Sunday, September 30, 2012


I saw this film this afternoon at the Watershed with Moira, Gareth+Alan almost by default.
I’d originally been hoping to see “Anna Karenina” but, for some reason, it only lasted for one week at the Watershed and so we missed our chance (yes, I know it’s on elsewhere in Bristol – but it just wouldn’t be the same)… and so, to me at least,  “Barbara” seemed very much second best.
How wrong I was!
Directed by Christian Petzold, the film is set in the East Germany of 1980 and tells the story of a doctor (quite brilliantly played by Nina Hoss) who has been moved from a prestigious position in Berlin to work in a provincial hospital as a punishment for submitting an application to emigrate to the west (and political insubordination?). The storyline is quite compelling: she’s planning escape with her lover to the west; she’s continually harassed by a Stasi official; she doesn’t really seem to fit in with her provincial colleagues but she appears captivated by an idealistic sense of “what’s right” and professional responsibility to duty (and by one of her fellow doctors?)(played by Ronald Zehrfeld). 
A really lovely, delicate, dramatic film.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

mad about the boy

Moira+I went to The Studio at the Bristol Old Vic last night to see this impressive, short play (only 50 minutes long) by Gbolahan Obisesan. It was the winner of an Edinburgh Fringe First Award 2011 and, on last night’s showing, deservedly so. Just three characters: Boy (Bayo Gbadamosi), Dad (Jason Barnett) and Man (Simon Darwen). The boy is black, bright and feisty, but attracted by the lure of being bad ; Dad wants the best for his son, but is at a bit of a loss; the Man (a school counsellor) wants the boy to make the right choices, but is up against the boy’s perceived peer pressures.
Powerful drama, made even more so by the simple, effective stage direction and the direct rat-tat-tat dialogue.
Feel lucky to have caught this as it’s only in Bristol for three days (tonight’s the last night).

Thursday, September 27, 2012

old school song (oh good grief!)

Inexplicitly, a couple of days ago, the words of my old school song (Handsworth Grammar, Birmingham) suddenly came into my head! It must be some 45 years since I last heard it.
I think we used to have to sing the school song at the end of each term and, perhaps a little worryingly, I can still recall most of the words… and the tune!
The entire school was “made” to sing the song (the words were absolutely hilarious back then, so what today’s pupils would make of them is best left to the imagination - it seems that they had “public school illusions”!). This was painfully embarrassing for all concerned and, of course, the older boys (me included, obviously) put their own words to the chorus – much to the absolute fury of the headmaster! People were duly caned if detected… (not me, of course!).
This is the “proper” chorus:
It’s a goal to the School, Hurrah! Hurrah! It’s a goal to the School, Hurrah!
Scored by each man fulfilling God’s plan,
Three cheers for the School,
Three cheers for the School,
Three cheers for the School.
But, of course, every time the word “hurrah”(!) was sung, we used to add “sole” on to the end to make “arsehole” and, somewhat predictably, “three cheers” became “free beers” (talk about schoolboy humour - oh how we laughed!)!
Not quite sure why I feel the need to share all this, but hey!
Photo: Handsworth Grammar School (taken in 1966).
PS: I’ve just checked out the school’s website and discovered that they’ve been celebrating its 150th anniversary this year (I can remember the century celebrations of 1962!).
PPS: They don’t write school songs like this these days… here are the first two verses (there were FIVE in all!):
“To the old Bridge Trust we sing this song,
To the Staffordshire knot as we pass along,
The Black and Gold in an endless throng,
The sons of the school go FORWARD.
It’s a goal to the School….
Let us stand on the Bridge and stretch a hand,
One to the School and one to our Land,
For both we love, for both we stand;
And make the password FORWARD.
It’s a goal to the School….”

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

goodbye rowan, hello uncertainty…

Very sad to see that Rowan Williams is standing down as Archbishop of Canterbury (no, that's NOT him in the photograph). I think he’s been an excellent archbishop whose quiet humility, intellect and leadership have been an important anchor for the Anglican Church in these difficult times – with the growing schism in the worldwide Anglican Church on issues such as homosexuality and women bishops. In many ways, it’s a thankless and very difficult job and, sadly, I fear that the coming years will deepen the divisions within the Anglican communion and, ultimately, split the Church of England (in the same way the Episcopal Church has in the US). There is much to be fought for over the intervening years leading up to the next Lambeth Conference (worldwide gathering of Anglican bishops) in 2018.
I have to say, I worry about the massive task his replacement (whoever he is)(and, of course, it HAS to be a bloke!) faces. I’ve been checking through the list of contenders and, frankly, no one stands out (for me) – although some do rather worry me.  
Personally, I just hope that we don’t see a future Archbishop of Canterbury backed by the Evangelical Alliance (although one or two friends have suggested that it’s the “evangelicals’ turn” after what they see as Williams’s “liberal” reign!).
I tried out The Guardian’s “Interactive Guide – Pick your own Archbishop” and it seems that Stephen Cottrell, aged 54 (current Bishop of Chelmsford)(betting anything between 16-1 and 50-1), is my preferred candidate – although I know virtually nothing about him. However, he doesn’t feature on the BBC website of runners and riders! Apparently, he is sympathetic towards gay people; opposes the renewal of Trident; has specific plans for re-organising the church financially; and really cares about falling church attendances… but he probably also has views that might quite frighten me, for all I know!
Obviously, it stands to reason that “my man” won’t feature at all.
Photo: Stephen Cottrell, current Bishop of Chelmsford.   

Monday, September 24, 2012

social superiority?

According to Ken Clarke, Andrew Mitchell is apparently a “reasonable and courteous man”. I actually thought he’d made a pretty good Secretary of State for International Development (whilst still in Opposition, he visited countries throughout the developing world to establish in detail how aid could be most effectively and fairly delivered and visited a number of countries in Africa and Asia containing some of the worst poverty in the world and, when he became a Cabinet member, even Jon Snow reckoned that Mitchell was “unquestionably the best prepared Secretary of State — nobody has waited longer in the wings and everyone in the sector knows of his commitment to the sector") and so I was disappointed to learn that he’d been made Chief Whip in Cameron’s recent re-shuffle.
I don’t really know an awful lot about the man, but the sad thing is that he’s yet another rather typical Tory minister (am I being a little unfair?): double millionaire; public school educated; father was a junior Conservative minister; president of the Cambridge Union; allegations of him lobbying on behalf of party donors; allegations of tax avoidance; and forged a “lucrative” career as a merchant banker… and, according to the Telegraph, Mitchell is also known for his naked ambition and earned the nickname 'Thrasher' at school!
As I’m sure you’re aware, it seems that Mitchell had a row with some police officers a few days ago. He was apparently told by them to get off his bicycle as he left Downing Street and go through the smaller pedestrian gate instead of the main entrance used by cars. He was reported in The Sun newspaper(?!) to have used foul language and told the officer at the gates to "learn your… place" and "you don't run this… government". The precise details seem a little hazy, but even Mitchell admits that he “lost it”. As The Times leader put it: “Losing your temper with a police officer is bad enough, losing your temper because you view yourself to be the social superior of that officer is contemptible”.
The police officer involved in the recent allegations might well have been a bit of a “jobsworth” for all I know. But, to my mind, whatever the circumstances (and it seems that the crux of the reported incident is correct and that Mitchell has been a little economic with the truth in his reporting of the matter to Cameron), Mitchell should resign immediately or, if he refuses, he should be sacked by the PM.
No argument.
But, of course, this won’t happen… because that’s no longer the way things are done at Westminster.
PS: there is a glorious irony in all this, of course, as one of the Chief Whip’s roles is concerned with the discipline of their own party's MPs!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

bristol pound

Yesterday saw the launch of Bristol’s own currency (Bristol Pound) - culminating in an evening of local festivities in a night market in the Old City/St Nicholas Market. Lots of people attended, plus an assortment of journalists and television crews from near and far (eg. Russia, China, Ukraine, Belize and Singapore if “The Independent” newspaper is to be believed!).
The not-for-profit scheme has been launched to encourage residents to buy locally produced goods from the independent retailers which accept them rather than chains and megastores.
Moira+I chatted to our friend Chris Sunderland, one of the organisers, as we queued in the Corn Market to purchase our Bristol Pounds and he was obviously very pleased with the response (they’d had to organise two extra deliveries of notes during the course of the day!).
£B125,000 worth of notes have been printed and it’s hoped that £B500,000 will be in circulation within a year (you can also pay for goods by text message – allowing independent retailers to accept non-cash payments without having to go to the expense of setting up a credit card machine). Around 300 independent businesses have signed up so far, but the organisers hope that more than 1,000 will soon be involved.
As you might imagine, as someone who absolutely detests the takeover of our High Streets by the big supermarkets (I might just have mentioned this in a couple of previous blogs!), I’m a keen supporter!
If you live in Bristol, PLEASE participate... you KNOW it makes sense!
Photo: Bristol Pound notes (including £1P notes!) – designed by local artists.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

me and michelangelo...

You might recall(?) that I spent a little time in the Ashmolean Museum last November looking though some of Turner’s Venetian watercolours
Well, after that wonderful encounter, I returned to Oxford yesterday to check out some 500 year-old drawings by Michelangelo (1475-1564)! Thanks to the brilliantly helpful Katherine in the Western Print Room, I spent just over an hour pouring over nine of Michelangelo’s drawings – a simply amazing experience. Isn’t it just fantastic that we can do this in the UK?… and it’s all free!
The above images show just four of the drawings I was given privileged access to!
And to crown it all, this was followed by a lovely lunch with my great mate Ken (at The Red Lion, Gloucester Green).
A REALLY magical day.
Photo: four of the drawings: Nude Male Torso+another study; Ideal Head (1508-12?); Descent from the Cross (1521?); and Study of Man’s Head (1509?).
PS: a lovely bonus to the day (for me) was being able to get into the courtyard(s) of a graduate housing scheme I designed for Lincoln College in 1976 on an incredibly tight city centre site… just as I was passing the main entrance in Bear Lane (which is kept locked and only accessible to residents), I noticed a workman unlocking the gates. I quickly explained that I’d be the architect for the scheme and he kindly allowed me to have a very quick look round. It was completed 36 years ago and I reckon it had weathered well and still looked pretty good to my eyes! Here are some images from my whistle-stop tour.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

labour leadership (oh, and boris!)

I’ve been depressed (and, in some ways, amused) to read the results of the recent YouGov poll.
Somewhat predictably, on the back of his Olympic “surge”, Boris Johnson (not-so-much-a-politician-more-a-showman?) comes out as the UK’s most “respected” politician (plus 25%), compared with David Cameron (minus 18%), Ed Milliband (minus 29%) and Nick Clegg (minus 52%!). You might be encouraged to learn that Michael Gove and George Osborned scored minus 40% and minus 53% respectively!
Are you keeping up with all these figures?
Well, here’s a few more:
Charisma: Johnson 56%, Cameron 21%, Clegg 11% and Milliband 3%.
Strength: Johnson 26%, Cameron 11%, Milliband 5% and Clegg 3%.

Predictably, at this mid-term point and in the light of the dire economic situation, the Labour Party (42%) is well ahead of the Conservatives (31%) in the polls – I don’t think the LibDems will count in the next General Election (but who knows?!). Depressingly, there are signs that the Tories are moving even more to the right, politically (eg. recent cabinet re-shuffle and this article by Polly Toynbee). What worries me about all this is not all the talk about Johnson taking over from Cameron (unlikely in the short-term at least, but I can see it happening); it’s Ed Milliband’s standing in the eyes of the electorate and the prospects of him becoming the next prime minister.
At best, I think even the most charitable critic would describe Milliband’s performances as Leader of the Opposition as “steady”. My own opinion would be rather less generous – “nice bloke but lightweight, ineffective, unconvincing and possessing very few leadership qualities”, perhaps?
As the next General Election approaches, and if Milliband (junior) is still leader, I think there is every likelihood that many of those tempted to vote Labour, might have second thoughts and, hey presto, we’ll have another Tory government (without the “help” of the LibDems this time!)… and probably one with a hard-line right wing agenda.
How depressing would that be?!

Monday, September 17, 2012

english baccalaureate

I have long believed that the GCSE examination needed a vigorous overhaul and so it comes as no surprise that Mr Gove, that font of all educational wisdom, knowledge and hands-on experience, has opted to replace GCSEs with a new English Baccalaureate qualification.
Indeed, it’s just possible (but highly unlikely, I suspect!) that you might have previously read my blog of January 2011 when the government first launched its “latest education initiative (English Baccalaureate)”.
As I feared, this will initially be in three core subject areas - English, Maths and Sciences… and be extended later to include History, Geography and Languages.
This is what I wrote on the subject 20 months ago:
“My fear is that schools will feel the need to focus on the more traditional subjects and I really don’t think that a narrow academic course is appropriate for ALL students. There will no doubt be a tendency for schools to feel that they should be promoting a curriculum to improve a school’s league table standing rather than adopting a system that would benefit all students – including the less academic.
It would appear that, in the Government’s eyes, Physical Education, Art, Music, Technology, Drama, Dance, Philosophy+Belief and the like are very much second division subjects (continuing the league table jargon!)”.  

As a former architect (and you HAVE to be a VERY gifted academic all-rounder to even stand a chance of becoming an architect, if I say so myself!), the government’s criteria is frankly insulting - clearly art and technology don’t count these days! Schools will now inevitably see sport, music, drama, dance, art, technology etc as secondary subjects.
Was it really only last month that our beloved prime minister was telling us that pupils should be "doing as much sport in schools as possible" and that "as well as the facilities and the money, what we really need is a change in culture in our schools and in society that says sport is good, competitive sport is good, schools games are good"?
In my blog of January 2011, I suggested that a caller on a radio phone-in had a number of salient points for consideration by Mr Gove on the new English Baccalaureate – click here, it’s definitely worth a listen.
The caller said: "Children go to school to work out who they are and what they want to study…. My guess is that this just reflects your own personal, narrow experience of education... I'd just ignore your silly English Baccalaureate."

I stand by what I said then.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

wild oats at the bristol old vic

It was very good to be at the Bristol Old Vic last night to experience first-hand the newly-refurbished Grade 1 theatre in action. It’s the country’s oldest working theatre (built in 1766) – and the only example left of its kind.
Our good friend Sam Alexander (actually, he’s VERY good friends of our daughters and Felix from their Thame Youth Theatre days)(blimey, that seems a long time ago!) was playing the lead (Jack Rover) in Mark Rosenblatt’s revival of John O’Keefe’s “Wild Oats” comedy (written in 1791!). It’s a play-within-a-play full of farcical situations and with “Shakespearian” mistaken identities and performed by a fine all-round cast. I wasn’t entirely convinced by Rosenblatt’s decision to give the play a “1940s feel” but, nevertheless, it VERY enjoyable way to spend a Friday evening.
Photo: Emily May Smith as Jane and Sam as Jack Rover.
PS: It was impressive to see that the stage now extends through the proscenium arch and a great relief to experience comfortable seats (compared with the old versions!). It looked as though leg-room and comfort was the order of the day in the “Pit” (ie. stalls); we sat in the front row of the Upper Circle (brilliant view) and I suspect that here (and in the Dress Circle and Gallery too?) leg-room had to be compromised slightly in order to maintain architectural integrity.

Friday, September 14, 2012


I read the Watershed’s somewhat mysterious/intriguing blurb on this film and decided to “give it a go”. The blurb clearly didn’t have the same effect on the rest of Bristol’s population as it played to an audience of just FIVE (and, until the adverts started, there were only two of us!) when I went along a couple of evenings ago.
I’m still not quite sure what to make of it.
Miguel Gomes’s film is in two parts… and in black+white. The first is set in modern-day Lisbon and recounts exchanges between two neighbours – one a devout Catholic and the other an elderly, cranky and somewhat haughty woman (Aurora); the second part is set in the Portuguese Mozambique of the 1960s and is a flash-back to Aurora’s youth and her relationship with a handsome, free-wheeling young man (it has no dialogue, merely a simple voice-over commentary).
Slow-paced, rather elegant, with a fairly naïve storyline… but I ended up rather liking it!


Thursday, September 13, 2012

shy fountain

I mentioned on facebook that Rosa+I would be having one our regular playdays today and that, a very brief part of it at least, would involve revisiting Bristol’s “shy fountain”. I have to say that Rosa+I have become quite attached to this lovely, virtually hidden, almost-secret fountain. We frequently walk past it (or through it, if we’re really feeling brave!). Actually, it was a little time before we (ie. me) noticed the “shy fountain” description on the adjoining low wall and it’s really only been since then that we’ve taken the fountain to our hearts (afterall, whoever’s heard of “shy fountain”?). If you’ve got young (grand)children, then I suggest you make a note of this and duly pay it homage… and, of course, it’s free!
Photo: the shy fountain (and Rosa) – suggest you click on the image to enlarge.
PS: The Shy Fountain is located on Anchor Road (just opposite the Cathedral School and on the same side of the road as @ Bristol/it’s also at the end, ie. just before Anchor Road, of the straight pedestrian link between Café Gusto on the Harbourside and the Cathedral.

new blog

Now that most of our number40 family members have got their own blogs/websites, I thought it was about time our rarely-used (by us at least!) website was kicked into touch. It’s served its purpose but, frankly, we’ve just been too lazy to update it (and there’s nothing worse than an out-dated website!) and we’ve all “moved on”, as it were.
As this blog of mine has virtually none of my “arty stuff”, I thought I’d set myself a new challenge – by setting up a new blog which is simply used for my “art” images, with a view to posting a daily drawing or painting or photograph (a simple image, no text – except a line of explanation, if necessary).
As you might suspect, I think it’ll be relatively straightforward to come up with a daily photograph; the REAL test will be trying to produce some regularly drawings (and paintings might be something of a rarity!).
Anyway, let’s see how it goes… but don’t hold your breath!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

august/september books

More books:
The Power and the Glory (Graham Greene): Our latest book group book. I have to admit to have struggled with this acknowledged “classic” book over the opening chapters, but very much warmed to it by the time I’d finished. It tells the story of a Roman Catholic priest in Mexico during the 1930s (when the Mexican government was endeavouring to suppress the Catholic Church – the persecution being especially secure in the province of Tabasco (the setting of this book), which resulted in closing all the churches in the state and the “elimination” of the clergy.   
A Walk-on Part: Diaries 1994-99 (Chris Mullins): I love political diaries (when they’re well-written) and this one is really excellent. Mullins, Labour MP for Sunderland South from 1987 to 2010, is someone I have long admired for his candour, humour and commonsense. It makes fascinating (and often hilarious) reading. I now need to read his other two diaries!
Living Letters of the Word (Neil Paynter): I’ve been using this book on a daily basis since returning from Iona. It contains readings and meditations from the Iona Community (I think this is the third book of this type I’ve read from Neil Paynter). Thought-provoking and constantly challenging.
The Finkler Question (Howard Jacobson): This is a complicated book about grief, belief and memory. Essentially, the book is about a non-Jew’s “love affair with and besotted inquiry into what Jewishness means – politically, socially, economically, romantically, intellectually, emotionally, culturally, musically and so on” (in the words of Edward Docx’s review in The Guardian). I DID enjoy the book (it’s beautifully written) - even if there were times when I struggled with Jacobson’s style (some of his newspaper articles often have the same effect on me!).    
Around a Thin Place: an Iona pilgrimage guide (Jane Bentley+Neil Paynter): A lovely book and, somewhat obviously, even better if you’ve been on one of the Iona Community pilgrimages (but it would certainly prove to be a wonderful resource if you undertook your own independent Iona pilgrimage). Contains reflections for places on the island which have spiritual and/or historical significance, but also provides some challenging readings, poems and prayers.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

5:2 diet update (and re-think!)

You might recall that I recently decided to give the so-called 5:2 diet a “go” (ie. eating 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).
Well, after five weeks, I’ve been reviewing things… these are my thoughts:
a) One of the reasons for adopting the diet was the possibility of losing a little weight (Michael Mosley, “Horizon” TV programme presenter, reckoned to have lost nearly a stone in five weeks). Well, I reckon I’ve lost perhaps 3lbs over the same period (I’m currently 14st 4lb).
b) For me, on my “fasting days”, I usually decided to miss breakfast and lunch altogether and made do with plenty of water and black coffee – and then eat my 600cals in the evening.
c) Unlike Mosley, I’ve no idea if my blood markers, like IGF-1, glucose and cholesterol, have improved.
d) Although I’ve enjoyed the practice of fasting, in truth, I’ve found the twice-weekly discipline just a little over-the-top – for comparatively little “gain” when it comes to weight loss. This probably reflects badly on my own laziness… maybe I’d feel a little differently if I’d lost half a stone?
e) My good friend Bruce has also been experimenting with the 5:2 diet – except that he’s found that a 50:50 diet (ie. “fasting” every other day) works best for him! I humbly acknowledge his self-discipline!
f) My 5:2 diet hasn’t really made me feel any healthier or given me extra “vitality” (but I acknowledge that I’ve only been using it for 5 weeks)… I feel pretty good anyway on a daily basis.
g) After pondering where I should go from here, I’ve decided to adopt a different eating/fasting regime: I’m going to “fast” just once a week (note: on my “fasting days”, I usually liked to spend much of my day walking and using the time for “spiritual reflection” and I’m going to continue this practice) but also to cut down on my red wine and bread intake a little(!).  
I might keep you posted from time to time (or not, if it all goes disastrously wrong!)…
Photo: Michael Mosley from the Horizon TV programme.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

dear olympic and paralympic athletes…

Just wanted to drop you a quick note to thank for all your efforts over the past six weeks or so (or a lifetime in many of your cases!) which provided us/the nation/the world with such wonderful, uplifting moments of a magical summer of sporting brilliance, endeavour and, in the words of my lovely mate Tony, “a humbling celebration of the human spirit”.
Yes, somewhat predictably, I cried on a number of occasions – sometimes in pure emotion at the end of a race/action; sometimes at the sheer “guts” of a performance; sometimes at the powerful, eloquent articulation by an individual athlete in a post-race interview; sometimes at something that just made me smile or laugh out loud…
I was particularly impressed by the Paralympics and truly believe that it has done much to change people’s attitudes (including mine) towards disability in general… and I just hope that it might make politicians wake up to the rights of disabled people and to the hugely-detrimental effects that welfare cuts are having/likely to have on the lives of SO many individuals and families.
Let us all hope that the Games are indeed a catalyst for positive change – they’ve certainly been inspirational.
Clearly (and you just knew this was going to be the case when you saw the number of people turning out to watch the Olympic Torch), the British public were completely captivated by the Games (despite the initial skepticism/cynicism from some people and some sections of the media), and by your achievements, and their support became a powerful endorsement of both the spirit and pride of the nation and the unique ability that sport has to unify and to empower.
Thank you… very, VERY much.
PS: Oh, and yes, dear BBC+Channel4… thank you so much for your brilliant television coverage (especially the BBC)(shame about all those adverts Channel4!)… and it would be very good if you could arrange for Clare Balding to become Prime Minister, please. Thank you.

the greenest government... never

As I’ve previously ranted(!), there have been growing signs that the chancellor is leading a headlong government retreat from the prime minister’s much-vaunted commitment to lead "the greenest government ever".
The recent Cabinet re-shuffle seems to have endorsed this view – with the appointment of Owen Paterson as environment secretary.
Although I’d love to be proved wrong (and that John Gummer might actually be an influence for good as chairman of the independent climate change committee), I’m afraid I back Ed Milliband’s view:
"Promising to care about the environment was once supposed to symbolise how the Tory party had changed. Betraying those promises now symbolises how the Tory party has not changed”.
The trouble is that this is MUCH more important than mere party politics… it’s about our grandchildren and their children and…

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

olympic park

Thanks to our lovely friends Andy+Antonia, Moira+I DID manage to get to the Olympic Park yesterday – and it was just wonderful to be there and to experience something of the atmosphere and the enthusiasm of the spectators (including the huge roars from the Olympic Stadium). It was also great to be able to see the impressive architecture “close up” (albeit just the exterior views!) and the landscaped areas/meadow planting (and the impressive water installation below the pedestrian walkway from Stratford station – thanks to Helena for pointing this out to us in advance!). We arrived pretty early and it almost seemed that as if there were more volunteers than spectators… the transport system, the friendliness of the welcome and the efficient security arrangements were really impressive… as was the BEAUTIFUL sunny weather!
I’ve REALLY enjoyed the Olympic/Paralympic Games this summer. The sportsmen/women have been simply amazing and inspiration – as have the enthusiastic crowds… and it was brilliant that we were actually able to get there to “witness” just a little piece of it.  
Photo: Olympic Stadium (by Populous+Buro Happold).
PS:  I’ve been a complete failure when it came to trying to order Olympic tickets! Sadly, I did NOT get round to ordering any tickets all those months ago (pure laziness), but as soon as the Olympics started, I really regretted my lethargy and was DESPERATE to try and get my hands on some tickets.  I duly registered on the London 2012 website and then spent absolutely AGES (over the course of several days) trying to book tickets – for ANYTHING! Unfortunately, I was completely unsuccessful. It appeared that the ONLY tickets I was being offered were Paralympic opening or closing ceremonies at a cost of £300 plus (needless to say, I didn’t pursue these)!
Everybody else(?) eventually seemed to be able to get into see some sporting action, but I’m afraid I was simply useless – BUT nevermind… just getting into the Olympic Park was simply brilliant!
PPS: we also failed to get to see our doctor friend Steve, who was one of the volunteers on the medical team – which was a great shame (but we’ve enjoyed his FB updates through both the Olympic and Paralympic Games!).
PPPS: but we DID see double gold

Monday, September 03, 2012


Moira+I went to the Watershed yesterday afternoon to see Ron Fricke’s film “Samsara” (it means “birth, death and rebirth” or “impermanence” according to producer Mark Magidson).
It took some five years to make and was filmed in more than twenty countries, using 70mm film – with an impressive musical background and no dialogue. The Watershed’s blurb talked about it being “an unparalleled sensory experience”… but this proved to be something of an understatement and didn’t really prepare me for the unrelenting visual feast.  
Trying to describe the film simply won’t do justice to it… it’s a dazzling stream of colourFUL images (and frequently uses time-lapse sequences); it’s a mixture of stunning scenes of natural beauty alongside, for example, mesmerising lines of uniformed factory workers and harrowing squalor (and much more); it’s bizarre, funny, poignant and frequently takes your breath away… and provides, as the Watershed’s blurb describes it, “a wordless meditation of the wonders of our world, from the mundane to the miraculous”.
PS: There are so many stunning things to look out for in the 99 minute film, but you’ve simply GOT to see/experience: a) the wonderful, exuberant, orange-clad dancing male prisoners(!), b) the amazing aerial views of the Hajj, the Mecca pilgrimage that make it look like digital manipulation by the team that brought us “The Lord of the Rings”(!) and c) the tabletop mosaic meticulously crafted by monks from coloured sand… actually, there SO many examples that I could easily have listed 50 of them (if only I could remember them all!).

Sunday, September 02, 2012

blair, bush, tutu and iraq

Co-incidences. Synchronicity.
It’s strange how some things just come together at the same time for no apparent reason isn’t it?
I recently bought a massive book entitled “The Iraq Papers”, edited by Ehrenberg, McSherry, Sanchez and Sayej from my favourite “The Last Bookshop” for the princely sum of £2. Like a huge number of people in the UK, I was very much opposed to the war (and duly joined the London demonstration etc) and had written to Tony Blair in January 2003 (ie. before the war) outlining my concerns. Although I have no intention in reading the entire “Papers” book, I did think it would be interesting seeing some of the reports – especially for the time leading up to the war.
So, I was somewhat taken aback when I read an article in the Guardian last week indicating that Archbishop Desmond Tutu had withdrawn from a seminar in South Africa in protest at the presence of Tony Blair and the former prime minister's support for the 2003 Iraq war. Tutu’s spokesman indicated that "the archbishop is of the view that Mr Blair's decision to support the United States' military invasion of Iraq, on the basis of unproven allegations of the existence in Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, was morally indefensible".
This was followed by a report in The Observer newspaper indicating that Tutu had called for Tony Blair and George Bush to “be hauled before the international criminal court in The Hague and delivered a damning critique of the physical and moral devastation caused by the Iraq war” (note: as a complete side issue, it also pointed out that Blair’s fee for attending the conference was £150,000 whereas Tutu would have spoken for free!). As you might imagine, Blair has strongly contested Tutu’s view.
All this made me wonder when on earth we were going to hear anything from The Iraq (or Chilcot) Inquiry - SURELY, you remember this, don’t you? It was launched in July 2009 and held its final round of hearings in February 2011. The Inquiry is currently analysing the written and oral evidence it has received and drafting its report (I can lend them my copy of “The Iraq Papers” if that would help?). Sir John Chilcot has apparently advised the Prime Minister that the Inquiry will be in a position to begin the process of writing to any individuals that may be criticised by the middle of 2013…
I appreciate the complexity of undertaking such an Inquiry (especially as it spans a period of some nine years, but it does seem to be taking an AWFUL long time doesn’t it?
PS: I hope that to have read ALL the relevant papers within the next few days and to update you via my blog shortly thereafter (Chilcot eat your heart out!)!

Saturday, September 01, 2012

fasting+spiritual reflection

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was going to experiment with the so-called 5:2 diet – which involved eating normally 5 days a week, then two days a week limiting one’s food intake to 600 calories. I’ll no doubt post some observations on this in due course.
However, I was also keen to use some of my fasting days for spiritual reflection. I’m very much a novice at this (advice VERY welcome, please!) and so yesterday was my first “proper” day of combining the two.
Frankly, I didn’t think I would have sufficient will-power to hide myself away, essentially without food, for a day of quiet contemplation. Instead, I decided to use my “fasting day” for a walk around the city (of Bristol).
Strange as this may seem, but I actually used Jane Bentley+Neil Paynter’s excellent book “Around a Thin Place – an Iona pilgrimage guide” as a resource for my “journey” (as well as references to places of spiritual and historical significance, it also has some excellent readings, reflections, poems and prayers).
Essentially, I decided to break my walk around the city into twelve sections or stops – and had duly highlighted twelve reflections/readings, in advance, that I would be using at my stopping points. I didn’t plan my “Bristol route” in advance – but I did know I wanted it to include both quiet+noisy places and both urban+rural(ish!) locations.
Well, I have to say, the experience very enjoyable (and rewarding)(and it was sunny!) … and I even started relating many of my stopping points with pilgrimage stops on Iona! The Nunnery equated to the old Bristol docks (I sat on a harbourside bench); On the Way/High Point was Brandon Hill; Columba’s Bay was St James Priory; I found Loch Staonaig in the heart of Cabot Circus shopping centre(!); the Hermit’s Cell was some paving beside the Benjamin Perry Boathouse; and St Oran’s Chapel was the Mud Dock Deli building…
This all sounds a little silly, but it actually worked rather beautifully!
I certainly intend to use a similar format for some of my future fasting days and have already identified some other books that I think would work equally well (eg. Ian Adams’ “Cave Refectory Road: monastic rhythms for contemporary living” and Peter Owen Jones’ “Letters from an Extreme Pilgrim”) – but I would certainly welcome other suggestions.
Photo: spiritual reflection at Cabot’s Circus, Bristol!
PS: I scribbled down a few one-line observations at each stopping point and found some of the book’s poems particularly insightful and helpful (and will certainly use them again in other circumstances).