Camden tea and coffee stall

If you’ve just done your shopping in Camden Town, St Michael’s churchyard is a quiet spot to have a cup of tea or coffee and watch the world go by for a few minutes. Love this fairground style coffee stall with its sugared almond colours and wooden fretwork features. A tall man wearing a spotless white apron with a red cross on it saw me hesitating as I noticed the stall for the first time, although I must have walked past it many times. “Come and sit down,” said the man.  I knew about the church and its reputation for welcoming homeless and refugees, and although I was neither I was attracted by the quiet space and the thought of a (reasonably priced) cup of tea.  I was intrigued by the wheeled stall and its closed and padlocked shutters.  ‘What do you keep in there?’ I asked.  “Ah,’ said the tall man, ‘that’s where I keep my secrets.’

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Comets and meteors

When you’re playing, and comets get in the picture … If you happen to be looking up into a clear sky on August 12th or 13th, you might see some other flying objects … the Perseid meteor shower which is made up of debris from the Comet Swift-Tuttle, not to be confused with the Leonids that appear in November, the dusty trail of the Comet Tempel-Tuttle.

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One of Sally Kindberg’s Space Adventure comic strips – quails in space

Next month I’ll be running comic strip workshops at the Institute of Physics, celebrating the anniversary of the first moon landings, but before humans were sent into space …

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Sally Kindberg’s The Hand Book launch celebration at Swedenborg House

The Hand Book (of hopes and dreams) unfolded its leporello pages in the Magic Lantern Room of Swedenborg House last night in celebration of its launching.  There were toasts and book signings.  The distant strains of old music hall songs were heard, mysterious Madame C made a brief appearance and Joe Pearson, Design For Today publisher of The Hand Book, as well as about forty guests, braved the evening’s wet and windy weather to celebrate my leporello’s launch. Great to see Emerald MosleyBridget Marzo, Jane Smith,  other members of the Society of Authors, Fellows from the Royal Literary Fund and many others.

With thanks to Swedenborg House for kindly letting me use their fantastic Magic Lantern Room, to Madame C, to Roland Denning for taking photos, to all my guests (especially those who bought books!) and of course to Design For Today for publishing The Hand Book.

Copies of The Hand Book (of hopes and dreams) are now available from Design For Today, and will soon be on sale in the rest of the wide world.

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Sally Kindberg’s The Hand Book launches at ELCAF

Great day at ELCAF  (East London Comic Arts Festival) meeting up with fab comic strip makers and friends and seeing The Hand Book (of hopes and dreams) on sale there for the first time.  Now available from publisher Design For Today – hooray!

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Sally Kindberg’s workshop at Swedenborg House – back by popular demand!

When a room suddenly goes quiet (apart from sounds from the Whispering Cupboard of course), you know that everyone is happily concentrating.  And what wonderful results!  Very happy to be asked back to Swedenborg House to run another workshop, and see more than forty children, and some adults too, draw mysterious objects, inventions (18th century polymath Swedenborg was a prolific inventor), intriguing comic strips and facial expressions.  Lots of drawings in copies of my Swedenborg leporello as well!

Thanks to participants who obligingly pulled faces so we could draw them! Some children decided to time travel back to the 18th century – with the help of a wig or two …

One of the many quotes from parents: It was really fab. Everyone was so lovely and bright and helpful. Thank you so much for all the care and effort you put in to the day. The kids really enjoyed it. And I got to have a go so I did too! 

With thanks to Avery of Swedenborg House for extra photos.

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Sally Kindberg and Meeting Mr Punch (again)

In 2012 I held an exhibition of drawings and photos after meeting Punch and Judy Professor Leslie Press. He is sadly no longer with us, but the British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild has just published the feature I wrote in 2012, in Issue 624 of their newsletter. Mr Punch lives on …

 

MEETING MR PUNCH

In May 2002 I took a shortcut through St Paul’s Churchyard in Covent Garden, and stumbled on a scene of mayhem. Crocodiles’ jaws snapped, sausages defied gravity, and unearthly shrieks filled the air. I’d walked into a Punch and Judy festival. It’s held every year on or around Mr Punch’s birthday, May 9th, which is when diarist Samuel Pepys first recorded his Covent Garden appearance in 1662, three hundred and fifty years ago. Amongst all the Professorial activity – Punch and Judy operators are known as Professors – one cheeky-faced, elderly man with a marked resemblance to Mr Punch caught my attention. He unfolded what looked like an old fashioned wooden clothes-horse, slowly adjusted it, draped it with red and white striped cloth, and hey presto – it was transformed into a Punch and Judy booth, or fit-up as it’s known. On seaside holidays during my childhood I’d always found the booth and its puppet world scary but fascinating, and I was curious about this man and his small companions.

The man’s name was Leslie Press. As we got talking, Leslie told me that as a child he’d lived on my street, at 148 Gloucester Avenue, above what was then a dairy and grocer’s, before being evacuated to St Albans during WW2. 148 is now Lisa Hauck’s hairdressing salon. He and his sister were pupils at Primrose Hill School round the corner, where my daughter went many years later. We chatted for a while, and I didn’t see Leslie again for eight years.

In 2010 I rang Leslie and asked him if I could take some photographs of him and his puppets, and find out more about his life as a Punch and Judy man. Leslie invited me to his house in Cheshunt, where he offered me tea and biscuits. Later, he carefully arranged his puppet family on the sofa next to him.

Leslie looked pale at the start of my visit, before he took out assorted characters – Mr and Mrs Punch, the Baby, Devil, Ghost, Crocodile, Clown and Executioner – from travel-worn suitcases inherited from his father Percy. As he affectionately brought his puppets to life, his face began to glow. Wondering how much a puppet operator’s character is reflected in his or her puppets, I commented on the battered and patched appearance of Mr Punch and his associates. “Yes,” said Leslie shyly, “I’m a very violent Punch and Judy man – they certainly got a bashing!”

 

 

The wooden figures were strangely compelling. I felt they were just as curious about me as I was about them, and seemed to return my gaze with unnerving confidence. Every Professor has a slightly different version of events in the show, perhaps reflecting his or her personality. I wondered if the puppets sometimes demand to act and speak in the same way that my own drawn characters, especially in my comic strips and children’s books, often insist on doing or saying something surprising.

Leslie’s puppets were carved by Fred Tickner, whose most famous creation was Muffin the Mule in the 1950s, wooden star of one of the first television programmes I’d ever watched. The Punch puppets are usually carved from lime or beech wood, though traditionally Mr. Punch’s nose is made of oak. “I paid £6 for these,” said Leslie, gently lifting up Mrs Punch, whose face was painted with a look of outrage. “They’re a nice working weight.”

Leslie, like his father before him, started out as a magician. He’d once performed for Tommy Cooper’s children, who’d wandered off leaving their father intently watching the show. “I always wanted to go on stage,” Leslie said a bit wistfully. He doesn’t perform much nowadays as he can’t move the puppets very easily. “It’s due to the weight of the crocodile,” he explained, “Don’t have the strength in my wrist any more.” Perhaps Professors eventually get a form of crocodile induced RSI?

Leslie’s father Percy was involved in music hall, before working as a magician on the London streets and then becoming a famous Punch and Judy man. He performed at Madame Tussauds, appeared in Carol Reed’s film “Oliver”, and was a guest on Desert Island Discs in 1974. His commemorative plaque is in St Paul’s church, Covent Garden. Percy’s son Percy II, born at 148 Gloucester Avenue, and his brother Leslie followed in their father’s footsteps. I asked Leslie if his family – he has four daughters – would do the same? His daughters aren’t interested, but his niece Adrienne now performs in schools with her own Punch and Judy show, so the Press tradition carries on.

I was wary of asking Leslie to do the distinctive voice of Mr Punch that day. Punch’s voice is made by inserting a reed-like item called a swazzle into your mouth, and apparently it’s tricky to use, or ‘troublesome’ as Leslie put it. I wasn’t sure about the Health and Safety implications of using one and eating biscuits at the same time. Another Professor told me you can’t call yourself a Professor until you’ve swallowed your first swazzle. ”You can ask me anything you like about being a Punch and Judy man,” said Leslie with a smile, “But I won’t tell you the secret of the swazzle!”

 

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Sally Kindberg at Barnes Children’s Literature Festival 2019

 

Great fun to meet my pirate crew of thirty or so children with their families at Barnes Children’s Literature Festival last saturday, and see some brilliant treasure maps as well as super inventive piratical portraits.  With thanks to Arnhel de Serra for photographs.

Many thanks to Barnes Bookshop for being there and selling copies of my Draw It! series of seven activity books for children, published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books, including Draw It! Pirates, and of course, many thanks to my lovely crew and to Barnes Children’s Literature Festival for asking me along.

 

After my event and book signing I met up with other authors in the Festival’s Green Room and persuaded them to join my pirate crew … Petr Horacek, Emma Carroll and Candy Gourlay.

 

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Sally Kindberg’s Space comic strip workshop at Belsize Park Community Library

Whooshy!  Some of the many wonderful comic strips and drawings of visitors from another planet by children at the Belsize Park Community Library last week.  Afterwards there was a lucky dip and the prize was The Comic Strip History of Space.

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Sally Kindberg’s visit to the House of Automata

Last month the House of Automata were kind enough to let me visit their extraordinary workshop in Scotland … more to follow soon

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