Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Hebridean Dreaming: A peep inside this years Hebrides sketchbook.

Hebridean Dreaming: A peep inside this years Hebrides sketchbook.: A peep inside this years Hebrides sketchbook. In the deep mid winter I often dream of that perfect studio, warm, bright and roomy such a c...

A peep inside this years Hebrides sketchbook.

A peep inside this years Hebrides sketchbook. In the deep mid winter I often dream of that perfect studio, warm, bright and roomy such a contrast to the reality of the small but cosy if you keep the wood-burner going. However when I look through my sketch books there is no replacement for being out there in the glory of it all whatever the weather. As I flick through the images I recall what a packed year it has been, hello to new ideas and fresh faces, goodbye to old memories and friends departing, savouring life’s constant mix of salty tears and raucous laughter. These sketches of the Outer Hebrides are a sample of the summer months which I now set to working up into oil paintings. After the successful sell out of “Un monde qui s’en va”, my book on Breton vernacular architecture there has been talk of another “Hebridean Dreaming” the sketchbook of an itinerant artist. For those of you who have already visited the islands I hope you enjoy planning your return and for those who have not been the welcome awaits.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Around the world on a blue and white plate

Blue and White china can be looked upon as the ceramic equivalent to DNA within the British Isles as centuries of pottery shards now appear scattered throughout the entire length and breadth of these islands from my vegetable garden on the top end of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides to my brother's garden down in Cornwall I am constantly stooping to pick up and rub clear the
soil from fragments of china and more often than not these are blue and white transfer ware. Cornwall became extremely important during the Napoleonic wars to the potteries in supplying the ore that gave the wonderful rich cobalt blue. During the 18th century blue and white porcelain became immensely popular arriving from the east stowed at the bottom of the ship's hold keeping the more precious tea out of the bilge water. However towards the end of the 18th century when the tranfer printing of cobalt blue was perfected it soon became available to every house in the land. The blue and whiye pottery from the early part of the 19th century today remains a comprehensive and historical social record of the period illustrating like the newsprint of the day the pastimes and passions of the people. During this period the Grand Tours of Europe were popular with all young gentlemen and ladies who could afford it, while fascination in the orient and all that was coloured red on the map also served as inspiration for the adventurous artist and engravers, the vissual bloggers of their day. From the domestic views of the country estate, from celebratios of victory to the commemorations of loss, from flowers and fruit to strange new species of mammals all was to be discovered on your dinner plate. In the summer of 1968 while French students were manifesting their grievances on the streets of Paris my father and I pawed enthusiastically over china pl;ates in Chalky White's shop down in St Agnes, Cornwall and there made our first purchase of blue and white transfer ware.The adventure lasted over 40 years and after my father's death it is now coming up for sale at David Lays Auction House in Penzance on December 12th 2013. The entire collection of over 400 lots can be viewed on line at www.the-saleroom.com

Friday, August 16, 2013

Swimming in cold waters.

Swimming during the summer months was not what I had in mind when planning to live in the Outer Hebrides remembering from my childhood days on the Mull of Kintyre that anything more than paddling was seriously painful, but just recently I have been taking that daily dip. True this isn’t a leisurely floating around in the briny but more of a vigorous splashing and relatively brief episode but during the hot spell we’ve been having there is nothing like it for toning up the aging skin. For us fellows it can be rather alarming at first however reassuring to discover that given time everything does return to normal. So as Sunday promises to live up to its name once more people load up the car with all the plastic kit and head for the best beaches lugging boogie boards, bucket and spade and bags of beachwear. I sling water, camera an extra tea shirt and some fruit into the back pack and head due north taking the short cut over the moor crossing to Garry avoiding traffic and people. Crossing Leigasdail burn and following the ridge out to the high point between Traigh Mhor and Garry I take a first skinny dip in the wee loch my very own natural infinity pool. Swimming in lochs at this time of year can be dangerous given that some are surprisingly deep and can remain bitterly cold at depth.
 The ground drops steeply to Garry beach and I can already see from the crammed car park that the world and his wife have made it this far. There are times when I watch in horror as holiday makers drive all the way up to The Bridge to Nowhere above the beach and turn round slowing occasionally to take a snap shot then off, the boxed ticked, “Yes we’ve been there”.  At times like that I see a case for seriously increasing the price of petrol or giving people an annual quota.
The tide is well out and the crowds spread evenly across the beach with children, the only ones braving the water as their parent’s lie beached and roasting amongst colourful trimmings on dry sand. I walk purposefully, barefoot across the rippled sand heading straight for the water, drop my backpack and this time strip to underwear, drop dark glasses and hat and stroll in with hardly a flinch as I take the wave head on. While young children try valiantly to ride the small waves with boogie boards I shoot past in the foam and as I stand to hitch my drooping jocks they look puzzled as to how I with no board could have travelled so far. Simplicity is the name of the game travel light when it comes to playing with nature. I mop myself down with the second T-shirt (an essential when it comes to walking at this time of year to keep flies and clegs away) then off up to inspect my peat bank and climbing higher to Seabhal past the abandoned rusting and rotting hulk that now serves as a convenient support for spider webs to sketch amongst the butterflies, then southward and home a very pleasant solitary afternoon stroll having spoken to no one.    

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Sun rising and shed raising.

An orange summer Sunday sun rises over a soft blue silk sea the two young buzzards on fence posts silhouetted at the far end of the croft perch surveying the sweet scented meadow ready to pounce should any rodent or rabbit happen by. Rock doves tumble in the still air and the sound of waves folding onto the beach below so clear it could be at my door. The fescues drooping heavy headed full with damp seed and midges. If there is no breeze then in the mid morning heat we will suffer the unholy trinity of house flies, horse flies and midges but its Sunday and there will be no labouring for Father, Son or Holy Ghost. Men will seek out a quiet pastime, find sanctuary in their shed and the latest project, and retire for a second more thorough sober reading of the bible or local paper. The peat freshly dry from the moor heaped high must be stacked for the winter but not today, the sow thistles and sorrel need pulling from the rows of swedes but not now and down at the far end of the croft the few remaining unclipped sheep will have to wait for another day before they feel their freedom fleece.

My own old shed is nearing completion the random rough granite boulder walls an almost child like construction contrast with the newly bitumen blackened corrugated tin roof. It takes time, study, observation, discussion, hard graft as well as balls to rebuild an old stone barn. It’s been five years since I started to place back stones that had fallen, dig out the soil and rediscover its form, dating the pile of grass covered rubble was not easy but there were neighbours who remembered when these old walls supported a roof and that one was used for the lambs. During the uncovering I discovered the remains of timber, rusty tin and old tar lagged roofing felt plus the usual contents of a mid 20th  century midden. 

 The last stone to be heaved into place was the large recycled door lintel retrieved from a local demolition. The wheel barrow groaned as I teetered unsteadily alone the back of the house. I have discovered when dealing with heavy objects it is often safer on ones own to know exactly where that centre of gravity lies at any moment. Although it took many to raise the Calannish stone circles this stone lintel raising would be a one man job. So from barrow to window sill then wall top and from there on wooden rollers across a temporary wooden lintel and sideways into place, the one and only golden rule make sure your always above the stone for if it falls on you it will surely squash break maim or kill. Now with the walls more or less flat and with a gentle slope to the east I searched through a recently collapsed roof on the other side of the village for suitable timber, three A-frames should do it and nothing more than two meters long. Within a day the frame was up and the next day the new close boarding went on. This was followed by roofing felt and very bright and shiny corrugated tin which in order not to be a distraction to aeroplanes making their descent into Stornoway airport I painted bitumen black. And so there you have it a shed that once again is visible to our nosy parker satellite inspection and how long will it take before I get a planning contravention notice on this one, meanwhile the interior is already being put to use as it houses burning timber, bags of crumbled peat and garden tools, all it perhaps needs now before the winter is a door, a blue door?                  

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The blue door

I am constantly being told that I’m not like other people I believe they call it eccentric. I am suppose to feel good about this, being different is something to be proud of to revel in the fact that while other people are sat in front of their televisions watching the men’s tennis finals I’m off tramping across the moor in search of and finding the blue door. I have grown to enjoy the way people discriminate between me and the rest of the crowd; the me who picks up litter rather than chucks it, who rises when its light even if the clock says ten to five, who tends the vegetable garden that I know I won’t be there to eat, who paints pictures knowing full well nobody will buy them.

So my latest venture of setting up a bunkhouse for people who wished to trek up the heritage coastal walk from New Tolsta to Ness; they could make an early start straight onto the moor and not have to begin the day waiting for a bus out of Stornoway, that was just Tom being different. Most of the time being a round peg that doesn’t fit into the convenient square hole that society has prepared for us creates no great difficulty and I can even find it quite rewarding, but there are days when however hard I try I just can’t find that blue door, it seems the entire world has gone mad and when I feel completely alone with this the isolation is terrifying. Well perhaps I’m not completely alone when it comes to being baffled by the thinking and logic around discrimination. I have come to accept that my thinking on life and the way I conduct myself is not like others, well he’s an artist they’re all a bit odd. To be discriminating is totally logical and rational, a good thing. One discriminates between and not against the ripe and the rotten fruit; the supper market and the corner shop, the flat packed and the finely crafted, and yes between the star rated hotel and the dorm style bunkhouse; one accepts the difference and makes a choice according to ones preference knowing best what will suit your needs.  Well no, not if your handicapped because then the boot would be on the other foot for although they might have accepted their handicap it would seem we have not, they also must fit in that square hole just the same as the rest of us and all it needs is a ramp and a disabled toilet.  It was I who was being discriminating in not providing a disabled toilet in the bunkhouse; I hadn’t understood that I would be required to provide handicapped facilities even though my market was aimed towards the physically fit. Well I wasn’t expecting my 95 year old mother to arrive with her zimmer frame to do the heritage walk she at least knows her limitations. So why do the authorities not have that same intelligence to see that the service I was providing was a niche market not intended or suitable for everyone. It would seem that there is no longer room in this non discriminatory world for anyone to be different, one must conform to the norm or go under. Well now my bunkhouse is to close even before it truly got started. I received an important planning contravention notice with printed in red the maximum penalties and fines I risked if I didn’t comply within 21 days. I had also been drawing up plans to build onto the back of the house here in New Tolsta to create an upstairs toilet and a studio for my artwork, however having obviously upset the authorities I thought perhaps now was not the time to be launching into another project that would in the end be beyond my means. Then in the middle of dismantling the bunk beds it struck me, the barn is a perfectly good space for my studio and as for an upstairs toilet I already have a fine 18th century chamber pot that requires no planning permission or building warrant. I do believe I’ve just found that blue door.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Bog Trotting

What sets this area of bog land that blankets the major part of the island of Lewis apart from others is the sheer extent of unbroken and actively growing peatland and the pervading influence of the sea on it unique plant life. While others rush to the two magnificent beaches at Garry and Traigh Mhor I head inland for a spot of solitary bog trotting. Taking the track across the road from the newly opened bunkhouse passing the quarry where only two weeks ago the pair of young buzzards huddled together scruffy with chick white fluff between virgin feathers and yesterday I watched the last one make its maiden flight acoss the valley to make a rather ungainly landing. I pas over the tiny bridge that crosses the aptly named Allt na muilne where further down stream you can still make out the remains of at least two ancient mills. The river in full spate is an impressive sight capturing water over five square kilometres and half a dozen lochs it crashes down peat-brown from the moorland little over a kilometre long to do battle against the incoming tide on the white sands of Traigh Mhor beach. The old peat gathering track, one of many that fan out onto the moor from the back of North Tolsta rises slowly up to about 100 metres where it stops at Loch Diridean. Along the left bank of the loch there are still the neat striped contours of peat extraction and at this its north easterly end there is an ancient stepping stone crossing to a spit of ground that once served as the old sheep fank for working on sheep brought in off the moor. I like to cross at this point but the stones at the near side are beneath the water so its shoes and socks off and on all fours as the slippery flat rocks are now anything but steady. Clambering to the high ground beyond I can see my hoped for destination the 248 metre hill of Muirneag which dominates the skyline from Stornoway to the north-west and east coasts. This extra ordinary landscape was formed during a period of climate cooling which saw trees recede and peat build up beneath sphagnum mosses. The winter has been surprisingly dry and follows an exceptionally dry summer of 2012 where the multicoloured blanket of acid green, rich red and pale yellows of the moss has been dried and bleached in the sun. Further in I make my way through a maze of small pools of flowering bog bean their root system clearing tracing the depths. This land of blanket bog is scarce in world terms and is one of subtle contrasts where drier heath ridges give way to wet hollows and streams cut deep into the peat that connect the open water tapestry of lochs. The soft walking provides a rich array of wetland plant life with bog mosses, butterworts, sundew, spotted orchids and bog asphodel. The lochs are set low in the landscape and as such often remain unseen until close to. Both red-throated and black-throated divers can be seen in the lochs and are easily disturbed so a wide berth by humans in spring and summer is recommended. I well remember at the age of six struggling home with a dead black-throated diver dangling from the handlebars of my bike as its beak strummed the wheel spokes so keen was I to show it to my parents the beauty of this bird. The Red Indians have a story of how the loon got its spots as a gift for having restored the sight of the Indian chief but this eye-catching summer plumage arrangement of dark lines with bars of white spots may have more to do with camouflaging the bird as it hunts for small fish.

I plod on towards my goal that now seems even further away and almost tread on a red grouse, it flies low chattering in anger and I assume it is a male since females will often do a tumbling defensive dance as if injured in order to lure one away from her young. High above the cascading song of the skylark marks for me childhood’s classic summer’s day and beyond on a raised dry mound an alert golden plover calls out with a soft whistle warning to its mate. I arrive at last at Loch Nic Dhomhnaill at the foot of Miurneag and decide to head back, leave the climb for another day and head to the north east to Loch Scarasdail where a shieling is marked on the map. As I reach the ridge the rusty tin roof is immediately visible at the far end of the loch and as I approach I marvel at just how perfectly the old stone structure blends into the landscape so different from our modern homes that must be perched on the highest spot to obtain the finest view and a clean wind that negates any form of gardening. Within the walls of this low hut a wren has made its nest and trills loudly in anger as I enter, the old iron stove has be lugged way out here on the moor but with strong winter winds full of sea salt it has corroded beyond use. Further over I discover two more ruins before continuing north-east to the river leading down to Garry beach. Earlier on this year we had a massive fire on the moor which lit up the night sky for several days and seems to have started on the north side of this valley, now with the heather burnt the grass has grown lush and the grazing will be good. The fire was not without consequence to nature as it spread over some seven square miles as far as the coast however visually it is already becoming difficult to see where exactly the burn took place and apart from a lack of heather and a greener aspect I am amazed at how quickly it has regenerated. The river Ghearadha winds its way eastward cutting deeper into the landscape where eventually it cuts through an escarpment passing under the bridge to nowhere and joins the Minch. On the way there are several ruined remains indicating that in the past this valley was used during the summer months as common grazing when the women, children and young adults would live in the shielings tending the township cattle and sheep while the men laboured on the more fertile ground close to the coast. The traditional Lewis shielings became in later years a low stone-built base with turf sods for its upper walls which explains why today many remains are little more than knee high mounds of grass covered stones. Inside these windowless smoke filled structures was a raised platform where dried heather and moor grass made a fairly comfortable nights sleep.

On the high ground above Garry beach I along with other locals continue the tradition of peat cutting, leaving them to dry flat for three weeks then setting them up for the wind to continue the drying process. Arriving back at the house its time for tea and an evening close to a good open peat fire and outside in front of the house is displayed the peat stack today a symbol of pride and I smile as another visitor to the bunkhouse takes a photo of my labours.                 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Hedgehogs and flying rabbits.

Zebra crossings are not very popular in Brittany and almost unheard of in small villages in Central Finistere however in the neighbouring commune of Collorec Madame le Maire made sure she had one of everything on offer from the street furniture catalogue when European grants were abundant. I’ve never actually seen anyone use the pink and white zebra crossing over the past ten years but when driving through last week my eye was drawn to the squashed hedgehog smack in the middle and it struck me as particularly sad. One can only admire the hedgehog for having been so observant in spotting a human being actually crossing at this point on that rare occasion when a car was obliged to stop. To have then recognised that this was indeed a safe place to cross it then seemed a total tragedy that he or she had such a misfortune of bad timing. From the hedgehog’s point of view it must seem somewhat unjust in that having gone to the trouble to use the designated crossing place that somebody should in the middle of the village choose not to stop. It just goes to illustrate that one should never blindly trust human beings or zebra crossings. Personally I never use them unless they happen to be placed just where I planned to cross and I’ve never pressed that button on a traffic light controlled crossing, more often than not by the time the lights change and the little green man starts flashing whoever pressed it has long since gone, while the infuriated driver sits cursing and revving his motor.  I believe there is in France a law that requires drivers to remove wildlife killed to the side of the road so as not to cause a traffic hazard but perhaps hedgehogs don’t come under traffic hazard category. The poor old hedgehog had been flattened in full view of everyone for days and nobody had thought to do the descent thing. I suppose it would have required some sort of flat object to slip between spines and tarmac but there are several houses within yards that must have a spatula in the kitchen drawer.
In the Outer Hebrides Miss Tiggy Winkle has been seen as a likely cause of ground nesting birds loosing their eggs along with mink. A few years back we had an extra ordinarily heavy rain storm that brought torrents of water down off the moor overflowing the ditches within minutes, the road became a river and flooded the valley below my house. The following day I took a stroll along the beach and lost count of the number of drowned hedgehogs like little abandoned spiny hats entwined within the seaweed flotsam. Last year I found one struggling to keep afloat having fallen into the sump below the cattle grid and managing to fish it out using a plastic bag, I said not a word to a sole but none the less felt better than if I left it to die. Similarly I found myself unable to dispatch the tiny fluffy bunnies I dug from the vegetable garden but on seeing one return a few weeks later nearly fully grow I vowed never to make that mistake again. During mid summer when stacking the dried peats on a wooden pallet behind the house I spotted the same rabbit duck in underneath. Now was my opportunity and so grabbing the washing line pole I rammed it under the stack giving it a good waggle about. Nothing, so I proceeded to ram the stick in and out and the rabbit sprung forth a look of absolute terror on its face and ears pinned flat to its head as it flew past my own right ear. I must have put the fear of God into that flying rabbit as it never returned.
As I grab the chance to sow a few seeds during a rare rest bite from the April showers that seem to have decided to join forces and become constant rain I’m reminded that in my far flung gardens I often plant one for the mice, another for the slugs and what’s left after the neighbours help themselves will probably leave me with enough fresh seed for next year. This is known as the good life and similarly with my painting I do little more than keep framers in business and burn up the rest on diesel. I can see that there will soon come a time when I must make that choice as to where I dig my garden. Last year I left a little plot on Lewis packed with potatoes, onions, turnips and beetroot only to find that in France most had failed with potatoes the size of small marbles from lack of sun. This evening I turned to a different sort of sowing as I darned the holes in my hand knitted Harris wool socks and wondered if anyone out there still bothers to darn. Next will be two small worn areas on a pair of Harris tweed blankets but its the cleaning of my old Trangia camping stove that is guaranteed to turned my thoughts northward to the Highlands and Islands. Having completed the conversion work on the barn at New Tolsta I plan to open it as a seven bed bunkhouse this summer and with brochures being printed to distribute on my journey north I should hopefully receive a few visitors over the summer months.       

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

                      IT’S ALL DOWN TO TIMING.
Imagine the scene, a bitterly cold Good Friday morning and Carhaix is looking even bleaker than ever with the trees around the main square having received a rather severe pollarding the remaining straggly tirer-sèvre twigs remind me that I should perhaps trim the last few grey hairs from my own crâne chauve. With bonnet (one leg from a pair of army surplus long-johns) pulled down over my ears I made my way passed closed shops as the freezing rain tried to pretend it was really snow. I pressed the green button to gained entry into the Banque de Bretagne. Since last autumn it has been amalgamated into BNP PARISBAS, a far bigger bank and presumably more secure. My business was simple, to show then a piece of paper that proved that last year I was not eligible for tax and also to check if I needed to transfer money into my current account. I was greeted with a very pleasant smile from the young female cashier and then from around the corner appeared the lady manager. Kissing is the norm when greeting people here in Brittany but a peck on the bank managers cheek is perhaps taking familiarity a little too far so a more business like hand shake was proffered. As usual she wanted to know how long I’d been back from Australia and when would I be heading off again.
My life seems to have developed into somewhat of a triangular circuit from Australia to Scotland with touch downs between back home in Brittany. I told them I’d be heading north at the end of April having only come back to clear the vegetable garden, do my tax returns and sign for the sale of the house at Elphen. “Ah vous avez vendu”, yes sold, but between three the pickings were so little that we didn’t even fall into the tax category for capital gains. The subject then turned to the sad state of house prices in Central Finistere and why it is no longer worth even exhibiting my work here. Twenty years ago when people were moving into the area there was interest and I could sell my paintings locally but now many have returned home to England and those once well maintained houses stand empty the discoloured estate agents sign swinging in the wind from the garden gate attached by a single piece of rusting wire. Life has turned full circle and yet there seems a certain sadness in the knowledge that so many dreams of living in France did not work out.  
My bank was a very small one and thankfully even though it is now part of a much larger bank they still find that to count amongst their clients the celebrated artist Tom Hickman is of some interest. I was then asked if I would like a coffee which given the conditions outside was just what I needed. I joined the rest of the staff in a huddle around the machine and we discussed the comparative wealth of Western Australia. Then came a little something to go with the coffee, pain au chocolate or pain au raisin? I settled for the latter and the conversation continued. I suggested with the state of financial affairs was so bad in Central Finistere they should perhaps think of opening a café Bank, why not we have internet cafés and library cafés, over the past two years I had even hung my pictures in their bank. Timing is everything and particularly so during a time of recession. I’ve found myself having to give serious thought to what to paint rather than simply doing whatever pleases me.
The idea came to me last summer while discussing with Moy Mackay what sells in her gallery in Peebles. I’d shown her a few of my coastal seascapes from up on Lewis and I was struck how wonderfully empty they were but also how the general public might just require more in the way of life. There was no way I was going to paint human beings on the beach since in order to belong in that landscape they would need to be working, such was the beauty of Newlyn School paintings at the end of the 19th and early 20th century down in Cornwall. I recognise that I come from a generation and background whose work ethic is perhaps today not all that mainstream. Few people can be seen collecting seaweed on the beach and there are even fewer who use hand tools so if I painted people simply strolling along the beach they could only look like tourists in such remote spots and I didn’t want to paint surfers since there are artist covering that subject.
It felt almost too simple at first to combine the two subjects that I love to paint and yet on the Outer Hebrides as elsewhere in Scotland it is not uncommon to see livestock grazing perilously close to cliff edges as well as roaming the foreshore. I trawled through my sketchbooks and photographs for images and started the process of composing pictures. Just like a musician creating a choral work these conjured up images had to speak of the wild-west coast of Scotland while grabbing and keeping hold of the observer’s attention. So I return once again in my head to those informative years on our coastal farm on the Mull of Kintyre where animals and the sea were ever present. In early May I will head north with canvas and paint to continue my Hebridean dreaming along with paintings for the Morven Gallery on Lewis, Moy Mackay’s gallery in Peebles, Coastal Designs in Campbeltown and Henri’s delightful little gallery on the Isle of Gigha.  
Coffee and business over I made to leave but not before a small box of chocolates was offered. I said my goodbyes indicating I’d be back this afternoon for more of the same which brought laughter as I exited back into the gloomy street but now with a smile on my face. I had obviously timed my trip to Carhaix well but could this I wondered ever happen in the British Isles where bank managers are rarely even seen on the shop floor for fear of perhaps being a target of abuse?  

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Flying south with the birds


If the swallows can do it then so can I, they had vacated their black chimney nest back in early September and during a dull Breton summer there had been two casualties which I discovered on returning from the Outer Hebrides.  My 17th century farm-house in Central Finistere has always been open to wildlife, bats lodge between the rafter, mice make their way through the meter thick walls, hornets have discovered the perfect void above the toilet dormer window, sparrows nest in the scaffold holes in gable end while toads find the damp mossy cool spots at the base, and each year swallows fight over who will take over the chimney nest. With all this wildlife there is inevitably death, I returned at the end of one summer to find a swallow spread eagled under the cooker and another half eaten in the parlor with a dead sparrow hawk alongside.  Before there would have been a quick spade burial in the garden but now I waste no time in plucking, wing, tail and any other useful feathers to be incorporated at some point into my bird pictures. Little goes to waste in the way of feathers, a sparrow managed to short itself out on the horse’s electric fence wire and the 9-year-old cockerel finally fell of his perch after being abducted several times by the neighbors golden retriever.
Having dug over the garden, this year moving all the fruit bushes and planting replacements the remaining area I covered in black plastic sheeting in the hopes that it would remain clean and not too water logged as it was now my turn to fly south. I packed a roll of wallpaper circa 1900 from the Arthur Silver Studio plus forty-four of my feather bird pictures. The birds were discretely slipped between the pages of my sketchpad in the hopes that on my arrival in Perth Western Australia I would be directed down the customs nothing to declare sniffer dog line. No such luck but I needn’t have worried for even though WA do not allow import of feather the golden Labrador was perhaps more concerned with the sniffing out of drugs.
The Christmas period rushed in shortly after my arrival and is very much the same in the southern hemisphere having very little to do with the birth of Christ and more about spending and eating. I managed to avoid the former (a lesson learnt from my father) but by New Year just the idea of another barbeque and food left me groaning, for a reformed vegetarian this had been a real meat feast which left me longing for anything green. Water plays a big part during the hot festive season with the sea little over a kilometer away and a pool in the back yard, a week of temperatures in the high 30’s and no air conditioning meant both were in full use.  It would seem a God given right for all Australians who own a 4x4 to drive along any beach they can get to and Christmas is peak season for this pleasure. Everything but the kitchen sink is packed for a mornings trip to the beach, all manner of plastic toys; floating, flying and digging stuff, fishing gear, food and drinks, towels and bathers plus tables, chairs and loungers. I felt positively naked when turning up on pushbike with little more than sun screen and a hat but I had that simple unencumbered pleasure of walking along the beach and flopping into the Indian Ocean where the water temperature is what we would consider more like a warm bath in the Outer Hebrides. The granite rock, white sands and turquoise blue sea of the world renowned West Australian coast are remarkably similar to those found on Harris, only the temperature of the water is crucially different. Just prior to Christmas the arts and craft wallpaper finally found its first home after more than a hundred years in the roll and looked stunning, while my feather bird pictures returned from the local Bunbury framers looking suitably simple and impressive. The exhibition, which has almost a year in the making, is due to open with a massive display of fireworks at the East Victoria Park Art Centre in Perth on 26th Jan (Australia Day).