PORTRAIT PAINTING OR INSTANT PHOTO

This is an essay which takes a reflective look at the transition to digital photography from portrait painting.

We must first pose the question – has the instant photo replaced the portrait painting forever?

The keywords of the lesson are highlighted.

The modern trend of taking a selfie brings into sharp focus how much we all enjoy taking photos and capturing memories to share with others.

The digital camera is part of all our lives in the modern world and instant photos are taken at the press of a button.

They are then immediately transmitted to friends and family by social media, smartphone apps, stored in digital photo albums or in remote clouds.

Very few are printed and displayed around our home.  We try to be selective of the best ones taken.

Long before photography was ever invented, people had to be content with portrait paintings comissioned from professional artists.

The subject of the portrait would be expected to sit for long periods of time while the artist made sketches or painted directly onto canvass.  This all took time.

The invention of the first camera prototype by Frenchman Louis Daguerre in 1837 was the first step in the eventual transition away from portrait painting to photography.

Significantly, not only was the concept available to the public masses but it was affordable.

We would all come, in time, to know how to use the zoom lens, shutter, flash and tripod with relative ease.

Our grattitude is extended in American George Eastman who founded his Kodak company and heralded a new era in photography.

We must also be thankful to Englishman Edward Muybridge who conducted a galloping horse experiment with pictures that captured the simple stride of a horse in twelve sequential moments.

The world was about to embrace moving pictures as a concept or movies as we call them today and my dear Mum (my Grandmother too in fact) would talk of a night out at the Picture House.

Remarkably perhaps, this modern era of the instant photo has not killed the portrait painting stone-dead but rather given us the opportunity to reproduce imagery with new skills developed in photo-editing software with a sense of surrealism and novelty.

Not only that but we have come to respect and value the capture of an image by an artist of a subject either in cartoon lampooning or in caricature.

Hands up who has not contemplated or had a sketch done by a street artist or looked for the personal touch of a ‘togetherness’ picture for your wedding day to be hung in the hallway for guests to see?

The old saying that a picture paints a thousand words is never more true than today.

The ultimate irony is that we are using the technology of today to create the memories of yesteryear and also of the future.

Photography moves with the times.

As we move with the times, there is a place for the commissioned portrait painting to exist alongside the instant digital photo in the capture of a memory.

WHEN THE CIRCUS COMES TO TOWN

This is an English language lesson to describe a circus.

It is timed for about two minutes and aimed at IELTS or TOEFL students for speaking assessment.

The keywords of the script are highlighted in bold.

This is the script:

The circus is coming to town and everyone is excited.

It’s that once a year opportunity to enjoy the spectacle of stunts performed by clowns, acrobats, trapeze artists, tightrope walkers and even unicyclists.

My Grandma says circuses used to include performances by lion tamers, singing sealions, clever chimpanzees and dancing elephants or tigers.

But such exotic species are best now seen in zoos, safari parks and wildlife anctuaries.

Some can still be seen performing in a more comfortable environment, so it seems, at a Theme Park such as Seaworld in Florida.

Those who care about animal welfare have definitely won the day across the world and the mood swing against cruelty to animals in the circus has been huge even in my short lifetime.

The spectacle of the circus takes place under the canvass of the Big Top which is just a fancy name for a circular covered arena.

The circus ring itself is 13 metres or 42 feet in diameter and it has been that size since it was settled on for a circus of equestrian-horse performances in the eighteenth century by an English cavalry man naned Phillip Astley

The Ringmaster introduces the many acts which will perform.

All are well-rehearsed and drilled down to the finest detail.

The circus show is really exhilarating and engrosses an audience of spectators.

Laughter and tears fill the drome of the Big Top like nothing else.

Of course,Romans, Greeks and other great civilizations had used circular arenas for entertainment for centuries before but the Big Top was the first to go on the move from town to town with a travelling family of performers and exotic creatures.

Today, the circus, perhaps more than any other social entertainment, has had to re-invent itself in the technological era.

It fights for its rightful place as the greatest show on earth against television, internet, video, cinema and many other different recreational pursuits.

The circus family are as well equipped as ever with their own technicians, their own mobile school for childrens education and a ministry for prayer.

In my opinion, the circus is still the greatest show on earth and the show must definitely go on.

I,  for one,  am so happy when the circus comes to town.

A LETTER TO A LORD

A letter was to be written on this still evening to a catholic Lord and delivered by a messenger at the twilight hour.

The author of the letter would never be known but suspicion would later fall upon one to whom he was related by marriage.

The author of the letter was not the suspect but another.

The author had known about the plan to assassinate the English King for some time.

Because the plan was conceived by him and so he had known about the intentions of the thirteen conspirators from the very beginning.

Arguably, he, the author, was the fourteenth conspirator and he knew only too well that he would face the wrath of justice if his plan failed.

If it succeeded, he would be nationally acclaimed and endeared forevermore to the monarch whom he served.

He had many a night lay awake dreaming of such a night as this throughout his political life.

His Father had foretold that one day the destiny of the English nation would be in his hands.

And so it proved to be.

The man was a grand master at his craft.  Nobody would know.  Nobody could suspect.

The letter itself was thoughtfully penned and the handwriting ridiculously caressed to ensure anonymity.

The content and message of the letter was purposely obscure without specifying the event itself that had been planned for.

The author of the letter was aware and acquainted with all of the thirteen actual conspirators but they were not as acquainted with him or at all in relation to his involvement in the assassination plot.

There was never any need to give the game away.

One of the thirteen conspirators was the suspect supposed to have written the letter.

Why else warn the Lord to whom you write to stay away from the State opening of Parliament on 5th November if he did not want his life to be saved?

The suspect played his part in the plot only to be relieved of his conscienable indebtedness and to be promised reward in addition.

He knew by his very contact with the author that the author had no intention whatsoever of allowing the so called Gunpowder Plot to be carried out to its finality.

In such circumstances, the suspect would never have needed to write the letter because there was no inherent danger to the Lord.

The author had facilitated the renting of the small cellar below the Parliament building to one of the conspirators, Thomas Percy.

The author had also facilitated the fetch of the forty barrels of gunpowder and done his homework on the nightwatchman and explosives expert Guy Fawkes.

The author had also relayed reassurances to the ringleader Robert Catesby.

All that was now required to do was to write the letter and effect the muse.

The author despised catholics more than he could stand.  It was totally alien to him and unacceptable that anglicans should revere an entity, such as was the papacy of Rome and a foreign power, greater than that of English sovereignty.

The messenger was summoned to meet a stranger in the darkness of the forest.

He could or would never know with whom he met and was warned in no uncertain terms that his life and that of his family was in danger until the letter had been delivered.

The messenger was explicity instructed to hand the letter only to the Lord himself and that it should be read by the Lord in the presence of a servant.

The messenger would not stop long enough for the letter to be opened.

The author’s motive here was plain enough.  A third party, the servant, would know about a plan to attack the King but not know of any details.

In the days that followed when the servant tried to convince others of such a plot (and of course he did not know who any of the conspirators were), he would not be believed.

The Lord was, of course, perplexed to receive such a letter and at such an hour.

He was quick to take it to the one man who he thought would make sense of it.

Indeed he would because that man was the author of the letter.

With masterful trickery, the letter writer and now keeper told nobody about the letter until the eve of the planned attack as he feigned a process of investigation and built a platform for his own glorification.

When the time came at the midnight hour, Guy Fawkes was inevitably caught red-handed in the cellar while others, realizing they were rumbled, were chased across the English countryside and were either shot to death or captured and later executed.

All except one man, the suspect for writing the letter.  He did not run.  Nor was he tortured or threatened with execution.

There was no need.  The suspect was quietly detained at the Tower of London to await his reward.

The end was not quite what the suspect expected but nothing less thad been planned for by the author of the letter from the outset.

The suspect was poisoned and died.

King James rejoiced at the saviour of his kingdom from a bunch of catholic dissidents and paid glory to the hunchback little man who was his closest political adviser and who had, so to speak, hatched the plot.

That is why English people always say ‘Remember, remember the fifth of November’.

Famous words indeed.

Not so much for the burning of an effigy of an explosives expert on a bonfire but for a letter written to a Lord which cemented the foiling of a Gunpowder Plot that never was.

WHO WOULD BE A CATHOLIC?

The question ‘who would be a catholic’ is posed in the context of English history.

Today, we take it almost for granted that we can freely and openly practice our religious faith and not be discriminated against when it comes to doing military service, being eligible for a job, having the right to vote in a government election, owning property and other assets of wealth.

But for something more than two hundred and seventy years, they were exactly the civil rights denied to Roman Catholics in England on account of their faith.

And I call them Roman Catholics because catholicism is centred upon the Vatican city in Rome and catholics swear their allegiance to the Pope as their supreme head.

Events began to unfold in 1530 when Henry VIII sought papal permission to divorce Catherine of Aragon but was refused by the Pope and was thereby ex-communicated.

It was the beginnings of catholic oppression in England.

Monasteries centuries old were first dissolved and then destroyed,  the Anglican Book of Prayer was introduced by Queen Elizabeth I and catholics were subjected to recusancy and fines of a shilling for not attending anglican church services on a Sunday.

The town of Stratford upon Avon in England is typical of catholic closseteers who were anglicans by day and catholics by night.

The Shakespeare family were known for their catholic loyalities and William Shakespeare was not shy to make reference to it in many of his plays.

From 1559 until her death in 1603, Elizabeth I established England as a dominant protestant state and catholics were very much in the minority.

Nevertheless, the English nation was as paranoic as its unmarried and childless monarch about who would succeed her and her closest advisers would play no mean part in the final outcome.

There were several supposed catholic attempts to whisk the realm away from Queen Elizabeth during her lifetime, notably the Babington Plot which brought about the execution of Elizabeth’s catholic cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, in 1587.

Of course, there was the Spanish Armada which came asailing at England’s coastal borders a year later and the fluffed rebellion of the Earl of Essex in 1601.

Ultimately, two men would have the greatest bearing on the outcome for the English monarchy and for catholics in England in general.

They were Father and Son William and Robert Cecil.  Their interventions and influence drove the anti-catholic propaganda to the hilt.

James Stuart, King of Scotland and son of the fated Mary Queen of Scots, would be invited to come south of the border and become the next monarch of England.

He was a staunch protestant with catholic sympathies.

Not surprisingly, while Robert Cecil, succeeding his father as the closest counsel to the monarch, saw a situation to manipulate and to oppress catholicism in England even further,  English catholics thought at first that this might be their chance to gain status quo in the open practice of their faith,

When English catholics realized that was not going to happen (and it did not take long), a group of dissidents met to discuss a plan about assassinating the new King and his ministers, having him replaced with either his daughter Princess Elizabeth or the Spanish King.

There were thirteen members at the end in the grand conspiracy which became known as the Gunpowder Plot and was planned for Tuesday 5th November 1605, the first state opening of Parliament by King James.

Many of the conspirators had participated too in the Essex rebellion and had either got away scott-free or been able to buy their way out of jail.

Needless to say, the Gunpowder Plot did not succeed.

An anonymous letter was sent to a catholic lord a few days beforehand hinting not to attend Parliament on 5th November.  The letter was passed to Robert Cecil who coyly waited until the eleventh hour before catching the explosives expert, Guy Fawkes, ‘red-handed’ in the cellar below the Parliament building where forty barrels of gunpowder was stored and ready for detonation.

The thirteen conspirators all met their end by one means or another.  Some were pursued and shot, others were captured and executed.  One man was poisoned in the Tower of London.

The direct consequence of the failed plot was for citizens of England to swear allegiance to the crown over the papacy or be subjected to civil penalities.

For some, this was too much of a conscience to bear and chose to rest their soul by ‘kicking the bucket’, a term coined for a person who voluntarily hangs himself and then kicks the bucket away to pass away.

Things got a little better for catholics following the Civil War 1642-1660 but it was not until 1829, thanks to an Irishman named Dnaiel O’Donnell (not the popular singer today of the same name!) that religious freedom would be ordained for catholics in line with protestants.

Emanicipation was not as yet a trendy buzzword but what evolved for catholics would follow in later decades for slaves, indigenous people, women and workers.

There was once such a thing as the divine right of Kings and the legitimacy of hereditary nobility.

Not anymore.

Yet still to this day, the English monarchy is as anglican as the day on which it was conceived and an English royal is forbidden by law to marry a Roman Catholic.

And do you know?

I still remember the story I heard in childhood of the little boy who sang in Elizabethan times ‘the Twelve Days of Christmas’ as if his life depended on it.

Now I know why.

Who would be a catholic?

THE LAST BATTLECRY OF AN ENGLISH KING

William Shakespeare put the immortal words ‘My Horse, my Horse, my Kingdom for a Horse’ into the mouth of a man as the battlecry of the last English King to ever be killed in combat.

Depending what version of the story you want to believe, the valiant King was pulled from his horse and hacked to death or came within relative proximity of conflict with the very man who stood between him and the continuance of his reign.

This is the story of Richard III who was slain at the Battle of Bosworth in deepest Leicestershire in 1485 by Henry Tudor who then succeeded him as English monarch and set the wheels in motion for the Tudor dynasty.

Fortune is said to favour the brave but ;perhaps that cannot be said for Richard III who remains accused to this day of murdering kin who were more entitled than he to the English crown.

His own personal woe was exasperated in the months leading to the fateful battle when his only son and wife died too.

A man can certainly dream and if Richard III did have a meaningful dream on the eve of the battle, it would surely have foretold of his inevitable doom.

Richard III only ruled England for two years and he was probably far from the character with physical deformity portrayed by Shakespeare in the play of his name.

The actual human remains of Richard III have fairly recently been unearthed in an archaeological dig on grounds of a former friary in the heart of the city of Leicester and today a public car park.

Modern technology and science enables us to know that he was a tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed boy with a slight scollosis to one shoulder but certainly no hunchback.

Shakespeare wrote Richard III the play in the early 1590s, fairly soon after being called ‘an upstart crow’ by fellow playwright Robert Greene and at a time when Robert Cecil held the upper hand in political influence over the ruling monarch Elizabeth I.

The backdrop to the story of Richard III was very simple indeed.

Elizabeth I was unmarried and of course without a child which could claim to be her successor.

Her own paranoia about the succession was the paranoia of the whole English nation.

Richard III, whether rightly or wrongly, was perceived as the usurper who could turn the natural order of succession on its head and plant a rightful heir for his own gain.

Shakespeare could smell a rat but it was not the unjustly discredited Richard III.

It was surely Robert Cecil, the living hunchback dwarf who no longer lived in the executive shadow of his father.

In reality and in fact, Robert Cecil won the day by supplanting the Scottish King, a protestant with limited catholic sympathies, James Stuart, as Elizabeth’s successor in 1603.

Nevertheless, Richard III is the benchmark by which judgment is exercised whenever a tenuous succession to the monarchy of a nation, any nation, not just England, is discussed.

Richard III came to rule by a number of events and circumstances.

It seems to matter not that his successor and victor Henry Tudor, crowned as Henry VII, had a lesser claim to the sovereignty of England than himself.

Such was the spoils of war.

It could be argued that William, Duke of Normandy, had no such claim to the sovereignty of England either when he came and conquered in 1066.

The One Hundred Years War between England and France from 1347 until 1453 and subsequently the so called War of the Roses from 1455 until Richard III’s death in 1485 had a definite impact on future English sovereignty.

From one of doubtful royal descent to Lord Protector of the Realm and King of England.

Richard III is alleged to have killed, amongst others, his Uncle Henry VI, cousin George the Duke of Clarence and the two princes, Edward V and Richard, his own nephews, who were mysteriously detained at the Tower of London, never to be heard of again.

Shakespeare contrived to tell the tragic story of Richard III with a sense of condemnation, distrust and disbelief.

Ghosts, curses and prophecies played no mean part in the hallowing story.

There may well have been a winter of discontent in the months that led to the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 but certain facts speak for themselves.

Richard III will now be reburied either at Leicester Cathredal, York Minster (for he was after all from the royal House of York) or quite possibly at Westminster Abbey in London.

If there is a place for him.

Whatever your take on Richard III, the last battlecry of an English King can still be heard today.

THE GHOST OF ST. CRISPIN

St. Crispins is a former mental hospital on the outskirts of the English town of Northampton.

It is situated on the fringe of the historic berry wood forest and on raised ground with splendid views across the Nene valley.

It was one of the first hospitals of its kind when it opened in 1876 after several years of construction and one of the last to to close its doors in 1995.

Its distinctive red-brick pavillion style was the brainchild of a Staffordshire architect named Hugh Griffiths.

St. Crispins typified the concept of a mental institution by being completely self-contained.

The expansive grounds included a working farm, a market garden, a cemetery and of course a clock tower too.

There was on-site housing for the psychiatric doctors and nurses who worked there as well as for shoemakers, tailors, carpenters and upholsterers.

The 190 foot clock tower stood on the south facade and no one who was resident there can ever forget for whom the bell did toll.

Northampton was the town and county around which the English shoe industry was centred and Crispin, the Saint of leather and shoe making, was its spiritual patron.

It is wrong to assume that all patients detained were kept in straightjackets and were around ‘the bend’ from walking around in ever decreasing circles, mentally and physically.

Confined spaces at St. Crispins meant endless corridors which led nowhere.

This was largely home to as many as two thousand male and female patients at its height who were misfits and social inadequates of the post-victorian era, victims of crime, family abuse, delinquancy and trauma.

St. Crispins was a place for medical experiment on the wholly unfortunate who only found out what was happening to them when it was already too late.

The introduction of free national health care in 1948 took away the pauper labelling but intensified the experimentation and of course the in-take of patients.

Dignity and self-respect was senselessly demeaned and stripped away from perfectly sane individuals who became subjected to something new but in reality relabelled as occupational therapy.

It is not so far removed from the truth to say that the real loonies (lunatics) in the asylum were those who thought they knew what they were doing and who did not.

They were perhaps more institutionalised than the patients themselves.

I first visited St. Crispins in 1984, oddly enough for a wedding and I know that takes some explaining.

Suffice to say that it took place in the chapel there near the clock tower and it was the wedding of a client of mine when I practiced in Northampton as a lawyer.

I have been back to St. Crispins many times since and indeed during the twenty years or so that St. Crispins has become one of the most famous derelict sites in England and perhaps the world.

It has been ravaged by numerous fires during this period, many caused by arsonists and others which cannot be rationally explained.

St. Crispins is now but a burned out ruined shell.

A property developer bought the whole site and developed part of it into residential housing at the turn of the millenium.

The buildings and work site of the hospital itself were left relatively untouched.

Hence its dereliction and ruin today to the extent that the site is fenced off to trespassers and intruders but this does not seem to prevent the most determined and persistent from entering upon the site in spite of the obvious dangers to health and safety and posting recordings of their visit on social media.

The ascent of the clock tower remains one of my treasured memories of visiting St, Crispins over the years and indeed of Northampton as a whole for the thirty years that I called Northampton my home.

The Ghost of St. Crispin is so much more than a nurse looking out of a third floor window, paranormal messages transmitted by a restless spirit who once was a cobbler and another who was a traumatised soldier from the great war 1914-18.

A young girl whose only fault was to submit under force to a father who raped her and then kill him for his dastardly wrongdoing.

St. Crispins is a place for clear minds and a social conscience and the ghost of St. Crispins lives on to this day in 2017.

And today is his blessed day, 25th October.

The Ghost of St. Crispin is Northampton’s enigma.

The developers are legally obliged to undertake the clearing of the hospital site, if only for safety reasons, but they have not done so.

The Town Council seems reluctant or unable to apply the letter of the law and force the developer to do it because nobody, not the developer, town council or general public appears willing to remove what  represents an unlikely heritage.

One day in the not so distant future, the site of the mental hospital will be totally redeveloped.

Northampton has long become industrialised in other types of manufacturing besides footwear but the ghost of St. Crispin will never leave this town.

Newcomers may live in housing afforded by development of land which was once part of the St Crispins hospital site and in apartments converted within former shoe factories, oblivious for whom the bell in the clock tower in the distance did once toll over yonder by the berrywood forest.

 

ENGLISH DEMOCRACY – THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE

The word ‘democracy’ comes from the Greek language and literally means ‘voice of the people’

But for very many centuries, the common people of England had no voice in a political sense and were ruled over by a sovereign who exercised executive power of authority without consulting a parliament.

Then twenty one Barons colluded to legislate the Magna Carta in 1215 which would enable the will of the sovereign, King or Queen, to be overruled if it was considered necessary.

But it was not considered necessary until the middle part of the seventeenth century when England became embroiled in a twenty year civil war between the common people and royalty, the roundhead against the cavalier.

The Tudor dynasty had passed into history and William Shakespeare was barely a household name for the dramatic plays he wrote.

Upto this time, the sovereign turned to trusted advisers on matters of home affairs and warfare rather than members of parliament, aristocrats who saw it as something of a status thing to undertake than a job to represent the people.

There was no democracy in the literal sense of the word.

Local folk could complain to clergy, aldermen, constables, magistrates and even perhaps to the member of parliament for their constituency but the right to vote in an election and participate in a democratic process was still a long way off for the Englishman and woman.

A Bill of civil rights was introduced in 1688 as a means to ensure that there was no repeat of the civil war a few years earlier, that there was a defined dynastic line of succession to the monarchy and that the common man could exercise free speech by petition to parliament via his elected representative.

The Bill of Rights became the inspiration and foundation for the American constitution a century later.

A Parliament building was eventually built on the north bank of the river Thames in London in the district of Westminster.

The Parliament comprised the House of Commons for elected representatives and the House of Lords for the privileged clergy and nobility.

Democracy was gradual but it took a long time to become available to everyone.

Not everyone was educated, could read or write.

Not everyone met the qualifying age and was of social privilege.

The Napoleonic and Crimean Wars, the Boer War and certainly the first World War changed all that within the space of just over a hundred years as the common man (and woman) did indeed fight for King and Country, just as Henry V once demanded of his sicken troops at the Battle of Agincourt.

The voice of the people could no longer be ignored and the English Democracy became a reality in 1918 when every citizen  aged twenty one or over became entitled to vote and elect a member for parliament from their constituency.

It was obviously regrettable that it took the likes of Emily Davidson to throw herself under the Kings horse in a horse race for the vote to be given to woman at all as well as man.

Universal suffrage would have its day.

The age to vote was reduced from twenty one to eighteen by the Labour Government in 1969.

This is the path which has been taken to achieve English democracy.

England today is in a political union with neighboring countries Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In 2014, the people of Scotland voted in a referendum to remain part of the United Kingdom and not become independent.

On 24th June 2016, the people of England  (as well as in Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland) voted in a referendum to leave the European Union in what has become known as Brexit.

Honorary persons who once served as elected representatives find themselves now sitting in the House of Lords in judgement.

They can overrule the House of Commons where it is considered necessary on political issues but that is where the parallel ends with the Barons of 1215.

They cannot overrule English democracy or subdue the voice of the people.

The vision of William Shakespeare and Henry V has seen the light of day.