Thursday, May 21, 2015


I recorded the birds singing in my garden this evening.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Elegant letters

If you're not a graphic or web designer, you may not think about the design of the words you're reading. I did Fine Art at college, so typography wasn't part of my course. It's only been since I got a PC and have done some freelance design that I've got to know a little bit about it. Travelling around town, I've been known to shout out the names of some of my favourite fonts when I spot them in posters and shop signs. Weird, yes.

Nueva standard, which I've used in the heading of my blog (see above) used to be included in the list of fonts that came with Photoshop, but it disappeared. All I had left was Nueva condensed, which I hardly use. So now I've made up for the loss, with the advantage of being able to use it in Microsoft Office programmes.

The font was designed by an American, Carol Towmbly, in 1994.

It's possible to download Nueva and many other fonts free of charge. This is as unethical as using someone else's illustration without permission. So I paid, and I have a licence. Now my conscience is telling me to go through this blog and remove all the pictures that aren't copyright-free. I may be some time.

Monday, May 18, 2015


Several people, when arriving at my house at around tea-time, have commented about the birdsong. Opening their car doors, they're suddenly overwhelmed by the sparrows' commotion, perched in the hedge and shrubs. The birds especially like the thorny pyrocantha, where they feel safe. Friends who live in town say that they haven't heard or seen any sparrows for years. Their numbers are declining around the UK - they're on the red list. Some might say that the sparrows' song isn't very melodious - just lots of cheeping - but to me, it sounds bright and happy. My little colony never goes far. They're at the bird feeders all day, and in and out of the trees, shrubs and hedges in the vicinity. I buy bird food by the sack. They're worth it.

Excuse the poor sound quality, with occasional gurgles from passing traffic. This was recorded on my web cam.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The times they are a-changin'

I read in the Guardian that we have more LGB MPs than anywhere else, which is good. The article referred to the 1997 election, when Stephen Twigg was elected. It says, "Stephen Twigg was gay – a 'practising homosexual', to use a formula still popular at the time." It reminded me of a Suffolk six form conference I was invited to, as one of a panel of speakers on "controversial subjects", including homosexuality and abortion. Considering that, as far as I can remember, Section 28 was still in force, this was quite provocative. One of the other speakers was a member of the Gay and Lesbian Christian Movement and another was a homophobic evangelical vicar I'd come across before. He'd been "saved" and was determined to save as many others as he could. After quoting Leviticus (don't they all?), he said he didn't object to homosexuals if they didn't practice. I said that my gay friends didn't need to practice; they knew how to be gay. At this, the hall erupted, with the kids yelling and cheering, to the evident displeasure of the homophobe. I thought to myself, these kids are all right, and things are going to change. And they did.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The height of fashion

Nicola Sturgeon's shoes
According to a study by the Université de Bretagne-Sud, "men behave more favourably towards a woman if she is wearing high-heeled shoes," concluding that "high heels make women more beautiful". Sociologist Jean-Claude Kaufmann claims "high-heels are an important tool for women hoping to attract a male partner." But if you're looking for a proper grown-up relationship, maybe that's not the sort of partner you want?

Presenting the BBC's Young Dancer 2015 final last night, Zoë Ball was perched on ridiculously high heels, as she often is. I guess it's part of her show business image, to wear totally impractical shoes. During Strictly Come Dancing, she must have been glad to sit down. She certainly couldn't dance in them. But why does Nicola Sturgeon totter around on stilettos? They throw her body forward so her gait is unnatural. She probably wears them because she's short. Now what would a psychologist say about that?

Naomi Campbell's spectacular
1993 fall at Westwood's show
It's a very long time since I wore high heels. I had some silly platform soled shoes in my early 20s that were an accident waiting to happen, and it did. Shoes like this remind me of my Aunty Dorothy. She wasn't a real aunt, but our next door neighbour when I was growing up. She always wore high heels and her calf muscles looked like they had knots in. In later life, she had difficulty walking even in flat shoes, due to the damage done by walking on tiptoe for years. In years to come, fashion historians will probably deride very high heels as the height of foolishness.

PS, 11/5/2015

Seems I'm not the only one who's been interested in Nicola's shoes. She was on ITV's Loose Women, where she got side-tracked into talking about her appearance instead of about politics.
Nicola Sturgeon on Loose Women: How the 'most powerful woman in British politics' dealt with questions on shoes and fashion.
 PS, 19/5/2015

Bit of a hoo-ha at the Cannes Film Festival, when women were turned away from a red carpet screening for not wearing high heels.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Art lovers' heaven

Thoroughly enjoyed Frederick Wiseman's three-hour film on BBC Four about The National Gallery, with no narration and no music, part of the Slow TV season. You have 29 days to see it on iPlayer.

Although I did Art History at college (I did a Diploma in Art & Design), I didn't know about Caravaggio's use of ground colour in his chiaroscuro paintings, which was described as "economical". Nor did I know that when a painting has been cleaned it's varnished before being restored, so that there's a barrier between the original painting and the restoration. This means that if the painting is cleaned and restored again, all the hours of work done by the conservators can be wiped clean in minutes, leaving the canvas as it was before.

In the film, I found the staff and visitors to be as fascinating as the subjects in the paintings, especially in the galleries' subdued lighting. It reminded me of two people. The first was my Uncle George, one of my mother's brothers, who managed a toy shop not far from home. He was naturally talented (as was Mum - must be a family tendency) but I never saw anything of his apart from some pencil drawings. When he retired from the shop he got a job as an attendant in The Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool (my family's from Merseyside), where he was happy, surrounded by art and art lovers. Perhaps, if he'd had the opportunity, he'd have liked to do what I did, and go to Art College but, like many of his generation, higher education was out of the question, for financial reasons. My grandfather was a merchant seaman and he and Nana had five children to raise. Poor George.

The second person the film reminded me of was Dr Cronheim, who taught Art History at college. He was a small man, swamped by his heavy double-breasted pin-striped suit, who spoke with a thick Austrian or German accent. I don't know anything about him, but he was probably a wartime refugee. Dr Cronheim prided himself on his research into the characters in some of the large Renaissance paintings he lectured about, featuring the patron's families and friends with the holy family. If a patron had paid a lot of money for a religious painting, he might expect to be included in the subjects. If the artist had an especially strong reputation, he'd include himself in the painting too. On one occasion, Dr Cronheim pointed at a man in the bottom right hand corner of a large group surrounding Jesus and some angels and a bunch of others. "Zis is not the artist's brother, as I had first supposed, but the artist's brother-in-law!" He practically squeaked with emotion as he said this, his voice rising in triumph at his cleverness. I have no idea how he deduced the relationship of the man in the painting. I suspect poor Dr Cronheim was disappointed by our reaction, which was more amusement than admiration.

Some stills from the BBC film:

Restorer cleaning a painting
Visitors being lectured
Restorer touching up some blemishes
Alert gallery attendant
Guide lecturing about a painting

Old man sitting in a gallery

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A term of abuse, when it should be celebrated

I'm not keen on Ricky Gervais. The novelty of his dad dance in The Office wore off long ago, and I've never found him funny since. However, his Twitter attacks on big game hunters who kill for "sport", showing the hunters' sickening photos, posing with their trophies, have highlighted an issue that needs highlighting. Whether it'll make any difference is debatable.

I didn't like one of his messages, however, because I hate the use of the word "cunt" as a term of abuse.
I agree with Elisabeth:
The Oxford dictionaries define cunt as "vulgar slang" and a noun meaning -

1     A woman’s genitals.
1.1  An unpleasant or stupid person.

What has the first to do with the second? Nothing, except that it's a symptom of the misogyny that associates female anatomy with nastiness. For centuries, male religious extremists have regarded women's genitals as foul or dirty, a necessary evil if progeny are desired. Women were kept hidden from society while menstruating and after childbirth, because they were considered unclean. It still happens in backward patriarchal societies. Nowadays it's a favourite term of abuse for women by male Twitter trolls, like the idiot who attacked the classicist Mary Beard online. Mary's commented:
"When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out. If you went into a bar and a load of guys started saying, 'Look at that old slag. I bet her cunt smells like cabbage,' you would say, 'Look, guys, cut it out.' Same on Twitter!
So please Ricky Gervais, choose your terms of abuse carefully. I don't care for those that indirectly insult women.

See what Wikipedia says about the term.