V-Day – 2020

The first person I know to get the Covid vaccine has been my father. I took him to the GP’s surgery this afternoon and the whole process ran very smoothly. All the staff and nurses were pleasant and kind. The ‘Covid Vaccine Clinic’ was well organised especially considering the need to keep the elderly folk, many with walking sticks or wheelchairs, the appropriate two metres apart. And, of course, it was masks for everybody.

After the nurse ran through the usual health questions with my father I asked her how many people they’d vaccinated so far. She said they had been allocated a batch of 900 doses and had already vaccinated over 600 elderly Ipswich residents this week.

Reading the Covid Vaccination leaflet.

As you probably have already heard in the news everybody has to sit and wait for a further 15 minutes after the jab. This is a precaution in case of an adverse allergic reaction. It soon became obvious that waiting for 15 minutes was more bothersome for some people than the actually jab, but helpfully they were all given a Covid Vaccination information leaflet to help pass the time.

“Can I go yet?”

Quiet and Misty

If you’ve been following the news much during this first week of lockdown 2.0, you might have seen or heard that traffic levels in various parts of the country haven’t reduced as they did during the first lockdown. Obviously, the main difference this time is that the schools have stayed open and many children are driven to school. However, when I walked down to see my father on Sunday morning it was very much quieter than usual.

A busy Covid Sunday.

It was so quiet at this normally busy junction in Ipswich that I was able to capture this damp autumn street view. Not a single car in sight. Disappointingly though, by the time I arrived at my father’s flat, the early mist had almost lifted. This was a pity as my photograph would have been greatly improved if the bulk of the hulk had been shrouded instead of spotlit by the morning sun.

Ipswich Waterfront – marina, harbour, docks.

It was just a quick picture from his balcony as even though I wear a mask and the door is open for fresh air, I try not to stay too long in his flat, just in case.

Speedy visits are not the only changes to my walks down to the Waterfront. Back on 29th April this year, Suffolk County Council closed the Waterfront to vehicles, apparently for three weeks. This was to enable plenty of space for physical distancing for the 2,000 or so residents who live in the surrounding apartment blocks. Yes, the closure was for just three weeks! Knowing what we all know now it comes as no surprise that the road is still closed half a year later.

Covid restrictions – no vehicular access along the Waterfront.

Normal – A Moveable Feast?

Another week and another set of announcements for the ‘new normal’. Last Friday it was the beginning of compulsory face coverings in shops, then earlier this week it was the abrupt announcement of 14 days quarantine on returning to UK from Spain and then this morning I heard the seven-day self-isolation for suspected Covid is to be increased to 10 days.

Many people find change difficult, but if you take a moment and glance across the last century for example, you see it is normal for humans to live with a constantly changing world. It is the pace of change, when it is fast and furious, that unnerves us. And, global crises, such as world wars or infectious pandemics or even the invention of the Internet bring with them discernible change. Of course, most change is slower and continuous, we probably don’t notice it, but it is nevertheless happening.

Last week a couple of the old Thames barges turned up and tied up on the Ipswich Waterfront. They were from Maldon, just down the coast in Essex, and they have been the first and only old barge visitors to dock at Ipswich since the lockdown. They are a beautiful example of how we adapt and change and then accept a new normal.

A hundred years ago there were many of them sailing up and down the coast moving the grain grown in East Anglia, the country’s bread basket, down to London. They were an everyday sight for the folk of Ipswich. Nowadays, only a few are still seaworthy, some have been converted to fixed ‘dwellings’, but many have or are rotting away abandoned in the marsh creeks of Essex and Suffolk.

Pin Mill is a picturesque village on the River Orwell and it is also a boat graveyard. A variety of wooden-hulled vessels are slowly disintegrating on the riverbank including several old barges.

Adaptation is a key mechanism of evolution and survival, and so it has been for the Thames barges. They have adapted from transporting grain to hosting curious visitors and have gained a new lease of life as tourist attractions. Yes, the Coronavirus crisis has brought many changes, but taking people on trips down the river, outside on deck, is still possible although with fewer people on board – it’s the new normal.

Old Thames Barge ‘Will’ with, in the background, the Salthouse Harbour Hotel and Neptune Square apartments built on the site of the old dock warehouses.

What do you think Tobias?

Earlier this week, the Prime Minister announced further changes as part of the loosening of the lockdown in England. Amongst other cultural venues, museums and galleries will once again be able to open their doors and admit the general public from the 4th July .

Tobias Blosse (1565/6-1630/1) 17th century English School 1627-8. Oil on Canvas. Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich. Tobias Blosse was Portman and Bailiff of Ipswich and Captain of the Ipswich Train Band. In this portrait he was aged 62.

I can’t help but consider when looking at this portrait of Tobias Blosse (photo from a pre Covid visit) that his expression and pose suggests he might just be thinking ‘yes, yes I have seen this all before and humans will, as usual, forget surprisingly quickly all the horror of this plague’.

On a personal level, I am not sure how I feel about going to the cinema, which necessitates sitting inside with little ventilation for two or three hours. However, walking through the galleries of my local museum or visiting Christchurch Mansion to find inspiration for my work will be much welcomed. It will be interesting to see if wearing a mask is suggested – I think it might be necessary in some of the smaller venues. Following the advice given at the final daily Downing Street Briefing, Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty called for individuals to mitigate risk. They said wearing face coverings was one way to fulfil that requirement!

Earlier this morning I received an email from ‘The Wallace Collection’ announcing their reopening on 25th July and informing everybody of the ‘new normal’ procedures for visiting the Collection. Strikingly, the opening hours have been reduced to 11 am to 3 pm and you have to pre-book your visit. I am waiting to see if this version of the new normal at a busy London gallery will be replicated at local museums and galleries across the regions.

Here’s a summary of the instructions for visitors from the Wallace Collection website.

I expect with local museum’s often occupying much smaller premises there may have to be even more restrictions. The days of spontaneously popping in for a 15 minute break to look at a favourite painting, or wander randomly through a display of Roman finds to divert oneself from the present, would appear to now also belong to the past.

Inspirational pattern detail so delicately painted on the portrait.

During the lockdown I have found books and the Internet have been useful along with strolling through the park and cemetery, but I am most definitely in need of being up close and personal with treasured objects from our past, even portraits of grumpy looking gents like Bailiff Blosse. In Tobias’s defence, I would just say that when standing in front of the canvas he does not appear quite so grumpy (apologies for the lens distortion Tobias).

As the gradual loosening of the lockdown continues and we find a new normal we will be reminded that as with much of human life, that some things are simply better experienced directly in person even if it now means more planning and less spontaneity.

Brighten Up to Lighten Up

I paint silk. I have painted silk for over three decades. I have mostly painted silk scarves, but I have also painted silk for dresses, jackets, trousers, skirts, blouses and cushion covers, but this is the first time I have painted silk for face masks. Or, should I properly call them face coverings. This is my response to the so-called ‘new normal’.

Back on December 31st as midnight struck and folk celebrated the arrival of the New Year who knew it would be bringing us Covid 19. A highly contagious, nasty little virus that would suspend global normality as country after country entered lockdown.

After much procrastination and discussion our ‘leaders’ finally decided that perhaps face masks (sorry face coverings) could help reduce the spread of the virus. And, now, here in England, as the restrictions of lockdown are slowly eased, covering your face is to become part of the new normal. If you want to travel on public transport or visit your local hospital you will be required to wear a face covering and we are all encouraged to don them when entering small shops where social distancing is difficult.

I expect like me you have already seen the odd ‘used’ face mask littering the environment. I read that people can buy packs of disposable face masks quite cheaply. The consequence of being cheap and disposable means thousands of non-recyclable masks end up as waste in landfill. Surely, if you don’t need a single-use mask for medical reasons why buy any disposable ones when you can make your own reusable and washable ones. And, if you can’t or don’t want to make your own there are now thousands of cloth versions available online. There are plain, striped, spotted, floral, paisley or even animal versions of face coverings made from cotton, linen, polyester, non-woven fabrics and even silk. Like many people with access to a sewing machine I decided to make my own mask. Then I’ve made some for my family and friends. And now, I have also painted and made some silk face coverings for my shop.

It is most definitely a stranger world when you can only see people’s eyes. Talking and evening breathing with a mask on your face is not a pleasant experience, but we are requested to wear these masks/face coverings to help stop the community spread of Covid 19.

Yes, yes, we have been asked to wear a face covering, but nobody said it has to be dull or dark or serious. Why not take this new normal regimen as an opportunity for a brighter, lighter-hearted or even amusing response to this awful crisis.

Lockdown trim

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!”

I was amazed that it looks reasonably even and level-ish. (I used the ‘method’ where you divide your hair in half down the back of your head, pull half to left and chop, then the other half to right and chop. Job done.)

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!

Remember When

Remember when a saunter down the Strand meant dodging the crowds

and hurrying across to the station meant sidestepping day-trippers.

Remember when tourists clambered onto repurposed Routemasters

and taxis queued across Westminster Bridge.

Remember when cruise ships docked at Liverpool appearing to dwarf the Liver Building

and flying out of Heathrow was being one in 78 million (per year).

But, most of all, remember when spending sunny days with visiting family was just . . . . quietly pleasurable and unremarkable.

Contained and Restrained

Now I’ve always known that my creative work varies noticeably with how I am feeling. Obviously this personal acknowledgment is not from a serious, in-depth, psychological assessment, but just a vague, airy-fairy type of observation.

I expect you’ll find this mini challenge/quiz all too easy. These ‘sequence’ photos are a selection of the scarves I’ve painted so far this year. They are a before lockdown and during lockdown series. As an aside, how good it would have felt to have been able to type a sequence of ‘before, during and AFTER images’. Soon, we hope, soon. So which are the before and which are the during scarves?

A – Berenice Clover
B – Berenice Cobalt Blue
C – Florella
D – Sidona

I think it’s quite obvious, you’ve probably guessed but here are the answers to confirm your no doubt perceptive choices.

For me it goes thus – chirpy, energetic, outward-looking, and my work is bold, loose and conspicuously colourful. Conversely, hit a pessimistic period and it’s all introspection, lethargy and hints of moroseness, and my work becomes contained, restrained and muted. I have to say it’s never been quite so obvious as this!!!!

The Unbearable Emptiness of Lockdown

I was going to write about my experience of walking from the Waterfront to the Town Centre on a ‘busy’ Friday lunchtime in Ipswich, but I think on this occasion the pictures speak for themselves.

The Hold – on hold
Shoppers’ car park
Busy Buttermarket
Tree parking
A delivery

Thank You

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.

Drawing out text is certainly not one of my talents!

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.

Typography’s a bit wobbly, but I think you get the idea.

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 .

It’s sort of a rainbow . . . there’s lots of flowers . . . and if you look very closely there is one butterfly (honestly).

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.

‘Queen of the Carbs’ Makes a Comeback during an Extra-ordinary Easter

It is a long time since I’ve posted a ‘food/baking’ piece. It isn’t that I don’t do any cooking or baking these days, but more that food doesn’t have much to do with my creative work.

Obviously, blog posts about my professional work show the development and process of painting a silk scarf. Posts about art, sculpture, architectural details and East Anglia’s cultural heritage in general, indicate from where I find much of my inspiration. Then there are my flower and garden posts full of colourful floral arrangements as if you were in any doubt where quite a few of my colour combinations come from.

Then there is the odd time I write a review of a play or a film I’ve seen because I just can’t help myself despite reviews having nothing to do with painting silk. These reviews are the result of a momentary glitch when my grumpy alter ego manages to slip the leash.

But this has been a very strange and disconcerting Easter and like everybody else I have been indoors, a lot, and I found FLOUR in my store cupboard. That’s a selection of opened, half-used bags of plain, self-raising, strong, wholemeal, seeded, rye and spelt. So I’ve had a bake up.

Panini, scones and biscotti.
  • Plain flour – that will be some almond biscotti made with two-thirds white to one-third muscovado sugar.
  • Self-raising flour – some Mary Berry scones perhaps.
  • Strong flour – easy, naturally, hot cross buns!
Yes, fresh yeast. It was Hobson’s choice so not quite as fresh as it could have been.

Fortunately, along with the strong flour I also had yeast, eggs, butter and the dried fruit and spices needed for hot cross buns. Another stroke of luck was finding at the back of the cupboard the whole citrus peel leftover from my three attempts at making panettone. My first effort was made for last Christmas. Then I had another go in January and then another in February.

Anyway, let’s forget Christmas and get back to Easter! Compared to panettone hot cross buns are easy. Mix up the dough, give it a good knead and the only thing you have to remember is that as this is an enriched dough, it’s a good hour and a half for the first prove rather than the usual hour.

Dough mixed and kneaded, then after first prove shaped into buns for second prove complete with their ‘runny’ crosses – baking in the time of Covid.

This year the only issue I had was that the flour paste for the crosses was too runny and whereas I would normally keep ladling in the flour to make it thicker, with the current flour shortages, runny it stayed.

No family visiting from the depths of the West Country or even down from London this Easter holidays, but hot cross buns freeze well and will be a welcome carb treat with the morning coffee for the next . . . . . three weeks of lockdown.