Sunday, 19 December 2010

Tree cosy

Cockermouth has a lovely wide Georgian main street lined with an avenue of pollarded elms. These trees are stark in winter but come the spring ... ah spring! It's hard to imagine at the moment with the cold and frost and ice... they will sprout new lush green and give us all hope of better things to come.
But what is this I see? One of the trees is all wrapped up in a neatly fitted patchwork quilt. That's novel. It's outside our newly located health food shop. I went inside it's newly refurbished interior to find out more.
Ah, now I see. It is a year since the disastrous floods hit the town. The force of the water stoved in the window of the wool shop and distributed the contents of the shop all over the place. It unravelled everywhere. Wherever you looked there was wool. It defied the laws of physics that a little shop could contain so much wool.
Now, as a celebration of our recovery, Cathy Newbury has made it into a novel project. She has gathered in every bit left when the water subsided and has given a whole new meaning to recycling. She has used it as a community project teaching people to knit. And knit they have! Squares and multi-coloured squares have been sewn together round the tree outside the old wool shop and on the other one outside the premised to which they have relocated. The tree cosy wraps the tree to the height the flood water came as a grim reminder giving us all a reason to rejoice in the miraculous regeneration of our town which is looking so good this Christmas.
It gives a whole new meaning to tree hugging.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


There were about fifty of them dumped outside the auction house. They weren't in the catalogue. if they had been I might have thought twice before entering the danger zone. There were square ones, battered ones, some with dried up plants and soil in them as well as those toadstool like things that prop up barns, a couple of bald eagles and a line of corinthian columns in case you had delusions of grandeur. M in B's eyes lit up. He has a trough obsession. Our garden is full of them of all varieties. They are good to look at but how many troughs can a man have? We'd come to look at paintings of course - big mistake! Auctions are dangerous places.
Clutching a hastily typed list swiftly obtained from the desk he was out there eagerly evaluating.
'Hey, nobody knows about these,' he said. They're late entries; not illustrated, not listed, a snip.
I cast my eye down the estimated prices – they were in the low hundreds. Christmas was a-coming and I hadn't a clue what to get the man who has everything as usual so I rashly said I would buy him the trough of his choice. Problem solved and it would keep him occupied for some time – an extra bonus. I went off to look at the paintngs and sneak a quiet cup of coffee.
An hour later and he was still out there drooling over the largest one – a pig trough. It was big and round, more than a metre in diameter and weighed several tons.
'I've chosen. This is the one,' he said, eyes shining.
I rang Mac the Mover – Workington's miracle man. He can move anything. He'd moved M in B's trough collection from the High Pennine ten years ago. He knew what he was up against. I didn't ask about his hernia. Tact is my middle name – not!
'What do you reckon it weighs?' Mac asked cautiously.
I told him and heard the intake of breath, the sucking of teeth.
'How are you going to get it on and off my wagon?'
Life is never simple is it?
Back at the desk they told me the whole collection had come on a big lorry. It was the lifetime's collection of one man. The contractor on the industrial estate next door had lifted them off with a crane when they arrived and placed them on the forecourt. We had a word with him. He'd do 'our' one for £20. Our neighbour would lift it off with his tractor at the other end. Sorted.
'How far can I go?' M in B asked as we made our way to the sale next day.
'Go as far as you want,' I said indulgently. Well they weren't going to fetch much because nobody knew about them did they?
People were drifting off when they got to the troughs at the end of the sale, just a few stragglers followed the auctioneer outside while he quickly worked his way down the lot numbers purging to get off home for his tea. They were fetching low hundreds as predicted on the now dirty crumpled extra sheet in Michel's hand. At last; lot number 741 – 'our' stone pig trough came up. I wasn't paying much attention – just tagging on at the back. Bidding started at £200 and went up quickly by increments to £1000. What? I was stupified. I pushed in closer. M in B still kept nodding, not meeting my eye. I was going to have to mortgage the cat or take in lodgers or something. I was in panic.
'Any advance on £1500?' the auctioneer asked staring intensely at M in B. 'Do I hear £1800 sir?'
To my relief he shook his head. He had his sad face on.
£1800 then came from the back quickly followed by a telephone bid and it became a duel for possession again. The hammer went down at £3700.
There was a stunned silence.
'And then there's the commission and everything on top. It'll be well over £4000' I whispered doing the calculations. I'd had a narrow escape
M in B had to admit it was the most expensive pig trough on the planet.
'There'll be other troughs ' I said consolingly, 'and you've got a lot haven't you?'
'It was unique,' he said ruefully.
He's got socks and chocolates for Christmas. Anyway - the gift wrap would have been a pig!

Monday, 6 December 2010

on the buses

I've discovered buses like some people discover god. It's all this ice and snow. The car is firmly in the garage and I find I can get anywhere - well nearly anywhere - by public transport despite living a mile away from the main road half way up a mountain.(slight exageration). The one mile brisk walk does me good and I arrive glowing and pink - eat your heart out L'oreal! I've become a bus evangelist.

Went to the gallery on the X4 on Saturday to find main street closed and cars and prone bodies in street. Black ice had claimed them and police had closed road. I minced to PO with parcels ofbook and xmas card orders with the help of shoe chains and walking poles - wonderful invention. ignoring all the fallovers - police dealing with them efficiently.
The buses started running again with arrival of salt from those well known Cumbrian salt mines.
Walzed out at 16.51 for my bus home which arrived spot on time - got on and found it had cancelled my route. How dare it!'I can drop you off at The pheasant' he said cheerfully. Is it far from there? Other road's too bad.'
'Yes it s****** is - just 6 miles in the dark'
I got off at the next stop and walked back to gallery fuming and rang M to say I was staying the night there with hot water bottle.
Sylvie my Saturday girl rang mobile to see if I'm on bus OK. (she's my beloved granddaughter as well and cares). I tell her where I am and she forces her pa - my son to turn back for me. He says he'll take me to St Bees to stay with them. It's on the coast so not as icy. (hey - I used to live at Castlegate House all on my ownio I could have quiet night in with good book and electric blanket). They'll be watching get me out of here and football. Help!
Ring M to say staying at St Bees. He says (glibly) he's been invited out to supper with lovely neighbours over the field.
Peter gets back and I pile into car. He asks how I'll get home Sunday.
Train and then bus.
No trains stop in St Bees on Sunday. He's taking me 20 miles further away from gallery and even further from home which had occurred to me already.
He turns round. He'll take me to the bottom of our hill instead (no vehicle has passed uppi there for a long time. It is pristine snow.)
I ring M to say I'm on my way home - he sounds disappointed. which is not good for ones self respect.
I set off for my one minute mile with bag with milk (4 litres) and bread(2 loaves no fishes) and computer (bloody heavy), feeble torch and walking poles. Now tell me how many hands you need for that??? At least 4- correct. I get 10 yards - Pete's headlights are long gone. It is total black when mobile goes. Help I need yet another hand now, It is M just checking I haven't changed my mind AGAIN. I assure him I'm on my way up the lane. I then spy a funny flashing light low and meandering ahead.
'Stay on the line' he says.
'I haven't got enough hands - I'll fall over' 'put it in your pocket switched on' he says'it could be a mass murderer!'
Gee thanks bud. That makes me feel better. He must be a dwarf though.
I march towards the mass murderer which turns out to be small dog with flashing collar doing a bit of rabbiting. His owner follows and we peer at each other through the fog. It is a man who was at the theatre launch Monday. He wishes to have a conversation about it at minus 11 degrees!! M is listening to this unintelligble conversation from my pocket! I take my leave after exchanging inane pleasantries..
'What the hell was all that about?' says my pocket/
Just a man and a flashing dog. wanting to know about the LitFest.
He doesn't believe any of it obviously. Thinks I've flipped. I switch him off.
I fight the 6 smelly rams who are waiting hopefully at the gate fuelled by testosterone -it's that time of year. They are hopefully waiting for sex or food - typical males.
M has soup and red wine awaiting my arrival and the fog suddenly clears and the sky is full of stars.It's good to be back.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

New Dawn

There is a woman lying face down in the gallery garden. She is trussed up in bubble wrap and blue strapping. Her feet are encased in concrete. It is like the scene from the Hammer House of Horror.
Yes, the new bronze sculpture New Dawn arrived on Wednesday and four blokes are now nursing hernias and wobbly knees. The bronze casting was heavy enough by herself but she had been screwed and cemented into a large rock plinth from which it was impossible to detach her. On top of this indignity at some time in her past, she had been lowered into a hole filled with wet concrete which, when dry, doubled her weight at the most modest estimate. Michael spent Friday sitting on the lawn chipping off the concrete and is now working on a cunning plan to hoist her upright and drop her into the hole he will have dug by then. Nobody is going to lift her manually again. He with the help of his engineering friend Brian will employ Stonehenge type technology to manipulate her. Pictures will be posted when she is upright and in place.
We had a great day yesterday. We were part of the Cockermouth art trail. The town was heaving with lively people. There were events happening everywhere in the most unexpected places. It was great. I did several 'Secret life of an art gallery' tours which everyone appeared to enjoy. Even some long standing visitors had no idea what happened behind the scenes at Castlegate House and nobody had been upstairs before. I did a tour of the garden, the kitchen and the store room / viewing room where we keep some of our treasures, telling stories as we went.
I am thinking about making this a regular thing - maybe every Saturday when I am around and have the (wo)man power back up.
And now we are getting ready for London tomorrow and the Henry Moore exhibition at the Tate, the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition as well as seeing people and other exhibitions - we have a long list of things to do. The weather is forecast very hot which is enervating - and we aren't used to it - so we'll probably melt! I am off to India in 2 weeks so I shall regard it as training and acclimatisation.

Water works

Now look here all you people in Manchester, stop taking baths immediately and drink wine instead of water and tea - you are pinching our water big time! On the way to see the new William Morris exhibition at Blackwell we were startled to see how low the water in Thirlmere has become. The islands are islands no longer. I have never seen it so low and made a diversion down the tiny road at the back of the lake to record it. It is ironic when you think last November we had unrelenting rain for more than a month, the water board were having to open the sluices to ease the pressure of water and we experienced the worst floods ever.
We are very conscious at all times of our water consumption. Our house in the fells has no mains water so we rely on the rainfall to supply us much more directly. Our supply comes from a spring up the hill and we gather it in a holding tank which sends it down to a big tank buried close to the house from which it is pumped into the house via a 'zapper'which kills all known living nasties before it comes out of our taps.
It tastes like Nectar. When I taste mains water I am now over-sensitive to the chemicals that are added. There is nothing like spring water to make the best pot of tea ever.
But when we have a period of drought we watch the weather anxiously. It has never dried up but we have run close to empty on a couple of occasions and went without washing as well as weeing in the woods. Needs must. I don't think I will ever be able to use water wantonly again.
Oh and by the way - the William Morris exhibition is beautiful. Blackwell is an Arts and Crafts house overlooking Windermere which has been beautifully restored and is the perfect place to show his legacy; especially on a perfect summer evening with a glass of champagne and a stroll on the terrace.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Midsummer madness

It's midsummer day tomorrow in case you hadn't realised and the weather is stepping up to the mark. We have been 'playing' in the garden - well weeding and falling in the stream and such - all day and now need a good bonfire an bath in that order which is allowed up here in the middle of nowhere.
Here Up North it hardly goes dark at the moment so we get a lot more done - no slouching in the evening in front of the telly with a glass of red!
I got the first draft of the next book off to the publishers last week before the onslaught of builders, water diviners, computer folk, BT, Open reach, moth man (yes, a moth eradicator) and a whole continouos procession of helpful people. Phew! Tomorrow it will be the electricity people who will cut us off and lop the branches of the trees which impede the wires - yes we are still overhead people here.
Meanwhile back at the gallery we will be taking delivery of a beautiful bronze sculpture mid week. I have had to muster a body of strapping blokes to help unload it. I will post a photograph in due course after administering physio, gratitude and drinks.
Cockermouth deserves to survive and prosper. Everyone is making such a big effort. We launched our Midsummer Festival yesterday with great aplomb. The town seemed really alive again with lots of colour and noise. The Trout Hotel reopened this weekend after a multi million pound, eight month, restoration job. That's a big boost to the town's economy.
June and Michael Bennett spent the day at the gallery talking about their work which is selling fast. Next saturday is our Art Trail with workshops and events throughout the town. We will be presenting a mini tour - BEHIND THE SCENES AT THE GALLERY - and explain and recount some of the things that go on when nobody's looking! There will be stories in the Georgian kitchen, upstairs in our storeroom/viewing room where we keep very special pieces and also of the garden and sculpture. We sometimes have volunteers to help us and they always express surprise at what their day involves - and it is always different.

Friday, 4 June 2010

A brighter blog

We have just hung an uplifting exhibition which opens tomorrow - and heaven knows we need something uplifting.

June and Michael Bennett are husband and wife.I’ve been exhibiting their work seperately for well over twenty years. They have only had one joint exhibition during that time and I, and they, survived - so here we go.
They are both Cumbrian born; Michael in Windermere and June in Grange over Sands . They met at art college in Lancaster and then went on to Leicester. College of Art. Michael exhibited widely building up an impressive reputation and became a senior lecturer in art at Bretton Hall, Wakefield. June brought up their two boys and made exquisite silver jewellery. They returned to Cumbria many years ago, living first at Seascale and then on the Solway coast.
June took up painting again in 1987 just as I was opening Castlegate House as a gallery and she exhibited some oil paintings in the opening exhibition and went on to have many successful solo shows at Castlegate House..
It is inevitable that two artists living in close proximity should influence each other though each has a seperate studio! However their work is very different. June paints lively exuberant oils with a refreshing immediacy drawing on the landscape around her, the sea, cornfields, her garden.
Michael’s works are introspective and thought provoking. A painting can take years to evolve. His layered and textures surfaces give a mysterious and subtle depth. He is constantly reaching out, like the figures in his paintings, for the muse often exemplified in a bird or birds. It is usually just beyond his grasp. The moon is another unreachable symbol hovering above mystically. His palette is subtle, muted in soft greens, ochres, blue/greys and browns. These paintings transmit an elusive magic.
The team will be there tomorrow as well as June and Michael to launch the show. It will be a good day. People are coming from all over the UK for it.

A trilogy of tragedy

This is the most beautiful corner of England; the peaceful Lake District. Life is slow. Not a lot happens. The sheep graze, the new lambs jump about a lot and the high fells preside over us all. But that isn't insurance against anything bad happening - we are not immune. But in the beautiful North West corner of the County we have had one tragedy after another; first the floods last November which rendered hundreds of people homeless, a policeman dead and dozens of town centre businesses unable to trade. With most of our bridges broken we were tested to the limit but got on with it cheerfully and made the best of it. We are feisty northerners and we don't give up. Bit by bit we are recovering with businesses slowly moving back into their renovated premises and the town is looking bright and optimistic. We've got plans and ambitions. Our town is going to be better than ever and scrub up very nicely. The unprecedented long winter of ice and snow hampered recovery but we looked on the bright side ( a la Monty Python!) and looked forward to spring. We have a future to look forward to.
Then last week we were disturbed to hear helicopters and then an air ambulance overhead followed by the news of the collision of a school bus and a car just a few miles away between Cockermouth and Keswick with three fatalities - one of them a young promising lass celebrating her sixteenth birthday that day and a fourteen year old boy. The driver of the car who is thought to have passed out or died at the wheel causing him to run unwittingly head-on into the bus was a long standing friend of the gallery. His whole family have been known to us since 1988 and have visited regularly. Patrick Short was a lovely man who collected Percy Kelly paintings, played a great part in community affairs,actively supported many charities , sang in the local choir and enjoyed all the arts and culture the county had to offer. He will be sadly missed.
On Tuesday I was writing away in the Egg when a London friend rang to see if we were alright. 'Why shouldn't we be?' I asked. He then told me about the shootings that were going on right now. No one knew where the gunman was. He was firing indiscriminately and moving swiftly on. I rushed to the house and listened to the news and couldn't believe what was happening just a few miles away. My daughter in law teaches in Egremont, my granddaughter goes to school there. We have many friends in the area. Then I remembered it was half term. Sylvia and Janet might be shopping in Whitehaven. My heart turned over. I rang and found they were safe upstairs in their house with all the doors locked. It must have been terrifying. Because the gunman was a cab driver, he knew all the back ways and short cuts and covered a lot of distance befoe shooting himself after killing 12 innocent people and injuring many more.
Let's hope this is the end of tragedy in the area. Life is hazardous and tenuous and none of us is immortal but this is unbelievable.
We will all now get on with our lives with an extra consciousness of how precious life is and how easily it is lost. My old college motto is LIVE TODAY and that what we should do. There's no future in worrying about what might happen if...... Let's just live to the full and help and enjoy others along the way.
Here endeth the first lesson ... sorry to be sactimonious - not like me at all - but heartfelt. It's an emotional time for all of us up here.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

The Windy City

Lying in bed looking out over Lake Michigan as dawn breaks is unreal. The bed is a four poster in the best English tradition. The drapes are pale lemon pure silk patterned with delicate rosebuds and I feel like a princess! The house is 6 floors of pure luxury finished off with a roof top garden - ideal for a G&T sundowner.
I am here on a mission in the house of someone I've never met on Chicago's Gold Coast within walking distance of the skyscrapers of Michigan Avenue. I stood on top of the highest building in the Western world this morning. This is like being in a Sara Paretsky detective novel. I have no idea what will happen next but if I fail to show up back in England next week, look in the lake - or blame volcanic ash and BA strikes.
All I can say by way of explanation is that this will fit the last piece of the jigsaw in the next book.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010


Spring at last after all the traumas of the winter. And it's Nettle soup time! This is the most energising soup I know. I've just been wandering the lanes in yellow rubber gloves and plastic bag collecting the young green nettles. Put them into a big pan with sauteed onions, garlic and potatoes, add stock and liquidise. Add cream and hey presto - brilliant green magic.
I should be doing other things but it's just too tempting to get out into that new green landscape with Zebedee springing lambs.The wildlife up here is prolific with woodpeckers, red squirrels, otters, stoats and mad march hares. We have a badger's sett in our garden and he trundles past on the bank every evening at roughly the same time
The new road bridge in Workington opened on Wednesday and reunited the town after five months of misery. Percy Kelly's twin brother John who is 91 went to the opening which is a fair step from his home in South Workington. He was among the first to cross on foot and he then walked further up the North Side and crossed the temporary footbridge back and up through Workington Hall Gardens calling at M&S for shopping on his way back. He had a disabled wife Renee and is in amazing health.
The sequel to Hercules is on hold until after the imminent Chicago trip (volcanos permitting!) so I am researching the next book which is the Kelly biography so John and his other surviving brother are a rich source of information. These West Coast Cumbrians are a tough lot. I asked him for the secret of his longevity and health and he reckons it's down to diet. The Kelly's had a hard upbringing with little food followed by army rations. He's never been affluent enough to afford rich luxury food nor has he ever eaten junk food despite the MacDonalds and Caspian just down the road. I reckon he's right. Forget the fad diets - try the nettle soup!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Frontal lobotamy

Hey it's spring and we have primroses and violets up here. Don't know where April's gone but this will be the last weekend of the Marie Scott exhibition. Cockermouth is also looking better with businesses re-opening on the Main Street every week. It is looking less bleak and the sun is helping. The Scott exhibition is stimulating and the gallery garden is open (on fine days) and is full of colour.
Just got a distress call from one of my artists - she's frustrated with a painting going all wrong. Lowry told Sheila Fell that she could always pull an oil back Have handed on that advice - don't want an ear in the post do I?
May 1st (Saturday) promises to be a BIG day in the gallery. We open the Helen Tabor exhibition of over 30 paintings, both landscape, seascape and figures. Have a look at the web page You will not be disappointed. People are travelling a long way for this one.
It is also The Georgian Fair throughout the town that day. There are lots of exciting things going on with some theatre performances in the gallery garden and other venues around the town, street theatre and circus skills, Sedan Chair Racing, Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling as well as a Made in Cumbria Market in Market Place at the bottom of our hill
And there's more! We are launching the paperback of Hercules and the Farmer's Wife that day which is selling well and is on special offer at £7.
It also goes on the 3 for 2 offer at all branches of Waterstones on 1st May. For those people in the South Lakes and North Lancashire I will be in Waterstones Kendal on 8th May (11 - 4) signing copies. Karen Wallbank, the Farmer's Wife of the title will also be there so it will be a double act. (could turn into comedy performance art!) I can't trace Brian Hercules the brain surgeon or he would be dragged along as well. We could do with a bit of a lobotomy I guess.
Please come and support us and support the town. It has been a major struggle for all of us to reach this point but we've made it. Our future survival depends on you all.

Friday, 26 March 2010


Halleluya - the Ouse Bridge is open after more than four long months. My cup runneth over. My journey to the gallery has reduced to a third of the diversion round the lake overnight.
Life suddenly gets a lot better.
My plans to be the first to dance over it were thwarted when it opened ahead of schedule last night. Trotters World of Animals beat me to it. Well done Trotters.


My book, Hercules and the farmer's Wife,is now out in paperback. It can be found on Amazon and in Waterstones (3 for 2 offer) as well as independent bookshops.The hard back has sold well and this is my first paperback so it is exciting. It is a collection of stories giving a private view into the secret world behind the green baize door of an art gallery.There's the story of L S Lowry's fish and chip shop, my search for a transvestite postman, the man who was irresistible to women, a brain surgeon called Hercules, the mystery of the purple house, a cat called Fedden and much more.
I met the original Paperback Writer, Royston Ellis, in India some years ago. A Liverpudlian and friend of the Beatles, he was then living in Sri Lanka as a tax exile and researching a book on the Indian Railways. We spent several happy evenings over a curry and Kingfisher.
I don't think my paperback will give me the same Non-Dom option so I'm not planning on leaving the country - well, not permanently.
The first draft of the sequel is now ready to go apart from a visit to Chicago to fill in the final missing piece of the jigsaw. This is a mystery trip. I have no idea what I might uncover. It promises to be like a Sarah Paretsky detective novel at the moment. I'll keep you posted - if I live to write another blog!

Thursday, 25 March 2010


Hurrah! This is the best day so far since the floods last November. The barriers are down and the bridges in Cockermouth are open to traffic. The Main Street is still full of builders' vans but they have made a huge attempt to tidy up. Traffic is at last moving normally. Some of our unique businesses are back in their premises, up and running again. The ironmongers, real barber, second hand bookshop, Lily and Co just to mention a few as well as all those in temporary locations. In fact, if you don't look too closely you can almost pretend things are back to normal.
The disaster fund organised by The Community Foundation is now closed. The money had been distributed and used to good effect.
WE NOW NEED YOU! Our hotels, shops, pubs, restaurants, holiday rentals and attractions are ready to welcome you with open arms. We have had the worst winter ever recorded and we've survived. There are lambs, snowdrops and a hint of yellow daffodils which are understandably late this year. The fells and lakes are as inviting as ever. Those of us who survived the floods now need people to keep us afloat.
Wordsworth House (NT) has re-opened and we are encouraging people to walk the Main Street between our two beautiful old houses and see the progress that is being made. Wordsworth House where Dorothy and William Wordsworth spent most of their childhood was completed in 1745 and Castlegate House was built in 1739 as the Dower House to the Castle.
We are still quite a few bridges down though. I am hoping that the Ouse Bridge which comes between me and the gallery will be open by Easter. Divers have been working hard on the underwater damage.
We have a lovely exhibition opening this weekend. Marie Scott has produced an astonishing body of work full of life and colour.(see Marie will be in the gallery this Saturday. She is originally from Orkney but now lives near Edinburgh. You can come in and talk to her about the work. We are open Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays now which includes Good Friday, Easter Saturday and Easter Monday. 10.30 - 5.00.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

The joy of reading

On Friday I felt just as I did as a child on Christmas Eve - full of excitement and anticipation. Ten days of fun and surprises was about to start. A thesaurus of writers was about to take Keswick by storm at the Literary Festival at Theatre by the Lake. Undeterred by the sudden appearance of road works and traffic lights in the town they are all turning up at this annual event. With the first signs of spring after the worst winter anyone can remember, Keswick is being dug up - again. Essential repairs to the Greta Bridge damaged by flood along with extra flood defences are understandable but to decide simultaneously to re-do the pavements in the Main Street with non-essential ornamental sets with the work spanning Easter and Bank Holidays is lunatic. We still have 12 bridges down and our roads are splattered with potholes the size of bomb craters but pretty pavements have taken priority.
We are nevertheless still smiling bemusedly. We are a tolerant lot up here.
Literary Festivals are springing up everywhere these days but this one is special. This is its 9th year and we have the GLC as our chairmen (Greatest living Cumbrian!) Lord Bragg of Wigton.
He spoke this morning about the South Bank Show and its demise - another mad decision by beaurocrats. He described some of the interviews he had done in some detail; Terrence Rattigan in NYC with his asthmatic dog on his lap, Harold Pinter giving terse answers amid long silences like his plays and Pavarotti and his parents in the square of his home town in Italy when his father stood up and sang.
This in contrast to Fay Weldon yesterday talking about her latest novel. Someone recently described LitFests as 'A fun fair for the middle classes' and I'm inclined to agree. I like fun fairs though.
i seem to have picked up the art sessions to chair so have been madly reading the 'set' books for weeks. Tomorrow is an old friend Christopher Andreae talking about Winifred Nicholson then Francis Spalding on her new book about John and Myfanwy Piper.
I'm just putting my talk together for Friday on Hercules and the Farmer's Wife which gives a private view behind the scenes of an art gallery.
I spoke last year about the illustrated letters Percy Kelly sent to his stepdaughter when she was sent away to school after she'd run away from home after her mother went to live with Percy. The shock to all of them came when they realised he was transvestite and began striding the streets of St Davids in strange frocks! Not easy for three teenagers - or their mother. Kim is now in Australia and her younger brother in LA.
At the end of the talk I asked for questions and a young woman stood up and declared herself to be the other stepdaughter whom I'd never met. My eye ran along the row in the semi darkness to see her father, step mother and several friends. Quite a surprise. It all ended well and they enjoyed the talk but this time I will maybe begin by asking anyone related to anyone I might be referring to to declare themselves at the beginning!
You never know who's out there!

Friday, 19 February 2010


How can clothing be fearless? Is that anthropomorphism or is there another word? Well the ancient ad did survive the floods - but then it was painted well above the flood line. We all need to be fearless (and patient) at the moment as we watch our town being slowly put together again. The shop below the sign is now a hairdresser but it used to be Fletchers, a men's outfitters.
Peter Quinn made this painting last Autumn just a few weeks before the flood. It's a different picture now and not one he would wish to paint - too depressing. A few businesses are beginning to re open and a few people are moving back into their homes upstairs. It is a long haul.
People remain cheerful despite the daily problems. We still have ten bridges down. Some are sound but Highways believe opening them would interfere with traffic manage ment. Yes, I agree - but possibly for the better. Everything is being funnelled into very few options. And the options keep changing with no warning. There are no'Bridge ahead closed' signs which would save some last minute shunting and some mileage. Two Saturdays ago, driving to the gallery, I was dismayed to be confronted with the sign 'Market Place Closed'. I was no more that 30 meters from our car park. It took me a while to work out an alternative route to get to my own house - about a mile diversion. (and, no, there was nowhere to stop,park and walk before you ask. The roads are narrow and congested.)We saw three people that day and they lived up the road and had to walk past. Last Saturday was worse; I took the Northern diversion because there's contra flow on the A66 dual carriage and temporary lights on the A591 the Keswick way. I turned at the roundabout as usual and drove in a mile to the town centre as signed only to find that road was suddenly closed with no warning. Others had been caught out including buses and everyone was trying to turn round. Try turning a long bus in a narrow road - a 23 point turn is required.Chaos again. I then had to think hard to work out how to get to the gallery. If I have trouble then our visitors don't stand a chance - no wonder they are giving up.
Margaret Hodge, Minister for Culture, came to see us a few weeks ago with an entourage of aides, media people, tourism officials, council wallas and various important people engaged in the arts. Television crews were phoning the gallery from various closed roads and bridges asking how to get through to us and we were talking them in. And they are digging up Keswick ... but that's another story.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Castlegate goes to London

It has been an exciting week. We managed, with the help of kind neighbours, to escape the snow and icy track and make the train to London. I was determined to make it because three of the gallery artists - Percy Kelly, Karen Wallbank and Sheila Fell were opening at Messums in Cork Street last Tuesday evening.
Karen and husband George had to be towed out of their remote farm to get the Lancaster train. Once they had settled in they were off to Cork Street to see what was going on. George got distracted by the posh watch shops in Burlington Arcade but Karen dragged him on and was amazed to find one of her paintings had pride of place in the window. I met up with her that evening where she sold 3 paintings. (Percy sold 6) It was well attended despite the snow down there. I was so proud of Karen.
I 'discovered' her in 1988. She had never sold a painting but had a barn full of them. I persuaded her to have a show with me and we've neither of us looked back. She had been offered a place at Goldsmiths college but opted to marry George. She then brought up three children one of whom is autistic, did her share of the work on the farm and she still paints all the time. She certainly deserves every ounce of success. (You can read Karen's full story in my book Hercules and the Farmer's wife; Aurum 2009 available Amazon, Waterstones etc.)
We managed to fit in the Art Fair in Islington and a good meeting with my editor at Aurum who is pushing me to finish the next book. I usually need more than one reason to visit the capital so it was ideal.
We arrived back Friday to icy platforms at Penrith but green fields and clear roads. We can now access our house without assistance - and I am working hard on the next volume.