Sunday, December 30, 2012

december 2012 books

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


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

Monday, December 17, 2012

gasworks at christmas

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

Friday, December 14, 2012

exultate singers: carols by candlelight

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


Thursday, December 13, 2012

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

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

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

gove’s ideological mission

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

Friday, December 07, 2012

the master

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

Thursday, December 06, 2012

bristol mayoral election and the labour party

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

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

Monday, December 03, 2012

our friends in the north…

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

Sunday, December 02, 2012


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