Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Seaside attempt 7

The unrelenting tedium continues with this shot of one of the lions at the base of the lampposts on Eastbourne pier (yes we’re back on the pier). I guess the lighting runs off manes electricity. They all seem to have had their teeth extracted to make them tourist-friendly.
Note the peeling metalwork and rotting woodwork. There’s some sea in this one too, also in need of a fresh coat of paint.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Seaside attempt 6

Of all the 89 pictures I took in Eastbourne this has to be the most boring – even more boring than the ones I’ve posted so far. I’m thinking of entering it into the ‘Most Boring Photograph (Amateur) of 2009’ competition. I’ve studied it closely and, try as I might, I can’t find anything interesting in it. It’s a picture of a lamppost – a favourite subject of mine – with a bit of sea, a bit of beach, a lot of sky and path, a shadow, a railing and a bush. The shadow of a seagull (or possibly a pigeon or jackdaw) was entirely unintentional. There are no images of Jesus or the Virgin Mary in the clouds or shadows. It’s not even an interesting composition. I used to get into trouble at college for taking pictures like this.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Seaside attempt 5

My skills with a camera are exemplified in this photograph of Amelie Mauresmo. She went out of the Eastbourne tournament in the second round, perhaps because she wasn’t feeling too sharp. Here she is in the practice courts – a victim of auto-focus.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Seaside attempt 4

This is the bandstand, built in 1935. In the foreground are signs trying to prevent people from using the surrounding promenade as a velodrome, probably the same people who are being discouraged from jumping off the pier. Naturally the signs have been defaced – what they really need is a sign telling people (the same people again?*) not to deface the signs. The sign at the bottom, by the way, tells people that drinking alcohol in public places is prohibited in this area. These old people are certainly a problem on the south coast.
It rained on one evening while we were in Eastbourne – that was the evening when the band was playing.
Oh I do like to be beside the seaside,
I do like to be beside the sea,
I do like to stroll along the prom, prom, prom,
Where the brassbands play
So just let me be beside the seaside,
I'll be beside myself with glee;
And there's lots of girls beside,
I should like to be beside,
Beside the seaside, beside the sea. etc.
We decided to give it a miss.

*Or do they specialise? Are they organised?

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Seaside attempt 3

Here’s another shot of the pier, this time in the evening. Note the well-kept lighting, peeling paint-work and the sign which says ‘NO JUMPING OFF THE PIER’ in a jolly typeface with a polite ‘Thank You’ at the bottom.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Seaside attempt 2

This is a very boring picture of Eastbourne pier with three forlorn, though brightly coloured, deckchairs in the foreground declaring ‘Your Logo Here,’ obviously without any takers - even ‘Your Arse Here’ would probably have failed to attract anyone. On the other hand perhaps it’s an advert for a band or something.
Also included in the photo are a few old people, who generally brought their own chairs to avoid paying rent on the deckchairs, and a group of teenagers sitting in a circle on the pebbly beach. Times are hard for deckchairs.
The pier was designed by Eugenius Birch and opened in 1870. It was put up for sale earlier this month with a guide price of £5.5 million. Anybody?

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Seaside attempt 1

Eastbourne is a fading seaside town on the South coast of England. Its main attraction is Beachy Head, a favourite spot for suicides. For years it’s hosted a women’s grass-court tennis tournament in the week before Wimbledon, but this year it was opened up to men to avoid going bankrupt. It’s also a holiday destination for old people and, as the summer starts to kick in, you can see coachloads of them getting icecream, fish-and-chips and sunburn.
One such old person is my mother, who goes every year with a friend (by train rather than coach) to watch the tennis. This year her friend wasn’t feeling up to it so I was the substitute and, for four days, became an old person (not a great stretch).
Four days, two of them watching a marathon 17 hours of tennis, you would think wouldn’t give me much time to take holiday snaps, but in fact I managed to take 89. As it turns out they’re probably the most boring pictures I’ve ever taken - and now I’m going to bore you with a selection of the most boring ones.
This one was taken from the hotel window, which was painted shut to stop guests from venturing out onto the crumbling balcony. It was taken at about 7.30 in the morning (breakfast was at 8). Apart from the bumper-to-bumper cars, which seemed to flow through all night, nothing was happening – even the seagulls were still asleep. The sun on the water and those wispy clouds made it all seem rather wonderful, so I snapped it through the grubby glass.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Bananny goat

Here’s a very capricorny joke, marred by gender inaccuracy – only billy goats have beards.
I’m off to Eastbourne to watch some tennis this week. By coincidence this blog is taking a few days off at the same time. We should both be back next weekend, barring any neck injuries.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Disenshelved: WHR 6

This devil is probably the most familiar image from Heath Robinson’s Rabelais. It comes from the Third Book - ‘Containing the heroic deeds of Pantagruel, son of Gargantua,’ Chapter III – ‘How Panurge praiseth the Debtors and Borrowers.’ It illustrates, bizarrely (but nothing is bizarre in Rabelais), a passage about what the world would be like if there were no lenders:

‘… Earth then will not become Water, Water will not be changed into Air, of Air will be made no Fire, and Fire will afford no Heat unto the Earth; The Earth will produce nothing but Monsters, Titans, Giants; no Rain will descend upon it, nor Light shine thereon; no Wind will blow there, nor will there be in it any Summer or Harvest. Lucifer will break loose, and issuing forth of the depth of Hell, accompanied with his Furies, Fiends and Horned Devils, will go about to unnestle and drive out of Heaven all the Gods, as well of the greater as of the lesser Nations…’

The drawings of William Heath Robinson were a familiar part of my childhood, either through the illustrations to ‘Professor Branestawm’ or from the many compilations of his cartoons, of complicated contraptions designed to do simple tasks, which we often borrowed from the local library (you can see a small selection at the Chris Beetles site). It was the 'friendliness' of his humour that I responded to more than the actual jokes (and also that he died on the same day of the year as my birthday). I was surprised later to discover that he had been an important ‘serious’ illustrator, and even today it seems hard to reconcile the two sides of his work, almost as if he was two people. But after the First World War put paid to the demand for lavishly illustrated gift books his humorous work allowed him to continue in his career while that of his two brothers, Thomas and Charles, foundered.
If you’ve enjoyed these drawings and the quotes you might like to look through the rest or even read the book; the bits I read were surprisingly funny - somehow you don't expect something written in the 1530s to make you laugh). It's on Googlebooks in it's entirety - Volume 1, and Volume 2.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Shelving error: WHR 5

This drawing of assorted devils is taken from the Prologue to the Second Book – ‘Treating of the heroick deeds and sayings of the good Pantagruel.’ That one on the right, biting his shoulder, reminds me of someone I know.

‘I therefore (your humble slave) being very willing to increase your solace and recreation a little more, do offer you for a Present another book of the same stamp, only that it is a little more reasonable and worthy of credit than the other was…
… And therefore, to make an end to this Prologue, even as I give myselfe to an hundred Pannier-fulls of faire devils, body and soul, tripes and guts, in case that I like so much as one single word in this whole History: After the like manner, St. Anthonies fire burne you; Mahoom’s disease whirle you; the squinance with a stitch in your side, and the Wolfe in your stomach trusse you, the bloody flux seize you, the curst sharp inflammations of wild fire, as slender and thin as Cowes haire, strengthened with quick silver, enter your fundament, and like those of Sodom and Gomorrah, may you fall into sulphur, fire and bottomlesse pits, in case you do not firmly beleeve all that I shall relate unto you in this present Chronicle.’

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Shelf-sacrifice: WHR 4

This virtuoso drawing is from the equally virtuoso Chapter XXVII – ‘How a Monk of Sevile saved the Closse of the Abbey from being ransacked by the Enemie.’ This involves Fryar Jhon, ‘a right Monk, if ever there was any, since the Monking world monked a Monkerie,’ who sees the enemy raiding the vineyards of the Abbey and puts up a crazed fight to stop them:

‘… He hurried therefore upon them so rudely, without crying gare or beware, that he overthrew them like hogs, tumbled them over like swine, striking athwart and alongst, and by one means or other so laid about him, after the old fashion of fencing, that to some he beat out their braines, to others he crushed their armes, battered their legs, and bethwacked their sides till their ribs cracked with it; to others again he unjoynted the spondyles or knuckles of the neck, disfigured their chaps, gashed their faces, made their cheeks hang flapping on their chin, and so swinged and belammed them, that they fell down before him like hay before a Mower: to some others he spoiled the frame of their kidneys, marred their backs, broke their thigh-bones, pash’t in their noses, poached out their eyes, cleft their mandibules, tore their jaws, dung in their teeth into their throat, shook asunder their omoplates or shoulder-blades, sphacelated their shins, mortified their shanks, inflamed their ankles, heaved off of the hinges their ishies, their sciatica or hip-gout, dislocated the joints of their knees, squattered into pieces the boughts or pestles of their thighs, and so thumped, mawled and belaboured them every where, that never was corne so thick and threefold thresht upon by Plowmens flailes, as were the pitifully disjoynted members of their mangled bodies, under the mercilesse baton of the crosse.’

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Left on the shelf: WHR 3

This ‘ugly old trot’ is one of the midwives who appear in Chapter VI – ‘How Gargantua was borne in a strange Manner.’ Heath Robinson must have had some difficulty knowing what to illustrate in this chapter. Here’s the passage that describes the birth (be warned; it’s not pleasant, but it is funny):

‘… a little while after she began to groane, lament and cry, then suddenly came the midwives from all quarters, who groping her below, found some peloderies, which was a certaine filthy stuffe, and of a taste truly bad enough, this they thought had been the childe, but it was her fundament, that was slipt out with the mollification of her streight intrall, which you call the bum-gut, and that meerly by eating of too many tripes, as we have shewed you before: whereupon an old ugly trot in the company, who had the repute of an expert she-Physician, and was come from Brispaille, near to Saint Gnou, three score years before, made her so horrible a restrictive and binding medicine, and whereby all her larris, arse-pipes and conduits were so opilated, stopped, obstructed, and contracted, that you could hardily have opened and enlarged them with your teeth, which is a terrible thing to think upon; seeing the Devill at the masse at Saint Martins was puzled with the like task, when with his teeth he had lengthened out the parchment whereon he wrote the tittle tattle of two young mangy whoores; by this inconvenient the cotyledons of her matrix were presently loosed, through which the childe sprung up and leapt, and so entering into the hollow veine, did climbe by the diaphragm even above her shoulders, where that veine divides it self into two, and from thence taking his way towards the left side, issued forth at her left eare…’

Enough said.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Ought to be on the shelf: WHR 2

This drawing is from the beginning of Chapter 1 – ‘Of the Genealogy and Antiquity of Gargantua.’ Here’s the relevant quote from the chapter (the translation from French is from 1653, the original having been written in the 1530s):

‘Would to God every one had as certaine knowledge of his Genealogy since the time of the Arke of Noah until this age. I think many are at this day Emperours, Kings, Dukes, Princes, and Popes on the earth, whose extraction is from some porters, and pardon-pedlars as on the contrary, many are now poor wandering beggars, wretched and miserable, who are descended of the blood and lineage of great Kings and Emperours, occasioned (as I conceive it) by the transport and revolution of Kingdomes and Empires, from the Assyrians to the Medes, from the Medes to the Persians, from the Persians to the Macedonians, from the Macedonians to the Romans, from the Romans to the Greeks to the French, etc.’

At the beginning of the 20th Century the introduction of the new technology of process engraving meant that a drawing could be photographically transferred onto the printing plate. This ushered in a new school of illustrators who were no longer dependent on an engraver’s interpretation of their work. The process allowed Heath Robinson to work for the first time at a very large scale, thus freeing up his, until then, tightly controlled line, and allowing him to meet the spirit of Rabelais’ rambling, earthy satire with flowing lines and dense, roughly crosshatched shadows. Instead of following his early influences of Beardsley and DorĂ© (who had also illustrated ‘Gargantua and Pantagruel’) he was able to develop a more personal style inspired by Breughel and Da Vinci and the scenes of hell and damnation in early illuminated manuscripts.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Could have been on the shelf: WHR 1

Once upon a time I popped into a local antiques fair when I was a student and, while rooting through the shelves of a book dealer, came across a copy of ‘The Works of Rabelais, Volume 1,’ illustrated by William Heath Robinson in 1904. It was selling for £21, which at the time would have been the most I’d ever paid for a book. I hovered around it for some time, and even came back later to see if it was still there, but eventually decided I couldn’t possibly afford it on my overdraft and I was too shy to haggle. So I walked away. How often I’ve wished I could go back and hand over the cash and live with the consequences.
The book is in two volumes, for which Heath Robinson did over 250 drawings. For me it’s his masterpiece and one of the pinnacles of English book illustration. It was given good reviews when it came out but the publisher went bankrupt before he was paid. Being well known but in need of money he started to produce the humorous drawings of mad inventions for which he is most celebrated today.
This is the frontispiece to Volume 1 – a photogravure image with a tissue guard. Opposite it is the title page, which gives the full name of the book: ‘The Works of Mr. Francis Rabelais, Doctor in physick. Containing Five Books of the Lives, Heroick Deeds and Sayings of Gargantua and his sonne Pantagruel.’
Being an uncultured lout I’ve never read Rabelais and don’t know the story. However, this appears to be a picture of Gargantua as a baby. I’ll write more about Heath Robinson etc. as we go along.
Note: The images I’m going to post over the next week or so are taken from Google Books. I’ve removed their logo to zoom in on the drawings. They’re fairly low quality jpegs so I’ve tried to enhance them a bit in Photoshop, but a great deal of the subtlety of the drawings has been lost.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Manimal crackers

Here’s something a bit different. This satyr or faun is from a set of drawings of mythical half-human, half-animal thingies I did some years ago as a project in a drawing class. There were five of them altogether, including a minotaur, a centaur and so on, but this was the only one that didn’t look as if it was done by a half-man, half-lunatic. Having said that, when I gave a print of it to a friend she nearly had me sectioned - "You don't draw things like that," she said. But I did. It was based (roughly) on a life drawing.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Not on the shelf: Mabel Lucie Attwell

One of the first sets of children’s book illustrations that really caught my attention when I was a child was Mabel Lucie Attwell’s drawings for ‘Peter Pan and Wendy’ by J.M. Barrie from 1921. The combination of Barrie’s ideas and Attwell’s visualisation of them led me into my imagination like nothing else had before. I still remember lying awake at night thinking about shadows after seeing this drawing, which shows Wendy sewing Peter’s shadow back on to his feet after he lost it.
When I was at college I found out just how uncool it was to like Mabel Lucie Attwell’s work; in fact it was a taste-crime punishable by derision. It was held up as second-rate sentimental garbage, the word ‘twee’ having been invented specifically to describe it. But her best work, before she turned into an industry, has warmth and sympathy rather than sentimentality. Her Peter Pan illustrations are said to be the basis for Disney’s animated version and all her work, especially the twee stuff, was very popular.
I don’t own a copy of this book - the one I was enthralled by probably came from the local library – so I’ve nicked this drawing from the ASIFA Hollywood Animation Archive blog where you can see more images from it, including the cover and a bizarre image of Wendy polishing a toadstool entitled ‘When Wendy Grew Up’. The full text of the book, if you don’t know it off by heart, is on Gutenberg here.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Honorary cartoonist: Muhammad Siyah Qalam

In 2005 the Royal Academy in London held an exhibition called ‘Turks – a journey of a thousand years 600-1600.’ Among the many wondrous artifacts was a collection of paintings by (or attributed to) Muhammad Siyah Qalam from the Topkapi palace museum in Istanbul.
The name means ‘Muhammad of the Black Pen’ and no-one is really sure who he was or even if he was one man or just a style of painting. The pictures are of nomads, dervishes and demons, and they’re said to be unlike anything else that was being done at the time (circa 14th Century) in the Muslim world.
The catalogue says all sorts of scholarly things about the speculation surrounding these paintings, including the likelihood that they were carried around by storytellers in Central Asia to illustrate their tales, but fails to mention that they’re actually quite funny. This one is my favourite as you can almost hear the story being told.
Here’s the description given in the catalogue:
‘The picture is a realistic scene from family life, showing a father feeding his donkey, which is evidently a valued possession, watched by his three children and their mother. The donkey is simultaneously defecating and attacking the feed in its nosebag. One of the children has his hands on his knees as he watches the donkey with curiosity. The other two children are stretching out their arms to their mother and pulling at her clothes as they demand something from her, probably food. The woman, in a red robe and headscarf, watches with a frozen expression of astonishment, as if food needed for her children were being fed to the donkey – their means of livelihood. All the figures are dressed in voluminous ground-length clothes. The father wears a headdress reminiscent of dervish caps. Although the mother and father are wearing shoes, the children are barefoot. This is the only portrayal of children in the Mohammad Siyah Qalam paintings. In the top left corner is written ‘Work of Master Mohammad’.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009


This is a photo of the very grandmother whose album I’ve been posting pages from, found between those very pages. She looks a bit fuzzy (it’s genetic) but the leaves behind are in focus. It was probably taken by my grandfather, who was an aerial photographer in the Royal Flying Corps during the 1st World War and spent a lot of time hanging over the side of biplanes – I hope his reconnaissance photos were in focus. Written on the back of the photo is the date 1921, nine years after the last entry in the book, and three years before my dad was born. She appears to have a flower pinned to her blouse. Whether she was trying to blend into her garden surroundings or needed somewhere to hide her iPod I don’t know, but it must have got in the way when she was doing the washing up. The hairstyle remained the same for the rest of her life.

To finish off here’s an entry from the very end of the album:

So here hath been dawning
Another blue day;
Think wilt thou let it
Slip useless away?

Out of Eternity
This new day is born;
Into Eternity
At night will return.

Behold it aforetime
No eye ever did;
So soon it forever
From all eyes is hid.

[Thomas Carlysle]

Yours sincerely, A.G. Garrett.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Grandma's album 11

‘The only way to catch a motor bus.’
This surreal effort is my favourite drawing from grandma’s album. I can’t tell you anything about it. Even the signature is a mystery – it could be Phindras or Rhindras – but it is very clearly dated August 1911.