Friday, 27 April 2012


I drove down to Brighton yesterday.  Chris and Jo Riddell had invited me to put some paintings in their open house exhibition that will during the Brighton Festival.  These are four of the paintings I took down.

It was lovely as always to see Chris and Jo - I don't see enough of them, and that is almost entirely my fault as they invariably make much more of an effort than I do to keep n touch.  And of course I used to see Chris every week because we worked as cartoonists together at The Economist every Wednesday for six years.

And through Chris I have become friends with Paul Stewart, Chris's collaborator on many bestselling books.  They seem to take their partnership for granted but I find it amazing that they have done so much together and continue to be such a creative force.  It's a rather lovely thing to see.

Chris is showing some of his intricately detailed pen and ink drawings and Jo some lovely prints of farm soils that look a bit like 1950s rockets.  Go and buy one.

Saturday, 21 April 2012


I had three paintings in the Cambridge Drawing Society exhibition here in Cambridge.  I had left it until the very last minute to decide whether or not to enter and sent off an email giving the title, media and price etc.  It was only later that I realised I had put far too much down as the price.  When I went to the show it looked like I had a hugely inflated idea of how much my paintings are worth.

Pricing paintings is so difficult.  They are both worthless and priceless.  How much you sell them for does matter, because it influences how much you can sell them for in the future.  When I look at how much I was selling my paintings for twenty years ago, it is pretty much the same as I price them for now - it certainly has not really kept pace with the rising cost in materials, or studio rental costs or other artistic overheads.

Funnily enough this is also true of the rates of pay for illustration, which have barely changed in the last twenty years.  Having said that, I would expect to be paid more for a piece of work were it used on a book jacket say, than I would receive if I sold the artwork as a painting.  Which seems odd given that when you provide an illustration you should get the artwork back.

It seems that there is a kind of barrier for most people in terms of what they will ever spend on a painting. For a painter to make a living - and luckily I do not rely on it as a source of income - then he or she has to sell to the people for whom this barrier does not exist.

All of which is a bit of a long-winded way of saying that no one bought my paintings and so I had the long walk of shame to pick them up and take them home.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Stage fright

I went to London today and had a meeting in a club in Soho about the very exciting possibility of Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth becoming a stage play.  We are still in the very early stages at the moment and it may come to nothing, but it is at least possible.

I find talk of plays and movies exciting but also a bit frustrating, because there is very little I can do to affect the success of the venture.  I just have to wait patiently and await news.

And I'm not very patient. . .

I am being deliberately cagey about naming the director and adaptor because it doest feel fair on them at this stage but I will keep you informed of any developments in this story.  What I will say is that I am very lucky to have both of them and to have their enthusiasm for the project.

I'm fairly confident that it will go a bit further yet and sometimes I even allow myself to imagine that it will actually happen.  The next stage is getting a producer on board.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

They think it's all over

The last game of the season for my son's football team and perhaps the last one ever.  They went out on a high, winning the game 7-1 and my son almost scored a Geoff Hurst World Cup Final-style running volley of a goal.  Sadly, the goalkeeper was a killjoy and saved it.  But at least they won.  A great bunch of kids and I shall miss them a lot.  Although perhaps not Dan, who keeps kicking the ball at me.  Very hard.  And occasionally in the sweetmeats.

I ran the line for the last time and our little knot of parents who have managed and coached and made teas and put up nets and cheered on the team, gathered around to congratulate the team: a wonderfully eclectic mix of people from all kinds of backgrounds and disciplines.  I shall miss them too.  Having endured an opposition parent who kept up a running critical commentary of his own team's performance through one entire half, I reflected on how positive we always were as parents.  There were only ever shouts of encouragement - never of criticism.  'They've lost heart,' said the miserable opposition parent as I ran the line.  'Perhaps it's the relentless stream of criticism coming from you,' I suggested.

I made an equally bad-tempered interruption to a friend's Facebook thread where a set of mothers were revelling in their sons' dislike for football.  Why do boys have to be interested in such 'low-class' and 'macho' things? was one of the moans.  There were genuine concerns about boys being excluded because they weren't into football, but mostly it seemed to be more a snobbery about the nature of football.  This has more to do with an idea of football supporters, I think.  Someone called them homophobic.  As though all football fans had the same views.  Or that homophobia and racism was restricted to football fans in some way.  As though the crowds at Glynebourne were full of people who wouldn't mind at all if their son married a woman of a different ethic origin from theirs.  Or a man for that matter.

I have very little time for fan bigotry - of whatever kind.  There is a lot wrong with football, from vicious abuse, to the preposterous amounts of money the players earn.  And for the record, I did not like football much when I was at school.  I associated it with boys I hated and a city I didn't feel any affinity with.  Although I would have dearly loved to show them up on the pitch, the truth was, I simply wasn't good enough.  I was OK.  I was a lot better than they probably thought I was.

But I didn't see any of this as concerning my son, who was always able to kick a ball straight, almost from when he could walk. We spent hours in our garden in Norfolk kicking a ball to each other.  When we moved to Cambridge we continued on Lammas Land near our home in Newnham.  Those times are very special to me - they were very important too, I think.  We had a laugh and my son honed his skills enough to take part in the school team and be part of a team in a local league.  Which is more than I ever did.

I'm glad he played and I'm sorry the team is folding.  They lost an awful lot of games but they did so with good humour and  lot of self-deprecation - and (mostly) with a lot more grace than I would have mustered in their shoes - or should that be boots?  Not 'low-class' or 'macho' in the slightest.  Perhaps they'd have won more games if they were!

But every Sunday during the season and every Thursday evening they ran about in rain and icy winds wearing an ill-fitting and disastrously orange kit.   I suppose they could have been inside listening to Brahms whilst mugging up on their GCSE Physics but I think its a good thing they did something else - something, well, physical.  Not everyone has to like football.  Not everyone has to like sport.  Just because you don't like sport doesn't make it worthless.

Oh - and the rather evocative photo is by my son, Adam Priestley, footballer and photographer.  You see - you can do both.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

No special talent required

I took my son to see the British Design show at the Victoria and Albert Museum today.  I am writing 'V and A' because there is a stupid glitch in Blogger that goes a bit mad if you try and use an ampersand.

The show purports to be a survey of 'design' in Britain from 1948 to the present - all design: textile, graphic, product etc etc.  It even includes a bit of film, music and architecture.  There was a lot of nice photography dotted about and some nice use of film and video.  But it is really more a survey of popular culture than it is any kind of rigorous exhibition of design.

We enjoyed the show a lot, though.  It is never, ever dull.  It just tries to do too much.  If it had attempted to do one decade instead of six, or had stuck to graphics or textiles instead of trying to do everything.  As it is, it seems to have been curated by someone who knows a lot about the 1950s and 60s, but not quite so much about the 70s and 80s.  It seems to get patchier and patchier as it nears the present.

But it is still well worth a visit.  We spent hours in there and the time seemed to whizz by.  Oh - and the title of this post - in case you're wondering - came from a Pop Art piece by Edwardo Paolozzi which had a collection of toys and games.  One of them was a build-your-own Rodin's The Thinker.  The box proudly proclaimed - 'Assembly kit - no special talent required'.

I imagine Paolozzi had a chuckle when he put that in - and we chuckled too.

It was fascinating to see things from your own life in museum displays - whether it was the Aladdin Sane album artwork or motorway signage.  Most nostalgic for me was a little flyer from the late 70s for Manchester's Russell Club AKA The Factory.  A reminder of some very good times.

Friday, 13 April 2012


We watched Juno last night.  I hadn't seen it before, but my son and my wife had.  Another very nice movie with a very good lead performance.  It's not exactly hard-hitting about the problems of teenage pregnancy or the issues surrounding surrogate motherhood - the reality must be more difficult than this story suggests, one would imagine, most of the time.  But a nice script and a lot of warmth.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

(500) Days of Summer

We watched (500) Days of Summer last night.  My son hadn't see it before and my wife and I had missed the very beginning the last time we saw it.

I saw an interview with Richard Curtis in which he said he had been watching this movie a lot.  This made me a little concerned - concerned that Richard Curtis was going to write some soppy British version of this movie, and also a little concerned that my tastes and his had aligned in this way.

I think (500) Days of Summer is a really sweet and clever little movie.  It's sharp and funny and the leads are perfect. Both times I have watched it I have become overtaken by a desire to write something - not like it exactly - but in the same vein.  I have no real idea what that would be, but I suppose it would be something that said something true - as I think this movie does - about the experience of falling in love.

With the wrong person.