Masters of the minor map location Herb Lester have extended their tip top product range with a set of complementary notebooks for "birders, fishermen, foragers and ramblers". With cover illustrations by super-talented Jez Burrows. Stock up here.
There's only two of us, at the last count. Northern Irish members of 26 I mean. Just me and Gillian. And I'm English so I probably don't count. I shouldn't. Gillian is, of course, much better qualified than me to be a 26er. A proper, professional, skilled writer. On the other hand, I'm a charlatan. Not so much a writer as a stringer of words. Sticking them together so they hang, dangerously weak. Held together by sticky tape and Pritt Stick. Sliced with a scalpel and spray mounted in line.
That's how I managed to wriggle my way onto the writer's list for our branch of this year's 26 Treasures. Now I'm on, it's woefully clear I'll be outwritten and out outwrote by everyone else.
A bit of background: Last year, the writer's collective 26 devised 26 Treasures. Working with the V&A, 26 writers were each paired with an exhibit about which they would respond with 62 words. It's all here. This year, the project has gone regional with branches in NI, Scotland and Wales. In NI, we're being a bit awkward. We're roping in 26 artists/designers to add a different angle on the thing. So there are 26 writers (not all 26 members clearly) who each get bundled with an artist/designer and an exhibit in the Ulster Museum. The writer writes and then the artist/designer does his/her stuff.
In October, the results will be brought together in an exhibition at the museum that will form part of of the Belfast Festival at Queen's. All pretty exciting really. And I'm really pleased to be working with artist/photographer Sonya Whitefield and a self-portrait-pot by Peter Meanley.
We had a Boy's Day Out today. To the Ulster Museum. On a Sunday, that should mean a nice, quiet time. A nice, quiet picnic in the park. A stroll through the Tropical Ravine. Perhaps a little diversion into The Palm House.
Not today. Oh no. Not when there's a flippin' carnival on. In the flippin' park. With a stage. Right next to the flippin' museum.
Now you might think: two young boys and a Dad, a sunny day, no need to hurry anywhere much and a carnival might be a recipe for a fun-packed Boys Day Out. That would be quite reasonable.
But you'd be overlooking one all-powerful, irrepressible component: Namely carnival people with big fucking heads. Massive heads. A monkey head the size on a washing machine. A huge rabbit head, the size of a fridge. A wrinkly old man's head, the size of a dishwasher, on the shoulders of…actually, a wrinkly old man.
You know, the kind of thing that is guaranteed to totally freak out your youngest massive head fearing son.
So, on leaving the museum for our picnic in the park, an emergency evasive manoeuvre was required: A sharp left, out onto the street and a swift dash passed the gates of the park (just in time to miss the giant rabbit-headed carni' tactically deployed there to entrap unsuspecting passers-by).
I had a plan. If we could just make it to Queen's, we could seek refuge in the University's Quadrangle. A plan that turned out to be even better than I thought. Not only was the Quad a perfect, peaceful place to eat our lunch with no fear of over-sized-headed performers, we realised, as we slipped through the entrance hall that upstairs in The Naughton Gallery, there was an exhibition of Neil Shawcross's Penguin paintings. Noah thought they were too blurry. I really like them. Well worth a short diversion if you're in the area, trying to avoid someone with a massive head.
Somewhere around 1957 Hans Schmoller roped in ace wartime poster man Abram Games to oversee a new, experimental cover series for Penguin. Competition was hotting up in the paperback market and there was a suspicion that to keep up, Penguin needed colour. Stateside, they were already doing it; the New York office had commissioned artist Robert Jonas to illustrate a set of covers. His style was, at times, quite Games-like.
Back in Britain it was felt this was a style more fitting for Penguin than the sensationalistic style adopted by competitors. I guess Pan being one of them. Perhaps they were right although looking at them now those Pan covers were, often, pretty special. But not very British. Penguin was (is) Penguin; with standards to maintain. And it was thought Games might be the man to protect those standards.
As well as producing some superb covers himself, Games got a number of other artists to do more. But before even thirty covers were published, head honcho Allan Lane abandoned the experiment. Some may have felt he didn't really give it a good chance, the books in question were not marketed in any significant way. Perhaps his heart wasn't in it; perhaps he felt they just weren't very Penguin. Perhaps he was right. In any case, what followed, the Marber Grid covers, turned out to be a great success and there's every reason to believe Lane knew his stuff.
I think there's a pretty good chance that this cover, that I found last week in a charity bookshop, may have been the very first one of the experiment. It's date and artist suggest that. It's definitely a masterful piece of creative draughtsmanship; just what you'd expect from Games.
Why, I wonder, might anyone want to see the result of our agricultural toiling? Or, for that matter, the inside of our rhubarb crumble? Quite possibly the very questions on your lips. "I don't know", is the only answer I can offer. Still, here it is: Peas and Beans, doing well. Potatoes are abundant. Carrots are embarrassing. Crumble was dee-lish.
Jonathan's was from 1968 and has a design credit. The one I found last weekend at Castleward is from 1976. And while it isn't credited to anyone, I do feel the cover type (Helvetica instead of the earlier Akzidenz Grotesk) is a little more elegant. Perhaps it's a bit too perfect. Of course, the real star is the astonishingly diverse and masterfully drafted content.
As previously suggested, I spend a little too much time looking down. Last weekend we were camping at Castleward. Not adventurous camping. No. Cozy, easy-to-bail-out camping just an hour's drive away. OK, it was cold at night and we were in our own tent. I mean, we weren't glamping. But still, not exactly living in the wilds; Bacon and egg every morning and organic burgers for tea. A pot of espresso on the stove and a bottle of red to keep our strength up.
When we weren't huddling together for warmth, frying up a car crash breakfast or searching for the puncture in one of the air beds, we were on our bikes, heading pier-wards for a spot of crabbing. Armed with rinds for the pinchers and a picnic for us.