Heath Robinson @ Pinner

I’m a great fan of William Heath Robinson’s absurdist illustrations. I mean, who isn’t? Those elaborately detailed contraptions invented to perform any mundane and simple task, most of which have no real necessity, just sending up of human folly, a condition as relevant today as ever it was. The term “Heath Robinson” has entered the English language, used to denote any ridiculous and absurdly over-engineered design.

Apparently WHR lived for a time in the London suburban “village” of Pinner, then a part of the county of Middlesex, and so Pinner lately finds itself host to the Heath Robinson Museum. This is very close to my old stomping ground so, after a visit to the old folks, I popped across to have a look.

It’s a small building consisting of two modest exhibition spaces and a tiny gift shop. I’m not sure it justifies the six pound admission fee though this included a hand held audio device. By comparison, our exemplary local museum charges five pounds and its combined exhibition area is probably ten times the space, or more – and there’s an additional gallery space attached which is free to enter. Of course, I understand that the price might reflect its financial needs to exist at all rather than just the worth of its collections.

What the curators have done with the small rooms is quite good. The one dedicated to WHR is chronologically arranged. A descriptive timeline runs around the room at knee level, and at eye level are framed prints, examples of his work corresponding to the years described. Above are larger, coloured prints, seemingly printed directly onto the walls. Here and there, along the timeline, are display cabinets of books he was commissioned to illustrate. It’s a balanced collection, varied and not overly dominated by his famous devices.

You can point the audio device at each framed work and hear either of two interpretations by a couple of BBC journalist/newsreader/celebrities, though they are no more informative than studying the work yourself, in silence. I believe the celebs were asked to contribute as they live in the area. Fair enough, but they could have been better informed and offered the visitor something more. After a bit, I found it an unnecessary distraction and for the rest of the visit it stayed in my pocket.

The gift shop is a gem. It stocks prints, framed or not, from the collection, and reprints of many of the old books he was commissioned to illustrate. You pass through the shop to get to the other room. This holds temporary exhibits, I was told. On the day it was a group of Neo-romantic illustrators taking their cue from the Neo-romantic art movement. There were some nice pieces, mostly in ink, with pen and brush. Apparently the exhibitions in this room change monthly.

The museum is situated in Pinner Memorial Park which appeared extremely busy this bitterly cold afternoon. Most were families come to feed the ducks – though the mobs of gulls had the lion’s share of pickings. It’s a short walk from the car park in front of the Village Hall, somewhere behind the station; it’s free to park on Sundays. Despite the entry price, it was nice to see a permanent tribute to Heath Robinson, one of our favourite illustrators.

Heath Robinson Museum, London

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those albums

August And Everything After by Counting Crows

Adam Duritz voice belongs to that small set of singing voices which are instantly recognisable and constant. Mick Jagger, Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart – there aren’t many Americans. Bob Dylan perhaps. It was Duritz voice that impressed me first, the song was either Mr. Jones or Rain King, I don’t know which now but both were played on that introductory moment.

It was some time after when I bought this album, the band’s debut, on the strength of remembering those two songs and the voice. The band itself is a good band, no stand out virtuosity, no ego soloist; this makes a good band in my view. They play well and they sound like a band, together.

The album too is a level affair. No one song urges to be played, or replayed instead of its successor. It makes this a perfect album for me, no highs and no lows. It has an integral strength. With his voice, pathos even on the upbeat ones, and the band rolling along, there’s a sense of a theme running through the album too. Again, a hallmark of a perfect album.

I like the lyrics, that they’re not readily understood, subtle and concealing, open to interpretation. I thought I’d read how Duritz was given freedom of the city by the elders of Omaha, even though he had never been there. The song, apparently, isn’t literally about Omaha. I like that story.

It is still a beautiful album to listen to.

Round Here
Mr. Jones
Perfect Blue Buildings
Anna Begins
Time And Time Again
Rain King
Sullivan Street
Ghost Train
Raining In Baltimore
A Murder Of One

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those albums

Floating Music by Stomu Yamash’ta and Come To The Edge

I used to buy albums just for the cover art alone. It sounds crazy now but I love Art. And it was also a desire to find something new, something unheard. This is how I came across Caravan, from the Canterbury Scene of the late 60s and early 70s, a band I would still listen to today.

However, this time it’s the album by Japanese percussionist and composer, Stomu Yamash’ta which I’m revisiting. It’s an easy review because I don’t think I’ve ever fallen out of love with it, and since I’d rather listen to jazz or classical music, rather than pop or rock, these days, it’s even more relevant.

I came across the cover, a gatefold sleeve, browsing in our local record shop – it would be called an Indie today but this was before the megastores were ubiquitous and there was no internet never mind Amazon. It stood out from the pack, a Japanese scene, Ships Entering Tempozan Harbour, by Gakutei (1832), with its classic depiction of the red sun’s crepuscular rays slicing through the sky. I had absolutely no idea what the music was going to sound like but I wanted the cover.

Inside the gatefold was a grainy, shadowy portrait of a man wielding what looked like weapons. In fact they were the sticks used to play part of his “multitudinous percussion”. The other photos showed a stage setting for a serious concert, likely classical, for a small ensemble and portraits of the band, Come To The Edge.

Some of this music featured prominently in the soundtrack of The Man Who Fell To Earth, a vehicle for David Bowie’s androgynous and alien alter ego of that period. I didn’t realise this even when I first played it; I don’t think I’d seen the film and wouldn’t have been that interested in cinema, unlike now. To me, the vibraphone in Poker Dice just sounded divine. It’s a long piece building in tempo and instrumentation, halting ever so briefly then beginning a new variation.

Keep In Lane was inspired by observing traffic, the idea of musical lanes passing one another at different speeds. Beginning with frantic drums and shouts, it is overtaken by a dominant horn section which, in turn, moves into vibes and horns, improvised jazz, then reprising the earlier styles, ending again with the drums and voice.

Xingu is a composition by Come To The Edge drummer, Morris Pert, and the one composition here not by Yamash’ta. Though the album is often labelled a fusion of rock and jazz, this is clearly more Jazz in its style. There’s more evenness in the band’s performance with the other two musicians, Andy Powell on bass and Robin Thompson on keyboards. It’s a lovely and lively performance.

The album ends with One Way, the second to feature in the Bowie film and used there as an ambient soundtrack piece. It is best described as an essay in Eastern fusion. It starts with what clearly sounds like a flute, possibly a shakuhachi bamboo flute, though it’s not credited to anyone on the liner notes. Heard in the background is a sho, played by Robin Thompson, but this is not the flute sound. I suspect it is Yamash’ta as there is sparse percussion.

In the liner notes it says this was made for headphones listening. This is funny as I really came into this anew when I was caught up in the fad of digitising my old records. I’d listen through phones so as to pinpoint pips in order to clean up the sounds. It’s true, within the isolation of headphones, the haunting, sensory magic of One Way is profound. Exotic and unusual, it is probably my favourite of the album.

Sadly, this album isn’t available on Spotify, my usual go to format. Instead I had to rummage around for a hard copy CD – my old records long since donated to charity; I’m a lover, not a collector. The player tells me there was over 51 minutes of music yet I didn’t feel the passing of it. This is still a beautiful, captivating album for me.

Poker Dice
Keep In Lane
One Way

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more shout out

It seems a bad day when Japanese culture fails to impress me in some way. It doesn’t matter which period, it often seems to come out of left field, totally different from whatever is happening elsewhere. You may realise how this blog came to be called. The thing is, I have never been to Japan, and I don’t know if going would be a disappointment.

Never mind, Spoon & Tamago was featured on WP Discover, through my Reader, and I almost missed it. I really haven’t got a handle on discovering fresh blogs here, any help appreciated. The odd thing is there’s no clear way of following it on WP, you just get sent directly to the site.

Spoon & Tamago is a good looking blog dedicated to the contemporary, and unusual side, of the Japanese art scene, centred, though possibly not exclusively, on Tokyo. The first article I came across was on the artist, Yusuke Aonuma, who makes architectural grids by arranging individual seeds of the dandelion. Dandelion fluff, as the author calls it.

Next is Yui Takada who creates wonderful thumbnail-sized abstracts by carefully cropping Japanese newspaper headlines. If that doesn’t strike a note, there’s 3D collage-sculptures, flower artistry, comic strips, and painted animals created from found stones.

It’s well worth a look, well-curated, well-written and insightful. Why I can’t add it to follow here on WP, who knows?

Spoon & Tamago

Images, clockwise from top-left;

Yusuke Aonuma – iki wo tateru (to breathe)

Yui Takada – trim tabroid

Takayuki Tanaka – beauty in life

Akie Nakata – stone artist

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shout out

Artfinder is a site I subscribed to moons ago. Its initial appeal was that it presented famous works of art daily, along with its location, which you could tag as a favourite thus building up a personal reference collection, rather like Pinterest. This I did and added little notes to accompany each picture.

Some time later, this strategy was scrapped in favour of a new one which presented new, and rather unknown, artworks – the old famous works disappeared along with my notes. I try not to get too disgruntled by the whims, schemes and vagaries of the web, so I continued to accept daily emails. It shouldn’t need explaining that this is now an open commercial enterprise; the paintings, photos or prints are offered for sale. Normally it would take a second to look and delete the daily email. Probably about one in fifty would warrant a second look and the best of these would find their way into my Pinterest folders for inspiration.

Now Artfinder have changed tack again. Instead of focussing on a piece of art – a masterpiece, so to speak, by which we judge the artist – it’s the artist which is featured, a new one each day. This looks far better as you still head to the shop, the commercial bit, but there you’ll read something about the artist, how they work, where they work and what they’re up to. Then you can purchase a piece of work, or save it to Pinterest (or Instagram or whatever – instant links are provided). It’s a much better way of doing business, I think.

I have no commercial interests in Artfinder, I get no bung; everything I do here, I do for love.

Subscription is, I fear, required simply to peek, something a business head would need to explain because I’ve never understood it – it more often puts me off and a lot of others too.

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Methods of Making: Touring Exhibition

The touring exhibition, Methods Of Making, has been showing in Cirencester’s New Brewery Arts since the beginning of the year. I hadn’t thought to go along as furniture comes slightly below sculpture in my interests. However, yesterday being an exceptionally fine day amongst a month of grotty unpredictable weather, I took a walk into town and there not being much else to do, popped into see the exhibition.

There were eight exhibits in the centre of the gallery, each an example of one studio’s work. It was a diverse collection from tables, chairs, benches, storage, shelving, and what my folks would call a pouffe. I don’t know what I was expecting before but there was something special and unique about each piece, far from the usual stuff you’d find in a furniture showroom or even IKEA, and they offer some weird and clever stuff at times. Unlike IKEA, this is all real wood – apart from the pouffe which was ingeniously constructed by weaving long strips of recycled newspapers.

I thought the better part of the exhibition was the eight videos shown on wall monitors, each being roughly opposite its relevant piece. There was something soothing and reassuring about the pace of work depicted in them; the process of turning raw materials into something useful and aesthetic. Ranging in duration from around three to nine minutes, in is, I think, a bit much to expect passers-by to stand – there were no public seats, ironically – and watch every minute of every video. At the risk of spoiling the graceful pace of process and thought, they might have sped them up to twice real speed, as is now the trend for cooking demonstrations. Or perhaps collect the screens together. It wouldn’t have been too hard to take in four videos simultaneously. Anyway, the stars of the show for me were the short films.

I thought this would be easy to write up, the tour has been going since 2015 and is sponsored by the National Centre for Craft & Design and the Arts Council. Yet could I find decent information on any of their websites? No. Eventually I tracked down seven of the films by searching the filmmakers’ names – Dale Fearnley, Francese Surado, Marc Suria, from the credits at the end. I don’t know what happened about Sebastian Cox’s film, the eighth maker featured in this exhibition, but I feel I’ve gone beyond the call of duty already.

What are the NCCD and Arts Council like?

Ed Teasdale

Nicola Henshaw

Jim Partridge and Liz Walmsley

Ben Huggins

Gareth Neal

David Gates

Jay Watson

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a little heads up

After a lot of faffing around, I’ve decided on running two blogs concurrently. This one will be primarily about my experiences with “culture”, ie Film (movies) under the heading Popcorn; Music under the category Earwax; visual art under the category Art and everything else under the category Stuff.

My other blog, The Moon Is Rising… will be about general, personal stuff so likely you won’t be interested in that sort of guff. There’s a bit of duplication of posts across the two but people have already seen them so I’m leaving it as it is.

Anyway, enough bollocks, I thought I’d kick off a new beginning with a couple of recommendations.


I’ve been trying to find good blogs to read, somewhat in vain. The inbuilt recommendations in WP are too infrequent and not very interesting. One discovery that bucks this trend is Bandcamp, a blog which, it seems, focusses on the little guys in the music world. All sorts of music and musical genres get written about, and they don’t mind dipping into the past.

The best thing about it is the audio attachments; you can listen to the music they’re writing about. To be honest, the rate the articles flood into my Reader is overwhelming, I haven’t given the site complete justice yet. Nevertheless it’s worth a recommendation.

bandcamp daily

Art stuff

Winsor & Newton are an old firm. I remember shopping for art materials with my late grandad. Invariably, we’d return home with something by W&N. Much more recently, when I rescued a couple of their easels from a school skip, I emailed them on the cost of a replacement part missing from one. They replied with a picture of the easel and asked me to highlight the missing bit. I did and they sent me the part free of charge. I’ve got two great easels for nothing more than a bit of tidying up and a couple of emails.

There was a slight catch, they put me on a mailing list and keep sending me these little videos. They’re marvellous little videos too, an education in the use of different media and their intended purpose. I never knew it was so involved.

W&N Masterclass – learning tools for artists

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the art of self discipline

Some time ago, The Times ran a weekly series of interviews with “celebrities” (my speech marks) and took the form of a timetable of events making up their day. I don’t know whether this would be their typical day or their perfect day, but it did give the impression of a life run like clockwork. I wonder how true it was.

My own life could do with an injection of discipline along these lines. I’m too carefree and lazy. It’s okay while I’m being paid to do work, in work, but while I’m taking a break from work – which can be months these days – a lot of my endeavours go to pot.

Back in 2009, when I took my first major sabbatical since my youth, I had the good mind to draw up a weekly timetable of jobs and activities to do. It looked like a school timetable. The days were divided into large chunks around lunchtime, and between breakfast and tea. The “subjects” comprised things like major DIY jobs, working on the allotment, practising art, and days spent out walking or cycling. It looked impressive and it looked doable. But I didn’t do it. Events, other people’s demands on my time, and the randomness of my moods had the upper hand. I spent a disproportionate amount of hours down on the allotment at the expense of all else. I had a great time, lost weight unintentionally, felt fitter and even developed a farmer’s tan – in February! – but when I went back to work – that is, paid work – I looked back with a slight tinge of regret and failure.

It won’t be long before full retirement beckons. I’m already receiving advisory letters from the pension companies. I don’t know whether I should accept who I am and simply go with the flow, something I do naturally and more or less enjoy, or knuckle down to commitments. Making the most of it, as life coaches and the self-help industry invariably prescribe.

So, timetables or cheerful randomness, which to choose for a happy life? I honestly don’t know.

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those albums

Rainbow Bridge (original motion picture soundtrack) by Jimi Hendrix

My go to cassette of choice for relaxing in the bath (see here) was a C90 on which I’d taped a friend’s Led Zeppelin debut album on one side, and another friend’s Rainbow Bridge album. It was rare, I think he had it mail-order direct from the US. I’ve never found a copy in the UK. As mentioned in the post, i’d play the C90 all the way through – 90 minutes.

I like Hendrix but it’s been a while since I heard Rainbow Bridge so I put it on this afternoon whilst looking over some old linocuts. The first thing to say about it is it’s not and never been a movie soundtrack. How it ended up being called that, I wouldn’t know. Secondly, it’s a posthumous release, a compilation of recordings which Hendrix didn’t approve of for release. Despite this, it’s a pretty strong album, probably thanks to the additional work of the remaining members of his band and the studio.

The band by that time had fallen back to comprising Hendrix on guitar and vocal, his army buddy, Billy Cox on bass, and the original Experience drummer, Mitch Mitchell.However, the compilation is taken as far back as 1968, with a studio recording of the original Experience with Noel Redding on bass. Two other songs are essentially backed by Hendrix’s interim band, Band of Gypsys and one other recording of a solo arrangement of the American national anthem. There is no chronological order in this collection, the album has a wonderful, seamless quality to it.

The opening songs on each side of the original album, Dolly Dagger and Look Over Yonder, are typical power rock numbers. Earth Blues sounds a little funkier, a bit fuller in the band and The Ronettes on backing vocals gives a hint of gospel to it. I’m not sure whether the Earth is an ecological reference or a cosmic one. I think he must have liked sci-fi and fantasy themed lyrics.

With certain songs, there are clues to why Hendrix was unhappy to release them. Mistakes and slight pauses on the instrumental Pali Gap, for instance. But Hendrix’s standard set the bar high enough to overlook this and enjoy a psychedelic guitar jam. This is one of my favourites.

So to is the following song, Room Full of Mirrors, with Buddy Miles on drums. With its funky bass quite forward in the mix, this appears to bowl along and has lost none of its energy for me.

The long, slow electric blues of Hear My Train a-Coming is an exemplary Hendrix Experience mk II live performance. I would have loved to have seen it. The steady improvisation on the guitar, switching to a delicious wah-wah pedal momentarily for the middle piece, shows how he might have developed into a modern jazz performer. Miles Davis was interested in a collaboration, I read. When I think of Hendrix’s style of playing, I think of this.

Yet the one I love to hear, second only to the Royal Albert Hall version of Little Wing, is the final song, Hey Baby. I love its false intro, I love the way the band fall in with the main tune and, of course, the guitar. It’s kind of a farewell song, but an optimistic one as well. Too sad he didn’t make it back. This is still a great listen.

Dolly Dagger
Earth Blues
Pali Gap
Room Full of Mirrors
Star Spangled Banner
Look Over Yonder
Hear My Train A-Coming
Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)

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reminiscing the long soak

I’m in the bathroom, mulling over the differences between taking a shower and having a bath. This isn’t as random as it might sound. For a long time now, we’ve been considering moving house and, naturally, once you’re in the swing of the idea, you begin making lists of the things you would like to have, maybe the essentials you won’t part with or those desirous things you haven’t enjoyed.

Like Elton John’s Dirty Little Girl, I haven’t had a bath in years. I’m a shower man, it has to be said, not by thoughtfulness but through habit. In my youth, I had a mate who swore by the efficacy of thorough bodily cleanliness by quick and easy showering. It kind of rubbed off, this idea, even though we didn’t have an actual shower in our house.

Our house, meaning my parent’s house and my home, had just one of everything but a shower. One bath, one wash hand basin, and one toilet (separate room). The separate toilet was essential, there being no alternative in the house. This meant that during certain hours in the evening, you could be at liberty to soak away in the tub, undisturbed.

In my earlier youth, years before my mate put the notion of showers into my head, I would enjoy a long bath. This enjoyment probably relied on the fact that most folk of that time would only have a bath on certain days of the week, perhaps twice a week on average. This was considered fine and dandy. Especially for boys.

Incidentally, it’s interesting that some current thinking on the matter suggests that daily full body washing is actually harmful, particularly when done in conjunction with antibiotic soaps and shampoos. Apparently, in removing a lot of natural oils and friendly bacteria, 24 hours in insufficient time for the body to normalise itself before the next thorough scrubbing. This new thinking advocates washing less may be healthier.

Back in the bath, having chosen my moment, free from harassment, I would soak for one hour and thirty minutes. I know this with a good deal of accuracy as on the bath mat would be placed my shoebox-sized portable cassette recorder, a C90 cassette playing two of my favourite albums, in their entirety. Yes, I’d climb out of a cold bath. Well, not exactly cold cold, but somewhere between room temperature and body temperature.

I’m not thinking of retrying the hot to cold bath experience but I am thinking better of regular submersion. Say, once in a while, and shower for the rest. I like the idea of relaxing in a tub and easing the muscles to the sound of music. But I believe a proper degree of enjoyment would rely on a good quality tub. Not what we have now, in the family bathroom, something squeezed down the far end between three walls, narrow at one end and the plug hole and taps at the other. I want one of those stand alone jobs, big and wide, with nice rolled sides, like a Chesterfield sofa. I’d like it positioned so the light from a long window streams in; early morning light, early evening light, moonlight, I don’t mind.

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