Tag Archives: Life

Bowbrick Country

A 1937 Vincent Rapide at Stevenage Museum
How did I manage to live in Stevenage (Saxon settlement and blighted Sixties new town) between the ages of seven and twenty without ever learning that E.M. Forster wrote Howards End there and that they call the country to the North of the town Forster Country? In the Seventies, when I was growing up there, The Sun called Stevenage ‘the glue sniffing capital of Great Britain’ which we all thought was pretty funny. Punk exotic John Cooper Clark lived opposite my school (why?) and they used to make gorgeous Vincents like the one in the picture in a shed next door (but they stopped doing that in the 1930s). I have Radio 4’s Open Country (which is rapidly becoming my favourite programme) to thank for this new knowledge about Stevenage’s spurious literary heritage.


Sketchley's in the Fulham Road cleaned this shirt for me in 1989
‘Storage’ is very ‘now’ isn’t it. Everybody seems to be storing something and it’s obviously a boom business. There are all sorts of reasons for storing stuff, I suppose: you married fashionably late and neither of you can bear to throw away your precious stuff. You divorced and now you have to accommodate the crap accumulated over decades as a couple. You move house all the time and with each move you shed another skin of pointless possessions. Those giant sheds at motorway junctions labelled ‘self storage’ are actually melancholy graveyards of memories, of stuff abandoned and forgotten (and, I fantasise, thrillingly packed with contraband, alien artefacts and sacks of used fivers).

Anyway, we just emptied our storage unit in lovely Watford. Quite an exercise. So now we’re busy trying to reabsorb the thousands of inconsequential items we seem to need so badly even though we were able to do without them for years. Here’s a good one: three horrible blue shirts, still in the dry cleaner’s bags they were put in in 1989

help reproducing fairies

It’s like this: I want to photograph some embroidered fairies (bear with me). They’re embroidered on paper for framing so they’re pretty flat but have lots of flounces and beads and other pretty stuff that sticks up – this rules out scanning (I’ve tried it – it’s horrible). So I’ve bought a proper copy stand and some lamps and I’m using my brand spanking new 6MP digital SLR to take the pictures. Here’s the thing: the results are crap.

The best pics (and they’re really good) are the first ones I ever took, using a kids’ easel, my old 35mm SLR and hit-and-miss natural light out in the yard. I can’t get anywhere near the same quality using my new set-up, despite lots of tinkering with lighting, white balance, contrast and every feature my new camera offers. If you’re an expert on photographing flat(ish) artwork for reproduction (or if you know anyone who is or if you know of a good book or a good forum for this sort of thing), then please drop me a line!

Buy a t-shirt, help the UN’s Refugee Agency

A while ago I made a ‘No. I do not have a Nectar card’ t-shirt for those situations when you just can’t bring yourself to say it… again (for you foreigners, Nectar is a huge UK multi-vendor loyalty card scheme – they claim that one-third of the UK population has a card). You can buy a t-shirt at CafePress for $19.99 (plus delivery), which is practically bugger all (a bit more than a tenner, in fact), what with the favourable exchange rate and all that. The amazing thing is that, unaccountably, I seem to have sold a few lately and UNHCR is somewhat better off as a result. So, instead of sitting there clicking aimlessly (what are you doing exactly?), why don’t you buy one. All profits (a chunky $6 per shirt) go to UNHCR.

A Burma veteran at Foyles

John Giddings, MBEJohn Giddings' medals
John Giddings was at Foyles the other day for an evening of poetry and literature from the war in Burma. I took his photograph in the coffee bar – you can’t sit and ignore a man with a row of medals like that! The one on the left is an MBE, by the way. Mr Giddings told me a lot of amazing stories from what seems like another age (click the small pics for bigger ones).