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.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

ligeti quartet at saint stephen’s…

A quite extraordinary evening yesterday at Saint Stephen’s, Bristol… a concert by a string quartet who are at the forefront of modern and contemporary music since their formation in 2010. I hadn’t come across their music before last night, but was aware (from the Ligeti Quartet website) that they’d “established a reputation as one of the UK’s leading ensembles, breaking new ground through innovative programming and championing of today’s most exciting composers and artists”.
They didn’t disappoint!
The evening featured works from JS Bach (with arrangements by Harrison Birtwistle, born 1934); Sofia Gubaidulina, b 1931; Igor Stravinsky; Anton Webern; Stef Conner, b 1983; Arthur Keegan-Bole, b 1986; George Nicholson, b 1949; and Georg Friedrich Haas, b 1953.

I have to say, they were pretty amazing – stunning musicianship (both individually and collectively), avant-garde, edgy, passionate… playing complex works which required huge trust between each musician and yet demanded confidence and flair to pull it off effectively.
The Quartet have played landmark venues across the world, including Carnegie Hall, Curtis Institute, Wigmore Hall, Purcell Room, Barbican Hall and Kings Place (as well as a fishing boat, theatres and pubs!).
What I particularly love about this young group of highly-talented musicians is that they are themselves passionate about supporting emerging composers and taking new music to diverse audiences – they’ve commissioned many new works and have collaborated with artists from all types of musical backgrounds.

The concert’s final piece (String Quartet no.2, 1998 by Haas) was particularly remarkable. The programme notes (which I didn’t read fully until after the performance) give an indication of the composer’s intentions: “Haas is one of the best known composers of ‘spectral’ music – music which expands the spectrum of sound that exists inside one pitch… performers and listeners are invited to explore the space between familiar sounds and more unfamiliar, almost alien textures… all at once we hear a juxtaposition of perfectly pure resonances and more abrasive microtonal inflections”.
All I can say is that the resulting performance was something exceptional – I’d certainly never heard anything quite like it… incredibly impressive.
A VERY special evening.
PS: Ligeti Quartet comprises: Mandhira de Saram (violin 1), Patrick Dawkins (violin 2), Richard Jones (viola) and Val Welbanks (cello) – they’re graduates from the Royal Academy of Music, Royal College of Music and the University of Oxford.
Photo: credit: Cathy Pyle (note: I didn’t take any of my own photographs last night – there was a young photographer ‘in action’ and I certainly didn’t want to tread on his toes!).

Monday, October 23, 2017

the death of stalin…

Moira and I went along to the Watershed this afternoon to see Armando Iannucci’s “The Death of Stalin” - based on Fabien Nury’s graphic novel. The film paints a black-humour picture of Stalin’s sudden death in 1953 (in somewhat mysterious circumstances), following a cerebral haemorrhage, and the subsequent plotting and jostling for power by politicians from the Central Committee (who had previously cowered under Stalin’s dictatorial rule).
The film has a very impressive cast, including Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Palin, Adrian McLoughlin, Simon Russell Beale, Andrea Riseborough and Jason Isaacs (with a hilarious mix of Cockney, Brooklyn and Liverpudlian accents).
It’s both funny and tragic…

One can just imagine all the behind-the-scenes battles that must have taken place as various individuals sought political power - without, of course, giving Stalin any excuse for ‘eliminating’ them - but this, for me, only emphasised the similarities with the world leaders and governments of the present day: Putin ruling Russia in way that more or less ensures that any potential challenges to his leadership are avoided outright; Trump frequently being described as someone who is unfit to be president of the USA; and here in the UK, the 2016 EU Referendum result continuing to have huge repercussions – not the least of which is the ongoing, bitter power-struggle within the Conservative Party (and to some extent within the Labour Party).
After seeing the film’s trailer, I’d rather anticipated a bit of a knockabout, almost slapstick, saga that would have me rolling in the aisle. Yes, it WAS funny… but my overriding feeling was about just how many similar political power struggles are still being fought out on the world stage today. Somewhat frightening!
Iannucci’s film is a brilliant, albeit rather scary, satire on political ideology and thirst for power… and very well worth seeing.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

world turned upside down exhibition…

I blogged about this exhibition a few days ago… but have since been up to Leeds to attend the preview night and have seen this hugely impressive group exhibition for myself. It’s curated by my great mate Si Smith and features the work of some 17 artists, responding to the Beatitudes.
The exhibition runs from Friday 20 October until Wednesday 15 November in St Edmund’s Church (Lidgett Park Road, Roundhay, Leeds LS8 1JN).

Well, it’s a pretty stunning exhibition… humbling to see some of the work from the other artists… and so beautifully put together. I particularly appreciated the ‘blurb’ from each of the artists about their work for the exhibition.
I definitely think it’s one of those exhibitions that people will choose to visit a number of times – there is so much thought-provoking work on display that having time to sit and ponder each of the pieces would be well worthwhile.
The exhibition is simply brilliantplease see it if you can.
Photo: a very rapidly put together collage of photographs of the work on display (hopefully, I’ve included work from all of the participating artists!?).
PS: The beautiful poetry of my great friend Ian Adams was also featured – in conjunction with powerful artwork from Ric Stott.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

graham gouldman at st george’s…

Last night, I went along to St George’s, with great friends Lal and Chris, to see/hear former 10cc member Graham Gouldman perform (alongside Iain Hornal and Ciaran Jeremiah).
He was superb – playing for 90 minutes and the entire ‘set’ consisting of songs he’d written (or part-written) over the past five decades. The list of his ‘hit’ songs is incredibly impressive and will be very familiar to people of my generation(!)… they includes such titles as “For Your Love”, “Evil Hearted You” and “Heart Full of Soul” (The Yardbirds); “Bus Stop”, “Look Through Any Window” (The Hollies); “No Milk Today”, “Listen People” (Herman’s Hermits) and “Pamela, Pamela” (Wayne Fontana). In 1972, along with Eric Stewart, Kevin Godley and Lol Crème, Gouldman formed 10cc and they enjoyed a string of highly successful records, including “Rubber Bullets”, “I’m Not In Love”, “Dreadlock Holiday”, “Donna”, “Art For Art’s Sake”, “Good Morning Judge”, “The Things We Do For Love”, “I’m Mandy Fly Me” and “The Wall Street Shuffle".
An AMAZING array of some of the most popular songs of the 1960s and 70s, in particular.

Gouldman’s status as one of the world’s leading songwriters has rightly been acknowledged with his induction into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame at a special ceremony in New York.
What was particularly good about last night’s concert was that all the songs were played acoustically (and by highly-talented, accomplished musicians) – none of your digitally-enhanced stuff for them!
As you might imagine, the evening was also interspersed with stories and anecdotes… Gouldman came across as a very ‘nice’ and ‘genuine’ bloke who continues to enjoy making music. Last night’s large and enthusiastic audience would no doubt urge him to do so for many years to come!
A brilliant evening.
Photo: Graham Gouldman (with Ciaran Jeremiah and Iain Hornal) at last night’s concert.
PS: There’s been a brilliant documentary on BBC4 (“I’m not in Love: The Story of 10cc”) that’s well worth watching – although, for some reason, it doesn’t currently seem to be available on BBC iPlayer.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

world turned upside down…

“World Turned Upside Down” is the name of a rather special exhibition that’s being curated by my amazing friend Si Smith (see note below) in Leeds. Although I feel a little out of my depth (understatement!), I am one of 17 artists (including daughter Ruth) contributing work for the exhibition. 
It’s a group exhibition responding to the Beatitudes.
The exhibition runs from evening Friday (evening) 20 October until Wednesday 15 November in St Edmund’s Church (Lidgett Park Road, Roundhay, Leeds LS8 1JN).
I previously participated in one of Si’s curated exhibitions at the Left Bank, Leeds in 2012… and it was stunningly impressive (not my stuff, I hasten to add!) – so I KNOW this one will be well worth seeing if you’re anywhere in the Leeds area.

Si Smith explains the unlikely, extraordinary inspiration for the exhibition as follows:
“At Donald Trump’s inauguration ceremony, the Beatitudes were read. That struck me as a truly dissonant moment and – whether deliberate or not – a pretty direct rebuke to the values that he represents. Because whilst we’ve succumbed to the belief that it’s the richest, the strongest and the most powerful who’ll always and inevitably triumph, the message of the beatitudes is that in the end, it is actually the meek who’ll inherit the Earth. As I pondered it, that idea of re-imagining a world turned on its head really appealed to me, and it’s something that our contributing artists have enjoyed grappling with too – I think that the work they are producing will make for a really interesting and thought-provoking exhibition”.

For the exhibition, I’ve put together twelve simple photographs of twelve rough sleepers (Chris, Daniel, Gary, Gemma, Geordie, Ian, Joe, Kim, Nathan, Paul, Phillip and Shaun) I’ve befriended over recent months. As I’m sure you’ll appreciate, here in Bristol – like most cities across the UK – there are SEVERAL dozen rough sleepers… (apparently, in the past six years, the number of rough sleepers in the city has increased NINEFOLD)(yes, ninefold!).
They each have their own stories, but I’m not providing any details or specifically identifying them. I think it’s better to let their portraits speak for them… (I’m not going to show the overall piece of work because one of the individuals didn’t want his photograph shown on facebook… and I don’t want to break his trust). They are individuals with lives to live – each with their hopes and aspirations, each with their fears and regrets.
Blessed be the meek…

This is what I wrote for my exhibition blurb:
“This year, I’ve spent more time talking to some of the rough sleepers in our city.
They’ve all got their stories…
The thing that has struck me most is their quiet dignity and their gentle friendliness.
I’ve never been threatened or verbally abused and they’re always happy to talk.
None of them likes the way they’re forced to live.
Some of them live in doorways.
Some live in small make-shift tents.
Some live in squats.
Some get the occasional respite of a night shelter.
Some are there because they lost their jobs and/or could no longer afford to pay their rent.
Some are there because of their own foolishness in the past.
Most are there due to circumstances beyond their control.
There are sad stories of broken relationships, broken homes… of being unable to cope.
There are sad stories of being verbally or physically abused by passers-by or rowdy drinkers.
There are sad stories of being robbed of what little money they had or having their tents slashed. 
Many feel ashamed by their circumstances.
Many just want to be given another chance.
Many simply feel hopeless… utterly hopeless.
Most feel that society doesn’t care about them.
The sad reality is that, once you’re down, it’s very difficult to get back on your feet again”.
I think the exhibition will provide plenty of food for thought.
Please see it if you can.
Photo: this is just ONE of the individuals I’ve spoken to over recent months… I chat to him regularly.
PS: Si Smith is a wonderful illustrator (as well as being a very special bloke)… who created, amongst LOTS of other work, the thought-provoking book “How To Disappear Completely”.


Monday, October 16, 2017

september-october 2017 books...

Please, Mister Postman (Alan Johnson): This is the second of Johnson’s brilliant three memoirs (somewhat typically, I managed to read them out of order: 1, 3, 2!). He’s a wonderful writer – evocative, informative, self-deprecating, very funny and sometimes very sad. His is an incredible story… born in 1950; orphaned aged 12 when his mother died (his father had walked out); effectively brought up by his amazing older sister; passed his eleven-plus but left school when he was 15; worked for Tesco as a shelf-stacker before becoming a postman, aged 18. In the same year, he was married and became a father (his wife also had another daughter)… he went on to become General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union before entering parliament as Labour MP for Hull West+Hessle in 1997… and filled a wide variety of cabinet positions in both the Blair and Brown governments, including Home Secretary. This memoir essentially deals with the transition from boyhood to his time as a full-time Union official in the late 1980s… with all its responsibilities and time-consuming meetings and nationwide (and international) travel – which, sadly, resulted (at least in part) in the end of his first marriage. Probably, the best set of political autobiographies I’ve ever read. Very highly recommended!
Get Me The Urgent Biscuits (Sweetpea Slight): Moira bought this book recently on a whim(?) when we recently re-visited the wonderful Book House bookshop from our days living in Thame. It’s a memoir of an “Assistant’s Adventures in Theatreland”… how an innocent 18 year-old, with dreams of becoming an actress, arrives in London for work experience for a West End Theatre. She ends up being “stolen” by a formidable/demanding/eccentric producer (Thelma Holt), being re-named “Sweetpea” (her real name was Jane Slight) and continued to work for her for the next 20 years. As one might imagine, it’s full of amusing stories of her ‘adventures’ and the people met along the way… but, actually, for me, although I found it mildly entertaining (and somewhat informative about the workings of the theatre), it won’t live long in my memory! 
Velvet Elvis (Rob Bell): I first read this book eight years ago and, following a recent conversation with a good friend, decided that it was about time I read it again. From last time, I recall feeling incredibly disappointed when I realised that ‘his’ church attracted some 11,000 people to its three gatherings on Sundays (I’m very much a small, intimate, church community man, I’m afraid). Bell is a very good communicator (and very honest about his own spiritual struggles) and there were certainly several passages that resonated for/with me… however, overall, I came away feeling a little disappointed (not quite disillusioned, but…).
Days In The Sun (Neville Cardus): Another Cardus cricket book - this one was first published in 1924 (my copy was published in 1949). More wonderful, evocative, lyrical prose from Neville Cardus about cricket from a bygone age. All observations written in the early 1920s, but frequently making reference to pre-WW1 cricket and even cricketers from the 1870s (eg. Spofforth – “The Demon Bowler”!). All fascinating stuff (if cricket’s your ‘thing’!), like “it was June 1864 before the MCC legalised overhead bowling”; characters such as the England captain JWHT Douglas (no mention of Christian name, just his four initials!); calls, from certain quarters, for the game to be “speeded up” – like the article in ‘The Times’ in 1919 coming out with an “ingenious suggestion involving the banishment of the left-handed batsman because he interferes with bustle” (we might never have known the likes of Lara, Sobers, Gower, Pollock, Lloyd, Gilchrist etc had this been implemented!); and incidental comments such as the morning of a Roses match where, in two and a quarter hours (and in front of 26,000 spectators), Lancashire bowled 57 overs and 110 runs were scored – compare this to the current (I think) Test Match requirement for a minimum number of 15 overs to be bowled per hour! Somewhat predictably, I loved it.
The Broken Road (Patrick Leigh Fermor): This is the final book of Leigh Fermor’s trilogy (I’ve read the first “A Time of Gifts” (published in 1977), but not the second “Between the Woods and the Water” (published in 1986). They tell the story of his walk, as an 18 year-old (and on incredibly limited funds – he started off with £2 in his pocket and a tiny monthly allowance that he collected from post offices en route), from the Hook of Holland in 1933 to Constantinople. He never completed his third book (from the Iron Gates to Constantinople) but, on his death in 2011 (aged 96), he left behind an unfinished manuscript. The task to get his final draft published was undertaken by his editors and literary executors Colin Thubron and Artemis Cooper in 2013. It’s an extraordinary tale of an extraordinary, brilliant and very private man. Amazingly, he wrote the first two volumes from memory (he had his first diary stolen in Munich and his various letters to his mother were stored in the Harrods Depository during the war and subsequently destroyed ‘unclaimed’. He did however make some notes for the last leg of his journey. Leigh Fermor has a wonderful gift for description and an eye for detail (not to mention something of a gift for languages). It’s an amazing adventure at a unique time (just before ‘everything’ was about to change with the coming of WW2): the people he met, the places he saw, the background historical contexts he was able to highlight… and all written down, in great detail, decades after the events. The book finishes with extracts from Leigh Fermor’s ‘Green Diary’, written in 1935 when he explored Mount Athos (a mountain and peninsula in north-eastern Greece and an important centre of Eastern Orthodox monasticism – containing some 20 monasteries) over a period of 3 weeks in 1935. A really wonderful book.

Friday, October 13, 2017

loving vincent...

Moira and I went to the Watershed this afternoon (my second visit in three days!) to see the much-acclaimed “Loving Vincent” film directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman.
The Watershed’s blurb describes it thus: “The world’s first fully painted feature film brings together the paintings of Vincent van Gogh to tell his extraordinary life story – and every one of the 65,000 frames of the film is an oil painting, hand-painted by a small army of 125 professionals”. All these oil paintings are created in the style of van Gogh to provide a beautiful, animated end product – a truly magical, astonishing achievement… which apparently took seven years to come to fruition.
I’d previously seen some advance publicity and felt sure that the film would certainly be worth SEEING… but I didn’t know much more than that. Well, it tells the (imagined) story of van Gogh’s final days and his controversial death (a bullet wound to the stomach: was it an accident or a suicide?).

I’d actually prepared myself to be disappointed by the film (after all my prior expectations), but am very happy to say that I thought it was very impressive and very beautifully put together. I think my only reservation is that I feel that the film is in a danger of making the artist something of a celebrity cliché (or perhaps we’d already done this ourselves by our admiration and adulation?). In just a little over 10 years, van Gogh produced more than 800 paintings – that’s a pretty incredible achievement(!) – and it’s left me wanting to understand more about the artist’s life (and his work).

But back to the film… some of the images/frames worked more convincingly than others but, overall, I thought it was a really impressive film… and an astonishing achievement.
Very, very well worth seeing – you’ll be amazed!
PS: I’d chatted to Iris about the film a few days ago and said that I thought it was quite remarkable that van Gogh, who had died so young (he was 37 years old), had become one of the most famous artists of all time and yet he’d never sold a single painting. She immediately corrected me and said: “actually, Grandad, he sold two” (according to the film credits at the end, it seems that he actually sold ONE in his lifetime, but I love that Iris had a view about him!). x

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

tawai: a voice from the forest…

I went to the Watershed this afternoon (I was going to undertake a long walk to Ashton Court/Leigh Woods, but the weather forecast put me off). So, did I go to see Blade Runner 2049? Nope (especially after Jonnie Treloar’s recent negative review!)… but, hey, I haven’t even seen the original.
No, instead, I decided to check out Bruce Parry+Mark Ellam’s “Tawai: A Voice From The Forest” (you may well know Parry from his various “Tribe” documentaries on the BBC – although I don’t think I’ve ever watched any – in which he lived with indigenous peoples in an effort to understand their way of life). ‘Tawai’ is the word that the nomadic hunter-gatherers of Borneo use to describe their inner feeling of connection to nature.

Essentially, this is a film which looks at a deeper understanding of indigenous peoples and how their way of life can benefit those in the industrialised world. It’s a thought-provoking, poetic documentary (with some beautiful photography) – compiled from the forests of Borneo, the Saddhu of India on the Ganges, the Amazon jungle and the Isle of Skye – which explores what might have changed within the human psyche since we stopped roaming and began to settle. What can we learn from how nomadic tribes around the world live and how might this help us create more balanced ways of relating to each other and the natural world?
It’s a rather striking, sincere film – perhaps a little too earnest for my taste? Clearly, Parry has a great love and appreciation for his subject (plus lots of experience of living with nomadic tribes), but I was disappointed that most of the conversations (both with individuals from the various tribes and the ‘experts’) were all rather one-way, with Parry apparently unable to contribute to, expand on or question the things that were being said. Now, some of this might well be due to the difficulties of translation (but other documentary-makers have coped without undue difficulties) or perhaps it was Parry’s lack of intellect (I might be being rather unfair here?) or speed of thought? Either way, for me, the film’s message lacked a degree of clarity and emphasis.
It’s a fascinating film with a significant message: Tawai providing (in the words of the Watershed programme) “a powerful voice to indigenous peoples that demands to be heard before it is completely lost”… but didn’t quite hit the mark for me.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

grayson perry: the most popular art exhibition ever!…

Moira and I were due to attend the preview night of Grayson Perry’s exhibition at the Arnolfini on Tuesday 26 September but, due to the queues, we decided to opt out – afterall, it’s a free exhibition and we can walk round it as often as we like between now and Christmas.
I love Perry’s work but, probably, most of all, I love his approach to his art and his wonderful ability to talk about it (and other stuff) in a brilliantly straightforward, engaging way. This quote from the exhibition programme sums it up quite nicely:
“Art can be intellectually stretching, moving and fun at the same time… People, on the whole, come to art exhibitions on their day off. They do not want to feel that they are just doing their homework. Maybe it’s time to take the sting out of the word popular. When I came up with this title – The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! – I liked it because it chimed with one of my ongoing ambitions – to widen the audience for art without dumbing it down. Mainly I liked it because it made me giggle, but popularity is a serious business. Ask any politician.”

I love the way he frequently uses words in his work (eg. “flat whites against racism”!). I find his stuff funny, entertaining, profound, poignant, beautiful… and thoroughly thought-provoking. I’ve listened to his Reith Lectures, I’ve watched his TV documentaries, I’ve been to hear him at Colston Hall and I’ve seen his work at a number of exhibitions over the years - the first time he made a real impact on me was when we went to see his exhibition “The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman” at the British Museum in 2011 (yes, it took me some time to ‘get him’!). He comes across as just a really nice, ordinary bloke (if there is such an animal?), but there’s clearly far more to him that that (like "talented artist"!?).
He’s become a national treasure.
Whoever would have thought, say as little as 20 years ago, that an Essex-born, straight-talking transvestite would achieve a status such as this?
Of course, he has used his cross-dressing to his advantage – it singled him out and made him instantly recognisable within an art world that had perhaps become rather too predictable (I was at college with sculpture/artist Andrew Logan – not on the same course, I hasten to add – and was very aware of how used his appearance and style to mark himself out in a vaguely similar way)(at college, he decorated his room in the form of a country meadow - with the radiator resembling a sheep, plenty of blue sky and clouds and greengrocers “grass” used as his carpet!).
Although we didn’t actually get into Perry’s preview at the Arnolfini, we did see him mingling with the crowds – completely at ease with himself and utterly accepted (and adored?) by all who had come to see his show.
I think it’s quite brilliant how Perry has managed to challenge (in a gentle, amusing but determined way) prejudices that so many of us have perhaps harboured – and I very much include myself in this – on a whole variety of things. It’s not anything to do with him condoning people’s behaviour or characteristics or eccentricities or views, it’s just that he seems genuinely interested in finding out more about their circumstances and listening to their stories.  
It’s great that the exhibition will be at the Arnolfini for the next three months… I’ve been once thus far (and thoroughly enjoyed it – even though I’ve seen most of the pieces before - and just know that I’ll be dropping in on a regular basis to focus my attention on just a handful of pieces at a time (there is so much to see in every piece of his work).
Photo: A quick collage of various images taken at the exhibition (and, yes, it’s good that he’s perfectly happy for people to take photographs of his work!).

Friday, September 29, 2017

on body and soul…

I had one of those special, surprising, wonderful afternoons in the cinema today.
First thing this morning, I’d decided I fancied going to see a film (it had been perhaps a month since my last film?). All well and good, but the ONLY film at the Watershed this afternoon (and, as you know, I’m pretty sniffy about going to other local cinemas!) was Ildiko Enyedi’s film “On Body and Soul”.
Although the film won the top Golden Bear Award in Berlin, I was very nearly put off when I read that the action takes place in a Hungarian slaughterhouse and that audiences were warned that “there are some very graphic scenes of the various stages of animal slaughter”)… AND YET, it sounded intriguing:
Maria (wonderfully played by Alexandra Borbely) is the new quality controller at the abattoir and has mild autism, whilst finance manager Endre (again, brilliantly played by Geza Morcsanyi… and, amazingly, making his screen debut) is suffering with his own personal issues and a dead arm. Work is grim, but (thanks to a somewhat strange police investigation into a theft at the abattoir) Maria and Endre discover that they have been dreaming the same idyllic reoccurring dream (where they wander through snowy forests as deer!).
This might all sound rather weird, but it actually develops into a REALLY beautiful, romantic film.
It’s absolutely exquisite and I think, if you can stand the animal slaughter scenes, then you absolutely MUST see it.
It’s definitely one of my very favourite films of the year thus far.