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Sunday, 9 December 2012

Painting of the Month (35) December 2012: Alex Snellgrove

Persian Girl by Alex Snellgrove
On my recent visit to Australia I was lucky enough to meet up with esoteric fellow-Blogger Stephen Simmonds (click here to visit his Blog). He and his wife Rosalie took Leah and I to a gallery in Clovelly, a suburb of Sydney near Bondi Beach, where their friend, local artist Alex Snellgrove, was showing her latest work.
As you can see she has a wonderful way of painting water. The series of paintings, of which the above is one, displays her great ability to convey the luminosity and movement of water. The effect of light and the translucence it gives the water is delightful. We met the charming artist and bought some cards with prints of her work; I would have liked to have purchased a painting too but they were (justifiably) out of my price range!
Coogee Beach, Sydney, Australia by Alex Snellgrove

You can see more of Alex's work here
Her Website is:

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Off to Australia!

I'm going to Australia so my next post will be in at least one month's time. Although I might post some remote comments from the Antipodes!

Saturday, 27 October 2012

London Monopoly (15): Trafalgar Square

This is the last property in the 'red' set in my tour around the London Monopoly board
In 1805 Britain was the world's supreme naval power when a fleet of the Royal Navy led by Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson defeated the combined navies of Napoleon's France and Spain. Although they were outnumbered, the Royal navy, using Nelson's extra-ordinary tactics destroyed the enemy fleets off of Cape Trafalgar (Arabic: Tarf al-Gharb meaning 'Western Cape') on Spain's Atlantic coast near Cadiz.

JMW Turner. The Battle of Trafalgar as seen from the mizen starboard shrouds of HMS Victory

Naturally, Nelson became a hero in Britain and in 1830 the square, which was already in existence, was named after the famous battle. In 1842 Nelson's Column was erected and shortly after that the two fountains were built.
Today Trafalgar Square is seen as a major focal point and is the epicentre of Great Britain; it is the place where large celebrations and political rallies and protests are held and can fairly be considered to be the place where democracy is at it's strongest in this country.
For the last ten years the north side of the square, in front of the National Gallery, has been pedestrianised and traffic free. The church of Saint-Martin-in-the Fields and Edith Cavell's statue now have high quality paving all around giving a fine aspect.
The square is Crown property which, technically, means it's owned by the Queen.
Trafalgar Square with the National Gallery in the background

A lovely watercolour of Trafalgar Square with the tower of Big Ben in the distance and lower half of Nelson's Column in the foreground.

Next in this series: 
The rather lovely Fenchurch Street Station.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Strawberry Fields / Penny Lane

In 1966 The Beach Boys released Pet Sounds, widely praised as one of the most influential and innovative popular recordings of all time. Meanwhile  in England, The Beatles were entering the most creative period in an outstandingly productive career  They listened to Pet Sounds and were inspired in the same way that Dylan had influenced them a few years earlier. They had decided to try to produce something in a similar vain and were sensationally successful as the result was the Sergeant Pepper album. 
Photo: Linda McCartney
They began by each of them returning to their roots and writing a song each about their up-bringing in Liverpool. John came up with Strawberry Fields and Paul composed Penny Lane; both titles being taken from locations in that city. Their UK record label, EMI, were pushing for a new single so they released a double A-sided disc using those two songs which never made it on to Sergeant Pepper after all.
The songs are interesting because, for me, they epitomise the character and song-writing style of each of the two Beatles.
Penny Lane is strongly melodic and actually fairly complex musically. The lyrics are very interesting and must seem mysterious to non-British listeners. They contain several ambiguities 
The 'shelter in the middle of the roundabout'
such as being "there beneath the blue suburban skies" while the fireman "rushes in from the pouring rain - very strange". Very strange indeed. So the images are being presented as a kaleidoscopic view of Liverpool. It is rumoured that McCartney was using LSD at that time....."She feels as if she's in a play. She is anyway"
"Four of fish and finger pie" is a very clever piece of writing and worth explaining. "Four of fish" referred to fourpence worth of Fish and Chips and "finger pie" is a sexual reference to the fumblings that went on the the bus shelter (solo or joint!). Also it's a lovely pun on 'fish fingers' which is how fish sticks are known in the UK.  
One of the most interesting things about the recording is the piccolo trumpet solo played by  the late David Mason of the London Symphony Orchestra. Paul heard a recording of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos and asked George Martin what the instrument was playing the high notes. It is an exceedingly difficult instrument to play because it does not keep properly in tune with itself! The player has to 'pitch' the notes him or herself. Very strange. Paul told David Mason exactly which notes he wanted to be played. Paul McCartney was a great inventor of melody and an original lyricist. Listen to it here.
By complete contrast Strawberry Fields Forever really represents the state of John Lennon's mind at that time and I am going to talk about this song from a psychological point of view. Strawberry Field is the site of a Salvation Army Children's Home in Liverpool near where Lennon grew up. Lyrically the song is very introspective with each verse descending deeper into a kind of mire of indecision:
 "No one I think is in my tree, I mean it must be high or low.
That is you can't you know tune in but it's all right, that is I think it's not too bad.

"Always, no sometimes, think it's me, but you know I know when it's a dream.
I think I know I mean a 'Yes' but it's all wrong, that is I think I disagree."
Strawberry Field, Liverpool
But the most amazing thing about this record is the way that the very recording of the song reflects John Lennon's indecision. Did you know that the record is made from two completely different takes spliced together? If you listen carefully here at about the one minute point you can clearly hear the miraculous job that engineer Geoff Emmerick and producer George Martin have done. They had two recordings at different speeds and in different keys which they achieved by slightly slowing one down and speeding the other one up. This matched the speed and altered the pitch and it was all done with a pair of scissors and two tape machines!
Postscript: Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys was in the middle of producing their album Smile when he heard the Sergeant Pepper album being played on the radio in his car. He pulled up at the side of the road and listened to the whole of the record. He immediately stopped work on Smile and did not go back to it for decades. I wonder what he thought.
Also, years later, George Martin said that it was an awful mistake not including Strawberry Fields and Penny lane on the album because they were the foundation of the concept that generated it. However, the Beatles had a policy of not including single releases on albums.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Painting of the Month (34) October 2012: John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925   On The Verandah (Ironbound Island, Maine)
Painted c.1920-22
Apologies to those four people who commented that they couldn't see the picture. I tried to fix it and accidentally deleted the whole post! So I have re-written it from memory. Doh!
This watercolour and pencil painting is of Dwight Blaney and his family at their summer home on Ironbound Island which is nestled in the coast of Maine and is only about two miles by one mile wide. Blaney was a fellow artist and a friend of John Singer Sargent. Also in the painting are his wife Edith and his daughters Elizabeth, left, and Margaret.
It is an unusual composition because the two central figures face outwards from the picture and a strong X is formed by the perspective.
The painting is not regarded as one of his best works and is not much regarded at all but I like it very much. It is charming and presents the viewer with a picture of domestic bliss and tranquility
The painting was probably made very quickly and is really almost a sketch but it is beautiful as we see Blaney relaxing with a pipe while his wife and daughters are sewing or embroidering. I especially like the depiction of the trees between the first and second pillars. Only a few dabs of paint but very effective. The 'palette' that the artist uses (that is to say the range of colours) is very cohesive and relies mainly on pale pastel colours.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

London Monopoly (14): Fleet Street

This is the 14th part of my tour around the London Monopoly Board.
'Prince Henry's Room' at 17 Fleet Street, London. In the 12th century this site was the property of The Knights Templars. It is one of the few Fleet Street structures to have survived the Great Fire of London in 1666
In the UK, and possibly further afield, Fleet Street is synonymous with the Newspaper Industry. There are nine national daily newspapers and they have massive circulation
and readership figures. The best-selling Sun has over seven million readers. (In the USA the best selling paper is The Wall Street Journal with just over two million). But now the papers have all moved out to more modern locations in London's Docklands. The area is now mainly occupied by members of the legal profession.
The River Fleet now runs underground along the course of Fleet Street but it was formerly open to the skies.
An associate of William Caxton, one of the inventors of printing, was the first to publish there around 1500 but the street existed long before that. He had the brilliant name of Wynkyn de Worde (I kid you not!)
Fleet Street is a continuation of The Strand (see the previous post in this series).
Fleet Street. I guess this would be at the turn of the 20th century.
Finally, for clarity, Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (as portrayed by Johnny Depp in 2007) is a fictional character. That means that, contrary to widespread belief, he didn't exist!


Wednesday, 19 September 2012

My Heroes (37): Isaac Albeniz

Isaac Albeniz 1860 - 1909. A little flamboyant don't you think?
Isaac Albeniz was a Spanish pianist and composer who died at the early age of 48 (from a kidney ailment known at the time as Bright's Disease). I was once a student of the classical guitar and came to his music through the many transcriptions of his piano music for the guitar. Transcription is when a piece of music written for one instrument is arranged and notated for another.
My two favourite pieces are Granada from the Suite Española and the Tango in D and here are links to piano and guitar versions of both where one can see how well they work for the guitar.
Granada for piano (there are better versions but this is the best I could find on You Tube). I'm not sure who plays this.
Granada for guitar played by John Williams.
Tango in D for piano. Again, I don't know who the pianist is.
Tango in D for guitar played by John Williams again.
And for a final treat see what this wonderful young musician does with the Tango in D!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Spotlight on a Website (7): New Scientist


New Scientist is an excellent magazine if you have any interest at all in science. I am sure we all like free stuff on the Internet and there is lots of free reading at the New Scientist site. Some stories will suddenly ask you to subscribe if you want to read on, of course, but that's fair enough. I really like the broad range of topics and the lightness of touch they often have with 'heavy' subjects. Their topic areas include Space, Technology, Health, Life, Physics and Society. You can register for free to get a newsletter and more access or subscribe for full access and 20 years of archived articles. Interestingly, one does not necessarily have to have a deep understanding of science to get great benefit and enjoyment from this source although sometimes you will find yourself out of your depth (probably). If you go to the site please let me know what you think. Happy reading!

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Painting of the Month Sept 2012: Cezanne

Paul Cezanne painted Mont Saint-Victoire, in Provence, more than 60 times and found something new to say about it on every occasion. Although the four examples above are quite different from each other they are all instantly recognised as being by this greatest of modern artists. Please just enjoy them - you don't need to know anything else about the paintings. Long-time readers of this Blog may notice that Cezanne has featured in my Painting of the Month series several times before and so has Mont Saint-Victoire; obviously I can't get enough of it!
You can see some more versions here.

Friday, 31 August 2012

London Monopoly (13): The Strand

Continuing my tour around the London Monopoly board with the first property in the red set.
Somerset House, The Strand
The next place on the London Monopoly board after Vine Street (the previous post in this series) is 'Free Parking' but as there is very little free parking anywhere in London I will move straight on to The Strand. Properly, this street is simply named 'Strand' but it is always called The Strand.
Remarkably it's name was first recorded in the year 1002 as Strondway and there were also references to the street from the seventh century. It was part of a route used by the Romans to join what is now the City of London (Roman Londinium) to the Palace of Westminster. So, a major London route for at least two thousand years.
It runs from Trafalgar Square to Fleet Street and one of it's most interesting buildings is Somerset House, an important eighteenth century piece of British archaeological heritage. The forecourt of Somerset House, shown above, is turned into a public ice-rink most winters. The Courtauld Institute one of Britain's many world-class free art galleries is located there.
There is currently a free photographic exhibition of the first 50 years of the Rolling Stones on display at Somerset House

Friday, 24 August 2012

Fiona Pitt-Kethley

Fiona Pitt-Kethley is an idiosyncratic poet whose work I have always enjoyed. I don't really need to comment further on this one.....
Song of the Nymphomaniac 
 Fiona Pitt-Kethley

From Baffin Bay down to Tasmania
I’ve preached and practised nymphomania,
Had gentlemen of all complexions,
All with varying erections:
Coalmen, miners, metallurgists,
Gurus, wizards, thaumaturgists,
Aerial artists, roustabouts,
Recidivists and down-and-outs,
Salesmen, agents, wheeler-dealers,
Dieticians, nurses, healers,
Surgeons, coroners and doctors,
Academics, profs and proctors,
Butchers, bakers, candle-makers,
Airmen, soldiers, poodlefakers,
Able seamen, captains, stokers,
Tax-inspectors, traders, brokers,
Preachers, canons, rural deans,
Bandy cowboys fed on beans,
Civil-servants, politicians,
Taxidermists and morticians.
I like them young, I like them old,
I like them hot, I like them cold.
Yet, I’m no tart, no easy lay –
My name is Death. We’ll meet one day. 
‘Song of the Nymphomaniac’ is included in Fiona Pitt-Kethley’s Selected Poems (Salt Publishing,

.....OK so I decided to comment further.You may have been chuckling as the list grew longer but I bet you were stunned by the last line!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

How Beer Saved The World

A selection of terrific Belgian beers
I'm here to defend the good name of beer and to tell you how it saved the world. Really.
Many scientists and anthropologists now believe that it was not the desire for bread that kick-started the agricultural revolution that ended hunter-gathering 9,000 years ago; it was the yearning for barley to make beer. This led to inventions such as the plough, the wheel, irrigation, mathematics and even led to writing! This cascade of world-changing innovations was brought about by the desire for beer.
In ancient Eygypt workers were paid in beer so we could say that we wouldn't have had the Pyramids without beer. There are those who claim it is one of the major food groups because of it's nutritional content.
In modern times it played an important role in refrigeration, the discovery of germ theory and modern medicine. 
However, in Medieval times when water was too dirty to drink, possibly it's most important function was to support the population. Beer was safe to drink and men, women and children drank it morning to night, certainly in England.
That possibly is still the case in some parts! Cheers.
"Beer: The cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems."

Saturday, 11 August 2012

London Monopoly (13): Vine Strret

This is the final property in the orange set in my blog-tour of the London Monopoly board.
One Vine Street, London
I have to admit that Vine Street is the single property on the London Monopoly board that I don't know. Having researched it, I have to wonder why it was chosen as it is not very high-profile. Apparently it consists mainly of the backs of properties that are on more salubrious streets. There is a popular pub-crawl around the board's sites but there are no licensed premises on the street (but plenty nearby).
But, you know, something interesting can be found almost anywhere if you look properly!
The property in the picture above is at 1 Vine Street but known, for some reason, as One Vine Street. It's a recently completed commercial site with a hand-made brick façade but the corner entrance has been retained from a former pub on this site.
Interior of One Vine Street. Photo by John Riddy
The mural in the picture above was painted by Allison Turnbull. The design is based on her interest in taxonomy and morphology and is based on the relationship between various grape varieties. Who'd have thought that? (Vine Street, grapes, geddit?)
Next in this series: The Strand.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Painting of the Month (32) August 2012: Alan Tyers

The Yellow Boat, Padstow Harbour (Cornwall, UK)
Alan Tyers is a British painter, born 1944, who worked in the advertising industry. He paints in gouache (say 'goo-ash'), which is an opaque water-colour. His paintings have the look of early London Transport posters, which is no bad thing in my opinion, see here. He paints using large blocks of flat colour but manages to convey a real sense of place. I also admire the draughtsmanship in the above painting and the interesting use of colour. Here are some more of his works:

Friday, 27 July 2012

Malcolm Gladwell

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I am a big fan of the writing, talking, social commentary and hairstyle (possibly no longer extant) of Malcolm Gladwell.
He is a UK-born Canadian who now lives in New York where he has been a staff writer on The New Yorker magazine since 1996. He father was an English university lecturer and his mother a Jamaican psychologist - perfect credentials for his work! His most famous book is probably The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference . I don't know if he coined that phrase but he certainly brought it into popular usage since 2000 when the book was published. It deals with the way very small changes can have big impacts in areas such as epidemiology (the study of the spread of and control of diseases in populations) and crime rates. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking deals with the ways in which gut instinct can provide better results that use of huge amounts of information. Pearl Harbour has been cited as an example of this. The US military had a phenomenal amount of 'intelligence' available and yet did not act; if they had simply read what journalists were writing in the weeks and days before the attack and acted on that, the disaster may well have been avoided.
Outliers; The Story of Success looks at the way many people achieve success in a way that is definitely counter-intuitive. In it he explains why star ice hockey players are usually born in the first three months of the year!
What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures is a collection of his best work from New Yorker magazine.
His books always make interesting reading but there has been academic objections to his style by some, such as Stephen Pinker, who claim he uses poor research and has 'links' to commercially interested parties. I don't know if any of that is true but it does not detract from the huge entertainment and usefulness of his writing.
Click here to see and hear Malcolm in action on Ted Talks

Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Olympic Flame

The Flame passing by. This lady was not actually running but walking with it. And why not?
The Olympic Torch was carried through our district this morning just a few yards from Chez Bazza. Huge crowds lined the streets with a procession before and after and loads of police motorbikes preceding the 'runner'. A carnival atmosphere prevailed with the police motorcyclists giving high-fives to anyone who cared to! We invited a bunch of friends and family back to us for breakfast after the event, which passed by at 8:15am in brilliant sunshine.
The twins, Jacob & Zack, foreground, waiting for the Flame to arrive.
The procession just before the flame.

Arriving at Valentine's House, a local mansion, just after we saw it.
.....and home for breakfast!

Thursday, 19 July 2012

London Monopoly (12): Marlborough Street

This is the second property in the orange set in my tour around the London Monopoly board.
The Liberty store in Great Marlborough Street, London
This is really called Great Marlborough Street in an exclusive part of London's Soho. It was named after John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough (1650-1722) an ancestor of Winston Churchill. It's current claim to fame is as the location of the world-famous store Liberty. The design of the building dates from the fashionable Tudor-revival period of the 1920s although the store was founded in the nineteenth century.
It was famous for exclusive sales of William Morris's Arts & Crafts fabric and wallpaper designs. It is now best known for fashion but to this day, they still sell those designs.
A small turning running off from Great Marlborough Street is Argyle Street where the London Palladium theatre is located.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Painting of the Month (31): Cindy Sherman

As I am unlikely to start a series called 'Photographer of the Month' I thought I would slip the wonderful Cindy Sherman into this series.
Cindy Sherman is a photographer who specialises in female portraits emulating various iconic images of women. Often they are of famous women and have the deliberate look of being movie-stills based on well-known images. The black and white picture below looks very Hitchcockian to me and the second one is like Doris Day or Debbie Reynolds. I'm not sure about the first one.

She has also produced images parodying historical portraits, centre-folds and publicity shots. They are deliberately clichéd. She is a true artist in the sense that she creates images which reflect the society we live in and holds up a mirror for us to examine our values. I don't think there is meant to be deep meaning in these photos and one should avoid 'reading-in' too much meaning in them. Just enjoy them!

In case you had not realised every one of these photos is a self-portrait of the artist!

Friday, 6 July 2012

London Monopoly (11): Bow Street

The first property in the 'Orange' set in my journey around the London Monopoly board.
The former Bow Street Magistrates Court
To most British people the name of Bow Street will be synonymous with Bow Street Magistrates Court which, from 1740 until it's closure in 2006, was the most famous magistrates court in Britain. Being located in central London it was often the first court appearance of infamous criminals and politicians (assuming there is a difference between the two!). Among the famous defendants who have appeared in the dock are Giacomo Casanova, Oscar Wilde, General Pinochet, The Kray Twins and Dr Crippen. The building was supposed to be transformed into a boutique hotel but I don't think it's happened yet. The street is also the location of the magnificent Royal Opera House. The whole area is steeped, or even drenched, in history. 
The Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden
The Bow Street Runners, the first official 'police force' were established there in 1749 by Henry Fielding, the jurist and author of Tom Jones.
As early as 1632 the Drury Lane and Bow Street area became known as 'thieving alley' and, apparently, was increasingly  "Troblinge the adjacent areas... by lewdest Blades and female Naughty-packs" I will draw a veil of modesty over that!
The bow-shaped street was set out in 1637 with high-class housing but after the English civil war many fine houses, formerly owned by Royalists lay empty and the area deteriorated once again. After the Battle of Naseby Oliver Cromwell himself moved to live in Bow Street. After the Restoration (of the Monarchy) it became an area where the literati and low-life criminals intermingled in the newly-established coffee-houses.
Next in this series: Marlborough Street