Saturday, 24 March 2012

Spring: Green fingers set to stun

I've really enjoyed watching the delicate pink blossom of the cherry tree at the bottom of our garden unfurl over the last couple of weeks. The coming of the blossom is really a sign that spring is on the way and now that the delicate petals have begun to drift to the ground, and the clocks are about to go forward, I have really made a dedicated effort to get out in the garden and get what will hopefully be an amazing crop of vegetables sown.

Be-cloched aubergines
I had already started some seedlings off in trays in the kitchen a few weeks ago, so today I planted out the tiny carrots, chillis (some in the border, some potted on for the greenhouse), leeks, onions and even my special hope for this year, the aubergines. I had a number of cloches in the shed that we picked up for 75% off in Wilkos out of season and also a few cut off coke bottles that do precisely the same job so even if we do have another frost (which is by no means outside the realms of possibility) then hopefully some of the precious seedlings will survive. I've also added some quick growing radishes and spring onions to the raised beds in the hope that we will get some early salad treats before the beds really get put to use on my big hope squash crops. The first lots of courgette seedlings are nestling on my kitchen windowsill already, but today I put a few extra seeds in the greenhouse, just to be sure. What would summer be without an endless supply of courgettes?

For the greenhouse
I've started off a few more seeds today, those that need a warmer start - my cucumbers, pumpkins, butternut squash, peas, beetroot, thyme, marjoram and for a splash of colour and tasty snacks, some sunflowers. I'm sure there's more even than this that I have forgotten to mention, but that will be a  surprise for both you and I when the season comes around!

Onions and Leeks (they are still very small)

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Summer's on the way

On my holidays last week!
I sowed the seeds of what will hopefully be this year's bumper courgette harvest today. It's such a satisfying feeling to get those seeds in. I have already started off some of my early veg, but putting the courgettes in smacks of hope that Spring is well under way and Summer is not far off.

I think I feel even more positive and hopeful this year having just spent a week in Spain. At around 22'C, the weather wasn't blistering, but it was certainly very reminiscient of a classic British summer's day. Sitting outside, sipping on a cool drink by the sea, winter felt a very long way away. It was great to get the chance to start airing my pretty dresses as well. According to Next, it seems that I'm well on my way to getting the summer trends right already. Which is very unlikely, I normally don't spot a trend until it makes its way into the charity shops.

I like the idea of big floral prints though, and vintage feel cuts and fabrics give quite a classic ambience to the SS12 styles that seem to be making their way on to the high street this year. As I think I've pointed out in some of my previous nail art posts, I do like colour blocking trends as well, mainly because I think that there's nothing more satisfying than wearing big, bright, bold colours! Plus, once you wear big statement colours in your dress, then there's no reason not to team them up with great accessories like these bangles, pictured right, currently £14 from Next for the whole pack. I love the geometric feel of the designs and the splash of bright lime that lifts the whole set.

I'm also really glad the maxi has stayed in style. I could live in maxi dresses - such is the variety of shapes and styles they offer. What about you, can you smell Summer on the air? Is there an old favourite you'll be dusting down from your existing wardrobe to celebrate the clocks going forward and the temperature increasing or will you be celebrating the turn of the seasons by buying something new?

The Roman Baths, Bath, Bath-like Baths in Bath

Great Bath
I was invited to speak at the Bath Digital Festival this week and we also had some other project work to do in the city, so The Boy and I went down for a couple of days. I spoke about digital technologies and social media in museums, giving case studies of things we have tried out, what works and what doesn't. You could tell this was massively outside my normal comfort zone because my voice was all shakey even though I wasn't particularly nervous! Ah well, it's good to push yourself I suppose! Think I'll stick to lecturing on archaeology and straight museology from now on...

Visiting the Roman Baths was really cool though, even if it was the best example of a busman's holiday ever, given that my office is based at a Roman bath house! Bath Spa's Roman remains are a totally different animal to Leicester's Jewry Wall site though, and that was one of the main things I enjoyed about it. The Roman town of Aquae Sulis was devoted to the goddess, Sulis Minerva. Rather than being a straight public baths, the complex is a fascinating mix of traditional Roman baths with religious shrine. The dedicated carved shrines were particularly interesting. I really liked that the iconic head of Minerva was displayed at a height so you had to look up at it, I massively approve of objects being put back in their original context like that, at least in feel.

Sulis Minerva

I took lots of floor pictures. Seriously.
The other thing that fascinated me was seeing the hot springs bubble through the operational drains system and (perhaps even more weirdly) the floor. I know that's probably not what your average tourist goes for, but Jewry Wall is a site based around bath house foundations, with some remains of underfloor drainage, so to see these elements not just still in situ but also operational was really exciting in helping me to envisage what Leicester's site would have been like.

This is literally the whole pub, except the seats we are sat on...
So despite The Boy attempting endless jokes about being in Bath and people being clean, or having a wash or any other of a seemingly unstoppable stream of terrible water related puns, it was a great place to spend a single night. A nice friendly town, so good independent shops and also many, many pubs claiming to be the smallest in Bath. I liked this one the best.

Monday, 19 March 2012

REVIEW - Lucian Freud: Portraits

I was lucky enough to visit the National Portrait Gallery's 'Lucian Freud: Portraits' exhibition today. It has been running since 9th Feb 2012 and finishes on 27th May 2012. The ticket price is a jaw dropping £14.00, but they appear to be selling like hotcakes. The tickets are being sold in half hour slots to help control visitor traffic, although for my tastes it was far too full. I like to be quiet and contemplative about my art, and I felt that being nudged out the way by middle class ladies who clearly had more of a right to be there than me was rather wearisome after a while. Such is the curse of the blockbuster art exhibition.

Let me make it clear at this stage, I do not claim to know anything of relevance about fine art, contemporary art - indeed I'm not sure whether Freud is now classified as a fine or contemporary artist, or indeed a portrait artist or a member of some art movement that I almost certainly haven't heard of. Despite this, I am a firm believer that people should be free to make their own interpretation of art as they please and given that this exhibition moved me more than many art exhibitions I have seen recently I decided to have a stab at my thoughts on Freud's work.

I thought that despite the often small rooms that the exhibition spanned, there was a good sense of progression through Freud's career presented in the exhibition. In particular, I enjoyed some of his early works where you can see he is just learning to ply his trade as a portrait artist. Some of these pictures, like Girl with a Kitten, have very large, almost manga style eyes and quite a cartoon like feel to them. However, they are also somewhat distorted in their presentation and this gives them an unsettling edge. The painting which drew me in above all others was Girl in Bed, especially the fine work on her hand and her fascinating expression. I'm not sure that I am allowed to reproduce the work here, so I have image URL'd the image from the Telegraph website, which should hopefully track back to source, however let me know if I'm on the wrong side of right here!

The exhibition makes very clear that a transitional point in Freud's career was in the late 50s when he begins to 'reveal the landscape of the human face'. This is the point where his work becomes more recognisably his own, more realistic in presentation but another degree more unsettling and in many respects, bleak. Freud seems to emphasise the greys and greens in the skin of his sitters - hinting at the vein and bone that lays beneath the surface of us all. For me, however, the key point of interest is the expression of his subjects. I found that for most of his works through the 60s and 70s, Freud pulls out a very stern, negative, wistful or even fearful expression in his sitters. While traversing this large exhibition, I found this to be quite oppressive. I just couldn't empathise with the idea that most people are severe or negative most of the time. I read a quote from Freud saying that he felt that if a painting didn't have drama, then it was pretty much just a waste - nothing more than its constituent parts of paint on canvas. Throughout the bulk of the exhibition I found myself arguing for humanity, that our drama need not always be so dark - that so much of human drama is about beauty and laughter and love. However, after I left the exhibition I found I had to agree with much of what I had interpreted to be Freud's position when sat on the Tube, looking at the scowls and misery of my fellow passengers. It made me wonder if our default expression was naturally one which engenders negative emotions.

I was interested to see the progression of Freud's style throughout his career, even to the point of his final, unfinished work. I was particularly interested to see that he developed his use of texture at the end of his career. This gave an eerie feel to some of his latest works, in some cases the texture of the paint being so severe that the sitter's face looked blurred, anonymous - which to me was very much at odds with the distinct emotion and personality that were apparent in some of the earlier works.

I was surprised to be particularly drawn to the portraits of the Benefits Supervisor, or Big Sue. These are some of Freud's more famous works as far as I am concerned - being someone to whom Freud was very much a background name rather than a key interest before visiting this exhibition. I found Freud's depictions of her voluptuous form, generally in positions of repose, to be somewhat warmer than pretty much all of his later works excepting those of his mother. I found it really interesting that subjects I perceived he 'liked' he seemed to act more charitably towards - Big Sue and his mother generally look calm, ruminatory, or even peaceful in many of their portraits - a stark contrast to his treatment of people like Naked Man with Rat, who almost looks in pain (and who incidentally is one of many interesting paintings featuring animals, treated very much in the same way as Freud treated humans - they appear all to be one, 'subjects'.

For introducing me to a great artist I have not previously known well, I applaud the NPG. For a social recluse like myself to be jostled around by so many 'real' art lovers in one go I feel I have to detract points (even though it's not the NPGs fault), so I give Lucian Freud: Portraits a top notch 9 out of 10 Extreme Points!

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Top 10: highlights of my holiday in Spain

Having done various travel blogs and guides as a result of my holidays in the past, I've been trying to think of a new and fun way to tell you about the holiday in Spain I returned from this week. Given I saw the funniest thing in the world, ever (see highlight number 1) I though I'd best make you a top 10 list. So, counting down from 10, here we go:

10. Starting off the holiday with the obligatory 4.30am pint at the airport.

9. Recreating the 'White Russian up the nose' photo

Mexico '08
Spain '12

8.  Seeing people who are as patient (read mental) at creating art as I am.

7. Seeing a lad streaking across the beach only to essentially fall over once he reached the sea. You'll be pleased to know I didn't have time to get a picture of that.

6. Doing a decent amount of exercise despite being on holiday

5. Thinking you're in Middle Earth, not Spain

4. Being camoflaged on beautiful beaches. 
I can assure you I am on this photo, you've just got to find me. 
Where's Lo-Lo?

3. Letting my hair down.

2. Keeping the world safe from giant ants.

1. Seeing an old dude's teeth fall out when he was pulling the bow in archery. Literally the funniest thing in the world ever, especially when he exclaimed "Oh, bloody hell, that's the second time that's happened." You probably had to be there, but I don't think I've laughed quite so hard in my life ever. It was OK, he was a bit of a joker and a trouble maker. If he was upset by it we would have tried to have laughed less.


Silent Sunday

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Angelina Jolie's Right Leg: The Devil Knee

Whilst enjoying a quiet drink in the pub the other night, we were idly flicking through tomorrow's fish and chip paper when we spotted the ubiquitous 'Right Leg of Angelina Jolie' picture. You may think "Yawn, this has been commented on, laughed at, and has its own twitter account" and of course, you'd be right. But that evening down The Crown Inn, we noticed something new, something sinister...

Angelina Jolie has a possessed knee! Some kind of creepy, inhabited by spirits, work of Satan, Beelzebub's mid-leg-joint, Devil Knee if you will (and we will, we will).

Prepare yourselves...
And for the hard of imagination...
As big Southpark fans, we were initially hoping that the discovery of the Devil Knee was proof positive of the existence of Scuzzlebutt - demonstrating that Angelina Jolie lives a peaceful life in snowy capped mountainous terrain, weaving wicker baskets with her celery hand with which to rescue (or kidnap) passing small children, rabbits and assorted bird life. However, upon closer inspection of the Devil Knee, we found the truth to be far more sinister...

For a start, the knee in question is of course Jolie's right knee, while we can see from the artist's reconstruction of Scuzzlebutt (above) that his head for a leg is quite clearly the left leg. Furthermore, while Scuzzlebutt's right knee can boast the amenable demeanour of Patrick Duffy, Angelina Jolie's right Devil Knee is frequented by none other than...

... Barbara Streisand. 
Strange, but true. Have you ever seen them in the same room? I know I haven't.

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