Wednesday, December 31, 2008

christmas music, books+films

My collection of books, DVDs and CDs has been greatly enhanced by an influx of some excellent new stuff over the Christmas period. I’ve watched “Persepolis” and “This is England” over the past couple of days – both excellent. Music has included contributions from Ray LaMontagne, Miles Davis, Tom Waits, Emiliana Torrini and Cara Dillon (as soon as the CD is released at the end of January - I know Matt Rees speaks very highly of her!). I’ve also been reading Peter Barton’s brilliant book: “The Somme” which contains vivid photographs underlining the utter devastation that took place there, together with harrowing personal accounts from diaries and notebooks. For example: “Dear Mother: I am writing these few lines severely wounded. We have done well. Our Battalion advanced about three-quarters of a mile. I am laid in a shell hole with two wounds in my hip and through my back. I cannot move or crawl. I have been here for 24 hours and never seen a living soul. I hope you will receive these few lines as I don’t expect anyone will come to take me away…”.
These poignant final words perhaps work well alongside my favourite song from my new music – Emiliana Torrini’s wonderful “Bleeder” – which she apparently wrote for a friend who had just lost someone very close to them. She said she wrote the song because she didn’t know what to do or what to say to her friend (“I wrote it to give them a hug”).

Saturday, December 27, 2008

christmas at the buckleys

Moira+I have just returned home after spending a really lovely few days with Alice+Dave in Leyland. They were brilliant hosts and seemed to take dealing with Mikey+Dan/Christmas/a houseful of guests completely in their stride. Alice also cooked an amazing Christmas dinner for ten (not counting Mikey+Dan!) as if it was something she did most weeks! As a bonus, we had a wonderful walk along Southport pier on Boxing Day in beautiful sunshine+blue skies. Also great to spend time playing+giggling with Mikey+Dan (I could tell that Dan was really impressed by my athletic reactions each time he threw the ball in my general direction – although I now have a very nasty bruised thigh after diving full length across the floor and landing on the keys that were in my trouser pocket…. but a brilliant catch nevertheless!).
Photo: break to watch Wallace+Grommit on TV.
Alice+Moira+Sheila (Moira’s sister) plus Dave’s family comprising Helen (in the background), Harold+Jean+Jenn+Dave (poor Kat had to stay at home ill).
PS: you can see more “Christmas family photos” by clicking on this link (optional!).

Thursday, December 18, 2008

staying away from school

I had a great day “at school” today. Pete, the Head of the Geography Faculty, had asked me if I’d be prepared to accompany him and a group Year 13s on a tour of Bristol. They were looking at the city from the perspective of challenges and issues affecting the decline and development of cities - with me offering my architectural/urban design experience. It proved to be a fascinating and enjoyable day. Hopefully, I was able to offer an insight into the changing face of the city – particularly in the redevelopment of the harbourside area. Pete - who is just an amazing teacher with a wonderful rapport with his students - amused me by insisting that we started off by walking into Southville (where we live) as an example of “gentrification”! Thanks to Pete, I learnt a lot new things about “my” city – including what a CBD is (Central Business District!) - and thoroughly enjoyed my day.
PS: an added bonus for me was that Pete thought it would be “silly” for me to drive into school first – so we met up in the SS Great Britain car park instead (I tried to persuade him otherwise, but….).

Friday, December 12, 2008

dino wine

Had our lovely Ithaca friends (Merry-Carol, Gareth, Gerry+Alan) round for food and the odd glass last night. Ended up eating in the basement because our dining room was still full of clutter following the exhibition. Moira happened to notice one of the (empty!) wine bottles on the worktop next to Felix’s brilliant coloured dinosaurs.
It just seemed rather appropriate!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

number40 christmas exhibition (again)

Lovely sunny weekend for our exhibition in the basement (with work from Hannah, Felix, Ruth, Stuart, Becky, Moira and me). Brilliant that lots of friends came round on Friday night - which effectively turned into a bit of a party. Much laughter combined with the odd glass of wine (or was it the other way round?). After a pretty quiet Saturday, today was really enjoyable – a constant stream of lovely friends, regular number40 exhibition-goers and one or two newcomers.
Next exhibition is the SouthBank Arts Trail in May!
Photo: various images from the show.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

forest of dean

Got back from three days in the Forest of Dean yesterday (just before the start of our number40 exhibition in the basement!) with a group of Year 8s from school. Really excellent time and the pupils were great. We stayed at the Dean Field Study Centre as usual (the school has undertaken this trip with all year 8 pupils every November/December for the past 29 years!). Always a relief to get back with no accidents or complications (or losing anyone on the two night exercises through the forest!). I even managed to climb the vertical face of the climbing tower (perhaps 15m high?) – which, with my huge fear of heights, felt like quite an achievement. However, I didn’t attempt the “leap of faith” (I think that’s what it was called)! This involved climbing a telegraph pole, struggling on to an incredibly small platform, standing upright and then launching oneself into mid-air aiming to catch a trapeze bar some 5-6 feet in front of you!! Just fantastic to see pupils go from “there’s no way I can do that and I’m not even going to try” to “that was the most brilliant thing I’ve ever done in my life”!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

parking in southville

I’ve been moaning (who me?) lately about the appalling car parking in our neighbourhood. In our area of narrow streets of terraced houses, one regular frustration is the business of cars parked nose-to-tail at street corners – making it impossible for pedestrians with pushchairs to negotiate and also causing a visibility problem for pedestrians and car drivers alike as they try to ease themselves out at junctions.
Well, I’m not alone! Moira pointed out (via our freebie “The South Bristol Pigeon”) a blog for those “tired of negotiating themselves around the un-enforced parking free-for-all that Southville has become”. Check it out – you might find a photograph of your car featured (eg. “it is written in law that you must not park within 10 metres of a junction…”)!
I have to admit that there are times that I do resort to parking our own car partly on the pavement (ie. on Fairfield Place) – when I do, this is usually on a small section of pavement that it virtually unused by pedestrians…. but I promise to be more aware in future!

Monday, December 01, 2008

quick questions?

As you’ll already know if you read my last blog, we’ve got another exhibition in the number40 basement this weekend. For the first time (I think), we haven’t asked the featured artists to answer a questionnaire of slightly strange questions to go along with their words of wisdom describing what they’re currently doing and/or the work featured in the exhibition. We ran out of time and ended up not bothering.
Actually, the real reason was that it takes time to think up the questions in the first place!
So, dear reader, in order to avoid the same thing happening for our next exhibition in May, we’d be REALLY grateful to receive your suggestions – they could ultra-serious or just rather silly (or both).
Very much look forward to hearing from you (note: our questionnaires normally run to say 10 questions – but even one good new question would be helpful!).
PS: I’ll be out of commission for the next few days – I’m off to the Forest of Dean with a large group of Year 8 pupils!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

number40 christmas exhibition

We’re having another number40 exhibition in the basement next weekend (Friday-Sunday 5-7 December). Somewhat scarily, it’s the twelfth exhibition we’ve had since moving to Bristol. Lovely Becky, from school, is one of the participating artists – together with members from the Broadway clan (daughter Ruth plus husband Stu; daughter Hannah plus husband Felix; plus Moira and me!). It could be even more of a Von Trapp (pathetic!) gathering if other daughter Alice (who can knit and bake for England) plus husband Dave (who studied ceramics at Uni) were taking part – which would be a little awkward, given that they live in Lancashire.
We try to hang the exhibition a week before the event, so this weekend is going to be a VERY busy one.

Monday, November 24, 2008

identity cards?

Yet more articles in the newspapers over the weekend about Identity Cards - on-going debates about cost; about security; about fines for failing to update registration blah blah. Ironically, I came across my OWN official Identify Card yesterday (as you might imagine, I hadn’t realised I had ever possessed such a document!). Admittedly, mine (issued for persons “under sixteen years”) expired in February 1965 but, hey, the principle seems pretty foolproof to me…. just a simple card (none of this plastic stuff), with space for a few official-looking stamps and a couple of handwritten details (name and address etc) and, crucially, a printed warning regarding changes of address: “no entry except by National Registration Officer, to whom removal must be notified”. As I say, absolutely foolproof and virtually nil cost. I think I may have to contact those chaps at the Home Office.
I really don’t know what all the fuss is about!
Photo: the latest specimen card (“expected to be up and running by 2012”) alongside my own old card.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

red wine

Had Liz, Mike, Merry-Carol+Gerry round for supper last night. Good to have time to sit and relax and to enjoy each other’s company. Gerry brought along a bottle of red that, in his words, he “just HAD to buy” while he was on his Tesco shop yesterday. It was bottle of Stormhoek “Pinotage” 2007. The wine was very enjoyable – but, as you can hopefully see from the photograph, it was the label that caught his eye:
Be Passionate
Dream Big
Be Spontaneous
Change the World or Go Home.


Saturday, November 22, 2008


We had a lovely surprise last night. Great friend Heather (neighbour from our days in Thame) contacted us to say she was in Bristol to visit her daughter Harriet and wondered if we might be available for a drink and perhaps some food (silly question)? The original plan was to meet up in the Arnolfini bar, but it was packed out when we arrived (for a private view of the exhibition we think?). We ended up at the Mud Dock Café – which was absolutely fine.
Lovely evening of red wine, laughter and stories!
Photo: strange how things work out…. I was searching through my boxes of stuff this morning looking for a particular photograph of my grandfather (which I didn’t find!) but came across this picture of Heather, taken on cold January morning walk along Chessel Beach (I think?) in 2001.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Had a really lovely day visiting our great friends Mags+Jeremy in Devon yesterday. Arrived for breakfast before walking along Lannacombe beach. We’d never been to Lannacombe before and it was just as well that Jez was driving, as we seemed to drive down endless narrow Devonian lanes to get there. But it was well worth it - and we were the only people on the beach too! We were really lucky as our walk coincided with a brief break in the weather (grey and drizzly) and we actually saw glimpses of the sun.
Back to Mags+Jez’s house for fish pie late lunch (perfect!) before watching the England-Australia rugby on tv (not so perfect!).
Long, but really enjoyable day with lovely friends.
Photo: Jez+Mags+Moira on Lannacombe beach

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

11 november 1918

Ninety years ago today, as war ended, my grandfather Frank was on leave in the UK. He was only granted three brief periods of leave during the course of The Great War – from the time of his arrival at Le Havre on 19 August 1914 to the end of the conflict in 1918. The last of these began on 6 November when he was allowed back to the UK via Boulogne for 14 days leave. It must have been somewhat unreal for him to hear the news when he was away from his wartime colleagues, just after he’d arrive back at home. I suspect he might have had a couple of beers to celebrate perhaps?
I’ve just been updating the “Tracking Frank” blog (now virtually complete up until the end of 1916) based on the information I’ve compiled at the National Archives. The war diaries include map links that I've created (thanks to those clever people at Google!) showing his movements for each year of WW1.
Photo: very poor photograph of Frank, taken in 1972.

Monday, November 10, 2008

leigh woods (in the rain)

There are clearly lots of missing persons and dogs in Leigh Woods! Yesterday, Moira+I decided it would be good to go for a walk in Leigh Woods. As we set out, of course, it started to rain but we persevered and were very pleased we did – the Autumn colours were stunning (and there’s something really nice about walking in the rain – as long as you know there are dry clothes and hot drinks waiting for you when you get home!). As we set out for our walk, we came across two joggers who’d lost their dog and were calling its name somewhat forlornly. As we got back to the car, we passed a man who, happily, HADN’T lost his dog (it was at his side) – unfortunately, however, it appeared that he HAD lost his wife (well, I assume it was his wife?) and was just standing in the rain, with his sad-looking dog, calling out: ”Rachel…. Rachel….. Rachel, where are you?” at 10 second intervals. By the time we were disappearing out of earshot, his cries had become rather more desperate: “Rachel, where ARE you?”.
By this time, if Rachel had any sense, she would stay hidden in the woods for another day or so because her husband(?) was really getting pretty cheesed off – of course, it would be all HER fault - and he would probable make her sit in the very back of the car with Fido until they got home.
Photo: Autumn colours at Leigh Woods.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

birthday boy

Lovely to get together with Gail+Ian in Bristol yesterday to celebrate Ian’s birthday. Great pity that Ken+Debby weren’t able to make it too, but sometimes these things can’t be helped! Met up for lunch at Howard’s Restaurant in Avon Crescent (near Cumberland Basin) which, despite the fact that we were the only customers, was excellent – we’d never been there before, but will definitely do so again.
In our Thame/Oxford days, we used to see Gail+Ian at least once a week and we really miss seeing them more regularly than we now do. Nevertheless, it was great to have an opportunity to catch up on things and to enjoy their company again (we love them very much!).
Photo: Moira, Gail, Ian+me at Howard’s (just for the record!).

Thursday, November 06, 2008

of time and the city

Moira+I went to the Watershed again on Wednesday evening to see Terence Davies’s film “Of Time and the City” (a bit of a rush but we made it for the 6.20pm slot). Having spent a couple of lovely days in Liverpool last week, we thought this film would be a good way to cement our fond memories of the city on the basis of the following text in the Watershed’s November Programme: “Images of Liverpool past and present are magically combined with a wonderfully rich selection of music ranging from Handel to The Hollies, voices, radio clips and the director’s own voice-over narration. The result is a poetic love letter to his native city and a haunting evocation of post-war Britain.”
Well, actually, we weren’t that impressed!
Yes, there WERE some fascinating/amusing/poignant images and, yes, the musical accompaniment was at times quite inspirational but we ended up feeling somewhat disappointed by what we’d seen and, rather than a “poetic love letter”, we felt that at times Terence Davies gave every impression of being just a grumpy old man!
Photo: Liverpool's Albert Dock - taken on our trip last week.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

president-elect obama!

It feels a little like that May morning in 1997 when a new Labour government had finally been elected back into office under the charismatic leadership of Tony Blair. Rather pathetically perhaps, I’ve been listening to the radio throughout the night. At this early hour, it really does appear that Barack Obama WILL be the next US President – although I seem to recall that exit polls declared John Kerry the winner of the 2004 election and, of course, there were those “hanging chads” that “allowed” Bush to win in 2000 (eventually)!
I just pray that Obama will survive (literally) the hateful rhetoric/ threatening accusations made against him by the extreme minority during the course of the campaign.....
“unpatriotic”; “socialist”; “Marxist”; “the anti-Christ”; and, of course, there’s always the “Race Card”.
Having just listened to President-elect Obama (speaking to ecstatic crowds in Chicago), I admit that I was somewhat shocked to find myself holding back the tears!
I feel absolutely elated and at last, maybe ridiculously naively, optimistic for the world again.
PS: I note that “George W” has recently been voted equal 37th Greatest US President (out of 42!). Significantly, the other president sharing equal 37th place was Richard Nixon!
PPS: How come the world still has to suffer George W until 20 January 2009 (help!)?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


As well as visiting the Leyland mob, Moira+I decided to treat ourselves to a couple of days in Liverpool and we were genuinely very impressed. Neither of us really knew the city (although we’d both visited it on odd occasions in the past). We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Albert Dock (and can thoroughly recommend it – great location) and spent our time checking out The Liverpool Biennial and various European Capital of Culture sites (including both cathedrals, the Tate and the Walker Art Gallery) – and even found time to shop at the new Liverpool One centre! It was also lovely to meet up with Ellen+Mark again (they left Bristol in the summer to return home). The weather was very kind to us and we enjoyed a great hour or so walking along Crosby beach and being captivated by Antony Gormley’s “Another Place”.
We’ll definitely go back again – we were made very welcome and there are still lots of things we didn’t get to do!
Photo: Crosby Beach and Gormley figures.

Monday, November 03, 2008


Moira+I spent a lovely three days in Leyland with Alice+Dave et al. We went up for Mikey's+Dan's Thanksgiving Service.
I was great to see them all again - we just don’t get together as often as we’d like (they live in Leyland, Lancashire)! We were incredibly impressed by just how much progress they’d managed to make on their house and the basement is now very habitable and cosy (as we discovered for ourselves, it makes an excellent spare bedroom)! Life with the two boys is full-on to say the least and we continue to be amazed by Alice+Dave’s stamina!
Photos (left to right): Mikey; Dan; Alice+Mikey (all taken at the playground); Dan at home; and Mikey on the swings.

Monday, October 27, 2008

quiet chaos

No, this isn’t a description of my life!
It’s the name of another film Moira+I saw at the Watershed yesterday. It’s the story of how a man copes/struggles with the unexpected death of his wife (there’s a common theme running here – the last film we saw involved a wife’s reaction to the death of her husband!). He deals with his grief by sitting outside his daughter’s school all day long and putting his successful business life on hold. I very much enjoyed the film. It’s beautifully put together and I particularly liked the scenes outside the school, where the father becomes a feature in the daily “park community” through a series of small cameo relationships. Nanni Moretti is wonderful in the role of the father (Moira+I decided he looked like a cross between our great friend Ken and our doctor Ken from Thame!).

Sunday, October 26, 2008

turning a moment into a jewel

I was listening to “Something Understood” this morning on Radio 4. This week’s presenter, Jane Ray, recounted this experience:
I’m stuck at the lights,
It’s a foul day,
Driving rain.
I’m watching a shabbily-dressed Mum and her two kids. Soaked.
Lugging bags of shopping from the discount store.
And I see, against all my expectations,
Their pale faces radiate pure happiness in a shared joke.
And, it’s such a delicious shock,
That I can see them still
This has become somewhat of a recurring theme for me over recent years.
In the book “Listening to the Heartbeat of God”, Phillip Newell talks about the experience we have all had at different points in our lives of “missing the moment”. All too often, we are guilty of “looking, but not seeing” or “listening, but not hearing”.
Photo: geese in formation on a dawn estuary walk in Devon.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

the poor+disadvantaged

Our Thursday night group of friends (Ithaca) is currently using the book “Gathered+Scattered” (readings+meditations from the Iona Community) as a source for discussion over our weekly meal/drinks(!) together. Today’s reading is part of a piece written by the wonderful Kathy Galloway for the laying of the commemorative stone in George Square, Glasgow in 1987 in support of people living in poverty and to campaign to make their voices heard. It serves as a public statement that poverty is neither inevitable nor acceptable:
Remember me, do you?
I turned the wheels that made the engine-room roar.
I dug your roads and built your ships,
I carted your coal and drove your trains,
I forged the iron and unloaded your docks,
I stoked your boilers and fed your production lines,
I cleaned your offices and swept your streets,
I sewed your clothes and emptied your bins,
I made your weapons and fought your wars,
I fried your food and guarded your factories,
Until you had no more use of me
And I became an economic liability.
I came from many places to do it:
From the highland glens and island shores,
From the slave-mines of Ayrshire and the valleys of Lanark,
From Ireland, Poland, Russia, Italy,
From India, Pakistan, Uganda, China,
From Chile, Vietnam, Iraq and Kosovo;
Well that you remember me on the ground beneath your feet.
The city was built on my labour
In the light of the global credit-crunch, it just seemed a very timely reminder.

Friday, October 24, 2008


Moira+I haven’t got a brilliant track record when it comes to investing money. Examples include opting for an endowment mortgage and putting what little money we had into Equitable Life (some readers may be too young to appreciate the significance of these decisions!). I’ve previously expressed fears about the lack of finance for our old age and was fascinated to hear comments made by the eminent economist J K Galbraith in 1955 about the Wall Street Crash of 1929 on the "World Service" overnight (yes, sad man that I am!). I can’t find the precise quotation, but the following gives the flavour:
“The purpose is to accommodate the speculator and facilitate speculation. But the purposes cannot be admitted. If Wall Street confessed this purpose, many thousands of moral men and women would have no choice but to condemn it for nurturing an evil thing and call for reform. Margin trading must be defended not on the grounds that it efficiently and ingeniously assists the speculator, but that is encourages the extra trading which changes a thin and anaemic market into a thick and healthy one. Wall Street, in these matters, is like a lovely and accomplished woman who must wear black cotton stockings, heavy woollen underwear, and parade her knowledge as a cook because, unhappily, her supreme accomplishment is as a harlot."
Although written over fifty years ago, it absolutely describes the present financial mess. I fear that we still have a very long way to go in overcoming our current plight. Another quote from JK:
“A common feature of all these earlier troubles was that, having happened, they were over. The worst was reasonably recognizable as such. The singular feature of the great crash of 1929 was that the worst continued to worsen. What looked one day like the end proved on the next day to have been only the beginning”.
… and a very happy Friday to you all (sorry)!
Photo: John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

tony benn and me

Good to know that Tony Benn and I have at least one thing in common (actually two, if you count the Labour Party!). Yesterday’s Guardian included the following quote from its weekly ‘my family values’ column: “I always sob at the end of the film The Railway Children, when the father comes back from prison and the steam clears on the railway platform and his daughter runs towards him. Both sadness and great happiness bring out uncontrollable tears in me. My children tease me about these “Railway Children” moments. But I think people’s emotions should come out”.
He's right, of course!

Friday, October 17, 2008

first-aider at work

Spent yesterday and today having my first aid at work training topped-up/re-examined. Frankly, first aid is part of my job I would be delighted to do without. This “refresher” was somewhat scary as it meant that it’d been three years since I’d taken the original course. At a push, we could have completed everything in a single day but, clearly, that’s not the way these courses are run! Normally my breaks at school are taken on the hoof, so it seemed amazing to be told: “ok guys, take a coffee break – I’ll see you back here in half an hour” or “ok, let’s break for lunch – be back here in an hour”!
The bonus for me was that I had my final first aid “incident” first thing this afternoon and was therefore able to make an early getaway. It was a beautiful day so, once I’d got back to Bristol, I cycled into town, popped into “Fopp” and bought two CDs (Seth Lakeman’s “Freedom Fields” and Patti Smith’s double album “Land”) and a DVD (Krzysztof Kieslowski’s film “Three Colours Blue”).
It’s just possible that, with Moira going to her book group this evening, I’ll end up watching the DVD tonight over a glass or two of red wine (to celebrate passing my first aid course you understand!).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Most commentators admit that the world is in the grip of a massive financial crisis. Here in the UK, enormous sums of money have been made available to the banks in an effort to avert financial melt-down. We’re left worrying about our jobs, pensions, mortgages, rising fuel bills and the cost of our food. The events of past few days/weeks seem to have affected our memories: only 6-7 months ago, our newspapers were full of stories about the dramatic rise in the worldwide cost of food - provoking riots throughout the Third World where millions more of the world's most vulnerable people continue to face starvation as food shortages grow and cereal prices soar: “It threatens to become the biggest crisis of the 21st century” (Paul Vallely, April 2008 in The Independent). “Who knows there’s a food crisis? The early signs are there, but the world seems to be sleepwalking towards disaster” (Magnus Linklater, March 2008 in The Times).
It’s obviously difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of soaring food prices - experts have placed the blame on rising fuel costs, lower agricultural production, weather shocks, more meat consumption, and shifts to bio-fuel crops. High prices threaten to increase malnutrition, already an underlying cause of death for over 3.5 million children a year.
In May this year, Veronique Taveau (spokesperson of the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF), said that rising food prices could lead many families in poor countries to stop sending their children to school: "Increasing food prices will oblige families to reduce their budgets, cut expenses on schooling, pull their children out of school, and put them to work". And, of course, whenever you talk about poverty these days, you MUST do so in the context of climate change. When Sir Nicholas Stern published his Report on global warming in 2006, he warned that it would cost the world “up to £3.68 trillion unless it is tackled in this decade”. Such a figure now seems comparative chickenfeed in the light of the funds being poured into banks by Governments across the world!
To my mind, the really frightening thing as far as world poverty is concerned is that we will all try to bury our heads in the sand and adopt entirely selfish attitudes - at the expense of the world community and the “greater good”. Recent events in the UK for example, with many high-profile charities standing to lose huge sums after the collapse of Iceland’s banking system, will surely make some people question the point of charitable giving “if they’re only going to lose our money anyway”?
We live in a finite world, with finite resources. We should be thinking about living our lives more simply. It’s entirely possible that the events of the last few days, weeks and months will change the mindset of us all for the better….. but I’m very afraid that all they might do is simply to encourage people to become greedier.
I’m no economist, but this letter in last Saturday’s Guardian (from Bill North) echoed my own, perhaps somewhat naive, sentiments:“We have blamed the free market and the fat cats. What about the assumption that the economy can and should go on growing at 2% for ever? How is this possible in a world of finite resources? What about peak oil and climate change? Maybe the recession will give economists time for some really radical rethinking”.
PS: …. and if you think we’ve got it bad, spare a thought to the citizens of Zimbabwe – where inflation has rocketed to an astronomical 231 million per cent. A loaf of bread, which cost Z$500 at the beginning of August, now costs between Z$7,000 and Z$10,000, even when it can be found.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


If you’ve previously read my blog, you might be aware that I spent some time over the summer learning about my grandfather’s time in WW1. Since then, I’ve been in touch with the incredibly helpful Army Personnel Centre in Glasgow and have just received copies of all the relevant documents in his service records.
Absolutely fascinating stuff.
For example, I learnt that he was admitted to hospital in 1916 with trench fever and that he was treated in a field hospital for a hand injury in 1917; I came across a wonderful document indicating that his war pay was increased from 3d a day to 4d in 1918; it would appear that he only took two periods of Leave (10 days in 1917 and 14 days at the end of 1918) throughout the whole of the war; and the documents also included two references describing him as a “very steady and clean, hard worker” and of “very good” character.
However, I’m still trying to come to terms with a stunning discovery.
He was amongst the first soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force to arrive in France on 20 August 1914. On 22 October 1914, he was tried by the Field General Court Marshall and sentenced to “2 years imprisonment HL” (hard labour?) for “leaving his post before being regularly relieved when a soldier acting as sentinel on active service”. This incident took place on 3 September 1914 (just a fortnight after arriving in France!) at Pavillion Farm in Jury. In the event, the sentence seems to have been initially reduced to 6 months and then commuted to 3 months “Field Punishment” (it would appear that he was back on duty from 4 September onwards). Obviously, I’ve no idea of the circumstances, or if other soldiers were also involved, but it underlined the brutal reality of the war for this 17 year-old soldier (and me)! The Brigade’s War Diary entry for that day simply states: “Left Chambre Fontaine at 7am and formed part of rearguard to 5th Division. Came into action south of La Baste to cover ‘retirement of our outposts’”.
On a positive note, whatever did occur did not prevent Frank from being awarded The Star Medal, with Clasp (this was instituted in 1917 for service ashore in France and Flanders between 5 August and 22 November 1914; in 1919 a clasp bearing the above dates was authorised and given to those individuals who had actually been under fire between the prescribed dates).
Perhaps, not surprisingly, I had absolutely no knowledge of this event!
Photo: Frank with my grandmother Ada in the early 1920s.
PS: I’m hoping to go back to The National Archives later this month to continue my research (ie. beyond May 1916).

Saturday, October 11, 2008

footie after school

I played football after school again yesterday. When I last played, some three weeks ago, I think there were enough players to warrant 7-a-side. Yesterday, I’m afraid there were six of us and so it was just 3-a-side for some 45 minutes – not something that a person of my age is quite accustomed to! It was great fun, if a little tiring (the “oldies” won, of course).
I understand that Sky Sports have bought the footage off the CCTV, so you should be able to watch my goals sometime over the weekend, if you’re lucky.
Photo: the backbone of the staff football team: James, Giles, Ifi (on his haunches), Dan and Mark.
PS: Iris+Ruth were with Moira when I got home and Iris was initially rendered speechless by the sight of my grazed knees, ancient shorts and red football socks…. she’ll get over it (eventually).

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

sarah palin v the polar bear

Yes, I know that the world is in a financial mess but, as some say, “there’s more to life than money”….
You will be aware that Sir David Attenborough has expressed grave concerns about the future of the polar bear in the light of global warming threats, but it seems that Sarah Palin has checked this out and reckons the bears aren’t under threat afterall.
Thank goodness! What would we do without her?
In May this year, as Governor of Alaska, she indicated that the State would sue the US Government to stop the listing of the polar bear as a threatened species – arguing that the designation would slow development in the State. She thinks that the listing is unwarranted and that (in the words the Alaska Assistant Attorney General) it was “unprecedented to list a currently healthy population based on uncertain climate models”.
You MUST read Tim Dowling’s wonderful article from The Guardian dated 2 October, entitled: “Sarah Palin v the polar bear – who will survive?”
To my mind, the article says it all!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


I am a self-confessed list-maker. In fact, I think I invented list-making. So I was mildly amused by Oliver Burkeman’s “This Will Change Your Life” column in last Saturday’s Guardian: “I am astonished afresh each time I’m reminded that there are people who don’t use to-do lists. They get up, do things all day, then go to bed. At no point in this process do they cross off tasks in a notebook, fill in timetables with coloured felt-tip pens or organise complex systems of Post-its. They just do things”.
In my architectural days, I reckon that over 90% of my time was spent being proactive and, to this end, lists were critically important. These days, it’s completely the reverse – I’m probably spending 90% of my time being reactive - but I still compile my things-to-do-today lists as the first task each morning.
Mind you, I think I missed a trick when I first started making lists. I almost certainly invented the “tick-box” (see image!) which I use for all my lists and regret never having patenting it (another case of "it's too late now"!). Crucially, you don’t actually tick the box, you have to insert a cross once you’ve completed a task (in fact, I have a number of other “codes” representing half-completed jobs or jobs that I need to prioritise!!).
The wonderful thing is that our three daughters are all list-makers too (to a greater or lesser extent!) and, whisper it, one of them even uses the “crossed box” model of her old man!
Bless her/them!
Image: “to-do-list” selected at random from my filofax (note to self: why have you still got a “to-do-list” dated 23 June in your filofax?!).

Sunday, October 05, 2008

I've loved you so long

Moira+I had looked at the Watershed October programme and had independently highlighted the film as one we’d like to see - and also ended up persuading Les, Sandy, Gerry+Merry-Carol to join us this afternoon (at the pre-5pm price of £3.50 each!). In the event, we were very pleased we did! This wonderful film, featuring Kristin Scott Thomas as a woman who returns to her home town after a mysterious and lengthy absence, “focuses on low-key, everyday events as details of her years away emerge and she begins to reconcile with those around her”. As I emerged from the film, I came across three people in the lobby discussing which film they should opt to see. Although it was obviously nothing to do with me, I urged them to see “I’ve loved you so long” and, I’m pleased to say, they decided to follow my advice! I think they will have been really pleased they did.
It was simply stunning!

saturday breakfast at the spike island café

Moira+I decided to miss the Private View of Richard Long’s exhibition at Spike Island on Friday night. Instead, we decided to have breakfast at the Spike Island café the following morning, read the newspaper and then see the exhibition when it opened at 11am (Moira even checked on the website to make sure the café would be open).
In the event, of course (and you knew this because I’m writing about it!), it was closed and so we walked down the road and went to the café at the SS Great Britain instead – except that they didn’t actually DO breakfast (all we wanted was something like scrambled egg on toast!).
We did at least manage to see the exhibition and, although we were impressed by the two major pieces, we were both a little disappointed that there weren’t more of his textworks (see photo extract).
PS: on a completely different note, Bristol’s “Evening Post” has adopted our lovely friend Gareth’s blog as a daily column in their esteemed(?) newspaper as part of Bristol’s Zero Waste Challenge Week. Look out for her name in the New Year Honour’s List!

Saturday, October 04, 2008


Sorry Gareth, this is another boring football blog!
I was in a conversation the other day about the apparent lack of penalties referees seem to award against the “top” sides when they’re playing at home. Well, thanks to google, I’ve discovered that it’s absolutely true! Over the past ten years in the Premiership, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have only “given away” 8 penalties each (ie. less than one a season!)… in fact, in all that time, Man U have only conceded 18 penalties home+away in total (compared, for example, with Villa’s total of 49, including 16 at home).
I’m not saying that referees are scared of the big managers or the home crowds (oh no!), but what are the odds of Villa being awarded a penalty at Chelsea tomorrow?

Friday, October 03, 2008

bush is a socialist?

Some of you will be aware that I listen to the radio through the night as I drift in and out of sleep (pathetic I know!). I keep it under my pillow and either tune into the World Service or Five-Live’s “Up All Night” programme. In the aftermath of the Palin-Biden vice-presidential debate (which, to my ears, seemed less like a debate than an opportunity to reproduce well-rehearsed statements and soundbites), the programme presenter talked to some “typical Americans” to get their reactions. Thus far in the presential election campaign, I’ve found it quite amusing how both the Democrats and the Republicans have been going out of their way to disown the George Bush presidency. However, last night was the best yet….
I swear I heard one the Palin supporters describe Mr Bush as a "socialist" (or maybe I just dreamt it?)!

Monday, September 29, 2008

st werburgh’s arts trail

Very much enjoyed the arts trail in St Werburgh’s yesterday (where Hannah+Fee live). Perfect weather and lots of smiling people. Some beautiful art, good music and amusing story-telling/street theatre.
Photo: street musicians in the tunnel.
PS: I spent some time “exhibition-sitting” for Hannah while she got out to view some of the arts trail for herself. In between chatting to visitors, I read a little of “A Winter Book” by Tove Jansson - rather beautiful and uplifting. I came across this in the “Parties” short story and it made me laugh out loud (not sure it applies to anyone I know, but I still found it amusing): “All men have parties and are pals who never let each other down. A pal can say terrible things which are forgotten the next day. A pal never forgives, he just forgets, and a woman forgives but never forgets. That's how it is”.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


I’ve never yearned to be rich.
Living “simply” (in Western terms at least) has always seemed to be a reasonable goal. Running an architectural practice for nearly 30 years meant that I had successful years, in financial terms, and years when I literally had to subsidise the practice. As a result, I have often joked (Moira hasn’t been amused) that I can only afford to live until I’m 70 – not long to go then!
The extremely volatile global financial climate of the past few days/weeks/months might mean that I have to recalculate my end date! For years, I have bemoaned the huge annual bonuses paid out to City high-fliers. A financial system where speculators, or "financial vandals" as I've recently seen them described, get massive rewards for taking risks with somebody else’s money (apparently with ONLY large rewards if they fail!) seems fundamentally wrong. I’ve read some wonderful descriptions recently, such as: “rich kids in bright shirts in London, New York and Tokyo who are making money at our expense” and “an irresponsible game of financial jenga”!
The root of the market collapse is the fear that banks and other institutions still hold too many “toxic assets”, which are based on mortgages that are now going bad. Should we be surprised by this - when young couples are offered mortgages on, what seems to me, ridiculous terms? Doesn’t anyone remember the non-boom times (high interest rates/high unemployment/stalled housing markets)? Short-selling (hedge funds being the main players) has now been banned in the UK for some specific financial shares – well, at least until January. It has been held partly responsible for undermining confidence in the UK's biggest mortgage lender HBOS (recently acquired by Lloyds TSB). The Green Party’s Patrick Harvey reckons that the “root cause of the problem is the culture of deregulated and buccaneer capitalism which all the other political parties have supported, celebrated and even courted."
I think he has a point!
Photo: I fear that this concentration on the “global slowdown” will result in eyes being taken away from the Climate Change agenda. It therefore seemed somewhat ironic to pass the Lloyds TSB building in Bristol last night with ALL its lights on!

Monday, September 22, 2008

tobacco factory market

As we often do, we went along to the excellent weekly Tobacco Factory Market yesterday morning. The sun was shining and there were lots of people about (it also coincided with one of its monthly street parties) and there was a real community “feel”.
Amazingly, I bumped into an old work colleague Neil Foreman (he’s a chartered surveyor with Hicks Baker) from Oxfordshire who just happened to be visiting his daughter in Southville. Great to see him again (after more than 5 years).
PS: can’t quite believe this, but we’ve eaten outside twice this weekend!!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

ed balls

I’ve written to Ed Balls (Secretary State for Children, Families+Schools).
This followed an encouraging interview he gave to “The Guardian” yesterday in which he vowed to win the “hearts and minds” of school staff. He pledged to ensure that schools and education authorities guaranteed that teachers spent 10% of their time outside the classroom (preparing+marking) and to roll out a system of masters for teachers to give them the same professional status as doctor and lawyers. Crucially, from a personal perspective, he also vowed to create a statutory independent chair to ensure that more than 300,000 teaching assistants and support staff are paid fairly.
As many of you will be aware, I work in a secondary school as an Assistant House Head. The scope of the role is wide-ranging and carries a high degree of responsibility – we are dealing with staff, pupils, parents and outside agencies as well as liaising with individual teachers, departments and faculties in relation to behaviour and learning for both individuals and groups of pupils. As non-teachers, we represent the key point of contact for parents throughout the school day.
This new role at our school has been very successful (I would say that wouldn’t I!) - it has been readily welcomed, respected and appreciated by all tutors, teaching staff, pupils and parents alike. Critically, one of the key benefits of the role has been its effect on the teaching staff – it has certainly enabled “teachers to teach”.
I am convinced that this type of role in schools is absolutely crucial – and will become increasingly important over the coming years. As things stand, with the job’s current low level of pay and high levels of responsibility, it will become impossible to attract suitable candidates for the role. At present, there is no career structure for this or similar positions – all too often (and exactly the same comment can be made about jobs for teaching assistants and support staff), non-teaching roles in schools are regarded as being for the “secondary earner” in a partnership (even an appalling assumption that it will be mainly mothers taking up such positions “so they can look after their children in the school holidays”!)!
Clearly, I did not take up my present role for its financial rewards (my current salary represents just over one third of the money I was earning when I retired from my architectural practice in 2005)! However, for the sake of people taking up similar positions in the future, it is absolutely essential that such roles are properly recognised and that schools+education authorities do not continue to see them as “enabling education to be provided on the cheap”.
Here ends this morning’s sermon…..

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Moira+I took advantage of our belated summer (well, a weekend at any rate) to spend this morning walking round Clevedon in brilliant sunshine. Unusually for us, the tide was in and we spent some time watching a group of swimmers (of a certain age!) stroking out to the buoy and back. Pretty impressive!
Coffee in a seafront café after our walk, then pottered along Hill Road past the shops (very sad to see that the “Magpie and the Mirror” gallery had closed down).
Photo: Moira in the excellent “Murray’s Food Shop” on Hill Road.

Monday, September 15, 2008


I awoke to red skies this morning and quickly took a photograph with my broken camera. The image quality isn’t brilliant, but it was amazing to watch the sky cloud over and the crimson dawn disappear within a matter of perhaps just five minutes. Unlike Moira, I’m not a great lover of Autumn – but one of the bonuses is definitely the season's dramatic skies.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


I don’t actually think it has rained this weekend. If that’s the case, this must the first rain-free weekend in absolutely ages! Cycled to Pill first thing yesterday morning before entertaining Iris (or was it the other way round?) and walking into town. Later helped Andy celebrate his birthday at Illusions “Magic” Bar on the triangle. Absolutely beautiful blue-sky first thing this morning so Hannah+Fee joined Moira+me in a trip to Sand Bay/Sand Point. Unfortunately, as we set out, the sun disappeared behind clouds! Nevermind, we had a lovely time. Highlights(?) included Hannah+Fee finding an abandoned ball - which they decided to adopt (and named it “John”)!!
Photo: Felix, Moira+Hannah at Sand Bay.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

happy birthday jennie!

Moira+I travelled up to Nottingham in the pouring rain yesterday to help celebrate Jennie’s 60th birthday. Lovely to meet up with old friends again. Jennie and her wonderful, gifted musical/theatrical family were in great form. Roy Bailey (folk legend!) was also there as a guest (we mix in the very highest company you know!). Jennie’s mother, Sheila, died early this year and Roy sang “Cobweb of Dreams” at her funeral. The Heap family now regard this as their very special “family song” and Roy+the Heap children put together a CD as a special extra birthday present for her…. tears were duly shed! I actually had Roy’s original recording of it (on cassette!) with his wife Val on his “Business as Usual” album from 1994. Great words:

"I have been searching through the timeless past
Because of you, my love, because of you
Weaving a cobweb that will hold you fast
Because of you my love, because of you.

Oh sing again the song I heard you singing
The song that set the bells of Heaven ringing.
The song that surely told me
The grave could never hold me
Because of you, my love, because of you.

And now I know that love's a fragile flower
Because of you my love, because of you
So little time between the sun and showers
Because of you, my love, because of you.

Only by singing can I soothe my sorrow
Because of you, my love, because of you.
Today is gone, but there is always tomorrow
Because of you, my love, because of you".

Friday, September 05, 2008

god on trial

I watched “God on Trial” on BBC iPlayer tonight. It was quite brilliant – a wonderful, challenging, thought-provoking, moving piece of drama (written by Frank Cottrell Boyce) set in a dismal blockhouse in Auschwitz. A group of men wait to discover if they’ve been selected for the gas chambers and struggle to make sense of their existence – essentially asking themselves the question: what is the nature of a God that can allow so much suffering? Amongst an impressive cast, Eddie Marsan (who played the repressed driving instructor in “Happy Go Lucky”) is particularly outstanding.
If you missed the programme, I strongly recommend that you try to see it – it’s on BBC iPlayer until next Wednesday (I think).

happy birthday iris!

Iris was two yesterday.
Ruth+Stu had originally planned a picnic with friends in the local park but, clearly, this is the summer of 2008 and so it ended up taking place in our basement! The dress theme was “insects” so, when I arrived home after school, I was greeted by the sight of a basement full of bumble bees, ladybirds and spiders (plus various mothers+ fathers!).
All great fun, but I suspect that Ruth, Stu+Moira (+Iris) will need a “quiet day” today to recuperate!
Photo: moment of reflection for Iris as she contemplates eating her entire caterpillar birthday cake?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

morning in bath

Spent my last morning of the school holidays in Bath with Moira+Iris. Decided to take the train and enjoyed pottering around the city. By chance, we came across a small art exhibition in the wonderful Walcot Chapel (in Walcot Street). The artist (and I’m sorry I don’t remember his name!) told us that he’d rented the space for just a week. Well worth a look if you’re in the vicinity.
We intended to get the 1pm return train to Bristol, but arrived on the platform only to discover that the train was running some 40 minutes late. As we had Iris with us, we decided to get some food from the café on the platform while we were waiting. To our amazement, the café was shut and the following sign displayed on the door (without a hint of irony!): “closed for lunch – back in an hour”!!
Surely, someone seems to have missed the point?

Monday, September 01, 2008

former golfer returns

I drove up to Oxford early this morning to play golf (for only the fourth time in two years – quite outrageous when I think that I used to play every week!) with great mates Pete, Ken and Steve. Despite foreboding weather forecasts, we played under sunshine and blue skies! Perhaps it’s been summer everywhere except for Bristol? Not too surprisingly after playing so little, my “game” wasn’t exactly top notch but, fortunately, my partner (Ken) was in good form and we won with two holes to spare.
Strangely, I can’t actually remember being on the losing side in these “team games” over the last few years. Clearly, I see myself as one of those exceptional team players who is able to bring out the very best in other squad members.
On this basis, I’m absolutely gutted not to have been named in the Ryder Cup team announced yesterday.
Photo: Pete, Ken+Steve before today’s round (since when did we all have grey hair?).

Friday, August 29, 2008

sand point

I spent another early morning yesterday walking along a deserted English beach in the drizzle! This time it was Sand Bay near Kewstoke and it was really lovely – especially walking to Sand Point and being amazed by the volcanic rock formations en route. I DID actually see people on this occasion – three people walking their dogs (who clearly thought I must be mad – a man walking WITHOUT a dog!) and a man digging in the mud/rocks, presumably collecting some edible sea creature (or bait)? It definitely wasn’t lugworms because there were loads on the main beach and this guy was risking life+limb clambering over the precarious rocks and the muddy shoreline (lots of warning signs about “sinking mud”!). I’d be grateful for your suggestions please…. (razor fish? mussels? even oysters?).
Anyway, the trip was all very worthwhile and beautiful.
Photo: swirling mudflats, viewed from Sand Point (other photos on one of my facebook albums).
Note: unfortunately, my camera started playing up (damp conditions perhaps?) – I just hope it’s not terminal or expensive, as we’re rather short of funds!

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Moira+I went to the Watershed yesterday with Gareth+Iona to see this latest film from Cedric Klapisch and we all thoroughly enjoyed it (unlike the Guardian critic, Peter Bradshaw, who only gave it a two-star rating and felt that this latest film about the capital was “a little too in love with itself”!). The film is often very funny and sometimes quite moving and features, amongst others, Romain Duris and Juliette Binoche (who I find completely captivating!). Essentially, I think it’s a wonderfully uplifting film that explores what it means to be happy.
You should definitely see it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

greenbelt celebrity status?

As you probably appreciate, you need to have achieved iconic status in order to get your photograph on to the front covers of such magazines as “Vanity Fair”, “Time Magazine” and “Vogue”. Well, I had a phone call from great friend Ian during the course of the Greenbelt weekend (he was there too with friends from mayBe) to indicate that I’d almost scaled similar heights!! He’d posted a photo of me (taken when we’d be walking though fields of corn in Devon and few weeks earlier) on the “Here Comes the Sun” section of the Greenbelt website and it was subsequently chosen for the front cover of “The 2008 Church Times Guide to Greenbelt” magazine. Amazingly, no one’s yet recognised me from the photo and I’ve not been asked for a single autograph.
I think it’s just a matter of time….