Saturday, May 20, 2017

I’ve just voted…

This afternoon, I sent off my postal vote in connection with next month’s General Election.
I’m a member of the Green Party but, somewhat controversially (many would say… especially my Green Party friends), I voted for Karin Smyth – our local Labour Party candidate (and the sitting MP).
I did so NOT because I think the Labour Party has proved to be an effective Opposition – far from it – but because I felt it was the most effective way, locally (under our ridiculous first-past-the-post electoral system), to ensure that the Conservative Party didn’t sneak in through the back door.
I actually think the chances of this are extremely slim (it’s been a Labour stronghold since 1935) – although if UKIP’s vote collapses (they came third in 2015 with over 8,000 votes), then the Tories could feasibly win if all former UKIP voters changed to the Conservatives (Labour beat the Tories by just over 7,000 votes last time).

At the beginning of November last year, I blogged about my fears (given the state of the Opposition) that there was going to be a General Election“very soon”. I felt that the ONLY way to prevent a Tory landslide at the next general Election was “for the opposition parties to work together in order to try to maximise their chances (they might not win an election but, at worst, they might secure a far more effective Opposition)”.
I went on to say that in order for this happen, it would “require Labour, LibDems, the Greens and Plaid Cymru to work together (in England and Wales) and to decide which party stands the best chance of winning each individual parliamentary seat (and to concentrate their limited resources/budget accordingly). Sadly (in terms of true democracy), this will mean that the Green Party, for instance, should only contest perhaps a total of say six seats; the LibDems say 75; Plaid Cymru say 20? In all the other constituencies (and, yes, that would include mine), this would mean the electorate making a straight decision between the Tories and Labour (with UKIP perhaps eating into more Tory votes than Labour!).
It’s far from ideal, but it might be the ONLY way the Labour Party (and the country!) can avoid utter disaster. It would also mean that the Labour Party would agree to incorporate LibDems/Greens/Plaid Cymru policies within its own manifesto (and include members from the other parties within its own Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet)”.

Sadly, despite the Green Party pressing other political parties to enter into some form of election pact, no such arrangement has been agreed. In my view, even despite the lack of any official agreement, I firmly believe it is quite ludicrous for the Green Party to waste its very limited financial resources (don’t get me started on funding for national parties!), for example, here in South Bristol (where it gained support from less than 12% of constituency voters in 2015)… instead, again in my view, they should be concentrating 100% on winning Bristol West (a distinct possibility according to the local media). Bristol West is one of only a handful of seats throughout the country that the Greens have ANY chance of winning. Unfortunately, any such Green victory would be at the expense of Labour!
So, far from ideal, but frankly, there probably isn’t a single current Tory seat in our local area that the Conservative Party is likely to lose 
But now the die is cast… the deadline for candidates to be in place has passed (on 11 May). I just find it staggering that the Opposition parties haven’t been able (or even shown any desire… apart from the Greens) to allow a constituency-by-constituency arrangement for current Tory-held seats or identified ‘marginals’ whereby only a single opposition candidate from the national parties stands against a Conservative candidate.  

So, it’s now all down to the electorate (and you probably know my views on democracy!). If EVERY voter – well, realistically, those living in perhaps the hundred(?) where the outcome might be in doubt, under the first-past-the-post system - made a careful judgement and only voted for the opposition candidate most likely to have a chance of winning against the Tory candidate, then the outcome could be VERY different… but I’m not holding my breath.
I would love the opinion polls to be wrong yet again and for a non-Tory government to be in place come 9 June, but I very much doubt it.
I fear the worst!

Friday, May 19, 2017


I went along to the Watershed this afternoon to see Francois Ozon’s “sumptuous period piece set in the aftermath of WW1, where a young woman forms an unlikely bond with a man she encounters at her late fiancé’s grave” (as the Watershed’s blurb puts it).
In a small German town after the end of the war, Anna (beautifully played by the beautiful Paula Beer) mourns daily at the grave of her fiancé, who was killed in battle. One day a mysterious young Frenchman Adrien (again, very well played by Pierre Niney) also lays flowers on the grave… and the pair embark on a friendship – in which Anna finds some solace in memories of her beloved.
That’s all I’m saying… you need to see the film!
This largely black-and-white film is apparently a loose adaptation of the 1932 Ernst Lubitsch drama Broken Lullaby, which was in turn based on a play by French playwright Maurice Rostand – although Ozon has written his own new second half of the story.
The film is part-romance, part anti-war and highlights the struggles, sufferings and reactions of people from both sides (in this case, German and French). The film also highlights the rise of nationalism in Germany immediately after the first world war – a theme which has been echoed recently with a rise of nationalism in Europe generally (eg. Marine Le Pen’s far-right party gaining popular support in France; UKIP’s voice in the depressing Brexit vote… and some politicians calling for a return to borders).
It’s a powerful film about remembrance, love… and the pain (some would say ‘futility’) of war.
I very much enjoyed it (and was completely captivated by Paula Beer’s portrayal of Anna!).
PS: My enjoyment of the film was somewhat marred by the two loud-mouthed, elderly (my age!), ‘posh’ ladies sitting immediately behind me - who insisted on commenting on what was happening on screen in ‘stage whispers’ throughout the film – DESPITE me twice turning round and giving them my ‘look’!!

Monday, May 15, 2017

southbank bristol arts trail 2017 at number40

Last weekend saw the 15th SouthBank Bristol Arts Trail… and, as it was our 14th consecutive SBA Trail, I suspect that we’re now its longest serving participants. We’re perhaps fortunate that our house is located relatively close to the Southville Centre (one of the largest venues on the Trail) and therefore has acquired a fair amount of “passing trade” over the years - but actually, as an established venue, we now enjoy something of a reputation of being a ‘venue worth visiting’ and have the privilege of welcoming  returning ‘punters’ year after year and it’s always a delight to see them. But we’re also very fortunate to be able to attract plenty of new visitors too.
We didn’t count the number of people visiting this year but, by common consent (based on previous years), we certainly had some 700 plus ‘punters’ into our basement studio over the weekend (the weather was very kind to us yet again).
It’s very much a ‘family affair’ at number40 – this year (as is often the case) we had five family members exhibiting (Moira, Hannah, Ruth, Stuart and me – plus Iris and Rosa, who decided to make cakes!) together with our lovely arty friends Wendy, Georgie+Alex from Pirrip Press and Paul Ashley Brown.
Each year, it’s a bit of a challenge (something of an understatement!) to clear the basement of its usual studio clutter - and to transfer it all to the dining room! There are certainly times when we wonder if it’s all worthwhile… and yet, every year, we end up feeling grateful to have been part of it again.
I have to admit that there are times when I feel that Bristol has reached saturation point as far as Arts Trails are concerned (the SouthBank Trail is the city’s second longest-running trail, I think) – especially as it seems that some artists like to participate in perhaps four or five of the trails(!)… but, hey, these things go through various reincarnations over the years. Each year, there’s always a doubt as to whether the event will happen… will there be sufficient people prepared to help organise? I was part of the steering group for perhaps 10 years, so it’s DEFINITELY an event crying out for fresh blood every year!
There is a tremendous sense of community about the Arts Trail… over 150 artists in more than 50 venues within a HALF MILE radius!!
That’s SOME artistic community!
Fingers crossed for next year…
Photograph: various stuff from this year’s Arts Trail at number40.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

richard murphy at the arnolfini…

Marcus and I went along to the Arnolfini last night to hear architect Richard Murphy talk about the work of his Edinburgh practice - with particularly emphasis on the house he designed for himself at Hart Street, Edinburgh… which won the RIBA’s ‘House of the Year’ award in 2016.
The evening, organised by The Architecture Centre, in association the Bristol+Bath Branch of the RIBA, was attended by a near-capacity audience and Murphy proved to be an entertaining, engaging speaker.
The award-winning house acts as a 'bookend' to the adjoining terrace of Hart Street houses. The roof made mostly of glass with inset photovoltaic cells is designed both to ensure daylight to the adjacent basement flat on Forth Street and also to act as a major collector of solar energy. Inside the roof are a number of insulated shutters which are capable of closing when the roof is in net heat loss mode and opening when there is a net heat gain.

For me, one of the house’s most impressive features was its ability to maximise daylight but also, when required, to be somewhere to hunker down – or as Murphy described it (citing Dutch architect Aldo van Eyck - who’d said that a house should be both “a bird’s nest and a cave, an extrovert place in summer and a retreat in winter”): “In Edinburgh, we can have 20 hours of daylight a day or six; the house needs to close down as much as open up”.
Murphy’s practice made a simple video which shows some of the house’s features – it’s only 6 minutes long and well worth watching.
A very good evening and a very impressive architect.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

tartuffe at the tobacco factory theatre…

Moira and I went along to the Tobacco Factory Theatre last night to see Andrew Hilton’s and Dominic Power’s adaptation of Moliere’s “Tartuffe” (first performed some 350 years ago) as part of the annual “Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory” season (yes, I know, Moliere isn’t Shakespeare!). It’s a complete reinvention of the play which follows Moliere’s pattern of using rhyming couplets (somewhat awkwardly at times for my liking), but set in today’s world of fake news and political uncertainty(!).
Moliere’s original ’victim’ character, Orgon, is here transformed into a gullible government minister Charles Ogden - played in Yes Minister mode by Christopher Bianchi - who is fooled into bequeathing his family fortune (and almost his wife and daughter) to Tartuffe, played by Mark Meadows, as some sort of present-day cultural guru – whose greed and ideology is capable of destroying lives for his own ends. I wasn’t entirely convinced that the family could have been naïve enough to allow the Tartuffe character to live in their house rent free (and meals provided) for as long as he did… but, hey!
A very enjoyable, entertaining evening (although, at times, I felt the play verged on becoming too farcical). I particularly enjoyed the performance of the Polish maidservant, Danuta (yes, they even included an EU migrant worker!), played by Anna Elijasz (Polish herself and who trained at the State Academy in Warsaw).
It seems like an awful long time since we last went to the Tobacco Factory Theatre (a couple of years perhaps?)… we’ll be back again soon. Promise.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

april 2017 books…

The Idiot Brain (Dean Burnett): This is a very entertaining and illuminating book. Its front cover boldly describes it thus: “a neuroscientist explains what your head is really up to”… and that just about sums it up. It endeavours to explain such things as how the memory works, panic attacks, depression, motion sickness, forgetting people’s names, false memories… At times, I felt somewhat numbed by scientific facts, but Burnett has a wonderful knack of being able to explain complicated stuff in a very simple (frequently very funny) way. He also highlights some very bizarre examples, such as: researchers who first looked into the phenomenon of less-intelligent people being more confident were “inspired by reports of a criminal who held up banks after covering his face with lemon juice, because lemon juice can be used as invisible ink, so he thought his face wouldn’t show up on camera”. Precious!  
Wilderness Taunts (Ian Adams): This is the second of my Lent books (written by my brilliant friend Ian Adams). It’s a tough book of daily reflections/meditations – reflecting Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. Challenging messages and, as the title suggests, taunts… but also there’s light. Maybe these taunts and challenges turn out to be gifts that help us to better understand who we are and whatever is being called of us? Despite its hard questions, I found the book both accessible, relevant and hugely thought-provoking (it also contains Ian’s beautiful, haunting photographs). A really excellent resource that I know I’ll continue to revisit.
London Transport Posters (Michael F Levey): This beautiful book tells the story of London Transport’s championing of poster art from 1909 until 1976 (thanks to the vision of Frank Pick, from the time he joined LT in 1906). I’ve always loved posters and, over the past couple of years, have been taking an increasing in the work of Fred Taylor (1875-1963) – who was born in London and designed posters for London Transport between 1908 and 1947. The book only contains 80 posters, but they’re enough to capture and highlight this particular art form born of our modern industrialised society. I really enjoyed this book… and it has also drawn my attention to several other talented artists, such as: E McKnight Kauffer, William Roberts, Oleg Zinger, FC Herrick and Charles Pears.
The Man In The Wooden Hat (Jane Gardam): Moira had recently read and very much enjoyed this book (it’s part of a trilogy), so I thought I’d give it a ‘go’. On the face of it, it really isn’t ‘my sort of thing’, but I was quite, quite wrong. It’s about a judge, his colonial upbringing and career, his long marriage, his rivalries and friendships… and told, in the main, from his wife’s perspective. It’s an evocative, charming, sometimes difficult, story about love, about people, about secrets… and about growing old. Gardam is a stunningly good writer and this was an exceptionally good book (I can’t wait to read the other two).
Book Of Longing (Leonard Cohen): Cohen has been something of a life-long hero for me. I’ve loved his songs right from the late 1960s. This book (first published in 2006) is a new collection of his poetry and writings – mainly taken from the mid-1980s onwards. For me, there are times when his work seems to have a sense of the ‘emperor’s clothes’ and leaves even me thinking: “I could have written that”, but I very much enjoyed the book. In a way, it tells the story of a life – sometimes playful, sometimes colourful, frequently erotic and occasionally angry. It also, perhaps, contains the arrogance of the idolised. Some of the pieces were subsequently used as song lyrics for the album “Ten New Songs”. One of the surprising joys, for me, was the inclusion of several of Cohen’s own illustrations (often quick, scribbled self-portraits ridiculing his ageing features!). Having finished the book in the early hours (not being able to sleep), I found the following words from his poem “I Am Now Able” wonderfully ironic (as well as not sleeping, I hardly ever use the telephone!): “I am now able/ to sleep twenty hours a day/The remaining four/are spent/telephoning a list/of important people/in order/to say goodnight…”. I’ll continue to dip into this rather lovely book.

Friday, April 21, 2017

the sense of an ending…

I went along to the Watershed this afternoon to see Ritesh Batra’s film of Julian Barnes’s Booker prize-winning novel. I’d read the book nearly five years ago and had loved it.
The principal character, Tony (wonderfully played by Jim Broadbent), now retired and divorced, reflects on his schoolboy days, his friendships and a particularly painful relationship during his university days… and then something happens (I can’t tell you!) that turns the clock back 40 years.
Charlotte Rampling plays Veronica, Tony’s university girlfriend – with Billy Howie and Freya Mavor playing the characters (rather delightfully) in their younger days. The other main supporting actors Harriet Walter (who plays Tony’s ex-wife and confidante, Margaret), Michelle Dockeryl (who plays Tony’s daughter) and Emily Mortimer (playing Veronica’s mothers) are very good too.
Essentially, it’s a story about ageing and memory – something I’ve been reflecting on an awful lot lately.
It’s a poignant, moving film – beautifully acted and excellently crafted.
I was particularly pleased that the film included my favourite quote from the book (P95):
“How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but - mainly - to ourselves.”
I think you need to see it.