Friday, 6 December 2013

Great Jumpers of our Time No. 7 - Val et al

In view of the preponderance of Christmas jumpers that have flooded into the shops I felt I just had to post about them. They are everywhere and I can't deny I have been sorely tempted to buy one as I absolutely love wearing jumpers, much more preferable than sweatshirts, hoodies or the dreaded fleece. I have to say that the fleece is so often worn inappropriately and really has no business being seen anywhere other than up a mountain (or a munro if you happen to live in Scotland), a cold and damp camping trip or a ramble up to British Camp on the Malvern Hills. 

I welcome Autumn when it arrives with that definite nip in the air, when Winter is just around the corner, and the perfect excuse to dig my favourite woollies out from the back of the wardrobe.  I simply adore wearing jumpers (and cardigans of course) - the snugglier the better, with a high wool content for preference but I don't consider it a sin to wear a jumper that isn't 100% wool as these days technology has made man-made fibres so much more wearable and much less naff than they used to be if I'm honest.  

Of course the Christmas jumper first became popular on TV back in the 1970s and 80s by TV singers and presenters on their Christmas special.  I remember as a child being subjected to the Val Doonican Christmas Special usually broadcast on Christmas Eve, Val being a particular favourite with Mum and Dad. Who can forget Val ensconced in his rocking chair, strumming his guitar, regaling us with tales of Paddy McGinty's Goat, Delaney's Donkey and O'Rafferty's Motor Car.  At Christmas time the BBC would usually shove him and his rocking chair into a log cabin stuffed with Christmas trees, fur rugs and a group of girl backing singers sat adoringly at his feet singing and swaying along to O Little Town of Bethlehem and It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. What with Val crooning away in his rocker and Santa's imminent arrival, it was all a bit too much excitement for a Christmas Eve.

America had their own version of Val in the form of Andy Williams, again snow bound in a log cabin stuffed with Christmas trees, a chorus of winsome women and of course the obligatory Christmas jumper.  Nice one though of Andy's I thought.

The prize though for the best Christmas Jumper has to go to the brilliant Rudolph sweater made all the more gorgeous of course by the wearer, the delectable Colin Firth in the film version of Bridget Jones Diary.  I did post CF's jumper back in December 2011 as Great Jumpers of Our Time No 2  but with all these Christmas Jumpers flying about I felt I just had to give it another airing so here again is the Rudolph jumper modeled by the tasty Colin Firth as Mark Darcy as seen at Una Alconbury's New Year's Day Turkey Curry Buffet.  

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Remembering Dad

Ernest Alexander Prestwich 1913 - 1983

The British composer Benjamin Britten's centenary is being celebrated this year. He would have been 100 years old on 22nd November.  My dad would also have celebrated his 100th birthday on 21st November so he was actually 1 day older than Benjamin Britten. Sadly my dad passed away on 31st August 1983 three months shy of his 70th birthday.  In the 30 years since his death I have remembered him often of course, especially on birthdays and anniversaries but I thought it would be a fitting tribute to tell you a little bit about his life and celebrate my dad's centenary here on my blog.

Born in Oldham, Lancashire my dad was the youngest of seven. He had five brothers Thomas, Andrew, John, Samuel, James and one sister Emma.  Oldham at that time was the centre of the textile industry and his father Nimrod worked at the cotton mill as did most people who lived in Oldham and when my dad was old enough joined his brothers and sister to work at the mill.  When many of the Lancashire cotton mills started to close during the 1930s and jobs were getting scarcer my dad and two of his brothers came down to the Midlands to look for work where the car and airplane industry was booming.

After serving in the army during the war he settled in Birmingham and met my mum Frances on the no 11 Outer Circle bus where she was working as a bus conductress as part of the war effort.  They married in 1948 and settled at first in Ladywood, Birmingham living with my mum's parents. My brother Andrew came along in 1950 and then soon after they got the chance of moving to a house on a new council estate in Harborne, Birmingham. During the post-war years there was a major boom in council house construction to provide housing to replace the four million homes that were destroyed or damaged during the Second World War.  To my mum and dad this house was a palace compared to what they had been used to as it was brand new, had an inside toilet, a bathroom and hot running water. I came along in 1959.

My dad's job at this time was as a panel beater working for Fisher & Ludlow based in Castle Bromwich, Birmingham who were a car body pressings sub-contractor for most of the British Motor Corporation (later British Leyland) and during his time here he worked on the manufacture of the Austin Mini and Austin 1100 and 1300.

Ironically we did not have a car of our own until the end of the 1960s when he decided it was high time my mum, now in her early 40s should learn to drive. My dad did have a license but he never really liked driving although during the 1950s he drove a motor bike that had a sidecar attached for my mum and brother to sit alongside. Our first car was a Morris 1100 but he wasn't one of life's confident drivers and I remember being in the car once with him but he never went above 20 mph and never got out of second gear.

My dad did not enjoy the best of health having been invalided out of the army during the war because he had contracted TB in an ankle joint.  Towards his late fifties ill health forced him to give up the car trade and after a brief spell working for Post Office Telephones (now BT) he retired. 

I remember him for lots of things but most of all I loved his great Northern sense of humour - he was always cracking jokes (corny ones at the best of times). I loved his Lancashire accent. I loved that when he finished a long week's work on a Friday he would nip into the paper shop on his way home to get his Birmingham Evening Mail and always treat us to some chocolate - a treat for the weekend. I would get a Bounty bar (they are my favourites to this day), a Mars bar or a Flake for my brother and always a Fry's Turkish Delight for my mum.  He loved a pint and he loved reading, getting through about 6 library books every couple of weeks.

He smoked a pipe which my mum got very annoyed about, not for any health reason but because the smoke ruined the decorating.  He always had a pipe in his mouth and when he lit it up he would disappear behind a cloud of smoke.  Me and my brother often comment that both of us smoked from the day we were born.

He was a man of his generation. He did his bit for his country, he married, had a family and his prime concern was to provide and look after his family.  He was most happiest with his family around him and loved it when his grandchildren came along. Yes he could be grumpy like a lot of dads and I hated getting a telling off from him if I had been naughty but he was my dad and we loved him to bits.

Happy 100th birthday Dad! xx

Saturday, 16 November 2013

A New Motherboard, an Acer and an Apple Pie

It's been a while since I blogged owing to my computer going kaput and needing a new motherboard.  Not knowing a lot about computers  but guessing this was probably going to be expensive and also not going to be a five-minute fix I looked up what exactly a motherboard is and does. Well it holds many of the crucial electronic components and is so called because it is the "mother" of all components attached to it. Its nice to think that the gubbins and what actually makes a PC work is referred to as a "mother," a bit like the role of a mother in the home - crucial and vital to the efficient running of the house. Anyway it's good to have the PC back up and running as I was completely lost without it.  Who would have thought even only a few years ago how important computers have become to the daily routine of our lives not just at work but particularly at home, for things like digital photos, email, purchasing online, news and weather, catchup TV, social networking etc.

What did our mothers do years ago? They got up out of the comfort of their armchair, walked into a draughty hallway, picked up the phone, dialled the number and actually had a conversation with someone the other end, they wrote letters and posted them, took photos then took the film to the chemist to be developed (and wasn't that always so disappointing to find that out of a reel of 36 only a handful of them were any good as they were mostly either out of focus, too dark because some idiot forgot to use the flash, figures just a speck in the distance or heads and feet chopped off.)  Mail order meant spending an evening thumbing through the huge phone directory size catalogues of Grattans or Great Universal and if you wanted to watch a favourite programme on TV it meant having to forfeit a night out to stay in and watch it and woe betide anyone who rang up in the middle of Coronation Street or The Forsyte Saga. I actually remember when the National Grid would report high surges of electricity during breaks or at the end of popular TV programmes when everyone would dash to put the kettles on.  Does that still happen now I wonder with the advent of Sky Plus and BT Vision?  These days I very rarely watch a TV programme during live transmission. 

So on the subject of digital photos I often take my camera out to my garden to snap at whatever is in bloom but I couldn't resist capturing my Acer Palmatum Dissectum which is always at its most magnificent in the Autumn.

Love too these ornamental grasses....

With a Bramley Apple tree in the garden Autumn also means a plentiful supply of one of the best of all comfort foods - home-made Apple Pie. 


So in true Great British Bake Off style here is my home-made apple pie just out of the oven...

....and here it is after. And very nice it was too even though I do say so myself. And who prefers custard or cream or even ice-cream?

Happy Autumn and Happy baking!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Cheese & Chutney

When I was growing up my mum's repertoire of sandwiches consisted of only two varieties and those were cheese or ham.  Sliced tomatoes would liven them up a bit with the addition of a lettuce leaf, a slice of cucumber and a blob of Heinz Salad Cream elevating them into salad territory. I will never forget the dismay when on school trips, of delving into my duffle bag to find the cling filmed warm soggy white medium Mother's Pride cheese and tomato. These waterlogged offerings would be destined for the bin on the way to the cafe and gift shop at Dudley Castle and Zoo to be replaced  with a welcome plate of chips with tomato ketchup. Things started looking up though when she introduced Cheese and Branston to the menu and sometimes she would sneak in Cheese & Piccalilli (not keen!)  Nowadays though the humble Cheese & Pickle sarnie has been transformed with the advent of gourmet pickles and chutneys turning up at food festivals and farmers' markets with all kinds of combinations of ingredients on offer. I can never resist buying a couple of jars at these events so consequently have a bulging storecupboard of them getting ever nearer  their eat by dates. Needless to say Cheese & Pickle is the regular sandwich filling in my household or I should say Cheese & Caramelised Onion with Garlic Chutney which is one of the ones currently open and taking up space in my fridge along with all the other jars we are told to refrigerate after opening and is that really necessary I often wonder.  I can't be the only one with a fridge so full of jars there is hardly any room left for the food (don't get me started on that little bugbear).  The point of all this is that as a member of Solihull Embroiderers' Guild we were invited to exhibit our work at the Cheese & Pickle Festival at the beautiful National Trust property Coughton Court.

We had two great days there promoting our branch and all things embroidery. Saturday was brilliant as we were outside in the sunshine but the heavens opened on the Sunday and we had to retreat to the house which was no bad thing as we were able to exhibit and stitch rather appropriately in the Blue Drawing Room.

Coughton Court has been the home of the Throckmorton family since 1409 so while I was there got the chance of a little explore around the house....

and gardens......

and discovered a sculpture trail of over 250 exhibits.....

and not forgetting the Cheese & Pickle Festival......

and yes I did buy a couple more jars of pickle to add to my chutney stash. Well I couldn't resist!

Friday, 4 October 2013

Solihull Art Trail 2013

Last weekend saw another successful Solihull Art Trail with 9 venues dotted across the borough and a total of 18 participating artists all members of Solihull Artists' Forum.   The Art Trail gives visitors the chance to see artists up close and personal, working in their own studios and houses, giving demos, talking about  techniques and their inspiration with the opportunity to buy artworks. 

In recent years I have been a regular visitor to the Art Trail but this year was my first as a participating artist. I shared a venue with textile designer/maker Kathryn Pettitt and painter and ceramicist Paula Hamilton with Kathryn kindly transforming her house and beautiful garden in Knowle into Venue No 7 on the Art Trail.

Kathryn's girl cave studio at the bottom of the garden

We had some lovely weather over the two days which enabled us to display our work in the garden unlike last year when rain stopped play causing the gazebo to collapse in a soggy heap. 

Molly guarding our precious artworks  

Copious quantities of tea and coffee were served to our many visitors along with home made chocolate brownies and cookies baked by Paula and myself. Kathryn's two dogs Buster and Molly, and Paula's dog Ellie moseyed about the garden charming our visitors as did Mike, Kathryn's lovely chatty husband who kept everyone entertained but who also lent a hand with the washing up and keeping the cuppas, cakes and cookies coming. (I have to say though Mike, I can still only score you 4 out of 10 for your coffee).   

Paula doing battle with her easel
All in all another successful Art Trail weekend spent with lots of visitors and generally having a great time outside in the sunshine playing with the dogs and feasting on cookies and cake. It was lots of fun and I will certainly take part in it again next year.

Paula's family of ceramic birds

Kathryn's mosaic dog (from her Sustaining the Person Within exhibition)

Kathryn's woolly cat (from Sustaining The Person Within exhibition) in front of the Lilliput House - lucky hens!

Kathryn's cat looking a bit wound up

Kathryn's textile artworks 

Paula in the Conservatory with the Dagger

Jacqui in the Dining Room with the Sewing Machine
Many thanks to all our friends and visitors who supported us by coming to see us with commendations going to those who were tenacious and dedicated enough to try and visit all 9 venues along the trail. Also many thanks to Kathryn and Mike for their hard work in setting the venue up and lending me and Paula their house and beautiful garden for the weekend.  Same time again next year then guys!

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Roots @ Solihull Arts Complex

Well it seems like it's either feast or famine when it comes to exhibiting my work.  Have not exhibited since graduating from Solihull college last year with a degree in Fine Art and quite frankly have been bumbling along really not knowing quite what to do in terms of my art practice but now two exhibitions have come along at once. I belong to a group of textile artists called 'Running Stitch' and our new exhibition Roots starts today in G2 gallery at Solihull Arts Complex. Regulars to this blog will know that I also have another piece of work Portminster Beach Cafe in Reflection in G1 gallery next door, the current exhibition by Solihull Artists' Forum. 

Ice Creams

Roots looks at our origins and sense of place portrayed in stitch. For my interpretation of the theme I have looked at old family photographs which conjure up memories of times gone by, of people, places, holidays and events.  They serve as a permanent reminder of who we are, where we come from, our family and friends and of people we don't want to forget.  Our photographs and our memories are our roots and I have chosen to translate these old holiday snaps into stitch using vintage embroidered linens.

Don't let go of my Hand
We have all interpreted the theme Roots in our own way, using stitch to create a broad range of textile art works. There are some wonderful examples of embroidery, some combined with painting and other textile and mixed-media techniques. If you are in the Solihull area please pop into Solihull Library and Arts Complex and come and see what we have been working towards over the last 12 months. Why not kill two birds with one stone and come along to view Reflections too.  Roots runs till 5th October and Reflection runs till 12th October.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Reflection @ Solihull Arts Complex

Solihull Artists' Forum's latest exhibition Reflection is now showing at Solihull Arts Complex.  This is my first exhibition with SAF and my first since graduating from Solihull College last year.

Mark Tilley's sea going vessels

Take a look back at my previous posts Reflection & Porthminster Beach Cafe to read all about the making of my first art quilt which is my piece for this exhibition.

Porthminster Beach Cafe (detail) - Jacqui Thomson

If you live in and around the Solihull area or even beyond then please come along and take a look. We have all interpreted the Reflection theme in our own medium so there is a diverse mix of new paintings, sculpture, glass, ceramics, textiles and jewellery. The exhibition runs till the 12th October.