Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Holiday I

Back in the this post to the holiday the bf and I took on the Norfolk broads last month - actually it seems an age ago....actually it was just over a month ago!  On the way we stopped off for lunch in the small Norfolk market town of Wymondham, where there was a 'farmers market' (good cakes).  I wanted to show the bf the abbey with its two towers and the amazing object it contains...

As you can see they are doing some major work at the east end of the nave.  And this is the amazing object...a reredos by Sir John Ninian Comper, designed and erected between the Wars as memorial to the men from Wymondham killed in action.

The Abbey itself is a magnificent building, but is, I guess, pretty unknown.  It has a couple of spectacular medieval roofs, and all sorts of interesting fittings, like the Early Tudor monument (to the right of the reredos), made of terracotta.  The lovely font cover was designed in the 1950s by (I think) Cecil Upcher.

Wymondham has some lovely old streets and also this Baroque town house (Gaius House)

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Sutton Gault

I've been staying with the bf for a couple of days yesterday we took a brisk walk down to Sutton Gault, and a really excellent lunch at The Anchor Inn: Pork and black pudding terrine, with pickled apple and apple puree; Ox cheek with smoked kale, spiced carrots and potato puree, Christmas pudding with orange curd, candied orange and eggnog ice cream.  Delicious. Casual and friendly service.  A 'Thank you' to the bf for being such a brick in these past months.

Sutton Gault is quite a remarkable place in itself, so very English in its understated character: very small with only a few scattered bungalows, cottages and the Inn itself and a rather lovely early nineteenth century manor of yellow gault clay bricks.  'Liminal' has been a favourite (and hence over-used) word in intellectual discourse recently, and although I don't want to contribute to its over use, it does describe Sutton Gault really well.  The hamlet lies on the very western edge of the Isle of Ely where it is clipped by the Ouse Washes - a long linear system of water meadows (approximately 20 miles long and up to a mile across) that are flooded, mainly in winter, when the river Ouse is full with water from the high ground to the south.  The atmosphere is such that instead of a very prosaic concrete bridge over the New Bedford River there should, I feel, be a ferry boat, as I presume there once was, or even a beach and a wild and choppy North Sea.  Instead the lane down from Sutton-in-the-isle climbs over the embankment and the river, before descending to the level of the washes. In the winter this road is sometimes submerged and to help pedestrians cross there is an immensely long and narrow footbridge the whole width of the washes.  Then the world of my imagination takes on a transient reality with cold grey water stretching out to the horizon. We walked there last January when washes were flooded and it was indeed an amazing sight what with the water raging under the footbridge and between the willows that line the road.

(The photos are a mixture of those taken last spring and those taken last week)

Thursday, 11 December 2014

GPO shorts

No, not a post about the sartorial laxness, or otherwise, of our posties, but an afternoon at the bf's watching short documentary films made by the GPO Film Unit for release in British cinemas.  (They all came from the BFI dvd collection 'We Live in Two Worlds.) We obviously know how to live....

We kicked off with 'The Horsey Mail' of 1938, and as we were about to spend a short break in the village it was all very appropriate.  (It could be that the bf chose Horsey for the film connection...but he's not saying much.)   The director was the 22 year old Pat Jackson.  Simply it depicts how both the GPO and the local population coped in the aftermath of a flood caused by the sea breaking through coastal defenses at Horsey Gap.  The film centred on two postal workers: Bob O'Brian and Claude Simmons.  Just hearing their accents brought me to the edge of tears, so it's not surprising that it was my favourite - simply because its setting, for although I don't live in Norfolk I have a deep love for the place: three of my grandparents came from there (Melton Constable and Foulsham), and I used to visit it a lot as a child and young adult, and I always long to return, perhaps to live there.
Not taking notes at the time I'm a bit uncertain of the running order so I've kept all the animated films until last, which was just about what happened - I think.  Next, then, was 'A Job in a Million', an earnest film; an attempt, in an almost Reithian manner, to 'inform, educate, and entertain' the cinema-going public with the story of a fourteen year old boy, a school leaver, as he embarked on a career in the GPO as a telegram messenger.  All very worthy and all rather stiff and formal too.  The GPO as a stern father figure, but with your best interests at heart.
 'The Saving of Bill Hewitt', made for the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Post Office Savings Bank, concerned a weather-beaten fisherman, the real Bill Hewitt, in a Cornish fishing community.  Bill and all the other characters were played by members of the village community of Mousehole (though uncredited) and not actors. The music was by Benjamin Britten.  It has been called the first 'story' documentary, in that it used techniques used by John Grierson in other GPO Film Unit documentaries, most famously in 'Night Mail' of 1936, but applied them to a fictitious narrative, though, of course, to similar didactic purposes.  It shouldn't be forgot that the dialogue in 'Night Mail' was written for the GPO workers, although based on their own observed speech.  Nor should it be forgotten that some of the scenes in 'Night Mail' were not filmed on location but re-created in the studio environment.  Back to the story:  Bill and his, younger and rather more handsome, fellow fisherman are out of a job when the fishing boat they worked runs aground.  Bill has little option to take a job in the quarry, but he would rather go back to the sea.  This gentle and clever film follows their successful attempt to buy a fishing boat of their own.  All these films highlight the dangers of using real people to play themselves: it can get a little mannered.  There is a real contrast in this film between the easiness of the villagers before the camera and the stiffness of the staff of the Savings Bank.  Unfortunately it can all become quite unintentionally comic, but that shouldn't distract from the intention and sometimes beauty of these films.
'The Fairy of the Phone'.  Enough of this high-minded seriousness! This film stars Charlotte Leigh as a somewhat bossy fairy - somewhat earth bound too (she'd need pretty big wings to get her airborne) - educating the great British public on correct telephone etiquette.  It was all rather witty in a sort of Joyce Grenfell, Flanders and Swan manner.  Gently subversive and very British.  I suppose (and somewhat unkindly) I could describe the grand finale as cut price (perhaps even bargain basement) Busby Berkeley, with members of the GPO staff hoofing it up in self-conscious style with lines of rather elegant telephonists doing a Tiller line.  Alas, for all her hard work the Fairy received a rather wilted bouquet as her reward.  Bizarre but wonderful.
'N or NW' was the surreal story of love by letter, the object of which was to get you to use a Postcode when addressing a letter.  It was touch and go out there in the land of love for a while but love did triumph in the end!

Time then for the animated stuff.  We watched 'Love on the Wing' (1938),  'Rainbow Dance' (1936), 'Trade Tattoo' (1937), and 'The Tocher' (1938).  These were perhaps even more remarkable than the live action films.  'Love on the Wing' directed and drawn by Norman McLaren has an almost frenetic energy to it and was looked at askance by the bigwigs at the GPO as being far too, well, crude - there are some decidedly phallic looking drawings (blink and you miss them). 'The Tocher' (Scots for 'token') was completely the work of Lotte Reninger who was from Germany.  It is delightful animated film on the theme of love and marriage.  Reninger is credited with making the first animated feature, 'The Adventures of Prince Ahmed'.  'Rainbow Dance' and 'Trade Tattoo', both directed by Len Lye - who also directed 'N or NW', were crazy psychedelic creations that made me wonder if they were an influence on the Psychedelic art scene and artists such as Peter Blake. That reminded me of a later GPO sponsored film from the 'Sixties', 'Picture to Post' directed by Sarah Erulkar, which managed to blend high-mindedness with real style.  The final 'psychedelic' scene is particularly cool.  You can find that on the fantastic BFI dvd collection 'Shadows of Progress'.

A little historical note: The GPO Film Unit was established in 1933 by Sir Stephen Tallents, then Head of Public relations at the GPO and lasted until 1940 when it was subsumed into the Ministry of Information, becoming (I think) part of the Crown Film Unit.  For the first four years it was under the direction of John Grierson, it became integral part of the burgeoning British Documentary film movement.

As the bf said: "Quite the exciting evening."  Quite.

The Horsey Mail - 1938

Director                 Patrick Jackson

The Saving of Bill Hewitt - 1936

Producer                John Grierson, Alberto Cavalcanti
Director                  Harry Watt

The Fairy of the Phone - 1936

Director                  William Coldstream

A Job in a Million - 1937

Producer                 John Grierson
Director                   Evelyn Spice

N or NW - 1937

Producer                 Alberto Cavalcanti
Director                   Len Lye

Love on the Wing - 1938

Producer                Alberto Cavalcanti (uncredited)
Director/animator  Norman McLaren

The Tocher

Producer/Director/Animator   Lotte  Reninger              

Rainbow Dance - 1937

Producer                 John Grierson
Director                   Len Lye

Trade Tattoo - 1937

Producer                 John Grierson
Director                   Len Lye

I also mentioned:

Picture to Post - 1969

Producer                John Durst
Director                  Sarah Erulkar
Cinematographer           - 

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Moroni at the RA

A day in London.  The main reason was the exhibition of the work of the little known Italian Renaissance master Giovanni Battista Moroni (1520 - 1578) at the Royal Academy.  It was a complete revelation; Moroni's portraiture is of a technical brilliance that is accompanied by a intense spiritual and emotive power. There a number of religious works too, but the more monumental ones on display - the altarpieces are, with two important exceptions, rather empty.  Perhaps that is Moroni's weakness, his strength perhaps lays in the more intimate, or should one say, more focused.  One feels in his most brilliant work he has truly come to terms with his subject.  In many the background is almost eliminated, in others a simplified schema of architecture is used - the focus is the sitter.  Somehow in the larger work - the altarpieces - that schema does not work so well, for instance: 'St Gotthard enthroned with St Lawrence and St Catherine'.  I desire more (architectural) detail in those paintings.  After all they do serve a different purpose, though I do understand the reasoning, which perhaps reflects the new emphasis of the Counter Reformation Spirituality.  But that is a minor quibble.  Moroni is a great master.  The highlights for me were - actually it would be pointless to attempt to list them because there are so many; but if on pain of death I would have to chose one then that would be 'Portrait of an Elderly Man seated with a book'.  It is superb.  Truly superb.
Without looking yet at the catalogue I would think he was an influenced by, and an influence on, Northern Renaissance art.  Looking at all those sumptuously painted fabrics I can see an echo of Moroni in Elizabethan and Jacobean portraiture. And perhaps it is the influence of Northern Europe (Morini was a northern Italian) that makes me like his art so much. Judging by the work on show Moroni is due a major re-evaluation by art historians; he should be among the greats of Western portraiture - he would be a very worthy addition to the canon.
A revelation too the work of Moretto, Moroni's teacher, whose work is represented by a small number of canvasses including 'Madonna and Child on a Throne between Saints Eusebia, Andrew Domneone and Domno' (1536-37), where the aged St Andrew and the Christ Child exchange a look of such melting tenderness and love.  Praise indeed as I don't usually like the sort of art that followed on from the 'High Renaissance'.  Very good too the more intimate of Moretto's religious work in the exhibition.
Really I cannot praise this exhibition highly enough....GO!  You have until Jan 25th.

Afterwards some seasonal shopping and a long lunch at Polpo, Cambridge Circus, with a friend: Pig's Head Crostini; Cauliflower and Fontina; Octopus, Treviso and Barlotti beans, Pork and fennel meatballs.  I then polished off a lovely squidgy Tiramisu.  I'm such a pig!

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Own work - Life Drawing IV

I returned to Life Drawing class Thursday morning, after a break of several weeks and produced these:

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

At Home II

Some intimate shots of the guest room, featuring my latest purchase - a Totem vegetable dish (complete with lid!!) designed by Susan Williams-Ellis and made by Portmeirion in the 1960s.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

At Home

Just thought I'd share a couple of pictures I took this lunchtime of my bedroom.  It was a year ago at least that I posted some images of the changes I had begun to make to my house.  Here, in what is a long ongoing process, is what one corner of my bedroom currently looks like.  I'm planning to change the chair cover.