Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Fenster am Hof








Well, not quite Hitchcock (much safer, and in Duesseldorf)

In der deutschen Baeckerei [Duesseldorf]

Tatsaechlich ... zur Weihnachtszeit

video

Snow Man


On the snow theme, here's a mini-snowman from near Cannon Hill Park ...

White Christmas ..

SNOW OVER GERMANY - Deutschlandschnee



Yes, it was, just, and plenty of snow in Duesseldorf the week before too (tried to return on the 20th, had to fly on the 21st instead!)



Ex Cathedra 12th December

Superb concert led by Jeffrey Skidmore with a single heavy drum in liturgical Christmas music in Spanish, Latin and native Latin American Indian languages, all from the Baroque era.
Beautiful music and a powerful atmosphere, very special indeed.

Over again till next year?


Christmas comes and goes again... is it worth it? Still something special about the time of year, the music, services, buying presents and seeing other people's enjoyment [one hopes] on receiving them...and then the sales, oh well.

The Frankfurt Market came and went, sad to see the people packing up the stalls, but then they have their families, friends and homes to be with too...

Monday, 7 December 2009

Christmas Carol

A wonderful one-man performance by actor Clive Francis of Dicken's Christmas Carol. Sparing but powerful special effects and music added to thrilling atmosphere in Birmingham's Town Hall. Recreation of Dickens' own reading in 1853 at the same venue!
http://www.thsh.co.uk/view/a-christmas-carol-by-charles-dickens--performed-by
If this turns up near you, then go.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Gigs and things

Outside Track at the Red Lion Folk Club - and local man Paul O'Brien.
Irish, Scottish, Canadian, Brummie. Why be anywhere else?

Some beauty




... in the world, despite everything.


Thoughts

A sad thought maybe, but thinking of people having harder times this year: relationships, ailing parents, illness, redundancy.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Seeing old colleagues

You leave a part of you wherever you've been, and that's true. One way and another I've worked in different places and value people I've met at all of those: I'm glad I can see them again from time to time.
Till the next time, thanks to all.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Carlisle and About


Derwentwater: Friar's Crag













Chesters Roman Fort












Carlisle Cathedral

Friday, 23 October 2009

Back from the North!

And a good time had by all.
Carlisle has plenty of history, Roman and later, and makes a fine base. We visited Scotland with Dumfries and the Robert Burns centres, went close to Newcastle with Hexham Abbey and Chesters Fort on Hadrian's Wall, and took in Keswick, Derwentwater for a breath of the English Lake District.
Stayed in Carlisle itself for the last day, and a lovely Evensong at the Cathedral followed by a friendly Thai meal (second evening in a row!) opposite the hotel. Train back. Also: Tullies House and Museum for Local Interest and the WALL again, and the Guildhall Museum for a 14th Century wood-beamed sloping floor Guilds & all feel for the past.
Pics to follow soon!

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Stately England?

What's the difference between the National Trust and English Heritage? Tweed and tea-rooms, but warm and with roof! EH outdoors and a flask...:)

On the move on Roman ways

Would the Roman troops have gone by train? I doubt if they'd have got this far or built Hadrian's Wall. 'We apologize for the delay in the construction of this wall, this is due to poor overhead weather conditions'. Oh dear. ;-)

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Burma VJs


Picture from BurmaVJ film Facebook group page.
Incredibly brave video journalists, filming the peaceful protests of 2007 and their subsquent brutal suppression. Monks leading the people, and finally a handful of students, against one of the world's cruellest regimes. 3 of the journalists are in prison (under no doubt awful conditions).
There's an online petition letter to send to the UN to keep up awareness of Burma, too easily forgotten in the world's news.
http://burmavjmovie.com for details.

Monday, 12 October 2009

A Tale of Two Concerts

Radio 3 last Friday (9th Oct): Martinu, Strauss - 4 Last Songs - Mahler's 10th Symphony, First Movement (Adagio).
Picked up on Martinu through Radio 3's composer of the week for a couple of days when I was off sick.
Mahler - hadn't listened to this for ages, even years. The shattering power of this movement is actually remarkably invigorating: if the 9th Symphony is a gut-wrenching emotional evisceration (if that's a word), of the nearness of the end, this pulls you beyond to a sense of beyond destruction, the phoenix from the ashes and all that. A triumph and a glimpse of what Mahler might have become in a modernist age if he'd lived longer.


Picture from www.thsh.co.uk, accessed 12/10/09.

Town Hall last night (11th Oct): Old Dance School, Toy Hearts, Destroyers.
Lively, tuneful, atmospheric - and in the case of the Destroyers, completely and superbly mad.
Folk (Dance School), bluegrass with their own songs (Toy Hearts), Klezmer in thrash-tuba-fiddle-guitar mode.
Tremendous talent and all local bands!

Queuing for the Exhibition


A tale of Spanish gold ... well, Staffordshire anyway. Some wonderful examples of Anglo-Saxon metalwork, found in a field by a man with a metal-detector ... Queueing takes about 2 hours, I'm afraid I left it, but others enjoyed the show, the exhibits will go to the British Museum for further work now I think.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Global Greetings


- Library pictures (British Library in London!).
Gruesse an Freunde und Bekannte nah und weit.
Bonjour, buenos dias, buona siva, usw.

other worlds

Amnesty International events: speaker on - dreadful - conditions and some very brave people in the Congo. Regional Conference, reminder of others concerned about rights and abuses worldwide. Look at www.amnesty.org.uk.

Send instant messages to your online friends http://uk.messenger.yahoo.com

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

morning time blues?

Time to get going, an easy trip to work, unlike many people's commute.

Some thoughts on Reading


No, not the town west of London.

Trigger is "How to talk about books you haven't read" by Pierre Bayard, published in English by Granta (from the French, "Comment parler des livres que l'on n'a pas lus?").
Don't feel guilty that you haven't read everything! It's important to express yourself and write too, not just read other people's thoughts and expressions all the time.
Starts with the librarian in "The man without qualities", who deliberately doesn't read the books in his library because it would prejudice him and make his job impossible.
But he does read the contents pages and makes an assessment of the books to catalogue and shelve them appropriately. Yo man!
Goes via critics who are happy to make judgements on books without reading them, eg Paul Valery.
The comic pain of giving a talk on something you've read to people who think you're someone else (happens in Graham Greene's "The third man").
Wish I'd thought of all that earlier.
Don't feel guilty, don't be afraid of "culture". Come to think of it, that only puts other people off and makes the wary even warier of engaging with "intellectual stuff". A real problem in this country with its class divisions and prejudices and self-imposed cages which we must try to break - at least try.

Agrippina


Picture from http://www.barber.org.uk/ accessed 06/10/09.
Forget to post on this. 50th anniversary opera staging at Barber Institute (University of Birmingham). Handel's Agrippina, sort of I Claudius (if you remember that) meets the Aeneid meets Carry On Rome. Superb singing and orchestral accompaniment, lively drama - with some very up-front and revealing moments, a bit too revealing if you were sitting at the front as we were ... Nero in a G-string, could've have lived without that really, though my other half didn't seem to mind. On the other hand, Poppeia and the veils ...
Was a bit long though, half-hour or so shorter would've been welcome. But thanks to D.P. for the suggestion and tickets. Performance standard excellent.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

On the road at home!


From my phone to the blog although I'm at home. Hmm.
Editing this on the laptop now though.

Canal Side


Out and About and some Folk Culture

Colum Sands at the Red Lion Folk Club - laid-back, fun and perceptive take on life in Ireland and on his travels. Lovely guy, nice evening.

Getting lost and asking for directions .. 'Am I on the right road for Cork?'
'You're on the right road .. but you've turned the wrong way!'

Much-missed Aunt, and an eccentric Uncle.
Mobile phones ... is anyone left at home?

Funeral wakes ... "Well, it could've been worse ..."

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Some Pics


Arts Fest 11th-13th September

The Birmingham annual free events arts bash. Anything from a local singer-songwriter in a pub, to the CBSO and th Royal Ballet on the big stage in Centenary Square. In the end, we enjoyed the smaller events more, not so overpowering with the numbers of people around. Even had a friendly chat with two Villa supporters outside the Prince of Wales pub on Sunday evening, local guys with an interest in music and no interest in causing trouble. Fun.
See http://www.artsfest.org.uk/ for details of what was what, and look out for it this time next year!

Soweto Gospel Choir

This was quite something. Symphony Hall, Birmingham, 17th September. In the footsteps of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a superbly polished and wonderfully energetic gospel choir bringing the life of South Africa to the Birmingham stage. They're clearly well-practised, and have performed these pieces many times, but care no less about them and their audience. A range of African and Western church and general songs (including versions of Bridge over Troubled Water and of course, World in Union[which worked really well]) formed the programme, and by the end, and with several encores, the choir had the audience dancing in the aisles and even in the stalls.
A very international audience too, great fun and really quite moving to see and take part in such a celebratory atmosphere. The singers stood came out to talk with audience members afterwards and continue the good feeling.
They're doing a national tour so get to see them if you can.
http://www.sowetogospelchoir.com for their website.

Moseley Folk 5th & 6th September



Picture from www.moseleyfolk.co.uk homepage, accessed 19/09/09.

Great weekend of peace and love and that generation (and younger) in Moseley Park. Cara Dillon and husband Sam Lakeman and band, quirky (and rich) folk-rocker Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull the main acts on Sunday. I got a ticket on the day, a bit more expensive but well worth it, such an enjoyable event. Ex-comedian Adrian Edmondson has turned punk-rocker, assembling a high-calibre folk band to play their own versions of the Jam, the Clash, Sex Pistols etc, refreshing versions of what have become old classics. Handily for her, Edmondson's daughter is a singer-songwriter (not bad either, though there are many in this vein) who has a CD out on her and her Dad's record label.

Went with my other half on Saturday and sat in our new folding seats - local outdoor shops must have done a roaring trade in these - near the bar. Purity ales matched by the German and Czech pils on offer. No aggro or arguments, it's not that sort of place.
Beth Orton a little shaky on Saturday but an enjoyable range of bands as ever. Keeping the old stagers show running on the stage were Comus, a truly weird but inventive psychedelic folk outfit using Milton's Comus poem as their hook and song-base. "Power to Comus" ... peace man, but stick to the paracetamol.
Altogether a lovely English and international event. The same weekend that small but ill-intentioned bunch of right-wingers calling themselves the English Defence League were causing trouble in the city centre. Well, I question what they see as English. This was English, but needs no defence, and excludes no-one with artificial leagues. Music is international and welcomes all.
Thank you Moseley Folk.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Won!


And England won the Ashes!! Again! That's three times at least in my lifetime!!
I need a rest. Or tea at my Mum's.

Lapworth Stroll

Marylebone train from Snow Hill or Moor St [not all of them though]. Lapworth after Dorridge. Lovely countryside, nice pub with posh food and beer called the Boot Inn.
Stile-free walk with purple sign-arrows.
Try it!
No pics, didn't have my camera.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

London or Bust?

2 great prom concerts at the Albert Hall - Labeque sisters on piano, Mozart, Saint Saens: National Youth Orchestra with Stephen Hough on piano for Tchaikovsky's first concerto for said keyboard instrument. See BBC Website. :)
British Library for the Henry VIII exhibition - see BL website. :)
Too much rush for the trains :( got it though. Virgin v. comfortable, cheap and on time! :)
Harrods isn't Fortnum & Mason though ... getting lost in London :(

Pic: Coffee by the King's Library stacks in the BL Cafe. A must!

Monday, 17 August 2009

Maddened by phone companies?

Currently maddened by a certain mobile phone/media company (run by a hairy guy from the 60s/70s, does something in trains and planes too): taking ages to get a replacement for a faulty phone.

Crazy systems. Turned out they'd given the delivery company an address I was last at in December 2005 ... but was still left on the computer...

And they still won't let me exchange at the shop: I only reported the fault more than 28 days after I bought the phone.
At one stage, phoning Customer Services, I had to find the shop details myself and give them to the hapless Virgin guy at the end of the phone, who couldn't apparently find it on his company's own website!!

Anyway, this is a much nicer scene, a wonderful apple pie baked by our kind friends Katherine and Dave. Thanks to both for a nice evening with them and Becky recently!

Friday, 14 August 2009

Burma Action Saturday

From Central Birmingham Amnesty group blog: [link at left of this blog].

"The Central Birmingham and Bournville Amnesty Groups have joined forces to hold a Burma action this coming Saturday (15th August) between 10am and 4pm.

The action will be held in Birmingham City Centre at Victoria Square, where we will be asking members of the public to have their photograph taken with a life size representation of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Please come along and say hello and show your support for the campaign."

Monday, 3 August 2009

Speak German! Jawohl!?


Octogenarian linguist Wolf Schneiders guide to the contemporary German language glutted by English loan words that aren't words or phrases but artificial constructs of the advertising industry and Deutsche Bahn, largely. Not as one-sided as I thought it'd be: and does respect many constructions adopted over the years from French and English. A kind of manifesto for thinking out natural German terms for Brainstorming, anti-ageing cream, 'Service Point' (customer service or information desk at the train station) and other such imports. Argument partly is that contemporary Germany denigrates its own linguistic culture, through a confused sense of identity and lack of pride in cultural achievements, stemming in part from obvious disasters of twentieth century history (interesting that he uses a loan word, Desaster, to describe the Nazi period).

A bit right wing (solid CDU/CSU feel to the work) for me at times - too much perhaps on Leitkultur and the dangers of multiculturalism. A treatment of bilingual Turkish Germans and their linguistic contributions would have been interesting.

On the whole, witty and some points well made and with almost English humour (sorry!:)). Ja, er hat Recht: man sollte mehr German speaken, soforth!
"Speak German - warum Deutsch manchmal besser ist" by Wolf Schneider, Rowohlt Taschenbuch.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah.








Definitely one to read. Recommend to anyone who wants or needs to know more about what refugees have been through before they arrive here - and what our authorities shamefully put them through to placate general ignorance and the press. Alem is taken and left by his father in London to escape persecution in Ethiopia and Eritrea for having parents on both sides of the divide. While his family story is ultimately desperately tragic, Alem shows real courage, and his friends at school in London, in his foster-family and the local community, stand up for him and his father as do many similar groups in this country when persecuted people are threatened with removal back to countries where their lives are in danger.
Zephaniah as ever tackles the subjects with realism - he dedicates this novel, aimed at the teen age range but there for all ages, to two boys he met, and he clearly has done his homework on this. The Refugee Council's work is also highlighted.
We don't have to give up - if we have any humanity, we should take note of these cases, and challenge the Home Office, the UK Borders Agency, and any such bodies as and when their policies and behaviour threaten and demean the well-being of the real-life equivalents of Alem and his father. Would you like to be beaten and escape with your life, only to be fingerprinted in a detention centre, would you want to queue with vouchers at a separate supermarket while locals with cash walk past you; to live in squalid housing where landlords only care about the money that comes through direct from authorities - and where you have no say because you fear the consquences if you do complain. Then your asylum application is turned down by a judge and system who seem to ignore at least half the evidence.
The tireless help of his foster family, the Fitzgeralds, the Refugee Council's Mariam and Sheila the social worker, the friends at Alem's school who organise the demonstration and petitions so impressively, show that there is hope.
Hope in life and in people - and the novel shows this, despite tragedy and offical coldness.

Published by Bloomsbury.

MEASURING THE WORLD ...


Well, not the world but my Mum's garden. Nice flowers though, and the garden's big enough.
Daniel Kehlmann's bestseller Die Vermessung der Welt. Not time to do this justice here really, an intriguing and, as it nears the end, surprisingly poignant novel about two great minds and men of the 19th century in Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Friedrich Gauss. The former a well-connected Prussian with a taste for travel and a genius and determination to use surveying and insight to measure, test and research the world via Spain and South America, finally returning via a stay in France to Berlin.
Less one for accomodating society, Gauss - a brilliant mathematician and difficult (to say the least) character who brusquely contacts his wife's best friend to marry him just after his wife's died in childbirth.
Something of an intelligent, well-researched and fluently written boy's own adventure story: it comes into its own as it portrays the two pillars of the scientific world as they age and younger men with newer instruments take over the stage and fete the heroes while sidelining them. Except Humboldt - on an almost ill-fated journey to Russia - is needed to use his techniques to steer the boat he's on to safety when all seems lost. And Gauss continues his astronomical viewings and learning Russian, inspired by Humboldt's trip.
A way to learn some history of science, and history, and well worth the trip.
It's been translated too - see the title of this post. Quercus publishing. Waterstone's etc.

Books I've been with

One idea of this blog was to keep track of things I've read, maybe why I've read them, what happened in them and sort of what they're about.
Maybe.
Here goes:
Romulus der Grosse by Swiss playwright Friedrich Duerrenmatt. Play about the final days of the Western Roman Empire, 476 AD.
Emperor Romulus - named after the Roman founder - tends his chickens while ignoring pleas by his wife and daughter, a fleeing Byzantine Emperor and an exhausted messenger to make a last stand against the invading Germanic tribes. Tables are turned when Romulus' family and guests are drowned en route to Sicily, and Germanic leader Odoaker turns out to sympathize with Romulus' dislike of empires, power and their oppression.
A sideways look at Empire: how much allusion there is to World Wars, Cold War times I'm not sure, but something is there. The Diogenes text was reworked by the author in 1980: a previous version goes back to 1957.
Smoothly, slickly written even: using the old Greek rules of drama (24 hours, one setting, and ...) this is an accomplished piece, without necessarily standing out as a masterpiece. Effectively challenges any heroic writings on Rome's glory: too much blood built this and any Empire.
Read the comments on http://www.amazon.de/Romulus-Grosse-ungeschichtliche-historische-Neufassung/dp/3257230427/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1248817792&sr=1-1 while they're there.
Then read the play.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Poetry On the Go - Music and Words





Went to the Ledbury Poetry Festival yesterday - http://www.poetry-festival.com/.


Julie Boden performed music to Steve Troman's piano accompaniment, a project linked with a backstage 'piano room' at Symphony Hall. Very powerful, hypnotic combination of words and music, Julie a skilled poet and performer based at Symphony Hall and whose work's been known for a while now.


Michael Horovitz is from the Beat generation, widely-known (but newer to me, in my ignorance); quite amazing performer, energy and wild vocals with homemade musical accompaniment! Not so sure about the anti-Blair/Bush work, fair points but just not so effective poetry somehow. Glad I got to see him, with a packed room of others.


Benjamin Zephaniah - whose full name includes Christian, Jewish and Muslim names, which as he said sounds great but actually means he gets stopped at every airport in the world! He isn't over-hyped: he just is an enjoyable, natural performer, who has great skill with words, ideas, feelings, politics, and communicates these so well with his audiences. A gentle manner but never bland, some hard-hitting points but not overdone. (For me, his approach to politics worked better than with the Horovitz earlier: Zephaniah can be angry, but goes beyond cliche and brings something new and impressive to the arguments. You know what he's saying, but you still have to think).
He overran by about twenty minutes or so - I didn't care and only 1 person in a packed community hall had to leave early. The rest of us would have stayed all evening if Ben Z had.
The Turkey at Christmas poem was there, one for his mum (her response once? Now shut up and go to bed!), poems about Islamophobia post 9/11, and the moving, angry, intelligent response to the whole shameful mess leading to the non-convictions following the Stephen Lawrence murder trial[s]. Just a selection of the range of his work.

If you have a chance to see any of these performers soon, don't wonder, just go!

Oh, and I was in the local bookshop when Ben Okri was there having a chat with the booksellers/owners. Very amiable man, who elicited suitable approval from the owners when he'd left too. All part of the fun of a festival.


And one of the other main poets sat next to me at the Michael Horovitz reading. I didn't ask for an autograph though.






Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Deva Chester Walls Pubs Museum and a Zoo





Magical History Tour of Chester, a not-so-creaky old bus with some creaky old jokes in the fascinating commentary as we saw the sights of the city.


Left of the bus is the visitor centre, right off-picture St John's Church, actually more interesting than Chester Cathedral - and doesn't cost you to get in!! [No moneylenders/changers in the temple here]. Norman Arches, windows with key figures in Chester History, a reference to two possible Christian martyrs. Something coming up on the History Channel, the Vicar told us in person!












Other forms of transport around too - didn't try these though.



Decided against the horse-riding too, but did have a look at the Roodee Racecourse as we walked around the old walls of the city.



Watch out for the mean streets though ...









Stayed in a roomy, clean and decent hotel [Stafford] very near the Station, tasty egg on toast, handy for a trip to Port Sunlight on the Mersey link.

Very tasty food at the Old Coach House hotel/pub/restaurant near the town hall and bus station.




Camels, chimps, orang utans, tropical fish, Komodo Dragons, rhinos, elephants, penguins, people watching too... and another train trip, the mini-overhead rail round Chester Zoo. Bit pricey, but a great layout and intriguing to see the chimps and orang utans not being too distantly related ... and more intelligent behaviour than you'll see in the average city on a Saturday night down the pubs ...

More to come if you're lucky ?!



Saturday, 4 July 2009

Chester and more


Chester bound today! History and stuff and not too much rain I hope - more to come.

Also: will write up about Die Vermessung der Welt, Daniel Kehlmann, German [well, he lives in Austria] bestseller about Grumpy Gauss the Great Mathematician, and Gad-about Humboldt the Travelling Scientist and Discoverer, geniuses of their day with a profound impact on science and our understanding of the world and beyond. Poignant too as they grow older and their powers are restricted by age and those around them.

Bis bald!

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Gardens a Pub and a Park








A nice half at the Prince of Wales in Moseley, and a trip to the annual Moseley in Bloom - gardens open to the public - made for a pleasant Sunday stroll and suburban nature away from the centre.


Chantry Road, Augusta Road, a church, Salisbury Road, gardens of splendour delight, bijoux and grand-scale.

Moseley, that unique Birmingham suburb of rich, not at all rich, culture large houses ...

And gardens.

And a stream going through at least one..












Then there's the lake, only for key-holders normally, but today ...













Relaxing, nothing better ...




Tuesday, 16 June 2009

ALL WELCOME

An international weekend just been with Celebrating Sanctuary, visitors and bands from around the world including the Congo and Zimbabwe.

Also the German Meetup which is going strong now, a chance to talk German with other interested parties, not least a good number of native speakers who find themselves in Birmingham or nearby, by accident or design.

So while the pictures are copying onto the computer, for later deletion no doubt, here's some thoughts ..



A place is what it is through the people that stay with it and come to it, without migrants, immigrants it stagnates, lacks the impetus and fresh outlooks that others bring: without a certain mass of 'locals' it can be transitory, lack roots. At best, there's an openness and tolerance (despite extremists) about Britain that can absorb and grow from influxes: at worst, a suspicion of anything from outside.

Birmingham is remarkably peaceful in diversity, but the real problems need addressing. I love being in the city centre at the weekend, or at Cannon Hill Park, because so many different communities are there, but different peoples tend to dwell separately. Common ground is a step forward.

Friday, 12 June 2009

STILL HUMAN STILL HERE - AMNESTY CAMPAIGN

I belong to one of Birmingham's Amnesty International volunteer groups. Tomorrow - Saturday 13th - we're at the Celebrating Sanctuary festival in the city centre, supporting local refugees and Asylum seekers, who so often and so unfairly get a bad press, yet want to contribute so much (and often do through voluntary work, churches, etc).

Thursday, 4 June 2009

The Reader - read




http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Literature
Examinando las escrituras diariamente. Accessed 050609.

The Reader
http://www.amazon.de/Vorleser-Diogenes-Taschenbuch-22953/dp/3257229534/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1244154709&sr=1-1

Keywords: Reading and listening, guilt, avoidance, self-knowledge, intimacy and avoidance, honesty, suffering, recognition, atrocities, Holocaust or Shoah.

Der Vorleser by Bernhard Schlink is the novel that was filmed recently, with Kate Winslet as the tram ticket collector with whom the narrator falls in love and has a brief, passionate affair that shapes his whole life.
A chance encounter in the street, while 15-year old Michael is recovering from jaundice, leads to the affair that lasts for a Summer, before ending with Hanna's abrupt unexplained departure from the town.
As a law student, he then follows her trial for complicity in an atrocity while a concentration camp guard at a feeder camp for Auschwitz. Frustrated, he watches her inability to help her own cause by her bluntly honest defence of what she did while a guard - what else could she do? She even asks the trial judge at one point, 'What would you have done' (the judge makes a general moral statement, but doesn't answer the question). As the trial progresses, the other accused ex-guards are only to happy to shift the blame to Hanna, though just as guilty themselves.
The crux of the novel: understanding our actions, how they affect others ... Hanna is illiterate. This emerges during and after the trial. Hence her need for Michael to read literature to her, just as she asked girls in the camp too before they were sent off to Auschwitz and death. Hence her sudden change of jobs - when promotion beckons, she disappears rather than face the humiliation of having her illiteracy revealed.
Imprisoned for life - 18 years in the end, though she is badly aged by the experience - she listens to tapes recorded by Michael which he posts to her, though he sends her no letters. She slowly writes to him, struggling and succeeding to master literacy.
How much does this matter? Jewish women and children were trapped in a church guarded by Hanna and her colleagues who did nothing to let them out - it was bombed, the spire fell in, fire spread and all but two prisoners died.
The whole mentality of following orders, maintaining order, and simply not understanding what was wrong - this is shown all too clearly. Making scapegoats too - were these trials designed to make other Germans feel less guilty?
The two survivors of the atrocity were a mother and daughter. After the shock of Hanna's suicide the day she is due to leave prison - and be collected by Michael who is her only contact in the outside world - Michael visits the daughter in the USA, who cannot accept Hanna's remaining money from her will, but points to finding a charity. Accepting the money would mean offering absolution - she cannot do this.
There is no escape from awful deeds and from complicity - Hanna's tragedy is that in trying to escape the handicap and social shame of illiteracy - by leaving Siemens to become a camp guard - she walks into the crime of active involvement in the horrors of the Nazi holocaust.
Her personal shame blinds her to the national evil of the Shoah.
Her passionate, cold, unsatisfactory but longing relationship with Michael haunts his whole life - he avoids intimacy again, has a broken marriage and other short relationships, unable to allow women to be really close and to hurt and dominate him as did Hanna.
This sounds a heavy book, but it is subtly and beautifully written, with the right balance of compassion and distance, empathy and objectivity.
Life isn't simple, we are complicit by our involvement. But some things are wrong beyond any doubt or challenge.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Jon's Blog: Brum & Beyond

Weekend in Birmingham.






Showing a friend to some highlights!













Keywords: sun, parks, wallabies, Bach, real ale, Anglican, multi-cultured Britain, Sunday roast at the Museum and Matthew Boulton.
















BACH: Goldberg Variations. Angela Hewitt. Town Hall. How does she remember all those notes ... and all in the right order. Seriously, this was a sublime concert. Beautifully poised, a light touch, sensitivity and ... I wish I could do more justice to the brilliance of composition and performance. Fred, Tim, Roger and Ann, saw you there, you made the right choice of evening too.

Catch Birmingham's Nature Centre on the Pershore Road, near Cannon Hill Park. The newly-arrived little Lemur. The Wallaby with tiny pouch tenant.






Picture: http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/naturecentre.bcc (Accessed 31/05/09)






Stroll through Cannon Hill Park, and a peaceful sunshiny day, Birmingham's minorities, majorities (and who cares which is which, we're all people) happily side by side just enjoying the weather and being outside. Perfect.






MATTHEW BOULTON: super exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Gas Hall. A great Brummie who chanced his arm with finances and came good. And this exhibition's free too!
Try: http://www.matthewboulton2009.org/index.php/gallery (Accessed 31/05/09. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Matthew Boulton Exhibition, Gas Hall).

Sunday lunch at the Museum, the Tea Rooms. Mmmm.

















Saturday tea was at the lovely little cafe in Gas Street Basin (the table is outside!) where there's real ale on draught as well as home-cooked food. Run by a friendly young French couple, merci
bien pour votre travail, j'espere que vous restiez ici encore quelques annees!













Just to show that life's not all Birmingham though, here's a clip from a funicular in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany! Hold on for the ride ...
video