Sunday, April 20, 2014

april 2014 books

More book stuff:
Stoner (John Williams): This is our book group’s latest book and it’s absolutely brilliant. Probably the saddest book I’ve ever read. I just knew, from the time I’d read John McGahern’s introduction, that it was going to be “my kind of book”. Published in 1965, it tells the story of a life-long academic who taught at the University of Missouri for over 40 years. It deals with the value and purpose of academe but it also tells of a life of frustration, hurt, love and responsibility. It’s utterly compelling and quite beautifully-written.
Welcoming The Way Of The Cross (Barbara Mosse): This was the Lent book used by our Ithaca group and it provided daily readings, reflections and prayers covering the period from Ash Wednesday to Easter Day. Although she writes well, I didn’t really find that Mosse’s book engaged me and I read it more “out of duty” than desire! Maybe my own current spiritual wilderness had something to do with this?
The Artist’s Way (Julia Cameron): This book provides a 12-week course in “discovering and recovering your creative self”. Frankly, I didn’t really feel the need for either, but had been intrigued to read it after hearing lots of positive things about the book from people whose opinion I value. Although I frequently found Cameron’s writing style annoying (and somewhat dated)(she’s a rather too over-the-top American for my taste!), much of what she had to say was thought-provoking and useful. I’m afraid I hardly did ANY of her suggested exercises – I merely cherry-picked stuff that appealed or felt pertinent. However, I DID write out 3 pages of her suggested daily “Morning Pages” for a month.
The Cross In The Market Place (Dave Broom): Dave was the sacristan (and residential staff member) at Iona Abbey during my time with the Community in 2012. This is an Easter resource book from Iona in two parts: the first is an Easter pilgrimage (around Iona) and the second part consists of services marking the events of Holy Week. Although it’s a book that can be used by a group or congregation, it can also be read by an individual (which is how I used it). I’m not a great lover “acted out scripts”, but actually found them both relevant and useful as the first part of the book imagines a journey to Jerusalem for the festival of Passover (and I loved being able to relate these Iona pilgrimage readings to places I knew on the island). The services for Holy Week were all beautifully put together – and very powerful in content. I found the seven meditations for Good Friday (“people on the margins”) particularly helpful – with the added bonus that some of the pieces had been written by staff members from the Iona Community who became very good friends during my stay on the island. A lovely resource book that I know I’ll continue to use over future years.
The House Of The Mosque (Kader Abdolah): This is a simply glorious book. It’s a novel set in Iran; it starts just before the overthrow of the Shah and proceeds to tell the intricate, on-going story of an Islamic family in the province of Senejan who live next to the mosque. Although it’s a novel, it’s based on historical fact… and embellished by the art of a truly magical story teller. I learnt a lot about Islam (and the beauty of parts of the Koran)… but also more about the politics of the times (and its on-going affects), about tradition, respect, power, belief and trust. It’s a captivating, enchanting and beautifully written book… just wonderful.   

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

65 days of birthday presents

It was 65th birthday back at the beginning of February - it seems absolutely AGES ago now (I’m much older now)… but I commented on facebook at the time about a rather beautiful, unusual birthday present given to me by my lovely daughters, Ruth Hannah+Alice.
In fact, it wasn’t just one present – it was 65 (yes, SIXTY-FIVE) presents.
These were to be opened one day at a time and, today (on what, rather fittingly, would have been my father’s 93rd birthday), I’ve opened the last of them.
They’ve been a source of great love, pleasure, fun and amusement.
This is the list:
1.       Bottle of Cava
2.       CD: Laura Mvula
3.       Mr Benn first class stamp
4.       Toblerone chocolate
5.       Roast chicken with saffron, hazlenuts +honey recipe
6.       Book: “Of Human Bondage” W Somerset Maugham
7.       Apple
8.       Badge(made by Iris)
9.       6B drawing pencil
10.   Fortune Cookie (“persistence can change failure into extraordinary achievement”)
11.   Videos from Iris+Rosa
12.   String of Hearts
13.   February Stars+Planets: Night Sky
14.   Large Packet of Balloons
15.   Crane origami instructions/paper/YouTube video
16.   Packet of Scabious seeds
17.   A4 bound Sketchbook
18.   Letter (from Hannah)
19.   Party Poppers
20.   Bunch of Daffodils
21.   Book: “On Beauty” Zadie Smith
22.   Chewing Gum
23.   Pebble
24.   Rook (by Stu)
25.   Bunting (incorporating “65”!)
26.   Pack of Postcards
27.   A Gig Ticket
28.   Recommended Books to Borrow
29.   Large 3-D Letter “S”
30.   Video (from the Buckleys/Buckeroos)
31.   Letter (from Ruth)
32.   Lottery Ticket
33.   Four Handwritten Jokes (from Iris)
34.   “Urban Wildlife” linoprint
35.   Invitation to Home-Cooked Meal
36.   Date to go on a Family Walk
37.   Zig Drawing Pen
38.   Coffee in a Café
39.   DVD (The Darjeeling Limited)
40.   A Poem (by Tomas Transtromer)
41.   Windy Miller Camberwick Green first class stamp
42.   Chewing Gum
43.   Candle
44.   Chocolate Cupcakes
45.   Watershed Cinema Voucher
46.   Compilation CD
47.   Red Egg (Rattlesnake shaker)
48.   Charcoal Sticks
49.   Paperchase Notebook
50.   Black Sheep Ale
51.   Googly Eyes
52.   CD (Daughter)
53.   Letter (from Alice)
54.   Charity Shop £1 Challenge
55.   DVD (The Winter Guest)
56.   Packet of Love Hearts
57.   Drawing (Hannah)
58.   Great Uncle Bulgaria first class stamp
59.   Book (The Men Who Stare At Goats) plus “Heads or Tails Adventure Walk”
60.   Video from Ursa (+Hannah!)
61.   Sarah’s Artichoke Tartlets recipe
62.   Chocolate Money
63.   Mars Bar
64.   Free-writer Notebook
65.   Bottle of Red Wine

Simply lovely. I feel rather overcome by their generosity (and sense of fun), much loved and very, VERY blessed. X
Photo: these were just a few of the presents – all stored in an old family suitcase…

Saturday, April 05, 2014


Moira+I went to see the “Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory” (SATTF) Company’s version of Tom Stoppard’s play “Arcadia” last night at the Tobacco Factory Theatre (hope that’s not too confusing?). In truth, I’m not a massive lover of Stoppard’s work (no doubt, my loss some would say). This play is a very clever alternation of scenes set in the same room of Sidley Hall, Derbyshire 200 years ago and in the present day… and combines Enlightenment values, Byron, landscape and literature with chaos theory, the second law of thermodynamics and the quest for knowledge (not surprising then that it takes three hours to put this across to the audience!).
Given the SATTF’s fine reputation, the cast is predictably strong (although I personally didn’t warm to Piers Wehner’s depiction of Septimus Hodge or Jack Wharrier’s Valentine - again, my loss perhaps?) - I thought Hannah Lee, as the precocious, vibrant and tender Thomasina, was excellent.
Moira+I both agreed that the production had been “really quite good”(!). Not the best theatre we’ve seen this year, but a thoroughly entertaining and stimulating evening nevertheless.
Photo: courtesy of SATTF website (Graham Burke).
PS: Although I knew the play itself, I’d completely forgotten (how awful!) that we’d actually seen it performed at the Bristol Old Vic ten years ago!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

hip-hop (or actually hip-op)…

Went along to the Emersons Green NHS Treatment Centre this morning, following up the latest of my “doctor referrals” relating to my hip/knee issues. I was anticipating being offered a cortisone injection as a source of pain relief/improved mobility.
In fact, I’ve been booked in for a hip replacement on 21 May instead!
I have to say, I was incredibly impressed by the speed, efficiency and scope of my appointment (at 7.45am and no waiting!):
1.       Saw the consultant – who decided on more hip xrays (plus, this time, some knee xrays).
2.       Sent down the corridor for xrays.
3.       Met again with consultant – who showed me the resulting xrays and how my hip had considerably worsened over the past year. He had no hesitation in recommending an immediate hip replacement.
4.       Sent to see the admissions team to run through my questionnaires (sent to me in advance for prior completion) plus various other medical checks.
5.       Sent to see one of the administrative assistants to book an operation date (letter completed and handed over to me there and then).
6.       Sent to see one of the physiotherapy staff members to run through another questionnaire (again, sent to me in advance for prior completion) plus explanations of on-going physiotherapy issues post-operation.
All finished and on my way home by 10am (I just hope the operation is as efficient!).
Very impressed.
Photo: from “The Origins of Hip-Hop Music/BlogLet” (I was going to post a picture of me in similar pose, but decided against it!).

Saturday, March 29, 2014

march 2014 books

More book stuff:
Kitaj: The Architects (Colin St John Wilson+MJ Long): This is a brief diary of a painting by RB Kitaj (1932-2007) entitled “The Architects”, compiled by its subjects Wilson+Long (during the course of its execution 1979-81) in celebration of the remodelling of Kitaj’s home by MJ Long. It includes “progress photographs” and provides a fascinating insight into the creation of a piece of art – especially in the light of its critical, design/art-sensitive “sitters”.
Joseph Southall 1861-1944 Artist-Craftsman (Retrospective Exhibition, Birmingham City Art Gallery 1980): I bought this extensive guidebook from a second-hand bookseller on the internet for £1-57(!) after being impressed by Southall’s work on one of my recent visits to Brum. As with all such guides, it doesn’t illustrate ALL the works described… so, without seeing the exhibition, it’s somewhat frustrating at times! Nevertheless, it provides a fascinating insight into his work, his influences and his friendships (and his Quaker faith).
Drysalter (Michael Symmons Roberts): This book has been much-acclaimed by very many eminent people. It’s a very beautiful collection of poems by a writer of faith (he read Philosophy+Theology at Oxford) who, in the words of Adam Newey writing in TheGuardian, “requires what you might call a willing suspension of agnosticism” for the secular reader. In my own personal current spiritual wilderness, I have to say that I struggled with many of the pieces (with both their meaning and what they were trying to convey – maybe this was something to do with my contrasting huge enjoyment of Billy Collins’ work recently?) and found it somewhat depressing to realise that it was probably my own lack of intellect that prevented a better understanding. That said, I’m also very aware that I’ll be returning to the book over the coming months and years and have a sense that it will become an important source of challenge and support.
The Barracks (John McGahern): This was McGahern’s first novel, published in 1963. It tells the story of a former nurse who returns to the Irish village of her upbringing, marries a widowed sergeant who is unhappy with job in the local police force, and “inherits” his children from his earlier marriage. After having previously worked for some years in a London hospital, her “moral sophistication” isn’t shared by those around her. It’s an unsentimental and haunting book about loneliness and illness and about, at times, the apparent ordinariness and futility of everyday life. I think it’s one of those books that will stay with me for some time.
1914 Poetry Remembers (Carol Anny Duffy): Poet Laureate Duffy has put together this book of poetry to mark the centenary of WW1. She’s engaged the “most eminent poets of the present” to choose writing from the Great war that has particularly touched them but also commissioned these same poets to write a poem of their own in response. It’s a powerful and rather beautiful combination.

the past

Went to see Asghar Farhadi’s “The Past” at the Watershed yesterday afternoon. It’s a complicated (actually, probably too complicated for its own good) but, nevertheless, totally absorbing and fascinating film starring Berenice Bejo (Marie), Ali Mosaffa (Ahmad) and Tahar Rahim (Samir)(all excellent).
Marie asks Ahmad to return to Paris from Teheran to be present for much-delayed/much-disputed divorce proceedings – a grown-up farewell to their failed marriage but also an opportunity for him to say goodbye to her daughters from a previous relationship… but he ends up having to stay in her chaotic house – along with her new, younger partner Samir(and his small son). Are you following all this?
I suppose it’s a film about apologies and atonement (I blame Marie!)… but, ultimately, it’s also a sad reflection of the implications of failed and, perhaps, selfish adult relationships on children.
I thought it was excellent.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

hart’s bakery, bristol

We’re incredibly fortunate to have (at least) two local bakeries operating within walking distance of our house in Southville, Bristol. We use the brilliant Mark’s Bread+Café, in North Street, on a very regular basis – amazing bread and lovely people.
I only recently came across the second bakery, Hart’s Bakery, through a Bristol Kitchen Radio podcast (oh yes, we have it all here in Bristol!)… and was then reminded about it by our very good friend Gareth (the font of all knowledge when it comes to local food… and, of course, Bristol Pounds!).
Even if you live in our fair city, the chances are that you’ve never laid eyes on the bakery – even though it’s right next to Temple Meads railway station. In fact, it’s located under one of the arches below the approach road to the station itself.
I popped in yesterday morning to buy a loaf and to partake of their very good coffee (extremely important as far as I’m concerned!)… and, of course, I just had to have a pastry (it would have be rude not to).
Brilliant – unusual, basic, busy, hidden “secret” location, happy friendly people, wonderful cakes+pastries and excellent coffee… open Tuesday-Saturday 7am-3pm.
As I say, we’re incredibly fortunate…    
Photo: Hart’s Bakery
PS: check out the excellent video on the Hart’s Bakery website (“about us”).

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

jane eyre at the bristol old vic

I’ve never read the book but, like most people (I suspect), I knew its general scenario and the main characters. With son-in-law Felix playing the role of Rochester, I suppose I should have made an effort to read the book before seeing Sally Cookson’s outstanding, magical, two-part production… but I didn’t. In the event, I absolutely didn’t need to… the production, the wonderful set design, the stunning music and the hugely impressive cast TOLD the story of the book.
Quite brilliantly.
The play was devised over an eight week period by the company - an accomplishment I find pretty impressive in itself. I’ve seen a number of productions by Sally Cookson and each one has been extraordinary. I therefore went along to the Old Vic filled with a sense of both expectation and confidence, KNOWING that I wasn’t going to be disappointed… and yet, also knowing that I was going to be surprised and challenged (in a good way!).
As Cookson wrote in her programme notes: “I didn’t want loads of authentic set and period costume to suffocate the story so that it became a dinosaur of a piece, killing the magic of the story”.
Well, she certainly didn’t!
I won’t even begin to describe Michael Vale’s set (because, if you’re intending to see the production, I don’t want to spoil things for you), but it was quite breathtaking… visually remarkable and yet also practical and logical at the same time. And, if I had told you beforehand that music would be a crucially important part of the play, it might have put you off completely and convinced you to sell your tickets (“Jane Eyre, The Musical”? Really?). But, again, I’ve seen (and heard) a number of shows featuring Benji Bower as the composer and musical director and, so, just KNEW it was going to be ok. This proved to be an understatement – the music and, in particular, the exceptional voice of Melanie Marshall (as Bertha Mason) was simply magical.
The production emphasises the telling of a “life story” rather than “just a love story” – charting Jane’s childhood and her development into adulthood before we ever confront Edward Rochester. Identity is a key element and Jane comes across as a strong, unapologetic and determined woman.  
Madeleine Worrall gives a breathtaking, mesmerising performance as Jane and, I might be a little biased (OF COURSE I’m a little biased!!), I thought Felix’s Rochester was just wonderful – dry, cutting, grumpy and vulnerable.
A truly remarkable production. As the Old Vic’s Theatre Director, Tom Morris, says of Sally Cookson in his programme notes (addressing prospective members of the audience): “You are in the company of a unique theatre-making talent, and we should be proud that she is reaching the height of her powers here in Bristol”.
Photo (courtesy Bristol Old Vic website): Felix Hayes as Rochester and Madeleine Worrall as Jane.
PS: Moira+I saw Part 1 on 12 March and Part2 on 18 March.