Thursday, July 31, 2008

flower market+breakfast

Ruth is preparing flowers for a friends wedding on Saturday so I gave her a lift to the Bristol Flower Market at dawn this morning, while Stu stayed at home with Iris. I had visions of a romantic Victorian market hall but, in the event, it was a relatively modern industrial shed beside the canal. Nevermind!
We returned in time to enable Stu to get off to his Thursday gardening work and collected Iris (and then Moira) and trundled off to the Lockside Café/Restaurant in Cumberland Basin for breakfast.
Iris was positively angelic and breakfast was yummy!
Photo (I didn't take it - it's from their website): The Lockside is a great place to eat, despite its rather unprepossessing location under a feeder road! It does, however, also command lovely views across the basin towards to Clifton, the suspension bridge and the multi-coloured houses of Hotwells (and the food and the people are lovely).

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I’m about to start Kate Fox’s book “Watching the English” (the hidden rules of English behaviour!). Earlier in the day, I began to read the introduction where she’s about to return to a train station to “spend a few hours committing a deadly sin: queue jumping”. On the basis of the introduction, I feel pretty confident that I’m going to enjoy the book…..
Then, blow me, this afternoon (while I had Iris in tow – or was it the other way round?) I encountered blatant queue jumping first hand! I was at a cash dispenser, waiting (at a discrete distance as tradition now has it) for a customer to remove his money. He did so and I duly moved towards the machine…. when, out of nowhere, a man (perhaps in his early 60s?) pushed in front of me and thrust his card in the dispenser. In a very un-English way, I found myself uttering the words “excuse me, don’t you know there’s a queue?” (in a very firm and authoritative tone, you understand!). Without turning, the man announced in a loud, sing-song voice “I don’t care!”… and then, when he’d finished using the machine, turned and said “have a nice day” in a completely insincere way and marched off!!
I was absolutely gob-smacked!
PS: next time, I’ll be prepared…. I’ll stand IMMEDIATELY behind the queue-jumper, grab the money as soon as it appears from the dispenser and either run off with it or throw it into the air (I haven’t yet decided).

Friday, July 25, 2008

at the border

Moira+I attended an incredibly impressive musical evening at St Mary Redcliffe Church last night with great friends Merry-Carol, Gerry, Alan+Gareth (their daughter Iona was performing). The music featured words from pupils at St Mary Redcliffe and Temple Schools using ideas from Michael Tippett’s “Dance, Clarion, Air” (the effects of ethnic hatred and violence) based on the theme of refugees. As well as choirs and orchestra made up from local schools plus excellent soloists, the performance also included the BBC Singers (who were quite brilliant).
However, for me, the real stars of the evening were Cecilia Ndlovu and Sibusiso Mhlamga. These women left Zimbabwe as refugees and have subsequently made their homes in Bristol. Their experiences and music inspired aspects of the piece and they’d worked with the children during the course of the project. The evening started with them singing unaccompanied in the nave of the church and finished with all the assembled singers chanting words in a similar vein (and filling the building with a really wonderful sound!): “Senzeni na kulelizwe, senzeni na kulendawo” (which I think means something like “what have we done… to deserve this?”?).
Incredibly powerful music.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Got back from three days visiting Ironbridge, Shropshire yesterday with a group of Year 9 pupils from school (plus Richard and Christine). Excellent time in perfect weather. We even stayed in an Elizabethan manor house (Wilderhope Manor)! As well as visiting the 1779 iron bridge itself (wonderful iconic structure that it is) and getting to know all about revolutionary blast furnaces and the like, we spent some time at Blists Hill Victorian Village. We’d all come dressed for the day there in suitable “Victorian” gear – which worked beautifully when we joined lessons in the school house – with a suitably (very) strict teacher/master in charge!
Photos: images from our time in Shropshire

Thursday, July 17, 2008


The other day one of our neighbours knocked on the door.
Nothing particularly strange in that you might think (I don’t even know his name - we’re on “nodding terms” with him but had only actually met him once when he came to one of our exhibitions). He was about to go down to the Council Tip with a car load of rubbish – which included a very dusty, portable (folding) easel – when he suddenly thought “I wonder if number40 might like this?”…. and, of course, we did!
It took us (well Moira!) a little time to dust it down and work how it unfolded, but it’s absolutely lovely!
It’s only a matter of time before I don my panama hat, take the easel down to the harbourside (with the odd blank canvas and a few paintbrushes) and pretend to be a “proper” artist!
How thoughtful! What a nice man!
Photo: easel (in its folded form!).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Today (and tomorrow) I’m on strike!
It’s the first time I’ve ever been on strike and, in my 60th year, it feels rather strange! The strike is supported by work colleagues but, as it only involves six or seven of us, there was very little point in forming a picket line at school. Instead, on a beautifully sunny morning, I cycled 4 miles beside the Avon to Pill and then returned to have coffee at the Lockside on Cumberland Basin, before biking it to the harbourside, venturing into Fopp (without purchasing anything!) and then up the hill to the Royal Academy of the West of England to see a photography exhibition (but didn’t get in because I hadn’t got the £4 entrance fee!).
Photo: track near Pill
PS: I was not amused to learn that someone at school has agreed to do some of my work today (so much for solidarity!).
PPS: I saw Gareth (who is also on strike) on her way to the demonstration on College Green… I’m afraid I allowed her to be my representative (cop out)!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

blue sky thinking?

I’m really cheesed off!
People who know me will know that this doesn’t happen very often. As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, today was Sports Day at school (described by the headteacher as one of his “favourite days of the year”). I looked at the weather forecast this morning and it looked pretty good to me – improving as the day went on. But, oh no, the powers-that-be decided it was “too wet” to allow the whole school to enjoy the day and determined that it would be “lessons as usual” – with just those who were participating in the key events allowed out of lessons. So, most of the teachers had to teach and it was left to just the learning support staff to assist the sports teachers in helping to run the event – and with just two lesson periods in which to complete all the races (predictably, not all the races therefore took place!). It felt like trying to run sports day behind closed doors…. in secret (certainly in secret as far as members of the senior management team were concerned because none of them turned up!). I felt particularly sorry for those pupils for whom sports day represented the “one time” when they can excel and show off their talents. I know it’s not always easy to make these decisions, but it seemed to me to be a case of the powers-that-be not wanting to change their minds even when common sense suggested they should!
PS: … and, of course, all the fun generated last night by our House tutors trying to decide who should represent the House in the staff relay was completely wasted – because there was no staff relay race…. because 90% of the staff were teaching lessons!
PPS: … and, of course, the only real problem this afternoon was the possibility of people getting sunstroke.

Monday, July 14, 2008


My boss Harriet (Head of House at school) is leaving at the end of term after two year’s in the role to become Head of a Language Faculty at another school. She’s been brilliant and (unlike me!) always seems able to achieve things in a very understated way, with the minimum of fuss. She also has a gift for being able to keep the House tutors “in the loop” at all times and to be their strongest advocate when the “powers-that-be” at school decide to make unnecessary changes or to criticise individuals. All the House tutors (and me) got together for a special goodbye meal tonight in Wells. Part of our farewell gift to Harriet was a framed picture of the tutors (with added comments!). Arrangements for taking the photograph were all a little hurried, to say the least and, crucially, I omitted Kate’s name (my new boss!) from the e-mail which outlined the cunning plan – and later discovered that she was on a course and wouldn’t be in school that day (the very last opportunity for taking the photo)!! I ended up downloading one of Kate’s wedding pictures from her facebook page so she could at least “appear” in the photograph! Not a good start to the new Kate-Steve partnership! Kate is my third boss in three years – what’s wrong with me?
Love, hugs+best wishes for your new role, Harriet!
PS: it’s Sports Day tomorrow at school and we have to enter a House team for the staff relay (2 men/2 women). Somewhat bizarrely, there was actually competition for places (unheard of in other quarters!) and it was decided to hold an impromptu “run off” on the patch of green in front of Wells Cathedral’s west façade at 10.00pm! In the end, there was a boys’ and a girls’ race (and, yes, I was persuaded to run – and at least finished in front of Andy, but didn’t achieve the Olympic standard) and Kate L, Rynagh, Ifi and Tom duly qualified (we could easily have entered two mixed teams for tomorrow!).
Photo: Quantock House tutors/co-tutors (most of them anyway!).

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

federer v nadal/borg v mcenroe

Sunday’s amazing tennis final between Nadal and Federer (good friend Cyrano was there to witness it first hand, lucky man!) put me in mind of the 1980 final between Borg and McEnroe. It was another five set thriller (1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7, 8-6) and it took place on the day our youngest daughter Alice was born. I can remember dashing down the corridor at the hospital in Oxford to take a quick peek at the TV at various stages and returning to tell Moira what a fantastic game it was (the 16-18 tie-break in the fourth set was incredible) and who was winning. Amazingly, Moira didn’t really seem too interested (“you can NOT be serious!”)!
Happy birthday Alice! xx
Photo: 1980 winner Bjorn Borg

Monday, July 07, 2008

street children of durban

I really regret not getting to church yesterday.
Our friends Wilf+Angie were talking about their trip to South Africa last year to visit the Umthombo project which works with street children in Durban (fortunately, Moira DID go to church – that’s how I know!). Returning home, Wilf decided to make a small book, called “Now I am a person (which is just beautiful), to tell the stories of the children they met. It’s a powerful testament to the work of the project team but, most of all, to the spirit and resilience of the children themselves. Like Osaviour, for example: “I can never forget what it is like living on the streets and it is something I don’t want to ever go back to. You feel both sad and angry because of the way people look at you. You never forget what that was like, the way that you felt when you were that person. But you don’t give up hope if people are encouraging you”.
Umthombo is named after a tree which grows in the desert. It is a symbol of hope, of life sustained despite the harshest conditions. A wonderfully powerful image.
Photo: Sphelele – Point Road, Durban.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

hannah+dog day

Daughter Hannah has illustrated a children’s book called “Dog Day” (written by Sarah Hayes). It’s about to be published in the USA and, in my completely unbiased opinion(!), is absolutely lovely. Fortunately, someone else who shares this view has just given it a starred rating in the prestigious “Kirkus Reviews”:
‘With just a "Woof! Woof!" Ben and Ellie's new teacher has the class's rapt attention. Riff, an inquisitive-looking canine, wags his tail. With glee, his observant charges wag their bottoms. When he scratches an ear, they scratch all over. The pupils, all human, happily spend PE digging and fetching, imitating Riff; and after a couple of sniffs, they know it's lunchtime. Broadway's charmingly simple illustrations capture the joyful curiosity of Ben and Ellie's class as they accept the most silly of circumstances. In a number of spreads, she manages to display each child's individuality, and during naptime, she masterfully invokes the sweet bliss of sleep that comes under the watchful eye of a loyal and trusted friend. The artwork establishes a rhythmic interplay between words and images, as they become compositional elements that inform and complement one another. Hayes's playful text, with its call-and-response–like format and potty humor, will have young readers in stitches. The story begs to be read aloud in a group setting, but be prepared for giggles galore, as readers bark, pant and shake with Riff and company. A real crowd-pleaser’.
Doesn't it make a parent proud!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

ingrid betancourt

Wonderful to see and read about the release of Ingrid Betancourt, after six years of captivity in the Colombian jungle. Amazing to think that her children had become adults since she was captured and it must have been a very strange (but wonderful) experience for all of them when they were finally re-united. I was touched by her quiet dignity as she arrived back in France and her eloquent words of gratitude, as she held out her hand to President Sarkosy.
I couldn’t help thinking “I can’t see Gordon doing this”!
PS: on completely different matters, did you know (off the BBC website) that Nelson Mandela was still on the US terror watch list until this week, or that quarter-finalists at Wimbledon get free tea at the tournament for life?
Oh good grief!

Thursday, July 03, 2008


My great golfing buddies, Ken and Steve, and I went to play golf in 2001 in New York State. We had a wonderful time and played some fantastic courses. We met up with Ken’s University golf coach – who everyone simply calls “Coach” and had a great time together (a really lovely man). Two years later we invited Coach and his son Michael over to play golf in Scotland with us (Prestwick, St Andrew’s, Carnoustie, Gleneagles etc!) to celebrate his 65th birthday. A couple of weeks ago, Ken+Steve made the trip over to California to celebrate Coach’s 70th birthday by playing at the world famous Pebble Beach course (some of us have to work for a living and weren’t able to make it!). Ken’s just sent me this photo of him and Steve toasting my health in red wine (never drink the stuff myself). Below the image were the words: “Ken+Steve toasting their missing mate BigDaddy StevieB”.
Nice thought!
PS: Sadly, I can’t really call myself a golfer these days – four games in just over two years hardly counts!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


Heather used to live a few doors down the road from us when we lived in Thame, Oxfordshire. We were (and still are) great friends. Heather/Ian/Moira+I used to ring each other up (at as little as 15 minutes’ notice!) and make impromptu invitations to eat food and drink red wine at our respective houses – wonderful memories of very happy occasions! Well, out of the blue, Heather rang us at 6pm yesterday (she had been helping her daughter Hattie move student accommodation in Bristol) and by 6.30pm we were eating+drinking at the Watershed!
A lovely evening. Just like the old days!
Photo: this photo is taken from Heather’s facebook profile (I haven’t been able to lay my hands on any of our pictures of her thus far).