Saturday, May 29, 2010

Ooh, un autre iris

Spotted another iris thingy au jardin ce matin. But this time a strange looking maroony coloured one as opposed to the previous bluey one that appeared a couple of weeks ago. And while I was out there snapping, I spotted a few other flowery planty thingies. So I took some more snaps so t'other half can see that all her efforts haven't been wasted. All looks rather lovely. Nowt to do with me of course. But I do do a bit of watering now and again. I do, I do, I doo dee doody doo.



My latest painting. It's a promising start. Am waiting for sunshine so I can continue. Been waiting for almost a week. Scene just ain't the same in cloudy shadow. Tough being an amateur artist. All this hanging around waiting. And waiting. If I was a real pro I'd have taken a photo and worked from that. In a posh studio. But I didn't. And I ain't. So I can't. And won't.

P.S. - Did a posting in my other blog about this painting. Thought it was far more interesting than all the above. So have decided to copy it here even though I hate repeating myself repeating myself...

Because my last painting was rubbish I was determined to do my best with my next one. But how the hell do you do that? I thought I was doing my best with the last one. So where did I go wrong? Well, I think the mistake I made was to follow someone else's lead. In this case, the Fauvists.

Been trying to learn from that mistake and I've come to the conclusion that it's okay to be influenced by an artist or artists but it's not okay to attempt to mimic them. Ultimately you have to be yourself and just do the best you can (whatever that means). If others do or don't like it, then fine. That's their opinion. As such, it should be of no consequence whatsoever. Similarly, if people react to a painting by saying it's a bit like Hockney or Picasso or Matisse or Disney or Rolf Harris, then that's okay too. Provided of course, as I said, you're not intentionally mimicking them.

When I started this oil painting lark about a year ago, I remember standing in front of a blank canvas wondering how and where to begin. Soon discovered that oil paint is a whole different ball game to, say, water colours or crayons. It was only by studying van Gogh that I began to learn about loosening up and not being scared. So when people remark (as they occasionally do) that my stuff's a bit van Goghy, it's no surprise. But there comes a time when one has to move on and be one's self. Which is where I'm at. Which brings me back to my next painting.

Started it last Sunday. The stream down the valley. Just by the footpath bridge. Late afternoon sunshine with lengthening shadows. My favourite time of day both for photography and painting. Flung myself back almost half a century. To a time of innocence. To a time when I'd just started at art school. To a time before I became influenced by various artists, designers, teachers, pop stars and film stars. To a time when I drew or painted by just being me. And then I got stuck in. Painted for a couple of hours before shadow filled the valley.

Intended to continue the next evening. Monday. A French holiday. But got diverted by lunch with Isabelle and Christian and tribal chums across the valley. Long lunch. Hot day. Hottest day so far. No fit state for painting afterwards. Decided to continue Tuesday. Tuesday cloudy and rainy. Been cloudy ever since. Still waiting for sunshine. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe not. I have to have that sun. Scene looks completely different without it.

P.S. - Raining again today (Sunday). That's six days since sunshine. Rain forecasted for next few days. Sunshine due Thursday. Believe that when I see it.


I remember way back, well before allowing dogs into our lives (which changed absolutely everything), thinking that if ever I had a dog I'd name it 'Rabies'. However, when the time came, Georgie thought it was entirely wrong to name a cuddly little pup after a killer disease so the little white ball of fluff was nameless when we went to register him with the local vet. The vet, quite rightly, was reluctant to put a question mark in the 'name of dog' box so we had to quickly come up with a name while his fingers hovered impatiently over the computer keyboard.

After a couple of seconds of hushed silence I blurted out "Jock" - not exactly an original name for a Westie but it somehow felt right to name him after my old Scottish 'Uncle Jock' (not really my uncle but an extremely kind-hearted soul and a leading light in Gibraltar's Toc-H during the post-war period). It was he who kindly bought me my first kilt as a present for my fifth birthday, thus making sure he wasn't the only male wandering around Gibraltar in a skirt. I remember Mum (also a Scot) and he beaming with pride as I took off my lederhosen (spent infancy in Austria - army y'know) and donned this strange item of clothing, much to my English father's amusement. Wore it the next day to school. Got into a scrap with some cheeky little sod who had the audacity to take a peek at my knickers. Got dragged off him by Miss Pizzarella who made me stand in the classroom corner. Entered that damned corner as an Englishman (Mum spent her entire adult life apologising for 'dropping' me and ma wee sister south o'the border) but re-emerged five minutes later as a fully-fledged, fighting Scotsman. Been one ever since.

I digress...

Soon after Jock arrived, a little brown ball of fluff joined our gang. So we had to have another name-thinking session. Finally opted for the name of a mechanical item that turns the drivechain on a motorcycle. Thus 'Sprocket' entered our daily vocabulary. It was a close run thing though due to my suggesting 'Rabies' again, as well as the equally amusing 'Pavlov'. With the benefit of hindsight, Georgie reckons we should have gone for 'Fluffy' ('cos it's entirely inappropriate) or 'Bonkers' ('cos it's entirely appropriate). However, after what happened yesterday, I reckon 'Radar' or 'Sniffer' would have hit the nail on the head...

There we were, Jock, Sprock and I, slowly ambling up the back lane that leads to the old granite cross, with birds twittering and tall grasses gently swaying in the warm evening sun. We'd just passed the entrance to Christian's newly-seeded field on the right and were well out of sight of neighbour Colette's Labrador dog so I unclipped Sprocket from his lead. For a moment he trotted alongside and all seemed well. But then he stopped, pointed his nose in the air, swept a wide arc over the field on the left followed by a narrower arc. Something was up so I tried to get him back on his lead. Too late. Quick as a flash he ducked under the barbed wire fence and sprinted across the field, coming to an eventual halt about fifty yards away. All I could see was his bald tail circling in the tall grass but his growls and whimpers told me what he'd found. Hedgehog. Soon to be a dead hedgehog unless I acted quickly. Sprinted back down the lane, through the field entrance, through the tall grass, arrived at the spot, gave Sprock a smack (yes, I know you shouldn't but...), shouted "no!", put him back on his lead, checked the curled up hedgehog was okay and dragged Sprock back up the lane with Jock following. Let him off his lead again a few minutes later and kicked him forward. Luckily he didn't turn back.

The thing I find amazing is how, even when surrounded by all the aromae of a delicious spring soiree, a hunting dog such as a Patterdale can recognise the scent of a relatively small animal hiding in long grass about fifty yards away. Or more. Really quite staggering.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The great Dick McTaggart

A few years back when Sprocket was little more than a puppy, I noticed him sniffing and scratching at the front of the kitchen cabinets. Clearly there was something behind there so I moved the cooker to one side and, quick as a flash, he was in there like lightning, clamping his jaws round a tiny mouse and sending it rocketing skywards. By the time the poor mouse landed back on terra firma it was very much an ex-mouse.

Similar thing happened a few days back. Noticed Jock and Sprocket scratching and sniffing around the old granite trough just out front. Milliseconds later there was a little squeak as Sprocket flung something high in the air. Grabbed his rope, pulled him away and searched for whatever it was that had landed in the long grass. Spotted a rather large mouse lying on its side and breathing heavily. Thought it best to just leave it. Maybe just shock. Maybe it'll survive. But it didn't. About ten minutes later I shovelled up its dead body and left it on a rock. Couple of hours later it was gone. Maybe a hawk had it. Or maybe a cat.

Next day, I mentioned Sprocket's kill to Alain while he was planting tomatoes in his vegetable patch next to our garden. He asked for a description of the mouse. Told him it was black with a four inch body and three inch tail. "Rat" he said nonchalantly without any hint of disgust. Then I showed him a few mouse holes under the apple tree next to the trough. "Rats" he said, fearlessly sticking his fingers down some of the holes.

No wonder Jock and Sprocket have been digging there lately. If I was a rat I'd move out quick. Don't mess with a Patterdale. But I guess they've set up home there 'cos it's just by where I empty some of the buckets of used dishwater, thereby depositing bits of old rice and other tiny scraps among the weeds and grass. Have since started dumping the dishwater down by the rhododendron bush next to the compost heap at the bottom of the garden. Hopefully the rats will relocate down there. And where are these pesky wildcats that live in the barn out back when you need 'em? Maybe they steer well clear of Jock and Sprock's territory. Funny stuff this animal life.

Later that evening while sitting outside enjoying a leisurely scotch and fag within spitting distance of the rattery, my mind began wandering as usual. Never ceases to amaze me the amount of useless information that's stored away in the cobwebby cubby holes of the little that remains of my tiny brain. Suddenly thought of Dick McTaggart, Scotland's finest-ever boxer. One of my earliest heroes. Won a gold medal in the '56 Olympics at Melbourne when I was just ten. And a bronze at Rome's '60 Olympics. But the thing that stuck in my mind was the fact that he was a ratcatcher. Known as the 'Glasgow Ratcatcher' he actually hailed from Dundee and was one of eighteen kids (just looked all that up on the internet). Never turned pro' and always boxed in his amateur vest. Earned his money by being a 'rodent consultant'. But also worked for Rolls-Royce (presumably not as a ratcatcher). Wonder if he had a Patterdale? Wonder if he'd come out here and give me and Sprocket a hand? Dick McTaggart, teach us your tricks!

Dick McTaggart - then and now (Dick on right, next to Terry Spinks)

Rats, Pied Piper, Hamelyn, Tam Lin - haven't heard this Scottish 'folkie' in ages...

Monday, May 24, 2010


Garden looks rather splendid at this time of year. All very fresh and budding. So, for t'other half who likes to be kept up to speed about our little patch of greenery, here's a snap du matin, another du late apres-midi and another showing showing the budding rhododododennydrondronny thingy which I have (honest guv') been watering as per instructions, plus a few other planty thingies...

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Had an amble up the granite cross route a few days after that little pine forest had been cut down (see previous posting). As I neared the previously forested area, I heard the rumbling of a big diesel engine. Sounded like the lumberjack man was back in action. Put Sprocket on his lead and approached with caution. Rounded the bend and came across a couple of huge timber stacks. Then looked down the valley to see the massive timber truck swinging trunks around like matchsticks. Fascinating to watch. Strange to think that just one man in a giant vehicle can flatten and clear a forest in just a couple of days. Must be quite a specialised job though. So many buttons and levers to push and pull in order to operate the crane, cutter and dangler. I suppose the next job will be to cart the logs off in one of those huge timber lorries. Amazes me how these vehicles manage to get through the tight lane by the church. Then, I presume, the forest gets re-planted. And the whole exercise gets repeated in about thirty or forty years' time.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


One of my favourite dogwalks is up the lane out the back. I like it 'cos I don't have to use the car to get there and there's an old granite cross at the end where I always stop for a quick chat. That done, I then have the option of forking right along a track to the mushroom wood or taking another track which goes straight on down the wooded valley. This evening I took the valley route and trotted down the rutted footpath which I've walked a hundred times before. It starts off with some budding raspberry bushes on the right (which look very promising this year), followed by a small pine forest on the left. It's a peaceful little copse, very quiet and calming with a soft, pine needle carpet which deadens sound. I've often stopped and sat there listening to the odd bit of birdsong whilst idly picking moss off an old tree trunk. And I remember sheltering there under one of the biggest trees during a torrential downpour a couple of years ago with a shivering Sprocket by my side while Jock paddled in the gushing waters that rushed down the path. But ce soir, bit of a surprise, I discovered the forest's no longer there...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

This time last week

Incroyable. This time last week it was all sunshine and blue skies. Proper teeshirt weather. And now it's all snowy and grey skies. Enough to make the newly arrived swallows do an about-turn and head back south.

Good job t'other half came over last week and not this. Would have been awful for her. Luckily we had sunshine for most of her break. Just a couple of cloudy days at the week-end. Perfect for a spot of gardening. She had a great time weeding, trimming, watering, fiddling with the smelly old compost heap, whooping with joy at my fine collection of worms therein (or maybe shrieking with disgust - not sure), carrying bits up to the bonfire pile and generally doing whatever it is that gardeners do. Would have given her a hand but my susceptibility to hay fever wouldn't allow it (doctor's orders - okay, so it may have been back in '58, and it may have been advice rather than an order, and I may have outgrown the allergy decades ago,  but you can't dice with death y'know). So all I could do was shout encouragement while sipping a cool scotch or three. Come to think of it, I vaguely remember her planting a few green things that we bought up the garden centre. Hope they survive this cold snap otherwise I'll be in the chien maison. Woof.

She had an equally enjoyable time on the sunny days too: washing and drying, fixing the loo, fixing the sink, tidying the loft room and sweeping the hundreds of dead flies off the floor, doing the washing up and a bit of cooking (hasten to add that I knocked up one of my special curries and a delicious spag Bol - just in case anyone thinks I just laze around doing bugger all), bedmaking, handwashing my filthy winter sweaters (crikey, they were dirty - washed about three times and the water still ended up black!), spot of dusting and tidying of the boudoir and more washing and drying. In return for her efforts, I allowed her full control of the telly twiddler at all times - apart from Match of the Day. And Top Gear. And the news. And maybe a couple of other progs. Can't say fairer than that. Yup, I know, I'm generous to a fault.

'Course, I would have given her a hand with some of these chores had I been able. But, unfortunately, I had to grab the opportunity afforded by the fine weather to do some arty-farty painting. Finished off that blossomy picture I started last year but didn't complete due to the intervention of a week's rain, followed by a distinct lack of blossomy bits when the skies eventually cleared. Quite tricky finishing it off 'cos the trees had grown somewhat so I had to adopt a bit of 'artists' licence' and all that, but nobody'll know. Still not sure about the little row of trees on the right though. Their trunks were actually in a dead straight line but it looks completely unnatural. Think I'll have to wobble 'em up a bit (top pic: April '09, lower pic: May '10).

Thus inspired, I then started a quick painting of the lane up the back with long evening shadows. Didn't finish it of course 'cos the sun dipped like a stone and the dogs wanted their supper. Would have finished it the following evening but, sod's law, that's when the weather changed. No sun. Cloudy. According to the weather forecast, it ain't gonna be sunny again 'til the end of next week. By which time the leaves will have grown and the scene will look completely different. Looked pretty different when I walked the dogs up there this afternoon, as you can see by the photo. Ah well, such is life for an amateur dabbler.

I do not belieeeeeve it!

Just checked the calendar and, unless there's a printing error, we appear to be well into the merry month of May. So how come it's snowing?!

Sod the snow. Here's a ray of sunshine - Ray Charles at Willie Nelson's 60th birthday bash...
Happy birthday sis!