The lost art of the family picnic

So the conversation might go a little something like this..

“Yes dear”
“You’re not working this weekend are you darling?”
“No dear”
“Why don’t we go out for a picnic on Sunday? You know how much Dorothy loves to dine alfresco, and I’m worried about Beatrice, she spends far too much time playing in the nursery with that penguin”
“Do we have scotch eggs and ginger beer?”
“I think so darling”
“Sterling idea then dear. We could take the Daimler, head over to that old trust place near Leominster”.

And of course one expects the outing to look a little like this…

Unfortunately the reality is usually a far more harrowing experience. Half empty pom bear packets flying off in the breeze, leaking bottles of fruit juice reducing the sandwiches to a heavy playdoh like consistency, dairylea triangles & half eaten cherry tomatoes as unwanted cushions, and melted wrapper clinging kit-kats all take the edge off the enjoyment. In fact here I am.. drinking supermarket own brand chocolate milk direct from the bottle, surround by a mountain of filth. Oh the shame! Even Dorothy looks embarrassed to be photographed in such depravity! 2016-03-17 13.10.55

This is clearly unacceptable and can’t go on, so this summer I’ve called time on 21st century nastiness ruining these otherwise enjoyable days out. All food must be removed from their wrappers at home and placed in suitably chintzy Tupperware containers, drinks should be served in a suitable breaker and poured ideally from an attractive glass bottle, napkins will be used rather than baby wipes, chairs and possibly even a folding table with decorated cloth will be required. Cutlery? I should jolly well hope so! To top this all off the most important addition will be a portable gramaphone. Preferably blasting out a pre-war recording of the teddy bears picnic or similar.
Only once these rules are abided by will I be able to sit back in my picnic chair, cucumber sandwich in one hand, cup of tea in the other and say..

“oh how lucky are we to be out here soaking up the treasures that only our green and pleasant land can provide. England how thee warms my soul…”
“what is it sweetheart, are you have a wonderful time?”
“daddy, I need a poo!”


Amoungst les vignes

Last month our annual family holiday led us to the Gironde region of France, specifically the windswept Atlantic west coast just North of Bordeaux. It’s a well known haunt for surfers, but also has endless sandy beaches, and thus was the perfect location to crack on with some serious sandcastle construction. Thankfully we were able to slot some exploring into our beach packed itinerary. So it twas on the third day we hopped into our woefully under-powered Fiat 500L hire car and set out in search of some vines. I’m involved with wines as part of my day job, so I was eager to see first hand the infamous rolling hills of the Medoc region and as always, keep an eye out for any interesting pieces of architecture.

may 035The first thing that struck me as we headed through various small rural settlements enroute to the grape growing areas was the water towers. Huge imposing concrete beasts that dominate the otherwise quaint towns and villages. Each one seemed to have a slightly different design to the next, with some more impressive than others. One would assume they’re of mid-twentieth century origin going by the overall brutaslist appearance. I’m sure they were a godsend, providing running water to dwellings and irrigation to the vines, but I couldn’t help but think of H. G. Wells ‘War of the Worlds’ when staring up at their menacing form. Unfortunately, being the designated driver meant I was only able to photograph this one, a fine (but not outstanding) example in Hourtin.

As we drove further into the heart of Haut Medoc I was expecting a feast of picturesque chateau’s with long alluring tree lined driveways, and it didn’t disappoint. What I wasn’t expecting, plonked right in the middle of the region, was this….

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Apparently empty for some years this delightful piece of inter-war architecture looks to have been used by a now defunct co-operative called Cave de Vertheuil. The facade is reminiscent of an art deco cinema or garage and one wonders what the locals must have thought of it when it was first built. It appeared to be structurally sound, but not in use? It’s such a crying shame when buildings like this are abandoned and left to fend for themselves. If I were the entrepreneurial type with bags of cash I’d be tempted to buy it and convert it into a swinging jazz age restaurant and wine bar. A beacon of sophisticated 20c modernity in a predominantly rural area. With the existing strong tourist industry there surely must be a market for such a place? Or maybe it’s just me?

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We also saw a lizard lounging in the sun on some steps. So that was good too!

Some post holiday research has revealed further examples of this type of architecture being used by co-ops in the area, and has also unearthed this photo of the building in period before later extensions were added to both sides.



Art For Art’s Sake

So what does your run of the mill Art Deco enthusiast hang on the walls of their humble abode? Vintage travel posters? A Chinese reproduction canvas of a Tamara de Lempicka painting?.. or perhaps a framed and mounted period advertisement featuring a stylized sketch of a dashing couple enjoying a glass of a trendy French liqueur! All have their place, and yes, like many others we too have examples of all of these gracing our home. Sometimes however, none of these options seem to fit the bill. Sometimes you find yourself with a very big blank wall requiring eye candy and no budget to commission a suitable piece. Its on these very dangerous, and thankfully very rare occasions I go rummaging and dig out my beret, easel and £1.99 set of acrylic paints!

The project has been a long time coming. I spotted an image online a couple of years ago while googling The Grosvener School of Modern Art. We’ve got some prints by Cyril Power and i was keen to see more of his work when I stumbled on a random image of some birds in flight. It was by Edward (“Ted”) McKnight Kauffer, “one of Europe’s most prolific and influential advertising poster artists during the twenties and thirties”.MD_KaufferEM_Flight_640

The image hit me in the face with a double whammy of admiration and inspiration. Not only was it strikingly original, extremely clever and utterly beautiful, but it looked to my naive eyes that it could easily be copied by an amateur such as myself. I saved the image, logged it on my mental rainy day ‘to do list’ and got on with life.

Cue the completion of our new kitchen. If you look back through some of my previous blogs you’ll see the  lengthy transformation of a huge derelict room into our dream modernist food prep and eating area. An area that came complete with one big blank wall! I could stand it no longer, a trip to The Works stationary emporium was made, and coins exchanged for the biggest budget canvas that they had kicking around.

Phase one included a long length of wood, a pencil and a jpg. I sketched it by eye, not worrying too much about accuracy. With one eye on the Eurovision song contest (A dreadful guilty pleasure the wife and I always watch!) and one on the canvas I was off. Phase 2 included several rolls of masking tape, hole re-enforcers and some sponge brushes borrowed from my 3 year old. Frankly I underestimated the complicated nature of the intersecting lines and it grew ever more mind numbing trying to work out which bit should be which colour. If it wasn’t for the fear of them showing through I would have turned it into a giant paint-by-numbers!

Each stage required the removal of some tape and application of further strips in different areas. The reveal was always a rewarding and exciting moment. Much like on the silver screen with the tense removal of bandages from a beauty queens face after major surgery. Will she look as foxy as she once did? Will the black have leaked under the 50p masking tape ruining the perfectly straight lines? Yes & yes.. she’s still a honey, but nooooo, I knew I should have invested in proper frog tape!

Nevertheless, after a month or so my opus was complete. Some light touching up was required to  improve bleed, but from a distance its not at all bad. I’ll construct a frame of some kind when I get a chance, but for now the naked canvas hangs in the kitchen, adding some drama to the rather plain walls. And here she is…