As You Like It in Chester’s Grosvenor Park: magical despite the rain

<em>As You Like It</em> in Chester’s Grosvenor Park: magical despite the rain

And this our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything. I would not change it.

There are reasons, I guess, why I am so bewitched by Shakespeare’s pastoral dramas, notably the great good fortune of an untrammelled fifties childhood in rural Cheshire, and then coming of age amidst the swirl of hippie values in the sixties – waving the flag for peace and love, rejecting materialism, and yearning to get back to nature.

The pastoral vision of a lost world of innocence and the simpler life of the countryside, with its potential for love and renewal, flowered in this year’s production of As You Like It at Chester’s open air Grosvenor Park Theatre. In the last few years it’s become a summer Shakespeare ritual for me and my daughter to chance the English weather and take our seats in the terraces (some covered, others not) of this theatre in the round. Continue reading As You Like It in Chester’s Grosvenor Park: magical despite the rain”

Mark Cocker: ‘swifts symbolise all of life, and it is all here now in the line of that curve’

Mark Cocker: ‘swifts symbolise all of life, and it is all here now in the line of that curve’

A fine piece in today’s Guardian Country Diary by Mark Cocker. In a poetic column about the departure of swifts from the skies above his Norfolk home as they head south on their long migration he writes, ‘Surely more than anything else in British nature, swifts symbolise all of life, and it is all here now in the line of that curve. It has the certainty of a steel blade. It is shaped like a strand of cobweb weighted with dew. It has the line of the Earth’s own rim mid-ocean, and a memory of it hangs momentarily in the air like breath on a winter’s morning.’

Here’s the full article: Continue reading “Mark Cocker: ‘swifts symbolise all of life, and it is all here now in the line of that curve’”

Plus ça change: Labour was a house divided in 1952

Plus ça change: Labour was a house divided in 1952

The current mental state of the Labour Party is like a nagging headache that’s impervious to repeated doses of paracetamol. Michele Hanson bottles the zeitgeist wittily in her column for today’s Guardian, while Helen Lewis offers a detailed and thoughtful analysis of attitudes on both sides of the divide in the New Statesman.

I had intended to avoid burdening this blog with more wasted words about it all, but then, while reading Family Britain, the second volume of David Kynaston’s brilliant social history of post-war Britain, I came across the following passage. It’s October 1952 and in a windswept Morecambe, a stormy Labour party conference is taking place a year after the Tories had swept the 1945-51 Labour government from power. Continue reading “Plus ça change: Labour was a house divided in 1952”

Bloody Sunday 1972: the photograph seared into the memory

Bloody Sunday 1972: the photograph seared into the memory

Some photographs stay with you permanently, haunting your memory long after the pages of the newspaper in which you saw them have crumbled into dust. Images from the American civil rights movement, Kennedy’s assassination, the little girl burned by napalm running down a road in Vietnam, the lone protester in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989, the woman screaming as she kneels over the body of a fellow-student shot dead during an anti-war protest at Kent Sate University in 1970…

Each of these images has come to represent more than the fleeting instant they captured: each now stands for the historical moment from which it emerged. And so it is with the iconic image of Edward Daly, the terrified priest waving a bloodied white handkerchief, calmly leading a group of men carry a dying teenager to safety under British paratrooper gunfire, in Derry on 30 January 1972, the day which came to be known as Bloody Sunday, on which 13 unarmed civil rights demonstrators were shot dead.

When I heard of Daly’s death yesterday I didn’t have to look up the image on the web: it was there, imprinted in my mind’s eye.  Continue reading “Bloody Sunday 1972: the photograph seared into the memory”

Life and Fate: ‘If what is human in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquer’

<em>Life and Fate</em>: ‘If what is human in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquer’

Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness. But if what is human in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquer.
– Life and Fate, Vasily Grossman

It is difficult to know where to begin when responding to Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate, such is the sweeping, panoramic vision contained within its covers. What I can say at the outset is that Life and Fate has to be the first place to go in order to understand the horrors of the 20th century. Here is a novel which ranges from the Stalinist purges and the Ukraine Famine during collectivisation in the 1930s to the siege of Stalingrad in 1942-3 and the lost souls of the Nazi concentration camps and the Soviet Gulag; a novel whose characters debate good and evil, totalitarianism and individual freedom, and in which the author dares to take the reader beyond the sealed doors of the gas chamber. Written by a journalist who was witness to many of the events which form the backdrop to his characters’ lives, Life and Fate is utterly essential. Continue reading Life and Fate: ‘If what is human in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquer’”

‘Still’: Simon Armitage’s poetic response to photographs of the Somme battlefield

‘Still’: Simon Armitage’s poetic response to photographs of the Somme battlefield

Hide in this battered crumbling line
Hide in these rude promiscuous graves,
Till one shall make our story shine
In the fierce light it craves.
– 
John Ebenezer Stewart, 1917

Still started out as a commission to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme by 14-18 NOW. The organisation tasked with developing a five-years programme of new artworks to mark the centenary of the First World War approached Simon Armitage who eventually came up with the idea of a sequence of poems written in response to aerial or panoramic photographs of the Somme battlefield taken during the First World War. Still was presented as an exhibition combining poems and photographs at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival in May 2016. Now it’s been published as a book. Continue reading “‘Still’: Simon Armitage’s poetic response to photographs of the Somme battlefield”

Keith Richards and the Decade That Exploded

Keith Richards and the Decade That Exploded

A few nights ago we watched Julien Temple’s super film, Keith Richards: The Origin of the Species, covering the guitarist’s early years, from birth to 18, following it with Jon Savage’s film, 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded, based on his expansive book which I’ve just finished reading.

Who would have thought it? The reprobate Keith Richards re-imagined as an avuncular national treasure? Temple’s film was a delight; I don’t think I stopped grinning once. Cleverly weaving Keith reminiscing about his childhood and family connections into an intricate montage of archive newsreel, TV commercials, old public information films and dramatic reconstructions in monochrome, Origin of the Species successfully evoked what it felt like to be part of the generation born in the 40s who grew up in the still grey and hidebound 50s. Continue reading “Keith Richards and the Decade That Exploded”