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In A Roundabout Way

Since becoming an artist, I’ve found myself observing the world through different eyes, eyes that are now wide open, seeing shade and shadow and colour contrast where I never had before. Every season, every building, tree or field takes on a new meaning, none more so than when I am driving. Take the humble roundabout, for instance. How many of us, when in a vehicle, whether driving or not, actually takes notice of what is there? Most of us see it as just a means of keeping traffic flowing, without ever taking in what’s in the middle. It took several trips abroad before I began to look at roundabouts in greater detail.

For example, coming out of Mahon airport on Menorca, is a well-kept one with several large boulders and gravel well placed, accentuated by planting. A sight that now says welcome home to me whenever I visit the island. Over in Barbados, there’s Freedom Roundabout, with a large bronze statue of a man lifting up broken chains around his wrists, celebrating the end of slavery.

In Benalmadena, Spain, a town I regularly visit, each roundabout has a different piece of street art, each one forming a landmark people use to find their way around. One has a lovely sculpture of lots of windmills that whirl around in the breeze, another a bronze hulk of a boat, another a gigantic copper ball… the list goes on.

But one there in particular piqued my interest, taking me several days to work out what it represented.

Near to my apartment, I had only seen it at night. Always lit up in changing colour colours, from red to green, to blue to white, it was a white structure I couldn’t make sense of. Located on the main road through the resort, the large roundabout is odd-shaped, with one road leading to marina, the other to the upper part of town. Occasionally, I saw cars drive up to it and then disappear, never coming around it. It had me perplexed. Several days later I had cause to walk by it, and finally it became obvious: it was a sailing ship! Of course, because the road off it led straight down to the marina. At night, the sails would light up. And the cars disappearing? It was also the entrance to an underground car park. It was the car-park domes to the left of the sails that changed colour. Ingenious.

Seeing all the wonderful street art and creations abroad prompted me to take a closer look at roundabouts in England. Here, it is often just a patch of long grass and weeds, perhaps some wild flowers. A few trees maybe. Shrubbery – often overgrown and obscuring views of what is coming around it. Admittedly, that isn’t true for all of them. Some are well manicured, neatly trimmed, pretty flowerbeds.

Near where I live, is a large, modern business park called Aztec, meaning A to Z Technology, the entrance to which is a roundabout. When first created, the roundabout was grassed and planted up with saplings and thousands of daffodils bulbs which when in flower spelt out A to Z – something which could only be seen from the air. The trees have since grown large and the bulbs multiplied so the meaning is lost.

Close by too is a large shopping mall and leisure complex with busy roads and several roundabouts. Each has a different “sculpture”, all meant to mean something. The first simply has a large upright standing stone, known locally as “Patchway Tombstone,” as the building of the mall meant death to our small local shops and loss of peace in the area for residents. Apparently, the stone is meant to represent Avebury and/or Stonehenge – neither of which is nearby, let alone in the county. Another is a large round grassy hillock chopped in half, a gorge going through it. Some say it represents Cheddar Gorge – again, nowhere near here or in the same county. Others say it’s meant to represent Brunel and the GWR railway network here. At a push it could be Avon Gorge. The next roundabout has a tall grass mound with a metal cap on the top, said to represent Silbury Hill – again not even in the county. Whoever designed these obviously didn’t know their geography or history!

It would have been far more in keeping and more meaningful to have a model of Concorde on one, considering the Rolls Royce factory where the plane was built and now houses the Concorde museum is right on the doorstep. Why didn’t they choose some other landmark relevant and local to the county rather than obscure or obtuse edifices? But still, I suppose grassy hillocks with bits cut out and an upright stone that is possibly man-made, is better than nothing. And they are a talking point. But it would be so much better if the designers took a look at how roundabouts are designed and built abroad, and used a little bit more imagination to make more of a feature of out of these necessary traffic management measures.

However, there is one small roundabout locally on a road I often travel which always makes me smile. The roundabout is small, in the middle of a housing development and consists of nothing more than grass, which is always well trimmed, in the middle of which is planted with lavender bushes. At its centre is a white beehive (I don’t think it’s a real one!) and, before they were stolen, had large ornamental bees on wires that twirled around. A simple concept yet pleasing to the eye. Well done to whoever thought of it!

Would love to hear about any good or bad ones near you!

Rain, Rain, Go Away…

At last April is here. Spring! Except here, spring is rather slow to get going, thanks to all the rain and wind and snow. Even this past weekend, Easter (I hope you all had an enjoyable one), parts of the UK experienced a white Easter, though not for the first time. Here where I am I the West Country, we didn’t have snow but it rained like it was never going to stop. Which means… (click here to read on)

 

Making a Comeback

SURPRISE! Have you missed me? Where has the time gone? Actually, it’s gone so blooming quickly I can’t believe my last blog post was September 2013. So much has happened and gone on it’s difficult to know where to begin. I won’t bother you too much with details, suffice to say if you really want to catch up with what’s been happening in my world these past months, you are more than welcome to pop your head Over The Backyard Fence and read my monthly missives there.

It’s been a chaotic and difficult time, I have to admit, a few health issues, a major project that I’ve been working on and keeping under wraps, as well as a few problems and incidents plus a major, milestone birthday earlier this year, all of which left me feeling very depleted and down. I’m not by nature a person to succumb to depression but I did hit a low point, only to bounce slowly back. The warm weather now has certainly helped, and as I sit in the garden typing this, I can honestly say, “I’m back!”

Pink FlowersIt’s not been all doom and gloom – my life’s not like that. On the plus side, I’ve sold several paintings and, fingers and paint brushes crossed, hopefully secured a coCreek Cottagemmission for a large landscape, so watch this space. I’ve created a new blog/website for my art, due to go live in the next few weeks, and meanwhile have been working hard finishing a novel or two –  “Finishing”, being the operative word. The past few months have been a time for reflection, evaluation and redefining the path my life is taking and I am now at the point where I am moving forward, taking a different route, and getting back to enjoying life to the full.

You might have noticed I’ve dropped off the radar on Twitter too. I think I got bored with it, plus it takes up sooo much time and nothing achieved or gained. I mean, doesn’t anyone “talk” on Twitter any more? All I see is a constant bombardment of “Buy my book”, or words to that effect. What’s happened to all the jokes and fun and light hearted banter that used to go on? – which was why I joined in the first place. Okay, I’m a writer too and a book person, but I don’t want books, books, books 24/7. The same with Facebook. Okay, most of the changes there are FB’s own doing. They keep changing it, moving things around and, well, ruining what was a good thing. Not much I can do about that.

So, what do I have planned for my blog? A promise (to myself) to blog more often, to get back to writing about the things that are important to me and articles on any subject which I hope will be of interest to my readers. I’ve some recipes to put up, gardening features and, well, back to what it was when I first began.

100_6381I mentioned I’m in my garden. It’s had a bit of sorting out year, with many shrubs pulled out, plants divided and moved and it’s beginning to come into its summer glory thanks to a packet of wild flower seeds costing £1 from Lidl, and scattered all around the garden. I think every seed has come up and with a promise of much more to come. Will certainly buy that again. I haven’t done as much to it as I’d planned though – lousy weather and lousy joints have put 100_6380paid to a lot of that, and the cost of shrubs in the garden centres – extortionate this year! Still, there’s always next and I already have a lot mapped out for spring 2015. I’ve also got a new bird feeder which the birds are loving and I love because it brings them much closer to the patio and means in winter I won’t have to venture across muddy, wet, frozen grass to get to.

Well, that’s about it for now.  Hope you all come back soon.

Looking Back at 2012

Well, here we are again, another full year at home since being made redundant two years ago. And what a difference a year has made.

That first year I achieved exceedingly little, spending most of my time feeling guilty and unsettled, uncertain and unsure what to do with my life, knowing I was too old to find a good job again and, thanks to the Government, my pension pushed back even further to when I’m 65, which I’m not, not yet, I’m still in my fifties, all be it late.

So what has happened during 2012? Lots. Mega lots. The year started with my husband having his hip replaced, a long 14-week recovery at home with me wearing my matron’s hat. He’s made a complete and full recovery – a new man! Then there was the birth of another great niece, little Evie, such a cheerful, cute little soul and an absolute delight to her parents and grandparents.

I suppose the biggest change has been that I have set up a small business, working from home dealing with books, editing and publishing and creating book covers. It keeps me busy, and although I’m not showing any profit yet, that will hopefully come in time. I don’t want it too big anyway; my days as the dynamic business woman are long gone – I’ve been down that route before in a past life and much prefer to keep things small. At least for the moment.

What didn’t help was the dreadful, bad blip, when we were defrauded out of almost £10,000 in a car buying scam. Oh, the police and fraud squad were very helpful and supportive but I will never get my money back, the fraud squad deeming it was too little a sum to warrant them spending further resources on. Still, once bitten… and we have moved on from it, can even laugh about it now, at how my husband had been so gullible, and at how I should have done all the checks I normally do before handing over money. What it did mean was that I couldn’t invest more in my new business, unable to do all the advertising I’d intended, but hey ho, that will rectify itself as the business progresses and grows, which it is doing. And more to the point, I’m loving every moment of it.

April saw the publication of my novel, Every Step of the Way, both in paperback and on Kindle, and a booksigning in our local Waterstones. Not sure I would do it again, though. I plan to see at least another published this year, if not two. They are written, complete, it’s now a matter of finding time to work on them, what with the business.

The Bridge (1)In June, I took part in the Loveahappyending.com Summer Audience held in Tetbury, where I hosted two writing workshops and held my first “public” art exhibition, selling two paintings (surprise!). Everyone who came enjoyed the day and hopefully another will be planned. I’ve not done a lot of paintings this year, time is in short supply but I’ve managed a few, including this one, completed over the Christmas break.

view from villaAugust saw me take my last villa holiday with my sisters and our mum, going to Corfu. Mum has decided she won’t come away again due to her age (87 coming up) and the fact that both my sisters have retired (well, one has, the other twin finishes in this July), so our finances will no longer stretch to the expense of hiring a private villa abroad, although us three sisters do hope we will get away again sometime, whether to a hotel or descend upon my brother and sister-in-law in Spain. Who knows? Of course, if we win the lottery, then it’s a different matter … (Hope, Pray, Beg). Of course, nothing can match the beautiful view we had from the villa this year at Kassiopi. Pure Bliss

The King (1)Of course, there was one thing that virtually dominated all of last year­ – that was the massive George’s First Steps campaign to raise funds to send my great nephew to America for a lifechanging operation to treat his cerebral palsy to get him walking. We succeeded, and some, the £55,000 needed surpassed to the sum of £80,000, enough to look after his needs for many years and to allow his parents time now to enjoy life doing normal things a family does now the worry and pressure has gone. The operation was sucessful and George is progressing daily. One highlight this Christmas was George being a king in his school’s nativity play. He loved every moment!

So, all in all, it’s been a good year. A wet one, yes, but a good one nonetheless. Quite how 2013 will pan out is anyone’s guess but I think it’s safe to say I have moved on from the woman I was back at the beginning of 2011.

Silent Auction for George’s First Steps

Starting today, bidding on our Silent Auction for George’s First Steps (click on link below to open) for full details and instructions how to bid:

GFS Auction Brochure (2)

Autumn on the River: included in auction

Brochure includes instructions on how to bid. Some great items for sale and all for one very worthy cause. Please spread the word and the brochure.

Newsflash: Special Item now up for bidding – a signed Heston Blumenthal ‘The Fat Duck cookbook. Bidding starting at £10.

Click here to catch up with latest news on my Slimming for George Campaign.

Many thanks.

George’s First Steps

Many of you will probably already be aware my family has over the last few years been fundraising to in order to help my nephew’s little 4-year-old boy, George, receive therapy and physio for his cerebral palsy through Brainwave and the Footsteps Foundation in Oxford.

News has recently arrived that he has been accepted to have a life-changing SDR operation carried out at St.Louis Children’s Hospital, Missouri as the NHS in the UK will not fund such operations despite there being two major hospitals here than have surgeons qualified to perform it. We can’t even get him on the waiting list yet and time is running out. George is a prime candidate but time is of the essence. If it is left too late, he will be too old for the operation to work.

To this end the family are now in full battlegear as we need to raise £55,000 by November this year in order to send George and his parents across to America. The hospital is confident the op will work and that eventually George will be able to walk with the aid of a sticks and lead a near normal life. It isn’t just George’s life that will benefit, but that of his parents too. This young couple has striven hard to help their son and George has defied all the doctors’ and experts’ opinions of his prognosis at birth. George is a real fighter, full of determination as well as being a happy and content child. You can never be sad when you are with George, his smile and laughter light up a room.

George’s parents have recently been interviewed by the local press and appeared on network TV and already, after just the first week, we have reached over £6,000.00. We’ve a long way to go but get there we shall. One lady living in Spain is being sponsored to have her head shaved in public with the press present, and many friends have already given generously and offered help, one small company has donated £1,000, a printer producing all our leaflets and posters and flyers free of charge many other events have been organised. For all that has been done so far I, along with George and his parents, can’t thank you enough.

If you would like to donate, no matter how small, click here to go to his website where you can donate or find out more about George’s and the fundraising progress. Below are also links to the recent interviews and press coverage reports (although I am aware the TV interview link doesn’t work outside of the UK – apologies).

North Devon Gazette click here            ITV West   click here

And as a thank you for bearing with me today, over on my Recipes page is an irresistible one for Doughnut Muffins. Click Here

The Secret’s Out!

I’ve been tagged. Electronically. No, not around my ankle. I’ve been blog tagged. I’d never heard of it before. So, thank you Alison. Now I have to reveal ten random and unknown facts about myself, and then pass it on. Mmmm. Where to start? What exciting things would you like to know about me? Are there any? Any skeletons in my wardrobe lurking behind the clothes? Yes. One or two, but I’m not going tell you about them, I’m keeping those safely under lock and key for another day, another book.

Meanwhile back at the revealing, and in no particular order:

Fact No.1: My main ambition in life was to be a choreographer. I learned ballroom and Latin American dancing as a teenager back in the 1960s. Walter Laird, World Dance Champion way back then, was my instructor and my partner during my dancing exams but I gave it all up for a boy, well, a fella, actually. BIG mistake and my biggest regret. (Yes, that’s me in the photo aged 13, having just received my first medal and dipolma.)

Fact No.2: I learned to drive at the tender age of 15. Illegally, of course, on the main roads around my home town. This was way back in the 60s, the car an old Ford Classic. It all started as a bet that I couldn’t start the car and drive it to the end of the road without stalling. I said I could and I did, and so for the next couple of years learned to hone my driving skills in and around centralLondon.

Fact No.3: Clowns give me the creeps. Not sure if I hate them or spiders worse. Probably equally. Just don’t leave me in a dark room with either.

Fact No.4: I cannot sing. I wish I could. I do try, of course. In the shower, in the car, around the house, but only when no one’s listening (I hope!).

Fact No.5: I am not allowed to eat strawberries despite their being my favourite fruit. The drugs I’m on for a rare blood disorder prevent me from indulging in one of life’s sweetest pleasures.

Fact No.6: For a year back in the 70s I worked as a cook/housekeeper/mother’s help for a well-heeled titled family living in a Georgian mansion in Gloucestershire. Interesting, but not something I would consider doing again. The house became the backdrop for my novel Whitestones, not yet released.

Fact No.7: I appeared as an extra in one of the first episodes of The Rise and Fall of Reggie Perrin with Leonard Rossiter. A scene was being filmed at our local Carrefour supermarket; I had to stand at one of the tills paying for my shopping.

Fact No.8: I was a contestant on Channel 4’s TV quiz programme Fifteen-to-One with the lovely William G Stewart. I didn’t win but it was a lot of fun, especially the makeover beforehand. (Photo! I am in there. Honest! No prizes for spotting me, though.)

Fact No.9: One of my very best friends from childhood became a well respected poet, critic and playwright. We are still in touch and one of his books of poems he gave me containing a beautiful inscription to me is one of my prized possessions.

Fact No.10: I’m secretly in love with Ralph McTell, Kevin Costner and Christopher Reeve. One I have kissed (actually, it was he who kissed me), one I’ve no chance of ever kissing, and one, well… I can dream, can’t I? Damn! This means it’s not a secret any more. Ooops!

Phew! Enough said. Now time to pass the buck, or should that be button?

Ip dip, bird’s sh**, you’re It:
Tricia Jones: tricia-jones.blogspot.com
Janice Horton: janicehortonwriter.blogspot.com
Sharon Goodwin: shazjera.blogspot.com

All in good fun and may I be forgiven!

Walk for George 2011

If we had planned to walk on the warmest day of the year to date, we couldn’t have chosen a better Sunday morning than dawned on Sunday, 26th June. Those of us hardy (or is that foolhardy?) enough gathered at the Cumberland Obelisk by Savill Gardens, Windsor Great Park  at 11 am. Once the hugging and greeting of family and friends, some not seen for 12 months, was complete, catch up chatter and coffee consumed, we were off, maps in hand, taking a different course to that walked last year. Left behind were several family members, including my 85 year old mother, volunteering to watch the bags and paraphernalia too heavy or hot to carry. Last year, Mother had completed the walk with me; this year she thought the heat would be too much for her. A wise decision.

The path led us alongside the polo ground before dipping down towards the beautiful gardens and over a bridge and alongside the lake. Ducks and swans followed, seeking food, birds darted and sang overhead and squirrels flitted across the paths, shimming up tree trunks, tails swishing as they watched from branches overhead. The gardens and lakeside, a glorious riot of colour from rhododendrons and carpets of bluebells in springtime, were not so pretty this year to an artist’s eye but they were nonetheless magnificent in their green splendour, the trees provided much needed shade as the thermometer rose. In a quiet glade we came across a refreshment stand with seating where we readily stopped, treating ourselves to an ice-cream or lolly and a well-earned rest before continuing.

We took our time strolling along, a motley string of adults, children and dogs enjoying the sunshine and fresh air, taking turns to push George in his buggy (well, not the dogs, obviously). We stopped by the cascade, a cool respite, a good excuse for a photo shoot, before moving on to admire the ancient Roman ruins from Lepcis Magna in Tripoli. Onward and upward we trod our merry way. The chosen route had been on the flat but now the ground rose, the path steep in a long, hard slog uphill in the heat and I fell behind, stopping frequently to rest and catch my breath. Above the treeline I could see the monument. Almost there, I thought, and pushed myself on. Only to find it was the 100 ft totem pole; I still had another half mile to go. This was definitely further than last year. Ahh well, quick rest, deep breaths and move on.

At last, I reached the meeting point. The last one back, much to the relief of my worrying mother (she’s a fanatical worrier, my mother). The route had been approximately 6 miles; I don’t think at that point I could have walked another step and fell into a proffered chair in the shade in need of a large drink. My niece had the foresight the night before to make up a bottle of squash and put in the freezer. What a refreshing, welcome drink to this thirsty walker that was. Baskets at the ready, we enjoyed a smashing picnic, although in truth, it was far too hot to eat much. Afterwards, whilst us old ’uns rested and chatted, the children played football, cajoled adults to take them down to the water’s edge to catch tadpoles or, more importantly, join the queue for another ice-cream.

The day was a great success, enjoyed by everyone. Over £3,000 was raised on the day and that, along with other donations still coming in, we have enough money to cover all George’s Footsteps and Brainwave therapy up to the end of 2012, which is just fantastic. He would not be able to do this therapy without everyone’s committment and so for that his parents, family and George himself thank you so, so much!

The Writer Also Paints

“What made you decide to paint?” A question I am often asked. “Quite by chance”, I reply. I came to painting through being a writer. Curiouser and Curiouser.

Wearing my writer’s hat (the one with the feathery quill), I have over the years attended many seminars, workshops, conferences, talks and parties, a favourite being the marvellous Summer Writers’ Holiday at Caerleon College organised by energetic Anne and Gerry Hobbs. When they put on the first Winter Writers’ Holiday at the Fishguard Bay Hotel, Pembrokeshire, I couldn’t get there fast enough. Enjoying unseasonably warm weather for February, delightful company, great workshops, good food and a room commanding wonderful views across the bay, I booked then and there for the following year.

The Bay Hotel, Fishguard

A close friend, novelist Avis Randall, accompanied me the second time. (Avis and her books will be introduced in a later blog.) On arriving we found, to our disappointment, the tutor booked to run our chosen workshop had been forced to cancel, another established writer stepping in, someone whom Avis and I were not enamoured with. Perchance, Gerry had the foresight to introduce, from the outset of these winter gatherings, art sessions run by artist Andrew Arney from the University of Wales. Gerry kindly obliged when we requested switching to Andrew’s class. I had studied art at school but never produced anything worthy, dabbled a bit in watercolours in intervening years but everything had gone into the rubbish bin. I was, quite frankly, crap!

Andrew Arney was an inspiration. A calm, quiet man, he started with the basics: drawing, perspectives and colour wheels, providing everything necessary and every medium except oils, helping and instructing us novices create on paper the beautiful seascape we looked out upon. I tried watercolours, pastels, charcoal. To no avail. All were a messy splodge fit only for being sunk without trace beneath the cold, salty water below the hotel. On the final day, he suggested I try acrylics. The first stroke of the loaded brush was like a light turning on. An epiphany. Acrylics and I were made for each other. The resultant painting, although only postcard size, was good. I was pleased, Andrew highly appraising. Consequently, I came away elated. I had found my painter’s voice and a new hat to wear.

During the ensuing months I purchased paints and brushes, countless how-to-paint books, watched a never-ending stream of art lesson programmes on TV, and stocked up on scrap hardboard which my husband willingly cut into smaller pieces as practice canvas. But the primed board in front of me remained blank. It wasn’t a case of painter’s block, more a stark fear of making a right muck up of it. Eventually I plucked up courage and plunged into the cobalt blues and cadmium yellows congealing on my homemade stay-wet palette. A bluebell scene emerged. “You never painted that, did you?” hubby asked, more surprised than me at the finished result.

My First: “A Brush With Bluebells”

Leaving for the third Writers at Fishguard, Avis persuaded me to take some of my paintings along to seek Andrew’s professional opinion. He studied each one carefully, pointed out where I showed a particular skill, where and how I could improve but all, he told me, were very saleable. Later, I created a gallery of the paintings on my website, and was thrilled when contacted by a lady in Germany who had fallen in love with my first bluebell picture. Could she buy it? Reluctant to let it go, after all it was my first “proper” unaided piece, in the end I gave in. Sold! I am glad I did. She commissioned three further pieces: two more bluebells and a winter scene.

So now I wear two hats. (Excuse me a moment whilst I find my beret. Arrh, here it is.) The pictures keep coming: landscapes and floral fields, winter scenes and lots and lots of bluebells. Many have sold. One painting, a large winter scene, was purchased by a couple in Spain through an auction, raising funds to help pay for treatment for my nephew’s young son who has cerebral palsy, as in my previous blog. Earlier this year I was invited to show two paintings at Yarm Originals, an art gallery based in the north of England. A public exhibition of my work is planned for hopefully the not-to-distant future. Perhaps one day I will write a book about my paintings. Who knows where the paths in the landscapes will lead.

Meanwhile, my work can be seen on my website: https://kitdominoart.com/

 

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