Diana in Paris

(C) Jon Smalldon 2014 - All rights reservedHow would you explain it now?  That for a week after the crash there was literally nothing else on the TV, on the radio, in the papers?  That crowds gathered at random spots associated with the life of a woman they could never have met and threw flowers.  That, on the day of Diana’s funeral, millions of people lined the funeral route and howled in hysterical despair?  That it seemed like the world could never be the same again but that, actually, nothing really changed at all.

I like to be aloof and say I rose above it all.  I did have an excuse: I was trapped in a summer job at a steel-pressing warehouse.  I even worked on the day of the funeral: me and a few others struggled out at lunchtime and found only one place open and serving.  The woman who gave us our fish and chips handed them to us with the unsaid accusation that we weren’t grieving enough.

And, in Paris, here is the people’s memorial to the people’s princess.  It doesn’t seem like it draws much attention now.  A lot of the scribbles and comments date from a few years ago; many of the photos are fading.  We came across it by accident and were the only ones there.  Maybe there are other places for the faithful to go or maybe the flame of that burning hysteria is now flickering, soon to be extinguished.

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At the Jerwood Gallery: Quentin Blake, Artists on the Beach

The Jerwood Gallery is all about drawing this summer (it’s the 20th anniversary of the Jerwood Drawing Prize, and there’s an exhibition in the Foreshore Gallery celebrating that) so they’ve called on perhaps the most famous ‘draw-er’ in Britain, Quentin Blake, to bring his trademark illustrations to Hastings.  

The conceit is deceptively simple: a portrait of ten artists whose work features in the permanent Jerwood collection presented in the context of the Jerwood and Hastings’ Stade area.

This means we get a seagull staring suspiciously at L S Lowry, for example.  Alongside this there is some nice text by QB about each of the artists featured.  There is a challenge to locate the picture being referenced but, sadly, the call of the cafe interrupted my plans for that adventure.  I may return to give it a go.

There’s a nice little accompanying notebook and the shop is now festooned with drawing kits should you find yourself inspired.  The challenge will be to do anything as wonderful as Blake seems to manage so effortlessly.

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At the match: Eastbourne United AFC v Horsham YMCA

(C) Jon Smalldon 2014 - All rights reservedThe first match of the season.  Driving over to the ground and listening to all the chat: momentum from last season, summer signings, new names, new manager, new attitude. And knowing that for 99% of the clubs being discussed the season will fall well-short of the dream.  And then, having explained that to your six-year-old co-pilot, getting to the ground and finding that the council have taken away the club car park and there’s nowhere to park as the streets are filled.  Welcome to the non league first match of the season.

But, we survived, and saw everything apart from the first six minutes.  “Town are one down”, a man in a tie said as he walked past.  Eastbourne United AFC now share a division with Eastbourne Town.  “I’m a Town man,” said a different chap in the half time queue for a coffee.  By full-time Town had lost 3-0 but United had, somehow, seen off Horsham YMCA with a clumsy goal scored not long after half time.  Nobody asked how Eastbourne Borough were doing.  You have to keep your rivalries close.

My photo shows a Horsham YMCA player wondering quite how he missed a sitter. The aforementioned six-year-old co-pilot had some thoughts on the matter which, thankfully, the player didn’t hear.

In the end, as we stalked off to find our car parked in the distance, we departed happily enough.  On the radio they were explaining that Brighton had lost their opening match of the season.  “But weren’t Brighton supposed to win?” came the question.  Well, yes, they were.  Such is the dashing of dreams as the season begins.

(Some more photos, some are even in focus, here.)

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About “Jean Ribault”

(C) Jon Smalldon 2014 - All rights reservedSometimes you shouldn’t show off your ignorance but today I’m going to.  Until I took this photo I’d never heard of Jean Ribault capitaine der mer, Dieppois et huguenot.  But it’s one of those searches for knowledge that’s led me down a path of understanding.  Or at least, if not understanding, then a whole bunch of new facts to win me friends the next time I’m in a pub quiz.

A quick read over his wikipedia entry seems to show a man forever on the wrong side: he fights for the Protestants in Dieppe and loses, he escapes to England where he meets Elizabeth I and arranges support for a voyage to America – and is then imprisoned as a spy.  He returns to France when peace breaks out in the religious wars – following which he takes a band of huguenots over to Florida to press the French claim for the colony.  He arrives in August 1565 and by the end of September the Spanish have over-run Fort Caroline and put all its inhabitants to death.  Including Ribault.  The location of the Fort is lost to history but Ribault has given his name to a High School in Jacksonville and a ride in an amusement park in Georgia.  To be honest, that’s better than most of us will manage.

And, in the town he could not hold, there is a memorial.  It is in the grounds of Dieppe’s chateau (which houses a rather wonderful museum showcasing its maritime, military and artistic heritage) and you’ll find it as you look around over the panorama of the town and out to the blue sea beyond.  Maybe as you wonder who exactly Jean Ribault is you’ll think to yourself: y’know, I’d quite like to be a capitaine de mer …

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On the radio: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The novel that became the many subtly-different films that are Blade Runner has now, via Radio 4’s Dangerous Visions series, become a two-part radio play.  Like the film, this radio adaptation dramatised by Jonathan Holloway, took certain liberties with the plot, but ultimately stayed true to Philip K Dick’s hard-to-love masterpiece about reality, hope, despair and the nature of life.

We’re in 1992.  A world after a nuclear war.  There are few living animals.  Seven Nexus-6 androids have escaped from Mars and must be retired.  Nexus-6 are the latest generation devices whose inventors hope are human enough to provoke sympathy from those who would ‘kill’ them – and possibly pass the Voight-Kampff test which determines human levels of empathy.  Fail the test and your machine brains will be blasted out.

Through this world walks Deckard (played nicely gravelly by James Purefoy).    Deckard is a bounty hunter who gets $1,000 for each retired android.  He dreams, not of electric sheep, but of owing a real animal.  $5,000 will be enough to buy him one although, this being a proper dystopian fantasy, we know that even if gets the cash the creature is likely to be fake. The other major voice in this adaptation was Jessica Raine as Rachael Rosen.  The seductive ‘is she human’ whose connection to Deckard seems almost too good to be true.

It was this relationship the adaptation chose to focus on whilst letting drop many of the others that litter the book.  This was definitely for the best.  Dick’s work is often confusing and contradictory (and unresolved) even without there just being so many damn ideas to fling into the mix.

Playing out over two-hour long parts Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was smart radio.  Mixing the noir style of the film (a hard-boiled voice-over, in particular, to guide us when things got confusing) with the meditative questions of the book – drawn together by a nice distilling of the essentials of the plot (with a few tweaks).  The repeated question of what it means to be alive, or to be living even, was given repeated airing.  And, in the end, everything turned out grim.  As it should be.  Nobody flew off into the sunset with Vangelis playing this time.

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We went to the tennis

(C) Jon Smalldon 2014 - All rights reservedI’m not sure there’s a sport as quintessentially ‘English’ in the minds of certain people as tennis.  Of course, by ‘tennis’, they really only mean that thing played at the All-England Club: on grass, in white, with polite applause.  Cliff Richard in attendance, Sue Barker simpering, John Inverdale being inappropriate and someone charging a week’s wages in return for a strawberry and dollop of cream.

Eastbourne, now in its fortieth year as a pre-Wimbledon tournament, is some of those things.  It is polite.  Everyone from marshalls to people selling sunhats to the person sitting in the wrong seat was unfailingly polite.  It is on grass.  Cut ‘cricket pitch’ short, the ball fizzes off it – it’s not like the length you’ll see on the very few grass courts remaining elsewhere.  And in white?  No, not really.  But at least the colours help you differentiate between the tall guy in the beard at one end and the tall guy with the beard at the other end.

We had tickets for Court 1.  Eastbourne has two proper courts – the largest is Centre, which rises over Devonshire Park like a well-mannered giant.  It has music and a permanent mic-guy rousing the crowd.  Court 1 sits demurely in its shadow.  Occasionally we have a man to tell us what’s going on but, in general, we’re left to our own devices.  It’s a very pleasant way to spend time and the quality of the tennis we see is high.

Going on the Friday meant we had four matches to watch.  First up, Feliciano Lopez disposed of Jeremy Chardy in two sets – although it was a remarkably close for that.  Lopez thus advanced to the semi final and would actually go on to win the title.  We then missed most of the women’s doubles match because we had an important pork pie to eat.  It was much less close so we chose the right time to eat.

Back in time though for the rather wonderful experience of seeing Martina Hingis clearly having a magnificent time playing doubles (this time with Flavia Pennetta) against the current champions (I believe) Peschke and Srebotnik.  The women in front wondered, “Is that the Martina Hingis?” whilst the chaps behind used google to find out the player’s age.  It was, and she’s 34.  Her team also won via a Match Tie-break deciding set.  We applauded politely for the losers, a little louder for the winners.  Hingis smiled throughout.

And, last up, we had a final.  A men’s doubles final, no less.  With a Brit.  Dominic Inglot was the Brit, and Treat Huey his non-British partner.  They also won via a Match Tie-break.  Inglot reacted as if he’d scored the winner at a World Cup final.  There will be victories at Wimbledon that bring more money but less joy.  He did a lap of honour, high-fiving everyone as he went by.

And, with that, we were done.  Six hours in the sunshine watching the tennis.  Some great sport played in gorgeous surroundings.  A reminder that not everything needs to be ‘Stoke City on a December Wednesday’.  And, thankfully, Cliff Richard was nowhere to be seen.

A few more photos of the day here.

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GastroCycle – My part in its downfall

From Core charity

It’s an odd feeling being at the finale party for something you haven’t actually done.  I mean, I was on duty from 4am on Thursday to get things ready and I was awake more hours than I thought possible over the next four days but I didn’t actually ride a bike for so much as a centimetre.  And when you’re celebrating the feats of 40 people who have ridden 300 miles, climbed obscene hills, dealt with hazardous fords, motorists and tram tracks, and who have done so with great humour whilst raising a massive amount of money for medical research and awareness (for a charity called Core)…  well, all you can do is put on your t-shirt and enjoy the champagne.

Core is a charity you probably won’t have heard of.  They look at people’s digestive system and say: you know the conditions that affect this are a factor in 1 in 8 UK deaths and yet most people are unaware of the danger symptoms and diagnosis doesn’t always come quickly enough.  Core says more research is needed and then struggles to get its voice heard to raise the funds to make that happen.  GastroCycle – and these guys cheering on the steps – might just change that.

Core has had results.  Obviously it has.  You don’t keep going for 43 years in such a difficult world without that being true.  Some great research has come out of the organisation although being defiantly non-medical I’d struggle to explain to you what all the big words mean – but it’s covered bowel cancer, pancreatitis, Crohn’s, IBS, ulcerative colitis, liver disease and many other things.  And despite being tiny, its information reaches about a quarter of a million people a year.  There’s now also a growing series of events called ‘Exploring the Science of Digestion’ (the next one’s in London in November) where experts talk to patients and the patients talk back.

I’ll declare an interest.  Core is the charity I work for.  I’m 50% of the staff we have.  We need to grow, we need to do things like this again – and we need more money for everything we want to do to fight the awful diseases that effect the digestive system.  (If I can’t convince you – maybe Dr Phil Hammond can).  If you’ve read this far and think you can spare a few quid why not click here to make a donation.  Every pound you can give will make a massive difference.

And if you can’t donate but want to join the fight in other ways – drop me a line.  Perhaps we can get you on your bike.  There’ll be generic non-brand fizzy white wine at the finish line.

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