Thursday, December 30, 2010

steve loves moira (true)


Today is our 38th wedding anniversary.
Because we got married at this rather silly time of year, I think Moira+I have each “forgotten” our anniversary perhaps once over the years… but not today. We don’t very often buy each other presents to mark the occasion but, today, Moira presented me with a truly beautiful set of Rob Ryan’s plates (entitled “Four Trees, Four Seasons”). He was born in Cyrus, but now lives and works in London and makes wonderful, intricate papercuts (cut by hand).
Photo: hopefully(?), if you double-click on the image you might just be able to make out the words (warning: they might make you cry).

somewhere


Alan, Gareth, Eilidh, Moira+I went to the Watershed yesterday afternoon to see Sophia Coppola’s “Somewhere” film. Stephen Dorff plays a pampered film actor, surrounded by beautiful, “willing” women. His troubled ex-wife leaves their 11-year-old daughter for him to look after for a couple of weeks (before the daughter’s shipped off to a summer camp) while mother has time for herself. Having his daughter with him seems only to underline the film actor’s directionless, privileged lifestyle – with Dorff frequently having to shield his daughter from embarrassing situations, mainly involving young women keen to “impress” him.
Perhaps this was the essential message of the film – it took the presence of his daughter for him to realise, despite all the fame and the money, just how mundane, lonely and discomforting his life had become…. or maybe I’m just trying too hard to justify why the film was made at all?
Not a patch on "Lost in Translation".

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

contemplating retirement


For me, the turn of the year has always been a time for reflection. This year has taken on rather more significance than usual as I’ll be retiring in the summer.
Many years ago, I remember thinking that there was absolutely no way I’d work beyond my sixtieth birthday. Well, clearly, that didn’t happen.
Moira retired at the end of March 2010. I was really impressed (and a little envious) with the way she prepared for this next stage in her life. She met with our good friend Bruce a couple of times to exchange thoughts and also booked herself on to a retreat in Devon (on the edge of Dartmoor… a place she’s been to before).
By comparison, I feel totally unprepared. People who are aware of my impending retirement frequently ask me what I plan to do… and my answers are always very vague and invariably dull. Whilst a huge part of me is really looking forward to the imminent prospect of retirement, deep down, I also freely admit to feeling rather nervous.
So, over the coming weeks, I might commit some of my “retirement thoughts” to paper (well, computer) – hopes, dreams and fears!
Don’t hold your breathe.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

the birds are back….


Last January, we noticed a batch of strange birds at the back of our house. After investigation, we decided they were Fieldfare. Well, they’re back… and perching on the same tree. According to the RSPB, Fieldfare “may come into gardens in severe winters when snow covers the countryside”.
Sounds about right to me!
Photo: some of our Fieldfare visitors (there were some 18 in all).

Thursday, December 23, 2010

pinocchio


The Tobacco Factory Theatre's Christmas Show has now become a traditional part of our seasonal festivities (quite possibly something to do with the fact that Felix has performed in a lot of them perhaps?). Moira+I went along to see "The Adventures of Pinocchio" last night and it proved to be another evening of captivating, live theatre in front of another all-age full house. Once again (of course!), we felt that Felix was the real star performer, especially with his Jimmy The Cricketer character - an intriguingly clever version of Disney's invented Jiminy Cricket.
Theatre is alive and well and, very fortunately for us, can be found at the wonderful Tobacco Factory Theatre - especially at this time of year (the current show runs to 16 January)!
Photo: the cast (Felix is second from right - pity there isn't an image of him in his Jimmy The Cricketer costume!).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

pre-christmas family get-together…. almost


As you can imagine with three married daughters and with their various other family commitments and complicated schedules, the opportunities for us all to get together at Christmas are relatively rare. Yesterday was due to be one of those key occasions – it might not coincide with the “proper” Christmas holiday period but, for us, it was going to be very special. Alice+Dave etc were due to come to stay for a couple of days but, unfortunately, due to the horrendous weather conditions that have disrupted so many people’s holiday plans, they were forced to abandon their attempts to drive down from Lancashire in the snow and ice (the prospect of being “trapped” in traffic with young children for hours on end were rightly considered untenable). As you might imagine, we were (and still are) left feeling very sad by how things turned out. Despite this, we decided to continue with our family supper arrangements last night (it was Felix’s night off from performing at the Tobacco Factory Theatre and Stu managed to get back safely from a crucial glass installation meeting in London – albeit he missed the main course, poor man!) and it WAS lovely.
We count our blessings as a family… and Alice+Dave were definitely with us in spirit last night – just very sad that they weren’t actually there to hug!
Photo: Iris attempting to catch snowflakes on her tongue earlier in the day.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

university education.... again


With all the recent student demonstrations regarding university fees and the like, I’ve perhaps been strangely quiet on the subject. I did write a facebook status note on the morning of the parliamentary vote – acknowledging that I would never have pursued an architectural career if I hadn’t received a full grant (and no tuition fees) and that I feared tomorrow’s architects would once again only come from privileged backgrounds. I have, however, previously voiced my concerns on the subject of university education and tuition fees – for example, November 2010 and November 2006. Polly Toynbee has written some brilliant, thought-provoking, education-related articles in the weekend Guardian over recent weeks (eg. this one on students’ EMAs).
There was an article in yesterday’s Guardian Money supplement entitled: “Would you have paid £27,000 for your degree?” which included interviews with various “writers and celebrities”.
AL Kennedy (novelist and comedian, who studied at Warwick) said:
“I couldn’t have gone to university if I had had to pay anything, or go into debt. I wouldn’t be doing my job, paying tax. I wouldn’t have a life to enjoy… I’d say to students, keep protesting… if I’d done more when I was a student, you wouldn’t have to be doing this. For which I apologise”.
On the other hand, Dan Snow (television+radio historian, who studied at Balliol College, Oxford), having made some sensible comments about the value of a university education, then went on to say:
“I didn’t have to start paying back the £9,000 until I was in a decent job and through my early 20s it meant a few less pints a week, delayed my entry to the housing market by a couple of years and prevented me from buying a nice car. Hardly a sacrifice.”
Something tells me he just doesn’t live in the real world of normal people.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

autumn/winter books...


Once again, I’m using this blog to record books I’ve been reading. These are my latest titles:
The Almond Blossom Appreciation Society (Chris Stewart): The final book in the “Driving Over Lemons” trilogy. I’ve really enjoyed all of them and find Chris Stewart’s writing style very endearing – affectionate, self-deprecating and rather life-enhancing!
Paula Spencer (Roddy Doyle): Probably one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s about a middle-aged, “recovering alcoholic” mother. It’s quite brilliantly written and captures the despair, struggle, pride, compassion and humour of Paula’s life quite beautifully. I was also fascinated and won over by its somewhat quirky writing style – written in the third person, through the eyes of the central character (as it were!) and with no chapters at all. I absolutely loved it!
Deaf Sentence (David Lodge): I’ve read a number of Lodge’s books (albeit some time ago) and have always enjoyed them as relatively light, amusing novels. After looking at the sleeve notes, I hadn’t really got particularly high hopes for the book – it’s about a retired professor who is going deaf. In the event, I found it quite moving (and funny) as it dealt with some of the things that Moira and I are experiencing first hand for ourselves – the prospect and reality of retirement; our own “failing” faculties; and dealing with old age (well, older age at least!). A surprising gem of a book.
Scoop (Evelyn Waugh): Inevitably dated (first published in 1938!), but I found this irreverent satire of Fleet Street quite charming in its way (as I have many of his other books). This might seem somewhat surprising to many who know me - given Waugh’s reactionary character and his negative image as “intolerant, snobbish and sadistic, with pronounced fascist leanings”. I would clearly have disliked him with a passion!
God of Surprises (Gerard Hughes): We’re reading this book in our weekly Ithaca group and, I have to say, I’ve been rather disappointed. Perhaps I’m not in the proper frame of mind to appreciate it fully at the moment - but, although it does contain some profound and helpful insights, I don’t any of us in the group have particularly warmed to it.
PS: I haven’t included Cave Refectory Road (Ian Adams) in the above recent list as I blogged about this last month (and it’s excellent!).

Monday, December 13, 2010

christmas is coming...


By the end of the weekend, I’d started to feel a little Christmassy. It was clearly helped by getting together with friends on Saturday and exchanging Christmas gifts and also going along to Simon Taylor’s excellent “Christmas in an Hour” lecture at St Mary Redcliffe earlier in the week. However, what really did it for me was attending the Gasworks Choir wonderful concert at St George’s, Bristol yesterday afternoon. Really beautiful, powerful voices, impressive musical arrangements and fun – an absolute treat of a concert…. and our lovely friend Gareth was performing too (see circled in photograph!).

Sunday, December 12, 2010

BABs luncheon in bristol


When we all lived in Oxfordshire, Moira+I used to get together for lunch on a regular basis with our lovely, lovely friends Gail, Ian, Debby+Ken (six times a year – to celebrate each of our birthdays)(note: BABs is short for Barnes-Adams-Broadway!). Now that we’re living in different parts of the country (Oxford, Devon and Bristol), we still try to get together as often as we can but, inevitably, it’s not as often as we’d like. Yesterday, G+I+D+K came to Bristol and we met up for a really excellent lunch at Bordeaux Quay…. wonderful to catch up again… lots to talk about… much laughter, as usual!
Photo: "atmospheric" Ian, Moira+Gail (sorry Gail!) on Pero’s Bridge after we’d said our goodbyes to Ken+Debby.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

meteor


The Mabey-Broadway bus passengers (well, it was just Andy and me!) witnessed a very rare sight on our homeward journey yesterday – a meteor! It was about 5.40pm and we were driving through the fairly well-lit streets of Knowle West when we suddenly caught sight of an amazingly bright rocket-like “thing” travelling across the sky. We both reacted in the same way: “wow, did you see THAT?”…. Initially, I thought it was a huge firework, but soon realised it was something much more impressive than that. We followed it for about three or four seconds before it disappeared from view. I’ve previously seen shooting stars but never witnessed anything quite so dramatic (in astronomical terms, you understand). Andy is the nearest I know to anyone remotely connected with astro-physics and he told me this morning that it was indeed a meteor (he tells me that the local tv presenter-cum-weatherman kept calling it a meteorite – which rather annoyed Andy, because it only becomes a meteorite if it survives impact with the earth’s surface… which it clearly hadn’t when we saw it!).
Anyway, it was a first for me!
Photo: unfortunately, I didn't take a photograph myself but this is the closest I've seen amongst google images to what we witnessed (but without such a long tail).

Sunday, December 05, 2010

forest of dean 2010


We’ve just returned from the annual 3-day school trip to the Forest of Dean. This is a picture of one of the Year 8 pupils after she’d reached the top of the high climbing wall. Exhilaration, pride, sense of achievement and sheer joy. I could have chosen any one of numerous other images which would have told the same story. The Jacob’s Ladder, the Zip Wire, the Leap of Faith (climbing up a telegraph pole, standing on what amounts to no more than a tea tray and then flinging oneself into mid air to catch a swinging bar!), the Climbing Wall and, of course, the night walks/challenges in the forest (where, although closely and secretly monitored, these young children find their own way through the forest in the dead of night).
Witnessing children being prepared to undertake onerous challenges, being cheered on and genuinely encouraged by their fellow students, massively exceeding their own expectations and watching their delighted faces at the end… there’s nothing really to match it.
It’s humbling and a huge privilege to be able to do so.
I just wish parents (especially some of them!) were able to see just what their sons and daughters are capable of achieving – it would make them very proud (and amazed).

Sunday, November 21, 2010

sir ken robinson+education


It was fascinating listening to Sir Ken Robinson talking about education on yesterday’s Radio 4’s “Saturday Live” programme. I’d come across him for the first time last year (I blogged about him in July 2009). Really interesting, thought-provoking bloke and I think you should watch/listen to his two “Ted Talks” (they’re only 18 minutes long and very worthwhile!). I particularly love his reference to WB Yeates’s poem “Cloths of Heaven” at the very end of his second talk:
Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
It’s not very often that I yearn to have followed a different “career” route but, if I had come across him when I was in my twenties or thirties, I think I might have been encouraged, in my own naive inadequate way, to make waves in the world of education!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

aung san suu kyi


What an amazing lady.
Seeing her being set free by the military authorities from her latest period of house arrest, it felt very much like watching Nelson Mandela being released from Robben Island twenty years.
Such integrity, such dignity.
She has made it absolutely clear that she’s fully prepared to take the consequences if the military government decided to lock her up again for what she said or did… and, given what she’s gone through over the past 21 years, it would have seemed perfectly reasonable for her to call for the downfall of the military rulers.
But no, instead, she simply says: "I think it's quite obvious what the people want; the people just want better lives based on security and on freedom… I don't want to see the military falling. I want to see the military rising to dignified heights of professionalism and true patriotism".
If the military had any sense, they should seize the moment and accept at this opportunity she’s handing them…. but they almost certainly won’t.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

£120 billion tax avoidance?


Came across a fascinating article in Monday’s Guardian (thanks to good friend Iain) by George Monbiot (I’ve previously read his excellent book “HEAT – how can we stop the planet burning”). He reckons it’s arguable that the UK government does NOT have a spending crisis; it has a tax avoidance crisis!
Official accounts suggest that the tax gap amounts to £42bn.
Richard Murphy of Tax Research has demonstrated that this figure cannot be correct, as it contradicts other government statistics. He estimates that avoidance now amounts to £25bn a year, evasion to £70bn, and outstanding debts to the tax service to £28bn: a total of more than £120bn. That's roughly three-quarters of the budget deficit!
Just remember this when Public Sector redundancy figures hit the roof over the coming months!
Photo: nothing to do with tax avoidance – just a pic I took on the Windmill Arts Trail that I thought looked vaguely appropriate.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

another year


Mike Leigh is a genius.
Alan, Gareth, Eilidh, Merry-Carol, Gerry, Moira+I went to see his latest film “Another Year” yesterday at the Watershed. It explores a year in the life of a happily married, middle-aged couple (brilliantly portrayed by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen), content and fulfilled with their lives (and their allotment!), and their interaction with a small community of family (grown-up son and Broadbent’s older brother and his adult son) and needy friends desperately trying to make sense of their lives (sad, insecure Mary – played by Lesley Manville – and overweight divorcee Ken). Lesley Manville is simply outstanding.
A really beautiful, gentle, sad, funny film about the passing of time (and old age) - and made even more poignant as Moira+I find ourselves entering our own twilight years!
You simply must see this film.
Photo: Ruth Sheen (Gerri) and Jim Broadbent (Tom).
PS: Just wonderful to be able to spend some time with our old Ithaca friends again – and to round off the day with an excellent Canadian supper of maple syrup, pancakes, bacon, sausages and fruit.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

no support for school support staff negotiating body


Somewhat predictably, Education Secretary Michael Gove has abolished the School Support Staff Negotiating Body (SSSNB) set up by the last Government in 2009 to improve pay and conditions for school support staff. The body would have introduced a national pay and career development structure for the 500,000 lowest paid school staff in the country. Mr Gove issued a statement claiming that the SSSNB "does not fit well with the government’s priorities for greater deregulation of the pay and conditions arrangements for the school workforce".
Too right it didn’t!
I wrote to Ed Balls, the then Secretary of State for Children, Families and Schools, in September 2008 on the subject of school support staff welcoming his initiative to introduce a statutory independent chair to ensure that teaching assistants and support staff are paid fairly.
Here are some extracts, specifically highlighting my own role:
“I have worked in a comprehensive school in North Somerset since September 2005 (classified at the end of last year as an “outstanding” school by OFSTED) and joined as one of four Assistant House Heads. It was a newly-created role responsible for providing pastoral support to the work of our respective House Heads and Tutors - as well as supporting the pupils themselves in their learning (encouraging positive attitudes and behaviour in and around the school) and their welfare. We are full-time, term-time employees and work closely with an Assistant Head Teacher, responsible for Pupil Support, and are involved with children from Year 7 up to Year 11.
As one might anticipate, the original job specification has developed somewhat since that time! The scope of the role is wide-ranging and carries a high degree of responsibility – we are dealing with staff, pupils, parents and outside agencies as well as liaising with individual teachers, departments and faculties in relation to behaviour and learning for both individuals and groups of pupils. As non-teachers, we represent the key point of contact for parents throughout the school day…. This new role has been very successful - we have been readily welcomed, respected and appreciated by all tutors, teaching staff, pupils and parents alike and are seen as fulfilling a valuable and vital role in the school. One of the key benefits of our role has been its effect on the teaching staff – we have certainly enabled “teachers to teach” rather than to be trying juggle various other pastoral issues.
“Our differing backgrounds and experiences (an English literature graduate; a learning support assistant; a policeman; and an architect!) mean that we have different skills, interests, abilities and ages. We are very good at our job and highly valued by the School’s Leadership Team – even if we are NOT adequately rewarded financially for the work we undertake!....
I believe our type of role in schools is absolutely crucial – and will become increasingly important over the coming years.
“At present, there is no career structure for this or similar positions – all too often (and exactly the same comment can be made about jobs for teaching assistants and other support staff), non-teaching roles in schools are regarded as being for the “secondary earner” in a domestic partnership (even an appalling assumption that it will be mainly mothers taking up such positions “so they can look after their children in the school holidays”!)!”
Support staff are all too often seen as the “cheap option” for many roles in schools. Additional roles (such as those dealing with vitally-important Child Protection matters within schools) are doled out on the basis that “they will look good on your CV” (seriously!) for absolutely nil additional pay or undertaken “voluntarily” on a goodwill basis because staff are conscious of gaps that need to be filled. With no career structure in place, schools seem to rely on “senior” support staff leaving so they can be replaced by new, even-cheaper staff – an awful waste of talented and committed individuals. Despite the fact that roles are constantly being changed and extended in scope, schools and local education authorities continue to hide behind extremely clumsy and outdated grading bands.
There are no national pay rates for support staff employed in the state sector. Most LEA schools use the local government pay scales to pay their support staff in conjunction with National Joint Council (NJC) terms and conditions. However, this can vary between local authorities, which means it is not possible to be prescriptive about the rate of pay support staff will receive – a fact that, in my limited educational experience, employers take full advantage of to suit their own individual circumstances (ie. even if they are apparently financially-independent of any LEA). And, of course, term-time-only contracts means that an employee is only employed when the school is open - in most cases, for 38 or 39 weeks a year.
Individual schools could take the initiative to reward support staff more fairly and to address matters of career development, but this rarely appears to be the case. The SSSNB did seem to be a serious attempt to address national pay and career development structure for the 500,000 lowest paid school staff in the country. The Government clearly doesn’t seem to acknowledge the roles these school workers fulfil (and, frankly, I’ve been pretty appalled by the standard of trade union representatives I’ve come across – none of whom seem to have the necessary knowledge or experience of schools). So, it now seems that school support staff will remain a hugely-undervalued resource and, of course in the present financial climate, those who still have jobs will be reminded just how lucky they are!
Genius!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

university tuition fees (and stuff)


In what Universities Minister David Willetts described as a “progressive” reform, the Coalition Government has decided that universities will be able to charge annual tuition fees of up to £9,000 (from the current maximum of £3,290 pa). Costs will be transferred from the state to students. Willetts feels that the tuition fee rise is a “good deal for students” (really?) and confirmed that universities charging higher levels of fees will have to show support for widening access to students from economically poorer backgrounds – this would apparently mean the type of outreach programmes that many universities already carry out, such as summer schools and targeted scholarships. Mr Willetts said graduates earning less than £21,000 per year would not pay any real interest on loans, but rates would rise to inflation plus 3% at £41,000 per year and above.
The National Union of Students dubbed the plan, which will mean almost a threefold increase, "an outrage". NUS president, Aaron Porter, said Liberal Democrat MPs who were going to ditch their election pledge to vote against any rise in fees should be "ashamed of themselves" and I have to say, I agree.
In January 2003, I wrote to the then Education and Skills Minister, Charles Clarke, on the subject – and particularly in connection with the education of prospective architects from lower income families. This is just a brief extract:
“….This all leaves me with a real sense of despair for the future and, in particular, the pressures being exerted on this country's young people - both today and in the future…. Life in one's 20s has always been demanding financially, but today's graduates are now facing worrying fresh challenges with potentially-huge student loan repayments on top of high mortgage (or rent) costs - and, of course, the Government is now also demanding that they start to make arrangements for their pension provisions!
Through the actions of successive Governments (and despite the current Government's stated goal that 50% of all children should go on to "enjoy" higher/university education), we are sadly faced with a situation where it is now far more difficult, financially, for someone from a lower income/working class background to look forward to the prospect of university education than it was in my day in the mid-1960s. Despite the Government's latest "tinkering" to avoid top-up fees (I'm against them on principle), I fear that university education will soon only be available for those who have the financial means to afford it (nothing about ability or "education for all" aspirations). What an awful reflection on our society today!
I regularly participate in career conventions for young people (aged 13-16 predominantly) and, whilst I have been impressed their knowledge and enthusiasm, I know just how concerned the vast majority of them are regarding the prospective financial implications of higher education (with prospects of owing well in excess of £20,000 for architectural students, for example, will there be ANY architects in future coming from working class backgrounds?)”.
Unfortunately, this debt figure of “well in excess of £20,000” has now increased to staggering levels (architecture is a seven year course – of which five years are spent at university) – perhaps upwards of £80,000?
I accept that I don’t really have any of the answers, but I do think we’ll be getting back to the depressing prospect of a world of the “haves” and “have nots”.
PS: if you can stand it, check out my blog post on similar issues in November 2006 (click here).

Monday, October 18, 2010

let the train take the strain….


Moira+I had a lovely weekend in Leyland with Alice+Dave et al. As an experiment, we decided to use the train and it proved to be pretty successful (frustrations of having to change mid-journey and having to wait nearly an hour to pick up the connection each time, but…). Somewhat crowded on the return journey, but we survived. One of the bonuses was that I virtually read an entire book (Evelyn Waugh’s “Scoop”) on the journey.
It was a lovely weekend and SO good to see the Buckleys after what seemed like ages (I think Jemima was just three weeks old when we last saw them!). We had great fun – lots of laughter, rolling on the floor and no end of boisterous games (quite a few of these seemed to involve me pretending to be a camel or a snake and transporting Mikey+Dan to various destinations!). Jemima seems to take the boys’ world of drums, ball games, zingzillas and general mayhem in her stride.... but I think she might be just biding her time.
Photo: various images taken over the weekend.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

the amazing chile mine rescue


As usual, I’d been listening to the World Service on the radio “off and on” through the night. Just before 4am, I just had to go downstairs and switch on the television…. to watch the first of the 33 trapped miners, Florencio Avalos, being brought to the surface in the escape capsule (Phoenix One). Just amazing to watch as the capsule appeared through the tiny, stark, metal-sleeved hole in the ground to be greeted by his family and the cheering crowds on the surface and then, a little later, to watch the pictures back down the mine as the miners calmly awaited their turns in the capsule.
Almost beyond belief, the miners ARE being rescued!
PS: As I write this, the second miner has just appeared on the surface and another paramedic is sent back down the tube – perhaps it’s just me, but it does seem a little strange that there is now one more person back in the bowels of the earth than has actually been rescued!

Monday, October 11, 2010

irish golf tour countdown


Played golf at Ogbourne Downs Golf Club, near Swindon, yesterday afternoon with three of my five fellow golf tourists – Ken, Steve and Barry, who I hadn’t previously met, in beautiful October sunshine. The game was arranged on the basis that “some” of us (ie. me) needed a little practice before we departed for our golf week in Eire. We had a lovely time and the bonus was that Barry+I beat Ken+Steve on the 18th green - it’s amazing just how often our games "go to the last hole".
Photo: Just to prove that the sun did indeed shine – me, Steve, Barry+Ken at the end of our round.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

cave refectory road


It’s not very often that one of your best friends has a book published, so I’d been really looking forward to reading “Cave Refectory Road – monastic rhythms for contemporary living” by Ian Adams this week.
I wasn’t disappointed!
I’ve always been struck by his “way with words” and I found this elegant and profound book an absolute delight. Knowing him so well, I could almost hear him speaking as I read it and, of course, I was very familiar with many of the places and people he spoke about.
It’s a beautiful book and one that I know I’m going to continue to find helpful over the coming months and years in my own rather meandering spiritual journey. It’s given me much food for thought and much encouragement. I was particularly struck by his references to the Community of Bose in Italy and to some of its “rules”.
Talking to Ian a few weeks ago, I know that one of his original intentions was to use words from contemporary songs (from artists such as Radiohead, Show of Hands, Johnny Cash and the like) at the beginning of each chapter. In the event, his publishers encouraged him to use some of his own poetry instead and I found this one of the special and surprising joys of the book (and look forward to reading more of his poetry in future). John+Olive Drane (theologians/writers) described Ian’s book as being “guaranteed to open up new vistas for anyone searching for an authentic spirituality that will make sense in the context of today’s 24/7 world” and I completely agree.
A very special book by a very special man.

Monday, October 04, 2010

ryder cup


What an amazing sporting occasion the Ryder Cup is. Golf looks such an easy game on the television but (and believe me, as a player of some very indifferent golf in my time)(actually, most of the time!) the shots the players were hitting, with all the pressure they were playing under, were just stunning. Unfortunately (not having sky tv), I didn’t see a single “live” shot, but golf on the radio – or even via the BBC website live updates – strangely somehow felt even better. Of course, I’m delighted that Europe won (what an amazing day it was yesterday), but the thing that perhaps gives me the biggest “buzz” is the gentlemanly conduct (yes, I’m just an old softy!) and the generous words of all the players – both the victors and the vanquished.
Photo: I hope you’re impressed by this… it’s a silver cup from our very own sideboard cupboard at home. It’s tiny (only about 10cm in diameter) and was presented by Lady Ryder to Clara Watts (a relation of Moira’s grandmother) who was “in service” to Lady R from 1882 to 1905.
Oh yes, we are VERY well connected you know!

Monday, September 27, 2010

cave refectory road


Our great friend Ian Adams has just had his first book published. It’s called “Cave Refectory Road – monastic rhythms for contemporary living”. Moira has read one of the initial drafts and was very taken by it; I’ve purposely waited to read the book itself and I can’t wait!
The following blurb is from the Canterbury Press website:
One way in which Fresh Expressions of church are springing into life is through ‘new monastic’ or ‘intentional’ communities, groups of individuals and families living in the same geographic area or connected virtually who share a simple rule of life. Cave - Refectory - Road explores how traditional monastic life is helping to shape a new flowering of Christian community today. It traces the roots of ‘new monasticism’ and draws on the classic elements of monastic life to suggest how this ancient wisdom, learning and spiritual practice might be reinterpreted for new settings.
A handbook for all who are exploring ‘intentional living’, its rich and inspiring teaching is clustered around these themes:

• The cave: the place of stillness, prayer and withdrawal that can inspire a new engagement with the mystery of God
• The refectory: how monastic practices of hospitality can create communities that make a difference in the world
• The road: how the example of the friars can lead to creative and loving engagement with public life.
This link includes two reviews from people for whom I have great respect (Jonny Baker and Nadia Bolz-Weber)…. as well as details of how you can get yourself a copy!
He's a very special man and it sounds like a very special book.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

sixth form education


In an age when, it seems, schools have to measure “success” by their GCSE and A Level results, there must have been many schools who were left reflecting at the end of the summer on the fact that their average A Level results had actually got slightly “worse”. There is an expectation that examination results will improve year-on-year. The trouble is that if you’re allowing more and more students into the sixth form (see my comments made last November!), then I think it’s absolutely inevitable that some of them will struggle – there is far greater onus and expectation on students for individual research, analysis and presentation. Most of them are able to adapt to this different (for them) style of education and to flourish. Others simply lose the plot – they seem completely unable (or unwilling) to come to terms with the need to organise their own time. Clearly, these students need help… or, if they’re simply not up to the diverse demands of A Level education, then perhaps shown the door and pointed in a different direction.
No doubt, this is a problem facing many schools nationwide. You would have thought this might have resulted in consultation with key staff and perhaps a forum for the exchange of ideas. Unfortunately, there are schools where this doesn’t happen.
Instead, the powers-that-be decide that it must all be down to poor teaching and that the solution is “to give more work to students and make them all work harder”. I have relatively little knowledge of education but, from my own experience, I know that this sweeping “solution” could have a catastrophic effect on the lives of many of the most able students – who are already working at full capacity – and, indeed, on the morale and motivation of their teachers. Whipping everybody (students and teachers alike*!), just because those less able (or less willing) students might fail to achieve reasonable examination grades seems fundamentally wrong to me. Sadly, I suspect that this approach will also have a detrimental effect on such schools in the medium-/long-term – they will end up failing to attract the very best students into their sixth forms and their average A Level grades will suffer accordingly....
It shouldn’t be like this.
PS: * interesting comment from Moira over supper yesterday: “an organisation that doesn’t respect its staff probably doesn’t respect its clients either”. Discuss!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

peace day


Yesterday was International Peace Day and, like last year, the school marked the occasion with the wonderful Tom (plus pupils) putting on a series of Assemblies and encouraging everyone to make peace windmills. The windmills were “planted” outside the front of the school and made an impressive statement for this important day (over 500 of them!).
Click on this link to find out more.
Photo: some of the multitude of windmills outside school yesterday.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

view

Went to the private view of a new exhibition at the impressive View gallery in Hotwells last Thursday. Damian Daly, a former college buddy of Hannah’s was one of the artists. Impressed with all the work on show and really liked the gallery itself. It was lovely to meet up with Damian and Nicky again (we think his work is quite outstanding) and really strange (but good!) to see that the exhibition also incorporated some of his pieces that formed part of our own number40 exhibition in September 2005, including the piece shown here.
The exhibition continues until 14 November.

Monday, September 20, 2010

breacon beacons


I spent the weekend on the beautiful Breacon Beacons with over 40 pupils from school undergoing their Duke of Edinburgh Award Silver and Gold training (plus a dozen members of staff). Essentially, they were short of a mini-bus driver, so I was roped in at the eleventh hour. As usual, the students were all brilliant (and such lovely individuals too!) and a great credit to themselves and the school. Brilliant too that the school has so many members of staff willing to give up their weekends for free to make it all possible (five of them having previously gained Mountain Leader qualifications). Next weekend, I think there are something like 120 pupils (plus nearly 30 members of staff?) involved in DOE Bronze training.
Quite amazing.
photo: one of the teams walking down into the valley from Llyn y Fan Fach reservoir.

Monday, September 13, 2010

certified copy


Went to the Watershed (for what seemed like the first time in ages) yesterday to see Abbas Kiarostami’s “Certified Copy”. It starred Juliette Binoche (and William Shimell) and was filmed in Tuscany - so I was in my element! It’s about a man and a woman; the man is a British author who’s visiting Italy to talk about his new book (on the idea of originality in art) and the woman is a French-born gallery owner. After his lecture, they drive to a nearby village where the café proprietor takes them for a married couple… and they go along with it. Their fictional role-play continues in a restaurant - where the scene is played out with each speaking more or less directly to the camera (the director’s aim apparently being that Juliette speaks directly to the male members of the audience and William to the female – which I found strangely effective) – and where Juliette plays out what appears to be the crisis in her real marriage (in an almost unbalanced way?). The film touches poignantly on four generations of marriage – from newly marrieds to an aged couple. In many ways it’s a very strange film; you know something of HER background, but virtually nothing of HIS (and she never asks!).
Binoche’s performance is mesmerising, of course.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

the concrete house


Moira+I visited The Concrete House, near Westbury-on-Trym, yesterday. It was one of 25 buildings that were open to the public as part of the excellent “Bristol Doors Open Day 2010”. Designed by architects Connell+Ward and built in 1934 (Amyas Connell was one of the pioneers of the modernist architecture in the UK). Large areas of glass and orientated to maximise sunlight gave the house a wonderful light and airy character internally. Judging by the massive heat-gain experienced in one or two of the rooms on yesterday’s tour (it was beautifully sunny), thermal insulation must have been a huge problem (ie. hot in summer, cold in winter). Apparently, as far as the original clients were concerned, the husband adored the house whilst his wife simply hated it! I have to say, I was a little disappointed by the house overall – perhaps, very unfairly, because I was seeing it alongside Le Corbusier’s 1929 Villa Savoye!
Photograph: three-storey glass and metal-framed stair tower giving access to the sun-roof.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

summer books


I’m afraid that I frequently use this blog to record stuff – in this case, books I’ve been reading. Yes, pretty pathetic I know! Anyway, these are my latest titles:
The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Muriel Barbery): A really beautiful book. Initially, I struggled a little with its profound philosophy, but was ultimately taken by its charm. Sad, funny, thoughtful, uplifting and optimistic book.
Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck): A tiny, powerful book… don’t know why it’s taken me so long to read another Steinbeck (Grapes of Wrath some 40 years ago?!). Bought it in St Davids when rain threatened outdoor activities!
Everyman Poetry (RS Thomas): I’d hardly read any poetry and felt it was high time I did. I found Thomas frequently bleak, brooding and, for me, at times impenetrable – often bitter, but also sometimes with chinks of compassion and hope. Although I often felt out of my depth, I did enjoy his way with language (especially when read aloud). I’ll persevere!
The Olivetti Chronicles (John Peel): I picked this up at “Fopp” for £3 (I think?). It consists of articles he’d written for Radio Times, Guardian, The Independent, Sounds etc etc and, although I did read it from cover to cover, it’s one of those great books for “dipping into”. I like his writing self-effacing style.
A Parrot in the Pepper Tree (Chris Stewart): I loved “Driving Over Lemons” and found this to be equally enjoyable… entertaining, well written and it made me smile (frequently)…. on to the last one in the trilogy in due course... and then the boat one and....

Saturday, September 04, 2010

me and mark kermode


Very much enjoyed seeing/listening to the Dodge Brothers in the Performance Café at Greenbelt. Mark Kermode, film critic and journalist, is their double bass (and harmonica) player. As we watching, I was struck by the vague physical similarities between Kermode and my late father, Ron…. but then realised that, by default (many people felt that I looked a little like my dad), there was probably some resemblance between Kermode and me!
Big head, big nose, big ears, greying hair, similar build, talks a lot….
Uncanny eh?
PS: of course, there are a few differences too – he’s clever (PhD in English), he’s financially stable, he’s much younger (by 14 years!), he doesn’t have a vertical crease down his forehead and he’s musical, but hey!
PPS: I might start using a comb and "slicking" my hair back in future perhaps?
Photo: Dodge Brothers, Kermode and me.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

bill fosdike


Our lovely friend, Bill Fosdike, sadly died just over a week ago at the age of nearly 87. Moira+I got to know him and his family shortly after we’d got married at the end of 1972 and went to live in Summertown, Oxford. He was the Rector of St Michael’s and All Angels Church in Summertown. We became very close family friends (his wife Ruth is our Ruth’s godmother) and have fond memories of shared holidays in Cornwall, garden picnics, epiphany suppers, mowing church lawns, producing the weekly “teamsheet” shared service leaflets, church wardenship, the formation of ecumenical parish, voting in favour of women priests… not to mention lots of building committee stuff (amongst a whole host of other things).
He was a lovely, articulate, wise, inspiring and gentle man and became very much like a second father-figure to me. He was a great listener and one of the ironies about his own death is that there must be dozens, if not hundreds, of families to whom he became a massive support when they experienced the death of a family member. Another irony is that one of Bill’s first parishes was St Francis’s Church in Bedminster, Bristol (about a 10 minute walk from our house). What I didn’t know until very recently was that he had been a Major in the Indian Army (his Regimental Centre was near the Himalayas). He celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination in 2005.
Moira+I attended his funeral earlier today at St Mary’s Church, Kidlington and, as one might have imagined, the church was absolutely packed with family, friends and colleagues wanting to pay their respects to a very special man.
Photo: Bill christened each of our daughters (from left to right: Ruth, Hannah and Alice).

greenbelt 2010


Moira+I had a lovely time at Greenbelt and met up with lots+lots of lovely friends: Cara, Gail, Ian, Sue, Si, Ed, Joe, Andrea, Steve, Sara, Bruce, Liz, Mike, Hannah, Jess, Emily, Ange, Wilf, Orla, Ellen, Mark, Victor, Joy, Jen, Brett, Jen, Adam, Anna, Iain, Anna, Rob, Anna, Dylan, Heather, Laura, Abigail, Tim, Sharon, Paul, Emma, John, Pippa, Matt, Gayle, Steve, Alan, Marc, Beth, Nick, Becky, Sarah, Rachael, Mark, Debs, Chris, Rich, Abi, Mary, Jo… not to mention the other 25,000 we didn’t know or get to meet.
PS: this is pathetic, I know, but Moira+I were so amazed at the number of friends we kept bumping into that we started making a list (I think there are nearly sixty here)… if I've missed you off, put it down to old age (apologies!).
Photo: typical morning at the wonderful Tiny Tea Tent with the equally wonderful Ian, Gail, Sue, Si and Moira.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

kitchen


I had my first bath for three weeks yesterday. That’s not quite as bad as it sounds, but I appreciate it will shock some people (and probably won’t surprise others). Thanks to the wonderful Mr Magnet, our new kitchen resulted in us having no hot water – after they’d replaced a radiator; they “fixed it” twice, albeit very briefly, before discovering that the hot water cylinder needed a new valve (or something). With Moira+I being away at various stages through this process, it meant that the matter has only just been resolved. Actually, Mr Magnet was pretty impressive overall, but there’s nothing quite like a bath (you’ll appreciate that I’m a bath man who has had to become a shower person over recent weeks)(or, even worse, a strip-wash person at times!). Anyway, even though I appreciate it only shows part of the kitchen, I thought I’d post this photograph for posterity – and in recognition of the fact that I’d cleared the worktops of cooking mess!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

aberaeron


A stunningly attractive harbour town. Its brightly painted Regency-style buildings give a feeling that the town must be sponsored by Dulux Paint. I think I visited the town “in passing” some 40 years ago, but certainly didn’t remember it as being the jewel it undoubtedly is today. We treated ourselves and stayed overnight at 3 Pen Cei, Quay Parade – overlooking the harbour. I’d found the guest house via the internet (check out the website – “Visit Wales Gold Award 2010”/5 star rating etc) and it proved to be a really, really beautiful place. Highly recommended! We were amused to discover from the town’s guidebook that Quay Parade has recently been chosen by a GoogleEarth Poll as “the fifth most picturesque street in Britain”!
Photo: Aberaeron images.

st davids


Moira+I have just arrived back from three days on the Welsh west coast. The weather predications weren’t at all encouraging but, apart from one afternoon and evening of dire, wet weather in St Davids, we felt very blessed. We stayed at a guest house (Y-Gorlan) in Nunn Street and our bedroom apparently had “panoramic views to the back of Whitesands Bay… a perfect place for relaxation and watching sunsets and changing skies, for which Pembrokeshire is famous”. With all the rain, I’m afraid we could only see a little beyond the end of the garden! We were very struck by the cathedral – quite stark and sombre by comparison with our recent experiences of Salisbury and Exeter, but with a real sense of spiritual purpose and simple elegance. I particularly liked the beautiful tower lantern above the choir.
Yesterday morning, despite weather forecasts to the contrary, the rain held off and we made our way to Whitesands Bay (but we resisted the temptation to join the surfers) and then walked towards St David’s Head along the coastal path. Somewhat pathetically (I'm pretty scared of heights!), we didn’t make it the entire way and had to turn back because I suddenly became “spooked” by the narrowness of the path, what I perceived to be sheer drops to the wild waters below and the strong wind (even though the wind direction was from the sea!). I felt very inadequate.
PS: As we departed yesterday, we learnt from our landlord that the Italian restaurant we’d frequented the previous night had been recently prosecuted for inadequate hygiene standards! We seem to have survived the experience and, actually, the food was excellent.
Photo: St David’s Cathedral (plus a couple of images from the ruined Bishop’s Palace).

Monday, August 16, 2010

devon heaven


Moira+I have just spent four brilliant days in Devon with our truly lovely friends Gail+Ian. We don’t get to see them all that often these days, but it’s always great to meet up and they are just the most wonderful hosts – laid-back, entertaining and generous (what more could one want?). Our time together started in perfect fashion with a barbeque on the beach (South Milton Sands) on sunny Friday evening - where we were joined with yet more lovely old friends Mags+Jez! We talked, we walked, we laughed, we ate, we drank, we read, we chilled… if only you could bottle these experiences (actually, I think you can!). Moira+I travelled down last Friday via Exeter (we were very impressed by what little we saw of the city) and returned home today via Knightshayes Court, near Tiverton (National Trust and, again, rather lovely – especially the kitchen walled garden)… in between we took in Kingsbridge, Dartmouth (and discovered beautiful new walks there, thanks to G+I), the Sloop Inn at Bantham and the estuary/tidal road back at Averton Gifford (river Avon) – which I find quite magical.
We’re very very lucky people.
Photo: Ian, Mags, Jez, Moira+Gail on the beach (as the sun goes down) after our barbeque.

Monday, August 09, 2010

milk snatcher (not)


So, the Prime Minister intervened yesterday (overruling his Health Minister in the process) and decided to retain the current Nursery Milk Scheme, whereby children under five receive a third of a pint of milk each day for free. It put me in mind of my first(?) political march/demonstration in 1971 (blimey, that’s 39 years ago!) when Mrs Thatcher, the Education Minister at the time, was ending free school milk for over-sevens. The cry was “Thatcher, Thatcher, milk snatcher”!
Those were the days!
Photo: slightly bizarre image off the internet (but I thought it was mildly appropriate)… apparently it relates to “office fridge wars”(?!): it seems that person 1 stuck the original "I AM FOR DRINKS NOT FOR YOUR CEREALS" notice on all the milk; person 2 then added the picture of a certain Prime Minister (ok, well it’s quite an old photograph!).

Friday, August 06, 2010

hockney at the RWA


I love most of Hockney’s work but, I have to say, I went along to the RWA’s exhibition David Hockney “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” with a little apprehension. In the event, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It seems that he’d always loved Gimm’s Fairy Tales and had read all 220 of them. In 1960, in his second year at the Royal College of Art, he apparently ran out of painting materials – but heard that everything was provided free for students in the printmaking department, so he started working there and quickly learnt the basic techniques. The 39 etchings in this exhibition were produced in 1969. I particularly liked the images from the “Fundevogel” story.
Image (rather poor quality, I’m afraid): “A wooden Landscape” from ‘Fundevogel’.
PS: Following on from recent comments about “old age” discounts, I only had to pay half price (£2.50) to the see the exhibition – which is also combined with an exhibition entitled “Near+Far” which features work from over 60 RWA academicians.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

bus passes+discounts


With Mr Magnet in full flow in the kitchen this week (we're replacing the kitchen units), Moira+I decided it was probably best to spend a fair amount of time out of the house… away from it all. In the event, we’ve had three very good days. Tuesday we drove to Salisbury and spent time in the cathedral and in the National Trust’s Mompesson House (situated in the cathedral close). We contemplated driving into the city, but ended up parking+riding and were very glad we did – not only did our bus passes mean free travel, but also free parking (AND the bus people were very nice to us too!); we also had a complimentary cream tea courtesy of the National Trust! Yesterday, we went to Clevedon – which is only a 20 minute drive from home (and got “old age” discount to get on to the pier) before driving back to the NT’s Tyntesfield. Today, we visited the American Museum at Claverton Manor, near Bath – travelling on the train to Bath (with a cost reduction for both of us, due to Moira’s “hard of hearing” concession and then, obviously, free bus travel to Claverton Manor – where we obtained another “old age” discount to see the exhibits).
Old age definitely has SOME advantages!
Photo: A picture of Moira and me together (this is a fairly rare event!) – actually, it’s only our shadows in the sea from Clevedon pier.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

bristol harbour festival


This weekend was yet another reminder why we love living in Bristol. It was the annual Harbour Festival – which is an amazing mixture of music, dance, drama, children’s stuff, fireworks and, of course, boats (plus wonderful food and drink stalls etc). The weather was perfect; the atmosphere was very relaxed and jolly… and it was all completely FREE (well, apart from the food and drink)! It seems that the event attracted some 250,000 visitors… and certainly helped show off the city wonderfully well.
Congratulations to the City Council!
Photo: images from the weekend.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

golfing with jake+miles


It was Jake’s birthday and he was determined to play golf at Saunton yesterday (he played there last year) and, this time, invited Miles+me to join him. It’s an amazing links course on the west Devon coast – I think it’s probably the most difficult course I’ve ever played (and I seem to have played quite a few over the years!) - we played the East Course, which is rated number 60 in the world! The combination of playing a course you didn’t know, the need to play lots of semi-blind shots and the comparatively narrow fairways (set amongst the dunes+hillocks+thick, thick rough) meant that anything off-line was very heavily penalised. We all seemed to lose an awful lot of balls(!) but, fortunately, also played some pretty shots too.
Farrington Gurney or Studley Wood are going to seem comparatively straightforward after this!
Photo: Miles+Jake on the first tee – with just a hint of what we were letting ourselves in for in the background (if you can make it out)!

hannah's banner


Hannah was recently commissioned to produce a massive piece of artwork (just 73m long x 2.5m high!). It was erected just in time for the Bristol Harbour Festival this weekend and runs along the edge of millennium square to the waterfront next to Bordeaux Quay. I went down to see it first thing this morning and it looks really brilliant. Make sure to see it the next time you’re around Bristol harbourside.
Very clever lady (and clever At-Bristol, Bristol City Council and Destination Bristol)!
PS: There was a good piece in today’s “Evening Post” (including picture) – except that it was described as being only 73ft long (they obviously haven’t got the hang of this metric stuff yet)!
Photo: I've resisted the temptation to try to photograph the entire artwork!

Friday, July 30, 2010

leaving


Went to see my second film at The Watershed in two days yesterday evening – this time Catherine Corsini’s “Leaving”, starring the amazing Kristin Scott Thomas (“I’ve Loved You So Long” was one of my favourite films of 2008). Moira hated this one and her first words after the film had ended were “so, two bad films in two days?” (or words to that effect). Actually, I didn’t agree and, although it was difficult to fully comprehend what sparked the relationship between Suzanne (Kristin Scott Thomas) and the family’s Spanish builder, Ivan (Sergi Lopez), I found it quite riveting… the prosperous and well-connected husband Samuel (Yvan Attal) resenting his wife’s attempts at trying to set up a separate career as a physiotherapist… Suzanne’s shock at the sudden realisation of her feelings for Ivan… how much she is throwing away, and how little it matters.
Scott Thomas is simply brilliant, but it was never going to work!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

the concert


I went along to see this film last night at The Watershed with very high hopes. I’m afraid I was bitterly disappointed. The story is about a celebrated conductor of the Bolshoi Orchestra who was fired at the height of his fame for refusing to sack his Jewish musicians. Twenty-five years later, he still works at the Bolshoi, but as a cleaner… he ends up (I’ll spare you the details) playing at the prestigious Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, together with a French violin virtuoso (Mélanie Laurent) to play alongside his old musicians posing as the real Bolshoi orchestra.
The publicity blurb described it as “witty, uplifting and full of humanity”. I spent over two-thirds of the time squirming in my seat by the painful, knock-about, farcical nature of the film. The evening was somewhat predictably saved when the ragtag musicians exquisitely performed Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D Major…. but I’m afraid it was all far too sugary for my liking.
Actually, the evening did reinforce a desire to go to some live classical concerts over the coming months – I’d been hugely impressed watching/listening to the BBC Symphony Orchestra perform Beethoven’s First and Fourth Piano Concertos on television last weekend(?), with soloist Paul Lewis (who was quite brilliant).
PS: I’ve also been listening Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major and Bach’s Cello Suite no.1 in G Major countless times over the past week – both stunningly beautiful.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

more books


I find that I read books in spurts… sometimes, I can go for two or three weeks without reading anything (apart from newspapers). This is my latest batch from the past five or six weeks:
Looking in the Distance (Richard Holloway): The book’s sub-title is “The Human Search for Meaning”. Holloway was a former bishop of Edinburgh and his book takes the form of a series of reflections on what might be called Godless Spirituality. His approach is just “sitting in a chair” describing some of the conflicting things he has observed in his life. It’s a deeply personal book in which he shares his disillusioned view of religion. An absolutely fascinating and thought-provoking book.
The Cleft (Doris Lessing): I found this a rather strange, but compelling, novel about our earliest ancestors – a slow-moving, semi-aquatic race of females (apparently inspired by a scientific article)… with men eventually arriving on the scene as somewhat unstable and erratic beings by comparison. Nothing new there then!
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer+Annie Barrows): A really lovely book, beautifully written - in the form of a series of letters about the German occupation of the island during WW2… endearing, charming and funny. My one reservation (other than it probably appealing more to women than blokes?) would perhaps be that the closer I got to the end of the book, the more it felt like a Jane Austen novel.
My Roots (Monty Don): He’s a bit of a hero of mine. The book is made up of articles he wrote for The Guardian over the past ten years or so and is largely based on his own garden in Herefordshire. Although I’m not a real gardener, I did find his musings encouragingly down to earth (literally!) and reflected his healthy attitude to life, society and the world at large.
Amsterdam (Ian McEwan): I enjoy McEwan’s books. This one is essentially about deception and begins with the funeral of a vibrant forty-something woman (well, she was vibrant when she was alive!). The main characters (a newspaper editor, a composer and a Foreign Secretary) were all her lovers at one time or another. As ever with McEwan, the plot is tantalising - albeit somewhat contrived towards the end of the book to my mind. Very readable.

five summer holiday tunes


It’s strange how some pieces of music immediately make you think of summer holidays (yes, it’s the school hols!). I realise that, if I thought about this long enough, I’d very easily come up with a list of at least a couple of dozen, but here are five that “instantly” spring to mind – new and old (dates relate to the relevant summers):
1. Summer in the City (The Lovin’ Spoonful) 1966
2. Higher and Higher (Jackie Wilson) 1971
3. Love Letter (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) 2003
4. Holiday (Joan as Police Woman) 2008
5. Gulf Shores (Bonnie Prince Billy) 2010
(Not sure what happened to the 80s and 90s!).
You’ll no doubt have your own thoughts…

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

old age


Watched a fascinating “Panorama” programme on television last night about old age (presented by 77 year old Joan Bakewell). In future, Social Care costs are clearly going to escalate – at present, there are four workers for every retired person; by 2060, this proportion will have reduced to 2:1; “one in four babies born today will live to be 100”. All rather frightening stuff.
The programme was largely upbeat and looked at some of the innovative ways Britain's baby boomers are looking to future-proof their old age (although I was somewhat irritated by the inference that the bulk of the baby-booming generation have retired/are retiring on final salary-linked pensions), but also warned that with local authorities facing 25 per cent cuts across the board, there was real danger of neglect. Thus far, I’ve been fortunate enough not to have to rely on Government financial assistance throughout my life (apart perhaps from child allowance and a bus pass!) but I also acknowledge that, as a self-employed person for the vast majority of my working life, I haven’t been able to make the levels of pension provision that would ensure financial security in my old age. I really don’t want our children to have to pay for me in my dotage (it’s going to be tough enough for them as things stand!). I wonder if, in say a hundred years’ time, people will be being asked to sign contracts agreeing to have their lives terminated at say 80 years of age in exchange for relative financial security up to that point? For my own part (and I realise I’ll be heavily criticised for this), and provided that I knew Moira was adequately provided for, I’d be prepared to accept another 13 years of vigorous, healthy living and to die at the age of say 75.
Photo: old men enjoying their daily exchanges in Cortona’s town square, Italy 2005.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

stinkfoot


Thanks to good friend Mark’s suggestion, Moira+I went to the Thekla, Bristol Harbourside on Thursday evening to see/experience a showcase of songs from “Stinkfoot the Musical” (a “comic opera”) conceived and written by former Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band man Vivian Stanshall (who died in 1995). Although it was open to the public (hence our presence!), the main purpose of the showcase was in an effort to attract backers for the revival of the full musical. It was actually first performed on the Thekla (then called “The Old Profanity Showboat”) in 1985; it’s only other, very brief, staging was in 1988 at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London. Somewhat amazingly, it also included some of the original cast members (Nikki Lamborn, Jon Beedell and Pete Coggins). Tony Slattery was the entertaining host for the evening and (impressively) performed one of the songs. The music is extraordinary (if sometimes a little dated to my mind) and the band and singers are quite brilliant – the powerful voices of Lamborn and Coggins are absolutely amazing!
Will it attract financial backing? I have my doubts.
Was it an enjoyable evening? Hugely.