Summer Exhibition

smiley icecream copy
I went to see the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy this week and was once again struck by the wealth of creative talent we have in this country. Painting, sculpture, writing, music, architecture the list is long. Much of what I saw at the Summer Exhibition, I didn’t like. But the technical skills on show were impressive. This year there was too much mixed media and too much photography for my taste. And by virtue of that not enough good old-fashioned painting. Of course, in an exhibition of over a thousand exhibits there’s almost too much to take in. But it was good to see new work from painters who never disappoint me – Anthony Eyton RA, Ken Howard RA, John Bellany RA and John Wragg RA. Just a couple more things that caught my eye and are well worth looking out for if you go – Aurora by Anselm Kiefer Hon RA, a wonderful piece (433) using the hull of a scale model submarine in lead, a bronze sculpture by James Butler RA (1002) and a piece called Library ll by Simon Leahy-Clark, which is described as Newspaper Cuttings On Canvas (921).
Tonight I’m going to the private view of the Summer Exhibition of The Society of Fulham Artists & Potters, a society which I hope to join when a place becomes vacant. Who knows maybe I’ll be exhibiting in the future, and people can come along an express a view of my work.
What a thought!!!

The illustration for this blog is by Ella Fredman.

Jolly Hollyhocks!

Red Hollyhocks
After three years of trying everything, I have finally got two hollyhocks to flower in my garden. They are beautiful. Tall and stately with over sixty light red blooms on one of the plants. The picture doesn’t really do it justice, but not a day goes by that I don’t go into the garden and celebrate them. Of course, poets have been writing about plants and gardens since time began. Indeed in India, Persia, China and Japan many poets were gardeners and vice versa. One of my favourite garden poems is, ‘On a Fine Crop of Peas being Spoiled by a Storm’ by Henry Jones (1721 – 1770), it’s a charming poem with a moral for all of us. Another favourite, written in 1934 is Reginald Arkell’s, ‘What is a Garden?’. But pride of place for me has to go to Edgar Bateman’s, ‘The Cockney Garden’ which is a musical piece that, I understand, was originally written for the music hall and meant to be sung to music by Geo Le Brunn. I am trying to get hold of a book of Bateman’s writing.
He worked as a postman in Bethnal Green for many years, while writing some of the funniest music hall songs. He was known as, The Shakespeare of Aldgate Pump. Here’s a snatch of Cockney Garden:

If you saw my little backyard, ‘wot a pretty spot’ you’d cry –
It’s a picture on a sunny summer day:
Wiv the turnip-tops and cabbages wot people don’t buy
I makes it on a Sunday look so gay
The neighbours fink I grows ‘em, and you’d fancy you’re in Kent
Or at Epsom, if you gaze into the mews:
It’s a wonder as the landlord doesn’t want to raise the rent,
Because we’ve got such nobbly distant views.

Oh! It really is a werry pretty garden,
And Chingford to the eastward could be seen;
Wiv a ladder and some glasses,
You could see to ‘Ackney Marshes,
If it wasn’t for the ‘ouses in between.

There are several verses of wonderful stuff. Now why don’t they write songs like that any more!

Full Steam ahead

Transport Museum York
I have just spent the weekend in York, and I can see now why Dick Turpin was in such a hurry to enjoy it’s pleasures. One of those pleasures is the National Rail Museum and the magnificent iron beasts it houses. The experience is a romance with a capital R, encompassing as it does 200 years of rail travel. Surely one of the best ways of seeing a country, and a lot easier than a horse! Poets, or course, have long had a thing about the railway, probably the most famous poem being Night Mail by W.H.Auden. Thomas Hardy and Sir John Betjeman both wrote several poems on the subject, Great Central Railway: Sheffield Victoria to Banbury by Sir John Betjeman is one of my favourites, as is Philip Larkin’s, The Whitsun Weddings. If you’re a cat lover, and I am, then T.S.Eliot’s, Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat is a must. Recently I came across a charming poem by Christine Weatherly, which I hope she won’t mind me sharing with you.

The Song of the Engine
When you travel on the railway,
And the line goes up a hill,
Just listen to the engine
As it pulls you with a will.
Though it goes very slowly
It sings this little song.
“I think I can, I think I can,”
And so it goes along.

But later on the Journey,
When you’re going down a hill,
The train requires no pulling,
And the engine’s singing still.
If you listen very quietly
You will hear this little song,
“I thought I could, I thought I could!”
And so it speeds along.

Christine Weatherly

Mother-In-Law War

Punch and Jude

I have been following, along with millions of others, the mother-in-law and manners saga in the national press. Of course, mother-in-laws have long been the target for jokes, some of them very funny, many unprintable. My favourite is “I haven’t spoken to my mother-in-law for eighteen months – I didn’t like to interrupt.’ Any way it got me wondering if there were any poems about this notorious species. After trawling through some two dozen poetry books to no avail, I went on to Google and found some really terrible ones from amateur poets. It seems to me there is a serious gap in the poetry pantheon and I intend to have a go at filling that gap. If any one knows of a poem on the subject of mother-in-laws please let me know. In the mean time here are two little gems I found on my travels.

‘Behind every successful man stands a surprised mother-in-law.’ Voltaire

‘Never rely on the glory of the morning nor the smiles of your mother-in-law.’ Japanese proverb