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After I illustrated Grace Nichols’ and John Agard’s poems in the November issue of VivaLewes, the three of us decide to make a limited edition screen-print of their poems with a new image to accompany them. The last time I was struck by the poignancy of Grace’s mother closing the curtains on the Bonfire celebrations – is she Guido’s mother, the mother of a Protestant martyr (16th C!) or the innocent mother of a British jihadist? This time I try to incorporate something of the wry humour of John’s poem, but incorporating references to Lewes (the castle), subversion (the mask) and the real person behind the mask, plus a tiny amount of the debris left behind after the celebrations, that has always completely disappeared by the next morning…

The limited edition of 100 prints, signed and numbered, on 300gm watercolour paper, are on sale at readings and performances by John and Grace, and available at Skylark Books shop in the Needlemakers, Lewes, priced £20.

John Agard is the guest on Desert Island Discs tomorrow (Sunday 16 November, repeated Friday 21 November)

http://www.skylarkshop.com/

 

guidoGraceLo

 

To celebrate Bonfire, VivaLewes magazine invites the wonderful poets Grace Nichols and John Agard to contribute a poem each. I am flattered when they ask for an illustration to accompany them, and particularly taken with Grace’s poignant ‘Fifth of November':

 

From day-break the build-up,

which I like best, begins to stitch the town –

threads of an ancient ritual.

 

The boarding-up of shop fronts

in case of shoving crowds;

in case Prometheus’s children

out to commemorate

his hotly stolen gift, get out of hand.

 

Already the scent of kerosene invades the air.

Street-food vans take up their stand

as ordinary folk become

transformed into Tudor and Victorian ladies,

blackened-faced Zulus, fine-feathered Indians,

the no-nonsense striped-jersied.

 

Later in the crowded streets

among the bangers, sparks and brass,

we crane our burning cheeks to see –

the procession of lit torches

soon-to-be burnt effigies

wheel barrows of flaming logs.

 

And now, the whole town

reverberates and shakes

to the crackling booms of fire works –

the cold air gasps at bright spells cast –

fountains of diamonds

showers of falling stars.

 

Am I the only one to glimpse

at an upstairs window

the pale face of a woman

drawing her curtains on it all –

as if she were the mother of a martyr

or one called Guy Fawkes?

 

© Grace Nichols 2014. Published with kind permission.

 

bonfireYes – the two words go together, like, well… they just go together. Ask any Lewesian or anyone who’s come into Lewes for Bonfire on any 5th of November. It’s the big deal here. The members of the Bonfire Societies work towards the 5th preparing floats, banners, the firework displays, and of course, the costumes.

I’m asked to be a judge of South Street Bonfire Society costume competition, mostly on the basis of having no Bonfire connection at all. I think about what to wear and decide on my best suit out of respect. My fellow judge is the radio producer, David Blount (he knows nothing, too – so we’re impartial, you see).

We watch a parade of members in their costumes – mostly colonial pre- American War of Independence and English Civil War, in different categories: Under 5’s (girls), 5-9 (boys, girls), 10-15 (girls, no boys!) and so on. Great imagination and craft have gone into the making of these costumes, and somehow we have to decide who gets the gold, silver and bronze medals. It’s tough. Young Thomas (4) gets a joint bronze. He chews the ribbon in contemplation of…

The Men’s, the final category, and there are only two contestants. In any normal situation, Benjamin would have won. In his perfectly recreated Civil War musketeer’s costume. But Tony (landlord of The Snowdrop Inn) sashays in as a Time-Travelling Steampunk Medicine Man! I say Tony but he’s hard to recognise: his face has been unzipped and opened out, revealing a ghastly skull encrusted with glittering cogs and wheels and gems, the brim of his topper topped with optician’s instruments and a raven’s wing, his leather-strapped coat writhing with worms of light… on his gauntlet is perched a brass multi-barrelled revolver…  No contest.

 

leidensketch

Our last day In Leiden – a lovely city – with Els, our host. We cycle into the centre, park the bikes with the hundreds of others, and stroll into the crowds on the canalside, thick around the fish stalls: today is market day. But fish later – we walk down the narrow alleys past quirky little shops, until we enter a really nice shoe place. (Yes I have a thing about shoes, but not in a fetishistic way, or on the epic scale of Imelda Marcos, but… oh, some other time.) So I compare two loafer styles – not much in it, you may say, but it’s the details that count. I’m not buying (€259.00!) just observing.

And so to lunch – herrings! Wedged onto a bench with a lovely view of the canal but encompassed by a steel sculpture that is a bike rack, we drop the maatjesharing smothered in onion bits down into our mouths in traditional style (Els is most amused) and bite into smoked eel broodjes. (In the early 70’s I suffered a surfeit of eels – and white wine – from the rack of my friend’s cycle in Amsterdam; it did not endear me to her. Or to passers-by.)

Back at Els’s, we sit at her garden table and eat Jakob’s almond cakes – gevulde koeken – which are the best I’ve ever eaten. And Els is trying to manage the fallout from a newspaper splash about her government department…

denhaag1-2

We take the train to Den Haag Centraal (after cycling to Leiden Centraal but with saddle slippage and perineum danger) and then to the Mauritshuis: I have to admit, so we can look at The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius, the subject of Donna Tartt’s novel. And it is exquisite! the scratchy brushstrokes, the highlights, the feathered, well, feathers… And here’s Vermeer’s Girl With A Pearl Earring which is so soft and glows!

I’m drawing as I go, and writing notes of what to look up when I’m home. And then to the Gemeente museum and the Rothko exhibition. I stand in front of the paintings and let them grow over me.

After a day of art I’ve run out of sketchbook pages. In the jazz café, I dig out my i-phone and finally try the Brushes app I’ve been so dismissive of up to now. I draw the musicians with a big clumsy drunken finger…

(It’s not a real Rothko above. I made it up.)

tiemcomp

A'damcover

I first came to Amsterdam in July 1968, courtesy of my new friend Paula, and stayed with her on Brouwersgracht. It’s still my favourite city. Now, Tiemen, our friend Els’s son, brings us to the Eye, the striking new film institute, across the water behind the central station, shining white under a heavy leaden sky. Inside there’s an exhibition and installations of the stunning works in light by Anthony McCall, artist, and fellow student of mine, who I believe was also on the same trip to Amsterdam back then…

Outside the Eye, on the terrace, waitresses are straightening the chairs, while I try to draw them at angles before they get there.

Later I have white beer and ‘Grandma Bob’s’ croquettes in a toasted sandwich. Then onto the new Stedelijk Museum to see Marlene Dumas’s huge and moving exhibition. I love this place!

If you like Amsterdam it’s worth getting the City-Pick anthology of writing about the place, for which I designed the cover. Highly recommended.

 

https://www.eyefilm.nl

http://stedelijk.nl/

canular

…but I hope it’s not just the drugs. 4 injections of Hydrocortisone a day for 5 days makes a big difference to your inflammation, but also to your outlook. And your energy level. And, maybe, to your attitude. I don’t want to bang on about it too much, but the jolt to the system has been a very positive one.

Lessons for myself:

1  Be more empathetic. More kindly, accepting, of others, but also of yourself. You are better than you think you are.

2  Look for the good in others, rather than the Daily Mail in them. (I know what I mean – perhaps you do).

3  Look for and be open to beauty around you, however unlikely the place.

4  You can always do more.

5  Live now. Be in the moment. Suck it dry.

6  Show your friends that you value them.

7  It’s a wonderful world (yeah I know blah blah… )

So – we all knew this already. But how to live it? That’s the real work.

 

AND MANY THANKS TO MY EXCELLENT NURSES AND CARERS IN BRIGHTON’S HOSPITAL! ALL POWER TO YOU AND A DECENT LIVING WAGE! Shame on this loathsome government.

KenMohicanlo

kennethsLO

Kenneth, fresh from his shower, is settled back into bed. Chris, in playful mood, combs his hair into an upswept Mohican look: Kenneth is not that enthralled with the style. I personally think it could work with a little trimming round the edges, but I’m not his style guru. I’m rather taken with the disgruntled pushed-lip look in profile, so I ask him to hold it for a few minutes.

We embark on a series of profile portraits, exploring Kenneth’s modes, as he gets better. None has the clarity or character of the Big Lip Mohican drawing, but he consents to adopt a Quentin Crisp (whom I drew back in the 60s) and somehow I turn him into Anthony Burgess, too.

I give him the drawings, and the staff make a little gallery of Kenneth on his wall. He’s pleased, and I’m flattered, and glad to have found such a good model. Thank you, Kenneth!

Headphonesinhospital

And now I’m (not RIGHT now you understand otherwise I couldn’t be typing this or even see) lying in bed with my watermelon pattern eyemask on and earphones plugged in in a rather sensorily deprived and yet enhanced state listening to

The Beatles – Please Please Me
Fontella Bass – Bad Boy
Jazz Jamaica All Stars – Ball of Fire
Claire Martin – Black Coffee
Matty Eeles with Ska Toons – Love Alone
Love – Alone Again Or
Christian McBride Trio – Tones For Joan’s Bones
Hoagy Carmichael – Georgia

When you have time and space to listen to the music, especially on headphones, you can choose how to listen: you can hear the song, the overall sound – you get the feel, the warmth, the fullness and the memories too.

Or you can pick it apart – listen to the bass line, swap to the guitar on the right channel, the nasal edge of John Lennon’s lead voice, his harmony vocal – this is the more detached approach, but very rewarding, the Hammond organ swoops after Clare Martin’s voice, both thrilling. Christian McBride’s slithering bass skitters, his solo punctuated by little piano flurries. The detail in each recording!

And I think – this stuff – music,  in our headphones – transports us, takes us out, beyond… It, of course, separates and divides us from others (in the street, tube, bus) but connects us directly to the human essence: the breath rising from a human throat and the brush of lips on the microphone…

But then you know all this. And I’m high as a kite.

A favourite book: Revolution In The Head by Ian MacDonald. He writes about every Beatles track (and much more), commenting, pointing up features, drawing your attention to fluffs as well as well as the brilliances. Spend a few weeks with the book, the records, the headphones. Preferably not in hospital.

 

http://defendthenhssussex.weebly.com

http://www.keepournhspublic.com

juliansnoring

 

Anaesthetist&patient

Well, OK – the Co-Codamol tablets were just to get me through rehearsals; they’re not a solution. Colitis is a chronic (longterm) condition that can flare totally randomly, so, when it does, you have to hit it with steroids. And the Preds I’d been taking were not working fast enough for my liking; so, after the last rehearsal of the week (and I’d got back into my clothes) it was straight into hospital for me.

A bit of waiting in A&E (fortunately early evening before the alcohol and drug and random-violence victims) then into Acute Med – 6 beds – two of them double and reinforced for seriously morbidly obese patients (nb. I am not one.)

Curtains drawn back on my left – Ron’s sitting in the chair.  Speaking slowly he tells me how he fell in the garden on his way to get the Flymo. He couldn’t get up and lay there for sixteen hours – in the garden, overnight. ‘It didn’t rain’. Happened before. Lives alone. Couldn’t get up.

(I’m tempted to say sweet) Loretta the nurse – full on, total attention almost to everyone at the same time, upbeat, dynamic, funny. A whirlwind of great, caring energy.  Mike the nurse – tattooed bearded South Londoner, shock of upstanding hair, very friendly. We talk books briefly, and films at the Duke Of York’s.

Max has a ring tone that is a screaming horror thing that you really don’t want to hear in a hospital…

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