Not waving but swimming



Swimming cap pulled on tight, smoothed down to keep out the water.  Goggles adjusted and dipped in the water to ensure against fogging, I would put on my nose peg and dip into the pool.  It required steely determination… well a dose of self-discipline anyway,  to make myself get up and out, early in the day.  After I had stopped earning a living, I felt that I needed to counteract my natural propensity for long lie-ins and so I set about swimming regularly.  No excuses, there’s a council pool within a mile of my house and I decided to learn how to swim more efficiently.  At school I had always been an endurance swimmer, not one designed for speed or sleek efficiency. I was encouraged to use my breaststroke to pass the life-saving exams and I was pretty good at picking up a brick from the bottom of the pool, if I say so myself.  If ever I see a brick in need of saving, I will be the first to volunteer to save it, as long as I have my nose peg with me.


Over two years I managed to increase the number of lengths I could swim in each session and even worked out how to swim the crawl, using You Tube tutorials to get the all-important alternate breathing technique.  As you can imagine, breathing is key to the whole process!


The reality of swimming regularly was that the swimming hat was difficult to get on and off and still left my hair in need of washing and drying each and every time I swam.    The body de-hairing process was never-ending and after each session you had to get rid of the clinging smell of chlorine, which was also a reminder that you were swimming in a chemical in order to counteract swimming in other people’s germs.  Eeugh!


You may not be surprised to know, that my swimming phase lasted only two winters.  I enjoyed the tone of my muscles but not enough to force myself into the water several times a week.


Fast forward then to 2016 when I strained my neck and then my back in quick succession, I can’t even remember how.  Gardening probably.  The strains were minor and only lasted a  week at the most but they reminded me that I was becoming less flexible and could look forward to more aches and pains unless I did something about it.  I get most of my exercise walking and cycling but neither help much with flexibility.


This is how I ended up last week clutching two tins of chopped tomatoes, swinging them about in front of the tv.  They were in lieu of weights, for my sculpting Pilates routine and although a bit lighter than recommended, I figured that less is more as they were to hand and I don’t possess any 1 – 2 lb weights.  My Pilates DVD is an old friend from a previous phase and is split into five 10 minute sessions.  I am now working on my core muscles, building up the muscle strength, hoping to guard against further strains and sprains.  The only limitation this week, is that my knees are black, blue and an attractive hue of yellow after falling off my bicycle last week.   Still, onwards, ever onwards!


5 uses for a coat hanger


5 uses for a coat hanger:

  1. Hang up a garment!
  2. Untwist and poke down a blocked drain/hoover
  3. Use two to make a mobile.
  4. Use the hook to fish for something that has fallen down the side of the fridge.
  5. Wrap a coat hanger around a plant pot, secure it and then use the hook to hang it up.

You may have heard of or tried any or all of these ideas but one of the things you might not have thought of, is to make a sculpture out of wire coat hangers.  See?  That’s original isn’t it?  And it was that creative thought which meant that on Friday afternoon I was looking at a sculpture of a deer’s head, antlers and all, made out of coat hangers.  I was at the Summer Exhibition in the Royal Academy and the variety of pictures and sculptures was amazing.  I met up with my husband at the end of the day and we set out to see the exhibits created by famous and unknown artists alike and chosen for exhibition by a panel of experts each year.  From the thousands of entries, only about 1,200 are picked and it is a great boost to anyone who has their work chosen.  They gain a much greater audience and most of the artworks are for sale.


We started up the stairs, looking forward to our visit and fresh with enthusiasm.  The first room has only 8 or 10 larger pieces, including a fossilised fuel pump and the word, ‘forever’ up in bright lights on the wall.  We stopped and considered, took a few photos and looked around carefully.  The next gallery included a bar and many gallery-goers were glass in hand as they progressed around the exhibition.  This created a relaxed atmosphere combined with the buzz of the viewers calling each other to, ‘come and see’ or ‘look at this’.   That blend came from arty types who knew what and importantly, which artists to look for, and also from the regular art lovers, who like us, were there to see the tremendous variety and were trying to work what to make of it all.  It soon became obvious that with gallery after gallery of paintings and exhibits, you either had to spend 5 hours there or be a bit pickier about which things to stop and look at.  My feet were already killing me and we had only been there about 45 minutes, so we changed our strategy and walked confidently past many pieces, stopping only at anything which was too interesting to ignore and believe me, that was still lots and lots.


There is a theme of collaboration which runs through this year’s Summer Exhibition and there were several famous pieces by artists who manage to work together, (full marks to them, that can’t be easy) for example Gilbert and George and Pierre et Gilles.  One of the memorable exhibits was a low table with a whole heap of charred bones, I’m not sure if they were real or not but as a Momento Mori it was full of the agony and anguish of death.


The deer’s head made of coat hangers was remarkable. Created by David Mach, it uses an everyday object to create the familiar form of a wall-mounted hunting trophy but then you look more closely and realise that the deer looks tormented and distressed.  Why has it been killed?  For ‘sport’?  The metal in the coat hangers looks raw and reminded me of the hooks and barbs used in fishing, as well as the suffering of an animal killed as a prize.


Another of the arresting pieces was a cabinet of colourful vases, labelled as ‘All the fish in the sea’.  The smooth shapes were set in a cabinet with a mirror behind them, giving an impression of twice the colour and the number of the amphora-like forms.  Once I had seen the label, I could understand that the shapes were fish-like and although not intended to look like real fish, the variety of colours and patterns did reflect the many species and types of fish in the oceans of the world.  Is the cabinet intended to suggest that we are only happy to consider fish if they conform to how we see them?  The colours are very bright and artificial, is this the only way we are prepared to look at fish, like in a Disney film?  Maybe these are the total number of fish in the sea and once they’re gone, they’re gone?  It also reminded me of what people say to when a relationship ends, ‘There’s plenty more fish in the sea’, what an annoying and useless phrase that is and in ecological terms may be less and less true.



I had no idea at the time but it turns out that the fish work is by the same artist, David Mach.  Considering that my aching feet restricted the number of pieces we looked at, quite a high hit rate for his works.  It took some time afterwards to process what we had seen as I found the exhibition quite overwhelming, with so many different artists and styles to appreciate. A few days later and I’m more sure about which works made an impact on me and those I shall remember for some time to come.  My top recommendation if you go to see the exhibition:  Have a good long sit down before you go



Luckily our neighbours are elderly and not prone to complaining about the sounds which emanate from our house.  This afternoon it was the painfully slow sight-reading of the Toreador’s song from Carmen, being picked on the ukulele and with an accompaniment on the tin whistle.  There’s the counting to four business, to keep in time and then there are the notes.  When one of us found the right note, the other was inevitably ahead or behind, what a cacophony!  Still we have several weeks yet before we have to get up to the right speed.  So we shall practise our parts separately and then put them together, going slowly over each section until it is ready and then finally speeding up the tempo.


The BBC’s mission is ‘to enrich people’s lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain.’  This music-making of ours comes firmly under the educate umbrella as it is part of the BBC’s Get Playing campaign.  I read about it online and having looked at the website, wondered if I should be leaving this to the kids.  But no, I found a caveat which says that you must be over 16, for which I more than qualify, as does my husband.  Hooray!  Finally something interesting which is aimed at my age group and one of my interests.  The idea is for amateur musicians, playing a huge variety of instruments from bagpipes to sitar, to download the music, practise at home and then record their contribution, keeping in time with the conductor (the world renowned Marin Alsop).  The techhies at the BBC will then put together all the video recordings, presumably balance out the sounds in case there are 5,000 violins and no double basses, and then the three minute sequence of virtual orchestra will be played as part of the Last Night of the Proms at the end of August.


I think it’s a splendid idea and I would much rather take part in this way than take part by voting in the X Factor or The Voice.  It seems that every programme you watch or listen to nowadays is begging you to get in touch.  Whether it’s Springwatch, the weather or Womans’ Hour on Radio 4 all they keep nagging on about is, ‘get in touch’ by email, tweet or facebook.  Quite frankly, when I’m watching TV or listening to the radio, it’s downtime and the last thing I want to do is get in touch with the presenters or the programme makers.  I just want them to entertain me, is that OK?  On some shows they even spend time reading out comments that have been sent in.  What a waste of time.  If a section of a programme has already dealt with a topic, then I would assume that coverage has been thorough and even-handed.  What I don’t then need is further comment from Joe from Manchester, to hear what he thinks.    And, while I take seriously my responsibility to vote in general and local elections, please don’t ever ask me to vote about anything at all on the television.  ‘The box’ is for my pleasure and entertainment, not for me to hear two pennyworth of opinion from all and sundry.  It’s just laziness from the programme makers which encourages this pretend ‘let’s involve the audience’.

That said, I think it will be fun to get involved in Get Playing by practising and may be eventually recording a contribution.  Lord Reith, the founder of the BBC, believed in public service broadcasting and this will involve us directly in musical activity and connect us to hundreds or thousands of like-minded people.   I look forward to watching the final combined performance as entertainment, where I sit and watch and the BBC entertains me, even if I did play a tiny part in the music-making. Just don’t ask me to vote for the best player/musical piece/recording!

Old hat?



Black and white photos used to seem old hat, in the heady 1980s when all photographs were in bright technicolour. My father loved to take black and white photos in the 1960s and 70s and used to develop them at home in a dark room (the bathroom).  A single special bulb would illuminate his bathing of the photographic paper in a sequence of chemicals.  Once colour had taken over it was too complicated to develop photos at home and he would send away the negatives by post, to receive the colour prints in return many days later.  Those colours are now faded in family albums, the yellow too dominant, skirts too short, the smiles forced.  We were not used to posing for photographs in those days, long before the ubiquitous camera phone and the selfie were invented.  Each call for ‘smile please’ or ‘cheese’ greeted with suspicion or indifference.


How different then, the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson which is on show now at the Sainsbury Centre (SCVA) in Norwich.   His black and white photographs chronicle life in Paris from 1929 to 1985 and capture the essence of each subject through apparently very simple scenes.  A young boy, dressed in clothes which are too large for him, stares at the ground, ignoring the photographer who can only be irrelevant to his poverty.  A more joyful scene shows a group of school girls looking out at the view over the Seine from the top of Notre Dame Cathedral, their school capes dating their uniform and making them part of a long-gone era.  There are photos of porters at the big market in Les Halles, known nowadays for a large metro interchange and a shopping mall.  One photo shows a porter with a flatbed trolley, carrying an enormous carcass of raw meat, which takes up the centre of the picture, wholesale in size and intensity. This is no holiday snap, the men do not smile, they have been captured doing their job, this was their daily reality.


Cartier-Bresson took many photographs of famous writers and artists, including one here of Jean-Paul Sartre looking nonchalant and effortlessly cool on the Pont des Arts.  The Swiss artist Giacometti, is shown walking across the road, in action, as in so many of his ‘Walking Man’ sculptures, featured in another current exhibition at the SCVA.


Cartier-Bresson portrayed Parisians from a variety of social backgrounds.  One photo is of an ordinary middle-aged man alone in a café, looking out of the window, he may be waiting for someone or just watching the world go by.  He looks bemused and if not quite fearful, certainly isolated.  Likewise a photo of plasterers taken in the 1930s, is proof of what looks like a terrible life.  The workers are standing in front of a mountain of cloth, with more piled up in front of them.  They are covered in plaster dust and stand upright to have their photograph taken in what must have been a miserable and filthy working day.


There is a contrast in the photos between the truly shocking slums of Nanterre, which look more like the shacks of Nairobi or Rio de Janeiro and the relative riches of a fashion show, where the ladies present are well dressed, hatted and all eyes for the new fashion ideas on display.  One woman has the confidence to lean forward and feel the cloth as the model passes close by.


Black and white photography gives this exhibition a strong sense of frame and contrast as well as a clear message for us to view.  In these captured moments, Cartier-Bresson reflected the world around him and each choice of subject and surroundings give us an intimate likeness of what he saw in Paris through the decades of the last century.