Thursday, May 21, 2015

april-may 2015 books

More book stuff:
The Same Door (John Updike): This book of Updike short stories, first published in 1959, beautifully captures a sense of that era. They’re a strange combination of tales and the only common denominator seems to be the ordinariness of their situations (and, for perhaps for half of them, smoking features as a dominate factor!). Enjoyable and entertaining – although of rather mixed quality in my humble view.
Not Forgetting The Whale (John Ironmonger): This is a haunting, but rather beautiful and uplifting, novel. It speculates some fifty years hence and contrasts the frenetic, greedy world of City traders with the tranquility of a Cornish fishing village as the global economy collapses, inter-connected supply chains fail and disease kills millions across the world. The story is intriguing – even if some of the characters seem to be cartoonishly predictable! Essentially, it speculates on how we might behave when the end is nigh and about the innate goodness of people and our connections with the wider world.
Ladies’ Mile (Victoria Hughes): I would never have read this brief, modest book if it wasn’t for two things: a) Jodie Marks’ wonderful “Edwardian Cloakroom” exhibition in March (in which she made reference to this book) and b) Moira getting the book out of the library following a conversation with Jodie (and me then borrowing it!). Published in 1977 (edited by David Foot), Victoria Hughes, in her own words, recounts her experiences as a cloakroom attendant from 1929 until the early 1960s. Much of this time, she looked after the ladies’ loos on Bristol’s spacious Durdham Downs and discovered the ways of the twilight world in Ladies’ Mile (through her job, she became the confidante of many women, including scores of small-time “tarts”). It’s a rather lovely book – and provides a fascinating social history on a small part of Bristol life, especially during the Depression of the 1930s. 
The Wilt Alternative (Tom Sharpe): I see from my scribbled note on the flysheet that I first read this 34 years ago (blimey!). I think I’ve actually read all of Sharpe’s books. I’m afraid I resorted to it as an antidote to my general election gloom! It’s the continuing saga of Henry Wilt, a lecturer at a Technical College, “innate coward and hen-pecked husband”. It’s crude, farcical and outrageous, but VERY funny. I may have to “escape” into more Sharpe books over the coming months!
Etta+Otto+Russell+James (Emma Hooper): Etta’s greatest unfilled wish is to see the sea. So, at the age of eighty-two, she sets out very early one morning from her Saskatchewan home and begins walking the 2,000 miles to the water. It’s a book about aging (I seem to have read a number of these over the past year or so!), about memory, about what might have been… and about what has been. Otto is her husband, Russell is a close family friend... and James – well, I’ll leave you to discover who he is. At first, it felt a little like reading “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” (which I loved) and, although I was relishing the prospect of reading the book, it actually took me a little time to get into it. However, once I’d got accustomed to its lyrical prose and gentle rhythm, I loved it. Very inventive and quite moving.   

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

clouds of sils maria

I went to the Watershed cinema for the first time in what seems like ages yesterday to see Olivier Assayas’s film “Clouds of Sils Maria” featuring Juliette Binoche (Maria Enders) and Kristen Stewart (Valentine). For me, Binoche is the film equivalent of music’s Joni Mitchell and, although I might be slightly biased(!), I thought her performance was absolutely mesmerising. Just wonderful. The film has vague autobiographical links with Binoche’s own career – Assaysa had kick-started her stardom in the mid-80s as co-writer of “Rendez-vous”. She plays a famous French actress whose big break was playing the young lead role in a play 20 years ago. Now she’s given the opportunity to star in the revival of the play, only this time as an older woman opposite the character for which she became known.
Stewart plays the part of Maria’s intelligent, on-the-ball, techno-savvy, personal assistant and is quite, quite brilliant. They hide themselves away in the recently deceased playwright’s Wlhelm Melchoir’s Alpine home to undertake line readings of the play, “Maloja Snake” (where he wrote the play – a reference to the cloud formations that occasionally snake through the valley). As they do so, their relationship begins to mirror and complicate that of the women in the play…
I think you need to see it!




Sunday, May 10, 2015

election reflections...

There is a really lovely photograph of Ed+Justine Miliband and their two sons in today’s Observer (see above!). They look very happy… and perhaps, after the hugely-disappointing election result, just relieved that they’re going to get their lives back again. Despite the election outcome, I’m genuinely very pleased for them and wish them well.

Although I’m a Green Party member these days, I wanted Labour to form the next government – in alliance with the minor parties.
The fact remains that the Tories won… with a clear majority. I freely admit that I’m still feeling somewhat numb… and sad… and very depressed at the “prospect” of what the new government has in store for us over the next five years.
Following Thursday’s outcome, I’ve been reading comments from various pundits and politicians (usually “former”) who claim that the only way Labour will regain power is to re-join the centre ground of politics. They may well be correct but, in many ways, I feel that Labour could actually be criticised for being only marginally to the left of the Conservatives(!) – often, it seemed, they were merely following on the tails of the Tory policy (or, on occasions, having the government taking on Labour’s own initiatives).

I think it’s been fascinating how successful the SNPs have been in communicating their “austerity policies” to the public – in Scotland and through the UK – and how, time and time again, Nicola Sturgeon was hailed as the “winner” of the television debates.
The key fact was that she delivered her message with passion, intelligence and conviction AND had the ability to respond effectively whenever she was challenged by her opponents.
I thought Ed Miliband did well in the final election run-in… but the trouble was, in my view, that it was too late to have any real effect.
I absolutely HATE the whole process of Prime Minister’s Questions and all that its yah-boo, them-against-us politics stand for. Sadly, this isn’t going to change in the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, time and time again, I think the Tories were able to “win” the majority of these encounters. The same could be said of the Osborne-Balls battles.
So, until the Labour Party is able to come up with a leader (plus other key front-bench figures) who has the charisma, wit and intelligence (along with the agile mind of a top lawyer!)… someone like Blair (I’m afraid to say!), I think they’re going to continue to struggle.

In 2010, I actually thought Ed Miliband would make the best leader… and I think I’ve been proved wrong! I had hoped that the 2014 Scottish Referendum was going inspire the population and political parties alike to make last week’s general election DIFFERENT. Well, it was (to some extent – with massive involvement from Greens and UKIP), but our ridiculous first-past-the-post system can’t cope with a “new” style of politics! In the event, 63% of the population did NOT vote for the Conservatives… and, sadly, although the turn-out was the highest for 18 years, ONE in THREE of the population failed to vote! Clearly, the current government won’t be interested in changing the present system!! I’ve just re-read one of my blog posts from last year and it’s sobering to note that three of the seven leading Labour politicians pictured lost their seats last week.
The really, REALLY sad thing, in my opinion, was that Labour were pretty appalling in opposition (and it pains me to say that). They missed countless “open goals”. They SHOULD have been keeping the Tories in check week in week out. They SHOULD have been constructively critical about SO many government policies. They SHOULD have been winning most of the key arguments… but they didn’t. As the Green Party’s economic spokesperson, Molly Scott Cato MEP, so clearly outlined in the “New Statesman”: Labour’s failure was its willingness to “accept the narrative of its opponents" (her article is well worth reading).

In the meantime, we face five years (at least) of Tory government and the difficulties that this will inevitably bring to many. I think my good friend Bruce Stanley got it right on facebook this morning when he observed: “not sure about PR, but what is the system (probably the Borgen system) that would miraculously see Caroline Lucas as PM?”
PS: I don’t know who will be the next Labour Party leader (I just hope the process is quick – unlike the painful, prolonged course of action last time!). I don’t think there are any stand-out candidates. People like Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Maria Eagle and David Lammy are all excellent politicians, but I don’t see any of them as “ideal” Leaders. In my view, the closest they may have is Chuka Umunna (Shadow Business Secretary before the election) – I recall mentioning him on facebook a couple of years ago after watching him in a television interview. He’s written an interesting article in today’s Observer about where he thinks Labour went wrong and what he thinks they need to do to regain power (ie. effectively throwing his hat into the ring as far as the leadership is concerned!)… you can almost hear the “why-didn’t-he-say-this-earlier?” shouts! It includes the following about aspirations (which I wouldn’t argue with): “Our vision as a party must start with the aspirations of voters: to get on and up in the world, to see their children and grandchildren do better than they did, to get that better job, to move from renting to owning, to take the family on holiday, to move from that flat to that house with a garden. That means offering competence, optimism not fatalism, an end to machine politics, an economic credo that is both pro-worker and pro-business and, most of all, a politics that starts with what unites us as a country rather than what divides us”. The trouble is, we’ve become very cynical when it comes to politicians (surely not!) and writing rousing sentiments such as these is the easy bit… inspiring us all to believe it’s achievable is the real challenge.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

southbank bristol arts trail 2015

It’s the thirteenth Southbank Bristol Arts Trail on Saturday+Sunday 16+17 May.
We’ve participated every year since moving from Oxfordshire (this year will be our 12th year). In fact, the very first morning of the very first Arts Trail in 2003 was the day we first viewed our house. There were an awful lot of smiley people roaming the local streets and popping into each others’ houses to view art! It felt like a very vibrant, arty area… and just the sort of place we were looking for. We made an offer for the house the same day!
We ended up converting the two basement bedrooms, so we could use them as studio space… and duly joined the arts trail the following May.
For us, it’s always been a bit of a family affair (two of our three daughters also live in Bristol) and this year Moira, Ruth, Hannah, Stuart (Ruth’s husband) and I will be exhibiting work alongside three of our lovely friends Jen, Sarah and Anna.
These days, we attract over 500 people down into our basement every Arts Trail weekend – so, if you’re in the Bristol area next weekend, please do come and see us!
PS: if you just can’t wait to see all the beautiful art (or if you just fancy a glass of something!), you could even drop round on Friday evening 15 May 7-9.30pm… it would be LOVELY to see you!!