Sunday, June 28, 2009

water music

Moira+I went to the harbourside yesterday afternoon to listen to a very impressive free concert in the Lloyds Amphitheatre space, raising funds for Water Aid. Apparently, this was the first time the space had ever been used for unamplified performance and it really enjoyable. There were over 500 singers from all over the West Country, included our lovely friend Gareth, and some of the music was just beautiful – particularly, for me, a piece from Georgia (as in formerly part of the Soviet Union). The sun shone, the singers wore blue+green (water colours?) and looked great and the music was captivating.
Not a bad afternoon!
Photo: the massed choir (and conductors) in the amphitheatre space…. although the image doesn’t do it justice.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

twenty20 cricket again

My twenty20 cricket status has gone from “virgin” to “old hand” in less than a week!
A group of us from school (Andy M, Becky, Emma, Helen, Will, Andy W – plus his son and his mate and his two sons) went along to the County Ground in Bristol. This time it was for the Gloucestershire v Somerset local derby. Very close game which was won by Somerset in the final over. Amazingly, it had rained (quite hard) all day at school so I didn’t have high hopes of the game going ahead, but we arrived at the ground in bright sunshine and this continued throughout the game. Ironically (perhaps because the ground was packed?), there wasn’t quite so much banter as last time – but it was still a really enjoyable evening, with some 350 runs scored in 3 hours. We even had a streaker (male…. and, no, it wasn’t me!). I heard Helen announce that she really hadn’t a clue about cricket at the start of the game but, after three pints, she’d become quite knowledgeable!
Photo (and apologies for cutting off Becky’s head!): Emma, Andy M, Helen, Will, Andy W’s son and Becky in deep concentration during the game.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

leavers day

Yesterday was Leaver’s Day and an opportunity for the Year 11 boys and girls to put on their “posh frocks” and celebrate the end of their GCSEs (and, for some of them, the end of school life altogether!). The money the pupils spend on this great day in the school calendar is amazing. Most of the girls seem to have bought two expensive outfits – one for the daytime celebrations and one for the evening Prom at the Cadbury House Hotel (some of boys did the same with daytime suits and evening DJs) – and then, of course, there was the limo hire! It seemed to me (huge generalisation!) that the girls really enjoyed the red carpet treatment on arrival at school in the morning (in front of all the other pupils and teachers) and posing for photographs, whereas lots of the boys seemed to be in their element “strutting their stuff” on the dance floor at the hotel!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


I saw my first “live” game of twenty20 cricket yesterday evening at the County Ground, Bristol. Good friends Pat, Becky, Will and I went along to see Gloucestershire play Warwickshire - Becky,Will+I all hailing from this famous county, you understand! It proved to be a really enjoyable evening (and the Warwickshire Bears won too!). The quality of cricket, especially the fielding, was excellent and England batsman Ian Bell was quite brilliant. It’s a very fast-moving game and it was all over in just a little less than three hours, with nearly 300 runs scored. The huge bonus, however, was the wonderful light-hearted banter between spectators. Once the Gloucestershire supporters sitting around us realised that we were supporting the Bears, the game took on entirely different character! At the end of the game, there were lots of handshakes and smiles - and vague promises to meet up again next year. I actually feel we’ll be back again this season as token Gloucestershire supporters to enjoy the fun all over again!
Very, very amusing and a great evening.
PS: Think my brother Alan+I need to get together at a twenty20 game some time – I’m sure we’d have a lovely time!
PPS: During the course, Becky ran off to get Ian Bell’s autograph at the end of his innings; she returned a few minutes later looking a little forelorn. “Well, did you get it?” we asked…. “no” she replied, “I didn’t have a pen”. Genius!

Monday, June 22, 2009

gerry+merry carol

A small group of us has been meeting every Thursday, over the past sixteen months or so, to share meals (and red wine!) together and to discuss various books and experiences related to our common faith. To date, our group has consisted of only six people (apart from various visiting friends and family members) – Alan, Gareth, Gerry and Merry Carol plus Moira+me. We decided to call the group “Ithaca” after Moira came across a poem by Constantine P Cavafy which seemed to have strong references for our own individual spiritual journeys. The group has become an important part of our lives.
Sadly, today has seen the departure of Gerry+Merry Carol – back to Vancouver, Canada (Gerry is Canadian and MC is from USA). Although we always knew that G+MC would depart these shores once Gerry approached the end of his Doctorate, the time has arrived all too quickly and we’re going to miss them both enormously.
Lovely, lovely people.
Photo: Gareth, Gerry, Merry Carol, Moira and Alan at our last Ithaca get-together last Thursday.

winchelsea+the red house

Moira+I had a lovely time with good friends Felicity+Chris in East Sussex over the weekend. On Saturday, we had a beautiful walk from Winchelsea to the sea (about a mile and a half away), along the shingle beach and then back across the Pett Level marshland. Still can’t quite get my head around the fact that the town was designated one of the Cinque Ports and had apparently become a “significant port” by the middle of the twelfth century. The town was built on a massive shingle bank and was thought to have first been established as a Saxon fishing settlement sometime after 800AD.
Yesterday, we drove to Bexleyheath to see the Red House – commissioned by William Morris in 1859; designed and built by architect Phillip Webb. I was familiar with the house and its significance within the history of the Arts and Crafts Movement, but had never visited until yesterday. The only way to see the interior was to sign up for a guided tour. This proved to be something of an ordeal! The experience felt like being shown round the house by Margaret Thatcher in her hey day – we were lectured (and I mean “lectured”) on a wide range of matters and all her opinions were offered as being absolutely definitive. At one time, Chris started to wander off and was treated like a very naughty schoolboy!
The house was impressive (if a little empty) but the woman was awful!
Photo: Felicity, Chris+Moira walking along Winchelsea shingle beach.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

lost lives

I’ve been catching up on some very powerful TV programmes marking the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion on BBC iplayer. British military operations in Iraq have now come to an end and the last troops have packed up and left Basra. 179 servicemen and women will not be returning home though, having lost their lives whilst serving with the British Armed Forces. “10 Days to War” provided eight excellent episodes of a series of short dramas (see these two links). They included Tony Blair being given a TV grilling by a group of anti-war women and how the government tried to deal with questions of the legality and so-called justification of going to war: “the need to disarm Iraq, hopefully by peaceful means; if not we have to make sure that the will of the UN is enforced” (Blair). The last of the episodes focussed on Colonel Tim Collins (played by Kenneth Branagh), commander of the Royal Irish Regiment stationed on the Kuwait/Iraq border, rallying his troops just prior to engagement with an impressive speech (much reported at the time) that could have come straight out of Shakespeare’s Henry V. Absolutely fascinating and brilliantly executed.
I also watched two allied programmes entitled “The Fallen: Legacy of Iraq” (and update). The invasion of Iraq has always been controversial, but these films provide a voice for some of the people who have been most significantly affected by the decisions that took us to war. From how the withdrawal affects them and their hopes for Iraq and its people to whether they feel blame, anger or pride - for those who are still coming to terms with their loss, their thoughts on Iraq are powerful, varied and sometimes surprising.
The films also tell the story of Lance Corporal John 'Frenchie' Le Galloudec, a soldier who suffered severe spinal injuries after being shot whilst on operations in Basra. His friend and fellow soldier Corporal Rodney Wilson was fatally wounded trying to drag Frenchie to safety - leaving him with both physical and mental scars.
Powerful stuff which, at times, moved me to tears.

Monday, June 15, 2009

looking for eric

I realise that going to the cinema is not the most sensible thing to do on a beautiful sunny afternoon but, believe me, it proved to be WELL worth it! I went to see Ken Loach’s “Looking for Eric” at the Watershed and really, really enjoyed it. It’s about an ailing Manchester postman getting his life back on track with the help of Eric Cantona (yes, Eric Cantona: ManU football legend) and it’s just beautiful. It’s funny (I found myself laughing out loud at various stages), it’s quite tough at times, but it’s also a poignant love story and, according to a review I’ve just read, it’s a “feelgood vigilante film” which (and I know you’ll find this hard to believe) just about sums it up!
Even if football doesn’t interest you at all, you really should see this film.
PS: Coming out of the cinema, the sun was still shining and people were smiling and I even gave the singing guitar player some of my loose change! As I crossed over the swing bridge by the Arnolfini, an old man fell off his bike. He wasn’t badly hurt but a couple of us went to his assistance, someone picked up his bike and others were clearly concerned…. eventually, we got the old man up off the floor and he smiled and said to the gathered throng “Thank you ever so much for all your concern. As you can see, I’m a bit of a learner at this, but it’s really nice that so many of you stopped to check that I was all right”. People beamed back at him and you could almost sense everyone thinking “aaaah, what a nice man!” before going on their respective ways. A very nice moment.
PPS: Also connected another section of roof drainage to the water butt, went along to the Refugee Week entertainment in Queens Square and attended Tim’s entertaining and thought-provoking “service” at foundation (busy day!).

Sunday, June 14, 2009

we are not amused

I’m not someone who constantly knocks Prince Charles.
I actually think he’s a bit of a visionary when it comes to things like the Prince’s Trust and his work and words on organic food and climate change, BUT (and you just knew there was going to be a “but” didn’t you!) his latest intervention in the field of architecture has been utterly outrageous.
As you have probably read, the Qatari royal family has scrapped its plans for the £1b redevelopment of Chelsea Barracks in west London following a private letter from the prince to the Qatari royal household.
Just a week before it was due to be considered by Westminster City Council, the site owners (an investment arm of the Gulf emirate) have withdrawn the planning application. Lord Rogers’ scheme for “548 apartments – half of them affordable, spread over 14 glass and steel buildings” is to be scrapped. Richard Rogers has been one the finest British architects for the best part of 40 years. He is noted for his modernist and functionalist designs. No doubt, Lord Rogers’ architectural practice won the commission in the face of stiff opposition. No doubt, the clients selected the firm on the basis of its past record and the quality of its work. No doubt the practice has been working painstakingly with the developers to help them to come up a design that met their requirements in terms of design, brief, cost and suitability. No doubt the practice has been working in close conjunction with the Westminster Council planners and residents (indeed, the scheme had won support from council officers and the government’s design watchdog). An awful lot of time, effort, expertise (and money!) has been expended on this scheme in the two years and a half years since the site was sold. If you appoint Lord Rogers’ practice, you clearly are NOT wanting to pursue a “more classical, traditional scheme”.
Yesterday’s article in The Guardian indicated that “diplomatic relations between Qatar and Britain were a key factor. An aide to the Qatari royal family said the emirate’s acquisition of the barracks site was as much about developing its diplomatic capital in the UK as it was about producing a profit, and senior Qataris had become concerned that opposition to the plans by ‘well-heeled and highly articulate’ individuals was damaging its attempts at ‘soft diplomacy’.”
Architect Peter Ahrends (designer of a modernist extension to the National Gallery that was scrapped in 1975 after the prince had called it a “monstrous carbuncle”) described the current decision thus: “We have been taken back several centuries to a more autocratic, medieval way of wielding influence”. Former Secretary of State for the Environment, Nick Raynsford said that Prince Charles’ behaviour was “almost feudal”. The president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, Sunand Prasand, was equally appalled: "We are really throwing in the towel if we think in the 21st Century that we can't make beautiful buildings that can face a site of magnificent buildings across the road. They can be beautiful without being neo-classical." Lord Rogers described the cleints’ decision as “disastrous”.
Anyway, we MUSTN’T be concerned, because the developers have already appointed new designers to take matters forward…. they’ve appointed the “Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment”.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


I know we’re supposed to welcome garden birds in these days of diminishing birdsong, but our “own” local magpie is making me consider extreme options. Being an early riser, I’ve been aware these last few weeks of this particular creature’s incessant “song” – Iris does a brilliant impression! To get a “feel” of what I’ve been experiencing, click on this link (and continue to play it a hundred times at full volume!). I even heard one of our neighbours come into the garden this morning, clapping her hands loudly in desperate attempt to chase off our local pet. I think the magpie just found entertaining!
I’m very aware that the rhyme talks about one magpie “for sorrow” and I’ve just used google to discover that there are various things you can do if you meet a single magpie in order to ward off the bad luck. These include “taking your hat off and making the sign of the cross, spitting three times over your shoulder(?), and saluting the magpie with 'Hello Mr Magpie, How's your lady wife today?'”.
Good grief!
happy(?) footnote: I was wrong – there are TWO magpies. I’ve since spotted its (much quieter) mate…. joy knows no bounds!

easy rider

Thanks to Fopp, I sat down to watch my £2 DVD of “Easy Rider” last night with Moira+Merry Carol (although they lost interest and went on to read/made bread!). I can distinctly remember “almost” seeing the film, but didn’t actually do so when it first came out in 1969 – although many of the scenes were so familiar that it’s just possible that I did (hey man, like it was the drug-crazed sixties!)! At the time, I can remember feeling very envious of Oxford mate Ted Harris who looked a little like Peter Fonda. I enjoyed seeing the film (at last?) and was already aware of its brutal ending, but I’d forgotten about its wonderful the soundtrack: featuring songs like “The Weight” (Smith), “Wasn’t Born to Follow” (The Byrds), “If 6 was 9” (Jimi Hendrix), “It’s Alright Ma (I’m only Bleeding)” (Roger McGuinn), “The Pusher” and, of course, “Born to be Wild” (Steppenwolf).
Can’t quite believe the film AND the music is 40 years old!

Monday, June 08, 2009

black monday

I’m a Labour voter by instinct and so I’ve found the past days somewhat painful!
The Local Council elections and then the European Parliamentary elections have both proved disastrous for the Government. Recent resignations by cabinet members have only underlined speculation about Gordon Brown’s continuing Prime Ministerial role – and newspapers and television companies have just loved it. I actually feel a little sorry for Mr Brown as I think the Government has, somewhat unfairly, taken most of the flak for the Parliamentary expenses fiasco. Unfortunately, in my view, the Prime Minister hasn’t been helping himself by some of his recent decisions. I couldn’t quite believe it when I heard that Sir Alan Sugar had been offered a peerage and new role as the Government’s “enterprise tsar”. As Andrew Rawnsley commented in yesterday’s “Observer”: “Giving a peerage to the gruesome Alan Sugar is the sort of frantic, misconceived stunt that is Gordon Brown at his very worse”. Although I have to admit that I find “The Apprentice” tv programme absolutely fascinating (as you’ll probably be aware, the final was last night), I can’t reconcile Sugar’s new role with that of the Party - and I’m absolutely sure that I’m not the only Labour supporter to have same point of view - and can’t help feeling that Alan Sugar’s desire to make as much money as he can (whatever it takes) is not a million miles away from all those greedy bankers we’ve been complaining about over recent months!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


Everyone’s heard of “Woodstock”.
Well, I was listening to last Sunday’s ‘Listen Again’ version of the excellent “Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour” on BBC Radio6 Music and he included a lot of music from the infamous festival which is about to celebrate its 40th anniversary.
Blimey! 40th Anniversary!!
You can listen to the programme until Sunday on this link.
If you’re as old as me, it’ll bring back lots of memories and, if you’re not, it’ll give you some idea of what you missed.
PS: …. and while I’m on the subject of anniversaries, an interview on the World Service at the weekend reminded me that it’s exactly 20 years today since troops opened fire on protestors at Tiananmen Square.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


Our garden is tiny (5x5m) and unexceptional. Moira’s “into” gardening; I’m into sitting in the garden (eating, drinking, reading newspapers etc). Three years ago, we erected a timber screen at the back of the garden (we felt very exposed to our neighbours at the rear!) and since then it’s developed into something of a green wall (honeysuckle and bamboo). I’ve previously blogged about the amazing help provided by our GrowZone friends (was it REALLY only mid-May?). Largely thanks to them, we’ve started to grow some of our own food. They also helped us remove the dominating pyrocantha bush and, since then, we’ve managed to remove the ramshackle fence and replace it with another timber screen (which, hopefully, we can use as a planting backdrop). Bruce has put together a great short film about GrowZones on the Earth Abbey website – which is definitely worth a look!