Monday, September 25, 2017

end of another cricket season...

The end of another cricket season and, once again, sadly, I managed to watch only a few games (for ‘few’, read ‘three’!). Yet again, I find myself making promises that NEXT season, “I’ll DEFINITELY watch more games”!
I love the relatively gentle tempo of county cricket… being part of a tiny crowd of (mainly) old men who seem to spend most of their time talking about the ‘old days’ (although, to be fair to Somerset, they attract daily crowds of perhaps up to 5,000 whereas at the Gloucestershire game I attended a couple of weeks ago, there couldn’t have been much more than 200 people present) . I much prefer watching the four-day games (they used to be three-day back in my youth) to the one-dayers or the Twenty20 versions and, over recent years, have watched games at Taunton, Bristol and Birmingham.

I’ve been reading Neville Cardus’s wonderful book “The Summer Game” (first published in 1928 – my copy was published in 1949) – hugely evocative and very beautifully written. It’s conjured up lots of my own cricket-watching memories…
Growing up in Birmingham, the Birmingham+District Cricket League was readily accessible to us and I used to go and watch West Bromwich Dartmouth (just up the road from us) – starting perhaps in 1960(?). I well remember being mesmerised by watching Roly Jenkins in action (born in 1918, he was a talented leg-spin bowler who’d played for England several times)… as well as his bowling (and his age!), my principle memories of him were that a) he always wore his cap, even when bowling, and b) he always used to field at mid-on/off and, if the ball went past him (which wasn’t difficult), he used to let one of the other players run after it!
My early county championship games were at Edgbaston, watching Warwickshire. I’m pretty sure that my grandfather Fred was a member, but I don’t think he ever took me to a game. I certainly remember going to Edgbaston in 1960, 1961 and 1962… Warwickshire ‘heroes’ included MJK Smith, AC Smith, Tom Cartwright, Jack Bannister, Jim Stewart, Billy Ibadulla, Norman Horner, David Brown, John Jameson and Ronnie Miller (I once watched Horner and Ibadulla put on 377 for the first wicket). The wonderful thing in those days (which I very much regret in the current game) was that a) international cricketers were always in the county game (these days they rarely feature) and b) the touring sides ALWAYS played each of the 17 county sides (Durham have subsequently been added). I was fortunate enough to see South Africa, Australia and the West Indies play Warwickshire in 1960, ’61 and ’62 respectively – which meant that I saw such stars as Richie Benaud, Bobby Simpson, Neil Harvey, Graham McKenzie, Wally Grout, Jackie McGlew, Hugh Tayfield, Frank Worrall, Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith (sadly, I don’t think I ever saw Gary Sobers).
These, of course, were the days before helmets for batsmen and close fielders – memories of MJK Smith fielding in his cap and bespectacled at short-leg, just a couple of yards from the bat… apparently fearless!

One thing I certainly regret these days is the fact that, with the massive increase in the number of international matches (five day test matches, one dayers and Twenty20 games), the county game has become very much ‘second division’ in cricketing terms – with current international cricketers only making intermittent appearances for their county sides due to their other contractual commitments (see footnotes at the end!). It means that county teams are largely made up of keen young players endeavouring to make their mark (which is obviously a good thing, but…); run-of-the-mill/average players who are never going to make an international side; or a few players who are perhaps on the cusp of international cricket – some having been discarded or desperately wanting to be given another chance and some simply ‘waiting for the call’. Sadly, virtually the only way to see the ‘star’ players is to go and watch the international games.

It’s very strange looking back… I well remember looking for the cricket scores every morning during the summer in my father’s Daily Mail (sorry!). I even recall the annual Gentlemen v Players matches (between professionals and amateurs, which were thankfully abandoned in 1963). I well remember the Annual Sports Argus Cricket Annual produced by the local newspaper at the start of each season (why on earth did I ever throw them away?).

When I was at college in Oxford (1968 was my first summer), I frequently dropped in to University Parks to watch (for free) the university play one of the county sides – at a time when the university games were given ‘first class’ status. After leaving college in 1973, I got a job with The Oxford Architects Partnership in Oxford city centre and managed to negotiate a ‘deal’ with one of the partners allowing me to have extended summer lunch hours so I could cycle to University Parks to watch an hour’s cricket. Imran Khan played for the university in 1973-75 and I have a memory of seeing him complete his double century against one of the counties (unfortunately, I can’t access any of the old scorecards without signing up and paying a subscription for one of the online cricket archive sites!). Journalist and BBC Test Match Special commentator Vic Marks also captained the university side in 1975+76.

Somewhat ridiculously, I’ve never been to a test match (I probably need to rectify this deficiency!), but I have been to watch a game at Lords. It was the University match between Oxford and Cambridge in perhaps 1998(?). At that time, I was a partner of Brocklehurst Architects and one of our employees, Mike Kennedy, was a cricket-mad Middlesex supporter (his only question when interviewed about working for us was “can you allow me to watch all the Middlesex games – home and away - during the cricket season?”!). Because he was a long-standing Middlesex CC member (and Lord’s is their home ground) and someone who appeared to “know everyone”, he obtained special permission for me to enter the hallowed Pavilion and get into the England (ie. home) dressing room, as it were… from where we walked down the main stairs (in my imagination, I was padded up and carrying my bat… obviously), through the Long Room, down the pavilion steps, out on to the outfield and then walk to the wicket! An amazing privilege that very few non-players receive. A very special cricketing memory.

As far as my own playing ‘career’ was concerned, I was just a pretty ordinary player - although I did captain our junior school team - I recall taking seven wickets at Handsworth Park against Grove Lane School on the day Princess Margaret was married (but she didn’t send me a congratulatory card!) and was vice-captain of the Handsworth Grammar first eleven. I was very much a utility player – reasonably gifted, but nothing special! I did get a trial for Warwickshire Schoolboys, but utterly failed to make a good impression. Indeed, batsmen were given two overs each and I seem to remember being ‘out’ five times in twelve balls – I don’t recall the bowler, but he probably went on to become an international superstar (of course)!! – and my bowling failed to take a single wicket. In my own mind, of course, I was a VERY accomplished batsman/wicket-keeper/leg spinner (remember, this was WELL before Shane Warne was born!). I also very much enjoyed playing cricket for my office (The Oxford Architects Partnership) in later years and we were very fortunate to be able play on a variety of wonderful Oxford College grounds – including the University second eleven ground of New College… where I scored my one and only half century (still no blue plaque!).  

So, today, I went to watch a division one relegation battle at Taunton (Somerset need to win to stand a chance of avoiding relegation). The last game of the season… Day One, Somerset v Middlesex. Lots of doubt over the weather… would it rain? The forecast wasn’t exactly brilliant, but I decided to risk it anyway – afterall, this was my LAST chance to watch a game this season. Would it be a momentous day when I see the burgeoning talents of future (or past) England stars?
I HAD been intending to watch the mid-table second division game at Bristol, between Gloucestershire and Derbyshire… but the weather forecast didn’t sound good (certainly worse than Taunton – but who knows with these forecasts!?). In the event, I made the right call… there were only 26 overs at Bristol due to rain and the wet outfield, whereas there was a full day’s exciting cricket at Taunton (Somerset 236 all out, Middlesex 18-3 at the close)… lots of action, a few dropped catches and a dramatic comeback by Somerset at the end of the day (and eleven of the 13 wickets fell to spinners).
Photo: The Middlesex players “team bonding” before taking to the field after lunch…
PS: Actually, although there was only one current England player featuring in today’s game at Taunton (Dawid Malan), the Middlesex team did also feature three players who have played for England over the past three years – Steven Finn, Sam Robson and Nick Compton)… Somerset’s only contribution was 41 year-old Marcus Trescothick – who last played for England 11 years ago.
PPS: Yes, there are more competitions (one-dayers and Twenty20s) these days, but it seems astonishing to me that the last game of the English domestic season finishes just THREE days before the start of October! This is supposed to be a “summer game” for goodness sake – there are only SO many jumpers that a cricketer can wear on the field at any one time (and hugely unfair on the spectators – the idea of them wrapped up in their winter coats and thermals for 6 or 7 hours a day for the four-day County Championship games seems faintly ridiculous!)… In 1960, for example, things seemed far more sensible – with the last game finishing on 6 September.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

september 2017 books...

Beast (Paul Kingsnorth): I picked up this book by chance when we were in Stratford and thought it looked ‘interesting’. Well, it was utterly absorbing… it’s about a man living alone on a west-country moor (he’s done this for the past 13 months)… we’re not quite certain what he’s left behind or why he’s on the moor, battling with both himself and the elements. It’s about survival and coping with a hermit’s life… and, gradually, about dealing with the animal he begins to see in the margins of his vision… which becomes a powerful obsession. The writing style is quite brilliant – brutal, relentless… you have a very real sense of the man’s emotions, his despair and yet, also, the logic of his struggle. At times, it actually felt a bit as though I was reading Cormac MacCarthy’s “The Road” (which I also loved). A wonderful, powerful book. 
The Long And Winding Road (Alan Johnson): I’d previously read Johnson’s first memoir “This Boy” (a remarkable, extraordinary account by the Labour MP’s childhood living in Notting Hill of the 1950s) some 3 years ago and loved it. Somewhat typically for me(!), I soon discovered that the ‘Winding Road’ was the third book of his memoirs – I’ll need to read book two out of sequence! He’s an excellent writer and it’s a wonderful, inspiring story of his journey from postman became Home Secretary. I might not have agreed with all his political decisions (eg. student tuition fees), but he comes across as an engaging, honest, funny man… the Prime Minister we never had. I really enjoyed this book… and have now acquired book two!
Paradise Lodge (Nina Stibbe): My second Nina Stibbe book… she’s a VERY funny writer! This is a novel, set in the 1970s, about a 15 year-old girl who is working at an old people’s home for 35p an hour instead of being at school (to pay for coffee and shampoo, luxuries her bankrupt mother can’t afford). She writes from the perspective of a 15 year-old girl and perfectly captures all the confusions, contradictions and anxieties. Stibbe has a gift for words and an imagination for the ridiculous which I thoroughly enjoyed.
The Summer Game (Neville Cardus): This book was first published in 1928 (my copy was published in 1949). Neville Cardus was from an impoverished home background but, self-educated, he became the Manchester Guardian’s cricket correspondent from 1919-40. He’s regarded by many (me included – with the possible exception of John Arlott?) as the finest of all cricket writers. This book (that I picked up for £4 from a second-hand bookshelf at Gloucestershire’s Brightside Ground’s shop) provides a wonderful, evocative, almost romantic, series of descriptions of particular matches (usually featuring Lancashire), cricketing superstars of his day, schoolboy memories and former players - frequently making reference to the pre-war (WW1!)  ‘lost art’ of batting. Beautiful, poignant stuff… and it always seemed to be June and the sun was always shining brightly.
The Riders (Tim Winton): My second Tim Winton book (but the first novel of his I’ve read), shortlisted for the Booker Prize 1995. Australian Fred Scully decided to leave his homeland and make a new life for himself and his young family in unknown Ireland. He labours alone to make their dilapidated cottage habitable before driving to the airport to meet his wife and daughter. That’s when this desperate story really begins… I’m not going to say any more, except that I found it completely compelling. Brilliantly written (something I discovered reading his “Land’s Edge”)… I read the novel within three days and finishing it left me feeling utterly spent (in a good way!).

Monday, September 11, 2017

five years like this…

Well, somewhat remarkably, it’s been FIVE years since I started my ‘one day like this’ blog (setting myself a challenge of posting a daily drawing or photograph). When I first started, I had absolutely no idea of how long I might keep this daily ‘routine’ going… but it’s actually become very much a significant (albeit ‘normal’) part of my life. I still haven’t set myself any end date for the ‘challenge’… and don’t suppose I ever will. 
I started my blog very soon after returning from two months of volunteering with the Iona Community in 2012 (on that beautiful island of Iona, having met some wonderful people during the course of my stay and formed life-long friendships)… very much thanks to Ruth’s encouragement for me to send 40 postcards (which ended up being quick drawings) to various friends during the course of my stay.
Inevitably, the drawing quality has been somewhat variable (at best), but I’ve been quite pleased to have been able to produce the sketches relatively quickly – these days, the average time for each sketch has probably been 20-30 minutes (but sometimes they take 3 minutes and sometimes maybe an hour)… but I’ve really enjoyed the discipline the daily blog post has provided and the fact that I’m actually drawing on a regular basis. I’m very much a ‘project’ person and so my blog ticks a lot of boxes as far as retired life is concerned.
There’s part of me that thinks I should change from my current ‘project’… perhaps just post a daily Instagram drawing instead, for example? I did experiment with Instagram for a relatively brief period (posting stuff from my daily blog via Gramblr) but then the link packed up and I didn’t persevere. Let’s face it, I’m essentially a man of habit (with OCD tendencies!), so I suspect I’ll simply continue down my tried-and-tested road! Boringly, I quite like continuity!
I’ve produced a couple of Blurb books along the way… and perhaps I’ll produce another one in due course (maybe “2,000 days like this”? – I’m already over 1,800! – or maybe I should just wait until I’ve clocked 10,000 days!?).
PS: but it’s STILL costing me a small fortune in sketchbooks!
PPS: collection of twelve  ‘ordinary lines’ images ‘: sketches of small, incidental, ordinary ‘details’ within much bigger, equally ordinary, pictures.


Monday, September 04, 2017

half century…

Fifty years ago this week (well, maybe not quite this week… but pretty close), I started at Oxford School of Architecture. A handful of my close friends from that time (plus hangers-on!) will be duly getting together in Oxford to celebrate this momentous occasion.
It might get messy!
Fifty years ago, I was young. I was na├»ve. I was innocent(!?). I really didn’t know much about life or the world (when I compare myself to 18 year-olds of today).
Thanks to a random conversation with my Maths teacher, Gwyn Jones, I’d set my goals on becoming an architect (as opposed to a ‘draughtsman’, whatever that meant).
I’d passed my 11-plus and, much to my parents’ surprise (and staunch resistance), had gone through the ‘Remove-stream’ at Handsworth Grammar School and taken my O Level exams a year early.
Like many of my generation, no one in our family had previously gone to university. For both me and my family, it was an utterly different world. As far as my parents were concerned, I would be studying in Birmingham. I applied for a place on the architecture course at Aston, Leicester and Oxford. Much to my relief, Aston didn’t want me but Oxford offered me an interview (I can’t remember anything about Leicester apart from submitting an application).
As a very young 17 year-old, I duly went down to Oxford by train and was interviewed by the Principal – the wonderful, charismatic, unique Reginald Cave. My memory is that the interview lasted more than an hour… Reggie looked at my sketchbooks (yes, this was still a time when you needed to be able to draw if you wanted to be an architect!), asked me all sorts of mystifying questions and chatted about life and about my A Level subjects (Maths, Further Maths and Art). At the end, he offered me a place on the course… BUT, due to my young age, insisted that this be deferred for a year.
Being offered an unconditional place was absolute music to my ears and I readily accepted it - I’m pretty sure that my parents were a) similarly proud and b) at a complete loss as to how they were going to afford to make it all happen (we were very much a working class family)! 
You can imagine an equivalent situation/opportunity for a student today… So, what did I decide to do? Gap year? World travel? Somewhat ridiculously (when I now look back on things), I decided that I’d stay on for another year in the sixth form – that way, I could have another year playing for the school’s first eleven football and cricket teams. How utterly, utterly embarrassing, looking back… but despite the illogicality of the decision, my parents agreed.

A year on and I was preparing to make my way to Oxford. I needed to purchase, amongst other things, a drawing board, set square and T-square… plus drawing pens and pencils. I remember my uncle Len (who worked for the Water Board and knew about such things) telling which pens to buy (in the event, he was wrong and it took me another year or so to compile appropriate replacements!).
I distinctly remember being driven down to Oxford in our Ford Anglia (I had digs with a Mrs Brown in Headington), accompanied by my mother and our ‘auntie’ Ella. In the car’s small boot were my entire life’s possessions (or so it seemed): a medium-sized case, a portfolio and bag containing various pieces of equipment and books. Contrast this, for example, with when we took our daughter Hannah to Bath Spa University thirty years later… Moira and I had to drive her down in TWO cars, because she insisted that she NEEDED to have ALL her shoes with her (and, believe me, there were dozens!). Incidentally, I should point out that, amongst my small ‘array’ of clothes was a ‘sports jacket’… an item that my mother insisted I would need in order to attend the ‘Saturday dances’.
I kid you not.
My memories of enrolment day are relatively hazy. I remember getting my grant cheque and paying it into the bank (I was on a ‘full’ grant - £360 per year – and, amazingly, this really did suffice, just)(and without parental contributions). Of course, there were also no course fees! I think I remember getting stuck in a lift that first morning(?) and shaking hands with Steve Bowles (who was later to become my best man – he clearly thought that shaking hands was a very strange thing for students to do and has spent the past 50 years reminding me of this sad occasion).
But, hey man, this was the 1960s… flower power, drugs, Woodstock and much, much more.
On that first morning, I decided to walk into Oxford with one of my fellow architectural students, Rob Parkinson… he was public school-educated, had a posh accent and AMAZINGLY was walking around in his BARE feet (I know)! Boy, did I feel incredibly ‘un-cool’ (or whatever the word was in those days). The rest is history (obviously)…
You could buy a pint of mild in Old Headington for 1s 3d, but us hard-drinkers got into a routine of spending a whole £1 at the Turf pub on a Friday night (that’s 8 pints @ 2s 6d a pint).
Oh, yes, we knew how to live the high life!
Student life was very enjoyable, but tough… architecture students worked bloomin’ hard (even if it seemed to us that the rest of the student community spent most of their time in the common room – somewhat incredibly, we didn’t have a student bar in those early days!). Long hours and unremitting days… culminating in gruelling ‘crits’ when we had to explain and justify our schemes to our tutors (and, sometimes, to fellow students)… and then followed by two or three days of ‘rest and relaxation’ (drinking). Very competitive and great fun… but, crucially for me, it was all part of the process of ‘growing up’… and having the freedom to do this away from the confines of home was incredibly important. Those first three years on the course – and especially the first year – were gloriously life-transforming.

I readily accept that university is not for everyone (although it seems that’s what most young people are pushed into these days… wrongly, in my opinion), but just having time-off from family/home life gives young people the freedom to take their own decisions and make their own mistakes (which they will) and to learn about life, money, responsibility and relationships… still, hopefully, with the parental bail-out contingency if everything goes terribly wrong (in theory)!
As I say, for me, university WAS life-transforming and I’m just so grateful that I was given a chance to take advantage of the opportunity.
No doubt, the next few days will involve recalling various embarrassing stories and situations that we’ve spent the last 50 years trying to erase from our memories. Fortunately, there’ll also be LOTS of very fond memories too.
Photo: From a similar get together 5 years ago (very sadly, Christiane is no longer with us x).


Sunday, September 03, 2017

august-september 2017 books…

Land’s Edge (Tim Winton): Winton, born in 1960, is an award-winning Australian writer (as you probably already know). He lives on the Western Australian coast (where he also spent most of his childhood) and has a life-long fascination with all things coast-related. This short book is something of a “eulogy to a life lived from boyhood to manhood by and on the beach” (as ‘The Times’ critic accurately described it). As a coast-lover myself, I found it absolutely captivating. He has a beautiful, lyrical style of writing… this was one of those books one wants to read or dip into again and again. I’ve never read any of his other books, but will certainly be looking out for them in future (both fiction and non-fiction). A rather nice discovery!  
Uncle Fred In The Springtime (PG Wodehouse): You know exactly what you’re going to get with Wodehouse… a somewhat predictable, preposterous plot, several upper-class toffs, country houses, much hilarity and wonderful Wodehouse descriptions! All in all, a pleasant, relaxing summer reading (unless you absolutely can’t stand Wodehouse)!
Aung San Suu Kyi: A Portrait In Words And Pictures (Christophe Loviny): The first of two books about two brave, principled, political women (Caroline Lucas’s book follows!). Aung San Suu Kyi’s courage and personal sacrifices made in the struggle against Burma’s military regime has been extraordinary and inspiring. Celebrated journalist/photographer Christophe Loviny has been photographing Suu since 1996. The photographs are both beautiful and humbling and, together with Loviny’s words and insights from her family and friends, they are a powerful reminder of what this remarkable woman has been through and achieved. Archbishop Desmond Tutu described her thus: “This remarkable woman said she bore no one malice; she nursed no grudges against those who had treated her so unjustly; she had no bitterness; and she was ready to work for the healing of her motherland, which had suffered so grievously. In revealing this extraordinary magnanimity she was emulating Nelson Mandela… Without forgiveness there can be no future. Forgiveness is not a nebulous spiritual thing. It is practical politics”. An excellent, enlightening book.
Honourable Friends? (Caroline Lucas): I’ve read LOTS of political autobiographies, but I think this one (perhaps together with Chris Mullin’s?) is probably my all-time favourite. Published in 2015, it provides her ‘take’ on our dysfunctional parliamentary democracy and the “fight for change”. Unlike so many of other similar books, this isn’t a reflection on parliament from the perspective of a long political career. This is a view from a newby (and from a MP who isn’t from one of the main political parties) and highlights the tragic consequences of the first-past-the-post voting system… and parliament’s antiquated procedures; its malign voting system; the frequent deceit and harmful rhetoric; the two-party system which suffocates sensible debate; the bias towards big business over the individual; the awful influence of lobbyists… Since first being elected a MP in 2010, Lucas has been named Ethical Politician of the Year three times and won the 2014 MP of the Year award. It’s not at all surprising that this book has received enthusiastic endorsements from a wide range of commentators. What are surprising perhaps are the endorsements she has received from her fellow politicians, for example: “Our democracy is dysfunctional and our political system absurd on many levels. But in the mess that is modern politics, there are some MPs who stand out; people like Caroline Lucas whose commitment to improving our democracy and environment has never wavered, and who has been guided consistently by the same principles on which she was first elected to parliament” (Zac Goldsmith, Conservative). “For all those who want to understand better how Parliament works and how deficient it is in delivering the radical social and environmental agenda now so desperately needed, this is the book you need to read. Caroline Lucas has been phenomenally active in the House and outside, almost a party alone in her own right, and has blown a refreshing wind through politics on almost all the crucial issues facing Britain today, always pointing with a critical eye to the transformation needed. She is an inspiration to us all” (Michael Meacher, Labour). “By sheer force of personality, Parliamentary insistence and dogged commitment to the chamber, the committees, the procedures of the house, she has advanced her causes. It shows that it can be done. She has made one hell of an impact in the House” (John Bercow, Speaker). It’s a brilliant (albeit depressing), stimulating and challenging book.
True To Life: British Realist Paintings In The 1920s+1930s (Patrick Elliott+Sacha Llewellyn): I treated myself to this from the Arnolfini bookshop (having originally been made aware of the exhibition at The Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh some weeks ago via the BBC). For me, this is a favourite, fascinating, oft-forgotten era of British painting (but by no means all the work of this period, I hasten to add!). Typical favourite artists of this time include: Joseph Southall, Harold Williamson, Dod Procter, Gladys Hynes, Stanley Spencer, Lancelot Glasson, Hilda Carline, Fortunino Matania, Stanislaus S Longley, James Cowie, John Downton, Bernard Fleetwood-Walker, Colin Gill, Laura Knight, Clifford Rowe and James Walker Tucker. A beautiful book.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

vice versa…

Moira and I went to Stratford to see the RSC’s “Vice Versa” at the Swan Theatre on Thursday evening. Written by Phil Porter and directed by Janice Honeyman, this ‘Roman Comedy’ was inspired by the plays of Plautus (Roman playwright who died in 185BC… and who’d actually based his plays on Greek plays, ideas and stories… as if you didn’t already know!). The RSC programme also provides the play’s alternative title: “The decline and fall of General Braggadocio at the hands of his canny servant Dexter and Terence the monkey”.
You get the general idea… it’s a comedy!
We love going to Stratford and we love the RSC… but one other reason for making the trip was that the play also featured Felix Hayes (Hannah’s husband - but you knew that, didn’t you?) in the role of General Braggadocio. The RSC programme describes the action thus: “General Braggadocio is in no doubt that everyone adores him – especially the local women of Rome. His servants, Feclus, Omnivorous and the savvy Dexter, are at his mercy and either flatter, fear or avoid him. The truth is, Braggadocio lives up to his name. Unable to bear life enslaved, Dexter has a plan…”.

It’s all a ridiculous, over-the-top farce (featuring almost predictable comic situations, double entendres, stock characters, thwarted lovers and identical twins)… but wonderfully played by a really excellent cast. Sophia Nomvete, as Dexter, and Felix, as General B, are both brilliant. I may be biased (who me?), but one theatre critic described his performance in the following terms: Felix Hayes as the cocksure but crackpot General Braggadocio starts off with all the dials on ten and never lets up. Red-faced and on the point of meltdown throughout, he blusters and bullies but still has time to ridicule himself. It’s a case of excellent material meeting a superb characterisation”.
I think that’s just about spot on.
Despite all its humour, the play also contains relevant themes of chauvinism, freedom from oppression, and migration… and, indeed, there are various direct and indirect references to a certain US President (indeed, the programme includes a large colour photograph of the current President, smiling gormlessly whilst being kissed by his wife and daughter)!
In the programme, the writer Phil Porter beautifully describes it thus: “… the aspect that should be most recognisable in our world today is a certain strand of masculine, bullying behaviour, and the association of this behaviour with power”.
The sad thing is that Mr Trump, the pathetic egotist, would probably be delighted to know he’d made it into a programme of the Royal Shakespeare Company!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

final portrait…

I went along to the Watershed yesterday afternoon to see Stanley Tucci’s film “Final Portrait”. It’s based on American art critic James Lord’s memoir of how Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) invited him to sit for him in Paris in 1964. Armie Hammer plays the part of young James Lord and Geoffrey Rush is simply superb as Giacometti (perhaps the film should have carried a warning along the lines of “several hundred cigarettes were consumed in the making of this film”!).
It recounts the story of how what had originally been ”sitting for a portrait for a few hours” ended up extending into days and then weeks (with Lord, flattered by the attention, being forced to cancel and rearrange a series of flights back home) as Giacometti is distracted by ruminations on art, death, money (not to mention his lover)… regularly being frustrated and dissatisfied by what he was producing (and frequently starting all over again).
It’s a comedy drama – sometimes quite touching – about an offbeat friendship amid the utter chaos of the artistic, creative process. I particularly loved the stark visual contrast between with the monochrome nature of the studio (which reminded me of Barbara Hepworth’s studio in St Ives) and the colour of Parisian life.
It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I REALLY enjoyed the film… it’s worth seeing for Geoffrey Rush’s mesmerising performance alone.