Featured Painting: Pete Postlethwaite, actor


Pete Postlethwaite (1946-2011)

My portrait of the actor, Pete Postlethwaite was recently bought by the owners of The Green Dragon, Little Stretton, Shropshire and now hangs in the bar above the chair the actor used to sit in. Best known for his roles in films like; The Usual Suspects and Brassed Off, he was also an extremely accomplished stage actor.

Steven Spielberg called him “the best actor in the world” though he was far too modest a man to describe himself in those terms.

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More from ‘Now You See Me’


Chapter Four: Wake up, my love

LYING ON his back, his eyes closed, as he drifted in that half world between sleep and wakefulness, Harry felt a warm breath against his ear.

‘Harry…Har-ree, are you awake?’ That familiar voice; soft but insistent, whispered in his ear.

‘Hmmm,’ he murmured and turning on his side, rolled into Annie’s arms. She held him to her and he breathed in the scent of her warm skin.

‘Wake up, darling,’ she said, her voice husky with desire, and carefully placed a kiss on each eyelid. ‘And, about time too,’ she chided, as his eyes blinked open and he took in her smiling face. ‘For a man who says he can’t sleep, you take a lot of waking up.’

‘Why, what’s the matter?’ he asked, trying to shake off the last vestiges of sleep.

‘Oh, Harry. You are slow on the uptake this morning.’

She cradled his face in her hands and pressed her lips hard against his. Something cold and metallic dangled against his cheek.

‘You slept in your earrings? You’ve never done that before,’ he said.

‘You’ve never bought me diamonds before. I love them so much, I’m never going to take them out,’ she replied and kissed him again. ‘And…I know it was my special birthday but I think you deserve a present too.’

‘Oh, you don’t have to…’

‘Shhhhh,’ she said, and pressed a finger to his lips. ‘You don’t know what it is yet.’

She took the finger away and slipping her hand beneath the duvet, reached between his legs. Harry closed his eyes and, with a low groan that came from deep within him, surrendered to her touch…

When he opened his eyes again, he was wide awake and alone in his darkened bedroom. Annie, such a physical presence a moment ago, seemingly so real that he could feel her touch, smell her perfume, had returned to whatever recess of his mind she still lived in.

Annie had come to him many times before in this way. Each time it was a different version of the girl he’d first met when he was just twelve and she was eleven; sometimes the younger, sometimes the older Annie. But just as on every previous occasion, he felt that same keen sense of loss and a reluctance to let her go. He supposed he was in denial, that awful piece of psycho babble that, along with closure, people trotted out at times like this. But Harry didn’t want closure. He had no wish to get over Annie and move on, to consign to the past the woman he’d loved for the best part of fifty years.

Harry glanced over at the bedside clock; the large, red numbers showed it was 3:30 am. It would be several hours before daylight brought some relief from the darkness of the night but the gloom he harboured within him would remain.

Extract from forthcoming novel, Now You See Me copyright Christopher Niblock 2015

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Now You See Me… short extract

Now you see cov

Chapter One: A bump in the night

INSOMNIACS do sleep, they just don’t get much of it and Harry Paget was no exception. So when he found himself awake in the middle of the night, he didn’t immediately look for a reason for his sudden wakefulness. It was just how it was and had been for the past 730 sleepless nights. Nor did he open his eyes straight away, preferring to keep them shut in the vain hope that he might, just might, against all the odds, drift off again.

When a floorboard creaked, he wasn’t alarmed. Harry had grown used to lying in bed just listening to the sounds his old house made in the depths of the night; the ticking of a cooling radiator or the creak of the woodwork as it contracted. Some nights he imagined himself alone at the wheel of a sailing ship in the middle of a dark ocean, with only the groan of the ship’s timbers and the crack of the wind in the sails for company.

As the seconds ticked by, he became conscious of the wider world beyond his bedroom; the sighing of the wind in the trees that lined the avenue, and the distant barking of a dog. A car pulled up to the junction and waited for the lights to change. Its idling engine and the muted sounds of the car’s radio carried up to him on the still night air – ‘You’ve got a friend,’ sang James Taylor – one of Annie’s favourites. The music took Harry’s mind shooting straight back to the 70’s when he and Annie were courting. That song had been their song, but he was abruptly dragged back to the present by the familiar sound of a dressing table drawer being slowly withdrawn…

Harry froze. That drawer couldn’t have moved by itself.

His mind racing almost as fast as his heart, he cautiously opened one eye to find a dark figure peering at him, the face a ghastly red, caught in the glow from the bedside clock radio’s digital display. In his gloved hands he held Annie’s jewellery box. Before Harry could say or do anything, the intruder brought the box smashing down on his face and made for the door. But, he had to run round the bed to get to it and, with an agility that surprised both men, Harry rolled out on the opposite side of the bed and hurled himself at the fleeing burglar. The impetus of Harry’s dive sent the man crashing against the wall, dislodging one of Annie’s framed watercolours. All three tumbled to the floor. As the man attempted to get to his feet, Harry jumped up on his back, wrapped both arms around his neck, and clung on like a limpet as the man sought to shrug him off.

‘Get off me, you dirty old bastard!’ growled the man, and Harry caught the whiff of stale cigarette smoke on his breath.

Harry hadn’t worn pyjamas for years and his pale limbs showed up ghostly white in the darkness. In any other circumstances, he would have found the situation amusing. His intruder was clearly more alarmed at the prospect of being buggered by a naked, middle-aged man, than he was of being arrested. The impression Harry had was of a young man and a strong one, and he wondered how much longer he could hold him there.

‘I just want my wife’s jewellery box,’ he said, through gritted teeth.

‘I dropped it when you jumped me, didn’t I.’

Harry cast around. His eyes had grown more accustomed to the darkness, but his night-time vision wasn’t good.

‘I can’t see it.’

‘Fuck sake! I’m lying on it,’ snarled the intruder. ‘If you want it, you’ll have to get off me.’

Harry was quite prepared to let the thief go if that meant he got Annie’s jewellery back. But, and it was a big but, could he rely on this vicious criminal to keep his word?’

‘Hurry up, this thing’s digging in me.’ whined his assailant.

It was risky but he’d have to go with it. ‘All right, but you keep one knee on the floor. You hand me the jewellery box, and then you leave. OK?’ His captive grunted. ‘OK?’ Harry repeated, this time louder.

‘Yeah, yeah. Just get off me.’

Harry slowly withdrew his arms from around the man’s neck. He was half expecting a trick of some kind but, was still caught off balance, when the young burglar brought his head whipping back into Harry’s face, smashing his nose. He felt the warm gush of blood and his hands shot up to stem it. At that same moment an elbow was driven with great force into his abdomen. Harry rolled off onto his side where he lay doubled up, and gasping for air.

Bleeding and winded, Harry was defenceless as his assailant jumped to his feet and accompanied by a stream of expletives, delivered a series of kicks to his body. The last thing Harry saw was a large boot coming towards his head, and then blissful unconsciousness; sleep of a kind, a rare event since losing his beloved Annie.

Extract from forthcoming novel, Now You See Me copyright Christopher Niblock 2015

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Spots before the eyes…


Picture this, you buy a house for £471,000 and discover that you have a Damien Hirst spot painting on one of your walls. It’s painted directly onto the wallpaper so you think, “I’ll have that off there, mount it and sell it – it must be worth a few bob.”

No problemo, you might think, but you would be wrong… oh, so wrong. It’s not yours to sell, not without a certificate of authenticity signed by Mr Hirst anyway, and his company Science have got that. You see, the painting was originally bought as a present for the previous owner and, when he sold the house, he was given an alternative version of the painting on canvas in exchange for Mr Hirst taking back ownership of the original, which should have been painted over.

Now, I’m sure Mr Hirst is acting within his legal rights (there are precedents for this) to demand the return of the, now portable wall painting, for destruction. Incidentally, I’d be happy to lend him a hand with the destruction of any of his works, but I digress. The real artwork apparently is  in the concept, not the work itself – in this instance a few scribbled half-circles of  colour and some written instructions on a scrap of paper. I note the youthful Mr Hirst has misspelled surrounding on this early example of  one of his certificates of authenticity.

Call me naive but I’ve always assumed that an artist was a man or woman who, not only conceived, but created works of art with his or her own hands!  After all, if you pay $12 million dollars for a Picasso, you have a right to expect that the great man himself actually put the paint on the canvas. Surely, it ain’t a Picasso if he didn’t!

What makes it different in the case of a Damien Hirst or others of his ilk? And if they do get someone else to turn their ideas into a physical piece of art, shouldn’t the maker also get a credit for his work?  I think a little more transparency is called for here. When this type of work is displayed in a gallery or placed with an auction house, perhaps the catalogue listing should be something on the lines of; ‘A spot painting by (insert the name of the assistant or contractor) based on an original concept by Damien Hirst.’

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Featured Painting: Purple Haze

Purple Haze 1

After months of work, I’ve finally finished a second painting of Jimi Hendrix. Unlike the first, this one is for sale. Painted in oils on canvas, it measures roughly 600 mm x 500 mm. Enquiries to: chrisniblock@hotmail.co.uk. If Jimi isn’t your favourite, I’m happy to accept commissions for other rock stars, screen goddesses and even your dear old uncle Fred!

The painting is based on a famous photograph by Gered Mankowitz, the British photographer who has chronicled the rock music scene for the last forty years. He photographed Hendrix in 1967 at  his studio in Picadilly. He found him to be a “quiet, humble and modest man. He wasn’t remotely the sort of wild man of rock n’ roll that people have come to think of him as.”

I think this comes across in this picture, as does Hendrix’s sense of humour. Some of Gered Mankowitz’s portraits are now part of the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery.


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Astronomically High Mileage


When I finally sold my old Daihatsu Fourtrak it had over 250,000 miles on the clock – roughly the distance from the earth to the moon. But this impressive mileage pales into insignificance compared to NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft. So far,this remarkable machine has clocked up a staggering 12 billion miles and is still going strong! After a journey of 36 years, Voyager has finally reached the final frontier (as they use to say on Star Trek) and left our solar system to journey on across interstellar space. On the way it has visited Jupiter; providing us with some startling new information about its moons, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

About the size of my old Daihatsu and weighing 3/4 of a ton, Voyager was built to last. It’s powered by nuclear batteries which won’t run out until the 2020’s or beyond. However, radio messages from its transmitter now take 17 hours, travelling at light speed to reach us.

It’s a fascinating thought that barring a catastrophic collision in the vast emptiness of interstellar space, Voyager 1 could still be clocking up the miles long after the men who built it, indeed the whole of mankind has become extinct. In the event that Voyager may one day come into contact with an alien civilisation, it carries a gold phonograph record containing music and speech along with the sounds and images of earth.

I just hope the aliens can dig up an old record player to play it on!



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What’s in a name?


So first time author Robert Galbraith isn’t a fledgling  writer, and neither is he a man – in fact, he is a she, and is Harry Potter creator, J K Rowling. She wanted to see if her second novel for adults, The Cuckoo’s Calling, could succeed on it’s own merits without the cache of the Rowling name being attached to it. Unfortunately her secret was leaked by a friend of her lawyer’s wife. J K was said to be upset at being outed but, will no doubt be consoled by the fact that her detective novel now tops the best sellers list.

In the same week, Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan have been talking about their new-found success as best selling novelists. Madeley believes his fame as a television presenter, far from being an advantage, left him open to harsher criticism, as people would view his work far more analytically.  His wife, Judy Finnigan agreed and said: “It would be particularly humiliating if what I wrote was rubbish and no one bought it.”

Really? As I’m sure J K Rowling can testify, it isn’t easy for an unknown author to find a publisher. The publishing world abounds with stories of now famous writers whose work was rejected  time after time. I don’t blame Richard and Judy for using  their fame to sell their books; frankly if I were in their position, I would do the same. But let’s not pretend it is anything but a distinct advantage to have a ready made fan base. Why else would publishers be so eager to hand out big advances to celebs for books that, in most cases haven’t even been written yet, if they weren’t pretty confident that they were going to sell.

The time can’t be far away, now that David Beckham has hung up his boots, before he sits down to pen his first novel. A crime thriller set in the glitzy world of Premier League footballers and their wags perhaps… now there’s an idea. Anyone out there got David’s number? He may need a ghost writer!

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