Thursday, December 31, 2015

seasonal pickings, a personal take

"Writers do other things" said Marsha Hunt, and my end-of-year week had little connection with things writerly since most of the daylight hours not spent drinking americanos in River House I spent walking, and mostly in high winds ~ scarily thrilling on the Dorset coast with family, exhilarating with friends on Cley Hill, although of course the national situation is always hard to forget. As is the international situation.  Frome is the most mindful and caring town I've ever known, but also knows how to party so evenings have been buzzing... lovely get-togethers & brilliant music nights at Cornerhouse with the Pete Gage Band and Griff's latest lineup The Dempseys.

Back at home I found a couple of gems on the telly:
We're doomed for one, John Sessions unbelievably credible as Capt. Mainwaring in this true story of the making of Dad's Army which as the review points out doesn't only charmingly evoke a lost era ~ two lost eras, actually, if you count the days of great sitcoms ~ but also reminds us how the Beeb still functions: "there are so many compromises to be made and egos to be kept happy, it’s a wonder that anything of any worth or integrity comes out of the place at all."

And of course, the Aidan Turner show: three hours of indulgence wrapped up in an Agatha Christie rigmarole called And Then There Were None. There was a plot to account for more slaughter than Midsomer could muster in a month, a posse of cliche characters like generals & spinsters and a tray-shaking Mrs Overall-alike, and lots of Beeb-special slow closeups, but the main event of each episode was clearly caddish Philip Lombard, mesmerising whether in dicky bow or d├ęshabille. My friend Carla reckons The Towel should get a nomination as Best Support.
Charlie Brooker does the best end-of-year summaries, seriously scathing on a massive scale with scatterings of trivia, like the solution to that 2015 blue&black/white& gold dress debate ("according to the boffins it depends on how your brain works ~ if it works, you don't give a shit what colour the dress is.") And I've had fun looking back on far-too-many photographs from a snap-happy year, courtesy of Nikon for agreeing to replace my faulty J1 Nikkor wide-angle lens which packed up exactly a year ago, exactly two days out of warranty, and for making a super lightweight telephoto lens which comes with me to every music night now. I considered posting highlights of the year in pictures but there are far too many so I'll just do a random selection of bests-of-year, which like every 'bests' list will shift like desert island sand, revealing much I've overlooked...
Best book: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, informative, compassionate, important.
Best movie: apart from on DVD, probably Star Wars: The Force Awakens which aside from all the conquest & killing was sharply scripted, often very funny, and had a genuinely shocking moment...
Best theatre moments from Nevertheless Fringe Theatre: it's been a fantastic year for us with both our shows sold out for every performance, but for ambition & atmosphere I'd pick Midsummer Dusk  ~ our first site-specific production, in a cemetery at dusk... fantastic to work with Rosie Finnegan's great directing.
Best theatre elsewhere:  Some really fabulous shows around in Bristol, Salisbury, Bath and of course Frome's Merlin Theatre,  but the play that meant most to me was Richard II at the Globe, a breathtakingly good production made even more special by meeting the deposed king in the bar afterwards, and having our photo taken by the Earl of Mowbray too.
Best exhibition: The Palais des Beaux Arts in Lille was fascinating, Ai Weiwei's exhibition in London's Royal Academy was powerful, Banksy's Dismaland was incredible (or should that be in theatre?) but I'll never forget seeing all those iconic Don McCullin photographs together in Bruton's Hauser & Wirth gallery.
Best poetry night: Luke Wright at the Cheese&Grain was brilliant, and so was Rob Gee at the Merlin, but what I enjoy most of all are the wonderful egalitarian Poetry Cafe nights at the Garden Cafe.
Best music night: this one's near impossible... I loved Sunny Afternoon at London's Harold Pinter theatre (it won 4 Oliver awards & John Dalgleish as Ray Davies was brilliant) but once again the award has to stay in Frome. We've had so many great visiting bands (Tom Robinson was fantastic) and a cornucopia of fabulous local bands ~ I've so much enjoyed Dexters Extra Breakfast, the Dempseys, Bonne NouvelleFat Stanley, Al O'Kane, and more...  but I'm going to pick the amazing and endlessly danceable Captain Cactus and the Screaming Harlots.

Best Frome event: We had a sizzling summer Festival, a glittering winter Snow Ball, an innovative Shop Local day, but there's no doubt about this one: The Magnificent 17 Independents for Frome took every seat on the council in the election just a couple of days after the political blues elsewhere deepened, lifting all our spirits and confirming our town's status as officially awesome. And among the many great eco-warriors and sustainable campaigners, a virtual medal to Annabelle Macfadyen who cycled to Paris to join the protesters at the Climate Change Conference last month. With a cold!

I'll end with a Doris Lessing quote for the new year and every year (thank you David Goodman)
"Whatever you're meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible."
~ and with Mary Oliver's poem Wild Geese. Like the view of Stourhead across the lake, it's beautiful if you haven't seen it before and even more beautiful when you know it well...

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

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