Saturday, 22 July 2017
Tuesday, 18 July 2017
We bought another Artwork at the weekend: this is it.
It is in fact a print, number 95 of 95 . . . the very last one.
Don’t suppose anyone has ever heard of Nerys. I met her once when she was Curator of the DLI in Durham. From memory she was in a wheelchair at that time, she was quite ill for sure. Someone gave us two of her original paintings; I didn’t really appreciate them at the time to be honest but they must have been easily worth £1000.00ea then; £3000.00 plus now.
Briget Riley was her contemporary and is on record as describing her as a master of colour.
Nerys herself said of her work: ‘For a long time, flowers have been a major source of inspiration for my work. They are alive, and I try to convey that sense of living. They grow, change, decay and metamorphose. In a drawing, the sense of movement, structure and rhythms is expressed through the marks and lines; in a painting, this is achieved through the balance and contrasts of colour. Whether the flowers are grouped in a riotous bunch or [shown] singly, my aim is to reveal the particular feeling of that image - a potent lily, a burst of spring or the battered remains of winter’.
Wednesday, 12 July 2017
Anyone ever heard of Dan Cruickshank? He is a Historian. A bit more than that, an architectural historian: very interested in and a leading figure in the Building Conservation movement. He still appears regularly on TV and last Saturday he came to South Shields to give a lecture, which he illustrated with images from his new book, A History of Architecture in 100 Buildings.
Interesting and erudite; his thing was whether it is important, or not to reinstate buildings which had been destroyed. He started off with Bamiyan, where I have been and then Saqqara, where I have been, them Palmyra, where I have never been. His image of Bamiyan was post-destruction of the Buddhas whereas when I went, the demolition had not yet taken place. He said that the local Hazara people didn’t seem to be bothered by the destruction; he said the tourist dollars had never filtered down to them. Then he talked about Palmyra and became rather emotional about that. He had several before and after pictures and to be quite honest, I could get quite emotional myself about the demolition of Palmyra. He said and I had not heard this before that it was done very professionally; it wasn’t just a few cowboys with some gelignite. So somebody or several somebodies who knew what they were doing were involved. Then he showed an image of Warsaw in 1947, almost entirely obliterated by the Germans when they retreated from the City in 1945: 85% of the buildings annihilated in a horrendous act of cultural vandalism. Then he let us see what has happened since. Completely rebuilt and now a UNESCO World Heritage site. He had images of other Historic buildings that had been faithfully rebuilt, several Russian Royal palaces which was kind of surprising to me. I’ve never visited Russia and would not have expected the government there to sanction the millions of Roubles it must have cost to reconstruct these emblems of privilege that their Revolution was all about.
Cruickshank then said that he thought the Bamiyan Buddhas would never be reconstructed. The Afghan government didn’t have the money and the Hazaras didn’t care anyway. He thought the reason that Warsaw was rebuilt was because of the determination of the inhabitants and the support of the whole nation; the City and its buildings were a testament to Polish Culture, which up until then had lasted for millennia. The loss of the buildings represented the loss of their culture; the loss of their country . . . as the German High Command must have known when they ordered the destruction of the City [at huge cost of course, the time and resources spent on destroying Warsaw could have been more usefully deployed elsewhere].
So, this was his message. If the people want it, it will happen, even if it takes decades or even generations. Do the Syrians and Iraqis want Palmyra rebuilt? If yes, then it will happen. If not then it will end up inert like Bamiyan, a forgotten byway on the great Silk Route. Maybe the Chinese will take it on particularly now that they are recreating their own version of the Silk Route.
I think the message of Saqqara was that even ruins have a value.
Tuesday, 11 July 2017
|Photo: B Beaven
This is a picture I did on Saturday in oil pastels.
The teacher said it was dark and brooding. Said she liked it.
I haven’t done oil pastels in what - - twenty-five years? I used to be quite good at it but I almost never use my artistic talent now. As I have mentioned before . . . in fact quite recently . . . I used to spend every waking moment drawing, painting, sketching-out comic-strip cartoons and generally doing Art. But no longer. I suppose it all got channelled into product design. See my October 2014 Post - - My Life Before Now
But someone drew my attention to an art class scheduled for Saturday called, Using Pastels in the Landscape, just up the road at Horsley Arts Centre, so I decided to give it a go. Everything was provided, crayons, paper, coffee and biscuits, plus teaching of course. I thought we were going to be sitting outside in the sun but in fact we were inside all day in the Studio, copying pictures torn out of magazines. No matter. Teaching was okay; you could have one-on-one if you needed it.
I thought the standard was high: everyone could draw well and apart from one person, who attempted to reproduce the magazine image exactly, in pastels, everyone was sufficiently creative to get their own personality across in their final work. My magazine photo for example was of a bright dawn just coming up over the horizon; not dark and brooding at all.
God, I was so rusty. Foolish to think I could get straight back into it after 25-years. It’s harder than it looks, actually. Don’t know yet if I want to pick it up again; it can take over your life.
Thursday, 6 July 2017
CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA
Clouds of Sils Maria. I thought that this was pretty good. It’s a French film but spoken entirely in English [no subtitles] starring Juliette Binoche and Kirsten Stewart and has received mostly excellent reviews but no major awards: it was nominated for Best Director at Cannes a couple of years ago. It’s wordy and actressy, very much up my street and unusually for these days features wealthy, sophisticated people with the sort of problems wealthy and sophisticated people have. We see them constantly in the best hotels eating the best food and being waited on by always-available handmaidens. They are chauffeur-driven everywhere and in the case of Mlle Binoche, flattered and fawned upon by almost everyone around her although there is a strong sense that she is still respected.
Briefly, very briefly it is about a famous French actress who shot to stardom twenty-years earlier when cast in a play in which she was given the role of an alluring young girl who drives her older boss and mentor to suicide. She has now been offered the role of the older woman in a new production of the play and has to work opposite a new, American starlet playing the alluring young girl. She and her personal assistant played by Kirsten Stewart, travel to Switzerland to rehearse the lines and that is where the dramatic tension largely lies. That is why it is actressy and wordy.
Early on, we are told that Binoche has a husband and that he recently died and soon after is given a line in which she says something to the effect that she has never been even slightly tempted into a lesbian relationship. Perhaps this is to assuage audience expectations over the casting of gay icon, Kirsten Stewart. But it is there. Kind of hovering.
The screenplay proceeds of course as a mirror of the play: older woman/younger woman; one dominant and needy the other cautiously respectful but increasingly irritated by the other woman’s self-absorption. It all becomes extremely intense and when late in the film in a terrific mise en scene [I’ve been re-reading McKee recently!] Binoch meets with the American starlet in London, all of Stewart’s submerged emotions are revealed.
Much is made in the reviews of how great the lead performances are and if acting is interesting to you, then yes there are two amazing performances going on on screen but I don’t care that much. I recognise bad acting when I see it but great acting can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk film.
It’s something different; worth a look but as usual with French cinema you only get out of it what you put into it.
Fortunately, this is a silk film.
Ilo Ilo. Another super film. Just loved it.
This is set in Singapore. I went there once; can’t remember when, late nineties, I think. I went on business, long story, but yet another Police State. Like Iran. Like Amerika, in my opinion. Seems superficially normal, people like us then you say something or see something and you suddenly realise that you don’t know the coded rules that everyone around you knows by heart.
Rural Northumberland, it ain’t.
I digress. This is about a working Singaporean family: Dad, Mum, brat of a child that they can’t control who live in a modern apartment block together. The film opens just after the death of the grandfather, the Dad’s father who up until then had been the live-in child minder for the boy. With both parents working and the wife pregnant, they need help and take on a Filipino maid to both care for the child and carry out domestic tasks. This alters the dynamic of the family.
At first they treat the maid as little more than a slave forcing her to cook and clean until midnight. The maid has a twelve-month old baby back in the Philippines so she has little choice but to accept the terms on offer. The boy is horrible to her and the parents never rebuke him.
But things change and as the narrative develops the maid and the boy form a kind of alliance as she increasingly takes over the role of the stressed-out mother and the boy becomes her substitute child. As for the father, well he is stressed out too. We see a short scene of him at work, trying to sell unbreakable glass to a client . . . which duly breaks. Then he resigns but cant get another job and loses money by gambling, in an attempt to maintain their standard of living and retain the services of the maid.
And that is more or less it. A man cannot serve two masters. It’s just a One-act structure with only four characters but the Emotional arc is so beautifully realised that one is drawn in completely.
Filmed almost entirely on hand-held cameras with probably no scene lasting more than 60-seconds it turns out that it is a directorial debut. The woman who plays the mother won Best-supporting actress at Cannes in 2015.
Not my favourite Director . . . but who is these days? He’s an auteur which I think means doing everything yourself; writing the script, directing, editing and relying largely on a repertory cast of regulars to populate the film. And work with not against, the tantrums.
As usual, there are obligatory scenes of graphic sex at the beginning. In a way, I don’t mind: people have sex. But does it move he plot along? Maybe, maybe. The scenes on the fishing boat seem fairly gratuitous to me but given that the guy is cheating on her at the time I suppose they show her bonding [in no uncertain way] with a charlatan. And yet . . . this is Almodovar’s USP . . . he doesn’t need a reason to show gratuitous sex; if you don’t want to watch, don’t go.
I haven’t read, at least I don’t think I have, the original Alice Munro short story collection upon which it is based but I’ll lay any odds there is zero gratuitous sex in the book.
What’s it about? A Mum in Madrid whose only daughter goes on a summer break to a mountain retreat, then is so indoctrinated that she never returns home. She completely disappears in fact and breaks her mother’s heart. Eventually, after twelve years of no contact she finds her living in Switzerland but we only discover this in the dying moments of the film. We don’t see any reconciliation or emotional meeting. There is too much sex to be gotten through to be bothered about a resolution.
The film contains two of my pet hates in TV/Cinema: in one scene, she turns on the television and just at that moment . . . the very second she turns the thing on she hears an announcement that is incredibly important to her. Yeah, yeah she would have got there eventually but it is lazy lazy writing. And the other thing: the whole plot is set in motion by an unbelievable coincidence. She bumps in to an old acquaintance who is only in Madrid [pop 3.1 million] for one day. Robert McKee in Story talks a fair bit about coincidence. He will allow it say in the case of the television if it shortcuts the narrative and doesn’t become a deux a machina. But he would definitely not permit a plot-turning incident like bumping in to someone by pure chance in a city of over three-million people.
It’s not bad, it’s not bad. I am making it sound worse than it is. He is reflecting Spanish society as he sees it; in the present, with phones, with the Internet and the daily struggles we all have. All of which is refreshing and if it takes Alice Munro’s short stories to make a decent basis for a plot, then I’m fine with that.
Tuesday, 4 July 2017
|photo: Susan Gray|
This is a picture of the Nile Cataracts which my friend Susan took last month in 54deg of scorching heat. She flew into Khartoum and then travelled across the desert in a group of  Landcruisers mainly to see the Upper Egyptian tombs and monuments. Susan lived in Cairo for four years and is more familiar than most with ancient Egyptian culture. Having said which, she has never visited Abu Simbel just down the road from the Cataracts, which I have.
In Victorian times when Richard Burton and other famous explorers were trying to find the source of the Nile, they thought the Cataracts were it but of course we know now that they are only the confluence of the Blue Nile and the White Nile. Even now, it is an incredibly difficult place to reach.
Wednesday, 28 June 2017
When we went to the wedding a few weeks ago I caught up with my cousin from Canada who had flown over specially from Toronto. He brought his wife Debbie with him and I had forgotten but Debbie is an ice-skating teacher. Full time. She must be ace; didn’t say so or admit to being ace but she is now in her early sixties and been doing that job for forty-years or so and there can’t be anything she can’t or hasn’t achieved in that world.
Teaches kids from age four up to twelve. Both boys and girls.
Gosh, she was interesting. Has had many future ice-hockey stars through her classes over the years as well as ice dance girls who later achieved Olympic standard. I asked her if she could spot the ones who would go on to greatness in their later years but she said not really, and often it was all down to pushy parents whether they became millionaire Major League players, or simply faded. She named one or two but they were meaningless to me, not living in North America. Apparently, Lacrosse is the national game of Canada; Ice-hockey is the national game of both Russia and the Czech Republic.
Despite being a born and bred Canadian she named Torvill and Dean as the greatest ever ice dancers.
Wednesday, 21 June 2017
|photo B Beaven|
|photo B Beaven|
|photo B beaven|
|photo B beaven|
Friday, 16 June 2017
We stayed over in Dudley in West Midlands just south of Birmingham, in a very nice upmarket hotel at the weekend. The hotel was almost empty. It was/is part of a complex called Merry Hill, a late-nineties development of offices/shops/apartments, by the canal.
As I understand it, the Local Authority were in possession of a disused industrial site plus some government enterprise zone grant money. Unfortunately no-one, certainly none of the large developers, was much interested in putting any of their own money into a development project in grimy south Birmingham; the site was contaminated and undercut by mine shafts, out of the way and as downmarket as it is possible to go.
I suppose it is hard to criticise what the developers created given the backstory of an old industrial site, local politics and changes of government. The Council eventually chose a small-scale local developer called Richardsons; quite likely because they were the only ones willing and able to take it forward but what they have produced appears to me now to be a ghost town. Empty flats, or half-empty which is probably worse because it means you can’t sell; closed bars that on the Friday night we were there should have been heaving with couples and singles looking for a good night out; the almost empty hotel . . . how sustainable is that? Car parks with only one car parked: just asking to be vandalised. One or two people walking dogs and a few men fishing in the canal. It’s clean. Tidy. Well cared for, it hasn’t been abandoned as such. Someone is still trying.
But it looks as though it was doomed from the beginning. High floor, low ceiling, is how it could be readily described in other words its upward potential is limited. The architect’s plans must have looked amazing at the time: the canal winding its way through the middle, actual boats tied-up at canalside, trees over here, shrubbery over there, stick figures jogging along the towpaths, all the apartments turned in toward the canal rather than out to the remainder of the contaminated site. But then the Contractor got hold of it and the project was progressively watered down and obligations renegotiated. The flats are seven stories high, was that in the approved plans? They are way out of scale with the rest of the buildings. There are no shops, just bars. It’s all in a beige brick, all of it, no changes of texture or even colour with bog-standard metal doors and windows either bright green or blue to the facades. Bog-standard planting too: low-maintenance [actually, no maintenance] greenery that gives nothing away to the hard-edge builder basic block paving scheme.
It might have worked if they had tried harder to maintain the quality the designers and planners had originally specified. Might. Now it is unattractive, it even has a sense of being out of the way, an island, soulless and generic like a suburban industrial park.
And no-one wants to be there any longer than they have to be, so you have the beginnings of a ghost town.
We have ben to Nevada a few times and one of those times we went to a real ghost town. There are in fact a lot of ghost towns in Nevada, even more in California.
The Tourist Board have a kind of map showing where they are located but in fact as unarmed foreign tourists we thought it best to take advice from one of the guides and they pointed out seven or eight where they were certain that there were no one-off residents keeping an eye out for unarmed foreign tourists. Like us. The one we chose was around fifty miles away from Las Vegas although there was an opportunity to visit another one which had only been uncovered three or four months previously, when South Lake Tahoe had receded due to temporary climate change. But we are not historians or academics and the pleasure of walking around eighteen-sixties dripping wet/drying-out wooden buildings just held no appeal.
So we went to the first one which incidentally featured a tourist attraction on the outskirts, a disused silver mine. The ghost town was much as one would expect; dry as dust in the high desert with boarded up buildings, faded signs, a surprisingly wide main street and nobody around. No cats, no dogs. No tumbleweed, although we saw lots of that down in Arizona. The mine was extremely interesting, with a good, knowledgeable guide who led you down tunnels lit from the ceiling by bare bulbs strung through pit-props. We went deep into the mountain then trekked all the way back again. You would never be permitted to do that here in the UK: Health & Safety would not allow ten people to go underground into a mine without two weeks training and orientation first. I assume it had become a ghost town when the mine ceased to be profitable.
I believe there are ghost towns or more specifically, ghost housing estates in Northern Ireland. I’ve not visited one first-hand. I am not sure but I think they are situations caught on the wrong side of an invisible sectarian line.
If you drive out past Stanhope in County Durham and into the North Pennines you can visit the remains of two lead mines; one is open-cast and the other is part open-cast and part conventional shafts. I have been to both. The nearest town is Nenthead which comprises one street, two pubs, four shops and a variety of farming suppliers plus maybe twenty houses, all of which appear to be for rent. Someone, a developer one presumes, has constructed a mini-housing estate of sixteen new houses on the edge of the village. They are all up for sale: all empty. Two of them look as though they have been sold then put back on the market and one of these could be occupied because there was a car parked outside the day I drove through.
Weird and no real explanation from me. The houses are substantial; detached, brick-built, when everything else in the county is stone but they all have good-sized plots, not packed densely together, four beds, cheap as chips [£225000, the builders can hardly be covering their costs at these prices] and in another location, would have been sold out long ago. Okay the weather is notoriously awful in Weardale but I can’t quite see what has gone wrong. Perhaps there are no schools?
At the very least they could find a market as second holiday homes.
Riccarton Junction [a real place] is a ghost town: it was the main theme of my book. Kiri had been studying the loss of the lace-making industry in Nottingham for her dissertation and how not only had the local economy suffered but the whole way of life for the community, the women, friendships and families, all swept away with nothing to replace them and that, when they go, rightly, wrongly, naturally or by imposition, something irreplaceable is lost.
Wednesday, 14 June 2017
Revolutionary Ride [By Lois Pryce]. Liked this, liked it a lot. It is [currently] No 2 in Amazon’s Non-Fiction lists and No. 1 in Adventure & Travel. She writes well, in fact . . . heresy . . . it is almost as good, might actually be better than the greatest travel book I have ever read, Jupiters Travels [By Ted Simon].
It’s about Lois, obviously, who takes a motorcycle journey from Tabriz in North-west Iran across to Tehran, then down to Yazd, across to Isfahan then down to Shiraz. Then she flies home. A journey I made myself forty-years ago, except I avoided Tehran. And I didn’t attempt it on my own or by motorbike.
Of course, of course it is tremendously interesting to me; I just can’t quite comprehend why it is number one in the Amazon lists. Why is it so interesting to anyone who hasn’t made the same journey? Or, maybe they have: arrogant me, thinking I am unique in having travelled across Persia by road.
I would recommend it though. She makes it so crystal clear why the election three weeks ago last Friday of Hassan Rouhani is of such critical importance to Iranians and why the West should not only support this result but welcome it with open arms and diplomatic relations. She likes Iran; I liked parts of it. She goes to Persepolis and it is deserted, as I found too, except for two middle-aged European bikers on BMW Bling-bikes, on their way home from India. The Shah’s tented village is almost destroyed by weather and maybe vandalism but probably neglect, whereas it was still pristine and under guard back in 1976.
Not sure what to say about it. She goes out of her way to meet and greet Iranians, gets into trouble sometimes for having done so but she does a lot more interacting than I did; gets into people’s homes or is invited to eat with the Manager and his family, when staying at a hotel or guest house. Finds people who will simply stop what they were doing and show her round. She is gregarious and that is what you need. Someone on Amazon suggests she is too harsh on the regime: I definitely disagree with that remark. Ever been, mate?
Is it worse the Saudi? I guess not because she was allowed in. She couldn’t swan around Saudi on a motorcycle, on her own.
In truth, I didn’t care for the Iranians I met. I remember a guy we met at a hotel, I think in Isfahan, a young guy someone who you might trust; someone you might think held the future in his hands, he said he was a Wildlife Manager. Unusual occupation but good, we thought. The hotel it turned out, catered for Middle-east tourists who wanted to ‘hunt’. They ‘hunted’ sheep. The tourists lay on the desert floor and shot sheep grazing what little grass or fodder they were able to find.
But of course, it questions your own cultural underpinnings. We kill sheep. Industrially.
Whatevuh. Anyway, I wasn’t keen on Persians. Wasn’t keen on Turks either and pretty much actively disliked the Pakistanis.
Writing Screenplays that Sell [By Michael Hauge]. I quite liked this actually. Dated  as it is he still has something useful to say plus it has straight 5* reviews on Amazon. On page 280 he comments: The underlying principles of the teachers and books I respect don’t differ that greatly. Bob McKee’s structural approach and Syd Field’s plot points and my emphasis on outer motivation aren’t really contradictory; each is a possible method of laying out the story to create an effective, saleable screenplay.
Myself, I thought Story by Robert McKee was outstanding; I still consult it and to be honest, this isn’t really in the same league.
I have recently completed an on-line screen writing course. I enjoyed the process and have already made a start on converting Riccarton Junction into a TV Series. I am quite excited about it and it appears at the moment anyway, to be going well.
Reckless Daughter [By Barney Hoskins]. I haven’t finished this, I am half-way through. I have put it away for a while, even I can’t digest 300-pages of ‘honesty’ from Joni Mitchell in one session.
Barney Hoskins is a UK-based music journalist who is a big Joni Mitchell fan and knowing that Joni doesn’t give interviews ever, he has instead compiled pretty much every review of every album and many, many of her concert appearances since she first started in 1966. He keeps the quality high and contrary probably to his own personal preferences, does not exclude bad reviews. There is a pretty excoriating one of Mingus by an American journalist called Ben Sidran from Rolling Stone.
What do I think? I hardly ever read non-fiction. I know everything. Well, just about everything I want or need to know. I mean, I was thinking today I wished I had studied Shakespeare when I was younger, when I could have had my mind opened but it’s too late now. I suspect it was Keith Richards’ Life that took me to this but they aren’t in fact comparable. I am a Joni Mitchell music fan but honestly I simply don’t care that she plays 51 instruments or that she and the daughter she gave up for adoption are reconciled. If things improve I shall put up another review.
The Gustav Sonata [By Rose Tremain]. Enid Blyton for adults. This is the key scene:
It was dark, now, in the larder, almost night. Gustav felt sick from the smell of the fermentation and was about to suggest that they should stop, when he noticed one last bottle in a corner of the larder shelf.
He picked up the bottle and saw that it was full of banknotes. He stared at the money. Then he carried the jar to the window, where a rising moon provided a sliver of light. He unscrewed the lid and he and Emilie put their hands in, like children’s hands into a bran tub, and pulled out rolls of fifty franc notes, secured with rubber bands. It was difficult to calculate how much money was there, but they knew it was a lot.
So . . . every problem solved. Bran tub indeed.
I thought it was appalling.
Tuesday, 13 June 2017
Went to Yorkshire Sculpture Park yesterday . . . and saw this. Absolutely terrific, I thought.
It’s called Black Steps and is by someone called David Nash.
Definitely worth a visit; I used to go two or three times a year when I was working because it is just off the M1 and easy to reach if you are just passing but I haven’t been for about twelve months. I have to say they are a well-run organisation and keep the park alive with new acquisitions and move other stuff on when appropriate to do so.