Thursday, September 15, 2011

cricket, lovely cricket

Spent an excellent day at Taunton yesterday, with Chris, Bron and Roger, watching Somerset play Lancashire in the final County Championship match of the season. Travel was all very straightforward and relatively cheap - with Chris+I catching the train and then ambling the 5 minute walk from the station to the ground. After some pretty wild weather over the past few days, we were incredibly fortunate to have bright blue skies for most of the day.
All very civilised and thoroughly enjoyable (and quintessentially English!) – there’s something incredibly reassuring about watching an old-fashioned, four-day game of cricket. It’s clearly how an awful lot of retired people spend their summer days and, frankly, I think it has much to commend it!
Photo: “the slips go down as the quick bowler races in….”
PS: the day finished with Somerset just 5 runs ahead of Lancashire and with 5 wickets down (with one day left and Lancs’s second innings still to come)…. and facing rather humiliating defeat.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11…. ten years on

Everyone can remember that day ten years ago…. For me, I was in my office and Jan, one of our architectural staff, had picked up some incredible footage on the internet of a plane hitting one of the twin towers in New York. We all watched in total disbelief – each of us speculating as to what must have happened…. a technical malfunction? pilot error?.... nothing seemed to make sense. Then the second plane hit the other tower and, after various “OMG” exclamations etc, we all went VERY quiet. It seemed clear that this was some sort of deliberate, planned attack. Like many people, I suspect, we didn’t get any work done in the office for the rest of the afternoon…. we kept on checking updates via the internet. I remember getting home and simply staring at the television for hours on end; eventually going to bed but continuing to listen to updates via the World Service.
Completely sickening.
Just over three weeks later, Ken, Steve and I were in New York – as part of our pre-arranged (amazing) golf tour of New York State (Steve+I were in the air as US/UK air strikes took place in Afghanistan). Ken, who had arrived in NYC on business a couple of days earlier, had been brought up in New York; as a kid, he’d watched the twin towers being built. We all knew that our relatively limited time in the NYC would be very harrowing, particularly for Ken. Understandably, we weren’t allowed to get close to the twin towers site (thank goodness… and I only have a few non-digital photos, so I can’t show post them here), but these are some of my key memories of that time:
a) There were stars+stripes EVERYWHERE.
b) Security was massive!
c) Groups of people would be standing and applauding every truck (demolition/construction/fire) that entered the twin tower “zone”.
d) When people knew that Steve+I were British, they were effusive in their praise for Tony Blair (who they clearly felt would make a much better US president than Bush) – for what they saw as his powerful and appropriate words in response to the attack.
e) We were able to eat in one of the best restaurants in Greenwich Village (normally we would have had to have booked weeks in advance) and were welcomed with open arms – by and large, it seemed that people were afraid to venture out of their homes.
f) We took a boat ride on the Hudson river and simply stared at the “void” in the skyline that WAS the World Trade Centre and the ongoing stream of smoke and steam that continued to rise from the site.
g) Ken gave a memorable sermon at St Mary’s church, Thame within a matter of days of 9/11 (I’ve tried to track down a link to a tape but, thus far, without success – Ken: any suggestions?).
I returned to New York five years ago with Ken (plus Moira, Debby, Gail and Ian) and, thanks to his generosity, we stayed in a beautiful hotel in downtown Manhattan (as you do!) - only some 200m or so from the World Trade Centre site itself. I still found it very difficult to take in the full extent of what had happened on 9/11, but going to St Paul’s Chapel (located immediately alongside the site and which, amazingly, survived intact) brought it all into focus. This
link gives some idea of what went on there.
My own (badly) patched-together photograph of the World Trade Centre site shown here (taken in 2006) sadly fails to convey the extent of the devastation that took place in September 2001 but, for me, it provides a poignant reminder of that fateful day.
I just hope and pray that there aren’t any major incidents to mark today’s tenth anniversary.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

august-september books

More books:
The Sea (John Banville): This is our book group’s next book; it’s written in the form of a reflective journal of the storyteller who is trying to come to terms with his wife’s recent death and events from his childhood. It has a strange, almost haunting quality as it contemplates matters of memory and experiences. The story constantly fluctuates between recent events and those that happened in his childhood you can almost sense the writer putting down the words on paper in longhand as things entered his head as. I very much enjoyed the book (although I did find it a little surprising that it had been good enough to have won the 2005 Man Booker Prize).
Team of Rivals (Doris Kearns Goodwin): A truly stunning book about the “political genius” of Abraham Lincoln and how he appointed his fiercest (and better-known) rivals to key cabinet positions. It’s a VERY lengthy, but very engaging and highly-readable, historical narrative which provides a fascinating insight into Lincoln’s presidential election in 1860, political leadership and the American Civil War. It took ten years to write and its 120 pages(!) of notes/references illustrate the author’s extensive research. I particularly liked the description of what was probably the first “proper” presidential debate (numbering seven in all) – where the ”first contestant spoke for an hour, following by a one-and-a-half hour response, after which the man who had gone first would deliver a half-hour rebuttal” in front of “huge” crowds (and with newspaper stenographers working diligently to take down every word!). The day of the “sound bite” had yet to be invented!! My best book of the year without a shadow of doubt – and is the probably one of the best I’ve EVER read. Simply brilliant.
A Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemingway): I’m rather embarrassed to admit that this is the first Hemingway book I’ve ever read (at least, I think that’s the case). It’s a semi-autobiographical novel set in the First World War; the principal character is an American ambulance driver during the Italian campaigns. It contrasts personal tragedy against the impersonal cynicism and futility of war. A powerful book – and I’ll certainly endeavour to read more Hemingway over the coming months and years.
Salvation on the Small Screen? (Nadia Bolz-Weber): The prospect of me reading a book on American Christian television programmes is frankly ludicrous. However, after listening to the author at Greenbelt a couple of times (and I’d previously read her entertaining blog from time to time), I decided that her “take” on watching 24 hours of TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network) would, at the very least, be entertaining. It WAS and, fortunately, Nadia simply confirmed all my prejudices!
The Accidental Pilgrim (Maggi Dawn): (Two "religious" books: do you get the impression we might have been to Greenbelt?!). This is a relatively short book about rediscovering what it might mean to be a pilgrim in our fast-moving 21st century. Initially, I have to admit that I felt it was somewhat lightweight in nature but, ultimately, was rather charmed by what she had to say.

Friday, September 09, 2011

friday at the “library”

This photograph was taken in the Warwick Arms pub, Clutton at 4.30pm this afternoon. It shows a group of (lovely) Bristol-based teachers who just couldn’t wait to celebrate the start of the weekend (it was, afterall, the end of the first full week of term!). E-mails will have previously been circulated at school arranging to meet at the “library” after school… which, obviously, was mere code for the “pub”! We’d set up this “start-to-the-weekend” facility about a year ago (an extension to the Bristol Self-Help Group!) and it has proved to be a popular “chill time” for getting frustrations off your chest and for comparing highlights of the week.
This happens every Friday and I’d decided to use my bus pass to join them in Clutton today – on the basis that “someone” would give me a lift home (which Andy did!).
It was great to see former colleagues again and good to know that the school was surviving without me….
Photo (left to right): Ben (legs only, sorry!), Emma, Laura, Amy, Iain, Tom, Newby1(?), Charlotte, Newby2, Andy (legs only, sorry!), Helen and Liz (legs only, sorry!).
Apologies for the poor picture (I didn’t have my glasses!).

Thursday, September 08, 2011

dreaming in stratford

Moira+I went to Stratford yesterday to see the RSC’s latest version of “Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the newly transformed Royal Shakespeare Theatre (Felix was playing “Snug” – and was very funny; he’s also understudying for “Bottom” and has so far had to play that part three times… which must feel very scary!). It’s definitely my favourite Shakespeare play and last night’s performance (despite a rather strange beginning?) was absolutely magical (literally).
Great friends from Thame (Ros+Eric and Christine+Bob) joined us and it was really good meeting up for lunch at Lambs beforehand – before going on an excellent theatre tour.
A really lovely day.
Photo: Moira, Christine, Bob, Ros+Eric outside the RSC.
PS: One rather strange thing: the start of the performance was delayed 5 minutes because a school group was late arriving (don’t know the reason), which was a little irritating, but… then Bob+I noticed that the group didn’t return to their seats after the interval! What on earth was going on? Felix is going to investigate….

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

goodbye gorillas!

Today is the final day of Bristol’s wonderful “wow! gorillas” public art event (artists have decorated 61 life-size gorillas, sponsored by local businesses which have been placed around the city for the last 10 weeks). I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it (even though I haven’t tracked down all the gorillas) and it’s been brilliant to see the reactions from young children throughout that period - Iris and Rosa have thoroughly enjoyed discovering them.
Just brilliant… what’s going to be next?
Photo: a montage of just fifteen random gorillas (my two favourites are pirate gorilla (top row, middle) and Brunel gorilla (middle row, middle).

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

the hedgehog

I have to admit that I had some reservations about seeing this film. It’s “loosely” based on one of my favourite books: “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery and, as always on such occasions, I didn’t want the film to spoil the book. The book is beautifully written from the perspective of two intelligent individuals (the rather grumpy concierge of an apartment building and the precocious eleven year-old daughter, Paloma, of a privileged family who occupy one of the apartments) and one of its endearing qualities is its graceful writing style. For me, Mona Achache’s film (with Josiane Balasko and Togo Igawa very well cast as the concierge and the new, wealthy Japanese tenant) doesn’t capture the magic (or literary quality) of the book – I found Paloma’s film-making, in lieu of her journal-writing in the book, somewhat redundant. It was also sad (but, I suppose, inevitable) that the film missed out so much of the early part of the book – which conveyed important background to her character and her daily routine. However, I did feel that the film very successfully conveyed Paloma’s love of Japanese art and culture.
Like the book, I found the film uplifting, poignant, encouraging and optimistic.
It certainly wasn’t one of the best films I’ve ever seen but, nevertheless, it was charming and watchable.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

officer class?

Not sure if I’m amused (in a laughing maniacally kind of way) or appalled by the prospect of a new “free school” in Manchester which is due to be staffed entirely by former soldiers. It’s intended that the school (with army captain Affan Burki as headteacher) would offer students “ambitious academic goals, outdoor activities and a demonstration of ‘martial values’”. This coincides with an announcement from Mike Gove that ministers are to scrap a requirement for teachers to record instances when they use physical force, as a part of a wider move to “restore adult authority” in the wake of the recent riots. Tom Burkard (a research fellow at the Centre of Policy Studies who is on the steering committee for the planned Manchester school) – and someone who, no doubt(?), has years of experience at the coalface of education, has helpfully explained that “all the old remedies for poverty, under-achievement and alienation have been tested to destruction. The consequences were starkly before us on the streets of Tottenham and Croydon. But before we put troops on the streets, we should consider putting them in our schools”.
I think they’ve finally lost the plot….
PS: All this just happens to be emerging as the Ministry of Defence gave details of its redundancy programme and coincides with plans by the government to encourage former members of the armed forces to take up teaching, by providing sponsorship and a fast-tracked undergraduate route.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

“proper” retirement begins here….

It seemed very strange waking up today knowing that my school friends were all starting their new academic year. Today, perhaps for the first time, the reality of retirement finally registered. Feeling the need to mark the occasion, Moira+I went for a coffee at no.1 Harbourside Café (as I often have over recent weeks) and sat outside in beautiful, bright sunshine…. JUST because retirement means we CAN do such things!
Photo: no.1 Harbourside Café (taken on another occasion).
PS: Received a text message from lovely teacher friend Helen first thing this morning indicating the roadworks/traffic lights just down the road from school were STILL in operation…. work had started on 14 February (we know this because it was very close to the heart of many Bristol-based members of staff who had been monitoring its painful “progress”) and was due to take six weeks to complete. After two months, another (replacement) sign appeared saying that the work would be finished by August…. but the job is obviously still ongoing. With the project currently running 23 weeks behind the original completion date (remember, they reckoned it was only going to take them 6 weeks in TOTAL!), you just get the feeling that they might have underestimated the scope (and COST!) of the job. Genius.