Monday, 21 August 2017

Are you Experienced?


I get my breakdown cover for the car through a company called GEM Motoring (Guild Of Experienced Motorists). This set-up is obviously aimed at the over-50s but attempts to get a younger membership by advertising child seats, etc.

As part of the package they send you a quarterly magazine. It is packed full of articles which they think will appeal to the average person who is still just about young enough to drive a car, but there are plenty of warnings with spurious statistics about accidents caused by poor eyesight, and these are sponsored by a spectacle manufacturer. Yes, there is a lot of advertising aimed at the over 50s as well.

Every issue has adverts such as '2 for the price of 1 100% pure cotton Chinos' (as modelled by a very fit, 30 year-old man) and they come in up to 48 inch waist in a variety of horrible colours.

There are offers for cruises etc, and the winner of the competition sponsored by a certain hotel (question: How many rooms does this hotel have?) can get up to £350 off a two-night stay there (prices based on two people sharing, per head...). That will be 350 of your Grey Pounds, sir.

There are reviews on cars, and this month there are reviews on second-hand cars, including the Volvo V70. They reckon that an old V70 with 80,000 miles on the clock starts at £3,500. I wonder why I rejected one for £1,000 a few years ago... In the new section, they compare a Vauxhall with a Volvo, and they slag-off the Vauxhall as being 'flabby and powerless'. Obviously Vauxhall refused to give them a back-hander for a good review.

This issue features Ely and the Cambridgeshire Fens as a motoring destination for the retired, and - guess what - the hotel in the competition is in Ely.

The reader's letter to the editor section is about 4 pages and features writers who you would definitely not want to sit next to in a car, even for a short journey.

One elderly man wonders why everyone except him on the road is a crap driver, and another - presumably tee-total - asks for a campaign to enforce a law which would make getting into a car if you have had any alcohol within 24 hours a banning offence if caught. That would really put a stop to my 2 pints in the pub after work. "Airline pilots have to abide by this rule," he says, "So why doesn't a car-driver?" Because a car driver doesn't usually drive at 40,000 feet at 600 miles per hour with 300 passengers on board, that's why.

Another letter praises the efficiency of GEM's breakdown service, but having used them myself I am willing to believe it is genuine.

I am considering asking them to do an article on the increasingly popular pass-time of 'dogging'. It involves cars and car-parks after all, and is open to anyone who is old enough to drive. It could involve some night-time shots (with flash or infrared) of elderly readers who have given it a try and can thoroughly recommend it. Lists of participating car-parks around the country could be made so that GEM readers can easily find one close to their homes - or at least within a short drive. It might mean staying up a little later than usual, but I am sure they would find it a rewarding experience.

What do you think?

The main principle remains the same...

Happy Birthday Kingdom


I would like to be in South Carolina for a few minutes today. The nearby Box railway tunnel (which is over a mile long, cutting through a large hill on its route to London) was built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. What a great name for your boy - Kingdom. Even Isambard for that matter.

There was always a rumour that Brunel aligned the tunnel so that the sun rose directly central at the East end on the morning of his birthday, but everyone said this was not true. Last year they did some work on the tunnel during his birthday period and they stopped the trains, making it easier to take photos without being killed by the 7.45 to Paddington, but more difficult to get to London from the West. This photo was taken at dawn on Brunel's birthday.






Sunday, 20 August 2017

Greetings from the Silent Pool


I remember childhood periods of pure contentment, as when sitting under a bus-shelter watching rain drops hitting a puddle in the road outside.

I love to see children peering into rock-pools at low tide, lost in fascination by the salt water microcosm and breathing in the dark green stench of beached seaweed and dead crabs.

We watched a huge, neckless, Russian man go to a beach in Cuba every day for a week on his own, to spend all day making massive, artless sand-castles with broad sweeps of his thick arms. I don't know what he did for a job back home, but he was on a perfect childhood holiday from it. I think he had re-discovered the old trick of making a week last a whole Summer by just staring at sand for eight hours a day. I never once saw him turn around and gaze at the improbably beautiful turquoise ocean behind him, which took up most of our time.

Fly-fishing anglers always look down on coarse fisherman, but I can understand why they do it. When fly-fishing you are constantly working, but with coarse you just chuck the float in the water and stop thinking if you so wish. The electronic bite-detectors even allow you to close your eyes, and many coarse fishermen take camp beds with them in case - or for when - they drift off. Like scrumped apples, stolen sleep is the most delicious. Only the Poles eat carp here.

We stopped sitting on beaches all day some years ago, so now we seem to go to cities for our holidays. H.I., being a painter, usually has an itinerary planned which involves certain museums and specific paintings within them. Time spent in parks and green areas means drawing for her. I like this sort of a holiday, but it still involves work.

I really do understand why children are often to be seen looking bored to distraction whilst being dragged around museums by their parents. They have their own way of turning something potentially boring into a form of pure meditation.

Mary Beard has tweeted to ask if we can - once and for all - remember that going to university is not about getting a higher wage when you leave, it is about getting an education.

The British Museum has come up with a brilliant idea which I would have loved as a kid. Every now and then, they allow a small party of children to actually spend the night sleeping on the floor of the Egyptian section. Lights out.

When I was on my own, I would quite often book myself into a hotel somewhere, then just stay in the room, only going down for meals. I am not sure if I was kidding myself when I said that I was soaking up the atmosphere of the town in a spiritual sort of way, but I know that it involved no work whatsoever. No looking, no cooking.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

RIP The Duke of Beaufort


The 11th Duke of Beaufort died the other day. This is the tomb of the 10th and the (25 year-old) photo was sent to me by the sculptor yesterday. You will not find any others on the net, for reasons which will become clear a little later.

A few weeks ago, I tried to show this tomb to my German guests, because I built it under interesting circumstances. I began working for the sculptor just as he was completing the 10th Duke's tomb, so I did not have much of a hand in its making, but I did build it in Badminton House churchyard.

The 10th Duke was the quintessential huntin', shootin' and fishin' aristocrat, but he was best known for his passion for hunting foxes on horseback with hounds. The Beaufort Hunt is still the most famous in England.

As the figurehead for the sport of riding to hounds, he received a lot of unwanted attention from hunt saboteurs and other antis. The antis felt so strongly about their cause that they dug up the body of the 10th Duke after he died and before I put up Simon's memorial. Fortunately, they left the body on site and but daubed 'ROT IN HELL, BEAUFORT' on the church wall.

They re-interred the Duke, but this time cast a six inch by six foot by six foot slab of concrete over the grave to prevent further digging. This made the erection of the tomb a straightforward matter as it provided ready-made footings for the Portland stone. I reinforced the box section of the tomb with concrete blocks, just in case someone tried to kick it to bits.

I arrived in the churchyard one day to survey the grave and assess what would be needed for the tomb building, and as I stood on the concrete slab, a car rushed up and two men got out and ran toward me, obviously expecting me to run away.

They asked what I was doing there and I explained. They calmed down after this and I asked how they knew I was there - these were the days before the ubiquitous cameras.

They pointed to an arial scanner on the roof of the church, and said that I had set it off when I walked up. They said that they were a bit twitchy, because the alarm had been set off every night at the same time for weeks, and when they rushed to the churchyard, nobody was to be seen. They had searched the grounds for vandals and hunt-sabs, but there was nobody. 

So one night, they lay in wait, hiding in some bushes with torches at the ready. Sure enough, at exactly the same time as the previous nights, the alarm was triggered.

The shone their torches at the grave and saw a lone fox, casually strolling over the last resting place of the 10th Duke of Beaufort with a disdainful air of unconcern.




Friday, 18 August 2017

Sex, Drugs and Hockey Sticks


All this week, they have been giving us puzzles to solve on the radio. Many of them were set by G.C.H.Q. - Britain's centre of spying with its headquarters in nearby Cheltenham. Cheltenham is known for two things in particular: the intelligence headquarters and the finishing school for young ladies.

It seems that G.C.H.Q. actually advertises for spies these days rather than just pop round to the school for young ladies at the end of term to eye-up the talent. The puzzles are part of the entrance exam.

Todays puzzle was this: There is a single storied building with 50 straight walls but no ground plan exists for it. How many security cameras would you need to observe every part of the building?

I vaguely began to divide 50 by four and stopped when I could not work out how many corridors connecting the rooms there might be. Then some spark gave the game away by coming up with a possibly correct answer.

If the ground plan was circular and the walls radiated from the middle, you would need one camera in the centre to see every part of the space.

I was looking for a picture of Cheltenham Ladies College to find the above, and saw that an ex-pupil has written a book with the title I have given this post. I wonder if it is still in print...

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Wolf spirit haunts Bath street


Between showers and between being wet and being dry, the road outside is trying to convince me it is made of lizard, shark or dinosaur skin.

It has been quite a few years since I have made any figurative sculpture, but now I remember how you start to see everything in sculptural terms when trying to come up with solutions to 3D representational problems. Currently, it is pheasant's legs. Have you ever looked closely at the skin on the legs of a pheasant? The link between dinosaurs and birds becomes much clearer when you do.

When I was carving life-sized classical figures, I would find myself staring intently at the curve of a woman's arm at a party or wherever. When I was carving women's backsides, I was amazed at how much information I could effortlessly draw on which I had gathered over the years for other reasons.

Sometimes I overtake a woman in the street and recognise her from behind as someone I saw a few days ago, purely from the shape of her arse. I am good at retaining some information and very bad at others. I routinely correctly guess the nationality of women by the shape of their arses. The Spanish have the most distinct and easy to identify backsides.

I cannot remember the name of the autistic kid who was spotted by a famous British architect for having a truly photographic memory for architecture. He liked buildings.

His parents first noticed his prodigious skill after taking him out one day when he saw a large building which impressed him. When he got home he decided to draw it. It was correct in every minute detail.

The architect made a TV documentary with the boy, and in it he takes him to a few large London buildings. The boy looked at them - rather casually - for a matter of seconds, then went back to the office to reproduce them in pencil on paper. Every crocket, every pinnacle, every window and every detail was remembered and put down, the exact number of windows and precise juxtapositions in perfect scale to each other.

Ok, I know a woman's backside isn't quite as complex as Kings Cross Station, but there is more going on than just a couple of buns stuck next to each other.

Now here's a strange thing. Yesterday I heard the sound of a child howling like a wolf, and I looked out to see a young Arab boy with his lips pursed, howling into the sky as his parents made a phone call.

Just now I heard the same noise and I looked out expecting to see the same lad, but there was a young girl of the same age, making the same noise in the same place as she walked with her parents.

I might go down and see if I am affected by some sort wolf presence on that spot, but I think you probably have to be a child.