Saturday, April 26, 2014

HeadSpaceDance and London

Moira and I have just returned from a couple of days in London. Maybe it’s our age, but, these days, all our trips to the capital seem to involve overnight stays – we fit in a lot of activities, but at a pretty gentle pace!
The main reason for our visit was to see a performance by HeadSpaceDance (“If Play Is Play”) in the Linbury Studio Theatre at the Royal Opera House on Thursday evening - the final night of its run. One of the HeadSpaceDance directors, Charlie Broom, is the wife of actor Sam Alexander… who is a long-standing friend of our daughter Hannah and son-in-law, Felix (they were part of the wonderful Thame Youth Theatre back in their teens!)… hope you’re following all this?!
Anyway, back to the dancing…
Although I love live performance, I think I’ve only seen two or three professional dance performances in my life. However, I HAD seen some impressive video footage of some of their earlier productions and so had a sense that we might be going to see something very special… and that is EXACTLY how it turned out!
I know very little about dance but, from start to finish, was completely blown away by the sheer brilliance of the dancers and the programme of three dances they performed. I’ve been trying to think of appropriate words to do justice to the evening, but don’t think I can… mesmerizing, inventive, athletic, intricate, funny, articulate, delicate, powerful, unsettling, stunning… simply beautiful. I was completely “hooked” by the second piece (“Before The Interval”) in particular – in which three of the dancers take a tongue-in-cheek appraisal of themselves as performers (complete with dialogue!). Absolutely captivating to watch and very funny to listen to. Quite, quite brilliant!
As a former sporty person who’s now well past his sell-by-date and about to undergo a hip replacement, I found their flexibility, athleticism, humour, timing and elegance completely entrancing - even if I ended up feeling very old, stiff and inflexible - and just a “little” jealous of ALL their massive talents!
An exceptional evening (and great to meet up with Charlie+Sam again afterwards as well).
In an effort to save some money, we decided NOT to see the acclaimed Henri Mattise, David Bailey, Vikings exhibitions (and, no doubt, countless others)… but we DID visit the following (all free):
1.     BORO (at Somerset House): an exhibition on the Japanese textile tradition of boro – translated to “rags” in English.
2.     National Portrait Gallery (one of my favourite London galleries and spaces).
3.     Sir John Soane’s Museum (an amazing, bizarre house, designed by Soane himself, and filled with his antiquities and works of art).
4.     The British Museum (I particular love Norman Foster’s Great Court space – great for people-watching!)(we also spent over an hour doing the museum’s mini-tour – so MANY things to see, you could visit every day for a year and still see “new” things).
5.     And, of course, just walking around London is always an experience in itself – this time incorporating the Embankment, Covent Garden, Lincoln’s Inn Fields and loads, loads more.
Photo: Christopher Akrill and Gemma Nixon performing “Two”.    

Sunday, April 20, 2014

april 2014 books

More book stuff:
Stoner (John Williams): This is our book group’s latest book and it’s absolutely brilliant. Probably the saddest book I’ve ever read. I just knew, from the time I’d read John McGahern’s introduction, that it was going to be “my kind of book”. Published in 1965, it tells the story of a life-long academic who taught at the University of Missouri for over 40 years. It deals with the value and purpose of academe but it also tells of a life of frustration, hurt, love and responsibility. It’s utterly compelling and quite beautifully-written.
Welcoming The Way Of The Cross (Barbara Mosse): This was the Lent book used by our Ithaca group and it provided daily readings, reflections and prayers covering the period from Ash Wednesday to Easter Day. Although she writes well, I didn’t really find that Mosse’s book engaged me and I read it more “out of duty” than desire! Maybe my own current spiritual wilderness had something to do with this?
The Artist’s Way (Julia Cameron): This book provides a 12-week course in “discovering and recovering your creative self”. Frankly, I didn’t really feel the need for either, but had been intrigued to read it after hearing lots of positive things about the book from people whose opinion I value. Although I frequently found Cameron’s writing style annoying (and somewhat dated)(she’s a rather too over-the-top American for my taste!), much of what she had to say was thought-provoking and useful. I’m afraid I hardly did ANY of her suggested exercises – I merely cherry-picked stuff that appealed or felt pertinent. However, I DID write out 3 pages of her suggested daily “Morning Pages” for a month.
The Cross In The Market Place (Dave Broom): Dave was the sacristan (and residential staff member) at Iona Abbey during my time with the Community in 2012. This is an Easter resource book from Iona in two parts: the first is an Easter pilgrimage (around Iona) and the second part consists of services marking the events of Holy Week. Although it’s a book that can be used by a group or congregation, it can also be read by an individual (which is how I used it). I’m not a great lover “acted out scripts”, but actually found them both relevant and useful as the first part of the book imagines a journey to Jerusalem for the festival of Passover (and I loved being able to relate these Iona pilgrimage readings to places I knew on the island). The services for Holy Week were all beautifully put together – and very powerful in content. I found the seven meditations for Good Friday (“people on the margins”) particularly helpful – with the added bonus that some of the pieces had been written by staff members from the Iona Community who became very good friends during my stay on the island. A lovely resource book that I know I’ll continue to use over future years.
The House Of The Mosque (Kader Abdolah): This is a simply glorious book. It’s a novel set in Iran; it starts just before the overthrow of the Shah and proceeds to tell the intricate, on-going story of an Islamic family in the province of Senejan who live next to the mosque. Although it’s a novel, it’s based on historical fact… and embellished by the art of a truly magical story teller. I learnt a lot about Islam (and the beauty of parts of the Koran)… but also more about the politics of the times (and its on-going affects), about tradition, respect, power, belief and trust. It’s a captivating, enchanting and beautifully written book… just wonderful.   

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

65 days of birthday presents

It was 65th birthday back at the beginning of February - it seems absolutely AGES ago now (I’m much older now)… but I commented on facebook at the time about a rather beautiful, unusual birthday present given to me by my lovely daughters, Ruth Hannah+Alice.
In fact, it wasn’t just one present – it was 65 (yes, SIXTY-FIVE) presents.
These were to be opened one day at a time and, today (on what, rather fittingly, would have been my father’s 93rd birthday), I’ve opened the last of them.
They’ve been a source of great love, pleasure, fun and amusement.
This is the list:
1.       Bottle of Cava
2.       CD: Laura Mvula
3.       Mr Benn first class stamp
4.       Toblerone chocolate
5.       Roast chicken with saffron, hazlenuts +honey recipe
6.       Book: “Of Human Bondage” W Somerset Maugham
7.       Apple
8.       Badge(made by Iris)
9.       6B drawing pencil
10.   Fortune Cookie (“persistence can change failure into extraordinary achievement”)
11.   Videos from Iris+Rosa
12.   String of Hearts
13.   February Stars+Planets: Night Sky
14.   Large Packet of Balloons
15.   Crane origami instructions/paper/YouTube video
16.   Packet of Scabious seeds
17.   A4 bound Sketchbook
18.   Letter (from Hannah)
19.   Party Poppers
20.   Bunch of Daffodils
21.   Book: “On Beauty” Zadie Smith
22.   Chewing Gum
23.   Pebble
24.   Rook (by Stu)
25.   Bunting (incorporating “65”!)
26.   Pack of Postcards
27.   A Gig Ticket
28.   Recommended Books to Borrow
29.   Large 3-D Letter “S”
30.   Video (from the Buckleys/Buckeroos)
31.   Letter (from Ruth)
32.   Lottery Ticket
33.   Four Handwritten Jokes (from Iris)
34.   “Urban Wildlife” linoprint
35.   Invitation to Home-Cooked Meal
36.   Date to go on a Family Walk
37.   Zig Drawing Pen
38.   Coffee in a CafĂ©
39.   DVD (The Darjeeling Limited)
40.   A Poem (by Tomas Transtromer)
41.   Windy Miller Camberwick Green first class stamp
42.   Chewing Gum
43.   Candle
44.   Chocolate Cupcakes
45.   Watershed Cinema Voucher
46.   Compilation CD
47.   Red Egg (Rattlesnake shaker)
48.   Charcoal Sticks
49.   Paperchase Notebook
50.   Black Sheep Ale
51.   Googly Eyes
52.   CD (Daughter)
53.   Letter (from Alice)
54.   Charity Shop £1 Challenge
55.   DVD (The Winter Guest)
56.   Packet of Love Hearts
57.   Drawing (Hannah)
58.   Great Uncle Bulgaria first class stamp
59.   Book (The Men Who Stare At Goats) plus “Heads or Tails Adventure Walk”
60.   Video from Ursa (+Hannah!)
61.   Sarah’s Artichoke Tartlets recipe
62.   Chocolate Money
63.   Mars Bar
64.   Free-writer Notebook
65.   Bottle of Red Wine

Simply lovely. I feel rather overcome by their generosity (and sense of fun), much loved and very, VERY blessed. X
Photo: these were just a few of the presents – all stored in an old family suitcase…

Saturday, April 05, 2014


Moira+I went to see the “Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory” (SATTF) Company’s version of Tom Stoppard’s play “Arcadia” last night at the Tobacco Factory Theatre (hope that’s not too confusing?). In truth, I’m not a massive lover of Stoppard’s work (no doubt, my loss some would say). This play is a very clever alternation of scenes set in the same room of Sidley Hall, Derbyshire 200 years ago and in the present day… and combines Enlightenment values, Byron, landscape and literature with chaos theory, the second law of thermodynamics and the quest for knowledge (not surprising then that it takes three hours to put this across to the audience!).
Given the SATTF’s fine reputation, the cast is predictably strong (although I personally didn’t warm to Piers Wehner’s depiction of Septimus Hodge or Jack Wharrier’s Valentine - again, my loss perhaps?) - I thought Hannah Lee, as the precocious, vibrant and tender Thomasina, was excellent.
Moira+I both agreed that the production had been “really quite good”(!). Not the best theatre we’ve seen this year, but a thoroughly entertaining and stimulating evening nevertheless.
Photo: courtesy of SATTF website (Graham Burke).
PS: Although I knew the play itself, I’d completely forgotten (how awful!) that we’d actually seen it performed at the Bristol Old Vic ten years ago!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

hip-hop (or actually hip-op)…

Went along to the Emersons Green NHS Treatment Centre this morning, following up the latest of my “doctor referrals” relating to my hip/knee issues. I was anticipating being offered a cortisone injection as a source of pain relief/improved mobility.
In fact, I’ve been booked in for a hip replacement on 21 May instead!
I have to say, I was incredibly impressed by the speed, efficiency and scope of my appointment (at 7.45am and no waiting!):
1.       Saw the consultant – who decided on more hip xrays (plus, this time, some knee xrays).
2.       Sent down the corridor for xrays.
3.       Met again with consultant – who showed me the resulting xrays and how my hip had considerably worsened over the past year. He had no hesitation in recommending an immediate hip replacement.
4.       Sent to see the admissions team to run through my questionnaires (sent to me in advance for prior completion) plus various other medical checks.
5.       Sent to see one of the administrative assistants to book an operation date (letter completed and handed over to me there and then).
6.       Sent to see one of the physiotherapy staff members to run through another questionnaire (again, sent to me in advance for prior completion) plus explanations of on-going physiotherapy issues post-operation.
All finished and on my way home by 10am (I just hope the operation is as efficient!).
Very impressed.
Photo: from “The Origins of Hip-Hop Music/BlogLet” (I was going to post a picture of me in similar pose, but decided against it!).