As I’ve mentioned before here I have kept a diary for years – it has changed into more of what used to be called a commonplace book – and I have written about that too! But I thought I would use this post to reflect on some of the looking around, reading and listening I have been doing over the last few weeks.
Walking here is a particular pleasure these days, it is so good to feel the sun on my face instead of the coastal winds, and the beaches and forests hereabouts are opening up their wonders; from wagtails dancing on the beach to the buds opening up on the trees. There is a particular resonance for me in the present Lenten season opening up into Holy Week, and then venturing into the mystery of new life and resurrection – it is possible to catch a glimpse of that all around us at the present.
Two great films; ‘Predestination’ directed in 2004 by the Spierig brothers and adapted quite closely from a Robert Heinlein short story called “….All You Zombies”. I won’t go into its twisty time travel/ paradox laden plot (it’s there somewhere for you to discover!). It is welcome relief from the sturm und drang of many SF films – instead it is a (mostly) quiet examination of identity and the nature of time very well acted by Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook – seek it out!! Then Neil Burger’s 2006 film ‘The Illusionist’ with Edward Norton and Jessica Biel – another marvellous examination of reality and illusion and the power of love to endure and flourish. It is beautifully shot like a set of tinted postcards and beautifully acted by the two principals, ably supported by Paul Giamatti as the endlessly perplexed Chief Inspector Walter Uhl who finally does the right thing. The whole thing is set off by a gorgeous score by Philip Glass.
Books, books, books, I am in the middle of Melvyn Bragg’s novel ‘A Son of War’, it is a sequel to his earlier ‘The Soldier’s Return’. Set in the late 1940’s it details the life of the Richardson family in Cumbria and their struggles in post war England. It really is a great example of the life of one family becoming a microcosm for the country. There is real warmth in the writing that doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of a soldier recovering from traumatic service in Burma, the struggles to keep a family together and, in the son Joe all the doubts and ambiguities of late childhood and approaching adolescence. My Lenten reading is Brother Andrew’s ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’. It is a strange book, the teachings of ‘Andrew’ compiled by Father Joseph de Beaufort in the shape of letters and recorded conversations – you get a flavour of the book in this extract;
“That he had always been governed by love, without selfish views; and that having resolved to make the love of GOD the end of all his actions, he had found reasons to be well satisfied with his method. That he was pleased when he could take up a straw from the ground for the love of GOD, seeking Him only, and nothing else, not even His gifts.” “That in order to form a habit of conversing with GOD continually, and referring all we do to Him; we must at first apply to Him with some diligence: but that after a little care we should find His love inwardly excite us to it without any difficulty.”
I am also reading David Edwards’ excellent book ‘Poets and God’, a bracing examination of writers like Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton and what their writings reveal about their faith and particularly the expression of that faith in their writings.
And music, music, music, I am rediscovering Bonnie Raitt at present, her voice and her slide guitar playing are a joy, and I catch an echo of the late, great Lowell George in the latter. Then there is ‘Nerija’ a collective of young jazz musicians, they have just released an EP of five compositions and they are ample evidence of the way that jazz is constantly reinventing itself. One of the standout tracks on the EP is ‘For You’ with its mix of free playing and gentle reflection (and a great trombone solo from Rosie Turton). That is one highlight in five tracks that are worth a second (and third) hearing!
And speaking of great trombone; I heard the historian Margaret MacMillan on the BBC’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ a few weeks ago and one of the tracks she chose was Duke Ellington’s ‘Mood Indigo’ because it reminded her of her parents dancing to it. I was surprised by what was played – instead of the usual orchestral version of the tune from the 1930’s they played a version from an album called ‘Unknown Session’ (great title!) recorded in Hollywood in the 1960’s and featuring a beautiful trombone solo from Lawrence Brown. And speaking of Ellingtonia, there are the unfolding delights of Duke’s ‘Private Collection’ albums which are worth hunting out on the ‘net. I am enjoying volumes one and two at present. One reviewer (on Amazon) called these recordings “mid – sized, mid – tempo calls for beauty”. Who am I to disagree?
And finally, a big shout out to the magazine ‘Jazz Journal’ now finding a new home on the internet – live long and prosper!!
I think it’s time for my morning walk…….