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


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


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.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

sainsbury’s megastore at ashton gate?

Last night the Bristol Planning Committee considered the planning application for the Sainsbury’s proposed megastore at Ashton Gate. It seemed all very depressing – especially as the City Planners had recommended approval. A number of us demonstrated outside the Council Offices on College Green. Lots of people had devoted an awful lot of time putting together detailed submissions arguing the case against the proposals. A number of people from the local community were prepared to speak at the planning committee meeting.
Amazingly, according to lovely friend Gareth (who spoke at the meeting), the application was rejected by 4 votes to 2 (with two abstentions).
It’s very unlikely that we’ve heard the last from Sainsbury’s and they’ll no doubt wheel in their big legal team and appeal against the decision to the Secretary of State… but, for the moment at least, let’s celebrate this stunning victory for the local community against the big guys!
Photo: at yesterday’s demonstration on College Green, these youngsters decided to form a guard of honour for each of the campaigners entering the building to plead the case for the local community (a very nice, spontaneous touch).

Monday, July 19, 2010

london river

Moira+I went to the Watershed again yesterday – this time to see Rachid Bouchareb’s film about the 7/7 London bombings. Although I thought the story plot was a little contrived, it was a very powerful, tender and dignified film - with the leading characters beautifully portrayed. Brenda Blethyn, as a Guernsey smallholder, and Sotigui Kouyaté, as an African migrant worker, come to London suspecting that their missing children have been killed in the bombings. It was a humbling reminder that there are stories behind every individual death in such awful circumstances – and on a day that saw 43 people killed in a Baghdad suicide bombing.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Went to see the lower school production of “Bugsy Malone” last night. It proved to be a wonderful evening. Just lovely to see the enthusiasm, energy, pure enjoyment (and no little skill) from the cast and to see them come alive in front of an audience. Quite an eye-opener for me to see some pupils, who I’d previously regarded as being fairly quiet and quite shy, prove anything but that last night!
I take my hat off to all involved.

Monday, July 12, 2010

white material

Went to see Claire Dennis’s film “White Material” yesterday afternoon at the Watershed with Alan+Gareth. It’s set in an unnamed African country, with unrest and violence spreading and groups of rebel soldiers and bandits roaming the land. Meanwhile, the army is preparing to re-establish order and “take back” the country. All the expatriates have fled. The film is the story of the one family that remains. Actress Isabelle Huppert is quite brilliant in the role of Maria Vial – standing fast and refusing to give up her family’s coffee plantation. I found it a stunning, but somewhat depressing, film – it was powerful, tense, disorientating and, at times, quite terrifying.
I came out of the cinema feeling a sense of utter hopelessness.
PS: It was only afterwards that I learnt that Huppert had originally asked Dennis if she wanted to adapt Doris Lessing’s novel “The Grass is Singing” – Dennis had declined, but had told her “if you want, I have a story” and “White Material was born. Ironically, I’d finished my first ever Doris Lessing book just a few hours earlier – a strange co-incidence.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

tales from the plot

Hannah was recently commissioned to do some exhibition banners for “Tales from the Plot” - a touring exhibition celebrating Bristol’s allotments and history of urban gardening. Moira+I went to see it at Knowle West Health Park yesterday and it’s a charming, heart-warming exhibition (complete with sound recordings and a fully kitted-out garden shed). I think Hannah’s banners look lovely. I suggest you look at for the exhibition at The Harbourside Festival 31 July-1 August (in the “Bristol Village Fayre” area).

Saturday, July 10, 2010


I think I’m very fortunate – I work with lots of absolutely inspirational teachers. Earlier this week, I watched the Panorama programme “Can I Sack Teacher?”. It included an interview with Chris Woodhead who had caused some controversy in the late 1990s, when he was HM’s Chief Inspector of Schools, by claiming there were some 15,000 “incompetent” teachers nationally (representing some 4-5% teachers). In my limited experience of schools (governor of a primary school, working in a secondary school and, of course, in connection with our own children’s education), I suspect this percentage might be about right – although I think the description “unsatisfactory”, rather than “incompetent”, might be a little fairer (and which perhaps echoes similar figures in other professions?). The programme highlighted that the General Teaching Council had the ability to remove incompetent teachers but that, in some 40 years, only 18 had actually been “struck off” – which does seem ridiculously meagre.
In an ideal world, it seems reasonable that poor teachers shouldn’t be allowed to continue teaching. I think I’ve come across perhaps less than a handful of well-experienced teachers who probably can’t teach effectively and also “student” teachers who “aren’t meant” to be teachers (but still allowed to pass their PGCE year). In the former case, this just doesn’t seem right – apparently only 0.07% of teachers are referred to the General Teaching Council (GTC) each year for “incompetence”. In the latter case, I accept that some of them might become reasonable teachers with experience and that, without the experience, they won’t – but the world of architecture, for example, is pretty rigorous in vetting budding architects at the final hurdle and deferring membership for 12 months or so, so why not teachers too?
The Panorama programme also included a reference to good teachers being able to achieve better grades for their pupils (eg. by as much as one GCSE grade). I don’t doubt that this is true, but I do strongly object to judging teachers only on the basis of their pupils’ examination results. I am certainly aware of instances in schools (purely what I’ve been told, you understand!) whereby “poor” teachers have been timetabled to teach “good” pupils because they “wouldn’t be able to deal with pupils from the bottom sets”…. which surely isn’t a fair way to assess teaching abilities?
In the meantime, teachers will no doubt continue to be a hugely under-valued profession in the eyes of many…. which is an absolute travesty.

Friday, July 09, 2010

sports day 2010

Last year, school sports day was held at Bath University. It was a great opportunity for competitors to use first class facilities and it was a successful day. But, fairly typically some would say, I’d had distinct reservations about the event and had outlined these to the powers-that-be in advance. In my view, it simply gave an opportunity for the competitors to perform in front of just their fellow competitors and a comparatively few members of staff – the rest of the school and teachers were left “back at base” in normal lessons!
Well, this year’s sports day reverted back to “home” (some claim that it was because the cost of bussing pupils to Bath was too expensive!) and proved to be a really wonderful day for the whole school community – with extra awards for supporters, banners and the like!
A great day!
Photo: a few of the enthusiastic supporters/competitors.
PS: Quantock House even managed to avoid last place this year… and actually finished third!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

women are taking over the world (official)

I’ve previously commented on the poor attitude of some boys towards education and life-beyond-school. Whilst it’s obviously difficult to generalise, it certainly seems to me (in my own limited, first-hand experience) that girls do generally outstrip boys in educational/aspirational/organisational terms… (and will probably go on and take over the world etc!). I read an interesting article in The Observer on Sunday by Anushka Asthana indicating that “complacency and ‘general hopelessness’ have been blamed for the failure of young British men as research reveals that underperformance in school and university is now creeping into their working lives”. A report published on Sunday by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) thinktank says male graduates are far more likely to be unemployed than their female counterparts (17.2% of male graduates are failing to find jobs compared with 11.2% of women). Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, has warned that an affluent upbringing has left many UK male graduates with a "degree of complacency". He said there was a feeling among his members that British male graduates were being outperformed by women and competition from overseas when applying for jobs: "When I talk to graduate recruiters about how impressive candidates applying for jobs are, I do pick up a sense that female graduates are a little more mature and focused, that they put together good applications". Bahram Bekhradnia, the HEPI's director, spoke of the "general hopelessness of young men". He pointed to forecasts that suggest women will dominate the professions within 15 years. "That has all sorts of implications for things such as family creation, child-rearing and so on. The situation in some countries is even more extreme. An American woman told a conference I attended of the fury of black American women who found it impossible to form relationships with men of the same race with similar educational attainment because black American males weren't going to university”.
Sobering thoughts.

Monday, July 05, 2010

whatever works

Went to see Woody Allen’s latest film yesterday afternoon at the Watershed. The blurb described it as a “sparky, romantic comedy” – which proved to be pretty accurate and ideal Sunday afternoon cinema (somehow, I just couldn’t be bothered to watch the Wimbledon final). The film is based in Manhattan and stars Larry David as Boris – “a grouchy, bitter and neurotic retired nuclear physicist who spends his days moaning about the so-called morons and inchworms he has to share breathing space with” (does this sound familiar?). One of the highlights of the film is Patricia Clarkson’s wonderful portrayal of the mother of Boris’s naïve young wife. Neither the storyline nor the characters are really credible, but it doesn’t really matter. The film ends on New Year’s Eve in a somewhat Shakespearian fashion - with all the characters seemingly finding partners/happiness/fulfilment or whatever – and these are Boris’s closing lines, as he addresses the audience: "I happen to hate New Year’s celebrations. Everybody's desperate to have fun trying to celebrate in some pathetic little way. Celebrate what, a step closer to the grave? That's why I can't say enough times, whatever love you can get and give, whatever happiness you can filch or provide, every temporary measure of grace - whatever works! Don't kid yourself, it is by no means up to your human ingenuity, a bigger part of your existence is luck….”.
I may not share Boris’s complete philosophy on life but I, like the rest of the audience, came out of the cinema smiling!

Sunday, July 04, 2010

boy george: be afraid, be very afraid.

So, Cabinet Ministers have been ordered by the Treasury to plan for unprecedented 40% cost-cutting across the public sector. It makes for very depressing news – even though many pundits see the announcement as being tactical – to prepare the public for the worst in the hope that, when final details are announced in the Autumn, they will come as less of a shock – maybe only 25-30%? It all seems to make George Osborne’s statement at last year’s Tory Conference that “we’re all in this together” ring somewhat hollow (it’s almost laughable!). I’m all for ensuring that people pay their rightful taxes and that those cheating the Treasury, by claiming wrongful benefit payments, are brought to justice but, frankly, these measures certainly aren’t going to adversely affect Mr Osborne’s lifestyle one iota (he has an estimated personal fortune in excess of £4 million as the beneficiary of a trust fund in a wallpaper/fabrics company co-founded by his father, Sir Peter Osborne, 17th Baronet). His job won’t be one of the 600,000 public service jobs that are likely to be lost. He won’t be one of the 200,000 people who The National Housing Federation (the body representing England’s 1,200 not-for-profit housing associations) predicts will be in grave risk of homelessness and lead to a concentration of social problems in the most deprived areas of the country. Mr Osborne won’t be one of the 20,000 police officers who face job-cuts. He won’t be affected by the 10% cut in housing benefit (for people claiming jobseeker’s allowance for 12 months or more). He won’t be affected by plans to cap payments to private tenants (to reduce the level at which housing benefit is paid) which is estimated to force “hundreds of thousands of families out of their homes”.
But, just remember everyone: “WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER”!
Photo: George in his Bullingdon Club days at Oxford.