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Cotswolds Tracks and the Chalford Donkeys

Stroud from the Train
Stroud From the Train

My parents live near Stroud in the Cotswolds. The best thing about the Cotswolds, like South Wales, is the hills. It provides many higgle piggedly vistas and views. Their house is part of a modern estate in the village of Bussage at the top of a very steep hill.

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Eastcombe

I enjoy exploring the donkey tracks behind the houses. The village of Eastcombe is a 10 minute walk from their house. This is 4×4 territory, especially in winter when the steep lane are unpassable for regular car and quite treachorous for walkers too.

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Chalford Donkey 1935

The other side of Bussage runs into the top (and flatter) end of Chalford. Chalford Hill and Chalford have an extraordinary number of paths (28 km within the parish as a whole), winding up the steep hillsides. They allowed workers to quickly reach the mills in the valley – a majority of the paths leading straight down. They also enabled goods to be transported up and down the hill by donkey. They were used until the 1930s to deliver bread, coal and other household items to people’s doorsteps (Jennie being the name of one of the donkeys). In fact, many front doors can still only be accessed by a winding network of ‘donkey paths’. In those times Chalford was known as ‘Neddyshire’ which derives its name from the use of donkeys.

There was a modern version of this donkey delivery that ran for 5 years from 2008 to 2013. Sadly it seems to have stopped now. The donkey delivery service was run by to Anna Usbourne and her four and eight-year-olds, Chester and Teddy. They did run the Chalford Community Store’s weekly delivery service. You can watch a video about it here. If they had ranged as far away as Bussage (one and a half miles aay up a very steep hill), I know for a fact that my mother would have been ordering her groceries from the Chalford Village shop so she could have got a visit from Chester and Teddy the donkeys! Here’s a film about them delivering the groceries in the snow in 2011.

Donkey Delivery

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Jamie Doran

The Northern Irish actor Jamie Dornan, who starred in Fifty Shades of Grey and The Fall, also lives in Chalford near Stroud and my mother says he’s been spotted in the local tiny Tescos Express with Eddie Redmayne. He has to shop somewhere. Anyway, sad to say that I have never seen either of them in there!

Country Lane
Country Lane

There’s a track that leads down the hill from my parents’ house to the Ram pub. You can also drive to it as there is a single track road to it. In the field beyond the pub there lives a black horse and a donkey. I don’t think the donkey there was ever a delivery donkey.

Back of Ram Bussage
Back of the Ram

 

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Cotswolds roofs and chimneys

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The Cotswolds is an area that takes its name from the Cotswold Hills in Southern England. I think of it being in Gloucestershire because that’s the part of the Cotswolds I am familar with, but it stretches into Oxfordshire, Somerset, Wiltshire, Worcesterhire and even as far as Warwickshire.   It is about 25 miles across and 90 miles long, stretching south-west from just south of Stratford-Upon-Avon (where all 6th form students studying English “A” level use to be taken to see a Shakespeare play) to just south of Bath.

Lots of people have lived here for hundreds of years. Domesday Book (complied. 1086) is testament to that. It records the names of the same villages you’d see on a map today. It lists villages full of people and animals, especially sheep. It is from the sheep that the Cotswold originally derived it wealth. From their fleeces. The steep hills later provided the fast running streams for the water-power woollen mills that line the bottom of the Stroud Valleys.

The thing that marks a town out as being part of the “Cotswold” is the honey colour limestone that all the houses are built from.  The little village of Eastcombe is no different. It is nestles alongside the village Bussage, where my parents live. I often walk down to the post office at Eastcombe when I am visiting. The part of Eastcombe that I have painted here is accessed down a steep single track road and it can be pretty treacherous in the winter ice. Once upon a time, donkeys carried people’s burdens down these tracks. These days its 4x4s!  I like hilly places (I live in Wales, after all) because houses end up sprawling higgedly piggedly up the hills and I find that pattern pleasing. The Cotswold is a generally a tidy, rather manicured place, unlike the wild unkemptness of the Gower. I enjoy the contrast.

 

 

 

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Art of Protest (Chinese Style)

I am an arm-chair revolutionary. I shout at the TV and radio and lot and disagree with a lot that is going on in UK politics at the moment. However, in the UK, that’s no big deal. Its quite normal, in fact. However, in most countries around the world, free speech is a luxury and political comment or protest can be extremely dangerous for artists and their families. Badiucao (巴丢草) is a Chinese political cartoonist, who lives in self-imposed exile in Australia. The young artist, like Banksy, hides his identity with a pseudonym. Badiucao is an alias and he also hides his face by wearing a mask at public exhibitions of his work in Australia and the West. The reason for this secrecy is that his work is very provocative and much of it champions human rights causes. In China having strong opinions can land you in prison or at best under house arrest. I was ignorant of his existence until I heard him being interviewed on the radio (BBC World Service)  last week.

He built his reputation on ­social media, though he pulled out of Weibo, the Chinese Twitter, when it began to be heavily censored, and now ranges energetically across platforms, including performance art space and galleries. This year he painted, in Melbourne, in Hosier Lane, a double full-length portrait of Nobel peace prize winner Liu Xiaobo, with his wife Liu Xia, just ­before the human rights activist died in prison on July 13. Liu Xia is currently under house arrest

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Melbourne Mural

Badiucao uses satire and pop culture references to get his point across. He often manipulates archetypal images from Communist Party propaganda to make subversive political statements. His work has been used by Amnesty InternationalFreedom HouseBBCCNN and China Digital Times; and has been exhibited around the world. Although he lives most of his life outside of China, he says that means he has a better understanding of events inside China because he has full access to uncensored media and the internet.

His cartooning technique also borrows from printmaking, he says, and from an older generation of Chinese propaganda. He favours black and red: “China’s complexion … iron and blood”.

Dictators and autocrats famously have no sense of humour and can’t stand being laughed at. President Xi Jinping is no different and cartoon images of Chinese leaders are banned in mainland China. One popular image Badiucao uses is that of Winnie the Pooh, whom apparently has more than a passing resemblance to the Chinese President.

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Badiucao cartoon: ‘Winnie the Trophy’

He says “It’s not hard to become a political cartoonist from China because there are only five or six others” — the best-known being 44-year-old Wang Liming, who draws under the name Rebel Pepper and also had to leave China. Wang now lives in the US.

His political work has come at great personal cost. Badiucao has recently given up his Chinese citizenship after he gained Australian citizenship as China does not allow its people to hold dual citizenship. Although he’s out of reach of the Chinese authorities he is still very protective of his identity in case the authorities turn their attention to his friends or family in mainland China.

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“Dream” is made from the bed Badiucao first slept on when he moved to Australia, and 4,000 individually-sharpened pencils Credit: Badiucao

 

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“Cancelled” features Badiucao’s Chinese passport, which was invalidated after he gained Australian citizenship. China does not allow its people to hold dual citizenship Credit: Badiucao

 

2018 Update:

Its hasn’t gotten any easier being a dissident artist. Badiucao was due to have an exhibition in Hong Kong, but it has been called off after threats made by Chinese authorities.  His show was part of events examining free speech in Hong Kong since the 2014 pro-democracy “umbrella” protests.  Badiucao had also been due to take part in a question and answer session at the opening alongside pro-democracy leader Joshua Wong and members of Russia’s feminist protest band Pussy Riot.

Badiucao was going to use this restraining chair of the type reportedly used by Chinese police in his show
Badiucao was going to use this restraining chair of the type reportedly used by Chinese police in his show

The Hong Kong is a “special administrative region”, and although Hong Kong’s system of government is separate from that of mainland China, it is clearly not immune to threats from Beijing. The cancellation comes as a timely illustration of the claims by pro-democracy activists that Hong Kong’s freedoms are being eroded by mainland China.

 

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Post Exhibition Blues

Bored Cat
Hmmm….

Well, I knew it was coming. After several months’ worth of focused activity on painting and preparing for my madeinroath festival exhibition, its’s all over. The paintings are back on the wall in our front room.  They are lucky, this house is so full of paintings the majority never find a space to hang on the wall but spend their time propped up on shelf. I knew it was coming. This feeling of “what now”? I really enjoyed having a project to work towards, writing a bulb for my catalogue and blogging about the process.

Now, I am feeling down and a bit at a loose end. Its rather a lot like like that uncomfortable feeling you used to get as kid three quarters through the long summer holiday. You’d run around and played with your friends/siblings but now it was overcast or even raining. Entertaining yourself seemed to take more effort, all of a sudden. It was called boredom. I learnt that it was no use asking my mother for suggestion as to what to do (for some reason her answers always seemed to involve housework).

I just had to sit with it until an idea came to me. It was usually something creative. I wrote a lot of poetry and descriptive pieces. I once even wrote a play about a fine art heist one finger at a time on a manual type writer. How I loved the “clack, clack” of the keys hitting the ribbon. I was living the dream! I was a writer! I was writing nonsense but enjoying doing it. I drew and coloured and painted. My bedroom. The cat when she was asleep. The view outside the window.

Boredom wasn’t a feeling I got to experience much as an adult. Stress was more normal.  As secondary school teacher as it was usually subsumed into exhaustion. I loved teaching but the work-load was crushing. Summer holidays were increasingly about sleep and recovery.  I don’t know whether kids experience it much now as they have smart phones to hand.

Yes, its a lot like boredom. Maybe this isn’t boredom but its rather a lot like that bit before you think of what to do next. Funny thing is, I am still painting but not sure if I am going to continue in the same vein. I am definitely in a painterly “groove” and I loath to pull myself out it just yet.  I have a few ideas knocked around the back of my head …  I think that creativity as all about trying things. Some of them work and some don’t. It doesn’t matter. It’s all process. The point is to try stuff and develop the stuff that you feel “works”.

Bored
Bored or thinking?