A Time of Gifts: Fermour and the memoir

As a form of literature, the memoir has often struck me as an odd. The author assembles a small museum of personal artifacts for the purpose of describing a story. The writing is somewhat feigned: episodes have the ring of fiction, and we must suspend disbelief that life and narrative have intersected so well. What makes the memoir especially perplexing is that, generally speaking, the better the storytelling the less likely we are to stop and question if it really did happen like this. The more extraordinary it sounds, the more likely we are to succumb to its charisma.

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Leonard Cohen Has Died

Leonard Cohen has died. I can think of no-one whose specific blend of personal traits has inspired me so strongly. He always bore an attitude that I have seen nowhere else, a combination of discordant attributes that, in the harmony of his method, seemed entirely consonant. The novelist Tom Robbins perhaps caught it best, when he compared to Cohen to the strange concoction of Zorba the Buddha: “Such a man knows the value of the dharma and the value of the deutschemark, knows how much to tip a waiter in a Paris nightclub and how many times to bow in a Kyoto shrine.” Robbins is describing a fantasy figure, but I agree with his instinct to reach for the apparently contradictory to capture Leonard’s style.

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Remain or Leave?

The Brexit referendum is now decided, and the fall-out is now unfurling like a virtual-reality landscape. Nothing can be predicted; nothing is unexpected.

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What would I want a car for?

At the age of 37 I’ve recently come into possession of my first ever car. It has happened sooner than I expected. I thought I’d make it until at least my mid-forties before succumbing to the conveniences of my rattletrap. It has come about by chance really: this old Ford Fiesta used to belong to my partner, but a rapid succession of breakdowns and hindrances (flat tyre, flat battery, knavish servicing) left her exasperated and on the look out for a new specimen. Now the rusty workhorse is mine to roll around in and concern myself with the road-worthiness over.

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Embarrassed yet? Some naked truths about life drawing classes

For the last six weeks I’ve been going to life drawing classes at a local college. Just as you see in films or on TV, the disrobed figure sits in the centre of a room with a circle of easels surrounding them. Behind the easels, artists drag charcoal blocks or dab Indian ink or smudge oil pastels across the paper, and try as best they can to render a decent likeness of the posed model in front of them.

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60 year since the death of Thomas Mann

The writer Thomas Mann died sixty years ago in Zurich. Since that time his reputation as a major figure in modern European literature has remained, more or less, in tact. Yet unlike Proust, Joyce and Kafka, to whom he has often been compared, he is too rarely spoken about as a writer who affected the course of literature. For an artist who explored the psychological impact of human and creative aspiration, often told with great humour, his popularity is surprisingly thin.

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The Portmanteau Press

If the latest portmanteau is to be taken seriously – Grexit, a combination of the words Greece and exit referring to the possibility of Greece leaving the Eurozone (Dear future, has this now happened?) – the squashing of words together now has a foreshadowing aspect. Others have arrived portending further Greek quandaries: Grexodous, Grepicentre, and The Grelephant in the Room.

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Max Slevogt’s “Visions” at Leicester’s New Walk Gallery

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the New Walk Museum & Art Gallery in Leicester. Enjoying this very fine museum, and paying particular attention to the German Expressionist collection, a small number of ink cartoons by the German artist Max Slevogt caught my eye. The drawings were sketches for his “Visions” series of lithographs, produced during the WW1 in response to his commission as an official war artist.

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One Film I Wish I Could See (but probably never will)

Before the internet, you had to go much greater lengths to hunt things down. Libraries were held in higher regard then. And specialist libraries were even more fervently revered. I remember when I arrived at university in the late 1990s and discovered they had a film library of over 3,000 VHS videos, for reference only, with copies of everything from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas – to name just two films I’d heard lots about but never actually seen. I grew very excited by this new repository opening up to me.

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A Weimar Woman: Lotte Laserstein

The recent acquisition of Lotte Laserstein’s Evening Over Potsdam (Abend über Potsdam, 1930) by the Berlin National Gallery offers the opportunity for the public to view a painting that is by any measure a masterful depiction of modernist discord and youthful ennui. As a work of art it is prescient and hugely evocative.

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A strange case of Durdle Dor

We spent the weekend in on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset, there with some friends on what appears to be becoming an annual event, where we all travel to the same place and go on a walk together. The morning after the walk, after the goodbyes and the settling of the question of who would organise next year’s trip, we went to Lulworth Cove for a few hours. This is a perfect Dorset tourist honeypot – very adequate parking, several tearooms, a fish and chip takeaway, at least two fudge shops, a small museum, and a large partly-hewn rock, unveiled by Prince Charles in 2002, engraved with the declaration that the cove had achieved World Heritage status.
People were everywhere. Cars queued to come in and queued to leave. From Lulworth there is a well maintained path that curves over the back of a hill towards Durdle Dor. This path was also strewn with fairweather hikers (an accurate description of my presence too). On the other side of the hill the space opens up a little, the people a bit more scattered, the possibility of solitude a bit more viable.
My father maintains a straight forward theory: if you are willing to walk a little distance you can always escape the crowds. I have found this is invariably true. Of course, you have to be of the point of view that escaping the crowds is ultimately beneficial, otherwise why would you bother? The benefits amount to experiencing a place in silence, free of human chaos, as nature intended, you might say. It is strange that the purer experience is considered the one you have in solitude, and I have often wondered if there is an inherent truth to this, something like an original connection with landscape that is void if modern paraphernalia, or if it is purely conditioned by culture, perhaps born out of the nature lover’s predjudice against the aggressive footprint of mankind. Or does it have some deeper history, of men in biblical times going into the desert for an extended period of wandering?
Either way, we sought out the quietude of a long shale beach which as I remember is called St Oswalds Bay. Here the sea waters are shallow, and a natural barrier of rocks that sits about fifty metres from the shore makes the water tranquil. When the sun came out the colours of the water turned such a subtle range of cloudy pale blues and turquoises that I sat for quite some time on a rock and just gazed. I can hardly remember seeing anything quite so beautiful as those circulating blues.

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Review of public artwork: “Spring” by Oliver Barratt

Oliver Barratt’s sculpture, Spring, is a bright and fulsome tribute to the influence of water. Its signature is the uninterrupted line, which swirls and undulates in heavy blue ribbons. It attends to a period of history when the healing properties of Leamington’s spa waters were much sought after, and brought great wealth to those who exploited them.

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Two Paintings in the Leamington Spa Art Gallery

- A discussion of Summer by Winifred Nicholson and The Pulpit by Roger Fry.

The artist Winifred Nicholson once wrote of Piet Mondrian’s work that it offered ‘more of truth than nature could ever oblige one to follow.’ To her one-time husband Ben Nicholson she wrote (c.1953) ‘Yes, I’d like to get my work more abstract, but I seek the abstract of colour, which is to be found looking into the picture.’

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