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Consolations (David Whyte): Having recently read Whyte’s
“Essentials”, I decided to read this earlier book of his (published in 2019).
He describes it as “the solace, nourishment and underlying meaning of everyday
words” and the book consists of a series of mini-essays on these words (52 of
them – with one word titles such as: ‘Anger’, ‘Denial’, ‘Memory’ and ‘Regret’).
I read two of them out loud to myself very early each morning… and found that
they provided a wonderful start to the structure and rhythm of the new day. I
found it a powerful, thought-provoking, very beautiful book. I know I’ll keep
‘dipping into it’ over the coming years.
The Instant (Amy Liptrot): I was hugely impressed by Liptrot’s
first book (“The Outrun”) – in which the then 30 year-old author finds herself
‘washed up’ back home on Orkney after a previous ten years had seen her leaving
the island, ending up in London and started a downward spiral of hellish
alcohol addiction. I thought it was an incredibly brave, eloquent and hopeful
book… and was intrigued to discover what she came up with for her follow-up
book. She ends up leaving the isolation of Orkney Island and books a one-way flight
to Berlin on a whim… looking for new challenges, work, love (and sex!) via the
screen on her phone. She ends up staying in Berlin for a year… encountering the
city’s wildlife, tracing cycles of the moon, the flight paths of migratory
birds and “surrendering to the addictive power of love and lust”. She ends up
falling passionately in love with a German man (and her feelings are duly
reciprocated). Life is magically wonderful and, then, with no warning he leaves
her… and she is utterly devastated. The second half of the book is something of
a manic appraisal of what went wrong and how and why… which, for me, I found a
little tiresome at times (who me?). Having said that, I thought it was a brutally
honest and poignant account of connection and disconnection in the digital age.
*Spoiler Alert*: the epilogue, written 4 years later, finds her with a new
partner and her baby… and with the ability to reflect on the healing that has
taken place after all the hurt.
The Old Man And The Sea (Ernest
Hemingway): This is
our next Blokes’ Book… I first read it (published in 1952) a couple of years
ago after watching a TV documentary about the author. It tells the story of an
old Cuban fisherman; life has rather worn him down and yet he still dreams.
Lately, the old man has endured 84 days without a catch (and much ridicule
among his fellow fishermen)… but, today, will be HIS day. He eventually,
single-handedly, catches an enormous fish (‘18ft from nose to tail’) but, in
bringing home his trophy (tied to the side of his old skiff) numerous sharks
attack and feast on the fish’s flesh – leaving him with just the skeleton of
his ‘catch’ to bear witness to his exploits. He ends up winning the battle, but
losing the prize. Poignant, powerful and profound.
The Driver’s Seat (Muriel Spark): Reading Spark’s “The Prime Of Miss Jean
Brodie” last month made me realise that I’d not previously read any other of
her books (and we have a number on our bookshelves!)… so I felt I had some
catching up to do. This short novel (published in 1970) is something of a
psychological thriller - by the third chapter, it’s revealed that the principal
character, 36 year-old Lise, will be murdered. Lise has been driven to
distraction by working in the same accountants' office for sixteen years and so
decides to leave everything behind her and transforms herself into a laughing,
garishly-dressed temptress and flies abroad on the holiday of a lifetime (it’s
eventually revealed that she’s suffered years of illness; she behaves
erratically and often confrontationally, and wears garish clothing). But her
search for adventure, sex and new experiences takes on a far darker
significance as she flies off on a journey of self-destruction, ostensibly to
meet her illusory boyfriend. Spark’s writing is quite brilliant – sparse and
compelling – and captures what I suppose could be described as the “extravagant
madness” of the woman hugely effectively. Impressive.
A Murder Of Quality (John Le Carré): Published in 1962 (Le Carré’s second
novel), this is a George Smiley murder investigation… apparently, it’s Le
Carré’s only Smiley book set outside the espionage community. It’s set in a public
school “one of the Great Schools… where the rich send their sons to be
instructed”. The wife of one of the school’s junior masters writes to the
editor of the small ‘Christian Voice’ newspaper asking for help because she
fears her husband intends to kill her. The concerned editor consults her former
colleague from the war-time secret service, the retired agent George Smiley…
but, of course, by this time, the woman has indeed been murdered. It’s a short
novel focussing on the post-Second World War class divisions and the big gap
between the Town and Gown which
seems to prevent the police investigating the murder fully. The
recently-retired Smiley offers to help out by making his own discreet
enquiries. I enjoyed it… predictably clever and intriguing!
My week of
culture continued last night when I went along to St George’s, Bristol again –
this time to see/hear Bristol’s impressive Metropolitan Orchestra. My great
friend Ed plays the horn… he’s third from the left in the back-but-one row in
the photograph (click on the image to enlarge).
lovely to hear a full orchestra in good ‘voice’… SO impressive.
with an orchestra of some 60 players, they can almost guarantee that each
player will bring along a couple of guests… which, in turn, more or less
ensures of full house (which it was).
night’s programme included: Tchaikovsky’s
Symphony No. 4 (not my favourite Tchaikovsky symphony, but hey); Mozart’s Flute
Concerto; Smetana’s Vltava (The Moldau);
A really lovely evening.
Photo: the orchestra from my ‘usual’
seat in the gallery.
I went to the Three Cane Whale concert at St George’s, Bristol. I think I’ve
seen them/Paul Bradley perhaps ten times over the past 10 years. They really
are an extraordinary, ridiculously-talented group of musicians (and very nice
like to associate their music with ‘Place’ and have recorded a number of their
pieces ‘on location’ – in barns, old chapels, on hillsides and even next to
main roads (A303 being one example!).
musicians (Alex Vann, Pete Judge and Paul Bradley) play an incredible, eclectic
range of instruments – last night, I counted thirteen of them!!
came across the band in December 2013 when I was part of a pop-up Christmas
shop at The Architecture Centre here in Bristol… heard their (beautiful) song
“Sluice” and listed it in my top music of the year blog reflections. Within a
matter of minutes of posting my list, my lovely friend Mark Louden had posted
the following message: “So glad you like Three Cane Whale. My dear old friend
Paul Bradley is one of the three. You should listen to the amazing Bristol
Kitchen Radio podcast which he and his fabulous wife Ellen Hughes do from their
house in Redlands. Always featured an improvised song or two from Paul”.
wife Ellen, Moira and I were part of our ‘Foundation’ church community at the
time. Last night’s concert was the first Three Cane Whale concert I’ve attended
since Mark’s sad death a couple of years ago. I duly raised my glass to them
last night. Special memories, special man. I chatted briefly to Paul at the end
of the concert and he pointed out that his and Mark’s friendship went back to
Last night’s concert – in the perfect
venue - was quite exceptional… brilliant, beautiful, intricate, uplifting and
Photo: from last night’s concert.
PS: This YouTube clip gives a flavour
of their music.
PPS: Last night’s support band, ‘Firelight
Trio’, were also excellent… my one criticism was that they went on for perhaps
two songs too long!
seeing a trailer for this film at the Watershed last week, I decided that it
might be the perfect antidote to the somewhat depressing ‘goings-on’ in the
world at the present time.
Choyning Dorji’s film “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom” is about a disillusioned
teacher in his final fifth year of mandatory government service who is sent to
a remote Himalayan school (an eight-day hike from the nearest bus stop).
musician Ugyen (Sherab Dorji) has one eye on a new life in Australia. In his
teaching role, he has distinguished himself with his lack of motivation and
little else. To his surprise, he ends up engaging with tradition, yaks and a class
full of bright-eyed, keen pupils. The villages tell him that being a teacher is
a wonderful thing “because a teacher touches the future” (perhaps someone
should tell the UK government?).
ridiculously heartwarming, staggeringly photogenic film… yes, unashamedly
sentimental, but absolutely perfect (for me) and I loved it.
I think you should treat yourself!
PS: This from a recent article in TheGuardian (big thanks to Sarah for highlighting): “One standout performance is
from a nine-year-old village girl, Pem Zam. In life, as in the film, she is the
daughter of an alcoholic father, raised by her grandmother after her mother’s
death”. The film’s director was determined to save her from the usual fate of
local children, which was to quit school at 11 or 12 to become yak herders. Pem
Zam, who is now a teenager, was recently accepted by one of Bhutan’s most
The Seven Moons Of Maali Almeida
(Shehan Karunatilaka): Right,
this is a FIRST. Once I’ve started a book, I ALWAYS finish it… but I’m afraid
that, this time (despite the fact that the book only went and won the 2022
Booker Prize, for goodness sake!!), I gave up. The book is set amid the
murderous mayhem of the civil war in Sri Lanka, 1990. Maali Ameida, war
photographer, has woken up dead and his dismembered body is sinking into a lake
and he has no idea how he died. In the afterlife, he has seven moons to try to
contact his beloved friends and lead them to a hidden cache of photos that will
rock the country. It’s quite a long book and simply broken down into seven
sections (one for each moon)… I yearned for short(ish) chapters to help digest
what I was reading. It’s
an energetic and hugely imaginative satire but, frankly, it was all too much
for me (perhaps just beyond me intellectually?) and I gave up after the first
moon (84 pages), feeling somewhat confused, bewildered and something of a
Essentials (David Whyte): Alice gave me this book of poetry+words
(she thought that if I liked Mary Oliver, then I’d like David Whyte – and how
right she was!) and I’ve been slowly working my way through it, reading 2 or 3
poems each morning (out loud… to myself!). I’d not previously come across
Whyte’s work, but his voice has really resonated with me. He’s an Anglo-Irish
poet and we’re of a similar age (ok, well, he’s 7 years younger!) and, I think,
we share a similar philosophy of life. I loved his poetry and his words… and
also that the book included brief comments about the context/background of how
he came to write each of the pieces. I loved it… and have ordered another book
of his (‘Consolation’) to continue the exploration.
Glory (NoViolet Bulawayo): The author, NoViolet Bulawayo (I just LOVE her name!), grew up in Zimbabwe.
Apparently, she first attempted to write about Zimbabwe’s November 2017 coup
and the fall of Robert Mugabe in nonfiction, but ended up deciding to go down
the political satire route – hence this book. Inspired by George Orwell’s
Animal Farm, ‘Glory’ is set in the animal kingdom of Jidada. After a 40-year
rule, the “Old Horse” is ousted in a coup, along with his much-despised wife, a
donkey named Marvellous. At first there is great rejoicing and hope for change
under a new ruling horse (the former vice-president turned rival of Old Horse).
But hope soon vanishes and into the period of post-coup despair steps a young
goat named Destiny, who returns from exile to bear witness to a land where
greed, corruption and false prophets are rampant. It took me some time to get
properly ‘into’ this book (it’s 400 pages long)(shortlisted for the Booker
Prize 2022) but, once I’d done so, I found it incredibly powerful and quite
Animal Farm (George Orwell): I first read this book (first
published 1945) ages ago - long before I ever blogged ‘reviews’ – but, after
reading ‘Glory’, I thought it was time for a re-read. You’re probably well aware of the
story: a farm is taken over by its overworked, mistreated animals. With fiery
idealism and stirring slogans, they set out to create a paradise of progress,
justice, and equality. This wonderful, satirical book (now nearly 80 years old)
records the evolution from revolution against tyranny and, in turn, the
devastating converse. The book includes the famous words: “All animals are
equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. Times might have changed,
but the message is still powerfully fresh. Quite brilliant.
The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie (Muriel
Spark): This is our
latest Storysmith book group book (the theme is a non-English British book!).
Published in 1961 and set, initially, in the early 1930s, it recounts the
exploits of an unconventional, maverick schoolmistress and her free-thinking
ideas at a time when the schoolmistress, Jean Brodie, described herself as
being in her “prime”. At first, her mysterious glamour and charm dazzle and
seduce her girls (they were a set of six: Sandy, Rose, Mary, Jenny, Monica, and
Eunice) – “the crème de la crème” – at an Edinburgh school. “Give me a girl at
an impressionable age,” she boasts, “and she is mine for life.” Throughout this
time the Headmistress is endeavouring to force Miss Brodie out of the school
(because of her unconventional teaching methods and attitudes), but Miss Brodie
remains defiant. The set remained together under Miss Brodie during their early
teenage years but, gradually, the sense of obsession and obedience begins to
fade as the girls mature and, ultimately end in her downfall/betrayal. I can’t
quite believe I’ve not read it before now (and only seen snippets of the film)…
but I thought it was rather wonderful. Beautifully-written, very funny but also
poignant and intriguing.
along to the Watershed this afternoon to see Hirokazu Kore-eda’s film “Broker”.
It’s set in Korea and inspired by the Korean phenomenon of ‘baby boxes’ put out
by churches for unwanted newborns (I’d never heard about these ‘baby boxes’
before seeing the film). Korean
actor Song Kang-ho plays a volunteer at a local church that has one of these
boxes - but, in reality, he is running a
‘broker’ scam: occasionally he steals a newborn for himself – erasing the
church’s CCTV footage that prove a baby was left there – and offers it for sale
on the adoption black market, with potential couples lined up by his partner.
falls apart when one of the mothers named, played by Lee-Ji-eun, returns to the
church to get her baby back, stumbling onto the operation. Detectives are also
on the case… it’s complicated, but I’ll leave it there.
surprisingly(?), the film turns out to be something of a ‘feel good’ road movie
two lovable, flawed men who are apparently romantics at heart.
Watershed’s blurb describes it as “heartwarming, funny and moving; a film of
gentle humanity and great warmth”. However, the Guardian’s critic, Peter
Bradshaw, has a slightly different view and sums it up thus (in his 2-star
review): “A sudsy road-movie heartwarmer set in Korea… fundamentally silly,
with tiringly shallow characterisation and broad streaks of crime-drama
intrigue, which only underline the fact that not a single word of it is really
while I usually rate Bradshaw’s opinions very highly but, on this occasion, I
think his verdict is somewhat harsh. I found the film very watchable and I
warmed to the characters (despite their flaws). Yes, a difficult subject and, yes, the plot is somewhat
far-fetched and, yes, the two blokes were trying to earn money for crimes which
involved black market adoptions of newborn infants… but I enjoyed the lighter
moments (and there were several).
I actually thought it was very enjoyable and quite
charming… sorry Peter!
searching through what we laughingly refer to as our filing system (somewhat
predictably, I was unable to trace the actual document I was seeking!), I came
across a quite brilliant
supplement entitled ‘Citizen Ethics in a Time of Crisis’. It was published in
2010, exactly 13 years ago this week, by the Guardian newspaper (in conjunction
with Citizens Ethics Network, Barrow Cadbury and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable
Trust). In it, a number of prominent thinkers – philosophers, politicians,
economists, theologians and writers – considered how the financial and
political events of the previous year (ie. the sense of outrage following such
matters as the Banking crisis, Bankers’ bonuses and the MPs’ expenses scandal) had
given rise to a crisis of ethics… although it’s interesting that the document
relates to “Citizen Ethics” (not politicians’ ethics).
I was so taken by the document that I’d
sent away for a copy of 60-page bound version.
re-reading much of it this morning and it makes for fascinating reflection…
especially at this time of a ‘Cost of Living Crisis’, an ‘Energy Crisis’, attitudes
towards migration (and refugees) – not to mention (but I will) the dishonesty/lack
of integrity of some senior politicians; allegations of sexual misconduct
against dozens of MPs; allegations of ‘irregular’ PPE funding during the
pandemic, Brexit, Climate Crisis… actually, the list goes on and on).
It speaks about how self-interest and
calculation have derailed our values.
document’s articles asked some crucial questions (dozens and dozens of them) –
that are JUST as relevant today as they were 13 years ago. Here are just a few
How little has changed in the past 13
years… and, sadly, I suspect things won’t change in my lifetime.
- Do we leave
it to the market to distribute riches or must the state intervene to ensure
more justice than market mechanisms have achieved over the last 25 years?
- We have
looked into the abyss where individualism is concerned and we know it won’t do.
- We have
lacked a language to respond. How are we to articulate our misgivings? How can
we regain our ability to reason ethically?
- It is not a
manifesto, it is an argument we have left derelict, a crucial public concern.
- We need a
public life with a purpose.
- A promising
measure would be to grant all adults a basic income, leaving it to them to
decide how to work. This would make part-time work viable for many.
value is shorthand for doing whatever it takes to pump up the stock price.
- What human
beings most desire is not material wealth, but social recognition.
- That the
economy should meet human needs means we have to focus on needs, not wants.
- London and
Westminster, the twin epicentres of power, feel as rotten as Rome under
must come from the people.
- The ethical
human being has a need for meaning in order to sustain a sense of aspiration.