Archive for the ‘Places’ Category

Theresa May is the British Prime Minister. She was appointed 6 months ago after becoming leader of the Conservative Party by the votes of just 199 MPs. Barely 6 weeks before that she had unsuccessfully campaigned for her country to Remain in the European Union. In October 2016 she spoke at the Conservative Party Conference and proclaimed

…if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means.

I could launch into dictionary definitions and how her blinkered ‘vision’ is inadequate for the complexity and interdependence of the world in 1917, let alone 2017…

…but instead, here are three reasons why I believe in my heart and soul that she is wrong and why, despite all the Brexit sound and ‘America First’ fury raging against me, I’m proud to think of myself as a citizen of the world and a citizen of my country. Indeed, I can only think of myself in that way.


For virtually all of my childhood that I can remember, I enjoyed family holidays in France, Germany and Italy, usually staying in Eurocamp tents on sites from Brittany to Tuscany, from The Dordogne to the Black Forest. I learned how to ask for baguettes and croissants, understand different road-signs, convert kilometres to miles. I discovered the joy of Orangina in funny-shaped bottles. Europe wasn’t something to be feared or resented, it was full of people quite a lot like us, with fabulous countryside and terrific summer weather. I’ve tried to pass on these attitudes to my children.


Put the Zep on…that snowpile is dead.

Between school and university, I went to the US for 6 months on an English-Speaking Union exchange to a High School in Princeton, and this boy from the Cotswolds discovered the world…

I found I could escape my (self-imposed) teenage persona of clever but never ‘cool’, often painfully awkward. On the very first morning, I was invited to skip class by other guys in the Senior Year, and we went out to get ice cream (it was January and about 5 degrees below zero), before one of them drove his car around the icy carpark, spinning and wheeling in all directions, ultimately ploughing into a snowbank. This seemed a long way from Gloucestershire.

I played baritone sax in a jazz band, played alto sax in a student rock band, started to write a screenplay, skied in Colorado. I travelled alone from New York to Seattle and San Francisco and back again. I was refused re-entry to the US at Niagara Falls. I gambled in casinos in Reno. I thought I was Don Johnson on top of the World Trade Centre…

world trade center

I grew up and grew out of myself in America. I couldn’t understand it in this way at the time, but travelling and living in another place made me appreciate my home all the more, while respecting and loving the differences.


At the end of my 2nd year at university, I signed up for an ERASMUS exchange to study in France, without consulting anyone, let alone my parents. A real snap decision, it was also a brilliant and far-reaching decision, as I got to go skiing in the French Alps A LOT, enjoyed a long weekend on the Mediterranean coast, and a week travelling into Italy to Genoa and Florence. I met and studied with multi-lingual French, Italian, Dutch, German students.

Most far-reaching of all, it was in Chambéry that I studied marketing & market research for the first time, and discovered more human, real-world ways to apply my thinking beyond the abstract, macro-economic aspects of my degree course.

Even more so, if I’d not studied in France I wouldn’t have been at university in Exeter for a 4th year, and almost certainly wouldn’t have met Rachel.


Erasmus. A scholar and citizen of the world.

I once gave a pecha kucha presentation about key moments in my life. Two of those focused on the experiences I had in Princeton and my decision to study in Chambéry: they have been that fundamental to my life since, the way I see myself and the way I see the world. I Reckon it’s simplistic to say the least, and actually insulting to suggest that people who think beyond their own country misunderstand the concept of citizenship.

So I encourage, implore you, dear readers, to think broadly about how we depend on each other, how we are stronger for being part of things that transcend nation-states. Be citizens of the world. The world needs us.

Read Full Post »

At the end of May we made our now annual pilgrimage to the Jurassic Coast. At once inspirational and calming, this has fast become one of my favourite places in the UK. We camp at the Golden Cap in Seatown, just a few minutes walk from the pebbly beach, the SouthWest Coast path, and the fabulous Anchor Inn, with possibly the best beer garden in the world…

Sunset Golden Cap Seatown Anchor Inn

We were only there for 3 days, but we managed to enjoy a lot of things, namely…

  • 2 breakfasts at the Watch House Café in West Bay
  • Watching the children somersaulting down the steep beach at West Bay
  • Having a whale of a time at the brilliant West Bay play park – far too good for kids
  • Walking up Thorncombe Beacon for lunch at the fabulous Down House Farm café
  • Having salted caramel icecream and making sand castles on Lyme Regis Beach
  • Stovetop coffee in the quiet of the early morning, sat in the sunshine, revelling in the view
  • Making s’mores on the Barbeque. I’m not a fan of marshmallows, but toasted and squished between homemade oat cookies, I’m prepared to be converted.

Perhaps best of all is the experience of  Wessex FM – which we perhaps cruelly rename Toilet FM. It’s the background music in the wash blocks and communal facilities, and it’s completely predictable. It seems to be set about 15 years ago. The playlist below pretty much sums up every tune I heard in the 3 days we were at the site. Disclaimer: I have left out Uptown Funk as the only current track.

Let’s hear it for the boy
You can’t hurry love (Phil Collins)
Candle in the wind
A view to a kill
Always on my mind (Petshop Boys)
We built this city
Sex Bomb
Don’t leave me this way (Communards)
A kind of magic
Wake up! (Boo Radleys)
Hungry like the wolf
There she goes (The La’s)
Oh what a night!
Get into the groove
You give love a bad name

And what’s not to love about that?

Read Full Post »

If this is a mid-life crisis, I’m quite enjoying it.

I took part in my first Obstacle Course Race (OCR) in 2013, as a group of colleagues ran the Tough Mudder event. I surprised myself by how much I liked it, so did it again last year, but a combination of TM’s openly-relentless commercialism and injuring my foot just 3 miles into the 12 mile run left me somewhat deflated.

So I pledged to renew my enthusiasm and entered a ‘smaller’ event (there are tons to choose from all over the UK), which had received excellent reviews, and looked quite a lot like Tough Mudder, but without quite so much running, and lots more obstacles. I tried to corral a team of colleagues, but through a toxic combination of inertia, personal circumstances, illness and plain laziness I arrived at the RockSolid Race just outside Exeter last weekend, running solo…

RockSolidRace Exeter 2015

That’s what I’m going for…

Nobody does #rocksolidrace alone…

I was more than a bit nervous beforehand, as I struggle on obstacles like Monkey Bars and the 8-foot walls. But the RSR team have a great social media style which is a million miles away from the testosterone-fuelled corporate behemoth of Tough Mudder (more of which later). This event is friendly, it seems organised for its runners.

RockSolidRace Exeter 2015 Twitter

And of course they’re right. Around the course people help each other (like in TM) over things and through things. At every 6/8-foot wall around the course, the volunteer marshals were brilliant, all chipping in to give people a boost up. The final wall came about 3/4 of the way through, so everyone is knackered when they reach it, but the lady manning the obstacle (surely no more than 5’3″ herself) cried

No one walks around my wall…!

…and insisted on giving a boost to anyone and everyone who needed it, no matter what their size.

The clue’s in the name…

If I wanted to run 12 miles around a muddy wood, I could do that quite easily close to home. But I don’t, I want obstacles, and the 10km RSR course included 38 obstacles, which I Reckon is a great ratio. I was running on the 2nd day of the event, meaning there’s a lot more mud. 1,200 people have churned up the tracks already, so what was simply a steep hill on Saturday becomes a treacherous slide on Sunday. And I love it that way. The RSR obstacles are a brilliant mix of natural terrain, ‘created’ terrain and man-made monsters.

RockSolidRace Exeter 2015 Course Map

OK, so this is really small. What it should label is MUD, HILLS, COLD WATER, and STUFF TO CLIMB OVER or THROUGH

There were huge piles of hay bales, tyres or logs, walls and A-Frames, tunnels, cargo nets, logs to carry, and a cruelly-twisted uphill sack race, cunning in its simplicity but agony on the legs.


Best of all, there was a lot of mud and a lot of water. Our first taste (literally) of the former came early in the race (#6 on the map above, innocuously titled “River Run”). I’d assume this meant splashing through a stream, or something. When I reached the bank there was carnage. To reach the stream we had to cross a small ‘pool’, maybe 4m wide, but the ‘pool’ was in fact a sticky swamp, full of waist-deep, thick, sucking mud. How my trainers stayed on I’m not sure. This is probably the closest to drowning in quicksand I hope to experience. I ended slithering across the surface like a worm, until I got hauled out by someone standing on firmer ground. Later we crawled through muddy pools where the water was thick with mud and weeds, and it did not smell pretty.

It’s March and I’m running knee-deep up a river, but at least the water is clean…!

Did I mention how cold the water is in March? Blimey. I was grateful for the chance to run between obstacles to get my circulation going. The course had most of the mud in the first half, and most of the ‘cleaner’ water later, but there was a lot of this too. Crossing a lake via huge unstable ‘stepping stones’, wading through chest-deep water, a skip full of ice-chips, more (clean) streams to run and crawl through, a fantastic slide into another lake, followed instantly by a 12-foot leap into the other side of the same lake. It was relentless but brilliant.

Rocksolidrace Exeter 2015

Bruised but not broken at the finish…

By muddy runners for muddy runners…

I Reckon RockSolidRace is a far better event than Tough Mudder. It has more, and more varied obstacles. It doesn’t have some kind of overweaning adolescent need to promote its Toughness or Bigness or Whatever three times a day. It feels closer and smaller (because it is), but best of all, is the feeling while you’re there, at the event, that the race is organised by runners for the people taking part. A few comparisons…

  • I booked this 3 months in advance, paying £46. To enter the TM August event today would cost me £95 + £7 booking fee.
  • RSR charges £5 for carparking, while TM charges £10 (or even more in 2015)
  • The car park at RSR is a couple of minutes from the event, unlike my 2 experiences at TM where we were at least 15 minutes away
  • Bag drop is just £1 with staff on hand to supervise and secure your belongings, carkeys etc. TM cost £3 and felt much more like a free-for-all
  • Spectators can see RSR for free and many seemed to bring their own picnics. This year at TM spectators have to pay £10 each (+ booking fee), or £20 if you turn up on the day, and last year were actively discouraged from bringing their own food
  • RSR offers free hot showers and decent changing facilities. This is a complete God-send…
  • One of RSR’s sponsors, Tideford Organics, gave out delicious free soup for all the runners afterwards. Other food was available for less than £7…
  • The bar stocked ale, lager and cider (unlike TM which was restricted to sponsors’ brands) and cost £2-3.50 , not £5 for an alcoholic ginger beer.
  • I like the finishing token better…
RockSolidRace dogtags

Better than an orange headband…

TM seems to have examined every opportunity, every moment to charge money/generate revenue, and gone ahead. I’m sure this makes them very successful, but I Reckon it doesn’t make for a great experience. Last time left me with a slightly sour taste in my mouth, and not just from the mud.

I loved my first RockSolid Race, and I really hope to be back next year. If you’re thinking of giving Obstacle Course racing a go, definitely consider this one. In fact, if you only want to try one event, definitely go Rock Solid.

Read Full Post »

 I Reckon the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) is a bona fide National Treasure, and something we in the UK should treasure. It’s one of the foremost theatre companies in the world, with some of the most fantastic performers, and indeed world-class expertise in every technical department.

Rachel and I have a long history with the RSC from our time living in Cheltenham in our DINKY years, with dual incomes and proximity to enable us to got several times a year. We saw Toby Stephens in a bloody Coriolanus, Nigel Hawthorne in his final stage role as King Lear,  and (perhaps best of all) a stunning Othello starring a 25-year-old Ray Fearon and Richard McCabe as a quite brilliant Iago. For this last show we were in the front of the stalls (see what I mean about dual incomes!) and the tension was unbelieveable…

Our daughters have already had some experience of The Bard, seeing a number of open-air summertime productions (usually comedies), as well as a couple of cinematic adaptations, where they recognised a few of the Harry Potter casts… but last month we took them to Stratford to see their first theatrical production (Much Ado about Nothing).

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre has been completely revamped in the last few years, to provide a more immersive audience experience, as the stage is surrounded on three sides by the stalls, with the circle and balcony looking down on the stage from much closer quarters than before.

We’ve been put off seeing shows in London in recent times, as the tickets (especially at weekends or in school holidays when we can actually attend) are prohibitively expensive; usually close to £200 for the four of us, excluding the costs of travel, snacks, programmes, meals etc.  But here we took a chance and booked seats in the stalls that were billed as ‘restricted view’. Children only pay half price (a fantastic policy, bravo RSC!), and so the full cost of our four seats came to just £45.

RSC Stalls Seats Restricted View 2015

So, not a VERY restricted view…

The production was terrific, set in December 1918, with the young men of the play mainly just returned from war and the women mainly nurses in a convalescent hospital. The sets and production design were terrific, and there were several musical interludes that were beautifully performed. We all loved it.

Earlier in the same day Eleanor (our younger daughter, aged 9) attended a workshop for schoolchildren. Called “A Play in a Day”, it claimed to enable the children (a group of around 20, all aged 8-10) to tackle a Shakespeare play between 10am-4pm, culminating in a short performance to which all the parents were invited.

We knew in advance they were going to look at The Merchant of Venice. I had studied this for ‘O’ Level at school (30 years ago!), but we were more than a bit apprehensive about how they would approach the 17th Century’s anti-Semitism…

…and it transpired that they addressed it head-on. Rather than performing the whole play, they looked at excerpts from three scenes, all fundamental to the ‘pound of flesh‘ storyline.

First, they portrayed the Venetian marketplace, the Rialto, with half the group acting as Shylock while the others crowd around him, calling him names, spitting and abusing him.

Next, we saw the animosity on both sides as Shylock set the cruel terms of his loan, while Antonio and the Christians continued to scorn Shylock.
Then we saw the Trial, where Portia pleads for mercy. Shylock refuses and demands his terms, only to be denied any of that gentle rain from heaven by the Christians, as he is humiliated, stripped of his wealth and forced to renounce his religion.

This was all really well done, with the children reading lines very clearly, and based on Eleanor’s enthusiastic feedback they’d obviously discussed the complexities of bullying and racism. This was a full-day workshop and yet only cost £20 (cheaper than any child-minding service I can think of!). Fabulous.

Of course the RSC isn’t all about The Bard. We first saw the outstanding (and award-winning) Matilda! at The Other Place theatre in December 2010, since when it has transferred to London, Broadway and Australia.

I look forward to the next time I step inside the RST, possibly weighed down with the hassles and stresses of modern life, and I shall try to remember the song of Balthasar from Much Ado About Nothing…

Then sigh not so, but let them go and be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe into Hey, nonny nonny.

Read Full Post »

More moments of human experience are recorded every day than in entire decades in the 20th century; or something like that. I made it up, but it’s mostly true. The ubiquity of digital cameras and phones mean we snap and share more trivial, routine and everyday occurrences than ever before. Apparently Facebook’s photo library was 10,000 times as large as the entire Photo Archives of the US Congress more than 2 years ago! In my own experience, we have countless more pictures of our younger daughter (born November 2005) than our eldest (born June 2002).

Compare and contrast these well-known pictures of the crowds in Rome, awaiting the announcement of the new Pope, from 2005 and from earlier this year.

St Peter's Square new Pope announcements 2005 2013

Spot the lone phone in 2005 (bottom right)

I’ve experienced the same phenomenon at events from school nativities to a Radiohead concert. It seems we would rather concentrate on holding our phones steady, out in front of our faces, than actually using the senses with which we were born. Are we so obsessed with recording every experience, as if not recording it would mean it somehow hadn’t happened?

During our holiday to France in July/August, we visited one of the more spectacular natural sites I’ve been privileged to experience; the Gouffre de Padirac. Located not far from the river Dordogne, in an area blessed with more than its fair share of natural beauty (especially subterranean!), this is properly breathtaking. I’d read on Tripadvisor that photos inside the caves are not permitted, and many reviewers bemoaned this, complaining about how it’s mainly a scam to encourage visitors to buy the ‘official’ pictures that are taken during the visit to the cave (like you get at many theme parks and other attractions).

And while I have some sympathy for that cynicism, I applaud the policy. The approach to the caves is impressive enough. For a start, it’s a massive hole in the ground that is largely unchanged since the caves were discovered. What those people must have thought is beyond me, as it’s genuinely awesome.

gouffre de padirac from the surface

a long way down, and this is just the ‘entrance’

…and from the bottom of the stairs!

gouffre de padirac

Using my iPhone panorama…!

As soon as you descend into the tunnels that lead to the caves proper, photography is banned.

This means visitors have to be present, be there in the moment and use their actual physical senses to experience and remember the journey through the caves. We have to concentrate to take in the majesty and grandeur, the sheer scale of a 94m high cavern, whose ceiling is barely visible, yet even there it’s 10m below the surface. This cave is taller than any building in Bristol…

If we were waving our cameras and phones around, we would surely miss the details and natural intricacy of the plate-like stalagmites, the delicacy of the light and shadow, the reflections off the river and pools along which we travel through the caves. The lights from countless phones were a blessed omission from this natural wonder, not unlike the days in 2010 when an Icelandic volcano erupted and caused the grounding of flights across Northern Europe, resulting in clear blue skies with no aircraft tracks.

My photos of the entrance don’t do justice to the reality, but they’re infinitely better than what I could have achieved inside the caves. Instead, I shared my daughter’s approach: walk slowly, look all around, all the time, breathe in the air, remember the coolness compared to the midsummer heat on the surface, marvel at the glory of nature. She loves taking ‘mental pictures’ to remind her of what she’s seen. As she walked through the caves I could hear her muttering “click”, “click” to herself, and I smiled.

Read Full Post »

 I Reckon that Edgar Wright’s “Cornetto” or “Blood & Ice cream” trilogy of films that started with Shaun of the Dead, then Hot Fuzz, and appropriately ends this year with The World’s End is as perfect a set of three comedies as I will ever see. I’ve been a fan of his work (and that of his regular co-writers & leading actors Simon Pegg & Nick Frost) since their amazing TV series Spaced, and they’ve never failed to entertain and delight since then.

If you’ve not already seen The World’s End, I heartily recommend it.

Please be warned that my response to the film here contains many, many spoilers.

The Golden Mile World's End pub list

As I wrote recently, seeing the World’s End reminded me of all sorts of things from my time as a student. At Exeter University, I partook of more than one pub crawl. The one-that-got-away was the fabled Topsham 10. On the other hand, the University Orchestra tackled an annual jaunt around 10 pubs in Exeter City centre, culminating at The Waterfront, which I completed 3 times, not to mention an ill-judged three-legged pub crawl during Rag Week. As Gary King admits during the film,

I’m not proud of that. I am a bit.

Not just funny, but with a real heart

I think what I love most about the Cornetto Trilogy is that for all the genre-twisting cleverness, for all the laugh-out-loud lines and hilarity, they really manage to convey a complexity and a truth in everything they depict that’s all-too-rare in comedies.

Lifelong friends are able to harbour secret resentments that often transform from petty character details into major plot points. Even more, characters are allowed to be unlikable or infuriating (none more so than Gary King), but never without redeeming qualities. The World’s End addresses the stifling, haunting aspects of growing up in a small town, but at the same time celebrates the friendships, the places  and the familiarity that never quite disappears, despite everything. This bittersweet nostalgia called me back to that scene from Mad Men where Don Draper yearns to return to a place where we know that we are loved…

This recognition and indeed firm grasping of the double-edged sword enables Wright to weave a whole series of deeply moving, emotional moments into his films, often shooting them through with dark comedy, but never at the expense of characters, never with cheap jokes. He earns these moments and they all pay off, from Shaun’s moments with his step-dad, mum and best friend in Shaun of the Dead, to any number in The World’s End.

  • Almost from nowhere, Eddie Marsan as Peter Page, the hanger-on of the teenage gang, delivers a monologue reliving years of bullying, that stops us dead in our tracks. Of course, Gary King blunders on regardless, which makes the revelations all the more significant to the viewers
  • Having been shown Gary King’s attitude to his AA class in the first scene of the film, the final sequence throws a whole new light onto what we’ve seen before. His bandaged wrists tell us everything we need to know about the nature of his addictions and what they have done to him, and how his performance down The Golden Mile in Newton Haven is so important to his entire being.
  • As Nick Frost approaches the final pub, he encounters another seductress alien. As she purrs “I want you inside me” into his ear, he steps back and plunges his fist into her stomach, plucking out his wedding-ring that she had stolen earlier in the evening. Knowing what we do about the parlous state of his marriage, this is a true character statement of intent. He’s not giving up that easily, not on this night, not on Gary King, not on his marriage.

Not just funny, but clever too

The World's End friends

Spot the difference…

Edgar Wright’s films demand multiple viewings. The pacing, dialogue, camerawork and visuals move fast from the opening frames, and are literally packed with references. The opening of The World’s End has Gary King narrating his version of the infamous night of Friday 22nd June 1990. Even as I was trying to keep up with all the details in every frame, I knew these would all come back later, brilliantly and seamlessly woven into the fabric of the story.

The attention to detail is astonishing, from Peter Page’s British Home Stores anorak and jeans to Paddy Considine’s secret feelings for Sam. Indeed, the pubs of The Golden Mile are not simply archetypal names, they describe the plot developments that take place within that pub, as this terrific blog explains…

And like the very best genre films, this has plenty to say about the homogenisation of our towns and consumer culture, from identikit High Streets and pubs to a collective dependence on technology. You don’t get that in The Hangover…

Not just funny, but really, really funny

I think I laughed out loud more times in the cinema during the 110 minutes of The World’s End than I can remember. The dialogue is consistently whip-crackingly swift and smart and the visual gags come thick and fast. A few lines and two moments were the standouts for me…

What the f*ck does WTF mean?

I still think nothing that has been suggested in the last 10 minutes beats ‘smashy smashy egg men’.

We’ll always have the disableds.

Get back in your rocket, and fuck off back to LEGOLAND, you c*nts!

That last line nearly had me sliding off my chair in fits of laughter, and I probably missed at least a couple of jokes while I recovered. Then there’s the fight scene in the toilets of The Cross Hands, which starts from absolutely nothing, escalates within seconds to something out of the opening scene Casino Royale, then becomes a major set-piece that lasts for several minutes. While I have a slight quibble about how quickly everyone seems to get really quite good at fighting, there’s still proper character truths in the way they respond to the danger.

Perhaps best of all was Nick Frost / Andy Knightley’s transformation from the teetotal, buttoned-up lawyer into The Pink Hulk. I don’t often cheer in the cinema, but I could have stood and hollered as he wielded bar stools like gigantic Popeye-forearms.

The World's End Nick Frost Pink Hulk

Don’t make him angry…

I’ve read some reviews that have taken against the final scenes beneath The World’s End pub as being just a bit too silly; but I beg to disagree. At the time I was wondering where it was going, and how they were going to end this, but Bill Nighy’s voice of The Network was perhaps the best evocation of the late, great Douglas Adams that I’ve seen. Humans are primitive, stupid and stubborn; it’s a miracle we’ve lasted this long without destroying ourselves. The Higher Beings are world-weary, surreal, mundane, fabulous.

The Network: It’s pointless arguing with you. You will be left to your own devices.

Gary: Really?

The Network: Yeah. Fuck it.

Oh, and when the Cornetto reference finally came, I burst into spontaneous applause.

I’m not at all sure if I can rank the three films of The Cornetto Trilogy, but I know I love every one of them.

Read Full Post »

I love France. As a child we visited Eurocamp sites from Brittany to Biarritz and plenty of places in between. I studied for a year in the Alps in Chambéry and spent a summer as a campsite rep in the Pyrenées. We’ve started indoctrinating our girls into the joys of l’Hexagone through both the Tour de France and by taking them on holiday ourselves, including a fabulous trip to Paris in April. Our holiday in France this summer was terrific, and it was while visiting the remarkable châteaux and gardens in the Loire for a few days that I was reminded of a couple of the amazing foibles of the French, a contrast between

  • what my (fab) sister-in-law Kate labelled “pretentious guff”
  • an obsession with obscure details and figures, about the most mundane or seemingly inappropriate things, to three decimal places

To illustrate this, let me take you to Le Château du Rivau. Its main attractions are in the gardens, where a whole series of eclectic sculptures and landscapes have been created in collaboration with artists and designers. The planting is inventive and interesting. Amongst this, there is a meadow full of beehives and wild flowers; a beautifully natural spot, yet the information boards go on interminably about the chemical composition of the honey, its molecular structure, and the peculiarities of the local pollen.

Just around the corner within these gardens is an orchard, beneath whose spreading branches truffles are carefully cultivated and harvested traditionally by pigs.  Again there are imposing information boards: but instead of waxing lyrical about the richness of the truffle and its exalted role in French haute cuisine, there’s an enormous amount of detailed text and graphs about the soil conditions, its acidity, the underlying geological environment, average yields per acre and the specific types of mould spores that help to create the truffles.

chateau du rivau, information boards, truffles

Mmmm – how interesting…

On the other hand, within the same gardens are several examples of the aforementioned “pretentious guff”. This could perhaps be more charitably called a reverentially poetic, philosophical worldview, but faced with some of the examples we saw, it’s hard to make that case.

Under an archway that leads from the gardens into the castle courtyard, there is an ‘installation’ that consists of two wheelbarrows, stood upside down against the wall, with their handles placed into wellington boots like legs. Really. Bear in mind that elsewhere in the gardens there are giant wellies and a giant watering can, each over 10 feet tall. I thought all of these were great fun, quirky ideas that we all enjoyed. But then I read the description on the wall next to the wheelbarrows, that sought to ‘explain’ them…

chateau du rivau, wheelbarrows

Look! They’ve got boots on!

The panel is in French and English. Of course in its original it reads poetically. I even shrugged my shoulders, gesticulated with my hands, added a few “bof”s and other such interjections for effect, and it sounded great (to me). But when you actually read what it actually says…

Out of such everyday things as wheelbarrows and wellington boots, the artist Pierre Ardouvin has managed to create compelling human figures.

Oscillating between two extremes of the human condition – dreams and pessimism – these inanimate objects become characters tasked with two missions: they greet the visitors and tell them about the hard work that has to be done to maintain a historical building and its grounds.

The work is of course very “down to earth”, but it also has a sublime dimension, because these two wheelbarrows speak to all cultures. Viewers from all backgrounds relate to them and understand their message.

Ardouvin’s use of ready-made objects reaches out to all, without any judgement or knowledge required of contemporary art. This is where the strength of his work lies.

I thought they looked quite cute.

This unapologetic, unironic use of flowery, high-falutin’ language is only natural to the French. It occurs in radio show discussions, it’s apparent at many tourist attractions. The French aren’t embarrassed by it; quite the reverse. They are embarrassed for those who can’t relate to it. Of course they’re not just wheelbarrows with boots on. What sort of Philistine are you?!

I love France.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »