Opera Buffa….

… defined as, ‘comic opera with characters drawn from everyday life’. The term originated in Naples where, I happily found myself magneteering for a few days last week.

My fondness for spaghetti Bolognese was indulged and to get into the swing of things, I rattled through Elena Ferrante’s, ‘My Brilliant Friend’ and ‘The Story of a New Name’, both of which determined me to visit the city if the opportunity arose – which it did at the end of our stint.

The centre of Naples is only 25 minutes by train from Arco Felice. You buy a ticket from the paper shop, validate it by sticking it in a time-stamp machine at the station then, off you go. I discovered that it’s best not to consult a timetable or ask anyone what time the next train will be – neither source is reliable; just turn up at the station – you won’t wait long.

There’s always plenty to look at, in fact the whole experience of being in Italy is just like I imagine a trip to the opera might be; drama, shouting, laughter, people rushing about, and all of it completely unintelligible but hugely entertaining.

Naples is stunning – probably for all the wrong reasons; crumbling, defaced, a bit grubby and reputedly dangerous but nevertheless the energy is palpable. Narrow streets fall away from the station at Montesanto and take you into the heart of the old city where street performers, hawkers, and the blare of car horns all vie for your attention.

I slipped into the Chiesa di San Giuseppe della Scalze a Pontecorvo, now host to occasional markets and exhibitions, to see 150 Italian paintings and sculptures dating from the 14th century to the present day – helpfully arranged chronologically. This Caravaggio was billed as the star of the show and it was a cracker but…

.. this view of Amalfi (I’ve stupidly mislaid my note of the artist’s name but the signature is visible when enlarged) was for me, ‘best of show’.

As I’ve remarked before, someone’s making a lot of money out of spray cans in Naples. I was in the city for only a few hours; enough to see the exhibition, have lunch and a refreshing beer (it was 28° and getting very humid) before I got back on the train and later clocked on to the night shift back in Arco Felice.

The bonus of being on the night shift is the daily spectacle of sunrise. Vesuvius and Capri melt in and out of view as the sea mists come and go; fishing boats start to potter about the bay and stray dogs appear on the beach to look for food left by people I never see but sometimes in the small hours, hear under the pier.

On my return home a week later, I had just enough time to complete one of the trolleys for the barrels on the lower shelf of the stillage in the cellar of my local pub – the idea works very well and saves a lot of struggling with a 45kg weight in a very small space.

Two days later I was back in Sweden where passion and deep emotion were less easily detected in the ordinary fare.


Czech Mates.

Znojmo, pronounced ‘jnighmo’, is in the Czech Republic about an hour or so from Vienna. I should have been working on the car and The Ambassador’s Daughter should have been sewing up the tonneau but some friends living not far from the ancient town, wanted a couple of murals done for their toy museum.

Bus stop

As you can see, the murals weren’t terribly serious which is just as well – I don’t know if you tried to paint a picture on a Sandtex surface – and I had time to complete only a sketch or two to establish the style. I’ll do some visuals for the rest of the entrance hall and they’ll get a local artist to finish them off.


We spent a day just across the border in Vienna at the Museum of Fine Arts where, besides a Vermeer (The Art of Painting) and a Caravaggio (Christ and the Disciples at Emmaus) both of which I was delighted to see for their technical prowess, there was served some jolly good coffee and cakes.

The hotel

The accommodation in Czech was charmingly Bohemian, very comfortable and with most modern conveniences to hand.


The Národní park Podyjí  – right on the doorstep – is mostly forest and huge (around 24 sq. miles). Its survival intact owes much to the Communist regime declaring the park ‘no man’s land’ in order to prevent escape to the West. I’ve never seen so many oak trees in one place. The journey home was marred only by the fiasco of Border Control at Stansted Airport. The London Underground deals with over 4 million people a day…… someone from Stansted ought to pop along and have a chat; they might learn a trick or two?

Brake light switch

So, on with the serious stuff; just 6 weeks until the car goes to the paint shop. Having thought that I’d order a brake master cylinder with a hydraulic switch built in, I promptly forgot about it and instead had to dig out an old motorcycle brake light switch – I’ve never had a problem with them despite their being exposed to the weather.

Indicator wiring

The indicator wiring I’ve hidden in an old control and fuse box casing. the box has long been empty and it adds a nice touch to the firewall.

Spare plugs

As indeed do the spare plugs. I don’t think I’ll ever need them unless I break one getting it out of the head on a fast pit-stop; plugs seem to last a long time nowadays.

And more wings

Another update from Blue Swallow Aircraft; they’re just doing the inside flanges that join the valances and then tackling the wired edges. It’s 100F in Virginia and I remember working in those temperatures with almost 100% humidity in Florida – not much fun. The Avro 504R in the picture on the wall is an Armstrong Siddeley Mongoose powered variant with a streamlined cowl and tapered ailerons much like the ‘N’. I think Blue Swallow are well into this project alongside the ‘K’ they are also building. (If anyone has a rotary for sale, please get in touch).

And, talking of engines, I think it’s time to put mine back in.



Cook’s Tour.

An invitation to a private view in Clerkenwell Green presented an opportunity for a day of culture in London. To help fill the day – it’s always fun to have a whole day in town – one exhibition caught my eye; ‘Australia’, at the Royal Academy. I put this to Cook (with her husband, also an invitee) and off we went.

As an art student in the 70’s, I’d tripped over a small, soft-back publication entitled Art  And Australia . Dubbed the ‘Nolan Issue’, Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series of paintings (besides informing me that the Kelly story was Australian and not, as I must have previously imagined, American) have lingered in the back of my mind ever since; in fact I’m looking at the ‘Nolan Issue’ as I type. Well, here was my chance to see if it was the paintings and not the Kelly story (reinforced by the 70’s film with Mick Jagger as Ned) that had got my attention.


I’m unable to reproduce any of the Kelly paintings here (time ran out emailing Australia) but here above is my depiction of the recurring image – Ned Kelly’s mask – in the group.

Obviously, the Nolan paintings were only a tiny part of an exhibition spanning 200 years of Australian art and whilst I agree with some of the critics’ comments regarding the authenticity of, for instance, examples of Aboriginal art, this dissonance didn’t detract one iota from the colour and spectacle of a very accessible and enjoyable show. Inevitably, there was the usual artbollocks (‘challenging our perceptions’, ‘exploring our relationships’ and so forth) which curators revel in, but that managed to confine itself to the 70’s – 90’s period. After that, things seemed to largely get back on track.

Our egress was punctuated with an interview by ABC – the Australian equivalent of our BBC – whose anchor man couldn’t believe his luck when he discovered Cook’s connection to the late Arthur Boyd – a dear friend and mentor to Cook’s artist daughter. Cook’s son, Jack, a city dweller, who’d joined the expedition partly as minder to the Visiting Country Folk, was both eloquent and balanced in his observations. I managed to hold my end up with an amusing anecdote about how I’d discovered the ‘Nolan Issue’ all those years ago and this had led me to …… blah, blah, fishcakes.

Well, I found it amusing.


And on to the private view where Lola Frost, a South African painter and friend, really did challenge us. I hadn’t seen any of Lola’s paintings in the flesh since a visit to Canterbury almost 20 years ago took Cook and me to her studio. I’d seen photos of them several times but nothing prepared me for the sheer endeavour that had produced these turbulent and formidable works. It was important to see and contemplate Lola’s paintings hanging in a gallery but I couldn’t get past my initial reaction to both their scale and the skill of their execution so I’ll spare you the intellectual posturing. I know I couldn’t live with any of them for five minutes but neither could I live with a Caravaggio – much as I love to see them.

Nolan’s Kelly paintings? I think this was a moment of both epiphany and catharsis. I was asked to leave 2 of the 3 art schools I attended and I think that after 7 years of boarding school (most of which was great fun) I was ill-equipped for the art school regime of the time. It was probably then that, subconsciously, the essence of the Kelly myth kicked in. Though interesting to see now, I don’t think the paintings impressed me then and I realise they’ve been just a marker in my memory until now.

A splendid Thai supper concluded Cook’s Tour.