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?)!