It's raining men - Magritte at Tate Liverpool

Tate Liverpool

René Magritte was my first favourite artist (after a brief flirtation with Douanier Rousseau, thanks to my inspirational school art teacher Mr Barker) so I thought I knew everything about him, and I confess I nearly didn't bother to go to the Tate Liverpool exhibition, but I'm so glad I did. Not only did it reacquaint me with an old friend but confirmed that he is still one of my all-time favourites. I suppose the Surrealists (along with M C Escher) would appeal to a lad interested in both art and science, but Magritte's imagery has become so commonplace - on album covers, parodied in cartoons etc - that it's tempting to take him for granted. And although Dali was slicker with the painting technique, when it came to ideas, Magritte was the Daddy.

The exhibition on the 4th floor of the Tate is themed - bowler hats in one room, blue skies and clouds in another - and I really don't mind that, it gives you pause to compare and contrast, and see how an idea developed. There's one room with just two paintings in it - two almost identical versions of 'The flavour of tears' - the bird-leaf one, showing that like William Holman Hunt and other Victorian painters he did often paint the same image over again. What came as a surprise were the paintings from his garish comicbook-inspired 'Vache' period, with which he invented Pop Art - in 1948, his non-surreal commercial work, including some beautiful Art Deco posters, and his very rude erotic drawings for Georges Battaile's Documents, in a darkened room behind black curtains with a notice outside warning punters that they may find these pictures 'challenging'.

It's a big exhibition, and also includes film and photographs, along with sketches, notes and Banksy-like sculptures (a painting of cheese under a cheese dome, nudes on bottles). Once again, the postcards were disappointing - on show is the English version of 'This is not a pipe' but the postcard on sale is the French one, not in the exhibition. The £20 catalogue is good value too, but strangely organised A to Z. It's on until 16 October and cost me £8.50 to get in. You can get a C2 Cumfybus from Lime Street station to the new Museum of Liverpool (not yet fully open) nearby. The rest of the Tate was a pleasure to whizz round with guest-curated rooms full of treasures - and there's a nice friendly cafe overlooking Albert Dock.

Austerity tank at Heywood

I was Up North for my favourite niece's 40th birthday celebrations, but I took time off too to visit the East Lancs Railway for a round trip to Rawtenstall (via Ramsbottom, where Steve Cropper was playing the festival there) and to Heywood and back. The ELR is currently short on steam locos and I was pulled by a Austerity tank (WD 132 Sapper) and 'Thomas' (Manchester Ship Canal 32 Gothenburg) double-header through the rainy Lancashire countryside. A pint of Black Witch in the Trackside bar after was most welcome. Hope they have some bigger locos on for the Autumn Steam event in October.


Another extremity conquered: Portland Bill (and Lulworth Cove)

To the lighthouse!

I wasn't expecting to visit any extremities during my holiday to Dorset, just some interesting rock formations, but when my college friend Rick arrived en route for Devon, a lift to Weymouth and beyond was a welcome possibility.

We were staying in Ivy Cottage, West Lulworth - the same self-catering gang as the Isle of Wight last year and Purbeck the year before that. The nearest station was Wool and the bus service (the Damory 103 and the green community 104) was rather limited, but I could get back from Weymouth ok. When we got to to Weymouth however, we decided to go look at Chesil Beach, and then just kept on to Portland and up and up, and way way south to the two lighthouses at Portland Bill. It was blowing a gale (the remains of Hurricane Katia?), the waves were huge and the foghorn was blowing so we didn't hang about. A brief stop at Chesil Beach to pick up a pebble - and it was far too windy to get over the ridge - then back to Weymouth for fish and chips. The Old Harbour had a big banner proclaiming it was endorsed by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Fish Fight, so I went for the mackerel. Not a good idea - the fillets were really too thin to deep fry and I got mainly batter. What they should have done was offer coley or pollock as an alternative to cod and haddock. Said goodbye to Rick and after a quick walk round the deserted seafront got the train to Wool and the bus back to the cottage.

The steps down the other side

What else did we get up to? Sunday: arrived by cab and had a quick walk down to the Cove. Monday: managed to get the new bus timetable but had to spend 2 hours in Wool (in the Black Bear!) before I could get back. My turn to cook and Rick arrived from Hull. Tuesday: above trip to the extremity. Wednesday: bus to Dorchester, a not very interesting place, but it had supermarkets! Thursday: bus to Durdle Door caravan park, then a walk to the sea to see the arch and back east over a big hill with white cobbled path, apparently one of the busiest footpaths in Britain. After a pint of Badger in the Lulworth Cove Inn to recover, went to look at Stair Hole. Friday: bus to Bovington Tank Museum. It was a long walk to the new museum from where the bus dropped me, had a look at the hundreds of tanks in there, and a bowl of soup in the cafe. Then it was back to Wool and another spell in the pub waiting for the connecting bus. Tip: if you want to see tanks in action, go on a Wednesday.

Saturday cappuccino

Saturday was a relatively quiet day down at Lulworth Cove, where I could have done some sketching had I been bothered. Watched Roundhill Rob ascend the eastern headland, while on the other one people played extreme golf. Then it was a lazy bus ride to the church and a stroll back to the cottage. Sunday we got a lift to the station with Steve and it was a long rail journey home via Clapham Junction. Back at London Road, there was a street party going on...

More photos on Flickr.