Friday 31 March 2023

Surfing … Big v Small (film) – Nazaré, Portugal ...


I'd often wondered about the draw of the Portuguese coast's Nazaré monster surfing waves – but had never been inquisitive enough to look further …

Monster breaking wave at the end
of the underwater Nazaré canyon

What was it … and why were the waves so big …? well now I know – and so will you in a few hundred words!

A recent Film Society Film 'Big v Small' explained a great deal, as well as opening my eyes to how we can tame the fears inside us … under the ice in Finland.

Holding our breath for any length of time for most of us is nigh impossible … and we all have fears of some sort … perhaps mostly hidden from our friends and the outside world.

Joana Andrade
Joana Andrade, the Portuguese surfer featured, is of tiny proportions – not obviously hugely tenuous … yet this film shows us what can be achieved – by an intrepid character … her comment from Surfer Today just explains her attitude to life:

"I am a small woman - 1.56 meters tall - and not very muscular. My strength comes from the head through a lot of meditation and breathing exercises. I train at home to relax, connect with my inside and find the way to trust myself."

The 'Oeste' Administrative
area on the coast of Portugal

Growing up on the Oeste coastline – about half-way up Portugal's coast – Joana, as many a normal kid would do, rebelled against her mother … no surfing … not in those waves … but Joana had other thoughts. Typical rebellious kid!

She looked and looked at those huge breakers, while improving her paddle-board surfing skill along the coast … at that stage: self-propelled with her surfboard.

Tow-in Surfers shown on the waves
The technique of tow-in surfing came about in the 1990s … when a surfer is towed by a partner into a breaking wave – using a Jet Ski or helicopter. It was pioneered in Hawaii …

Monster surfing waves are found in Hawaii, off California and Nazaré, Portugal … there are other notable big wave surfing spots. These waves could only be caught using the tow-in method …

Joana Andrade surfing a giant wave
This was when waves over 30 feet (9 metres) were beyond the bounds of a surfer … after the tow-in method evolved waves over 50 feet (15 metres) could be surfed …

The ups and downs of 'tow- in surfing fashion' has in the last five decades or so – opened up other areas … one of which is Nazaré – where the waves break really close to the shore … the area known as Praia do Norte (Nazaré).

Geomorphology of
Nazare's underwater canyon
The Nazaré underwater Canyon … is the largest submarine canyon in Europe … reaching depths of about 5,000 metres (16,00 feet) along a length of about 230 kilometres (140 miles). 

There are three distinct sections … one of which I must remember to mention when I get back to my English Language post/s.

Another problem was holding one's breath should one fall out of a wave, as another huge wave would be waiting to break, with perhaps a third soon behind …

Johanna Nordblad - under the ice
So on searching for help … Joana came across another … in this case … Johanna Nordblad from Finland – who is an ice diver, and freediver – who also holds the static breath record of 6 minutes 35 seconds.

They went to Finland to help Joana Andrade hold her breath for longer, as well as overcoming her fear of being submerged … in this case under the ice for a period of time …

Fort of Sao Miguel Arcanjo (1577)

Mind over matter … something at that level beyond my desire to attain … but the film was very intriguing and very absorbing.

The links fill in or add to the informational spaces …

Big v Small IMDb documentary film ...

Portuguese Joana Andrade - article in Surfer Today ... 

Free Diver, Ice Diver from Finnish Johanna Nordblad ...

Adding another link I'd forgotten about: From Cambridge University about 'cold shock' being tested for its value with various diseases". I can't seem to provide a link - but if you're interested ... please type in the sentence below and you'll be sent to the link.

Scientists in Cambridge and Berlin have used a form of gene therapy to increase levels of the so-called ‘cold shock protein’ in the brains of mice, protecting them against the potentially devastating impact of prion disease.

Hilary Melton-Butcher

Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Thursday 23 March 2023

Wheatley and Gillray – Georgian artists …


The two history talks I gave were about these two Georgian period artists … Francis Wheatley (1747 – 1801) and James Gillray (1756 – 1815) …

Francis Wheatley

We're learning something of the Georgian era (George I to George IV: 1714 - 1830) … which included the sub-period that is the Regency era (when George IV as Prince of Wales was regent during the illness of George III).

Some members of the group opt to give talks on different subjects - I'm usually the one that tends to break the mould … choosing something interests that me, rather than a subject suggested.

Chair Mender

Wheatley (1747 - 1801) was an English portrait and landscape painter, who was brought up in and around Covent Garden … where the poor would hawk their wares …

He had an eventful career when his low point came in 1789 he was elected to the Royal Academy in preference to the King's nominee … that was that – he never secured another commission from the aristocracy.

Preparing for market

His career unravelled … yet in the middle of all the turmoil he had created these 'Cries of London', which were exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1792 and 1795 …

It is thought that his third wife, who became, after his death, Clara Maria Pope, was his model for the female hawkers shown in these paintings. There's a ginger and white terrier that often occurs throughout the series.

Sweet Oranges

Various engravers of the time brought these 'Cries of London' to the public's attention – which have ever since remained in the nation's heart …

The ballad seller

and prevail as part of our historical culture … featuring on chocolate boxes, biscuit tins and prints often found hanging in the houses of elderly relatives and the seaside hotels of our British childhoods.

James Gillray

Next came James Gillray … a caricaturist and printmaker famous for his etched political and social satires, mostly published between 1792 – 1810.

He's been called “the father of the political cartoon” … and who, along with Hogarth, became the two most influential cartoonists of the era.

L'Assemblee Nationale (1804) -
was called "the most talented caricature
that has ever appeared" partly due to its
admirable likenesses.  The Prince of Wales
paid a large sum of money for it to be 
suppressed and its plate destroyed.

Gillray's targets were the great and the good, not excepting royalty. But his vision is often dark, his wit frequently cruel and even shockingly bawdy: some of his own contemporaries found his work repellent.

John Bull raising Napoleon's
head just after landing in
England (1803)

He changed his art from embracing the French Revolution to being no longer hostile to King George III … creating John Bull, defending the realm from the French and Napoleon …

It just happened that a new book by a young highly applauded historian, Alice Loxton, has come out … of which the convenor of our history group sent me the review … so having ordered her book it awaits my eyes to be read: Uproar!: Satire, Scandal and Printmakers in Georgian London.

The other particularly noteworthy aspect about Gillray - was that he was a skilful writer, taking great pains over the text that accompanied his works …

'Dublures' of Characters (1798)
To sum Gillray up – he was late Georgian Britain's funniest, most inventive, and most celebrated graphic satirist, continuing to influence cartoonists today.

For further reference – should anyone wish to read my talks … I'd be happy to send them to you (they're not long) … together with a list of slides that illustrated both talks.

Spitalfields Life – has further details on Francis Wheatley and his 'Cries of London' together with relevant art works …

There will be various reviews of Alice Loxton's book and articles about James Gillray on the net …. Wikipedia has plenty of Gillray's cartoons.

I will get back to 'Our English Language' … I have lots of books to read first … but posts will occur!

Hilary Melton-Butcher

Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Wednesday 15 March 2023

Canadian – Sussex – War Artists at Cuckmere Haven on the South Downs …


Canadians were stationed near here in both World Wars … we think of War but don't often relate to which one … sad, but true …

Cuckmere River running out to the
English Channel with its oxbow lakes
A blog post had sent me off to the Group of Seven landscape artists, who were prominent Canadian artists practising at the Algonquin School, Ontario (1920 – 1933) …

a group I had heard about because Emily Carr, the Modernist and Post-Impressionist style artist lived on Vancouver Island - where I encountered her, was associated with the group.

Frederick Varley's 'The Gas Chamber at
Seaford' (1918)
I am getting to my point for the post! … for whatever reason I decided to read on about the Group of Seven, then came across a view I immediately recognised … but it was of the Cuckmere Valley, Sussex in 1918 … so now … I looked further.

Lord Beaverbrook (1879 - 1964), a Canadian-British newspaper publisher, had recommended, Frederick Varley, (1881 – 1969), as a World War One war artist … hence he was commissioned to Sussex.

Our iconic view from Seaford Head looking 
eastwards towards Eastbourne
Now – this coastline – the chalk downland above Eastbourne, where Beachy Head is to be found – is usually remembered for its film sets, as too tv background scenes, adverts … and a beauty spot for us all to visit …

c/o BBC March 2023

it too today retains its dangers … a new crack has opened up – danger on the cliffs, danger below …

This iconic view has over time drawn professional and amateur artists to spend time here enjoying painting en plein air. Graham Greene and H.G. Wells both referred to walking in this area …

Eric Ravilious (c 1939)
Cuckmere Haven
So to tie this in … Eric Ravilious (1903 - 1942), a British painter, designer, book illustrator and wood-engraver, grew up in Sussex being particularly known for his watercolours of the South Downs and love of the Seven Sisters' coastline and Downland …

He served as a war artist and was the first British artist to die on active service in WW II when the aircraft he was in was lost off Iceland.

I was surprised and interested to see Varley's art – 'The Gas Chamber at Seaford' – giving us an idea about the training for the mustard gas attacks that had started to be used in WW1 …

and being able to jot down a few notes here covering the above aspects … and a few more links to be found below should they interest you …

Seven Sisters chalk coastline looking west

Obviously there's another war link today … we have Ukraine refugees here … 

East Sussex WW1 - gas chamber information ... 

Eastbourne College - Summerdown WW1 camp 

Frederick Varley (1881 - 1969)   

Self-portrait ... found at this interesting website:  Thematic Stamp Collection ... details of Varley's self-portrait on the 17c stamp issued 1981 - painting completed c 1945

Eric Ravilious - a film entitled 'Drawn to War' ... preview of film here ... 

I'm recovering from being off colour and fed up with things ... but all well - and I'll get to the English language posts shortly ... have two talks to give on Monday ... after that!

Hilary Melton-Butcher

Positive Letters Inspirational Stories