We’re having wintry showers this morningbut it’s milder so the sleety rain and wet flakes of snow are actually clearing the pavements of the snow and ice that have covered them during the last week.
We’ve decided that it’s a good day to stay put and catch up, so we’ve got a batch of dough rising above the hot water tank in the corner of the studio, ready for knocking back, and I’m delving back into my sketchbooks to catch up with my blog posts.
When I drew at Charlotte’s at the end of January, patches of snow on the distant moors were imperceptibly disappearing into the mist.
I drew these in my pocket-sized notebook, which has such small pages that you can pick it up even when you’ve only got minutes to spare.
That morning I also drew cushions on my brother-in-law John’s sofa and a crow by the boulders in the goat enclosure. They’re similar subjects; when I can’t get out to draw rocks, cushions make a reasonable substitute.
The goats love climbing and settling down at strategic look-out posts on the rocks but during the winter they’ve been confined to the stables. Hopefully they won’t have long to wait before it’s suitable for them to live in their outdoor enclosure again.
The Old Cart Shed
The old Cart Shed at Blacker Hall Farm dates from c.1620, so the old beams always appeal to me as a subject.
The little sketchbook was handy again when at a family meal at Holmfield House in Holmfield Park, Wakefield, I drew this tree.
Distant memories can be seen through a golden glow or, in the case of my earliest recollections of the 1950s, a somewhat muted and bluey grey – although I think that the 50s probably were muted and bluey grey thanks to the tail end of rationing and all that coal smoke – so it’s been a real memory-jogger to revisit familiar domestic scenes of 1964 in live action in colour-soaked Kodachrome.
We’ve just had our family cine films from the 1960s and 70s transcribed to digital format and I’m impressed with the quality, considering that this was all Standard 8 film with a frame size, allowing for the sprockets, of just 5 mm, less than quarter of an inch.
We’re lucky to have plenty of family photographs from that time but, for me, browsing through the old cine films brings back the era more vividly than any photograph album.
Me, aged Thirteen
I’m intrigued by this shot of me, aged 13, taken by my Dad as he tried out the interchangeable lenses of his Leitz Leicina.
I’m sure that expression isn’t genuine, so perhaps at the start of my teenage years it’s supposed to signify a combination of worry and hang-dog; if so, that was good practice for me, as that’s the default state of mind for most of us who choose to become freelance illustrators.
But it could have been intended to represent diffidence and scepticism: a useful attitude for anyone who makes a living from looking at the world.
The Garden Path
Our garden looks so verdant and I realise that having that as my backyard made a huge contribution to the person I became, as a resource for inspiration and as a sheltered habitat for concocting waywardly creative projects.
Behind a prolific row of raspberry canes, the runner beans are just starting to climb their canes. Partially hidden by an old Keswick cooking apple tree there’s the timber summerhouse that had been built by the former occupants of the house, the Baines family, in the 1920s or 30s.
My Dad, Robert Douglas Bell, Doug to his friends, appears in this early reel, picking gooseberries. If he’d still been with us, he’d have been celebrating his 100th birthday in October but as he died 28 years ago after a steady decline with dementia, it’s good to be reminded of him in his prime.
Mum, slightly older, would have been a hundred last Monday, 26th February, so we met to remember her in the place that she’d suggested, should she make it to that milestone: Charlotte’s Ice Cream Parlour, a favourite place with her for coffee and scones. She appears in the 1964 film, characteristically, putting the washing on the line.
Standard Vanguard Estate
This Standard Vanguard Estate, with a registration, RHL 777, that I wish we could have kept, was my favourite of all the cars we had. Its headlights had been painted yellow for a summer holiday in France. Note the AA badge and the badge of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, which my Dad was rather proud to be a member of.
I was wondering where my Dad would be going, in his collar and tie and with a cigarette in his hand. My sister tells me that at that time he worked for the Coal Board in Wakefield and he would have come home for lunch, so he’s heading off back to work. Because of the traffic today, you’d be hard-pressed to get to and fro between Wakefield and Horbury during a regular lunch hour.
Also appearing, Vache, an English springer spaniel, kennel name Chastelton Merrylegs, my Dad’s gun-dog but in fact the perfect family pet, a remarkably laid-back spaniel. There are brief shots of him ambling across the lawn; sitting half in and half out of the back door; pricking his ears up when he thinks a visitor is arriving and rolling on his back as he enjoys being fussed over.
Again, for me, they evoke his character more effectively than the stills we have of him.
My Dad gave him his everyday name, Vache, not because his liver-and-white markings resemble those of a Friesian cow but because my Dad bought him when he was attending a course at the Vache Coal Board staff training college, a country house near Chalfont St Giles in Buckinghamshire.
Grandma & Grandad
One of the reasons that I was so keen to get the films transcribed to digital format was so that we’d preserve a rare snippet of my grandparents on my Dad’s side.
Jane, Bagshaw as was, and Robert Bell met at the celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, on Tuesday June 15th 1897 at 3 o’clock at Serlby Park, Nottinghamshire. He was then aged 19, working as second coachman to the Galways at Serlby.
When he arrived at the celebrations, Fred Bagshaw, who worked in the stables, asked him “Would you like to take a girl on the swings, Bob?”
The girl, Fred’s sister, Jane, was already in service at the age of 14. She and Robert married some years later.
I’ve still got the invitation in our family archive. I guess that I wouldn’t be here today if Bob hadn’t taken Jinny (as he called her) on the swings that day.
It’s amazing that we caught them on film.
Grandma is chuckling as she puts on her white gloves and I can see that, before setting out, she’s popped one of her favourite sweets, a Nuttall’s Minto, in her mouth.
The Street of Many Fools
One final blast from the past: in the August of 1967, my Dad, my sister Linda and family friends Betty and Alf Deacon, emerging from the arched entrance to The Street of Many Fools on the backlot at Pinewood Studios, Buckinghamshire.
Carry On, Follow that Camel, had just finished filming, so Phil Silvers, Kenneth Williams, Jim Dale and Joan Sims had probably walked that way in the previous weeks.
Knowing of my interest in films and stage scenery, Betty had arranged with a friend who was a scene painter there to give us a full tour of the studios.
Aliens, Agents and Flying Machines
By then, my brother Bill and I had already made a couple of sci-fi shorts (with my sister playing the monster), a war film, a spy film and we’d made a start on shooting our most ambitious five-minute feature, Those Magnificent Boys in their Flying Machines, with a spectacular disaster filmed on location in Horbury Quarry.
We learnt a lot from our tour of the studios and greatly improved our technique in the next scene of the film, in which a remarkably lifelike mannequin of my brother plunges on a feather-winged bicycle from the top of Storrs Hill.
Like the Pinewood Team, we took a cast of Bill’s face – in our case in plaster, making the mask from papiere mache. To tell you the truth, it turned out to be better-looking than Bill himself, so we’d leave it sitting around in odd corners of the house, which confused my Mum on her rounds and she’d ask it, over her shoulder “Bill, haven’t you started your homework yet?!”