Sunday, 30 August 2009

Gene therapy

It's not every day that Mr Gnome has an opportunity to meet an American bishop.

By the same token, it's not every day that American bishops get to meet Mr G.

This particular prelate is the Right Rev Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire.

As this episcopally epiphanic snapshot indicates, both parties appear to be equally chuffed by the encounter, which took place today at the splendid Greenbelt Arts Festival, sited on Cheltenham race course.

Bishop Gene had been drawing large and attentive crowds to his festival talks and lectures. Later he took time to chat with festival-goers while signing copies of his recent book The Eye of the Storm.

Charming and softly spoken, Bishop Gene was unfased by his meeting with Mr G, welcoming the impromptu photo-op without a trace of gnomophobia.

With typical diffidence, the bishop inquired: 'Am I big in Gnomeland?'

Responding through his spokesperson, Mr G stated robustly: 'Bishop Gene, you're absolutely huge.'

Sunday, 23 August 2009


To the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, for the very first performance of a new play by the sibling writing team of Vyacheslav and Mikhail Durnenkov.

In just under two hours, the pay follows hapless soldier Ilya's return to his hometown after service in the Chechnya war.

Ilya's head injury has left him slow of speech and movement - and with a highly dangerous intolerance for alcohol. And the authors make it plain that in this dreary Russian 'Anytown', having an intolerance to vodka is as problematic as being allergic to water.

So bleak and monochrome is the lifestyle depicted that hitting the bottle seems an entirely appropriate survival strategy.

Ilya's homecoming kicks off with the discovery that his wife has taken up with a new man, and that his little boy has no idea who he is. Then things start to go downhill.

An election is in the offing and each candidate is desperate to have an endorsement from the returning 'hero'. Cue high-definiton depictions of the boorish mayor, the loopily sadistic police chief (he has a Nazi weaponry 'thing') and the seemingly honourable editor of the the local paper.

I followed Ilya's entanglements with this unholy Trinity with a growing sense of despair and sadness, which continued to the play's predictably anguished conclusion.

By now you'll have worked out that The Drunks is not a chuckle-fest. And it was probably wise of the RSC to write to ticket-buyers to warn them of the play's scabrous language.

And yet the 'stage world' created by director Anthony Neilson, designer Tom Piper and the brilliant cast remains uncomfortably and insistently in my head.

I'd like the play to be a grotesque exaggeration of 'life now' in parts of eastern Europe. Maybe it is. Maybe not.

I guess I need to find out.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009


My parents were married on Monday 19 August 1946, my mother's thirty-eighth birthday.

And here they are stepping out into the sunshine from the Church of the Most Precious Blood, Sidmouth, Devon.

The bride looks smart in her suit (she would have said 'costume', with the stress on the second syllable) and rather daring hat.

Rationing, my mother's status as a widow and her no-nonsense views on unnecessary expense provide clues, if any are needed, to the absence of a conventional wedding dress.

(The photographer subsequently adapted the print, thoughtfully blanking out the smiling lady who unintentionally causes my mother to look as if she has two heads.)

Marrying at an age when many couples are moving towards grandparenthood, the newlyweds are smilingly unaware of the speed with which they are about to be engulfed by family life.

By the time their fourth wedding anniversary arrived, they were parents to three boys.

My father (born 1900) lived another thirteen years. This November brings the fiftieth anniversary of his death.

Today brings the sixty-third anniversary of their marriage - and my late mother's 101st birthday.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Don't tell Gabriel

Eager to keep up with trends in popular music, Mr G read this magazine mini-review with considerable interest.

The subject is a recent concert performance by the New York band Antony and the Johnsons, whose lead singer is the extraordinary performer Antony Hegarty.

It was the reviewer's description of Hegarty's remarkable vocal abilities that brought Mr G up short.

'Smooth tones'? Hurrah!

'Perfect annunciation'?


Monday, 17 August 2009

Towelling inferno

Mr Gnome, inconspicuous when it pleases him to be so, takes a breezily insouciant attitude to a topic that causes considerable consternation to many of his human chums - the tricky business of changing on the beach.

Make that his friends from the UK.

His continental copins and copines seem non-plussed by the British 'thing' with making the transition, sur le plage, from streetwear to beachwear - that whole shuffling, hopping, wriggling towel-clenching ballet, which, in the end, often farcically reveals more than it so desperately wishes to conceal.

But, should any of his readers be losing sleep at the prospect of beach-related changing 'issues' on their upcoming hols, Mr G is delighted to offer a solution that is as stylish as it is simple - and, given the colour combos displayed above, sizzlingly sassy.

Posing cheerily on Cornwall's uber-cool Praa beach, fashionista KW effortlessly proves the truth that more is more as he models this red-hot personal mini tent-ette.

Engulfed in this towelling triumph, one is able to don one's boardies with style, confidence and, let's admit it, more than a little chutzpah.

Envious? Deal with it.

This is a one-off 'vintage' item, created in the 1960s by K's grandfather, who, had he given his design skills free rein, would by now be a name to rival, if not eclipse, those of Armani and Klein.

(Note the stylish elan with which K's orange-framed shades echo the zingy tones of the fabric. Retro-tastic, huh?)

Want the pattern? Mr G will be happy to link inquirers with the couturier in question.

Picture credit: Fi B

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Need a boost? Turn to . . .

Isn't it fab when someone enthuses so communicatively and un-boringly about a challenging pet topic (mountaineering, python-taming, extreme ironing) that you feel you could jolly well give said activity a go yourself?

Such was the can-do spirit instilled in me recently after listening to my friend JD talking with great warmth about the pleasure and solace he'd gained from reading a celebrated series of seven lengthy novels.

Far from being a slog, this literary marathon soon became a pleasure trip, engrossing, enthralling and utterly absorbing. I gained the impression that my friend would greet the discovery a further seven volumes with robust hurrahs.

JD read the books in translation from the original French.

And it's at this point that I'll make my admissions.

I know two other people, good friends, who've read these books - and both are fluent enough in French to have read them in the original.

I've also confided to both of them that, long ago, I'd actually set out from base camp and started novel number one...

Both made the same response, asking: 'In the original..?'

To which I replied in the negative - and with strong sense that, even had I got through all seven, my achievement would, in their view, be ever-so-slighty not up to snuff.

To be fair, my reaction probably said more about a sense of inferiority on my part, rather than any snootiness on theirs - but, whatever, I was discouraged.

So, I'm determined to allez-y and set out again. JD's winsome bigging-up of these books has made me hungry.

The books in question? The picture offers a teensy clue...

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Morris major

How unutterably unsurprising that Mr Gnome is a lifelong devotee of the sinuously sumptuous fabric designs of Victorian arts-and-crafts maestro William Morris.

Dating from 1886, the Chrysanthemum design has remained in production ever since.

The curtains in which Mr G is swathing himself were purchased in 1977 (darker fabric) and 1987 - and have been in more or less constant use.

The designs enjoyed a massive revival in 1970s. Sadly they were frequently 'scaled up' in line with the tastes of the time, often to proportions grotesquely beyond the modest intentions of the originals. The impression created was overpowering, to say the least, and, unsurprisingly, the Morris revival went the way of penny collars and day-glo tank tops.

But, to my eye, these designs remain as fresh, rich and, well, gorgeous as ever.

Mr Gnome's comment? 'Blogging about curtains? Oh please. And you fantasize about film rights..?'

Friday, 14 August 2009

Shaw thing

George Shaw was born in 1966 in the Tile Hill district of Coventry, which continues to be the subject of a remarkable series of paintings.

Shaw paints on board, using old-fashioned Humbrol enamel paints, creating a surface of rich luminosity that, in my view, is impossible to reproduce faithfully on paper or on screen.

I discovered Shaw by accident when I dropped in at Birmingham's Ikon Gallery some years ago and discovered a major exhibition of his work. Big impact.

The images seem bathed in light and, always devoid of human figures, seem to invite us to view these very 'ordinary' council-estate scenes with fresh eyes.

Rather like the painter Jeremy Duncan, Shaw seems eager to turn aside from subjects that are traditionally associated with landscape painting: the seashore, the mountains, the garden, the country estate.

And in so doing, he challenges us to look again, to question our definitions of 'beautiful' and, perhaps, to extend our understanding of the sacred...

Tuesday, 11 August 2009


January 1961 and our mother has taken us to London for our first taste of the metropolis. (The celebrated 'empty' plinth is clearly visible top left.)

It's taken for granted that one dresses up for London. Full school uniform for us and best coat, gloves and hat for our mother.

I'd looked forward to the visit keenly, picturing a city a-gleam with noble architecture. In reality, London had yet to emerge from post-War austerity - and the midwinter mists served to deepen the mood of melancholy neglect.

But we had a fab time, with treat after treat: lunch at a Lyon's Corner House, pigeon feeding, a climb up the tower of Westminster Cathedral, a visit to Madame Tussaud's and the London Planetarium.