Peter Grimes – Sea Mist, Sea Breezes & a Suffolk Opera

Sometimes people have grand ideas that never come to fruition, but luckily those amazing people involved with the opera production of ‘Grimes on the Beach’ for the 2013 Aldeburgh Festival brought us a dramatic and memorable evening. Despite the myriad of difficulties associated with staging an opera outside on a beach, seeing ‘Peter Grimes’ on this specific beach where the fictional action takes place, was mesmerizing.

Grimes stage setting left
Grimes on the Beach – a dramatic yet poetic staging.

Our evening was enhanced by arriving in a thick sea mist that came and went during the performance when the weather changed as dusk turned to night.

Sea mist Aldeburgh
The sea mist engulfs the coastal path walking into Aldeburgh.

Britten’s music evoking the sea and the Suffolk coast, a particular coast of shifting shingle, has always been significant for me especially during my time living away from East Anglia. I am a girl of the grey sea and the huge skies, and hearing the waves breaking on the shingle in the quieter passages of this tragic opera was enchanting.

Grimes Stage Right
Grimes on the Beach with the North Sea as the backrop. Aldeburgh Festival 2013

It was a brave decision to mark the centenary of Britten’s birth with this ambitious production and I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing to thank and congratulate the soloists, chorus and orchestra members, and all the production team for this spirited and successful work. Bravo.

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Valentina – Rocket Girl

Sunday, 16th June 2013, marks the 50th anniversary of the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova. She was working in a textile factory with a passion for her hobby of parachuting when she was selected for the Soviet space programme.

Valentina Cosmonaut
Soviet Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova in 1963

I don’t remember this world event, but I do remember watching the moon landings.

Astronaut
NASA Astronaut in full spacesuit.

And, as a child of the space age I’ve been reminded of all that 1960s energy for the ultra, ultra modern, space-inspired fashions. There were strangely sculptured white outfits and various mini dresses of silver and white most notably by the French designers Courrèges and Ungaro, and the Spanish designer Paco Rabanne. I think zany was the word.

Oops there is a little person here looking up to space, but not too happy about being dressed up in head to toe silver twinkle. Fast forward a decade into the future and she will be a science fiction fan enjoying her A Level Physics Project – “From Black Holes to Wormholes”. Ah, the mysteries of life!

Wisteria – A Lesson in Delayed Gratification

Winter gardening even in East Anglia can be a chilly affair, but the wisteria’s annual winter prune is an essential task I usually tackle in February. But last Boxing Day it felt quite balmy in my back garden so before I knew it I was up the ladder and cutting away.

Wisteria in bud
Full of potential – fat buds of wisteria floribunda in late April.

Now – I have been a bit nervous through this recent long, cold spring that I had cut too soon, but as our Victorian forebears insisted patience is a virtue and this time it has been rewarded with this glorious display.

White wisteria floribunda
View from my kitchen window.

A photograph only gives an approximation of the experience of sitting under this Japanese wisteria as on a warm evening its rich, velvety, slightly spicy fragrance hangs all around complementing the visual delight. Since the end of April I have tracked the development of this early summer show-off.

But even as the racemes become fully developed they start to shed a snow of petal confetti.

A delicate beauty gently fading.
A delicate beauty gently fading. 9th June 2013

Inspiration from a Moche Mask

Much of everyday life can be the source of inspiration for a creative piece. But every now and then a splendid object can catch your attention and you simply have to keep looking at it until a new interpretation crystallizes in your mind’s eye. Just last week I saw this photo of a Moche mask and I was captivated by the colours.

Moche Death Mask
Stunning Moche Mask from Peru
(photo by Prof. Steve Bourget)

The Moche were a pre-Columbian peoples from Peru who were highly skilled in metalwork, ceramics and textiles. It is believed that their civilisation failed during the eighth century when particularly harsh environmental conditions prevailed as a result of a severe ‘El Niño’ period. Nowadays, it is a privilege to see their beautiful creations. And, some of us are lucky enough to live near the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts based at the University of East Anglia where an amazing Moche fox head, fashioned out of copper, is on display – you can also see it here.

Fascinatingly, in real life despite its smallish size (12.7 cm) the fox head has an unexpected potency.

Anyway, inspired by the mask I have mixed up some colours and have been painting these scarves.

Silk scarf painting
Work in progress.
Silk scarf painting
Close-up of Moche mask inspired design.
Moche Mask inspired textile.
A second piece inspired by the Moche Mask.

Think, Eat, Save

Wednesday, 5th June is World Environment Day and the theme this year is ‘Think, Eat, Save’ as we are encouraged to consider how to reduce food waste by the United Nations Environment Programme http://www.unep.org/wed/. On my micro plot in East Anglia my slender contribution is growing some fruit and veg, and recycling kitchen and garden waste by composting.

Composting Bin
Brown & Green Waste In
Bottom of compost bin
Six months later compost out (needs sieving now)

Through trial and error I’ve discovered the obvious that for me it is only really worth growing what you and your friends and family like to eat. I have found that growing fruit has been less demanding than vegetables, more successful and we all love eating it. Also fruit trees in particular have beautiful blossom I can photograph and use for designs.

Of course I still grow easy veg like beans, courgettes and tomatoes from seed as homegrown often tastes better especially when freshly picked and no food miles.

My vegetables from seed this year have been very tricky as the germination rate has been poor due to the coldest spring in the UK in over 50 years. Even though I start most of my seeds indoors on the kitchen window sill, it has been so cold I’ve had to resow both the french beans and lettuce. And, still no signs of any courgette seedlings. But, at least, the fan-trained pear blossomed really beautifully.

Fan Pear 'Doyenne du Comice'
In its full glory, trained as a fan, the pear ‘Doyenne du Comice’

Oversized Shirts and Wellington Boots

School holidays, of course I remember long, hot days on the dunes and the beach, inventing intense and convoluted adventure dramas with my sister.

Palms and sandy beach
Pirate Ready Beach

We were pirates with oversized shirts and wellington boots, but I remember being more interested in action rather than costumes. We were lucky, we were left to our own devices whilst our father fished and our mother read or sketched. Okay, we didn’t have a sun-drenched, desert island as our backdrop, but the Suffolk coast in the late 1960s was a quiet, relatively empty place open to our imaginations. More recently my daughter has enjoyed being a pirate, but not at the seaside.  It has been ‘Pirate Parties’, particularly following the success of ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean’ films.


So, now, here we are on the Suffolk coast again in the 21st century. It is the school holidays again.

What? Dressing up? Nah – just chill with the phone.

Bored children.
The Three Graces . . . bored on the beach.

Chelsea, Flowers and a late English Spring

This week in London it’s the Chelsea Flower Show. I’ve only been once in 1981 and that was before I had my first garden.  However, I’ve always appreciated flowers and floral displays.  What pleasure there is in the delightful diversity of colour and form often enhanced by a glorious scent.

Bellis perennis & myosotis
Daisies & Forget-me-nots

Interestingly, this year many of the show gardens at Chelsea seem to be all about green foliage, clipped box, yew hedges, and controlled spaces.  Perhaps these straitened economic times together with the long winter and unusually cold spring in the UK have combined to give us a flourish of densely green gardens, but gardens with few showy flowers.  For me, after viewing the photos on the RHS website, the most inspirational garden was the ‘Stop the Spread’ garden. http://www.rhs.org.uk/Shows-Events/RHS-Chelsea-Flower-Show/2013/Gardens/Garden-directory/The-Fera-Garden–Stop-the-Spread  This garden, sponsored by The Food and Environmental Research Agency and designed by Jo Thompson, combines both the capture of a naturalistic aesthetic restrained for an urban space with a message about the impact of the invasion of non-native species into our local environments. Superb.

Madame Isaac Pereire
Rose bud of rosa Madame Isaac Pereire

Green has come late to my garden this year in East Anglia and flowers that are normally in full bloom during Chelsea week are still only in bud.  Most notably I have the beautiful, strongly scented old rose, Rosa Madame Isaac Pereire, in a large pot under my bathroom window, normally the first rose to bloom in my garden, but a couple of weeks late this spring.

Dark pink rose bud
Rosa Madame Isaac Pereire about to bloom

Unfortunately and unusually for East Anglia at this time of year we are experiencing quite a bit of rain this week and all the full bursting buds of the old roses are very likely to ball. They will remain wet and tight and the buds will rot before they can open.  Still the frogs are enjoying the weather.

Pond in rain
Late spring garden in the rain, East Anglia

Elizabeth I Portrait – Inspiration For All Ages

Elizabeth I glove puppet
Proudly exhibiting Elizabeth I glove puppet with my sister holding flowers for her teacher.

I expect like me you have various memories of childhood, some of them more vivid than others. Floating around in the back of my mind there has always been a memory of a glove puppet I made at my primary school in East Anglia. The puppet was left at school and the memory took on a kind of mythic quality. I even wondered years later if I’d made it up and then last weekend whilst going through my late Mother’s photos I found this picture – a somewhat grotesque version of Queen Elizabeth I as a glove puppet. I vaguely recall messing around with papier mâché, but that’s it. I’d like to think that my teacher had shown us this postcard as I think it could have been my inspiration!

Queen Elizabeth I
Queen Elizabeth I, The Darnley Portrait unknown artist c. 1575 at the National Portrait Gallery.

I have always loved the rich and intricate portraits of Elizabeth I for their visual impact, but as an adult I truly admire the skill and intellect of the Queen, her artists and her courtiers who together fashioned such great, yet beautiful propaganda pieces.

More about Elizabeth’s life with her courtiers can be found at Elizabeth I

Fancy dress Elizabeth I
School Fancy Dress Competition
First Prize
Model – My Daughter
Costume – By me

Partying at West Egg 1922

Callot Soeurs
Callot Soeurs dress from the Cecil Beaton Collection now at the V&A.

“When I was here last I tore my gown on a chair, and he asked me my name and address — inside of a week I got a package from Croirier’s with a new evening gown in it.”

From Chapter Three of ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The fashion house Croirier’s was Fitzgerald’s fictional creation, but in Paris in 1922, the year Gatsby’s guests danced away summer evenings, the Callot Soeurs maison de couture were busy designing stunning evening gowns. That year they created this party dress which was worn by Winifred, The Duchess of Portland.

The dress has since been given to the V&A Museum in London by Lady Victoria Wemyss.

Further information can be found here.

Through the centuries and across cultures nature has inspired human beings, and many people have endeavoured to catch and recreate its beauty.  It is unachievable, but every now and then a few artists come close and I think this enchanting dress comes very close.

Ninety years in a blink of an eye seems another world away and yet this Callot Soeurs dress could easily be a contemporary piece.  Below is a present-day, personal reinterpretation of the style in floral pink and lilac silk chiffon.

No doubt one of many Jazz Age dresses that will party through this Great Gatsby year thanks to the new Baz Luhrmann film and the enduring, mysterious Gatsby.

Lilac Clematis Textile
Silk chiffon inspiration clematis and poppies by Agnes Ashe.

Guest Shuns Hedgehog House at 1 The Wild Corner

Wildlife shelter
One, The Wild Corner
5 Star luxury experience

About five years ago my daughter and I constructed a 5 star hedgehog residence in the wild corner of the back garden.  I  remember it vividly as I borrowed my father’s circular saw to cut up a wooden pallet left over from a delivery of paint.  Now, I’m not a great fan of power tools as for me they shout danger, danger, danger and they are usually so loud that the noise is disorientating, but the job got done.  One deluxe residence for hedgehogs, spiders, mayflies and any other creatures that took a fancy to moving in.

Now, five years later and I’ve just seen a hedgehog stir from its winter hibernation and it wasn’t from the deluxe residence, but from my pile of prunings, leaves and twigs discarded under the apple tree – oh well.

hedgehog
Hedgehog caught on camera
from wildaboutgardens.org.uk
'You can't see  me now'
‘You can’t see me now’

Memory and the World’s Oldest Brand

Earlier this week I heard a fascinating and lively debate on a programme on BBC Radio4.* One thread of the discussion dynamically pursued the idea that everyday objects can be thought precious when imbued with intense personal significance for an individual.  And, they didn’t just mean that crumpled ticket stub from the first date!

Lyle's Golden Syrup
Lyle’s Golden Syrup

It was fascinating to think about how a commonplace item can trigger an emotional response in a similar way that a certain aroma evokes a poignant memory.  I think it doesn’t even have to be a big, powerful memory attached to a commonplace object to momentarily flip you from the present to some other instance when you suddenly find yourself caught by the clarity of the object you have involuntarily brought into focus.

Empty Golden Syrup Tins
Useful as well as beautiful

Recently for me it was a tin of Lyle’s Golden Syrup. There’s always a tin on my kitchen shelf and several empty tins floating around my home filled with pens or paintbrushes or random office bits and bobs.  The green and gold of the tin, the Victorian design and the Biblical quote together forming this remarkable brand that has remained virtually unchanged since the 1880s.  And according to the Guinness Book of Records is the world’s oldest brand.

Nanna 1935
Nanna out for a Sunday walk with my father in 1935.

But for me it means homemade treacle tart, very short, crumbly pastry and my exceedingly precise Nanna who was the queen of pastry making in our family.

*The broadcast I’ve mentioned is available online for a year at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01s46g5

Treacle tart
Treacle tart made with Lyle’s Golden Syrup 2013.