Monday, 31 January 2011

No sleep till..........Bexhill

Fancy rocking out on the Sussex coast? Bexhill-on-Sea may not be your first port of call, but think again. Because Bexhill has the De La Warr Pavilion and the De La Warr Pavilion played host to An Evening of Words and Music with.........Patti Smith. Yes, I got to see the the godmother of rock, punk, poetry whatever twice in one week. Lucky me. She was, if not necessarily word perfect .... oh how we love it when Patti has a senior moment mid song..... certainly pitch perfect. Honestly, the energy at a Patti gig is above and beyond the average twentysomething band, I kid you not. And last Friday night was a particularly blinding performance, accompanied by her daughter, Jesse Smith, on the piano, a young bloke with a beard whose name I never caught and the extraordinary Patrick Wolf, a musical youth with unbelievable talent who flitted between the violin and harp with breath taking brilliance. I first saw Patrick Wolf a few years ago, doing Twisted Christmas, and he's a sort of musical genius, if you get the chance I urge you, go see him.

It was a remarkably good evening and much needed after a remarkably tricky week running through the good, the bad and the ugly of emotions. So, after a long train journey and fuelled only by red wine and some of the most expensive crisps known to man.......all be it Stilton & grape flavoured crisps........and yes there is good reason why salt & vinegar has endured so long but they had to be tried....... it was a delightful relief to throw caution to the wind and my arms aloft, and do a spot of dancing, while Patti rocked the once glorious seaside town with Gloria, Ghost Dance and a spine-tingling, goose-bumping, heroic rendition of Bird Land.

And then there was the De La Warr Pavilion. What a delight, all curves and kinks and windows, perched on the edge of the beach. It was commissioned by the 9th Earl De La Warr in 1935. Designed by the architects, Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff, and was the first public building built in the modernist style designed to provide the good denizens of Bexhill and it's environs with culture and leisure. And now, after an 8 million quid refurb, it's back on the map. Home to one of the largest art galleries in the South East, it has amongst other things, an award winning bandstand and a magnificent roof terrace commanding panoramic views of land and sea. Quite the jewel of the East Sussex coast.

Top tip: Don't wait for the summer, head for the beach and check out the De La Warr Pavilion at sunny Bexhill-on-Sea.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Thanks for the memory........

It's official, it's over, the game is up....... I'm going to have to carry an official disclaimer, a government health warning....... I can no longer remember. Anything. I'd give in and call it a day if I could remember what day it is. Over the last year there's been a few double booked moments, a bit of lost and not found and the name section of the brain is definitely showing up 'error' . But now the hard drive appears to be full and there's no room left on the memory stick. And I don't like it. I have an ex who's made a career out of losing things, now the son is turning the forgotten into an art form, a cousin who loses phones, keys, clothes, buggies.....fortunately the child wasn't in it at the time...... on a regular basis. But for me this is new territory, a foreign land.

This time it was the Patti Smith tickets. I couldn't remember what I'd done with them. I'd been delighted to discover she was doing a talk at the Royal Geographical Society so called a friend and arranged to go. We'd discussed it, made plans so I knew I'd got them. I racked my brains, searched through the emails. Nothing. And then the awful realisation began to dawn: I'd booked the friend to come with but had I actually booked the tickets to go see? I rang the booking office and tried to explain to the lovely Laura that I couldn't remember if I'd booked or not but I didn't know which card I'd booked with if I had.... or hadn't...... or any other vital information. She was concerned, patient and helpful. Perhaps the Patti Smith fan club demographic is full of the old and insane. Perhaps she's been inundated with calls from the bewildered, unable to remember where they're going......or why. Eventually I discovered I hadn't booked the tickets. I'd asked my friend to as I'd been working. I had in fact been really efficient. I just hadn't remember how efficient.

And Patti? Well I have to declare I'm a fan so my views may not be everyone's but frankly they she should be because she was brilliant. As she rocks through her 65th year she just seems to get younger. She exuded energy and inspiration as she corrected and contradicted her host, Geoff Dyer, who was, at best, disappointing. Professing to be a huge fan, he'd apparently failed to do his homework as he rambled through supposed anecdotes that turned out to be wrong, untrue or misquoted. Not that any of that put Patti off her stride as she regaled us with tales of Robert, Bob and Alan. And then there was the song. An unexpected and delightful coda to an event billed as a conversation, Patti Smith unzipped her guitar and with a voice that just gets better as we all grow older, she sang My Blakean Year. Spellbinding.

'So throw off your stupid cloak embrace all that you fear
For joy shall conquer all despair in my blakean year'

Top tip: I said it before but it's worth saying again now it's out in paperback, treat yourself to Patti Smith's Just Kids.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Paperback writer........

I'm sleeping with Beryl Bainbridge........Dame Beryl last. I'm a huge fan of Beryl, I think she's brilliant. However, I've never actually read any of her books. Not a one. Zilch, nada, naught, not even a page. I've read articles by her and about her, seen documentaries, heard her on the radio and everything I've heard, read, seen I like. I especially love the fact that all her parties, and there seem to have been many, included a boisterous rendition of Rolf Harris's Two Little Boys. And that she died at 75 after a short battle with cancer, surrounded by family and friends all singing along. Who could ask for anything more. I'd be well happy with that ending. I loved her craggy, fringed face, hollowed by a lifetime's devotion to cigarettes and a fondness for whiskey. She was, I believe, everything a writer should be. I would liked to have known her but I didn't. So, this year my first resolution was to read a Beryl Bainbridge novel. And now, everynight, I tuck up with Beryl and I have to say I'm loving it. I haven't read any Dickens either or Nabakov for that matter. I have friends who've actually read War & Peace, which again I have not. Another one for the to do list.

As luck would have it I had an early, slim volume, of Beryl's: The Dressmaker, amongst the unread books on my unread book shelf. Many of the books I own are unread because I tend to give away the ones I have read. Unless they are quite special to me. I used to be quite precious about books, packing and unpacking them, piling them high every time I moved, never actually intending to read them again. I would lend them out and then panic they might not be returned. And then one day I thought why I am I hording all these books? Once enjoyed, why not release them back into the world? Let them go on to delight, sadden, inspire, annoy, enrage and reduce others to tears of mirth. So now, I pass my books on to friends ....... or the the nearest charity shop ....... set free, the paperbacks can roam across another's book shelf or lurk upon on the bedside table.

I seem to have acquired a rather a lot of unread books lately and Christmas hasn't helped. Clearly the printed word is not dead. Not yet. Even if the bookshop is. I, like many, could go on about the joy of loitering in bookshops: wandering amongst the dusty tomes, leafing through a first edition while the knowledgeable and bespectacled proprietor teeters above on a ladder, searching for Fly Fishing by J R Hartly. Except I, like many, have discovered the joy of Amazon. What can I say? I take full responsibility for my part in the book shop's downfall. But it's so hard when I can buy any book I want, for £2.47 plus pp at the touch of a button. The secondhand books are brilliant. I found an airline ticket in one. An airline ticket! That's practically a collector's item in itself. Obviously used as a bookmark, I studied the name and destination, imagining what journey this book might of taken. Another has a lengthy inscription to an old friend in America, several have the name of the original owner proprietorially scrawled in the top, right hand corner. These story books are writing their own stories........

Top tip: get out of the cold and take yourself off to Africa, read Out Of Shadows by Jason Wallace, winner of the Costa children's book of the year but a brilliant read at any age, oh yes and he's my cousin......

Monday, 10 January 2011

The Bigger Picture

The King's Speech is an utter delight. It deserves all the stars, plaudits, thumbs up it's been given, a fabulous story, fabulously told with fabulous performances. Who knew when Colin clambered out of the pond and shook himself dry that one day he'd start churning out Oscar nominating performances....although he may well be up against Jeff Bridges again.....and of course the divine Helena just gets better and better I believe. Despite having taken against her in her early career, dismissing her as being nothing more than a head full of hair extensions with a face like a cat's bottom........ I blame Merchant and Ivory for my uncharitable thoughts...... today I am a complete convert and champion her every production. Although to be honest, it is almost Geoffrey's film. He is quite brilliant. I loved it.

But I would say that because I love going to the movies. I always have. It's a family trait. After taking my Mum to see The Lady And The Tramp, my Dad walked her home, across London, and proposed to her, a story recounted everytime they show the dogs-eating-spaghetti scene on TV. I remember them arguing one rainy afternoon over whether or not Carry On Screaming was suitable viewing for the children. Apparently it was and I laughed so much I was nearly sick. We would all go to every new release from James Bond to Jungle Book and I blame my mother for taking me to see a re-release of Gone With The Wind, aged 8, swiftly followed by Wuthering Heights, resulting in my addiction to troubled men who roam the Moors and don't give a damn.....
As an adult I regularly go to the pictures whether to celebrate or seek solace, to laugh with friends or weep alone; for me it's a perfect date. The cinema is my safe place. Between Christmas and New Year I saw 4 films in 3 days, make of that what you will. As a child it was the one place where my son and I could come together. ADHD kids can sit through feature films much earlier than most other kids, bizarrely, due to the instant gratification of the flickering stimulus. And so we went to the movies. A lot. It's not just about watching the film, it's about going to the cinema: sitting in the dark, being transported away from my world and into someone elses, far away from the slings and arrows of my own outrageous fortune. And I absolutely love a matinee, it always feels like playing hookey from real life, preferably on a wet afternoon and with only a handful of other people dotted about in the darkness........ Why does eating popcorn make such a noise? I hate the sound of salt-sticky fingers burrowing furiously into super-sized cartons, like a demented ferret trying to make a home amongst polystyrene packaging. And is it really necessary to check texts/emails/instant messages while Ben Stiller is giving us his Gay Focker?

And now we have groovy, new cinemas with super-comfy armchairs and sofas one of which is within walking distance of my own sofa, the Screen On The Green, where I've been going on and off for about 25 years. Although I do miss it's old snap back seats, built for discomfort and that indefinable smell, somewhere between damp wool and dead cat. Now there's a bar and waiter service and super-expensive snacks. But anyway, I've been smuggling wine and finger food into the movies forever and no doubt will continue to do so.

Top tip: get out of the cold and take yourself off to Africa, read Out Of Shadows by Jason Wallace, winner of the Costa children's book of the year but a brilliant read at any age, oh yes and he's my cousin......

Thursday, 6 January 2011

A new year just begun......

And so it's that time of year again: time to take stock, stand back, hunker down, batten down the hatches, step away from the fridge and keep your hands where you can see them....not up to your elbows in cold roast potatoes, an unfinished Stilton or the Quality Street tin....the purple ones have long gone anyway. All over this cold and soggy land the turkey-stuffed, wine-soaked, cake-crumbed masses are heaving themselves along to their nearest pilates class, yoga centre, thai-chi, kick-boxing, aerobic, weightlifting, flab slaying temple of muscular strain, ache and pain, in a vain attempt to clean up their act, get fit, slim down and tone up because this is going to be the year: the year when they lose that 10 pounds, give up smoking and stop lying on the sofa in crusty make-up and jim-jams sticky with the honey drips of morning toast, crumpled and coffee-stained, watching last night's telly on SkyPlus.

No, this will be the year of the doer. Actions will prove the naysayers wrong. This year will be another year. A different year.......until about January 22nd. At which point the stark realisation that we haven't even started February yet will kick in. The sky will turn the colour of sour milk and the damp, cold weather will seep beneath the tightest door and battened window; it will be too cold to go to pilates/yoga/kick-boxing, the meditation class will pass un-thought of and the salad will turn to slime, rotting odorously. The tooth defying toffees in the bottom of the chocolate box will get eaten while you wonder what you can eat...... and the thought of another day of detox tea in lieu of a robust red will gnaw away at your resolve and finally........ the game is up.

Personally I've given up giving up, better to embrace new things and add to life rather than take away from it.....especially at this late stage. Besides, I was given a bottle of homemade sloe vodka, the rose blush of which goes very well with the baby-pink, cashmere socks I also received from Santa ........ I hope the pair will see me through the northern months.

Top tip: take yourself off to Africa, read Out Of Shadows by Jason Wallace, winner of Costa's children's book of the year but a brilliant read at any age, oh yes and he's my cousin......