Sunday, 24 February 2013


Christmas Roses in the garden.
It's been a funny old week - work has been crazy busy and home has been pretty much the same! DD and I went to see the English National Ballet 'doing' Sleeping Beauty which was fabulous. The costumes were amazing and the dancing was wonderful. DD did however offer her opinion that the Russian State Ballet (who we saw last month) had more athletic blokes. I'm assuming she meant in the height and complexity of the jumps and not in any crude sense. Myself? I was impressed with them all!!
Film has arrived for my Ilford Sporti camera. It takes 120 film - a format I am not familiar with. Loading it was pretty straightforward. The instruction book really is written step by tiny step. However, I was a little confused by the bit which says to wind on the film until No 1 appears in the window. A line appeared first, was that No 1? I carried on winding, and winding and whoa.... perhaps I'd better take a picture before I wind right to the end. I lined up a classy shot of the house and 'snap'. Now, the Ilford Sporti is my type of camera. You set the dial to sunny or cloudy and then turn the wheel for 2-4 ft, 10-25ft or 25-infinity ft... simples! I wasn't sure if I was 25ft from the house or further so I took a few steps back to be sure. I wound on a bit and took another from a slightly different angle, continuing to wind I found some little flower shapes appear in the window, they got bigger until, Lo! A No 1!! I retook the house shot and confidently carried on winding until flowers and a No 2 appeared (not that kind of No 2). Now I am safe in the knowledge of what the numbers look like I can finish the film and check if the camera is actually working ok! Pictures to follow here in due course.
I have been reading and being inspired by a number of writers at the moment who use photography  to document their lives and explore what things mean to them. I am aware this sounds quite weird and airy fairy but it has struck a chord with me. The work of Susannah Conway in particular has been popping up in all sorts of strange coincidental ways. I was interested in her ideas about portraits, especially self portraits. I am generally the one behind the camera in my family and so pics of me are relatively rare. However, I do like having my photo taken but am usually disappointed with the results. They never seem to portray me how I think they should!! Now, I said this was a coincidental week, shifting through some old photographs this weekend I came across a self portrait of my Uncle. He never had a camera far from his hand and is responsible for the stacks of pictures I treasure from my childhood.

Ken's self portrait along with some shots of Bath Abbey taken by him.
This portrait struck me as just what a self portrait should be. It seems to capture him perfectly. I also found a shot he took of me which has always been a favourite - even if I do look like a moody little mare!
Anyway, I thought I'd have a crack at a self portrait, DH did look at me oddly as I stood in various bits of the garden taking snaps. 'You do realise you have the camera around the wrong way' he helpfully called! Luckily I didn't have to point out the same mistake with the chainsaw!
Best of the day - well, the shot with least chins!
So, what do people think? Self portraits - valid art form with something to say or just an excuse to appear in lots of photographs? I shall continue trying them out, who knows I might even end up with a shot I like!

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Sew Happy!

I have had a lovely weekend catching up with an old friend (ie, been friends a long time, not that she's ancient!) I combined this gossip fest and eating marathon with a trip to Brackley Antique Cellar, one of my favourite places to explore.
Last time I was there I had spotted a set of deer hoof gun rack thingumys. They were still there today, oh joy, and as DS No 2 has just aquired a new bow we were in need of more storage! They will look totally fab on the wall!
I also managed to get something to display Mervyn in. I had in mind a bell jar type of affair but the only ones they had there were too small and too expensive. Instead I found a vintage sweet jar, the type from my childhood, and I thought this might be a quirky answer to the stuffed rat storage issue. I will need to create a base and something for him to lean on... watch this space!
Finally, I got chatting to a couple who own one of the spaces in the Cellar, a really friendly pair who gave me lots of tips and knocked some money off the Singer treadle sewing machine I had been eying up. Cheekily I said if he would help me get it to the car then we had a deal! Hooray for womens lib :-)

The machine came complete with the treadle table, an original box of gubbins and yet more gubbins in the side drawer. The leather drive belt was broken but I figured I could get DH to fix this!
A little rearranging of the car later and I was on my way home!

It needed some serious dusting and oiling but all appeared to be moving freely. DH has bodged the drive belt for now, the leather has definately had it. New drive belts are available on Ebay for not too much, hooray! I have tried to research it a bit, the Egyptian decals were very popular in the 1930's. I believe it's an early 15 model.
I have had a little play with it and it certainly sews beautifully. It won't replace my 1929 model that belonged to my paternal grandmother in my affections, but it will be loved and used! (Once I get the new belt!!)

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Get Stuffed (a tail of our visit to London)

Well, the day finally arrived. Kathy and I were off to London for our taxidermy class. Nerves were definately showing, luckily we had each other to cling to!
The 'famous' Sherlock Holmes phonebox.
The class took place at St Barts pathology museum, where I had recently spent the day twirling in front of film cameras. We had some time to kill and so checked out the local scenery. There's a monument to William 'Braveheart' Wallace, complete with Sainsburys flowers (nothing says hero worship like a £5 reduced bouquet) and also a decorated phonebox. At first glance Kathy and I thought it was resplendant with assorted cards from ladies of the night which, clearly, warranted a closer look. Instead it was an array of 'I believe in Sherlock' cards and pictures (also one which asked John to buy some milk, a code for something?) One Google later and we discovered this phonebox is on the actual site where TV Sherlock jumped to his possible death. One YouTube later and we could watch the actual action in front of the actual building. Actually quite surreal!
But the day was to get weirder!
Now, this might be the moment to discuss morals. I fully understand that taxidermy is not for everyone and people do have issues with stuffing dead animals. Amanda only uses roadkill/natural death/reptile food animals. As I own a snake and so have a freezer of dead mice I am in no position to argue the morality of using such animals. But I do see both sides of the argument.
The class was led by Amanda of Amanda's Autopsies and her fab assistant, they demonstrated each stage in the procedure and then gave help as needed. I have to say that Kathy and I were quite nervous, several of the other students (trainee stuffers?) seemed very confident. Still, we managed to get through the skinning with no problems, it was strangely therapeutic in fact.I did have a slight intestine mishap but nothing that a paper towel couldn't cover! Music was provided throughout the day, a heart inspired playlist meant we rocked out to Feargal Sharkey and Billy Ray Cyrus (shudder).
One rat, sticky side down!
Stuffing was done with cotton wool and wire for articulation. Getting cotton wool and wire into the skin and sewing it up to look vaguely rat shaped was an art in itself, adding the bead eyes and shaping the face was even more tricky! Once finished, however, we got to add our Valentine props. My rat, christened Mervyn, was to be a steampunk Cupid. I had spent all week making metal wings from tomato puree tubes. DH kindly made a steampunk shooter which sadly would not stay in his little paws :-(
Mervyn...wistful look and crossed paws clearly deliberate!
There were some fantastic end results, Kathy's Percy was lush with his felted balloons and our taxidermy neighbour, Mr Whiskers (a lovely chap who had been bought the class as a birthday present by his equally lovely fiancee) presented his rat in a fab tux!

St Pauls...
A pleasant walk back through London allowed us to clear our heads and ratty whiff before our journey home. We resisted the urge to get the rats out on the coach, but did talk about them a lot!
Pictures of the whole experience are available on Amanda's website Huge thanks to her for a great day!
I have to say I look petrified in all my pictures, but Mervyn looks awesome!

Pride of place on my dressing table!

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Mad Hatter and startled ferret!

Well, I've had to return to the land of normality (ha ha) after the filming excitement.... It's been a routine week of work and household chores but I did get to indulge in some creativity with a vintage twist for my floristry class!
I am now about half way through my Floristry diploma course, still loving every minute of it and still marvelling at the bargains to be had at Aldi (fabulous roses this week for £3!)
My assessment this week was to create a shop window around a theme of my choice. By 'shop window' they meant against a door in the reception area of the college. My door was to the office and so I had to allow for staff coming in and out. I tried to block them in with the step ladder but they managed to squeeze through.
I chose the Mad Hatters Tea Party as my theme as I thought I could make good use of my plentiful collection of vintage stuff. In reality it caused problems as I tried to choose between 20 different sets of china. I have slept for the past 3 weeks with a notepad by the bed, funny how inspiration strikes at 3am. 'Aha, bunting would be cool', 'Great, now shut up and let me sleep!' 'No, seriously, Alice themed bunting... here's how we could make it', 'Honestly, please tell me in the morning', 'No, I need to tell you NOW!'

Completed window display - ignore the office and magazine shelf!

Anyway, the assessment day arrived, my car was stuffed to the gunnels with everything I thought I could possibly need (plus lots I wasn't sure about) and I was ready to create. DD had scotched the idea of using my taxidermy vole as a dormouse (people will think you're weird! As if!) and so as a last minute stand in I had to enlist the services of startled ferret. He's my favourite Forest School soft toy and has had many a woodland adventure. Sitting in a teapot was a virtual holiday for him!

Startled Ferret - star of the show!
I was particularly proud of my floral cupcakes (sounds like a good name for a burlesque star?) - thank you to Carol for the inspiration.
Aldi roses - an absolute bargain!
It all went well and I got some good feedback from my tutor. Another bonus is that my house is now full of flowers, on the flip side I have loads of china to clean and put away and startled ferret needs to come back down to earth.
Still, it's the taxidermy course next Saturday and so he will have stuffed rat to befriend. The rats steampunk wings are coming along a treat but that's a whole 'nother story!!