St Abb's National Reserve

St Abb's National Reserve
View from my office

Sunday, 26 April 2009

A few months ago, a freelance cameraman phoned me to ask if I'd take part in a local film project about the environmental heritage of North Northumberland. Well, I've met Jimmy before, through promotional work for Alnwick Garden, and thought, 'Hey, why not?' There would be, I knew, an opportunity to showcase my painting, and the project sounded worthwhile; a lot of the work included children at a local school and I think it is important to feel good about the area you live in, and feel proud. The media works to convince people that the party's always somewhere else in order to sell ideas. If you feel good about yourself, and where you live, you can take or leave the barrage of advertising angled at pressing the self-doubt buttons. Kids growing up in rural locations can be made to feel they are missing out on a shinier, more sophisticated 'lifestyle' and will be very negative about their patch. Having felt that myself, I'm very happy to see projects that celebrate the area...ANYWAY, off the soapbox, I was on the beach on Thursday afternoon, madly mixing far too much cobalt blue and alizarin crimson, fretting about painting an en plein air oil in front of camera and two programme presenters. I may have chopped every comment with a hideous self-depreciating statement as my Lindisfarne seemed less castle-like and more a table jelly, the sea was so flat it was practically concave, I ran out of 'sand colour' and dropped brush after brush into the sand. What a palaver I made, what a fuss. The idea had been that the couple interviewing me would happen upon me as I was taken by the muse, exchange a few pleasantries and say their goodbyes. This was to be linked with a piece already completed, in my home, featuring some more talk and views of the paintings. It all sounded so easy, so professional; no doubt Jimmy will edit the bumbling (on my part, both Nina and Bob were relaxed and focussed) fool to appear (briefly) cohesive and interesting.

I made reference to using the finished article to light my fire, later, so neurotic was I, by the time the filming ended. Jimmy suggested we raffle the offending (my term) article at the showing of the film, and during Seahouses festival to raise money for a local charity. I stepped back from the painting and the four of us contemplated as a low black cloud hid the last rays of warm spring sun from us. 'It needs distance.' said Bob.

'About three miles?' I thought.

Then I took my s**t-tinted spectacles off. Yes, the painting's fine.

'You need to stop saying such negative things about yourself, you aren't doing yourself any good.' The wise, good-looking, twenty-year-old Nina proffered as we said our goodbyes in the car park.

Thank you, Nina.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

I've had an ecclectic bunch of visitors this weekend; artists, tourists, cyclists and a trainee minister, an agreeable chap who stayed for a good hour and enjoyed the exchanges between my guests and I; hearing and contributing to the opinions, the histories and dramas that inevitably unfold when a group of people are thrown together in a different environment (I mean my studio event). He's after a rural placement and his safari of North Northumberland doesn't seemed to have put him off. I gather he'd stayed at Haltwhistle and Kirkwhelpington, too. Something of a Merchant & Ivory costume drama there, I think; modern-thinking Cambridge graduate visiting a rural backwater; I see the train pulling into the tiny station, him alighting in a cloud of steam to be met by a surly taxi driver. He is introduced to the community amidst the tutts of disapproval from the conservative local gentry, superstitious suspicion by the lumpen proletariat. On a lonely hill trek among the sheep- embroidered hills he spies a magnificent ram, horns held aloft, proud gleam in its eye; the beast moves off, stage right to reveal Miss Connie, sweet and pale, shepherdess and only daughter of the infamously fierce hill farmer; Terence Backwithers. Will the two find love in the lonely peaks? Will our young hero find his place in the country? Will the audience nod off before the end of the film? Well, I made it to the end of 'Room With A View' so I don't see why not-
He ( the real Minister-in-Training) was off to commune and roll eggs with the congregation at dawn today, then back on the train to Cambridge- Ah! Northumberland will be a strange dream by tomorrow; perhaps I'm more of a mood for a good TV comedy/sci-fi/drama- a 21st Century cleric is rocked back to 1950's England, he must find a way back to his own time or can he bear to leave the grotesque, yet compelling characters he discovers? Can he abandon Coldplay and live with the raw and plaintif crooning of Buddy Holly? Will the need for Costa coffee keep him looking for a portal in the time and space, or are the heady charms of Miss Willa and her ample stocks of Carnation condensed milk be enough to convert the misplaced Minister to a simpler, less sophisticated life? Has he a role to play in this close-knit, yet narrow-minded community? Will his outlook be an inspiration to his reluctant parish, or will his own field narrow to a mere one-acre strip, in his new, old-fashioned waking dream life?
Tune in after songs of Praise!
I think, maybe not.
He was a nice chap, though ( The real Minister-in-Training, that is.)
The reason he was at the exhibition was his hostess (the wife of Belford's URC minister) had introduced him to a series of people to sample rural Northumberland (read: out from under her feet!).
A real melting pot of folk, a web of cross-referenced associations, strangers, accidental visitors have made it over my threshold this weekend, thanks to all.