Monday, 16 April 2012

You Ain't Nothing But a Hound Dog

Occasionally someone comes along who know is going to have a significant impact on your life.  Let me introduce my latest acquaintance who has the potential, I believe, to be a close friend throughout his doggie lifetime.  Behold the rather embarrassingly named Elvis.  Okay you might think that's rather cool  for a mutt, but try shouting it across a field  when trying to coax an excited canine back within grabbing distance and see how much of a pillock you feel!

This gorgeously butch rescue hound,, half Staff and half Jack Russell is the new resident at the home of Abi, the mini Zoe Wannamaker and Louis' best mate.  Now some of you who've read my blog may think that I'm rather anti-pet but this is not so. I'm adamant that I don't want one myself because of the commitment that they involve and the associated costs but that's not too say I'm an animal hating, tail treading meanie.  In fact, I have a great big soft spot for other people's animals and I'm safe in the knowledge that I can enjoy their company without having to worry about the not inconsiderable costs of pet food and vets bills.

So what's special about this particular hound dog?   Well in spite of his terribly sad earlier years where he was kept nameless in a lock up garage lying in his own excrement (hence his yellow tail) this little chap is as friendly and as gentle as can be.  He's also smart and it only takes a bit of effort for him to get the gist of what he needs to do. Already he's  learned how to sit on command and  picked up how to clear a stile after just one set of prompts. The great thing is that this waggie tailed ball of niceness is just so willing to please.

Now his owners are not fitness fanatics. In fact they're going to find it hard to exercise Elvis as much as he would like.  So a  win-win situation can be established.  I can have all the fun of spending time which him but without the financial implications and the worrying  levels of responsibility associated with pet ownership.   And Elvis, well he'll get a good regular run around in the surrounding woodlands and have a couple of willing neighbours who'll always be on hand to provide him with loving 'respite' care when it's needed!

Sunday, 15 April 2012


I am many things to many people - mum, mate, that mad occupational therapist in the mental health team,  pro-grey hair activist, wannabe writer and jeweller to the stars(!), wheeler dealer,  craftster, competent cook, voracious forager and festival going party animal. You'll being getting the gist now that I am truly a multi-faceted human being. Today I'm adding another string to my bow.  For behold,  I am now Lovelygrey the fledging art detective!

A few weeks ago I spotted this painting in the recently revamped  RSPCA charity shop in Totnes.  I'd like to believe that I am a ruthless bargain hunter who wrestled it out of the hands of the elderly gentleman in a wheelchair who was also buying paintings in the shop.  But alas I lie. For I am a much more gentle soul and our encounter was much more chivalrous.  I spotted it first and he congratulated sportingly on my find whilst I inwardly coveted the watercolour that he'd claimed as his own prize.  My own picture is signed 'J A Currie' and it's marked on the back that it depicts Girvan Boatyard in Ayrshire and was painted in  1980.  It's wonderfully intricate, appeals to my combined love of industrial landscapes and the sea and was produced by someone skilled at their craft.  If you click on the image and enlarge it you may be able to admire all those amazing brushstrokes yourself.

'Blimey' I thought after I quickly tracked down Judith Currie, an artist who paints Scottish landscapes. 'This art research stuff is a breeze!'  But alas, my job was not so easy after all.  She's kindly replied to my query about whether this is one of her works and she's not a lady who's been hanging around with her easel and pallette in this particular boatyard.   Okay, I had my doubts as her style and subject matter is different but people move on artistically don't they?

So my sleuthing has to continue!  Meanwhile I'm also on the hunt for a gorgeous  frame that will do my bargain find justice.  Maybe the carboot sale that Louis and I are off to after my morning cuppa will reap rich bounty.

Thursday, 12 April 2012


Now some people that I come across  are horrified that I write a blog and think I tell complete strangers around the world about every detail of my life. They're wrong though.  There's a lot of personal stuff about me, my family and friends that you lot don't get to hear about and I'd never dream of disclosing.  Being an uptight child of the sixties, I'm not of the opinion that I should kiss and tell all as seems to be the want of a lot of people today.   I might feel comfortable about sharing, say, if  I had a spot on my bum, but lots of personal stuff stays safely and soundly secret.

However I will disclose the fact that all sorts of events have taken a cumulative toll recently and I've had a couple of days rest from writing because I'm completely whacked out as a consequence. Instead of rushing around I'm trying to relax and do as little as possible outside work except some restorative telly watching.  Normal blue arsed fly mode will be resumed shortly!

Monday, 9 April 2012

Duplicating Damien

Funnily enough there's a lot in the British press about Damien Hirst at the moment.  Could it possibly coincide with his exhibition at Tate Modern?!  I did briefly consider taking Louis there on our London trip last week.  Although there is no doubt he would have relished seeing sharks and cows in formaldehyde his attention span is on the teeny side.  Gallery visits with him tend to be of a whirlwind nature or have to involve a game which detracts from my viewing pleasure.  So, I'm saving my visit for a girlie outing in the summer when I'll   make use of a bargain rail fare and will be able to explore at a more leisurely adult pace.

Now when it comes to art I'm not a particularly deep thinker.  Someone started to talk to me last week about allegory within a particular painting and I got a bit lost.  After a bit of navel gazing on a wobbly stomach, (note to self: must follow one of those links about how to make your tummy flat!)  I decided that what I go for are pieces which have a strong visual impact that induce instant emotional responses.  Sod any hidden meaning that needs complicated explanations.

To reveal myself as even more of a philistine,   I'm also drawn to work that give me joy.  This can happen at different levels.  Sometimes a piece may evoke a bubbling undercurrent of happiness whereas another may induce undisguised belly laughs...whether the artist intended that or not.

It was with glee that, on Saturday,  I came across an article in that journalistic worrier of the elderly, The Daily Mail.   And yes, it was found at the home of Mama and Papa Lovelygrey purveying its particular brand of right leaning opinions, lurid crime stories and, health advice. Even if when they don't gel with my own values and belief, I love picking up any newspaper and normally find something that appeals .  The Sport,  for example, was much valued as lunchtime reading in one occupational therapy department that I worked in.  We had a collective giggle over the daily photo problem page where pouty women characters conducted most of their angst ridden conversations dressed  just in their undies.

So what was it in the Mail that took my fancy? Well, follow this link  and you too will be inspired to create your very own Damien knock offs at a fraction of the price tags on the original.  Sausage in a bottle anyone?

PS: All pictures today from Wikipedia.  Look there for how I should have acknowledged today's pictures in this post.   It's all a bit complicated.  However I hope the illustrations inspire you all on this wet Bank holiday to try out some spot and spin painting of your own!

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Culture on Sea

'Ooh! 'Chelle, the wind's blowing right up my crack!.'  I couldn't fail to hear the dulcet estuarine tones of one of Essex's finest as she uttered this memorable line on a particularly blustery day.  Nor can I forget the chap who once showed me the particularly sorry drink addled contents of his underpants in a Southend nightclub that came with a proposition that I just had to refuse.  So, it was with surprise that I saw that my childhood hometown is billing itself as 'Culture-on-Sea'.  Really?

'What would Southend have to offer me?' asked my sartorially elegant friend Mr Metrosexual a week ago.   In the years when I was a young adult I would have mumbled something about the place being a dump, but no more.  I only had to pause for a second before I reeled off my rather expansive list.

There's my beloved pier, miles and miles of seafront,  world famous shellfish, beautiful parks like this one at Southchurch Hall, art galleries and museums.  The airport has perked up in time for the Olympics, there's festivals galore and, just outside the town boundaries, the ruins of Hadleigh Castle will play host to this year's Olympic mountain biking events.  The list goes on and on even before you take into account the town's excellent transport links into London.    Those of you though, who looked at my first photo and thought that orb spotting might be one of the pursuits are going to be disappointed.  Those mysterious spheres at the top right of the shot were just dirty spots on my lens!

On another spooky note I had hoped that the refurbishment at Prittlewell Priory might have now been completed so that I could test my theory about the 'haunted balcony'  that I wrote about last year.  |Alas, it was still closed so I had to content myself with the lovely formal gardens.  However those of you with an interest in testing out their nose for the supernatural, and anyone else who just likes a  good mooch around a museum, will be pleased to know that  the re-opening, complete with jazz, demonstrations and all manner of frivolities will take place on 16 June.

So, all you trendy peeps out there.  Spurn those better known cultural hotspots, ignore the dropped aitches and the glottal stops and come and see what the seaside playground of Eastenders has to offer.  You may be very, very surprised.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Tanks and Top Gun

The last time I wrote about how I'd given into my son's penchant for all things related to warfare I lost a follower. So goodbye, if you feel the need to leave after this post.  It's been nice knowing you.   However I'm sure that 99.9% of mothers with boys will understand the predicament I'm in.  Even though I'd love him to spurn killing machines and take up floristry instead,  there is something instinctive in the manchild's nature which means that armament is a constant fascination to him.  For example when I gave him a pound so that he could go wild in the 99p store he had to whittle down his selection from six items which all banged and exploded until he settled on a rather nasty plastic hand grenade.

We've moved on in our travels and now in my childhood home town of Southend-on-Sea where we've been three nights now.  However on the way down from Norfolk,  Louis pleaded with me to stop at the 'awesome' tank that we'd seen in Thetford Forest.  It turned out to be the memorial to the Desert Rats, the 7th Armoured Division that fought in every major battle in North Africa in World War II.  I'd tell you more but I'm afraid my level of interest in military history is so low that I couldn't get past the first paragraph on Wiki without making my own 'Great Escape'.

Further along the A1065 I have to admit that I was a little more invigorated by our stop at the viewing area at RAF Lakenheath, a misnomer for a very large US airbase.  I was  more enthusiastic here as we arrived just in time to see wannabe Tom Cruises mosey on down the runway in their F15s and take off ready to play in the sky.  Locals told us that arriving early morning and at two in the afternoon gives you a very good chance of seeing this spectacle which so noisy you can feel the vibrations   rippling through your body as the planes take off.  Much to my surprise, I found that you're allowed to take photos through the fence.  Playing at secret agent gathering official secrets added to the frisson.

While we were on a warfare roll I thought I'd treat Louis to a visit to the National Army Museum in London.  Old and young military aficionados will love this free informative attraction and the coffee shop's nice too!  If you're in the London area this weekend and stuck for something to do with small lads it's especially worth going as you can catch the hilarious Captain Clean the caped connoisseur  of conservation.   He'll equip your little darlings with white coats, grabbers and collection bags and take them on a whirlwind trip around the museum fighting the agents of decay to the bemusement of those there for a serious museum experience.  Hurry, though he's only there until 9 April although a troll through the museum's archives suggests that he makes return visits during other school holidays.

Friday, 6 April 2012

It's Ruined!

Today, my Easter wanderings have taken me from the west of Great Britain to Norfolk in Eastern England.  And yup! it's another castle although the astute among you will notice that this one might not have the posh state rooms that I saw in Cardiff.  There isn't a roof in sight on the castle at the helpfully named Castle Acre  so any fancy decor would be ruined by the elements pretty darned quickly!

This evocative ruin was Louis' playground for a couple of day as it's the village where my brother Paul Bernard  Harris lives and works as an artist.  For a boy who likes playing hide and seek and collecting flint it was a dream come true.  The castle is in the hands of English Heritage and it's free to access.  The historic priory in the village is a paying attraction but you can have a butchers over the wall if you're skint or tight.

Now  I apologise to ye goode folke of Norfolke but I had negative preconceptions about your land which I thought was a barren flat wilderness.  However I eat my hat, although not my favourite that is trimmed with rickrack braid.  It is a lovely undulating land reminiscent of my beloved Brittany with gorgeous coastline, forests and lots of archaeology and historic sites.   Now I've discovered it I shall be returning again and again.

If you're tempted to visit, my brother's kind landlady runs a guesthouse/bunkhouse the Old Red Lion which comes highly recommended by no less than both the Guardian and the Times.  And if you're around at the end of May or the beginning of June, pop in and see my lovely bro' as he's opening his home as part of the Norfolk Open Studios project.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Move Away from the Castle Lovelygrey!

Okay, okay I will move on from Cardiff Castle soon but I have to show you the  apartments which are a complete antidote to minimalist decor.  Last year I admired the animal wall on the outside of the castle which was designed by a chap called William Burges.  Now he was one of the most prestigious gothic architects and good old Wiki has enlightened me about his prolific collection of work.  There's a lesson to be had about the dangers of being a slave to fashion.  A lot of his creations were destroyed or lost when tastes changed in the 1920s-50s.  High quality work is to be cherished whether it coincides with current trends or not.

Anyway, if you are super-rich you might as well go for out and out decadence which is what the Bute family did in the 19th century when the Castle was their home. Burges renovated the castle and built a sumptuous mansion in the grounds complete with spaces that every home should have - like this Arab room with its gilded ceiling.

Now there are animals to spot aplenty as you wander around, carved in stone and wood and incorporated into elaborate painted and gilded panels.  I admired them in solitude after leaving the boys in the care of the rather too ebullient Tudor Torturer whilst he was explaining the mechanics of toenail extraction.  However, the youngsters did their own tour later on. They gained an appreciation of what was on offer in the apartments thanks to a pamphlet prompting them to spot the myriad of animals depicted around the place. I'm told that I missed ants carved on a writing desk in the library. My forty something eyes are not as sharp as they used to be.

I'm a compulsive declutterer myself  and will throw away anything that if I don't know what it is. This sometimes has disastrous consequences.  The disposal of the widget needed to remove the alloy wheels on my last car was a case in point. Its usefulness only came to light when the garage were unable to replace a tyre.  Oops! It will not surprise you then, that my own interiors steer towards the simplistic. Yet, I'm a bit smitten by the work of this Victorian designer who specialised in opulence and look forward to hunting out places where I can view some more of his work which promoted craftsmanship of the highest order.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Taking the Biscuit Tin

In reality I’m now in Essex at the abode of Mama and Papa Lovelygrey.  However, virtually I haven’t left Wales and yes, I’m still milking our visit to Cardiff Castle as a blogging resource.  There's still a couple more posts to go! 

Today, I’m in the gift shop where, as you would expect from a world class tourist attraction, the locked  cabinets contained beautifully crafted, shiny covetable things.  Quite rightly pieces from people working in Wales are showcased there. There was lovely Welsh gold for those feeling flush but  Kate Hamilton Hunter's jewellery caught my eye.  At first sight it seems that her work demonstrates the skill of a very adept enameller indeed. However I was wrong.  Her expertise lies in the area of upcycling.  For these lovely fripperies have breathed new and useful life into dinky pieces of metal that have been  cut from old biscuit, sweet and tobacco tins, some of which have been mounted onto silver like this gorgeous disc necklace.

This lady isn't just running a hobby business either.   A look around her website provides inspiration and hope to everyone, like me, who dreams one day of making a proper living from their handcrafted wares.  She employs a whole army of people and has stockists aplenty around the United Kingdom.  So, if you're taken by her work you should be able to find somewhere near you where you can see it in the flesh.  Of course, she's also given me the idea of producing my own work as a homage to her once my new home is straightened up.   After all I've been toying with the idea of using a bit of scrap metal as silver prices are forever surging higher.  I'm thinking of spurning true vintage though and using my tin snips on empties from the grocery store.  Tate and Lyle lion earrings anyone? Or how about something zingy made from a Colman's mustard tin?

Even though I've subconsciously made a resolution not to succumb to buying any house cluttering souvenir's of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, clever Kate may have tempted me to put some pennies towards a small patriotic memento.   After all, it would only take up a little bit of space in my jewellery box and it's much nicer than a mug!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Rat on a Mission

I have to come clean.  The last couple of months have been a bit lacking on the bloggy inspiration front.  It's just been a case of getting my head down and sorting out my new life, a bit immune to the cues around me.

Being away on holiday has allowed me to look around again.  One of the things that I sometimes do is take pictures and then come away and do a bit of research. Often notices  and information boards grab my fancy and I ignore the strange looks I get when I take photos of text.   The images though are often a godsend in terms of jogging my memory about things that have fleetingly captured my imagination.  Looking through my Picassa album from Cardiff Castle has reminded me that I wanted to find out more about Blossom the Hero Rat, whose mug stared out from a poster in the Frontline Museum, an exhibit about the Welsh Soldier.

I am so glad that I did some follow up because Blossom has inspired me to spend money from the rather full coffers of my Charities Aid Foundation account to support  the extremely valuable work carried out by her and her colleagues  in exchange for mere morsels of food.  As least I will do when I've set my username and password on their website.  For some reason I always get in a pickle when accessing this website.

Anyway, back to Blossom.  She's heroic because after undergoing nine months of training she now uses her exceptional powers of smell to detect mines without harm to herself.   And she has other ratty friends too who've taken different career paths.  Some of them can 'test' sputum samples for TB, performing as many tests in seven minutes as it takes a lab technician a day to do.  Go rat go!

If this type of project floats your boat and is the type of cause you'd like to support check out APOPO's website where you'll find all the bumf including how to give.  Who knows.  Could the brave antics of these little bald tailed, scratchy, pointy nosed creatures be just enough to cure some of you out there of your serious rodent phobias?

Monday, 2 April 2012

Daffies and Dinky Dudes

You know when a tourist attraction is world class when its visitors include our friends from the Far East.   Take France for example.   We can wander around for  weeks in the motorhome without seeing an oriental face.  And then you arrive at Mont St Michel and ping!  It's as if half the Japanese nation are there on holiday with their impressive photographic equipment.

Anyway, these are no ordinary daffodils as they're growing in the grounds of Cardiff Castle, an internationally renowned destination based on the criterion above.   The Welsh capital city was first stop on Lovelygrey's UK Easter tour,  a birthday treat for both myself, the nipper who's reached the ripe old age of nine.  His mate Josh who was ten last week joined us with his parents on this leg of our trip and Mr Lovelygrey came along too.

Now castles are great places for boisterous kids.  If they become too much you can just lock them up!  Museums have come on a long way since my childhood when you were supposed to get your excitement out of marveling at a badly stuffed fox and the world's most prolific and dusty collection of  jam spoons or suchlike.  Today, they go out of their way to engage their younger audience.

And Saturday was no exception. For it was storytelling day at the castle.   In the keep, we heard Oscar Wilde's hauntingly beautiful 'Selfish Giant' and the story of 'Gawain and the Green Knight', a terrifying tale of beheadings, blood, gore and most frightening of all - snogging!  There was also a rather too enthusiastic gentleman demonstrating Tudor torture implements.  Great for young lads but not for the faint hearted like myself.  I had to nip off!

At £11 for adults and £8.50 for children,admission to the Castle is on the pricey side but there's quite a few buts.  We spent over four hours there and had to drag the boys away.   It's also given me load more material for a few extra posts so you'll probably all be sick of the place before I've finished.

There's plans too for a return quite soon that will be much cheaper. Once you've bought your tickets, a nice lady will take your photo and a few extra details and voila.  Like the SS Great Britain in Bristol, you're then entitled to free entry for the rest of the year.  Great British Cheese  Festival here we come!