25 January 2015

Whew! What a busy, busy week we’ve had! Freezing temperatures early in the week followed by a light dusting of snow on Tuesday evening. And then more mud. And then more freezing temperatures. And then a bit more mud followed by some more freezing – you get the picture.

nicks_birthdayTuesday was Nick’s 40th birthday and Ms Playchute and I were kindly invited to join them for lunch at Restaurant 23 in Leamington which was outstanding. I had no idea there was such a fabulous dining establishment in such close proximity.

Following a stunningly delicious meal we collected Annabelle from pre-school and retired to their place for a Spiderman-themed birthday party which Bubble had been keen to help organise. There was a Spiderman cake and jelly and a couple of renditions of Pass the Parcel. A lovely day and a lovely birthday celebration all round. How did I reach the point where I have not one, but two sons in their 40s?

On Thursday Ms Playchute and I enjoyed a day of leisure and culture – we spent the day up in town visiting a variety of museums and exhibitions – no particular reason, just because we could!

balkeWe started with the Peder Balke exhibition at the National Gallery, which had been recommended by a friend. Balke was a 19th century Scandinavian painter who was one of the first to visit the vast, untrodden plains of the North Cape where he was overwhelmed, apparently, by “opulent beauties of nature and locations delivered to the eye and the mind.” There were a number of stormy seas and cold, cold landscapes with wonderful use of light but, on the whole, I have to say it left me a little bit “cold” if you will.

From there we made our way to the Natural History Museum for this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. This is an exhibition I’ve been to for the last five or six years, often in the company of our favourite former UN diplomat, Jordan Ryan. This year, though, it was just Ms Playchute and I and it was every bit as enjoyable as always even if I didn’t feel there were as many jaw-droppingly sensational photographs as in some previous years. I felt there was a lot more digital manipulation in the winning photographs this year demonstrating, I suppose, the evolution of photography into a legitimate art form in its own right (not that it wasn’t an art form before). Some of my favourites . . .

After lunch we made our way to the Sir John Soane museum in Lincoln’s Field which was an absolute little gem. From Wikipedia:

Sir John Soane RA (10 September 1753 – 20 January 1837) was an English architect who specialised in the Neo-Classical style. The son of a bricklayer, he rose to the top of his profession, becoming professor of architecture at the Royal Academy and an official architect to the Office of Works. He received a knighthood in 1831.

His architectural works are distinguished by their clean lines, massing of simple form, decisive detailing, careful proportions and skilful use of light sources. The influence of his work, coming at the end of the Georgian era, was swamped by the revival styles of the 19th century. It was not until the late 19th century that the influence of Sir John’s architecture was widely felt.

His best-known work was the Bank of England (his work there is largely destroyed), a building which had a widespread effect on commercial architecture. He also designed Dulwich Picture Gallery, which, with its top-lit galleries, was a major influence on the planning of subsequent art galleries and museums. His main legacy is Sir John Soane’s Museum, in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London. The museum comprises his former home and office, designed to display the art works and architectural artefacts that he collected during his lifetime, and described in the Oxford Dictionary of Architecture as ‘one of the most complex, intricate, and ingenious series of interiors ever conceived’.

I knew nothing about him before we went and was utterly unprepared for the collection of art and artefacts displayed in what was his former home and office. There were a lot of plaster casts and a variety of antiquities cluttered all over the place which I probably could have done without but in the Picture Room there were some paintings which were simply stunning, including the original eight paintings by Hogarth of the Rake’s Progress as well as the four paintings in the Election series, not to mention three stunning Caneletto’s depicting various views of Venice.

A great day out!

We sadly had to say “good-bye” to an old acquaintance this week. John Chapman from Radway died of a massive heart attack during the night a few weeks ago and his funeral was held last Friday. Our boys, of course, will remember the Chapmans but many others of you will remember walking up the hill in Radway and walking alongside his magnificent vegetable garden on the way up out of the village. John was a Radway fixture when we first moved to the village and on the few occasions when we have visited the village in recent years and made that same walk, we would often meet him out in his garden where he was always generous with his time, stopping whatever he was doing to have a chat and a catch-up. He was a genuine village character of the sort which is becoming increasingly rare these days.

Billy Goats Gruffladybird_book_spoofI ran across a couple of articles during the week celebrating the centenary of the Ladybird Books series which were very popular and successful when our boys were young. They had a distinctive style all their own, reminiscent of the 1950s which, I guess, was probably their heyday. I remember very well reading bed time stories to the boys, especially the Three Billy Goats Gruff. Hardly surprisingly, their style gave rise to lots of spoof covers and the Guardian had an amusing collection marking the anniversary.

And, before we say “good-bye” this week, a bit more following the idiot “expert” commentator, Steve Emerson, on Fox News who claimed that Birmingham was a no-go area for non-Muslims. I read this week that the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, is contemplating suing Fox News for a similar on-air claim that there are areas in Paris where non-Muslims and even the police are afraid to go. Fox apparently even produced a map showing seven such no-go zones.

Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana, (who I had never heard of before, I have to confess) in a speech to members of the UK Parliament, made the same claims. Unlike Fox News and Emerson, both of whom have apologised for the rubbish they said, when challenged, Jindal tried to justify his comments.

Asked for evidence of “no-go zones”, Jindal pointed to a weekend article in the Daily Mail that said killings, sexual abuse of minors and female genital mutilation are believed to go unreported to local police in some areas. The article did not give specific religious groups or towns.

“I’ve heard from folks here [in London] that there are neighbourhoods where women don’t feel comfortable going in without veils.”

Most folks with a modicum of intelligence would recognise that their argument is probably pretty weak when they have to rely on the Daily Mail, a comic of a “newspaper” utterly divorced from reality, and unsubstantiated hearsay to support their claims. When pressed, he was unable to identify any areas in the UK where the no-go zones were anything other than a figment of his imagination but that certainly didn’t stop him from repeating his nonsense.

As I seem to be saying all the time, you couldn’t make this stuff up (but it seems they do).

Love to you all,

Greg