Like many people during the last three months I marked a birthday. It was one of those ‘milestone’ birthdays (no need to mention which one!) and the small treat organised by my daughter was cancelled due to you know what.
Being furloughed from work and locked down in London she was unable to travel to Ipswich to make a visit (unfortunately her name isn’t Dominique). However, she did find she had more time on her hands than expected and decided to make up for the cancelled event with a surprise gift instead.
Unbeknown to me and through a series of seemingly random and cryptic messages, she deduced that my current favourite colours are green, lilac, turquoise and gold.
I was also sent a sketch ‘for my opinion’ under the ruse of entering a competition being run by Dr Martens. It never crossed my mind she was painting a pair for me.
So, when the postie knocked loudly on my door and was already back in his van waving at me as I opened the front door, I was genuinely surprised to see a random, unexpected parcel on my doorstep. And, even more surprised when I opened it to find these gorgeous, colourful shoes inside – painted especially for me.
Although it looks as if more and more shops and services will be reopening through June, hairdressers will not be amongst them. Personally, I am not that bothered about my hair as it’s usually an unruly mess or partially tamed into a French pleat. Here is a confession, as it happens I have been known in the past to give my hair a light trim much to the consternation of my hairdresser.
For me and my hair there always comes that moment when I suddenly notice it’s too long, it’s a nuisance and it’s time to phone the hairdressers for an appointment.
However, as we all know at the moment if you don’t have a household member who is artistic and creative, or simply competent with scissors, it’s a selfie-haircut for you. Naturally, I have had a go at mine. It’s okay, but I can already hear my hairdresser saying, “You’ve been cutting your own hair again, haven’t you? . . . ”
But this time I am sure she will be adding, “. . . I am not really surprised as EVERYBODY has been ‘cutting’ their hair!”
Now, here is one final thought, when I do get an appointment and visit the hairdressers, will she be talking to me through a face mask as I reply through mine. Will this be the new normal? If so, I think our eyes and eyebrows will be doing a lot more work!
We are most definitely living through strange times. Or, perhaps, not if you look back across the centuries. Maybe it’s just our 21st-century, developed-world mode of living that has encouraged us to become more and more over-confident in the abilities of medical science and technology to overcome any ‘surprise’ new disease. Worryingly, according to the well-informed Bill Gates, it is unlikely that an effective vaccination will be widely available for at least 18 months.
And, only today all over the news (here in the UK) there have been discussions that it may well become commonplace when out and about in public to wear face masks in the same way that it is the accepted norm in countries like Japan.
At present, for most of us, following the lockdown rules and helping those we can in our immediate ‘socially distancing’ circle is the best we can do. And, of course, we can also thank those professional NHS staff, care home workers and all those employed turning up to perform essential roles. I don’t know if you have seen, but various artists have also shown their thanks by offering designs for those stuck at home to colour-in or adapt.
There was this design on the Arts page of the BBC website from Sir Michael Craig-Martin.
Then I saw that Damien Hirst had also produced a design. This too is available to download from his website.
But naturally I was always going to be doing my own version.
I have painted my thanks and I’ve hung it my bay window. I may not be a famous artist and this contribution may not be as big as some of the banners I’ve seen round Ipswich, but it’s certainly bright and cheerful .
Of course at the moment there’s not much vehicular traffic, but my road has become part of a popular route for joggers, cyclists, dog-walkers and people strolling through for their one hour of exercise in the sunshine. Quite a few of our local residents have tried to lift the somewhat gloomy air by filling their windows with rainbows and teddy bears (the bears are there for those on the Bear Hunt!) and somebody has even painted a full-colour, gloss paint rainbow across the road. Strange times indeed.
The UK is now in lockdown, more or less. Everybody who can works from home and all non essential trips out of your house are prohibited, although, as yet, we don’t have the military on the streets enforcing these restrictions. With the ensuing quiet I have found myself more reflective than usual.
Now here’s a flitting stream of consciousness: . . . how did we get here . . . who is marshalling the NHS response . . . oh yes, that bloke who looks like a rabbit in the headlights, what’s his name . . . Hancock, yes, Matt Hancock . . . isn’t he the MP for West Suffolk, yes he is . . . other side of Bury St Edmunds . . . mmm, Bury . . . I wonder whether Blackthorpe Barn will run its Christmas Craft Fair later this year . . . that part of Suffolk is beautiful in winter . . . melancholy Suffolk . . . melancholy pines . . . ah the lonely Lady Drury and the Hawstead Panels.
Now there was a woman who knew about reflection and meditation and solitude. Her solo endeavours, her painted closet, installed in the now temporarily closed Christchurch Mansion, is a visual expression of living a contemplative life.
I have not been spending this disconcerting time on too much introspection, although I have been slowly working my way through my thousands of photographs, a process which turns out is intermittently thought-provoking. During this task I have come across pictures of earlier work I had completely forgotten as well as old rather poor quality photographs that I took when I first launched my online shop back in July 2013.
One or two of the old photos had captured a look, an expression that was worth saving. Six or seven years ago, and particularly before my week’s photography course, I hadn’t realised how much tidying up, enhancing and, well to put it bluntly, cheating could be achieved with Photoshop.
Nowadays, with a solid five years’ plus of amateur experience under my belt, I am so much better at getting the photograph I want (eventually), but sometimes the circumstances defeat my grand intentions. This was the case on a visit last month to the ‘Handel & Hendrix in London’ Museum. Not quite the tightly focussed, intriguing image I was hoping for, but I can always blame the delicate distortions of the fine, antique eighteenth-century mirror.
Last year, on the 9th November, this large version of a Noah’s Ark arrived in Ipswich, with the aid of a tug, and docked at the Orwell Quay down on the Waterfront.
It is big, it is very dark and it is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a beautiful boat. The idea for this project came from the Dutch TV producer, Sir Aad Peters, and his boat, originally from the Netherlands, has visited Denmark, Norway and Germany, with this visit to Ipswich marking its first time in the UK.
It is a 70 metre wooden version of Noah’s Ark and also houses a floating exhibition of Bible stories. According to the local press, the boat features a 12ft tall Tree of Life that ‘grows’ up through the four floors of the vessel.
I haven’t been to see the exhibition as it isn’t my kind of thing being neither art nor a collection of historical, cultural artefacts. Plus, it is £16.50 for adults and £9.50 for children (4-13 years old) whereas Norwich Cathedral is free to visit despite its running costs of about £4,000 a day. And, even Canterbury Cathedral (running costs of approximately £18,000 a day) with its wealth of medieval culture of national and international significance, is only £12.50 for adults.
The online promotional information claims the vessel is a half-sized replica of Noah’s original vessel as described in the Book of Genesis.
14. Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.
15. And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits.
16. A window shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof; with lower, second and third stories shalt thou make it.
17. And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth . . . .
Genesis, Chapter 6, Verses 14-17. The Bible, Authorised King James Version.
That’s clear then, its 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high. Although, I do wonder quite how this is a ‘replica’ when there is no description in the text of the boat’s shape neither of its overall appearance.
Interestingly, twenty years ago the scientist and marine explorer Dr Robert Ballard found evidence of a great flood that occurred in the Black Sea area around 5,000 BC. There is also evidence of human occupation of that area and of a world subsequently drowned by a great flood. However, so far, no ark or ark remains, or ark preserved impressions have been found.
Noah, Gilgamesh and other flood myths are most likely explanations of actual geological episodes that occurred in times before evidence-based, scientific accounts became available. If you have a look around the Web, it appears that finding a real, original Noah’s Ark is of considerable importance to some folks. However, in the meantime people can visit ark interpretations such as the one on the Waterfront or watch Darren Aronofsky’s film, ‘Noah’, with its Biblical accurately-sized Ark that has a very different appearance and doesn’t really look like a boat at all. I suppose if you think about it, the Ark only had to float as it wasn’t built for sailing.
Just to finish, here’s a photograph of a fine, stylish craft also anchored in the Ipswich harbour which was decorated very attractively for the recent Festive season.
The day after Christmas Day in the UK is known as Boxing Day. Why is it called Boxing Day? Well, the clue is in the name! However, it’s nothing to do with the sport of boxing, but everything to do with boxes.
And, no, that’s not packing boxes or even either associations with the ‘box’ room. (That’s the tiny, upstairs room often found in a traditional Victorian terraced house).
But, as with quite a few Christmas traditions in the UK, boxes for Boxing Day is a Victorian invention. During the reign of Queen Victoria household servants were given a day’s holiday on the day after Christmas and as well as receiving a boxed gift from their employers often went back home to their families bearing gifts in a box. And what might have been in such a box . . .
Well, it might have been tinned food. These old tins for Oxo and corned beef are on display at Ipswich Museum. Tinned products along with tinned fruit had become familiar food staples during the course of the nineteenth century. Such preserved food could well have been part of a such a Christmas box. How times have changed, a gift of food these days is more likely to be a very non-essential product such as luxury chocolates.
As we face the harsh truths of global warming I wonder how many of the other festive traditions – Christmas trees, Christmas cards, Christmas crackers, puddings, pies, fowls, etc, beloved of the comfortably off Victorian, will no longer be considered sustainable.
Anyway, finishing on a positive note, one type of Victoriana which has thankfully mostly melted away into history is this form of the sentimentalisation of childhood, and, along with it this type of kitsch.
It’s that time of year, if you are lucky and live near a bluebell wood, to go strolling through one of Mother Nature’s more enchanting realms. Delicate English bluebells form carpets of violet-blue beneath deciduous trees tinged with the palest of lime green.
I remember several childhood ‘bluebell’ walks. A couple were through the woods near Little Baddow, in Essex and another was an occasion when my family visited the woods near Butley Priory in Suffolk, decades before the remaining gatehouse was restored into a wedding venue.
But what if you live in the middle of a town?
Well, Holywells Park, Ipswich, does it again. The wooded area of the park may not be vast nor the ‘Bluebell Walk’ exactly long, but they are there, delicate, bluebells nodding gently in the breeze.
The Woodland Walk partly runs along one side of the park. On the other side of the high, brick boundary wall there’s Bishops Hill, also known as the A1156, busy with traffic. Yet as you walk on down into the peace and quiet of the park you could be forgiven for thinking you were in the middle of a large country estate complete with a wildlife pond.
We’ve had some high winds and fast moving weather systems recently in East Anglia. Clouds, some with and some without rain, have been whipping across the Suffolk countryside.
These photographs were taken in less than a minute as we drove through the pleasant village of Little Glemham. It was almost a Hitchcock moment with the sudden darkening of the sky, but without the multiple flocks of birds.
And, then back in Ipswich on Monday, walking through Christchurch Park, it was all jolly waving daffodils in the bright spring sunshine . . .
and I spotted . . . a flashy, noisy bird who turned out to be camera shy!