Tuesday, August 08, 2017

drawing group exhibitions

If you live in or around Bristol, then I strongly recommend that you check out these two exhibitions at the historic city churches of St John on the Wall (in the crypt) in Broad Street and Saint Stephen’s in St Stephen’s Street:

St John on the Wall:
Wednesday 30 August-Monday 11 September (11.30am-2pm, Monday- Sunday). Preview/Open evening: Thursday 31 August 5.30-7.30pm.

Saint Stephen’s:
Thursday 7 September-Wednesday 20 September (9.30am-3.30pm Monday-Friday). Preview/Open evening: Thursday 7 September 5.30-7.30pm.

They will be exhibitions with a difference…
For the past 16 months or so, I’ve belonged to an amazing Drawing Group, which meets from 10.30am-12.30pm every Tuesday in either Saint Stephen’s Church (first Tuesdays in the month) or St John-on-the-Wall Church in Broad St (all other Tuesdays) to draw or write poetry or take photographs.
It’s a very lovely, welcoming and diverse collection of individuals with a wide range of artistic abilities, experience and backgrounds… led by the brilliant Charlotte and Alice Pain, wonderful artists in their own right. The exhibitions consist of sketches that group members have undertaken over the past year (we had a similar exhibition in St John’s Crypt last July/August). Some people have some drawing or photographic experience behind them (but, perhaps, have let the habit lapse?). Others have hardly previously drawn at all. For some, it’s an opportunity to experiment. For some, the group’s principal benefit is the group’s sociability.
Anyone/everyone is welcome to join and I’ve been incredibly impressed by the warmth of the welcome and its non-judgemental approach to art and creativity.
This is what Charlotte has previously written about the project and the group:
“This project is about helping the public connect to buildings and locations. It is about breathing a new breath of life into churches, bringing community back within them and exploring their uses. It’s about getting people drawing and making. It’s about a belief that creativity can help us to strengthen our voices, nurture our mental health and help us connect to each other.

From a core group of people who rarely miss a session to random visitors to the city who have long left Bristol behind them, each drawing is a moment in the life of St John’s/Saint and of the people who have walked through the doors. With the support and open-mindedness of The Churches Conservation Trust the project has flourished.
We are a diverse group of people who have developed a passion for St John’s/ Stephen’s and have spent many hours drawing, photographing and admiring these special buildings. This is not only a celebration, but an invitation to the rest of Bristol to join us”.
As you might realise, Charlotte and Alice are a bit special!

I don’t want to embarrass people by highlighting their individual talents or what they bring to the group but, hopefully, this will provide a flavour: Mike has produced more than 100 sketches over the past couple of years and his friendliness encapsulates all that the group stands for; Brian is another of those gentle, generous, welcoming people and his photographs of the churches are an inspiration; David is a simply brilliant artist (especially his watercolours!) who can draw beautifully and chat amusingly at the same time(!); Betty has been something of a revelation for me – every week, she produces her simple, intricate, beautiful sketches; Jonathan loves coming to the group – he’s industrious, friendly and with a passion for art; Jaki simply draws beautifully… and then there’s also Christine, Chris, Frances, Anne-Marie, DaveP, CharlotteM, DaveW, Justin, Jeff, Jean, Alex, Helen, Marc, Aran, Ed etc etc.     
Membership of the group is completely free so, if you fancy having an excuse to do some drawing, then why not give it a try?
Please take an opportunity to pop into the exhibitions to see examples of the work the group has produced over the past twelve months (and also to see these two beautiful Grade I Listed churches).

Photo: Artwork set out on the floor of the Crypt at St John's... selecting from the huge wealth of work produced over the past year wasn't easy!! 

Monday, August 07, 2017

dunkirk…

I have, at last, seen Christopher Nolan’s film “Dunkirk”!
It’s everything that I’d anticipated – in terms of being made to feel as if ‘you were there’ in the stark, brutal, frightening reality of war. Nolan cleverly (and very effectively) does this through three separate narratives (the evacuation from the beach; the pleasure craft coming to the rescue; and the battles in the air), which play out over three different time periods (one week, one day and one hour respectively)... with everything converging at Dunkirk and with time itself being variously compressed and elongated.
It’s all brilliantly done… and really does give you a sense of being part of the action.
My one slight reservation is the ‘fictionalisation’ of it all. True, stories-within-stories probably do help to convey a sense of reality (ie. how something affects a person or a family member or a colleague), but there were certainly times during the film when I found myself wanting to see the ‘bigger picture’ and not to be caught up in a bit of made-up story! I’m a great admirer of Kenneth Branagh as an actor, but even I found his portrayal of ‘Commander Bolton’ like something out of a 1950’s war film (or even like his characterisation of Isambard Kingdom Brunel at the London Olympics opening ceremony!). But, hey, that’s probably just me…
Anyway, this is a film definitely worth seeing.
PS: I’m clearly not used to attending cinemas such as ‘Cinema De Lux’ (frankly, give me the Watershed every time!). Somewhat ridiculously (I think it’s the first time I’ve been to a cinema before noon), I attended the 11.50am showing – but COULD have attended any one of today’s FIFTEEN scheduled screenings(!). In the event, I was one of just FIVE people in the audience… in an auditorium that seated some 300!!
PPS: The adverts and trailers ran for a full THIRTY minutes (I looked at my watch)!  Not only that, but they were INCREDIBLY loud (and I mean incredibly)… it felt a bit like being in a 1970s disco where the DJ wanted to show off the volume of his machinery. Anyway, I found it utterly unbearable and, acknowledging that there just might be one or two loud explosions in the main feature film (something of an understatement!), I ended up stuffing tissue paper in both ears (yes, REALLY!) in anticipation… and I’m very glad that I did!

Friday, August 04, 2017

typefaces, fonts, lettering… and stuff

After watching a recent television programme about typefaces (Gill Sans and Johnston), I’ve been reflecting on my own fascination with the subject.
Clearly, with my father being a compositor and printer (I still have very clear memories of visiting his place of work - Dams+Lock in Birmingham - and seeing and handling the metal typesetting ‘sorts’) and every page set by hand, it isn’t that surprising.

This has triggered all sorts of memories from my childhood… two of these involved watching BBC sport on the television.
I used to love watching test match cricket on the television (in black+white, of course, and featuring the likes of Peter West) and was intrigued by the handwritten, updated scorecards they used to put up on the screen at the fall of every wicket… beautifully and laboriously written out with traditional dip pens, metal nibs and bottles of ink! I used to try to emulate the behind-the-scenes mystery calligraphers – and wonder at how (comparatively) quickly they were at updating their scorecards compared with me doing the same on the dining table.
Actually, although I got to be pretty proficient at using lettering pens, I never really liked the style of lettering produced with a pen nib (I felt they were a “bit old-fashioned”).
My other television lettering fascination involved the production of the horse racing results! During the course of the Saturday afternoon “Grandstand” programme, they would show the racing results. Every result was shown on screen in the form of hand-written lettering (using italic, capital letters, I recall): first, second and third horses; their numbers, names and betting odds. These were produced at an amazing rate and all beautifully-crafted (with an impression that they were done using a brush… or am I imagining this?). Sadly, I haven’t been able to find an example of either the cricket scorecards or the racing results on the internet (maybe I’m searching in the wrong places? If anyone can come up with either of these, please do let me know!). I was so captivated by the racing result stuff that I can actually remember thinking it could be something I might do for a living!

Actually, it was the traditional typefaces that I was really interesting in.
I was part of the “Remove” stream at school (taking O Levels in four years instead of five). Sadly, in order to do this the powers-that-be insisted that anyone in this stream had to give up Art (how scandalous is that!). Eventually (but not until the very start of my O Level year), I mustered up the courage to ask ‘special permission’ to do Art… and, after MUCH head-shaking and irritation, the Headmaster finally agreed to my request (I must have been much braver than I actually recall!). I decided to opt for lettering as the most practical way of making up for lost time… which involved setting out, drawing up and painting lots of different forms of lettering. I found it all quite satisfying and passed my Art O Level without difficulty (but abandoned lettering for painting, drawing etc for A Level… but that’s another story!).
When I first arrived at School of Architecture in Oxford, I can recall drawing up and inking in lettering for my initial projects… but then we discovered the wonder of Letraset (dry rub-down Instant Lettering)! It totally transformed our lives as architectural students… graphic design and presentation was an important part of our architectural education and I think we went just a little over-the-top with our Letraset (and, for penniless students, it didn’t come cheap!)!

I’ve continued to be fascinated by typefaces and calligraphy. In particular, Japanese calligraphy has always rather captivated me. There was a recent television series (sadly no longer available on iPlayer, it seems?) on the BBC entitled “Handmade in Japan” which included a section on calligraphy – including work/performance by (I think) Miyu Tamamura (see this YouTubeclip)… one day, perhaps, I’ll roll back the living room carpet and have a go!
Computers, the internet and the digital world have long since taken over our lives when it comes to words, graphics, images et al… and it’s brilliant. But there’s just part of me that still yearns for some of the ‘old technology’, hand-produced stuff!
Photo: The cover from my 1984 Letraset catalogue (believe me, I had several others from the late 1960s onwards… all sadly binned!).

Thursday, July 27, 2017

july 2017 books…

Excursion To Tindari (Andrea Camilleri): My third Camilleri Inspector Montalbano Mystery book… and his appeal has grown on me each time. Set on the Sicilian coast, amid the daily complications of life at the local police headquarters and the culinary idiosyncrasies on offer, this is another slightly farcical (but endearing) tale of corruption, vendettas and justice in which the Mafia is never far away. Atmospheric, funny and intriguing... I really enjoyed it.
1984 (George Orwell): I’d read this book a couple of times before – once in the early 1970s and then again in 1982/3 – and decided that it was time for another re-read (but it’s a bit scary to realise that a book you thought you’d ‘recently’ read turns out to be 35 years ago!). Two ‘new’ realisations immediately struck me before I’d even finished the first page… the first was that the book was first published in 1949 (the year of my birth) and the second describes Winston Smith as having a “varicose ulcer above his right ankle” (just like me at the present time!). Spooky! I think I found reading it this time even more powerful/disturbing than before… the world of the internet is now very much a central feature of our existence and, with it, we seem to have instant access to ‘everything’. It’s also a world where facebook and google (for example) know our likes and dislikes; know about our political leanings; know how old we are and where we live… It’s also a world where, for many people it seems, the media controls what and how they think (The Daily Mail and the Sun newspapers, for example!?). It’s also provided us, thanks to social media, with our own artificial world of similar-minded people – whilst, at the same time, there are other artificial worlds of people who have utterly different values and beliefs… not to mention ‘fake news’, of course! Orwell’s picture of an egalitarian Utopia is both brilliant and frightening. Nearly 70 years on, it remains utterly compelling and hugely impressive.   
Act of Passion (Georges Simenon): First published in 1947, this is only the second Georges Simenon book I’ve read. The cover of my paperback copy says he’s “deservedly famous for his exact studies of the minds of madmen and murderers”… and the comment certainly applies to this book. It’s cast in the form of a long, pathetic letter addressed from prison to the examining magistrate in a murder case. The prisoner, a doctor, strangled his mistress and struggles to explain just why he was forced to “kill the thing he loves”… why the act was rational and why he must repudiate any suggestion of madness. The magistrate, he is sure, will understand. Believe me, if I’d been the magistrate, I’d have stopped reading the letter after just a few pages! Nevertheless, it’s an intriguing (albeit shocking) account of control, violence and, ultimately, madness.
The Clock Winder (Anne Tyler): First published in 1972 and set in Baltimore, the novel tells the story of a young woman who, while taking time away from college to earn a little money, ends up finding herself, somewhat bizarrely, being taken on by a recently-widowed woman (and the mother of seven grown children) as a handyman. The story, which spans 14 years, addresses the young woman’s relationship with the widow and then the relationship between her and several of the widow's children. They end up changing each other's lives in fundamental ways. Hauntingly impressive… I probably need to read more of Tyler’s books.
Realms Of Glory (Catherine Fox): This is the final book of Catherine Fox’s Lindchester trilogy. Fictional tales about the Anglican Church might not sound particularly appealing but, take my word for it, Fox has the wonderful ability to convey poignant insights about the C of E (warts and all) in a way that are full of grace, kindness and hilarity. This book is set during the months of 2016 (post-Brexit, Trump, Syria, foodbanks etc). She’s a first class writer and I’ve greatly enjoyed all three of her books (thanks to Moira’s initial recommendation). Anyone with even a slight acquaintance of the Anglican Church will probably recognise some of the characters portrayed, but such knowledge is no prerequisite for being able to enjoy her books. I thoroughly recommend all three of them.

 

Saturday, July 08, 2017

racing demon at the theatre royal bath…

Moira and I went along to the Theatre Royal Bath last night to see a revival of David Hare’s play “Racing Demon”, first performed at the National Theatre in 1990.
We’d previously been to see a production at the Theatre Royal, but there’d been a BIT of gap between yesterday evening and the last time we were there… just a FORTY-FOUR YEAR gap!!
On the face of it, the idea of going to see a play about the Church of England (the establishment church?), society, politics, morality and such like might not seem like the best way to enjoy a Friday evening… but that was far from the case. David Hare was a playwright who emerged from the left-wing theatre movement of the 1960s and 70s… someone who was clearly angered by the injustices, as he saw it, of the capitalist system and wanting to see a ‘fairer society’.  
Yes, whilst the play was inevitably ‘dated’ on some matters (eg. regarding the ordination of female bishops and references to the poll tax), it felt very much a play of ‘our time’ – touching on such secular matters as (in addition to the spiritual): austerity; the ‘haves and have-nots’ of society; justice; morality; domestic violence; listening to and supporting people who feel they have no voice… and at a time when many still question the relevance of the Church in today’s world.
When he wrote the play, in the late 1980s, Hare felt that the Anglican Church provided subject matter that was archetypically English and, at worst, represented an old-fashioned institution, stuck in its dogmatic ways and struggling to adapt to ‘modern life’. From the programme notes, it appears that Hare respected many of the clergy he met in his researches, but was conscious of the best of them being “up against a bureaucratic system that worked in opposition to their talents”… with the Church appearing to have become increasingly irrelevant, “debating arcane matters of doctrine instead of looking outwards to fulfil the community’s spiritual needs”.
The play proved to be provocative, challenging, thought-provoking and, as far as we were concerned, still highly relevant today.

One of the prime reasons for going last night was to watch our lovely actor friend Sam Alexander perform…. and he didn’t disappoint (in his role playing Revd Donald ‘Streaky’ Bacon!).
Indeed, the whole cast were excellent… with David Haig quite brilliant as Revd Lionel Espy and Paapa Essiedu very impressive as the curate, Revd Tony Ferris.
A really excellent evening.
Photo: Paapa Essiedu as Revd Tony Ferris.

Friday, July 07, 2017

a man called ove…

I went to the Watershed yesterday afternoon to see Hannes Holm’s “A Man Called Ove” – based on Fredrick Backman’s novel about a grumpy old Swedish man named Ove (played in the film by Rolf Lassgard/Filip Berg as older/younger versions). The character is a widower (his lovely wife Sonja, played by Ida Engvoll, was the light of his life) and he’s recently been made redundant, aged 59, by the company he’s worked for for 43 years.
He has given up on life (literally).
He lives in a small estate upon which he has endeavoured to impose strict rules (introduced when he was chairperson of the local residents’ group)… he records incidents in his notebook about bad parking or about bikes being left unattended; he lists items people have borrowed from him (and demands their return); he criticises other people’s driving abilities… the list goes on, and on.
Actually, I could easily have played Ove in his grumpy mode without even having to act (and for half the money) (I think even look a bit like him?)! But, in fact, the Ove character really reminded me of my father (even more than me – which is saying something!) – organised, practical, community-helper… and, at times, something of a pig-headed, busy-body!
But, as well as the grumpy bits (indeed, often arising out Ove’s very grumpiness), there were some lovely, funny incidents – like him stopping talking to his best friend for ten years because he dared to buy a Volvo instead of a Saab!
Ove’s sad, lonely regime is shaken by the arrival of a pregnant Parvanah (an Iranian immigrant, excellently played by Bahar Pars) and her family, who move in next door… and a beautiful friendship develops.
I haven’t yet read the novel (but I definitely will, in due course).
Strangely, although I really enjoyed the film, I came away feeling just a little disappointed. Perhaps my expectations (after seeing the trailer) had been unreasonably high? I THOUGHT I would absolutely LOVE the film… but, in the event, it fell just a little short of my hopes and expectations.
Nevertheless (as the Watershed’s programme blurb puts it), “what emerges is a heartwarming, funny, and deeply moving tale of unreliable first impressions and a gentle reminder that life is sweeter when it’s shared”.

Friday, June 30, 2017

june 2017 books…

The Lake District Murder (John Bude): Yet another enjoyable, escapist, murder-mystery from the British Library Crime Classics. I think this is the fourth Bude novel I’ve read in this series (first published in 1935) and, true to form, the author seems to go out of his way to demonstrate the cleverness of his plots and the intricate thoroughness of his detective hero, Inspector Meredith, in this golden age of detective fiction. As usual with these books, they highlight the enormous changes that have taken place in our daily lives over the past 80 years or so: petrol at 1s 3d a gallon; a world of motor bikes and sidecars (and an absence of traffic); a time when Police Inspectors used to salute Superintendents and Chief Constables (perhaps they still do?); when murderers were hanged; when women were frequently portrayed in a somewhat feeble guise (eg. “she, feminine-like, threw a faint”!); when smoking was commonplace (especially pipes with certain gentlemen!); a time when you needed to check Encyclopedia Britannica for facts (no internet or google); when everyone (in this novel, at least) seemed to be constantly checking their watches or the church clock (so they could give the police accurate accounts of their movements etc); when people resorted to using proper (Bartholomew) maps, not sat navs; no television; no photocopiers; no emails/fax machines; no mobile phones; no digital photography; no DNA technology… and WW2 still hadn’t happened. You get the general picture!  
Prisoners Of Geography (Tim Marshall): A fascinating, brilliantly-researched book (published in 2015). The cover gives the following additional description of what it’s about: “Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You need To Know About Global Politics”… and that just about sums it up. It might not quite explain ‘everything’, but it does provide a coherent, geographical background to the issues facing world leaders today. The book is full of well-judged insights into such matters as Russia’s action in Ukraine; China’s struggle for maritime power; the USA’s highly favourable geographical circumstances and natural resource endowment; deeply embedded divisions and emotions across North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia; and (somewhat ironically given the Brexit vote) Europe’s reactions to the uncertainties and conflicts nearby – after more than 70 years’ peace and prosperity.
The Shape Of Water (Andrea Camilleri): This is my second Inspector Montalbano Mystery and I really like this character! As before, the action takes place in Sicily (amid delicious meals, corruption and the like)… the body of an engineer is discovered on a trash-shrewn site brimming with drug dealers and prostitutes. The coroner reckons he died of natural causes, but Inspector Montalbano isn’t prepared to close the case (much to annoyance of the local police chief, judge and bishop!). I really enjoyed it… and also found it brilliantly funny at times too. I’ll definitely look for more of these in the £3 bookshop!
The Ornatrix (Kate Howard): Set in 16th century Italy, this novel is essentially about issues of belonging, female identity and the perception of beauty. The main character, Flavia (who herself was born with a birthmark covering her face), becomes the ornatrix – hairdresser and personal maid – to Ghostanza (courtesan-turned-widow), whose white-lead painted face entrances Flavia and “whose beauty and cruelty are unmatched”. It’s a well-written, clever and frequently raw story about (as the book’s flysheet describes it) “desire, obsession and deceit”. Not exactly a “boys’ book” perhaps but, nevertheless, I quite enjoyed it.
In Case Of Emergency (Georges Simenon): First published in 1956, this is a self-portrait of a French defence counsel in his late forties. His successful career (frequently based on a series of dubious cases) has given him a life removing in a world of politicians, ambassadors, businessmen and fashionable women. It’s a world of opulence, privilege, power, control, obsession… and mistresses. His marriage isn’t what it was and he establishes a serious relationship with one of these mistresses (an ex-prostitute whose defence he had rigged). He knows it’s foolish… and, as he moves towards what he sees as a crisis in his life, he feels impelled to embark on as a secret diary – effectively, a dossier on himself. Strangely compelling.