WHAT l KNOW AND MY NEW NOVEL…

“I loved it! This is a great story with a wonderful concept and excellent background.” Readers’ Favorite 

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As they continued slowly down the centre of the aisle Omri resumed his photography taking pictures of each of the six apses, of the ceiling, of the floor and the seating and then the stairs leading up to the transept and the choir.They passed behind the raised altar and stared up at the cupola before arriving at the two marble slabs denoting the tombs of Franco and de Rivera, about ten yards apart.‘So where exactly is our object?’ asked Omri in a lowered voice.‘You’re standing on it now’ Alex said looking at the slab beneath Omri’s feet. ‘You’re right on top of it.’

 

The Ark Mosaic Continue reading “WHAT l KNOW AND MY NEW NOVEL…”

A birthday surprise for Dido

a PICTORIAL celebration of my WIFE DIDO’S sixtieth birthday*

2020 is a particularly auspicious year for my wife Dido and I, for, not only do we both turn 60 this year, on New Year’s Eve we will have been married for 30 years. As a rule, we don’t pay too much attention to birthdays or anniversaries, but for this rare accretion of events we had for once made some serious celebratory plans. However, Covid-19 has meant that both main birthday plans have been (in my case), and will be (in Dido’s case) put on hold for the duration, to possibly both be enjoyed together with our anniversary – a kind of 150 year grand party.

In the mean time I didn’t feel I could let Dido’s big day pass without some kind of surprise acknowledgement of the 32 of those 60 years I have been privileged to share with her. So, with apologies to any strangers happening upon this site, I am dedicating this post to a series of highly distinctive picture impressions of my remarkable life companion and love…

When I met Dido I got two beautiful female companions for the price of one, as she came together with her fabulous Maremma Sheepdog, Aura
Waiting for laundry to dry on our first trip away together – a modest skiing excursion to Les Deux Alpes
December 31st 1989; our first evening of wedded bliss – understandably, the happiest of my life, albeit from the little I can remember of it…

Working with the orphaned and abandoned boys at a “hogar” in Santiago, from our first trip as a married couple to Chile in 1991…
Dido relaxing by the pool of our hotel in L’Hospitalet de l’Infant on a 1992 trip which was to prove to be the beginning of half-a-lifetime’s involvement with Spain…
My sleeping beauty just after we’d moved into our new home in southern Spain in 1993. We slept on the floor of the half-ruined cottage for the several months it took us to find a builder prepared, and sufficiently competent to build our house
After being forced to abandon our original plan of permanently settling in Spain, we spent several years driving to-and-from Boulogne-sur-mere, and then later to England. This picture dates from about 1994/5, during a one-night stay at the-then faded-but-pleasant Chateau Rosay in Normandy, and captures our mood at the time, perfectly…
During that transitory period, whenever we had the money, and needed an emotional pick-me-up, we would stop in Montreuil for a comfortable night and a good meal. This photo, from about 1994, would have been on a pre-supper stroll through the pretty old citadel section of the town, with Dido looking suitably enchanting…
Despite not being able to live full time in our Spanish home, we have always managed to find the time for several visits a year, including a long one at the end of the summer for the grape harvest. This dates from about 1998/99 during just such a visit, and illustrates perfectly why Dido finds our finca to be the perfect place to recharge her mental and emotional batteries…

We always tread our grapes in the old way, as here in about 2000. I think that’s a tequila and lime helping Dido’s treading rhythm
After we settled back in London and Dido’s career took off, we got to travel all over the world for her work. Between the conferences and meetings there was always plenty of time to explore and have fun, such as here in Melbourne, in 2008, at the top of the Eureka Tower…
Apart from London and in Oxford, Dido has held academic posts in Israel and Sweden. This dates from 2011, when her time at Tel Aviv University gave her plenty of opportunity to indulge her passion for wild-water swimming. Here she’s enjoying a post-swim beer at the beech-side bar near our apartment in Netanya…

This is photo is particular favourite of mine, although I don’t believe Dido has ever seen it. I think she looks suitably stylish for our brief 2016 stop in Venice…
Finally, Dido doing what she enjoys most – some of the time…working.

* Header photo shows Dido approaching the Great Crater during a drive through the Negev Dessert in 2011

YEARNING FOR “STRONG BEER”…

…and the bitterness of life without hand-drawn bitter

The “lock-down” started to really get to me about a week ago. It actually hit quite suddenly, as we stepped out on a balmy April evening for our “permitted” once-daily ration of exercise, and I had an overwhelming desire to walk down into the centre of Oxford, to The Bear Inn for a pint of beer. It was the impossibility of enjoying that simplest, most basic of pleasures which hurt in a way more serious deprivations had failed to register.

Sure, I miss things like travelling, and meeting up with friends, and I miss terribly our Spanish finca. Yet, none of these “misses”, and many more “misses” besides brought home the severity of the restrictive regulations than not being able to go for pint on a whim.

One of the persistent observations made of current British public opinion, justly or not, is that it reveals a country that has become timid and which is governed by fear. Some observers have remarked how the recent Victory in Europe Day commemorations, rather than jolt our collective backbone, merely resulted in a mass national wallowing in sentimental nostalgia. And in the midst of all of this, as I struggle to make up my own mind about the accuracy of these opinions, my craving for a hand-drawn pint of bitter reminded me of a little poem I learned at school. The poem, “Strong Beer”, by Robert Graves is particularly apposite to my current condition, for not only does it imply a link between courage, and lovers of good ale, but also the fact that it was written when he was a student at Oxford, and was perhaps inspired by a session at the same “beerhouse” I so longed to visit the other evening. The poem could have been written for this very crisis.

In all seriousness, I do believe, that the prompt reopening of our pubs and taverns is essential for the intellectual and physical health of the nation. One only has to consider the many great advances in the arts and in the sciences which were achieved with the help of a refreshing pint or two in the pubs of places like Oxford (e.g. King James Bible – at The Bear), Cambridge (e.g. DNA at The Eagle) and London (e.g. Penicillin at the Fountains Abbey), to appreciate the urgency of restoring hand-drawn ale to the national palette ASAP. Judging by his poem, if Robert Graves were still alive, he would agree most strongly…

A pint of HSB (Horndean Special Bitter – by George Gale and Company) – possibly the very “brown beer” of the poem? A masterpiece of a beer in any event, on a table at The Bear Inn.

STRONG BEER

A poem by Robert Graves

“What do you think
The bravest drink
Under the sky?”
“Strong beer,” said I.

“There’s a place for everything,
Everything, anything,
There’s a place for everything
Where it ought to be:
For a chicken, the hen’s wing;
For poison, the bee’s sting;
For almond-blossom, Spring;
A beerhouse for me.”

“There’s a prize for every one
Every one, any one,
There’s a prize for every one,
Whoever he may be:
Crags for the mountaineer,
Flags for the Fusilier,
For English poets, beer!
Strong beer for me!”

“Tell us, now, how and when
We may find the bravest men?”
“A sure test, an easy test:
Those that drink beer are the best,
Brown beer strongly brewed,
English drink and English food.”

Oh, never choose as Gideon chose
By the cold well, but rather those
Who look on beer when it is brown,
Smack their lips and gulp it down.
Leave the lads who tamely drink
With Gideon by the water brink,
But search the benches of the Plough,
The Tun, the Sun, the Spotted Cow,
For jolly rascal lads who pray,
Pewter in hand, at close of day,
“Teach me to live that I may fear
The grave as little as my beer.”
Beer pumps at The Bear Inn – Oxford’s oldest pub, dating back to 1242. It’s a tiny warren of a place with a subsequently small, but high quality selection of beers, including the superlative HSB. Long since the days when Graves would have drunk here, The Bear was taken over by the London brewers, Fuller’s, and hence, this selection on offer. No bad thing though, as all of Fuller’s beers are extremely good, with their very strong ESB almost as delicious as its Gales neighbour.

Three different “daddies” for the daddy-less child…

My “first career”, MODELLING rubber products and other things…

In an earlier post I wrote about my wife Dido’s work as a model during her time in the ballet. What may be much more surprising for many of my readers and followers, is that I too had a brief career in front of the Hasselblads and Rolleiflex. For the first four or five years of my life, I was an occasional child model. In my case however, unlike my gorgeous wife, it was less to do with my photogenic qualities and more to do with the fact that the photographer in question was my mum’s brother, Sidney Pizan.

While the fact I was a cute baby and toddler (well, it’s true) was undoubtedly helpful, the main advantage for an aspiring commercial photographer based in the highly competitive world of 1960’s London advertising, was the fact my services came for free! The pictures here offer a record of what was in effect, my first career, and looking back at some of them now raises a whole gamut of emotions for reasons explained in the captions…

The man in this photo is my actual biological father, seen here together with your’s truly, my older brother and my mother. This was a government sponsored ad for the London Rubber Company (now known as Durex), as part of their 1960 “family planning” drive. Thus, the four of us represented the ideal British family, which was exquisitely ironic, given that my father’s take on family planning was of a very different order to that of Her Majesty’s Government. Within days of this shot being taken he had upped and left, and I was never to set eyes on him again. Even more paradoxical is that this is the only photo I have of him with me. The fact he’s actually holding my hand makes this an object of peculiar fascination. It’s also interesting to note in this context that my father was an advertising man, and years later, when we watched Mad Men, my mother would point out the uncanny similarities between her ex-husband and the Ted Draper character…
These are from an ad for Johnson’s Baby Powder. They date from shortly after the Family Planning shot. The hands and head are those of my much-missed, late mother, and for me there is a powerful poignancy in these images, well beyond any commercial “message”…
An ad for a very different kind of rubber object from the first. This was for Pirelli tyres and the guy driving is “my Pirelli father” – a fact I was blissfully unaware of during the shoot…
These photos with the late model and actor Norman Lambert, were my final turn as a child model. The ad was for Van Huesen shirts and if you look carefully at the image on the left, you can see that my eyes are swollen. Unfortunately, the director, innocent of my family history, early in the shoot, instructed me to “smile at daddy…”, causing me to burst into tears! Not only did it take about half-an-hour for me to regain my composure, it meant hours of work for Sidney’s touch-up photo-artist to “fix” my eyes. I should say though, that my Van Heusen “daddy”, Norman, was exceptionally patient and kind, and moreover, I was allowed to keep the set of wooden blocks. But after that, Sidney mostly resorted to professional child models, presuming they were made of sterner stuff!

 

DREAM-IN’SPIRE-ATION

OXFORD VIEWED from my IPHONE

One of the silver linings to our current regime of semi-internment is our daily walk around our local park, and our subsequent reacquaintance with one of world’s genuinely iconic (a much overused and abused term) urban views. Fortunately for us, our local green space is South Park (no relation to its animated Colorado namesake) and the view it offers is over the venerable and elegant city of Oxford and its famous “dreaming spires”*.

*…And that sweet city with her dreaming spires,
She needs not June for beauty’s heightening…

From the poem Thyrsis, by Mathew Arnold, 1865

From the highest point in the park, just before sunset; the steeply sloping greensward foreground, leading gently yet intently to the gleaming city and shimmering spires and towers of the middle-distance; with the hazy cobalt-tinted Cotswold hills rising in the west; the visual effect has a kind of confidant and – in these anxious times – reassuring drama about it.

It is almost as if, this most famous of university cities, with all its generations of accumulated human wisdom, represents a salutary counterpoint to the current narrative of our apparent ephemeral humanity.

Whether or not these rather flat iPhone generated images can give even the slightest impression of this heartening scene is another matter altogether, but I do hope so.

SMOKING OVER THE SMOKED SALMON, DURING THE BLITZ…

…and getting things in proportion

Since the coronavirus crisis has taken hold, like the editors of The Archers*, I’ve been agonising over whether or not I should keep this a virus-free zone? Then, as often happens to me when planning these pieces, I was distracted / motivated by something unexpected.

In this case I was mulling over whether to do another art-related post, versus a new recipe, when my attention was caught by a tiny, long-forgotten, ancient photo of my maternal grandparents working in their grocery shop. The photo was on top of a pile of similarly old and decaying pictures I’ve been in the process of digitising for posterity. All the photos are personally fascinating to me in their own different ways as they offer a tantalising, often deeply atmospheric glimpses of my family’s history since their arrival on these British shores.

However, the thing which was different, and instantly relevant about this particular, overtly unremarkable image, was its remarkable context. For, what on the surface is simply a scene of ladies shopping at the local grocer’s is actually, ladies shopping at a grocer’s in the Mile End Road of London’s East End in the January of 1941. Anyone reading this with any semblance of knowledge – British or otherwise – will realise that this was at the height of the London Blitz, when thousands of bombs were being dropped on Britain’s capital on a nightly basis.

My maternal grandparents, Harry and Becky Pizan (booba and zaida to me) behind the counter of their grocery shop during January of of 1941. My zaida took up smoking at the beginning of the war and gave it up before the end. “Health and safety” meant something altogether different during the war years…

My point is not to minimise the current crisis, or to suggest we carry on “cautiously regardless”, as my grandfather and his customers did during the Blitz (for one thing, then they were being driven together, while today we are being urged physically apart). Rather, I am simply pointing out that many of our parents and grandparents went through far worse and more dangerous times than we are today (over 40,000 British civilians were slaughtered by the “Nazi virus” during the four months of the German raids on Britain’s industrial cities in 1940 and 41).

It’s the very ordinariness of this scene therefore, which makes it so eloquent, and to my contemporary eyes at least, all the more instructive, especially given the moment in history we are living through today. And although, as my grandfather often told me himself, the famous “Blitz Spirit” wasn’t quite all it was cracked up to be, there was sufficient determination, good humour, common sense and sheer guts among the majority of the people to ensure the nation survived the German onslaught relatively unscathed.

It shouldn’t be any different now…………………………..

*For most (but my no means all) of my non-British followers, The Archers is a soap opera, broadcast daily, on BBC Radio 4 continuously since 1951, making it the world’s longest broadcast soap.

PAINTING FROM PHOTOGRAPHS – mundane craft or true modern art?

Photography has played an ever-growing role in my picture-making since the first day of the second term, of my second year at Saint Martin’s School of Art. It was a bleak winter’s day in 1980 and I remember feeling particularity depressed about the direction – or lack of direction to be precise that my painting was taking. For the past four terms at the school I’d walked a wobbly tightrope between the pressure to emulate my tutors’ abstract expressionism, and my own innate passion for making representational images. The resulting stream of paintings echoed this dichotomy, rarely convincing as abstract or figurative; more often than not, a clumsy, unresolved mishmash of the two forms. If, as occasionally happened, I turned out a pleasing picture, it was always more by luck than by design, with me clueless as to how or why I had achieved this. 

THE COACH PARTY (detail) – 1980 – oil on canvas
This was the first painting I made after my talk with David. It was huge (the foreground figures were to-life scale) and liberating in equal measure. I was rarely happier or more stimulated when working on a painting.

Then, on that winter’s day in 1980, while I was pacing back and forth, dreading the coming weeks and months, a new tutor called David Hepher walked into my studio space, and my art career was changed forever. David, unlike all the other tutors at Saint Martin’s was a figurative artist and to this day I have no idea how he came to be teaching there, but for me, his sudden appearance was as timely as that of an Old Testament angel. I distinctly recall his expression as he first set eyes on my paintings – large canvases full of expressively, heavily painted figures of young people hurtling boldly through a romanticised Israeli landscape.

RESTING AT MONTFORT (detail) – 1980 – oil on canvas
This was the third painting in what I still think of as my “Hepher Series”, and I was already discovering, as he surely knew I would, that “copying” would provide its own form of interpretation…

A warm quizzical smile came across his face like that of someone unexpectedly bumping into an old friend. Then I remember that he sat down on my rickety paint-spattered moulded plastic chair. During the previous four terms at the school not one tutor had ever smiled this kind of smile when looking at my pictures, let alone sat down in my space. By the end of the ensuing conversation it became apparent that he was almost as relieved to see my work in that school, as I was thankful that he was now teaching there.

The Banyas Waterfall – 1981 – oil on canvas
One of my favourite spots on Earth; the source of the River Jordan, and almost believably, as the Macedonian soldiers believed two centuries before Christ, the birthplace of the god Pan. Notice the way I played with tonality and shadowing to create more drama…

The first thing he asked me was who my favourite artists were, and when I said Vermeer and Hopper he looked curiously at my wild and frenzied pictures. He then reminded me of Vermeer’s reliance on the camera obscura for achieving these perfectly painted captured moments and asked me why I didn’t use my own photos in a similar fashion?

CHURCH OF SAINT MARY MAGDALENE & GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE – 1982 – oil on canvas
This painting was commissioned, paid for and then returned back to me as a gift, when my patron’s new girlfriend took against it. It could even yet prove to be the first and only painting I sell twice!

While I’d already been using photographs for the past year or so as a form of rough reference, in the same way I worked from my sketchbook, David convinced me  to try something “bolder”, in his words, but hugely controversial; especially within such a temple of conceptualism and abstract expressionism as Saint Martin’s. He suggested that I take my favourite photographs and copy them as faithfully as possible in oils, like huge painted photographic enlargements. He felt certain that in this way I would find the inner artistic peace I was craving.

MOUNT MERON FROM SEFAD – 1983 – oil on canvas
In a similar way to the Casino painting below, I seem to have slightly shifted the angle of the tombstones, and altered the line of telegraph poles – I’m guessing to increase the sensation of being drawn down into the valley, before being swept up again toward the distant mountain.

And cutting a long story short, David’s empathetic advice proved successful, even though the pictures I went on to produce with this new method ensured that I would prove even more of a problematic enigma for most of his colleagues. Presented here are several of the large canvases I painted as a direct result of David’s tutelage. Some them have appeared on this site before, but never side-by-side with the “offending” snaps! 

THE OLD BRITISH CASINO – HAIFA – 1985 – oil on canvas
In some ways this is the most faithful photographic copy I made in the entire series of pictures (the removed fisherman notwithstanding), yet the subtle shift in angle and perspective is stark – and effective – I think?

NINE SAINTS OF SANTIAGO

MY PICTORIAL tribute to nine great kids

Regular readers of these posts will be aware of how prominently our 1991 trip to Chile has featured, and of its main purpose; for Dido to study the role of folk dance as a therapeutic tool to support social integration and participation for children with learning problems. Thus far however, I’ve only ever touched upon that key element of the trip, focusing more on our impressions as first-time travellers to an incredible country (and-then reborn democracy).  

While it would be lying to say that whenever I hear a mention of Chile, my instant mental vision is not of mind-blowing epic scenery, it is also true, that this is always quickly followed by a starkly contrasting melancholy caused by memories of the faces shown here.

The plain truth is, and one of the main reasons I’ve avoided the subject as far as possible, despite the fact this happened nearly 30 years ago, there are issues of confidentiality which severely compromise my scope for description.

Suffice to say here, that with the cache of her Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship behind her, Dido was able to convince the relevant government authorities in Santiago to grant us access to a group of nine children (all boys in this case) with whom she could work. Nothing however could have prepared us for the circumstances in which the work would take place, for instead of a regular school, or, as we had naively expected, a special needs school, we found ourselves that first morning being driven through the security gates of a home for young male offenders – a borstal.

More shocking still, was that none of the nine boys – all of whom had either been orphaned or abandoned as babies and who all suffered from various forms of mental and/or physical disability – were themselves offenders or delinquents of any sort. Their only crime was to be born into a Chilean society, then-ill-equipped to properly care for them. Hopefully, during the years since, as Chile has developed into a more stable (the current, popular ructions notwithstanding) and socially sophisticated democracy, children born into similar circumstances enjoy a less bleak prospect.

Nevertheless, from the start of the week we spent with them, we were struck by most of the boy’s cheerfulness and sense of optimism, and their enthusiasm and excitement for Dido’s program of dance-based therapy. Despite some shyness and reluctance from a couple of the lads to begin with, by the end of the week all nine boys had become thoroughly engaged and were already showing significant progress with regards to their levels of creative social engagement.  

The idea had been for one or two carers and/or teachers working in the home to at least observe, and hopefully participate in the activities, and thereby learn to continue the therapy once we had left. Sadly though, despite their repeated assurances to the contrary, neither the government department who facilitated the project, nor anyone employed at the home showed the slightest curiosity or interest in what Dido was doing until the very last day, by which time, it was too late.

Thus, we left the boys for the last time with as much frustration as satisfaction, and saddened in the realisation that this week had probably been the highlight of their young lives rather than merely the beginning of a brighter future.

Following our return to England, and during the months which followed Dido often wrote to her Chilean contacts in an attempt to secure some kind of followup to her work – at least for the nine boys. Unfortunately, all her appeals went unanswered. The painting here was meant as both an expression of our frustration and also intended to insure that at least we would never forget those nine remarkable young individuals.

THE NINE SAINTS OF SANTIAGO – oil on canvas – 1992 – 100 x 78″ (254 x 198 cm)

This is arguably the most monumental of all my large paintings, and it is certainly the most deeply felt. The “missing” ninth lad, who suffered from schizophrenia, did not want to be sketched and is represented by the padlock in the centre of the painting. The padlock is obviously a metaphor for him and much more besides. The blues and lilacs represent the uniform they all wore.

The sketches above are all gouache on paper.

THE LAKE(S) REVISITED

watercolours of ullswater and its environs

The scenery of the English Lake District isn’t the most spectacular in the world, it isn’t even the most spectacular in Great Britain, yet for many, it remains uniquely, intensely beautiful.

North Ullswater from the Martindale peak

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago, when trawling through hundreds of old slides for scanning, I rediscovered a series of images dating back to a trip I made with my family, in 1973.

A road north of Ullswater with Helvellyn in distance

As I described in an earlier post, we were based on the shore of Lake Ullswater, and spent all of the days trekking in the surrounding fells.

Fell near Sandwick

The pictures here provide me with a vivid reminder of how and why the gorgeous lake-land scenery sparked a life-long yearning in my heart.

Twin dales of Boredale and Martindale

“WORKERS IN THE FIELD”

AND THE “LITTLE RED” ICE LOLLY

I think I’ve mentioned before on these pages how, very occasionally, I had my uses to the powers-that-be at Saint Martin’s School of Art. While generally I was shunned by most of the tutors for my work being “hopelessly representative”, every-so-often, when they required the services of someone with common-or-garden drawing and painting skills they came to your’s truly.

The story of my mural in Covent Garden was the most high-profile example of this expediency, but there was another occasion when my usefulness to the school was probably far more significant.

Apple Pickers at Rest – oil on canvas – 48″ x 72″ (122 x 183 cm) 1980 – the painting that caught the attention of the Chinese delegation…

It was shortly after the Easter break in 1981 when St. Martins received a visit from a delegation of Communist Chinese dignitaries from their ministry of culture, led by the minister himself. Although I was blissfully unaware at the time, the visit was part of a drive by China to open up access for their top students to elite academic institutions in the UK and North America. I subsequently discovered that their “shopping list” of British institutions comprised, Oxford and Cambridge, University College London, Imperial College, the LSE, the Royal Ballet School, and (incredibly to me at least) Saint Martin’s School of Art. I was equally ignorant of the fact that the visit mattered at least as much to my school as it did to the visitors, as even back then, foreign students were a lucrative source of revenue.

…A detail from the painting, with the ice lolly “mistaken” for a Little Red Book at the top of the image…

Thus, in effect, I was an unwitting cultural/commercial ambassador for St. Martin’s. The fact that my work was the polar opposite of everything that St. Martin’s stood for mattered not. That it was “safe”, accessible, “good of its kind” and most important of all, unlikely to be considered “decadent” by our communist guests mattered a great deal. When I later asked my head tutor John Edwards, why they didn’t simply visit the Slade School or the Royal Academy Schools, where nearly all the art was like mine, he pointed out that St. Martin’s was “so much more than a mere school of painting”. And that its fashion and film departments, in addition to its art and sculpture “made it uniquely attractive” to the Chinese. “In truth”, he added, “the art department was the least significant element” of the school and the main thing was “not to rock the boat”. As things turned out, not only did my work prove the steady ship my superiors had hoped, one of my pictures actually ended up pleasing our visitors more than anyone could have predicted.

“Workers in the field…” – actually local Druze hired labour – with ice lollies.

On the afternoon of the visit, the art department was cleared of students except for me, and the delegation was brought up directly to my studio. There were about ten Chinese, all men and all wearing expensive English-cut suits, and they were led into the room by John Edwards and the principal of the school, Ian Simpson. After some words of introduction from John, the visitors began to notice my pictures, which wasn’t difficult, as at that time I was working on a series of monumental canvases. However – and it’s a moment I shall never forget – as their eyes (and I mean their eyes, for they turned their ten heads as if a single organism) landed on “Apple Pickers at Rest” they let out a collective “ahhhh…” and all broke into broad smiles. Then, the leader of the delegation (the minister himself as it later turned out) looked at me and asked, or perhaps stated, “workers in the field yes?”. I think I just nodded. He then walked up to the picture, and pointing at one of “workers” contemplatively holding a raspberry ice lolly, he turned to me, and grinning and nodding enthusiastically queried, “Little Red Book, yes?”. Before I could respond, he’d already uttered something to his compatriots, to which they all responded with an even bigger collective “ahhhh…”, followed by more smiles and nods of approval. Finally, after each shaking hands and bowing their heads to me in turn, the principal led them out of my studio to continue their tour. The last person to leave was John, who, as he walked out the door, turned around and gave me a big thumb’s-up.

I was left feeling peculiarly frustrated, having been completely unable to explain what the painting was in fact depicting – a scene of Druze labourers, hired by the kibbutz on which I was a volunteer, enjoying a rest from picking apples with a refreshing ice lolly (ice pop). In retrospect, my being tongue-tied was a blessing, as Ian later informed me that the minister had described their visit to my studio as the highlight of their tour of the school and even inquired about the possibility of purchasing the painting. I declined this however, when it was made clear all the proceeds would be pocketed by St. Martin’s. After all, I thought, I had already done more than my bit for insuring the future prosperity of the school!

THIS GREEN (AND GOLD), STILL PLEASANT LAND…

At the risk of breaking my rule of keeping this blog strictly apolitical, I feel the need to point out that these images date from December 10th – just two days before the recent UK general election.

It isn’t giving much away (especially to those who know me), to state that the weeks and days leading up to the election were among the most nerve-wracking and traumatic I have experienced in my life. Conversely, the moment the exit poll was announced, was one of such joyous and euphoric relief as I can recall.

Yet, at the time of the walk in my local Oxford park when I encountered these sublime scenes, I was so convinced by the narrowing of the opinion polls and the broadcast media mood-music that the election result would mean us having to pack up and leave England for good, it was as if the fates of nature were tormenting me with what I would be losing.

Looking at them now however, the images seem to offer the hope of new dawn for this remarkable little country that once again feels like my green and still pleasant home.