Friday 27 March 2009

Living on the edge for Illustration Friday - Nowhere

It is said that if you’re not living on the edge, you are taking up too much room. I agree, so today I’m going to live on the edge and change the rules for Illustration Friday! Not for all the artists that take part, of course, just for me. The prompt today is ‘poise’. Great topic and I’m absolutely certain there will be some amazingly good interpretations – as there always are from the many talented people who take part in this weekly challenge.

I had a little think about the word ‘poise’ and how I could connect that with one of my paintings. All the women I paint have both POISE and GRACE in abundance. Maybe it doesn’t always shine through in the naive paintings I do of them, but they have all those attributes – and more – in ‘real life’, so it’d be very difficult to choose just one or, indeed, to paint a new one.

Instead, I’m going to be very rebellious today and change the rules. My personal prompt for this particular Illustration Friday is ‘nowhere’.

We’ve all been to nowhere. It might have been in the middle of Borneo or Beijing. It might have been in Timbuktu, or along a time-worn trail in Tuscany. Was it on an isolated South Pacific island, or under a desert moon in Mali? Perhaps you found nowhere on a dhow off the palm-fringed coast of Zanzibar, or was your nowhere in the middle of Manhattan? Nowhere is a setting, a situation and a state of mind. It’s not on any map, but you know it when you’re there.

Where is your nowhere?

Tuesday 24 March 2009

Night Moves

Against the melting blue sky we saw the shadowy silhouette of a cheetah as he disappeared into a thicket of acacia while the sun slipped behind the hills to make way for the night. A canopy of stars lit the plain stretching towards Kilimanjaro far way beyond Amboseli, but often majestically visible in daylight. The only sound was the shrill short whistle of cicadas and the gentle, velvet whisper of the night air as we drove over the little track across the savannah.

We saw fever trees etched in inky black against the huge African moon and a herd of hartebeest with their sentinels perched on ant hills. Over there, a scattering of gazelle and a waterhole in which the moon was reflected like a large and solitary water lily. We climbed, then turned downhill to a stream bed where we hoped we might see a leopard.

The trees were taller and denser here and multi-shaped. They half encircled another small waterhole on higher ground and we stopped to watch huddled impala drinking and throwing up their heads to listen for the sound of danger. There was a contrast of peace and tension, light and shadow. A nightjar shrieked. Silence mixed with the splash and gurgle of water and the night noises of a hungry Africa.

I looked hard into the moon shadows of the acacia trees and saw a darker shape moving down the trampled mud path to the waterhole. ‘It’s a rhino,’ Guy whispered.

As it came out of the shadows I could see more clearly the thick armour plating of its hide. He wouldn’t be attacked so the animal didn’t have to hesitate or sniff the air. He simply drank from the shimmering pool. We could hear the sucking and sloshing as though water was being slopped from a bucket.

We waited quietly as the Jurassic beast quenched his thirst and we watched the moon rise higher. Silver flooded the waterhole and removed the acacia shadows, darkening others and lighting the rhino’s hide so it shone like metal as he ambled away. Presently a jackal barked shrilly with a suddenness that startled us and a lion roared with the chesty power of Pavarotti. One could almost feel the air tremble, although he wasn’t that close.

He was leading his young pride to drink. We watched them, one, two, three, four young with two older lionesses. The male drank alone while the family stood behind in respect. Once sated, he turned away and gave a cheeky youngster a cuff and a rich growl in passing

The early October night had enough chill in it to cause a shiver. An impala buck, its fine head of horns outlined in the moonlight was standing watching the movement of the lions. It took a few steps towards them and thumped its forelegs on the ground, drumming a warning, then swung swiftly round and cantered away onto the open plain that stretched to the stars on the far horizon. It was time to return to camp. Guy - my alpha male - was hungry!

Saturday 21 March 2009

Illustration Friday - Subtract

Life is a series of additions and subtractions; love and loss, birth and death, hope and despair, misery and joy. We all cope with that heady mishmash of elation and pain one way or another, don’t we? Despite the peaks and troughs we may have to endure through life, I do think it’s always worth remembering an observation made by the Italian scholar, poet and humanist, Francesco Petrarch “A short cut to riches is to subtract from our desires”

The little boy in my painting is called Jumani Senoga and he has been given five marbles which he treasures above all things. He loves to hold them up to the light to see their colours glow before he sets them down again to play. Jumani, may your life be full with joys added, sorrow subtracted, friends multiplied, love undivided.

(**Please, don’t forget The Orphans Of Nkandla. They cannot subtract anything from their lives because they have absolutely nothing at all.**)

Wednesday 18 March 2009

Kitchen Capers

When I lived in Africa, we only had two seasons. One was the rainy season and the other was….er…..the un-rainy season, I suppose. Nobody I knew there would ever start a conversation with “Hello, nice and sunny today, eh?” Here in England, however, the weather is the reigning monarch of a repertoire of small-talk, representing an opening gambit and a focus of almost any conversation. Here is mine!

There is a palpable feeling of fecundity in the air these fine spring days. The bees are buzzing busily, birds are trilling most melodiously and fluffy, long legged lambs are leaping with unbridled energy. You can almost hear the bud laden garden popping into glorious bloom.

I plunked a big white jug of daffodils on the kitchen table this morning and the sunlight streaming through the windows lit them like jewels. Looking around my gaily coloured ‘playroom’ - so named by my daughters because of the plethora of gaudy bric-a-brac which is there to entertain me while I cook – I felt like doing a grand jeté of pure delight! I’ve caught the weather-bug and I’m loving it!

Come with me, then, as I take you on a spring kitchen caper....

My spring jewels.

A butterfly I found at Longleat.

Goose and bantam eggs too pretty to use.
(They are about 3 years old now!)

In memory of bantam collection devoured by a hungry fox

Infused oils from France, another chook and a home-grown squash.

A bug.

Gekos from Haiti

A musical cockerel.

And a Bollywood accompaniment

A flying cow

And a crab swinging from the rafters

A little library

Weights and measures designed and stitched by Granny Claire

Ubank and his entourage

My safari kettle

A Ugandan bird

Toucan swing

Ridiculous, isn't it? But, hey, it's spring!

Sunday 15 March 2009

For IF it is 'Legendary' and for SSS it is 'Half As Old As Time'


I’m sure there are many men out there who would love their own particular woman to have the legendary skills of subservience and erudition that a geisha of the highest calibre will attain after her maiko training!


Guy and I spent Christmas in Egypt a couple of years ago and after much snorkelling and diving and windsurfing, we decided we probably needed a cerebral boost so we hitched a ride across the Gulf of Acaba on a fishing boat and went to Jordan. Our goal was to see the fabled city of Petra.

Although much has been written about Petra, nothing really prepares you for this incredible metropolis. It truly has to be seen to be believed. Completely hidden by mountainous cliffs of rust coloured sandstone, it is a vast city carved into the sheer rock face by the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab people who settled there more than 2000 years ago. Petra became an important crossroads for the silk, spice and other trade routes that linked China, India and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome. After the 14th century AD the city was lost to the western world and was rediscovered in 1812 by the Swiss traveller, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, who tricked his way into the fiercely guarded site by pretending to be an Arab from India wishing to make a sacrifice at the tomb of the Prophet Aaron.

To reach the fabled rose-red city, you have to walk through a narrow kilometre long gorge, flanked on either side by soaring cliffs. Just walking through the Siq, as the gorge is called, is an experience in itself - the colours and rock formations are absolutely breath-taking as you make your way past the contorted strata of different-coloured whorls and waves.

As you reach the end of the Siq, the rocky passage opens just a little and there, like a rose coloured illusion, you catch your first glimpse of Al-Khazeneh, the Treasury.

Little by little more of the building comes into view and slowly the massive, dusky pink façade reveals itself.

Hewn out of the pink rock, it towers above you in all its intricately carved glory. It is an awe-inspiring experience and an encounter which left us reeling in astounded wonderment.

**Tracy at Hey Harriet is the leading light of Shadow Shot Sunday. Pop over to her wonderful blog to see her stunning photographs and those of other ‘shadow shooters’ from around the world.**

Tuesday 10 March 2009

Childhood Imaginings

I first read Arthur Ransome’s ‘Coot Club’ and ‘We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea’, both of which were set on the Norfolk coast, when I was about eight, and the magic of these and the other eleven 'Swallows and Amazons’ books – set in Cumbria - has never left me, and the images of a far-away England that Ransome conjured up in my childish imagination were just as evocative. If ever there were books to inspire children to make their own voyages of discovery, these are the ones. For me, they were handbooks for adventure, particularly as I grew up next to the sea and had been sailing since I was knee high to a dik-dik.

As an adult, I’ve made quite a hobby of exploring the locations where favourite novels were set so when we drove up to Norfolk last summer, I felt as though we had driven off the edge of the world and ended up in some other land where everything happens at a different pace. I was in that innocent and gentle world that Ransome had described to me so long ago.

Sky and sea and land seem to come together, and black cattle grazed in the marsh country that runs between the coast road and the beach, reminding me of the Camargue in the south of France. Wildflowers and fragile stems with rustling seedpods grew along the broads and there were hazy purple fields of lavender further inland.

There are the vast beaches that stretch to distant horizons, rolling sand dunes, little sailing harbours among the creeks and salt marshes, and, just inland, gently rolling patchwork fields edged by ancient oaks, churches and villages of pretty brick and flint cottages.

Beachside stalls sell seasonal shellfish, usually crab in an unfussy sandwich, but fresh oysters as well, served up with a slice of lemon, optional Tabasco and a side of lovely, salty samphire

In blue summer sunshine, the heat softened by a gentle salty breeze, it was an all too brief but glorious visit, so thank you Norfolk – and Arthur Ransome - for turning my childhood imaginings into reality!

The Coast: Norfolk
by Frances Cornford

As on the highway’s quiet edge
He mows the grass beside the hedge,
The old man has for company
The distant, grey, salt-smelling sea,
A poppied field, a cow and calf,
The finches on the telegraph.

Across his faded back a hone,
He slowly, slowly scythes alone
In silence of the wind-soft air,
With ladies’ bedstraw everywhere,
With whitened corn, and tarry poles,
And far-off gulls like risen souls.

Sunday 8 March 2009


International Women’s Day 2009 is about remembering long fought battles to build a society that is just and fair to women. A world in which diversity, tolerance, safety, social justice and equality between women and men is a given. And it’s about celebrating what women have done, are doing and can do.

Friday 6 March 2009

Illustration Friday - Intricate

Look beyond the beauty and you will see the intricate and complex configuration of individual character which forms the pattern on each and every woman’s face.

Who Paints Your Music Winner!

From M'Lady's Bedchamber

From M'Lady's Bedchamber

Hurrah! Polly, I would do three raucous pips, by my Voce is a bit Sotto today!

Thursday 5 March 2009

Can't even do a cartwheel....

Can't do it...

Can't do it...

Can’t paint,
can’t write,
can’t dance,
can’t eat Sushi.
Got flu.

Later, friends….

Sunday 1 March 2009

Illustration Friday is breezy & Shadow Shot Sunday

The song of their day is a drifting melody
which wafts in soft tendrils of time
across waters turned to silken gold
in the sea breezy twilight.

I love the way these islands off the coast of Port Douglas in Far North Queensland appear as strata because of the way in which the mountains in the background cast their shadow over the larger island in the middle ground, and that in turn casts its shadow over the small atoll in the foreground. Then the shadows combine and radiate outward across the water. The black and white image gives a rather ethereal quality, I think, to what is essentially just a pretty photograph of some tropical islands.

(**Shadow Shot Sunday is a weekly creative challenge from the innovative Hey Harriet! Do click
here to browse a fantastic gallery of weekly Shadow Shots from a group of very talented photographers from around the globe.**)