Saturday, September 16, 2017

Art, to Birds, to Moths, to Soup



My art goes in tangents. A theme comes to me and I create pictures on the subject until I have squeezed out all the imaginative and often rather abstract ideas that I have about it. Immediately I begin to tire of the theme I stop. Then I wait until another theme presents itself.
The last series was tremendous fun – enjoyment being essential. It was called “Events”.
It started when Margreet and I witnessed a fight on the street between a carrion crow and a wood pigeon. It was an extraordinary event, with the pigeon giving as good as it got. We think that the crow was trying to rob the pigeon’s nest of eggs or young. We were unable to stay for the result.
Then I made a mobile of brightly delineated fish for Margreet’s niece’s baby. The variously-designed, almost pantomime fish, were suspended on strings from a corrugated cardboard rectangle. They dived and climbed as the cardboard was twisted. On top were painted clouds and an aeroplane with its wings being formed from an old stuck-on address label. To distract the baby with swimming fish at changing time represented an event. 
Then I made another of flying birds for another baby.
With these two mobiles being the core of the series. I added silhouettes of both of us, and of a television friend and myself playing with a Stirling engine. Interesting compositions of multiple events were beginning to appear.
A series of glasses were broken at home. A chessboard was knocked over with the pieces all over the place. So on it went with combined events, starting from that pigeon fight and ending with a remembrance of a friend and neighbour who loved catching salmon in her lifetime. This last work has a “real” salmon, as opposed to my stylised fish, much in evidence. Being of greater importance than the “mobile” fish, it crashes into the picture dispersing fish and birds, chessboard and pieces.
Good art should involve the imagination of the artist and that of the viewer. Now I have just given away rather too many of my thoughts on this particular tangent.
So here I am, with a theme ended, and putting pen to paper before another tangential theme comes to mind to be interpreted in I hope an imaginative way, bright in colour, and pleasing in design.

*****

Each year a pair of great tits nest in a box that I made, painted as brickwork, and attached to the wall on the Eastern side of our London house. So it was most upsetting this year when our regular pair started their nesting rituals and then deserted. Perhaps one, or both, were killed by cats.
With the box unused, I cleared out what little grassy stuff had been used, on the assumption that if another pair would fancy using the box in late spring, the female partner might not want to share the same bedding as the previous incumbent. And lo and behold, when almost summer, and with other nestlings beginning to take wing, a new pair of great tits took over the abode. Perhaps their earlier nest of eggs or young had been robbed by bird or beast. Anyhow, once more we had a couple to share our home with us. And we are very pleased about it.

*****  

Followers of these blogs will recall my contest with clothes moths.
Early last year, having seen only one or two moths flying around, I distributed pheromone-impregnated sticky pad traps around the house, and caught 158 moths all together from March to March. But the count from only March to May this year has already totalled 131. This would imply that springtime is the most active time (mating presumably) for clothes moths to be on the wing, and that by catching so many this year already, they are still in control. And I thought that by catching a good quantity of males, females or both last year I was getting near to solving the problem. Yet despite there being so many moths around the place, only a very few holes, eaten by their maggots, have been found among our clothes. What’s happening?
The success of the pads would seem to depend upon where they are positioned in a room, with one being more successful than the others.

*****

Our soups are much enjoyed by all who partake of them.
They are made and eaten throughout the winter and much of the rest of the year. So they are generally on the hob.
These delicious brews almost always start with chopped onion or leek, braised in plenty of butter. This is done in a large pressure cooker. The leek, or onion, or both, is followed by finely cubed potatoes, stock or crumbled stock cubes, pepper and salt and water. I give it 20 minutes under pressure. That's it. A friend of years ago (Bernard Venables, the fisherman) ate this soup every day of his life, but with mace added.
That is the basic soup, and excellent it is. But it is the additions that make it exceptional. These consist of about every dish that has not been finished – like the remains of sauces, gravy, water used for boiling other things, the washing out of Marmite and Bovril pots, vegetables, leftovers from stews and casseroles, pan juices, mayonnaise, pasta, rice, peanut butter, and all possible remainders that might add flavour or consistency.
When meat or roughage food is to be added, I put it through the soup Mouli first. This allows juices to be squeezed out of fibrous matter (it might need chopping up first with kitchen scissors). The fibre, being almost flavourless, is discarded – or composted if not derivative of meat (which could attract vermin).
To thicken soup I sometimes use a Mouli or liquidiser on some or all of its volume. Or, if it is a white soup, I make and add some white sauce.
If you are making a mushroom soup, and cooking chopped onion and chopped mushrooms with some chopped potato with stock before boiling it, make a white sauce and whisk this in when the initial soup has been cooked.
And should you have tomato soup in mind, use chopped tomatoes from a can and tomato purée with stock cubes or stock, possibly adding white sauce to make it a creamy one. But remember to add a little sugar when using tomato purée.
Should flour or cereal (like pearl barley) be part of your soup, stir it regularly when heating it up to stop it from catching. And the soup must be brought to the boil each day to prevent fermentation. Should you forget to do this daily chore, and wild yeasts have started their work, bring the soup to the rolling boil, and, as Mrs.Beeton wrote: ”Scum it clear as anything rises”.
Many of our soups end as a sort of Mulligatawny by adding curry powder to it.

Stock is important. I might add several cubes, both beef and chicken. But my favourite stock and start to a soup is to buy pigs’ trotters and pressure cook them in water with flavourings for about an hour and a half. In this case, when the liquid is cool, strain off the solids from the liquid stock and separate the gelatinous flesh from bones. Put this meat into a bread tin with chopped onion, capers, sliced cornichons, and pepper and salt. Reduce some soup liquid by adding a little vinegar, boiling and evaporating it, and pouring the result over the trotter meat. Eat this cold and solid with a little olive oil and chopped fresh coriander. Or put it into sandwiches. This rustic dish is not to everyone’s taste. Margreet dares hardly to even look at it. But she agrees that the stock made in this way is wonderful. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Daymaking



It is extraordinary how the little and often unusual things of life define a day.
I go to Lord’s Cricket Ground each summer for three days of watching Test cricket.
I talk to my neighbour spectators who want to talk (and they are sometimes very interesting), but are just as happy to have non-talkers next to me.
When we made room for another cricket-lover in our row to pass by, my neighbour saw that this man had a fly button undone. We questioned if we should tell the undressed person of his condition. But the unknowing spectator had already passed by. And we could not decide what we should or should not have done anyway.
As a boy, should any of our number of males have a fly button undone, someone would introduce the words “Olga Polosky” into the conversation. Then we males would lower our eyes to see who might be the unfortunate.
Then, on the very next day, I sat down in the Underground train on my way to cricket, only to discover that three of my own fly buttons were not done up.
Fortunately I had a newspaper to cover my undress and surreptitiously managed to do up one button before other passengers might see what I was doing and think that I was an exposeur (if there is such a word).
At the station of my destination, Victoria, I did manage to do up the rest behind the newspaper as I walked along the platform.
Nowadays this would probably not happen as the trousers that I found to wear that day were probably made before the advent of reliable zip fasteners.
I had made the same journey to Lord’s for many years – Stamford Brook to Victoria by Underground, then 82 bus to Lord’s Ground.
Where I normally boarded the 82 bus is a stop where several busses stop at the same time. So it is wise to stand around the middle of them to be able to rush either way to catch the 82. This time, busses came and went, but an 82 was not to be seen. I waited for probably 15 minutes, then took an alternative bus that involved a longer walk to reach Lord’s at the other end. I asked the driver what might be holding up the 82. “It’s been discontinued, mate. The number 13 has taken its place.” So I took the 13 next day and all was well – and I hope will be in the future.

It is an accumulation of small things like these that are unexpected and define a day.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Paintings' History


I was lying in bed this morning thinking about the painting that I was working on and the history of paintings – their provenance, the history being a very important part of them.
The story about one of my own, I thought, qualified for the re-telling. 
I had come out of the war as a pilot with TB, started medicine study, TB took hold once more (there was no cure in those days), then gone to art school (The Central under artist Bernard Meninsky) and after that The Old Vic School to learn about theatre design. In the meantime I had settled in two very small Council rooms above the railway lines at Victoria Station (steam trains, then).
Cramped, and polluted by smoke, steam and smuts from the railway engines below, coupled with the dense fogs that they engendered, I gathered together bits of money and bought a wartime bombed-out house next to The Chelsea Football Ground on the Fulham Road. A developer was repairing it with the aid of a grant. He had got as far as putting a roof over the first floor.
I made the place habitable. The RAF Benevolent Association kindly paid for the carpet for stairs and landing.
Between designing jobs in the theatre and painting scenery at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, I taught myself a little more about art by painting landscapes, using a large, home-made easel and paints that I ground myself.
Being right next to the football ground offered landscape possibilities.
So, in 1954, I set up my kit on a gravel mound (where the Christie’s box now stands – or stood), and painted two 2’ x  4’ (61 cm x 122 cm) paintings of a match between Chelsea and Wolves.
One of these paintings was of Peter Sillet scoring a penalty for Chelsea at the western end of the ground. The other included what was known as “The Shed”. It portrayed a bit of the pitch, the crowd, the Shed and buildings in the background outside the ground.
The “penalty” painting I sold right away for £5 (when I had added the “ref”, who I had forgotten to include) to the electrician, then helping me repair the house.
The other painting, entitled “Neighbours on Saturdays” (football was then played only on Saturdays) I exhibited with “The Daily Express Exhibition of Young Artists”, and later in a one-man exhibition at The Gallerie de Seine in West Halkin Street, Belgravia, London. It did not sell.
Over the years that painting either travelled with me to homes around England or was put into store when I was abroad.
When moving from the country to London in 1989 it was hung on the wall of the spare bedroom/studio at the top of my Hammersmith house.
Learning that Mr Abramovich, who owned Chelsea Football Club, was keen on paintings, I sent an image of mine with a letter to his secretary, offering it at £1,000. There was no reply.
My wife Margreet’s niece was about to be married and, although her husband- to-be be was an Arsenal fan, we thought that they might like the painting as a wedding present. The wedding did not take place. So the painting remained on the wall until, in 2006, a Christie’s man saw it and asked if we might like to sell it at his auction house. Yes, we would. Off it went with a reserve of £1,000 - £1,500.
A man soon contacted me to say that he was prepared to go to (I think) £3,000 at auction so would be sure to obtain it. He would then have coloured reproductions made and would pay me for my signature on them – or some such deal.
This was good news. Now I knew that it would sell.
I then heard from Christie’s that the painting might even reach £5,000. This was even better news.
So along I go to the auction.
“Lot number 122,” said the auctioneer. “There is interest in this painting by James Page-Roberts. I can start the bidding at £2,000.”
From £2,000 it rose quickly to £5,000, when some bidders opted out. At £10,000 most had given up, except for two bidders. One was a lady, who we learned later had a Chelsea fan as a husband and wanted to give it to him as a Christmas present. The other bidder was probably Mr Abramovich’s agent.
The bidding went on, with the lady keeping her hand up until it was hers – for £28,000. Christie’s quote the price, with commission added, as £33,600. It was what is known in gallery jargon as “the top lot”.
So what happened to the painting’s pair?
I still had the electrician’s home address. So I decided to track him down.
And if I did locate the man and painting, what was I going to do? Should I tell him all? Should I offer a small or large amount for it so that I could hang it on my wall, with its fun provenance? Should I buy and then sell it, giving him ….? I didn’t really know what I would or should do. I would simply have to play it by ear if I did find it. 
So off I go to his address south of the river to a substantial house in Battersea somewhere. I rang the doorbell.
Two gay men appeared, who had lived there for more than 20 years. They had never heard of my man. Perhaps he had been bombed out of the East End of London  in the war and had been given temporary accommodation in this house and moved on.
That was the start and end of my quest for the second painting, except that I put a piece in the Chelsea Club’s Fanzine, hoping for a response. There was none.

Those are two paintings with provenance.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Air Currents at work



Cirrus clouds are very high clouds made up of ice crystals. And when they form to look like horses’ tails, their frozen droplets are being driven by the jet stream (high, strong currents of air that have an effect on the weather beneath). So this is moving air that you are actually able to see, because of the ice crystals. Looking at the passage of clouds tells you much the same as they are moved by wind.
When leaving Granada, in Spain, by air, we had to skirt around the lower parts of forming cumulonimbus clouds. These particular clouds are made by violent up-currents of air, blowing moisture high up (generally from a wet surface below, like a lake) with such power that cloud moisture forms into raindrops. Heavy rainstorms may result.
As these raindrops rise in the up-currents they may freeze in the cold of altitude and form into hailstones. These fall under their own weight, either as small hailstones or get sent aloft again by the up-currents of air to gather more moisture and freeze once more, making larger hailstones – and so on.
In learning meteorology as a trainee pilot in the war, the instructor told us that these cumulonimbus clouds were most interesting clouds. They must be, he said, as airmen had flown into them and never come out again.
Ice forming on aeroplanes’ wings can be deadly, but is now dealt with efficiently by the heated leading edges of aeroplanes’ wings. But it was splashed water from the ground that once froze to ice under the wing of my aeroplane that caused it (and me) to crash – rather violently.
So the pilot from Granada was wise as he flew around those dangerous clouds when leaving southern Spain. And the view of them from the aeroplane’s windows was magnificent.
We are unable to see the upward-rising air currents in these clouds, but we can see the outside movement at work as they billow aloft. This was such an occasion.
Even on a very still day of no wind or breeze you may see a leaf on the ground or in a bush suddenly move, telling that there are nearly always air currents around, sometimes minute ones, even on the stillest of days.
One of the best ways to “see” air currents is when they are combined with smoke.
Aircraft land against the wind. This slows down the landing speed, making it safer.

When flying training years ago, you always wanted to know wind direction when in the air – just in case of engine failure and a forced landing necessary. To look at the direction of chimney smoke or bonfire smoke was always a good indication of it. But nowadays there is not much smoke to be seen and, thankfully, aviation in all its aspects has advanced enormously.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Granada

Margreet and I flew from London City Airport to Granada, in southern Spain, for a family wedding in the summer of 2017.
I like small airports. Probably the last time that I flew from one was from Lydd to Le Touquet with my car in a Bristol Freighter during the early 1950s. Three cars were driven aboard through the gaping front of the Bristol Hercules-engined aircraft. The loading doors were closed. Then the drivers and passengers climbed aboard to sit with the pilot. The two propellers churned up the air as we bumped across the grass and lifted off to cross the Channel, flying close to the water. From the field at Le Touquet we cleared the perfunctory Customs affairs and drove away through France.
So I rather expected that London City Airport, being small, and we heard friendly, would have much the same feeling about it as flying in those days of yore. Not so. Small and friendly it may be, but present-day security has put paid to simple and pleasant air travel.
But we flew in a comfortable Embraer 190 and arrived in Granada’s airport. Ours was the only aircraft around. And we passengers were the only ones to be seen. So exiting, though done with Spanish speed, did have a bit of the old feel about it. (Leaving after a week’s stay was quite another matter when, in the general chaos, with one hand holding up beltless trousers, my portable, long time companion corkscrew was confiscated as an offensive weapon.)
We were prepared for the daytime temperature to be around the 40 degree mark – and it was, with the difference in temperature between sun and shade being considerable. The sun heated up the ground and buildings so much that even the evening temperatures were very hot with radiant heat being given off from pavement below and walls all around. Shade was generally available from orange and other trees, and in the lea of buildings in narrow streets. And because it was possible to find shade, sun creams and even sun hats were not essential, though sunglasses helped to dim the glare from the mainly white buildings. Ice creams were popular to cool the palate, fans were in general use by women (we did see one man using one), and in some bars and eating places a fine mist of cold water was distributed from above, looking like the vapour from dry ice. Margreet bought a fan, which came apart on one spine. I bought glue to mend it, only to discover, almost too late, that it was superglue, which gushed out from a rather free-flowing dispenser. So I prized my fingers apart just in time to allow the glue to dry on each finger and eventually to peel off the skin. But the fan had been fixed.
Of course liquid refreshment in quantity was essential. The excellent local beer and wine provided it, though the wine, usually being the choice of good local white and either Rioja or Ribera (del Duero) red, came in large glasses holding only a small measure. The red varied in temperature from cold, to chilled (excellent) to rather too warm. To see a whole bottle of wine on a table was a rarity. Thus it was difficult to find a stopper for a partly-drunk bottle in our room. We only managed to find some in a souvenir shop with “Granada” printed on their sides.
With these liquids, tapas were usually provided gratis. So, with heat precluding large meals, a constant supply of tapas supplied most of one’s needs for food. Our favourite lunchtime venue was the covered fish market, where not only the freshest of fish was on offer, but olive oil, ham, cheese, garlic and much else. Here we would sit at a tall, small table to be served possibly beer, Manzanilla or white wine, with our choice of a delicious tapas with each drink. So, of course, an afternoon siesta later during the excessive heat was an essential element of life. During this time the city simply closed down. And rightly so.
Some might like to judge a country by the kind of loo paper on offer. Generally this was absorbent and thin, and sometimes in a café non-existent. Once it was not to be put down the lavatory after use and binned. In the fish market conveniences, Margreet found that before entering a cubicle it was necessary to select the anticipated quantity of loo paper beforehand.
A City Tour was provided by a sort of land train of an engine truck drawing two open carriages. So good a method of getting a feeling for Granada was this train that we took it several times, sometimes to simply see the city and sometimes to reach a recommended destination. With ancient and often very uneven cobbled road surfaces, it was a bone-shaking experience, but tremendous fun as it wound its way up, down and around the most varied of urban landscapes.
The road and pavement surfaces were of great interest. Sometimes they were of marble, sometimes tile, often cobbles in straight or of imaginative design, and also as mosaic in small defined areas of white pebbles and what looked like chips of slate on end. One could so easily imagine the Conquistadors treading the very same surfaces all those years ago.
The red bricks in use were longer and thinner than those used in England. And the mortar between them much thicker and coarser. Was this something to do with the country’s Roman heritage?
Because the streets were often quite narrow, pedestrians on the pavements of varying width were protected from traffic by rows of low, cast bronze bollards with a simple design representing pomegranates.
Above eye level in rooms, the close-together, glowing and impressive wood beams held the weight of heavy floor tiles above. To look upwards outside, the blue sky was crowded with swifts, acrobatically screaming their way around the tall, ancient, and mostly, impressive religious buildings. If only some of those magical birds would carry on in their migration from Africa to inhabit the London skies where so few exist, we would be very happy. Chattering starlings crowded into the tall trees to roost in one of the few verdant squares. Sparrows flew low beneath tables to find scraps of food for their young.
There were many dogs in Granada, yet we seldom saw a mess or anyone clearing one up.
We had (not by design) arrived in Granada at fiesta time. Twice we witnessed solemn religious processions crawling through the streets. In the march were drummers, trumpeters, choirs, effigies both large and small, and many of the religious populous in sombre dress and sometimes mantillas. Many carried banners, rods and long, lighted candles.  The music was uplifting for us and, no doubt, much more so for the participants.    
Enough of Granada impressions. The famous sights would last until a cooler season. We were there for a family wedding.
Three busloads of guests were picked up in the noonday heat to travel to the wedding venue high up in the Sierra Nevada. The road was a tortuous one, with barely a fence between the tarmac and the chasms to the side of it. The arid, cactus-strewn landscape of rocks and scrub occasionally held a smallholding of olive trees. There was no sign of bird or four-footed animal.
The venue was a long low building outside of which were tables laid for a feast under shaded awnings. Below that was another sitting area of covered straw bales, laid out for the wedding ceremony with a drinks bar at the side. Below that again was a mountain stream, cascading over rocks to deposit its ice-cold water into a dammed pool for those wanting to swim and cool off. It made a lovely setting for nuptials.
The self-devised wedding ceremony, with the bride wearing a red dress and white mantilla, and the several bridesmaids in pure white, was conducted with speeches, though we were too far away to hear them. Then, after the exchange of rings, the bride and groom divested themselves of most of their clothing, the groom lifted up the bride, and together they plunged into the ice-cold water. Drinks (excellent Rioja) flowed as we wished them well.
The dinner feast was of prawns served to each person in half a scooped-out pineapple, steak so generous and tender that it could have come straight from the bullring, and a lovely cheesecake with crushed fruit. Copious amounts of wine were readily available. Then there was Flamenco dancing and singing, and dancing into the night.
It had been a glorious occasion, a unique one, and a very memorable one.

So we left Granada, Spain and a happy, handsome, and most generous couple with lovely memories and, as is the case nowadays – photographs galore.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Moths and Robins



MOTHS

From March 2016 to March 2017 we caught 158 clothes moths on sticky pheromone pads when we had thought to have almost eliminated them.
Moths, being nocturnal, we had not realised that they were so numerous.
There were not many “catches” during the winter months, but with the onset of spring, carcasses began to adorn new sticky pads.
I feel that if we persevere, then both male and female numbers will be much reduced or eliminated. Our woollen clothes will then no longer be tasty food for their maggots.


ROBINS

We like a tame robin in the garden. And we like it to join us in the shed (a small summerhouse) to eat grated Cheddar cheese from our home-designed feeder and perhaps to stand on my knee.
But robins die off or are eaten by cats, and new ones have to be trained.
Our friendly bird of last year disappeared in the autumn, and its place was taken by a very wild one, probably a blow-in from Scandinavia.
The chances of training this new arrival before we closed the shed for the winter were slim. But just before the cold weather set in we managed it. We had made friends. Then the shed was closed until the spring. Would it remember its training?
All was well. It continued to fly in for cheese. Our new robin turned out to be female by making a nest nearby and sitting on eggs. And even her rather scruffy mate has come in for a bite. 


Mo

Monday, April 17, 2017

Pernod Pears

From a market stall I bought a bowl of pears for £1. In it were 14 of that fruit, and in perfect condition. What a bargain it was. As time past, the last few to be eaten were on the decline. So I peeled them, cut them up, and added Pernod. In a day the spirit had been absorbed, and the result, with a dollop of Cornish cream, was – well, delicious.

PERNOD PEARS

You will need;
Pears
Pernod or another aniseed spirit
Cream

Peel and cut up the pears, discarding only the stems and pips.
Place the pieces in a bowl, add a little Pernod, and turn it around. Refrigerate the fruit until wanted.


*****

Saucisson Sec Skin



Dry sausages that are generally made in France and Belgium, when cut in thin slices, make an ideal accompaniment for drinks (especially when served with small gherkins (cornichons). But there is a snag – the sausage skin.
To peel the skin from some sausages is easy – especially when they are not too dry. But when they are hard and at their best, the problem is considerable. When being consumed, the skin from these hard slices remains in the mouth and has to be disposed of or swallowed.
We are given a delicious example of this type of sausage from Belgium, with instructions to allow it to dry out in the refrigerator until quite hard. To skin it then is almost impossible – even after the slices have been cut.
One night, I was giving some thought to this problem and came up with an idea.
My plan was to slice the sausage, then, with every slice on a board, cut them across in the middle. It should then be easy to peel each half slice.
So I tried it the next day and my plan worked beautifully – but was a little time-consuming.
Half slices may not look as nice as whole ones, but the pleasure of eating  saucisson sec without the skin adds tremendously to its charm.