Tuesday, 23 January 2018

One artist to speak to, one historian to listen to

While resting up at home, I haven't been entirely idle. Last week I decided on the dates for my caravan holidays in 2018. From March right through to November. I could book the Club sites online, and did so at once. They are now in the bag. The two farm sites will both need a phone call, and I must see to that soon, especially as one of my stays includes the Easter weekend.

In all, and subject to cancellations if the money earmarked for holiday use needs to be spent on something else, I'll be away for 107 nights. For a total site cost of £1,547. And, of course, the holiday fuel needed for Fiona will come to just as much. Even so, that still works out at only about £30 per night away, and I challenge anybody to enjoy warm and comfortable accommodation for 107 nights, on any basis, with travel and day trip costs included, for as little as this. Long may my caravanning last!

And all without paying any deposits. The Caravan and Motorhome Club doesn't require its members to pay any. Nor do either of the farms. And so long as pitches are available, you can tweak the bookings to bring them forward a bit, or to put them back, or to lengthen or shorten them. In the case of the Club sites, it can all be done online. If necessary, and with three days' notice, it's possible to cancel a booking entirely, without penalty. It could hardly be more convenient or hassle-free.

I often do find myself amending my bookings. It's inevitable: something unforeseen will come up.

And something unforeseen did come up with the first holiday of the year, which was going to begin on 26th March, but I've now brought it forward to 19th March. And instead of going to the farm near Lyme Regis first, and the farm near Great Torrington second, I've swapped them around. The reason hangs on two chance discoveries.

Back on 16th April last year, I wrote a post called A puzzling painting, which chiefly concerned a picture painted by the artist Ric Hyde. I'd seen it hung in the Willoughby Gallery at The Castle in Bude on 4th April 2017. It was an arresting work, and I very much wanted to find out more about it. But when I went to gallery again on the 7th April, it had been taken down, presumably because it was deemed unsuitable for a marriage ceremony taking pace on that day in the exhibition room. I couldn't find out anything more about the painting on the Internet.

Roll forward to a couple of hours ago. I discovered that Ric Hyde and his daughter Zoë were exhibiting at The Plough Arts Centre in Great Torrington from 24th March 2018. And that there was to be a Preview there at 7.00pm on Friday 23rd March. Aha! Surely both artists would be there! A chance to meet Ric Hyde and ask him about the painting I'd been so intrigued about. Doubtless there would be wine and nibbles too; but buttonholing the artist would be my major objective. And to be there at all, I'd need to bring my holiday forward, and swap the sites around...

Previews are often for 'members only' - meaning, in this case, Supporters of The Plough Arts Centre. I could become one, for 2018, for a fee of £25. Hmm. The Plough's online programme said nothing specific about allowing Preview entry only for Supporters. But to be on the safe side, I paid the £25, and I'm now a fully-fledged Supporter.

That transaction done, I was presented with a list of upcoming live talks and performances. Let's have a look, I thought. And there was one event I immediately wanted to see. It was the TV historian Lucy Worsley, talking about Jane Austen (and of course plugging her new book about that lady). Now I dare say Dr Worsley will feature at the Appledore Book Festival in September (which I will be attending), and I could see her there. But the gods have decreed that I should have a chance of a sneak preview in March. Does one spurn the gifts of the gods? At one's peril! I shall get a ticket. As a Supporter, it will cost me only £17, saving me £7.

The Plough Management Team will wheel her on at 8.00pm on Monday 26th March. Before then, The Plough (which does nice food) is offering a 'meal deal' from 6.00pm, with a reserved table - one course or two courses, as you like it - as part of the booking. Well, why not? But I'll need to phone them. The meal can't be added on if booking online. Tomorrow morning, then, they'll hear from me.

So that's two items for my no-doubt wet and rainy stay in North Devon. Three, if you count in a visit to Slimming World at Fremington on Wednesday 28th March. Coincidentally, that's the day when I intend to get to my weight-loss target. Meaning three stones (42 pounds) lost. Wouldn't it be nice if I achieved that, and got not only my Three Stones Lost Certificate, but whatever additional award they give out for getting down to one's Target Weight? It's worth a final push. So no cream teas with my North Devon friends in the run-up! And definitely no Devon ice-cream, if it's hot and sunny - as it could easily be, given the wayward weather in the West Country, even in March.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Toe update: two weeks post-op

I've hardly been out since 8th January, when I had my toe op - just two visits to the clinic, three essential household shopping trips, a couple of lunches with my local girl friends, and one trip into Horsham to get a birthday present. Some of that left me limping for a while.

I went out again today, for a quick stroll on the coast at Saltdean. Saltdean seafront is all unbeautiful concrete and shingle, and rather unrewarding to visit. But the walking is easy. And even if the exercise didn't do a lot for my toe, the rest of me appreciated the fresh air. I'm starting to feel rather cooped up at home, with all this enforced (but sensible) inactivity. I am not one for sitting still in front of the telly, and you can do only so much reading or photo work. I have been meaning to get out a few more posts, but, oddly, I write best when a little crowded for time, and not when I have oodles of it.

I was glad to find that walking around at Saltdean was a more comfortable experience than my visit to Horsham a few days ago. I still wouldn't care to stride out briskly, nor walk for any distance, but clearly some healing is under way - as should be the case by now: the nasty nail came off two weeks ago. I have of course been taking pictures of the grisly surgery every couple of days, to monitor the healing progress, but those pictures could be stomach-churning to some, and so I won't show them here.

Where the nail was still looks a bit red and raw, but the lady who performed the surgery assured me when I saw her four days ago that all was as it should be. In fact she was very pleased with the appearance of the toe, despite the redness and despite the fact that it still weeps a clear fluid, especially if I am on my feet.

She told me that the nail bed - essentially an open wound - was free of infection and doing fine, but I must expect the recovery process to go on for a while yet, possibly as long as mid-February. The weeping will stop, and, after scabbing, a stiff surface will form. I can help things along a bit - if I have my feet up at home - by exposing the wound to the warm air inside the house, thereby hastening its drying-out. So Best Medical Advice is to bask on a recliner (with a cup of tea and a book to hand) as the sun streams through a garden window! But I must be remain very careful to avoid infection. I can go back to doing pilates, but only exercises that don't involve flexing my feet.

So the daily saline bath for the wounded foot will continue. I'd better check my supply of sterile dressings, and get some more if necessary.

Meanwhile, I will try to get out more. I hadn't realised quite how active I usually am, even when at home all day. In ordinary times I am a bit fidgety, and constantly getting up on my feet for one reason or another - which of course is good - and because of it, I must be burning off calories. Not many, to be sure, but enough to ensure no accumulation of new fat. However, if obliged to sit still, those calories clearly don't get used up. When weighed last week at Slimming World I found to my consternation that despite keeping rigorously to my eating plan on most days, I'd nevertheless put on three pounds in fourteen days! One and a half pounds each week since the op! That's got to be down to keeping my feet up as much as possible, because I haven't been eating more. Well, some more lounging around is unavoidable; but I really look forward to getting back to normal.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

His and hers

I saw these cards in a local post office just yesterday.

A card for a baby boy alongside a card for a baby girl, both clearly by the same manufacturer, a complementary pair in the same series of greetings cards. The card for the baby boy, as you can see, shows a cool, streetwise, adventurous-looking shoe in blue, red and white that looks as if it could take a bit of punishment. Any toddler putting that on is ready for action. The baby girl's is pink and dreamy, embellished with little hearts and flowers, and secured with a strap - a bit traditional and old-fashioned, and definitely not cool at all. 

Which would you rather wear, regardless of your gender and actual level of energy and naughtiness? Me, the so-called 'boy's shoes' every time. In reality, this is not even strictly a pair of boy's shoes. Any toddler taken out of the home might find themselves in such a shoe - because it's practical, and will obviously last longer than the pink shoe, which, if worn out of doors, will be ruined inside ten minutes. No mum would really want to throw money away like that.

So if you like, the pink girl's shoe is a fantasy shoe, and the designer and manufacturer of these cards thinks a picture of a shoe like this will press the right buttons in the mind of potential buyers. Presumably 'potential buyer' means Grandmother and various Aunties. It wouldn't include me. I'd try hard not to damn the baby girl with a false preconception of herself. She might turn out to be a dainty little rosy-cheeked creature with a mind naturally full of pink hearts and flowers, and pink ponies too - and if that's the case, well, who should try to change it? Let her be. But she might naturally incline to other things, and I don't think that she should be typecast at the outset, neither in her mind, nor anyone else's, as a decorative little angel in candy colours, who has no need whatever of snazzy action-shoes with grown-up laces.

I'm certainly flying in the face of general opinion. These cards wouldn't be on sale unless they did sell. Tradition tends to rule where important family events are concerned, and tradition clearly still demands - sadly - that baby boys must be associated with practical footwear, but not baby girls. 

Traditions do evolve, very gradually. So I was therefore quite surprised that - in this age of equal-treatment of the sexes, when something more than lip-service to this concept has become important - the prevailing attitude towards newly-arrived babies has not moved ahead. If I'd seen these two cards ten years ago - or certainly twenty years ago - I'd have thought little about it. Now, in 2018, making out that baby boys and girls are very different seems uncomfortably inappropriate. They start equal, but a lot of people want to subvert that, boosting the little boy's self-regard and diminishing or limiting the baby girl's self-image and self-confidence. It starts with this outmoded convention that it's still 'pink for girls' and 'blue for boys', plus all the associations that go with that. The result so far has been to make it easy for boys to grow dominant and controlling as they grow up, and the girls subservient and compliant. Plenty of people have broken this mould for themselves, but not society in general. 

When it's self-evident that false distinctions lead to bad outcomes, you start to speculate on which deep-rooted vested interests keep such fictions alive - and how to destroy them. It can't be done by force, nor by laws alone. You have to get hold of people's minds. I wonder what the best way is.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Another personal achievement - two million Flickr viewings!

I went to bed late last night 45 viewings short of a significant viewing milestone on Flickr. But this morning, it had been passed. I took this screen shot as soon as I was out of bed.

There it is: 2,000,043 viewings. I'm proud of that.

This is of course the grand total since I began to put shots on Flickr in February 2009, nine years ago. But I didn't start getting a lot of viewings until mid-2012. Then things took off. I suppose you need to build up a 'critical mass' of photos placed online, and then - poof! - you suddenly get noticed. And occasionally I have really popular days. For instance, two weeks ago, there was a day with over 16,000 viewings. I seem to be most 'popular' after uploading my holiday snaps, but there is often a surge of interest with no obvious reason behind it. 

I wish I knew what the secret of a great photo is. I can see which are the most popular shots, but they seem a bit run-of-the-mill to me, and wouldn't be in my personal Top Ten. 

Flickr and Blogger are the two halves of my creative effort online. So far as popularity goes, the 21,000 pictures on Flickr have won hands-down in the viewing contest, generating two million viewings, whereas the 1,900 blog posts have generated only 880,000 viewings in the same timescale. 

That said, my most popular blog post has had over 80,000 viewings, whereas my most popular photo has garnered only 4,000. 

All these figures are dwarfed into insignificance when compared to what the most popular photographers and bloggers achieve on a daily basis. I don't mind. I'm thinking that excessive popularity is the enemy of genuine creative freedom. When you are chasing big viewing figures, there must surely be a compulsion to please the crowd above all else, so that you stay in the lead. That would mean churning out shots and posts using well-tried and unadventurous formulae. I'm not suggesting that my own pictures and posts are 'adventurous', but they are at least taken or written with nobody telling me what to do, nobody putting a curb on using certain ideas, nobody insisting that I depict or mention this product or that, and without endlessly reiterating those hackneyed themes that are bound to make the viewing figures leap upwards. It's nice to be noticed, but there is such a thing as selling out.

Gosh, what if each of those two million Flickr viewings had popped just one penny into my bank account? I'd be £20,000 richer. Less income tax, of course. But still... 

Hey ho. I'd only have frittered it away. 

Back in proper shoes

Back in slippers, anyway! That's my feet - both of them - just a little while ago. I returned to the Health Centre this morning (Jo was wheels this time) and had the initial post-op dressing removed and the toe redressed in the way it must now be done daily, until the nail bed dries and a tough skin starts to form where the nail used to be.

The new style of dressing - basically a large plaster enclosing (for the first three days) a Melolin pad - is compact, and I will certainly be able to wear boots straight away, and ordinary shoes too if they are roomy enough. Which will enable me to get around out of doors, regardless of the weather. I hadn't realised how active I really was, and how irksome it is to sit for long periods with my feet up. At home, even if I don't go out, I'm constantly getting on my feet and moving around the house; and, of course, there's generally a reason for firing up Fiona every day. I've missed that. Now I won't have to.

This is a shot of the new bandage.

I also took a shot of the toe at the Haywards Heath Health Centre, before it was redressed. That's one for my archives only! It wasn't a ghastly sight by any means, but perhaps not a picture for posting. It shows a raw but healthy-looking nail bed. There had been some weeping, but no bleeding. And throughout, no pain whatever. 

Afterwards, I was perfectly comfortable walking to the nearby Côte Brasserie and having a late breakfast with Jo. And then going a little further, to check out the half-price sale at one of her favourite fashion shops, Elegance. This proved to me that with the new dressing in place I would be able to walk (carefully) at least three hundred yards without the slightest discomfort. But I still intend to take it easy for the rest of today, and avoid walking far for the next week or so. Fiona can do the walking instead. There's also a stick in the boot of my car, just in case. 

I had been dreading a painful recovery. The outcome looks as if it will be better than expected. 

How nice it will be, when the time comes, to wear proper summer shoes!  

Monday, 8 January 2018

Deep in the New Forest

I lived in Southampton with my parents from 1963 to 1978, and had a car of my own from 1975. In those first three years of personal car ownership I explored the nearby New Forest almost to death. But of course I also had many opportunities to walk around it in the preceding years, at first with my parents, but from the late 1960s on my own, for the train could take you there.

So it was that in the spring of 1970 I ventured into the Forest by train to put together some supporting work for the main component of my A-Level Art examination - the chosen subject being 'Tree Forms'. I went to Beaulieu Road station in the heart of the Forest, and just wandered around in the vicinity. I was at that time inspired in particular by research into the work of artist Paul Nash (1889-1946), so I wanted to sketch a range of trees in various stages of destruction. Especially trees struck by lightning - blasted oaks in particular. Nash had done studies of those for his own World War I landscape paintings, which featured weird scenes of trees shredded by shellfire, such as this.

But he had also painted gentler scenes with trees in them.

I found what I wanted, and I produced a set of sketches and finished drawings. This is the only part of the pre-exam work that I still have a photo of. I apologise for the poor quality: it was taken with a Kodak Instamatic 50 camera in Mum and Dad's back garden in Southampton.

After leaving school, I remained keen to find interesting tree forms, but to photograph, not paint. And my wanderings around the New Forest would generally produce some good shots, such as this 'moaning tree' seen in 1977.

Once I moved to London in 1978 my visits to the Forest were drastically curtailed. And so were the opportunities to seek out shots of trees there. But I managed to do it on the odd occasion in later years, if I were caravanning not too far away. Such as these pictures of the Knightwood Oak and other trees nearby, taken in 2012.

You can see that the Paul Nash influence was definitely still alive and well!

Last October I was actually pitched in the New Forest, just outside Brockenhurst, and one afternoon decided to take a walk through Frame Wood, to the north-west of Hatchet Pond, parking Fiona at Furzey Lodge. Here is a location map.

Many of the inclosures (meaning sections of forest fenced around to inhibit the movements of deer and ponies) are in fact plantations of commercial-grade conifers, and worked as such by the Forestry Commission. But Frame Wood is much older, untended, full of old tracks and fallen trees. You might hear the trains in the far distance, but otherwise it's a very quiet place. Not somewhere I'd care to go in the dusk, but OK in broad daylight. 

So, well-shod in the Alt-Bergs, and with a stick, I set forth from Furzey Lodge (a collection of forest cottages), heading north-west, with the footbridge over the railway (top left in the map) as my furthest walking objective. I planned to pause at the footbridge, head south, and then return eastwards via Hawkhill Inclosure. But it didn't quite go to plan. 

I started out on a very decent track. I felt the Forest was a great place to be. The peace of it made me feel very content with life.

But the track soon degenerated unto a rutted quagmire, churned up by the heavy tractors used by the Forestry Commission. I had to get off it. I found myself striking north, rather than north-west. I wasn't too concerned about taking a detour, so long as I eventually found the track that ran more-or-less parallel with the railway line. Indeed, it didn't matter too much where I ended up. I just wanted a good walk. If I felt lost, I could get a GPS fix and navigate back to my starting point with that. 

Frame Wood was amazingly peaceful. It was a really old part of the forest, to be sure. Although there was some undergrowth, I was mostly walking on a carpet of leaves underneath a canopy of trees, with just the occasional clearing. But I was constantly having to step over fallen boughs, or alter course to avoid a massive fallen tree, and this undermined my sense of direction. I got some decent tree photos, though.

As you can see, I was more interested in the shape of the broken boughs, and how a monochrome picture might be made from such material, than what the wood really looked like in its natural coloration. Many of the fallen branches or tree-trunks had a serpentine look, as if they were rough carvings of lizards, crocodiles, or the heads of dragons. They looked like different animals as you walked around them...

In dim light, all this might be spooky, and put you in mind of alien creatures, but the light was good, and I wasn't nervous in the slightest. That said, I startled some deer, which made me jump. And I became aware that some ponies were moving closer. 

I'm wary of New Forest ponies. Normally - in the well-visited parts of the Forest, anyway - they seem cool and unconcerned about humans, although I well remember when a mean-looking brute began to walk menacingly towards me in a car park in the northern part of the Forest some years ago. I had to retreat rapidly to my car (this was pre-Fiona, so it must have been about ten years ago) and only just got back inside in time. I imagine the pony in question had in mind butting me hard, to show its displeasure. But ponies have a nasty bite too, if so minded, and they can kick. Since then, I've given them all a wide berth. Now a small herd was moving in my direction. Time to clear out. They surely wouldn't come after me, if I walked on confidently. 

I hit a proper track again, and followed it. I'd suddenly had quite enough of mysterious deep forest, no matter what its photographic potential. I wanted to find a way out of the wood, and then head back to where I'd left Fiona. But all the time I heard stealthy sounds behind me. Damn. They weren't going to leave me be. I had a stick, but that wouldn't really be of the slightest use if they ganged up on me.

After ten minutes of mounting concern, I saw a gate. I looked behind. The leading pony was only yards away now. It was with inexpressible relief that I opened the gate and shut it behind me. Phew. The pony looked thwarted. 

I was back in the commercial part of the Forest. A little way on, and the track broadened out. Then I came to a junction of tracks, signposted for mountain biking. I got a fix, and headed towards Hawkshill Inclosure and Moon Hill. All around were trees planted with harvesting in mind. It wasn't ugly, but it was certainly an industrial scene. It was a place to grow trees in straight lines, and eventually cut them down and haul them away. But at least I couldn't get lost, and I wouldn't encounter any ponies hell-bent on exacting a hideous revenge. They surely knew all about the illegal trade in horse-meat. Some of them had been victims in the past. One human trampled to death would be some kind of retribution. 

My mood had lifted again. I was reminded of a merry shot taken of Edwina, my 1970s friend, on a Forest track just like this one. Here she was, in 1977.

I attempted to reproduce the shot, in so far as you can when holding a phone at arm's length.

There were stacks of cut logs here and there, with warnings to keep off them. 

What did the blue letters and numbers mean? They were repeated again and again on different stacks.

Suddenly the light began to take on that dusk-is-approaching look. I increased my pace. I knew exactly where I was, but wanted to reach Fiona before it began to get dark. Looking sideways, the woods were beginning to look dim and shadowy. Within half an hour - or less - they might look like this: decidedly gloomy and unfriendly.

Close to Fiona, I make one last deliberate detour, to see if an interesting shot of a stream were possible. There was just enough light left to get some odd reflections.  

Yellow lights were already lit inside the cottages at Furzey Lodge. Suddenly it felt a very lonely business, getting my boots off in the eerie half-light. I wouldn't like to live in a forest. I would find the trees oppressive, and the night-time noises of nocturnal creatures most unsettling.