Thursday, August 24, 2017

SHERINGHAM DIARY 5 ~ Shabby, But Never Chic

Hurrah! today, Jnanasalin passed his driving test, third time lucky. So I'm finally relieved of my 'Designated Adult' role, of sitting in the car and trying not to make leg movements that look like I'm putting my foot on the brake. whilst he practices reverse parking, roundabout procedures or taking long roundabout trips so he gets the necessary practice in unfamiliar terrain. I'm more than willing to give up my role, as it has gone on a little longer than either of us expected.  Not being able to drive also provided an additional source of anxiety and stress for Jnanasalin, at a time when he could have done without it, as he's been starting and settling into his new job.  As generally in life he's been a 'first succeeder' he's not usually had to 'try, try again', so not passing his test first time he's found challenging. As I said to him, he can now join the club most of us are already in.

We have been out on adventures in the car lately, partly so Jnanasalin got in some regular driving practice til he passed his test.  But also to start checking out craft barn complexes out of town for possible locations for our future cafe. So far, though we've only been to two, they've both been a bit like a flat bread - unleavened by excitement.

The first was Alby Crafts & Gardens.  Its a small complex of craft workshops/galleries/retail outlets, including a characterful tearoom that sells good coffee and a distinctive range of cakes.  The workshop rents for sites here seem reasonable at £300 per month. The craftspeople have obvious skill and imagination, some running their own craft workshops in the evenings. It may be the sort of place you could start off with a workshop and shop, and build from there. However, though we arrived at 10 am the stated opening time on a Sunday, a few craftspeople had yet to show up an hour later, and there still weren't many visitors around. Sunday is unlikely to be that representative, but one does wonder how successful it is as a site, what its average footfall is etc.

From there, to one that has proven success and footfall ~ Wroxham Barns, a bigger, more well established, very popular family orientated set up. It does, however, look worn and tired in places. Many of the craft galleries don't exhibit much skill in their craft, sticking to whatever sells, which is rather unimaginative tat for tourists. Many don't even feature work by crafts people, local or otherwise, but buy in craft styled items from commercial gift ware companies, such as Gisela Graham. This creates a uniform, rather than a unique retail environment, with a bland predictability too it. We didn't even stay to have coffee and a cake, which is an unheard of for us, that's how much we wanted to get away from here. Ghastly place.

Both of our jobs continue to cause us a certain amount of grief. Mine is mostly physical stress and Jnansalin's mostly mental stress.  Mine is a consequence of it being at the height of the tourist season and the housekeeping workload continues at just above mental. So I'm pooped rather a lot. At Jnansalin's work he's inherited a dysfunctional situation that he is gradually sorting out, but what with people leaving and needing to recruit to replace them and fill the new roles he's setting up, its a bit full on. All to be sorted out before he can do anything to expand the current shop chain.  His work day including travel is twelve hours long, this will shorten by roughly half an hour either end now he can drive solo. He's also been having a series of bad nights sleep, due to excessive anxiety, that sort of added insult to injury.

My latest refinished piece of furniture for the house is one of two folding side tables, Though originally bought for the future business, they have now become our bedside tables. One has a light oak finish, the other a dark varnish. Sanding the old finish off the darker one was relatively easy, plus repairing a leg support, re-varnished the top a dark walnut, and painted the underside and legs in a black matt paint. It looks rather snazzy now, and fits in well with our modern furniture.

I've just started on the lighter of the two tables, to re-varnish it to match the one just completed.  The table veneer has frayed a bit on the edges, but I'm hoping a bit of gentle sanding will make these areas less noticeable. I've also started to use photos of the furniture I've recently refinished on the Cottonwood Workshop Blog, with the idea in the longer term to use it as a resource to show off the type and standard of work I can do. I just have to remember to keep taking photographs as I go, in order to document the process properly.

Meanwhile back in sunny Sheringham, one of it's town councilors recently criticised his own local council for being 'shabby'. His beef being that the council offices were unfit for purpose and the people on the council were somewhat shabby too. This public comment is, shall we say, 'on the agenda' for a future meeting. This council recently voiced its collective dismay at the state of the town's war memorial and accompanying roundabout garden, maintained, but contracted out, by the district council. This is one of a series of spats between local and district councils.

The district council appears to be trying to drag the local council kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. It did a survey to assess local support for a partial pedestrianisation of the main street, and largely gained approval. They have asked the local council to review the possible options with the aim of running a trial period, The local council has refused to do this.

The Hotel closed for over ten years
The district council has put pressure on the owners of the old Shannocks Hotel, a well known eyesore on the seafront, to come up with a proposal to redevelop it. Their planning proposal has been rejected by the local council because it would mean the loss of a small car park on the seafront, citing, without statistical evidence, its use by infirm and disabled visitors. Now, a good part of the traffic going down the main street is heading for this dratted car park, which is usually full, so they then drive straight back out again. In the summer season, the pavements are heaving with buggies, families, dogs, the infirm on crutches or zimmer frames, mobility scooters, all have no choice but to treat the lower high street as a pedestrianised area, and to take their chances dodging the traffic heading mostly for this small car park.

Aspects of our lovely town and seafront do exhibit a shabby demeanor, and not quite what you'd expect from North Norfolk's Premier Seaside Town. The town has always had a unsophisticated if not unpretentious air, never that good, or that bothered for that matter, with being fashionable or chic. If anything when it tries to do so, it never quite gets it completely right. It appears always content to be just as it is, pretending its impervious to change.  We do find this a somewhat appealing characteristic of Sheringham, and makes us fond of it. Though this does have its downsides in that it can sometimes look like an unkempt old man, in a moth eaten jumper that would fall apart if it was washed.

There is in an area I refer to as 'The Grubby Triangle' in the lower part of the town up to the seafront. Here there are one too many long in the tooth establishments, who haven't subjected their property to a wash, to a lick of paint, or to changing or repairing the appearance of their shop fronts, for decades, and I do mean decades. Some of them you are left wondering how they survive? There are notable exceptions who have attempted to improve the appearance of the area, but this, in a sense, only accentuates the remaining shabbiness.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

FEATURE 135 - Susanne Sundfor - Mountaineers

Having seen her glorious voice steal the Scott Walker Prom a few weeks ago, I started to investigate her back catalogue. This is what I came across first.

This song Mountaineers is from her forthcoming album Music For People In Trouble, and features John Grant's extremely distinguished basso profundo. Beginning with his voice an eerie echoing chant emerging from some deep ravine, the atmosphere of distant melancholy builds until it becomes this airborne and magnificent defiant declaration of hope.  I've been quite gob smacked by this track since I first heard it a few days ago. Sundfor's voice has a tonal range and crystal clarity as if its been shaped by huge geological forces. It has a similar sound quality to Barbara Dickson's with a folky timber, as if a bell were being struck. Her musical style ranges from out and out electro-pop masterpieces, to these more experimental, almost operatic, mood pieces. She's very big in her native Norway, surely can it be long before she breaks through here?

Here's another track from her previous album Ten Love Songs, called Accelerate, an example of her more driving electronic pop style.

Monday, August 07, 2017

FILM REVIEW ~ Tale of Tales

This film is based on three tales from the Pentamerone, a 17th Century collection of folk tales, from which we also get our earliest versions of Rapunzel, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. The Director Matteo Garone, successfully blends these three stories into one flowing narrative, and what a delightful entrancing result it is.

Retaining a lot of the original qualities of this source material, the stories are unhinged, bizarre, surreal creations that startle, entrance, are both beautiful and repulsive, whilst all the while retaining that curious logic that folk tales possess, that is all their own.  The buildings, sets, locations, costumes and effects possess  a baroque twist of exoticism, and provide the movie with both a familiarity and an other-worldliness.  There is an excellent cast of Selma Hayek, John C Reilly, Toby Jones and Vincent Cassell who bring these odd tales close to the edge of being believable.

Most of the tales involve a decision or action that has an unintended consequences for a character, usually requiring a sacrifice. They are often told half truths, where aspects of what will happen are being withheld.  A king wants to cheer up his morose queen, so he obtains the beating heart of a sea monster so a virgin can throw it into a pot of boiling liquid, all so his wife can eat it and then conceive a son in an instant, and be happy. Unfortunately the king dies in obtaining the heart, and both the queen and the virgin conceive a son, who turn out to be identical albino twins, who become inseparable and can both breath under water.

Like many folk tales they are not for the squeamish, and often have a very dark shadowy side to them. One woman who wants to appear young has her flesh cut, stretched and stuck down, whilst another has her skin flayed off.  Whilst this is to my mind not shown in a gratuitous manner it nevertheless gives the film an unnerving, yet intriguing edge, you never know quite where these stories will take you.  They remind you how life, and not just folk tales, will often punish you for your ignorance, vanity and folly.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

BOOK REVIEW ~ John M Hull ~ Touching The Rock

After many years of diminishing eyesight, John Hull, despite all the medical help he was receiving gradually lost any vision in the one remaining eye that had been functioning. The book Touching The Rock is an edited transcript of tapes he started recording shortly after he became blind and continued to do on a regular basis for a number of years subsequent to that.  In them he records his observations on how being blind feels, the changes to his sense of self, how his relationship to himself and others changes, the way sighted people misguidedly try to help a blind person, having to deal with well meaning spiritual healers who are sure they can restore his sight.

The book, and the dramatised documentary Notes on Blindness which is based on it, are truly beautiful things to read and to see. Personal and intimate, whilst also observing his predicament with some detachment and insight, his words often tinged with an underlying spiritual impulse. His religious views are a bit too Christian to move or inspire me. However, as a Buddhist, it was his observations about how his blindness changed the relationship and understanding of his own self that I found the most exciting and revelatory. For these revelations alone, this book is worth reading, and it is very readable.  Here's a taster just to wet your appetite.

" I find I'm trying to recall old photographs of myself, just to remember what I look like. I discover with a shock that I cannot remember.......To what extent is the loss of the image of the face connected with the loss of the image of the Self|? Is this one of the reasons why I often feel I am a mere spirit, a ghost, a memory. Other people have become disembodied voices, speaking out of nowhere, going into nowhere. Am I not like this too, now that I have lost my body?" 

"On one of my walks, I pass beside a five-foot-high fence made of vertical metal bars. this gives way, at a certain point, to a solid brick wall. I find that if I pay attention I can tell when I have left the fence and am going along the wall. There is, somehow, a sense of a more massive presence. I gather from conversations that this experience is essentially acoustic and is based upon awareness of echoes....but at the same time it is important to emphasise that one is not aware of listening. One is simply aware of becoming aware."