Friday, 5 July 2013

Friday Five: Big Thoughts from the Smallest Room

I honestly never even thought it was disrespectful of my parents to have a copy of the United States Declaration of Independence on our toilet wall. Admittedly when I was very young I used to giggle occasionally at the thought that wee hold these truths to be self-evident, but as I got older I thought it was good to reminded at least once a day that all men are created equal and have certain unalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

You have time to sit and think on the toilet. I don't encourage you to take in reading matter (that appears to be a boy thing) but if there is something to look at, it seems to make the time (and other things) pass more pleasantly. Many folk have calendars in their toilets, perhaps merely to look at pretty scenic pictures, or to remind themselves to do things, when they are more at leisure to do so. Sometimes these bear humorous anecdotes or witty cartoons. It's a good place for a laugh.

Or reflection. There are always mirrors, although I don't think it's a good idea if these are positioned so one can witness one's morning constitutional. But there are often photos of the home-owner and their drinking buddies, or images which might seem a little risqué in a more formal setting. But the décor in the lavatory can be informative and illuminating.

5 Posters found in toilets:
  1. Height charts - frequently found in houses with children; a little sad if the only inhabitants are adults. My favourite was the one where the 'mother' appeared to shrink as she had clearly been lying about her height until her children physically outgrew her and she could no longer keep up the pretence. You know who you are.
  2. The periodic tale - favourite of science geeks universally
  3. Historic chart showing Kings and Queens of England in a rather natty family tree. Most educational
  4. A mushroom and fungi identification chart - unfortunately by the time you are sorrowfully gazing at the image of the chestnut dapperling, the fool's webcap or the deadly parasol, it may be a little late...
  5. A pure yeast and fermentation guide for the making of ales, lagers and Belgian and wheat styles. Actually, it's in our house. Him Outdoors got it to assist in home brewing, while I chose the location. As I said, it's a good place for a laugh.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Hans Academy

Hans Heysen (1877 – 1968) was a renowned landscape artist who spent most of his working life in and around Hahndorf, South Australia. A superb draughtsman, skilled watercolourist and accomplished painter in oils, he was famous for his unique romantic-realist representation of Australian landscape, in particular of the massive gum trees in the Adelaide Hills that he so loved.

He is considered to be the first artist to visit the outback and is known for his sensitive and penetrating vision and devotion to nature. As well as depictions of the Flinders Ranges of the north of South Australia, his pen and pencil drawings and charcoal compositions evoke the quality of light in the Adelaide Hills.

Heysen donated a selection of drawings to the Hahndorf Academy which are now on permanent display. These exquisite sketches and preparatory drawings were completed over a period of fourteen years from 1906 to 1920. They reflect the artist’s love of Hahndorf where he and his wife settled in 1908, as well as his strong support of the Academy.

The Academy was a school, established in 1857, whose purpose was to provide, “a sound and good English and German education in order to enable its pupils to enter the learned professions or to prepare for commercial life.” It became a secondary boarding school teaching in both English and German with a strong reputation for art, physical education, academic scholarship, commerce and music.

Due to various financial difficulties, the building was sold several times and served many functions, including as a Lutheran teacher’s seminary, a nursing home and hospital, council offices, military headquarters, a betting shop, a dentist’s surgery, private dwellings and flats, and a recreation centre.

Eventually it became the Hahndorf Galleries and German Folk Museum, with an exhibition of Hans Heysen’s works to commemorate his 90th birthday. The subsequent programmes of works by emerging artists drew visitors from around the world, and the Academy also became well known for its concerts. The Heysen Room was dedicated to displaying the works that Hans Heysen had donated to help raise funds plus the bronze sculpture of his head by John Dowie.

Heysen’s sketches at the Academy include German Wagon, Cutting Chaff, Farm log roller, Haebich’s Smithy, Back Street Corner, Witmer’s Pump, Thatched barn, and The Road to Hahndorf. Heysen didn’t have the heart to finish this last painting, as the authorities felled the trees (although he offered them the selling price of the timber to try and save them).

The spiel at the Academy claims that the pictures Heysen donated are part of a visual archive. “The images are a reminder of days gone by; a lively German town filled with the sounds of horse drawn vehicles and children playing... the aroma of German sausage and freshly baked bread and the charm of the thatched cottages lining the main street.”

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

My Newest Favourite Thing: Veronika Maine

I don’t like clothes shopping. By which I mean I don’t like shopping for clothes. If clothes want to shop, that’s fine by me, although perhaps unlikely. According to popular mythology, women love shopping. Sigh. Another way I don’t fit into your boxes.

The first problem is me. My top half and my bottom half are different sizes, which means I can’t easily wear dresses. Apparently if you are over a size twelve anyway, all should wear is black so you can scuttle about your business and return to your house as unobtrusively as possible. Designers don’t want you to be seen in their clothes – heavens; it might suggest there are real women out there, and the sky might fall.

The second problem is the clothes. They are usually badly-made and ill-fitting with shoddy stitching and insufficient lining. My grandmother was a seamstress. She would take the garment between thumb and finger, examine the material and the make-up and then tut loudly and pronounce, ‘Shabby’. It was an experience that to witness was to wither. Many shop assistants are probably still in therapy.

The contribution of high-street fashion to slave labour and sweat shops makes me sick. Certain shops proudly trumpet the fact that they sell jeans for $15. You can bet they have a hefty mark-up on these items, so they are probably purchasing them for $5 or less. That price will include transport from China or Bangladesh or the Philippines or whichever country’s impoverished workforce we are currently choosing to exploit. Slavery was abolished in Britain nearly 200 years ago, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights banned slavery globally in 1948.

By turning a blind eye because I want cheap jeans (and who doesn’t? I haven't got much money and I certainly can't afford top-end designer gear) I am perpetuating this system. I am not supporting my local economy, manufacturers or designers, and therefore am contributing to the current downturn with its inherent erosion of workers’ rights and might as well vote Tory. I buy Fairtrade, organic and free range products wherever possible and have never illegally downloaded artistic creations. To purchase unethically would betray my principles and yet buying clothes seems to leave me with strictly limited options.

The third problem is the shops. Loud music; fluorescent lighting; confronting changing rooms; neurotic thermostat controls; and as for the staff… It’s really not their fault; they are there to sell and I suppose they get a commission. There is no other excuse for them foisting items onto you that you clearly don’t want or suit and then telling you that they look great on you when you know perfectly well they make you look ghastly but you have been battered by the onslaught of rampant consumerism and you don’t want to look like a failure by leaving the shops with nothing – it is tantamount to admitting you are misshapen and hideous and will never fit in with the thin and pretty people – so you buy something you will never wear and still have achieved nothing through the whole rigmarole except a feeling of self-loathing and an inability to pay the heating bill, and, what’s more, you will have to do it again because you still haven’t got a pair of jeans that fits... And breathe.

Enter my damsel in shining armour: Mim at Veronika Maine. She does not laugh at my size, or make me feel bad about being big. She asks whether I want colour and what styles I would prefer. She recommends things that actually fit (and are well made), and doesn’t seem to mind if I don’t take everything and spend a fortune. She understands my ethical concerns and discusses them with me. The shop is part of a group that is 100% Australian-owned and employs local designers. Almost everything is made in Australia and the organisation works closely with the Textile Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia (TCFUA) to ensure rights and working conditions are honoured. How often have you been confident that the retail assistant in the high street would even know those details, let alone be proud of them?

And the changing room is spacious and pleasant. I leave the store with two pairs of jeans that fit, that aren’t outrageously expensive (but I know that the price I paid means that the people who made them received a decent wage or doing so) and that I know I will wear and be happy with. I also have a good feeling about my ethical consumer choice. For once, I have had an enjoyable shopping experience. Honestly, why would I shop anywhere else?