LIFE                                         My thoughts on the arts, literature, travel and               anything else that takes my fancy!           

Last week I was lucky enough to see Imperium (Part 1) at the Swan theatre Stratford, an  RSC adaptation of the Robert Harris Cicero books about ancient Rome. It helps having a wife who is a Classics teacher to explain the plot, but there really is nothing new in contemporary politics or our social values. O tempora, O mores indeed! What times we live in. What morality!


It's a bit of a marathon - over three and a half hours with two short intervals; how do they remember all the lines? But it's gripping stuff, not least an obvious reference to Trump in the character of Pompey with his outrageous hair (that no-one is allowed to mention)!  Richard McCabe is superb in the main role, on stage virtually the whole time, as Cicero finds that his higher motives lead to inevitable compromise and, ultimately, I understand, to a sticky end. You even start to believe his spin and 'fake news' after a while, thanks to his outstanding oratory. It raises all the questions about the nature of truth, what corporate values we should rely on and how much we should trust our politicians, sometimes despite what they do rather than because of it.  I wonder what the answers are! 12.12.17



Now that I'm working only part-time, I've enrolled in the University of the 3rd Age. This is not quite what it sounds like but offers local opportunities for those of a certain age to continue to learn and try something new. Perhaps I should also think about some more formal study again, but I'm having my long-overdue gap year first!  OK it's all a bit middle class but it's essentially a self-help community which relies on the considerable expertise of the members rather than importing teachers or specialist speakers. Being in a contemporary history reading group has certainly led me to books and topics I would never have considered reading before. Having several people in the group who actually remember the atomic bomb dropping on Hiroshima and what it meant at the time somehow made the discussion of John Hersey's classic book especially memorable.


Inspired by a WEA class I did a year or two back, and a stunning version of 'Loves Labours Lost' at the RSC, I find myself facilitating a monthly group working through the text of the same play together - something I haven't tried since A levels. They're all ladies apart from me, which is rather ironic given the opposite would have been true at the time. (If you'd like to know more about Shakespeare's cultural world I can highly recommend the BBC's 'Upstart Crow' on i-player - Blackadder with a Brummie accent!)


He knew a thing or two did Shakespeare and we are endlessly fascinated by the contemporary parallels - not least our obviously long-standing somewhat sceptical relationship with Europe! I have always found poetry a bit of a struggle but this hits the spot:


Study is like the heaven's glorious sun,

That will not be deep-searched with saucy looks;

Small have continual plodders ever won

Save base authority from others' books.


In other words, we each have to do our own thinking, not just borrow easy insights from other people. That involves taking intellectual risks if anything worthwhile is to be discovered. Sound advice for quite a lot of life in my opinion. 05.12.17



Most Fridays in term-time I volunteer as a room guide at Wightwick Manor, a Victorian country house in the care of the National Trust on the north-western edge of Wolverhampton. It has a wonderful collection of pre-Raphaelite art, especially by Rossetti, Burne-Jones, (see 'Love among the Ruins' below), Millais and Evelyn de Morgan and is full of arts and crafts furnishings by William Morris and Co.  


If you've never been it's open almost every day and is an absolute gem. The house was originally built for Theodore and Flora Mander between 1887 and 1893, though it looks much older. Manders Paints were a huge employer in the area and no doubt it must have seemed somewhat ostentatious to the many workers in their factory and their domestic staff, even if they didn't say so out loud!


Theodore was a Congregationalist lay-preacher and over the door to the Manor is the inscription 'Christus nobiscum stat': 'Christ stands with us'. I don't know of course but I think he must have seen Holman Hunt's painting of 'The Light of the World' (1854). It shows Jesus standing at a door very much like that at Wightwick, waiting to be let in. A classic evangelical metaphor. Perhaps Theodore (if via his butler!) was trying to make a point, not least to the politicians and even royalty who came to visit. Incidentally, they (allegedly) hid the best silver when it was the future George V and Queen Mary, who had a reputation for 'borrowing' things and 'forgetting' to return them!


No doubt the Manders' hymn-book still contained the now deleted verse of 'All Things Bright and Beautiful':


The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate;

God made them high and lowly and ordered their estate.


Some visitors find the contrast with the rest of the City at the time somewhat striking. It's a fair point. But I like to give Theodore and Flora the benefit of the doubt. They were, by all accounts, very caring and compassionate employers, both in the house and in the factory. They introduced sick pay and paid holidays much earlier than most. And their son Geoffrey effectively gave the house to the NT in 1937 rather than just selling it. At least we all get to see it now at very modest cost. Perhaps all art and fine buildings from the past are an excessive extravagance in an age of austerity and continuing social inequality. Some certainly owe their existence to the profits of slavery and the excesses of wealth. Perhaps my own life displays just as great an inconsistency. But wouldn't we all be poorer without them? 04.12.17



Make a loan.  Change a life.


My website has had a makeover. You'll still find everything you need for my professional offer as an Independent Education Welfare Consultant and Trainer on the 'work' page.


I am committed to a welfare-based approach to attendance and absence rather than a focus on fines and enforcement. I may not always tell you exactly what you think you want to hear or repeat what you always thought was true. But I will offer you an informed and independent voice that gives you real practical help in carrying out your statutory duties and seeks to promote  creative solutions for those children and young people who most need them. I don't do twitter but I do 'whitter' about education welfare issues.


But there is more to life than work so you'll also find more about my humanist approach to spirituality and a new page called 'life' in which I write about all the other things that interest me, from books and the arts to history, culture and anything else I want to share that might interest you too.


Feedback and comment are always very welcome.


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