Saturday, 24 September 2011

Glee full

Thank goodness Glee has started again. I watch it with my kids and I absolutely adore it, especially the big numbers and anything that tugs at the heart. I'm a complete sucker for having my tears jerked and it doesn't take much to make me well up.
Last year's John Lewis ad (the new one for their TV department is fantastic too, but not such a tearjerker)...
Tulisa crying about her mum on X Factor last week...
The end of Dances With Wolves where Kev goes off into the snow with his Sioux wife (and was there a child too?). So corny, I know, but it had me in pieces. I told my kids that I'd cried all the way home after I saw that movie (it was really weird, I couldn't stop) and now they tease me mercilessly about it.
I'm unfortunately also known, now, at my daughter's school as the only mother who cried at the gymnastics display. I just found it terribly moving: the youthful endeavour, everyone working together, the joy of it all. Oh don't get me started again.
     I cried when I saw the coach drawing out of the school playground with the kids going on their week away at the field centre -- and it wasn't even either of my kids. I also cried when I was waiting for the train to London once and a special nostalgia train pulled in -- a steam train with everyone on board dressed up in Forties and Fifties outfits, going to Scarborough for the day. When it pulled away from the station it was like seeing a ghost train from the past and, oh dear, just the memory of it even now...
This week I also watched the Blur documentary, No Distance Left To Run which was very moving. Just to see how time and stresses had etched their mark on the band's faces. Damon and Alex were my idea of perfection when they were younger. Now they're still great but that fresh-faced look has inevitably gone. They talked so honestly about how their success made them crack up, and then, at the end, when they were on stage at Glastonbury and Damon wept ... well, you can imagine.
     When my kids tease me and come and leer at me to see if they can spot a tear glistening in the corner of my eye, I think, well at least I'm not completely hardhearted.
     (Most embarrassing welling-up: Nanci Griffith's 'Trouble in the Fields'. I know. But it gets me every time: 'You be the mule, I'll be the plough, come harvest time we'll work it out'.... oh, excuse me, I have to ...go and ... blow my nose...)

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Clowns, and scary clowns

I'm amazed to have received another present through the post. Lesley, another Postman's Knock friend, sent me this wonderful Seventies Ladybird book on clowns. It's a great book that I've not come across before and I'm very touched by Lesley's kind thought -- thank you.
Well, I took my new book to work and showed it to my friend that I work with. I know she suffers from 'coulrophobia' or fear of clowns. I'm afraid I find this quite amusing -- as long as there isn't a real scary clown coming through the door of our office (like Mr Jelly, the Psychoville clown, above), I think she can cope. She looked through the book and announced it to be 'wrongy wrong wrong'. Whereupon, I looked up 'fear of clowns' online and found a wealth of weirdness.
Children were consulted about the redecorating of a children's hospital in Sheffield -- clowns were the theme, but the kids rejected them out of hand and psychologists, following up with research, announced that children are frightened by clowns because they are similar to normal people but at the same time disturbingly different. This brought me to the concept of the 'uncanny valley', which conjured up wonderful images of a creepy location, a listless stream overshadowed by grotesque rock formations or some such, but in fact refers to a phenomenon in robotics: when human replicas look and act almost, but not perfectly, like actual human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers. The 'valley' is a marked dip in a graph of the positivity of human reaction as a function of a robot's human likeness. A strange concept, but you can see how it applies to clowns.
On eBay I found this nasty-looking fellow for sale -- for £144! I'd love him, but that price is out of my league.
I do find clowns disturbing but it's that that makes me like them and want to gather images of them around me. The creepy combination of merriment and hostility is a winner every time.
     Just to bring things back within the realms of sanity, I also found these ... lovely cushions:
One of a series of eight from here. There, nothing scary about that, is there?

Monday, 19 September 2011

Sweden comes in the post

Sweden in Colour from 1956
Having an increasingly rubbish memory is quite nice in one respect: I forget what I've ordered on Amazon and so on, so that when a package arrives it's usually a nice surprise. That's why when a parcel arrived for me at the end of last week, I was only slightly bemused. Usually I remember at the first peek inside the jiffy, 'Oh yes, I did order How To Boil Cheese' or whatever, but in this case I got right down to the bubble wrap before I realised that this wasn't a treat of my own conjuring.
Strange photo (mine) of lovely book pages, looks as though I took it in front of a roaring fire.
No, wonderfully, it was a present from Chrissie, of the Postman's Knock postcard project, of two lovely old picture books about Sweden. They're both from the Fifties and are incredibly evocative. One of them is dedicated to Mr Robinson 'from Swedish boot and shoe operatives' and they have signed their names below the dedication, along with their Swedish home towns. They must have been on a trade visit to Britain back in 1956.
     I'm just so touched by Chrissie's kindness. She sent a great letter with the books about her time as a nanny/au pair in Stockholm just after she left school. I won't forget the image she painted of herself in her floor-length red PVC raincoat and black boots -- fantastic. Like me, she loved the city and soaked up as much of it as she could, leaving her with a lifelong affection for the place. I think we both feel very drawn to Sweden and it has 'clicked' with us in a way that other places, although fantastic, just don't necessarily. When I left school I spent a year in Paris as an au pair and, like Chrissie, explored every corner of the city. I was going to study French at University on my return, so the whole experience stood me in very good stead, but I don't have the passion for Paris and France that I now have for Stockholm and Sweden. Similarly, I've been to New York twice (years ago, for work), but didn't catch the NYC bug (except in vintage postcard form).
I've been feeding my Sweden bug by reading the four-part Emigrants saga by Vilhelm Moberg, about Swedish farming folk who emigrate to America in 1850 -- it's absolutely brilliant and compelling. I've got the third one to start now, not in the smart edition shown above, but in a great kitsch cover from the Seventies:

And, this week, still more Sweden came through the letterbox as I had managed to track down the film version of books 1 and 2, which was made in Swedish in 1971 (starring Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann) and then re-edited and dubbed into English for the American market. It is only available on VHS and is really rare. When I unpacked the video, I discovered it was infested with bugs and larvae! I didn't stop to see if they were alive or dead but ran to the loo to brush them off and flush them away. I've also bought the sequel, The New Land, from the same seller, so I will be full of trepidation when that one arrives. I imagine these videos have been stored in a garage for forty years or something, hence the miniature hitchhikers.
still from The Emigrants
I haven't watched the film through yet, but couldn't resist watching the first few minutes, partly just to see if it played. It plays! It's so beautiful, like being transported back to old Sweden in the same way I was by Skansen.
another still of stony Småland

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Guardian Book Swap

I realise that they've pretty much lifted the idea from Book Crossing, but I'm taken with the Guardian's Book Swap. If you haven't seen it, they gave away a sticker in yesterday's paper (and another one in today's Observer) and you can stick it inside a book which you then leave in some corner or other for someone else to find and enjoy.
On the whole, I don't like to part with my books as I love them so much. I could probably do with giving some of them away as they are now two rows deep in my biggest bookshelf and it's virtually impossible to find any of the ones at the back, apart from the fact that they were once vaguely in alphabetical order and in blocks by genre. Now I'm also filling in the spaces above the rows, which looks hideous. But there is no more room for another book case anywhere in our house.
Luckily, I have another stash of books that I don't feel so tied to, which are books I've reviewed, so I'll be stickering some of these up and leaving them in suitable places. This could pose a challenge as my entire life more or less consists of getting up, driving to work, putting in some semblance of the required hours and driving home again. I don't think anyone will find the books if I leave them on the back seat of the car. And as my office is inside a library, it could be kind of confusing for people if I left them there. It may have to wait until I go on a train or, god forbid, walk somewhere. Or maybe loos are good places?
     If you want to download the sticker, it's here. I will feel happy if I can give away some books and they find new owners who enjoy them and want to keep them.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Big public art project -- join in!

JR art project in a favela in Rio de Janeiro
I think I've probably been very slow on the uptake, but I've only just discovered TED. TED stands for 'Technology Entertainment Design' and as far as I can tell is a platform for filmed talks by hundreds of people with things to say. The archives of the site are so vast I've hardly scratched their surface, but Richard Dawkins is in there, along with Steve Jobs, Isabel Allende, Jared Diamond, Dave Eggers and loads more.
another JR installation
So far, the only thing I've watched properly is the acceptance speech for the 2011 TED Prize, which has been awarded to the French artist, JR.
     The speech is really interesting, and worth going through the barrier of JR's heavy accent for. I didn't know JR by name, but, as the speech unfolded, I realised that I was aware of his art -- I've seen amazing photos of his giant posters pasted onto walls and roofs around the world. I'd always thought they looked incredible, but I had no idea about the philosophy behind them, which (put very crudely) is to do with confronting communities that are tearing themselves apart with simple images of humanity that undercut sectarianism (as in the images he pasted up in Hebron, Jericho, Ramallah, Tel-Aviv, and Jerusalem which show Arabs and Jews side by side doing the same jobs) or that draw attention to the victims of drug-dealing (which I think is the idea behind the images of mothers pasted up in the Rio favela). In Paris after they suffered riots a little similar to the ones we've had in the UK, he pasted up photos of the rioters pulling faces in an attempt to humanise them.
Face to Face on the Jerusalem dividing wall
JR is a bit like Banksy and other 'street' artists -- he is semi-anonymous and carries out his projects under the noses of the authorities. He isn't as much of a maverick as Banksy, though, and he is very willing to step up and talk about what he does. Whatever the thinking behind the work, I love the huge, intimate photos in themselves. Part of the TED Prize is that the winner can 'make a wish' to 'change the world' and TED will try to help make it come true. Whatever your thoughts on the possibility of changing the world, and even on the likelihood of this being achieved by a worldwide poster campaign, JR's 'wish' was the realisation of 'Inside Out', in which people all round the world would emulate his work and paste up posters of their own.
     The exciting thing is that you can load up your own photo on the Inside Out website and it will be sent back to you as a poster, ready for you to paste up. I just uploaded a photo but I don't know how long it will be before the poster arrives. It all seems to be free of charge, which is perhaps down to the wonder of TED.
     On the project website you can see all the different kinds of images people have used and where they're putting them. It's daunting to think of pasting something up out in the world -- I will have to give my choice of location some serious thought. But I like the idea of participating in something a lot bigger than me.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Little bits and pieces

I've hardly posted anything lately -- I feel bad about it. I've been trying to get on with some bits and pieces to 'keep my hand in' after I finished my big clown painting. I'm still keen on the idea of 'taking' people from old photos and postcards. I've done a few sketches.

Then I did a very small painting for a friend -- small at her request. It's really hard to photograph, maybe because of the black background.
I'm also getting to grips with my Brooklyn Sketchbook Project sketchbook, which is about remembering my mum (who is unfortunately very unwell with Alzheimer's). I don't want to say too much about it when I've done so little of it but this is the cover, which is very simple.
Today I've been doing some hand lettering for a spread that is about all the things my mum used to love to do. When she met new people she would announce that she was an 'artist-writer-director', or some other combination of her skills, so this set of words has particular resonance for me.
Well, that's about it. This was just to say ... I'm still here -- and really enjoying everybody else's blogs.