BALDRIC’S BIG ADVENTURE

Local children have been welcoming an un-feathered friend into their homes and hearts.  A very popular artist Janice Foley has written and published her very first book, a children’s book describing the perils and the adventures of a real life garden visitor. Now Baldric, the unfeathered friend, has struck a real chord with children and grandparents alike and the first print run has absolutely flown out.

Janice runs Yarm Originals website, an online gallery that champions local and national artists and brings affordable art to people. Jan’s own paintings of Roseberry Topping have proved to be a real hit, often featuring the enigmatic Roseberry.

I met up with Jan in her Eaglescliffe home to hear all about the unfortunate bird Baldric and how the book has been such a sensation. Oh and I was so lucky because after the interview Jan read the first chapter to me. It was wonderful.

So let’s celebrate International Women’s Day by talking about the first book of a much loved local artist, Janice Foley.

baldrics-big-adventureQ: Jan please tell me about the book and the bird, Baldric?

Jan: Baldric is a real bird that appeared in my garden on April 1st last year.

Q: April Fools’ Day?

J: April Fools’ Day, yes, and everyone thought that I was pulling their legs until I took a photograph to show what he actually looked like. He had no feathers on his head. He was like a little miniature vulture.

Q: Very distinctive then?

J: Yes and quite jittery and jumpy and didn’t mix with the other birds.

So I looked up online why you would get a bald headed black bird and it could be a virus or a ring worm or it could be stress. Maybe he needed to find a mate.

So in my head when people started commenting that he would be cold and he needed a hat and he needed a mate and things like that, I decided to just think about why he was bald and maybe stressed. And I decided he was scared and he was going to be anxious and worry about everything.

Then one day he met the lady in the shed, the artist. That’s me. That is where I paint. The lady in the shed told him that he needed to go off and find himself and have some adventures and to be happy again.

Q: And you captured his adventures in a book.

J: Yes. Thirteen chapters. He sets off and leaves me and heads off to Roseberry Topping. Because that is where most of my paintings are set. And the Roseberry Hare does feature in the story but only for a brief moment because the book isn’t about him, that is a different book.

Q: The hare is a character that you introduced into your paintings and it became very popular.

J: Three years ago now and it is still incredibly popular. The Roseberry Hare has travelled all around the world. Hong Kong, Tasmania, Australia, Europe and America.

Q: Is this the first time you have actually written?

J: I have never written anything before in my life.

Q: That must have been quite a challenge for you.

J: Yes but I found it fairly easy really. It just flowed. Once I had the idea of the storyline, where he needed to go off and have adventures, it just happened. It was quite easy.

Q: I would have struggled even more writing for children.

J: I got the ideas from stories I remembered from my own children, my daughter in particular. I probably shouldn’t say this but she used to be scared of going to the toilet and bathroom on a night time in the dark. She was fine until she had to cross the landing and we could hear her charging across the landing. She was safe in the bathroom and then she had to charge back.

That was one idea of a scared child and a storyline for the blackbird. So that is in the book.

baldric-3Q: So do you think this story of the scaredy-bird will help children overcoming their own fears.

J: I think so because a part of the story in the first chapter is that the bird has no friends in the garden. Because he is different the other birds avoid him, and the snails make fun of him and the hedgehogs don’t like him and they scare him when they scrape under the gate late at night. So he has got no friends.

The lady says you have got to leave this garden, with the high fences and go off and make some friends.

It all works out quite happily for the bird, he does manage to find some friends. The book goes through the seasons as well. At some point it gets really cold and wintry and he has to find a hat for his head because he is so cold.

Q: So, back the suggestions at the start.

J: Yes, the ladies that suggested I knit a hat for him, yes. So, yes he does end up with a hat.

Q: Has the book made it into schools?

J: I have a couple of teacher friends and I have given them copies and they have taken them in and read them to four and five year olds over the course of a few days because it is quite a long book with eleven chapters so they couldn’t take it all in, in one reading session.

It has gone to ten year olds in a school. And they very kindly wrote to me. I got seventeen reviews back, which were absolutely brilliant. I got some lovely comments from them, very positive. I have been invited to go to another school and read it. I have done a book signing with it. And I have been invited by the WI to give a talk on how I started off to become an artist first and then to write my first book. I am doing that in April.

Q: It was April 2016 when this all started.

J: Yes, so it is about a year since we all met Baldric and I can go and talk about how I started painting initially and then I went from that to someone that wrote a book.

Q: I don’t suppose you would have imagined this time last year that you would have completed a book.

J: No, not at all. Although people have always asked about the Roseberry Hare, did he have a story? And he does and that will be coming out at some point. But not yet, for a while.

Q: Was this a limited print run?

J: The first run is a limited edition and we will soon be sold out of those.

Q: It is a really quality publication.

J: That was important to me. Nice thick paper. I have seen copies that children have looked at and had for a few weeks and they still look as good as new. The pictures had to be good quality for the illustrations. So it was important to me that it was a hard back, hard wearing, nice thick pages and large print. A lot of people that have bought it are quite elderly and have bought it as gifts for their grandchildren so they could read it to them. So it is quite important that the text size is big as well.

I have actually taken it into a nursing home and read it to some of the elderly people in there and they have loved it. They found it funny and entertaining.

Q: All those things that you list from the hard back to quality illustrations and nice big text that is how I remember books from my childhood. It used to be that way, didn’t it?

J: It did, yes. The difference between my book and what children are reading now is it is a lot longer and has a lot more words in. Although some children have actually said it is too long because they are used to very short, brief, a few lines to a story. But teachers have said that is one of the best books they have seen lately because it is different. But it is different in that it has gone back to how I would see books when I was young.

Q: Speaking to some teachers they tell me that some of the children try and move the pages of books with their fingers as if they are a smart phone screen.

J: I have seen that yes, I can understand that. I have done that on my computer screen and wondered why it isn’t working.

Q: It must be nice to produce a proper book.

J: It is nice to see that some children actually still read proper books, yes definitely.

Q: You have achieved a lot with this book. Is the next step to do another print run?

J: I think there will be some more copies but what they will look like I don’t know. Obviously I want to keep the price down and get it out there into some book shops. At the moment I am selling them myself. To get them in bookshops is another ambition. Also, to maybe take them into hospitals and children’s homes and get them out there to people that actually can’t afford the books would be nice as well.

baldric-and-janQ: Have you sold these books in the same way that you sell your paintings.

J: I have yes and it has mainly been online. Or people have come to me because they have heard about it. Not so many local people but this is the way the paintings go as well. My paintings go to people all around the country far more than they do locally.

Q: Have the people around the country got a link to this area?

J: Sometimes yes, they have moved away or they have visited here for holidays and have a special memory of Roseberry Topping and this area. They are bought as gifts as well for people that have lived here to give to family members etc.

Q: There is something about Roseberry Topping, isn’t there?

J: There is something magical about Roseberry Topping. We have all got a good memory of it and it is a place that you notice when you are coming back home. It is visible from so many miles around that we all see it is a landmark that means something to us in lots of different ways.

My uncle and aunt used to live at Great Ayton and as a child we used to go on two buses on a Sunday morning from Eaglescliffe to get to Great Ayton and it seemed to take hours and hours to get there. And then there was Roseberry Topping and just the magic of Great Ayton really. My uncle was an artist, just an amateur, he painted for pleasure. He did a few Roseberry Toppings and he always put a little snail in his paintings as a symbol. A lot of people see my Roseberry Hare as my symbol but there is actually another symbol that is hidden in the paintings as well. Some people know about it but I’m not going to say what that is, not just yet. At some point it will come out. But you can find it if you go looking for it.

Q: So, we should all look closely.

J: Yes, you should buy a painting and then you can see what it is (laughs).

You can order the last few copies of the book and view both Jan and other artists work online

www.yarmoriginals.com

baldric-2

Simon Yates – My Mountain Life – Middlesbrough Theatre

In the remote Siula Grande mountain in Peru in June 1985, mountaineer Simon Yates was faced with an unbelievable situation. But then again as an incredibly experienced worldwide adventurer Simon knows how to face up to hair raising situations and quickly analyse the right way out of amazing situations.

simon-yatesIn a really gripping talk illustrated by breath taking photography and short film clips Simon took the audience on a mouth watering trip around the tops of the world. From the Alps, to the Himalayas, the bottom of South America, to the tips of Greenland we climbed the near vertical walls of rock and ice in the company of our ever calm host.

His quests to conquer the previously unclimbed still takes Simon to all parts of the globe. He has come a long way from his Leicestershire village, about as far from mountains as you could wish to be born. Simon told us of the amazing temperature ranges in the giant mountains of Pakistan, in his tent at 6000 metres the thermometer went from +38 C to -5C in a few minutes. There was spending over 20 days scaling shear vertical cliffs in the Andes. Or Tierra Del Fuego where it is so remote that not only does no one live there but it wasn’t even mapped. A true wilderness that has drawn Simon Yates back again and again.

But back to the cliff hanger for that is what it was. Below Simon his climbing partner Joe Simpson was apparently dangling from the end of a rope but had not responded for well over an hour. Gradually his weight was pulling Simon off the mountain, who was also starting to freeze. The man at the top found a knife in his clothing and took a fateful decision, which he said was really his only option and cut the rope. Amazingly both men survived and that action has been recorded in a book and film, “Touching the Void,” it made both men famous.

But here tonight was the story from the other view point, not the climber that then plunged to the bottom of a crevasse and somehow survived but the climber at the top of the rope who said matter a factly that once he found the knife it was his only option. And it worked! They both lived to tell their tales.

It was a thrilling ride tonight without getting up off our seats. As well as the quiet calm, that must be so essential for a climber of the world’s great peaks, Simon Joyce transmitted his passion and drive for adventure. A group of scouts were sitting amongst the big audience, I wonder how many of them will be inspired to pursue their own adventures.

Simon Yates – Middlesbrough Theatre – Thursday 2nd March

There is a really interesting range of acts programmed for this the 60th anniversary season of the Middlesbrough Theatre. This Saturday join broadcaster John Suchet as he delves into the life of the most naturally-gifted composer that ever lived, Mozart.

www.middlesbroughtheatre.co.uk

Middlesbrough Memories at Dorman Museum

There is a second chance to view the Memories of Middlesbrough photo exhibition and that means twice the memories for free. A unique collection of images of buildings and people from the town in bygone days was recently exhibited for a week at Python Gallery, at Royal Middlehaven House, not far from the railway station.

dorman-memories-1The exhibition images were provided by posters on the mega-popular facebook page. The photos might originally have been taken to show for the family album but behind a sister, brother, mother, father, aunt or uncle there could have been a view of a house, pub, shop or public building. Many of these street scenes have greatly altered others have totally vanished. Mind you a street view in suburbia of leafy Linthorpe has hardly changed at all, except for the addition of cars.

Memories of Middlesbrough now occupy a space in the back corridor of the Dorman, close to the thought provoking and must-see d-Formed exhibition of Kev Howard. Now, this is where we get double value because along the same wall and just the other side of an internal door is a semi permanent collection, also from posters of the memories of Middlesbrough facebook site. This second collection has been showing for several months now but is being constantly refreshed with different photos from former schools, houses and shop frontages.

dorman-lowcocksIn the newer exhibition there is a focus on old Middlesbrough, or Over The Border as it became known. There is an amazing shot of the old Town Hall appearing to hang perilously over a gaping hole where the building beneath has been demolished. We see photos of busy streets leading up to the old market place. Or a view along North Street with the old Customs House cloaked in scaffolding.

The photos in the two exhibitions span a century of memories. There are handcarts outside of old shops and then kids standing outside of their front gardens in the 1960s.

Then there are the old businesses of the town. How many people used to buy Lowcocks lemonade? Maybe from the vans that stopped around the estates.

Memories of Middlesbrough facebook page and group, were founded in 2012 by Sue Martin who never dreamed how interest would absolutely mushroom. In less than five years the group now boasts 30,000 ‘ likes’. Members include thousands still living in and around the town, but also those no longer based in Middlesbrough scattered across the globe as far afield as Australia, South Africa and U.S.A.

Do drop in to our free town museum, the Dorman Museum and let your mind wander back through the streets, faces and former trading places of Middlesbrough. You might as well grab a cup of tea at Dressers café on the way out.

Dorman Museum is open Tuesday to Sunday 9.30 am – 4.30 pm
Last entry 4.00pm

Closed Mondays except Bank Holidays.

FREE

 

 

A Night at the Theatre – Blithe Spirit

Escape into another world with Noel Coward’s comedy classic, Blithe Spirit running this week at Middlesbrough Theatre. Enter the country house set of the early twentieth century, a world of faltering servants, clipped accents, cocktails and it is formal dress code for dinner parties. It is all frightfully correct but there are frightening things bubbling beneath the surface. This particular dinner party thrown by socialite and novelist Charles and his wife Ruth serves up far, far more than the hosts bargained for with hilarious consequences.

Charles is researching for his latest book and decides to invite the marvellously over the top medium Madame Arcati over to conduct a séance. Maybe he ought to have thought twice before the flamboyant spiritualist asked if there was anyone there. Charles’ troublesome first wife Elvira seemed only too keen to return and cause all sorts of trouble and mayhem between Charles and second wife Ruth.

We are so lucky to have Middlesbrough Theatre. The unassuming post-war theatre sits amongst the foliage of leafy Linthorpe. The theatre has so many pluses, from the ample car parking right outside to the attentive staff. There are the home comforts of proper theatre seats and the rake affords superb viewing. Yet it has that intimacy of a small theatre but with a stage big enough to allow the elaborate country house set. In fact the last time I attended a play here we were all actually seated in the round on the stage itself.

Blithe Spirit is regarded as one of Noel Coward’s masterpieces, breaking all records for a West End run with nearly 2000 performances through the 1940s, records then smashed by The Mousetrap. Yet Coward went out of fashion, his plays about upper class England were something of an anathema to the aspiring post war generations. Latterly we fell in love with Noel Coward all over again as he made notable appearances on the screen, who can forget him as the criminal godfather, Mr Bridger, in The Italian Job.

This show is co-presented with Less is More Productions. They are a local company aiming to create theatre in Tees Valley area. Less is More like to work with and nurture emerging artists from Middlesbrough and the north east. That is certainly the case with the actress fulfilling the role of the ghostly presence of Elvira. South Shields Natasha Haws still known to many as the ridiculously talented teenage singer songwriter. She is also a ridiculously talented actor on the stage.

Only Charles can see Natasha/Elvira’s ghostly presence but while the results are hilarious for us they are certainly no laughing matter for the hen pecked husband. He is suddenly trapped between his high maintenance first wife Elvira and equally domineering second spouse, Ruth. Charles doesn’t know which way to turn. Maybe he could enjoy the best of both worlds. Yet secretly and certainly not silently Elvira is plotting, plotting, plotting.

Really funny, superb acting and a great opportunity to revel in a real treasure of 20th century theatre.

You can see Blithe Spirit – Friday and Saturday evening 7.30pm

£14/ Concessions £12

Middlesbrough Theatre, The Avenue, Middlesbrough, TS5 6SA.
T. 01642 81 51 81 | Website: www.middlesbroughtheatre.co.uk

Blithe Spirit poster

d-FORMED: A Personal Journey by Kev Howard

d-FORMED is the startling autobiographical exhibition of Kev Howard. It is an incredibly hard hitting yet at the same time sensitive photographic record of the physical challenges and the constant surgical procedures Kev has faced over the years.

kev-howardKev Howard is an instantly recognisable figure, often to be seen clicking away with his camera at local gigs and events. He is surely the only expert didgeridoo player on Teesside and often performs live with his array of instruments. Both skills he has mastered with his mechanical hand. But I had absolutely no idea about the medical history, the painful decisions and indeed pain he has endured to get to this point. To say that the exhibition has been an eye opener would be a gross understatement. But also it underlines once again what a wonderful photographer and a great artist Kev undoubtedly is.

The exhibition starts as we confront a representation of the mask that Kev would have worn as he was anaesthetised before going down to surgery as a young lad. The emotions of fear were gradually superseded as he grew older and more experienced. But it is still a very stark gateway for us to the photo representations of the operations and outcomes as his growing body was realigned.

kev-my-left-footIt isn’t something I have ever really thought about before the decisions as to whether to increase function or even sacrifice a limb. I guess I have a tiny insight in that I was born with an extra digit and have been left with a thumb that only half works but that is absolutely nothing whatsoever compared to Kev growing facing so many physical challenges. These are challenges he still has to live and cope with throughout his life.

I found there was real beauty in the photography. When Kev replaces his limbs with coloured sculptured forms he forces us to think about why we often see beauty as skin deep or not.

kev-howard-formsThe final blood spattered image confronts the present system of appeals people must now leap through for disability benefits and all the trauma people are being put through. After Kev’s exhibition we are better placed to realise the back history and the physical and emotional ordeals some being reassessed for benefits have been through already.

kev-howard-bloodThis is such a brave exhibition for Kev to undertake. He has put his body on the line for surgery and now once again through his lens. It is a powerful statement brilliantly presented. For the viewer you will go on a real journey and I think be much enriched and rewarded for taking it.

D-Formed is displayed until 23 April at Dorman Museum that is open Tuesday to Sunday every week.