THE LAUNCH of Walks around Ossett went well at the Rhubarb Festival (yesterday and Friday) but it’s wonderful to get back to normal life!
I launched Walks in Robin Hood’s Yorkshire at last year’s Festival. One of my first customers then was a woman from Nottingham who protested about any suggestion that Robin might be a Yorkshireman but I managed to talk her into buying a copy so I was delighted when – returning for this year’s festival – she said that she’d enjoyed reading it and she’d learnt a lot from it. I feel that’s quite an achievement!
It’s always a struggle to reach the deadline for this February event, following as it does the distractions of Christmas and, as often as not, some difficult weather for checking out the walks but it’s a good time of year to be starting afresh. Snowdrops, crocus and the first miniature daffodils are beginning to show and as we walked through the woods between showers this afternoon the leaves of bluebell, wild arum, golden saxifrage, dogs mercury and other woodland herbs were showing. I’ve got ambitious plans for drawing from nature and for book projects this year so hopefully I’ll be out there drawing the wild flowers as they appear throughout the season.
Here we are at the Admiral Benbow, the inn where young Jim Hawkins encounters Billy Bones and Blind Pew in Treasure Island. You might detect some echoes of last year’s Dame Dibble’s Dairy from Jack and the Beanstalk, in my sketch; this is because of my habit of recycling backdrops. Instead of starting the scene afresh, I’ve converted the half-timbered exterior of the dairy into the half-timbered interior of the inn.
This gave us time to flip the flats around this afternoon to quickly convert the sky blue scene of Jack’s Cloudland Castle into a tropical Treasure Island with palm trees, dunes and smouldering volcano (a detail that I don’t recall in the Robert Louis Stevenson original).
The first big production of the Horbury Pageant Players that I got involved in was Treasure Island, in 1967, but that was in the days when the Pageants prided themselves on never doing pantomimes so the scripts we used were on loan to us from the Mermaid Theatre, where Bernard Miles’ production had been a great success. In that version, comic genius Spike Milligan played Ben Gunn, the castaway with a fondness for cheese.
In our 1967 version, my younger brother Bill played the pirate who took Jim Hawkins’ kit on board the Hispaniola. Bill told me that one of the scripts had weird figures doodled all over it.
I never saw this script and all the whole batch were returned to the Mermaid after the production but I’m convinced that must have been Milligan’s script, annotated in characteristic style by him during rehearsals.
It would be a small treasure of Milligana if it had survived!
I have been drawing recently but you wouldn’t know it from my sketchbook; these are all I have to show for the last week or two. I’ve been drawing the maps for Walks Around Ossett in the odd hours I’ve had between family matters and parcelling up my books. Parcelling up books and shipping them out to customers never seems like real work – it’s therapeutic but hardly taxing – but it is, after all, the way I make my living, so I shouldn’t grumble!
I think that I can see a patch of calm, clear water ahead but at the moment I really feel as if I’m swimming against a backwash and getting nowhere and that is reflected in this handful of sketches:
- a couple of people at the Wakefield Naturalists’ meeting on Tuesday
- a newspaper drawn when I waited to have my hair cut last week
- two chair backs
The chairs are entirely typical of my unsettled life at present; I started drawing one chair then got moved on after I’d drawn two lines then – at my next port of call – I’d no sooner started drawing a second chair when someone came along and moved it!
Finally, this afternoon, after a morning painting scenery and an afternoon at a farm shop event, I got the best part of an hour to sketch. As it was a Rhubarb Festival event the most appealing subject to hand was a basket of forced rhubarb and an example of the rootstock from which the shoots are grown, at this time of year, in total darkness to ensure an early crop, at a time of year when there is a break in the supply of soft fruits.
Barbara shouted up to me ‘Just take a look at that cat on the lawn!’
It’s been a wild day, wild but mild; this morning our neighbour’s three-year old boy got blown over in a gust on the way to school and the handful of stallholders who turned up at Ossett Market were sent home because of the danger of goods and even stalls being blown around. I felt particularly sorry for the fishmonger with all his fresh fish, having to pack up his van. We’ve had a lot of rain too and the Calder is running beige-brown and flowing up over the bridge piers but not quite at flood level yet.
But some are enjoying the call of the wild; the frayed end of the broken washing line (broken by blue tits pecking at it!) was snaking and jerking around on the lawn near the pond, exactly in the way that you’d tempt a kitten to chase a piece of string, but on a larger and livelier scale.
Too much of a temptation for this black and white cat which was taking it’s usual shortcut back from the meadow via our back garden path. You can see (below) that at times it turned its back on it but then thought ‘Well, just one more go . . .’
It was so happy rolling on its back, pouncing and sitting with its ‘prey’ wrapped around its shoulder. Occasionally it did pause and look around as if thinking ‘This is silly, I hope no one is watching me.’ But it still couldn’t resist another mad tussle with the playful frayed end of the rope beckoning.
I’d love to have had time to make quick sketches but the last ten days have been taken up with preparations for Barbara’s mum’s funeral on Monday. I’m not going to really settle down until after there’s been that short ceremony of closure.
Over the past weeks and months I’ve slipped further and further behind with my latest booklet, the deadline for which is looming up in the next two to three weeks, but haven’t been able to make any real progress on it.