"Earth’s distant orb appeared the smallest light that twinkles in the heaven; whilst round the chariot’s way innumerable systems rolled and countless spheres diffused an ever-varying glory. It was a sight of wonder: some were hornèd like the crescent moon; some shed a mild and silver beam like Hesperus o'er the western sea; some dashed athwart with trains of flame, like worlds to death and ruin driven; some shone like suns, and as the chariot passed, eclipsed all other light." From "Queen Mab" by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1813)

Monday, 26 July 2010

Show Me The Monet

I’ve just had it confirmed that Mrs Kitsch and I have secured the rather brilliant Room 212 on Gloucester Road for a joint art exhibition! We have the space for a week from the 12th to the 18th of September. More details to follow.

The New Two

So the summer of 2010 continues with more car boot sales and two new space acquisitions, or as I prefer to think of them, new recruits into the Smith Space Programme, or SSP.
This first one entered the programme a couple of weeks ago. I think it cost just 50p.
I think he’s ceramic with a wooden space pack or MMU (manned manoeuvring unit), and most likely homemade. I like his simplicity and if I ignore the MMU he’s wearing, his posture and suit remind me of Alexei Leonov, the first person to walk in space. He’s not very big, just a few inches high, simple with a naive elegance, in stark contrast to the SSP’s other new recruit.
This brash newcomer is Go-Go Gorilla and was an incredible 25p. He’s about 2 feet tall, and a red light flashes inside his helmet when he talks. That's right, that's what I said, he talks. Not only that but he shakes when you press his launch button.
I’m not making any of this up. Press the pad on his right hand and he says five different phrases. The first one isn’t really a phrase just a strange kind of spacey bleeping noise, but press the pad again and he says “Rogie dodgie (?) I read you base”, “Get me out of this monkey suit”, the rather sad “I miss the jungle” and my personal favourite “Houston, more bananas please”. The voice sounds a bit like the actor Wallace Shawn, who you may remember from such films as “The Princess Bride” and “Toy Story” (he’s the voice of Rex the dinosaur) but most notably for me as the Grand Nagus in TV’s “Star Trek; Deep Space Nine”. But it might not be him.
Anyway, when you press the pad on his left hand he says “3, 2, 1, blast off! Yahoo! Yeehi!” and he shakes, quite violently. Easily the best 25p I’ve ever spent.
His feet are weighted (I think he must have gravity boots) so he stands up by himself. This morning I introduced him to the senior chimponaut in the SSP, Space Monkey.
They’re already planning their first space mission together. I can’t wait to see the photos from that one.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Moon Day 2010

Happy Moon Day!

July 20th is the anniversary of the first manned landing on the moon; I call it Moon Day and as of last year, the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11’s arrival on a new world, I started a new tradition for myself to honour the space programme and the people who took part in it.

This morning starts as usual with the feeding of the birds and making Mrs Kitsch her morning lemon drink before getting myself ready. Moon Day gets off to a good start when Mrs Kitsch presents me with this marvellous 3D Apollo postcard to mark the special occasion.
It even has some brilliant space stamps on the back.
What a fantastic start to this year’s Moon Day, thank you the lovely Mrs Kitsch. Then it’s down to Mission Control to begin Moon Day in earnest by setting out the mission objectives and having my astronaut’s breakfast. Here are the mission objectives.
Basically, Moon Day consists of me sitting in front of the telly watching loads of space related programmes and films. I’ve arranged a packed mission for myself this year but so long as I manage “Moonwalk One”, “The Apollo Story” an episode of “From The Earth To The Moon” and a couple of Clangers episodes then it would have been a successful mission.

I’m joined in Mission Control by Space Monkey, it wouldn’t be the same without him.
The traditional launch day astronauts breakfast consisted of steak, eggs, toast, orange juice and coffee and was prepared by an ex-navy guy called Lew. I don’t drink coffee so swap that for tea and Mrs Kitsch makes the eggs and as far as I know she was never in the navy. Here’s my astronauts breakfast.
We have lift off. I've had my astronauts breakfast, I'm wearing my NASA t-shirt and I’ve already watched two episodes of The Clangers. I'll proceed on to my next mission objective now which is to watch “Moonwalk One”. Further mission updates will appear throughout the day.

Mission Update:
Moon Day is progressing nicely, all systems are still go. I’ve watched “Moonwalk One” including the extras. It was pretty much what I expected and definitely worth having the special directors cut, two disc DVD. I’ve had it since Xmas but held off watching it till now and it was worth the wait.
However, I’ve also just watched “The Apollo Story: Man’s Journey To The Moon” which was something of a disappointment, despite being presented by the great Patrick Moore. It was made in conjunction with the Science Museum in London with some of it filmed there. Patrick Moore was good but the film didn’t go into very much detail and the quality was pretty poor with the sound going out of synch with the picture. Plus there was this hotchpotch of a montage at the end that included a lot of non-Apollo related images that didn’t seem appropriate. I really couldn't recommend that anyone bothers with this one, you're much better off spending the money on “The Sky At Night: Apollo 11 A Night To Remember”. Still, it was only a few quid from Amazon and I’ve seen worse documentaries. More mission updates to follow.

Mission Update:
I’ve just watched a couple of episodes of “From The Earth To The Moon”, one of my favourite TV series ever. It was made following the success of the film “Apollo 13” and has all the same high quality production values of the film, with Tom Hanks introducing each episode as well as co-writing, co-directing and appearing in at least one of them.
The episodes I watched were “Spider” about the making of the Lunar Module followed by “Mare Tranquillitatis” about the actual landing. Brilliant. I can’t tell you how much I love this series. More mission updates to follow.

Mission Update:
Watched an episode of “NASAs Greatest Missions”, the one about Apollo 11’s moon landing unsurprisingly. Top stuff. Yes I know I’ve seen it before, that’s not the point. It’s still good.
Followed by the film “Apollo 13” with commentary by Jim & Marilyn Lovell. It’s impossible for me to watch this film without the accompanying water works but with Marilyn Lovell actually crying during the commentary I was shedding tears well before the end of the film. Fantastic. A brilliant film to end Moon Day with.
So there we have it, another marvellous Moon Day draws to a close. Before it does though, I’ve found a couple of websites worth having a look at. There’s some good photos on the NASA Goddard Photo and Video's photostream on Flickr and a NASA site about Apollo 11. Have a look why don’t you.

Happy Moon Day!

Suggested viewing: “The Sky At Night: Apollo 11 A Night To Remember”. I watched this for last year’s Moon Day and it’s quite brilliant.

Monday, 19 July 2010


I’d totally lost track of the date. Tomorrow is July 20th or as I call it “Moon Day”, the anniversary of the historic moon landing by Apollo 11.

I celebrated this last year, the 40th anniversary, with an astronauts breakfast (orange juice, steak and eggs) followed by a day of watching Apollo related TV including a Sky At Night special looking back at the BBC coverage of the launch, landing and splashdown, including a surprisingly moving lift off in black and white, and James Burke doing all sorts of brilliant astronaut stuff, which was all fantastic; plus an episode of The Clangers (the one with the astronaut); the film “The Right Stuff” and some other moon related programming.

A great day and one which I plan on celebrating again tomorrow with some different moon related TV. But as I say, I had totally lost track of the date. I’ve already been to the shops once today but I’m going to have to go out again to buy the steak and orange juice for my astronaut’s breakfast.
The countdown has begun, or at least it will do when I get back from the shops for a second time today.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep

So the other morning in the very early hours I was awoken by birdsong. This happens pretty much every morning and despite the interruption to my precious sleep I actually enjoy it and drop off again with a smile on my face and the birds in my ears.

On this occasion however, it was a new bird noise, obviously not one of the garden regulars (see here for details). The calls were very loud and very shrill, short and regular with the occasional extra note or two at the end of some of them. “Who could this new garden visitor be?” I thought, then turned over and went back to sleep.

At a more convenient hour I got up to feed the birds as usual, still hearing the new bird call, and ventured into the garden to see who was making all the noise. I wasn’t quite awake and it took a while for me to focus properly on the bird at the back of the garden, sitting on the fence and calling for all his worth. As things came into focus I could see it was a baby bird, the large yellow gape was a giveaway as was its round fluffiness. It was larger than a robin and I’m pretty sure it was a blackbird chick.

As I watched he launched himself from the fence and flew in a straight line at the house. I thought he was going to fly through the open door into the house but instead he missed the open door and flew into the closed window and knocking himself silly.

I once saw a baby dunnock do the same thing and die right in front of me, it was very sad. At least this little fellow hadn’t died but he was very wobbly and was clearly semi-conscious; I was able to get close enough to have him put one foot on my hand. I didn’t know whether to pick him up or not and as I was deciding what to do he came round, called out again and ran off behind the pots.
From then on his calls didn’t let up, once every couple of seconds or so. Does the call mean “I’m here, come and get me mum/dad”? It seemed like that anyway but if it was, mum and dad didn’t pay much attention and didn’t come and get him. There were plenty of blackbirds in the garden at one time or another but none of them seemed to take any notice. Only the robin seemed to pick up on the distress calls and he didn’t seem to know what to do either.
The poor thing, let’s call him Chirpy as that’s what he was doing the whole time. He moved about the garden finding different spots to call from, sometimes in good cover, other times a little more exposed. While Mrs Kitsch and I were having breakfast he came to the door and looked like he was going to come inside for a moment. He didn’t though but we did get the chance to take some photos.
My other half and I managed to get close enough to try and give him some bagel soaked in water. He took a little from her but wasn’t keen to take anything from me. I really wanted to pick him up and take him indoors where he would be safe from predators, out of the very hot sun and maybe persuade him to take some more food but you’re not supposed to do that, so despite his pitiful calls, and the dopy expression on his little birdie face, we left him to his fate hoping that mum and dad would come along and get him back to the nest.

Chirpy moved around the garden again for a bit, still calling out and we went indoors. I kept checking on him and could hear him even when I couldn’t see him. At one point every time he called you could see the bushes move, so he was obviously in there somewhere. Then I went out again later and nothing; no calling and no sign of him. I wish there was a more satisfactory ending to this blog but there isn’t. There was no sign of him for the rest of the day. I hoped to hear or see him again today but there’s still no sign.

He may have flown out the garden too far for us to hear; he may have got back to the nest and not have the need to make so much noise; or something less palatable but all to “natural” may have occurred. I don’t know. Poor chirpy.
It was good to get so close to a chick but a bit too distressing for me to see him so obviously distressed. As Mrs Kitsch said of nature quoting Thomas Hobbes, its “nasty, brutish and short”. Poor Chirpy, poor us.

Suggested reading: “On the Origin of Species: By Means of Natural Selection” by Charles Darwin

Monday, 5 July 2010

More Space Books

What do you do when you have no money and no more room for books in the house? In my case you buy more books. My name is Gary Smith and I am a bookaholic.

Before we get to the books though I’d like to say a big thank you to Michelle, aka Cowboys and Custard, for the fantastic rocket gift she presented me with on a recent visit to her lovely house. Thanks Michelle, as you can see the rocket has proudly taken its place alongside some of my other space ornaments.
So, on to the latest additions to the space library. First, Norman Mailer’s “A Fire On The Moon”. Mailer was asked to write about the moon landings by Life Magazine and this book is the result. I haven’t read it yet but I gather it’s not altogether complimentary about the endeavour but then he was a wife beater and something of a miserable bugger, so what can you expect?
Last year the brilliant Taschen published “Moonfire” a book that added Mailer’s writing to some amazing NASA photos to create a really special book and one that’s definitely on my “must have” list. If money was no object though I would absolutely have to have the special edition of the book. The special edition was limited to just twelve copies, it comes in packaging that opens out into a lunar lander and it comes complete with a piece of actual moon rock! Unsurprisingly, it costs thousands. Come on lottery! Meantime, I’m more than happy with my second hand copy of Mailer’s original.

Next up is another copy of The Obverser’s Book of Manned Spaceflight. Yes, another copy as I already have the second edition of the book with a picture of the ASTP on the cover.
This is the third edition with the space shuttle and a space station on the cover. Now of course I’m on the lookout for the first edition with a picture of Skylab on the cover. The Observer’s books are just lovely aren’t they? I found some interesting websites about them recently, so if you are into the Observer’s books you might want to have a look here, here and here.
Finally, I bought the latest edition of Spaceflight Magazine as it had an article on Apollo 16 astronaut Charlie Duke and another on Russian spacedogs. I couldn't not get it could I?

Keep watching the skies.

Suggested reading: “Moonfire: The Epic Journey of Apollo 11” by Norman Mailer

The Joy Of 6

The BBC Trust has rejected the proposal to axe 6 Music. Well done to everyone who made their displeasure about DG Mark Thompson’s insane idea known to the BBC and in particular to the BBC Trust. We did it. Thank you.

Suggested listening: 6 Music

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Big Money

This may well go down in the history of our small family as the summer of car boot sales. The weather has been lovely so it’s well worth being outdoors. Also Mrs Kitsch has been quite industrious and sold a number of things online, so we’ve been out there looking for lovely kitsch and vintage items to re-stock her online shop. The trouble is of course that we also end up buying stuff for ourselves and all the good work we did de-cluttering when we moved house a few years ago is being undone. Still, what ya gona do? Well, actually, we could go to a car boot sale and sell stuff rather than buy it, but who wants to get up that early? Exactly.

Being the eagle eyed scout that I am I completely failed to spot these two fantastic items, fortunately my other half was on the ball and got them for me.
I’ve had a brief look online but haven’t found anything out about them yet. They’re metal, quite heavy, about the size of a digestive biscuit and obviously souvenirs, possibly paper weights, rather than proper coinage. I’ve put a £2 coin next to them for comparison but maybe I should have used a digestive biscuit after all. I was thinking of including coins in my art work so these things are just right to help me with that.
Unfortunately, the Americans still deem it necessary to put the phrase “in god we trust” on their money; well it is the official motto of the United States so it’s not much of a surprise really. As I’ve mentioned before, I refuse to paint anything religious in case I’m mistakenly seen as endorsing religion, so I won’t be using that phrase in my work, however, the Latin phrase “e pluribus unum” meaning “out of many, one” seems to sum up America far better to me and I’ll be happy to include that in any future work. I’ll probably make up a coin design rather than try and reproduce an actual one anyway.

We’ve also been hitting the charity shops hard recently too where I spotted a couple more books. Blimey, not more books Gary? Yes, more books. This one about The Flaming Lips was only 50p so how could I not get it?
I’ve been a fan of The Flaming Lips since I saw them at Glastonbury several years ago. If you ever have the opportunity of seeing them play live then grab it with both hands, they have to be one of the best live bands of all time. I don’t know that much about them though so this book is a welcome addition to the library. Did I mention it was just 50p? Anyway, then there’s this little book.
Now I picked this up intending for Mrs Kitsch to make badges out of as it’s full of cute little pictures of squirrels and other woodland creatures. But then we sat a read it the other the day and it’s quite delightful. It tells you all about a year in the life of a squirrel in a very factual way and frankly if I had kids I'd get the whole series and read it with them. I learnt things from it, for instance, when the female squirrel is about to have her young she evicts the male squirrel from the drey (nest) and he and some of the other evictees move in together for the duration. It’s full of stuff like that, brilliant. Anyway, it’s really sweet and I got rather attached to it, so I’m keeping it. What can I say, I love squirrels. They’re the British equivalent of monkey’s so what’s not to like.

I rather like the grey squirrels, unfortunately, not everyone shares my opinion and there are plans to cull them in Cornwall so that the less attractive (I’m not keen on those silly tufts on their ears) but native red squirrel can get a foot hold again. This seems mad, not to mention racist, to me but what do I know about it? If we’re going to get rid of, or at least reduce, so called “non-native” species where do we draw the line? Rabbits aren’t native to this country, probably being introduced here by the Normans. And how far back do we go before we regard something as British? If you go back far enough there were once lions and elephants and all kinds of plains animals roaming around what is now Britain but I don’t see anyone suggesting re-introducing lions back into the country.

I suppose you could draw comparisons with the American grey squirrel taking over the land from the native British red squirrel with the white settlers in the United States taking over the land from the Native American Indians. Bury my nut at Wounded Knee. Still, I like the greys so I say move over Tufty, there’s a new squirrel in town and this town ain’t big enough for the both of yous. Anyway, it’s called evolution and obviously the reds simply aren’t up to the job.

Suggested listening: “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots” by The Flaming Lips

Friday, 2 July 2010

The Folk Art Of Cactus County #18

Howdy partners, here’s another gem from the world of Cactus County. This is called “Cactus County Desert Scene” which pretty much speaks for itself.
I’m afraid that at the moment I can neither confirm nor deny rumours that some of my work has been bought by Charles Saatchi for his Museum of Contemporary Art, as I’ve only just started these rumours and I want them to spread a bit first. Anyway, this piece is acrylic on canvas, 18cm x 13cm.