Monday, 4 August 2014

Lest we forget

It was supposed to be the war to end all wars. How wrong they were. We forget that.



Monday, 28 July 2014

Never say never

I’d always seen opera as elitist nonsense; at best musicals for rich knob heads and at worst the equivalent to the emperor’s new clothes. Arrogance fuelled stupidity on my part I kind of think. But I’m trying to open up my mind and take it to places that it’s not previously been. In April during my sojourn to Sheffield I went to a modern dance production of Kes. I enjoyed it immensely. Buoyed by this new found enthusiasm for cultural adventure I notice as I walked past Norwich’s Theatre Royal a week or so ago that they were having a mini Wagner fest. Funny I fought, funny. And then as I wended my way home I mulled over the concept of going to an opera.

I felt that I was on pretty safe territory when back home I went on line to check ticket availability. Surely it must have sold out. But no. There were tickets available. So yesterday I found myself watching TannhĂ€user performed by Theater Freiburg, and bloody good it was too. Right from my early teens I’ve been a fan of the music of Richard Wagner. Like the works of Elgar I like to bath in its stirring majesty. And like Elgar I care not for the jingoistic/nationalistic wasters that have attempted to use the music for their own evil purposes. The music stands on its own and mindless baggage that sometimes surrounds it isn’t even worth getting irritated over. Ignoring it is best. So right from the start I thought, ‘wow this is wonderful stuff’. The first act, and certainly the opening scene, before the signing started, reminded me a bit of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. It was the Teutonic mime and jerky movements that did I guess. And as so as the singing started I was relieved to discover that it wasn’t painful in any way. The plot is a bit lame. Singing competitions, seduction by Venus and going to Rome on penitence. Oh and a death of course. But it was lively and colourful. I love live entertainment and I certainly loved this. Speaking to some opera purists during the second interval I was surprised to learn that it was a bit too modern and ‘impure’ for their liking, so being the perverse bugger I am this made it all the more endearing to me. I can well put up with a bit of modernism. In my humble opinion cultural conservatives are mentally moribund.

No fat ladies appeared to be harmed in the performance of this opera. In fact there were no fat ladies to be seen on stage. So technically, presumably, it ain’t over yet!
And I suppose it isn’t as I intend to go to an opera again.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

V for victory?

I've never been a fan of wrestling even though I know it's only play acting. And don't get me started on boxing! Blokes beating the shit out of each other isn't entertaining, or sport, or right! Peace and love, peace and love. Having said that I love the photo below. I saw it as part of Jeremy Deller's exhibition of last year, 'All That Is Solid Melts Into Air'. It's of a 'superstar' wrestler called Adrian Street who escaped from a Welsh pit town for the bright lights. He went back to the pit where his father worked (also in the picture) to show them how successful he was.



In our creative writing course last week we were asked by Andrea our tutor to write a piece on a picture in front of us. But it wasn't to be about the picture itself. It had to be about what happened just before the picture was 'captured' or just after. It had to be written in a matter of minutes. I chose to write about what happened after. Here is my piece:

Adrian returned to the pit of his father. In essence it was a two fingered exercise. But afterwards, after the photo shoot they all went down to the local, the pub. The prodigal son had returned. All the old men order their pints of Red Barrel. The star pays. He's done well for himself, 'is on the telly'. They are happy to let him pay. Dressed in his finery, the peacock crows, 'look at me' he seems to be saying, but none of them hear. They talk of wrestling, of money and inevitably of rugby football. Everyone's talking but no one listening. Adrian's body is his temple. Real men don't normally order orange juice. Well except at the weekend, for the wife you understand. Real men drink their pints and conform to the natural order of things. 'What's it like being famous?' A voice like all other voices asks but doesn't wait for the answer. The answer is never heard. Chalk and cheese it is. There's lovely!

Wham bam thank you mam!


Monday, 23 June 2014

Visual Verse

Visual Verse is a website that publishes a picture and asks writers to write a short piece inspired by that picture. It's ekphrasis again! I submitted a contribution which you will find here. I hope you like it.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

The art of getting one's kit off

As an artist I've never been an admirer of the naked human form as subject matter. I don't think it has anything to do with any repression or hang-ups. I have no fear of the naked human bodily form in any of its shapes and sizes. In fact I'm quite relaxed about it. It's just that so far I've never felt the need to express myself in my art via the nude. Although I'd happily pose nude for another artist or photographer. I suppose it is the paradox of the nude being both liberating and oppressing that disturbs me. I've always been troubled by the possible exploitative nature of it. If you attach the label of 'art' to something, does that make it more respectable than say pornography? And, who determines what is art and what is pornography? I've never understood the true meaning of erotic either. So perhaps it's me? I'm no prude; if people want to take their clothes of let them I say. If there was more nudity about amongst the general populace perhaps we might be less shocked by it and perhaps exploitation might be reduced considerably. Who knows? 


Due to my ambiguous feelings it's rare that I appreciate the art-form that is the nude. There are one or two exceptions however, Tamara de Lempicka's work being an obvious one, but for me one painting that is outstanding for its form, humanity and love is this portrait of Patricia Preece by Stanley Spencer:




I wrote this blog posting in rough form a couple of weeks ago but was inspired to finish it and post it after my creative writing course of last week.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Ekphrasis

At the creative writing course I attended today I learned a new word; ekphrasis. It is a piece of writing that comments on or is about another art form. I don't ever remember coming across it before but it is a technique I have employed occasionally over on my other blog 'if you feel it, it's real'.

I'll leave that with you to ponder upon and to contemplate how best to drop it in to everyday conversation. Perhaps it could even be utilised to break the ice at parties.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Revolution

Violence achieves nothing. There are no winners in war. When I talk of revolution I can only contemplate it in terms of peaceful means. Only true revolution is non-violent.



You for coffee?

The rise of the coffee shop is an interesting phenomenon and as a nation our love affair with coffee seems to go from strength to strength. Why? I suppose that the availability of good coffee has helped. As someone weaned on and scared by Camp Coffee, a disgusting tincture like abomination (with chicory), in my formative years and then brown but grey Maxwell House instant coffee powder I find our appreciation of good coffee a welcome and remarkable transformation.

I've sat in one or two coffee shops in recent times and pondered on their success. I think I'm starting to understand their appeal. Obviously one of the big attractions is good coffee, but it's more than that, although many people do now appear to be addicted to the stuff, it is a drug after all. I suppose the advantage coffee has over alcohol is that it gives you a buzz without impairing one’s senses. For me and I'm sure many like me alcohol dulls the senses and generally has a soporific effect whereas coffee at least short term heightens the senses. Teenagers can drink it without being challenged about their age. For teetotallers it offers a social drinking experience without the fear of being enticed or exposed to the demon drink. I’m a big real ale fan and I will often cite the rise of the coffee shop as a good example of why pubs are closing. Pubs aren’t closing because of the rise of the coffee shop or because of cheap booze being sold by supermarkets. Pubs are closing because all too often they are shit at marketing; the rise of the coffee shop has come about because the concept has been well marketed. They have given customers, by and large, an experience that customers like. Compared with the cost of good coffee bought in a supermarket and consumed at home the prices in a coffee shop are very high, but people are prepared to pay. And they are prepared to pay for it because they get that it's about the overall experience and not just about a vessel of brown liquid.


From the frontispiece of Ned Ward’s satirical poem Vulgus Brittanicus (1710)

Sadly today's coffee shops are a far cry from the London coffee houses of the 17th and 18th centuries when people went there not only for coffee and the social side but to get the news of the day and to debate the politics and concerns of the day. Coffee houses were often a hotbed of discontent and talk of revolution. Sadly in today's coffee chains you rarely hear of sedition with a skinny latte or a rebellious ristretto! We can only live in hope that the revolution is only a double espresso away. Costa la vista baby!



Sunday, 15 June 2014

Mind over matter

Last week I spent two days on a Mental Health First Aid course. I must say the more contact I have with the mental health charity Mind the more respect I have for them. Their two day First Aid course is most helpful, but there were one or two things that shocked me. First up, out of the twelve of us that attended, I was the only man. The person delivering the course was a man and another man came along to share his experiences but apart from that it was all women. Secondly when we came to the section on suicide I was very shocked to discover that the suicide rate for males is three times that of females. I don't think it's just that men are more successful at it. They just don't want to talk.

Men have an issue with health and as for mental health it's a definite no no. It seems to me that a lot of men are dying because they just won't talk about stuff. How to get men to talk? I have no idea. All I know is men need to chill a bit and give in to their feminine side. Do that and there's hope. Macho is a terminal disease. It consigns men to an early grave one way or another. So come on chaps let's talk. It's not cissy to have problems of stress or depression or prostate problems or libido problems. It's perfectly natural. Talking helps. So come on guys next time you're sharing a beer, sod the football, get chatting about touchy feely stuff like feelings and bodily functions. You'll feel a shed load better about it I promise.