8th January 2012
Happy New Year! Hope you had a good one... we did, as you can see from this pic of a happy Frei Compagnie chilling out with a beer in The Three Houses after our event at Sandal Castle on New Year's Eve. We'd earned it, too... several hundred people came up to the castle to mark the 551st anniversary of the Battle of Wakefield, and join the Yorkshire Branch of the Richard III Society at their wreath-laying at the Duke of York's restored monument on Manygates Lane - so it had been quite an intense afternoon!
And now here we are in 2012 - feeling a little shell-shocked, I must confess. The year kicked off with a frenzied burst of proof-reading, corrections and last-minute tweaks to get the text of Walk Towton 1461 off to the publishers - co-author Alan Stringer (that's him on the far right of the photo) and I are now resting on our laurels, waiting for the bound proofs to arrive for another round of checking before the launch on Palm Sunday.
Meanwhile Hubcap and I are still enjoying our unplanned 'cat-parenthood' - definitely not a situation we expected to find ourselves in at this time last year! The past two months of watching Henry Wowler grow from kitten to 'catolescent' have been fascinating, great fun, (if sometimes rather fraying on the nerves, not to mention the soft furnishings!), and full of oddly humorous parallels with human child development - Mick got very excited when his voice started breaking and he said his first real 'Miaow' (unlike his previous high-pitched 'Squeeak'). And his intensive programme of personal training - chasing, pouncing, stalking, ambush from concealment, aerial catches etc - has paid dividends. He's now prowling round in the garden and woods like a proper little tiger, and (like his 'parents'), takes a keen interest in ornithology... in fact he'd dearly love to deepen his acquaintance with our feathered friends.
Trouble is, despite knowing the meaning of stealth, being basically orange and white he can't quite pull it off. As you can see from the pic on the right, he's camouflaged for a snow-scape scattered with dead leaves... so in the average garden he sticks out like, well, a huntsman in a high-vis jacket. So every time he puts a paw near those bird feeders, the sparrows just flap up onto the hedge and sit laughing at him... makes me feel quite sorry for the poor little chap. Not that we want him to catch birds, of course... we're hoping he'll do better at night, and take out his frustrated hunting instincts on the local rat population! Or the bird-feeder-busting, nut-thieving squirrels... I could use some nice grey tree-rat fur to trim a winter hood...
Hubcap's on holiday this week, so we decided to treat ourselves to a bit of local culture and visit the Hepworth - the major new art gallery based on the life and work of Wakefield-born sculptor Barbara Hepworth (see right). From the outside it looks pretty grim; an interestingly-shaped building, but made of ghastly pigmented concrete slabs that remind me of a 1970's shopping centre or a decaying Eastern Bloc tenement. (Needless to say, it's won shedloads of awards and plaudits for its 'radical design', 'stark modernism', 'homage to Wakefield's industrial character' blah blah).
But inside it's a different story - nicely lit, with great views over the River Calder, chantry chapel and surrounding old mills, and shiny grey floors like lakes that subtly reflect the artworks. Yup, a real 'Wow' factor for the spaces themselves, never mind the exhibits - which are spectacular, as you can see from the pic below.
Monumental, magnificent Hepworths: I should have put Mick in shot for scale, because 'Winged Form' at the back (prototype for a scupture on the John Lewis building in London) is a monster - 6m tall!
If you're a modern art fan, it's a real treasure house - not only a tremendous collection of Hepworths, but works by Henry Moore (also Wakefield-born), Ben Nicholson, Graham Sutherland, Lucie Rie and many more... and until 29th January, there's also a fabulous exhibition by Clare Woods called 'The Unquiet Head', containing some massive bright abstracts based on natural rock formations - some of which Mick immediately identified as Brimham Rocks in North Yorkshire. But even if you're of the 'lump of stone with a hole in - big deal' school of thought, the Hepworths are worth seeing for the sheer beauty of the materials (like patinated bronzes, and gorgeous polished woods and marbles), the technical genius and the amount of plain bloody hard work involved in their shaping and finishing. I just loved them... curvaceous, sensuous and crying out to be fondled and stroked - which of course isn't allowed, they'd get ruined by thousands of sweaty grubby fingers mauling them every day! So we just feasted our eyes instead... and there's also plenty to please if you prefer more traditional art. The paintings from Wakefield's now-defunct art gallery on Wentworth Terrace have been transferred to the Hepworth, and there are lots on display - I was thrilled to see an exquisite torso study in red chalk by Bronzino, and a delightful Picasso pencil drawing, 'Dames sur une arbre'.
Having walked round for a couple of hours, we'd still only scratched the surface; viewed all the exhibits, but didn't read all the supplementary literature or watch all the interesting film loops about Hepworth's life and work (saving those for another time!) - so if you're coming from out of town to see the place, you'll need at least half a day to do it justice. Bring plenty of cash (or your credit card) too - it's also got a very nice cafe, and a shop full of lovely arty gifts! Oh, and another tip - when you want to wash up after using the slickly designed, high-tech loo, move your hand gently up and down in front of the little silver buttons to the left of the tap... after 5 minutes of fruitlessly waving my hands like a windmill in every orientation I could think of, I had to find an attendant to show me how to make the water flow!! All in all, a great experience - and free to get in, although it costs £3.50 for 4 hours parking - so I'll definitely be going back to the Hepworth to look again at those glorious works and the changing programme of temporary exhibitions.
On a different tack, my other news is that I've finally joined the wonderful world of social networking, and signed up for Facebook (one of my New Year's resolutions - and an easier one to keep than getting fit and losing 20lb!!). So you can find me there too now... and in due course I'll be adding pages for all the Herstory publications, if you want to have an on-line chat about them!
More plaudits for Wakefield Council... last weekend we went for the first time to the Calder Park Nature Reserve, part of a major business park development a stone's throw from Junction 39 of the M1/a couple of miles south of Sandal Castle (visible in centre of the pic on the right). As well as some very swish-looking office accommodation, the Council's creating a superb wetland habitat which is already heaving with birds - we spotted Canada geese, brown partridge, coots, mute swans and a little grebe, to name but a few. It's still a work in progress but already very attractive with
these wonderful expanses of water and wetland plants... and when all the new tree plantings have grown it should look absolutely stunning. We were thrilled to discover such a treasure on our doorstep, (as were the many joggers, walkers (with and without dogs), bird-watchers and fishermen we saw enjoying the place), and very impressed by the Council's good sense in installing a huge sluice gate and keeping this area as a natural sump against flooding from the Calder. Lucky us - between this, the adjacent Pugneys Water-park and Newmillerdam, we're starting to feel as if we're living on one vast interconnected nature reserve! So well done, Wakefield Council - but boo hiss to Blackpool Council for their new Festival Hall (that's it to the right of Blackpool Tower in the pic below right), which as we discovered on Saturday is possibly the worst registry office in the world...
Yes, dubbed 'the lump of cheese' by our nieces and nephew, this supposedly state-of-the-art venue is really poky inside. Built entirely of unvarnished pine, it was as hot as the sauna it resembles; the ground-floor reception's stuffed with promotion for Blackpool attractions; and the only decoration (bar a vase of fake flowers) in the room where Mick's brother got married were 2 flat-screen TVs on the wall, one showing the banns and the other adverts for their funeral services - which they didn't even switch off for the ceremony! Romantic, huh? Especially when we had to ask for the window to be opened so that guests didn't pass out from the suffocating under-floor heating... which meant the service took place
to the accompaniment of a howling gale blowing straight off the Irish Sea and whistling in through the cracks. No doubt it's won a shed-load (and I use the expression advisedly!) of design awards, but it's one of the ugliest, most useless-for-purpose buildings I've ever set foot in... and my poor bro- and sis-in-law had to fork out £250 for the dubious privilege of getting wed there. Its only good points are the location and views, and I suppose it's worth checking out for a laugh if you happen to be on Blackpool promenade... just don't pick it for your wedding venue!
Sweating in our suits in a stripped-pine shed - me n' hubcap in Blackpool's Festival Hall