Wednesday, 25 September 2013

A Tale of Two Captions

Last week's front page cartoon in The Westmorland Gazette was a tad unusual. 

Due to mysterious influences from beyond our galaxy, the cartoon appeared without its caption, giving it a zen-like quality which baffled millions of readers across the globe. Angry tweets were tweeted, grown men were seen openly sobbing in the streets  and questions were asked in Parliament.

Here is how it appeared:

Compare this with the glory days of 21 March 1986 when the following cartoon appeared in response to Kentucky Fried Chicken opening in Kendal:

A veritable essay. And the cartoon was bigger. But then so was the newspaper and it came out on Friday … (all letters on that subject to the editor of the newspaper).

You can see the real caption for last week's cartoon on my website here

This gives a unique opportunity to have An Exciting Blog Competition. 

The best alternative caption entered in the comments below will WIN TWO FREE TICKETS to one of the opening events for the International Comic Art Festival on 18 October. 

The event is a talk by Ed Brubaker and Kurt Busiek, two of the USA's top comic book writers. It's a unique opportunity to hear award-winning writers discuss their work.

Add your caption in the comments below and I'll judge the one I think is best.  

And don't forget that I will be running two Family Cartoon Workshops during the International Comic Art Festival. Details here.


No alternative prizes will be given.
No correspondence will be entered into.
It may be possible to bribe the judge but be warned that my expectations are high.
Tickets to be collected from The Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal.
Closing date for entry is midday, Thursday 17 October (UK Earth time).

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Term Time Blues

An education controversy from the Department of Education? Surely, such a thing is unheard of?

Apparently not. I was shocked to discover this week that all is not light and harmony within the education sector. The latest wheeze of education secretary Michael Gove is that children taken out of school to go on holiday, should be fined. Or rather, their parents should be fined.

No more cheap holidays for Cumbria parents. Now if they try and grab a term-time bargain break, they could be charged up to £120 by the County Council.

This is the lead story in today's super, soaraway Westmorland Gazette. And below you can see the four ideas I submitted to go on the front page.

But which did my steamed editor pick? Match your editorial wits against his, vote for your choice in the comments below and then take a break over on my website and see if you were right.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Taking the Jeremy

The Lake District National Park is up for World Heritage designation again. This has happened a couple of times in the past and always been turned down. The reasons vary from too much man-made alteration to the landscape, too many tourists, too many pigeons, etc.

This time round, the attempt to get the Lakes listed alongside the Great Wall of China has attracted a couple of notable commentators.

George Monbiot, famous deep-green columnist and CO2 generator for the Guardian newspaper, described the Lakes as a depressing place with a sheep-wrecked landscape. No vegetation will grow within jaw-range of these woolly locals, so its no surprise that the fells are stripped of interesting plants and trees.

The second comment came from noted environmentalist Jeremy Clarkson. In his opinions column in the Times, he berated the Lakes, describing it as full of bobble-hatted walkers with wizened knees. The knees are probably true but bobble hats haven't been seen on the fells since the days of the Ford Zephyr. Jeremy should pop up and do some bobble research.

The story made the front page of the bumper Westmorland Gazette and so, inevitably, was the subject of the cartoon. How could any self-respecting cartoonist resist?

Below are the ideas I submitted to my steamed editor. Which would you have picked? Put your comments below and then burn rubber to my website to see if you are correct.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Kenya sketchbook 4

This is the 4th of my Kenya sketchbooks. You can find the others here:

I've recorded stuff since I was a kid. Long gone are the days when this meant lugging several kgs of German engineering around with you. Modern, solid state audio recorders are lightweight, largely foolproof and fit in a pocket. Ideal for travelling and capturing evocative, audio landscapes.

One of the reasons for making recordings on holiday is that, like sketching, once you start, you're committed to sitting quietly, observing what goes on around you and absorbing the atmosphere. It's too easy to forget to this or spend too much time seeing the holiday through a camera viewfinder. 

During one recording, I spent over an hour sitting by the lake side at Naivasha. I saw the sun come up, heard the dawn chorus  (it lasts about 10 minutes on the equator) and watched a troop of Vervet monkeys rouse themselves and chase off across the trees. I was also rather astonished to see a local chap take off his clothes and stride into the lake to begin fishing with a net. 

When you're audio recording, you sit quietly and let the wildlife come to you.

Here are a few minutes of the dawn chorus:

During the evenings, when we weren't looking for hippos by the lake side, I recorded the tree frogs:

I thought the range of sounds from these little amphibians was astonishing. But the best was yet to come.

We spent the final two days on Island Camp, in the middle of Lake Baringo. The tents looked out over the lake and ours was surrounded by trees.

In the early part of the evening, we heard some familiar friends - no doubt relatives of the tree frogs at Naivasha. After an hour or so, the chorus changed. An odd tinkling sound, followed by a full chorus. These were also tree frogs, a magical sound.

I have yet to track down the species name for these, so if any of you know - post it in the comments below.

Over the next few weeks, as I edit the remaining six hours of audio, I will post some of it to my SoundCloud stream. Call in and see what else I've been recording in Africa (and elsewhere).

PS If you would like to hear African sounds LIVE, then I recommend booking to see the Osiligi Warriors. This Kenyan Maasai group of dancers and singers is appearing at Rheged Centre, Penrith on 25 September. They are touring the UK so visit their site and see if they are appearing near you. 

Here is their list of tour dates.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Kenya Sketchbook 3

This is the third of my Kenya sketchbooks. Click the links below for the previous blogs.

Kenya sketchbook 1

Kenya sketchbook 2

Relaxing at the coast at Watamu seemed very indulgent after camping on safari. It did, however, give more relaxed opportunities for sketching.

Here is one of our waiters, bringing Kenyan tea, known as Chai. It is made from tea and milk but differs from the Brit variety in that both are boiled up together. 

One of the other guests, sporting the braided hair which seems very popular in Kenya t the moment.

I loved the Kenyan architecture, the use of wood and rushes especially. I now want to knit my own garden office out of rushes and a few wooden poles. It took a while to get used to being somewhere where restaurants have a roof and … no wall or closing door. Definitely not Cumbria.

The use of timber poles even extended to scaffolding on construction sites. Very exciting if it is a five story building in the centre of Nairobi.

Another guest, this time a teenage lad. The same the world over …

The receptionist, who spent most of her time on her mobile. 20-somethings the world over, etc. etc.

Once on the 'plane home, the flight attendants are other good subjects.

The purser on Kenya Airways had the wonderful first name of Jepchumba. She suited her name and was very cheery.

The trip was over far too soon. Fortunately, whilst on the safari I had along a stereo audio recorder and pair of mics and have come back with several hours worth of material. You can't beat working to the sound of Kenyan tree frogs …

… in fact, I've enjoyed listening to them so much I have yet to download them to the blog. Come back tomorrow (Tuesday) for the unexpected 4th and final part of the Kenya sketchbook.

Click any of the images to see a larger version. Possibly in 3D.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Kenya Sketchbook 2

This is the second of my Kenya sketchbooks. You can see part 1 here and part 3 here.

The safari part of our trip was undertaken in a trusty Toyota Land Cruiser. We also towed a trailer full of bikes and cycled through Hell's Gate National Park and alongside Lake Bogoria. Cycling is much more interesting when you know that, however fast you pedal, the cheetahs can still outrun you.

A safari vehicle isn't the best platform for sketching but here are a few figures seen along the roadsides.

Kenyan cyclists are nothing if not ambitious. This one was transporting a sofa.

One regular form of taxi is the three-wheeled TukTuk. So called because of the racket its two-stroke motor makes, although tuktuktukBANGshuddertuktuk would be a better name.

Rather excitingly, whilst we were in Kenya, half of Nairobi Airport burnt down. (You may have missed this news in the UK media as David Cameron took of his t-shirt that week.)

My hopes of an extended holiday were cruelly dashed when they got the International Terminal up and running again within a couple of days. This was the departure lounge, aka the cargo hanger.

After the safari, we headed to Watamu on the Kenyan coast. Malindi Airport is extremely interesting, especially the luggage carousel. 

The contrast between the resort we were staying in and conditions just outside the walls couldn't have been more stark. The local village consisted of corrugated metal huts and the kitchen was often a fire by the roadside.

Meet our resort askari, who was probably ninja trained …

With some misgivings, I was persuaded to have a go at snorkelling at the coral reef. This was harder than it looked, for several reasons: (a) I am not a natural swimmer (b) the ocean has no handrail and goes up and down and (c) everyone lied and it was cold. 

Our boat captain - who claimed he was called Captain Banana, which I hope was a reference to his yellow t-shirt but possibly not - saved my dignity by lending me his floatation vest. This turned out to be one of the finest 40 minutes of the trip …

Click on any of the illustrations to see the full, HD version.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Kenya Sketchbook 1

Holidays abroad are always a good chance to chill out with a sketchbook. New sights and sounds reboot the artistic imagination and give drawing skills a kick up the backside.

Last month, my partner and I spent a fortnight in Kenya. We had an 8-day safari along the Great Rift Valley followed by a trip to the Kenyan coast. 

Today, Friday and Monday, I'll be posting some of my sketches, together with links and a few audio recordings.

This chap boarded at Abu Dhabi with wife, 5 children and innumerable rucksacks. He distributed them (the rucksacks) in overhead bins throughout the length of the plane and spent the rest of the flight revisiting them. Unbelievably, he was also on the flight back and I'm sure he'd acquired another child by then.

Nairobi Upper Hill Campsite and first experience of log-heated, open air showers. Being able to reach out the bedroom window and grab a banana for breakfast was a novelty.

Carnivore is Nairobi's famous, strictly non-vegetarian restaurant. They advertise themselves as providing "a beast of a feast". I've now eaten crocodile - which is probably the best way round. 

Carnivore also serves buffalo bread - small, spherical objects which I doubt very much are made of bread. I fed mine to the restaurant cat and I'm pretty certain that cats don't eat bread.

Dawa is a Kenyan speciality and is Swahili for 'magic potion'. That's always a good starting point for any drink. It consists of a whole lime, sugar, vodka, lemon, crushed ice and honey. It is claimed to cure all known ills and is therefore highly recommended.  Hic.

Camp Carnelleys at Lake Naivasha. It is on the edge of the lake and at night has an electric fence to keep out wandering hippos.

By contrast, Kembu Campsite, just north west of Lake Nakuru, is much more old colonial in style. We stayed in a timber bungalow with a superb verandah.

It took a while to get my eye in for drawing the locals. To be frank, political correctness was kicking in and proving a severe inhibitor. Once I spotted what Gado in the Daily Nation was getting away with, I relaxed and began to enjoy myself.

Askari, or security guards, were at all the places we stayed in. This is actually a member of the tourist police. They take their tourists seriously over there.

Airport security at Malindi Airport.

One of the local entrepreneurs with his hand-carved business card.

For more drawings, see:


We booked through Gates Travel in Kendal and flew with Etihad and Kenya Airways. The safari was a family group trip and our guide was Janine Angell of Activity Safaris. Our rather cool Maasai driver was Kim from SunTrek Safaris.

Click on any of the sketches to see the full, HD version.