A Treat at the Book Festival

The Penfro Book Festival, held last week-end, was the third to be held at Rhosygilwen with some enjoyable and adventurous happenings. One of them which was outstanding was the talk given by Steve Wilkins and Jonathan Hill, on the subject of their new book  ‘Pembrokeshire Murders – Catching the Bullsey Killer,’ just out from Seren Press, which relates the exciting, yet  painstaking detection work, leading to the capture of the serial killer and rapist John Cooper.

When Detective Chief Superintendant Steve Wilkins headed up a team, to review the two unsolved double murder cases from the 1980s, that of the Dixons on the Coastal Path, and the other of the Thomases of Scoveston Park Farm, Operation Ottawa was born. It did not take long for the team to recognise that they were looking at the work of a dangerous serial killer. Whether he might strike again, or indeed whether there were other cases that might link to those original murders, was something they needed to maintain a constant awareness of. At first the collecting of evidence was slow to come together but John Cooper had already appeared early on in the investigations for a number of reasons, though there had never been sufficient evidence to prove any of the suppositions that hung around him. Thanks however, to the passage of time, forensics, including DNA testing were now available to the investigators, and played an enormous part in the final collecting of the evidence, all pointing to Cooper. The guilty man attempted to throw them off again and again with excuses, and even with physical violence, but in the end he was brought to court and the evidence put before the judge and jury was such that he was convicted for life, on the stern command from the Judge that life would mean life and he would never be released. Steve Wilkins tells the story from his perspective, even giving background on his own career in the police force, and why this case became so important to him. Jonathan Hill, as much an investigative journalist as a newsreader who presented Crime Secrets for ITV Wales, brought his skills to bear on putting the story into book form. He  worked on the television version of the Bullseye Killer, for which he won a BAFTA (Wales) for Best Current Affairs and from the first meeting with Steve Wilkins, both men realised how much they could benefit by working together to write the book, telling how a cold case which had haunted Pembrokeshire for decades was solved and justice finally seen to be done.

Pembrokeshire Murders – Catching the Bullseye Killer is published by Seren Books, and for sale in bookshops price 9.99 or from www.serenbooks.com


Kitchen Drawings

Jeanette Orrell – Drawings

Currently showing at Oriel Mwldan is an exhibition of drawings and simple sculptings; which in themselves could be described as 3D drawings, of household objects by the artist Jeanette Orrell. The simplicity of the pieces, and their naive quality makes this a show which can be glanced at and passed over superficially, but on close inspection it has an identity which is more subtle than perhaps grasped on an initial viewing. By spending time simply looking one begins to see the areas of repetition and elements that suggest a ritual  pattern as the artist has looked, and looked and looked at the familiar objects with which she grew up in her grandmother’s kitchen and this has contributed an intensely personal feeling to the show, as though Orrell is contemplating once used, but now discarded old items from the kitchen, with affection and a kind of longing for their functional simplicity and on one level the show seems to be about just that, a reminiscing and a bonding exercise through what feels like an exclusively female genetic family line, though this is not in any way even alluded to.

Domesticity as a basis for an artwork is not altogether rare, but it is still fairly unusual and to turn the tools with which one might whisk an omelette, grate up cheese, beat a cake mixture and ladle soup into a bowl, into artefacts displayed for their beauty and not for their original purpose, creates an interesting show and arouses interesting responses in those who view them.

It has the feeling of a wander through a historic kitchen of the 1950’s or 60s, where the utensils for cooking and baking were made of wire and were insubstantial and yet utilitarian. The beaters and whisks may have changed in the decades since, but the uses are the same in that these are now, and were then, the tools of the kitchen for anyone in charge of feeding a family. The baskets or wire cauldrons which here hang in an elegant line, hang like totems from hooks in kitchen ceilings or rafters, around the world. They could have come from an old style range on a ranch in Mexico, or from a rudimentary support of sticks built by Brown Owl to support it over a fire in a Girl Guide camp in the hills of Snowdonia. People around the world may cook different dishes, but the utilitarian items they use to to do the job have been the same everywhere. Though these  on show here are not the more streamlined, nor electricity-driven versions of today, they are still recognisable to anyone who cooks and bakes.

There is a simple elegance to the show with its drawings on white and on pale blue backgrounds, and wooden spoons as pale as memory itself, offering the viewer the lightness and illustrative qualities of something which might be mundane but is equally, more often than not, where a mix of dogged responsibility and human happiness reside; in the creation and provision of food in family life.