Friday, October 21, 2016

Friday Night Is Music Night: A Look At Luka

JD's latest Friday selection...

Luka Bloom is the younger brother of Christy Moore and is, in my view, every bit as good as his more famous sibling.

Here is a selection from his excellent back catalogue, the first one featuring Sinéad O’Connor-

And two songs with his brother-

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Drownded on Titanic

Part of a gravestone at St Mary's church, Tissington. It records the death of Frank Richard Allsop aged 43, a saloon steward on the Titanic.

Mr Frank Richard Allsop, 43, came from Devon England. When he signed onto the Titanic he gave his address as Obelisk Rd, Southampton (elsewhere recorded as Woolston, Hampshire). His sister, Mrs H. McLaren was a stewardess on the ship. 

Frank's death is recorded on his father James' gravestone as his body was not recovered. 'Drownded' seems to be a dialect word, never particularly common although I've heard it a few times.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Three art teachers

JD' offers this tribute to those who educated him in art:

The gentleman in the video is Harvey Sklair (talking to his nephew) and you can see a few of his paintings on the walls. He was the art teacher at my school and I have never forgotten him even though it was 60 years ago. And here is his potted biography and it sounds about right, matching my recollection of him -

I had been meaning to do this for a while so today I put the name Harvey Sklair into Google and there he was! It is such an unusual name that I felt sure that the all seeing eye of the Google would find him. He was my art teacher in my first two years at grammar school. I've never forgotten him because he was completely different from all the other teachers. He had a large beard and wore a corduroy jacket or a leather jacket. But it wasn't just his appearance that set him apart from the other teachers.

He didn't 'teach' us, he encouraged us to find inspiration within ourselves although I couldn't articulate it in that way at the time. He coaxed the ideas out of us and guided us in the right direction. And that is what education is or should be about. According to the OED the word 'education' is derived from the Latin "e-ducere" meaning to "pull out" or "to lead forth"  -

Rather than fill our little heads with information, he would encourage us to do things. I can remember, among other things, making lino-cut prints by carving line drawings into lino, (all those very sharp cutting tools! - horror of horrors! Would that be allowed today?), making papier mache models and painting them, making a copy of Magritte's Empire of Light, which Magritte had painted only two years before I copied it!. And there were many other similar projects and new ideas. But then he left and in the third year art had to be dropped; that is to say, art was one of the 'fringe' subjects and deemed to be of lesser importance than more 'academic' subjects. We were allowed one 'fringe' subject only so it was a choice between art, music, woodwork and something else. I chose woodwork because I thought it might be more useful - I still have the bedside table I made. (More horror of horrors - we were allowed to use a lathe, carving round table legs. Again, would that sort of thing be allowed today?)

So Harvey Sklair left a very strong impression on me and, I suspect, on all who were taught by him. As I recall there were more than few at my school who produced some really inventive and skilled works of art. 

And then the real world intervened and I went off to earn a living and it was many years later that I returned to 'art school' in the form of part time drawing and painting classes run locally.

Firstly with a regular visit to the DLI Museum in Durham where the teacher was Linda Birch who was and still is a professional artist and illustrator. She produced, among other things, the designs for Oliver Postgate's "Bagpuss" and "The Clangers" You can read more about her here-

 Then I used to go to one of the attic rooms in the Laing Art Gallery where Cheryl Hamer was running a painting class. Again, a professional painter who has a painting in the Laing although I cannot find any reproductions of it. This is as close as I can get-

I have been very fortunate in having had three very good teachers of art and I have absorbed a great deal from each of them for which I am very grateful. Whether I live up to their standards or not is debatable but that is not the point. The end product, i.e. the painting, is not important, it is the process which matters. To become fully absorbed in the act of painting, forgetting all else, is an act of prayer a meditation. During those few moments of intense concentration the painter becomes the painting, the painting IS the painter, merged into one.

That way sound a bit airy-fairy or just plain silly but it is a reality. I have tried to explain it elsewhere a few years ago- "I was drawing a picture of a vase of daffodils. My subconscious took over completely to the point where the class tutor (Linda Birch) said she was going to demonstrate some technique and I wanted to get up and watch but I couldn’t move, so ‘locked-in’ was I in the process of looking at and drawing the subject before me. That was a very weird experience and it has me searching for some way of explaining it."

 Did I learn anything? Yes! Did it do me any good as a painter? I don't know -

Just a little chapter on my long journey (meander?) through life.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Our national shame

New Labour in its pomp was guided by the likes of Peter Mandelson, now (like so many) a bought-and-paid-for EUrocrat. Here he is with some other Brits, simpering in the presence of billionaire Oleg Deripaska. They are almost clutching themselves with excitement.

They may kiss Deripaska's bottom, but President Putin doesn't:

The video is a treat - watch Deripaska lie about having signed an agreement, be effortlessly called on it and called up front, then like a sulky schoolboy try to take the pen with him, only to be schoolmastered by the President.

Where do we Westerners have politicians who can do that?

Now it may well be that Mr Putin is not a nice man. But remember Churchill's saying, "The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet." To dominate a pack of wolves you have to be a wolf. Has Putin enriched himself? He would probably not be taken seriously by his lupine underlings if he hadn't. But do you doubt that he works for Russian national interests, as well as his own?

This week's Private Eye - a formerly independent magazine that now appears to have taken editorial "lines" on e.g. Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn - features on its front page paired photographs of US President Obama and Presidential candidate Trump, dubbed "HOPE" and "GROPE" respectively. This tempts us to ask, what became of the hope represented by Obama - and by Bill Clinton?

Yes, the American econo-political machine has its own juggernaut course, just like the British one. Yet remember Kennedy and FDR: there is a period at the start of incumbency, especially when the nation is in crisis, when a new leader could potentially cut free of his handlers and appeal direct to the people to support significant reforms.

In 2009 I (along with millions of others) hoped that President Obama might sort out the crooked financial establishment; instead, it has sorted us out. And as for President Clinton, doubtless Congress and the Senate threw various spanners in his designs, but why exactly did he feel he had to repeal Glass-Steagall as one of his final acts before leaving office? I also hear that he earlier instituted welfare reforms that made life much harder for many vulnerable people; are there not times when the President can refuse to sign?

As with the EU referendum, in America Presidential election campaigns encourage both halves of the nation to hate and despise each other, and then we wonder why the people are not happy. And it's all Punch and Judy. "Grope," indeed. The bien-pensant media tell us what to think, and how to vote, and if we don't do as we're told there's an endless post-vote campaign to tell us we were wrong. But the big problems are not sorted.

I never thought we'd have anything to learn from the Russians.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Friday Night Is Music Night: Prime Numbers

JD has put together "A miscellaneous collection of 'misfits'; by which I mean musicians who defy categorisation, which is why I love them!"

Slim Gaillard:

Louis Prima:

Willie Dixon:

George Melly:

Marion Harris:

Cab Calloway:

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Brexit - the issue has been decided

The Callaghan government fell on 28 March 1979 because it lost a motion of no confidence by one single vote (310-311), as a result of which the Prime Minister quite correctly advised HMQ to dissolve Parliament. That was a 0.16% margin of votes cast.
Had the same number of MPs (621) voted in the 2016 EU Referendum and the split been 48%/52% the government would have lost (or won) by a margin of 25 votes. Many issues have been determined by smaller margins in the House of Commons - here are a few just since the last General Election*:
Date Time Subject Turnout Majority Margin %
20 Oct 2015 18:52 Opposition Day — Tax Credits 616 22 3.57%
26 Oct 2015 21:13 Finance Bill — New Clause 7 — VAT on Sanitary Protection Products 596 18 3.02%
19 Jan 2016 16:16 Education (Student Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 — Prayer to Annul — Replacing Student Grants with Larger Loans for Students from England 599 11 1.84%
19 Jan 2016 16:16 Opposition Day — Student Maintenance Grants 602 14 2.33%
25 Apr 2016 21:26 Immigration Bill — Unaccompanied Refugee Children: Relocation and Support 572 18 3.15%
28 Jun 2016 14:30 Finance Bill — Schedule 19 — Multinational Enterprises — Publication of Country by Country Tax Strategy 571 22 3.85%
"My policy is to hold a renegotiation and then a referendum. That is what we promised in the manifesto and then to abide by what the British public say." PM David Cameron, 19 January 2016. "This is a decision that lasts for life. We make this decision and it is probably going to be the only time in our generation when we make this decision" - PM David Cameron, 23 Feb 2016.
It is time for "those who know better" to decide whether they believe in democracy at all.


* Data from - clearly there is a date error around 19 Jan 2016 but the general point stands.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Dreams of Bloomsbury at Charleston House

‘Come out and climb the garden path,
Luriana Lurilee,
The China Rose is all abloom
And buzzing with the yellow bee
We’ll swing you on the cedar-bough,
Luriana Lurilee’

From Charles Isaac Elton’s ‘A Garden Song’

I remember the dizzying chimes of this poem from when I first read Virginia Woolf’s ‘To the Lighthouse’, where the stanza sways through the consciousness of a group of intellectuals dining in the flowing light of the lighthouse. I was 14 years old and quite unaware that this poem would stream through my mind many years later, as I ambled the blooming garden paths of Charleston Farmhouse.

Charleston is the house museum of the Bloomsbury group’s country retreat in East Sussex, and to this day it looks as if its radical tenants are about to clatter through the door with easels and ink pots. In the dawn of the 1900s, the gifted sisters Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf (neé Stephen) became part of an eclectic circle of modern painters, writers and free thinkers, who oscillated around their avant-garde home in Bloomsbury. This new group, named the ‘Bloomsbury set’ was a radical backlash to the oppressive wake of the Victorian era. Bell, trained to classical ideals at the Royal Academy, broke free of restrained British art which largely clung to limpid realism and narrative symbols. In her paintings she defied symbolism and the Victorian taste for sombre colours, creating a new visual language of Post-Impressionism in England. With her sister, modernist genius Virginia Woolf, a new freedom was unleashed on Edwardian society.

There were many fascinating ‘Bloomsberries’, such as Duncan Grant, exquisite painter and ‘pacifist anarchist’, Maynard Keynes, crucial economist and first chairman of the Arts Council, Roger Fry, who brought Picasso and Matisse to an astounded British public and Clive Bell, Vanessa’s husband and art critic. All of these visionaries, together with Bell and her children, stayed at Charleston over the years, making it a hothouse of art, ideas and bohemian living in the 1900s.

The first glimpse you have of Charleston is its ochre gable, rising with a stately yet rural simplicity from the South Downs, its violet grey windows of the attics gleaming like a painter’s eyes to the landscape.

As you enter through the door trailing with heavy fuchsia, you pass not just through a threshold but into another world. You are submerged in the greatest appreciation of the senses, with an aging gilt mirror throwing your reflection into a painted room, with Vanessa Bell’s whimsical flowers blossoming in chalk paints on the window reveal, Persian rugs trodden by bohemian feet, flowers dancing jealously outside the sash window with walls lined by portraits of the Stachey’s and a fireplace painted in gaudy circles which, if thought about, would seem to jar yet bring the whole room into a state of avant-garde suspension. As you leave the room your eye is caught by a Duncan Grant mural of an acrobat falling languidly through the heights of the circus, his wan limbs raised with a sense of hedonism against the night…

You are led through, as if by hand, like an exquisite game of blind man’s buff, imagining Vanessa composing a still life on the lavishly painted dining room table, a beautiful ceramic form by Quentin Bell throwing dots of light across the ceiling and falling towards paintings of a cat curled up in pleasure by Duncan Grant and quirky porcelain plates collected by the ‘Bloomsberries’ on their travels. Then up, up, as if pulled by spirit along the womb-like corridors to the bedrooms, with the most magnificent light streaming in from the misty Downs…

But first, Clive Bell’s library, with worn copies of ‘Intimacy’ and great hardbound collections of Byron which match the elegant sensuality of the nude drawings that hang above his painted bed in the next room…. The Bloomsbury group are renowned for their adventurous affairs and new romantic boundaries, a motif which playfully dances through the décor. Each everyday object is turned into an objet de plaisir, being either playfully obliterated with paint or produced by the artists at Omega Workshops. The house is a complete piece of art, sculpture, and in fact living. I think the most beautiful thing about Charleston House is not just how its quirky inhabitants mastered their paintbrushes, but actually how they mastered the art of life; loving, freely and with great abandon in all things.

I would like to return to the dreamy blooms of Charleston’s garden paths with the end of Charles Isaac Elton’s poem, borrowed via of Virginia, who swings back to us on the cedar-bough…

‘Swing, swing on a cedar-bough!
Till you sleep in a bramble heap
Or under the gloomy churchyard tree,
And then, fly back and swing on a bough, 
Luriana Lurilee’

by Catherine Beaumont


‘A Garden Song’, Charles Isaac Elton
‘Among the Bohemians’, Virginia Nicholson
‘The Angel of Charleston’, Stewart MacKay
‘To the Lighthouse’,Virginia Woolf
‘Vanessa Bell’, Frances Spalding