Friday, 11 March 2016

Film

Hail, Caesar!

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The Coen brothers; George Clooney, Ralph Finnes, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand; rave reviews; 1950s Hollywood with a subversive subplot. Despite all the ingredients for a great film, Hail, Caesar! instead felt like a self-indulgent cobbling together of luvvies' set-pieces and that I wasn't cool enough to enjoy it.

(Emma, on the other hand, thought it was great.)

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Friday, 26 February 2016

Film

Triple 9

Well that was rather rubbish!

maidenhead-odeon.jpgWas there a good story hiding somewhere amidst this mess of a film? Perhaps. To me though it was more a clear indication of why America needs to get guns under control: every character was armed, and coupled with the sloppy and inconsistently-paced editing this firearms free-for-all resulted in a confusing and surprisingly boring two hours.

Even an against-type Kate Winslet as a smouldering Russian Mafia boss couldn't save the day.

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Sunday, 7 February 2016

Books , Film

The Big Short / Spiritual Activism

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In the closing chapter of their book Spiritual Activism: Leadership as Service, Alastair Macintosh and Matt Carmichael expose the reality of "little white lies": "they distort the very fabric of reality and subtly erode community".

The Big Short is a dramatisation of events surrounding the recent bursting of the housing market bubble and the impact of lying isn't the only connection with Spiritual Activism. There are startling moral questions throughout the film, perhaps most obviously whether it is appropriate to profit from others' misfortune.

It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to describe the film a dramatisation of the consequences of ignoring the book's themes.

I'm convinced that we need change. A book and a film both point in the same direction: change in all areas of society, led by honesty, integrity and spiritual wisdom.

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Saturday, 6 February 2016

Film

Spotlight

This is compelling storytelling. Sadly it's based on true events.

As a film, Spotlight is well-named: its subject matter is investigative journalism (and specifically the Boston Globe's Spotlight team) rather than the news story that's being uncovered over the course of the production. There's plenty to show: the role of media in shining a light on things that would otherwise remain hidden in the shadows, the question of how such work is funded in a zero-cost Internet-driven world, the impact of an intense job on daily life.

projection.jpgWhat's not shown so much is the news story itself, and there's even more to cover there. The reporters uncover sexual abuse by priests, and a church and society that would rather cover up these uncomfortable truths. I came away feeling there was more to be told here.

Rather pleasingly, the film manages to avoid coming across as anti-Christian. At one point one of the journalists yearns for the church that he remembered from his upbringing, in what could almost be a secular prayer for its return.

As the world progresses, big institutions need to change too.

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Sunday, 31 January 2016

Film

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens

Having watched Episodes I to VI in the cinema (albeit the first trilogy as the 1997 Special Edition rather than its original form), it's no surprise that Episode VII took me back to the big screen.

cinema-tickets.jpgWhile I'll agree that this film is – ahem – a new hope for the franchise, and that it ticks all the relevant boxes, I was l left feeling a little nonplussed by it. I put it down to this: I've changed. I'm not suggesting it's infantile or unentertaining. It's not about "growing up". I just realise that two and a half hours of constant fighting is a bit of a turn-off for me, even when the human goodies will always prevail over the faceless baddies in the end.

Still, it got us out to the cinema. This is something we intend to do much more of over the coming year.

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Monday, 25 January 2016

Thames Path

Teddington → Tower of London

marathon.jpg Distance: 24.61 miles
Ascent: 138 metres
Duration: 5 hours 49 minutes

A London Marathon
« Not walked | Island Gardens »

In common with a few other National Trails, the Thames Path has an alternative option for part of its length. As it wends its way through London a route is described on both the north and the south banks of the river. Since I've previously completed the north bank section downstream of the Tower of London, today I decided to bite off the remaining distance in one huge chunk.

The rhythm of the day was of course provided by the bridges. I wish I'd thought to take photographs of them all, but here are the final sixteen. (How many can you name?)

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hungerford-bridge.jpg

waterloo-bridge.jpg

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They are — in order — Battersea, Albert, Chelsea, Grosvenor, Vauxhall, Lambeth Westminster, Hungerford/Golden Jubilee, Waterloo, Blackfriars, Blackfriars Rail, Millennium, Southwark, Canon Street, London, Tower. Top marks if you recognised them all; time for a day-trip to town if you only spotted the last one.

This is the longest walk I've ever done. Once I added getting to the start from Teddington Station, getting from the end to Tower Hill tube and a little extra pacing around, the distance came in at 26.2 miles — a London Marathon, if you will. (Total duration six hours twenty-four minutes. Hardly a time to be proud of, but certainly something to build on.)

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Sunday, 24 January 2016

Thames Path

Waterloo → Woolwich

dr-salters-cat.jpg Distance: 14.56 miles
Ascent: 60 metres
Duration: 4 hours 35 minutes

Goats
« Not walked | Not walked »

Today's soggier than yesterday, but there's been so much to see.

here-24859.jpgThe hits kept coming: the new City skyline momentarily lost in low cloud; an abundance of public art (favourite: the sign pointing the 24,589 mile way back to itself by circumnavigating the globe via the North and South Poles); renovated wharves; tales of local heroes; the ghoulish gateposts and Grinling Gibbons "Valley of Dry Bones" reredos at St Nicholas, Deptford; Greenwich with the Cutty Sark, Painted Gallery and Time Ball (we were just in time for the one o'clock drop).

surrey-quays-goat.jpgThe most unusual sight was the tiny farm at Surrey Docks, where inquisitive goats climbed the fence for a better look while pigs, sheep and cattle sat idly by.

In an unusual move we ate lunch out — the Millennium Dome provides plenty of choice just a short distance from the finish line — and topped the meal off with freshly caught whelks from a barrow on the road in New Charlton.

pab-woolwich.jpgAll of a sudden the great Thames Barrier was upon us and the end of another National Trail: my sixth and Emma's fourth. I don't know why it ends here. Indeed, there's a signpost directing walkers on towards Crayford Ness on the Thames Path Extension and it's tempting to just keep going. But where would that lead? A circuit of our island, perhaps?

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Saturday, 23 January 2016

Thames Path

Richmond → Waterloo

battersea-power-station.jpg Distance: 17.16 miles
Ascent: 61 metres
Duration: 4 hours 43 minutes

Birds and cats
« Not walked | Not walked »

We walked with the crowds today. The usual joggers were out, being encouraged on by the Ring-Necked Parakeets that have made the west-London riverside their home. But as we approached Chiswick Bridge, they were joined by cyclists shouting in the direction of the river (and not necessarily looking where they were going).

quintin-head.jpgWe'd stumbled across the Quitin Head race, with 250 rowing eights jostling for position on the water. The starting line was at Hammersmith Bridge, and once past there we had the riverside to ourselves again.

It's been a fascinating walk, partly because it connects so many places I've known over the years. It's also been revealing: I'd forgotten just how many power stations used to operate from the river banks.

What'll stick in our memory most though, are the cats.

cats-and-dogs.jpgA lengthy detour away from the water's edge in Battersea takes the Thames Path past the the Dogs and Cats Home. There was no way Emma would resist a sign directing This Way to the Cats. Inside a well-equipped cattery, waifs and strays mewed plaintively from behind the glass doors of their cells. It's a cheap jibe to compare the place to a prison, but the "inmates" certainly seemed just as keen to escape.

london-eye.jpgTempting as it was to adopt one, we left empty-handed and continued until we reached to the final crowd of the day: camera-laden tourists thronging on the Albert Embankment.

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Saturday, 16 January 2016

Thames Path

Walton-on-Thames → Richmond

boat-shed.jpg Distance: 13.06 miles
Ascent: 37 metres
Duration: 3 hours 38 minutes

Towards the centre of the dart board
« Not walked | Not walked »

When we resumed walking the Thames Path in October we were determined to finish before the end of the year. We didn't quite achieve that, but having crossed the M25 last time we feel the end is in sight.

It's been a cold day, and the path has been muddy where the ice has started to melt. At Kingston we crossed the line of the London Outer Orbital Path, and at Richmond we intersected the Capital Ring. Slicing through these concentric round-London routes it feels as through we're working our way to the bullseye of the dart board of the capital.

hampton-court.jpgThe highlight was brushing past the Royal Palace at Hampton Court. There's no getting away from its splendour, but it's disappointing that the entire park is hidden from the river behind a double-fence or high hedge.

Originally we'd planned to walk further today but there seems little point. No matter how far we go we'd still have two walks remaining so stopping at a good transport hub seemed sensible option.

If all goes to plan, next time we'll pierce the final circle: the Jubilee Walkway at the heart of the city.

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Friday, 15 January 2016

Books

Last and First Men

Published in 1930, Last and First Men is the first novel written by the pacifist philosopher Olaf Stapledon. It's a future history of mankind stretching from the (then) present-day to a point one thousand million, million years in the future when mankind finally ceases to exist.

Twenty years ago a stranger recommended the book to me, and today I've finally finished reading it. At times it's horribly turgid, but those moments are interspersed with sections of sheer brilliance.

While occasionally the writing discloses the era in which it was written (there are hints at eugenics and much preoccupation with aviation), it's surprising just how relevant the underlying themes are to today's society. This just demonstrates Stapledon's greatest achievement: he has expressed essential human weaknesses in a way that's sadly too believable.

Frequently Stapledon's pacifistic views come to the fore and it's hard not to be swept along with them, such as this impassioned speech by an un-named member of the British Cabinet:

"From the people of England to the people of France. Catastrophe has fallen on us at your hands. In this hour of agony, all hate and anger have left us. Our eyes are opened. No longer can we think of ourselves as English merely, and you as merely French; all of us are, before all else, civilized beings. Do not imagine that we are defeated, and that this message is a cry for mercy. Our armament is intact, and our resources still very great. Yet, because of the revelation which has come to us today, we will not fight. No plane, no ship, no soldier of Britain shall commit any further act of hostility. Do what you will. It would be better even that a great people should be destroyed than that the whole race should be thrown into turmoil. But you will not strike again. As our own eyes have been opened by agony, yours now will be opened by our act of brotherhood."

It's a tough read, but worthwhile if you have the stamina.

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Sunday, 3 January 2016

Personal

Peak Beard

All good experiments must come to an end.

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On the plus side, I no longer have to be nervous about eating soup again.

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Sunday, 13 December 2015

Thames Path

Windsor → Walton-on-Thames

qe2-runnymead.jpg Distance: 15.92 miles
Ascent: 46 metres
Duration: 4 hours 51 minutes

A birthday walk
« Not walked | Not walked »

You can tell we're heading towards the darkest night of the year; the day felt like a permanent dusk. It's been soggy, drizzly and grey, as if the sun couldn't see the point of bringing us any light.

Still, we're keen to try and complete the Thames Path this year so trudged on regardless.

There doesn't seem much to write about. Runnymead held no particular fascination, and the less said of Staines (even with its recent "-upon-Thames" appendage) the better.

weybridge-ferry.jpgThe one point of interest was the sole ferry we'll take on this National Trail, from Shepperton to Weybridge. We'd just missed one service when we arrived at the pontoon, but a friendly man quickly arrived to take us across. "I couldn't watch you wait another quarter of an hour," he said, gesturing to the skies. He was a glimmer of sunshine before we departed back into the grey.

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Saturday, 5 December 2015

Coastwalk

Rock → Padstow

rock-ferry.jpg Distance: 12.94 miles
Ascent: 296 metres
Duration: 3 hours 12 minutes

England Again
« Polzeath | Harlyn »

"Wait. Aren't you done with England? Isn't that what February 2014 was about?"

Indeed. They're fair questions. While I may have completed the contiguous route around this province's coastline back then, there are plenty of refinements to make.

For a start, there are the ferries. At a minimum there's the Afon Wsyg, River Taw, Helford River, Carrick Roads and Percuil River, River Fowey, Cremyll/Stonehouse Narrows, River Yealm, River Avon (Devon), Kingsbridge Estuary, Dartmouth Harbour, River Exe, Poole Harbour, River Crouch and Shields Harbour (River Tyne). There's plenty more coastwalking yet!

dinham.jpgWe've been staying in Wadebridge for a few days this week, walking to Padstow daily on the wonderful Camel Trail — a cycle path that runs along the south side of the Camel Estuary. The Padstow Christmas Festival is in full swing, and although I've very much enjoyed the time I've spent there I'm having a day off from eating food samples, leaving Emma there to enjoy the cookery demos while I walk up and down the river.

wadebridge-bridge.jpgThe north side of the estuary doesn't have a good walking route, so I spent most of the first half on country lanes. Recent heavy rain made the brief footpath interludes far from appealing with paths flooded to the depth of a foot or more and meadows waterlogged. Not fun.

cycling-santas.jpgFrom Wadebridge I was on familiar ground, having got to know this section very well over recent days. There was one surprise though: I caught up with the stragglers on the "Santa vs Rudolf" fun run/ride, which meant I began to regret wearing my scruffy beard and red walking top lest I be mistaken for a participant!

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Saturday, 21 November 2015

Thames Path

Marlow → Windsor

cookham-moor.jpg Distance: 14.47 miles
Ascent: 112 metres
Duration: 4 hours 13 minutes

On home turf
« Not walked | Not walked »

cliveden-deep.jpgAnd so to the walk of which we know every step.

laser-security.jpgThe houses are just as big as on the previous leg. If anything affluence is even more visible, with boathouses attached to most properties and threatening notices warning of "laser security".

Yet we've become immune to this, having walked these paths so many times over the years.

For a few moments we became tourists again, playing with the echo under Brunel's famous Sounding Arch and later marvelling at the majesty of Windsor Castle appearing in the distance.

sounding-arch.jpgThe bright autumnal light on this cold, crisp day brought the countryside to life and it felt as if this might be the very best stretch of the river thought I'm sure that's just familiarity talking.

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Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Film

Steve Jobs

I try hard to avoid being an unwavering Apple fanatic. It won't help that the first time I've been to a cinema in five years is to watch this film named after the one of the company's founders.

In my defence I'll point out that those closest to Steve Jobs — his family and work colleagues — have treated the film with disdain. I might also add that I've frequently enjoyed work by Danny Boyle, Kate Winslet and Aaron Sorkin so a film they've all had a hand in was likely to curry favour with me.

It did impress. Much has been made of its dense dialogue, its innovative use of different film stocks to distinguish the three acts and the fact that this is really a film about broken people not computers. I've not seen reference to the presence of iconic fonts or the Arthur C Clarke interview/prologue.

For me though, the heart of the film is in one line. Introducing her to the first Mac, Steve Jobs tells his daughter, "there is literally nothing you can do to break this," and leaves her to explore the computer on her own. That goal — an unbreakable appliance — is something we should still be yearning for in technology. As for relationships, perhaps what makes them so special is that such a goal for them would be completely unattainable.

ticket-machine.jpg(Side note: things have changed since I was previously at the cinema. For a start, the box office is a machine. Unfortunately the user interface is so clunky and the implementation so unreliable I was left with a foot-long receipt of an aborted transaction and had to resort to human intervention. There's an irony here.)

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