Sunday, 29 June 2014


Unable to contain my enthusiasm I have put together this little test for an idea. It is a simple animation of some of the Dove cottage cards on eBay. I have also gone crazy and bought a few Whitehaven cards to play with. I think my proposal is finished, I'm writing this to put off checking through it and sending it off. 

Saturday, 28 June 2014

L'autre Belle Poubelle

Cannes snapshots 2

The horrors of beauty. At one point we saw three generations of plastic surgery tottering down the street. 

In cafés old French men sit with their wives. When a young beauty glides past in hot-pants or bikini or sarong they let out a guttural growl. It is half lust, half despair. The wives seem unmoved or moved to pity by this infidelity. 

I try it with Annabel for a game. We search out the "woofable" but I can't quite manage it even in jest. 

On the first night we sit by the sea and watch. I am moved to bad poetry again. I keep hoping someone might comment and say. "Alex that is really good poetry, you should be a poet" but it just never happens. I follow a really bad poet on twitter, he is relentless, a bit like the sea. 

On the third day we hit the sea properly in the traditional swimming costume clad manner. It is warm and full of plastic objects and other objects that aren't plastic. We do the fun thing of clinging together in the waves until one rabbit-punches us. We are knocked down laughing and crawl out on our knees. 

Never laugh in the sea it can leave a bad taste in your mouth. 

The "I can see the sea!" moment is my favourite sea related experience. It always signalled the end of an horrifically boring and hot car journey which had to be endured nearly every summer of my childhood.

Wordsworth remembered something similar though more dramatic upon his approach to Whitehaven. 

"With this coast I have been familiar from my earliest childhood, and remember being struck for the first time by the town and port of Whitehaven, and the white waves breaking against its quays and piers, as the whole came into view from the top of the high ground down which the road (it has since been altered) then descended abruptly. My sister, when she first heard the voice of the sea from this point, and beheld the scene spread before her, burst into tears. Our family then lived at Cockermouth, and this fact was often mentioned among us as indicating the sensibility for which she was so remarkable."

I like the idea that the sea has a voice. In Cannes it woofs. 

Friday, 27 June 2014

La Belle Poubelle

Cannes Snapshots. 

There is a knocking door. Nobody deals with it, everybody is angry. We glance left and right to see if anyone is as cross as we. 

In my experience coach toilets are always full and locked their contents occult. Why this one is open I don't know. 

"David Essex" shouts a woman next to us. She hasn't got a rare form of Tourette's. There is a music quiz on the radio. I can't hear the questions over the noise of the coach. 

Meanwhile I am sucking Polos trying to make them as small and delicate as possible without breaking. I will never be one of those artists who can work endlessly repeating. 
Too lazy? Probably, and also far too much of a depressive to face the futility of it.

We spend ten minutes trying to break in to the flat next door. It's gate is the one that came up on Google maps but although the keys fit they will not turn. We finally see LaSurprise written on a nearby gate. This opens much easier. 

On leaving our apartment a man starts to remonstrate with us about   La Poubelle. I manage "Je ne comprends pas" and I tell him we are English but this does not help.  At this point I do an impersonation of a man revving a motorbike as there are two mopeds in the direction he is gesticulating. Thankfully Annabel remembers her GCSE. "Ah the bins", we must not use the bins, our bins are down the road. I feel suddenly at home. 

We part on good terms. 

Later we hear young Americans over the courtyard. They sound remarkably like seagulls. 

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Desperate Measures

On the sofa is a large pack of printouts. They include:
Timetables of coaches to and from Stansted airport  and the same for Nice airport.
Timetables of trains from Nice airport in case the buses prove unreliable.
A map so we can walk if both bus and train fail.
Boarding passes for both directions in triplicate.
Maps of the terminals at both aforementioned airports.
Maps of Nice and Cannes.
Photographs of our destination and points on the way.
Phone numbers, emails and written instructions of all legs of our journey.  
Three guide books of dubious origin and worth (there is an image from my favourite one here)

All these have been assembled by Annabel in a vain attempt to keep me relaxed on our journey.

A large section of the Prelude is given over to Wordsworth's experiences in revolutionary France. I am hoping that three days in a free apartment in Cannes will provide me with similar poetic grist when, and if, I get to Cumbria. I have never been south of Paris before where my enduring memory of a school trip was the sudden and impressive stream of red wine vomit that coated the inside of the coach windows from four seats back. Annabel's memory of Cannes is similarly unpleasant. Having arrived at night and without money she took the romantic option of sleeping under a pier on one of the beautiful beaches. When she woke she found her head pillowed by a great deal of sexual detritus. This time however her meticulous planning should mean we avoid such visceral experiences.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Expedition to France

We are planning a journey to France. As I am not the greatest traveller Annabel is making every effort to make sure that our journey proceeds without hitch. My worse fear is that some event or other will mean we will not arrive at our destination. Either we will be lost in some backstreet and be murdered by rent-boys (Venice), or I will accidentally be found to be carrying some form of contraband and be dragged away by customs officers (Budapest). Annabel says I have a tendency to become "a bit of a prick" when travelling. This time we are headed to Cannes, possibly to stay on Dr Picabia's yacht L'Horizon. Annabel has gone as far as to suggest that we run through the journey in advance by pushing little cardboard figures around on a map.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014


Today I am presenting two plans and a short video clip for a small series of film machines I am making about the high wire artist Blondin. In both cases the fear is not that the walker will fall but that the machines will fail. I have also made a little more progress with my Cumbria proposal though I have been somewhat stumped by a request to explain exactly what the work I might make would look like. The rope wobbles, the gears grind.

Monday, 16 June 2014


I have just returned from a visit with my parents. As is usual on such a visit there was a medium sized list of things to do when I arrived. These included: cementing some steps, mending a fence, putting up two curtain rails and finding my father's emails. The next day we drove across the moors to visit my daughter in Leeds. As a child we often drove from west to east to visit my grandparents in Barnsley, then it seemed an immensely long journey. I remember their house as modest, green and smelling of lavender. It had a privet hedge and a stone bird bath at the front and at the rear a garden laid to stone with roses and a tree, furry like new antlers. The garden was the site of one of my earliest erotic dreams. There was a garage with a green double door against which my brother and I would kick a football. I have recently learnt that my Grandpa, as he was called, had had a whole chimney removed so that he could get his Jaguar down the drive.

This drive was made interesting by a discussion my parents had about Myrtle. Apparently she was not doing as well as she used to and had taken to turning circles in nearby fields. Difficult to awaken, she was often confused both as to whether it was day or night and to where she was supposed to be going. Myrtle is neither a relative, family friend, retainer, nor a pet, but a somewhat elderly satellite navigation device. She has recently been replaced by a rather educated man (as yet unnamed) but my parents still bring her along for rides.

Back home now I have begun planning for my visit to Cumbria. I have finally found a map that is neither too big nor too small and have placed stickers on the places I may visit. Some of the stickers have smiley faces, some sad. This is entirely coincidental.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

East End Hash

I have just stumbled round the Chris Marker show at the Whitechapel. It is a melancholic experience, you can feel he is dead. For some reason it reminds me of Annabel's photos of the photos of dead animals in a Parisian pet cemetry. It is good to see La Jetée on a big screen, although why people feel it's ok to chat through a film in a gallery, I don't know. Last night we went to see Tom Cruise look confused and no one said a word. 

Annabel is at some sort of art guru event being told how to be more successful. They are everywhere at the moment, mostly artists offering other artists a touch of their magic. Zap! pow! and you will be the next big thing. At least this one is free. I shall be leeching ideas out of Annabel later. 

Next up at 5pm is the Opening of News From Nowhere, a show at Kelmscott house touching on the lure of Utopias. 

Wednesday, 11 June 2014


I am planning my way round Cumbria using a guide book produced for the Festival of Britain and some old maps I have lying around. The guide book is called About Britain No. 10 The Lakes to Tyneside and has text by Sid Chaplin. Most usefully in the final pages is a Gazetteer listing:

 "places of special interest or character".

One particularly chilling description can be found under the heading Whitehaven: 

"Notable for its submarine coal workings, extending 3 miles out from the coast. The coal is shipped from the harbour".

Skimming over a more detailed map I have also found Greystoke Castle which I must visit. I was an avid Tarzan fan as a child, my favourite incarnation being Robert Ely. I may be remembering this wrongly but I'm sure he built Jane a tree house with an elephant operated lift. It was this simple piece of Flintstonian design that pleased me most.

Today, as part of my ongoing training routine, I visited a local Great House the gateposts of which I'm sure Tarzan and Jane would have approved.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014


I have been asked to put together a proposal for a commission for the Cumbria Museums consortium. Having assembled an optimistic statement of interest I have a month to prepare my ideas. This is a paraphrase of my promise.

In my twenties, through no fault of my own beyond a propensity for saying yes, I ended up teaching The Prelude to a group of keen 2nd year BA English Literature students. I had not read the poem and knew no more about Wordsworth than most daffodil lovers. Although at the time I was able to talk more or less convincingly about some of its major themes and stylistic revolutions, I still have read only very little of it. Mainly I remember that it is cyclical in nature and investigates the observable world.I am interested in proposing a heroic bicycle tour between the three sites: Carlisle, Kendal and Grasmere. On my journey I would like to take in some of the less obvious tourist locations in Cumbria and visit the beautifully named Whitehaven and Maryport.  I will make a series of works in response to the places and people I meet and observe along the way. I might even produce my own epic poem in the form of words, films and objects. Each leg of the cyclical journey would result in a new set of work for each venue and I would like to end up where I started. 
There is an obvious perversity in mentioning Wordsworth in answer to a brief that specifically states “We also want it to challenge the usual descriptors and to reveal contemporary Cumbria to our visitors.” But it seems strangely relevant to me to focus on the history of the sites along with the realities of Britain today. 

Always one to focus on the important things I have almost completed putting together a bicycle for the journey that may not happen. I rescued the frame from some railings where, abandoned, it was slowly, and violently being relieved of its parts. The frame was a Carlton, nearly as old as I, and hand painted in black spray paint. Now dismantled, cleaned, resprayed, mantled with shiny trinkets gleaned from near and far, I have just ridden it up a hill for a suitably romantic photoshoot. 

It occurs to me I may need to get the front chain-ring gear working. I have heard that the Lakes are quite hilly.