Sunday, September 30, 2012

Inspiration I

I let too many beautiful images slip past me into the internet ether so I am going to start sharing them in regular inspiration posts, mainly so I can come back and look at them later:
Young Bohemian Serb by Charles Landelle, 1872
Coles Phillips (1880 –1927)
  Ivan Aivazovsky, Moonlit Seascape With Shipwreck, 1863
Ivan Bilibin, Princess in the prison tower, illustration of the Russian folk tale The White Duck, 1902
Tavík František Šimon (Czech, 1877-1942), A Quiet Spot in Hradcany. Color etching
Tom Thomson, The Jack Pine, 1917

Vasiliy Sergeyevich Smirnov, Michael of Chernigov at the camp of Batu Khan 1246, 1883. Oil on canvas, 251 x 196.5 cm. The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Wlastimil Hofman (Polish, 1881-1979), On the Way to Hades, Prague 1916
Albert Anker (Swiss, 1831-1910), Stilleben- Gediegener Tee, 1897. Oil on canvas, 51 x 42 cm
Apoloniusz Kędzierski (Polish, 1861-1939), Fisherman. Watercolour on paper on cardboard, 92 x 69 cm. National Museum, Warsaw

Friday, September 28, 2012

Summer's end

 The nights are drawing in and I find myself appreciating our cosy flat all the more. It could be our last winter here and I want to make it especially nice. Half price gladioli, hot chocolate and watching Jonathan Creek have been a large feature of the last week, when I'm not working!

A band practice in O'Callaghan's cafe in Treforest.

 Tiny sisyphus beetles in the Museum last weekend.

Beautiful sea shells, deadly poisonous

New book, Grimm Tales re-written by Philip Pullman

Majestic sky and building

The incredible carved door to the Secret Garden cafe in Bute Park

Red sky at night

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


We still haven't found a house and it's a strange time in our lives, waiting in limbo.

Despite what I said in a previous post, all signs are pointing towards Chepstow. Chepstow is a small town about 50 minutes away just by the border and the bridge to England, where my partner's sister and family lives and where his parents are moving to soon.

It's now just a matter of waiting for the right house, getting another mortgage offer and we will be off.

I vetoed Chepstow a while ago because it's so far from Cardiff and I didn't want to cut myself off from work prospects, let alone further distancing myself from my band and friends here. My job (2 days a week) in Cardiff is fixed term until March next year, which really isn't far away. I don't know what will happen after next March, it might be my big chance to expand my freelance work and try and get enough to survive working entirely from home or I might still get to work for my current project in some capacity.

A horse and cart ride in Chepstow
An old sign in a walkway on the high street
 Moving to Chepstow will mean a commute down the busy M4 of about an hour at rush hour, or an expensive 40 minute train journey on a sparse railway line that isn't famed for its smooth journeys. It's not the end of the world but it would make my life a whole lot more irritating if I ever went back to work full time in the capital, especially as the easiest place to get a job in Wales is obviously in Cardiff.

However, this is the only reason moving to Chepstow isn't a good idea so I've made the decision to suck it up and make it work for me. I can still play in the band, it's not so far from friends that it's impossible to see anyone and it works out much better for everyone else.

Chepstow Castle is massively impressive, look at the tiny horse on the left
We will be within walking distance to family. It knocks an hour of the long journey to my mum (and my dad). I can expand my freelance work, make more money, go cycling again, start an Etsy shop, meet new people, maybe start a new band, have evenings out and maybe even days at home purely for freelance working instead of cramming writing into my son's ever decreasing naps and spare moments when I'm not in my actual job.

While we're still here I feel stifled. I feel like we can't do anything, buy anything big or meet anyone new because we'll be moving soon. I am the sort of person who likes to know what is going on, I like plans and being able to see the big picture in my life's architecture. I don't like wafting or being late or not knowing where I'm going to live by Christmas. At the moment we're knuckled down working as hard as we can to save money, it's tiring and we don't go out, we're living and working in a one bedroom flat with a toddler who is getting more and more sprightly by the day. We've been poised to get up and go since the Spring, and it is grating to not be able to relax or start anything afresh.

I'm treading water and it's mind numbing but I'm excited about the future. Time to make plans.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

My favourite necklace

My favourite necklace is made from a silver plated sea snail shell. It was a present from a friend many years ago, and it's from a workshop in Lewes, East Sussex. It's so beautiful and recently I've been wearing it all the time.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Great Grinling Gibbons, master wood sculptor 1648-1721

I've been reading about William Blake over the last couple of weeks, dipping in and out of his life and work when I have time, via his own words and Peter Ackroyd's biography.

In the serendipitous way these things go, I was interested to learn that Blake was baptised in a font carved by Grinling Gibbons. It jumped out at me because that man with the incredible alliterative name had been in the back of my mind since last summer when I went to Petworth House in Sussex.

Grinling Gibbons was a Rotterdam born sculptor who worked in stone and wood but is chiefly remembered for his wood carvings. Wood carving, *yawn*, you may be thinking, but his skill at making wood look like objects has never been surpassed, and it's truly amazing to see in reality.

Discovered by the diarist John Evelyn (who crosses over with another book I'm reading on Samuel Pepys) when he rented the sculptor his cottage, Grinling Gibbons was then introduced to Christopher Wren the architect who gave him his first commission. Further meetings with Charles II cemented his career, and you can now find his incredible work in Hampton Court Palace, St Paul's Cathedral, Windsor Castle and Blenheim Palace, amongst others. He died in 1721 leaving 12 children, having run a large and successful workshop in Covent Garden for many years.

Petworth House is a huge 17th Century mansion dwarfing the small, extortionate village of Petworth in West Sussex. Petworth is beautiful and full of prosperous Cherry Menloves. You could never afford to live there but it's nice to sit outside a charming tea room, buy a cup of the cheapest coffee and survey the bunting and antique shops.

Glimpse of a town garden behind a gate in a streets of Petworth
Petworth House is National Trust owned, and going there made up for my membership in one fell swoop as it's so expensive to get in. It's got a whole wing built for art, tonnes of paintings and sculptures, a private own chapel and a tea room filled with antlers.

Looming down upon one while you eat your cream tea

The Chapel 

The art wing

 Gulliver's Travels  

A wonderful old globe teeming with sea monsters

A tiny bit of William Blake - The Last Judgement - see, see! It's all connected!

The most impressive thing however, is the carved room. Grinling Gibbon was set loose into a large rectangular space and produced this incredible room in which all the walls are covered floor to ceiling with dark, intricate wood carvings. It really is extraordinary and you could spend many hours in here picking out the images and trying to imagine how it was made. Horace Walpole apparently said of him "There is no instance of a man before Gibbons who gave wood the loose and airy lightness of flowers, and chained together the various productions of the elements with the free disorder natural to each species."

The room was very dark and it was impossible to take clear pictures however I hope you can get the idea from these two:

Musical instruments, leaves, branches, food, cornucopia, scrolls, baskets, wings, animals, birds - all delicately and meticulously carved from soft lime wood. It's amazing to see in person the lush Baroque style rendered this way.

Grinling Gibbon made decorative wood carving into an art form in its own right and to this day his skill has not been matched. Well, now you know.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Each moment of music is its own

I think a common artistic mistake is the continual quest to perfect the craft itself. The ultimate possibility of art is the achievement of moments of transcendence. In the case of music you could argue that no real advance can be made; you can only hope to visit and revisit the wellspring of emotion and inspiration. Access to these things isn’t always dependent on progress in your craft. They can’t be achieved without your craft and craft alone cannot create them. You need trust and faith in the subjective feelings that the music generates. There is no accumulation of technique and ability that you can rely on. Each moment of music is its own and you have to be open to its possibilities. These moments can arise at various levels of technical ability. The muse is very democratic. On some level I’ve always known that it is not about becoming a better fiddler in a technical sense. I think it’s more about learning to be more receptive and open to that magical moment we long for. These moments are the music; everything else is the dance leading up to that point."
A few years ago I read this beautiful quote by Martin Hayes and immediately knew what he was talking about. When I play Irish music, I often get the feeling that I'm grasping at something subtle and infinitesimal that is constantly evading my reach. The couple of seconds where I seem to get it in the middle of a tune is the only reward in my solo practice, and is experienced much faster and for longer when playing with my band. Isolating this tiny snatch of essence and stretching it throughout an entire tune is a goal which I may or may not ever reach, even if I practice for decades. I feel able to achieve this most with Irish music (mainly because the tunes are short and not difficult technically) which often can sound trite but is actually more difficult and heart wrenching than it first appears.

I've never been able to compose or write music, which is how many people I know get musical satisfaction. What I get from playing music comes from the joy of playing with others, of learning many tunes off by heart and striving to get the sound more right every time I play.
A frontispiece from a book of traditional music collected by Edward Bunting in the 18th and 19th Centuries, mainly from the great Irish harpists who were dying out even at that time
These days I don't get time to practice or gig as much as I used to, though I'm hoping that will change in the next year or so. I recently didn't get to play a gig I'd been looking forward to for months and I was surprised by how sad and disappointed I felt. Playing with the band gives me a chance to break away mentally from my day-to-day existence and I treasure that time as it is rare that I get to experience that state of flow that is so good for me.

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi's flow is an interesting psychological concept that is defined as "the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity" and I don't often get to feel it these days, my whole life being strewn with the shattered shards of split attention. An hour a two spent concentrating on playing through the simplicities and drawing out the complexities of AA BB tunes every few weeks can make a big difference.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Guappecarto - L'amour c'est pas grave

A band I discovered via Melissa that have since become one of my favourites, Guappecarto have made their first album L'amour c'est pas grave ('Love is not serious') available to buy on bandcamp and you must rush over there and download it immediately if you like gypsy jazz.

The album is sparser and more pared down than their live performances and, although this kind of music is best heard accompanying the background hum of a lazy bar at 2am or over the busker's backing track of hot and busy streets, the sound is still unmistakable and powerful. The members of Guappecarto are based round a core of musicians who have been playing together for years, possessing the distinct kind of musical telepathy that is so essential for this fluid style.

I want to be whisked away to Paris to hear them whilst lounging in a late night cafe drinking a bottle of red wine and doodling on paper napkins.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Miles to go before I sleep

The woods were lovely, dark and deep, 
But I had promises to keep, 
And miles to go before I sleep, 
And miles to go before I sleep.

 Stunningly beautiful screen printed Indian wrapping paper covered a birthday present from my mum. I folded it carefully and kept.

Half way through Seen in my Visions, my mum posted me the Peter Ackroyd biography so I could learn more about William Blake. He is so erudite on a fascinating individual and I've already had to look up so many words and references. I love books like this.

Home made pizza for a treat one evening. Pizza base recipe from = officinalis = : 6g Active Dried Yeast,1/4 tsp Granulated Sugar, 3/4 cup 110 degree Water, 1 3/4 cups plain flour (or 1 cup white, 3/4 cup wholewheat), 1/2 tsp salt. With mozzarella, courgette on one (baby flavours) and fennel, olive and goats cheese on the other.

 An evening admiring cards

 Practice for a performance I never got to give.


 Tuesday in work with my new scarf.

A block palace when the prince is sleeping.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Leibster Award - 11 random things about me

Sort of tagged from The Gingerbread:

Proving I've never been able to pull off a fringe, here is me aged 3
1) My sister and I were home educated for a time and I didn't go to school until I was 7. The only reason my parents sent us to school was because we ended up with nobody to play with (apart from each other) as all the other kids in our Education Otherwise group slowly succumbed to formal education. I'd definitely home educate my own children if I was in a financial situation that meant I didn't have to work. Unfortunately this is never likely to occur...!

2) I am rather shy though I'm a lot better than I used to be. I really have to force myself to get through social occasions or anything that involves public speaking. As a kid I often pretended to be ill to get out of music courses and being with strange children my own age. I used to secretly eat dirt in the hope it would make too sick to go to things however it never worked. Don't try that one at home kids.

3) I have played on the stage at Glyndebourne opera house in a violin concert when I was little.

4) More music related trivia: I used to be quite good at the Double Bass. I was in an orchestra and a jazz band with my bass that was rented from the East Sussex County Music Service. When I went to university I had to give him back. It was a miserable day for me, watching the lights go out in the instrument room, turning round to leave my lovely bass that was bigger than me, alone, sad and in the dark. I never played the double bass again. One day I'll find one of my own in a junk shop like my old bass teacher and take up the most magnificent of instruments once more.

5) Claim to fame: Whilst at university, I worked in the same shop (an amazing deli in Reading that devastatingly no longer exists) that Kate Winslet did when she found out she got her breakthrough role in Heavenly Creatures. The owner (who also no longer exists..) of the shop at the time used to go on family holidays with the Winslets and I've had a conversation with Kate Winslet's mother in a pub about the sizes of M&S clothing.

6) Speaking of University, I did my degree (Psychology BSc) dissertation experiment on emotions and dreaming.

7) Huw is my third ever boyfriend.

8) I am a country child. I grew up in the flat flood plains beyond the South Downs of East Sussex. I roamed fields, shaped mud pies, climbed trees, made dens and played on hay bales. I love the countryside and much prefer it to cities.

9) I had always wanted to go to Mongolia and I managed it in 2006. It was a strange and wondrous place.

10) My parents separated when I was 23 after 24 years of marriage and they are now divorced. I didn't anticipate how difficult, even as an adult, adjusting to that was to be, although they had never really been happy. It taught me a lot about how and how not to behave in relationships and hopefully I am a better person because of it.

11) I have a psychotherapy diploma (taught partly by my father!) that I got distinction *for. It was the toughest course of my life and I was by far the youngest, worked SO hard and had to overcome my paralyzing fear of doing 45 minutes of observed therapy in front of a group of people and the examiner! I've not done anything practical (i.e. therapy) with the diploma yet as I still have the final part to do if I want to practice as a therapist but it's definitely an option for the future, and I have written regularly about the human givens approach ever since.

I tag anyone who wants to do it. Thinking of 11 things was way too difficult, I thought I was more interesting than that to be honest.

* no, my father did not mark my exam paper or my practical!!!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Robin Williamson and the Incredible String Band

Huw introduced me to the Incredible String Band in 2008 and when I listen to them I immediately think of the beginning of our relationship, the late night conversations, the driving from Brighton to Cardiff every weekend, the train journeys, the goodbyes, the irritation, the promise of the future. They are a band who get 'it', they've connected into something greater than themselves, and you can hear it immediately in their music that speaks to the deepest part of your soul.

When I moved to Cardiff I had no idea Robin Williamson (the blonde one) lived here and, working in a deli in Pontcanna, I almost collapsed when he walked into my shop for a scotch egg and a pork pie. I should have told him how much I value his book of English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish fiddle tunes that I use so much. I often used to see him wandering about the area, and it was so pleasant and unexpected that my life with Huw had converged with the life of someone whose music was so important to me.

The Incredible String Band couldn't be more of a 60s group, strange lengthily songs, lyrics dripping between sitars, guitars, violin and percussion, traveling towards their end with long high notes that wind around the rhythm of the bars, the voices intermingling.

Apart from their distinctive meandering sound, the lyrics are what really sets them apart for me, say this isn't poetry, I dare ya:

The east gate like a fortress dissolve it away
The west gate like a prison O come break it down
Island I remember living here
Wandering beneath the empty skies

In time her hair grew long and swept the ground
And seven blackbirds carried it out behind
It bore the holy imprint of her mind
As green-foot slow she moved among the seasons

I've seen Robin Williamson do bardic storytelling with his harp, do a set with his wife Bina and play at The Point with John Renbourn of Pentangle and they were all magical evenings...sigh, you should go and see him.

Here's a weird film I made in 2009 of Waltz of the New Moon, my second favourite song (this one's my favourite, we used to sing it to the baby when he was tiny to get him to sleep:

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Desmond Morris Body Language Photos

The photo inserts from a Desmond Morris Guide to Body Language.

I tore them out to keep and they are on my list of things to frame and display in all their 70s glory:

"I'm more important than your caller." Not content with standing in front of his secretary he has to further emphasize his importance by kneeling on the chair

"In the street, are you sure he's on the prowl? From reading the book, the answer is obviously yes.'