Tuesday, December 31, 2013

new year reflections

For the past two years, I’ve posted something along these lines as we approach a new year: about how experience tells me that, even if/when there are periods of gloom, there WILL be things that fill me with joy that, at present, I know NOTHING about.
I just LOVE that this happens every year.
So, true to form, I’ve used more or less the same headings to reflect on my personal memories of 2013 (and thoughts about 2014):
My top five (note: I’ve really been spoilt for choice this year – my SHORTlist was 16 books long!!):
Leaving Alexandria (Richard Holloway); The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot); HHhH (Laurent Binet); The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Rachel Joyce); The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared (Jonas Jonasson).
My top five (again, in vague order – although we didn’t get to the cinema all that often): Le Week-end; A Late Quartet; Amour; Blue Jasmine; Frances Ha.
LOVELY LIVE PERFORMANCES (broken down into various categories):

My top five: The Count of Monte Cristo (Brewery Theatre); Great Expectations (Bristol Old Vic); The Boy Who Cried Wolf (Old Vic, Bristol); Midsummer Night’s Dream (streamed)(RSC, Stratford); The Last Five Years (Brewery Theatre, Bristol).
Karine Polwart (St George’s, Bristol); Martha Tilston (Colston Hall, Bristol); King Creosote (Colston Hall); Exultate Singers (St James Priory) and the Gasworks Choir (St George’s); Gavin Osborn (Colston Hall); Daisy Chapman (Arnos Vale Cemetery); O’Hooley+Tidow (Bristol Folk House); Martin Simpson (Colston Hall).

Grommit(!!)(Bristol etc); Drawn Exhibition 2013 (RWA, Bristol); Pre-Raphaelites (Tate Britain)… sorry, not very many, is it?


I’ve been pathetically lazy when it comes to sport over the past year… I think the only “live” sport I saw was the final day of the cricket season (Gloucestershire v Lancashire). As usual, I’ve enjoyed watching the Six Nations and the Autumn Rugby Internationals on TV… but it’s not really the same. MUST do better!
Once again, we’ve been blessed to be able to meet up with many of our lovely “special” friends (they know who they are!) on a pretty frequent basis during the course of the year. Also wonderful to re-visit Drimnin in the western highlands
again with Bob+Christine; very special to go back to Iona again (albeit very briefly) and meet up with some of my much-loved friends from the Iona Community; also great to meet up with Karen and Tereza (from the Iona Community) in Bristol; and Dick+Dientje (from Holland); and Nick+Christine after so many years! 
I’ve very much enjoyed continuing to post a drawing or photograph every day as part of my “One Day Like This” blog (something like 240 drawings and 240 photographs thus far!); producing some large elevation drawings for Alan+Lesley was also really enjoyable (once I’d got my head around it!)… two down, one to go! I was delighted to have a large drawing accepted for the “Drawn” exhibition at the RWA in the Spring (and even more surprised and excited that it actually sold – and very quickly too!). It was good to have some of my drawings for sale in the “Made in Britain” and “Christmas Design Temporium” shops during the course of November/December… and I enjoyed being a shop assistant again (all that Iona bookshop experience!) in the CDT shop.
Cafes, reading, drawing, photography, walking, living near the sea (well, sort of… and with relatively easy access to Devon and Cornwall – especially Kingsbridge and St Ives) and, of course, looking after grandchildren!

I produced a photobook: “One Year Like This” in October. Challenges for this coming year? Well, who knows, trying to come up with something to submit (and, almost certainly, rejected!) for the RWA’s Autumn Exhibition? Also, the wonderful Si Smith has invited me to contribute something for an Advent 2014 project, which sounds quite exciting.

We’re talking about perhaps visiting Holland during the course of 2014 (and to meet up with our lovely friends
I’ve been attending Quakers meetings pretty regularly through the year and, although this has proved helpful, illuminating and fulfilling in many ways, I’ve now decided to try to follow a different path (I’m not quite sure what this is or where it will take me)… another year of spiritual plodding perhaps?

1. I think I’d like to do something to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of WW1. My grandfather, Frank Walker (he died 30 years ago, in 1984), was a member of the 8th Brigade Royal Field Artillery during the Great War. Like many others, he joined up under age (he was 17 – the minimum qualifying age was 19). He entered the Theatre of War in France/Belgium on 19 August 1914, just a fortnight after Britain had declared war on Germany. A few years ago, I compiled a
blog which traced his movements throughout the war years… and would quite like to visit one or two of the key battle sites at some stage.

2. I continue to take huge pleasure in seeing others grow and develop: loving seeing our daughters creating beautiful work (Ruth’s jewellery and prints; Hannah’s posters and other projects; Alice’s writing and forthcoming book); and watching all our grandchildren learn new things.
3. As you probably know, I’m not a keen TV-watcher, but I have enjoyed “Borgen” enormously.

4. The beautiful summer weather was a brilliant bonus.
1. My right hip/knee/leg continues to cause me problems… physiotherapy did very little (if anything) to ease the situation. I’m due to make an appointment with our local surgery in the new year (a standard “free health check” for people of my age!) and so this will be one of the issues for discussion. I’m conscious that, these days, I hobble about like an “old man”.

2. It’s very sad that I haven’t played golf for nearly 18 months (because of my hip/knee/leg). 
But it’s actually been another very good year… and we continue to count our blessings.
Photo: sign at the Fish Café, Tobermory

Monday, December 30, 2013

november-december books

More book stuff:
Somewhat amazingly (well, it’s amazing for me at least!), this is the third year running that I’ve read a book a week throughout the year (yes, I realise I’m the only one counting but: 55 this year, 55 in 2012 and 56 in 2011)!
The Vagrant Mood (W Somerset Maughan): A varied and colourful collection of essays first published in 1952 – on such wide-ranging subjects as Kant, Burke, Augustus Hare, Raymond Chandler and the art of the detective story! I don’t think I’d previously read anything by Maughan and was pleasantly surprised… he’s easy to read and portrays himself as intimate and straightforward (which was probably not the case!).
Thirty Nine New Articles (Martyn Percy): I was sent this book by the author himself (he’s the Principal of Rippon College, Cuddesdon – where students are trained for ordained ministry in the Anglican Church) as a thank-you for a sketch I’d made of the college, which was passed on to him by a friend. Inspired by the original Thirty Nine Articles of Religion, the Church of England's historic statement of belief, it explores thirty-nine beliefs and practices that characterise Anglicanism today and the issues it grapples with (the new book actually contains 42 articles!). Despite the fact that I “left” the Anglican Church (following its continuing failure to recognise women bishops), I found it to be a very wise, hopeful and encouraging book.
There’s No Home (Alexander Baron): This is a war novel, set in WW2, but isn’t a story of war. It’s set in 1943, in a lull in the fighting, after the allied invasion of Sicily. A British battalion marches into a bombed out city to be met by the women, children and old men. Now seems exploitative, sexist and, in many ways, unreal… but an unusual and powerful story nonetheless. First published in 1950 and apparently “semi-autobiographical” (Baron was a “sapper” and witnessed some of the horrific fighting in Sicily and D-Day landings).
Unapologetic (Francis Spufford): Refreshing… and certainly not like any other book I’ve ever read about faith - even though, at times, he irritated me hugely and I longed for him to stop ranting or for his editor to have had a firmer hand (he apparently did no research for the book and wrote at least some of it rapidly in a Cambridge café - which probably explains why it has such a raw, unedited, in-your-face quality). In the book, he attempts to describe what it feels like to go on believing when you know and have experienced all that can be said against faith. He freely admits that he doesn't know if there is a god…"and neither do you, and neither does Richard bloody Dawkins, and neither does anyone. It not being… a knowable item. What I do know is that, when I am lucky, when I have managed to pay attention, when for once I have hushed my noise for a little while, it can feel as if there is one. And so it makes emotional sense to proceed as if he's there, to dare the conditionality."  I found Spufford’s book both challenging and stimulating (and, frankly at times, also pretty tedious!), but I didn’t really warm to him as an individual and suspect that, if I met him for a chat in his Cambridge café, I wouldn’t be able to get a word in edgeways!
Down and Out in Paris and London (George Orwell): Fictional, but apparently part autobiographical, account of a penniless writer among the down-and-outs in a) Paris: working in appalling conditions as a dishwasher/plongeur in posh French restaurants, and b) London: experiencing the world of tramps, street people and free lodging houses while awaiting a job. Written in the early 1930s, it’s a sobering tale of the effects of abject poverty, hopelessness and survival. One for Iain Duncan Smith’s new year reading list perhaps?

Friday, December 27, 2013

three cane whale and bristol kitchen radio…

It’s coming up to the end of the year and, as usual, I’ve been in reflection mode.
One of the things I did, as a result of this, was to post (on facebook) a list of ten new pieces of music that I’ve come across during the course of 2013 and “Sluice” (by Three Cane Whale) was one of my featured songs. I’d never actually come across Three Cane Whale until very recently, but they had featured on a playlist I regularly listened to while working in a pop-up shop at The Architecture Centre in November/December… and I simply loved their music. Within a matter of minutes of posting my list, a good friend of mine Mark Loudon (who used to live in Bristol… and now lives in Liverpool) had posted the following message: So glad you like Three Cane Whale. My dear old friend Paul Bradley is one of the three. You should listen to the amazing Bristol Kitchen Radio podcast which he and his fabulous wife Ellen Hughes do from their house in Redlands. Always featured an improvised song or two from Paul”… and he gave me this link.
Well, I’ve now followed Mark’s advice: a) Bristol Kitchen Radio is just brilliant (I’ve listened to lots of their excellent, entertaining podcasts – which makes Radio 4 look pretty ordinary!) and b) Three Cane Whale are appearing at St George’s on 23 January… and I’ve just bought a ticket!
It’s a very small world… and the internet is wonderful!
Photo: from Bristol Kitchen Radio’s blog (I hope they don’t mind!)

Monday, December 16, 2013

exultate singers and gasworks choir

Moira+I have enjoyed a wonderful weekend of stunning music.
On Saturday night, we went with Alan+Gareth to hear the exquisite Exultate Singers at St James Priory. Like last year, it was another sell-out performance and, like last year, it was just brilliant. Yesterday afternoon, Moira+I went to St George’s to see/hear the brilliant Gasworks Choir (the vibrant red/orange costumes are definitely an integral part of the performance experience!)(Gareth is a member)… and again, like last year, they were superb.
For us, these concerts are now very much part of our traditional build-up to the Christmas.
Photo: Exultate Singers (top, courtesy of their website) and Gasworks Choir (bottom: featuring conductors/arrangers Dee+Ali in their farewell tribute duet to Dee, after some 16 years).

Saturday, December 14, 2013


I went to see Alexander Payne's “Nebraska” yesterday. It's essentially a road movie - with the excellent Bruce Dern as Woody, a fragile old man suffering from dementia insistent on collecting millions from a marketing scam letter (we’ve all received them!). He’s determined to make his way to collect his winnings in person and his youngest son David (Will Forte) finally agrees to take him on the 800km road trip to Lincoln, Nebraska.
It’s a brilliantly-observed dark comedy about America's classic mid-West culture. It’s a gentle, poignant, sometimes grim film about a man who’s lost his self-respect and a story of unlikely re-connection as David sees his father’s doomed quest as a chance for them to spend time together while they still can.
I loved it.
PS: some very good films on at the Watershed, Bristol over the Christmas/New Year period: Philomena 20-23 Dec; Gravity 20 Dec-2 Jan; It’s a Wonderful Life 20 Dec-2 Jan.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

gavin osborn

Went to see and hear the brilliant Gavin Osborn play a free concert in the Colston Hall foyer last night. It’s ridiculous that he’s not playing to much larger audiences as he’s SO talented. Daughter Hannah gave me his CD, “Come On Folks, Settle Down”, about a year ago (she designed the CD cover!) and I absolutely love it… and play it constantly. His music is both poignant and amusing and deals with some of the little (and important) things in life.
Among my favourite songs are: “Finding Time”, “An Orchestrated Break Up” or “The World Is At Your Feet, Little Man”… but, as an aging hippie myself(?), I particularly like “Albert Went Out To See Rock Bands” (Albert is the 77 year-old hero of the song!). It always makes me smile…
His CD would make a wonderful Christmas present!
Photo: Gavin at the Colston Hall foyer last night