(Photo: Clive Mead)
Do you know, the last few weeks have taken me out on the most lovely walks to places like St Catherine’s Lighthouse that I didn’t realise is one of 64 lighthouses owned by Trinity House which is 500 years old this year. They own all the lighthouses in England, Wales, Wales, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar! Cor!
We had a fantastic tour / talk on a lovely sunny day there – the number of shipwrecks in the bay between the Needles and St Catherines amounted to one a month in the !8th century because of the rocky underwater terrain. St Catherine’s was first built in 1323 and is now known as the Pepperpot. After Henry VIII fell out with the Pope, he took away all the monasteries and so there were no lighthouses for the next 300
years. . .all the locals were mainly smugglers ‘Ploughing the deep by night and watching like herons by day’ and it was a good living. . .
In 1836 there was a shipwreck in which 29 people drowned and was widely publicized in the newspapers so a lighthouse was built in 1838 and lit in 1840. In 1875 it was shortened as the light was always disappearing within fog! The foghorn fell silent in 1937. Lighthouses are
still used today because of the visibility – the main lantern at St Catherine’s being a small 400 watt bulb and costs £27 and lasts 2 years, despite being on all the time. It shines for a long distance because of the lens it shines through (which is so worth seeing and really beautiful). What an information-packed tour we had that day!
The lens was built in 1896 in Birmingham and is held in fossil bronze. From it’s rotating base upwards it weighs 2 and 1/2 tonnes and is floating on mercury, which makes it self levelling and frictionless to drive. It flashes every 5 seconds over 43 metres and is seen 30 miles away and is cleaned once a fortnight.
In 1943, a bomb was dropped onto the engine shed, blew in the windows of the lighthouse and shards of glass damaged the lens, while all 3 keepers of the lighthouse were killed (being in the engine house at the time). There’s a memorial there for them.
Trinity House is a government body but interestingly is funded by light dues, not the government. In the 17th century, anyone could build a lighthouse and charge fees from anyone at sea, so in 1836, Trinity House made a compulsory purchase of all lighthouses in England and Wales (except Skerries which is on the entrance to the River Mersey). The light dues are set by the government and any ship docking here pays 41p per metric tonne, while tugs and fishing boats pay according to the length of their boat. The IOW ferries don’t pay anything as they are not deemed to have left their respective port areas.
The old English word for barrel is ‘tun’. Everything in the time of the sailing ships was transported in barrels, so a ship’s tunnage was how many barrels were put in it.
Kathryn Tickell used to talk about how much she loved listening the shipping forecast late at night (I’m rarely awake for it these days)
and there’s something as soothing about a lighthouse shining on and off as a clock ticking which I love too. The southern tip of the Isle of Wight is a very inspirational place, I find. It’s great for walking and wandering, while until recently, also had my favourite temporary traffic lights in the whole world. You’d stop there faced with the most glorious view of the Freshwater bay ahead and hope the red light would stick. I’ve been reading some of the stories by Robyn Hitchcock recently – ‘The Glasshouse’ was inspired by that part of the island and is brilliant, surreal and truly dark and eccentric in the way only England could inspire.
Today, on the lovely Isle of Wight it’s been a day of blue skies, scattered showers of massive intensity and lightning – a house (they believe) was struck by lightning in St Helens and caused serious damage but thankfully no one was hurt.
I have to say, I do enjoy extreme weather and two of my favourite musical pieces are Benjamin Britten’s ‘Four Sea Interludes’ and Gilles Chabenat / Frederic Paris’ ‘Blanc Juillet’. Being so close to the sea these days, I’m aware of the ever changing weather and love the light, mood and constant movement within the atmosphere – I find it exhilarating and now delight in the intensity / varieties of greens, birds, flora and clouds I see every day. I’m sure they have always been there, I just notice them more now for some reason.
The Accordion weekend last weekend was a rare feast of brilliance and I (along with a fair few others who attended and told me) absolutely loved the music and diversity of Karen Street and Alan Young – two magnificent musicians, whose styles of playing I don’t seem to hear anywhere else now and certainly not with the yoof. Jack Emblow’s name came up more than once. Now there’s a man. . .
(Photo : Edward Young)
I so enjoyed exploring Pizzolla’s ‘Ave Maria’ with Karen and we performed music inspired by Sue Roberts’ poems (based on stories / interviews she made with dementia sufferers), while the 3 of us had great fun playing the mussette ‘L’Indifference’ and jazz standard ‘Bie Mir Bist du Schoen’ – it was like marvellous musical tennis but not of the John McEnroe nature (my word, I’m showing my age).
Talking of tennis – I’m still reading the Elton John biography and have been learning about his love of tennis and friendship with Billie-Jean King.. A quote from the book that struck a chord with me :
‘. . .Elton John was exhausted. Between 1970 and 1976 he had played around 500 concerts and recorded 11 studio albums and 2 live albums, not to mention his work as a producer and guest slots with other artists on stage and on record. The travelling, the airports, the hotels, the waiting around, the press, the sound checks, the meals, then the concert, the after-show, and the wait for the adrenalin to stop pumping and the serotonin levels to rise sufficiently to induce sleep, all of which could be repeated the next day – even the healthiest person would at some point have to succumb to the jetlag, the disruption, the tiredness, and the irregular meal times, resulting in a personal biology that was fragile and an emotional geography that was unhinged by the relentless round of hours with nothing to do followed by periods of intense stress during performance. . .’ (Elton John – The biography by David Buckley ISBN 978-0-233-00284-2)
I don’t tour anymore or miss it. I have no idea how Elton John survived thus far (he nearly didn’t); musicians choose the weirdest life, I think, and while I have good memories, mainly, and have met some dear people, I feel so lucky to have a very different life here now.
Tomorrow, for example, I’m getting the bus to East Dene (do you prefer the top of the bus? It’s amazing what you see around here from there!) after seeing the thrift at St Helens Duver and finishing up to play the last in the present series of the Brading Ceilidhs.
(Photo : Edward Jeffares) See below for details.
In Scandinavia they’re fast approaching midsummer revelries; fiddle meets and dragspel (accordion) get-togethers (not that they often get together outside of their own instruments. . .) and Carina Normansson has been keeping me up to date with the latest events at such gatherings; not only music but Cow Bingo! So you put your piece of paper on the ground and wait for the cows to ‘make their mark’. . .how brilliant. Could be a new craze here. . . .see: http://www.viimoklinta.se/visa/sida.asp?sida=15
We used to play ‘Polska Fran Moklinta’ in the SWAP set and it still remains one of my favourite tunes ever. It’s always the simple, lyrical melodies that woo me still. I was told this week by the record company that has taken over the one SWAP was signed to, that they can’t sell stock to me (for my website) as I’m not a shop (despite being on the CDs) but I could buy them from another website as any of the public could. Oh I do love the record industry and how musicians are respected in the 21st century. . .
I enjoyed listening to BBC Radio 4’s Tales from the Stave this week a 1/2
hour on West Side Story and the writing of the score. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b043wz2c
I loved hearing about the way Leonard Bernstein and other composers kept sketchbooks of themes to use; I have kept a few of my sketch books from days attempting to study as a Graphic designer / Printmaker (pre computers when all designers had grubby mitts) and carry a little manuscript book to jot down ideas of tunes I thought I’d forgotten.
I don’t think I’ll ever get into the age of machines/devices to keep diaries, ideas or anything apart from this blog and the odd email. I love pens, paper, ink, glitter and hand drawn images way too much.
Drawing, making marks. And cartoons, as you know.
Giles, The Beano, Peanuts, Disney, DespicableMe, Moomins, IceAge – all of it. Stories, well illustrated with humour keep me quiet for hours. Imagine!
Now talking of which, thanks to Vic King, I came across a book by Vicky Kimm and Jamie Courtier. It’s simply superb. Wanting to know more, I contacted Vicky and she kindly gave me some insights. As I guessed, the process of it all is one that is dear to my heart and the big personal risk they were willing to make to publish it. Check it out – so few publications have this quality these days. . .
The Adventures of Tooki – The Secret of the Stones is their first book project, a joint (ad)venture!
Jamie has spent much of his working life in the film and special effects world. He was for many years the Creative Director of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop in Camden Town, designing and supervising creature effects for a wide variety of movies, including: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Snow Queen, The Adventures of Pinocchio, The Flintstones and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, for which he won an EMMY award.
Drawing has always been a part of Jamie’s life; he is also the creator of the intricately drawn Wildergorn Colour-In Posters, which can be found at www.wildergorn.com.
Vicky is a writer and singer-songwriter (performing regularly with Jamie at venues along the south coast) and worked for many years in television, researching, directing and presenting (sometimes flying a plane in) her own films both for the BBC and for Anglia TV.
She is currently juggling work on a book about the 19th Century Irish poet and diarist, William Allingham, a friend and observer of the famous (Alfred Tennyson, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Robert Browning, Thomas Carlyle) with work on her own novel. She loves walking, particularly in the woods, is potty about gardening, about film (especially the black and white movies of the 40’s); and underpinning all is a passion for literature, for poetry and for the potential beauty and clarity to be found in words.
One day in 2005, Vicky discovered in an old plan chest an original draft of Tooki (then called Tooki and the Usks), which Jamie had devised and drawn in pencil years before, having been inspired by the dear memory of sitting on the knee of his mother (artist, Elizabeth Spurr) whilst she told and sketched her own stories for him. Vicky was enchanted both by the drawings and by Jamie’s extraordinary concept. At that time only 30 pages existed. The context was in place, i.e. the extraordinary idea of the two tribes being interdependent but unaware of each other, and the story ran up until the point at which Tooki and Obo, learning of their interdependence, realize that the Stones are not at all what they had believed them to be. But then the story stopped just when one felt that the characters ought to be responding to and acting upon this earth- shattering information; the narrative clearly needed to drive forward and to contain some sort of further antagonist (the twister) in order to create an emotional journey for the characters.
Jamie did the most of the artwork, which from commission, took two years. As it progressed, so too did the text balloons: they made their own font from Vicky’s handwriting ( she says it is the most legible it has ever been) and she created and positioned the text-balloons, Jamie designing the artwork, around them.
There is an extraordinary methodology to the construction of each complex page; too complicated perhaps to describe here (from pencil sketch, through watercolour wash, line drawings, to lighting and special effects in Photoshop), after the main drawings had been made, Vicky would settle down to the laborious task of colouring the hats, scarves, buttons, tent-poles … just look at the detail and spare a thought for the girl who coloured it, please!
Jamie was inspired as a child by Tove Jansson’s Moomin books; many people have noticed a similarity between Moomintroll and Tooki (and between Jamie and Tooki, if only Jamie had a yellow fur coat). Both grew up with Tintin. Jamie loved the Asterix books too and although Vicky liked them, Tintin was and is an abiding obsession to the point of being able to quote lines, place frames and of having been accepted onto Mastermind with Tintin as her specialist subject, only to be told by the producer that having worked for the BBC, she wouldn’t be allowed on, as they might be seen to be partisan (a lucky escape perhaps). Herge’s manner of creating a spread was a big influence on them: he’d always have a minor page-turner on the left-hand page and a major one on the right, a question that needed to be answered; they’ve always tried to do the same with Tooki, to have the reader excited to turn the page to
see what was coming next.
They aimed the book at a universal rather than a young readership. They both feel that young children are much more sophisticated than we give them credit for and can often grasp the nub of an idea that flies over the heads of adults.
Tooki is essentially the story of being human and asks the questions that everyone asks from a young age.
On the penultimate page of the book, Tooki tells Miski that: ‘ … there’s someone I’d like you to meet’ and the last page is completed by the caption ‘The Beginning’, which would imply that this is certainly not the end. Jamie and Vicky would love to set forth on further Took adventures (they have a sequel up their sleeves) but have gone out on a long limb
(a huge financial stretch) in order to bring Tooki into the world so they’ll just have to wait and see whether the world wants more from Tooki and thus from Vicky Kimm and Jamie Courtier .
I do hope so.
Coming up soon is a great concert by Vaguely Sunny Promotions at the Quay Arts on Newport, Isle of Wight with Vasen Nyckelharper Olov Johansson and harper Catriona McKay.
Before that the Isle of Wight Symphony Orchestra are playing at the Medina Theatre in Newport this Saturday. They are performing The Bamboula : Rhapsodic Dance – Samuel Coleridge-Taylor; Ballad For Strings – Coates; Violin Concerto – Barber and Symphony No 7 – Dvorak.
I’ll be there. It’s quite astounding here. It’s like having the Temple House Ceilidh Band (in classical terms) on your doorstep. Fabulous!
Right now, though, I’m heading to continue my knitting pattern (given to me by accordionist, Nick Wiseman-Ellis) – a wonderful sweater by Todd Gocken (www.toddgockendesigns.com). And a cup of rosy lea.
More again soon, no doubt. . . xK