Thursday, October 31, 2013


Moira+I went to the Tobacco Factory Theatre last night to see Dawn King’s “Ciphers” – a play accurately described in the blurb as a “provocative thriller about spies, double agents, and the opaqueness of the human soul”.
It was excellent – with first-class performances from all members of a talented cast.
One of the bonuses for us was being able to get together again with our good friend, Bruce Alexander (well known to many as Supt Mullet in TV’s “A Touch of Frost”), from our Thame days in Oxfordshire.
Highly recommended (but you’ll have to be quick though – it moves on to the Oxford Playhouse after this Saturday’s performance).
PS: Bruce’s son Sam (also an incredibly talented actor), stayed with us last year while he was performing in “Wild Oats” at Bristol’s Old Vic.

the curse of the activity monitor?

I’m never ill… well, not until this past week, that was.
Over the past few days, I’ve been feeling distinctly under-par and have even resorted to spending several daylight hours in my bed (I know!).
This has all coincided with me agreeing to wear one of BioBank’s (I’m one of many volunteers helping them to “improve the health of future generations”) activity monitors for a week - starting last Wednesday. I’m normally pretty active and consider myself to be reasonably fit (perhaps debatable with my gammy hip!?), so my sudden decline in health does seem a little mystifying.
The BioBank people will no doubt be thinking they’re dealing with a couch potato… and will be urging me to do more exercise!
Could it be down to the “curse of activity monitor”, I wonder?
Well, who knows (only kidding!)… BUT, yesterday was my last “monitor day” and the gadget is now being posted back to those lovely people at BioBank… and , do you know, I’m feeling as if I’m actually getting back to full health!
Photo: the aforementioned activity monitor…
PS: the mystery deepens… could the activity monitor affect laptops, I ask myself? During the course of the BioBank monitoring week, my laptop also died (now recovered, thankfully)… unconnected, obviously!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

royal mail

I was completely opposed to the privatisation of the Royal Mail.
Today, Vince Cable is due to appear before Parliament’s “Business, Innovation and Skills Committee”(!). The battle’s lost and so, for the most of the public, it’ll only be of academic interest… at best.
However, it will be interesting to hear his take on the following:
1.       His justification for seriously under-selling the Royal Mail (floated at 330p, compared with last Friday’s level of 555p… and expected to reach 570p in a year’s time)?
2.       The justification for the fund management arms of some of the banks advising on the float receiving a combined 13m shares? If advisers on selling Royal Mail know that colleagues are buyers, what incentive is there to price the shares at the maximum price? SURELY, there’s a conflict of interest? Current profit on 13m shares stands at some £29million! Ridiculous. Scandalous.
Rip-off Britain?
You bet.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

marinaleda: the village against the world

This is the title of a book by journalist Dan Hancox and I went along to Foyles Bookshop last night to hear him talk about the place, the people and, obviously, his book… as part of the excellent Bristol Festival of Ideas. I was intrigued/encouraged to attend after reading an article he’d written in the Guardian (highlighted by my mate Jon).
Marinaleda is a small, remote village in Andalusia which has become acclaimed by many as "a communist utopia". It started in the late 1970s from a position of abject poverty (with more than 60% unemployment) - a farming community with no land. Led by its charismatic mayor, Sanchez Gordillo (who has been re-elected at every election since that time), the village has, somehow, succeeded - through sacrifice and determination. In 1985, Sánchez Gordillo told the newspaper El País: "We have learned that it is not enough to define utopia, nor is it enough to fight against the reactionary forces. One must build it here and now, brick by brick, patiently but steadily, until we can make the old dreams a reality: that there will be bread for all, freedom among citizens, and culture; and to be able to read with respect the word 'peace '. We sincerely believe that there is no future that is not built in the present”.
It proved to be a highly-stimulating evening – half an hour of him talking followed by 30 minutes or so of questions+answers from the audience.
Absolutely fascinating.
Photo: Juan Manuel Sanchez Gordillo, the village’s long-standing, charismatic mayor.
PS: the audience was probably bigger than the one that had turned up at the Old Vic the previous night!
PPS: The one negative aspect of the evening was the T-shirted bloke sitting immediately in front of me… who had AWFUL body odour!!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

great expectations

Moira+I went to the Old Vic last night to see Neil Bartlett’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations”. Having read glowing reviews about the play, Moira did indeed have great expectations (I just felt dog-tired!). Fortunately (for us both), it WAS very good evening. The acting was of a consistently high standard – I was particularly taken by Tom Canton’s performance as Pip (who was on stage throughout the evening) – but, for me, the most impressive aspect of the production was the overall design, sound and lighting (Michael Vale, Timothy X Atack and Rick Fisher).
The Old Vic programme described it as “an evening of pure theatrical story-telling”… and I think this just about sums up an excellent production.
PS: the one sad aspect of the evening was the relatively sparse audience – perhaps only 60, if one discounted a party of some 20 college students.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

le week-end

Gareth, Alan, Moira+I did NOT go to Paris for the weekend, but we did see Roger Mitchell’s film, Le Week-End, at the Watershed… which featured a weekend in Paris. It’s a film about a couple (Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan are superb) who are revisiting Paris for the first time since their honeymoon, 30 years ago… and it explores the ups and downs of love in later life and, in this case, what one might describe as a “sagging marriage” (although I might be prepared to argue that point).
It’s funny, it’s poignant and, by the reaction of the audience (the majority of whom could closely identify with the film’s theme), it addressed some rather familiar “challenges” of (very) long-term relationships.
I’ve just read Peter Bradshaw’s review in The Guardian – which contained the following description: Le Week-End is about an interesting subject, a subject that is the elephant in the living room – or rather the elephant on the Saga holiday, the elephant on the grey-pound world cruise, the elephant thoughtfully sucking the Werther's Original – and that is the emotional and sexual lives of old or older people, who generally don't get to appear much on movies or television. Meg and Nick are finding that as they get older, mother nature has played a cruel trick on them. As well as the persistent twinges and pains and agonies of physical decay, they find that they are still poignantly interested in life, interested enough to yearn for more, and to be therefore intensely dissatisfied with themselves and with each other as time runs out, and to find they are still sufficiently compos mentis for this to be almost intolerably painful”.
I have to say, I found it a more hopeful film than Bradshaw obviously did - although, after watching a trailer a week or so back, I wasn’t all that keen to see Le Week-End (I felt there was a danger I was going to be encouraged to dance in bars… or whatever! Perish the thought!).
In the event, I really enjoyed the film and, although it contained some rather mystifying minor plot issues, came away with a smile on my face… and Paris DID look lovely!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

september-october 2013 books

More book stuff:
A Perfectly Good Man (Patrick Gale): The story deals with the interwoven lives of the inhabitants of a Cornish village and I liked the way it was put together as a series of snapshots, in no particular order, of the various characters (eg. “Lenny at 20”, “Dorothy at 24”). This is a sincere and well-constructed story (and it’s very readable) but, for me, it was all a bit “too-good-to-be-true” and frequently found myself thinking “don’t-tell-me-such-and-such-is-going-to-happen-next” and, sure enough…
Until relatively recently, I used to avoid reading fiction… all too often I ended up finding the process frustrating… or too predictable… or too absurd… or some of the writing style… or the author trying too hard to demonstrate that he/she had done their research… or it left me feeling “what was the point?”. I feel sure that most readers will like the book… but I’m afraid it just reminded me of the reasons I didn’t like reading fiction!
Excerpts from a Family Medical Dictionary (Rebecca Brown): This might seem like a very strange book to be reading! I bought it at the £2 bookshop and had been intrigued… Brown’s mother became ill with cancer in 1996 and, in 17 short chapters, records the slow, incremental erosion of her mother’s health, dignity and life. It’s a stark, but rather beautiful book – made even more poignant because my own parents died of cancer in 1992 and 1999 (although, unlike Brown’s mother, neither of them had chemotherapy).
Echoes of Memory (John O’Donohue): I love O’Donohue’s ability with words (you can almost hear him speaking them). Beautifully-crafted memories of Ireland, family, love, Celtic spirituality and nature (including ravens!). A lovely book.
Let Us Go Then, You and I (TS Eliot): This is a book of Eliot’s selected poems. I’ve been reading a fair amount of poetry over the past couple of years – impressed by the words and the beauty of language, but struggling to understand an awful lot of it, I have to say! Frequently, I would very much welcome some form of editorial note that provided a little piece of background… and I’m sure there are lots of others like me. I’ll keep trying.
Instructions for a Heatwave (Maggie O’Farrell): This is our Book Group’s latest book. It tells of a retired father of a complicated Irish family, living in London, who mysteriously disappears one morning… and follows his wife’s and his grown-up children’s actions to track him down (which, for me, seemed to be incredibly calm and rather lacking any real sense of urgency?). Somewhat predictably (sorry!), many of the comments I made on the Patrick Gale novel (above) apply here too. However, that would be a little unfair on Maggie O’Farrell. She’s a very good storyteller; I liked her writing style and her characters, on the whole, are very believable. I enjoyed the book (despite my reservations about reading fiction – which will please Gareth, who chose it for our book group!) and read it within three days.

Monday, October 07, 2013

blue jasmine

Karen, Moira+I went along to the Watershed yesterday afternoon to see Woody Allen’s latest film, Blue Jasmine. It’s a story of a former New York socialite (played by Cate Blanchett) whose high-flying life comes crashing down when her husband (Alec Baldwin) loses everything in a government liquidation of their vast fortune. Cate Blanchett’s portrayal as a woman-on-the-edge is stunning (surely Oscar-winning?) – unrelenting, emotional and desperate… managing to portray both the supremely beautiful and the broken, ravaged woman within the same film with apparent, uncomfortable  ease. The other actors give powerful performances too… especially Sally Hawkins (of “Happy-Go-Lucky” and “Made in Dagenham” fame), who plays Blanchett’s down-at-heel sister.
If I’m honest, I was slightly disappointed by the film. Although it was a typical melancholic Allen movie, I would have been grateful for a few more moments of humour and a little less abrasiveness (but that’s probably just me!). Having said that, there’s no doubt that it’s an impressive, powerful film with some huge individual performances… and definitely worth seeing.