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!