Wednesday, January 29, 2014

inside llewyn davis

I went to the Watershed this afternoon to see the Coen brothers’ latest film “Inside Llewyn Davis”.
Oscar Isaac excellently plays a failing folk singer in 1961 (perhaps a year before Bob Dylan effectively launched a folk revival?) who merely EXISTS by playing at Greenwich Village clubs and sleeping on friends’ sofas. It’s a massively sad (but, at times, also rather funny), beautiful film about Llewyn Davis’s efforts to maintain self-belief and a determination to “succeed” – despite a constant lack of funds, loneliness, any semblance of home or encouragement from people who “count”.
Perhaps “success” was about to come to Llewyn Davis? Who knows…
The film’s theme feels a little like a flagship for all those countless artists, writers, musicians and actors who struggle to make a living… despite their talent.
Hang in there guys… we love you!

Friday, January 24, 2014

three cane whale

I only “discovered” Three Cane Whale a couple of months ago. Last night I attended their concert at the wonderful St George’s in Bristol.
Well, they were stunningly good… their music is quirky, brilliant and simply beautiful.
They’re a multi-instrumental acoustic trio, based in Bristol, with (according to last night’s programme notes) “influences from folk, minimalism and chamber music”.
They’re funny+serious and their music provides a sense of wonder, exuberance and, for me at least(!), a real spiritual quality at times.
I’m their latest, passionate, evangelical fan!
Photo: three cane whale in preparation for their concert last night at St George’s.
PS: please go to their website and listen to a couple of tracks to get a feel for the kind of stuff they play.
PPS: I’ve got their first album (“Three Cane Whale”!) – chosen by Cerys Matthews as one of her “top five modern folk albums” and recorded live in Redland church, Bristol… and I now NEED their second one (“Holts+Hovers”) recorded in a variety of locations in Dorset, Wales, London, Somerset and Bristol – including “churches and chapels, kitchen and hilltops, a greenwood barn and an allotment shed, the top of a Welsh waterfall and the underside of the Cumberland Basin flyover, Bristol”.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

january 2014 books

More book stuff (yes, I know... I've obviously got too much time on my hands!):
Fifth Business (Robertson Davies): Our Book Group’s latest book (Moira’s choice): the first book of “The Deptford Trilogy”. It’s the story of the life of the narrator, Dunstan Ramsay and the entire story is told in the form of a letter written by Ramsay on his retirement from teaching and addressed to the school Headmaster (Davies explains that the book's title as a theatrical term, a character essential to the action but not a principal actor). It’s a haunting, magical, closely-woven book… brilliantly conceived and wonderfully written. This was my first Robertson Davies novel and, frankly, it’s taken the book group to make me read this one… and THAT is the beauty of belonging to a book group! Excellent! 
St Ives Artists Companion (Virginia Button): As you probably know, I’m passionate about all things related to St Ives. This excellent short book provides the story of the “St Ives School” – an account of its development through the individual stories of eighteen artists. One of those books that I’ve long wanted to own… thank goodness for Christmas!
Stargazing (Peter Hill): Hill recounts his time when, in 1973, as a nineteen year-old art student-cum-writer/poet, he embarked on a brief career as a lighthouse keeper in the western highlands. It’s a rather beautiful, nostalgic look back to the days of his idealistic youth and a time before all the lighthouses had become automated. This gentle, very funny book gives a powerful insight into the mysterious world of lighthouse keepers – the arduous shifts, endless cups of tea, cooking prowess, dangers, stories and, crucially, the friendships with his fellow keepers.  
After You’d Gone (Maggie O’Farrell): This is only my second Maggie O’Farrell book (it was on our bookshelves… Moira had read it some time ago). I read my first last October as our book group book (Instructions For A Heatwave). This one’s about a love affair and about families; the main character steps into the traffic on a busy London road and is taken to hospital in a coma (that’s not giving anything away – it’s on the book’s cover blurb!). Generally, I’m not a great lover of novels and, frankly, this one can probably be categorised as a “woman’s book”, BUT O’Farrell is a great story-teller and I very much like her writing style. I read it very quickly (the last 150 pages in bed until the early early hours!). The Independent’s reviewer described it as “unputdownable, beautiful written”… and I wouldn’t argue with that.    
The Man From Beijing (Henning Mankell): With “The Killing” and “The Bridge” (not to mention Wallander!) television series, I seem to have become a little obsessed/captivated by Nordic Noir crime stuff recently! I have to say, this book has a chilling, horrific opening – with no less than 19 people brutally murdered in a sleepy Swedish hamlet. It’s about murder and revenge… and seems to be a vehicle for Mankell to voice his concerns about countries (in this case China, but you might apply it elsewhere!) “divided between powerful elites and an underclass locked into its poverty”. Although (proper) critics seem to have been a little harsh, I thought it was a riveting read and I just couldn’t put it down (550 pages or so in 3 days - which, for me, is ridiculous!).


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

12 years a slave

I went along to the Watershed this afternoon to see Steve McQueen’s acclaimed film “12 Years A Slave”. It’s based on a first-hand account of a black, free man (Solomon Northup – brilliantly played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) living in New York in 1841, who was conned, drugged, abducted and sold into slavery in Louisiana. As you might imagine, it’s a powerful, horrendous story of abject cruelty. Even though one is well aware of the evils of slavery of that time, it is nevertheless both embarrassing and shameful to be reminded of the stark, brutal inhumanity that society at large readily accepted. It’s deplorable to think that this was happening only a century before I was born… and that such outrageous instances of man’s appalling treatment of his fellow man has continued… the holocaust, apartheid, the civil rights movement, the battle of the rich against the poor etc etc.
It wasn’t really a film I particularly longed to see but, although this was essentially a US story, for me it was important for its connection with Bristol’s own “slave heritage”.
Yes, it was a VERY good film – brilliantly acted and powerfully told, BUT I actually found it somewhat predictable (sorry!) and frequently felt that I was seeing another version of the “Roots” television series of the late 1970s.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

ongoing spiritual journey…

I was confirmed in the Anglican Church over 40 years ago. I’ve been a Christian ever since but throughout this time, like so many people, my own spiritual journey has been a long and winding road - often fruitful and compelling, but frequently bumpy or feeling as if I’m in a cul-de-sac.
At present, I feel as if I’ve come to yet another crossroad on the journey.
At various times over the last few years, I’ve blogged about my meanderings.
I think the time that I felt most “connected” spiritually was during our time as part of the mayBe community of friends when we lived in Oxfordshire - not only did it provide a weekly get-together around a midweek meal (and wine!), but it also gave us with a particular kind of food for our spiritual lives. We very much missed mayBe when we moved to Bristol but, initially at least, the friendly, local parish church provided a suitable, albeit relatively brief, alternative. I’m afraid I gradually found that this church a) failed to provide me with sufficient spiritual “food” or intellectual challenge and b) had changed the style of its services – so much so that I regularly used to come away from a service feeling angry and frustrated. Oh dear!
For a couple of years (whilst still attending our local parish church), I also went along to the Sunday evening meetings of an emerging church/alternative worshipgroup. These were useful (and they were a great set of people) but didn’t really satisfy my needs – or was it just that I was lazy and couldn’t be bothered to get myself out on Sunday evenings!?
Since then, I attended another parish church for a couple of years – beautiful church building, high-quality music and (generally) good sermons – but there was something about its rather cliquey nature and its high church culture that I found disquieting.  
However, when the Church of England voted against allowing women bishops in November 2012, I decided that this essentially marked the end of my time worshipping in the Anglican Church and that I was embarking on a “separate, personal, lonely journey”.
For a time after that, my “religious life” comprised pouring over various books. However, for the past year, I did find a temporary spiritual home (or “harbour” as I came to see it) with the local Quakers meeting. It proved to be a fascinating experience – I certainly enjoyed adapting to the prolonged silences of its “meetings for worship” and also found its attitude towards peace and the environment, in particular, hugely refreshing. However, there were a number of other aspects that I found difficult to accept. One particular issue that I struggled to come to terms with was the following: the “Quaker Way” has roots in Christianity and the teachings of Jesus, but also finds meaning and value in other faiths (eg. Buddhists, Muslims and Jews). Essentially, I’m a Christian but I was fully prepared to accept this in principle… until I learnt that the community now also included “...Non-theist Quakers, Pagan Quakers and Humanist Quakers”. Somehow, my own personal faith couldn’t reconcile itself with a faith that seemed to accept any faith’s (or non-faith’s) colours nailed to its mast (note: re-reading that, I’ve perhaps given a very unfair impression of Quakerism by highlighting this one matter – it has MUCH to commend it in very many ways).
So, I’ve decided to move on once more…
The Iona Community, with its simplicity of worship and its connectedness with the earth, peace, sexuality and the environment is perhaps where I’ve felt most at home spiritually (in addition to my time with the mayBe community in Oxford).
I’m not sure where my journey will take me.
Initially, it will involve further private study and simply waiting/listening/discerning what might be right for my next move.
I’m grateful to very many friends and colleagues who have helped at various stages in my somewhat haphazard journey to date… I suspect I’m going to be relying on their support for many years to come!

Sunday, January 05, 2014


I posted this on my 7 January 2011 blog – immediately after England’s victory in the final Ashes Test match in Sydney: I know that things will change and, in due course, England will be rubbish at cricket again but, in the meantime, I'm going to enjoy the moment”.
And so it has proved…
Australia completely outclassed a desperately poor England side to win the series 5-0. I listened to quite a lot of overnight radio coverage of all five test matches and at the end of the third match (the Ashes having been lost), Geoff Boycott described the performance in that particular match along the following lines: “well, I thought the team’s performance in the first two matches was awful and didn’t think it could get any worse… but I was wrong”.
After the fourth Test, Michael Vaughan described the performance as “the worst yet”.
Sadly, after today’s debacle (England were bowled out in their second innings for just 166 in under 32 overs to lose the match by 281 runs), Jonathan Agnew reckoned that the fifth test had been the worst performance… “It's so disappointing to have witnessed that. The fight has gone”!  
I love sport.
I completely accept that there are winners and losers but, even listening to the games on the radio, it felt humiliating… it felt as though the England team (with the exception of perhaps a couple of players) had simply thrown in the towel. There was no fight, no spirit… and THAT was what made it all so depressing.
Photo: from England’s victory in Sydney three years ago!