Monday, August 31, 2009

holiday books

I’ve never been a “big reader”. Moira can consume two novels a week, but my annual consumption (especially over recent years) is very unimpressive by comparison. I resolved to try to plug in some regular reading time during the school holidays and have been relatively successful (for me) in achieving this goal. Over the last five weeks, I’ve managed to get through the following:
Velvet Elvis (Rob Bell): I’ve previously commented on this.
On Chessil Beach (Ian McEwan): I gave this book to Moira as a small anniversary present a couple of years ago and now realise how inappropriate this was (good book though)!!
Carrying the Elephant (Michael Rosen): I’m not really “into” poetry, but found Rosen’s “way with words” really quite inspiring.
The Catcher in the Rye (JD Salinger): I’d previously read this about 40 years ago and love Salinger’s writing style.
A Long Way Down (Nick Hornby): somewhat bizarre (as a concept) but amusing, entertaining and somewhat thought-provoking.
Holes (Louis Sachar): very good “holiday read” (I’ve since been told it was adult's+children’s book – which might explain why I read it so quickly!).
Engleby (Sebastian Faulks): a favourite author of mine; excellent book – absolutely enthralling.
I’m determined to try to read a little more over the coming year… we’ll see!

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Alan+Moira+I went to the Watershed this afternoon to see this film. The blurb described it as “Jacques Tati meets Mr Bean”. I really don’t like Mr Bean, so I didn’t have high hopes. It’s a “largely silent slapstick tale of thwarted love and visual comedy” featuring two teachers who also share a passion for Latin dance. Although it DID include sections that simply made me cringe, it also provided some wonderful moments of physical theatre at its best – especially the dance sequences and the main actors (Fiona Gordon+Dominique Abel) are simply fascinating to watch.
Definitely worth seeing just for the dancing (I can't believe I've just written that!).
PS: Bought a DVD in Fopp yesterday (as you do) – “Monday Morning” (2002) directed by Otar Iosseliani. It’s about a guy who he can’t take the monotonous routine of another Monday morning (the commute from his home village, his uninspiring job, demanding family etc) and decides to travel to Venice (that’s the bit that attracted me!!). Charming and funny – I found myself smiling a lot of the time at the absurdity of some of the situations. One review described it thus: “the whole film seems like one long, complex build-up to a punchline that never comes”. But, I have to say, I found it very engaging.

Friday, August 28, 2009

golf with ken+steve

At very short notice and, despite the rather poor weather forecast, Ken, Steve+I met up at Ogbourne Downs for a game of golf this morning. The course was really excellent and represented a very useful “find” - being virtually halfway between Oxford/Chinnor and Bristol. The course’s location provided some fantastic panoramic views but, by the same token, meant that it was open to the prevailing wind (and, believe me, there was a lot of this about!). We’d joked that the high winds would at least mean that any rain showers would soon pass over. This wasn’t QUITE the case and we got absolutely drenched for 45 minutes or so in the middle of our round! Ken+I actually talked about returning to the comfort of the clubhouse at one stage but Steve persuaded us to continue – and thank goodness he did, because it DID stop raining, the sun came out and we realised that we would have missed some of the best holes of the course if we’d abandoned things.
It was great to get together, as always, and rather fitting that no one won or lost – we drew (winning six holes apiece)!
Photo: Ken+Steve in sunshine after the game.
PS: As I write this, there is thunder all around in Bristol - methinks we were quite fortunate!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Spent an absolutely lovely couple of days with Gail+Ian in Devon at the start of the week. A wonderfully relaxing time in the company of brilliant friends. They’ve recently moved from Oxford to Aveton Gifford on a permanent basis and it was great to be able to spend some time with them and to talk about their hopes and dreams for the future (and also to eat and drink, you understand!). Once again, we were incredibly lucky with the weather and managed to fit in some beautiful coastal walks in sunshine.
Photo: Also great to get together with our lovely buddies Mags+Jez too… pic taken over lunch in the Winking Prawn, Salcombe: (from left to right) Rob, Rachel, Gail, Moira, Mags, Jez and Ian.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

kettle's yard

I have to admit that I’d never even heard of Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge until Moira indicated that she was determined to visit the place during our brief stay in the city. It’s an amazing place with a pretty amazing story. In 1921, Jim Ede (1895-1990) was appointed assistant curator of the Tate Gallery in London whilst continuing to study part-time at The Slade. In 1936, he left to live in Morocco. During the intervening time at the Tate, he had tried to promote work of contemporary artists of the day, such as Picasso and Mondrian – but frequently came up against the more conservative attitudes of the gallery directors. He formed friendships with several of the avant-garde artists of the day and, in the process, he acquired many works of art that were under-appreciated at the time. The following examples give an indication of Jim Ede’s determination and vision: Ede was one of Ben Nicholson’s few admirers in the mid-1920s and ended up having some forty-four works by the artist in his collection (many of which had either been given to him by the artist or had been bought for as little as £3! Ede began buying paintings by Alfred Wallis in 1926 (you will be very familiar with this artist’s work if you’re a regular visitor to St Ives) – these arrived by post, perhaps sixty at a time and cost perhaps two or three shillings each (Kettle’s Yard now has a hundred of his paintings!).
In 1956, he returned to England looking for a place to live and to display his art collection and to offer “open house” tours for students from the university. He was searching for a “great house” but, instead, was taken by the “unpretentious charm” of a row of tiny derelict cottages in Cambridge. Ede immediately set about refurnishing and converting the buildings into an exhibition gallery and house; he donated the house and art collection to Cambridge University in 1966 and continued to live at Kettle’s Yard until 1973. During Jim Ede’s time and since, Kettle’s Yard has grown to become (with its house and exhibition gallery) one of the most important centres for 20th century and contemporary art in the country – which just shows how knowledgeable I am about such things!
Without doubt, Kettle’s Yard was the highlight of our holiday and is a “must-see” if you’re a lover of contemporary art (in a beautiful setting).
PS: checkout the website for more information (I could go on.... and on about the place/art!).
Photo: this group of images will hopefully give you a flavour of the house (the house remains arranged almost exactly as Jim Ede had it).


Moira is positively in love with Cambridge (actually, I am too). Having lived in Oxford for a number of years and being absolutely besotted by the place, it’s somewhat embarrassing to acknowledge that we both felt that Cambridge was an even lovelier city. We’d both been to Cambridge before on a number of occasions – but the last one was an awful long time ago – and a visit was on Moira’s things-to-do-before-she’s-60 list! The weather for our visit was perfect (which helped of course) and the first evening we spent watching “The Tempest” in the grounds of Trinity College. The remainder of our time was spent happily sauntering in and out of colleges and through the streets, walking beside the river, visiting the Fitzwilliam Museum and spending quite a lot of time eating and drinking!
Photo: regimented punts on the Cam.

Friday, August 21, 2009


Have just returned from a few days away in Cambridge and Southwold. We had an absolutely lovely time and amazingly, given the weather in much of the rest of the country, were blessed by sunshine throughout our stay. Moira thinks the last time we visited Southwold was some 25 years ago and it’s still just as beautiful as I remember it. We spent two nights at The Randolph Hotel (not quite as exotic as the Oxford version, but it was wholly acceptable) in near-by Reydon village. I got up very early yesterday morning and arrived at Southwold beach a few minutes after the sun had risen on a perfect summer’s morning and I duly walked up and down the shore before heading back for a big breakfast! We spent a very relaxed time here. We pottered around the town, had an evening meal in the Crown Hotel/Pub, had a picnic on the beach, Moira did some shopping (while I read!) and we had a wonderful walk through the sand dunes to the Quay and then meandered back to the town across the Common and beyond.
The only problem about visiting the east coast whilst living on the west coast…. is, of course, the travelling!
Photo: Southwold pier shortly shortly after dawn.
PS: I'll also post some other stuff in due course about our time in Cambridge!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

the world record fish+chip shop queue?

Moira+I are on our hols at the moment (Cambridge and Southwold). I'll try and post some catch up stuff when we return to Bristol but, just as fill-in, this is a photograph of PART of the queue to the fish+chip shop in Southwold yesterday evening (this shows perhaps just over 50% - I've cut off the end of the queue and it doesn't show all those who are lining up down the alleyway into the shop itself)! Needless to say, we ate at a pub down the road.
I understand the owners live in a palace, own a yacht and are chauffeur-driven everywhere....

Saturday, August 15, 2009

hidcote manor garden

We tried to visit Hidcote a week or so ago but ended up in Cardiff (long story!).
Yesterday’s expedition was more successful. Moira+I have recently taken up National Trust membership again – we do this every few years, then let it drop – and were determined to re-visit this beautiful Gloucestershire garden (we think we’ve been there twice before, but simply ages ago). We had a lovely time and probably spent nearly four hours there. We’d also taken our own food and coffee and so the bonus was that it actually felt as if we’d had a very cheap day out (if you don’t count the NT membership and the petrol!).
If you’ve not been, we’d highly recommend that you go.
Photo: the manor house from the north-west.

Friday, August 14, 2009

eating from the garden… or not

We’ve really enjoyed working with our EarthAbbey friends on various GrowZone projects during the course of this year. This has included modifying our tiny garden to include various areas for growing food. Moira+I have little experience of such things so, as you might imagine, it’s been a huge learning curve for both of us. We’ve been growing/trying to grow the following thus far: lettuce (of various types), strawberries, chard, sprouting broccoli, peppers, shallots, potatoes and tomatoes. The lettuce has been pretty good; strawberries were fine (but really hardly enough for more than a couple of meals); the chard is just about ok (but fighting a constant battle with the slugs/snails); the peppers and shallots were a failure; the potatoes produced a pretty paltry crop of rather small vegetables; the broccoli seems to be doing ok (thus far).
What about the tomatoes I hear you ask (actually, I feel sure you won’t be asking such questions!)? You may have read my previous blog about dealing with our army of slugs and snails (in order to protect our ripening tomatoes)…. well, I’m afraid we’ve now discovered that all our tomato plants had “blight” and so we’ve had to strip off our tiny unripened tomatoes (see photograph) and Moira’s currently in the process of making green tomato chutney!!
It’s all hugely disappointing.
Now, I don’t want to over-dramatise matters, but our experience has given me much food for thought(!) – for example:
a) Our experience put me in mind of people all over the world who HAVE to grow their own food (and this includes farmers in this country too). We just shrug our shoulders and go out and buy food from the local shops/supermarket instead. For a farmer in this country, a failed crop could mean that his/her business has to fold. For someone in the Third World, a failed crop could mean much, much more – ultimately that his/her family starves to death.
b) Maybe it would have all been different if we’d attacked everything with chemicals to avoid disease and infestation?
c) Food in this country is incredibly cheap (we might not want to admit this, but it is in relative terms). If you can buy two large punnets of strawberries for £3, you might ask yourself: “what’s the point of growing my own”?
But, then I snap out of this negative mindset!
We’ve only just started out….
We’ve really enjoyed the challenge of trying to produce some of our own food.
We want to produce our own food organically.
I think we’ve become far more “in tune” with the earth, the weather and the seasons (sounds a bit of a hippie thing to say, but it’s true!).
We’ve learnt an awful lot through our “mistakes” and we need to be educated.
We need to discover what food is most suited to our “plot” and grow it successfully.
We WILL make this work eventually!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

benefits of old age

Spent the day with Iris at Bristol Zoo yesterday. Really enjoyable day and, as a bonus, the sun shone throughout. Also prepared food and drinks beforehand so didn’t end up spending a fortune at the cafĂ©. Anyway, the real point of this post was to underline some of the benefits of being over 60! I’ve recently discovered that, by showing my bus pass, I can get discount at the Watershed cinema AND Bristol Zoo (as well as on the buses, of course!).
It all adds up!
Photo: Iris and the lioness at Bristol Zoo (“females in profile”).
PS: Wonder if I can get a discount at Threshers?
PPS: They’ve introduced a fantastic aerial ropes course at the zoo (you have to be over 5 years/1.1m high) – it looks wonderful and kids+parents seemed to be really enjoying themselves: see

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Moira+I went to see this film by director Ursula Meier at the Watershed last night. The film deals with, amongst other things, family solidarity – it’s disturbing, but impressive; rather dark but amusing. It observes a family’s peaceful existence in France being threatened as a busy highway (after remaining uncompleted for ten years) is opened only feet away from their isolated rural house. They refuse to relocate and so begins the nightmare for this closely-bonded family – used to privacy and the silence of the natural world.

Monday, August 10, 2009

links golf

Played golf with good mate Jake from school this morning.
He only lives round the corner from Burnham+Berrow Golf Course and so, at very short notice, we arranged to have a game on the nine hole Channel Course there (although we actually played 18 holes, if that makes any sense). It transpired that this was the very course that my lovely brother Alan first introduced me to some years ago when Moira+I came down to live in Bristol…. we didn’t actually play there, we simply used the public footpath that runs across the course!
Anyway, the links course was really rather beautiful (and testing) and we had a very enjoyable, relatively inexpensive morning before being treated to lunch by Jake's wife Charlotte back at his house.
Very nice!
Photo: this isn’t one of mine (I didn’t take my camera), it’s from B+BGC’s website.

Sunday, August 09, 2009


Our tomato plants have produced dozens of small green tomatoes. We’ve been waiting for them to turn red and yesterday Moira asked if I’d noticed that some of them actually had started to change colour.
But then she added that the red ones had also started to be eaten by the slugs and snails… Horror of horrors! I quickly checked and instantly “removed” perhaps ten snails from the plants/adjoining wall. How dare they? Before going to bed, I was out in the garden again – this time armed with torch! I removed another 20 odd slugs and snails. I felt like the Victor Meldrew of the gardening world! First thing this morning, I’ve been out there again and “dispatched” another 20 or so.
Suddenly, our tiny garden seems like a training ground for militant slugs+snails….
Suddenly, I feel as if I’m George W Bush organising an invasion….
There’s got to be a better way!
PS: I felt uneasy about taking photographs of any of “our” slugs+snails, so have resorted to Google, I’m afraid!

red arrows

I’m very much against Air Shows on environmental grounds, so I feel a little guilty about this…
I knew that the Red Arrows Air Display Team was due to appear at Bristol’s Balloon Fiesta at 5pm yesterday. As it was such a beautiful afternoon, I decided to walk up to Clifton in the hope that I could watch the Red Arrows from the suspension bridge. There were absolutely crowds of people everywhere - the roads were jammed in all directions by traffic trying to get to Ashton Court; people were lounging about on the grassy area next to the bridge; I noticed that the roof terrace at the Avon Gorge Hotel was a particularly popular viewing point and, of course, there were lots of people crossing the bridge to get into Ashton Court itself.
Suddenly, right on time, there was a tremendous ROAR from somewhere behind me and I just managed to react in time to take this photograph (they move bloomin' fast!). I have to admit, the Red Arrows were pretty impressive and they “performed” for nearly 25 minutes.
PS: by the time I returned home, supper was virtually ready(!) and we ate in the garden and watched all the hot air balloons fly directly overhead – very gracefully and somewhat quieter than the Red Arrows!

Friday, August 07, 2009

balloon fiesta

Moira+I got up very early this morning to walk to Ashton Court to watch some 76 hot air balloons make a mass ascent at this year’s Bristol Balloon Fiesta. Ruth+Stu+Iris+Rosa joined us in our dawn quest and we were very well rewarded by beautiful weather and blue skies. If you’ve never witnessed this early morning spectacle, then I really recommend that you make an effort to do so (but only on perfect summer mornings with very light winds, that is!)…. the whole atmosphere is SO much better than at the evening ascents. We returned home afterwards to eat lots of excellent bacon sandwiches and drink copious quantities of tea/coffee – and were also joined by good friend Angie (Wilf had to go on to work) and her daughter Orla and Angie’s parents (plus R+S+I+R)…. and, by the time we’d finished it all, it was still only 10.30am and the day was still young!
Photo: Iris’s friends Harry and Monkey enjoying the fiesta (note their thermos flask and cups!).

Thursday, August 06, 2009

brean down

It was raining AGAIN when I got up yesterday. I was determined that the weather wasn’t going to deter me, so decided that I’d drive to the coast and take a lengthy walk along a beach in the rain, wearing my wonderful wet-weather garb. So I got dressed, made myself a flask of coffee, collected up my waterproofs and boots and drove off into the gloom. I decided to head off to Brean Down. Amazingly, before I’d even turned off the motorway, the rain had stopped. The sun was trying to shine. I felt strangely cheated!
So I ended up walking along the beach to Barrow and back and then climbed up on to Brean Down itself and walked virtually to the tip of the headland (great panoramic views – apart from the caravan sites!). By now, of course, it was a wonderfully clear, bright, sunny day…. and the waterproofs remained in my bag the entire time!
Photo: "mountain" goats on the down!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


Went along to the Watershed again last night - this time to see Duncan Jones’s film “Moon” (note: Jones is David Bowie’s son and formerly named Zowie Bowie!). It’s a very good film which evokes lots of parallels with “2001, A Space Odyssey” – with Kevin Spacey providing GERTY’s voice (ie. the robot) in lieu of 2001’s equivalent HAL character. Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) has a three year contract to harvest Helium 3 from the moon for “Lunar”, a company that claims to hold the key to solving the earth’s energy crisis. He is the sole human superintendent of the mechanised moon-mine. It’s a film that explores the vast, lonely, silent reaches of outer space and the boredom of the daily routine. In the final days, his health begins to deteriorate…. sorry, it would wrong to tell you any more!
You need to see it yourself!
PS: Moira had to remind me that, if I took my bus pass, I’d be able to get concessionary rates!).

Monday, August 03, 2009


I made my first loaf of bread yesterday.
All fairly basic stuff to start with, but it tasted pretty good to me!
Having broken my duck, I’ll certainly be trying my hand at this again in the future.
Photo: I wanted it to be a "crusty" loaf, but probably slightly over-did it?

Sunday, August 02, 2009

coco before chanel

I’m in love with Audrey Tautou (it’s ok, Moira knows!). My favourite film ever is probably “Amelia” – featuring the aforementioned actress – and so I was very keen to see this film. It seems that everyone else in Bristol was attending the annual Harbour Festival but, instead, we decided to see “Coco Before Chanel” at the Watershed. I wasn’t disappointed and really enjoyed the film. As one might imagine, it’s beautifully crafted and very elegant…. and I thought Audrey’s performance was stunning. One of the reviews described it as “mesmerising” and I wouldn’t argue with that.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

velvet elvis

I started reading this book by accident. Good friend Merry Carol was reading it and had suggested I might like it too. The other part of the title is “Repainting the Christian Faith”. To be honest, I’m not a great reader of “Christian books”. I’d certainly never heard of the author, Rob Bell. I read the opening chapter and was intrigued. I liked the way the book looked and was set out (sorry, but these things are important for me!), I liked his writing style and some of the things he was saying and the way he said it, for example (and yes, I feel I could have written this – so I realise it’s not earth-shattering stuff!):
As a Christian, I am simply trying to orient myself around living a particular kind of way, the kind of way that Jesus taught is possible. And I think that the way of Jesus is the best possible way to live.
This isn’t irrational or primitive or blind faith. It is merely being honest that we are living a ‘way’.
I’m convinced being generous is a better way to live.
I’m convinced forgiving people and not carrying around bitterness is a better way to live.
I’m convinced having compassion is a better way to live.
I’m convinced pursuing peace in every situation is a better way to live.
I’m convinced listening to the wisdom of others is a better way to live.
I’m convinced being honest with people is a better way to live
Rob Bell was born in 1970 and I read on the book's cover that he’d set up a church community in Michigan in 1999. I initially got the impression that this was just a simple small Christian group - rather like our lovely friend Ian Adams - and, like Ian, Bell had a simple powerful way of communicating his faith.
After about three chapters of “Velvet Elvis”, however, I started to realise that Bell’s situation was very different and the start of chapter 4 (or “Movement 4” as Bell describes the sections) revealed that his church community was huge! When I checked on Wikipedia, it said that, by 2005, some 11,000 attended his church in three “gatherings” each Sunday! Rob Bell is apparently seen by some people as the “new Billy Graham” and very much a figurehead to many Christians.
I’m afraid to admit that, once I’d learnt a little more of the background, my interest and enthusiasm for the book started to wane. I’ve now finished the book. I still found that there were things he wrote that struck a chord or made me question some of my own views but, by the end - perhaps unfairly - I kept getting a sense that the book was part of a “Rob Bell/Mars Hill Bible Church” industry.
What I think I’d hoped for, somewhat naively, was something that was a little more personal and a sense of shared thoughts between friends.