Friday, December 29, 2017

new year reflections: december 2017…

Another year’s reflections (as always - a reminder to ME!):
It’s been a good year, DESPITE the fact that I’m regularly still feeling depressed about the repercussions regarding Trump and Brexit… and the continuing struggles of austerity and the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ of this world.
Anyway, on the more positive things:
My top FOURTEEN (yes, I know… sorry!), in some sort of order!! (I’d intended to limit it to just FIVE, but found it impossible): Ink (Alice Broadway)(you bet!); How To Disappear Completely (Si Smith)(brilliant!); Please Mr Postman+The Long and Winding Road (Alan Johnson); The Summer Game (Neville Cardus); Venice (Jan Morris); The Broken Road (Patrick Leigh Fermor); Eating Pomegranates (Sarah Gabriel); Love Nina (Nina Stibbe); Long Live Great Bardfield – Autobiography (Tirzah Garwood); Seven Brief Lessons On Physics (Carlo Rovelli); Signs for Lost Children+Bodies of Light (Sarah Moss); and Honourable Friends? (Caroline Lucas).

My top eleven in vague order (sorry… I tried to get it down to five, but found it impossible): Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool; My Life As A Courgette; On Body And Soul; Final Portrait; Loving Vincent; The Red Turtle; Manchester By The Sea; The Death Of Stalin; Silence; La La Land; and Dunkirk.

LOVELY LIVE PERFORMANCES (broken down into various categories):

Peter Pan (National Theatre); Vice Versa (RSC, Stratford-upon-Avon); Up Down Man (Tobacco Factory Theatre); Golem (Bristol Old Vic); Racing Demon (Theatre Royal, Bath); Question Mark (Bristol Cathedral); and Tartuffe (Tobacco Factory Theatre).
Ricky Ross; Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla and the CBSO (Beethoven’s Fifth); Graham Gouldman; O’Hooley+Tidow; Phil King (Live); Ligeti Quartet (Remembering The Future); and all the excellent Monday lunchtime concerts at Saint Stephen’s church.

Not as many as I’d intended (maybe I’ve missed out one or two?): Modigliani at Tate Modern; Grayson Perry at the Arnolfini; World Turned Upside Down, Leeds; Simon Fujiwara etc at Leeds Art Gallery; the Annual Open Exhibition at the RWA; and Degas at Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

“Live” sport this year, included: County cricket at Taunton and Bristol (which I really enjoyed – and I’ve resolved to watch more games in the coming season); Bristol Rugby at Ashton Gate (including winning against Bath) and at Exeter (narrowly defeated)… despite subsequent relegation.
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 – there have been a LOT of sixtieth birthday celebrations (always good to have friends that are much younger than you!)… and have also really enjoyed making new friendships.

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 more than 950 drawings and 950 photographs since I started in September 2012).
2. The brilliant Drawing Group I joined last year – organised by the wonderful, talented artists Charlotte and Alice Pain with the support of the Churches Conservation Trust – continues to bring me great joy. We meet for two hours most Tuesdays (and also occasionally go “on tour” to draw other churches).
The Group also held exhibitions at St John-on-the-Wall and Saint Stephen’s churches, Bristol.

3. We had another successful Arts Trail at number 40 (I think this was our 14th consecutive year)… and attracted some 700 people into our basement over the Arts Trail weekend! At one stage, it looked as if there wouldn’t be a 2018 Arts Trail (due to lack of organisers) but, apparently, volunteers have come forward. Well done them!

4. Iris, Rosa and I combined to produce some large window art as part of another very successful Window Wanderland in February.
5. I provided a ‘Sleeping Rough’ photograph for the wonderful ‘World Turned Upside Down’ exhibition in Leeds.
6. I supplied cards for the HOME shop at The Architecture Centre, Bristol (twelve cards from my ‘Ordinary Lines’ series).

Cafes, reading, drawing, photography, walking, cinema, 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 lovely Chorley/Lancashire contingent as often as we’d like).
I continue to spend a fair amount of my café time at the wonderful Mokoko on Gaol Ferry Steps!

Definitely need to give more thought to this… lots of things I’d earmarked last year remain untouched, so maybe I need to re-visit them? There’s part of me that would like to do a couple of large paintings – perhaps based on my ‘ordinary’ coloured drawings? HOLIDAYS/LEISURE: 
We’ve tightened our belts again this year, but have been delighted to enjoy a few odd excursions and stopovers to Oxford (50th anniversary college reunion!); Cambridge; Salisbury; and Leeds (well, for me at least).

Sadly, we were also due to have a few days at Drimnin in the Western Highlands – but had to cancel at the last minute because the builders had failed to complete in time.
Not a single game of golf this year (and only one or two the previous year). I think I’m now officially an ‘ex-golfer’!
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…

I meet up most Wednesday mornings in Dom’s Cafe at 7.30am with a small group of great mates for “Bloke’s Prayer”… which has proved to be pretty brilliant.
I had quite a SHOCK just before Easter. After my slight “breathlessness” and atrial fibrillation issues of the previous year, I’d been continuing to attend hospital appointments to monitor things… 6 minute walk tests and lung function tests plus various consultations. I’d previously had a CT scan which had highlighted some shadowing on my lungs. The long and short of it all is that a multi-specialist team had met to discuss my ‘case’ and had concluded that
I had Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF)… and, at a subsequent appointment, the consultant went on to explain that this was a “serious” condition and that, historically, life expectancy for someone in my condition would be in the region of 3.5-5 years - which, given the time since my previous CT scan, meant closer to 2.5-4 years (it turns out that Keith Chegwin, who died very recently, aged 60, had IPF). Blimey!! There followed more tests and a further CT scan… and, somewhat miraculously (because it seems such things simply don’t happen), the results now showed only minimal lung shadowing. My test results were similarly very positive and, as a consequence, the multi-specialist team was “no longer convinced” that I had a fibrosis… and I’ve now been given an appointment for next August – merely as a monitoring exercise. So, as you can imagine, HUGE relief all round!!     

In other, minor, health matters(!), my cut/inflamed right shin (I mentioned it last year) has now more or less healed… but, for much of this year, I’d also been struggling with painful plantar fasciitis and Morton’s neuroma in my right foot. Touch wood, these now seem pretty much under control/sorted (well, almost). My teeth continue to fall out… and I’ve now got hearing aids (which, of course, I hardly use!)… but, hey, I actually feel in good health and walk more than 3 miles every day, relatively pain-free (touch wood, as you do!) – which is pretty wonderful.
1. After four very enjoyable years, I’ve now retired as a Trustee at the wonderful Windmill Hill City Farm – although I continue to be involved in minor ways.

2. I now serve on the PCC of Saint Stephen’s church.
3. We are no longer car owners! Living in the city, and within a 10 minute walk of the harbourside (and with our bus passes for other local journeys), we found that we hardly used the car… so, when our old Citroen finally needed expensive repair (which we couldn’t really afford), we decided to bite the bullet and get rid of it. Instead, we’re car club members (Co-Wheels – with three car options within 0.3 miles of our front door)… or, for longer trips, we hire a car… or travel by rail. We still haven’t fully adapted to the change (we need to get better at planning impromptu trips to NT properties, the coast and the like… we’ll no doubt adapt over time).
For us as a family, it’s been another good year… and we continue to count our blessings. We wish you (and all yours) a very happy, healthy and peaceful 2018!

Photo: Christmas Steps drawing from my 2017 Bristol Calendar.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

december 2017 books…

Modigliani (ed. Simonetta Fraquelli and Nancy Ireson): This is the excellent book that accompanies the Tate exhibition. Like the exhibition itself, the book follows the artist’s journey through his adopted city of Paris in the early years of the 20th century… his influences, his friends, his fellow artists, his patrons, the sense of excitement and creativity, the café culture, the changing attitudes to sex and the way people dressed, the influence of early cinema, the First World War etc. Modigliani died of tubercular meningitis in 1920 at the age of just 36. It’s a very lovely book.
Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban (JK Rowling): My third Harry Potter book(!)… and my admiration for JK Rowling’s writing continues… intelligent, hugely inventive, dark, excellent characters and a brilliant joined-up plot. I could go on… but you’ve probably already read the book yourself!
Bodies Of Light (Sarah Moss): As I’ve previously blogged, I’d mistakenly read Moss’s “Signs For Lost Children” out of order… so I’m now ‘catching up’ by reading its predecessor (published in 2014)! When I first started reading it, I thought I would find it all pretty frustrating – reading about past events knowing, in many instances, how things would eventually pan out. But, actually, it gave a rather interesting insight to this family saga. It’s an incredibly powerful story (set in the 1860s and 70s) about a family in Manchester. The mother is a zealous social campaigner, who offers no hint of warmth+joy and inflicts domestic cruelty and control on her daughters (particularly eldest daughter Ally). The central character, daughter Ally, breaks free from the family to study in London as a medical student and, in 1880, becomes one of the first women physicians in Britain (the fictional Ally and her small band of peers is apparently loosely based on the ‘Edinburgh Seven’ - the first British women to bear the name of "doctor"). It’s a brilliant book and a constant reminder of the shameful attitude of male-dominated society towards women of that time… and how, indeed, such issues exist even today. I’ve also become aware that there is another, earlier book about this family, featuring Ally’s sister May, entitled “Night Waking” (published in 2011) which I also need to read… obviously!
Women+Power: A Manifesto (Mary Beard): Mary Beard is a bit of a hero (heroine?) of mine… I’ve been incredibly impressed by the way she’s handled the awful social media abuse she’s received over the years (but equally appalled that we, as a society, could act in such disgusting manner). This short book is based on two lectures Beard delivered, courtesy of the London Review of Books, in 2014 and 2017. In it, she traces the roots of misogyny to Athens and Rome (not too surprising, given her classicist background) and draws attention to the deeply embedded mechanisms of Western culture that silence women, that refuse to take them seriously, and that sever them from the centres of power – a very appropriate book to follow Moss’s “Bodies of Light”. What she says is powerful and pragmatic (sometimes depressing, but also frequently funny – she has a gift words) and she speaks not just for women, perhaps, but also for those who feel they have no voice.
Some Small Heaven (Ian Adams): Although this Advent book actually runs until Epiphany, with its daily reflections, I’ve already read the book a number of times (as well as using it for daily reflection) – so it seems reasonable to include it in my 2017 books, rather than over-running into 2018. I always find Ian Adams’s writing thought-provoking and challenging and this book is no different – exactly what I needed for this Advent period (I also used it as a basis for an Advent Walk around Bristol). Excellent.

Well, that’s it for another year… I’ve just added up the number of books I’ve read in 2017 and, somewhat ridiculously, it amounts to 80 in total! Essentially (and, yes, I know it’s not a competition!), that’s more than a book-and-a-half EVERY week… I think it’s called ‘retirement’!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

paddington 2...

Mrs Broadway and I went along to the jolly Watershed this afternoon to see Paul King’s “Paddington 2”. We’d seen the first Paddington film with a couple of grandchildren, but today it was just us (plus a few other parents and grandparents and their children!).
And, I have to say, I really enjoyed it… maybe it was something rather traditional about us going to the cinema on the run-up to Christmas?
I thought it was much better than the first Paddington film… the original characters were all still there (Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins as Mr and Mrs Brown, plus Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent and Peter Capaldi… amongst others), but alongside a wonderfully over-the-top Hugh Grant, who plays a villain, ‘showboating actor’.
It’s very good fun, heart-warming… and contains lots of marmalade!
PS: the film also includes a sequence on a steam train from Paddington to Bristol - across stunning countryside, lakes and viaducts. After seeing the film, there are going to be an awful of people booking train tickets for this route... who are going to be very, very disappointed (Didcot and Swindon are just two of the actual highlights!). 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

la nativité du seigneur in bristol cathedral…

I’d be the first to admit that organ music is not a particular passion of mine.
However, last night, a small group of us went along to Bristol cathedral to hear Oliver Messiaen’s “La Nativité du Seigneur” (The Birth of the Lord: nine meditations for organ), played by Paul Walton and David Bednall. … and it was rather lovely.
The cathedral lights were dimmed, candles were lit, there was incense in the air… (you get the general idea).
The work - written by Messiaen at the age of 27 (in 1935) whilst he was in residence at Grenoble near the French Alps - lasted for just over an hour… and it was an excellent opportunity to hear this significant work. Something of a meditative alternative to the flurry of carols at this time of year. The piece is considered to be one of the great organ works of all time… and, certainly, best heard in a large cathedral with a suitable organ and acoustics.

We sat in the choir stalls – immediately below the cathedral organ – and, believe me, I don’t think I’ve ever FELT music in such a profound way before in my entire life! The volume of sound filling the huge, soaring spaces of the cathedral and, literally, ‘feeling’ the sound vibrate through one’s body.
Quite an experience and a lovely, hugely impressive, evening.
Photo: looking east from the Choir.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

some small heaven: advent walk…

This Advent I’ve been using Ian Adams’s excellent book “Some Small Heaven: Seeking Light in Winter”. It explores a path through Advent, Christmas and Epiphany and seeks to discover the light within the darkness of winter through a series of daily reflections.
Although I have indeed been using the book on a daily basis, I also decided to use it for an Advent Walk around Bristol – relating some of its words to places on my walk, to the people I encountered and to my own somewhat confused (and sometimes pretty bleak) thoughts during this festival period.

As Ian writes in his introduction: “Winter tests our hope and resolve… Some Small Heaven  seeks to discover the light within the darkness of winter – and within all our winters – to find some small heaven each day, even when life comes at us tough, hard and bleak”.
I undertook my walk around Bristol over the course of two days – with no particular planned route, but all the time endeavouring to relate ‘stop locations’ to places and situations I’d been reflecting upon in the book (I’m well aware that I’m posting this well before the end of the Advent, Christmas and Epiphany festivals, but I’ve read the entire book several times over the past couple of months!).

Here are just a few extracts (not exhaustive by any means) from Ian’s book - incidental lines that have particularly struck me in the course of my contemplations and the things that happening in my life (as a reminder to ME, the numbers relate to reflections in the book):
03: “In the valley of shadows you were fearful. You felt alone. Was anyone looking on you with favour?”
04: “You can feel overwhelmed by the hate in the world. By the bitterness. The cynicism.”
07: “Your breathing is hard. Fast. Erratic. You flail… Begin with the breath. Deep, long, slow. And a pause…”
08: “To speak tenderly to others first speak tenderly to yourself.”
09: “When the powerful manipulate the truth, when the powerless are exploited, and when we who seek good seem incapable of bringing change, where is hope?”
13: “It’s about choosing not to allow fear to shape you.”
15: “You keep looking down. And looking back… But you are looking in the wrong direction. Turning in a way that is sending you off balance.”
27: “Resolve to create more sacred space like this. To Listen, to explore, to allow the spirit of creativity to surface.”
30: “What if your task today is to see, and to bless?”
33: “Study the sky. Keep on looking up.”
35: “And if on this pilgrimage you are no more than a sign pointing towards the Love, this will be enough.”

I found my “Advent Walk” hugely valuable, insightful and, at times, quite surprising. As you might recall, I’ve undertaken a similar exercise in the form of a Bristol pilgrimage (adopting the pilgrimage format and reflections I used when I stayed on Iona for a couple of months in 2012). Unlike my ‘pilgrimage journeys’, undertaking a walk around my city in cold December meant that I generally kept on the move and didn’t sit and reflect for 30 minute periods(!), but nevertheless it worked very well.
I’d highly recommend Ian’s book (in fact, it can be read and used at any time, not just for Advent)… he wrote the reflections each day in real time in Advent, Christmas and Epiphany a couple of years ago – through his own challenges and experiences of that time. Powerful and beautiful.
Photo: I took photographs on my walk (surprise, surprise!) and have used some of them to compile a montage as a vague visual backdrop to my experiences.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

november-december 2017 books…

The Novel Habits Of Happiness (Alexander McCall Smith): Apparently, we’ve got 11 McCall Smith books on our shelves (I’ve just checked!), but this is the first one I’ve read (he’s one of Moira’s favourite authors). This one is “an Isabel Dalhousie novel”. For the first few chapters, I found myself asking “what’s the point of all this?” – it’s about a well-off, middle-class philosopher, living in Edinburgh, with a perfect husband and a well-behaved, equally perfect 3 year-old son… living an ideal, well-balanced life. But, during the course of the book (which raises questions of reincarnation, the nature of grief, squabbling academics… and more), I became drawn in and fascinated by the intelligent, moral curiosity and kindness of Dalhousie’s world.
Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone (JK Rowling): This is my first Harry Potter book (yes, really)… I’m reading it with the enthusiastic encouragement of certain grandchildren - who have long expressed sympathetic incredulity at what they see as a huge deficiency in my knowledge/life experiences! Well, I have to say that I think Joanne Rowling is a bit of a genius… incredibly inventive, funny, clever and, clearly, with a wonderful ability to conjure up memorable characters and thriller-like stories. I think she might do rather well! I enjoyed it a lot.
Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets (JK Rowling): My second Harry Potter book (see above!)… and another very good read. It even featured an old Ford Anglia car – owned by the Weasleys - identical to the very car in which I passed my driving test (we had a two-tone blue one with an intriguing Monte Carlo Rally sticker on one of the back windows!).
The Potter’s Hand (AN Wilson): Yes, I know… a lot of Potter-related stuff! This is a novel about Josiah Wedgewood and his family and, I’m afraid, I really do dislike this kind of historical fiction… with lots of made-up characters, ridiculous invented scenarios and imaginary conversations. Yes, it tells of a remarkable time in this country’s history – the industrial revolution, the scientific inventions, the coming together of men with very different skills that were to transform so many lives… but I would much have preferred to have read a history on the subject or a biography, rather than this long (over 500 pages) tale. Wilson (whose father was in fact Managing Director of Josiah Wedgewood and Sons) is obviously a gifted writer… but I’m afraid this book was definitely not for me (and don’t get me started about the totally made-up story of Blue Squirrel, a Cherokee woman who fell in love with Wedgewood’s nephew and who just happened to be an exquisite potter in her own right and who came over to England and played a leading role in the creation of Wedgewood’s ‘Portland Vase’ and married Wedgewood’s boatman on the canals… all utter tosh!!).  
Signs For Lost Children (Sarah Moss): This is the first of Moss’s novels I’ve read (I’d previously read “Names For The Sea” – a memoir about her time with her family spent in Iceland – a lovely book). This is a follow up to her novel “Bodies Of Light” – which, of course, I haven’t yet read (rather typical of my recent ‘out-of-order’ reading experiences!). It’s set in the 1880s and tells the story of a couple (Ally and Tom) embarking on married life in a white cottage in Cornwall… Idyllic, but Tom is soon given an opportunity to build lighthouses in Japan (an opening he feels he can’t turn down) and, meanwhile, Ally, a doctor, takes up a post at Truro Asylum. It’s only for six months (“letters only take a few weeks now”), but the pair have known each other barely longer than that. It’s a story of individual exploration for both of them but, with separation comes, new challenges, opportunities and realisations. It’s a great shame that I hadn’t initially appreciated that the first book even existed(!) and therefore feel that I missed out on knowing more about Ally’s background… although perhaps the lack of her background story meant that I was able to take both their lives more at face value? It’s a beautiful, powerful, sad-but-hopeful book which highlights (amongst other things) the role of women within the family – I thoroughly recommend it (and wonderfully, elegantly written). I now need to read the first book!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

film stars don’t die in liverpool…

I went along to the Watershed this afternoon to see Paul McGuigan’s “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool”. I didn’t have any real expectations of seeing a particularly good film… just that one or two friends/family members had mentioned that they’d heard ‘good reports’.
Well, I was wrong... I thought it was an absolutely lovely film.
Essentially, it’s a you-couldn’t-make-it-up true romance set in Los Angeles, New York, London and Liverpool in the late 1970s and early 80s and based on Peter Turner’s own memoir. It’s a remarkable, sweet, sad love story starring Annette Bening (as legendary Hollywood star Gloria Grahame) and Jamie Bell (as Turner).

As an unknown, struggling young actor in the late 70s, Turner met and fell in love with Grahame who, incredibly, was living in the same north London boarding house. With her Hollywood career seemingly behind her, she was looking for stage work in Britain and suppressing worries about her health. Despite their age difference (Turner was 28 years younger than Grahame – in fact, half her age), the pair had an on-off affair. Sometime after their fling ended, Turner received a phonecall to say that Grahame had collapsed in her dressing room while on tour in the UK, and had asked to come and stay with Peter and his family in Liverpool, convinced that she could recover there.
It would be unfair to go into further detail, so I’ll just say that it’s a tremendously warm and tender love story. I may be a soft/easy touch as far as these things are concerned, but it ticked an awful lot of boxes as far as I was concerned – pathos, humour, passion and exceptional acting. Both Bening and Bell were simply brilliant (and I really mean that!) – Oscars for each of them perhaps?
The soundtrack of music from that era also works perfectly – together with an apt new song (given recent Hollywood revelations/accusations?) by Elvis Costello entitled “You Shouldn’t Look at Me That Way”.
All in all, one of the very best films I’ve seen this year.
You DEFINITELY need to see it!

Monday, November 27, 2017

modigliani exhibition at tate modern…

I rather like the work of Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920).
As those who know me will realise… this is a bit of an understatement. I’ve had the exhibition dates in my diary since the start of the year and so it was a ‘bit special’ for Moira and me to make it to Tate Modern last Friday (just a day after the exhibition opened).
The exhibition certainly lived up to my expectations and there was something very special to be able to view over 100 of his well-known portraits (not forgetting the single landscape!).
For me, it perfectly captured the creative, bohemian atmosphere of Paris in those early years of the twentieth century… and, in particular, the vibrant arts ‘scene’ of Montmartre (Modigliani arrived there from Italy in 1906).  My only regret was in failing to book a virtual reality exploration of the artist’s life and the environment that inspired his work.
I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Modigliani’s work more or less in date sequence… and, in particular, how he concentrated for some two years on producing superb sculpted stone heads (six were exhibited at the Salon d’Automne in Paris in 1912 – the only substantial exhibition of his sculpture during his lifetime)… seeing them ‘up close’ was quite a revelation. Fascinating how their elongated form (and the numerous accompanying sketches he produced at this time) seemed to influence much of his subsequent portraits over the remaining eight years of his life.
Actually, I was wrong when I said “my only regret” about the exhibition… somewhat inevitably, perhaps six of my very favourite Modigliani portraits were missing (eg. a particular portrait of Zborowski; Portrait of Woman in Hat; Bride and Groom; Gypsy Woman with Baby; Madame Kisling; Portrait of a Woman in a Black Tie)… but, hey, the exhibition DID have a beautiful oil painting that I’d not previously seen (Nude Study, 1908) – either in books or via the internet.
I really did enjoy this exhibition and, as a result, will be continuing to read about Modigliani’s life and work over the coming the weeks and months.
Photo: Exhibition entrance, Tate Modern
PS: Very interesting to see the Edgar Degas (1834-1917) exhibition at The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge two days later... born in France and spent most of life working in Paris.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

touching turner’s treasures (again)…

You may recall me singing the praises of the Ashmolean Museum’s brilliant Print Room in Oxford at various times in the past… I’ve previously viewed works by Michelangelo, Raphael and Turner there.
Well, I made another trip there yesterday to see some more of Turner’s watercolours. The museum is fortunate to have been bequeathed large quantities of artwork from John Ruskin in 1861. I was originally going to look at the handful of watercolour sketches Turner did of Oxford but, having chatted to the wonderfully enthusiastic and efficient Katherine (I’d met her on my previous visits in 2011 and 2012), I decided, instead, to look at some of the watercolours he did in France in 1830 – on the Loire, in Orleans, Tours, Blois and the like – a total of 22 watercolours in total.
I spent very nearly an hour poring over these amazing pieces of work. Each of them quite small – none bigger than say 15x20cm – apparently undertaken quite quickly and yet containing amazing amounts of detail (Turner’s ability to ‘imply’ detail through his technical mastery is simply breath-taking at times). I’ve merely dabbled in watercolours in the past (enjoyably, but pretty unsuccessfully!), but taking time to study these works by Turner left me completely in awe.
A huge privilege and another truly magical, memorable experience.
Photo: Just two of the watercolours I actually handled yesterday: Amboise (left) and ‘The Bridge and Chateau at Amboise’ (right).
PS: The Print Room at the Ashmolean is open to “members of the public, students and visiting scholars alike for the study and enjoyment of drawings and prints from the collection” (quote from the print room brochure)… and it’s free.
PPS: Turner’s output makes my ‘One Day Like This’ project (posting a daily drawing/photograph on my blog) positively puny in comparison (not that I could possibly compare myself to HIM!). Over the past 5 years or so, I’ve posted some 950 sketches. Turner left over 19,000 sketches and watercolours in the “Turner Bequest”, hundreds of finished watercolours and well over 500 oil paintings. How on earth did he find the time (he virtually produced a ‘sketch’ EVERY day of his adult life – and this doesn’t allow for his “finished” paintings!)? Blimey.

Friday, November 17, 2017

the florida project…

Went to the Watershed this afternoon to see Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project”… about life ‘in America’s underbelly’ (as the Watershed’s blurb puts it). It tells the story of a spirited six year-old, her friends and single mother who ‘live’ in a depressing, garishly-painted, lilac motel outside Disney World in Orlando (one of many long-stay welfare places for transients and mortgage defaulters). The mother – impressively played by Bria Vinaite (a heavily tattooed first-time actor who Baker apparently found through Instagram, with a business selling weed-themed merchandise!) – spends most of the film swearing incessantly and desperately trying to come up with her weekly rent through a mixture of hawking Gucci knockoff perfumes to tourists and selling her body. Her life, it seems, is all about delusion and fear. Her six year-old daughter, Moonee – astonishingly played by Brooklynn Prince – is a feral child (alongside her fellow friends), able to do whatever she likes and go wherever she wants… and she too swears like a trooper throughout the film. Prince is unforced, humourous and entirely natural… and, for her, living next to a theme park, probably feels a little like living in paradise.
It’s wonderful. It’s funny. It’s powerfully impressive. It’s beautifully photographed… but it’s also very depressing and a sad reflection of the lives of some of those who find themselves on the very margins of society.
That’s not to say that everyone in such situations lives their lives in such a manner.

I knew I’d find the film depressing at times. I knew I’d spend much of the film wanting the ‘grown-ups’ to have some regard as to how and where their offspring were spending their days (it was the summer vacation). I knew I’d be amused at the antics of the children but, at the same time, horrified by their lack of respect and by their abusive, rude behaviour.
Both mother and daughter use the F-word incessantly. You just know right from the start that the family isn’t going to win the lottery and live happily ever after… and yet there is real affection between these two characters – they really do love each other.
You get a very strong feeling that the film is all about seeing things from a child’s point of view and, apparently, Baker insisted that the camera is at child’s eye level when children are being filmed… and this is very effective.
The film is fiction and yet you just know that such situations are being played out in countries throughout the world… and, tragically, you just KNOW that the daughter will inherit the mistakes and attitudes of the mother… and that her future is almost pre-destined. In such circumstances, sadly, life is often self-perpetuating.
A brilliant, very impressive, warm, compassionate - albeit somewhat depressing - film.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

up down man…

Tonight, Moira and I went to the Tobacco Factory Theatre to see Brendan Murray’s “Up Down Man” (the sequel to “Up Down Boy”) – a play about growing up and moving on… through the eyes of a twenty-nine year-old man, named Matty Butler (who has Down’s Syndrome) and his family.
Yesterday, I spent over an hour drawing students from the circus school, Circomedia as they practised handstands, cartwheels, back-flips and the like… and I was mesmerised by their sheer grace and elegance of movement.
Well, tonight was no different.
Nathan Bessell (who plays Matty Butler) is at the centre of this play at all times, and communicates so much through his movement and expression… and quite, quite beautifully.

“This is who I am – my name is Matty Butler. I’m not a child, I’m twenty nine years old. I like foxes, badgers, dancing, eating dinner, going bowling, Eastenders, dancing and foxes. I’d like to have a friend. Maybe Angel from Buffy. And we’d go on holiday and live together and have dinner and go dancing. I’m not a child you see. I’m twenty nine years old. My name is Matty Butler. This is who I am. And I like foxes.”

It’s a very powerful, yet simple, story.
In the play, Matty’s mother died six weeks ago. The family are trying to come terms with her death. People with Down’s Syndrome are now statistically living longer, but what happens when they outlive their parents? The job of a parent (especially a parent of a child who has a learning disability) is to prepare their child for a time when they will fly the nest. It’s a delicate balance… providing protection from some of the more difficult and painful parts of life, but also trusting them (where possible) with a level of independence… which might in turn lead them to getting hurt.
As you might imagine, as a grandparent of 11 year-old Mikey - who has Down’s Syndrome (and also autism) – this play is incredibly close to my heart.
The supporting cast are excellent: Arran Glass (Mr Fox/Musician); Emily Bowker (Darcy Butler, sister); Joe Hall (Martin Butler, father); Heather Williams (Odette Butler, mother); and Bryan Thomas (Jim).
It’s poignant and it’s sad, but it’s also funny, hugely hopeful and uplifting.
I thought it was just wonderful.
PS: It runs until Saturday 18 November… if you live in the Bristol area, I highly recommend it.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

ricky ross at st george’s…

When I grow up, I’m going to be a singer/songwriter and play a grand piano… just like Ricky Ross.
Last night, Chris and I went to see/hear Ross perform his songs, unaccompanied, for an hour and a half – just him and St George’s wonderful grand piano. Sadly, I can’t play ANY instrument and I certainly can’t sing very well… although I DO remember composing some stunning songs (believe me, they were wonderful!) whilst rocking grandchildren to sleep at various times. Unfortunately, they’re now lost in the mists of time.
The concert was simply brilliant.
I just love the sound of a single voice and a piano together. I’ve been listening to a lot of Ross’s music over recent weeks (his “Short Stories, Volume 1” is simply brilliant in my view) and they’ve provided a perfect musical accompaniment and resonance for the various things I’ve been undertaking recently… and, perhaps, also for my day-to-day reflections on stuff that is happening in the wider world.
Last night was a perfect combination: profound, evocative, sad, uplifting, powerful… and hauntingly beautiful melodies.
A really wonderful concert (best of the year?).
Photo: photograph from last night’s concert.

Monday, November 06, 2017

tax avoidance, off-shore tax havens and the like…

Today, in newspapers and websites, we read about a huge leak of financial documents which reveal how the powerful and ultra-wealthy (including the Queen’s private estate) secretly invest vast amounts of cash in offshore tax havens… Many of the stories focus on how politicians, multinationals, celebrities and ‘high-net-worth’ individuals (including people who are significant donors to political parties) use complex structures of trusts, foundations and shell companies to protect their cash from tax officials or hide their dealings behind a veil of secrecy.
Oh, what a surprise!
And, of course, to complicate things a little further, we keep hearing reports that our own government is considering making the UK some form of tax haven to offset lost revenue in the light of Brexit. Last March, for example, it appeared that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor were warning the EU that (according to a report in the Guardian) if they don’t like the Brexit deal, they could turn the UK into a tax haven”. Not In My Name!

The trouble is (and, clearly, I’m no financial expert)(slight understatement!) that, over the years, we’ve consistently been told (by both major UK political parties) that there would crackdowns on tax avoidance, offshore tax havens, unacceptable banking practices and the like… and, consistently, over the years, nothing really seems to change.
At the end of last month, for example (I posted a link via facebook at the time), there was a report that five offshore PFI companies (Private Finance Initiatives) had paid little or no corporation tax over the past five years, despite making profits of nearly £2billion. Education and health projects, including schools and hospitals, account for two-thirds of the purchases by offshore companies. So, while our taxes are paying for our schools and hospitals, the PFI companies are clearly profiting and paying no UK tax!
I’ve just spent a few minutes checking back on finance-related stuff that I’d posted on this blog and (I won’t bore you with the details) and this is something I’ve consistently moaned about. For example:
Meltdown (Sep 2008); Financial speculation (Oct 2008); Poverty (Oct 2008); Financial crisis (Nov 2011); Greed (Nov 2011); Public Sector (Nov 2011); Bankers (Feb 2012); Greed, incompetence+dishonesty (June 2012); Banks (July 2012); Libor (July 2012); Protest (Jun 2013)… I could go on (and on!).
Nothing ever seems to change.
It all seems to be about greed; about influence; about the haves and the have-nots; about ‘clever’ people doing things with their money to make yet more money (and often, completely legally); about vested interest; about political lobbyists; about ‘me’ not ‘us’; about political ideology.
I’m about to read a book by my great friend, Ian Adams, entitled “Some Small Heaven(Seeking Light in Winter)”… it’s a book for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. The introduction talks about the winter testing our hope and our resolve. He talks about ‘feeling’ the encroaching darkness of winter and about his stability being tested… and about yearning for a light to come. In a strange way, it seems to be a metaphor for how I’m feeling when I come across things like this depressing report of leaked financial documents.
I need to seek the light amongst this darkness… but I think it’ll continue to be a very difficult and depressing journey.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

BOX-E, gaol ferry steps…

For the second time, Moira and I enjoyed a wonderful meal at BOX-E. The restaurant is housed in two shipping containers that form part of the thriving Cargo development at Gaol Ferry Steps in Bristol.
It’s quite small… they have just 14 seats in their restaurant, but it’s an amazing place – run by two quite exceptional people (Tess and Elliott)… booking is essential.
The Guardian’s Jay Rayner is also clearly also a fan: “It’s the sense of people doing the thing they love their way, by finding an environment in which to make it work”. Chef Elliott Lidstone was formerly head chef of the Michelin-starred L'Ortolan… and then spent four years at the Empress in East London, earning himself two AA rosettes and a Michelin Bib Gourmand… you do.
I really can’t commend the food (and the service and the wine!) highly enough.
If you’ve already been there, then you’ll know… but if you haven’t, then you need to do it!
Photo: from the BOX-E website (check out the website – that’s very good too!)
PS: Our wedding anniversary is 30 December and, with all the food and general indulgence of the Christmas period, going out for a celebratory anniversary meal never seems particularly appropriate. As a result, over the years, we’ve tended to mark the ‘start’ of our time together – 31 October 1969. So last night’s meal was in grateful celebration of having been together for 48 years (cripes!).
PPS: Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite a case of “all we need is music, sweet music… there’ll be music everywhere… they’ll be swinging, swaying, records playing… dancing in the street” on our way home. Moira twisted her ankle coming downstairs from the restaurant!

Friday, November 03, 2017

october-november 2017 books…

SF Barnes – Master Bowler (Leslie Duckworth): This is the second time I’ve read this book (published in 1967) – I bought it in a jumble sale several years ago. Syd Barnes, professional cricketer, was born in Smethwick in 1873 (just a few miles from where I was brought up in Handsworth) and is regarded as one of the greatest ever bowlers. In my youth, I think one of the things that attracted me to following his cricket career was the fact that he had been a leg-spin bowler – or so I thought (I was a leg-spinner too, hence my interest). I subsequently discovered that although, yes, he bowled leg-breaks… he also bowled off-breaks, could swing the ball both ways and actually varied his pace from medium to fast-medium (so, not like my gentle slow stuff at all!). Despite his very long career as a top class player – he played his last competitive game aged 67(!) – he only spent some two seasons in first class cricket (for Warwickshire and Lancashire). He preferred to make his living playing league and minor counties cricket. He did however also play 27 Test Matches for England between 1901 and 1914, taking 189 wickets at a staggering 16.43 runs each (including a world series record of 49 wickets against South Africa in his final Test series in 1913-14). In league and club cricket, between 1895 and 1940, he took a mere 4,069 wickets at an incredible 6.08 runs each! Some people accused him of being “grim and unresponsive” but Duckworth’s book makes it very clear that, despite his little idiosyncrasies, he was well-liked by his fellow players and the public alike. A fascinating book (if you’re a cricket-lover!).
Eating Pomegranates (Sarah Gabriel): This is a remarkable book (first published in 2009 and a chance purchase at Bristol’s beloved Last Bookshop). Sarah Gabriel was a teenager when her mother died from ovarian cancer (aged just 42). When Gabriel was 44, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and learned that she had inherited a rare and deadly genetic mutation (BRCA1 gene – responsible for the death of her mother and countless female ancestors). Within a year, Gabriel had lost her breasts, her ovaries, her hair and was fighting for her life… and fighting for a way to prevent her two daughters, aged five and three, from growing up motherless. The book is a memoir of mothers, daughters and genes. It’s a beautiful, but often raw and angry book. Sometimes resentful (“why me?”); sometimes making harsh comments about acquaintances and family members… and about people’s insensitive comments; missing her own mother (and her mother’s presence during Gabriel’s illness); needing to speak about her mother and to understand the final days of her mother’s illness. But, crucially, it’s an honest, brave and frank book. As far as I know, Gabriel is still alive (very good news!). Beautifully written. Heartrending. As a mere male, I felt almost privileged to read it. Certainly one of the most powerful books I’ve read all year.  
Things The Grandchildren Should Know (Mark Oliver Everett): Another book picked up at the Last Bookshop. I’m not ‘into’ books by musicians but, as you know, I do like a good autobiography. Well, sadly, this isn’t a particularly good autobiography. I’m not a huge Eels music fan, but I do like some of Everett’s work. The book (published in 2008) tells of his difficult home life; how he survived the deaths of his entire family: and how he managed to make something of his life. Frankly, I found it all a bit pretentious – as an example, the penultimate chapter contains the following somewhat pathetic sentence: “Just living another day has always felt like some sort of success to me”… well, good for you! Actually, one of the reasons I bought the book in the first place was this description inside the back cover: “Mark Oliver Everett is an ordained minister and alternative rock star”… I didn’t know he was an ordained minister and so was intrigued how this had come about. Strangely, although the book contains various comments about not believing in God, there’s absolutely nothing about his life as a minister!
The Greatcoat (Helen Dunmore): This is a ghost story (which, somewhat ironically, I finished on Halloween!)(it also happened to be published by Hammer!), set in 1952, about a young woman – recently married to a country GP – who one night, when her husband is on call, is startled by the face of a young RAF pilot at the window. There used to be a near-by airfield used in the war… where a maimed Lancaster bomber crashed on landing, killing all on board… I won’t bother to go into details, but you get the general idea! Having previously read one of Dunmore’s books (and enjoyed it), I was intrigued at the prospect of reading another. I was sadly disappointed.
Cardus On Cricket (Neville Cardus): Sorry, another cricket book! This book was first published in 1949 (Rupert Hart-Davis’s introduction was written a month before my birth!) – my copy was published in 1951. It’s a compilation of Cardus’s writings from between 1922 and 1937 – indeed, a few from “Days In The Sun” and “The Summer Game”, which I’ve recently read (and reviewed). Hart-Davis was perhaps correct in saying that Cardus’s early pieces seemed to him “flowery and overwritten” but, nevertheless, I find them both wonderfully evocative and illuminating. I particularly liked his piece about Don Bradman, written in 1930 (when Bradman was 22): “And now that a Bradman has come to us, capable of 300 runs in a single day of a Test match, some of us are calling him a Lindrum of cricket. It is a hard world to please. Perhaps by making a duck some day, Bradman will oblige those of his critics who believe with Lord Bacon that there should always be some strangeness, something unexpected, mingled with art and beauty”. Of course (as all cricket-lovers will know), Bradman DID score a duck in his final Test match innings, at the Oval in 1948 -  if he’d scored a mere 4 runs in that innings, he would have finished with Test average of over 100 runs per innings (as it was, he finished on 99.94). Another very enjoyable read.