30 March 2006

Gallery

Thanks to visitors who left notes about their favourite paintings and artists.

To the left we have Vermeer's "Woman With A Water Jug" selected by Alkelda the Gleeful. This beautifully composed, tranquil and exquisitely painted canvas hangs in the New York Metropolitan Museum. Jan Vermeer of Delft in Holland created the picture in the winter of 1664/65.
Next in line is a sample painting by H.R. Geiger - an artist admired by Yorkshire Soul. This particular canvas is called "The Spell II". It seems that Geiger specialised in often rather dark flights of fantasy which have won him something of a cult following. His images are sometimes found on skateboards.

Next there's a sample painting by the Boston-trained Chinese-American artist Zhuo S. Liang - a painter put forward by Crabcake. This piece is simply called "Seated Nude" and it hints at the precise graphical style that has won this artist so many admirers in east coast American board rooms where his heavily price-tagged pictures may often be found.

And finally for my southern friend "By George" who used to teach Art History, there's an example painting by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio - "David" holding the severed head of Goliath. Caravaggio was a very influential artist in his day, leading the development of a uniquely baroque style and challenging Italian notions of what painting should be with his new takes on old themes.

Good art both helps us to reflect upon life and enhances it. In appreciating paintings we should find our own paths, our own preferences, learning to look with an open heart and an open mind, glorying not just in the techniques and the patience of the artist but also in the vision, the meaning and the socio-historical milieu from which each canvas has grown. Oh shit...I'm sounding like a boring art historian... Wake up at the back!
The latest addition to my online art gallery was suggested by "Steve". It's Gino Severin's "Sea Dancer" painted as early as 1914 - as World War I broke out in Europe. This is an abstract painting ahead of its time in which bold colour, texture and movement hint at the rowdy and unpredictable power of both the sea and of humanity as we strode confidently into a new century, masters of our planet.

29 March 2006

Appreciation

Bathers at Asnieres
This huge canvas was completed by the French impressionist Georges Seurat in 1884. It currently hangs in the National Art Gallery in London. Its construction was painstaking. The composition is so well-balanced and the paint was applied minute blob by minute blob - a technique called pointillism, giving the painting a strange opaque/statuesque quality. This is enhanced by the palely marbled skin colour of the scene's main actors. In the distance, ninetenth century industry provides a discordant background to the still and leisurely peacefulness of the foreground. In some ways this art is about the ordinariness of human life and how we may be close to each other yet wholly unable to connect. I love this painting. I first saw it at the age of sixteen when I hitched down to London to see a free concert in Hyde Park - I wonder what happened to Grand Funk Railroad?

Seurat was only thirty one when he died of diptheria. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank him for his artistic legacy. Have you got a painting you love?

24 March 2006

Warning

This is a general warning to the inhabitants of Blogworld concerning identity theft. Unwittingly, I have been the innocent victim of two cunningly fraudulent assaults upon my character. In the latest fraud, a redneck hussy from North Carolina, sometimes known as Amy Carol, otherwise Mrs Friday's Web, has attempted to mock me by superimposing my head on a "Fantasy Island" promotional picture from the nineteen seventies. I wish to state categorically and emphatically that at no stage in my life have I ever appeared on a TV programme with a French midget called Tattoo. The idea of me befriending anybody from France is utterly ridiculous. If I had the technical skill to do it, I would superimpose Ms Amy Carol's head on the body of Roseanne Barr and we'd see how she'd like that! A previous fraud involved a simian beast from Seattle who plonked a chef's hat on my head in order to amuse the blog-surfing public. This was most distressing. See below, the original "Fantasy Island" picture alongside the cunning handiwork of the North Carolina sex education specialist:-
Link to
- the ocean going orgy -
- notion spawned
by the said Amy Carol

22 March 2006

Goodness

Reading responses to my last post about beggars made me think about the presence of goodness in human society. If you entirely took on board impressions of humanity from the media - you would think that our world was full of ugliness, selfishness and sheer unbridled badness. They create a picture of city streets filled with danger, crack dealers, rapists, muggers and vandals. Children are warned not to talk to strangers and to be on guard against this vile wickedness bubbling just under the surface of everyday reality.

And yet, when I stand back from it all, I realise that this picture of my fellow human beings is a long way from the truth. Tallullah, Friday and Alkelda have been kind to beggars and such quiet kindness is arguably the truer face of humanity. All of us can surely recall acts of human kindness - favours rendered, helping hands lent - goodness that was profferred without hope or expectation of personal reward. Being on the receiving end of human goodness makes all of us more liable to do good things for others. What goes around comes around and ... you're gonna reap just what you sow.
Between the ages of sixteen and twenty three I hitchhiked all over the place. Not many young people seem to hitchhike these days which is a shame and indicative of the culture of fear that abounds. I remember one particular lift with a salesman all the way from Edinburgh to the Isle of Skye. We stopped at a roadside cafe and he bought me a slapup fried breakfast. I tried to offer him some money but he'd have none of it. Back then, I had lots of great rides from people who just wanted to help complete strangers like myself. They didn't want anything back in return.
Once, as a teenager, I was standing outside a fish and chip shop in Winchester, Hampshire. It was around eleven at night. My mate Lee and I were wondering where we'd sleep that night miles away from our Yorkshire homeland. A man popped out of the fish and chip shop and asked us if we needed a bed for the night. We went home with him. He was a junior doctor at the local hospital and he said he'd be going to work early in the morning - "Just make yourself some breakfast and push the keys through the letter box when you go," he said. And we never saw him again. We left a note on the kitchen table saying thanks.
I have numerous stories like these - tales of human kindness. And it may be unfashionable to say this but I genuinely think that most human beings are essentially good. The majority of us are not seeking to beat down the next guy in line. We want to help others, partly because helping is in itself a real buzz - it confirms that we are truly alive. It harks back to the days of rural living where communities had to be interdependent to survive. Just because they have made cities for us with apartments and concrete blocks to live in doesn't mean that we have lost the rather primitive urge to help others and to do good things.
In the western world there are so many charities that thrive on goodwill. When disaster strikes, thousands upon thousands of ordinary people dig deep in their pockets to try to counteract flood, famine, earthquake or disease. Also what of those magnificent human beings who choose to work for these charities - often on extremely low incomes in harsh circumstances - doing their bit to spread the message that being a human being should not be mainly about looking after number one, it should chiefly be about stretching out a helping hand to others.
On the question of goodness, what do you think?

21 March 2006

Beggars

I have seen beggars in many places. We have a few in Sheffield. They huddle in doorways, often with faithful mongrels on ropes. Their eyes are dulled and sunken. Sometimes they sell "The Big Issue" - a UK homeless magazine intended to help break the begging cycle and lift self-esteem. I usually walk by. It's not a magazine I enjoy reading.

Last Easter, I went with my family to California. We landed in LA at around 17.30, picked up a hire care and headed for Santa Monica where I had pre-booked a Travel Lodge overlooking the famous pier. It was Saturday night and though we were jet lagged, we needed something to eat so made our way to Third Street - Santa Monica's most popular and rather exclusive shopping street. This was California, the land of plenty, many years after Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" and what did we see that very first night? American beggars. Some of them with shopping trolleys piled up with collected stuff and clothing. They were there lurking on the sidewalk as wealthy shoppers nipped in and out of "Abercrombie and Fitch". We stayed in Santa Monica/LA for three days and saw many beggars, hobos, down-and-outs - call them what you will - just a couple of miles from Beverley Hills and the coast road to Malibu. An AmericanAsian shopkeeper told me he hated them. They were always stealing stuff. He sounded like a white Australian slagging off the "abos".
And I have seen beggars in Rome, Paris, Atlanta, London, Madrid, Budapest, Glasgow, Copenhagen, Dublin, Durban (South Africa) and lots of other places. What should I make of them? Should I walk on by? If my life had worked out differently, might I have been a beggar? How did they end up in this position? Should I put my hand in my pocket and give them some of my hard-earned money? Would they simply spend it on drugs or booze? Would it ever make a difference?
There's a young beggar who lurks in Sheffield's suburban heaven. You see him outside the all-night Spar shop - lank haired and cold. Once I bought him a sandwich and a couple of cans of beer. He was gobsmacked with delight. I wonder where he slept that night and should I make him a little shelter in my underhouse workshop? In fact I could house an entire gang of beggars down there.
I'm not religious but I admire Jesus for gravitating towards beggars rather than moneylenders and rich officials. I'd be interested to read other bloggers' views on beggars - these shady people from the underworld - a flipside for Rodeo Drive or London's high life - splashed by Mercedes and Jeep drivers - reminding us all that life is fragile and we shouldn't take what we have got for granted.

19 March 2006

Winner

And the winner of the Bush/Blair caption competition is (drumroll) Mr. B. Gorilla of Gasworks Avenue, Seattle USA with his last minute entry. Mr. B. Gorilla wins the two masks pictured below which will be freighted to him by express airpost. The masks may be worn at a range of social occasions such as funerals and job interviews:-











And here's Mr B. Gorilla's witty entry:-
US president George W. Bush giggles over a gorilla joke he remembered just as UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and others watch a banana cream pie sail through the air toward the unsuspecting Free World Leader (banana cream pie not pictured).
The Yorkshire Pudding Corporation would like to thank everybody who took part in this competition - we were overwhelmed by the response!
Left: A delighted Mr B. Gorilla poses for the camera after learning of his competition victory.
STOP PRESS: Second prize - just to stop her sulking and foot stomping - goes to Alkelda the Gleeful for her mildly amusing caption - see March 17th entry. Alkelda wins a Northwest Pacific clam - the geoduck clam which, as everybody knows, is America's largest edible clam. This clam will be delivered personally by the Yorkshire Pudding Corporation's Herman Winklepicker (pictured right). He will arrive in the early hours of the morning in a battered Ford SUV with a bumper sticker that reads somewhat ominously, "Ah'm Fer Dubya."

Memories


Why do we remember what we remember? I guess dozens of psychologists have explored this question. It's something I have often reflected upon.
What is your first memory? I look back through my catalogue of years and I see myself at the bottom of our staircase. Stuff was happening upstairs. People. I remember a sense of being excluded and then someone, perhaps my father, telling me I had a new baby brother. But then I wonder, did this ever really happen? Perhaps I dreamed it, perhaps I manufactured this memory.
Later. I see my father in his pyjamas at the top of the landing with a rifle aimed at the sycamore trees which hosted a rookery. He hated being woken by their cawing, their mating and rowdy nest building in the first light of the day. He was blasting them to crow heaven. And I remember lying on my bed, studying the random swirling patterns of the wallpaper and seeing faces there and clouds, hints of limbs and distant horizons. I could list perhaps twenty vivid childhood memories like these - some of them significant such as the death of Oscar the family cat and others seemingly unremarkable like the softness of the china clay in the stream near Pentewan Beach in Cornwall. The point I'm getting to is this, somehow my memory has been edited. Something, some urge, some need has allowed certain memories to float on the visible surface of my mind while other have sunk into the darkest depths - never to be salvaged. I didn't consciously decide to keep this set of twenty odd memories in accessible reach and I didn't consciously condemn the other memories to oblivion.
Moving on to early manhood. It's like a picture show. If I concentrated hard and ran that show in my head, it could last perhaps two hours. Ten years in just two hours. What happened to all those other thousands of hours? Again, I didn't consciously select the shots that sit on the surface. Obviously some shots are understandable. Anyone would have remembered them I think - like falling in love, falling out of love, passing my driving test, first major job interview, breaking my leg playing football, standing on top of the Empire State Building, our wedding day, the births of our children... but then there's other stuff - the unremarkable. I remember an Indian trader on a boat journey and the clogs with leather uppers I bought in Holland and the dampness on the roof of my tent when I was holed up in the lee of Lindisfarne Castle one rainy August day and the sound of the surf breaking and a sheep grazing near the guy ropes. So much has been edited out, buried, filed away forever. And yet stuff remains, stuff I didn't choose.
I have come to view this flotsam and jetsam as my symbolic markers. They define one's psychology. They represent it. A strong theme throughout my conscious memory is justice. I recall times when people tried to put me down or let me down and though my life has contained much joy, much celebration, much personal achievement and much laughter, it is those black moments that I remember best. People used to tell me to "lighten up", to stop being so serious. But how can you change who you really are? Those memories, the ones that we can at least grasp are signposts to who we really are.
There have been times when I have pledged to remember something, never to let it slip away and some of that pledging has been successful but so much of it has been fruitless. The memory will keep what it wishes to keep. You can't force it.
Everyday, practical memory is another thing entirely. I read that women are generally much better than men at remembering household details - where things are for example. This is certainly true with my wife Shirley. I often say - "Do you know where my keys are?"/ "Do you know where my wallet is?" and more often than not she does know. Men are better at remembering other things - such as how to get somewhere, what last weekend's football results were. It's no surprise to me that men and women will often argue over journey navigation. Most women find this skill difficult to master because it isn't high up the female psychological pecking order.
"Memories can be beautiful and yet... much too painful to remember... so we choose to forget..."

17 March 2006

Caption

Win a secret prize in the great YP caption competition:-Entries so far
1. from Alkelda the Gleeful in Seattle:-
Tony Blair (through gritted teeth): How much longer do I have to keep smiling for these cameras before I get to punch you in the teeth?

Dubya Ha ha ha, I'll run and hide behind the curtains before you can catch me.

2. from Tallulah - somewhere in darkest Canada:- Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair looks on with amusement as United States President George "Dubya" Bush makes another of his dumb-ass statements.

3. From Anonymous:-

TONY: - Yes it's true George - they're called mic-ro-phones and they pick up everything you say, transmitting your words around the world.

GEORGE:- No way Toby!

Come on blog hoppers, surely somebody out there can do better. Click on "comments" below to enter your original captions..

15 March 2006

Letter

Dear Mr and Mrs Nobody,

I am writing with regard to an incident which took place in school on Monday of this week at around 12.20pm in our Internal Exclusion room. Your son, Warthog had been placed there by one of our Assistant Heads - Mr Moron - because of his unruly behaviour in the school reception area – at a time when he should have been in the middle of his timetabled lesson. Reception staff had complained about Warthog’s unwelcome harassment and rudeness.

At this time, I was the on-call teacher, covering for Mrs Condom. I was in the Internal Exclusion room dealing with paper work connected with classroom exclusions. Senior Teaching Assistant, Mrs Rosycheeks, was in charge of Internal Exclusion. As I did the paper work, I heard Mrs Rosycheeks putting pressure on Warthog to behave himself and shut up. Warthog was drawing an intricate picture of a marijuana leaf and Mrs Rosycheeks was insisting that this was not on. She asked Warthog to give her the offending sheet but he turned it over and pushed it to the side of his table, claiming “I always do them” and “I’m taking it home!”


Finishing my paper work and about to leave the room, I decided to confiscate this sheet of paper. It’s difficult to explain what happened next but I’ll try. Warthog was sitting at his table. Standing, I calmly attempted to confiscate the offending piece of paper but Warthog grabbed at it and the paper tore. Most of it fell to the floor. I quickly bent to pick it up and I as I did so, Warthog aggressively butted his head into the gap between the lower part of my chest and his table. He was trying to prevent legitimate confiscation of this paper. I was in the bending process and had absolutely no intention of making any physical contact with Warthog. I can state categorically that I did not “knee him” on purpose in the face. The idea is not only preposterous, it is a blatant lie. There was no contact between my knee and his head and I would argue that Warthog caused the physical collision himself by trying to prevent confiscation.

What followed was very shocking, because in front of other excluded children and Mrs Rosycheeks, Warthog proceeded to swear at me and about me in an extremely offensive manner. He used every foul word in the book. In my life, either out of school or in, I have never been sworn at like that by anybody else. He also yelled, “I’m going to get you fucking sued for this!” I understand that soon after this, Warthog was again in the reception area swearing like a trooper about me. I am sure that Warthog appreciates that in discipline terms, teachers’ hands and tongues are often tied and he was taking vivid advantage of that fact.

What I have stated above is truthful. I will be passing copies of this letter to the Head of Year, the headteacher and to school files. In this matter, it is not Warthog who is the victim – it is me. In their place of work, nobody should ever have to suffer the sort of verbal abuse that I received from Warthog on Monday. Even within the cosseted environment of a school, this abuse was clearly of an unjustified and illegal nature.

Yours sincerely,

Mr Yorkshire Pudding

12 March 2006

Soundtrack

Regarding music, I have a love-hate relationship with it. In some ways, I guess I'm stuck in time as my choices may indicate but with teenage children in the house I have opened my ears to some "new" music. Once I was a semi-professional singer with an East Yorkshire band called Village - we got many gigs and for years I have picked up my guitar and made songs that are more precious to me than anybody else's songs. Here are my ten choices:-
"Girl of the North Country" by Bob Dylan with Johnny Cash ("Nashville Skyline").
Apparently Dylan wrote this in Rome during the sixties following an extended trip to England where he had heard "Scarborough Fair". I love the way these two giants of modern music bounce off each other and the plaintive nostalgic sense of something left behind that can never be retrieved.
"Song for Adam" by Jackson Browne ("Saturate Before Using") .
Since I first heard Jackson Browne long ago, I have loved his lyrical familiarity as he searches life's corridors for meanings or ways of of connecting with other people. To me he is a prince among songwriters and this song seems to have always been in my head about somebody who may have "jumped" to his death though perhaps he "fell". It's so human and so humane.
"All Along The Watchtower" performed by Jimi Hendrix/ written by Bob Dylan.
Hendrix was good at revisiting songs. He put his own special electric guitar mark on this rather enigmatic song. It shows how old I am when I say I was fortunate enough to see him perform this classic the month before he died - "There must be some way out of here..."
"Working Class Hero" by John Lennon.
Coming from England, I guess I had to include one song that connects with The Beatles even though I was never a great fan. Lennon provided the guts for the band and he never stayed still - he developed. He had a genuine social conscience though perhaps this song is tinged with unavoidable irony.
"So Long Marianne" by Leonard Cohen.
Often slated as a morbid songsmith, I always admired Cohen's assured poetry. Here language and music collide with meanings that caress or stab you. This is just a representative song about saying goodbye to an old lover and striking out anew.
"Memories of East Texas" by Michelle Shocked ("Short Sharp Shocked")
I love songs that capture a sense of a lost past - days of innocence - a bit like the poems of Seamus Heaney. And as an Americophile, I love the idea of taking a detour by the Lindsays pastures "when the water ran too deep" - so homely and yet this is also a song about breaking away from things that stifle you.
"Ballad of Geraldine" by Donovan Leitch.
Recently, my seventeen year old daughter could not contain her laughter when she saw Donovan singing "First There is A Mountain" on TV - like the archetypal crosslegged hippy. But I always liked the guy and this was a rather unusual song about an unwanted pregnancy in which a male songster puts himself tenderly in a woman's shoes.
"California - I'm Coming Home" by Joni Mitchell ("Blue").
Joni was always a great lyricist and in this song she's talking about travelling far away but having California always in her heart. She suffers trials and people who cheat on her but in California everything will be okay.
"Speed of Sound" by Coldplay ("X&Y")
I love the style of the band. It isn't just about Chris Martin. Everything hangs together - drum, bass, guitar, piano and the words strike a rich emotional chord without being overstated. I haven't heard this album as much as I might have done because my kids keep borrowing the CD from the car. "If you could see it then you'd understand..."
"Meet on The Ledge" by Fairport Convention.
I suppose it's a song about dying and meeting up again. The great Sandy Denny who died so young is there at the front with Ian Matthews. I loved the Fairports before they became so traditional. This is a celebration of life, of being here and of making connections with others. And will we meet up again, on the ledge? I doubt it but it's a nice thought to have.
No doubt now I have listed the soundtrack of my life, other songs will rise up from the swamp of memory and ask to be included but for now this list will do.

9 March 2006

Fame

Fame at last! Wasn't it Andy Warhol who prophecised that one day we'd all be famous for fifteen minutes? Well this is my moment in the sun. Wearing my dashing chef's hat, I now feature in the Seattle-based blog known as "Brad the Gorilla" in the exciting new section titled "Cooking with Bradley".

Clutching a bucket of live eels, I was flown first class to west coast America. The odour from the bucket did not go down too well with the haughty American Airlines cabin staff (i.e. waitresses) nor the transatlantic business travellers watching our inflight movie - "Sponge Bob Squarepants". Once in Seattle, I grasped the enormous paw of the famous gorilla. He squeezed so hard my knuckles cracked.

Then we went to his luxury apartment with its state-of-the-art kitchen - the very core of Bradley Enterprises business empire where we followed my mother's ancient recipe for jellied eels. To test the dish, we called in Bradley's landlady and landlord and their cute little daughter. "What's that daddy?" she said.
"Honey, it's like a snake that lives in the sea and up rivers," said Mr Tony Dowler, the landlord in his westcoast drawl.
"Yummy!" said the sweet child as she tucked into a huge plateful of the squirming fishy stuff.
To be truthful, during the cooking process, Brad the Gorilla simply acted as my sous-chef. Being a jungle munching vegetarian, he really had no idea about cooking eels.

8 March 2006

Snapshot

History Cover

Mr Hart's away
I presume heart trouble
Year Eight History
In stuffy Room W8
With its perplexing perspex windows
Ghosts of ancient graffiti
Casting shadows on mottled brown
And crisscrossed prison security grilles
Keeping "them" out or keeping "us" in.
The boys beaver away like beavers
What was farming like in 1750?
They copy the photostat picture
Field B (Barley)
Field C (Fallow)
And the tiny cows
That graze
On the common land.
They can identify with that.
I try to write a poem
About a lost hour
In a lost classroom
The dullness of these moments
The aching emptiness
That will sometimes
Masquerade as education
Then by the overflowing bin
I spot an ancient banana
Mouldering blackly on a central heating pipe
And suddenly I feel I'm not alone.
It's true what they say about
History informing the present.

2 March 2006

Ranting

Whilst blogging, I have sometimes encountered the term "rant"/"ranting"/ "having a rant" etc.. It's not a term I meet often outside the blogosphere. Anyway, now I grasp what it means, I'm going to open cupboards in my brain and enjoy a good old Friday rant of my own - supplementary to the enervating rant I had recently about mobile phones/cell phones. Although this ranting could easily cover a hundred topics, I'm just going for four:-
1. LITTER This stuff is everywhere. Strangely, you rarely see anyone in the act of dropping litter. It happens so quickly. Hand on heart, I can honestly say that I have never dropped a single piece of litter in my life so at times if feels like I'm living on an alien planet. I hate to see cigarette ends on the pavement or smoking butts tossed from cars but a particular type of litter that really gets my goat is chewing gum. It takes so long to degrade. Pavements are spattered with the stuff - especially outside places like fast food outlets. What's wrong with these people? One day there'll be a civil war between the litter louts and the urban environmentalists. I'd love to beat some sense into those who carelessly toss away their waste, spoiling the look of the world we all have to share.
2. SPEED CAMERAS They have sprouted like mushrooms around the United Kingdom and you'd be hard-pressed to find a driver who hasn't been caught by one of the damned things. You can't argue with a camera but the truth of the matter is that the necessity for slower speeds will vary throughout the day or the week. They don't even indicate the speed limit on the actual cameras because the real truth about these things is that they are there to raise revenue. With my team of urban guerillas, I'm planning to obscure each lens cover with a film of sticky backed plastic or perhaps produce cans of spray mud to obliterate licence plate details.
3. BEING BUMPED Is it just me who experiences this? People are always carelessly bumping into me. I might be in a supermarket looking at the cat food, the aisle might be two metres wide and then someone comes along with a trolley and yep - surprise, surprise - they bump into me. Frequently, there's no apology. The same happens in pubs. I look around at the gap that could have taken a small car and the moron who bumped into me is on his way to the bar or the lavatory with not so much as a sorry. In contrast, I glide around very aware of the need to respect other people's personal space. If I do nudge someone accidentally as I squeeze to get past them, the word "sorry" blurts out of me quite instinctively.
4. SUPERMARKETS. In the UK, the big supermarkets like Tesco and Asda sometimes seem more powerful and influential than the elected government. They expand like space monsters into every area of life - from car insurance to funeral direction. They pretend that they care for their customers and the environment whilst accruing obscene profits. It's like a cartel. They underpay their staff and squeeze farmers around the world with remorseless cruelty. Another thing I dislike about them is the vast range of goods on offer. Life shouldn't be that complicated. We don't need so much choice. I prefer to do our family grocery shopping at the Danish budget supermarket - "Netto" which has limited choice and undercuts the giant supermarkets by miles. In England, many people are snobbish about where they shop. Perhaps I'm an inverted snob but I'm always glad to sing the praises of "Netto", "Aldi" and "Lidl". We have saved loads of money shopping in these stores - money that we can then spend on holidays or treats like meals out.