Saturday, June 29, 2013

gromit unleashed

Two summers ago, 61 life-size, painted gorillas decorated the streets of Bristol. They were a great success – very popular with old and young alike. At the time, I asked “what’s going to be next?”.
Well, the answer is 80 five-foot tall Gromits!
TheTrail opens on Monday 1 July and will last for 10 weeks… at the end of which the figures will be sold to raise money for Bristol Children’s Hospital.
Rosa+I went along to the Harbourside yesterday afternoon to see Nick Park “drive” the steam train carrying 11 Gromits from Aardman’s Headquarters to the M-shed… for a reception attended by sponsors and artists (we’re very lucky to know a number of the artists involved – including Emily Ketteringham and David Bain… and Ruth was also delighted to work as the artist for two Gromits on behalf of two celebrities/contributors, plus a mini Gromit destined for one of the ferries, I think). “GromitUnleashed” is going to be a HUGE success in Bristol this summer… I know the artists have had a great time decorating their individual Gromits and, from all the happy, smiling faces who watched the Gromits arriving at the M-shed yesterday afternoon, the event is going to attract an awful lot of people to the city.
It’s going to be AMAZING!
Photo: Some of the Gromits that arrived at the M-shed by steam train yesterday afternoon (looking a little startled by the enthusiastic welcome they received, perhaps?).
PS: I can’t wait to join Iris, Rosa+Ursula on the Trail over the summer… and am probably feeling even more excited than them at the prospect!!

Monday, June 24, 2013

midsummer night’s dreaming

Across midsummer weekend (21–23 June) the Royal Shakespeare Company put on a unique performance of “Midsummer Night’s Dream” - directed by Artistic Director Gregory Doran and working in partnership with Google Creative Lab to provide a one-off theatre project in real time and viewable via the internet.
Hannah’s husband Felix was one of a number of actors invited back to the RSC to perform the play (with just a week’s rehearsal time!) and so Hannah, Ursula, Moira+I went to Stratford yesterday to watch some of the action. Felix played the part of “Snug” (one of the “Mechanicals”).
Obviously, much of the action took place out of doors and, this being midsummer in England, account needed to be taken of a certain amount of inclement weather! We attended some of yesterday afternoon’s rehearsals and “wedding events”.
A lovely, happy, relaxed atmosphere and a very enjoyable day.
Photo: Felix (the lion!) and some the other “Mechanicals” plus Google cameraman and props person… you can see other rehearsal images here (including one where the prompter is sheltering through the action under an umbrella!).
PS: as well as being able to watch the play “in real time” over the course of the weekend, hopefully, there will be an audio of the performance available in due course via this link.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

alice roberts at bristol’s big green week

As one or two of you may know, I think Alice Roberts is quite a talented broadcaster(!)… (ok, I mean, she can do no wrong in my book). I went along to the lunchtime lecture at the Arnolfini today to hear her talk about “Survivors of the Ice Age” (filling in the background to her recent BBC series, amongst other things). She spoke informatively and entertainingly for 50 minutes, without notes, before answering questions from the audience.
There’s something incredibly inspiring to hear someone talk with huge passion and knowledge about their subject.
She’s a brilliant communicator... and I want to be a scientist when I grow up.
Photo: après-lecture conversations.


Thursday, June 20, 2013


Erdem Gunduz, pictured, has become a legend… just by standing completely still. He began to stand still, and silent, in Taksim Square, Istanbul last Monday at 6pm and remained there until 2am. In a matter of hours, his photograph was being shared globally.  
Dignified, powerful, passive resistance.
As someone who is frequently accused (in a friendly, light-hearted way) of ranting – via this blog or on facebook, perhaps I could learn something from Mr Gunduz!

Anyway, I’ve been reflecting on last week’s G8 Summit…
Although any solutions on Syria remain sadly far off, I’m relieved that the immediate prospect of arming the opposition to the Assad government has apparently been put on the back burner – at least for the time being. What WAS heartening, however, was that the G8 has made it clear that tax abuse is an issue of the highest priority and that tax evasion is within the G8 mandate and the requirement has been established to crack open the secrecy on tax havens.
Over the years, I’ve read several books by Peter Millar (former Warden of the Iona Community) and I’m currently reading “A Time To Mend: Reflections In Uncertain Times”. I’ve always found him a very wise man and someone well worth listening to… on a wide range of subjects. Whilst the G8 Summit’s intentions on tax are hardly mind-shatteringly new (or far-reaching), they do perhaps take account of the many protests that have taken place (especially over the past couple of years) about injustices surrounding what is sometimes termed as “predatory capitalism”.
This is an extract from one of Millar’s reflections (“Global Protest at Predatory Capitalism”):  
“Around the world people of all ages and of all faiths are saying that enough is enough in relation to our present-day pervasive predatory capitalism. We see this protest expressed in the Occupy London and Occupy Wall Street campaigns. These protests are opening up a long-needed debate about unbridled capitalism and about ethical bankruptcy which lies at the heart of many global financial institutions. This moral vacuum within financial structures has become clearer to the general public following the bailout by governments of major banks. It is also reflected in the growing divide between rich and poor…
There is a growing awareness and a legitimate anger about the unjust ways in which wealth is distributed. But there is more at stake. Many of those who believe in such protests also know that society needs a paradigm shift. As one protester put it: ‘We want to change minds and hearts’. To raise fresh questions in all our minds: Why cannot real change take place? Why are these institutions not more accountable for their behaviour? Is it inevitable that the gulf between rich and poor becomes wider year by year? The British journalist Madeleine Bunting described the aims of the protest in this way: ‘It is about seeding questions in thousands of minds, shaking certainties and orthodoxies so that there is space for new alternatives’”.
Perhaps people in authority have, at long last, started to realise the public, national and international strength of feeling when it comes to injustice and abuse of power? That might be too much to ask… but, perhaps we do all need to become Erdem Gunduzs.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

much ado about nothing

Went along to the Watershed this afternoon to see Joss Whedon’s take on a Shakespeare play. It’s filmed in black+white and set in a Californian suburb in the 1970s(?). For me, it was an enjoyable film with some amusing touches (eg. Dogberry and his constables become NYPD tough guys), but no more than that. Good to watch on DVD on a wet Sunday afternoon perhaps, but nothing more. I thought Amy Acker made a pretty good Beatrice and, somewhat predictably, I fell in love with Hero (played by Jillian Morgese) – for the way she looked rather than her acting!
A pleasant afternoon in the cinema, but maybe I should have been out enjoying the sunshine?   

Saturday, June 15, 2013

drimnin+iona (1-12 June 2013)

I’ve been reflecting on a wonderful time that Moira+I have spent with great friends Bob+Christine at the Old Schoolhouse, Drimnin (thanks to Richard+Sarah’s generosity). The last time Moira+I were there was the summer of 2006, but this holiday echoed a time we spent here with B+C fifteen years ago. It’s a stunning location – situated some 11 miles west of Lochaline on the Scottish mainland, looking across the Sound of Mull towards Tobermory on Mull (near enough to make out the town’s colourful, harbour facades).
You do NOT venture into Scotland without being prepared for very wet (and cold?) weather and so, we duly armed ourselves with waterproofs, fleeces, thermals and plenty of jumpers. What we experienced was very, very different…
We had wonderful, warm, sustained SUNSHINE every single day (intermittent on the first day and mixed with some brief showers on our final day). Apart from one day (when we had an excellent lunch on the terrace at the Fish Café in Tobermory), we had a daily picnic lunch. We spent huge amounts of time sitting in the garden reading – or, from time to time for me, drawing.
We did plenty of walking – although I did feel somewhat restricted due to my hip/leg problems – towards Aluston Point, the Old Castle, Ardtornish House gardens, St Columba’s Chapel, beside Loch Arienas/Teacuis and Tobermory (as well as countless walks along the shoreline).
We also spent two lovely days on Iona – staying at The Argyll Hotel (at last!). Stunning sunshine, the beauty of the island and a chance to catch up with some very good friends (made during my time volunteering there last year). Again, picnic lunches consumed at the stunning Port Ban beach and at North End.
We’ve seen plenty of wildlife – including, THREE eagles (together, and between say 100-250m from Old Schoolhouse), several red/roe(?) deer (one relaxing in the garden for some TWO HOURS in the early morning of our last full day), a pine martin (again, in the garden… twice), a porpoise (well, almost certainly,… near Tobermory), a jay and at least a couple of common sandpipers… plus buzzards, herons, ravens etc!
I think the overriding memories – as well as very enjoyable times with very good friends – were a) the simply AMAZING number of bluebells, wild garlic and gorse, b) the sound of bees, birdsong and boats, c) the vibrant sunsets, d) meeting up with old friends on Iona and e) the incredible weather.
We feel very blessed.
Photo: trying to convey some of the good times with a bundle of holiday images.



Friday, June 14, 2013

may-june 2013 books

More book stuff:
A Visit of the Royal Physician (Per Olov Enquist): This is our latest book group book. It’s an historic novel based on Danish political turbulence and the enlightenment of the 1760s (power, sex and love feature strongly!). I appreciate that the book has been highly-acclaimed, but I’m afraid I frequently found it quite tedious and repetitive – I’ve just read a review which says: “Enquist writes in short, jerky sentences which often seem to repeat themselves. Although disconcerting at first, the technique works brilliantly”. Not for me it didn’t! I love history but, in truth, I’m not a great lover of historical fiction. No more than two stars from me… sorry!
Even the Dogs (Jon McGregor): This is just brilliant - DESPITE the unflinching desolation of the subject. It’s about homelessness, addiction, degradation and selfishness. It’s about people being caught up in a cycle of hopelessness and yet, it’s written with extraordinary tenderness and empathy and it’s also non-judgemental. It’s a powerful, unrelenting and grim book which offers some explanations of the plight (and people’s survival skills) but, at the same time, doesn’t offer excuses… and, perhaps most important of all, it’s simply beautifully written.
Levels of Life (Julian Barnes): I’m a great fan of Julian Barnes’s writing. This short book, written some four years after the death of his wife, Pat Kavanagh (they’d been married 30 years), is a mixture of history, fiction and memoir and is arranged in three sections: “The Sin of Height”, “On the Level” and “The Loss of Depth”. The opening paragraph establishes a theme: “You put together two things that have not been put together before. And the world is changed…”. Somewhat strangely (you might think), it begins on the subject of ballooning and photography (two wonders of the 19thy century), then deals with a fictionalised account of the relationship between one of the pioneering balloonists and Sarah Bernhadt, before concluding with Barnes's powerful account of/reflections on his wife’s death. I have no doubt that this is one of those books that I’ll re-read several times over future years. Beautiful.
Spies (Michael Frayn): This is a rather beautiful book. It’s a mystery/war story and a reflection on childhood from the perspective of old age. It’s set in England during WW2 and the title refers to two boys’ imagination of German agents within their quiet suburb. The actions of the boys brought back my own childhood memories of “secret clubs” and invented/unreal situations.
Sea Room (Adam Nicholson): This was my holiday book while we were in Scotland – and it just felt SO appropriate for our time there. Nicholson’s father bought the Shiants (three small,  isolated, craggy islands some 5 dangerous sea miles off Lewis, Scotland) for £1,400 over 70 years ago. Nicholson was given the islands by his father when he was 21 and will pass them on to his son Tom is 21. It’s an extraordinary and passionate book (“a love letter no one else could hope to write so well” according to a review in the Sunday Telegraph) and I loved it.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

"sea room" connections

The above image shows, on the left hand side, the cover of Adam Nicholson’s extraordinary book “Sea Room” – which represented part of my holiday reading while staying at the Old Schoolhouse, Drimnin. The image on the right is a photograph (not a particularly good one and taken on what was our only cloudy day!) from our holiday bedroom… overlooking the Sound of Mull.
It proved to be the perfect “holiday read”.
The book is the “story of one man, three islands and half a million puffins”. Adam Nicholson’s father had bought the Shiants (three small, inhospitable islands set five dangerous sea miles off Lewis in Scotland) over 70 years ago for £1,400. Adam Nicholson was given the islands by his father, Nigel, when he was 21 and subsequently passed them on to his son Tom when he turned 21 in 2005 (the book was written in 2002). It’s a beautiful, passionate book (“a love letter no one else could hope to write so well” according to a review in the Sunday Telegraph) and I loved it.
But the book cover and the view from our holiday bedroom window was just the first of a series of small coincidences…
2.    Initially, I hadn’t made the connection between Adam and his grandfather Harold Nicholson. I had read “The Harold Nicholson Diaries 1907-1963” (edited by Nigel Nicholson) in November 2011 – about his times as a diplomat and conservative MP. As I noted in my blog at the time: “despite his privileged background… and his smugness and snobbery (at times)”, I found the diaries gave a fascinating portrayal of British politics in the first half of the 20th century. Harold’s wife was poet/author/gardener, Vita Sackville-West. Adam Nicholson is married to Sarah Raven – gardener, writer, television presenter (you probably know all this… certainly, Moira did!).
3.    A good friend, Bob, lent me Nicholson’s book after a conversation (over red wine, I suspect) when I told him our (then) imminent holiday in the western isles. He decided that the book would make appropriate holiday reading… and how right he was!
4.    I think this was the fourth time we’d spent a holiday at Drimnin over the past 15 years but, in fact, we first had a holiday in this area 23 years ago (Easter 1990, blimey!) when we stayed in the Garden Flat at the impressive Ardtornish House, Lochaline (Jon Snow was a holiday neighbour and he and I spent many a happy hour chopping firewood together… well, a few minutes anyway!). The opportunity to stay at Ardtornish largely came about due to my architectural partner, Matthew, who had studied with the man who later became “factor” of the Ardtornish Estate. His name was Andrew Raven (he sadly died of cancer in 2005, aged 46).
5.    And, wait for it… Sarah Raven was Andrew Raven’s sister.
Well, I think they're slightly spooky connections/coincidences, anyway!