Posts Tagged ‘Graffiti’

Spent a couple of weeks in the Algarve.  Liked what I saw of Portugal.  Got back a week ago.  Stayed in Alvor, what was once a small fishing village and is now a small but not overwhelming tourist town.  Had a great time – brilliant beaches, vino verde, et al – but never mind that.  Here, in no particular order, are a few things that struck me (click on the pictures, and click again to enlarge):

  • Teresa Paulino - The plane watchersOn the main roundabout in or out of Faro Airport this wonderful set of figures by sculptor Teresa Sofia Paulino.  It’s called Os Observadores, or The plane watchers.  Nice idea, beautifully executed.  (Not sure calling it ‘The plane spotters’ really does it justice, Val.)  Didn’t have a chance to take a photograph myself but it would have been hard to do justice to them all in one shot; the image used here is the cover photo of the sculptor’s Facebook page.  Her website (click here) has a homepage of exquisite simplicity (at time of writing, of course).
  • FishermanAnother intriguing work was João Cutileiro‘s Homenagem ao Pescador, or Homage to the (well endowed) fisherman, in the harbour area at Alvor.  No, we couldn’t work out what the head was all about either, but it’s a striking piece.  This was close to a restaurante called O Navegador (The Navigator – see, I’m practically bi-lingual already on the page) where I had a taste of the Algarvian Trilogy – a tart made using figs, almonds and carob – and had the most flavoursome boiled potato I can recall, ever; I do not have the words.  Divine is not one you would normally use in conjunction with boiled potatoes, but it wasn’t just me, either.  On the subject of eating out, as a piscatorian with a paranoia of fish bones, let us hail the monkfish.  Had a fine time in the Adega d’Alvor restaurante – brilliant welcome and friendly service, lovely food (monkfish again) – only let down by them having run out of the Algarvian Trilogy.
  • The statues and tile work in Monchique are worth a nod here too.  Someone has cared, the town has lots of nice touches.Monchique mural
  • Alvor Praia dos Três IrmãosGot to mention all the textures and colours, the naturally sculpted cliffs, all those varying strata, the reds in the sunshine.  Seems once an A level Geography student always an A Level Geography student; I’m not ungrateful.  The photo is from but a small part of the spectacular structures at Praia dos Três Irmãos, or Three Brothers Beach, the Three Brothers being the survivors of a promontory, like The Needles on the Isle of Wight but more colourful.  Good swimming water for those up for a sea dip I am assured.Boardwalk
  • The western side of the Rio Alvor estuary has been generously graced with a European Community funded boardwalk over the tidal shallows and vegetation down to the beach; money well spent, I’d say.  Mies van der Rohe (“God is in the details”) would be pleased with the rusted  structures that occur – satisfyingly to my eye – at intervals and junctions along the boardwalk’s length.
  • Iberian barcodesThe local supermarket was part of the Pingo Dolce chain; hard not to succomb to calling it Pingu.  In translation ‘Sweet Price’ doesn’t have the same ring to it, removes an element of mystery, suggests less than the tremendous bread and fish counters.  Leaving the bird life for a while yet, I will venture that while the Iberian Magpie is a slimmer, more graceful and nuanced creature than we are used to back in the UK, the same cannot be said for the Iberian Bar Code.  As it happened one of our happy band had packed a DVD of Fellini’s 1960 black and white movie La Dolce Vita, which some might call synchronicity, others coincidence.  Whichever way, ‘dolce’ losses something in translation.  As it happened I kept nodding off (I was tired – we were sampling our own sweet life) for its duration and missed the – I’m told – iconic fountains of Rome scene altogether.  Film seemed to go on for a long time but the bits I saw mean I may return.
  • Ilha ecologicaA different model of household waste recycling: no house by house collections.  Instead we have the Ilha Ecologica, spread at frequent intervals around the town.  Under the pods – specific to bottles, cardboard, plastic and metal – are removable tanks that are replaced by empty ones every day.  Bottles descend into a cavernous echo chamber; the clatter of a single bottle is an experience, the depositing of a party-load spectacular (and possibly fatal with a hangover).  Hard not to refer to them as Illogical Islands (though they seem to work well enough) the Ilha Ecologica would appear to be an absolute gift to crime fiction.
  • FrogAnd speaking of echo chambers, the local marsh frogs, hanging around by the pipes taking the occasional streams under the back lanes make a remarkable noise of a summer evening.
  • Didn’t see a lot of the World Cup, and, Portugal’s matches aside, what was available to us in the villa was fairly random, so I missed England’s last two matches altogether, which was probably a bonus.  With commentary in Portuguese it was refreshing not having to – with the odd honourable exception – put up with the usual witterings that I returned to for the quarter finals in the UK.  What sort of a life has Rio Ferdinand had that so much of what he sees happening on the pitch is “unbelievable”?   My knowledge of the Portuguese language was essentially nil as far as the spoken word went so it was football all the way.  When Portugal were knocked out at the group stage all the shops were suddenly promoting Brazil tat.  At least Portugal won a game.  I find it hard to remember an English player displaying any of the real football passion seen in this World Cup from the likes of the USA (as opposed to John Terry being ‘patriotic’ aka thuggish) since that Beckham performance against Greece back whenever.
  • FrameMarshall amp framedMarshall amp situ 2Abandoned buildings off the beaten track intrigued and provided interest both as supporting frames for the local flora and platforms for some unlikely graffiti.  That’s a life-size Marshall amp and the poem on the other side of the same cottage reads, “Her eyes pierce the void / Cr??? (cross?) deep dreams of chaos / He whispers Meerkat” and it’s signed Meerkat.  Google gives up no source.  There’s a story there – a band not getting it together in the country?
  • SwallowSwallows had chosen to build a nest on top of the villa’s patio floodlight.  They work so hard.  It was decided to not use the light for the duration (so no midnight swimming in the pool) and there was definite feeding but no fledging before we left.  Would love to know how it turned out.  As a result of all that and plentiful other swallow activity  and some undeniable swifts at the airport I’m hazarding a boast that I can now tell the difference.  Lots of other bird interest.  The aforementioned Iberian magpies, black winged stilts, a flamboyance of flamingos, the storks nesting on turrets and chimney pots in Silves, a good look at some resplendent bee eaters (kingfishers of the air in their iridescence) and, hey! – a fleeting glance (for some of us) of a hoopoe.
  • Oh wotthehell, here’s a photo of a beach:Fishing
  • The ladyPedestrian crossingSo I leave you with an image of the Lady who graced (or was it haunted) the villa hall.  And another survival from a back road in Monchique.  Never mind Abbey Road, I need to get a bowler hat.

Big thanks to V & P, ta to A, R & J.
Not forgetting other A, of course.
And Jess: how can I throw it
if you won’t let go of the ball?


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… an alliteration fail to signal Lillabullero‘s third cultural destination as featured in this post.

Old Duke entranceA brief sojourn in Bristol at the weekend and disappointment that the walls of the gents’ bogs in The Old Duke jazz pub – not exactly the marbled halls of the Philharmonic in Liverpool but still marvels in their own way of artistic distinction – have been scraped and whitewashed into blankness.  I’ve been quietly pleased that photos of the varnished wall- and door-coverings – of layers of sheet music, newspaper cuttings and gig posters – have attracted some attention over the years here at Lillabullero (click here for a view) … and now it would appear they have achieved the status of historical document.

Old Duke scaffoldingStill good music to be had of a Sunday lunchtime, though, from some spritely (shall we say) older geezers playing the jazz – from revivalist stylings through to Lou Donaldson – they’ve played all their lives, as renovation work continues.  And in Banksy’s city, a neat piece of wall art on the brickwork outside:
Old Duke

Le Corsaire

Le CorsaireWhenever New Adventures are in town I drag out the mantra, “I don’t do ballet, but I do do Matthew Bourne.”  Well I did do ballet last week and while not actively regretting it I think I’ll be resuming that position.  The publicity for English National Ballet‘s production of Le Corsaire promised much.  Billed as “an epic pirate adventure“, Pirates of the Caribbean it was not.  OK, I didn’t do my homework, but ballet as a narrative form left me confused, and I still don’t know who exactly the bare-chested bloke who stole the attention of the women I was with was, or what his function.  The leads (he with le grand bulge, d’accords) were obviously a big deal – applause the first time they came on stage before they’d done anything – and could, well, dance rather well, and there were some lovely duets (is that the right word?).

The publicity promised “some of the most bravura male dancing in the ballet” and furthermore “a shipwreck which is one of the most breath-taking spectacles in ballet.”  The stage effects of the latter were pretty good, indeed the staging and costumes were spectacular, borrowing from contemporary (to its inception) nineteenth century exotic east illustration (the book was loosely based on a long poem of Byron’s) and (I pinched this from a review I chanced upon) Bollywood, which some of the ensemble set routines seemed to borrow from too.  Swashbuckling it was not, and nothing like the picture reproduced here was to be seen; indeed, very little time was spent at sea.  The sword fight had a certain brio, I guess, but I was expecting spectacular.  The music – 5 composers are listed – was all over the place, from oom-pah to Tchaikovsky (though he was not one of them).  But what do I know?  All around me Le Corsaire was received rapturously.  No way am I saying it was an evening wasted – it was a visual treat, sometimes due to the dancing – but I’ve still got to catch up with the last episode of Peaky Blinders.

Peter Dreher at MK Gallery

An interesting exhibition in part at MK Gallery from the German artist Peter Dreher, who says:

I was always cautious about narrative pictures charged with meaning.  But an individual painting loses its relationship with reality as soon as it is repeated.  It is just painting.  This is how I arrived at the idea of painting the same thing over and over again.

This is the rationale behind Everyday is a good day (in German the enticing Tag um tag guter tag).  Again, from the MK Gallery’s printed Exhibition Guide:

… Dreher wanted to paint the simplest thing he could imagine, and paint it again and again.  It had to be an object familiar to everyone and he decided on a glass, selecting one from his studio without thinking too much about it. Initially it was meant to be five or six paintings that proved as an artist you didn’t need to change your subject to be stimulated to paint.  He then carried on, fascinated by the process, and now there are over 5,000.  Each painting is created in the same conditions, in the same position and from the same perspective, in one sitting.  It is methodical and obsessive, and loads the painting of the glass with further meaning for the artist and viewer; by producing thousands, the work becomes more abstract and conceptual and the tireless repetition of a motif questions and challenges representation in painting.  At the same time, the ritual act of painting the same thing over and over again is meditative, and provides quiet and pace for the artist.

Peter Dreher 01And 150 of them take up two walls in the Long Gallery allowing the visitor to partake in that old favourite of a picture game,  Spot the difference.  There are differences, but ultimately, so what?  Elsewhere, however, there is stuff I could appreciate more.

In the Cube Gallery the installation of a series of many many skulls done in gouache opposite oil paintings of flowers – a staple juxtaposition of traditional still lifes – do set up an interesting still life experience.  And yes, the varied angles and seeming expressions of the skulls make the observer feel … observed.  You can see the skulls and a couple of glasses on the Gallery website (at http://www.mkgallery.org/exhibitions/peter_dreher/).

Peter Dreher 02Three sides of the Middle Gallery are taken up by Beachcomber shores, a panoramic 52 paneled straight replication in oils – and framed by the wall spaces left for the sections of the room not painted – of  three sides of a California motel room.  This works for me as more of a zen thing than those bloody glasses.  For what it’s worth, on the fourth wall is my favourite piece, frame and all – what is probably a self-portrait from 1948, when Dreher was 16.


Briefly, back to Bristol

Make Sundays Special Bristol

As it happens the Sunday we were in Bristol was a Make Sundays Special Sunday.  These are the brainwave of Bristol’s elected Mayor wherein once a month some city centre streets are closed off to traffic and given over to street artists and stallholders selling their various wares.  Great idea.  A regular buzzing mini-carnival no less.






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… or at least a couple of them, anyway.

Great titSo you stagger out of the New Inn (not that I do that much staggering these days) and cross the road bridge over the Grand Union Canal towards New Bradwell’s main drag, to be confronted by this substantially proportioned blue tit – to get an idea of its size, that’s a Sky dish.  Promising start for a film script, anybody?  Not quite Charles Laughton’s moon in the puddle in Hobson’s Choice but I’m not asking any fee.  Tales of the unexpected; I was just soberly crossing over to the other side of the canal in broad daylight and it cheered me – and a frankly dull stretch of road – up.  Would be good to credit the artist.

Great tit in contextAnyway, another Saturday night and I actually go out for a change, foregoing the misery of the original Swedish Wallender with Rolf Lassgard (which makes the Kenneth Branagh version almost seem like a sit-com) for the joys of the Nicki Gillis Band in the White Horse in Stony.  Fine tight band of seasoned professional musicians enjoying one another’s company.  Bassist was Lee Jackson, he of The Nice – that thought evoking memories of America on the jukebox in Sheffield’s long-gone Raven pub – and the others were no slouches either: another drummer called Cozy (Dixon this time) and in Lee Goodwin, for all his slightly cadaverish appearance, a more than useful guitarist, whose witty quotation fills during an energetic These boots are made for walking were eminently grinworthy.

The Nicki Gillis Band at a recent Colchester gig lifted from her website - no-one listedto credit.  At the White Horse she had that black mesh thing and those boots.

The Nicki Gillis Band at a recent Colchester gig, pic lifted from her website – no-one listed I can credit. At the White Horse she was also in black and wearing those boots.

Nicki was in great voice and it was a fine show.  The White Horse performing area is not great and the ceiling is low so her warm presence fronting the band – she’s younger and taller and, um, shinier than the band – was something.  If I invoke the word amazon it’s in the best possible sense of the word, to celebrate her charisma and powerful talent as performer and gracious leader.  It was mostly rock, bluesish, with a touch of country; her website also bears the description (shudder) “adult contemporary”.  The first set included a couple of her own songs – shades of rocky early Mary Chapin Carpenter, which can only be a good thing – and their interpretation of an interesting selection of songs (no covers band, this) meant a good time was had by all.  I reckon it takes courage to do The Pretenders’ Brass in pocket; she had them all, and she used them.  (Charm and sassy too, if one is to disbelieve the official lyrics – sidestep?).

He kills coppersBook group book this month was He kills coppers (2001), the middle book of Jake Arnott‘s dazzling crime trilogy.  I say crime trilogy, but it’s a real tour de force of a historical novel.  I was mightily impressed when it first came out and little has happened since to change my opinion.  The central 1966 sequences feel and sound right to me – the three narrative voices (cop, criminal, journo) are time and place vernacular and if they miss a beat for that period I missed it – a remarkable achievement for an author born 1961.  So he’s done his research and it’s the little touches rather than any spelt-out big narrative that swing it: in a café “A couple of mod kids were showing off at the pinball table“; at Henekeys in Notting Hill, “Julian pointed out one of the Rolling Stones …“; the writer has been spurred on by the success of Colin Wilson and Truman Capote. The lack of a ‘soundtrack’ lifts it too.

No, that big narrative is reflected, after a 1956 preface describing a military action in Malaya, in the changing fortunes and attitudes of the three individuals telling the tale, in particular how their employment – crime, policing, journalism – changes over three decades, focussing on events in 1966, 1971 and 1985. The huge cultural and sub-cultural shifts of the period and how a society reacts are chronicled in passing with great skill, as we also see what’s going on in their heads as they survive or at times thrive.  The central fictional action hinges around a true story – Harry Roberts’ gang of minor criminals’ slaughter of three policemen – except, rather than get caught after 3 months camping in Epping Forest (the benefits of a national service training) his equivalent in the book escapes the woods and hides away first on the fairground circuit, then as a New Age traveller and then in a political squat.  His mythology (that vile song – “is our friend” – from which the book’s title comes) is what triggers a climax.  It’s a brutal book at heart, but you can see where people are coming from.  And I’ve not touched on the rich cast of other players in the action.

I had to argue at the book group meeting that this was not a simple recitation of clichés, particularly in regard to the police corruption which plays a big part of the book.  Arnott makes much of the dispiriting nature of passive corruption – the unasked for perks of just happening to be in a firm, and so implicated indirectly – and highlights the changing public order role of the police.  Yes, it’s docu-fiction in passages, but the sociological insights are fleshed out, the cultural shifts played out.  Just a couple of examples.  The journalist (and I’ve not mentioned a major contribution he makes to the mix) gets a new job in 1985, and after that first quote, an old friend and colleague has changed:

And Murder Monthly was an ideal place for me.  I had been headhunted for the job […] It was a pretty failsafe formula for the anorak psychos.  Along with the occult, UFOs, conspiracy theory, stuff on the war that had a slight obsessiveness about the Third Reich, True Crime would always be a consistent draw.  Offer a binder and the punters would comfort themselves with thoughts of self-improvement.  There was a whole suburban death cult out there hungry for arcane knowledge.

I hadn’t been close to Julian for a long time.  Once witty and flamboyant, he’d become one of the Soho bores, that pack of would-be writers or artists or hangers-on that drank themselves stupid and imagined they were being bohemian.

I mentioned creatures great and small at the start of all this.  Behold, a photo I’m quite proud of (click on it and click again).  Build it and they will come:

Frog with mint

Mint and frog

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One of my favourites anywhere:

And here’s another one.  Yup, it’s a whole terrace end wall.

Tarragona is Catalonia’s second biggest urb, with loads of Roman ruins we chose not to explore.

Not having been anywhere near the inside of a gym since uni exams, coming across a spinning exercise session on the Nova Rambla was something of a high energy revelation.  Community pedalling and shifting shapes to a disco beat looked fun; wouldn’t have lasted 2 minutes, though – I’m closer to this guy.  Before we went away people said about not missing La Rambla experience in Barcelona – it’s a wide promenading area in the middle of the street filled with stalls, café tables, entertainments. Was a bit underwhelmed, to tell the truth; must have been one of its lesser busking days.  It’s a great concept though and they built what could have been something like into the plans for the centre of Milton Keynes (the publicity ads had people playing boulle there) only to put them on the outside of rows of shops that all faced the other wa, into the out-of-town mall they put at MK’s heart.  Oh for the climate to make for a viable street life, but still a wasted opportunity.

Tarragona‘s Rambla Nova has a life-size statue of a casteller – a human tower – and we were lucky enough to be there at festival time to see the castellers in a town square buzzing with excitement.  Would never happen in the UK, of course – Health & Safety – and indeed one tower did collapse, though there were no reports of serious injury; there’s a centuries long tradition of technique to draw on.  Smartly kitted multi-generational teams of castellers compete and who builds highest wins.  The older and bigger you are, the nearer the bottom you stand, while a small boy or girl climbs to the top and then descends again as if down a fireman’s pole.  The symbolism is you can’t get to the top without the support of those on the bottom, strength coming from solidarity, working together.  And later in the day, sitting on the cathedral steps catching the gralles (a traditional wind instrument, kinda light celtic drone) and kettledrum folk play-offs was a good place to be too.

Then was this outdoor micro-gallery …

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Brief life under the A5 flyover where it crosses the still full River Ouse for Old Dog’s display of his (or her) new tricks, already painted out by officialdom within a couple of weeks.  Probably not helped in its prospects for survival by dorkish work nearby, the possibly dyslexic perpetrator of which clearly has difficulty differentiating the Cock & Bull story Stony Stratford likes to trade on with, um, cock and balls.  Depressingly dumb.

I’ve got three books on the go at the moment.

Rohinton Mistry‘s excellent A fine balance (1996).  another reading group book all 600+ pages of which I wouldn’t normally have bothered with but I’m enjoying it enormously two fifths of the way in.  India from Independence to 1984 through the intersecting lives of three extended families.  Dickensian with shorter sentences and less twee sentiment.  Full of character, cynicism and compassion, it takes you there.  Some lovely precise language:

His ties were the subject of constant speculation.  On some evenings they hung long, dominating his front, flapping over his crotch.  At other times they barely reached his diaphragm.  The knots ranged in size from microscopic to a bulky samosa.

Here an ex-proofreader (a tale with its own delights) has a new career, is open for hire:

There was no problem on the creative front.  Writing speeches, designing banners – all that was easy.  With years of proofreading under my belt, I knew exactly the blather and bluster favoured by professional politicians.  My modus operandi was simple.  I made up three lists: Candidate’s Accomplishments (real and imaginary), Accusations Against Opponent (including rumours, allegations, innuendoes and lies), and Empty Promises (the more improbable the better).  Then it was merely a matter of taking various combinations of items from the three lists, throwing in some bombast, tossing in a few local references, and there it was – a brand new speech.  I was a real hit with my clients.

Then there’s Craig Taylor‘s nicely put together collection – he starts with an airline pilot describing coming into Heathrow – of Londoners talking about their lives in London, titled Londoners (Granta, 2011), and sub-titled as you can see on the dust jacket, was a Christmas present.  When I lived and worked in London, apart from pub rock I can’t say I really made best use of it, have visited more art galleries since I left it, for instance.  I don’t think I could do it now, live there I mean.  I’m slowly working my way through it as the downstairs cloakroom read I turn to when I’ve got through the latest Private Eye.  I’m about half-way through.  There are some fascinating people in here and – as you’d expect – some bores (hello Adidas trainers man) and some great, often unexpected tales, like transgender trainspotting and ceremonial adventures in the Life Guards – two different people I hasten to add.  There is poignancy too.  If Ray Davies is ever stuck for a subject for a song (as if) he can have this one.  It’s the woman who made the voice recordings they use for announcements on the Underground:

… when the Tube’s late, when it might have had a technical malfunction […] it’s me telling them over and over again that they’ll get there soon.
It’s funny, because when I got the call from London Underground I was at the restaurant with a guy I was seeing at the time and he said, “God, I’ll hear you everywhere.”  He wasn’t saying it happily.  We split up after that.  He has since told me he is haunted.  It is scary: you’re having a bad day and you get on the Tube and there’s the voice.  Poor guy.

And lastly, Peter Cheyney‘s The stars are dark (1943) is better written than I was expecting, and has a certain narrative bite to go with it.  For a long while, apparently, he was the only British writer ploughing the hard-boiled thriller field.  A second page sentence appealed to the ex-licorice paper roll-up smoker in me: “Greeley was one of those men to whose lower lips cigarettes always stuck.”  That’s a 1968 edition cover (5th impression) though it could be as early as 1956 when it was first out in those new fangled paperbacks.  The reason I’m reading it is a new project I’m working on (to give a grand name to a page I might add to Lillabullero) – Quayles in Fiction (for that is my name), or maybe Tales of Fictional Quayles.  Almost certainly the latter, now it’s just occurred to me.  The Quayle in The stars are dark (and later titles in the series) runs special ops, is a spymaster a long way from Ian Fleming’s M.  It all feels very black and white ’50s Stanley Baker movie.  He hasn’t got his hands dirty yet, but I suspect he might:

A cool, hard-headed one, Quayle … one who knew when to be tough and when to play it nice and soft and easy; who knew how to look like a big kind-hearted one and who could talk you into or out of anything, but who could do other things beside talk.

So that’s Everard Peter Quayle.  Other Quayles in the fictional bag – if not read – are a John Le Carre (The constant gardener), a Blandings P.G.Wodehouse (Something fresh), Matthew Kneale’s English passengers and at least one from Manx novelist – Quayle is a Manx name – Hall Caine (The Christian), which would explain why my father, who kept very few books, had an old-style hardback Hall Caine in his collection, the reason for which I never fathomed and that I wish I hadn’t thrown out now.  If anyone knows of any more, I’d be grateful.

Another book I wish I hadn’t disposed of (I suspect it went in the big move of 2007, when space had to be made, and I thought I’d never get round to reading it) is Mikhail Bulgakov’s The master and Margherita.  The reason I say this is that it’s the source of the title track of the new Patti Smith album, Banga (2012), which has me in its thrall and, indeed, enthralled. The passionate but never frenzied intensity of the core track, Constantine’s dream, was hair-raising the first time I heard it and continues to send shivers down my backbone (in the best possible way).  And yet there’s gentleness in there too, on the wide-ranging Banga.  She’s always been a great band leader/assembler, from the stunning debut of Horses onwards, keeping true to the essential noise of the best  American rock.  Because Horses arrived in the punk rush – “The boy looked at Johnny” – it’s easy to forget Patti Smith was born 1946: my generation.  She’s an Artist in the biggest sense of the word, has always followed her own path, has one of the great distinctive voices and – dubious phrase I know, but – she’s on our side.  As a writer and performer she’s up there with the greats.  And she’s still doing it, still cares as much as ever.  This may sound obvious to those who know but there’s a lot that have yet to realise it; took me a while to see just how much wealth there is in the whole back catalogue.  Look at this performance of the title track from Banga on the David Letterman Show, her glee at what they’ve just pulled off.

One final thought and a related observation.  How shit a movie was The boat that rocked, Richard Curtis’s film about pirate radio, which I happened to catch just recently?  Unbelievably bad, the more you think about it.  And did Leonard Cohen ever sound that young?  I’d like to think it was after seeing the film he wouldn’t allow So long, Marianne to be on the soundtrack album, which it isn’t, but it was probably some mundane commercial thing that never reached him.

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So – yes – swallows but no amazons (poetic licence – read ‘fat people’) (and very few pigeons either, for that matter).  I guess it goes with the territory.  Because despite the charming ministrations of mine hosts at The Heights, just outside Keswick – Barry serving up delicious local ales (the pale Loweswater Gold and the “smooth coppery” Skiddaw bitter from the Hesket Newmarket Brewery) and the agonies of decision each night over Van’s generously proportioned vegetarian platters (but always choosing chips – hey, we were on holiday) my weight remained the same on return as when we’d left.

Weather: we’ve had worse; four seasons in one day, and all that.  The man in the newsagent’s in Keswick said he’d lived in the Lake District 20 years and it had only rained twice – once for 12 years, and then for 8.  But in the main we stayed dry, if cold, mostly; got hailed upon briefly a couple of times, but come the worst downpour there was a church porch to hand (it’s a miracle!) and the right clothes can work wonders (or at least help a lot).

Sean, the leprechaun in the Sat Nav, tried to lead us almost down the garden path on our way to Coniston.  Picturesque though it may be, we knew we didn’t need a detour via Grasmere village – he was on to charge his batteries – but thought we’d give his way a go anyway until this helpful official sign (‘Do not follow Sat Nav‘) re-affirmed our faith in our own devices.  The photo is out of focus and looks a bit weird because it was taken from the top deck of the magic 555 bus (Keswick to Lancaster via Grasmere, Rydal, Ambleside, Windermere, Kendal – best bus ride in the UK?) later in the week.  Anyway:

  • street art in the subway in Keswick (unlikely though the existence of such an urban thoroughfare may sound).  Don’t know how official it is.
  • the brilliant little Ruskin Museum in Coniston: as well as beautifully presented local history, there’s a John Ruskin Gallery that was well worth spending time in (and I say that even though we’ve been to Brantwood, JR’s Lake District pad twice previously).  Ruskin is one of those forgotten Victorian visionary giants – he achieved and produced so much in art, literature and social thought – whose time surely must come again (and one of these days I’ll expand on this).
  • and a joy to discover in the Ruskin Gallery that along with much else John Ruskin had his own lithophone – a sort of xylophone for giants, the sound coming from local rocks being struck.  JR’s was a bit elementary, but there’s a quadruple-decker de luxe in the fascinating and wonderful old-style Keswick Museum (you can even have a play) with a surprising history that gives the notion of hard rock music a different dimension.  (For more on lithophones and their history – Royal Albert Hall concerts, international acclaim – check out here and here).
  • and while we’re on the music, another day we walked to the lovely neat little church that is St John’s in the Vale (in … St John’s in the Vale), there to find a well spring that, in its channel a few feet away from its grotto, makes – at least when we were there – the water equivalent of wind chimes.  Another little bit of Lakeland magic.
  • But back to Coniston.  I could be less interested in Donald Campbell’s spectacular demise in failing to break the world water speed record on the nearby lake (as late as 1968, I was surprised to discover) but the museum’s new Bluebird Wing is impressive in its breadth of coverage.  I didn’t know, for instance, that Donald’s dad Malcolm’s record-breaking cars – all called Blue Bird – took their name from an operatic fantasy of 1919 based on an earlier play by Maurice Maeterlinck called The Blue Bird, the sort of high culture/technological crossover rare these days.  And that Donald chose to call his vehicles the one worded Bluebird to proclaim he was his own man.
  • more Ruskin in Kendal’s very fine Abbot Hall Art Gallery, and a couple of George Romney’s best (well, two I recognised, which did indeed stand out).  Great little gallery.  The older stuff displayed in Georgian domestic splendour downstairs and, upstairs, when we were there, a celebration of the Gallery’s 50 years’ existence, showing favourites from its very decent collection of post-war and contemporary British art, nay painting.  Hung on walls – hurrah!
  • the Kendal Parish Church was a surprise, both in its size – five aisles – and some decent early twentieth century stained glass windows, my favourite being the rare use of greens in this one
  • and back up the hill, outside the impressive Brewery Arts Centre complex (every town should have one) this further refurbished warning of time’s winged chariot (not that there was much prospect of a Leyland lorry taking off from the brow of Shap, where it was originally proudly installed.

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Anyone else remember when Julian Fellowes was a bit of a joke, a comedy snob?  No?

I can remember being deeply moved as a young lad by the original 1958 black and white film.  Was it Sink the Titanic?  No – hang on: that was 1960’s Sink the Bismarck!  In my defence, Kenneth More in the both of them.  I mean – oh yes, I remember – A night to remember; here’s the trailer on YouTube.  I was never going to watch James Cameron’s 1997 movie for reasons that should be obvious, like that song.  And I certainly wasn’t going to watch this latest TV version.  I’d hated Upstairs, downstairs first time around.

Alison Graham has been on the case of this “damp epic” in the Radio Times of late.  This from Sunday, March 25:

All the classes play their allotted roles in Julian Fellowes’s new blockbuster. The upper classes on the Titanic are toxic snobs, the middle classes peevish artisans and the lower classes noble riffraff who want only better lives for themselves and their children. […]  We join them all (and the bigness of the boat is signified by people looking up and going all wide-eyed) as they embark […] It’s Drownton Abbey.  […] When doom comes out of the watery darkness, it’s a strange moment, made odder by the fact that the iceberg looks like a big peak of icing sugar.

This woman is to be trusted.  The next week she warns:

The Titanic hasn’t even set sail and the dramatically ironic hints about What is to Come are already dropping like dead bats …

And on the same day, maybe a bit unfair about Silent witness – its silences and pace can haunt – but you can’t but admire and appreciate the turn of phrase, nonetheless:

Somehow the word “convoluted” just doesn’t quite work when applied to the Byzantine pathways of a Silent witness plot, so we are all over the place as perpetually tormented Leo has much to be tormented about when he ponders an old case. And Nikki floats through the action looking thoughtful in a series of pretty blouses.

We were in South Wales for a wedding – congratulations Ali & Steve – at the weekend.  The Titanic illustration I’ve used above is from the mural decorating the Penllywn Millennium Centre in Blackwood, Caerphilly (or for older readers, Monmouthshire).  It celebrates the town’s history and the Centre’s current uses, and was, it says, “Painted by the people of Penllywn”.  Good for them.  It would have been a very dull wall without the official graffiti.  The Romans, Captain Morgan (a privateer, not a pirate – oh yeah – but one-time resident), the wartime Yanks, the miners (though it was never a mining town the Miners Institute was a cultural hub) and the music (among others, it’s where the Manic Street Preachers hail from – love the concept, but I regret to say I’m unmoved by their works).  And there’s the Titanic connection.

Shame the mural doesn’t make anything of – or at least I couldn’t see it – the area being a centre of Chartist organisation and agitation in the 1830s.  But what I particularly like about this mural is its hopefulness, that there are lives to be lived hence, nicely encapsulated in the ‘Volume 1’ on the book’s spine.

The Titanic connection is fascinating.  Artie Moore lived in Gelligroes, just outside of town.  A keen young inventor and early radio enthusiast, he was the first in the UK  to know anything was amiss on the Titanic’s maiden voyage.  He picked up a faint Morse code distress signal from the stricken ship on his crude home-made apparatus up in the loft at the Old Mill in the early hours of April 15, 1912.  He told his family and people in the town and went to the police but no-one believed him.  At the time the ship was well beyond what was thought to be the maximum wireless range.  It was only two days later that the locals received confirmation through the national press that it was true.  As a direct result of this exploit Moore went on to have a successful career with the Marconi company.

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