Last week I took some intrepid space explorers (see above) to the Guardian to take part in their Reading For Pleasure conference. The explorers were popped into my trusty Hat of Surprise so that a dozen or so primary school teachers could pick one and decide on their characteristics before taking them on a journey of exploration, overcoming (or not) all perils on the way. Great fun and some intriguing results from participants.
My first visit to Pollocks Toy Museum in London’s Fitzrovia district was many years ago with my young daughter. An added delight at the moment is a series of artists’ responses to the collection. Where else could you see singing dolls and a floating parcel? I’m very pleased that copies of my Hand Book (of hopes and dreams) is now on sale in this mysterious and entrancing museum.
Limited edition prints of The Hand Book images are available by contacting me via my website email.
One of my baby spiders – which feature in my Draw It! Monsters book – found a home on the front page of the Guardian at Lawrence Zeegan’s workshop. The (very) young artist explained she was going to feed her spider on bagels btw.
Always want to take part in other artists’ workshops but there’s never time … Here are artists Alex Leadbetter at her Sea Table, and Andrew Logan in one of his impressive sunshine masks.
The Hand Book (of hopes and dreams) is a ‘fortune teller’ with a twist. As you unfold this small but perfectly formed concertina book you will meet or identify with a variety of unusual characters, including an astronaut, a pantomime horse (the front half), a conjuror or … a tiger. Using the visual prompts you may determine their – or your – fate in many playful and existential adventures.
Thanks to E.H-W. in British Columbia, Canada for this morning’s fab message: I LOVE this Hand Book!!! I have given away many as presents and kept one for myself. You have created something very unique and special.
This afternoon I added a Stop Brexit badge to my history pinboard, then started thinking about some of the objects on it, which include other badges, votive objects, a water colour set, a small roll of legal red tape and …
A badge containing strands from Elvis’s hair (a snip at £5). It was sold to me by a woman I met years ago at the Royal Festival Hall in London, who claimed to have memorabilia from a visit to Graceland. She told me she had a sliver of Elvis’s toenail clipping she’d found embedded in a carpet there. Her stories alone were worth £5.
A Vasco da Gama medal awarded after sailing from Cornwall to Lisbon on a Tall Ship, a travel assignment from the Independent newspaper, who photographed the wrong ship as I set sail by the way.
An Argos engagement ring given to me by a crime writer who went down on one knee in a Welsh Borders shopping centre (I didn’t marry him, reader).
A plastic doll’s arm found by a sheep track whilst lost on a walking holiday in the Alpujarras.
The 555 bus from Kendal will take you to Keswick on a rollercoaster ride past Windermere and other watery places – especially watery on the day I travelled as it was through torrential rain. I sat upstairs in the warm and gently steamed. Tricky to draw or write in my notebook as we whooshed up and down hill (fell?), and I was distracted by the sight of a defibrillator in a phone booth, and the man with killer breath sitting (too closely) next to me.
The fells were dotted with Herdwick sheep of different shades. I was told the lambs are born black, the teenagers (lots of those hanging around on the hillsides) are dark peaty brown with pale faces, and the adults are tawny grey, some of them tagged pink. I revisited the quirky Pencil Museum, where I’d run workshops a few years ago, paid in sterling and … pencils! Many fascinating pencil related facts and the longest pencil (actually a crayon) in the world at 9.7m.
Despite the rain I boarded the launch Princess Derwentwater from Keswick for a tour round the lake. When I was last here I used to walk by the lake and have a picnic on its shore, across from Catbells. The motor launch is 93 years old, the skipper told me, and had been used in the 1974 film version of Swallows and Amazons. A tiny rowing boat occupied by two fishermen was stationary in the middle of the lake. One of them waved, and laughing, held his arms apart at full stretch, boasting of his (imaginary) catch.
Always take essentials when travelling, especially when you’re heading for the Lake District to run a workshop, take part in a comics festival and do a bit of exploring.
When not running my workshop there were comic-related talks and events to investigate, comic creators from around the world to chat with and a great market to visit – Cecil’s sausage etc stall looked like a meat-lover’s heaven. I’m vegetarian by the way.
LICAF‘s series of pecha-kucha (Japanese for chit-chat) were intriguing. Quantum mechanics eh … some notes I made at one of these I attended. At least I think I was there.
Very early in the morning my hotel in Kendal was evacuated – the fire alarms went off. Apparently a guest had been over-enthusiastic with his deodorant spray which activated the alarms system. Sleepy half dressed guests stumbled outside into the rain before being told it was a false alarm. Rather than apologise, the over-deodorised guest then complained to management about a cobweb in his room. Had he been inspired by the Halloween decorations in the hotel lobby I wondered?
After my busy workshop at Kendal Library I was entertained by Edward Taylor’s Godzilla vs The Fatberg performance using a kamishibai (Japanese paper theatre) made by his partner Sue Auty.Good to see make-up artistes Bunny and Chip in action again in part of LICAF‘s Family Zone.Saturday night in Kendal was LICAF‘s Leather Night Party, referencing Tom of Finland comic books. I opted for a quiet dinner with friends, although I spotted several aficianados staggering down to breakfast in the hotel the next day, and Tom of Finland appeared in my LICAF goody bag …
The LICAF theme this year was … monsters. Gurgle, groan and slurp etc! My workshop suggestion was to come up with an idea for a monster’s menu to go on a Monster Bake Off TV show. Thirty or so fabulous monsters turned up at Kendal Library, part of the Family Zone, one of the festival venues. As usual I was super impressed by monster makers’ inventive (and at this workshop) truly vile ideas. There were a few prizes of packets of Eyeballs with strict instructions not to eat them. Or feed them to pets or babies. Ghastly! And great fun.
Good to see some of my other Draw It! books on sale at LICAF’s Waterstones table.
Last weekend I went to Nottingham, where I grew up (although born in Devon), whose castle had a lasting impression on me. The image above is a frame from Unfinished Business, an unreliable memoir in comic strip form (always changing) and a work in progress. I spent some of my early childhood living with my grandmother, whose house – regularly exorcised – was close to the castle. Perched on top of a huge rock, the castle was often obscured by thick fog in those days. This weekend there was no fog, but the castle is again obscured, this time by scaffolding and sheets of polythene, while it waits for its reincarnation as … a Robin Hood Experience? Or something similar. I loved climbing up the castle hill with its views over the Trent valley, and exploring the castle corridors, looking at the dusty and sometimes melancholy contents of its museum. Until the castle closed for its renovations, my great-great grandmother’s dress was on view in one of its cabinets – a silk frock of poison green and black. Arsenic-based green dye was used in Victorian times, often with dire consequences. The dress is now stored in Newstead Abbey.
I was in Nottingham briefly to see my niece and her family, and to go to the birthday party of two of my oldest school friends, twins represented on their birthday cake by their achievements as an academic and a tango dancer – they’ve both done other things as well!
During my visit I walked round the Forest, once part of Sherwood Forest and now recreation grounds, and the site of the annual Goose Fair every October. Above it is a cemetery where my great-grandfather is buried, I wasn’t sure exactly where, but thought this memorial was rather appropriate for some reason. With apologies to the occupant.
My great-grandfather Sir Thomas Shipstone was a beer baron, philanthropist, a bit of a dandy and a kindly man apparently.
Later I discovered some other Shipstone relatives buried in the War Graves section.
En route to the railway station the next day, my bus was re-routed due to a murder on the main road below my hotel leading into the city. In the city centre I walked past what was once an ancient inn, the Flying Horse Hotel, long since re-invented and converted into retail units but with interesting details on the facade, possible added or embellished in the 19th or twentieth century?
When very young and (unwillingly) accompanying my grandmother here for saturday morning coffee – my grandmother had a habit of tipping plates of biscuits into her handbag when the hotel staff weren’t looking – I recognised the singer songwriter Gene Pitney sitting opposite us, and was struck dumb not so much by his fame as by his handsome but curiously orange face.