Wednesday, January 27, 2010

holocaust day

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) – commemorating the day in 1945 on which the Soviet Army liberated the largest Nazi concentration camp – Auschwitz-Birkenau.
In 2005, to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation, I remember watching a brilliant, powerful musical memorial on BBC television featuring an orchestra and singers performing in the camp itself. The HMD Trust urges people to take an opportunity to use some time today to pause and reflect on what can happen when racism, prejudice and exclusionary behaviour are left unchecked. Watching this clip would certainly aid any such reflection (from the BBC programme, featuring Henryk Gorecki’s wonderful Symphony no.3 “Sorrowful Souls”).

Monday, January 25, 2010

still walking

Moira and I went to see Hirokazu Kore-eda’s film “Still Walking” at the Watershed yesterday afternoon. The Watershed’s blurb describes it as “a quiet pleasure” and I think that’s pretty accurate. It’s a lovely gentle, endearing film set over the course of a 24 hour period as a family acknowledges the 15th anniversary of the death of its adored eldest son.
Footnote: the programme notes included an interview with the director and, in it, he conceded that “it might be that I keep making movies directly after someone dies” and he went on to talk about the death of his father and mother (particularly about the “superficial” relationship he’d had with his father – “we never really had deep conversations”). Strangely, this triggered a series of memories from a really difficult time in our family’s life from 1992. Moira’s mother died in the February of that year and my father died in July; our friends Ann and Mike both died within 6 months of each other, by June (and we agreed for their 14 year-old daughter Jo to come and live with us as an extra member of our family – which she did, but only for a matter of a few months, before she went to live with her older brothers). It was difficult time for all of us…. although there was a bright spot: the birth of my brother’s twin daughters Megan+Eleanor in July (just nine days after Dad’s death).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

sunday morning

Had coffee at Costa by the harbourside again this morning. Scribbled some notes, read a chapter of John Bell’s book* before walking on to spend some time in Fopp (I just love Fopp!).
Three brief reflections/incidents:
1. As I walked past the harbourside Pizza Express, I noticed a load of kids inside – each wearing chef’s hats (the place was completely empty apart from them and a few members of staff). They were having a brilliant time, lots of laughter and hands-on experimenting led by one of the staff (they were trying out various pizza fillings I think). I’m usually very critical of many commercial organisations, but this was REALLY impressive. I’m sure the parents had to pay to enable their kids to attend, but they were having SUCH a good time. It made me smile. I even wanted to JOIN them!
2. As I came out of Fopp, I walked past the “Mayor’s Chapel” (it’s just beautiful – if you haven’t seen inside, you simply MUST) just as an elderly (rather fashion-conscious albeit in a slightly embarrassing way) lady was departing. She was wearing a long (ie. down to the ankles) black coat together with a white “furry” hat - but it actually looked as if she’d just touched something which had given her “hat” an electric charge and it all seemed to be “standing on end”. As I approached her, she clearly saw that her husband/partner was waiting in a car just a few yards away. I heard her say “oh, oh, oh”(!) and then she started “running” in the direction of the aforementioned vehicle. It was absolutely pathetic… she “ran” in rapid, six inch “strides” (honestly!), and continuing to utter “oh, oh, oh”! I overtook her with ease. I can only imagine what her husband/partner was thinking – or perhaps he was used to it!
3. I was playing my i-Pod as I walked home. The concluding tune on one of my playlists was “The Boys are Back in Town” by Belle and Sebastian (recorded live in Belfast). I just love the way the instrumental introduction builds to fever pitch…. you NEED to hear it on this link (BUT played at full volume!). The original was, of course, by Thin Lizzy in 1976 – click here for a live 1983 concert link.
Photo: Pizza Express by the Harbourside.
Note: * “10 Things They Never Told Me About Jesus”.

Monday, January 18, 2010

bob’s beautiful bridge blues*

If you live in Bristol, you will definitely have heard the wonderful tenor sax music played by a busker on Pero’s Bridge (in my head, his name’s “Bob” for some reason!). I’m not sure how often he’s there, but I certainly come across him most Saturdays and Sundays if I’m around the harbourside. He’s an excellent musician, with an apparently inexhaustible jazz repertoire in his head, and the glorious sound of his saxophone pervades the surrounding area. It’s just lovely and it really lifts the spirits. I frequently drop money into his instrument case but, one day, I really must stop and talk to him (and thank him)… and find out if his name IS Bob!
Photo: Bob on bridge.
note: * he doesn’t play blues, but jazz didn’t scan for the heading!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

still awaiting first female uk bishop

I know absolutely nothing about the Revd Canon Dr Alison Peden, but I had hoped that she might have become the first female bishop of a major UK church yesterday. Sadly, it wasn’t to be. The Very Revd Dr Gregor Duncan, aged 59, (pictured) was elected the new bishop of Glasgow and Galloway.
As it happens, Gregor was a trainee priest(?) when I was a churchwarden of St Michael and All Angels, Summertown, Oxford (in about 1978?). Ironically, at the time, I seem to remember him being him being staunchly opposed to women priests (I’m happy to say that the parochial church council voted strongly in favour nevertheless)!
PS: strangely, Duncan is the third curate/trainee priest during our relatively brief “church life” in Oxford (say 1972-82) to have subsequently been elected bishop. The other two were: Rt Revd Lord Colin Bennetts, Bishop of Coventry (retired 2007) and Rt Revd Sir David Conner KCVO, Dean of Windsor (former Bishop to HM Forces).
Some people clearly have influence… Tanya better prepare herself!

Friday, January 15, 2010


Thanks to Andy's recommendation, I watched “By the People: The Election of Barack Obama” on BBC iPlayer a couple of nights ago. Just brilliant, captivating television. It’s a rough-and-ready documentary, right from the start of the his campaign (from 2007, and well before he decided to run for President) by film-makers Amy Rice and Alicia Sams. I blogged about Obama a number of times during the election campaign – here, here and here for example). With our own forthcoming General Election, it just made me YEARN for someone as charismatic and, frankly, believable as Obama as one of our own Party leaders.
I surprised myself by feeling really quite emotional during the programme. It reminded me that politics and elections CAN be exciting, stimulating and feel life-changing. I scribbled down the following quote from one of Obama’s campaign people in reference to the enthusiastic involvement of so many young people: “The kids, they think they’re changing the world – and I think they ARE!”. Actually, the star of the programme was a 9 year-old boy (but you’d have to watch the programme to know what I’m on about!).
Yes, we can!
The nearest I’ve ever got to feeling similarly inspired was perhaps election night in 1997 and Blair’s new Labour government. It’s a little ridiculous that our own general election has become almost presidential in style and I have to say that, as things stand, the nearest to an Obama-figure in my humble opinion (but an awful long way behind!) is perhaps Nick Clegg. I’m afraid that, as things stand, both Cameron and Brown leave me cold.
PS: I also watched the first of Simon Sharma’s series entitled “Obama’s America” the same evening (well, actually, I fell asleep after ten minutes and watched it yesterday morning over breakfast!). It’s absolutely fascinating and I love Sharma’s relaxed, low-key presentation style.

Monday, January 11, 2010

the road

Went along to see “The Road” at the Watershed with Gareth+Alan yesterday.
A powerful, unrelenting film telling the story of humanity being pushed to extremes following some unspecified catastrophe. Wonderfully acted, brilliantly filmed and complemented by a beautiful, delicate soundtrack (by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis). Good friend Rob “wholeheartedly” recommended the film and I totally agree with him. I haven’t read the book (both Rob+Alan had), but I understand that the film is pretty true to it…. and I certainly will in due course. However good the book is, what is absolutely clear to me is that the film is brilliant in its own right.
A stunning film.
PS: I came away from the film feeling emotionally, and almost physically, drained and then (bearing in mind that the film has to deal with hunger and threats from cannibalistic maraunders), somewhat bizarrely, sat down to a fantastic roast lamb supper… followed by 90 minutes of the excellent, but equally draining, “Wallander”!
PHEW!… and they’re expecting me to go work today too (after three snowdays)!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

bird blog

It was Felix who first noticed that there seemed to be a lot of rather unfamiliar birds congregating in our neighbour’s tree. He duly grabbed our “Spotting Birds” book and decided they were Fieldfare. As it happens, our friend Mike Kendall (who only lives 200m away as the crow/fieldfare flies) made a similar observation on facebook a little later… but also added that he’d just seen a mixed flock of redwings and fieldfares. I’m absolutely useless on birds, but took these pics of the lot near us (up to, say, twenty of them gathering together on occasions?)… I THINK they’re Fieldfare, but would be grateful if someone could clarify please?
PS: the RSPB website says that Fieldfare “may come into gardens in severe winters when snow covers the countryside” but also say that Redwings “often joins with flocks of fieldfares”!
PPS: it does seem slightly unreal for me to be talking about birds... I saw a kingfisher for the first time in my life last week! I REALLY hope this doesn’t mean I’ll suddenly become a fan of Bill Oddie (aaargh!).

last big brother (at last)

“Why has it taken so long for “Big Brother” to be terminated?
So asked John Bell (of the Iona Community) on Radio4’s “Thought for the Day” back in August last year. Apparently, the final series has now duly arrived. I say “apparently” because I think I’ve only ever watched half a programme. Somewhat frighteningly, “Big Brother” is a programme that the Head of Channel Four has called “the most influential show of the modern era”. I’ve just read Charlie Brooker’s entertaining “screen burn” in yesterday’s Guardian “Guide” on the final Celebrity Big Brother. In it, he lists the participating “celebrities” and, frankly (and I realise this says more about me than anything else), I’ve only ever heard of two of them (Vinnie Jones and Stephanie Beacham). Rather crudely, but very effectively, Brooker describes some of the current celebrities thus: “Two of the contestants appear to have been invited to participate on the basis that they’ve been inside a famous person, and one because a famous person has been inside them. That’s not celebrity, that’s proximity”! That's just brilliant!!
John Bell concluded his radio piece in the following way: "Big Brother is said to regularly attract more than 2million viewers. Its proponents will say that it caters for an audience. But I doubt if anyone grows ONE INCH in moral stature in what, at times, can be seen as a televisual diet of dysfunction”.
PS: The only worry is that you just know that whatever replaces it is likely to be just as bad.
PPS: I realise that I’ve groaned on about Big Brother before (sorry!).

Saturday, January 09, 2010

nowhere boy

I turned down the opportunity of going to see this film at the Watershed with Alan+Gareth last weekend but, in recognition of a third snowday away from school, I decided to see what I’d missed yesterday afternoon. As someone who had “grown up” with the Beatles since “Love Me Do” was first released in 1963, I was well aware of much of the background to the film but, having previously seen a couple of trailers, they hadn’t filled me any huge enthusiasm to see the film. I have to say that I wasn’t desperately impressed. Inevitably, the film focussed on the Lennon character (played by Aaron Johnson, but not all that convincingly in my view) whereas the real core of the film should perhaps have concentrated on the relationship between the extraordinary sisters: Julia, John’s mother (played by Anne-Marie Duff) and his Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas).
But, hey, what do I know!

Friday, January 08, 2010

fugitive pieces

Thanks to another snowday, I’ve just finished reading “Fugitive Pieces” by Anne Michaels. I think it’s the most beautifully-written book I’ve ever read. I found myself regularly re-reading lines after being struck by what I felt was their sheer poetic brilliance (this doesn’t sound much like Steve I hear you say!). I just wish I had the capacity to remember some of them off by heart. I could let you have dozens of examples, but here are just two:
Truth grows gradually in us, like a musician who plays a piece over and over again until suddenly he hears it for the first time”, and
The memories we elude catch up to us, overtake us like a shadow. A truth appears suddenly in the middle of a thought, a hair on a lens”.
A truly magical book.
Once I’d got into it, I found it completely captivating. Very many thanks to Gareth for recommending/lending me the book in the first place (she was right!).
PS: when I wasn't shopping for essential supplies or walking through the snow-filled local park or reading, I seemed to spend the remaining time "trying to be Nigel Slater" - cooking comfort food! Making vegetable soup for lunch (perfect with "Mark's Bread" accompaniment) and shepherd's pie for supper. Happy day!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

snowday magic

We had our first snowday of the year yesterday (just two hard days into the new term!). After all the advance warning from the Met Office, we shouldn’t have been at all surprised, but it was with some relief that the news was eventually displayed on the school website first thing yesterday morning. Lots of staff seemed to spend the next two hours sending congratulatory e-mails, facebook messages or texts to each other!
The self-styled Bristol Self-Help Group had already decided on getting together for a “well deserved” New Year drink last night, but these arrangements were hastily revised to ensure that a few of us got together at lunchtime in the Watershed bar instead (attended by Helen, Emily, Becky, Will+Andy plus Ruth+Stu+Iris+Rosa and me!). The original idea was that we’d end up building snowmen but, in the end, only the Broadway/Low contingent participated in this! We went to Queens Square and duly built two snowmen (in addition to one we’d built earlier in the day at home). Queen Square really was quite magical, with perhaps twenty or more rather beautiful (and sometimes substantial) snowmen sprinkled over the entire area. The square was full of smiling people – either making snowmen themselves or just being entertained by those who were. Iris had a fantastic day. She walked from home and into town (and back), taking great delight in making and throwing snowballs all the way. She thoroughly enjoyed the snowmen-making and also being pulled along on grandad’s plastic bag “sledge” in Queens Square.
Despite feeling a little guilty, I’m very pleased to report that we’ve got another snowday today!
Photo: Stu+Ruth(+Rosa!)+Iris with just three of the wonderful Queens Square snowmen (we made the smallest one!).

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

dear diary

Very much enjoyed the first of three tv programmes called “Dear Diary” on Monday evening – about what we get from reading, and writing, diaries. This one was presented by Richard E Grant (who himself is a diarist since childhood). Definitely worth watching. Next week’s will be introduced by Mariella Frostrup. Started me thinking about the differences (and similarities) between keeping a diary and having a blog. Fundamentally, for me at least, I regard a diary as something private and personal (perhaps only discovered by family members after your death); recording one’s thoughts, life events and the like. You can be as brutally honest and critical as you like, exposing all your worries, concerns, shortcomings or whatever. I assume that, for most bloggers (me included), this isn’t the case at all. Although blogging provides an opportunity to air your thoughts/ideas/concerns/delights, you are obviously doing so “in public” and therefore such frankness might not be altogether appropriate! But, having kept a blog for over three years now, I do enjoy occasionally referring back to some event and, of course, the technology also allows for easy access to your blogs under particular headings, such as films or books.
As a result of the tv programme, I’ve been dipping into “The Assassin’s Cloak” again (“an anthology of the world’s greatest diarists” – given to me by lovely friends Mags+Jez in 2004). I’ve just come across the following from Andy Warhol’s diary, which made me laugh: “11 March 1978: I had a lot of dates but decided to stay home and dye my eyebrows”.
Tell me about it!
Photo: Richard E Grant

Friday, January 01, 2010

happy new year!

2009 has been a very good year for us – we feel very blessed.
Happy New Year!
vaguely clockwise starting top left:
bathing huts, southwold; dick+dientje; “play me I’m yours” (ian, moira, gail, debby+ken); dan+mikey; rosa; 60th birthday/snowday celebrations (sadie, tamsie, maria, pat, iris, hannah, becky, pete, helen, andy+dave); family (rosa, ruth, felix, hannah, iris, moira, alice, dan, dave, mikey+me); moira; porthmeor beach, st ives; ithaca (gareth, gerry, merry carol, moira+alan); kettles yard, cambridge; iris; view from upper saltings window, st ives; banksy exhibition; upper saltings rooflight, st ives.