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!

Friday, May 19, 2017


I went along to the Watershed this afternoon to see Francois Ozon’s “sumptuous period piece set in the aftermath of WW1, where a young woman forms an unlikely bond with a man she encounters at her late fiancé’s grave” (as the Watershed’s blurb puts it).
In a small German town after the end of the war, Anna (beautifully played by the beautiful Paula Beer) mourns daily at the grave of her fiancé, who was killed in battle. One day a mysterious young Frenchman Adrien (again, very well played by Pierre Niney) also lays flowers on the grave… and the pair embark on a friendship – in which Anna finds some solace in memories of her beloved.
That’s all I’m saying… you need to see the film!
This largely black-and-white film is apparently a loose adaptation of the 1932 Ernst Lubitsch drama Broken Lullaby, which was in turn based on a play by French playwright Maurice Rostand – although Ozon has written his own new second half of the story.
The film is part-romance, part anti-war and highlights the struggles, sufferings and reactions of people from both sides (in this case, German and French). The film also highlights the rise of nationalism in Germany immediately after the first world war – a theme which has been echoed recently with a rise of nationalism in Europe generally (eg. Marine Le Pen’s far-right party gaining popular support in France; UKIP’s voice in the depressing Brexit vote… and some politicians calling for a return to borders).
It’s a powerful film about remembrance, love… and the pain (some would say ‘futility’) of war.
I very much enjoyed it (and was completely captivated by Paula Beer’s portrayal of Anna!).
PS: My enjoyment of the film was somewhat marred by the two loud-mouthed, elderly (my age!), ‘posh’ ladies sitting immediately behind me - who insisted on commenting on what was happening on screen in ‘stage whispers’ throughout the film – DESPITE me twice turning round and giving them my ‘look’!!

Monday, May 15, 2017

southbank bristol arts trail 2017 at number40

Last weekend saw the 15th SouthBank Bristol Arts Trail… and, as it was our 14th consecutive SBA Trail, I suspect that we’re now its longest serving participants. We’re perhaps fortunate that our house is located relatively close to the Southville Centre (one of the largest venues on the Trail) and therefore has acquired a fair amount of “passing trade” over the years - but actually, as an established venue, we now enjoy something of a reputation of being a ‘venue worth visiting’ and have the privilege of welcoming  returning ‘punters’ year after year and it’s always a delight to see them. But we’re also very fortunate to be able to attract plenty of new visitors too.
We didn’t count the number of people visiting this year but, by common consent (based on previous years), we certainly had some 700 plus ‘punters’ into our basement studio over the weekend (the weather was very kind to us yet again).
It’s very much a ‘family affair’ at number40 – this year (as is often the case) we had five family members exhibiting (Moira, Hannah, Ruth, Stuart and me – plus Iris and Rosa, who decided to make cakes!) together with our lovely arty friends Wendy, Georgie+Alex from Pirrip Press and Paul Ashley Brown.
Each year, it’s a bit of a challenge (something of an understatement!) to clear the basement of its usual studio clutter - and to transfer it all to the dining room! There are certainly times when we wonder if it’s all worthwhile… and yet, every year, we end up feeling grateful to have been part of it again.
I have to admit that there are times when I feel that Bristol has reached saturation point as far as Arts Trails are concerned (the SouthBank Trail is the city’s second longest-running trail, I think) – especially as it seems that some artists like to participate in perhaps four or five of the trails(!)… but, hey, these things go through various reincarnations over the years. Each year, there’s always a doubt as to whether the event will happen… will there be sufficient people prepared to help organise? I was part of the steering group for perhaps 10 years, so it’s DEFINITELY an event crying out for fresh blood every year!
There is a tremendous sense of community about the Arts Trail… over 150 artists in more than 50 venues within a HALF MILE radius!!
That’s SOME artistic community!
Fingers crossed for next year…
Photograph: various stuff from this year’s Arts Trail at number40.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

richard murphy at the arnolfini…

Marcus and I went along to the Arnolfini last night to hear architect Richard Murphy talk about the work of his Edinburgh practice - with particularly emphasis on the house he designed for himself at Hart Street, Edinburgh… which won the RIBA’s ‘House of the Year’ award in 2016.
The evening, organised by The Architecture Centre, in association the Bristol+Bath Branch of the RIBA, was attended by a near-capacity audience and Murphy proved to be an entertaining, engaging speaker.
The award-winning house acts as a 'bookend' to the adjoining terrace of Hart Street houses. The roof made mostly of glass with inset photovoltaic cells is designed both to ensure daylight to the adjacent basement flat on Forth Street and also to act as a major collector of solar energy. Inside the roof are a number of insulated shutters which are capable of closing when the roof is in net heat loss mode and opening when there is a net heat gain.

For me, one of the house’s most impressive features was its ability to maximise daylight but also, when required, to be somewhere to hunker down – or as Murphy described it (citing Dutch architect Aldo van Eyck - who’d said that a house should be both “a bird’s nest and a cave, an extrovert place in summer and a retreat in winter”): “In Edinburgh, we can have 20 hours of daylight a day or six; the house needs to close down as much as open up”.
Murphy’s practice made a simple video which shows some of the house’s features – it’s only 6 minutes long and well worth watching.
A very good evening and a very impressive architect.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

tartuffe at the tobacco factory theatre…

Moira and I went along to the Tobacco Factory Theatre last night to see Andrew Hilton’s and Dominic Power’s adaptation of Moliere’s “Tartuffe” (first performed some 350 years ago) as part of the annual “Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory” season (yes, I know, Moliere isn’t Shakespeare!). It’s a complete reinvention of the play which follows Moliere’s pattern of using rhyming couplets (somewhat awkwardly at times for my liking), but set in today’s world of fake news and political uncertainty(!).
Moliere’s original ’victim’ character, Orgon, is here transformed into a gullible government minister Charles Ogden - played in Yes Minister mode by Christopher Bianchi - who is fooled into bequeathing his family fortune (and almost his wife and daughter) to Tartuffe, played by Mark Meadows, as some sort of present-day cultural guru – whose greed and ideology is capable of destroying lives for his own ends. I wasn’t entirely convinced that the family could have been naïve enough to allow the Tartuffe character to live in their house rent free (and meals provided) for as long as he did… but, hey!
A very enjoyable, entertaining evening (although, at times, I felt the play verged on becoming too farcical). I particularly enjoyed the performance of the Polish maidservant, Danuta (yes, they even included an EU migrant worker!), played by Anna Elijasz (Polish herself and who trained at the State Academy in Warsaw).
It seems like an awful long time since we last went to the Tobacco Factory Theatre (a couple of years perhaps?)… we’ll be back again soon. Promise.