#312 theoldmortuary ponders

So long George Shaw. I have loved every minute of my time in the two galleries holding the works of George Shaw at The Box in Plymouth.

The exhibition leaves the Box at the beginning of September, but I took my leave of the exhibition yesterday.  It is with a heavy heart that I will never again have that first thing in the morning experience of smelling George’s Humbrol Enamel Paints, as the galleries are opened up. No more sessions of choosing one picture and really concentrating on it to enjoy every detail. All this wallowing in frequent visits to the same exhibitions is a new luxury for me. 50 or so years of visiting exhibitions once or twice, occasionally, more frequently was my previous experience. But now I work in a gallery/exhibition I spend many sessions submerged in exhibitions or galleries full of the work of artists or makers. This could be my shangri-la but I don’t get to choose. Sometimes I spend many hours in galleries that contain art or artifacts that I can find very little connection with. I suspect the sessions with work or a subject that I don’t much like are character building and often, over time, I find something to like or even love. But I will miss your work George Shaw. Thanks for sharing so much that was so deeply personal.


#311 theoldmortuary ponders

311 is a significant number for me. It was the bus route from my rural village to the Market Town where I went to school, and then on to Chelmsford the county town of Essex.


My bus was not jazzy and yellow at the front. I travelled on busses decorated in the Eastern National livery of Tilling Green. The exact colours of the single decker parked beside the jazzy 311. I was 10 when it was considered safe for me to travel alone on these busses and probably 20 when I last caught one.

This bus route is so well known to me that even now I imagine the regular movement and stops would feel comfortably familiar. Although there may have been slight route changes over the years the map above shows the route I am very familiar with . The route that eventually took me away, forever, from the comfort of familiar North East Essex countryside. This is a really strange ponder but whenever I see the number 311, I feel something warm and comforting. North East Essex gave me a great start in life and route 311 gently introduced me to the rest of the world. Quite the journey.

#310 theoldmortuary ponders

Four hours early for an appointment! What to do? Returning home in rush hour traffic, of a sort, did not seem particularly exciting. So I figured out four hours of activities to the east of the city. In no particular order of dullness I went to a rarely visited supermarket and bought a new frying pan. Necessary because our old one had sprung a leak. Creating puddles of Rape Seed oil wherever it rested its bottom. Never having had a leak occur in a frying pan we had blamed Rape Seed incontinence on many other factors before noticing a steady drip of oil spluttering into the open flame of the gas hob.

The dogs then got two decent length walks, one on the coast path and one up a valley before they gratefully fell asleep in the car while I read a print edition newspaper and snacked on supermarket pastry. The hours had passed and I handed over some, still tired, hairy hounds to their canine beauticians. Freeing me up for some sea swimming and book reading under lumpen grey skies and no expectation of heat. Typical English Summer recalibrated from the Sunny Summer Sumptuousness of the past month or so. Four hours early for an appointment, no problem. British Summer Time has finally arrived, the rain chased me off the beach. Like any good English person I sat resolutely as the pages of my book darkened with blobs of rain, playing an internal game of brinkmanship, not wanting to be the first person to run to the comfort of a warm dry car. Not wanting,either, to be a drippy wet mess unable to balance on plastic flipflops made slippy by rainfall in a way they never do with saltwater.

Four hours early for an appointment and British Summertime has finally arrived.

#309 theoldmortuary ponders

Morning rituals are a thing. Mine are caffeinated tea, a blog, Wordle and a dog walk. In no particular order. All should be completed by noon. Sometimes all done by 6 am.

Yesterdays Wordle was enlivened when this smiling face popped up, telling me there was a message for me from a friend and work colleague. We worked together at the dawn of the new century, but now she lives in New Zealand. We worked in a very specialised Critical Cardiac Catheter lab. Older than most of the staff we had a lot in common. I loved Sue for her insistence on hospital corners on the  thin mattress on the complex operating area/ x-ray, image intensifier. No matter what madness was going on everything was in its proper place and the sheets had sharp corners. She could also talk and laugh about anything. When our younger colleagues didn’t quite measure up to her standards she would mutter to me. “The trouble is we are predominantly in the minority”

Attending conferences with her was hysterical. She once hurried me up so effectively that we managed to get onto a VIP bus to entirely the wrong, and very luxuriously catered for Conference Social Event, and I had failed to get my knickers on. I may never have laughed so much at a work event. The ‘do’ was for the high flyers of the Cardiac World. Our few colleagues who were there wondered,  I am sure, how we had been invited, and to a degree kept a rather snobbish degree of distance from us. No so the really lovely people we shared a table with who knowing full well that we were there in error made us very welcome. All professional chat and one upmanship ceased, not because we couldn’t have joined in but because our inclusion in their group freed us up to talk and laugh about other stuff. A great evening was had and we were promised jobs in Liverpool or Ohio if we ever had the urge.

The next morning was a little bit of a blur, not helped by the owner of our small hotel crafting a home made water feature in her lobby, despite or perhaps because of her best efforts to make her entrance a haven of tinkling water, she has created a multicoloured, and rather large erect penis, bedecked by flowers from the tropics.

I was thrilled when she messaged me to say she would be at my local beach at 9 pm yesterday, she is in England to visit family, I was very happy. The bobbers had already planned to bob at the same place and time.

Of course we had failed to be quite specific enough! Here is Sue 20 feet below me on a different part of the beach. No hugging for us, just happy shouted greetings and a promise to meet up more accurately next week.

We keep in touch via Facebook and the blog. She, like many of you know almost too much about Bobbers. Once I had located her it seemed only polite to take all the bobbers to my viewing point and introduce them to her at my elevated location.

A very happy, if distant reunion.

#308 theoldmortuary ponders

What lies beneath?

Our early morning dog walk produced a cute breakfast treat. Fresh windfall figs, minding their own business, resting on the pavement.

Enrobed in creamy yogurt they soon fulfilled their destiny. Later in the day the camouflaged net disguised another gustatory pleasure. Soupe au Pistou. A French tradition neatly relocated to the Stonehouse Tennis Club. In late summer when there is a glut of vegetables, communities in France come together for a communal meal of Vegetable Soup served with Parmesan and Pistou, a sauce made of garlic, oil and basil. Pistou is similar to pesto but does not have the addition of pine nuts or cashews.

Beneath the camouflage was a community of people enjoying charcouterie, the eponymous soup, a cheeseboard, tarte au citron and loads of chatter.

We met many people who we would normally pass on the street with a nod or brief good morning/afternoon. Released from just a simple polite greeting by sitting together for a couple of hours in the sun we had wide ranging and fascinating conversations with people who would quite rightly have been categorised as strangers only moments before. Well fed and watered we made our way home. The evening plan was to work off all the days fabulous food with a swim from our regular evening location.

Not a bad day at all and all within a five minute walk from home. This is turning out to be a very fine weekend.

Recipe below for Soupe au Pistou


#307 theoldmortuary ponders

Tranquility Bay, where we usually swim.

A heatwave is a funny thing in this part of England, we are used to gentle weather with most sorts of weather,apart from rain, served in moderation. The weather of the last few weeks has been the sort of weather we fly around the world for under normal circumstances.

Normal English Summer = Lets go to Greece in September.

And so, we adopt Greekish habits at the weekend, early rising to do dog walks, shopping and chores. Swimming when the tides are right. Somehow that frees up time for book reading in the cool of the house while avoiding midday heat. This luxury of ‘found’ time has enabled me to finish reading a fantastic tale of pirates set on the Kent coast. I can hugely recommend this book.

The illustration by Rafaela Romaya has been my bedtime companion for a couple of weeks.

I’ve been doing a little bit of digital fooling around to create an image of Bobbers enjoying Tranquility Bay in this great weather.

It wasn’t such a great leap to have them swimming in the shadow of Pirate Ships.

Or even enjoying a game of modified water polo. And that is the kind of madness that comes from hotter weather than normal on an English person

#306 theoldmortuary ponders

Sometimes I have a nugget of a blog in mind that doesn’t quite have enough substance. The story of Darwin and his Origin of Species came into this category. No disrespect to Darwin is meant but I wanted to express the flavour of his relationship with Plymouth. He was only 22 when he set sail from Plymouth for a two year exploration and survey of the coast of Patagonia and Tierra Del Fuego. He was rich enough to pay the £30 a year cost of the voyage, was making a name for himself as a naturalist and had no responsibilities. The yellow boat in the picture above is moored roughly in the position of the Beagle at Barn Pool.

©Plymouth History Festival

Darwin arrived in Plymouth in late October and eventually sailed in late December. He described his months in Plymouth as the worst time he had ever experienced. He was able to spend time with many great scientists and engineers of the time and also listen to sermons given by university friends, in many first hand accounts he expresses great pleasure in doing such things. But Plymouth, as the city is now known, had a vibrant night culture which Darwin made no effort to study. The city was too bawdy and licentious for a man who delighted in sermons. Devonport where his lodgings were was a place well used to having young men slightly bored waiting for a boat to sail. Devonport had bars and Theatres and many many ways a man with money could have found stimulation and good times. I suspect he was a prissy young man who would not have know a good time if it had jumped up behind him and said Boo!

The Beagle was eventually ready to sail in late December when the weather had become more favourable. One more thing was set to cause Darwin misery. It was just another thing for him to disapprove of, furthering his judgement of Plymouth as a giant den of iniquity.

On Christmas Day 1831, Darwin went to church, most probably Stoke Damerel, where the guest preacher was a friend from Cambridge University, William Strong Hore of Stonehouse. Hore was at that time Assistant Stipendiary Curate to Saltash; after ordination he became Curate at Stoke Damerel.

Whilst Darwin was at church, the Beagle’s crew got drunk and disorderly. The weather on the 26 December was ideal for sailing, but the crew were either hung over or in irons as a result of their behaviour the day before. At 11am On Monday 27 December 1831, in perfect weather, the Beagle did weigh anchor and set sail. On a friend’s yacht, Darwin caught the ship at 2pm beyond the Breakwater, and so began his epic voyage.*

Nearly 200 years on I can sense the look on his face and the set of his body language as he eventually set sail for South America. Most of us know a Darwin!

* Shaun Standfield 2008 Plymouth History Festival 2022

#305 theoldmortuary ponders

A late blog because meetings and swimming kept me busy from early today. I rushed through the early morning chores and quickly typed this little thought on water colour paper. Or that was the plan, the mornings meeting was a creative one where planning and exchanging ideas are accompanied by people creating small projects at the same time. What I had actually typed onto was blotting paper, so the words were more prophetic than the original plan. Painting onto blotting paper is highly unpredictable. Some colours just stuttered to an immediate halt, no hope of all the usual watercolour tricks and effects. But something emerged. The conversations also flowed and stuck in unexpected places. Two succesful exhibitions have just closed. The talk as it often is, was about change in general and the role of Social Media in promoting the work of arts organisations and indeed communicating with members via social media and electronic newsletters.

Electronic Newsletter
Instagram post reminding members about a meeting

I’m sure most people involved with any small to medium voluntary or creative organisation must be wrangling the same discussions. The love of familiar hard copy, something to hold onto, something to keep V information only accessible by using a computer, tablet or smartphone. The only time we have produced an actual paper brochure post pandemic is for an Open Studios Arts Trail.

Even this is best used with a QR code.

Feelings and opinions are strongly felt and the old ways of doing things worked but I think a global pandemic has pushed forward so many things often in unexpected ways , I think however that going back to even how things were done three years ago is a boat that has already sailed.

On a more personal level I probably don’t need to paint on blotting paper ever again.

#304 theoldmortuary ponders

Desire paths that lead to a realisation.

Desire Paths have always fascinated me. Reading a recent blog from Spitalfields Life, nudged me into writing this blog today.

When I was a student at Barts Hospital my chosen Desire Path took 5 minutes off my journey to Moorgate Station. It was an ancient right of way. For nearly a thousand years medics and butchers have shared adjacent plots in the City of London.

Barts©The Wellcome Trust
Smithfield© Spitalfields Life. The Gentle Author

My short cut, or desire path, took me from the hospital boundary through slaughter yards, with bloodied water running into open drains. My desire path was almost certainly created by butchers, through history, making their way to and from one of the City gates. Moor Gate, so named because it led out to marshy ground known as Moor Fields. The to and fro on my little cut way was not just medical folk and butchers trying to make a quick access or escape, but, by passing so close to active slaughter yards the route may only have been tolerable for those with minds and stomachs already hardened to the sight snd smells of blood and gore. Butchers sometimes used the path as walking wounded, a quick way in to seek medical attention when sharp knives and cleavers have cut through living human flesh. A cleaver cutting through a femoral artery is a mucky and life or limb threatening event. Butchers, before the days of Health and Safety, often had bits missing, and the butchers of Smithfield were very regular and grateful customers when Barts had a fully functioning A and E. Anyway, I digress this blog is about a coastal desire path with much less to talk about. When I returned to work at Barts in 2013 I was hugely sad, but not entirely surprised, that I could no longer follow my short cut to Moorgate.

A desire path (often referred to as a desire line in transportation planning), also known as a game trail, social trail, fishermen trail, herd path, cow path, elephant path, goat track, pig trail, use trail and bootleg trail, is an unplanned small trail created as a consequence of mechanical erosion caused by human or animal traffic. The path usually represents the shortest or the most easily navigated route between an origin and destination, and the width and severity of its surface erosion are often indicators of the traffic level it receives.Desire paths typically emerge as convenient shortcuts where more deliberately constructed paths take a longer or more circuitous route, have gaps, or are non-existent. Once someone has already treaded out a path through the natural vegetation, subsequent traffics tend to follow that visibly existing route (as it is more convenient than carving out a new path by oneself), and the repeated trampling will further erode away both the remaining groundcover and the soil quality that allows easy revegetation.*

The desire path I walk on most days has none of the history of the Barts desire path. It cuts off only seconds of an already brief walk to the beach . It is the area in sunlight in this picture, the actual, brick path runs close to the wall of Stonehouse Tennis Club. But such is pondering that I only realised today that the South West Coastal Path, that both this Desire, and official, brick path lead to, must be made up entirely of historic desire paths that have been linked together. Unexpected enlightenment on a Wednesday

Today I am a rubbish photographer and have managed to cut off the vital words on this plaque. South West Coastal Path are the words I needed but managed not to include in this image.

One of my recent paintings combined with typewriting sums this whole blog up really. Todays in particular but pretty much in general too.

* definition of Desire Path. Wikipedia

#303 theoldmortuary ponders

What exactly was in the water last night? A fairly standard bob was called for the late afternoon/early evening. It all started just a little off normal by some random William Shakespeare quotations. A Midsummer Night’s Dream if that is of any interest. The proper swimmers went off to swim and the eponymous bobbers bobbed. But then the proper swimmers got all giddy by one of the buoys and started throwing a high vis safety buoy about. By the time they reached the bobbing zone a mass ‘piggy in the middle’ game had evolved that then sucked up the bobbers. The bobbers tend to swim in the safety of the bay. The combined effect of the number of people involved increasing and the acoustic properties of a cliff surrounded bay,amplified the noise, lowered the inhibitions and multiplied the competitive element of the game. We stayed in, possibly to the dismay of other bay users until our fingers resembled prunes and our salty faces were dried up by the setting sun.

With eyes stinging from too much splashed sea water and a few innocuous injuries the bobbers left the water. Allowing the waters of Tranquility Bay to settle and clear to the level of tranquil that the name suggests.

Calm restored in the bay but the whatsapp bobbing group bubbled and fizzed with the evenings events. Praise awarded and punishments for miscreants all with a hint of Midsummer Night’s Dream

“Lord what fools these mortals be”

“Though she be but little, she is fierce”

Proper quotes from Midsummer Nights Dream

Fake Shakespeare reimagined for Bobbing from the film Shakespeare in Love.