Monday, 31 May 2010

Open Studios Cornwall

OK before I get swept up in other stuff.

29 May to 6 June is Open Studios Week in Cornwall. It's when artists and makers throughout Cornwall open their studios or hold group exhibitions of their work.

Most of the studios are concentrated in West Cornwall but there are some in Mid- Cornwall and North Cornwall too.

If you can't find the very useful and informative brochure (try shops, cafes, galleries, libraries, museums, etc); you can download one from the organisers' site which is Creative Skills - Open Studios.

Sunday, 30 May 2010


The Old Man is packing his new case for his hospital stay. But I fell about with grim laughter at his choice of reading matter:

"Description of a struggle" by Franz Kafka.
"Acts of worship" by Yukio Mishima.

Puzzled, he thought again and selected a Graham Greene.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Rural life: medical trip

The Old Man had been called for his pre-op assessment. So me and him set out in the car to drive the 100 miles to the hospital in the next county, where he will be treated.

OK. I have to say the place is bigger and newer than our county's main hospital. And the bit I saw - brighter and more cheerful. Some bits of our hospital have a ... "run down" feeling. But then if you want "Run Down" nothing could beat the East London Hospital which I had to visit some years ago. We're talking Victorian and next to a Flyover. Articulated Lorries running past the ward windows.

Anyway. Waiting for The Old Man while he had his nose scraped for superbugs - I overheard another woman saying how she was counting her missed trains as she waited.
"Come far then?" say another.
"West Cornwall," say the woman missing trains, "I need a back op. They don't do it in Cornwall."

So the Old Man was not the only one travelling 200 miles there and back for an assessment. And another type of operation that apparently "can't be done" in Cornwall.

I know that they want to move certain kinds of cancer treatments from Cornwall to this Devon hospital. In fact there's been a bit of a hoo-hah after the sacking of the Cornwall Hospital's Chief Exec on the grounds of presiding over a failing hospital. Turns out his supporters say he was turning the hospital around; and it was in fact because he was opposing this move of some cancer treatments out of county without due public consultation - that the Strategic Health Authority and the Hospital's Trust wanted him gone. If you don't believe my cynicism, well... he's just won his industrial tribunal into unfair dismissal. And all sorts of bigwigs are coming out of the woodwork, huffing and puffing about inquiries into such unheard of behaviour.

It's hard when people are already sick and worried - and their friends and families too - to have to handle this distance thing. Anyway.
At least I've seen the place and now know where the Old Man will be snoring and cussing.

Days being ticked off now. And I'm getting nervous.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Animated discussions: Tough Stuff

In my previous animated discussion
I said: "It doesn't have to be cute." And I suppose people tend to think of animation as "cartoons" = "kids' stuff".
But animation tells all sorts of stories: fantasy or fact, love or war.

Now when it comes to war I am not talking Blood and Spatter stuff.
Or sci-fi visions of a post-apocalyptic world. I am now thinking of three very different kinds of war stories, based on fact.

First there is "Waltz with Bashir" directed by Ari Folman and released in 2008. It's based on recollections of friends' experiences while serving as Israeli soldiers during the 1982 Lebanon war - and revolves around recurring nightmares and the narrator's search to find the truth behind the imagery. As such, the film circles towards its climax with the night of the Sabra and Shatila Massacre.

Then, remember I talked about Marjane Satrapi's graphic memoir "Persepolis" in my last post about comics? And that she turned it into a feature-length animation? It was released in 2007, and it does relate to her life in Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. But the larger story is that of a young woman "resisting" the controlling powers of her own State; powers that can imprison - and even kill her.

But made before either of these, was the 1986 film "When the Wind Blows" based on Raymond Briggs' book of the same name and his drawings. It's a chilling, moving, depiction of an elderly couple's bewildered response to nuclear war; their trusting adoption of the government advice on how to keep safe during nuclear attack; and their decline amid the biscuit packets and chamber pots in their "inner refuge" built from doors and packing cases. It is a bleak film.

So you say: "But I thought you were excluding post-apocalyptic sci-fi?"
And I say: "Well... the advice they followed was real. It was from a UK govt leaflet published in 1980 and entitled "Protect & Survive" .

Monday, 24 May 2010

Rural life: Nature Notes

On the 2 mile there-and-back walk with the Old Man to get his newspaper from the shop in the next village. Beautiful day. We see swifts screaming about the village; a very red fox running down the field edge; and - a couple of Orange Tip butterflies.

And I've never seen an Orange Tip before.

In all seriousness...

So we are about a week till The Old Man has to travel 100 miles away to have the heart operation. And we decided I would not try and stay near the hospital, but come home to look after the house and the plants - particularly his chillie plants. He do love a chillie.

And so I will sit here and wonder how he's doing. And see if I can get to visit him. And hope there's no emergency cos I don't drive.

Yes, I know everyone says ... "ooh living where you do, you really ought to...."

But I'm too old to learn to drive. I've never wanted to anyway. People drive like madthings in these narrow country lanes. I don't think I can talk and drive at the same time.

And there was more of a goddamned BUS SERVICE when we moved here!

So where was I?
Oh, Yes. And people offer their help. They say: "If there is anything we can do.." And I know that they mean it.

When the Old Man jokes about "Choosing the flowers", everyone says: "Oh you mustn't talk like that." But you know? You do have to talk like that. I mean, you do have to talk ABOUT it.

So, you have split-personality conversations like:

"Where shall I put the winter squash this year? Do you want to be buried or cremated?"

"When my heart is fixed, I'd like to take up singing again.
I don't want a service or speeches."

"You know - maybe the new sun lounge roof should be solid for part of it - maybe we could afford some solar panels?"

"And I want irises - bearded irises."

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Rural life: Truro and the Search for a Case

It's just a couple of weeks to go to the Old Man's hospital stay. (see my earlier post) and a preparatory letter came with a list of required items including 3 pairs of pyjamas.

I say: "Have you got 3 pairs of pyjamas?"
He say: "No."
I say: "What have you got?"
He say: "2 pairs of bottoms, 1 pair long shorts things. And T-shirts."
I say: Well that's alright then."
He say: "No, it's not. They say THREE pairs of pyjamas. I need pyjamas."
I roll my eyes.
"...And I need a hold-all to put them in. And a wash-bag... And a book.... (House stuffed to the roof with books.) "... Not a book I will miss if I lose it. And the print not too small..."

Did I mention that the Old Man is like the Princess in "The Princess and the Pea"? That's a Fairy tale? Boils down to some blue-blood bird and how they know that she's really a Princess cos they put a Pea under her mattress and she can't sleep for the discomfort of it. So they put another mattress on top of the first one ... but she still feels the pea ... and so on and so on for about 20 mattresses ... and she could still feel that pea. Anyway, that meant she was a Real Princess or something.
And the Old Man always feels the Pea.

And now he's scratching his head at the cost of going into hospital.
"Three quid a day for phone and TV!"
Stuff the phone and the TV.
That's howcome the book - with the "not too small" print.

Anyhow. We decide a visit to Truro is in order - and the wonders of TK Maxx. Though when we get there, pyjamas are definitely not about. But eventually he gets a small case to put things in, and a wash-bag, and an orange linen jacket... Say what? OK. An orange linen jacket. And it was a bargain and he do like a jacket. ... And a book with not too small print.

And I'm exhausted again.

And Oh Yeah.... 2 days later the hospital rang and changed the date again. You would not believe the emails that have been flying around lining up friends to stay and keep company when he gets out.

And now they've changed the date again.

Now it's even sooner than a couple of weeks.

Ooo-ooh S..t!

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Animated discussions: Fairy Tale Dreams

The Old Man say: "You can tell my story."
I say: "Oh Yeah?"
He say: "The first cartoon film I saw in the cinema was "Snow White". I was four. I was so frightened by the Wicked Witch, I had nightmares for months. The worst was when she baked me in a pie with the apples."
Long silence.
"Get your own blog" say I.

Nevertheless, that's what's so powerful about animation. It makes real the fantastic, the impossible, the surreal. "Look. It moves around, it walks, it talks, it must be real," Our Little Child's Brain says.

Yes OK, I too have a Walt Disney Witch image burnt into my Little Child's Brain. But mine was Sleeping Beauty's Wicked Fairy. Towering tall, all cheekbones and scarlet lips. Like Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard", she was "... ready for my close-up now, Mr De Mille".
Clothes rippling behind her in the wind of her fury.

Which reminds me. Why is the wind always blowing in Japanese Anime films? Hair blows, skirt hems flap, the grass ripples and clouds sail across the sky.

And so whilst on the subject of Fairy Tale, I'm thinking Hiyao Miyazaki now. And some of my favourite animated films have been his. "Spirited Away", "Howl's Moving Castle" and my current absolute - "My Neighbour Totoro". Which is gentle, with a hint of something else - the world of the spirits. There's a cicada-ringing countryside; a crazy surreal bus ride through a rainy night; and the wonderful, wonderful Totoro himself.

(My current Mozilla FireFox look is called Parasol Totoro.)

So am I a sentimentalist? Because I like cute cartoons? But they don't have to be cute.

Let me tell you sometime about "Waltz with Bashir". That's not cute.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Rural Life: If you go down to the woods...

And the Old Man and me did just that yesterday. It was a fine spring day.

I love this particular place. It's pretty quiet. There are woods. Fields. A river.


Saw my first damsel fly of the summer.
A red one.

Along this stretch there are strange, lumpy, pockets of landscape; mining spoiltip where nothing much except heathers grow, because of the waste minerals. The trees are small and covered in lichen. Further into the woods the trees get taller.

As we walked into the wood, a buzzard flew out amongst the trees. I thought I'd heard a buzzard calling. The calls were not quite the usual. I wondered if there was a nest close by. Walking back down the path amongst the trees, I heard the crashing of twigs. And when I looked up, I saw chunky twigs falling to the ground from a messy platform of twigginess up the top of a tree.

Maybe it was Mama Buzzard making the bed.

Graphic Passions 3: Real-Life-Drama

I've posted about my Graphic Passions before. And the comics and graphic novels that I remembered, I suppose, boil down to Fantasies and Funnies.

But I was triggered into posting about comics by buying "Logicomix", which is essentially a fact-based comic. More of a Graphic Treatise than a Graphic Novel. This puts me in mind of other graphic non-fiction. And the two books that jump out at me are both Graphic Memoirs.

The first is Pulitzer Prize winner: "Maus" by Art Spiegelman. This was a major project, first published in two parts. It tells the story of Spiegelman's parents; their lives in pre-war Poland; and their subsequent experiences as Holocaust survivors. It also describes the complicated relationship between Spiegelman and his father.
The book is drawn in simple small frames of black and white line drawings - with the Jews depicted as mice, and the Nazis as cats. It had great impact on the comics world.

The second Graphic Memoir is Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis": the story of her own childhood in Iran during the Islamic Revolution and during the Iran/Iraq war; her teeenage years alone in Europe; and her return to Iran as a young woman. She writes and draws this with a tough humour and honesty. Again, it's drawn in deceptively simple black and white panels.

Then Satrapi makes my day - by turning the book into a feature length animated film.

How can I not love that.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

World Music: Astor Piazzolla

So with this listening.... (see previous post)

The other night I put Astor Piazzolla's name in the box.

Piazzolla was known for his new approach to Tango: orchestral, dramatic, narrative.

Years ago - in the mid-1980s - The Old Man and I saw Astor Piazzolla,and his Quinteto Tango Nuevo, play at the Almeida Theatre in Islington.

It was the first time that I'd seen this music being played. And the bandoneon in particular. That's the accordion sound in tango. The bandoneon looks like a square, Uber-concertina. It pulls out forever. So much so, that the player stands with his foot on a stool or box and lays the instrument out across his knee as he pulls and bends it.

Bang! Bang! Percussion, piano chords, violin bow strikes, double bass slaps. Bang! Bang! And the bandoneon being pulled out in Tango time.

It was a wonderful concert. And my good fortune to see and hear Piazzolla play.

If you prefer a gentler, more old-timey feel - try the singing of Carlos Gardel.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Musical listening:

I found through "Blogging for Dummies" by Susannah Gardner. I know I should be way cooler than this. And find out about it some other more "street-cred" way. But hey - what can I say?
The Doll has a Bus pass, already.

So I visited and signed up. And started listening while I puttered around the Internet.

And "scrobbling" is proving a good way to find more world music for me to listen to. Or other kinds of music for that matter. (Yeah- don't ask - "Scrobbling" is what they call it. And you download a "Scrobbler" especially for the task.)

So I log in and start with someone's music that I know and like and they fire up a "Radio Station" based on that artist and similar artists. The "Radio" keeps on playing tracks until you click it stopped. (You can skip stuff you're not liking.)

Or sometimes I put in a type of music - say: Blues, or even Electrotango, - and the principle's the same.

But I have to say that this didn't work with "Doo-Wop". They only listed a handful of artists and by my reckoning - these were NOT Doo-Wop. I mean.... come on.... Dusty Springfield? Doo-Wop? You guys don't know Doo-Wop is what I think.

Perhaps it's supposed to work by listeners tagging their tracks with music labels? If it does, I'd better revisit, pull up some Doo-Wop groups by name and tag them as such.

Dusty Springfield indeed.

EDIT: OK trying again and getting a better result for Doo-wop - but still a bit strange around the edges. "Mash-up" is "Doo-wop" now?
Say what?

Apple Blossom Time

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Rural life: spring rites

I was woken up in the very early hours of the morning, by loud animal cries down there in the garden.

I got out of bed and pulled up the blind. The sky was a field of stars, dense and speckled. But the outside world of the garden was totally dark to me.

The noises continued and eventually I could hear a mismatch that implied two animals crying out. I still had no idea what they were. Eventually the noise died down and I could hear the sound of an animal moving through the grasses and hedge - coming up towards the house.
And then the sound of another animal, a softer almost whimpering sound, that moved away in the opposite direction.

No doubt this was not a fight - but a mating. Maybe fox.
The other night I had heard a vixen calling out, down there in the garden.

Anyway it was vivid and alarming.

But this morning I kept thinking of the political courtship and "love rites" that took place yesterday. The politicians involved make like it's a marriage. But essentially it's a power grab and the tussle to establish a bloodline. Whatever - there are an awful lot of smug grins today.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Rural Life: The political side: 2

Dear Local MP

I wish to congratulate you on remaining our elected MP. I happily voted for you. And for your Party. Not least because I've never found myself represented by a visible and hard working constituency MP before.

I've even seen you in the flesh. On that demonstration walk to protest closure of our village Post Office?

Which closed all the same, didn't it... and the shop that contained it.

So I wish to make it very clear that I am non-plussed and alarmed to find that I have helped elect a Party that is about to ally itself with the very Party that I did not want in power.

I was appalled at the quick declaration of Your Leader, that your Party would negotiate with The Smooth-Faced Jolly Party to give them government.
Of course, he had said this before election day (a pointer which I stupidly ignored), and he said it again on result day. Before your own good self had been confirmed winner of this seat, in fact. So quick was he to get in there.

What was his phrase? The party with the "moral right" to form a government?
This would be despite the "constitutional right" of The Prime Minister to try to form a government in circumstances where there is no clear majority Party?

Personally, my hackles rise and I start sniffing the wind when too many people start going on about the "moral right" as a standard for public governance and action. I regard "morals" as a personal issue. Now "ethics" .... that's another matter altogether. But government isn't all that interested in "ethics", is it? I mean, sadly, they do not appear to have been a sine qua non for political life. Have they?

More to the point. I feel as if my vote has been hi-jacked. I am not a Smooth-Faced Jolly Party supporter. If I were - I would have voted for them. I voted for your Party's policies not Smooth-Faced Jolly Party's ones.

I urge you and the other MPs of your Party to keep open dialogue with the current party of government; and to make every effort to work with the Parliamentary party that I thought to be closer to yours on issues such as electoral reform, Europe, and immigration; and which is ultimately - more experienced than the Smooth-Faced Jolly Party.

If this alliance does go ahead - I will, in future, vote with my heart, regardless of the qualities of the sitting MP (yourself) and sadly accepting the likelihood that my vote will never result in a representative of my choice. (Because you don't really think that the Smooth-Faced Jolly Party will give you electoral Reform do you?)

Just a minute. What's that sound?
Ah yes - the baying of hounds getting ready for the return of hunting.... the sound of badgers being wiped out ... the bells ringing for the compulsory attendance of church .... the closing of the frontiers ... the rustle of bank notes .... and the hidden washing of dirty laundry.
Plus ca change ....

Yours with concern,
Grey Doll

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Rural life: the political side

So, it's election day.

The Old Man and me go off to the hall in the next village, clutching our voting cards. Quite busy really.
We go through the doors, and I see, in the lobby, a woman with a list, and a rosette not of our own voting colours.

She say: "Could I have your number please?"
I recognise her from the Group and start to smile....
The Old Man's hackles rise.
He growl and bite her head off:
"No. You can't. It's none of your business."
Smile aborted, I follow Shouting Old Man into the hall.

I say: "That's so-and-so. You've met her before. From the Group." (The Old Man's facial pattern recognition factor is nil.)
He reply: "She's not on a horse this time. How was I to know?"

I vote. And rejoin Old Man who has not left the hall yet, so I have to keep company with him past fellow Groupist.

Old Man apologise for not recognising her.
She say: "Quite alright. And you are right. You don't have to give me your number. It's just to check for our own party members...."
He start off again.
I shout "Goodbye" and march away.

I knew life in this Group was not going to work for me. The polite requests to bring the Old Man along to lunches and stuff. I say "No". They don't like taking "No" for answer. Now, one of them understand why I say "No".

Old Man is of course right about his rights. And very vocal in expressing them. It's very admirable. So it just be me that's a wimp, a creep AND a village outcast. Signed, sealed and delivered.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Animated discussions: cartoon time

Animation is magic. Most kids love magic. Most kids love cartoons. And adults who are still kids love cartoons. That's me.
Watching TV as a child. I remember - Popeye, The Flintstones, and Huckleberry Hound. Then there was "going to the pictures" - Walt Disney's Bambi, Sleeping Beauty, The Lady and the Tramp, and 101 Dalmatians.

But as well - there were all those daily cartoons and animations that went with TV commercials. It kept most animators in business. From the start, British commercial TV hosted cartoons by the shopping trolley load. From the 1950s on - bear skinned guards marched and sang about "Murray Mints" (too-good-to-hurry mints), parading shirts sang about Rael Brook poplin .... plastic Martians hooted with laughter over the idea of Instant Mashed Potato ("for Mash eat Smash"). Cartoons and animation everyday. That's how most of us got to know Aardman Animation, before Wallace & Gromit. When their vox pop "Creature Comforts" for the "Heat Electric" campaign hit our telly screens.

Even now I watch the "broken window - wind blowing hat - bewildered hat owner - helpful window repair man - hat back on head" sequence before Channel 4's Weather Forecast. (Done by Studio AKA for Lloyds TSB.) And I still laugh out loud. The Old Man thinks I'm very obsessive about this one.

There is a whole history of animation in the simple act of viewing commercial TV over the decades. Now though - maybe the magical separateness of the animated world is growing indistinct. With animation's fusion with CGI and with the media's daily reliance on digital cosmetics and trickery - do children and adults start mistaking "movie magic" for real life?
I mean, nobody mistook Yogi Bear for a real Grizzly.
Or did they?