Briefly, catching up, top of the pile has to be:
Anna Berry‘s wonderful 2-hour pop-up guerilla art installation Fake plastic trees: a memorial to the Midsummer oak. It felt good to be a part of this critical celebration of place, and of friendship. The grand old oak was
engulfed by the Shopping Centre extension – the bit that MK dwellers still call ‘the new bit’ despite its having had two official names so far – the extension, as I was saying, to the original Grade II listed building (oh yes), and though the tree was retained as a feature, over the years it died a slow – painful to watch – death. Anna created “a magical forest of memories” in an underpass, but let her tell you all about it (and see some better photos than mine) at: http://www.annaberry.co.uk/3-2/installation-pieces/fake-plastic-trees/
- Sarah Lippett‘s graphic novel Stan and Nan (Cape, 2016) is a lovely piece of work – poignant, illuminating and profound. I struggle to find the words to describe the artwork – far from crude, certainly not childlike, maybe outsider (yet it started as an art school project) – and will have to settle for economic and stylised. While she can be quite busy when it helps, Stan and Nan is a prime example of
the less-is-more principle of storytelling. The spare use of muted colours is at times dazzling; in no other form can you quite get spectacle, the delight and surprise, of simply turning the page and getting a glimpse into something bigger. Stan and Nan tells with a deceptively light touch the story of Sarah‘s Nan and her man Stan. The first half gives us their courtship and life together until his sudden death, with a glimpse of his artistic talents; the second starts with her funeral and unfolds with the tales told and the story of her days without Stan, including her close contact with Sarah. Here are unsung superheroes, living out the days of quietly momentous lives. It was an interview in the Guardian about how it evolved that led me to the book; go there to get more examples of how it works its magic: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jul/09/who-was-the-creepy-man-in-the-family-photo.
- Interesting Book Group for July: Ian Rankin‘s The naming of the dead (2006). A re-reading for me. That’s the Rebus one taking place during the fateful early days of July 20015, with the GB meeting at Gleneagles, the Make Poverty History mobilisation and concert in Edinburgh, and the 7/7 bombings in London; it stands up well as a social document. John Rebus’s take on the grander stuff? – “All he could do was lock up a few bad people now and then. Results which didn’t seem to change the bigger picture.” Several of the Book Group don’t normally read genre fiction; one, disappointed that, as cream of the crop, Rankin wasn’t a better writer, had to be re-assured how bad some of his successful contemporaries are at putting a sentence together. Another made a really good point when she said, disregarding the somewhat convoluted if intriguing plot (maybe serial killer mixed with maybe military-industrial complex skullduggery and more), that it was basically a novel about relationships. Yes, there are indeed plenty of those, familial and professional, with, classically, Rebus and younger colleague Siobhan at its heart (and in this example also a prime example of Rankin’s most annoying stylistic habit, of unnecessary adverbial qualification or thesaurus haunting in the matter of speech):
‘ … your mum says she’s not bothered who whacked her. Nobody seems worried about Ben Webster’s death. And yet here we both are.’ He lifted his face towards her and gave a tired smile.
‘It’s what we do,’ she replied quietly.
‘My point exactly. No matter what anyone thinks or says. I just worry that you’ve learned all the wrong lessons from me.’
‘Credit me with a bit of sense,’ she chided him, putting the car into gear.
A day trip to Cromer, the weather just right – hot enough, sweet breeze. Nice lunch at Browne’s round the back of the Parish Church (thank you TripAdvisor) – excellent veggie sausage and mash, while Andy and pal sampled the celebrated local dressed crab. Into the church of
St Peter and St Paul with an extremely tall tower and a vibrant Burne-Jones window, then sea-sidey stuff: the promenade, the Pier, the ice cream, the beach. As Swinburne wrote, now embossed in metal and embedded on the esplanade, “an esplanady sort of place” – what a lovely word!
- Summer cold and/or chronic hay fever and the excessive heat meant I didn’t see as much of IF – the biennial Milton Keynes International festival – as I might have, though to tell the truth I couldn’t get that excited about the 2016 edition. Went to the opening biggie – the largest bubble on the programme cover – the truly international Voalá: Station. Without being really spectacular it was worth the crick in the neck. I’ll let the programme do the talking: “Four suited and booted businessmen are swept up into a world of magic, distracted from their daily commute by a mysterious woman who unleashes four sirens who transform the men’s evening into an unforgettable and magical ‘flying’ performance. Weaving together aerial acrobatics, music and colour, and played out above the audience” … in the Mini-Bowl at Willen Lake. The mysterious woman had a powerful singing voice but I wish there’d been more of the accordion than the booming modern stuff. The fireworks were interesting, not your usual, with some lovely blues if I recall correctly, but you had to be in right part of the Bowl to fully appreciate them and the action at the same time. From others’ enthused reports, I wish I’d drag my blocked nose and sorry body out to see the Station House Opera: Dominoes event, the collapsing dominoes even going up and down the stairs in the Theatre on their route around the city.
Also part of IF, took in a couple of performances on the Stables Sessions Acoustic Sessions Stage in the Arabian Tent: the ancient rural seasonal reflections of the immaculate Straw Horses, and the fragrant Naomi Rose doing her greatest hits (plus an intriguing new song) – such originality. [http://soundcloud.com/naomi-rose-2]
- July Scribal Gathering was suffering a bit from the post-Brexit blues, the audience energy-sapped. Shame it was this one had to be set up as a comedy themed night. Slight of frame Muslim stand-up Zahra Barri had a wealth of decent material from her Egyptian/Irish upbringing, but it never really caught fire; shame. Philfy Phil, singer of inventively witty dirty ditties, tried to get away with not doing his rewrite of The boxer (“Dali died” etc.).
- What else? A couple of Vaultages, and an afternoon’s music in Wolverton’s Secret Garden the Sunday before last, with the ubiquitous Mark Owen, the angular funk and Jo Dervish’s distinctive vocals from Screaming House Madrigals (with a touch of reggae) and quirky compositions of some wit from The Outside This (as featured in this photo from my crappy phone). Nice relaxed community event, and it hardly rained at all.