Wednesday, December 31, 2014


For our final cinema-going experience of 2014, Moira+I went along to the Watershed this afternoon to see Matthew Warchus’s “Pride” (various friends, including Gareth, Alan and Becki, had strongly recommended it - so it seems wrong not to!). Based on true events, it's set in the summer of 1984. Margaret Thatcher is in power and the National Union of Mineworkers is on strike. At a Gay Pride march in London a group of gay and lesbian activists decide to raise money to support the families of striking miners but, sadly, the Union is embarrassed to receive their support. Undeterred, the LGSM (Lesbians+Gays Support the Miners) decide to drive in a minibus to a mining village in deepest Wales to offer their donation in person… and so begins an extraordinary, surprising, poignant, uplifting story. It’s a beautiful, extraordinary film about pride, about community, about people… and, ultimately, about spirit (even against all the odds).
Thirty years on and it’s also a timely reminder of: a) the way in which the Thatcher government acted to destroy the miners (it still makes SO angry), b) the actions of the police during the year-long strike (something, I think, from which they’ve still not fully recovered), c) how the power and effectiveness of the unions has largely been eradicated (through legislation, but also partly as a result perhaps of Thatcher’s “it’s-all-about-the-indivual-and-damn-the-rest-you” legacy) and d) just how far society has changed when it comes to its attitudes towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (and LONG overdue!).
It’s a very powerful, glorious, saddening and yet hugely uplifting film… and a very good way to stride into a General Election year!

new year reflections 2014-5

For the past three years, I’ve posted something along these lines as we approach a new year (to remind ME… perhaps in years to come). It’s been a very happy and rewarding year in so many ways, so here’s a rough summary:
My top five, in order (almost impossible to limit it to just five – my SHORTlist was 15 books long!!): This Boy (Alan Johnson); Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes (Billy Collins); The House of the Mosque (Kader Abdolah) and The Shock of the Fall (Nathan Filer) and With Chatwin: Portrait of a Writer (Susannah Clamp).
My top six* (again, in vague order – although we didn’t get to the cinema all that often): The Imitation Game; Dallas Buyers Club; The Grand Budapest Hotel; Pride; Porco Rosso and Will+Testament (*sorry, I've added "Pride" after seeing it on the final day of 2014!).

LOVELY LIVE PERFORMANCES (broken down into various categories):
My top five: 101 Dalmations (Tobacco Factory Theatre, Bristol); If Play Is Play (Royal Opera House, London); Jane Eyre (Bristol Old Vic); My Perfect Mind (Brewery Theatre, Bristol) and The Tiger and the Moustache (Brewery Theatre).

My top five: Three Cane Whale (twice!)(St George’s, Bristol); Martha Tilston (Colston Hall, Bristol); Eddi Reader (St George’s, Bristol); Seth Lakeman (Towersey) and Merry Hell (Towersey).
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam; Rembrandt at The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; Open Exhibition 2014 (RWA, Bristol); Pre-Raphaelites (Tate Britain)… oh, and of course, my one-man show at The Grain Barge! Sorry, must do better!

Another rather lazy year as far as live sport goes… I went to Taunton to watch Somerset CC play (probably three times), Bath Races in June (with some of my old Norton Hill School buddies) and, as usual, I’ve enjoyed watching the Six Nations and the Autumn Rugby Internationals on TV (albeit the latter on catch-up, not live!)… but it’s not really the same. Once again, I 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 a wonderful visit to The Netherlands (Amsterdam, Houten and Utrecht) and staying with our lovely, generous friends Dick+Dientje in Houten… and meeting up with Harry+Willeke in Utrecht. We also had a lovely time in East Sussex - visiting lovely old friends Felicity+Chris and then going on to re-discover the charms of Winchelsea and Rye. I’ve probably missed some other important people!

Another very eventful and enjoyable year, including:

1. I’ve very much enjoyed continuing to post a drawing or photograph every day as part of my “One Day Like This” blog (with well over 400 drawings and 400 photographs since I started in September 2012).
2. I finished the final large elevation drawing (last of three) for Alan+Lesley - my father’s old Art Junior School in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter.
3. I set myself the challenge of taking dawn photographs (from our bathroom window!): ten consecutive daily photographs (“Ten Days of Dawns”) each month throughout the year – and culminating in a final image (“120 Days of Dawns”) for the entire year.
4. I’ve completed a series of drawings to illustrate a book by my good friend, Venetia Horton, on the history of Christianity in GB and Ireland.
5. One Man Exhibition (sounds far more impressive than it really was!) at The Grain Barge in October… and I actually sold a number of my drawings!
6. I took a whole series of photographs for an Advent book (in conjunction with poets Ian Adams and Chris Goan – and, crucially, with the help of the brilliant Si Smith) for Proost. It’s called “We Who Still Wait” (it’ll still be available for Advent 2015!!).
Cafes, reading, drawing, photography, walking, cycling, living near the sea (well, sort of…) and, of course, looking after grandchildren remain very important aspects of my life!

The massive bonus this year was that, following my hip replacement in May, I feel as if I’ve been given a new lease of life! The operation was a brilliant success and it REALLY has made a huge difference to my lifestyle.
There’s another Drawn Exhibition at the RWA in 2015 and, after being fortunate enough to get one of my drawings selected in 2013, I’d certainly like to be able to submit something. Who knows? I’d also quite like to produce a colouring book, or maybe two; one for children and one for adults (no, not THAT kind of colouring book!)… but, again, who knows? Oh, and a calendar.
I’m still desperately keen to go back to Ireland… but Moira’s set her heart on a holiday in the Yorkshire Moors. I also long to walk along Porthmoor Beach at St Ives again! Through the AMAZING generosity of two very special friends, I’m also “booked in” for a five day golf tour to Northern France in June (I’ve played just one game of golf in the last two years)!
I no longer belong to a church (or attend Quakers meetings) and, although I continue to read church-related stuff from time to time, I’m really in a spiritual wilderness at present. So, another year of plodding? Who knows…

1. I became a Trustee at the wonderful Windmill Hill City Farm last Spring. It’s an amazing place with some brilliant people working/volunteering there.

2. I continue to take huge pleasure in seeing others grow and develop: loving seeing our daughters creating beautiful work (Ruth’s prints, jewellery and Shaun the Sheeps; Hannah’s posters, workshops and other projects; Alice’s book and her current novel-writing); and watching all our grandchildren growing up and learning new things.
3. I’ve enjoyed getting on my bike again (after my hip operation).

4. I’ve really enjoyed “discovering” (yes, very late in the day, I know!) the various Studio Ghibli films.
5. My beautiful, lovely daughters gave me a simply amazing present for my 65th birthday in February (well, actually, 65 presents to be opened over the course of 65 days)!
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. I had hoped to get to France/Belgium at some stage to visit one or two of the key battle sites at some stage, but I think it’s probably not going to happen.

It’s been another wonderful year… and we continue to count our blessings.
Photo: one of my 120 Days of Dawns (photographed from our bathroom window!)

Monday, December 29, 2014

the fearful void?

“The Fearful Void” is the title of Geoffrey Moorhouse’s memorable book about his solo attempt to cross the Sahara, without previous experience of deserts, or of camels, or how to navigate or local languages on a voyage of self-discovery. I recall that one critic described it as “sublime madness”!  
Strangely, this title came to mind as I’ve been pondering the turn of the year, with a UK General Election just over four months away! I’ve previously expressed my disillusionment with mainstream politics (here, for example, last September) and I’m now a proud member of the Green Party – the first time in my life that I’ve joined a political party.
Although I’ve been heartened by the number of other people who appear to have taken similar actions, I look ahead to the General Election FEARFUL of its potential outcome.
1.  There are 650 parliamentary seats but, in reality, the results in perhaps 25-40 marginal seats will determine the overall election result. In other words, if you don’t live in one of these marginal seats, your vote won’t matter (don’t get me wrong – EVERYONE needs to vote!).
2.  In Scotland, the SNPs are surging ahead in the polls - by being to the LEFT of the Labour Party. In England (I’m not sure about Wales+Northern Ireland), UKIP has made huge inroads by being the most RIGHT-wing party. Perhaps I need to move to Scotland! 
3.  According to the latest opinion polls, it seems likely that we could get another coalition government with the smaller parties having an increasing “say” in policies. Labour, Green, Lib-Dems(?) and even SNP forming the next government perhaps? My own fear would be a coalition of Tories+UKIP (moving to Scotland would become a REAL possibility!).
There clearly needs to be some sort of revolution in UK politics. Unfortunately, nothing will happen that will adversely affect the influence of the main political parties (they’re not stupid!). Like me, I suspect that the vast majority of the UK electorate are sick of Westminster politics – its greed, its over-centralisation and its London-centricity.
A real infection of despair, even hatred of Westminster politics… or is it just me?
PS: Depressingly, the older I get, the more I get to feel that democracy is overrated! That’s not QUITE the case, but I feel sure I’m in a minority when it comes to matters such as the EU, for example (I could have chosen "increasing taxes to pay for public services and the NHS", "immigration", "environment", "education" etc!) - I’ve no doubt (assuming people could be bothered to turn out to vote) that the UK electorate would opt to withdraw from the EU… which I think would be just an awful decision.
PPS: Largely as a result of the bombing of Iraq in 2003, I've come to despise Tony Blair. However, somewhat ironically, I couldn't resist the temptation to buy a brand new hardback version of his 700-page autobiography ("A Journey") for a knock-down £2.50 - published price £25 (don't get me wrong, I still despise him... it's all part of my political education!). 

december 2014 books

More book stuff (sorry!): I know it’s a bit silly (and it’s just for my benefit), but I’ve been keeping tabs on the books I’ve read each year. Over the past few years, especially in retirement(!), I’m conscious that my reading “intake” has increased hugely… from perhaps half a dozen books a year to more than one a week. I’ve just totted up my books for 2014 (that’s what blog posts are for, right?) and I rather think that this year has been just a little excessive when it comes to reading – a total of 70 (seventy!)! Think I need to get a life!
Miss Mapp (EF Benson): My third Benson “Mapp+Lucia” book (I’m hooked!). Written in the 1920s and set in Rye – on which the fictional Tilling was based. Elizabeth Mapp is the town’s outrageous snob – forever scheming to be seen in the best possible light herself whilst, at the same time, sneering at her potential rivals. As noted in one of my previous posts, it’s “beautifully observed, it’s an outrageously pretentious and excruciatingly farcical account of one-upmanship and class in a society where all the main players don’t need to work for a living. It’s all very tongue-in-cheek, amusing and very readable”. Precisely.
Shrapnell (William Wharton): This book, published in 2012, is about Wharton’s WW2 experiences. Born in Philadelphia in 1925, Wharton had previously written the classic wartime novels “Birdy” and “A Midnight Clear”. However, he was apparently a very private man and rarely gave interviews - so this book represents his own account of wartime events that influenced his best works. It’s a brave, illuminatingly-frank and, at times, pretty terrifying memoir.
A Shot In The Dark (Saki, aka HH Munro): This is another of Saki’s books of short stories. It been ages since I last read any of his stuff and I’d forgotten just what a clever writer he was (he was killed in WW1, aged 46). A brilliant observer of life and people. It’s a very impressive skill to be tell a compelling tale in a matter of a few pages. Frequently surprising and often funny.
Lucia In London (EF Benson): With a Mapp+Lucia mini-television series being screened leading up to the new year, I couldn’t resist reading yet another of the books (my fourth!). The action here takes places between London (as the book title suggests!) and Riseholme (this fictional Elizabethan village in the Cotswolds is thought to be based on Broadway in Worcestershire!). Benson’s vibrant satire is just wonderful. This book, like the others in the collection, make perfect “holiday” reading (ie. light, amusing and very readable).
We Who Still Wait (Chris Goan, Ian Adams, Steve Broadway+Si Smith): This seems very strange to include one of your own books in a book post! This was an Advent resource book (published by Proost). Si Smith came up with the initial concept; Chris Goan wrote the beautiful poems and Ian Adams produced the thought-provoking daily reflections (I just provided the photographs!). This might sound a little strange in the circumstances but, although I’d read all the poems and reflections during the course of the book’s compilation, I didn’t really use the book fully this Advent. So, I’m looking forward to re-reading it next Advent!  

Monday, December 15, 2014

gasworks choir christmas concert

Moira+I went along to St George’s again last night to see the exhilarating, talented, acappella Gasworks Choir perform at their annual Christmas Concert. As ever, it was a hugely entertaining, colourful(!), infectious and uplifting experience.
They’re quite, quite brilliant!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

120 days of dawns…

In a rather haphazard way, back in January, I decided to start taking photographs from our bathroom window of the sky just before sunrise. I’m always up pretty early and I’d noticed some beautiful skies at this time of day – yes, sunrises are often stunning, but I’m talking about the 20 minutes or so leading up to sunrise (and, anyway, sunrises seemed too straightforward!). This developed into an idea for a whole-year project – perhaps a dawn photograph of the same view taken EVERY day for the whole of 2014? But this was clearly impractical – what about holidays? Weekends away etc? So I eventually opted for taking photographs on 10 consecutive days every month.
After three months you get to appreciate that morning sun changes position(!), so I realised that I probably needed to have two distinct views to take account of this (which, after 12 months, now seems entirely justified). As you might imagine, some mornings produce nothing more than grey murk but, on other occasions, the skies can really be quite magical. 
In the end, I developed a sort of routine - probably taking three photographs most mornings, after setting the alarm on my mobile phone to ring on “snooze mode” at five minute intervals say 20, 15 and 10 minutes before sunrise.
I absolutely LOVE skies (and not just the early morning and sunset ones) and it’s been fascinating to watch how they change – literally from one minute to the next. The year-long process has also underlined how much beauty we all FAIL to see or appreciate… it’s all too easy to wake and register that the sun is shining or that it’s another grey day or whatever. Over the course of the past 12 months, there have been SO many fleeting, beautiful treasured early morning moments that so few people have witnessed (obviously, mainly due to them being asleep!)… and it’s at that time, as sunrise approaches, the sky is probably at its most beguiling and surprising.
It’s been a very enjoyable project… and one that I’ll rather miss. Another of life’s simple pleasures.
Photo: 120 days of dawns – January-December 2014.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

three cane whale at st george’s…

Hannah+I went along to St George’s last night to hear/see one of my favourite bands, Three Cane Whale, perform. Over the past year, I’ve become one of their most ardent fans. To give you a favour, this is what The Observer said about them: “a multi-instrumental acoustic trio which combines the influences of folk, minimalism, classical and film music to produce something in which the aroma of muddy leaves and old nettles is almost tangible”! Actually, it’s probably best to go to their website and listen to a couple of tracks.
Last night, they appeared alongside four members of Bristol Baroque Soloists and, frankly, I felt that the first half of the show laid too much emphasis on them - with Three Cane Whale almost playing second fiddle (as it were). However, the second half was altogether different and stunningly beautiful (with BBS playing much more in the “background”)… and very much appreciated by an enthusiastic audience.
Over the past few months, one of TCW’s members, guitarist Paul Bradley, has been producing his own, very different, CD through Kickstarter. I’ve now got my copy (which I absolutely love) and have recently been in email contact with him – so it was good to meet up briefly at last (what a lovely bloke he is!). I’d invited Hannah along – even though she didn’t really know much about their music… but, at the start of the evening, Hannah she realised that she actually knew Pete Judge (trumpet, cornet, dulcitone, harmonium, chimes, glockenspiels and lyre-harp player!) from his association with theatrical collaborations (or something like that?). So, as we left, there was me feeling very happy to have met Paul Bradley, then Hannah bumped into Pete Judge in the lobby… with accompanying hugs+kisses etc.
Hey, do we mix with the movers and shakers of the Bristol music scene or what?  

Monday, December 08, 2014

101 dalmatians

Ruth, Stu, Iris, Rosa, Moira+I went along to the Tobacco Factory Theatre last night to see Sally Cookson’s “101 Dalmatians”.
It was simply brilliant!
The hugely talented cast of five actors and three musicians effortlessly (and very effectively) managed multiple changes between canine and human characters and a big bonus for us was that our son-in-law Felix was one of the actors (as Cruella De Vil’s sinister husband, dalmatian Rolly-Poly, crook Jasper Baddun and friendly cow!). Blimey, he was good!
This review from Bristol 24/7 summed it up for me: “This team of creatives understands like few others the joys of theatre and storytelling, and how all its elements can mesh together. Imagination, comedy and atmosphere abound: a jaw-droppingly energetic and inventive cast and musical team bring to life an exquisitely conceived set and some inspired visual gags. The end result, for audiences young and old, is magical”.
I haven’t seen any national reviews thus far, but I’m sure they’ll be good.
All I know is that we enjoyed a wonderful, captivating, magical evening of live theatre at its very best – for both children and adults. Full of energy, fun, drama, invention, charm and imagination.
If you live in the Bristol area, you REALLY must see this superb show. It’s on until 11 January, but you’ll need to act quickly to get tickets – they’re running out fast.
PS:  Just in case you think I’m being slightly biased over Felix’s performance, I think this review from the Bristol Post gets it spot on:  “There wasn't a dame in this production strictly speaking, but what we did get was Felix Hayes, a stand-out performer as firstly Jasper Baddun, one of the bungling crooks who works for the De Vils, then as a friendly cow who sang us a touching bovine version of In the Bleak Midwinter before welcoming the dogs into her barn.The only downside of the play for me was that we didn't see more of Felix in his role as Mr De Vil. His wife may have been the main baddie, but he was suitably sinister as her partner in canine crime, and his bizarre mannerisms and creepy gaze making him the scariest character of the night. Think Hannibal Lecter doing Movember while wearing a trilby”!

Sunday, December 07, 2014

november-december 2014 books

more book stuff:
Acts and Omissions (Catherine Fox): Moira originally followed this book in weekly chapters via Catherine Fox’s blog and was a huge fan. To be honest, it didn’t really sound like “my kind of book” (the flysheet gave me the impression it would read like a churchy version of “The Archers”!). Actually, I was wrong. Fox is a very clever, very funny writer (with a beautiful turn of “holy” phrase) – who just happens to be married to the dean of Liverpool Cathedral – and her fictional “take” on the Anglican Church is, at times, hilariously funny but also full of poignant insights, much generosity and a certain amount of head-shaking! Almost against my better judgement, I came to have a real affection for all the characters (yes, all of them). A rather lovely, surprising book. 
Black Mischief (Evelyn Waugh): This comic novel (published in 1932) satirises two unscrupulous cultures – a fictional barbarous African country where cruelty, treachery, cannibalism were rampant and the upper-class affluence of London’s Mayfair society where privilege and imperialism are dominant. It’s very funny at times, but also uncomfortably un-politically correct.
Where Angels Fear to Tread (EM Forster): Published in 1905, this novel* is about a young English widow who takes off on the grand tour and along the way marries a handsome, penniless Italian. Tragically, she dies in childbirth and her in-laws (who weren’t amused by the marriage in the first place) mount a campaign to bring the child back to be raised in England. This was Forster’s first novel and it’s beautifully written (as well as being well-observed and funny). I enjoyed it… even if I did find the ending rather contrived.
With Chatwin: Portrait of a Writer (Susannah Clamp): I’d read three of Bruce Chatwin’s books (“The Songlines”, “Utz” and “What Am I Doing Here” – but now feel the need to re-read them!), so was looking forward to this memoir, published in 1998. Clamp was a good friend of Chatwin, edited two of his books and also knew many of his friends well. This is a beautiful memoir – affectionate, affecting, frank, funny and rather enchanting. Chatwin died of Aids in 1989 aged 48 and was a man of diverse talents and interests. He was certainly someone who had an eye for art (he worked for Sotherbys briefly), but he was also someone who made people look and see things in a different way (and not just art). Clamp describes him as being “a traveller, a teller of tales and a connoisseur of the extraordinary” which, to my mind, sums him up beautifully. I love the fact that the Bodleian Library in Oxford has 40 grey cardboard boxes of his paraphernalia – including 85 of his notebooks. It’s now 25 years since his death, so reading this wonderful memoir at this time seemed very appropriate.
The Bonfire of the Vanities (Tom Wolfe): This is our Book Group’s next book (for discussion next month). It’s a mammoth tome of over 700 pages - so it’ll be interesting to see how many book group people actually manage to finish it! Published in 1987, it’s a satirical look at the contrasting world of 1980s New York – the haves and the have-nots; wealthy Wall Street bond traders; raging ambitions and vanities; power-hungry men (always men, it seems!); attractive young (“x-ray” thin?) women who are only too happy, it seems, to be pampered and spoilt; violence and corruption; white Park Avenue versus poor, black Bronx. The book’s been hailed as a masterpiece. Personally, whilst I found it eminently readable and funny, I also found the American world of greed, money and injustice all pretty depressing – even more so when one realises just how similar things have become in the UK (eg. greedy bankers? surely not!) over the past 20 years or so.
Note*: Forster’s book (first published in 1905, but reprinted in 1969) was part of the Penguin Modern Classics’ series and has the following price printed on the back cover: “20p  4/-“ (in anticipation of UK currency decimalisation in 1971). I appreciate that it’s only a relatively short book (some 160 pages), but TWENTY pence does seem RIDICULOUSLY cheap… even for 1969!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

advent: we who still wait

I’ve been involved in an Advent project with Proost in collaboration with the very talented Ian Adams, Chris Goan and Si Smith. Si has been the “ideas man” behind the project and writers/poets Ian and Chris have put together some powerful words and reflections for each day of Advent… my contribution has been to provide 100 supporting photographs (four images per day). After Si had suggested 24 daily themes, it was really fascinating to see what Ian, Chris+I independently produced by the end of the process – and how they worked so well together.
I’ve never been involved in anything quite like this before and so it was interesting to “hand over” the completed sections to Proost and for them to put them together in a downloadable resource. Actually, I have to admit that I also found the very end of the process somewhat frustrating! Unsurprisingly, the final layout certainly isn’t how I would have laid out the images and text. For example, I would have had gaps between the small photographs (and would have also have arranged them in a square format) and I’d have liked to have been able to see all the daily texts AND the images on the same page (or double-page)… but, hey, what do I know! Afterall, Proost are the experts in this field and have years of experience behind them.
The poems and reflections are just great and the resource is available here at a ridiculously low price of £3.50/$5.75 (or the bonus version – with pics – is £5/$8). A book version is also due out soon.  

Saturday, November 29, 2014

cinema marathon: “2001 – a space odyssey” and “I am ali”

Yesterday was definitely a “first” for me – I went to the cinema TWICE! Actually, that’s not quite true, I only went once… but stayed to watch two films. As I had a relatively free Friday, I’d already decided to go to the Watershed to see “I am Ali” (Clare Lewins excellent documentary on Muhammad Ali) at the end of the afternoon, but then next noticed that Stanley Kubrick’s “2001 – A Space Odyssey” was being shown straight after lunch.
So, somewhat ridiculously, I decided that I go to both!
2001 - A SPACE ODYSSEY: I saw “2001” when it first came out in 1968. I can remember being “encouraged” to see it by our amazing art tutor, Tom Porter, at Oxford School of Architecture (actually, it was much more like a three-line whip!). It IS an amazing film (even if you set aside the storyline)… and you have to keep reminding yourself that it was made only 5 years after the first man-on-the-moon, before the internet and long before the world of personal computers and mobile phones. Yes, understandably, there are sections of the film that now look a little “clunky” (eg. push-button computer technology, voice recognition, trays of dehydrated food etc) but, overall, 47 years later(!), it’s still remarkably fresh and visually stunning.
I AM ALI: For me, like lots of other people, Muhammad Ali is a real hero of mine and so I was very keen to see Clare Lewins’ film. I suspect it’s quite easy to make a “bad” documentary about Ali, but pretty difficult to make a “good” one. Fortunately, as far as I was concerned, this IS a very good one. One of its key features is the access Lewins had to Ali’s family and, in particular, to the audio recordings/audio journals that Ali himself had made of conversations with his children. Lewins had originally made a documentary for the BBC a few years ago and it was during this time that she met Gene Kilroy, Ali’s former business manager. During this time, she’d met several members of Ali’s family and had effectively become accepted as a member of the “inner circle”. An absolutely fascinating film… Ali is truly the Greatest!
PS: So, not only did I spend from 2pm until 7.30pm in the cinema, but I also sat in the same seat for both films!! Sad, sad man!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

the ukulele orchestra of great britain

Ruth+I went along to Colston Hall last night to enjoy a wonderful evening of music+fun with the brilliant Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. It was the second time I’d seen them and I just love their quirky “take” on songs. Over their 29 year history, they’ve obviously established a large repertoire of favourite tunes which were duly acclaimed by the knowledgeable, enthusiastic audience (you got the firm feeling that almost everyone there had seen them before!). They're brilliant musicians and singers... and very funny. 
One of those lovely, happy evenings of live performance where you just knew you could relax – safe in the knowledge that you were in the hands of supreme professionals.
Photo: quick snap from last night’s concert.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

the imitation game

Moira and I went along to the Watershed this afternoon to see Morten Tyldum’s acclaimed “The Imitation Game” – the story of how the Nazis’ WW2 “unbreakable” Enigma machine codes were cracked at Bletchley Park. Actually, it’s the story of Alan Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) – the brilliant, but troubled, fragile mathematician and cryptanalyst - who was credited for the success of what must have seemed, at times, like an impossible mission… and how, subsequently, his wartime achievements counted for nothing when his homosexuality came to light. You probably already know how the story pans out, but it’s probably best if I say no more…
I thought Cumberbatch was quite, quite magnificent. Simply stunning.
In my view, it will take an absolutely exceptional performance to prevent him from winning an Oscar.
Although I was familiar with the basic, fascinating story (and the outrageous and sad way in which the authorities in the UK used to treat homosexuals less than a generation ago), I thought the overall film was excellent too – high drama, humour and very good all round performances by all the cast (although I felt Keira Knightly was probably a bit too glamorous to play the part of Joan Clarke!).
So, accept no imitations (gosh, that’s clever isn’t it!).
As far as I’m concerned, you can forget Timothy Spall and “Mr Turner”, Benedict Cumberbatch and “The Imitation Game” is probably the best individual performance and best film I’ve seen this year!
PS: But, of course, what do I know? I’ve just checked out some reviews and they’re pretty mixed (except that there appears to be a general consensus that Cumberbatch was brilliant) – The Independent gave it 4 stars, while The Guardian and Telegraph both only gave it 3 stars.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The kingdom of dreams and madness

I went along to the Watershed yesterday evening to see this fascinating documentary (by Mami Sunada) about Studio Ghibli. Although I’d only come across Studio Ghibli fairly recently (yes, I know… I really DO need to keep up), I’d been familiar with their graphic images for some time – without actually knowing anything about their source. Studio Ghibli – just in case you didn’t know – has made several iconic animation films over the past 30 years or so (eg. “Spirited Away”, “My Neighbour Totoro” and “Porco Rosso”). This is a behind-the-scenes glimpse of their Tokyo studio. It might sound like a strange subject for a feature film (rather than a TV documentary), but I found it absolutely compelling and really rather inspiring. I thought 72 year-old Miyazaki came across as a particularly interesting character – charismatic, impish, melancholic, creative, entertaining – working six days a week, 10 hours a day (he’s involved in river clearance on the seventh day!). Wonderful to watch him (and other members of his team) actually DRAWING images and storyboards. I loved that Miyazaki spent time, EVERY day, on the studio’s roof garden – and encouraged other staff to do the same – just looking at the SAME views but SEEING changes, different skies, nature, different seasons, roofscapes, people moving etc etc.  
Miyazaki announced his retirement earlier in 2014 and, as a result (in August 2014), the studio has temporarily halted other film production pending restructuring.
It might only appeal to a minority audience, but it’s an absolutely captivating and encouraging film.
Photo (left to right): Hayao Miyazaki (Studio Ghibli director), Toshio Suzuki (producer and former Studio Ghibli president) and Isao Takahata (Studio Ghibli director).

Saturday, November 01, 2014

mr turner

I went along to the Watershed yesterday lunchtime to see their first showing of Mike Leigh’s film “Mr Turner”, starring Timothy Spall in the title role (I managed to avoid queuing for the special Halloween showing of “ET” just along the corridor!!).
Joseph Mallard William Turner is certainly one of my favourite artists and so I went along with high expectations. But, I have to say, I actually found it all a little disappointing - unremarkable even. Yes, the acting was excellent, the cinematography was beautiful, the pace and the direction were perfect and the film was enjoyable, but that’s about all. Timothy Spall is always good value but, actually, his portrayal of JMW Turner was exactly as I’d imagined it would be (ok, so this means they judged the casting to perfection – but, if I told you he was playing an ageing Turner, you’d probably be able to conjure up the same image too… a rather rougher version of Lord Emsworth in “Blandings” combined with a bit of his Winston Churchill in "The King's Speech" for example?). Yes, I appreciate that he won the “Best Actor” award at the Cannes Film Festival for his role in this film, but I thought it was all just a little predictable. As far as the scenes showing him painting and sketching, I found them totally unconvincing.
However, I’ve just read a couple of reviews of the film and, once again, I’m out on a limb (so what’s new?)… Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian) and Robbie Collin (The Telegraph) have both given the film a five star rating… I would have only given it a three, or a four at best!
Oh dear… but, what do I know!?

Friday, October 31, 2014

more october 2014 books

more book stuff:
On Liberty (Shami Chakrabarti): Chakrabarti is one of my heroes and this is a passionate book about how our hard-won individual and collective freedoms have been eroded and are now in unprecedented danger. She highlights, amongst lots of other things, how some senior Tory figures (under what they no doubt see as pressure from UKIP) are pressing for the Human Rights Act to be abolished and for the UK to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights. She makes a very powerful and compelling case pointing out why this would be SO wrong and the folly (and huge risks) of allowing politicians make up the rules just to suit themselves. It’s chilling stuff (but, hey, I was already on her side!) and underlines many of my own concerns about current politics in this country.
Norman Foster: A Life In Architecture (Deyan Sudjic): Another one of my heroes (of a different sort). Foster (born in 1935, near Manchester) comes from a working-class background and only decided on an architectural career (very much against his parents’ advice and following a conversation with a work colleague who’s son was studying architecture) after a frustrating time working in Manchester Town Hall Treasurer’s department as an office junior. After obtaining his degree at Manchester University’s School of Architecture, he studied at Yale, in the USA, for his MA (where he met Richard Rogers). Over the past 50 years or so, thanks to inspirational teachers (all keen advocates of the Modernist Movement), his ability to draw, think “outside the box”, explore and communicate ideas, Foster has become one of the leading figures in world architecture. Author Sedjic first met Foster over 40 years ago and this book provides a fascinating and detailed backdrop to Foster’s career and the people with whom he has worked. Foster now employs a staggering 1,400 people worldwide! He’s an amazing visionary with huge determination to succeed – he has a frightening intensity and attitude towards his work. As you might imagine, Foster is also VERY ambitious, incredibly competitive, egotistical and enormously inspiring. I read the book with a mixture of awe, sadness and envy (I had a successful architectural career, but maybe I should have pushed myself further?)(I obviously didn’t have Foster’s talent!)… but also an acknowledgement that my chosen path (ie. leaving the profession aged 55, after over 30 years in practice) was right for me, my family, my lifestyle and my aspirations.
Crow (Ted Hughes): This is a short book of 67 poems (mostly written during 1966-69, but not published until 1972) which provide a mythical narrative/epic folk tale (myth, animal metaphors and dark sub-conscious seem to have become increasing fascinations in his life). It’s a very strange book - sometimes funny, but frequently very dark and harrowing – and it no doubt reflects, amongst other things, Hughes’s interest in the Occult. I’m afraid I REALLY struggled with this book and found myself frequently reflecting on the fact that the book (with its harsh treatment of human relations, religion and morality) was written after his wife’s (Sylvia Plath) suicide in 1963. The book’s completion was delayed by the tragic deaths of his second wife Assia Wevill and daughter Shura (Assia Wevill committed suicide in the same way as Plath, and also killed their 4 year-old daughter) – more darkness and despair! Many people regard “The Crow” as one of Hughes’s masterpieces… I’m afraid I’m probably just not clever enough to “get it”. Sorry!
Queen Lucia (EF Benson): Only my second Benson “Lucia” book (I bought two complete volumes from the National Trust’s Lamb House, Rye – on which the fictional “Mallards”, Tilling was based and where Benson lived for a time - for a bargain £4!). The principal character is Mrs Lucas, who liked to called herself “Lucia” in her ridiculous and snobbish way, effectively rules the “toy kingdom” of Riseholme village. Written in the 1920s and beautifully observed, it’s an outrageously pretentious and excruciatingly farcical account of one-upmanship and class in a society where all the main players don’t need to work for a living. It’s all very tongue-in-cheek, amusing and very readable.
Daughter (Jane Shemilt): I read this on the recommendation of my old school friend Les (partly because it’s a “good book” and because it’s partly based in Bristol). The story is every parent’s nightmare. A 15 year-old daughter fails to return home after a school play and the family is left distraught and in pieces as they try to establish what happened. Told through the eyes of the mother, it’s a haunting, tense story and one of those books you just HAVE to keep reading – it’s 400 pages long (ok, quite large font!) and I finished it within 2 days. It’s very skilfully written and I would thoroughly recommend it.
Footnote: my one slight reservation was that I thought it was probably more of a “woman’s book” (blimey, doesn’t that make me sound un-PC!). After I’d written the above, I googled “Goodread” reviews… and only found ONE “bloke review” in the first 60 reviews.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

martha tilston again…

I went along to see/hear Martha Tilston perform again at Colston Hall last night (I saw her February last year)… and she was SO good! Once again, she was on stage for nearly two hours – usually with her supporting band “The Scientists” but, for 20 minutes or so, on her own – and she completely captivated her enthusiastic “full house” audience. As well as being an excellent singer-songwriter (her voice is quite, quite beautiful), she’s also a brilliant all-round musician – as she demonstrated last night on guitar and grand piano.
Lots of passion, humour and just a hugely enjoyable evening.
Her latest album is called “The Sea” (although born in Bristol, she now lives in Cornwall) and features traditional folk songs about the sea, collected, sung and played “with family+friends, kith and kin” (each of which she performs alongside individual family members). Last night, she played these songs without the support from family members but, from what I’ve heard listening to the CD this morning, it’s really rather lovely. Among the featured family members are her father, Steve Tilston (whose music I knew well before I came across his daughter – and who, I know, my brother Alan will have come across from his Birmingham days) and her uncle, Kevin Whately (of “Lewis”/”Morse” fame etc and he’s got a great voice)!
Photo: Martha Tilston from last night’s concert.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

october 2014 books

more book stuff:
Cain (José  Saramago): As you might know, Portuguese Saramago was the recipient of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Literature (he died in 2010). He was an atheist and this short novel is told through the eyes of Cain as he “witnesses” various Old Testament passages from the Bible (from Adam+Eve, to killing his brother Abel, to Sodom and Gomorrah, to Mount Sinai, and eventually ending up on the Ark with Noah) that add to his increasing loathing of God - Cain even intervenes when Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac. It’s thought-provoking, provocative, often witty… and challenging.
Elgar: The Erotic Variations and Delius: A Moment with Venus (Ken Russell): I bought this book on a whim at the £3 Bookshop. I enjoy biographies and knew very little about the lives of these two composers so, despite the title (and Russell’s film reputation as a director who seeks to titillate at every opportunity!), I gave it go. I should have known better. He’s made something like 15 biographical films on composers and is convinced that most of his chosen composers have a dual personality (of course he does!). In fact, the flysheet of this book reveals another two Ken Russell novels in a similar/identical vein: “Beethoven: Confidential  and Brahms: Gets Laid”!! The two novels (ie. Elgar+Delius) read rather like Russell screenplays (or what I imagine them to be like) and, frankly, I found them tedious and somewhat irritating.
The White Tiger (Aravind Adiga): This novel, which won the 2008 Man Booker Prize, is our book group’s latest book. It’s set in India and tells the story of Balram Halwai – the uneducated son of a rickshaw-puller, but also a servant, a liar and a philosopher (among other things). The book’s title is the name Balram gives himself, as a budding entrepreneur (“the rarest of animals – the creature that comes along only once in a generation”). It’s a depressing, savage (and yet also funny and strangely noble) story about globilisation, politics, corruption, freedom, immorality… and about the poor and underprivileged who cannot even meet their bare minimums… and about wealthy businessmen, politicians and others who shamelessly exploit them. It’s an angry book which points to all that is going on in a country that has become one of the world’s fastest-growing economies and bluntly asks “how can it be like this?”. I thought it was an exceptional, powerful book.
Deep River (Shusaku Endo): After various references to the Ganges in “The White Tiger” (see above), it seemed somewhat weird that my next book should also feature the sacred river – it’s funny how these coincidences KEEP happening! This novel traces the story of four Japanese tourists on a tour to India; they each to go there for different purposes and with different expectations, but each of them, in a way, finds their own spiritual discovery on the banks of the Ganges River. I suppose it’s a book about the “meaning of life” - although it certainly doesn’t attempt to give answers. It’s a wonderful, challenging book which touches on Buddhism, Christianity/Catholicism, reincarnation, faith and faithlessness – certainly more food for thought on my own rather haphazard spiritual journey.
A Life of Privilege, Mostly: A Memoir (Gardner Botsford): Another book from the £3 bookshop. I’m always attracted by biographies and, although I’d never heard of Gardner Botsford (1917-2004), I was suitably intrigued by the title of the book and the brief details outlined on its flysheet. Botsford was the editor of The New Yorker magazine for nearly 40 years and the book, published in 2003, tells of Botsford’s early life of privilege in the Depression years of the 1930s (his family of five had five live-in servants plus four other staff, a whole host of cars and enjoyed separate summer and winter residencies… as you do!); his WW2 experiences (part of the D-Day landings, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, was wounded and decorated); and his fascinating career with The New Yorker. Beautifully written and observed and a mixture of tense conflict and humour.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

bristol festival of ideas: shami chakrabarti and owen jones

I just love the annual Bristol Festival of Ideas… always challenging and thought-provoking (eg. Richard Holloway’s talk four years ago has had a profound influence on how I see a whole of range of things). Last night, Moira, Gareth, Alan+I went to two talks at @ Bristol: Shami Chakrabarti (director of Liberty, UK’s leading civil rights organisation) and Owen Jones (writer, columnist and commentator)… and they were both simply brilliant.
She’s an incredibly impressive lady. In an hour-long question-and-answer session (which she handled with authority and dignity - as well as demonstrating her vast knowledge and intellect), it perhaps wasn’t surprising that one of the main issues raised was the present UK government’s threat to abandon the Human Rights Act in favour of its own self-styled British Bill of Rights. She talked passionately on the subject and gave example after example of some of the devastating implications of the government’s mooted proposals. Other subjects raised, in a wide-ranging discussion, included the bedroom tax, slavery, the House of Lords, Corporations (eg. TTIP), torture and respect for privacy. The packed audience was completely captivated by her and duly showed their loud and enthusiastic appreciation at the end of the session.
Over the past year or so, I’ve become a great admirer of Owen Jones’s writing (he’s a regular columnist in The Guardian). Yes, he’s left-wing. Yes, he’s young (30). But he’s also incredibly bright… and he talks an awful lot of sense (well, in my view at least). He’s recently written a book – “The Establishment: And How They Get Away with It” – and this formed the basis of the session. He talked for an hour (the first half an hour about the things included in the book and then another 30 minutes of questions-and-answers). He’s a remarkable and very gifted young man. He’s the sort of person who has the ability to express concerns on behalf of many of us who have become disillusioned with “establishment politics”. With certain exceptions, he doesn’t have a particularly high regard for our current batch of politicians (of whatever party)… in a recent article in the Guardian, he described them as “technocratic, rootless, soulless; a professionalised morass of time-servers who see ministerial posts as springboards to nice little earners on corporate boards; manoeuvring constantly not on the basis of political principle but for shameless self-advancement”!
There was nothing particularly startling (or new) in what he said last night (eg. lobbyists who fund the thinktanks that influence the government, or the owners who appoint the editors who set the political agenda, or the tax accountants who get seconded to the civil service that decides how much their clients will pay), it’s just that I found myself agreeing with point after point he was making (and so did the vast majority of the full-house attending last night). His talk was very much a “call to arms” – to scrutinise the powerful (the corporations, the politicians etc) in these austere times and to redress the balance away from the poor, who are all too often (according to politicians and much of the media) blamed for our current financial predicament. Amen to that!
We all need people who make us think, who give us hope, who challenge us… and who encourage us to make our voice heard. Chakrabarti and Jones CERTAINLY did that last night!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

eddi reader

Moira, Ruth+I went to St George’s last night to see/hear Eddi Reader in concert… and she was simply wonderful. She has an amazing voice – jazzy, soulful, joyous, sublime, soaring – and last night she covered a huge range of musical styles from traditional to contemporary. She clearly loves performing her songs and her passion, talent and character were massively appreciated by the sell-out audience.
I first came across her with Fairground Attraction in 1987/8 (you might remember “Perfect”?… ok, so perhaps not, it was 26 years ago afterall!). The last time I saw her was at Greenbelt in 2001.
When I was working in the Iona bookshop in 2012, I frequently used to play her excellent “Songs of Robert Burns” CD to customers (I think I was the only customer who bought it, but hey…). She was a strong advocate for Scottish Independence and, as you might imagine, politics (plus her hilarious family and travels) came into the chat between songs - and heart-felt, very funny stuff it was too… a sort of biography through music.
A brilliant evening of the kind of music that makes you glow inside.
PS: I’ve added her “Love is The Way” CD to my Christmas list.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

effie gray

Moira, Alan+I went to the Watershed this afternoon to see Richard Laxton’s “Effie Gray”. I thought I knew quite a bit about John Ruskin’s life, but his unconsummated marriage to Euphemia “Effie” Gray was something I was previously totally unaware of (yes, I need to read/get out more!). The film was all rather beautiful – lots of images of autumnal Scotland to enhance Effie’s auburn hair and the sumptuous “celtic” colours of her outfits… and gorgeous scenes filmed in Venice (you can’t really get better in my book) – and the story was intriguing, BUT… if truth be told, I found it all just a little boring (turgid even?) and somewhat sugar-coated. Emma Thompson effectively played the part of a sort of fairy-godmother (Lady Eastlake - if you’ve written the screenplay, as she did, you can do these things); Effie was well played by Dakota Fanning; and Ruskin (played by Greg Wise) was suitably obnoxious. I do like Emma Thompson as an actress (and as a person), but feel that she always seems to play “Emma Thompson” whatever role she has… and this film was no different. And, of course, an Emma T film wouldn’t be the same if it didn’t include a whole host of her acting buddies - the cast included David Suchet, Julie Walters, James Fox, Robbie Coltrane, Derek Jacobi and, of course, her real life husband Greg Wise! The only real surprise was that Stephen Fry didn’t suddenly show up in the final scene…
Perfectly watchable, but certainly not one of my favourite films of 2014.  

Sunday, October 05, 2014

will and testament

Moira+I mixed cinema culture and politics yesterday afternoon, along with our very good friends Gareth+Alan, at the Watershed (again, yes I know…) to see “Will and Testament” – a documentary of intimate interviews with Tony Benn, as part of the Bristol Festival of Ideas. Benn was the much-loved Labour MP for Bristol South East for more than 30 years. I’ve always been an admirer of Tony Benn and, as I’ve got older (and wiser!), my admiration for him has only increased. Sadly, all too often, it seems that it’s only when politicians are no longer seen as influential rivals or opponents that people really start to listen. For me, this is true for people from a wide spectrum of political backgrounds – even the likes of Michael Heseltine and Michael Portillo, for example!   
This is an intimate and deeply personal film about Benn – frequently involving the powerful themes in his life… his hopes and fears, his optimism and dreams, his wife and family. I particularly liked the piece in the film when Harold Wilson commented that he reckoned Tony Benn had “immatured with age”! We all know that Benn was a bit of a romantic at heart (and there’s definitely nothing wrong in that!) and, often, he’s also been a bit of a maverick (and difficult to have on your “team” perhaps?). But this is a brilliant film and one that I vow to watch at least once every five years for the rest of my life – a reminder to us all of the hope and determination required to fight for the things we believe in. Yes, this rebel eventually became a “national treasure”… but, significantly, in this film he also emerges with charm and persuasiveness as well as consistency, dignity and good humour (and very many of his views have been vindicated over the course of time). He was a very good, decent and inspiring man.
In the film, Benn says that he would be very pleased if his epitaph read: “He encouraged us”… and I think that’s absolutely right. He has certainly encouraged me. What would the Labour Party give today for someone with Benn’s integrity and charisma?  

Saturday, October 04, 2014

maps to the stars

I had a “day off” yesterday… I cycled along the Harbourside. I had coffee at the fairly new, and rather nice, Brigstow Lounge Café (just opposite the SS Great Britain). I did a couple of drawings, I took some photographs… and I went to the Watershed cinema to see David Cronenberg’s very strange film “Maps to the Stars”. It’s set in the dog-eat-dog celebrity world of Hollywood – fading actresses (the excellent Julianne Moore plays one of them), spoilt showbiz kids, drug addiction, wannabe screenwriters, guru psychoanalysts … you get the picture. But what initially appears to be a film that satirises of the movie business unravels into a rather weird, macabre and tense two hours that seemed to have a grip on the entire Watershed cinema audience (ok, it was only a Friday afternoon, but…).
The Watershed’s blurb includes this: “We can’t give away too much but, suffice to say, this is a brilliant nightmare of the film that is Cronenberg’s strangest, most deliciously odd film yet…”. Well, to the best of my knowledge, I’ve not previously seen any of his films, but “brilliant nightmare” seems a fair summary!

Thursday, October 02, 2014

dracula at the old vic

The night before last, it was the theatre. Last night, it was the ballet.
Moira+I continued our week of culture and live performance at Bristol’s Old Vic last night when we went to see “Dracula” performed by the wonderful Mark Bruce Company. I hadn’t spent my early adult years watching horror movies, but even I had a vague knowledge of the vampire legend (based on Bram Stoker’s book of the same name, first published in 1897).
I knew that last night was going to be dark, dramatic… and bloody.
In fact, it was pretty amazing. I know very little about dance, but I was completely captivated by the mesmerizing brilliance and athleticism of the dancers… it literally took my breath away at times. Jonathan Goddard as Dracula was simply superb (we’d previously seen him in HeadSpaceDance’s “If Play Is Play” in April) and Eleanor Duval, as Mina Harker, and Kristin McGuire, as Lucy Westenra, both also gave stunning performances (I was particularly captivated by McGuire’s intensely beautiful, powerful portrayal). The music was stunningly good too – ranging from the intense, painful, grating themes composed especially for this piece to traditional folk tunes, Beethoven, Bach, Schnittke and even Florrie Forde’s “Down at the Old Bull and Bush”!
Another stunning evening of live performance (the last performance at the Old Vic is on Saturday 4 October… but the tour continues to Manchester, Birmingham, London, Glasgow, Caernarfon, Ipswich, Brighton and beyond). Catch it if you possibly can.
As we walked home under a clear, half moon, black sky… I resisted the temptation the kiss Moira’s neck…

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

my perfect mind

Moira+I went to the Tobacco Theatre last night (to be honest, it was M’s idea and I wasn’t all that keen… how wrong I was!). The play, “My Perfect Mind” (performed+written by Edward Petherbridge and Paul Hunter, and directed+written by Kathryn Hunter), is inspired by the time when the acclaimed classical actor Edward Petherbridge (who also played Lord Peter Wimsey in the 1980’s BBC series) went to New Zealand in 2007 to rehearse the part of King Lear. After two days in rehearsal, he suffered a major stroke – which left him barely able to move. As he struggled to recover he made a discovery: the entire role of Lear still existed word for word in his mind.
The result is a bizarre mix - part Shakespeare recital, part theatrical in-joke and part meditation on the frailties of old age and the extraordinary abilities of mind and body to renew themselves… and it’s all played out on an exaggeratedly tilted stage (which cleverly highlights a world that’s off-kilter… as well as providing moments of great hilarity). The blurb on the Tobacco Factory Theatre’s website describes it as ”a comic tale of a man not doing King Lear”… and it absolutely is. It’s hugely entertaining and very funny, but it’s also a moving exploration of life (especially for those of us who’re entering old age!) and the human spirit. Both actors are quite brilliant – Petherbridge in that wonderful way experienced actors have of exuding confidence and frailty at the same time and Hunter with his multitude of “support” characters.
A brilliant evening – theatre and live performance at its very best.
(If you live in the Bristol area, the play runs until Saturday 4 October (and, I think, tickets are still available) and I would highly recommend that you see it.
PS: Petherbridge is 78 years old (and still looks very spritely) and I particularly enjoyed the fact that he had to crawl (literally) under the tilted stage on two occasions (in full view of the audience) and climb up on to the stage through an access hatch!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

random reflections on the netherlands…

These are no more than MY memory-jerkers/diary scribbles relating to our wonderful time in Amsterdam, Utrecht, Houten+Tricht (to remind me over the coming months/years!)… in no particular order and certainly not exhaustive:
1.       Just lovely seeing Dick+Dientje at their home in Houten… and their wonderful, generous hospitality.
2.       Dick’s paintings and Dientje’s collages.
3.       Dick’s soups.
4.       Sitting in Dick+Dientje’s garden eating breakfasts and drinking coffee.
5.       No rain and plenty of sunshine!
6.       Dick+Dientje’s lovely “children” – confident, articulate and warm.
7.       EVERYONE speaks English perfectly.
8.       Coming out of Amsterdam railway station and being confronted by a three-storey, full-to-bursting, bike-park and lines and lines of other bike parking.
9.       Bikes/cyclists everywhere (even crowded basement bike parking in student accommodation beside a canal)… and a whole network of generous cycle roads/paths.

10.   Sketching, looking out from our Amsterdam hotel bedroom and, for the entire half an hour, listening to a man in the street whistling a beautiful operatic aria (that I can no longer recall).
11.   Friendly, helpful people.
12.   Lots of beautiful, young, lean people – especially cyclists.
13.   Elegant sit-up-and-beg-bikes.
14.   “Roads” dominated by bikes… adjustment time needed by us to keep a watchful eye out for them when crossing roads (and, obviously, remembering to look left first!).
15.   Amsterdam not as clean as I’d imagined – especially around the station area.
16.   Beautiful canal-side houses - especially at night, when you got to see rooms lit up (even posher than Clifton).
17.   Lovely to be able to walk beside the Amsterdam canals.
18.   Lots of Americans in Amsterdam (often quite loud!).
19.   We didn’t go to Anne Frank’s house, but noticed that there were 50m long queues outside, even at 7pm on a Monday.

20.   Cyclists have priority, then pedestrians… and then vehicles in city centre areas.
21.   Impressed by the railway system (once we’d remembered to get our tickets scanned at the barriers)… and a lovely way to get a “feel” of the country.
22.   Free ferry ride across the harbour (from the railway station) to the EYE film institute for coffee on the terrace.
23.   Dom Tower in Utrecht – dominates the skyline as you approach by train (only wish I’d been brave enough to take photographs from the top!)… and amazed by the massive nave gap between the tower and chancel (which collapsed in a hurricane in 1674)
24.   Drinking coffee and eating delicious apple pastries with Dick+Dientje outside in the Utrecht sunshine.
25.   Gentle walks beside the Utrecht canals.
26.   Meeting up with very good friends Harry+Willeke in Utrecht… and having a lovely time with them (as he’s keen on history, Harry was in his element because it was Open Doors Day) and seeing beautiful places we’d have otherwise missed… and organist Willeke was able to give us the low-down on the impressive church organs we came across.
27.   Wonderful lunch with Harry+Willeke in the courtyard of Grand Hotel Karel V.
28.   Cycling to Tricht (and back… 45km in total) with Dick… a great experience.
29.   Testing out and falling off Dick’s lie-down-on-your-back bike(twice!)… much to the amusement of the others.

30.   Picking apples and collecting walnuts in the orchard at Tricht… and then just sitting, chatting, eating+drinking while watching the sun go down at the end of the day.
31.   EVERYONE (all ages) seems to own at least one bike… and uses them.
32.   Being impressed by the layout of Houten (population nearly 50,000)… re-designed around the bike when the town was enlarged in the 1970s. Bike-lanes everywhere and cars relegated to ring road and access points.
33.   Houten transport/urban design system (and central areas of Amsterdam+Utrecht) means you don’t need a car. Bike and train are all you need.
34.   99% of bikers don’t wear cycle helmets (but there are quite a few who, sadly, feel the need to text whilst cycling!). When I queried the lack of helmets with a friend of D+D, he told me that it had been discussed at length but it was felt that HAVING to wear helmets gave the wrong message (ie. cycling was potentially dangerous)… and, given that bikers are given priority over vehicles, I think they have a point. Clearly, in the UK (where cycling is a minority pastime and the car is king!), safety considerations make sense.
35.   Very lucky having such lovely, generous Dutch friends and to experience much more of the beautiful Netherlands than just Amsterdam and Utrecht.
A truly lovely holiday.
Photo: Dick+Dientje+us