Thursday, 28 June 2012

Preparing for Clearing in an Onomatopoeic Sort of Way

I have been battling away at my horrid course work and not getting very far at all.  I have had almost two weeks away from work in the Enquiry Unit hoping that I would return to work with my professional development project pretty much in the bag.
Well it is not to be.  I have been going to sleep despairing in of it, waking up dreading another day working on it and dreaming of having some sort of amazing light bulb moment when all appears clear enabling me to whiz though it.  Instead, I feel more muddled than I did before and him-at- home is starting to look as miserable as I feel at my lack of progress.

It got so bad two weeks ago that I volunteered for ambassador work  figuring that if I was not going away on holidays and I was getting nowhere with my work, I may as well take a break and earn some money.  For two mornings last week I went out to Medway to do mock interviews in a sixth form college.  I had six students to spend a half hour with each:  15 minutes interview, 5 minutes verbal feedback then ten minutes to write up the feedback to be given to the student.  I really enjoyed this work and tried to give balanced feedback emphasising the positive aspects but explaining what could help the interviewees to improve.  Then on Friday I was off to east London to subject another batch of sixth formers to a one hour and a half finance talk.  It is hard to make uni finance into a really gripping presentation but I did my best to encourage the students to apply for uni, explaining how much I had benefitted from my higher education experience.
So after two gruelling days at home trying desperately to avoid implementing my well-honed procrastination skills, I am back here in the Enquiry Unit for three days until we move to the computer lab to start Early Clearing on Monday.
On arrival in the office all was in disarray as staff prepared to move sites for Clearing.  I mentioned that I was feeling rather discombobulated which led to a wonderful discussion about onomatopoeic words.  I’ve always loved these and discombobulation just sounds to me like its meaning.  I found a wonderful article by Dianne Saphiere (blog) entitled “Want to Feel Ukiuki, Pichipichi and Pinpin?” where she writes about the Japanese implementation of onamatopaeia to describe foods; their texture, and smell, eating them and preparing them.
Some of my favourites are shikishaki  for crisp, fuwafuwa for fluffy and korikori  for crunchy and crisp and the wonderful sound of chokichoki  for using preparation with a knife. I wonder what word the Japanese would come up with to describe my very much alive and fecund Herman friendship cake mixture, bubbling away very busily on my kitchen bench with its yeasty earthy smell and sticky almost elastic texture?

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

John Soanes and Grayson Perry – Paintings, Pots, Frocks and Tapestry

One of the hidden treasure places I take visitors with an architectural, artistic or quirky bent is to the wonderful – and free- John Soane’s Museum in Lincolns Inn Field near Holborn.  This house began life as three houses that were almost totally demolished then rebuilt by their owner and architect John Soanes in the 18th Century.  The web-site ( tells us that
Soane, born in 1753, was the son of a bricklayer who died in 1837 after a long and distinguished career. He designed this house to live in, but also as a setting for his antiquities and his works of art. After the death of his wife (1815), he lived here alone, constantly adding to and rearranging his collections. Having been deeply disappointed by the conduct of his two sons, one of whom survived him, he determined to establish the house as a museum to which ‘amateurs and students’ should have access.

This museum is a wonderful treasure trove of art, antiquities, and amazing architectural details.  There is even an Egyptian sarcophagus in the basement.  I always wondered how his wife tolerated living in a constant building site where Soanes didn’t just modernise the kitchen or knock down the occasional wall; he moved the staircase, rearranged the floors and ceiling heights, changed the entire roofline and filled the place with huge chunks of ancient Greek and Roman building, all gathering dust and too heavy to move without a crane or several burly men.  He must have been a nightmare to live with - but he has left us the most fabulous legacy.
Inside Sir John Soane’s Museum - imagine having to dust that lot!
Within these walls is an amazing collection of paintings.  One of my favourites is a series of eight paintings by Hogarth called The Rake’s Progress.  Completed in the early 19th century, it tells of the rise and fall in the fortunes of a chap called Tom Rakewell and is a fascinating social commentary of those days**.
Last week I visited the Victoria Miro Gallery near Old Street to see an exhibition featuring tapestries designed by one of my favourite artists, Grayson Perry, who refers to himself as the ‘tranny potter’.  He won the turner prize in 2003 for his very beautiful but disturbing pots and created waves by accepting the award dressed in a beautiful baby doll costume. 
Grayson Perry accepting his Turner Prize
Grayson Perry in his studio
Perry is famous for the large pots which he has been making and decorating for 30 years and it is relatively recently that he has branched out to include tapestry as a medium to express his unique take on life in the modern world.
One of his first is a 15 x 3 metre work called the Walthamstow Tapestry referencing the Bayeaux Tapestry but named after the area in which his studio is situated.
The Walthamstow Tapestry
His current exhibition is a series of six large tapestries exploring taste and class.  He produced three hour long documentaries entitled All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry shown weekly on Channel Four, the last one airing tonight at 10pm.  The first programme explored taste and the working class, the second middle class whilst the third will deal with the upper class.  He visited people in their homes, photographing their special items, attending special events with them and seeking to understand what constitutes good taste within their self-defined classes.  He then designed the tapestries which were woven on huge looms in Belgium.
In the tapestries he referenced The Rake’s Progress, naming his central character Tim Rakewell and also referred to other classical works although the tapestries are a completely modern social commentary - as were Hogarth’s so long ago.  I went with a friend and we spent ages studying the tapestries with their myriad details.  Just as I thought I had seen it all, I would notice another detail exquisitely executed.

Detail from Expulsion from No 8 Eden Close
Grayson Perry pictured in front of his tapestry ‘The Upper class at Bay’
It was a fantastic way of taking a break from my last course work. I have been I was pretty much in despair over it and just about giving up.  Then I checked the marks for my last two pieces of work only to find that I had achieved two firsts.  Prior to this news I had been moaning away to him- at- home that it was all too hard and wanting to hit him when he responded with “but you always say that”.  Now with these marks I can’t really give up so it is time to knuckle down.
Picture sources:
Tapestries at the Victoria Miro:  

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Herman the Friendship cake and Jess come to stay

A few weeks ago my friend Chris rang from Yorkshire asking if we could put her daughter up for a couple of weeks while she found a house share in London.  We were delighted to help out feeling it was payback time – fair exchange for when Chris had looked after my daughter up in Yorkshire a few years ago.  Jess arrived laden down with suitcases, a lovely bottle of wine and a plastic container containing a dubious bubbling substance.  That was our introduction to Herman, her friendship cake mixture which we were to empty into a bowl and nurture for ten days carefully following her special written instructions.

Herman baby
We set Herman up on the kitchen bench in a bowl covered with a tea towel and proceeded to stir him with a wooden spoon each time we passed, talking to him as instructed,  until the fourth day when we had to feed him with milk, sugar and flour, then continue the tlc for another four days. On the 9th day we were to divide him into five little Hermans , four to give away and the last to cook into a cake.

Herman is as demanding as a pet but makes an absolutely delicious cake.  I took one into the Enquiry Unit last week for everyone to share.  People asked why it was called a friendship cake.  As I started to explain, the whole office became involved and it reminded me of Arlo Guthrie doing his 1967 monologue of Alice’s Restaurant.
It starts 
“This song is called Alice's Restaurant, and it's about Alice, and the restaurant, 
but Alice's Restaurant is not the name of the restaurant, that's just the name
of the song, and that's why I called the song Alice's Restaurant”  then 
meanders in the most wonderful fashion for a further 18 minutes.
Alice's restaurant album cover 
As I explained how Herman was alive and needed lots of nurturing a debate arose about what was alive and what wasn’t.  Jo** started it by stating that Herman could not possibly be alive.  The conversation went something like this:

Jo: I mean he is not wandering around my house having a shower and helping himself to the contents of my fridge is he?

Me:   No but Jo – really … Is that tree outside alive?

Jo:  Yes but that is different.

Me:  No it’s not. It’s alive and it is not wandering around your house is it?

Jo:  Look you’re being silly.

Me:  …and an elephant is alive and it is not wandering around your house taking a shower and helping itself to the contents of your fridge.  Ants are alive and they are not either.

Jo: …but at least they have legs.

Me: …but a snake is alive and it doesn’t have legs and neither does a worm or a tree.

By this time I had enlisted my fellow pedant Cherie as staunch supporter while Steve, the sane and sensible one in the office who deals with the schools of science informed us of the link he had emailed us.  We opened it to an email entitled  ”ALIVE!” with the following link:

This explains how yeast is alive and gives full instructions for setting up an experiment to show  how it breathes.  Jo then went rather quiet but Cherie and I were not going to let him get away with it that easily.

Cherie and me:  There you go! See! See!

Jo:  How do you expect me to believe that – it’s American!

Now that was below the belt- I felt I had to defend my heritage but by this time Jo suddenly became very busy immersing himself in his work.  Then Anne, also very sane and sensible, announced that she had found a whole Herman website.  That was truly exciting especially with its world map showing all the people who had logged onto it and lots of new recipes for me to try.  If you aren’t lucky enough to be presented with a baby Herman, you can learn how to birth your own little one on this site:

These are the instructions that came with my Herman:

…and while you are happily tending your little Herman you can listen to some more Arlo Guthrie.  I love his motorcycle song and happily sang it to my kids as they rode pillion on the back of my motorcycle trying not to fall asleep.

“I don’t want a pickle
I just want to ride on my motor cycle
I don’t want to die
I just want to ride on my motorcy ……cle.”

*If you do not know this great monologue from 1967 catch it here – it’s a classic!
** I have changed all names to prevent any undue embarrassment that may arise from the publication of this blog

Herman baby:
Alice’s Restaurant album cover:'s_Restaurant.jpg

Monday, 11 June 2012

Diamond Jubilee with Bananagrams, Rolf Harris and rotten weather!

Where were you over the four days of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations?  Did you decide to go the whole hog and immerse yourself in the full on experience?

...or were you trying to get as far away from it all as possible – expressing the sentiments of this banner?

We did a mixture by escaping London on Saturday morning for three days in Suffolk on the east coast – a rather chilling affair with extremely changeable weather all weekend – but joining some of the more laid back street celebrations and watching the Thames pageant on TV staying comfortable and dry.    We had a very warm family welcome which made up for the wind blowing directly off the North Sea accompanied by driving rain. We amused ourselves with good food and plenty of bubbly followed by a marathon of games playing.  Him-at-home hates games apart from crosswords and Soduko.  These don’t count as games in my book, so I am constantly on the lookout for others who share my enjoyment of them. The Suffolk part of the family fits the bill perfectly so I introduced them to Bananagrams. 
They all became quite addicted and I barely managed to drag them away long to play the odd set of Rummikub, to which they had introduced me at Christmas. As I have just discovered that there is a world championship contest for Rummikub, I need as much practice as I can get. 

The local Proms by the Sea almost became Proms in the Sea with the torrential rain and almost gale force winds but those sturdy Brits were not to be dissuaded from a good bout of Union Jack waving while jumping up and down to Land of Hope and Glory.  They turned out in force dressed appropriately for the occasion.

Proms by the Sea
As a lily-livered Oz accompanied by an opera-detesting Him-at-home, we waited until the rain slowed to a mere drizzle, the opera singing had finished and it was time for the last rousing choruses. We ended our evening watching the Aldebrugh crew putting the life boat away. This takes great skill; a tractor type machine with caterpillar treads has to manoeuvre the unwieldy boat on a trailer backwards up the shingly beach into quite a tight space.  Things get very exciting around Aldeburgh and we all held our breath until it was safely tucked up for the night without a single scrape on its immaculate paintwork!  I wish I could park my car that well.

On our return we found London still in a festive mood – full of tourists and children on half term. Walking through Soho, the bunting in Chinatown consisted of alternating Union Jacks with Chinese flags – an interesting mix! We visited the Old Vic tunnels to view the free pop-up exhibition Rolf Paints the Jubilee.  The night before we had watched a TV programme about him and Anneka Rice working with 60 artists creating works to represent the six decades of Her Maj.  I am a great Rolf Harris fan.  He is an incredibly skilled artist, musician and brilliant entertainer who never patronises his audience.

It took a while to find the tunnels tucked under Waterloo station but it was well worth the effort. It’s a great space - so atmospheric with bare brick walls and the occasional drips from the roof and the smell of … well … old railway tunnels!  I took loads of pics but then I found the BBC website had much better ones (  Rolf had done a large painting of Windsor Castle in the style of his “Can you tell what it is yet?” paintings that used to captivate me as a child watching his TV programmes.

Rolf Paints the Jubilee

Rolf's Windsor castle
He also painted a very atmospheric, almost impressionist, view of the golden coach in the 1950s coronation arriving in the morning mist. That painting was one of my favourites.

We wandered home after a very enjoyable afternoon that only cost us the price of our fares.
A week later and I am now ready to see no more bunting at least until the Olympics , so any of you out there with your bunting still up – please give it a rest.  Take it down!