Pat Collins’ Silence: the sounds of wind, water, bird song, and the past conjure the spirit of place

Pat Collins’ <em>Silence:</em> the sounds of wind, water, bird song, and the past conjure the spirit of place

Two films with the same title were released in 2016. Martin Scorcese’s Silence (which I have not seen) received all the attention, but there was another Silence, directed by the Irish documentary film-maker, Pat Collins. An undemonstrative film, it will not be to everyone’s taste, being slow, meditative and melancholy, and having little in the way of a story. But I loved it and, thanks to MUBI streaming, I have watched it twice. Continue reading “Pat Collins’ Silence: the sounds of wind, water, bird song, and the past conjure the spirit of place”

Spring again, and our neighbours are restless

Spring again, and our neighbours are restless

We have been entertained these past few days by the busy bustle of spring among the birds in our garden: a blue tit has found a hole in the sandstone wall and flies back and forth carrying nesting material, disappearing inside what should be a safe and warm shelter for its chicks, while a pair of magpies sift through the flower beds and fly off with beaks laden with twigs and leaves. Continue reading “Spring again, and our neighbours are restless”

Familiar strangers: the black radicals who civilised Britain

Familiar strangers: the black radicals who civilised Britain

When the story of radical politics in Britain during the second half of the 20th century comes to be written by future historians, pride of place will surely be given to the black activists drawn from the post-war generation of migrants from the Caribbean and the Indian sub-continent. This thought occurs after reading reviews of Familiar Stranger, the recently published collection of autobiographical essays by Stuart Hall, who was – in Tim Adams’ words in the Observer – ‘perhaps the most significant figure on the British intellectual left over the course of the last 50 years,’ and learning of the death of Darcus Howe, who once described himself as having come from Trinidad on a ‘civilising mission’, to teach Britons to live in a harmonious and diverse society. Fresh out of university in the early 1970s and fired up by student and anti-apartheid protest, I drew inspiration from these black activists and the struggles they spearheaded, fused with the rebel music of reggae and 2-Tone music. Continue reading “Familiar strangers: the black radicals who civilised Britain”

To plant a tree: a love song to a magnolia planted thirty years ago

To plant a tree: a love song to a magnolia planted thirty years ago

Sitting in a darkening room yesterday as evening came on, I sensed snowflakes falling beyond the window. Torn by a western wind and rain that had fallen throughout the day, the falling shards of ghostly white were the petals of the magnolia tree that stands in our front garden, planted by us thirty years ago. Every year since, its trunk has thickened and its branches have spread; and every spring before coming into leaf it has put forth its creamy-white, goblet-shaped flowers in growing profusion. This year it reached full maturity, putting on a display that has lit up our window and the entire street. Seeing this annual unfolding fills me with great happiness. Planting this tree three decades ago strikes me now as being one of the most satisfying and valuable things I have ever done.   Continue reading “To plant a tree: a love song to a magnolia planted thirty years ago”

Die Andere Heimat: a yearning to travel far from home

<em>Die Andere Heimat</em>: a yearning to travel far from home

Having already spent 54 hours in front of our TV screen watching Edgar Reitz’s monumental trilogy Heimat (more, in fact, since we watched the first two series twice), last week his four-hour prequel, The Other Homeland: Chronicle of a Yearning), arrived on virtually unheralded on BBC4, four years after its German release. Exquisitely photographed in crystalline monochrome with natural performances by its actors, many of whom had no prior acting experience, this masterwork from Reitz is absorbing, lyrical, both epic and intimate. Continue reading Die Andere Heimat: a yearning to travel far from home”

Triggering Article 50: a historic moment of delusional madness and national self-harm

Triggering Article 50: a historic moment of delusional madness and national self-harm

‘This is a historic moment from which there will be no turning back,’ crowed Theresa May in her completely mad speech to the Commons this lunchtime. Yet in her speech and in the Article 50 letter to Donald Tusk, she reminded us of the value of what we are losing. ‘Europe’s security is more fragile today than at any time since the end of the cold war’, she intoned; yet the whole point of European integration has been to help maintain the peace in postwar Europe.

And after informing Tusk and the assembled MPs that the UK would not seek to remain in the world’s largest single market, she went on: ‘At a time when the growth of global trade is slowing, and there are signs that protectionist instincts are on the rise in many parts of the world, Europe has a responsibility to stand up for free trade in the interest of all our citizens,’ before asserting, ‘Perhaps now more than ever the world needs the liberal, democratic values of Europe – values that the UK shares.’

Is she completely bonkers? Or she displaying the symptoms of something more serious which some medical experts have suggested may sometimes be brought on by excessive use of cannabis? Doctors often describe schizophrenia as a type of psychosis in which a person may not always be able to distinguish their own thoughts and ideas from reality, and whose symptoms include hallucinations,
delusions, and muddled thoughts. Continue reading “Triggering Article 50: a historic moment of delusional madness and national self-harm”

The story of a German POW and a missing chess set

The story of a German POW and a missing chess set

This is the story of a chess set carved from waste wood by a German prisoner of war, gifted to my father who had been tasked with guarding him below decks on a cargo ship bound for Egypt. Along with 1500 of his compatriots the POW had been captured after the D-Day landings. Later, in a POW camp in Egypt, the German soldier carved the chess pieces from scrap and gave the set to my dad when he was demobbed from the British Army three years later. The chess set is now unaccountably lost. Continue reading “The story of a German POW and a missing chess set”

From Messina to Rome sixty years ago: much ado about nothing said Britain

From Messina to Rome sixty years ago: much ado about nothing said Britain

Speaking to the BBC today, the president of the European commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, described Brexit as ‘a failure and a tragedy.’ The scale of the tragedy will be underlined this weekend when EU leaders – minus the British PM – will gather in Rome to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the signing of the founding treaty of European integration and add their signatures to the Rome Declaration, a two-page summary of EU achievements and the challenges which the organisation now faces.
Continue reading “From Messina to Rome sixty years ago: much ado about nothing said Britain”

Rereading John Berger: Here Is Where We Meet

Rereading John Berger: <em>Here Is Where We Meet</em>

The news of John Berger’s death in January encouraged me to read some of his books again. One of my favourites has always been Here Is Where We Meet, published in 2005. Like many of his books it’s unclassifiable: you may find it shelved among fiction, but Here Is Where We Meet is not a conventional novel. Though its memories of people known in different places and at different times is narrated in the author’s voice it’s not a memoir. Moving freely between past and present, via Lisbon, Krakow, London in the Blitz and Geneva, Berger’s lyrical and sensuous narration incorporates reflections on Paleolithic cave paintings, Borges, Rembrandt, and Rosa Luxemburg. Continue reading “Rereading John Berger: Here Is Where We Meet

Chuck Berry 1926-2017: ‘Tell the folks back home this is the promised land callin’ and the poor boy’s on the line.’

Chuck Berry 1926-2017: ‘Tell the folks back home this is the promised land callin’ and the poor boy’s on the line.’

Sometimes one person’s death brings memories flooding back of a whole era. If you came of age musically in the fifties or sixties, it was if Chuck Berry’s songs held up a mirror in which you saw your generation reflected and given mythic stature. Particularly if you were British, the insouciant swagger of his lyrics, the guitar just like a ringing bell, cruisin’ in your car and playin’ the radio, the lure of the juke joint after the school bell has rung, the cats who want to dance with sweet little sixteen – all of it sounded highly desirable and pretty mythic.

Same thing every day – gettin’ up, goin’ to school.
No need for me to complain – my objection’s overruled, ahh!

John Lennon got it right: ‘If you were going to give rock & roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.’ Continue reading “Chuck Berry 1926-2017: ‘Tell the folks back home this is the promised land callin’ and the poor boy’s on the line.’”

Protest and persist: why giving up hope is not an option, by Rebecca Solnit

Protest and persist: why giving up hope is not an option, by Rebecca Solnit

I have celebrated writing by Rebecca Solnit many times on this blog. In this post I’m reproducing in its entirety ‘Protest and persist: why giving up hope is not an option’, today’s Guardian long read. Because it is a magnificent essay, one of her best pieces. Every paragraph burns with passion and sings like poetry. The Guardian’s strapline reads: ‘The true impact of activism may not be felt for a generation. That alone is reason to fight, rather than surrender to despair.’ Read on and find inspiration in these troubled times. Continue reading “Protest and persist: why giving up hope is not an option, by Rebecca Solnit”

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead: ‘If you want to see what this nation is all about, you have to ride the rails’

<em>The Underground Railroad</em> by Colson Whitehead: ‘If you want to see what this nation is all about, you have to ride the rails’

Stolen bodies working stolen land. It was an engine that did not stop, its hungry boiler fed with blood.

Colson Whitehead’s novel, The Underground Railroad, chronicles the life of a teenage slave named Cora, who flees the Georgia plantation where she was born, enduring unremitting hardship in search of freedom. The first time she had been approached by fellow-slave Caesar she had said no. Three weeks later they ran, pursued by a fanatical slave catcher named Ridgeway, determined to hunt them down and destroy the abolitionist network that has aided them. In flight, Whitehead’s narrative evolves into something both unexpected and surreal as he conjures scenes that fracture the distance between America’s past and its present. Continue reading The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead: ‘If you want to see what this nation is all about, you have to ride the rails’”