Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth

To the Apollo to see this great stew of a play. Johnny 'Rooster' Byron, played with tender ferocity and to the very hilt by the magnificent Mark Rylance, is a man of the woods, a drug dealer, a blood donor, a teller of tall tales, a magnet to a collection of motley sidekicks, cock of the walk. There are echoes of Falstaff and of the Athens woods. Set on St George's day and the one following, Byron is about to be evicted form his home in the 'English forest'. There are one or two further circumstances that do not quite merit the word 'plot'. The entire enormous enterprise (it has a large cast including a DJ, a Professor, a schoolgirl, a brazen hussey, a morris dancer, a fairy, a thug and a pair of council officials) rests upon the compelling mystery that is Johnny Byron. We want to know what will become of him. And afterwards we say: we should have guessed. This is a play that requires no piety to sit through, but that pulls no punches. Johnny Byron catches us as surely as does the Ancient Mariner the wedding guest, and we cannot choose but hear.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Solar by Ian McEwan

NOTE: If you intend to read this book do not read what follows because it may spoil your enjoyment.

For quite a lot of this book I wondered what it was about. It isn’t usually a wonder I have about novels, because I read them primarily as entertainment. Perhaps it wasn’t the ‘about’ I was worried by, but my inability quite to recognize its genre (I know that’s a horrible film-studies type word, but I am trying to figure out what bothered me). It was only after finishing the book that I realised it was tragedy. Perhaps tragic-comedy. It is about the fall, through time, of a great man. It even finishes not far from a place called Shakespeare. It actually concludes in a place called Lordsburg. Roughly translated this could mean Heaven, couldn’t it? City of God at least. And Michael Beard, our anti-hero, is a sort of pre-Christian St Augustine. He is gluttonous, lecherous, slothful, greedy, proud and wrathful. He doesn’t appear to be all that envious (and yet his downfall hinges on ideas stolen from another and passed off as his own – and he is certainly capable of jealousy).

In a sort of riff on the theme of Amadeus, this monstrous creature is given the opportunity and has the talent, the brain, to save the world from environmental disaster. As in Saturday McEwan weaves the private and the public together in a Feynman’s Plaid (you’ll have to read the book). Unlike Amis, the most indiscreet of authors, McEwan is invisible. The problem is, despite his great technical abilities, he very rarely moves his reader. And although this is a much better book than Martin Amis’s perhaps it is the Amis I’ll remember longer. Odd.


Two young(ish) cousins of mine (i think they are first though removed) will be cycling from John o'Groats to Land's End in May. The distance is over a thousand miles, and they intend to take nine days, avoiding horrid main roads. The purpose is a) to convince themselves that they are still full of manly virtue etc and b) to raise money for charity. Details here. My cuzzes are Gareth Davies (Gaz) and Sion Fletcher-Rees. Details of the trip are here, should you be inclined to sponsor them.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Lo Fi Culture Scene - Three Today

This was recorded at the Islington Bar Academy in January 2008, during the Artrocker Festival. Incredible to think that this is over two years old. And how tight they were already! I believe only Jacob was over the age of 13 at the time.

As a professional outfit Lo Fi Culture Scene are three years old today. They played their first gig on 27 March 2007 at Nambucca on the Holloway Road. They supported a band called Fear of Flying, soon to become White Lies. Since then they have played the late-lamented Astoria, the Barfly, Concorde 2, the Borderline, the O2 Academy, Clwb Ifor Bach, and The Joiners, to mention just a few. They have supported Bloc Party, Les Savy Fav, Good Shoes, Mystery Jets, Bombay Bicycle Club, The Answering Machine, and toured with The Kabeedies. They have played in Bristol, Southampton, Leeds, Norwich, Portsmouth, Brighton, Kendal, Hitchin, Cambridge and even in Camden and Islington.

The band is now resting as its members tackle their GCSEs and A levels, but they are still writing songs and will make a couple of appearances in the summer with a fairly new set. They are altogether too accomplished to go away. Let Bombay Bicycle Club enjoy the limelight for the time being!

My Last Five Girlfriends: The Truth

The truth is that had this been French (think Julie Delpy perhaps or the late Eric Rohmer) critics wouldn't have had a problem with it. They probably wouldn't have bothered to go in the first place, but those few with a modicum of intellectual curiosity who did venture out would have found this a charming meditation on the vagaries of l'amour. But it is a British movie and therefore altogether much more ambitious (how many British movies can you name that are investigations of an abstract noun?). It is not a comedy, it is not a drama, it is not even a piece of social observation. It is, in other words, rather foreign to English sensibilities. We must pity the critics. They understand Hollywood, they understand British social comedy, they assume that films in a foreign language are beyond the public they so often condescend to, but they don't get My Last Five Girlfriends.

Of course, it should have retained the title of the book it is adapted from, Alain de Botton's 'Essays in Love' ('essays' as in 'experiments'). That would have signalled the abstract, meditative nature of the piece. The marketing has served the film very poorly: this is an art house independent, a movie for grown-ups. Couples are not going to roll out of the cinemas wiping the tears from their eyes or pledging undying love to one another, or reminding each other of "that great bit where".

This is a low budget film which has attempted high budget effects, but the result is curiously refreshing. Artifice is to the fore - it underlines the refusal to deal in the usual cliches. All sorts of different film techniques are used and these serve to suggest all the very different ways in which the narrative of a love affair can be told or understood. The central character is not particularly charming or attractive; perhaps he is occasionally wry, but we are not invited to empathise.

This is an anti-sentimental film from which you depart thinking rather than swooning.

Brilliant dog-handling.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Eddie Butler's Best Tests

I am going to quote this whole, because he has it just about right I think. This is from Eddie Butler's Guardian email, The Breakdown.

"The best Tests I ever saw? France v Australia at the 1987 World Cup; France v South Africa at RWC 1995; France v New Zealand at RWC 1999? That's a lot of France. And a lot of evidence to suggest that the World Cup is one of the best inventions of the last 25 years. Why did they wait so long?

But the best Test has to be South Africa v the Lions, Pretoria 2009, perfectly balanced as it was between brutality and silkiness, between everything going so very right and ending up so dramatically wrong."

PS - This summer i spent some days and nights at the Druidstone Hotel in Pembrokeshire. Among the guests was Eddie Butler, his wife and their three children. The eldest child is a first class footballer, but prefers to play rugby. He is, of course, an outside half. They are a cheerful, engaging bunch.

Hide and Seek

To the opening of an exhibition of works by my friend Sirpa Pajunen Moghissi (details here). The exhibition is called 'Hide and Seek', a title that at once invokes childhood. The central image, which reappears several times, is of a piano. The piano - or rather beneath the piano - was Sirpa's vantage point as a child, from which she observed her parents entertaining their VIP visitors (Sirpa's father was a very senior Finnish civil servant). These observations have now, decades later, been transformed into the paintings now on show.

There is nothing strident about these pictures. They are understated, as though memory was not entirely trustworthy. The many layers in most of them - a landscape overlaid with a wallpaper pattern overlaid with the filigree outlines of socialising guests, and finally the placing into the guests' hands of icons of childhood - suggest memory's shifting priorities, its power to form narratives out of the chaos of experience. Sirpa's colours, her palette, are fine, washed-out, restricted, blues and greys, touches of ochre, the occasional smudge of crimson or claret, again implying that perfect bright recall is beyond reach.

There are repeated themes - a sofa, a sailing boat rising or falling, a library, a lake, Sirpa's mother. These repetitions give the exhibition a sense of wholeness, as with a piece of music; they are variations on a theme. The pictures seem to talk to one another.

It is well worth mooching around them and allowing their gently insistent patterns to grow on you. They might take you back to your own childhood. If not, that's fine, stick with Sirpa's. but don't take it too literally.

Waiting for that Day

The Roonettes perform the magnificent 'Waiting 4 that Day' now available on iTunes for just 79p. You know it makes sense. Music and lyrics by Michael Fairbairn.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Two Thousand Trees Festival

Lo Fi Culture Scene at The Borderline last year.

There is a rare outing in their GCSE year for Lo Fi Culture Scene at the Two Thousand Trees Festival. Details here. They'll be trying out three or four new songs. Beautiful venue. 16 / 17 July. Height of summer. Early entry tickets available for a short time here.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Itchen Moments

Take note anyone happening upon this here blog who might be in the vicinity of Southampton during the month of April. paintings by Marilyn Walters, doubtless very good, photographs by Wynn Rees, doubtless excellent.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Sirpa Pajunen Moghissi

Hide and Seek, an exhibition of Sirpa's most recent work opens at Highgate Contemporary next week. Go and see it. Details here.

The Return of the Prodigal

Gavin Henson is reportedly back in training. The Lord be praised. Just in time for the World Cup. I think Ms Church deserves credit for this.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The Happiest Days by Cressida Connolly

Had this book of short stories been written by a French woman it would probably have been called something like ‘The Limits of Intimacy’. However, irony, rather than abstraction, being the English mode, the title refers to a not altogether care-free childhood as described by the narrator (sometimes narrators) in most of these stories.

They bring news from the borderlines of intimacy between siblings, between parents and children, between husband and wife. It is a place where words are spoken and misunderstood or left unspoken, where words seem more often inadequate or inexpressible than a help to communication. Silences and bent silences occur: a daughter sees her mother naked for the first time and “a gulf seemed to have closed”, but opens again once the clothes are on, “the TV covering up our silences”. A delinquent foster child with a fetish for cars is discovered in the 16 year old narrator’s bedroom, his face perfectly made up. He kisses her – “it was like vanilla” – and puts his hand beneath her bra. He stops suddenly and she is left breathless: “I didn’t say anything, not words, but I wasn’t silent any more”.

Almost all the stories are set in Eastbourne, and there is a distinct sense of the sea, of the big blue, that seems to emphasize the loneliness, or at least the solitude, of many of the protagonists. More than once at the end of a story I was put in mind of the final lines of Larkin’s High Windows: And immediately / Rather than words comes the thought of high windows: / The sun-comprehending glass, / And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows / Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless. Godless, we retreat into the privacy of ourselves.

The melancholy is real, and sometimes becomes tragic; what is remarkable is the manner in which the ordinary is invested with significance, and the reminder that behind closed doors, in the interstices of private arrangements, life flares and is doused and perhaps flares again, and that there are stories everywhere. Thoroughly recommended.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale

Very good book. A work of criminology, sociology, literary history, and more besides. First rate journalism, but with a distinct literary bent (it ends with a stab of the first person that is as sharp as the crime itself). And though there is a suggestion - the crime remaining mysterious - that this will not be the last book on the case, i cannot imagine a better, and certainly not a more enjoyable one. if you want a portrait of mid nineteenth century England, this is the place to start.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Eating Rye-Vita

"Mother and I grimly chew Rye-Vita, with a hard tearing sound, two dromedaries eating the Sheikh's tentcloth".

Wonderfully vivid and funny sentence in a letter written from Brian Murphy to Huw Wheldon, sometime during the war.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Shostakovich 10th Symphony

To the Royal Festival Hall - lovely place - to hear the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mariss Jansons, playing the above. Stupendous. Just a tinge of regret at not being musically literate enough to understand the narrative - why does one thing lead to another? I thought of the piece as a novel in four parts. The strings were the narrative voice, the solo wind instruments the characters or voices within the story. Extremely Russian (ie extremely extreme), and exciting, even thrilling. i felt myself tensing and relaxing. This you do not get at a pop concert, where the physical pitch is high from the off and pretty much stays there. This music plays around your nervous system. And surely conducting is the Best Job in the World. Why did my father no whip me into practicing the piano? He told me it would come to this.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Micheal MacLiammoir

Going through my parents' papers, I came upon this note from Jonah Jones.

Micheal MacLiammoir died last week. My favourite story about him - he was being interviewed by a tactless interviewer, female, on TV. "Mr MacLiammoir, why did you never marry?" ""My dear, i couldn't - you see, he was a protestant!"

Monday, 1 March 2010

St David's Day Quotation

Dad, in a speech to the Jersey Branch of the Cymmrodorion), St David’s Day 1961
“I don’t speak English very well, but I speak Welsh like a motorbike”.
NB I happened upon a newspaper reporting this, today, 1 March. Serendipity.