Saturday, 29 April 2017

2017 Reading, Part Two

My second batch of books for 2017. There's a bit of a fantasy theme running through them again this time. Usually amongst the six books in an entry there are one or two but this time (and last time, it's getting a habit...) there are four. But at least they are all from different authors and somewhat different subject matter!

So this time I'll set off with the first of the fantasy books. I guess the title at least will not be unfamiliar to most of you. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collin is a series of three books which spawned a series of four extremely successful films. This is fantasy of the Dystopian Futures kind - a future where things have gone horribly wrong with the world. In this case, the thirteen districts that now cover the continent of North America have at some stage in their past revolted against the rule of the Capital and have been severely repressed in retribution. As a lasting reminder not to challenge the Capital again, District 13 (where the revolt started) has been totally destroyed and the rest of the Districts are required once every four years to send one boy and one girl aged between 12 and 18 to fight in an enclosed arena of several square miles until only one of the 24 combatants still lives. I had seen the films but my daughter kept saying I should read the books (and I almost invariably find the books better than any film anyway). She was right.

Ducking out of the fantasy genre into Historical Fiction for a moment, I continued my journey through the Roger Brook novels by Dennis Wheatley. This also has undertones of Wheatley's other famous genre, Black Magic, as Roger makes an enemy of someone he considers a charlatan but who turns out to have genuine sinister occult powers. Once more sent abroad on secret work for Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, Roger runs into bother in India before running into both his new enemy and his old adversary, Napolean Bonaparte, in Venice.

Then it's back to the murky world of the 14th century university life in Cambridge. In this our heroes physician Matthew Bartholomew and University Proctor Brother Michael find themselves once more members of an impoverished College and at the mercy of both murderous criminals and also the elements as workmen have removed the roof of their sleeping areas only to leave that work for better paid work elsewhere. A fearsome family headed by a woman feared as a witch and backed up by her ferocious warrior son cause Matt some moments of terror, thinking he's about to be sliced and diced, some moments of exasperation, as the old woman needs a tooth removed but will not permit it, yet expects Matt to cure the pain. Finally the woman's granddaughter has set her eyes on Matt as a suitor and pursues him - which causes him to fear the slicing and dicing at the hands of her father! Add to all this an increasingly malicious series of pranks played by the various Colleges and Hostels of the university upon each other and the result is a very entertaining tale.

Fantasy of the Fairy Story kind now from Neil Gaiman as a young boy makes friends with a family at the farm nearby who seem to have lived there forever. When he inadvertently releases a malevolent spirit into this world who takes (as far as his father is concerned) voluptuous female form, his new friends at the farm have their work cut out to protect him and his family and banish the spirit from the world. A very clever and engaging book. Neil Gaiman's American Gods appears on TV from this weekend, but as it's on a pay-to-view basis I imagine I'll wait for the re-run on a regular channel!

Comedy time now and another of Terry Pratchett's books from the Discworld featuring the Night Watch. I've read them all out of sequence - this is the first as far as I can make out so far - but it hasn't mattered as all the books work well as stand-alones. Here a secret society find out how to conjure up a dragon into the world, but once there the dragon has ideas of its own. Meanwhile Sam Vimes' tattered police force (they creep round dark streets shouting "All's Well" and if it isn't then they run away to somewhere quieter...) have a new recruit - the strangely noble-minded human-brought-up-as-a-dwarf Lance-Constable Carrot. Vimes himself meets the formidable upper-crust lady who aspires to become Mrs Vimes who knows all about dragons - and may just be about to be sacrificed to one...

Wowsers! I bought this in The Works for the magnificent sum of 50p a couple of weeks ago and read it this week in short order, barely able to take my nose out of it. This is once again Dystopian Future fantasy and turns out to be the third in a series but I had no problems understanding what was going on. Aimed at young adults (the only difference is that at least one of the good guys will be a teenager and swearing is absent - not a bad thing...) this has a post apocalyptic landscape where cities have recognisable names, but are variously mobile - traction cities lumber around on tracks and wheels whilst others float. They all seem to prey on each other and there are parallels with today's global corporate takeovers here. Philip Reeve has created a brilliantly intriguing world as the background to this tale of kidnap, slavery and rescue set against the background of a long-lasting war which catches up with the good guys at the point at which they seem about to pull off the rescue of their daughter. I'll definitely be looking to read the other books in this series and found today whilst searching the Internet for more info that a film based around the series is being made by none other than LOTR/Hobbit director Peter Jackson. I suspect it will be well worth seeing.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Found Photos, 35mm 828 Format Film Negatives

We recently suffered a death in the family and it's fallen to my brother and I to sort out the estate and possessions. My Uncle Geoff had been a keen photographer in the past and whilst few have surfaced so far, I was rather hoping to come across a collection of old photos of family and views showing elements of social life no longer with us.

The other day I found a tiny metal canister and it turned out to have a roll of black and white negatives in it. The film was 35mm wide but with only a single sprocket hole for each frame along the bottom edge of the strip. There were no sprocket holes at all along the top edge. A bit of research tells me this is 828 format film, created by Kodak in 1935 for their Bantam range of cameras.

The image format was 40x28mm, a touch bigger than the standard 35mm film, which itself had only been introduced the previous year in 1934. This is a full-frame from one of the photos. Locomotive 4478, named Hermit was built for LNER at Doncaster, entering service in July 1923.

I've no way of dating these photos but guess they are from the late 1940s or early 1950s. There appears to be evidence of an itchy trigger finger...! Winding on the film would not be as simple as a single action of a lever and would certainly not be motor-driven!

Whilst 35mm film came in its own canister which went into the camera, 828 film was a roll film with backing paper. The spool of film had to be held tight to stop light from getting to it as you loaded it into the camera and then threaded the loose end of the film onto an empty take-up spool - which had come from the previous film to have been shot. Depending on the camera either you wound the film on after taking a shot until the single sprocket encountered a pin that stopped any more film advancing, or you wound it on until the next frame number, printed on the back of the backing paper, showed through a tiny red plastic window in the back of the camera.

The remaining shots are of bands parading through Manchester town centre.

This is Manchester in the immediate post-war years. Gaps in streets are evidence of the work of Hitler's Luftwaffe. Bomb sites in and around Manchester remained common through until the end of the 1960s and sporadically even afterwards.

In the area of Piccadilly Gardens this shot has the Littlewoods department store in the background.

I quite like this shot though as it shows some of Manchester's trolleybuses. I can just about remember riding on them as a child. Manchester had nine routes covered by a total of 189 trolleybuses. Introduced in 1938 the last trolleybuses were withdrawn on 31 December 1966.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

More Pastel Artwork

After the success of the oil pastel larger scale painting of Villefranche on the French Riviera, I felt curious as to how it would be to use the hard pastel crayons I bought. So over the past few weeks I've experimented and completed a couple of A4-sized sketches. The set of pastel pencils I have is a Derwent set of 12, so it leaves me with a quite limited palette. But I did find that they were quite easy to blend together - certainly much easier than the oils had been to overlay colours and fade from one to another.

This sketch from one of my photographs of a Venice backwater took just two days to complete. This a decidedly sketchy drawing - the overlays are glaringly obvious but it also contains two elements that I usually find very hard to draw. People and water.

The second one was taken from a postcard and is of The Shambles in York. I took a bit more time with this, which was started on 20 March and finished on 9 April. Because of the narrow nature of the street, in real life I have never seen it in anything but deep shadow at this particular point where two medieval buildings look almost to touch across the street. I didn't want to make this a drab painting, so introduced somewhat more colour with the beige than there is in the actual buildings. The brickwork of the building on the right presented its own challenges as the bricks are worn and some of them are almost as smooth as porcelain and tend to reflect light, looking almost blue rather than the dull red that we associate with bricks. The perspective of the rows of bricks was also quite a challenge to me as I tend to draw everything freehand and not think too much about where lines might converge. I made a special effort here! It's not exact and the shop is definitely not called Green's in real life but hey - it might have been once?

I have in mind another larger painting using either the oil pastels or actual oils - I have some paints and brushes but so far the thought of mess is putting me off... For the subject I've got an old early 20th century postcard of Studland in Dorset.

This presents a number of difficulties and challenges. For one thing I'll have to choose the colours myself as the postcard is in sepia monochrome. Then there is going to be so much green, will it swamp the painting? Can I get enough detail into shrubbery and trees? And I've never attempted to cope with drawing a horse before. There are two here, but the format of my painting will not be quite so widescreen and I have in mind to have the cart drawn by just one horse, thus moving the cart forward and away from the edge of the image. It could take a long time and there could be other projects finding themselves squeezed in the middle to let me recharge and take a fresh look at how it comes along.

Friday, 7 April 2017

World War One Era Autograph Book, Part 3

Another look at the autograph book from 1915-1919 bought at a book fair in February 2017. There are more blank pages than used ones and it contains both photographs and pencil sketches besides autographs. The autographs it does contain are of friends and family of whoever owned it rather than of famous people.

We start off this time with a couple of photographs. I've no idea who they are of course, but here are two ladies sitting on a jumble of rocks at the bottom of a sloping field, seen through the gate behind them. The lady on the right is smiling for the camera whilst the lady on the left seems lost in the reverie of a moment as she enjoys the view before her.

A simple sketch of flowers (pansies?) by E.H., some of whose work I've featured from the album before.

This looks like a snapshot taken on a day's outing. I don't know where this is, but whatever the building is, there are several benches for people to sit on outside and under the canopy there is a deck chair and further to the left, almost merging with the row of bushes and trees lining the road where the cameraman is standing, a further group of people are sitting at the very edge of what we can see of the building.

A little bit of World War I humour! A list of "hymns" from the front line.

6:30am - Reveille - Christians Awake
6:45am - Rouse Parade - Art Thou Weary
7:00am - Breakfast - Meekly Wait and Murmer Not
8:15am - Company Officer's Parade - When He Cometh
8:45am - Manouvres - Fight The Good Fight
11:45am - Swedish Drill - Here We Suffer Grief and Pain
1:00pm - Dinner - Come Ye Thankful People, Come
2:15pm - Rifle Drill - Go Labour On
3:15pm - Lecture by Officer - Tell Me The Old-Old Story
4:30pm - Dismiss - Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow
5:00pm - Tea - What Means This Eager Anxious Throng
6:00pm - Free For The Night - Oh Lord, How Happy We Should Be
10:00pm - Last Post - All Are Safely Gathered In
10:15pm - Lights Out - Peace, Perfect Peace
10:30pm - Inspection of Guards - Sleep On Beloved

Initialled N.M. and dated March 16, 1918

A Tail of Woe! A charming little pencil sketch by E.P. and drawn 21 April 1918.

And here the ladies, in best hats and gloves, take their seats in the charabanc - an open-air early motor coach - perhaps for the return journey from the house we saw earlier. They look well pleased with themselves - I suspect a measure of brown ale or milk stout has been involved somewhere along the line...

We will return one last time to this album sometime soon.

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