Thursday, August 24, 2006

Barbados Diary: Day 11: Thursday 24th August 2006

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Barbados Diary: Day 11: Thursday 24th August 2006
Last night my friend Johnnie took me out for a ride. We went to St Lawrence at the south of the island. He showed me where he lives and then we went for a drink in a Mexican bar. I’ve already commented on the wonderful nicknames that the Bajuns give each other – some of them thought up at childhood which somehow stick into adulthood. Johnny told me that the colossal giant behind the bar was called ‘mouse’, I laughed and said that he sure was the biggest mouse that I had ever seen! He was so big that he even made Small look err... well, small. I had a Pina Colada which was as delicious as it was naff – with its umbrella, pineapple slice and cocktail cheery sticking out of it – very macho – don’t you think? I was pleased to discover that it was happy hour so I was given another complimentary one – with predictable results!
Today I had to go and see ‘Top Cat’ who is the stonemason on the island who has carved all of the fountains for the house. He’s a stocky short chap and his nickname comes from the days that he was a champion cyclist. Looking at him, he does look pretty much all muscle and all that stone carving must keep him in shape.I think that Top Cat is a very good artisan and craftsman – he had ten guys cranking it out for him, sawing, carving, filing and polishing plus others on various sites around the island, installing and making good the various works. I spoke to him about the possibility of making a frog or similar three dimensional sculpture for me to mosaic onto. He agrees that the form needs to be ‘fat’ in order for me to work on it without it becoming too fiddly. He says that he can do anything, any size, and from what I have seen, I believe him. The plan would be for me to make a ceramic maquette which once approved by my clients, the Wilsons, could be scaled up in stone. I would then mosaic over it. He can’t quote until he sees the maquette – and neither can I – his price will depend on complexity of form, size etc. My price will be down to surface area to mosaic and the materials used.
I’ve finished the full size mock up of the shield today as the elusive pink paint has at last arrived. It’s a bit pink to be honest – but after the wait I would use it even if it was cerise – the colour I mean -not Cyd Cherise the actress. Now all I have to do is to place it in situ atop of the entrance lobby and photograph it. This is proving easier said than done – due to the fact that I’ve used my wonderful and beautiful ‘Neocolour’ water-soluble crayons – and it simply won’t stop raining here at the moment. I leave tomorrow lunchtime so I still have a bit of time yet.
You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Barbados Diary: Day 10: Wednesday 23th August 2006

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Barbados Diary: Day 10: Wednesday 23th August 2006
Poster seen in the police station – which I saw when I went to license my bike: “Is your head full of questions? Then the nearest LIBRARY is in Holetown”Sorted!
Today was a good day. Fajer the tiler has started on the entrance to the master bathroom – so we saw the laying of the beautiful, elegant ‘leafy’ strips that I designed in Mexico. This is the first time that Fajer has fixed smalti, so I was keen to see if he could handle it. He made a first class job and I couldn’t see any of the zigzags joins - which is what I was hoping for. (Or ‘hopping’ for if he hadn’t had got it right!) Fajer seems to be the only guy on the island capable of this work - otherwise I would ask for someone with more social graces! – But not to worry – I can’t persuade my client to make a policy of employing people on the strength of their etiquette can I? – If I did it, there would only be myself and little Lord Fauntleroy here – and even I’m a BIT suspect!
Before the meeting Biggie pointed out to me that my flies were undone. I quickly rectified the situation – well at least he now knows why my nickname isn’t ‘biggie’ too. The guys are much friendlier now that they have got to know me – especially John who I like a lot – I just wish I could understand him. I’ve made a full size version of a shield with the crest of my client's family name on it. It is very stylish – a cross with a dove and I need the pink paint to make it all stand out. John the paint for me, so I called him to ask if it had arrived. He talked for ages but I couldn’t make any of it out. “So is that a yes or a no?” I asked. “NO!” he replied – “oh, ok”.
I cut it too fine in going out for dinner today. I wasn’t really all that hungry but by 5.30 I realised that I had better eat before it was too late. It gets dark really early about 6.30ish and very quickly, so I found myself cycling home in the pitch black, which was actually pretty scary. Johnny the driver had warned me not to go out at night and the other night when he took me for a ride, he turned his lights off on the way back up the hill – to demonstrate how incredibly dark it actually was – so I had no excuse did I?!
You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Barbados Diary: Day 9: Tuesday 22th August 2006

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com

The Barbados work is shown on page:

www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Barbados Diary: Day 9: Tuesday 22nd August 2006

Ryan was keen to see me when I arrived today – “Doren’t lokkit!” he pleaded and said that he wanted a ride. Softened, I decided that maybe I COULD let him have a go, but rather than just hand over my precious bike – I’d ask John to supervise. Fortunately for me, John was in business mood – and got strict with me “At twelve – o-clock you can GIVE him your bike, but right now he’s on my time!” err- fair enough – so that’s that sorted. The motto: “He who fights and runs away -, lives to fight another day” could almost have been written especially for me. I got out of more fights VERBALLY as a teenager than you could possibly imagine – I used to hang out with “those rough necks” as my mother called them – just to avoid getting my head flushed down the school loo – but that’s another story – God bless you Dartmouth Comprehensive – “show me a buoy” … etc. etc. (Actually I wrote “‘shoe’ me a man” then – by mistake – which is probably better – a bit like Larkin’s: “They TUCK you up your Mom and Dad” – bless! My daughter Mollie relishes these stories of childhood hardship and listens with disbelief - asking for more – as if I can just make them up on the spot – which I’m ashamed to admit, sometimes I do. To her eleven year old mind I don’t think that she can differentiate between the school bully Mr Bellingham (Head of languages!!! – say no more) and the marvellous Wackford Squires – with his one eye - when the popular consensus calls for two. (I’ll correct that later – hence no quotation marks) But now I come to think about it neither can I!

My bike has caused SO much attention that I should give him a name shouldn’t I? Well for starters he’s definitely male and likes to go fast – so maybe Sebastian is a god name – after Coe – but a might pretentious don’t you think? – People might think that I am referring to the effete character in Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Brideshead Revisited’ and I wouldn’t want that would I? So – any suggestions? I think his name should summon up images of someone slim, manly and macho – in sharp contrast to his mount!

Before I left, I said to my friend Andrew that I thought that 12 days on my own was along time. He replied that the first few days would slip by and soon it would be half way through and before I knew it, it would be time to come home – I shrugged this off – but it turns out that he was exactly right. These seasoned sailors know what they are talking about – ask Johnny Depp.

Diversion: “Shoe me a man” – makes me think of ‘the boot being on the other foot’ and ‘walking a mile in another man’s shoes’. I am in a privileged position as far as Ryan is concerned – I just decide that I want a bike and go and buy one. My defence is that they are cheap here – well cheaper than cars anyway and at least he has a job. I’m grateful to be protected by my position here – I wouldn’t want to have those same conversations with Ryan, off site and late at night - in the dark.

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com

The Barbados work is shown on page:

www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Barbados Diary: Day 8: Monday 21th August 2006

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com

The Barbados work is shown on page:

www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Barbados Diary: Day 8: Monday 21th August 2006

Conversation overheard at ‘One Love’ bar in Holetown: “What you gotta ‘stand see – what you gotta do… is like…listen to me…If something HAPPENS…then it is PREDICTABLE. If something DOESN’T happen then it is UNPREDICTABLE!” - ANON

Today I started a blog! The address is:
http://martincheekmosaics.blogspot.com/
Quite a few friends have suggested that I should have a blog, and I’ve always shrugged it off, fearful of all that extra work, but my friend Brian Sibley – a wonderful writer and broadcaster - has convinced me that it is worthwhile – so I can’t argue with him can I! What MAKES it’s worthwhile though, is the feedback – so why not visit it and tell me what you think?! There you will find my Mexican diary, which is how I got here in the first place!

I continue to cycle everywhere much to the amusement of the locals. I eat out every lunchtime – keen to get one hot meal a day. I don’t go out at night, partly because I don’t want to cycle in the dark and partly because I don’t want to be a ‘Johnny no mates’ in the excellent friendly local restaurants. Consequently I eat too much at lunchtime and have to lie down to digest it – like a snake. Even this suits me well though, I don’t keep regular hours – I’ve been self employed since 1982 – and find that my most productive time is at 6 in the morning. Most people start their day slowly – build up to a peak around midday and trail off (supposedly the best time to call someone is around 11, when they are having their coffee.) However my ‘graph’ is one of gradual decline I’m afraid! This proved a disaster when I taught at the Royal College of Art – I would get in early, raring to go, all fired up – but where were the students? They’d show up at midday, scratching themselves and were ready to get going by 4 in the afternoon – my down time. Timing certainly IS the essence of comedy – and, as I get older – everything else too. (Discuss.)

Meanwhile – back at the ranch - the architect, is back on the island (Ranch?!) today and I had a meeting with him at 5 this afternoon. I have a new respect for him now that I have seen the house nearing completion – yes I KNOW that anyone else could have SEEN that from the plans on day 1 but I lack that imagination – my imagination works in mosaic but not in architecture – funny that. Anyway he looked great - after a full treatment for cancer – if I hadn’t known, then I’d never have guessed – he looked the same as when I first met him 18 months ago. He was congenial and on form.

We discussed the house and its progression, notably the mosaic tiling. I expressed my admiration of Fajer, the Syrian tiler (see previous diary entries) who it seems, is the only person on the island capable of carrying out the works. This is a shame because we are behind schedule and it would be great if we could clone him – like Dolly the sheep, which by sheer coincidence – he resembles quite well – albeit not so woolly. A FLOCK of Fajers is an interesting prospect, but that said, I think it is a mistake to rush things and risk spoiling anything at this crucial stage.

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com

The Barbados work is shown on page:

www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Mexican Diary Introduction: Barbados Mosaic

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Mexican Diary Introduction: Barbados Mosaic

My brief was to design a mosaic floor that would capture life on the Caribbean island of Barbados. I was given a list of all things Bajun, which included Dominoes, cocktails, Breadfruit trees.
My initial design went down well – it showed a Bajun couple dancing to a calypso rhythm, being played out by a third figure on the steel drums. The floor was circular so that their three poses – their ‘lines of action’ carried through to form a circular ‘andamento’ or flow.
My clients felt that the mosaic design was a good start but lacked authenticity. It was therefore decided that I should visit Barbados for a week or so to get a proper feel for the place. A tough call, I know, but someone had got to do it. My first reaction was that this was a bit over the top, but when I actually came face to face with the breadfruit, banana, palm and papaya leaves, I began to realise what my client had meant.
The actual mosaic was made in Mexico. This is the first time that I haven’t made everything myself in England, but the sheer size of the floor meant that it was simply not possible for me to work fast enough to finish it on time. If I worked a five day, forty hour week, then that is the equivalent of twenty Mexicans working each day. The mosaic factory was very efficient and ship shape, they really knew their business, having produced many mosaics over the years for swimming pools, hotel lobbies and airports.
The mosaic was made in many small parts – like pieces of a huge jigsaw puzzle. The design is firstly drawn onto strong brown craft paper and then cut up into the ‘jigsaw’ not in even squares but in haphazard zigzags that that the joins don’t show so obviously on the finished floor. Next time you visit a Roman villa, take a close look at the mosaic floor and see if you can spot the joins – the subtlety (or not!) of these connecting lines is considered one of the qualities of mosaic work.
Each piece of mosaic was then boxed up and shipped to Barbados to be laid down in situ. The mosaic is made ‘indirect’ in other words it is upside down and back to front, the paper side being the final surface. Thus the finished mosaic is perfectly flat.

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Mexican diary 13: Present Dilemma

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Mexican diary 13: Present Dilemma

I have a rather odd dilemma facing me. I am here for another 10 days or so – I HAVE decided to leave on the 29th in order to go and see my old bro, his new partner and baby. The mosaic is on the home stretch now and will certainly be finished by the time I leave.
My dilemma is this: presents! What should I give to all my friends when I leave them? SO many people have been so good to me whilst here and have given ‘A & B the C of D’ – remember that one? It stands for ‘above and beyond the call of duty’ – I like that. Already the hints are flying thick and fast. When I told Elizabeth, my interpreter, that I was going to Taxco last week, she said that I needed to know her neck and finger sizes in order to buy her some silver. Charlie has asked for my mobile phone when I leave which I had difficulty saying “No” too even though I plan to return and it IS actually quite an expensive item.
Their guile is rather touching in its childlike nature, which naturally reminded me off my own childhood.
FLASHBACK: We only had one couple, my mother’s uncle Edgar and his wife Auntie Hilda who were anything like what would now be termed ‘well off. Edgar had an engineering works which made hubcaps for cars and the like and reading between the lines I think that he had had a ‘good war’ benefiting from the fact that the machines could be adapted to make military items maybe even ammunition – I don’t know because none of this was ever mentioned. Uncle had that confident air of the self made man – a sort of Churchillian figure sans cigar. Auntie Hilda was a very quiet lady, shy I guess. She reminded me of the Queen Mother – even then – though she was a good deal plumper. Once when visiting their house I was impressed by a box of After Eight Mints on the coffee table. This was an unheard of luxury as far as I was concerned. I opened the lid of the box to discover that about half of them had been eaten but the dark empty envelopes remained. I spent a agonising minute trying to figure out whether Auntie would notice if I were to eat one of those delicious looking dark chocolate wafers, I had seen them advertised n he TV but had never tasted one. I would love to report that I ate the lot and had to sit down with an extended stomach prior to throwing up all over the carpet but I wasn’t that adventurous. I simply closed the box and tried to replace it in EXACTLY the same position that I had found it. Another example of Edgar & Hilda’s wealth were the many Royal Doulton figures that adorned their house. Auntie’s favourite was the balloon seller, a sentimental piece of an old lady, the poor but honest type who had a fistful of balloons. These were in the days before I had developed what I would now call ‘taste’. The word I would have used to describe these figures, especially the balloon seller, had it have been invented then, would have been NAFF. It’s funny to think that my own children have a much more finely tuned sense of what is good and bad ‘art’ than I ever had – they wouldn’t have fallen for any of that refined tat for a minute.
My guile though, was put into play one afternoon when Auntie Hilda came to see my mother. I produced my mother’s Freeman’s catalogue and opened it at the page that contained the coveted annuals, those Christmas books based on the weekly children’s comments. I showed thee to my Aunt pointing out my particular favourites and explained why these were the best. After Auntie had left my mother went red with a mixture of anger and embarrassment. “She knew what you meant you know!” she shouted. “That’s good – I should hope so too.” I thought, suitably chastised as I looked down at the floor in a pose of deep regret and guilt. Sadly my cunning plan didn’t work and I had to wait until after Christmas for the annuals to be slashed down to half price before getting my eager hands on them.
…………………………………………………………………………………………

So what to do? The thing is that there are SO many employees at Kolorines. At least twenty five people have contributed to the mosaic. These are basically poor people in our terms – Eli told me (rather pointedly I thought) that the mosaicists get paid about 900 pesos a week which is about £10 a day. Even by Mexican standards that is not a lot of money. I can’t help but remember Dolores and Alexander and that ‘night at the races’, even though I realise that it’s a ridiculous analogy – if that money hadn’t of been lost there it still wouldn’t have made any difference to Eli. Besides which, it was THEIR money and not mine, they are free to spend it as they wish. It is really none of my business – except that I was invited as a spectator – or more even – to participate – which I failed to do, which had naturally disappointed them. I remember as a child, being encouraged to write about what a waste of money the NASA space programme was, given that there are so many staving people in the world. We all responded earnestly and spewed out what our lefty teacher was expecting from us – had even PRIMED us to deliver. I can now see that the two things as completely separate issues – this is the same deal – if the money hadn’t been spent on putting a man on the moon then the LAST thing it would have been spent o would have been food for the poor. It just makes you think that’s all.
On my flight over here I chatted to the Mexican girl who sat next to me, she was a student of plastic technology – vacuum forming – that kind of thing. She was very well educated and intelligent. She told me that Mexico doesn’t have a middle class; you are either rich or poor. I didn’t really understand what she had meant at the time but I think I understand what she meant now.
Dolores and Alexander are clearly rich by Mexican standards and as we know from out bible studies, “To the rich shall be given and from the poor shall be taken away”. This quote always reminds me of chemistry, where every atom desires eight outer electrons for stability – thus if an element has seven electrons he will steal the extra one if mixed with an element who has only one outer one.
So full of good intensions, I went to Taxco - the town of silver. It was a beautiful place with many white houses and a fabulous cathedral. However the silver was simply overwhelming and knowing absolutely nothing about jewellery, I did what I often do when faced with so much choice – I bought none of it. I DID buy some millefiori beads though and I’ve asked Charlie to make a pair of earrings, a necklace and bracelet. I will give these to Eli – with the excuse that the mille will remind her of me – we have been using my mille in the mosaics.
One idea I have had is to buy about four HUGE cakes that I have seen in the Supermarkets. We can all have a celebratory slice when the mosaic is finished.
Eli tells me that I am the first person to compliment the ladies on the quality of their work. It’s apparent that they are not used to praise. If I compliment one of them in front of Luigi and ask him what he thinks about the section of mosaic in question, he will say something along the lines of “This one’s no good at – I’m thinking of giving her the sack” This is meant to be taken all in good fun – and indeed it is taken thus – but it has the effect of being a put down nonetheless. My personal feeling when working with other people is just that – to work WITH them. Not FOR them when I am the employee and not to treat others as though hey are working FOR me when the tables are turned, as in this case. My intention was always to make the mosaicists here feel part of something special, something that meant something. By demonstrating that I really cared about the mosaic, I was able to get them to care too. My mosaic work is all in the detail, often the changes that I was insisting on are small and may seem petty: the length of a hummingbird’s beak or the positioning of the highlight in its eye – but it is these very details that I feel make the difference between my work and somebody else’s. When people copy my mosaics and send them to me for my approval, (why?!) I feel that they never QUITE look the same – when I examine say, that frog, he isn’t looking back at ME, it looks dazed or worse dead. That old chestnut: ‘look after the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves’ can equally be converted to ‘pay attention to the details and the broader picture will emerge by itself.”

When I went to Taxco with Charlie I had every intension of buying him lunch. This turns out to be lunch for his sister and the taxi driver as well. Of course I didn’t mind, but I was a bit surprised that I was EXPECTED to pay for everything – that was the unspoken deal. I am not rich, but to their eyes, the very fact that I am here in the first place makes me appear so to them. At one point when we were browsing around the market stalls, Tania came to me and indicated that she wanted to show me something of interest. This turned out to be a man selling cold cans of fizzy drinks and it was my round! There was no word of thanks for any of this – in paying I was just fulfilling my duty – playing out my role and doing what I was supposed to do. In my line of work I inevitably mix with rich people – who else can afford the luxury of a Martin Cheek mosaic?! But even so, when taken out for dinner I always offer to pay my way – even if I know that my fellow diner is a millionaire. I also know that even millionaires experience cash flow problems from time to time.
I actually quite enjoy these moral dilemmas – especially those that have no right or wrong solutions and rely on one’s gut feelings for an end result. For example I was once sitting in the Chelsea Arts Club when the people at the table next to me started slagging off a dear friend of mine. I wanted to stand up for him, defend him, state his case but then again I shouldn’t have been eavesdropping should I? So what to do?

Martin Cheek 24.07.05

I decided to take my friend Polly’s advice and treat her comments as instructions. I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t hand over the beautiful mosaic lily to Dolores. Frankly I was so shocked and disappointed in her when she presented me with a veritable tome of additional charges. Every sock that had been washed, that one shirt that I had asked to be ironed when I went dancing with the girls, each lemon, every single tortilla was listed. At first I assumed that the prices were in Mexican pesos as Maria Rosales, the Kolorines secretary, had assured me that the extra charges would be minimal. However there they were - in US dollars, Dolores currency of choice as witnessed by me on our ‘night at the races’. The food bill was particularly irksome because I had struggled greatly to eat the stuff put before me and had hardly touched any of it. My first day with Dolores had seemed promising – she took me to her freezer and began emptying the contents before me as a demonstration of how much she loved to cook. “Porky!” she announced proudly as held a dollop of scone like ‘stuff’. I was equally puzzled and intrigued by the various solid packages in all shapes, sizes and colours. I made all of the appropriate sounds of encouragement throughout this presentation.
I’ve found the diet hard to adjust to. I quickly learnt to give those mushy grey brown refried beans a wide birth, but despite this obvious precaution, I’ve still managed to work my way through an entire packet of Imodium, kindly given to me by my client. She passed them to me with comment but with a knowing look in her, which I was to learn the meaning of at this later stage. The instructions on the packet simply state: “Take one or two tablets after every loose movement”. I’ve now created more loose movements than Beethovan and the fact that toilet rolls are dispensed around here as if they were sheets of gold leaf, does not make life particularly relaxing. I always have to go and ask when I needed a new roll, which is happening with increasing regularity as the Mexican tummy settles in.
I got the feeling that Dolores realised that she was pushing her luck. She squared herself up as if to let battle commence. She was very bullish throughout as she insisted on going through her list. I had had enough by then and just wanted to cough up and go, but Dolores was determined to see this one through. Of course it was partly my fault for not getting this all straight from the beginning. The fact was that I was extremely tired when I first arrived at Dolores’s house and somehow we never got around to discussing this. Dolores seemed ready for a fight and I was equally determined to walk away. The fact that she was off to Acapulco in two days hence, where to quote “the casinos are better” seemed to me to be no small coincidence. I gave her the money and politely withdrew. It was the last time I ate with either of them, preferring from then on to take the cheaper option of eating out in restaurants.
Initially I was very sorry not to be able to join them both on their Acapulco trip – I had been cajoled into running a mosaic course – but after this episode I realised that I had had a lucky escape. I was beginning to wish more and more that she could have had better luck and a big win that ‘night at the races’ – I wonder if that would have made a difference?
This was about ten days before my departure but I only saw Dolores once after that fateful day. She leant out of the bedroom window and shouted after me. We had a long distance conversation like this, me on the lawn staring up at her with the sun in my eyes, her bawling down at me like the clichéd fish wife that I’d now decided that she resembled. Dolores admitted that Acapulco had gone badly, lady luck had not smiled on them in the casinos and it had rained throughout. Suddenly the prospect of that mosaic course didn’t seem so bad after all.

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Mexican Diary #12: Diego Rivera

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Mexican Diary #12: Diego Rivera

I saw my first ACTUAL work by Diego Rivera ‘in the flesh’ yesterday. It was ‘The History of Cuernavaca’ at the Palacio de Cortés here in Cuernavaca (natch). It was good. I choose the word carefully – not excellent – not spiritually moving – good. Like a poster or a piece of graphic art that works – it reminded me more of an illustration than a great work of Art and that’s also what I think about Rivera himself – more of a graphic artist than a painter. Sure it purported to greatness – and there’s nothing wrong with that. The horses were pure Piero Della Francesca – but having been to Aresso two years ago and seen the real thing I’m beginning to spot the difference. It’s taken time but it’s happening. I’m not saying that Rivera is a faker – it’s just that he didn’t move me spiritually in the way that say, Botticelli or Raphael always do. It’s beyond reasoning, beyond academia – like when the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end when you hear a great piece of music

The paint was applied very thinly- no impasto anywhere – which added to the overall effect of being a renaissance fresco, though it wasn’t tempura – it looked like thin acrylic paint.

He made it look EASY though and that’s always a good sign. I looked at it and thought “So what’s all the fuss about – I could have done that.” – Which paradoxically is always telling. It’s so easy to say or to think like that - once the problem has been resolved. But the fact is that you or I didn’t do it – HE did. The ultimate example must be found in the acting style of Cary Grant – no one in my opinion, has ever made acting seem easier – he seems to be stealing money from the film producers but that’s the very point – substitute someone else and it simply isn’t the same. I’ve banged on at length about how “simple is difficult” but I truly believe that to be the case.

Those big white Lilies feature heavily in Rivera’s work – the best ones in my opinion That and the fact that you see them everywhere in the markets: on plates, salt shakers, boxes et all – which drew me to the conclusion that the lily must be Mexico’s national flower. It isn’t – the rose is, but surely then it must be their FAVORITE flower?

By coincidence the first major retrospective of Freda Carlo’s work is currently showing at Tate Modern. A Broadstairs artist – who shall remain nameless – but of Russian ascent – enough said – no name – no pack drill - went along on the opening day dressed as Freda – attached joined up eyebrows et all. “Are you the artist?” an American asked. “Yes, of course!” She replied. All very funny but in the end, you can’t graft on talent by association – I myself had to learn that the hard way.

This reminds me of a personal anecdote: I was at the Christmas party of my publishers: New Holland. It was fancy dress. One of the editors was dressed, in what I thought was the spitting image of Maria Callas – she looked VERY operatic - complete with full length black dress. Although she was only a stocky 5 ft tall, every inch of her oozed of the great diva. So naturally I went up to her and announced proudly: “Don’t tell me – you’re Maria Callas!.”
“No – I’m Freda Carlo” She replied icily – and sad to say, those were the last words she ever spoke to me.

After writing this piece I went to the Modern Art Gallery in Cuernavaca. Where I saw the most wonderful works by Rivera. Seeing them in the flesh made me change my opinion of him and indeed Freda Carlo. There was the most wonderful painting of the film magnate’s wife ? who’s collection this jointly had belonged to. It showed her in a long flowing whit dress surrounded by the Mexican white lilies so popular in Mexico and which also feature heavily and regularly in Rivera’s work. Her dress is split to just below the knee to reveal her shapely legs. This viewpoint completely echoes the surrounding lilies and as such makes for a brilliantly witty and elegant composition.

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Mexican Diary #11: Mexican Dogs

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Mexican Diary #11: Mexican Dogs

I’ve never seen dogs like they have here in Mexico. I think that this is because in Europe they would have been put down long before they reached this stage. The RSPCA would have a field day here – though finding out exactly WHO these mangy curs belong to might prove difficult.
But ‘Mangy Cur’ doesn’t really adequately describe your average Mexican street dog. I bet you’ve got in mind a picture of that loveable flea bitten, Walt Disney ‘Old Yella’ type of hound with a heart old gold who’s sadly got rabies and so the little boy now has to put him down. Well you’re right about the last bit anyway – apart from the putting him down bit.
Let’s start at the beginning – I’m no stranger to street dogs. Ask my daughter Mollie – her favourite anecdote concerns the time that I was bitten by a Labrador in Fulham. There was this nutty Czech lady who earned her living by walking fourteen dogs at a time. None of the dogs were on a leash – no doubt she’d tried this but they must have kept getting tangled up. But then she couldn’t have started out with fourteen dogs – I wonder at which point she abandoned the leashes – Seven Pekes? Eight Spaniels? Who knows? – well certainly not her because she was MAD. I’d often seen her with her pack of various hounds: big and small, black and white, pedigree and mongrel. But on this particular day they caught me by surprise, attacking from the rear as it were – like Lawrence of Arabia taking Acabar - and just like in that film, I acted like Anthony Quinn (playing ‘Zorba the Arab’ in this case) and did the worst possible thing under the circumstances – I panicked. Any sane person will tell you that making a run for it is not an option when there are fourteen dogs involved. If there is only one dog, he will chase you for a while, exert himself a little, get a bit of daily exercise and then give up , thrug his shoulders and smile to himself as if to say “well that was a bit of fun” and then go about his doggy business. I know this as a fact - I was not a paper boy for all of those teenage years without learning this simple fact of life. Go visit 443 Queslett Road, Great Barr, Birmingham B43 6EJ and try to knock on the door if you don’t believe me – better still – try and stuff a newspaper through their letterbox – you’ll see what I mean, And if you’re someone who likes to be prepared then have a pair of NIKE trainers handy.
That’s what happens when one dog is involved. Not so though fourteen dogs. FOURTEEN dogs want to show off. They want to prove themselves in front of their piers – in short they act as a PACK- just like the hunting dogs of the Serengeti that you have seen on TV – beloved of Saint David Attenborough of the British Broadcasting Corporation but sadly not to one else – least of all baby lions, hippos and giraffes.
Anyway, now we have another one of those ‘guess what happens next?’ scenarios – except that I’ve already told you that I got bitten – so let’s change that to a: “guess what happened where” scenario to make it more interesting. Answer: my bottom – right between the cheeks.
Have you ever been bitten by a dog? If so, you will certainly remember this – IT DOESN’ HURT! Don’t ask me why it doesn’t but believe me it doesn’t. I THINK it’s because of the sheer shock –the sheer audacity of the situation takes precedent. Afterwards it hurts like hell though. I remember reading the same thing about shark bites – it was in the mid 1970’s when ‘Jaws’ came out and we all went shark crazy and every teenager in the land became an expert on shark behaviour overnight. Apparently a shark’s bite has an anaesthetic effect on your severed leg – well not the severed leg exactly – I mean the bit that you have left - but somehow this scientific fact is difficult to credit when applied to a black Labrador’s canines sunk into the cheeks of your arse.
Anyway, I stormed after the lady and yelled at her “Madam, one of your dogs just bit my bottom!” (Yes I know – don’t ask me why - but I get very polite when roused.) “NO! – not one of MY dogs!” she replied – as if there were any other rampant dogs roaming around the streets of Fulham that morning. I limped home, doing a very creditable impression of the late Charlie Chaplin – minus the hat and cane of course. Once home, the pain got to me, finally reaching my brain and I decided that retribution was in order. I hobbled around to my local G.P – ‘no appointment necessary’ as far as I was concerned anyway, and sat perching precariously on a chair whilst I patiently waited my turn.
“So what’s the problem?” was the Doctor’s predictable question. I explained, without having really though this one through. “Well we’d better have a look at it then hadn’t we?!” (What’s with all this WE – I never understood that ‘we’ – as if I could do it by myself – inspect my own rear – that’s why it’s called a ‘behind’ because it’s behind you – ergo you can’t see it yourself. And besides, why would I bother going to the Doctor in the first place?) He was quite a young Doctor and I could tell that he was having trouble trying not to snigger at the situation. I can freely admit now that it WAS funny but at the time I was sore and angry – angry and the top and sore at the bottom.
“So what do you want ME to do about it?” he asked. Obviously this hadn’t been covered at medical college, neither was it written into the Hippocratic Oath. “Well you could write a note saying what has happened to me.” I entreated. So the Doc wrote a note which said “Mr Cheek has been bitten on the bottom by something that looks like it might have been a dog.” It was the ‘might have been’ that was disconcerting – as is ‘an over amorous vampire’ might have been an equally adequate diagnosis.
I wasn’t exactly satisfied but didn’t know what else he could have done under the circumstances. On the way home I posted the letter through the door of the offending hound. I knew who owned the dog you see – it belonged to our local Conservative MP who happened to live next door to my friend’s Jim and Penny.
Later that day a note came through MY door. It read: “I gather an incident took place earlier today – come to Number 83 if you wish to discuss it” No mention of the dog – clever that. I marched round and was invited in. There he sat, our local representative of righteousness, looking for the entire world like John Bull. “So was there any blood?” was all he asked. I was livid at his casualness, his lack of any form of apology. “No” I replied “ But your next door neighbour Jim and I both have three year old children – and if either of them get bitten by your dog, I will personally take a mallet and break it over his head and THEN we will talk about who’s responsible!” then I stormed out. A cleverer man would have taken him to the cleaners but this was in the days before ‘Claims Direct’ – just think I could have been on their adverts if I had played my cards right. As I said, this is Mollie’s favourite anecdote. Often, during a dinner party, if there is was a lull in the conversation, she would say: “Dad, tell them about the time that you got bitten on the bum by a dog!”

So back to Mexico. Since being here I have only seen two cats, but I’ve seen hundreds of dogs. The journey from the airport was a case in point. We drove past about five road kills which I was certain were dogs. “Are those DOGS?” I asked. “SI” was the reply. The taxi drivers explanation was that dogs are put in the back of pick ups where they get bored or frightened and jump out, getting run over on the highway almost immediately. I guess this is a reasonable explanation along with those strays who just try to cross the highway, maybe to meet a chicken half way. “Why doesn’t someone clear them away?” I asked. Well it seems .like it’s just another one of those OPB’s – other people’s problems. I wish that those old ladies who frequent Broadstairs Town Council meetings to complain about dog turds on the streets could be magically transported to Mexico by osmosis. I have spent hours in such meetings waiting for the pertinent point of order – for example to question why the local beer baron has been handed the lease of our local town hall on a plate so that he can turn it into another of his ‘luxury hostelries’. Somehow whatever the subject in hand, those ladies ALWAYS manage to bring the subject back around to dog shit. I somehow think it would do them good to have to deal with the whole dog instead of just its waste. And that’s just the dead ones – the live ones are more threatening. As I sit waiting for my daily taxi at six every morning I find myself having to study these beasts. Their eyes shine in the half light, once again reminding me of those hunting dogs or wolves to which they are not so distantly removed.

There is a particular dog who ‘lives’ near here who is a good example of what I am talking about. No doubt you have seen a dog with a few scars or bite marks on its hide - well this one is covered in ‘em – just like a Dalmatian, but instead of ‘spots’ he has scars. So I’ve nicknamed this Disney outcast Vincent. This is due to the fact that he only has one ear and thus resembles our favourite Dutch Post Impressionist. In fact I bet if you give could him a gun and an opposing thumb, he too would shoot himself – and in doing so, bring his similarity even closer to that great monauricular painter.
If I was in government here I would set up MexSACruD: The Mexican Society Against Cruelty to Dogs. I’m afraid to say that it would start with the mass round up and slaughter of every stray dog in Mexico – leaving law abiding Mexican’s free to wander the streets with their bottoms intact and in peace.
After a few weeks I have found that I have grown quite fond of the Mexican dogs – believe it or not. I think it’s partly to do with so often seeing them at night in the pouring rain, drenched through but still going about their doggy business, or during the heat of the midday sun sheltering under cars. I even saw two dogs who I swear were holding hands like ‘Lady and the Tramp’ except these two were ‘Tramp and the Tramp’. I’ve had to walk past packs of these mutts so often now that I realise that they are actually on the whole very timid of people. I think that they are shown their place quite early on. I witnessed a small by beating his dog – looking for the entire world like that the little brat in Howarth’s engraving ‘Industry and Idleness’ – he didn’t have the metal poker but that wasn’t his fault. I was in a taxi and witnessed his cruel act as we sailed past, which will have to serve as my excuse for not stopping to chastise him.

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Mexican diary #10: Miguel and Carlos

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Mexican diary #10: Miguel and Carlos

Miguel (Michael) & Carlos (Charlie) are my new friends from Spanish school. Miguel is 35 and looks exactly like Alfredo Moreno who played Diego Rivera in that remarkable film about Freda Carlo called simply: ‘Freda’. It was said that Rivera looked like a bullfrog and n liked to describe himself thus, making caricatures of himself as a ‘rana’. Miguel looks similarly froglike, which doesn’t sound very appealing at all but in fact he is very handsome. He is certainly striking, and so not surprisingly was the first person I remember seeing as I entered the school. He looked very stern and macho and being daunted by his appearance was rather hoping that I wouldn’t be teamed up with him. I was though, along with an elderly lady called (?) who looked like the living dead – complete with sunken eyes only further extenuated by heavy eye shadow – pushing them visually back even further into the depths of her eye sockets. She told me that she had been coming to the classes for years and enjoyed the company. This reminded me of my mother in law Kitty, who after about 17 years of night classes in Spanish was still on lesson 1. The fourth person in our team was a lady called (?) who was very nice and was in fact taught English at a local primary school.

The was that the lessons work is that the two hours are divided in half: the first hour being devoted to Spanish and the second half to English. We were given some Bingo cards with pictures on them: toothbrush, house, shop etc. which I had to turn over and read out whilst the other 3 played Bingo. It was at this point that I began to understand Miguel’s true metal. I really couldn’t believe how patient he was with me as he repeated, over and over again those words that I simply couldn’t pronounce properly. I’ve never been able to roll my ‘r’s – you could even call it a mild speech impediment. My mother was forever trying to get me to say “aRRRound the wRRRagged RRRocks the RRRagged RRRascal RRRan” as opposed to “awound the wagged wicks the wagged was cal wan”. I was never quite up to Jonathon Wes’s standards, my mother never felt it so bad to feel that I needed elocution lessons but it’s there nonetheless. It can actually be quite sweet. My friend’s John & Chris have a daughter Lucy, who when called to dinner, replied, “I’m Weeding Wupert!” Anyway, Mexicans are BRILLIANT at rolling there ‘r’s and Spanish seems to rely quite heavily on this skill. My only solution is to put my hand up to my epiglottis and wiggle it up and down as I speak – it doesn’t work in the slightest but it shows the Mexicans that I trying and at least understand what it is SUPPOSED to sound like.

Miguel is an engineer, who work sin Cuernavaca reason for wanting to learn English is the same as everyone else’s that I’ve asked at the class – he needs it for his job and command of English warrants better pay.

I met Carlos on my second visit the following night and warmed to him immediately. He is twenty years old and makes jewelry – in fact he had his wares sprawled out all over the table like a market trader and it took him some time to clear the decks. I guess I’m trying to say that he’s immature – and indeed he is – but there’s nothing wrong with that. Carlos SO reminds me of a friend from my animation days James Keating. This has inspired me to write a separate piece just about James – which I attach with this one – in case you are interested.

James Keating

I first met James Keating when he turned up at our house in Fulham. He was a ‘runner’, and had been sent by Pete Bishop, the director of ‘The Film Garage’ and the latest ad that I was working on, with some designs which I was to convert into animateable objects – or puppets, if you prefer. James was a hippy, to all intents and purposes he resembled Neil out of ‘The Young Ones’ – unfortunately he SMELLED like him too. “Christ James, why do you smell so bad?” I asked rather tactfully, I thought, under the circumstances. It turned out that James had SO wanted a job that he had begged Pete to take him on, for a pittance, which Pete had readily agreed to do. Unfortunately James had nowhere to stay in London, so he waited until everyone had gone home for the night and then he crept back into 143 Wardour Street where he kipped for the night. It was a good plan, but after a few weeks produced predictable results as far as his body odour was concerned.
I was having my breakfast bowl of muesli when I noticed that he was staring at it with what most people would agree, was more than normal concentration. “Err...Have you eaten?” I asked. “No, not yet” he replied rather mournfully. I reached for another bowl and handed it to him.
Well I’m sure that you’ve eaten muesli in your time. Personally I usually find it a bit too much like hard work - first thing in the morning – too much mastication is bad for a boy – but it’s supposed to be good for you, so when I feel up to it, I face it. Not so James. He filled the bowl so full that it resembled Mount Vesuvius – he even had to make a WELL in the top – like you do when mixing concrete – in order to slowly add the milk. I remembered that when ‘Alpen’ was first introduced to Great Britain in the early 1970’s the ads were at pains to point out that six tablespoons was the correct helping – so needless to say the WHOLE of Britain carefully measured out EXACTLY six tablespoons of Alpen each morning – for fear of what might incur should one exceed the stated dosage. So to see James literally PLOUGHING into his museli was more than I could bear. That, together with the appalling smell infiltrating the kitchen told me what to do next. I went upstairs and ran a bath. When he had finished Mount Vesuvius James came upstairs. “Get in the bath” I said. I didn’t exactly treat him like a baby, but it felt like that. My son Tom was about three years old at the time (he’s fifteen now) so I guess I was in ‘Dad’ mode. I fetched him a towel – which I’m sure you don’t need to be told, went straight into the washing machine as soon as James had left. Do I have to describe the grey ring that circumscribed the bath and took me twenty minutes and three ‘J’ Cloths to clean off? No I thought not.
“Thanks” said James as he ran off - he was always impeccably polite – and ran he did. I never saw him doing anything at half speed in those days – never had the job title ‘runner’ been more accurately used. James might have smelt like a tramp – but there was something incredibly appealing and attractive about him. He had a charming naivety which I am a sucker for – in all the years I knew him, he only ever thought positively. I never heard him say a bad word against anybody – which in the film industry is quite an achievement.
So what became of James after that? Well I’m proud to say that I persuaded him to go to film school. I was fortunate enough to be teaching animation at Bournemouth at that time and he easily got in, this would have been around about 1994. After the first term though, the head of department decided that James was a disruptive influence on the rest of the class. James’ problem was that he thought he knew more about film and was more talented than his tutors, which of course included me. My problem was that I KNEW he knew more and was more talented than the rest so put together. I fought his corner and it was agreed that he wouldn’t be asked to leave – instead he was given his own portacabin away from the other students, in which to carry on with his work. Can you imagine that happening now? We all agreed that he was talented – I had actually convinced myself that he was a genius, but that was partly due to the fact that he could draw like it was going out of fashion, which indeed it was!
I loved James. I don’t mean in any sexual way but I loved him. In fact it was impossible not to love him – he was a very loveable person. When his Mon got too frustrated with him, she used to ring me up. His father had died years before. James’s parents were both scientists, boffins, who had met in a wind tunnel. I used to joke with James that he had been CONCEIVED in a wind tunnel – with Mr & Mrs Keating standing at either end – a neat trick if you can pull it off – which they obviously had. Mrs Keating saw me as a calming influence on James – but ultimately nothing or no-one was going to control him. He set up ‘The House of Bong’ in Bournemouth of all places, using a grant from the Prince of Wales Trust, no less. Somehow he had managed to persuade me to fill in all of those wretched forms with him, vouch for him with his bank manager and give him a reference. No one was more surprised than I was when he was awarded that grant – not even Prince Charles. ‘The House of Bong’ sold everything to do with dope except the demon weed itself. Before long he was raided by the police – probably due to complaints from the neighbours – well would YOU want ‘The House of Bong’ next door to YOU?! But they could find nothing illegal. In fact the police even admired the fine craftsmanship of his cannabis candles. Yes, I’m afraid to say that he was casting up candles in the shape of cannabis leaves – a big seller for some reason. I couldn’t believe the amount of consummate skill, time and effort – in my opinion completely misplaced – that it took to make those stupid candles.
Eventually the inevitable happened. Cannabis is not supposed to be addictive, but within the space of two years, I witnessed the human dynamo that was James Keating change into a sloth that couldn’t and wouldn’t get out of bed until he’d had his morning joint. We all waste energy – put time into projects that in retrospect are lost leaders, but I never saw such a waste of talent as in the case of James. There is a funny side to all of this – as a teenager James was not developing as a boy should so Mrs Keating sent him to the Doctor who gave him male hormone pills. Within weeks James shot up to a staggering six foot four inches and almost overnight became hung like a donkey. His success with women was limited though to say the least – I don’t think that any woman could handle ‘the hippy’ as he called himself. But EVENTUALLY when he DID lose his virginity he became father -scoring one out of one – a batting odds that would be justifiably admired and wished for by millions of wannabe parents all around the world. Unfortunately His partner was a hippy too and soon after the baby was born, disappeared with another man to travel around the Himalayas leaving James literally holding the baby. The baby was called ‘Joren’, James had wanted to call him ‘Ren’ after the cartoon Chiachowa in ‘The Ren & Stimpy Show’ but his partner had the sense to put the Kybwash on that at least. A year later he came to see me, with Joren. He was struggling at being a single parent. I remember having to change Joren’s nappy and clean up his puke. Having my own children to look after at that time made me think that I really didn’t need an extra one – or two even. That was the last time I ever saw James Keating – but I’m thinking that it’s about time I looked him up again…

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Mexican Diary #9: Back to Skool

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Mexican Diary #9: Back to Skool

I’m moving house today. I’ve decided that 6 weeks in a hotel is too much for anyone. I actually don’t enjoy all that fawning and room service – it wears off after a few days. I’ve found a very simple but clean apartment, it’s also in a quieter, quainter neighbourhood nearer to the Byzantine studio. Its also cheaper of course I was paying 500 pesos a day at the hotel, which adds up for 6 weeks, whilst this one is 150 pesos – less than 1/3 the price! It also has a swimming pool and a garden area where I can read and relax (or weed and relax) if I wish.
I’ll let you know how it goes but it feels like the right thing to do.
My latest news is that I am being sent to school! Maria has decided that I have to learn Spanish – everyday I get told this by at least one of the workers here. Strange to say that languages are my weak point. I find it amusing that some people think that creativity – like being able to draw – is God given via a thunderbolt – like in that Beethoven ‘Pastoral’ sequence in Disney’s ‘Fantasia’. Well I think the same about learning a language. Well at least I have the incentive here.
SO I have to go twice a week: Tuesdays and Wednesdays after work 6.00 – 8.00 pm. It’s pretty full on here – I’m usually dead by the time I get home so we’ll have to see how I cope with that one.

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Mexican Diary #8: A Different Man

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Mexican Diary #8: A Different Man

Last Saturday, Dolores & Alexander decided to take me to dinner in Mexico City.
I turned up wearing what I thought ‘looked the part’, in my brand new Barbados bright blue shirt with orange fish and coral on it complete with shorts and sandals. Dolores looked shocked at the sight of me and frowning sceptically asked, “Have you got a better shirt than that?” So I went and changed the shirt for a more sober, plain blue one. “Where are your long trousers?” I changed into them and not wishing to take any more chances and cause further comment, I swapped the sandals for socks and shoes. “Haven’t you got any black shoes?!” She asked. “No, I’m afraid not. I’m travelling you see.” – omitting to add that even in England I don’t own a pair of smart black shoes. “Have you got a jacket then?” “No – no jacket either” Dolores looked across apologetically to Alexander who just shrugged his shoulders as if to say “Well I suppose he’ll have to do” and off we went.
This was not the first time that I have been known to let the side down sartorially. I remembered that time that my friend Jim had invited me to the RAC chess dinner. Knowing what I was like and not wishing to take any chances, Jim had instructed his wife Penny to make sure that I knew how to tie my tie and a ‘dry run’ was organised. I demonstrated to Penny that indeed I did know how to tie my tie but she was not impressed with my effort. “No not like that – the long end has to fall far enough to reach your privates” she said. I would love to be able to say at this point, that this meant that of course the tie wasn’t long enough but I’m afraid that this would be a false boast. With Penny eventually satisfied, I was allowed to make my way to the RAC club, courtesy of the number 14 bus. I wore my one and only suit. Unfortunately it was green and Jim’s comments alluding to Robin Hood were enough to prompt me to buy a more suitably suited suit for the following year’s dinner. And there lies the rub – the only time I ever had to wear a suit was for that annual chess dinner at the RAC. It was also the only day of the year that I combed my hair – but more of that later.
In the car Dolores turned to me. “Alexander says that there are two choices: One is very expensive. Tequila will cost 60 pesos, the other is cheap so we can drink as much as we like. Which do you prefer?” I thought that the diplomatic choice was the cheaper option so I plumbed for that. However the look of disappointment that immediately spread across Dolores’s face betrayed my mistake. I quickly backtracked and she was all smiles again.
The meal was wonderful. This was the first time that I had tasted Chicharron – the huge sheets of pork ‘scratchings’ broken up and placed in tortillas with salsa which tasted much better than I had imagined possible. The main course was ‘Barbacoa’ – shoulder of lamb which was shredded and put in a tortilla with salsa – a kind of Mexican equivalent of that terrific dish of Chinese Duck in pancakes with plum sauce beloved by Tom & Mollie. This was washed down with the aforementioned tequila, the expense of which now seemingly forgotten.
Best of all though was the show, with the ‘Mariachi’ – these are the musicians dressed in national costume. Their performance along with their fellow dancers and singers was every bit as good as a cabaret show one was likely to see in a theatre. It was all very colourful, slick and professional.
“Alexander want you to say when you get home that you saw this!” said Dolores emphatically. I assured them that I would do so.
That night after a few more Tequilas, my sorry appearance finally got to Dolores. ”I give you haircut - NOW!” she said. I think that under normal circumstances I would have put up a better fight but after their negative reaction to my turn out earlier that day, along with the gratitude I felt for them taking me to Mexico City, my resistance was low.
And so it was that I found myself at 3-o-clock in the morning, stripped to my underpants sitting on a plastic stool in Dolores’s and Alexander’s shower. Alexander was very attentive throughout the proceedings and insisted on poking his head around the shower curtain at regular intervals to offer encouraging comments to Dolores and drinks to me. He was very keen that we all carried on drinking, which for me at least wasn’t conducive – I wish I could say the same for Dolores though, as her alcoholic intake played predictable consequences on her hairdressing skills.
“A DIFFERENT MAN!!” She kept saying loudly, as she pushed my hair further and further back across my scalp. I suppose she meant to say “You will look like a NEW man” but that one slight word - lost in translation – was very disconcerting. I remember thinking “I don’t WANT to be a different man – I just want to be the SAME man - ME!” By now I was wishing that it could all be over but the time taken to ‘coiff up’ seemed interminable. By now I was shivering from the cold and considering making a run for it. Eventually though I became different enough to be released.
So now after all these years I find myself applying dollops of hair gel to my locks each morning as I step out of the shower – something I never imagined I would ever have to do. How now, I deeply regret taking the piss out of my son Tom for doing the same thing – nicknaming this ‘the duck’s arse’ style – much to his sister Mollie’s amusement at least if not Tom’s. The next day at the studio I was expecting to be laughed ‘off the set’ but my enthusiastic interpreter Elizabeth was as supportive as ever: “Everyone think you look better – younger!” - She implored. I was grateful for their support but I think I’ll leave the final judgement until I get home – to those who know me best of all – the ones who knew me BEFORE I became a …‘different man’.

Martin Cheek 31.06.05

Postscript: The following comments were sent by my friend Polly. I thought this so good that I wanted to add it here:

“Hair – whether one’s own, or that of other people- can be, and often is, a subject that raises amazingly strong opinions: “Geeeeeecher ‘air cut, yer ‘orrible little man” is an old joke that was far from funny; you feeling it necessary to be horrid to Tom about hair gel: my Mother’s hair, constantly the cause of compliments from total strangers: my own hair, the style of which I have kept unchanged since my 4th birthday: the instant, and binding, feelings of derision that some of the old have for any young man with long/coloured/styled/strange hair: the feelings of pity we have for very old ladies who still dye their hair black...the reason for these disproportionately strong feelings ALL humans have about hair is that it stands on the boundary of the living and the dead, the present and the past, what is true and what is false. Only the root of each hair is alive – what we see, and admire or deride, think beautiful or ugly, feel is suitable or unsuitable – is already dead, and belongs to our past. It is the place upon the cusp of things upon which our hair stands that makes us so sensitive.
As far as hair and nails going on growing after death is concerned, I don’t think it’s for very long. Of course individuals vary: some peoples’ hair grows at tremendous speed, and others have very thin hair that grows hardly at all. I believe the average in the Western World is about half an inch a month.”DID actually know about hair being dead, my (rather strange) hairdresser makes a point of telling me this fact every time I ‘have my knob scratched’ – as we used to say in Birmingham – though I hardly think it’s a selling point for his trade – do you? Polly’s comments made me wonder how long one’s hair keeps growing after one has died. I know it DOES keep at it, but for how long? I remember from those Hammer horror films how Peter Cushing would unearth the mysterious corpse with the trailing white locks. Fingernails keep growing too – but again for how long?
This prompted me to ask Polly again, who replied:
“Hair and skin and nails all rely entirely for their nutriment upon the bloodstream, which brings to each cell all that is necessary for its growth and /or renewal; so common sense might suggest that, once the blood has ceased to function altogether as the bringer of food, growth would slow and stop. However, there are strange but well-documented stories to the contrary, and certainly my Mother can remember her brothers, as children, shaving an elephant’s-foot umbrella stand (!) in the spirit of scientific enquiry, and the bristles growing again.”

As far as criticising Tom’s hair is concerned, my defence is that he is my SON! I should be allowed to comment on his appearance. Call it parental duty or responsibility if you wish, as opposed to Dolores who had no right to interfere with me!

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Mexican Diary #7: A Night at the Races

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Mexican Diary #7: A Night at the Races

Last night I was invited to accompany Dolores and Alex for a night out at the races. It was agreed that I should join them after my Spanish lesson. Dolores wrote special instructions for me to hand to the taxi driver and I was set.
Dolores had explained that they both liked to have a weekly night out, betting on the dogs and never having been to a dog track – even though there used to be weekly meetings at a racetrack in Ramsgate – I decided that it would be an experience at least, and besides I wanted to be sociable towards Dolores and Alex after all of their many kindnesses.
I was dropped off outside a casino, where I was immediately frisked by a security guard. My bag was searched and I was asked if I had a camera on me, which was strictly forbidden. “Oh I guess that’s because you don’t want me to use flash and frighten the dogs?” I surmised. “Si Senor!” replied the bouncer – rather sarcastically I thought. I made my way inside and was dismayed and disappointed to see that it wasn’t a dog track at all. Instead, what greeted me was a sort of beautified, glorified, Ladbrokes betting shop –clad with those intimidating wall to wall TV’s and decked out with comfy chairs complete with waiter service et all.
Alex and Dolores had beaten me to it and called me over, making me immediately welcome as always, offering me a drink. I plumped for what Alex was having: coffee with a glass of Anis on the side. The Anis was Mexican – nothing like Pernod or Ricard – it was a sticky, ever so sweet liquor, but went down very well with the coffee nonetheless, which incidentally, was the first decent coffee I’ve had since getting to Mexico. The reason that I was late was because I had stopped off on route to buy some wonderful Mexican cigars: TE-AMO ‘Miniperfectos’. I had decided to get these because, like many, when surrounded by a company who all smoke, I find it easier to resort to join in and start smoking myself. I know that this is weak wiled, spineless and shows complete lack of mortal fibre and fortitude, but then again, it’s a form of survival – and at least I don’t inhale harmful cigarettes. It’s a strange thing that even though I often start smoking cigars when abroad – for example in Greece, I also find the hot climate paradoxically contusive – I am able to immediately kick the habit on return to England with no noticeable cravings or regrets.
So there I was looking for all the world like the last of the great gamblers -complete with coffee, liquor and cigar and here’s the rub - I had already decided NOT to bet. I’m not judgemental about it or anything like that – it’s just not my bag. Twenty-six years ago, as a student, I had had a fantastic win: the 66:1 ‘Baron Blakeney’ o which I put £5 each way + tax, having eavesdropped over a conversation in the local pub. My £335 winning exceeded a terms grant at the time, it was 1979 and £335was a heap of money in those days – for example, my rent was £20 per week – all in. Anyway, when I admitted my ‘crime’ to the unwitting tipster – Alan Rogers – who became a good friend – he was delighted, but gave me a lecture. He told me that I was that rare thing – a winner – so long as I stopped there and then. He made me promise that I would never bet on horses again and thus remain on top. I agreed and have kept the promise I made to him that day.
Another interesting observation is that I simply don’t BELIEVE that I am going to win. As I sat there surrounded by all of those people: the bookies, the waiters, the cleaners, and even those dreaded security guards, (not to mention the owners of this establishment - who no doubt intend to make a profit,) I realised that they were all being paid and that their wages were funded by the ‘ill gotten gains’ taken from those ‘punters’. I’m sure that this desire and belief to win has to be there in order to enjoy the thrill and I’m afraid to say that I couldn’t muster it up from the depths. Not so though Dolores & Alexander – they had the grim determination of winners, indeed they made up for my wooliness in bucketfuls.
Alex followed the horses, on those ubiquitous TV’s that lined the room above head height, whilst Dolores favoured a game similar to our Lottery. She showed me how to mark her cards for her – choosing any amount of numbers from 1 – 10 on different tables. Every ten minutes these numbers changed on the TV screens and you won or in her case, Lost, accordingly.
I’m really sorry to report that both Alex and Dolores continued to lose – BIG time. They then made the classic mistake familiar to all gamblers – they started to increase their bets in order to win back the money that they’d already LOST – Which is of course a mistake. It was around about this time that I started to lose interest – it all seemed so inevitable all of a sudden – and so I began to take more notice of my surroundings.
The two ladies on the next table were clearly ‘working girls’, one of them had the longest, most amazing false fingernails that I have ever seen in my life. These must have made even the simplest of tasks – like tying Her shoe laces – impossible to accomplish, but then again, I don’t think that this was the first and foremost thing on her mind. I was both astonished and amused in equal measures to witness her switch allegiance from each of the three men sharing the table, as they paid her the attention that she so craved. The main procrastinator was a born orator and even though I couldn’t understand a word he said, I could still tell that he was a crashing bore. Dolores told me that he was talking politics, Surprise, surprise – he was left wing – natch – and wanted the rest of the room to know it too. I think that the best definition of a bore is someone who doesn’t realise that he is being boring, and this summed him up to a tee.
Dolores was very scornful of the girls on the game and suddenly- out of the blue – as far as I was concerned At least, announced to me that I was sitting too close to her and that in her country, my proximity was an indication that she was “like those girls over there!” I shamefully inched myself to a respectable distance – no doubt crimson faced as indeed I always had been as a child when ‘someone’ in the classroom had committed an offence – even though I wasn’t that naughty boy, my crimson face spoke otherwise – refuting my innocence.
After what seemed like an eternity of increasingly desperate and unlikely bets, we finally left. On our exit, Dolores commented that the place had definitely gone down hill – allowing ‘those girls’ in. Alex agreed and I had to admit that they didn’t seem too bothered about placing any bets but then again, neither had I. Paradoxically this had turned out to be the cheapest night out that I have ever had.
On our way home, we stopped off at a tortilla bar on the street. Alex absolutely insisted on paying – he had taken his bad luck with characteristic charm and good humour. What a lovely man he is.
Well I guess it wasn’t the experience that I was expecting but an experience it WAS nonetheless!

04.07.05

There is a postscript to all of this but it’s untidy. I know that I’m not a great writer but I DO try and keep it tidy – round things up neatly – but of course, LIFE isn’t like that. Last night – the following night to the one above, I was struggling to finish the dinner that Dolores had prepared for me. It was very rich and as usual a bit too spicy for my delicate English taste. It was at this point that Alex gave me a lecture, telling me that God would be angry with me if I didn’t eat my meat and went on to tell me about all of the starving people in the world for whom, even a tiny piece of meat would be welcome. I agreed wit him but the irony of him losing more than my entire rent for the duration of my stay in one night ‘at the races’ was not lost on me.

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Mexican Diary # 6: Dolores& Alexander…

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Mexican Diary # 6: Dolores& Alexander…

…are my new landlady and her partner and also my new friends. They made me feel welcome immediately.
On the first Friday I was invited to join them in their outdoor bar area. This was a fully equipped pub, complete with music, TV and well stocked shelves of every spirit and liquor available in Mexico. I’ve been in respected establishments in England offering far less choice. This turned out to be a wild night – with just the three of us – dancing to the lively Mexican music, which I have quickly grown to know and love. When I offered my admiration to their elegant dancing style, Alex got it into his head that he was going to teach ME how to dance: “Uno, Dua, Tres!” He kept saying, as he held his arm about my ample waist and held my other hand aloft. But sad to say, just like in days of olde, when I even signed up for ballroom dancing evening classes – I just couldn’t get it. This did not deter Alex one little bit though, and a strange sight we must have made. I’m sure that you can remember that famous scene in Disney’s ‘Jungle Book’ when Baloo the bear dances with King Louis the Oran Utang – well imagine Baloo the bear dancing with his twin brother and you’re starting to get the picture.
It was agreed that on that Sunday we would go fishing together – they knew just the spot. Well, having read Ernest Hemmingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ and even being able to remember the old black and white film with Spenser Tracey, I got myself well prepared.
This anticipation was unfounded however, as we drove for about an hour, to a lakeside restaurant. Dolores’ daughter Grace and her baby Lily came with us, so we were a car full. Grace is twenty and spent the entire journey applying make up to her face – don’t ask me why – but this proved to be no small feat given the appalling state of the Mexican roads. Lily was very sweet and seemed to find me amusing so we all got on fine.
When we arrived, we had a very acceptable dinner sitting in the shade by the lakeside watching the various water taxis, water-skis and those infernal omnipresent Jet Ski’s meandering, skimming and whizzing past. I commented on my dislike of the dreaded jet ski – “But they’re FUN!” replied Grace – to which I had no answer.
I reminded Dolores about the fishing, which I had understood to be the main purpose of our trip and I had noted that no fishing rods were thrown into the boot of the car on departure, this was making me wonder where we were going to rent our rods from as there was no visible sign of a fishing shop or indeed anyone else fishing. Dolores kept saying “Later, later” as she pocketed tortillas and pointed to the other side of the picnic area, which looked pretty unsuitable to me. Eventually to my utter dismay she produced a roll of fishing line, a small packet of hooks and another similar one containing tiny weights. She handed me this gear and led me to the opposite bank. “I’ll show you” she announced, as she threaded a measly piece of tortilla onto the tiny hook – so THAT’s what she was saving those for. She unwound a decent length of fishing line and then commenced whirling it around her neck like those cowboys with their lassos always did, in those crappy Western movies beloved by my old Dad. She eventually let go it and it flew skywards, landing a few seconds later in the lake. She slowly pulled the line back in and gave it to me – “Now you!” she said and walked back to her family.
I distinctly felt like a little boy who had been given something distracting to get on with whilst the grown ups were left to talk – an all too familiar situation, reminiscent from my childhood. In fairness to them, it must have been quite a strain, having to talk in English and explain every little thing to this Inglese gringo. In fact Grace’s English is very good, Dolores’s is very fair and Alex’s is as good as my Spanish – but we still get along fine.
So there I am twirling this piece of fishing line around my head like Audy Murphy on a bad day, when I looked around me. Behind me, well within ‘striking distance’ were two young lovers doing, – well what two young lovers DO on days like this. I sensed another one of those ‘guess what happens next’ scenarios coming on, so preceded with extreme caution. After all, he looked like a big bloke and clearly didn’t wish to be disturbed – not even to have another ear piercing.
With every other cast, the line would insist on getting snagged on the rocky bottom and I was quickly getting through the tortillas and more importantly the weights and hooks. What happened next is almost too embarrassing to admit. An elderly Mexican ‘Viejo dama’ who had been studying my ‘style’ came over and took pity on me. She took the line from my hand and showed me how to do this thing properly. Her cast went about twice as far as mine, and after a few attempts she had hooked a fish, albeit a tiddler about four inches long. Clearly a veteran at this activity as in the rest of life, she then produced a bucket, threw the fish in it and told me to fill it with water. I walked down the jetty, filled the bucket with water but as I began to walk back, the fish spotted his lucky break and leapt out of the bucket and returned to the lake. I explained this to my newfound Mexican fishing instructor as best I could, to which she shrugged her shoulders in despair and went back to doing whatever it was she was doing before deciding to take pity on me.
So eat your heart out Ernest Hemingway, the sun rises on me too.

04.07.05

A Night at the Races

Last night I was invited to accompany Dolores and Alex for a night out at the races. It was agreed that I should join them after my Spanish lesson. Dolores wrote special instructions for me to hand to the taxi driver and I was set.
Dolores had explained that they both liked to have a weekly night out, betting on the dogs and never having been to a dog track – even though there used to be weekly meetings at a racetrack in Ramsgate – I decided that it would be an experience at least, and besides I wanted to be sociable towards Dolores and Alex after all of their many kindnesses.
I was dropped off outside a casino, where I was immediately frisked by a security guard. My bag was searched and I was asked if I had a camera on me, which was strictly forbidden. “Oh I guess that’s because you don’t want me to use flash and frighten the dogs?” I surmised. “Si Senor!” replied the bouncer – rather sarcastically I thought. I made my way inside and was dismayed and disappointed to see that it wasn’t a dog track at all. Instead, what greeted me was a sort of beautified, glorified, Ladbrokes betting shop –clad with those intimidating wall to wall TV’s and decked out with comfy chairs complete with waiter service et all.
Alex and Dolores had beaten me to it and called me over, making me immediately welcome as always, offering me a drink. I plumped for what Alex was having: coffee with a glass of Anis on the side. The Anis was Mexican – nothing like Pernod or Ricard – it was a sticky, ever so sweet liquor, but went down very well with the coffee nonetheless, which incidentally, was the first decent coffee I’ve had since getting to Mexico. The reason that I was late was because I had stopped off on route to buy some wonderful Mexican cigars: TE-AMO ‘Miniperfectos’. I had decided to get these because, like many, when surrounded by a company who all smoke, I find it easier to resort to join in and start smoking myself. I know that this is weak wiled, spineless and shows complete lack of mortal fibre and fortitude, but then again, it’s a form of survival – and at least I don’t inhale harmful cigarettes. It’s a strange thing that even though I often start smoking cigars when abroad – for example in Greece, I also find the hot climate paradoxically contusive – I am able to immediately kick the habit on return to England with no noticeable cravings or regrets.
So there I was looking for all the world like the last of the great gamblers -complete with coffee, liquor and cigar and here’s the rub - I had already decided NOT to bet. I’m not judgemental about it or anything like that – it’s just not my bag. Twenty-six years ago, as a student, I had had a fantastic win: the 66:1 ‘Baron Blakeney’ o which I put £5 each way + tax, having eavesdropped over a conversation in the local pub. My £335 winning exceeded a terms grant at the time, it was 1979 and £335was a heap of money in those days – for example, my rent was £20 per week – all in. Anyway, when I admitted my ‘crime’ to the unwitting tipster – Alan Rogers – who became a good friend – he was delighted, but gave me a lecture. He told me that I was that rare thing – a winner – so long as I stopped there and then. He made me promise that I would never bet on horses again and thus remain on top. I agreed and have kept the promise I made to him that day.
Another interesting observation is that I simply don’t BELIEVE that I am going to win. As I sat there surrounded by all of those people: the bookies, the waiters, the cleaners, and even those dreaded security guards, (not to mention the owners of this establishment - who no doubt intend to make a profit,) I realised that they were all being paid and that their wages were funded by the ‘ill gotten gains’ taken from those ‘punters’. I’m sure that this desire and belief to win has to be there in order to enjoy the thrill and I’m afraid to say that I couldn’t muster it up from the depths. Not so though Dolores & Alexander – they had the grim determination of winners, indeed they made up for my wooliness in bucketfuls.
Alex followed the horses, on those ubiquitous TV’s that lined the room above head height, whilst Dolores favoured a game similar to our Lottery. She showed me how to mark her cards for her – choosing any amount of numbers from 1 – 10 on different tables. Every ten minutes these numbers changed on the TV screens and you won or in her case, Lost, accordingly.
I’m really sorry to report that both Alex and Dolores continued to lose – BIG time. They then made the classic mistake familiar to all gamblers – they started to increase their bets in order to win back the money that they’d already LOST – Which is of course a mistake. It was around about this time that I started to lose interest – it all seemed so inevitable all of a sudden – and so I began to take more notice of my surroundings.
The two ladies on the next table were clearly ‘working girls’, one of them had the longest, most amazing false fingernails that I have ever seen in my life. These must have made even the simplest of tasks – like tying Her shoe laces – impossible to accomplish, but then again, I don’t think that this was the first and foremost thing on her mind. I was both astonished and amused in equal measures to witness her switch allegiance from each of the three men sharing the table, as they paid her the attention that she so craved. The main procrastinator was a born orator and even though I couldn’t understand a word he said, I could still tell that he was a crashing bore. Dolores told me that he was talking politics, Surprise, surprise – he was left wing – natch – and wanted the rest of the room to know it too. I think that the best definition of a bore is someone who doesn’t realise that he is being boring, and this summed him up to a tee.
Dolores was very scornful of the girls on the game and suddenly- out of the blue – as far as I was concerned At least, announced to me that I was sitting too close to her and that in her country, my proximity was an indication that she was “like those girls over there!” I shamefully inched myself to a respectable distance – no doubt crimson faced as indeed I always had been as a child when ‘someone’ in the classroom had committed an offence – even though I wasn’t that naughty boy, my crimson face spoke otherwise – refuting my innocence.
After what seemed like an eternity of increasingly desperate and unlikely bets, we finally left. On our exit, Dolores commented that the place had definitely gone down hill – allowing ‘those girls’ in. Alex agreed and I had to admit that they didn’t seem too bothered about placing any bets but then again, neither had I. Paradoxically this had turned out to be the cheapest night out that I have ever had.
On our way home, we stopped off at a tortilla bar on the street. Alex absolutely insisted on paying – he had taken his bad luck with characteristic charm and good humour. What a lovely man he is.
Well I guess it wasn’t the experience that I was expecting but an experience it WAS nonetheless!

04.07.05

There is a postscript to all of this but it’s untidy. I know that I’m not a great writer but I DO try and keep it tidy – round things up neatly – but of course, LIFE isn’t like that. Last night – the following night to the one above, I was struggling to finish the dinner that Dolores had prepared for me. It was very rich and as usual a bit too spicy for my delicate English taste. It was at this point that Alex gave me a lecture, telling me that God would be angry with me if I didn’t eat my meat and went on to tell me about all of the starving people in the world for whom, even a tiny piece of meat would be welcome. I agreed with him but the irony of him losing more than my entire rent for the duration of my stay in one night ‘at the races’ was not lost on me.

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Mexican Diary # 5: The Byzantine Studio

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Mexican Diary # 5: The Byzantine Studio

Working in the Byzantine Studio feels to me very much like running a mosaic course – except that they are VERY experienced and know what I am talking about. Also I don’t have to be diplomatic – if I don’t like something or simply don’t think that it is up to scratch then I make them do it again – strangely they don’t seem to mind or get upset at this but rather respect me for knowing what I want and not accepting anything else. My patron preferred the top (darker) side of the breadfruit leaf to the under (lighter) side. I have only one lighter one for contrast but that’s all I wanted – however one girl, despite being repeatedly told this, has continued to mosaic her leaf with the light colours – I’ve just explained it all to her very clearly and now she is starting from scratch.The leg of the girl is being mosaiced by Sr. Frederico who has many years experience. However I thought that his mosaic was really awful and made him change it. There was no ‘sffumato’ in his work – it was divided graphically into areas of tone – this would have been fine for, say, a poser or a completely different piece but doesn’t sit comfortably with this work. The girl should look very nimble and sexy and these legs ruined that effect. Frederico finds criticism difficult and doesn’t like the idea that a woman’s work - Josephine’s work, is so much better than his. He is the most demanding of my time – when really his task is straightforward – just do it as good as the ladies on table 1!I really feel that we are getting there. This is going to be a stunning piece of work. I am so pleased that I am here though – to oversee the project – I really think that it is making a big difference to the end result.There’s much more for me to do than I anticipated – which is good. I thought that I would have an easier time of it but I am happy that it is working out this way – mainly due to the quality of the work that is being produced. It’s also the case that Kolorines were expecting me to swan in at 10 – or whenever I felt like it and then disappear soon after. I think that the fact that I turn up on time, with everyone else at 7 each morning has given me credibility. Aida is Luigi’s personal assistant and seems to pretty much run the studio on a daily basis. If any o the workers want to take a day off hen they have to ask permission from Aida. I have also seen Aida logging the clocking in cards and making pertinent ominous notes – if anyone is late three days in a row then they are punished by being made to stay at home for two days, thus losing those two days pay. This must be pretty tough because as the pay is around £10.00 per day, one can also assume that that puts them all on the ‘breadline’ or ‘tortilla line’ in their case – a hand to mouth existence where even Mexico’s cheap petrol (by our standards) is seen as a luxury item.Aida is very glamorous indeed she looks as though she could easily be a movie star. Naming your child Aida is a bit of a gamble surely? I remember a Carmen who looked distinctly like Hilda Baker – complete with plastic curlers. But in her case it has worked.
You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Mexican Diary # 4: They’ve Started!

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Mexican Diary # 4: They’ve Started!

They’ve started on the mosaic, today is day two of production. I’ve chosen all the colours and it’s a great thrill to see the design coming to life – even at this early stage.
Well so far so good. The colours are lovely. I am able to communicate well with them and make comments – even though I am supposed to go through Aida – who passes on my comments to Luigi. I WILL do that for big things but small details I want to ‘nip n the bud’ and make sure that we are steering the ship in the right direction. – And I don’t mean the Titanic!
Alfredo the draughtsman is like a human photocopier – he will copy, flip, enlarge and reduce but he does not create - neither has he shown any sign of an artistic opinion that I have seen, and has so far offered none – even when pressed. When I ask him what he thinks he just agrees with me! I guess it is simply not his job to give artistic input. So when Magdalena said to me “He can do anything!” in many ways she was speaking the truth – in the same way that a photocopier can copy ANYTHING, can enlarge ANYTHING then so too can Alfredo. Frankly I miss the debate. With my old pal Andrew there was always a discussion – a REASON for doing whatever it was that we were doing – why the bird was blue, why his eye looked like that, why that line disappeared and emerged later on in another part of the composition – WHADEVER! All that said Alfredo is an agreeable chap though, he’s warm and friendly, he likes to please and I like him very much. He DOES see the point of any criticisms / changes that I suggest and makes them immediately without question. Of course I think I know what I am doing after all these years – I really don’t think that I could have handled this ten years ago, I still find it daunting, but I feel in control – so far anyway.
I’m getting on very well with Luigi too. So far we’ve agreed about pretty much everything. He DID put me under a lot of pressure to finalise the design – but I’m happy with the result so that’s fine. I had my first minor disagreement with him today though. I felt that the drawing of the female dancer was too short. I have made two attempts at this: the first, being 16 x the scaled original sketch, was far too large, the second 78% of that one, ended up slightly too small. Alfredo split the difference, but in my opinion lost the dynamism and dare I say it the spontaneity and sleek elegance of the original. I explained this to Alfredo, who agreed to start again. Luigi came by and said it was fine because she was dancing. At this point I decided to take action. I chose one of the girls, whose figure, I thought most matched the spindly form of the girls I had seen in Barbados. She was VERY shy and self conscious but eventually I persuaded her to strike the position of the dancer. At this point even I didn’t dare to point to her breast etc. so I demonstrated on my own (not so) sleek body – indicating the distance between the breast, the equilateral triangle formed by the nipples and the navel and finally the distance from the navel to the pubic area. I then transferred these principles to the drawing. I also pointed out how, being on the floor and therefore being looked down on at an angle, the figure appeared even more foreshortened that if it was, say, on a wall being looked at ‘head on’. I know this to be a consideration having seen ceiling paintings in Venice, notably by Tiepolo in the Academia, which are stretched out to compensate for the fact that they are on the ceiling and therefore the viewer strains his or her neck to look up at them. I thought I had put forward an unarguable case towards changing the drawing. Luigi simply said “Do what you want” and walked off. So as not to lose face, he shouted at one of the girls for having a bottle of coke on the work bench. Alfredo changed the drawing.
I’ve been told that it is not necessary for me to give a full scale colour design next time –Alfredo will do all that. However I wouldn’t have changed a thing and fully intend to work in exactly the same way next time. The simple fact is that it helps ME to work full scale – I find that when you enlarge a drawing say 16X as in this case – it looks entirely different. What looked delicate on the original – like the dancing girl, looked far too big and imposing when multiplied by sixteen. This is no doubt due to the fact that when you double the length you quadruple the area: i.e.: 2 x 2 cm = 4 sq cm where 4 x 4 cm = 16 sq cm and so on. So you’re not really doubling at all – you’re quadrupling! (This is a good tip to remember when grilling fish too.)
At the moment there are only 4 x ladies cranking out the mosaic. They are:Josephine (Breadfruit leaf - light) who has 30 years experienceMargarita (Breadfruit leaf - dark) who has 10 years experienceGuadalupe (Drums) who has 10 years experienceEtavel (Drums) who has 10 years experience
It seems to me that Luigi has given me the cream of the crop. They all know what they are doing. I go and have regular inspections and so far my changes and criticisms have been minimal and I’m pleased to say that in every case they have understood what I was on about completely and even agreed with me.
I’m surprised to see that, individually they are no faster than I am. I remember only too well Manuela Farnetti the Ravenna guide commenting on the St. Appollinaire Nuovo mosaic that the master would mosaic one square per day. “That’s astonishing” I commented “I can only ever manage a square foot” “Yes” she replied “But an EXPERIENCED mosaicist would make a square metre!” Well that put me in my place – see you in another twenty years time Manuela. I still refute that statistic. Maybe the team managed a sq metre per day or maybe the maestro did even – if all of if prep was done for him – including most of the cutting, but the fact that these guys here in Mexico work at the same pace as me makes me even more certain that this is a myth.
Starting the mosaic production is like pressing the button on a huge machine – like, say one of Willy Wonka’s chocolate bar machines. Apart from the gurgling the effect is much the same, like a huge dinosaur or Frankenstein’s monster coming to life. I choose this metaphor because I feel that the chances of stopping the damn thing now that it is in motion is about as easy too.
The workers all seem very happy. Their ages range from around 19 to 70 and some of them have been here for more than 40 years. They chat together and laugh a lot which is a good sign. Is it patronising of me to say that they seem so content? Maybe they don’t have any choice about the matter – that they simply have no choice and so they are making the best of it. It doesn’t feel like that though. Yesterday Eli – the only one who speaks English –asked me how many hours a day I put in on the mosaic front. I was too embarrassed to admit that I tend to work when I feel like it, that I have good days and bad days and a good day one day almost invariably means a slow day after. In other words I simply can’t stand the pace or keep up with these lot on a consistent day to day basis – never mind – there’s always the day job...err..But this IS my day job!
This is the first time that I haven’t actually made the mosaic myself, or at least some of it – I have taken on assistants in the past from time to time, when the job called for it – but nothing on this scale. It feels very much like directing a film, I have a vision in my head and it’s up to me to make sure that that vision becomes a reality and doesn’t get lost in the ‘Chinese whispers’ of filtration as it emerges via the hands of others.
And I’ve finished one!...Title: Mexican Day of the Dead CatMedium: Mexican Smalti, Millefiori Size: 60 x 53 cm
n.b: you can see this mosaic on my website – the page is:http://www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/day_of_the_dead.html
The cat is my first finished mosaic here in Mehico. It shows a ‘day of the Dead Cat’. In his mouth is a demon which he has caught as if it were a bird. The cat is very happy and this is meant to be a funny image.
The Day of the Dead is celebrated n November 2. It is the day when the dead are honoured. Offerings of flower, fruit and food etc. are made in the churches. Usually it is a parent, relative or lost loved one that is remembered but children also honour their pets- Tom’s rabbit Chippy would do well out of this one!
The skeletons are not meant to be fiendish, ghoulish or frightening in any way.
There are little boxes which you open up to reveal a skeletal man or woman or both – these are clothed in their Sunday best. Most of the effigies that I have seen on craft stalls have been pretty crudely made, however I was able to buy some extremely well made ones, with intricately painted details and it is these that I am using for the inspiration for my mosaics. I’m currently working on a dog to make up the pair. The dog is female – with a huge pink sombrero, and in his mouth he has a tortoise.
What do you think?!

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html