Monday, December 15, 2014

gasworks choir christmas concert

Moira+I went along to St George’s again last night to see the exhilarating, talented, acappella Gasworks Choir perform at their annual Christmas Concert. As ever, it was a hugely entertaining, colourful(!), infectious and uplifting experience.
They’re quite, quite brilliant!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

120 days of dawns…

In a rather haphazard way, back in January, I decided to start taking photographs from our bathroom window of the sky just before sunrise. I’m always up pretty early and I’d noticed some beautiful skies at this time of day – yes, sunrises are often stunning, but I’m talking about the 20 minutes or so leading up to sunrise (and, anyway, sunrises seemed too straightforward!). This developed into an idea for a whole-year project – perhaps a dawn photograph of the same view taken EVERY day for the whole of 2014? But this was clearly impractical – what about holidays? Weekends away etc? So I eventually opted for taking photographs on 10 consecutive days every month.
After three months you get to appreciate that morning sun changes position(!), so I realised that I probably needed to have two distinct views to take account of this (which, after 12 months, now seems entirely justified). As you might imagine, some mornings produce nothing more than grey murk but, on other occasions, the skies can really be quite magical. 
In the end, I developed a sort of routine - probably taking three photographs most mornings, after setting the alarm on my mobile phone to ring on “snooze mode” at five minute intervals say 20, 15 and 10 minutes before sunrise.
I absolutely LOVE skies (and not just the early morning and sunset ones) and it’s been fascinating to watch how they change – literally from one minute to the next. The year-long process has also underlined how much beauty we all FAIL to see or appreciate… it’s all too easy to wake and register that the sun is shining or that it’s another grey day or whatever. Over the course of the past 12 months, there have been SO many fleeting, beautiful treasured early morning moments that so few people have witnessed (obviously, mainly due to them being asleep!)… and it’s at that time, as sunrise approaches, the sky is probably at its most beguiling and surprising.
It’s been a very enjoyable project… and one that I’ll rather miss. Another of life’s simple pleasures.
Photo: 120 days of dawns – January-December 2014.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

three cane whale at st george’s…

Hannah+I went along to St George’s last night to hear/see one of my favourite bands, Three Cane Whale, perform. Over the past year, I’ve become one of their most ardent fans. To give you a favour, this is what The Observer said about them: “a multi-instrumental acoustic trio which combines the influences of folk, minimalism, classical and film music to produce something in which the aroma of muddy leaves and old nettles is almost tangible”! Actually, it’s probably best to go to their website and listen to a couple of tracks.
Last night, they appeared alongside four members of Bristol Baroque Soloists and, frankly, I felt that the first half of the show laid too much emphasis on them - with Three Cane Whale almost playing second fiddle (as it were). However, the second half was altogether different and stunningly beautiful (with BBS playing much more in the “background”)… and very much appreciated by an enthusiastic audience.
Over the past few months, one of TCW’s members, guitarist Paul Bradley, has been producing his own, very different, CD through Kickstarter. I’ve now got my copy (which I absolutely love) and have recently been in email contact with him – so it was good to meet up briefly at last (what a lovely bloke he is!). I’d invited Hannah along – even though she didn’t really know much about their music… but, at the start of the evening, Hannah she realised that she actually knew Pete Judge (trumpet, cornet, dulcitone, harmonium, chimes, glockenspiels and lyre-harp player!) from his association with theatrical collaborations (or something like that?). So, as we left, there was me feeling very happy to have met Paul Bradley, then Hannah bumped into Pete Judge in the lobby… with accompanying hugs+kisses etc.
Hey, do we mix with the movers and shakers of the Bristol music scene or what?  

Monday, December 08, 2014

101 dalmatians

Ruth, Stu, Iris, Rosa, Moira+I went along to the Tobacco Factory Theatre last night to see Sally Cookson’s “101 Dalmatians”.
It was simply brilliant!
The hugely talented cast of five actors and three musicians effortlessly (and very effectively) managed multiple changes between canine and human characters and a big bonus for us was that our son-in-law Felix was one of the actors (as Cruella De Vil’s sinister husband, dalmatian Rolly-Poly, crook Jasper Baddun and friendly cow!). Blimey, he was good!
This review from Bristol 24/7 summed it up for me: “This team of creatives understands like few others the joys of theatre and storytelling, and how all its elements can mesh together. Imagination, comedy and atmosphere abound: a jaw-droppingly energetic and inventive cast and musical team bring to life an exquisitely conceived set and some inspired visual gags. The end result, for audiences young and old, is magical”.
I haven’t seen any national reviews thus far, but I’m sure they’ll be good.
All I know is that we enjoyed a wonderful, captivating, magical evening of live theatre at its very best – for both children and adults. Full of energy, fun, drama, invention, charm and imagination.
If you live in the Bristol area, you REALLY must see this superb show. It’s on until 11 January, but you’ll need to act quickly to get tickets – they’re running out fast.
PS:  Just in case you think I’m being slightly biased over Felix’s performance, I think this review from the Bristol Post gets it spot on:  “There wasn't a dame in this production strictly speaking, but what we did get was Felix Hayes, a stand-out performer as firstly Jasper Baddun, one of the bungling crooks who works for the De Vils, then as a friendly cow who sang us a touching bovine version of In the Bleak Midwinter before welcoming the dogs into her barn.The only downside of the play for me was that we didn't see more of Felix in his role as Mr De Vil. His wife may have been the main baddie, but he was suitably sinister as her partner in canine crime, and his bizarre mannerisms and creepy gaze making him the scariest character of the night. Think Hannibal Lecter doing Movember while wearing a trilby”!

Sunday, December 07, 2014

november-december 2014 books

more book stuff:
Acts and Omissions (Catherine Fox): Moira originally followed this book in weekly chapters via Catherine Fox’s blog and was a huge fan. To be honest, it didn’t really sound like “my kind of book” (the flysheet gave me the impression it would read like a churchy version of “The Archers”!). Actually, I was wrong. Fox is a very clever, very funny writer (with a beautiful turn of “holy” phrase) – who just happens to be married to the dean of Liverpool Cathedral – and her fictional “take” on the Anglican Church is, at times, hilariously funny but also full of poignant insights, much generosity and a certain amount of head-shaking! Almost against my better judgement, I came to have a real affection for all the characters (yes, all of them). A rather lovely, surprising book. 
Black Mischief (Evelyn Waugh): This comic novel (published in 1932) satirises two unscrupulous cultures – a fictional barbarous African country where cruelty, treachery, cannibalism were rampant and the upper-class affluence of London’s Mayfair society where privilege and imperialism are dominant. It’s very funny at times, but also uncomfortably un-politically correct.
Where Angels Fear to Tread (EM Forster): Published in 1905, this novel* is about a young English widow who takes off on the grand tour and along the way marries a handsome, penniless Italian. Tragically, she dies in childbirth and her in-laws (who weren’t amused by the marriage in the first place) mount a campaign to bring the child back to be raised in England. This was Forster’s first novel and it’s beautifully written (as well as being well-observed and funny). I enjoyed it… even if I did find the ending rather contrived.
With Chatwin: Portrait of a Writer (Susannah Clamp): I’d read three of Bruce Chatwin’s books (“The Songlines”, “Utz” and “What Am I Doing Here” – but now feel the need to re-read them!), so was looking forward to this memoir, published in 1998. Clamp was a good friend of Chatwin, edited two of his books and also knew many of his friends well. This is a beautiful memoir – affectionate, affecting, frank, funny and rather enchanting. Chatwin died of Aids in 1989 aged 48 and was a man of diverse talents and interests. He was certainly someone who had an eye for art (he worked for Sotherbys briefly), but he was also someone who made people look and see things in a different way (and not just art). Clamp describes him as being “a traveller, a teller of tales and a connoisseur of the extraordinary” which, to my mind, sums him up beautifully. I love the fact that the Bodleian Library in Oxford has 40 grey cardboard boxes of his paraphernalia – including 85 of his notebooks. It’s now 25 years since his death, so reading this wonderful memoir at this time seemed very appropriate.
The Bonfire of the Vanities (Tom Wolfe): This is our Book Group’s next book (for discussion next month). It’s a mammoth tome of over 700 pages - so it’ll be interesting to see how many book group people actually manage to finish it! Published in 1987, it’s a satirical look at the contrasting world of 1980s New York – the haves and the have-nots; wealthy Wall Street bond traders; raging ambitions and vanities; power-hungry men (always men, it seems!); attractive young (“x-ray” thin?) women who are only too happy, it seems, to be pampered and spoilt; violence and corruption; white Park Avenue versus poor, black Bronx. The book’s been hailed as a masterpiece. Personally, whilst I found it eminently readable and funny, I also found the American world of greed, money and injustice all pretty depressing – even more so when one realises just how similar things have become in the UK (eg. greedy bankers? surely not!) over the past 20 years or so.
Note*: Forster’s book (first published in 1905, but reprinted in 1969) was part of the Penguin Modern Classics’ series and has the following price printed on the back cover: “20p  4/-“ (in anticipation of UK currency decimalisation in 1971). I appreciate that it’s only a relatively short book (some 160 pages), but TWENTY pence does seem RIDICULOUSLY cheap… even for 1969!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

advent: we who still wait

I’ve been involved in an Advent project with Proost in collaboration with the very talented Ian Adams, Chris Goan and Si Smith. Si has been the “ideas man” behind the project and writers/poets Ian and Chris have put together some powerful words and reflections for each day of Advent… my contribution has been to provide 100 supporting photographs (four images per day). After Si had suggested 24 daily themes, it was really fascinating to see what Ian, Chris+I independently produced by the end of the process – and how they worked so well together.
I’ve never been involved in anything quite like this before and so it was interesting to “hand over” the completed sections to Proost and for them to put them together in a downloadable resource. Actually, I have to admit that I also found the very end of the process somewhat frustrating! Unsurprisingly, the final layout certainly isn’t how I would have laid out the images and text. For example, I would have had gaps between the small photographs (and would have also have arranged them in a square format) and I’d have liked to have been able to see all the daily texts AND the images on the same page (or double-page)… but, hey, what do I know! Afterall, Proost are the experts in this field and have years of experience behind them.
The poems and reflections are just great and the resource is available here at a ridiculously low price of £3.50/$5.75 (or the bonus version – with pics – is £5/$8). A book version is also due out soon.  

Saturday, November 29, 2014

cinema marathon: “2001 – a space odyssey” and “I am ali”

Yesterday was definitely a “first” for me – I went to the cinema TWICE! Actually, that’s not quite true, I only went once… but stayed to watch two films. As I had a relatively free Friday, I’d already decided to go to the Watershed to see “I am Ali” (Clare Lewins excellent documentary on Muhammad Ali) at the end of the afternoon, but then next noticed that Stanley Kubrick’s “2001 – A Space Odyssey” was being shown straight after lunch.
So, somewhat ridiculously, I decided that I go to both!
2001 - A SPACE ODYSSEY: I saw “2001” when it first came out in 1968. I can remember being “encouraged” to see it by our amazing art tutor, Tom Porter, at Oxford School of Architecture (actually, it was much more like a three-line whip!). It IS an amazing film (even if you set aside the storyline)… and you have to keep reminding yourself that it was made only 5 years after the first man-on-the-moon, before the internet and long before the world of personal computers and mobile phones. Yes, understandably, there are sections of the film that now look a little “clunky” (eg. push-button computer technology, voice recognition, trays of dehydrated food etc) but, overall, 47 years later(!), it’s still remarkably fresh and visually stunning.
I AM ALI: For me, like lots of other people, Muhammad Ali is a real hero of mine and so I was very keen to see Clare Lewins’ film. I suspect it’s quite easy to make a “bad” documentary about Ali, but pretty difficult to make a “good” one. Fortunately, as far as I was concerned, this IS a very good one. One of its key features is the access Lewins had to Ali’s family and, in particular, to the audio recordings/audio journals that Ali himself had made of conversations with his children. Lewins had originally made a documentary for the BBC a few years ago and it was during this time that she met Gene Kilroy, Ali’s former business manager. During this time, she’d met several members of Ali’s family and had effectively become accepted as a member of the “inner circle”. An absolutely fascinating film… Ali is truly the Greatest!
PS: So, not only did I spend from 2pm until 7.30pm in the cinema, but I also sat in the same seat for both films!! Sad, sad man!