Saturday, February 25, 2012

painting again again…

If you’ve read my blog recently(!), you MIGHT recall that I’ve been painting again – after a brief 42 year gap! Well, I’ve just finished my second painting (again in homage to my inspirational tutor Tom Porter – bold and “challengingly” colourful), entitled “Deckchairs for Tom2” – 60x60cm, acrylic - and identical to no.1 in composition.
My “technique” is very ropey and the paintings are definitely best viewed through half-closed eyes for the most beneficial effect(!) but, again, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the process.
PS: after watching the recent (wonderful) documentary on Lucian Freud, I was almost tempted to produce a close-up, “warts-and-all”, self portrait (I think my haggard, lined face – especially first thing in the morning according to the bathroom mirror!) for my next painting, but don’t think the art world is quite ready for this yet… instead, maybe something building-related next?
Photo: Deckchairs for Tom1+2

Monday, February 20, 2012

the dangerous method

Gareth, Alan+I went along to the Watershed yesterday afternoon (Moira wasn’t feeling well, so decided to give it a miss) to see David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method”. It’s the story of the relationship between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and his powerful mentor Sigmund Freud Viggo Mortensen) – complicated by a sado-masochistic affair between Jung and a sexually disturbed, intelligent young woman, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). The performances by all the leading actors were excellent (although I wasn’t quite convinced about Knightley’s accent). However, whilst I found the film’s look at the early days of psychoanalysis both objective and historical – I also felt it was strangely ordinary (some might say it was nothing more than an opportunity for the celebrated director to explore his longstanding interest in Freud… and perhaps to provide images of Fassbender spanking Knightley!)?
Even more strangely(?), at various points in the film, I found myself thinking that Keira Knightly would make an excellent Frida Kahlo!!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

february books

The Accidental (Ali Smith): This is our Book Group’s latest book. It was nominated for the Mann Booker Prize in 2005, so I had reasonably high hopes. It’s about a family of four on holiday in Norfolk and the sudden appearance of a mystery woman (an angel? a charlatan?) and the effect she has on the lives of each of the family members. I liked the writing style (each character “tells” their story in the third person – although I found the children’s accounts more compelling). It’s frequently funny and inventive; it’s well-observed, well-written and somewhat haunting in nature. The conclusion could be seen as a new beginning perhaps? But ultimately, for me (and despite some apparent rave reviews), I found the book unsatisfying. Sorry.
As If (Blake Morrison): Morrison attended the infamous trial in 1993 when two 10 year-old boys were found guilty of murdering 2 year-old James Bulger. This is a book of his reflections – full of compassion, honesty and humanity. It deals with the brutal details of the case, but probes the state of childhood (and parenthood) today. It’s beautifully written (I DO like Morrison’s stuff!) and it’s brave and thought-provoking. If it’s possible to “enjoy” such a book, I certainly did.
Starting Over (Tony Parsons): I’ve read a couple of Parsons’s other books and enjoyed them in an entertaining, light, holiday-reading type of way. This one really isn’t any different - it deals with a 47 year-old man who is given the heart of a 19 year-old and the resulting effects on his life, his family, his aspirations and the way he sees the world – but probably tries to be a little too profound for its own good at times.
Bristol’s Floating Harbour (Peter Malpass+Andy King): This illustrated book tells the history (well, the first 200 years) of the city’s floating harbour. I had already gleaned or read up about it from a variety of other sources, but this fascinating book certainly highlighted the several large gaps in my knowledge! An excellent, informative book that I know I’ll keep referring to over the coming years.
If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things (Jon McGregor): This is a simply beautiful book. I absolutely loved McGregor’s intricately-observed, elegant writing style. The book recounts the hopes, fears and unspoken despairs of a diverse, but ordinary, community in the north of England – when a terrible event shatters the quiet of the summer evening. All the more remarkable is the fact that McGregor was just 26 when the book was a Booker Prize nomination in 2002. I frequently struggle with fiction but have been fortunate to have read three excellent novels (“Freedom”, “A Visit from the Goon Squad” and this one) already this year. I’m on a roll!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

the killing 1+2

Moira and I have just finished watching the Bafta award-winning “The Killing 1” (via Hannah+Fee’s boxset - albeit out of order, as I’d already watched the second season on the BBC!). With 20 one hour(?) episodes , it felt like a mammoth undertaking – but quite brilliant and very well worth it. If you haven’t previously come across the series, it’s about Danish detective Sarah Lund, wonderfully played by Sofie Grabol, as she and her colleagues try to track down the killer of a 19 year-old student who is found raped and brutally murdered. Full of political intrigue, struggling family situations, false leads and an obsessive detective!
Absolutely compelling.
PS: from the television series, one gets the impression that Denmark must be a very ecological nation – it seems that that they hardly ever turn lights on! The entire series seems to have been shot in the gloomiest of light (police invariably search properties without flicking the light switches!). Moira spent much of the time pleading with the characters to “turn on the lights!”… but, of course, they never did.
PPS: Having now watched the complete “West Wing” series, “Borgen” and now “The Killing”, I’m now left with that empty/mourning feeling as far as TV is concerned… suggestions please?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

remember, we’re all in this together (episode 27)…

I’m not an economist or a politician (what a surprise). Although I ran a “successful” architectural practice for nearly 30 years, I probably have a somewhat naïve approach when it comes to finance (and understanding finance). I think I’ve probably inherited a rather Victorian attitude when it comes to work/remuneration and take exception to what I regard to excess or greed. I think the recent Occupy protest movements were a powerful expression of this (“we are the 99%”) - against the growing income inequality and wealth distribution between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population.
I was therefore depressed to read a
report in yesterday’s Guardian that the AVERAGE pay for the 24,000 bankers working for BarCap (Barclays Capital investment Bank) was just a paltry £200,000 last year (and that the average bonus for these poor workers was down 30% to a mere £64,000). Somewhat predictably, Barclays Bank chief Bob Diamond (note: he’s currently refusing to disclose his own bonus from last year – speculation puts it anything from £3-10million!) has been quick to defend the situation, saying that it was important to "celebrate rewards for success or then we won't have an economy". Of course! It seems that, despite receiving biggest taxpayer-funded bailout in history, nothing much has changed in the banking world.
I think the time has come for us to switch our own bank current account from one of the big banks - according to
Ethical Consumer magazine, ours has an “ethiscore” of just 1.5 out of 20 (note: if you thought that was bad, the same magazine gives Barclays an “ethiscore” of 0.5 out of 20!) - to a more “ethical” bank (eg. Co-operative 13/20, Triodos 15.5/20 or Charity Bank 16/20?).
The Occupy Wall Street movement in the USA encouraged more than 40,000 people to switch their bank accounts last November. Next month, Move Your Money launches a similar campaign here in the UK (under the catchphrase “bank on something better”).
Perhaps it’s time for us all to switch our money?
PS: It’s not just bankers, obviously. Here in Bristol, there’s a move by the Taxpayers Alliance to cut the salary of Bristol City Council’s chief executive from £190,000 to £150,000 to "bring it in line" with similar posts.
PPS: click on the image to enlarge!

Thursday, February 09, 2012

hockney+grayson perry

Moira+I have just returned from a couple of days in London, seeing the Hockney and Grayson Perry exhibitions. We had a lovely time.
“David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture” exhibition at the Royal Academy (until 9 April) essentially concentrates on his landscape paintings of East Yorkshire. Vivid, crude, colourful, naïve, sensitive, inspiring, quick, overwhelming, ambitious, captivating, changing, productive, repetitive, rhythm, beguiling, beautiful, massive, fresh, spellbinding, pleasurable and inventive. In truth, for me, this is not exactly the Hockney stuff that I absolutely adore, but it DOES provide an amazing artistic experience and, for many, it will encourage and inspire people to “learn to look” at things in a new, fresh way. Not to be missed!
Grayson Perry’s “Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman” exhibition at the British Museum (extended until 26 February) combines his own work with work he has selected from the British Museum’s collection. I enjoyed the way his teddy bear Alan Measles cropped up in various pieces (although perhaps rather too many pieces?) and I particularly loved his decorated ceramics. For me, the highlights were his iron sculptures of male and female pilgrims (with their overwhelming load of sewing machines, guns, handbags, petrol cans, mobile phone necklaces, radios and babies). It’s essentially a show of wonderful things and it truly is quite wonderful. Fascinating, entertaining and inspiring.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

gail+steve birthday festival

My birthday celebrations started last Thursday afternoon, when Iris+Rosa (+Ruth+Stu) insisted on having a small tea party. Before we polished off the muffins, the chocolate brownies and the lemon drizzle cake (made by Stu’s fair hands), Iris organised some of pre-party snacks in the shape of lollipop sweets and Cheerios (originally, I understand that we were meant to be having “Love Heart” sweets, but there weren’t any at home so she felt Cheerios would make a good substitute!). Bless her.
Great friend Gail and I celebrate our birthdays just three days apart (but she's a good deal younger!) and, largely thanks to Gail, our birthdays seem now to have become annual birthday festivals!
We’ve just returned from a brilliant weekend in Devon – staying with Gail+Ian (and also joined by lovely friends Ken+Debby)(and also meeting up with yet more lovely friends Mags+Jez and Sam+Jackie). As you might imagine, it’s been a weekend dominated by food and drink (plus walks, lots of chat and plenty of laughter)… lunches (yesterday at the impressive
River Cottage Canteen, Plymouth), brunches (today at the excellent Beachhouse hut , South Milton Sands) and brilliant suppers (at Gail+Ian’s).
A very special, magical birthday festival!
PS: oh yes, there was also the little matter of a Scotland/England rugby match…
Photo: the “gang” at the River Cottage Canteen (Moira, Jackie, Gail, Ken, Ian, Jez [blocking Debby!], Sam+Mags) – yes, I accept that we do all look very serious, but I assure you that this was purely for the photo!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

cost of democracy?

I was listening to the BBC World Service the other night, as you do…
They were talking about Mitt Romney’s victory in the Florida primary. The pundit in the studio was asked what was required to win elections and she responded that you needed a) to spend enough on advertising and b) to have an effective negative campaign against key opponents. She went on to explain that Romney’s advertising in Florida had amounted to something like $18million dollars.
I just couldn’t believe my ears!
Just a few moments later, I was well and truly shaken from my “slumbers” when one of the other studio guests pointed out that he understood that the Democrats were likely to be able raise $1BILLION for Barack Obama’s “Re-election Fighting Fund”!!
Surely, I’d misheard?
Well, I decided to try to check this out.
According to a report from
Reuters (last August), this year’s US elections will be the most expensive ever, with a total price tag of $6billion or even more, “fuelled by millions of dollars in unrestricted donations as Republicans and Democrats vie for control of the White House, Congress and state governments”.
I’ll type out the figure again: Yes, $6BILLION. Just staggering!
In the UK, overall general election expenditure is far, far less than in the USA - yes, I accept that we’re a tiny nation by comparison. Apparently, in 2009, the
figure was just over £30million (it was just over £40million in 2005). Even these levels seem pretty ridiculous to me!
Somewhat pathetically, perhaps, I’m one of those naive people who feel that elections should be about “level playing fields” and that people’s votes shouldn’t be dependent on advertising and/or private funding. Having said that, I absolutely accept that, in this country for example, it would be awful if the BNP were “given” the same election funding as the main parties!
No doubt people will tell me that all these vast sums actually go to pay party workers, advertising companies and the like. But, it seems to me that at a time when individuals are suffering in terms of unemployment and financial cut-backs and when money is being taken away from education, health, welfare, environment etc etc, don’t the amounts spent on elections seem embarrassing, excessive and unjustifiable?
PS: It’s JUST possible that the USA/UK figures I’ve quoted are not strictly comparable… but, even if that’s right, I’m sure the numbers will be VERY large!