Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Of Exe and Exocets


Of Exe and Avocets by Kathy Ramsay Carr

You can be sure that nearly all people who see an avocet will refer to it as an exocet and find themselves amusing in doing so - the Socks are no exception to this. And so it was we came to be on an RSPB Exocet Cruise on the river Exe.  The popular birdwatching cruises run all year round but from November til February is the best time to see the large flocks of avocets feeding on the shoreline of the river.  The small boat was full of birdwatchers braving the bitter cold for a view of these and other beautiful birds. We were lucky, with a welcome break in the grey gloom of winter, to have the kind of inky cloudy skies with occasional shafts of sunlight that lend themselves so well to photography.

And paintings...

Many years ago, after years of renting rooms in ramshackle shared houses, I finally bought a lovely little flat.  My first priority was to make the place my own by buying a picture - not a print or poster like those that had adorned the walls of my rented rooms, hiding 'a nasty stain that's lying there', this time a real, properly framed, grown-up, picture.  It was called 'The Road to Agrigento' and featured a landscape of greyish pinks with the silhouette of a dark, cedar tree leaning into the wind, against the distant azure blues of a warm mediterranean sea.  I went to Agrigento once and, to be honest, it was a bit of a dump.  I also bought a poster, again in greyish pinky colours with some 1920s girls seated on a verandah.  I bought it in France and believing it to be quite chic had it framed and hung proudly on my wall.  That was until I saw the same print adorning the walls of one of the motel chalets in the very down market TV soap - Crossroads.  That poster never saw the light of day again.  The 'Road to Agrigento' lasted until the Bedsock and I bought a house which we christened with a new picture chosen together.

And this leads us back to Exe and Avocets.  We needed a picture for the bedroom wall of  the Socks' new 'Country Pile' as we like refer to it. I had been looking at the work of Devon artist Kathy Ramsay Carr on various websites and was keen to see the paintings 'in the flesh' so we visited Kathy at her Devon studio.  The Bedsock and I are always drawn to seascapes and much as I have tried to move to a different  style and subject matter they are what we invariably end up with.  I think it goes back to my love of the sea, childhood memories of  magical coves, interesting shorelines with washed-up tidal treasures, the enchanting world of rock pools and rivulets winding down to the sea.  There is not a painting in Kathy's studio I don't want and we immediately agree on one small painting with smudgey purples and golds which will perfectly match our bedroom colours.

But it is a larger one that really draws me in 'Of Exe and Avocets' - we have just booked the Exe and Avocet cruise and it seems so serendipitous that it must surely be meant for us.  The Bedsock likes it too although he doesn't feel the colours will be right for our new pad but I can't bear to leave it.  Kathy kindly suggests that we 'borrow' it for a week to try it out and I am pleased because I have a strong feeling that she won't be getting it back.  Sadly, the Bedsock is right - the colours don't fit in the Country Pile, the painting does nothing for the room and the room kills the painting.  I am disappointed but it suddenly dawns on us that the inky purples, the heathery greyish pinks, the silvers and the blacks are all the colours from our living room at Sock Towers. We have been looking to replace the painting there for years but nothing has seemed quite right. Hung above the black, marble, mantlepiece, like Cinderella's glass slipper it fits - it is so absolutely right.  The painting adds to the room and the room brings the painting to life, with textures and colours I hadn't noticed before, springing out of it.

A week later we are on the Exocet Cruise, as the boat meanders slowly down river from Topsham towards the mouth of the Exe I am struck by the colours and beauty of the landscape captured in Kathy Ramsay Carr's picture.

Avocets in flight

As well as cormorants, redshanks, teal, and godwits (you can guess at our 'amusing' name for the latter) we see several large groups of avocets milling on the Exe occasionally lifting as one into flight like an exocet missile cruising just above the waters.  The Bedsock says he can't see them in the painting but there are a few slender hints of graceful white which, for me, are the avocets.

On the two hour trip we were asked to think of a name to describe a 'flock' of avocets, the words grace and ballet came up but looking at this picture of them, bobbing in a line like sychronised ducks on a fairground stall, I can only think of a 'striation' of  avocets.


Helen said...

When it comes to buying art, I suffer from a serious wall(et) deficiency. I like your choice.

Arabella Sock said...

thanks Helen. I wish we had more money to spend buying art and even more than that I wish we had a big enough place to display it! We had to stop buying ornaments or pictures for our home as I don't like clutter and we ran out of space!

Anonymous said...

Great photos, and I love love love that painting, very atmospheric. It was obviously meant to be yours!

We would like to buy a few more pieces of artwork - but first have to hang what we already have, to see what space remains. One day...

Debs Dust Bunny said...

This post is dear to my heart. I have the good fortune to live in Exmouth so I can enjoy the sea and the Exe year 'round. It is an inspirational location and I am proud to call it 'home'.

Arabella Sock said...

You are lucky Debs it really is lovely part of the country and the scenery is so varied around there. I've always liked the walk up the south side of the river past Powderham Castle and then a refreshing drink at the Turf Inn.

Simon.S said...

"The" bedroom wall. Don't you mean the "master" bedroom, there of course being umpteen subsidiary dormitories making up the country pile.
I have fond childhood memories of avocets from when I first started birdwatching (many years ago. Then, the number of avocets seen in the u.k. could have been counted on the foot of Akshat Saxena. Now, they are everywhere. One assumes the RSPB started using the avocet because of its beauty as well as scarcity & have done commendable job increasing the numbers over the years.
That is a superb picture, great choice, as are Ms Ramsay-Carr's others. Probably not the correct term but it looks like she trowels paint on the canvas, to good effect.

Lucy Corrander Now in Halifax! said...

Although 'avocet' and 'advocat' don't sound in the least alike when spoken aloud, on the page they look disconcertingly alike. Which confuses me when I try to think of an appropriate word for them en bulk.

Anonymous said...

When I was 16 I did a working holiday with the National Trust. You paid them £35 to help them clear paths/build fences etc. You had to be 17 but I lied about my age. We were housed for the week in a bunkhouse between Sidmouth and Exmouth. On the Friday night at the end of the week we all decided to go clubbing in Exmouth. My fellow 'workers' told me I had to add a year to my age to make me 18, not knowing that I was already lying about my age. When we got to the nightclub, 'Samantha's' it was the first nightclub I had ever been to, so I tried to pay the bouncer on the door. He did let us in (fortunately we had girls with us), but the place was stuffed with big scary looking marines, one of whom tried to kick off at me in the gents for no good reason.
The Avocet is my favourite wetland bird by a long shot.