Friday, 31 December 2010

Waiting for the view to clear ...

New Year new ?

Still in the 12 days of Christmas and about to celebrate the turn into 2011 ... just another date or time to reflect?

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Snow train

Snow on snow

Just a local park ...

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Security security

Random bag check ... Come to the end please.... All polite, but you still feel like a criminal ... and the agents of security still have to go through a thankless task ... I should have realised - I'm English, have a beard and a rucksack, so must be suspicious. Should've reported myself really, "if you see someone acting suspiciously" .. That's me.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Silence and music

The Man in the Iron Mask, Dumas' famous work, filmed by Douglas Fairbanks in 1929 and set to music for the CBSO in 2010.
Dramatic, gripping, moving ... and the orchestra in the pit simply blended into the film.
Super evening.

Snow night and day

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Joel Lane at Poetry Bites

Joel Lane is a Birmingham based poet and novelist whose work is always authentic, well-honed and powerfully read. It was great to hear him at Poetry Bites, a regular event in South Birmingham run by Jacqui Rowe, a true poetry activist in the area who took over P.B. a while ago from Sibyl Ruth, another noted local writer. It receives no outside funding.
Joel doesn't pull his punches politically or socially, some themes are dark: but this, as they say, is the "real deal", this is how to write and read out poetry, effectively, your own, and needing to be spoken and heard.
His latest collection is "Autumn myth", Arc Publications - out now.

The Park In Winter

Cannon Hill Park under a very chill if thin covering of November snow....

With an enterprising squirrel looking for a warming snack -

Two concerts one world

Mozart, superb flute-playing and spirited singing.
CBSO at Symphony Hall, with Marie-Christine Zupancic the flute soloist. Hafner Symphony, Flute Concerto and Requiem.

Traditional folk instrumentals and singing from the Middle East, combining Arab and Israeli/Jewish strands in a campaign to overcome divisions in an area of such pain but such rich cultures too. Brave people, and it was a priviliege to be in the audience in Birmingham, with no-one under threat and people from the different cultures represented. Middle East Peace Orchestra.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Martin Carthy in concert at the MAC

The classic English folksinger with a musicologist's knowledge and memory of songs to match, alongside a genial manner, precise touch with some tricky instrumentals, plus stamina at nearly 70: all appreciated by a full theatre at the Midlands Arts Centre.
Glad I could go with two friends to enjoy this national figure in a local gig.

Mary Stuart by Schiller via Andrew Cowie

Schiller's "Maria Stuart" - in a modern English version as Mary Stuart, the Scottish Queen executed under Elizabeth I after years of imprisonment.
Intriguing to see a German take on part of the English myth: the strong virgin Queen as being pressured by ruthless and calculating Burleigh (a Mandelson of his day?) and the mob outside into signing her cousin Mary's death warrant. Mary as a passionate, charismatic Catholic leader; both tested by their passions and conviction of power. Ultimately, for one to live, the other dies - and neither Protestant nor Catholic can avoid complicity in the Realpolitik and the abuse of religion to justify false charges, torture, judicial murder and the evasion of responsibility by the monarch for all of these.
With a deliberate parallel to machinations around the launch of the Iraq War under Blair and Bush, with the now late Robin Cook's resignation speech in an eery voice-over.
At the Crescent Theatre in Birmingham, 09/11/10.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Remember Burma

With internationally denounced, sham elections taking place to reinforce the Burmese military's brutal and debilitating hold on the country: remember the brave women and men supporting the hope for democracy some day in their country. Aung San Suu Kyi: the true leader.
The picture here is from a small event in Birmingham city centre to think of Burma and what's happening there.
See AmnestyBrum blog for details of this event: and Burma Campaign UK website for more about the elections and the Burmese situation.

A leafy park

Autumn Lights

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Face to Face

-original message-
Subject: Face to Face
Date: 31/10/2010 5:29 pm

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Cardiff days

The Millennium Centre in Cardiff by the bay and looking onto the bay, new buildings the evidence of redevelopment.

Thursday, 21 October 2010


High Noon in New Street

All part of the mosaic ...

Proud of diversity

There's been lots of talk in recent years in the UK, and currently in Germany, about integration, diversity, multi-culturalism, migration and immigration: generally with a negative slant, implying or stating outright that people should adapt to what's seen as the indigenous culture and religion (even when many no longer practise that religion and aren't always sure of what culture may mean).
Personally, I find it fascinating and enriching to live somewhere with such a range of religions, cultures, geographies food and everything bumping into and living alongside each other (if in somewhat separate parts of the city to some degree). I've been to a major Sikh Gurdwara (temple) in Smethwick, with a warm welcome and sense of community. I've been to the 10th anniversary of Birmingham-based group Writers without Borders , poets and musicians from around the globe, Kurdish, Caribbean, African, Asian, European, and Birmingham-born who've found a new life and voice here and know how to celebrate and get the audience to join in! Earlier this evening I joined an attentive audience at the annual Carr's Lane lecture series*, listening to Dr Indarjit Singh, known to many as the regular presenter of Thought for the Day: a thoughtful and lucid spokesman for the values and teachings of Sikhism.
We wouldn't have all this if it wasn't for some notion of allowing for various identities and backgrounds to express themselves and share in communal life. Whatever the challenges and needs, being here has given me the chance to see and listen, if only briefly, to people's experiences and to imbibe something of their understanding.
I hope Brum stays as diverse and multi-cultural for a long time to come: in fact, I hope it doesn't stop being so. The antis, some real extremists and thugs (whatever they try to say on their websites), can only diminish our society, whatever their axe is to grind. No-one's superior and no-one has one single hold on "the truth". We need various highways and experiences lived to begin to understand how to tap into one single source of life, if that's all there is.
And life can always be celebrated.

*Carr's Lane lectures in radical Christian Faith.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Brum Concerts x 3

Town hall twice: Beethoven (4th Symphony), Haydn symphony 96th , Mozart violin concerto. The Haydn was new to me and the Beethoven familiar from playing it the day before. Enjoyable to hear the familiar and unfamiliar together.
Today: Ex Cathedra singing Monteverdi Vespers, powerful church music in praise of the Virgin Mary. High quality as ever. Not sure about the V.M. stuff, but it formed an effective frame.

Symphony hall : surprise tickets for Rachmaninov and Lutoslawski, Variations on a theme of Paganini (both), a concerto for orchestra (Lutoslawski) and the Isle of the Dead from a German painting, haunting, atmospheric and all that. Dramatic piano music. Super evening in fact, new and familiar again and all really refreshingly played.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Jewellery Quarter past and present

A factory left as it was; and a sign in a shop window
to show that the diamonds you buy there
aren't fuelling conflicts in Africa.

Jewellery Quarter Times Past

Went to the Jewellery Quarter Museum in Brum this afternoon, thanks to London Midland's broken down trains stopping us get to the Black Country Museum in time to make a visit there worthwhile (a couple of hours or so wouldn't be enough). We were lucky to get on a guided tour, after being told these were fully booked, because a group hadn't turned up.
I've been round the mothballed factory, left in the 1980s by the ageing sibling owners who couldn't keep it going.
My father was a regular customer of the Jewellery Quarter up to the 1970s when he retired. Back then, it served the retail trade by providing the stock which High Street shops such as his sold to the public. Rings, necklaces, watches in particular, a long-standing part of Birmingham's trade and industrial heritage, and still alive today, if much reduced in terms of actual factories such as the Smith and Pepper works which forms the Museum.
In the office areas you can see the old dockets and spikes of bills, accounts books, electric fires with their cables like twisted ropes and two-pin plugs of an era I remember and electrocuted myself on (not seriously) once at home.
Last time I came here I thought of my father's jewellery store, with similar boxes and books behind the scenes, accounts he struggled to keep, managed by a patient accountant, or that was the story that got passed on as I remember it. An electric shaver connected to a light-socket in the ceiling. Times weren't easy and there wasn't the cash for a refurb.
So I've come to some memories all the same. They didn't seem there when I was in the museum this afternoon. Nothing seemed to come back, just a sense of this place being a link to a my own past, my family's past, my Dad in particular of course. But the memories had taken a step further away.
Perhaps that'll change later, when later not middle years, if I get that far, concertina what happened then into the present.
I heard my Dad's voice again some years ago on an old recording we had, I think on his reel-to-reel tape machine, state of the art in its day. It was unsettling hearing his voice, I don't think I felt comfortable, maybe it didn't seem right either.
I did think, going round the factory, of how hard people had worked there. How hard, then, my father worked building up his trade: maybe not quite the physical work of Albert [?] dropping the press onto the gold to stamp patterns into the metal, for years on end till he went deaf: and not quite with the dangers of Annie [?] who lost the sight of one eye when the revolving band turning a wheel snapped and hit.
But he worked hard, my father, year after year from before World War II as a tobacconist, then after - his sister had kept the shop going - as he went into the Jewellery trade.
Long hours, accounts, an accident my Mum told me about, hitting his head on the pavement as he pulled down the shop blinds (though again, I'd have to check with my Mum for the details, her memories are memories, and sharp, not half-forgotten second-hand accounts): which may have caused the blackouts he suffered and even the final strokes. Building up trade with the customers, employing a repairer till throwaways and disposables meant that a new watch was cheaper than a repair.
And he never liked the LCD watches that foreran the digitals that are standard-issue today!
Visiting the Jewellery Quarter, seeing the shops the line the streets near the Museum, selling the rings, necklaces, watches and crafted designs to the public now that my father and others sold to the public then, this did seem like the past but alive.
The Museum's great. We had an enthusiastic young guide who entertained and informed and demonstrated some tools too. Fascinating, and even free thanks to one Gordon Brown's enforcing of free museum entry in a previous government.
Museum website link.
But it was seeing the shops, watching the assistant or owner in one, where my wife bought a new chain for a pendant I'd bought here, as he took the key to a glass showcase and opened the metal lock throught the two panes: the same kind of actions, the same kind of merchandise, craftwork, offered by a seller who knows about what he is selling, knows how to sell the right goods for the customer; this was closer to the past: or the past had moved into today, or maybe had never gone.
I hope I can do him some credit. For my part, I sold books for a while, not jewellery, and try now to help students and academics make more of what a library has to offer them.
We all come from somewhere: and I'm glad I can still see some of that today, even though my Dad's been dead now for 27 years, maybe longer than the excellent guide in the Museum has been alive. I'm glad what he did is alive.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Crumble and cake ...

Back Home

At Birmingham's annual Arts Fest, showcasing bands, theatre companies and acts from across the region.

Cologne Rocks?

In Cologne city centre.

And down by the Rhine -


Seen in a German shop window - Sparschweine

London Festival

Klezmer in the park, the London Jewish community relaxing on a Sunday afternoon. Open to all.

Later on, the Proms in the Albert Hall. Ulster Symphony Orchestra with Russian (Rachmaninov), Finnish (Sibelius) and a selection of English pieces including 'Lamia' from Dorothy Howells (Birmingham!)

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Bletchley Park

"War veteran" - sculpture atBletchley Park

Near Milton Keynes. Hub of wartime code-breaking activity, where early computers were developed and shifts of staff worked round the clock to keep up with messages being
transmitted, intercepted and sent to Bletchley.
Estimates are that the work here shortened the war by 18 months to 2 years. How many lives the Bletchley staff saved in this way, who can tell. I could wonder if it meant my German father-in-law, for example, pushed into the Wehrmacht, would have been in greater risk or would anyway have been rescued by being captured by the French, who knows. That he, and others, survived, in turn meant that ...
My own father wasn't, as far as I know, in danger with his duties with RAF plane instruments.

Would either have been surprised, back then, by the peace and, much later, their offspring marrying someone from the 'other side?

Bletchley Park website for more details about the site and visits today.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

More dance at the MAC - Motionhouse Dance Co.

Terrific modern dance around a stage set of a slanting roof, great agility from the dancers to dramatic music.

Behind the scenes at the Museum ... 's collection centre

and Felix Mendelssohn

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Meanwhile ...

Back in Brum, there's light at the end of the tunnel -

A Day in the 'Pool

A transformed centre at least, and the Albert Docks -

Far from the poverty of the '80s I remember, though maybe it's just out of sight, out of mind.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

View to a boat

Another kind of home, another life ...