Archive | December, 2015


27 Dec


Hemingway spent his last birthday in Andalusia, the southern reaches of sunny Spain. A region steeped in Arab influence, Flamenco music and machismo. My wife and I found this lovely bronze plaque in memory of the great novelist just outside the bullring in Ronda a fortnight ago.

Late December and the sun blazing down we explored the building. Clare would not set foot on the sand, it felt macabre to her and not a place for holiday snaps.


I witnessed a bullfight in 1998 in Madrid – it is not for the faint of heart. The ritualised slaughter of a massively powerful, beautiful animal by a matador and his team of picadors on foot and horse back is supposed to be a demonstration of supreme machismo – literally ‘the sense of being manly’.

The bull does not stand a chance of course – he will die, that is his fate. Sitting in the arena I asked an old Spanish guy next to me to explain the meaning of the bullfight as we watched. He said “Signor, the bull is the man, the matador is the woman”

This surprised me, as you can imagine.

Hemingway was somewhat obsessed with hunting, drinking and death – he was a man’s man. The culture of hunting is still strong in this region of Spain. This is the Hunting Museum in Ronda.


None of these specimens was hunted for food, they were all killed for trophies. What lunacy, a byproduct of the same machismo which gives us the bull fight, the trophy hunt, the religious fanatic and the terrorist.

The certain testosterone fuelled knowledge that “Might is Right” yields a cult of Death. By killing the trophy hunter satisfies his hunger for power not meat. Taking life to feel alive.

As a professional Zoologist in the past I have collected many species of animals (all invertebrates) in order to understand their physiology, relationships and ecology. I was never comfortable making collections of reference material for the sake of future study. So I did not indulge in this form of esoteric stamp collecting.

To be fair there is not a huge difference between a trophy hunter and a butterfly collector. The only way I could feel happy collecting is with a camera.

What then is the counterbalance to machismo?

Life bursts forth in its fabulous complexity, fuelled by the sun through photosynthesis. Carbon dioxide plus water joined in green plants and algae to make sugars. The start of most food chains. Synthesis and symmetry – mathematical, chemical and physical processes – hinted at by the Arabs who built their palaces in southern Spain.

It was just near here, in the park in Seville that this woman danced for me a ballet of such blinding absurdity that it made me laugh in the midst of suicidal depression.

The counter to machismo is humour. Sharper than the sword wielded by a matador, and pen of a Nobel laureate novelist.

The Alcazar, Seville, Spain.




12 Dec


I was asked to make a writing slope for a fisherman. I came across an end section on a 16 foot slab of sycamore in my timber store, cut from near the root ball of an old tree. Nicely spalted by invading fungi and with a hint of stress figuring – it spoke of stream. At 2 inches thick I was able to chamfer the top and bottom of the piece and turn a little foot on the lathe to make the piece stand up at comfortable angle for the writer.

As I was carving out the groove for the pen with my router I had a thought, “…what if?”. Digging out my pyrography kit I sketched the outline of an eel around the groove of the pen holder.

I was well pleased with the effect.

When asked to describe what I do for a living (a perennial British Obsession used to classify new acquaintances into categories of usefulness, inferiority or ‘be nice and forget’) I use various descriptions depending upon the audience: woodworker, carpenter, cabinet maker, furniture designer, but never do I use the word ‘Artist’.

It seems somehow disreputable. Implying an ability to move sinuously, to evade responsibility in order to avoid actual work, to ‘eel’ in fact.

eel life cycle

Yet eels are the most spectacular fish – able to adapt to both fresh and salt water. In fact the common European eel lays its eggs in the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic Ocean, hatching to release larvae which will grow into glass eels. These little creatures swim thousands of miles to the rivers and canals from which their parents journeyed to grow, and fatten and mature. They then spawn in estuaries in the transition zone from fresh to salt water. The life history of the eel is enigmatic – it is only relatively recently that it has been uncovered. Eels taste delicious too – it must be all that maritime migration – a sort of ‘marination’ lacing their flesh with taste from the experience of travel and experiencing such different worlds.

So it is as an ‘Artist’ I will greet 2016 migrating this new piece to the Millennium Gallery. Commissioned by the gallery for an exhibition on Craft and Art it will have forty small paintings inspired by the life, work and thoughts of John Ruskin hanging in it – the contribution of my collaborator, the artist Mir Jansen.


Some very friendly people came to view this at Exchange Place whilst it was marinating in my studio,  at Yorkshire Artspace’s annual public ‘Open Studios’ event. One visitor liked it so much she has asked me to make a piece  for her new sculpture garden in the new year.

It appears one must adapt, like the eel, to ever changing environmental conditions in order to migrate onwards.

Merry Christmas dear reader, may Santa’s Sleigh bring you joy and inspiration …just like my blue truck does for me. Blue as the Sargasso Sea.

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