Lee Miller & Picasso

On a beautiful late summer’s day, Kathy and I took a trip into Edinburgh for the Festival. In amongst the street theatre and the flyer vendors, I came across a poster for an exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery: Lee Miller & Picasso. At first I was disappointed that it wasn’t solely a Picasso exhibition, I would love to see one of those, however this is a wonderful exhibition with over one hundred pictures by Miller; a portrait of her, by Picasso, and one of his large drawings. Not much of the festival or the fringe interested me this year, as usual I went looking for Shakespeare, not comedy Shakespeare or a sketch show based on as many characters from his plays as could fit on a stage, hilarious as the flyer person said it was, just didn’t capture my imagination. No matter where it is, whether it is during the Festival, an exhibition or not, walking into an art gallery, is always an exciting pleasure for me and I was not disappointed with this one, this exhibition.

Lee Miller first met Pablo Picasso in the South of France in the summer of 1937. She took over 1,000 pictures of the Spanish artist and he painted her portrait six times. The photos are spread out over four or five rooms and really bring the artist to life, with his incredible eyes and his sense of fun. To be in his company must have been a joy. I’ve never looked at Picasso so closely before but, now when I read about him, everyone talks about his eyes and his flamboyant lifestyle, with his studio filled with guests watching him work. Among them was Roland Penrose, a British artist and champion of Surrealism who was travelling with Miller when they met Picasso. Penrose is featured in a lot of the photos, they eventually got married, after divorcing other people and she became Lady Penrose. There are many shots of Picasso in his studio, with paintings, you half recognise, all around the walls. There is a great little section of the painter with his old friend and early cubism partner, Georges Braque; they both have amazing, piercing eyes as they gaze at the camera lens. As you stroll through the rooms you feel as if you are getting to know the painter more and more; with family and friends, surrounding him on holiday or at his studio. He was a little barrel chest, powerful looking man; somehow, I think he looks like a genius.

The exhibition also looks at the life of Lee Miller. She was a beautiful woman and you can understand why Picasso painted her portrait so many times, although the one hung at the gallery is a very abstract painting. It was a great thrill to get so close to it, where you see the brush strokes so clearly, you can see strands of hair just underneath the paint, I stared at it for a long time. The lines of her mouth you can see were done by two single curving brush strokes; you can see where he put the brush on the canvas and just swiped it round like the curves of a moustache with the paint tailing off in thinning dots. In her early life, Miller was a successful fashion model before moving to Paris and becoming a photographer. During the Second World War she worked for Vogue magazine as a war correspondent. There is a great photo of her dressed up like a GI, surrounded by soldiers in amongst the ruined buildings of war.

The exhibition finishes on the 6th of September, a few days to go. Maybe it’ll tour, if it does, I urge you to seek it out.

Thanks to Wikipedia for refreshing my memory of Lee Millers early career, there is a lot of information online about her and a few books. She was an extraordinary woman and worth more study, I am so glad I saw this exhibition.

Inside The Crocodile

I think: Inside The Crocodile, is the authors third travel book and memoir, all three are brilliant and very different. From the trek in the high mountains of Bhutan to the Easter celebrations on the island of Mogpog in the Philippines, Trish Nicholson has given us some wonderful insights into a world of colour and beauty, a world way of the beaten track and educated us in cultures we may never encounter in our own travels.

Inside the Crocodile is the story of her five years working on a project funded by the World Bank, in Papua New Guiney. She seems to have an impossible job, with all the politicians and the ever-changing work force and bosses but, she is a very resourceful woman. From island hopping in small aircraft, landing on jungle grass strips, to beach to beach reaching communities by motor boat, she is determined to get the job done. There is time for “fun” with her brilliant description of a harrowing jungle hike, with a traversing over the thundering River Strickland on a very flimsy and dangerous rope and vine bridge, while managing to drag along one of their co trekkers, who have come down with, what appears to be malaria.

Malaria will play a part as the whole story unfolds, when Trish, nearly dies, suffering a bad bout that has been creeping up on her as the years go by. I really enjoyed this memoir, it is beautifully written, with wonderful passages describing the jungle; the plants, birds and wildlife, a crocodile under a blackboard included.

Names.

I have just finished the novel, Any Human Heart by William Boyd. I can’t remember enjoying a book more, perhaps the last Faulks novel. It is a relief to have discovered Boyd’s work, I am hopeful he is going to bring me hours of reading pleasure in the future. The novel is about a man’s long life from the start of the twentieth century till his old age in the nineties. Logan Mountsturt is the son of a Scottish corn beef manufacturer and a Uruguayan mother, born in South America. The whole family move back to England, Birmingham and Logan goes to public school where he meets two boys, Benjamin Leeping who later on becomes a successful gallery owner, buying and selling works of art by painters such as Picasso and Klee. His other friend, Peter Scabius becomes a well known and successful thriller writer, who even gets a knighthood.

Logan is a writer and over the course of his life writes a few books and many articles and literary reviews. He marries a dukes daughter and they have a son, Lionel. He doesn’t enjoy life in the countryside and moves back to London to work and goes home in theory at the weekend. While working in London he meets and falls in love with Freya, a producer at the BBC. Freya eventually moves in with him and they have a long affair; all the time, Logan realises it can’t go on this way, and he must tell his wife to seek a divorce. I was in Waterstons the other day and found more of Boyd’s novels, I am going to savour these books, take my time with them. I know to well what it’s like waiting for a favourite author to realise their new novel, I may read one a year.

I have come to realise that a persons name can open up a new world to me, straight away I think of Bruce Springsteen. Way back I was aware of him and knew one or two of his early songs but, I always thought he had an interesting name, then after borrowing a copy from a friend, I bought Born To Run, at the time it must have been out for over a year. I’ve been a life long fan ever since. A name can float around in my head for a while before I pull it to the front of my brain and decide to make it reality.

Gertrude Stein is another evocative name. I came across her in a film: Midnight in Paris a lovely Woody Allen movie. I saw it ages ago and her name was planted in my subconscious. After visiting Paris, I was in the mood to watch it again, that brought her name into focus, this process seems to be something I am familiar with, Sylvia Plath is in my not so subconscious mind too and while I think about it, Virginia Woolf , what great names but, that’s for the future.

Gertrude Stein was played in the movie by Kathy Bates, she reads the main character book, played by a sort of time travelling, Owen Wilson, each night as the clock strikes midnight, he gets into an vintage car, a Peugeot I think, he meets various characters from the 30’s, F Scot Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda; Hemingway, a rhinoceros obsessed Dali and Pablo Picasso. Hemingway gives his manuscript for his novel to Stein, she reads it over a few nights and is a great help to him.

I thought she was a very interesting lady from that era in literary history, I looked her up, and was delighted to find she has written quite a bit, some biographies, notably one on Picasso, whom she knew well. Gertrude Stein will be my new project, I have only to choose which book to begin my study of her. I am debating with my inner self whether to post this on my blog, it’s been so long since I posted anything. I’m sure if I do it, I will get some suggestions from my readers who usually know about these things. These are much of my; favourite things, history, literature, films, art.

Footnote… The Merchant of Venice should be my next, Shakespearian post, I’m deep into the text and I have watched the DVD at least twice, I wish I could see it on stage though.

Flight

I was kindly sent an advanced copy of Flight by Isabel Ashdown. I’ve been really looking forward to her new book and was absolutely delighted to receive this early edition. A few years ago I downloaded her first two novels to my Kindle and really, just forgot all about them. They were called: Glasshopper and Hurry Up and Wait. Then she released her third book; Summer of 76 and I pre-ordered and bought the book, I much prefer reading an actual book. I enjoyed it so much that I hunted down my underused kindle and read the other two. I ended up reading the three novels in the course of about three months and I’m telling you that is lightning fast for me.

Flight is the story of Wren, Rob and Laura. On the first ever national lottery, Wrens numbers come up and after a little planning, she just up’s and leaves her husband Rob and their baby girl Phoebe and her best friend Laura.

Twenty years later, on the anniversary of the first lottery draw and without hearing a single word from her, Laura is telephoned by a reporter asking questions. Questions about Wren, about why she abandoned family and giving her information on where she now lives. At the same time, Rob gets an unexpected letter.

So begins a story I found hard to put down. It’s a story of friendship and love. Of loss and reunion. It is hard to say why Wren left her husband and newborn baby, I found it hard to condemn her. Was it postnatal depression? You have to make your own mind up. The book is written with wonderful descriptions’ of the Cornwall coast and a knowing insight into student life in London. The writing is so beautifully done, that when it moves from character to character, each one in a different chapter but, all of them, brought together within the chapters. It will keep the overall picture so vividly in your head. The love they have for each other is so brilliantly described and all her characters have been very well drawn.

I think these are special books; written by Isabel Ashdown, I think Flight may be best so far and that is saying something.

George Allan  5th of May 2015

Lectures

While I was watching one of Sky Arts TV shows about Shakespeare, I was very much impressed by one of the contributors, a woman called Marjorie Garber. I liked the clear and friendly way she spoke. I looked for her on Twitter, thinking, it would be nice to follow her and pick up some bits and pieces of Shakespearian knowledge on the way. I didn’t find her on Twitter but, what I did find out was, she is a lecturer at Harvard University on Shakespeare and to my delight, she has up put an online course, free, on the latter plays of, William Shakespeare.

The first in the series is: Troilus and Cressida. So what we were instructed to do was, read the play from a good edition, such as Arden, Penguin or The Oxford, as long as it has notes and a commentary with it. Secondly, read the relevant chapter in her excellent book: Shakespeare After All. Then thirdly, listen to her online lecture. I purchased both books and settled down to study. We are supposed to do one play a week, that’s not going to happen with me, I’m already at the back of the class and I’m sure if I had enrolled properly I’d be way behind all the rest of the students, thankfully, I‘m only doing this for my own interest and not to gain a diploma. That would be very nice though.

This is a great play and I did read it fairly quickly, although one or two of the speeches were almost impenetrable, but I just pressed on and finished it. Then onto the chapter in the book. This book is a real find, she has written a whole chapter on every one of the plays and I think! it was the basis of her early lecturing career, before she actually wrote the book. After she published, Shakespeare After All, I think she changed her method of teaching. That is just a thumb nail sketch of her. You can find out more on her web site http://www.marjoriegarber.com Finally, on the road to Aberdeen in my truck, I listened to the lecture. Now, I am going to read it and listen to it all over again, I have to. One a week! Yeah right…

George.

Mon 6th of April

LP’s and Hard Back Books.

During the summer, I was in Edinburgh for a day out. I love walking round the old town, the Royal Mile and the Grassmarket. There are lots of old book shops and antique shops, with old jewellery, rings and watches etc for sale. At the bottom of the Grassmarket, there is a music shop called Red Dog Music. They sell guitars and keyboards. Next door, there was, a record store, sadly closed down since but, on this day, still open. After we had a look at the Fenders and Gibson guitars, I took my boys in to have a look at the LP’s. I have been telling them for years, how good they were in my day. How we used to carry them under our arms and bounce along the road with our long hair blowing behind us. How we would sit at home, reading the lyrics on our new gate fold sleeve album covers. I have never really considered the option of buying LP’s, I gave away my turntable years ago but, this particular day, I saw an old Elton John album, can’t even remember what one it was, it had  a lovely gatefold sleeve and that is what planted the seed in my head.

Later on in the summer, and a long awaited book from Amazon arrived at home. It had been on order for ages and was a fantastic, Victorian gothic, murder mystery. The Pierced Heart by Lynn Shepherd. It was a hard back copy, I don’t read many hard back books but I loved reading this one. I even took it to work with me, keeping it in a plastic bag to make sure it stayed in perfect condition. Left the dust cover safely at home, of course. After I finished The Pierced Heart, I really enjoyed it, Lynn Shepherd on top form. I took a trip to my local Waterstons in the Almondvale shopping centre, Livingston. I had a good look through the new releases, mostly hard back editions and decided to buy Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon. It was okay I suppose, three stars. I know that a book I had only rated three stars in the past, would never have been finished but, because it was a hard back copy, I ploughed on and finished. Bit of a weird logic there I think. Well you can’t half read, an expensive, hard back book, can you. At the moment I am reading The Zone of Interest, the new one by Martin Amis, a Christmas present. I have never read him before, I do hope he is good. It would be great to read all his back catalogue.

These things I have been writing about, LP’s and Books, are perhaps an old fashioned love of mine. I was told, a few years ago, by a lot of people and led to believe by the media that CD’s, were the future. The music was better and the small cases where the disc is stored were much easier to handle. It was all rubbish, we were hoodwinked by a load of know it all’s, because, you can’t beat having an LP on your knee, as I’ve said, with all the sleeve notes and lyrics to read while you listen to the music. Why does it have to be smaller? Just because the big corporations think we want everything small and disposable. It is even worse now with music downloading. I have a lot of music on my Ipod and because of this, I couldn’t tell you the name of the tracks I’m listening to. So you end up listening to all of Coldplay’s albums and not being able to name one of their songs. That’s not progress, In the old days I knew all the songs by the bands I loved. Why should we listen to all those people trying to tell us small is best. It does not make sense, an LP is a thing of beauty.

Now books are a bit different. You can’t download a book. Oh yes you can! But, downloading books, still means you have to read it. Unless you buy an audio book of course. I like my Kindle and good luck to everyone who uses them. They are great for new authors to self publish their own work and great for us readers to read it. It’s fantastic as a mobile device, taking it on holiday, or as I do reading when I’m on the road, during my break. But, I still love to read a real, hard back book. I am a slow reader, so buying one book every couple of months is not going to break the bank.

Books and LP’s. I think I have to take the time to once again cherish my music and my literature. Nothing wrong with being a bit old fashioned. Is there?

Happy Christmas and all the best for the New Year.

Jan Brigden – My First Novel, and My Love of Proofreading …

The Romaniacs

It’s no secret that my first novel took me a while to write. Okay, YONKS, mainly due to my endless tweaking and re-tweaking of it until it waved the white flag at me. I’m thrilled, therefore, to report that, having received a cracking report from my RNA New Writers’ Scheme reader, I’ve finally started submitting my book to agents.

To date, I’ve had four rejections.

Ouch!

They stung.

A lot.

I have, however, received some very encouraging feedback.

I’m under no illusions, and I’m certainly not averse to self-publishing, I simply want to try the traditional route first.

I must trust that someone will love my book and believe in it as much as I do …

My novel is a multi POV tale – three interwoven stories in one, if you like – entitled ‘As Weekends Go …’

20141010_164454

Here’s a little taster:

When Rebecca Stafford is gifted the chance…

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The Citizens Hamlet

From Titus Andronicus to Hamlet, this has been my Shakespearian year. I have not read as much as I would have liked, got stuck on Much Ado About Nothing and found myself agreeing with a good friend of mine, Eli. She told me she thought I was a bit obsessed with the tragedies. I don’t think she is one hundred percent right, I love the comedies on stage, but I do find them difficult to read.

I feel I have become, a little detached from Shakespeare over the last few months. I think this was due to coming down from the high of seeing the murderous, Titus Andronicus at the wonderful Globe theatre in London. The Globe has left such a yearning in my heart, I wish I could go there every day. With a bit of luck and forward planning, that’s a good one, forward planning, I will try to organise a London trip, at least once a year. I will try and fit in The National Theatre when I’m down. I have been told by a lot of people it is a special place and I should do my best to get there. It would have to be Shakespeare. I know that sounds a bit narrow minded, but I feel I can only concentrate on his work. Then again, I would love to see Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple on stage, it‘s one of my favourite films, so maybe I should not be so narrow minded. I did have a slim chance of seeing Simon Russell Beale as King Lear at the National, it was just so soon after Titus, I let the chance slip away. Everybody says it was outstanding.

A while back I started to follow The Citizens Theatre on twitter and Facebook and luckily I saw a tweet mentioning they were staging Hamlet, so I got online and booked two seats for me and my boy Tom. Tom makes faces and pretends he is board, but I know he really does like Shakespeare. Jack my youngest, on the other hand, fell asleep during a very noisy battle scene in Macbeth, at the Edinburgh Festival.

The Citizens is a wonderful old theatre in the Gorbals district of Glasgow. We were seated in the main auditorium, which holds five hundred, there are two smaller spaces for a more intimate experience. I had tingles in my spine when I walked into the dress circle and looked down at the stage. Then the lady usher, handed me a couple of programmes and told me, in a lovely and warm Glasgow accent to enjoy the play. The setting of the stage took a bit of working out, there were three banks of reel to reel tape recorders, there was guitars, a bass and a lead lying around at the back. There was a piano and drums and cymbals. At the front of the stage there was a long table and some chairs.

While we were sitting chatting, waiting for the play to begin, various people were wandering about the stage and we were all wondering who they were. Suddenly and very abruptly, all the talking stopped as if someone had thrown a switch. I don’t know how they did that, it was very good. The play begun.

I have watched Hamlet on DVD, at the cinema in a live screening from the National in London and of course I have read the play, but this was the first time seeing it live. Hamlet was played by Brian Ferguson, he was very good, though sometimes I thought his voice was a little sharp, that is just a small observation, his descent into madness was chilling and very funny at times. The get thee to a nunnery scene with Ophelia, was disturbing and I felt the sadness of her more than any other version of the play I have seen, so far. Ophelia was played by Meghan Tyler. She was fantastic, small, lifted of her feat in huge bear hugs by everyone, beautiful with long flowing fair hair. She sang like a heart wrenching a rock star, then lay in a bath soaking wet and blowing bubbles, drowning. She then sat at the graveside, water running of her, before she was lifted into the grave and laid to rest by her brother Laertes.

Polonius, played by Cliff Burnett was outstanding. He reminded me of Bill Nighy a bit. He is a great multitalented actor, playing a character I have always found annoying, I think, he is supposed to be? He could be so funny and a bit creepy with his daughter. It is a huge part and he walked through it with great skill. He also played the afore mentioned guitars. A few of the cast played the musical instruments at the back of the stage. The music was sensational, matching the mood and the action going on in the play. I am so glad I got that programme, I can tell you who was responsible for the music. The composer and sound designer was Nikolo Kodjabashia, an eminent representative of the Balkan and eastern European musical avant-garde. Free programme, they only ask for a pound donation, it’s been priceless for this post.

Claudius, played by Peter Guinness and Gertrude, Roberta Taylor were both wonderful. I have definitely saw them on TV. All the other actors were brilliant and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Adam Best and Crighton, were a riot. Horatio, played by Citizens theatre intern, making his professional debut, Martin Donaghy. He was great and I’d never have known it was his debut. The play was a brilliantly boozy affair. Bottles and bottles of what looked like Smirnoff vodka, were drunk throughout the performance. Think Smirnoff should send them some samples, for free advertising. Or me, for mentioning them twice.

My first live performance of Hamlet. It was a huge production and I loved it. So this year I have been very lucky to have seen two, world class plays by William Shakespeare. Titus Andronicus at The Globe and Hamlet at The Citizens. In the years to come I want to see many more, including a trip to Stratford Upon Avon and the RSC. An overnight stay and a night at the theatre would be great. I would love to see round the Shakespeare birthplace. It looks fantastic. I will keep more than an eye on The Citizens, it really is a fantastic theatre.

I hope you liked this post. I know it was a bit of a showbiz review, but Hamlet is a very long and complex play. There are a lot of words to get to the bottom of, I think you could make it your life’s work, just studying Hamlet, that is the genius of Shakespeare. The more I see Hamlet and re read it, the closer I will get to the centre of it.

George. 8th October 2014

America’s Pastime

Some things never leave you, they stay with you and give you cause to think of them, almost on a daily basses. Horse riding and horses in general, are never far from my thoughts. I’m not a great horseman or rider, I only did it at school, for a one year in 1973, a whole year and I loved it so much, it has never left me. What had happened was, by 1973 the teachers had given up on us and tried to find things for us to do outside the school, away from them. Bless them or damn then? I’m not sure. Bless… I think. I finally got back up in the saddle when my niece got me two horse riding sessions for my birthday. It felt amazing after all them years.

Some things never leave you; Baseball will never; leave me. I’ve watched it on TV and loved the game. The thing I have learned about myself, is my love for history. I just plain and naturally like looking back and I like nostalgia. Any game I like, I love to hear the old timers talking about the old days and old heroes. Cricket and Football, or in this story, Baseball. A couple of years ago I was on holiday with the family in Florida, it may have been our six or seventh time. We had done all the parks, many times and wanted to try something different. I suggested going to a ball game, Baseball. No one was keen, but they decided to humour me. It was an hour and a bit, straight drive from our villa, so it wasn’t going to be a problem. I checked online to see who was playing. The Tampa Bay Rays were at home to The Cleveland Indians and there was plenty of tickets, so no need to book.

We set off for an evening game, think it was about seven o’clock. The sky was very dark in the West, the direction we were heading. Once or twice I thought about turning back, especially when the rain came down like stair rods. But, we kept going and wonder of wonders, the stadium has a roof on it. Kathy was a bit miffed because she had said to keep driving and if the game was off, we could just go shopping. Katie likes to shop.

We parked in the stadium car park, didn’t cost us anything, we were too early and the parking staff hadn’t arrived yet. I tried to pay them later and the guy just laughed and said, you’re in now and told me not to worry about it. This was just the start of the warmth and generosity we received from the whole organisation. The rain had stopped and the sun was out with a vengeance. The stadium wasn’t open yet so we had to hang about the entrance and the club shop. The shop opened first and we piled into the air conditioned haven and spent a few bucks on caps t-shirts and memorabilia. Kathy finally getting to do some shopping.

Then the ticket office opened and we went over to buy our seats, Baseball can be cheep or very expensive, we bought good seats behind the dugout, not too deer. The girl at the box office must have thought, by our accents, that we were from Cleveland and soled us tickets to the away team dugout, so we were in amongst the Cleveland fans wearing all our brand new Tampa Bay gear. Good job it wasn’t a British football match.

Before the game started we had a good look round the inside of the stadium. The club museum was really special. All the photos of old players, the history of Baseball, I felt like Ray Kinsella from Field of Dreams. We bought hot dogs and chilly dogs and soda, while some folks hearing our accents, asked us where we were from, every one of them, genuinely pleased that we had come to the Baseball and telling us to enjoy the game. That seemed to be the mantra; enjoy the game.

I can’t imagine what it must be like before the World Series, because this game in the middle of an American League series, midway through the season was just amazing. From the throwing out of the ceremonial first pitch by a local US soldier, who had been badly injured in a car crash, to the singing of the national anthem. There were old timers, I think, employed by the club, handing out badges to little kids, some who were at their first ball game. It was just magical. They call Baseball, America’s Pastime. If you ever get the chance to go to a game, you will see why. We watched a fine game that day. The Rays narrowly loosing out by one run, but wining the series, I think 2-1. I hope we go back one day, I dream about those hot dogs

Southern Gothic

Another one of my diversions from the long road on my Shakespeare journey, hope you enjoy.

Its four o’clock in the morning, I have stayed up half the night to finish The Undertaker’s Daughter by Kate Mayfield. After I closed the book for the last time, I had read this memoir very quickly. I came down stairs and turned on my laptop, I know from experience if I didn’t write this as soon as I could, any thoughts I have on the book will slowly fade away.

This is the story of a young girl growing up in southern Kentucky. Her family live in a house above her fathers undertaker business. There’s her Mother and Father, a brother and two sisters. Frank Mayfield, is the undertaker, who opens the door of the dead for his daughter Kate, to freely observe him at work and learn about death. This book is full of the dead. Now that might sound morbid but it is not. It is definitely gothic, sometimes funny and sometimes sad. It is the story of two people, a father and his daughter. There is mental illness, dangerous racial liaisons and secrets. It is a complex story and a very brave and honest one. From a very young girl, who does a bit of her own haunting, when having to stay very quiet, when there is business of the dead taking place down stairs. To the rebellious teenager growing up in the seventies, with an urge to leave behind the small town of Jubilee, where southern ladies play bridge and gossip about every one they know and all the goings on in their small town. To the black side of the town, still segregated, even in the seventies.

The writing in this book is wonderful. It just flows along and the language is pure southern. I loved every sentence. The narrative jumps about a little, sometimes going from Kate as a teenager to her as a little girl again, but you never loose the thread for a second. The peripheral characters come and go and they only add too, and enrich the story. There is so much going on and so much between the lines that Miss Mayfield, skilfully allows you come to your own conclusions. This is really an autobiography, but reads like a novel, with shades of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mocking Bird. The Undertaker’s Daughter is in the tradition of that Great American writing.