Monday, February 27, 2012

Here's the latest...

French Gray and Brinjal.  Available to purchase.  Other colours too.  Commissions available.


(Flagrant use of blog for publicity)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Update - Culture in the South West

Some time ago (about seven months) I wrote a blog bemoaning the lack of culture in Exeter.  How the cathedral city let itself down with its provincial high street, numerous shopping malls, and not much of anything else - no major art gallery, no theatre to speak of and nowhere for the literati (ha ha) to hang out and discuss the latest Booker/Turner/Arthouse anything.  As a result no performers ever bothered to come here and perform.

Well, since I wrote that piece, it seems I was wrong, the state has been plugging money in.  The RAMM (Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery)  re-opened in December having been dusted down, refurbished and expanded impeccably since it closed in 2001 (can this be?), and is WONDERFUL.  It combines a lovely mix of museum pieces collected throughout the centuries from all over the world and donated to the museum (right up to shot and stuffed large game shipped back by the Vistorians), with quite beautiful art.

It is curated really well to make it thoroughly accessible to all ages - children are brilliantly catered for - and to make best use of space provided.  For example one glass cabineted-wall takes you through 40 different pieces ranging from prehistoric fossils to a real Penny Black bicycle.  Plus it is really active, with numerous tours, lunchtime talks, classes etc.  They need a bigger shop and a bigger eatery which will doubtless help with coffers but all in all pretty priceless.  And I'm not the only one who thinks so.

Also since writing that moan, I have been to the Northcott Theatre twice - once to take my children to an imaginative rendition of 'We're going on a Bear Hunt' (brilliant) and then again to see the Jasmin Vardimon company perform Yesterday Jasmine Vardimon Yesterday trailer..  Oh my God, it was stunning, and I think the best contemporary dance show I have ever seen.  I was utterly bowled over.  The choreography, lighting, special effects, music, stories, and the nothing less than stunning, faultless, superhumanly athletic dancers.  This is a company that has to be seen.  Am pretty sure this was the tailend of a world tour, but at least they came.  Performed. Blew us away. And in a small university theatre that's had all its state funding cut.  Really glad I caught it.

The cathedral remains utterly breathtaking, and an imminent large John Lewis is beginning to create a stir on the high street - 'interesting' shops are popping up.

So I take it back.  Some of it.  There is still no decent large venue to speak of, and still no cafe/wine bar culture…. Unless you count the invasion of chain coffee shops that continues apace - a huge habitat closed to be replaced by, you guessed it, a Starbucks - and Mr Wetherspoon and its like.

But the demand and appreciation is definitely there - RAMM is huge hit and has reignited our passion in The Arts in all its forms  -  such that I reckon in a year or so, Exeter, instead of being overlooked will be a destination venue for performers and artists everywhere.  Watch this space….

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Courtesy and warmth in the digital age

Courtesy, so passé.  As well you might think of etiquette.  A lovely word, but frankly, what does it mean in the 21st century?  An age where we do most of our communicating via digitalia, even when we sit three desks from one another.

Great for the written word, not so great for the spoken.  Once upon a time we used to speak to one another on the phone or in person.  Now we just txt, tweet, fb message, such that when we do come into close, inescapable contact everyone's rendered mute.  Like in a lift.  I wonder, is this a peculiarly British trait? I noticed during my time in Madrid that on entering a lift you greeted everyone with 'buenos dias' and on exiting, left with a cheery 'adios'.  In grumpy old Britsville these days your physical presence is rarely acknowledged.  Everyone's too busy staring at a screen.  

And so I got to thinking, is this the end of etiquette as we used to know it - 'smiles, pleasantries, smalltalk, friendly contact - be it physical or eye - between strangers of any kind?  Or is this the dawn of a whole new era...

The fact is, all these clever little artefacts that we clutch to our person 24/7 make being nice to one another easier than ever.  It takes a split second to send a 'hello', 'happy birthday', 'congratulations', 'sorry'.  You don't need to worry about spending time you haven't got speaking to someone on the phone, sitting down and writing them a letter, sharing a pot of tea.  You can get on with whatever you're doing and still get in touch. You can pop them a text, send them an e-card, or a video of yourself stark naked singing 'happy birthday, mr president' with a pepperoni up each nostril, should you choose.  

Communication has never been so easy, nor has it had so much creative potential.  It's a shame we don't exploit it more. Creativity aside, there really is no excuse for not acknowledging a gift, email, text, card, phone message, inquiry or job application.  Take note all you employers out there, this relates as much to the professional world as it does to the personal.  Less than marginal effort is required these days to get back to someone.  To do nothing while simultaneously plugged into your laptop, smartphone and iPad is beyond lazy.  It's rude.  The irony is we spend so much time telling the world mundane trivia about ourselves on Twitter and Facebook platforms that we have no time left for conventional one on one.  It's always bemused me that people come to you to request friendship on Facebook, then don't respond when you say, 'How nice to hear from you.  How are you?'

I am hopeful however, that this wonderful, amazing, ingenious digital age we're living in will herald a new era.  An era of digital courtesy.  Let's call it The New Courtesy.  The speed at which we've adopted all things digital into our lives has left etiquette lagging behind.  A plethora of means, but none of the manners.  (Yes, yes, I know, not everyone online is a discourteous oaf, but screen barriers do, as most of us have experienced, facilitate bad behaviour.)  To my knowledge, there is no rulebook when it comes to digital etiquette, so perhaps someone needs to create one.  Or alternatively we should just re-apply the same old manners our pre-digital face-to-face ancestors practised to our new digital platform and marvel at how easy it is to be polite these days.  And not just polite, but delightful, hilarious, heart-warming, tear-jerking.  Digital media gives us the opportunity to personally communicate like never before.

So get off Twitter for a moment and get back to those who'd like to hear from you, for whom it matters.  And who knows, perhaps some time from now, when we're all screen-weary and nervous of future generations losing the power of speech, digital courtesy might lead us back to the real, spoken, thing.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Cycling in the City

Have been following with interest The Times' highly worthy campaign to make cycling safer in our cities. I used to cycle regularly across London to work.

Cycling?  In London?  Are you mad?  The more I read the more I have asked myself the same question.  It all started when I lived some distance from the most direct tube line to my place of work (District) and because I have a chip in my head that never, ever, absolutely on no account, allows me to leave home in good time, I would, forever late, resort to the bike and cycle to the district line station rather than work up a flustered sweat speed-walking there or worse, by waiting for a bus.

Then, on 7th July 2005, I cycled to the tube station only to find it closed, gates pulled across as baffled crowds amassed, and huffing and puffing at the damned inconvenience of it all I decided somewhat reluctantly to cycle all the way to work (only when I got there did I realise that there'd been a coordinated terror attack).  Well, I rather impressed myself with how quick and painless, indeed pleasurable, it was, to cycle instead of tubing it.  Plus it cost nothing, plus it meant not getting blown to bits by a suicidal backpacker, so I decided to do it every day.

Doubtless you're waiting to hear about the hideous bike-buckling, skull-crushing accident that befell me shortly after adopting the bike as my main mode of transport in London.  Well, thankfully there wasn't one, because in the three years I spent cycling to work across London I used to regularly break the law when it meant reducing the risk.

As The Times has made plain, should you choose to cycle across London there is no way, wherever your destination, to avoid tranches where you literally have to take your life into your hands, grit teeth, pedal frantically and hope.  In these cases if there is any means to reduce the risk of being killed you take it.  At traffic-lit junctions I would get to the front of the waiting traffic, and go the moment the transverse traffic stopped, therefore always jumping the red-light that corresponded to me.  In so doing I would get a split second headstart on the front-of-queue vehicle ensuring vital visibility, particularly if that vehicle was a left-turning lorry.

I would knowingly go the wrong way down one way streets and frequently ride on the pavement when it was the safer option - e.g. no cycle lane, just a bus lane, which, when you have an irritated bus driver who's behind on his timetable and thundering down on you, is not a pleasant place to be.  To let the frustrated bus pass you have two options - to veer right into the general traffic lane and run the risk of being sandwiched between bus and car, or mount the pavement on the left if that's possible, flatten yourself against the railings if not.  Dare prevent a bus driver from passing you and you run the risk of provoking this.. irate bus driver takes out cyclist

I would also regularly flout the rules in London's parks and ride my bike on footpaths rather than cycle paths.  That's because London parks are huge and the cycle paths tended to circumnavigate them whereas the footpaths cross them, are wide and inhabited by few enough people to navigate.  Where there were people I'd slow right down, occasionally get off and walk.  There was/is no logic to separating walkers and cyclists in parks.  It's bordering on patronising. I was not a kamikaze cyclist who enjoyed running into people, and I believe that of most cyclists.

That said I did see some incredibly stupid cycling out there.  There are those who refuse to wear helmets, for fear of it flattening their hair, who never wear any reflective gear (again vanity before safety), who would pedal their £600 Brompton across two lanes of traffic in neither of the above and 4-inch stiletto boots. There are those who listen to personal stereos while cycling, those who cycle too fast to stop if child/dog steps off pavement, someone opens a car door, car turns right into path etc. and those who see other road users as The Enemy, are universally hostile and cycle with an aggressive defensiveness that's guaranteed to rile anyone on a short fuse - 95% of London's rush hour drivers.

There are also sadly those cyclists who naively think they can follow the usual rules and be ok. To those and anyone cycling in London my advice would be to never ever be on the left hand side of a lorry - brake if you are; never sit adjacent to vehicles at traffic lights, position yourself in front of them, in full view, and go as soon as the crossing traffic stops even if your light's red; where necessary, mount a pavement, and never assume cycle lanes are safe - some beggar belief.

I would also ensure you have a functioning, easy-to-operate bell (refer to aforementioned pavement, parks, pedestrians) and have come to the conclusion that a wing mirror of some description would not be a bad idea either - turning your head to look at what's bearing down on your backside can create major wobble.

It's worth acquiring The Knowledge - like that once painstakingly acquired by anyone driving a cab in London, now usurped by satnav - to know all the quiet little back routes and cycle paths that wherever possible take you away from heavy traffic - surely there's an app that does this?

And finally, if you ever need to negotiate the junction from Hyde Park turning left into two-lane Bayswater Road, then right 50 yards later across two lanes of fast approaching traffic into Sussex Gardens, or any of the myriad London junctions like it, grit your teeth, pedal like billio and pray.