Archive for January, 2010

Photo by Eva SajovicTen days ago I blogged about the exciting upcoming exhibition from Eva Sajovic, the Slovenian photographer who has worked extensively with Gypsies, Roma and Travellers, including Traveller families from Basildon, for the past two years.

The exhibition opens on Thursday (4 February) and runs until Saturday 20 March. Throughout both months there are various events associated with her exhibition:

Sat 13th Feb 2010
Workshop with Romany artist Delaine Le Bas
Weds 17th Feb 2010
Seminar exploring the role of photography and other artistic media in challenging stereotypes and prejudice.
Tues 9th March 2010
Seminar:  The Future of Travelling Communities
Thurs 18th March 2010
Film Screening of Romano Hip Hop by R Point
Sat 20th March 2010
1-5pm Gallery Open & Closing Event with music

Spaces at these events are limited so please contact the Brixton arts space 198 to reserve yours: info@198.org.uk

For more details please read the full text of her press release.

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I’ve spent some time reflecting on Cllr Tony Ball’s statement that he made regarding “Progression” (see my earlier post “Progression” and “The Woodsman”: A Tale of Two Sculptures):

“We are not against the art – but the cash should be from private sponsorship.”

I realised I didn’t know anything regarding the financial provenance of “The Woodsman” and whether or not Basildon Council had commissioned it, assisted with transportation costs, paid for its installation etc. I decided to email Vin Harrop, heritage director of Our Basildon, and ask that question. His response was fascinating:

“Dave Chapple on behalf of the then Basildon Arts and Design Initiative (BADI)  gifted the finished work to the people of Basildon.  It took him 5 months to complete, working for nothing from June 1995. He was 63 years old at the time and wanted to work on that scale before he got too old. Dave spent three days a week and never missed a day, each day he was surrounded by scores of people inquisitive to know what he was doing, if he had cut down the tree and how much it was costing. Dave always replied “not one penny”.  People were visiting Dave on a regular basis offering gifts in particular food, so you can see he built up quite a rapport with all those using St Martin’s Square. This is why we use the term ‘People’s Artist’, for he was a man of the people (born in Vange) who created his art for the people of Basildon.

Basildon Council gave permission to install scaffolding in front of the Basildon Centre and covered the hire of a lorry to transport the fallen tree from Langdon Hills, and Dave’s public liability- about £300 in total. The scaffolding was provided as part of a sponsorship deal- other funds were sought but they (BADI) were unsuccessful.”

So here we have it. Unlike “Progression”, which was paid for from public funds, “The Woodsman” cost nothing except the £300 for transport and liability insurance. I have since been told that BADI may have actually raised that £300 also.

It would seem that even when a work is sponsored from private funds, the Conservative administration is not interested in maintaining “the art”. I don’t know if that makes Cllr Ball “against the art” – it does, however, leave a bad taste in the mouth to see the landmark carving of a local artist mouldering on its side in Wat Tyler (I understand it now has a tarpaulin over it).

“Hardcore Carvers” are a group of independent artists and entertainers who specialise in making large wooden carvings (often with chainsaws). They treat their external oak sculptures yearly with teak oil.

B&Q’s cheapest teak oil is currently £5.16 a litre.

The Sporting Village is costing £38 million.

It makes you think about the balance of priorities.

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“Mother and Child” in ice

Em and I were struck in town by how beautiful the “Mother and Child” statue looked yesterday afternoon with the fountain flowing. As we got closer we realised that the water had frozen on parts of the statue.

“Mother and Child” in ice

“Mother and Child” in ice

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Popping in to town with Emma yesterday, we dipped into The Works for the last day of their sale. There I found a copy of Geoff Sample’s Garden Bird Songs and Calls. I have always wanted to be able to identify bird song properly. This book is accompanied by a CD and, ripped to my MP3 player, the morning and evening  commutes should become a more relaxing – and more educational – experience!

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Ever since my childhood, there has been an association between walking around Langdon Hills and Saturdays.

Autumn walks particularly are fixed in the memory, the family – not just parents and siblings – slipping into boots and pulling on coats and setting out into Coombe Woods an hour or so before dusk  (Coombe Woods is known to many as “The Bluebell Woods” for its stunning spring carpet of bluebells as far as the eye can see). Five youngsters with over-active imaginations would pass through the gate into the tunnel of trees that lead from Dry Street deep into  a darkly magical woodland kingdom that could only harbour wraiths, twisted goblins and other spectres between the creeping shadows and tendrils of mist.

We would march determinedly past the ponds, past “The Woodpecker Tree”, to the edge of “The Valley”. There, catching our breath, we would gaze out towards the pines that that comprise “The Creepy Copse”, standing tall in silent sentry over the winding path – far below them and us – that leads to “The Ski Slope” (what was then a broad and open slope, lined on each side with pines and with a glorious ancient oak at its summit). “The Woodpecker Tree” has long since fallen, but for years it stood as an object of wonder, its bark-less, limb-less trunk giving it an almost prehistoric appearance. It got its name from the holes that punctuated its upper reaches. Whether or not woodpeckers ever dwelt there I’ve no idea.

If we were feeling brave we would run down the valley into the trees, follow the path through its twists and turns, past “The Sandy Hill” (site of numerous stick battles and rope-swing disasters and not to be confused with “The Sandy Hills” of Westley Heights) before clambering up to “The Ski Slope” where we would follow the upper path towards the old cricket ground at the top of Dry Street. En route we would gather chestnuts from the piles of leaves to roast on the fire before heading back down Dry Street. The smell of creosote on the handrail of the newly-created ranger path was a welcome return to the safety of civilisation. The wraiths and goblins slunk back into the darkness, watching our descent under the comforting yellow glow of the street lights from from their lairs amongst the shadowy twist of brambles.

Reaching home and back indoors, fingers clasped around mugs of tea would ache with that satisfying gnaw of heat on bone. The fire would be lit and stoked to a blaze before chestnuts were roasted in the embers and crumpets toasted on an ancient fork and then buttered and piled high on an old plate, itself precariously balanced on a low brass stand by the kindling. Cousins – who despite their gender were all “Men of the Hills” – would plan their next adventure before settling back, bellies full and imaginations fired, to play and draw and, when we could get away with it, watch The Dukes of Hazzard.

Times change, of course, and “The Men of the Hills” are reunited for their walks less often, though I like to think that we all retain similarly fond memories of those childhood woodland adventures.

Saturday walks for me are now more usually taken in the early morning.

Yesterday, having not enjoyed such an excursion for quite a while, I decided to get up at 6am (something of a feat as I had only gone to bed at 3am!) and head out into the hills. Porridge and tea delayed my start, but at about 6.40am I set out from Gernons, wellington boots on and staff in hand and Radio 4’s Farming Today on my headphones. I walked across Eastley green and used the cut-through (that really must become an all-weather path – it is used by so many), heading down the college entrance road to Nethermayne. As I walked past St Luke’s Hospice and Basildon Hospital, the clouds above the estuary were a spectacular and angry inky swirl against a dark steel blue sky that only lightened towards the horizon.

Despite the day and the hour, traffic was already heavy and it was a relief to turn into Dry Street, the reassuring forms of Dry Street Farm – where so much growing up was done – quickly coming into view. From Dry Street I headed up past Dry Street Memorial Church towards One Tree Hill.

The view from One Tree Hill across the Thames to Kent and then up the river to London is one of the most spectacular I know. We too often take these places for granted, but such open and sweeping vistas are rare and, when the air is clear and the sky light, the views are inhibited only by the quality of your eye-sight. From One Tree Hill I headed through Northlands Woods, before picking up the bridleway through to Hall Woods. Here, switching off the Today Programme to listen to the morning chorus, I could hear a woodpecker drilling and I felt a thrill to be outside in such beauty, the sun now throwing a low and soft golden light on the frosted fields that I could see through the trees.

Walking the unmade roads past the settlements and farm buildings, I headed into Coombe Woods, past “The Ski Slope” and “The Creepy Copse” and stopping at the head of the valley – “The Valley” – to admire a beautiful sunrise on a now cloudless January Saturday morning. Finally, I headed down to Dry Street and the familiar outline of “Hillcroft”, detouring briefly around Northlands Approach and Coombe Drive so that I could enjoy the garden on my way to Mum and Dad’s back door.

As I opened the door I realised I had seen no-one at all until Coombe Woods, where I met a ranger making his way past the ponds, picking litter.

I am going to make the effort to walk this more often through the year, enjoying the very different ways it feels, looks, sounds and smells as season slips to season.

Even at 37 I realise that there are still adventures to be had for the “Men of the Hills” in their old hunting grounds – have your own and see what an incredible place we live in.

Below are the pictures I took as I walked.

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It’s rare for me these days to be gripped so completely by a book that I can’t put it down.  I’ve just finished Liz Jensen’s The Rapture.

It is simply, chillingly brilliant.

Set in the near future, Jensen draws you right inside the head of her main protagonist, Gabrielle Fox, carefully weaving the breathy pace of a thriller with the considered reflections of a psychological drama. She baffled this layman convincingly with her climate science and caused me to reflect on my faith in this age of disaster chaos and economic uncertainty. More importantly, she eschews the typically shallow exploration of character that you find in most thrillers and instead delves deep into the psyche of each of her main characters.

To exquisite effect she toys with your recollection of recent events, mixing up recent landmark events, imprinted by a thousand television reports, with fictional facsimiles. It is a confident trick for a first novel and one that has you wondering if you’ve managed to miss a significant news story at some point that really should have fixed itself in the memory. To sustain the intense descriptions of oppressive weather, constrained phsyical circumstance and the unhinged lunacy of Fox’s teen patient until the last pages is a real achievement.

If you are ready for some brutal characterisation, a different sort of heroine, some occasionally lurid story-telling and are confident enough in your faith – if you have any – to read a convincing and ferocious challenge to its presumptions, then I commend this as a very exciting read.

If you don’t mind a spoiler or two, there are some worthwhile reviews in The Guardian (Irvine Welsh), The Telegraph (Helen Brown) and The Independent (Marianne Brace).

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Over on basildonFOCUS, my colleagues and I have launched a survey regarding the forthcoming discussion at Council on Borough status (Wed 24 February 2010). If you live in Basildon and want your views to be heard, please take a few moments to click the relevant buttons.

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