Tuesday 26 September 2023

Over The Moor

                                                     By the Canal, Todmorden

It's a sunny day, so to get out of this valley and into another, Mr. Price and I go over the moor to Todmorden, past the composting (former maggot) factory and the astronomy centre.

'Tod', as it's known round here, is a post-industrial market town in the upper Calder valley- at one time it had the largest weaving shed in the world.

I first passed through in the Sixties when I was hitching from Leyland to see an old school-friend at Leeds University and I recall being appalled by the oppressive town with its blackened stone railway arches, back-to-backs and smoky mills. I'd grown up with the wide skies and open fields of West Lancashire and was shocked that other people lived in this place, trapped in this narrow valley surrounded by high, brooding moors.

Not so, now! You can see the sky, many of the buildings have been cleaned up, there are pleasant riverside and canal walks, galleries, cafés and bars... it's increasingly a commuter town for people who work in Manchester, Leeds, Bradford or nearby places.

                                                  From The Golden Lion, Todmorden

We have a short stroll by the river and I take pictures of some interesting decrepit sheds which will do nicely for my ongoing shed/shack project.

Back in the town centre, there's a rum-looking bunch of loud folk, drinking outside the White Hart, which we avoid and look at the churchyard instead. 

We're perusing some tombstones which are propped up by the path when a cheerful Bavarian in full national dress pops his head round the corner and says “ Ahh! You're reating the grafestones!” He loves Todmorden, he moved here recently after selling his house in York ( “Bad times, York iss finished!”) and being able to buy two here, one for himself and one for his son. It was Octoberfest yesterday, he tells us, there was a big celebration at his house and now he's on his way to The Golden Lion for “ A hair off the dog”. I mention the nearby Hebden Bridge, a pretty tourist town. He says it's no good anymore ”Hebden Bridge iss finished!”

We were originally thinking of going to the pub ourselves but now we chicken out, fearful that we might be forced into a heavy session, ending up singing those jolly German drinking songs with our new friend, shouting “Ans, zwoa, drei, g'suffa”... we have tea in a cafe instead.

I need some supplies and go in the well-stocked friendly wholefood shop. Understandably for such specialisation, prices are high. Outside, and after we've distanced ourselves, Mr. Price exclaims “No wonder vegans are so thin, they can't afford to feed themselves!!”

                                                   Canal Bridge and Rooftops, Todmorden.


Saturday 25 February 2023

Brief Encounters


On the way to the doctor's I walk down the hill to the bus-stop, past the perpetual road works. My phone pings- it's a message from a friend, who says “I just saw you walk past, looking super-cool”... well that's a boost, she made an old lady very happy!

Two huge Clive Hurt trucks rumble by and the old hitch-hiker in me looks at how I might get up into the cab nowadays- it's very high, with two steps. I wonder, idly... would I get picked up if I stuck out my thumb? And in the cab, instead of “Yeah, I'm heading for London, meeting friends there”, I'd have to say “Just popping to the doctors to see about my cholesterol levels”. Perhaps not.

There's a friendly fat lad waiting for the bus, and later, when the driver swerves violently at my stop, I nearly end up in his lap. ' A soft landing, anyway' I think.

Waiting at the surgery, conversations drift by. “He was lovely, he's a lovely boy” “He was always a bit of a teenager, though!”... “ She does Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday”...He's such a lovely boy, we're proud of him” …. “I could tell you some proper tales!”

Later, in the chemist's, a man on his way out shouts hoarsely to the assistant “ SEE YOU SAM! BY THE WAY, SAM, I'M CALLED SAM!!!” “ Yeah, ah know”

I make my way out through 'Exit Only'. In the street I see a small girl with her mother- she's looking up, craning her neck .”Big tree!” she exclaims, and, reaching out a tiny hand to the trunk, says gently “Gonna stroke it'.                                                                                                                                    How sweet is that?

On the way homewards back up the hill  there's a young lady studying her phone outside a corner shop. She sports a bare midriff. This is Rossendale, it's February and 8 degrees, for goodness sake! She's just ASKING for a dose of cystitis!

Pictured: A Waiting Room, (although not my doctor's)

Thursday 19 November 2020

How To Waste Money

I call in at the studios to measure up the big table we've got, to see if it'll fit in my workroom at home.

Paddy's there, with his open-air head and Cornish twinkle. He invites me into his space to look at a new painting- it's a wide landscape with one of his big skies.

The room's full of stuff and I admire a little faded and worn wooden boat lying wrecked on a heap of debris. He kindly gives it to me... “ I found it in the road,” he says, “Just lying there.”

The boat's fitted with an ugly plastic holder for a bulb and he donates the remains of a lampshade to go on top. “I'll re-cover that.” I say, knowing I won't.

When I get home with my treasures, Mr. Price agrees that the bulb-holder must go and offers to remove it, slashing his finger with a blade in the process.

I send off for a new holder, nicely retro with a touch of the trendy industrial. There's a plug and real fabric cord- none of your plastic tat! and I can use one of those bulbs where you can see the filaments. “The ones that make it look darker” quips Mr. Price.

Anyway, think I, it'll look really cool on the French cupboard and, when we're allowed, visitors will gaze upon it in admiration.

It comes the next day. Oh no, it's enormous, almost half as big as the boat! It'll look really stupid! I'm disappointed- I might as well have taken a match to a fiver and a tenner!

After unsuccessfully hanging it in various places round the house- I consign it to a drawer.

           It'll come in use sometime. '!It's bound to go somewhere!'

Wednesday 29 April 2020

Taking to Drink

                                                   Three Co-op Beers

One effect of the Coronavirus, apparently, is that the nation's alcohol consumption has increased.
If this is applies to you, you could nip to your local Co-op store and buy some of these three Manchester beers that have my images on. How they got there is a long story. I'd tell you but I'd have to kill you afterwards.
I'm rightly proud of them- the first beer-labels with my drawings on were on bottles of my home-made 'Tyneside Brown Ale', but that doesn't count really.
I've made my own wine, too, and fondly remember my first attempt. It was dandelion and had the same golden sheen of late afternoon in the small meadow where I picked the flowers. Sunshine in a glass, or should that read moonshine?

Being new to this area our early evening explorative walks bring a sadness when passing closed pubs “We could have had a half and a bag of crisps”... Mr Price's test of a pub's worthiness is to ask if they serve a dark mild. This request is particularly cruel when demanded of younger barmaids, who crumple under interrogation and nervously try to suggest that “this bitter's a bit darker than that one...??”

On one of these outings our neighbour's busy gardening behind her house and we ask how she's coping with the lock-down . She's alright, she assures us, she's got her gin and a bit of marijuana to see her through.
I've yet to find any government statistics on the increased consumption of Herbal Jazz Cigarettes, but I'll let you know when I do!

Saturday 4 April 2020

All Kinds of Kindnesses

                            Waiting in the car while Mr. Price does the shopping.

We're living in disturbing times, and I wish you all well.
After the unsettling questions raised by Brexit and the general election, we're thrust into the surreal netherworld of the Covid 19 virus with its restrictions and tragedies.

We've just moved house, to add to the unease. But, despite being surrounded by boxes and hampered by that big, temporarily redundant new cooker in the doorway, the situation brings its lighter moments.

I'm bending over in our tiny garden tackling some vicious invasive plants when a man calls over the fence, "Jean! Jean?.... oh, is Jean in the house then?" I say "I hope not, we just moved in!"
Jean's his aunty and he lived here as a child, his parents had the greengrocer's shop  which is now my studio room.
We keep our distance apart. He hasn't seen Jean for several years, later on I realise he's come back to re-establish the connection and make sure she's okay.
He indicates the huge fir-trees at the end of the street- they were just so tall when he lived here. "We used to fish off the river wall there" he tells me. I ask did he ever catch anything- "No" he replies "Did we heck!"

Early evening there's some shouting on the main road and we go out to investigate. Whoever was kicking off has gone, but a woman crosses the road to give us our door key. She tells us she used to clean our house. She's a bit unsteady on her feet and apologises. "Sorry love, I've been on the gin!... well, with this Coronavirus you don't know where you are, do you?"

A card's posted through the door. Touchingly, it's from the elderly couple over the road...'to our new neighbours, welcome to your new home. Sorry we can't be of further assistance at the moment, we hope to say hello and get to know you when everything gets back to normal. In the meantime we hope you settle in well'.
How nice is that?

In these strange times, then, check up on your Aunty Jean, be kind to your neighbours and know how to relax with a glass of gin..
And above all, stay safe!
                                           Moving house, the bedroom with boxes.

Monday 24 February 2020

Five Years Later..

Five Years Later...

Well, it's nearly five years since my last blog. Life (and death) got in the way, but here we are now, living in the Rossendale Valley. Above is my view from the Whitaker Museum and Art Gallery which is just down the road from here. 
This is an area full of contrasts- gritty post-industrial towns with the backdrop of wild moorland.
Everywhere is up a hill, and my bike lies rusting in the shed. I say shed, but it's one of the old toilets out the back in the communal alleyway. The loo in this one has gone, but next to it is another outhouse, still complete with its Victorian 'tipper' toilet. It's in a fetching rough brown earthenware and it's so old that there's one in Manchester's MOSI Museum. Here's a fascinating link, below.
 You learn something every day!

We have other Facilities in our house, I hasten to add. Here's one of them.

John Bratby did a better painting of his toilet... I think they were more interesting then, too.

Intriguingly (to me at least), we're buying a house a couple of miles away from here and our solicitor had a query to the sellers...  in an old deed from 1948 there was a provision stating that the owner of another property would be entitled to continue to use a closet on land to the side of the house
The closets were knocked down ages ago, so we won't expect pyjama and negligée clad neighbours pounding on the door in the early hours, thankfully!

Monday 11 May 2015

Happy Times, Warmer Climes


I'm into my fifth week of tutoring six Tuesday evening sketching workshops in at Alston Hall in Lancashire. It's a rambling Victorian Gothic house and we look out of the studio, through arched windows and across fields dotted with sheep and lambs, to the tree-line of the River Ribble.
This loveliest of settings makes me look forward to my week at Chateau L'Age Baston, another grand house with lovely views from an elevated position. Here, though, I'll be looking towards the Dordogne, over countryside punctuated by terracotta-roofed houses and rimmed by blue distant hills.

I've drawn the ironing board and the washing line, but there's the dovecote and the courtyard with its bright umbrellas, worn stone steps, pretty gates and doorways, drystone walls and deep dark woods studded with wild cyclamen.

If that isn't enough, pet donkeys and sheep roam within the shake of a paintbrush and the breeze ripples, Hockneyesque, the swimming pool's sunlit surface.
In nearby towns, there are markets, bars and riverside chateaux. 

                                                   Piegut-Pluviers, the Market and the Bar

Fellow guests, too, are often happy to sit for a portrait, well, once at least!
                                    Don, drawing in the Studio
 I'll be encouraging students to get lively and loose and to respond to different subject matter in different ways, with different materials. We have nothing to lose, and everything to gain from a week in such an idyllic retreat!