'Captain Corelli's Mandolin' written by Louis de Berniere first published in 1994, is reverently placed at the top of my list of favourite novels. When the film of the book was released in 2001 I couldn't wait to see if it would live up to the book and happily for me, it did! Sitting in the dark at our local Odeon cinema watching the charming scenes of Dr Iannis, his daughter Pelagia and the villagers, winding down a precipitous mountain path to the most beautiful beach below, was when I first fell in love with Kefalonia. I promised myself there and then that if ever the opportunity presented itself, I would one day find myself gazing across the fabulous turquoise waters of the Ionian Sea ...
An evening in Fiskardo
So guess where I was last week? Yes! Stuart and I booked a lovely villa perched on the northern tip of a Kefalonian mountain and flew from Gatwick on Sunday to find it. Kefalonia didn't disappoint us, what a spectacularly scenic and sun blessed island! We drove from the little southern airport across mountains, gasping at sheer drops and dramatic coastline and chuckling at herds of goats mooching contentedly along the roads at a strolling pace, with no respect whatsoever for passing hire cars!
Driving up and up, into the mountain top clouds
We have seen some truly beautiful places in Kefalonia and have heartily enjoyed the hospitality so generously offered to us by the islanders, particularly at 'Irida's' taverna on the pretty harbourside Fiskardo, where we enjoyed several tasty local dishes from their extensive menu - I can highly recommend the chocolate and Grand Marnier crepe for dessert by the way!
Enjoying my chocolate and Grand Marnier crepe at Irida's!
There have been many highlights for us both throughout the past week and for me, finding the sparkling turquoise waters of Myrtos Beach featured in the opening scenes of the 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin', has to be one of the most special ...
Mountain view of Myrtos Beach below
The sparkling waters of Myrtos Beach
Paula Paddling at Myrtos Beach!
I also loved our visit to the underground Melissani Lake ... such an atmospheric place!
The underground lake at Melissani
Our boat trip on the underground lake
On a hot, stormy Wednesday afternoon, we climbed the mountain path at Assos to visit the ancient ruins of sixteenth century Assos Castle. The path wound steeply round the mountainside assaulting our senses with a fabulously heady fragrance of pine as our hearts pounded with the unfamiliar exertion. Like most men who remain boys at heart, Stuart is a sucker for ancient fortresses and was determined we would reach the summit!
View from our scented pine walk to Assos Castle
Stuart en route to the castle ...
Taking a breather!
Exploring the ancient ruins on the clifftop at Assos
View from the castle wall
Holidays are never quite long enough aren't they?! For us, Kefalonia was the perfect island to relax and leave behind the stresses and strains of everyday life. 'Captain Corelli and his mandolin' may well be fiction, but the island of Kefalonia is utterly enchanting in its reality.
I thought you might like to see how my little Daisy has been getting along, so here are a few snaps taken over the past couple of weeks ... I think she's starting to enjoy having her photograph taken!
At 9 weeks old she discovered she was big enough to run up the scratch post and perch on top ...
This little kitty loves her girly pink play tunnel!
Daisy is 11 weeks old now and at three o-clock each afternoon she puts herself to bed for an afternoon nap. Cute eh?!
As you can probably imagine, Daisy has become a much-loved member of our family and I am happy to say, is at long last pals with Puddle! They spend the evening chasing each other from one end of the lounge to the other and back again ... and again ... and again!
Well blow me down with a feather, I received a lovely email from the Editor of Australian Bear Creations magazine yesterday, to tell me she had featured my 'Starlight' elephant on the Editor's page in the latest issue ... I was taken by surprise because I entered Starlight in the 'Bear Friends' category of the 2010 ABC Awards' (sponsored by the magazine) and Starlight didn't receive a nomination! Which goes to show, competitions may be important, but they shouldn't be the be all and end all of a bearmaker's life!
It is always a tough choice to decide which piece of work to submit to major international competitions because the artistic competition is so fierce. This year I took a couple of chances which didn't pay off with a nomination; one of which as I said, was my elephant design 'Starlight'. As Starlight is only the second jointed elephant I have ever made, I hadn't a clue if he would be well received but thought I'd take the chance anyway. The other chance I took was with my very first 'careworn' style bear 'O Best Beloved', who I entered into the Golden Teddy Awards. Sadly, he was passed by (that elusive Golden Teddy remains out of reach for another year!) but he remains one of my absolute favourite bears.
'O Best Beloved'
'Caspian' had mixed fortunes, scooping a nomination in the newer 2010 'People's Choice Awards', but missing both the prestigious TOBY Industry's Choice nomination and the ABC Awards. I think he's a magnificent big bear but do wonder if a handsome traditional bear can realistically compete in this day and age, against contemporary bears with their broad range of modern techniques. You know me though, I always try my utmost to champion the classics and always will!
I don't usually enter my smaller bears into competitions, let alone small dressed bears, but this year I decided to give 'Little Boo' a chance and entered him into the ABC Awards where he achieved my first 'small bear - undressed' nomination, taking me completely by surprise!
My final competition entry this year will be 'Nesbit', a lovely big, careworn bear. He's very different from my other designs but I had so much fun making him I really wanted to show him off properly. I missed the deadlines for most of the other international competitions, so instead opted to enter him into the online URSA Awards, judged by public vote, which take place in July. It remains to be seen how dear old Nesbit will fair in competition!
For the first time ever, one of my bears has been awarded with a competition nomination in the 'small bear - dressed' category! Would you believe it, I spend fifteen years creating a reputation for great big, undressed bears and this year it's the little 'un in a woolly pully who scoops the nomination!
'Little Boo' has been awarded with a nomination in the
2010 Australian Bear Creation Awards!
Congratulations to everyone who has received nominations this year, it's a lovely boost to the teddy bear world!
This is 'Fleur', my latest Prim Dolly Doodle. When I created her a week ago, the sun was shining and I really thought Summer had arrived at last ... silly me, I should have known better, today it's pouring hard with rain and Summer has vanished! British weather, don't you just love it?!
Here I am, a weary ol' bearmaker after my weekend showing off in Stratford. It seems incredible that after all the preparation and worry about being ready, now I'm back home and it's all over and done with! I confess, the weekend didn't exactly get off to a racing start when we packed up my little Saxo and drove to the end of our road before almost expiring in the heat! Stuart and I took one look at each other, nodded, turned the car round and drove the few yards back to our own driveway. Heaven only knows what the neighbours thought as they watched their daft neighbours take one step across the drive, only to load up Stuart's car instead - had they been strapped into my ten year old car in temperatures of 28 degrees celsius minus aircon, they may have more easily understood our antics!
Oh dear, too late for Shakespeare's Birthplace ... again!
Eventually we arrived in Stratford just in time to miss the opening times for Shakespeare's Birthplace for the second year, so my cultural education remains unimproved .. ah well, maybe I'll try harder next year! We spent a beautiful balmy evening in Stratford nevertheless, mooching along the riverbank and then back to one of the riverside pubs. We plonked ourselves by the river Avon with beer in hand, watching the world sailing by, before ambling back to the 'Garrick Inn' for a delicious meal and yes, a little more beer!
Stuart watches the world sail by on the River Avon ...
One of the benefits of staying overnight in Stratford, was that on Sunday morning we were able to virtually fall out of bed and in through the show door ... well, perhaps not quite, but as the Civic Hall was just a little way down the road, it meant we could enjoy a traditional full English breakfast in our hotel restaurant before getting into show mode. Stuart heartily approved of that arrangment I can tell you!
Enjoying our evening by the river.
The show itself was lovely, so well organised, beautifully presented and very sociable. I thoroughly enjoyed my day and as usual, spent almost every second of it chatting to visitors, friends and basically anyone prepared to listen. I was absolutely delighted by the kindness of the visitors to my stand and utterly thrilled when the doors first opened and one lovely collector flew to my stand to grab 'Gustav' as quickly as possible. This gentleman had travelled and queued early to ensure no-one else adopted the special bear he had set his heart on and let me tell you, that passion is what makes a bear maker's world turn!
One thing I love about this show, is the opportunity to catch up with bear artist friends ... for us shows are like coming out of a long hibernation and it's so good to be able to actually natter in person with one another! This year I had the pleasure of my table being positioned between Sue Quinn of 'Bears by Sue Quinn' http://www.bearsbysuequinn.co.uk/ a lovely lady I have known about for many years (Sue has been a bear maker for thirty years!) but never met in person before and Shelly Allison the Rabbitmaker http://www.therabbitmaker.com/, who I have known since before her first show and who makes the most wonderful sculptural rabbits.
The show before opening.
The journey home was heavy with stop-start traffic, so we pulled off at an Oxford service station to refuel with Kentucky Fried Chicken ... (what with that, the beer, the fried breakfast, the homemade chocolate cake and the beautiful duck dinner with dauphinoise potatoes, this has not been a good weekend for my waistline!) eventually arriving home just after 8pm in the evening. You might think show day would end with the emptying of the car boot and a nice glass of wine, but oh no, several of the bears remained unsold, so hopeful emails had to be answered and their adoptions finalised ... by the time I eventually fell into bed it was somewhere around 11pm by which time I had lost the ability to think straight!
20" Sweet Dreams
My 'Petal' and 'Sweet Dreams' bears are waiting to hear if they will travel to new homes later this week, so I'm hoping everything goes well for them, please keep your fingers crossed!
8th June update: I am very happy to tell you all the show bears (and doll!) have now found new homes!
Every so often, a bear maker needs a change of scenery and a little fun, so last Thursday was party night for this ol' bear maker! Stuart and I enjoyed a terrific evening out at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon, as Jools Holland and his fabulous Rhythm and Blues orchestra treated us to an evening of boogie-woogie, blues, jazz and amazing singers (Ruby Turner in particular was magnificent ... what a voice!) I swear there wasn't an untapped foot in the theatre that night! If you can get hold of tickets, treat yourself to one of the best nights out in town ... you really won't be disappointed! www.joolsholland.com
And yesterday we spent a rather chilly Sunday at Howletts Zoo Park in Bekesbourne with Stuart's grandson ... (where did our lovely sunshine go?!) Despite the unseasonal cold we had a heap of fun and our little man was very excited when he found the tigers, elephants and rhinos he had been hoping for. There's something very special about watching a five year old enjoy these rare creatures!
The magnificent Djala
As for me, I was bowled over by the handsome silverback gorilla Djala, who was in majestic and exceptionally powerful form, thundering around the gorilla house enthralling his audience!
Djala, what a beefcake!
And being something of an old dinosaur himself, Stuart was of course, naturally drawn to the rhinos!
From one ol' dinosaur to another ...
We walked with lemurs ...
... admired the effilants ...
"Hey, do you think my bum looks big in this?"
... and occasionally got lost!
As you can imagine, with all the fresh air and exercise at the zoo yesterday and my boogie-woogie fun on Thursday night, I'm quite a sleepy bear maker today. There's still so much to do for next Sunday's bear show in Stratford, so I can't put my feet up yet, instead I must plough on with my bearmaking this week, or I'll never be ready in time ... yawn!
If you would like to visit Howletts Zoo Park, please check out their website below for full details: Howletts