Doodles in the margin from an artist living and working in the Scottish Borders.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

NBC Broadcasts Cartoons.

Thanks to the hard work and dedication of Karol Wisniewski and his team, New British Comics Volume Three is out and about and roaming the planet. It's highly various, from winsome to weird to a bit disturbing, and tends to reinforce the idea that people who do comics are talented, if a bit odd.

I'm pleased to say that our collaboration, Here Comes The Neighbourhood, shuffles into line and doesn't look out of place, although as ever, going back to something so long after drawing it, I can see all kinds of infelicities and cackhandedness. But it's exciting to see it all lettered up and printed out so beautifully; it's a very, very professional looking publication, and if you like comics frankly for the high quality of artwork and writing you get, four quid is a bargain. Not to pick anyone out, but I have become very taken with Warwick Johnson Cadwell's artwork as a result of his Wild West/Vampire strip Von Trapp, and Lawrence Elwick's work is enviably clean and stylish but bloody hell, all the artwork throughout is excellent. Apart from my sloppier bits.

Featuring the collected talents of Dan White, Lawrence Elwick, John Miers, Paul O'Connell, Dave Thompson, Matt Craig, Craig Collins, Iain Laurie, Wilbur Dawbarn, Rob Miller, Van Nim, Warwick Johnson Cadwell and David Ziggy Greene.

NBC Vol. 3 is available to buy here, so you can stroke its physical loveliness. As some bloke on the internet says, "Really, this is a must buy and I’m not kidding," (Some Bloke on the Internet, 2011.)

And despite what you might read elsewhere, it doesn't smell.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Music on Monday: In The Grip of Bird Fancier's Lung

Cardiff's finest, Budgie. They had that analogue, valve-driven early-1970s texture to their music, but tunes such as Breadfan, Crash Course in Brain Surgery, both covered by irritating beard-wearers Metallica, and In the Grip of a Tyrefitter's Hand (they did good titles) sound years ahead of their time.

Lead singer, bassist, and Geddy Lee prototype Burke Shelley is very unwell at the moment, having had emergency surgery after falling ill in November last year, so all the best to him.

I particularly enjoy this footage because at one time -scrawny build, overmuch hair, inappropriately large glasses - that's what I used to look like. Apart from the singing voice, the songwriting ability and the musical talent, it's uncanny.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Rust Never Sleeps 6: St Amant.

St. Amant, oil on canvas, 16" x 20".

The St. Amant, registered in Ballantrae, and operating mostly out of Peterhead, I think. Less baroque than usual and more sternly industrial but I quite like the simplicity of this one.

St. Amant, a quick Wikipedia reveals, is patron saint of vinegrowers, innkeepers, brewers, vintners, bartenders, and , oddly, Boy Scouts. Pissed ones, presumably.

In some exciting rust-related news, I've had some paintings accepted for display in Number Four gallery in St. Abbs.

I had a quiet snout around while Laura was giving them some of her jewellery (out on display now, and looking very fine) and I'm both surprised and delighted to be accepted there. They have some very, very splendid work; glass, ceramics, paintings, bronzes, jewellery, and it's all beautiful. They're having a Spring re-hanging soon so some of my work will be up and visible then. Can't quite describe how happy it made me: I took along nine paintings, thinking they'd choose a couple, and they took the lot. I got treated like a Proper Artist. A little bit of validation goes a long way.

Number Four gallery's website can be found here, and again, a big thanks to them.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Give Me Penne All'Arrabiata Or Give Me Death

A friend asked me the other day, 'is Eddie Izzard still funny?'

I don't know, but it got me thinking about one of his funniest routines which is the very essence of how Eddie Izzard can be very funny indeed, predicated on the simple idea that in between battles, Darth Vader must have got hungry.

Contains swearing and Lego.

Music on Monday: Elbow Live

We had the chance to see the fantastic Karine Polwart last Friday night at the Peter Potter Gallery in Haddington on a rehearsal gig prior to her tour. With her were Steven Polwart and Inge Thomson, and holy mackerel, what a sound the three of them make together.

It was an intimate but also momentous gig, as it marked her "global ukulele debut" - "it's only small but it can sound really rubbish" - and several new songs took a bow, which hopefully means that there's a new album somewhere along the road, which is a very exciting prospect, because This Earthly Spell quickly became one of my favourite albums.

She's one of the most talented songwriters out there at the moment, certainly up there with the likes of Gillian Welch, or Danny Schmidt - that same apparently effortless, inexhaustible source of melody and thoughtful, smart and tender lyrics. Along with big ginger cattle and the Burrell Collection, she's a Scottish National Treasure. If you haven't seen, her, you really should. Anyway, I got to hear her sing "this wirry eyrrth" live so I was happy.

Links to tour dates at her website.

A Trip Around the Chicken Factory.

Recently I was reading, then skipping through, then looking for the pictures in, then putting away again Graeme Fife's 'Bob Chicken....A Passion For the Bike.'

For one thing, I'm sure - although I can't find it now - author Graeme Fife uses 'methinks' and 'alas' deliberately and without irony. In my jaundiced view that marks you out as an elaborate saloon bar bore and should be punished by being taken into the car park and beaten with morris dancing sticks.

It's a bit unfortunate that early on a journalist complains how boring a trip round a tyre factory is, because that's pretty much what you're on for 75% of the book. Or 75% of the bit of the book that I read. The paragraph devoted to Bob Chicken's decision to import Weinmann brakes was the first sign that the fact he was called Bob Chicken might be the high point of interest. For example;

"Whereas the Maillard 5-speed freewheels arrived in batches of 150 per ropey old wooden case, nailed and strapped, having been freighted across from the works outside Le Treport by tramp steamer and then sent on by road, Weinnmann sent (for example) batches of 54 cards of brakeblocks and shoes, or 50 pairs of brakes or 100 brake shoes, immaculately packaged in separate modular containers - tough cardboard containers - all symmetrical, in a handsome wooden packing case which would then be used for delivering on to wholesalers."

A trip round a tyre factory. And there's a whole series of rotten proof-reading errors where

appear randomly in the middle of proof-reading errors where paragraphs appear randomly in the middle of broken sentences. There's no index either, and a history/biography having no index is like stockings turning out to be painted-on gravy browning. Yes, he uses figures for numbers. And yes, on the spine the title does use a four dot ellipsis. A quick look at the front of the book shows that it was published by 'Robert J Chicken Sr,' which explains a lot.

Mind you, there were compensations in the early section, which I could have read much more of, covering as it did the early days of European road racing and giving a brief account of the life of the remarkable Tullio Campagnolo.

Campagnolo was a rider himself, in the days when to change gear on a bicycle you had to undo the wingnuts, take the whole rear wheel out, turn it around to engage the sprocket on the other side, refix the chain, tighten up the bolts, and remount. Racers who knew the roads well would get off their bikes and pretend to set about changing the gears, wait until their rivals followed suit, leap back on and speed off still on the big gear.

Racing up the Croce D'Aune pass in a bitter, snowy November, wrapped around with tyres and salami sandwiches, his bottles filled one with water and one with coffee, Campagnolo stopped to change his gear. Frozen, gloveless, soaked through with snow and sleet, his bare fingers numb to the bone, Campagnolo was unable to undo the nuts on the rear wheel. In order to keep up with the leaders he had to just keep going, and ascended the mountain pass fighting that big, laborious gear. Legend has it that he uttered the words, "something must be done about that rear wheel," which makes for a more nicely understated legend than "f-----ing b------d gear, b------y b-gg----g snow, c------g b------d bikes."

Anyway, the upshot of it was that he invented a simpler mechanism to allow the rider to change gear while pedalling and remaining in the saddle. It was permitted in the Tour de France in 1937; Bartali won it with Campagnolo gears in 1938. Anyone, apart obviously from willfully contrarian 'fixie' hipsters, who has tried to ride up a hill on a bicycle will be thankful for Campagnolo for helping to make it less horrible. (Fixie riders might like to consider it's also pleasingly 'conditioning' to the feet, not to mention amusingly retro, to go about without shoes. I bet you've got all got iPods, though. Very difficult to get a Victrola onto your pannier rack.)

He didn't stop there, though. The derailleur gear went through a constant series of refinements, and it was indicative of how Campagnolo's mind worked - and it worked constantly. It was impossible to keep rain out of the bottom bracket, the part where the pedal cranks rotate on an axle. In an apparently absent-minded daze, Campagnolo was sitting at his dinner table, gazing at the rumpled tablecloth. He took a pencil and a piece of paper and, inspired by the ruffles and folds in the cloth, there and then sketched out a design for a bottom bracket with grooves to channel away the water. He bought a vineyard and, pondering the difficulties of removing the stopper from the bottle, invented the corkscrew. (Well, a corkscrew anyway; some digging on the interweb reveals that there was an Italian-designed side-lever-arm corkscrew design already in existence, whose patent expired in 1966, perhaps handily. But, you know - legend is legend.) He also invented a nutcracker and a tennis racket with an aluminium handle.

It wasn't tennis that Eddie Merckx was thinking of, though, when he delivered the eulogy at Campagnolo's funeral in 1983; "you were the most loyal of our domestiques. The seven times that I crossed the Milan-San Remo line first, you were with me. You were with me in the snow that day I rode to victory over the Tre Cime de Lavaredo with more assurance than I had ever known. I shared every success with you." Which is a lovely Merckx tribute - 'I was bloody great, wasn't I? And so were you.'

Speaking of bloody greatness, though, that quality attaches itself in huge, opulent, gilded baroque bouquets of Montgolfier balloon proportions to the name of F.J. Davar.

F.J. Davar (I discovered his full name was, splendidly, Framdi Jamshedi Davar) is a man I feel I should have heard of, or at least regularly walked past one of his many statues. He gets one paragraph in the Raleigh cycles chapter, but it's got a whole book's worth of material in it, because by May 1929 he had bicycled across South America to reach Iquitos, having previously travelled - are you ready for this? - forty-seven thousand miles through thirty-six countries. He was the first to cross the Andes on a bicycle. He was the first to cross the Sahara on a bicycle, a comparatively short jaunt of just under three thousand miles. An American newspaper reported that he was heading through Central America and that his "Raleigh was giving him good service and is in quite good order."

If there's a book about this man I want to know, I don't care what the proof reading's like.

(Edit: apparently there is, and he wrote it himself. F. J. Davar's 'Cycling Across the Roof of the World' was presumably written in a long period of having a nice lie down - although, no, apparently not that long, as it was published in 1929. He must have started writing it resting on the handlebars during some of the slower uphill sections of the Andes. It's wrong not to mention that he did not do the epic Andes trip alone but in the company of one Herr G. Sztavjanik. I want to read this book.)

Monday, 14 March 2011

It's Resurgam All Over Again.

Dawes Warwick.

My Dawes Warwick, all nicely tidied up.

George, about ready to step out in the 2011 colours.

I've probably spent entirely too much time and money on this bike, considering its worth, but 'worth' is a relative term. On the one hand I cocked up quite a lot of the detail work on the respray, but on the other it now looks - from a suitably respectful distance - rather splendid. It's even got lug lining. No, you can't see a close up of that. Stay over there.

It's the most comfortable frame I've had, so while it's not a lost classic British lightweight, I picked it up cheap on eBay, it was made at a time when even the medium quality stuff wasn't being mass produced and welded together in Taiwan, and I've had a lot of fun out of restoring it, not to mention some knuckle-bitingly frustrating moments. So now I hope this Spring will see me back out and pootling around the countryside trying to jettison some of the sloth that has settled around my midsection.

Where we live is great cycling country. As a teenager I used to spend hours cycling with two friends, even on gloomy winter days, we'd ride out bundled up and make a cup of tea on a Trangia. We went on cycling holidays to the Lake District and North Yorkshire, which were the occasions respectively for (still) the furthest I've cycled on one day - 111 miles - and one of the worst hangovers I've ever had, which debilitated me in a tent sweat/dry heaves inferno for a whole day. I still remember camping in a wet tent in the pouring rain in a forest outside of Lockerbie, the overheard awestruck campsite comment that "those boys have been on the road for three days", and the feeling of cycling down the road beside Windermere on the first bright, sunny day for a week, whizzing through the shadowy patterns of leaves. (Twenty years ago! Stone the crows.)

Lancaster was a good place to get out on my bike, too, to try and shake off some of the unemployment rage in the Trough of Bowland and up and down the coast. The West Midlands did for me as a cyclist, though, as there wasn't anywhere I really fancied going, and to get there I would have to run the risk of fast, insane traffic and fast, insane drivers. For a long time I didn't even have a bike, and one I did have I gave to my friend Col as a winter trainer.

Anyway; George is about ready, we're just waiting on a gear cable and a 102mm bottom bracket so that my Campagnolo (I said, Campagnolo - I photographed that side so you could get a good look at it) Chorus chainset will mesh smoothly with the Shimano front derailleur, and we'll be off. Oh, and I need to lower the hole to secure the new rear brakes through, as they don't quite reach the wheel rim, despite being re-drilled once already, and being long-reach. So just a bit of fiddling and that'll be it.

I did actually have one bike during my stay in the Midlands, when I splashed a daft amount of money on a Claud Butler RoubaixTriple:

It was a fairly overcooked decision as it was about six times the bike that I needed, but I'd discovered that a young lady I was interested in was going out with someone so I lashed out at my disgruntlement with the sharp edge of a debit card.

As a machine it was rather glorious. It was razor thin and light and greyhound-eager to go but I felt like an imposter upon it. Had I ever gone out in the rain I would no doubt have noticed how appallingly filthy I got in the absence of mudguards, but it never came to that. I couldn't help but notice how meagre the tyres were and how buttock-cleavingly uncomfortable the saddle was; "I were right about that saddle," essentially, which isn't the correct thought for a man lashed to the helm of a carbon fibre and alloy index-geared road monster. And if I wanted to carry home a bag of potatoes or a piano, where would I lash it? Also there was a big danger I could get into conversations with strangers about 'kit.'

In the end, nice as it was to look at in the cubby under the stairs, I sold it. So I don't have the most expensive bike I ever bought, but I am on the other hand getting married to the young lady, so you know - strikes and gutters.

(Sorry about the unusually insistent captioning, but when you do a Google image search for 'Dawes Warwick' it's my bike that comes up first, and I'm keeping it pimped.)

Music on Monday:Wolf at the House's Door

I was thinking about the Bob Dylan Free Trade Hall bootleg the other day, and how remarkable it is that this legendary moment ("Judas!") was captured on tape so you can actually hear it, liberated from the years, a moment still live and crackling.

There's a similarly legendary quality to this exchange, which appears on the surface to be a performer dealing with a very drunk audience member who is making a lot of noise. Performer cuts down drunk with a fairly damning indictment of his wasted life that he "ain't done nothin' with" because he only loves whisky.

It's a harsh remark, with all the more force behind it for being delivered by the mighty Howlin' Wolf. What is really eyebrow raising if you're a nerdy blues cove, which I am, is that the object of the comment, the rowdy drunk, is Son House. And then the Wolf sings, which is always remarkable, regardless.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Rust Never Sleeps 5: H*3

H*3, oil on board, 18" x 24".

I know at least one person has been waiting for this, so here it finally is. More rust.

Another one from the rich seam of colour, font and rust at Eyemouth harbour. I've got three more canvasses roughed out and ready to go.

I added the diagonal shadow at a very late stage on this, and it suddenly made the whole painting make sense. It's difficult to give a sense of perspective and depth on what is obviously a flat surface, but the shadow just made it 'leap' somehow.

I was looking through some estate agency auction materials from the mid 1830s today - handbills, posters, lithographic prints, maps etc., which was a very exciting thing for a history and font nerd. I got some interesting ideas, not unconnected with the fishing boat work, which I'm quite excited about. Hopefully something will come of it. More rust first, though.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Music on Monday: Fish Tale

Oh yeah, Music on Monday. Sorry, I had this scheduled and forgot to write anything about it.

This is Chris Wood, a monster of the current folk scene (BBC Folksinger of the Year 2011), which makes him a very small monster in global terms, but it's the globe's loss. It's people like Chris Wood that keep folk music alive, not simply by playing the old songs but writing new material in the 'folk' idiom. New songs about 'downsizing' to be happier, asparagus, his daughter hoofing someone's glasses across the schoolyard, and this beauty, an updated version of true love and the travels of a lost ring, in the chrome and steam setting of a chip shop.


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