Wednesday, August 23, 2017

final portrait…

I went along to the Watershed yesterday afternoon to see Stanley Tucci’s film “Final Portrait”. It’s based on American art critic James Lord’s memoir of how Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) invited him to sit for him in Paris in 1964. Armie Hammer plays the part of young James Lord and Geoffrey Rush is simply superb as Giacometti (perhaps the film should have carried a warning along the lines of “several hundred cigarettes were consumed in the making of this film”!).
It recounts the story of how what had originally been ”sitting for a portrait for a few hours” ended up extending into days and then weeks (with Lord, flattered by the attention, being forced to cancel and rearrange a series of flights back home) as Giacometti is distracted by ruminations on art, death, money (not to mention his lover)… regularly being frustrated and dissatisfied by what he was producing (and frequently starting all over again).
It’s a comedy drama – sometimes quite touching – about an offbeat friendship amid the utter chaos of the artistic, creative process. I particularly loved the stark visual contrast between with the monochrome nature of the studio (which reminded me of Barbara Hepworth’s studio in St Ives) and the colour of Parisian life.
It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I REALLY enjoyed the film… it’s worth seeing for Geoffrey Rush’s mesmerising performance alone.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

july-august 2017 books

Enter A Fox (Simon Gray): To be honest, although I had come across Simon Gray (he died in 2008, aged 71), I hadn’t previously actually seen any of his plays (as far as I can recall) or read any of his memoirs. The cover of this short book, first published in 2001, includes various enthusiastic endorsements, such as: “The second funniest book I have read this year is The Smoking Diaries by Simon Gray. (For the record, the funniest is Enter a Fox” by the same author” or “Has a man ever written such sustained and hilarious diatribes against himself?”. Well, sorry, but I was somewhat disappointed and left underwhelmed. To my mind, the book (written apparently in an attempt “to learn to write fluently” on his new Apple) is no more than a stream of consciousness rant by a bit of a grumpy old man (I should know – being both old and prone to ranting!). Entertaining at times but, if this is a recipe for making money, I should be sending my facebook rants to a publisher!
The Terracotta Dog (Andrea Camilleri): I really do like these Inspector Montalbano mysteries. It’s taken me a little time to get into them (Montalbano, with his “sardonic, engaging take on Sicilian small-town life and his genius for deciphering the most enigmatic of crimes”), but I’m now a big fan. The stories and characters are always entertaining, funny and irreverent; they all involve references to food, beautiful women, the ‘Mafioso’… and Montalbano relaxing on his veranda overlooking the sea and going for long swims… The crimes are always the focus but, for me, the characters, humour and colour of southern Italy are the crucial keys.
Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? (Raymond Carver): A book of short stories, first published in the USA in 1976 (1993 in the UK). I’d not previously read any Carver books (and I wasn’t aware that he was particularly noted for his short stories). All the stories are set in America and are almost banal in content and seemingly full of insignificant detail. I frequently found them frustratingly open-ended and inconclusive – but that is clearly Carver’s style. Storylines are often feature the struggling relationships and frustrated dreams of ‘ordinary people’ (and plenty of alcohol, cigarettes and violence!). After I’d finished the book, I read that Carver (who died of cancer in 1977 at the age of 50) that he was born into a poverty-stricken family at the tail-end of the Depression and was the son of a violent alcoholic... and that (according to Wikipedia) he married at 19, started a series of menial jobs and his own career of 'full-time drinking as a serious pursuit', a career that would eventually kill him. It seems that he constantly struggled to support his wife and family, before enrolling in a writing programme in 1958 (which he ultimately saw as a turning point in his life). His stories clearly reflect his own experiences. I enjoyed the book – somewhat frustrating (and just a little disturbing at times), but compelling nevertheless.
The Goldfish Boy (Lisa Thompson): Essentially, this is a children’s book (albeit 400 pages long). It’s about a 12 year-old boy with OCD… who, amongst other things, is obsessed with clean surfaces and making notes about his neighbours (spied through his bedroom window). But it’s also a mysterious story about a missing toddler… and finding friendship when you’re lonely. It’s a very beautiful book (poignant, joyful and funny) and very beautifully written… I loved it.

On The Danger Line (Georges Simenon): First published in 1944, this is a volume of two short novels (‘Home Town’ and ‘The Green Thermos’) which essentially relate to criminal psychology. In ‘Home Town’, after an extended absence, travelling abroad and living on the fringes of the underworld, a man returns to the place of his early years. He’s a controlling bully and fraudster. He tells lies to impress his family and friends. He’s a nasty piece of work! The second book, ‘The Green Thermos’, tells the story of an anarchist in Paris who tries to prevent a bomb plot – in spite of police pursuit and dangers from those he has turned against. Both stories are intriguing and yet, to my mind, not totally convincing. Simenon was clearly one of the most prolific writers of the twentieth century – apparently “capable of writing 60 to 80 pages per day”! I reckon he would have rattled these off by Friday lunchtime! (PS: I’ve STILL to read ANY of his Maigret novels!).

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

drawing group exhibitions

If you live in or around Bristol, then I strongly recommend that you check out these two exhibitions at the historic city churches of St John on the Wall (in the crypt) in Broad Street and Saint Stephen’s in St Stephen’s Street:

St John on the Wall:
Wednesday 30 August-Monday 11 September (11.30am-2pm, Monday- Sunday). Preview/Open evening: Thursday 31 August 5.30-7.30pm.

Saint Stephen’s:
Thursday 7 September-Wednesday 20 September (9.30am-3.30pm Monday-Friday). Preview/Open evening: Thursday 7 September 5.30-7.30pm.

They will be exhibitions with a difference…
For the past 16 months or so, I’ve belonged to an amazing Drawing Group, which meets from 10.30am-12.30pm every Tuesday in either Saint Stephen’s Church (first Tuesdays in the month) or St John-on-the-Wall Church in Broad St (all other Tuesdays) to draw or write poetry or take photographs.
It’s a very lovely, welcoming and diverse collection of individuals with a wide range of artistic abilities, experience and backgrounds… led by the brilliant Charlotte and Alice Pain, wonderful artists in their own right. The exhibitions consist of sketches that group members have undertaken over the past year (we had a similar exhibition in St John’s Crypt last July/August). Some people have some drawing or photographic experience behind them (but, perhaps, have let the habit lapse?). Others have hardly previously drawn at all. For some, it’s an opportunity to experiment. For some, the group’s principal benefit is the group’s sociability.
Anyone/everyone is welcome to join and I’ve been incredibly impressed by the warmth of the welcome and its non-judgemental approach to art and creativity.
This is what Charlotte has previously written about the project and the group:
“This project is about helping the public connect to buildings and locations. It is about breathing a new breath of life into churches, bringing community back within them and exploring their uses. It’s about getting people drawing and making. It’s about a belief that creativity can help us to strengthen our voices, nurture our mental health and help us connect to each other.

From a core group of people who rarely miss a session to random visitors to the city who have long left Bristol behind them, each drawing is a moment in the life of St John’s/Saint and of the people who have walked through the doors. With the support and open-mindedness of The Churches Conservation Trust the project has flourished.
We are a diverse group of people who have developed a passion for St John’s/ Stephen’s and have spent many hours drawing, photographing and admiring these special buildings. This is not only a celebration, but an invitation to the rest of Bristol to join us”.
As you might realise, Charlotte and Alice are a bit special!

I don’t want to embarrass people by highlighting their individual talents or what they bring to the group but, hopefully, this will provide a flavour: Mike has produced more than 100 sketches over the past couple of years and his friendliness encapsulates all that the group stands for; Brian is another of those gentle, generous, welcoming people and his photographs of the churches are an inspiration; David is a simply brilliant artist (especially his watercolours!) who can draw beautifully and chat amusingly at the same time(!); Betty has been something of a revelation for me – every week, she produces her simple, intricate, beautiful sketches; Jonathan loves coming to the group – he’s industrious, friendly and with a passion for art; Jaki simply draws beautifully… and then there’s also Christine, Chris, Frances, Anne-Marie, DaveP, CharlotteM, DaveW, Justin, Jeff, Jean, Alex, Helen, Marc, Aran, Ed etc etc.     
Membership of the group is completely free so, if you fancy having an excuse to do some drawing, then why not give it a try?
Please take an opportunity to pop into the exhibitions to see examples of the work the group has produced over the past twelve months (and also to see these two beautiful Grade I Listed churches).

Photo: Artwork set out on the floor of the Crypt at St John's... selecting from the huge wealth of work produced over the past year wasn't easy!! 

Monday, August 07, 2017

dunkirk…

I have, at last, seen Christopher Nolan’s film “Dunkirk”!
It’s everything that I’d anticipated – in terms of being made to feel as if ‘you were there’ in the stark, brutal, frightening reality of war. Nolan cleverly (and very effectively) does this through three separate narratives (the evacuation from the beach; the pleasure craft coming to the rescue; and the battles in the air), which play out over three different time periods (one week, one day and one hour respectively)... with everything converging at Dunkirk and with time itself being variously compressed and elongated.
It’s all brilliantly done… and really does give you a sense of being part of the action.
My one slight reservation is the ‘fictionalisation’ of it all. True, stories-within-stories probably do help to convey a sense of reality (ie. how something affects a person or a family member or a colleague), but there were certainly times during the film when I found myself wanting to see the ‘bigger picture’ and not to be caught up in a bit of made-up story! I’m a great admirer of Kenneth Branagh as an actor, but even I found his portrayal of ‘Commander Bolton’ like something out of a 1950’s war film (or even like his characterisation of Isambard Kingdom Brunel at the London Olympics opening ceremony!). But, hey, that’s probably just me…
Anyway, this is a film definitely worth seeing.
PS: I’m clearly not used to attending cinemas such as ‘Cinema De Lux’ (frankly, give me the Watershed every time!). Somewhat ridiculously (I think it’s the first time I’ve been to a cinema before noon), I attended the 11.50am showing – but COULD have attended any one of today’s FIFTEEN scheduled screenings(!). In the event, I was one of just FIVE people in the audience… in an auditorium that seated some 300!!
PPS: The adverts and trailers ran for a full THIRTY minutes (I looked at my watch)!  Not only that, but they were INCREDIBLY loud (and I mean incredibly)… it felt a bit like being in a 1970s disco where the DJ wanted to show off the volume of his machinery. Anyway, I found it utterly unbearable and, acknowledging that there just might be one or two loud explosions in the main feature film (something of an understatement!), I ended up stuffing tissue paper in both ears (yes, REALLY!) in anticipation… and I’m very glad that I did!

Friday, August 04, 2017

typefaces, fonts, lettering… and stuff

After watching a recent television programme about typefaces (Gill Sans and Johnston), I’ve been reflecting on my own fascination with the subject.
Clearly, with my father being a compositor and printer (I still have very clear memories of visiting his place of work - Dams+Lock in Birmingham - and seeing and handling the metal typesetting ‘sorts’) and every page set by hand, it isn’t that surprising.

This has triggered all sorts of memories from my childhood… two of these involved watching BBC sport on the television.
I used to love watching test match cricket on the television (in black+white, of course, and featuring the likes of Peter West) and was intrigued by the handwritten, updated scorecards they used to put up on the screen at the fall of every wicket… beautifully and laboriously written out with traditional dip pens, metal nibs and bottles of ink! I used to try to emulate the behind-the-scenes mystery calligraphers – and wonder at how (comparatively) quickly they were at updating their scorecards compared with me doing the same on the dining table.
Actually, although I got to be pretty proficient at using lettering pens, I never really liked the style of lettering produced with a pen nib (I felt they were a “bit old-fashioned”).
My other television lettering fascination involved the production of the horse racing results! During the course of the Saturday afternoon “Grandstand” programme, they would show the racing results. Every result was shown on screen in the form of hand-written lettering (using italic, capital letters, I recall): first, second and third horses; their numbers, names and betting odds. These were produced at an amazing rate and all beautifully-crafted (with an impression that they were done using a brush… or am I imagining this?). Sadly, I haven’t been able to find an example of either the cricket scorecards or the racing results on the internet (maybe I’m searching in the wrong places? If anyone can come up with either of these, please do let me know!). I was so captivated by the racing result stuff that I can actually remember thinking it could be something I might do for a living!

Actually, it was the traditional typefaces that I was really interesting in.
I was part of the “Remove” stream at school (taking O Levels in four years instead of five). Sadly, in order to do this the powers-that-be insisted that anyone in this stream had to give up Art (how scandalous is that!). Eventually (but not until the very start of my O Level year), I mustered up the courage to ask ‘special permission’ to do Art… and, after MUCH head-shaking and irritation, the Headmaster finally agreed to my request (I must have been much braver than I actually recall!). I decided to opt for lettering as the most practical way of making up for lost time… which involved setting out, drawing up and painting lots of different forms of lettering. I found it all quite satisfying and passed my Art O Level without difficulty (but abandoned lettering for painting, drawing etc for A Level… but that’s another story!).
When I first arrived at School of Architecture in Oxford, I can recall drawing up and inking in lettering for my initial projects… but then we discovered the wonder of Letraset (dry rub-down Instant Lettering)! It totally transformed our lives as architectural students… graphic design and presentation was an important part of our architectural education and I think we went just a little over-the-top with our Letraset (and, for penniless students, it didn’t come cheap!)!

I’ve continued to be fascinated by typefaces and calligraphy. In particular, Japanese calligraphy has always rather captivated me. There was a recent television series (sadly no longer available on iPlayer, it seems?) on the BBC entitled “Handmade in Japan” which included a section on calligraphy – including work/performance by (I think) Miyu Tamamura (see this YouTubeclip)… one day, perhaps, I’ll roll back the living room carpet and have a go!
Computers, the internet and the digital world have long since taken over our lives when it comes to words, graphics, images et al… and it’s brilliant. But there’s just part of me that still yearns for some of the ‘old technology’, hand-produced stuff!
Photo: The cover from my 1984 Letraset catalogue (believe me, I had several others from the late 1960s onwards… all sadly binned!).

Thursday, July 27, 2017

july 2017 books…

Excursion To Tindari (Andrea Camilleri): My third Camilleri Inspector Montalbano Mystery book… and his appeal has grown on me each time. Set on the Sicilian coast, amid the daily complications of life at the local police headquarters and the culinary idiosyncrasies on offer, this is another slightly farcical (but endearing) tale of corruption, vendettas and justice in which the Mafia is never far away. Atmospheric, funny and intriguing... I really enjoyed it.
1984 (George Orwell): I’d read this book a couple of times before – once in the early 1970s and then again in 1982/3 – and decided that it was time for another re-read (but it’s a bit scary to realise that a book you thought you’d ‘recently’ read turns out to be 35 years ago!). Two ‘new’ realisations immediately struck me before I’d even finished the first page… the first was that the book was first published in 1949 (the year of my birth) and the second describes Winston Smith as having a “varicose ulcer above his right ankle” (just like me at the present time!). Spooky! I think I found reading it this time even more powerful/disturbing than before… the world of the internet is now very much a central feature of our existence and, with it, we seem to have instant access to ‘everything’. It’s also a world where facebook and google (for example) know our likes and dislikes; know about our political leanings; know how old we are and where we live… It’s also a world where, for many people it seems, the media controls what and how they think (The Daily Mail and the Sun newspapers, for example!?). It’s also provided us, thanks to social media, with our own artificial world of similar-minded people – whilst, at the same time, there are other artificial worlds of people who have utterly different values and beliefs… not to mention ‘fake news’, of course! Orwell’s picture of an egalitarian Utopia is both brilliant and frightening. Nearly 70 years on, it remains utterly compelling and hugely impressive.   
Act of Passion (Georges Simenon): First published in 1947, this is only the second Georges Simenon book I’ve read. The cover of my paperback copy says he’s “deservedly famous for his exact studies of the minds of madmen and murderers”… and the comment certainly applies to this book. It’s cast in the form of a long, pathetic letter addressed from prison to the examining magistrate in a murder case. The prisoner, a doctor, strangled his mistress and struggles to explain just why he was forced to “kill the thing he loves”… why the act was rational and why he must repudiate any suggestion of madness. The magistrate, he is sure, will understand. Believe me, if I’d been the magistrate, I’d have stopped reading the letter after just a few pages! Nevertheless, it’s an intriguing (albeit shocking) account of control, violence and, ultimately, madness.
The Clock Winder (Anne Tyler): First published in 1972 and set in Baltimore, the novel tells the story of a young woman who, while taking time away from college to earn a little money, ends up finding herself, somewhat bizarrely, being taken on by a recently-widowed woman (and the mother of seven grown children) as a handyman. The story, which spans 14 years, addresses the young woman’s relationship with the widow and then the relationship between her and several of the widow's children. They end up changing each other's lives in fundamental ways. Hauntingly impressive… I probably need to read more of Tyler’s books.
Realms Of Glory (Catherine Fox): This is the final book of Catherine Fox’s Lindchester trilogy. Fictional tales about the Anglican Church might not sound particularly appealing but, take my word for it, Fox has the wonderful ability to convey poignant insights about the C of E (warts and all) in a way that are full of grace, kindness and hilarity. This book is set during the months of 2016 (post-Brexit, Trump, Syria, foodbanks etc). She’s a first class writer and I’ve greatly enjoyed all three of her books (thanks to Moira’s initial recommendation). Anyone with even a slight acquaintance of the Anglican Church will probably recognise some of the characters portrayed, but such knowledge is no prerequisite for being able to enjoy her books. I thoroughly recommend all three of them.

 

Saturday, July 08, 2017

racing demon at the theatre royal bath…

Moira and I went along to the Theatre Royal Bath last night to see a revival of David Hare’s play “Racing Demon”, first performed at the National Theatre in 1990.
We’d previously been to see a production at the Theatre Royal, but there’d been a BIT of gap between yesterday evening and the last time we were there… just a FORTY-FOUR YEAR gap!!
On the face of it, the idea of going to see a play about the Church of England (the establishment church?), society, politics, morality and such like might not seem like the best way to enjoy a Friday evening… but that was far from the case. David Hare was a playwright who emerged from the left-wing theatre movement of the 1960s and 70s… someone who was clearly angered by the injustices, as he saw it, of the capitalist system and wanting to see a ‘fairer society’.  
Yes, whilst the play was inevitably ‘dated’ on some matters (eg. regarding the ordination of female bishops and references to the poll tax), it felt very much a play of ‘our time’ – touching on such secular matters as (in addition to the spiritual): austerity; the ‘haves and have-nots’ of society; justice; morality; domestic violence; listening to and supporting people who feel they have no voice… and at a time when many still question the relevance of the Church in today’s world.
When he wrote the play, in the late 1980s, Hare felt that the Anglican Church provided subject matter that was archetypically English and, at worst, represented an old-fashioned institution, stuck in its dogmatic ways and struggling to adapt to ‘modern life’. From the programme notes, it appears that Hare respected many of the clergy he met in his researches, but was conscious of the best of them being “up against a bureaucratic system that worked in opposition to their talents”… with the Church appearing to have become increasingly irrelevant, “debating arcane matters of doctrine instead of looking outwards to fulfil the community’s spiritual needs”.
The play proved to be provocative, challenging, thought-provoking and, as far as we were concerned, still highly relevant today.

One of the prime reasons for going last night was to watch our lovely actor friend Sam Alexander perform…. and he didn’t disappoint (in his role playing Revd Donald ‘Streaky’ Bacon!).
Indeed, the whole cast were excellent… with David Haig quite brilliant as Revd Lionel Espy and Paapa Essiedu very impressive as the curate, Revd Tony Ferris.
A really excellent evening.
Photo: Paapa Essiedu as Revd Tony Ferris.

Friday, July 07, 2017

a man called ove…

I went to the Watershed yesterday afternoon to see Hannes Holm’s “A Man Called Ove” – based on Fredrick Backman’s novel about a grumpy old Swedish man named Ove (played in the film by Rolf Lassgard/Filip Berg as older/younger versions). The character is a widower (his lovely wife Sonja, played by Ida Engvoll, was the light of his life) and he’s recently been made redundant, aged 59, by the company he’s worked for for 43 years.
He has given up on life (literally).
He lives in a small estate upon which he has endeavoured to impose strict rules (introduced when he was chairperson of the local residents’ group)… he records incidents in his notebook about bad parking or about bikes being left unattended; he lists items people have borrowed from him (and demands their return); he criticises other people’s driving abilities… the list goes on, and on.
Actually, I could easily have played Ove in his grumpy mode without even having to act (and for half the money) (I think even look a bit like him?)! But, in fact, the Ove character really reminded me of my father (even more than me – which is saying something!) – organised, practical, community-helper… and, at times, something of a pig-headed, busy-body!
But, as well as the grumpy bits (indeed, often arising out Ove’s very grumpiness), there were some lovely, funny incidents – like him stopping talking to his best friend for ten years because he dared to buy a Volvo instead of a Saab!
Ove’s sad, lonely regime is shaken by the arrival of a pregnant Parvanah (an Iranian immigrant, excellently played by Bahar Pars) and her family, who move in next door… and a beautiful friendship develops.
I haven’t yet read the novel (but I definitely will, in due course).
Strangely, although I really enjoyed the film, I came away feeling just a little disappointed. Perhaps my expectations (after seeing the trailer) had been unreasonably high? I THOUGHT I would absolutely LOVE the film… but, in the event, it fell just a little short of my hopes and expectations.
Nevertheless (as the Watershed’s programme blurb puts it), “what emerges is a heartwarming, funny, and deeply moving tale of unreliable first impressions and a gentle reminder that life is sweeter when it’s shared”.

Friday, June 30, 2017

june 2017 books…

The Lake District Murder (John Bude): Yet another enjoyable, escapist, murder-mystery from the British Library Crime Classics. I think this is the fourth Bude novel I’ve read in this series (first published in 1935) and, true to form, the author seems to go out of his way to demonstrate the cleverness of his plots and the intricate thoroughness of his detective hero, Inspector Meredith, in this golden age of detective fiction. As usual with these books, they highlight the enormous changes that have taken place in our daily lives over the past 80 years or so: petrol at 1s 3d a gallon; a world of motor bikes and sidecars (and an absence of traffic); a time when Police Inspectors used to salute Superintendents and Chief Constables (perhaps they still do?); when murderers were hanged; when women were frequently portrayed in a somewhat feeble guise (eg. “she, feminine-like, threw a faint”!); when smoking was commonplace (especially pipes with certain gentlemen!); a time when you needed to check Encyclopedia Britannica for facts (no internet or google); when everyone (in this novel, at least) seemed to be constantly checking their watches or the church clock (so they could give the police accurate accounts of their movements etc); when people resorted to using proper (Bartholomew) maps, not sat navs; no television; no photocopiers; no emails/fax machines; no mobile phones; no digital photography; no DNA technology… and WW2 still hadn’t happened. You get the general picture!  
Prisoners Of Geography (Tim Marshall): A fascinating, brilliantly-researched book (published in 2015). The cover gives the following additional description of what it’s about: “Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You need To Know About Global Politics”… and that just about sums it up. It might not quite explain ‘everything’, but it does provide a coherent, geographical background to the issues facing world leaders today. The book is full of well-judged insights into such matters as Russia’s action in Ukraine; China’s struggle for maritime power; the USA’s highly favourable geographical circumstances and natural resource endowment; deeply embedded divisions and emotions across North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia; and (somewhat ironically given the Brexit vote) Europe’s reactions to the uncertainties and conflicts nearby – after more than 70 years’ peace and prosperity.
The Shape Of Water (Andrea Camilleri): This is my second Inspector Montalbano Mystery and I really like this character! As before, the action takes place in Sicily (amid delicious meals, corruption and the like)… the body of an engineer is discovered on a trash-shrewn site brimming with drug dealers and prostitutes. The coroner reckons he died of natural causes, but Inspector Montalbano isn’t prepared to close the case (much to annoyance of the local police chief, judge and bishop!). I really enjoyed it… and also found it brilliantly funny at times too. I’ll definitely look for more of these in the £3 bookshop!
The Ornatrix (Kate Howard): Set in 16th century Italy, this novel is essentially about issues of belonging, female identity and the perception of beauty. The main character, Flavia (who herself was born with a birthmark covering her face), becomes the ornatrix – hairdresser and personal maid – to Ghostanza (courtesan-turned-widow), whose white-lead painted face entrances Flavia and “whose beauty and cruelty are unmatched”. It’s a well-written, clever and frequently raw story about (as the book’s flysheet describes it) “desire, obsession and deceit”. Not exactly a “boys’ book” perhaps but, nevertheless, I quite enjoyed it.
In Case Of Emergency (Georges Simenon): First published in 1956, this is a self-portrait of a French defence counsel in his late forties. His successful career (frequently based on a series of dubious cases) has given him a life removing in a world of politicians, ambassadors, businessmen and fashionable women. It’s a world of opulence, privilege, power, control, obsession… and mistresses. His marriage isn’t what it was and he establishes a serious relationship with one of these mistresses (an ex-prostitute whose defence he had rigged). He knows it’s foolish… and, as he moves towards what he sees as a crisis in his life, he feels impelled to embark on as a secret diary – effectively, a dossier on himself. Strangely compelling.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

slack bay (ma loute)…

Yes, I know, choosing to go to the cinema on one of the hottest days of the year isn’t everyone’s idea of fun… but that’s what I did this afternoon! I wanted a break from all the sad frustrations and horror of the real world and felt that Bruno Dumont’s film (with a wealth of amazing French stars including Juliette Binoche - say, no more! - Fabrice Luchini and Valerie Bruni Tedeschi) now showing at the Watershed would be just the thing.
I was aware of the film’s background/story and was perfectly content to enjoy the bizarre, over-the-top, ridiculous romp that this film would undoubtedly be…
I wasn’t even put off by the postcard reviews on the entrance staircase that the Watershed encourages from its audience. These are just four of them: “Strange… very odd, macabre and funny”; “I hated it”; “One of the worst films I’ve ever seen” and “Funny, bizarre and clever”!  
I’ll try to outline the plot… albeit very briefly! Postcard-perfect seaside village in northern France in 1910… there’s a working class family (the Bruforts) – a lowly clan of fishermen (who also double as ferrymen to either row or CARRY people across the low waters that surround the dunes; there are the upper-class Van Peteghems, vacating for the summer; and there are two detectives investigating unsolved and mysterious disappearances. These detectives are played (literally) in the guise of Laurel and Hardy characters – one huge and one very slight individual, dressed in black suits and bowler hats.

I’m really not a great lover of slap-stick humour, but I REALLY enjoyed this film (and so, it seemed, did the rest of the audience)… wonderful timing, ludicrous incidents, complete and utter over-acting by all the adult members of the Van Peteghem family (I thought Fabrice Luchini was superb) and an absolutely ridiculous, exaggerated plot – which included good old-fashioned cannibalism plus a measure of gender-bending identity crises!! Don’t ask!
If I had one minor criticism, it would be its length (122 minutes)… I think it could have been 20 minutes shorter and still just as funny/crisp.
The film is theatrically extravagant and, at times, almost Pythonesque… and I know it won’t be everyone’s ‘cup of tea’, but I loved it (and laughed out loud on several occasions – sorry!).

Thursday, June 15, 2017

bristol pilgrimage 2017…

If you’re ever on the beautiful island of Iona, the weekly pilgrimage walk around the island is an experience not to be missed.
During the course of my 8-week stay there as a volunteer with the Iona Community in 2012, I bought Jane Bentley+Neil Paynter’s really excellent book “Around A Thin Place” (an Iona pilgrimage guide) and, as well as using it when I was on Iona, I have used it as a resource for my own Bristol pilgrimage version on three previous occasions (undertaken in September 2012, March 2014 and June 2015).
Yesterday, I decided to undertake a fourth ‘pilgrimage’ journey around Bristol (strangely, I thought I’d done more than this… but the blog never lies!).

This time, I broke up my route into eight sections or stops… pausing for reflections taken from the book, together with my own deliberations. Each time I’ve done this, I’ve used a completely different set of locations and, as on my previous walks, the weather was perfect.
As before, I related my stopping points with pilgrimage stops on Iona:
St Martin’s Cross/setting out on the road was Gaol Ferry Bridge; The Crossroads was the Cumberland Piazza (essentially land under the flyovers by Cumberland Basin); Dun I/High Point was the Clifton Suspension Bridge; The Hermit’s Cell was, perhaps a little incongruously, Clifton Cathedral (the Roman Catholic cathedral); St Columba’s Bay was the Harbour/Harbourside; The Machair was Queen Square; The Jetty was Temple Meads station;
and St Oran’s Chapel/Reilig Odhrain was God’s Garden (a grassed area beside the Cut).


I’ve been chatting to quite a few of Bristol’s homeless people over recent months and I found my final stop at God’s Garden particularly poignant. On Iona, St Oran’s Chapel was the place that the bodies of numerous kings were sent for burial – the end of the journey (literally)… the homecoming, as it were. God’s Garden was my final stop before arriving back at home, just up the road. But, for many of the homeless, God’s Garden IS home. Small, rough tents, belonging to these otherwise homeless people, have appeared over recent months. As you might imagine, it’s far from ideal but it does represent the nearest thing to home for many of them. It’s a very tough existence – made all the worse because of the frequent thefts of their ‘belongings’ or people causing deliberate damage to their tents… or even the risk of flooding (from the adjacent tidal Cut). Life is tough… everyone needs their dignity.
Within two minutes of leaving God’s Garden, I passed a roadsign declaring “Home Zone ENDS” (Home Zones are small local residential areas where traffic and pedestrians are mixed together – no pavements). In the circumstances, it seemed a particularly ironic, sad statement.
The day proved to be another challenging and thought-provoking time… and something that I will no doubt repeat in Bristol over the coming years.
This Celtic blessing, from the book, seemed to sum up my day rather nicely:
May God’s goodness be yours,
and well, and seven times well, may you spend your lives:
may you be an isle in the sea,
may you be a hill on the shore,
may you be a star in the darkness,
may you be a staff to the weak;
and may the power of the Spirit
pour on you, richly and generously,
today, and in the days to come.
Photos: just a few photographs from my day.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

my life as a courgette…

Taking a somewhat pessimistic view of the outcome of today’s general election (but, hey, maybe I’ll be proved wrong?!), I decided to cheer myself up yesterday by going to see Claude Barras’s “My Life As A Courgette”.
You might not have come across the film before, but I’m just telling you:
PLEASE, PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU SEE IT!
When I tell you that it’s an animation film – only 66 minutes long – featuring characters with enormous heads and that the leading individual is a nine year-old boy who calls himself “Courgette” (well, his mother used to call him that name), then you’d be excused for thinking that my enthusiasm was just a little over-the-top…
Courgette finds himself in a local orphanage after his alcoholic mother’s sudden death. There he meets a misfit group of children, each with their own emotional baggage and traumas to bear. But, with the help of the brilliantly supportive orphanage staff, the children find ways of getting on with their lives - and in relative harmony. Courgette’s world becomes even brighter with the arrival of young Camille…
It’s a PG film made for both children and adults (but, with all the tragic family backgrounds, my gut feeling is perhaps 10 years plus?).
The film deals with very difficult issues… but it still manages to be funny, tender, sensitive, uplifting and very beautiful. The music (by Sophie Hunger) is rather lovely too.
I didn’t (quite) cry, but critic Mark Kermode certainly did… and gave it a five star review.
I absolutely LOVED this film (and so will you)!
PS: When I originally saw the trailer, it came with sub-titles (and, with the pretty rapid dialogue, it probably meant that you’d be concentrating on the sub-titles rather than the animation?)… but the version I saw yesterday had been dubbed in English – which probably made it easier (for me) to digest/appreciate the film fully.

 

Saturday, June 03, 2017

golem…

Moira and I went along to the Bristol Old Vic last night to see Theatre Company 1927’s “Golem”… and we emerged feeling incredibly fortunate to have witnessed such a wonderful piece of extraordinary, inventive theatre.
Our good fortune was at Hannah+Felix’s expense (literally)… they had passed on their tickets to us after another engagement had cropped up (doubly sad, because I know they would both have enjoyed the performance enormously).
The 1927 Theatre production embraces technology, art, design, original film and animation projections (by Paul Barritt) with stunning, slick precision to tell director/writer Suzanne Andrade’s story about mass-technology and its effects on our lives - initially through the ‘character’ of a clay figure called Golem, who comes to life and begins to take on basis tasks that help simplify the life of its ‘owner’… and this Golem, in turn, is replaced by Golem 2… and then Golem 3 (a bit like iPhone 7?).
Technology gradually taking over.
It’s a brilliant blend of acting, music, projections and lighting… breathtakingly clever, witty and stunningly stylish. The acting (and the immaculate timing) is excellent.
The mingling of of live performance with animation and film is quite, quite magical.
As we approach another General Election, it’s perhaps a gentle reminder of some of the shortcomings and losers in this brave new world of ours! You know, the one where corporations and shareholders seem to be the only winners?!
Essentially, it’s a message about anti-consumerism and anti-technology/dreams becoming nightmares… and, obviously, as someone who a) still uses a pen or pencil to write notes, b) doesn’t own an iPad, c) has recently exchanged his BlackBerry for a very basic answer/call/text mobile phone and d) no longer owns a car, I can be excused for feeling somewhat superior and smug! Yeh, right!
It really was an extraordinary, colourful, intoxicating, unique evening of theatre – 90 non-stop minutes full of wonderful imagery and invention… and a modern fable.
PS: The 1927 Theatre Company is on tour with ‘Golem’ until 24 June. Today (3 June) is the last night at the Old Vic, but it’ll be showing at Ipswich, Oxford and Harrogate over the coming weeks. If you get a chance, PLEASE see this production… you DEFINITELY won’t regret it!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

the red turtle…

Moira and I went along to the Watershed this afternoon to see Michael Dudok de Wit’s “The Red Turtle”. It’s a co-production with Japanese animation giants Studio Ghibli (Isao Takahata is artistic producer)… so it immediately ticked LOTS of boxes as far as I was concerned!
It’s a stunningly beautiful film – with Dudok de Wit mixing hand- and computer-drawn images throughout – and it’s also completely wordless! Laurent Perez del Mar’s breath-taking score perfectly complements the minimalist visuals… making words completely unnecessary!
The film is about the unlikely ‘friendship’ between an island castaway and an enormous sea turtle. The shipwrecked man, on a deserted island, struggles to construct a raft, but every attempt to leave is thwarted by a huge red turtle that seems intent on having him stay.
This is one of those films that you just have to see for yourself… it’s an enigmatic masterpiece.
Everyone who sees it will no doubt have a different ‘take’ on the film. I certainly don’t intend to try to explain it (I’m still trying to come to terms with bits of it myself) but I’ll just say this: the man sets out to foil the creature’s attempts to prevent his escape but, in doing so, the man finds himself being instructed in the ways of companionship, respect for the environment and ultimately being led to understand that nature must take its course.
But don’t just take my word for it… I’ve just read Mark Kermode’s five-star review in The Guardian and he ends his piece as follows:
“Seamlessly combining analogue and digital animation…, they compose a visual symphony that seems to comprise a history of cinema itself; from monochrome nights to richly hued days; from porous green trees to luminous blue seas; orange sunlight to pearlescent moonlight…
Integrating his cues with the natural soundscape, the composer utilises wood and bamboo percussion, gentle flutes and soaring strings to negotiate the film’s kaleidoscopic tones. The melodies have a nursery rhyme candour, yet encompass themes of longing and anguish, despair and delight, love and death.
I could say more, but this is a film that respects the sound of silence. It is a work of art which transcends boundaries of language, culture, geography and age. It is simply magnificent”.
It’s a poignant, powerful, gentle, charming and rather wonderful film – which I strongly urge you to see.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

april-may 2017 books…

Old Filth (Jane Gardam): This is the second book I’ve read from Gardam’s “Old Filth” trilogy… in fact, this particular book was the first to be published (in 2004). Filth (the name given to him by his colleagues at the Bar – ‘Failed In London Try Hong Kong’!), in his heyday, was an international lawyer with a practice in the Far East. He was born in the mid-1920s and, after a childhood in Malaya, was one of many children sent ‘Home’ from the East to be fostered and educated in England at the onset of WW2. It’s a beautiful, poignant and, frequently, very funny book about the ‘glory days’ of the British Empire… and about ageing and relationships. Gardam is a brilliant writer and this is one of my very favourite books.
Gut (Giulia Enders): The book cover describes it thus: “the inside story of our body’s most under-rated organ’. In 2012, Enders (who was then studying for a doctorate in gastroenterology) won the first prize at the Science Slam in Berlin with her talk “Charming Bowels”! She duly received offers to write a book on the subject and “Gut” is the resulting publication (“a publishing sensation” as The Times describes it). It’s an absolutely fascinating book – hugely entertaining and informative – covering all manner of things from the basics of nutrient absorption to the latest science linking bowel bacteria with depression. A thoroughly enthralling book, but one which, ultimately, I was somewhat relieved to have finished… there’s only SO much talk about poo, vomiting, constipation et al that one can take! A pretty wonderful book, nevertheless… and beautifully illustrated too (yes, really!)! 
The Cubs And Other Stories (Mario Vargas Llosa): Llosa, born in Peru in 1936, is a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and this a collection of early writing in a volume of seven short stories… essentially related Llosa’s “domain of male youth and machismo, where life’s dramas play themselves out on the soccer field, on the dance floor and on street corners”. I have to admit that I sometimes struggled to come to terms with the author’s writing style (especially in ‘The Cubs’). Not exactly my cup of tea. Sorry!
Botanicum (Katie Scott and Kathy Willis): This is a rather stunning book that celebrates the world of plants. Text by Kew’s Director of Science, Professor Kathy Willis, and lavishly illustrated by Katie Scott. It describes itself as a “museum” which is “open all hours”. As you would imagine, it’s very informative and Scott’s drawings are very beautiful (if I have one gripe – and I’m sure it’s just me! – I do think SOME of the coloured illustrations have a rather “Walt Disney”, almost cartoonish, quality about them, which wasn’t to my personal taste… but a very lovely book nevertheless.
Last Friends (Jane Gardam): This is the last book of Gardam’s ‘The Old Filth’ trilogy. I’ve REALLY enjoyed all the books and will certainly be seeking out more of her books over the coming months. ‘Last Friends’ is continuing story about love, memories and ageing (see above!) – this time, adding Veneering’s story to the mix (Veneering was Old Filth’s chief “rival in law and love”… who later became a good friend). Gardam’s gift for the gradual uncovering of events and people’s stories (and the sheer beauty of her writing) are some of the real joys of all three books. Highly recommended! 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

I’ve just voted…

This afternoon, I sent off my postal vote in connection with next month’s General Election.
I’m a member of the Green Party but, somewhat controversially (many would say… especially my Green Party friends), I voted for Karin Smyth – our local Labour Party candidate (and the sitting MP).
I did so NOT because I think the Labour Party has proved to be an effective Opposition – far from it – but because I felt it was the most effective way, locally (under our ridiculous first-past-the-post electoral system), to ensure that the Conservative Party didn’t sneak in through the back door.
I actually think the chances of this are extremely slim (it’s been a Labour stronghold since 1935) – although if UKIP’s vote collapses (they came third in 2015 with over 8,000 votes), then the Tories could feasibly win if all former UKIP voters changed to the Conservatives (Labour beat the Tories by just over 7,000 votes last time).

At the beginning of November last year, I blogged about my fears (given the state of the Opposition) that there was going to be a General Election“very soon”. I felt that the ONLY way to prevent a Tory landslide at the next general Election was “for the opposition parties to work together in order to try to maximise their chances (they might not win an election but, at worst, they might secure a far more effective Opposition)”.
I went on to say that in order for this happen, it would “require Labour, LibDems, the Greens and Plaid Cymru to work together (in England and Wales) and to decide which party stands the best chance of winning each individual parliamentary seat (and to concentrate their limited resources/budget accordingly). Sadly (in terms of true democracy), this will mean that the Green Party, for instance, should only contest perhaps a total of say six seats; the LibDems say 75; Plaid Cymru say 20? In all the other constituencies (and, yes, that would include mine), this would mean the electorate making a straight decision between the Tories and Labour (with UKIP perhaps eating into more Tory votes than Labour!).
It’s far from ideal, but it might be the ONLY way the Labour Party (and the country!) can avoid utter disaster. It would also mean that the Labour Party would agree to incorporate LibDems/Greens/Plaid Cymru policies within its own manifesto (and include members from the other parties within its own Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet)”.

Sadly, despite the Green Party pressing other political parties to enter into some form of election pact, no such arrangement has been agreed. In my view, even despite the lack of any official agreement, I firmly believe it is quite ludicrous for the Green Party to waste its very limited financial resources (don’t get me started on funding for national parties!), for example, here in South Bristol (where it gained support from less than 12% of constituency voters in 2015)… instead, again in my view, they should be concentrating 100% on winning Bristol West (a distinct possibility according to the local media). Bristol West is one of only a handful of seats throughout the country that the Greens have ANY chance of winning. Unfortunately, any such Green victory would be at the expense of Labour!
So, far from ideal, but frankly, there probably isn’t a single current Tory seat in our local area that the Conservative Party is likely to lose 
But now the die is cast… the deadline for candidates to be in place has passed (on 11 May). I just find it staggering that the Opposition parties haven’t been able (or even shown any desire… apart from the Greens) to allow a constituency-by-constituency arrangement for current Tory-held seats or identified ‘marginals’ whereby only a single opposition candidate from the national parties stands against a Conservative candidate.  

So, it’s now all down to the electorate (and you probably know my views on democracy!). If EVERY voter – well, realistically, those living in perhaps the hundred(?) where the outcome might be in doubt, under the first-past-the-post system - made a careful judgement and only voted for the opposition candidate most likely to have a chance of winning against the Tory candidate, then the outcome could be VERY different… but I’m not holding my breath.
I would love the opinion polls to be wrong yet again and for a non-Tory government to be in place come 9 June, but I very much doubt it.
I fear the worst!