Art Stuff

A Gig, and the astonishing price of beer

I went to see a band at Cheltenham Jazz Festival last weekend. I went on my own – on my Jack, so to speak – as my wife was holidaying with old school chums, their annual get-together.

Cheltenham is just up the road and I know it well enough to park for nothing, despite the crowds, and walk the ten minutes to the gig. Still, it felt weird going to a gig all on my lonesome, for the first time, I thought, until I remembered this is what I did when I arrived in Sydney, Aus. I found out the Opera House hosted free concerts some days and encouraged by this, I even went to a few paid events. Anyway, that was years back and it felt strange all the same.

I went to hear the relatively new Scandinavian trio, Rymden. While I’m not familiar with pianist and composer, Bugge Wesseltoft, I knew of the other two, Dan Berglund and Magnus Öström – double bass and drums, respectively – from their time in the Esbjörn Svensson Trio, or e.s.t., as they became. I had planned to see this band sometime but, sadly, Esbjörn Svensson drowned in a tragic accident whilst scuba-diving. The two remaining members went their separate ways, I thought, until I saw this gig advertised. So, there I was! It was a good gig; I enjoyed it.

Magnus Öström handled the introductions and mentioned their was a CD out, but he also said it was available on Spotify, but if you listen to it on Spotify, he joked, you have to listen to it a lot of times!

This obviously implies that certain artists get a lean deal with the streaming platforms and perhaps buying a recording is better. I have said that buying records isn’t necessary now – the ownership argument notwithstanding – as everything is usually on the internet somewhere, and CDs aren’t cheap – and vinyl is, I see, even more expensive!

It’s not like I’m paying for Spotify either – I find I can bear the ads – but now I must admit I’m feeling a bit guilty. Or am I looking for an excuse to buy?


Whilst on the subject of shelling out, do you know what the average price of a beer is in pubs and bars in the UK?

I’m here to tell you it’s £4.40 – and that is 60p more than the average Brit expects to pay! These figures are from 2018, the latest I could find, and I had to look it up as I’m one of those people who doesn’t check the price of everyday items. I’d be perfect for interviews as a Home Secretary or Minister for Food.

However, my suspicions were up at the festival bar when I saw – unless my eyes deceived me – a pint of beer costing between £5.50 and £6.00, depending on brand. The daft thing is that Cheltenham isn’t a remote festival where you are a captive audience. It is slap bang in town, surrounded by numerous pubs and bars. They were even serving it up in plastic “glasses”. There are some things beyond the pale.

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Going on a Safari, almost

Today’s google safari begins with the word,

Caudle

I discovered this word from an online article about historical birth rituals and customs for our queens and nobility. The article went through some rum goings on. Unbelievably, royal births were not considered private affairs. This apparent tradition lasted until our present Queen Elizabeth II gave birth to Charles. The Home Office minister’s presence was usually required but she put a stop to that nonsense. Earlier years saw a free-for-all when ‘The obstetrician yelled out,

‘The Queen is going to give birth!’ – at which point hundreds of courtiers poured into the room”.

Jaw dropping! However, Caudle, a spiced and alcoholic oatmeal gruel, was once prescribed post partum to queens as a restorative. The word caught my attention specifically because there is a village near here called Caudle Green, and I wonder if there’s a connection (could it be like Soylent Green or possibly drinking it made one feel queasy? But seriously, there may be a reasonable connection).

Royal Birth Traditions: from drinking caudle to audiences of 200

image: detail of a portrait by Franz Winterhalter of Victoria holding Arthur, and probably not being offered caudle, and probably not by the Home Secretary.


Miserden to Caudle Green and Brimpsfield round

Unfortunately, I didn’t get very far with finding the origin of the naming of Caudle Green and became fed up flicking through all the property sales and airbnb adverts in the village. Incidentally, there’s a quaint little Tudor cottage in the village, if you like that kind of thing, but it’s not for sale; I noticed it while out walking some years back.

So, I’m distracted by a google result which happens to be for a detailed 9.6 mile walk taking in Caudle Green. The website turns out to be a true labour of dedication to long walks around the British countryside; there appears to be hundreds of them, from Scotland to Cornwall. Each of the ones I viewed are accompanied by an informative and well-written introduction, then a detailed description of the walk itself, a little map and some useful information on OS maps, parking, refreshment stops etc. What more could you need?

Well, it goes further. Not only are the photos exceptionally well produced but some of the walks have associated videos (via youtube). I suppose if I were to be unnecessarily picky, I might suggest some link to GPS navigation but maybe the authors are old school, like me.

It’s called Walking with the Taxi Driver which I think is intentionally funny-ironic. It looks a great site and I’ll be back.


Walk to Caudle Green

Look at this painting by artist, Janet James, which came up in the search under “images”. It makes me want to put my boots on and walk. I love James’ style with paint: uncomplicated yet evocative. I feel as if I know the subject.

There are many more wonderful paintings at Janet James.co.uk

Google safaris don’t usually end after three items but blog posts do. Well, mine do anyway. Maybe more safari another day.

Useless Eustace

I don’t know if it’s another thing with my age but I’m seriously becoming jaded with this internet thing, or world wide web (strictly not the same but de facto synonymous). Once when it seemed the whole depth of the universe was simply a few clicks away, now all seems like wading through a swamp of irrelevance and superficiality. I guess popularity has won the day again.

I still try the odd safari: thinking of something I’d like to know, googling it and following whatever hyperlink looks interesting. Sometimes something unexpected turns up, other times, not a lot.

I was reading with dismay the comments of followers on some amateur leftwing political blog – it isn’t the politics that dismayed but the tone used in their rhetoric, if I can call it that – when one of them referred to the Tory MP for Camborne, Redruth & Hayle, George Eustace, as “useless Eustace”.

Useless Eustace!

This is the kind of thing I like. Not the unnecessary, vile and puerile name calling but a call from the past. Cultural history.

My Dad used to take the Daily Mirror (he also took The Sun, and the Sunday Mirror, Sunday People and the News of the World – we never discussed politics much and I haven’t any idea why he bought papers from both sides of the spectrum. Maybe, like a lot of working men, he liked to follow the sports pages. Good old Dad). Of course, these were the papers I would read too as a small boy, although flipping through would be more accurate.

I would be seeking out the cartoons and strips. I love drawing and I love cartoons and strips. Now, the microsecond after I read “useless Eustace” it came back to me that Useless Eustace was a regular cartoon character from the Mirror. I could picture it precisely in my mind’s eye. Here’s an example I found by googling.

I find it was drawn by John “Jack” Greenall who submitted the single cell cartoons regularly from 1935 until his retirement in 1975. I can appreciate the style more now than I probably did, the art of the cartoonist in conveying a mood with a few marks: the simple way a cigarette is suspended in front of a character’s mouth to express surprise, as well as the feet off the ground, implied by the shadow. It’s quite a geometric style too, as if he used a straight edge.

I don’t know how it never occurred to me to become a cartoonist. Perhaps I was too lazy or complacent, thinking it was too hard and not rewarding enough. I knew a boy at school who towards the final year, told me he might become a cartoonist. It surprised me – in caricature, I would have adopted the same position as the guy on the right, minus the fag. For starters, it was the first I’d heard that this boy even drew cartoons – I never saw any – and secondly, it was the first time anyone had connected cartooning, something I dabbled in, with a viable career option.

What ifs, eh? Utterly useless.


Here’s a link to some other cartoonists and their cartoons I’ve admired (Pinterest)

More, more world wide watchables

Maltese: The Mafia Detective (Italy, 2017)

Delighted to have the random selector pick out this Italian cop drama. There doesn’t appear to be many Italian shows featured, not in proportion to German ones, say. The Italians are naturally theatrical: whatever they do, however mundane, like ordering a coffee, it all seems like a catastrophe which could have been averted. It’s as if argumentative is the default dialogue style. Maltese: The Mafia Detective is no exception.

The story is set in 1976. Commissario Maltese is a Sicilian born detective who’s been working in Rome for the last twenty or so years. His boyhood best friend, also a senior cop, is getting married and so Maltese returns to his home town. After a family dinner, his friend and his fiancee are shot by a hitman on their way home. Maltese, suspecting Mafia involvement, is determined on justice and requests a secondment to take command of his old friend’s squad.

Despite what I say in the first paragraph, this is a polished drama with a good script and storyline; nothing is too implausible.


Inspector Falke (Germany, 2016)

Like I said above, it seems German shows are over represented on Walter Presents.

Inspector Falke is not a stereotypical German: he’s scruffily dressed, doesn’t drive a nice car, he drinks glassfuls of full-fat milk instead of coffee, he gets easily stressed and doesn’t appear to be intellectually, emotionally or psychologically in-tune with his rank. My first impression was he isn’t played to be a likeable character but as the show progressed, I felt more sympathetic towards him.

But the show is really odd too. The first episode deals with something quite mundane, normal grist for the procedural mill. Thereafter though, in each subsequent episode, Falke, and his more reasonable partner, find themselves dealing with all kinds of implausible police cases like hi-tech espionage, an anti-terrorism plot, and a mass hostage situation.

Judging by the last episode, there must be a follow up series but it’s not available on All4 yet.


Locked Up (Spain, 2015)

The Spanish title being Vis-à-vis (Face to Face), and often I don’t understand why they need to tinker with titles for the benefit of English speakers. I mean, Locked Up – how ham-fisted was that committee meeting? It’s also, I feel, a tad condescending.

Never mind, this is good telly, if a trifle on the long side – 35 episodes over two series. For me, when things run on for too long I tend to develop viewer fatigue, the drama begins to feel like a soap opera and I can sometimes detect diminishing performances in the key players. There is also a tendency to “jump the shark”. I’d say this just about manages to survive to the last on the plausible side of shark jumping but I trust there’s not a further series in the offing.

It’s a drama set in a women’s prison but with a parallel story running on the outside with police and family. There’s also a third angle, presented within the series, which takes the form of interviews of the principle actors in character, as if a documentary or a journalistic piece on women prisoners was being made by persons unseen. This is strange as it offers some light relief from the tense and often harsh drama, but is compelling too as it offers backstory to the drama as well as commentary on prison life for women.

Without giving too much away, the story is centred on Macarena Ferreiro, a young naive businesswoman who finds herself sent to a high-security prison for fraud and embezzlement after her boss hets away with the firm’s cash. Naturally, she is out of her depth and a target for the harder, experienced lags. Matters are made worse for her when she accidentally finds information on hidden loot from a robbery committed by a cellmate. She then becomes the focus of Zulema Zahir, a ruthless murderer and the most fearsome inmate on her cell block. Intense stuff to begin with and manages quite well up to the end.

(oh, no – I’ve just noticed two further series, another sixteen episodes. Not yet available here and likely won’t be watched by me anytime soon.)


Maltese: The Mafia Detective (IMDb)

Inspector Falke (IMDb)

Vis a Vis (Locked Up) (IMDb)

The Abstract Truth

I had watched a clip featuring the late British art critic, Brian Sewell, in a discussion about abstract paintings. I got the impression he wasn’t overly impressed by abstract art but, after a pause in the conversation, he said something like,

“Well, any painting is an abstract, really.”

I can’t explain what he meant not having had, as he had, an education in the fine arts. While I can have a good guess at identifying an abstract work for what it is, I can’t tell you what makes any other work not an abstract, especially if the clues aren’t obvious.

But I was thinking, after writing a piece of flash fiction, whether, in a similar observation to abstract painting, all writing is fiction.

Or at least a version of it.


image: “Composition VIII” by Wassily Kandinsky

Are all my protagonists me (white, male, and vaguely English)?

Here’s an interesting essay from Lithub.com, a blog I’m following, about a writer’s difficulty in portraying a non-white character – Egyptian, in this case – without their ethnicity being explicitly relevant to the story.

I suppose the problem has a lot to do with the author being in America, a nation founded on worldwide immigration yet somewhat biased in favour of white, Anglo-Saxon ethnicity.

I googled “Egyptian novels” and, of course, they are many – I didn’t doubt it – and I doubt their readers visualise anything other than Egyptian characters in those stories. However, that doesn’t help an Egyptian author based in Brooklyn.

I’m still a novice at storytelling and I feel my characters usually stem naturally from some version of myself. I seem more than comfortable with this and see it as complying with the old writer’s tenet for writing only about what you know.

But it’s different for me. I’m not a professional, I’m amateur, I dabble. I’m not seeking success, financial reward, or even approval. To hell with tenets, I want to have fun, experiment, to stick my bare wet fingers into the live socket just to see what happens. What do I have to lose?

I was editing a story this morning which could be gender ambiguous. In my mind, however, it was a male, probably white, and English. There was no reason for the subject to be any of these things, so I changed it. Changing the sex filled me with a little anxiety. Cowardly, I substituted a few words so as not to be seen as overly presumptuous about how women thought. In the end, gender ambiguity became gender neutral. For now, that’s the best I can do.

I hope I made her vaguely American rather than vaguely English. As for implicit ethnicity, I have no idea how to do that yet. Maybe this is something left to the reader.

All thoughts welcome!


Waiting for the day that characters don’t default to White (Lithub.com)

More World Wide Watchables

More from All 4’s Walter Presents…

Deadly Money (Germany, 2018)

When this one came up on my random selector, I thought there must have been a mistake. One series and only two episodes, less than 50 minutes apiece?

It’s a concise drama explaining a fictional version of the 2008 banking crisis. A high-flying executive investment banker expects to take over as CEO.

It’s portrayed as a ruthless business and our banker has to secure a big deal with a Middle Eastern organisation to improve the bank’s share price. He has a team of acolytes to help him but one in particular is a young protege, Tom, who has a talent for maths. Things appear to be going their way but, as we know from the real events, it’s all a dodgy business.

In true German style, the Frankfurt finance quarter appears here as a highly polished, ruthlessly efficient, awesome monster. It makes Wall St. look like the City of London, and the City of London look like the Post Office.


The Team (Belgium, Denmark, Germany, 2015)

I think, perhaps they bit off more than is chewable with this international crime drama. Three senior detectives and their respective bagmen – or women in most cases – go after a Lithuanian human trafficker following a spate of identical murders of sex workers in each of the detectives’ countries. This latter guy has aspirations about being a city banker, running his own respectable bank. Reluctantly, on the nefarious business side, he is in partnership with his ex wife, a rather callous bitch on her own terms.

It’s not bad but it’s not as cool as old Walter made it out to be. One problem I had with it was because the three protagonists had different native languages, interaction is done in English and it sounded a little awkward, like people reading something they didn’t fully understand. Of course, this is probably what would happen in real life, difficulty in communicating, and had they played it that way all would be well, but they didn’t. Also, there were implausibility issues, but I’d let that go as its a drama, and each detective had a messy life story running concurrently, which was, well, messy.

Hey, dismiss those niggles and it isn’t a bad series, and a majority of lead roles for women for a change.


Liberty (Denmark 2018)

Set in Tanzania in the 70s, I initially thought this was made in the 70s. Or my broadband wasn’t functioning as it should. It had a real low-fi feel.

Centred on a social group of Scandinavian expats comprising of exploitative businessmen and do-good aid workers, the brevity and abrupt changes in fortune of the characters saves the drama from being a soap opera in my view. Everyone’s life is dysfunctional and everyone’s hopping into his or hers neighbours’ bed, but fear not, there’s only a modicum of explicit sex.

The main story is the friendship between Christian, the teenage son of aid workers, and, Marcus, the “houseboy” servant of a neighbouring couple. They share an interest in music and getting stoned. Marcus makes mix tapes to sell on the side and aspires to be a DJ. The two then have the idea to set up a dance club in town. They name it “Liberty”.

With the adults falling out and falling in with other spouses, Christian drops out and falls more in with the Tanzanians. Naive, exposed and vulnerable, he finds he has to deal with violent rival forces and a corrupt police force, all the while testing his new friendships.

Yes, I had to check the year of production. 2018. But it’s the 70s. Africa is backwards and corrupt and the whites are exploitative and openly racist. Nevertheless, it’s a drama which has its moments.


Mama’s Angel (Israel 2016)

I have to say this is more like it. If it were a stick of seaside rock, it might have plausible written right through it. Yet there is still a great sense of tension.

The setting is a suburb with a mixture of white and black residents. The police chief has a twenty-two year old daughter in a casual relationship with a young Ethiopian art student who himself intends to leave to study in Holland. The police chief in turn has a tense working relationship with the able head of the criminal forensics team. While she is away undergoing surgery, a seven year old boy from a neighbourhood family turns up dead on a nearby hill, beside a monument upon which someone has recently sprayed graffiti. The police chief exploits the absence of the capable forensics head to arrest and accuse the Ethiopian of murder, ignoring all other likelihoods. When the forensics head returns to work, she finds she has this mess to contend with.

So if the Ethiopian didn’t do it, who did? Our suspicions are teased.


Deadly Money (All4)

The Team IMDb

Liberty IMDb

Mama’s Angel IMDb

Labels are for luggage

Thinking about the previous post, Willem de Kooning’s aversion to being labelled inspires me to write about my own disregard for labelling. Honestly, I don’t know my abstract expressionism from plain, old abstractionism. I read a book by the late and erudite art critic, Brian Sewell, in which he said, all paintings are abstracts, really. I had a tutor once who explained how impressionism was coined as it was known as a preliminary stage in traditional painting techniques and not, as I thought (and still do to be honest), a sense of something being seen concisely without the need for ansolute realism. But why should we care? Shouldn’t we either like something or not, and to hell with whatever school the thing belongs to?

In my youth, in my corner of the world at least, there were two types of music you’d listen to (okay, three if we include classical music but this wasn’t part of youth culture). There was Pop and there was Rock. You effectively picked your camp and were judged by it. The fact that my music loving Uncle introduced me to soul music was something I didn’t reveal to my mates; it was a private indulgence.

As too was watching the Oscar Peterson Show with my mother. I don’t think she was into Jazz really but in those days there was just three tv channels and often not much on.

My taste in rock music would gravitate towards the jazz influenced artists, though I wasn’t greatly aware of jazz at the time. Electric guitars were okay but a sax, a flute, and even a rare horn solo, would turn my ear.

If the advent and brief existence of Punk had any redeeming feature, it was probably to shake up the snow globe of acceptable taste. I felt we came out of it into a music scene devoid of hard labels. Not only was it cool to like anything, it was all available to listen to.

Yet I still hear folk talking about genres in a way which makes me think of olde world cartographers inscribing their charts with the words, Beyond here there be dragons! They have made up their minds and have absolutely no interest beyond what they know and like. That’s fine but you can’t make sound judgements based solely on secondhand labelling.

Labels can be useful in hinting what to expect but that’s all. Experience is everything and by restricting yourself on hearsay and prejudice, you’re likely missing out on a lot.


image: Stack of luggages by Erwan Hesry via Unsplash.com

Four Lessons for your consideration

This article in Artsy magazine on Willem de Kooning had me thinking whether there was an equivalent in painting and drawing to “writer’s block”. Why I should make this leap – more a sidestep in reality – when the article doesn’t mention anything like it, I don’t know but thinking does that sometimes. There probably are some similarities between the creative arts.

The article deals with de Kooning’s lessons in becoming an artist. I thought I might consider these in the wider perspective of creative work. There’s a link at the end to the actual article if you want to read that.

Lesson #1: Don’t be afraid to be influenced by fellow artists’ work.

This is funny because I’m often unashamedly, and sometimes unconsciously, mimicking the work of others I admire. Sometimes I might even play around with stuff I don’t particularly admire.

I remember reading a story about Jimi Hendrix when he was seen coming out of a back street dive having gone in to see some second rate band. “Why on earth would a player of Hendrix’s standing bother watching a bad act?” He explained that even a poor player can sometimes give you a great idea about performing or songwriting. He took the influence and improved on it.

Lesson #2: Seek out glimpses of inspiration in the world around you.

This is probably the writer’s block bit. I don’t know about you but there’s always moments when I notice something interesting or inspirational. It might be a small thing, or it might be significant. It’s important to just log it in your mind – or jot a note down (I admire note takers a lot even though I rarely do this for myself).

Lesson #3: Pay attention to your desires, not the critics.

What motivates us? Yes, I think we all like a little approval, we like a little praise. Constructive criticism would be good too, providing we can handle it, though it’s not very nice; it depends where we’re at, past the tipping point of having gained self-confidence enough to brush off the nonsense stuff.

I think you have to be faithful to your desires.

Lesson #4: Embrace imperfection—even failure.

Whatever you’re into to, there ought to come an important tipping point when you realise that a mistake, far from being annoying or an embarrassing set back, is actually a real progression in learning your art. Failures make better teachers than successes. Of course, you have to look it squarely in the eyes and know why, and how to avoid it a second time, but this isn’t something you’re more likely to do with a success.

As a perfectionist myself, this has arrived later than it could have. I see perfectionism as a disorder and it still cuts deep at times but it shouldn’t hold you back.


Article: Willem de Kooning: How to be an artist (Artsy magazine)

image: The Privileged (untitled XX), 1985 by Willem de Kooning

My playlist is a Memento Mori

Peter Tork, the unusual one from The Monkees, has died. Unusual in that he seemed the least like an actor and the most like a proper musician. He was actually an accomplished folk artist before auditioning for the part, and played bass guitar and keyboards. I just about remember The Monkees; it was youthful, subversive and wacky.

“Hope I die before I get old”, sang The Who‘s Roger Daltrey, around the same time. The words are Pete Townsend’s. Both are still with us. Yet they, and those like them, weren’t meant to die or grow old. It’s all about youth and youthfulness, permanently fresh and stretching out into infinite.

I don’t have The Monkees on my 750 song playlist in the car. I’d happily include The Who but I haven’t got around to it. It has become increasingly obvious that a lot of the artists on my playlist are no longer here. This is partly my fault because my tastes go far back to a time before I was born. Yet so many have fallen off the perch in recent years, not by misadventure but through boring old age.

“He’s dead, oh, she’s dead, is she gone now?, I imagine he’s no longer with us, I wonder if she’s still around…”

Does it matter, listening to dead musicians? The music still sounds good. And I think any reminder of mortality is an awareness of life. Rock on! While you’ve still got breath – live!


image: The Monkees (Peter Tork, far left)