Archive for the ‘simple pleasures’ Category

Such is life (Day 79)

Highgate near Kenwood London

Slow start – weather was sunny so began with a jog around St Pancras Cemetery and some faffing with computers (having completely forgotten my work email password) and by the time that was all done the moment had arrived to head across town to The Masons Arms in Kensal Green to watch my nephew drumming with a band. I was planning to pop round to see Ossie Clark’s grave in the cemetery behind but the parking meter got the better of me.) From there headed back homewards and stopped at Kenwood where I sat on a bench overlooking the city and did a little writing as the sun sunk behind the trees. Popped into the caff and did some more marginal research for the Music chapter to do with the Sex Pistols’ landmark gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester in June 1976 which ignited Joy Division among other bands.

Back home I moved on from the Music chapter, which I’ll park up now, back to writing the Theatre chapter which I hope to largely complete before Christmas. Straight after Christmas I’ll be focusing on polishing the chapters I’ve written to date, starting with the Literature one which is to serve as my sample chapter. Not my most productive day but WTF, stuff happened, simple pleasures were enjoyed.

boy drumming

text by Jerome K Jerome

text by Jerome K Jerome

Rising from the Ashes

nowhere-boy-anne-marie-duffIf I wanted to boost the SEO for Simple Pleasures part 4 I’d be writing this evening about Jim Morrison, The Snowman, lonelygirl15, Dylan Thomas, Lara Croft and Albert Camus, but I’ve got other stuff in mind, first and foremost The Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley, London N2. I’m just back from there where we went for a family matinee outing to watch Glorious 39.

Glorious 39 is considerably less glorious than Inglourious Basterds – basically it belongs on TV like many BBC Films ‘movies’ – but the Phoenix itself was its usual blaze of Art Deco glory, gilded but faded but ready to rise again in even greater splendor…

…which is why two nights ago I arranged a preview screening of Nowhere Boy at the Phoenix. It was just the second public screening of Sam Taylor-Wood’s new film about the young John Lennon and it was raising money towards the Phoenix Restoration Fund. The Phoenix is the UK’s oldest purpose-built cinema and to celebrate the centenary of its 1910 opening the charity trust which runs it is striving to complete a major restoration by its 100th birthday next year. (If you feel like donating a couple of quid, you can do that here – we’ve got 90 grand left to raise to release the lottery grant needed to do the job.)

Anne-Marie Duff – of Channel 4’s Shameless, Film4’s Garage and The Virgin Queen fame (especially Shameless! pretty much the best TV drama of the last decade) – kindly pitched up to do a Q&A after the screening and gave a great insight into her intelligent and feeling approach to acting. She plays Julia, John Lennon’s mother, who found herself giving him up as a child but later helping spark his musical genius. The scene of Julia teaching John to play the banjo and then his swift but hard-earned mastery of the instrument is thrilling.

Film4’s Nowhere Boy was rousing. I didn’t like Matt Greenhalgh’s script for Control but this was a story well told and moving. Anne-Marie as Julia and Kristin Scott-Thomas as John’s aunt Mimi (who raised him) were both powerful and affecting, making sense of a tragic love tussle. But the big revelation was the charismatic Aaron Johnson as the young Lennon, old school charisma and strikingness on screen.

Sam Taylor-Wood came in to visit us a couple of years ago at Channel 4 to talk about her work and inspirations, and showed us a short art video depicting the decomposition of a partridge and a peach – very impactful in a short, sharp way. A feature is a very different prospect and she pulled this one off with energy and aplomb. I suspect her interactions with the actors were lacking in experience but the thesps were all good enough to make up for any wooliness in that aspect of the direction.

One of my first insights into Channel 4 was in 1988 when a programme called Lennon /Goldman: the making of a best-seller was being cut in Solus Productions where I was working, my first job. It was about the rather grubby biographer of Elvis and Lenny Bruce and his biog of Lennon which was due to come out shortly after. The director, Binia Tymieniecka, kindly gave me a copy of  it, The Lives of John Lennon, which I dug out after the Phoenix show.  I could see from a cinema ticket bookmark that the last time I had dug it out was in April 1994 when Stephen Woolley (who I believe used to work at the Phoenix) & Nik Powell’s Backbeat came out. The inscription reads: You’ve heard the gossip. You’ve seen the rough cut. Now read the book. The gossip and the aforementioned insight involved Goldman pulling all his contributions from the documenatry at the 11th hour (not sure what kind of C4 contract allowed for that kind of veto, but Channel 4 was still in its naively golden first decade then).

This week (Tuesday) was the 29th anniversary of John’s death. I remember it clearly – I was in Tijuana in Mexico and saw the headlines in Spanish, struggling to translate them exactly. I associate that time with realising for the first time my eyesight was dodgy, taking off my specs and realising the degree of my myopia (your youropia, his hisopia), getting a bit upset about it as a person who’s always been visually driven, through still and moving pictures. There’s a lot of play in Nowhere Boy about John’s short-sightedness – Mimi’s always reminding him to put on his specs and he’s always taking them off again as soon as he gets out of range. He has to put them on when Paul (superbly played by the fresh-faced Thomas Sangster) is teaching him guitar. The chemistry between John and Paul is palpable. On Tuesday I was listening, trusty ol’ iPod on shuffle, on my walk home past the Phoenix to Yer Blues from the White Album and was greatly struck by the haunting words he wrote in India and recorded just a few miles from the Phoenix at Abbey Road:

Yes I’m lonely wanna die
Yes I’m lonely wanna die
If I ain’t dead already
Ooh girl you know the reason why

In the morning wanna die
In the evening wanna die
If I ain’t dead already
Ooh girl you know the reason why

My mother was of the sky
My father was of the earth
But I am of the universe
And you know what it’s worth
I’m lonely wanna die
If I ain’t dead already
Ooh girl you know the reason why

The eagle picks my eye
The worm he licks my bones
I feel so suicidal
Just like Dylan’s Mr. Jones
Lonely wanna die
If I ain’t dead already
Ooh girl you know the reason why

Black cloud crossed my mind
Blue mist round my soul
Feel so suicidal
Even hate my rock and roll
Wanna die yeah wanna die
If I ain’t dead already
Ooh girl you know the reason why.

The-Snowman

I'm coming down fast but I'm miles above you

The skinny on Skinny-dipping

Rupert Brooke in Granchester (with soft collar)

Rupert Brooke in Granchester (with soft collar)

On Thursday evening I joined Channel 4 colleagues at The Courthouse Hotel [formerly the Marylebone Magistrates Court, was glad to see cells have been imaginatively retained] opposite Carnaby Street (a resonant area for me as just round the corner from my very first workplace, Solus in Marshall Street, Soho, whose attic contained hidden gems like footage of Jimi Hendrix at the Isle of Wight and James Baldwin in Paris) to view as it was broadcast a programme I had (deliberately) only seen as raw footage – Alone in the Wild. Since the beginning of July we have been publishing online the rushes of the show as they came out of the wilderness of the Yukon, where cameraman/film-maker Ed Wardle was living and recording his experiences himself, completely alone in the wild. My part of the cross-platform commission also involved publishing daily out-going only short messages from the wild via Twitter, which were subsequently used to punctuate the three films in the series. [Next one is this Thursday at 9pm on C4]

One scene in Episode 1 saw Ed delighting in a skinny-dip in the lake where he had made camp, frolicking like a child, immersing himself with joy in the place he shared with a stately moose and grayling destined for his frying pan.

I’ve been equally struck recently by accounts of poet Rupert Brooke’s skinny-dipping activities in Granchester, a place made magical for me after a lone moonlit cycle-ride to there in the middle of one Romantic night. In particular, accounts of ‘The Midnight Swim’ when this proto-hippy young poet shared the waters of Byron’s Pool with the unstable, radical woman of letters Virginia Stephens, later Woolf, who finished her life alone in the underwater wild of a Sussex river.

It was 1911. They were both single. Rupert was 24, Virginia was 29. It was the year Poems 1911 was published (clue in the title), Brooke’s one and only volume of poems to appear during his actual lifetime. (Woolf’s first novel appeared four years later.)

Christopher Hassall describes the incident in his biography of Brooke (Rupert Brooke: a Biography 1964):

“It was the end of August. Virginia Stephen arrived at the Old Vicarage and occupied Ka’s bed on the other side of the house. The garden room was strewn with scraps of Strindberg, pages of Bland Vassen and fragments of verse. Probably the guest had brought with her an early chapter of The Voyage Out to revise while Brooke was reading or writing stretched out on the grass. One warm night there was a clear sky and a moon and they walked out to the shadowy waters of Byron’s Pool. “Let’s go swimming, quite naked,” Brooke said, and they did.”

Brooke mentions in his well known poem The Old Vicarage, Granchester this pool where his poetic forebear Byron swam when no-one was about:

Still in the dawn waters cool
His ghostly Lordship swims his pool

The painter Augustus John, who lived nearby with a caravan load of hot women and brown children, was also a naked frequenter of the pool, as was the philosopher Wittgenstein.

The Midnight Swim is also fictionalised and extrapolated upon in Jill Dawson’s recent novel The Great Lover which I read on holiday this August (exactly 98 years after the skinny-dip in question), kindly given to me by Aysha Rafaele (a fellow C4 Commissioning Editor from Documentaries) who spotted it in the Richard & Judy Book Club pile.

So any action between the two of them, both swingers-both-ways? Rupert, I get the impression, was more inclined to the hetero. Virginia must be well documented but I’m not sure exactly how her bi was balanced. Lytton Strachey had proposed to her two years earlier but they both realised, in the cool light of day the next morning, it wouldn’t work out. I don’t think any one knows or ever said quite what occurred, which leaves it as a lovely little mystery…

The Midnight Swim wasn’t their first watery encounter. In April 1899 (Rupert was 11, Virginia was 17) the Brookes went to St. Ives on holiday, where Leslie Stephen was also vacationing with his family. The two of them played together by the sea.

Yeats called Brooke “the handsomest young man in England”. By the year of The Midnight Swim, Brooke was secretly engaged or attached in some fashion to Noel Olivier, a fascinating character in her own right (Rupert was 24, Noel was 19) here’s her Wikipedia entry.

I had a go recently at drafting a Wikipedia entry for her sister Brynhild who seemed a promising character, the most beautiful of the Olivier sisters, but there’s very little to go on. This is what I have so far:

”’Brynhild Olivier”’ (1886 – 13th January 1935) was a member of [[Rupert Brooke]]‘s circle before the First World War and associated with the [[Bloomsbury Group]]. She was the fourth daughter of [[Sydney Haldane Olivier]], 1st Baron Olivier, and Margaret Cox; she was sister of Margery, Daphne and [[Noel Olivier|Noel]].

She married art historian [[A. E. Popham]] (Arthur Ewart Hugh Popham, known as Hugh) in 1912 (becoming Brynhild Popham). Hugh Popham was a friend of Rupert Brooke. They were divorced in 1924. She married [[F. R. N. Sherrard]] in 1924 (becoming Brynhild Sherrard).

She was the mother of [[Anne Olivier Popham]], who became the wife of art historian and writer [[Quentin Bell]]. She was also the mother of the poet, translator and theologian [[Philip Sherrard|Philip Owen Arnould Sherrard]] (born 23 September 1922, Oxford).

Brynhild was the first of the four Olivier sisters the poet Rupert Brooke met. Although she was reputedly the most beautiful, it was her sister Noel Olivier for whom Brooke fell.

She was first cousin of the actor [[Laurence Olivier]].

If there’s anyone out there in internetland who knows anything more about Brynhild (Bryn) Olivier, please do let me know via comments or however so I can get enough substance in the article to make it acceptable for Wikipedia – i.e. more information on what she achieved in her adult life.

Rupert and Noel met in 1908 when he was 20 and she a 15-year-old schoolgirl at the then fashionable, progressive Bedales in Petersfield. Noel’s father was Lord Sydney Olivier (uncle of dear, dear Larry), a prominent Fabian and high-ranking civil servant, serving in his time as Governor of Jamaica and Secretary of State for India.

Bedales was something of a centre for getting your kit off. Various members of Brooke’s circle had been there, the first co-ed public school, which encouraged a passion for the open air and healthy outdoor games. Nude swimming and sunbathing (segregated) made it on to the curriculum (hoorah!). The Sun Bathing Society’s Annual Summer Conference was held there in 1931 and naturists used the Bedales grounds out of term in the wake of their starting to organise in Britain during the previous decade.

Noel went on to have a long and interesting career as a doctor, politically active in a way reflecting her Fabian roots. Rupert had a short one as an early crash-and-burn teen hero, paving the way for everyone from James Dean to (fellow Cantabrian) Nick Drake to River (appropriately enough) Phoenix. He didn’t quite make 28. He cast himself as a Neo-Pagan (becoming a central figure of an eponymous group of writers and artists) and Virginia confirmed this: “He was consciously and definitely pagan.” They were the original Teddy Boys, the reckless youth of the Edwardian era, rebelling against the constraints of stiff-collared Victorian ways.

Embodying the Neo-Pagan ideals of youth, comradeship and the Simple Life, Brooke revelled in going barefoot and skinny-dipping: “Two miles from Cambridge up the river I wander about barefoot and almost naked. I live on honey, eggs and milk.” (letter to Noel Olivier, summer 1909). A bit of Romantic exaggeration of course, but Rupert certainly enjoyed casting off a few layers.

This summer I had the Simple Pleasure of bathing in Lough Hyne, just outside of Baltimore (the one in West Cork as opposed to The Wire one). It is pretty much unique as a salt-water lake, quite the place to go if you want to hang with a goby, shanny, blenny, three-spined stickleback or clingfish. Its salty water reminded me of another top bathing experience – the Blue Hole, East of Port Antonio, Jamaica (aka the Blue Lagoon since Brooke Shields skinny-dipped there in 1980, directed by Randal Kleiser, who I had a ridiculous phonecall with when I was working at Solus – for some unaccountable reason I turned momentarily into The Player, luckily old Randy couldn’t see the tenderfoot at the other end of the transatlantic line). The Blue Hole is a mixed salt and fresh water lagoon, fed by cold underground springs. When you swim you have the unique experience of one stroke warm, next stroke cool, warm, cool, warm, cool, warm, cool. Divers and scientists say it has a depth of about 180 feet. Local islanders say it is bottomless and a monsterous creature lives down below. The mixture of intense physical pleasure and underlying anxiety of the sheer extent and unknowableness of Nature is an experience common to skinny-dippers the world wide.

The-Blue-Lagoon

Fragile

Natasha Richardson and her mother Vanessa Redgrave
Natasha Richardson and her mother Vanessa Redgrave

Delicate beauty

Watching the Six Nations rugby this weekend (the Ireland victory sporting theatre at its best) I couldn’t help seeing the incidents when players’ heads hit the ground (that happened in both the England and Ireland matches, with stretchers sent into action) in a new light, with a frisson emanating from our fragility. Our fragility as spotlighted by the genuinely sad news of Natasha Richardson’s accident and her rapid decline over just half a week.

I only encountered Natasha once, at a recent party of the old friend of mine who I met my wife through. The party was appropriately theatrical, with the historical venue done out like Mandalay (complete with Mrs Danvers), and Natasha appeared in a glittery outfit fitting the surroundings and her star quality. She looked fabulous.

Her poor husband Liam Neeson I’ve also only met once. It was in sad circumstances too. It was at the memorial for another old friend, actor John Keegan, at the Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn. I was introduced to Liam by Adie Dunbar. We had a ridiculous conversation about Dundalk and I found myself talking about the Four Lanterns take-away when what I actually wanted to say was “Liam, I think you did a cracking job with Oskar Schindler.” (It was the reverse of an encounter I had with Ralph Fiennes in the bar at the Almeida where I had the opportunity to say “Ralph/Rafe/whatever you call yourself, I think you did a cracking job with Amon Goeth” – and did.)

What can you take from a tragedy like this? To enjoy each and every day. To cherish the simple pleasures. To be conscious of everything you have, every privilege and happiness.

Watching the first episode of the new series of The Secret Millionaire last night, featuring ex-Rover boss Kevin Morley, you couldn’t help but detect that Kevin’s journey into the dark heart of Hackney has brought him back in touch with what really matters – he came to recognise the true value of his home and family, clearly regretting that his children’s growing up had passed him by while he was in the office. The one thing that seemed to escape him was that things like his collection of sports cars, which he showed off at the beginning of the programme with reference to shiny little models in a cabinet, come at a cost – beyond the readies he shelled out. Someone, somewhere pays for it ultimately. It could be a homeless person in Hackney. Or a starving family in southern Africa. Someone, somewhere always pays.

As Liam Neeson wakes his beloved wife and comforts their children none of the Hollywood glitz adds up to much. As my Irish mother-in-law always says (not a million miles from Liam’s home town of Ballymena): your health’s your wealth. Gandhi, much though I admire him, was more long-winded than Mrs Murphy: “It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.”

This morning I was involved in launching the government’s new White Paper on informal adult learning (doing a case study around Picture This and illustrating how Channel 4 brings motivation, purpose and inspiration to networked media), so with both learning and fragility in mind another Gandhi quote rounds things off: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

Update 30.iii.09:

Bumped into Adie Dunbar at The Pigalle Club watching an intimate performance by Sinead O’Connor. Adie hails from Enniskillen, not a milion miles from Ballymena, and knows fellow thesps Liam and Natasha well. He underlined the great tragedy here by describing the powerful, positive energy the pair of them radiated together. In the words of the great Matt Johnson: “Love is Stronger than Death.”

In our lives we hunger for those we cannot touch.
All the thoughts unuttered and all the feelings unexpressed
Play upon our hearts like the mist upon our breath.
But, awoken by grief, our spirits speak
How could you believe that the life within the seed
That grew arms that reached
And a heart that beat
And lips that smiled
And eyes that cried
Could ever die?

Ruby

My late, much lamented sister-in-law, Bronagh Murphy, was in her time a playwright, a nurse, a poet, an actress, a midwife and a highly qualified expert in infertility treatment. She brought people into this world, and ushered them out, she brought poetry into this world in her writing and her actions, and ushered herself out of this world in a way which showed us how to live – she did all this with extraordinary care and compassion. There was nothing ordinary about her. Ruby is  a poem of hers I heard her recite a few times at gatherings of family or friends – it captures a particular moment in her nursing experience when a dying woman’s daughter was unable to get to her in time… (and it says everything about the kind of person the poet was).

French's refrains

French's refrains

RUBY

You lay as on a beach
Spindley legs entwined
Nails bloody red

Waxy flesh, draping brittle bones
Like a golden yellow stole

Courtesy, not of a Floridian tan,
But a boulder of cancer
Blocking the duct

Visions of you in your days of yore
A lusty Jewish broad
Vocals etched with
Sediment of Scotch and tobacco

And as you gasped your last
I begged my God to make it fast
Bereft of drugs to ease your pain
I thought of French’s sweet refrain

As your daughter wrestled with traffic
On the Finchley Road
I climbed in bed and held you tight

And from crazy Celt to dying Jew
I did the only thing I knew
Sang
“Are you right there, Ruby, are you right?”

Crazy Celt

Crazy Celt

Silver Lining

hi ho silver lining

hi ho silver lining

Here’s a rather salutary assessment of the economy from our Chairman here at Channel 4, Luke Johnson, in the FT. I have to say, it resonates for me – I’m pretty much a “a house is for living in” kinda guy.

For too long it has been more profitable in the west
to finance consumption rather than production.
That cannot continue. I am afraid that the west’s credibility
– and luck – has run out.

In the early days of Simple Pleasures 4 I began reflecting on what people really need, a stream of consciousness prompted by a Demos gathering which reminded me of a book which had really gotten me thinking – Coasting by Jonathan Raban.

Been meaning to get back to that post, Reflections on the Fundamentals of Life, for ages – nothing like a bit of financial meltdown to encourage thinking about the principles of economics.

So what did Coasting prompt? Looking back I seem to have re-invented Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs. Still, no harm working out stuff for yourself.

What struck me last week, the week of the US presidential inauguration, was that Britain is in desperate need of a bit of self-confidence. With the City fucked by its own petard and North Sea oil drying up we’re really going to have to work out where we add value to the world.

So we arrive on earth like the Terminator, naked and balled up as a package with the basic needs outlined in that earlier post. The economics of our existence start from the need to cover those basic needs by doing the equivalent amount of work or value adding. But those needs simply meet our bestial basics. As King Lear argues, we need something over and above that to make life worth living.

“O reason not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man’s life is cheap as beast’s.”

Watching Vicky Cristina Barcelona the other week, what constitutes that ‘something over’ has got really out of whack. The New York life-style portrayed in the movie (through Vicky’s impending marriage) was truly repellent.

The shift of emphasis from consumption to production and adding value could be the silver lining of these dark clouds. Is this the moment when we reflect and recognise what is true value and what matters? These are themes that have been on my mind over the last couple of years such as in this post prompted by  a Buffalo Springfield classic.

The schadenfreude around the collapse of the banks, or more so, the bankers stems from the fact most of them don’t produce anything or add value – they guess and they gamble, they speculate and they risk, they continue to short-sell bank shares the moment the ban is lifted to profit as usual at other people’s expense.

Talking of profiting at other people’s expense, Luke’s article reminds me of a bafflement I had as a teenager about just how did the economies of the West and the rest fit together. How come American’s have those huge fridges and South-East Asians live in huts, scraping together a bit of meat to go with their bowl of rice? How come we get paid hundreds of pounds a day when for equal effort and more they get pence? How come poverty here comes with a 32″ telly? A good friend of mine lent me when we were teens a copy of a JK Galbraith book, The Nature of Mass Poverty I think it was, which I struggled with but didn’t ultimately come to grips with – I’d probably get on much better with it now as the interest is truly there.

Luke raises similar questions: So why should industrious Asians earn a tiny fraction of what citizens in the west earn? Especially when they have so much of the cash and productive resources, while we have deficits, high costs and poor demographics.

Now what I know about economics you can fit on the back of an ATM slip – hence this second stream of consciousness thinking out loud.

Around the JKG time I was also baffled by how can this constant growth add up? How can countries expect to grow year on year with finite resources? How can we expect pay rises as a given year on year? Doesn’t there come a point where no matter how clever you are about squeezing the most out of existing resources and in creating technology to increase productivity those two graph lines eventually run into each other and cross?

My gut feeling about this moment is that we must use it as a time to readjust our values, to refocus on what is really important. We must use it to refocus as a country and as individuals on what value we can add. Having said that, it was a bit depressing to see the reactions to falling oil prices – after a few weeks of people really thinking about the car journeys they were making, the headlines swiftly reverted to ‘Supermarket forecourt price wars!’

The next three commissions on my plan are Landshare, where people who want to grow their own food are linked to people who have bits of land which can be grown on; the Secret Millionaire online where the online community get to give a million pounds to community groups and small charities which quietly add value, largely unseen; and a project on Adoption that tries to highlight the value of each and every child and enable it to be realised fully. I feel they are the product of a particular positive, back-to-basics  vibe. Despite the grimness of the IMF report which ranks Britain’s economy as the most adversely impacted this year of any major economy and the Lords scandal which ranks Britain’s high ranks as smelling as rank as it comes, I can’t help but feel there’s opportunity here…

Practically living in The Sun

Anna Richardson and Sexperience

Anna Richardson and Sexperience

My next project, Sexperience (aka Sex Education), has sneaked out quietly into the world…

…in The Sun.

That’s two Sun spots in a couple of weeks (Osama Loves hit that august journal on 23rd July). It’s good to break out from the narrow confines of the broadsheet world from time to time and enjoy the super soaraway expanses of The Sun. Which reminds me, I’m off on hols at the end of the week so no action in these quarters for a couple of weeks.

Osama Loves in the Currant Bun

Osama Loves in the Currant Bun

(Talking of wide expanses, Osama Loves made the evening TV news in Canada the day before yesterday)

Update 01.09.08:

Here’s the holding screen for Sexperience (including an indicative video clip) which launches tomorrow

and here’s a rather good mash-up of that Sexperience clip by Paul Carr, a man with delightfully too much time on his hands ;-)

Currently reading Paul’s new book Bringing Nothing to the Party which won my Phrase of the Day the other day with: “the litigious little cunt” – not quite Swift but made me laugh out loud on the Tube in context

Osama fun in the Currant Bun

The dear old Sun has picked up on Osama Loves today in a full page spread on p22. Naturally enough they’ve brought their own special magic to it – like photoshopping out the male half of our dynamic Muslim duo.

Osama of Love global hunt Doctor

Osama of Love global hunt Doctor

Human Bonds

james bond Pan book covers

So I’m on the underground yesterday, reading the new hardback I’d bought the day before. Then this burn-out walks on and I have that feeling – I know he’s going to sit next to me. He’s very tall, lanky, drug thin. His fingernails are dirty. The driver has to warn passengers to stay clear of the closing doors. The burn-out calls them “fucking idiots” in the expected loud cockney voice. I shift rightwards in my seat, hope he isn’t going to smell too bad (which he doesn’t as far as my hopeless sense of smell can tell), carry on reading.

“Is that the new Bond novel?” he asks me gently, having glanced down at the page I was on. The book only came out the day before. The open page had few clues as to what it was.

“Yes, it is.”

“Do you think the film they’re making of it will be good?”

“I think it’s based on a different story.”

“So is that written by Fleming?”

What do I take from the unexpected exchange? You can’t judge the book by the cover I guess is the obvious one we (certainly I) can’t be reminded of often enough. You can tell the price (but not the value). What I most took away was the Simple Pleasure that I had enjoyed the conversation and contact and there was real warmth in those human bonds.

The new Bond book is entitled ‘Devil May Care’ and has been written by Sebastian Faulks (of ‘Birdsong’ fame) in the style of Fleming. I’ve only ever read a couple of Bond books, but remember really enjoying ‘Casino Royale’ (the first Bond novel) for the surprising brutality of the man I had only encountered through the movies. The publication of a new Bond book felt like a bit of an event (I was one when Fleming died) so I bought a copy of this in advance on-line through Hatchards website and picked it up on the day of publication on the way to a meeting at BAFTA with Rob Bevan of XPT- we were working on the forthcoming website for 4IP, the new Channel 4-led fund for public service interactive media, announced at Next on 4 back in March and coming on-stream over the summer. Hatchards in Piccadilly – a book shop dating back to 1797 as it says on its rich green bags the colour of Bond’s customised Bentley with its Arnott supercharger – is one of London’s great treasures. It makes me feel guilty every time I buy from Amazon and I try to make amends by pulling by whenever I’m at the Academy at 195 Piccadilly and picking up a signed volume.

After having a satisfying creative session with Rob, my old collaborator from MindGym, I hooked up with Ivo Gormley of ThinkPublic to talk about his forthcoming documentary about the internet and democracy. We walked back Channel4wards through St James’s and St James’s’ Park where I had the pleasure of demoing Big Art Mob in its mobile incarnation [WAP site] to him in a small alley where we found a superb bas relief of Anthony and Cleopatra, which looks like it may once have adorned a theatre in the area but is now built into a wall opposite an old public house, and on a remixed sculpture which seems to have once lost its head in the park. Ivo’s dad, Antony, who he closely resembles, is one of the most popular artists on Big Art Mob, third only to Henry Moore and Banksy. I wonder what the ‘burn-out’ thinks about public art? what his favourites around the city are? Something to talk about next time…

Bond is back

Flying Away

dancing to blue beat

In these Twittering days of virtual community it’s refreshing from time to time to be reminded of how Simple it all is on one level.

Earlier this week I went to Brum for the memorial service of one of my best friends’ mum. Her body was being flown to Jamaica the next day to be buried beside her siblings.

Mrs G. was born in St Ann in the hills behind Ochi on the North coast in the mid 30s. She came to Britain in the 50s and became a district nurse. From the family stories it’s clear she engaged with enabling technology – she bought a car, passing her test with some trouble, using the machine to get her to family events in Manchester, Aylesbury, Leicester, wherever her family had landed.

I first met her when Nigel and I were at college together, a couple of years apart. The first time he brought me to meet his family Mrs G put on an old style Jamaican spread and I remember how lovely she was when she found out I don’t eat pork, fussing in the most maternal way despite my protestations that it was no problem at all. So my first encounter was all about the tradition and culture of home, caring, sharing food and welcoming friends.

In 1996 I met Mrs G again after she had retired back to Jamaica. She built a beautiful home in Ocho Rios. My strongest memories – the first hummingbird I ever saw (in her garden) and the young cousins razoring their hair in her front room to be cool for Nigel’s wedding. She built that house with her own energies and set off for Jamaica alone while her other half acclimatised himself to the idea back in Yorkshire (re-joining her a while later). So this second landmark in my memory was one of family gathering, coming home and strength of will.

The memorial service brought a big crowd to a declining Victorian church in Perry Bar, outside Birmingham. There were three other white faces in the crowd. So the hymns were lively and the sense of community strong, well turned out representatives of all the generations gathered, from the elderly brother-in-law with the handle-bar moustache to the nine year-old grand-daughter who read a poem with her daddy, my friend, at her shoulder, just as he stood at his younger brother’s shoulder, his arm around him, as his brother spoke eloquently and emotionally of the qualities of his determined, caring, fun-loving mother. (I like to picture her shaking a leg to a blue beat tune at some family gathering she got to in that hard-earned car. I dug out a couple of early 60s Jamaican (or as the sleevenotes say “from the British West Indies” “where the Queen’s English is spoken” – I kid you not) calypso records from my collection and gave them to Nigel as a reminder of his mum’s youth.) At the end of the day there’s no substitute for the real and the slow, the unmediated present and the human warmth, the simple pain and pleasure.

To a land where joy shall never end, I’ll fly away

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