Archive for January, 2017|Monthly archive page
My engagement with the Family Tree began when I started to sketch it out based on a conversation with my paternal grandmother. Here is a picture of her that came to light just this weekend – being a rainy one, I spent much of it working on the online version of the Tree.
Originally I drew it out on an A1 piece of graph paper with a pencil. I went on to interview my maternal grandmother and grandfather, adding to the annotated freehand Tree. In time I added my wife’s Irish family, the backbone of that bit coming from a wander around an old Co. Louth cemetery with a notebook in hand.
In 2013, to enable me to share it with an older relative abroad I copied the handwritten diagram into a piece of easily accessible software. When I started the analogue Tree I expected to get back at best 3 or 4 generations based on living memory. As my family (to the best of my knowledge) were from – besides England – Germany, Poland, USA, Netherlands and possibly other bits of Eastern Europe, a peripatetic lot, I pictured lost and destroyed records where there even were records. These stones rolled and bureaucracy would probably not have been able to keep pace. However the advantage of the digital Tree is that it connects to other digital Trees. You can work your way back like a logic puzzle. I made my way back, obsessively working till the early hours, to 1730 …to 1544 …to 1499! 1499 in Prague.
I now have a Tree with 651 leaves (346 representing deceased family members). Exactly 50/50 male/female. The most common names: Patrick and Sarah. Birthplaces from Australia to Italy. Places of death from Kazakhstan to Israel. The highlights include finding…
- 5 Sirs
- 2 MPs
- 1 privy councillor
- a link to the Faroe Isles
- the founders of University College Hospital, London – where both my kids were born
- the co-founders of University College London – where I have been hanging out this very day
- the first Jew to become an English barrister
- the first Jew to become an English Baronet
- the founder of JFS (the Jewish Free School)
- a mysterious family branch in the USA
- and at the end of this weekend’s activities an international Communist leader…
Karl Radek , who crossed paths with the likes of Rosa Luxemburg and Walter Rathenau, travelled on the famous sealed train from Switzerland to Russia with Lenin (1917), and did time in Moabit prison in Berlin after the Spartacist Uprising in Germany (1919). An honest to goodness 100% bona fide revolutionary. He totally looks the part too…
This morning I was talking to Enfant Terrible No. 1 (who is currently doing a Philosophy course) about Camus and Existentialism. I mentioned Sisyphus, an important figure for Camus, and the image that first comes to mind when I think back to my undergraduate studies of Camus, alongside the killing of the Arab on the beach.
This evening I was working on my family tree and added Karl Radek, a cousin of my grandmother Dora, and an international Communist leader to boot (in the Soviet Union after the Russian Revolution). His real name was Karol Sobelsohn and he took the name Radek from a favourite character, Andrzej Radek, in ‘Syzyfowe prace‘ (‘The Labour of Sisyphus’), written in 1897 by Stefan Żeromski.
Sisyphus coming up twice in 12 hours – a bit Twilight Zone but I imagine he’ll be happy to be remembered.
I’ve always winced at the phrase ‘Bucket List’ – it smacks of inauthenticity. There was an awful looking movie about a decade ago which I avoided, much though I like Jack Nicholson and Rob Reiner. I think that may have done much to mainstream the concept but I’ve no idea where it originates from or how far back it goes.
Last night I went to the Late Shift Extra at the National Portrait Gallery to hang out at Everything You Can Imagine Is Real. The NPG was a favourite in teenage years as it gave a face to much of the literature and history I was learning about. In recent years I’ve done some pro bono consultancy on the Gallery’s digital strategy. And me and the Mrs go every year to the BP Portrait Award exhibition. Even if I wasn’t such a long-term fan, I love galleries and museums after dark – there’s something slightly naughty about it.
As I came in to the Gallery yesterday evening I bumped into Martyn Ware of Illustrious, Heaven 17, Human League and BEF. We had a chat about the future of energy and Port Merrion and stuff. I know Martyn a bit from the early days of BAFTA Interactive. He curated the Everything You Can Imagine Is Real evening to complement the Picasso portraits exhibition currently showing at the NPG.
“Everything you can imagine is real.”
- Pablo Picasso
I like the quote for giving equal value to the outer and inner world; for putting conscious thought, the dreamed, the imagined and the unconscious on a level playing field.
Some of the playing I most enjoyed last night was a short performance by dancer Vanessa Fenton to Martyn’s reworking of Parade by Eric Satie. I listen to Satie often when I’m writing as his work features on my Music To Write To playlist.
Parade was a ballet by Satie for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1917 on which he collaborated with Cocteau (scenario), Massine (choreography) and Picasso (sets). Vanessa’s costume by Bruce French in midnight blue and deep-sea green was redolent of the era.
I also enjoyed a performance by the Radiophonic Workshop, famous scion of the BBC, forever associated with the Dr Who theme tune, and no doubt a significant influence on Martyn and his electro-pop pioneers in Sheffield. They premiered a new composition with visuals derived by Obsrvtry from Picasso. In the middle of it the theremin, that quintessential early electronic instrument, which had been sitting tantalisingly towards the front of the stage, went into action. The previous act, White Noise, had deployed some electronic glove instrument through which hand gestures shaped the sounds but the Theremin is the real shit. It was created by Russian Leon Theremin in 1920 and graced movie soundtracks from Hitchcock’s Spellbound (with its Surreal visuals by another Spanish painter, Salvador Dali) to The Day The Earth Stood Still (a precursor of this year’s Arrival).
Anyway, it prompted me to start my Phuket List here, to be completed over time:
1 Play a Theremin
2 Spend a month painting abroad
3 Go fishing in a Spanish river like in The Sun Also Rises
4 Walk around the Antrim coast
Any suggestions for 5 – 12 gratefully received…
Tom Hardy as Oliver Reed
Ben Affleck as Robert Smith
So today is The Next Day – the day after Bowie’s birthday, after the anniversary of the release of Blackstar, the day before the anniversary of his death, the middle day, the limbo day.
As promised in yesterday’s birthday post, The Man Who Rose from Earth, in this one I’m going to gather some of the Bowie posts from across the years of Simple Pleasures part 4. As a blog about Creativity and the quest for Happiness through the Simple Pleasures of life Bowie was always bound to feature as a great creator, an outstanding innovator and a man who worked hard to know himself and find Peace.
Bowie: The Next Day [11 January, 2016] My reflections on his death
The Berlin Trilogy 1 [16 January, 2016] the first day oy my trip to Berlin in the days after his death
The Berlin Trilogy 2: Where Are We Now? [17 January, 2016]
The Berlin Trilogy 3: Goodbye to Berlin [19 January, 2016]
Heroes Mystery Solved [27 January, 2016]
David Bowie locations in Berlin [22 January, 2016] a ready-made tour
Heddonism [11 April, 2012] a first-hand account of the unveiling of his plaque in Heddon St.
A Bowie Moment [13 January, 2016] Ziggy Stardust plaque unveiling video
4 for 66 (Happy Birthday David Bowie) [9 January, 2013] 4 of his best songs
Sound & Vision [12 November, 2016] the best of Bowie’s art collection
Cut up by Bowie’s Black-out [20 January, 2016] a Bowie-style cut-up
Where Are We Now? [11 January, 2016] an animation
100 Greatest Songs [12 January, 2008]
Celebrated The Big Man’s birthday yesterday evening by watching David Bowie: The Last Five Years, a new BBC feature documentary commissioned by my friend and former Channel 4 colleague Jan Younghusband. It is an excellent watch, breaking new ground with its focus on his last half decade and last two LPs in an intelligent and insightful way. It was directed by Francis Whately. There are various clips here.
I fell asleep with the radio on…
…when I woke just before 4am, death hour, David Bowie was playing and the listeners to Up All Night on Radio 5 had selected Sound and Vision as the song that best captures Bowie, and one caller was arguing for Station to Station as the best LP, which was my view too in the wake of his death on 10th January last year. Sound and Vision was the track on my first directorial showreel (of which a poor digitisation is to be found here, though I think it may have been blocked by YouTube during the last year because of the copyright track (I can still see it but sorry, you may not be able to)) – cutting that reel is why it is burnt into my consciousness, hard wired from the edit suite.
Update 8.i.17 21:30 – I managed to find a badly encoded/pixellated copy of my Sound & Vision reel from which you can get the general idea
So it’s 04:40 now on Bowie’s birthday – one year on. We’re all going to be bombarded with Bowie The Next Days of course but it’s worth asking “Where are we now?” like the image I saw on the Big Man’s front door at 155 Hauptstrasse in Schoeneberg, Berlin on 17th January 2016. I was due to work in Berlin by chance, at Documentary Campus, six days after I first heard the news of Bowie’s ascension early one morning on the radio. I decided to make it something of a tribute trip. Here’s the photo album.
Where Are We Now? The world looks quite different from 10th January 2016.
That set of photos is the first fragment as I start over the next couple of anniversary days to pull together a picture of where we are now Bowie- & Other-wise.
My initial reaction at this point one year on is that his death cast a shadow over the whole year which is extraordinary for someone I didn’t know and never talked to. I saw him in the flesh a couple of times but I feel less about his passing emotionally than that of John Martyn, however his music is woven into my life, like that of many other people of the Bowie era (a long one by popular music standards) and that I reckon is one of the main reasons his passing prompted such widespread, strong and unique reaction.
The second fragment is this – written 15 minutes after hearing the surprise black news 363 days ago, another occasion I have been woken early by Bowie.
I’m sitting listening to Let the Record Show (the Dexys LP of 2016, their versions of Irish standards) whilst doing my 2015-16 accounts (close to the wire as usual). I get to the last track, Carrickfergus, and the lyrics
…as black as ink
just as I’m signing the cover letter to my accountant, switching from the red Pilot fountain pen I’ve been using to tick off the enclosures to a black biro because it’s just plain odd to sign stuff in blood red.
I saw Dexy’s play Carrickfergus in 2016 at the Festival Hall at Imagining Ireland, the London celebration of the Easter Rising centenary.
Now in Kilkenny it is reported
On marble stone there as black as ink
With gold and silver I would support her
But I’ll sing no more now til I get a drink
Cause I’m drunk today and I’m seldom sober
A handsome rover from town to town
Ah but I’m sick now my days are numbered
Come all me young men and lay me down
Come all me young men and lay me down
I got to know this song through Van Morrison’s version. During 2016 Robert Elms took Kevin Rowland, lead singer of Dexys, to see Van play at Nell’s in West Kensington. I happen to know this because Robert mentioned it in his excellent, traditional annual music round-up. Which neatly rounds up today’s circle of connection and coincidence.
Emma Stone plays Lindsay Lohan