'Agree With Everything - Deny Nothing - Embellish All

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Blogging Radio Cumbria

This blog is trying to maintain its self-imposed rule of not blogging about blogging. The present post sails dangerously close to the wind, I confess. Those of you interested in the history and practice of blogging may care to know that I'll be popping up on Radio Cumbria again just after 1300 on Thursday afternoon (1200 GMT or local equivalent) to talk about blogging on Martin Plenderleith's excellent lunchtime show. If you're outside Cumbria at the time you can listen to the show live via this link (RealPlayer required). Which will provide the odd experience of listening to someone talking about blogging via the medium of his own blog.


I was back at The Theatre By The Lake last night. In spite of atrociously stormy weather & the presence of Bob Dylan on TV, a decent crowd had come along to enjoy the latest in the 'tEXtPERIMENT' season - a series of new plays about ethics and issues in contemporary science. And the rehearsed reading was an absolute cracker - Double-Blind is a beautifully crafted drama of revelation centring on what seems to be a sort of hi-tech dating agency but turns out to be a distinctly sinister attempt at manipulating the thoughts feelings and desires of whole populations - a sort of Blairite engineering of human souls. It's written by Jonathan Higgs, a young Cambridge graduate whose work has not previously been performed. The play addressed serious issues while building up a fine head of narrative steam by revealing the truth about its four characters in a smoothly assured manner. The audience obviously enjoyed it and were positively helpful in their comments to the author in the post-play discussion that I chaired. Get to see it if you can.

Eat My Gazebo!

Arkfest 2005 was a fabulous success - the full story must be left to others to tell, complete with music and photographs. As a taster for the full account, here's the brief highlights of my experience as a gazebo-erector (yes, really) and carpark attendant early in the day. The gazebos were a triumph of improvisation over engineering: somehow the instructions leaflet hadn't been packed up last year, so I was faced with the problem of working out how to put them together from first principles. The collection of rods, poles, plastic joints and nylon sheeting had obviously come from the same school of comedy design that brought you the deckchair, but eventually, after many jokes about single-handed erections, I got it up (several times) - with the help of the Renaissance Man and his friend the The Mighty God Vulcan The Smith, whose ornamental braziers were by now adorning the arena of the Arkleby Bowl. So, pausing only to don my fetching fluorescent yellow jacket adorned with the words You've Been Nicked, I made my way over to the adjacent carpark to amuse myself directing traffic.
This harmless entertainment eventually caused me to revise my opinion of humanity. The guests' mission, had they chosen to accept it, was to park their cars as close to the lefthand hedgerow of the field adjoining the Renaissance Couple's garden as they were able to contrive. Somehow it all went horribly wrong, and at least two-thirds of them drove their cars merrily over the bumps ruts and cowpats of the field to park as far towards the distant right-hand side of the field as they could manage. I'm still trying to work out what went wrong . . . the proceedings were lent an air of exoticism by the appearance of someone in a pirate's tricorn hat whose Cumbrian accent kept modulating mid-sentence into an alarming Devonish burr - presumably because he thought it was still International Talk Like A Pirate Day (hat-tip - Lex). By this time Banjaxed's gorgeous rendition of Every Time You Walk In the Room was wafting over the tree-tops, so I abandoned my post for the best day of music, food, drink and good company you could imagine. The plans for Arkfest 2006 should be starting . . . about now.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Maria Full Of Grace

This afternoon I introduced a screening of Joshua Marston's film Maria Full Of Grace at the Keswick Film Club - so if you've found your way here from the club's website or via some other pathway, feel free to read comment agree or take issue . . .

There's a scene near the beginning of Casablanca where a young woman, fleeing violence & oppression in Rumania, is offered the chance of freedom & a new life - at the price of her virtue. So she asks Humphrey Bogart what she should do. Humph, the hard-bitten cynic, is short & to the point: "You want my advice? Go back to Rumania." Josh Marston's Maria Full Of Grace is an extended riff on what happens to a girl when she decides to accept freedom & risk the consequences. Though for Rumania read Columbia and for Nazis read the Bush administration's 'War On Drugs'.
The film is intensely southern, Latin & Catholic - full of layers that are probably opaque to a northern, Protestant, Anglo-Saxon (or Celtic) audience - we first see Maria stripping thorns from roses in a floral sweat-shop, and immediately think of the Marian passages of The Song Of Songs - as a rose among thorns is my beloved among women.
Maria also embodies two profound paradoxes, one political, the other personal, that make the film such an intensely satisfying & rich view.
The political paradox is that the America Maria thinks she's travelling to - the America of liberty & opportunity where huddled masses can become successes through hard work & thrift - no longer exists. Today it would be impossible to make a film like Gregory Nava's coruscating 1983 feature El Norte where two Guatemalan peasants travel north to salvation (at the cost of the life of an innocent woman). George Bush has petitioned Congress to allow 3 million Mexicans US residency to ensure that menial, underpaid, unsafe jobs (which no American would take) are filled by those vulnerable enough to have to accept them. Maria, although she doesn't know it, is about to become a member of the permanent underclass on whose labours Bush's America depends.
The personal paradox is in the performance of Catalina Sandino as Maria. By any conventional moral standards, Maria's life is problematic - she abandons her family, despises her boyfriend, endangers her unborn child, is a drugs mule, breaks laws left and right and deceives those who help her when she is most vulnerable. Yet throughout the film, especially in the extraordinary sustained tension of the drugs run into New York, we are entirely on her side, we desperately want her to live, to come through, to survive. It's a measure of Josh Marston's film-making and Catalina Sandino's powers as an actress that we're rooting for her from the beginning. Watch and be enthralled.

Friday, September 23, 2005

By The Time We Got To Woodstock

The Renaissance Couple's garden now sports a flagpole supporting a great roof of canvas above a wooden stage. Tents are springing up on the grass. Amps and speakers are being heaved into position. Yes, the preparations for Arkleb(ur)y 2005 are well underway. Tomorrow 200 people will join us in the garden for one day of good music, headlined by the excellent Steve Tilston. Any other resemblance to a well-known rock festival of the past is purely coincidental, but today's wind and rain has provided enough mud to make it feel just like Woodstock maaan. (Note to the younger readership - for Woodstock, think Glastonbury with American accents, and don't swallow the blue acid). Whether the RAF's low-flying Tornadoes will be turning into butterflies above our nation is open to question, but you'll be able to read about it all tomorrow in this blog . . .

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Are We Being Heroic Enough Yet?

It is remarkable that, for every hundred walkers who stagger up the tourist path from Achintee to the summit of Ben Nevis, barely one person will turn off at the halfway cairn and walk round into the valley of the Allt a'Mhuillin to traverse the Carn Mor Dearg arete on the north side of the mountain. This is a shame, as the arete is one of the finest walkers' routes in Britain, gives stunning views of the Ben's northern buttresses, and is eminently within the capabilites of 90% of those who endure the hebetudinous plod of the tourist route.
So when on Saturday morning Franklin & I turned off into the Allt a'Mhullin we weren't surprised that none of the tourists - not even the three hyperactive youths sporting rucksacks crammed with cans of Special Brew - followed us. The north side of Ben Nevis is a place both sublimely grandiose and ethereally beautiful - especially on a day of mist and low cloud, when the buttresses and rock faces vanish into the heavens, and the arete appears as a distant half-glimpsed barrier hanging in the middle air of the upper corrie. By the time we forded the stream just below the haunted Charles Inglis Clark Hut - once almost blown up by my friend the Lexicographer - the rain had set in for the day. But we had the mountain to ourselves - or so we thought, for a fleet of helicopters roared up delivering supplies to the hut, and a group of Geordies soon overtook us on the shoulder of Carn Mor Dearg. (A long, steep ascent from which Franklin frequently broke off to discourse brilliantly on the prose-style of this blog). The arete itself is a glorious switchback of a scramble, a mile and half of rocky ridge joining the two mountains: on Saturday its rocks loomed out of the mist like sentinels, giving no hint of the massive forms beyond the next pillar until finally the bulk of the Ben was upon us. One member of the party chose this moment, the first at which proper orientation is possible, to get lost. Luckily, in what is essentially a two-dimensional space - forwards and backwards are the ony feasible directions - this is less of a problem than might be imagined. We were by now thoroughly soaked, cold, tired and utterly exhilirated. The final thrust up to the summit rewarded us with the looks of wild surmise on the faces of those who had ascended the other side of the mountain.
The descent of the tourist path was accomplished as quickly as possible - we reflected upon the grinding tedium of the route and, not far above Achintee, its undoubted perils, when we came upon the Fort William Mountain Rescue team stetchering off an unfortunate who had broken his leg somewhere on the path. Then we drove back to Glencoe, showered and hit the Clachaig for supper, where Franklin impressively embellished the day's adventures, to the wide-eyed astonishment of his admiring female audience.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Bute-y Call

One of the less salubrious aspects of life in Battersea was the decoration of phone-box interiors with the calling-cards of local purveyors of horizontal entertainment (though heaven knows why they chose to target the minuscule fraction of the population too poor to own a mobile phone). Here in Bute, island of St Blane & home to Cafe Zavaroni, family business of the tragic child-star, things are quite different. Local phone-box interiors are decorated with the calling-cards of tree surgeons and landscape gardeners. What this tells us about the economic reality and suppressed desires of Brandane life I can only imagine. Maybe messages saying "young, 17-year-old blonde tree-surgeon" have hidden meanings we can but guess.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Blogadooly Interruptus

Which is a way of saying there may be even fewer less frequent shorter posts on this blog for the next ten days or so - I'm off up to Scotland to rendez-vous with regular commenters Franklin & Eleanor on the beautiful Isle Of Bute & points north. Expect an account of our heroic traverse of the Carn Mor Dearg Arete. Then perhaps a brief cameo in The Deep North.
Be good.

Off The Green Paths

On the walk in to Gillercombe Buttress the other week, the Bearded Lexicographer mentioned that you never see anyone on the classic routes on Great Gable these days - Napes Needle apart, the crags are deserted. That, said the Actor-Manager, was because no-one ever strays off the bridleways and footpaths marked on their maps: they're scared the fellside will put them beyond the help of a health and safety regime.
KER-CHING! I thought, and immediately proposed that we write a guidebook to the Lake District you can encounter off marked footpaths and bridleways, never mind the landscaped adventure tracks. Off The Green Paths would be a surefire bestseller. I could not have anticipated my companions' reaction. The Bearded Lexicographer offered to shoot me on the spot. The Actor-Manager was clearly unhappy. Then I realised: they're both incomers and they want their Lakeland to stay the way it was when they first knew it. The reaction of the native is quite different: most of us spend lifetimes waiting for our places to change profoundly from the way they were when we first knew them. The Lexicographer opined that, so far as he was concerned, the more people who came to the Lakes and never set foot outside Center Parcs the better: it simply meant the hills would be his alone. The Actor Manager agreed, though less vehemently.
So now I'm contemplating a different sort of local guide: a look at the best & worst Lakeland pubs and restaurants, many of which feature legendarily bad service and dull food - the twin perils of a location that needs to do little or nothing to attract visitors. Some early entries may appear in posts on this blog . . .

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

Readers will have noticed that the WIR produces 3 to 4 times more blogadoolies than his fellow ranters. I'm struggling. Nothing that I have done since our return from WCSA merits a blog.
The arrangements for the live music festival in our garden on the 24th of this month move on: The toilets are paid for, the chairs also, the flag pole/ sail shelter support is up... though I do have to design and make a couple of clamps... maybe I should be doing that instead of this blog. Yeah that's what I will do. So far now, dear diary, au revoir.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Send In The Clones

To Keswick, where I chaired a discussion at The Theatre By The Lake last night. The occasion was a rehearsed reading of 'Fortune' a work-in-progress by Erinma Ochu, a Mancunian neuroscientist, film-maker and writer. The play follows the slightly lop-sided relationship between a middle-aged male geneticist and a young Japanese-American who's a fortune-teller's assistant. Lots of questions about destiny, identity and parenthood. It followed an absolutely electric performance of Caryl Churchill's play about cloning, 'A Number'. Both were performed by Darrell Brockis and the wonderful Stephen Ley. The audience seemed to like both pieces, and stayed to talk afterwards. The evening was part of the Theatre's 'tEXtPERIMENT' season - a series of new plays about ethics and issues in contemporary science. If you're in Cumbria, or visiting Keswick, I'd urge you to come along to one of these evenings - the foment of ideas is powerful stuff and the acting's superb.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

All You Can Eat

The swallows have returned. Back in July Sheep-Fighting Man turned the field in front of the cottage over to grass. This afternoon, in the heat of late summer, the middle air a few feet above the grass was swarming with flies and insects. It wasn't long before their predators arrived. Several scores of swallows began their long swoops, cossing and recrossing the field, sometimes no more than four or five inches above the grass. Then each bird would rise, suddenly, at the end of its run, and dive again, sheering away by the cottage wall or towards the owls' tree. Sometimes as they rise they halt mid-air, I hear a low 'click' and they roll, all aerodynamics lost for an instant by the taking of their prey. Then they're right, they dive again, and wheel across the grass. The field before me is a cauldron of predation, and it is hugely impressive to watch these creatures so well adapted to their task making so much of the feeding grounds which the world provides them.

Aliens Stole My Patterdale Terrier

The return of the Renaissance Couple from SA has meant the liberation of The Trailhound & The Princess of Darkness from their kennels. The household is now reunited. But with a tell-tale difference. The Princess of Darkness apears not to be the bitch she was. She's positively submissive, sweet-tempered and demure. Common sense says that this can only mean her season has come and gone, and we're spared further performances for a while. But a suspicion lingers that this is a changeling and the real Princess is currently the unwilling guest of visitors from Planet Zog. Really, we're convinced it's the only explanation . . .