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Saturday 2 March 2024

The Caveman's Lament

I haven't posted for quite a long time because I've been very busy with other things (and also we've just moved house) but this poem amused me and I wanted to share it!

I'm listening to Jackson Browne's evergreen classic, Linda Paloma. Listen here.

Thursday 24 August 2023

Empire of the Sun

EMPIRE OF THE SUN is a novel written by J G Ballard and published in 1984. It is semi-autobiographical and based on his own experiences as a young boy, born and brought up in the British community in Shanghai during the second world war. Jim, the protagonist of the story, is clearly based on the author’s own experience of living in the cossetted, wealthy atmosphere of an idyllic childhood replete with huge house, servants and busy, mostly absent parents. When the Japanese invade and occupy a large part of China, Jim’s life changes dramatically; the Empire of the Sun name has its origin in the etymology of the name ‘Japan’.

He wants to grow up to be a pilot and idolises the Japanese Army and Air Force. He lives for three years in an internment camp, separated from his parents, where he survives with the help of some American soldiers, especially Baisie. Jim realises that Baisie is basically a crook on the make but he doesn’t seem to mind. At the end of the war, he is reunited with his parents and travels reluctantly to England for the first time having grown physically and mentally during the ordeal. 
Three years after the publication of the book, Stephen Spielberg made a film of the story. Both the film and the book are marvellous at conveying Jim's story and his experiences. He is played by a thirteen year old Christian Bale and Baisie is played by John Malkovich. I thoroughly recommend both film and the book.

I'm listening to The Rolling Stones singing a very early song that I have always had a soft spot for. Listen to (and watch) You Better Move On live here.

Thursday 3 August 2023

Rabbit-Proof Fence

Rabbit-Proof Fence tells the true story of three mixed-race Aboriginal girls who, after being forcibly removed from their families, are shipped to a 'camp' where they will be trained to be domestic servants. In each case they have white fathers and Aboriginal mothers. They decide to escape and return to their families by walking all the way across desert and scrubland using the rabbit-proof fence as a guide. The fence, which ran over 1800 kilometres (1100 miles) north to south across the whole continent, was built by the Australian Government in a misguided attempt to stem the devastating advance of rabbits and other destructive animals into Western Australia from the East. It didn't really work.

Rabbits are not indigenous to Australia but were introduced by the First Fleet of eleven ships in 1788 and later, in a devastating way, for sport.  The book was written by the daughter of one of the three young girls who were very clever at evading capture and were not sent back to the camp. It's not a particularly well-written book but the story is captivating and written in a fairly matter-of-fact style so that one only realises the true horror of the situation at a later time.

I'm listening, appropriately, to Eric Bogle's wonderful song about about Australian soldiers in World War One. It's very moving. Listen to And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda here.

Wednesday 5 July 2023

Artist of the Month (6): Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper was probably the pre-eminent American realist painter in the years between the wars. Although he had made several trips to Paris, he spent nearly the whole of his career in Greenwich Village, New York. He claims to have been uninfluenced by his time in Europe and not to have heard of Pablo Picasso while he was there; to me this is very believable because there is little sign of influence of contemporary artistic movements.

Hopper's people, (if there are any), don't seem to interact with the viewer, each other or the world about them in general but I see beauty in these pictures.
He was interested in the isolation and loneliness of the people around him in the Big City. Indeed, his most famous, iconic work, Nighthawks, clearly depicts that sad situation. Almost paradoxically, his paintings show lonely people but remain attractive to look at. He was a consummate artist and his paintings seem to be full of a nostalgia for an earlier time. The rise of Abstract Expressionism completely cut him off from the artistic movement of the time. He was born in 1882 and died in 1967. 
She is sitting alone and seems to be contemplating her situation. No one else is in the picture. Does she have any friends?
An empty painting. Or is it? There are no people in the early morning sunshine but there is a strong intriguing narrative. Are the shops open? Are they ever open?
Bright sunlight but still a single figure looking away from the viewer.
A later painting filled with gorgeous sunlight - but empty of people.
I'm listening to The Velvet Underground. I like this one: Who Loves the Sun? Listen here.

Tuesday 27 June 2023

The Pinball Wizard has played his last concert in the UK

7.6 million people watched Elton John on UK TV performing at Glastonbury last weekend. He claimed this would be his last ever UK concert - but he has said that before! At 76 years old he still has the magic and his singing and playing were superb. He really looked like he was having a great time although he looked a little unsteady on his feet as he walked out on stage but the years melted away when he began to play.

Yusuf/Cat Stevens also performed a great set at 75 years of age. It was wonderful to see and to listen to. Of course, he does have an extensive back catalogue of material and songs from fifty years ago still sounded fresh and vibrant.

You can see and hear the song that he closed the show with; a spectacular version of Rocket Man. Ten minutes of fabulousness! See it here!

Thursday 15 June 2023

Ghent, Belgium

We have just returned from a few days in Ghent in Flanders, in the north of Belgium. We have visited there several times before but this was the best time and we all decided (four of us) that we now place the city above Bruges, that most-popular of tourist destinations. It's slightly less packed with tourists and slightly less overpriced!

A typical Ghent canal-side view
Belgian is of course famous for it's hundreds of varieties of top-quality beer, of which my Son-in-Law and I are huge fans!

Westvlteren beer is very interesting as, until a few weeks ago, it was only available from their off-the-beaten-track Monastery. They are concerned that it is only sold to end-users and not to businesses. Applying to buy it was like asking to join the Secret Service! We were given a thirty minute time slot to collect it and paid only two Euros for each of 24 bottles; I have seen it advertised at 18 Euros...

I'm listening to Helen Shapiro singing Little Miss Lonely. She was one of the most talented of Britain's female pop-singers and was very mature when she recorded most of her hits as a teenager. Listen here.

Friday 5 May 2023

The Coronation of Charles III


Tomorrow is the coronation of King Charles III in Westminster Abbey where our monarchs have been crowned forty times since 1066. I’m not particularly a Royalist but having a Royal Family is a good way of bringing the country together and I like to have a non-political Head of State; it tends towards stability. Although there are those reject monarchy, having a powerful one is something that many countries look at with envy. Even the French are very interested in ours and the number of American visitors for tomorrow is huge. (Hello Myrna & Herb!) Charles is King of 15 countries and he wanted a very different style from the 1953 event when his mother was crowned. He is keen on inclusivity and he invited the Chief Rabbi to stay overnight in his home in Clarence House so that he could attend. God Save the King!

I thought that Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks would be appropriate. You can hear it (and see the fireworks) here!

Friday 7 April 2023

Artist of the Month (5): Dutch Tobacco Poster Artists

It's hard to believe but there was a time when the full implication of the health risks of smoking were not known (or were ignored).  Adverts would often portray an image of manliness & masculinity and appeal to the opposite sex. None of that changes the merits of the design and appeal of these poster ads. I love poster art and here it is in it's best manifestation.

I'm listening to Kiki Dee's beautiful song Loving and Free. You can listen to it here.

Sunday 2 April 2023

John Donne: No Man is an Island

The phrase No man is an island is often assumed to be Shakespearean or from the Bible but it’s neither. John Donne (pronounced ‘Done’) was among the greatest of English posts and wrote some of the most beautiful love poetry of all time.     However, this isn’t originally a poem at all; it’s from a sermon given by Donne when he was the Dean of St Pauls, London.

       No Man is an Island by John Donne, written in 1623

No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thy friend’s

Or of thine own were:

Any man’s death diminishes me,

Because I am involved in mankind,

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee. 

It was originally published in Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions. Its subject is the interconnectedness of all mankind and, more subtly, examines the relationship between man and God and enquires what it means to be alive.   Donne is saying that people are social creatures and that no one can be truly self-sufficient; people need each other and are better together than they are apart.  He argues that “any man’s death diminishes me” and tells the reader not to ask "for whom the bell tolls." That is, they don’t need to ask who death is coming for, because it’s coming for everyone. Another implicit point here, then, is that people should cherish being alive, and, while alive, embrace being part of the wider human family.    Donne uses an extended metaphor, comparing the joining together of all people to a geographic land mass; each separate part belongs to a whole.

I'm listening to another poet; Bob Dylan's It's All Over Now Baby Blue, a song from a lifetime ago! You can listen to it here.

Thursday 23 March 2023

Sea-Fever by John Masefield

I was once asked what, apart from my family, would I want to save if my home was burning. I realised then that my most treasured possession is a copy of Palgrave's Golden Treasury that was presented to my mother as a school prize in 1934. Palgrave's Golden Treasury of the Best Poems in the English Language is probably the most famous poetry anthology ever compiled. Originally published in 1861, it quickly established itself as the most popular selection of English poems. This edition is dated 1933 “with additional poems”. Inside, it is inscribed:

I learned a lot of poems from it and developed a life-long appreciation. Sea-Fever and Cargoes by John Masefield, who would have been Poet Laureate at the time of this edition's publication, were my two favourites.

I must go* down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, / And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking. 

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide / Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying, / And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life, / To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover, And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over. 

(*The word ‘go’ does not appear in Masefield’s original poem but seems to be included in every current anthology.)

This poem is very straightforward and accessible so I don't think it requires much analysis but I will say that it is a great example of alliteration & onomatopoeia

I'm listening to Bette Midler's wonderful cover of Bob Dylan's Buckets of Rain (and he is also featured on this recording!). Listen here.

Thursday 16 March 2023

Artist of the Month (4): Ronald Searle

RONALD SEARLE (1920 – 2011,) was an English artist and satirical cartoonist, comic artist, sculptor, medal designer and illustrator. He is perhaps best remembered as the creator of St Trinian’s School inspired by his sister's school in Cambridge.  Searle was born in Cambridge and started drawing at the age of five. In 1939, realising that war was inevitable, he abandoned his art studies to enlist in the Royal Engineers. He spent much of the war in a Japanese POW camp where he witnessed awful conditions. After the war, he served as a courtroom artist at the Nuremberg trials and later the Adolf Eichmann trial in 1961.   Searle was extraordinarily prolific producing a huge volume of work, including drawings for Life, Holiday, and Punch magazines. His cartoons appeared in The New Yorker, the Sunday Express, and the News Chronicle.

I'm listening to the fabulous Joni Mitchell singing her own song 'Carey'. You can enjoy it here!

Thursday 9 March 2023

Artist of the Month (3): Frida Kahlo Self-Portraits

FRIDA KAHLO (1907-1954), was born and raised near Mexico City and was unhappily married to the painter and muralist Diego Rivera. She had a Hungarian-Jewish father and a Spanish-Mexican mother and grew up in the midst of the Mexican Revolution, and throughout her life she would face many struggles. She contracted Polio aged six, was in a very serious bus accident at 18 and died from cancer aged 47. Although she would eventually heal from the bus accident, its memory caused her much trauma and she would often have painful relapses. She began painting in the Mexican style while confined to bed during her recovery and about a third of her 155 paintings were self-portraits. I think her work was a kind of therapy for her from her tragic life. She was popular in the 1940s but her popularity faded after her death until a revival during the 1980s feminist movement.

I'm listening to the original version of Rivers of Babylon by the Melodians. Listen here!

Thursday 2 March 2023

London's Green Parakeets

The ring-necked green parakeet is the UK's only naturalised parrot and the most northerly breeding parrot in the world. ring-necked parakeets are originally from Africa and southern Asia and were kept as pets in the UK mainly brought in as exotic pets from Pakistan. It is estimated that there are well over 50,000 of them in London alone. They are mostly confined to the south-east of England but warmer winters will probably see them spreading further. They nest in holes in trees in gardens and parkland, and are often found in noisy, roosting flocks of hundreds of birds and they are frequent visitors to bird tables and garden feeders, particularly during the winter months. They eat nuts, seeds, berries, household scraps and fruits.  The bird has a very long, narrow tail and a bright red bill. Males have a black throat and a thin black and pink collar. Despite their tropical origin, parakeets are able to cope with the cold British winters. 

They are said to be nearing the point where they are considered a nuisance but the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is not currently recommending a cull. However, there is now a new factor to consider. London has about 40 breeding pairs of peregrine falcons – the speediest animal on our planet. Since the first Covid Lockdown there has been a decline in the London pigeon population as tourists haven’t been there to feed them. So the falcons have turned their attention to other prey: starlings and parakeets!

I'm remembering the late Burt Bacharach by listening to one of his early songs sung by The Beatles. Listen to Baby It's You here.

Sunday 26 February 2023


This crazy-looking creature is a large African bird of prey. At first I didn’t believe it was real so I had to check it out. It’s real and probably the weirdest land animal of any kind.

Although a member of the order Accipitriformes, which also includes many other diurnal birds of prey such as kites, hawks, vultures, and harriers, it is placed in its own family, Sagittariidae.

The bird is instantly recognisable as a large bird with an eagle-like body on crane-like legs that give the it a height of as much as 1.3 m (4 ft 3 in). Adults have a featherless red-orange face and predominantly grey plumage, with a flattened dark crest and black flight feathers and thighs. It also has very long eyelashes which I suppose helped to give it the name!

I'm listening to the late and tragic Ronnie Lane singing You Never Can Tell on BBC's Old Grey Whistle Test in 1974. Ronnie was a founder member of The Small Faces, Faces (with Rod Stewart) and Slim Chance. He died far too young from multiple sclerosis. You can listen here. (It's best played as loud as you can stand!)

Monday 20 February 2023

Some more funnies!

I have always enjoyed laughing in general and puns in particular. Five years ago I was invited to be an administrator on the Tim Vine Joke Appreciation Group on Facebook, which now has 277,000 members! Here are some of the things I have posted in the last few months.😊

I'm listening to Leonard Cohen's Sisters of Mercy. Does a song ever get any more beautiful than this? Listen here.

Wednesday 8 February 2023

Artist of the Month (2): Banksy

Robin Gunningham
aka Banksy...or is he?

Banksy, commonly believed to be Robin Gunningham of Bristol, in the west of England, is the most political of artists. He started out as a graffiti artist so he wanted to keep his identity secret to avoid prosecution but he soon moved on to making clever political commentary with his paintings. They are usually painted onto the sides of buildings which has led to a debate of who actually owns them and sometimes whole walls have been sold for extremely large sums. His work is really about where it's made and what it’s saying rather than being ‘fine art’. That’s OK with me! Here are some of my favourites of his work for you to enjoy... or not!

I'm listening to Bob Dylan's "You Ain't Going Nowhere" from The Basement Tapes. Listen here!

Tuesday 10 January 2023

University of the Third Age (U3A)

Founded in 1982, the UNIVERSITY OF THE THIRD AGE (u3a) is a UK-wide movement loosely based on the original French version. It consists of locally-run interest groups that provide a wide range of opportunities for those who are no longer in work, to come together to learn for fun (although there is no actual minimum age.) Members explore new ideas, skills and activities together. There over 1,000 branches with around 400,000 members; membership costs less than £20 on average per year.  u3a has members who draw upon their knowledge and experience to teach and learn from each other but there are no qualifications to pass – it is just for pleasure. Learning is its own reward. It is entirely voluntary and typical u3a will be home to many activity groups covering hundreds of different subjects - from art to zoology and everything in between.  

From the start, the guiding principles were to promote non-formal learning through self-help interest groups covering a wide range of topics and activities as chosen by their members. The u3a movement was to be self-funded, with members not working towards qualifications but learning purely for pleasure. There would be no distinction between the learners and the teachers – everyone could take a turn at being both if they wished. The movement grew very quickly and by the early 1990s, a u3a was opening every fortnight. 2022 saw the 40th Anniversary of the movement in the UK and they are celebrating with a year-long programme of events and celebrations. There is also a National Scheme of lectures, currently mostly on Zoom. These often feature national experts in various fields.

Personally, I run a twice-monthly Political Discussion Group and lead occasion guided, historically-based walks and occasionally I speak on various subjects, usually about art. I take part in various groups; my local Redbridge & District Group features language conversation classes, many discussion groups (general, science, art, psychology etc), pub lunches, weekend walks, knitting, gardening, cooking, play-reading, table-tennis and so on. The movement is now international in USA, Australia and elsewhere but each country has its own unique model.

United States: It’s covered by the Lifelong Learning Institute
I'm listening to Colin Blunstone's wonderful cover of Denny Laine's Say You Don't Mind. You can listen to it here and the original version here