Wednesday, 13 August 2014

British Folk Art?

I'm feeling in the mood to write a wacky post today. I have a bug that won't go away and I feel weak, and a bit light headed.  Our bike trip already seems long ago, did I really have the energy to do it?

I hate being ill.

There are some art shows I want to see in London and now I find they're due to close soon. One of them is the British Folk Art show at the Tate Britain gallery.  If I don't get there I suppose I can look at the British Folk Art I photographed on our trip, and I thought you might like to see some home made creations too.

I'll start in Whitby, Yorkshire, which is a coastal town famous for Dracula and various other interesting things. It has a big Goth population. The Goths are not exactly serious - I bought some great chili pickle from a nice man called Chris, aka Howling Goth, in the market, (and click here to see the testimonials... ) Anyway this Count Dracula was partying in a suburban dustbin outside Whitby. 

Scarecrow festivals are a good source of folk art, and the scarecrows often stay up even when the festival's over.  After all, if you've worked hard at something, why take it down in a hurry?  I thought there was some good craftsmanship in this surreal fisherman sitting atop a hedge

Sometimes though, you had to ask, well, what is going on? I just couldn't figure out what was sitting on that right hand bench in the park at Sleights, and nor could the fellow on the left hand bench, by the look of it. 

Even when you enlarge the figure, it's impossible to guess what it is, but I do like its casually self assured air, relaxing on the bench with one gumboot sticking out.

Both the cut out vintage man in this picture and the customer in the background were pointing at the same boat on this village's charming boating pond.

And on a dull grey day in Lincolnshire it cheered me to spot Psy by the roadside. I hummed "Gangnam Style" for the next few miles.....   

... and now I can put in my favourite of the many parodies of that famous song.  It's by a shock trauma platoon of the US Navy and Marines in Afghanistan.  Isn't it great?

Quite a jump to the Duchess of Cambridge made from jelly beans - this very large and accomplished image was in a sweetshop window in the city of Cambridge. 

A little further on, in Newark, Notts, we went to one of the best b&bs I've stayed in for ages, called  Compton House.  and I spotted this fox sitting in the hall.

The owner explained she'd spotted the fox at a sale in a taxidermy shop where the vendor told her it was the worst stuffed fox they'd ever had for sale. She felt so sorry for it that she bought her and now dresses it up glamorously in the summer months, and warmly, complete with scarf, in the winter.

Now, I'd say it's the classiest fox in Nottinghamshire. 

The most unsettling piece of home made or folk art I saw was this stern, slightly angelic figure. At first I thought it was another scarecrow, and perhaps it is, but it seems to be showing the way to a wedding. It's creepy, with its blue face. I'd like to know the story behind it.  

 Yes, there are a lot of examples of artistic self expression going on around England. And so I wish I had dared ask this group why they all had green hair.  But I just kept my mouth shut and let them go past!


Thursday, 7 August 2014

On the Heels of the Tour de France

Seems to me that once you stop blogging for a while it can get hard to start again! Sorry for the long gap.  I reckon I got out of the habit while I was away on my bike, travelling very light, for most of last month. T and I cycled from London to Co. Durham, then back across to Whitby and finally down to Scarborough, where we loaded the bikes on the trains and came back to London.  We saw so many things I'm still digesting it all!

We covered quite a lot of the route which the Tour de France took (not while the cyclists were racing there, luckily). I don't follow any sports, so at first I was wondering why we kept passing so many window displays with a French theme, such as this one in Saffron Walden, Essex.  (which by the way is a great town, one which I hope to post about later)

"WHAT is all this about bikes and berets and moustaches and strings of onions?" I asked myself, as I passed shop window after shop window ....

Finally I learned what everyone else in the country knew, that the Tour de France cyclists would be cycling southwards down from Yorkshire, and to my surprise I realised we were following much of the route (in reverse and very much slower) northwards through England.   Would we meet them on the way? I hoped not. When we reached Cambridge, which was expecting them in a couple of days, it was bristling with "No Bike Parking" signs and it was clear that if we got in the way of these top sportsmen, we would be mown down, swamped in the crush of bodies, etc.

When we did arrive in York, they'd just left.  I was so impressed by the decorations along the route in the suburb of Bishopsthorpe, that I took some photos of them.  I thought they were remarkably creative. Which one do you like best?

I liked these ladies chatting on the doorstep and one of them had really gone to town. Look at the windows - little jerseys and bikes as well as everything else, and the front wall too.

Can anyone anyone explain this one? My guess is that it refers to a cyclist from Mauritius, since the dodo is the symbol of that French speaking country.  I love dodos and this was a very cleverly made one.

No doubt the idea that Sheffield is 200 KM away is just an encouragement to the sporty cyclists!  But I am wondering what the round things like fried eggs are on this patchworked banner. Or perhaps they are eyes. Or breasts......

The midwife who delivered my second child puffed and down the hills on her bike with a couple of oxygen cylinders on the back. But this one appears to have a baby in the basket. Not a real one, I am sure. 

I liked this garden gate

And slightly wondered why someone had dressed their tree in yellow net

Local builders had done their bit by stencilling bikes on a house they were renovating

And what a lot of work, threading this ribbon through painted bike wheels to create this striking impression

This florist shop went completely mad on its eye catching bike display, those look like the kind of hand made paper chains we used to make for Christmas, as kids - it was a lot of fun.

This butcher was advertising his wares in French

Even the toilet arrangements paid tribute to the French theme

"The Swan" pub had given itself a revamp for the occasion with a beer barrel in the colours of the French flag

on a new sign painted for the occasion.  Now that IS impressive! I wonder if they will keep it.

Several houses has combined to create a large arrow in their windows, just in case the cyclists got lost....

And even on a rather grey day the flags made a cheerful sight, fluttering as far as you could see. 

I don't know York but I'd guess Bishopsthorpe is a good place to live. It seemed to have community spirit and a lot of interesting and involved local businesses, and I certainly noticed it and stopped a lot, rather than just cycling through

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Strange Plants and Botanical Stuff

I'm back home again now - but the Blogger app for my phone seemed just as flaky as the PC version. (The PC version of Blogger doesn't let me change the colours or layout, which is why I can't comment individually on comments - it comes out yellow on white!).  Although I scheduled three posts during my absence, the app didn't post them, and in fact completely deleted one when I tried to post it manually.  (A pity, as it was a nice one done at someone's special request.).  I haven't been able to read or enable comments either.

But that's life, and here's one of the posts which should have appeared during my absence. It's a continuation of the Kew post.  Hope you like it!

It's all about some of the (mostly weird and wonderful) plants I wanted to show you from Kew.  I should have carefully noted their names... but I forgot to. Though  I can tell you this one is a lotus.

   I expect the artists whose work is exhibited in the botanical art gallery at Kew would have given you the names.As well as the new gallery of botanical art, there's also a gorgeous Victorian one next door, which was purpose built to house the paintings of the most intrepid maiden Victorian lady called Marianne North. She travelled the world alone in search of amazing plants  (there's a glimpse of the gallery below with just a few of her paintings).

So the first flower is a lotus, right?  And these wonderful things were dangling downwards like party decorations, in the tropical section, but I don't have any idea what they are.

A most exotic water lily here.

And this is a very tiny one, about a tenth of the size of the blue lily

These two groups below are carnivorous plants. The green one appears to be smeared with blood, so best not think too closely about what that is supposed to convey.

These are prettier but still a bit sinister.

No idea what this is. It looks a little disturbing to me, specially since it seems to be made of green knobbly rubber 

 And talking of disturbing, what about the huge thorns sticking through this delicate white plant? It doesn't seem to mind and it is in fact full of pollen.

This one has its pollen laid out invitingly on its long thin "tongue" so the bees really don't need to go to any trouble at all.

More spininess - the familiar prickly pear has beautiful flowers, like satin.

And I like this cactus, too, with all its radial patterns.

What a contrast is this ethereal grass, waving in the breeze outside

And here is a little pond, reflecting a display of California poppies

There is a collection of orchids at Kew, and this curious little specimen reminds me irresistibly of a gnomish little bad fairy in a party dress which is too big for her.  She even seems to have green and black wings. 

I do like bonsai, so was impressed with this unusual Japanese maple, which is 100 years old and was grown by a Japanese master bonsai cultivator.

Finally, here's another shot of that lotus because I just can't leave it out.  To my way of thinking, lotuses are perhaps the most beautiful and mysterious flowers. 

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Unexpected Kew

I am on the move so not visiting everyone's blogs as much as usual, and I can't sort out a problem with comments either -grr! But .I will do it on my return and meanwhile here's a post I drafted just before I left about a few unexpected aspects of those famous botanical gardens at Kew. 

Like  this goose with absolutely no sense of privacy has laid her eggs in the flower urns on the border of the great lake by the Palm House. About the busiest imaginable part of the Gardens, but perhaps she was inspired, in her little bird brain, by the sight of the egg like decoration all round the urn. They are about the size, shape and colour of her own eggs! You'll see the gardeners have put a barrier round her, with instructions to the public not to disturb her. But really she seemed perfectly unfazed.

There are usually special events and artistic things going on in Kew - I think they aim to make it worthwhile to spend the day there with the family.  I couldn't for the life of me work out why they had given this tree a wonderful crocheted coat (below), but this little fellow was most delighted with it.

And this little girl loved the wooden sheep and her baby lambs.

Now I do know what this (below) is for. It's about choosing how much funding to give various areas of medical research involving plants. It's a way of voting. You choose a strand of wool in the colour that corresponds with the area of health you think should be prioritised for research, and tie it on the vine tree.

It is highly unscientific, but does look pretty.  I think I voted for antibiotics research.

For as long as I can remember, the big building you can see in the background of that goose picture at the top, was called the Wood Museum. I could never figure it out (you will notice I am not very good at figuring out things at Kew).  It was always interesting in a Victorian sort of way, and reminded me of the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford, in the days when Pitt Rivers was truly dusty and forgotten.

Now, the Wood Museum has become a museum of Kew Gardens' collection of the things you can make of plants, and contains all kinds of intriguing Victoriana. Some of the collection is pretty old, but new exhibits are always being added, and it's an important resource for researchers. I was captivated by a model made by Rakkal Chunder Pal in India in 1886, showing an indigo dye works in all its intricate, realistic detail, from the ox-carts carrying the indigo plants to the works. You see the men carrying them up to the racks to dry

After several other processes, these poor fellows have to stand in the indigo up to their waists and beat the mixture with their paddles.

It's a huge model, and really deserves a whole post, because it's large and indigo dye making is an intricate process ... but hopefully you will get there yourself one day and manage to see it all.

These are earrings, created from some little seeds called Job's Tears, and what seems to be some form of yarn. The accompanying notice said that the Royal School of Needlework was helping conserve many of their more fragile items, like this.  I was particularly intrigued by a 19th century Japanese vest made of mulberry paper, but unfortunately I couldn't get a good shot as the museum is quite dark.

I found these porcelain false teeth, set in india-rubber, most fascinating.  I wonder when dentists stopped calling themselves "surgeons."

The exhibition looks to be permanent, and so I hope to revisit next time I go to Kew and look at it all again - it repays close examination.  But it was getting near to closing time when I left, and I took a rather remote woodland path around the side of the gardens just to see the student show gardens.  And I met this blocking my way, standing in the middle of the path.

I've never met a peacock in a wood before.  It didn't exactly seem scared of me but after we looked at each other, it decided to make a detour through the long grass instead of continuing along the path.. 

What a wonderful thing to meet in a wood!

And of course in between seeing this stuff I also saw any number of amazing plants. That's what Kew is all about, and my next post will show some of the most picturesque and interesting.

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