Thursday, December 31, 2009


As I’ve said, I’ve really been enjoying Nick Hornby’s book “31 Songs”. Here’s a wonderful extract on “dancing” which completely sums me up – especially after my recent “clubbing” experience(!) - and also makes me laugh:
“If you are a white male – especially a white male aged forty-plus – the chances are that you are sadly and predictably deficient in one particular area: you can’t dance for toffee. Indeed, not only can you not dance, but you are also unwilling even to try unless you’re drunk or near-drunk, and unless you’re surrounded either by complete strangers (especially complete strangers who are older and/or even more disastrously uptight and stiff-limbed than you are) or by people you have known for a minimum of a quarter of a century, who are also drunk or near-drunk. I would love to be able to say, at this point, that I have shattered the mould; that despite my age, gender and nationality (because Englishness, I fear, is hardly helpful in this regard), I hit the dancefloor with all the enthusiasm and lack of self-consciousness of a three year-old (and a three year-old girl at that) and the fluidity of a young Baryshnikov… But of course, I can’t. The dancefloor is still, to me, the social equivalent of the North Sea during English seaside holidays – something to be treated with the utmost fear and caution, something you walk towards and away from over a period of several hours while battling with your own courage, something you plunge into briefly and uncomfortably while every corpuscle in your blood screams at you to get out before it’s too late, something that leaves lots of important parts of you feeling shrivelled”.
Hornby is writing this on the back of his experiences of “The Locomotion” club in the mid-eighties and, in particular, his fond memories of The Velvelettes’ song “Needle in a Haystack” – which he’d never come across before - but which I, somewhat embarrassingly, remember when it first came out in 1964!
You’ve just GOT to watch this clip – but, crucially, you need to turn up the volume. Be careful, it just MIGHT make you get up and dance (surely not!).
Photo: The Velvelettes.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2009 reflections

This is my favourite photograph of 2009. I've only recently looked at it closely (it's a detail from a larger image). It was taken by Felix in St Ives on our October family holiday. Moira and I had been ushered on to the beach by the rest of the family in the early evening. We've just watched two paper sky lanterns magically disappear into the night sky over the ocean. We're relaxing and drinking champagne (as you do!) surrounded by homemade, sand-filled nightlights (hand-decorated by the grandchildren!) and are reflecting on just how blessed we are to be part of such a wonderful family. I think Moira and I quite like each other too (good job, with our 37th wedding anniversary due tomorrow - on 30 December)!
Other significant events of 2009:
  • Brilliant family holiday at Upper Saltings, St Ives in October.
  • My first ever school "snowday" happening on my 60th birthday in February (result!).
  • Best Concert: brilliant Joan As Police Woman at St George's.
  • Best Films: "Looking for Eric", "The Reader" and "An Education".
  • Best Books: "Engleby" (Sebastian Faulks) and "The Wasp Factory" (Iain Banks).
  • Best/Most Entertaining Exhibition: Banksy at Bristol Museum.
  • Best Theatre: "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" at The Tobacco Factory (featuring Felix!).
  • Most Entertaining/Enjoyable Live Sport: twenty20 cricket with school buddies.
  • Saddest: sudden death of Graham "Bodge" Hollows, aged 48.
  • Regret: Gerry and Merry Carol returning to Canada.
  • Outrages: Parliamentary Expenses and Banker's Bonuses.
  • Surprisingly Enjoyable: discovery of Permaculture and GrowZones.
  • Impressive Local Community Voice: BERATE/TESNO.
  • Community Arts Project (made me smile): "Play Me I'm Yours".
  • Holiday Surprise: Kettle's Yard, Cambridge (thanks to Moira!).
  • Biggest Frustration/Concern: failure of Copenhagen Climate Change Conference.
  • Best Family News: arrival of fourth grandchild Rosa Eve, born in July (Ruth+Stu) - and fifth one of his/her way next June (Alice+Dave).

Monday, December 28, 2009


This isn't a reference to the latest of James May's "Toy Stories" based on Hornby model railways (I've really enjoyed the series but actually found this one rather disappointing). I've recently been dipping into Nick Hornby's "31 Songs" again. Although it hasn't stopped me from enjoying the book, I'm sorry to say that I knew less than 30% of the songs (this sounds very sad, as if my musical background is extremely limited!).
Not any more though... thanks to the wonderful Spotify, I've managed to create a "Hornby playlist" (well, covering most of the songs - some haven't been recognised). As well as pointing me towards some new artists, it's made the book even more accessible.
Isn't technology wonderful (sometimes)!
PS: I've really been enjoying listening to music over the holiday period and have received lots of excellent CDs over Christmas - Devendra Banhart, Belle+Sebastian and Regina Spektor. Feeling very spoilt!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

cheaty bubble+squeak

For me, one of the best meals over the Christmas period is the family lunch on Boxing Day – which, for us, usually follows some form of exercise. This meal essentially comprises cold meats, bubble+squeak plus various pickles/sauces. Now I know that, traditionally, the bubble+squeak should be fried leftover vegetables… with the best bits being the slightly burnt edges. I have to admit that, over recent years, I’ve completely cheated on this. Frying large quantities of vegetables for lots of people has proved somewhat frustrating for yours truly from time to time. It seems to take huge quantities of oil and endless patience and, in order to take get the necessary burnt bits, inevitably produces a smoke-filled kitchen.
So now I simply form the chopped up vegetables into patties, coat with olive oil and bake them in a hot oven. Not quite the same perhaps, but much simpler for large quantities!
Photo: cheaty bubble+squeak.
PS: I’ve just re-read this and it sounds SO pretentious (I promise never to write about cooking ever again)!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

magic of christmas

Putting aside the true significance of Christmas, it was lovely to be able to spend yesterday in the company of a three year-old who was absolutely captivated by the wonder and excitement of the day itself. It was her first “real” Christmas and she had been eagerly anticipating it over the past few days – complete with Santa and all his reindeers! She loved the present opening and seemed genuinely thrilled by what she found inside; she was especially delighted by her blue scooter. She even had time to enjoy her Christmas lunch. At the end of the day, as she walked to the car, I heard her say to Ruth: “wasn’t that a lovely day!”.
Indeed it was!
Photo: “blue flash” – Iris trying out her new scooter down the hallway!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

a serious man

Moira, Sheila and I decided on some pre-Christmas cinema therapy at the Watershed last night. The Coen brothers’ film “A Serious Man” is set in 1967 (I’m not quite sure of the significance of this date – except perhaps it marked the early teenage years of the Coen brothers, growing up in the American midwest - but, for what it’s worth, it was also the year I started at uni!). It dips into the life of a Jewish professor whose life seems to be slowly collapsing around him – his wife wants to leave him for another man; his children are an absolute pain; his job is under threat; and his brother is useless and sponging. He seeks the help of three Rabbis, but no one can give him the answer he’s searching for. I know I’d need to watch it a number of times before I begin to understand even half the Jewish references, but hey!
It’s an uncomfortable, sad and yet, at times, hilarious film.
PS: somewhat pathetically, I’ve just checked how many times I went to the cinema this year and the answer is 21 (which represents a new personal best!).

Monday, December 21, 2009

down from up’t north

It’s been great having Alice+Dave (and Mikey+Dan) to stay for a few days before Christmas. Living in Leyland, we don’t get to see them anything like as often as we’d like to, but it was lovely to have all our daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren round for supper last night. On night one, Mikey+Dan seemed to be suffering from jet-lag. They both woke up at midnight and refused to go back to sleep (at all!) – much to Alice+Dave’s obvious delight! I took the opportunity of taking the boys out on a long walk the following day to give A+D a well-earned rest. All went perfectly when, after two hours, I noticed that one of the buggy tyres had been punctured! Hey ho (or should that be “ho ho ho”?).
Photo: the boys with their eyes glued to the TV (literally!).
How sad is that!!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

another let down?

Like millions of others over the past 24 hours, I’ve been trying to come to terms with what precisely has been agreed at the end of the Copenhagen climate change conference. A couple of weeks earlier, I’d put together a power point for an Assembly at school and had written this on one of the screen-shots: “But, sadly and frighteningly, despite such very positive signs, there is still a chance that the conference will simply come up with political fudges and platitudes… and that no significant binding agreements will be forthcoming”. There WAS a climate change “deal”, of sorts, hammered out, but it fell far short of what campaigners had been striving for over recent months and years. Somewhat predictably perhaps, there seems to have an inability for the international community to break the climate deadlock because of incompatible national interests. The outcome has been variously described as “desperately disappointing” and a “disaster”. The recriminations have already started. It seems that many are blaming China for the lack of “deep cuts in carbon emissions”.
Reaction to the summit has been wide-ranging. These are just some of the comments from today’s “Observer”: “This marks a turning point in human nature” (Colin Blakemore, expert of human behaviour); “Obama is handcuffed by the political mess at home” (Jessy Tolkan, US activist); “Failure at such a grand level means we have to act locally” (Julian Hunt, scientist); “This was a huge step on from our work in Kyoto” (John Prescott, negotiator); “This fiasco will further alienate an angry public” (Benny Peiser, sceptic); and “China ended up a useful scapegoat” (Ailun Yang, campaigner).
So, we’re left with countries agreeing to register their planned emissions cuts by the end of January; the UN climate body’s meeting in Bonn (in May 2010) will tackle the issue of emissions; and then, hopefully, a major meeting will be convened in Mexico in December 2010 to “seal a legal treaty”.
Depressingly, it seems like deja-vu to me.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

… “and to think, we didn’t know any of these people five years ago”

Last night, the cream of our school’s teaching staff invaded the bars and clubs of Bristol. The “event” marked the end of what has seemed like a long, long term. They’re an amazing group of people – committed, professional, incredibly hardworking and, frequently, unsung. They’ve also become lovely friends. Stef and I started work at the school on the same day (and in the same role) and, during the course of last night, we briefly reflected on the fact that, five years ago, we didn’t know a single one of these wonderful people! Life is strange, but often has some really rather lovely surprises…. for which I’m very grateful.
Photo: I don't have a pic of all my friends from school, so here are just three of them (Emma, Helen and Bex)!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

dramatic contrast

Moira+I went along to the Tobacco Factory last night to see Felix perform in “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”. It was absolutely brilliant. Hugely entertaining. The audience was completely captivated by a truly dazzling production. Brilliantly conceived and performed (we thought Felix was fantastic, of course, but we weren’t the only ones – see this review). The night was all about imagination, entertainment and the true magic of live theatre. You REALLY should see this show – it runs until 17 January – it will make your week/month… even year!
In sharp contrast, on Friday evening we went to see the St Paul’s Player’s production of “The Wind in the Willows”. I know it’s completely unfair comparing the Tobacco Factory’s professional theatre with the “Am-Dram” equivalent at St Paul’s Church, but the difference was striking in the extreme. In fact, the acting was largely good – we very much enjoyed the performances of Peter Nicoll (Toad) and those of our friends Anna (as a wonderfully engaging Mole) and Dean (as Albert, the horse). Unfortunately, in my view, the producer and director absolutely ruined the show. It was incredibly long (virtually three hours by the time we left) and would have been much more effective if two or three scenes had been cut completely; the change-overs between scenes were excruciatingly long (so much so that some of the audience started giggling in disbelief at one stage!); and the “design” of some of the props (especially the train!) was just embarrassing…. but what do I know?
You can book Ali Baba tickets on-line! Just do it!

at long last!

Yesterday, my football team beat Man U at Old Trafford. It was their first win there for 26 years. More importantly, it was the first time Villa has beaten the mighty Reds in any game since Alice+Dave got married in 2003! It’s just possible that I might mention the result when they’re down in Bristol this coming weekend!
PS: what was slightly bizarre about yesterday’s premiership footie results was that the ONLY winners were the three teams from the West Midlands (Blues+Wolves also won) – and with the same 1-0 result. Just thought you might like to know that!

Monday, December 07, 2009

forest of dean

Spent a very good three days in the forest last week with a group of Year 8 pupils from school. Very good to see children out of their normal school context (and for them to see their teachers in a similar light). As usual, the forest nightwalks were one of the highlights for most of the students. The facilities at the Dean Field Studies Centre are excellent (including climbing tower, zip wire, Jacob’s ladder, “leap of faith”, eco-trail, orienteering, plus various problem-solving exercises). Just amazing seeing students “having-a-go” at things that they genuinely feel are impossible for them to achieve (and complete reluctance to participate) – and then to witness their sheer sense of pride and self-belief when, against all the odds, they DO succeed. I just wish a handful of the parents could see what their children are capable of doing – with the right encouragement. They’d be completely amazed!
Photo: all they had to do was to ascend a 10m high telegraph pole, then stand on the equivalent of a tiny wooden tray while the pole swung furiously from side to side, then launch themselves into mid-air and try to catch a trapeze bar. Scary or what?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

climate change rally

Went up to London yesterday to take part in the Climate Change rally. Reported numbers vary, but it appears that something like 40,000 people took part. It was really good to feel part of such a passionate group of people campaigning for what is almost certainly the most important single issue in the world today. If I’m honest, given the crucial nature of the Climate Change Conference starting in Copenhagen tomorrow, I was disappointed that London wasn’t overrun by protestors. I came across this quote from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, which seems to sum up much of my own feelings: “No one is immune – rich, poor, developed and developing countries. We are all in this together. I will probably be spared the worst effects of climate change but I worry for our children’s future and for the millions of people who are already being impoverished and displaced”.
PS: great to meet up with friends - and was very amused to bump into Rob+Anna, who were desperately trying to "qualify" their banner slogans by writing additional words... using a 0.3 felt-tip pen!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

bright star

Moira and I went to see Jane Campion’s “Bright Star” at the Watershed on Sunday afternoon. The film tells the story of John Keats’s unconsummated love affair with Fanny Brawne in the final days of his life. I thought it was a rather beautiful, tender film – with fine performances from Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish (and from Paul Schneider as Keats’s friend Brown) – although Moira did admit to being a “bit bored”! The blurb from the Watershed provides an interview with Ben Whishaw and, in it, he explains that there was a scene that Campion cut quite late in the day, where Keats gets very angry and jealous of Fanny. I’m pleased the scene WAS omitted because it would certainly have interfered with the overall sense of understated gentleness (despite the sadness of story) that I found so appealing.