Sunday, December 30, 2012

december 2012 books

More book stuff:
The Kaminsky Cure (Christopher New): This has proved to be a surprisingly good read (I bought it for £2 from “The Last Bookshop”). I had very limited expectations when I started it. It’s a novel about a German family in WW2: the father is a Lutheran pastor “with a sneaking admiration for Hitler”; the wife is Jewish and doesn’t quite share his view! It’s an absorbing tale of a family’s struggle through very bleak times and yet is full of dark humour. Well written.
Love of the World (John McGahern): This is collection of McGahern’s non-fiction writings - taking in such diverse subjects as literature, the world, places, people, society, history plus various book reviews. I’ve previously only read one bookof his short stories, but simply loved the elegance, humour and precision of his writing style. He seemed to have an ability to tell a story in two sentences or a hundred pages. I particularly enjoyed his pieces about people and Ireland. I freely admit that I rather “scan-read” some of his many book reviews – although he’s made me want to read more from the likes of Patrick Kavanagh and George Mackay Brown – and also his autobiography “Memoir” (he died in 2006). He sounded like a fascinating man.   
Do Nothing, Christmas is Coming (Stephen Cottrell): Our Ithaca study book – which provides simple, frequently quite thought-provoking, reflections from the Bishop of Chelmsford for Advent… but, I’m afraid I became a little bored by it all in the end.
Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland (Sarah Moss): Our next book group book (Moira’s selection). The author had had a childhood dream of living in Iceland and this was sustained through a “wild summer” on the island as a 19 year-old with a fellow student. Sarah Moss is now a novelist (although I haven’t read any of her fiction) – with a husband and two small children - and responded to a job advert at the University of Iceland in 2009. This is her account of her family’s adventures – which just happened to coincide with the country’s economic collapse (which “halved the value of her salary”) and the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull (and its volcanic cloud residue)! It took me a little time to get into the book, but I ended up enjoying it – particularly when the family returned for a fortnight’s holiday a year later – with the money, time and means to explore the island more fully. Strangely, her husband Anthony (who is effectively a house-husband during their time living on the island) barely gets a “proper” mention… it’s her boys Max and Tobias who feature most (along with her new-found Icelandic friends) and her “can-do” photographer friend Guy who seems to get far more of the limelight. It’s very good book for Icelandic tourism methinks!
The Sense of an Ending (Julian Barnes): I virtually read this short book in one sitting (I’d read half of it, but couldn’t sleep, so decided to carry on reading… as you do!). It’s essentially story about ageing and memory – I seem to have read a LOT of books about these topics over the past year or so! The principal character, now retired and divorced, reflects on his schoolboy days, his friendships and a particularly painful relationship during his university days… and then something happens (I can’t tell you!) that turns the clock back 40 years. It’s a completing riveting, mysterious book, beautifully written. I loved it… and will certainly read it again in due course.
PS: for the record (yes, I realise I’m the only one counting), I read a total of 55 books in 2012 (2011 = 56!).


Forty years ago today, I married Moira Ann Irvine.
We’d met at what is now Oxford Brookes University. She was a linguist. In fact, at the time of our wedding, I was still in my final year of architectural studies and Moira was working for the Open University (I think I’ve got that right?) – so, yes, I was a “kept man”!
We started our married life in a rented bedsit in Summertown, Oxford and had an understanding that, once I’d qualified (ie. following a year in “profession practice” and taking the required final examination), we would go and live in France (almost certainly in Paris)…
This never happened and it’s one of my abiding regrets (just the one?) that Moira never had the opportunity to utilise her language skills. Instead, we ended up staying in Oxford so that I could pursue my architectural career. It still makes me feel guilty. Who knows how our life would have developed if we’d stuck to “plan A”? On the positive side(!), our three wonderful daughters were all born in Oxford and our family continues to be the most important aspect of our lives and provides us with enormous pleasure.
As you might imagine, over the recent days, I’ve been reflecting on our married life a fair amount. We were young, “in love” (what does that REALLY mean?) and somewhat naive in terms of worldly wisdom. In the event, we’ve been incredibly fortunate to have enjoyed (and to continue to enjoy!) a rich and varied married life. I think we only fully realised how special and important our marriage and our family life was to us after Moira’s mother and my father died in 1992. It was probably a sense of realisation that we’d both been very fortunate to have come from homes where family values were both fostered and cherished.
Moira is the person who makes our family work. She’s our rock and we’ve all come to depend on her at crucial times for her wise counsel (perhaps an over-dependence at times – her “safe-pair-of-hands” characteristics are more dependable than my rather more “emotional” reactions!?).
We’ve never really argued during our married life (although I do have a vague memory of her once throwing a knife at me a couple of years into our marriage… she missed!!?). I can take no plaudits for this lack of quarrelling because, rather than argue, I have been known to sulk for the odd day(s)(yes, I know, difficult to imagine!). Actually, I think I’ve improved quite a bit over the years – which, again, is probably down to Moira’s influence.
I love that she enjoys new challenges and is prepared to learn new skills (unlike me!).
I’ve always thought of Moira as being quite strikingly beautiful (although she would never accept that she was). She’s intelligent (one of those slightly depressing people to sit next to during University Challenge), articulate, sensible, funny (in a serious kind of way), thoughtful, stylish, mindful of others (unlike me), creative and someone who has an instinctive “feel” for what is right.
A lovely, wonderful wife and a truly amazing mother (and grandmother).
Darling, darling Moira.
I feel incredibly blessed.
Photo: these beautiful M+S prints (“Moira+Steve” – not to be confused with the shop!), by Ruth, were a Christmas gift from Ruth+Stu.

Monday, December 17, 2012

gasworks at christmas

Moira+I continued our Christmas concert schedule last night to see/hear The Gasworks Choir at St George’s, Bristol. We’ve seen them LOTS of times (our lovely friend Gareth is a member), but every concert is guaranteed to raise your spirits – through the choir’s sheer enthusiasm (and colour!), obvious enjoyment and wonderful talent and through the brilliant musical direction of their conductors/arrangers, Dee and Ali.
One of Bristol’s absolute treasures.
Photo: I assure you, there ARE quite a few blokes in the choir too – it’s just that most of them were partly obscured by the gallery on our side of the auditorium.
PS: The ONE downside of last night’s concert was that it meant me missing the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year on the television… thank goodness for iPlayer!

Friday, December 14, 2012

exultate singers: carols by candlelight

From time to time this week, I’ve been listening to my Christmas playlist. You know, the usual stuff: Nat King Cole, KIrsty MacColl and the Pogues, Waitresses, Joni Mitchell, Chris Rea, Pretenders, Steeleye Span, John Tavener and the like. As a result, in the words of another classic, “it’s started to feel a lot like Christmas”.
But, last night, Gareth, Alan, Moira+I went to hear the brilliant Exultate Singers perform “Carols by Candlelight” in the stunning St James Priory, Bristol… and captured the REAL spirit of Christmas. This was the second time we’ve seen/heard them perform at St James Priory and they are simply quite, quite brilliant. For me, the highlight of the evening was their rendering of Morten Lauridsen’s “O Magnum Mysterium” (see PS). Imagine the choir members standing around the edges of the packed, candlelit church at perhaps 1.5m intervals and singing this beautiful piece of music. Although the choir were performing in complete unity, the fact that they were standing apart meant that it was possible to pick out individual voices – and this only emphasised just how brilliantly talented they all were.
This was their second (and final) sell-out “Candles in Candlelight” performance of 2012 and I’m certain that we’ll be back next year to capture the Christmas spirit all over again, in what will no doubt become a new annual tradition for us.
Absolutely exquisite.
Photo: Exultate Singers (courtesy of their website).
PS: Listen to a clip from Lauridsen’s “O Magnum Mysterium” here from their “Visions of Peace” CD.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

there won’t be any snow+ice this winter…

I can exclusively reveal that it’s virtually certain that this winter will be snow- and ice-free (well, in the south-west anyway) – thanks to a cunning plan conjured up by Moira+me. We’ve “invested” in some “winterwise 10-stud ice traction universal slip-on snow and ice spikes” (see photograph!). They cost just £2.49 a pair (in case you were wondering, as oldies, we’ve been able to afford these by using up part of our winter fuel allowance!) and represent our cast-iron guarantee that, now we’re prepared for the worst the winter can throw at us, it'll be an usually mild winter period.
You heard it here first…
PS: Obviously, we haven't been able to test them out yet...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

gove’s ideological mission

Very many apologies.
I’ve not blogged about Mr Gove for more than a month.
This is obviously a huge oversight on my part because it seems that various sections of the right-wing press are talking about the Education Secretary as a “rising star” and a future Conservative Party leader.
For some time now, I’ve been frightened by what I regard as Gove’s “stealth policy” to privatise UK schools. This might seem a somewhat extreme view, but Peter Wilby’s article in last Saturday’s Guardian addressed similar concerns:
“Gove's policies for schools are almost as far-reaching as Lansley's for health, amounting to a Whitehall takeover of a service that, for well over a century, has been run by local authorities. Private providers, accountable through contracts with Gove and his successors, will play a central role”.
And there’s more:
“His mission is essentially an ideological, not an educational one. By removing schools from local authority control – nearly half of all secondary-age pupils already attend academies or free schools – he opens the way for chains of private providers to expand their role dramatically, just as NHS reforms do. There is no evidence that any of the chains, despite slick public relations, improve school results significantly. The best that can be said is that, at least in the short term, they don't make things much worse. Gove's policies are not, as his fiercer critics claim, a disaster for our children. They are just an irrelevance and, with £8.3bn already spent on the academies programme in two years, a monumental waste of money”.
Meanwhile, it was interesting to read an article by Roy Glatter (emeritus professor of educational administration and management at The Open University), entitled "Education Reforms: Where is the Evidence and Consensus?" in yesterday’s Guardian Teacher Network. As well as questioning Gove’s policies, he also pointed to criticisms of his policy on exams and assessment from some unexpected sources (including exams regulator Glenys Stacey):  
“Earlier a major CBI report said there was a ‘conveyor belt approach’ to the school system with too narrow a definition of success. Instead of making GCSE tougher it should be abolished with the emphasis placed on age 18. In a newspaper interview Louise Robinson, president of the Girls' School Association, said Gove was forcing a 1960s curriculum and exam structure on schools. We needed to look to the future not the past. Finally the headmaster of Eton College Tony Little told a national conference that we were stifling pupils' creativity by sitting them down in exam halls for two or three hours in a ‘very Victorian way’. We needed to show much more imagination in courses and assessment and he wanted GCSE to be abolished in its present form”.
As I’ve said before: “Be afraid, be very afraid”!

Friday, December 07, 2012

the master

It felt as though I hadn’t been to the cinema for ages (well, six weeks or so!) and so, when I saw in the Watershed’s blurb that “The Master” had received several 5-star reviews, I decided it was a film I really needed to see. Paul Thomas Anderson’s film (he directed “There Will Be Blood”), starring the formidable Philip Seymour Hoffman and the fascinating and somewhat scary Joaquin Phoenix (incidentally, I think I’m going to change my name or at least start introducing my middle name!), is set in post-war America and feels as if it’s tracking the story of Scientology (with Seymour Hoffman playing the part of L Ron Hubbard) – although, apparently, Anderson denies this. Seymour Hoffman plays the part of a fraudulent cult-leader (“The Master”) and Phoenix is a twisted, violent, virile(?) alcoholic who has been discharged from the navy with psychological problems and the subject of “programming” by Seymour Hoffman. It’s a long (and, at times, tedious) film – perhaps a rather sad love story in many ways. It’s mysterious and powerful but, at the same time, appears rather pompous, boring and somewhat pointless.
Having written the above, I’ve just read two reviews in The Guardian.
Rachel Cook reckons it’s a “long, inscrutable film, and one deeply in love with its own processes. Watching it is like being stuck in a one-way system in a strange town; with every loop, it grows more familiar and yet more confusing”. Meanwhile, Peter Bradshaw (5-star review) regards it as brilliant, mysterious and unbearably sad, in approximately that narrative order. It is just that brilliance and formal distinction, together with a touch of hubris in the title, that could divide commentators” and a “supremely confident work from a unique film-maker, just so different from the standard Hollywood output: audacious and unmissable”.  
Take your pick (personally, I think Rachel Cook is closer to the mark)!     

Thursday, December 06, 2012

bristol mayoral election and the labour party

Over the past few weeks, in the light of the local Labour Party’s refusal to participate in Bristol’s newly-elected mayor’s cabinet, I’ve written to the local Party secretary, my local councillor, Dawn Primarolo MP and Ed Miliband MP. Yesterday, I received a response from “The Frontbench Team”.
This is my reply to them:

Thank you for your response to my email dated 26 November (sent for the attention of Ed Miliband) regarding decisions taken by the NEC in connection with the Labour Party in Bristol and the Mayoral Elections.
In the recent Mayoral vote, the electorate’s VERY clear response was that it was sick of “party politics” and wanted local politicians to work together for the good of the city and all its citizens. Whatever YOU might think, large numbers of people opted for George Ferguson’s proposals for an all-party cabinet to address the city’s issues.
In my mind, Peter Hammond (Labour Group Leader) and Dean Chapman (Secretary of Bristol Labour Party) were absolutely right in resigning from their posts… and, OF COURSE, the Labour Party has subsequently been “suffering a far from friendly press” - because the electorate had clearly been urging all parties to work TOGETHER.
In your email, you indicated the NEC’s decision was as follows:
‘It is clear that there is neither widespread nor strong support for this proposal; and that there is no clear advantage to Bristol or the people of Bristol which could not be better provided by strong and robust scrutiny from outside the cabinet’.
You also indicated that ‘the press, media and George Ferguson seem to want to paint this as an imposition, or 'central party diktat', however, what the NEC have done is actually endorse the majority views of the wider party membership in Bristol’’.
I’m afraid that “a central party diktat” is exactly how it appears to me – as a life-long Labour supporter. 
You say (and I’ve no reason to believe that this wasn’t the case) that party members across Bristol were consulted and that there were a large number of submissions and that “the NEC took these into account when making their decision” (what does that mean?), but the fundamental question for me is “why did the NEC have to get involved in the first place – in what was essentially a ‘local party issue’”?
You say that, by not being included in the Mayor’s Cabinet, “the Labour Party will be able to provide clear, strong and robust opposition to the elected mayor”.  You just don’t get it do you?  The electorate voted for a Mayor who was completely INDEPENDENT of party politics – who would work with the very best people available (from all parties) to address a whole host of challenging issues over the next four years.  The local electorate did NOT want a continuation of “yaboo politics”.
I find the Party’s attitude quite incredible and think it will have HUGE implications in the short- and long-term (in both local AND general elections).  As a result, and assuming the Party doesn’t have a “Damascus experience”, I’m afraid I will NOT be voting for the Party in ANY future elections (ie. both local AND general elections) and, having chatted to several Labour-supporting friends, I suspect that there will be thousands taking a similar stance. 
This decision will go down as one of the biggest (and embarrassing) “own goals” for many a year and a defining watershed for the Party.  As things stand, the Labour Party has become a political laughing stock locally and I am desperately saddened that this should be the case.
Yours sincerely
Steven Broadway
cc Ed Miliband MP, Labour Party Leader, by letter
cc Dawn Primarolo MP (South Bristol) by email
cc Bristol Labour Party Secretary, by email
cc Sean Beynon (Labour Councillor, Southville Ward) by email
cc Peter Hammond (Labour Councillor, St George West Ward) by email
PS: So, after the local mayoral election and the General Synod's vote against women bishops, I now find myself party-less AND church-less!

Monday, December 03, 2012

our friends in the north…

Moira+I went up to Leeds over the weekend for the opening of the ADVENTurous art exhibition at LeftBank. Our wonderful, multi-talented, arty friend Si was involved in curating the show (there are also corresponding shows running in London and Colwyn Bay) and, although we’d seen photographs of the venue, the former St Margaret’s church building completely took our breath away (don’t be fooled by the rather ordinary exterior, the interior is stunning!). The building had essentially been abandoned as a place of worship in 2002, after several years of serious decline in church congregations. There’s now a lively steering group who are actively involved in bringing this wonderful building back to life.
There had previously been a very successful Advent Art show in 2009 – which Si also helped to curate.
This year, I was fortunate enough to be invited to submit a piece of work and, frankly, having previously seen glimpses of the amazing work by the other artists, it was with some trepidation that I made the journey north!
A truly wonderful evening and, as an added bonus, it was just great to meet up with two of my fellow-volunteers from Iona, Judith and Adam – who made the journey into Leeds especially for the event.
I have to say, the entire evening was quite magnificent – the inspiring art, the great live music, the people we met and, in particular, the venue itself.
Photo: I’m afraid I only took a handful of photographs (and those weren’t at all good in terms of quality!). The above image shows three pieces – one was a ‘neon art’ piece from Joel Baker entitled “Amen”; the painting “Gabriel” by Richard Stott is just right of centre and, to the far right, there was some amazing work by “We Stitch Angry” about the high walls that surround Bethlehem and the appalling way people living in Palestine are being treated.
PS: Moira+I stayed overnight with Sue+Si’s lovely, generous friends, Emma+Rob in their simply brilliant house. We’d never met them before, but they were wonderful, welcoming hosts and we felt VERY blessed.
PPS: Somewhat incredibly (well, in my view anyway), I actually sold my piece of work - and VERY early on in the evening too! I still can’t quite believe it.
PPPS: I arrived home to find a bill from the tax man for £121.60… so the sale of my artwork came at JUST the right time!!

Sunday, December 02, 2012


Really lovely to get together with my brilliant brother Alan (and his wife, Lesley, and one their daughters, Megan!) on Friday night… a chance to catch-up, share stories and generally put the world to right (oh, and to consume a lot of red wine!). A huge added bonus was being able to meet up with the rest of the Bristol-based based clan (Ruth+Stu+Iris+Rosa+Hannah+Felix+Ursula) for an excellent breakfast at Bordeaux Quay.
VERY good times.
Photo: breakfast at Bordeaux Quay - left-to-right: Stu, Iris, Lesley, Ruth, Rosa, Megan, Alan, Moira, Hannah+Felix (after a brief starring role, Ursa had opted for a nap).
PS: Very mindful of those family members who were NOT with us (Megan’s twin sister, Eleanor, and the Leyland clan Alice+Dave+Mikey+Dan+Jemima)… but who were there in spirit! x

Monday, November 26, 2012

an awful lot has changed in 40 years!

At the end of next month, Moira+I will be celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary.
Sometimes, the forty years seem to have passed by in a flash and, at other times, it seems an absolute age since our wedding day.
I remember being given Alvin Toffler’s book “Future Shock” as a (sort of) wedding gift by an American student friend, Mark Lang. It was written in 1970 and mine was a third re-print published in 1972 (and the price on this paperback was the princely sum of 50p – decimalisation had been introduced the previous year!). I recently came across the book again and decided to re-read it (if I recall correctly, I actually only read about half the book first time round)… and what a fascinating read it proved to be. As you might anticipate, although he did put his finger on a number of key indicators, there’s been much other stuff that he failed to touch on. For example (and very surprisingly in my view): any reference to climate change – in whatever form you might want to address it (or any significant reference to the environment in general) – was almost entirely absent… the closest he came to touching on the subject was in a throw-away line about pollution when he added (almost as an after-thought): “perhaps even melting the polar icecaps”. He failed to predict (amongst other matters) how personal computers and the internet have come to dominate our lives – although, towards the very end of the book he did say this: “As computerized information systems ramify… it would tap into a worldwide pool of data stored in libraries, corporate files, hospitals, retail stores, banks, government agencies and universities”.

The book made me realise just HOW MUCH had changed over the intervening 40 years… so much so that I kept scribbling notes, inside the back cover, of the number of new things that had become part of lives during the course of marriage (note: NOT introduced specifically to keep our marriage “on track”, you understand!). Toffler, and the experts he quoted, seemed to think that some form of robotics was going to rule our lives by this stage of the 21st century. Little did he know (well, not in the way they had anticipated anyway)!
Obviously, the list is far from being comprehensive – but, once I’d started scribbling, it was very difficult to stop! These are just a FEW of my items (in no particular order… read slowly and digest!):
1.       THE INTERNET (oh my goodness! COMPLETELY life-changing for everyone!).
2.       Personal computers (whoever would have thought!? I recall a brand new, HUGE computer taking over an ENTIRE floor of the architectural block at college at this time for a massive project undertaken by final-year town planning students… but all it was able to do was to produce punch-cards!). And to think, Moira+I both HAVE to have a computer (what would my parents have thought?)!
3.       E-mails (and even they’re on the way out, perhaps?).
4.       Wireless (and satellite) technology in general.
5.       Mobile/smart phones (+cameras!)… complete with and iPods and iPads etc etc.
6.       Digital cameras.
7.       Social network sites which allow us to communicate with hundreds of friends… facebook, twitter and the like.
8.       Communication generally (eg. Skype which is something that used to be predicted in sci-fi cartoons when we were children - except that we saw it in terms of telephone lines and televisions rather than computers). Ironically, although there are so many ways of keeping in touch, many of which are totally brilliant, many of these things also cause more isolation.
9.       SatNav systems.
10.   Digital books.
11.   iTunes, MP3-players – “downloading” music, radio programmes etc.
12.   Instant global news.
13.   Instant publishing/blogs/websites (surely not!).
14.   Television channels (and iPlayer technology) where you can watch programmes at times convenient to YOU.
15.   Globalisation – with all its benefits and ALL its downsides.
16.   Travel and mobility (the world has become a very small place).
17.   Disposable/throw-away society – rather than mend+repair.
18.   Terrorism/suicide bombers.
19.   Society’s changing attitudes towards gays/same sex marriage etc.
20.   Offices without “designated” typists (and the changing face of the “typewriter”)!
21.   Google, Wikipedia etc (and access to information)(oh good grief!).
22.   Banking (cheque cards and holes in the wall).
23.   In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)(a subject close to our hearts), keyhole surgery and other medical wonders.
24.   Climate Change awareness.
25.   And, of course, the so-called celebrity status (don’t get me started!)?
But I’m absolutely certain I’ve forgotten a whole host of other stuff!


Sunday, November 25, 2012

november books

More book stuff:
The Moving Toyshop (Edmund Crispin): Light, amusing, clever crime novel set in 1938… eminently readable and its Oxford setting gave me a very nostalgic yearning to be back in the city. I also absolutely loved the cover design by Rowena Leroc!
Non-Places: introduction to an anthropology of supermodernity (Marc Auge): I admit this is a rather strange book choice, but I was intrigued by the description the title. This is essentially an extended essay by the Director of the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris. It was written in 1995 and deals with “our” ever-increasing time spent in supermarkets, airports, on motorways or in front of TVs. I have to admit that some of the book simply “went over my head” and I found stuff such as ancestral practices in African villages somewhat tedious! However, it also contained some fascinating observations which, with the current even greater use of the internet and the introduction of social network sites, could be (and, subsequently, probably has been) massively extended.
The Case of the Gilded Fly (Edmund Crispin): Having enjoyed my first Crispin novel (see above!), I opted for more, predictable, light escapism! This time set in wartime Oxford of 1940 (although you’d hardly have known). I don’t even like crime novels… but still enjoyed being reminded of the city.  
In Search of the 40 Days Road (Michael Asher): I first read this in 1990. Asher first went to the Sudan in 1979 as a volunteer English teacher and became fascinated by the desert and the lives of the tribesmen. He ended up acquiring his own camels and living a nomadic life in the desert. As the title suggests, the book tells of his search for the “lost” “Forty Days Road” (ancient trading route). Beautifully written and completely captivating (and poignant in his descriptions of how the desert, through climate change, is gradually taking over what used to be fertile areas). Certainly, a part of me yearns to experience the desert for myself someday(?) – but perhaps not quite in Asher’s way! I loved this book (again!).   
Future Shock (Alvin Toffler): Another re-read (inscribed by my American friend Mark Lang just before Moira and I got married 40 years ago!). Strangely, after coming across the term “supermodernity” in Auge’s book (see above!), Toffler kept on referring to “super-industrialism”! As the title suggests, it’s a book about the rate of change in society (written in 1970). Lots of fascinating stuff but, inevitably, also lots of things that now seem rather strange (to me at least!), such as predicting “extensive submarine communities” and “professional parenthood”. Virtually no mention - apart from a couple of throw-away sentences in a book of some 500 pages - of climate change (or whatever you might choose to call it) and no real appreciation that personal computers and something called “the worldwide web” was going to transform our lives (although there was this somewhat oblique reference: “machines and man… will be scattered across the globe, linked together by amazingly sensitive, near-instantaneous communications”)! Thought-provoking – even today!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

women bishops

So, the Church of England has voted against allowing women Bishops.
It took over 7 hours of debate and, predictably, there were vigorous arguments from both sides before the decision was finally made… but I really can’t quite believe it. It was passed by the Bishops and the Clergy, but rejected by the Laity (more “yesses” but failing to obtain the necessary 2/3rds majority).
It seems that the evangelical and catholic wings of the church have “won”.
I can’t quite believe that it’s been 20 years since the Church of England agreed to authorise women priests (it took another two years before the first women priests were actually ordained). I was a Churchwarden at St Michael and All Angels church in Summertown, Oxford in the mid-1970s and can certainly remember a church parochial church council (PCC) meeting when we voted, as a parish church, in favour of women priests… that was some 37 years ago(?)!
I’m afraid today’s vote has left me feeling saddened, annoyed and frustrated… words almost fail me.
No doubt, there will some friends (not many!) who will vigorously defend the decision. Others will tell that, whichever way the vote went, a split in the Anglican Church was inevitable (I agree!).
As for me, I think this marks the end of my time worshipping in the Anglican Church.
A separate, personal, lonely journey starts today.
I don’t think I’ll be alone.

Monday, November 19, 2012

weekends with friends

I love living in the city (well, I love living in Bristol). I love it that I can be walking along the harbourside within ten minutes of leaving our front door. I love the buzz, activity, culture and art of the city.
I could never live in the “country” and, although there are times I yearn for a life overlooking the sea, I know that, in reality, I would always be pulled back to the city.
However, Moira+I have just spent one of those magical weekends in the country (and within a 20 minute drive of the sea) with our great friends Jez+Mags in Devon – where the sun shone brilliantly, where easy conversations continued as if we saw each other every day, where the scenery was stunning (waking up to the sun casting its rays across open fields) and where food+drink seemed inexhaustible!
An extra bonus was getting together with more very special friends(!), Gail+Ian, for Sunday lunch.
Times for celebration.
Photo: Ian, Gail, Mags, Moira+Jez sunning themselves outside the Crabshell Inn, Kingsbridge.
PS: Over the past two weekends, Moira and I have been well and truly spoiled – last Saturday, we met up for lunch with yet more lovelies: Gail+Ian (again!), Ken+Debby and Diane+Steve at Le Muset in Clifton, Bristol.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

joan armatrading+chris wood at colston hall

Really enjoyed the Joan Armatrading/Chris Wood concerts at Colston Hall last night.
Wood was essentially the “warm-up” act for Armatrading’s nationwide tour – but I’m a great fan of his, so this was a real bonus for me and he was excellent (particular favourites: “Hollow Point”, “My Darling’s Downsized” and “Hard”).
This was the first time I’d seen Armatrading live and she was pretty amazing (performing with three other musicians) - she played for an hour and forty minutes straight through. I love her voice, but hadn’t realised just what an exceptional guitarist she was. I actually prefer her “ballads”(?), but her range is quite amazing – jazz, rock, blues. ALL performed stunningly well (particular favourites: “Love and Affecton”, of course, and “Willow” – which she didn’t perform!).
Until yesterday, I hadn’t appreciated that she was brought up in Brookfields, Birmingham (now part of Handsworth - where I too was brought up) from the age of 7… she’s only a year or so younger than me so, who knows, we might have met as kids in the local sweet shop?!
PS: I’m at a loss to understand how the couple sitting next to me spent some £60 on tickets, but decided to miss Chris Woods (and another local singer-songwriter) altogether and then left after just 25 minutes of Armatrading – and half way through her most famous song?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

BIG pens and pencils

We’ve been doing a lot of sorting out at home recently and, in the course of this, I’ve rediscovered two beautiful writing/drawing implements (see above!).
I’m determined to put them to (more) regular use again.
One is a Montblanc fountain pen – a Meisterstuck 149 fountain pen indeed, complete with (according to the Montblanc website) “18K gold nib, rhodium-plated inlay, barrel and cap made of precious resin inlaid with Montblanc emblem, gold-plated clip and rings”. Moira won this through a crossword competition in “The Independent” newspaper in 1989 but, given the pen’s huge thickness, she found she couldn’t really write with it herself – and therefore passed it on me!! I’m afraid I haven’t used it for several years. According to the Montblanc website, a new Meisterstuck 149 fountain pen would cost the princely sum of £535!
The other wonderful piece of graphic equipment is a Copic Graphic Pen Design Pencil (isn’t Google wonderful – the only marking on it says “Made in Japan”!): “a heavy metal pencil ideal for sketching, design and layout work. Simple push-button mechanism advances the lead; top-button unscrews to reveal the integrated lead sharpener; the pencil is approximately 14mm in diameter and 120mm long; it weighs in at a satisfying but usable 46 grams. The 5mm diameter lead is a smooth dense 6B, perfect for creating a wide range of tone”. Interestingly, the “Cult Pens” website also states: “we suspect that this item isn't really a Copic product. It's imported from Japan by Transotype, the European distributor for Copic, and featured in their Copic catalogues - but is almost certainly made by someone else. We do know however that it is stamped 'Made in Japan' and that it's very lovely”! I was given the pencil perhaps 15 years ago (by a consultant or “sales rep”, I really can’t remember) during my time as an architect. It really is a beautiful sketching pencil – especially for quick, big, bold drawings – but I think I’ll need to use it on much larger sheets of paper than my A4 sketchbooks! Today’s price from Cult Pens is £23.14.  
Moira’s just hinted that we should perhaps be trying to sell the Montblanc on eBay. Perhaps she’s right (but I really don’t want to!).

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

US presidential elections 2012

They’ve been voting in the USA today.
I’ve been remembering this time four years ago when, after something of a rollercoaster ride, Barack Obama became the first black president of the USA. I recall how relieved I was that the somewhat sickening “God-bless-America” rhetoric of the Bush years was finally over. I also recall holding back the tears listening to Obama’s inaugural speech in January 2009.
Clearly, given the world’s financial crisis, it’s been difficult for Obama to push through his policies (especially given the frustrating, Republican majority in the Senate).
The fact remains that, as far as I’m concerned, I feel far “safer” with Obama in charge compared with the rhetoric of his Republican opponent, for example: "I love America's greatness… America got it right… This is the greatest nation in the history of the Earth, and there is no reason the president of the United States should go around the world apologising for America".
Romney frightens me. His views on abortion, stem cells, climate change, foreign policy (and attitudes towards the rest of the world), gun-control, pro-business, pro-rich and a whole host of other matters.
My good friend Steve Cox posted the following on facebook today:
“To my dear American friends, please see sense today. Forget those deep genetic beliefs in The Frontier and Manifest Destiny, put aside the obsession with guns, gays and God and acknowledge that the rhetoric is only that, Obama is not a Marxist nor will the country go to hell if he gets 4 more years. He would barely register as a liberal democrat in a European setting. It matters to us all that the US thrives and takes its place in the world but not with the false belief they have a God given right to run it.
Obama it must be, four more years of hopey changey stuff, please”.

I couldn’t agree more!
Normally, I’ve only been too keen to listen to the BBC’s World Service and to keep up to date with the very latest news on the political ups and downs… but, actually, I stopped listening some days ago – not because I’m not interested, but because I fear that Romney MIGHT win (if only Obama had “won” the first televised debate!).
I think the thing that I find most frightening about the US presidential election has been the ridiculous amount of money that has been poured into the process - each of the candidates has spent AT LEAST $1BILLION (yes, a billion!) on this election.
It seems that, in order to compete in US politics, you need bucket-loads of cash!

Monday, November 05, 2012

october/november books 2012

More books:
The Red Pony (John Steinbeck): A short book (only some 95 pages) in four distinct, stand-alone chapters and written in 1933. Essentially, it deals with the reality of life in the Californian valleys of the pre-war years through the lives of a 10-year old boy, his mother and father, his grandfather and a horse expert/working hand on a ranch – the relationships (and promises) between young and old. I liked it. 
The Dignity of Difference – How to Avoid the Clash of Civilisations (Jonathan Sacks): Jonathan Sacks (Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth) wrote this book in 2002. 2001 began with the United Nations Year of Dialogue between Civilisations but the tragedy of 9/11 only intensified the danger caused by religious differences around the world. This is an impressive, wise and challenging book by a “good man”. Sacks is far from denying that religion is a big part of the human problem today, but he wants to adapt it so that it can become part of the solution. He wants to celebrate the differences among religious traditions and use them to enlarge, not stunt, our humanity. An informative, inspiring and radical book. I really liked what he had to say.
Kafka on the Shore (Haruki Murakami): This is our latest Book Group book and my first Murakami book. I found it a compelling read and finished it 500plus page book in less than a week. It tells two apparently-unconnected stories following the exploits of a 15 year-old boy, Kafka, who runs away from home and a wartime evacuee boy, Nakata, who ends up in a coma and wakes up “not very bright” a few weeks later. Complicated, intriguing and very readable. Apparently, this is far from Murakami’s best work and so, on this basis, I look forward to enjoying a few more of his books over the coming months/years.
Letters and Papers from Prison (Dietrich Bonhoeffer): As the title suggests, the book comprises letters, poetry and papers written during Bonhoeffer’s imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp (where he was condemned to death and hanged in April 1945). Perhaps understandably, there is a marked difference between the letters he wrote to his family and those sent to his friends – but all have a poignancy, optimism and resilience which reflect his deep faith.
Conversations on Ethics (Alex Voorhoeve): We’ve been using this as our Ithaca study book for discussion over our weekly meals. I don’t think I’ve studied or read ANY books on philosophy or ethics and so was looking forward to launching myself into this one. Sadly, I kept finding myself unable to follow the intellectual arguments outlined in the book! Time after time, I just felt as if the book had been written in code – and I had very little idea as to how to de-code it! The conversations were very much on the basis of intellectual-to-intellectual (with perhaps a degree of them trying to out-do each other). Although our own group discussions were helpful in trying to decipher a basic understanding, I ended up feeling rather inadequate and that my brain needed scrambling – subjectivism, practical rationality, hypothetical imperatives, emotivism, utilitarianism, contractualism, moral motivation, practical normativity and, of course, vindicatory genealogy of truth and truthfulness! I really didn’t enjoy this book!

Sunday, November 04, 2012

more opposition to gove’s proposed english baccalaureate

I’ve previously expressed my great concerns about Gove’s English Baccalaureate proposals (in January 2011 and September 2012).
Under his scheme, pupils who achieve a GCSE grade C or better in English, Maths, a Language, two Sciences and History or Geography will achieve the EBacc. Subjects such as music, art, drama, design, technology and religious studies do not count.
I was therefore delighted to see (not before time!) that leading figures in the arts world have now also expressed their deep concern. Sir Nicholas Hytner (Director, National Theatre), Sir Nicholas Serota (Director of the Tate), Julian Lloyd Webber (musician), Richard Rogers (architect), Sir David Hare (playwright) and Grayson Perry (artist) are among the cultural figureheads fearful about the impact of excluding creative subjects from the core qualification at 16 (as reported in yesterday’s Guardian).
The fear is that many schools, particularly state schools, will marginalise arts subjects if they don’t count towards the EBacc. It’s all very well for a spokeswoman for the Department for Education to claim that “the English baccalaureate does not prevent any school from offering GCSEs in art and design, dance, drama and music. We have been clear that pupils should take the GCSEs that are right for them” – but, frankly, this is poppycock! At a time when school league tables are seen to be the defining factor in determining a school’s “worth” for parents (wrongly in my view), schools WILL inevitably focus on matters that will enhance their league table standings – and, clearly, will very largely revolve around its EBacc success levels.  
How much more damage will Mr Gove be able to wreak on the UK’s education system?
Also pity the poor children, teachers and parents who will face even more confusion and worry when a subsequent government wants to try to repair the damage!
PS: This article by Grayson Perry, that appeared in the Guardian on Friday, says it all for me.

Friday, November 02, 2012

paper cinema: the odyssey

“Just saw that the Paper Cinema are in Bristol this week. You should definitely go catch them if you can, they are brilliant...”.
This was the simple message I received yesterday from my amazing great mate/art and music guru/mentor/encourager Si Smith.
On the basis that, from my viewpoint, Si has NEVER been wrong over very many years (eg. on music alone: Juliet Turner, Bill Wells+Aidan Moffat, John Martyn, Dakota Suite, Bon Iver, Luke Leighfield, Jose Vanders, Lobelia and, of course Guy Garvey on Radio6 plus Elbow… to name just a few!), Moira managed to buy tickets for tonight at the Tobacco Factory Theatre (we were really lucky it was another full house – they’re only in Bristol for three days… tomorrow is the last night).
This is from their website: "The Paper Cinema perform a unique form of live animation and music. Founded in 2004 by Nicholas Rawling, with Imogen Charleston and Christopher Reed, they tour bespoke pieces around Britain and internationally. The company devised this original form of puppetry, which uses the language of animation, music, film and theatre to lead the viewer through a variety of stories. Intricate pen and ink illustrations are
manipulated in real-time in front of a live video camera and projected onto the big screen alongside the performed music, which is integral to the work".
Art, theatre, music, choreography… tonight’s enthusiastic audience were completely entranced, mesmerised and captivated and no doubt, like us, can’t wait to tell their friends about this amazing company.
If you’re in Bristol tomorrow (Saturday), I would urge you to try and get tickets (but I suspect it’s already a sell-out); if you live anywhere near the following places: Eastleigh, Halifax, Caernarfon, Salisbury, Coventry, Brighton, Colchester, Lancaster or Manchester (from now until the end of November), I suggest you do your utmost to catch a performance.
A simply magical, live performance of sheer delight.   
PS: Thank you SO much Si!

golfing whimp or just old and decrepit?

I played golf yesterday with my great mates Ken and Steve in Oxford (Pete cried off due to grandchild-sitting duties!).
We had a lovely time together - although we weren’t very impressed by the constant rain showers when the forecast had been for sunshine (of course, the sun came out as we were finishing our round!).
The only depressing thing about the day (apart from the weather) was that I came away thinking that I might be about to label myself as a “former golfer”.
I’ve been suffering from hip problems off and on for some two years now (I’ve just typed in the word “hip” on a search through my blog and came across this note in January2011).
I hadn’t played golf since our trip to Spain in April (apart from hitting a few balls on Iona in June). I’d very reluctantly had to cry off from playing at Burnham+Berrow with good friend Jake at the end of September (because I was finding it very difficult just to walk, let alone get round a golf course).  Physiotherapy subsequently improved things considerably and I found I could walk reasonably well (ie. rather than limp!), so I decided to give golf “another go” yesterday – and accepting that I might well be suffering a little by the end of the round. In the event, the walking was pretty good (not back to normal, but acceptable). What came as a shock was that I had shooting pains down my right leg virtually every time I hit a shot with my driver… and woods and long irons (note for non-golfers: these are the longer clubs, in terms of actual length, in my golf bag). So, I very soon stopped trying to use my driver altogether and either avoided using my woods and long irons wherever possible or just hit “half shots”.
The phrase “golf handicap” has developed a whole new meaning!
If this is what the future holds for me as a golfer, then I just don’t want to know – which, given the pleasure that the game and my golfing friends have granted me over the past 30 years(?), is pretty depressing.
I had been half thinking of doing a half marathon run as one of my “retirement projects”; this now seems like a laughable pipedream – I’ve tried running and can do little more than a painful 10metre “shuffle” (which must look hilarious to any onlookers)… at present, there’s no way that I could even keep up with our 3-year-old granddaughter!!
I’m very loathe to do so, but I may have to seek further medical advice.
Background (apologies, but while writing the above, I thought it would useful to jot down some background notes as a future reminder to me): My mother and her mother both had double replacements and so, when I started have “hip issues”, I feared that it might be an indicator of me following family history. I went to see the doctor in September and was sent for an x-ray. Thankfully, the results revealed a “normal” hip – but it was suggested that I was added to the two-month physiotherapy waiting list. In transpired that the way they “do” this in Bristol Community Health is through detailed telephone conversations between the patient and a senior physiotherapist (who has access to the x-ray results).
My physiotherapist reckons I’m suffering from ‘tensor fasciae latae’ overload (note: nothing to do with coffee!!) – possibly due to some weakening of my gluteal muscles. He’s unsure why this occurred in the first place, but reckons it’s a pattern he sees quite regularly… although he added that, despite the clear x-ray, there is a “small possibility” that it’s an early sign of osteoarthritis.
I’ve only been doing my twice-daily exercises for about 10 days thus far (apparently, it might take 5-6 weeks for the muscles to show a marked increase in strength), but have already seen some improvement (I’ve been told I can continue my daily walking, but to try to restrict this to say 2-3 miles for the time being).
I’m probably guilty of trying to run before I can walk!