Friday, 30 July 2010

Explosive elderflower and blackberries

The elderflower champagne is ready.
I know that it is ready because it told me.
Well, it didn’t exactly tell me; it more screamed at me “I’M READY TO DRINK”.
The elderflower champagne screamed in the only way it knew; by blowing the bottom clean off one of the NASA Super Strength flip top bottles.
The studio now smells of dusky, musky booze.
The lady like fragrance of elderflower and lemon belies the steaming, menacing bottles stored ‘in a cool, dark, airy place’, i.e. the studio.

I don goggles and gently touch a bottle, the bottle frowns back at me, “just you try it”, the bottle threatens.
With my left hand, I gingerly pick it up using just an index finger and thumb; if any fingers get blown off, those are the ones to go, I reason.
I hold my breath, the tension mounts, the bottle and I stare at each other intently; a soft sigh of relief, my fingers are still intact.
Gently placing the eleven remaining bottles into a plastic crate, I slowly lift and carry it at arms length, with no sudden movements up through the garden with all the nervous calm of a bomb disposal expert.
My aim: to deposit the bottles into the safety of the fridge with no further damage.
On reaching the fridge and opening the door, all manner of milk, butter, cheese and other ‘essentials’ are turfed out onto the kitchen floor to make way for a glorious shelf of our own garden grown champagne.

Phew, stage one complete.

Stage two, the opening, was carried out with the same diligent measures.

One chilled bottle was carefully taken outside and placed onto the garden table with the greatest of ease. Crouching below the table I reached up, placed my fingers onto the flip top mechanism and; flip; a heady aroma hit me as the bubbly foam gushed from the bottle, glasses were filled and the first sip was taken.
The result was astounding, far and away better than any sparkles that we had ever tasted; fragrant with elderflower and dry with a hint lemon, this was truly the homegrown sparkly wine of the gods.

“Can we try some” giggle the kids, followed by “what is it?”
“It’s sparkles,” answers Tal.
“Sparkles?” questions Katie, “Is that the wine what tingles your tongue?”

Kerry and I drink the first bottle with the last of the garden new potatoes, lamb steaks and the first of the blackberries flambéed in brandy.

Truly a marriage made in heaven.

Well, a marriage made in the garden.

Happy to still have all requisite fingers I finish a large Yacht canvas.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Wendy's Good Shot at Charles

Monday was the day that Charles and Camilla visited Marazion and the whole town took a glorious step back in time to the 1950’s.
Union flag bunting decked the shops and houses, flowerbeds were miraculously weeded overnight, streets were swept and front doors got their once a year coat of fresh paint.
Marazion school children sang traditional Cornish songs at the tops of their voices while their teacher swept her arms and tapped her feet in time to her imagined beat.
I was told a week before about the impending visit by the impeccable town mayor. The town mayor was taking the arrangements extremely seriously and gave due diligence to the role that he had so obviously been placed upon this planet to fulfil.
My instructions were to open the gallery by 10 am sharp and dutifully stand outside with a ready smile and a firm handshake, just in case.
By 10am the town square was packed with people, tourists and locals alike waiting to catch a glimpse take a photo or even speak to the Prince if they got the chance.
I made no effort whatsoever and chose to dress in my usual uniform of scruffy, paint covered T shirt and paint covered, ripped combats.

Needless to say Prince Charles avoided me.

Our mad friend Wendy however did make an effort.
Gloriously bedecked in red, white and blue, complete with a cherry red overcoat that flapped in the breeze like a baby seagulls wings when learning to fly.

Wendy had a plan.
Wendy was ready.

When Charles and Camilla strolled into view, Wendy aided by seven-year-old son Luke and hostages Tal and Katie swept into action.
With Luke clutching a posy of freshly picked sweet peas and his mum with a glow in the dark smile they darted through the crowds, through the tourists and their oversize back packs and on through the security TAG team as if they were not even there.
Before Charles had a chance to escape he was caught off guard, Camilla, dazzled by the sweet peas couldn’t help and Wendy had the Prince in the palm of her hand.
A quick but very gracious chat ensued before the Royal entourage continued towards the beach.
Wendy and her sidekick Luke also headed towards the beach.
Weaving in and out of the crowd like cat burglars they made their way to the Godolphin steps and waited, ready to pounce once again.
This time Charles had even less protection against Wendy’s ninja tactics, “Hello again” she called, “erm, good morning”, replied the future King of England slightly confused.

The Royal meeting finished with Wendy scrambling to the top of Chapel Rock to ‘get a good shot’, (we hoped that she meant a photograph as oppose to the bang, bang variety), as Charles scurried across the seaweed strewn causeway to the safety of St. Michaels Mount.
I immediately start to make a collage using a commemorative Charles and Camilla Royal Visit poster and discarded paper Union flags.
I expect that I will be using them for some time.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Castles, Kippers, Angels and Boots

So I find myself once more travelling North, this time in the company of my friends Mitch and Ian from Three S Films.
We are heading to the North East to film the third in our series ‘A Brush with the Landscape’, and we are all excited.
Mitch is testing me on my historical Northumbrian knowledge while Ian chatters about his beloved mountain bike and scrutinises the road map.
I ignore the backseat road map directions and instead follow the SatNav… recalculating, recalculating, recalculating…
After nine hours of driving we stop to film the opening sequence at the Angel of the North. Beautiful in design and at twenty metres tall and fifty four metres in span, majestic in size. The Angel courted controversy in 1998 when the sculpture was clothed in a Newcastle United football shirt bearing the name of Newcastles football legend Alan Shearer.
After half an hour Police arrived and undressed the Angel.
Still loved and loathed in equal measure the Angel has been voted Britains favourite sculpture and re-named locally The Gateshead Flasher.
Either way, Antony Gormleys masterpiece makes a strikingly iconic welcome to the North East.
This is an area that I am getting to know well, I love the bridges and streets of Newcastle and I have a growing and deep fondness for the wilds of Norhumberland, the huge, spotless beaches, the countless dramatic castles, the windswept coast roads and most of all a fondness for the people.
While at the Angel, children congregate around, fascinated by what we are filming, “We’re filming the opening sequence for the new James Bond film”, I tell them, “I’m taking over from Daniel Craig”, I add; the children scurry off to tell their mums.
A couple of hours further up the coast we finally arrive, tired but buoyant at Seahouses and our chosen pub for the trip The Olde Ship, and what a fantastic choice. The pub is a veritable treasure trove of nauticalia, artefacts from every age of marine history. There are lanterns, models, brass instruments, floats, pots, name plaques, paintings, and ephemera of all kinds propped, hung, squeezed and squashed into every available space.
For a Newlyn boy this is heaven.
We eat well and sample a few pints of the local beers deciding on which will become THE beer of the trip, unanimously we decide on the Farne Ale.

Over breakfast the next day we hatch our daily plan of action and decide that our first filming location should be Beadnell. This tiny village a couple of miles south of Seahouses on the shores of Beadnell Bay gazes south over a two mile long, blue flag beach to the skeletal remains of Dunstanburgh castle.
The cute harbour has an entrance so tiny that only the handful of local Cobles can gain access.
I make a large charcoal drawing of the boats, lobster pots and the massive lime kilns that crown the quayside and consider just how peaceful a place this is.
While chatting to the Parish Council Chairman I discover that over half of the village is now in the ownership of holiday home occupants, and that this is putting tremendous pressure on youngsters from the area.
I am then introduced to the last working fisherman in Beadnell who tells me that he is netting for trout, ‘The problem is though, if I catch any Salmon, I’m not allowed to land it before June, so I am forced to throw them back, dead or alive, now where is the sense in that?”
Before leaving I meet a retired fisherman, he is 85 but looks twice that, with the weather worn, brown, crinkled face that holds a lifetime of experience and memories. Born and brought up in the village, he had seen at close hand the many changes over the years.
“Aye, the beach was once full of Cobles, there were boots as far as y’can see man, boot it all started to goo wrong, and I’ll tell you who was responsible”, he whispered confidentially, “It was that Mrs Thatcher, she was responsible for the loss of the boots”.

Pondering the situation that is repeated all over the English coast we drive the quiet, windswept, sandy coast road, with huge marram covered dunes on our left and fields of intense lemon yellow rape to our right, searching for an access point to the beach below Dunstanburgh castle.
Now Dunstaburgh, although Northumberland’s largest castle, is the only uninhabited, ruined castle and that just makes it even more romantic.
I choose a viewpoint high on a dune above the beach, trying to avoid any stray balls from the adjacent golf course. I paint the stunning view as a small watercolour and recount to the camera the story of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, who after rebelling against his Uncle James, King of England was beheaded.
The twist to the story is that King James being particularly annoyed with his nephew hired a YTS executioner on work experience who after the first chop found that he needed to chop again, and again, and again, in fact eleven times in all.
But never let gorey stories put you off your food!
When on the Northumberland coast, however far you need to travel, you must, must make a pilgrimage to the small, scruffy harbour of Craster to sample the kippers.
I queued at a stall for my Kipper in a roll behind a Geordie coach driver who told me where (and where not) to go in Newcastle “Ayeman, the girls down the Bigg Market are right up for it and forward too, they just wanna take you home, and then in the morning kick y’ out – it’s everymans dream man!

I munched on my smokey, fishy delight while watching gulls wheeling and screeching overhead.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Excited cats and rain

It’s a dark, dark start to the day, a spattering of rain, not the drizzle kind of stuff or even the ‘get you wet’ kind of rain, no, this is my favourite kind, the warm, big, satisfying heavy drops; the drops that don’t seem to make you wet or cold, I like to think of this rain as tropical rain.
Tropical Cornish rain threatens, the Paynes Grey sky broods with a heaviness that weighs down the fragile landscape with an impending deluge.
The rain will wash away the hot summer pressure in twelve hours leaving behind a fresher, brighter, lighter Cornwall.
And I hope it does because it’s our daughter’s birthday tomorrow.
Katie will be eight.
And Katie is excited.
You know the kind of excited I mean, that exuberantly, can’t sleep, won’t sleep, manic, thousand words a minute at the top of your voice excited, the kind of excited that gives you goose bumps and limitless energy, the kind of excited that you can only experience at the magical age of eight, well, seven (until tomorrow).
A girlie sleepover with “my bestest friends from school” has been requested.
Katie’s ‘bestest friends from school’ are also excited, and so is Katie’s brother Tal, who although being eleven and therefore far too cool and ‘whatever’ is just as excited as his sister.
Even the cats are excited.
Especially Tabby, Katie’s “awe, fluffy little boy, come ere, awe Tabby just winked at me mum” cat.
Tabby’s sister Teasa is under the impression that it’s actually her birthday, while their older stepsister Lily the Tortoiseshell simply looks down from her drowsy garret with disdain.
I retreat to the sanctuary of my studio to work on a painting of Fowey.