Saturday, March 28, 2015

ian adams: unfurling poetry evening at foyles, bristol

I’d never been to a poetry “gig” before… but last night one of my very best buddies was performing some of his poems at Foyles Bookstore in Bristol. Obviously, I needed to be there! I’d read and re-read (and re-read) all the poems from his “Unfurling” book since it was published and loved them. But last night’s experience was really (and delightfully) surprising…
You know when you go to a music concert featuring one of your favourite performers? You know their music intimately. You know the words of the songs. You know all the tunes… and then the musician(s) starts off the concert with a familiar song that’s become a wonderful, well-loved friend?
Well, last night was exactly like that… except, of course, I’d only listened to the poems in my head or when I had read them out loud. Last night, for the first time, I heard Ian performing his poems… and it was fundamentally different and a very lovely experience.
I’ve often said that nothing quite beats live performance and last night was no exception.
And afterwards, in a completely impromptu way, many of us ended up at Carluccio’s, Quakers Friars, (ostensibly just for drinks) who managed to accommodated us all with much grace and humour… so we had an opportunity to meet up with old and new friends and reflect on a great evening.
Life is good.
Photo: Ian in action at Foyles last night...

Friday, March 27, 2015

february-march 2015 books

More book stuff:
Trouble for Lucia (EF Benson): My sixth, and last, Benson “Mapp+Lucia” book (written in the 1920s and set in Rye). Dominated by the exploits of the ludicrously, self-indulgent snob Emmeline “Lucia” Lucas. As before, lots of wonderful, elegant description of the “arduous” lives of the upper-middle-classes(!). To be honest, although I’ve really enjoyed reading these comic novels, I have to admit that there’s just part of me that’s grateful that I’ve come to the end of the series... time to move on!
From The Holy Mountain (William Dalrymple): Certainly the best book I’ve read this year… and probably one of the best books I’ve ever read. This is a brilliant, insightful, thought-provoking, saddening and illuminating book that follows the Silk Route of ancient Byzantium through the present-day Middle East tracing the 6th century journey of monk, oral historian and traveler, John Moschos. To describe it as a travel book would hardly do it justice; Dalrymple’s closest equivalent might be Bruce Chatwin – he has the same gift for words but additionally, for me, much humour and poignancy mixed in. First published in 1997, the book provides a depressing - but incredibly powerful and articulate - background to the world of today, 18 years on, dominated as it is by religious fundamentalism. At some stage, I might write a blog post focusing on faith and conflict over the centuries… but don’t hold your breath!
Her Privates We (Frederic Manning): Hemingway described this novel as the “finest and noblest book of men in war” he’d ever read. It’s set in the late summer of 1916 in the Somme valley, northern France. Manning himself had served in the Shropshire Light Infantry and took part in the heavy fighting on the Somme at that time. The book was particularly fascinating and poignant for me because my grandfather Frank Walker was also fighting on the Somme at the same time (he was with the Royal Horse Artillery). It’s gruelling, raw and brutally honest. It’s the closest I’ve got to even beginning to understand what it was like to have been there. Frankly, at times, I struggled to read it… but I’m glad I persevered. A superb book.
The Ship (Antonia Honeywell): This is novel starts in London, sometime in the not-too-distant future. Floods and fires have wreaked havoc; food is all tinned or dried – nothing grows, seas no longer support life. Parks have become shanty towns; gangs rule what used to be underground stations; lose your identity card and you lose your life. Mass culling is an official method of limiting the population to suit available food supplies. Climate change, globalisation, financial collapse, totalitarianism. You get the picture… it’s pretty grim (initially, it reminded me of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”)! But one man has a master plan to take 500 carefully-chosen people away from this mess on a large ship – stocked with vast quantities of food, clothing, medical supplies and sterilised water. They even have a cinema, a sports hall, book groups and much more. Life on board is wonderful. But the 16 year-old daughter of the master planner/messiah figure is a rebel. She wants to go back and do something to help all those left behind. It’s a fascinating, thought-provoking and disturbing book. At times, I found the synopsis flawed – or at the very least questionable or simplistic (it would make an excellent book group book!). I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since finishing it… haunting! I highly recommend the book to you.
Listening For The Heartbeat of God (Philip Newell): I first read this book 15 years ago and have decided to use it as my spiritual-book-for-Lent.  Phillip Newell talks about the experience we have all had at different points in our lives of “missing the moment”. All too often, we are guilty of “looking, but not seeing” or “listening, but not hearing”. Listening for God within the whole of life. It was good to re-read it. It reminded me of some fundamental truths (for me, anyway).

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

golfing again… at last!

I played golf for only the second time in 27 months on Sunday. Ken, Steve+I played at my old Studley Wood Golf Club… on a most wonderful, sunny, cloudless March afternoon. My golf was pretty awful (theirs was rather good!), but it was just great to be on a golf course again… and with two of my very best friends.

Friday, March 13, 2015

love’s labour’s lost… and won

Moira and I immersed ourselves in a little Shakespeare yesterday by seeing back-to-back plays, “Love’s Labour’s Lost” and “Love’s Labour’s Won” (otherwise known as “Much Ado About Nothing”) at the RSC in Stratford.
They were both simply stunning.
The plays, both directed by the excellent Christopher Luscombe, were staged to mark the centenary of the First World War. The productions were designed to straddle the Great War and both plays were to be set in a stately home (the originals were located on a country estate – “Lost” in northern Spain and “Won” in Sicily).
In the current production, “Lost” is set in June 1914 (two years before the start of WW1) and begins with four young men deciding to swear an oath to dedicate themselves to study for 3 years, giving up the “society of women”. No sooner have they signed their names than four attractive young ladies appear on the scene… and, of course, the men court the ladies and declare their undying love to each of them (I won’t go into details!). The play ends with the women insisting that the men show their commitment by waiting a year… and only then will they accept the men’s proposals. In the final scene, the men depart in military uniform to face the uncertainty and terror of war.
“Won” is set in December 1918. The war is over and soldiers are returning. The country house is recovering from having been pressed into service as a hospital during the war. It’s a time of huge relief for those who’ve survived the war… a time to pick up the pieces of life before the conflict, a time for love, for recovery and, for many, a time for reflection on events that had transpired, injuries endured and lives lost. However, it would take me far too long to go into all the details (and you probably know the plot any way – I think I must have seen the play at least four times?)… needless to say, it involves more love and conflict!
As you might imagine from the RSC, the acting across the entire company is absolutely excellent.  However, the stand-out stars are Edward Bennett (Berowne in “Lost” and Benedict in “Won”) and Michelle Terry (Rosaline in “Lost” and Beatrice in “Won”). Both actors truly captivated the audiences in both plays with performances that encapsulated passion, poignancy, tenderness and humour in huge measure (and when I say that the actors captivated the audiences, I really do mean it – at various times, Bennett and Terry really did have them in the palms of their hands (as it were). One moment laughing uncontrollably and the next desperately holding back the tears. The audiences absolutely adored them both.
Michelle Terry and Edward Bennett were utterly outstanding.
The music also played an important part in both productions. The company, as a whole, clearly includes some very gifted singers… and I particularly enjoyed composer Nigel Hess’s ability to blend the music of Cole Porter and Noel Coward (but, hey, what do I know?).
I’m always fascinated and amazed by the talents of the creative team in such productions. Simon Higlett’s design for both plays utilised elements from nearby Charlecote Park – with its twin octagonal  towers, lawns, imposing fa├žade and great hall – travelling through the house and grounds using a large sliding “truck” and a “substage trap” to make scene changes as swift as possible. Blimey, they were breath-takingly good!
A wonderful, truly memorable, theatrical experience.
PS: One massive bonus for us was that our lovely friend Sam Alexander was part of this remarkable and talented company (very impressively playing the King of Navarre in “Lost” and the rather sinister Don John in “Won”) and we enjoyed an excellent early supper with him at the RSC’s Terrace Restaurant between the plays!
PPS: I fell in love with Flora Spencer-Longhurst (who played Katherine in “Lost” and Hero in “Won”)!