Thursday, 27 November 2014

Watered View

And when my eyes are filled with breeze,
the world becomes unwound.
Gold-studded crowns of trees
float way above the ground.

Twisted grasses drowned in green,
chaotic chlorophyll.
Bristling bark and winters sheen,
perfectly cold and still.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Fifty Years From Ten

I have realized that the past and future are real illusions, that they exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is.
― Alan Watts

50 years ago, today, I was on the cusp of a new life, and didn’t even know it. That’s so often true, when you’re a child. You sense the things that are directly affecting you, day to day, but the bigger picture is the province of grown ups. They call the shots, often with the best of intentions, and you have little choice but to fall into line. So, on my 10th birthday, I had no way of knowing that in a few short months I’d be leaving my grandparents’ home for somewhere that would never be my home, despite the best efforts of a new family and those naturally closest to me.

The Laurels, the house I was so sad to leave.
But that would be my future. In the meantime, I had presents to open. In those days, I was football crazy, football mad, so it wasn't too big a surprise to receive a pair of boots, some red and white hooped socks, and a leather ball. But I also received, a book from my mother, ‘A Pageant of History’.

Those short November days offered me the best of both worlds. Enough daylight, between end-of-school and teatime, to get the boots on and kick the ball about, before devouring the contents of my history book in the soft, yellow light of a low wattage bulb in what we called ‘the kitchen’. In fact, it was a cosiest of living-cum-dining rooms.

Each night, for several weeks, I roped my grandfather into a game of football in the unkempt field adjacent to his house. Me, variously playing as Moore, Greaves, Charlton or Paine, weaving around between the long tufts of grass and playing to the sound of a stiff evening breeze as it passed through the loosely strung power cables hemming the lane. My grandfather kept a makeshift goal, standing solid in his hobnail boots and blocking my shots with his huge splayed hands, fresh from the woods. Only when daylight finally drained away and the final whistle of my grandmother’s shrill call reached our ears, did we beat a path for home.

That particular birthday has remained fresh in my mind for so many reasons. My first in double figures, my last in the house I always regarded as my true home. It was the launch date for the next half century, a length of time I wouldn’t have got my head around as a 10 year old, except maybe, with the aid of my history book. I still have it. It’s a thing I cherish, a chronological record of the lives of others and the events that shaped them.

 The most poignant reminder of my 10th birthday. An inscription from my mother.

Now I have my own significant history to look back on, my own sequence of events that have shaped me. I’ve shared glimpses of that past here, from time to time. Perhaps I'll dig deeper, but for now I’m going to enjoy the day which I’ll spend in the company of my nearest and dearest. I hear tell that a special 'birthday' chicken casserole is being prepared in a house not so far away.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Aliens and woodland scenes

Exactly what goes through the mind of an eight year old, when she's wielding her paints and crayons may never be known for sure. SW has been very productive of late, and this picture, 'An Alien Party', caught my attention for a number of reasons. Who could blame the aliens for celebrating 100 years without having to endure a human invasion? Perhaps a little more worrying is the sign pointing to a risky looking asteroid ride. In case you can't see it clearly, it reads, "Asteroid ride this way. Warning: 90 - 100, because if you die, you don't lose as much of your life."

On the other hand, some pictures are inspired, and the source of the inspiration is revealed eagerly. This second work is based on a painting by SW's great great grandfather. I love it, and I know he'd love it, too.

A woodland scene by Speckly Woo.

A woodland scene by A.J. Gregory.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Ad Madness

The commercialisation of Christmas has long been a bone of contention on social media, but we now have two retail giants slugging it out on UK screens in a way that smacks of Strictly Come Dancing v X-Factor.

The John Lewis Partnership, and Sainsbury's, have produced pretty swish promotional videos in an effort to woo us through their doors in the run up to the festive season and beyond. Predictably, each film has caused sharp divisions among viewers. John Lewis has been criticised for being "mawkish" and Sainsbury's for being disrespectful to the millions who made the ultimate sacrifice in WW1.

After watching these advertisements several times, two things came to mind. Firstly, Don Draper and his marketing "creatives" in the hugely successful TV series, Mad Men. Secondly, a rather poignant and entirely pertinent quote from the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth, "I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?"

I'd be interested to know what your feelings are towards this kind of advertising, and whether you prefer the John Lewis, Sainsbury's, both, or neither.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Scratch to Itch

After I persuaded SW to let me demonstrate a couple of options that might make her Scratch project work a little more effectively, she peered over her specs and cautioned her Nan, “Never work with children, animals, or Ga.”

In the event, she was probably right. My options fell short, and failed to impress. Her technical ability is growing week by week, and I look forward to our Saturday morning Scratch sessions, while Things 1 & 2 are at gym club.

SW started our with this colourful idea...
...but since Halloween, she's been animating ghosts and ghouls.

For those of you who may not be aware, “Scratch is a project of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. It is provided free of charge.” It’s something I’ve been dipping into for a while now, and I was delighted to learn that it’s now been introduced into primary schools, as part of a drive towards developing the programmers of tomorrow.

Children learn to work collaboratively and are able to share their creations with others all over the world. It’s a fine initiative by the MIT, and I would highly recommend it to any child with a leaning towards storytelling, inventing games, or animation. Give it a try. It’s completely free, and a lot of fun.  

Monday, 27 October 2014

Kusama comes calling

Apparently, when Yayoi Kusama was ten years old, she announced to her rather well-to-do, conservative family, that she would be a great artist. Three quarters of a century later, long after fulfilling her prediction, she still works at her art, obsessively.

During one of those non-specific conversations adults have with children - you know, those that shift between school updates, the funny thing that happened at the shops, and piecemeal advice in relation to a task in hand, that evaporates quickly under the hot concentration of a young mind – I was describing some of Kusama’s work that I seen in a recent documentary. At the time, SW’s response was little more than a half-hearted, “Hmm.”

Today, she turned up on a visit – SW, not Kusama – gripping a sheet of paper, and obviously keen for me to see what might be the first in a sequence of efforts. Without having seen any of Kusama’s paintings, she had produced something purely from my almost unacknowledged descriptions. I think what impresses me most is the confidence SW shares with many children of her age. She has, not necessarily the clearest vision of the finished article in mind, but she works steadily towards a conclusion, having formed an unshakable belief in those component parts that emerge from her imagination.

Artwork by SW

There is definitely something in the hearts and minds of children that allows them to express visually, an idea or arrangement of the world they inhabit, without fear of criticism or failure. And anyone who has tried to point out the errors associated with an upside-down tree that has blue foliage, will know exactly what I mean. As for polka dots, don’t even go there. Leave it to people who know how polka dots should be applied. People like Kusama, and any child artist, whether they recognise that they have a calling or not.

Click to see Heart of Flowers, by Yayoi Kusama

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Another Way and a Few Puddles

I haven't posted here for a while, but I haven't been idle. Firstly, Ciara Brehony of Milkmoon fame, and I have just launched a new blog. It's called Another Way, and if you have ideas of how we might better educate our children, do drop by and join the conversation. There's an active group on Facebook, too. New members are always welcome.

Secondly, I've been stretching the lens on my iPhone, to see what I might achieve. The following shots were all taken hereabouts, usually when out walking. Trees, puddles, reflections. You know the sort of thing.

Puddle 1

Puddle 2
Puddle 3
The puddle source.