Posted on | July 17, 2012 | No Comments
You may have noticed a number of new paintings of cats creeping in to the galleries recently. I’ve always enjoyed painting cats and I’m especially enjoying painting stripey cats in acrylics. I like trying to get the balance right between enough detail and leaving enough to the imagination.
I’ve made a series of small (30cm x 30cm) canvases for only £95 each +P&P, which you can see on my new cats page. Here’s ‘Hunter’ a handsome ginger tabby.
If you’d like me to make a portrait of your moggy, email me.
Posted on | July 11, 2012 | No Comments
“…Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. “Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing … but sing their hearts out for us.”
Nelle Harper E. Lee was born in Alabama in 1926 and wrote only one book in her lifetime, published on this day in 1960; the brilliant To Kill A Mockingbird. It won the Pulitzer-Prize and is one of the 20th century’s greatest literary works.
Now 52 years old, the book has been translated into 40 languages, sold 35 million copies, and was made into a film starring Gregory Peck for which he rightly won an Oscar in 1962.
The story of To Kill A Mockingbird confronts huge subjects head-on: racism, class, courage, forgiveness, loss, justice, crime, punishment, death, violence, being a woman, class. Despite being as complex as Dickens and as tragically beautiful as Shakespeare, it is written plainly, simply, beautifully. The story unfolds through the observations of a six-year-old girl, Scout Finch, and it is through her eyes, through laughter, irony and satire we learn what it is to be a decent human being.
Always shy of publicity, Lee considers To Kill A Mockingbird to be entirely self-explanatory and has always shied away from publicity or explanation. “Surely it is plain to the simplest intelligence that To Kill a Mockingbird spells out in words of seldom more than two syllables a code of honor and conduct…” she says.
When in 2011 she was asked why she never wrote anything else, she said: “Two reasons: one, I wouldn’t go through the pressure and publicity I went through with To Kill A Mockingbird for any amount of money. Second, I have said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again.” Now aged 85, Harper Lee is partly deaf and blind, wheelchair-bound and suffering memory loss
People of faith open their ancient, so-called ‘holy’ books to guide them in life. But for those of us living free of the dogma of invisible sky-gods, we turn to Dickens, Shakespeare and To Kill A Mockingbird for relevant, rational, universal moral guidance. Indeed,To Kill A Mockingbird topped a 2006 survey of librarians, ahead of the Bible and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
“I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.”
Posted on | July 5, 2012 | No Comments
This blog also appears on Dorian Cope’s blog On This Deity.
Look at the camera and say ‘cheese’ and ‘thank you’ to Joseph Nicéphore Niépce who died on this day in 1833, for it was Niépce who changed the way we view the world.
Born in France 1765 into a middle-class family Niépce was well-educated and comfortably off and from 1801 ran the family estate. He became a ‘gentleman of science’ doing experiments and inventing things. In 1807 he and his brother invented an early combustion engine he called the pyreolophore. When in 1813 the craze of lithography swept France he felt frustrated at not being able to make pictures because he couldn’t draw. Never one to say ‘jamais’, he decided to try to find a way of using light to make pictures for him.
His starting point would be the camera obscura, an optical device used by artists and scientists since ancient times. His challenge was to find a light sensitive material and create a substrate for it which could be exposed to light and then fixed in some way. By 1816 he’d found a way of creating an image on paper sensitised with silver chloride, but he had trouble fixing the image, that is, stopping the process of light sensitivity, which leads to deterioration and fogging. He experimented with varnishes of bitumen and lavender oil on pewter or glass. He called the process heliography or sunwriting. Here it is: the first photo.
He began collaborating with Louis Daguerre, who after Niépce’s death continued developing the technique and is today usually credited entirely with inventing photography. But it was Niépce who developed the principles of photography. His invention would change the world and how we see it.
By the middle of the 19th century sufficient improvements had been made to cameras and chemical processes to make photography popular and affordable, and for creative pioneers it offered new opportunities for truth-telling. Because the camera never lies, right? (Well, sometimes it does, but that’s another story.)
In 1862 Mathew Brady took his camera to the battlefields the American Civil War and in doing so became the father of photojournalism. His photos of mud and mangled corpses for the first time publicly revealed the realities of war. In 1878 Eadweard Muybridge used his cameras to investigate the patterns of footfall in The Horse in Motion.
By 1888, George Eastman’s Kodak company had become the Steve Jobs’ Apple of its day. But it was the launch of his box ‘Brownie’ camera in 1901 which finally meant that anyone, anywhere could take photos. We could now all share what we see. And how we have loved to ever since!
The invention of photography may have troubled mid-19th century jobbing portrait painters, but most artists were quick to exploit how different the world looks through a lens. French impressionist painter Edgar Degas loved what it offered and his compositions were heavily influenced by photographic cropping. A century and more later, there is still much to investigate about how we have come to rely on photography as a way of expressing truth. Artist David Hockney has spent his whole career experimenting with how images differ when we see the world through the lens or projected on a screen, and made us think again and think harder about the nature of truth.
Photographic images continue to influence our collective psyche. I don’t even have to show you Eddie Adams’ 1968 iconic image of the execution of a Viet Cong guerrilla for you to recoil in horror in your mind. The image is fixed in our DNA. Similarly, Stuart Franklin Magnum’s 1989 photography of a young man standing defiantly alone before a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square, Beijing says everything we need to know about that terrible moment in history.
Finally, Bill Anders 1968 photograph ‘Earthrise’ taken from NASA’s Apollo 8 mission offered us a glimpse of our world as only a few will ever see it. It is surely the most beautiful photograph ever taken.
For helping us to see who and what we really are, for exposing truth, lies, frailties and horrors, and for revealing our glorious planet to us as together we hurtle through the cosmic darkroom of space, merci beaucoup Joseph Nicéphore Niépce.
Posted on | July 3, 2012 | No Comments
The Great Auk (Pinguinus impennis) was once a common and magnificent sight in the sparkling waters of the North Atlantic. About 30 inches (80cm) tall and weighing in at a whopping 11lbs (5kgs), this handsome bird was the northern equivalent of the penguin. Its closest living relative is the razorbill which has a similar range to the Great Auk. The Welsh called the Great Auk ‘pen-gwyn’ which translates to ‘white head’. So when early Welsh sailors found similar looking creatures in the southern oceans, they used the same word to describe them, hence penguin.
(Pictured: the Great Auk by John James Audubon, from The Birds of America)
Perfectly adapted for life in the oceans, they roosted at sea, they could stay underwater for 15 minutes, and dive and hunt to depths of at least 100 metres. Flightless and fish-hunting, to nest and raise their chicks the Great Auks needed isolated rocky places with a ready food source away from predators such as orcas, sea eagles and polar bears. Just like penguins they formed noisy, lively breeding colonies.
For most of their time on the Planet Three, they evolved away from human beings and never learned to be wary of them. This evolutionary naivety meant that when human populations expanded into auk territory and grew in numbers auks were hunted by locals as an easy meal. But there were fewer people back then and taking a few birds here and there made little overall difference.
But by the early 16th century the expansion of shipping in Atlantic waters meant it was easy for a ship to moor at an auk colony and take birds, chicks and eggs aboard to meet their fate on the plates of hungry sailors. It was the same for the dodo. Their demise was swifter as they only lived in one place, Mauritius, whereas the Great Auk had a wider range over the whole of the North Atlantic. In the end not even this would save them. During the 16th century Great Auks were being killed not only for meat and eggs, but also hunted commercially for their feathers.
In 1840, three men visiting a sea stack near St. Kilda off the coast of Scotland found a solitary Great Auk. But the when weather turned bad they blamed the bird for being a witch and therefore responsible for the storm, so they smashed the creature to death with a stick. They had just killed the last Great Auk in Britain.
Soon, word got out that Great Auk numbers had crashed and the bird had disappeared entirely from British waters. And here comes the appalling irony: this very fact lead collectors to seek the last few specimens, not to protect them or breed them, but to kill them and mount them for display in museums. A pox on those ignorant, savage bastards!
On 3 July 1844, Jón Brandsson, Sigurður Ísleifsson and Ketill Ketilsson found a solitary pair of Great Auks incubating an egg on Eldey in Iceland. They strangled the adults and smashed the egg. The last Great Auks on the planet were dead.
Each species the planet loses due to human activity is a disgraceful, pointless, sickening tragedy. Some might ask: what does it matter if we lose a few species? It matters a very great deal. Biologically speaking it’s actually a very small world and the global ecosystem is an intimately connected whole, making biodiversity crucial to our own survival. And so I weep at the loss of the Great Auk as deeply as I will mourn the inevitable loss of the penguins threatened with extinction in the southern oceans right now. Our thoughtless greed and over-population is on track to consign them, too, to the dusty glass case of the history.
Take a hankie and ask yourself: what kind of world will my grandchildren inherit?
Posted on | July 2, 2012 | No Comments
“…first lady of the skies, she had no guy holding her down, no one could clip her wings, she was no bird in the hand, she is no living thing now…” from the poem ‘Amelia Earhart’ by Patti Smith
When 10-year-old Amelia Earhart saw an aircraft for the first time at the 1907 the Iowa State Fair, she wasn’t impressed. Her passion for flying was not ignited until December 1920, when she visited an airfield with her father who paid $10 for Amelia to have a 10-minute flight. It would change her life.
“By the time I had got two or three hundred feet off the ground I knew I had to fly” she said.
Then, as now, learning to fly was hugely expensive. But she was determined and took any job she could lay her hands on to earn the money to train. She found pioneer aviator, engineer and mechanic Anita Snook and asked her: “I want to fly. Will you teach me?” She cropped her hair, pulled on a leather jacket and took to the skies. Just eighteen months later she bought a Kinner Airster biplane and by October she’d flown it to 14,000 feet, then a world record for women pilots. It was to be the first of many firsts for Amelia.
In May 1927 Charles Lindbergh made the first solo trans-Atlantic flight. The following year, sponsored by a publishing company, Amelia became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. But it wasn’t solo and it was mostly flown on instruments. “I was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes … maybe someday I’ll try it alone.”
Nevertheless, she was now a celebrity. Her lecture tours and product endorsements would finance her flying. She used her role model status to campaign for numerous causes including promoting commercial air travel, women’s rights and women in engineering and other so-called ‘traditional’ male careers.
Later in 1928 in another ‘first’ she flew solo across the North American continent and back. She also got married that year, to George Putnam, in a union of equality with shared responsibilities. Most notably she kept her own name and was never referred to as Mrs Putnam.
The day when she would at last “try it alone” came in May 1932 she took off alone from Newfoundland in a single-engine Lockheed Vega 5B and headed east out over the Atlantic towards Paris. Battling icy conditions, strong winds and mechanical problems, after nearly 15 hours in the sky she landed safely in a field near Derry, Northern Ireland. A farmhand asked: “Have you flown far?” “From America” she replied. It wasn’t Paris, but who cared? She’d done it anyway.
Amelia’s fame flew to still higher altitudes and she became friends with the rich and powerful, including US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt with whom she shared interests in social justice, women’s rights and civil rights.
More flights followed: the first to fly solo from Hawaii to California. The first non-stop from Mexico City to New York. Her legendary achievements, pioneering spirit, cool-headed courage, independence and dignity were already enough to secure her place in history. But Amelia had an even bigger ambition. She wanted to be the first person to fly the 29,000 miles around the world at the equator.
In preparation for her epic global circumnavigation, her Lockheed Electra 10E was fitted with extra large fuel tanks for the tricky transoceanic crossings. She set off on 20 May 1937 from California with experienced navigator, Frederick Noonan. Flying east, with stops over South America, Africa and Asia, by the end of June they’d reached New Guinea having flown 22,000 miles. The Pacific Ocean was always going to be the toughie. With thousands of miles of nothing except only a few tiny islands, any navigational error, fuel shortage or technical fault would be fatal. And so it was. On 2 July she and Noonan took off from New Guinea on a planned mammoth 18 hour, 2500 mile leg to reach Howland Island, a minuscule uninhabited atoll, where the US government had constructed an airstrip and laid supplies for her. The US Coastguard ship Itasca was cruising nearby to maintain radio communications and help them navigate in the Pacific’s vastness.
As the plane approached Howland she reported being low on fuel and unable to see the island despite, she believed, being in the right position. Flying in a methodical zigzag to try to see the atoll, she radioed “We are running north and south” and then the Itasca lost contact. She never landed at Howland.
The Itasca searched for two weeks for any trace of the world’s most famous pilot, but nothing was ever found. Map of Amelia’s last flight.
In her song ‘Amelia’, Joni Mitchell sang: “A ghost of aviation, She was swallowed by the sky, Or by the sea, like me she had a dream to fly”. Amelia would go on to inspire generations of women and girls to do the things they loved, and no matter what the risks, to do them the very best they can. Chocks away, Sisters!
Posted on | June 14, 2012 | 2 Comments
Plant pathologist, virologist, saviour of the British watercress industry, BSc, MSc, PhD, DSc
My father, who died on Tuesday 12 June 2012, was born into a working class family in Birmingham in 1927. What he lacked materially in early life was made up for in brains, courage and determination. (Pictured below, on HMS Queen Mary leaving New York, 1959)
He was the son of Ellen Mary Mackie, from Worcester, and Harry Arthur Tomlinson, from Birmingham. It was Harry who introduced my father to the delights of the natural world. Harry was a WW1 veteran who survived Gallipoli, and during WW2 he worked as a volunteer fireman putting out the fires during the incendary bombing of Birmingham in early WW2.
John’s father had ambitions for his son to attend university, but he died in 1943 when John was only 15, while a pupil at Saltley Grammar School. John had dreamed of becoming a medical doctor but this now seemed impossible as the family had to manage on a widow’s pension. With the help of his local church, small charity bursaries for sons of widows, and by working in various city factories during school holidays, he scraped together enough for a place at the University of Birmingham. He began there in 1944, aged only 17, and studied biology, the first member of our family to go to university. He loved zoology – especially entomology and anatomy but he became fascinated with botany. He realised that in fighting plant diseases, fungal and viral, he could contribute to improvements in global food production and make a difference to whole populations.
His first job was at Rothamsted agricultural research station in Hertfordshire. There, he learned the methodical, painstaking skills that would stand him in good stead for his whole career in scientific research, the bulk of which took place at the National Vegetable Research Station (now Warwick Horticulture Research International). He tackled diseases of lettuce, tomato, cucurbits, brassicas, rhubarb and many more, and found ways to treat them.
In the late 50s/early 60s the British watercress industry was blighted by a disease called crook root. Once infected, vast acreages of watercress beds were laid waste and watercress farmers went bankrupt. Those in Hampshire and Dorset were hit especially hard. Many had tried and failed to find a way to solve it. John was able to prove that it was a fungus and through dogged detective work and by noticing quite by chance that one unaffected farmer had recently changed some of his plumbing he discovered that trace amounts of zinc – one part in 20 million – was sufficient to kill the crook root fungus. The watercress industry was saved and quickly recovered. “It was like a fairy story” he once told me.
But the achievement he was most proud of was the isolation and purification of cucumber mosaic virus. Indeed in his wallet at his death last week we discovered two photos: one of his long-dead mother and another of the CMV taken through an electron microscope.
In 1958 he took his first assignment in North America, at the University of Wisconsin. Spells at the University of California, at Davis and Berkeley (the latter on a Fulbright scholarship) followed. He lectured at universities and conferences throughout the world and made warm, long-lasting friendships and scientific contacts in Australia, Israel, the Netherlands, Italy and Morocco. He collaborated on numerous projects and published hundreds of scientific papers, many of which are still cited in articles today.
He married Janet in 1959, but they separated 31 years later in 1991.
A mad keen sportsman, he captained his school rugby team, played excellent snooker and golf, and followed Aston Villa football club. In cricket, his highest ever score was 85, just one run more than his age at the final whistle.
For his last 25 years, he battled the intense pain of osteoarthritis but struggled on alone. He was fiercely independent and indeed only last June was he finally persuaded to leave his home of 53 years in Stratford-upon-Avon and move to a care home in Oxfordshire near his children and grandchildren.
He is survived by me, my brother Paul (pictured above in 1965) and his four beloved grandchildren, Cleo, Rupert, Alex and George.
Funeral on Friday 22 June 2012 at 12noon at the Baptist Church, Payton Street, Stratford-upon-Avon. Reception afterwards at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre’s spectacular new Rooftop Restaurant. Family flowers only. Donations, if desired, to Arthritis Research UK.
Only last Saturday, when he could still speak and knew he was dying, did he ask that we send his love to all who knew him. If you did know him or work with him and you’d like to come and pay your respects to my father we would love to see you to help send him on his way.
Posted on | June 3, 2012 | Comments Off
Since the end of my Artweeks exhibition, I have only managed to paint two canvases, both inspired by the glories of English nature in May. In my ideal world it would always be May; I love the air heavy with the sweet scent of blossoms and grasses and foliage rushing to full leaf, and the buzz of busy insects. This past week I have been gripped by the BBC 2 TV’s Springwatch. Have you?
May hare is a simple composition of a verdant field edge near Eynsham, the Oxfordshire village where I live, in late May. Just days later, the yellow rape flowers had gone over, but as I type the cow parsley continues to bloom. The deep canvas measures 500mm x 500mm and costs £225. The painting continues around the edge of the canvas, so there is no need for a frame.
Here’s Great spotted of a woodpecker I observed in the garden of my dad’s care home at the edge of dense mixed woodland. It’s a tiny canvas of 300mm x 300mm for £110 but there are lots of vibrant colours that leap out at you. The painting continues around the edge of the canvas, so there is no need for a frame. A lovely way to brighten up a small corner of a room.
Posted on | June 2, 2012 | No Comments
I’m both pleased and disappointed to report that my painting ‘Towards Uffington’ came second in the Big Oxfordshire Artweeks competition to find a painting that best sums up the spirit of Oxfordshire. That’s not bad out of 32 pretty good paintings, is it? And the best thing is that it was the opinion of general public, not some poncey, self-appointed panel of so-called ‘experts’ doing the judging. Just lovely ordinary people, like you and me.
The winner was Caroline Ritson’s lovely ‘Greenman found on Wittenham Clumps’ – which is not a million miles from the sort of Green Man painting you’d expect from me! And in third place was my friend Anna Dillon’s ‘Devils delight’ of a glorious landscape just metres away from the view in my painting. Congratulations to Caroline, Anna and me!
THANK YOU to all of you who voted for my painting. I’m more grateful than you can know for your support and encouragement.
Posted on | May 9, 2012 | 1 Comment
This article also appears on Dorian Cope’s blog On This Deity.
“No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother” - Margaret Sanger
The most revolutionary and liberating act for women is surely the availability of The Contraceptive Pill. Before The Pill contraception was a messy, hit-and-miss, often outlawed business. Women in the Ancient World fashioned vaginal tampons from a cocktail of leaves, honey, oils or animal dung. Condoms were made from animal intestines, leather or fine linen. And Casanova favoured the use of half a lemon placed on the cervix before coitus.
It wasn’t until 1839, when Charles Goodyear first vulcanised rubber and manufactured condoms and a proto-diaphragm, that contraception became much more effective than crossing your fingers. Condoms were rightly incredibly popular. But they relied entirely on a man’s willingness to use one. Women were still fucked.
What the girls were crying out for was a simple, private, effective, 100% female-controlled method. One where you didn’t have to fiddle around with unsexy rubber or poke about with pessaries, creams and little foil packets.
By the 1930s scientists had already worked out which hormones were responsible for ovulation and how they could be inhibited. But a way of synthesising progesterone proved tricky and expensive. Pharmaceutical companies seemed reluctant to get involved with the research. It wasn’t until 1951 that hormonal contraceptive research finally began. The first clinical trials took place five years later and on this day in 1960, the US Federal Drugs Administration finally approved the first oral contraceptive. Today, an estimated one hundred 100 million women worldwide now use The Pill. In the UK a third of women of reproductive age do so.
Now, no more fannying about: let’s get real.
“Those who in principle oppose birth control are either incapable of arithmetic or else in favour of war, pestilence and famine as permanent features of human life” - Bertrand Russell
Check out this website and study the net population growth this year number very closely. Whatever you may think of the Chinese government’s controversial one-child-policy there is no doubt that they have at least done something about the global over-population crisis that no one (least of all politicians) dares talk about. Women, armed with information and the contraceptive pill, can avert the crisis. People need education about sex, sexual health, and the benefits of small, planned families right now if Bertrand Russell’s assertion is not to come true in our lifetimes. In some places it already is: Haiti, Rwanda, Bangladesh…
“Contraceptives should be used on every conceivable occasion” – Spike Milligan
Unbelievably there are still governments and organisations around the world who misguidedly advocate abstinence and just-say-no campaigns, while simultaneously judging and condemning girls who have babies ‘out of wedlock’ or very young. This is 1. claptrap and 2. hypocrisy. It is right and natural for young people to explore their sexuality. Irrespective of what the Bishop of Rome says, people want to shag, even if His Holiness chooses to keep his cock in his boxers. Young people especially need to be armed with: accurate information, realistic expectations, the confidence to say yes or no, and the freedom from the risk of pregnancy and disease. For girls this means using The Pill as early as she and her doctor feel able, and for lads it means understanding it’s their responsibility to say: “even if you’re on The Pill, I need to use this condom.”
For those that think that telling kids about sex early leads to early first sex, you are wrong, wrong, wrong. Kids in The Netherlands who learn about sex young, delay their first sexual encounter until the age of 17.
“It needs to become as easy to get hold of a condom in a poor country as Coca-Cola” - Clare Short
Our Sisters in developing countries need special attention and support. Millions of women, many denied an education and married off shockingly young, suffer poor health, grinding poverty and early death as a result of pregnancy after pregnancy, child after child. It was once like this in the UK. The Pill – and now hormone injections too, which act in the same way – can ease this needless suffering. Combined with the use of condoms to prevent HIV/AIDS, The Pill has the power to transform entire communities.
Now, after a hard day at work or caring for their much-wanted offspring, women in developed countries can kick off their shoes, lie back and make love to their partners free from the fear of pregnancy. But remember girls, The Pill is only 99.7% effective. My daughter’s middle name is 0.3%.
Posted on | April 18, 2012 | No Comments
I was horrified recently to have to spend more than £2.50 on a greetings card and it prompted me to look again at my own stock of cards to see how I can keep my prices at the best value possible.
So I have been ‘re-bundling’ my greetings cards in my online shop to offer you bumper packs wherever possible.
For the ultimate bargain try this selection pack of 12 greeting cards for only £10.80 including P&P to (UK customers).
Most of my cards are suitable for any occasion and are often purchased by people seeking alternative, ‘green’ or secular designs.
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