Friday, 18 August 2017


Me and Ron birdwatching (the feathered variety)

Who is Ron Blake, you may ask? Well, I shall tell you.

My father died when I was two years old. My mother was strong, determined, resilient and strict. She was loving too but what I didn't realise was that I missed having a guide, an example in my life - a male guide, a male example to follow and ask for advice and kid around with. It was particularly in my formative teenage years that this was so important and that is where Ron Blake came into my life. I was never so lucky.

My family moved down from North London to West Wittering in 1964, having been going on holiday there for years. Wittering was (and still is) a magical place. East Wittering was much smaller than it is now. There was a bakery on the corner of Shore Road which led down to the sea past Mr Gubb's shop which sold everything from buckets and spades to swim hats and rubber rings, past The Lanka dress shop, past the Izora hotel where we stayed in the railway carriages in the garden, past the Galleon Coffee Bar and then the Shore Hotel. After the first idyllic summer of 1964 which was like one long holiday, I worked as a newspaper delivery boy for Mr Marsh who owned the newsagents on the Parade at East Wittering. This was my first job. I was eventually sacked for turning up late one too many times. At school, I was in the lowest stream having failed my exams at the end of the 2nd Year because I was not used to their syllabus and had only joined a few weeks before the end of year exams the results of which determined which stream you entered next. I joined a gang which stole from shops in Chichester. I bullied my younger sister because I was a nobody at school. I hid in the changing rooms to avoid playing rugby. I had also got a summer job at the Harbour Chalet, a shop and cafe at WestWittering Car Park with Mr Gubb who also threatened to sack me because he thought I was  stealing from the money paid to me when I sold ice creams on the beach whereas he was adding up the amount of money in the float incorrectly.

So, my early teenage years were not boding well for the future but then Ron Blake and his partner and brother-in-law, Mr Robertson took over the Harbour Chalet and that was when the fun started. I worked with some lovely people there, Mrs Clarke in the kitchen, Mrs Ford in the tea room, Mr Jeffrey in the Ice cream shop and my school friend Gary Gilhooly. Mr Blake worked us hard but he was also great fun and had a wicked and often silly sense of humour. I must have worked there for about 5 summers and in the end, I was the manager and in my last year, they gave me bonus of £100. I learned so much from Ron about the right way to treat people and to do things. On the days when it was raining and there was only a smattering of cars in the Car Park, we'd chat about life - his time in the Army doing National Service, how he met his wife Ann, his life in London after the War, sex, girlfriends, honour, manners - in other words, all the things that my father would have talked about if he had been around. And we had such laughs too, playing football in the stockroom, playing practical jokes on Mr Jeffrey and watching women sunbathing topless behind windbreaks through binoculars he set up on an overturned bucket specially for the purpose. In 1971, I wrote to him asking if I could work there again in the upcoming summer holiday but he replied saying that the business had been sold. We met once or twice after that but eventually lost touch until a few years ago when I tracked him down and went to see him at his house near Waterlooville. We both brought out the same set of photographs and I sensed that he felt as strongly about me as I did about him. He was not as dynamic as he used to be but there was still a twinkle in his eye and we still made each other laugh. We talked about meeting again but generally only kept in touch through Christmas Cards until today when his wife telephoned to tell me that he had passed away last Friday.

Who was Ron Blake? He was a kind man, an honourable man, a funny man. He was my saviour. I loved him. He was the father I never had.

Monday, 14 August 2017

CLARE PARK - Part Three

My grandmother, Nellie Cheesman

I am beginning a project which is the publication of a book based on my mother's address books. This follows a similar project a few years ago when I self published a book based on a box of photographs which my mother left to me on trust for the family. My mother was a dancer in her youth and the box contained signed photographs of the people she had worked with. The book contained these photographs as well as a biography of the performer concerned written with the aid of the information about them obtained from the Internet but also including the personal reminiscences of my mother as told to me or my own memories where I knew the person. The idea for this new book is to include a person only (a) if he or she is in any of the address books (b) if I have a photograph of them and (c) I can obtain enough sufficiently interesting information about them. One of the people chosen is Nellie Cooper (nee Cheesman), my Grandmother on my mother's side. She is shown above and below wearing a had painted goldfish costume in 1904 made for the Brighton and Hove Society's mayoral ball.
Brighton & Hove Society Mayoral Ball 1904
Extract from article describing the outfit
Me! 113 years later. Photo: Clare Park  Make-up: Sara Raeburn
My mother found it difficult to love her mother. She had quite a temper but this contrasted with a sentimentality which my mother found insincere and thus irritating. My mother's account of the death of her father, Nellie's husband, Gerald, (who my mother adored) is confusing - to me anyhow. Nellie telephoned my mother to say that her father was not at all well and she felt she should come over straightaway. My mother spoke to a friend to ask her to babysit her two young children and then called Nellie back to say that she had arranged a babysitter and would come over immediately. Nellie said "Don't hurry, dear" to which my mother replied "You bitch -  he's gone hasn't he?" After telling this story, she would always castigate herself for saying this. I think that basically, the two women were on completely different wavelengths. My mother would be embarrassed when 'admitting' that Nellie was subsequently sectioned and placed in Colney Hatch Sanatorium where she died in 1956. Nellie was buried in Tongham churchyard next to the grave of her son Joseph, my mother's only and younger brother, who had died from Pneumonia at only 9 years of age - an event tragic enough to have screwed anyone up. My mother adored the men in her life - her brother Joseph (who died in 1938) and her father (who died in 1950) and her husband, my father Stanley who died in 1953 leaving her with no money and five children under the age of eight, a sequence of events which hardened the heart of a beautiful and vivacious young woman who, nevertheless, is remembered with great fondness by friends and family alike.

This image is, therefore, highly significant to me but I find that I can appreciate it independent of the familial connection. It is crisp and sharp, Its contrasting colours and tones are beautiful. The make-up is superb, deft and delicate. It is exquisite. It shines. It burns into me. It makes me want to cry and yet I am not sad. It makes me smile but...........there are no buts.

'Tim has been photographed in so many guises that finding a new story is a challenge. He had mentioned a family dress a while ago and my ears pricked up at the time as I have a passion for personal artifacts that create connections to the past. The plan to meet up and create a new image arrived quite suddenly last week. Ideas brewed over several days and emails exchanged with the delightful photograph of Tim's grandmother Nellie Cheesman wearing ‘Goldfish’ dress in 1904. How to achieve a story with Tim and the dress?

I decided that a pale na├»ve ‘face' should be applied to Tim and this might link him to the memory of his grandmother. I foresaw that a sense of the clown may overshadow the intention of the narrative and so together with makeup artist Sara Raeburn we discussed ideas and she suggested it look as if a child had applied the makeup, as if mimicking their mother. We also hunted for a suitable location and found a curious place...a muddy yellowy dog pond in a leafy clearing.

As typical on all my shoots intellect disappears and instinct takes over in the hunt for emotional intent borne out of collaboration - on Friday August 11th 2017 between Tim, Sara and I. The shoot flowed and developed in an unspoken yet connected and relaxed way. Later that evening I looked through the images and a frame jumped spoke to me! And it is at this point I always let my personal feelings flood in - a curious concoction of exhaustion and elation, rapidly followed by the need to share and hope that the photograph be understood.’ Clare Park

'I think this picture is wonderful and total ie with Sara's make up…so gentle. So not ego led...interesting and touching and Tim’s eyes...and hands'. Debbie Green

Saturday, 12 August 2017

CLARE PARK Part Two - Nellie Cheesman's Dress

Nellie Cheesman's Dress by Clare Park© - makeup by Sara Raeburn

My Grandmother

I touched your hair today
It was fastened by two pale blue ribbons,
Tucked in a book of scraps, sad stories and the word of God.
Why did your daughter, my mother, dislike you so?
Was it the violence
Or the insincerity
Or the wisdom?
You bitch.
Who was the young girl dressed in satin,
Who seduced a clergyman,
Who shrieked at the Bishop,
Who begat three children,
And who loved them all?
It was you.
You were not mad;
You were trapped
By loathing, sanctified by the holy spirit.
And now you lie next to your son;
No-one knows you are there,
Apart from me
And I touched your hair today.

 From Clare -

This photograph captures a sense of contemplation.
It is not frivolous or clown.
Together with your poem it forms a snapshot of a lady, your grandmother...

A dress can be provocative: it can expose and transform the body; it can conceal and protect; or, it can simply be discarded and become a relic from the past. It can be rediscovered...Tim is spectator and interpreter, body and sign, image and representation. 



When I meet and work with Clare Park, it is almost as if I had dreamed up "Over the Hill" solely with that aim - to work with her. She is very witty but there is a solemnity, a sadness about her that she draws over herself like a widow's veil. But then she smiles a pixie smile - wicked and inclusive, naughty and knowing. She is totally connected to her art which itself comes from her fascination with human weaknesses and foibles and the beauty of what other might see as mundane or ugly or empty. She receives a loyalty from her friends by being true to herself. She adores her children - she sits on her nest and pecks away at them, feeding them food and encouragement, nudging them in what she feels is the right direction. She has a lovely husband, Toby, of whom she speaks with great fondness.

But, it is that moment when she lifts the camera and points it at me that I relish. No, maybe the moment before when she looks at me with sad eyes, cajoling me into her thinking like inviting me into her bedroom not for grown-up reasons but to show me her bits of writing and pictures, her favourite dolls and books and records as if I am an old school friend who she feels confident will understand all these things and what they mean or, even if I don't, she won't mind because we are friends and that means there is no ill-will or bitching between us. 

Here are some of the wonderful photographs she has taken of me since we first met in 2009. She photographed me again yesterday  - prepare to be amazed.

The Border of Enchantment and Disenchantment

CUPID'S BOW: Nerve endings and nerve beginnings

Feeling the Light


The Allusion of Fear

Friday, 4 August 2017

SPRINGLINES by Clare Best and Mary Anne Aytoun-Ellis

I caught the Number 6 bus from outside Waitrose to take me to Brighton Station where I bought a return ticket to Lewes where I had arranged to meet Clare Best at 4pm at the Depot. I had not been able to attend the launch of "Springlines", the book on which she had collaborated with the artist, Mary Anne Aytoun-Ellis and, indeed, I had not seen Clare for some time but there she was with her familiar smile and very quickly we clicked into easy conversation. As Clare told me of the various functions where her book had been promoted, I felt almost envious of her collaborator as I recalled the joy of working with Clare on our own venture, "Take me with you", when I witnessed her determination and positivity over the three years culminating in its successful presentation at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School - I wanted it all again.

Clare produced a copy of "Springlines" which I bought without hesitation, saying that I would read it when I got home. Well, of course, I started reading it on the train and immediately I was transported to the places so beautifully described by Clare's words and Mary's evocative pictures. Clare loves words, loves writing them down, speaking them, using them and sharing them. The reader is beguiled by the dexterous and intuitive manner in which she describes what we have all seen from time to time but, in this book, enriched by the language of a poet of extraordinary skill.

"Now streams and lakes
             are lucent, hushed..."

I love "lucent" - just the sound and the shape of the word are wonderful. And, not only that but the painting of "Furnace Pond" by Mary on the facing page is glorious, full of the silvers and browns and the grey of winter. 

I am not going to write any more because I won't do the book the justice it deserves. All I can do is implore you to obtain your own copy -

Sunday, 23 July 2017

W:E with Samin Ahmadzadeh

Photo by Barbara Gibson

Here I am in Birmingham again at The Premier Inn Hotel which is not a bad little hotel. The staff are nice, breakfast is pretty good and the rooms are clean. As for Birmingham itself, I wasn't so knocked out by New Street Station this time and, when I found myself wandering around the Bullring, I suddenly thought "What the hell am I doing here?" I guess that it is like many English (Welsh, Scottish, European, Brexit??) shopping malls in that it contains all the main retail chainstores and that seems to be what the people want because there are loads of people in there with me but it wasn't particularly what I wanted but, but.....I did find something there. I didn't know that I was looking for it but suddenly, standing in the middle of Paperchase, I had an idea for a story so watch this space, if indeed you are interested in gazing at empty spaces in blog pages waiting to receive more from the pen of Tim Andrews.

No, my reason for returning so quickly to Birmingham was to attend the opening of "W:E" the solo exhibition of work by Samin Ahmadzedah at the Argentea Gallery in St. Paul's Square. Well, if you have read my comments on the group show in Nottingham in which her work was included, you will not be surprised to hear that this is a "must see" event. At Nottingham, Samin was restricted to several hundred of her birch plywood blocks - here, there are fewer items on display but they have been arranged and hung so well that the cumulative effect is possibly even more impressive. The small round blocks which represent her work so well at Nottingham are here also and there are two walls of them whilst the remainder are either individual blocks or small groups of two or three but, as before and, as predicted by Samin all those months ago when she came to meet me in Brighton for the first time, each display shines from the wall as you stand back and view it from afar but then draws you in to examine the people and places woven together so adeptly and thoughtfully by the artist. 

It was interesting to look at the section devoted to the photographs of the people with whom my mother worked in her dancing years from about 1937 to 1948 and to hear the comments of those who were seeing these images for the first time. I began to look at them with a different eye and to fully appreciate the effect of combining a pair of faces particularly when they were those of a man and woman. It breathed new life into these classic photographs. Whether my mother would have approved, I don't know; she was a fickle woman but often she pleasantly surprised people with her take on things and my guess (and it can only be a guess) is that she would have liked it. There was no doubt that the guests liked what they saw both from what was said directly to me and from what I overheard.
Marta and me
Samin looked lovely as always as did Paul and they both grinned at their good fortune as they told me that they are to be married in Iran later this year. Samin introduced me to her sister who initially I confused with the one I had met before in Nottingham until she (the Nottingham one) appeared too - it might help if I could remember names. I could still be wondering now how one could find three such beautiful women in the same family but Samin's mother came up to greet me and there was the answer.
I chatted to the curator and owner of the gallery, Jennie Anderson who welcomed me warmly as I arrived and to whom I introduced Marta Kochanek and Barbara Gibson. Eventually, I made my way down to the Lower Ground Floor of this great gallery and met and discussed the exhibition with Jennie's charming husband, Paul. Ruth Millington, who had written an excellent essay to accompany the exhibition, came up and said hello and I was very taken with her enthusiasm and, in particular, impressed by her stamina as she listened to me rattle on about writing and what it meant for me. 

Ahvaz Garden
The evening ended with good conversation and company in the form of Marta and Barbara, in an Italian Restaurant where the food was good but the service somewhat desultory. It was buzzing in there so maybe we and they were just not meant for each other - it happens. Marta very kindly dropped me back to the city centre and within minutes, my head sank into my guaranteed good night's sleep pillow and I was dreaming of a wondrous place full of familiar faces, some formal and some posed, some smiling and some laughing, each one merging into the other to produce an evocation of the past in the form of two families, separated by distance, customs and tradition but joined together by an interest in the power of photography to examine and discover how much alike we are.  


Sunday, 28 May 2017


She smiled as we reached our allotted seats at the same time approaching them from opposite ends of the carriage. I offered her my window seat but she shook her head and, after depositing my bag on the luggage rack, we both sat down and she smiled again. I got 85% of the way through the Guardian's idiot crossword and then gave up. By this time, the train had reached Leicester and I started up a conversation which was really an obvious extension to our brief smiley chat. She was French, from Paris and was studying psychology at Loughborough. I notice now that, when I told her I had Parkinson''s, my speech immediately deteriorated.  Maybe I shouldn't be so quick to announce the fact but it's a fine line. Anyway, we whiled away a pleasant few minutes before she left the train and I carried on to Nottingham, determined not to be outwitted by the Nottingham cabbies as I had been last time. This time I walked the 300 yards or so to the hotel (Fare: £0), showered and got ready for my shoot which will be the subject of a separate post.

I had arranged with the woman on reception to have a taxi take me to Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery which would be hosting the Reportrait Exhibition which included Samin's amazing work. It was a simply beautiful evening - bright, sunny and warm but with a lovely cooling breeze.  The cabbie dropped me off at the castle gate (Fare: £3.90 plus 60p tip) and I was directed onwards by a steward and up to the terrace where I found Samin looking exceptionally pretty in a lovely bluish-green and purple dress which I think she said had been made by her sister. They were in a cluster of people which included her handsome boyfriend Paul, the tall Victoria Vrublevska and boyfriend Thomas instantly noticeable with his beautiful red hair. Matthieu Leger, one of the exhibiting artists was introduced to me, as was his brother and I enjoyed joining in their conversation the jollity of which was heightened by the post-installation euphoria and pre-exhibition nerves. I also met the curator of the show, Tristram Aver, who must have been very proud of how it all turned out.

Then Samin and Paul took me to the room where her 504 circles were displayed and I almost cried with delight. They had told me that the view of them all, standing back, would be impressive but I wasn't prepared for just how stunning the wall of circles would look. But then, I walked towards them and look closely at the images woven on to each one and then suddenly felt a jolt as I recognised myself and members of my family in them and then noticed the similarity of the images of Samin's family. But that wasn't all - I think the most affecting aspect of the work, for me anyhow, was that Samin worked on each one over many months and it was seeing all of them in presentation mode that made me realise how monumental an achievement it was. I then looked at the other images on display and these were wonderful too. I liked particularly the paintings by Jake Wood-Evans which reminded me of the work of Richard Butler (of Psychedelic Furs fame) - I called Jane while I was there and she told me that she had shared a studio very briefly with Jake when we first moved to Brighton 6 years ago. Unfortunately, Jake wasn't there - otherwise, I would have collared him. Then on to Matthieu Leger's wonderfully vibrant canvasses full of colour and movement followed by the contrasting humour of the respective works of Julie Cockburn and Maisie Broadhead and the gorgeous globular mushiness of of the paintings of Antony Micalef. As you can see, I am no expert when it comes to art appreciation so I can only tell you how the exhibition affected me personally. Samin is going to have a solo show in Birmingham soon which will be amazing to see but it was interesting to see how all these different artists' works combined to create such a magnificent dynamic which is a testament to the vision of Tristram Aver's concept.

I wandered into other parts of the gallery and then out again. By then, Samin's family had arrived and she introduced me first to her mother and I recognised Samin in her warm smile and then to her tall father who I chatted to briefly and discovered that he was a chemical engineer who had no artistic background but yet who had begat an artist of extraordinary talent in Samin. 

Paul took me down to view Victoria's film of Samin's journey which featured her working in her studio, slicing and weaving, and then her visit to me in Brighton to collect my family images. The film is beautifully made and is a great document of my involvement with Samin, an unlikely collaboration in that I would never have imagined that I would work with an artist of her calibre on something so close to my heart. I could not trust just anyone with my family archive but I knew from the moment I met her that Samin would treasure these items and respect them as if they were her own. As I took off the headphones, Paul and Samin and Victoria were standing there to witness my reaction and I could see my affection for them all reflected in their smiles. Soon after I met the charming Jennie Anderson of the Argentea Gallery in Birmingham where Samin is going to present her solo show in July and we talked about Photo London, Sian Davey, Lee Miller, Man Ray, Jessa Fairbrother (whose talk we both attended earlier this year without realising we were both there mainly because we didn't know each other at the time) and Marta Kochanek who used to have a studio in the Jewellery Quarter where Jennie's gallery is located. I felt we only chatted for a few minutes so how we managed to cram all that in, I don't know.

It was time to say goodbye with kisses and handshakes and a big hug for Samin; my abiding image of her was her standing with Paul looking at what they had created - a superb document of our time.

Postscript: When I left the castle, I was knackered and so I called DG Taxis, the company which had provided the cab which took me to the castle earlier that evening. A taxi drew up and the cabbie beamed and nodded when I said "DG Taxi?" He drove me to the hotel and I got this distinct feeling that we went by a longer route and round a few more roundabouts than were necessary and so it proved when I was asked to pay £6.00 but I was too tired to argue. As I walked to the hotel entrance, I received a text from DG Taxis saying that my taxi had arrived and where was I. So, a final score of Tim 2 Nottingham Cabbies 1 - well at least it was better than the 4-0 drubbing I experienced last time