Some sketches  

Sunday, 28 October 2007

True to my word (see previous post) I had a stab at some watercolour sketches his week. They might not look like much, but I have to say I was pretty pleased with the results. Not so much from an artistic or technical point of view, but from a personal one; the process of washing colour onto paper is hugely satisfying. And just like Jonathan Barnes promised, it does create a real emotional connection to the scene.

The first two sketches were done after travelling to an early morning Iaido session at the University of Kent. The University is set on a wooded hillside overlooking the city. When I arrived at 7.30am, the sun was just peering over the horizon and the sky was a really wonderful rainbow of colours. On my way back, the city was shrouded in early morning mist, with th spire of the Cathedral just thrusting through. It was one of those mornings that really made you stop and look at the world; and really appreciate how lucky you are to live in such a place.

This sketch is of a stone lantern in the Imperial Gardens in Tokyo. This is the part of the Imperial Palace grounds that are open to the public on most days. The gardens are really wonderful - beautifully planned and meticulously executed. This particular section is a beautifully constructed scene consisting of waterfalls, ponds and trees. A sense of greenery pervades this place, both accessible and yet mysterious at the same time.

Anyway - I am hooked on watercolour sketching. I can't understand why I have never discovered it before, but I feel at last that I have found an avenue for artistic expression. Thank you Mr Barnes!

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Artists at home  

Sunday, 21 October 2007

We are currently in the middle of the Canterbury Festival - a two week annual arts festival spanning just about every kind of artistic endeavour you could imagine. Canterbury is one of those cities that seems to have more than its fair share of artists, so one of the more interesting regular events is the annual "Artist's Open House" trail, where local artists open their houses to the public on weekends to exhibit their work.

We visited two places yesterday. The first was an absolutely amazing place, that I can only describe as an artist's commune; a rambling Edwardian house filled with the most beautiful and sometimes bizzare sculptures, paintings and ceramics. For some reason I forgot to take any pictures (see previous post). But it was quite an experience.

After that we visited a really nice and very talented family - the Barnes's. The father is into etching and watercolours, his wife is a potter and their daughter makes colourful jewellery. They were absolutely wonderful hosts, making us coffee and answering questions about their work with real openness. The ceramics were absolutely wonderful, and I particularly loved this design - really deep blue and reds set against a perfect gold glaze on the rim.

I was also really impressed with the watercolour sketches of Mr. Barnes. He is clearly someone who has had an interesting and widely travelled life. His sketch books record vignettes of his experiences in Africa, Marrakech and Malaysia amongst others. I said that I was really jealous of his ability to produce these annotated drawings, but he said that he really thought that anyone could do the same, and that he himself had only started a few years ago.His point was that the artistic merit of the sketches really didn't matter that much - the idea is to record your individual perceptions of a moment and a place in your life. At that moment, I really felt inspired to have a go myself. A camera can record an objective impression of something, but I guess a sketch is almost like taking a snapshot of your brain, encompassing not just the physicality of the scene before you, but also your engagement with the moment - what it means to you. I'm enormously attracted to that idea. Not because I feel I have anything interesting to impart to others, but because I have a burning need for some form of creative expression. I used to find this through music, but not so much now. Maybe this would be good for me.

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Autumn colours  

I am really enjoying the camera on my new phone - Nokia N73. It's taken me some time to get used to the concept of being able to document the minutiae of daily living. I guess that's because I grew up with photographic film, and therefore have an in-built abhorance of trigger-happy frivolity. Of course, this is nonsense with today's digital cameras. But old habits die hard. I have learned a lot by watching my daughter, whose uninhibited snapping of anything and everything has generated vast libaries of precious memories.

This time of year is probably my favourite, and I am especially mindful that this Autumn may be my last in England for some time. So the colours and that special sharp edge to the morning air has taken on a particular charm this year.

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Very tasty!  

Monday, 15 October 2007

This is the best roast pork in Canterbury! Cafe Mauresque, Butchery Lane.

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Britain's new slaves  

Sunday, 14 October 2007

My good lady wife took her Life in the UK test last week, and thankfully passed. I think this is a trememdous achievement, and has paved the way for us to hand over another £1000 to the government for the privelege of remaining in the same country as each other. Makes you really proud to be British.

I had an email this week from a lady in Bradford who is helping me research case studies of people affected by these new laws. Some of the stories are quite shocking. It appears that women in abusive relationships, many of whom were forced to come to the UK by arranged marriage, have been relying on the fact that they would be able to escape after a couple of years. That is now not possible: Their feckless husbands naturally refuse to pay for the tests or the courses necessary to gain Indefinate Leave to Remain, and thus these women are effectively held in bondage.

In principle I agree that people who come to this country to settle permanently should be encouraged and supported in their attempts to become integrated. But these new regulations do neither - penalising the law abiding, persecuting the vulnerable while doing nothing to restrict the actions of men in some immigrant communities who cloak their stone-age attitudes behind the veil of cultural tradtions.

It seems to me that the real problem of a failure to integrate lies not with recently arrived immigrants, but in the attitudes and entrenched practices of the communities that are already here. It is here that the pressure of legistation needs to be applied.

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Labour is flying high...  

Friday, 12 October 2007

First we have a chicken prime minister, now a "magpie chancellor". This government is quickly establishing a reputation for its bird-brained policies, lack of leadership and shameless filching of other people's ideas. But perhaps the avian analogy is an even more appropriate one. After 10 years of broken promises, the poor British electorate knows very well what it's like to be sh*t on from above.

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Talking of disappointment....  

Monday, 8 October 2007

Brown has decided that the interests of the country are best served by not giving the electorate the chance to renew their mandate. Really? I don't think anyone is fooled by this transparent attempt at spinning his lack of courage to appear as strong leadership. I am listening to Jack Straw on TV now telling us that everyone in Labour believes that they would win if an election was called now. Dover Labour MP Glyn Prosser was on local TV immediately before, saying the very same thing. What a coincidence. So, if it's such a forgone conclusion, what are they afraid of? I would have thought that a fresh mandate would allow them to silence the critics permanently and to pursue their policies with confidence. But it appears self-interest and self-preservation are the driving values of this government

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Disappointing desu ne?  

Sunday, 7 October 2007

We went along to the new Japanese restaurant in Canterbury last night, the rather cheekily named "Yo-Shi". My tonkatsu (pictured) was ok (apart from the fact they used Basmati rice instead of Japanese rice) but the service was incredibly slow. Not the waitresses fault, but the kitchen's. Mark and Moe ordered tempura and it took well over an hour to arrive. When it did it was, erm..what's the word..RUBBISH! And extremely expensive. I don't think we'll go again, and judging by the fact that the place was deserted at 8.00pm on a Saturday night, other people seem tohave made the same decision. Which is a shame - it's a nice idea and it could work, as soon as the owner realises that people aren't stupid and they don't like being ripped off.

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Testing times  

This weekend is the last chance for the good wife to practice her knowledge of New Labour propaganda in advance of her Life in the UK test on Monday. I hope she will do ok, but it is going to be a very difficult test to pass. I'm trying to remain positive and upbeat, but inside I am still seething with anger that she has to be subjected to such a ridiculous farce. Not to mention the rip-off fees that she'll have to pay if she passes.

The pressures of this test, of trying to decide how we are going to get through this visa business and what lies ahead has proved an almost cataclysmic strain on our marriage. At times, she is despairing so much about the strain of living here and the financial burden of Brown's tax on immigration that she wants to just jump on a plane and go. I can't blame her. I feel sick that my country, supposedly a paragon of freedom and humanity, has been corrupted into nothing better than a grubby, money-grabbing dictatorship, rank with hypocrisy and deceit. For an illustration, just compare the cost of a residency visa: UK - £750 (£950 if you want it within 16 weeks) Japan - £20, and no racist tests, rip-off language courses or other tricks either.

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Are better times ahead?  

Friday, 5 October 2007

This week appears to have been a good one for the Conservatives, with a successful conference and (at last) some good policy ideas being presented. The effect seems to have been to rattle Brown, which can't be a bad thing. Although Brown hasn't really done anything really terrible yet, and although he seems to be lot more sincere than Blair, there is something about him that I find quite unsettling. I get the feeling that underneath that dour exterior beats the heart of a red-blooded tyrant. I am sure that 5 years under Brown would be a catastrophe for the people of this country, with control-freakery running out of control. ID cards, the banning of immigration and more crippling taxes already on the horizon. Cameron, for all his public school toffery, seems at last to growing into the role of an opposition leader. To be frank, I've always considered him to be a washout as a leader, but finally he has stopped trying to out-Blair Blair and appears to be asserting his own Conservative credentials. And that seems to be having an effect, with Labour plunging significantly in the polls this week. The only puzzling thing is why everyone seems so surprised that a politician saying something he actually believes in rather than what he thinks "middle England" wants to hear has had such an impact on the British people. It's called integrity - a word we hasn't been associated with politics in this country for a very long time. This country needs leadership from the front, not policy driven by opinion polls and focus groups. Have we found such a leader in Cameron? Time will tell.

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