Thursday, August 21, 2014

august 2014 books


still more book stuff:
Mapp+Lucia (E F Benson): I’d not read any of EF Benson’s Mapp+Lucia series of novels before now – about the polite, terribly-English society of the 1930s and a clash of two titans (Elizabeth Mapp and Emmeline “Lucia” Lucas), who plot and scheme against each other in an effort to be the centre of their social circle. It’s beautifully observed and delightfully funny (and much better than Jeeves+Wooster, in my view). It seems that the only people who work for a living at that time were servants and shopkeepers... the haves and the have-nots (life doesn’t change!). By coincidence, our recent Sussex holiday gave us an opportunity to visit Lamb House in Rye (used by Benson as the model for the “Mallards” house).
Unfurling (Ian Adams): This is a book of poems by my great mate Ian. Ever since I first knew him, Ian’s always had a way with words – the ability to express profound things in a simple, knowing way. Over recent years, he’s increasingly used the vehicle of poetry to help illustrate or support his other writing (and his photographs) and so it’s lovely that he’s now produced this first book of poetry. This is a beautiful book. The fundamental thread is about our awareness of the world, the people around us and ourselves. Many of the poems have a spiritual connection (but are very accessible whatever your background) - about rediscovery, about seeing (and looking), about simple living, about hope, about understanding and awareness, about memory, about places and objects and, crucially, about love. The book is packed with beautiful nuggets that stop you in your tracks… and make you smile or just think afresh. It’s a simple and yet profound book by a writer of great wisdom and creativity. I loved it and know it will be one of those books that I revisit on a very basis.  
Breakfast At Tiffany’s (Truman Capote): It seems very strange that I’ve never read this book before (or, indeed, seen the film), so it now feels good to have done so at last (the book, that is). As you probably know, the book is set in New York of the 1940s where the main character, Holly Golightly, lives a complex life which mixes innocence with gold-digging and integrity with brashness. She’s beautiful, teasing, intelligent, generous and witty… she entertains men at all hours (mainly Mafia gangsters and playboy millionaires) and attracts the affections of almost everyone. Beautifully written and with an excellent, believable dialogue. As a complete aside (the book was first published in 1958), I thought it was interesting to note that one of the other female characters went by the name of “Margaret Thatcher Fitzhue Wildwood” (did Capote know Maggie Thatcher’s parents I wonder? Almost certainly not… but I found it amusing nevertheless). My edition also contained the following three intriguing stories: “House of Flowers”, “A Diamond Guitar” and “A Christmas Memory”.
Now You Know (Michael Frayn): Published in 1992, more than 20 years before anyone had heard about Edward Snowden, this book delves into the fictitious world of a pressure group dedicated to the cause of open government. I like Frayn’s writing and, initially, I thought it was going to be a fascinating satirical novel about governmental secrecy. Disappointingly, in my view, it became an almost sentimental story about a group of sad, but amusing, characters who are all trying to keep aspects of their own lives secret. Very readable, nevertheless – EXCEPT for Frayn’s decision to tell the story through a series of first-person narratives (featuring all the main characters, but without any indication who was speaking)… but I frequently needed to read on half a page to discover who had actually taken over the dialogue. Very irritating!
At The Pillars Of Hercules (Clive James): As I think I’ve posted before, I just love James’s writing… he’s irritatingly clever, brilliantly funny (or insightful/critical/elegant… delete as necessary) and, it seems, can write/talk about virtually any subject with engaging candour. This is a collection of critical essays, written in 1973-77, which range from the legacy of Auden and Larkin to the likes of Chandler, Solzhenitsyn, Stoppard and Lord Longford – all showing incredible depth of knowledge and exhaustive detail. I freely admit that I hadn’t even heard of many of the writers he was discussing (eg. Robert Lowell, Donald Davie, Kenneth Slessor and Nigel Balchin?). People who perhaps have only ever seen Clive James on television (where he seems to specialise in wonderful one-liners of which Chandler’s Marlowe would be proud) won’t appreciate his huge intellect. Yes, he is opinionated and egotistical, but he also has a gift for literary criticism and a way with words that I’ve always found incredibly impressive - even if he often writes stuff that is FAR too clever for me (there were times in this book that I frequently counted two or three words per page that I hadn’t a clue what they meant… and couldn’t be bothered to find out!). Another absorbing, brilliant book… if you like Clive James, that is!    

Friday, August 08, 2014

mood indigo


For the second time in three days (it must be the holiday season?), I went along to the Watershed cinema. This time I saw Michel Gondry’s film “Mood Indigo” – with Romain Duris playing Colin and Audrey Tautou playing Chloe. The film’s adapted from Boris Vian‘s 1947 novel “The Froth of Days”; it’s set in Paris and tells the story of two lovers who marry (in an underwater ceremony!) after a whirlwind romance, but whose bliss is interrupted by news that Chloe is suffering from a strange illness (she has a water lily growing on her lungs)…
Gondry uses all his own visual inventiveness to create a wonderful, fantastic (literally) and colourful way – with inventor Colin’s bizarre and eccentric creations. The result is visually stunning (and surreal in the extreme) and, at times, very funny… but as the film’s storyline becomes more sombre, so it becomes more monochrome.
My main reasons for seeing the film were clearly Audrey Tautou (of course!) and Paris – plus being intrigued by some of the film images I’d seen. It proved to be a mesmerizingly inventive film (sometimes just a little too ridiculous for me), but also one that I found both surprisingly sad and poignant.
PS: The film title relates to the composition by Duke Ellington, whose music is a continual theme.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

studio ghibli forever: porco rosso

 
I went to the Watershed again this afternoon to see a film about a talented Italian fighter pilot who’s been turned into a pig by a magic spell.
Yes, really.
Frankly, I certainly wouldn’t have bothered seeing this 1992 film, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, but decided to do so on daughter Alice’s recommendation. I’d previously only vaguely heard of Studio Ghibli and its animated films before this week but - although I recognised the beautiful, elegant drawing style - that was the limit of my knowledge (yes, really... again!).
Well, I now feel very pleased that Alice encouraged me to go along because I thoroughly enjoyed this film. It was great fun (and I really enjoyed the bold graphics and animation)… and no, I wasn’t the only unaccompanied adult in the audience! In fact, the Watershed has a “Studio Ghibli Forever” Season running throughout August – also featuring “My Neighbour Totoro”, “Princess Mononoke”, “Spirited Away” and “Ponyo”.
I suspect that I’ll be watching all these Studio Ghibli films with grandchildren over the coming years (maybe some of them are just a little too young at present?). I’m looking forward to it!
PS: Although the hero Porco Rosso seems to chain-smoke his way through its entire 93 minute length, the film does contain some really good female role-models.

Monday, August 04, 2014

letter to an unknown soldier...


This is what the 1418-Now website says: “On Platform One of Paddington Station in London, there is a statue of an unknown soldier; he’s reading a letter. On the hundredth anniversary of the declaration of war… we’re inviting everyone in the country to pause, take a moment or two, and write that letter. All the letters the soldier receives will be published here, creating a new kind of war memorial – one made only of words”.
The website remains open until 11pm on 4 August – the centenary of the moment when Prime Minister Asquith announced to the House of Commons that Britain had joined the First World War.

“I rather envy you… you reading that letter from a loved one.
My grandfather Frank, aged 17, was a member of the 8th Brigade Royal Field Artillery and entered the Theatre of War in France/Belgium on 19 August 1914. He was one of the “lucky” ones, he survived. His service war record indicates that he spent a total of 4 years 221 days in France (until April 1919). He never really spoke to us about the war – although it seems that he was on the receiving end of the first German chlorine gas attack at Ypres and, amazingly, also bumped into one of his brothers there too!  
Through access to War Diaries at The National Archives, I’ve managed to follow his Brigade’s “progress” through the war (although sections from 1917/1918 remain incomplete).
What we have NOT got are any of the letters he wrote during the course of the war or any he received from his family and friends… they must have provided some crucial scraps of comfort to all concerned at a time of huge uncertainty and fear.
Frank survived, which, of course, meant that my mother was born… and me, and my three daughters, and my six grandchildren…
Did you survive?
A hundred years on and we try to remember those didn’t.
For me, these are just names (or represent vague thoughts about the futility of war) but, for many, they were and are much more than that”.
Photo: the statue of the unknown soldier on platform 1 at Paddington Station.
PS:  at the time of this posting, the website says the soldier has received 19,167 letters.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

stalin’s daughter


Did you know that Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana, became a British citizen and lived in Clifton in Bristol from the early 1990s until 2009? No, neither did I (although I did have a vague recollection that she’d lived in Britain for a time).
Last night Moira+I went to the Tobacco Factory Brewery Theatre to see David Lane’s play entitled “Stalin’s Daughter”. It tells the story of how Svetlana strived to create a new life for herself in Bristol… away from the haunting legacy of her monstrous father (who died in 1953). In a powerful, thought-provoking, one-woman production, Kirsty Cox gives a very impressive performance… as Lane tries to piece together the life of a woman trying to hide from her past and who left almost no signs of her existence in the UK.
I came away from the theatre feeling somewhat drained (despite the play’s relatively short length of 75 minutes)… mainly due to the intensity of the Cox’s performance, but also as I struggled to come to terms with Svetlana’s complex identity issues and background. There were moments during the performance when I found myself wanting to press the pause button – so I could Google “Svetlana Stalin/Svetlana Alliluyeva” and find out more about her life!
Having now done so(!), I realise that her life (she died in 2011) was indeed incredibly complicated… and included political asylum in 1967; three marriages and three children; living in India and the USA (as well as the UK); flirting with various religions and also believing in mysticism... and that’s not the half of it!
A fascinating and intriguing story and a very powerful piece of drama.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

joe


Another trip to the Watershed cinema this afternoon – this time to see David Gordon Green’s bleak and violent film, “Joe”. Based on the 1991 novel by Larry Brown, the film focuses on the life of Joe Ransom (played by Nicolas Cage) - a man with a pretty brutal past, a drinker, a gambler and someone has a long-running feud with one of the local tough guys. But he’s also a trusting and inspiring man to many within the local community (Ransom employs a road crew of labourers to poison trees on behalf of a local lumber company – the government doesn’t allow healthy trees to be felled!). At the start of the film, he employs a 15 year-old boy (a very willing and able worker) and Ransom takes him under his wing. The boy’s father (wonderfully played by Gary Poulter – a former true-life down-and-out who sadly died not long after the film’s completion) is a monstrous thug and abusive drinker who is forever smacking his son. Ransom is aware of the situation and decides to intervene (rather than ignore it and allow the boy to sink into the sort of darkness that once consumed him)… despite the consequences.
Frankly, I’m not a great fan of Nicolas Cage… but I thought he was excellent in this film. It’s definitely NOT one of those gentle films you might watch on television on a wet Sunday afternoon, but it’s definitely worth seeing!

golfing again…


I last played golf on 1 November 2012 (that’s 19 months ago). It proved to be a painful experience… some hip pain, but much worse was that I experienced sharp shooting pains down my right leg virtually every time I hit a shot.
So, ten weeks after my hip replacement, I tried again… and played golf with my great golfing mates Pete, Steve and Ken at my former golf club in Oxford (Studley Wood)… in glorious sunshine (and, somewhat amazingly, on a virtually empty golf course - was it a case of “Mad dogs and Englishmen”?... ok, not quite, Ken is a joint UK/USA citizen these days!)
As far as I was concerned, the quality of the golf was entirely unimportant – the crucial thing was that I was actually PLAYING golf again (or at least trying to) with my old, regular golfing buddies (in the “old days”, we used to play EVERY Friday afternoon, 12 months a year).
For the record, we “tossed” for partners and Ken+I took on Pete+Steve…
Ridiculously, I started by scoring a par (ie. the score you SHOULD get if you were a “scratch” or zero handicap golfer) on the first hole… followed by another par on the third!!
In the end (my fellow golfers had generously allowed me to play off a handicap of 22 at the start – when I used to play regularly, 12 years ago, my handicap was 15 – but soon slashed this to 18), Ken+I won the game easily… and I finished with five “proper” pars for the round (and, when I’d checked the scorecard afterwards, found that I’d actually played the round to a 18 handicap). As you might imagine, my so-called friends gave me a fair amount of “stick”… accusations of faking my injury to gain sympathy and achieve a higher handicap and accusations of hours of practice on the golf range (if only!) etc etc.
In the event, I was so relieved and thankful that I’d been able to play an entire round of golf (and walk the whole way round) completely pain free… and it really was lovely to meet up with my great mates again.
It feels quite miraculous and I’m very grateful to the NHS!
Photo: golfing-selfie (Steve, Pete, Ken+me)!
PS: I don’t expect to maintain such reasonable golf scoring… I should point out (to the golfers among you) that I holed a fair number of putts yesterday (and this only happens once in a blue moon).
PPS: I finished the round by hitting my ball into the lake (twice!) on the 18th!

 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

mount pleasant terrace street party


I’m not entirely sure, but I think the street party held in our street today was the first one for nearly 70 years - since the party held in 1945 to mark VJ Day (I met a bloke named Roy who used to live at number 44 and who showed me photographs of the event). I also have to admit that a) I had absolutely nothing to do with the planning/organisation of our street party, b) I didn’t participate in any of the organising or setting up of the event and c) I simply turned up (somewhat embarrassed) at 2.30pm carrying a couple of bottles of wine and three chairs (note: Moira also made excellent cake!)… and we later brought along some burgers and salad for the BBQ.
I have to admit that it wasn’t something I was particularly enthusiastic about or looking forward to… but I freely admit that I was WRONG.
In the event, lots of people turned up – including lots of neighbours I’d never met. There was music, games, food, drink and… crucially, conversation.
It was simply brilliant.
I met lots of people I’d never spoken to before today. Children played happily… without the threat of cars. There were an awful lot of friendly, happy people enjoying themselves… and I was one of them!
Simple pleasures... with lots of people delighted to be celebrating the community in which they lived.
Happy day!
Photo: the truly amazing Roy Gallup... and just one of his magnificent creations...