Post Election Reaction #GE2017

It is the first time for a while that an election result hasn’t left me despairing so that’s nice!  This blog meanders through some of the reasons why.

I’m happy it is not a Tory landslide but I recognise there are difficult times ahead.  The result will create uncertainty and have politicians dividing their attention between the serious issues and commitments facing the country and the opportunities and threats to their own political careers.

Of course, we are still committed to investing time and energy leaving the safe haven of a large economic union to flounder in the high seas of a volatile world, having to accept help from whatever brigand and pirate stops to offer it.  That’s not good.  Whatever the rights and wrongs of whether we would be better off in or out of the EU, the process of leaving is going to eat up the money, parliamentary time and energy of politicians and civil servants alike.  That reduces the chances perhaps to zero that other problems in our society will be tackled and improvements made be.  Is it really going to be so much better outside the EU that we will make up for that lost progress?

Also, the British system is incapable of dealing with the plurality of mind.  The first-past-the-post clear majority focuses solely on the winning ideology.  Rather than dealing with the plurality of thought, this system ignores it between elections, while it has no power.  The anger and frustration of the other points of view build up and build up until, well, until a night such as this.  So, yes, the system doesn’t work to reflect the real feelings of the country and to weave our different threads into a harmonious tapestry.  But it feels like it is working to those in power who see no dissent.  Until they get laughed at – judge us on our record, said Amber Rudd – and the people did!

If Theresa gives enough to the Democratic Unionist Party she has a working majority – just – but it is a long way from the extra authority she thought she was going to get.  Meanwhile, the knives are out for her in her own party.  Just how much is everyone looking forward to another Conservative leadership contest followed by ANOTHER general election in the Autumn, which is what some people are predicting?  The trouble with politicians they never seem to consider the possibility of defeat and the catastrophe for themselves and for the rest of us if they do.

On the plus side for Jeremy, (the unelectable, they said), not enough people voted for him to have to meet his pledges.  He’s played a blinder: turned the tide of a labour decline (which commentators predicted was so bad that Labour might become a minor party) while not having to form a government or govern.  Yet.  The question is can he create a meaningful Progressive Opposition to the Conservative and Unionist government, and do so in a way that shores up his image and builds more support in case of that possible Autumn poll?  Since the Northern Ireland parties are suddenly so important, is he even the man to persuade the Sinn Fein MPs to take their seats?

Which brings to mind another sober thought.  The results of this election, added to the potential consequences of Brexit, could spell trouble on the island of Ireland.

In Scotland, well, there’s a couple of years until the next Scottish Government elections so time for the SNP to rebuild but also time for Ruth Davidson to consolidate the Scottish Conservatives’ and her own position.  Can the Conservatives even get her into a Westminster seat and closer to the leadership of the party?  For the lost Nationalists, Alec Salmond was yesterday’s man to a certain extent but Angus Robertson is a great loss to Parliament.  Will the SNP focus on getting him back in?

And, thinking of someone coming back: Nigel Farage, anyone?

A Review of Thin Air by Ann Cleeves

Today, 8 June 2017, I posted this review on GoodReads.com.
Thin Air (Shetland Island, #6)Thin Air by Ann Cleeves

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I very much like this series by Ann Cleeves. They are gently written even if they are dealing with murder. They pack a lot of information, back story and background, into easy-to-read and elegant sentences. For me, they are a perfect balance of intrigue and daily life, new characters and familiar ones, facts and secrets, red herrings and clues.

This time we meet a group of young professionals who met one another at university in Durham, most of whom are English, and there is a story of a haunting. I didn’t work out the culprit, nor the motive, but somehow I still felt that I could have. It felt fairly written to me.

In the middle of all this, a sense of hope. Oh, and an insight into the Shetland Islands and contemporary life there, this time on Unst, the most Northerly of the Islands and two ferry rides, 57 miles and two and a half hours from Lerwick.

I’d definitely recommend the series but I would suggest starting from the beginning, Raven Black.

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Review of The World Walker by Ian W. Sainsbury

I posted this review on GoodReads.com on 1 June 2017.

The World Walker (The World Walker, #1)The World Walker by Ian W. Sainsbury

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book came to my attention thanks to Amazon’s Daily Kindle Deals. The blurb sounded intriguing with its global setting and magic and ancient organisations and “(a)t the center (sic) of it all, Seb Varden, a 32-year old musician with a secret in his past, slits his wrists, is shot dead and run over on the freeway. He’s had better days.”

I started reading with a little trepidation, which is the lot of the reader of self-published material. However, I was very happy with the quality of the writing, the grammar, the characters and the story, not just in the opening chapters but also at the end. The story has a proper ending even though Ian Sainsbury plans further books. It truly is stand-alone while leaving mysteries still to solve.

Most reviews on Amazon have been positive. One negative one refers to the violence and I wanted to address that. There is some. However, I thought it was appropriate to the story and it introduced a sufficient amount of jeopardy from start to finish. The violence is not all-encompassing (you may find that to be strange language but it’s spoiler-avoiding!), which is nice. Of course, I’m a person who reads lots of crime and thriller books so maybe my bar is higher than some people’s.

I should also like to put in a good word for meditation. Read the book, you’ll understand!

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Gala Flamenca 2017 at Sadler’s Wells

Sadler’s Wells bill their Gala Flamenca as “one of the highlights of each year’s Flamenco Festival” and they are right.  It is a show built around people who have won prizes at the previous year’s competitions and festivals in Spain.  This means that you get a bit of everything and you get to see people who are the rising stars, in the view of the aficionados in Spain.  That’s why we love it and this year’s was no exception.

In 2017, there were four dancers, the Gypsy dancer Juana Amaya, Olga Pericet, Jesús Carmona and Patricia Guerrero.  Then there was a guest appearance from singer, Rocío Márquez who had a bit of the Ellie Gouldings about her.  (Or, was it Joss Stone – young, female, long hair and accessible music.)  She did her own concert during the Festival as well as appearing with the company.  She has an amazing voice and sings very traditionally but also a lot of powerful songs which seem much more accessible.  I did feel that I would be able to follow the story she told if only I could understand the Spanish, whereas normally you can’t understand singers of cante.

In addition, there were two excellent guitarists, Daniel Jurado and Victor “El Tomato”, Paco Vega on percussion and Herminia Borja, Miguel Lavi and Jonathan Reyes adding to the singing. Unusually, Paco Vega was presented like a rock drummer, sitting at the back on a raised platform, albeit with a more clearly Flamenco drums and beat boxes.  Herminia Borja seemed quite old in this young company but, boy, could she pack a punch, including when she was duetting with Rocío.

The dancers danced together at the start and at the finish, perfectly in synch with the one another and thrilling to watch.  They then took turns to do some of the classic Flamenco dances and they were all very good.

Patricia Guerrero is tall and elegant and danced in a white dress with a relatively long tail as well as with a large red shawl so she manipulated both shawl and tail at the same time.  This was very impressive, particularly as she made it look so easy.  I was intrigued to see that she then bent down and hooked the tail of the dress up, converting it into a dress with a full skirt so she could do another dance in it.  Ingenious.

Olga Pericet was very small.  She danced in a man’s costume as well as in a red dress with a red and white shawl.  She was strong but I think Mercedes Ruíz, earlier in the week, was stronger when dancing the man’s dance.

Juana Amaya had a very different style from the others, seeming less polished and precise, perhaps.  I guess that is what they mean by “gypsy”.  However, for all that she was strong and exciting and passionate.

Jesus Carmona came on in one of those black hats with a brim but a fairly flat crown (like a squashed top hat).  He danced with it for a while and then gave the hat to Rocio Marquez took it off stage in one of her wanderings off and on.  He was strong and an exciting dancer but there wasn’t enough of him and of male dancing, given the number of women.

In fact, that would be my only quibble this year.   There seemed to be a dearth of traditional male dancers and companies of dancers where their formation dancing is so powerful.  I miss that.  The women are getting stronger and stronger and I like that too but there is a difference when you have a really strong male dancer.  When they dance together, playing off one another, that is great.  I wouldn’t like that on its own either – I’d just like some of it.

All being well, the Flamenco Festival will be back in 2018 and with it a Gala Flamenca.

National Gallery’s #GalleryB #Rubens and #Rembrandt

Gallery B is the first new space @NationalGallery in over 25 years.  Until 16 July 2017, it houses a free compare-and-contrast exhibition of Peter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt van Rijn (yes, the Rembrandt).  That is the purpose of the new space, which links Gallery A with the other Ground Floor Galleries: to provide a large space that can be used for special displays and exhibitions.

This current display is of existing work, using the juxtaposition to give us new ways of seeing the paintings and in all honesty using a new gallery and this conceit of compare and contrast to get us into the Gallery to see them at all.  To that extent, it is a success and it is a great excuse to have a look at two key Dutch painters.

The biggest problem is finding the galleries, especially if you come in from the Sainsbury Wing.  It is on the lower floor, level 0.  There are four stairways down, two from the main front entrance, a quite narrow staircase next to room 12 to the left of the Central Hall (if you have your back to the main entrance) behind the shop, and the large modern staircase in the East Wing to the right of the Central Hall.  (On a Sunday, there is another route via Gallery A at the Northside of the building but I haven’t used it yet so this is speculative.)

There are lifts at the latter two staircases.  From the staircase to the left of Central Hall, turn right at the bottom of this staircase and it takes you directly to the entrance to Gallery F from where you walk to the circular Gallery E, turn right through Gallery C and there you are.  From the large staircase to the right of Central Hall, make your way through the doorway at the far side of the Espresso Bar and you will find yourself at the entrance to Gallery F.

Once you get there, you’ll see that Gallery B is the shape of a squared off lozenge creating four bays in which to display the art.  Large paintings are hung low so we can see them in the middle of the bays with smaller paintings around them.  The walls are pale.  The lighting is adequate but creates a bit of glare from some angles.

Rubens is on the near wall as you enter and Rembrandt is on the far.  This allows you more easily to compare and contrast the two artists.  The main wall panels provide some context.  The individual labels focus on describing each painting rather than explaining the contrasts.  What follows is my impression of the comparisons and contrasts.

There is more colour on the Rubens side of the room with bigger pieces and a tendency to use biblical and mythological stories as subjects.  As is often the case, it can be hard to understand what is going on without knowing the original story.

His portraits are perhaps a little more accessible.  It seems to me that Rubens was painting in the period of creating likenesses of the subject’s appearance, not simply flattering.  Rubens still uses symbols, for example, surrounding his doctor friend, Ludovicus Nonnius, with books and a bust of the Hippocrates (the Greek founder of medicine) but these are real people staring out of the canvass, or wood in Rubens’s case.

I did think his young woman (Portrait of Susanna Lunden(?)) in the so-called straw hat looked a little sickly, pale skin and big eyes, but that might be more about the standards of beauty at the time.  She is certainly looking at us a little coyly in her colourful flounces.

I did like the small landscape, A Shepherd with his Flock in a Woody Landscape, even though there is something about it that is twee and overly sentimental.  The larger version of the same scene, (The Watering Place) is in Gallery C just outside so it is interesting to compare and contrast the two of them, too.

I implied that Rembrandt’s side of the room has less colour.  This is particularly the case of his portraits.  They are generally pared back with very little to see but the subject and maybe a chair.  But even when there is something to see, such as the sword and the book on his right of An Elderly Man as Saint Paul, it is very hard to see it.  I did notice that if I spent longer and looked and looked, my eyes became accustomed to the dark painting as they do to the dark in a low light environment.

One major exception to the lack of colour is Belshazzar’s Feast where Belshazzar’s wealth, the sumptuous and elaborate 17th century dress and jewels of his courtiers and the splendour of the Temple plate are all conveyed and highlighted with thick brushwork.

Then there is Rembrandt’s famous lighting.  This features in many of the works but one particularly caught my attention.  The Woman taken in Adultery is glowing in the middle of a group in the dark Temple, all looking insignificant against the splendour of the enthroned High Priest above.

If you come to see the new space for one reason alone make it the Portrait of Margaretha de Geer, Wife of Jacob Trip from Portraits of Jacob Trip and his Wife Margaretha de Geer.  There are no accoutrements apart from the sober but rich clothing and the shadow of a substantial chair but the hands and the face with the steady gaze from the eyes are compelling.  In fact, in all the portraits it is clear that for Rembrandt the eyes have it!

Of course, it’s no longer just about the display in the Gallery.  The National Gallery has extensive resources on line.  You can do a virtual tour from the comfort of your computer if you can’t come to London. For Gallery B, perhaps because it is a temporary display, the Gallery hasn’t set up the displays in the same way as for other rooms.  So, to find the information about the paintings (as of 11 April 2017 when I accessed it this way), the best way to find them is to go to the page about the special exhibition and its related events, click here, then click through to the page about the display itself, then click on the underlined names of the two artists to go to their pages in the A-Z of Artists where you can track down their pictures.

In addition, there was a Facebook Live event where Head of Education, Gill Hart, and Associate Curator of Paintings 1600-1800, Francesca Whitwell Cooper, gave viewers a tour of the paintings.  This was simply an audio-visual event that could be accessed live from the National Gallery Facebook page.  It was a really good introduction to the exhibition and, for those of us who are new to art appreciation, it gave lots of pointers to look for.  The recording of the event is still available.  Even if you don’t have Facebook, you seem to be able to play it but I can’t guarantee that.  Give it a go by clicking here.

Common Murder by Val McDermid

I posted this review on GoodReads.com

Common Murder (Lindsay Gordon, #2)Common Murder by Val McDermid

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I very much enjoyed reading this book. Published in 1989 it is set in Brownlow Common, a fictional substitute for Greenham Common, where women set up a peace camp to protest about the siting of American cruise missiles on British soil. As such, it captured a sense of the late nineteen-eighties and the political turmoil of that time in the UK.

“Write what you know,” they always say, and in this, her second novel, Val McDermid does. She keeps a good pace going as her journalist protagonist, Lindsay Gordon, investigates what is happening to her friend and, in the days before mobile phones and internet access, dictates copy on public phones. She weaves a believable story, dropping necessary clues throughout so that what Lindsay finds out and what she does both have foundations in the book. I particularly approved of the ending where the events of the story have a lasting effect on Lindsay, rather than there being a simple re-set. (Cryptic, much? Trying to avoid the spoilers an’ all.)

And, yet, I did feel a little dissatisfied after finishing. I didn’t notice while reading the book which might provide the moral of “don’t analyse too much” but this is me and I can’t help it. I have struggled to explain it. The best I can say is that the psychology of the murder victim and the events make sense but I didn’t really feel them. Lindsay observes them and so do we, in fact, we observe Lindsay observing and analysing them. They didn’t quite come alive for me.

However, what happens to her personally does come alive for me, which is why reading the book was enjoyable and I do want to know what happens to her next. It is interesting watching Ms McDermid’s skill grow, as well.

In conclusion, I recommend it as a good read especially if you remember the 1980s.

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Michaelangelo & Sebastiano at the National Gallery

@NationalGallery until 25 June 2017 you can explore the relationship between two great Italian masters, Michelangelo and Sebastiano del Piombo.

The contention of the Gallery is that this was an extraordinary friendship and collaboration in competitive times, and with Michelangelo who was famously prickly, and that it resulted in art that would not have been created by the men working completely alone.

To explore that argument fully, you need to be prepared to study sketches and read letters and consider copies and reproductions of art, or unfinished pieces, rather than see rooms full of finished masterpieces.  Now, it depends on how you feel about your art and how likely it is that you will ever go to Italy to see the originals whether you will enjoy this and feel it worth your while.

The North Galleries, to the back of the original building, are mainly rectangular rooms, arranged with compare and contrast work between the two artists or letters and sketches relating to the large work.  If you are following the booklet, you will find that in some rooms, you go clockwise and others you go anti clockwise or you start at the far end of the case in the middle.  It’s pretty confusing and difficult to navigate.

Room 1 contains work from before they met. The contrasts are Sebastiano’s bright colours and luxuriousness of the Venetian school and his more spontaneous approach, drawing and colouring at the same time.  In Michelangelo’s unfinished piece you can see his more methodical approach of planning, drawing, undercoat then finish.

In the second room, you encounter the first key piece, Michelangelo’s Pietà for S. Francesco in Viterbo.  Except that you don’t.  What you encounter is a cast of that sculpture.  I thought it was still wonderful to see but many people, including my partner, were unimpressed because the cast doesn’t have the same properties as the marble.

However, you can see the differences between it and Sebastiano’s painting of the same subject.  Michelangelo’s sculpture is realistic; the drapery looks like cloth and the body of Christ is heavy in Mary’s lap.  (I did think that the body of Christ was too small relative to Mary, though.)  Sebastiano’s painting is very large and I thought the depictions of people were not at all realistic.  In particular, it showed a very masculine looking Mary, at least in the body and the face.  I assume this is because they were not able to use female models but it did spoil the piece for me.  I thought the moon and the landscape in this picture was the best thing about it. By the way, for those who do not know, a Pietà is a portrayal of the Virgin Mary mourning the crucified Christ.

In Room 3 the exhibition reunites three altarpieces for the first time in 500 years.  I liked that, even if one is a copy.  Then there is The Raising of Lazarus, painted for the Cathedral of Narbonne in France, and a piece you can see normally in the National Gallery Collection.  Again, I like the landscape more than anything else about it.  There are a lot of letters in this room.  The hand writing is so neat!  I did wonder whether the letter was actually written by the artist or by a scribe or secretary.  There is also a rather lovely painting of the Holy Family, in a domestic setting.

Room 4 is where you’ll find the vaunted, exceptional loan of Michelangelo’s The Risen Christ (1514–15) from the Church of S. Vincenzo Martire in Bassano Romano, Italy.  It is in marble but was finished by another artist.  I actually preferred the other Risen Christ who seemed stronger and more lifelike, more animated with emotion, even though it is a cast again.

The other much publicised element of the exhibition is in Room 5: a “cutting-edge recreation” of the Borgherini Chapel in S. Pietro in Montorio, Rome.  Sebastiano decorated this to partial designs by Michelangelo so it is a clear example of their collaboration.  The Gallery has used 3D printing as well as standard construction methods to build the alcove.  I found this to be an impressive piece to see, looking at the perspective and how it changes as you move around.  I think the sweet spot to see the whole thing is slightly inside the rope, in the centre, which is a shame.  Anyway, this was the highlight of the exhibition for me.

Also in Room 5 is a portrait of Michelangelo by Sebastiano.  The woollen material and fur collar are exquisite.  Originally, this canvass or board, I forget which, held a Madonna and Child by one of Michelangelo’s rivals, Sato.  The patron it was painted for didn’t like it so didn’t want it and there would seem sweet revenge to Michelangelo to have his portrait painting out his rival’s the work like this.  How nasty they all were with one another!  And, how many other wonderful pieces of art, possibly ahead of their time, have been deleted because someone didn’t like them and had the power to destroy them?

In the final room is Sebastiano’s Visitation, painted at the same time as the Lazarus.  It shows the Virgin Mary and her cousin, Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, dressed in bright clothing from Sebastiano’s Venetian roots.  I liked this but I actually liked the sketch of the two women better.  It had more life.  The younger woman’s face is smooth and lacking character – based on a boy, perhaps – while Elizabeth’s is much more realistic and full of character.

This was something I noticed throughout the exhibition.  In general, I found the art didn’t move me or speak to me even though it is representative of grand masters and praised by our culture.  I found the images of Mary were smooth and stylised.  However, I did like the glimpses of landscapes on many of the paintings and the images of the older people: Joseph in the picture of the Holy Family and Elizabeth, particularly in the studies for the Visitation, were full of character and compelling.

I came out, having not put in the work to read all the letters and study all the sketches, not being convinced of the main contention but knowing a little bit more about Sebastiano and having enjoyed seeing some key pieces, especially the recreation of the Borgherini Chapel, which really appealed to me.  I was, therefore, glad that I’d gone but it wouldn’t be the first choice of things to see if I had limited time.

As always, there is a lot of material on the website for you to study at your leisure.  Find links to it here.