Wednesday, February 27, 2013

song for marion

Everything that follows is as predictable, dreary and proverbial as the weather in Manchester”.
I don’t usually read reviews before seeing a film but, today, I did and this was the final sentence of Philip French’s review in the Guardian.
Not exactly encouraging!
I seem to be on a bit of a roll as far as “senior” films are concerned – my previous two being “Amour” and “Quartet”! This film, directed by Paul Andrew Williams, starred Vanessa Redgrave as a terminally ill wife, who embraces life as a member of the local community choir and, by way of contrast, Terence Stamp as a grumpy old man fixed in his routines. There were less than 20 of us in the audience this afternoon at the Watershed – most of them were women who were perhaps keen to see how their young 1960s heartthrob (Stamp!) had stood the test of time. Actually, the answer is quite well, I think!
As it happens, Moira is a member of a local community (fortunately WITHOUT any life-threatening illness) and I am often referred to – COMPLETELY unfairly in my view(!) – as a grumpy old man… so, at times, it felt a little close to home!
It’s predictably sentimental and “heartwarming” (even joyous and charming on occasions) – despite being predictable and somewhat patronising at the same time.
Another one of those rainy Sunday afternoon DVD films.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

arnos vale cemetery

Moira+I met up with Hannah+Felix+Ursula for lunch yesterday at the Bocabar… which really good. However, before that, M+H+F+U wanted to select wool at the local woolshop for a jumper for Felix. Strange as this may seem, but I’m not really a woolshop sort of person… so I decided to opt out of that particular activity! Instead, I decided to spend 45 minutes or so looking around Arnos Vale cemetery (which is virtually opposite Bocabar). I’d been there a few times before, but had never really explored beyond the central core between the entrance and the cafĂ©.
I KNEW it was a wonderful place but, frankly, I hadn’t appreciated just how wonderful it was. It extends over 45 acres(!) and is the “final resting place” (don’t you just hate that description!) for more than 300,000 people.
The cemetery really is stunning and I absolutely loved my brief time exploring there yesterday. There was a very real sense that people cared for the cemetery; there was a tangible sense of the place “being well loved”. The task of upkeep must be HUGE, but it’s being done both sensitively and with great enthusiasm. There are also well-maintained pathways throughout the cemetery (suitable for buggies etc) and so accessibility isn’t a problem.
I found the whole experience quite moving and humbling… and I will definitely be a regular visitor over the coming months/years (hopefully not one of the permanent residents just yet though!).
If you get a chance, you really must see this simply amazing place.
An oasis of peace.  

Saturday, February 23, 2013

martha tilston at colston hall

I spent Thursday evening listening to Martha Tilston. She really does have the most wonderful, clear (almost fragile at times) voice. She sang for two hours, accompanied by her three musicians (she’s a brilliant guitarist in her own right), and the evening was an absolute delight. At times, she has something of Joni Mitchell in both her delivery and in her songwriting (and even Sandy Denny on occasions?) and, as a bonus for me, she sang two songs that she styled as “odes” to Leonard Cohen and Mitchell. Many of her compositions question the greedy modern world – if I were a songwriter, I’d be doing the same!
PS: For me, the only slight downside of the evening was that we were given a 30 minute warm-up singer… followed by a 30 minute interval (Colston Hall obviously see this as their way to increase bar sales!)!

february 2013 books

More book stuff:
Family and Friends (Anita Brookner): A short novel (187 pages). The lives of a widowed Hungarian mother, now living in England, and her four children provide the focus of the story. It might just be me, but it took a frustratingly long time to appreciate that the initial action was set between the world wars (the book cover shows a Klimt portrait painted in 1902) – which meant that it took me a little time to “get into” the story. Beautifully and precisely observed.  
Fire on the Mountain (Anita Desai): I first started reading this book in 1982(!) but, although it’s only a short book, never finished it. So, I’m very glad I picked it up again… It features three principle characters: a great-grandmother who lives a reclusive life in a mountain retreat; her visiting great-granddaughter, who has just recovered from typhoid (and who is also somewhat reclusive by nature); and a childhood friend of the old woman. The story is very gradually developed and all the action is in the final few pages. Desai is an exceptional writer and I enjoyed the book.
Good Works (EF Schumacher): This was essentially a follow-up to his “Small is Beautiful”. It was first published in 1979, two years after Schumacher’s death and is compiled mainly from a series of his lectures. I first read it in 1981 and it’s absolutely fascinating (and a little depressing) to re-read it more than 30 years later… it emphasises such themes as the wiser use of natural resources, energy, economics, technology and science, and the nature and control of organisations… and ranges across the most urgent concerns of humanity while keeping its central focus upon the human being: what individuals can actually do now to make a viable future visible in the present. It’s also a surprisingly spiritual book.
99 Words (edited Liz Gray): I first came across this book listening to the "Something Understood "programme on Radio 4. Liz Gray compiled the book whilst unable to work due to illness and she asked 99 contributors to consider what 99 words (according to the Qu’ran, all of creation can be expressed in 99 names) they would most wish to communicate if it were their last opportunity. Although I found the premise of the book a little tenuous, as a “project person” myself, I did have some empathy with Liz Gray’s objectives. The contributors are from wide-ranging backgrounds – politicians, writers, artists, musicians, thinkers etc – and, as you might expect, their responses (or at least my reaction to their contributions!) vary… some are absolute gems and some simple made wonder why on earth they’d decided to sat what they’d said! It’s one of those books that I’ll no doubt delve into again over the coming months

The Master and Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov): This is our next Book Group book. I have to admit (on reading the cover and “feeling” its length!) that I didn’t find the prospect of reading it particularly inspiring… I’m afraid that, although it was clever and inventive, I found it all rather too much for me and was just relieved to finish it!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


I don’t seem to have blogged for ages...
A book that I’ve just finished reading has been Liz Gray’s “99 Words” (actually, I suppose its full title is: “You have breath for no more than 99 words, what would they be?”). This was a question she asked after experiencing a life-changing injury had left her facing a future of uncertainty. She sought responses to this query from writers, artists, musicians and thinkers. The results were fascinating – some quite wonderful and some rather bizarre, mystifying and pretentious.
One of my favourite contributions was from Ben Okri.
I’ve previously blogged about the excitement and anticipation of things I’ve yet to do; places I’ve still to visit; people I’ve yet to meet; performances (theatrical, musical, sporting, artistic or whatever) I’ve yet to experience.
Ben Okri’s 99 words (actually only 75!) seemed to sum up what I’d been struggling to say just perfectly. The art of a good writer is a beautiful thing:
Tomorrow’s music sleeps
in undiscovered orchestras,
in unmade violins,
in coiled strings.
Spring waits by the lakes,
listening to the unfurling daffodils.
Summer lingers with the
hyperborean worms,
awaiting an astonishing command
from the all-seeing eye of Ra.
Tomorrow’s music sleeps
in our fingers,
in our awakening souls,
the blossom of our spirit,
the suggestive buds of our hearts.
Tell everyone the idea
is to function together
as good musicians would
in undefined future orchestras.
From “Lines in Potentis” by Ben Okri.

Sunday, February 03, 2013


Moira+I went to see Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow last night at the Bristol Folk House. To be honest, I didn’t know much about their music before yesterday – I knew that O’Hooley had been with Rachel Unthank+The Winterset (not a bad pedigree!) and that the pair had been nominated for “Best Duo” in the recent BBC Folk Awards.
Anyway, they were wonderful!
The blurb on their website said: “expect an irresistible blend of thought-provoking songs, intricate harmonies and striking arrangements, tempered by cheeky Northern banter”.
They were all of that... and more.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

early architectural heroes

Yesterday, I came across “The History ofthe Future in Ten Images” on the BBC website. Featured fifth was “Antonio Sant'Elia's futuristic cities” and featured one of the influential Italian architect Sant’Elia’s seminal, iconic architectural perspectives (left hand drawing above) which he drew for a futurist “Citta Nuova”. It might seem strange but, throughout my career, this image was a huge influence in my architectural thinking and development – not that I ever fancied designing entire cities! Somewhat frightening (for me), as I read the article, I realised the drawing was produced very nearly a HUNDRED years ago (1914)… amazing.
I’ve always held the view (and I appreciate that, these days, this is probably a minority opinion!) that architects SHOULD BE ABLE TO DRAW… and, perhaps somewhat strangely (in the eyes of many), I still maintain this view – even in this wonderful age of computer technology.
I produced a large number of architectural perspectives during the course of my architectural career – although I now probably only have records of one or two fairly insignificant ones (a cause of some regret).
Seeing the Sant’Elia (1888-1916) drawing reminded me of my other architectural perspectivist hero, Helmut Jacoby (1926-2005).
I used to get his books out of the library on an incredibly regular basis (I think our local library stocked just two of them… and that I was the only person who ever booked them out!). A typical illustration of his is shown on the right hand side of the above image.
I just googled the name and see that I could buy a used copy of “Helmut Jacoby: Master of Architectural Drawing” for a mere £1,226.29!
We all need heroes… and these were two of my mine.

Friday, February 01, 2013

justice, selfishness, bigotry… and sadness

We come across beautiful moments every day of our lives (if only we took notice).
We see, hear and read about some absolutely wonderful things that are happening and about people’s kindness or determination in difficult circumstances… oh, and lots of other very positive, heart-warming matters. 
But, sadly, there’s also an awful lot of evil in the world and, just recently, I keep coming across events (and that’s just in this country – I appreciate that, worldwide, there are SO many more) that depress me and make me sad or angry.
There are LOTS of examples… here are just three:
1.    The Muslim family in Nottinghamshire who’ve been hounded out of their home after a series of racist attacks and wicked taunts… no one has yet been charged in connection with the incidents.
2.    And, locally, a Bristol man recently received a jail sentence for killing a young mother due to dangerous driving… a drink-driver (more than twice legal limit); he’d left the scene of the accident; he’d apparently been driving without a licence or insurance for 13 years(!); he’d also had previous convictions for failing to stop after an accident (banned for a year) and for failing to provide a breath specimen (banned for two years). He’s been jailed for 6 years 8 months (with the prospect of early release after 4 years or so?).
3.    And again, locally: a 38 year-old man has appeared in court charged with causing the deaths of a couple (see the above photograph) who were knocked off their tandem bicycle near Bristol. The car allegedly involved in the crash was being followed by police. The man was remanded in custody charged with two counts of causing death by dangerous driving. He’s also been charged with driving while disqualified, driving with no insurance and failing to stop at the scene of a collision. In the light of the previous example, I wonder if this man’s sentence (if he’s found guilty) will follow similar lines?
What a depressing society we live in, when the actions of mindless individuals have such a profound effect on the lives of others…
Photo: extract from the BBC website (Rod Minchin).