Monday, August 31, 2015

Vinyl: the Comeback Continues

Tesco are to become the first UK supermarket to sell vinyl, as its first record goes on sale at the end of the week. So pick up a copy of Iron Maiden's The Book of Souls along with your loaf and a pint of semi-skimmed. What a shame there are no Tescos in Mexico... 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Mexico City Marathon

Mexico City marathon today. Started on Reforma, ended at the old Olympic Stadium, passing through our neighbourhood on the way. Both the men's and women's races were won by Ethiopians. I ran the London marathon 20 years ago and once in a while I've been tempted to sign up for another - Tokyo, Bangkok, Beijing - but I think one's enough.

Friday, August 28, 2015

20,000 Days on Earth

This evening I watched 20,000 Days On Earth. One would be forgiven for thinking that it might be a sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but it's a biopic of Aussie-born, now Brighton-resident singer and writer Nick Cave.
Released late last year, it was directed by Jane Pollard and Iain Forsyth, their first film after meeting each other at Goldsmiths College. And they've done a very good job. Stylish and beautifully shot, it somehow comes across more as a piece of fiction than documentary. Cave wakes up beside his real wife, goes to see a real shrink, and an unprepossessing Kylie Minogue, chubby Blixa Bargeld and actor Ray Winstone appear as chatting passengers in his car as he drives around Brighton… but they all seem to be following a script (reinforced by the presence of Winstone). A short, touching scene shows Cave on the sofa, watching TV & eating pizza with his two sons, made terribly poignant through the knowledge that in real life just a few weeks ago Arthur fell to his death from a cliff not far from his home. 
I really liked Cave in the 80s - particularly The Birthday Party, the first Bad Seeds album in '84 (I saw them a couple of times) and his debut novel - but I lost some interest beyond that. So ultimately, because I'm not nowadays a fan, I couldn't really warm to what was in effect his 20,001st day on planet Earth, a fair part of which was working on his new album. But Pollard and Forsyth are directors to keep an eye on.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

FIL workshop

Day One of a three-day workshop to prepare ourselves for FIL (Feria Internacional del Libro) in three months' time. Twenty of us in a room, including colleagues from London, the Embassy down the road and a few from FIL itself. A huge amount to do but great that we are - I think! - ahead of the game.  

Monday, August 24, 2015

Prime-time TV

This evening we had a half-hour prime-time spot on national TV. Canal 22 - roughly equivalent to BBC4 - have been helpfully covering quite a bit of the UK in Mexico Year. They've already presented a couple of documentaries back in the Spring and we've had two 10-minute spotlights earlier this summer. Tonight we got 30 minutes of two curators discussing the Jeremy Deller exhibition, Graham Sheffield talking about British Council global arts activities and Edgardo rabbiting on about what's coming up in the UK in Mexico programme here. A true professional, the presenter couldn't get a word in edgeways.

Big School

Girls' first day back at school. A new year. And it's secondary level for N now... who was more excited than nervous as I took them both to the bus stop this morning. Two more Japanese families there. Lots of "O sashiburi desu"s and "O yasumi wa do datta?s" The block is fast becoming a Little Tokyo.

Sunday, August 23, 2015


Terrible air crash in Shoreham yesterday. Airshow stunt went horribly wrong with jet crashing into cars on the A27. Eleven people killed. We drove along that precise section just 11 days ago...

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Infinitely Variable Ideal of the Popular

Opening of Jeremy Deller's retrospective exhibition at MUAC. I've always quite liked his work, but this time I really got it.  
Deller isn't an artist in the traditional sense. He doesn't paint or make sculptures, but then again nor do most Turner Prize winners. He does make videos, but they are really by-products. What he really does is document British culture, connecting its industrialised past with the 'creative/service' economy that now prevails and by, well, collaborating with interesting people. Which sounds simplistic but I can't think of a better definition right now.
His re-staging of the 1984 Miners Strike's  Battle of Orgreave was a bizarre work (part post-mortem, part 1000-person crime re-enactment). His fascination with the Welsh wrestler Adrian Street (seen here in full Mexican mural depiction) is also difficult to explain. And yet, if you allow yourself to be drawn into the story - and Deller is a great story-teller, straight-forward and very funny - then it all makes absolute sense.  
I was worried that a Mexican audience wouldn't get all the British cultural references (Brass Bands playing Acid Jazz; the homage to Keith Moon; morris dancing; his first exhibition in his parents' house, installed when they were on holiday...), but they seemed to. Nice lunch with him and others afterwards.  A very unassuming and down-to-earth chap.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Office Banter

Out of the blue, Andrea, brandishing her mobile, said: "OMG, my mother says there's a tiger in her back yard". Turned out to be true. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015


This morning I went the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in the south of the city. It's the biggest in Latin America with over 300,000 students*. In the early 1950s it moved from scattered buildings in the centre of the city to the far southern suburbs occupying a huge swathe of land which used to be a lava bed. The first buildings to spring up are wonderfully modernist, including the central library which is covered in murals by Juan O'Gorman (who built the house for Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo - see this post). The campus is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Opposite is the Olympic Stadium, built in 1968 and now used by the university. And a mile or so away is a massive, man-made, incredibly austere stone circle, the Espacio Escultorico, which looks like it could host, underneath, the denouement of a 1960s James Bond film. The middle is lava rubble and weeds. Concerts occasionally take place inside it; Jorge Reyes apparently did a few here. 
It's a belittling place, and a wonder that all that land hasn't been swallowed up. The city of course has spread around and beyond.  

*Some being school-level.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Message in a Bottle

Great story in the news about a lady, Marianne Winkler, finding a bottle washed up on the north German shore with a message in it. The message asked the finder to fill in some information on where and when they had found the bottle and to return it to the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth. They would be rewarded with a shilling...
Turns out it was part of an experiment to test the strength of North Sea currents. The experiment originated in - wait for it - 1904. So the bottle has been floating around for over a century!
Amazingly, the Marine Biological Association still exists, and they were staggered when they received the information. They duly sent Mrs Winkler the shilling. Whether it was a real shilling or 5p in today's money wasn't revealed. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Bangkok Bomb

Terrible, senseless bomb at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok today, killing 20 and injuring 125. To think we were regular passers-by… The question is, why?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Car-Free Sundays

On Sunday mornings the entire length of Mexico City's Paseo de la Reforma is closed to cars. That's like closing off the Champs-Elysees, 5th Avenue or Oxford Street. From dawn til 2pm it's full of cyclists, rollerbladers, skateboarders, wheelchairs, Segways, scooters, buggies trailing dogs, joggers and every kind of non-gas-guzzling vehicle you could imagine. 
This morning I took A & N on their bikes from one end to the other and back again. What a joy it is to cycle several miles through the centre of the world's largest city, without having to worry about traffic.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Tour End

And so, the Elliott Family UK Tour 2015 draws nearly to an end. It's been a long one, the longest break I've ever had from work (although have kept up with emails every other day). So let's see... We've driven over 2,000 miles and stayed in ten different places averaging a few days in each. I've got the art of re-packing the car boot every other day off to a tee and we know the half dozen CDs we brought with us back to front (Taylor Swift's 1989 probably being the most played courtesy of something called democracy). One more night at Kate & Nick's in Sudbury Hill...

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


Today, at Chichester Swimming Pool, I learned that the proper name for a water slide is a flume. A flume

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Keeping Up with Friends

From street- to field-art. This totemic wooden sculpture stands at the entrance to Kingley Vale, one of Europe's oldest yew forests, two miles north-west of Chichester. Don't know who carved it, but it wouldn't look out of place in Goodwood Sculpture Park. In a clearing we picnicked with Lucy and children, friends from our days in Bangkok. We meet them pretty much every summer, in or around Chichester. They moved from Thailand not long after we did and now live in Kenya. And in the evening we dined with Iain, Shona & family in their new home in Brighton.
Keeping up with friends… hard to arrange / find the time, but rewarding.

Monday, August 10, 2015


To Chichester, staying with Mary, Nick & Laura. They've done a terrific job on the house they moved into just over a year ago, not far from the excellent Pallant House. And 100 yards from that gallery is this mural (or graffiti, depending on your point of view). It's by an artist called Stik who some tip to be the next Banksy. I don't know about that - his work is very simple, always stickmen - but I'm an adherent. Some of them are enormous, like Big Mother, which adorns an old Council block of flats in London - at 125ft, the tallest street artwork in the UK. 
This more modestly suited example one was done for Chichester Street Art Festival in 2013.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Right Brother

Sulgrave revisited: this time to see Andrew & Sally, back from their hols. 
The contrast with yesterday's rolling hills was marked, but the fields of barley & wheat - and an amazingly blue sky with puffy white clouds - gave the former a run for its money.

Saturday, August 8, 2015


A long, group walk up Dovedale Valley. Beautiful scenery and lucky with the weather. Apparently Byron once wrote that it was "as noble as Greece or Switzerland". It's certainly very pretty.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Ilam Hall

This morning we visited Liz's friend Gabi Reinze in Didsbury. Gabi used to work at the Manchester branch of the Goethe Institut until it closed down two years ago. She's now happily retired but instead of returning to Germany she's stayed put. A true Mancunian. 
From there we drove to Ilam in the south of the Peak District where we met up with Sarah & Ian, Leigh & Al and families. Ilam Hall is a National Trust house with a twist. It's also a hotel. Well, actually a Youth Hostel, but a 'posh' one. Great to catch up with everyone, picnicking on the lawns drinking prosecco while the children played for hours in a huge old tree.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Madchester 2015

To Manchester and our first hotel of the holiday, a glamorous Premier Inn. The receptionist's "I hope you don't mind waiting 15 minutes while we finish making your beds" turned out to be more actual than we first understood. They were literally assembling them. "You'll be the first to sleep in them", she smiled.
It's amazing how much Manchester has changed since Liz lived here in the early 90s. The 1996 IRA bomb kickstarted the rejuvenation but it's not been limited to the city centre (Salford Quays has been utterly transformed for instance with The Lowry, Imperial Museum North and Media City), nor is it letting up. The excellent tram system is spreading, the Central Library has had a dramatic makeover, and the Cornerhouse has moved into a brand new arts centre, the painfully-named Home. Oh, and Whitworth Art Gallery reopened earlier this year following two years of renovation. 
But perhaps the biggest development of recent times is the Manchester International Festival which has been running every other year since 2007. It's showcased Kraftwerk at the Velodrome, Bjork's Biophilia, Massive Attack v Adam Curtis and seemingly always something by Damon Albarn (this year's, just finished, presented his In 2019 MIF will have a home in The Factory in the former Granada Studios. It's a far cry from the 60s to 90s when we had to be content with great bands but not-so-great venues (excepting the Free Trade Hall, Apollo and Hacienda of course). But it's not the venues that make the city tick, it's the bands: where are the new Joy Divisions, New Orders, Smiths, Stones Roses, Happy Mondays, Oases…? 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Walking with a Purpose

Our holiday is taking on an elderly theme: looking after grandmum, visiting Mrs Rickard in her retirement home, the dithery Mrs Wilberforce in The Ladykillers on Monday… 
And I'm now reading The Unlikely Pilgramage of Harold Fry, a novel by Rachel Joyce about a timid retired man who receives an unexpected letter and sets off on an impulsive 600-mile walk from Devon to Berwick-on-Tweed to save the life of the dying person who sent the letter. [Incidentally, Werner Herzog once did the same in 1974 when he learned that his friend and mentor Lotte Eisner was seriously ill in Paris, so in an act of faith, he walked all the way from Munich to see/save her].
Joyce's book (interesting that it's written by a woman) is full of regret and loneliness but also hope and the desire to do something out-of-character and astonishing (though the character of Fry plays the latter down; he's British after all). At times I found it a little twee but mostly it was uplifting. I gather it was originally a play on Radio 4 and could end up being a film?

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Cast Away

To Derriford Hospital in Plymouth to get N's multicoloured cast sawn off. After reassuring her that the saw only works on hard materials, it came off pretty easily and an x-ray showed that it had healed properly. I have to say that our NHS experience was a very positive one.

Oh, and I like this cartoon.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Ladykillers in Liskeard

A few miles north of Liskeard, in the hamlet of Upton Cross, is a curious little theatre called Sterts. It was founded in 1990 by actor & musician couple Ewart & Ann Sturrock. At first it was open to the elements, but in 1994 they managed to get funding for a Millennium Dome-like roof, lighting & backstage facilities and now Sterts is a decent 300-capacity auditorium. I can't begin to think how challenging this must have been.
This evening I took the girls to see their production of The Ladykillers. The 1955 Ealing comedy is one of my favourite films, and I have to say Sterts' stage version gave it a good run for its money - certainly better than the dull Coen Bothers 2004 remake. The mostly local actors played it very close to the original and at times you could almost imagine Guinness, Sellers, Lom & co there on the stage. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015


This afternoon we walked to the Cheesewring, an assemblage of odd-looking granite rocks on the edge of Bodmin Moor. Apparently, it's entirely natural, shaped by weathering. A German tourist told us that one had wobbled yesterday, so we treated it with respect. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Boring Roads

Today we drove back down to Cornwall. Which way to go? One option is to take the A303 which used to be the main, pre-motorway route.
I've been reading Tom Fort's A303: Highway to the Sun which takes the reader past Stonehenge, Little Chefs and towns like Andover, Amesbury and Ilchester. So not exactly Route 66. And yet, if you apply yourself, keep your eyes open and unearth bits of quirky history, you can turn a mundane road into a decent book (and a BBC4 one-off). Martin Parr has made a career out of this, though in his case he rarely offers commentary and simply lets the pictures tell the story. 
In reality, the A303 doesn't go all the way: it 'starts' just north of Winchester and barely makes it into Devon, a distance of less than 100 miles, hardly a major road. Funnily enough the only other road 'biography' I know -  A272: Ode to a Road, written by a Dutch couple fifteen years ago and now in its fourth edition - starts just a few miles south of Winchester and goes the other way, traversing my home county of Sussex.
So, which way did we go? We took the M4.