Plague Year 2: salvage
We did not expect that 2021 would be much the same as 2020, except with even less optimism or faith that it would all be over soon. With even less faith in our leaders. But with the joy of the vaccine. Our arms are pincushions - first jab, second jab, booster, flu, pneumonia. We are reeling with a swarm of anti-bodies and we really hope we will survive. And we are the lucky ones by a very long way.
Meanwhile the planet is burning and sinking - COP26 came and went. David Attenborough continued to make heart wrenching programmes on the beauty and tragedy of it all. Where will it end? Well I guess we all know the answer to that. That's why we look at pictures of kittens. I don't have any of those, but these are some images from 2021. They seem to have a lonely feel - I apologise. But maybe this is just how it was (is?)
I've walked around 300 miles since lockdown started in March. Mostly this has been along streets and paths around Darlington, within a five mile radius of my house. Some of these walks I already knew about, others I have discovered by simply taking a path or street I hadn't noticed before and pursuing it. Nearly all these walks have been done alone, often quite early in the morning, especially through April and May.
The walks have been an essential aspect of maintaining some semblance of mental health, given everything has seemed so utterly bonkers, with a mounting death toll, and a sense that those who are in the know are not making the decisions. To say I felt unsafe is an understatement: choosing the early morning was all about avoiding people.
I took photos quite often. The spring was so beautiful - I'm not sure because it was doom laden, or because I had the time to notice every sprig of it. I should have been in Finland for a writing residential, which I had intended to be life changing. But life changed anyhow.
It's all about the light
This Foxy, Kev Howard has allowed us to share some of his amazing images: there's a selection here of his portraits, landscapes and body explorations. He's very good at taking pictures of poets. You can find more of them here
Here comes summer . . . . .
Summer means time to enjoy food and wine out in the garden with with friends, trips to the seaside, Agricultural Shows and visits to swoon over the cottage gardens at Beamish, fish and chips, ice cream vans, the magnificent cliff lift at Saltburn, red geraniums in a window box, ice cold beers in the sunshine, banners at the Durham Miners Gala, music festivals, picking vast amounts of fruit, blue skies, cake and tea, and wearing stylish sunglasses. Small decisions abound . . . should the artichoke be left rather than eaten because it looks so beautiful? Are there just too many red currants and can I go dancing in those gorgeous flip-flops or should it be the sensible plimmies . . . . .
So I've been asking myself this question a lot lately - are designs from the 1970's retro again? Are they striding back into current fashion and homeware trends after a flurry in 2015, or is it just me seeing them everywhere. Am I finding things from my teenage years familiar and strangely attractive, after either ignoring them in the search for my own style? Or even actively hating them as being an example of my parents ideas of taste at the time? Oh the arrogance and blindness of being young . . . .
'familiar and strangely attractive'
Sideboards, Hornsea containers, coffee pots, tupperware, melamine, cocktails cabinets, tea sets and ashtrays - why are they do they look just so right all of a sudden? Stylish and desirable, these objects represent the very essence of clean, current and attractive design principles. I see them and feel as if I am living in an early Habitat design catalogue and it's where I want to be. I see red kitchen accessories and they call out to my turquoise kitchen walls - but haven't I lived this colour and style combination already? Is it 1970's or early 1980's - I'm wavering about the lines, but it all looks good.
'I hate pink, but now I really love it'
Garish, clashing prints and odd colour combinations abound in textiles and I crave them again. Black & white with neon pink, sharp lime green with pink, orange and pink - what's going on? I hate pink! I've never been a pink loving child, girl or woman and yet somehow at the moment I really love it. It seems to glow, especially with other strong colours from a 1970's palette, and I find I'm craving bright, cheerful colours. Somehow everything I own looks good against these bold slashes of pure colour and my clean white walls are in real danger of being swallowed whole.
I've never managed minimalism, as I enjoy the shapes and patterns of things too much to live with just the one perfect vase, but even I can see the beauty of my G Plan sideboard against a plain wall. I catch myself passing the room where it stands, in all its 1970's glory, and smiling quietly to myself as I let it breathe. Some things just look right to your eyes, whatever style period they belong to. The 1970's objects I own might be vying for equal space with my 1950's collection, but there is room in my life for them both and I'll be embracing every 1970's resurgence as it arrives.
Beauty in Berlin
Berlin in winter is a freezing cold, beautiful city of contrasts. Everywhere you look there is beauty, both ancient and modern. Wonderful typography to drink in on every station platform, so much so that I had to keep interrupting my journeys to museums and gardens to hop off underground trains just to capture the different typefaces, coloured tiles and magnificent pillars. If graphic design is your thing I highly recommend a visit and a transport pass - currently 30 euros for a 7 day pass for all types of travel across the main city areas. You won't be disappointed by what you can see on any ordinary day just by 'riding the rails.'
'Wonderful typography to drink in on every platform'
During my recent trip, I took maximum advantage of the travel pass and, being well bundled up against the bitter cold and wind, also walked and walked around the city just looking at everything. with my camera in my pocket. I find this an exhilarating process for my visual senses and if I'm feeling stuck with a project or even before starting a new one, it always helps with gathering ideas and inspiration. I am very happy with the everyday-ness of ordinary things and love to see how the outdoor food markets are arranged and what food is in season. Passing by a huge pile of shiny aubergines and bright green pears was a feast for the eyes, even if I couldn't buy any that day, but the colour combinations remain in mind and still delight me.
'explore the hidden beauty in the details of your place'
You can do this on any day, even in your home town by looking for the hidden sights and colours that get missed in the hurry of a busy life. Try using your lunch hour or a free afternoon to travel visually where you live and explore the hidden beauty in the details of your place. If you own a smartphone never forget that you have an incredible tool in your pocket, use it to capture some of your own favourite sights and see where it leads. Maybe the photos are a way to remember a lovely weekend or a useful reminder to stay awake to the beauty of your surroundings and its possibilities, but either way, I wish you many happy visual travels in 2018.
Firstly, an admission - I've been part of the magic that is the Festival of Thrift since the first one in 2013 so naturally I'm somewhat biased in its favour - but as we rapidly approach the 5th one (it's on Saturday 23rd & Sunday 24th September at Kirkleatham Hall & Museum, Redcar TS10 5NW so get your skates on) I'm here to tell you something of what you might miss if you let another Festival slide by without a visit.
".. a glorious hotch potch of English eccentricity and colour.."
Imagine a glorious hotch potch of English eccentricity and colour, an amazing mixture of artists and actors with stories and adventures to delight you, children's games, billowing flags and bunting, families building dens, playing with sticks and mud, improvised theatre, singing, sit down town meals, gorgeous bistro camper vans, foodie stalls and lots of hand made things together with interesting talks and ideas for living a thrifty and more sustainable life. It's like the very best of alternative music festivals without the enormous price ticket and the many hours of travelling. It's free to get in with just a £5 charge to park per car, so a bunch of people travelling together make this a very thrifty option. See www.festivalofthrift.co.uk for more travel options if you fancy using the local trains to Redcar - an adventure in itself. You could hit the Festival for hours of fun and frolics then visit the beach for sandy feet, delicious chips followed by an ice cream.
Other delights to look out for at Thrift are the Oxglam Fashion Show which this year has costumes and fashionable looks using recycled garments and many hours of volunteers time and creativity based around the growth theme. There are also many, many workshops for fixing things, sticking things, stitching things, mending & repairing stuff, making, thrifting, inventing, swopping, spinning, knitting, campfire cooking, willow weaving, jam making, spoon carving, dancing, dressing up, making crazy music, trying on mad hats and generally having a whale of a time. Stand and stare for a while, drink in the atmosphere and join in the fun, it's simply amazing.
I'll be there with some lovely Singer hand sewing machines for people to make things on at the Rejig sewing workshop, so if you are passing the Stables on your whirl around the rest of the Festival, pop in and say hello and stitch a square for our second community quilt. It's just a really wonderful weekend for everyone, whatever you get up to and I guarantee you won't regret your visit.
Who knows, it might even inspire you to try something completely new. . . . .
In praise of black & white
Now as we live in the midst of a strange and turbulent summer, let me take a moment out to praise the delights of black and white, that crisp, graphic contrast that underlines any glorious love affair with colour. I love the contrast of newspaper typography and rhythmic lines of print, alongside the stunning beauty of lino cuts, chessboards, Victorian tiled floors, Mary Quant mini dresses, charcoal drawings, and dazzling Bridget Riley Op Art paintings. Look how it's simplicity and contrast immediately cuts through the woolly fluff of fleeting fashion and sharpens the eye. I long for the discipline of wearing a black and white outfit - maybe houndstooth check trousers with a black or white linen shirt, patent leather shoes and a plain jacket - I can visualise it, so pulled together and elegant, and I recognise it on others, but inevitably my love of colour runs away with me and bang goes the reality of a classic combination once again. I seem to require both colour and the contrast of black and white to feel truly content.
My own graphic love affair began with documentary photography exhibitions at Amber/Side discovered during my student years, allowing me the opportunity to explore the stunning Ansel Adam landscapes of Yosemite, the stark American Depression photographed by Walker Evans and the migrant farm families by Dorothea Lange to the Easington images of the 80's miners strike from Keith Pattinson and Appleby Horse Fair movingly captured by Dave Thomas. I think too of all the graphic novels, illustrations and comics artists whose work I love, and the classic black and white movies that can still stand the test of time, Ealing comedies, film noir crime, Hitchcock thrillers and the joyful Marx Brothers howlers that picture the past in grainy, monochrome tones. We are surrounded by so much visual detail and cultural richness to enjoy.
So I find myself drawn to black and white as strongly as the equal pull towards colour - at once enjoying the delicacy of a tea set with plates and cups trimmed in a tiny black and white design, while I scribble in a sketchbook using a favourite Ticonderoga pencil to capture the shapes lurid pink and yellow french fancies make on those plates, but they beckon to me because it's already teatime. Using delicious black charcoal sticks would create a bolder drawing on the paper, but inevitably mess up my white linen shirt and today I'm content to be here eating cake and praising the beautiful contrast of black and white.
Surrounded By Colour
There is an abiding, quiet joy in noticing the colour that surrounds me. It is something that feeds and warms me every day. From the startling lime green, purple and orange of vegetables glanced in the market as I pass, to the gleam of an embroidery thread rainbow tumbled on my desk. It is at once both a private pleasure and shared experience and never exactly the same the next time I look.
We live surrounded by colour. Even on the greyest of days, there it is sneaking up on me in the rosy red shine of an apple next to the yellow, bruised bananas in the fruit bowl, the hidden delight inside a pomegranate or kiwi fruit. I've even been known to have food on my plate just for the colour it lends the meal and the satisfaction it gives to see it there. No wonder I love experimenting with dyes, an ideal opportunity to enjoy more colours and possibilities every time a small treasure trove of fabric swatches emerges, fresh from the dye pot.
I've always loved the title of Arundhati Roy's book 'The God of Small Things' for the way it encapsulates and reminds us to really pay attention. I roll that phrase around as I wallow in the green, yellow and gold of a stranger's garden on my way into town. Quick, just take a look at the colour combinations surrounding you right now - in the laundry basket and endless piles of ironing, the spines of your unread books, the tumble of clothes on the bedroom chair and next door's raggy, shaggy brindle-coloured dogs. Glorious colour everywhere, waving at you.
The glory of dappled things like autumn leaves, that even in soggy, sodden piles on the pavement can still lift the heart as we go headlong into winter and its promise of hoar frost and dewdrop morning cobwebs. Take the time to treasure the glorious avenues of changing trees, the pink and orange sunsets, the gleaming palette of garden greens.
There is beauty in the world.
I love an elegant label ...
Labels. I really love labels.
I love finding interesting labels in things, not on things - quiet, elegant labels that stand the test of time and speak of beautiful quality, attention to detail and sometimes a sense of humour. Showy colourful labels with quirky names and symbols - they are all interesting. I enjoy typography of all kinds, so this love of labels is yet another way to enjoy lettering and mark-making.
Some are classics, like the Harris Tweed label and the CC41 Utility Mark seen on wartime clothing - others are evidence of a disappearing culture of British pride in production - embroidered labels and company names marking quality household goods - cotton sheets from Finlays, Riggs & Willow Royal, pure wool blankets from Otterburn Mill, Melin Tregwynt in Wales and the C.W.S at Littleborough.
Vintage labels mark special occasion clothes and extravagant lifestyles from the past, while other, modern labels speak of 21st century creativity, cultural awareness that mimics the past while embracing the present.
My label collection grows as I recycle unwanted clothing for other projects and hoard beautiful dresses for dancing. A once commonplace way of marking clothes and everyday household products has developed historical significance with the passage of time, and I rejoice with every interesting label I discover. I don't plan on doing anything with them, I just enjoy looking at them every now and then.