Tuesday, August 30, 2011

greenbelt 2011

Moira+I spent the long Bank Holiday weekend having a very good time again at Greenbelt…. once again, enjoying meeting up with lots and lots of very good friends. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that we again gave camping a miss (I blame Moira) and stayed at the local Premier Inn! We got to see/hear lots of brilliant stuff but, inevitably, probably also missed lots of other magical stuff – there’s a VERY full programme and there are always a number of things you’d like to go to that just happen to coincide with other “must see” things. Difficult to sum everything up, but:
The Unthanks were absolutely brilliant; also really enjoyed “Show of Hands” (of course!), Kate Rusby, Iain Archer and Martyn Joseph.
Some surprise bonuses (music): Luke Jackson, Edwina Hayes and Lobelia in the Performance Cafe.
Loved Ian Adams’s stuff (especially the poetry) – despite the tiny “venue”!
Loved meeting up with all our friends, but especially Sue, Si, Ed and Jonah (we need to see them more often!).
Was impressed by Nadia Bolz-Weber and Rob Bell (and was somewhat taken aback by the length of his book-signing queue – just 60metres – after one of his talks).
“Where The Wild Things Are” print-making and costume-making was amazing.
Loved the “Sound of Conversations” (Pecha Kucha).
I’m NOT a knitter(!), but was amazed by the number of people (of all ages) who were involved in “Woolly Thinking”.
The Methodist Art Collection included some stunning pieces.
Faisal Islam (Channel 4 News finance guru) was SO impressive!
Really missed Gail not being there (she’s been suffering from labyrinthitis over recent days).
Feel really bad that I missed Billy Bragg perform on Friday night (we’d already got pretty wet but, apparently, he was superb)(went to see him speak the following morning – good, but not quite the same thing!).
Spent far too much money (on food, books and CDs)!
Anyway, it was another great festival!
Photo montague (left to right from top row down): Billy Bragg, Kate Rusby, Woolly Thinking, Lobelia, Ian Adams, Simon Mayo, Simon Taylor+Paul Roberts, Iain Archer, Rob Bell, Steve Knightley (Show of Hands), Faisal Islam, Mainstage, Rachel Unthanks, Nadia Bolz-Weber and a Citroen catering wagon!

Monday, August 22, 2011

‘appy burfdy jim lad…. and other stuff

Moira+I met up with Hannah+Felix in Queen Square sunshine yesterday for a birthday mini-picnic (it was Hannah’s birthday on Saturday) and game of boules (which birthday girl duly won!)…. really lovely. This was followed by an evening at the Old Vic Theatre to see “Treasure Island” - directed by the excellent Sally Cookson (of Ali Baba fame) and including wonderful musical direction/composition from Benji Bower (who was also involved in Ali Baba). The production is set in a specially designed open air theatre directly in front of the theatre building itself (and utilising part of its façade) and was just BRILLIANT!
A really wonderful evening of live theatre at its very best.
PS: it only runs until Friday 26 August so, if you live near Bristol, I thoroughly recommend that you get yourself a ticket before it’s too late.
Photo: Moira, Felix+Hannah doing their stuff on the boules “court”!

Friday, August 19, 2011

walking along the beach at sunrise (and lens issues!)….

I just KNEW it was going to be a beautiful, bright sunny morning today (albeit with a little dawn mistiness) and was determined to get up early and head for Berrow beach (35 minute drive away) before dawn. I left the house around 5am and drove down the empty motorway, parked by St Mary’s church and walked across the golf course to the beach. It really was a beautiful morning – clear skies, but VERY cold! I ambled along the deserted beach, past the wreck of SS Nornen (which ran aground in 1897) to the groins just as the sun was rising (at about 6am)… then back home for some espresso and a bacon sandwich.
It beats working!
Photo: groins on Berrow beach.
PS: very frustratingly, just as I was about to take some photograph of the sunrise, my camera lens “got stuck” – resulting in the camera automatically shutting down…. this happened repeatedly and meant that I didn’t actually get ANY sunrise images! I’ve just checked on Google(!) and it seems that this is a bit of a problem with Canon cameras (I’ve very occasionally experienced it before – usually in very cold conditions?)…. various suggestions, one of which was: “remove the batteries from the camera, wait for a couple of minutes, then put them back in and turn the camera on”. Brilliant!!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

in search of gorillas (and wellingtons)....

Bristol Zoo Gardens celebrates its 175th anniversary this year and they’ve come up with a very popular public art event to mark the occasion called: “Wow! Gorillas”. Artists have decorated 61 life-size gorillas, sponsored by local businesses which have been placed around the city for 10 weeks until 7 September. Children, including Iris+Rosa, have really been enjoying discovering the gorillas (“Gorilla!” is eagle-eyed Rosa’s battle cry whenever she spots one!).
Iris+Rosa+I had a great day yesterday gorilla hunting in darkest Clifton – with our main aim being to see the special “Brunel Gorilla” (or “Gorizambard” as he is now called!) at the end of the suspension bridge. Iris was brilliant and walked the entire way (including the steep trudge up to the bridge itself)(Rosa fell asleep for this section!) from start to finish.
As well as gorilla-spotting, the day included a picnic, a trip to the Museum (to see the stuffed gorilla!), drinks at no.1 Harbourside Café and a ferry ride from the Watershed to “The Cottage”.
Great fun… and pretty exhausting for all concerned!
Photo: Gorizambard+Rosa+Iris plus drinks in the café.
PS: You might notice in the photograph that Rosa is only wearing one wellington boot (wellingtons are her footwear of choice!). That’s because the other one had dropped off when she’d been asleep – as I was pushing her in the buggy. As you can imagine, this was serious stuff… but we came up with a plan at the end of our adventures to re-trace the early part of our walk. I put the surviving wellington in the buggy for safekeeping (for some reason, Rosa refused to hop) and off we went. Amazingly, we DID find it! The celebrations were VERY enthusiastic… but also, sadly, somewhat short-lived because “silly granddad”(!) obviously hadn’t secured the other wellington adequately in the buggy basket and, ridiculously, it meant I had managed to lose wellingtons on two separate occasions. Granddad has taken a lot of “stick” (from Iris) for being so pathetic and Rosa is currently receiving counselling….
In the meantime, if you see a small black wellington with blue trimmings (see pic), can you please let Granddad know (there could be a reward!).

Sunday, August 14, 2011

the worst salesman in the world… just got a little bit better

Thanks to the encouragement of my wonderful family (and good friend Emma!), my voice coach, my shopping psychologist and pure luck, my second attempt at the Harbourside Market went much better yesterday. Other “virgin” stallholders were even asking ME questions, so suddenly I felt like an old hand! It could also have something to do with the fact that the stallholder two stalls away had a dog that spent the entire day barking at customers (I was very patient and didn’t once tell her to get her dog “seen to”!) – with the result that potential shoppers were seeking solace at the number40 stall.
I realise just how unpredictable it all is, but yesterday was a definite improvement on the previous week AND the Harbourside café gave me a special rate for my coffee because they recognised me as a stallholder!
Of course, next week will probably be back to square one….
Photo: I think I also managed to get a better pitch (on the harbour side).

Saturday, August 13, 2011

more supermarket stuff...

As some of you will be aware, I’ve previously expressed my strong concerns about the big-six supermarkets and the implications for our High Streets (frankly, it may already be too late). Yesterday, lovely friend Lal made reference to this wickedly amusing blog post on the subject following this week’s riots.
Back in May (to his credit?), Cameron commissioned a review into the future of the high street (led by Mary Porta, broadcaster and retail guru). It’s due to report back in October.
In the meantime, Labour has launched a stinging attack on Tesco – calling it an “almighty conglomerate” (no doubt, Asda and Sainsbury’s will support Labour’s stand – just because it’s anti-Tesco!).
Last weekend’s Guardian magazine contained a powerful (and demoralising) article by John Harris. Examples from Stokes Croft (inevitably!), Sheringham, Frome, and Dorridge are cited in demonstrating the power (and effectiveness) of the supermarkets in gaining planning approval – and how they are constantly able to “win” consents due to the lack of funds available for Local Authorities to fight planning appeals (when compared with the supermarkets’ treasure chests) and the supermarkets’ ready ability to agree Section 106 conditions to enable surgeries, libraries and the like to be funded (or land provided)…. patronising blood money to all intents and purposes. The all-too-familiar stories of how Councils end up capitulating (eventually) to pressure by the supermarket fraternity are worrying (as we well know with our recently-approved, massive Sainsbury’s in Bedminster).
Frighteningly, one planning consent doesn’t mean that the other supermarkets simply go away. Oh no. This situation, as outlined in Harris’s article, is pretty typical, I suspect (note: Eorica Mildmay is an anti-supermarket campaigner from Norfolk): “Back in Sheringham, I mention the campaign in Frome, but Mildmay is not in the mood to make me feel better. ‘These people will not take no for an answer,’ she says. Her face darkens. ‘We have it on good authority that since Tesco won, there's a possibility of Asda and Waitrose coming to Holt. There might be a Lidl in Cromer. People who read the trade magazines were watching us. The worry is that now we've got zapped, it'll become a free-for-all. And heaven help us."
Just a look at the following figures will surely convince you that “things just aren’t right” when it comes to supermarkets. Again, from Harris’s article:
There are just over 8,000 supermarkets in the UK, and they account for 97% of total grocery sales. Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and Morrisons take 76% of that market. Their share of non-food retailing currently stands at 14%, a figure up by 75% since 2003. In the two years up to November 2010, planning permission was granted to 480 stores run by the Big Four, which works out at one supermarket every other day. Since 2008, they have accounted for 87% of the retail floor space given planning permission. In May, Channel 4 News reported that by 2014 retail space operated by the Big Four was set to increase by 20%: as its report put it, ‘an expansion drive on a scale never seen before’….
“Once planning permission has been granted and another supermarket goes up, the inevitable happens: local traders suffer, and many go out of business – whether the supermarket is out of town or, in line with modern trends, closer to the centre. I have a stack of personal testimony that makes this point, but the words I usually reach for are those of Gerard Jones, the owner of a window blinds and dry-cleaning business in Ystrad Mynach, south Wales, who has watched as Tesco has done its worst on a site 400 yards from his town centre. ‘Tesco have muscled in and destroyed our community as we know it,’ he told a local planning hearing in late 2010. ‘Every venture we have tried in the town centre has been shanghaied by this organisation. Footfall has fallen and nobody can truthfully say Tesco has brought shoppers into the town centre. It has taken 100 years to build our community. It doesn't take long to throw that all away.’

The Tory Government, who clearly sees any criticism of its retail policies as a threat to “healthy competition”, has responded with: "Town centre planning policy is not pro- or anti-supermarkets. Planning cannot seek to restrict lawful competition between retailers; in fact, planning policy is blind to whether the operator of a retail proposal is a supermarket or an independent."

Well, actually, I think there's a very strong case to say it SHOULD!

Friday, August 12, 2011

sarah's key

If a film features Kristin Scott Thomas then you (well, ok, me!) just know that it’ll be worth seeing. The retired/school-university holiday crew (Gareth, Iona, Eilidh, Moira+me) went to the Watershed yesterday afternoon to see Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s latest film. It’s based on Taliana de Rosnay’s novel about a shocking, little-known moment of French history. It’s partly set in Paris in 1942 and tells the story of when Jews were being rounded up at the Nazis' bidding, herded into a sports centre before being sent on to the death camps. The “Sarah” from the film’s title is a 10-year old who escapes from one of the death camps; KST plays a journalist researching the story. It’s an impressive, powerful film – slightly spoilt, in my view, by the somewhat over-schmaltzy last few minutes.
Certainly worth seeing.
PS: I know this shows my age, but the name of this film reminded me of Sarah Keays (of Cecil Parkinson fame)! Maybe they should have come up with a different name to the film, just to avoid embarrassment to the old Thatcherite faithful?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

mindless+beyond understanding: the vicious circle

We should fear for society:
• Complete lack of respect for others and for property.
• Disillusioned teenagers/teenage immaturity.
• Peer pressure.
• Lack of facilities and opportunities.
• Low aspirations/sense of worth.
• Disinterest in education/lack of application.
• No sense of consequences for actions.
• Self-fulfilling outcomes.
• Lack of role models.
• Boredom and a sense of pointlessness.
• Greed in a consumerist society.
• Distain/resentment of police and “authority” in general.
• Power through intimidation.
• Unemployment (or prospect of unemployment).
What hope for these children’s children?

Monday, August 08, 2011

surely, this can’t be right1?: worth

I have a feeling that this blog title might be one that I’ll revisit over the coming months! Please bear with me because I suspect it will take a little time to explain myself….
On Saturday night, I did two rather unusual things (for me). Firstly, I watched some television and, secondly, I stayed up until well past 10.30pm! I hadn’t really intended to do so, but decided to see the start of the Mahler’s Symphony no.2 Prom on BBC2 (my favourite composer) and to see the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela “in action” – I’d heard wonderful things about them after their last Prom performance in 2007. Of course, I ended up watching it to the very end (and became quite emotional in the process!). Their performance was simply mesmerising; absolutely stunning. Although it hardly does justice to the whole piece, you can see/hear the final two minutes or so here. You can also see what the Guardian’s critic made of it by clicking here.
The orchestra, led by its electrifying conductor Gustavo Dudamel, has an average age of just 24. This fantastic orchestra is the flagship of an education system which gives young people the chance to learn an instrument, getting them away from drugs, guns and crime in the barrios. “El Sistema” is a publicly financed voluntary sector music education programme in Venezuela, originally called Social Action for Music; it is a state foundation which watches over the country's 125 youth orchestras and the instrumental training programmes which make them possible. El Sistema has 31 symphony orchestras - but its greatest achievement is the 250,000 children who attend its music schools around the country, 90% of them from poor socio-economic backgrounds. I particularly love its motto: “To Play and to Fight”. For El Sistema’s musicians, this means “undertaking music as a collective experience which also involves individual effort; it entails a relentless pursuit of excellence and, above all, it means persevering until dreams become reality”.
For some reason, I went to bed contrasting this musical experience with the world of football (yes, I know, very strange!).
The orchestra had just played for over 90 minutes. All of its members were stunning musicians in their own right and had rehearsed as a unit to produce a simply magical “team” performance. I don’t know how much they earn for doing this but I don’t imagine it’s mega-money (or anything like it). As just one example, Manchester City FC is a football team awash with several highly-paid “stars”. One of its latest recruits, Sergio Aguero, is a 23 year-old Argentina striker signed recently for £38m. He has a five year contract at a reported weekly wage of £200,000 (that’s just another £52m over the next FIVE years – in other words, an expenditure of just £90million for ONE player!). He will presumably play in most games for 90 minutes; he’s clearly a gifted player technically and he too will have been training with his colleagues in the hope of producing a simply magical individual and “team” performance.
As much as I love sport, I find the contrast of this orchestra and this football player/team worrying in the extreme and just can’t reconcile the massive differences in their respective monetary worth or perceived values. I know people often refer to football as “the beautiful game” but, frankly, after sitting through the orchestra’s sublime performance, I don’t think football – with all its obscene money - comes close by comparison.
Photo: Gustavo Dudamel and Sergio Aguero – contrasting play-makers?
PS: As a complete aside, I’ve just been checking how long it would have taken me to earn the £52million Sergio will be earning over the next FIVE years (taking a conservative view of my old school salary)… the answer is just a LITTLE frightening: 2,849 years – or until the year 4860! I MIGHT not live that long…. Absolutely ridiculous, isn’t it! It's obscene. It's just plain WRONG.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

the worst salesman in the world….

Day One of our experimental appearance at the Harbourside Market didn’t actually go wonderfully well. I’d decided to have a regular stall during August and September (pitches are free during this time!) and use it as a showcase to sell Ruth’s, Hannah’s and my art work.
In five hours, I sold just ONE item (a £10 print)…. and even that didn’t happen until 5 minutes before the end!
This was the sum TOTAL revenue for the entire day. I didn’t even sell a single card (which I found very hard to comprehend). When Hannah has previously had a stall at the market, I don’t think she’s ever failed to clear £100. Consequently, I’m left feeling a little deflated – especially as I thought that the stuff I was “selling” was pretty good. Some reflections:
1. Clearly, this week’s slump in the world’s stock markets has had an instant devastating adverse effect on the Bristol art market!
2. On the positive side, I did manage to cram the entire stall into the back of our tiny Citroen C2 and managed to erect everything pretty quickly and efficiently.
3. It was lovely to be visited by Stu+Iris+Rosa, Gareth+Alan+Iona+Eilidh, Emma+Liz and Bruce+Gracie during the course of the day (and, of course, Moira – who helped with car parking and general encouragement!).
4. Lots of people said some very nice things about the work I was trying to sell.
5. The weather was pretty good.
6. For the first time in ages, there were plenty of stalls (something to do with the zero charge perhaps?)
7. I couldn’t compete with the Bordeaux Quay bread stall opposite or the cheese stall alongside!
8. The harbourside is a favourite through-route for stag and hen party groups!
9. Next time, I think I’m going to come up with catchy by-line (like that strange greengrocer bloke on East Street?): “come and get ya arty stuff here ladies and gentlemen… you know it makes sense”…. think I’ll need to do a bit better than that (or maybe just a song and a dance?).
10. Clearly, now that the Art connoisseurs of Bristol know about the stall, they’ll roll up in their hundreds next Saturday.
Emma suggested that I needed to ask the question: “What would they do on the Apprentice?”.
I think Sir Alan would just point the finger and say the magic words….
Photo: the art stall BEFORE the crowds came flocking (it looked pretty much like this after they’d been too!) - obviously this doesn't include my happy smiling face behind the counter!

Friday, August 05, 2011

the tree of life… and into the wild

Moira+I (+Gareth, Iona+Eilidh) went to the Watershed yesterday to see Malick’s long-awaited latest film. I knew from reactions of other friends who’d seen it that it would be a film to ponder…. and I’m certainly still pondering!
The film opens with a quotation from the book of Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the Earth, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" and I think this fittingly set the scene for how Malick wanted us to see the film: perhaps a combination of a prayer, a poem, a family drama and an exploration of humanity, faith and life itself. At times (particularly in sequences at the beginning and end), it felt like watching “2001, A Space Odyssey".
The film follows the story of a mid-western family in the 1950s and, in particular, the life journey of the eldest son: the complicated relationship with his father (played by Brad Pitt)(who saw the survival of the fittest as the key to success in life) and that of his long-suffering mother (whose life encapsulated selflessness and sacrifice)… culminating with him, as a disillusioned adult (on the verge of a break-down?), trying to find answers to the origins and meaning of life. The film wrestles with the following premise: “all of creation can be told in the story of one family and one family fits into the story of all of creation". The theme is telegraphed through the interior thoughts of the mother: “There are two ways in life, the way of nature and the way of grace. You have two choices which to follow.”
The father has some form of redemption in the end as we hear his own inner journey of repentance after one of the sons dies and he loses his job. “I wanted to be loved because I was great. I’m nothing. I dishonoured the glory. I am a foolish man.” Meanwhile, tellingly, the mother ponders, “The only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by. Do good, wonder, hope.”
It’s a stunningly beautiful film in terms of photographic and musical imagery and one that I will certainly watch again in due course. I got the impression that the 67 year-old Malick was reflecting on his own life – its purpose, its meaning, its regrets and its joys – or, at least, trying to tell us the importance of doing so. No doubt, over the coming days, I’ll continue to ponder aspects of the film… and, maybe, I’ll draw some different conclusions.

Hannah had recently seen “Into The Wild” and suggested that I might like it (which I did). Strangely (and these coincidences seem to have happened an awful lot recently – perhaps something to do with my own changing lifestyle?), I found that the film had many similarities with “The Tree of Life”.
Sean Penn’s 2007 film (note: Penn just happens to have played the disillusioned adult son in “The Tree of Life”!) is a true story about a bright young college graduate, Christopher McCandless, who abandoned all his possessions and hiked off into the wilderness in search of a radical re-engagement with nature, unsullied by money or the career rat-race. In 1992, at the age of 24, McCandless was found dead in the Alaskan backwoods in an abandoned bus he was using as a rough-and-ready bivouac. His life story and passion for the natural world of North America was reconstructed from his journals. It includes the following quotes – which I think could easily have been included in “The Tree of Life”:
“Happiness is only real when shared”.
“The core of mans' spirit comes from new experiences”.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

harbourside market

We’ve decided to have an art stall at the Harbourside Market, Bristol (next to the Watershed) over the next few Saturdays – 11am until 4pm. It will feature work from Ruth, Hannah and me – but, as I’m the principle stall-minder, it might be worthwhile dropping by just to witness how NOT to run a market stall (eg. trying to keep the rain off the work/retrieving stuff blown away by the wind/smiling inanely at anyone and everyone/charging the wrong prices/talking for the sake of talking/forgetting to note things down in the little black book)…. it would be great to see you.
Beautiful art at affordable prices (how exciting)!

Monday, August 01, 2011

bristol harbour festival 2011

I really enjoy the Harbour Festival (and that’s not just because it’s free!). This year’s was the 40th and, once again, it was blessed with fine weather. There’s always an amazing array of events and venues – stretching for over two miles from SS Great Britain to Castle Park – including music, dance, theatre, circus, children’s play area, food market, stalls and, of course, plenty of boats! There were no less than four main music venues plus four fringe venues. Last year, there were over 250,000 visitors and I suspect this year’s numbers will have been very similar.
It shows Bristol at its very best.