Sunday, January 30, 2011

faith healer

Moira+I went to see Brian Friel’s “Faith Healer” at the Bristol Old Vic last night (strangely, it was the first time we’d seen a performance in the Old Vic’s Studio). Powerful, hugely impressive play about a travelling faith healer. The play is in four acts, is about two hours in length and is performed by just three actors (all quite brilliant: Finbar Lynch, Kathy Kiera Clarke and Richard Bremmer). It provides conflicting accounts of shared experiences and events, but the really powerful aspect of the evening for me was the fact that each of the four acts featured just one actor only – each act was a half hour soliloquy. Beautifully performed – shocking, tender, sad and funny.
Don’t you just love live performance!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

political masters

I watched Andrew Neil’s “Posher+Posher: Why Public School Boys Rule Britain” on BBC iPlayer earlier today. Fascinating stuff – set against the backdrop of having 75% of the coalition cabinet being millionaires and most of the top jobs in all parties being sewn up by public school or Oxbridge graduates. Neil’s programme tried to examine why, after a succession of state school-educated prime ministers (Harold Wilson, Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher and John Major), we have returned to a 1950s political elite. Neil (like me, from a grammar school background) came very close to calling for the reinstatement of a two-tier education system – making a straight correlation between the arrival of comprehensive secondary education and the rebirth of the English political elite. It makes all the stuff about us being “in it together” sound somewhat hollow! I was certainly struck by a comment from a pupil of Westminster School who was already talking about the “social networking benefits” that being part of the school brought (I can’t recall any of the pupils at my school making similar claims!). Neil also spoke to the Tory backbencher and wealthy Somerset landowner Jacob Rees-Mogg, who laughingly declared: "I am a man of the people; Vox populi, vox dei". You just HAVE to laugh!
I’m a firm believer in the comprehensive system (potentially raising the expectations of all school children, rather than consigning all but the “best” 20% of teenagers to the somewhat limited expectations of a secondary modern). I would, however, acknowledge that this rather plays into the hands of those with political ambitions whose families can afford to send them to the best public schools and perhaps therefore be more likely to gain an Oxbridge education (with some notable exceptions).
Are we really going to have to accept that most of our future leading politicians will emerge from the predictable line of a cultivated sense of entitlement, social networking and a financial cushion that enables the ambitious to work for next to nothing as special parliamentary advisers in the hope of getting parachuted into a safe parliamentary seat in due course (without any experience of the “real world”)?
I have to say that, with the return of this so-called political elite and the influential world of media magnates, I find it all a quite depressing state of affairs. Is there another way? Will future leaders come from the world of political journalism or the arts (poets, writers) or the trade unions (I now see why establishments such as Ruskin College, Oxford came into being)?
Suddenly, it all becomes clear… in this world of “popular celebrity culture”(!), the only alternative route for grooming future UK political leaders will be from the worlds of show business and sport! Perhaps Cheryl Cole or Simon Cowell or Sir Alex Ferguson or David Beckham or maybe even Stephen Fry?

Stephen Fry?… now there’s a thought (oh no, perhaps not: public school, Cambridge etc)!

Monday, January 24, 2011

more family christmas 2

Moira’s sister Sheila also joined us for our Christmas weekend from Saturday afternoon onwards. We went for a wander around the harbourside after church yesterday and stumbled upon a whole mass of Santas – which seemed quite appropriate for our own “proper” family Christmas celebrations! It turned out that the original “Santa on the Run” 2km fun run (in aid of Children's Hospice South West) had, like our Christmas, had to be re-arranged because of the weather. It looked like great fun!
Moira, Sheila+I ended up having a very good lunch (yes, yet more food!) at Bordeaux Quay.
Photo: a few happy Santas on their fun run.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


As you might have gathered, Moira+I very much enjoyed being in the bosom of our family over the weekend. Really lovely to get together again. One of the great bonuses of the weekend was watching the grandchildren play so beautifully together. Dan+Jemima really don’t know Iris+Rosa very well at all, but there were absolutely no problems and they all seemed to spend an awful lot of the time in fits of giggles (well, Dan+Iris anyway!). The two older ones decided to put on a “goodbye concert” (well two songs!) – with Iris singing a made-up song about angels (I think) and Dan playing the harmonica. It could all have gone so VERY wrong when Dan started blowing through the wrong side of the harmonica - but he stopped, realised his mistake, described his silly error to the audience, laughed at himself and then proceeded to play the right side as if it was all part of the act!
Photo: Rosa+Ruth+Dan+Iris+Alice+Jemima.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

family christmas 2

Yes, I know this photograph is absolutely AWFUL in terms of quality, but at least it’s a record of a lovely evening. Alice+Dave+Dan+Jemima came down to Bristol yesterday for a couple of days (sadly, but understandably, Mikey was at home with his aunty Helen because he finds changes to his routine very difficult to cope with at present) and so we were able to get together with Ruth+Stu+Hannah+Felix for our belated Christmas supper (the original having to be cancelled due to bad weather). The food was wonderful and we laughed a lot!
Happy happy times!
Photo: Stu, Felix, Dave, Ruth, Alice+Hannah.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

looking forward to retirement 3

I started by outlining my anxieties, so what about the things I’m looking forward to (in no particular order):
Ireland, Scandinavia, Italy and lots of places in the UK - but perhaps also seeing cities such as: Amsterdam and Istanbul? Maybe even a trip to a desert? Certainly returning to Venice, yet again.
Really unsure of anything like this – but a few weeks/months with the Iona Community could be a vague possibility perhaps? Would I be too old? What on earth could I provide in terms of any skills? I know there are bound to be lots of voluntary things I could get involved locally – but, at this stage, I really think I want to bide my time and not jump into the first opportunity that comes along (I seem to have spent these last few years desperately trying to opt out of committees and the like!).
Listening to music (of all sorts) has provided me with much pleasure over the past few years – especially since getting my i-Pod. I’d like to think I would become a more regular concert-goer (and perhaps explore some free concerts too eg. St George’s?). I love live-performance - especially theatre – and it would be good to ensure regular attendance by becoming the equivalent of “Friends of the Playhouse” as we did in Oxford some years ago (which gave 2 for 1 tickets on opening nights). Cinema at the Watershed has provided huge enjoyment over the past three years or so and I feel sure this will continue to be the case.
I really do quite fancy watching County Cricket again – I may even become a member of Gloucestershire CC (if it’s not too expensive)?! I’m sure I’ll continue to play the odd game of golf.
I know I will continue to take pleasure in getting up early and taking full advantage of what I’ve always felt was “the best of the day”. Clearly, this is far easier to do on beautiful, bright sunny mornings rather than those dark, wet ones – but I’m determined to remind myself that I AM able to enjoy this time (rather than having to go into work or whatever). The simple discipline of daily walking or bike-riding will also hopefully keep me fit.
Utilising my bus pass rather more would also seem to be sensible (not just for Bristol locations)!
WALKING (if my hip will stand it!):
I certainly want to undertake some walking “projects” – part of the Dorset Coastal Walk, for example; exploring canalside walks around Bath/Bradford on Avon; actually finishing the Thames Path (we’ve only got a few miles left to go, but last did any of it about 8 years ago!); exploring local walks around Bristol.
I absolutely love being a grandfather. Being with Mikey, Iris, Dan, Rosa+Jemima has given me SO much pleasure and I very much look forward to continuing this involvement with them (and any others that might follow) in the years to come... and also having the opportunity to see much more of Mikey, Dan+Jemima (and Alice+Dave!).
I can’t remember precisely when Moira gave me a camera for my birthday (1997?), but I now regard it as a pivotal moment in my life (that sounds rather pathetic doesn’t it!). Taking photographs has become a really important for me – I have my camera with me most of the time. I think I “see” a good photograph and but, technically, I’m pretty useless (hopeless at taking pictures in poor light etc and can only sigh in admiration when I see Dylan’s stunning “people pictures”, for example). So maybe retirement will give me time to “learn” about taking proper stuff!
When I retired from my architectural practice and moved to Bristol, this was something I was “definitely” going to do more of. In reality, I haven’t done anything like as much as I’d hoped. So this is something else that I’m determined to do more of. I’d like to work on canvas; I’d like to do some printing (but I absolutely hate the prospect of going to “classes”).
I hesitated in actually typing this word! I’m certainly not a natural gardener but it would good to be able to spend some time helping with some digging/soil-turning at R+S’s allotment or H+F’s big garden perhaps – as well as enjoying our own garden.
Essentially, I think I’m a “project person” so I think this is likely to be reflected in a number of my retirement pastimes, for instance: family history? photographic book?
Note: I also realise that there will inevitably be DIY/maintenance tasks (but no doubt, these will be “necessary” rather “pleasurable”!).
I want to find more time for reflection and to explore aspects of my own spiritual life (sounds pretty onerous doesn’t it!); I certainly intend to study/re-study some books (eg. Ian Adams’s excellent “Cave Refectory Road: monastic rhythms for contemporary living”).
Finding more time to visit/catch up with friends.
PS: Obviously, Moira will also be retired and we’ll obviously be undertaking a fair number of the above together (and, no doubt, I’ll be sharing some on her list too!).

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

looking forward to retirement 2

More retirement thoughts.
As more people learn that I’m about to retire, the inevitable question arises: “so, Steve, what are you going to do when you retire?”. Sometimes it’s as if someone is asking me what I was going to do now I’d won several million pounds on the lottery! I always seem to give a pretty lame response like “oh, I suppose I’ll be taking lots of pictures”! Actually, I don’t see that “retirement” should represent a sudden or huge change in life-style or routine at all and I think I’ve been adjusting to retirement ever since I stopped work at Brocklehurst Architects in 2005.
I’m well aware that there are some things that, several years ago, I HAD imagined I/we would be doing during retirement but which no longer seem that crucial. For instance:
I can recall my great mate Pete and me talking about our respective retirements several years ago…. we were going to play golf together several times a week. Obviously, having moved to Bristol in 2003, this isn’t going to happen – as he frequently reminds me! I used to play golf at least once a week but, over the past few years, this is no longer the case. Essentially, this is due to a) not having a group of regular golfing buddies in the Bristol area, b) no longer being a member of a golf club (largely due to a) and c) the expense.
There was a time when I desperately wanted to travel to India, China, Africa, North and South America and, possibly, Australia. I no longer have this “urge” to travel the world and now feel happier/content with focussing on places closer to home (whether re-visiting or experiencing for the first time) – although I would still like to photograph a desert one day! I accept that this is perhaps partly due to a realistic assessment of a lack of funds and environmental concerns, but we’ll see.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

west ham up, villa down?

It was inevitable that Martin O’Neill would be returning to top-flight football; it was just a matter of time. I actually thought he would end up replacing Ferguson at ManU within the next year or so. It now appears that O’Neill will soon be announced as the new West Ham manager (according to the BBC website).
It still hurts that he is longer at the Villa – particularly given how they’ve performed this season without him - and I have a horrible, sneaking feeling that O’Neill will end up helping the Hammers retain their Premiership status… at the expense of a certain Aston Villa. Maybe that’s why he’s taking the job?
I would be enough to make grown men cry (ok, me!).

looking forward to retirement 1

You might recall that I’ve previously threatened to “commit some of my retirement thoughts” to computer. Although I feel sure that many of these thoughts will change over the coming weeks/months/years, it will be interesting (for me!) to see how the anticipation and reality of retirement compare (and, in a way, this is one of the principle reasons for writing this some six months before my retirement). On the face of it, my retirement should be fairly straightforward – because I’ve already “retired” once (from my architectural practice in 2005) before working in a secondary school for six years.
It’s probably easiest to start with my anxieties.
Having been self-employed for the vast majority of my working life, through the financial ups and downs of running an architectural practice, I haven’t got a healthy nest-egg to fall back on. Will we have enough money to last into our old age? We live relatively simple lives but, even so, it’s a big concern. In the past, I’ve often joked that we can only afford to stay alive until we’re 70. In many ways, I still feel that this is the case!
Will I be bored by retirement? Will I just fritter away the days and end up feeling depressed by my inability to enjoy my new-found freedom?
I would love to be able just to sit and read for hours on end (just like Moira) but, apart from relatively short periods on holiday, I’ve found this almost impossible in the past... although I have improved over recent years.
I’m definitely not someone who would find the prospect of staying in bed until mid-morning at all appealing. I imagine that I would continue to be an “early-morning person” - although perhaps not getting up at 5am?
I’m in good health, touch wood. In fact, thus far, I’ve never spent a night in hospital and am well aware that I’ve largely taken good health for granted. I’m also conscious that most of the things I enjoy (walking, cycling, drawing/painting, photography, reading, music etc) depend on a continuance of this state of affairs. Obviously, this also applies to Moira. Ironically, I’ve recently been troubled by a painful hip (my mother and grandmother both had hip-replacements!) and suddenly fear that my days of walking and cycling may be somewhat curtailed! One of our joint fears would be to end up in an “old peoples’ home”.
Having spent nearly six years working in a school environment, I know that I’ll miss the daily exchanges and banter with lots of other people.
Right, that’s enough for starters!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

more education, more Gove

So, Schools in England are now being measured according to how many pupils achieve grades A*-C in five core subjects - Maths, English, two Science qualifications, a Foreign Language and either History or Geography. I’m afraid I’m not a great lover of league tables at the best of times and I certainly have reservations about the Government’s latest education initiative (English Baccalaureate). My fear is that schools will feel the need to focus on the more traditional subjects and I really don’t think that a narrow academic course is appropriate for ALL students. There will no doubt be a tendency for schools to feel that they should be promoting a curriculum to improve a school’s league table standing rather than adopting a system that would benefit all students – including the less academic.
It would appear that, in the Government’s eyes, Physical Education, Art, Music, Technology, Drama, Dance, Philosophy+Belief and the like are very much second division subjects (continuing the league table jargon!).
I thought this caller on a radio phone-in had a number of salient points for consideration by Mr Gove on the new English Baccalaureate – click here, it’s definitely worth a listen.
The caller said: "Children go to school to work out who they are and what they want to study…. My guess is that this just reflects your own personal, narrow experience of education... I'd just ignore your silly English Baccalaureate."

Saturday, January 08, 2011

the king's speech

Moira+I went to see Tom Hooper’s ‘The King’s Speech’ this afternoon. I thought it was superb. Colin Firth in the title role is simply brilliant, but I was also incredibly impressed by Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter amongst a star-studded cast. I certainly found that it was a film that played with one’s emotions – some very funny, laugh-out-loud moments; some scenes that were painfully difficult to watch; and others that had me feeling quite emotional as the king slowly conquers his stammer demons.
You really have to see this film (if Firth doesn’t win an Oscar, the one who does win will have to be amazingly good!).
PS: The film hasn’t made me into becoming a big Royalist (although I did get my Queen’s Scout badge, so perhaps I shouldn’t say this?).
PPS: Despite booking tickets, Moira+I decided to join the queue VERY early in order to secure a decent seat (which we did). However, we also found ourselves standing next to a group of old women (well, they were 10 years older than us anyway!) and their incessant chatter and constant complaining about anybody and everybody had me on the verge of interjecting! Fortunately, I didn’t.

Friday, January 07, 2011

winter books 2010-11

Another batch of books, I’m afraid (just so I can remember!):
The Dangling Man (Saul Bellow): A somewhat strange, but fascinating, book (set in 1942 and published in 1944) about a man awaiting induction into the army and, through a series of delays and mix-ups, finds himself facing a year of idleness. The book is his journal and records his reaction to inactivity and “his uneasy insights into the nature of freedom and choice”. With my impending retirement, it sounds as if my blog might become “Dangling Man 2”!
Fisher’s Face (Jan Morris): A fascinating insight into the Victorian Navy and, in particular, the life of Admiral of the Fleet Lord “Jacky” Fisher (1841-1920) – “one of the greatest naval reformers in history”. Jan Morris had been captivated by a photograph of Fisher for more than forty years and determined to write a book about him. In 1951, she started soliciting the help of relatives, colleagues, shipmates or acquaintances; in 1995, her book was finally published.
All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque): A truly stunning novel about WW1 from the perspective of a group of German schoolboys/young recruits: “war is not about heroism, but about terror, either waiting for death, or trying desperately to avoid it… about losing all human dignity and values…” (from Brian Murdoch’s “Afterword” note at the end of the book). Throughout much of the book, I found myself reflecting on the fact that my grandfather, who was in the Royal Artillery, had spent much of the war bombarding young men such as these (and, obviously, taking his “fair” share in return).
Eating for England (Nigel Slater): This is a “bathroom” book and, as such, I probably haven’t quite read all of it yet (I just dip into bits of it on a daily basis). It contains his thoughts on over 200 food-related topics. I like Slater, but I have to admit that I found myself frequently irritated by his rather precious take on things. On the subject of “the digestive”, for example (one of my favourite biscuits), he says this: “The smell alone, wheaty and sweet with a hint of the hamster’s cage about it, is instantly recognisable as a good place to be”. I actually found myself shouting “NOOO!” at the book!
A Week in December (Sebastian Faulks): I'm a great fan of Faulks. The novel follows the lives of seven main characters over a period of seven days. The story is very skillfully woven together (as you would expect if you’ve ever read any of the author’s books). Given the current financial restrictions we’re all experiencing, I found Faulks’s writing on greed, banking, hedge funds and the like particularly pertinent.
A clever, thought-provoking and very enjoyable book.
PS: “Dangling Man”, “Fisher’s Face” and “All Quiet on the Western Front” brought my total for 2010 to 34 (see, I told you the blog was useful for something!) - for me, this must be some new kind of record!
PPS: I see that I don’t really come close to matching up to Moira’s 2010 reading exploits (and my books are probably much shorter than hers too) - but she IS a retired lady these days!

famous ashes victory

I know that things will change and, in due course, England will be rubbish at cricket again but, in the meantime, I'm going to enjoy the moment. I stayed awake (just) long enough to listen to the end of the game on the radio/computer. With England's victory in the final test duly securing the series win, the Barmy Army was in full song. I love this one:
More Sense of Humour
Sung to the tune of 'Waltzing Matilda' (lyrics from Leon Carney):

Once a jolly Aussie sat down at a cricket match
Sat in the shade of the BARMY ARMY
And he sat and he sighed and then the poor Aussie cried
Why have the Poms got more humour than me?


Cos I'm thick as a brick
I'm a seventh generation skip
That's why the poms got more humour than me

And so the Aussie sits there
And he starts to think a bit
Thought he'd make a song
That his mates could enjoy
So he thought up a song
And it didn't take him very long

Don't you just love it!
Photo: the England team doing the 'sprinkler dance'.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

new year's day walk

The above photograph was obviously NOT taken from our New Year's day walk (the overflowing candle wax was from a couple of night's ago, but was the closest I'd got as far as New Year images were concerned)! Very unusually for me, I hadn't taken my camera - it was SUCH a grey and overcast day that I thought it would be a waste of time. Moira suggested that we went for a walk at Goblin Combe, Cleeve near Congresbury, North Somerset (I'd never even heard of the place, I'm afraid) - it's a gorge cut into limestone by melting snow and ice from the last ice age. Cleeve Wood also contains a Scheduled Ancient Monument - that is unique, in that it is apparently the only positively identified Iron Age site in Britain that has never been excavated.
Despite the greyness (but it wasn't raining!), it proved to be a really lovely (fairly hilly) walk... and one that we'll no doubt revisit again.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

happy new year!

Mora+I have been very blessed again this year.
Just a few of the memories:
Photo (left to right, starting with the top row and working down):
Moira’s 60th birthday (Moira, Alice, Ruth+Hannah); Alice+Jemima (born in June); Rosa+sunshine halo; St David’s cathedral; quilt exhibition at Lampeter; Dan+hat; Tiny Tea Tent at Greenbelt (Ian, Gail, Sue, Si+Moira); Iris+icecream; Mikey+cup; a tiny bit of Hannah’s 73m long harbourside banner; and number 3 Pen Cei at Aberaeron.