Month: October 2015

There are a few niggles I have about Downton Abbey and I’ve blogged about these before. However, there is one attribute of the characters in the programme I envy greatly. Namely, their ability to throw literary quotes into everyday conversation. Last night, the Dowager said ‘Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war’. She was referring to the suggestion of inviting the Minister for Health (Neville Chamberlain) over for dinner. If we were to invite Jeremy Hunt for dinner this weekend, I’d like to be able to respond similarly. But sadly, I wouldn’t be able to due to my ignorance.

There is an article on wikipedia about the meaning of the Dowager’s phrase. I’m not so interested in the meaning of this particular phrase here, I’m interested in her talent to drop a Shakespearean quote in general chit chat and for it to have a strong resonance to everyone present (and of course the viewers). I want to be able to do that. It doesn’t have to be exclusive to Shakespeare’s great works, I want to be able to do that with any book. I’m quite a well-read member of the human race. I’ve read 78 of the 100 BBC ‘top reads’. Most people, the page states, have only read around 6 of them. Yet I can’t quote from any of them.  I’ve even read 93 of the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge list of 339 books referenced in the Gilmore Girls. However, can I quote from Charles Dickens? No.

I bet she's read a lot

I bet she’s read a lot

I’m not sure whether this is a skill I can cultivate. Could I practice on my children and husband perhaps? Then move on to friends? And eventually use some choice, witty quotes in school governor meetings and work conference calls?

I could use this one from Jayne Eyre during a phone meeting about things going wrong: ‘It is a pity that doing one’s best does not always the answer.’

To my children as they leave their mess in the kitchen, I’d like to use this quote by Balzac: ‘Such is life. It is no cleaner than a kitchen; it reeks like a kitchen; and if you mean to cook your dinner, you must expect to soil your hands; the real art is in getting them clean again, and therein lies the whole morality of our epoch.’

And another one for the children, when they moan about their homework: ‘I dare you to work harder than your dream demands.’

Some advice from Oscar Wilde for all those people on Facebook who talk about betrayal and enemies: ‘Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.’

And finally, this one, another Oscar Wildeism, for anyone suffering from paranoia: ‘The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.’

I think I need to keep a literary quote journal so I can pull on these out as and when needed. So again I ask: are there really people, beyond the fictional world of Downton Abbey, who can drop quotes with ease? I’d like to meet them and eventually, be one of them. Perhaps it’ll only come to me when I’m as old as Maggie Smith.

A very eloquent man

A very eloquent man

Am I too old to dress like a ‘young’ art student?

This is a weird thought I had just now as I pressed ‘add to basket’ on Top Shop online as I found myself accidentally purchasing a nice new pair of patterned flared trousers (in the sale). This thought is related to the one I had a few weeks ago about feeling like a grown up. This one, however, relates exclusively to clothes.

This is me in my green velvet coat and one of my many hats

This is me in my green velvet coat and one of my many hats

When I look back at my 18-year-old self, with a penchant for clothes from Next and River Island, I think my style was more mature then than my years and more mature then than it is now. I’ve changed since then.

I definitely dress ‘younger’ (relative to years) than I did then. I’m quite happy with the style I have developed into. However, I’d be mortified if the people I see on the train or walking around Shrewsbury are thinking ‘Oh my god, she should dress her age and not act like she’s in her twenties again!’ I wonder if I’ve started dressing younger since becoming an art student. I was firmly in the Fat Face and White Stuff camp before I started my art degree. Now I have one foot in Top Shop and another in Severn Hospice / Oxfam / British Heart Foundation. Have I regressed because I’m spending more time with younger people? Is youth rubbing off on me? Am I trying to be younger than I really am? Am I rebelling against the grey hairs and wrinkles?

If I had to describe my style I’d say it was a charity-shop cum arty farty coffee shop Sex and the City eclectic mix. I like clothes more now than I did as an 18 year old. I didn’t have much money then, which hampered me somewhat in developing a personal style. I have more money now and the charity shops are much more accessible and varied in their stock than they were in 1990.

This is a picture of my current favourite trousers.

My best buy of 2015 so far

My best buy of 2015 so far

But at the age of 43 should I perhaps be wearing trousers more like these below? They are elasticated so comfortable around the three-baby belly. They are a nice, sober colour. And they are straight-legged and in them, I’d be more inconspicuous. They look very comfy.

Perhaps I should be wearing these

Perhaps I should be wearing these

I also live in DM boots. I used to think (when I was 18) that anyone over the age of 22 still wearing DMs was deeply disillusioned and stuck in a deep well of nostalgia for their youth. But now I can afford DMs (at 18 I had to save for weeks). Now I am that stuck-in-the-past person (although I don’t feel as if I am stuck in a nostalgic rut). I have purple velvet DMs. I adore them. Should a 43 year old be wearing these (with the patterned trousers above)?

My favourite boots

My favourite boots

Perhaps I should be wearing these nice court shoes?

These look very foot-friendly

These look very foot-friendly

In less than 20 years from now I will be 60. Surely, at that age, I won’t be gallivanting about town in purple DMs and Top Shop trousers? The thought of having to change my clothes sense because I’m granny-age depresses me. I’m sure it will change to some extent (after all, it has changed during the last twenty years) but I hope that it doesn’t veer too closely towards M&S and Edinburgh Woollen Mill. As I expressed in the blog entry about being a grown-up, equally, I would hate to be a subject of ridicule by the youngsters (the 43 year olds) and my contemporaries in their pleated skirts and tan tights.

Ughh

Ughh

Watch this space. Perhaps I’ll update this entry in 2033 and we’ll see what I am wearing then. Ten pence says I won’t yet be in slacks and court shoes.

 

Can I find beauty in Telford?

A few weeks ago, I blogged about my issues with Telford. The argument I raised about the delights, or not, of Telford caused quite a stir. A few friends agreed with me  and stated that in their opinion Telford is quite a soulless place; others (mostly Telfordians but not all) reacted quite defensively. I was told that Telford beholds many beauties including Ironbridge, Much Wenloch and the like. However, my definition of ‘Telford’ doesn’t include those locations (even if the official definition of Telford does). I was talking purely about Telford town centre and the old ‘villages’ that it engulfed when it was founded (Wellington, Oakengates, Madeley and Dawley among others).

So today, as I was destined to return to Telford once again while my son attended his writers’ workshop, I decided to take my camera and try to find beauty in Telford. I want to love Telford. I don’t like being negative about the place. I want to be proved wrong. I really want people to argue with me and say ‘How can you say Telford has no soul!’

On one level, I found photographing Telford quite a challenge. The Telfordians seemed to regard me, a lone body photographing their shops and signs, as a bit of an oddity. I was on the receiving end of quite a lot of strange looks. Secondly, I saw so many fabulous photo opportunities which included the Telfordians themselves as they slouched around the shops in search of happiness but I was just too shy to snap away. I really, really want to be as confident as the likes of Martin Parr. So due to shyness most of my photographs centred on objects rather than human life.

I started my search for beauty in one of Telford’s old ‘towns’: Oakengates.

Even Oakengates recognizes that they need help

Even Oakengates recognizes that they need help

A typical Oakengates retail outlet

A typical Oakengates retail outlet

Somehow black-and-white photography fits Oakengates

Somehow black-and-white photography fits Oakengates

The town that the 21st-century forgot

The town that the 21st-century forgot

The rubbish of Oakengates

The detritus of Oakengates

I conclude that I was able to find some beauty in Oakengates. I found old shops, dated signs, lots of flower baskets, and a charming outdoor market. Perhaps to me this was beautiful because I love urban decay. Oakengates has charm. However, I still wouldn’t want to live there.

A fallen flower in Oakengates

A fallen flower in Oakengates

Next, I tackledTelford Shopping Centre and surrounding area. I found more similar beauty as a lover of urban life but didn’t really have the confidence to capture most of it. However, I did manage to capture some elements of Telford’s attractiveness.

Telford town from afar

Telford town from afar

A colourful Telford

A colourful Telford

A lovely old sign

A lovely old sign

Just like Oakengates, Telford lends itself naturally to arty black-and-white photography

Just like Oakengates, Telford lends itself naturally to arty black-and-white photography

Bored of looking for beauty, I stopped for a coffee

Bored of looking for beauty, I stopped for a coffee

The people of Telford, through a reflection

The people of Telford, through a reflection

The fag ends of Telford - I think these have beauty

The fag ends of Telford – I think these have a certain beauty

A plethora of colourful bags

A plethora of colourful bags

I think I found some beauty in Telford, and much more than these photographs indicate. If I’d had the courage I would have taken many, many more photographs. Does that mean, then, that beauty can be found anywhere if it is sought after? Even in Telford? I’m inclined to think  that the answer is ‘yes’. As someone who likes to find and highlight the extraordinary in the ordinary (and the more ordinary the better), I now truly believe that Telford and Oakengates have much to offer. The beauty might not be the same as found in Shrewsbury with its Grope Lane and Quirky Coffee Shop, but it is there nonetheless.

Shrewsbury may have traditional beauty, but somehow the beauty found in a town like Telford is that bit more precious.

Do cats laugh?

This is a weird thought I have quite often when hanging out with my cat. The thought could relate to any animal but since I spend more time with my cat than I do with any other of the animal species (even slugs) here I will relate this thought to cats.

My weird thought is: do cats have a sense of humour? Do they have wit? I believe they do. I think they are deeply sarcastic. At least, every cat I have ever owned has had a penchant for sarcasm and irony.

Anyone who owns a pet of any sort (except perhaps a stick insect) will tell you that their pet has a personality. People who work closely with animals will also say so. Dogs can be timid, lively, noisy, quiet, loving, hostile and aggressive. They can be deeply loyal. Cats can be timid, lively, noisy (my cat is very noisy), quiet, loving, hostile and aggressive. I’ve never had a rabbit, snake, guinea pig or rat but I’m sure they have personalities too.

I'm lazy and I love the sunshine

I’m lazy and I love the sunshine

Science is gradually finding out that cats, and other animals, feel emotions. Bizarrely, this notion has been little studied until the last few decades. Biologists of the 18th- and 19th-centuries seemed relatively uninterested in the emotional lives of animals. Perhaps we will never know exactly how they feel emotions. We can never know exactly what it is like to be a cat. We can know what it might be like to be like a cat. We can study brain patterns and patterns of behaviour in cats. But we can’t be cats. Philosophers who ponder this argue that consciousness is always subjective and cannot be reduced to physical values. I agree with them. I think this applies to other humans as well. I can empathize with a friend who is upset but I can never truly know how they feel, even if the same thing happens to me. It particularly applies to animals. I can never truly know what it is to be a cat. Even if my cat could tell me, I am not a cat myself.

You know that I am adorable

You know that I am adorable, but I am secretly laughing at you

One well-known scientist in the field of animal studies believes that all mammals may have a sense of humour. Marc Beckoff, author of The Emotional Lives of Animals, thinks we are on the cusp of being able to prove this. His argument is partly based on Darwinian theory which states that the difference between human and animal intelligence is a matter of degree, not of kind.

This book looks interesting

This book looks interesting

Other scientists have discovered that dogs can recognise unfairness, spiders have moods and bees can feel pessimistic. I like the idea of glass-is-half-empty bees.

Sad bees

Sad bees

In the late 1990s, some other scientists, under the guidance of psychologist Jaak Panksepp, decided to tickle rats. They found that if they did, the rats gave off a high-pitched sound inaudible to the human ear. Basically, a ultrasound giggle. Interestingly, the rats sought to be ticked further. They enjoyed laughing.

Happy rats

Happy rats

Vet Jonathan Cracknell claims that he has observed crows sliding down snow and repeating the action, apparently enjoying it. He states that there is no evolutionary benefit to this activity so they must be just having fun.

Next time it snows, I suggest you go and watch the crows having fun. As for me and my cat? We’re going to watch an Episode of The Big Bang Theory now. She loves it.

My cat loves Sheldon

My cat loves Sheldon, especially when he’s poorly

The joy of lists

This is a weird thought I had today while reading a very challenging book called Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing. This book has a high-brow blurb (this will give you a taste for the density of the actual text) which reads:

In Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing, Ian Bogost develops an object-oriented ontology that puts things at the centre of being – a mode of thought in which nothing exists any more or less than anything else, in which humans are not the sole or even primary elements of interest. And unlike experimental phenomenology or the philosophy of technology, Bogost’s alien phenomenology takes for granted that all beings interact with and perceive one another. This experience, however, withdraws from human comprehension and becomes accessible only through speculative thought based on metaphor.

My book - it is full of big words

My book – it is full of big words

Hopefully you are still reading. I kind of get what the book is about. Basically, Bogost is arguing that things are important. Things are just as important as we are. We can’t understand things completely through our own eyes. We need to act as aliens from outer space who would come to this world afresh in order to get things.

There is one part of the book that looks at the concept of the ‘list’, or as he says ‘a group of items loosely joined not by logic or power or use but by the gentle knot of the comma’. I love lists. The book illustrates the clever ability of lists to create an ontological categorization by using a list Roland Barthes makes of things he likes. It goes thus:

I like : salad, cinnamon, cheese, pimento, marzipan, the smell of new-cut hay (why doesn’t someone with a “nose” make such a perfume), roses, peonies, lavender, champagne, loosely held political convictions, Glenn Gould, too-cold beer, flat pillows, toast, Havana cigars, Handel, slow walks, pears, white peaches, cherries, colors, watches, all kinds of writing pens, desserts, unrefined salt, realistic novels, the piano, coffee, Pollock, Twombly, all romantic music, Sartre, Brecht, Verne, Fourier, Eisenstein, trains, Médoc wine, having change, Bouvard and Pécuchet, walking in sandals on the lanes of southwest France, the bend of the Adour seen from Doctor L.’s house, the Marx Brothers, the mountains at seven in the morning leaving Salamanca, etc.

He also listed things he doesn’t like.

I don’t like: white Pomeranians, women in slacks, geraniums, strawberries, the harpsichord, Miró, tautologies, animated cartoons, Arthur Rubinstein, villas, the afternoon, Satie, Bartók, Vivaldi, telephoning, children’s choruses, Chopin’s concertos, Burgundian branles and Renaissance dances, the organ, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, his trumpets and kettledrums, the politico-sexual, scenes, initiatives, fidelity, spontaneity, evenings with people I don’t know, etc.

Roland Barthes and his cat

Roland Barthes and his cat

I love these lists because they are more than just mere lists of words and phrases. They are poetic. They give away much more about the man who was Roland Barthes as a collective than each object considered individually would give away. A list is like a daisy chain. The items in the list may seem unconnected but they become connected just by virtue of being together (joined by commas). This is related to the fact that the human brain loves narratives and loves connections. It creates connections even when they don’t exist. If I write a random list of objects, the reader will imagine a narrative and relationship between the items.

My random list: socks, paint brushes, Dr Who, cat, hat, wine, ironing board, another cat, curtains, TV remote, data stick, bowl, cat in bowl, magazine rack, speaker, dressing gown, iPad, laptop, fingers, book, another book, fireplace, easel, painting, meow, window.

How do these objects relate to one another? Does the mind create its own answer to this question? There is actually a relationship between all these objects in my list but it is perhaps difficult to guess what it could be. Please do try to guess!

I make lost of lists, mostly to-do lists. They replace my memory. I keep my to-do list by my bed. Here is one of them from July.

An eclectic to-do list - what is 'arrow in the head'?

An eclectic to-do list – what is ‘arrow in the head’?

What does my list say about me?I have lots of things to do, perhaps. Most of the items are work-related and this is actually a short list. Most of my to-do lists are much longer.

I will finish this blog entry with my own Roland Barthes lists of likes and dislikes. I think everyone should make such lists.

I like: cats, books, cheese, sleep, sheep, Christmas, chocolate, autumn, coffee, red wine, mulled wine, the smell of pine needles, clean duvet covers, things, lists, routine, friends, snow, driving towards Shrewsbury along the M54 on a misty evening, poems, cycling, Zumba, tomatoes, pesto, pasta, Top Shop, the 1970s, parties, purple, nostalgia, Facebook, my children’s whit, debates, champagne (but not too much), the sea, art, George Shaw, Downton Abbey, being liked etc.

I don’t like: vomit, the sound of vomiting, the smell of vomiting, sprouts, narrow mindedness, cruelty, jazz, adverts, queues without a book, being too hot, being too cold, telephoning, cat hair up my nose, fat, lard, The Simpsons, dirty toilets, anxiety, being lost, sweat, too much order, tidy houses, bad writing, grammatical errors (except my own), political extremes, intolerance, toe nails, insomnia, bad atmospheres, misunderstanding, being disliked etc.

These are just lists. But what picture of me does the reader get? Do the words ‘I like’ and ‘I don’t like’ made the difference? Without those words would the lists be meaningless? Are these lists poetic? What makes them poetic? I think it is the connectedness of the items that creates the whole picture and makes them poetic. I wasn’t trying to be poetic but then I believe that poems are very easy to create out of random words.

My high-brow book also introduced me to this video.

I love this video. It is just a list of things and their common theme is the shop. I want to do a similar video about my corner shop: Asda.

There is scope for a study of lists. What would other people’s lists look like? Perhaps here are the seeds of a future art project.

 

Is Carpe Diem always the right choice?

This is a thought I had after a conversation I had yesterday with a friend about my paying a lot of money to finish a BA in Fine Art. I was moaning about having to pay the rather substantial course fees. Her response was: well you don’t have to pay them. She argued that as I was choosing to do the course and as it was not exactly career enhancing anyway, I shouldn’t moan about it. My life wouldn’t change by doing this course. It wasn’t essential to life, so I had no ground for complaint. I think her point was twofold: firstly, that having a BA in Fine Art will have no impact on my earning potential, and secondly, as I was earning money I could afford it anyway.

I was taken back by her response. Until that point, I’d seen only the positives of my part-time art degree.I hadn’t seen it as a luxury or an indulgence. To me, it is necessary even if not economically.

It had all started after watching (predictably, perhaps) Dead Poets Society. I’ve seen that film a few times and each time it has moved me deeply. It happens that the last time I saw that film I was brewing for a change: work had reached an agreeable level, my youngest was soon to start nursery, and I was feeling the need for a new outlet for my energies. Watching that film gave me the courage  I needed to visit Shrewsbury College on their forthcoming open day and find out about part-time art courses.

What would J. R. Pritchard think of this?

What would J. Evans Pritchard think of this?

As it happened, on that day, I spoke to a tutor who told me, I quote: ‘We have the exact course for you.’ He was talking about the Foundation Degree in Contemporary Art which is run by Staffordshire University but is located (or was, not anymore) at Shrewsbury College. In my naivete, I thought this course would be a nice distraction. It was part-time. It seemed perfect. It was three-years long. After much discussion at home, I decided to enroll. It was very expensive (£3,600 per year) but I was earning that money on one particular regular work project which runs from January to May alone so I felt I could afford it.

It turned out to be, personally if not professionally, the best decision I could have made. It wasn’t just a nice distraction. It was like a drug. I loved it. It was very challenging but extremely rewarding. I’ve been the happiest doing that course than I’ve been for a long time. I carpe diemed and it proved to be a good, very good.

Dithering is for wimps

Dithering is for wimps

So as the course was coming to a conclusion it seemed the natural choice to finish it to full BA level. I didn’t really question the wisdom of this. I’ve just started the ‘final year’ which will run over two years and it is going to be very hard and challenging (mostly due to the location – Wolverhampton). And of course it is costing me more money (actually not quite so much per year but still an awful lot). I didn’t question this decision until yesterday when I saw it from the eyes of another. Logically, objectively, practically, it makes no sense.

However, after some thoughts (weird ones) I realise that taking the carpe diem route at that time, in April 2012, was the right thing for me to do. A BA in Fine Art may or may not enhance my career (that is an unknown, I can’t say what I will do in the  future – I may want to keep studying). But that could be said of any college course. Another art school graduate let loose on the world may or may not enhance the cultural output of our society. Perhaps I will have an impact somewhere doing something. I hope so. But perhaps I won’t. I can’t say yet. But as I see it, the positives are not monetary but they are more valuable to me than money:

  • My children have a happier parent in me
  • My children (I hope) are inspired to create themselves
  • My children get to visit more art galleries (which they mostly enjoy)
  • My husband has a happier wife (or so he tells me)
  • I’m encouraging my children that they should ‘seize the day’ and follow their own dreams
  • My children have an insight into the world of higher education and what it can offer
  • The world is much more colourful to me now and the people in it much more interesting
  • I’m pursuing more art activities with my children and the children at their school which I wouldn’t have had the courage to do otherwise
  • I’m now a blogger (if it wasn’t for one of the tutors at Shrewsbury College, I wouldn’t have discovered Word Press so I wouldn’t be writing this now)
  • And who knows, perhaps a future of art fame awaits me (doubtful but there is always that teeny, tiny possibility)
They don't mind getting dragged around art galleries, at least I don't think they do

They don’t mind getting dragged around art galleries, at least I don’t think they do

So I say, everyone should once in their lives seize that damn day even if it seems a bit bonkers, and makes no economic sense, and especially if it is scary. You only have one life and if that opportunity leaps out at you, take it before it fizzles out or that ever-threatening big red bus runs you over.

If I get run over by a bus tomorrow, at least I wrote this blog entry first

If I get run over by a bus tomorrow, at least I wrote this blog entry first

 

I want champagne when I go shopping

This is a thought I had the other day while watching Sex and the City. In this episode, Carrie took her boyfriend of the moment, Jack Berger, shopping. In it, while they were browsing and trying on outfits, they were offered champagne. What’s more, they seemed to accept this as normal. In fact, they expected it.

This lady has had her shopping champagne treat

This lady has had her shopping champagne treat

This made me feel quite miffed. I have never, ever been offered champagne in a shop (that is, if you don’t include shopping on Christmas Eve in the bookshop in Much Wenloch – that was lovely but I don’t think that counts).

She likes to shop

She likes to shop

I am referring exclusively to clothes shopping. I love clothes shopping. I have done a lot of clothes shopping in my time. My wardrobe is fit to burst because of my love of clothes shopping. Yet, somehow, I have managed to avoid being offered champagne in a clothes shop. I don’t think this is fair.

I do most of my clothes shopping in charity shops, but as far as I am concerned this doesn’t mean I don’t deserve a glass of champagne to help me see clearly as to whether my bum looks big or not.

My wardrobe

My wardrobe

So with this blog I am sending a plea out to the Shrewsbury branches of Shelter, Severn Hospice, Macmillan, British Red Cross, Dogs Trust, Cats Trust, and all the others – please consider a bit of bubbly next time you see me enter your premises, since I am  possibly your Most Favoured Customer. I will worship you all the more if you do (and I am sure I will spend more money too).

I am definitely a Most Favoured Customer here

I am definitely a Most Favoured Customer here

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