Monday, January 30, 2012

villa sign new defender before transfer deadline…

With their 2-3 defeat by Arsenal in the FA Cup, Villa’s season is now well and truly over (apart from the battle to avoid relegation!).
The Villa’s defence seems incapable of keeping clean sheets these days.
But worry not, help is at hand.
In an astute move, with only hours to go before the transfer deadline, Villa have signed Dan Buckley (see photo), a promising young defender – who has already been tipped to play for England!
If only, (although they should keep an eye on him for the future!)…
When Alice+Dave got married, I gave them a junior Villa shirt for one of their future offspring (in the knowledge that Dave would insist on them becoming ManU supporters!). Alice has just sent me these photographs of Dan wearing the aforementioned shirt… the rest, as they say, will be history!!
Photo: Dan Buckley, ace defender.
PS: When A+D got married, David Beckham had just left ManU and so I speculated that, at some stage in the future, the Villa would snap him up (hence the number 23 shirt and the “Becks” name!).

Friday, January 27, 2012

january books

A Visit from the Goon Squad (Jennifer Egan): I finished this book on the first day of the new year. It seemed like the perfect book for this time of year – a time for reflection and looking forward (and especially, for me, following retirement and also after catching up with some old friends fairly recently – either “in the flesh”, as it were, or via FB). It’s a book about memory and friendship, life stories, opportunities lost and gained and about interconnection. It took me a little time to get into the book, but I was gradually won over. I ended up loving it – it’s an absolutely charming book (literally).
Free Radical: A Memoir (Vince Cable): I generally admire Cable; he seems to be an “honest” politician and a decent bloke. In the book, as well as politics, he talks touchingly about his family – especially the death of his first wife from cancer in 1998. Over perhaps the past four years, he has become the “holy grail of economic comment” (as the Guardian once described him). The book provides frank accounts of his life (including his time working in India and with Shell) – but I was struck by the number of poor decisions he consistently seems to have made throughout his life (especially when it came to trying to get himself elected as an MP!). He is pretty scathing about Gordon Brown’s performance as PM and also about George Osborne (“I have never rated George’s understanding of financial and economic matters”) – although he does acknowledge the latter to be a “political operator of some substance”. Inevitably, there is a hint of “I told you so” in the concluding chapter (essentially referring to the “stormy waters” of the global economic crisis) – although I haven’t been desperately impressed by his performance as Business Secretary in the current coalition!
Freedom (Jonathan Franzen): I thought this was a brilliant novel. It’s a (very long book) about a marriage (and contemporary American life?) - about its joys, frustrations and disappointments. But it’s far more than that. It’s about pride, jealousy, resentment, politics, big business, greed, ecology, sex, honesty, inadequacy, relationships, society, education, risk, delight, truth, compromise, falsehood, lifestyle… I could go on! It’s funny, it’s scathing, it’s poignant and, in my view, it’s a book you NEED to read (it’s VERY readable)! I now definitely want to read Franzen’s highly-acclaimed “The Corrections”.
The Tyrannicide Brief (Geoffrey Robertson): Due to the peculiarities of the fast-tracked “Remove” stream at my grammar school, I was sadly forced to give up History at the end of my first year of secondary education(!). As a result, my knowledge of 17th century British history is sadly lacking. This book, by eminent human-rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, tells the story of the little-known John Cooke - the lawyer who essentially “sent Charles I to the scaffold”. It’s an absolutely fascinating and impassioned story of a landmark prosecution based on the King’s “tyranny” (depriving his subjects of their civil rights and mass murder on a vast scale). Robertson argues that Cooke has been widely misrepresented by history. When Charles's son was restored to the throne, soon after the death of Cromwell, his father's trial was seen as an act of treason and his legal execution as murder. Cooke's prosecution for these crimes was duly rigged and Charles II attended the disembowelling of Cooke, still alive after he had been part-hanged and castrated. A brilliant book.
A Moveable Feast (Ernest Hemingway): “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast”. I really enjoyed this short set of memoirs written by Hemingway (completed in 1960) about his time as a young writer living in Paris in the 1920s. It’s an evocative, often funny, sometimes rather cruel, account of his daily routines, his lack of funds and the people he met (including F Scott Fitzgerald, Ford Madox Ford, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Hilaire Belloc and Gertrude Stein) in the bars and cafes of the city. His descriptions are quite brilliant and the pieces about FSF, in particular, very amusing.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

anyone can teach… can’t they?

I blogged about this last September…
I have absolutely no doubt that some former members of the armed forces have much to offer the world of education, but I was saddened this morning to see reports of a proposed school for 11-18 year-olds in Oldham where ALL the teaching staff will be composed of ex-servicemen and women. The school is now actively recruiting prospective pupils with a view to opening next year. Worryingly (and I can’t quite believe that this can be true?), according to Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, many ex-servicemen and women at the Phoenix Free School will have had no formal teacher training: “Turning soldiers into teachers with no training is like trying to turn teachers into soldiers with no training… They seem to believe routine drills and discipline is what these children need. Well, some of them may need it, but not all of them will”.
When I turned 50, I was briefly tempted by the idea of becoming a (primary school) teacher. Having worked closely with teachers in secondary education, I am now relieved that I didn’t. Not EVERYONE can be an effective teacher – and there are key skills that all teachers DO have to LEARN. Very many of my school colleagues were quite BRILLIANT teachers – knowledgeable, intelligent, inspirational, gifted, enthusiastic, intuitive and able to communicate a love for their subject to pupils. The Phoenix project is applying for state funding as a free school which would be run outside of local authority control (of course!) and has the backing of Michael Gove (of course!). To my mind, a school which bases its education philosophy on the core values of the armed forces sounds worrying, to say the least!
I suggest you check out this report on today’s BBC website.
Photo: I couldn’t resist this photograph (and I’m only joking)!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

harbourside market: last january sale day

Would you buy art from this bloke?
Received this image from good friends Nigel+Janice earlier this week. It was taken at our market stall just before Christmas. Nigel’s e-mail included some words of wisdom, describing me as “a more refined Guardian reading version of Ray Winstone?”!
Yesterday was the second, and last, of my “January Sale Days” of photographs and drawings that were “past their sell-by date” or had just be lying around in boxes in the basement. Although I’d reduced the prices pretty drastically it was very gratifying that, over the two Saturdays, I sold more than half of my 114 “old pieces” (pretty amazing!).
I’ve really enjoyed being a market stallholder but, with various other weekend activities coming up plus my forthcoming two month trip to Iona (and a desire to avoid sitting out in the cold for six hours every Saturday), I’ve decided to opt out of the Harbourside Market until July and reclaim my Saturdays for a while!
Photo: the Ray Winstone of Bristol Harbourside Market?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

painting again...

One of my retirement resolutions was to get down to doing some painting again. Yes, I’ve done lots of drawings that have included watercolour paints, inks and the like, but the last REAL painting I did was completed some 42 years ago! The main stimulus for wanting to paint again was the memory/influence of one of my former tutors at Oxford School of Architecture – the truly inspirational Tom Porter (who sadly died in 2010, aged 72). He just adored “colour” and encouraged us to use it boldly whenever we undertook our painting projects (which, for me, proved to be important in the first two years of the architecture course). One of my paintings was used for an exhibition poster for the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Sadly, I no longer have any of my college paintings (one of them, painted on chipboard, ended up as the roof hatch to the loft space in our Percy Street house, Oxford – and will, no doubt, have made a fortune for one of its subsequent owners!). In homage to Tom, my first painting (entitled: “Deckchairs for Tom 1”) duly makes use of “bold colour” – and is the first time I’ve ever painted on canvas (60x60cm) OR used acrylic paint. My painting technique is incredibly rusty after all these years (it was never wonderful!) and the result is hardly a “work of art” in terms of quality or composition – but I really enjoyed doing it (playing my music and generally making a mess of my basement workspace) and, hopefully, will continue to paint over the coming years. As a demonstration of this commitment to undertaking more paintings, I went out this morning and bought three more canvases (they were on offer!)!
Photo: one down… three to go (well, actually, I’ve only got plans for painting no.2 thus far)?

Monday, January 16, 2012

retirement review

Amazingly, it’s coming up for six months since I retired. Last January, I posted three blogs entitled “Looking Forward to Retirement” in which I outlined my hopes (and fears) as I approached the end of my “working life”. I’ve been vaguely reviewing things over the past few days. The following represents a very quick résumé of my thoughts (under the “sub-headings” of my earlier blogs on the subject):
We seem to be keeping our heads above water - but it’s very early days.
Will I be bored by retirement? Well, no this hasn’t happened (apart from perhaps a couple of days that I just seemed to fritter away unsatisfactorily). I’ve continued to wake early at around 5am, got myself some coffee and breakfast and then, more often than not, read in bed for an hour or so.
I’m still in good health, touch wood (and the hip pain I referred to last year has, thankfully, disappeared).
I did worry that I would miss the daily exchanges and banter with lots of other people – and, although I do miss this, it’s been fine (and I try to catch up with former school colleagues on a regular basis – at The Warwick Arms on a Friday afternoon, for example!).
I’ve only played three times since I retired, but each time has been with some of my “old golf buddies” (Pete, Steve, Ken and Bob) – which has been really lovely. Particularly enjoyed a two-day trip to Celtic Manor in October and the “Bob Head Classic” in November.
Nothing exactly on the world travel front (and that’s fine – we don’t have any particular yearnings) – although Moira+I did have a wonderful time in France with great friends Chris+Lal (does that count?)… and Moira+I have been talking about another possible Venice trip to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary (next December).
I decided to ensure that I didn’t commit myself to any voluntary work for at least the first six months of my retirement (and I’m glad I’d done that because it gave me time to adjust to a different “way of life”). Having said that, I have re-joined our local Arts Trail’s steering group – but that’s no problem. I did also apply for an 8-week stint with the Iona Community last July (knowing that a) I wouldn’t hear back from them until this month and b) that the chances of my being selected weren’t particularly high). Last week, I was absolutely delighted to have heard back from the Community – and will be joining them on the beautiful Isle of Iona for a couple of months, starting at the beginning of May.
I’ve been enjoying these! Music: concerts by Chris Wood and June Tabor; theatre: Royal Shakespeare Company (and Felix will be performing with them this year too: “Twelfth Night”, “The Tempest” and “Comedy of Errors”) and also Tobacco Factory Theatre and the Bristol Old Vic; cinema: just getting back to attending more regularly (have really enjoyed “The Artist” and “We Need To Talk About Kevin”).
SPORT (apart from golf):
Well, I DID manage to get to Taunton (with Chris, Bron and Roger) to watch Somerset play Lancashire – which was very enjoyable. Will definitely be watching more cricket in 2012.
I’ve continued to take pleasure in getting up early and taking full advantage of what I’ve always felt was “the best of the day” – highlights to date have been brilliant sunrises at Glastonbury and Berrow Beach. I’ve tried to keep to my plan of taking daily walks to help keep me fit (no cycling recently though!). I haven’t yet arranged to do any of the Dorset Coastal Walk thus far or finished the Thames Path.
I’ve continued to adore grandparenthood. Being with Mikey, Iris, Dan, Rosa+Jemima gives me SO much pleasure and the arrival of Hannah+Felix’s Ursula just before Christmas has been a brilliant bonus!! I definitely want to see much more of Mikey, Dan+Jemima (and Alice+Dave!) and will hopefully do so over coming year.
This has also continued to be a source of great pleasure for me – and I try to carry my camera with me everywhere.
Well, I HAVE actually done some painting (for the first time “properly” since 1970!!)… and on canvas! I’ve also got some plans for a drawing project (essentially, building-related?).
No real progress on this to date!
Still pending, I’m afraid (apart from painting and drawing).
I’m really looking forward to going to the Isle of Iona again this year – that will hopefully give me some time for reflection and to explore aspects of my own spiritual life. Book study has been somewhat limited: further use of Ian Adams’s excellent “Cave Refectory Road: monastic rhythms for contemporary living” plus The Accidental Pilgrim (Maggi Dawn, Salvation on the Small Screen? (Nadia Bolz-Weber), Thinking Out Loud (John L Bell) and Words and Wonderings (Joy Mead). Our weekly “Ithaca” group continues to provide stimulus and food for thought.
Some progress made, but lots still to do! Great to meet up again with Tony (and prospects of impending lunch with Charles and Steve) and plans to meet up with John+Laura after simply ages. Very good (as always) to keep up with Ian, Gail, Ken, Debby, Jez and Mags – plus, obviously, local friends. A possible re-union of old college friends is on the cards for 2012.
The Saturday Harbourside Market: has been a real bonus – I’ve really enjoyed it (haven’t made a fortune sales-wise, but the “craic” has been very enjoyable).
No.1 Harbourside Cafe/Bar has become my regular coffee stop and they make me feel very welcome.
Reading: has proved to be a continuing pleasure (I read over 50 books in 2011!).
Moira also reckons she's enjoying her retirement much more since I retired - which is lovely.
Photo: sunrise at Glastonbury, October 2011.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

bristol harbourside market

I had another enjoyable day at the harbourside market yesterday (beautiful weather, despite starting off at minus 2C!)… and I'm very grateful for lots of friends dropping by to say hello, including: Tracey, Richard, Maria, Liz, Lou, Paul, Hroth, Emily, Loz and Nick (but sorry I missed you!)… and probably a few other wonderful, lovely people who I’ve forgotten!
After some four months of Saturday markets, running up to Christmas, I’d decided to have a break until the summer (with perhaps one or two exceptions). However, before doing so, I made a commitment to myself to have a couple of “January Sales” sessions. I’d become aware of just how many old mounted photographs/drawings I’d accumulated (and not sold!) over recent years – and that it was probably time I got rid of them!
It transpired that I actually had 114 pieces of work (I counted them!) and so yesterday was the first of my two “studio clearance days” (complete with banner explaining this to the punters!). I decided to put a £5 pricetag on all of the photographs and £15 on the drawings/paintings. In the end, I sold a total of 35 pieces of work - 34 photos and one drawing (the latter, one of my favourites, reduced from £50 – actually, I’ve just realised that it’s the one at the bottom right hand side of my photograph)).
It’s given me much food for thought:
• It’s NOT worth trying to sell one-off original drawings/paintings for £15 (despite them not selling anyway!) – I feel it devalues their true worth (doesn’t that sound pretentious!!).
• However, it has made me think again about the pricing of my photographs. Although I always note that each of them are one of a series of 10, I only occasionally ever print more than two or three copies. Maybe I SHOULD consciously be prepared to produce a number of mounted prints and sell them “cheap” (on the basis that I would therefore sell more?)?
• I probably couldn’t sustain a cost as low as £5, but maybe £10 (ie. less than “normal” price of £15)?
• Was yesterday just a one-off? It’ll be interesting to see how next Saturday’s market goes (the last of my “January Sales”).
• Were people only buying on the basis that they felt they were getting a good deal?
• Were people only buying on the basis that it was a “Sale” and that they mustn’t miss a “bargain”?
Photo: our hall at home in preparation for the “Sale”.
PS: No less than SEVEN of my photographs ended up in the hands of ONE family! First of all I had a 15 year-old(?) coming up to me and saying how much she loved the photos… then her mother appears and tells me that her daughter is desperate to pursue photography as a career and wanted me to advise her what she should do to achieve this (clearly, I had to explain that I hadn’t a clue!)(but I WAS very encouraging). The daughter ended up buying four photographs and then, about 10 minutes later, her aunt returned with the girl’s mother and bought three more images!! Very sweet… and slightly embarrassing. In 20 years time, the girl will probably be giving interviews to respected journalists explaining her successful career in photography can all be put down to a conversation with an old bloke at a Bristol market stall…

Sunday, January 08, 2012

the artist

Forget “The Iron Lady” – THIS is the film you need to see!
Moira+I went the Watershed this afternoon to see this wonderful, uplifting, funny, clever film - set in Hollywood of the 1920s. Directed by Michel Hazanavicius and filmed in black+white, it’s an ode to silent movies and has no script; the two excellent stars are Jean Dujardin (George) and Berenice Bejo (Peppy). It was absolutely lovely and deserves to take a whole host of awards over the coming months.
My best film of 2012 – well, ok, it’s the ONLY film I’ve seen at the cinema this year but, rest assured, it WILL remain one of my top films of the year.
It’s also one of those films you will NEED to own on DVD to cheer you up on wet Sunday afternoons over the coming years!

Sunday, January 01, 2012

happy new year!

Moira+I have been very blessed again this year.
My highlights/simple pleasures have included:
• Recent birth of Ursula to Hannah+Felix.
• Thankful for our wonderful family and all the fun+laughter that comes with grandparenthood.
• Regular contact and get-togethers with special friends (and meeting up with some old friends after many years).
• “Proper” retirement in July (and the amazingly generous gift/farewells from his lovely work friends) and seeing Moira now fully enjoying her retirement (despite having me around much more!).
• Trip to France with great friends Lal and Chris on their Dutch barge on the Burgundy Canal/River Yonne, followed by an excellent weekend in Paris.
• Dawn trips to Glastonbury Tor and Berrow beach on gloriously sunny mornings.
• Sleep-overs and playdays with Iris+Rosa.
• Two-day golf trip to Celtic Manor with “old” (literally!) golfing buddies.
• Saturday morning stall at the harbourside market.
• Lots of reading (including regular morning coffee trips to no.1 Harbourside Café/Bar armed with my latest book).
• Live performance (theatre and concerts) – especially being able to see Felix perform three times at the RSC in Stratford.
• Continuing to meet up with former school colleagues (especially at the Warwick Arms “library”!).
• Watching the sunset over Sand Bay.
• Handling some of Turner’s watercolours at the Ashmolian.
• Watching some “live” cricket again.
• Regular walks by the harbourside.
• “Wow, Gorilla!” public art event in Bristol over the summer months (and the Harbourside Festival).
PS: I just KNOW that I will have missed noting SEVERAL other things from the above list (let’s just put it down to old age!).