Friday, September 08, 2017

Autumn medley: meetings, music, and a mystery

As August morphs reluctantly into autumn,  Ham Wall RSPB Reserve proved the a perfect place to spend the last sunny day. It's a round walk of less than two miles but every turn of the flooded meadows is bird paradise ~ indeed, at the Avalon Hide, as sunlight illuminated a white egret spreading its wings, I actually heard a twitcher tell his friend "Thought I'd died and gone to heaven..." Strawberries and prosecco made a perfect picnic, thankyou Mike, and Chrissie Hynde for the drive home was a nice touch too.
Havant & District Writers Circle, a serious-sounding name for a delightful group, invited me to join them last Saturday in the peaceful surroundings of Park Place Pastoral Centre in Hampshire for a workshop.
Bravely, they opted for a full-day session, and fourteen writers arrived ready to seize every writing prompt with energy and amazing diversity plus frequent wicked humour. Hugely creative and great fun, in short ~ thanks so much to Carol Westron and Wendy Metcalfe for inviting me along. I enjoyed every minute.

A somewhat subdued Independent Market to greet the first Sunday in September, as drizzle all day reduced the number of stalls and fun stuff, and crowded the streets with dripping umbrellas. More Renoir's Les Parapluies than Lowry's Market Scene, in short, but with small pleasures like the busking stage. Here's 'Peone', jauntily leading off the morning's live music session.

Frome Writers' Collective monthly meeting at Three Swans was crowded for talk on "The Perfect Murder" by Alan Hamilton, author of Stalemate, a fictional tale inspired by the most famous unsolved murder in English history ~ the 'frenzy killing' of Julia Wallace in her Liverpool home in 1931. Alan's meticulous account of the circumstances, trial, and outcome were illustrated by slideshow and so well presented you could have heard a pin drop. One by one the theories were considered and discarded as the facts became curiouser and curiouser... could this woman of 70, claiming to be 20 years younger, have had lovers who combined to turn on her? Could her mild husband, despite so secure an alibi, have donned a mackintosh over his naked body to shatter her brain like a Nutribullet? All this and much more gruesome detail was presented and analysed in a fascinating study of the true story which Raymond Chandler called 'unbeatable' and PD James believed 'the most mysterious case ever.'

Frome Museum curator Sue Bucklow has been researching the little-known connection between 19th Century French sculptor Camille Claudel and the Singer family, at that time foundry-owners. Camille, at one time known primarily for her disastrous love affair with Rodin, has this year been finally honoured by a museum dedicated to her art  in Nogent-sur-Seine: this photograph of Camille's visit to Frome in 1866, presumed taken by Amy Singer, is now on display in the Town Hall with other images & more details. Another fascinating fact for fromeophiles.

Musically Frome has been quieter during August, with Roots Sessions taking a summer break and many musicians off at summer festivals, but Thursday saw Jazz Club return to the Cornerhouse with Funk from the Far Corners featuring the amazing talents of Keith Harrison-Broninski on keyboard, Andy Christie on guitar and Chris Jones on bass & double bass, with sensational drumming from Roberto Nappi, all climaxing in a sensational interpretation of Dodge the Dodo. (yes I did have to ask, not being familiar with Esbjorn Svensson). As a new arrival in town told me in awed tones after this finale, "I've got £80-tickets for a concert next week and I know I won't hear anything better than that!"

And finally for this posting: Jill Miller, Frome's most famous feminist ~ her 1983 novel Happy as a Dead Cat was on the reading list for Women's Studies courses for two decades ~ also renowned for founding Positive Action on Cancer counselling service, and for touring her autobiographical stage drama Time Bomb internationally was invited to reflect on What keeps you awake at night?  Battersea Arts Centre selected twelve people to film, in the dead of night, their answer to this question. Jill talks movingly about her personal killer: "Don’t let them say I was brave…" But she clearly is brave, to challenge the popular cliche of the 'battle' with cancer ("I'm a pacifist" she says simply) and to speak calmly something usually either sentimentalised or taboo. You can see Jill's response here.

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