Monday 30 December 2019

Mum and the Clock That Stopped

This is the clock that, until recently, hung on the wall of Mum's kitchen at 17 Windmill Gardens in Kibworth. You can't tell from this photo, but it's stopped. It's been frozen for the past year at the time of twenty to twelve.

On December 30th 2018 Mum died. Hev and I got the phone call from my sister Jude, while we were about to visit a stately home in Somerset, the morning after our traditional mid-Christmas party. We'd been up to see Mum in the care home just the day before. Jude phoned us just after midday on December 30th, having had the word from the care home. Meaning that Mum had died at approximately 11.40. Hev and I dashed straight up there and saw the New Year in for the last time in the old family home together.

And it was while we were seeing the New Year in that we realised the clock had stopped, at 11.40 on the morning of the 30th. Exactly (we like to think) at the time Mum died. With perfect poetry she'd stopped the clock, which never moved again.

Well, it never moved again until the start of December 2019 when we finally sold the old house, and we left the clock as one of the items to be cleared. So Mum, if your spirit did end up inside that clock, I can only apologise that right now you're probably residing in a charity shop in Market Harborough. But, on the plus side, you did always like charity shops. Happy Anniversary Mumsie.

Kev F, Dec 30th 2019.

This is the clock in one of the bedrooms which, I think, we have held onto. I only belatedly noticed that it, too, had stopped at 11.40. Though I have a vague notion it stopped there, its spring having broken, at sometime in the 1980s. Still, spooky eh?

You can read all about Mum, Corral Sutherland, in her obit from earlier this year.

Kev F Sutherland, as well as writing and drawing for The Beano, Marvel, Doctor Who et al, runs Comic Art Masterclasses in schools, libraries & art centres. email for details. Facebook, Twitter. Promo video here

The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre will be touring near you sometime. Catch up with them on Facebook for the latest. 

My Comic Strip Review Of The Year (and the decade)

Once more I've put far too much effort into knocking up a comic strip Review of the Year and once more it's a bit of an ugly mess, but there you go. (Below you can see the previous nine years' efforts). I've set it in the back garden of 17 Windmill Gardens because the most significant events of the year were Mum's funeral in January, and our finally saying goodbye to the family home of fifty years when it was sold in December.

In the meantime we travelled up there innumerable times, hence my inability to tot up "night away from home" on my little graph, doing an incredible amount of what can only be described as clearance. There were comics which I'd left on a shelf when I went off to art college in 1979 and haven't touched since, and getting rid of those set me off on a trajectory that saw me parting with hefty chunks of my childhood, from my Busters and Cors to my Valiant and Lions, my Smashes, my Defenders, my Planet Of The Apes, my Mighty World Of Marvels, Mad magazines, Look-ins (largely eviscerated to decorate my diary at the time). Then I started digging into the Marvel comics, getting rid of all my Captain Britains, my Daredevils, my X-Men. Nobody, it turns out, wants old NMEs or Q Magazines, but it seems there are precious few magazines and comics I feel all that attached to and need to keep. Which doesn't explain why my 100 square foot storage unit is still packed solid, mostly with boxes of books and comics.

The furniture from Kibworth went to some good homes, and it was a shame to not be able to keep things like the cocktail cabinet, but mostly it's simply been cleared, its fate unknown. The thing I'm saddest to wave goodbye to is the Conan mural in my bedroom, painted in 1978, but some things you can't take with you.

The house moving activity, which included a fair bit of house-sitting, paperwork (handled brilliantly by Hev Tweed who did way more work on it than me) and solicitor liaison, took a good few weekends, also giving us an opportunity to get away from the building work being done on our own house, which lasted from July to December and was a dusty, noisy, occasionally annoying part of the year. Having a nice looking side to the house, and repaired stone work, was worth it.

High points of the year were appearing on stage at the British Library, alongside David Sedaris, Nina Stibbe and Helen Fielding (talking about diaries), and staging another excellent Socks show at the Gilded Balloon at the Edinburgh Fringe (in our new small and sweaty venue Patter Hoose, which was perfect for me and sold out a record number of times). Finding all my old diaries and my childhood comics in Kibworth was great, as was feeling inspired enough to write and lay out a new 120 page graphic novel, Findlay Macbeth.

Travels with my comic classes took me to Hannover, Ireland North & South, Newcastle and Halifax a few times, Norfolk, Cornwall, Manchester, London, and all points inbetween, though only for 82 days, which is fewer than recent years. I also drew fewer comic strips (only two pages for Bible Soc, after a bumper crop the previous year), but Findlay Macbeth might redress the average next year. I few less, I drank less, but otherwise I did about the same of the usual stuff. A fine year, when we went to Venice too.

School days
Flights (return)
Socks shows
Caricature gigs
Nights away
Socks videos

Bringing me to my Review Of The Decade. And I have to say this may be the least anxious of decades for me, perhaps inevitably given that I entered my fifties during it. Hey, I even got my pension on track, like my Dad had been nagging me to do for the previous four decades. Dad sadly only saw one year of the 2010s, while Mum managed a good and healthy time right up to the end of 2018, well done both of them.

The Socks peaked, saleswise (as far as Edinburgh shows and maybe Youtube hits go) in 2010, and have maintained a comfortable level through the rest of the decade. What? You really want me to rank their shows in order of which I like best? Okay, here's the Socks Top 8 (Of The Decade) countdown

8) And So Am I (2014) - Only last cos I remember so little of it. Had the UKIP song in.
7) Minging Detectives (2015) - Parts of it are excellent, turns out crime isn't my subject.
6) Roll Up! (2019) - This year's very story-centric show, may grow on me.
5) Boo Lingerie (2012) - I remain the only person who likes that title. Great skits, difficult subject.
4) On The Telly (2010) - The best selling show ever, and deservedly so
3) Superheroes (2018) - A solid show, full of quality new material, all on topic
2) Socks In Space (2013) - Probably the funniest show throughout
1) Shakespeare (2016) - Remains my favourite, so much so we did it again this year and will be doing next year too.

Comics returned to my life in the 2010s, with The Beano employing me again, The Dandy using me for the first time, and Bible Society appearing out of the blue to commission my best work ever. I also self-published for the first time, with Hot Rod Cow, Captain Clevedon, the Socks comics and the forthcoming Findlay Macbeth all being stuff to be proud of. My older works, like Nambygate, are out there on Kindle too and bring in a few pence every month. (This all said, I could describe most of my previous decades this way too: In the 2000s The Beano used me, then stopped; in the 1990s Marvel used me, then stopped, and I worked on humour comics, then they stopped; in the 1980s Oink used me, then went out of business, as did Sounds and Warrior. So, roll on the 2020s, I can almost guess what'll happen.)

The Sitcom Trials reared its head a few times, including Edinburgh in 2013 and 2016, and lost me money every time. Hev and I did a lot of travelling together, often with my work, including trips to Venice with her work, Adelaide with mine, and Paris just for the fun of it. The whole of the UK and Ireland got a fair scouring between us.

And I presented Comic Art Masterclasses in schools, an average of 100 days a year, for the whole decade. For the first time, I end the decade doing pretty much the same set of things as I started it with. Apart from now wearing glasses and having more grey hairs and wrinkles than before, I don't feel like I've changed much. It's been fun, I look forward to hopefully seeing the next one through, making a living from doing what I love, and leaving something entertaining behind in my wake.

Here (above) are my comic strip summations of the last 9 years. Let's face it, you had to be there.

Happy New Year when it comes!

Kev F Dec 31st 2019

My Comic Strips reviews of past years:
2018   . 2017 .  • .  2016 .  • .  2015 .  •   2014 .  • .  2013
2012   • .  2011 .  • .  2010

Monday 23 December 2019

Mum & Dad's Christmas cards 1957 - 2018

Christmas 2018 was the last year Mum had the chance to make one of her famous Christmas cards, a tradition that stretched back to just before she and Dad got married. Here, a year before that momentous event, is her hand made card from 1957. And now, if you'll permit me the indulgence, there now follows a gallery of almost every card she and Dad made and sent over the subsequent 60 years.

Mum and Dad, Corral and Ian Sutherland, were married in Montrose in August 1958 and moved into their first together in Aberdeen, as commemorated in this, their first joint Christmas card.

1960: Corral and Ian move into their first house, on Burnieboozle Crescent Aberdeen. Get them, they even have a phone number.

1961: And now they have their first child, baby Kev born in October.

1962: Corral and Ian and toddler Kev. It was, by the way, because of Mum's job as a graphic designer that they were able to produce cards of this quality in the days long before photocopiers and home printers. These cards were produced by letterpress printing, requiring a metal plate to be made.

1963: Kev gets the card to himself. Mum was always an expert draughtswoman, her line drawings and paintings being her stock in trade and always of the highest quality. This was a good example of her showing the quality of her drawing on the Christmas card itself.

1964: Baby Jude is born.

1965: Jude and Kev in another immaculate line drawing, the metal plate for which survived for many years at the family home, and may well still be in a storage box somewhere.

1966: The whole family share the card for the first time.

1967: The Lyre Bird was an image Mum had used on a card back in 1957, which she revived for 1967. Print and painted versions of the image survive from her days at Edinburgh College Of Art.

1968: The Sutherland family moved into their new home, at Windmill Gardens in Kibworth, Leicestershire, where they would remain for the next fifty years. It was finally sold in December 2019.

1969: From the card and letterpress of the previous years, this is a card printed on flimsy paper and hand coloured. Quite why, history doesn't record. The family archive also lacks any cards for 1970 or 1971 for similarly unknown reasons.

1972: In a return to quality printing, we have the first of the family's pastiches of popular culture. Though it's not directly referenced, this is the Sutherlands as The Partridge Family (after a fashion, the flowery shirts being the things we genuinely wore at the time, and the double bass being a pure flight of fancy on Dad's part).

1973: This was the year we acquired a cat, and I got my first real guitar. Jude clearly got ballet shoes that year, too. The cat was called, rather innocently, Pussy.

1974: Currently lacking a hi-res copy, here are the Sutherlands as The Wombles.

1975: The Bay City Sutherlands marks Kev's first attempt at drawing the card, with help on the figure drawing by Mum.

1976: Satire seems to be the order of the day, with reference to inflation and mortgages.

1977: Again Kev, wearing a topical Happy Days t shirt, helps draw the family card. This time the rest of the family are safely rendered by Mum's more assured hand.

1978: Kev draws the entire card, in a final bout of artistic showing off (the following year he would go on to start producing his own cards, independent of the family). The L-plate celebrates the fact Kev was old enough to take driving lessons. For the record, he didn't pass his test until three years later.

1979: Mum's back in charge of drawing the card and takes us back to a classic style, with Kev safely away at art college and unable to interfere.

1980: The start of the Empty Nest cards. Jude goes off on a school exchange trip, Dad has started working for a French company, hence the international travel, and Kev begins a degree down in Exeter. Mum is busier than ever as a freelance artist.

1981: A subtly smuggled-in Round Robin message makes itself part of this year's card.

1982: Lacking a hi-res version at the moment, this card goes full Empty Nest with Jude away at Durham University, Kev still in Exeter, Dad spending an increasing amount of time on the golf course, and Mum caricaturing at a piano bar. Rather cruelly, this card commemorates the big story of the year, when Dad got hit on the head by a golf ball and hospitalised. He couldn't speak for a while, and took a long time to recover his talking and piano playing skills, quite a worry for a piano-playing fast-talking salesman.

1983: Again only in low resolution, 1983 is clearly the year of cocktails. It's also Mum and Dad's 25th Anniversary.

1984: For the first time the kids are left off the Christmas card. Cause for celebration indeed.

1985: In a novel experiment, Mum and Dad send a packet of seeds with every card, so that the recipients can have a lasting memory that'll grow all year round.

1986: Breaking the tradition of their legendary Hogmanay party, which has taken place every year at Windmill Gardens, Mum & Dad spend the New Year period visiting relatives in Canada and the USA.

1987: Dad has, for many years, been a salesman working in the ever-changing world of computers. When he joined NCR in the 1950s they sold cash registers, as their name suggested. Now thirty years later, working for a company in Bedfordshire (possibly Rhone Poulenc), he is in charge of selling these new fangled floppy discs. Can't see them catching on.

1988: Weaning himself gently into a kind of retirement, Dad has bought his first Clavinova electric piano and is playing gigs in pubs and clubs. That Clavinova would, 15 years later, be given (on a permanent loan basis) to Miranda Hart. Wonder if she still has it? Mum's graphic design business is clearly thriving.

1989: The sun sets on another decade as our happy couple live up to their image as party animals and entertainers.

1990: And sometimes you get round to the Christmas card at the last minute.

1991: A musical card, commemorating the sing songs that were always a part of Sutherland parties, with Dad now able to accompany on a piano wherever he went.

1992: A lovely strong design, doing away with the family's faces for the first time in many years. By now Mum was drawing and Dad was playing the piano pretty much full time.

1994: It's the height of Britpop, so Mum and Dad were clearly too busy having it large to spend too long on the card.

1995: Reviving the idea of giving seeds with the card, this year's card was all flower no faces.

1996: Mum and Dad are pensioners already, how did that happen so fast. Mum is dividing her time between tap dancing, golfing, drawing, and watching Oprah. Dad's just enjoying the benefits of old age.

1997: Still in touch with popular culture, this Teletubbies classic is a return to the style of the family's 1970s cards. The card folded out to reveal the message inside.

1998: Celebrating their 40th Wedding Anniversary, their 40th Christmas card.

1999: Another topical gem, this time with Mum & Dad on the Millennium Eye.

2002: At this point I have a gap in my archive, I don't know if anyone out there has the 2000 and 01 cards? This is a rather spiffing design by Mum, celebrating their regular trips to Florida.

2003: With the birth of their first grandchild, Shona, Christmas cards are a family affair again, and now in glorious full colour, thanks to the marvel of the Mac and home printing.

2004: Toddler Shona in a watercolour by Mum of the back garden and the view to the windmill (last glimpsed on the card back in 1968).

2005: Hitting their satirical stride, Mum and Dad are the Christmas card stars of Strictly.

2006: Mum and Dad are the stars of Countdown. I have a gap in my archive for 2007 and 2008.

2009: Mum and Dad star in the X Factor. And this, sadly, was to be the last outing of the celebrity Sutherland double act on their Christmas cards, as Dad died at the beginning of December 2010, making that year's card a harder thing to do. Mum did however continue with the cards, moving on to themed designs.

2013: Mum begins a sequence of cards, doing the 12 Days Of Christmas. 2013 was the Partridge In A Pear Tree. 2014 and 2015 were Turtle Doves and French Hens (which I can't find in the archive at the moment), bringing us to...

2016: Five Gold Rings & Four Calling Birds. A nostalgic moment in that it was the first time since the 1970s that Mum and I had collaborated on her Christmas card. She had drawn the gold rings and painted the calling birds, but wasn't confident about combining them in Photoshop. I was happy to help out. 2017's Swans A Swimming is another I don't have to hand, however you can glimpse it in the next card...

2018: The 12 Days Of Christmas. In August 2018 Mum moved into the care home where she would see out her days, and she was determined to complete this final card. So she drew the remaining Days images, and I coloured and assembled them for her. The large leaf came from her 2015 Turtle Doves painting, making it all as much of her own work as was possible.

So there we have it. The best part of 60 years of cards, devised by Corral and Ian and drawn by Corral Sutherland. I hope everyone else has cards as good as this, and that this tradition lives on.

Merry Christmas every one, and a Happy New Year when it comes.

Kev F Sutherland, as well as writing and drawing for Beano, Marvel, Doctor Who et al, runs Comic Art Masterclasses in schools, libraries & art centres. email for details. Facebook, TwitterPromo video here
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