Monday, 18 July 2011

I Am Still Here

This is just to say that I am still here.  As some of you know, I have various health problems and life is a bit on the difficult side at the moment, but when this bout is over, I will be back.

Take care of yourselves.

Sunday, 3 July 2011


So, I have this problem.  I have a basic understanding of the timelines of each of the individual arts.  I know how Shakespeare relates to John Donne, I can place Mozart in relation to Bizet, at a pinch I can even put most of the major artists in some sort of accurate order.  But, when it comes to integrating those timelines, or, even worse, tying them up with what was going on historically or in the worlds of philosophy and religion, forget it, I'm hopeless.

When I first came back home after training to be a teacher there was an extra mural course at the local university that took a period in history and, drawing from all of the relevant departments, explored the social and political events along with the prevalent religious and philosophical movements and scientific discoveries.  It then placed the arts within that framework and asked how they had been influenced by the cultural climate in which they were created.  I really wanted to do that course but it ran during the day and of course I was working and couldn't get there.  So, I promised myself that when I retired I would beg the extra mural department to put on something similar, if necessary, just for me.  What I hadn't anticipated was that by the time I retired there would be no extra mural department.  In fact, no community education programme of any sort.  (I could wax lyrical about this abdication of civic responsibility, but that's for another day.)  Thwarted again!

Well, some of you will remember that this time last year I was getting extremely het-up about another education problem, namely the cost of Summer Schools.  My answer then was to stop grumbling and organise one of my own and not only did it go extremely well, this Summer we have expanded and have two Summer Schools running.    (Bromsgrove U3A Summer School)  Perhaps I could do the same thing again?  So, starting after the summer break I am going to bring together a group of like-minded people to see if we can't do something about this.  The idea at the moment is that we will take a pivotal year in British history and explore what was going on in as many areas of academic interest as we can, not only in Britain but across the world as it was known and understood at the time.  We aren't going to confine ourselves just to that year; if something vital happened a couple of years earlier, or a dozen years later, then of course that will be covered as well.  The one stipulation will be that we can't go beyond the date we have chosen for the next set of meetings, the ones that hopefully will begin in September 2012.  (Ever the optimist!)

At the moment the putative schedule looks like this:

September ~ General Meeting

October ~ Historical Events

November ~ Philosophical Movements

January ~ Religious Thought

February ~ Scientific and Medical Discoveries

March ~ Art and Architecture

May ~ Music

June ~ Literature

July ~ Review and Forward Planning

The basic idea is that one or more members of the group will research each month's area and then come back and present a paper to the rest of us.  Gradually, over the year, we will garner more and more understanding not only of the different topics but, more importantly, of how they interrelate one with another and this will then be the subject of discussion over the substantial pot of tea and gargantuan plate of biscuits that will be provided half way through the afternoon.  (Gillian, if you're reading this and panicking, don't worry, I'll bring the biscuits!!!) What this means for those of us involved is that no one will have to research and present more than once a year, which I hope will make it easier for those members of the group who, unlike me, are not far too fond of the sound of their own voice and lack confidence to speak out loud.  We shall see.

Of course, it may not work.  It is going to depend on our having people who are interested in covering each of the areas.  We are having a preliminary meeting a week tomorrow to see where we stand on this.  But it certainly won't work if we don't try.  As you will have seen the year we've chosen as a starting point is 1485, the year of the Battle of Bosworth and the beginning of the Tudor monarchy.  Not the happiest of years in the life of a Yorkist like myself, but one that I think will provide everyone with interesting material to research.  I'm thinking at the moment that we might set the upper limit at 1534, the year of the Act of Supremacy, when Henry VIII broke from Rome, but that will be up for discussion when we meet next week.

If we do get off the ground then two further ideas I'm playing with are building a website and possibly putting together a pamphlet at the end of the year containing all the contributions.  If I do get those established and anyone is interested in having access then let me know.

What really worries is me, of course, is after the Summer Schools last year and now this, what bright idea am I going to come up with next year.  If you see one beginning to burgeon, nip it in the bud straight away, will you?  There are only so many hours in the day!

Friday, 1 July 2011

Making Connections ~ The Time Line

Having managed to get as far as London once there is now absolutely no holding me.  The National Gallery last month and now, this month, the Courtauld Gallery, tucked away amongst the buildings of Somerset House, just off the Strand.

The Courtauld is one of those small galleries, of which there are several dotted around the capital, where you turn a corner and suddenly come across one of the world's great paintings, like this one by Manet.  If you'd asked me where I thought this was I would have hazarded the National or the Louvre or the Prada.  I wouldn't have expected to find it tucked away down a London side alley.

I had actually gone to see the Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril exhibition.  Jane Avril was one of the dancers at the Folies-Bergeres who Toulouse-Lautrec used as models for the posters and pictures he created for the theatre.  We normally see her dressed in bright colours, legs flying, as she entertains the punters in the can-can.  This was the picture that took my attention, though, showing the dancer in a much more somber mood as she leaves the theatre in the early hours of the morning almost unnoticed in her classic blue suit.  There is something so contained about her in comparison with the abandon she displays in the more well known paintings.  She looks separate, lonely.  This is the canvas I could live with.

I had as much pleasure though from looking around the rest of the gallery.  As well as the Manet they have some wonderful Van Gogh and Degas as well as an interesting collection of paintings by Rubens and it was the Rubens which brought home to me gaps in my knowledge that I know I have to do something about.

Where each of the individual creative arts is concerned I have a reasonably good understanding of the time line through from the medieval to the modern day.  I know where Rubens comes in relation to Degas or when Mozart was composing in relation to Brahms.  What I don't know is how they relate across the artistic boundaries.  So, I find it amazing that Rubens was painting this picture of Moses and the Brazen Serpent at the same time and in the same place as Shakespeare was writing The Tempest.  It isn't that I thought they were from different time periods, I just have no real understanding of how they relate at all.

Well, there is no point in simply bewailing my lack of understanding, is there?  I need to do something about it and I'm going to, but that is for another post.

Oh, and before any of you ask, yes, of course I went to Fortnum and Mason for afternoon tea.  This time I replaced the scones with a slice of Raspberry Yoghurt Cake but unfortunately I can't find a picture of this magnificent confection.  I should have taken one before I demolished it.  Anyway, I can definitely recommend you treat yourself, just be prepared to explain the bill to your bank manager next time you see him!