21 September 2014

Radipole Country Primary School in 196x

I moved to Weymouth in 1964 and transferred to Radipole Country Primary School, which was then a short pleasant walk away through woods. Those woods went many years ago.

When I first went to the school the main site was being built so we went to school in the manor house next door. This was the stuff of children's books with vast high-ceiling rooms and a garden that looked even more like the Wild Wood that the wood I walked through to get there did. I'm sure that it would not be allowed these days but it was a lot of fun at the time.

We moved across to the new school when it was ready. It was roughly L shaped with Infant and Junior wings and the hall and offices in the centre. I was in the infant wing and it was around that time that this class photo was taken. It could have been taken at the end of that school year, which would make it 1965 and I would have been 8.

Just in case you had not worked it out, I am the completely relaxed boy on the far right at the back. I can remember some of the other names, Janet Greenway lived just around the corner from me in Roman Road and Dave Ellis was not a lot further away in Spa Road, but mostly they are ghosts of memories.

14 September 2014

The good and the bad of modern architecture in London

Sitting on the top deck of a bus heading up Borough High Street toward London Bridge gave me a good opportunity to see three of London's new iconic buildings from a different viewpoint.

I like the Shard and it looked good from this angle too, rising majestically above the low brick Georgian buildings of Borough. I suspect that the design of the Shard took account of this view as its gentle angle matches that of the church in front of it.

A little further up the road and things took a turn for the worse.

I like the Cheesgrater (on the left) too and it looks fine from this angle. The villain of the piece is the Walkie-Talkie (20 Fenchurch Street) on the right. This is a monstrous building that appears to tower over those in the foreground, despite being on the far side of the river.

13 September 2014

My last day at school (1975)

I have been looking through old photos recently and came across these two from my last day at Weymouth Grammar School some time in the summer of 1975. That is me second from the right.

The photos were taken at The Admiral Hardy where we went at lunchtime for a beer or two. The one above was taken on the children's play equipment in the garden, a sort of rocking horse that was just asking to be sat on.

We all went our separate ways after that, and we had no email or Facebook in those days to help us to keep in contact, so this was the last day that I saw most of them.

The world is a funny place though and about twenty years later I found myself working with one of them at Logica for a while and another I now see occasionally in the pub as he lives in the area and his role in Camra sometimes takes him to my local.

30 August 2014

J D Fergusson and more at Pallant House Gallery

I've been to Chichester many many times, not least for my wedding, but it is not a town that I have ever explored, apart from some of the pubs. And so it was that it took me over thirty years to get around to visiting the Pallant House Gallery.

I rectified that mistake when returning to the town to see a show at the Chichester Festival Theatre. It was a matinee performance and that gave me a couple of hours for the gallery and some lunch.

I first went to the second floor of the new extension (above). This was a typical modern gallery space with white walls and subtle artificial lighting.

The collection was varied in style and subject and among the busy collection there were quite a few things that I liked, such as the large painting on the far right which captured the violence of the Dorset sea brilliantly.

Most of the second floor was given over to an exhibition by John Duncan Fergusson (1874-1961) who was one of the pioneers of modern art in Britain. I know that now because I went to the exhibition, I had not heard of him previously.

Is art was very varied and very influenced, especially by French painters like Cézanne. Some of it meant absolutely nothing to me but two sets of paintings I liked a lot.

The exhibition was spread over half a dozen rooms, each covering a period of his life that was busy spent moving between Britain and France. Each period has its own style/s and so each room in the exhibition was quite different. I did not spend much time in the one full of portraits.

There were several bold pictures of health men and women enjoying the sun of the French Riviera. These had a simplicity of compositions that while focused on the figures also had interesting shapes in the background. I loved the simplicity, colour and serenity of these.

The other set of pictures that I liked were those with a distinctly Impressionist edge to them both in composition and theme.

These were much smaller pictures too, around A4 size, and I had to stand quite close to them to appreciate them. They made nothing like the impact that the large portraits did.

And the large portrait that made the most impact was this one.

A lunchtime spent Googling for "nude woman" failed to find its name but may have hurt my career prospects. Strangely it did not appear when searching simply for images by Fergusson either so my posting it here may be something of an internet first. I find that odd as it was stunning, despite not being strictly anatomically accurate.

I found Fergusson very much hit and miss. That was fine as I could just walk past the misses and there were plenty of hits to keep me happy.

The other displays in the gallery were even more hit and miss. These were in the original Pallant House and part of the attraction was visiting the old rooms that were laid out in period style. These were quite small rooms (especially when compared to the new gallery extension) and so the displays were small too, often just three or four objects or paintings. It had something of the random feel that the V&A does so well.

One of the pleasant surprises was this drawing by Henry Moore. I did not even know that he had done drawings. I like the way that this picture has the simplicity of his famous statues but with the unexpected burst of detail in the faces. It was good to see drawings by the likes of John Piper too.

Another pleasant surprise was that the "no cameras" rule had been abandoned only the previous week. Discovering this I went back through the galleries quickly to add to the photos that I had taken guiltily earlier.

When on holiday I make a point of visiting modern art galleries and I am almost always delighted with what I discover. The Pallant House Gallery showed me that I can to that at home too.

29 August 2014

Return to the Voice at Battersea Arts Centre was reassuringly haunting

The Battersea Arts Centre is my sort of place, I just wish that it was a little closer. The main hall is host to a wickedly diverse range of shows, I've not been to a "normal" play there yet, and the lovely building also has a welcoming bar area that is the ideal place to go before a show. This time I had a beer and a burger both of which hit the required spots.

I was there to see Return to the Voice, which I had forgotten was a concert. What attracted me to it was the promise of a work inspired by ancient Gaelic and Scottish music, including laments for death and love, psalms and songs of exile. It helped that the group behind it were called Song of the Goat Theatre and they came from Poland.

Every show I've seen at Battersea has been different and so has the seating arrangement. This time it was surprisingly standard with normal chairs laid in slightly curved rows on the flat hall floor facing the raised stage. No racked theatre seating for this one. I managed to grab a decent chair in about the fourth row just to the right of centre.

The show opened with a solo song presented from the platform built at the front of the stage. They were joined musically by a solo musician playing something like a Uilleann pipe, i.e. a small single pipe fed from a bag inflated with bellows.

Then the other singers. I did not count them very carefully but I think that there were ten of them, five men and five women. They sang a series of short ballads, mostly a cappella, in a language that I did not recognise, not that that mattered. What did matter was the mood of the music and that was as lyrical and haunting as I had hoped it would be. I am not at all familiar with modern Gaelic music so the only near comparison I can give is Enya.

There were a succession of songs, each I would guess at around the standard album track length of four minutes. There was a lot of group singing, some more soloists and the pipes made a reappearance too. There was even some movement but nothing like enough to be called dancing, it was more a readjustment of the pieces on the stage as the music changed.

It was well off my usual beaten track musically but I enjoyed it immensely none-the-less. Perhaps it was my Irish heritage reminding me that it was there.

Matisse Cut-Outs at Tate Modern

Matisse Cut-Outs at Tate Modern was probably THE "must see" exhibition of the Summer in London and despite being fully aware of this is still took me until almost the end of its long run to find the time to go to see it. And then I had to take a day off and combine it with an evening event to make space for it.

I went in with few preconceptions as I claim no great knowledge of painting and while I had heard of Matisse I could not name anything by him or even describe his style.

My original plan was to go there for 2pm but when I went to buy tickets that morning the earliest slot that I could get was at 4pm, so I went for that. That still left plenty of time for the exhibition before moving on to the theatre, even allowing two and a half hours for the tour, which was how long Paul Klee took last year.

I arrived not long after 3pm, as intended, and started with a coffee and some cake in preparation for spending a long time on my feet.

The exhibition opened by showing how Matisse got in to cut-outs almost by accident. He first used them to plan his paintings, e.g. when doing a still-life he could arrange the objects on the canvass to see how best to position them. From there they grew to become the picture. This step was encouraged when ill health made painting difficult.

Being cut-outs there was a strong physical element to the work even though they were two-dimensional. Looking at the pieces carefully revealed  the many pin holes created as the pieces were tried in different positions, the way that the pictures will built up with layers of colour and the way that the pieces of paper were cut and torn to work and rework the shapes.

Broadly speaking there were two kinds of work, those that relied solely on shape and colour, such as the large piece above and those that portrayed something physical, such as the work on the right.

This is The Creole Dancer from 1950 when Matisse was 81, he died just three years later. It stood an impressive 2m tall by just over 1m wide and grabbed my attention. It was my favourite piece by some distance.

What the exhibition made up for in scale of the works it lacked in the variety. There was no great progression in Matisse's style and little change in his subject matter. It was not quite "if you've seen one, you've seen them all" but the familiarity between the works made it a quicker journey than it was for Paul Klee. I had allowed two and a half hours and it took one and a half. That was still a fair chunk of time and it was still a good exhibition, it just paled a little in comparison to Klee.

That comparison continued in to the shop which was packed with Matisse goods (I pushed the boat out and bought a postcard of The Creole Dancer) but at the end of the Klee run it looked like Old Mother Hubard's cupboard.

The slight misgivings were only slight and Matisse Cut-Outs was a jolly fine exhibition. It was informative, engaging and, at times, striking.

28 August 2014

Wasteland by Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten

Wasteland was another step in my continued immersion in to the world of digital comics. I had been aware of the title for some time and while I had helped myself to the free first issue (something that I often do) I had gone no further. There was nothing "wrong" with the title it was just that I had so many other titles waiting to be read, as I always do.

And then ComiXology had a snap sale.

This is a common tactic of theirs and it obviously works. It made me buy some Batman books that I already had and it made me buy some issues of Wasteland too. There are over fifty issues now but I managed to restrain myself to just six, to complete the first story arc and also get the free-standing issue #7.

This is what the first seven issues look like on my iPad.

The big appeal was the creative team of Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten, the guys behind Umbral. Antony Johnston also write The Fuse that I also read.

The first thing to notice is that Wasteland is black and white. I am comfortable with this having been brought up on British comics and also having read several Marvel black and white magazines in the late 70's when Rudy Nebres was a hero of mine. Incidentally, that is also when and where Star Lord made his début.

Wasteland is a post-apocalyptic story set in the heart of America after the Big Wet which destroyed civilisation and left the remaining people living in small towns and villages with technology from the middle-ages. It has the frontier feel of a cowboy story set somewhere in the south-west.

That sort of reminded me of A Canticle for Leibowitz but only for the setting, not the story.

One of the main players in Wasteland is Michael, pictured here. He is a loner, a scavenger and it is his desert-smarts that help to keep a small group of other survivors/settlers alive.

The other main player (so far) is a mad-king type, Marcus, who runs the town Newbegin. This is the biggest settlement that we have seen so far.

Then there are the Sunners and the Sandeaters. There is a lot going on in this story!

I chose this interior page to illustrate the art work because it is so dramatic. Its layout is not typical though and most pages are constructed from square panels in an irregular grid. Each page looks different as the panels change shape and position to match the flow of the story.

The first story-arc completes nicely but also leaves open lots of threads that I am sure are developed in future issues. Not least is the mystery of the Big Wet and the machine in a trader's store that Michael found that may help to solve this.

It is tempting to plunge in and read the other fifty-odd issues but I have one issue with the comic. The type used in the lettering is slightly indistinct in the digital editions and that makes it somewhat hard for me to read. I can read it but slower and with more effort than I would like. It could be that reading glasses would help but I do not need them for any other digital comics so there is something about Wasteland that is causing the problem for me.

That is only a minor gripe and I am sure that I will be back for more Wasteland before too long to find out what happens next and also what happened previously.

26 August 2014

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Gielgud Theatre

I had not read the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time but I was aware of it and the critical acclaim that it had received so the play had been on my "must see one day" list for some time. Its place there was reinforced by a tweet from TV and radio presenter Evan Davis who said that he had liked the book but thought that the play was even better.

There seemed to be no rush as the play was set for a long run in the West End then the ceiling in the theatre collapsed and it stopped for a while. Luckily it reappeared after not too long a break at the Gielgud Theatre just across the road from the ill-fated Apollo. Even luckier somebody at work organised a block booking with a company subsidy so all was set.

This was another Reading day so I looked for somewhere to grab a beer and possibly some food beforehand. The White Horse, a Samuel Smith's pub nearby, did the trick nicely.

Group booking seats are never the best but they are generally reasonable and mine was this time. I was in seat O4 which had a face value of £39.50, I think that I paid around £20.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was a simple story of a teenage boy caught up in his parents' marital problems. What made this simple story interesting was that it was told through the eyes of the boy and he was autistic.

That singularity of voice was carried forward in a clever production that retained the narrative style and complimented it with short acted scenes and with graphics displayed on the large grid on three sides of the stage. It was something like an illustrated book with some video clips thrown in. Indeed there was a book and one of the actors read to us from it.

To give just one example to show how it worked. In one short scene the boy had to get to a specific destination that he had not been to before. The map was shown on the back of the stage and we could all see that there was a quick and easy route but the boy told us that he knew that if he kept turning left until he got back to where he started and then turned right once before taking left turns again that we would cover all of the roads and ultimately find his destination. His progress was shown as a red dot on the digital map while he shuffled around the stage.

That sounds a little clumsy but it was not and the effect was very engaging. Not knowing the story may have helped but I was completely enthralled. It was all very human without being schmaltzy and clever without being fussy.

The Curious Incident ... was one of those plays where everything had clearly been thought through and testing in rehearsals so that all the words, movements and props gelled to make a rich and consistent whole. It was as wonderful as it was unique.