I don’t believe anyone isn’t familiar with the scene in the Irish comedy series, Father Ted. It’s in the episode where the three priests are holidaying in a caravan in a field during inclement weather, so they are stuck indoors. In the brilliant scene, Father Ted is sat across the table from the young dimwit, Father Dougal, and on the table is a toy set of plastic farmyard animals.

The scene opens with Ted picking up two toy cows and he says to Dougal,

Okay, one last time. These…,” showing Dougal the cows, “are small,”

then gesturing to the window, he continues, “but the ones out there…are far away.” Then deliberately more slowly, he hammers it home,

Small. Far away.”

And Dougal’s face says he simply doesn’t get it. And for a long time neither did artists, this illusion of perspective. Even today, artists make mistakes in perspective.

Technical drawing was probably my favourite class in school because a lot of the tricks involved in drawing geometry absolutely fascinated me, and this included the way to do a perspective representation using vanishing points, or VPs, and projection lines. Of course, revealing the working out – these points and lines – isn’t often desirable but I think it looks beautiful, probably because it shows an understanding.

An important benefit of practicing drawing and fine art, and even photography providing it’s not done carelessly and superficially, is the way it encourages the practitioner to see things accurately, and to notice things in relationship with other things.

And it doesn’t stop there. Once you’ve got this germ inside your mind, I think it expands into other aspects of life: abstract thought, philosophy, innovation and generally understanding of most things. Everyone ought to try a little perspective representation, once in a while.

inspired by and written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #83 – “Perspective”.

image: from The Book of Perspective by Jan Vredeman de Vries, (1604)

Here’s that scene from Father Ted,


History, Prehistory and Everything Before and After

Ours is not as bad as H.E. Bates’ Larkin’s house where there was always a TV on in every room, but the one telly we have does seem to be on a lot. Mostly, I tune it out but sometimes it worms its way past my unconscious defence.

As it did yesterday. It was showing a medieval drama, a jousting event where armoured blokes upon armoured horses charged at each other, aiming poles at the other’s delicate body parts. And at other times on foot, hacking at each other with huge broad swords. Apart from the jousting scene, you could tell it was a medieval setting because all the poor people were dressed in sackcloth and rags. A funny thing though, a lot of them were exceptionally clean shaven and had nice haircuts, and all of them had really clean faces and hands, as if they’d just taken a hot bath or shower.

To be fair, I guessed it was a semi-comedy drama. What gave it away, and what drew my attention to the telly in the first place, was during the jousting tournament the crowd were all chanting Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, and in a subsequent scene there was an incongruous electric guitar solo – not acted out in the scene, thank god, but on the soundtrack.

During the above faux historical drama, I had begun listening to another podcast about the planet Venus. Early on in our history, Venus was considered to be Earth’s twin, it being close to Earth’s size as well as being our neighbour (Mars is much smaller). It’s also most noticeable in the sky having a highly reflective atmosphere; it appears as a star. Early on, people imagined it contained life and, as it was closer to the sun, its life would be consistent with that of hot, tropical jungles.

That idea was binned once scientific evidence established how hostile its atmosphere actually is: mostly carbon dioxide and so thick, the pressure at ground level would crush a human being, and so hot it would melt lead. Mars seemed a better bet for life after that.

One of the three scientists giving account of the planet gave a short description of how planets formed around the sun, beginning with a swirling of space dust, eventually sticking together by electromagnetism and then gravity, the sun then reaching ignition point, and the residual turning forces of swirling matter making everything revolve and orbit. For Venus and Earth, the period from adhering and coagulating dust particles to a proper orbiting sphere would be around 100 million years. At that would just be the beginning.

I was thinking about my primary school and how I remembered a lot of lessons about prehistoric life. We began with fossils of trilobites and ammonites, those funny looking segmented and spirally sea creatures, then the fishes and amphibians, and eventually the rise and decline of the reptiles – dinosaurs! – and ending with a few early mammals.

It seems to me now how each of these periods in Earth’s past is a distinct portion of the Earth’s life simply because of the huge passage of time each had taken. The Earth has had many lives, so to speak. It may have many more ahead, possibly without us.

And there I was, marvelling at those significant names from England’s “Dark Ages”, and how they seem to dabble in politics and culture as much as we do, and write books about it all. And, well, yes, but it’s only 1400 years ago. Nothing in time. When we’ve barely 100 years each in which to experience existence, how inconceivable is a passing of a million years!

It’s extraordinary to me to think how Earth has sustained some form of higher life for so long, and mostly, if not all, by chance. What are the odds? Do you think we’ll come face to face with aliens from another planet? Across time and space, as vast and hostile as it appears, and to coincide with our time here?

I don’t.

Portrait of the artist as a boy

Thinking about expression and expressive arts.

All art can be expressive but I could think of only three which fundamentally require external evaluation; singing, poetry and cooking. Others can be done in secret, away from the public eye, simply for one’s own enjoyment. Fun is 97% of the reason for doing it, bearing in mind I haven’t had the need to make a living by doing it, being an amateur, by definition doing it for love and just that.

It has to be said, I have no ambition for my creativity.

“What are you trying to achieve?”, asked a tutor. Though specifically about one piece of work, it made me think about all of it.

“To enjoy myself”, I would reply now.

What do we remember of creativity when we were kids? We worked freely, expressively, without much self-consciousness. Or ambition. Was it us who asked the teacher to pin our piece up on the wall, or ask our folks to put it on the fridge door? I don’t remember that at all. We worked, it was fun, and when it was done, it was done. Success or failure, if we considered those, they were just passing moments; irrelevant to the great plan. Though I doubt there was ever a great plan.

Growing up, we are told there is external value to all that we do. Often that the achievement must be monetary. I have been told I ought to frame some of my pictures, exhibit them and offer them for sale. But that work is extra work and it is not art work, so I haven’t much enthusiasm for it; no love at all.

I am an amateur. From the Latin, amator, meaning lover, and amare, meaning to love. When you look up the word amateur now, it means unpaid, unprofessional or ineptly done. It’s as if the world doesn’t appreciate love as motivation now, only money.


Under a previous post, the 99 word challenge story, No Expectations, Charli Mills kindly commented about the story’s shape. I like the idea of a story having a shape, like a neatly wrapped gift.

In Primary School, when we were first tasked to write stories, we were told they had to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. For a long time after, I felt the end was the most important because;

a) Primary School teachers probably require closure (can you imagine having to read and mark 20 – 30 stories with plot lines that left you hanging?)

b) We’d still be sat there, writing sequels.

Personally, I like to read a good beginning;

The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there; It was a bright, cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen; There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry.

That kind of thing.

I like to think the middle can take care of itself but I’m afraid it’s the middle which forms the shape of the story and the shape of it is important; a good story is like water, a poor one like fire. A story must accept the shape which contains it.

In a nutshell. This is what’s said sometimes before recounting an event, or the listener imploring the teller to be considerate and brief. Do not embellish, do not digress, just give me the kernel of the tale, solid and sweet. He told it without an ounce of fat.

But the end is where I usually start. This way I can establish exactly what it is I want to tell – and whether it’s worth telling. Also I have a better idea how it’s going to fit the shape I have in mind for it.

Shakespeare and the end of the heatwave

An appreciation of Shakespeare is another thing I didn’t learn at school. What were they playing at? If I had the means for time travel maybe I would go back and sit in on those lessons and see if it was anything I missed. I would also have to have the power of invisibility, of course.

Sure, education is wasted on the young, some say, and, true, often you need the perspective which comes from having had experiences to appreciate some things, and possibly adults then take understanding for granted and schools forget to explain to their uninformed charges, why.

Yesterday evening, we went to see the final performance of Twelfth Night in the grounds of Hatherop Castle which is itself, these days, a school. In 2011, a small group of old friends came to see Macbeth here. A picnic in the grounds followed by the play performed by the Cotswold Arcadians. I had no idea whether it was my thing or not, whether I could even follow what was going on, or even get what they were saying.

My only experience of Shakespeare had been studying isolated passages of Julius Caesar and The Merchant of Venice before the state curriculum experimented with a “Modern” syllabus so some of us opted for isolated passages of Arnold Wesker and old George Bernard Shaw instead.

As it turned out, Macbeth was brilliantly performed and, though the language was strange, I got it. The following year, we saw A Comedy of Errors and since we have gone to Hatherop to see Richard III, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream and Pericles. It’s becoming a regular event.

It’s typical of our treacherous British climate that following five weeks of dry, scorching heatwave, when it came to the day of the play, the heavens opened and it rained stair-rods. We were all right, seated beneath canopies. The actors are incredible, carrying on regardless of the downpour, out in the open. True professionalism. Good actors too; I’m sure the Bard would have been pleased to see it.

Next year, it will be Love’s Labours Lost. Let’s hope the weather will be kinder. Still, whatever, it’s Shakespeare, innit?

Cotswold Arcadians

Girl playing a samisen 

I think I left school with less than I ought to have. It was a good school and there are plenty of esteemed alumni. Sadly, it didn’t suit me. Schools are like that, one size fits all, they try, and fail, a few. As long as it’s just a few, it doesn’t matter, no one minds. Water under the bridge.

So, at the end of my time there, I walked out the front door (something which was forbidden for reasons I don’t know. It was a school rule: boys should emter and leave by the “new entrance” – that is the side doors – and never by the “main door” – he doors at the front of the building, closest to the street). So, I passed out the front door, sod them, without ceremony, send off, handshake, or the slightest pastoral concern. After seven years!

I didn’t leave exactly empty-handed, though what I ended up with was unintentional. I simply forgot to return my library books. The irony here is that I wouldn’t have borrowed them in the first place had there not been a campaign one term to get boys to use the library. So, one class at a time, we were ushered in and given about fifteen minutes to choose three books. It didn’t matter which three, it was a quantitative exercise, pure and simple.

Somehow, by divine intuition maybe, the three I ended up with weren’t bad, though I wouldn’t have known this at the time. A collection of three novels by John Windham (The Day of the Triffids, The Chrysalids, The Kraken Awakes); The Autobiography of a Supertramp by W.H.Davies; and The Arts of Man by Eric Newton. In our house, books come and books go, but I’ve hung on to these all this time. I have read Supertramp three times, it is possibly one of my favourite books.

The school, my old school, is no more. The buildings still stand though with unrecognisable alterations. Its grammar status was abolished during my final year, it’s had two changes of name and I think it is now co-educational (something I wish we had). How much of that place is in me now? I honestly can’t say. Mostly I like to think I am who I am despite of it, yet sometimes I get a hint of something that could only have come from my time there.

These thoughts were prompted by a random thought I had whilst browsing Pinterest. I use it primarily to gather ideas, like subjects for printmaking. Here is a Hokusai woodblock print, Girl Playing A Samisen, from The Arts of Man book. I loved it the first time, and I still do.

Girl playing a samisen c.1820-25 by Hokusai (1760-1849)