Thursday, June 30, 2011

last leavers' day

Yesterday was a special day for Year 11s at our school. Definitely a day for dressing up and arriving at school in style. Of course, there were usual limos, vintage cars and the odd London bus, but the show-stopper was a massive white tank (complete with UN insignia) – hired by fourteen boys at the cost of £120 each! And to cap it all, the BBC’s “Points West” local news team had got to hear about it and decided to feature it in their programme yesterday evening. I was even invited to present the Awards at the Year 11’s own party (these include such highly-prized awards as: “Most Likely to End Up working at MacDonald’s”, “Most Likely to Be Rich”, “Most Spoilt” and “Best Assets”!).
Definitely one of the highlights of the school year.
Photograph: Me with four of my favourite people – Quantock House and Sports Captains (Demi, Dan, George and Eloise).

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

garden again

As I’ve previously indicated, our garden is tiny (5x5m). I’ve been reflecting on how it has changed since we first moved to Bristol in 2003. Initially, we had felt very exposed to our neighbours and, in 2006, we erected a timber screen at the back of the garden which is now well covered by honeysuckle and bamboo. Two years ago we built another timber screen to replace a dilapidated side fence and this too is now starting to mature – we’ve planted an espalier apple tree (which has started to produce fruit) and a climbing rose. Unfortunately, our original aim to grow food hasn’t been wonderfully successful to date – although we do seem to be very popular with the local slug and snail populations!
Photo: garden in June 2009 (top) and in June 2011 (bottom).

Saturday, June 11, 2011

may-june books

More books (sorry, but it’s a good way for me to remember stuff!):
In The Blood (Andrew Motion): A rather beautiful memoir of Motion’s childhood. I was pleasantly surprised by his simple writing style (I’d half-expected long paragraphs of clever prose) and was immediately drawn into the book by the opening chapter - which tells of an accident to his mother. Motion is two or three years younger than me and I couldn’t help contrasting our respective life styles as I read the book (Prep and Public schooling, horses, hunting, middle class and pretty wealthy – that’s him, not me!) and his detailed recollections compared with my own rather vague memories of childhood.
Wish Her Safe At Home (Stephen Benatar): This is our third Book Group book so I’d best leave my main remarks for the next meeting! It’s definitely not a book that I would normally have chosen to read, but I actually rather enjoyed it. It’s a novel about a woman who inherits a house in Bristol from her great-aunt – she gives up her job, sheds her old life, becomes a woman of leisure, takes up writing and a whole lot more. An amusing, but unsettling, book.
Getting Through (John McGahern): A series of short stories, set in Ireland. Stories of new life; retirement; forgetfulness; death; friendships; dance committees; love; lost youth; priests; whiskey; sex; music and families. Beautiful writing. It made me realise that there was a time when I loved reading short stories – I read so little that a short story felt like an entire book. Now I find that, instead of quietly reflecting on one of the stories, I’m into the next one before I know it.
Love Wins (Rob Bell): I have a somewhat grudging admiration for Rob Bell. When I first came across him (just before reading Velvet Elvis), I had imagined that he was the pastor of a small religious community in the States; it turned out that he’s the leader of a somewhat larger church community and frequently preaches to audiences of 10,000 or more! The fact remains that he’s really a very good communicator and I very much like his writing style. I hope to see Rob Bell at Greenbelt this summer, so will hopefully be able to form a more balanced view of him then. An encouraging, provocative book - which will no doubt cause outrage within the ranks of the evangelical alliance.
Where Three Roads Meet (Salley Vickers): I’m not quite sure what to make of this book – probably something to do with my relative lack of intellect and knowledge of Greek mythology! Vickers’s re-telling of the tale of Oedipus imagines Sigmund Freud, in his final days, listening to the story (and participating in the dialogue) as told by Tiresias, the blind seer who plays a part in the Greek legend. I thought I was going to love this book, but ended up feeling somewhat disappointed.

Friday, June 10, 2011

tom porter

I received a text message from Hannah earlier today querying if one my college lecturers had been a bloke called Tom Porter… if so, she’d just discovered that he and his wife had lived next door to our good friends Tony+Sue (parents of Hannah’s bestest friend, Hannah!).… but that Tom had sadly died in April last year (aged 72). I think it’s highly significant that one of my daughters had remembered the name of one of my college tutors. Indeed, I had talked about Tom only a couple of days ago when lovely friends Chris and Felicity friends had visited us in Bristol. Tom was an absolutely inspirational figure to me. I arrived at Oxford School of Architecture in 1967 and, frankly, while having a pretty good eye for design, I was probably a student who might have been prone to “play safe”. Art was an important part of the architectural course for the first two years (I very much doubt this is the case these days, more’s the pity) and, for me - through Tom, it provided a wonderful springboard for my architectural career (significantly, I won the “most improved student award at the end of my second year”). I recall a poster I designed for the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (thanks to Tom’s encouragement); I remember him insisting that I went to see the film “2001, A Space Odyssey”; how he introduced me to the new Habitat store; and I certainly remember accompanying him to the Bauhaus Exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1968. As well as producing books on graphic techniques (in conjunction with my college friend Sue Goodman), Tom’s main interest was in the use of colour in architecture. I clearly remember one of the students having an epileptic fit during one of Tom’s art sessions; Tom seemed only mildly concerned – his key reaction was all about how amazing it was that the student concerned had become SO involved in his artwork that it had resulted in his fit!
I love this photograph of Tom – it was definitely taken in the late 60s/early 70s – and is exactly as I remember him (always wearing a brightly-colour tie, loud jacket and with his flowing dark locks!).
A truly inspirational man and someone I remember with huge affection and gratitude.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

kielder challenge FINALISTS

Last month, I blogged about our team from Norton Hill+Fosse Way schools (four pupils with disabilities and four without) managing to win the Regional Heats of this brilliant event - by a considerable margin! Well, amazingly, we’ve just heard that the team has actually qualified for the NATIONAL FINAL in the Kielder Forest, Northumberland in September – in other words, they’ve reached the LAST SIX out of more than 200 entries from all over the country! That’s really great news and they thoroughly deserve their success. It’ll be an exciting time for them – flying from Bristol to Newcastle and then staying at the Kielder Forest Adventure Centre. I was lucky enough to accompany a team from our joint schools to the Plate Final in 2006 (just a month before I started blogging – so I can’t get you to click on some old “footage”!) and that was certainly one of the highlights of my time working at the school. Obviously, with retirement imminent, I won’t be with the team this time (in fact, Moira+I will enjoying a French boating holiday with lovely friends Chris+Lal!!). I look forward to hearing all about their adventures from Laura and Jodie.
Photo: teamwork in action at the Regional Heats.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

RSC at stratford

I love live theatre. I love the possibility of witnessing something very special (ok, sometimes it doesn’t work out quite like that, but…); a unique experience - being captivated by a piece of theatre or by particular actors or by wonderful stage design.
Moira+I have just spent two days in Stratford, where we were really blessed to be able to see two shows by the Royal Shakespeare Company (“Cardenio” and “The City Madam”). They both proved to be completely captivating productions – simply wonderful acting; brilliantly devised and performed. We saw both productions on the same day (two three-hour shows). It was also lovely that great friends Bob+Christine were able to join us for the “Cardenio” matinee. What made the day even more special was that it was the first time that Felix (daughter Hannah’s husband) had been part of the RSC. He didn’t disappoint! Indeed, Libby Purves’s “City Madam” review in “The Times” concluded thus: “Felix Hayes wins my 2011 award for Best Use of Yorkshire Accent while wearing purple ribbons and lace-trimmed boots” (you have to see the play to appreciate this fully!)! She respectively described the two productions as being “a treat” and “a hoot” and I wouldn’t disagree. Having watched the actors in two utterly contrasting plays, their adaptability and all-round talent was breathtakingly impressive.
Magical theatre at its very best.
PS: This same group of actors has also just started rehearsing the THIRD play in this season’s run (“Midsummer Night’s Dream”).
PPS: It was the first time that Moira+I had been to see a performance at “The Swan” and we were very impressed (it’s a beautiful space); “Midsummer Night’s Dream” will be in the recently re-modelled main theatre, so we can’t wait to return to see that in July/August.
PPPS: The one depressing note was the lack of young people in the audience for both plays (sadly, the average age seemed to be very much older than us!); hardly ANY teenagers or twenty-somethings – despite the fact that the RSC offer special tickets for 16-25 year olds at £5 each.
Photo: a rather poor photograph of the beautiful “Swan” auditorium (but, hopefully, it gives you a "feel" of the space).