Category Archives: Art

YSP Tweetup 2017

IMG_20150620_124703960Nah then, sexpots. The Sixth Annual Wombat Anniversary YSP Tweetup will take place on Saturday 24th June 2017 at (colour me surprised) Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Come and meet a fat old wombat and his beautiful consort for art, countryside, sexy rabbits, picnics, shiny balls and sociability. Here’s a few things to know.

Where is YSP?

YSP is just off the M1 junction 38. The best postcode for your Sat Nav is WF4 4JX. The 96 bus comes directly to YSP from Barnsley and Wakefield. Visit for bus timetables.

"Look, some nature!"What time are we meeting?

Meet between 10 and 10:30 near the main car park, by the entrance to the main building (check the map down below). If it’s chucking it down, you could always pop inside.

What’s the car parking like?

Admission to YSP (a charity) is free. The parking fees keep the place going. Car Parking is £8. You pay by machine that takes cards or cash, and asks for your car registration number (or you can pay online up to a week after). Motorbikes are free. The car park is HUGE and everyone will fit in.

What about food, Wombie?

Bring picnic food & drink, for we will PICNIC BABY! And I want to taste your goodies, obv. Alternatively, there’s both a restaurant and a café. Tap water is always available free.

DoodlesWill you sign my boobs?

Damn yes.

Sorry, I meant books. If I bring your books, will you sign those?

Oh books. Oh … yeah, OK then, bring them along.

Is there anything else?

As usual, dogs and kids are more than welcome – it’d be nice to keep up the tradition of kids climbing on that sculpture that no-one’s supposed to climb on. Otherwise, the agenda is mostly the having of fun! We usually manage that without trying. We don’t have to stick together the whole day, of course, but I hope we can at least get a big team photo of the whole company as on previous occasions.

ysp-annotated22How about a map of YSP?

Here you go. Click it to see a much larger version.

And CLICK HERE to visit the YSP site – there’s more information there than you could possibly need.


Edward Raby – drunken artist

The current Mrs. Wombat’s Great Great Great Grandfather, Edward Raby. was born in 1810 in Staffordshire. He joined the Poultney pottery in 1845, and became celebrated for his work modelling flowers in parian on earthenware.

beesMy favourite piece of his is the small group consisting of a beehive beneath a may bush in full bloom. Bees scurry on the hive, a little flight of steps with hand rails leading towards it. On the left you can see a nest of young birds, almost on the ground, with just above the head of a snake about to devour them. The mother bird, in the foliage above the hive, ruffles her feathers in anger and despair. When you consider that each feather of this bird was made and adjusted individually; that the bodies and wings and legs of the bees were all separately made and placed together while the clay was still wet; that each little stem of may bloom was made by rolling the clay round a piece of fine cotton, the bloom then being attached to the end of the cotton leaf by leaf, and the stamens added afterwards, you will realise the immense patience and devotion to his art shown by Edward.

He was not always reliable after being paid, however. His wages were high at a pound a day, but often he went absent for a week or more on drinking binges. After one too many of these lapses in 1849 the owner, J.D. Pountney, sacked him. He was not seen for some time, until one day he appeared at Pountney’s house in Richmond Hill when the owner himself was away on business.

His wife, Charlotte, spoke to Edward, and he revealed the exquisite piece of work photographed above, telling her that he had done it during his “holiday”, and had got the men at the works to fire it for him without the master’s knowledge. He offered it to the “young missus” on condition she persuaded the “old master” to take him on again. Amused by both his impudence and his talent she soon induced the “old master” to comply.

Edward remained with Pountney’s for many years, working always to a supremely high quality. At one time Charlotte Pountney exhibited the beehive piece and was offered sixty pounds for it by William Gladstone, which she declined. She defended Edward, saying that his lapses were few and far between. In his book “Old Bristol Potteries” her son, W. J. Pountney, described Edward as “a very kindly old man, for he seemed old to me at the time, and he used to try to teach my youngest sister and me how to model those little leaves of his. The only thing that I was able to accomplish was rolling the clay round a bit of cotton, but my sister was more successful and she could manage to model small leaves”.

BCWqDXYCMAAjtQo.jpg largeSpecimens of Edward’s flower plaques were placed in recesses beneath the High Cross in College Green in 1847, and when the cross was removed over a hundred years later, one was found still intact. It came into the hands of artist Emma Clegg’s mother. Emma’s sculpture is inspired by Edward’s work, and on her website she describes the find:

“It’s a tiny wreath of peonies, which are no more than 1cm across. The accuracy and precision that he achieved in clay is just breath-taking. It was buried under a cross in Bristol for over one hundred years, and when the cross had to be removed, the piece was, miraculously, still perfectly intact. I’m in awe of the skill and patience that he must have had. Such skill…

He described himself in the 1861 census return (which is where I first met him) as a “Flower Maker”. He certainly was that, and so much more. Edward Raby left the pottery in 1864, he finally died in his home town of Hanley in 1867.


Character sketch from The Raven’s Wing, coming this summer. Drawn for me by the talented @TheRogueHeart.



The Raven’s Wing stirs once more

After spending far too long being distracted by short fiction in all its forms, I have today finally re-immersed myself in my medieval saga of blood, of magic, and of music, The Raven’s Wing. A happy three hours this avvy reacquainted me with the intricacies of the plot and characters, aided in no small part by the remarkable writing software, Scrivener. Tucked away in the rather large research section was this little gem, which may or may not make it into the final story. I thought you might like it, though.

Alonso Cano, The Miraculous Lactation of Saint Bernard, c. 1650The holy breast milk of the Virgin Mary was an extremely popular relic in the middle ages. An entire church was built outside Bethlehem on a rock which had miraculously turned white after coming into contact with the Virgin’s milk as she breastfed Christ. Another legend says that St Bernard was praying before a statue of the Madonna when milk sprayed from its breast into his mouth. Many vials of “breast milk” began to appear all over Europe. The French theologian John Calvin said:

“Had the virgin been a cow her whole life she could never have produced such a quantity.”


Leeds Library & Art Gallery

A remarkably beautiful building, as I discovered when I visited on Saturday.





Blogging our recent US trip day by day, four weeks after the event.

Wednesday 20th August – Cleveland

DSCF3864We were up early, ignoring the lying clock, and out quickly. Breakfast was at six, but we really didn’t have time as we managed to cadge a ride to the airport in an old lady’s cab that was just leaving, and it seemed safer to just get there than to trust that the car we’d asked for would actually arrive Mary grabbed a banana, lucky lady.

The flight to Cleveland went normally, which was turning out to be unusual for us. Cleveland was our eighth airport in two weeks – Manchester, Amsterdam, Detroit, Erie, Buffalo, Minneapolis, Sioux Falls and now Cleveland. Our list of unusual flying events that “almost never happen” was also quite long now –

  • An “Is there a doctor on board?” call.
  • Security cock-ups with the TSA not having the right forms available.
  • Flight cancelled requiring departure from a different airport the next day.
  • Flight turning around mid-air due to a technical fault.
  • A missed connection due to storms.
  • An overnight stay in a hotel.
  • Flying TO a different destination due to cancellation.

The news that morning had been of a volcano in Iceland that was threatening to erupt. The last time that happened it had played havoc with flights. That would be all that we needed to complete the set.

As we stepped outside at Cleveland into hot sunshine (Door 1, fact fans) Tom and Kim drove up, arriving exactly on time rather like Janine and Barry had at Sioux Falls. We drove into the city and spent the day at the remarkable Cleveland Museum of Art.

DSCF3866The place is deceptively vast, with an impressive central courtyard roofed in glass. We meandered for hours, finding hundreds of works of art of endless variety to admire. Near the entrance, though, was an extraordinary interactive wall of art. A packed grid of pictures of works floated around. Each picture could be touched to reveal a larger image, information about the piece, and its location in the museum.

CMA-Gallery-ONE-SculptureClose by there were other large screens on which the visitor could experiment, or play games. I had a go at something called ‘Embody Art’, where the idea was to copy the pose of a work of art. I tried to emulate ‘Angel’ (1583–1584 by Annibale Fontana). Apparently the angelʼs extended arm would once have held a trumpet. Her movement mirrors the blast of sound from the instrument. I’d have done better if I’d known that before making a wazzock of myself.

DSCF3883Tom and Mary declared that they were hungry and, the cafe looking ridiculously expensive, we wandered outside to find somewhere to eat. We ended up across the grassy square outside at the Botanical Gardens, where the food was excellent and much cheaper than at the Museum of Art AND there was an exhibit of Lego. Mary only managed half her sandwich, though. She put the rest in her bag to take home and put in Kim’s fridge where, for all we know, it remains to this day. Strolling back over to the museum we spotted a red cardinal atop a nearby tree, singing for all it was worth. A beautiful bird.

DSCF3923The museum was superb. Even Tom seemed to really enjoy it after being sceptical at first. The exhibits that really spoke to me were those where the artist had given the subject genuine expression, where they looked real rather than idealised. For instance Valentin’s ‘Samson’, Rubens’ ‘Portrait of Isabella Brant’ or David’s ‘Cupid and Psyche’. ‘Fifth Avenue Nocturne’ by Hassam was one American painting I loved. Other beautiful items that I coveted were a two-handed sword from 16th century Germany, an Italian table depicting Chronos and an ivory sculpture portraying ‘Christ’s Descent from the Cross’, an eight-figure group carved from a single elephant’s tusk. Poor elephant, yes, but what an intricate, impressive work of art.

Thoroughly exhausted, back we went to Erie where Kim and Tom fed us on many snacks. Mary and I particularly loved Kim’s Brie thingy. We got to say hello to Monnie once more, which was nice. We watched several episodes of ‘Jeopardy’.

“A show with a sodding theme tune that won’t ever leave your head.”
“What is Jeopardy, Merv?”

After that, much packing against tomorrow’s flights home, volcano willing. I dearly hope that we can reach Amsterdam easily, see Yvonne, and return to Manchester without incident.



Blogging our recent US trip day by day, four weeks after the event.

Sunday 10th August – the Baconator & the Carspider

Another sunny morning saw me sitting outside Kim’s house writing in my journal. The sun shone, there was a cooling breeze, and the katydids piped up regularly. ‘Boys of Summer’ played on the radio, and all aroung was green and beautiful. Monnie wandered past my feet. Kim has the perfect home, and has lived in the same small area all her life. She obviously loves it and rightly so.

DSCF2720Now I’m not sure when the Chinese auction took place exactly. I didn’t make a note in my battered journal at the time, so let’s just talk about it now as if it did happen during paragraph two of the this day. Kim held a Chinese auction for a few small but pleasing gifts. You know the sort of thing – furry handcuffs, battery-powered rabbits, Ann Summers toys and so on. Ha, no, not really! Honestly, your faces! No, they were harmless, nice gifts, such as handy notebooks and weird owl faces.

“But Wombie,” you cry, “What is this auction of a Chinese nature? We are ignorant of such things.”

A Chinese auction, dear reader, is where the participants receive a number of tickets bearing their name, and leave one or more tickets by whichever objects they fancy. For instance, had there actually been any, I would have deposited all of my tickets into the pot to win the furry handcuffs. A blonde bombshell them draws the winning ticket for each object.

It all went swimmingly, apparently, but I missed it. I have no idea where I was, no. Possibly in the shower. Or hypnotised by wild turkeys flocking outside. Or having a poo. It will forever remain a mystery.

10What isn’t a mystery is that on Sunday morning, Kim and I dropped Viv and Mary to the Mall for shopping shenanigans, put Bonnie Raitt on the stereo, and drove to Wendy’s. I had a Baconator and chilli cheese fries. “You’re properly American now,” said Kim.

We drove out to see Tom and sons Jay and Ryan play soft ball, an American sport which has always puzzled me. Turns out it’s a smilier version of baseball, and the ball does not appear to be at all soft. I’m sure I looked like a big old awkward wazzock, an obvious tourist, taking photos and wearing my battered panama hat and ridiculous beard.

The Trott team wore grey shirts with green sleeves, save Ryan’s girlfriend Paige in a white t-shirt , as she had been drafted in at the last minute to play in the place of a girl who couldn’t make it. Each team must field at least two women, which I imagine makes for a very inclusive game. Certainly there was a lot of laughter and fun. Family and friends sat around the fence, talking and smiling.

DSCF2774The game does resemble baseball – whack a ball with a bat and run around in circles. There was an independent umpire, a big louche chappie, who gave one of the opposition players out, eliciting a small argument. Paige, to her delight, caught a batter out and performed the most charming celebratory dance.

After the game, Kim and I met up again with Mary and Viv, going for a quick drink at an “English pub”. The place was quite a reasonable facsimile save for a dozen or so TV screens around the walls all showing different sports. One screen had rodeo, another hunting.

DSCF2737Close to Kim’s house, right by the road, stands a brightly-coloured collection of sculptures made from old car parts. We stopped there briefly for a look around. The man who lives there makes these works of art  from old cars, and puts them in his front ‘yard’ for all the world to see. Curious things, they were, with the spider being particularly effective.




And this day most of The Wombat Gang left, which broke my heart a little bit. Meeting these people for real after years of online friendship was a very special, deeply moving thing for me. I’m sure we’ll meet again one day.

“You do not wanna get in front of me right now, I have not had my coffee.” – Viv



Bring kids, dogs, cake and especially cake

It’s only just occurred to me that it’s quite close to #YSPtweetup 2014, and what have I done in preparation? A lot of sod all, that’s what. It’s about time I extracted my digit and started winding up the arrangements.


For this year’s Wombat Wedding Anniversary hoopla we will once again be at the delightful Yorkshire Sculpture Park for picnics, walks, art and having a lot of fun together. The date to mark in red in your diary is Saturday 21st June.

As usual, bring food, chums, OHs, smiles, kids and canine companions. We’ll follow the usual plan: meet up around ten (although it usually takes at least half an hour to get the gang moving – honestly, you lot are as nippy as the Titanic sometimes), then stroll down to the picnic area for food, chat, and watching the kids. After we’ve all eaten each other’s food, we’ll “do” the park – lakes, woods, artworks, and climbing on that sculpture that you’re not supposed to climb on.

basdriver map


An offer of a lift: @basdriver is driving up to YSP from Cardiff and is kindly offering lifts to anyone near his route (click on the map on the left to see it large), which is roughly Cardiff-> Cheltenham-> Birmingham-> Nottingham-> Sheffield-> Wakefield). Contact him if you want to take him up on his lovely offer. Nice chap.

And if you can offer a lift to anyone who might want to go but has no transport, then let me know and I’ll put out a call on here.



YSP mapOK, here’s a map (click it to big it) and some bullet points. Gotta love bullet points.

  • YSP is just off the M1 junction 38.
  • Meet between 10 and 10:30 near the main car park, by the entrance to the main building. If it’s stair-rodding, you could always pop inside.
  • Car Parking is £8 for all day, payable at a machine that takes cards or cash, and asks for your car reg. number. The Car Park is HUGE and everyone will fit in.
  • Bring picnic food & drink OR buy stuff in the cafés there. Tap water is available free.
  • If you have any of my books you want signing, bring them along. I’ll also be available to sign boobs *eyebrow waggle*
  • We don’t have to stick together the whole day, but I hope we can at least get a big team photo of the whole company like before.
  • Official hashtags – either #YSPtweetup or #YSPtweetup2014.

Check the YSP website to see what they’ve got on at the moment, and ask me if you have any questions. Finally, clicky these links to see my blogs of previous #YSPtweetups: 2011, 2012, 2013.


Brunhilde observing Gunther, whom she has tied to the ceiling

Another in my occasional series of exhibits from Wombat’s Imaginary Art Gallery. This was painted in 1807 by Swiss artist Johann Heinrich Fussli, and can be found in Nottingham Art Gallery.

Brunhilde Observing Gunther, Whom She Has Tied to the Ceiling - 1807


#YSPtweetup2014 advance notice

z-0vanishedhippoYes, I know, it’s very advanced notice, but I have already had half a dozen people asking about this year’s Wombat Wedding Anniversary get together. Once again we’ll be at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park for picnics, walks and art. The date to mark in red in your diary is Saturday 21st June. As usual, bring food, chums, OHs, kids and all manner of canine companions.

I have a passing fancy this year to finally remember to get everyone to do the Mass Paperbag Trick. And maybe get everyone to bring their ukulele so that we can have a YSP Ukulele Orchestra rendition of Ilkley Moor Bar T’at. We’ll see. More in a few months.

Click here to see previous #YSPtweetup blogs: 2011, 2012, 2013.

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