Saturday, December 31, 2016

new year reflections...

Another year’s reflections (as always - a reminder to ME!):
For me, the most depressing words of 2016 are “Brexit” and “Trump” (I know there are lots of other words/phrases I could add to these – such as refugees, climate change, Syria/Aleppo, Tory government, Labour Party, the media, the haves-and-the-have-nots and austerity, to name just a few!). If you check out my facebook page or this blog from time to time, you will no doubt already know this! I’m afraid my faith in democracy has largely disappeared. The EU Referendum (which should never have happened in the first place) was a shambolic, disastrous farce - with outrageous claims and lies from both sides… and something that can’t be reversed in the short- or long-term (our children and their children have to bear the brunt of its consequences). It seems that, as a society, we’ve become a hateful, vindictive, racist, selfish bunch… and it saddens me beyond measure. Trump being elected US President simply underlined our very worst fears. SURELY, it couldn’t happen? But, ridiculously and (probably) catastrophically, it HAS.

Another depressing aspect of 2016 has been the death of so many high-profile/famous individuals, including: Muhammad Ali, Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Prince, Victoria Wood, Alan Rickman, Ronnie Corbett, George Martin, Terry Wogan, Carla Lane, Jo Cox, Fidel Castro, Johan Cruyff, John Glenn, AA Gill, Rick Parfitt, George Michael… to name just a VERY few.

Anyway, on the more positive things:
My top TWELVE, in some sort of order!! (I’d intended to limit it to just FIVE, but found it impossible – it’s been a bumper year!): The Year Of Living Danishly (Helen Russell); The Iceberg (Marion Coutts); Coffin Road (Peter May); Oxford (Jan/James Morris); Postcapitalism (Paul Mason); A Year Of Marvellous Ways (Sarah Winman); Quiet (Susan Cain); Rose (Georgina Hounsome+Alexandra Higlett); The Old Ways (Robert Macfarlane); Somewhere Towards The End (Diana Athill); Sheila (Robert Wainwright) and The Narrow Road To The Deep North (Richard Flanagan).


My top nine (in vague order… Mark Kermode and I just have to agree to disagree)… again, can’t get it down to 5:
Spotlight; I, Daniel Blake; Rams; Ethel and Ernest; Captain Fantastic; High-Rise; Bone Tomahawk, Trumbo and The Eagle Huntress.

(broken down into various categories):
We’ve been absolute rubbish at going to the theatre this year!
Jane Eyre (National Theatre)(brilliant!); The Snow Queen (Bristol Old Vic) and You Can Never Tell (Shaw’s Corner).
Highlights: Lisa Hannigan; Grayson Perry (if you can call his performance a “concert”!?); Tom Robinson; Three Cane Whale; Paul Bradley, London Klezmer Quartet and Nessi Gomes.

Not as many as I’d have liked (but I might have forgotten one or two?): Alexander Calder “Performing Sculpture” (Tate Modern); The British Museum generally (particularly enjoyed revisiting The Parthenon Sculptures plus Assyrian+Egyptian sculptures); Daphne Wright “Emotional Archeology” (Arnolfini); Fabric of India (V+A); and, of course, the Annual Open Exhibition (RWA).

I actually watched a little more “live” sport this year, including: Cricket at Taunton (three days, I think) and at Edgbaston; Football at Villa Park (Villa lost to Liverpool 0-6!) and at Ashton Gate (Villa lost to Bristol City 1-3!); Rugby at Ashton Gate (Bristol Rugby lost to Northampton I0-32!).
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… always special occasions… and have also really enjoyed making new friendships. Other highlights included Julia+Joe’s wedding in Tuscany and Kerry+Allan’s wedding in Stoke Poges – with brilliant friends; getting together with the wonderful Franziska Opp (from Germany/Iona), Joy Banks (from Canada) and re-connecting with Nick+Christine in Luton.

Another really enjoyable, busy year, including:
1. I’ve still very much enjoyed continuing to post a drawing or photograph every day as part of my “One Day Like This” blog (now approaching 800 drawings and 800 photographs since I started in September 2012). I also produced another Blurb book of drawings (and, this time, photographs) entitled “Four Years Like This” to mark four years of blogging.

2. I joined a brilliant Drawing Group – organised by a wonderful lady (and talented artist!), Charlotte Pain, with the support of the Churches Conservation Trust. We meet for two hours most Tuesdays (and also occasionally go “on tour” to draw other churches on the CCT’s list.

The Group also held its first exhibition “Within The Wall” at St John-on-the-Wall church, Bristol.
3. We had another successful Arts Trail at number 40 (I think this was our 13th consecutive year)… and attracted some 700 people into our basement over the Arts Trail weekend!

4. I produced a large, coloured drawing (well, three drawings – one for each of our front windows) as part of the very successful Window Wanderland last March.
5. I provided some photographs for an exhibition in Saint Stephen’s church in Bristol as part of a Friendly Stage/B.Friend fund-raising evening.
6. I produced a 2017 Calendar of Bristol drawings (you might recall that I undertook the drawings a year ago!)… and sold all 50 copies by the beginning of November!!

Cafes, reading, drawing, photography, walking, cycling (rather less this year), living near the sea (well, sort of…) and, of course, looking after our Bristol grandchildren remain very important aspects of my life (although, now that they’re all at school, our time with them is sadly a little reduced these days… but school-runs and child-sitting partly make up for it!).

Feel SO lucky to have the family we have… and great that we all “get on” so well and are able to see each other regularly (even if we don’t see the Chorley/Lancashire contingent as often as we’d like).
It’s good that Gaol Ferry Steps FINALLY opened this year, just down the road. As a result, I spend a fair amount of my cafĂ© time at the wonderful Mokoko! Wild Beer is also amongst the units there – great designer beers and lovely food!!
I think I need to do some brainstorming as far as “future projects” are concerned. It’s possible that I might be involved in art project in Leeds with my great mate Si Smith and a few other family members perhaps. I’m also vaguely considering doing another calendar – this time based on Birmingham (my ‘home town’)… or maybe even Oxford? I’ll obviously continue to explore Bristol (perhaps drawings and/or photographs from around Temple Meads?) but also maybe old boats at Sharpness? Cardiff? Clevedon? Bath? Forest of Dean? Lyme Regis?  Perhaps also more train excursions exploring places within easy reach of Bristol? Coastal walks? Canal-side walk to Bath? We’ll see (I think I said the same thing last year!)…

We’ve tightened our belts a little this year, but have been delighted to enjoy an excellent few days in St Ives (celebrating Ruth’s 40th birthday!) and a week in beautiful Cortona, Italy (celebrating Joe+Julia’s marriage).

I think I’ve only played one game of golf this year (or was it two?).
We continue to be part of the Community of Saint Stephens (St Stephens Street in the heart of the city) and it really does now feel like our “spiritual home”. We’ve made some really good friends with the very special people there and, although my own faith-life continues on its rather meandering course, it all feels pretty good, hopeful stuff…

The successful hip replacement (April 2014) continues to REALLY make a huge difference… walking and cycling are no problem at all. Brilliant. The other nagging health issue I commented on this time last year was persistent bursitis in my right arm. It lasted for perhaps 9 months and was quite debilitating, but I’m pleased to report that this has now largely cleared.
After a nagging flu virus, followed by a persistent cough, earlier in the year, I was aware that I was becoming a little short of breath at times (nothing dramatic, I hasten to add!). Following various tests, it turned out that I had an irregular heartbeat (“Atrial fibrillation”) and have been duly prescribed blood thinning tablets. I continue to attend various hospital appointments to monitor all sorts of stuff – which is fine by me as it feels a bit like an “oldies MOT”!
I actually feel in very good health and probably walk 3-4 miles virtually every day. If only my teeth+gums, cut/inflamed right shin (which is taking an absolute age to heal) and perhaps hearing(?) would sort themselves out, I’d be a PERFECT, healthy specimen! 
1. Being a Trustee at the wonderful Windmill Hill City Farm continues to be good fun (it’s an amazing place with some brilliant people working/volunteering there). A fair amount of hard work and responsibility, but it all feels very worthwhile.
2. After several years of helping, I’m giving the local Arts Trail steering group a ‘break’ for another year (at least!) – hopefully, they’ll find enough willing hands to allow it go ahead!
But hey, for us as a family, it’s been another pretty good year… and we continue to count our blessings.

Photo: family on Leigh Woods Christmas Eve walk.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

november-december 2016 books

The Country Girls (Edna O’Brien): First published in 1960 (O’Brien’s first published novel), this is a story, narrated in the first person, of Caithleen – who at the beginning is a 14 year-old girl living in an Irish village and at the end is an 18 year-old in Dublin. Together with her childhood friend Baba, they leave the safety of their convent school in search of life and love in the big city, they struggle to maintain their somewhat tumultuous relationship. It’s about girls becoming women, about innocence… and, ultimately, about them finding their own separate ways. It’s funny and charming, but I also found it a sad and rather dark book… about the innocence of youth.
Jeeves In The Offing (PG Wodehouse): Yes, I know, all very predictable… farcical storyline; wonderfully eloquent (in a 1920’s sort of way); the idle rich; inevitable outcome; rather funny. You get the general idea. But, actually, at this time of constant grim news (Trump, Brexit et al), the book comes as a very refreshing, uplifting change.
Ways Of Life (Andrew Motion): I like Motion’s writing. This book, published in 2008, represents a selection of his non-fiction writing over the past 30 years – specifically, articles about places, painters and poets… as well as some striking personal pieces. I particularly enjoyed Motion’s description of places (‘Homecoming’ and ‘Sailing to Italy’ for example) and, although I occasionally struggled with his essays on some poets or painters I was unfamiliar with, found this book to be a beautiful insight into the lives of an abundance of creative people - enriched by Motion’s wise, measured, rewarding words.
The Voice Of The Violin (Andrea Camilleri): This is an Inspector Montalbano Mystery (I’ve never read one before). Set in Sicily, Montalbano is one of those police officers who have a natural disdain for their so-called superiors. It’s an intriguing (I seem to find most crime novels quite clever – perhaps it’s my limited intellect/expectations?) story of corruption, false clues and vendettas… mixed with delicious meals and much humour (very funny at times). Ideal ‘comfort food’ for the Christmas holiday period!
Grief Is The Thing With Feathers (Max Porter): This is a rather beautiful, heartrending, surprising little book. It’s part-poetry, part-drama and part-essay on grief. The book’s flysheet summarises it thus: “two young boys face the unbearable sadness of their mother’s sudden death. Their father, a Ted Hughes scholar and scruffy romantic, imagines a future of well-meaning visitors and emptiness… In this moment of despair they are visited by Crow – antagonist, trickster, healer, babysitter. This sentimental bird is drawn to the grieving family and threatens to stay until they no longer need him”. I’ve actually read Hughes’s book “Crow” (poems/mythical narrative/epic folk tale he wrote following the suicide of his wife Sylvia Platt – I didn’t understand/appreciate huge chunks of it, but it certainly left an impression). The format (written featuring a series of contributions from ‘Crow’, ‘Dad’ and ‘Boys’) reminded me of Claire Williamson’s Soulwater Pool”, which I read earlier in the year. Hugely inventive, very unusual and hauntingly powerful. Excellent.  
Footnote: Once again, I seem to have read an awful lot of books this year (my blog tells me it’s 70 – it was apparently 69 in 2015)… I think they call it “retirement”!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

the eagle huntress…

Moira and I went along to the Watershed yesterday afternoon (who needs to shop for Christmas presents anyway?) to see Otto Bell’s extraordinary documentary film “The Eagle Huntress”. It features a 13 year-old nomadic Mongolian girl, who causes something of a stir in her tribe by challenging the traditionally male role of Eagle Hunter (which had been passed on within families from father to son for centuries).
So, with the support of her father and grandfather, this girl (named Aisholpan) sets out to compete in the all-male Golden Eagle Festival. Indeed, Aisholpan is the true star of this film – with her round, red face and her absolutely captivating smile and manner.
I loved this film.
Ok, perhaps to our western eyes, it’s not exactly politically correct (Aisholpan has to remove a baby golden eagle from is its nest and, once trained, to use it to hunt) but, I can assure you, it’s wonderfully fascinating to watch.
The scenery is stunning. The colours of the clothes are vibrant. There’s something absolutely entrancing about watching Aisholpan gallop effortlessly on horseback across one of the world’s true wildernesses… and, of course, there’s the beauty of watching majestic golden eagles in flight!
Joyful and uplifting.
Or, as Aisholpan might call to her eagle…
H U U K A A !!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

book spreadsheet (yes, I know!)…

We have LOTS of books scattered around our house.
Although I have a foolproof system which enables me to lay my hands on specific books amazingly quickly (well, within a couple of days anyway!), Moira has frequently been somewhat critical of my cunning plan.
As a result, we decided to produce a spreadsheet of books (yes, I know!)… which provides a list of titles, authors, shelf locations and other bits of mundane trivia.
This WAS going to be a project for the New Year but, predictably, I couldn’t resist the challenge and the spreadsheet is now complete!
Well, it turns out that we currently have 2,001 books on our shelves!
For some reason, this number feels strangely significant… but I’m at a loss to come up with any justification. Perhaps one of the books takes the form of a mysterious black monolith (Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001, A Space Odyssey refers)?
Who knows?

Not surprisingly (for us, at least), we have quite a few duplicate books.
Crime features strongly (I blame Moira!): for instance, we have 35 books by Agatha Christie and 18 by Margery Allingham.
Somewhat predictably, we have a large number of Bibles (14, in fact!).
Amongst our collection, there are quite a few old paperbacks of the 1930s/40s (too many to bother to list in total), including Margot Asquith’s Autobiography, dated 1936; Jack London’s ‘The Mutiny of the Elsinore’, dated 1946; Bernard Shaw’s ‘Saint Joan’, dated 1946; HG Wells’ ‘A Short History of the World’ and ‘The History of Mr Polly’, both 1946.
As far as hardback books are concerned, there a number of fascinating volumes, including: James Hilton’s ‘Good-Bye Mr Chipps’, dated 1934; Punch Magazine, dated July-December 1923; Kay Fisker’s ‘Modern Danish Architecture’, dated 1927; Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’, dated 1920; Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, dated 1911; three volumes of GAT Middleton’s ‘Modern Building’, dated 1906; Thomas Carlyle’s ‘Past and Present’, dated 1872; three (illustrated) volumes of ‘The Works of William Shakespeare’ dating back to 1843; and de Rouillon’s ‘The Tourist’s French Companion’, dated 1829.
Please don’t feel shy about making contact and offering us SUBSTANTIAL sums of money for any of the above!
The challenge, of course, will be a) keeping the spreadsheet up to date; b) how diligently we remove duplicate books (offer them to friends/charity shops); c) agreeing particular locations for individual authors (rather than having them spread around the house… with a few exceptions – see item d) and, finally (and crucially), d) whether I’m able to retain my lovely arrangement of colour-coded spines in the living room (don’t even go there!)… 
PS: the beautiful lino print heads in the photograph are by my great friend (and brilliant artist, of course!) Si Smith. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

the snow queen…

Moira and I went along to the Bristol Old Vic last night to Lee Lyford’s version of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale “The Snow Queen” (duly re-written/adapted by Vivienne Franzmann).
Somewhat ridiculously, this was the first time we’d seen a performance at the Old Vic in this, its 250th year!
It proved to be a good night out. The highlight was undoubtedly the evil, sinister Snow Queen herself – towering over the audience and coming to life, thanks to the brilliance of Marc Parrett’s puppetry design. Will Duke’s video projections were also impressive - as were the cast in their multi-tasking/multi-character roles.
But, strangely, I was left feeling that the production lacked a true sense theatrical magic.
The music was fine, but unexceptional (but perhaps I’ve just been completely spoiled by hearing/seeing Benji Bower+Co over recent years!); the acting was good but, sometimes, I felt that the ‘characterisation’ made some of what was being said somewhat incoherent or muddled; some of the set design was absolutely excellent, but (to my mind) some scenes/props were unnecessary and/or unconvincing.
I think my main criticism is that the story had too many themes and twists and, at times (quite frequently in my view), lost its way. Vivienne Franzmann’s adaptation maintained the major plot points - and many of the characters of the original tale - and combined them with new characters and several modern twists. Frankly, it left me feeling that she’d over-complicated things… and that someone needed to edit the script quite severely!
Hey, but what do I know!?
Moira was also slightly disappointed by the production, judging by the reaction of the rest of the audience, most people seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed the show. Why don’t you see it for yourself and make up your own mind (it runs until 15 January)?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

the pass…

I went to the Watershed last night to see Ben A Williams’s “The Pass” – about an ambitious footballer leading a life of denial. Here’s a very rough synopsis: it tells the story of three nights over 10 years in the life of a Premier League footballer, Jason (quite brilliantly played by Russell Tovey); it’s about fame, celebrity, talent, arrogance and aspiration (I WAS going to write ‘goals’!!)… but it’s also about lies, fortune, excess, image, selfishness, desire (in both senses of the word) and repressed sexuality – within the hyper-masculine and very public world of professional football.
The other principal character is Ade (again, wonderfully played by Arinze Kene) – who, in the first of the ‘three nights’, is sharing a hotel room in with Jason before an important European match… including, out of the blue, sharing a kiss (the film title thus providing a clever double-meaning to ‘making a pass’ in a sexual and footballing sense). The dialogue and acting in this scene are quite brilliant – a combination of pre-match nerves, locker-room banter and teenage nonsense.
By the last of the ‘three nights’, ten years on, Jason is coming to the end of his career, nursing an injury, living off his somewhat fading reputation as a player and seeking to secure one final lucrative deal to end his career (possibly in a new football league in India?). You get the general idea…
It’s a very impressive, tough, powerful film which deals with the stereo-typical ‘more-money-than-sense’ football star image, but also about ego, relationships… and loneliness.
I found it utterly compelling… and yet (perhaps it’s just my unhealthy contempt for rich footballers?), it really wasn’t quite my cup of tea (or even coffee!).

Friday, December 02, 2016

london klezmer quartet…

Moira and I attended to a quite extraordinary evening of music last night at Saint Stephen’s. The London Klezmer Quartet is a group of four immensely-talented and dynamic musicians (featuring violin, clarinet, accordion and double bass), formed in 2009 by a group of klezmer specialists keen to explore the almost-lost wedding music tradition of Jewish eastern Europe. I went along anticipating good musicianship and an entertaining evening but, if I’m honest, little more than that really. I couldn’t recall ever having been to a concert of Jewish music before and my expectations were probably limited to images of “Fiddler on the Roof” (pathetic, I know)!
Well, how wrong I was!
What transpired was an evening of glorious, celebratory and soulful music of the Eastern European Jewish tradition – old and new traditional songs, exuberant, passionate and hugely-accomplished performances (and they were witty and funny too). They were a complete revelation.
I was particularly taken by the double bass player, Indra Buraczewska (out of Latvia/Australia!) – a wonderful musician and a natural ‘performer’… with an incredible, deep singing voice. Completely captivating.
A brilliant, exciting evening!
PS: They were supported by an unusual and, again, highly-talented “Chai For All” – ‘trumpet-led klezmer Balkan and Arabic tunes with kaval, clarinet, oud, guitar, derabukka and Yiddish song’. Pretty special in their own right!