Wednesday, August 29, 2012

adam in bristol

It’s been two months since I left Iona. I met up with fellow-volunteer Krystof a few weeks ago and, over the past three days, it’s been great to welcome another Iona colleague, Adam, to Bristol. We’ve dodged the rain showers (and only got drenched once!); we’ve done a little exploring around the city; and, crucially, we managed to see some county cricket at Taunton yesterday in perfect sunshine (featuring a certain “South African Englishman” named Pietersen – click here if you’re unsure!).
As you might imagine, we reminisced about our time on Iona and reminded ourselves how fortunate we were to have been there with such a wonderful group of fellow volunteers and resident staff members (and some of the guests were pretty good too!).
So, if you’re reading this as one of our volunteer/resident staff friends, rest assured, I can virtually guarantee that your name was mentioned in our various discussions over the past three days – and ALL with great affection and warmth!
Very special people, very special memories.
PS: Adam has been away from South Africa since February (I think?) and won’t be returning home for several months yet (still to visit/work in Rome, France, Portugal etc etc)… somebody has to do it!
PPS: Adam used to organise beach cricket for guests/staff etc every Sunday afternoon on Iona!
Photo: Adam+Steve at the no.1 Harbourside Café, Bristol.


Great friends Adam (fellow-volunteer from Iona), Chris and I went to Taunton yesterday to watch some cricket - Day One of the Somerset v Surrey county game. Amazingly, given this summer’s rather unpredictable weather (note: very heavy downpour the previous evening and a forecast of heavy rain today), we enjoyed a full day’s play in beautiful sunny conditions.
Given Kevin Pietersen’s recent demise from the England cricket squad (following unflattering text messages relating to his team captain and the like), he was reduced to having to turn out for Surrey rather than appearing in the One-Day International against South Africa (which we lost!). This proved to be our gain – as he eased his way to 163 runs (in 168 balls, in a total of 317). He was last man out and completely dominated the Somerset bowling attack. He just oozed class and was clearly in a completely different league, compared with his struggling teammates – treating the bowling with distain and seeming to have all the time in the world to play his shots.
We were three VERY fortunate spectators!
Photo: Pietersen DID actually give one “chance” in an otherwise faultless innings – as captured here by your ever-vigilant (ie. lucky!) photographer! Spin bowler Dockrell dropped a VERY sharp caught-and-bowled chance – BUT, believe me, the ball was hit back to him extremely hard!! Double-click on the pic to see it more clearly.
PS: you can check out some other Pietersen photos by clicking here.

Monday, August 27, 2012

old duke jazz festival

Moira+I did NOT go to Greenbelt this year (child-minding and cost!)… or Towersey Festival for that matter. Instead, thanks to lovely friends Chris+Lal, we had a BBQ in their garden before ambling down, through Queen Square, to The Old Duke Jazz Festival and spent two hours or so there being entertained by the brilliant “Fatman Swings” (“Bristol's finest jump-jive, 9 piece, good time swing band”).
When I grow up, I want to be able to play the harmonica (probably a little more likely than sax, trombone, piano or drums)!
Photo: Fatman Swings in action (plus enthusiastic audience).

Sunday, August 26, 2012

murdoch: ‘twas ever thus…

I’m currently reading the third of Chris Mullin’s political diaries “A Walk-On Part: Diaries 1994-99”. He was the Labour MP for Sunderland South from 1987 to 2010 and someone I have long admired for his candour, humour and commonsense. It makes fascinating (and often hilarious) reading.
Thus far, I’m only half way through it but, already, I’ve been struck by the fact we’re STILL trying to come to terms with many of the SAME issues some 15-18 years later and, in particular, Rupert Murdoch.
These are just a few (believe me, there are MANY more!) of Mullin’s diary entries about him:
·   “We should be concerned about the social, political and cultural consequences. We had to find a way of preventing a handful of megalomaniacs (referring to Murdoch and his ilk) from taking control of everything we see and read” (Jul 94).
·   “Felt inspired to make a little speech along the lines that Murdoch was polluting our culture and something must be done about him” (Jul 94).
·   “Murdoch is paying virtually no Corporation Tax” (Oct 94).
·   Need to persuade “our masters to do something about Murdoch” (Oct 94).
·   “And to cap it all the leader himself (referring to Tony Blair) is about to scurry halfway round the world to answer a summons from Rupert Murdoch and his evil empire” (Jul 95).
·   “Bernard (Donoughue) alleged, citing a Tory source, that Thatcher had sent a draft of the 1990 Broadcasting Bill to Murdoch’s lawyers and allowed them to make deletions as they saw fit” (Feb 96).
·   “Sure enough, today’s “Sun” is covered in ‘We Back Blair’. Inside there are two pages of justification. Every word reeks of cynicism. Murdoch is just protecting his assets. If we had the guts, we should keep quiet until 1 May (General Election date) and strike with deadly force in the first week. We won’t though. We haven’t neutralised Murdoch. He’s neutralised us” (Mar 97).
Fascinating, but also really rather frightening.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

flawed politics?

Yes, I know, the Guardian newspaper (and Jon Snow on Channel4 News) does much to set my political perspective/social conscience…
There were two articles in today’s Guardian (well, actually, one of them was in the Guardian Weekend magazine) that caught my eye.
The first was an article by Peter Wilby in which he talks about how the army's Olympic performance had challenged the defence minister's (Philip Hammond) private 'ethos'. It makes fascinating reading.
The second related to George Osborne (our beloved chancellor) in which seven leading economists told Mr O exactly what they thought of his policies and what he needed to do next. I particularly liked the following comments:
Paul Krugman (Professor of Economics at Princeton University):Do the opposite of what you've been doing for the last two years. The credit ratings don't matter at all, so this argument about austerity keeping Britain's triple A rating doesn't make sense. This is a time for the UK government to be borrowing and spending”.
Robert Skidelsky (Professor of Political Economy at the University of Warwick):Cutting public spending when there is no other source of growth in the economy is a sure-fire strategy for recession. As if the lack of recovery wasn't bad enough, the lack of growth also scuppers your deficit-reduction goals – the very reason for austerity in the first place. Like throwing away the engine to trim a car, you have offset the lack of revenue recovery by slashing capital spending. The results are already being seen in the forecasts: there will be no spurt of growth to regain the losses of the recession. The best we can hope for is a slow crawl along the bottom. Is there a way out? Initiatives such as the National Infrastructure Plan and the Green Investment Bank aim to mobilise private money behind growth-boosting capital projects, but they lack the financial backing to have a real impact. The government has promised less than £10bn, a fraction of the size of the cuts to public investment. Why not more? Since well-chosen infrastructure and energy-saving projects will be revenue-generating, increasing capital spending does not even have to come at the expense of a higher deficit”.
Jayati Ghosh (Professor of Economics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India): Even the International Monetary Fund thinks the government should loosen its belt! The focus has to be on restoring economic activity through increasing public spending. In the medium term, the focus has to shift from obsessing about GDP growth to improving the quality of life of all citizens, which may create quite different economic goals: generating good-quality employment; ensuring universal access to freely available and good-quality social services; reducing economic disparities and material vulnerabilities to get greater social cohesion; and providing ways of living that are less destructive of nature. The good news is that this can be done – but it requires a different economic approach and possibly therefore different politics as well”.
Obviously, George will immediately sit up and take notice… because that’s just the kind of sensible, enlightened bloke he is!

the frightening mr gove…

Yes, I know I keep on going on (and on) about Michael Gove…
I’m sorry. I promise to stop (eventually).
On Wednesday, I posted this on facebook:
“My friend Andrew has been at the Royal Courts of Justice over the past couple of days supporting his school’s claim for a judicial review over the forced Academy process. He reports that that it seems that the ONLY person qualified to make a decision over the future of a school is Michael Gove. NOT Local Authorities, NOT Governing Bodies, NOT staff, NOT the local community and NEVER Parents. Consultation can take place after an agreement has been made between Mr Gove and a Private Company and even then there is no obligation to meet and discuss alternatives.
As my friend Andrew says: “Education: the last Gold Mine”.
Yesterday on facebook, I shared a Guardian article about Gove overruling experts to allow the sale of school playing fields.
Somewhat scarily, I noticed this letter in today’s Guardian (from Nigel Gann of Somerset) which rather linked these two stories, entitled “Gove plays fast and loose on play space”:
“The Department for Education's ‘mistake’ over the extent of school sports fields sold and Michael Gove’s overruling of expert advice, need to be seen in the context of the academy conversion policy. As “The Land” magazine reports, over half of secondary school land in England has now been handed over to private trusts accountable only to the secretary of state. All of this land once belonged to the public through its local council. The DfE is unable to quantify this because it doesn't keep records, but in Somerset alone it amounts to around 100 hectares already. And, if the secretary of state agrees, it can be sold off. Some Olympic legacy”.
By the time people wake up to this (similar examples can be found in the realms of the NHS and other Public Services!), it’ll be too late!
Photo: I love this photo – many thanks to Emma N for spotting/sharing (and acknowledgements to arthitectural for their great image).

Friday, August 17, 2012

360 (film)

Gareth, Alan, Moira+I went to see Fernando Meirelles’s film “360” (with screenplay by Peter Morgan of The Queen and Frost/Nixon fame) at the Watershed yesterday afternoon. The Watershed blurb described it as a “dynamic and moving study of love and relationships linking characters across cities (London, Vienna, Bratislava, Paris, Rio, Phoenix and Denver), oceans and languages… it explores how sexual relationships in the 21st century can transgress social boundaries”. It featured a multi-talented cast which included Anthony Hopkins (who WAS wonderful), Rachel Weisz and Jude Law. Gareth, Alan and Moira enjoyed it but, I’m afraid, I found it a VERY disappointing film!
The film essentially tries to tell something like ten interconnected stories in which the characters struggle to choose between what they think they should do and what their desires/passion want them to do… or, as the quote that frames the film says: “if you see a fork in the road, take it”.
Frankly, there were just too many situations in the film where I found myself laughing in disbelief at what I felt were implausible/unconvincing plot scenarios (I won’t spoil the film for you by listing these!).
Sorry, but I found it all pretty dreadful!
PS: After writing the above, I checked out the film review in the Guardian (by Peter Bradshaw) and was relieved to find that he’d given it a one star review (out of five)… so I feel duly vindicated!!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Moira+I have just enjoyed five great days of getting together with superb friends!
Last Friday, we met up with our lovely Dutch friends Dick+Dientje (+their daughter Bettie) in Bristol. I’d first met D+D at Iona in 2007 and they stayed with us for a week a couple of years later. It was SO good to have them round for supper and to have an opportunity to have a “proper” chat!
The wonderful Sue+Si (friends from our days in Thame, who now live in Leeds) stayed overnight on Sunday en route to Cornwall… we love them dearly and it’s really sad that we don’t see each other more regularly. We watched the Olympic Closing Ceremony together (Si vaguely impressed us by his instant recognition of every song/artist!).
Yesterday evening, after another Iris+Rosa playday(!), we drove down to Devon for the preview night of an art exhibition in Kingsbridge featuring two our very talented friends (Maggie Smith and Sam Gingell) – if you live in South Hams and love art, then I strongly recommend a visit (it runs until 19 August) - and to meet up with lots of other friends (including Gail, Ian, Jez, Jackie, Lucy, Rob and Gail – plus Maggs+Sam, of course!)… and then back to Sam+Jackie’s amazing, new home for housewarming drinks+cheese and general celebration of a really enjoyable exhibition preview evening.
We stayed overnight with great friends Gail+Ian in Aveton Gifford and then met up this morning with Gail, Gail, Maggs and Ian for a lovely brunch at The Old Bakery, Kingsbridge (as you do!).
It’s always special to meet up with such good friends… and we love them all dearly.
Photo: Moira, Maggs, Gail, Ian+Gail at the Old Bakery for brunch.

Monday, August 13, 2012

the party's over (my friend)...

Well, how was it for you?
I absolutely LOVED it! I’ve always loved the Olympics and have thoroughly enjoyed having the luxury (through retirement) of being able to watch an awful lot of London 2012 – albeit courtesy of BBC TV (whose coverage, I thought, was quite brilliant). 
No doubt, over the coming days, we’ll hear from some of the sceptics about all the things that didn’t go well, but surely even the most cynical Brit must admit to having been caught up in the spectacle.
I rather liked Charlie Brooker’s “take” on the Games in the Guardian (written at the end of the first week) when he commented: “Thanks, Olympics, for confounding my inner cynic. In the run up to the Games, I was expecting the whole thing to be little more than a festival of trademarks… I’m finding the Olympics hypnotically watchable, partly because the BBC's coverage is so crisp and comprehensive and informative and useable, and isn't jammed full of brand names and commercials. And it's partly because … well … look, I don't know”.
These were some of my favourite memorable moments: 
·      Danny Boyle’s amazing opening ceremony, which seemed to set the tone.
·      “Super Saturday” nights in the Olympic Stadium when GB won four gold medals (Mo Farah x2, Jess Ennis and Greg Rutherford).
·      ALL the rowing at Eton Dorney. Huge relief and rejoicing that Kath Grainger finally won her gold medal – but my favourite moment was Katherine Copeland’s post-race television interview when a bewildered Copeland looked towards her rowing partner Sophie Hosking and said “we won the Olympics!” (yes, and it did make me cry!).
·      The amazing cycling in the Velodrome – but especially the Women’s team pursuit (I just love Laura Trott!) and Chris Hoy’s final win. I think this BBC clip sums it up.
·      The sense that the volunteers were brilliant ambassadors.
·      I LOVED the regular (and often hilarious) facebook updates from lovely friend Isabelle.
·      It wasn’t all about winning… great to see people exceeding their individual expectations and produced personal best performances. For example: Lawrence Clarke’s fourth place in the 110m hurdles final (despite the fact that he was educated at Eton!) and the rower (“The Otter”) from Niger.
·      I loved the big screens and deckchairs in Bristol (in Millennium Square and Quakers Friars).
·      I also REALLY enjoyed David Rudisha’s world record run in the Men’s 800m.
·      Oh, and of course, there was always the AMAZING Usain Bolt!!
Would I have enjoyed it as much if Team GB hadn’t performed so brilliantly? I would love to say “of course I would”, but I know I’d be lying. Nevertheless, it would have been difficult NOT to have been impressed by the venues, the organisation, the enthusiastic crowds and the Olympic spirit portrayed by virtually all the participants. 
Overall though, I think the most impressive aspect of the past fortnight has been the reaction from members of the public… the support was simply wonderful – both in terms of enthusiasm and numbers (and grateful that this support wasn’t particularly jingoistic or blinkered either!). It seemed as if EVERYONE (if they lived within easy reach of London) wanted to be involved… and that people who had perhaps missed out on Olympic tickets were determined to turn out on the streets for the free events – culminating in the MASSIVE numbers that lined the streets for yesterday’s men’s marathon.  
The Olympic torch relay seemed to set the tone and, by the time of the Opening Ceremony, you just sensed that the support was going to be immense (despite those empty seats allocated to members of the “Olympic Family” in the early days!)… and so it proved!
I have to admit that I was a little concerned that the Closing Ceremony was simply going to be a big music gig-cum-party (actually, one of the best bits was watching it with lovely friends Sue+Si!). Fortunately, it was much more than that – although I did think it went on a little too long (did we really need two songs from George Michael?).  
Please note: I didn’t cry during the closing ceremony, but I DID cry at various times yesterday as the BBC played a series of video memories (with suitable musical accompaniment)! I can’t find the particular one that really got me going, so this one will have to do!  
I’m really going to miss my daily Olympic routine… and can’t wait for the Paralympics!
PS: Not only did GB finish third on the medal list (compared with 4th in Beijing), but they won SO many more medals in London - 47 medals in Beijing (19G 13S 15B), but an astonishing 65 medals in 2012 (29G 17S 19B)… but who’s counting!
Photo: Bristol entered into the Olympic spirit in lots of small ways but, for me, the best one was the mini three-lane running track (lap distance 30m perhaps?!) plus medal podium next to M-Shed. Iris+Rosa made their own Olympic medals - which I subsequently awarded to them after some pretty frantic athletic activity (much to the amusement of some privileged spectators)…

Thursday, August 09, 2012

pssst… secret gig!

Moira+I were invited to a “secret gig” at the Drawn In Bristol/Paper-Scissors-Stone Volume 3 shop in Quakers Friars, Bristol last night (our daughter Ruth is one of the featured artists). Singer Beth Rowley gave a lovely, relaxed and intimate concert (given the limited amount of spare space in the shop, it had to be!) in her wonderful, bluesy way. Rowley gave the performance in support of one of the exhibiting artists – who happened to be a very close friend of hers. I love Rowley’s voice (don’t tell anyone, but I actually have two of her albums – an EP and “Little Dreamer”!!), so it was lovely to be able to enjoy an evening of fine music (and live performance!) and art in good company and conducive surroundings.   
If you’ve not yet discovered the excellent Paper-Scissors-Stone shop, and you live close to Bristol, then I think it’s about time you did!
Photo: Beth Rowley and chilled music-/art-lovers!

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

fast food?

I’m NOT one for complicated diets and the mere thought of “calorie counting” depresses me beyond measure. Like many people, I’m certainly aware that I’m a “little overweight” (a slight understatement perhaps - granddaughters Iris+Rosa are far more blunt and simply tell me that I’m “fat”!) and, ideally, would like to get below the 14st mark on the scales.
Actually, over the past year, I HAVE lost some weight. At one stage, I think I’d reached 15st 7lb but am now a stone lighter. I’m not entirely sure how this has come about – perhaps (much) less use of the car and far more regular walking?
Last Monday morning on the "Today" programme on Radio4, I listened to interviews with a professor and TV presenter Michael Mosley about the apparent benefits of including a limited amount of fasting within one’s regular weekly eating routine. Mosley had put himself to the test and had adopted a so-called 5:2 diet. As the name implies you eat normally 5 days a week, then two days a week you eat 500 calories if you are a woman, or 600 calories, if you are a man.
This is what he said: “There are no firm rules because so far there have been few proper human trials. I found that I could get through my fast days best if I had a light breakfast (scrambled eggs, thin slice of ham, lots of black tea, adding up to about 300 calories), lots of water and herbal tea during the day, then a light dinner (grilled fish with lots of vegetables) at night.
On my feed days I ate what I normally do and felt no need to gorge.
I stuck to this diet for 5 weeks, during which time I lost nearly a stone and my blood markers, like IGF-1, glucose and cholesterol, improved. If I can sustain that, it will greatly reduce my risk of contracting age-related diseases like cancer and diabetes”.
You can watch Mosley’s “Horizon” programme, entitled “Eat, Fast and Live Longer” by clicking here (I think it’ll be available on iPlayer until mid-September).
Well, I was so intrigued I’ve decided to “give it a go”.
From time to time (assuming my new food regime lasts for more than a couple of days!), I might let you know how it’s going!
PS: I've only blogged about this as a vague way of keeping me on track!

Monday, August 06, 2012

july/august books

Just over a month since returning home from Iona and now back into my former reading routine!

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves (PG Wodehouse): There’s something wonderfully comforting about Jeeves+Wooster books – despite their excruciating predictability. Wodehouse does have a way with words and I constantly found myself with a smirk on my face! Effortless, light reading.
Christ of the Celts (J Philip Newell): Newell’s book “Listening for the Heartbeat of God” (which I first read in 2000) profoundly affected my own “spiritual journey”. I recently met Philip Newell (briefly) when I was on Iona and this book continues to focus on the environment and its sense of the sacred existing in all things and creatures. Full of gentle wisdom and generosity.
The Winter Vault (Anne Michaels): Our Book Group’s book choice (13 July). I absolutely loved “Fugitive Pieces” and found this book almost as impressive – although, at times, the second half of the book felt as if it had been grafted on from another tale. Compellingly written and wonderfully crafted. The book is about love, loss, memory and reconcilement; a story of a husband and wife trying to find their way back to each other. A really excellent, beautiful book.
Beyond The Crash (Gordon Brown): Written after his defeat at the last general election (published in 2010), the book is Brown’s “take” on both the background to the worldwide financial crisis and what he sees as a strategy for “overcoming the first crisis of globalisation”. It’s a brave, frank and articulate assessment by an intelligent, astute and principled politician. Understandably, perhaps, you sense that he sees the book as a defence of his policies (as well as underlining his role in convincing world leaders into taking action). The book is very critical of bankers “whose approach to risk-taking became so complex and obscure that only a few people could understand what they were doing”, their apparent policy of “capitalism without capital” and their lack of morals within the global finance markets. He’s a firm advocate of globalisation and clearly sees the challenge as being the need for a “global compact among the major economic powers”. I’m pretty naïve when it comes to world finances(!), but I fear that Brown’s idealised strategy for future growth might be rather dented by some countries’ protectionist nature in a crisis and by the opportunistic greed of others. But what do I know! A fascinating, wide-ranging and informative book.   
Last Orders (Graham Swift): I first started this book about four years ago, but gave up on it fairly quickly. Too quickly, as it turns out – because I really enjoyed it second time around. It’s about the lives of ordinary people in East London and all the circumstances – birth, death, relationships, tragedies and accidents - which shape their lives. A rather beautiful book.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

comedy of errors at the rsc

Over the past two years, Moira+I have been privileged to have seen six excellent plays by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford. Brilliant acting, sets and direction… just wonderful!
And for us, the huge bonus has been that we’ve been able to see Felix (our daughter Hannah’s husband) perform in all of these plays. On Friday night, we saw “The Comedy of Errors” (for us, the last of this season’s “Shipwreck Trilogy”) in which Felix was playing the part of one of the Dromio twins… and he was just brilliant! But don’t just take my word for it… Michael Billington, the highly-respected Drama critic, reckoned that Bruce Mackinnon and Felix Hayes as the twin servants, boasts two of the best Dromios I have seen: the former all quivering apprehension, the latter brimming with goofy charm”.
Not bad eh?
It might seem strange but, despite the play’s comic nature, the background is one of cruelty. Ephesus is clearly a police state in which a captured merchant is subjected to water torture and bodies are unceremoniously dumped in canals!
But the Broadways and Billington were not the only ones impressed by Felix’s performance – these are just some of the other reviews I’ve seen:
“Comedy was effortlessly created by the cast. In particular, Felix Hayes in the role of Dromio of Ephesus built a rapport with the audience through gestures, exaggerated expressions and, at one point, rap and hip-hop dance”… and:
"The actors have uniformly great comic timing, particularly Bruce Mackinnon and Felix Hayes as the two Dromios. With their green beanies and Tintin quiffs, they bring a loveable, loose-limbed cartoonish quality to their pratfalls and misadventures"... and:
“With his leonine features and painfully endearing personality, Hayes threatens to steal an unstealable show. The pointing of his finger and pursing of his lower lip are sufficient to send even the sternest spirit into apoplectic laughter”.
We had a great time… once again, LIVE PERFORMANCE at its captivating, stimulating best.
Photo: the RSC programme (and a postcard from the RSC shop) with a main feature on the Dromio actors.
PS: We had a lovely time seeing Hannah+Ursula(+Felix) too!