I thought she was stolen

I could never remember getting her back from an exhibition at The Plough, and thought she’d been stolen. But she turned up in the vault of another gallery, slightly the worse for wear, mildewed and uncared for. Although I was of course pleased to see her again, there was a sliver of disappointment, not because of the mildew but because I thought that someone else had valued her enough to go to the trouble of stealing her. Is that the right seal of approval to seek? Probably not.

Anyway here she is, cleaned up a bit.



An (anonymous) Palestinian Protestor

The Palestinian lady whose name I regret I can’t remember made the journey from Palestine to England to north-west Scotland, and now resides in my kitchen, but she can be visited here. Maybe someone will buy her, rather than steal her. This is a detail…

At last, I feel I can begin writing again, and this is the first brief poem after arriving:

Eagles and orchids

They said, oh no, you’ll find it far too cold
And there are midges, midges everywhere.
Then they said, you’ll find it too far away.
Anyway, don’t you think you’re far too old?
So be sensible and don’t go up there.
But today after two weeks and a day…

The weather is pure Andalucian
And look! There! Eagles circling high above
The kind mountain monsters surrounding us
While pale orchids garland-down the garden
Swallows circle about a Collared dove
And gossip, gossip round our Highland house.

© RM Meyer
Ross-shire July 20th 2021

I don’t think anyone who reads it will recognise themselves, at least I hope not..

With all good wishes,
Richard

Half price or worse (part 2)

Our move to near Skye in the Scottish Highlands should happen at the end of June – and what a fine time to move north.

My last screed announcing a sale of paintings, some of which date back to the 1980s, if not the 1970s, resulted in quite a few sales; and I hope the people who bought them are pleased now that they are hung in their house. Here is one such, courtesy of Léa Bourguignon.

Sweetpeas in a blue jug with lemons. Oil on canvas 50x40cms

However, I’m still left with a remarkable amount, and since I’ d prefer some went to a good home rather than lugged to the north of Scotland, or worse, I’ve decided to have another ‘Sale’. So here’s a chance to get a painting at a greatly reduced price – before I fulfil my ex-agent’s advice to die if I want my paintings to sell at ‘proper’ prices (thanks Celia!).

Until then all available paintings are here on Artfinder so please have a look.

I may not have time to write again from Devon but I sincerely hope to keep in touch with friends and clients when settled in Scotland. I hope to get back my appetite for painting, especially since I have over £300’s worth of paint, which must also go north. It’s been an anxious and incredibly busy and worrying two years, and my writing has suffered too during the trauma of building, selling and buying houses, so alongside the more cerebral stuff I’m hoping to begin my involvement in Wildcat conservation, and hope that being surrounded by such dramatic scenery and new wildlife, I’ll find lots of inspiration.

With good wishes to all.

Half price or a jolly bonfire?

We are leaving my birth county of Devon and going almost as far away as possible on mainland Britain, to the Scottish Highlands. 

It’s been brewing a while and after ten years here the time seems right.  Before entering true dotage I’d like to re-engage with my beloved Scottish wildcat Felis sylvestris and do what I can to help its terrible plight – one of the world’s rarest carnivores. This is Britain’s elusive tiger but very few people know about it; even fewer ever see it.

Anyway, the MOVE! My ranks of unsold paintings are viewed with dismay, and when we told the removal man there were about 180 he went away, chatted with a colleague, came back and trying hard but unsuccessfully not to snigger raised the price of our trip by a £1k!  So, I have to face the inevitable, and though I relish non-commerciality (as appraised by most unimaginative galleries), my stock of paintings is I guess far too much. 

Paintings on death row (or out on probation possibly)

All are oil, either on canvas or wood panels. Some have been through earlier moves and all are tough battle-hardened characters – up for anything – but I’d so rather not sacrifice them to some funeral pyre.

OK, so be it, therefore here is my alternative to a grand bonfire: all paintings at half price or more (if you really want one). Please go to my Artfinder site https://www.artfinder.com/artist/richard-meyer/#/. You might see something you’d like: any reasonable offer accepted!

Paul Jackson – the fine potter – tells me that to lower the prices undervalues my work.

Maybe, but I’m in no position to be precious!

Elegy to a giant

Elegy to a giant

A great silent giant was felled this year
And no-one much seemed to shed a tear.
The great mother beech, there since the war,
Has had all its days and is no more.
I counted the rings, as old as me.
But unlike me, good for a century.
It took a day, maybe a bit more:
Just two cheerful blokes with a chainsaw.

They did the unnecessary deed
While agreeing there was no need.
I think all their jokes were just cover.
They knew the job, and would have spared her;
So they claimed, yay, so they claimed, but who’s
To know if they care what they lose?
They will never see the autumn gold
And will never hear the tales it told.

Tough funny guys with all their gear;
They gather it up and disappear.
Strangely, the owners disappeared too –
Best not to watch when bombs drop near you.
The excuse they proffered – was there one? –
It cast some shade and cost them the sun.
But then they erect a canopy
Is that really better than a tree?

A tree that’s stood for seventy years
Seeing children’s dens and children’s tears
Providing sustenance and shelter,
Nests, resting and food for all manner
Of animals with or without flight
Then there’s ferns, lichens and bryophytes
All these denied for a whim of one
Father who feels deprived of some sun.

A tiny part of the year maybe,
For a nature-loving family.
Or so the mother once claimed to me
So she claimed, yay, so she claimed to be.
People love nature on the TV
But better let it not directly
Get in their way or then you will see
A ruthless disdain for wild beauty.

© RM Meyer
Winswell Water, January 2021

Before
After

Two paintings gone

I was aghast not that long ago to find I have about 180 unsold paintings! So, in an attempt to save some storage space (not having a kindly brother, called Theo, to whom I can send them), I decided to have a bit of a Sale. The prices are as low as I can make them without destroying the value of the work – I must remain faithful to past buyers. So all are now on Artfinder – please have a browse sometime.

One thing that fascinates me is that most of my paintings sold recently have gone to the States. I wonder why?

Regarding undervaluing one’s own work, I would rather give a painting away to a good home than sell it to a poor one. All said and done, it’s more about art than money, isn’t it? But one has to live I suppose.

One collector when offered a painting at a lower price (my appreciation of her loyalty) said, “No, this is our way of contributing to art, if we can’t do it ourselves.” I remain impressed by this statement and have never forgotten it. If you’re reading this, you know who you are!

These are the two paintings, I’ll leave you to guess which went stateside and which to Surrey.

A poem for lockdown

Where you are not
I
Where you are not is where you want to be.
When you are there do you think ‘Somewhere new’?
Why do we move? Some notion to be free?
Or to some place else for a better view?
II
Today I find freedom in a locked room
But yesterday I moved on anxiously.
Now I find the near view to be the moon
And see the old wall microscopically.

Look deep! A detailed vista lies within
Another new mysterious landscape
Awaits and by scale alone is hidden;
But square it up and make the detail great.
III
The miniature expands in essence
Overlooking far and wide distance.
Study hard the tiny inflorescence
And jewel-like crustose lichens will entrance.

Fruticose ones, emerald mosses creep through
Crumbled joints of mortar into chasms
Inch miles deep, and astonish the narrow view.
Stay put, look hard and behold new prisms.
IV
Let’s lock ourselves down and swap our places,
We might be settled, even happier.
Forsake streams of cars in endless races
Going to some new place where once we were.

© RM Meyer
Winswell Water December 2020

Christmas Ravens – a poem

New entries from Richard’s Blog

I thought you might like to read something written on Christmas Day a year ago. 
Despite recent worries, they are still here and we talk every day.  But sadly our beloved tame crows with their funky white wing patches both disappeared on the same day. We can only assume they were killed (needlessly) by a local farmer
or some local redneck gunman.

No more do they come a’tappin’ on our window for their breakfast.

Is it all my fault? Did we make them trust too much our ruthless species? 


Christmas Ravens, a Conversation
I
The ravens were aboard their wintry nest
On Christmas morning with no-one about.
Murmuring so softly as in tranquil rest;
A conversation, I had little doubt.
II
Is that the nest you’ll lay your eggs in
A case of only a few short weeks on?
Seems early to be of such things thinkin’
But summer will see your young fledged and gone.
Till April you’ll reign over all country
Outmastering lowly competition
Who flee and yield beneath your majesty.
A soaring black cross in dominion.
A predator, for sure, cruel to some eyes,
But you scavenge and clean up our mess too.
Is it jet blackness or just your sheer size
Which upsets our civilised point of view?
A world without ravens except in zoos
Would render yet more tame this land of ours;
To some, perhaps, mere incidental news,
Just so long as you strut round London’s tower.
III
So, today, beneath a high conifer
(With no awareness of our Christmas day)
I listen quietly and hear you confer
But will never understand what you say.

© RM Meyer
Winswell Water, Christmas 2019

Isle of Wight is ‘Go’!

dramaticflight

Now that we have the Red-billed chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) back in Cornwall and, therefore England – something that’s been dear to my heart all my life, certainly since I started working with them in the 1970s. They took up a good five years of my life in the eighties, as anyone who knows me knows.  The results of all that work can be seen in my thesis here https://chough.org/research-papers

So it was great to be involved in someone else’s project for once and view it from a more dispassionate angle.  This is part of what I wrote to Steve Jones – indefatigable and a huge source of knowledge about the island’s wildlife – after I visited last week and was shown  lots of key sites.  His energy and imagination will I’m sure achieve results.  

Dear Steve,
Thank you very much for taking the time to show Sam and myself round many potential Chough sites on the island on Tuesday. It was an exciting, if very hot, visit which we both thoroughly enjoyed.

The experience far exceeded my expectations. I was not prepared for such a varied and extensive range of different highly suitable habitats.

Despite the fact that it was high tourist season, with increased numbers due to ‘staycation’, large areas we visited were devoid of human (and dog) presence. In contrast, the invertebrate populations were more dense than anything I’ve seen on the mainland recently, so prey resources are well catered for – the richness of bird life, resident and visiting the island on migration, supports this view – nesting sites similarly.

There is ample short-grazed / naturally exposed sward available with plenty of mosaics and earth exposures of different kinds with good areas of varied wild cliffscape and inaccessible coves and beaches; the quality of geology and botany is extensive and rich. In short, I was deeply struck by the extent and variability of suitable Chough habitat; it was difficult to think of anything which was lacking! 

Considering the island is (surprisingly!) large, all compass points and aspects are available viz a viz shelter, breeding, feeding, and exposure (including east for early morning solar irradiation).  There is generally sympathetic stewardship with the National Trust being principal, and also wealthy independent landowners keen on chough re-establishment. The entire island contains within its ca.150 sq mi (380 km2) and coastline of approximately 70 miles (113km) a surfeit of extensive fine habitats.

We talked quite a lot about suitable sites for the location of captive-breeding/soft release sites, and you showed me a few possible places. 

I can only send my the very best in your endeavours and just wish the birds were available now for you to progress quickly. To sum up briefly, I have no doubt the island, as it is, can support a viable Chough population. 

Thank you once again for the expert guidance you gave us and your kind hospitality.

[NB. The Chough is a good indicator of a healthy ecosystem, in other words, if it can support this top species it can support everything else ‘beneath’ it (in food chain terms).]

The Robin I wrote about last time is still with us but now in perfect adult plumage; I still find it hard to believe that a totally wild animal can, after all we throw at wildlife, be so trusting.

IMG_20200809_142834_292

Bird in the hand

So I get to pondering why some birds are born tame. Why some show little or  no fear of our towering human presences, while others, from the same brood, behave like normal wild animals and avoid close contact at all costs. Perhaps they are the sensible ones.

Perhaps, the Robin – emblem of countless Christmas cards – more than any other species has been spared human cruelty and persecution: gardeners enjoy their close association and naturalists love their winter song (on account of the fact they hold territories through the year). Those are some of the reasons, but why this particular individual?

 

20200707_113946-1 (2)

Slightly blurry photo taken with one hand!

Straight from the nest, she was confiding and tame, on the ground round our feet, soon coming to the hand for food. Slightly wary at first but now she comes and demands it, as though I’m her natural parent (anything less like is difficult to imagine).

When she lands confidently, her tiny claws pressing into my flesh, I know I’m in direct contact with a life form which has come down through millennia despite all the vicissitudes of climate, predators, man and habitat change.

20200707_123022-1

This confiding little creature enlivens and enchants. I just hope that losing her fear of man, does not dull her reflexes, because there are plenty of other dangers: cats always a danger here. And Sparrowhawks need to feed too.

Revenge of the Introverts

The Merlin and a Raven-Buzzard dogfight
(plus a sneaky look at a drab little bird with a remarkable sex life)

April, 2020:  Unless you are affected medically, or trapped in an impossible (or just very difficult) domestic situation, this is a unique time. Especially for naturalists and for all those who savour the spectacular sound of silence which now covers the countryside in a sublime shroud, although it is slowly being removed. For sound recordists of natural phenomena, it is an unparalleled opportunity: so little traffic and aircraft noise, and I’ve even noticed a quieter strimmer serenade – one of the more irritating sounds of summer – or maybe they just haven’t quite found their voice yet.

Unable to travel to nature reserves, beauty spots or just one’s favourite haunt, be it a gravel pit, reservoir, park or wood, we can stay at home with a chance to get to know better what used to be called Common or garden birds.  And we notice they are not so ‘common’, in fact they are rather rare and fascinating; and we realise how little we actually do know them. The humble Dunnock (Hedge sparrow, or even ‘Hedge accentor’ if you will) for example possesses a sex life to be marvelled at, and you may notice their polyandrous trios bumbling about hedgerow bottoms; Mrs Dunnock is very free with her favours. I haven’t myself counted but Dr Tim Birkhead has, and he advises that male Dunnocks can copulate 100 times a day.

Dunnock-minDunnock Prunella modularis

The intriguing sex life of Dunnocks apart, I was sitting in my North Devon garden in April with Mij (a non-polyandrous wife), enjoying the astonishing quietness all around and waiting impatiently for our first Swallow (my daughter, Josie, saw hers ages ago, but she always beats me to everything), a bird come fleeting up the valley over the woodland. “A Swallow,” I cried; Mij immediately, “No, it’s a bird of prey” (she always contradicts me and is frustratingly usually right), but I, quick as a flash, came back, “A Merlin then.”  And we watched in awe as this little falcon flew quietly over us, not hunting just waving. Only the third I’ve ever seen.

My son, Sam, phoned that night from his home in rural Hampshire. I told him about the Merlin, and he said he’d never seen one but thought he’d spotted a Hobby once. “Where could I see a Merlin?” he asked, I replied, “Well, you’ve just got to be lucky, like we were. I wouldn’t like to say ‘Hey, Sam, we’ll go up to Exmoor and I’ll show you a Merlin, it’s not like that.'”

So, what have I learned?  You can stay at home, save your petrol (and the environment), and have just as much chance of seeing something interesting and beautiful as if you trek off somewhere special in full birding gear. It might be a sexy female Dunnock or even a spectacular Will-o’-the-Wisp Merlin.

It could even be as exciting as the sequel to our Merlin adventure. For immediately after he had winnowed off, the stage was taken by a contest between a nesting Raven and loafing Buzzard. We watched these two sparring for twenty minutes before a second Buzzard arrived. I don’t think they were really interested in the Raven chicks (probably quite a size by early April) but gave the impression of just enjoying winding-up the parents. In effect we were greeted to a dogfight worthy of Manfred von Richthofen: the Raven swooping down from… out of the sun? I wouldn’t like to say… but it was pretty spectacular.  As the Buzzard turned over to meet it, the Raven would come within inches of its tormentor plummeting to the nadir of its descent, and from there, with the momentum gained, rapidly climb high for the next assault. The Buzzard appeared merely to flick the Raven aside and continue riding the thermals in carefree arabesques.

It is not always so charming. In a book I wrote under another name many years ago*, I included a photograph of a Raven with its top mandible ripped off by a Buzzard (it was then being cared for in a Wildlife Hospital, and survived by swallowing day-old chicks whole).

I so hope that whoever has a window on the world – preferably one which opens – can get a glimpse such as this. My daughter, Emma, who lives in a high flat in Ealing can see Sparrowhawks from her window, and I wouldn’t doubt Peregrines, and her partner, Raoul, a sound recordist, has sent me a recording of their dawn chorus. On it I can hear Nuthatches, tits, Blackbirds, sparrows, Wood pigeons, and ‘seagulls’ of course.

There is no need for isolation, birds and bees obey no human social distancing. I am sending Emma a window bird feeder and some seed. She claims they are too high up to attract small birds, but I challenge that. We will see who is right; if things run according to rule when it comes to women and me, I know the answer. Rosie Wood, a badger colleague, sent me an epithet which said, ‘If a man speaks in the forest, and there is no woman to hear him, is he still wrong?’ And I know the answer to that one too.

* As Richard Mark Martin, First Aid and Care of Wildlife, David & Charles, 1984.