Saturday, September 28, 2013

daisy chapman at arnos vale

Ruth+I went to a concert at a cemetery last night… as you do.
Singer/songwriter/pianist Daisy Chapman was appearing in the Anglican Chapel at the wonderful Arnos Vale Cemetery last night. I’ve seen her a number of times before, but this was the first time she was accompanied by violin, viola and cello (MUCH better than the electronic-repeater-gadget she usually employs!) and was excellent.
One of the bonuses of the evening was that my lovely friend Anna was playing violin in the other band performing – Martin Callingham with Joyce The Librarian (what a great name!!).
Very enjoyable evening in brilliant, intimate surroundings.  
PS: Rather beautiful leaving the chapel at the end of the concert and walking along the illuminated roadway… beside gravestone angels!
PPS: Naturally, with friends like mine, going to a concert at a cemetery attracted a fair number of comments… these are just a few: “dead good”, “gravely poignant”, “was it underground music?” and “did they serve spirits at the interval?”… probably just as well that the Grateful Dead weren’t appearing.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


Moira+I are SO lucky… we have three of our grandchildren (and their lovely parents!) living in Bristol and so we have the huge privilege of watching them grow up and develop at close hand. If ONLY we could wave a magic wand and have such regular playdays etc with our other three grandchildren in Leyland (and their lovely parents, of course!). Actually, Mikey, Dan+Jemima have Dave’s parents living just down the road from them – which is absolutely great.
Retiring when we did has ensured that Moira+I DO have the luxury (yes, I know we’re a privileged generation in many ways) to be able to enjoy spending time with our grandchildren – among lots of other things.
I’m not actually due/entitled to retire until February 2014, but I made the conscious decision to retire early (in the summer of 2011). I’m really not sure that I can afford to retire, but we live relatively simply and, so far, we seem to be muddling through reasonably well.
What I CAN say, after a little more than two years of retirement, is that (so far) it’s been a brilliant decision. We’re both active and reasonably healthy (albeit with the odd ailment!) and this has meant that we can REALLY enjoy our grandchildren NOW – in a way that my parents, certainly, did NOT do so… ok, yes, it was a different world and it’s probably just as well that my parents didn’t have a big involvement in our daughters’ lives!!
This involvement with our Bristol grandchildren’s day-to-day lives has taken on a new significance TODAY… it’s our first proper playday with just Ursula, because Rosa is now at school full time (obviously, Iris has been at school for some three years now).
Before I retired, Moira used to take a hand in looking after Iris+Rosa one or two days a week. In the school holidays before retirement and during subsequent term times, I have really enjoyed participating in our twice-weekly “playdays” – which, over recent months, has also involved Ursula.
During term time, we’ve had Rosa+Ursula playdays twice weekly and, over the school summer holidays this year, we’ve enjoyed the three girls’ company three days a week… yes, physically exhausting, but great fun!
With Rosa starting full-time school (she was in the nursery class two-and-a-half days a week last year), there has come a sudden (for me) realisation that in a little more than two years’ time, Ursula will be in full-time school too… if I hadn’t retired, I would have missed out on enjoying all those playdays with Iris+Rosa altogether (and several with Ursula).
What value can you put on witnessing/participating in these wonderful early days of your grandchildren’s lives to such a full extent? You simply can’t. Having gone through the experience, it’s priceless.
We continue to be incredibly lucky… and hugely privileged.
Photo: the Bristol contingent…
PS: yes, I know there COULD be more grandchildren… but I think six is a very good number to stick on!


Sunday, September 22, 2013

august-september 2013 books

More book stuff:
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot): This is our Book Group’s latest book. It’s a true-story account of a poor, black, American woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951, aged 31. She was the mother of six children and, outside her immediate family, was unknown to the rest of the world. However, through her cancer cells (taken without her knowledge for medical research, she achieved “immortality”. More than 50 million tonnes(!) of HeLa* cells (*their medical name) have been grown over the past six decades in the course of developing a multimillion-dollar industry (and contributing to 5 of the past 10 Nobel Prizes for Medicine in the process) and yet her family knew nothing of this until more than twenty years after her death. I found this a truly remarkable, humbling, moving account of racism and injustice – brilliantly told and researched by Rebecca Skloot (who spent a decade working with family members and interviewing hundreds of people in the process). A few weeks ago, I described Laurent Binet’s “HHhH” as one of my best books of 2013… but I honestly think Skloot’s book surpasses it by some way! You MUST read it (despite its length!).
My Father’s Fortune (Michael Frayn): This is a beautiful memoir of Frayn’s father (written at the request of his daughters, “wondering about their origins”). In trying to do so, he realises just how much he’s forgotten and how much of his background he’d never bothered to question. Fortunately, he was able to enlist the help of his surviving relatives (a good reminder for all families!). His father, Tom, came from impoverished circumstances, married his childhood sweetheart Violet and became a travelling salesman. It’s funny (with a lovely sense of irony) and moving. His father’s life is not particularly exceptional and that’s what provides much of the book’s charm.
After A Funeral (Diane Athill): This is a work of non-fiction (that took place in the mid-1960s) and tells the story of how and why a talented writer came to kill himself. The man was an Egyptian in exile; Athill was immediately captivated by him and he moved into her flat (as a lodger). He was a gambler, a drinker and a womaniser… and impossible to live with. It’s an incredibly tender, honest and painful account of the three years they spent together before he finally committed suicide (I’m not giving anything away here – Athill mentions it in chapter one and it also appears on the book cover!). A powerful, haunting book.
The Four Elements (John O’Donohue): O’Donohue is a huge hero of mine and I just love his wisdom and his writing. This book (originally four pamphlets) reflects on nature through the elements of air, water, fire and stone and explores a range of themes relating to the way we live our lives today. For once, I’m sad to admit that I found this the least compelling book of his that I’ve read (and I’ve read them all – apart from his two poetry books). There, I’ve said it!
The Rain Before It Falls (Jonathan Coe): This is a sad, often moving story of mothers and daughters through three generations. It’s about relationships, families and honesty… amongst other things. Some of the story is told by a dying woman in her seventies speaking into a hand-held primitive tape recorder as she endeavours to pass on what she knows of a family’s history. At times, I found this “storytelling device” just too artificial and I also felt that the ending was rather too contrived. Nevertheless, it’s a well-written, powerful, rather beautiful book.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

last day of the cricket season…

I went along to the County Ground, Bristol yesterday to watch the last day of the final game of the cricket season (and, somewhat ridiculously, my FIRST game of the season!).
It felt a bit like the last day of term.
Despite the sunny weather, the crowd was very thin and those who were there seemed to be members or regulars who were attending simply to bid goodbye to their mates until next season.
From the onset, I knew the game (Gloucestershire were playing Lancashire) was likely to peter out in a tame draw - nearly two, out of four, days had been lost to the weather. The only real “hope” was for both teams to make generous declarations in the hope that one of the sides could secure victory during the course of the afternoon. However, there was little hope of that happening because Lancashire needed only a draw to secure the second division championship. Gloucestershire were bowled out before lunch and, with game was heading for the inevitable draw, the only real challenge was to see if the Lancashire opening batsman, Luis Reece, could score his maiden first-class century… unfortunately, he was bowled for 97 and looked a VERY dejected figure as he slowly trudged off at the end (the captains having “shaken hands” on a draw immediately after his dismissal).
I overheard a conversation of a group of local spectators (all of whom seemed VERY knowledgeable about the game – anoraks might be the word! - and were regularly trying to out-do each other by quoting various bizarre cricket statistics) bemoaning the fact that the last day of the match “isn’t a very good advert for the game”. Obviously, they were right but, for me, it was just lovely sitting on the boundary, watching the cricket and the world go by and enjoying the banter and the sunshine.
I need to do it more often!
Photo: Lancashire’s Reece on his way to scoring 97 runs.
PS: Ironically, I had watched Lancashire’s last game of the season two years ago – against Somerset at Taunton – where a victory had secured them the very same second division title… they were relegated last season! I’m obvious a good-luck talisman as far as Lancashire are concerned and so, for a very large fee, would be prepared to see more of their games!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

the last five years

No, this isn’t about the next General Election…
Moira+I went along to the Brewery Theatre last night to see/hear Jason Robert Brown’s “The Last Five Years”. It’s a one-act musical (apparently it’s the first ever musical to be staged there) that spans a doomed relationship between Cathy, an aspiring actress (played by Catriona Mackenzie), and Jamie, a successful novelist (Matthew Ronchetti). The quality of the music is excellent and both actors have fine singing voices (especially Cathy), very ably backed by two highly-accomplished pianists. At times, I was reminded of the musical “Tell Me on a Sunday”… but hey, what do I know?
The production is very cleverly conceived (and simply, but effectively, staged) and takes the form of a series of operatic monologues (virtually no spoken dialogue and the only time the couple interact is when they get married) – with Jamie’s story played out in chronological order, while Cathy’s is done in reverse. This might sound rather perverse, but it actually proved very effective. 
A very enjoyable evening. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

one year like this...

It doesn’t seem like a year ago that I started my “one day like this” blog…
Following my return-to-sketching experiences on Iona last summer, I decided on a daily discipline of posting a photograph and a drawing on alternate days. One year on and it seems slightly bizarre to look back on folders of the posted completed images.
Predictably, the quality and style vary. The photos are comparatively easy to produce – just an extension of something I’ve done informally for some time (I usually carry my camera with me and just can’t stop myself from taking pictures of things that catch my eye!). Subjects vary, but frequently involve themes of light/shade, colour and composition.
The sketches are a completely different matter and can be anything from 5 minute scribbles to (very occasionally) drawings that might take me 90 minutes to complete. Again, the subjects vary but frequently include cafes, boats, buildings, people and domestic stuff. I would love to be able just to sit down and produce a very quick sketch of a group of people or of a location but, although I continue to persevere, I find it really hard to do this – my default characteristic is for rather careful, disciplined drawings! The most important aspect of the "project" is to draw regularly and certainly NOT the quality of the drawings.  
Whenever possible, I try hard to draw “on location” but, for various reasons (weather, nosey people looking over your shoulder, laziness etc!), I also end up working from photographs (or finish them off from photos). The good thing is that the discipline of drawing regularly has definitely speeded up my technique and also, over the course of the year, I think I’ve “loosened up” somewhat too!
When I first started this “project”, I did so with no specific idea of how long I would keep it up and, to be honest, I still don’t know. All I do know is that I’m continuing to enjoy it and that it’s certainly my intention to continue for another year or two at least – but who knows?
Photo: some of the 180 plus drawings from the past year!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

the great beauty

Saw Paolo Sorrentino’s latest film “The Great Beauty” this afternoon at the Watershed.
It’s set in Rome and revolves around an ageing arts journalist, socialite, bachelor, ”tireless gigolo” (as the Watershed blurb puts it!), Jep Gambardella (wonderfully played by Toni Servillo), amid Italian decadence and glamorous, “well-preserved” rich people – including a fair number of naked females (this retirement lark is tough)! Even through a haze of ridiculously over-the-top parties, Rome looks stunningly beautiful (sigh).
I’ve just read Peter Bradshaw’s review in the Guardian and he describes the city (at least as far as the film is concerned) as being “populated by the formerly beautiful and the currently damned” – which seems entirely fair in my eyes. It’s a long film (something like 160 minutes) which starts off feeling like an excuse for everyone having a good time (and is very funny at times), but develops into a film about love, loss, regret… and death.
Very well worth seeing… I sense I might need to view it again to capture a more complete understanding(!).
PS: the accompanying music is absolutely wonderful… especially the haunting, closing piece (which I’m trying to track down!).
PPS: you might like to watch this trailer to get a “feel”.

Monday, September 09, 2013

goodbye gromits!

Yesterday was the final day of Bristol’s wonderful “Gromit Unleashed” trail.
Over the past 10 weeks, thousands (literally) of very happy, smiling people – NOT just parents/grandparents(!) and their children/grandchildren – have been travelling around the city (and a few miles beyond) in search of 80 beautifully painted, 5 foot high Gromits.
Aardman Animinations/Wallace+Gromit’s Grand Appeal joined forces to organise this wonderful art event (and supported by local businesses and communities) to raise funds for Bristol’s Children Hospital.  All the Gromits will be auctioned off on 3 October.
The only negative note, sadly, were the three Gromits that were vandalised during the course of the trail (no doubt by drunken yobs)… I suspect that, if these idiots had been caught, Bristol’s public would have welcomed the reintroduction of the stocks for general humiliation by rotten vegetables… and, no doubt, people would have turned out in great numbers to queue for the privilege!
However, this negative was massively outweighed by all the positives. We know lots of the local artists who painted the Gromits – and an added bonus for us were the two that Ruth painted (on behalf of wind-up radio man Trevor Bayliss and hat designer/maker Philip Treacy) and also the mini-Gromit (for one of the Aardman directors) that was a lovely figurehead for one of Bristol’s ferries.
It’s been just brilliant… what’s going to be next?

PS: you might recall the successful “wow! gorillas” public art trail in Bristol from two years ago (yes, I realise that that there are other similar trails around the country!).
PPS: the photograph shows the 72 Gromits that I managed to see (I feel just slightly guilty that I saw more than any of our grandchildren!).

Sunday, September 01, 2013

family history repeating itself?

Shortly after my father died (just over 21 years ago), we were all highly amused to find a drawer containing two tins of pens. These were labelled “good pens” and “not so good pens” respectively (or something along these lines).
Well, in a plastic wallet in my shoulder bag, I keep my various fibre-tip pens and assorted pencils. Obviously, my pens of choice (Kuretake “Writer”!) do need replacing from time to time but, because they still “work a little bit”, I’ve been loathe to discard them. So, over the past few months (in order to avoid getting the “worn” and “decent” pens mixed up), I've started marking subsequent pens with red rings… then later ones with red rings at each end… then two red rings at one end… and I’m currently using ones with one ring at one end and two at the other…
It was only then that I realised the painful similarities!
Oh dearie, dearie me… like father, like son.
PS: my family already laughs at me, so disposing with old pens before I die is the least of my worries!
Photo: a line-up of the pens out of my bag (note: the red marks fade with use!).