Thursday, 31 October 2013

Dogs in the Autumn-time. And the curious incident of the disappearing music.

Autumn and dogs - I have no idea what Four-legged-friend and Bertie Baggins think about the changing seasons. I suspect they think very little, their brains being mere slaves of their stomachs, but if they notice the cooler air, the permanently damp grass and the bare earth in recently ploughed fields, the following thoughts might momentarily elbow past dreams of dinner.

Or snacks - 'C'mon, we know that camera is not the only thing you have in your hand.'

Autumn is a time for dogs to

  • fine tune their getaway skills - escape scenario: apples all over the ground; apple-gatherer, basket in hand; muzzle sneaked between apple-gatherer's legs and apples snatched in quantities that only just defy death by choking.

  • act dead and extremely heavy when someone needs to access an oven.

  • practice soft-lipped-thievery when helping to pick brambles.

  • partake in sprint training in order to run away effectively when yelled at due to overzealous risk taking i.e. the guzzling of possibly poisonous but exceedingly delicious fungi.

  • develop selective deafness when told to go outside. And outside it is raining. And windy. And cold.

  • pretend to be bears. Sleeping all day when it's chilly outside is a magnificent idea.

  • become very watchful. Watching for that half eaten biscuit casually discarded on the coffee table. Or crusty ends of pizza. Or manuscripts of Grade 1 singing exam pieces. After all, if the squirrels can stuff themselves through the autumn in preparation for winter is there any reason why dogs can't do the same?

  • decide conclusively that trees are ridiculous creatures - first they inconsiderately shed their leaves all over the ground, then their arms fall off.

  • and finally, develop an impassive 'Yes-we-know-you're-mad-and-don't-understand-why-you're-abusing-vegetables-but we're-sticking-around-til-dinner' face.

Email time - 'Dear singing teacher, unfortunately Littlest's music is in the dog ...'

Sunday, 27 October 2013

On appreciating art. Or not.

That Art comes in a myriad of shapes, forms and function is a commonly accepted fact. That what I consider art might be regarded by others as meaningless junk, ripe for trashing, is another. So how do we define art? What is it? And what is it for?

From our early Cro-Magnon ancestors who first painted on the wall of a cave in Lascaux, to the designer of complex computer generated images, people have produced works that some have called art. Art has a cultural, historical, geographical and spiritual past. At its best it transcends all of these. It can pull us together. Or push us apart.

What follows is about last Friday: a day when art wasn't got, then later - via some giant bubbles, a spire of glass and an evening of joyful music -  it suddenly was.

In the Times that morning, was a picture of  a Picasso soon due at auction where it is expected to fetch $1million. I showed the picture to Littlest and asked her to guess how much it might be worth.

"A lot," she replied, sighing as she barely looked up from her drawing. (She knows me too well and the type of teasing question I all too frequently - obviously - employ.)

"What's a lot?" I asked.

"Em ... ?" Still bored. Still drawing.

"Five hundred pounds?" She shook her head. "Five hundred thousand pounds?"

"That's ridiculous! No!"

"What if I told you it's probably worth a million dollars? Because it's by Picasso."

She studied the picture for a long, frowning, five seconds. "Who's he?" she exclaimed.

Just as well then that we were London-bound and planned to spend the afternoon in Tate Modern.

I love art galleries. They are a combination of all that is good about the hush of libraries; the colour, smell and light of a crisp Autumn walk at sunset; the squeeze in a child's hug; the brain kaleidoscope of reading a poem; the thrill of seeing an actor excel; the shiver of immersion in stirring music, and the delight in appreciating something that momentarily makes your soul sing.

But not everyone loves art galleries. Although, a bit of planning - go straight to level 3 and experience the less weird that Tate Modern has to offer, put food inside tummies, promise more food later and a sublime evening to look forward to - helps.
Tackling the issue of the discrepancy in age of those-who-might-not-normally-choose-an-art-gallery-as-afternoon-entertainment is trickier. Littlest was happy to briskly look, and to be cajoled back to look at things she might have missed - like the Picasso's. The elder reluctant gallery visitor was less willing to be brisk, except when it came to making judgements - the Rothko's were an early "I just don't get it" and "the bad holiday snaps" in another room provoked an incredulity that anyone pays for modern art let alone applies for grants to do so.

But the coffee was good. And the cakes. After which the elder reluctant gallery visitor decided that the Turner "would look good in our kitchen" and Monet's water-lillies were beautiful, if a "bit big." When we set off again, Littlest, forced to intersperse briskness with waiting, commented that it is strange how someone who doesn't get it can spend so long - so very, very long - reading every notice beside every art installation in every room of every floor.

What did Littlest like best about the Tate Modern? - the enormous bubbles blown by a street entertainer outside. It was a pity that there had been a queue for the Bloomberg big draw screens.

As we walked along the Thames, structural art soared above us

We had a marvelling mignon moment as we gazed up at the magnificent Shard. I wondered if our progress was halted in much the same way as ancient Eqyptians on first seeing the pyramids at Giza - a mixture of awe and pride in human inventiveness.

Art isn't just visual. I would argue for it being auditory too. And Friday night was an auditory treat. Which we all enjoyed.

All the King's Men (atkmlondon) were in excellent a cappella form. There is huge infectious joy from watching a collective expression of love of music, love of friends and love of true, honest fun, on a small stage, without any props and with only the energy of their voices and choreography. Amazing. And most definitely art.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

On going without breakfast and other stories

This is what happens when you find yourself not doing the school-run and think it a good idea to start the day with a brisk walk. And after fifteen minutes realise that a cup of tea was not a sufficient breakfast.

We thought that bread was ours!

Indignant dogs aside, I really should not have eaten their bread - pocket fluff of indeterminate origin does not taste good and the rest of the walk was spent with an even more loudly protesting come-on-!-you-can't-seriously-tell-me-that-was-all grumbling stomach. Plus the pulling out of bits of thread that had become wedged between my teeth.

Before I go on to 'other stories' - at the top of a field sheltered behind a hedge, we found a circle of twigs and dried grasses. The bed of a family of deer perhaps

Or nest of a giant goose (lots of geese on the move today)

Or a dragon cushion - sadly Littlest was at school: I'm sure she would have known - probably a fairy something-or-rather. Whatever it was, it clearly smelt good. Not even the remaining fluffy bread could tempt Four-legged-friend and Bertie Baggins away. The nest will smell far too strongly of dog for whatever it was to venture back tonight.

Other stories? ... in essence, one story, that of my appraisal: the appraisal that has to be completed by mid-November, that has to be done annually, that every year I promise myself I will not leave to the last minute, that this year I will not be paid for completing but still have to do, that is so brain-addling that I am over-over-dosed on caffeine, and that is so repetitive so repetitive so repetitive that I wonder if anyone really reads what is written or simply ticks the box to say 'Yep! It's been done.'

Hmmm ... okay, so there is a point to doing these things. And that point is the MSF - a terrifying invention whereby your colleagues provide you with anonymous feedback. How threatening is that!! Hideous. Except ... I suppose it is something from which we could learn. Or perhaps take encouragement. Or that might hammer the nails into the coffin of our careers, or push us off the precipice into another entirely different non-appraised career.

But in reality is any career not appraised. The brilliant (who would have guessed?!) Grayson Perry spoke this morning about how art is judged to be good. (Reith lecture, BBC Radio 4). In essence, the public, art curators and collectors appraise an artist via the statement of whether his work sells or not. It's the same with writers - if their books sell well, clearly they are appraised to have written well. Are tradesmen's references really any different to formal appraisals and aren't those of us working in health really just the tradespeople of the NHS?

I procrastinate as per ...

Back to the appraisal and dogs whose collaborative Multi Source Feedback of the Aga is entirely positive and displayed generously with their body language

That they compete to be closest to the heat, daily reinforces the positive feedback and strength of their feelings.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

A farewell to summer

"What wilt thou do when the summer is shed?"
AC Swinburne 'Itylus' 1864

In answer to Algernon Swinburne (what a wonderful name) ... remember it; savour it in the sweet bramble harvest and jars of apple chutney; and look forward to autumn - smoky bonfires, early sunsets, the demise of summer flies, and the promise of the crisp clear air of winter. 

Today this blog is a rant free zone - mellow, reflective ... it might even aid sleep. It's heavy on the gardening side of 'Walking the Dog's life. Light on Littlest - unmentioned apart from there. And experiments with a brief amble into literature - the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations to be precise: it has sat forlorn and forgotten for many a long month on a shelf next to my desk. I was feeling generous and thought I might give the pages an airing. Pretentious ... me!!! Nooo. Maybe a little bit. Anyhow, back to the blog in hand -

Memories of a summer past in pictures

My path before it became un-pathable

More blue. Actually purple, but like many a (purple) garden plant I think they're called 'blue'

Chianti sunrise looking towards Siena (July)

Back home and blogs not being scratch and sniff, I feel this picture mocks just a little

Summer warming up

Apples apples apples - lots and lots of apples

Botanic colour inspiration - white

and red hot. 

Brief blush of red at home

And finally, the crab depletion exercise

And so to autumn and leaves and clearing and wearing wellies again. But there are a few crab apples left on the tree, beyond Bertie Baggins's reach. And there are still brambles to pick. And sloes. And as Lord Byron wrote...

"Eternal summer gilds them yet,
But all except their sun, is set."

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Owning a dog - why would you?

Why do we choose to own dogs?

Why do we welcome them into our once-upon-a-time-dog-hair-free homes?

Why do we tolerate them when they eat Littlest's favourite socks (always just the one sock from each pair)?

And why when the gnomic postman comes with his jumpy, bird-like, nervy twittering to the front door do we secretly wish that we weren't so understanding of his fear of dogs? And that they'd run out and bowl him over and lick him into liking them? Sadly, like a foundling bird handled lovingly but a bit roughly, I think he would die of fright before any 'liking' occurred.

I can think of several reasons for owning a dog and none of them has anything to do with finding the whole postman-being-afraid-of-dogs thing fairly amusing.

First, there's their eyes. Nothing looks at you with that total I-know-where-my-next-meal-is-coming-from devotion. It's easy to convince yourself that it's you they love and to seek evidence for this delusion in the tale of the Skye terrier Greyfriar's Bobby but loyal Edinburgh dogs aside it's the food and the provider of food that they are devoted to. As the day nears supper time, my two four-legged shadows get under my feet, follow me to the loo (they sit outside!), position themselves between me, the potatoes, the peeler and the bin and lie directly in front of my every step.Until I fill their tummies. Then as far as they're concerned I can do anything, go anywhere as long as I don't interfere with their need to sleep.

Second, is their faith. Blind trusting faith. No question. No argument. They believe in you. And knowing that is humbling. It rekindles a little belief in yourself.

Third, is that they effortlessly provide an ice-breaker. People open up and talk. About their dogs, about your dogs, about the pets they had as a child.

Fourth, is that they are therapy - for all the reasons above. Pat a warm head and the worries of the day seep away. Dogs make you feel better about yourself. They calmly sit by someone who is ill. A dog resting its head on the knee of a sick child, takes away the hurt and the pain. That's why they are used in hospitals and care homes. Even when Bertie Baggins helps himself to the newspaper and shreds it, that moment of anger is swiftly displaced by amusement at his expression that says "Oooh no, this wasn't me mum. Honest mum. It shredded itself!" And that amusement equals therapy.

Fifth, is that they are good for your health. Walk a dog, run with it, play Frisbee. Get out and get some fresh air and exercise.

Sixth, is that they make you laugh. Did you know that dogs can climb trees?

Seventh, is the company. I garden with my boys at my feet. I write as they lie on my toes, keeping them warm. I load the washing while they 'help' by pulling socks out of the basket. Together, we watch for the postman, crouching behind a hedge, ready to pounce ... no! No, no, we don't.

But it's an idea ...