Monday, October 31, 2011

protest camp at st paul’s: what would jesus do?

Questions, questions, (typical) questions….
How on earth can these people find the time to camp out indefinitely? Haven’t they got jobs?
What do they hope to achieve? They haven’t got any specific demands, have they?

Well, all I know is that I’m glad that these protesters in cities throughout the world ARE making a stand. I’ve signed countless petitions; I’ve written to my MP a number of times; I’ve blogged about all the unfairness and the greed…. but, apparently, all to no avail. These people ARE doing something and it nags away at the powers-that-be and they’re helping to keep the media’s attention on the issues.
They’re acting as MY conscience (why don’t I camp out with them – afterall, I’ve got the time/opportunity – is it because I just couldn’t be bothered?). I want them still to be protesting as we come up to Christmas and we start hearing about the bonuses being paid out to all and sundry in the banking/stock exchange/CEO world – even though it’s ordinary people like us that are actually paying the ENORMOUS price for their mistakes/mismanagement/greed.
Much has been written over the past few days about the decision of the cathedral authorities (and the City of London Corporation) to begin the legal process to evict the protesters currently camping outside St Paul’s. I have to say that I just cannot comprehend the Church’s stance on this. You will recall that Dr Giles Fraser resigned from his post as canon chancellor last Thursday. It was Canon Fraser who told police to allow the protesters to set up camp outside the cathedral on 15 October after they had been prevented from camping by the London Stock Exchange in privately-owned Paternoster Square near St Paul's. What actual harm are the protestors causing as far as the church is concerned? I’m convinced that they would be able to come to agreement to ensure that the cathedral remains open at all times. Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has spoken out about the greed of bankers, financial markets and the “rich” over recent years on several occasions and this was surely an opportunity for the church to stand alongside the protesters.
There was a very good
article (in my view) in The Guardian on 29 October entitled “Occupy London could be protected by Christian ring of prayer”. I think the following extracts sum up the feelings of a lot of us:
“Christian groups that have publicly sided with the protesters include one of the oldest Christian charities, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the oldest national student organisation, the Student Christian Movement, Christianity Uncut, the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust and the Christian magazine Third Way. In addition, London Catholic Worker, the Society of Sacramental Socialists and Quaker groups have offered their support.
“A statement by the groups said: ‘As Christians, we stand alongside people of all religions who are resisting economic injustice with active nonviolence. The global economic system perpetuates the wealth of the few at the expense of the many. It is based on idolatrous subservience to markets. We cannot worship both God and money.’
“Director of the influential religious think-tank Ekklesia, Jonathan Bartley said: "There are some very unhappy people within the Church of England. The protesters seem to articulate many of the issues that the church has paid lip-service to. Many people are disillusioned with the position St Paul's has adopted. To evict rather than offer sanctuary is contrary to what many people think the church is all about. The whole thing has been a car crash."

A car crash indeed!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

we need to talk about kevin

Blimey! A stunning, unrelenting film, directed by Lynne Ramsay, based on Lionel Shriver’s novel. You know from the start (and I’m not really giving anything away here as the publicity – plus the book - makes it pretty clear!) that the son goes on a high school killing spree. The film flashes back and forth as the mother (superbly played by Tilda Swinton) fruitlessly tries to find out the reasons why. Some brilliant scenes – including the opening sequence at the tomatina festival in Bunol, Spain! Powerful, horrific and haunting - but completely absorbing. Moira+I walked home from the Watershed somewhat subdued (and thankful we only had daughters?).
After writing this, I’ve just read Peter Bradshaw’s excellent review in The Guardian. This is its final paragraph: “My only worry is that some hapless cinemas might schedule this as one of their special "parent-child" screenings. Bad idea”. Agreed!
You must see this film (and Tilda Swinton for an Oscar, surely?).

Friday, October 28, 2011

sunrise at glastonbury

I had an inkling that it was going to be a bright, but misty, morning first thing and, when I awoke and peered through the curtains (it was still very dark!), it gave every impression that that was indeed going to be case. So I jumped in the car and headed for the Somerset Levels (as you do). En route - having established that it WAS going to be a beautiful “bright, but misty, morning” – I decided to drive on to Glastonbury. I’m really pleased I did because it was absolutely stunning. Once I’d climbed up the Tor (just as the sun was rising), there were the most amazing views across the Levels – which were completely shrouded in low cotton-wool clouds. Perhaps not surprisingly, there were just three other people on the Tor…. we just smiled at each other and acknowledged that we’d been privileged to be there.
Simply magical.
Photo: as you will note, one of the other people on the Tor was a “proper” photographer!!
PS: you can see some of my photographs by clicking
here (not compulsory!).

Thursday, October 27, 2011

chris wood at colston hall

Moira+I spent a weekend with lovely friends Bruce+Sara in May. I was looking through their CD collection (as you do!) and Sara suggested that I play an album by Chris Wood. Frankly, I’d never heard of him before, but followed her advice and was hugely impressed (so much so that I later bought the CD – “The Lark Descending”).
One of my “retirement resolutions” was to attend some more concerts and so, when I discovered (a few weeks ago) that CW was coming to the Colston Hall in Bristol, I booked a couple of tickets. Ruth+I duly went along to the concert last Friday and it proved to be a brilliant evening. Just Chris Wood and his guitar. He performed some stunningly beautiful songs for nearly 90 minutes and entertained everyone with his straightforward, gentle chat and humour. I’ve since purchased his “Handmade Life” CD – which is excellent and I thoroughly recommend it.
Nothing beats live performance (and thanks Bruce+Sara)!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


A leaked government report, prepared by a venture capitalist/Conservative Party donor, argues that “unproductive workers” should lose their right to claim unfair dismissal. I think this could set a really dangerous precedent.
Clearly, there ARE cases of slackers (or whatever you might call them) but, as someone who employed people for nearly 30 years, I am well aware of the need to ensure that all employees are “on board” as far as the company/organisation is concerned. In my view, trying to ensure that you employ the “right” people in the first place and, crucially, communication are the key factors. In all my time as an employer, I think we only made one “mistake” – and it wasn’t anything to do with the member of staff being “unproductive”, it was the person’s negative attitude towards his work and his colleagues (I didn’t have to sack him, he left after 3 years, but he was definitely a “bad apple”!).
A number of general observations:
1. How do they propose to define an “unproductive worker”?
2. Good personnel management and “fairness” (working both ways) are crucial.
3. Setting a meaningful probationary period (perhaps up to 12 months?), with regular reviews, must make sense?
4. What about poor employers or line managers?
5. Might this just be another case of the government “leaking” a proposal so it can unveil a watered-down version in a few months’ time which doesn't create the same level of negative reaction?
Unfortunately, I can actually see a time when virtually all employees are on fixed-term contracts – with no guarantee of re-employment and people to apply for their own jobs at the end of the term (as/if appropriate).
I feel this could run and run…

Saturday, October 22, 2011

family time

Grandparenthood is a beautiful thing!
Moira+I have just returned from a few days in Lancashire with Alice+Dave (and Mikey+Dan+Jemima). Although we’re in the very fortunate position of being able to see our other grandchildren, Iris+Rosa (and their parents!), on a very regular basis, we don’t get to meet up with the Leyland branch anything like as often as we’d like. As a result (often with several months between visits) , we don’t see the day-to-day changes that happen as M+D+J’s respective characters develop. However, such occasional snapshots do highlight their physical changes/growth and magnify their evolving sensitivities/sense of humour/likes/dislikes/passions/skills.
Thankfully, it doesn’t take them long to adjust/remember their long-lost grandparents and so we seem to spend an awful lot of our time together laughing and enjoying each other’s company.
It was also (obviously!) LOVELY to see Alice+Dave again. They are amazing parents. I have say that this parenting stuff is definitely for young people – at least for Moira and me in our “advanced” years, we can sit back and relax after two or three days “intensive” effort/activity…. parents, of course, don’t have such luxuries!
Photo: Mikey, Dan+Jemima.

Monday, October 17, 2011

it’s probably just me, but…..

Last Saturday morning, as I tended our market stall at the harbourside, I saw two things that have been haunting me since that time.
The first involved what I took to be three young men and their three sons(?). The men were all in their early 30’s, I suppose, and the boys were perhaps 8-10 years of age. Nothing particularly memorable or disturbing about this, of course, and on the positive side, it’s good for fathers and sons to be spending some time together. The problem, for me, was that each of the men was drinking from a can of beer as they passed me; they were loud-mouthed, fairly aggressive in their manner and definitely appeared to be “strutting their stuff” (as if in warning to anyone who might get in their way). Apart from the fact that it was only mid-morning, nothing particularly usual about this you might think. What I found particularly sad was that the three boys were walking directly behind them and, in many ways, were mirroring their fathers’ actions – they each had the same “cocky” gait; they weren’t just talking to each other (and anyone else who might have been interested), they were shouting. In short, they were emulating their fathers – who, sadly and depressingly, were clearly their role-models.
The second incident involved four girls (each perhaps 12 years of age?). I watched them “play” on the cascading steps – running up and down and splashing each other as they did so. Then I saw one of the girls pick up a discarded, polystyrene food container (still half-full of food) and gleefully throw it at one of her friends who was about 5metres away from her – accompanied by much shrieking and shouting. Food was scattered everywhere (but ALL of it in the waters of the cascading steps). It was disgusting. Not a single onlooker seemed to bat an eyelid. The girls thought it was hilarious and soon moved on (to cause havoc elsewhere?). Although I was some 50metres away, I now regret not running along the harbourside myself and confronting the girl in question.
What is to become of us (and them)?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

who do you still think you are?

Apologies, but I’ve been having a further look at my family history – so this is probably only going to be of interest(?) to family members. Thus far, however, I’ve failed to unearth any fresh insights since I last explored things in 2006. I’ve been looking through records (ie. simply looking at details of my father, grandfather, great-grandfather – not their brothers/sisters etc) and it all appears to be incredibly dull by comparison with the revelations on the BBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” programme!
In the last 225 years, tracing the family tree back six generations to the birth of my great-great-great-great-grandfather Robert, our family “seat” has moved less than 50 miles!
Robert Broadway 1786-1844 (cabinet maker): born Radway, Warwickshire; died: Stratford-on-Avon.
John 1814-89 (cabinet maker): b. Banbury; d. Warwickshire.
Frederick 1840-75 (brass worker/cabinet maker): b. Leamington; d: Birmingham.
Frederick 1864-1943 (brass dresser): b. Birmingham; d. Birmingham.
Frederick 1888-1964 (jewelry worker): b. Birmingham; d. Birmingham.
Ronald 1921-1992 (printer/compositor): b. Birmingham; d. Birmingham.
Steven 1949- (architect): b. Birmingham.

On my father’s mother’s side of the family (and following the father-grandfather line etc again), there is a pretty similar picture:
Joseph Flavell 1772-1861 (miner): b. Staffordshire; d. Staffordshire.
William 1795-1856 (cabinet maker): b. Birmingham; d. Warwickshire.
William 1828-1892 (engine fitter): b. Birmingham; d. Birmingham.
Walter 1857-1914 (steam engine fitter): b. Birmingham; d. Birmingham(?).
Rose Flavell 1888-1974 (my grandmother): b. Aston, Birmingham; d. Birmingham.

On my mother’s side, it’s somewhat more difficult. Her grandfather, Albert Walker, appears on the 1901 census in Birmingham – along with his wife Helen and sons Albert 6, Howard 5, Frank (my grandfather) 4 and Joseph 4months… but there’s no sign of any of them on the 1911 census under the “Walker” name. There’s been some family speculation about a name-change from Witcomb or Wickens (when Frank died in 1984, his daughter’s Edna and Mary (my mother) were going through his pockets and found a paper stating he had changed his name from Wickens to Walker!!) and that Albert was a violent alcoholic (according to Frank’s daughter Edna) and ended up living in a hostel. There’s also speculation that the family changed its name after Frank’s father had committed a murder (or jumped ship?). Certainly, we have a certified copy of his birth certificate "for the purpose of employment" dated 1911, signed for by his mother “Helen Witcomb” - referring to his father “Albert Witcomb” as being a brass metal annulater(?)/ journeyman.
The 1911 on-line census is sadly lacking in detail (eg. it fails to list the names of all the people in the household) which makes things doubly hard.
Sadly, thus far, I haven’t been able to come up with anything concrete on the matter (if only the BBC would provide me with some direct assistance!).
With virtually no information as far as my mother’s father’s side, it’s been a little more straightforward as far as my mother’s mother’s side is concerned:
Thomas Bridgens 1806-47 (glass maker): b. Worcestershire; d. Stourbridge, Worcestershire.
William 1826-1909 (glass blower): b. Kingswinford; Staffordshire; d. Shropshire.
Joseph 1862-1917(iron peddler worker): b. Stourbridge, Worcestershire; d. West Bromwich, Staffordshire.
Ada Bridgens 1897-1986 (my grandmother): b. Handsworth, Staffordshire; d. Birmingham.
Given that my ancestors have remained firmed entrenched within a very small geographical area over the past (nearly) quarter of a millennium, I feel somewhat guilty that I’ve broken the family mould and “emigrated” to Bristol!
So, no mariners, no authors, no artists, no politicians, no leading industrialists, no royalty - but it was good to see that we had a late 18th century miner in Joseph Flavell! Just a good(?), straightforward(?), boring(?) working class family.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

september-october books

Latest books:
Not Dead Yet (Julia Neuberger): This is essentially a manifesto for old age. I bought it (cheap!) to coincide with my retirement. Initially, it made me feel guilty about retiring “early”, but it also contains some important insights into old age and the need to challenge political thinking on the subject. Thought-provoking and challenging (perhaps I’ll become a political campaigner?!).
Over The Top (Martin Marix Evans): The book provides some interesting background to key battles of the First World War. I was particularly keen to learn more about some of the early battles in 1914-16 that involved my grandfather (eg. La Bassee, Aisne, Le Cateau, Ypres and the Somme). Predictably dry, but informative.
Return To Paris (Colette Rossant): I bought this, together with a batch of other cheap books, on the basis that we were ourselves were just about to “return to Paris”. It’s a coming-of-age biography about the author’s life in post-WW2 Paris. Despite being littered with food recipes (don’t read if you’re hungry!), I found it a surprisingly good read and an ideal holiday book.
AA Gill Is Away (AA Gill): Somewhat pathetically, perhaps, I hadn’t really read any of Gill’s articles/books (amongst other things, he’s the restaurant reviewer/television critic for the Sunday Times). This is essentially a travel book - again bought to coincide with our time in France. His writing was a revelation for me. He has a brilliant writing style – punchy, humorous and intelligent (and, on occasions, somewhat maddening!). I really enjoyed this book and will definitely tracking down other stuff by him from now on.
Leviathan (Paul Auster): I think Auster is a fascinating writer. This is a strange and complicated book about two writers who become close friends and it employs typical Auster themes: the connection between freedom and chaos, isolation and the complexity of interpersonal relationships. Ultimately, this novel seems to be about the desire to discard an identity and begin anew. Although I felt it was ridiculously contrived at times, I found it a compelling read.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

golfing at celtic manor

Have just returned from Wales (well, across the Severn Bridge from Newport!) after a couple of days’ golf with great mates Steve, Pete and Bob. We’d found a very good “deal” which provided two rounds of golf at two of their championship courses – Montgomerie and Roman Road (unfortunately, NOT the Ryder Cup course) - plus an overnight stay in their 5-star hotel for £103 each.
The “youngsters” (Steve and me) took on the “oldies” (Pete and Bob) in a 36 hole challenge match. After leading overnight by three holes, we ended up “thrashing” them 4 up and 3 to play. Actually, that’s not quite accurate. Steve more or less “thrashed” them on his own. I really didn’t play well at all – which probably reflected that I’d only played one round of golf (in April) since Southern Ireland Golf Tour last October! Beautiful courses (especially the Montgomerie) and excellent hotel - despite its awful external appearance (especially when viewed from the M4!). We were also pretty lucky with the weather – very windy both days (gusting 40-50mph at times?); showery yesterday, but mainly bright sunshine today.
Lots of laughs and great banter (of course!).
Photo: Steve, me, Pete and Bob by the first tee on the Montgomerie course.

Monday, October 03, 2011

why, oh why, do I love Paris?....

Moira+I had been to Paris a number of times before, but the last time was TWELVE years ago - which seemed a little scary when we realised. We decided to spend three/four days there to round off our boating trip and travelled into Paris on the train, having said our fond farewells to Chris+Lal in Montbard. We found our way to our hotel in Montmartre without any problems (apart from me getting my luggage stuck in the doors of the underground train TWICE within a matter of seconds – much to the considerable amusement/irritation of the other passengers!).
Stayed at the Best Western Hotel in Boulevard Barbes - about 10 minute walk from Sacre Coeur - in what is described as the “lively Montmartre district” (the area certainly had an “edgy” feel to it, especially at night, but we didn’t have any problems). Having dumped our luggage, we walked up to Sacre Coeur to look out across the city. Both the view and the church are stunning beautiful, but I’m afraid it was depressingly (and predictably) FULL of tourists and the cafes and streets felt as if they’d be “Disneyfied”. We sought refuge in the Montmartre Museum (expensive for what it was but, thankfully, lacking in hoards of people!). Had an excellent meal in the evening at La Mandiciotte restaurant in Rue Lepic.
The following (gloriously sunny) day, we caught the Metro to the Eiffel Tour and walked along the banks of the Seine to Notre Dame and then on to the Pompidou Centre. Really lovely walking through Jardin des Tuileries (where we stopped for lunch) and very impressed by Musee de L’Orangerie (Monet’s wonderful “Water Lilies”, plus lots of other beautiful pieces by Chagal, Picasso, Modigliani etc). The last time we’d been in Paris, the Pompidou Centre had been closed and so we were determined to see it this time. Initial impressions weren’t very positive – it looked rather drab (and difficult to keep clean!) and the ground floor entrance area left a lot to be desired. However, the “square” to the west side was full of people, relaxing, and the upper gallery spaces were excellent (with a wealth of good-quality, contemporary art); city views from the top floor terraces were fantastic. Enjoyed another evening meal in another restaurant in Rue Lepic (“Les Trois Coups”).
Sunday was another beautiful sunny day and we caught the Metro south of the river to visit the Musee National du Moyen Age (at Alan+Gareth’s suggestion) – housed in C15th former L'Hotel des Abbes de Cluny. Absolutely beautiful building and some wonderful artefacts (including six charming “Lady with the Unicorn” tapestries). Coffee in Place du Pantheon, followed by simple sandwich lunch, before walking to Place des Vosges (1605-12, classical square) – a rather grander version of Queens Square, Bristol! Sat in the shade of an avenue of trees and read for a while. Returned to the hotel via Bastille – where there was some form of “reclaim the streets” demonstration by hundreds of cyclists (much to the “amusement” of other road-users!). Another evening meal in yet another lovely restaurant in Rue Lepic (“Des Si and Des Mets” – apparently, the first restaurant entirely gluten free in France!).
Final morning spent having coffee in Place Des Abbesses and, finally (we failed on day two!), finding our way into the amazing Cimetiere de Montmartre – a quiet sanctuary set under a raised roadway, packed with family vaults (many looking more like sentry boxes to me!). Arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport in plenty of time – only for our flight to be delayed by nearly three hours (technical fault resulting in them having to swap planes).
The only real “blip” to what, for us, had been a magical return to France.
Photo: montage of Paris images.
PS: As a lover of the “Amelie”, I regret to say that I failed to have a coffee in the café featured in the film (Café les Deux Moulins)!
PPS: you can see more Paris pics by clicking

Sunday, October 02, 2011

fantastic four go boating in france

Moira+ I don’t normally do boats. Neither of us are natural boat people but, when our lovely, generous friends Chris+Lal invited us to spend a week with them on the rivers/canals of Burgundy, we just jumped at the opportunity (I think what clinched it was when Chris asked me if I could tie a bowline knot and I explained that, when I was in the scouts - 50 years ago! - I had learnt how to tie one one-handed.... possibly suspended from a cliff, lock or some such scenario(?). Fortunately, my “skills” were never properly challenged!).
It proved to be a really special week. The weather and the scenery were simply beautiful (and, of course, the company was first class!). There’s something rather lovely and relaxing about motoring down rivers and canals at a stately 6-7km/hour, passing through locks every one or two kilometres, reading in the sunshine, stopping in some stunning locations…. oh, and eating and drinking very well!
Chris+Lal are part-owners of an impressive 50ft long dutch barge – with lounge, eating area and two cabins (each with their own en-suite wc and shower facilities!). The boat was moored in the beautiful town of Auxerre (an area of France neither Moira nor I knew at all), with the cathedral and abbey dramatically dominating the River Yonne frontage. We spent the first evening exploring the town (and finding an excellent restaurant) and the following morning visiting local vineyards (we had our arms twisted, honest!). We then set off up-river as far as Migennes before joining the Burgundy Canal. The following five days saw us reach our destination of Montbard – largely in beautiful sunshine - stopping at St Florentin, Tonnerre, Tanlay and Ravieres along the way (amongst other places). I did scribble out a “log” of our adventures but, to avoid making you feel too envious, won’t bore you with all the details here….
Among the highlights for me were the following:
1. The beauty of Auxerre.
2. The entertaining vineyard proprietor (and successful salesman!).
3. Being sang to by lovely, friendly fellow-boaters at St Florentin (they proved to be 16 French choral singers “on tour”).
4. The STUNNING chateau at Tanlay.
5. The starry, starry sky at Argentenay.
6. The beautiful misty morning at Argentenay.
7. The amazing sunset/red cloudy sky near Ravieres.
8. Gathering loads of walnuts from the boat (from an overhanging tree).
9. Hate to admit this, but I actually enjoyed listening to Chris’s i-pod music (with one or two key exceptions)!
10. Chris+Lal’s generosity (and the comfort that at least THEY knew what they were doing as far as the boating was concerned!).
Photo: Chris, Moira and Lal on board Dorney (you can see other photographs by clicking here).
PS: I think it’s only right that I also point out the following:
a) I did NOT fall into the water once.
b) I did NOT drop my camera over the side.
c) There were a NUMBER of occasions (no doubt, much to the admiration of the lock-keepers?) where I nonchalantly lassoed lockside capstans as we entered locks.
d) There were a NUMBER of occasions (no doubt, much to the amusement of the lock-keepers) where I pathetically FAILED to lasso lockside capstans as we entered locks.
e) I was NOT made to walk the plank (although this was threatened by the skipper on one occasion).
f) I am REALLY good at thanking lock-keepers in the following manner: “merci beaucoup madam/monsieur…. au revoir” (I’m pretty sure they were REALLY impressed by this).
g) I am REALLY good at cycling to boulangeries first thing in the morning and smiling/shrugging (in a rustic gallic way, you understand) and asking for/pointing at the loaves and pastries.