Sunday, 28 December 2008

936 - Nursery Rhyme

Hey Whitley diddle
Two bids in the middle
The Great Ox jumped over the Dome
The Five-Legged Rabbit
Laughed "Art ain't just 'grab it':
It's passion and freedom to roam."

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

937 - Happy Christmas 4/4!

So the theme this year is 'Pantomimes', and the strapline, 'Nothing recycles like a pantomime plot!'

I'm chuffed , because this is the first card I've completed in full colour (two years ago saw red on the breasts of the fully inflatable 'round robins', and on my bald patch, but my colour confidence was not high enough for me to risk inking the whole card in).

All good wishes, and our love...

Monday, 22 December 2008

938 - Happy Christmas 3/4!

[By the way, note to self: check out Newcastle Conservation Volunteers when back in Toon]

939 - Happy Christmas 2/4!

The first image on our Christmas Card can be found here. Between now and Christmas Eve, E and I will post the other three.

Hope they make you smile!

With love...

940 - Five-Legged Creative Commons

Most definitely, as a found splash of paint with a happy lapine likeness, the Five-Legged Space Rabbit of Whitley Bay hops under the Creative Commons Attribution Licence.

That means anyone is free to share it or adapt it for any use whatsoever - even commercially.

No attribution to me, by name or in any other way, of the original concept, is necessary. Check the licence out for all the details.

Because the Five-Legged Space Rabbit is a soft anarchist, a trickster and transformer, and really wouldn't have it any other way. Probably.

I'm umm-ing and er-ing over the degree of creative commons licence I wish to apply to my other work - photos and stories, including the characters Wind Boy and Sloth Man - and will make the whole thing clear when my cogitations have stopped.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

941 - Rabbit!

...And around the time he was marvellously and meticulously engraving the Whitley Great Ox, Thomas Bewick met, for the first time, the Five-Legged Space Rabbit of Whitley Bay.

It's impossible to know whether it was the Rabbit itself who inspired him to leave behind his boxwood and engraving tools and try random splashes of paint instead. (Though it probably wasn't.)

But a fruitful dialogue undoubtedly ensued.

How the banter must have resounded, to and fro, between the three figures in Whitley Park: Bewick, naturalist, observer and Geordie through and through; Great Ox, cud-chewing capitalist grazer, bountiful and brutish, and Space Rabbit, five-footed, fleet-witted lord of misrule....

The kind of banter that'd look good illustrated in pen and ink....

The kind that, from time to time, post-Christmas travels, might find its way, through a scanner darkly, here.

[Some idle first thoughts about the Space Rabbit and Thomas Bewick. Why else would Bewick have chosen so insistently to call his book A General History of Quadrupeds, if not as a rebuke to the rambustious and contrary Quintroped? What relationship, if any, might the Space Rabbit have with his American Trickster Brother? What better symbol of the discovery, in postmodern times, of a farm-wise hunter-gathererdom, than the Astronaut Coney on Whitley Links, whose scions can still be found, wild and resilient, cocking a snook at the over-developed Townies across the way? And how tasty might the Space Rabbit find all those flowers with which they're about to gild the Great Ox? ]

Saturday, 20 December 2008

942 - Ox

'The Festival of the Whitley Great Ox'. Saturday March 28th next year.

According to yesterday's News Guardian, a life-size model of Whitley's Great Ox is to be created out of flowers and, on the day, paraded through the streets to the ground where, in the 1780s, it used to graze. The Ox was famous in its day. Thomas Bewick drew it.

In the run-up to the festival, school children are being asked to compose poems about the Ox. Michael Rosen, the Children's Laureate and poet, will judge the poems. And the children will be drawing scenes of the procession too. Keith Barrett, an environmental artist charged with directing art projects around North Tyneside, has been instrumental in guiding the development of the festival. More information about the festival, and the fabulous illustration above, can be found in the News Guardian here (from whose site I've filched the picture).

I love this. It's doing what I want to do - taking a true story and mythologising it to celebrate the meaning at its heart. Using that meaning to bring a community together, to create new stories in its wake.

Letting imagination run wild, in three hundred years' time think what such a festival could have become! I'll be following this story with very great interest.

Friday, 19 December 2008

943 - Welcome and Recap

I was monologuing my mum about the point of this blog. Came up with half a dozen reasons. As you might be reading this because we've bludgeoned the address your way via our Christmas Card and newsletter - you are so brave! welcome! - E suggested that I ought to break you in, gently, with a recap as to why I'm doing it.

So here are the reasons, in no particular order:

First, practice: I've written and drawn stuff since I was little, but this is the first time I've had a go at producing something substantial. At the same time, each post is a fresh page in a virtual notebook. I want to get better.

Second, investment: relocating to somewhere with an identity as strong as the North East is for the long term, and for all the joy, can be hard work. Here's a bit of upfront investment in Whitley Bay: "I don't know you, but I want to get to know you, and this is my way of saying so."

Third, experiment: what happens as I get to know Whitley - the people, the culture, the contexts? And what happens as I engage with what I find out? This is entering the realm of psychogeography; starting to tiptoe around questions of spirituality. It's taking ideas about the impact of the Information Society (from my librarian days) and mixing them with a dose of creativity (as an artist). Does mythologizing a place help it to find a meaning otherwise hidden to itself?

Fourth, incarnation: I've elected to move, in adult life, through a naive Christian evangelicalism, and a period of rejection of all things religious, finally to a tentative re-engagement with the Big Questions. And I guess what I admire about the church I've left is the belief that stuff happens not when you believe it, but when you start to embody it. You take the risks; you say and do foolish things. I believe in love, in the meaning it gives to lives. I want to make a difference. I believe writing does this, and art, and engagement with people. Blogging is one way I incarnate what I believe is important.

Fifth, communication: publishing online gets my thoughts out there. Well, publishing and then then publicising it all. I've read loads these past four years, and ideas are beginning to resonate with one another. I think I'm onto something; now I want a dialogue about it. Something about story-making and psychology, evolution and spirituality, anthropology and present day cultural change. A blog is something that doesn't require the endorsement of a formal institution before it is listened to. If people like it, they stick with it: if they don't, it's cheap and they can leave it behind. It gets its validity from its personal usefulness, its likeability; not its permanence or pay-roll number.

Sixth, evidence: I'm leaving tracks. For instance, I don't get money: I don't get money. But maybe, one day, E and I will role-reverse and I'll need to bring in the cash. Here's me saying to all my lovely potential employers, hey, I can stick at something. I can make it happen. I can dream, and take a risk, and come up with something a bit special. I'm not prepared just to sit around. What do you mean, everyone has a blog? Well, yo, I'm with it. I'm funky.

And there's a seventh: celebration. 'Cos Whitley Bay is great. It's a bugger, but it's a beautiful bugger. Weekends we go down to the beach and can look out to sea twenty odd miles, no interruptions. Great shops. Good food. Fantastic people. Self-esteem, at times, lower than the Mariana Trench.... And the pride of a princess.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

944 - Ouseburn Walk - Cluny Bog

945 - Ouseburn Walk - Inspection

946 - Ouseburn Walk - Spark

These figures, drawn in chalk, have stood hand in hand in the portal of a ruined building in Jesmond Dene for more than a year. Above them the artist has written the word 'Spark'. The darker grafitti in the preceding post is from the same site.

947 - Ouseburn Walk - A Poison To Soul As Well As To Body

948 - Ouseburn Walk - Dene Dog

Monday, 15 December 2008

949 - Microtrends, Tipping Points, Beats and Bushcraft

They're all about the details.

Quotes from four of the books I have open at the moment: from Brody's The Other Side of Eden, McKee's Story, Gladwell's The Tipping Point, and Penn and Kinney Zalesne's Microtrends.

Shamanic forms of expertise are based on a multitude of specific facts; they do not arrange the natural world into hierarchies of families and genera.... Hunter-gatherer knowledge is inductive and intuitive; its conclusions emerge by allowing all that has been learned to process itself. (Brody, pp. 268, 269)
Inside the scene [within a story] is the smallest element of structure.... A beat is an exchange of behaviour in action/reaction. Beat by beat these changing behaviours shape the turning of a scene. (McKee, p. 37)
To look closely at complex behaviours like smoking or suicide or crime is to appreciate how suggestible we are in the face of what we see and hear, and how acutely sensitive we are to even the smallest details of everyday life. (Gladwell, p.259)

In fact, the whole idea that there are a few huge trends that determine how America and the whole world work is breaking down. There are no longer a couple of megaforces sweeping us all along. Instead, America and the world are being pulled apart by an intricate maze of choices, accumulating in "microtrends" small, under-the-radar forces ... which are powerfully shaping our
(Penn and Kinney Zalesne, pp. xii, xiii)

In a nutshell, the more detail, the more data swarming, the more we are all in a position to think like hunter-gatherers. Think as we have evolved to think, using science, perhaps, but in the service of intuition. Think as the highly refined tellers of stories that we are. Then better placed to put intuition in the service of an imaginative and renewed science.

It could go wrong: the latter two books are both keen to comfort the control freak by suggesting that knowledge of the small gives us the power to direct others. Though I'll take my comfort in the thought that by the time truly we are able to see the tiny atomie all together, we'll have been won over by an anarchic and compassionate, shamanistic (dare I say truly christian?) vision, one that values wisdom, a good mystery and the diverse natural world.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

950 - Wagonways

View down one of the wagonways, this one built in 1813, I think, that criss-cross North Tyneside. Several venture into Whitley Bay, though this doesn't - it carves a line down the back of the Freeman Hospital; a particularly icy line on Thursday, when I took the photo.

The wagonways were used to transfer coal down to the Tyne. They have been redeveloped as a network of walking- and cycle-ways (skate-ways, Thursday), with information boards picking out historic information. A case of an old story, retold in a new context.

At one time, as wagons rumbled laiden by, the story might scarcely have been told at all, so evident it was (like bothering to relay the adventure of the 308 bus from Whitley to the centre of Newcastle).

Then told by the retired miners - "This was the clart I dug year in, year out. And here's the track that led it, horse-drawn, then steam-drawn, to the docks at Wallsend."

Now, told again, but in a fresh story - the drive to get people walking again, the urge to reconnect with the land around, with people and the past.

A bird flew by as I took the picture, two old boys and a dog just before. Behind the hedge on the left, the Freeman's new car park.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

951 - The Whitley Bay Smoke Cell

This is the Welch sweet factory on Laburnum Avenue. A photo of it, circa 1925, can be found on the Tynetown website here.

I'd heard that John Welch was the father of Denise Welch, the actress, who attended Bygate School in Whitley Bay. So to check this out I started to look online for information about Welch's. And he wasn't her dad, though, assuming there has only ever been one sweet manufacturer called Welch in North Tyneside, his was a family firm.

And then, as I searched, I found a link to the Whitley Bay Smoke Cell, supplied by an American science firm called Sargent-Welch.

The catalogue invites you to "closely observe Brownian motion in smoke particles using this apparatus....A box with a plastic lid features flanges that allow easy attachment of a standard microscope".

I was intrigued. Why "Whitley Bay Smoke Cell"? I tried digging further.

Here is an experiment using the apparatus described in full. And here is Wikipedia's description of Brownian Motion.

But, online at least, amidst reams of school science catalogues, no mention of why the Whitley Bay Smoke Cell is called what it is. Any blogger out there care to do some digging and let me know, I'd be really grateful! One of you is a physicist, I know, and E, as this is my fiftieth post, you owe me that beer you promised!

[This post started off exploring 'Microtrends, Beats and Tipping Points". How a moment, captured in a photograph, spins into a story with lasting resonance. I've gone way off topic! I'll have to drag myself back tomorrow.]

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

952 - Bird Man

I brushed too close to him - it scared the pigeon off his wrist.

He was standing alone against a telephone exchange box, waiting for the bus on the High Street, alone except for the pigeons at his feet, pecking around his bags of shopping. He wore horn-rimmed spectacles and a beanie, and clenched a fine pipe between his teeth. And somehow, although the street milled with people, he had coaxed and cooed a black-feathered bird up to eye-level, where he was expertly inspecting it.

I was aware of him as I dodged traffic to leap onto the kerb: one second - a perfect picture. We made eye contact. Then I scared the bird.

I told E about it this morning. "Flying vermin!" she declared, a reflection of popular opinion.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

953 - RIP Oliver Postgate, 1925 - 2008

I knew he did this:

But I didn't know he did this:

Nice comment in the BBC obituary today:

"With his story-telling skills, his love of found objects and mechanical improvisation, his funny voices and air of eccentricity, the man himself gave a good imitation of everyone's favourite uncle. "

Monday, 8 December 2008

954 - Waltzing with Bashir

E and I saw Waltz with Bashir at the Tyneside yesterday. I am adding it to my list of favourite movies.

Mary Corliss in Time wrote: "The message of the futility of war has rarely been painted with such bold strokes."

E and I scarcely spoke on the journey home. Some strange, terrible beauty.

The BBFC gave the film an "18" certificate. (For comparison, Platoon was given a "15", in 1988). Not because of the violence, though reference was made to its violence, but because of "one scene of strong animated sex". At least the BBFC acknowledged that 'the film, containing profound observations about Israel's relationship with its Arab neighbours and the senselessness of war, is clearly not a sex work.'

It's probably not worth commenting on the availability, online and on mobiles, of sexual images to the average teenager; or suggesting that an animated erect penis in such a movie is not going to cause the downfall of civilisation; or drawing attention to the systematic dehumanisation that young men and women undergo from the age of 16, before, at age 18, they are dispatched to kill for their country.

Though the MOD doesn't bother with the figures (Quote from Hansard, 30th June: Mr. Bob Ainsworth: Information on recruitment by region is not held centrally and could be provided only at disproportionate cost), I suspect I'm not the only one who believes there are a disproportionate amount of young recruits drawn into the Army from the poorer regions of the UK, including the North East.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

955 - Continental Market

Whitley with its high street closed, and a marquee erected on the roadway. E and I buy roasted chestnuts cooked to near-charcoal in a small Belling oven. The chestnut man is adjusting the gas flow using a pair of pliers, because the oven has baked its plastic knobs off.

Earlier we stood in line for a couple of crepes, which we ate outside The Bedroom, listening to the Shiremoor Salvation Army Band carolling Christmas round and round in the mileage of brass fluting of its tubas, trumpets, trombones and horns.

Monday, 1 December 2008

959 - Budgie [Jackie]

At Tynemouth Flea Market I was able to buy five boxes of slides, sight unseen, from a bric-a-brac man. This is the first, from 1967. The slides were taken by the girl in the picture, and cover a period of seven or so years. Many depict scenes around the Northumbrian coast, Cullercoats up to Seahouses, with a couple of Newcastle Airport at the end of the 60s. She grows up, still recording snaps, and herself in some of them: with glasses on, long hair and a summer dress in the last.

I have an idea to weave the images into a story - though the story that moves me is the one recorded by the girl. I'll never know this story, of course - just a handful of images from it. She'll be around fifty now. She's probably still local, or the bric-a-brac man would not have been offering the slides for sale. She could take a great photograph. I hope life is good for her.