Thursday, 12 January 2017

Where is the balance?

I am a Libran and am cursed with a need to see balance in everything; to see the other point of view, to walk in someone else's shoes, to listen to the opposing argument to try to understand both sides of any argument. 

I have read that one of the downsides to social media is that it is like a mirror because it will almost always reflect your own beliefs, interests and preferences back at you. That makes sense. I choose to follow other bloggers and Facebook users whose ideas please me, inspire me and reaffirm my view of myself. It's human nature. We are pack animals after all.

So, this morning, I went in  search of the opposing view to 'Donald J.Trump will be the worst president ever and will 'turn the USA into a toilet' (BIlly Connelly).

You might think that I would have a hard job finding that opposing view but you are wrong. All I had to do was look in places I never looked before. It wasn't hard at all.

First search............
Facebook/ Donald Trump for president  (76,500 likes)

There weren't very many posts on this page and the last one was in July 2016 but I did find some active Trump supporters including this woman from Minnessota who posted this popular poster. 

You tube / Final thoughts with Tomi (Texas) (3,850,000 likes)

Tomi is a good Texan reporter who likes her football and MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) and she made a critique of Meryl Streep's (now famous) acceptance speech in which she derided Trump. You know, I have to admit Tomi makes some good points. I could criticize her style but - she is not all wrong.

I have trawled through videos, radio interviews, Facebook pages and actually ..........

I am depressed now.

OH I can't do this any more...... I am going to watch re-runs of the top 10 funny interviews on Britains Got Talent - it makes more sense!   But I do think that actors and entertainers should keep out of Politics (including Ron Reagan and Donald Trump) and stick to the things they do best. ............ delighting and surprising us,

HERE IT IS..........................

Sunday, 1 May 2016

100 year anniversary

Coincidence is a surprising thing and sometimes very beautiful.

Nearly three years ago, I found myself wandering around the online pages of a scholar and translator of Vietnamese and French poetry; one Thomas L. Le. I was so moved by one of the poems that it inspired a small painting of a Hoi An fisherman skilfully riding the surf in his basket boat as he brought his small catch back to the girl waiting on the beach to take it to market.  I wrote some lines from the poem directly onto the painting and it was quickly sold at my Hoi An Exhibition in May 2014. The poem was by Xuan Dieu but being new to Vietnam, I found it difficult to commit the name to memory.

Some months later, I found myself living on Xuan Dieu in Hanoi. More recently, I found myself in a specialist printing shop on Xuan Dieu in Ho Chi Minh City, Q5 and I thought ‘there’s that name again’. I realised that this is no ordinary poet.

I discovered that Xuan Dieu was born and died in exactly the same years as my own father (1916-1985). Had my father lived, he would be 100 years old this month ( May 2016) So I could immediately identify with this poet and compare his life with that of my own father. Xuan Dieu was coming to life in my imagination.

The poet had started writing while at university in Hanoi and over a lifetime contributed around 450 poems, short stories, diaries and essays as part of the Modern Poetry Movement which took off in the 1930s. Under the influence of western education introduced by the French, Vietnam was emerging from a highly structured Confucian, family centred culture to become more individualistic and expressive. The Modern Poetry movement gave voice to the discomforts of this transition. I expect that these poets were viewed with equal disdain as Rock ‘n Roll, Punk Rock and Hip Hop artists were by their parents’ generation. Now, of course, many of the early movers and shakers of modern music have been honoured by their governments and they will be revered by generations to come. Xuan Dieu’s poetry will live on and his words are just as poignant and relevant now as they were in his day.

  The Sea

I don't deserve to be the ocean blue
But I want thee to be the white beach sand
The sandy beach stretching calmly its hue
Under the crystal sun

The comely beach of yellow sand                              There’s times when I would fain surge in
Extending to the rows of pine                                  As if to crush thy edges dear
So dreamily and quietly                                          It’s when my billows roar passion
For eons by the roaring brine                                   To drown thee is ceaseless love sheer

Let me be the clear turquoise swells                          I don’t deserve to be the ocean blue       
That kiss ceaseless thy yellow sand                            But want to be the turquoise sea
The gentle kiss that often dwells                               To sing eternal songs by thee
The quiet kiss that has no end                                   In endless love for thee dear true

I will kiss thee again, again                                        So when the foam comes boiling white
From here clear to eternity                                       And wind gusts in from everywhere
Till none of this wide world remains                            Insatiably I will kiss with might
Before my heat can beat calmly                                Cause I love so thy sand edge bare.

Monday, 4 January 2016

New Year - fresh new look!

If you haven't already received an Email, a Facebook post, a Jacquie Lawson e-card, a Pinterest update or a Skype call from me............................


Last year was a very good year indeed for my work; I had three solo exhibitions and two group exhibitions and y drawings and paintings have sold very well indeed. 

It was great to go back to the UK after 3 years of absence. Seeing friends, family and familiar landscapes again was very, very uplifting. There wasn't nearly enough time to do everything I wanted but I will be home again this summer and will have more time.

My big project for ummer 2016 will be to produce a collection of new etchings and linocuts - something I cannot do in Vietnam becuase they don't have the right technology.  I will base myself in Northumberland and use a print workshop in Newcastle to get the work done.

I have lots of new things to show you for 2016. 

First of all, my web site has a complete make-over. It has a fresh new look with new links and there are lots of new items for sale in my online shop.

I launched it yesterday and this morning my mailboxes were full of great feedback from all quarters.   Click HERE to go straight there and have a look.

Let me know what you think. If you like it - then why not share it with some friends by sending them the web address in an email or Facebook message

Next up - I have a brand new Facebook Page dedicated to my work. I will no longer be posting my work on my personal Facebook timeline, I will keep that just for personal photos, sharing videos and keeping up with friends. 

I post to my new Facebook page every single day so if you would like to see what I am working on simply visit the site, click on 'Like' and my arty stuff will be delivered to your phone or computer every morning.  Click HERE  to go straight to my new, professional Facebook Page.  Unlike Facebook timelines, Facebook pages are completely anonymous so no-one can see that you are connected to it in any way.

I have joined Instagram - I still struggle with it - it is not the most intuitive app. I have ever used but It is up and running and I will learn to love it - Haha!

Click HERE to see my first snaps

That's it for now. I love being able to share things with you through this blog.  Please let me know if you have any new links or addresses to share with me. What exciting new websites or apps do you use that you think I might like?  email me:

Saturday, 19 December 2015

St. Josephs Cathedral. Hanoi

A little corner of Paris in Hanoi

'Let's meet outside the 'big church' near the lake' I said. What a surprise I got when I arrived.

On previous visits to Hanoi I had somehow managed to miss St. Joseph's cathedral. I must have been too busy dragging around the 'big' tourist spots or losing my way in the maze of streets of the old quarter. But, this time, determined to find the 'big church'  I arranged to meet a friend there to do some sketching together. I was early so I was able to soak in the unexpected atmosphere of this quiet corner of the capital city for a little while.

As soon as I entered the secluded square which is dominated by the modest facade of the church, I was transported back twenty years to a misty evening spent in Montmartre in Paris. The church bells marked the quarter hour. There is something about the scale of the buildings, the layout of the streets and the crooked trees that is reminiscent of that romantic quarter of Paris that was the haunt of so many artists. There are the same muted colours of green, grey and browns and I began to imagine that this collection of streets and bars in Hanoi could easily be the centre of a modern day art movement for the talented young artists of modern Vietnam if they wished.

The church itself is rather underwhelming in scale. It is styled on the massive Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, as is Notre Dame Cathedral in Saigon. It was built in the 1880s on the site of the demolished Bao Thien Pagoda, an ancient and sacred meeting place which, coincidentally, had been constructed about the same period as the Paris cathedral.

In front of St. Joseph's is a charming railed garden that is home to a small statue of the virgin Mary 'Queen of Peace'. But I suspect that this corner of Hanoi has not always been a haven of tranquility.

There must have been protests and riots when it was declared that the old Pagoda was to be demolished to make way for the 'new religion' of the invading French. Hearts will have been broken as 700 years of tradition and community was so wilfully destroyed.  Later, in 1954 when the Viet Minh took control of Hanoi, the church and all its property was confiscated. It was  over 40 years before the church was, once again, permitted to reopen for services. Then, in 2008 there were more protests, this time by Catholic priests who demanded the state return land that had previously been occupied by the church. Maybe it is the fear of more conflict that caused the church and the little Madonna to both be surrounded by protective railings.

Today, this square is peaceful. The street that leads to the church( Nha Tho) has a collection of international restaurants, local cafes and shops housed in two slightly faded rows of pretty shop houses and many have been there for many years. My friend says that nothing much changes in this neighbourhood where he founded his business nearly 20 years ago. 

The bells chime the hour with that flat two-tone of every church in France, big or small. It all adds to that haunting feeling that I could easily be walking those cobbled streets of Montmartre once more.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Charming Vietnamese Lion dogs

A visit to Phat Thic Pagoda, Bac Ninh

There is a current debate concerning the guardian lions of Vietnam that stand in pairs at the entrances of religious and government buildings.

A pair of guardian lions comprise of one male (yin) and one female (yang). The male has his foot on an embroidered cloth ball that represents power and the whole world. The female has one paw on a reclining lion cub, as if stroking its stomach; this represents nurture and care. They are there to repel invaders and to protect the people within.
In Vietnam there is movement to eject all the fierce-looking, Chinese lions (often called foo dogs by westerners) and replace them with the more traditional, happier-looking Vietnamese variety. 

Experts have been referring to the oldest surviving guardian lions in Vietnam to uphold their claims for change and it seems that the two lions flanking the steps to the Phat Thic pagoda in Bac Ninh Province  in the shade of old hoa dai blossom trees, I expect many visitors just pass by without noticing them.  But these lions are amongst the rarest in South East Asia and may be Vietnam’s oldest examples of the original style of guardian lion

I was taken to see Phat Thic one misty autumn afternoon about two years ago. I was visiting the home of a recently deceased artist and was invited, by his lovely widow, to get on the back of her scooter and visit her local pagoda. I could not possibly have imagined the treat in store as we bumped along country lanes and through a small town to the imposing entrance of a large religious, mountain site.

Ahead of me was a steep climb of steps to a low, wide building altar building. This structure is only 30 years old but it replaced a temple founded in 1057 by the Ly dynasty that was, unfortunately, bombed to ashes by colonising forces in the 1950s.

I was led by hand into the richly decorated interior furnished with large painted statues of all the usual suspects. Somehow they seemed more real, more awe inspiring than others I have spent some time with. This was a special place – there was no doubt.

Deeper into the temple I found something wonderous; a large marble Buddah that has been carefully stitched and pinned back together with iron staples and pins, after being shattered in that bygone disaster. At nearly 2 metres high, this Buddha was once the nation’s most important and is now considered to be a great treasure of Buddhism in Vietnam. It certainly has an unforgettable presence.

The two ancient lions, mentioned in the debate, sit in line with kneeling pairs of four other sacred animals on a terrace. There is a pair of elephants, two horses a couple rhinoceros and two buffalos. These dark, sandstone creatures are beautifully carved and, especially, the fine details of teeth, claws and imperial motifs of the two charming lions are amazingly well preserved. 

I would definitely support the movement to replace the forbidding Chinese- styled lions with the more affable Vietnamese breed. I think they reflect this country’s unique culture and character better.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

My new professional Facebook Page

On a recent visit to Hoi An, I stayed with my charismatic, young French photographer friend Rehahn (Rehahn's web site/) and his lovely family in their quiet house on a strand of land between two rivers and next to the Vegetable gardens of Tra Que. Itis one of the most idyllic places imaginable. 

We talk about all kinds of things. He smokes impossibly large and expensive Cuban cigars which he buys on his frequent visits to the island to record its faded glory. I drink chilled red wine which, straight from the fridge, is as close to European 'room temperature' as we can manage here in the tropics!

Recently, we made a break through. We have resolved to start a self-publishers' cooperative together with Elka Ray ( to help promote and distribute the work of writers, photographers (of course) and artists ( of course!). It looks like I am going to be part of a Vietnamese company - bring it on!

Anyway, he said I have to stop publishing pictures of my work on my personal Facebook and separate business from politics and pleasures. How could I argue with that?

So, I have a new Facebook page and I need all the support I can get. I will no longer be posting pictures of my work on my personal Facebook page .......... that will be reserved for politics, parties, pleasures and photo-opportunities.

Please, please 'like' my new business facebook page. It's anonymous. You will not have to be my friend. You CAN comment on my work and you CAN keep up with new publications, and news of exhibitions and the work of other new, exciting artists who also struggle to capture the light, the heat and the people of the tropics.

Please click here............My new Facebook page

THe name of our new collective is Books 4 Asia. I will keep you posted.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Flying colours - the temple flags of Vietnam

Flying Colours

Traditional flags in Vietnam

Flags have been used to communicate meanings, directions and identities for over 6,000 years. The earliest known is a bronze relic from Iran dated around 4,000bc.

I never thought much about the meanings of flags until I moved to Vietnam where flags are far more common than in my native England.  Neighbourhoods are transformed on festival and national holiday days by the brilliant  red and yellow national flags and are sometimes festooned with striped bunting which is strung from post to post in the vicinity of temples.

The National Flag with its red ground and yellow star takes its styling from the Soviet ‘hammer and sickle’ flag which also includes a yellow star. In Vietnam, the star represents the five sections of society; the farmers, intellectuals, factory workers, businessmen and the military. Yellow is the colour of the Vietnamese people and red is universally used to signify revolution, strength and courage.  In the alleys and narrow streets of Hanoi, a few scarlet and yellow flags projecting from balconies and upper story windows instantly injects a feeling of national pride and celebration.

The large temple flags with the jagged or toothed edges make a bold statement don’t they. These are Buddhist in origin but have been adopted more widely within the special blend of religion and ancestor worship practiced in Vietnam. The flags outside a large temple will each have a different colour for the central square. Blue is the colour of compassion, yellow is balance, red is for the blessings of Buddha’s teaching, orange is for wisdom and white represents purity and liberation. 

The size of the flag will denote the importance of the site, ancient temples display much larger flags than more modern or lesser temples and meeting houses. Sometimes you will see a small flag outside someone’s home – this usually indicates that there is a monk resident within. So, don’t display Buddhist flags at your house unless you want the neighbours to bring offerings to your door!

Triangular flags mark the route to the home of the deceased during the funeral week. Black and white is often used for these flags in Hanoi. In Hoi An and Da Nang I saw maroon and dark blue and ochre to mark these sad occasions.

Small striped and squared flags will lead the way to the temple door. The closer to the temple, the larger the flags become. Once inside the temple enclosure, the positioning of flags around main courtyard convey meanings about festivals or other temple events. Usually, a yellow flag representing the sun occupies a central position, Blue and green flags representing nature and sky will be in the eastern corners. A white flag for the moon and metal will be in the west and black or indigo in the north represent water.

For parades, the flags take on even more meanings. The red flag representing the Phoenix should take the lead. Behind that the dark turtle is flanked by the Blue dragon to the left and the white tiger to the right. These complex messages are easily read by locals, but I just marvel at the spectacle and now I know never to pass a massive temple flag without stopping to explore the ancient temple within.