Friday, March 29, 2013

the spirit of '45

I went to the Watershed yesterday afternoon to see this Ken Loach film/documentary about post-war Britain. Unsurprisingly with Loach, the film mirrored his socialist views and was an impassioned call for a return to some of the vision, values and aspirations of 60+ years ago. It highlighted the ambition and energy within the country in the mid-40s and beyond – DESPITE the lack of finance and investment available immediately after the war (which makes our current predicament seem almost seem mild by comparison).
The film contrasted the 1945 “gains” with the “individual greed” of the Thatcher era (and beyond). Yes, you might describe it as being a blatantly biased representation but, nevertheless, it came across as a very sobering history lesson (but I bet Michael Gove won’t be advocating its introduction within the history syllabus!).
Afternoon matinee showings at the Watershed are usually only sparsely attended but, yesterday, there were probably 40 people there (admittedly, most of them were old codgers like me… or even older!) and, very usually, the audience applauded at the end of the film!
After the systematic dismantling of the nationalised industries by Thatcher in the 1980s (which were decaying through lack of investment and political will), Loach’s film is a rallying call to protect the one remaining triumph of Attlee’s Labour government, the NHS.
Sadly, I think it might already be too late…

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

coincidences (and awareness)…

I’ve just started re-reading Julian Barnes’s “The Sense of an Ending” in advance of our next Book Group meeting. It’s strange how these things work out but, within less than 24 hours of starting it, I noticed an article in last Sunday’s Observer about his forthcoming book “Levels of Life”. It’s partly autobiographical and deals with life following the death of his wife, literary agent Pat Kavanagh (they were married for 30 years), who was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2008 and died within 37 days. I’m afraid I had never even heard of her, but I HAD noticed that “The Sense of an Ending” had been dedicated to “Pat”. Even stranger, only the previous day, I had bought a copy of Clive James’s book “The Revolt of the Pendulum” (essays 2005-2008) and had seen - I don’t know why, but I often do note book dedications – that he’d dedicated it to “the memory of Pat Kavanagh”. It turns out that she was his literary agent too.
I know it’s nothing, but I’m aware that this sort of thing (ie. coming across Pat Kavanagh’s name THREE times in less than 24 hours) seems to be happening to me more and more over recent years. Am I becoming more observant in my old age? Almost certainly not.
I’ve always been pretty good at “looking AND seeing” things from a photographic, architectural or artistic perspective, but I’m also aware of my apparent (lifelong?) inability to absorb details from the written page. It makes me think that such coincidences probably happen all the time and I just haven’t spotted them before?
Perhaps it’s just something to do with “having time to notice” such things?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

“drawn” exhibition at the RWA

It was perhaps appropriate that daughter Ruth accompanied me to last night’s private view at the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) as she was the person who effectively got me drawing again on a regular basis - as the instigator of the Iona Postcard Project last May/June (note: we’d invited great friends Ros+Eric from Thame for the weekend, so Moira was otherwise engaged).
I decided to enter a piece comprising eighteen café drawings from my sketchbook for the RWA’s “Drawn” exhibition and it's all been a bit of a roller-coaster. Ruth’s husband Stu kindly delivered the framed work last Friday 15 March (while we were on holiday); judging took place on Sunday; a couple of days later, I was notified that it had been accepted; and last night was the private view!
I was delighted to have been included amongst the 201 works from 156 artists (over 700 pieces were submitted) and was rendered almost speechless when I found that someone had actually bought it!! As if this wasn’t enough, I later discovered that I’d even been mentioned in the RWA’s press release (“Steve Broadway's work Cafe Mornings: sketchbook extracts shows quiet observations of cafe scenes drawn in black pen, embodying the lines of an architect but through the eyes of an artist”)!
The exhibition runs from today, 23 March, until 2 June.
I appreciate that all this is of minor significance when compared with artists who do this sort of thing week after week but, for me, it’s been a new and very pleasant experience!   
Photo: the evidence – my picture and the red dot!
PS: When I went to check who had purchased my drawing, the woman leading the front of house team congratulated me (as far as I could tell there had had only been one other piece sold at the time!) and said: “Steve, you used to be a teacher at Norton Hill School didn’t you?”!! She (Rose) had apparently been a student during my time there (even if I didn’t actually “teach”)… I hadn’t recognised her, but it was a lovely coincidence and very nice that she’d remembered me. 
Note: I’d also submitted my “Postcards from Iona” piece but, unfortunately, this hadn’t been selected. Shame!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

beyond the hills

Having read the Watershed’s blurb in advance, I realised that this was not exactly going to be a happy, feel-good film.
Indeed it wasn’t.
Directed by Cristian Mungiu, this drama is centred on the friendship between two women who grew up together in a Romanian orphanage. One of them (Voichita) became an orthodox nun and the other (Alina) left to make a life for herself in Germany; Alina returns to “rescue” her friend (with whom she enjoyed a youthful relationship). But Voichita’s new love is God and she’ll have none of it. Alina ends up living (albeit on a short-term basis) in the monastery and is subjected to a bizarre exorcism by the unyielding priest.
It’s an eerie, stark, unrelenting tale (actually based on a true story from 2005). On the one hand it paints a picture of a failing Romanian Orthodox Church (and perhaps the collapse of religion itself?)… but, on the other, it underlines the bureaucratic shortcomings/complicity/attitude of the country’s health service (eg. for releasing a disturbed young woman into the nuns’ care).
It’s a long, somewhat depressing, but nevertheless impressive and powerful film… if only the bloke in front of me could have managed to stay awake to see it!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

st ives

High winds, wild seas, colours, space, lack of crowds, bright sunshine and dramatic clouds, Tate Café, art, time, comfort, gentle routine, conversation, reading, walking, drawing, eating and drinking… just a few of the things Moira+I enjoyed during our stay in one of our favourite places.
Ruth, Stu, Iris+Rosa joined us for a couple of days at the start of the week – and we all enjoyed walking along beaches and watching wild seas.
We love being in St Ives when, by and large, it’s empty of other “tourists”. The other mainstays at this time of year seem to be teams and teams of builders (and their vans!) – undertaking property improvements and repairs. Perhaps that’s the one slight, inevitable regret – the fact that so few people actually live in St Ives these days (although Moira did meet someone!) and that the vast majority of properties are now holiday homes.
Having said that, we have clearly benefitted from this fact over SEVERAL years and, this year, our time at Valentine Cottage (owned by friends Matt+Pippa) was a complete delight!
An important of my diary routine was arriving at the Tate Café just as it opened (at 10am) and sitting at the window table overlooking Porthmeor Beach – drinking coffee and looking out over turquoise seas, white sand… and getting on the internet! Enough said.
Another special time in a special place.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

march 2013 books

More book stuff:
Who Will Run The Frog Hospital? (Lorrie Moore): It’s a book about adolescence and middle age through the eyes of a girl/woman from upstate New York. This is the first book I’ve read by Lorrie Moore and found her writing style both engaging and amusing… but, ultimately, I was a little disappointed.   
The Lemur (Benjamin Black aka John Banville): Set in present-day New York, this short book tells of John Glass - a one-time crusading journalist, now “burnt-out” - who is asked to write a biography of his rich, ex-CIA, father-in-law. “The Lemur” is the nickname Glass gives to a rather strange-looking man he interviews as a possible research assistant. It’s an easy-read “thriller” which, for me, didn’t quite live up to its early promise.
Bulldog Drummond (Sapper/HC McNeile): This is a ridiculously-dated, crime thriller (written, as it was, in 1920) which starts off with our hero placing this newspaper advert: “Demobilised officer, finding peace incredibly tedious, would welcome diversion. Legitimate, if possible, but crime, if of comparatively humorous description, no objection. Excitement essential…” – you get the sort of thing! Ian Fleming apparently confessed that Bond was “Bulldog Drummond from the waist up”! While you’re reading, you sense the Dick Barton theme tune is constantly playing in the background… easy, non-challenging, but enjoyable, stuff.
The Things He Carried (Stephen Cottrell): Our Ithaca Lent study book. I’m afraid that, although I found some of the book extremely helpful and thought-provoking, much of it left me underwhelmed… rather like his “Do Nothing – Christmas Is Coming” book we read for Advent.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Rachel Joyce): I absolutely loved this book. It’s about a recently-retired, married man (Harold) who sets off, with his wife hoovering upstairs, to post a letter to a former work colleague at the other end of the country who is dying of cancer… he decides, on the spur of the moment, to continue walking (without hiking boots, map, compass, waterproof or mobile phone) to visit his friend in Berwick in order to “save her life”. The journey is both physical and metaphorical. It’s about loss and regret; it’s about misunderstandings and relationships; it’s about romance and loneliness… but it’s about simple pleasures, caring, kindness, encouragement and joy. You REALLY need to read this book!  

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

four go lunching in oxford…

I got together with three of my very good golfing mates (Steve, Bob and Pete) for lunch in Oxford yesterday. Usually, the four of us would be meeting up on a golf course but, with my hip issues ruling this out (hopefully just in the short-/medium-term), it made a lovely change to relax around a lunch table at The Red Lion, Gloucester Green to enjoy putting the world to rights over the odd glass (we’d all travelled by public transport!).
Everyone was in very good form and we did laugh an awful lot!
It was such a beautiful, sunny day that I also managed to fit in a stroll (well, more accurately, a hobble!) around Christchurch Meadow beforehand. Beautiful.
A VERY good day with some brilliant friends.
Photo: Steve, me, Pete and Bob (I really like this photograph because it looks as though I’m just drinking bottled water... which, of course, I was!).

Saturday, March 02, 2013

credible opposition?

As far as the Tories (and David Cameron!) are concerned, George Osborne needs the forthcoming budget to work wonders for the party. After their Eastleigh by-election embarrassment, Moody’s recent removal of the UK’s AAA status and the latest fears of a triple-dip recession (following a surprise fall in factory output yesterday, which sent the pound tumbling below $1.50 for the first time in more than two years), Osborne will no doubt address his parliamentary colleagues with a supreme confidence that will placate his team mates… you know the sort of thing - providing the odd nugget of good news for the rich and (of course) smug justification of ALL his economic measures.
My long-standing concern is that, at a time when government policies should be being chastised by an effective political opposition, it’s the government who seems to be “winning” most of the political arguments.
I’ve previously expressed my concerns and disappointment over Ed Milliband’s Labour Party leadership… and there has certainly been nothing over recent weeks to make me change my mind. By the same token, the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, SHOULD be having field day every week, but instead – despite his intellect and his confrontational, big-boy bullying image – he has become something of an embarrassment… scoring a succession of own goals instead of hat-tricks.
I think Alistair Darling was very unfairly criticised as Chancellor of the Exchequer in Gordon Brown’s Labour government and there have certainly been times over the past couple of years when I’ve yearned for his articulate, commonsense reasoning in parliamentary economic debates. So it was very interesting to read Marina Hyde’s article in the morning’s Guardian which expressed the view: “If only Ed Miliband would dump Ed Balls and recast Alistair Darling”.
If only… indeed!

Friday, March 01, 2013

nail in the coffin...

In March last year, I wrote a blogpost expressing my anger and frustration at what I perceived as the impending demise of the NHS as we knew it… thanks to the conservative government’s ideology (pause… I’d REALLY like you to read it because I think conveys the lunacy and urgency of the situation!) . On 1 April (an ironically-appropriate date if ever there was one”), the government’s proposed secondary legislation (under section 75 of the Health+Social Care Act) will virtually force EVERY part of the English NHS to be opened up to the private sector to bid for its contracts.
Today’s Telegraph newspaper published a letter from more than 1,000 doctors and health-care workers calling on MPs to force a debate and vote down the proposal.
Critics have hailed the proposed legislation is a blueprint for privatisation and goes against government assurances.
Why on earth aren’t more people jumping up and down about this?
The changes will take effect and only then will some people realise their devastating consequences. The situation will end up rather like the privatisation of British Rail or the sale of Public Utilities – it will be very difficult/virtually impossible and very expensive to turn back the clock.
I urge you to sign every petition you can on the subject before it’s too late… politicians need to know how the majority of the population feels about the subject.