Wednesday, 31 December 2014

What A Difference A Year Makes

Fragility of health

In January 2004 I had a mini-wake-up heart attack.  A million and more historical events prove to us that a heart-beat of time can change lives, from freak accidents to man-made evil crimes (in peace and war), to unexpected natural disasters or virulent diseases.  But, more mundanely and frequently, the wear and tear of modern life on one’s own body and mind can contribute to life-changing reassessments of priorities.  My own parents and my mother-in-law died over relatively short periods (see blog below.)  Ray my father-in-law’s long slow decline from Alzheimer’s was not an ending anyone would hope for.

Questions, questions

Should I have worked less hard during my career?  Would that have prevented my heart attack in 2004?  Should I have changed my working life more profoundly after the heart attack in order to reflect what I knew about my unhealthy working habits?  

Giving Attention  

All the above questions are of course pointless.  Pointless, I tell you.  The past is a country you cannot revisit; only the present and future can command attention.  And thus, in my newly-retired and philosophical state, I look back on the maelstrom of Christmas 2013 and thank goodness for the impending arrival of 2015.  I’m looking forward to Giving Attention to things I want to give attention to.

So Goodbye to the elements of 2014 – in an order that makes sense to me….
Kitchen transformed....

Game of Life, Dorking/Dorking Halls, Old Tiles,
Hello Dorking.... Farewell Dorking....
Polesden Lacey, Blake Ward, Elgar Ward, Retirement, Box Tree Dinner, Bistro Pierre, Farewell Raymondo, Top Withins, Zaara’s, Ghosts, Johnson Over Jordan, Wolf Hall, Bring Up The Bodies, King Lear, The Likes of Us,

Hailsham, Pevensey Castle, Battle, Sissinghurst, Monks House, Chawton, Paris, Denbie’s, Pericles, University Reunion, Goodbye Work, Recipes, Cooking, Menus, Walking, Northcliffe, Hirst Woods, Canal, Salt’s Mill, Macmillan Cancer Support, Kerry Madden-Lunsford and Norah, the Bronte Parsonage,

The Lancelot-Barr Crew and The Unicorn's Ruin at Saltaire Festival...
Lancelots, Brown-Shelton, Thompsons, Tuffnells, Hickey-Howsons, Boyhood (my film of the year), Houses, Gardens and Abbeys, Hampton Court, Kew Gardens, Wandsworth Common, Tower of London, Wicked, North-South Divide, Margaret Atwood, Owen Jones, Flaxby and RR Donnelly.

Images of New Year's Eve at Bolton Abbey

Many of the above elements will return

More Shakespeare, of course.  And blogging and starting to learn how Facebook works....  Many of the above elements will return and a welcome return they will be.  Family, friends and beautiful places – may there be many more of those memories.  But there are a few nuggets amongst the list that I hope will never return…. Here’s to 2015!

Happy New Year One And All

Monday, 29 December 2014

The Best of Times, the Worst of Times....

As Mr Dickens wrote in the opening of his epic Tale of Two Cities

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way….
One of the best of times.... Come Dine With Me at home....

Becoming an orphan

I was bereaved earlier this year.  Having married in 1986 and therefore able to enjoy parents-in-law, my only remaining “parent-figure” died.  I have had to grow up.

Edward Patrick, Annie Elizabeth, Joyce Mary and Raymond

My own father died in 1985, my mother in 1995, my mother-in-law in 2000 and in February 2014 my father-in-law died.  I may blog about Eddie, Anne, Joyce and Ray in the future, but for the moment all I want to reflect on is how privileged I am that I have been able to retire early.  That’s a consequence of my father-in-law’s careful attention to saving up for the future of his daughters.  And a consequence of my good fortune in marrying one of Ray’s daughters.
Beloved brother, wife and sister

Boxing Day

And it was great to catch up with my siblings on Boxing Day at the Black Rock in Wakefield and compare life’s joys and bruises….
Beloved brother with family and niece

"Small cheer and great welcome makes a merry feast." - Balthasar from The Comedy of Errors
Beloved family members with two couples-to-be in the centre - two weddings to look forward to in 2015

My oldest brother enjoyed downtime abroad.
Beloved brother and partner in Madeira

Merry Christmas One And All....

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Beginning to Look Back

Looking Back

As 2014 ends, I can only hope 2015 and future years contain less personal trauma. I hope in future years I can compose blogs more regularly and without obscuring too much of what I am truly thinking and feeling. The images below contain (for me) total pleasure and excruciating pain. And also contain (for me) love beyond belief. And some bewilderment. The end of the year is a good time for looking back…. 
Harriet home from India/Nepal, Egypt, goodbye teaching, home from the hills and, in images below, Emily home from Dorking, Kerry and Norah on the Moors, Surrey and the South, Barr-Lancelots, the Tower of London, Fountain's Abbey, the wonderful Margaret Atwood at the Ilkley Literature Festival

Last Christmas

Between October and December 2013 everything changed – in my world, at any rate. Last Christmas felt very fragile but this Christmas, everything feels different. No doubt next Christmas will feel different again. And the one after that. Change happens.

Change and the Illusion of Time Management

Change happens. Constantly. I used to believe in Time Management. But I now think it is a redundant concept. Time cannot be Managed. All that can be managed is what you do and what you say. You give your attention to chosen actions and that attention affects naturally occurring changes, hopefully changing things in a direction you want. Anything you ignore will undergo changes anyway. Because change is a constant. Time marches on. Change happens. Constantly.

Get Everything Done: and still have time to play

So I’ve increasingly over the years tried to live by the following philosophy, espoused by my friend Jane Howson and written about eloquently by Mark Forster: you must Give Attention to the things you want to affect. You can never Manage Time; all you can do is Give Attention to what you do and what you say. Because Change will happen anyway. Give Attention to the things you want to change. As Linda Loman says in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman
attention must be paid.


Approaching 2015 is a time to look back and a time to look forward. Next year I’ll be 55. 55 years before I was born it was 1905 - a lot of Change has happened since 1905. A lot of Change will no doubt happen in 2015.... Excelsior!

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Odeon Screen Unseen

Riz Ahmed and Jake Gyllenhaal

Take Your Chances

Odeon cinemas have started doing a Screen Unseen scheme where you attend without knowing what you’re about to see.  

Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler

Last month my family and I saw Nightcrawler with Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom, an instantly memorable movie character who will be counted alongside Travis Bickle and Michael Corleone as emblems of the corruptions of the age.

  Nightcrawler is the disturbing tale of an ambulance-chasing media hound who starts to manipulate the stories he covers.  Riz Ahmed as his intern Rick and Rene Russo as news producer Nina are equally brilliant in more tragic roles; they are characters who are equally as culpable as Bloom but are also damaged irreparably by the protagonist’s increasingly evil decisions.  
Rene Russo

Lighting and editing

In some ways Nightcrawler reminded me of a 1970s art-house film, lit like an urban noir and with editing rhythms that produced an accelerating tension.  The ending – where there is plenty of smiling and ‘pep-talk’ is as chilling as anything I’ve seen at the cinema in recent years.


This month we were lucky to see Whiplash, a film I probably wouldn’t have chosen to see but was glad it was offered to me by Screen Unseen.

Two brilliant central performances

Another terrific but disturbing film.  Starting with a black screen and the sound of a neurotic drum roll that starts as if played by a child, gradually becoming military and then turning into a sublime performance of superhuman speed, the sound acts as a metaphor of my journey with this film in the cinema – I felt innocent at first (thinking I was watching Fame, then Full Metal Jacket for drummers and finally Amadeus-meets-Drumline.  With two brilliant central performances and switches of tone that induced breathless emotional effects, I would recommend this film to anyone who admires intense acting, character-driven films or films about svengali-like teachers.  Or indeed anyone who appreciates fine percussion or jazz music.  

Academy Awards?

JK Simmons may well be nominated for an acting Oscar, though most people would want his character to be hauled before a judge and jury and sentenced to painful hard labour.  Miles Teller is horribly believable as a gauche prodigy with family issues, and an unattractive stubbornness – but he occasionally smiles with tender hope and you root for him.  Would you want to be his friend or girlfriend?  Probably not.  If I were in charge of the Academy Awards it would receive Oscars for Film Editing, Music Score and Original Screenplay.
JK Simmons and Miles Teller in brilliant performances
JK Simmons and Miles Teller will, though, I expect, be competing with Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo for acting honours in the awards season.  Good luck to them all.   

Thanks, Odeon Screen Unseen for prompting me to see these two great films.