A painting on the wall, a kite in the sky

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Kites are a big part of my second novel, and I’ve been doing lots of research into their history, construction and art. This morning I was browsing my favourite charity shop, the incredible Age UK South Lakeland warehouse (which is here, if you’re ever in Kendal). Monica called me over to look at a Chinese dragon head she’d found in a decorated box. I was absolutely blown away to discover that the head had a body, and that the whole assemblage was in fact a two-metre centipede kite.

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Centipede kites are one of the scores of primary kite types. Each of the circular discs – usually made of painted silk, stretched over rattan, with feather stabilisers – is essentially a miniature kite. By the time dozens of discs are combined, there’s enough lift to support a lightweight dragon head, decorated with deer horns for longevity and luck, tiger eyes for strength, catfish whiskers for wealth, and a human beard, signifying wisdom.

This dragon is in a rather sorry state. He’s missing one of his polystyrene horns and some teeth, his paint work is chipped, and one of his whiskers has broken. His ribs are tangled and some of the feathers are missing. He looks quite angry about it, doesn’t he? Well, he cost me 50p. He’s now sitting in his box on my bookshelves, waiting for me to try and revive him. I’d planned on building a kite for myself as part of my research, and this will be a nice warm-up.

I found this excellent quote (which I’ve paraphrased) while reading up on centipede kites:

“It’s a painting on the wall; it’s a kite in the sky.”

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3 comments

  1. iainmaloney

    When you fix it up, I don’t think you should replace the missing teeth: A dragon that’s lived a full and active life would have lost a tooth or two.

  2. simonsylvester

    Maybe you’re right! But the missing deer horn needs replacing. Active life or not, I think any dragon needs aerodynamic stability.

  3. John O'Brien

    Thanks Simon for the comment on our ‘incredible warehouse’ . We will keep a look out for any more kites. Age UK South Lakeland.

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