotiate a transition period with them because the British cannot afford to no longer have planes taking off or landing at home," he said.

What on earth does he mean? Are planes a metaphor? Have we sold all our runways? Are our airports too costly to maintain? In all the Brexit confusion, comment, counter-comment and hullabaloo I find this the oddest statement.

When we were in Guernsey on June 23, 2016, the day of the EU referendum, the result came through that Britain had voted to leave the EU. Richard and I felt somewhat gutted as we’d owned property in France and felt European. 
But Guernsey isn’t in the EU and they are doing very nicely indeed. That day it was the French minister for the economy, industry and digital affairs who made another interesting comment.

He said, once Britain left the EU, ‘Britain will become small, like Guernsey.’ 
In fact Guernsey is operating very well and we were there, enjoying the beaches, the towns, the hospitality and cuisine, as he spoke those words. Can you guess who made the comment about Britain becoming small, like Guernsey? 

We didn’t know him on the world stage then. The French ministry for the economy, industry and digital affairs wasn’t top news in our papers in 2016. 
But the minister was no other than Emmanuel Macron.

I note this morning that Tusk, who seemed genuinely sad that Britain was leaving the EU, said it was a good plan to revoke Article 50.

I quote from BBC News:

European Council President Donald Tusk has hinted that the UK should stay in the EU...
"If a deal is impossible, and no-one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?" he tweeted.

Dutch journalists writing in de Volkskrant liken May’s defeat to Guy Fawkes’ attempt to blow up parliament in 1605.
The paper says she should survive the no-confidence vote, despite the "greatest political crisis since Guy Fawkes tried to blow up parliament four centuries ago", as Brexit supporters see her as the best chance of a no-deal departure - "which is ironic, given that they tried to remove her just before Christmas".

I further quote from BBC News.
Begona Arce in Spain's El Periodico says Mrs May "achieved the impossible, by managing to unite the Conservatives with the opposition against the Brexit plan. It is a colossal failure after almost two years of negotiations".

But, to put a positive spin on the confusion, I’ll finish with the comment from Czech journalists who think, quite surreally, that we Brits are having a laugh...

The Czech Republic's Mlada Fronta Dnes has had enough (of Brexit). Over a cartoon of the Mr Bean comedy character, it complains that the British "are really overdoing it with their crazy humour!"

Maybe to laugh at the pandemonium is the only thing left to do.

With thanks to BBC News

Friday 11 January 2019

Janus - a new year conundrum

The Christmas cards are ready to recycle, decorations packed away and the potted hyacinths are blooming. They fill the sitting room with a sweet aroma. 

I’ve managed a few walks since festive excesses forced the dial on my bathroom scales in a northerly direction. Subsequently my knee has complained. Perhaps I forgot, in my post-Christmas slumbers, to warm up before taking exercise.
Next week my routine - 9000 steps daily, weekly swimming & 3 sessions of HIIT & resistance work  - will restart. This week I’m exercising but not swimming.

And today, in my quest for new year fitness, I read we should all be eating 30g fibre daily. 
This is roughly what 30g looks like:-

■   half a cup of rolled oats - 9g fibre
■   two Weetabix - 3g fibre
■   a thick slice of brown bread - 2g fibre
■   a cup of cooked lentils - 4g fibre 
■   a potato cooked with the skin on - 2g fibre 
■   half a cup of chard (or silverbeet in New Zealand) - 1g fibre
■   a carrot - 3g fibre
■   an apple with the skin on - 4g fibre
                                                                   (BBC News)

For someone who hasn’t been weaned off carbs the above fibre-rich foods are ideal. But I rarely eat wheat-based carbs and packaged goods such as Weetabix nor wholemeal bread or potatoes. 

Every morning I do eat a cup or more of rolled oats with blueberries. As a wholemeal substitute I eat German rye bread and I’ll have to rethink the potato. That’s my new year conundrum. That’s why January is so named. Like Janus I feel pulled in two directions.

And I never buy The Daily Mail. Except for this week. Michael Mosley has placed a daily pull-out ‘The Fast 800 diet’ in the rag - for one week only. His methods and notions about ditching carbs have worked for me and his articles are very helpful and diets doable. My blood sugar and blood pressure are much better than they were when I was immobile. And his high protein/ low carb approaches have also done the business for me.

But I haven’t eaten wholemeal bread, the simple spud nor pasta since last Easter. If I am to up my fibre intake I will have to rethink. Maybe eat another apple a day, fill myself up with rye and take larger bowls of porridge. I’m happy to indulge in an extra raw carrot and we have chard growing in the garden.

It isn’t easy sticking to new year’s resolutions and I don’t want to undo my low carb regime in order to up my fibre intake. But it is a conundrum. As is buying The Daily Mail. What strange habits we foster when trying to renew ourselves. Today's Guardian front page shows that the low-carb diet may have to go to make way for higher fibre intake. It's unlike me to favour what I read in The Mail over The Guardian but I'm sticking with Michael Mosley. Low wheat, low sugar but high fibre. That's the conundrum.

Happy new year!