Archive for August, 2011

St Mary’s Seaham

August 30, 2011

I find it very frustrating to scan watercolour paintings. somehow the colours become transmogrified in their passage from paper to pixel. I present a daub of St Mary’s church at Seaham for you. At one point, I thought it was going to turn out better than it eventually did.

Watercolour of St Mary's church, Seaham

Later today I shall be playing a show at Terra Fyrmusica. I am hoping for a nap before then, though. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.


August 28, 2011

I have not done much cooking recently and so I decided to put that right today.I made gnocchi from Julia Child recipes. Because there were a number of subsidiary recipes I actually moved through four by the time I got to grill the potato and cheese gnocchi under the grill. I served it with chicken breasts which I made in a parcel in the oven. I rubbed the breasts with paprika and cubed a large, peeled conference pear which I had soaked in lemon juice. I would have liked to have used some olive oil or butter, but She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Mentioned wanted the meal to be very low calorie. Anyway, it was delicious.

Gnocchi, broccoli, and chicken with pear and garlic

However, the gnocchi required rather a lot of attention to create and I did not have time to wash up as I cooked. The result was a very messy sink at the end of the meal and, unfortunately, we don’t have a dishwasher. When I wash up, I try to use it as thinking time or time to listen to a little radio. That way I don’t feel annoyed with it.

Cooking detritus

I had a very enjoyable time playing a gig at Helle’s Angels in SL last night. I think the next one will be at Terra Fyrmusica on Tuesday. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

My old dustbin

August 22, 2011

Some days it is difficult to know what to sketch. I had one of those days, today. In the end, I drew my old dustbin, the one I had prior to the advent of wheelie bins. I feel that I know it better now and shall bestow upon it the status of being a favoured possession.

Pen and ink sketch of my old dustbin

I had a busy but enjoyable time playing two shows yesterday. I have a break today and then I shall play Terra Fyrmusica tomorrow, Tuesday. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

My new bamboo pen

August 21, 2011

I have just finished reading a book on sketching by L.N.Stanisland, published in 1947. In it he describes how to make a simple reed drawing pen. I have not found a source of reeds locally but I shall keep my eyes peeled for any likely ponds in the area. Be that as it may, it occurred to me that the construction of the reed pen is identical to that of a bamboo pen. I therefore poked around in my garden shed and found a few bamboo canes that I occasionally use as stakes for garden flowers. I took a little fret saw and cut off a section of the bamboo from one of these canes. I then used a craft knife to shape the nib.

Self-portrait with home-made bamboo pen & plum ink, on cartridge paper

Back in the studio, I rummaged around and found a jar of plum-coloured drawing ink. I had intended to doodle on a sheet of cartridge paper to see how the pen handled, but my doodling turned into a rather scratchy and over-worked self-portrait. Still, the pen worked fine and was a pleasure to use. I can see that one would need to develop a technique for it. For example, when freshly dipped in the ink, the lines are very strong; they then gradually fade as more strokes are made and the ink is used up.

Today I have two gigs to play: one at 5 a.m. at B&Bs, and one at midday at Cascadia (both these times are SLT – the English equivalent is 1 pm and 8 pm, respectively). Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles 🙂

Lilliputian pest control

August 18, 2011

I was about to water a row of Lollo Rosso in my garden when I suddenly saw a squad of Lilliputian riot police advancing advancing menacingly along the flanks of this leafy crop. I have a feeling that they were after a few slow moving gastropods. I shall have to look around for the broken shells tomorrow.

Lilliputian riot police advance on the row of Lollo Rosso

This evening (Thursday) I shall play a show at Ragged Edge in SL. This will be the first one for about a fortnight, since my computer went away for repair. It will be good to get back to the music again. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

The riots: a little post-hoc pontification

August 11, 2011

It would appear that there is a class of people in the UK who will riot in order to acquire attractive high street consumer goods by looting, and infuse that activity with setting fire to shops, properties and vehicles. Hurling bricks and missiles at the police, and running from them fast, would seem to be de rigueur. Our Tory prime minister sees this entirely as criminal behaviour. He points to robust policing, if necessary involving water canon and plastic bullets, as the solution to the problem.

I agree that the behaviour is totally unacceptable; I find it shocking and worrying. I accept that so-called robust policing should be able to suppress such behaviour but I am not at all sure that it will address the underlying problems.

My watercolour sketch of the burning bus

There will always be some inequalities of wealth, status and power in a society based upon economic capitalism. Unfettered channels of upward and downward mobility should ensure that, roughly speaking, the folks who put a lot of effort into the system will be rewarded more than those who do not. However, in order for this to be acceptible everyone needs to be broadly in agreement that the system works and is not too unfair. If those that ‘have’ allow those that ‘have not’ to drift too far into abject poverty and do not enable them to work within the system in order to gain the just rewards of fruitful labour, then there is likely to develop an underclass for whom there is little hope of success. If people live in ghettoes where nobody works, and most families have not seen a member in gainful employment for more than a generation or so, then it would not be surprising if a general malaise and dejection set in. Everyday such folk will be bombarded with advertisements on TV exhorting them to buy consumer goods which they have no hope of acquiring through legitimate means. For them, society has very little to offer. If they have so little hope, and scant material wealth, they may well begin to feel that they have very little to lose by breaking the rules of the society from which they feel excluded.

I turn now to the macro economic situation. The United States has a debt crisis, as do many  countries in Europe. What has been happening over the past several decades is that manufacturing has shifted from West to East. Compared to the West, the standard of living in many Eastern countries has been very poor. However, this had enabled manufacturing to be carried out with relatively low labour costs. Hence, multinational corporations would typically shift their operations Eastwards, in  order to generate more profit. This is very important to them because above anything else they subscribe to capitalism and a big profit enables them to reward their shareholders maximally.

The sort of people who have been rioting will not be the ones who own shares and get dividends from profit-making companies. The best they could hope for would be to sell their labour for money. Marx regarded profit as creaming off money that should have gone to the labour force. Now, I can see that in the past the labour force, by organising into powerful trades unions, could fight to get a fair balance. If they fought too hard, they would price themselves out of business. Unfortunately, their idea of someone living on a subsistance wage was somewhat higher than that which was the case in the East. The industrial revolution, proudly developed in England over several centuries, looks like becoming the post-industrial phenomenon within a decade or two.

The people who, in the past,  fought for better wages for the less well-off in our society were by-and-large people with strong socialist principles. However, they were definitely within the English society and, through the Labour movement, they had representatives in parliament to argue their case, even if they were not always happy with the way that was done. It is unclear what moral or political stance the current combatants espouse. Well, I wonder if they would even understand the meaning of the last sentence.

Shipbuilding, coal mining, steel making, and heavy engineering no longer provide the industrial backbone of this country. That work now tends to be done in the East. The English Tories seem to think that England can make up for the decline in manufacturing through value-added activities and frequently they will point to the City of London as a shining example. I do not deny that the City of London provides good jobs and incomes for many people. Lots of them live in nice houses in the Home Counties and commute to work, at some considerable cost to themselves, on a daily basis. These are not the people who have been rioting.

In the 1960s I worked both in chemical factories and also in a large steelworks. The staff, be they managers, engineers, accountants, designers, chemists, or whatever, were generally highly qualified; some had university degrees and others had gained very demanding professional qualifications. I don’t think the rioters will have had these sorts of qualifications; few of them will have come from the middle classes.

The work force was more varied. The most demanding way to learn a trade was to complete a 5 year apprenticeship. Usually the emphasis was on practical skills, as opposed to theoretical understanding, although clearly there was plenty of that too in becoming an electrician, for example. There were, however, plenty of jobs that did not require qualifications. Some of these required a good physique and strong muscles, but not all did. There was much scope for the solitary pen-pusher. Indeed, there was always a need for people who lacked qualifications to take care of some of the odds and ends that had to be dealt with in the factory, even if that amounted to not much more than keeping the place clean and tidy.

What I am saying is that most of the factories I saw back then needed a full range of workers, of all sorts of different abilities. The factories were thus able to draw widely across all sections of the community. It is these sorts of factories that have closed down, and with the closures has gone a way of life where all citizens, regardless of their ability, had a reasonable chance of gainful employment.

I accept that, within many families, there was a domestic division of labour. Some women stayed at home to care for children and elderly relatives. I do not want to go into the feminist issues surrounding housewifery just now, since that would take me into another area of discussion – I do accept that there were problems in this domain.

Democracy breaks down when the better-off members of the population cannot find ways to provide those who have low status, little wealth and negligible power with reasonably acceptable conditions for living. In my view, that means the opportunity to work , the means to buy the necessities of life and a few affordable luxuries, and hope for the future.

The bankers threw us into financial crisis and it would seem that that happened largely as a result of their own selfishness,  foolishness, and greed. The austerity measures, currently in place, are going to hit the poorest most heavily. For those who have nothing, taking away what local authorities could provide will seem like the last straw.

The riots may be regarded as a sign that the capitalism of economic greed is rupturing democracy in England. Paradoxically, this will not be good for the Eastern manufacturers, since their Western market will dry up if Western society melts down. The difficulty for the West is that it is now paying for its negligence in terms of fostering the education necessary to support an acceptance of moral values in a multi-cultural society. The fact that many of these youngsters would appear to have parents who could not care less does not help. So, across the party divides, I feel it harks back to the eras of Thatcher, Blair and Brown; that is where we have to point the finger,  but whether Cameron will do better I very much doubt.

Civilisation would appear to be under threat from its malcontents.


August 10, 2011

I had a postcard from my friend Patrick today, saying that he liked the sketch of the stapler, and that was very encouraging. Also he tells me he has found a new venue for our coffee mornings in Hexham and I am very excited about that. I think he was writing from one of our cities of great historical interest, but it was good to know that his teenage daughter has the proper attitude to these things and pushed off to buy some clothes in Top Shop.

It has been raining hard today. No doubt the ordinary folk living in the cities that have had rioting youths in the streets will be glad of wet weather; it should damp things down a bit, literally.

I was poking around the kitchen, looking for something to draw, when I discovered a kiwi fruit that I had bought the other day. It was hiding behind some tomatoes. I had meant to use the it to garnish the orange sorbet I made for my friends Roy and Ann on Monday. I thought, with the fresh whole strawberries on top, the colours would be rather jolly: orange, red and green. Still, we did get orange and red, and that was good.

Pencil sketch of a piece of Emmental

Anyway, as you can see above, I found the remains of a long slab of Emmental and so this has been the subject of today’s still life. I hope you like it.

Now, perhaps I should give an update to my lovely SL music fans. The laptop is still away being mended and, being realistic, it probably will be for another week. Although I can do the bare mininum on my little netbook here, there is no way I can stream up my music with it. I have really missed playing my shows. I practiced piano early this morning and I shall probably play a bit of guitar later today, just to keep my hand in. Hopefully, things will be back to normal in about 10 days. I shall be sure to announce when I play my next gig both here and on my giglist page on the Lewis Music website.

So, I seem to be rambling on rather a lot today. I had better stop and make myself some lunch. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

Coq au vin and other delights

August 9, 2011

Yesterday an old school friend and his wife came to visit and we had a really lovely time. We went for a walk along the coastal path between Sunderland and South Shields, a little south of Marsden. We started at the Souter Point lighthouse. In the evening I cooked a meal. For the starter I made some brown rice, using apple juice and water to cook it first. Then I fried the rice in olive oil with some prawns and a couple of peaches that I had cut into pieces. This provided a tasty warm rice salad. I had intended to garnish with some lettuce from the garden but I forgot to do that, in the end.

The main course was coq au vin. I followed the Julia Child recipe but I was not able to be entirely authentic. One of the diners did not eat bacon, and another could not eat dairy products, including butter. Still, it went well, in spite of those recipe limitations. I served it with boiled new potatoes.

I finished the meal with what I had intended to be an orange granita. This turned out to be more like a sorbet in texture, since I started the freezing process in the ice-cream maker. I think that to get the texture of a granita, one needs to do the lengthy forking procedure in a shallow freezer tray. The sugar syrup was easy to make and I supplemented the orange juice with the squeezed juice of a lemon and a lime.  I served it with a few fresh strawberries on top.

Orange sorbet with strawberries

I am finding my digital life to be rather difficult without my proper laptop. My note book is helping me to get by until it is returned from the repair but it is a nuisance being without it. I have missed playing my SL shows, I have to say. The summer has gone cold here and today I got out my winter woollen sweater; I am wearing it as I sit and type. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

My stapler

August 5, 2011

I am struggling to stay in touch on my little notebook. I don’t think SL music shows will be an option for another 10 days or so. I have managed to get more bits and pieces installed on the notebook, with the help of an external DVD drive.
I have been reading a nice little book by Jasper Salwey, published in 1921, on The art of drawing in lead pencil. All I have for you today is a sketch of my stapler.

My stapler

I must practice piano now. Talk to you later, my dear blogophiles.

St Mary’s Seaham

August 2, 2011

Today I got up early and sorted he recycling bins. Then I put my sketchbook bag in the car and went in search of something like a landscape or a seascape. I was starting to despair, since most of the car parks beside beauty spots do not have amazing views, and I wanted to sit in the car and sketch the the scene through my windscreen. Eventually, I pulled into a car park at Seaham and instead of pointing my car in the direction of the North sea, I angled it inland towards St Mary’s church. Here is the result.

Pencil sketch of St Mary's, Seahm, on location

I’m not sure how much I will be able to blog during the next couple of weeks. I have a feeling it will be difficult for me to get pics scanned and uploaded from my little notebook, while my laptop is away being repaired. Still, I shall try to keep in touch, my dear blogophiles. Talk to you later.