Bat in a Blizzard

The miracle bat

In the midst of the “Beast from the East”, when the majority of bats were hunkered down deep in the slumber of hibernation, came a telephone call in the early evening, from my vets practice, “we’ve been brought a bat, can you come and collect it please!”

They informed me it was a Long-eared and it could fly (as it had escaped the box it had been rescued in and done a fair few laps of the practice prior to being contained again).

But where on earth had it been found? and why on earth was it out in this weather?

They told me that a gentleman had found it clinging to a fence post covered in snow and ice on the Ashford Road – but no other details as to whereabouts on the Ashford Road or, indeed, a contact name or number for the kind rescuer!

Snow Bat
Bat in the snow Illustration by Liz Vinson of Bizzy Illustrations ©LizVinson

No matter, I thought, the priority is to get this little scrap home and try to revive him.  In my experience with Long-eareds, they are not as receptive to initial care procedures as other species, so the longer he was left the less his recovery chances became.

Once home and in a secure environment I carefully opened the box – which had enough tape on it to wrap around half of Kent and back again! And there, looking lifeless, was a beautiful Brown long-eared (BLE); ears tucked neatly behind his wings and head resting on the floor of the box.

He was totally torpid as I had expected. No fight left in him, just weak and terrified from his snowy ordeal.  I didn’t hold out much hope. Sadly I have had a few BLE who have come to me in this state of shock and, more often than not, they just refuse to drink or eat and pass over that Rainbow Congress Avenue Bridge to batty heaven.

I took the opportunity whilst he was quiet to sex, weigh, measure and check him for injuries. He was a mere 6.8g (and very much a male). I would want to him to be at least 8.5g to release him.

I then wrapped him securely in a soft tissue and just held him in my hands, hoping the warmth would start to bring him round a bit and then, once I could feel a faint fluttering from his tummy, I offered him Critical Care from a dropper.  It took him 20 minutes to take the smallest of drops, but then he just shut his eyes and clamped his mouth shut. I carefully popped him in a bat bag and tucked him inside my jumper, hoping that my body warmth would warm him gradually some more, and set about sorting out a tank for him and preparing some juicy mealworms to tempt him into eating.


Another 20 minutes passed and I extricated him from the bag and he did seem more responsive, so again I offered him Critical Care – this time he lapped it from the end of the dropper enthusiastically with his delicate pointed tongue. He drank the entire dropper and then he went completely rigid – something I have only seen in BLEs. I did panic that he had just died, but then remembered that Max, a BLE I have in long term care, did exactly the same as had a couple of others.

I placed him inside a baby hat in his new temporary home and installed him into my bat room on a heat mat.  I would let him rest a bit then try to feed and water him again in an hour.  In the meantime I fed my long-termers as it was now getting a bit late, my two pips informed me that they were not too impressed with my tardiness, and that the hotel’s standards were indeed slipping!

After an hour or so I fetched “Ash” (I often name bats after the roads or circumstances in which they have been found, and A251 sounded just a bit too clinical!).

He had ventured out from his hat and was hanging over the heat mat, I was delighted. This was such a good sign. I had expected to find him still in the hat with his ears extended and head down.

Once again I wrapped him in a tissue and offered him some Critical Care. He drank a bit more but wasn’t so thirsty as before. So then came the (sometimes) lengthy process of convincing the bat to eat the insides of a mealworm. He did not much like the sloppy sensation on his lips and decided he would not play ball. He unfurled his ears slightly and wriggled in my hand, managing to free one gangly wing which he then wrapped around my finger and then he made a bid for freedom.

I had to speak to him quite firmly and explain that this was not a good idea, and perhaps some nice tasty mealworms would be a better plan.  He wasn’t too convinced, but allowed me to wrap him up again, slightly tighter this time!

After much cajoling and a verse or two of Edelweiss (don’t ask me why but some bats seem to enjoy being sung to in a quiet low voice) he then launched his mouth onto the mealworm and slowly slurped up all the insides. He continued to eat 11 regular mealie innards and then took 2 whole ones, then went rigid again.


So back into the hat in his tank he went and back onto the heat mat in the bat room.

I checked him again an hour or so later and he was hanging up again, so as it was 11.15pm I decided to leave him for the night, with a dish of mealworms and water.

The power of social media

Between feeds that evening, I had put a shout out on a local “gossip group” Facebook page. I included a photo of Ash and asked if someone knew who had rescued a bat from the Ashford Road and if so please to get in touch with me.  I thought this might just work, as it’s not often that you find a bat in a blizzard and not tell anyone.

Apart from a comment from my dear Mother who demanded to know what I was doing rescuing a bat – as I am currently undergoing treatment for Breast Cancer and am “officially” off the list – no one else commented, just a few love hearts and likes. So I went to bed and drifted off into my own state of semi hibernation.

I awoke the next day and, with a fair amount of trepidation, went straight to check how my newest house guest had faired overnight.  Thankfully he was alive – tucked up under a cloth. He had not eaten any mealworms, but judging from the liberal scattering of droppings, had had quite an investigation of his new dwelling!

So once again I started the feeding process again; I just wanted to make sure he didn’t go back into complete torpor. He managed a few mealies dipped in water before going rigid again. I would try again later.

In the meantime my phone was going potty with notifications from Facebook!

Facebook shoutout

The finder had seen the post and now I knew who he was, how to contact him but, more importantly, the exact location of his intrepid rescue!

Not only that, I had a message from a reporter from the local newspaper, asking for photos of the bat, as she wanted to run a story on his rescue in next week’s issue!  As I was more than aware that the possibility of misinformation might occur in this article, I offered myself up for interview and, later that day, I was able to tell Ash’s story to date, as well as explain all about British Bats (well all I know, which is not as much as some!) making sure a few myths were quelled and emphasising their importance in the eco structure as well as their current status legally.

The question of why would a bat be out during the day and in a blizzard came up, something I had discussed with John (Puckett) at length earlier in the day, and he had surmised that Ash could’ve awoken from hibernation when the temperatures had become too cold, and had left the relative safety of his roost to find a warmer dwelling. The lovely reporter did not know that bats hibernated, so then understood that the circumstances of his rescue were fairly miraculous.  The wonderful man who spotted him happened to be stuck in all the traffic chaos on the Ashford Road, had he not had the kindness to get out of the warmth of his car and investigate further, there certainly would be no story to tell.

(of course Ash might’ve read the recent articles on the Ussurian tube-nosed bat and had fancied his chances of hibernating in the snow…)

Bat Paparazzi

Ash continued to gain in strength and weight and, after 4 days was 7.6g. Still not a weight I was happy with and also he was still not self-feeding. Not that I minded hand feeding him daily. He was such a well behaved dinner guest, and quite the most handsome BLE I had had the pleasure of handling.  It was also giving me so much hope – if he could do it, so could I!

He had taken to hanging in the corner furthest from his heat mat, and so was going quite torpid.  After discussing this with Hazel (Ryan), she suggested moving him into a smaller tank and covering the top with a fleece. I had just been using a tea towel to date to keep it nice and dark for him.  Sadly I didn’t have a smaller tank available, but found the furry inside of a long discarded Barbour jacket, and fashioned a cosy wrapping for his tank out of that.

It worked a treat.  The next morning his dish had been emptied and a rather plump bat was tucked up under a cloth!

Later that day there was a knock at the door and a photographer from the local newspaper had arrived to take a photo of Ash. Luckily I had put my face on, so I was happy for him to photograph me holding Ash – without a flash!  He took several fantastic shots, Ash was the perfect model and seemed quite content to be photographed.

I had my first session of Chemotherapy due the next day and this was a very welcome distraction.

A couple of days later my Mum came to look after me, and under her arm, hot off the press, was the local newspaper.  I had expected the article to be a few lines somewhere inside the paper, but instead there we were splashed across the front page of the paper with the headline, “Bat’s better, Liz comes to rescue” and not only was it accompanied by 4 paragraphs of reporting, there was more inside the paper too!!

Image taken by Paul Amos
image courtesy of KM Media Group

Apart from calling the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) the Bat Conservation Association, and failing to mention the fact that bats are protected by the law, it was a really good report! Clearly I had not bored the pants off of the reporter, and she had listened, taken notes, used direct quotes, and added the BCT helpline telephone number (0345 1300 228) as well as the website for the Kent Bat Group – my local bat group.

And this is where the story meets the present. Currently Ash is awaiting release and I expect this will happen within the next week or so, depending upon this latest bout of beastly easterly snow.

He continues to go from strength to strength, and has gained rather too much in the weight department, so is now on a bit of a diet (10g on the last weigh in).

A video of  him preening and stretching post feed gained a fantastic 127 likes and 26 retweets on Twitter, thanks to BCT retweeting it,  with 1,859 views of the video to date and a reach of 9,573 (for all you social media freaks).

Ash the Brown long-eared

I continue to update the post I originally placed on the “gossip group” Facebook Page, with photos and snippet updates regarding Ash’s recovery, and I’m hopeful that the rescuer, as well as anyone else who cares to attend, will be able to meet Ash and watch him fly back to where he belongs very soon.

Ash in the hand
Illustration by Liz Vinson of Bizzy Illustrations ©LizVinson

Watch this space for updates on his release!

n.b I would like to add that I don’t name all my bats Ash… !


KM Media Group

Faversham News

Anna McSwann

Bat Conservation Trust 

Kent Bat Group

Macmillan Cancer Support 

Lady Dane Veterinary Centre 

Bizzy Illustrations

Paul Amos – KM Group Photographer

John Puckett – Kent Bat Group

Hazel Ryan – Kent Bat Group



“dot dot dot” said Batty Bat…


I’ve been a registered bat carer with the Bat Conservation Trust for a year now, and the winter months, as you would expect, were quiet, with only one call in early December for a cat caught Common Pipistrelle who sadly succumb to his injuries a couple of weeks later.

My first bat rescue call of the year came on the 7th May, and it turned out not to be the best first call. Again a cat caught Pipistrelle who sadly had to be euthanised.  It was the first time I had ever ended a life, and was the most traumatic thing I think I have ever had to do; for many nights after I relived the whole situation whenever I tried to close my eyes, and found myself questioning whether it had been the right thing to do – of course I knew the answer was yes – but it didn’t make it any easier.

Ash came into my care on the 28th May – a female Soprano Pipistrelle. She had been found on the floor of a garage.  To my relief she had not been caught by a cat, but by a foul turn in the weather, and had, we think, crawled into the garage to shelter from the rain and wind.  Concerned that she might be pregnant I was determined that she be released back asap. The couple who found her were so relieved to hear that she was OK and would hopefully be released (as was I), however the weather was against me, with a cold wind and heavy downpours, and unfortunately the week I had hoped to release her coincided with their holiday.

Pippi 01

It was clear that they were saddened not to be able to see her fly off.  We had regular phone calls and updates over the week just in case there was a break in the weather, but no such luck, and so I decided that the next best thing would be for them to come and see how active she was.

So the day before they left to go to sunnier climes, they came over and saw little Ash – it coincided with feeding time, so they were able to hear her chattering away using a bat detector, and watch her voracious appetite!!  A real change from the exhausted little bat which they had carefully scooped up into a box only a week before.  It was the most perfect bat sanctuary they had made that day – with kitchen roll on the bottom, a milk bottle top dish for water and a warm sock for her to crawl into!  They had even tried feeding meal-worms to her, but at that stage she was too exhausted to eat.

A few days later, with a promising weather forecast, I took Ash back to where she had been found and she flew off within milliseconds! She made a couple of passes, echolocating madly, and then disappeared into the night!

When they returned from holiday I was able to give them the good news, which they were delighted to hear, it was so lovely to have a happy batty ending and to meet such caring people!


I took a bat rescue call on the 5th June,  I ran through the usual sort of questions to try and ascertain the location, condition of bat and species (so that I knew what type of gloves to take and size of container needed etc), hoping that the person wouldn’t say “it looks like it’s wing is broken” or “it is covered in blood” and to my delight it appeared that the bat was in a relatively good state of health, having been found on a drive during the day – it had apparently opened its wings and the lady said she couldn’t see any holes – so a flicker of hope fluttered in my heart.

I asked the question re size – would it fit in a matchbox? (as Pipistrelles will fit neatly – or so I’m told, having never actually attempted to put one into a matchbox!), ‘Oh no’ the lady said ‘it is much bigger than that, it is about the size of the palm of my hand!’ Hmm I wondered, I knew the area and this didn’t really help with determining the species, so I asked whether it had shaggy hair? (perhaps a Serotine?) ‘Well it’s a bit shaggy’ not much help, so I plumped for the best question I could think of being did it have big ears? ‘oh yes’, said the lady, it looks like a mouse with rabbit ears!

Rabbit Mouse

What a wonderful description and I knew it could be no other species than a Brown Long Eared!

Having made a quick recovery (no injuries at all, he was just tired, hungry and dehydrated) I am still hopeful to release him back before the end of the Summer, but he is reluctant to fly and is far happier to just land on something (sometimes me) and watch the world go by!

I am pleased to add that the Brown Long Eared was successfully released a week ago.  I now have just one catted Common Pipistrelle who will be with me for a while whilst an injury to his wing heals and two juveniles – a Brown Long Eared and Common Pipistrelle.  Early days for these two as neither appear to want to fly…

Oh the highs and lows of batcare!

This article originally appeared in the Kent Bat Group Newsletter July 2016.








“Getting your eggs direct from the hen” – an Interview with Christine Hopkins SGFA

Christine at work in her beautiful studio
Christine at work in her beautiful studio

Christine was born in Surrey and has lived in Reigate since 1980, and it could be said that she came into art in a somewhat unusual manner!  Having gained a BA in Geography at university – a subject she enjoyed when it came to drawing maps, graphics and diagrams – it was not until her 40th year that she realised she was a housewife and a mother, but not a person in her own right, and made the decision to do at least one thing a year that was challenging.  One of these challenges was to embark on a watercolours for beginner’s course and the rest, as they say, is history!

And so, on not the sunniest of July days, I found myself enjoying a cup of coffee with Christine at her Reigate home and studio, surrounded by delicately coloured oil paintings, intricate collages and bold prints.  The June Surrey Artists Open Studios has come to an end and her house is still in gallery mode, I am lucky to be treated to my own private view!

Christine has exhibited her work in the Surrey Artists Open Studios since 2005 and, she smiles that “it is the highlight of the year and is proud to be a part of the whole thing”, for it is not just opening her house for two weeks in June for people to view her many and varied works, it is a yearlong project through which, over the years, she has developed lifelong friendships.

The New Ashgate Gallery is fundamental to the longevity of the Surrey Artists Open Studios Christine enthuses, “their support is invaluable”.  Indeed, the Surrey Artist of the Year competition is run by the New Ashgate Gallery and they have a valuable partnership with the Surrey Artists Open Studios.  Members of the public are encouraged to vote for their favourite artist; and the artist with the most votes from public and judging panel is named Surrey Artist of the Year.

The top 10 artists come together for a programme of events including an exhibition throughout the New Ashgate Gallery in October.  The winning artist will receive £1,000 grant and support from the gallery to develop a solo show for 2016.

Some might think it very brave to create an exhibition space in your home and invite strangers in to judge and critique your work, however, as Christine explains to me, with dwindling public exhibition space in Surrey, this really is the only way forward and most cost efficient route – “it is like getting your eggs direct from the hen”.

Pink Laundry

I am fascinated by the way Christine works.  Inspiration can come from the smallest clipping from a magazine to a series of quick studies made whilst on holiday; but each painting or print has a story.  For instance a mixed media piece depicting the back of a huddle of houses called “Pink Washing”; whilst creating this piece Christine was imagining one of the houses as a family home with only female children – hence there being only shades of pink clothing hanging out to dry, the houses merged from a number of different drawings done previously. Christine likes to use a selection of ideas to collate into one image – a dry stone wall from one place, a tree from another; and choosing a limited palette of colours “is like having stabilizers on a bicycle” she explains, having a specific set of colours to use is “like a support system”, it removes the problem of whether perhaps you should add a different colour here or there.

A sketch book is never far from Christine’s hands and she uses the artistic memories created to form a year’s worth of work.  The body of work I see today is the culmination of ideas and sketches from 2014.  She says “The comment I hear most is ‘I know where that is’  but the paintings and prints are much more about the feel and memory of many places, rather than one”.

sketchbook page Kestle Barton Cornwall

The Green Door
The Green Door

Christine likens the way in which she works to Jazz music, there are no rules; she works in layers of transparent inks for vibrancy on top of prints, sometimes on transparent paper; collaging behind and on top of the image, creating a magical depth to each finished piece.  So time consuming, she can spend 20 hours creating the finished article.

Primarily Christine uses acrylic Inks, and she is known for her architectural pieces in mixed media and print, she confesses that she is obsessed with scaffolding, skips and urban decay; however I am enamoured of her oil paintings.

Cornwall Lemon
Cornwall Lemon

Understated and using a sombre subdued palette.  Although these are delicately coloured, they are as vibrant to me as a poppy field in June.  Her main influences come from the art of the early to mid 20th C, artists such as the late Surrey artist John Piper (1903-1992) painter of architecture, landscape and abstract compositions.

I ask how Christine chooses which medium to use for which painting, and she tells me that she can see the painting in its finished form before she has even started and, even when she sketches, she unconsciously editing what she is drawing.  She goes on to explain that her work is more about pattern than composition.

In 2007 Christine was elected as an Associate Member of Society of Graphic Fine Art. Founded in 1919, the Society promotes fine drawing skills in both traditional and contemporary media; she told me, “I was very honoured to have been elected, as you have to demonstrate very strong drawing skills” she was then promoted to full membership in 2009, elected to the governing council in 2008 and subsequently appointed as Honorary Secretary in 2012 – a position from which she has only recently retired.

As well as exhibiting with the Society of Graphic Fine Art in London and nationwide, Surrey Artists Open Studio both at the New Ashgate Gallery and at home, Christine also exhibits regularly with the Ochre Print Studios in Guildford, a co-operative venture run by artists; at the Bourneside Gallery in Dorking as well as at group exhibitions; she also offers mixed media painting demonstrations and workshops to art groups in the South East of England, as well as running workshops in collage and printmaking techniques.  Christine does not sell her work through online galleries, but asks people to visit her website and contact her to arrange to visit her studio to see her work.

Christine admits that she sometimes feels guilt whilst painting as it is often seen as a frivolous profession, however also feels guilt when she is not in her studio.  She is not influenced more by one season or another – if it is cold she wraps up warm – raining she takes an umbrella – sunny she applies sunscreen and a hat.  If something inspires her she will capture it and bring it back to the studio to nurture, and grow into something wonderful.

Forthcoming Exhibitions:

4 Oct – 14 Nov 2015 Surrey Artist of the Year Competition, New Ashgate Gallery, Waggon Yard, Farnham, GU9 7PS

5 – 17 Oct 2015 The Society of Graphic Fine Art, Menier Gallery, London SE1 1RU


T: @skylightstudio

The edited version of this interview was originally published in Surrey Occasions Autumn Issue 2015

A moving memorial – Review of the recent Horse at War Exhibition at The Lightbox Gallery

At the outbreak of World War 1, the British Army’s horse population was 25,000; in just two weeks this figure had increased to 165,000 and, by the end of the war, half a million horses would be drafted from civilian backgrounds.  Given 48 hours notice your faithful mount, dray, companion could be enlisted and, following a basic training, sent to the Front.

Horse at War: 1914-1918 at The Lightbox gallery and museum in Woking, is a moving memorial and testament to all those brave equines who suffered alongside the men 100 years ago. 

Long Red Poppies © Rae Smith

In 1916 Wellington House, a government propaganda department, recruited My Grey Mare © the estate of Sir Alfred MunningsMuirhead Bone to be the first commissioned artist in a government sponsored scheme, soon to be joined by a variety of other renowned artists specialising in the equine field, Alfred Munnings, John Singer Sargeant, C.R.W. Nevinson and William Orpen to name but a few.Their paintings showed a certain element to the destruction and chaos of life at the Front.

The paintings exhibited show strength and unison and a certain amount of sadness, from the oils by Lucy Kemp-Welch depicting a charge “Forward the Guns” 1917, to the modern day charcoal drawings by Rae Smith for the stage production of War Horse, inspired by war artists such as Paul Nash and CRW Nevinson.

For me, however, the works which really made the realism of it all come rushing into the room, were the rough sketches done in situ;small and smudged drawings of the men and horses resting; preparing for their next move.In their simplicity comes a feeling of complete calm; the absurdity of it all.  Whilst all manner of hell was being endured there was still time to laugh, cry, take solace in tSONY DSChe smell and warmth of a horses breath; take time to feed, water and tend to those who were given no choice but to be made to gallop through mud and rotting flesh.

These beautifully kept notepads and sketchbooks sit quietly in glass topped cases, whilst around them the daily life of war carries on in bold oils; the wind whipping at the horses and men as they make their way across a barren land of broken trunks and shell scarred land.

Midst all of this stands Joey, the puppet created by Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones of the Handspring Puppet Company for TWAR HORSE London Cast 2014he National Theatre’s breathtaking adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse.  His big brown eyes follow you around the room and, although you know he is just a model, a structure made from an extraordinary mix of materials including car seat belts and bicycle brake levers, he is, for a moment, alive. I challenge anyone who has seen the stage show or read the book not to feel the sting of a tear forming looking at him and listening to snippets of sad songs from the show together with clips projected onto the wall. For a moment you are no longer in a gallery in Woking, for a moment you can hear the sound of guns and hooves, the smell of hot leather and sweat and hear the shrill whiny of fear.

This beautiful and compassionately curated exhibition brings together an illustrated account of warfare in the early twentieth Century, from the written accounts and memorabilia in the entrance to the exhibition space, to the paintings commissioned by the government, the tack which you know would have been kept in best condition throughout, and the modern day artistic and theatrical take of a time in our history which we must never forget.

Although this exhibition may have come to its conclusion there is still an awful lot to see at The Lightbox.The Surrey Open Photographic Exhibition is on now until 12 April and from the 28 March until the 5 July one of the most prominent members of the Young British Artists, Damien Hirst, comes to Woking with New Religion’, an exhibition which brings together a body of work formed in 2005 that deals with issues such as belief, mortality, love, seduction and consumption, which both myself and the gallery are very excited about.

As well as exhibitions, The Lightbox holds workshops and has permanent collections of modern and contemporary art as well as historical objects from Woking (and a fantastic gift shop and cafe!).Visit online or tweet @TheLightbox or 01483 737800

The Lightbox is such an exciting space a whole day is not enough!

Originally published in the Spring 2015 issue of Surrey Occasions Magazine

Levelling The Marlowe

Setting the Scene

I was not sure of what I was letting myself in for when I agreed to go to the Levellers concert in Canterbury on the 1st February 2015; I was mother to a young child during the years the Levellers made the headlines, I missed out on going to festivals and did not watch music shows, and so my musical history of the late 20th Century is severely lacking. Somehow I managed to miss most of what happened musically between Guns ‘n’ Roses, Use Your Illusion II album and Blur, The Great Escape.

Once my son was at an age to appreciate music I then had to listen to his choice most of the time and, indeed, most of my festival and concert experience has been from taking him, I am proud to say I’ve seen Muse several times, Elbow and I love Biffy (Mon the Biff); so you can imagine I feel a bit of a fraud walking into the Foyer of the Marlowe Theatre which is filled with hardened festival go-ers young and old, punks and others all wearing their best anarchic T-Shirts and DMs . Luckily my wardrobe choice of hoop striped black and white top with skinnies and boots is not out of place and my hair, freshly dyed a plum colour, is a good choice…

The Introduction

We are hustled into the auditorium, which gradually begins to fill, and the sound of adrenaline wafts up to the circle seats my friend and I are occupying.  I wonder how long people will remain in their seats once the music has started.  The lights dim and a hush falls over the audience.

Onto the stage walks Dunstan Bruce, director of the documentary “A Curious Life” – “A potted journey through 25 years of subsidised dysfunctionalism” as told by Jeremy Cunningham, the Levellers colourful bass player.  Dunstan introduces himself and hopes we will enjoy the film etc etc and ends by saying “I defy you not to love Jeremy by the end of it”.  At this point I don’t know who Jeremy is, but am hopeful I will love him too!

The Film

The lights go down, nervous laughter from the audience and a few whoops and a Mexican wave of applause follows as the film starts.

What am I doing here? I question myself, but then I find I am laughing and before I know it I am wishing I had known about the Levellers 25 years ago.

Jeremy is such a complex person, and it is very much a case of not judging a book by it’s cover; his red dreadlocks are twisted round his head making a sort of exploding hat affair, and it could be said that his clothes look like he might have slept in them, and probably has; his flat is a bit of a jumble sale and he says he never cleans because he is so used to squatting from his younger days that he is always thinking he will be moving on soon.

He has a large collection of stuffed toy squids, and I can’t help thinking to myself that his hair is somewhat tentically; however behind all this is an exceptionally intelligent man.  He has a library of books on history and religion which, he confesses, he is obsessed with reading; but his art is what inspires me most. Anger and Expressionism meets Toulouse Lautrec with his use of colour and form; some of the images are quite terrifying but, as Jeremy says, it’s better to get these images out from his head and onto a canvas!

We meet his parents, who are so proud of their son’s achievements; they remind my friend and I of the animated series Creature Comforts, during the question and answer session after the film Jeremy is asked whether they are going to be on Gogglebox?!

The film follows Jeremy around, from his flat to his favourite whiskey shop in London, from his parents house to the disused factory the Levellers bought and turned into a studio; along the way we meet the other band members as they share their views and insights into life before the Levellers made it big, how they formed, and how the sudden fame had effected them and, most importantly, how they had stayed together throughout.

We are tempted by snippets of their hit songs, Beautiful Day and One Way for example, which for me is great, because I realise I do know some songs, only I didn’t know who had sung them!

I can only recommend you watch this film as I could write endlessly about it and, quite frankly, I don’t really want to do that, I want to get on with the show!

So, after the film comes the Q&A session with Dunstan and Jeremy, I am pleased to see he is still wearing his trademark stripy shirt, and I wonder whether people might think I am wearing mine because I too am an avid fan!

A quick trip to the bar and we are back in our seats ready for the next bit.

The Gig

As a newbie to the Levellers every song they sing is fresh and exciting to me.  My feet are jumping and my hands slapping my knees in time with the music, I immediately feel that I would rather be in the main part of the auditorium where people have, as I had thought they would, abandoned their seats and are now dancing in the aisles.

What a great sound.

The rawness of the beat together with the eerie sound of the fiddle, like a wind blowing across a lonely moor, makes my spine tingle and I want to dance, well I say dance, bounce is a better description, and it seems to be the best type of movement in my confined space!  How can I have not known about this amazing band before?!

As the time moves on so does the music, until we are all in a frenzy of stomping feet and clapping hands, people are singing at the top of their voices, hands in the air, shirts have been discarded as the temperature rises down “in the pit” well, I say pit in the broadest of terms.  It seems that the Marlowe is fit to burst at the seams!

It is all a very strange experience when I think about it, the Levellers are all seated, playing at full tilt, and the audience have turned into a mass of arms and legs jumping about, and yet, up in the circle, there are still a few people who are just sitting and watching, as if they are at home watching the television. I find it incredible that they haven’t felt the music creeping into their minds and bodies, taking over all thought of preservation (as it could be quite a drop if you happened to bounce over the edge) or reputation (let’s face it when the music takes you, you don’t tend to think about what you might look like aged 40+ bouncing around like a teenager).

And just like that it ends.

I like to think I started the foot stamp rumble for more in the middle circle seats.

My hands are stinging from clapping in unison with everyone else, and my voice is getting hoarse from shouting MORE!

And they’re back and it is like being in a horse race on pause and then pressing play again, we’re off, full gallop, two more heartbeat raising songs and then the lights go up and we know it is really the end.

The Aftermath

Buzzing? My God I haven’t felt that alive in years; I rush downstairs and buy their “Best of” album and drive home with it blaring out of my car. I don’t care that it is getting a bit late for that volume of music, I just don’t want the evening to end.

I apologise for not being able to name any songs they played at the concert/gig because I have a very bad memory for things like that, and even though I am now the proud owner of an album,I have not yet memorised the song’s names! Forgive me.

So there you go.

I can now say I am a fan of the Levellers, for what they stand for as well as what they sound like!  I may be 25 years late but as they say, better late than never!

Now, how to get the job of doing their archiving…..




Pleasant Surprises

Isn’t it a lovely feeling when you get a pleasant surprise.

Things like, say, you come home from work and the washing up has been done and the supper is in the oven.  This unfortunately does not apply to me, as I work at home and the walls are paper thin so any kind of movement in the kitchen can be heard.  In fact I don’t know why I put that as a pleasant surprise as I hardly ever cook or do the washing up…

Scrap that one then.

Pleasant Surprises take two

Thinking that you don’t have a nice bottle of Pinot chilling in the fridge and then finding that there is one.

Remembering that tomorrow is Saturday and you don’t have to get up early. (tomorrow is actually Wednesday as I type this so please don’t get confused and turn your alarm off…)

Turning on the tele and finding that there IS something good to watch on, which you haven’t seen 100 times already.

These are all quite normal things I suppose.

Which makes me question whether we can have pleasant surprises anymore?  More often than not it is unpleasant surprises which occur, or would that be classed as unpleasant shocks?!  I doubt you can have a pleasant shock?

“Dear Sir, I was pleasantly shocked by the content in last night’s episode of Eastenders…” doesn’t quite sound right does it? or “I was unpleasantly surprised” however, you can be shocked and surprised at the same time…

Although if you said “she was shocked by my appearance” it wouldn’t be good whereas “she was surprised by my appearance” could mean many things..

Anyway back to what I was rabbiting on about in the first place; isn’t it nice (awful word) when you get a pleasant surprise (that is if you still can- see above).

Of cockerels, paint and parchment – An interview with Jean Haines

It was early September when I met Jean Haines for lunch at her favourite local, The Exchequer, in Crookham village. The leaves were starting to turn and although the sun was warm there was a chill beginning to creep into the air. Jean told me that she had thrown open all the doors and windows in her canal side cottage, but feared she may have been slightly over enthusiastic.

We sit inside.

With so much happening in Jean’s life at the moment, it is difficult to know where to begin. Whilst perusing the mouth watering menu we talk about her new book, her solo exhibition in September at The Wey Gallery in Godalming, her forthcoming tour and Bailey, her Bearded Collie.  In fact, after the waiter has to be asked to return for our order several times, we stop and concentrate for a moment on lunch. Jean orders her favourite item on the menu, twice baked Roquefort Cheese Soufflé with an accompaniment of freshly baked bread with oil and balsamic dip, I have the Rare Roast Beef and Horseradish sandwich which arrives with an accompaniment of delicious chunky chips.

Jean explains that she spent many years as a “corporate wife”, travelling the globe with John, her husband of 40 years, and listening to him deliver speeches.  Whilst abroad Jean sought out the best artists in their genre and asked, sometimes begged them to teach her their methods and techniques. In the 1990s she studied Chinese Brushwork in Hong Kong

Then in 1997, following a move to Dubai, she studied at the Dubai International Arts Centre where she was soon asked to teach and, after discovering her students were framing her examples in a local gallery, was asked to exhibit and from there her work has gone from strength to strength.  Jean was elected an Associate Member of the Society of Women Artists in 2009, and was presented with the Anthony J Lester Art Critic Award for “Morning Calls”, a vibrant painting of a cockerel in the SWA Annual Exhibition 2009.  In 2010 Jean was elected a full member of the SWA with an “outstanding body of work”.

Jean laughs as she tells me how the tablesJean Haines  have turned and that it is now her husband who travels the world with her and carries her bags, and listens to her speak and give watercolour demonstrations to venues packed with eager fans.

We talk about influences and techniques.  When Jean moved to France after Dubai, she was given a book on Madame Blanche Odin (1865-1957), a French impressionist and little known watercolourist who specialised in painting roses. Her paintings have had a profound influence in the way Jean works and she tells me how sad it is that Odin is not remembered in the way that Monet is.  A downfall of being female in the early 20th Century art world.

Jean has also chosen elements from every technique she has ever been taught and uses them in different combinations to create her images, filling her paintings with life, energy and light.  Whilst  in Hong Kong Jean was taught to study the parchment before even thinking of putting paint onto it, and not to cover the entire surface with paint, but to leave areas so that there is light and space, something which is not regularly practiced in western art.

Lucky Green Rooster By kind permission of the artist and The Wey Gallery

When painting in Dubai the heat would cause the pigment to dry almost immediately so Jean would use more water than usual letting the colours bleed and move, a technique she uses today which brings a wonderful brightness and fluidity to her paintings; some might worry about the paint just running amuck across the surface but Jean points out the paint will only go as far as the water, and you are in control of where the water goes!

This morning Jean has been working on the final chapters of her new book “Jean Haines World of Watercolours” due for release in June 2015, I ask her whether she worries that people will just use her books to create works and pass them off as their own creations,  “It isn’t a case of worrying about people copying. When you write books as an artist you expect readers to copy your ideas to learn from them. Otherwise there would be no point in sharing. If I inspire others to paint I am over the moon because I enjoy working in watercolour so much. However I do encourage artists to find their own style and instil an aim to be unique by my teaching methods” Atmospheric Watercolours, Jeans current book and international bestseller, does just that.

At her Watercolour Workshops there are many “wow” moments when people who thought they couldn’t paint, will create an amazing piece of work from a few simple instructions, “there is nothing better than being responsible for these moments in other people’s lives”, Jean enthuses, “to feel the energy in the room during a workshop is like nothing else and to think that I might’ve helped change someone’s life in just a small way is the most rewarding feeling one can have”.  In fact, Jean’s workshops are so popular they are booked up months in advance with people travelling from around the globe to attend at her local village hall.

Jean’s work is so popular overseas that her watercolour workshops tour in Hong Kong, USA and Mexico in 2013 was a total sell out and her Workshop Tour of Australia in late October 2014 is, unsurprisingly, already fully booked and her book signing and workshop tour of the US in October 2015 is selling out rapidly.

After lunch we retire to Jean’s sumptuous cottage on the banks of the Basingstoke Canal, where I am introduced to some of the wildlife, Jean’s adorable animal companions and beautiful garden.  Jean shows me her studio and I am treated to a view of Jean Haines World of Watercolours in its raw form.  For me this is quite the most exhilarating moment of the day – a portfolio which is crammed with paintings in different stages of completion and the most important piece, the cover, but I am sworn to secrecy and cannot divulge anything. Suffice it to say it is, as you would expect, stunning. It has become a tradition that Jean donates the original cover painting to be auctioned for the Lady Taverners Charity, whose aim is to give as many young people as possible a ‘sporting chance’ in life.  Indeed the cover for Atmospheric Watercolours “Morning Light” raised a substantial amount.

Although cockerels will always be high on Jean’s list of subject matter, it would be almost impossible for her to choose an absolute favourite. People always ask her to paint a rose at her workshops, and at exhibitions if there are no paintings of sheep it can cause quite a stir! And she is still referred to as the Cockerel Lady.

Jean Haines 012However Jean is not constricted by people’s expectation of her work, she is surrounded by inspiration every day – just outside her studio there are borders bursting with colour, vibrant red Dahlias, clean white Cosmos, happy Rudbeckia which Jean says “always seems to add instant sunshine” –  and then there are the animals, Jean’s beloved Bearded Collie Bailey, who patiently watches Jean paint; Buster and Biscuit, an adorable pair of ginger toms who like nothing better than a cuddle and a healthy diet of mice; the swans, ducks, kingfisher, heron and moorhens who have made the stretch of canal which marks the boundary of Jean’s idyllic garden their home, and the hedgerows and fields teaming with wild flowers, berries and life.

For me the most refreshing thing about Jean is that she is still amazed when people travel from all over to attend her workshops, seminars and painting demonstrations, she says that the reactions she gets when putting paint on paper can be almost overwhelming in strength, as if the energy from the people watching is rushing into her body giving her a natural high like no other.  She truly believes that painting can heal the soul and it has been asked of her as to why her books aren’t on the self help shelf, as they provide such inspiring observations on life. It is no wonder that Jean Haines is rocking the art world with her colour, passion and joie de vivre!

Jean at The Wey Gallery, Godalming during her recent solo exhibition “Colour Fusion”

You can view a selection of Jean’s work at The Wey Gallery, Godalming Surrey

Jean is an avid tweeter and blogger, follow @JeanHaines or look up alternatively on Facebook Jean Haines Watercolours. 

Atmospheric Watercolours is available to purchase from any good book shop or on Amazon.

The Exchequer, Crondall Road, Crookham Village, GU51 5SU 01256 615336

This article was first published in Surrey Occasions Winter Issue 2014

thoughts from behind a steering wheel

So I’m driving to Surrey again, it is a route my car will be able to do on it’s own soon – I will get in and say “Surrey” and off she will purr down the M2, M20, M26, M25 and finally the A3.  I will commend her upon her beautiful manouvres and spatial awareness and, in turn, she will deliver me safely to my destination, parking, as ever, perfectly between the lines of whichever car park I tell her to.  She may have a few issues every now and then finding first gear but I forgive her that.

I talk to her as we bump along the M25, why, I ask, is the road surface so bad?  (I turn the music down and listen just in case it is the car making that horrendous noise), gadum gadum gadum gadum gadum…

We reach the A3 where all sense of good driving and experience is thrown out of the windows of most Beckham styled Baby Range Rovers – generally in white – who keep me and my charge in constant fear, by undertaking at speeds well in access of the limit – I am no nervous driver but these people are lunatics, how I would love to see them on a wet track pushing those speeds and see how long it is before they hit the gravel.

My car agrees with my opinions, she also gets annoyed with hatchbacks that only have one headlight working, who generally drive in the third lane of the M25 going 60mph…

My car and I have a good understanding of one and other.