Archive for September, 2011

A reunion

September 26, 2011

Today I had lunch with three of the friends I made while at university as an undergraduate. Although we first met some 40 years ago, we did have a similar reunion in 1995. That still provides a gap of 16 years since the last time we got together, and within that period there has been, of course, much scope for change: children have grown up; retirements have come into focus;bodies have physically aged.

There was no awkwardness when we met at York station. Within minutes we were laughing, joking, and having a good time. As we walked across the city to the restaurant we had booked for lunch, we fell into step in pairs. I talked with Christine and I suppose we exchanged rather a lot of information at that stage as to what had been happening to us and what we were currently up to.

Lunch was a very leisurely affair and, apart from enjoying ourselves, we did reflect from time to time on how our reunion was going. Given that the three of them had worked as counsellors and therapists, I suppose that was not surprising. We did wonder how it had come to be that we all became such good friends as undergraduates and Klaus suggested that the common factor was that we were all passionately interested in psychology.

Klaus said at one point that he hoped we wouldn’t get too nostalgic and I think we managed to avoid that. Although from time to time we pooled snippets of information that we had about people who we had known at university, there was no yearning expressed to actually be back there again. I think nostalgia could be said to involve an overly romatic desire to time travel back to the good old days. By way of contrast, I felt we were trying to understand our experience of university in terms of how it had affected our subsequent life stories, and how we were each construing our separate present(s) and, indeed, future(s).

It has to be said that when we were at university our adult working lives lay before us. As undergraduates, we did not just talk about how we were going to approach the essay of the moment or that week’s practical work; we spent some time talking about our plans for the future. It may be a rather obvious point to make but, clearly, such conversations are now no longer appropriate to us.  We made our career choices long ago; we have each done our thing, as they say. In fact, our collective careers in psychology are more or less past their zenith (even though Julia is still active as a major conference organiser within her field). In my own case I am five years into retirement and the world of work is starting to seem a long way off.

I did wonder whether the fact that there was no mileage to be gained from speaking about career plans might leave a conversational vacuum, as it were. Of course, that was rather silly of me since the hole was filled by the recounting of our four separate potted histories. I don’t think that these were revealed as crafted autobiographical tales. Rather, we splattered fragments of our stories into the conversational cauldron, gave it a stir, and bathed in the semantic aroma we jointly created. Maybe we are now good friends not just because we once were 40 years ago, but because together we can still cook up palatable conversation that we each savour in our own separate ways. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

Passing the Minster on the way back to York rail station

Seaburn seascape

September 20, 2011

I went for a walk along the beach at Seaburn yesterday. It was blustery and looked like rain, so I took some reference pics and brought them back home to work on a pencil sketch. Here is the result.

My pencil sketch of Seaburn seascape

At first I wondered how such a scene would lend itself to a pencil treatment; watercolour would have been much simpler in terms of covering the large areas of cloud, sea and sand. I have to say that I was reasonably satisfied with the result. I have it in my sketch book to take along to my drawing class tomorrow morning.

Tonight I have a SL gig at The Haus and I need to run through a couple of songs for that now. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.


September 19, 2011

Yesterday our friends Ali and Maura visited and I made a few canapés. This turned out to be a moderately labour-intensive activity but interesting, nevertheless.

My selection of canapés and snacks

At first I tried to make king prawn wraps with spinach leaves but they proved to be too tender and too small for the task in hand. This necessitated a return trip to the supermarket to buy some cabbage leaves. These, however, proved to be a little too tough and heavy for the job, despite softening in the microwave. I had to resort to the use of cocktail sticks in order to secure the wraps.

I then stuffed some medium sized tomatoes with a mashed potato and garlic coriander filling. The garlic was crushed, raw, in the pestle and mortar; it blew a hole in the roof of my mouth when I tried a spoonful. The potatoes had been lifted from the garden, about a week ago.

I then did a plate of spirals of white bread and smoked salmon. The bread I ironed flat with a rolling pin and brushed the surface with melted butter coloured green from squeezed spinach juice. I then rolled four separate slices of bread to make four salmon rolls and I wrapped each one in cling film and popped them in the freezer. About an hour ahead of the visit I took the rolls out of the freezer and sawed off the spirals with a bread knife.

I hollowed out some lengths of a halved cucumber and stuffed them with the spinach I had cooked for its green juice (used for the salmon spirals). This was relatively straightforward.

Finally, I made a couple of double decker toasties.  I guess these should be described as snacks, rather than canapés. For the filling I used Lollo Rosso lettuce from the garden, turkey breast slices, sliced tomato and sliced white cheese. I covered each of the internal sides of toast with mayonnaise. Once assembled, I halved the double-deckers and served them. These toasties were the most successful of all the items that I had prepared for the visit. Our friends brought cream cakes – mmmm….

In between the cooking and entertaining, I played two SL gigs: one at B&B’s and one at Cascadia Harmonics. I have to admit that I had had a couple of glasses of wine by the time I got to the Cascadia gig but it proved to be an enjoyable show anyway. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

Leather rocker

September 16, 2011

I have been feeling chilly today. Out of the window, the sky looks grey. Summer, for what it was worth which was not a fat lot in England this year, seems to have departed. Soon I shall have to decide whether or not to make Christmas puddings.

I have now been to a couple of sketching classes at the Lit & Phil in Newcastle and I am enjoying them very much. The sessions are taken by a young woman called Emma and she is both enthusiastic and helpful. On Wednesday we drew a chair and focussed on negative space. My chair did not turn out too well and so I have been practicing at home. In my first drawing the chair looked as if it had been placed in a vice and crushed to make it comfortable for a race of humanoid aliens with very short thighs. I then corrected this fault and present the result below.

Pencil sketch of leather rocking chair

Yesterday was my first SL show for about two weeks, the laptop having now been repaired. I enjoyed playing which is good because I have a fairly busy week of gigs lined up. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

Kite surfing and sketching

September 11, 2011

Yesterday I walked along Sunderland’s excellent sandy beach from Roker to Seaburn, and back. I paused for a while to watch the kite surfers doing their acrobatics out to sea.

Kite surfing on Seaburn beach

When I got to the cliffs at the start of Whitburn, I bought a cup of coffee from a kiosk by the car park and found a solitary bench, looking out to sea. Perhaps I should say that the objective of this walk was to make some progress in terms of my phobia for sketching in public. I sat down and took out my small sketchbook from my backpack, along with a spectacle case in which I keep a couple of pencils, a sharpener, a putty eraser, and a small plastic food bag in which to collect the wood and pencil-lead shavings. The blank page stared up at me. In the past, when I have sat still looking at a blank ruled page in a notepad, the problem has been writers block in relation to a fiction project. Here, the problem was anxiety and a lack of confidence in my ability to draw.

Looking at the issue analytically, I must be afraid that I will be subjected to ridicule from a passer-by who casually peers over my shoulder. My chosen bench, on this occasion, was not ideally situated since it did not back up against a wall or a rock; a willful dog-walker could deviate from the foot path in front of me and sneak around behind! With considerable courage and self-control, I hesitantly put pencil to paper and drew a line across the page to represent the horizon. Nothing bad happened. I took a swig of coffee and placed the light house on Roker pier in position. A pretty young woman being taken for a walk by a dog straining at its leash smiled at me as she flitted past, left arm outstretched, body inclined about 15 degrees from the vertical in the direction of the hound. An elderly couple shuffled past with a moderate spring in their step and the gentleman, for that is what he undoubtedly was, said “Hello! Sorry to spoil your view”. I very nearly jumped up and shook the dear man’s hand. Gradually, I settled into the sketch. It did not turn out well from an artistic point of view but that was beside the point. I can do some research into how best to draw the sea from a distance and then return to the bench for a second attempt another day. The point was that I had stayed and sketched; I had not fled in panic.

So, on the whole, the experiment proved to be a success. Admittedly, I chose a time to sketch when there were few youths peddling dirt bikes along the cliff path but plenty of walkers were out and about and most of them acknowledged me, without comment and certainly passed no word of criticism within earshot. Whether I can take this forward over the next few months remains to be seen. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

Hutton Henry walk

September 10, 2011

Yesterday I went for a walk in the countryside with my friend Terry. We set off from Hutton Henry. In the late 19th century, this had been a very active coal town but there is currently little evidence of that today, at least to a casual observer such as myself. The route for our walk came specified in a leaflet that Terry had obtained, I think from the public library. I was able to trace the footpaths, without much difficulty, onto the Ordnace Survey Sheet #93 Teesside and Darlington map (1: 50k). Despite being able to read maps, despite possession of a compass, and despite the clear  descriptions of when to turn left, right or upside down (that were offered in the text of Terry’s leaflet) we nonetheless managed to get lost on more than one occasion.

The walk ran to about 6 or 7 miles (if that is not too much a contradiction in terms, since I can assure you there was no running whatsoever on our part) and the first leg took us to Hurworth Burn Reservoir. This had been built by damming the said burn. As we approached the water, we could see a small wind farm in the distance. Terry said that he disliked modern wind turbines but I rather like them. I think what he was getting at is that they are a blot on the landscape. Human beings should be damned for messing with nature, and spoiling the view. Yet, here, the view had already been spoiled by the building of the dam and the creation of the artificial lake. In that sense, perhaps the dammers should be damned, too.

Hurworth Burn reservoir with wind turbines on the horizon

The water, we were told at a helpful tourist information board that had been thoughtfully erected near one end of the wooden bridge that took us across the reservoir, was home to a several species of bird and served as a migration motel for others. I cannot remember what species were involved; I should get into the habbit of photographing the information boards when I go on these rambles.

The nuts and bolts of the reservoir

Although I took a sketch book in my backpack, I did no sketching. Because of the time involved, I think that sort of activity will need to be done solo, assuming that at some point in the future I can overcome my phobia about sketching in public.

I have missed playing my gigs in SL this past week. Hopefully my computer will be returned to me on Wednesday and, if I can get all the necessary software installed, I may be in a position to play the show at Ragged Edge on Thursday. Before that, however, I have my sketching class on Wednesday. I really must try to do some drawing this weekend. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

Old boot

September 7, 2011

My Hewlet Packard has gone back for repair YET AGAIN! They had it only in August, for heaven’s sake! It is under warranty, but this time I have lost all the data and the programs. Even though I can find back-up for quite a lot of it, it takes ages getting all the programs re-installed. So I have had to cancel my SL gigs for the second month running. The laptop died the day I was about to play my 750th SL show! I shall never buy an HP again.

Anyway, on to more cheerful things. I started my drawing and sketching course at the Lit & Phil today and very much enjoyed it. We were doing some quick still life drawings and I ended up on the table that had to draw the boot (the other tables had glasses and bottles, or books. There were four of us sat at my table and so, obviously, we each had a different perspective. It was very interesting to see what the others had done. There were marked differences in style, but all seemed to offer good sketches. I did a pencil drawing with shading, an outline drawing without shading (also in pencil) and then a charcoal drawing. For that, we had to rub the charcoal into the paper to form a grey, and then lift out the highlights using a pencil eraser. This was the first time I had ever tried this technique. I think it has a lot of possibilities. Here is a photo of the boot.

Charcoal sketch of an old boot

I seem to be rather busy today. I need to play a bit more piano, and I would like to do a couple of things in the garden if possible. I have also been exploring data storage in the cloud, given my current laptop fiasco. I am in Dropbox but you can only store 2 GB for free; after that you have to pay monthly. I guess if I don’t put large music files up there it would be ok. I must get going in First Life now. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

Sketching practice

September 4, 2011

I shall be starting a weekly class in sketching this Wednesday, at the Lit & Phil in Newcastle, so I’m trying to get in a bit of practice ahead of time. My main concern is to improve my skills in drawing with pencil, at the moment, so I copied this woman from an advertisement in a glossy magazine.

Practice pencil drawing from my sketchbook

Yesterday in my SL concert I played ‘As long as s/he needs me’ as an instrumental in an electric piano voicing on my Yamaha digital piano. It seemed to go quite well, and I would like to try to include an instrumental piece like that from time to time. I also sang the song ‘She’ (it featured in the film Notting Hill) for the first time. My accompaniment needs to be strengthened a little, but I shall definitely add it into my repertoire song list. I think the song was originally by Charles Aznavour. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.