Saturday, 27 November 2010

Lennoxlove Book Festival

I Spent a fair bit of time at the Lennoxlove Book Festival last week end. Unlike last year I had an inside job and the car parking was left to someone else. On this occasion my job was to help out at the events in the Chapel. So I reported to my boss Gavin, a young man of at least eighteen years and over the two days I helped to move furniture, usher people, read out the health and safety announcement and listen to about six talks from various interesting authors. For some people this may sound like too many authors, but for me it was enthralling. Having tried my hand at a bit of writing I am intrigued to hear authors talking about their work and giving insights into how they wrote their book and what inspired them.

Judy Steel started the ball rolling for me at 12 noon on Saturday. Her talk and her book are filled with stories from her life, both before and after she met David Steel. She told us of her links to South Africa and of her years of involvement with politics. Judy had lead an interesting life and she recounted how she witnessed the fall of the Callaghan government by one vote and the birth of the Scottish Parliament. She gave insights into David Steel’s brave private members bill and the introduction of the 1967 abortion act. But for her politics is about the local connections more than the Westminster scene. Judy is talented in the arts and drama, but did not have time to tell us many stories from that part of her life. My abiding memory of her talk is her account of how she stepped down from the ballot to be selected as an MSP, so that her husband and daughter could go forward as nominees for the constituency place with her backing.

Tom Pow gave an entertaining talk about the death of many villages in Europe. He has travelled across Russia, Eastern Europe, France and Spain and has brought back photos, stories, poems and a point of view which gets us to look at Europe as a continent which will loose a significant percentage of it’s population while other areas of the world grow. The talk was set up as an interactive event with objects and pieces of art being passed around the audience. I enjoyed Tom’s enthusiastic presentation and it clear why he is a successful poet and story teller.

In the afternoon James Macaulay spoke about Charles Rennie Mackintosh. His newly published book is packed with information about this famous architect and artist. I have visited the Glasgow School of Art which Mackintosh designed and I have seen other examples of his architecture. Macaulay described Mackintosh as an important figure in the development of Scottish culture. This is hard to argue with that when you look at the influence that he and his group of fellow artists have had on fashion, jewellery and design in the past and still in the present. I felt that Macaulay did not give sufficient weight to Mackintosh as an artist. I have been inspired by the watercolours he produced towards the end of his life when he was living in France. These works of art are a testament to his creative genius.

On Sunday the rain was still pouring down, but this did not dampen the enthusiasm of the hundreds of people who attended the book festival. At 12 noon I and a large number of small children were entertained by the writer and illustrator (Corine V Davies and El Ashfield) who showed us that Ralph is not a Vampire/Superhero, but of course most people think that he is.

Roy McGregor owns and runs the Gullane Art Gallery, he is also a poet and he has produced a book about the artist Jack Morrocco. Roy brought along several fine examples of Jack’s work. It ranges from superb landscapes set in the South of France through portraiture and life painting to some thought provoking abstract work. Roy told us about the influence of Jacks family, including his famous uncle Alberto, which influenced Jack as he matured as an artist. Roy showed us examples of his early work from the age of seven and took us through to the present day. I found it interesting to discover that Jack is a skilled photographer and uses this skill to record scenes that he later paints in his studio. He takes a lot of notes at the scene and plans his painting meticulously. He then produces the painting quickly. Jack’s still life paintings capture glass and silver with a remarkable clarity.

James Douglas Hamilton returned to his childhood home of Lennoxlove to present a thoroughly entertaining account of his time as a MP, MSP and now Peer of the Realm, taken from his book After you Prime Minister. James has a wealth of stories about his aristocratic family’s experiences during the Second World War. This included the surrender of the deputy to Hilter, Hess, who flew over to Scotland and gave himself up in a failed attempt to broker a deal with the British government. James was a member of the cabinet in Margaret Thatcher’s government and that is where the title of the book comes from. He tells the tale of how he stood up to the formidable lady over the placement of an order of arms parts and lived to carry on in government.

Alastair Moffat is a founder of the Lennoxlove festival and a well know author and presenter. His book A Faded Map is a delight to people interested in the history of Scotland way back in antiquity. He gave an informative and entertaining talk about the kingdoms which held sway in the land now called Scotland and how these were influenced by the landscape.

The speakers in the Chapel may not have been the headliners of the event but each one was thoroughly entertaining in their own right.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

North Berwick Seabird Centre

I spent some time at North Berwick today. Had a nice walk along the East Beach with Harvey and then retreated from the rain into the cafe at the sea-bird centre. They do a good corriander and carrot soup. My intention was to sketch-paint a view of the Centre, but when I got out it was still raining so I went up to dear old Tesco's. I was there to redeem a 5p/ ltr off ticket at the the petrol station. While I was there I decided to redeem another little present for the wonderful retail outlet and took my £1.15 off nescafe 100gm coffee. There was no sign of the coffee, so I asked the happy , smily staff how I could use my voucher.
'Sorry, but we don't have the 300 gm, Nescafe coffee.'
'Oh, but you gave me a voucher with money off the last time I was in here.'
'We don't stock it in this store.'
'So you gave me a voucher, but you don't store the coffee.'
'That's right it's company policy not to stock 200gm Nescafe.'
'But you have lots of other 300gm coffee.'
'I know but thats what they say at headquarters.'
'Do I have to go to headquarters to get the coffee?'
'The thing is we don't keep 300 gm Nescafe in small stores like this.'
'Well, why do you give out vouchers then?'
'Company rules, you could try Haddington.'
'Thanks very much.'

The good news is that it had stopped raing by the time I got out of the shining example of retail heaven and I was able to do the skech drawing after all.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Inspirational Van Gogh

Two Poplars by Vincent Van Gogh

Having some time off work with labyrinthitis has given me an opportunity to do some reading. I have nearly finished Hans Bronkhorst’s book on Vincent Van Gogh. It is a really good insight into this complex man. The book has numerous examples of his work and the author gives a knowledgeable insight into Van Gogh’s life and paintings. He puts Vincent’s life into the context of the time he lived in and the influences that shaped the way he did art. Van Gogh was a man ahead of his time but he was also of his time. Bronkhurst tells us of the influences behind some of the great works. The part the Impressionists played, the painters who inspired him and the friends he made  as well as the use of colour theory are good examples of this. He also gives a vivid description of Van Gogh’s troubled life, his difficult personality and the people who were close to him. I find his paintings and technique inspirational.

The fact that I haven’t been able to do any running lately worked in my favour today. I went along to the start of the Goat’s Gallop annual race and was surprised to see a large turn out. Considering the Siberian weather it was very impressive. For once I did not miss the rain and penetrating cold and gave the runners a hearty cheer as they ascended into the mist of the Lammermuirs.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

A very strange day!

Woke up this morning and thought I was on a fair ground ride. I turned over and the whole room span around and around. I was looking at it but it didn't stop for what seemed a long time. So I got up and found that if I bent down or stretched up I lost my balance! So I popped in to see the doc and he has diagnosed labarynthitis which means I am going to be more scatty than usual for a few days.
I knew I would have to wait to see the doc so I took my sketch pad to fill in the time.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

My Uncle Ray was born 86 years ago today, on 9 November, 1924.

Uncle Ray was close to his mother Olive Harris, who the family called Mam. I remember her as a white haired, gentle old lady who loved to play cards... my grandma. Raymond's father and my grandfather was called Amos and he had two older brothers, Sidney, and John (my dad) and a younger brother Theo.

When he was young, probably in 1936, Uncle Ray spent some time at Corley Open air school. Between 1932- 35 he attended St, Mark’s Junior School, Coventry. From 1935 he attended Wheatley Street Senior Boys’ School, Coventry. From 1937 to 1938 he attended John Gulson Senior Boys’ School. also in Coventry. In addition Uncle Ray attended a junior evening course in art and another in technical studies. Some of the cartoons and drawings he left behind show that he was a skilled artist.
Uncle Ray joined the R.A.F. and became a flight engineer. At the time he was living with his family at 8 East Parade, Barnoldswick, Lancashire, where the family had moved from Coventry. He also had a girlfriend - Phyllis who lived at 7 Lower West Avenue, Barnoldswick.
Between January and October 1943 Uncle Ray sent letters to his family and particularly his mother nearly every day. He died, aged 19 in a flying accident in Lancashire and is buried in London Road Cemetery, Coventry. We are very lucky to have many of his letters were saved by his family. They provide a portal into another time and show how the every day things in life were just as important then as they are now.

Over the coming weeks I will be posting Uncle Ray's letters on a blog called Sgt. Raymond Albert Harris. The letters are a portal into the past. They show how the ordinary things in life were as important then as they are now.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Oil Pastels

I have been planning to try out some drawing with oil pastels for some time. Today I had a little spare time and gave it a go. I like the way they feel and there is no mucking around with preparation. The drawings are rough and ready and taken directly from the subject in a short space of time.

Cyclamen in a bowl

Pat reading the Sunday Papers
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Saturday, 6 November 2010

Headlight running

Harvey and I went along to the HELP running club on Wednesday night and joined in with the headlight run. This was successful on at least two levels:
• My achillies tendon stood up to it, even though I haven’t run for a few weeks, although it was not put under a great strain.
• Harvey took to night running as though he had been doing it all his life.

Headlight running has taken off at HELP this year. After years of moaning about running around the Haddington winter route, we runners have finally snapped and you can find a bunch of headlight attired runners in the scaring passing motorists in darkest recesses around the countryside of East Lothian. I have done it twice this year and also went headlight running several times the winter before last. It is exhilarating and as long as the headlight is strong and working properly, there is no reason why you can’t have an excellent work out.
To start off with Harvey gave me a look, which might have said ‘ What the heck are we doing.’ But pretty soon, he was hauling away on the lead and keeping pace with the other guys.
We took off from the Augbiny Centre and across the footbridge into the fields and along to Burns’ well. About half way through the run, Harvey and I went our own way over the Titanic bridge and up through Clerkington estate and away through to the Pencaitland road. After that we headed back to the river and followed it along it’s bank next to the weir and along to  the West Haugh and back through St. Mary’s church and Neilson park. At the end we were tired but happy.

Yesterday Harvey went on his first doggy day care at West Barnes, but i'll let him tell you all about that later.

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Monday, 1 November 2010

Pradelles en val

Last week I braved the strikes and spent just under four days in South West France. Rob Mulholland, a fellow cyclist and a proper artist and I flew from Prestwick to Carcassonne on Mr. O’Leary’s bargain basement flights. Rob hails from Glasgae and a fellow Wegie picked us up at the airport and took us the to the medieval village of Pradelles en val. The village is about thirty minutes from Carcassonne in a wine growing area set between the Montagne Noir and the Pyrenees. At this time of year the vines are an amazing mixture of green, yellow, brown and red. These colours contrast to the back drop of the villages with their ancient brown stone and the wild country beyond the arable fields which harbour truck loads of boar. We were there during the hunting season and ‘truckloads’ isn’t just a fancy phrase.

The idea of the trip was to get in a spot of cycling, maybe some drawing and shut down the maison chez Rob for the winter. The house is wonderful, having been made up from a wine making ‘Cave’ and some other buildings. It’s a bit like the Tardis, with two stairs and rooms all over the place. There is a tremendous garden which backs onto an eighteen century church, built around the time of the French Revolution. The houses and Chateau are ancient and quite a few of them are falling down.

We were invited into one of them and low and behold, there were another two Wegies living there.

Le Jardine - Chez Rob

The highlight of the trip for me was the cycle to LaGrasse. We were lucky to get some nice sun, but the wind was just like the one I had left behind in Scotland, only colder. It was worth the effort, LaGrasse is a really beautiful small town with amazing bridges, buildings and a wonderful Abbey. It also boasts a boulangerie with pattiseries to die for. The cycle back was along a river gorge, with some beautiful views and incredible river sculpted cliffs.

The Cite in Carcassonne is a UNESCO heritage site with fortified battlements all around. As in LaGrasse, there are lots of windy streets with artisans working at the back of galleries. The atmosphere is truly medieval and reminded me of Kate Mosse’s story ‘The Labyrinth,’ which tells the tales of the Cathars and religious wars of the fourteenth century