Monday, 31 August 2015

Stanley Spencer at Cookham.

On Friday we told ourselves it really was summer and because of that we headed out somewhere....anywhere.

As we drove along it was obvious the sun wasn't going to shine on us.

Robyn started shouting out increasingly improbable places we could go to as this dreariest of Augusts slouched to its end.

Then she had a really good idea.

Back in June when the sun had been shining, we went to Cookham one evening and we walked along the river meadows which were cracking from drought.

I was still using my walking frame because I was tired and we walked past the Stanley Spencer was closed.

In March 2014, I took a rare afternoon off - my Mum was in hospital and about to come out. My drugs had just kicked in and I went to Maidenhead on the strength of it and walked all the way along the river to Cookham and back....but the gallery was just closing as I got there.

So that's where we decided to go.

It's only a tiny gallery in a former chapel and it doesn't have his most famous pictures but it is in Cookham all the same and that matters.

And here he is;

Stanley was born and brought up here in a quiet little village by the side of the River Thames; all timber-framed houses and meadows.

While next door Maidenhead became a fashionable resort at the end of the 19th Century - Cookham stayed an agricultural dead end much longer.

Stanley didn't go to regular school and the village became his whole life - except when he went away to art school or, horrifically, when he was sent to Macedonia in the First World War.

He was introverted and eccentric and his world always revolved around his religion, his village and his painting. 

He mainly painted pictures depicting scenes from the scriptures, full of the people he had grown up with.

It was a tiny little view of the world.

So, his last uncompleted picture (it's in the gallery) is entitled; "Christ preaching at The Cookham Regatta".

He was eccentric - here's the old pram he used to carry his easel around the village on;

The sign was professionally printed and says;

"As he is anxious to complete his painting of the churchyard, Mr Stanley Spencer would be grateful if visitors would kindly avoid distracting his attentions from his work".

The little gallery is good even if it over represents his portraits and lacks the most famous works.

Cookham was never sure about Stanley - he didn't run away from painting nudity or dealing with sex in a puritanical era.

It's very hard to categorise him - he was described as a 'Post-impressionist' but really he was just Stanley Spencer.

My interest isn't in his religious paintings or his landscapes. It all starts for me in the Second World War when he became a controversial 'Official War Artist'.

Better still, he was sent to rough and tough Glasgow to paint shipbuilders working on the 'Home Front'.

He was photographed at the time standing in the middle of the fire and noise of a shipyard in his earnest spectacles and wearing a paint spattered suit, sketching furiously on a roll of toilet paper.

This was a time when working people didn't matter (even less than now, if that's possible) - Stanley who saw something in everybody created the finest workplace pictures ever painted.

So much so that Lithgow, the owner of the shipyard complained about the pictures and forced the fund to send another artist to do some more conventional pictures for him.

The gallery doesn't have anything other than a couple of sketches for the series but it does have this unrelated scene of mechanics which I snatched a picture of; 

I'm sorry about the quality - 'No Photography'.

Recently, there was an appeal to restore the shipbuilding series launched by Alex Fergusson the former Manchester United manager who worked in the yards himself and whose Father and Uncles were working there during the war.

Here's the house Stanley grew up in;

And I took this picture of his grave in the little churchyard back in June when the ground was cracking from drought.

Then we drove back to Maidenhead, walked along the river and spent a while sitting and eating ice cream.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)

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Sunday, 30 August 2015


We went back to the Chilterns - we went there back in May when I was using a walking frame but it was sunny and there was the promise of a nice summer in the air.

Since then we've had rain and grey days and suddenly summer is over before it began.

This time we went to Chesham and wandered around the shops. It was a real struggle but in different ways to last time.

I liked this T-shirt but it was too big for me so I just took a picture;

Which just about says it all at the moment!
The Blog will be more fun tomorrow

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)

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Saturday, 29 August 2015

Neil away with the Fairies.

We saw a 'Fairy Ring', up at Englefield; you often see strange circles in grass and over the centuries people have blamed them on Elves, Fairies, hobgoblins or.....whatever.

And they do say that if you stray into the circle terrible things happen to you.


This one was unusual because you can see what causes it too;

It's the trace left by a fungus as it grows out - eating up nutrients at the tip of its mycelium under the ground.

That leaves the soil infertile for grass so there's often a circle of bare ground, as there is here.

This time there's also a circle of toadstools, which are the fungal equivalent of flowers.

So no Fairies or Elves then.

Although, I didn't actually have time to jump into the ring.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)

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Friday, 28 August 2015

Robyn did it - We're off to Dismaland!

After yesterday I was ready - I knew when the next batch of tickets were due to be released and we were ready at 1000 am.

I opened up three lines just when the tickets came on sale and was all ready to lose it completely when I found I was still unable to work out how to buy anything on the internet.

I sat there watching my screen intently as my three lines were queued up - moving deftly between each one, it became quite fascinating; each one was on a countdown waiting for a place in the queue.

Each time I got near to the top, the countdown started again.


Meanwhile, very quietly, Robyn bought two tickets for next week!

It's really no big deal;

We got tickets!

Apart from anything else, there are some 50 artists contributing to the artistic event of the year;

"Dismaland® boasts three large galleries which together comprise the finest collection of contemporary art ever assembled in a North Somerset seaside town."

It also represents the drive and excitement that surrounds art in the southwest today.
Part of that may come as a result of established artists like Damien Hurst colonising this part of the world because it's 'pretty'.
Actually, the real energy comes from the street; urban, multicultural, radical Bristol which produced 'Massive Attack' in the 1980's. They are playing on the closing night of 'Dismaland' and we may have a go at getting tickets for that as well.
They grew out of 'The Wild Bunch' a rampaging mixture of DJ's, Graffiti Artists and Rappers, which pretty well sums up what Bristol was about.
Banksy himself is local and 'Dismaland' has been one big thank you to the people of the area - low ticket prices and even free tickets for local people on one night.
We are really pleased to have snuck in on the party.
It's going to be radical, rebellious and thought provoking.....just as (in a very small way) this Blog has tried to be.
Why don't you come along and see for yourself next week?
You'll have to be up very early if you're going to come along with us!
Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)

Thursday, 27 August 2015



When we were down at Weston Super mare about a month ago, we saw a fairly depressing 'Young Farmers Fun Day' which was drawing to a rather depressing close.

Nextdoor to it was an equally sad and depressing area all boarded up and neglected.

Now we's Banksy's theme park.....

Banksy is a Graffiti artist who has achieved worldwide recognition as a master of 'Stencil Graffiti'.

He's witty and  political and I've written posts complaining whenever one of his Graffiti pieces is chiselled off a wall by a chiselling landlord who wants to steal it from us so that he can sell it on to the international art market.

So now I'm trying to buy tickets and if I can't I'll be sat (if Robyn helps) outside hoping for a ticket.

Yesterday I watched my summer dribble down the drain as we struggled through an enormous rainstorm. It was so bad we went shopping a day early and then ended up sitting in the car park because it was raining too hard to get out.

At home, I idly went back on Banksy's site to find out by accident that there were extra tickets released.

That was great except that I don't buy things online.

So I'm fumbling around, staggering off to find my credit card, putting in the details, forgetting my phone number and bumbling around to find where I wrote it down.....and then the f%$£*!<> card needs some security number and I have no idea whether I ever had one.

While I was getting a new number the tickets sold out on me.

In case you wondered whether it's possible to have a temper tantrum with a broken back - yes you can.


The air turned blue. 

I'm not going to give up and if you are lucky enough to get tickets you may well see someone in the queue for tickets on the door on a folding chair with a back brace and a packet of sandwiches.


Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
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Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Jake Fryer at The Walled Garden; Jazz on a Summer's Day'

It's been a lousy summer; grey skies, rain.

As you can imagine it's been a bit of a blow for me. It's not as though we can get away and I've got an unpleasant autumn to look forward to.

We've spent most of our time struggling over weather forecasts. Then they forecast rain and we stay at home.....then it's fine.


On Sunday that's exactly what happened; they forecast rain.

In the morning it did rain but then it got better after lunch.

I couldn't face losing another day and just took a chance and dragged Robyn to Sunbury of all places.

Spelthorne Council puts on summer concerts; by accident we saw a brass band at The Lammas Park back in May.

This one was at 'The Walled Garden' in Lower Sunbury; the last one of the 'Summer'.

I came off the Sunbury Cross roundabout (which I've used all my life) onto a road I never knew was there.

Eventually we found Sunbury park and ended up walking through it haphazardly, carrying our own chairs and with no real hopes of ever finding anything.

Then, I saw a big wall.

Then we heard music!

It was a little trio - John Sargeant on the drums, John Blackwell on electric guitar and Jake Fryer on the saxophone.

I looked him up before we left; Jake plays and composes Jazz in the Bebop style I love. He's played at Ronnie Scott's and around the world.

This time he was playing standards, gently with a tight little trio.

And the sun actually came out!

'Jazz on a Summer's Day' and surrounded by flowers in a walled garden.

How good does it get?

There was even a rose garden;

There was even Bread Pudding and a cappuccino.

It really doesn't get any better than that.
Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Stealing days at Whitstable.

After we left Margate we headed back to Whitstable - we were there last September when I got a fortnight's respite care - first break in years.

We didn't realise it back then but the season was over. This time it was full of people and everything was open.

I think I preferred it empty!

It is still a working fishing port;

Although not everyone was working when we were there;

There's a nice new toilet where I did my injection in the baby changing room. We both liked these tiles but when I tried to take a picture I got some very strange looks from people.

Robyn went back and took this later;

About 10 years ago, quiet little Whitstable got very fashionable amongst the rich London 'movers and shakers' and it shows; it's full of the kind of people (and their spoilt children) that I can't stand.

It's quaint and full of seafood;

We had a really nice fish and chips, right by the sea.

I didn't fancy it but Robyn had Oysters, which the town is famous for; 

It was a long, long day - we did it because it was going to be the only day it didn't rain that week.

We stole a day from a miserable rainy summer.

Robyn wanted to get me home but I managed to spin things out to get the sunset;

Which was well worth it;

I didn't really want to go back because our visit last year was so special but it was still nice.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)

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Monday, 24 August 2015

Sex and drugs and earthenware; Grayson Perry at the Turner Contemporary.


We had a good long look at The Turner Contemporary Art Gallery at Margate and it's not bad.
This is Carlos Amorales' 'We will see how everything reverberates'.

It's a series of cymbals (mainly Zildjian if you need to know) of different sizes.

"You are invited to play the cymbals using one of the mallets provided".

Except the gallery was a bit miserable about this - you were only allowed to do this at certain timed slots.


So, when we first came in, me and a guy with a 'Jamaica' T-Shirt's son and me - we had a go anyway.

It sounded good.

At 2-30pm we came back for a timed slot and found there were only two mallets.


And they didn't go very far.

So as my walking stick had a rubber tip......I couldn't hold myself back any more.

I even had the ability to hit the high ones.

I even got requests and yes it sounded really good.

This was the main attraction;

It was a full retrospective (with new work) by controversial artist Grayson Perry.

Except I don't think there's anything controversial about him.

He is a transvestite and as most of his work revolves around him and his life it's very much a part of any exhibition he does.

Hey, it's old news.

In passing I would just say that Robyn thinks he would look better as a man while I'm not so sure.

He's not afraid of being really trivial and he's certainly not afraid of dealing with the most serious possible issues.

Politics, sex, whatever.

Sadly, they didn't have any of the astounding series of pots he did about the consequences of being a victim of a paedophile attack.

But there were a lot of his pots;

Back in the 1980's when the 'Young British Artists' were showing that you could make conceptual art out of any old rubbish, Grayson was toiling away in Fine Art;

His pots are very fine art indeed - full of incredible detail and wit.

One of the highlights was watching a video in time lapse of all the immense amount of work that goes into these pots.

He is painstaking to the point of being irritating about it.

But they aren't 'pretty' pots; they deal with class and race and sex and well......everything.

It was at this stage that the gallery 'stopped' me taking photographs, which was a pain.

I could understand if it was a conservation issue but it isn't.

I'd understand if it was all about copyright - but they had a display of all the press reviews they have had and all the images the press have published which are all on the net.

So I had to lift 'The Map of Days' from one of those reviews;

It's a part of the most intricate series of imaginary maps and images, all drawn in the style of a medieval map maker except that the map is of a journey through the emotions - through a life.

Here's an extract which is very similar to 'The Map of Days' but I think it's from another work;

Of course 'No Photos' means I can't show you the bits I really liked but this bit made both of us laugh.

There was a final room - giant tapestries dealing with class differences and tastes;

These images were stolen while the attendants were otherwise occupied.

This one is just for me;

Sorry about stealing the images Grayson... I guess I'm just a 'Provincial Punk'....just like you.
It's astounding work - up there with David Hockney, Francis Bacon - the very best of British art.
Check out the Turner for the exhibition because it goes on tour in the next month or so.
Hey - I bought a badge and a postcard, it was that good.
Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Margate; the coastal town they forgot to close down.

We had another day out!

I'm not sure why but we went to Margate - almost on the very tip of south east England. I think it was mainly because neither Robyn nor me had ever been there before and we both like new places.

I'm still not sure how I feel about Margate. There are different ways of looking at it;

There's the 'Old Town' with some 'heritage buildings' around the square;

There are some old cannons;

There are loads of antique shops and a few quite nice vintage clothes shops. I was very tempted to buy a pair of old second hand Levis except trying them on was just going to hurt too much.

Too tired, too much pain

I liked the old Oyster warehouse;

And I liked this shop display - they are reproductions of the first fishing floats - when they were made of glass rather than plastic - always makes me think of the seaside;

But that's not really what Margate is about. It was once the resort of choice for hard up East Enders, coming down to the sea on cut price rail fares for a knees-up. Its best days were in the 1930's and not too much money has been spent on it since.

For example; this is the old closed down 'Primark';

It's hard to imagine that Primark, which sells very cheap clothing made by workers in the developing world who are paid starvation wages.....could go bust anywhere.

It moved to Broadstairs.

Robyn called it 'The Town that killed Primark'.

It's also the home of 'Dreamland' which was once a very famous Amusement Park - it still has an early wooden Roller Coaster.

The famous (and listed) entrance is genuine Art Deco and is urgently in need of repair and love. With some work, it could be beautiful again;

It's unfortunate that so much of the seafront is taken up with slot machines lurking to exploit people....and by the way, calling your business 'The Flamingo' doesn't make it Vegas.

I've never seen so much broken glass on a beach and although I love 'seaglass' this is not a beach where the glass gets worn down.

It's positively dangerous for kids.

There was also a lot of foam that I associate with the presence of sewage in the water.

In many ways it's still the "The coastal town they forgot to close down" in Morrissey's song 'Every day is like Sunday';
                       Trudging slowly over wet sand
                Back to the bench where your clothes were stolen
                This is the coastal town
                That they forgot to close down
                Armageddon - come Armageddon!
                Come, Armageddon! Come!

                Everyday is like Sunday
                Everyday is silent and grey

So when Robyn went paddling she was being rather careful.

There's yet another side to Margate - 'The Turner Contemporary' art gallery. It's intended to draw in better off, high spending arty types.

It certainly looks OK at the edge of the harbour;

I think it works a lot better from inside;

There's a real sense of space and light.

The windows are cleverly used to frame Margate;

As modern galleries go it's got some great spaces for art, there's a place for kids and above all it's free.

I'll review the exhibitions tomorrow.

After Margate we drove back  through Herne Bay; clean, tidy and Tory. We ended up at Whitstable, seaside resort of choice for the wealthy, fashionable Londoner.


The thing is; Margate had a bizarre mix of rather burly tattooed middle aged white men, black, Asian and even a party of Chinese people. When we were eating our sandwiches I saw a family on the far beach in full Moslem outfits.

Absolutely everyone was there and having a lot of fun.

While Robyn was paddling I walked absentmindedly along the tidemark wearing my Doc Marten boots and idly looking for treasure like bits of broken pottery and seaweed.

We were leaving the beach and I came across a family where the kids had discovered that if you half buried your plastic football in the sand you could use it as a springboard and do somersaults, head over heals in the sand.

It was just the most amazing, joyous thing and it made my day;

How cool is that?
Margate is poor and in places drab and down at heel.
But it's interesting.
Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)

Saturday, 22 August 2015

The Fantastic Four.

We went to see 'The Fantastic Four' but I wasn't that impressed. I think the first three quarters were pretty good, the last a bit predictable.

Among the list of credits which was about as long as I have ever seen; Phillip Glass provided some of the music (space age modern classical electronica) and the great Stan Lee was executive producer.

If I really had to rate it I would say it was better than Terminator Genesys but far behind Ant-Man.

I suppose that's all down to how you use CGI - Ant-Man used it cleverly while Terminator and The Fantastic Four just kept throwing in more and more for the sake of it.

I was remembering how my Mum used to buy me DC and Marvel comics when I was young - until my Dad stopped me having them.

Back in those days, there was a colour cover and some colour inside pages but often there were black and white ones too. When I see old comics, they seem tame and often very poor....compared to today's Graphic Novels, Manga and CGI.

And I suppose what was so great about them, even though technically they weren't that good, is that people like Stan Lee were opening up the doors of our imaginations.

Now we are really looking forward to this;

I can't say that NWA was really my kind of stuff but in the early 1990's it's fair to say that my working life revolved around it - because it meant so much to the people I was representing.

We saw the trailers and it's looking really good.

I'm guessing my review will be a mixture of good and bad and I'm worried that the 'Hollywood Biopic' is going to gloss over some of the negatives.

But hey!

This is going to be a great film.

The main problem is that Robyn wants to see it in an empty cinema, preferably at 10 00 am while I'd like to see it at midnight with a wild audience.

We're going to have to work that one out, somehow.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)


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Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)