Saturday, May 31, 2008

oil painting

Moira’s been having a clear out of the storage “cupboard” in her basement studio and this painting has mysteriously re-appeared. I was quite surprised to come across it as I hadn’t seen for ages. It’s one of my very few oil paintings and I think I vaguely took the subject from a photograph I’d seen. It’s all a bit dark and sombre isn’t it and the baby looks a bit like a rag doll!?
Also somewhat scared to see from the date that I’d painted it 38 years ago!

Friday, May 30, 2008

bristol bridge

I mentioned Bristol Bridge (“bridge of buildings”) yesterday and have now found out a little more about it. For centuries it was the only crossing of the Avon for miles around; the Saxon bridge was timber-built but the stone replacement version was completed in 1361. Like London Bridge, it was rapidly lined with shops and became one of the busiest commercial centres of the city (and the houses rose higher and higher over the centuries). Initially, the bridge managed to include a city gate and chapel in one massive structure. By the mid-1700s, the houses on the bridge were under threat and seen as an impediment to traffic. Pressure grew to clear the bridge of houses (as they had done at London Bridge) and a new replacement bridge was opened in 1768. The new bridge was financed through tolls but, when the Bridge Trustees reneged on a promise to cease the toll in 1793, riots followed. Citizens burnt the toll-gates and the contents of the toll-houses and the Council responded by ordering the Militia to fire into the crowd. Eleven died and 52 were wounded.
Image: view of Bristol Bridge from Welsh Back around 1750.
PS: just thought you might be amused to know that my bargain £3 Blues double CD includes a track entitled “Love Like a Hydrant” by Lightnin’ Hopkins (they just don’t write songs like that anymore!).

Thursday, May 29, 2008

bristol in sunshine

What a difference a day makes!
Despite the local weather forecast (heavy showers), I rode to the harbourside on my bike this morning in beautiful, bright sunshine. People were smiling and there was a definite “feel-good” mood in the city. I bought a double Blues CD from Fopp for £3(!); had coffee in the Boston Tea Party cafĂ© and visited the City Museum+Art Gallery. Came across some wonderful C16th engravings of the city including Johannes Kip’s 1717 work showing the “bridge of buildings” by St Nicholas Back, leading to High Street. Was also greatly taken by Samuel+Nathaniel Buck’s 1734 engraving of the North West Prospect of the city which showed hundreds of ship’s masts on the Avon along Welsh back and on the Frome on Broad Quay.
Poet Alexander Pope, on visiting Bristol in 1739, commented:
as far as the eye can see, hundreds of ships, their masts as thick as they can stand by one another, which is the oddest and most surprising sight imaginable”.
Photo: City of Bristol: North West Prospect from Brandon Hill 1734 by Samuel+Nathaniel Buck. Many apologies for my red spray paint(!) but this shows the extent of the ship’s masts in the picture (which you would never be able to make out on this blog!) – if you’re able to make a trip to the City Museum to see the engravings, you really should do so!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

frank walker

I’ve been spending a little time, this wet half-term, researching the First World War exploits of my grandfather, Frank Sydney Walker (1897-1984). Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August and Frank entered the “theatre of war” in France/Belgium on 19 August – so he was clearly involved from the very early days. He was a member of the 8th Brigade Royal Field Artillery (regimental no. 78965) and, like many others, clearly joined up under age (he was 17 – the minimum qualifying age was 19). I managed to track down his medal roll index card from the war (really spooky to actually see this via the internet!). He received three war medals: Victory Medal, British Medal and Star Medal but, crucially, the Star medal included the “14 clasp” which was awarded only to those who had served their unit in France+Belgium between 5 August and 22 November (and “given to all who served under fire”).
Family “history” speaks of him being involved in the First Battle of Ypres (October-November 1914), the Battle of the Somme (1916) and the Battle of Passchendaele (July-October 1917 – certainly my brother Alan was aware of him experiencing mustard gas attacks in some form or other). The casualty figures for these three battles alone are staggering: 54,000 at First Ypres; 420,000 at the Somme; and 310,000 at Passchendaele - sombering to appreciate that, if he hadn't survived against the odds, I wouldn't be here! The “clasp 14” service medal would certainly seem to indicate that he could have been involved at Ypres in 1914, but there’s a limited amount of other stuff that I’ve been able to uncover on the internet and, I suspect, that a trip to the National Archives is the only way I’ll ever be able find out further details!
He never spoke to us about the war and, having discovered a little more about his involvement, I can perhaps understand why.
Photo: Corporal Walker.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

play-off final

As you might be aware, I’m not a Bristol City football fan!
As a Bristolian, I naturally wanted them to win yesterday and get into the Premiership (albeit just for a year perhaps!). So it was rather painful to be driving back from Oxfordshire along the M4 and to find ourselves amongst hoards of City fans making their sad, forlorn, homeward journeys from Wembley after their side’s 0-1 defeat to Hull.
From my own experiences of Villa-Blues in Birmingham, I am well aware of the competitive nature of local rivalry in these matters, but I wasn’t prepared for the vindictive, obscene and abusive nature of the home-made banners (presumably from Rovers’ “fans”) that adorned the various bridges as we approached Bristol - together with aggressive, gesturing from accompanying youths, celebrating City’s defeat.
I found the whole experience completely sickening. This isn’t what sport is all about!

more great friends, big houses+big gardens!

For the second weekend running, we’ve been partying with more lovely friends who own huge houses and rather large gardens! This time we visited Phil+Heather in Long Crendon, Oxfordshire to celebrate Tom’s 21st birthday (Heather used to live just a few doors away from us when we were in Thame and we seemed to spend much of our time drinking red wine+laughing together – and still do whenever we can!). I can remember my father being absolutely bowled over by Long Crendon – he regarded it is as the quintessential English village – and he would be even more impressed to know that we actually had friends who lived there! Their beautiful “back garden” was some 200m long with views into the distance.
Ours doesn’t quite compare (5m long x 6m wide), but hey, who’s counting?
Photo: just a small part of Phil+Heather’s beautiful garden.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

happiness for life

I know this might sound a little weird, but I’ve just completed an eight-week “Happiness for Life” course! It was run by friend Bruce Stanley, who is a “life coach” amongst other things (he also worked in a circus in some former life!) at the rather nice Pierian Centre in Portland Square, Bristol. I first met Bruce through “Foundation” and he is just a wonderfully-gifted and inspiring man (in his low-key, personable way!). Moira had been on a previous course of his and I was persuaded to go along by good friend Gareth - so we’ve been able to compare notes together throughout! I didn’t actually attend on the basis that the course would make me any happier (I felt pretty happy already) but I found it really enjoyable – and the other “punters” were good fun too.
What was really good was that it helped to underline what a good decision it was to retire from my architectural practice when I did (despite the big drop in earnings!) and it also reinforced a number of issues and galvanised me into action on other things.
I’ve discovered lots of new and helpful pointers for living my life to the full (or “goals to develop my happiness”) as well as coming across some great quotes – for example:
Happiness and a meaningful life come from making differences. But this is the most important rule to follow: always make the differences you can make, not the differences you would prefer to make but can’t”. Lyndon Duke
I’d thoroughly recommend the course and suggest you check out Bruce’s great “Embody” website for more details (it also contains a very good BBC radio interview about the course).
The next course starts in Bristol on 8 October.

Monday, May 19, 2008

big red party

Attended Richard+Sarah’s “big red party” to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary yesterday. It was a very special occasion and made even better because it was held in their new home - some 12 miles from Welshpool in the middle of glorious Welsh countryside (with absolutely stunning views across an incredibly green valley and layers of distant hills!). The setting is wonderful and the house is something of an architectural masterpiece (combining a refurbished/converted cottage, the remains of Listed barn and beautiful, elegant new extensions) and filled with countless pieces of Richard+Sarah’s lovely art, their extensive library of books and their wonderful knack for getting everything to look just “right”.
It was the perfect house a big party and the party was just perfect too!
(and a great opportunity to meet up with old friends).
Photo: as you might guess from the picture, the only party rule was that you had to wear something red!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

history of modern britain

If you didn’t watch it the first time round (and, actually even if you did, I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s worth seeing it again), I thoroughly recommend that you check out “Andrew Marr’s History of Modern Britain” – the first of the five programmes was repeated on BBC2 last night at 8pm. Brilliantly presented and wonderfully informative, it provides a fascinating insight into the changing face of Britain since 1945.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

kielder challenge heats

Had a great day yesterday at Ashton Court in Bristol with our Kielder Challenge team. It was one of the regional heats and the Norton Hill/Fosse Way team were really excellent and came out winners (out of five teams) by quite a margin. We now have to await the outcome of the remaining heats before we know if we’ve been fortunate enough to make the finals in the Kielder Forest in September (there are over 300 teams participating nationally and we gather it will be touch-and-go whether we make the final twelve teams).
Fingers crossed (but, whatever the outcome, the pupils did REALLY well today)!
PS: As I’ve probably explained before, the Kielder Challenge is a national annual competition involving outdoor problem-solving activities for teams of eight 13-16 year olds (four with and four without disabilities).

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

more football fantasy

The football season has ended and Villa have qualified for the Intertoto Cup (I think that means they need to start palying football matches again at the end June or something rather silly like that!).
The fantasy football season has also finished. As I suggested in February, I am now recognised as one of the up-and-coming managers in this particular aspect of the game….
As I previously reported, ten games into the season, I’d slumped to 630,638th in the UK; since then I’ve edged up to a mere 174,270th. I’m in various leagues and actually WON the Norton Hill league at school for example (ok, there are only 4 of us!) and ended up in 3rd place in another league (out of some 25 teams – but pipped by Colin… although, being a vicar, he did have God in his side or at least by his side!).
I can tell you’re still impressed!
Photo: Villa manager Martin O’Neill (who is rumoured to be interested in utilising Steve Broadway’s wisdom, authority and “can-do” attitude at Villa Park next season).

ten tors

Four of the five teams from school completed the gruelling Ten Tors two-day trek across Dartmoor at the weekend in very warm, strength-sapping conditions (the 55 mile team had to stop at Tor 8). Spoke to lots of them at school yesterday and they were rightly elated (and very proud of their achievements). Great to have been part of the event and to have worked with such wonderful young people – but frustrating not to have been there to see them finish!
Just hoping that the arts trail and ten tors don’t clash again next year!

Monday, May 12, 2008

arts trail (again again!)

Yesterday, I mentioned that Cara+Lisa had travelled from Oxford to see the Arts Trail. Well yesterday we were visited by four students from Japan+Korea! They were in London studying English and decided that they wanted to see some “art”. So, they apparently googled “art”, came across the arts trail event and decided to jump on a bus and check it out! Amazing!
Yesterday was another gloriously sunny day and the crowds were definitely out – in each of the previous two years, we reckon we had some 500 people through our door over the weekend and we certainly reckon we matched that by 6pm yesterday (at least).
Now need a day to recover!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

arts trail (again!)

Day One of the SouthBank Arts Trail went very well – perhaps not quite the numbers of the previous year, but still pretty good – and, for a change, the weather was sunny and warm. Although I didn’t take any photographs (something to do with impracticalities of holding glasses of red wine and camera at the same time!), Friday evening was really enjoyable – lots of lovely friends came along (70-80 perhaps?) and it especially good to see so many from school (they ARE just brilliant people!). Moira+I even managed to get out and visit a few of the other venues.
There are over 140 artists in 48 venues within a mile-and-a-half radius in Southville+Bedminster!
PS: It was really lovely to see Cara+Lisa - who came all the way from Oxford to see the exhibition! Stars!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

ten tors weekend

This is Ten Tors weekend on Dartmoor – the actual event, not the training. Unfortunately, for the second year running, I’m not going to be there to support our various school teams as they make their way across the moor for 35, 45 or 55 miles (with their huge rucksacks!) because it clashes with the SouthBank Arts Trail weekend. I’ve got to know the participating students pretty well over the past few months and have been hugely impressed by their attitude, determination and humour. If anyone wants to criticise the “youth of today”, I’ll introduce you to any of our students and they couldn’t fail to be impressed by them.
Quite humbling stuff and a real privilege to work with them!

Friday, May 09, 2008

southbank arts trail

Still trying to get everything ready for the Arts Trail weekend - for us, it starts tonight! Seems very strange not to have Ruth+Stu involved this time (they're very busy with other things at the moment). Artists featured at number40 will be Sharon Bishop (illustration/ceramics), Helen Brayshhaw (photography), Paul Brown (illustration), Hannah Broadway (illustration+stuff), Moira (textiles) and me (photography+drawing).
Looking forward to seeing old and new friends over the course of the weekend (and hoping that the weather will be kind to us this time!).

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

bank holiday walk

Moira+I went a lovely walk yesterday with friends Gerry, Gareth+Alan (and their daughters Iona+Eilidh) to Abbots Leigh – skirting Leigh Woods and via Abbots Pool and the Ashton Court Estate. It was good to discover new places right on our doorstep and very good to spend time in the company of lovely friends.
By pure chance, we ended up having a drink in the Tobacco Factory on our way home!
Photo: en route beside Abbots Pool

Monday, May 05, 2008


Moira+I maintained our 2008 commitment to cinema attendance by going to see “Happy-Go-Lucky” at the Watershed yesterday. I thought Mike Leigh’s film was lovely (really enjoyed Sally Hawkins’s performance) and, although she enjoyed it too, Moira found it rather blacker than she had anticipated. The Watershed blurb talks about it balancing “moments of humour and glimpses of melancholy which coalesce into a deeply affecting and joyful celebration of life, happiness, friendship and love”. Think Moira thought I’d have been perfect for the role as the grumpy driving instructor!
What! Who me?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

sandy denny

With i-Tunes, I don’t buy many CDs these days, but succumbed to temptation yesterday and bought the “Sandy Denny Remembered” double album for £11 at Fopp (yes, I know I’m re-living my youth). Last week I’d been at an excellent Kate Rusby concert in Bristol with Gareth+Alan and she finished her set by playing the Denny classic “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” (who indeed!). She also reminded the audience that it was 30 years since Denny’s death (which again rather reinforced the song title). I remember seeing Fairport Convention in early 1969 at Oxford Poly’s 24 hour Blues Festival (those were the days) - what I’d forgotten is that Sandy Denny left the group at the end of that year to form Fotheringay.
Wonderful to hear her songs again (listened to nearly 3 hours’ worth while I was painting the basement!).

Friday, May 02, 2008

bohemian rhapsody at lunchtime

At school, our House has been raising funds for charity by holding a two-day “Q Factor” (it’s Quantock House, hence the “Q”) talent show. Yesterday, as a finale to the event, House tutors and other lesser mortals like me formed a supergroup and gave their “live” version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” (after just one "rehearsal"!) – complete with very energetic air guitar sequence - in front of a packed hall of students and teachers. Raised a lot of money and was great fun, but difficult to be taken seriously by students for the rest of the day (and beyond probably!).
Later discovered that a number of pupils had been videoing our performance on their mobiles… we hadn’t anticipated that and now fear it becoming a cult YouTube site!
Photo: Rynagh+Ifi on inflatable/air guitar (Alan’s photo taken at a recent “quiet night out in Bristol” at the end of last term).