Shandy Hall

We’ve just got back from a visit to Shandy Hall. I sure I’ve written about it here before: it was the home of Laurence Sterne, the writer of Tristram Shandy. Sterne was the vicar of Coxwold and Shandy Hall, at that time, was the vicarage.

I find it an inspiring place. In addition to the house itself and the garden, there is an excellent second-hand bookshop which leans heavily (as Sterne himself did) towards the off-beat and the experimental. They also sell plants. We bought one or two (along with A William Burroughs Reader). I like the idea of bringing a bit of there back here. I suspect there is a bit of the primitive sympathetic magician lurking in all of us, whether we like it or not.

The Laurence Sterne Foundation also make imaginative use of the small exhibition space at the hall, staging exhibitions with a Shandean edge. The current exhibition, Paint Her To Your Own Mind, is based on a blank page in Tristram Shandy. Sterne invites his readers to fill it for themselves with an an idealized vision of female beauty:

To conceive this right, —call for pen and ink— here’s paper ready to your hand, —Sit down, Sir, paint her to your own mind—as like your mistress as you can —as unlike your wife as your conscience will let you—‘tis all one to me— please but your own fancy in it.

For the exhibition, 147 artists, writers and composers were invited to carry out Sterne’s instructions. It’s well worth a visit and runs until September 16th.

When we got home, I felt moved to write a haiku:


Shandy Hall

footsteps through the grass leading
to the next chapter


Sentimental Landscapes

We’ve just spent an interesting afternoon visiting an exhibition at Shandy Hall, the former home of Laurence Sterne, writer of Tristram Shandy and A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy.

Entitled Sentimental Landscapes, it explores the world of 19th century “endless landscapes” or myriorama. Long, oblong panoramic landscapes are sliced vertically into rectangular segments. The picture is cleverly drawn so that the segments  can be rearranged in any order. There are often millions of possible rearrangements of a myriorama.

As part of the exhibition, Guardian cartoonist Tom Gauld has been commissioned to create a modern example, in the spirit of Laurence Sterne. One can play at rearranging parts of it online.

Three things strike me. Firstly, it turns out to be far more intriguing to play with a “real” cardboard myriorama than to play with one online, fun though that is. The cardboard versions have an uncanny quality. They remind me of tarot cards and of the glossy, coloured prints in old history books. Secondly, I’m struck by the similarities between the interactive nature of myriorama and modern computer games – probably because, only yesterday, one of my sons demonstrated to me the workings of The Stanley Parable. Finally, even though one would expect it to be the case, one cannot help but be struck with the way the pictures reflect the preoccupations of the times they were made: picturesque scenes featuring hills woods, lakes and -of course- ruins as one might imagine them to be on the continent. An internet image search throws up numerous examples.

After I’d first written this post, I went and practised the Haydn piano sonata I blogged about the other week. A minute or two into my playing it struck me how a young woman -most likely a woman- living one hundred and eighty years ago might have spent a Wednesday involved in the self-same pursuits.


On a completely different note, I recently spent a very happy ten minutes watching this. As the person who drew my attention to it said, it makes a change from the old British film of the famous Auden poem, Night Mail, good though that is.

Up a Tree


Last weekend our village held an open gardens day. Anyone can come, buy a ticket and walk round all the gardens opened up for the occasion and  quite a lot of people did. As well as loads of bloody weeding, it involves making scarecrows. Ours (a study on on the effect the said weeding has on me) wasn’t very good at scaring anything.

Seriously, the whole thing is quite fun. We used the event as an opportunity for an artist friend, Howard Firth, to exhibit his cupcake sculptures:


And his model city:




Yesterday I went for a walk up the hill in front of our house. Close to the skyline there’s a tree. It’s one of my favourite trees. I go up to it now and again just for the pleasure of sitting there. A few feet up, where the trunk forks, the diverging branches have grown into a really comfortable seat. I sat there today reflecting on the fact that it’s so comfortable one might easily fall asleep there. I had a crazy thought: perhaps it’s an enchanted tree. I’ll fall asleep and wake up in 200 years time – to find that the tree has grown and that my seat is dangerously high in the air…


In reality, the possibility of being woken up by rain in the dark at 1am to find myself stuck half way up a tree didn’t bear thinking about, so I resisted the urge to doze. Instead, I took out my camera.  In winter, this natural armchair affords great views of the surrounding hills and, between them, the Vale of York. In summer, it affords views of, well, leaves mainly:



On my way up the hill to the tree I stopped to  take a photograph of this old shed:



Stonehenge comes to Wakefield

Today we had to go to Wakefield. We stopped off at The Hepworth Wakefield gallery to look at the art and get ourselves some lunch. It so happened they had two exhibitions on, one of the work of the Austrian artist, Franz West, another of the Independent Group.

First, the Franz West. I’d not come across him before. His work ranges from the tiny to the spectacular. It struck me as being both imaginative and witty. Take Epiphanie an Stuhlen (2011). Two chairs are arranged for the observation of what appears to be a giant virus. Very topical, in my case, as I’m wandering around with a particularly unpleasant cold:



Then there was  Parrhesia (2010). Parrhesia, it said, is a Greek word often translated as “free speech”. A parrhesiastes is a “truth-teller”. Bound up in the concept are the ideas that telling the truth is not without risk and that one is sometimes compelled to tell it. Multicoloured shapes suggestive of heads, or perhaps views of the world,  are mounted on rods. The arrangement of the shapes suggests a discussion.



Then there was Stonehenge. I really liked the way Franz West’s work manages to be playful and serious at the same time:


Franz West was a new discovery for me. What originally lured me out of the coffee-shop, though, was the room devoted to the work of the Independent Group. The bad news is you weren’t allowed to take photos in there. The good news is that the Hepworth Wakefield have made a Youtube video about it. Since they know a lot more about it than I do, I’ll refrain from reinventing the wheel and let the video speak for itself:

And finally, for no better reason than it’s a good song I’ve been listening to recently, there’s Patti Smith: