Saturday, 30 August 2014

All the old toys in the world?

We've been up north for a flying visit this week, partly so that we could drop off a couple of boxes of our tin toys at Vectis in Stockton-on-Tees. Vectis is the largest toy auction house in the world and while we were there we were lucky enough to be shown round.
It was breathtakingly vast -- just one huge room after another piled high with toys of every description. It made our tin toy collection seem very insignificant but they were happy to add it in to the vast stock waiting to be sold.
They generally have one or two sales a week and you can go there to bid in person, but it seems most people bid online. When we were there, the day's sale had just finished and they were starting the massive job of packaging all the sold lots up for dispatch to their new owners.
I couldn't linger too long taking photos as I felt we shouldn't take up too much of the (lovely) staff's time. It was very kind of them to take us round (thank you, John). I didn't know where to look next -- there was so much to see. I'll finish with a few more pictures.

John said that old dolls like these are no longer so sought after -- I'll have them...

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Back from our hols

A perfect idea of a holiday -- in Canterbury (not my holiday, though....)
We've had our summer holiday. It's over. In fact I've been back at work for a week. It was good to have a break, and we did lots of interesting things, but it didn't really match the idyll that I have in my mind when I think of summer holidays (no reading in boats, for a start).
We went for a shabby-chic sort of English holiday, down in Kent. The faded bunting was out in force, the cupcakes, the vintage shops, the cafes with mismatched crockery and wobbly chairs -- all lovely, don't get me wrong, but it does sometimes feel that shabby chic is taking over the country, so that it will become as ubiquitous as the boring old style it was intended to shake up. We rented a house near Folkestone which was lovely in every respect apart from the fact that it was suffering from 'Keep Calm and Carry On' overkill -- every mug and cushion emblazoned with 'Keep Calm and Relax'; three identical canvases in the kitchen with slogans about the Queen and cream teas; driftwood hearts and so many rustic seagulls and fishes on stands that we had to hide a few of them away. The strings of miniature wooden flipflops on the landing were almost the last straw but we bore their febrile clatter with gritted teeth -- we kept calm and carried on.
funny window display in Rye -- I covet that Pinocchio...
Even though lightning lit up the house on more than one occasion and monsoon rain drew us to the back of the house to stand under the corrugated plastic roof and listen to the amazing noise it made, we managed to dodge the bad weather and never actually got rained on (apart from a very ill-advised five minutes on the beach in a storm discovering that none of our raincoats are actually waterproof).
Sad union jack and lucky horseshoe in Rye
I'm not going to do a blow-by-blow account of the holiday, you'll be relieved to hear: I think hearing in detail about other people's holidays is probably nearly as boring as hearing about their dreams (although I've been very guilty of the blow-by-blow holiday account myself, I know. I've learnt). I'll leaven the mix with plenty of photos.
Cut-out clown at the amusement arcade in Hastings
We just had a nice time going to a different town each day and raking round. First we made a beeline for Paul and Karen Rennie's beautiful Seaside Modern shop in Folkestone's Creative Quarter. The last time (also the first time) I was here, it was the weekend of my 'Holiday with Martin Parr' courtesy of the School of Life and Martin Parr himself came in while I was enjoying a conversation with Paul Rennie. As he wanted to take Paul's photo, the conversation came to an abrupt halt, so I was pleased to find Paul in the shop again this time and to be able to introduce D as well (the kids lurked outside). I don't know whether Paul remembered me from the last time, perhaps with a sinking heart. He is a very charming man and D and I revere him to the point of fandom but he was in a somewhat dark mood, it seemed. My attempts to strike up suitably aesthetic topics of conversation kept turning black -- it might have helped if we had bought something from the shop but we are trying to divest ourselves of some of our accumulated stuff at the moment, not acquire more. I don't think it was us (at least I hope not) but rather the sombre days we're currently living through.
The Towner in Eastbourne
Our next beeline was to the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne to see the Peggy Angus exhibition. Before we went in we had lunch in the cafe and bumped into a friend from my book group with her family. It doesn't matter where we go on holiday, I always seem to bump into someone I know. I suspect the odds can't be as long as I think they are of this happening or it wouldn't happen so frequently -- but I love the feeling of weird coincidence.
I've borrowed this photo from -- very nice blog, worth checking out
I enjoyed the Peggy Angus. The photo of Peggy in her Camden Studio was almost my favourite thing -- the above magazine spread was the only copy of it I could find. The picture hanging on the wall in the photo was in the exhibition and somehow looked better in the photo than in the flesh. Angus wasn't an absolutely first-rate painter but she belongs in with Bawden and Ravilious and sits well alongside them. She really found her gift in her wallpaper, fabric and tile designs which are strong and rhythmic and very fresh. She was also an inspirational art teacher and did some very ambitious murals with her pupils. Her life was one of socialist leanings, shading into the slightly naive communist sympathising that so many idealistic young people shared early in the 20th century. From the photos of her in the show and the events that she was involved with, she seems to have been a genuine egalitarian and an instinctive feminist during a period when women didn't always manage to be treated as equal to men. I came away having added a new name to my list of loved early-20th-century artists.
Also while we were in Eastbourne we stopped off to see the poor pier, ruined by fire.

Hastings is almost my favourite of the south-coast towns. If you like vintage (and I do, I do, in spite of my outburst above), it has the best vintage shops, including the excellent and unusual Hendy's Home Stores (closed on the day we visited).
We went to a very strange cafe for lunch -- Fawlty Towers-esque in its struggle to serve a simple meal. I won't name names but the soup was off, the jacket potatoes were off, there were no rolls, no chicken ... the list of what was off was longer than what was on. I was going to have a tuna mayonnaise sandwich and clearly the mayonnaise was nearly off too as we saw our waitress sprinting out of the cafe and returning a couple of minutes later with a big jar of mayonnaise! As we were asked to pay without being given a bill or a receipt, I cooked up a whole fantasy scenario about the waitress and chef having opened up the place while the boss was away to try to make a bit of cash on the side, but without buying any supplies. Just my over-active imagination, though, I'm sure.

Best secondhand shop in Hastings was Robert's Rummage, complete with grumpy Robert spouting sexist stuff about his wife and women in general -- quite entertaining if you don't get offended by such things.
I really like the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings too. They have a good drawing exhibition on at the moment (until 15th October 2014). And I like the rattly little miniature train that goes by underneath the gallery windows and the views out to the blackened beach where the old boats are pulled up.
Not everyone loves the Jerwood, it seems
We discovered that Hythe was a good place with interesting military history and a canal that was designed to keep Napoleon out of England. Now it has water lilies growing on it.
Hythe war memorial was particularly moving, with its low-relief sculptures:
We walked along the canal to Sandgate (halfway to Folkestone). There was an interesting pop-up museum about H.G. Wells, who came to live in Sandgate for his health and had a house designed by Voysey built for him there. Lots of interesting writers came down to visit him, including George Gissing, after a character of whose we named our daughter.
Superior sandwiches and drinks at Loaf in Sandgate -- worth a stop. Finding the loo is like immersive theatre...
A man having his ears looked at in Sandgate:
There was Rye, too. Rye is gorgeous but just a little too aware of that fact. It is so Mapp-and-Lucia-ed up it can barely breathe. Enough already! The place needs to let go a little.
Old plank in Rye -- now you've spoiled it...

There was a great vinyl place in the centre of Rye, Grammar School Records. I could have spent all day in there.
Nearly all our forays involved trundling along the A259 where, on a fairly sharp bend near Brookland you'll see a sign for 'brocante'. This is 'Hoof Salvage', a wonderfully strange place straight out of a Scandi-noir set but actually full of French secondhand stuff. Very nice owner who commutes between Kent and Central France. Mostly open towards the end of the week and weekends, I think.
     We had a special meal out at Rocksalt in Folkestone and sat in the window right beside a huge bamboo structure that was being built for Folkestone Triennial, which is about to start. It's called the 'Electric Line' and is by Gabriel Lester. I have to say I don't like it at all -- I find it forbidding and over-busy, a cage for jungle prisoners. While we were eating our meal, some big naughty boys had climbed inside and were delighted to be watched by us. Later on they left, giving us the evil eye as they went past the restaurant -- it spooked me. The local paper doesn't seem sure about the sculpture either.
     Well that's nearly all I have to tell, apart from the fact that we had one hour in Rochester on the way home and one hour was nowhere near enough to see all that was to be seen in a wonderful old town. I'll definitely have to go back, if only for Baggins Books, a vast secondhand bookshop.
 I would like to spend more time in Kent with less of a feeling of panic about too much to see and too little time to see it in: more reading in boats, less rummaging next time.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

How many notebooks do you need..?

'Make Hey!' notebook by Pip Lincolne (nice Aussie designer). Current no. 1 unused notebook
Do you love to buy a nice notebook when you see one? I do. Do you say to yourself, 'You can never have too many nice notebooks' or 'A nice notebook will always come in handy'? I do. Do you go to lovely shops and exhibitions and think, 'Oh everything is so expensive but I could just get a nice notebook to remember the day by'? I do. Do you have a large box overflowing with nice notebooks, some that you feel are just too nice to use? And some that are no longer nice enough? I do.
Extra nice Peter Blake notebook from the Holburne Museum in Bath -- always interesting
I admit that I'm a notebook addict. And a diary addict. It can't be right to have eight unused diaries from past years -- although I fully intend to use them when the right combination of dates and days comes around again.

In fact, for anyone else with this problem, here's a handy guide:
Upcoming year:     Use diary from:
2015                        2009 (You have to watch out for leap years as well as what day the year starts on)
2016                        1988
2017                        2006 or 1995
2018                        2007 or 2001
2019                        2013 or 2002
2020                        1992

Great, by the end of the decade I'll have had the opportunity to re-use two whole diaries! Who knew years were so pernickety! Actually I make my own diary each year now, so, let's face it, they are never going to get used.
This is my current diary
But the notebooks, the notebooks. They're so seductive, with their cool, creamy pages and covers that invite you to jump in to another existence.
I love this trash-paperback-sized beauty by Rose Gridneff
The one below has a plain cover, but the pages consist of offcuts from Hato Press -- beautiful, and too good to write in...
They go on... and on...
And those are only the ones I've picked out. There are more...
It needs to stop. But it probably won't. Have you got a paper habit?

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

My photo picked by Uppercase!

You'll have to forgive me for blowing my own trumpet, but I nearly fell off my chair when I saw that Janine Vangool, the creative wonder behind Uppercase magazine, had chosen my photo as the header for her latest letter to readers. I had submitted some shots of my tiny coloured toy collection for the colour-themed issue (no.22) but had had a note to say they weren't going to use it. I had put it out of my mind and then up it popped in my inbox this morning. I feel very honoured and chuffed.

A note from Janine the previous week had brought news that running one of the best magazines on the planet isn't necessarily that easy or lucrative as she said she had had to lay off her two employees. The only answer, really, is for more people to subscribe to the magazine so that the massive amount of work required for each issue generates more income. It would be a terrible shame if Uppercase didn't continue on its glorious, colour-saturated path.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

A family brought together again

Tony's original photos
When we were doing our Found and Chosen stall in Letchworth the other weekend, the best thing that happened (on what was a rather low-key rainy day, as it turned out), was that a gentleman called Tony stopped on the way past. He said he was just on the way to Prontoprint to see if they could do something with some old photos he had, but maybe I'd like to do it? He had seven photos in an envelope in his pocket.
     I said yes straight away without thinking about it too much and then I took down the details of what he wanted. The people in the photos were all siblings from the same family and one of them was coming up to a big birthday, so it was a question of putting them all into one picture to make a gift. He had clear ideas about what he wanted, which always helps.
     It was very satisfying using Photoshop to balance the pictures and then cut them out and piece them together. I'd love to do more work like this. And Tony seemed happy when I took his picture round to him.
I have his permission to blog about this but I don't want to put too many pictures up as it's his own affair, really. But I was delighted that the opportunity came up and glad I was in the right place at the right time.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Yow! A snapshot from 1973

This post is rather self-indulgent, so I beg your indulgence.
    The picture above is of my school ring-binder, which I've kept for ... just over four decades. It's hideous, covered with horrible striped sticky-backed plastic and then adorned with stickers. It's the stickers that fascinate me. They are insanely eclectic and ugly -- I can remember that I was so crazy for stickers that the actual content of the stickers didn't matter. I just had to have stickers. The folder reflects my completely uncritical love of adhesive cutouts and is a weird reminder of myself at the age of eleven.
I was NOT an official member of the Osmonds Fan Club Europe (founded on 1st January 1973 by Maureen Street). I didn't even like the Osmonds. On 2nd November of that year my Mum went down to London on her own for a few days, staying as we usually did in the Britannia Hotel, Grosvenor Square (it was owned by British Rail and you could get good deals if you booked the hotel at the same time as your train ticket). She sent me a postcard which read, "When I arrived at the hotel, which is lovely, I found a great crowd of screaming girls yelling p*** o** at anyone who dared to look at them, standing outside … and what do you think? The Osmonds are staying at the same place!!! I wonder if I shall see them? What a treat – I don’t think." She didn't like them either.
This folder is full of things I didn't like: I wasn't remotely interested in cars... or anything to do with them...

Nor religion (though now I come to think of it I think it was 1973 when I was briefly lured to 'Joyseekers Club' at school because a nice boy called Nigel used to go and I liked walking home with him afterwards)...
Radio Tees and Radio Cleveland were our local radio stations. My best friend and I once got 'The Sloop John B' by the Beach Boys played as a request on Radio Tees -- strange choice (we liked singing harmonies to it). Radio Tees was commercial and we always felt a bit naughty listening to it, as it if was Radio Caroline. It wasn't.
The dancing hippo is a Vari-vue or lenticular sticker with a movement effect when you tip it back and forth. Apparently they were given away in Spar supermarkets in 1973 and are now quite rare. It's Disney and I'm afraid I was a terrible snob about Disney when I was a kid too, always bemoaning the way they had 'ruined' 101 Dalmatians and Winnie the Pooh. Even so, sticker lust won out and here is Hyacinth Hippo from Fantasia (which I've still never seen and would quite like to now) on my folder.
Really, the only things on the folder that genuinely reflect my passions, growing up, are the (unbelievably dull) stickers in French -- I would go on to study French at university...
'For children, sight is the future'
... and Gallery Five
I truly adored everything that Gallery Five did, especially these animal stickers. I recently tracked down some sheets of them -- the nostalgia!:

I can remember staring obsessively at the sheets to work out the permutations of patterns, and, of course, putting them in order of how much I liked them. This would have consequences for how I used them and which ones I gave to my best friend, if any. They were potent. I could almost lose myself in contemplation of them (which worries me a bit now, but they don't seem to have done me any lasting harm... as far as I'm aware).
     I had this one as a sticker on my bedhead:
I felt it watched over me while I slept (well, I didn't have the comfort of religion, so I needed something...).
     I just can't understand why Gallery Five isn't better known and why there's hardly anything by them on the internet. Why aren't there passionate collectors sharing their collections? I've got tons of Gallery Five gift tags -- I love them. Gallery Five still exists. They mainly sell Beryl Cook cards now. Not long ago I rang them up, just to see whether they still have any of the Seventies designs. I spoke to the sales manager who told me that Jan Pienkowski, who started Gallery Five and did a lot of the early designs (including all the ones above) kept careful yearbooks of all the designs but doesn't want to licence them to other companies as he wouldn't have control over what was done with them. I would give anything to look through those yearbooks. It would be heaven. But for now, I treasure my very odd folder which is itself a sort of 'yearbook' of my life in 1973. Yow!